Sunday, 25 August 2013

Unchained; an anthology of liberation

The Unchained anthology, out in October, has gone to press. All the members of the Bristol Women Writers have produced one or two short stories, poems and snatches of fact, for this stunning anthology of writing. It was brought together in honour of something writers need through their writing lives; libraries. 
Bristol Central Library is celebrating its 400th year in 2013 and the anthology has been written to celebrate that fact. 
Bristol Women Writers is bulging with talent; Shirley Wright was the national winner of the Telegraph Poetry for Performance Competition, judged by by Andrew Motion and Ben Okri. Shirley (Time out of Mind), Ali Bacon  (A Kettle of Fish) and myself (Touch Luck) are all published by local press ThornBerry, and Jean Burnett’s very funny book Who Needs Mr Darcey? is out from Sphere. In the Moors is the latest success for the group but we’re not expecting it to be the last, and come October, we’ll be celebrating the success of our anthology with a reading in the library, as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature.

Unchained was so named after the group discovered that, when the library opened 400 years ago, the books were actually chained to their shelves. At that time, Bristol was also a slave port, moving people in chains across the Atlantic, a theme I cover in my children’s book Tough Luck. We felt that turning these facts on their head expressed completely the way we felt about our writing; that it unchained us.
And to prove just how unchained we are as writers, it was our choice that all the pieces in the anthology have 'library' as their theme…but don’t think for one moment that this means they are all about getting your books back on time! There are murders in there, and ghosts, and history, legend and dystopian futures. There are sharp and witty stories and dreamy and lyrical stories.
For instance, when I first knew what the theme would be, I was immediately reminded of the Library at Alexandria. I heard about this wonder of the ancient world when I bought my first Tarot pack when I was twenty. The legend is that the 22 Major Arcarna of the Tarot (the High Priestess, the Fool, the Moon…) were brought into being as the library burnt to the ground. The great minds of the day used a pictorial form to represent – and hide – all the esoteric knowledge the library contained. In that form, it spread through the world and is used to gain enlightenment to this day.
It's a lovely legend, but how could I turn that into a short story for the 21st century? 
You'll have to wait to read the anthology to find out.
The foreword to Unchained is written by acclaimed short story writer Tania Hershman (The White Road, My Mother is an Upright Piano)…
“These inventive, evocative tales are a truly wondrous tribute
not just to Bristol’s venerable 400-year-old library service but to book palaces of every age, shape and kind.”
The anthology will be launched on October 23rd as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature during Bristol library service’s 400th anniversary. Join Bristol Women Writers with special guest Tania Hershman. Join us between 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the Central Library to discover how centuries of well-thumbed pages and a remarkable building can liberate the imagination. Admission is free and profits from the sale of the book will be donated to The National Literacy Trust.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

It's Great to Hold IN THE MOORS in my Hands!

The delivery driver took ages to find my parcel, and I couldn't help him, because I couldn't remember ordering anything by mail (which makes a change), when suddenly he alighted on a medium sized box of some weight. When I opened it, there were my pristine, new and shiny author copies of In the Moors! Reading the words on the pages of a paperback book made my achievement feel properly authentic and all the hard work (blood! sweat!) worthwhile.

Now I'm well on with the sequel to In the Moors and I'm trying not to make the same, silly mistakes I made the first time round. Most of these mistakes are the very things that every published author warns against; they're the things I constantly tell my students not to do. 

Don't overwrite, I always say in my tutor reports. Murder your darlings! But I've just read, in the draft of my next Shaman Mystery, lines as toe-curling as My stomach felt as if it were filling with acid...was that me? Did I write that? Yes,and that might be because because other authors do, too. I've just read the most appalling line in A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson She stared into me hard enough to see the texture of my organs.. ugh! 

Don't, I urge my students, please don't forget that within the world you've created, everything must have its own plausibility. But I sat in my agent's kitchen, gripping my cup of tea, to hear Lisa say...the reveal still doesn't convince me, Nina. The characters are only behaving in that way to allow you the ending you're after... My defence? Well, all the the thrillers I've read do that...

What have I learnt from this? Be true to your own writing. For a time, it’s fine to imitate structure, plotting and the writing voices that you love - that’s one of the reasons I recommend reading so many books and read  voraciously myself. Although there is nothing wrong with copying the great exemplars, and your own favourite authors, this should just be part of the growing process and will be left behind as the writer gains confidence in their own voice. 

The voice you speak with is so unique it can be used to identify you, rather like fingerprints. The voice you write with should also be so unique that your readers will recognise it and grow to love it. A good writer’s voice helps seduce the reader and allows them to feel a certain familiarity that brings them back to a particular writer. 
 Some people say that ‘voice’ on the page can be defined as ‘the author writing as they would converse’. I think a better definition of  ‘voice’ is; ‘the author writing as they would think’.  When a writer pours their mind…their thoughts…onto their page, the voice sings out – driven by something that not even the writer fully understands. 

