Book review – Oothangbart by Rebecca Lloyd

Oothangbart By Rebecca LloydDonal Poseidon is an ordinary citizen, living an ordinary life. Each day he gets up and goes to work and each day he does the things expected of him, without grumbling or questioning the way things stand in the town of Oothangbart. But he’s also a fellow with a secret yearning, a quiet curiosity about the world beyond the town’s gates, and a tendency to daydream without meaning too.

And in a place like Oothangbart, all these things spell trouble.

In Oothangbart: A Subversive Fable For Adults and Bears, Rebecca Lloyd has created a world that seems both fairytale perfect and disturbingly controlled. Rules include ‘No slumping or giving the appearance of dejection.’ The greatest insult is to be referred to as “an irregular fellow”. The jobs carried out by the majority of citizens are stultifying dull and even pointless. Indeed, pointless seems to be the key word here, as notable citizens – the top fellows – are allowed privileged access to The Escalator that goes nowhere but up to a flight of steps they then need to climb back down. The exercise seems full of pomposity, yet utterly pointless.

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Writers – dispelling the myths

Glendurgan maze cr Judy DarleyMany writers love myths, but what do they feel when the myth in question is what it’s like to be them? Award-winning short story writer and children’s author Rebecca Lloyd examines the myths that surround writers, and sets about dispelling a few, beginning with the concept of the writers’ muse.

Vintage bus cr Judy Darley

Myth: Writers are unable to write without a muse
Fact: Writers who believe this are denying their responsibility for their creations

In the non-writer world, there are not muses so much as ideas. Ideas may not come thick and fast, but when they do, the one who thought of them doesn’t attribute it to something ‘out there,’ but rather to their own ability to think something up.

I believe it unlikely that writers who wait for the arrival of the muse will ever be able to turn out very good work because they haven’t taken on full responsibility for their own creations. When a writer who believes in the muse has written nothing, it can’t be his fault, can it?

But sometimes the bus doesn’t come either, and then you walk. In other words, there are some days when your writing is better than it is on other days, but the important thing is to write consistently. Djuna Barnes wrote: “… working every day is important – one may write the most lamentable balls but in the end one has a page or two that might not otherwise have been done…”

Myth: Once, created, characters do much of the work for the writer
Fact: The characters are much of the work of the writer

The myth of the muse is supported by another declaration you sometimes hear even from respectable novelists, and it is that their characters “take life and form all by themselves,” – outside the will of the writer. This is a way of implying that writing is somehow magical. Yet, if you consider that we are only knowingly engaged with about one tenth of our brain and the rest is subconscious, it is little wonder that some of the hidden 90% leaks through onto the page, and it is that gives the illusion of characters coming to life by themselves.

Myth: Writers are born, not made
Fact: Many people are born with writing talent, but it’s those who work at it who progress into writers

The ‘born not made’ myth must put a few potential writers off the whole business – at least for a while. As a creative writing tutor, I come across students who haven’t told friends and family about their writing aspirations for fear of ridicule because it suggests they’re attempting to be someone less than ordinary. So, the would-be writer with little confidence is unlikely to assume their identity as a writer easily in the face of this.

Cat on wall cr Judy Darley

Myth: Anyone could be writer, if they wanted to
Fact: People who quite fancy the idea of being a writer rarely actually put the idea into action

Myths about writers can contradict one another. Most suggest that the writer is ‘special,’ but there a few myths that attempt to keep the writer in his place. For instance, there are people who, on meeting a writer, will declare: “They say there’s a novel in all of us.” Few people who say this have ever tried to write anything more substantial than an email. Equally, they are unlikely, however when meeting a bricklayer to state: “They say there’s a brick wall in all of us.”

The person is trying to tell you that writing is easy; anyone can do it if only there was enough time, and they say it to make themselves feel better in front of you. This is in direct contradiction to the myth above.

Harbour Festival audience cr Judy Darley

Myth: writers need to know who they’re writing for
Fact: While writers need an idea of a target audience, you can never truly know who will read your work

Then there’s the myth of writers needing to know whom they are writing for. If you were a writer of romance, you’d know that you were writing for people who read romantic fiction, but who are those people? How can the writer know? They could be anyone.

