Friday 24 July 2015

Who am I? Confessions of a Freelance Artisan Writer.

Who and what am I?

I have been giving some thought to just who I am and what I am about to update my on-line biographies. This has been quite a reflective experience. Quite a rite of passage.

Here we go …

Having written long and short fiction to pretty safe contracts I have responded to the radically changing state of opportunities in publishing by redefining myself – to myself and others – as a freelance artisan writer

The Oxford dictionary defines artisan as a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand  sold at street markets where local artisans diplay handwoven texttiles, and cermaic and leather goods. And nowadays artisan ist also used with reference to high-class food and drink. Add 'writing' to that and I am here,
      The emphasis for the artisan is based on the on the skill of the hand brain and eye in creative production. (I often use painting analogies when I describe setting out on a novel, or a short story.) The creative physical and intellectual processes in writing are involved in conceiving, imagining in words, drafting by hand, transcribing and editing on the computer and using the cyber world as part of my workspace.  
I am rather charmed to know that the word artisan comes from the mid 16th century: from French and comes from Italian artigiano based on Latin artitus past participle of artitr.
So in now labelling myself as a Freelance Artisan Writer I am pleased to think that I come from a long and honourable tradition.

So how has this come about?

Having relished a life of writing and traditional publishing I continue to write with commitment and enjoyment. I once wrote a poem on the blog called Writing is the Sound of the Soul Breathing. (Also see below) This profound excitement about putting words on the page is at the heart of my writing process.
The difference is that these days  I have the opportunity and the freedom to write across a wider range-which includes novels, novellas, short stories, short think pieces which I call ‘postcards’, articles, essays, and poems. In further artisan-mode I draw and paint pictures. Much of this gets into print or I share on the blog. Some of it earns me money.
Also as a writer I have always honed my skills of observation and focus with my habit of drawing and painting. And I take many photographs as life and location notes and occasionally create collages and kinds of summary of an event.
As well as ‘giving out’ in this way an artisan writer needs to absorb the art and skill of others to replenish her own imagination and skills. So I go to galleries and exhibitions, theatres and cinemas. I do my diverse researches. I read a wide range of books and occasionally review them. This is all a delight and refreshment. It is concentration combine with escape.
And now we come to the democratisation of the publishing process through platforms like Amazon. A useful shop-window for the artisan writer.   I have loved dabbling in the process with the support of writing friends,
This fascinating approach to publishing is a creative process in itself – involving writing, book design, and the almost magical processes of producing books in electronic and paperback form.
This precise, practical and demanding procedure is well suited to the artisan writer. I have made use of it to re-issue several of my backlist and two new novels. It is not an easy process and I have learned a lot on the way. And – like a good apprentice - continue to learn. I have certainly not yer mastered the arcane processes of promotion and distribution.

The Freelance Artisan Writer at Work
My current artisan writing projects are  a novella set in the years after World War 2, a contemporary short story, an historical short story, several ‘postcards’ and of course my blog ‘Life Twice Tasted’ which I increasingly see as a journal recording my current obsessions, including new publications – all new rites of passage.

More Personally

I live in a lovely part of historic South Durham a few hundred yards from Auckland Castle, which is buzzing with burgeoning creativity these days. My Victorian house is in the middle of the town and has featured in at least two of my novels.
And I am so lucky that I can be the free-lance artisan writer in the context of a distinctive family with a cleverly ironic story-telling husband, a clever, creative historian son and a clever creative writer-daughter, and a scientific grandson now studying for his PhD in molecular physics, who also writes. I also value my close circle of friends who don’t think being an artisan writer is a crazy thing.

The Notebook

And still, still, here I am with my most precious artisan tool- my notebook in which I love to write and find out what I think, to see what emerges from my imagination, to discover what I want to say. My greatest joy is to know that there are people out there who are enjoying my work, whether it is a novel, a novella, short story, a ‘postcard’ on the blog, or a collage of photos that tells its own story. And - now and then - I earn some money from all this.
I suppose this why now when people ask the inevitable question – so, Wendy, what is that you do? I will say I am a freelance artisan writer.

From my Blog Archive Writing is the Sound of the Soul Breathing

Writing is the sound of the soul breathing-
it is measured, shapely, intended
every breath out predicates every breath in
each sentence brings forward another one
every word is a platform for the next jump in meaning

We breathe in lines, in paragraphs,
in pages in chapters, in volumes -
our life laid there in a trillion words -
a million separated, well formed

Writing is the notation of the quiet soul-
not blasted out by trumpets and clarinets -
dark smoke in the air, rising -
but the  words lie there, just
waiting for your eye

They lie there in ranks and lines
waiting for you to add your world
to my notation on the   page
creating a different world
new to your soul and mine –

Writing is the sound of the soul breathing

Friday 17 July 2015

Meeting My Readers: A Writer’ Delight

It’s truly refreshing as a writer to meet dedicated readers.
I was lucky enough last Tuesday to meet with Hartlepool writers’ group through the good graces of Jean Collingwood of Hartlepool Library.

