Tag Archives: Anthologies

No More Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett and the fascination of historical fiction

Jean Burnett

Jean Burnett

Following her success with the Jane Austen spin-off Who Needs Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett is now working on ‘serious’ historical fiction.

 

 

 1. What am I working on now?

I have been putting finishing touches to two completed manuscripts (must stop tinkering) while reading up for the next book. I write historical fiction and the researching part of the book takes several months. I won’t be putting anything much on paper or computer for a while – just filling notebooks with details. This is my second ‘serious’ novel and it’s set at the court of Charles 1 in the run up to the Civil War. There is still an Italian connection through the heroine who is a famous artist. I won’ t say any more because it’s bad luck and I am superstitious about my writing. At this stage I have no idea about a title!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

It is difficult to assess this. All writers have a different take on history and we all hope that we have a recognisable ‘voice’ that makes us different. I look for quirky historical details or places, perhaps an electrifying incident that makes me think “that would make a good story.”
Most often my imagination is caught by a personality who is either so fascinating, so wicked (as in the case of Gesualdo), or is trapped in an impossible situation. I like what Paul Doherty calls the wrinkles in history; the facts or myths between the lines, the what ifs of history – was Elizabeth 1 really the daughter of Henry V111? Doherty was fascinated by this but I think the Tudors have been done to death.

3.Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I find the past more interesting than the present – that is the quick answer, although if I find a fascinating subject in the present I will certainly write about it. I have written a book set in the 1980s which seems modern to me, although it’s technically historical, which I find absurd.

4. What is my writing process?

It could be summed up as haphazard, but there is method in my madness. I don’t plan things out in detail but a lot of the book is in my head before I start. I always know the beginning and the end but the middle will often take me by surprise. The characters take on a life of their own which is worrying if they are real historical people. I am constantly checking on whether they would really have said or done a certain thing.
The fact is that we can never put ourselves in the mind of someone from centuries ago. We perceive them through a 21st century prism. All I can do is try to make them come alive – resurrect them. This is the fascination of the genre.

WhoNeedsMrDarcy[1]


Thank you, Jean.

I know you’ve also been working on the further adventures of Lydia Bennet – I hope we get to see them too one day. 

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A big welcome to Bristol Poet Sarer Scotthorne

Sarer is one of several writers who have contacted us since the publication of Unchained and is now a regular member of our group. Here she gives a revealing account of her work to date. 

Sarer Scotthorne

Sarer Scotthorne

1)    What am I working on?

The biggest project I am working on is editing a sequence of forty poems called “The Blood House” to send to publishers. It was the last piece of writing I did for my MA in Creative Writing. Being part of Bristol Women Writers has been invaluable. Their support and feedback is exceptionally useful in developing my editing and writing process. I have also started writing a new collection of poems about women in martial arts. I’m also doing some smaller projects called  “Obeni”, where I write a poem and a photo/collage is created as a response by photographer Vernon White. Poet Paul Hawkins then writes a poem as a response to the image. Another project is a performance piece involving film, poetry and martial arts. Last but not least I run a beginners writing workshop for women in Bristol.

 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know of any other female poets writing about their experiences as a martial artist. I expect there are in China and I do intend to research this area.

I think my poems are the product of my experiences in life, they have a certain visual quality, (I have a BA Contemporary Arts) and could also be described as psychosexual. I often delve into the darkest recesses of the mind and write about the unwritable. I have just had one of my poems, Sunday Morning Words published in poetry journal The Interpreters House. I have been surprised at how troubling readers find the subject matter of this poem.

My poems cover many subject areas, including topics such as politics, war, sexual politics, martial arts, nature and family dynamics. I enjoy the way the quality of language shifts as I change the subject of area of my poetry.

 3)    Why do I write what I do?

I feel compelled to write. I wrote on my own for years and was never taught. I wanted to take my secret passion for writing further and see what I could get away with. I like writing about topics that people deny, such as sexuality, abuse and power structures. I like pushing boundaries, both in subject matter and in form. I try to challenge prejudice through my writing.

