Megan Taylor thinks my blog is fabulous. Thank you Megan, yours is rather fine as well.
Sorry not to have posted here in a little while. I don’t know what came over me. I have told myself off.
Okay then. Let’s see. Last week I asked if there was anything any readers of my blog wanted to know and I received a few questions. So now to answer them as best I can.
I want to know do you write short stories with that snazzy pen?
Pens for me are for notes-creativity happens on the computer.
The snazzy pen Lauri’s referring to is my new Pelikan. And the answer’s a definite Yes. A couple of years ago I thought: I’m a writer so I really ought to own a nice fountain pen. So I bought one (A Lamy 2000 for those who are interested). And I bought a notebook. And something changed. It was the writing process, my writing process. Instead of putting a rough first draft of a story straight onto my computer I created it by hand. This felt, for want of a better word, more organic. I felt as though I could take more time with it. Play around with it more than I could on a computer. Start things again. It definitely provided more freedom for me and also made me feel as though the stories I was writing were truly mine. And a notebook and pen are far more portable and less obvious than a laptop.
The biggest advantage I’ve found with writing first drafts longhand is that editing is so much easier – usually. I can be more selective about what stays or goes when I’m typing it up, and so the process of typing up becomes a half-edit. It works for me. Not that all the stories I’ve written like this are wonderful; there have been some stinkers.
Mostly though, I like the actual act of writing. It feels more intimate.
But I reckon it all comes down to what works for you – and I was definitely someone who used to do all the actual writing on the screen, using books for nothing but notes.
Now I use a Pelikan Traditional, or one of a few older ones, in a Moleskine, and with Pelikan brown ink. Just so you know.
Your starter for ten, How old were you when you decided being a writer was the thing for you? and also, do you have any plans to write a novel?
Plus – if you could be any book in the world which one would like to be?
Um, not quite sure. When I was at school I was convinced I was going to be a rock star. I wrote a lot of songs. And then, as I mentioned here, thanks to two wonderful teachers – one of English and one of history – I discovered First World War poetry. I started writing poetry then, I think. And the odd story.
Then back in 2001 (I think, it might have been the following year) I was made redundant from the car dealership I’d worked at since I’d left school. Which was a shock but also an opportunity. I’d always fancied writing so, instead of going out and getting another job straight away I decided to do what I could to learn how to write. Initially I wrote features and had a little success with magazine and papers. And then I tried fiction which I found came really naturally. Then, when I was 25, I wrote a children’s book…
Do I have any plans to write a novel? I don’t know. Do you think I should? The short story’s what I’m comfortable with (in a good way) and what I love, but I’d never say I wouldn’t write a novel. I’ve written at least two very bad ones in the past. And there are a couple of things I’m working on now which could end up being novel length. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see (me included).
Which book would I like to be? God, that’s a difficult one! According to the quiz I did a little while ago I’d be Anne of Green Gables. I’d probably like to be in anything Aimee Bender or Etgar Keret’s done, for the experience. Or a Star Wars book, so I could have a lightsaber. I’d take any with a happy ending though.
And May wanted to know:
Do you ever ask yourself if you are doing anything you can in order to become a good/famous writer?
That’s a really good question. I certainly like to think I’m doing all I can to become a good writer (that’s the goal, I’m not too sure that fame’s all that attractive) – some days I even feel like one. I read a lot. I write a lot. I revise a lot. I run workshops. I run a writing group. I share my work with good and trusted writer friends and reciprocate that. I do readings. I actively seek publication. I blog. I’ve had a book published and toured it.
The one thing I haven’t done is taken any sort of formal training. I’d never rule that out but, really, I’m not sure that’d be for me.
And really, when I detach myself from me and look at me from a distance away, I see that I’m right at the beginning of a career, or what I hope will be a career. I’m a newby. And on happier days I think I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved so far. I’m young and I haven’t been doing it that long. I think my biggest problem is my impatience. That and the fact that I have really high expectations of myself and if anything I work too hard to combat all that pressure. After all, this isn’t an easy job – far from it. The competition, although mostly lovely people, is fierce because those lovely people are so damned good at what they do.
So am I doing my best to be a good writer? I try and I want to learn. And I think that’s about all I can do.
I think the fame thing’s worth mentioning. I don’t think that there can be many people who achieve fame through writing if achieving fame’s their reason for writing. I’ve said this many times before but I think being good (and/or successful) is a million times more important than being famous. And there’s a logical pattern to this:
If your writing’s good it’ll, more than likely, get published, which means it’ll be read by people. And so on.
