Sky Light Rain – Woman and Birds

3_Woman and BirdsOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My third story in the collection is ‘Woman and Birds’.

This story was inspired by two journeys – one to Barcelona, where the story is set, and an overnight train ride from Sacramento to Portland. In the latter, I sat next to a woman travelling to retrieve her child from her ex-partner who’d had the child in their custody for the summer, and now refused to give them up. The challenges of that scenario stuck with me for more than a decade before surfacing in this tale.

‘Woman and Birds’ takes the form of a treasure hunt through Barcelona as my protagonist follows clues to track down her ex, Eulàlia, and their daughter Ocell. The title is an homage to Catalan artist Joan Miro and his sculptures, most of which seemed to be titled something along the lines of Woman and Bird.

The story begins:

Eulàlia doesn’t meet me at Barcelona Airport as promised. I tell myself that she must be busy with our daughter Ocell, and catch a taxi into the city instead. The driver has a kind face; I tip him more generously than I normally would and feel a stab of something like self-righteousness. See, I’m being good even when Eulàlia is not.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Sky Light Rain – Weaving Wings

Weaving Wings by Judy DarleyOver the coming weeks, I will share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My second story in the collection is ‘Weaving Wings’.

This flash fiction story is only half a page long, but it was inspired by a huge true tale. I’d read articles about Mexican migrant children separated from their parents by the US government, and the idea haunted me. It seemed so barbaric. Two details about this really got to me – the fact that some of the children were writing letters they weren’t even sure would be sent to their parents, and the heaps of yarn brought out to keep them occupied during leisure time.

According to this news story published in October 2019, 5,460 children were separated from their parents due to the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

In my flash fiction I try to examine this ludicrous behaviour from the point of view of a child trying to make the best of an appalling situation.

My version of this story begins:

The best time is when we have an hour outside and can run and race like we’re still on our way. I pretend that I’m running to my mama and that this is all a game.

I’ve recorded myself reading ‘Weaving Wings’, which you can watch here. It also featured in National Flash Fiction Day’s #FlashFlood on 6th June 2020.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Sky Light Rain – Untrue Blue

1_Untrue Blue by Judy Darley
Over the next few weeks, I will share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book, so will begin with the tale ‘Untrue Blue’.

This story examines a relationship between a brother and sister, from the point of view of the sister Tia. Themes include trust and betrayal, and when the truth can be the greatest cruelty of all.

You might notice if you’ve read my stories that sibling relationships and rivalries are recurring topics. A brother or sister might be the first person you come to know on an equal footing – your earliest memories are likely entwined with theirs, and there’s a high possibility that they know all the versions of you. It gives them a rare power. If anyone can derail you, I bet it’s them!

Bristol’s Cabot Tower, which I can see in the distance from my home and spent many childhood days climbing, is a key location for the pair in ‘Untrue Blue’.

The story begins:

As children we would go flying at night. You were always the instigator, shaking me awake then unlatching the window to let the night creep cool and bright beneath our pyjamas, under our skin. I’d edge out first, blinking in the sweep of orange-tarnished sky, beneath the faint stinging stars.

The story contains hints of fairytales and a touch of magic realism. For me, there’s a bit of wish fulfilment too – as a child I believed there was no more enviable superpower than the ability to fly!

I started writing it with the image the tale opens with, and then wanted to know why Tia seemed so wary of her brother. A lot of my fiction unfurls that way – with a scene I glimpse in my head like something from a film, and a question that leads me to what happens next. In fact, a lot of my writing is a journey of discovery.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

How to make the unreal real

The Time Machine by H G WellsWriters are often advised to write what they know. Over time this has become prescriptive: write only what you know. If you are a white, middle-aged man, you can write only from the perspective of a white, middle-aged man.

And yet it’s as reading that we gain access to the interiors of other people’s lived experiences. Why shouldn’t the same be true of writing? After all, isn’t a good imagination one of the key qualifiers for becoming a writer?

Often this requires sufficient research to make our portrayal as honest and respectful as possible. Occasionally it warrants immense leaps of creativity to invent and evoke an experience, and carry our readers along with us for the ride. Surely, our raison d’être is to lead the way on flights of fancy!

H.G. Wells achieved this with ease when he needed to supplement his income as a freelance journalist by writing and selling fiction (now, there’s a flight of fancy!) in 1895.

