A Room of One’s Own? (still working on the £500 a year)

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I’ve spent most of my spare time this past month, including a week’s annual leave, de-cluttering and decorating the bedroom that doubles up as my study. It is very much my room, despite the fact we both sleep in it. One of the things I insisted on when discussing moving in with my partner, now husband, was having four walls I could shut the door on and call my own. A place where I had total control. And we were lucky enough to be able to afford a place where that was possible, both having rooms of our own, that by necessity also function as bedroom/spare room.

Virginia Woolf famously coined the phrase ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as the title of her 1929 book, based on essays delivered to two Cambridge women’s colleges in 1928. Analysing the impediments to women’s success in writing fiction, she states: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ She focuses mainly on the restrictions faced by the ‘daughters of educated men’: deprived of the schooling their brothers enjoyed, locked into stifling domesticity, and unlikely to have access to any space they could completely call their own. Alice Walker, in her 1974 essay In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, highlights Virginia Woolf’s largely middle-class assumptions, asking: ‘what then are we to make of Phillis Wheatley, a slave who owned not even herself?’ Phillis Wheatley was a poet and slave in the 1700s, who, along with many other black, poor, and working class women managing to write against the odds, provides a compelling and humbling example of how we can be a bit up ourselves with needing our perfect space and ambience in order to be able to write.

Let’s face it, writing is the cheapest, most portable of arts, even if you factor in the modern day need for a basic lap-top. And I have generally prioritised getting on with it over fussing with my writing environment. But when I couldn’t reach for a book without spilling a dusty pile of out-of-date papers and the curtains were ripped to shreds, it did feel time to pay my space a bit of attention and make it somewhere pleasant to work.

Virginia Woolf did acknowledge the lost potential of working-class women who may have been writers. ‘Yet a sort of genius must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working class. Now and again an Emily Brontë or a Robert Burns blazes out and proves its presence. …Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.’ Undoubtedly it would have made a difference to Phillis Wheatley et al if they’d had their own space and an independent income.

As to the finance, Virginia Woolf thought £500 a year would be sufficient for a woman writer. In today’s money that equates to about £30,000. Yep, I could jack in the day job for that. In terms of a Universal Basic Income I would settle for less. But I’m not sure I’d be giving up the day job altogether. I like the way a job connects you to the outside world and the people you would never encounter in a writer’s ivory tower. I like that my job is completely unrelated to creative writing. So, while Virginia Woolf is a step in the right direction, there is a danger in perpetuating women writers’ isolation, writing novels about lonely women authors with plummeting confidence issues.

However, when the day job is the only guaranteed income, it’s hard not to let it take over. Full time work means what it says, and it’s the time that I resent; how hard it is to squeeze enough hours and energy for writing; the constant demands of everything else, including this latest project of my room, which of course took far longer than I’d planned.

But I am gratified that during this month I have been increasingly desperate to get back to writing. This pleases me because it shows that I have carved out a space in my head for writing, so that it now feels plain wrong to ignore it for long. It is above all this metaphorical space in our heads that Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own can represent, the claiming of this space from the patriarchy that can still deny us full control of our own creative potential. We know too well that there are still many barriers, by no means all financial, to women claiming this space with confidence and assurance. But I for one am pleased to feel that I’m not giving up as I sit in my lovely new room, making the most of what I have got and pushing on through self-doubt and frequent rejection to keep writing as well as I can.

 

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Here’s Toasting Toasted Cheese

Well excited to be included in the current edition of Toasted Cheese, online literary magazine, with my story THE MIRROR GAME. It’s amazing how different your own work looks in print. And interesting that I could immediately see how I could improve it, after endless drafts. I had the same experience when I read my story DOUBLE TROUBLE on Fictive Dream in April. Interestingly I have only just noticed that both these stories are about twins! DOUBLE TROUBLE is now added to my collection of published stories on this website, in a slightly edited for improvement version (hey, I still have copyright!) And I’m proud today to be featured in Toasted Cheese, a quality online publication, where competition is high.

