Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The return from Kingfisher Barn


Fucking knackered.

Had five days at a writing weekend at Alex Keegan's Kingfisher Barn, with half a dozen others. Day one - first break at 3-30pm - set the tone. It didn't let up. And once the working days ended the evenings began, where we just carried on talking about writing, with the added lubrication of many, many, many bottles of wine...

Theme has always been my problem. I have an idea of what I want to write about, but it's no more than that. As a result my stories tend to wander, often the plot contradicts the theme, readers 'enjoy' the story but can't work out what it's supposed to be saying. We did a lot of work on theme which helped immensely. I'm not there yet, but I'm much, much closer, I think.

I've had a story I've wanted to do for ages but couldn't get going on. I'd made a start but got stuck. On the Monday afternoon at KB I just sat and wrote it, with another Boot Camper, Dan, beside me writing his story as well. What came out doesn't work, not at all, but at least it is now written, and Dan, Alex and I discussed it in detail the next day, found the faults, the weaknesses. Alex pointed out several places where the theme was being contradicted by the action, where I was inadvertently directing sympathy in the wrong direction. All the lovely, subtle little hints I'd left about theme were shown to be so subtle they didn't exist outside my brain. Plotlines which confused by seeming to take the story in another direction were pointed out.

It's pretty fucking obvious when you have a professional writer sitting next to you saying "why did you do that?" and "why did you think that was a good idea?"

Alex also probed about what I was interested in, what I wanted to write about. Again, like theme, I have an idea, I have something I want to explore, and a lot of my stories go there. But it's still vague, it's a feeling rather than something concrete. I do feel that I'm closer though, after this weekend, after being made to think - and talk - about ideas. Some of it is very uncomfortable, to be honest, but it's an itch I have to scratch, and I'm definitely closer to the 'thing' that's going on in my subconscious.

Back to the course, I am a terrible student, always have been. I'm a tutor's nightmare, without meaning to be. It's just that I hate being lectured, I hate "talking about things", I can only learn by doing. I'm a bit of a neanderthal when it comes to learning, which is ironic since lifelong learning is one of my big passions. Training courses always leave me cold, I just go from session to session, waiting for the next tea break or chance to stop.

But I didn't at KB. I don't own a watch, so I didn't know what the time was. That first day, when we first stopped at 3.30, I thought it was maybe about 1 o'clock. I've heard people talk about KB courses before as "inspirational" and the like and thought 'yeah, they must be pretty good,' but this was inspirational. No other word.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Kingfisher Barn

Okay, off from tomorrow for a five day writing workshop at Alex Keegan's Kingfisher Barn. This is where story writing gets brutal, so I'm told... Alex is a very experienced writer who runs Boot Camp, where I've been an online member for a year or so. This is the first face-to-face gathering I've been involved with, so I'm ever so slightly nervous... We're very honest and upfront online - we trash each other's stories on a fortnightly basis - and it won't be any different in the flesh, I'm sure. Fortunately I work in local government so I'm used to people screaming at me. More than that, I work in service improvement, so I even have our own staff screaming at me, along with the public.

I haven't been able to write much creative stuff this year so far. I've done plenty words - over 1000 per day - but it's all been crits and general writing, rather than my own stuff. I wrote 500+ words tonight, which is my first for the year. I'm hoping the weekend course will unlock more writing as well.

My problem is that I have two stories bubbling at the moment. One is written, but it isn't right. It half works but not completely, and the damned thing is haunting me. It did from the start - it came from a dream - and even after having written it I can't forget it. The other is one that feels important to me, and for that reason it's frightening me, to the extent that I keep putting the damned thing away. I tell myself - 'leave it a while, let the idea ferment, it'll be all the better for it.'

But I don't think that's true. It would have been much better to write the whole damned thing when I first thought of it, when it was in my brain, when I could properly feel it. But now I'm left with this story which means a lot to me, but I'm struggling to put into words.

There's a lesson for writers: when you have the idea and the impetus, write the fucking story. Don't listen to those voices which say 'leave it for now, come back to it later, it will be all the richer for doing that.'

It won't. It never will.

Anyway, I won't be back online for a week or so. Keep reading and keep writing. And I'll be back next week...

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 statistics

Okay, now that the old year has ended, what was it like?

Writing 209289 words
Crits 181454 words
TOTAL 492026

47 stories
143 flashes (<1000 words)
232 full story crits
539 flash crits

333 story submissions
62 hits
157 rejects

And the targets for 2007? To beat all of those totals.