Archive for October, 2010

Inky Fingers

Last night I went to the inaugural Inky Fingers Open Mic at the Forest Cafe. It was a great event, with guest poets and authors interspersed with some fantastic and brave open mic performers.

A man in wonderful red trousers read a lovely story about a gender-confused salmon and an eel. He used a beautiful image at the end of the salmon tasting the salty tang of a red egg and realising he missed the sea. I really enjoyed that.

Guest Poet Laura Hainey read some of her work, and it was funny and rhythmic and wonderfully Scottish.

After that, everything gets a little bit fuzzy, because it was announced that there were a couple of free slots on the line up, and did anyone want to be put on the reserve list? As it happened, I had a few short stories in my bag because I’d just met up with a friend from my course to talk about our work. So I sat there for a bit longer, wide-eyed and heart pounding. Could I really do that? Could I stand up in front of all these clever-looking people and great writers and read something I only wrote last Friday?

By this point I was so terrified that I knew I’d be disappointed with myself I didn’t go through with it. So I stood up and, before I could change my mind, put my name on the reserve list. I stopped drinking beer, just in case, and sat there having a miniature nervous breakdown for the rest of the evening, until he did call my name, and I did have to get up in front of a room full of kind strangers and three very lovely and encouraging friends, who cheered very enthusiastically before I’d even started reading.

It was a lot of fun. It was terrifying. I feel euphoric! Highly recommended. Whoop.

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My last post vaguely skirted around the worry I had about whether a character with a particular condition was adding anything to a story. I was very aware that the story should not be about the character’s condition, but should be a story with a character who  just happens to have that condition. My friend Martin made a very interesting comment, which I’m reposting here so everyone can read it:

(thanks Martin)

> The rule is generally that if something isn’t
> pushing the story forwards and there for a
> reason, it shouldn’t be in the story, right?

Generally, yes. But look at it from the viewpoint of a lexical-gustatory synaesthete. Your story would be describing the events from their default point of view (more-or-less, although the specifics will vary from person to person), and so they wouldn’t see anything extraneous to cut out.

I can remember Mat once getting feedback on a story he’d written with a lesbian protagonist, where one of the BWG members commented something along the lines of “Why is she a lesbian – it doesn’t add anything to the story” (despite the fact that, in this particular case, it actually *did*). From the point of view of this particular non-heterosexual, though, *i* always wonder why everyone tends to write about straight people all the time when it doesn’t add anything to the story; i’m also frustrated at how many stories featuring non-straight protagonists have to revolve around the fact they’re non-straight, as if it’s some insuperable obstacle that all non-straight people’s lives must revolve around, and we can never be shown being *incidentally* gay (or whatever) whilst robbing a bank (or something else rendering our sexuality ‘irrelevant’ to the story).

Ditto issues of ethnicity, disability, gender, and age. Even if you *should* slice away character’s “redundant” personal traits until you pared them down to whichever kind of “everyman” would fit the demands of the story, you’d still be making assumptions about which kinds of individuals constitute the human norm, and (by extension) which kinds of individuals get to have stories written about them (and therefore get to read about people like themselves).

Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is pretty rare. I’m not *really* suggesting that there are oodles of lexical-gustatory synaesthetes out there wondering why people keep writing stories about non-synaesthetes whose non-synaesthesia adds nothing to the story. But i would nevertheless strongly counsel *against* treating character traits as story features you can pare away until you’re left with an able-bodied straight white male middle-class protagonist who experiences the world just like everyone else, because it’s boring, and the real world doesn’t actually work that way. You wanted to write this story because there was something about that viewpoint that intrigued you, that inspired you – go with your gut instinct, and see what happens.

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I wanted to write a story about a young boy with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, but I soon realised that the story couldn’t be about the boy with synaesthesia, but it should be a story in which things happened to a boy who happened to have synaesthesia.

Now that I have drafted half of the story, I’m beset by worries. What role is this synaesthesia playing in the story? Is it adding anything to the story itself, or is it just getting in the way of the action? The rule is generally that if something isn’t pushing the story forwards and there for a reason, it shouldn’t be in the story, right? And in that way, would it be better for the story if I just cut out the synaesthesia completely?

But I loved that character, and the way he tasted words. Perhaps he belongs in a different story, one where the words are more important, but it’s a story I can’t think of right now.

I’m feeling a little bit of a rubbish writer today.

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Story Time

Hello. Did I mention I’m loving Edinburgh? This may be the root of the lack of posting you see before you. Too much drinking, lots of reading, and some writing, but not enough.

That’s why I’m here, posting.

The fiction workshops (which I mentioned in my previous post) are weekly, which means that we need to submit stories once every two weeks (or slightly less frequently depending on the size of the group). This is a comfortable rate of submissions for me: it keeps me focussed and gives me a definitive deadline to work towards, without making me run around screaming in panic.

In the workshops, everyone discusses your story and then at the end they hand over their annotated copy for your records, so you can collate all the thoughts and redraft bearing in mind their suggestions.

I have submitted one story so far, which was discussed two weeks ago. I wimped out at the last minute and submitted a relatively old story, which I knew was more polished than anything I’d written recently.

My next story is getting critiqued tomorrow (yay) and that one is new; I wrote it last week.

Here’s my thinking at the moment: how do I motivate myself to revisit that old story, which I wrote about 4 months ago and of which I’m unequivocally bored? I need to look at my classmates’ suggestions with fresh eyes and muster enthusiasm for this story, so that I can improve it. But the (destructive and unhelpful) temptation is to gather all the comments, file them away in my shiny new folder, and worry about the redrafting in the middle of November when we need to prepare portfolios.

It’s good that I’m even writing this post, for the Rosie of Old (Undergraduate) would be humming to herself while she refreshed Facebook and invited someone to pop for a crafty pint in the pub. Ah, but the Rosie of New (Postgraduate) is fretting and questioning and is aware that Something Needs To Be Done. Bravo.

Next step: actually doing it.

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