Life is again asserting its right to take over and I’m having to give attention and time to sorting out my mother’s increasing care needs with progressing Alzheimer’s.  This, on top of 35 hours plus a week in my day job, puts a squeeze on my writing time. But I’ve finished my re-write of RIDING THE HIGH ROAD following feedback from an agent (see my last blog), and have started to send it out again. I lost a few months there, so need to step up the selling process to see if I can secure a proper publishing deal before resorting to self publishing.

My goal this year was to increase time spent in actual creative writing, not allowing novel selling to completely take over. I have done well in the first half of this year, producing new stories and short plays, using competition and submission deadlines as targets, as well as completing the re-write. But for the moment I will acknowledge I haven’t got enough space and time for producing much new stuff, and will focus on the novel selling, while jotting down random thoughts towards very nascent ideas for a possible next novel, or story.

Hey, the sun’s shining, plenty of tennis to watch, and even the World Cup’s proving distracting. Reckon I’ll just give myself a Big Well Done pat on the back and enjoy for now 🙂 XX

Instrumental Rationality

Absolutely fabulous story published on the Fictive Dream website I subscribe to, and have had a story there myself. Instrumental Rationality is the best story I’ve read by a country mile, on this site, or pretty much anywhere for a while. It tackles the themes of memory and sexual abuse with such a subtlety of touch… blew my mind.

Fictive Dream

by Gitanjali Kolanad

Getting old means I no longer inhabit my own memories. I watch them, not from the inside looking out, but from the outside looking in. I can’t tell you exactly when I moved out of my former self, but I can give you an example.

A woman of indeterminate middle age is staring out the long window of a seminar room on the second floor of the Northrop Frye Building. A lecture organized by the Semiotic Circle is about to begin, called ‘Instrumental Rationality – Game Theory Applied to Social Interactions.’ I can see what she sees – the bare branches of trees against the stone of the old Victoria College building behind, and in the distance, skyscrapers and low gray clouds, but I can also see her, black hair turning gray, brown skin almost purple under the eyes. I don’t like the way she dresses –…

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At this rate I’ll catch up with Mary Wesley…

Today I am pleased to report the publication of my short story DOUBLE TROUBLE on the online site Fictive Dream. The first result of my renewed persistence in submitting new work this year. I hope you can take a few minutes to read and enjoy it.

Having made suitably broad writing resolutions at New Year (see my blog Yet More Resolutions), I am quite pleased with my productivity so far. As well as writing and sending off some new and revised stories, I have made forays into script writing with a couple of short plays to submit to Mslexia (who have now included 1000 word scripts for their Showcase writing slots). I have been using competition and submission deadlines to set myself targets, giving me a renewed momentum. And I am starting to feel the liberation after years of slogging away at my novel, allowing myself to explore and develop  and emerging at last from the feeling that I have nothing new to write. Remembering that engaging with the writing process itself can bring inspiration; that the smallest spark of an idea can be shaped and developed simply by sitting down and working at it.

I have also been working through a re-write of my novel RIDING THE HIGH ROAD, following feedback from the agent who took the whole manuscript and said the character voices needed to be made more distinctive.  My initial reaction, apart from obvious disappointment, was that there was no way I was going to revise the novel when she didn’t even ask to see it again. But my writing group persuaded me I have earned this feedback from a literary professional and I should take it on the chin and use it to improve the novel. They were right of course, and now I’m stuck into it I can see what the agent means and am hoping the revision will indeed be an improvement.

And in this week of my 60th birthday, I’ve been inspired by reading author Mary Brown, whose debut novel was published when she was aged 81! I Used To Be tells the story of an isolated old woman destroyed by grief, who find new hope through her encounters with a gang of socially excluded teenage girls. Much more up my street than Mary Wesley (who famously published her first adult novel aged 71), so Mary Brown now ranks high as a role model. It really is never too late, I tell myself, as I push to finish the novel revision.

