Jo Danilo is a Bay of Islands writer whose new novel 11.42 is due for release shortly.
While you’re waiting, check out Jo’s website and previous young adult novels on Amazon.
Also, don’t forget to keep up with her on Facebook.
21 December 2018
NorthTec applied writing graduates are taking control of their works and joining the increasing number of authors who self-publish.
Full-time writer Kathy Servian completed the Diploma in Advanced Applied Writing (Level 7) in 2017. She published her first novel while studying, and has gone on to publish three further works, with another in the pipeline.
Her books are available as paperbacks or can be downloaded to electronic devices like Kindles. Kathy says while self-publishing is hard work and requires effort and motivation, it gives her control over her own works.
Her first novel, Peak Hill, is a contemporary romance set in Northland, and was a finalist in the Romance Writers of New Zealand’s Pacific Hearts Award. In late 2016, Kathy took the plunge and self-published the novel.
She followed this in 2017 with a romantic suspense novel, Throwing Light, which shifts between 1990 and the present. As part of her Level 7 studies which required her to write a novel under the supervision of a tutor and an established author, Kathy then produced a historical work, The Moral Compass. Set in New Zealand and England in the 1850s, it became the first of a trilogy and was followed by A Pivotal Right, and Kathy is currently working on the third and final volume, Slaves in Petticoats.
Kathy, who now lives in Auckland, said the process of self-publishing involves work and financial investment on the part of the author, including organising beta readers for peer reviewing, employing professional editors and proof readers, and having the work formatted for both paperbacks and eBooks.
The author also organises the book cover – which has led the versatile and artistic Kathy into another income stream. After struggling to find authentic images for her historical novels, she decided to combine her talent for fashion design and dressmaking with her love of photography, creating a series of photos featuring characters in period costume, which she now sells online.
She said: “I found making the costume, finding the model and doing the photoshoot helped me visualise the character. It was a really interesting process.”
Once a manuscript is completed, Kathy uploads both the cover and the book’s contents to a specialist website. Within 24 hours, the published work can be purchased worldwide as a ‘print on demand’ paperback, or an eBook, via the Amazon and Book Depository websites.
Meanwhile, fellow graduate Trish Fenton, from Maunu, Whangarei, is preparing to self-publish her first novel, supported by a range of local services. Beyond the Rimu Grove is a New Zealand novel about a young teacher starting out on her career in a remote, rural community. Trish says it’s not an autobiography but does draw on her own experiences.
The retired teacher’s first novel is also the product of her NorthTec studies – she too graduated with her Diploma in Advanced Applied Writing last year, and received the New Zealand Society of Authors Northland Award for Excellence. Encouraged by her assessor, Trish began approaching trade publishers but realised that with so few new writers being published in the traditional way, self-publishing was a better option.
She employed NorthTec tutor, Lesley Marshall as her editor – who she says gave her a “masterclass in editing” – while her daughter, a graphic designer, has created the book cover and will complete the layout, in consultation with the printer. Having met Hazel Oliver from Whangarei company Jeff Oliver Print at a NorthTec hui for applied writing students, Trish is now preparing for her first print run of 400 paperbacks.
She will work with
a local specialist, Michael Botur, to launch her novel and connect with distributors. He will also assist with setting up a website and providing an online version of the novel.
Trish says she is enjoying the publication process and is pleased with the interest in her first novel through the various groups she is involved with.
She and Kathy became friends while studying NorthTec’s online writing programme, and have kept in touch since graduating.
Ronald Kramer says it’s easier to put one person in the dock than 4.4 million. “We shouldn’t try spot killers: we should spot problems in the social order connected to these problems. My idea of a cure is using the $90,000 annually spent on each prisoner to instead provide rehabilitative services, housing, or social security. People say you go to prison and you do your time, but you don’t: you’re stigmatised for life.”
The young, soft-spoken, skinny Aussie-American has brought his international expertise to the University of Auckland. We have one of the lowest murder rates in the world – around one in 10,000 – but Kramer’s been asking why civilians still feel unsafe. “The murderers I’ve met are very nice and polite, it’s strange, they invite me to dinner and coffee, they’re so polite you think ‘How did this happen?’ It makes me realise: Anybody could have the capacity to do this action. We all have the capacity to have emotion trained out of us. We need different notions of masculinity, more equitable distribution of power, and more support services for those women who kill, so they can get out of dependant relationships.”
“We have this image of murderers as abominable human beings, but killings happen in an instant. We make out that killings are representative of their character but in a lot of cases murder is extreme and out of the ordinary. It doesn’t make killers fundamentally different people. They’re still human, they experience guilt, remorse and regret like other people.”
