I’m looking forward to the launch this evening at Daunt Books, Marylebone High Street, of our tutor Howard Cunnell’s beautiful memoir, Father and Sons. It tells the story of his growing up without a father, and later in life his reaction to his daughter becoming his son. It’s a book which explores masculinity in all its complexity and vulnerability, with unflinching honesty and in vivid and evocative prose. This stunning book has received stand-out reviews – the Financial Times described it as: ‘Truly heart-stopping writing: a unique and hard-won perspective unfolded in lucid and unforgettable prose” and it is soon to be a BBC Book of the Week. Congratulations to Howard for his achievement, and I look forward to raising a glass tonight!
Many congratulations to former CCWC student Elisa Lodato, who took our original and intermediate courses in 2008. She’s been long-listed for the Bath Novel Award and her novel, An Unremarkable Body, is to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in December 2017. You can read an interview with Elisa here on the Bath Novel Award website.
I haven’t posted for a while and this is for the very good reason that I have been keeping my head down and working away on my next novel. Since April it has gone from a mass of disconnected scenes to a coherent 84,000-word second draft.
I’ve made trips to Ireland and Rome for research (it’s such a good idea to set parts of your novel in foreign places!) and given the draft to my first readers for feedback.
As always when writing a novel, it’s a massive struggle and I never feel I know what I am doing. And then it starts to come together and repay the effort I’ve put in.
I came across a quote this morning from the 14th Century German mystic Meister Eckhart: ‘Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.’ And I thought; that’s what it feels like to sit down to write. As a writer, you are always a beginner, even if you’ve done it many times before. There is never a right way, an easy way, a method that works, just that terrifying – and then sometimes exhilarating – place of not knowing.
On Thursday 12th May Burley Fisher books will host a panel discussion on British crime writing. Critic Barry Forshaw will be joined by local novelists Maggie Hamand, Melanie McGrath and Laura Wilson for a conversation on their writing, setting it in the context of the vibrant British crime writing scene.
Copies of Barry Forshaw’s new book, Brit Noir, as well as books by all three novelists, will be for sale, and the panelists will be available for a signing after the discussion.
7pm, Entry £3, includes a glass of wine!
Burley Fisher Books is at 400 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA
@burleyfisher | 020 7249 2263
On Thursday 7th April, in Bloomsbury’s Gay’s the Word, Sarah Walton lights up the night with the launch of her new novel RUFIUS. ‘Highly recommended’ by the Morning Star and compared to writing by Gore Vidal, this is a tremendous story of religious crisis and illicit love in 4th Century Alexandria.
Expect the remarkable, with an appearance by Rufius himself, magicked by the Olivier-award winning Christopher Green.
All CCWC writers welcome!
I’ve decided that 2016 is going to be the year when I review books I read – on Amazon and on my blog! Too late to do it retrospectively, so here, a little belatedly, are my stand-out reads, both good and bad, in 2015.
I tend to read one book I like by an author and then starting reading the whole oeuvre – this year it’s been the Irish writers Brian Moore and John McGahern. I started Brian Moore with his fantastically terse and gripping Lies of Silence, and other stand-out books of his were The Colour of Blood and Cold Heaven. Moore’s writing is masterly in its economy. A friend gave me McGahern’s debut, The Barracks, and I’ve also been reading his amazing short stories, as well as The Dark, The Pornographer, and The Leavetaking. I’m about to start That They May Face the Rising Sun. And on my Irish theme I’ve also finally been reading George Moore’s 1905 classic The Lake, which is remarkably fresh today.
On reading a review by Jonathan Frantzen of the “greatest realist novel of the postwar era”, I read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. I found this hard to get into, and very far from meeting Frantzen’s claim, but ultimately rewarding. At least I think it was rewarding. There’s a stand-out scene where the couple catch a cat and take it to the vet. It’s utterly mundane and yet utterly gripping. It may sound weird but I’m really glad to have read it just for that one scene!
On summer holiday I was completely spellbound by a debut thriller by Paul Hardisty with the intriguing title The Abrupt Physics of Dying. The book is an environmental thriller set in Yemen in the 1980s and deals with the oil business. The author works in the field and knows what he’s talking about and it really shows. I love intelligent, well-written thrillers and there aren’t enough of them around – I really couldn’t put this one down, and it’s thought-provoking too, staying with you long after you’ve turned the final page. It was short-listed for the CWA John Creasey (new blood) Dagger and in my opinion should have won.
I also read Ali Smith’s startlingly original How To Be Both. I had made a false start earlier in the year because the version I bought ( the book was printed with the two different sections in random order) started with the Eye section – which I couldn’t get into. But then someone told me that if I started with the Camera section first it would all make sense – and it did. I’m not sure that the random printing of two versions worked, but I’m glad I read this delightfully clever and sometimes affecting work.
