Posts Tagged ‘advice’

How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right? Debut novelist Stella Hervey Birrell on rejection, writing, and men jumping up and down in nightclubs…

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Hello friends! Remember me? I am indeed still alive, though my blog hardly shows it. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to know the brilliant Stella Hervey Birrell, and even luckier enough to be able to host one of the stops of her blog tour… so I am, rustily, back to blogging! (Thanks, Stella.) Stella’s debut novel is described as “chick lit with grit,” a slogan so great I wish I came up with it — and it’s called How Many Wrong Make A Mr Right? I managed to corner Stella for a small interview… you’re going to enjoy what she has to say, so grab a cuppa and get settled!

1.  I’m always interested to hear about how people started out writing.  I know that you’re also a singer-songwriter, and wonder — did that come first, then story-writing, or the other way around?  Or do you see them as being wholly unconnected?

Not wholly unconnected, no. I had to think really hard about this question: which did come first? It was terribly earnest poetry, really, as a child and then an angsty teenager. Songs have been part of the deal as an adult for a long time, and my husband normally writes the tunes, so it’s something we do together.
But when I gave up work, it wasn’t to write songs, it was so that I could write a commercial, full length novel. Songs are mostly written as gifts, or for my band, The Domestics, which isn’t a full time job.
I’d love to think that writing lyrics informs my prose, but actually I think they’re pretty different. Although it’s probably best that I don’t write in rhyming couplets!

Sam Burns Yard Domestics Pic
‘And now I will read you my full-length novel…’ Stella with her band, The Domestics. Picture by Caroline Pearson.

2.  Kind of related to that first question: what do you think, say, your sixteen-year-old self would make of the fact that you’ve published a novel? 

Oh my goodness she’d be delighted! She was so pretentious though, she’d have been super snooty about the fact that I don’t have a traditional, paper based publishing deal, or an agent.
She’d probably be more surprised that I’m a generally happy, settled person though, neither of us thought that would ever happen…

Correct cover!
Available on UK Amazon, US Amazon, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. (sorry, 16 year old Stella)

3.  What do you see as the major themes of your work?  What questions are you interested in exploring?  Not necessarily just in your novel, but in your writing in general, I mean.  I’m always nosy about the things folk want to drive at with their writing.

At root, I write for women. In my first book, the strongest theme is probably ‘loving yourself first.’
I’m also interested in writing about the female orgasm, in an educational way though – I don’t write erotica.
In other work, women’s empowerment, women’s support networks (good, bad and non-existent), and the whole parenting lark: things I’m experiencing now. For example, my youngest son started school last year, and the piece that came out of the devastation I felt was accepted by the Ropes Journal. Nothing is wasted, as they say.

Strident Feminist cropped
Melissa, How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right?

4.  I know (*eyebrow-wiggle*) that you’re a member of at least one writer’s group.  Can you talk about the ways in which being part of writing community helps or influences your writing?  

When I started writing ‘seriously,’ my cousin advised me to join a writers group. I’m so glad she did. Being part of Tyne & Esk Writers means I have a place to read works in progress, the impetus to improve as a writer, a community of writers that I now consider friends, access to a ‘proper’ published author and mentoring from her, a beta-reader who surpasses all other beta-readers, the opportunity to read and comment on other people’s work, and somewhere I go every second Wednesday where I know I’ll have a laugh.

5.  If time, money, and lifestyle circumstances were not a factor, what would your writing career look like in 10 years’ time?

In ten years’ time I’d like a readership, not made up of my close family and friends, and a good few novels under my belt. Like about a million other people!

6.  I have to do it: what advice can you give to other writers?  What have you learned that you wished you knew before you started?

Oooh, advice. Er, no idea. Actually, there have been a few things I didn’t do, because I didn’t think to use Google. For example, I didn’t write a one-line pitch for my debut novel, and at first I didn’t write a good cover email either.
Having short works placed in journals really helps, as you have something to write about in said cover letter. All this advice is online, I wish I’d done my research before going out to agents and publishers! Or read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. Especially as one agent emailed me the other day saying she doesn’t accept a second pass, once you’ve been rejected, she’s not interested in looking at future works.

Rejection email table
This is part of the deal folks. I love the smell of rejection on a Monday morning…

7.  I guess we should devote at least one question to your novel…!  What’s your favourite moment in the novel?  And was that moment the most fun part to write?

I really like the scene where the ‘gang’ all go dancing. I’m too old for clubbing now, but I used to go out a lot. It was fun, trying to get across the whole club atmosphere: how you lose all your friends but you don’t care, how obvious it is when a guy wants to snog you on the dancefloor, how, when a particular type of song comes on, all the men jump up and down a lot…

8.  Finally… what’s next for your writing?  Do you have a new novel in progress, or is there something else on the cards for you?

I have a work in progress (The Perfects) which is with my aforementioned beta-reader that surpasses all beta-readers. I am really excited about this second novel, and can’t wait to share it with other people. And I’ve got a sketchy plan for a third too (Having it All). My sisters are slightly nervous about it, because my main characters are two sisters. I’m still submitting short works as and when I can, and blogging twice-weekly.
For me, it’s about keeping going. Helen Fielding said ‘there’s always someone trying to tell you you’re not really a writer,’ and for a long time that person was myself. But with the support of my writing community and the validation of a publishing deal, I’m very nearly convinced.

