Food for a writing competition and a beautiful book to buy.

Now that Killing Hapless Ally has gone to press and awaits its first reviews, I am doing various media bits and pieces to promote the book. Well, not only to promote the book, because I do have a passionate and campaigning interest in mental health and in mental health provision and so, with the exception of (fingers crossed) a piece on my correspondence with Catherine Camus, daughter of Albert, that is a book link up I shall make the most of. I have been asked to make a short film about managing anxiety and will tell you more about that later. Soooo…I am working on The Next One, the working title of which is A Life of Almost and, for practice and for joy, I thought I would enter some short story prizes.

Here’s something that caught my eye last year; I thought it was a wonderful idea: a short story on the theme of food.

http://www.oxford-hotels-restaurants.co.uk/the-mogford-literary-prize/

This morning I am working on an entry for this competition. Wish me luck! Last year I wrote a piece called ‘A Tale of Tripe’ (didn’t win but up we get – competition is stiff indeed). Anyone, previously published or unpublished can enter and the winning entry will be featured in the Oxford Literary Festival.

Then…tonight I start on the next of two short stories, but still mulling over which one to think about first. Here’s the BBC/Booktrust competition, which has just opened. You do need to have a history of publication to enter this, but it need not be in fiction.

http://www.booktrust.org.uk/prizes/1

Then there’s this – which has a chosen theme: ‘Ageing’.

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions

This competition ends pretty soon (15th February; the other two are March) but I have already plotted it out…..

HAPPY WRITING

PS. The image I have set for this post is the gorgeous cover of Martin Johnson’s new title for Patrician Press, Robert Macfarlane’s Orphans which launches on the 24th of February at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, (where Robert Macfarlane is an English fellow). Martin’s book of poems draws on the beautiful, rich and important  prose of Robert Macfarlane, who has written so evocatively on landscape, place, travel and nature – just as Edward Thomas  in his prose works did with the poems of his friend, Robert Frost. I look forward to buying this book. Here’s an article about the friendship between Thomas (of whom I am a huge fan) and Frost while I’m at it…http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jul/29/robert-frost-edward-thomas-poetry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Writing Competition

Patrician Press

The Patrician Press Short Story and Poetry Prize

We are pleased to announce that the first ever Patrician Press Prize is now open for submissions

 

Age 18 upwards
Closes 31 March 2016
Results 30 June 2016
Maximum length  Short stories and poems can be any length up to 2,500 words.

Judges Anna Johnson, editor; Emma Kittle-Pey, writer; Petra McQueen, writer and lecturer in Creative Writing at University of Essex; Joceline Bury, journalist.

Prizes

First – One week stay at writer’s retreat in Italy* and publication of story or poem in Patrician Press Anthology

Second – Full set of Patrician Press titles and publication of story or poem in Patrician Press Anthology

Third – Patrician Press title of your choice and publication of story or poem in Patrician Press Anthology

The winning entries will be chosen from a shortlist of six stories and poems. All six entries will be published in the anthology.

The competition is free

How to Enter On-line

http://www.patricianpress.com/submissions/

Please follow the instructions. Under ‘genre’ insert ‘SHORT STORY/POEM PRIZE’.

MAKE SURE YOUR NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS ARE NOT ON THE STORY or POEM. (Judging is done anonymously.) Your story or poem and name are linked automatically when you enter.

Stories will not be returned.

Rules for Short Story and Poetry Prize

  • Entry is online only via Patrician Press Submissions page.
  • Only one entry per person.
  • The competition is open to writers of any nationality writing in English.
  • The theme is based on ‘Refugees and Peace-Seekers’.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix

(Stories and poems can be light-hearted in approach, reflecting the subjects of refugees or peace, or both.)

  • The winning stories or poems must not have been published previously.
  • Patrician Press will hold electronic and paperback publishing rights for a period of three months after which the electronic and paperback publishing rights revert to the author.
  • Notification of receipt of entry will be by email.
  • The judges’ verdict is final. No correspondence will be entered into.
  • Stories or poems cannot be altered or substituted once they have been entered.
  • Judging is anonymous. Name and contact details must not appear on the stories or poems, but inserted into the boxes on submissions form.
  • Entry is taken as acceptance of these rules.

 

* Airfare to writer’s retreat is not included. Pick-up from airport and travel inside Italy is included.

——————————————————————————

Patricia Borlenghi who runs Patrician Press is severely hearing impaired and tries to encourage writers with disabilities as much as possible.

Some more publication plus MacNeice and Kavanagh

Ramsey Sound, Pembrokeshire

I am very excited to say that my work is being included in a poetry anthology published by the Emma Press. Here they are

http://theemmapress.com/

I wrote a series of poems called Pembrokeshire Poems and they picked one called ‘Cast out my broken comrades’, the title of which draws on Homer and also a poem (which itself does the same) by Louis MacNeice called ‘Thalassa.’ I am so pleased as I didn’t expect to achieve publication so soon.