Repentance schmentance: Kramer says the Western justice system demands that prisoners experience a quality of life lower than that of the lowest working class. “One of the biggest mistruths out there is that there is leniency for offenders. Treatment of offenders is quite severe in New Zealand compared to Nordic countries. Not reintegrating people just compounds and furthers their exclusion.”
“Punishments in general don’t have a deterrent effect – especially prison. We’ve had prisons for a very long time, but crime keeps on happening.”
PATTERN: YOUNG MEN KILL YOUNG MEN
“Crimes of passion are to do with our social and cultural upbringing. Why is it that young men feel insulted by minor things? Why do women abused by their spouses kill? It’s killing with an emotional investment but with a calculated strategy. That falls between hot blooded and cold blooded.”
“There’s a difference between irrational crimes of passion and non-rational killings. Non-rational ones are something that doesn’t make sense but which we can understand. I would put young men killing young men into that category. If someone steps on your shoes, or insults you, killing them is an overreaction, but in our cultural context I understand they’re following a cultural code. Men are encouraged to see insults as a threat or attack on themselves more so than women.”
“The guy [Bruce Emery] who killed the tagger in Manurewa? That’s an extreme overreaction which came after media stories constructing how graffiti is a social problem. I can see how this would create in someone the sense that it’s more of an offence than it really is. That’s non-rational.”
Murder to conceal a crime is another category that falls somewhere outside of rationality.
Once again, it’s hard to find examples of the purposeful and inexplicable cold-blooded killings the media and Sensible Sentencing Trust want us to fear.
PATTERN: MASCULINITY IS A FACTOR.
“That’s to do with how police focus their efforts– it’s not an accurate reflection of the nature of crime.’
“Murder following rape comes back to masculinity. We’re culturally encouraged to adopt the view of men’s power. Rape followed by murder is an extreme extension of otherwise normalised behaviours.”
“One system of punishment is that a penalty is set aside in exchange for a crime. Once done, you should be released. But there’s this other conception that prison should be to reintegrate and reform people, and to assess their viability to fit into society. Extracting confessions, guilt and remorse is a manifestation of punishment, to create a certain moral individual.”
“NZ has preventative detention which is about keeping people in prison if we think they constitute a risk – eg. if they don’t display remorse – but that allows us to keep people in prison because we think they MIGHT do something. That’s profoundly at odds with basic principles of Western justice. Preventative detention is rationalised because paedophiles are recidivists, preventative detention is sold to the public. If a person has done their time, it shouldn’t matter whether an offender panders to expectations or not. Judging people as to whether they are fit for inclusion into society leads to eugenics.”
Beyond the Darklands stories chronicle killers from birth, as if people are born bad, and the show twists real events to make it appear that every event or trait in a person’s life contributes to what happens 40 years later. The episode profiling Liam Reid, for example, claims that Reid writing poetry and cuddling pet bunnies somehow contributed to a fake persona as a tough guy which somehow contributed to the murder and rapes he committed.
PATTERN: ANTI-SOCIAL AIN’T EVERYTHING
“You can’t establish causality, in the case of kids being cruel to animals. A lot of people who engage in antisocial behaviours don’t commit murder. It goes back to the question: can we punish and control because we’re predicting offending? It’s like Minority Report. Do we want to think we can predict what people will do and punish on that basis? Do we want to emphasise traits in people? Are you going to say that somebody who smokes marijuana should be charged with methamphetamine use because there is a progression?”
“Who’s responsible for being anti-social in the first place? Maybe it’s because of a breakdown in teaching and socialisation. You can’t just put it all down to personal responsibility.”
“A lot of reasons for crime begin with social problems: poverty is tense, anxiety provoking, it makes people need to release anger, that’s the broader context. Some people may recidivate, and we blame the individual, but we don’t say ‘What did we as a society do to stop this?’ I know a few people who have committed murder and been released, they haven’t done it again; if a murder came in an irrational moment, it probably won’t happen again.”
PATTERN: MOST MURDERS AREN’T INTENTIONAL
“The justice system assumes that we’re all rational actors, and that’s not borne out in most cases. That’s why punishments aren’t deterrent. Some behaviours are governed by rationalistic thinking – such as the consequences of not paying for a parking ticket. But in things like violence and murder, people aren’t carefully thinking, it’s heat of the moment stuff, that’s why prison doesn’t deter murderers.”
