A literature festival, a twinned town, and a workhouse

Autumn is always busy, it wouldn’t feel right if it wasn’t. As is often the case, I’ll be taking part in the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe and I’m part of a festival on Chapel FM (have we stopped calling it East Leeds FM again?) though not the usual Writing on Air. I’ve also been busy behind the scenes doing historical research.

This year instead of showing off what we can do, Ilkley Writers are giving four bite-sized workshops called Invite To Write at the Fringe, two on Saturday 5th October and two on Sunday 6th. Each one will feature one writing exercise that’s intended to be fun, not at all intimidating, and suitable for those wanting to dip a toe in the creative waters as well as experienced writers in a rut. We like a challenge…

The night before the first workshop I’ll be on Chapel FM at 8.30pm (though as usual you’ll be able to listen again via the website) reading flash fiction that I wrote for the 50th anniversary of the twinning of Leeds and Dortmund. It has nothing to do with either Leeds or Dortmund, or anything high-minded like bridging the continental divide. The theme was neighbours, so mine is wry humour about living in a flat. Other people involved in the festival have been more serious about it (though not all of them, naturally). You can read all the pieces on the Leeds Dortmund website.

While preparations for all this have been going on, I signed up as a volunteer researcher on a project called More Than Oliver Twist, which aims to individualise and humanise the nineteenth century workhouse. The idea is to research inmates who were in particular workhouses on the 1881 census, and tell their life stories in an exhibition next year. For me this is a natural follow-on from writing about the Bradford Female Educational Institute a couple of years ago for the Dangerous Women Project, highlighting a forgotten, overlooked bit of working class history and trying to make people (including me, perhaps – it’s easy to think in broad terms when you’re reading about the past) think about classes and categories of historical figures as individuals. I’ve researched a few workhouse inmates before while looking into mine and OneMonkey’s families, but not in Leeds so I’m straying into new territory here.

Incidentally, the Dangerous Women Project is crowd-funding a book. I’m not entirely sure why they’re doing a book when they’ve already got a website (and my piece is not going to be in the book) but if you’re interested, head on over there and support them.

Also, as an aside, some or all of this arose from me working through The Writer’s Plan that Carmen Marcus kindly shared. I wanted to give more back, with teaching or mentoring. I wanted to dare to try (like, getting involved in a Chapel FM festival by myself. Though it turns out Roz is on earlier in the evening so we’re going there together, which is a nice coincidental compromise). And I wanted to write about more forgotten history. Thanks Carmen, for giving me a shove.

Easter evaluation

It’s April: Script Frenzy month but I’m not taking part this year, I’m still catching up from the challenge I set myself for March. You may recall I arbitrarily decided to attempt a story a day for a month, well I seem to have managed a little over 19,500 words  (plus many pages of notes) spread across 23 stories. Not strictly sticking to the rules, but still quite an achievement, if I say so myself. That’s a few complete first drafts to polish (one has already been polished and sent off, in fact), a lot of half-finished pieces that will remain that way for months if not a couple of years, and a couple of abandoned items that have at least served to put to rest an idea that seemed good but had no mileage in it (not even the hundred-yard-dash of flash fiction).

This being the Easter weekend I’m playing catch-up. As it approached I put aside various things to do over Easter, but now I’m about halfway through the long weekend and reality is kicking in – I will be left with a whole pile of things to do once this break is over. The astute will note that I missed 2 Wednesdays of my posting schedule, and here I am posting on a Saturday; no excuses, I just lost track of time. Twice. The second time I figured I’d better post while I remembered or I could go on like this for months.

This being the Easter weekend I’m also trying to spend some time with friends, family, and OneMonkey who I guess counts as both. It mainly seems to involve watching films and eating. Fun, but it doesn’t get the crime novel written (I’m at the difficult crowbarring in the scenes I’ve now realised are necessary to set up later events stage, so I’m more prone than usual to procrastination). So, looks like it’s time for me to finish this and get back to that novel. Or I could take a chocolate egg and a mug of tea to OneMonkey and watch a DVD.