Ricocheting from an idea already being debated by students at the Royal College of Science that Time represented a fourth dimension, Wells published The Time Machine in 1895. After a rather ponderous start, this novella powers into a dizzy story that seems to draw from impressions of sea-sicknesses, fevered dreams and inebriation.

“The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came tomorrow. The laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter and ever fainter. Tomorrow night came black, then day again, night again, day again, faster and faster still. An eddying murmur filled my ears, and a strange, dumb confusedness descended on my mind.”

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Writerly resolutions for 2020

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyI publish this post every year, but I find it always fills me with hope and determination. As we edge into the greyest month of the year and a brand new decade, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.

But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever continue to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are three that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever you can find the time

In 2012 I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until 2017. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action 🙂

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier.

It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only gradually come to understand.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge was flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month, other months I’ll find I’ve submitted eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big dreams. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.

4. and 5. Finally, pledge simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish writing for its own purpose. Lovely.

What works for you?

If you’ve made a resolution to have your writing read more widely this year, you might be interested to know that SkyLightRain.com welcomes input from other writers. I’m always happy to receive suggestions for reviews and features, as well as creative pieces produced in response to writing prompts.

Every piece published includes an author pic and bio, with links so that people can find out more about you.

If you want to get in touch, you can find me on Twitter @JudyDarley, or send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

How writing connects us across cultures and borders

Sydney Harbour Bridge by Annee LawrenceIn today’s guest post, Annee Lawrence, the author of The Colour of Things Unseen, examines the power of fiction to transcend borders and offer insights into communities and landscapes other than our own, with positive outcomes.

Map for Pakdhe Daliman and Uncle John 2012 acrylic on canvas 150x180cm by Ida Lawrence

Map for Pakdhe Daliman and Uncle John by Ida Lawrence

In this painting, the Australian-Indonesian artist Ida Lawrence uses maps and constructed letters to two uncles, one in Australia and the other in Indonesia. One letter is inviting her Uncle John to travel from his village in south-western New South Wales to meet and visit her Indonesian family in their village in Central Java. The other is addressed in Indonesian to her Javanese uncle, Pakde Daliman, inviting him to visit her Uncle John.

Different forms of address are used in the letters which give directions in Indonesian or English on how to get from their respective villages, onto the plane, through customs, what to expect to see along the way, how to get to the other’s village when they arrive at the airport. The tone of the letter to Uncle John is colloquial and even cheeky, while the letter to Pakde Daliman begins with enquiries about her uncle’s health, her aunt, the rice crops, and other family members.

A further painting will offer cross-cultural tips to her uncles and, in a corner of this painting, there is a story about a time in 1921 when the female ancestors on both sides of her family met up in Broome with their respective women’s groups for afternoon tea and swapped recipes and handicrafts made in their respective villages. Ida Lawrence is my daughter.

Volcanoes above the clouds over Java. By Annee Lawrence

Volcanoes above the clouds over Java by Annee Lawrence

Use fiction to encourage understanding

Prior to writing the novel The Colour of Things Unseen (Aurora Metro Books, UK 2019), I wondered why Australians in particular have such little knowledge or even curiosity about Indonesia – the largest of its close neighbours –– and its remarkable history, peoples, cultures, and art; or about the ways in which their respective histories overlap and interconnect.

There are not many Australian novels set in Indonesia, and some poetry, but when I began looking at the novels I found that, even in those that were well written, the Indonesian characters were often portrayed as devious, unknowable and shadowy. They had little or no agency.

The plots seemed to always involve an Australian journalist, tourist or business person arriving in Indonesia and, by degrees, being damaged in some way. They rarely spoke Indonesian, or any of the other local languages, and their cross-cultural understanding remained limited as they were plunged into culture shock.

This led me to consider the way literature – like the media, and perhaps also like the way histories are presented and studied – contributes to and reinforces the demonisation of certain others. Could a different kind of literature contribute to a more respectful engagement between people and countries, and within countries?

View from Borobodur by Annee Lawrence

View from Borobodur by Annee Lawrence

Contribute to ideas of engagement

In my case this questioning is certainly linked to my daughter’s father and his extended family being Javanese, and to having family and friends in Indonesia and in the Australian-Indonesian community in Sydney.

