Sunday, 29 April 2012

Life as a Literary Device: A Writer's Manual of Survival

Recently, I read a wonderful book by Ukranian-born cultural commentator and journalist Vitali Vitaliev, memorably titled, Life as a Literary Device: A Writer's Manual of Survival.  Amazon describe it as “an analysis of how literature has bound his life and an exploration of how to survive in the modern world.”

Reading it was a wonderful springboard for me.  His comment, “I dread unlimited choices, which to me can be almost as baffling as no choice at all,” really resonated as making choices is at the heart of the craft and philosophy of creative writing. 

I also loved the survival tips, which were interesting and thought-provoking.  One of these suggests re-reading familiar books from childhood, which can be calming and reassuring at low points. How true.  This form of bibliotherapy rekindles happy memories and nostalgic thoughts, as we also associate the actual text we are re-reading with the circumstances in which it was read.  I count myself lucky that my dearly loved, and sadly recently late, mother used to read to my brother and I when we were very young, while we were snuggled up in bed, and this helped to nurture my love of books, leading to many hours spent reading under the covers by torchlight when the rest of the house was asleep.

I liked the advice “Relax about tomorrow and just see it as gathering information for your survivor’s guide.”   Yes, life is a survivor’s guide, a giant research project, as we accrue the knowledge and experience that will guide us on the journey.  

Life as a Literary Device

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Always in my heart

I recently finished my latest book, Always in my Heart, which I am especially happy with.  It was an intense and emotional experience and in the first draft , one of  my main, and most loveable, characters (Alice) is killed in a tragic accident.  Both my editor and publisher loved the book but they also loved the character and didn’t want her to die.  They thought it would have an adverse effect on the other characters and my readers.  So I was asked to rewrite the ending so that she lives. 

This was not a situation I had found myself in before.   At first, I wasn’t too sure about changing anything.   I was pleased with my original ending and reluctant to alter it.  Then I did some soul searching and examined my motives for killing off Alice.  They weren’t good.  Events in my personal life had caused me to feel cynical.  By having my character die it was like saying, “Life can be hard, and bad things happen to good people.  Get used to it.”  I was trying to push a harsh message through, but for the wrong reasons.

After a lot of consideration, I found a way to rewrite my story.  I’m really pleased I did. Alice lives, and my agent and publisher were happy too.  I have a new perspective on the story and am bubbling with ideas for the sequels.

A further reflection: writers can play god,  deciding the fate of their characters.  It’s a fantasy role, but maybe it’s part of why we write, some quirk of our psychological make-up;  that power, that control, which we lack in everyday events.  If only real life were life that.  If only we could rewrite real life, so we can bring back the people we love and have lost forever.  

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Running, writing and living

Running is great for writing.  It gives the head space to breath and reflect, and for ideas to germinate and evolve.  I love to observe the birds and squirrels when I’m running and often stop to talk to them.  Part of the human need to commune with other living creatures, I imagine, and to feel a connection with the world.
Sometimes I will do a familiar run in reverse and it’s fascinating how it can feel like a new route when you do that.  The other day, I decided to deviate from my usual route and follow a path that went somewhere I had not been before.  I never find it easy to go into unfamiliar territory, but the path did, strangely, and after some time, take me back onto my usual route but from a different direction.  At first I didn’t recognise where I was, even though it was a path I run frequently, and I reflected on how new everything can look from a different angle.  

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