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Posted on 03 December 2018 10:33

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fandom. There’s a musical playing at The Playground Theatre at the moment, called Fanatical: The Sci-Fi Convention Musical, which I have already seen twice and will be seeing twice more before it closes on Saturday. It’s about a fan convention for a fictional sci-fi TV show, and it celebrates all aspects of being a fan, not least the creation of fan art and fanfiction.


The song I relate to most is “Hey, Look What I Made”, in which one of the fans says her dad calls her fanart “talent gone to waste”, which is a reaction I have also had towards my fanfiction. But I very firmly believe that fanfiction got me where I am today - nearly twenty original short stories published, and a novel out for consideration by several small presses.


I went to my first fan convention in January 2001, at a time in my life when I had lost all confidence in my writing and in myself.  I suffered from mild depression throughout my university years, during which time I was in a relationship with another writer. I felt as if his talent was so far above mine as to swallow mine whole, and I stopped writing altogether towards the end of our time together.  I should say that this was not in any way his fault, and he would be horrified to learn of it, but that’s what was going on in my head at the time.


Whilst queueing to get into the convention, I inserted myself into the conversation of the two people in front of me, and a wonderful new phase of my life began.  They were both fanfiction writers, and they introduced me to a whole online world I had previously been unaware of. Here, I discovered like-minded fans of all the films and shows and books I myself loved, who were creating new stories within those worlds for others to enjoy.


Fanfiction is often derided, and it’s true that there is a lot of awful stuff out there.  But isn’t that true of most things, including published original fiction? There’s also a tremendous amount of truly amazing fanfiction, if you know where to look for it, and even the dreadful stuff serves an important purpose.


Fanfiction gives the writer an established setting and familiar characters in which to explore their deepest and most outrageous desires, to experiment with their writing, and to gain much-coveted feedback from readers.  I am certain there are many more traditionally published authors who cut their teeth on fanfiction than would be prepared to admit it.


Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey may have produced a somewhat warped view of fanfiction in the mainstream consciousness - but a more recent TV show, Dickensian, shows fanfiction at its very best, in my opinion.  A mash-up of Dickens’ most colourful characters proved truly delightful, and I’ve used it many times since as an example of how fanfiction can be both wildly inventive and simultaneously respectful to its source material.


For me, fanfiction provided a safe space in which to find my creativity again, where I could post my stories and get instant feedback from a friendly and supportive group of readers. It gave me ten years of writing practice before I started trying to write my own stuff, and I know my writing benefited hugely from that. Even though I am primarily working on original projects now, there are two fanfiction events I still take part in, and thoroughly enjoy, every year, and I don’t intend to give them up any time soon.


I completely understand the attitude of writers who do not wish their creations to be warped out of all recognition in the hands of depraved fanfiction amateurs.  However, it seems clear there is little they can do to stop it, and I think they might be better served by embracing the phenomenon than by attempting to quash it.  I, for one, would count it one of my highest achievements as a writer for there to be fanfiction based on my original work posted on the internet. This is because fanfiction comes from a place of passion and enthusiasm, and is a mark of great love for the work it’s based upon.  I can only dream of having fans dedicated enough to spend their time dreaming up new scenarios for my characters, and new stories for my worlds.


I will never forget the joy and confidence fanfiction has inspired in me, and I will never be ashamed to admit that I am a fanfiction writer.


Posted on 02 December 2018 10:34


I’m keeping up my writing days, so I’m on track to double my GYWO pledge level for the year, but none of my sessions this week were particularly long or massively productive. It’s all about finding a balance between quality and quantity, productivity and relaxation.



I met Hannah after work for a brief writing session in which I wrote a review, did a first draft for my second Dream Foundry article and reviewed some of my Scribophile critiques for the Submittable story.



I finished a book and wrote a review of it.



I watched a film and wrote a review of it.

I also submitted first drafts of my Dream Foundry articles, as well as the Submittable story for its competition, and a couple of other submissions. Then I helped Bear with his post about our recent trip to Iceland.



