Every book I work on as an editor inspires me in some way. I only take projects that have some meaning for me, otherwise the work is too hard. This month the first of two publications is Glumbags, a children’s book by author Charlotte Tarrant and illustrator Ivy Trasi. It’s delightful, the first from Starlike Books. I helped to edit in the early stages of the author’s journey towards publication.
When I first saw it, it was just text on a white page. There were a few sentences that needed a cut or a tweak to make the meaning clearer, and a character I felt was a little underused.
What appealed to me immediately though were the layers of meaning in the text. The story asks a question. Is there any good, or any point, in what we fear and avoid? What does Glumbags say to us? While the child-character is purely puzzled about why Gumbags gets the cold shoulder from all the shopkeepers in the High Street, an adult reader, might be wondering about whether what we avoid has something to teach us.
So I made notes for the author and followed her social media updates over the weeks; I noticed that there was an illustrator on board and it began to feel like there was a buzz around the publication. When this gorgeously illustrated book appeared with its sparkling sentences, I saw that character was now a real source of wisdom and encouragement for the child. And there was something about the publishing ethos that was quite special. #MyKindofHuman invites readers to celebrate someone who helps others.
Starlike Books exists to cheer on, gift and create children’s picture books that inspire courage, hope, love and joy.
Nicely done Charlotte and Ivy. What a joy to be a small part of this.
I am very pleased that my Josie O. part of me is in a book along with 99 (!) other comics artists. Each of us had a brief to draw a positive political action that anyone could take. Mine is about picking up the phone to support someone who might be fearful, even if you don’t know what to say.
We began the project the year that xenophobia and regressive, racist politics re-gained a mainstream foothold in my home country. In among the shock and grief, I felt that drawing something to encourage action, despite not being perfect at it, made sense in a nonsense world.
I never think of myself as a comics artist. I love drawing what a friend calls ‘your doodles’. But I’m not particularly professional about it. Gosh (Zap! Pow!) Saying that feels like a sin. The idea of doing something occasionally because I like it – of being an amateur – even allowing myself to be not totally good at it, a little unskilled in the corners… is risky. There’s another, harsher part of me that judges my inner doodler. But drawing is my way of experimenting.
And then people often like it despite it’s awkwardness of line. Someone says …the faces are lovely…, there’s something in the line… or invites me to make them a treasure for their wall. Last month a piece by me was a prize in a draw! I am humbled by such things.
I’m alongside some dedicated professionals in this book. People who spend their lives honing a skill. Don’t get me wrong, I know what it takes to become a professional and I don’t disrespect it, nor the time it takes. And I know if I drew every day I’d get better. But I write at the moment. And slowly that improves. And then there’s the slow art of being human as well. I try to work on that, and take actions where I can to stop the rot.
Meanwhile, there’s a web version of Draw the Line if you click the pic.
Creative writing class for London’s second lockdown. What shall we write? What tales might we find within on a late autumn evening as the darkness deepens outside and the sparkle and glow of the season are only memories? What do you mean we can’t socialise? Lets zoom in and get inspired. Something always gleams in the dark.
Part class, part write-and-meet. Places have to be limited but our imagination doesn’t.
It’s always been my intention to write my own pieces of memoir as I teach. I think it’s important to be practicing the craft you are asking others to learn. So sometimes, when I am walking in the mornings, I start writing in my head…
In my teens I lived in a provincial town in Essex, grew my legs long and went to the youth club by the playing fields. I rolled over the waist of my school skirt in an attempt to fashion my individuality from its uniform, knee length hideousness. If I could get away with it I would wear my netball skirt. My nan once ran after me to tell me I’d forgotten to put a skirt on. An ordinary life, it may even have looked privileged on the outside.
And I was told by one of the therapists who parented me into an overdue adulthood during my thirties that my mother used the techniques of a torturer to keep me in line.
Now, what’s the next step for this piece? Which is the road I want to travel? Will I ever reveal the torture-techniques? I think I must. If you have a gun in the first paragraph, it has to go off by the end (reportedly, Chekov). But I don’t want to, not now, and for good reason.
I am pausing to have a think here because I want an approach that’s best for both the writer and the writing. I don’t want to to get lost in childhood horrors as I write. Writing asks for something more. Something bigger. I need to have worked things through in order to write them effectively for someone else to read.
