It’s Blog Tour Monday again!

Today it is a great pleasure to welcome Dr Steve Hollyman onto my blog as guest blogger. He is taking part in Blog Tour Monday as I did last week, here on this blog, and as Graeme Shimmin did alongside me that week. Our friend Sarah Jasmon did it the Monday before that, after she was invited to take part by David Hartley – see his Blog Tour post here. I hope everyone enjoys Steve’s post below, as well as going back to see previous posts using the links in this paragraph!

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On Monday last week I received an email from my dear friend Ms Swingler. ‘FROM LOUISE – HELP NEEDED URGENTLY’ was the subject line. It was capitalised and everything. Hmm, I thought, this looks ominous. I put down my G&T and opened the email. As I read her message, my half-frown turned into a half-smile. Then it turned into a half-frown again. She’d only agreed to do this Blog Tour thing and forgotten to nominate anyone for the next spot. ‘If you do it I will love you even more than I currently do,’ she explained. And how could I refuse such an offer? I don’t have a blog. I’ve never even written a blog before. That’s why I’m borrowing this page for the week. As I write this, I’m en-route from Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent, a virgin-blogger, on a Virgin train, touched for the very first time. I’m due to spend the afternoon shouting into a microphone with my band CreepJoint. But that’s a different story altogether, and this journey lasts only 45 minutes. Let’s get on, shall we?

What am I working on?

I’ve recently started work on my third novel. It doesn’t have a title. I finished my second, Esc&Ctrl, in January 2014. The idea for the new book has been with me for a long time, but I always pictured it as a short story (which is interesting because for years the only way the plot of my first book, Keeping Britain Tidy, made any sense to me was as a screenplay). I think that the idea for a good story has to find me, not the other way round. That’s what happened to me in York a few weekends ago. I was in a hotel room, unable to sleep. The reason I was unable to sleep is because I’d been taken over by this huge idea, and between the hours of 4am and 6am I planned out, silently in my head, the whole book. I must have thought it showed promise, because the next day I bought a new Moleskine (I always buy Moleskines since they were kind enough to send me a load of free ones back in 2007) and excitedly emailed my friend in Switzerland. When I got back to my apartment the following evening, I started writing. At the moment I’m struggling with the voice, the focalization. I like writing that has a unique, quirky, narrative tone. Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country is a good example. Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy. Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani. Hunter S. Thompson. Irvine Welsh. There are many others that I admire. All these are writers and books that I’ve learned from. I’m also working on the screenplay for my first novel, and a couple of journal articles about the potentiality for creating fictional narratives using social networking sites. A large portion of my second novel is narrated on Facebook. I set up three pages, each one corresponding to a fictional character, and allowed them to ‘interact’ with real people. It’s a kind of interpermeation of fiction and theory; a marriage of hypertext literature and the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ books I used to read when I was younger.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I write because I find it interesting. I studied for an MA in Creative Writing not because I wanted to be a novelist but because I wanted to write better lyrics for the band. Then came the assessment side of the course: I had to write a full novel in order to pass. So I’d take the laptop to the pub after work, and write 1000 words a day. It’d take me about 45 minutes normally, and I can make a pint last that long when I’m concentrating on something else. I started to really get into it. I’d sit at work, watching the clock, waiting for the time to come when I could leave and start writing. If I had any time to spare, I’d write. I’d write on the train, in hotel rooms, in the lecture theatre. I’d type ideas into my mobile phone when I was out in bars and clubs. Sometimes, if the idea was too complex to write down quickly, I’d phone myself and leave a voicemail. That excitement about the latest ‘project’ – the sleeplessness and twitchiness and loss of appetite that comes with having what I believe is a good idea – has never left me. That’s why I write what I write.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Whenever people ask about the genre I work in, I always say it’s ‘non-genre contemporary fiction’. People have compared my stuff to writers such as Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk, and Anthony Burgess. I find that very flattering. I write a lot about what might be termed British yob culture, but I’m especially interested in that less-talked about area of middle class yobbery: the yobs who have well-paid jobs and expensive clothes and university degrees and yet are still compelled to visit their local town centre on a Friday or Saturday night and stick a glass in someone’s face.  I’m also interested in writing which examines the physical book as an artefact. I like playing with fonts, footnotes, different colours, struck-through passages, tilted pages: non-ergodic writing. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is still one of my favourite novels. I tried to do a similar thing with Esc&Ctrl but I also added the social network elements in order to demonstrate the different ways in which print text and hypertext operate.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process is, by most accounts, highly dysfunctional. I write best in public. That’s why I’m currently working on the train. I have no problem with writing in noisy pubs and bars and I often pick up little snippets of information there. People look at me curiously when I’m working in the pub. Once, someone asked me if I was looking at porn. Maybe I write better when people are watching. I don’t have a writing schedule where I write at a specific time of day, but I am a night-owl. I always work to a word count. It’s normally 1000 words a day (or night), sometimes more, but very rarely less. This method means I end up cutting a lot of stuff that I write, because it’s not often that I’ll write 1000 words where every sentence and paragraph is good enough to keep. A lot of other writers I’ve spoken to think I’m crazy for working this way, but it’s always worked for me. For me it’s all about getting it out, getting the words onto the page as quickly as possible without labouring over the minutiae. I worry about the rest of it once the words are down.