THE COLOUR OF THINGS UNSEEN coverIn The Colour of Things Unseen, my protagonist Adi leaves his family and small village in Central Java to travel to Australia to study art at a Sydney art school. He arrives in early 1997 and later that year Indonesia is hit by economic crisis and collapse. Then, in May 1998, the seemingly entrenched thirty-two year old Suharto dictatorship, in whose shadow he has grown up, collapses and is replaced by a democracy.

Adi comes of age in Australia. As a student he has a foot in both places, but when he marries and becomes a permanent resident his ties to family and village seem to loosen. Fifteen years later he returns, and he finds the place both familiar and strange, but also connected in diverse and surprising ways with art and artists of the region and the world.

The question that arises is what difference this will have on him as an artist living in the present time. And what of his relationship to place as he begins to respond to the shadows and concerns of what was hidden from view in the nation’s history that was fabricated and taught to him at school.

Sydney Harbour Bridge2 by Annee Lawrence

Sydney Harbour Bridge by Annee Lawrence

Make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange

When I came to write this novel I had in mind readers who were Indonesian and non-Indonesian and my aim was to make what was strange familiar and what was familiar strange (to the reader). Above all, though, I was interested in the questions: What is an artist? What can art do? Why does it matter? Can it expose us to new ways of connecting with the unfamiliar and the strange, and with the parts of our respective histories that remain hidden or disguise our links to the histories of others?

I also wondered whether there is a role for all kinds of artists including writers – in a world of disruption, displacement, and the politics of borders, wall building, exclusion and suspicion – to shed light on an imaginative blurring of national borders and boundaries that can show us a plurality of being and cross-cultural connectedness that we have yet to learn to fully recognise and peaceably live alongside.

Annee Lawrence, authorAbout the author

Annee Lawrence’s debut novel, The Colour of Things Unseen, is published by Aurora Metro Books (UK, 2019). Annee has worked as a tutor, writer, editor and community development worker in women’s health, disability rights and a range of social justice issues. Her research interests include the way identity shape-shifts in an unfamiliar place and culture; ethics, aesthetics, alterity and form in the cross-cultural novel; and Australian-Indonesian cross-cultural connection. She completed a PhD in creative writing in 2015 at the Writing and Society Research Centre, Western Sydney.

Annee lives in Sydney and has published in Griffith Review, New Writing, Hecate and Cultural Studies Review. In 2018 Annee was awarded the inaugural Asialink Tulis Australian-Indonesian Writing Exchange which was funded by the Australia-Indonesia Institute and hosted by Komunitas Salihara in Jakarta and Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud.

All photography in this post is by Annee Lawrence.

Read other writing masterclasses in the SkyLightRain Writing Insights series.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.

The art of foreshadowing with Andés Barba

Such Small Hands by Andes BarbaSuch Small Hands by Andés Barba is an intense, eerie little book that beautifully captures the complexities and conflicts of childhood. Told initially through Marina’s eyes, it begins with one of the most vividly painted car crashes I’ve read, drawing you into the surreal cadence of a tragedy from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl: “The car falling, and where it fell, transforming.”

Before long, Marina learns to recite the appropriate lines: “My father died instantly, my mother in the hospital.” However, it is as though the enormity of the situation has rendered it inconceivable, so that she utters the words without the level of distress the grown ups surrounding her expect.

Confounding expectations is an enduring trait for Marina, as she goes on to unsettle the girls of the orphanage that becomes her home. Her strangeness is an enigma to the other children, attracting them and repelling them in equal measure.

After her doll is stolen and dismembered, Marina invents a game that the other girls can’t resist. Each night, she chooses one of them to be ‘the doll’, ordering the others to strip the chosen one naked and reclothe her in the scratchy dress allocated to ‘the doll’.

The game is frightening, and yet overwhelmingly alluring to the children. They are repulsed and discomforted, each night both dreading and longing to be selected.

But before Marina devises the game, author Andés Barba inserts a scene that chillingly foreshadows it.

A line of caterpillars, which they’ve been warned not to touch, marches across the playground, Marina, alone as she almost always is, watches the caterpillars with obsessive scrutiny. ”It made her dizzy to think that they were dangerous, that they stung. Marina picked up a stick. She thought of a number: four. She started counting from the head of the procession. One. Two. Three. Four. And the fourth one she jabbed with the stick.”

