Tuesday, 21 June 2016

You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover - or can you?

I attended a couple of events at small local literary festival at the weekend and I have to say that the interviews that we listened to were more enlightening, for anyone who has writing ambitions, than those with some of the giants of the literary world that I heard last year in Bath.

I was surprised to hear how much importance is attached to the cover of a book. The successful crime writer  Stephen Booth  revealed this his publisher had set the wheels in motions for the design of a cover for one of his novels on the basis of nothing more than the title, followed by a brief synopsis. This was said in response to a remark from the member of the audience that she only bought a book if she liked the cover, followed by her question about how a cover is chosen. The panel went on to say that an author has very little input. The cover is so important to large retailers and supermarkets that they will refuse to stock a book if they don't like it. One panel member later remarked on a personal case of a cover being redesigned because a particular supermarket chain refused to otherwise take the book.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Clustering to free the imagination

As far as creative writing is concerned, I've been in a dry period for too long (hence the compulsive blogging, which at least maintains the writing habit). Am I suffering from writers' block? Probably. I  suspect that years of activities that rely on left-brain thinking (I was trained as an auditor in a former life and I regularly play chess, bridge, and computerised card games) have stifled my creativity. So I've ditched the card games and prescribed clustering (a technique also used as a team activity in the world of business, where it is sometimes referred to as brain storming)  in the hope that it will be the cure. I'm planning to build a habit of spending ten minutes or so on the technique each morning.

This technique was included in a creative writing module that I studied as part of my OU  literature Degree course. You are probably already familiar with it but if not  - the following has been culled from my course reader:

Clustering -

 A technique developed by Gabrielle Lusser Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way (1983)

Based on the separate functions of the brain's two hemispheres

Aims to bypass the analytical functions of the brain which might initially constrain creative writing

 Clustering helps us to move backwards and forwards between different areas of the brain as needed. It suppresses the analytical mode that we often go into when we begin to start thinking about writing something. It is more like drawing or sketching than writing and helps us to begin writing more easily and coherently.

How to do it -

This is a fast exercise. Spend no more than 3 minutes on a cluster

Take a blank sheet of  paper and choose a word or phrase connected with what you want to write about

Write this word or phrase in the centre of the page and circle it

Write down every connection that comes into your head

The words or phrases that you write should fan out from the initial circle like a branch 

Don't worry about being neat. Here's a sample cluster (not written by me!)


Once you have drawn a cluster the idea is that you look for things in it that you find particularly interesting and use them as the basis for free writing exercises, which will further release the creative imagination.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Who Do You Read? And Who Do You Write Like?

It's fun to analyze my writing on the iwl.me website - but I'm uncertain about how accurate is the analysis.

I have now copied and pasted four separate pieces of my writing into the window and come up with three different writers. Twice I have been informed that I write like David Foster Wallace. I won't lie - I had never heard of him. So,naturally, I read his bio on Wikipedia. It was pretty impressive so I ordered a couple of his books from the library. I am now a few pages into Girl With Curious Hair and frankly - I hate it.

So I then input a section the autobiography that I am ghost-writing - my father's life up the end of WW2. The result? I write like George Orwell. Perhaps a bit closer to my style than DFL. I like to think so.

A Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

I'm a fan of Mr McEwan's writing and this latest offering didn't disappoint. Set in 1970s England, a girl fresh out of Cambridge with a Maths degree is recruited to a junior post in MI5. She is tasked with recruiting an author whose writing, it is felt, will help to promote anti-communist propaganda. The plot turns into a love story with a surprising twist at the end. If you are a writer you might find, as an interesting bonus, an insight into a creative writers' thought processes amongst the pages. If you haven't yet read Ian McEwan's books I recommend his Booker Prize -winning Abandonment (made into the film starring Keira Knightley); Amsterdam; and The Children Act.