Advice for new writers

Talent can be found gleaming in all corners of your life. I am very conscious of how lucky I am to be engaging so regularly with young people and discovering creativity they did not know they had.

But sometimes it appears unexpectedly. One of my recent ports of call has been the very wonderful Ebor Gardens Primary School in Leeds, where I have working with Year Five pupils to produce an anthology of folk and fairy tales. One lunch time at the school, a very smiley woman [who turned out to be the family liaison worker] approached me and asked if I would look at her poems. I took her collection home with me that evening, read and enjoyed her writing very much, and returned them the next day with some suggestions.

I am sure Annette won’t mind me using the notes I gave her in their entirety in this blog as I think they contain good advice for any writer beginning to take themselves seriously, and wanting to know where to go with their work.

Annette Logan: your poems

First of all I would like to say that it was a real privilege to read your poems, and that I was very moved by many of them.

You choose themes that we can all identify with, and you deal with them with real honesty, and lots of feeling. I can especially identify with the poems about children and parents, and love.

You are a very good writer with a terrific grasp of language and a real way with rhyme; this is something that not many folk can manage without sounding like greetings cards, but you do.

I was interested to see the order you have put your poems in, and the care you took to display them. You have obviously thought about the effect on your readers, and the impact you wish to have. You are thinking like a professional writer. Well done.

I also see that there aren’t any recent poems in this collection. I’m hoping that this is because you haven’t got round to tidying them up, or the final edit. You must keep writing.

Tips for the future:

Keep writing.

Watch out for publishing opportunities. There are a selection of magazines which offer advice and info. about writing. I’ve included one for you to look at in case you haven’t seen it before.

Read other poets. Buy yourself a couple of anthologies. See what other poets do, and how they do it.

Check out to see if there are any writing courses you can go on or writing groups you can join. Libraries are good sources of information here.

Keep writing. So important I said it twice.

Honesty can enhance your writing

I was due to run a morning’s workshop at Airedale High School, Castleford, last week [delightful and fabulous kids by the way] and the teacher organising the session, Lorna Hutchison, emailed me to say that one of the school office staff, Susan [ a keen writer who was going to take part in the workshop] had come across a big feature on me in Writing Magazine

This was a surprise; I had heard that I was going to be mentioned in the monthly periodical, but thought it might be a few sentences about my website and podcast.  I popped into Leeds to look at a copy, intending just to glance at it perhaps, get a free ego-boost, and ended up buying four copies. 

The writer Crysse Morrison, a friend, had based her article, in July’s issue of the magazine, on how honesty can enhance your writing .  And she quoted from my story Exile, which appeared in Four Fathers, [published by Route], a few years back.  In this collection of stories, four male writers write about their own fathers, and come to some conclusions about what can sometimes be a difficult relationship. 

Crysse describes how I tackle the challenges of writing about my father, when she writes, 

"From eighteen years of bruising encounters, just two are enough to show an essential truth about his childhood experience of fathering: the effect of violence and army life, and the underlying care so rarely expressed". 

As a writing assignment,  Exile was one of the most difficult I have ever undertaken;  confronting some painful truths  and memories about my younger self, made me squirm when I wrote about them.  I literally relived some of those experiences as I typed them up on the screen.  It wasn’t  exactly writing for therapy, which can in itself be a positive and respectable outcome of writing, but writing to understand or make sense of the past. 

It was so satisfying to have this struggle for honesty recognised in the article by Crysse Morrison [part of the generosity of spirit  and fellow feeling that infuses most writers I  know].  It was also good to have her praise for the quality of my writing, in the following, 

"every word in this story is placed with deliberation, and every line crafted and pared to the bone’"

And why did I buy four copies of the magazine?  Well some to show friends, and one, at least, in some subconscious part of me, to show my Dad, even though he has been dead for over twenty years.  

It was after all Fathers’ Day on Sunday.

Melvyn Bragg meets the lovely Sarah Waters

I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Sarah Waters for my podcast last year. Tonight you can see her being interviewed tonight by Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show. It's on at 10:45 on IVT1 but if you miss it you can always listen to the podcast again.