Kramer is well aware of the one-punch tragedies that killed Billy Dawson and Tarun Asthana on Auckland’s Viaduct in 2011 and 2013. “Mistakes happen, in that people went too far and didn’t think about the intention of what was happening. That’s a category of murder. But there’s a problem with judging on the basis of consequences. The eye for an eye mentality is still with us. It’s a political platform; the Sensible Sentencing Trust are a manifestation of that. Victim impact statements have been introduced in court – but other countries don’t accept these. Victims shouldn’t have too much say in court proceedings and legal decision making because they’re emotive, they want vengeance, and they’re in a media context focused on victim’s rights and punitiveness (sic). It’s unlikely they’ll look at it objectively as justice.”
“I’m surprised the NZ media is allowed to take pictures of someone in the dock or name them. The dock is a mini-prison in the courtroom which conveys guilt, demonises and suggests you need to be separated from society.”
“Individualistic thinking locates the causes of behaviour within a person’s psyche –but the trait to kill exists in all of us. Or it can be bred in us, whether it’s war, cold-blooded environmental pollution, colonialism, swatting mosquitoes or eating meat.”
“The argument that a leopard never changes its spots is based on the assumption whether we convict people based on what we think they’ll do, or what they’ve done. It’s a risky game. It can’t be reconciled with our broader principles of justice.”
Past Present, the documentary about the poet and environmentalist Peter Dane, is now available on YouTube.
A former professor of English at Auckland University, Peter had survived the Shoah in England and Australia before he became a teacher and academic in East-Africa and New Zealand.
Peter spent the last years of his life as a poet and co-founder of Friends of the Earth in the Bay of Islands. In his poetry, unlike that of many (post-) modern writers, this revolutionary traditionalist celebrated form and beauty as means of realising and contemplating the limited and contingent, yet potentially transcendent and universal liberty of the arts.
Lesley Marshall is running her annual Christmas raffle. The prize is a full novel critique (or the equivalent time in editing) in memory of Lesley’s son, with funds to go to Te Puna Women’s Refuge.
To enter, simply send a cheque (made out to Te Puna) to Lesley Marshall (Editline, 20 Beverley Cres, RD 9 Whangarei 0179), and she will put you in the draw. Alternatively, you can direct debit money into Te Puna’s account (Acc: 123101 0056429 00; name: Te Puna o Te Aroha Women’s Refuge) and let Lesley know what you’ve paid them so she knows how many chances to give you. If an overseas writer wants to enter they can donate to their local refuge equivalent. You can contact Lesley at editline[at]xtra.co.nz.
The draw is on 20 December. The critique is for a novel or any similar piece of work, and the winner can send it any time in the next year, either on paper or by email. The costs for entries are as follows:
One chance = $20; 3 chances $30; 6 chances $40; 10 chances $50; 15 chances $60.
The refuge gets very short of food during the festive season, though one year they used the money to create a children’s playground for the families there, and another year they bought clothes for the children. Whatever they use it for, rest assured you’re creating a lot of Christmas joy with your entries. These are people who have suffered hugely, and have often walked out of what should have been their safe, happy homes with only the clothes they stand up in. They really do need all our support. And Christmas is unfortunately the refuge’s busiest time.
November 15th was Courage Day – the day of the imprisoned writer. Our empty chair was in honour of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukranian writer charged with terrorism by a Russian court and sentenced to 20 years in a Siberian penal colony, which is the farthest place he could be sent from his home in Crimea. The charges were made up to silence him. Click here to find out how you can help more.
Practical Fiction Writing Advice and Motivation. Northland indie author Michael Botur delivers a down-to-earth four-hour workshop on fiction writing. Poets can attend too, although fiction will be the main focus of the day.
Where: Te Ahu Centre (Conference Room), Cnr Matthews Ave & South Rd, Kaitaia, Far North.
When: Saturday, 15 December 2018, 9:00am – 1:00pm with two short breaks.
Cost: $45, including writing feedback before and after the workshop.
Email mike[at]michaelboturwriter.com to book your ticket.
Fast Fibres Poetry Five available from fastfibres[at]live.com
$10 for one copy, $15 for two copies.
A full list of Northland writing events, opportunities and writers’ groups can be found here.
NorthTec Applied Writing Courses: Interested in writing picture books? Northtec will be offering their Picture Book paper just once in 2019. It starts in February and runs for four months. If you would like more information about the Picture Book course or any of NorthTec’s creative writing programmes then please contact Kathy Derrick (kderrick[at]northtec.ac.nz) or visit their website here.
Wanted to buy: Uncle Glenn and Me by Glenn Colquhoun illustrated by Kevin Wildman. This is a much-loved picture book but now my children are having children my only copy is in danger of being purloined. Lesley Marshall editline[at]xtra.co.nz.
Please send us any little bits and pieces that you think might be useful for our Northland members. This includes any writing services you offer, links to useful (or fun) websites that you want to share, writing jobs you hear about, or even a request for a copy of an out-of-print book. Priority will be given to fresh content. Please refer to the contributor’s guidelines for requirements.