I took at look at my assigned article for this month’s GYWO discussion and pulled out five sets of notes on the relevant subject, ready to amalgamate them into one piece later on.



I put the various articles I had identified into one document and edited it accordingly to create a coherent discussion post for GYWO.


Posted on 25 November 2018 21:08



One really good, productive session, and lot of little bits throughout the week.




I met Ann at Good & Proper with a resolution that I would write at least one paragraph for each of the three main fiction projects on my list at the moment (with the hope that one paragraph would lead to more).


But I started off with an email to the content editor of a new genre writing website, which Ann had pointed me towards. They are looking for articles and reviews for their upcoming weekly blog and it seemed like a good opportunity to get in at the start as a potentially regular contributor.


Then I went back to the Submittable competition to try and get the first draft done if I could. Which it turns out I could. The story arc I had in mind fit pretty much exactly into the 50 paragraph requirement and I was very happy with how it went overall. I posted it on Scribophile for critiques, since there were still ten days to go before the deadline.


I did a couple of Scribophile critiques to build my points back up and also bring my story closer to the spotlight.


I also did manage to write at least a bit of both Colours and Ritual, in order to fulfil my resolution for the day.




Work trip to Chester provided a couple of decent train journeys.


The content editor at Dream Foundry came back to me with a couple of commissions of articles, so I had a look through my saved selection to see what I could rewrite to her specification and put together a first draft for one.


I also did a few more Scribophile critiques to get my story closer to the spotlight and also build my points back up again for the next time I want to post there.




I went through several critiques of my Submittable story, which all had useful suggestions for improvements but also all said they really enjoyed it, which was nice.




I wrote a review of a book I finished earlier in the day.




I once again finished a book and wrote a review of it.


Posted on 18 November 2018 22:03


A good amount of stuff achieved, and finally some fiction!



I helped Bear post about our most recent reading retreat.



I wrote reviews of all the books I read while on retreat.



I took the opportunity of a long gap between appointments in town to settle myself at the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove, to try and get some writing done.

I posted my recent blog post on Writing the Other to the GYWO discussion forum.

Then I went back to the requirements for the Submittable competition and started to write my entry. As usual, once I finally got going, the words flowed quickly and I got over 1200 down in one sitting.

I read a bit of Word Painting to finish off my session.



I wrote my monthly discussion post for GYWO.



I caught up on my reviews.

I also submitted a few pieces for potential publication.


Posted on 12 November 2018 23:33


Still no actual fiction writing again this week - the fiction crew are definitely on shore leave at the moment, leaving the nonfiction crew to stoke the boilers on their own.



I had a leisurely morning and then took myself off to Good and Proper with the intention of working hard until closing time.

I started by reviewing the new board games I played over the weekend, then wrote a blog post about an amusing publication acceptance I received over the weekend. Then I drafted a new article for the first Etre prompt from the notes I'd made the day before.

Submittable sent me an alert about a really interesting competition, so I added it to my submissions spreadsheet and made some notes for a possible entry.



I completed some submissions.



I wrote a review of the most recent book I read.



I thought some more about the Submittable story and added to my notes.



Posted on 05 November 2018 14:47

One of the most important pieces of advice for writers submitting their work for publication is - read the guidelines really carefully and follow them to the letter. It may seem petty and unfair to be penalised for using the wrong font or being a few words outside the word limit. But the quickest way to get rejected is to fail to follow the guidelines, as this gives the editor a very easy way to whittle down what might be an impractically large submission pile.


Up until this past weekend, I thought I had always been ultra careful in paying attention to the guidelines and making sure my submissions fit the bill. It’s very tedious reformatting pieces and preparing the relevant accompaniments, and it takes an inordinate amount of time, but I’ve always figured it’s the price I have to pay for my reasonably high acceptance rate.


