Writer’s Reflections: Rebecca Mascull

This month I am starting a Guest Post series on my blog. I want to ask writers not so much how they wrote what they wrote, but why, and what did they learn from the experience. The marvellous Rebecca Mascull has agreed to be the first writer to ponder.

( If you are interested in contributing to this section of my blog then feel free to contact me @stirlingwriter or by leaving a comment and contact after this post. )

Rebecca Mascull: A Writer’s Reflections

My latest book is my first to published, THE VISITORS. It came out in January this year but I wrote it from January to May in 2012. I was researching it for about a year before that. Time can move in a stately fashion in the world of publishing. Since, then I have finished my next novel and started researching another one( but I’ll save those for future blog posts…) This book is about a deaf-blind girl called Adeliza living on her father’s hop farm in late Victorian Kent, her relationship with her teacher Lottie and the mystery surrounding the Visitors.

Why did I write THE VISITORS? Well, I’d worked with deaf students when I was teacher training and loved the experience. I also watched a Hellen Keller bio-pic as a child and was fascinated. I wanted my character to learn to communicate, to experience friendship and love, and to go on an adventure. I also wanted her to learn some truths about herself and the world. I’d written an historical novel before this one and it was a huge learning curve. I taught myself how to research, how to find what was required and resist the temptation to waste time down fruitless avenues. I learnt how to record my findings efficiently so that I could find them easily when I was writing; to always look for at least two sources for every key fact; and that I needed to leave the research for the second half of the book until I came to write, as otherwise I’d forget it all by the time I got there. All of this came to fruition when I wrote THE VISITORS. Files of research were distilled into an intensive five-month period of writing.

I’d written three other novels before this one, and two text books. The novels I wrote before THE VISITORS were not as good as this one. They were very good practice though. Some lucky writers get it right the first time, but for the rest of us who try, try and try again, it’s encouraging to note that. I thought it felt good when I was writing it, but I had no clue if it was good enough for publication. I was more surprised than anyone when Hodder and Stoughton made an offer. I’d had a good few years of publishers( and agents) saying No Thank You and you get kind of jaded about this stuff after a while. But now THE VISITORS is out there, and I’ve read some lovely reviews from people who have been moved by the book, have perhaps looked at the world a little bit differently after reading about Liza, and at the very least have enjoyed it as a good read. And that’s been wonderful and made it all worthwhile. It really has.

Keep Writing, my friends!

Rebecca

 

Rebecca Mascull author of THE VISITORS published by Hodder and Stoughton Jan 2014

http://rebeccamascull.tumblr.com

@rebeccamascull

http://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

NaNoWriMo Isn’t Proper Writing

I’ve heard this many times and often with some venom behind it. Of course it isn’t true. If you write then you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting studiously in a library or running naked in Bermuda, if you write, you are a writer. And please note here, those of you who’ve produced several thousand words so far, if you do it, you are it, no ifs, no buts, and no Aspiring.

But, the mind splurge of Nano produces some truly awful work, you say? Well, yes, yes it does. It produces first drafts, which as Hemingway always reminds us are…horse apples. But some of those pieces of work will be edited and revised and turned into really great work. Some won’t. Some people have the temerity to enjoy the whole experience and miss out on the angst altogether. Some people just aren’t ready to be edited. 

But, some of them are so proud of sub-standard stuff, you wail. Well, yes. Of course they are. So were you before you learned to handle an adverb. You can’t tell me that you haven’t looked back at your early writing and cringed, properly cringed. That’s okay though, because you were learning. And that is what all of the Nano writers are doing without any concern for the level of craft they have reached. They are all learning. And they are writing. And that’s a good thing.

Some people don’t want to be told they are anything less than a genius – those people will learn slowly regardless of the task.

Other people seek out the errors and hunt them down with a scary level of commitment, because they know that they are never above a mistake. –  those you need to watch, because they will get there. They will get better. They will be good. And one day the Aspiring Author, will be an Author.