I’d been re-reading Louis MacNeice prior to starting these Sea poems; he is a great favourite of mine and he always has been. MacNeice appears briefly in my first novel Killing Hapless Ally (Patrician, February 2016) and there is a refrain from his poem ‘Meeting Point’ in the novel, too. If you read the book, you’ll see WHY and HOW ‘time is away’ and also (I quote from Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, ‘Prelude’ – another refrain) why ‘the millstone has become a star’ – the epigraph to the novel, a refrain and there at close of day. (I was granted permission from literary estates for these at no charge – very generous.)

For me, the lines already in my head and the lines I have yet to read, will always be salve and solution.

The poem itself decribes a dawn voyage across Ramsey Sound to the island; the voyage itself is both literal and figurative – as I expect you guessed. It is about being broken, being lost and experiencing the first moments of healing. A ‘sea-change’ you might say, quoting Ariel in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.

Do have a look at The Emma Press. They are a dynamic lot – much going on – and their Anthology of Motherhood contains some stunning writing. You can buy it through the site – or borrow my copy!

By the way, I have written (I’m aware this sounds reckless) a chapter book to enter for The Bath Children’s Novel Award (I hadn’t even told my husband I did it), but I’m still deliberating whether it’s too rough and ready to submit.

But back to the poem. The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea will be published in October, 2016.

The picture of Ramsey Sound, above, is from the Pembrokeshire South East Energy Group website.

An extract – featuring Albert Camus – from Killing Hapless Ally. This Chapter is called The Mis-education of Alison.

Pre-order from 3rd of February, folks! The ISBN is 978-0-9932388-6-4 and it’s published by the wonderful independent press, Patrician. Killing Hapless Ally is not a book for everyone. It’s densely packed with idea and allusion; it’s dark and (I hope!) comic. But if you like it, take it to your heart and that will make me so happy. It is fiction, but within it, there lies a distillation of what I know, what I have found out and what I have been through. It is about how mental illness takes hold – how it can settle in so young – and about imaginative ways to fight it. And that, lovely readers, is all me. x

NB: there may still be some editorial changes to this copy before I bid it goodbye in a few weeks.

THE FOLLOWING EXTRACT CONTAINS EXPLETIVES. Actually, there’s a hefty amount of creative swearing at various places in this book.

Not for this homme a lie down in the afternoon, but a manly growl after lunch, some Gitanes and a marc. Step forward Albert Camus and also the story of becoming an existentialist on a campsite. Not Albert; oh no, no, no: he was far too cool to be seen in a Fucking Caravan. It was Alison, trying to translate the world into something that made sense.

We have already shared fateful tales of The Fucking Caravan, of the entrapment between two alder trees and, on the same trip, tales of two blacksmiths. However, on that same ‘holiday’, parked up by the Seine and sitting under the willows for days (with her parents somewhere else; they didn’t say) Alison began a roaring and extraordinary affair with Camus. It was a reading summer, between the two sixth form years. All around was the sense that people were dropping like flies and the deaths of Dad and Santa Maria must surely be imminent; she just hoped, ever practical, they didn’t happen when the two were out in the car, or maybe driving on to the cross-channel ferry, with everyone hooting furiously behind them. But the reading: for days on end by the river: Sartre’s Nausea, Genet’s The Thief, and, best of all, Camus’s The Plague, The Fall, The Outsider and Selected Essays and Notebooks. Also, at speed on the journey home, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Force of Circumstance and, cheerily, A Very Easy Death. When she got home, Alison devoured Gide’s Straight is the Gate and Fruits of the Earth: ‘Nathaniel—I will teach you fervour!’ Fervour: Holy Fuck—what was fervour? What was lust for life? Were those things somewhere in the unknowable distance, just visible beyond the bacon grease of The Fucking Caravan? She was intoxicated: dislocated entirely from her surroundings. The dislocation did not provide a new or unfamiliar sensation, but this kind of dislocation was one in which she was on fire and in splendid company.

‘Come. Come away with me now. Tonight!’ said Albert Camus.

Now, one could dwell on the literary qualities of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, but the most impressive thing for an adolescent Alison (she whose constant companions to date had been imaginary Swedes in a crawl space) was the sense she gained of Sartre and de Beauvoir’s love affair; that they wrote and argued and shared and, of course, smoked (like Helen) in the cool way. And when de Beauvoir wrote about her love affair with Nelson Algren—not to mention sharing bricks (bricks: Ooh la la!) of raspberry ice cream with him—Alison had a peculiar light headed and heavy hearted sensation. It was, we would have to say, the first knowledge of the erotic. And it hurt, because it didn’t exist in any part of the real world, where there was just getting off and, for some girls, an early, clumsy, grasping fuck. When Simone de Beauvoir wrote of their ‘contingent lovers’; of love affairs, known about by both but clearly allowable and part of happen-stance rather than a dedication for a lifetime, it sounded both painful and delicious. How entirely entrancing for the teenage Alison that de Beauvoir and Sartre wrote and expressed an intensely creative life to one another. This was something Alison could never quite get out of her head. And when she tried and failed to engage something which might look like it, the stone dropped in her heart and she was scared to open her hand in case the frightening thought was there, pressed into the palm, waiting to open. And she was scared of being herself: Just Alison (as Denis the Lusty Blacksmith had it), while in her heart remained the appalling leaden feeling and the acute sense of being separate; weird, possibly a killer; not inclined to the magazines and spontaneity of her female peers: missing the point always. Wrong and Weird Kid. She willed herself to live on in a way that was meaningful and hoped that she would find people to discuss these feelings with; that she could know someone who understood about absurdity, existence precedes essence or the frightening experience Sartre’s Roquentin has when, in Nausea, he touches a door handle and comes face to face with jarring, sickening anguish: that anguish lived alongside Alison permanently. At five, it had started somewhere after Saturday morning cartoons, as the day unfurled; at sixteen it began after Weetabix and before the first application of lip-gloss.

