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Put Poetry First …

Put Poetry First ...

Procrastination is a curious animal. Not usually one with a cute face and fur and boundless energy ... well not the energy to do anything useful, just one that wants you to put down your pen and play. There are so many things I should be doing this week, including writing a blog post about haiku, not one on not writing poetry! But this is the albatrossian sea that my poetry finds itself adrift on this week.

... Puppet Show Last

This week I was invited to attend The International Dylan Thomas Prize 2018:  A Shortlist Celebration (which is a free event in the Taliesin arts centre on Swansea University Singleton Campus, 11am )-12:15pm on Thursday 10 May 2018, if you're in the area and fancy coming along.

Shortlisted are:

  • Kayo Chingonyi, Kumukanda (Vintage - Chatto & Windus)
  • Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (Serpent’s Tail / Graywolf Press)
  • Gwendoline Riley, First Love (Granta)
  • Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends (Faber & Faber)
  • Emily Ruskovich, Idaho (Vintage - Chatto & Windus)
  • Gabriel Tallent, My Absolute Darling (4th Estate / Riverhead Books)

SO I consulted my dates.txt file (that's my electronic diary, not a record of what I ate, drank and which songs we danced to when we hit the dancefloor on a night out!). It told me that on May 10 I am supposed to read my poetry to the Friendship Club at the local Methodist Church!

I was pretty sure that, with only two weeks’ notice, they wouldn't be able to find somebody else to change dates with me, but surprise surprise, they can!

If I've told them once I've told them a hundred times — put Spinal Tap first and Puppet Show last.
(watch this scene in the spoof rockumentary film, Spinal Tap)

I can be swapped with the quiz on June 7th! At least it's an intellectual puppet show ;)

The Art of Procrastination

Procrastination is NOT a dirty word and, in this case, I'm not actually procrastinating on writing, just on poetry. I've been bitten by a bug! As the song goes, and you have my permission to sing along if you like, “Not to put too fine a point on it / say I'm the only bee in your bonnet” (from They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse in your Soul)

I've had an idea bubbling around my brain for probably two years now ... writers are often asked how long it takes them to write a poem, a short story or a 100,000 word novel, and the answer is, almost always, that it varies. Sometimes I can write a poem in half an hour, other times I scribble ideas down and slowly add more ideas until, after two or three weeks, a poem begins to coalesce. Well that is the situation I find myself in at the moment — a two year simmering has turned into the makings of a tasty soup and I can't do much other than type away to construct the story.

My initial thought, which I discover was on Tuesday 20 October 2015 (as my text file properties reveal), was to write it as a short story. I remember deliberating on this for several weeks because, at heart, I'm a poet so it felt kinda wrong to not condense the story into a poem ... but no, I wanted this to be bigger than a poem. As time passed and I began looking at the modules on the MA Creative writing course, the idea of writing the story as a full blown novel seemed very appealing, and that is what I'm aiming for ... but I was having second thoughts about the plot!

In a nutshell I had envisaged the novel opening with a scene where a person had just been raped. I thought through ideas of it being either male or female, but the female perspective was the one I wanted to go with because the character would decide to keep the baby that was created. A difficult topic I know, but the baby would be an important factor in a decision the character would have to make later in the story. But, when I talk about the plot to my local creative writing group, there is always some unease when I talk about ‘the rape storyline’. It made me question whether it needed to be a rape scene at the heart of the story or whether some other scenario could create similar emotional challenges for the protagonist to confront.

and this week the idea has landed! I've started drafting the opening scene, introducing the main characters, and sketching out character sheets that describe each one's age, background and character traits. Inspired by the Dylan Thomas Prize I've set it in Swansea and the valleys, though I'm not 100 percent set on this so it could change.

Social Influence

My original idea had the protagonist as a lady in her early thirties, the kind of character an actress like one of my favourites, Sarah Jane Potts, might play (yes, I'm casting the film before I've even drafted the story, haha!)
A scene from the 2005 film Kinky Boots, featuring Charlie (Joel Edgerton) and Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts)

I don't know if this is social influence so much as social conscience. Back in April there was a very interesting social media thread about how women think that a male author would portray them.