Six months ago, I sent in one of my best pieces for an anthology that seemed like a really good fit. The response time quoted on the website went past and I’d heard nothing. I waited a few more weeks in case they were behind in letting authors know about selections, but still nothing. Eventually, I marked it off on my submission spreadsheet as a rejection and sent the piece somewhere else.


Yesterday, I woke up to the following email regarding the original submission:


“This is a beautiful piece.  I dearly loved it. I was re-reading it and preparing to send you a rejection.  However, I just can’t. So if you are up for it, I think this is a strong story.
That said, due to length, I’ll offer you the option of 2 cents a word and a share in the anthology  or an outright $25. Your call. Beautiful work.”


I experienced several emotions upon reading this. Joy and excitement at the prospect of seeing my story in print. Annoyance and guilt that I would have to contact the other publisher to remove the piece from consideration. Confusion and bewilderment at the reference to potential rejection, the length of the story and what was presumably a reduction in the offered pay.


I checked my submission spreadsheet and saw that the requested word count for this submission was “300-5,000 words”. At 650 words, my story is certainly short, but I was confused as to why it wouldn’t get the same pay as any other submission, because it was still within the word count window.


I was telling a friend about this over breakfast and he suggested that perhaps I had made a typo when adding the submission opportunity to my spreadsheet, and that it was likely the required word count was actually “3,000-5,000 words”. And then it all made sense!


The agonising of the editor over a piece he professedly loved. The mention of the length. The offer of a lot less remuneration than had been advertised. It’s no wonder the poor guy was torn, since I had sent in a story that was a good 1500 words too short, based on those all-important guidelines! What an idiot!


But, in this instance, I’ve really lucked out because of my mistake. Because I dearly love this story too, and it suits the anthology it’s going to be printed in so well.

So, the moral of this story is - don’t follow the submission guidelines and it may work out in your favour? I’m not sure I can endorse that message, as editors all over the world would hate me for it, and I’m pretty sure that 999 times out of 1000, it’ll land you straight in the rejection pile regardless of how good your writing is.


But, maybe an honest mistake occasionally deserves to have good consequences. I can certainly live with that.


And besides, as Captain Barbossa says, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Right?


Posted on 04 November 2018 22:02


The fiction crew are still on shore leave, it seems, but the non-fiction crew are picking up the slack.



I met Ann at Good and Proper for our second writing date without Baby R since he was born.

I started with of a review of the film I’d seen the day before, then went on to do some moving around of information, reading of writing resources and typing up of notes.

I tried to get into the right frame of mind for continuing with either Colours or the short story I want to finally write (hereafter referred to as Ritual) but I just couldn’t do it. I reread the notes for both again, to keep them ticking over in my head.

Then I went back to reading Word Painting.



I wrote a review of the play we went to see the night before.



I wrote a review of a book that arrived in the post the day before.



I tracked my current submissions, figured out new places to send pieces that were unassigned, and went through Writing Magazine to identify upcoming submission opportunities. I also discovered that I had been chosen as the Star Letter in Writing Magazine this month, which was a nice surprise on my birthday!



I came up with a new idea for an Etre article, based on feedback from my editor on the other pieces I submitted. So I wrote some notes.

I also got an anthology acceptance for a short piece I love but which has been rejected multiple times, so that was very gratifying, especially as it turned out I had accidentally not followed the submission guidelines!


Posted on 28 October 2018 12:31


After nothing at all last week, I worked on writing projects to at least some degree every day this week. Not much progress on the fiction front, but lots of nonfiction stuff, some cogitation on fiction stuff, and plenty of sending my darlings out into the world to be judged.



Last day of holiday before going back to work, so I had a relaxing morning, then headed to Picturehouse Central for the afternoon.

I typed up all my notes from Writing the Other, and did at tarot reading for a short story whose deadline was fast approaching. I then went through my current notebook and typed up all the remaining notes.



I wrote a review.



I met up with Hannah after work and went through my notes on Colours, trying to get it back in my head and make a start on a potential plan for moving forwards with it.



With the whole day ahead of me, I took myself off to Good and Proper for the first time in months to try and focus on getting some writing done.