‘This I understand: it is when the scenery collapses,’ said Camus.

He made it sound exciting in his low tone. But it wasn’t in real terms: at least, not yet; instead, it was terrifying and yet Alison had a timorous sense that from that terror came only a beginning. That definitely made sense. Good god: intellectual heat; the erotic in its most subtle form; a notion of how to live with hope, when God quite clearly does not exist and we must travel to the frontiers of our anxiety to understand where to start. Alison was not asking much in a man, then.

Ah—but one ready day along came Albert, ready for action. If you have ever read his peculiar, flat, sparkling, cold story of Patrice in The Outsider, then there is little to express. But if not, imagine a wandering, solitary individual, not inclined or feeling the pressure to act as expected. Not cruel, but mercenary because appetitive; plainly erotic in responding to his needs as and when they push forward, articulate of who and what he is and yet without what would feel like morality to us. He did not cry when his mother died; he shot a man on the beach and did not express regret, only annoyance. For the teenage girl, it hit a nerve. The description Camus had of his protagonist as a solitary and wandering individual; as somebody entirely alone and on the edges of society, now, that was the truest description of her to date. It was—and there is no other way to say this—a first orgasm. Not only with the plainness of the character and Camus’s prose, which Alison gamely attempted in both French and English, but also because of the man. Let us describe him. Alison had to get over Mersault first, a man both in love with the world and separate from it. Camus told her of how his protagonist was inspired by a stubborn passion, for the absolute and for truth. His truth remained negative truth, but it had its own beauty and without it there could be no adroit comprehension of ourselves and of the world; no self containment. Mersault’s life was that of a foreigner—a stranger—to the society in which he lived, and he wandered about on the fringe, in the shadows of others’ lives: plain, but deeply sensual. Such descriptions made Mersault enormously attractive to Alison and made her fall more for the man who wrote him into being. Such a telling of the outsider, the wandering foreigner living and breathing a negative truth, pierced and had a difficult heat for her because, of course, that was Alison. We could say she was Weird Kid—plenty did and probably still do—but l’étrangère would sound altogether more arousing, non?

Alison had photocopied a picture of Camus: it was of him, apparently sitting on a rather lopsided sofa, and leaning forward with his hands tensed, his mouth slightly open, his eyebrows raised and his trousers showing his socks as he inclined towards a co-combatant to advance his argument. He was so fabulously French; so fabulously exotic because he came from Algeria, that he carried off the sock thing with élan; socks were not normally a detail of erotic piquancy. Camus might have been describing how brilliant it was that William Faulkner had pulled off the language of high tragedy; that a man from Mississippi could find language that was simple enough to be our own and lofty enough to be tragic. Or perhaps he was dictating something for the Resistance magazine, Combat, of which he was the editor. But, to a teenage girl, under his spell he was also evincing arguments for,‘Come away with me.’

And, ‘Let me show you.’

Or, ‘Let me show you how to live in the face of despair. Sit on my knee and we will begin.’

And, occasionally, when the Oran sun roused his temper, ‘Come here now and stand against this wall. I will take you.’

Was this what Helen had meant, gifting Alison the Camus as she lay on her Cyclamen Terrace deathbed? It was a jolly long way from a few drunken fumbles in the dark when they—the boykind—mistook her for someone else. Camus would have taken a bowie knife from his pocket and cut her out of her clothes, grazing her skin and eliciting just a little blood as he went. Later, he would lick the drop of blood off the knife like a wolf.

Albert’s cadences were delicious: he was declaiming phrases of profound, shattering erotic power to Alison’s ear. And by God he had enough style to be vulgar, if he wanted. Camus had a history of manly pursuits, too: goalie for Algiers; a fine swimmer and athlete. She had a sense of his being a consummate man. Funny; brave; a demon in the bedroom—if you ever got that far, because what are walls, floors and furniture for? And, unlike JK, he could have built a wall or changed a tyre. On the occasions when Alison went to other girls’ bedrooms, she saw they had pictures of The Cure, or Bono, when he was ragged, young and angry. She, meanwhile, had a picture of Albert Camus next to her desk. People said, ‘Who’s that?’ and she said, ‘My godfather. The notion felt entirely, naughtily fitting, for the Camus books, en Français, that Alison possessed had been bequeathed to her, as you learned earlier, by her godmother Helen, studying Camus at The Sorbonne. Perhaps Helen had been similarly intoxicated (which made the Terry the Fat Controller, the unexamined life, Friday-pie thing even more depressing). So the honorific chimed as fitting. Plus it felt like Albert leaned over Hapless Ally in a proprietary and manly style. L’Étranger was inscribed with the words “Helen Griffiths, Paris, le 19 Janviér 1962” and Alison had always hoped that, in leaving France for Terry, his mother’s pie and a new life in Tyneside, Helen was able to say, like Camus’s protagonist at the point of death, that she knew she had been happy. She hoped it was like this for Helen especially when the morphine gave her respite from pain and the unexamined life downstairs, punctuated by the sickening puffs of air freshener from the Cyclamen Terrace plug-ins.

