Friday, January 30, 2009

Automatic Writing

People used to talk about something called 'automatic writing' - a phenomena where someone writes without thinking or being aware of what they are putting down on the page. The theory being that they are channeling the creative work of someone else - a literary or musical genius now dead. Perhaps people still talk about this, I am not sure. Please forgive my ignorance.

There is a strange symmetry between this phenomena and something experienced by many writers - when things are going really well. Somehow a switch clicks inside them and the words start to flow. They don't know exactly where they are coming from. They don't know exactly where the story is going. I have heard several writers talking about this.

I have experienced it myself on a couple of occasions. Right at the beginning of the novel Backlash, I had the sense that the story was being dictated to me. All I was doing was writing it down. Looking back on it afterwards, I could see where several of the scenes that I had written must have come from in my subconscious. But at the time, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

I had a similar experience two days ago when I started to write a new story. Another one? (Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember that I recently started writing a new novel.) Yes, another one. This time a children's story. I sat down to write and a new story started to emerge on the page. My instinct and my experience suggests that when you find yourself riding a wave, the best thing is to stay on it and make the most of the experience. So that is what I have been doing. And it has been FUN.

4,000 words so far and no sign of drying up. It will be interesting to see where it leads.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Narrative Structure - How many Points of View?

Tonight I'm off into Leicester to give the third class in a series of five on "Starting to Write a Novel". The classes are organised by Writing School Leicester, and I am much enjoying them. After half-term, I will be giving another series of classes there, also on novel writing.

I've just finished writing a page of notes on the subjects I hope to cover tonight. And this has got me thinking about narrative structure - particularly about the number of points of view (POV) included in a novel.

The simplest case is a novel with a single POV. This could be a first person story or a third person story. Either way we would see the story through the eyes of one character from start to finish. The second option is a story where we see through more than one character's POV. One chapter might be in one POV the next chapter a different POV, and so on.

Some kinds of thriller would be hard to narrate through a single POV. You might want to swap between a warship in the Atlantic, an agent in Berlin and a military advisor in London, for example. And perhaps many more.

My question is, do we lose anything through swapping POV in this way? If we were to have half a dozen POV characters, would we lose the intimacy offered by a single character, followed through the story from start to finish?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Write-Off semi-final

On Friday evening I travelled up to Chesterfield with 6 other members of Leicester Writers' Club to take part in the semi-finals of the Write-Off competition. A couple of weeks before, we had been given the theme of "The First Time" or "The Last Time" and asked to produce work that we could put together into a half hour performance of readings.

We at LWC had had a great time writing and selecting and even rehearsing. But I had one slight doubt. The point of this endeavour was (in my mind) to give us the chance to meet other writers and build bridges. Would the element of competition be too powerful and cause friction between the groups?

I should not have worried. Our opponents and hosts for the evening, the Moorside Writers, turned out to be very warm and welcoming. They also turned out to be excellent writers and performers of their work. Also present were representatives of other groups in the competition, "Writers in the Peaks" and "Runaway Writers". True, competition was in the air and everyone tried their best. But that was not at the expense of a genuine exchange of inspiration.

I would not have liked to be one of the judges, as both sets of readings were, to my ear, strong. How can you choose between a piece of good poetry and a piece of good prose? It has to come down to personal taste and how one is feeling on the night.

In the end, LWC was lucky enough to get through. Which means I will have a second round of enjoyment when we go to the final.

Here is a comment by fellow LWC member, Siobhan Logan:

Wasn't the Write-off on Friday night fun? Writers from every windswept corner of the Midlands and Peaks converging on the impossibly-named village of Windsick. Lovely to meet Moorside Writers + Writers in the Peaks etc. And a buffet too!

You can find Siobhan's brand new blog at:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oscar Nominations, Gone Fishing and other things

The Oscar nominations were being announced, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for the best short film category. It didn't come. To my distress, only the 10 biggies were announced at the press conference.

Why was I so interested? Because Chris Jones's film 'Gone Fishing' had made its way through to a shortlist of 10 movies, and there was a very real chance it would get a nomination. If you have followed this blog for some time you will know that I had the pleasure of throwing a little cash into that film - along with many other enthusiasts - to help it get made. I say 'pleasure' because that is exactly what it has been. Following the progress of the film all the way from screenplay to the Oscar shortlist has been a thrilling experience. I really hope it gets shown on TV in the UK, because it is a very beautiful film.

So, back to the nominations - I hunted through the Internet, trying to find the long list of nominations, but kept on finding the same top ten biggies repeated again and again. Even the trusty BBC news website didn't have it. I eventually found it on ABC news. Sadly, Gone Fishing was not there.