In a writing class things often come up that we weren’t expecting. It probably wouldn’t be that stimulating if they didn’t. But I tell students early on why memoir writing cannot be therapy. Under the guidance of a therapist it can be, or with a self-help group who can witness what you write there is useful work to be done in writing for therapeutic purposes. But we don’t have a therapist in my group. It’s not what I do.
My job is to guide you through the writing, help you get better at saying what you want to, help you shape and express yourself fully for an audience, which can be small, or large. Your choice.
I am going to try to avoid words like ‘unprecedented’ or ‘extraordinary’ because none of them are true if you take a long view. But today here, now, as my cat and I sit in a very quiet room with the balcony door open in the sunshine, I have to admit this is a new one on me.
Luckily I have been working with Zoom for about a year already. The video conferencing platform has been ideal for writers groups. Last year I ran a workshop for novelists who were living in Belgium, London, Margate and Kerala. We met together on a Thursday afternoon for ten weeks. Apart from power cuts it worked really well.
Next week I am stating a memoirists’ course for the women in the block where I live. I have a flat in co-housing and normally the population here is out and about, very social both together and with lots of visitors. But we can’t do that and everyone needs something to do. So I’m offering writers meet-ups on the theme of life each week.
Another group I’m supporting on Zoom are PhD writers, all over Europe, who were unable to get back before lockdown for their writers’ retreat.
Keep in touch through the lockdown and stay well out there
The course now begins on 26th September with a small band of us writers who will be able to stay right at home and connect across the world. Miraculous!
There is a test session on 19th September at 9.30am. email Josie for the link. You need a computer but all you do is click… and arrive in a room with other writers. It’s a visual, virtual conference room so we will all be able to see as well as hear each other.
We will be a small group – 6 at most – and the idea is to play with ideas and build support for your precious work. The next stage of the journey, should you want to carry on may in longer courses later in the study-year where we will look at techniques for developing work.
Why is writing so difficult to get down to at times? In our groups you get the space for your work to breathe, whatever stage it’s at. Writers get inspiration, feedback from other practitioners on problematic areas… and discuss ideas which may still be tentative.
Using our long experience, we put the groups together carefully, to make the most of their potential for peer to peer help. In these writerly environments you find ways forward, bringing your work into existence. Sometimes we just write together. We have successfully mixed screenwriters, playwrights and memoirists with the core of novelists who make up our groups. We look at what stories have in common and, in our longer groups, we invite visiting specialists in these fields. You get the chance to hear other peoples’ work, and when you’re ready, read out your own. You also learn strategies for sustaining momentum and get at least one private block-busting session.
Small groups of writers, mostly novelists, serious about finishing a longer piece of work, who get together weekly in Central London (Tottenham Court Road). Next group begins September 2017.
Writing a long piece is arduous, and the momentum is more easily sustained when others commit to you and your work, and encourage you.
There is a taught aspect each week of the course. You learn in-depth about sentences, scenes, plot, pacing and rhythm, among other things. … and each week at least one member of the group reads their latest piece of work. So the combination of accountability and stimulation helps you stay with it.
On July 2nd, next Saturday Josie will be leading a writers’ workshop in the Ice House gallery Holland Park on the Storyteller’s voice.
Writers will get a chance to respond to the images around them painted by Alex Stewart and develop imaginative ideas about the Storyteller and other characters in their writing. There’ll be time to write and read to each other if you want to.
Creativity begins with…well a few days ago I would have just said said play… but it can also be the happiest response to uncertainty and drama. This workshop is intended to give adults the chance to play with ideas around images, and articulate what wants to be expressed in a narrative voice. It will inspire you if you’re a regular writer. But no writing experience is necessary.
It may be of particular interest if you are writing fiction and want to develop your understanding of how to use point of view.
In Publishers Weekly this morning I read that Amy Hempel, a creative writing tutor, always asks her students…
‘Why are you telling me this?’ Someone out there will be asking, and you better have a very compelling answer. Is this essential? Is this something only you can say—or only you can say it this way? Is this going to make anyone’s life better, or make anyone’s day better? And I don’t mean the writer’s day.”
Something like this makes me sit up and pay attention.