Five things I learnt at the 9th Geneva Writers’ Conference

I love writers’ conferences; they help take the edge off the loneliness of writing. This year I have a book on its way to the publishers, a short story in the Offshoots anthology and I have begun my MA/MFA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. I was interested to see how these developments in my writing life would affect my participation in the 9th Geneva Writers’ Conference held in February.

These are my five discoveries:

1. Don’t publicize your book too soon
“I’m a communications professional and psychologist and I have a contract for my self-help book, Holding out for a Hero, Five Steps to Marriage over 40. I wanted to know whether to publicize the book before it comes out”, I asked the social media panel. “No” they replied, “Readers will be confused as to whether it is out or not, wait till you have a publication date”. Another panellist thought it was a lovely problem to have: readers who can’t wait to read my book.

2. Network
My book is finished bar final editing but I wanted a fresh perspective before I finally let it go. In particular I wanted to be sure that its contents are not potentially embarrassing. With so many talented writers I found just the person to read it from her chalet in the mountains.

3. Meet your publisher
I had signed with John Hunt Publishing’s Bedroom Books imprint in September. Contact takes place through a forum and data base rather than personally so it was a plus to meet John Hunt in person. He was reassuring but honest about what lies ahead.

4. Don’t worry about lunch
My freshly made cream cheese on wholemeal lay forgotten on the kitchen table. I wasn’t hungry till I bumped into Bob. He had brought a selection of ham and peanut butter sandwiches for his own lunch. I’m a vegetarian and peanut butter sandwiches are my favourite. Bob’s generosity proved that even if you come unprepared the Conference will provide.

5. Explore obsession
Henry Sutton’s workshop focussed on the intricacies of plot, motivation and desire – ‘whydunit’ rather than ‘whodunit’. The author of My Criminal World showed me that if my heroine is really looking for a partner she needs to get out there, not wait for fate to throw someone her way.

Lesley Lawson Botez

The Blog is back!

Hello! We are happy to be back and running again.

The Creative Writing MFA at Kingston University has been running now for several years. The two-year Fine Art programme was originally spearheaded by Scott Bradfield. We were very sorry to see Scott leave last year but relieved to learn that the mantle has been taken over by Paul Perry.

Karen Gillece und Paul Perry (Karen Perry) Irland

Paul Perry is the author and editor of a number of critically acclaimed books including The Drowning of the Saints, Goldsmith’s Ghost, The Orchid Keeper, and The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance, The Dedalus Press, 2010. Paul is also Curator for the largest and longest running international poetry festival in Ireland, dlr Poety Now.

This is going to be a great year for Paul not least because of the launch of his new book The Innocent Sleep. The novel, a psychological thriller, has been co-written with Dublin based author Karen Gillece. The Innocent Sleep was released on 18 February under the pen name Karen Perry. It has been commended by reviewers for its captivating and lyrical style of writing.

There is also a low residency MFA cohort led by Siobhan Campbell. It’s a distance learning option and attracts students from around the world. So this year we are a group of over twenty students, all at different junctions on the joyful, undulating, cross-country literary pathway. Over the coming months we hope to hear the sounds of these new voices and share some of our reflections along the way.

Your 2014 editors,

Maria & Carol

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Workshopping the Truth

Robert McKee said that ‘Storytelling is the creative demonstration of Truth’. He is not the first wise man to suggest that there is a worth in truth, an emotional price that tends to move us, force us to feel something, whether pleasant or unpleasant. In the case of true works of art, perhaps the point is complete if we are moved to feel anything at all.

And so as I try to amass a wardrobe of writing essentials and versatile accessories I am mindful of the hangers on which I display them. The poet Auden spoke of truth telling that should ‘disenchant and disintoxicate’. It sounds daring and brave and yet doable in the save haven of one’s own privacy. When the words are free to confess, converse, and contrive a truth possessed only by me.

When the same level of truth is to be exposed in a workshop forum, then a whole new dimension descends; an overcoat of self-consciousness weighs in. The writing wants to wear a different outfit, something more conservative, acceptable to the occasion and altogether less daring. There is a risk of turning up in the same pitiful strait-jacket time and time again. Maybe nobody notices.  In any case we alone are the best judges of the truths we own.

In whatever we write, we give something away and so in a workshop arena we always expose ourselves to some degree. It’s rarely comfortable and often regrettable. But maybe the key is to acknowledge the niggling honesty of our own instincts and tune into the feedback that echoes those doubts. And so learn that that’s where to focus the re-edit energy and prod ourselves a bit closer to the truths we aspire to expose.

Back to Basics

DSCF3179One of the good things about moving into the MFA, a student from the previous year said, is that you’re going to have more ‘one-to–ones’ and much more time to write. Great! What could be better than that? While the MA is full of – for credit- wonderfully taught master classes, and lots of assignments to hand in every week, we are told we will be freer on the MFA. Now, hold on. Is that really a good thing? Having all the time in the world doesn’t necessarily mean that we, even those of us who are starting to think of ourselves as writers, will sit down and write. And that is, because only real, committed writers, regardless of whether they attend creative courses or not, understand the most important principle of the craft: to sit down and write.

As we make progress through our stories, we sometimes – or very often – think that now that the plot is clear, that the narrative is flowing in an effortless way and we have –finally!- become better at spotting shifts in point of view, and so on, the story will carry itself forward, with our occasional input. Because there’s never an abundance of time to write. Yes, we all have jobs, outside home, or from home, or kids, or kids and dogs, or simply other tasks, challenges or passions to look after. And we think that our writing is all well when, really, it isn’t.

That is why it came as a surprise – although really no surprise there- when our course director sent us an email before the beginning of the year asking us to read “Becoming a Writer”, the classic by Dorothea Brande. The first reaction? Are we, effectively, back to basics? Wait, is this not a book that we all read before we even considered enrolling in the creative writing postgraduate course? We are way past that. Really? Are we?

But if we are writers only three words will do: constancy, discipline and backbone.

Constancy:After (re) reading the book many among us started to tell how difficult (but how productive) it felt to set a strict time each day to write, and do nothing more than write during a set period of time each day, additional to what D.B calls ‘early morning writing’.

Discipline:‘Old habits are strong and jealous’, D.B also reminds us. How true!

Backbone: Not Just D.B. but every real writer knows that writing is not easy. Even the physical act of writing is not easy. Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that writing ‘is a work of ass’ (es un trabajo de culo.) Yes, of sitting, alone, for hours. Even if surrounded by people (like in a cafe, library) you’re still alone, and you’re still sitting on your backside. Even when you’re eavesdropping into other’s people’s conversations, if you’re writing, you’re not going to jump in and join them- though nothing is impossible, the temptation is there, isn’t it? But you would stop writing. And while making that choice of sticking to writing, we are making a choice of loneliness, a selfish one, perhaps, a solitary one. We need to have backbone.

So here we are, more adept at plotting, at managing back story, still trying to control p.o.v, but what we really, really need to master first, is to sit down and write.

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