Finding The Way Out

way outFinding the way out can be hard, can’t it?

Be it finding your way out of a confusing car park or poorly signposted building. Or indeed finding your way out of an embarrassing situation or, perhaps heartbreakingly out of a love lost or broken.

Finding the way out of feelings that hurt us is at the heart of life. But then mercifully there are those words that form stories, images, and ideas to be found spilling out of books, to console us and to show us a way through.

We find such solace in the shared experience depicted by the writer, who in turn is writing to find their own way out for those feelings and characters that crowd their head and heart.

It is therefore no wonder that those spaces that bring the reader and writer together are so incredibly precious. I couldn’t have felt this more when in the last few weeks I have been so fortunate to read at both Gay’s The Word and at LFest.

For me Gay’s The Word is not just a bookshop, and LFest is not just a festival, they are without question the champions of our words, our stories, and the providers of sanctuary for our hearts.

For nestled amongst the many shelves of books at Gay’s The Word and canopied underneath the dome of the big top at LFest, the audience looked back at me, waiting for the writers with their lips pressed to the microphone to speak the words with the potential to connect, inspire, and delight.

In those moments, paved by books, perhaps we found a way out together towards our queer future, illuminated in hope and wonder by the stories we love and share.

Finding The Way In

way in sign

Finding the way in is at the heart of everything isn’t it?

Be it finding the way in to a confusing car park or a poorly signposted building. Or indeed finding your way in to establishing the common ground of a friendship or perhaps most importantly to the heart of the one you love.

Finding the way in is not only at the heart of life, it is at the heart of writing. It is that moment when a writer’s creativity sparks, igniting an imagined scene or character or dialogue. It is where the story begins.

I remember reading an interview with author Nancy Garden explaining how she found her way in to writing Annie on My Mind with a single line of dialogue.

“One rainy day…the words ‘It’s raining, Annie’ popped into my head. I know it sounds weird, but something told me that at last this might be the beginning of the book, although I didn’t know who was saying ‘It’s raining’ or who Annie was. But nonetheless that was how Annie on My Mind was born.” 1

Nancy’s explanation resonated with me as my debut novel Highland Fling began as much with a line of dialogue as with the setting of the Scottish Highlands. I could hear my main character Eve saying tenderly to her lover Moira, “You can touch me if you want”.  These few words began a paragraph of writing, which then became a page, which eventually developed into a novel.

In a similar way my short story “Hooper Street in the anthology Girls Next Door: Lesbian Romance became the destined home for a phrase that had loitered in my head, potent yet aimless: “It was a Tuesday when…” The line now continues “I first met Abbie.”  “Hooper Street had already been loosely drafted before those homeless words gave the story the purpose and orientation it needed. It peculiarly felt like those five words were fated to belong in the story, but that at some point they had been separated from it, like a dream half forgotten and then suddenly fully remembered.

For sometimes ideas, words, and images conjured by the imagination are so fleeting, that the writer is left chasing the memory of something, constantly editing and refining, working to get as close as possible to the perfect creative form just out of reach.

Despite the writer’s efforts to capture their imagination onto a page and to craft the perfect story, the ultimate meaning of a work lies with the reader. After all, the words and images that connected the story to the writer will not be the same words and images that connect the story to the reader.

All a writer can do is guide the reader in the direction we hope they will travel. But in the end, as it should be, the joy is the discoveries you make for yourself, the satisfaction of finding your own way in.

You will find me, should you wish, reading from Highland Fling and “Hooper Street and chatting more about writing at Gay’s The Word Bookshop, London, on 13th July, and at L Fest, Loughborough on 22nd July.

I look forward to seeing you then.