Women have been sharing parodies on social media of they way they feel they are portrayed by male authors.

The trend was started by podcaster Whit Reynolds, who challenged people to compose descriptions of themselves in the style of a male writer.
(from Women mock the way they are portrayed by male writers

Which made me ponder the age and image of the female lead in my story.

The responses caricature the tendency of male authors to focus on the physical appearance of female characters, and the often florid language used to describe their bodies.

Many replies also highlight the way women who are not deemed to be young and attractive, are dismissed as "cranks", "frightening" and "intimidating".

(from the previous BBC blog post, Women mock the way they are portrayed by male writers, ibid )

Even having been blind for 10 years now, if I continue the trend of male authors casting young slim characters in the lead roles I'd be doing my characters and my writing a disservice. SO I have also re-timed my revised storyline. although the new trigger incident does happen when the female character is in her late 30s, the story itself unfolds in 2018/19 (whenever this story gets finished, haha), at which point the lady is 52ish. There is a daughter involved and I want her to be in her teens, so ages seem to work out well as I now have them. The daughter’s father is to be around seven to ten years younger than the mother and these ages feel a good fit for the story.

Most of these replies focused on the "sad" lack of youth, and the characterisation of older women as "maternal".
Twitter post by @lisasolod: When I looked at her I saw a woman who had once been beautiful. I could tell by gazing into her eyes that she, too, mourned for her lost youth and the promise her beauty afforded her. It makes sad to see an older woman. They've nothing left.
(BBC blog post ibid)

Polishing the Story

It has been over 10 years since I last bought a print book with the intention of reading it. I know, my talking Orcam glasses can photograph a page of a book and read it aloud but, as I've said before, the results are highly variable as to whether what gets spoken has been optical character recognised accurately enough to understand! But my female lead, let's call her Llinos since that's what I plan on calling her (it's a Welsh name meaning lark), has an interest in gemstones — she makes bracelets with them, so I need to know information that Llinos would know. I have ordered a copy of Gemstones: Understanding, Identifying, Buying by Keith Wallis and, since I intend to write a good chunk of this story as part of my Long Form Fiction module on the creative writing MA course, the university transcription centre can scan my copy and run it through their optical character recognition system and I'll get a PDF version that my screen reading software can read for me. Yes, no doubt there will be some words don't get OCR'ed correctly, but I'm never one to grumble at having to manually correct those. I will drop my purchased hard copy in while I'm at the Dylan Thomas celebration, which feels like a perfect piece of synchronicity or, as Hannibal Smith would say, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

#Procrastination #storylines #FemaleCharactersInNovels #gemstones @lisasolod

Published inblindness


  1. Nell Nelson Nell Nelson

    I think one of the characters in your novel should be blind. If you want it to be read, and to catch attention for being different, that’s your USP. Unique selling point, unique seeing point. You are seeing (in inverted commas) the world differently since you lost your sight. Let the reader inhabit that possibility in all its richness.

  2. Giles Giles

    I don’t rule that out but it is generally not the approach I want to take with my writing. When I was on the Arvon poetry course Daljit Nagra suggested I should make every character I write a blind one but, whilst I am happy to talk about the effects of being blind, I don’t want it to be everything I write about. Whilst most sighted people don’t notice the sounds and scents of the world as sharply as a blind person does, there’s no reason that they can’t, and I’d sooner show a sighted person picking up on things the way a blind person would than use a blind character doing what is very mundane / day-to-day for them. If I portray a blind character walking along the street and pausing to listen to something, a sighted reader will 90 percent of the time, assume that is because blind people have a super power level of hearing because they are blind … which is absolute codswallop! Blind people don’t have any better hearing than a sighted person, they just learn to pay more attention to what they are hearing. If, however, a sighted character stops to listen to things, a sighted reader might also try to listen to the sounds of the world 🙂 Maybe there’s also a little bit of the sighted person I had been for three quarters of my life not wanting to let go of the memories of being a sighted person? I’d be in my element if that was an exam question ending ‘Discuss’ 🙂

  3. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Dying to read this novel, Giles, and to discover what the ‘trigger incident’ is!

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