I seem to have become rather lax about blogging lately so, without further ado, here is an update of my literary activities of the past few months...
August in Edinburgh is, of course, totally dominated by the festivals, and it’s an amazing time to be in the city – let alone live in it. The highlight for me is always The Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF), which never fails to attract world-class authors, and this year was no different. Below are a few of my highlights:
- Patrick Ness is basically the king of YA fiction at the moment - and deservedly so. In person too, Ness is funny, engaging, and has a lovely rapport with his audience. I also appreciated the fact that he spoke a lot about writing as a process, and the following are just a few things he said that stayed with me:
On not having time to write: 'Writers don't write, they write anyway. You find ways to write.'
On self-belief: ‘You can be a writer - no one ever told me that.’
On how his stories take shape: ‘I'm a great believer in if an idea's good enough, wait and things will stick to it’
- Sarah Maitland and Kirsty Logan write original fairy tales, Maitland fusing hers with scientific theory in her book Moss Witch, and Logan creating her own lyrical, sensual fiction in The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. Given that I frequently use traditional stories in my own work, I really enjoyed hearing about their different approaches to this kind of writing.
- I have never read any of Lydia Davis’ fiction, but her event (chaired by a delightful Ali Smith, whose work I love) made me realise what an oversight that has been, for Davis is truly a master of the short story form (an excellent example of her newer work is Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer).
- The wise and witty Sarah Waters talked mainly about her new novel, The Paying Guests, and I was particularly interested when she discussed how her historical fiction develops: she reads extensively around the time period she wants to write about, and then lets the story emerge from her research. Also, her event’s chair, Muriel Gray, was fabulous (‘Sarah, this book kept getting me all hot and bothered. I had to think of Jeremy Clarkson to calm myself down.’).
- Haruki Murakami was one of the biggest names at this year’s EIBF. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, though having read three of his books I should have guessed: Murakami was quirky, witty, with a mischievous streak - he had his audience in the palm of his hand.
Meeting him after the event was even better. For privacy, he was signing books behind a strange arrangement of sheets, rather like a blanket fort. My partner (a highly reluctant reader on whom Murakami has somehow worked his magic) and I queued for a good hour to see the author, and then simultaneously froze when we ducked into all the linen and came face-to-face with him. Unfazed by our silence, Murakami chuckled, ‘I am looking forward to a beer after this,’ and – finding our voices at last – we hastily encouraged him in this endeavour.
Banter about beer with Haruki Murakami? We felt like the coolest people on the planet.
After all that excitement, September had a distinctly back-to-school vibe, especially following the fun of the festival, and I enforced a strict ‘new term’ routine on myself. Each weekday since then, I’ve been trying to finish my freelance ghostwriting by lunchtime, so in the afternoon I can spend a couple of hours on my novel, short stories, or writing admin (ie tasks like trawling the internet for competitions or sending stories off to anthologies). Unless a pesky deadline comes up, it’s not a bad system, so I’m going to try and stick to it for the foreseeable future.
October was dominated by one of the aforementioned pesky deadlines, and most of the writing month was spent pulling my hair out over perhaps the most difficult short story I’ve ever written. Hopefully I will be able to find it a home one of these days...
And finally, November, which I will remember as the Month of the Novel. First of all, I finished my second full-length ghostwritten book. Obviously, I can’t talk about it too much, but it’s been a very enjoyable project, and working on it every day has given me some much-needed structure since returning from my travels, so I will miss it a fair bit.
In terms of my own writing, this was also a big month for my novel-to-be. A while ago, I realised my old draft simply wasn’t working, and therefore much of ‘new term’ has been spent trying to rethink its structure, plot, characters – most of it, really. I think November was the first time I felt like I was making progress with this often disheartening task, helped in no small part by Edinburgh City Council’s wonderful two-day writing course, 'Start Your First Novel'. Run by Alison Summers, the sessions were great for reviewing (and learning) the process of developing a novel from scratch, and so made it much easier for me to look at my new ideas from a fresh perspective.