We often talk about a writer 'finding their own voice', but a writer is a vocal chameleon who should be able to adopt different voices in different situations. A persona is a character telling a story: they are not to be identified directly with the author, but act as a narrator for the duration of the story. They have the advantage of being able to speak in a characteristic and idiosyncratic way, allowing the author to take us deep into another culture or way of life. Creating a voice that is not entirely your own is the next step for a writer of fiction. Don’t attempt to do so until you feel confident you have found your own.

The poet Jackie Kay has written several books about her earlier life, including  Red Dust Road and The Adoption Papers  She says this of voice:

I wrote in three different voices: the birth mother, the adoptive mother, and the daughter. It was interesting when I was writing it, talking about inventing yourself, because the daughter’s voice was, in fact, the most difficult to write. Both the mothers were comparatively easy to find a voice for; the daughter I found more difficult – and this was because she was, in a way, trying to tell the factual story. I realised I found that aspect less imaginative and therefore less easy to create – this was a surprising part of the project.

I loved creating Sabbie Dare's persona for In the Moors. She can't help being a cock-eyed optimist, and even though she finds herself rubbing shoulders with sinister people, and moving through dark worlds, she can't help looking on the bright side of things - she'll always see the funny side of life. Even though she's got no money, she'd rather go without than be untrue to things she believes in. As a shaman, she's honourable and principled, but her love life is generally up the creek; she admits she's useless at judging men. She can't help turning round in pubs and chatting up the best looking bloke. 

I  love the minor characters she meets in the novel...and in the follow-up book, too. These characters are bursting with life and interest. There is Garth, who wears a kaftan and lives in a van without wheels, and Marianne, who is from Holland and is so slender she resembles the storks you see on Dutch chimneys. 

Sabbie came to me one evening, almost fully formed. I'm a young therapist, she told me I'm a shaman, and sometimes I do get very strange people walking into my therapy room. Honestly, I could write a book about some of them...

So I decided to write it for her, and allowing her to be true to herself on the page as I wrote, gave me her persona.

As a writer like me, at times at times you’ll be furiously pursuing the thread of your writing, with everything else shut out of your mind. This will really help your voice to ‘sing’, as your natural enthusiasm shines through.  All writers are looking for an authentic voice and, Eventually, you’ll recognise your own voice…the voice of you thoughts…and begin to use it in an authoritative way. This also suggests that your writing ‘voice’ is as valid as anyone’s, so long it has sufficient flow to hold a reader’s attention. It does not have to be cultured, or even grammatical...clarity, vision and personal style count for a lot more. So, don’t be inhibited by other people’s writing style and even more important; don't be pursuaded to write in any other way than the one that feels true to you. You have a great style of your own, which, when left to emerge, is unique to you.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Brilliant Reviews for In the Moors

My first crime fiction In the Moors was released in the US yesterday, and already, two reviews are in!
Kirkus Reviews says… Children’s author Milton’s adult debut creates a mystical world in which the secret to a missing child may be locked in the subconscious of a leading suspect…A fast-moving thriller likely to draw in readers despite, or perhaps because of, its bizarre heroine.

And an even better review from the Library Journal, which is the periodical that US booksellers take their cue from. They often base their orders for copies of new book using the fames 'stared reviews' in the journal. Getting a starred review is an honour and the Library Journal has given In the Moors a starred review!
Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year, and Milton’s tale is riveting. Perhaps readers will figure things out before Sabbie does, but the visceral suspense Milton creates is commendable, not to mention terrifying. I like pairing her work with Elly Griffiths’s atmospheric English mysteries.
The UK publication date for this book is October 15th 2013 but don’t forget that you can purchase a copy of In The Moors ahead of that date – I’ll be having a one-off special signing with a reduced cover price on In the Moors on the 12th of September 2013 at Foyles Book Shop in Cabot Circus Bristol. Everyone is welcome to this event which is from 6 - 8pm.
The windswept Somerset Moors are the focus of NIna's latest novel

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

I'm a fellow!

Just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, with my book In the Moors being released in the US on the 8th August, and a launch for the British release on the 12th September, I’ve just heard that I’ve been granted Fellow status -  
I am now a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy!
I'm very proud of achieving this status, which was initiated by the people I work for - the Open College of the Arts. They pushed me to go for this (and the procedure did draw blood...) and I'm so glad they kept on at me until I'd gone for it. 
The fellowship recognises achievements in tutoring for the open college, as well as assessing student work for degree credits and writing materials for their creative writing courses. I also help out a lot with things like student guides. But I really enjoy all of this. To be honest, as anyone who knows me will agree, it's hard to shut me up on the subject of writing creatively.
Jim, my hubby is going round singing ‘for she’s a jolly good...’ But I do hope no one else sinks that low!