It’s an act so methodical, and so seemingly callous, and it sends a ripple of shock through the yard. In the second when she stabs the caterpillar, all the others stop moving, a detail that fascinates Marina. “How had the news travelled from one to the next?”

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How to write a themed short story collection

FJ Morris This is Not About David Bowie giveawayJPGToday’s guest post comes from FJ Morris, flash fiction writer extraordinaire and author of the short story collection This is (not about) David Bowie. Here she shares her seven top tips for putting together a successful themed short story collection.

I’m a big fan of restrictions. They force you to be more focused and more creative. That’s why I wanted a central idea or concept for a collection. It wasn’t until someone asked me to write a chapbook that the idea struck me like lightning from the heavens. Permission had been given. David Bowie had spoken.

My flash fiction collection ‘This is (not about) David Bowie’ isn’t about him, but it’s inspired by his music and art, and that title was one of the first things I came up with. The collection would never be about David Bowie, but about us. I was drawn to the same themes, the same topics, and had the same upward stare towards space that David Bowie had. I didn’t really see it at the time. My subconscious made those connections for me.

So with 20/20 hindsight, here are my tips on putting together a themed short story collection.

1 Get inspired

When you choose a theme or concept, it really needs to get you excited. It should be an ‘Aha’ moment. Angels should sing. Clouds will part. Ideas will begin to flood in. It should make you glad to be alive. Because it’s about the things that matter you, the song in your heart will sing and shout when the connection is made to the right idea. You may not fully see why at first, but you’ll see and feel its impact.

2 Live in it

Whether that’s through music, art, reading, rolling around or just stewing in thought, spend time dreaming. Let your dream state surround you so that it seeps into your subconscious. When you come to write, it’ll be there, bubbling away.

My best stories popped up when the theme was held in the peripheral of my vision. I’d start with an idea, a Bowie starting point, and then let it grow.

3 Have courage

Not everything you write will or should make the cut. But write it anyway. Every act of creation is an act of courage, of love. Leave fear and doubt at the door. Show up for yourself and only yourself. Embrace the mess that you’re about to create, because it should be wild. That’s what growing is all about.

If Bowie can teach us anything, then it’s to be bold with ourselves. Take those risks.

4 Think outside the book

Break outside of the box. It wasn’t until I had some distance and came at it again that I could look at the collection differently. I stopped looking at it as a book and started seeing it as an album. I needed to add more to it: rhythm, bass lines, movement, tempo, volume changes, signalling.

It was Bowie’s music and a booked called The Voyager Record: A Transmission by Anthony Michael Morena that helped me envision a different sort of collection; one that would mix short stories, Bowie quotes, flash fiction, plays and poems. Like an album, I wanted to give people a sense of journey, and a sense of order, mystery and growth on their way through the collection. Quotes from Bowie act as sign-posts of what was to come.

It was Bowie who gave me permission and inspiration to do more than what was expected – to go beyond the conventional.

5 Question everything…

It’s important to ask yourself some difficult questions: What is the point? Why does this matter? Why should it matter to anyone else? Why am I doing this?

Each time I went back to the drawing board, I went back with a critical eye and questions. Have I been true to Bowie, true to myself? What doesn’t feel right?

One thing I really noticed on the last round was that I had some missing voices, some missing stories, including one on friendship and one about fatherhood. So I went back in.

6 Let go

FJ Morris collection book trail

You will never know when to let it go. Someone else will make that decision for you because of time or opportunity. Recognise it. Embrace it. There’s more I could’ve done with my collection; more I could look at, rewrite, redo, reimagine. That’s the wonderful thing about creativity – it doesn’t finish, it evolves with you.

This collection will forever be a snapshot of a time in my life, and it should stay that way – flaws and all. Art is not about perfection. It’s about being human and being true to who you are.

7 Have fun and ignore what doesn’t serve you

FJ Morris This Is Not About David Bowie

Throw out any rules or advice or tips (even these here) if they don’t serve you. Give yourself permission. Give yourself time.

This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy every minute of creating it. Embrace who you are and how different you might be. What makes you different will make your writing different too, and that really is something to celebrate and get excited about. Follow what’s in your heart.

