Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.

 

BSE2013Some years ago when self-publishing ebooks was still new, I decided to give it a go. I’d wasted years sending novels out to agents and publishers and getting nowhere. I’d had short stories published in magazines and anthologies and some articles and poetry accepted but, apart from one book (The Man with the Horn) which was taken on by a small press, my novels never managed to find homes. Though agents said they liked my writing and often made suggestions for commercialising them, none of them was willing to take me on. I watched my life slipping away while my books languished unread.

Venturing into the ebook market changed all that. I now have readers – not huge numbers but better than none – and I get some small recompense for my literary efforts.

Formatting and publishing ebooks involved a learning curve but fortunately for me, not a steep one. I already knew the basics of using Word and how to layout documents; I knew a fair bit of HTML and I had a general grounding in IT. Formatting the ebooks still required a little trial and error but I soon learned by my mistakes. Before long I was up and running and checking my sales every five minutes.

In those early days I did my own proofreading – something I also do for others – and since I had a basic understanding of Photoshop and design, I created my own covers. Indeed, I did everything myself from writing the book to banking the US cheques. (Amazon now pays directly into a bank account, so at least that bit of faffing about has gone.) I was confident enough in my ability to offer to assist other people in getting their ebooks published.

So, if I was managing by myself, why did I decide to join an author collective?

I had been sending my new book – Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion – out to agents but again I had no luck in getting anyone to sign me up.  Hoping this would be my breakthrough novel, as I felt it was the best work I had done so far, I longed to see it in paperback format not just digital. I wanted to possess the real artefact to hold in my hands and caress.

Self-publishing a paperback is both easier and harder now than it used to be. Easier because the processes become more and more user-friendly as time goes on; harder because the marketplace is swamped, the Amazon algorithms are less favourable to independent authors (unless you first sell vast amounts of books), and it’s a struggle to make the book visible to readers. There is also still some stigma attached to self-publishing actual books – I believe this is because sometimes those books are not well made, not vetted in any way for mistakes and the covers look homemade. The thought of producing a paperback all on my own was daunting.

Enter Triskele Books.

I already knew the women who set up Triskele (JJ Marsh, Liza Perrat, Jane Dixon Smith, Catriona Troth, Gillian Hamer) virtually from online writing groups and I went on to meet them at a couple of their book launches. I knew their writing and they knew mine. They had produced some excellent books housed in droolworthy covers. By the time they broached the subject of my joining them, I had already decided to approach them. We came together at exactly the right moment.

Joining Triskele Books meant I no longer had to do everything myself. The cover of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion has been created by Jane Dixon Smith (herself a Triskele founder, writer and professional designer), the proofreading has been done by Perry Iles of Chamberproof, and I’ve had input, advice and encouragement from other members of the group.

Mistakes in an ebook can easily be rectified: typos and formatting can be put right; a bad cover can be changed for a better one. When it’s a physical book though, any overlooked errors are there until the next printing and are often costly to correct.

coverIf I had tried to do everything myself the final product would not have been as polished as it is going to be. When going it alone there is always the temptation to cut corners. Any cover I might have designed would not have been as sleek and professional as the one Jane has created. Left to my own devices I would not have sent the manuscript off for a final proofread – and it would have been the worse for it. I would not have made the cuts and rearrangements which were suggested by members of the team.

Triskele has its own website, blog, bookclub, Facebook and Twitter pages and, because there are several people involved, a wider reach when it comes to gaining readers. Their books look highly professional and can stand alongside traditionally published books with their heads high. There is quality control regarding both form and content – they lend their name only to books that are well written and that ultimately look great.

I’ve always been a loner and, like Groucho Marx, wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the Triskele collective I believe I have found a group of like-minded writers. The collective is composed of talented individuals who have come together to create a greater whole.

I am honoured to be among them.

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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, a novel about a woman’s search for a missing manuscript and subsequen disorientation, will be available as an ebook in August/Sept 2014. The paperback will be available shortly thereafter. The Man with the Horn, a novel based on the myth of Dionysos, is being re-edited and will be available as an ebook soonFor more information visit Barbara Scott Emmett’s blog or follow her on Twitter @BSE_Writer.

Don’t Look Down, a thriller set in Germany, The Land Beyond Goodbye, a novel set in the Australian outback and Drowning: Four Short Stories are all available as ebooks.