Now, all those years it never mattered to Alison that Camus had been dead ten years before she was born: he was there on her wall now.

Godfather. Most louche, brilliant, gorgeous godfather.

She saw in his Notebooks that he wrote, ‘I loved my mother with despair. I have always loved her with despair.’ Good God. He even understood that. It was exactly how she felt about Santa Maria. And by God (although He is Dead if He ever Existed) Albert was brave: he would stand in the face of despair and say that now he was free.

Ah: the growingupsexthing. Alison had hopeless expectations, really, for while Camus smouldered away behind her closed eyes, real life was, shall we say, more a damp inconsequential thing than a smoulder. There was Johnny in the barn. Always, ‘Let’s go to the barn,’ a bunk up against a bale: no use there expecting conversations about Proust. She asked him about books and he said, ‘Why would anyone want to read boring books?’ But in school, there was an important dalliance with D.H. Lawrence. It was Sons and Lovers and she remembered mostly Paul Morel’s loving: not the bit which was like a communion (with Miriam) but the bit which was ‘too near a path’ with rather racier Clara. The evocation of Paul’s mother, however, as he drifts back to her—and drifts to his own future death (as Lawrence himself had it in his notes on the text), now that was a theme best avoided during these delicate years. Besides which, no-one would have got it because at that time boys just wanted to get you drunk and feel you up in a dark room when the parents are away. Only in reality, they were feeling up someone else. Like Heroic Alice. Oh yeah: Heroic was still around; jiggly tits, cool-thriving and diving and looking on her hapless (again, ironic, though note lower case) counterpart with scorn. She had the best clothes and hair; told the kind of jokes boys liked. When she moved upstairs, the party moved with her, while Alison stood downstairs thinking about existentialism and, ‘I’m a misfit and nobody fancies me.’ Alison was definitely Weird Kid. Good job she had Albert

WRITING…READING…BIBLIOGRAPHY

WRITING

So, my manuscript has gone back and I have a little time (ha!) to work on the chapter book I’m submitting for both Bath Children’s Novel award and Chicken House/The Times competition. I have also discussed writing a YA novel with someone rather wonderful I met through discussions of all sorts (including writing books) on twitter. I also, chancing my arm, submitted feature pitches to ‘Mslexia’ and ‘The Atlantic’ – both were about mental health and writing.

READING

I read – as I tweeted to him – the whole of James Dawson’s This Book is Gay in one chomp. As an exploration of sexuality FULL STOP this is an excellent book. It’s comprehensive, funny and wise; I hope it will get used in PSHE in schools – and I say this with my day job hat on: as an English teacher and one who used, like James, to teach PSHE. PSHE is the starting point, I think, for teachers: do it well and students may come and find you at other times to talk things over. For the digital natives, there is a great deal of LGTB* support online – but this book is an essential for bookshelves: for young people, for their teachers and for their parents. I have already looked at the book with one of my boys: with my almost twelve year old because he saw the cover and was, of course, intrigued (my fourteen year old saw it and ran away. Make that two copies for this household  – I’ll leave it by his bedroom door).

Other reading…I’ve almost finished John Carey’s The Violent Effigy, his fine exploration of themes, images and symbols in the work of Charles Dickens, just started Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which I think I will stay up late reading tonight as I am already, as you could predict, hooked by its first characters; I want to know what the dilemmas are; I want to know about the first protagonist and her husband and what the consequence will be of his so unapolagetically announcing an affair with Melanie who wears heavy amber beads…I want to know about the legal papers in a fan on the floor and about the title of the book and whether I am to read ‘act’ as both noun and verb.