In the words of David Bowie: I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

FJ MorrisAbout the author

FJ Morris is a proud Bristolian and award-winning author. Her collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published by Retreat West Books in November 2018 and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019.

She’s been published in numerous publications in the UK and internationally, and shortlisted for a variety of awards. Recently, you can find her stories soaring the skies thanks to a short story vending machine in a Canadian airport, and gracing pillows in a hotel in Indonesia. You can also find her stories in Bare Fiction, Halo, The Fiction Desk, Popshot, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, and many more.

All gifs via GIPHY.

Read my review of This is (not about) David Bowie by FJ Morris.

Read other writing masterclasses in the SkyLightRain Writing Insights series.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.

How to set up a writing school

Rain on window by Judy DarleyThis week’s guest post comes from author, editor and creative writing tutor Ashley Stokes. He explains how he came to launch the Unthank School of Writing, and the challenges of establishing a writing school.

The first ever Unthank School of Writing workshop took place in January 2011 at the York Tavern in Norwich, with five writers and me in the upstairs room on a rainy night. Some I’d taught before in my various guises. Some were new to me. One, Marc Jones, has a story in Unveiled: The First Unthank School Anthology.

That the little school has now produced a book feels like a milestone. We have something solid to present to the world, something that showcases the talent of the writers we have supported. It’s great to have something solid, great for the contributors to have a book to hold in their hands, and great for us as a school because the school was born not out of solidity but uncertainty.

The Unthank School was founded both as an accompaniment to Unthank Books, and as a direct response to the cutting of community creative writing after the 2008 crash.

Several of us had been working as associate lecturers in creative writing for many years. As austerity swept its scythe through the system, the university departments that had provided us with employment disbanded around us (without any warning in some cases). Creative writing in the community was becoming a thing of the past. Believing that writing is for everyone, we didn’t want to let this happen.

Kaunas, Lithuania, River. By Judy Darley

A sense of community

We wanted there to be an affordable option outside of time-consuming MAs and prohibitively expensive courses run by big literary agencies and publishers. Furthermore, we also liked the idea of providing a rolling workshop that would always be there for you if you needed it (unlike an academic course). This came to be. We do have students who return to us after going off to work alone on a draft, who now need some feedback, just as we have students who stick with us all the time to be their continual first audience.

Another thing we wanted to nurture was a sense of community between writers, of all being in something together. Our workshops, whether online or face-to-face tend to be fun, relaxed, intimate, spontaneous. Unveiled is testimony that an international Unthank community of writers now exists, and that’s the most rewarding thing of all.

It’s frequently fed back to us that no one teaches creative writing like Unthank. Although we had all benefited from teaching creative writing for universities and art schools – and many of us still do – we were able, outside of the institutional setting, to ditch elements of university teaching that we felt inhibited writers, namely grading, tick-box assessments, self-reflective appraisals, and too much emphasis on close-reading and line-editing.

Kaunas, Lithuania, River1. By Judy Darley

Finding the focus

Close-reading and editing are important, obviously, but with new writers or writers working on a first draft, excessive comma patrol and quibbling about usage can suck the life out of a promising story that’s not yet found its flow.

Instead, in workshops at least, we focus on storytelling and listening to the writer discuss what he or she intends for the story and helping to shape an unfolding narrative. We will help you write what you want to write, whatever that is, whatever the genre. Unthank’s cure is very much a talking cure and uses the example of the writer’s own work from which to teach. We pride ourselves on being eclectic and responsive. We prompt and pre-empt. We try to make things work for the writers, so their stories realise themselves on their own terms.

UnveiledWe have become proud of the work that the school produces, impressed by the wit, doggedness and inventiveness of our students. It is this that inspired us to put out a call for submissions for Unveiled.  Unthank Books has carved out a little niche for itself in the short fiction world, most prominently in the form of Unthology, yearly, eclectic, wide-ranging short story anthologies in which the submitted writing finds the theme. That the school should have its own equivalent anthology was the natural next step. We received writing from over fifty former and current students.

The fifteen stories in Unveiled are the ones Stephen Carver and I felt are the most realised, the stories with the most authoritative voices, that demanded that we include them. They all tell you something about what we are about and what we cultivate.