I started simple with this month’s GYWO discussion post (about plot vs character driven stories) and a blog post about writing characters who are different from you.

There wasn’t anything imminent on the rolling submissions spreadsheet, so I decided to go back to the notes for a short story I first came up with some years ago but had never actually got round to writing. I read through everything, reminded myself of the idea and thought about how approach writing it.

I also read some of Word Painting and made notes.

In the evening, I went to Write and a Pint, a two-hour workshop which involved a series of writing exercises designed to create the idea for a new story, draft about 1000 words and plan out the rest. It was really good fun. I’m not sure I’m going to pursue the story I came up with, but it was good to get some words on the page.



I wrote a review about yesterday's movie going experience.



I wrote a review of the previous night’s gig.



I reviewed my most recent audiobook.

I helped Bear post the second in his Moroccan series.

I did a whole load of submissions for competitions and publication opportunities.


Posted on 25 October 2018 10:34

I recently read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which is designed to help writers approach and navigate the potential pitfalls of writing characters who are very different from themselves. I would highly recommend reading this book to all writers, but below is a distillation of the most important lessons I learned from it.


People are scared of writing characters who are different to themselves, in case they ‘get it wrong’ and are criticised. But every character you write will be different to you in some ways, so you shouldn’t be scared of writing characters who are very different.


It’s okay to make mistakes:

  • everybody does it

  • you can learn and do better next time

  • even if you get everything right, some people will still find fault with your writing

  • that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try

Difference is not monolithic. Not all people in a particular category will have the same experience or the same attitudes. You should always make your characters individuals, not representatives of their group as a whole.


Various group memberships can influence behaviour. But none of these categories’ traits need have a constant, overriding influence on your character:

  • my age influences my actions and attitudes on occasion, but I don’t spend all my time thinking about my age

  • characteristics will influence a character, but don’t have to be at the forefront all the time


  • when writing characters who are significantly different from you and possibly also your readers, give them some characteristics (habits, feelings, experiences) that are easy to relate to for lots of people

  • build potential connections between your characters and your readers

  • highlight possible similarities as well as probable differences

  • also draw out connections / similarities between characters who also have obvious differences - show their common humanity

Secondary characters usually only have one main character trait:

  • but they shouldn’t be that one trait exclusively

  • don’t have all their illustrated traits be indicative of that one characteristic or group, especially if they are stereotypes

  • making secondary characters unusual but believable makes them much more interesting

Unintended associations and resonances:

  • readers will bring their own interpretations to your writing and this can be good when they imbue it with clever meaning you didn’t know was there - but it can be bad when they make associations you didn’t intend in problematic ways

  • you can’t control what associations readers will bring to your writing, but you can educate yourself to be aware of possible and unintended interpretations, so you can avoid them or prepare for them or disarm them

  • getting a variety of people to read your work before publication is a good way to discover what unintended meaning your writing might evoke - especially sensitivity readers

  • but you have to be prepared to make mistakes, have them pointed out to you, learn from them and do better next time

  • reflect appropriate levels of diversity to fit your setting - no point peopling a story with wildly diverse characters in a real-world setting where that level of diversity doesn’t exist

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • good (white, straight, Christian analogues) vs evil (different to that) - fantasy tropes of all of a different race being evil or stupid or greedy, etc

  • presenting a minority issue (eg slavery) only in terms of how it affects characters from the majority - you can show that as long as you also show how it affects those most impacted

  • straight white male protagonist with a very different sidekick who only exists to make him look good - or including only a few different characters in bit roles, or in more significant roles but who are all killed off

  • having all layered and complex characters but all the ‘different’ ones are victimised in some way or are criminals

  • white saviour

  • fetishising otherness - beautiful Asian love object, noble savage, no gradation of character

  • disrespectful dialect - use of dialect is generally a bad idea, unless you can do it very accurately but without making it hard work for the reader

  • portraying a victim as incredibly saintly in order to make the crime or oppression even more reprehensible - creating a one-dimensional good character is just as much a problem as a bad one - it actually makes for a more nuanced story is a victim has flaws or isn’t entirely in the right (bad acts should still be bad, regardless of who they are committed against)

Being aware of the pitfalls is a very big step towards being able to avoid them, and fearing them shouldn’t stop you from going down the road towards diversity.