None of this should rattle any Writer’s cage. You know why? No one else in this world is you. No one has your thoughts, your life experience, Your voice. We can look around at other people and say, he’s not this or she’s not that. That is just so easy. But we’re not in a race with them. Writers are always in competition with themselves and on their own journey. Our own journey.

So let other people be….Not You

And show me what you can do.

 

How do I write? – A writing process blog tour

Thank you to Sandra of http://www.sandradanby.com for tagging me in to the Writing Process blog tour, an ongoing train of travel to writers and their writing methods. For creatures so often alone we are intensely curious about how other people work. In my experience there are as many different methods as there are writers, and this is the time and place to let you in to mine.

What am I working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on a collection of twelve 5-6k stories. Each one may be very different in content and tone, I really don’t know until I sit down to write. In the words of EM Forster,  “How can I know what I think, till I see what I say.”

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I would describe my work as loosely Literary in style. The one thing it has that no one else has, is me. Sometimes that is a blessing and sometimes a curse. Like anyone else my written work is a jumble sale of the heart, my life tangled with the lives of those I’ve met and those I’ve read. I try to write without reference to what other people are writing but that shouldn’t be confused with a lack of interest. I love writers and their work. If you were to run an efficiency analysis on my day, you would probably decide that I am wrong to call myself a Writer and should call myself a Reader. But I think that, on the whole, each writer has to travel their own path and find their own words. That is what I am doing, finding my words.

Why do I write what I do?

I couldn’t tell you. I never know what each story will hold.

How does my writing process work?

I sit down each day and write a thousand words. I usually stop after a thousand and try to stop when I know what will happen next. Then I put the work aside and get on with the rest of my day, running errands, reading, and more reading. Before bed I sometimes think through the story but I don’t re-read until the following morning. I usually work on my laptop, largely for speed and ease of correction, but sometimes I treat myself and curl up to write longhand.

I don’t write a plan. That doesn’t mean I have no structure. I’ve spent many years reading and studying craft so, although I seem to write very simply, I am always, underneath it all, thinking about paragraph structure, storytelling, fore-shadowing, theme, language choice, and construction.

Once a story is finished, and I’ve had a brief run through for corrections, I send it to my Editor Rosie @iamrosiest who returns it with thoughts. These I work through and I usually accept most if not all. 

 

Next week it is the turn of the following writers to describe their process

Sandie Will – ia an aspiring author located in the US. who has completed a Young Adult Thriller as well as a Middle-Grade Historical time travel novel. She also has two blogs including http://www.sandiewill.com where she describes her social media adventures and http://www.rockheadsciences.com where she shares her fieldwork and travel stories through the eyes of a geologist. Sandie is currently a manager in the water sustainability industry, but is best known for her homemade cupcakes and occasional beer pong championships by her college sons and friends.

Joanna ‘Meika’ Maciejewska – was born is Poland but has been living in Dublin, Ireland for the past six years. She works as a video games localisation specialist and tries to write whenever she has the time. Her short stories have been published in Polish magazines and anthologies, and now she tries to write in English. Her first story to be published in English was “Miye’s In” in Fiction Vortex and she hopes this was not the last one. When she’s not writing, she’s playing video games, reading or trying to use up her enormous stash of arts & crafts supplies. You can find me at http://www.Melfka.com or @Melfka

Roger Bishop – is a writer living and working in the South of Ireland. His writing is a thrilling mix of fact and fiction. His last novel
‘Unholy Orders’ combined experience and storytelling to produce a sometimes frightening look at the inner workings of the Church of England. You can find him at http://www.rogerobishop.wordpress.com or @rogertheriter

I am lucky enough to be able to direct you all towards a writing team whose process will be very interesting to many of you. The following is in Kaisy’s own words:
James Courtney and Kaisy Wilkerson-Mills are the creators and authors of City-State, a dystopian paradise set around 3211 after the united states fell to a horrendous war. The City-State government hopes to maniacally control its citizens through vile government policies and procedures. However, there is hope with the illegals who live in the underground metropolis of Nocturnity. James and I have been working together for about two years and we thoroughly enjoy one anthers creativity and vibrancy in regards to city state, its evil Dynamic, and influential characters, and its vivid atmosphere.
@KaisyWMills
@JamesaCourtney
citystatewritings.wordpress.com

 

 

 

I write Bad Words

Sometimes I write bad words. No, let me correct that. Sometimes I write truly awful words. Shocking. The thoughts in my head good sentences will not do. Like that one. Sometimes sloppy thinking meets sloppy sentence structure and before I know it I’ve confused myself never mind anyone else.

