Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Poetry for Fiction Writers


Ask most fiction writers when they last wrote a poem and they'll probably look up from their laptops and shrug. Writing poetry and even reading it isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you're trying to develop a novel. You're far more likely to get into tutorials about plot structure, "sign post outlining", story arcs and plot points.
But it's too easy to get bogged down with all this and forget about the beauty of language and the excitement of risk-taking with vivid imagery and adventurous metaphors and similes. That's what poetry is all about. Maximum impact with minimum words. Reading poetry and experimenting with it yourself can sharpen up your own writing and make it fresh, bold and original again.
I'm not claiming to be a great poet but I've used it in several ways to help me along with novels. It's like giving your story a shot of adrenalin. here are some ways it helps:
It can sharpen up a setting and make the atmosphere more vivid. I wrote this little prose poem when I first started THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER. It really helped me get the feel of the street:
Brick terraced houses wind upwards in two straight rows towards flaming red sky at the pit end of the street. Giant black wheel cranks the winding gear that sends the cages of men underground. Smoke from morning coal fires hangs in a greyish haze while down on the street a ragged toddler pulls up her skirt and tries to piddle against the wall like a boy. Children run barefoot or in dog-eared boots. Splashing through puddles, they follow the clank of the milkman’s cart. Kettles sing and steam on hobs and mantel clocks tick away the hours.  Gossips lean meaty arms over wooden gates to gossip the day away until wet-skin washing flaps itself dry.


It can also help you find the right words to create a mood. Here's one I tried with a thriller I'm currently working on:
Night Images
Night train shuffles in the distance
Orangy black clouds
Trees grouped in threes  threes  threes
Black leaves rustle
like old pennies
Inky water
Smells of bleach and wet skin
Your breath clouds        
Body breaks
Salt sweat        salt sweet
Footprints on damp grass
 You imagine
silhouettes of chimneys
A half-folded umbrella
Splayed ribs
Pale bones
Your hand sticky
with dew
Now I'm not sure how much of this I'll use in the actual novel but some of the images will definitely help to create a particular mood. The thing about poetry is that when you're writing it, you tend to be more adventurous with words, something you forget when you're trying to develop a story. So every now and then it's really helpful to break away from that dialogue and just try to get to those crazy, out of the box images. It'll liven up your writing .
And if you simply want to read or listen to poetry here are some great resources on the web:
Listen to Sylvia Plath reading her poem Daddy. Incredibly powerful!
Or Charles Bukowski reading Bluebird. An amazing reflection on the emotional repression of men!
Or, I challenge you to listen to this poem without tears coming to your eyes - Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines by  Pablo Neruda and read by the gorgeous Andy Garcia. Best love poem ever!

There are so many great readings on YouTube. Forget about dancing dogs and talking kittens and try a few!



Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Afternoon with Margaret Atwood

I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny fall afternoon than revelling in the intelligence and wry wit of one of the greatest literary icons of our time, the great Margaret Atwood, who appeared at McNally Robinson Bookstore yesterday.
This iconic author, recipient of the Booker Prize, the Giller prize, the Arthur C Clarke award and numerous others has been a major influence on my writing career. Books like The Edible Woman, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, the chilling Alias Grace, the groundbreaking Handmaiden's Tale, the brilliant Oryx and Crake helped me to see that a writer shouldn't pigeonhole themselves and that science fiction is probably the most exciting and important genre around today.
A huge crowd turned out to see her and I even overheard a young twentyish woman say, "A bunch of us skipped out of work to see her. She's like the Beyonce of literature!"
Terry McLeod of CBC Radio interviewed her mainly about Maddaddam, the final book in her brilliant sci-fi trilogy. She talked about her love of biology, environmentalism, her fascination with technology and the real science behind her dystopian trilogy. You can access it now on her Flipboard site. When asked what she thought about others comparing her to George Orwell she says she does it all the time and when McLeod made reference to the shocking "language/profanity" in her book she replied that he was only shocked because she wrote it! She confessed to using the Urban Dictionary just to make sure she had the right modern touch.
The afternoon concluded with a book signing and the longest lineup seen in years at the bookstore. I was thrilled to get my book signed and chat for a few short moments with this incredible author.
Ms Atwood was here to see the debut performance of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company's production of The Handmaiden's Tale. You can find her comments about the adaptation right here.
Amanda Green and Alexander Gamayunov in RWB's The Handmaid's Tale. (RWB/Réjean Brandt Photography)


Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Birth of a Story

"What inspired you to write this book?" is probably the most frequent the question an author is asked. And the answer is that inspiration and ideas come from many sources. Ideas and possibilities present themselves daily and many authors record them in a journal for future reference.
I got the idea for THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER when I travelled back to Durham County in the 1980's. I stood at the top of a hill I'd travelled down as a child in my dad's old Commer van and I was struck by the total change in the landscape. What was once a black expanse of slag heaps, heavy machinery tracks and coal mines was now a clean, green valley.
That's when I came up with the character, Rita, an ambitious girl determined to leave the poverty of the  street and find success. She ultimately discovers that she may have travelled far but the place and the people were always with her, drawing her back to face the painful memories she'd tried to leave behind.
At the time I travelled back there in the early 1980's a brand new outdoor museum was expanding its operations at Beamish, County Durham. Beamish is a "living museum"that recreates streets, townsites, mines and farms from the old days of the North East. Visit the "Pit Village" exhibit online and you'll see actual miners' cottages recreated from Francis Street in Hetton-le Hole, a school, a fish and chip shop, a band hall and lots more. Take a look inside the houses and you'll see exactly what Crag Street, the home of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER, was like.

IMPORTANT UPDATE!! On Wednesday October 9th, THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER will be available FREE on Kindle FOR ONE DAY ONLY!!! If you've read the book already and enjoyed it, tell your friends about it. Spread the word!!