Best New Zealand Poems (published annually by the International Institute of Modern Letters) aims to introduce readers to leading contemporary New Zealand poets.
Only poems or books of poems by New Zealanders published within the calendar year of the current collection are eligible for consideration.
Submissions must be received by 17 December 2018.
With the success of their first anthology in 2017, Fresh Ink: A Collection of Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand 2017, Cloud Ink Press is excited to again be taking submissions for the second in the series to be published in late 2019. The anthology will contain works across a range of fields and genres.
Submissions are open to all New Zealanders, who are either living in New Zealand or have a New Zealand passport, and will close on the 23rd of December.
For further details, visit the Cloud Ink Press submissions page.
Apply now to be mentored by an established writer, poet, playwright or graphic novelist.
The NZSA Mentor Programme accepts applications for the 2019 programme from 1 Dec 2018 to 1 Feb 2019.
The NZ Society of Authors Mentor programme 2019 seeks applications from writers and comic / graphic novelists looking for professional development, a safe space to discuss their work, intellectual community, role models, accountability and substantive feedback.
The writers and creators who gained mentorships in 2018 polished and refined their skills under talented mentors such as Paula Morris, Pip Adam, Geoff Walker and Vivienne Plumb. The NZSA Mentor Programme has an equally impressive group of mentors available for 2019.
This programme is made possible thanks to support from Creative New Zealand. This year, as part of our commitment to diversity, we have again tagged 3 mentorships for emerging writers identifying as Maori, Pasifika and Asian. Learn more…
Entry is now open for 2019 Calibre Essay Prize. Founded in 2007 and now worth a total of AU$7500, the Calibre Prize is one of the world’s leading prizes for a new non-fiction essay.
Entry is open to all essayists writing in English. They are seeking essays of between 2,000 and 5,000 words on any subject and welcome essays of all kinds: personal or political, literary or speculative, traditional or experimental.
Entries close 14 January 2019.
This is a contest only for LGBTQI writers, offering an incredible opportunity to upskill and show your writing talent.
First prize is $1000 cash for the winning story, $500 for the runner up and $500 cash for the best writing from a promising young writer aged under 25.
The word limit is a maximum of 2000 words and should not be exceeded. Stories must exceed 1200 words. Entries will close Sunday 31 March 2019. Check it out…
For information on other competitions and awards check out the Calendar of Opportunities on your NZSA website’s members-only page.
With a raft of self-published short story collections, a teen dystopian novel and work published in New Zealand’s top magazines, newspapers and journals, Northland-based indie author, Michael Botur, knows what it takes to break into the literary world.
Now he is on a mission to share what he has learnt with other writers, in what can sometimes feel like an undervalued and over-crowded industry.
In the early days, Michael Botur was a leather jacket, boot-wearing angry young man, with dreams of being a rock star. It’s a far cry from the immaculately groomed professional he is today.
He also describes himself as; “Quite defensive, and if I felt left out of some group of people, I would satirise the group or come up with ways to be resentful of it. I was obsessed with satire, comedy and literature – Bill Hicks, Matt Groening, Denis Leary, Joseph Heller, Chuck Palahniuk, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs etc. I was an angsty cartoonist for a while there, then a holier-than-thou vegan, I had a mohawk, briefly. It took years to settle comfortably into myself. Just becoming a reasonably-good creative writer, and good at speaking on a stage, took several years.”
His metamorphosis from alternative rocker to author began when he started writing — in his words — ‘crappy lyrics and crappy poetry,’ while at Otago University. It was this shaky beginning that inspired the frequently explored theme of conflict and male codes of violence in his stories.
“I was a little hell-raiser when I was about 18,” he says. “I got into trouble with the law for breaking things, smashing things, doing bad things with my car and drink driving. So sometimes the conflict was me against myself.
“Eventually, trying to make art became the main purpose of my day. It took years until my main identity in this world was as a writer instead of a tough guy with something to prove.”
He soon realised that sitting around waiting for his work to be discovered was not an option. The recent release and promotion of TRUE? – sixteen short stories of strippers, celebs, trysts, travel, virgins, Viagra, jail, journos, A-listers and Class A’s, is evidence of this.
“At first it was a drag having to raise awareness of my work on my own, instead of people coming to me, but the reality is that we live in such a crowded world that if you sit around and wait for people to discover your work, they won’t. The chances of being ‘discovered’ are increasingly slim,” he says.
“If you get into the habit of being able to clearly describe and promote your work and stand up for it, then you have a skill set that can help in so many ways — not just in sales but in life.