But that’s okay. 

It’s okay to write bad words.

It can be difficult not to sink into the Slough of Despond when the words don’t flow, but if you are sitting there with your head in your hands and mentally melting door knobs with an Edvard Munch type scream, let me just point out this one thing,

You know that they are bad words.

How do you know that?

Because your mind is comparing them to a checklist of things that you ought to be producing and sending up the red flag. Even if you don’t know why they are wrong your mind is gently prodding you in the right direction. Our wonderful minds notice and compare so many more things than reach our conscious awareness. Each one of us is brighter than we think.

If you know that something isn’t right you are at least halfway to fixing it. So put down the knitting Miss Marple, put aside the tisane Poirot, and get the little grey cells working on the problem. Each case of mistaken word identity, adjective kidnapping, or punctuation theft that you solve makes you significantly better as a writer, and sometimes the solutions that evade us the longest are the lessons that teach us the most.

 

Like Me!

It seems recently that never a day goes by without an email or a direct message from an Artist or a Writer begging me to like them.

Apparently it’s irrelevant whether or not I even know them, or their work. And the question of whether I actually like what they do is, well, that was never on the table was it. You see, no one is asking for my personal opinion ( It’s a shame, I have good opinions. ) What people are actually asking is for me to give them more visibility in the market place so that they can sell what they do.

 I have no objection to people selling what they do. In fact I’m all for it. I sell what I do for heaven’s sake. But I’m not sure anyone’s career can be greatly assisted by a lie, however well intentioned. 

Before anyone gets hugely upset let me just say that I don’t ever ask anyone to validate anything of mine. You don’t have to like it unless you like it. And I don’t assume that I will dislike what people do, I am charmingly non-committal until I have read a thing. If Facebook swaps is how you work then it is how you work but please remember that this is false data. It is a manufactured marketing tool and  not opinion. The numbers will go up and down based on the hours spent rather than quality of your work. There will be times when you write something wonderful and you don’t get the “likes” you are looking for. Don’t be disheartened. The numbers are a fiction. We are writers. We understand fiction.

The other despairing communication I get is that “Nobody is following me.”

That is an easy one.

What are you doing for them?

People are busy. People have complicated, wonderful, disorganised lives. But people will follow you if you give them something they want. What are you giving them? Some people write a weekly book review. Some people provide pictures of beautiful Art. Some pictures of funny cats. Some provide intelligent comment. Some provide silly comment. It doesn’t matter what it is, you will find a niche market, but it has to be consistent and people need to know what you do.

If they truly LIKE you, they will follow.

So decide what you provide.

 

Why don’t we write?

We don’t write as often as we should. 

Now I’m not a task-master. I’m not one of those people out to give you a hard time about perseverance and word count. We all have our own writing road to travel and we get there in our own time and in our own way. No, I’m talking about those times when we have everything we need, computer, book and pen, beverage of choice, time and space, and yet we shy away from the act of writing. Frustrating isn’t it? Oh yes, we dress it up in fancy terms. We say that we are procrastinating or researching or reflecting, which are fine things to do, whereas, if we were honest with ourselves we would own up to the fact that we are having a bravery crisis.

Putting your thoughts out into the world can be a scary business, people aren’t always kind, sometimes we do a less than stellar job, and our writing might not be good. All of those things are true but every writer faces those anxieties, even the good ones. I am talking about the really, really good ones, the ones that you read and think, now that is a true talent. They all have pen biting days. They face the question of whether they can do it, and in some cases the question of whether they can do it again, over and over. The most prolific writers, the best writers, will all write bad stuff. They produce less than wonderful writing on a regular basis and they continue to write. They sift and hone. They learn and grow. They learn to recognise the good stuff and keep it. That is what it means to be a writer. 