The old adage is that you should write what you know. But that doesn’t mean you should restrict yourself only to your own experience. What it means is that you should become knowledgeable about other experiences, and then write them.





Posted on 07 October 2018 19:29


Some good progress and a couple of decent sessions, with lots of planning. So, everything still ticking over.



I formatted and sent over four different pieces for the first Etre prompt. They’re looking for short stories, non-fiction essays, poetry and short lyrical pieces, so I sent one of each to see what kind of feedback I get. Teacher’s pet, me? Have we met?



I managed to meet Hannah after work for a now quite rare writing session. I started off by looking through my submissions spreadsheet and working out what I particularly wanted to work on over the next few months. I sometimes feel as if I don’t allow myself enough time to write submission pieces, so I’m trying to look further ahead and start work on ones that have a later deadline, rather than trying to cram in as many as possible.

I made a random start to a random story, with absolutely no idea where it was headed, which was what I always used to do with my writing. But I’ve got better at planning in recent years, so this approach is now quite unusual.

I then brainstormed some ideas for a few things, with a plan to develop them further tomorrow.



After agreeing with Geena that we wouldn’t meet up today, we ran into each other at Picturehouse Central, which shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I wrote and submitted an entry for this week’s Hour of Writes prompt, and then did a 250 word flash fiction for a competition.

Then I gave up on active creativity and started reading Word Painting, a book that’s been on my shelf for ages, but I thought might be a good thing to look at for upcoming Etre prompts.


Posted on 30 September 2018 18:12


All I needed were a couple of decent stretches of scheduled writing time and look at all the things I achieved!



I went to a Write For Your Life session after work, which was fun. I think I prefer the more creative side of No Grammar Required, but I’ll happily go to this version instead if it’s what’s available.



I made a few notes for a story.



I headed to Picturehouse Central mid-morning and settled in the cafe for a bit to work on reviews and start on my new story. I typed up my first two pieces for the first Etre prompt, ready to send to my editor.

I read some more of Writing the Other over lunch, then went back to my new story. I finished a first draft, which was hugely pleasing since the deadline for submission is Sunday. It was also very satisfying to complete something new, as I haven’t manage to do that for a few weeks, other than very short pieces.

I finished up by doing some research and a tarot reading for more possible pieces for the first Etre prompt.



I finished reading Writing the Other, which is an excellent book and highly recommended to all writers.



I helped Bear post the second half of his account of our Scottish Highlands trip, and did some sorting out of my writing projects.



Back to Picturehouse Central with Geena for a free screening, followed by a writing session in the members’ bar - I love everything about this place!

First of all I edited the new story (based on comments from Dave and my dad).

I caught up on some reviews, then made a first stab at a non-fiction essay in response to the first Etre prompt.

I submitted a few stories whose deadlines were today.


Posted on 23 September 2018 15:53


Trips away usually result in a lack of writing productivity, unless they are writing retreats, so very little work done this week. Big plans for the next couple of weeks, though!



I brainstormed a story for an upcoming submission opportunity and came up with the first inkling of a workable plot.



I wrote some notes on my story idea and developed it into a proper plan.



I submitted a couple of stories for publication.


Posted on 16 September 2018 20:36


One decent writing session planned and executed, but I still don’t feel like I’ve got back into the swing of things properly yet.



I wrote a review.



I took the opportunity of a gap between work and going to the theatre to sit in a cafe, drink tea and write a blog post about my most recent publication success.



I used my second Thursday off work to meet Geena for a writing date before a theatre trip in the evening.

I started off by researching and drafting my September GYWO discussion post, ready for its upcoming deadline. Then I wrote an entry for this week’s Hour of Writes prompt. I also read some more of Writing the Other, and then brainstormed a new story idea for an upcoming anthology submission.