“It also helps with keeping yourself going because if you don’t believe in yourself, then it’s agony when you’re typing away at your computer. There’s always that anxious voice saying, ‘Is it worth it? Is there any point to this? Will this be around in 100 years?’ “
To keep that voice at bay, Michael had to work up the courage to run another GiveALittle campaign to help fund TRUE? and watch a lot of Henry Rollins motivational videos. One of the most useful videos Michael stumbled upon discussed the importance of performance and staying performance fit.
“Whenever possible I try to perform my words. Even if it’s just to a couple of people, which sometimes it is. You’ve got to stay fit when promoting and performing your writing because you never know when someone is going to ask you to perform something.”
Michael also interviewed actor Rob Mokaraka for a journalism story and found his philosophy inspiring.
Another thing Michael learnt along the way is how to balance what he wants to write with what people want to read.
“It’s like this. While 99 per cent of the publishing industry is not publishing dirty realism, which is a genre that’s a pretty good match for what I write, there’s one per cent of the industry that does. It has its own culture and code and fan base. You have to decide whether you want to be nobody in a big pool or somebody in a small pool.
“The major break through for me was two years ago when I got sick and tired, one night, of going through the process of trying to get a literary journal to publish each of my stories before it had a veneer of approval. Takahe magazine and Bravado are two journals which really empowered me for ten years and published tonnes of my early writing, and I’m grateful to them, but writers should learn that becoming competent is about achieving one million words, or 10,000 hours of writing – it’s not about gaining the approval of some editor.
“Take this, for example: at the start of 2018 I got kicked out of a short story competition because an editor wrote me a snobby letter saying; ‘It has come to our attention that you have already published your story on your blog.’ How ridiculous is that? A writer gets their opportunity taken away because they dared to be proud of their own work? That night I said ‘no más,’ I wrote a cool angsty blog about it then resolved to never again beg for the approval of people who don’t care about my work.”
As for making realistic characters, he says composite characters — characters with a blend of characteristics taken from people encountered in real life — are the way to go.
“If you’re writing a character taken directly from real life it can be too obvious. Writers need to know characters are the number one most important thing in fiction writing. Don’t waste time setting the scene or even describing in great detail what the person looks like. The character isn’t what someone looks like; it’s how they act.”
Of course, publishing a book on a budget sometimes requires authors to step outside their comfort zone, into areas they have less experience with, to design their own covers. To get the cover of TRUE? just right, Michael graffiti-ed his garage wall and turned his backyard into a swamp when removing it later with a water blaster.
“Every author could use some basic training in design and photography. Colour contrast and font are important. The cover has to give you a flavour of what to expect inside. This time I asked more people for their opinions.”
Despite the challenges encountered when going down the self-publishing road, a combination of passion and sheer determination is what keeps Michael going.
“Writing is hard, but it’s a great art to choose from. It costs next to nothing, and you can do it anywhere. You don’t always need a paper, pen or computer to do it and it’s incredibly versatile. Writing can also be turned into other forms of art. It’s a really practical medium.”
Get your copy of TRUE? from Unity Books in Auckland, email firstname.lastname@example.org or use the order form at NZShortStories.com.
Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy, Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson
Using adverbs is a mortal sin
1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”
3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.
5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is published next month by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
1 Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).
2 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.
3 You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)
1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualisation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
1 Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
2 Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph –
3 Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
4 Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
5 Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
6 Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.
7 Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
8 Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
9 Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.
10 Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.
1 Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
2 Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.
3 Read Keats’s letters.
4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.
5 Learn poems by heart.
6 Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
8 If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
9 Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”.
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great autocorrect files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes ”photography” and so on. Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to perseverance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
1 The first 12 years are the worst.
2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.
6 Try to be accurate about stuff.
7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
8 You can also do all that with whiskey.
9 Have fun.
10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.
2 Don’t have children.
3 Don’t read your reviews.
4 Don’t write reviews. (Your judgment’s always tainted.)
5 Don’t have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.
6 Don’t drink and write at the same time.
7 Don’t write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)
8 Don’t wish ill on your colleagues.
9 Try to think of others’ good luck as encouragement to yourself.
10 Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it.
1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
2 Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
3 Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
4 Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
6 The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8 It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
10 You have to love before you can be relentless.
1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
2 A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
3 Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
4 Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
5 Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
6 Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.
7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5 Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7 Laugh at your own jokes.
8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
1 Write only when you have something to say.
2 Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.
3 Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.
4 If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.
5 Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
6 Theatre primarily belongs to the young.
7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.
8 Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.
9 Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.
10 The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”.
1 Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.
2 Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
3 Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
4 Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
5 Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.
1 Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
2 Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.
5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.
8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.
9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
10 Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.
1 Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.
