Claire King

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Posts Tagged ‘Women Writers’

Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

Misery Loves Company

Posted on: February 17th, 2011 by Claire - 15 Comments

Meet Mr X.

He could easily be described as too content. He has a kind of Panglossian optimism that drives most people around him crazy. In a nutshell, he’s happy.

It’s challenging throwing decent obstacles at this guy, because he takes them in his stride, looks on the bright side and carries on as usual. Of course I plan to crack him. In the next 80,000 words I’m going to make him miserable and then pull him out of the other side. Why would I do this to him? Well, because it’s fiction, and that’s what we do to our characters. No-one likes to read about people who start happy, end happy and are happy during the middle parts too. Right?

Today I read a blog post along these lines, which asks the question ‘Are happy characters boring to read?’ Why do we feel the need to drag them through conflict situations in the name of good fiction?

1. Why do stories need conflict/unhappiness?

Because misery loves company. Our lives are not, in general, blissfully happy. Hearing stories about how others overcome problems helps us understand we are not alone, perhaps learn ways of managing difficult situations. Not only do we take vicarious pleasure in others’ suffering but it is good to hear that others face conflict and prevail. There is hope for us too. The troughs of unhappiness emphasise the peaks of success.

From a very early age, in the stories we tell to children, we introduce danger, evil and conflict and we show how it can be beaten, how even the most unlikely hero can triumph against all odds.

2. What kind of conflict?

While I was thinking about conflict I pulled out Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. If you’re not familiar with this theory you can read a summary here. My character, Mr X, has met his physiological and safety needs and he’s not particularly interested in moving higher up the pyramid. He’s content at a fairly basic level. My challenge, in introducing conflict, is either to take away some of his safety/physiological satisfaction or to make him aspire to the other elements on the pyramid. Whilst I was plotting this out, I came up with a hypothesis. It’s a great generalisation, but I’d love to know what you think:

When you read a book where the conflict in concentrated in those areas (family, sex, love, self esteem, confidence) – who tends to have written those stories? Would it be too much of a generalisation to say women writers have a strong focus in these areas?

Now, look at the top tier of the pyramid – the self-actualization – and the bottom two. Would it be fair to say that male writers tend to focus conflict in these areas?

And if we can (if we can) make those generalisations, can we follow it through to conclude that an audience of female readers enjoy books whose conflict/conflict resolution is in the ‘female’ areas? And male readers in the extremes of the pyramid? I know this is not a very politically correct hypothesis, but there it is on the table.

What do you think?

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