Thursday, 20 July 2017
Louise Doughty sets up clutching a copy of her own work, Black Water, and a copy of Haruki Murakami short stories. That's when I know the session, in a stifling basement of Waterstones, Piccadilly, will be great. Murakami is master of the short story form, a writer who can persuade my scientist husband to delve into fiction. I'd argue the corner for Louise, that she too is a crafted writer of wonderful stories, with a wealth of experience from novels and shorts through journalism, radio plays and screenplays. This is a woman who knows her work, an early Creative Writing student under Angela Carter at UEA, it took her maybe seven or eight years to find her prose power, and when she did, she didn't stop.
The masterclass is on Where The Narrative Leads - is your short story a moment in time, or could it be more? Could it have the scope of a novel? Louise is fascinated by where the original point of a story exists, where does an idea begin?
Although both her recent books, Apple Tree Yard and Black Water, have very different settings and themes, they both began in the same way. In that space between waking and sleep at the end of the day, with a single image. In Apple Tree Yard, it was the scene of a woman at the Old Bailey giving evidence in her own trial and the feeling she was about to be exposed in a damaging lie. Writing those first two thousand words, Louise sent it to her agent and he asked for a one page synopsis to send to Faber, the book was born.
Louise talks frequently about writing in scenes, her process to write on and leave the balnks that research or emotion will later fill [in square brackets]. Her process is organic, she will write non-chronologically, writing and rewriting a particular scene until it feels right, then lie all the scenes on the floor and re-arrange, cutting some well loved and keeping others in a jigsaw method. Once she has the corners, she can work in from there.
In both boooks, she had an idea, a picture, of a character in a situation. In Black Water she was a guest at a writers and readers festival in Bali. Set up after the Bali bombings to encourage high end tourists back to the area. Writers came from across the globe on circuitous and cheap routes to be accommodated in luxury hotels with free drinks. Most were off their faces with a mixture of alcohol and jet lag on the first night. Here, Louise lay awake every night in her hut, listening to the unfamiliar noises, creaking, gecko's and monkeys. An image came to her of a man lying awake at night in a hut in rural Indonesia, mortally afraid. He thinks men with Machetes are coming to kill him, but it is his younger self that he is really afraid of. As she wrote the scene into a short story it grew longer and longer, and here she pauses to dwell on the importance of writing your characters full biography. Give them an age and place and work backwards, where are the opportunities for research. Have something that possess you. Start to see everything in ordinary life through the prism of your novel, all becomes noteworthy, it sticks in your head. Write it into the novel. Hence a family holiday to some falls at Yosemite became a scene in Black Water.
It's everything a workshop should be, inspiring, anecdotal and practical. I go away gripped with images from a short story I want to write into scenes and the tools to create a structure to hang them in a novel.
Monday, 17 July 2017
When I submit writing or have to come up with a bio I say 'I write short stories for adults and children, feature articles, YA novels, screenplays and ghost write memoirs.' A dolly mixture of styles and perspectives. Is there any such thing as a writer who writes for only one audience? It's important to dabble, although being a Jack-of-all-trades doesn't mean you can't be a master. The writing should always have heart, pace and punch, no matter who you write for.
So I'm dipping into the pick and mix bag again. Getting a proof copy of The Passenger on Lulu.com, means I can see what I think might be a finished work looks like in print, and I can see that it's probably not finished at all. Pencil sharpened and at the ready for edits.
And there is an upcoming short story masterclass in a high street bookshop that shall not be named (I just applied for a job there and didn't get it, maybe it's fate showing me I was meant to be a book writer and not a bookseller). So while I hand round the dip mix (jelly baby anyone?) I'll keep writing and submitting. Watch this space...