I’m pausing right now to prepare for my birthday celebrations, but will be back on track in May, which is when I’m told the agents and publishers return to their desks after the London Book Fair extravaganza. Keeping to my resolution to commit time to new writing, as well as trying to find a publisher for the novel.  Hoping to be able to report more successes soon.

 

Yet More Resolutions…

Trying to get myself back into the swing of writing focus for the new year, I came across this blog about making new year’s writing resolutions from Firewords, an online literary magazine I’ve started following.

All too familiar, to me, the setting of writing goals, only to fail to reach them, becoming afraid of targets, then needing them again, re-setting, and sometimes succeeding in keeping some of them.

I spent the last few months of 2017 concentrating on trying to sell my completed novel RIDING THE HIGH ROAD. This has involved endless drafting and redrafting of enquiry letters and synopses of various lengths, researching agents and their client lists, tweaking to meet their requirements. I have also entered several novel competitions and have been researching outlets for some short stories I have in store, ordering back copies and subscribing to e-mags to see where I might fit, before submitting. During this time I have written one new short story – it is easy to let the tasks around selling and submitting take all the time I have for writing.

So in the spirit of New Year, I do feel the need for some fresh resolution after the inevitable December distractions.  And the main one is that I want to commit some time to new writing. Having spent the best part of a decade on one book, I feel a slowly rising excitement that I am now free to explore where I want to go next with my writing. I am resisting launching straight into another novel, though I do have some ideas mulling, as I want to experiment a bit, to explore new subject matters, take more risks and to push at my boundaries. Hoping this will result in being able to place some new stories and further the germination of ideas for the next novel.

It’s hard not to get bogged down in the endless submission round; easy to get dispirited by the polite standard rejections. None of my stories have been accepted, but I have had one positive rejection from an agent (there is such a thing), saying my submission stood out from the pile. Best of all, one agent has asked for the whole novel manuscript and am still waiting to hear back from her. But I need to push on until I get a definite offer, and I plan to start on the small presses, using Mslexia’s excellent Indie Press Guide, as well as submitting to more agents and competitions.

So I’m pleased to discover the urge to keep writing hasn’t been killed by this soulless process, that I can find a new excitement in the idea of pushing it forward, batting back the fears that I have nothing to write about. I am resolved in 2018 not to let the submission work take over completely, and to timetable space in my writing schedule to focus on new creative writing.

And perhaps the advice from Firewords : ‘Accountability – Telling someone about your resolutions can actually make you more likely to stick to them’ will work with this public announcement. As long as it goes with their caveat: ‘Go easy on yourself – Beating yourself up or giving up completely if a goal slips is often easier than persevering and getting back on track. We’re all human, and it helps to remember that fact when we are trying to achieve something that not a lot of people manage.

As for my December distractions, they started with a Christmas card lino cutting workshop where I created this card, inspired by the woodcuts I saw in the Ravilious and Co exhibition in Sheffield. My husband bought me the book for Christmas providing further distraction and desire to take up more lino cutting. But the writing will have to come first!

Xmas 2017

Happy Creative 2018!

The Beginning of The End

I have at last put the finishing touches on my final edit, run the spell-check, and sat back and allowed myself the relief of this achievement. I have been writing RIDING THE HIGH ROAD for about eight years: picking up from a slow start, and then pushing through momentous family crises, to finish the first complete draft in July 2015; the last two years spent re-shaping and editing.

There have been times when I have despaired of ever finishing (see my blog The Loneliness of a Long Distance Novelist).  Would I even have started this novel if I’d know it’d take so long? But my stubborn persistence has at last brought me to this point, if for no other reason than it would seem a waste of so much time and effort not to see this thing through. And I hope that by blogging this process I can inspire other writers who struggle to believe they will ever finish: just keep going, you will get there in the end!