Our session took place in the remarkable Hartlepool Art Gallery. It’s always a bit daunting to meet readers. So after my forty minute drive I treated myself to coffee and strawberry tart in the excellent museum café and took a long breath.
This was a serious and interested group of enthusiastic readers had all just read my novel Writing at the Maison Bleue.  Their views on my novel were varied, insightful and inspiring. Their attention to detail was impressive. Writing at the Maison Bleue is an ensemble novel involving eight different writers who meet at writing retreat on the Canal du Midi.
The people in this group had different favourites among the characters in Writing at the Maison Bleue.
One man’s favourite was my character Francine, the veteran writer whose  story reaches right back to her childhood in the South West of France  during WW2. Francine’s  narrative is the spine of the novel. Another reader was attracted to Serge, the husband of Aurèlie,  the wonderful cook who caters for the retreaters. We talked about Mariela the fierce poet who becomes more likeable as the novel proceeds. Another reader liked Joe, the young writer, – a particular favourite of mine. One reader said she felt as though she were there at the Maison Bleue and ended up wanted to go there and be with them.
And then I specially appreciated one reader’s comments on the way the novel – with its eight characters and rather complex structure as well as the way it moved from the present to the past in the characters’ lives. – flowed easily,  taking the reader through the ensemble narrative.
Oh joy! What was wonderful was that here were readers who saw my novel in all its facets and seemed really to have relished reading it. This kind of feedback makes worthwhile all the care, creativity and sheer hard work that goes into writing a novel.
Even more wonderful for me was the fact that these readers had read an edition of the novel that had been sadly under-proofread. I assured them – and you - that the new edition on Amazon and Kindle has been rigorously professionally amended and these irritating typos have been eliminated.
As I said, what a treat of was to  meet readers who have read my novel and showed such thoughtful appreciation.

Paperback Edition

Kindle Edition

Afternote. Some of these readers very kindly said they would add their comments to this novel’s Amazon page. I totally  appreciate this gesture.

I see that  are now two new 5 star Amazon reviews of Writing at the Maison Bleue to add to the existing six  5* star reviews. Here they are.

Writing Addict

By bookworm on 22 Mar. 2015
"Writing at the Maison Bleue" is a novel with a difference.
The setting is the idyllic French town of Agde where the Canal du Midi flows close to the old “Maison Bleue” – a house with a history.
When a well-known author and her friends set up a week-long Writers’ Retreat in that house, seven very different characters arrive to spend those seven days together. All their lives are changed forever.
The story teams with life both past and present holding the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.
I thoroughly recommend this novel.


A Week Away? Just the Tonic 

By Dot on 19 Jun. 2015
Seven writers share their lives, their writings and their time as they spend a week at the wonderful Maison Bleue. The setting is magical and as each of the characters shares their own lives and stories we see them develop and grow both as people and as writers. I loved every minute of my time at Maison Bleue - seriously I really lived that week with each of these people.

Hartlepool's Art Gallery 

in the restored Victorian Christ Church

Friday 10 July 2015

A Very Last Post-Card 8 from Marseillan: The Echoes Remain

My special time in Marseillan is over but echoes remain:

Doves cooing loves old sweet song
Cicadas squarking their voiceless chorus
Small birds chirping all day tidings
Elegant, upstanding seagulls
Mourning their lost fish-feasts

Foxes shriek their piercing warning
A scops owl cuts into  silent space
with its  sharp sonar sound  
Swifts quarter the wide sky, midnight blue,
soundless on the wing.

Hedgehogs scuttle out from under
dry green hedges
Swifts quarter the wide sky space
in darting silence

The Scops Owl bleeps in the night
 like the solar signal on a submarine.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Postcard from Marseillan 7 Never Knowingly Under-basketted.

Laurence Phillips’ guidebook to Marseillan has a list of village markets in this region. Each village or small town has its day for its market. The markets are full of life from early morning until I pm when they are dismantled and melt into white vans to go on to the next market tomorrow.
 My co-travellers D. and S, who are great marketers, love to make  use of the ingredients from these cornucopian markets to cook the outstanding meals that appear on our holiday table.
       These two also love the flea-markets and brocantes– all the more exotic because we encounter fragments of other lives lived in another culture. Here are wineglasses that toasted the Liberation in 1945; here is linen from 60 year old bottom drawers and kitchenalia emerging from grand chateaux and rural farmhouses.