Now that my ‘blogger’s cherry’ is well and truly popped, and the train is minutes away from Stoke-on-Trent, there’s just enough time to thank Lou for letting me use her page, and to invite you to check out my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stevehollymanofficial and my first novel’s website www.keepingbritaintidy.co.uk. In a thoroughly shameless act of self-promotion I’ll also direct you to www.facebook.com/creepjoint. Talking of which, I’d better get my stuff together. It’s time to shout into that microphone…

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Thanks to you, Steve, for that romp around your writing life – and I do, now, officially, love you more than ever!

I also nominated the wonderful Emma Yates-Badley to take part today, and you can read her Blog Tour Monday post here.

Next week, Steve hands the baton over to Jo Nicel - so look out for her post on the 3rd of March.

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Blog Tour Monday

HeyHey! I have been asked by the lovely Sarah Jasmon to get on the Blog Bus and join in this crazy ‘blog tour’ of writer’s blogs. This means that I must answer four writerly questions to the best of my ability - just as Sarah did last Monday after she was asked to join the Blog Tour by David Hartley. You can read Sarah’s answers here, and David’s answers here from the week before that.

Get the drift?  It’s an interesting way for us all to discover some new writer’s blogs, and to pause and think about being a writer and what that entails. All good stuff. So - to the questions!

What am I working on?

I am working on final revisions of a novel – my first.

Before this I have written short fiction, and I have had a short story published in an anthology called Stations, published by Arachne Press.  But a few years ago I decided to fling myself more deeply into the writing life by doing an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Metropolitan University Writing School. I was on what was called the ‘novel-writing route’ and, I have to say, it did what it said on the tin, because this novel is the result, as well as much fruitful  learning, and the making of many fabulous new ‘friends-who-write’ (and therefore indulge my need to talk about writing and reading).

I have enjoyed writing it enormously and learning how to weave together such a large fictional piece. Over the last six months I have been immersing myself in learning the craft of editing my own fiction, and getting nearer to truly understanding the raw power of the phrase ‘less is more’. I have had some encouragement – I entered the Mslexia Novel Prize last September and my novel was long-listed, which was exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It gave me the confidence to send it out to a few literary agents and now I am playing the waiting game – and playing with the idea of doing one more edit, of course.

I have also made the solemn new year resolution that I will blog more this year. So when Sarah asked me to do this blog tour out of the blue, I grabbed the chance despite having just started a new work project in my day-job. Head full. Eyes tired. But I wanted to do it more than I wanted to lie down and sleep, and that is the point, isn’t it? Writing will never come first unless we make it come first. And that is why this is here, posted, even if it is going to end up being closer to Blog Tour Tuesday than Blog Tour Monday!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Ah, genre! That intriguing and frustrating word. My novel is in the genre of literary fiction, although it may have elements of period fiction too; it moves through several decades of the 20th century as the narrative starts in 1923 and ends in 1984.