And it has been the morning of the em dash, of writing to Catherine Camus, daughter of Albert, for literary permissions and of doing the draft bibliography of my debut novel, Killing Hapless Ally. Why the bibliography? The book is about, shall we say, unusual methods of staying sane; of being less alone; of not being terrified in a home of desolate proportions. Bound up with that is reading and the novel does refer to and quote a good number of books. Some are in the acknowledgements section, which houses Kavanagh, Camus, Larkin, Plath, Auden and Dorothy Rowe. Here are the (draft) others!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I have referred to, used very brief paraphrase, or quoted where the text is out of copyright from the following and I hope my book has piqued your interest in some of those which follow. I have listed the editions I own, but where these are out of print, I have given an obtainable alternative. Albert Camus: The Outsider, (Penguin, 2000, translated by Joseph Laredo), The Myth of Sisyphus‘ (Penguin, 1975, 2000, translated by Justin O’ Brien); Louis MacNeice: ‘Thalassa’, ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’ and ‘Autumn Journal’ from Collected Poems Louis MacNeice (Faber and Faber, 1966, 1987), Simone de Beauvoir: Force of Circumstance (Penguin, 1987, translated by Richard Howard); Jean Paul Sartre: Nausea (Penguin,1966, 1986, translated by Robert Baldick) and Annie Cohen-Solal: Sartre. A Life (Heinemann, 1987); Sylvia Plath: ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit’ from Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (Faber and Faber, 2001) and the poems ‘Lady Lazarus’,‘Cut,’ ‘Daddy’ from Sylvia Plath Collected Poems (Faber and Faber, 2002); Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales (New Directions, 2009); T. S. Eliot:‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ from T. S. Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962 (Faber and Faber, 2009), Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient (Bloomsbury, 1992, 2009); Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Waiting for Godot’ from The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett (Faber and Faber, 2006); and his Collected Poems (Grove/Atlantic, 2015); W. B Yeats: ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’ from The Collected Poems of W. B Yeats (Wordworth Poetry Library 2000); Andre Gide: Fruits of the Earth (Penguin 1970, translated by D. Bussy); Dolly Parton: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, (Harper Collins, 1995); Peter Hogan: Shirley Bassey. Diamond Diva (ReadHowYouWant.com LTD, 2013); definitions of disorders are as given on the NHS website on its mental health and associated medication information pages and from the DSM-5. [An abbreviation of] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (Various. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, 2013); Robert D. Hare: Without Conscience: The Disurbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (The Guildford Press, 1993) and his site, www.hare.org, which is devoted to the study of psychopathy; Charles Dickens: Great Expectations and David Copperfield, (Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd, 2005; this is the Nonesuch Dickens six volume collection); Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden (Vintage Children’s Classics, 2012); Helen Bush Mary Anning’s Treasures (Puffin, 1976); Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (Dover Publications, 1997); John Skelton: ‘On the Death of the Noble Prince King Edward the Fourth’ from John Skelton. The Complete English Poems edited by John Scattergood (Penguin, 1992); Walt Whitman; ‘Song of Myself’ from ‘Leaves of Grass’ (Penguin, 1986); Andrew Marvell: ‘A Horation Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’, from The Complete Poems of Andrew Marvell (Penguin Classics edition, Penguin, 2014); D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers (United Holdings Group, 1922); William Empson: Seven Types of Ambiguity (Pimlico, 2004), John Keats: ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ from Collected Poems of John Keats (William Ralph Press, 2014) and John Keats. Selected Letters (Penguin, 2014), Kenneth Graham: The Wind in the Willows; Robert Browning:The Pied Piper of Hamlin’ from Selected Poems of Robert Browning (Penguin, 2004); Matthew Arnold:Sohrab and Rustum’ from The Poems of Matthew Arnold (Oxford University Press, 1922); Moliere:Tartuffe’ – the title of which is sometimes translated as ‘The Hypocrite’ (NHB Drama Classics, 2002, translated by Martin Sorrell); Duncan C. Blanchard: The Snowflake Man. A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley (Ohio, 1998); W. A. Bentley and W.J. Humphreys: Snow Crystals (New York, 1931); Father Ted: Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan for Hat Trick Productions and Channel 4. The poem (my own) you find in chapter one contains the first line of Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea. From Prison’ from The Poems of Richard Lovelace (Clarendon Press, 1963) and the rest of the poem is a pastiche of its form, with a hint of its theme of confinement. The story about Eric Newby’s A Book of Travellers’ Tales (Picador, 1986) being found in Kolkata, as signed by the author, is true and the book is on my shelves at home. The story of meeting Johnny Cash in a lift is also true and happened to my husband; as with the Newby incident, I took it for the book. Signposts you see.

Slight change to the book’s title and other things!

This is a bits and pieces post. The next one will be a review.

Guidance from my publisher has resulted in a change to the book’s title and to that of its protagonist. The novel is now called Hapless Ally and its protagonist is Alison. This is partly a stylistic issue – that is, Hapless Annie doesn’t sit so well with Anna on the cover – but it is also important for me, as author, because the new title helps to make it clear that this is literary fiction and not memoir. It is also helpful from the point of view of clear genre and, moreover, because the book does describe and entertain real people in the public domain – Shirley Bassey, for one – I’m emphasising that any conversation with her is imaginary and had in the head of an imaginary character. Well, actually, it’s all a bit more complicated than that, but enough on the subject. And I hope you like the disclaimer which runs,

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction and, while real authors and musicians are characters in the book, they are in the role of imaginary friends and are the author’s interpretations only; any celebrity or individual in the public domain who features in the text in no way endorses it or is associated with it; any dialogue is an invention of the author and resemblances to anyone else living, dead or undead but still quite lively, are drawn as literary creations only. I did, however, write regularly to Tony Benn and once sent him some rock cakes.

WARNING: this book contains bad language, graphic accounts of suicide attempts, self-harming, sex, funerals, deaths and some brutal culinary episodes.

