Wednesday 28 December 2022

My writing year

Quiet. In 2022 I've written

  • 2 publishable poems (about 200 words) and 4 others.
  • 6 publishable stories (about 8,000 words) and about 10 others.

So far I've had 2 of these accepted though I've had 8 older pieces accepted. Total income $20.

Ever hopeful, I've 6 stories entered into competitions, 10 other stories (4 of them Flash) with magazines, and 6 poems out.

I've read (or listened to) about 200 books, twice my usual amount. I haven't avoided genre fiction.

These trends (from poetry to prose; from writing to reading) are likely to continue, I think.

Thursday 22 December 2022

Assessing poems

Orbis magazine invites readers' votes and brief comments. I never have voted, though I've been tempted to offer comments. I tend to assess in various contradictory ways. Over-simplifying, and depending on the situation, they include -

  • Bottom-up - I give points for various features (use of sound, etc) or (as in diving) combine degree of difficulty with performance
  • Top-down - I first decide whether I like the poem or not, then I list its obvious features showing how they support my opinion: e.g. if a poem has tight integration of form and content I can say that this reveals technical prowess (if I like the poem) or that the poem has stifling predictability (if I don't). A poem may be understated (if I like it), or lacking verve (if I don't).
  • Emotion - a piece may move me though I know it's not a good poem - it may not even be a poem, or I know I'm moved only because it describes something I've experienced.
  • Learning resource - a poem may open my eyes to new poetic possibilities, inspiring me to write. It may not be good.
  • Best bits - it's tempting to judge a poem by its best (often last) lines. Sometimes ("Lying in a hammock at William Duffy's farm in Pine Island Minnesota" maybe?) the last line justifies the 'blandless' of the rest of the poem.
  • Good of its type - however good some poems are, they're restricted by the type of poem they are.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Future Karaoke #2

On Dec 13 the second event of this series happened in atmospheric St John's - a hybrid event with a good physical attendance given the weather (I had intended to go, but Zoom was too tempting). The prompts this time were from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Kirsty Irving, Vona Groarke (in person - I think she's writer in residence there at the moment), John Greening, etc., read prose and poetry.

So I guess that concludes my year of literary events. I've seen Zoom-only, hybrid (in-person and remotely), in-person only, and residential (a weekend). People are in the main comfortable with the technology now (few "can you hear me?" interruptions) and the all important chit-chat aspect is catered for, whatever the delivery method.

Organisers of future small events have decisions to make. Some people can only attend remotely. Others like the in-person vibe and interesting venues. Hybrid might sound like the best option but it's the most challenging technologically and organisationally. Some groups are planning a programme with mix of in-person meetings and Zoom meetings. This risks splitting established groups (which may be small already) into 2, but at least it keeps most people happy most of the time. Tricky.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Cafe Writers, 12th Dec

Yesterday I attended a Cafe Writers poetry evening. Zoom. It worked well. The format was like a standard event with 2 halves, each half beginning with open-mic (a poem or 2 minutes of prose) leading onto a headliner (Jenny Robb and Helena Nelson). Between the open-mic contributions there were brief comments by the chair (Ramona Herd, Julia Webb). At half-time, and before/after the official business, the mikes were all left unmuted, and there was a further opportunity to comment by using the chat panel. The main performers showed the text of their poems as they read them.

It's Norwich-based, and they're going to have some in-person events next year, but I suspect there'll be pressure to continue the Zoom sessions. Participants came from France, India, etc., and the guest readers were from the North. It was a snowy evening, so even the locals might have struggled to attend an in-person event.

Friday 9 December 2022

Likable characters?

Reading Goodreads reviews, especially 1-star ones, I realise, yet again, that there are many ways of engaging with texts. Some readers always seem to be in "reading on the sunbed" mode. Reviews of short story collections not uncommonly contain phrases like "I don't usually read short stories". Lately I've been reading (or listening to) far more genre novels, more novels where immersion is encouraged, so I thought I'd go over the basic questions again, as if I were in discussion with Goodreads reviewers.

Must you like the novel's characters? - it's common to come across comments like "The main character is irritating and pathetic". I've some sympathy with these views. After all, you the reader will be spending many hours with the characters. If you'd hate being stuck in a room with them in real life, why be stuck in a book with them, especially if you're in "holiday reading" mode. But they're characters, not real people.

Must you find them interesting? - you may not like a Martin Amis hero, but they may be interesting - not least because they're unlikable, they're unlike you. It's better for characters to be nasty than plain boring. Beside, the characters may not be the main issue of the book.

Must you empathize/identify with them? - perhaps you've experienced some of the feelings they have, even if you don't like them characters. Safely between the covers you can re-experience those emotions again, or even experience emotions you've not lived through yourself. A good writer might make you feel sorry for an unsympathetic character.

Must they not be repulsive? - it's one thing for characters not to resemble you in many ways (to like Mozart while you prefer Bach for example), it's quite another for characters to hold views on gender or race that you stridently disagree with, especially if the characters aren't punished. But maybe the characters are interesting.

Do you have to believe the characters? - suppose the characters are not like anyone you've met or can imagine? Suppose they fail the Turing test? Well, it's only a book. The plot, the thoughts or the style may matter more than the characters. Maybe it's SF.

Do you have to like the author? - Do you check before you start reading their book? Suppose there's no way to find out about the author? Suppose you like the characters anyway?

One advantage of short stories is that they don't test the readers' emotional or intellectual endurance. And a persona in a poem is rarely subjected to such questions.