2 Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don’t really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, “how to” books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.
3 Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else? Don’t write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book’s ready.
4 If you have a good story idea, don’t assume it must form a prose narrative. It may work better as a play, a screenplay or a poem. Be flexible.
5 Be aware that anything that appears before “Chapter One” may be skipped. Don’t put your vital clue there.
6 First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?
7 Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don’t notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they’re trying too hard to instruct the reader.
8 Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.
9 If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.
10 Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can’t give your soul to literature if you’re thinking about income tax.
1 My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.
2 Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.
3 Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.
4 If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction.
5 Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development.
6 Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.
7 For a good melodrama study the famous “Lester Dent master plot formula” which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.
8 If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.
9 Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).
10 Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.
1 The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible, to have my antennae out all the time.
2 Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.
3 A notion for a story is for me a confluence of real events, historical perhaps, or from my own memory to create an exciting fusion.
4 It is the gestation time which counts.
5 Once the skeleton of the story is ready I begin talking about it, mostly to Clare, my wife, sounding her out.
6 By the time I sit down and face the blank page I am raring to go. I tell it as if I’m talking to my best friend or one of my grandchildren.
7 Once a chapter is scribbled down rough – I write very small so I don’t have to turn the page and face the next empty one – Clare puts it on the word processor, prints it out, sometimes with her own comments added.
8 When I’m deep inside a story, living it as I write, I honestly don’t know what will happen. I try not to dictate it, not to play God.
9 Once the book is finished in its first draft, I read it out loud to myself. How it sounds is hugely important.
10 With all editing, no matter how sensitive – and I’ve been very lucky here – I react sulkily at first, but then I settle down and get on with it, and a year later I have my book in my hand.
1 Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.
2 Think with your senses as well as your brain.
3 Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary.
4 Lock different characters/elements in a room and tell them to get on.
5 Remember there is no such thing as nonsense.
6 Bear in mind Wilde’s dictum that “only mediocrities develop” – and challenge it.
7 Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve.
8 Think big and stay particular.
9 Write for tomorrow, not for today.
10 Work hard.
1 Don’t try to anticipate an “ideal reader” – there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.
2 Don’t try to anticipate an “ideal reader” – except for yourself perhaps, sometime in the future.
3 Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!
4 Unless you are writing something very avant-garde – all gnarled, snarled and “obscure” – be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.
5 Unless you are writing something very post-modernist – self-conscious, self-reflexive and “provocative” – be alert for possibilities of using plain familiar words in place of polysyllabic “big” words.
6 Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
7 Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.
1 Proceed slowly and take care.
2 To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand.
3 Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.
4 Develop craftsmanship through years of wide reading.
5 Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter.
My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.
1 Read lots.
2 Write lots.
3 Learn to be self-critical.
4 Learn what criticism to accept.
5 Be persistent.
6 Have a story worth telling.
7 Don’t give up.
8 Know the market.
9 Get lucky.
10 Stay lucky.
1 Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceeding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in . . .
2 The edit.
3 Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.
4 Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).
5 You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.
6 Live life and write about life. Of the making of many books there is indeed no end, but there are more than enough books about books.
7 By the same token remember how much time people spend watching TV. If you’re writing a novel with a contemporary setting there need to be long passages where nothing happens save for TV watching: “Later, George watched Grand Designs while eating HobNobs. Later still he watched the shopping channel for a while . . .”
8 The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.
9 Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.
10 Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.
The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.”
1 When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
2 When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
3 Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
4 Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
5 Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
6 Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
7 Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
8 Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
9 Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
10 Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
1 Finish everything you start.
2 Get on with it.
3 Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.
4 Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
5 No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.
6 Work in the morning, a short break for lunch, work in the afternoon and then watch the six o’clock news and then go back to work until bed-time. Before bed, listen to Schubert, preferably some songs.
7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.
8 On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably Persona or Autumn Sonata.
9 No going to London.
10 No going anywhere else either.
1 Forget the boring old dictum “write about what you know”. Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that.
2 Nevertheless, remember that in the particularity of your own life lies the seedcorn that will feed your imaginative work. So don’t throw it all away on autobiography. (There are quite enough writers’ memoirs out there already.)
3 Never be satisfied with a first draft. In fact, never be satisfied with your own stuff at all, until you’re certain it’s as good as your finite powers can enable it to be.
4 Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted “first readers”.
5 When an idea comes, spend silent time with it. Remember Keats’s idea of Negative Capability and Kipling’s advice to “drift, wait and obey”. Along with your gathering of hard data, allow yourself also to dream your idea into being.
6 In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.
7 Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes.
8 If you’re writing historical fiction, don’t have well-known real characters as your main protagonists. This will only create biographical unease in the readers and send them back to the history books. If you must write about real people, then do something post-modern and playful with them.