What else happened this week? Well, somehow, I managed to work through all the editor’s comments and requests for changes. There has only been one big change and, oh my, was she right. But I won’t say what happened!  Also, I got permissions back for quotations from Kavanagh and MacNeice and I completed requests for Johnny Cash, Dorothy Rowe, Larkin, Plath and Auden, which latter preceded a very nice email from Faber and Faber correcting me: Curtis Brown NY office holds the Auden rights. Oops. Now, should you ever be seeking literary permissions, there is one very quick way to check who holds the key:

http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/watch//

This site lists writers, artists and their copyright holders, so you know to whom you should write. Don’t assume it’s the publisher (which I had, with Auden) and don’t assume it’s the first publisher of a text – as I had been advised for Albert Camus, hence my applying to Gallimard (I now know it is his daughter, Catherine, I shall be writing to). Then there’s the issue of whether or not I use my own translations….We’ve got round the issue of translation from Dante’s ‘Inferno’ because my wonderful, bilingual publisher did the translation for me; easy to attribute that!

And, finally, I have drafted a plan of Life of Almost  (that’s the Next One) and written the first chapter. It’s a YA novel based on Great Expectations. I’ve enjoyed corresponding with various writers and spoken to someone about working on a collaborative YA piece (clue: genetics; off-world colonies, replicants: I realise that all sounds rather ‘Blade Runner’…) There is a great supportive community out there. Also, because I’ve had, shall we say, a bit of a dip, I’ve had some great exchanges with Mind and with the extraordinary MH survivors I have made contact with through social media. Some of them were contributors to Dear Stranger (Penguin/Mind) – which I will review in the next post. It’s brilliant. Here are some links to it; one from Mind and one from the Penguin blog. I have asked one of its contributors to write the foreword to my own book.

http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/dear-stranger-is-published-today-in-aid-of-mind/#.Vb0IwflViko

http://penguinblog.co.uk/2015/07/02/dear-stranger-a-letter-from-rowan-coleman/

And, I was pondering: in my book there is a GP called ‘Dr Krank-Werden’, who is ‘possibly the best loved doctor in Albion.’ I was thinking about this earlier. I have talked to a lot of people about the kind of care they have received, over the years. Some have had no continuity of care at all; not all have a GP they find supportive. But I have been lucky. Together we have been down various routes: some things have worked; some have failed. Sometimes, somebody else lost the paperwork or support came to an end without any explanation at all: I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But she never gives up on me. So, while my book might be fiction, Dr Krank-Werden has some elements of my GP in her – and I thought that, if Dear Stranger could ever gain a second volume, I’d like to write a letter to her. It is partly for her that on the acknowledgements page of Killing Hapless Ally there is a thank you, ‘to the kind and determined people in our NHS which on many occasions has made me cry with pride, gratefulness and not a small amount of embarrassment…

Night night.

Topping and Tailing

Do these work as dedication and disclaimer? (I really don’t think I can get away with the disclaimer, but I record it for posterity!)
For Dixie Delicious. Because you loved her when she was Hapless
And you love her now she’s Annie.
Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction and, while real authors and musicians are characters in the book, they are in the role of imaginary friends and are the author’s interpretations only. Resemblances to anyone else living, dead or undead but still quite lively, are drawn as literary creations only.
One of my central characters isn’t actually alive, but is pretty frisky. Others are long dead but very much alive in Annie’s imagination and affect the way in which she marshalls ideas, thoughts and words. ‘Dixie Delicious’ is a character I hope readers will love and, of course, he nabs the dedication to the book because, if he existed (I reiterate that this is a work of fiction), I would throw myself in front of a speeding car, I would take a lightning strike and I would give my last for that man.
So then I started going over any copyright issues and sketching in a list of acknowledgements and it came out like this (incomplete; dates to add – as I’ve got to follow the MHRA Style Guide for attributions consistently……)
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I have quoted in the briefest possible terms or used brief paraphrase of the following: Albert Camus: The Outsider, The Myth of Sisyphus and Selected Essays and Notebooks; Louis MacNeice: ‘Meeting Point’, ‘Thalassa’, ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’ and ‘Autumn Journal’; Simone de Beauvoir: Force of Circumstance; Sylvia Plath: Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, Collected Journals, ‘Words’, ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Cut’ and ‘Daddy’; Patrick Kavanagh: ‘Prelude’; Philip Larkin: ‘Faith Healer’; Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales; T.S.Eliot: ‘Prufrock’ and ‘The Journey of the Magi’; Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient; Dorothy Rowe: Depression: The Way Out Of Your Prison; Samuel Beckett: ‘Happy Days’,‘Waiting for Godot’ and  Collected Poems; W.H. Auden: ‘Musee des Beaux Artes’; W.B Yeats: ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’; Dolly Parton: ‘Coat of Many Colours’ and My Life and Other Unfinished Business; Peter Hogan: Shirley Bassey. Diamond Diva (2008); John L. Williams: Miss Shirley Bassey (2010); Johnny Cash: ‘Down there by the train’; Abba:‘Waterloo’,‘Supertrouper’ and ‘Gimme Gimme a Man after Midnight’; definitions given on the NHS website for its mental health and associated medication information pages and from the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) 5.
If any other quotation or literary reference has piqued an interest, others texts referred to (or quoted but out of copyright) are: Dante: Inferno; Charles Dickens: Great Expectations; Derrida: Positions; Aristotle: The Poetics; Charlotte Perkins Gilman: ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’; John Skelton: ‘On the Death of the Noble Prince King Edward the Fourth’; Walt Whitman; ‘Song of Myself’ from ‘Leaves of Grass’; Andrew Marvell: ‘A Horation Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’; D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers; William Empson: Seven Types of Ambiguity;‘John Keats: ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and ‘Collected Letters’; William Shakespeare: The Tempest; Kenneth Graham: The Wind in the Willows; Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny the Champion of the World; J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘Concerning Hobbits’ from The Lord of the Rings. The strange little poem about ‘Bucket Baby’ that you find in chapter one contains the first line of Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea. From Prison’ and the rest of the poem is a pastiche of its form, only; the first line is part of an extended metaphor in the book: that of the prison. Finally, The story about Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush being found in Calcutta, as signed by the author in memory of a walk on Dorset Cliffs with Ted and Vi […]is true and the book is on my shelves at home. Signposts, you see.
I think that when this goes back for edits there might be hard stares, because there’s rather a long list for a work of fiction – and I’ll have to suck it up. And yet it’s all in there. The content of the book and its storyline were necessarily tangled up with a number of people – singers; writers; divas! Because you see Annie is a great bookworm and at least partially detached from the real world. [Depending on one’s definition of ‘real’, of course.] Writers and their creations and also songs and the spirit and sentiment behind them: those are intrinsic to how she copes with any interaction in the world and how she comforts or defines herself; she sometimes uses others’ language to find voice. A slew of acknowledgements and what looks like a reading list would not, I think, find a place in my subsequent books, but in Killing Hapless Annie, this is truly how it went. Although of course it’s fiction; definitely fiction. As I’ve now said three times and I’m sure the lady doth not, ‘protest too much, methinks.’

