Sunday, 30 May 2010

Can you compete in writing?

In running it's obvious. The first person to cross the finishing line is the winner. It's neither subjective or objective. It's logic.

With writing it's a little bit different. The person who judges your work needs to feel some kind of connection, and even if she/he is trying to be objective it's about personal taste.

At the moment I'm planning to send work to the following competitions/live events:

*Are you sitting comfortably? Live Lit Event/Pyjama Party in the Basement Brighton. The topic is midsummer, and I've written a story about a guy feeling lost at Stonehenge called RELAX JOHNNY-BOY, HAVE SOME FUN. Deadline: 5th June, max 1000 words.

*Guardian Weekend Short Story Competition. I've written a story on the required summer theme about a father daughter relationship called THE HATS WE WEAR. Deadline: 18 June, max 2000 words.

*SPARKS 10, Live lit event, first Tue in July??? Open theme. Written a story called TOUCH ME LIKE YOU WOULD TOUCH HIM. Deadline: 22 June???, max 1000 words.

*Bridport Prize Open theme. I've written a story called CLEANING IN LINGERIE. Deadline: 30 June, max 5000 words. (Am also submitting a piece called HOW ENGLISH WORKS for the flash fiction competition, max 250 words.)

**Waterstones Quarterly Magazine Perfectly Formed Short Story Competition Is only open for unpublished writers, but I don't know if being published in Sweden will count, have emailed and asked, but no reply, so I'm sending them a story anyway, called LOVERS OF THE PLANET (that I originally wrote for a Short Fuse night). Deadline: 1 July, max 2000 words.

*Short Fuse Erotic Fiction Night, Live Event at Komedia 18 July. Don't know if I'm submitting anything yet ... Deadline: 9 July, max 2500 words.

*Short Fuse appearing at Edge of the Sea festival. Theme: write a story that is inspired by a song title by The Wedding Present. I picked I AM FROM FURTHER NORTH THAN YOU. Deadline: 10 July, max 2500 words.

So I actually have six stories on the go. Most of them are finished, or at least drafted. I just need some feedback so I can re-work them if necessary. (Which is almost always the case, another pair of eyes is invaluable!) I have a few regular people who kindly are helping me out, but I'm always in need of more eyes, so if one of the titles grab you let me know if you are willing to read and give feedback. I'll also announce each individual story on Facebook nearer the time. And if anyone reading this is planning to submit to above competitions/events or other places I'm happy to help you out with feedback in return.

I don't think you can compete in writing, or in any creative practise. It's so individual. Yet if you don't play you can't win ... One thing that's good with competitions is that I feel more motivated to finish a story and make it as good as I can.

Talking about competing ... Yesterday I went to Hanover Poetry Festival*, hosted by the brilliant Young Hanoverians, and at the end of the night they had a Poetry Slam (hosted by Hammer&Tongue's Rosy Carrick), that I somewhat reluctantly took part in. The poets get scored (points between 0.0 to 10.0) and are judged by quality of poetry, performance and audience reaction. If you are going to take part in slam you have to take it for what it is, and not be upset if you get low scores. It's not a valid judgment whether you're good or not - it's just what some individuals were thinking at the time. Same with written pieces ... just because you don't win a competition doesn't mean your story is bad. It could just be the judge being in a bad mood and didn't want to read a story about a woman killing her dog or whatever it is you've written. And you'll never know how close you were. That's the good thing I guess compared to say running. You'll know that you're the last person crossing the finishing line ...

*I had some cool pics, but lost my camera ... Probably when dancing in the Engine Rooms in the early hours of morning. The person who took it is probably having fun, seeing pics of people on stage making funny faces ...

Monday, 24 May 2010

Discipline: A Four Line Poem a Day

This weekend I met up with writer James Harris who lives in Berlin. (it was in Berlin we first met at a poetry event in 2006). Last year James started The Four Line Blog. Every single day* he writes a poem in only four lines. I think it's very impressive as all poems are good and well crafted. Anyone can write four lines on a piece of paper, but to make it into poetry takes some effort.

James also works in theatre, and works as a translator, therefore he doesn't have much time for writing at the moment, but this four line-discipline keeps him active as a writer.

For me discipline is the keyword to success. I believe that anything you do regularly and make time for is going to take you somewhere. Thanks to sticking to my average three hours a day I'm always producing something. However ... some days the words on my screen are so confusing, I couldn't even make a four line poem out of them ... I'm more the kind of person who writes as much as I can for three hours, and then I spend another three hours tidying up my mess and make it into literature.

