Monday, September 29, 2008

Time Muddle

Read down a dyslexic self-diagnosis checklist and you will probably find this question "Do you mix up dates and miss appointments?" A 'yes' answer is a clue that, when added to others, might indicate you should get yourself tested for dyslexia.

As a dyslexic, do I mix up dates? Yes. All the time. I have even turned up for appointments a week early. But I don't usually miss them. I am far too anxious about letting people down for that to happen. I just worry about them a lot.

But I have just realised that this most distressing thing has happened. I let some people down this weekend.

At what point does saying 'I'm sorry I made that mistake, but I'm dyslexic" become an excuse for sloppy organisation? That's what I'm asking myself this morning. On the other hand, what purpose does a black cloud of self-condemnation serve? And more to the point, how do I dispel it?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Ealing Studios experience

To be in the place where The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets were made! Wonderful. Even though it was the weekend, filming was taking place. I heard a rumour that Johnny Depp was there, but didn't see him. I did see people walking about dressed in Victorian costume. Rich and poor. Grubby and clean. An image etched on my mind is that of a decrepit looking man in a heavily patched Victorian coat and hat, with a long grubby-looking beard, sitting on a sofa in the sunshine, speaking into his I-Phone.

If you want to see what I was doing at Ealing Studios, have a look at Chris Jones's blog. I'll write more about it in future postings.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Narrative fiction and human nature

I'm just about to zip down to the train station. Only time today to leave you with a quotation from Ursula K. LeGuin:

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."

I love this quote. Buried in it there is a secret about what it is to be human.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Big Smoke

Tomorrow I am heading down to London for a visit to Ealing Studios and, more specifically, Living Spirit Pictures. I'll be meeting Chris Jones, director of Gone Fishing, among other films, and co-author of the Guerrilla Film Makers' Handbook.

Ever since I got hold of a copy of the Guerrilla Filmmakers Handbook, I've been fascinated by Chris's career. It seemed to me that he was thinking outside the conventional and choosing his path to fit himself rather than forcing himself to follow the usual path.

Anyone who knows me will understand how closely that philosophy matches my own. As a dyslexic, I've found this to be a liberating approach. When I first met Chris, a couple of years ago, I was interested to learn that he too is dyslexic. Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise.

Chris's excellent blog is here

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Author Intrusion - what is it?

What is 'Author Intrusion'? A couple of people have asked me, so it seems time to tackle the question.

Imagine a reader, sitting on a bus, nose buried in a novel. There's a magic in good story telling. It has the power to take that reader away from the place she is sitting. She is no longer commuting to work. She is in Africa. Or America. Or the future. Or wherever the story is set. The bus, the seat, even the words printed on the page dissolve and she sees, with her mind's eye, the events of the story unfolding before her.

It is a trance-like state. It is one of the hallmarks of good story telling. It is also one of my goals as a writer. But the spell will be broken the moment the reader becomes aware of the presence of a writer who does not belong in the story. This is what I understand by 'author intrusion'.

There are many ways in which an author can intrude. For example, the narrative informing the reader of information not known to the point-of-view character. Or the inclusion of words and images that have no place in the world of that story. Or when the writer tries to be too clever with elaborate stylistic flourishes.

My general advice is to avoid author intrusion. But there are no rules in creative writing and there will be cases where it works well.

If you haven't already seen it, make a point of watching the movie 'Stranger Than Fiction'. It is a story about stories. It contains a line which is an example of one of the best known forms of author intrusion.

"Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act, would result in his imminent death."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dyslexia Benefits Writing

A couple of days ago, I mentioned three things going on in my life as a writer. One thing that has happened, one that is happening and one that might happen. But my fiction-writer's instinct held me back from telling you what they actually were. Sorry about that.

So here is the middle of the three - the thing that is happening. I am in the process of writing a book about dyslexia.

Having searched the shelves for information on the subject, I've found titles on 'beating dyslexia' on 'overcoming dyslexia' even on 'curing' it. The books may be excellent, but the titles don't make much sense to me.

Dyslexia isn't a disease. It is a pattern of brain hard-wiring that confers a mixture of problems and benefits. I spent many years trying to 'beat' my dyslexia, trying to look less dyslexic. But pretending to be what you are not is a recipe for stress. What I really want is to enjoy being what I am. To do things that use my dyslexic-wired brain to its best advantage. That is the road I've been on for the last 10 years. And that is the subject of my book.

I'm 30,000 words into it now - though I feel sure I will need to edit those back by about a third. I don't know how long the finished thing will be. Perhaps 40,000. A slim volume. But shorter is probably better for most of my intended readership.

In these days of word processors, dyslexia doesn't have to me much of a disadvantage to the writer. But could it be an advantage? I think so. It has the potential to give the writer a different take on the world. It can make the writer's voice sound distinctive and original.

Everyone has the potential to develop their distinctive talents and faculties - whether they are dyslexic or not. To borrow a metaphor from the writings of Baha'u'llah, these qualities are like buried gemstones. The trick is to figure out what they are and to work at mining them out.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What is the best time of day to Write

I'm not a morning person. Not by preference. But my daughter is now in a new school and has to get up much earlier, so the timetable of the whole household has shifted. The result is that I am up and ready to write by 8.15am.

This brings me to ask: when is the best time of day to write? Over the years of being a writer, I have got into the habit of starting at 9am and writing through to mid day, then doing other tasks in the afternoon. This pattern seems to work for me. Perhaps the mind is fresher in the morning. But my feeling is that we can write and be creative at any time of day - so long as we train ourselves to do so.

My advice: set up a routine and keep to it. Perhaps you are able to give 20 minutes a day to writing. Perhaps you can give several hours. Whatever your timetable, if it is regular, your brain will learn to click into action. Even if you don't feel creative when you pick up your pen or power up your computer, the words will be there as soon as you start to write.

The one time of day I try not to write is in the late evening - because when I do that, I can't turn off afterwards and the result is a sleepless night.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In the Ear of the beholder

Here is a confession: when I write, I speak the words out loud. Yes, I'm the guy who moves his lips when he reads. And when he writes.

Then, when I've finished a chapter, I read it through out loud again. This is part of my editing process. I'm looking for rhythms and patterns of sound that don't work. By the time a bit of writing is finished I will have read it many times in this way.

I relate to stories through sound. I hear them in my head. I speak them. I note them down. They are sold as written things. But their true home is in sounds.

Which is why I am so excited today. Because my novella THE MENTALIST is coming out as an audio book. I can't wait to hear it.

What about pictures? People have sometimes been kind enough to describe my writing as filmic. Do I see the story unfolding in my mind's eye, as well as hearing it with my mind's ear? I'll have to leave that for another blog post, as there isn't a simple answer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Baha'i blogging workshop

To judge by this blog, I seem to have gone into deep hibernation for the last few months. But it is time to lumber out of my cave, stretch my blogging muscles, give a bear-like growl and get on with it.

The reason for my long silence... I haven't actually been sleeping in a cave. Some exciting stuff has been going on in my life as a writer. Suffice it to say there have been some interesting developments. One thing that has happened. One that is happening and one that might (fingers crossed) be about to happen. I'll say more in future posts.

How come I have chosen this moment to get back to Blogger? Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend a very interesting workshop on blogging, put on by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the UK. It was inspiring. And so... inspired with enthusiasm (if not ability) I am back.

Many thanks to Barney and Rob, who led the workshop. Bloggers par excellence.