An interview with Joanna Barnard, author of Precocious (Ebury, 2015) and winner of the 2014 Bath Novel Award

                       AN INTERVIEW WITH JOANNA BARNARD

Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night.’

Joanna Barnard won The Bath Novel competition in 2014 with her novel, Precocious. The literary agent Juliet Mushens went on to represent her and Precocious was subsequently bid for in a four way publishing auction – with Ebury Books taking it on. Exciting stuff! The book will be out this July and Joanna is working away on her second novel. I have taken the synopsis and comment below from The Bath Novel page – with thanks.

NOVEL SYNOPSIS:  As a schoolgirl, Precocious’s Fiona Palmer has an intense crush on Mr Morgan, her English teacher. She writes stories, poems and plays for him; he praises her talent and offers a glimpse of what life might have to offer beyond her council estate. The crush develops into a relationship which ends badly.

The novel opens with a chance meeting between the two fifteen years on. Morgan seems once again to offer a form of escape and they quickly begin an affair. A young woman visits Fiona, seeking her help in prosecuting Morgan who she claims abused her at school and Fiona finds she must re-visit her own version of the past.

Gillian Green, Ebury Fiction publishing director told The Bookseller: “Joanna’s debut is an utterly compelling, clever and controversial novel which the fiction team has become hooked by. It’s that Holy Grail in fiction: quality writing but with a commercial heart and a subject matter ripped straight from the headlines.”

I went to hear Joanna, the literary agent, Juliet Mushens, Caroline Ambrose, Chair of The Bath Novel Award and Dionne Pemberton, one of The Bath Novel Award‘s readers, speak at the Bath Literary festival. If you are a writer – however tentative your efforts so far – I would really recommend going to such events for the insights you will gain. It is as if you are saying to yourself, ‘Right. I am taking my writing seriously.’ And go even if you don’t enter the competition!

