Posts in "Writing" Category — Page 2

A writers’ retreat

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend six days in Bordeaux in La Tuilerie at a writers’ retreat run by N Quentin Woolf. I booked this retreat on impulse several months ago. I’d attended one of the writers groups he runs briefly so I knew they usually had a relaxed atmosphere, and I decided what I needed was a short period away from everything in order to focus on writing a larger-scale project than I’ve attempted so far – ie a novel.

Our little group of writers (there is no collective noun – why not? Perhaps it should be a wrangle of writers? ) included a crime novelist, two short story writers and a non fiction writer as well as myself. We all had different life experiences, ages and day jobs but were united by a common sense of purpose, as well as (we discovered) a taste for country walks, lazing around the pool, drinking Bordeaux and playing very competitive games of Star Wars Monopoly.

Alison, who runs La Tuilerie, is a fantastic host. We ate some spectacular meals around the huge round table made from a giant wine barrel, including
cucumber soup and a lasagne I shall dream about. There are some very friendly dogs living in la Tuilerie and we saw deer, horses and rabbits in the area as well as a wild Dratini which I caught in my very first Pokemon Go excursion.

IMG_0562We had a workshop on story structure, some detailed group critique sessions, which were very helpful and informative for me and detailed individual critiques from Nick on whatever we were working on, which gave me some strong steers on how to improve the  quality of my work. I think  most new writers are afraid of exposing their work to criticism, but the scalpel was handled very delicately and I hardly felt a thing 🙂

We also enjoyed some interesting debates, ranging from who should be the next Bond to whether violence is an inescapable part of human nature, or not. At such a sad time for the world, when we seem to read more and more distressing stories in the news, one little bit of hope I took away (as well as my two completed first draft chapters) is that trying to create art, whatever it may be, is something that unites people rather than divides them.

 

 

 

 

Fear of failing

It’s been a little while since I left full-time employment to focus on my creative writing for a while and I’ve made a few discoveries. The first was that it’s remarkably easy to find other things to do when you are trying to write – I’ve set up this website and started fundraising for Macmillan for example.

However, I have managed to write five short stories and one poem so far since I took the plunge. That’s about 10,000 words, or so. It’s not a huge amount as it breaks down to about 3000 words a month, but of course I do a lot of editing and redrafting and sometimes life gets in the way. I’m planning to increase the amount I write each month and have downloaded Scrivener and signed up for a one-week writer’s retreat next month to work towards this.

I’ve also discovered that rejection still hurts, damn it all, even if you are old, wise and know that it is statistically extremely likely and ABSOLUTELY not personal. So far, I’ve been entering short story competitions because it gives me a deadline to work towards (this is by far the best way of motivating myself that I’ve found). I’ve had two fail to get anywhere so far.

Disconsolately Googling something like ‘discouraging entering writing competitions’ I came across this excellent blog post by Rachael Dunlop from a couple of years ago which had a bracing effect and persuaded me to keep going. As she says, it’s a numbers game.

So I’ve decided to continue to enter competitions, trying to choose them as carefully as I can but to start sending short stories to magazines as well, to give myself better odds of publication. I should end up with at least ten complete short stories, by the end of the six to nine month period I’ve promised myself for writing, even if none are published during that time it will be more than I’ve ever achieved before in terms of writing fiction.

I’ve also decided to become more organised since I realised I was already losing track of where and when I had submitted work, and came across another excellent blog by Jo Bell talking about this very problem, this time for poets but it’s applicable to any writer who is submitting work.

To get more feedback on my writing and learn from others who are on the same journey. I’ve joined a writing group in East London where we’re currently reading each other’s stories and novel extracts (it’s my turn this weekend) and I have also started an Open University course for creative writing which gave me the helpful suggestion to take a writing notebook everywhere I went.

I’m using Notes for this on my iPhone as I am the kind of person that clutches a phone everywhere she goes, not a notebook. Already, I’ve found this works as a way to collect and remember random ideas and scenes some of which might spark something off later.