 

Huw Thomas - medThere’s nothing that remarkable to my story. I grew up in a small market town in southern England, the youngest of six children living in a big old house. There were fields beyond our garden and a canal not far away.

I always loved exploring – woods, streams, buildings with unlocked doors… still do, although now I’ve reached the age of being (allegedly) responsible for my actions, I tend to go a bit easy on the trespassing part.

As a boy, life had its ups and downs. I wouldn’t exactly say my school days were the best time of my life. My family was vegetarian and we had no television – both of which helped make me a bit of an outsider. I also had strict parents who put academic achievement way above personal comfort.

There were times when I felt I’d got a rough deal compared to my friends. But – thanks to a fertile imagination and the countryside on my doorstep – it was easy enough to escape into worlds of my own making.

Now, a few decades of distance help give things a different perspective. In particular I wonder if I would have developed the writing habit quite so early if I’d spent my younger days sitting in front of the television.

All those days spent roaming my town and the area around it also put me in touch with my world. I knew my town, the villages around it – and much of the countryside between them – like the back of my hand.

That connection with where I grew up has also helped fuel my writing. My third novel, The Vault, is set in an imaginary town called Compton Fosse. But while the town itself doesn’t exist, its world does. Small English towns are what I know best.

Much of the story also takes place in a fragment of ancient woodland called Hobthrush Wood. It’s where my main protagonist – young Adam Strong – fights most of his battles with the yobs from the council estate. It’s also where he and his friends discover something a lot more dangerous.

As well as the inevitable gnarled oaks, hollies and towering beech trees, Hobthrush Wood is also full of meandering streams, bogs, patches of rhododendron, and areas of regimented conifers, exactly the kind of place where I spent many happy hours as a boy.

Looking back now, although I felt a sense of injustice about certain things in my life I know I didn’t suffer any real hardships – certainly not compared with those born in other parts of the world.

When I published The Vault, I decided that half of all royalties would go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox. It’s an organisation that I know well – I used to be in charge of their PR.

In 2010, my wife and I also undertook a one-year tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity. For that challenge we were chiefly inspired by a short video about a young girl from Java – called Siti Ayeesha – who was helped by ShelterBox after an earthquake in 2006.

In the video, Siti explains: “A few days ago, we were woken up by the sound of the ground shaking. My house fell down and a lot of my things were lost but I’m very lucky because I still have my family. 

“Not everyone was so lucky. Our village is not the same since the earthquake. All of the houses are gone and lots of my friends are no longer here.”

Now, when I go back to my hometown, a few places have changed but most are no different and many of the people I went to school with are still there.

Maybe I’d have written different books if I’d grown up in a country where earthquakes can wipe out your home and kill large numbers of the people around you. On the other hand, I’d settle for growing up without a TV and only getting to eat bacon sandwiches at my friends’ houses.

ShelterBox was able to help Siti and her family. I’m hoping that, through The Vault, I can help their work by writing about my world. With a little bit of help from my imagination. After all, I never actually came across a gang of armed robbers when I was playing in the woods.

Vault front cover Mar 13The Vault:

The Vault is a mystery thriller set in a small town in southern England. The book revolves around young schoolboy Adam Strong and his battles with a gang of local yobs. Woven around Adam’s story are three other strands – an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local pond and a sex offender who goes on the run after breaking his parole.

The different stories – and timelines – all gradually come together as the significance of the vault and its contents finally become clear.

Aimed at adults, The Vault explores questions of trust and loyalty from a range of perspectives.

ShelterBox background:

ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and other aid that a family needs to survive in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

I originally trained as a journalist before going into PR. From 2006 to 2007, I was in charge of communications and fundraising for ShelterBox at the charity’s base in Cornwall.

Although I left the UK to retrain as a TEFL teacher (English as a Foreign Language), I continued to support ShelterBox and – in 2010 – my wife and I undertook a year-long tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity that involved riding nearly 11,000 miles across 10 countries and raised nearly £50,000.

Bio:

My wife, Carolyn, and I have just bought a house in Bournemouth after several years teaching in Portugal. As well as writing, I currently juggle several part-time jobs – gardening, teaching at a language school and working as a sub-editor for a local newspaper.

I had my first writing success in 2005 when The Tale of Findo Gask won a UK contest for new authors. I was over the moon to get a publishing contract but sadly – although I did get to see my book in print and got one royalty cheque – the company involved went bust not long after.