For me the ubiquitous shopping basket symbolises the market ethos at the core of this culture. D. has bought two (more!) large baskets to add to her large collection at home. She loves the things.  ‘Never been knowingly under-basketted,’ she says.One of these whopping new baskets, she declares, will be ideal as storing current writing projects in her study.
Life bubbles on around me as I sit in the lively café on the corner opposite the Hotel de Ville.
     Greetings in the market seem always to be enthusiastic and mannerly. There are the two elderly women who kiss each other on the cheeks three times, smiling and nodding: old friends.
Then there is the man who greets his friends around their café table. He shakes hands, greeting each one in turn, including a small boy of about eight who eagerly proffers his hand when it comes to his turn.
          And there is the elderly woman in a short skirt and wearing a pork-pie straw hat. She greets two men at one table, kissing both  of them once on each cheek. Then she pulls her purchase from her basket: a new hat: the exact facsimile of the one already on her head.
          There is the long queue at the horse butcher; the clothes stalls with pretty linen dresses and tops in bright colours; the stalls of colourful bags and shoes all tempting you to buy,
           These markets are a celebration of appetite, life, pretty things and beautiful objects. They reflect the villages which they dominate and delight for one day a week and are as much about the population of the surrounding landscape, as the travellers like us who pass through. We delight in them as much for the ways in which they reflect the unique region and the broader areas of France, as for the consumer's temptation and delight in the goods on display.
        All this makes for good memories as I take my French basket home to trundle around Asda or Sainsbury and bewail the diminution of the ancient market in my own small Northern town, its uniqueness swallowed up by the supermarkets sitting at its edge.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Postcard 6 from Marseillan: Passing Thoughts and Copper Pans.

Being on holiday, unwinding and getting back into mental shape leads to a kind of transient reflection that finds its way into my notebook with various thoughts and inspirations  scattered across various pages.
After making a drawing of some lovely copper pans D found at the bricolage, I gathered a few of these thoughts together last night and put them together in a series of short lines.
These make not-quite-a-poem just as my paintings make not-quite-a-picture.

Here goes:

How do I know that I am
more than my generation
more than my actions
more than my present self?

Under a gibbous* moon
I was thinking of Barbara –
how she would love this
soft wind from the south
how she would relish the sound
of the  sea as it surges up
from Africa and the far south
Of course she did not know these things, except
for the globe in the front room of
her terraced house, haunted
by debt and the urgency of existence.

A bright star follows
the north star of my imagination,
surviving in this sub-blue sky,
charting my affections above
the curling red roofs in this
village by the Mediterranean

The moon here shines
down on the shadow-play
of palm trees, tall pines and
rustling bamboo, all
filtered by the warm Siroccan wind.

Beyond all this I hear the bark of dogs,
the song of birds, the hungry cry of wolves
the clatter of armour clad feet, beneath
the insistent shimmer of the North Star,
pointing the way home.

* The word gibbous comes from a root word that means hump-backed. You can see the hump-backed shape of the waxing gibbous moon.

Friday 3 July 2015

Postcard 5 from Marseillan. Abby sat up in bed...

 Inevitably, sitting here on my balcony in sunny Marseillan, I am fizzing up a new story – the next novel or novella or whatever it may be. On element of this is the waiting, waiting for characters to walk off the streets and into the novel. This has happened before. In many places, at many times.

Yesterday I was in the city of Agde yesterday, feeling so affectionate about the narrow streets, the ancient atmosphere. I spent some sitting beside the magically green river Hérault. The quayside is busy now with cafes and travellers but still in my mind’s eye  I see bustling traders and fishermen, fishing boats and tall ships trading exotic spices for Langedocean wine and oil in this port that goes back to 600 BC.

This is the place that inspired two of my novels: An Englishwoman in France, which goes back to the Roman occupation of this region, and most recently Writing at the Maison Bleue which goes back to the German occupation in World War 2...

I’ve been meaning to write some posts about the role of characters in the writing process and how one builds on the seeds of a character after he or she has walked into your mental and imaginary space. I thought first I would reflect on characters in Writing at the Maison Bleue with reference to a helpful article I stumbled on. I’ve already mentioned my conviction that the best writing follows intuition and naturally derived insight. But here in the relaxed sunshine I thought an exercise in back-checking might be useful. This article mentions four elements: a driving need, desire, ambition or goal; a secret; a contradiction; and vulnerability

Of course my characters in Writing at the Maison Bleue are already made - Francine on her bicycle, Joe with his rucksack - living, breathing and striding out between two covers. But in this series of occasional posts I will look at all eight characters in the light of this article and see if I have hit the mark. 