*for some reason James missed to write a poem on Saturday. Could it be too many beers at the BBQ? :)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Loxdale Centre Re-Visited - England or Sweden?

Today I time-travelled. I was back at Loxdale Centre in Portslade, the place where I studied English for three months when I first arrived in Brighton back in 2001.

I was invited to do a talk/lecture that I called "Life after Loxdale". I talked about my "6 different lives" in Brighton. I've left Brighton 5 times and this is the 6th time I'm back ... I never left Brighton because I was unhappy here. There were other reasons: doing a writing course in Stockholm, having a novel published in Sweden, doing book promotion etc. and going travelling to Thailand & New Zealand.

A lot of the students (all Swedish) asked if I'm going to stay in England forever. I don't have an answer to that, but all I know is that Brighton feels like my home. It would be wiser to move back to Sweden as it would be better for my writing career (already being established and having a publisher that is asking for a second book), but at the moment I'm trying to move that writing career to the UK ...

(A writer should be able to live anywhere in the world, but nowadays being a writer includes doing a lot of public apperances and going to meetings and connect with other writers, so the best thing is to actually live in the country where your work is published.)

One thing I forgot to mention is that after 9 years on and of in the UK I still wake up every morning and feel a bit excited being here. It's not like travelling anymore, but there's still this sense of living in a different country where they eat different food and have different money etc. Every day is still a challenge. I still learn new words. I make sure to look up words I come across that I don't understand. Every day people still ask me where I'm from. I haven't worked on getting rid of my accent, because my intention is not to "become English". It opens up for a lot of interesting meetings being from another country and people are in general very impressed that I live and work and write and exist in a country and a language that is not mine.

And I'll never get used to some cultural things. The cheek kissing for example. When I first arrived I thought that if someone kissed my cheek it meant they really loved me! (In Sweden people barely hug, hand-shaking is the most popular way of greeting people.) Also I still find it weird if you go for dinner round somebody's house and they just give you a plate of food expecting you to be happy with the size of the meal. (In Sweden the pots are put on the table and everybody helps themselves.)

Lastly ... if you have two choices always go for the most difficult one. That's how you learn and develop yourself. It would be easier for me to live in Sweden, but I'd be bored ...

Hopefully I inspired some of the students to stay in England after their course is finished ... I would be very happy to this talk about how I ended up staying in England (and share tips on how to find a place to live and a job) at other language schools, so please contact me if you know any other schools that might be interested.

This was the second time I was back at Loxdale. To read about my first visit, please click here.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Short Fuse Story Salon

I was very happy to be part of Short Fuse Story Salon at Komedia yesterday. Writers were invited to submit stories that "pushes the boundaries of what a short story can be, and experiments in some way with voice or form."

The story I read is called EX LOVE, and is a very short poetic piece that uses a feeling as a narrator. Chris Callard who also read on the night had written a story called A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME with the subtitle: Memo: Revised Tritona Corporation company guidelines. The whole story was written as a protocol which I thought was a clever idea.

Before Chris and I went on, the big stars Tania Hershman and Dave Swann warmed up the stage for us by reading a few of their stories. The reason there was time for "a few" stories is that they both write flash fiction. Their pieces are normally just one or two pages long, which is quite fascinating as they still manage to grab you.

Their readings were followed by a discussion and Q&A from the audience. I made a few notes and one of the things I remember was the point that short story collections are harder work than novels because you have to muster up the energy to constantly meet new characters and environments. At the same they can be, to quote Tania: "a box of chocolates" waited to sampled. Also with short stories you might be able to read something that is really intense, because you know it's going to finish quite soon.

Tania and Dave are quite different in their approach to what they write about. Tania makes everything up (often inspired by articles in the New Scientist) whilst Dave starts with a real life experience and transforms it into fiction. (Even though he might start off writing about a tree and end up with a car.) He also "steals" stories from his friends. I feel that I'm more of a "Dave"-writer, but after listening to Tania I feel inspired to write out of my comfort zone.

Someone, it might have been Dave, posed the question: "What's the most important in a short story?" One of his students once replied: "Does anyone get eaten?" That could translate into is anyone in danger? It doesn't have to be literal danger, but something has to be at stake. A situation, a relationship etc.