I’ve just finished reading Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy and Meg, one of the two main protagonists, keeps a notebook describing encounters she’s had – or just little scenes she’s glimpsed – in London. The cumulative effect of these throughout the novel builds up into a portrait of the city and its people. I suspect these vignettes of London life probably began as a writer’s notebook, although I could certainly be wrong. I’ve never had the patience to keep a diary but a notebook seems manageable.

So in conclusion, keep writing, keep sending things off (because why not?) and be organised about it, use a notebook and join a writers’ group are the things I’ve learned so far. And try not to be afraid!

Photo credit Morguefile http://morguefile.com/creative/kakisky

Watch me reading my short story The Djinn at the Idea Store, Whitechapel

I was lucky enough to be invited to read at the Idea Store Whitechapel on Tuesday 13 July.

I read along with authors Daisy Goodwin, Uchenna Izundu and Bobby Nayyar. This was for the launch of a two volume paperback capturing London in all its diversity, consisting of brand new stories for each of London’s 33 boroughs. The video shown below was produced by Charlie Sen.

My first published short story is available on Amazon!

Photograph of gravestone
Photograph of gravestone

I had the wonderful opportunity this summer of writing a short story for 33 East: Volume 1: 33 Boroughs, 33 Shorts, 1 London (London 33 Boroughs Shorts)

(‘Recommended reading for anyone who loves London’ Time Out). I’ve decided to put an extract up here to give you a taster of my short story. It is about Salima, a young married Bangladeshi woman living in Tower Hamlets who believes her house is haunted by a Djinn or ghost.

Extract from The Djinn by Tabitha Potts (all rights reserved).

The Curate was busy putting his notes together to prepare for the latest
local history walk he was leading that Saturday. He loved to explore
architecture, the traces of life lived hundreds of years ago that still
survived unacknowledged in the modern chaos of the city. He loved
the city farm, with its collection of hardy-looking Gloucester Old Spots,
and went there often to visit the ruins of a mediaeval monastery that sat
there unnoticed and unvisited except by a herd of athletic miniature
goats. He would personally scrub away sprayed-on tags proclaiming
the might and dominance of the Stepney Massive, or the same sort of
graffiti he remembered from his own school days in Surrey, differing only
in the types of names and the breadth of knowledge and inventiveness
of the sexual techniques described, when they appeared on the walls of
his beautiful church. He felt a thrill of pleasure when he looked around
the stone building that sheltered his flock as it had done for centuries,
withstanding even the Blitz. It had been a bit of luck to get a challenging,
inner city parish, that had a church at its centre as old and beautiful as
this. The Curate knew God didn’t care about architecture, but was honest
enough to admit to himself that he did.

The Curate’s latest walk would start on Cable Street. He would explore
the Ratcliffe Highway, where sailors from all over the world could once buy
wild beasts of all descriptions, from lions and hyaenas to parakeets, moving
on to the boundary stone marking the borough of Ratcliffe or ‘Sailortown’
notorious for its taverns, drug dens, brothels and general debauchery for
hundreds of years. He would show them Stepney Causeway, where Dr
Barnardo asked that one of the doors be kept permanently open after one
child came looking for shelter, was turned away and died two days later of
starvation on the streets. He thought how a historical distance could make
a world where anything or anyone could be bought and sold and life itself
was cheap seem exotic and fascinating while in fact the reality must have
been – and was still – terrifying.

The Rector approached him as he was rearranging his notes.
‘I have something interesting for you, Andrew,’ he said cheerily. ‘An
infestation, you might say.’
‘An infestation?’
Andrew, a serious man, had never understood the Rector’s donnish
mixture of learning and levity.
‘A supernatural infestation. A young lady who lives in one of the old
houses over there.’
He gestured towards the row of Victorian terraces opposite the
graveyard.