Thursday, 29 June 2017

Why write about "depressing" subjects?

I don't know where to start with this subject, but it's an important one, so I want to address it. I know that more people are familiar with my poetry than my fiction, as there isn't much of the latter “out there”, as yet. The fact is that I deal with dark and controversial subjects throughout all of my writing. I am focusing more upon my fiction here, although much of what I say applies across the board.

Firstly, my fictional characters are not me. They each contain facets of myself, to varying degrees, but none are me, as such. That isn't how fiction works. Some experiences of certain characters are heavily autobiographical, but there will always be fictionalised aspects, and it shouldn't be important for a reader to know what is based on my actual life experiences, and what is not. That is not to say that readers won't, or even shouldn't, be interested – and often, I will be happy to clarify and share my own stories, since I am a naturally open person.

There is definitely an element of therapy to writing for me, that is essential to my survival – to my sanity, such as it is. I do write to explore subjects because I have been through them myself, or been through something similar. Yet, this is not always the case. I have had, for my writing, to research subjects, including heroin addiction and abortion, and many others, of which I have no direct, personal experience. Is it “depressing”, if you like? Yes, at times. I would say it is deeply painful, and also makes me more compassionate – and, at times, paralysed by my own inability to fully understand, and do justice to the subjects. The social issues won't go away by ignoring them, but then again, is it enough that many of us attempt to write about them, in our fiction? Isn't there more that we can and should be doing? Sometimes it isn't easy to know what to do, but I can't close my heart or mind to themes, to which I feel drawn. I am so restricted by my own health and circumstances, and I don't have the answers – only more questions, and they replay, on an endless loop, inside my mind. I think that the best answer is that I would find it more depressing to ignore the issues, and I don't know if I will ever achieve what I ideally want to through my work, but I just have to keep going. 

I hope that this made at least some sense.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Writing modern historical fiction

So, what is “modern historical fiction”, right? Well, my WIP is modern historical. It's set primarily in the 1980s, although readers will be given a glimpse of the early 1990s. We can debate as to where the line is drawn. Some would say that, if anyone is alive today who remembers a given period of time, then it is modern historical. It would generally be accepted that the 1950s through to the end of the 1990s qualifies. As to anything later than 1999, but less recent than – well, now, pretty much – as in, contemporary...This is a grey area, and one that it's not easy to sell publishers or readers on. If your novel is set in 2005, it is basically “dated” - neither historical nor contemporary. If you can't “move” the characters from 2005, then it might be a case of holding on to the manuscript until it is old enough to be considered historical. Harsh, I know – but that's pretty much how it is.

What defines historical fiction, in general? Obviously, the story must take place in a historical period – but is that sufficient? In my opinion, the historical setting does need to play a central role in the story. The genre may be more specific than simply historical, of course, and genres can be combined. A historical romance, for example, would need to meet the requirements of both historical fiction and romance.

Is it easier to write modern historical fiction, as opposed to stories set in more ancient times? The obvious answer would be that it is – as, from a research point of view, it is easier to find out about more recent time periods. Everything has its down side, however. Mistakes will be spotted more readily. If you weren't alive during the period you're writing about, try talking to people who were, as well as doing research online, and reading relevant books. If you were around, do your research anyway, as you can't rely upon memory for every detail, particularly if you were a child, during the era in question. Keep in mind that you may have to research aspects of life prior to the period that you actually cover, in order to relate fully to the experiences of your characters.

Character names are important. Classic names work well, but avoid modern, trendy ones, that may not even have existed, at the time. Replace these with “dated” names, which would have been the trendy ones, back then. It's easy enough to Google the popular given names for any particular era, and remember to take the age of the characters into account, too. I hope to cover naming characters in more detail in a future post, but these are just some of the basics, relating to names in modern historical fiction.

I love writing modern historical. It's not that different from writing contemporary fiction, and I get to address many of the social issues that are close to my heart – but the music is better, and no-one has a mobile phone, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.  (Disclaimer: You don't have to agree that the music was better in the 1980s/90s...!)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

My writing journey

Before I could physically write, I was already, in a sense, a writer. I invented people, worlds and situations. I daydreamed. I “played games”, and assigned roles to my brother and friends. I talked to myself, as well. Past tense...? Well, not entirely – because I'm a writer, and writers are weird. That's my excuse, anyway.

When I was five or six, and able to go beyond the formation of individual sentences, I wrote my first stories. I was that child who loved writing stories at school so much that I wrote my own, out of choice. I found Maths boring and difficult. I have the co-ordination disorder dyspraxia – which, at the time, was undiagnosed – and was, therefore, useless at the so-called “fun” activities: pretty much every sport, basically. I was bullied relentlessly, right through school, and struggled with depression and anxiety, from a very young age. I never fitted in, and longed to, but if I had, then maybe I would have been happy but ordinary, and not a writer. It was the one thing that I was able to do better than average, and I focused on that.

I do have periods of writers' block, for want of a better term. I also have long reading slumps. I don't write every day. I would like to say that I do, but I don't. That's just the truth. I currently have many health issues, physical and mental health. I have been let down so many times, by people I thought I could rely upon – family members, who have been less than supportive, to put it mildly – and so-called “friends”, who have hurt me deeply. Poetry has often helped me through, and currently, I do have a novel that I am working on – an old project, which I revived a few years ago. I am making slow progress, but getting there. It's a project that means so much to me, more than I can express - and yet, I am terrified of failure. Sometimes, the fear leaves me paralysed, and I don't get anything done at all.

Still, I do believe in what I am doing, with all my heart, and I know that I have to finish my novel. I did finish another, and shelved the first draft, without revising, which I am okay with. In my heart, I felt, and still do, that finishing was enough, in that instance.

This is just a very brief summary of where I am at, with my writing, but it's a start. I want to start everywhere and say everything, but that is impossible. Writing is my life. I've been in some dark places, and I truly believe that I wouldn't be here without my fiction and poetry.