Monday, 3 December 2018

#Cathartic #Writing

So back to writing. Let’s look at catharsis. I began writing poems and stories at a young age. In Zimbabwe we had writing competitions that were called, wait for it, given I now live in Wales: Eisteddfods! These must have been instigated by Welsh pioneers (can I still use that word?). Through these poems and stories I was able to exorcise the monsters of my imagination. At other times I wrote poems about cats. Because, though I loved them, I was allergic to them. Thus, in writing I got to excavate as well as celebrate.

It is the excavation I am going to dwell on here. As a young child, I quite literally lived in my imagination. I was a solitary kid that did not make friends until I was six, when Caroline from down the road became my best friend. I grew up during the war for independence in Zimbabwe. There were attacks by the ‘terrs’ – terrorists - bombs going off in the city and people being shot away on the farms. Growing up in a fractured family where all sorts of things were going on under the carpet, there was plenty of material to deal with, and deal with it I did, through constructing imaginary worlds where the monsters were dispelled. I devoured Enid Blyton books and then recreated the narratives for myself and played them out in the trees in our garden. I often recreated my own world, often imagining a place where adults did not exist. I would imagine being rescued in a small sports car driven by Anthony Puffleadies (that’s the phonetic spelling of the Greek name of a blonde, blue-eyed boy who was to rescue me from the world I lived in and take me to another, more civilised place ruled by small people; I was in KG2 at the time, as I recall).

Narratives: changing and constructing narratives began early and have remained with me. As I grew up, the imaginings, poems and stories developed into the keeping of journals where all sorts of thoughts and feelings were worked out: a cathartic exercise I still engage in, thought the keeping of a daily diary stopped when I began to write ‘seriously’ in my thirties and was published for the first time – as a journalist, and later as an author. When I became a Jesus believer in my early thirties, I began keeping prayer diaries, in which I worked out what I believed and what I didn’t. I find that writing literally helps me to work things out – out of my system. When I taught writing to women that were in recovery, I taught them to write ‘unsent letters,’ letters to people that had hurt them that were burnt, ripped into small pieces or screwed up and thrown into the waste paper bin. I practised this technique myself – via email – but this is a dangerous practise on more than one occasion I have accidentally sent them – usually to my mother. Stick to paper for this technique.

All of these outlets help. I could not have got through my life without the transforming power of my pen. I have ‘writed’ all sorts of wrongs through my writing, from the personal (former family events that have been painful) to the socio-political – in #AftertheRains. When I studied psychoanalysis I discovered what I was doing with what mysteriously floated up fro the depths to the surface of my imagination, was called ‘displacement.’ Placing people and events where I felt they belonged, can have the effect of these events actually happened. Bonkers, but true. One can really write life ‘true,’ true for you: true, as things should be. Authentic writing always holds painful truths in its fascinating amber.

Friday, 30 November 2018

#Theresa #May not be making rational decisions

I was going to bang on about writing today, but important as writing is, it seems, when people’s lives are at stake, writing about writing seems frivolous; and stake is a good word in terms of the mediaeval imagery it conjures up. It appears that Asia Bibi is not going to be offered asylum in the UK despite having spent 8 years on death row following an accusation made by a religious nutter that, as far as I understand it, in the absence of any proof (duh!) she had insulted their prophet by upholding her own (Jesus is considered a prophet in the Islamic faith).

Theresa May should be ashamed of herself. She is the daughter of a vicar. It is in her power to help her. One of the central themes of the biblical Christian faith, across both the old and the new testaments, is that those of us who believe, worship a god of justice who upholds the protection of the week and the vulnerable regardless of what they believe. To give way to fundamentalists like this is to sacrifice the last shreds of British character in the face of those who would like to bring more terror to our land. Theresa May may well have said to these extremists: “We are afraid of you. We will give way to you.” It’s only going to fuel their fire. You can’t reason with psychopaths and religious nutters. It’s one thing for Imran Khant to behave in this way. It’s quite another for the Prime Minister of the UK to behave like this, and it makes a mockery of our asylum laws and what we in our democratic nation stand for.

We have given asylum to Muslim women who have fled death in their home countries (Malala and her family). We have given asylum to a number of Islamic nutters, many of whom have thanked us by radicalising young British men against us. Let’s hope Trump trumps up and gives Asia and her family asylum. It seems to me that there are double standards at play and that British attitudes to religious tolerance are becoming increasingly black (Muslim) and white (Christian). No one wants to appear white, even mixed race people. White is the new other that must be avoided at all costs – and if women like Asia Biba are to be the token sacrifice, then so be it. Stool-ducking anyone?

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Who, in our ruddy great word stew, writes like you, #DylanThomas?

Who, in our ruddy great word stew, writes like you, #DylanThomas?

I wrote the above in response to a tweet with a quote from Dylan Thomas written in 1944 courtesy of #The Dylan Thomas Centre: “should never write letters after lunch: I am whimsical, I am porky, there are peas in my ears & my smile is gravy.”
Yes, I know what I am doing here:

1.     Showing Off: Look how I can write!
2.     Trying to show that in the morass of words in which we authors stew, the only way to get our point across is to waggle our asses like crazy.
3. Be a unique stylist.

