Posts Tagged ‘writing 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!

*

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.

Writing advice from Mary Oliver.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Swanpy

I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)

[...] Take out some commas, for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (the words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time — invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty… Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would prevent the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem.

[...] The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room… The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it.

Mary Oliver, from ‘The Swan.’

…and here’s a poem written using ^these rules. See what you think.

(Image credit)

Some writing advice… from my gran.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

My late maternal grandmother was one of those seriously formidable northern women who smoked like a chimney, swore like a stevedore and always called a spade a spade. She also loved to dole out sayings, proverbs and advice like doses of medicine, as so many grandmothers do. I was recently writing a poem about her, and about her propensity for advice-giving, and realised that a lot of her ‘life advice’ also makes pretty good writing advice. See what you think.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
This is a saying all grans use, I think — and plenty of other people besides. But it was the saying that got me thinking about writing this post. Ever since I started taking control of my own future and deciding what to do with my life, this saying has been floating around in the back of my mind, and it’s something all poets need to consider. Basically, don’t think you can rely on poetry to pay your bills — you can’t put all your eggs into poetry’s basket because it just doesn’t have the space! If you’re serious about writing poetry and sticking at it, you need to realise that some of your eggs need to go elsewhere — you’ll probably need to spend some of your time doing something other than writing in order to keep a roof over your head. Sad but true. (More on this here, by the way.)

Fine words will butter no parsnips.
This was a saying my gran was fond of, and one I always found rather weird and confusing as a child! Now I understand how adamant my grandmother was about honesty, plain speaking, and not ‘putting on airs’ — a good attitude to have towards your writing. The voice you use should be your own… all too often I see young poets attempting to emulate their literary heroes and use voices that clearly don’t really belong to them. Don’t use fine words if they’re not yours. Speaking as someone else will do your work no favours.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Another popular saying and an obvious one for young writers. The need to progress, get better, get published and get on with it is really strong in less experienced writers — getting a book out into the world as soon as you can seems utterly imperative (I know, I’ve been there myself). But it’s better to take your time and make sure your work is as good as it can be before you start pushing onwards to the next stage. Don’t feel rushed into submitting to magazines if you’ve only written one or two poems you’re properly pleased with; don’t scrape a pamphlet together without making sure you’re totally cool with a) what’s going into it and b) the fact that heaps of people are going to see it. Don’t try and build your poetic Rome in a day. Take it easy.

You’ve been brought up in the bottle and seen nothing but the cork.
My grandmother — like most of the women in my family — was a determined and ambitious woman who didn’t believe in waiting in for opportunity to walk up to the front door and knock. To her, waiting for life to happen to you was not an option. She was all about getting out there into the world and attacking it head-on! For me, this saying suggests that you need to get off your butt and go have some life experiences, particularly if you want to be a half-decent writer. After all, how can you write about life, the universe and everything if you haven’t seen any of it? For me, this also applies to books. If you’ve only ever read one poet’s work or one type of novel, you’ve been brought up in a literary bottle. Get out of there! Get thee to a library!

One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure.
In other words, not everyone is going to like your poetry. There will always be someone who comes along and tries to pick holes in your stuff. Don’t take it personally — take it professionally. Appreciate and accept the criticism. For every reader who comes along and thinks your stuff is rubbish, I guarantee there’ll be another one out there somewhere willing to argue that it’s treasure. If you never stop reading, writing and working to improve your stuff, rubbish ratio should dwindle and shrink in time.

The devil makes work for idle hands.
My gran was always doing something with her hands — a trait I in particular have inherited from her. She was an expert seamstress and made everything from full three-piece suits to wedding dresses; and when she wasn’t rattling up garments on the sewing machine she was knitting, doing embroidery, cooking, assaulting a crossword puzzle, etc. Procrastination just didn’t figure in her universe and I think if you’d explained the concept to her, she’d have given you a lecture on how it was some new-fangled invention that should be done away with. She’s right of course — we’ve all built, bought and acquired so many procrastination devices for ourselves that it’s a wonder we ever get anything done. So next time you’re playing computer games or vegging in front of the TV, think — idle hands. Pick up a pen and paper. Write instead.

I’d be interested to hear your handy sayings and proverbs, particularly if you relate them to writing… but I’d also be interested in hearing about your grandmothers! I think grandmothers are the coolest — they should run the world!

(Photo from captainslack)

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