How does it differ from other literary novels? That’s a difficult one; as a genre, literary fiction is quite a roomy suit of clothes, stretching as it does around such a wide range of literary ‘body types’ which vary wildly in style, structure and form. To be different, one may have to be as wondrously bold and imaginative as Eimear McBride or Virginia Woolf, and I quake a little when I think about that.  But in his interesting blog article, Nathan Bransford says many helpful and perceptive things about literary fiction, but one particular thing he says seems to encompass what I think my writing is about:

‘in literary fiction, the plot usually happens beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters. Things may happen on the surface, but what is really important are the thoughts, desires, and motivations of the characters, as well as the underlying social and cultural threads that act on them’.

I have always been fascinated by why people do what they do, or take one decision rather than another. I trained and worked as an Occupational Therapist in my twenties, which allowed me to study the human psychology of motivation right up close, and I had the honour to be involved in many people’s transformations and journeys. Maybe that’s why I feel comfortable writing in this genre, and maybe it also hints at what I bring to it that might be special and particular to me and my past experience.

Why do I write what I do?

I would say that my writing is a way for me to try and try again to feel, explore and understand the mechanism of transformation that lies deep in the human mind and heart.

Much of my novel is set in the period that followed the second world war up until the 1960s – a time of great change in Britain as the prevailing class structure to some extent fell apart, and the fifties and sixties brought optimism, and a revolution in many aspects of living, social values, and sexual politics. A widening of opportunity for many.

Those years of rapid social evolution attract me as a setting - they give a context which makes sense of the importance of change to human existence and emotional health. But the giddy disorientation of those times created conflict too – and increased choices can bring with them decisions that test and try us. All good stuff for writing fiction!

Among my early cultural influences was that king of change, David Bowie. I admired his insistence on reinventing himself time and again, and his song Changes has become a kind of theme tune in my own life. The books I read in those early years reflect my tendency to admire people who challenge the prevailing taste of the day and alter the form (Byron, Kerouac, and Woolf amongst them). I don’t alter the form of the novel in my writing, but I think the constancy of my interest in the process of change is what makes me write what I write.

How does my writing process work?

I know that, even though I have had lots of years to practice, I am still abysmal at creating a strict writing routine; I sigh with admiration when I read writers who calmly state that they sit down at 6am each day and write until 3pm, or whatever it may be.

For me, the work has always happened in fits and starts, in between a complicated and busy other-life. Bursts of hurtling words are followed by nothing for days or weeks. Deadlines do help – the MA gave me deadlines, and they really, really help. But then I believe that the gaps help too. ‘Leave it in a drawer’ is often good advice. The action of secluding the manuscript in the drawer frees you from what you have written so that you can write it a little differently when you go back to it.

However, my novel did eventually get written - during a very busy time in my life. The writing had to happen alongside working part-time, opting for voluntary redundancy, getting married, moving house, and retraining and starting to work as a freelance copy-editor. So there is no truth in the myth that one needs to devote oneself solely to writing in order to get it all done (although it may have happened more swiftly if I had been wealthy enough to do that).

The writing process seems to happen quite organically, I think! Stories move and grow away from the original idea in quite a beautiful way. My novel was based on a real story that I read in a newspaper, but you probably wouldn’t recognise the link between that story and the finished novel. Although I purposefully change the gender and the occupation of the protagonist, just to shake myself away from the original narrative, it wasn’t really that which obscured its beginnings. It was the way that two new main characters arose, naturally yet forcefully, and took the novel off in very different directions. One of them gaily led me into the bohemian world of early contemporary dance in 1940s England, and the other made her own way into the energetic poetry scene that existed in London in the 1960s, stopping only briefly at the corner of the street to glance behind and make sure that I was obediently following her and keeping up. I love that. I am happy to follow.

TIME’S UP, and all that remains is to introduce the two writers I am handing the baton to for Blog Tour Monday next week. Two fellow writers from MMU days will be entertaining you with their answers to these same questions: Emma Yates-Badley can be found here giving ‘delightful snippets and stories from an over-active imagination’, and Dr Steve Hollyman will be very kindly coming as a guest blogger here on Writing From Under a Beech Tree, so please come back and read his words of wisdom same time next week.

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Halton Gill Sports Gala 25th August 2013

Come along to the Yorkshire Dales for this local funday in Littondale,. It’s going to be full of daft games and great food (Pagenham Meat’s premium sausages on the BBQ and homemade cakes to make you drool!). Fell Race starts at 2pm – registration from 1pm. Hope you can make it!