I caught up on some reviews.



I identified new submission opportunities for a couple of rejected pieces of flash fiction, and I attended the first workshop with the Etre creative team to work on the first issue of the print magazine.


Posted on 12 September 2018 16:30

This month, I’ve had a very good reminder of the value of submitting work for publication.


There was an anthology I was very interested in subitting for, and I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a short story, which might fit what they were looking for. I brainstormed the story early in July, then wrote the whole thing while on retreat at the start of August.


Then I posted it for critiques and received my requisite three responses. As usual when I request critiques, the reaction to my story was varied.


One reviewer loved it but had a few suggestions for tightening up the language and making the plot a bit clearer. I took these suggestions with gratitude and make the required changes to the story.


One reviewer didn’t understand the story at all. They asked a lot of questions about what was going on, and suggested it needed a lot more clarity in terms of what all the characters looked like, where exactly they were and how the various aspects of the story connected together. In this particular story, I was being deliberately vague in certain respects, wanting the reader to put their own interpretation on events. When I do that, I often get critiques where that approach doesn’t work for a review, and that’s fine. Not everyone is going to appreciate my style.


The third reviewer caused me to think I might have to do a complete rewrite. They liked the idea and praised the writing in general, but said they thought it needed a lot of work, because there were no real obstacles for the protagonist and it all worked out way too easily.


Now, I have to admit I had thought that might be a problem myself when I wrote the first draft. The arc of the story was very clear in my head, but the details were not and when I wrote it, I did feel it was perhaps a bit too light on conflict. But I persuaded myself that the lack of obstacles actually served the message. I decided the story was about a situation where the only barriers to finding out the truth were in the protagonist’s mind. So, once he started asking questions about his situation, all doors were open to him.


I don’t know if my subconscious planned that to be the case, or if my brain just took the easy way out when I was writing. But that was the story I had, and there wasn’t time before the anthology deadline for me to rewrite it completely.


I decided to submit anyway - because, why not?


I didn’t have anything else to submit for the anthology, and I could always add the story to my revision folder and rewrite it for a different submission at a later date, if it was unsuccessful.


Then, last week, I got an email from the anthology editor, saying:


“We are delighted to inform you that your piece has been chosen for inclusion in the book….

We are so excited about the material we've collected for this book, not the least being your piece, and we can't wait for you to read it and share it!”




Regardless of whether or not my intentions for the message of the story were conscious or not, the editor of this anthology clearly thinks it works and is worth publishing. And I can’t wait for that story to see the light of day, because I really like it and I’m pleased it has found a home with people who appreciate it.


So, today’s lesson is: if you have a deadline looming and you would be happy for your submission piece to be published in the state it’s in, even if it might be improved by more work at a later date - submit it! There’s no harm in sending it in, and it might even be accepted.

Posted on 09 September 2018 08:46


Little bits here and there build up to multiple days of writing activity across the week, though no major writing sessions undertaken. It’s good to keep my hand in, but I’d like to get back to a more rigorous schedule.



I combined a GYWO challenge involving telling a story from a list of random words, with an unexpected Hour of Writes prompt, to produce a strange little piece that could be entered for both.



I did my Hour of Writes marking.



I helped Bear post his account of our trip to the Uffington White Horse.

I also entered this week’s Hour of Writes competition and added new submission opportunities from Writing Magazine to my rolling spreadsheet.



I got an email telling me that the Celestial Intern story has been accepted for publication in the anthology it was written for, which was a lovely end to the evening.



I wrote many reviews and also made several submissions to magazines and anthologies.



I did my Hour of Writes marking, wrote a review of a game, and read some of Write the Other.


Posted on 03 September 2018 08:27


NAWG-Fest was over in a flash but well worth attending. Great workshops, opportunities to catch up with good friends, and generally a good time all round.



I wrote a brief review of a film.