 4)    How does my writing process work?

I always carry a notebook around with me, and I scribble notes and drawings onto every inch of paper. I read poetry all the time, and I am very active in the contemporary poetry community of the South West and I like to get to London, Oxford, and Brighton to either read my own poetry, listen, write and participate in book fairs. I find it all very exciting and this stimulates and feeds my creativity. The next step is harder work; the editing. This can involve a lot of research, and I sometimes feel as though I have a compulsion to endlessly play with a set of words, which can go on for a year or more. It can seem like a puzzle that I need to be patient with and work out. As I get towards the end of the process I start to feel an immense sense of relief and satisfaction. This is where feedback is invaluable. I get feedback from some very accomplished poets, also Bristol Women Writers who are outstanding and have helped me with the final edits of some of my favourite poems. It is the greatest feeling to finish poems to a high standard and see them being published.

thunderbolt mapDon’t forget you can catch up with Bristol Women Writers and some of our closest writing friends  at the fabulous Thunderbolt Bristol for the monthly Word of Mouth slot on Wednesday May 7th. We’re looking forward to performing our work and meeting up with old and new friends. If you haven’t had the Thunderbolt experience, this could be the time to try it out. 

 

 

 

Next to reveal her writing secrets: – Shirley Wright

 

Shirley WrightAfter her guest slot on BBC Radio Bristol last Saturday (two days left to catch up here),  Shirley is fast becoming a local celebrity, but she has found time to tell us some of her writing secrets in today’s post.

 

What are you working on now?

Poetry, almost exclusively. I’ve become fascinated with form, and I’m enjoying exploring its restrictions and its challenges. My current obsession is with the sonnet. I suspect that’s the most well known of all the poetic forms and probably the most used, both by modern and not so modern writers. Surely everyone had to learn one of Wordsworth’s or Shakespeare’s at school? And today’s kids have examples like the fabulous “Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

Well, there’s a limit to how different you can actually be when you’re writing in strict form! But what I like about today’s poets is the way they push the boundaries and bend the rules in an attempt to move things on. Like a modern take on an old classic – paying homage while at the same time acknowledging that things change (and have to, or else they’ll ossify and die). Some people are very resistant to this! I was at a poetry workshop recently where I read a few of my sonnets and explained what I was trying to do and why, and met with violent opposition: a sonnet is fourteen lines, with strict metre and rhyming patterns, and that’s that. No argument. Now, Don Paterson (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, university lecturer, published poet and author of many tomes specifically about the sonnet, and therefore someone who probably knows his onions) reckons the only thing you can definitely say nowadays about a sonnet is that it usually has fourteen lines, but often doesn’t! When I quoted this at the said workshop, there were gasps of horror.

Why do you write what you do?

I write poetry because I love words. Frankly, I’m obsessed with them. Their meanings, sound, feel, taste, ambiguities, etymology, grammatical interplay … I’m one of those geeky people who can spend all day worrying about a semi-colon or choosing between two words that basically mean exactly the same thing! I like writing in form because, in a weird way, its restrictions are  somehow liberating. When you’re searching for a particular rhyme, it makes your imagination go to places you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. It makes you more inventive.

 What is your writing process?

 I try to write every day. But it’s different from the discipline of bashing out a thousand words of prose before lunch. I can’t be that regular or that methodical. Sometimes a poem starts to take shape while I’m shopping or ironing or cooking. I scribble odd words down, then carry on with what I’m doing and wait till a bit more comes along. Eventually the poem demands attention and then I go straight to the computer. I know lots of poets still swear by pencil and paper, but seeing lines clearly on the screen, and being able to move them about so easily, helps me envisage the future poem, even before it exists. My handwriting’s illegible, anyway. But there are also days when nothing new happens and I spend my time fiddling and editing and reworking old poems, often just playing with the odd word. Poets are inveterate fiddlers. We never know when to leave a poem alone and say “It’s finished”. Because it never is. If I’m really stuck, I read someone else’s poetry and this can help a lot.

lastgreenfieldThank you Shirley. You can view The Last Green Field and Shirley’s other publications on our bookshop page.