And yes, I know this is not the end. My task now is to set in motion the production line of enquiry letters, synopses and samples to send to possible agents and publishers.  I will be lucky to get away with not having to edit some more, indeed I will welcome any feedback that comes my way.

But for now I will raise a glass, or three, to my achievement before taking on the Big Bad Literary World: crafting delicate morsels to tempt my prey, hoping I’ll land a reasonably sized fish before too long.

Of a growing love affair with Scotland

Just over a week since our annual trip to Scotland: six days of glorious sunshine spent partly on Skye and partly in Gairloch, the place we are thinking of moving to (see my blog Just looking out of the window). It is in this part of the world that much of the action of my novel is set, with Gethin making a spontaneous trip to find his sperm donor father here, and hooking up with Jez on her Harley. Many of our visits have doubled up as research, though I’ve pretty much done all that now. Still, I took photos of the sunset from our campsite, which is where I imagine Gethin, bewildered and alone:

IMG_0637That’s Harris you can see in the distance

I was going to set this novel in 2011, the year the pilot whales were trapped in Durness, but after visiting in 2014, I decided to go for that summer of the build-up to the Independence Referendum. I was struck by the energy of that campaign, the way people talked about it everywhere you went, the young people hungry to find out and argue their way to political awakening. It seemed the perfect metaphor for Gethin’s widening perspective, the idea of hope for shaping a better future, something his generation had never felt before. And how that compares to the disillusion his mother Pat feels after the radical political action of her youth. How he brings back that sense of possibility to her.

Of course things have changed since then. The disadvantage of being a slow writer of fiction set in contemporary times that refuse to stay still! The Yes campaign lost the Indy Ref, and although the momentum for political change stayed strong in Scotland, Brexit and this year’s general election seem to have thrown its direction into doubt. And then there is Jeremy Corbyn, doing for the youth south of the border what the Indy Ref had done for the Scots. Record numbers of young people registering to vote, packing out his rallies and chanting his name at Glastonbury, his campaign endorsed by Grime musicians. And people from my generation feeling for the first time in decades there is something worth getting behind. For all we lost the general election, we gained increased hope in the possibility of change.

But for me there is something about Scotland that is more than just the Indy Ref. It feels so different to the place I used to visit as a child and young adult. The highlands always caught my imagination, but the facilities were severely lacking. Just the odd snotty hotel which might deign to let you into the public bar if you took off your boots. Sparsely populated hamlets and not a vegetable to be found. Now it’s teeming with cafes and shops selling high-end local produce, and the hotel bars are more like pubs. But it’s not just about an easier life for the tourist; there are cafes that are run as social enterprises, employing local people and using the profits to invest in local services. Community centres promoting local bands and artists. An openness to migrants and the benefits they bring to the previously dwindling communities. It feels like a place that is taking matters into its own hands. If only England could follow suit!

Feeling this buzz has turned the Scottish Highlands from a place I loved to visit to a place I want to live. And from first discovering the NW coast in 2007, I knew this had to be where my novel would unfold.

A couple of books from my holiday reading:

Hope and Other Urban Tales  by Laura Hird, whose stories of Scottish low-life revealed a humanity in her dysfunctional, mainly male, characters that I found very humbling.

And I loved Meaghan Delahunt’s To the Island with its tale of an Australian woman’s search for her Greek birth father. A story steeped in the turbulent violence of post-war Greek politics and the effect this has had on the psyche of the people caught up in it. Her description of the father character, imprisoned and tortured by the Junta, and the system of informers that broke the trust within communities and families, makes the Indy Ref an afternoon picnic in terms of political backdrop.

Still, Writers Rule No 1: Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Writers. You will find yourself lacking whether you are or not. And so, after entering another competition, I continue on my M1 journey of the final edit. If it’s Sheffield to London I’m probably just passing Leicester now. And Gethin has reached Scotland, with Jez not far behind.