Open Out those Pivotal Moments

 

All too often, in autobiographical writing, I see writers dodge the knotty, meaningful moments when they changed their minds about something significant. Yes, those moments often feel hard to write about. But if you open out those pivotal moments, you’ll find they’re the places that most clearly show your reader who their subject is..

What made that moment meaningful? (This will show your values) What did you decide to do as a result?  (This will show how you lived your life). And don’t just open out these moments, but also remember what you learned by doing that. Moments like these will instantly show your readers what has value for your fictional characters. And why they live their lives in the way they do.

Prizes and Pubs, Feb 2018

Louise Allan’s first novel, The Sisters’ Song, has become a bestseller for Allen & Unwin, Australia’s leading independent publisher.  Marie-Elsa Bragg’s novel, Towards Mellbreak (Chatto & Windus, Penguin) has been shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild Best First Novel Award and selected as a 2017 Book of the Year in The New Statesman. Both Marie-Elsa and Zillah Bowes will be reading at this year’s Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival in May – one festival, two Freefallers!

Meanwhile, Demelza Carlton’s fortieth novel, Blow: Three Little Pigs Retold, has garnered over 150 reviews on Amazon, in 97% of which it was given more than 3 stars. David Harrison’s “Jenny Parker” thriller series, begun at Poulstone Court, has been picked up by Endeavour Press, the UK’s “youngest, most dynamic and innovative publishing company”.

Elisabeth Hanscombe’s memoir, The Art of Disappearing (Glass House Books) was recently launched in Melbourne, to acclaim. Geoff Mead’s memoir, Gone in the Morning (Jessica Kingsley) is subtitled “A Writer’s Journey of Bereavement” and chronicles his life after the death of his wife, Chris Seeley. His story, Bear Child, created for Chris when she was dying, is about to be released by Floris as a children’s book, beautifully illustrated by Sanne Dufft. (Chris, who introduced Geoff to Freefall, is sorely missed by everyone who knew her, and it is a comfort to have her commemorated in these inspired and inspiring ways.)

Fran Turner’s short story, “Rotten Tomato”, started two years ago at Maryholme, has been published by the Irish online journal, Dodging the Rain  . And Kelly Watt has signed on with Megan Beadle, of the Beadle Literary Agency, to agent her absorbing new young adult novel, set in India.

Writing is a Process

Writing Is a Process (that Your Inner Critic Treats as a Product)

Do you ever feel suddenly convinced that you can’t write one more word (of your novel, memoir, Ph.D. thesis, etc.) without going back to revise what you’ve already written? Suddenly you’re walking in cement boots, dragging your way forward. “Go back!” your inner critic cries. ”Get it right and then you can keep going.”

What’s just happened is this: you were engaged in a process, which by definition means that you can’t know where it will end up until you get there. But your Inner Critic wants to stop that process in its tracks. ”What have you got here?” (product). “This is no good.” (product). “Go back over it and make it better.” (product).  Pay no attention. Keep going, whatever happens, by reminding yourself: writing is a process. There will be plenty of time to revise once that process is complete.

She Turned Her Head Away by Patricia Moffat.

She Turned Her Head Away by Patricia Moffat.  Subtitled “An Adoption Memoir”, this book is in fact so much more than that. Sometimes it reads like an intelligent whodunit (as the author pursues the trail of her birth-mother), sometimes like an insightful psychological novel. And on every page, it provides what I think I primarily read for: a fully engrossing immersion in another person’s life.

But adoption is, after all, the book’s raison d’etre, and I often thought as I read it, “This book should be provided as a case study in how to stay ‘on topic’.” I don’t think Moffat gives single detail that doesn’t pertain directly to her subject, which in her hands becomes an absolutely fascinating one.

In her Acknowledgements, Moffat mentions that “Taking a Freefall writing course in 1991 from Barbara Turner-Vesselago spurred my interest in returning to this manuscript after almost two decades of neglect.”  I am delighted to think that Freefall played a part in the creation of this excellent book.

Welcome Discouragement

To be open to writing is to be open to all the familiar parts of the writing process: the elation, the discouragement, and all that lies between.  Welcome discouragement.  Without it, you’ll get nowhere, even though it can be the hardest of your old friends to love.

Poem: A Center

You must hold your quiet center,
where you do what only you can do.
If others call you a maniac or a fool,
just let them wag their tongues. 
If some praise your perseverance, 
don't feel too happy about it —
only solitude is a lasting friend.
 
You must hold your distant center.
Don't move even if earth and heaven quake. 
If others think you are insignificant,
that's because you haven't held on long enough.
As long as you stay put year after year,
eventually you will find a world
beginning to revolve around you. 
                                                             Ha Jin

March, 2020, Prizes and Publications

Zillah Bowes was one of four poets shortlisted for the £10,000 Manchester Poetry Prize (2018). Her poems, and those of the other finalists, can be read on The Manchester Poetry Prize Website. (No prize for guessing whose poems I think should have won!).

Marie-Elsa Bragg has had a second book, Sleeping Letters, begun at Freefall, accepted by Chatto & Windus. It’s an innovative prose-poem of unique and memorable beauty. 

Susan Smith’s poem “African Drum”, won third prize in The Banister Competition of the Niagara Poetry Group, which included a cash prize, a reading, and inclusion on the 2018 edition of The Banister.  Marie Lauzier’s poem,“Not Again” was published in Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, from Mansfield Press. 

Heidi Croot’s flash fiction piece, “The House Fire” (written at a Freefall workshop in Portugal) has been accepted by LINEA, a journal of previously unpublished paragraphs of fiction (Simian Press).

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I think I’ve written before about this jewel of a novel, written in the 1950s, when the novel had aspirations for itself that are only a distant memory now. It’s as intimate as it is rich in metaphor:  a beautifully written book that no amount of time or the making of a film version should obscure. I’m reading it now for the third time in about 30 years, with pleasure.

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens.  So many memoirs these days seek uniqueness by bringing two unlikely things together. Here, a fictionalized love affair between Victorian novelist, Mrs. Gaskell, and American writer, Charles Elliot Norton, is paired with the author’s mysterious, on-again, off-again relationship with Max, her present-day lover. Amazingly, Stevens pulls this off very well, with fiction (about Gaskell) that feels real and memoir sections that have all the drama of fiction.  I read it because a reviewer claimed it rivaled My Life in Middlemarch, as the remarkable expression of a reader’s love for a particular writer. And so it does.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  This sprawling family saga explores the world of Korean immigrants living in Japan (who currently number 700,000). Many jobs are closed to these “resident aliens”, but the “pachinko” (pinball) emporiums they run gross over $200 billion annually, or 30 times the annual revenue of Las Vegas (who knew?). Tenderly and with compassion, Lee evokes this fascinating society through 4 generations of a single family, where the long arm of pachinko makes its presence felt on a number of levels and in a variety of ways. It’s a book I found well worth reading.