The books I didn’t enjoy? Well, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant just plodded on and on most unrewardingly. I can’t help feeling that it was a mistake for an author whose main strength is his handling of memory and internal narrative to make his main characters lose their memories, and to use a detached omniscient voice throughout. He’s such a brilliant writer but this was a complete dud for me. And Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch! I had read wildly opposing reviews, so I saved it up for an uninterrupted week away to give it my full attention. I was seriously disappointed. There were flashes of brilliance and some scenes really held my attention, but other parts simply dragged. The book seemed to lurch wildly from one genre to another. The narrative relied too much on coincidence and the central metaphor of the goldfinch was never adequately revealed. I knew before I began reading that in medieval and renaissance art the goldfinch, usually seen in paintings of the Madonna and child, symbolises the foreknowledge of Christ’s passion, so I expected this motif to underpin the narrative, but it didn’t seem to. I sensed that Tartt wanted to avoid any suggestion of spirituality anywhere in the story – she has written in an essay that: ‘the novel in its history and genesis is an emphatically secular art form: the product of a secular society, addressing primarily secular concerns’. If this is her point, then why use a religious metaphor for the title and subject of the work? I have to say that, despite enjoying some of the sections, especially the Las Vegas one, I was left frustrated and puzzled.
We are delighted to be launching our new anthology of creative writing from The Complete Creative Writing Course on Monday 2nd November at the Art Worker’s Guild at 5 Queen Square, Bloomsbury from 6-8.30.
This new anthology features 21 stories and novel extracts, covering a wide range of genres – literary, historical, fantasy, crime and science fiction.
We’ll be sending out the anthology to selected literary agents and independent publishers, and you can buy copies online from our bookshop.
This Friday, 18 September, Housman’s radical bookshop is hosting local writers Maggie Hamand and Elizabeth Carola who will read from their new works of fiction. Free wine and nibbles will be provided.
Housman’s bookshop is at 5 Caledonia Road, near King’s Cross station, and the event is from 7-8.30 pm.
Do come and join us! All are welcome.
Our week-long July Intensive Summer Workshop was a great success, and here is the group in the Groucho Club at the end of a great week of fun, exploration and learning. Comments on the feedback forms include: ‘Extremely instructive and helpful,’ ‘Fantastic week’, ‘Truly inspiring’, ‘Extremely illuminating’, ‘Very well structured,’ ‘Awesome!’ It was a great group who all worked well together and were generous in sharing their ideas and writing. It was a privilege to be part of such an outpouring of creativity! Our next week is coming up in the last week of August and I look forward to it very much.
Photo © Ian Caldwell
Natalie Butlin is our guest writer this week and she is dealing with a much-neglected topic – money tips for published and unpublished writers. Natalie is a freelance writer and until recently worked with Christine Green Author’s Agents.
I’ve been doing some personal financial sorting and it got me thinking about one of the biggest hurdles most new writers face: money! What you may not know is, even if you aren’t published, you could ease your finances a bit by talking to the taxman.
So often, people squeeze in writing around full-time jobs, or struggle to keep their heads above water on a part-time wage. Whatever your situation, a little more money in your pocket is likely to free up time and head-space to concentrate on thrashing out that first draft or polishing it for submission.
I have a wonderful accountant and claim back tax for all kinds of things I buy for my writing. I can do this because, while I write because I love it, it’s also a business. But it’s not only published authors who can present their writing costs as business expenses to HMRC. Here is an article about all of the things for which you could be claiming back tax.
From reading this, I have deduced you could potentially claim back the tax on one of Maggie’s wonderful courses, or suggest it to your boss as a tax-free benefit. What a good idea! Every job requires writing skills, doesn’t it?
I think one problem many new writers face is not being able to take themselves seriously. Because of this, they don’t make time to write, don’t prioritise it, and even feel guilty when picking up a pen or sitting at a computer. This doesn’t help you make any progress with your writing. Keeping a record of the costs involved in writing can help you to take it more seriously and approach it as any other job. Start keeping a file of receipts for anything you spend which you need or directly influences your writing – equipment, books, research, courses. As the article explains, you can only claim back for expenses if you intend your writing to be a source of income, and think it’s possible.
A Word of Caution
Perhaps if you saw your writing as a business, you might even become more disciplined. However, you don’t want to forget why you love writing, and should be wary of any epiphanies involving quitting your job, or writing what you think will make the most money. There’s never any guarantee of making money from your writing, and I believe you must write what you want to write – otherwise it usually doesn’t work. With this in mind, it is still always important to remember you are writing for an audience. Always ask yourself if it’s truly something you’d enjoy, even if it were written by someone else; who would be your perfect reader; and what makes each page gripping.
Some writers aren’t interested in writing for an audience. They write for pure personal enjoyment, and the idea of selling their work dirties the whole concept. But if being published or self-publishing is an ambition, you should take it seriously, and do what you can to support yourself in pursuit of this goal.