Two other bits of news. First, I wrote to the Labour Party asking for clarification on the statement made by Graham Stringer MP. Was it Labour Party policy that 'dyslexia does not exist'? Apparently not. If they give me permission to reproduce their statement, I will post it up here. Still waiting for that. No, the simplistic and illogical statement that 'dyslexia does not exist' is an individual opinion. The distress it will have caused to many dyslexics is not the fault of the party, merely this one member of it.

Secondly, I am heading up to Chesterfield tonight to meet some writers and take part in the Write Off competition. Much looking forward to it. I hope to post some more about this tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Anger Management and Blogging

I'm not so angry now. Perhaps writing some of my feelings in the blog helped. And perhaps getting so many kind messages over the last few days also helped.

Among my favourite comments was one from novelist David Hood, who used Graham Stringer's own logic to prove that headaches don't exist either. :-)

Yesterday I had a phone call from a BBC researcher who said "I understand you are angry" and then invited me to air my views on dyslexia. So this morning I headed down to the studio in Leicester and spent an enjoyable quarter of an hour talking on the subject. The producer told me afterwards that the reason they had no opposing voices was that the MP in question was 'too busy' to be interviewed, even on the phone.

The shame is that a perfectly valid debate on the allocation of educational resources has been side-tracked by a prominent person making a factually inaccurate and ill-advised statement. Is it right to give dyslexics extra time in exams? Is it right to give slow readers different teaching if they are diagnosed as dyslexic? These are important questions. But to use as an argument the lie that 'dyslexia doesn't exist' this is at best misguided and at worst unconscionable. That's my opinion, anyway.

(You may be interested to know that blogspot identified 12 spelling errors in the above article and has helpfully corrected them for me.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Graham Stringer MP and the Dyslexia Debate

I've had a stack of e-mails and comments in response to yesterday's posting on this topic. Many thanks to all of you.

Unfortunately, Graham Stringer's ignorance reflects a fairly widespread lack of understanding about dyslexia. Perhaps this stems from the tyranny of the name dys-lexia. It suggests a problem with writing. Thus the MP seems to believe that if people can be taught to read then they are not dyslexic.

Dyslexia got this name because it was through differences in speed of learning to read and write that the condition was first noticed. But this is just one manifestation of a difference in mental processing that causes a wide range of surprising advantages and disadvantages. That is why, when people tell me they are dyslexic, my usual response is to ask them what they are really good at. Dyslexics are well practiced in explaining what they are bad at. The flip-side question is more unusual but, in my opinion, far more interesting.

Where this ill-informed MP is correct is that there does seem to be something of a 'dyslexia industry' offering 'cures' and 'treatments'. I often get adverts and links posted as comments to my blog articles on dyslexia.

There is a lot of dubious pseudoscience connected with this subject on both sides of the argument. The waters are very muddy. It may even be that Mr Stringer and the Synthetic Phonics industry are onto something good in the method they are promoting. Time will tell. But choosing a deliberately narrow definition of dyslexia in order to 'prove' that it does not exist - this is bad thinking and coming from a person in a position of authority, it will cause confusion and distress.

Thinking about the distress of many dyslexics I have met and my own distress as a child, I find myself too angry to continue writing. More another day, when I have cooled down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Graham Stringer, MP and the Dyslexia Debate

Count to ten, Rod. Don't type what you feel after reading about Graham Stringer's outrageous statement on dyslexia.

One, two, three, four...


The man thinks the education budget should be divided up in a different way. Fair enough. But he then advocates a one-size-fits-all approach to the teaching of reading and writing. Synthetic phonics. It will solve all problems and we will have 100% literacy, so he says.

But educational history is littered with debunked one-size-fits-all theories. When I go to a shoe shop for a pair of black lace-ups, I expect them to ask what size my feet are before offering me a pair to try on. Or better still, having them measured. How much more, then, would I hope that our children in schools are being assessed and appropriate educational methods offered to them!

What this MP seems to believe is that if we were to reach 100% literacy then we would have proved that dyslexia does not exist. He does not seem to realise that dyslexia is not a synonym for illiteracy. It is a difference in the hard-wiring of the brain that causes significant differences in ability. Dyslexia confers some advantages and some disadvantages. It is not a disease. It is not 'cured' when a child learns to read.

This is turning into a rant. I must count to ten. I really must.

Five, six, seven... Agggghhhhh!

It's the distress that this statement will cause that annoys me. There are children and adults out there who have always struggled with reading and have just been told that they aren't lazy after all. They don't have to feel the guilt they have been feeling all their lives. It isn't that they are sinful. Other people were just finding it easier. It wasn't that the others were more virtuous or were trying harder. The relief that comes with this knowledge! It is the beginning of healing.

And then they read that Mr Graham Stringer MP in his infinite wisdom has informed the world that there is no such thing as dyslexia. Go back to feeling guilty all you dyslexics. Mr Graham Stringer has spoken.

Count to ten, Rod. Seven, eight, nine, ten.

There. I have counted. But I am still angry. And therefore I must stop.