Not every sentence from your pen will be golden, not ever. Not even after a Booker/ Costa/ Guardian prize. 

So write. Let yourself write. You won’t always find it easy to overcome the nerves but be kind to yourself and let the bad stuff out. In the gravel and the grime you will find those nuggets of gold that keep you coming back and keep you moving on.

 

Who Am I?

I’m a writer currently living in Middle England. I am taking time this year to write a collection of twelve short stories.
I have a great and very patient Editor. I hold an Honours Degree in Applied Human Psychology and I tend not to talk about myself very much mostly because I put all the interesting things on the page, and when you have done that what is there left to say?
I read a great deal and widely. I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Plato’s Republic because, well, I haven’t before. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing.
I enjoy writing and I try to make each piece better than the last.

Every Day?

Recently I’ve been pondering the different ways that we all get to a finished manuscript. There are those who throw themselves in at a tremendous pace and edit for meaning at the end. There are the precision writers who craft every line with an intensity bordering on the maniacal, and then there are writers with a plan who jump the stepping stones of plot until they reach the bank, quite literally. Writers are individuals and as such they write. We write. Each one of us finds our own way, and if we don’t then our manuscript never reaches the reader. There are no rules about how you reach completion, the point is just to get there mostly sane.

One area where most writers agree is that it is better to write on more days than you don’t. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it is easier to keep the momentum going on a long project if you develop a writing habit. Secondly, the more words you write the more you learn, the more you learn the better you get, you can’t help it. Writers aren’t any fonder of unnecessary work than anyone else. Thirdly, it is the best way to help you develop your love affair with words.

So should we write every day? Well, some people do. Others write most days. Some people write Thursday and Sunday after gym class. Some write in the morning and others write in the night. In the world of the writer there is only ONE should,

When you begin a project you SHOULD finish it.

Try writing more days than you don’t, if that is possible, but there are no rules, no generalisations, no master plan. The way I work probably won’t work for you. You need to discover the way that you work, and remember that there is only the one SHOULD in the world of the writer, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Only you can speak for you. Only you can write for you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you think?

What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?  

(Beatles – A little Help from my Friends)

There are days when we write and everything seems to come together clearly and concisely. We answer our own questions, we meet our job specs, and then we meet our deadlines. It’s all very simple. Then of course we have the days when every passage of prose is discordant and jangling. We know that it’s wrong and yet we can’t see where it’s wrong. Our hands are typing a song that our brain isn’t singing. One of those days.

Any Creative can tell you stories of those days. Some people get them on a weekly basis, others go for long periods of creativity and then hit a drought. The point is that having a period of drought doesn’t make you a bad writer or a poor artist. It just makes you a writer or an artist. A creative drought will always end, unless you stop creating. So you write bad stuff, who hasn’t? So your portrait looks like a horse? Maybe rework it before showing the client but hey (hay), now you can paint a horse.

What would we do if you sang out of tune?

 We would all join in.

I’ve been there so often I can do the harmonies.

 

 

 

The Mirror of the Soul

We are a reflective bunch.

I could make all sorts of word associations here regarding the mirrored surface of a writer’s soul. I could suggest that we reflect the world back at the world, and that this is why  people both love and hate novelists. I could play with the idea of refraction and suggest to you that it is the fractured nature of our psyche that makes us shine just that little bit brighter than the average person. I could, but I won’t. 

What I really mean is that we think,

a lot.

It’s an occupational hazard for a writer. Heck, we would be thinking if we weren’t writing, but we choose to exorcise our demons in ink, and really the world should be grateful that we are so easily pacified, because we have such a lot to say. We express ourselves silently and with extreme force. It’s who we are. It is also why writers who aren’t writing tear themselves apart. We pull everything apart to look at the workings, and if that energy isn’t directed outwards then there is only one other place for it to go.

Writers need to write, we should write and we have to write.

So please writers, write.