Tax-rolls for the names, the Agas Map of London, rope (or not rope) ferries, lute music, woodcuts and their elements, leagues and miles, Estienne’s Guide des Chemins de France, post horses, ruffs and collars, the (not very long) way from the Quai des Bernardins to the Rue des Anglais in Paris, the right way to take a bow, original frontispieces, light hours in November, and Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, Cadiz 1596, wives inheriting, Channel crossings, Thomas Platter… Continue reading
Do they ever ask you Where Do You Find Ideas?
Hereabout, it happens all the time. It is one of the Three Questions:
1. How much of yourself is there in this story?
2. How long does it take you to write a novel?
3. Where/how do you find your ideas? Continue reading
Because six days are not a week, you know – and yesterday was Day 6, and I haven’t got yet to story-time today. Still, six days, six first drafts. So far so good – all the more because I’m not entirely unsatisfied with what I’ve written.
We may all have somehow hoped, at least at the very beginning, that the skeptics would end up being right, when they said that in a couple of weeks all would peter out into awkward silence and the next Big Thing…
But they weren’t – and now the whole of Italy is tightly quarantined. To be out and about without documented necessity is a criminal offence, these days, and even to go to the grocer’s you need a written and signed statement to that effect. I’m not complaining, mind – not in the least. It has to be done – and, if it must work, it has to be done thoroughly. Continue reading
Oh, look – the end of November!
The end of November, when I usually wrap up my writing year, and take stock of it. This year… well, this year things might be a wee bit different – but I’ll get there.
First, the writing year – the good and the bad of it… Continue reading
Until a few years ago – say a decade or so – in a village not far from here, the old, old tradition of Meeting March was still very much alive: on the last night of February, young and old armed themselves with pans, and ran around making all the din they could, to scare away Old Winter.
It was good fun, older than the hills, quite pagan – and nobody found it a particular reason for scandal… Continue reading
At some time in late 2018 I decided that, in the New Year, I was going to write more short stories. The reasoning behind this was, mostly, that I’d practice the short form, after focusing for years on plays and novel-length fiction.
My friend Dave, over at Karavansara, quoted to me someone saying that, if you write a story a week for a year, you are sure to write something good – if only because it’s hard to write fifty-two bad stories in a row… Or something to that effect: I’m quoting from memory, and quite freely. That said, Dave is the kind of fellow who can (and does) keep up with such a breathless schedule. I, being a lazy, soft creature when stage deadlines are not involved, settled for a story a month.
So I wrote down the notion in my notebook, made a list of story ideas and a rather cute story tracker*, and in January, while I was feeling sorry for myself because of unrelenting fever, aching bones and all that, I began. And then stuck with it.
Eight stories later, I have only good things to say about the plan. Specific good things – and here is a little list.
1. Practice makes… well, let’s leave perfection alone – but certainly practice makes ease and purposefulness. While it’s not that I hadn’t written short stories in years, I tended to approach the short form in a rather haphazard fashion, as though it were a kind of miniature novel – or play. It always felt a little like elbowing my way around a narrow place. Doing it more systematically is proving quite the learning experience in the ways of conceiving and telling short stories short. And by the way…
2. Trying out things. I’ve taken a few short story courses over the months, just to see and try different approaches. Some teachers will have you start with a personal memory, others with a character, other still with questions, or the ABDCE structure, or the ending… Of course, as Kipling says, there are nine and sixty ways to tell a story, and every single one of them is right – so it’s interesting to explore and experiment. And not just when it comes to structure and method and length…
3. …But also in genre, subject, and whatnot. No, really. Left to myself, I’m an inveterate comfort-zone dweller. I may like to explore the bounds of historical fiction now and then (or convince myself that I do) – but that’s as far as I push myself. I believe I told you about the mentor who used to nag me into stepping out… now I have to nag myself – and short stories are proving a perfect way to do it. A short story is a short-term thing – a stroll out of bounds, not a year-long journey. One hardly needs to lock the door when venturing into, say, contemporary land for a short story. So I’ve tried a few things I might not have otherwise – and rather liked it. Also…
4. I’m sure you know how it is to have notebooks bursting with story ideas… old ideas, small ideas, bizarre ideas, half-baked ideas… they are all there for someday, too flimsy for a novel, or intriguing but not enough to spend months or years on them, or… as I said, you know how it is. Well, when I started on the monthly short story, old ideas emerged from notebook-limbo in droves, waiting to be written. Back in January, my first step was to reprise and write in earnest a ghost story – the first story I ever wrote in English, some twenty-five years ago. Among other things, it was fascinating to see what I could to with those bare bones, and a quarter of a century’s worth of writing and experience under my belt. And then, of course…
5. The deadlines. I’ve said I’m a lazy creature when deadlines are not involved – and that was stating the case mildly. The fact is, I’m terrifyingly proficient at procrastinating, and little startles me out of it – unless it’s a deadline. Stage deadlines, mostly – and Nina is very good at setting tasks, then nagging, and then deciding that she needs “it” next week rather than next month… Contest or award deadlines also work quite well. Artificial deadlines… not so much, as a rule. This time, though, for some reason, it works like a charm. I want to finish my story-a-month, and I always have, so far. I’ve cut it quite short a couple of times, and driven family and friends slightly mad about it – but it works: eight months, eight stories – and counting.
Now the ninth story is in progress. It wants to be another old thing I began… oh, I don’t know – twenty years ago, perhaps? I started it in Italian, and then left it there. It has resurfaced recently from the depths of my hard-disk, and wants to become my September story. I’m doing my best to make it happy, and then there will be three more, and I may not stop there at all. Who knows?
Let’s wait for December, and the twelfth story – and we’ll see.
* A tracker, yes. A cutesy one, in the shape of a stack of books… And I know – even I can’t possibly lose count between one and twelve – but what can I say? I’ve come (or regressed) to a point where marking off another notch in a tracker is ridiculously satisfying – so sue me.
And lo and behold! This year November doesn’t take me by surprise – at least, not entirely. This is the time of the year when, as a rule, I discover that oh, there is such a thing as a November, and other, wiser people set down to write first drafts, while I bemoan my inability to do the same, and end up doing… something else.
Well, you know what?
No sudden discoveries, this year – and no bemoaning. Just the something else. I have this play I’m writing on spec… well, I’ve hinted at it a few times with Nina, and she still has to veto the idea, so perhaps, rather than entirely on spec, I’m writing it on some hope. Anyway, I have a completed first draft, and half a notebook’s worth of notes for a second… Continue reading
Some twenty years ago, on an early summer day like this, I was sitting in a street café in Pavia, waiting for a friend. I’d just bought myself a book at the bookshop next door – and, anticipating a longish wait, I ordered a grapefruit squash, and started to read.
The book was William Somerset Maugham’s Theatre – quite perfect for me, judging from the back-cover blurb – and so there I sat, very much enjoying the picture: street café, book, summer day… And as I read… Continue reading
I haven’t posted Saturday tidbits in a while – and I really want to go back to doing it… I know it’s not the first time I make this particular resolution, but let’s try again, and see how it goes this time.
I’ll begin again by pointing you to a lovely post on Emma Darwin’s blog, This Itch of Writing. It is about the importance of rhythm in writing, and how there is no one set way to do it. Continue reading