Despite an annoying cold, I went to meet Hannah after work and finished the Great Artisan Comma Deletion!



I prepared the new comma-light Artisan manuscript and sent it off to the publisher - eek!



Off to NAWG-Fest for the weekend!

On the train, I wrote a new piece for the first Etre prompt, then visited the site to read some recent entries in an attempt to familiarise myself with what they actually like.



Workshops with Ken Macleod.

I submitted a 100-word story to the mini-tale competition.

I also caught up with awesome writer friends and performed in a special edition of Eastpointers



More workshops with Ken Macleod, in which I developed an idea for a story, which he thinks might make a good novel. I’m going to try it as a short story first, as that will be much less complicated.


Posted on 27 August 2018 08:10


Good use of planned time with other people to find extra time to work on writing projects.



A truncated writing session with Ann today, but I still managed to get my scheduled three Artisan chapters done, plus an extra one.



The rest of the week got away from me, so I headed into town early for my writing day with Geena and got back to work on Artisan. I did five chapters in a row, then read some of Bird by Bird for a break.

We met some other writers in Natural Cafe in Kentish Town and had a bit of a chat with them.

Then I worked on the first prompt for the literary journal I’m working for, then caught up on some reviews. I finished reading Bird by Bird on the way home.



I submitted Celestial Intern.

Then I went into town mid-afternoon and carried on with Artisan for a bit - the end was definitely in sight!

I typed up a piece of flash fiction, ready for submission, wrote a review of Bird by Bird, then started reading Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.


Posted on 19 August 2018 14:36



So many commas deleted, plus more improvements made to the novel. Lots of good sessions this week. It feels like I’m making progress.




First full writing day for a while. It took me some time to get settled and focused, then I tackled another Artisan chapter before Ann joined me.


I wrote up reviews of the new games I played at Handycon over the weekend, then went back to do another chapter of Artisan.


To get my more actively creative juices flowing, I worked on a prose poem for an upcoming submission deadline and edited another one down to the required length.


Then it was back to Artisan for another chapter.


I read a bit of Bird by Bird, then took a stab at a blog post, using the notes I made on the article Dave sent me.


To finish up my uber writing day, I went to No Grammar Required and had lots of fun freewriting with Claire and Rachel.




I trekked to Vauxhall to meet Hannah after work and managed another two Artisan chapters before she arrived. I spotted some continuity errors as well as identifying extraneous commas, which was very useful.


Then I went through Dave’s comments on the proposed blog post and made some edits.




After a long week at work, I took myself off to a cafe to work more on Artisan, completing my scheduled two chapters before finally heading home.




I posted my response to the article.


I also helped Bear with his account of Handycon last weekend.


Then I submitted some stories to various places for possible publication.




First Urban Writing Retreat day for a while, and lots to do.


I didn’t do any Artisan editing yesterday so I started there and decided to do blocks of two chapters.


After the first block, I caught up on my reviews.


I did two more Artisan chapters, then noodled around the internet for a bit to find a new place to submit flash fiction.


Then I went back to Celestial Intern and finally got around to looking at the Scribophile feedback. I made the relevant changes to get it ready for submission.


Back to Artisan for another two chapters, then I took a break and read Bird by Bird for a bit.


Then I did one last Artisan chapter, to bring me up to date with my planned schedule to get it all finished by the end of August.

Posted on 18 August 2018 14:47

Diversity and representation in fiction and the media is something I think about a lot. I want to include diverse characters in my writing, and I want to see more diversity and better representation in the things I consume. I also want to see creators from minority groups get more opportunities to get their creations out into the world and for those creations to be seen by as many people as possible.


But there are complex issues involved in terms of how people react to what they see or don’t see in the world. As a cisgender, white, bisexual women, I am mostly starting from a position of incredible privilege, but also think I can understand feelings of marginalisation to an extent. I’m very aware that it’s easy and perhaps likely for me to make mistakes in this arena, but I strongly believe the best way forwards is for people on all sides and within all groups to discuss these issues in a calm and tolerant manner. So I welcome a rational and curious exchange of opinions, with a view to enlightenment, education and improvement.


