At a recent GWG poetry workshop, Steve Knight sought to coax us beyond our familiar use of words. As adults and seasoned writers, we tend to anticipate where our choices are leading and, if we are skilled, we end up with the planned surprises of craftsmanship. Unpredictable clashes and unexpected encounters, especially outside poetry, become rare. This rareness is reinforced by our practice of critiquing, where we tend to critique out words that are surprising or unusual.
One of the important lessons of this workshop for me was to get a better grasp of the way a writer leaves room for the reader. This is particularly the case in poetry, but is also so in good fiction. It is more difficult in storytelling because you don’t want to have the reader wander off down an untraced path, straying beyond the limits of the world of the story. When that happens, the reader pulls up short in incomprehension, and he or she is lost to the story.
The following text began during Steve’s workshop and continued afterwards. I enjoyed experimenting writing beyond the habitual contraints of storytelling, leaving avenues open, discovering the power of suggesting meaning. I didn’t set out to write a poem, I am really not a poet, but to explore telling a story differently than I usually do.
I survey the walls that once embraced the town
Atop these we kids as kings and queens did reign
Our shouts now echoes by the breeze borne home
“Please don’t go,” I hear her plead. “Please don’t”
Beyond the causeway, the London express runs late
While whistling impatient, the Swanage train snakes out
Carrying with it sea-salty memories of hands clasped tight
Between windswept crowns the Norman tower peers down
Timeless devotions of a conquest worn smooth on stone
Donning my bag, I wade through grasses to the stream below
Swirls of sadness clutch its curves, straining hard at my resolve
On I trudge till below the road the stream sinks out of sight
Then, with a perfumed flourish, I pull her letter out
And, leaning on the gate, unleash her words once more
I have been working my way steadily through the fourth book of The Storyteller’s Quest, The World o’Tales, revising as I go, and have now reached the middle of chapter 11 where I broke off to write Boy & Girl and then In Search of Lost Girls. The last time I wrote chapter 11 was January 25th 2012. Getting back to finishing off The World o’Tales is a very heady feeling. A bit like peering over a precipice! Nothing for it but to plunge over and trust I can swim…
The last of the lunchtime diners straggle out of Café de Grancy in Lausanne calling out goodbyes over their shoulders to the waitress, as the four of us gather round a table by the window. We exchange handshakes or hugs, hesitate over what drink to order and then bring each other up-to-date on our latest writing exploits. On the table, between the cups and the odd half-eaten cake, lie piles of manuscripts, single chapters from our latest YA novel. Shared over the Internet several days earlier, they are now annotated with our remarks and suggestions, awaiting discussion. Taking it in turns, we listen, jotting down the occasional note, as the others critique our work. This is our second meeting, so the stories are taking shape and characters are becoming more familiar as the plot unfolds. There’s both praise and criticism. Comments range from praise for a well-written scene or a particularly polished style to overarching concerns about characters or plot, with more detailed questions about word choices or sentence structure. One person proposes building suspense by changing the word order. Another questions inconsistencies in a character’s behaviour, while a third puts forward ways of enhancing dialogue by calling on the different senses. Two hours and four chapters later, we fix a date for our next meeting a month later and take our leave, promising to email our comments once we get home. Outside the boulevard with its sluggish traffic and its preoccupied pedestrians seems strangely unworldly as each of us mulls over the changes and improvements we plan to make to our chapter.
Yesterday morning’s workshop at the Geneva Writers’ Group was about Flash Fiction. I’m not a very well disciplined pupil when it comes to following instructions. I tend to get on with my own thing in the exercises Susan set us. This time I ended up writing a flash fiction very freely inspired by a fascinating conference earlier in the week. I called it The professor.
“…all this nonsense about rules and regulations is so trying…” the professor complained, abruptly raising his voice as he paced the auditorium… (Read on)
Read my review of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
Neverwhere is built around an imaginative and hilarious use of the names of the stops on the London Underground in the strange world of London below. A familiar, mundane reality becomes the stage of outlandish and gripping adventures witnessed by an “upworlder” who strayed through his goodness and generosity into the world below only to become the central protagonist in a deadly quest…. (read on)
I am working my way through the fourth book of The Storyteller’s Quest. It’s got a great title: The World o’Tales. I have reached the end of chapter two of the the eleven and a half chapters already written. I expect it will have some 15 or 16 chapters when it is finished. The Storyteller’s Quest has much longer chapters than Boy & Girl – some 10’000 words per chapter.
“Grace shivered. Each of the changes these people brought contained the seeds of ineluctable disaster. Yet they seemed blind to the forces they were unleashing…” The World o’Tales, Chapter 11.
Following close on the heels of listening to the first book of the Raven Boys Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, entitled The Raven Boys, here is my review of the newly released second book: The Dream Thieves which I listened to in an audio version read by Bill Patton.
The second book of the Raven Boys Cycle, The Dream Thieves, written by Maggie Stiefvater, ends on a cadence that is so far from resolution that we are surprised to awake and realise the story is over, albeit until the next book is published. That surprise may have something to do with the sheer pace and intensity of the story. It’s a daring finish to a wild and raw, but sophisticated book… (Read on)
I’ll be reading a short story called The Path on Ginger Dawn’s Book Talk this Thursday, September 12th. Listen also to the interview of the strange Dr Schwab about birds and humans, and hear other contributions from GWG members: Donnalane Nelson, Katie Hayoz, and Sylvia Petter.
Links: The broadcast; the text of The Path; The interview of Dr. Schwab
I am currently preparing The Starless Square for publication. It is the third book of The Storyteller’s Quest and should be available before the end of this year. Here’s a short teaser.
A weekend of joyous festivities! Such was the Theosophy department’s response to a group of fanatics bent on destroying their reputation and having them shut down. Theosophy? Professor Rafter, head of the department, calls it “the study of our direct relationship with that which is beyond and above the normal range of human experience”. He could just as well have been describing the adventures of a group of young friends who have been called back from their travels in another world to defend their department with their new-found abilities. But how could entrancing singing or breath-taking storytelling or exquisite cooking possibly stand a chance when pitted against the evil black cloud that threatens to obscure the Starless Square?
Had a series of t-shirts made with the Secret Paths logo and I’m now toying with the idea of making some with small copies of my book covers or a selection of my photos… Branching out into art on textiles…