Tag Archives: internet

A tribe of writers

Did you know that there is no collective noun for writers?

I suppose it’s not so surprising, really, what with writing so often being a lonesome experience: sat with a notebook, or in front of a computer, or reading a novel, or lost in important imaginings.

But actually, it’s pretty hard staying focused on all that without a group of people around you that know what it’s all about.

Plenty of people have mulled over this question of what that group should be called: I quite like ‘an alliteration of writers’ – if only for how it sounds. Or a ‘hyperbole of writers’ – but maybe just because it’s one of my favourite words… For me, my group of writers is most definitely a tribe.

Mainly our interaction exists in this virtual world – we met through social media, and our blogs, and through the wonderful What I’m Writing community. I found it all a bit awkward at first: I realise meeting people online has been pretty standard for years now, and on a more personal level I don’t think I would ever have become reacquainted with the man who became my husband if it hadn’t been for Facebook. Still, though, it took me a while to get my head round the fact that these people who I knew only through their words, who I had never actually met in real life, could become my friends.

Turns out that was nonsense.

It is different, getting to know people online. But in a lot of ways it cuts through all the crap. Reading people’s blogs is like a little window into their souls, and much as it can feel strange sometimes to share perspectives on the world which might only come out in real life after hours of chat with people who are essentially strangers, it all becomes worthwhile when you find the words which dance around the same frequency as your own – and even more so when you meet the people who wrote them.

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When you end up with a lunch like the one we had on Saturday, which starts at 1pm and lasts into the evening, with eight creative and talented and opinionated and awesome women sat around a table sharing their thoughts on everything from politics to parenting to relationships to, of course, writing. When you realise that somehow by bonding over words of fiction you have happened upon a group of people who share a deep injustice at the state of the world and the determination to do something about it. When you accept that each one of them will do that differently, but that’s ok – just like we’re all going about this writing thing differently, and that’s ok too.

We spent ages dissecting the pros and cons of self-publishing and agents and independent presses, of aiming high versus getting your words out there, of writing what you want versus trying to shape your work for the market. And our conclusion? They’re all just different ways of doing things, and we all have different perceptions of the way that will work for us.

And that’s ok. And more than a little bit liberating.

I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I have met during the different phases of my life so far, and to have come across this brilliant group of women now, just when I’m starting to own this current incarnation as a writer, feels almost too good to be true.

Because although writing is by its very definition a solitary pursuit, there is a strength in numbers that cannot fail to help when the self-doubt sets in. And after Saturday, it feels more than that: we protect each other, sure, but we inspire each other too – and egg each other on to pursue our own impossible dreams.

The world has felt like an increasingly scary place to be this year, and whilst part of my response to that has been reaching out to old friends and finding with relief that they are very much still there, the fissures that have opened up in our society have made me doubt whether my place within it is quite as secure as I once thought it was. Having focused for a long time on carving my own path, confident to choose the road less travelled if that is the one that calls to me, I am feeling the need for back-up.

And here, through my writing tribe, whether they are tapping away at a keyboard hundreds of miles away or sharing just one more glass of wine across the table as day turns into night, I might just have found it.

Writing Bubble

The web of research

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the internet search history of a writer looks like?

As I was pootling along with my draft this week I couldn’t help but smile at the diverse directions my ongoing research is taking me in.

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It’s not quite as extreme as my last novel, where the bulk of my online explorations were delving into the psychology of narcissism, manic depression and schizophrenia, not forgetting the murky world of electronic surveillance. Still, though, when writing a novel which (at least for the thirty thousand words I’ve written so far) is set in the 1970s and early 80s, it turns out there are an awful lot of gaps in my knowledge that need filling.

Most of them come from the fact that, having only been born in 1978, I have no personal experience of the little details of everyday life. Like, what were people called? What did they wear? Teenagers specifically? How did they do their make-up? Did they smoke? What did they drink at parties? What did they study for A-levels? When did they take their exams? When was the Walkman invented? What music did people listen to?

It’s all well and good talking to people who were around at the time, but I’m not just talking about general trends here – I’m talking about the specific aspects of fashion and popular culture that would have appealed to the blossoming characters I have been developing over the past few months, my two protagonists especially but the supporting cast as well.

