Monday, 6 April 2020

Truth And Fiction Like Two Hands Clasping…

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 Early Days

When the majority of my books – around 15 - came to life my only contribution was to take an intense  year to research and write each novel and deliver my completed manuscript to my publisher on  November 30 ( the date agreed in the commissions). I dealt with two major publishers - Hodder & Stoughton and then Headline – now Hachette.

I posted my  precious manuscript – which some writers may tell you becomes like a baby in your life – to my talented editors, Anne Williams and later Harriet Evans  (now a successful novelist herself). I would get it back from them by Christmas. complete with some changes inspired by their  insightful comments.

Interestingly enough Anne always insisted that they were suggestions, not instructions. Through time I had great advice from both Anne and Harriet which has entered my permanent writing process.

After that I returned the amended manuscript  to my editor  who entered it into  post- editing production involving formatting and cover design processes. I don't think I was aware then that it takes more than a  village to raise a novel. Since I have started going it alone I am very aware of that.

The production safely  in process, I would then begin to  prowl around my shelves, my growing pile of heavily scored notebooks - and  in the busy universe of my mind - to ponder an  arena of  people, life and history that would be the basis for my next novel. This was - and is still - my professional habit and routine through a many years.

By the time the novel appeared in the Spring I would be writing again, always voyaging into very different territory. In the meantime my  publisher's marketing department took care of the (rather limited - I wasn't famous after all...) promotion process. 

The novels were well reviewed - mostly in provincial presses across England and in  some magazines, although they never reached the magisterial heights of the literary broadsheets. I was from the North, after all and I had come from a working, rather than the literary background. I notice that this issue of being ‘from the working class’ is quite a trend nowadays. When I was first writing  I was distinctly pre-trend: there were no literary festivals therefore no platforms for my kind of writing. There was no Internet and no metropolitan networking - this  was strictly for already established writers. I had no contacts – my novels were published, as it were, out of the blue by Headline in its earliest days. I have my then editor Anne Williams and later Harriet Evans to thank for that.

As each book came out I would write some articles about the ideas underlying it,  I would do a few presentations.  But really I was free to get on with writing the next - very different - novel. This was, of course,  as well as working at my full-time job, as well as being a companion for my hard-working husband and nurturing my two children. Of course they are very big people now. Bonjour  @lickedspoon 

When i became a professional writer, the writing of popular novels was a virtual cottage industry before it became corporatised and monetised, with - it seems to me - increasing distance from the intense personal creative activity which had been all about dreaming up  stories and writing them down. In had became clearer that my thriving career  could not survive, based as it was on  instinct and a powerful storytelling imperative, rather than the somewhat rigid and perhaps stereotyped perceptions of The Market.  

 Going It Alone?
I had always made a living alongside my profession but never expected to make a fortune through my writing. (I think people tend to hope this nowadays…). The professional and artistic satisfaction for me was always the possibility of seeing the novels out there being read, and hearing readers response to my stories.

And this is why and how – my children grown and flown - I began to explore ways in which I could still write my novels and shepherd them into the market myself. So I started to write novels for myself, creating a very tiny imprint called Damselfly Books in order to locate them. 

So I proceeded to  publish Paulie’s Web – a novel emerging from my seminal experience as writer in residence in a women’s prison. I wrote The Pathfinder – a novel exploring my inner fascination with my Celtic roots which keep re-emerging in my philosophies and ideas - and in my novels. This always seem to me to be begging for some fictional expression. I went on to write the novel called The Bad Child, focusing on my work as an educator and the fact that middle children – (I myself was one and I was observing my niece, also a middle child, as another) – could be independent, rebellious and self-activating – rather different from their siblings. This is how my very special  Demelza came to life in this novel.

Becoming Alice emerged from my increasing professional interest in the complex connections between what appears to be pure fiction and what seems to be true memoir. This novel was to be the first of three novels set in the arc of public and private life between 1941 and the Millennium. It is no accident that this time-span just happens to be the arc of my own life fully realised in the life experience of a girl called Alice. At the moment the second and third novels in this trilogy are just at the brainstorming/note-writing/plot-planning stage now.

I was now realising just how much the focus throughout my writing life had been  - rooted in my own life experience - transformed through fiction  - eventually appeared on the page. But I realised that my life experience was not unidirectional or set in a neat narrative; rather it was fragmentary – incoherent shards and fragments which took different shapes depending on how I cast my story-net. This, I thought, was rather like the toy kaliedescope that has sat on my mantelpiece for more than twenty years. Now I had my title! This was when I began to write and publish some short stories which reflected this concept more directly.

