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Emma Darwin
I write novels and short fiction and I live in South East London.
Recent Activity
I think that the danger in the worship of Showing (as opposed to the intelligent understanding of its value) is that it lures writers into too much Stuff: into feeling they're not "allowed" just to inform us of something. And to a degree, it's simply a matter of taste. Some readers find They kissed under the rotting oak or They fought under the sapling willow more evocative than They met under the big tree which to them seems dull and bald. But others will prefer the plainness of the latter. And quite a lot of us would say that it depends on the story, and the context, and the voice... I think with Telling, it depends a lot too, on the voice. If the narrator's voice is compelling, they can do pretty much whatever they like...
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Thanks for the traffic, Barb - and so glad you found this one clear. It's such an important topic.
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You're welcome, Stevie - as you say, I think fairy tales are often very Telly. It's natural to the genre, although of course that needn't preclude vivid physical detail.
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Anne, that's so interesting about Psychoanalytic theory, and it makes so much sense. It's frightening to be confronted with the blank page - the amorphous soup of possibilities - with no guidance on how to navigate it. I'm sure that's why some writers grab at the first rules anyone offers them, and cling onto them hard in the teeth of the obvious point that there are no rules, and/or that these are clearly also the wrong tools...
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David, yes, I think that's probably a very common outcome with NaNo - but it doesn't mean (as some people would suggest) that NaNo-ing and similar is a bad idea. Just that it can be a great way to discover what kind of story this is, but then, yes, you've got to sort out that skeleton, and make it well-proportioned and sturdy. And as you say, the way to do that may very likely not be to revise and re-work, but to start again from a blank page, with everything you've discovered as your raw material.
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Anne, you're welcome. I do think that it's worth learning to zoom as far as possible in both directions - even if you don't end up doing it very often. It's there to be used when it's right for the story.
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You're welcome!
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Well you're welcome to say that, Carol! Glad you liked it.
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:) Brian! I think the only thing I've written which exceeded the minimum wage was the erotic story for In Bed With. And I've actually done pretty well with advances, one way and another. But it so rarely reflects the hours...
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Henry, I didn't know that. Makes sense, though, and good for him. And he really learnt his trade, and bided his time, and when he had an even more cracking idea than usual, he could do it justice. I think Scott Turow still practices as a lawyer, doesn't he? As I remember from an interview, that's partly to do with Helena's point about not losing touch with proper normal life. But goodness, either they must be able to write very fast, or they have an exceptionally good support network. (Which historically is code for having a wife who picks up all the pieces. I don't know if things have rebalanced these days with writerly husbands doing as much...)
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"But we do it for love, don't we?" I'd agree with you, except that also it's an argument which has always been used by industries and individuals as a way of refusing to see that nurses, farmers, artists ... aren't decently paid ...
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Helena, I definitely think there's something in that. Lovely as it would be to be able to buy yatchs and mansions with my advances, I think I would go on teaching and stuff, because I suspect that one would end up writing about writing, because that's all you'd know. There's a rather cynical theory that even good writers only have three or four books inside them, and then they start writing the same book again. I don't think it's true, because I think what really happens is that writers actually draw on the same concerns throughout their lives - the things which are potent for them - because they draw on themselves; it's just that once there are several books out there, it begins to become clearer what those preoccupations and potencies are. But I think there is a danger, if you do nothing but stay at home and write, or go and sit on festival platforms, that you never re-fill the well, creatively speaking. You can consciously go out and research new stuff, obviously, but it's not the same, maybe, as just drawing on the stuff that has soaked into you from life without any particular focus and deliberate action.
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Yes, I think if you've ever had to do with the population at large, that figure doesn't surprise one.
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Yes, essentially in Britain, where things are particularly tough at the moment, but I don't get the impression that the way writers have to put a living-earning life together is very different in the US, although the details of problems and opportunities may be. The Carol Lloyd book Creating A Life Worth Living is US-based, but resonates very strongly over here. One real drawback for us is that the short fiction scene is much, much smaller - and not just because the population is smaller as a whole. It's pretty much impossible to be known as a serious writer purely by virtue of your short fiction and essays. We eye a culture that has the New Yorker and Glimmer Train and all stations in between with longing, from this side of the pond.
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Thanks for the share, Richard. I do think that, however bumpy the income, not to mention the ride, most of us who stay with the self-employed (or mostly self-employed) life are people who it suits temperamentally, as well. I know that I would find it very difficult to go back to a full-time working day where it wasn't up to me how I should allocate my time and energy. Maybe writers - at least creative writers of fiction and non-fiction - are like that by nature: not team players... If we were, we'd be writing TV comedy scripts, in a team, for directors and actors to turn into programmes.
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Yes, there are outliers - but yes, some of that is the combination of real talent also happening to be writing something that lots of others want to read, and a publisher working out how to find those others. As you say - the rest of it is the day job...
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"Harry of Earthsea: The Quest for The Curious Time-Traveller and his Cursed Pirate Ring of the Caribbean." LoLo Alison! If you don't write it, maybe I should... But yes, I think your picture of the reality is very common: a mixed bag of various projects, some satisfying, some less so. It's manageable if you have something regular coming in - or in many cases, if a partner does, so that together you can manage...
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A lot of writerly talk circulates round whether you're a planner or a pantser, or some combination of the two. I've explored the idea that planning needn't be the business of drawing up a map and intinerary which you will then follow: maybe it's more a voyage into the unknown, to a place which by definition you can't have a map for, for which you need other kinds of preparation. And I've thought about what I call "retrospective planning": using what are usually discussed as pre-first-draft tools later, to sort out that first or tenth draft after you've written it.... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2014 at This Itch of Writing: the blog
I've blogged before about how much more energy your storytelling will have if you coax out as much variety as possible in the way you tell the story - and how flat it will be if you don't. Time, pace (not at all the same thing), characterisation, sentences, voice, settings, events ... all need thinking about. And, yes, you're right: this is This Itch of Writing, so of course I'm going to say Psychic Distance is one of the most crucial kinds of variety of all. But many aspiring writers who grasp the idea of Psychic Distance still struggle to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at This Itch of Writing: the blog
Barbara, I do agree. I picked a very promising-looking novel off the bookshop shelf the other day, remembering seeing some good reviews, and opened it, and by the end of the first paragraph my heart was sinking. Only when I asked myself why, did I realised that it was first person, present tense ... It's like the new, zingy flavour that we've all overdosed on...
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The point about four instalments is really just that aspiring writers often read the headline figure and assume that the publisher sends you the cheque when you sign the contract. Whereas publishing schedules being what they are, especially if you haven't written the book yet, the time from contract-signing to paperback might be three or four years
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four instalments for an advance? Signing - acceptance (often the same if you've already written the book, of course) - hardback - paperback. Although, yes, with a small advance in particular more of it may be up front. With my Writing Historical Fiction book for Hodder it's just Signing and Acceptance. I do agree that 1) isn't easy to achieve even when you do write a book or three a year. But it does depend how many mouths one's feeding, I guess. And whether one feeds them on dry bread, or caviar.
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Alan Hollinghurst had a piece recently - I think in the Grauniad - about how incredibly difficult he finds it to make ends meet. Re the industry ... I think teaching is a very natural instinct, as it wanting to learn. There are a few snake-oil salesmen, but it's funny how the art teachers and music teachers don't get accused of snake-oil-hood...
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