Subsequently, along with Findo and The Vault, I’ve published one other novel – Thin Ice – and one collection of short stories – Fractured Lives – under my own name. I’ve also written an adventure novel called Pagan’s Sphinx under the pen name William Webster. At the moment – slightly annoyingly – this is selling a lot more copies than my other books.

I’ve also just completed the first draft of my next novel – Church of the White Rabbits – which is a bit more quirky than anything I’ve written before. This is currently in the hands of my beta readers but I hope it will be out by the end of the year or early in 2014.

Memoir: fact or fiction?  

1208757_10151891817565817_1189422053_nIs it autobiographical? How much of your life is in the story? They’re questions fiction writers get asked a lot. My answers, and it would be the same for most authors I know, are no and very little.

For sure, my life experiences influence the exploration of certain themes. It has taken many years, and many narratives, to realise that a recurring theme in my work is absent parents, fathers in particular, and though it hasn’t been the driving force in my stories and novels, it is there. Always.  It’s fair to say this obsession is a direct result of my childhood experience, but my work is fictitious, categorically; the story arcs, characters, voices; all products of my imagination. It’s much more fun making things up, and I consider my own life way too boring for public consumption – I’m as ordinary as can be.

But my mother and father’s story… now that could be interesting. This story, and my small role in the latter part of it, has held an increasingly strong grip on my imagination since I heard it, in its entirety, when I was twenty-seven. Given that many of the characters are still living I haven’t had the courage to pen anything, for fear of upsetting people I love. Until now. Elsewhere is a short story, a memoir, of a part I had in the larger narrative.

It was hard to write; much harder than fiction, I found, and not because of the emotional nature of the tale but because it took me a while to relax about the facts – whether or not they were accurate. Because memoir, or life writing, shares much with fiction and one person’s truth may well differ from another’s – and often quite dramatically.

book coverI approached Elsewhere (published by Ether Books this week) like any other story, the crucial difference being that the characters, the places, were conjured not from my imagination but memory and, as we all know, memory plays tricks. So, not wanting to be hampered even further by the facts, I wrote two drafts before checking a couple of details with my mother. I’d got them slightly wrong, muddled in time and place. A mixture of recall and things my mum had told me about my paternal grandmother, Betty. See, it is their story that fascinates; so much so that I’ve placed my small self in parts of it; incorrectly as it transpires.

Should I have altered these details in search of truth? No, my mum said, it is your truth. She is right. I may not have visited Betty – or Mrs Wilkinson as I called her – at the Gothic, tumbledown house in Everton, but the sense of foreboding, rancour and sheer misery Betty secreted was real enough. The children in the school yard as my sister and I told the pie story might be playing different roles, Helen might have been wearing a different coat, but we did tell the story and it did loom over my primary years. A changeable shadow I couldn’t shake off. And it is these emotional truths that matter, that I attempt to uncover in the retelling of the tale.

We all create fictions whether we are writers or not. Stories are how we humans attempt to make sense of the world and our place in it. And perhaps the narrators of memoir are all unreliable, to a greater or lesser extent, but they are not barriers to a good yarn. Stephen King said fiction is the truth inside the lie; the same is true of memoir.

Will I write more memoir? I’m not sure; I’ve enough ‘pure’ fiction to be getting on with. But maybe one day I will tell my mother and father’s story. It has fine ingredients: young, handsome lovers; a mad, bad mother; a devoted maiden aunt; a missing husband; mental illness; 60s asylums and tragic deaths. I just need to find my angle. Just. Ha. Until then it’s back to the novels.

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Elsewhere is available from Ether Books. Download the App onto your iPhone, iPad, Android for FREE here.

Ether Books is a new mobile social reading platform, connecting Writers and Readers around the world. Ether publishes “made for mobile” Quick Reads straight to Smart Phones, the fastest growing digital reading device on the planet. Discover talented new and bestselling writers right from your pocket.

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About Laura Wilkinson

Laura grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in Brighton with her husband and two boys. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. She has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies. She writes general fiction as Laura Wilkinson and erotic romance as L. C. Wilkinson. Her first hot romance, All of Me, is published by Xcite, an imprint of Accent Press. Currently, she’s working on a two novels: one is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 miners’ strike; the other is a romance following a petulant young woman and a man running from his past. What does all her work have in common? Compelling stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little. At least she hopes so! Find out more here.  Or follow her on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. She loves to hear from readers.