Come and have a great day out in the Dales

HAlton Gill Sports Gala

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Society of Young Publishers event: 18th June 2013

I will be reading from my story in Stations and talking about writing at this Society of Young Publishers – North & Midlands event. Click on the poster below for details. You are very welcome to join us!

For more information about Stations see below the poster.

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Stations: Short Stories Inspired by the Overground Line
Edited by Cherry Potts of Arachne Press
Published in November 2012.

Twenty-four new short stories in homage to the East and South London section of the Overground Line: a story for every station from New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon at the Southern extremes of the line, all the way to Highbury & Islington.

From tigers in a South London suburb to retired Victorian police inspectors investigating train based thefts, from collectors of poets at Shadwell to life-changing decisions in Canonbury, by way of an art installation that defies the boundaries of a gallery,

Stations takes a sideways look through the windows of the Overground train, at life as it is, or might be,lived beside the rails:quirky, humorous and sometimes horrifying.

Ideal for the commuting reader, Stations would make an excellent souvenir of a visit to London and a perfect gift for lovers of London everywhere.

Authors:

Adrian Gantlope
Andrew Blackman
Anna Fodorova
Bartle Sawbridge
Caroline Hardman
Cherry Potts
David Bausor
Ellie Stewart
Jacqueline Downs
Joan Taylor-Rowan
Katy Derby
Louise J Swingler
Max Hawker
Michael Trimmer
Paula Read
Peter Cooper
Peter Morgan
Rob Walton
Rosalind Stopps
Wendy Gill
© Arachne Press 2012

Stations cover

Front cover of Stations

 

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STATIONS: Short Stories inspired by the London Overground

Stations is a new anthology that will be published at the end of November. It was dreamed up by the fresh and quirky young publishing house, Arachne Press. And I’m glad to say that one of the stories in Stations was written by me. Details about the official launch at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe on Sunday the 2nd of December (at which I will be reading) can be found here.

This all started when I responded to a call for short stories on the Arachne Press website. Each of the stories had to relate in some way to one of the stations on the section of the London Overground which drops southward from Highbury & Islington Station down to New Cross. I knew Highbury & Islington well, and so I sent along a story that was set in and around that station. Continue reading

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Writing, walking and living in the peace of the Yorkshire Dales

I have just been sipping a white wine on the bench outside my door, contemplating how my move to the countryside has meant that I have exchanged the gentle, slurring noise of the M25 for the rushing urgency of the beck which churns its way along the valley not thirty yards from my front door. And the incredibly insistent hum of what sounds like thousands of bees in the honeysuckle which grows up the wall of our cottage. Continue reading

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The Mystery of the Daffodils at Monks House in Rodmell

I have sadly neglected this blog in favour of my other one. Today I am stating my intention to change that, with this short post.

It isn’t a lack of interest. I have several half-written posts for this blog. Interruptions arrive, and then the posts get filed half completed. I think maybe I am aiming to write too much each time. For the time being, I will focus upon fragments and moments; on small thoughts rather than on longer arguments.

Please take this photo of some incredibly pale and delicate daffodils in my garden as a frail flag, heralding further musings from me.

Spring 2012 in Littondale

Daffodils in the garden

They remind me of a painting on the wall of the bedroom at Monk’s House, in Rodmell, Sussex. Continue reading

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A journey towards being a writer

I was born in a suburb of Manchester, in the northwest of England. When I was three, my family moved to Macclesfield, a town about twenty miles south east of the city. We lived in a large, square house, at the top of the road that leads straight up from the town centre and out towards Buxton. It was less than a mile from our house to the boundary of the Peak District National Park. At the back of our garden, there was a wooden, five-bar gate, and beyond that there were fields with cows and sheep in them, bounded by the uneven grey lines of dry-stone walls. We went to Goyt Valley for Sunday walks, and to screech out loud in agonised delight as we paddled in ice-cold streams.

In our garden, there was an extremely tall beech tree, Continue reading

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Under Construction

I have just entered the world of blogging. About forty minutes ago, to be precise. Please come back in about 24 hours when I have finished customising the space under the beech tree.

Looking forward to blogging with you.

Louise

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