Then there are the other details that anchor the world of my novel in time and place. The coordinates of my key locations, and the relation between them and the rise and setting of the sun (and the moon). The times of sunrise and sunset in summer, and any notable weather in between. Impossible to begin a novel in 1976 after all and not acknowledge the heatwave and the impact it had on peoples’ lives.

There was the politics too of course, and what it meant for peoples’ working days, as well as things like the prevalence of streetlights in a small seaside town.

Time and place aside, there are other things too I’ve found myself investigating to get up to speed with my characters’ interests and areas of expertise. The mechanics of butterfly stroke, for example. And the names of the different parts of a fishing boat. Not forgetting how to kill a mackerel.

It is all quite fascinating, and much as I’m trying to make sure I don’t get so completely sucked into the research that I fail to do any actual writing I can’t deny that I’m enjoying all the little bits of learning along the way. I know it doesn’t matter if not every little detail matches the facts, but if I’m having to make decisions anyway it’s nice to be helped along by the wealth of information that’s out there.

Remind me what people did before the internet again?

 

Writing Bubble

The lost art of letter writing

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I had several very late nights last week. Not just because I was on a mission to get myself organised before the craziness of Christmas sets in, but because of what I found in the process.

I have always been a bit (a lot) of a hoarder. This is generally something I chastise myself for – resulting as it does in me being surrounded by piles and piles of stuff that I have no idea what to do with. But this week, as I sat on the floor surrounded by these pieces of paper dating back twenty five years and more, I was very glad that I find it so hard to throw anything away.

There were letters from friends I have not seen for many years, and from those who I still count amongst my very best. From boys I was once in love with, or who were once in love with me. From my brothers, who it is hard to believe were ever so little, and from older family members who it is hard to believe are not around any more.

They were written on pages torn from files, on embossed notecards, on the backs of envelopes, on handmade paper, and collectively they transported me back to a very different time. A time before email. A time before text messages. A time before Facebook. Or WhatsApp. Or Twitter.

There are so many ways I keep in touch with people now – and probably if there weren’t I would find it hard to keep in touch with as many people as I do. But there is something incredibly touching about those fading and dog-eared pieces of paper, about the effort of writing out a message by hand, of finding a stamp and an envelope and a postbox.

Very few of the letters contained anything of much import. And yet in their banalities and ramblings they said more than a carefully considered few lines on a special occasion ever could. And often, hidden in the clutter of the everyday, there were flashes of the souls of those who wrote, of what I meant to them – and them to me.

I often look back on my later childhood and teenage years with feelings of sadness and regret. I struggled with depression and anxiety – the degree to which came across starkly in the tortured diaries I also discovered. But my memories of that – blurred themselves by my reluctance to fully transport myself back to the waves of misery I felt at the time – have clearly clouded the reality of the very good times I had in between, and the very, very good friends I had around me. How they put up with me I’ll never know; I fear my demons made me incredibly selfish at times.

As well as this quiet self-reflection, this archive from my past got me thinking about something else too. Letters are going to be very important in my third novel. It was a letter from that world, a particularly significant one, which was initially going to form the basis of this post. But that was before I found my stash. And what those letters have reminded me is how different communication was in life before the internet.

I’m looking forward to reading and rereading the letters that were sent to me so many years ago as I continue to unpick the lives of my main characters. So much of their friendship – and their love story – will unfold as they put pen to paper. The waiting for their letters to be read and answered, the delicious anticipation when an envelope addressed with familiar handwriting falls through the door, the peeling open of that envelope and becoming immersed in that contents for a few precious moments: all that will need to find its way into my novel.

And I think also it needs to find its way back into my life. I have so many friends and family who are not as geographically close as I would like them to be, and whilst the internet has brought with it the wonderful ability to keep up with what they’re doing with their days it will never replace the simplicity or the complexity of a letter.

So whilst I’m not normally one for new year’s resolutions, I can feel one simmering here – one that will mean that pile of letters from my past may still have the chance to grow.

 

Thank you to Sara over at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: a letter…

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