If you’re a children’s writer, you have to target your work to the age group you write for, but who are the children who are reading your work?

Myth: Writers should write about what they know
Fact: Writers are imaginative creatures with the ability to carry out research

Sometimes you hear the idea that writers should write about what they know. Novels would be very limited and utterly boring if writers only wrote about what they knew, and it would make historical novelists into supernatural beings for knowing all that stuff automatically. Writers do research. Research is good.

Myth: Writing talent is all it takes to be a successful writer
Fact: Marketability and persistence are just as important, if not more

It’s widely believed that you have to be a great writer to be a best seller. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny if you think about the chick-lit novels that sell in their millions. That’s not to deny the right of these types of writing to exist, and more importantly to make money for publishing houses so that they can then risk, if they dare, taking on writers whose thoughts about life go deeper than sex, lipstick and daft shoes.

Of course, there are good writers who have had best selling works, but I would bet that there are far more mediocre writers who have hit the big time.

Myth: Writer’s suffer from writers’ block
Fact: Writers can overcome writers’ block – by accepting it doesn’t exist

The myth I hate in particular is that of writers’ block. Ordinary folk, lesser mortals that is, get tired at work, but writers have to have a special name for it to distinguish them from other people. Whether or not your writing is going well or not, a writer still has to get the words down on paper – that is the job, never mind about being tired, you have to do it anyway. Later it can be done better, and that’s not true of many jobs, so writers should just be grateful, and not believe in this daft idea.

Myth: Writers need a special space in which to write
Fact: Finding the perfect space in which to write depends on the individual

Virginia Woolf talked about a writer needing a ‘room of her own.’ I go along with the notion that to do your best work you need to be in favourable conditions, but these will differ from one writer to another. A crowded café could be a person’s special place to write. Many writers carry a notebook with them in which they work out storylines and/or make notes about things they notice, so a lot of writing and writing ideas happen on the hoof. I think that as long as when you are writing nothing else matters at that moment, then wherever you are is that special place because you are fully concentrating.

Cornwall shore cr Judy Darley

Myth: Writing is the loneliest of lonely professions
Fact: Writing is solitary, but rarely lonely

People talk about writing as ‘a lonely occupation.’ To call it lonely makes it sound sad. Writing is a solitary occupation, that’s true – as are millions of jobs. How can you actually be lonely if you’re fully concentrating on writing? The loneliness myth is part of the old stereotype of the artist working alone for months in his garret, and he must face the universe single-handedly – he’s ‘one man against the wherl’ isn’t he? Well, no, not necessarily.

The important thing is for writers themselves not to believe in these myths as none of them do the business any good. The more the act of fiction writing can be de-mystified the more confident people will be to become writers themselves, and in my opinion we always need new writers. When asked recently if a writer needed to be ‘full of angst,’ my reply was not angst, but passion, and an equal measure of discipline to go with it.

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

About the author

Rebecca Lloyd is a short story writer and novelist. Her short stories have been published in the UK, Canada, US and New Zealand. Rebecca’s story The River won the inaugural Bristol Prize in 2008.  She is the author of Halfling (Walker Books, 2011) and co-editor of the anthology Pangea (Thames River Press, 2012).

Her short story collections include The View From Endless Street and Mercy and Other Stories.

A cuppa with writer Rebecca Lloyd

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

This week I have the pleasure of catching up with award-winning short writer Rebecca Lloyd, who has recently had two  collections – The View From Endless Street and Mercy and Other Stories – published in quick succession.

Kettle’s on. What do you fancy?

Coffee, please, black and powerful!

When writers are interviewed they often say they’ve always wanted to write from when they were young children. Is that the same for you?

No, not at all. I didn’t consider the idea until I was 49… and since then, I’ve never stopped considering it, or doing it. I’m sure that as a child I just hung about listening to people and keeping out of the way and indulging in my real passion which was insects and other creatures. I was bought up in a suburb of Sydney in Australia, so there was a lot of really interesting wild life to get involved with.