What do you think?


In this excerpt we meet Abby:

Abby Constantine sat up straight and yawned. The rough fabric of the hostel sheet folded rather than slid down her smooth form. Felix lay against the pillow admiring the way fine dark hair gathered like an arrow in the small of her back. He laid his finger on the nape of her neck and allowed it to sketch a line to just that point.
She shivered slightly. ‘Don’t do that, Felix.’ Her light voice was well modulated, low key. Felix had a good ear and had always known that he could never make love to a girl with a voice like a corn-crake, no matter how beautiful she was. He’d fallen for Abby first because of the silver tones of her voice. She was very pretty, if too plump to be beautiful, and she could be violent and crude in many ways. But she had the voice of an angel and that was enough for Felix.  

More characters and excerpts soon…

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Postcard from Marseillan 4: Holiday Reading Delights

In my job as a writer I read books all the time – but however they are defined by the pleasure principle they mostly – whether fiction or fact – are associated with ‘work’.
But here on holiday I join with D, and S, in reading and relaxing and generally sharing tastes and inspirations with my fellow travellers, I arrived with Miranda Seymour’s evocative Robert Graves biography half finished in my Kindle.  (D and S, who came by car, brought their pile of hard- and paperbacks.)
Up to press S. has read the fivebooks, courtesy of his Kindle, and D I come a close second, havng read three books each.
Having finished reading the Robert Graves book I paused for thought..
I had thought I knew about Robert Graves from my rounded and grounded research for more than one novel involving World War One, I had joined him in saying Goodbye to All That and as a feminist I had naturally rather sided in the eccentric ideas in his The White Goddess,
But as I finished reading the book on the long balcony I knew I had enhanced my understanding of this prodigiously talented, inspired, energetic, magisterial, charismatic, sexually repressed character who acted into older age like a mischievous boy; who glorified women and at the same time unknowingly used and repressed them. Of course he met his egotistical equal in Laura Riding. The term folie a deux was made for those two.
I relished this great informative read – which, on reflection, I might not have finished had I not been on holiday here.
I moved on to a novel that D. had just finished – a Irène by Paul le Maitre - a book recommended for reading in France by her Stoke Newington  bookseller. This is a gruesome thriller whose apparent central character is Camille, a highly likeable detective. This novel is very graphic. I had to close my eyes now and then to the description of much bloody mayhem but the novel is such a good and clever read (translated by Frank Wynne) that it’s worth it, The other main character is a shadowy serial killer obsessed with the crime novel genre – reflecting I think the high focus of the writer her Pierre le Maitre who, in the end, plays a rather neat trick on the writer.
But after that it was like a drink of cool water to move onto On the Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch and her god-daughter Georgia de Chamberet. Compared with Irène it’s a light, easy read. It is packed with anecdotes of a Bohemian working and personal life of an artist and writer against the backdrop of the great war-and-peace dramas of the 20th Century. She blossomed in the ‘artistic melting pot that was London between the wars.’  In her high octane life names like Marlene Dietrich, Cecil Beaton and Vivien Leigh flit casually across the pages of this remarkable memoir.
Appropriately subtitled A Bohemian Life and a bit random in presentation, this is a memoir of a free spirit who shoots through the years like a meteor obeying her impulses and driven by a fascination for the exotic East, even before she travelled that far.
In her childhood and youth Lesley Blanch lived the grandly impoverished life that the British upper classes seemed to embrace so well in those days,
There were shortages of butter and sugar. Face cream was scarce so I nourished my face with lard and then washed it off; otherwise it went rancid and smelled. We didn’t have hot water so I bathed in Piggy’s house,
[…] My mother had been quite well off, but the money trickled away gradually. The Fabergés the traveller had given me were sold. I left the Slade in 1924: I had to earn my living double quick!
The most affecting part of this autobiography is her graphic account of her unusual childhood, as the child of a strange, devoted couple who, encumbered with grand Victorian certainties, had trickled down to the mundanities of life in Chiswick at the start of the Twentieth Century.
This memoir was put together when Lesley Blanch was well into her old age, with the editorial support of Georgia de Chamberet. She lived and worked on until she was 103.
Very reassuring. There’s hope for me yet!
Happy holiday reading.
Wish you were here.


At Our Front Gate 


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