Another interesting thing that came up is how people interpret stories. Once someone told Tania "I really like your one page story about lust." She had no idea which story the person was talking about ... And I think that's quite similar to poetry. Short stories and poems are more open for interpretation compared to novels. One person thought my story was about a one-night stand whilst someone else thought it was about a long relationship that had finished ... I thought the title EX LOVE made it obvious, but obviously not!

Vanessa Gebbie was also supposed to read and take part in the discussion, but unfortunately she fell over and hurt herself - in Sweden of all places ... At least we got a little flavour of her work as the organiser Tara Gould read one of her stories.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Judging a book: what makes good writing?

On Monday I went to a discussion/debate event, called "Judging a book: what makes good writing?", that was part of Brighton Festival. The people on the panel were: author Sue Eckstein, Myriad's Editor Vicky Blunden, literary agent Hannah Westland, Books Quartely's editor Ed Wood, and creative writing tutor Greg Mosse.

All of them said they were looking for something exciting and orginal. Something with a distinctive voice. Greg Mosse said that one of the things you can't teach is how to find your voice ...

It seems to be easier to talk about what makes bad writing. The panel agreed that bad books tell too much. A good book leave things out. That writing is about cutting and editing.

I don't think there is an answer. Writing is deeply personal and everybody's got a personal taste therefore all judging is very subjective. An agent is not going to represent you if she/he doesn't love your writing. How can you present something to publishers that you don't believe in yourself? It doesn't matter if a voice is original if it doesn't speak to you.

The last book I read that really excited me was The Bird Room by Chris Killen. It was interesting to read the very mixed reviews on amazon. Some people like myself absolutely loved it, while others didn't get the point.

The Bird Room is a short novel written in a very clever way. I was in love with the so-called voice of the narrator from the first chapter. The way he looks at the world and how his claustrophobic feelings are described. If someone had told me that Killen's novel is about an insecure guy who messes up his relationship and gets obsessed by porn I would probably not read it, thinking it sounded quite pathetic. So why do I like it so much then? It must be that damn voice. The way it's written: the sparse but beautiful descriptions and the use of modern technology like email and text messages and even the occasional drawing. But again that's not to everybody's taste.

So what makes good writing? It's up to you!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Free Your Voice

Last Sunday I did a voice/singing workshop at Evolution called Free your voice. The tutor was Alan Mars who practises the Alexander technique.

When I walked out from the workshop I didn't think and feel very much as it's often the case when I've done something quite intense; I feel empty. But the week that followed was very emotional for me. The workshop brought a lot of things up.

First of all I'm a person who has spent most of my life in my imagination and intellect. I'm not very connected to my body. If you know me well you know I've got complicated relationships with all bodily things including going to the toilet, eating and sex. I'm not very good at listening to my body's signals and I often find bodily things a nuisance, something that takes up my time. I'm also quite clumsy and find my body a burden, wishing I was more of a rhythmical person. (At gigs I never clap as I lose the beat!)

If you are a writer it might be an advantage to be disconnected from your body, but as the times are changing a writer is no longer a person who's locked away somewhere in a cottage never going out. You are supposed to do readings and engage with people. And that's one of the reasons I became a performance poet; it was a good way of being seen, a good way of saying Hey I exist.

Yet I've never paid much attention to my voice, my breathing and my posture. And those things are key when you are performing. It was very useful doing simple (but for me very complicated!) voice exercises like just singing the vowels and feeling the vibrations in the body. (Even though I could only feel my lip vibrate.) Also lying down in the Alexander posture (can't remember what it's called) made me aware of my posture and the full potential of my body.

On Monday morning I woke up finding myself singing! I never sing. (Only when very drunk.) I'm too embarrassed about my voice to even sing in the shower and when it's time for "Happy birthday" I just mime along hoping that nobdody's hearing me. But thanks to singing a few songs (some beautiful Celtic folk ballads) together at the workshop I opened up to the singer inside me again. I loved singing when I was younger, but stopped in my late teens when someone told me I was singing out of tune.

It would probably take several workshops for me to start singing in public, but at least this is a start. My goal is not to become a singer; I just want to be able to sing for fun. And it's very good voice practise, something that will make me a better performer. Some of my poems contain lines that could be sung. Watch this space ...

But at the moment I'm still focusing on short stories. My piece "Ex love" was accepted for the Short Fuse Story Salon Event!!! Come and hear me read it at Komedia on Sunday 9 May, 8pm. I'll try to be aware of my voice, my breathing and my posture.