Do you have a muse?

I think the idea of a writer having a muse is really a male writer having a wife to make his lunch while he works at his writing, isn’t it? But if a muse really means something that inspires a writer, then my muse would be all I see and am curious about around me.

There are a lot of rogue publishers about, aren’t there? How would you recognise and avoid them?

Actually that is getting harder and harder. Since the onslaught of self-publishing some of the old vanity publishers have remodelled themselves into businesses that still lie in wait to get a writer’s money, but they’re much more subtle these days. And then there are new hybrid publishers who also try to make writers pay for what they should not pay for, but they can make it seem almost reasonable, for example by making them first pay to have their manuscript edited by their own editing team.

A writer should not have to pay for this, but I can see how tempting it might be. The most notorious of the rogue publishers are often talked about and if a writer researches properly and knows what to look out for, they shouldn’t find themselves in conversation with rogue publishers. The only good thing I can see about self-publishing is that it has lessened the impact of the vanity publishing industry.

Have you ever had writer’s block or do you really believe that’s just another one of the myths about writing?

At some level, I do still consider it to be mythical, but I have also experienced something of the sort. I think it was probably just depression and mental exhaustion but it was the strangest sensation of having ‘nothing going on’ in my thinking. It was frightening because it seemed to wipe away my identity as a writer. I couldn’t write a thing for ages. I did get better, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

You sometimes hear writers say that writing is agony for them. Is that the same for you?

Writing is beautiful for me, it’s nearly always hard work, but utterly lovely. I wouldn’t do it otherwise, and I’m tempted to say ‘Man up!’ to writers who talk about the agony.

Mercy by Rebecca LloydWhat genre would you say you write in?

I have had to accept that I write in the ‘New Black’ or the Weird Fiction or the Literary Horror genre, those are just different terms for a particular type of writing and an interest in particular subject matter. But for a long time, I resisted affiliating myself with a genre. However, since Tartarus Press published my dark short story collection Mercy this year, I’ve joined the clan of weird writers so to speak.

Apparently WiDo Publishing who published my other collection The View From Endless Street at the same time, are reminded of Roald Dahl when they read my work. They certainly think it strange, so I should just accept the fact, eh?

What kind of things help to fire up your imagination?

I was inspired to start writing during my short time working in Africa, I was inspired by the people I met and my relationships with them.

I guess it would just be various interesting aspects of the human condition that cause me to write, only after all this time I think the inspiration, is almost unconscious. My writing world is in my head, my other worlds are tangible and real, but they are separate and apart from writing.

The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko

The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko

I do have some artwork I like and relate to strongly. This is The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko who I met at the Peterborough Festival last summer.

Katie’s paintings are like my own thoughts on writing. Her paintings are done on glass from behind, just fabulous.

What’s your opinion about writing classes? 

Writing classes are fine except for people go persistently to them and can’t seem to move on. No writing tutor, whether they are famous or unknown, can teach a novice writer how to find the self-belief, self-discipline and resilience needed to be a writer – nor can imagination be taught. But what can be taught are the tricks of the writerly trade, and the sooner a new writer knows those, the sooner he or she will become good writers with a chance of publication.

Find out more about Rebecca Lloyd.

Book review – The View From Endless Street by Rebecca Lloyd

The View From Endless StreetWith the immense, quiet powers of her skilful prose, Rebecca Lloyd’s short story collection promises to steal inside you and take residence.

From an unsettling yet enticing search for silence in The Snow Room, to the discomforting portrayal of domestic abuse in The Balloon, Lloyd demands we pay attention and work for our rewards. And the rewards – tale after multi-layered tale that will remain with you for weeks afterwards – are well worth it.

I dipped in and out over a period of several weeks, and often found myself replaying scenes that were so vivid I wasn’t sure whether I had read, heard or watched them. Certain images will stay with you long after a story’s end – for me, it was the moment when Jack traps himself underwater in The Oil Drum, and a sodden trilby with a feather in the headband in The River: “it wasn’t Grandpa’s, but he would’ve liked it.” Continue reading

Children’s books for adult minds – part 1

Children's books post1I had originally intended this to be a post about the top few books I remember meaning a lot to me growing up, and a handful I’ve discovered in more recent years. However, scouring my bookshelves I re-discovered too many to whittle them down to any fewer than eight.