17.11.2015. Stella Hervey Birrell.
Trying to act normal while getting your photograph taken, there’s another lifeskill I could do with learning… (Photo: Gordon Bell)

Stella says: “please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places!
My blog space is
https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a page on Facebook here.
Email me at atinylife140@gmail.com.
I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.”

Thanks, Stella!

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I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Featured poem, ‘Most Fateful Day: A Ghazal’, by Susan Chast

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Autumn Apples

Most Fateful Day: A Ghazal

A hiss echoed from its spiked tongue and you thought
That the snake had not lied to you in word and in thought?

Watch it slide away and take the apple along too
Neither giving it to you nor to God as we thought

Your tell-tale teeth marks are in it too, along with my own—
Seeing our DNA together, the snake will know that you thought

We’d be together in Eden or in jail and– no matter how much
We pay for it–happiness follows this ability to have thought.

But doubt is quite difficult. I liked it much better
When fate was determined and we need not have thought

About all of the options, the leaves of the trees, whether
To beat you or to love you. I wish I had thought

This before, dear Lady, I opened my mouth to your pleases
And caresses and most seductive scatterings of thought.

Susan Chast’s work has been workshopped at dVersePoets and Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads. One of her poems was recently published in the first issue of Nain Rouge Magazine. She blogs at Susan’s Poetry, and you can find out a bit more about her in this interview at Poets United.

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Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. Good luck!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

More words of wisdom: Douglas Maxwell on the writing process

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Stage mic

Roughly two years ago I posted here about my first ever encounter with the incredible Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell. He gave a great masterclass on theatre writing — and just on writing in general — for the Scottish Universities International Summerschool, and I was blown away. Since then, I’ve got to know Douglas’ work much better — most recently, I’ve bought his new book, Plays for Young People (psst, it’s awesome), and this Festival I went to see his Dream Play at the Traverse (it was called A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity. Needless to say, it was excellent). But best of all, he was back at SUISS again this year with more words of wisdom for our young writers. Here are just a few I wanted to share with you…

“[Writing] isn’t craft. This is art. There is no rule you must always follow, no matter what all those books say… and you will learn more from just doing your own work than from anything beardy fools like myself say.”

“The temptation for a writer to give up is probably the most constant temptation you’ll face — and you’ll never really break through to a time when everything you write is classic. But you must not give up.”

“You’re writing for a small audience of people like you, not Lord and Lady Such-and-Such. It all works better when you think of the audience as us. Not them — not, I’m going to shock them, or, I’m going to educate them. That’s not the way to go.”

“It’s subterranean autobiography. We’re writing about us. You can write about a world event, but what does it mean to you? Start with real life, and then drop a storybomb in there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, but if you really want to really do it you have to finish. You have to write ‘The End’, and send it out there. Otherwise it doesn’t count.”

“Who wants to read a writer who’s got a thick skin? Who says, ‘I love his writing — he’s completely oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others’? Writers have to have thin skins, they have to be sensitive people.”

“Emotional writing is where it’s at. But when it goes badly, the blood gets everywhere.”

“You’ve got to remove guesswork — either by writing about your own life, or through research. But never guess.”

“It’s hard, because how do you find a voice? It’s a bad phrase, it’s the wrong way around. You’re not trying to find your voice, you’re trying to find a song to sing that suits your voice.”

“If you’re doing it for the money, don’t do it. It’ll kill you… you write it first and then you try to find a home for it. That’s how it really works.”

You can read more of Douglas’ tips for writers in his Playwright’s Guide To Being A Playwright.

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Writing for theatre masterclass with Douglas Maxwell

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Hello there, ONS-ers… long time no speak. You may have noticed that the scenery hasn’t changed much lately here, or perhaps you’ve spotted some of the heaps of spam comments beginning to clog up some of the posts. Sorry, and sorry… I’ve been insanely busy these past couple of months. Right now, I am teaching creative writing at the Scottish Universities International Summer School, based at the University of Edinburgh. I’m loving every second, but it doesn’t leave much time for updating ONS… or indeed, anything else. However, last week my students and I were treated to a brilliant masterclass on ‘writing for theatre’, given by Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell. I know, I know, this is a poetry blog — but he came out with so much brilliant stuff that I felt I had to share just a few of his pearls of wisdom with you…

“Being a playwright is a bit like being in The Who. We’re wild, we’re messy, we’re all over the shop… but we’re great live.”

“Everyone in the world has an unfinished novel or screenplay under the bed. But they’re not in the game. That’s not doing it; that’s pretending.”

“You need two personalities to be a good writer — you need the sensitive artist who’s a satellite to the rest of the world… but you also need a kind of ‘fuck you’ attitude — you’ve got to have the steel and not let this destroy you.”

“Day One writing is always good — everyone likes the first day. day Two: not so good. You get up in the morning and go ‘what the fuck? Someone’s messed with this! This was great yesterday!’”

“You’ve got to remember what it’s like when you’ve paid to see the thing… audiences really want it to be good, at the beginning. They want to help you.”

“You must, must protect yourself from bitterness. It’s a talent-eater. It’s like cocaine, it destroys lives. You’ve got to keep your enthusiasm and your openness, or you’ll never get anywhere.”

“Your main character must make a big decision — the ‘to be or not to be’ moment where they can go one way or the other. And the way they go will take them, and you, to the end. And they either get or don’t get what they always wanted.”

“Even on the very worst day, just get to the place where you write, and wait.”

Douglas Maxwell’s Decky Does A Bronco is currently showing in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

(Photo by Eric Lafforgue)

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