  1. p254, A Conversation with Nancy Garden, interview with Kathleen Horning, Annie on My Mind, 2007 Edition, FSG

 

Thoughts From The Bold Strokes Books Festival June 2017

Talk To Me - Writing Good Dialogue
Writing Good Dialogue Panel

 

“Writing good dialogue”

Here are some of the ways I think good dialogue contributes to a story:-

 

 

  • It can entertain – enlivening the prose and engaging the reader.
  • It can move an aspect of the plot or narrative forward in a way which, because it is absorbed within the ‘chat’, feels light and digestible – meeting the wise adage of show not tell.
  • It can impart information about a character, allowing the reader to: ‘hear’ the character’s unique voice; ‘see’ their mannerisms; and ‘understand’ their emotions/reactions.
  • It can reveal how a character can change depending on who they’re talking to, illuminating the distinct relationship between characters. For example, a character chatting with their best mate might have ‘banter’, but the same character with their lover may have much more intense dialogue.
  • It can heighten the potency and the impact of a character’s internal thoughts, at times playing with the unspoken monologues. For example, when a character thinks one thing but says the opposite.
  • Particularly if the piece is written in third person, where you have a silent narrator if you like, it can cleverly allow the writer to say things the narrator can’t. Dialogue lends a character a dangerous independence.

So here’s a checklist of some of the things I think about when I’m writing dialogue:-

  1. Does the style of the dialogue I’m writing match the personality of my character? Is the ‘voice’ authentic to them?
  2. Does the tone and content of the dialogue fit the moment in the narrative? Are the characters saying the right thing, in the right manner, at the right time?
  3. Is the content of the dialogue engaging and informative, and will it help my reader better understand either the character and/or the plot?
  4. Is the dialogue easy to read – does it flow?
  5. Will the reader know at all times who is speaking and what is going on?
  6. Have I been careful not to overuse dialogue tags – those speech tags attributing dialogue, actions, and emotions to a particular character?
  7. Have I remembered that the pauses or pregnant silences can be as important as what is actually being said – the natural rhythm of speech if you like.

Top tip:-

Try sitting in public spaces and listen to people chatting. Hear how they interrupt each other, how they might begin on one subject and end on another, how passionate or flat their tone is.

Can you (without looking of course) imagine what they look like, what their life might be like?  What is distinctive about them – is it their accent, the pace of their speech, is their language – informal or formal?

And finally – listen to your characters chatting in your head (and they do!), let your writing be their voice.

 


 

“Thoughts about ‘Conflict’ in fiction writing”

 

Moderating the Conflict Panel
Danger, Conflict, Uh-Oh Panel

In works of narrative, ‘Conflict’ is the opposition main characters must face to achieve their goals.1

A writer might employ two forms of conflict to create the tension which drives the narrative. Conflict may be ‘internal’ or ‘external’ – it may occur within a character’s mind, most commonly revealed in their internal debates or monologues or between a character and exterior forces, for example in conflict with another person or the world around them.

Writers will often employ both forms at once, as a combined tool, for the development of plot and character.

To avoid the conflict feeling forced or unbelievable a writer will embed the conflict at the heart of the novel, so that it is an integral element and arises organically and effortlessly.

Conflict creates drama and interest in a novel by setting seeds of doubt, it keeps the reader guessing, it invests the reader in the outcome, and keeps them turning the pages again and again…

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_(narrative)

 

States of Independence – 11th March 2017 at Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Leicester.

states-of-independence

Come say hello and maybe buy a book. Hot of the press copies of Highland Fling will be available (£10) before general release!

Bold Strokes Books authors Robyn Nyx and Brey Willows will also be attending with their books too!

The eighth States of Independence will take place on Saturday 11 March 2017 at Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Leicester. 10.30am – 4.30pm.

If you can’t make it but would like to purchase a copy of Highland Fling let me know (postage and packing will apply).


Workshops | Readings | Panels | Seminars | Book launches

Bookstalls | Independent presses | Regional writers

Fiction | Non-fiction | Poetry | Plays | Artist books | Magazines | Journals


Lesbian Lives Conference 2017

lesbian-lives-conferenceI’m excited to be presenting a paper at the Lesbian Lives Conference. (Brighton, Friday 24th February 2017).

Session Title: Permutations of Lesbian Love in Popular Fiction.