Meanwhile – as you can guess from this picture we’re in tea-party mode. Catch us if you can at one of our meetings tonight from 7 to 9 on Twitter @eteaparty

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Bristol Tbilisi evening – writing and partying Georgia style

The Girl KingOn Friday there’s a chance to celebrate Bristol’s Tbilisi connection and hear from Meg Clothier, journalist and author of The Girl King, a novel about Queen Tamar of Georgia.

Meg will  be at Foyles on Friday March 7th (6pm start) discussing her book with our own  Jean Burnett who is a long-time member of the Bristol Tbilisi Twinning Association  and has visited Georgia herself.

‘Georgia is a wonderful country,’ says Jean, ‘and they throw terrific parties!’

Tickets will be £3 for BTA members and £4 for friends and guests. This will include Georgian snacks and wine and a book signing with an opportunity to purchase “The Girl King”. Ticket Reservations are available directly from Foyles on bristolevents@foyles.co.uk and put “Meg Clothier RSVP” in the subject line. Payment for tickets will be taken on the night.

Meg ClothierMeg Clothier studied Classics at Cambridge, spent a year sailing a yacht from England to Alaska, then – after a few false starts – became a journalist. Her last job was working for Reuters in their Moscow bureau before coming back to London to study for a masters degree in post-Soviet politics. Meg lives in London with her husband and two children.

Where Can Books Take Us? Free workshop coming up

It has been a busy few months since our launch in October with Bristol Women Writers members taking parts in lots of events around the Bristol area as well as knuckling down to get on with our own writing projects. (Yes, we write stuff too!)

But now we’re ready to ‘go public’ again with a reading/writing workshop which is part of  Bristol Libraries’ 400 celebrations.

The Bookhive

The Bristol 400 Bookhive (Photo by Bristol City Council)

In Where Books Can Take Us, you can again hear members read from the Unchained anthology, but this time there will also be the chance to hear about their sources of their inspiration and take part in activities to get you writing.

The event is on Thursday 27 Feb 2014
in the Central Library,
from 5:45 PM – 7:15 PM

 AND IT’S FREE!

The event is listed here, but  please ring 0117 9037250 or email bookhive@bristol.gov.uk to book your place.

Our thanks as always to the library staff for making this possible. We’re all looking forward to catching up with Unchained fans old and new.

See you there!

Out and about

Out and about

Photo credit: Bookhive image copyright Bristol City Council
Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/55274649@N08/11350913515/in/photolist-ii3p8r-ii3HU5-ii3H8A-ii3VuC-ii3pAv-ii3VCo-ii3pPg-ii3VVh-iJacxY-iJ8c84-iJ9uck-iJ9tzD-iJcd7m-iJaeUS

Short stories: how long and where from?

Nina Milton continues with her short story advice.

There is only one rule that can never be broken, and that is length. A short story has to be short. But how short? Are there minimum or maximum word counts that short fiction must sit between?:

The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms says that a short story is “A fictional tale of no specified length, but too short to be published as a volume of its own, as novellas sometimes and novels usually are.”

The blank page or screen can represent a terror to many writers, not just writing students. But there are strategies you can employ to overcome any problems with writer’s block. What I love about creating short stories, is the opportunity it gives me to conjure small moments out of my own imagination. Although, like everyone else, I sometimes chew my pen and wonder what the heck to write about, the fact is, ideas for short fiction are everywhere – look out the window for inspiration – look around the room.

Hypatia

Inspiration

When we were asked to write on a specific theme – that of library – for the Unchained Anthology, every single member of  Bristol Women Writers came up with an amazing story. For me, almost immediately I heard about the theme, the idea of writing about the library at Alexandria came into my mind because I’m interested in the tarot and wanted to investigate the legend of it being created to represent the books lost in the fire, but also because Hypatia was an amazing, but rather forgotten, female role model and writing about her was appealing.