9 Learn from cinema. Be economic with descriptions. Sort out the telling detail from the lifeless one. Write dialogue that people would actually speak.
10 Never begin the book when you feel you want to begin it, but hold off a while longer.
1 Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It’s worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work. I find watching films also instructive. Nearly every modern Hollywood blockbuster is hopelessly long and baggy. Trying to visualise the much better films they would have been with a few radical cuts is a great exercise in the art of story-telling. Which leads me on to . . .
2 Cut like crazy. Less is more. I’ve often read manuscripts – including my own – where I’ve got to the beginning of, say, chapter two and have thought: “This is where the novel should actually start.” A huge amount of information about character and backstory can be conveyed through small detail. The emotional attachment you feel to a scene or a chapter will fade as you move on to other stories. Be business-like about it. In fact . . .
3 Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.
4 Writing fiction is not “self-expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.
5 Respect your characters, even the minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s. At the same time . . .
6 Don’t overcrowd the narrative. Characters should be individualised, but functional – like figures in a painting. Think of Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Mocked, in which a patiently suffering Jesus is closely surrounded by four threatening men. Each of the characters is unique, and yet each represents a type; and collectively they form a narrative that is all the more powerful for being so tightly and so economically constructed. On a similar theme . . .
7 Don’t overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced, and can be dispelled by obeying Rule 1. To read some of the work of Colm Tóibín or Cormac McCarthy, for example, is to discover how a deliberately limited vocabulary can produce an astonishing emotional punch.
8 Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways.
9 Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.
10 Talent trumps all. If you’re a really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni’s Room. Without “overwritten” prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall . . . For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, crucially, only by understanding what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.
1 Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
2 Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
3 Love what you do.
4 Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.
5 Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
6 Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.
7 Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
8 Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
9 Trust your creativity.
10 Enjoy this work
Kim is Australian and lives in New Zealand. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. She took up writing in 2016 after working in Australian organisations for many years, followed by long-term consulting work in Italy and Bhutan.
Kim is a keen photographer and traveller with inspiration for poetry and stories often coming from her photos. She has a BA (Hons) in History and a BA LLB. Her stories and poetry often have historical themes and she is working towards her first novel, set in Italy.
Her work is published in the Copperfield Review, Furtive Dalliance, CafeLit, Flash Frontier, Flash Flood Journal, Visual Verse & “a fine line’
“Fallen Fruit” September 2016 Flash Frontier
“On Every Street” National Flash Fiction Day UK – Flash Flood
, http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/ 24th June 2017.
“They Came that Night” Third prize. 2017 Northland Flash Fiction Competition. Published in Flash Frontier, September 2017.
Years and Years published by Cafe Lit Feb 24 2018 https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.co.nz/2018/02/years-and-years.html
No. 7704 published by CafeLit March 11 2018
Avocado Days published by CafeLit April 11 2018
When We Danced published by CafeLit May 11, 2018
Il Paolio de Siena published by CafeLit June 11, 2018
The Carousel published by CafeLit July 11, 2018
These Hands published by CafeLit August 10, 2018
The Rose Garden Flash Fiction Magazine August 9, 2018.
The Battle of the Hydaspes
Vol. 03 Chapter 11, September 2016.
The Glove Maker
Vol. 04, Chapter 1, November 2016.
Ellen Davis: “Emotion filled….beautiful expression! Thanks for sharing!”
Vol 4 Chapter 10. 2017.
The Final Voyage
The Copperfield Review, Volume 16 Number 1 Spring 2017
Of this Land. Published in August edition of ‘a fine line’, NZ Poetry Society (2017) p17 online.
Lady of Margate Published in June 2018 Furtive Dalliance (US) Issue #2, Summer 2018
There is a Light Published in June 2018 Furtive Dalliance (US)Issue #2, Summer 2018
Anniversary Published in June 2018 Furtive Dalliance (US)Issue #2, Summer 2018
Caught Published in June 2018 Furtive Dalliance (US)Issue #2, Summer 2018
Gone To be published October 2018. of Barren Magazine (US) Issue #2
Auckland’s NZ Book Festival – now in its fifth year – is an annual event for independently published Kiwi authors to interact with other writers and publishing industry professionals.
Organised by children’s author Louise de Varga, the event features around 100 writers.
In the lead-up to the festival, Botur has been putting on creative writing workshops around Northland and Auckland. He’s also been blogging about the challenges of putting out an indie book on a shoestring budget.