I recently read an article in Quillette by Heather MacDonald, called ‘The Death of the Author and the End of Empathy’, discussing the publication and subsequent retraction of a poem by a white, male poet, which sparked outrage at its use of black street dialect and the word ‘crippled’.


The writer of the article says that in their opinion the poet’s intent was clear, and that the poem was not intended to attack any minority group. In my view, the attack inherent in the poem is directed at those who marginalise those groups. The article goes on to suggest that ‘the victim universe’ has resulted in a situation where authors are unable to use nuance, ambiguity or irony in their work. Or to attempt to represent any other group than that to which they themselves belong, without fear of an irrational and vitriolic response.


The editors who published the poem, and the poet himself, put out abject apologies and said the whole incident is going to make them much more circumspect about what they publish/write in future, and the article suggests that this was unnecessary, as they should have stood by their interpretation/intent regarding the poem and challenged the response it received.


The article says:


“Yet these poetry editors, who of all people should understand irony, now reject the role of authorial intention in creating meaning in favor of a naive view of language, whereby a word itself, regardless of how it is being used, has the magical power to inflict harm.”


After some reflection, I find I disagree with both the point of view of the article writer and some of those who reacted against the poem, in terms of how the incident was handled.


Intent is a difficult area. In general, I believe if someone is offended by something, it’s important to acknowledge that is how they feel, even if the person responsible had no intention of causing offence.


In writing, an author will create a work with a specific intention in how it should be interpreted. However, once the work is out in the world, the author has no control over how people respond to it and readers will always bring their own views, background and associations to their interpretation of any piece of media. The meaning of a piece of writing is not immutable, not least because the author’s intent is rarely known to those who read it. So the intended meaning cannot be used unilaterally as a yardstick against which all interpretations should be measured.


Writers need to be aware that what they say may be interpreted differently by different people, and should be sensitive to the views of diverse readers who may see things differently to them. However, I don’t think this should stop them from tackling challenging topics, or attempting to be representative in what they write.


In the example mentioned above, I think the poetry editors could have explained their reasoning for publishing the poem, acknowledged that some readers were affected by it in ways they didn’t anticipate, and expressed regret that people were upset by it, but without going so far as they did in suggesting that the original intent of the poet was now invalid.


Where I think the readers who objected to the poem are at fault is in how they approached the way in which they expressed their opposition. The poet also apologised for causing offence, and made it clear he was open to learning from the experience in order to avoid further offence in the future. Yet, some then continued to attack him, suggesting that his apology was inadequate. And that’s where I lose sympathy, because the poet was actively asking to open a dialogue to understand the issues better, and just got slapped down.


To me, that isn’t the way towards finding a better path. A situation will never be improved by throwing more gasoline on an already raging inferno. If people who disagree with you are willing to talk about it, the answer should always be to welcome discussion, make people more aware of the reasoning behind the views on all sides, and come to a better understanding of those who are different from you.


I realise this is easier said than done, as I frequently find myself getting emotional and even aggressive when discussing issues I feel strongly about, even when I’m talking to people who largely agree with me. But we should all try to get better at being willing to listen to other people’s views, and try to understand where they’re coming from.


Rather than throwing up our hands and declaring that it’s pointless to even try, and that it’s ‘the end of empathy’, it’s vitally important that we keep trying to employ empathy and start discussions to bring us closer together.


If writers are going to be criticised for not including diverse characters in their stories, but also attacked when they attempt to do so, there is no way forwards. The best thing is for people of different backgrounds to work together to produce inclusive art that is representative in the best possible way. And also for publishers to create opportunities for as many different types of people to add their voices to what is published. But even if more diverse writers are published more often (which I wholeheartedly support), if each writer is restricted to only writing characters who are like them, every work of fiction will be incredibly narrow, no matter who it is written by.


To conclude with a quote from Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird:


“What’s going on is that we’re all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at each other.”