So finding the clue to starting your story can be as simple as being ‘told’ what to write about, or choosing one random word, or, as writers often do in a workshop environment, choose a picture or photo and allowing the story it tells you to develop into a piece of short fiction.

One way I get started, which I recommend, is by sifting through a shoe box full of a miscellany of clippings, photos and picture cuttings. Every so often, I add things to this box; a quote I liked, a newspaper story, a postcard from a friend or any other material that may be of later interest in your writing.

For my story The Library at Alexandria, I took out a cutting about the historic facts about the ancient library. I read it, looked at the wonderful photo of a bust of Hypatia which inspired me to think about how a woman in my own world might be engender such an aura of charisma. I try to get ‘a moment of illumination’, and some part of a narrative arc revolving in my head before I open my notebook and write. Then I often start with notes which, given chance, build like a lego structure into the beginnings of an narrative arc. I like to be ‘bursting to write’ before I properly begin – then I freewrite for as long as I can without stopping, even to think too much.

If you’re desperate to write a short story, I recommend you try this method.

[Image source: Wikipedia commons]

Nina’s website: http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/

Short Stories 2 – guidelines for writers

Nina continues her exploration of the short story craft.

Nina MiltonIn my last blog, I looked at how the short story works today and wondered at its level of popularity. I do sometimes worry that the only people who read the short story are people write, or want to write short stories. Even worse, some people start writing short stories only as a practice run for writing a novel. But the short story is a form of literature in its own right, able to strike directly into the heart and mind without preamble. The compulsion to tell stories is a very powerful and ancient one which continues to have a place in our modern culture. Commuters on the New York subway still read the latest short fiction, as they did a hundred years ago, proving just how strong a means of expression it is.

There’s nothing wrong with getting on and putting pen to paper if you have a story in your head, but at some point, it makes sense to define what a short story is. Of course it should entertain, engage, provoke empathy and possibly inform or even inspire, but that doesn’t set it apart from other forms of creative writing – a play, for instance.  And the modern short story as it’s been developed since the beginning of the 19th century is also very different to the stories we tell over a dinner table, or the retelling of a legend, for instance.

Short stories can demonstrate how diverse, joyful, outrageous comic, sad, illogical, cruel, and mysterious the human experience is – it should be a snapshot; a moment of illumination – enclosed in a capsule, entire to itself, drawing its being from a single point of emotion or wonder. Or, to quote Isobelle Carmody, ‘a microcosm and a magnification’.

One thing that I really love about writing short stories is that there are not many fixed rules. You have carte blanche to create something original every time. If you read through the Unchained Anthology, you’ll see that diversity proved with every new story.

Of course there are guidelines. The main ones are;

  • use a small cast of characters
  • keep the timeline as short as possible
  • have, a single theme
  • resolve your story satisfactorily
  • every word has to count

Having sorted out a single theme, never wander away from the central point, as, for instance an anecdote might do. A short story is never an anecdote (which is an account of a probably true, often humorous, possibly exaggerated incident), while a modern short story has a narrative arc which builds tension throughout or towards the end and finishes with a resolution. The narrative must demonstrate a coherent progression towards the satisfying conclusion which, by definition, is never far away.

Even so, many a fine short story has successfully handled a bevy of characters, an extended timeline, or an ending that lacks closure. It might even appear, at first glance, to be a collection of vivid but disjointed impressions. But the story still has to be rigorous in its construction – it must be a whole.

The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms describes the short story thus,  ‘A short story will normally concentrate on a single event with only one or two characters more economically than a novel’s sustained exploration of social background.’ This isn’t just a good definition, it’s great advice: concentrate on a single event with only one or two characters. Doing this, at least to begin with, will prevent you from falling into many of the concealed pits that have been dug across the short story writer’s path.

More short story advice from Nina next week!

In the MoorsNina’s second  novel in the Shaman Mystery series is due out later this year. Check out her previous books in our bookshop.