Ashley StokesAbout the author

Ashley Stokes is Head of the Unthank School of Writing and publisher at Unthank Books. His stories have appeared in The Warwick Review, Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, London Magazine, Staple, and Fleeting, among others. His first novel,Touching the Starfish, was published in 2010 by Unthank Books. Ashley’s short story collection The Syllabus of Errors came out in 2013. He is also co-editor of the Unthology short fiction series and Unveiled, and edited The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, also from Unthank Books. Find him at www.ashleystokes.net.

Read my review of Unveiled.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.

How to create compelling child characters

Esther 1 by Jayne JosoToday’s guest post author, Jayne Joso, created a complex seven-year-old, Esther, to sit at the heart of her novel From Seven to the Sea. Here she explains how she tackled the challenges of writing from a child’s point of view in a novel for adults.

From Seven to the Sea CoverThis is a book I thought I wouldn’t write until I was 80. Somehow, despite having previously written male characters at the centre of my work, and one as a Japanese male – something I did as a challenge – writing a small girl seemed far more complex for me. Children are amazing, they are so complicated and, at the same time, simple and straightforward in many ways, but what they lack is the vocabulary to describe their lives, particularly their feelings and so it is easy for these feelings, their inner lives, to be overlooked. So, one of the biggest obstacles was to find a way to showwhat this little girl character, Esther, might be feeling since I could not offer her an advanced level of communication and still manage to sustain her as a little child.

I re-read Henry James’ ‘What Maisie Knew’ and Barry Hines ‘Kestrel for a Knave’ – which always makes me cry; and without realising it my fingers hovered over the keyboard. But not for long. I began to write in a way I haven’t done before. Frantically, like a crazed pianist. I wept at moments, but wrote with a fury, with a passion, for 11 hours a day, and my hands would hurt. I felt hungry but slept.

Walking in North Wales by Jayne Joso

 

Gather the character’s cells

The character of Esther had, in fact, emerged after some years of imagining, a gathering of cells, if you like, from here and there. Over time, as I read articles about fabulous women and how they started out, or little girls with particular abilities that showed early on, I think I consciously and unconsciously found little Esther. In many ways, I had most of the story already. I could see it. I could occupy it, feel and breathe it. In any case, I always have the start and the ending at the very least, that’s how I work, I need a strong opening and I need to know where I’m headed.

In a way, all I had to do was give the story to little Esther and let her run with it.

When I came to write, I actually had more material than I used, but that’s usual for me, I am a huge fan of cutting. Apparently, it is more usual for authors to ‘over write’, writing far more than the publisher wants and having to be persuaded to cut this and that, but I am quite the opposite. As I write I realise, no, that is too much, it’s getting too dark and the shape might be lost, for example;and so I omit along the way.

Looking at the sky whilst walking by Jayne Joso

 

Cut to maintain the novel’s shape

The next stage is that I cut like a demon as though I will end up with a short poem and not a novel at all. A short poem is the most wonderful thing, but not when the aim is a novel. So, I have to be careful to be critical when I write and edit but not over-critical. It can become destructive. At moments of indecision or heavy-handed cutting, I find it better to take my hands away from the computer and do something completely different.

Walking is usually the best thing. If possible, it is good to walk somewhere nature-rich such as North Wales or in the mountains of Japan if I am writing there, but I also enjoy pacing, just walking calmly about a room. That too can be enough. I find my rhythm, and lines that I was struggling with decide their position and whether they are needed. That’s a good feeling, as is looking at the sky, cloud watching – it calms my breathing and makes me feel alive, and inspired.

HEADshotJayneJoso CREDIT - Natacha HornAuthor bio

Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. She is the author of four novels, From Seven to the Sea, the highly acclaimed My Falling Down HousePerfect Architect and Soothing Music for Stray CatsHer literary works are largely concerned with matters of human empathy, issues surrounding home, homelessness; and cultural identity. Joso is twice the recipient of ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND awards to support her writing. She also received the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Most recently she gained a small grant from the DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation to continue her research in Japan. Jayne will appear at the Hay Festival 2019 on Wednesday 29 May 2019 at 2.30pm. Find her at www.jaynejoso.uk and @JayneJoso.

All images in this post have been supplied by Jayne Joso. Headshot by Natacha Horn.

Read my review of From Seven To The Sea by Jayne Joso.

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