The title of my paper is Compelled to write – A writer’s perspective on the question ‘why do we write stories of lesbian love?’

Invitation to have your say!

It would be great to hear from other published authors as to ‘what compels you to write stories of lesbian love?’

I have created a short poll for you to complete. You can select one or as many of the reasons that are applicable to you. You can also add your own reason in ‘other’. All votes are anonymous. My paper will be published on my site after the conference.

It is important that you confirm in the poll below that you are a published author (this includes self-published authors) who writes stories about lesbian love.

Not restricted to lesbian romance genre.

Thank you for taking the time to participate!

Closing date: 11th February 2017

Poetry – On Reflection

anna-larner-poetry-reading-polari-shout-festival-birmingham-mac-19-11-2016
Poetry Reading at Polari, Shout Festival, mac Birmingham 2016

On Reflection

If we were to meet again, I would say

sorry today, for then, when mad with love,

deranged with passion, all reason astray,

I cried ‘I love you!’ Three words – not enough.

 

So I left flowers to wilt at your door,

composed mixed tapes, wrote odes, baked cakes, your name

on my lips, in my brain. ‘Be mine’ I implored,

as I failed exams, missed deadlines, endured pain.

 

I lost sleep, got sick, felt weak, refused to

see sense – still convinced that you could be mine.

And through it all, silent, wise and kind, you

knew the one answer for me would be time.

 

You were so gentle with your rejection.

Yes, I can see that now, on reflection.

 

© 2016 All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Thoughts From the Bold Strokes Books Festival June 2016

Book Festival Reading
Sweet Romance Panel

“So what makes a good romance?”

Writing Highland Fling has been a fantastic learning process for me. When I think of lesbian romance, I now have the following quick check list in my mind:-

A clear focus on the two characters falling in love. It’s all about them. With their story fully resolved.

“You want to fall in love with them” characters you can admire or can be attracted to. Characters you can invest emotionally in. Basically if they’re not fanciable in some way readers are not likely to care.

Conflict, both internal (what they’re thinking), and external (what they do) – the energy that drives the story.

A happy ending. Readers expect that despite all of the agonies or uncertainties on the characters’ road to love, there will be a happy ending, that their feelings are safe in the writer’s hands.

Sexual tension – the will they won’t they element, enticing, engaging cues to sexual attraction and longing.

And, as I have been asked to select my golden rule for a successful romance, it would be this – Writing from the heart, putting into the story what it feels like to long for someone, to fall for someone, the uncertainty, the self-doubt, the tortured agony of it all…

 

“What’s the difference when it comes to writing short stories versus novels?”

ShortStoryVSNovel
Moderating The Sprint Vs The Marathon Panel

Let’s have a think for a moment about what we mean by a short story, and what we mean by a novel – the clue to everything is word limit.

If we use Bold Strokes Books guidelines – a recent call for submissions for a short story collection asked for stories between 2,000 – 5,000 words; and novels, well they start from 45,000 words upwards, depending on the genre.

So with a novel, averaging say 85,000 words, how do you keep your reader gripped for so long? How do you build in the depth that’s needed? How do you write a story that will stay with the reader forever from just the seed of an idea? And if you’ve only got 5,000 words, how do you tell your story fully? You’re going to need to grab the reader quickly –how do you do that? Does it mean you can only focus on one or two characters? And how do you manage without the space for a back story? How do you get depth without depth?

But is the joy of a short story, that it’s not a novel? You can experiment perhaps, try out a new genre, a different voice, explore a new character, work on impregnating a story with meaning in every word. Do the restrictions actually make you free?

And the novel, do you get to live another life through the expansive canvas offered to your characters? Do you have the room to say just what you want to say, no restrictions, another kind of freedom? As a novelist are you thrilled that you’ll keep your reader reading far too late, night after night, after night, after night..?

 

Bols Strokes Books Festival 2016 Attending Authors
Authors At The 2016 Bold Strokes Books UK Festival