The idea for this post came from a discussion I had at a party recently, when I explained I was in the midst of writing one book for teens and one for adults, and had just completed one for adults with a child protagonist. It made us laugh, but the thought stayed with me that long before so-called ‘crossover novels’, there were many books my parents had introduced to me, or that I discovered by myself, that were written so beautifully they seemed to transcend age-appropriateness and just appeal to everyone. Clever.

Here are the first four that remain favourites for me. Four more will follow next week.

Halfling coverHalfling by Rebecca Lloyd

Danny Broadaxe is an ordinary 11-year-old boy, but his life is anything but ordinary. Since the death of his mother in a car accident that also put his father in a wheel chair, Danny has been trying to take care of his dad while dealing with his grief on top of the usual trials of school and life.

His story, however, is far from bleak, Rebecca Lloyd’s delicate touch ensures that a genuine love resonates between Danny and his dad, while a thirst for knowledge about the natural world keeps Danny enthralled in the discoveries he makes all around him. And then he discovers a secret one of the neighbours has been hiding.

Read more of this review.

Shine by Jill Paton WalshShine by Jill Paton Walsh

It’s so long since I read this book, yet it made such an impression on me I can replay most of in my mind. Pattie and her family have to move to another planet as Earth goes cold and an unnamed disaster looms. They’re each allowed to bring one book, and everyone is horrified when they discover Pattie brought an empty notebook. Such a waste! But months later… but that would be spoiling the surprise.

This beautiful, poetic little book shares the experiences of the families as they seek ways to survive on the planet that Pattie, as the youngest child (other than the babies) names Shine.  It’s a gentle adventure full of curious challenges (the trees here need to be split rather than hewed and lamplight seeps through their translucent planks) with gorgeous illustrations by Sue Smith. Perhaps that’s partly why the scenes are still so vivid in my mind today.

BTW, it seems that since I got my copy way back when, the book has been reissued with its original title, The Green Book.

The Ordinary Princess by MM KayeThe Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye

I utterly adored this book as a child. The idea of a run-of-the-mill heroine (Amy – rather than Amethyst) trouncing around climbing trees, pretending to be a kitchen maid and eschewing all the usual traits of being a princess was refreshingly different to the perfect, beautiful images of perfect princesses (“with “long golden hair and blue eyes” and “extremely dull” to quote Amy’s mate Peregrine) I’d been presented with up until then.

 

 

Double Vision by Diana HendryDouble Vision by Diana Hendry

Two sisters, one aged 8, the other 15, rampage through a 1960s summer by the sea seeing the world around them in two very different ways. Eliza, the elder, is in love, entranced by Beatnik Jake who lodges in the attic of her friend/foe Jo.

Lily, the younger, is more concerned with nightmares, curses and a shrunken head. Through it all sweeps the oldest sister Rosa, as haughty as she is glamorous, until she too falls in love.

I re-read this book recently and actually I found I enjoyed it more as an adult.

Book review: Halfling by Rebecca Lloyd

Halfling coverDanny Broadaxe is an ordinary 11-year-old boy, but his life is anything but ordinary. Since the death of his mother in a car accident that also put his father in a wheel chair, Danny has been trying to take care of his dad while dealing with his grief on top of the usual trials of school and life.

His story, however, is far from bleak, Rebecca Lloyd’s delicate touch ensures that a genuine love resonates between Danny and his dad, while a thirst for knowledge about the natural world keeps Danny enthralled in the discoveries he makes all around him.

The biggest discovery, however, comes when a neighbour, Mr Seeping, asks him to feed some tropical fish while he’s away.

Gradually Danny realises that he’s not the only person in the shadowy house, and encounters Mr Seeping’s wife Vaquita, dressed permanently in a grey swimsuit and claiming to be a Halfling – part woman, part porpoise. Continue reading