A plan which I may come to regret

Early this month I had a bright idea – it does happen occasionally. To make up for all the time I’d spent on crime novels in the latter half of 2011, I thought I’d concentrate on short stories for a while, predominantly fantasy and sci-fi. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Then I thought why not give myself some arbitrary deadline or harmless little challenge to try and encourage perseverance. Then, I don’t know, maybe I got a bang on the head that I don’t remember, because I somehow decided to write a story a day during March.

I could just have kept quiet about this, filed it under Insane Ideas I Have Had, and never thought about it again. But part of me – the part with delayed concussion, obviously – still thinks it has some merit. I admitted early on that I wouldn’t write a full first draft of a story every day – some days I’ll be pushed for time, and some stories will demand more words than I could reasonably write in a few hours – but at the end of March I reckon I could have a dozen pieces of flash fiction ready to be tweaked and polished, and a dozen promising beginnings with sketched-out plots and endings. That still allows for a few that never got off the ground.

To cut down on the procrastination time, I took my own advice from last year and went through my bits file, pulling out ideas that sounded promising, and things I’d written a paragraph of then never gone back to. I’ve assembled them in easy to use text files of their own and I have more than 20 of them ready to delve into and start writing. Now I’ve announced it in public there’s no going back. I’ll let you know how it goes, and I’d love to know if anyone out there feels like joining me.

Script focus

Halfway through Script Frenzy – yes, I have a one-track mind at the moment. This month so far has been a revelation, and I hope it’s been as good for you if you’re participating in the 100-page challenge. I’ve discovered, for one thing, that I’m more visual than I used to be – the graphic novel script I spent the first 10 days writing came much easier than the radio script I’ve now embarked on, whereas I used to write radio scripts for my own, friend T’s, and Big Brother’s entertainment quite often when I was a kid. Now I’m finding that while dialogue’s flowing (as it often does when I’m writing prose), it’s not always conveying the whole scene and I realise a couple of scenes later that the audience couldn’t possibly know some key fact that I’m building on, and I have to go back and rewrite.

Productivity is the other big discovery. For no other reason than that I’ve said I would, I’m sitting down to write every day, maybe only for half an hour, and I’m focused on one project. In ten days I wrote a graphic novel. Ten days! Of course it’ll take Mark much longer than that to draw it, even if he didn’t have the inconveniences of daily life to distract him, but that’s quite an achievement for me. The thing about that script is that it doesn’t need to be polished – no-one else needs to see it and I know because of the way we work that it will get discussed and adapted as we go along. The radio script is another matter, and would need serious redrafting once April’s over. However, I’ve got 20 pages of it already and I’m enjoying the challenge and the revisiting of a long-neglected format.

That’s the essence of Script Frenzy, I guess – it’s making me feel good. I can see the pages stacking up and I’ve got an excuse to write in a form I don’t normally use these days, it’s stretching my capabilities but there’s no deadline pressure, in the sense that I don’t have to use or even show anyone the script when it’s done. If you’re not taking part in Script Frenzy, and aren’t planning on NaNoWriMo (I’m planning a detective novel for that – another project that’s slightly outside my normal field), I highly recommend setting yourself a fun challenge in the near future. A sketch every day for a fortnight; a fresh photo (different angles, macro, black and white) of the garden every weekend of the summer; a poem every Sunday lunchtime in May; or anything else that takes your fancy. You may remind yourself of forgotten talents, or discover new ones, and you will almost certainly have a great time. Feel free to let me know how you get on.

For those about to write, we support you

There is much talk of challenges these days, particularly here where I’m participating in the WordPress Post a Week challenge and NaBloPoMo for March, and gearing up for Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo. But what of those people without whom none of this would be possible? I don’t mean the organisers (though they are obviously doing a great job), or the posters of daily prompts and topics. I mean the ones in the writers’ social networks. Spice (spouses? Spice means ‘sweets’ round here so is doubly appropriate), flatmates, parents. Those people who assist with or don’t mind us writers slacking off on childcare, petcare, housework, socialising. The guests who don’t mind that the washing’s still hanging on a clothes horse in the living room. The guests who don’t mind being asked to reschedule for a challenge-free month. The non-recipients of the emails we haven’t written, the phonecalls we haven’t made, the birthday cards we haven’t sent.

I take my stylish writing hat off to you all