The Workshops
So it was that  last Spring -  one year ago - I presented a series of workshops on the connection between memoir and fiction. The participants were both enthusiastic and inspiring. That was when, in serious earnest, I began to pull together my stories and to write new ones which would illustrate an  original fusion of objective truth and pure fiction. This was why and how I wrote the stories one by one over this last year. And then laid them out and then I surveyed them to see just what I had created.

And now I turned to Damselfly to publish this new collection to be called Kaleidoscope - Stories from the Frontier.  This subtitle – like the nature of these short stories – was inspired by a good deal of reading, especially the work of Diana Athill and Jean Rhys. I was particularly engaged by Diana Athill’s insightful comment on the late work of Jean Rhys, with whom she worked in the last 15 years of Rhys’s long life. Athill remarked on Rhys’s writing ‘from the ‘frontiers of old age’ as being of her very best. So I had my sub-title.  

In my publishing process I’ve used the services of Word-2.Kindle   to ensure the technical standard of the text. This company were both patient and helpful, which is just what I needed as I was going it alone.  Inspired by the Kaliedoscope on my mantelpiece. For the cover design I joined forces with my artistic, literary friend Avril Joy and we designed the cover together.

The blurb on the cover of Kaliedoscope took some thinking about. It has so many functions for any new reader. Referring to oneself in the third person is truly odd. Anyway this is what I ended up with:
In this collection of short stories Wendy Robertson acquaints us with the life of career writer Ruthie Evans - rooted in the North, travelling from Ireland to Singapore and Soviet Russia, featuring characters who reflect their Twentieth Century times. In the stories Ruthie emerges triumphant – complex, highly intelligent, conflicted and full of joy: a unique and special memoir, exploring the relationship between memoir and the short story.‘…truth and fiction like two hands clasping… A rare glimpse of what it’s like to be inside the process of writing… ‘Kathleen Jones: biographer‘More than just a memoir… a masterclass in the writing process.’ Sharon Griffiths: Columnist & Author‘A powerful writer.’ Mail on Sunday.

I truly hope you enjoy reading Kaliedosope. If you like the idea of this adventurous combination of memoir and fiction you might be inspired to write a story yourself - a story which could leap out the truth of your own experience. And then another. And another.

It seems to me now that this present lock-down situation could be perfect for anyone, writer or not, to embark on such a self-enhancing and satisfying project.


Also read two earlier posts  where I discuss  the complex relationship betweem Memoir and Fiction.

If all this has made you curious about the stories. Here for you is the contents list:

Kaleidoscope: The  Stories

Keong Sak.................................................................... 1
‘I do enjoy Singapore, very much.’ Tim Rice
Watching and Feeling............................................... 18
Blake said the body was the soul’s prison
unless the five senses are fully developed andopen.’ Jim Morrison.
Masculinity............................................................... 27
‘Prithee, peace/ I dare do all that maybecome a man; / Who dares do more is none.’Shakespeare.

This Working Life...................................................... 44
Nothing will work unless you do.’ Maya
Angelou


Patchouli...................................................................  53
There is nothing automatic about political
change, about liberation.’ Gloria Steinem.
Bandages................................................................... 63
No one ever told me that grief felt so like
fear.’ C S Lewis
Ruthie’s Rant............................................................. 74
Even though I was shy, I found I would get
onstage of I had a new identity.’ David Bowie.
Rudder and Bridle..................................................... 79
The faculty of the imagination is both the
rudder and the bridle of the senses.’ Simone
de Beauvoir.


Brown Velvet............................................................. 83
‘I think writers are, at best, outsiders to the
society they inhabit.’ John Irving.]
The Woman Who Loved Jesus.................................. 95
‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Educating Tegger..................................................... 104
‘The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn …and change.’Carl Rogers

Governess............................................................... 118
‘.… it is the duty of the poet to obtain
citizenship for an increasing horde of nameless emotions.’ Ágnes Nemes Nagy
Going By Train......................................................... 152
‘I have learned how faces fall to bone/how under the eyelids terror lurks…’ Anna
Akhmatova, 1957


The Fox House......................................................... 165
Only connect the prose and the passion, and
both will be exalted, and human love will beseen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.’EM Forster

Story Teller’s Apprentice......................................... 179
My daughter is one of my greatest
inspirations. Every day she surprises me andteaches me something.’ Patti Smith.


White Frost on Grass - Parts One, Two & Three.....185
‘The first lie in fiction is that the author givessome order to the chaos of life.’ Isabel Allende.

Big Issue.................................................................. 212
‘Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinishedbusiness, that’s what.’ Salman Rushdie.


Tiananmen.............................................................. 231
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your
balance you must keep moving.’ Albert
Einstein. 


x

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