For me, it was the talk at this event, my manuscript review at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and the day I said to myself, ‘I have a story I so want to get out there’ that changed things. Because I decided I wouldn’t give up or fall so early in the process. I’m a rookie, don’t you know? The quotation at the top of this article is from my interview with Joanna: that just about sums it up for me: ‘Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night.’ It’s a great maxim, isn’t it? And, as Robert Frost had it in ‘The Road Less Taken’, ‘way leads on to way’, because through Cornerstones I  found sterling encouragement in the novelist, Alison Taft; because of The Bath Novel talk I read Joanna Barnard’s blog – and the exchanges we subsequently had were so encouraging; she’s generous with her time and hers is a great story – that she almost put the ms away before giving it one last shot. Finally, after The Bath Novel talk, I went for coffee and a chat with some recent graduates of the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing, which was how I came to notice profiles on independent publishers in Mslexia magazine – and how I found someone who wanted to publish my novel.
So KEEP GOING and here’s the interview with Joanna!
1. Why did you start writing?
Well, that’s a tough one because I started writing stories at the age of six or seven years old, so I can’t really remember! Like most little girls I had loads of career ambitions growing up, from ballerina to teacher to nun (!), but I always said I was going to write books as well “at the weekends”. I just loved books so much it seemed natural to want to write them myself.
2. Do you have any particular sources of inspiration you could comment on? Events, conversations? I imagine that, as a teacher, I could not have got away with writing a book that tackles a pupil teacher crush and the dark events that ensue over a considerable time, so I am fascinated to see how you handle them. But back to the sources of inspiration!
There were certainly rumours at our school (as with every school) and instances where I would say the pupil-teacher relationship seemed inappropriate. It’s funny because at the time it doesn’t seem that big a deal, in fact you feel jealous of the girl getting the ‘special attention’ – it’s only as you get older that you look back and think, hmm, maybe that was actually a bit off. I’ve known of at least one teacher who was taken to court, but it resulted in him being acquitted, so I can’t really comment on that.
It’s a topic that’s always in the news though, isn’t it – from the Jeremy Forrest case a couple of years ago [when a teacher and his student ran away to France together] to the more recent case of Stuart Kerner [who was excused a jail sentence because the judge felt it was the student who did the ‘grooming’]. It’s an interesting and complex issue to write about.
3. How did you keep going when the going got tough? For instance, after rejections from agents?
Being part of a writing group really helped. Their feedback was so useful and they encouraged me to keep going after rejections. I’ve said before that the Bath Novel Award felt like a bit of a last chance, but for some reason I felt strongly that Precocious would find an audience – if I didn’t get anywhere in the competition, I planned to self-publish it on Kindle. I was determined to get it out there somehow.
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 
Read widely. Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night. Write every day if you can, even if it’s just a few sentences. If you get stuck, stop and write something else: a later chapter of your book, or a short story, or a poem. And if you are seeking representation and publication, present yourself and your work as well and as professionally as you can: follow the agent’s guidelines or competition rules, get someone else to proof-read for spelling and grammar, and polish, polish, polish.
5. Do you have a routine for writing? I have read that you like to write in longhand first, with a big cup of tea alongside and on the sofa or in bed (as I wrote in my blog, sometimes I hide in the shed, with earplugs in – and we’re not even talking a posh shed…). Anything else to add?
I always write in longhand first, it’s true. There’s nothing more terrifying to me than a blank screen, but an empty notebook – that’s exciting! I think the physical act of writing must unlock the creative part of my brain. I write quickly and type up slowly, making edits as I go.
I don’t have much of a daily routine, in fact I find frequent changes of surrounding very helpful. At the moment I find I’m writing a lot on trains.
6. Joanna, I already know your favourite book is Nabokov’s Lolita. Do you have any other favourite books to mention – and perhaps some comments to make on what makes them special to you?
Lolita is extraordinary for so many reasons: the voice, the language, the black humour, the pathos. I first read it as a teenager and it was the first time I was aware that an author was playing games with me, but I was powerless to do anything about it. Some of the sentences were so beautiful I had to keep re-reading them. I was blown away.
Other favourites include The World According to Garp (in fact most of John Irving’s novels) – he draws amazing, quirky characters that live long in the memory.
I came relatively late to Donna Tartt and adored The Secret History and The Goldfinch.
7. My own first novel is coming out with an indie and, as is not uncommon with indies, I don’t have a literary agent. (Note to any puzzled readers: authors published by smaller publishers – the ‘indies’ – independents – may not also be working with an agent.) I’d been wondering: you are represented by Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group. Would you be happy to comment on what you’ve learned from the process of working with an agent? Perhaps about editing, the market, presenting yourself – fire away! I think this would be interesting for writers aiming at such a target.
Working with Juliet has been brilliant. She’s warm and supportive but also honest and direct with feedback – if something’s not working, I know she’ll just tell me. There’s obviously a huge advantage to having someone ‘in your corner’ who really understands the market, too.
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no reason to be intimidated when approaching agents – yes, it’s tough out there, but every agent genuinely wants to find that next book they are passionate about. It might be yours!
The following two questions came from two of my upper sixth students:
8. How does writing make you feel?
When it’s going well, or when it’s going badly?! To be honest above everything else it just feels natural – it feels like this is what I *should* be doing. It’s not always easy, but it always feels right.
And
9. How do you know, when you’re writing, if it’s any good? Do you think you ever really know?
I think most writers are naturally self-critical. I don’t go around high-fiving myself and saying “Wow! That’s an awesome sentence!” Most of the time I’m thinking it’s pretty terrible, but I keep going anyway. Distance is key. I think if you can finish what you’re doing, put it away for a few weeks, then come to it fresh, you can tell then if it’s any good.
10. You’re currently also training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. In my own life and work I am passionate about how appropriate counselling routes can transform self, how we connect with the world and what we are able to do. I’m wondering why, alongside your literary success, you chose to train in this area and what its link might be, for you, with literature and with your own writing?
I previously worked in sales and I wanted a career change, but never imagined I would make any sort of living from writing. I wanted to learn and I wanted to help people (I still do), so I chose to re-train as a therapist. Like you, I think good counselling can be transformative. I do think my interest in this area comes from the same place as the writing: it stems from an intense curiosity about people, what makes them tick, why they feel how they feel, how they change and are influenced. Funnily enough, that was the same reason I enjoyed Sales.
11. Finally, what’s happening now in the last weeks before Precocious is out? And might you give us the first sentence of your book as a teaser?
Well, I’m going on holiday! I get back the night before the launch, which is quite a good thing as it will (hopefully) take my mind off my nerves. In the meantime, Ebury are contacting press and sending out copies for review.
The first sentence of Precocious is the fairly pedestrian,
We meet again in the supermarket.’
As for the new book…can I have 2 sentences?! With the caveat that this is early draft and may well change, here you go:
As soon as we got him home, it started. I obsessed about him dying.
Thank you so much, Joanna. I am really looking forward to reading your new book….and the next one!