Botur recently published an essay about the hits and near-misses of his indie marketing, including experiencing impostor syndrome and reaching the day of TRUE?’s book launch with the books still not ready for pickup. Other adventures on the road to publication included ruining his own garage wall to get the graffiti cover achieved as cheaply as possible, battling the winter weather to complete the cover photo shoot, and writing extra stories at the last minute so the collection could be marketed as containing ‘Sixteen stories.’
Botur ran a successful GiveALittle crowdfunding campaign this year in the lead-up to publication, with pre-sale donations covering much of the cost of the initial print run.
Botur will be performing readings from True? at Time Out Book Store in Mt Eden following the NZ Book Festival on November 17.
TRUE? is available at NZShortStories.com, Unity Books and The Piggery bookshop.
Vaughan’s words seem to appear all around the world, and he travels as much as he can. If you have an interest in Kiwi creative writing, you’ve probably seen Vaughan Rapatahana’s name across dozens of publications, including his just-released novel called, er, Novel.
Born in 1953 in Patea, Vaughan, who is of Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Te Whiti ancestry, wrote a bit during the 1970s and 1980s, had a lull during the 90s, and returned with oodles of energy ten years ago. Since then, he’s been publishing poetry, academic text and fiction non-stop. Amongst other achievements, Vaughan has won the Proverse Poetry Prize, his poetry collection Atonement was nominated for a National Book Award in Philippines, and his writing has been published in French, Tagalog and te reo Māori. His poem Rangiaowhia has been shortlisted for the NZSA Canterbury Heritage Book and Writing Awards 2018. One of his proudest publications is 2012’s English Language as Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures.
In between the Novel launch, the exhaustive appeal for reviews of Novel and working as a resource teacher, Vaughan has also been editing Ngā Kupu Waikato, a collection of Waikato poetry and has been contracted to write a third Poetry in Multicultural Oceania collection.
Money and time are restrictions for writers like Vaughan, which is why family are helpful. His daughter Pauline Canlas Wu – a tattoo artist in Hong Kong – illustrated Novel, while wife Leticia Canlas helps too.
Vaughan takes a break from his day job for this interview, explaining that he is looking forward to retiring after November.
“I am now receiving the pension: I retire at end of November. I’ve got so many projects I want to go into… .”
It was 1977-79 when the then-24 year old taught in Kerikeri. Typical of Vaughan, he didn’t stay put for long. “That was after a year in the meatworks at Southdown, in between university and training college.” Vaughan recalls Kerikeri as, “a fairly Pākehā district.” He returned to live in Pakaraka and then Awarua, after working in Nauru.
At the time, Vaughan wasn’t aware of a nascent literary scene in Northland. “If there was stuff going on, I wasn’t much aware of it. I was starting to write myself. I got a couple of stories published in the NZ PPTA Journal.
“I remember going to see Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick up north about 1981. Sam Hunt definitely was an inspiration. We have since sporadically kept in touch, eh.”
Talk of the popular poet gets Vaughan namedropping contemporaries who have made a mark in NZ literature – fair enough considering Vaughan has been inside schools, universities and workplaces with David Eggleton, Roger Horrocks and James Norcliffe, and now sees a lot of fellow Waikato poet, Bob Orr.
With the rate of creative writing that Vaughan publishes, one would think he has been going forever, but Vaughan feels it was only ten years ago that he came into his own as a writer. “I wrote Messerschmidt – which became Toa – in the 1980s… I wrote a couple of crappy poetry books. The novel was written about 1986/87 then I stopped and got on with my life. Marriages, kids, going overseas, working, I thought I didn’t have much to say. It wasn’t until 2007/08 I started to return to writing and to getting poetry published.”
Vaughan says his books have “probably not” made a lot of money. “But I’m not in it for the money, mate.” He chose Rangitawa Publishing for Novel because “I’m not really a fan of going towards big publishers. If you look at my publishing history… many publishers are often middle class Pākehā and I come from a different more marginalised perspective.”
Vaughan says he is ‘ever the Outsider’ – a reference to the seminal book by Colin Wilson, whose literature Vaughan studied for his Ph.D.
Check out Vaughan’s fascinating work via the links below.
Writers Up North has one copy of Novel and one copy of poetry book ternion to give away. To win your copy head to Facebook @WritersUpNorth and post a rhyming quatrain about why you would like to win (and review) these books.
Links to some of Vaughan’s work
– Novel at Rangitawa Publishing
– A French profile of Vaughan’s work http://surledosdelatortue.free.fr/tourn%E9e%20vaughan/page1vaughan.htm
– Vaughan on the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/16/ka_mate16_lees.pdf
– Vaughan’s New Zealand Book Council Writers File http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Writers/Profiles/Rapatahana%2c%20Vaughan
– A recent Ka Mate Ka Ora academic article about Vaughan Rapatahana