So there you go. Bit strange taking so much time talking and examining myself. If there’s anything else you’d like to know feel free to ask.
Now it’s back to writing for me.
A litttle while ago (well, months probably) I agreed to write a short piece on writing and place for Tania Hershman’s excellent blog. I started it many, many times over but couldn’t work out what I wanted to say. I knew what I thought about it, and I thought that that thought was a simple one. But just like that last sentence it was far more complicated than I’d anticipated.
So, Jo Bell. Who are you? What do you do?
I have no idea, actually, but I always seem to be busy. I call myself a ‘poetry professional’ because most of my work is poetry based. I work freelance and my main job is to co-ordinate National Poetry Day across the UK. I also write commissions such as a recent series of poems on food for the National Trust. I do readings and performances such as themed evenings based on Christmas or gardening. I run workshops to help people write poetry and I’m doing a lot of work in Derby, where I hope to be poet in residence at the new hospital next year.
What is National Poetry Day? How can people get themselves involved?
National Poetry Day is the biggest celebration of poetry in the UK, and this year it falls on Thursday October 8th. Our theme is ‘heroes and heroines’ (yes, technically ‘heroes’ would cover it). The Poet Laureate herself, Carol Ann Duffy, has written a poem for us and you will hear a lot of poetry on the radio and TV. There will be hundreds of events across the country run by poetry-lovers; poetry marathons, readings at libraries and festivals, children’s events, performances. Visit our website www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk to find out what is going on near you. If there isn’t anything listed, then do something yourself – get your writing group to discuss poetry, organise a poetry reading at the library….
What do you think makes a great poem?
Its truthfulness; it has to chime with the reader as a true reflection of the world. Its use of language – using the right word in the right place, with no linguistic showiness – and its imagery. A good poem should show you afresh something you’ve seen many times before, and make you examine it closely for meaning.
And what makes a great poet?
The ability to write a great poem. Nothing else.
How do you think poetry and prose are related? Siblings? Cousins?
Close but bickering relations, circling the table at a family gathering and eying the same sausage roll. We tackle the same material in very different ways: I love good prose, but would have no idea how to start writing it.
It’s a (kind of) well known fact that most of the poetry sold today is poetry written by people who are no longer among the living. With that in mind: which living poets’ work would you point us towards?
Read Daljit Nagra for his ‘Punglish’ take on multicultural London; Tobias Hill for precision and observation; Wendy Cope for wit and battle-of-the-sexes truths; Clare Pollard for youthful savviness. Oh, and me, for poems about sex and boats.
I saw you in the brilliant show, The Fourpenny Circus. Can you tell us a little about that?
It’s a show that uses costume, props and a bit of simple choreography to make poetry appealing. Let’s be honest – people expect poetry readings to be bloody boring, and they have good reason to think so. But years ago I saw the brilliant poet Michael Donaghy, a mesmerising performer of his own work. He showed me (and many others) that poetry should be well written and well performed, to really move people. When I was Cheshire Poet Laureate in 2007, I corralled my predecessors into a live roadshow, Bunch of Fives, which was a huge success. So we had to write another one, and are now on the road with Fourpenny Circus. It’s lively, silly, serious and engrossing. We want to get our poems over to people who wouldn’t normally identify themselves as poetry fans; and if that means me wearing a top hat and jodhpurs, I’m willing to suffer for my art.
Tell us a secret.
My first name is Alexandra. No-one has used it since the day I was born.
What’s next for you?
National Poetry Day on October 8th, followed by a short period of lying down in a darkened room. Then Fourpenny Circus has an autumn tour; then I’m very involved in planning a festival in Derby for next summer, and hopefully a couple of poet-in-residence projects. I hope 2010 will be my busiest year.
Anything you’d like to add?
Yes. Does anyone know how I can make time to write some poems?
Jo Bell was born in Sheffield. After a career in professional archaeology she began to work in poetry, and is now a full-time poetry professional. She is the co-ordinator for National Poetry Day, and other work includes performance and workshops. Living on a narrowboat, her place of abode is not fixed but she travels the waterways in search of an inspiring mooring with internet access.
Sorry. I’ve let myself get behind with things. So for those of you who are waiting for things from me, I promise you’ll have them soon.
Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve a very short story, Blink, up over at Ink, Sweat and Tears.