Is it showing off. Yes. And No. If we don’t get into the stew and try, like a dumpling, to bob to the top, how the Dylan’s do we compete? Less so if we are women with husband’s and children…but is this really still the upper case? In the thick of word stew, online, one reads of authors who are peddling books like 1p sweeties from the only sweetshop in town: these remarkable writers kept swimming through the thick stew until they reached ‘the other side,’ that 'all' writers want to reach. And what lies there? The cool salad of the publishing world, presided over, as it is by mythical Anna Wintourian beasts. These whimsies will accept and reject you like best friends in a British playground. Just because you get there does not mean you have ‘arrived.’ Many arrive, but how many actually scratch a living on the hallowed land before they are devoured, spat out and made once again to swim or just stew, in the stew.

Perhaps you are a writer reading this, in which case, I do not want to put you off, I want to cheer you on. There are many reasons to write, and the desire to make your mark is a noble one. But there are other, more noble ways, of competing in a saturated, and often not very tasty market, though a certain saltiness is required. Not least quietly persevering. There is something distasteful about self-promotion, so taste must surely come into it - one does not want to over-salt the stew. Don't be an egg-head with egg on your face, having over egged the pudding as I have just demonstrated with too many analogies - style, is as important as substance. Established authors leave the dirty work of selling to the marketing staff that work in their sometimes grubby houses, whilst the author looks on, face smugly rubbed ruddy clean by these nannies, champagne glass in hand. But believe you me, aspiring author or possibly just amused reader wondering what I am on about; do not feel bad about waving your oar. Just keep rowing – your words in particular – and particular they need to be, which requires much rowing or sentence after beautifully crafted, style-smashing sentence; and yes, wave your oar every now and again, someone may well take notice. Just don’t spend too much time on Twitter reading those stories of folk who got published after 3000 rejections – it may be a ploy to stop you writing and focus only on fighting – now there’s a thriller for you. Now, back to the stew…

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Why Write?

Some writers dream of fame or fortune, though if they do they are either narcissistic or deluded, or a sports or reality show personality. As I plunge more fully into a season of writing, I am considering again why I write. There are a plethora of reasons, but I shall focus on one of my primary preoccupations here. I needn’t remind us that we dwell in an age of mass information, with publishing within the reach of everyone’s digits and the more swamped the market gets, the harder it is for writers to reassure themselves that they have anything to add to the centuries old and mightily impressive canon, or to be happened upon at all in the ocean of words in which we wade.

Since the 1980s, possibly since the 1990s, and not withstanding nepotism and Oxbridge educations, it is well nigh impossible this millennia to get a book read without market forces in full sha-bing. Publishing houses are driven by market forces, and those market forces are driven by sure bets, and sure bets have done something else first – been a sport star or star of stage or large or small screen. I do not mean to say this bitterly at all, it is quite simply the way it is and as with all that appears bad, there is plenty of good in the great semantic sea. Expert fishing is required – by those who know how to fish in the first place. How do we know a great fish without recognising the fish in the first place – this requires broad reading of the great fish in the first place and at least the accepted canon is not cod.

There are many reasons to write and all writers are better off not contemplating recognition, but rather why they, personally, write. I first asked myself this question when a major publishing house that was interested in publishing my first book questioned the central premise of my novel as not being believable. Did they know that the catastrophic central scene that unpacked the entire novel did actually happen in the civil war in Zimbabwe? Not. I soon realised that in order for that house, and possibly other houses, to publish me I would need to write to a script that was not my own. In the pose of thinker, I considered why I wrote the book in the first place (to try to discover point up the truth as I perceived it). I told my agent that I was not changing it, thereby unraveling my route to that house and instead struck out on the narrow path to my own ‘Brilliant Career’ – hopefully that book and the irony thereof is noted.

I am not alone, on my persistent but narrow road; I have never made obvious choices. I have won competitions and have had that novel admired not only by that house but also by many others – I have, I believe I can say, the letters in both senses. I know that I am a ‘good writer’ given the comments of those in the industry that have tutored and often celebrated my work. But what is a good writer anyway? Who says? One can say so oneself, but there will always be those who agree and those who do not. I have concluded that I cannot write ‘for’ anyone, though I very much appreciate the imaginary conversation I am having with each individual reader. 

One must write for other or at least more, reasons, and one of those reasons must surely be to please oneself, and I shall address this vast and personal topic another day. I am encouraged as to my own ‘goodness’ as a writer by the feedback of readers for whom I have scored points – they share what those points are. As any writer would be, I am delighted by the comments of my readers. Of course, it would have been nice to have a vast marketing machine pushing After the Rains, but it nevertheless continues to sell. As in the rabbit and the hare, I do believe that it will continue to win in its own way as it hops along.

Some of my most treasured comments from readers are the ones from those who thought a certain way politically or socially, but having read my work, reported that they now had another view or could perceive an alternative view regarding some of the circumstances that led to the civil war in Zimbabwe. Others reported not knowing about the war, but had now been switched on to reading more about it. Surely we write to point to the truths we feel need pointing up? I write to change people’s minds. Often, in the process of dissemination of thought and motivation, I find that it is during the journey into the dark and back up to the light, that my mind is often changed too.