Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 1- Voice with Nancy Freund

By Nancy Freund 
Images by Julie Lewis

Voice matters most. Aristotle’s Poetics famously revealed the Greek philosopher’s answer to the question of whether plot or character is the more essential to a good tragedy. He chose plot. Of course, if there’s no story, no building momentum, no carefully constructed pace, whether quiet or thrilling, there’s nothing worth reading. But no novel or story can stand without all three legs of its tripod: plot, character, and voice. Plot is what happens, character is by whom and to whom -- both vital -- but voice reveals the real nitty gritty. Not just the narrator’s identity and personality, but more importantly, the writer’s. Voice defines the relationship between writer and reader. Especially with the inundation of media competing for our attention today, voice matters most.

If there’s no voice inviting the reader in, the reader often won’t read enough to see the plot begin to build. Your plot needs a compelling story question to pique the reader’s interest – your hook. Get the voice right, and your hook will then keep the reader’s interest, increasing their investment of time. The question, who’s telling me this story, is key. Do I want to hang out with this person, this writer, for 300 pages? Through voice, you’ll ensure the answer is yes.
In ‘Art and Fear,’ David Bayles and Ted Orland say, “To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product, the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process – the experience of shaping that artwork.” Although this fabulous little book is about creating visual art, it also applies to writing. But I disagree with them here. Today’s audience wants process. Readers often want an author’s photo on the book. They want a website to visit. They read interviews, attend book signings, check out google and youtube. They want to peek behind the writer’s curtains, demystify the process and the person behind it. This awareness broadens the relationship between writer and reader. It expands on what begins in the literature with voice.

Voice can be tricky. Writers can aim to give voice to people who don’t have it. Giving voice is not the same thing as delivering voice. One gives agency, the other lends atmosphere. Lifting repression or halting the silencing of marginalized people can be an important literary endeavor. But it’s not voice. Voice is more synonymous with vibe, short for vibration. Mood. Emotional response. Do you recognize and understand the personality of the writer you’re reading? Do you get the writer’s vibe? Are you vibing with the writer? Do you trust him or her? Are you intrigued to get to know him or her better? Do you read a page, or a paragraph, and want more? Literary agent Aimee Ashcraft of New York’s Brower Literary said she looks for “voicey YA that’s experimental.” She prefers “historical fantasy that’s voicey.” Basically, she wants the writer to reveal him or herself to the reader (and the agent! and the publisher!) from the word go.

Voice is the writer’s manner of expression, not the protagonist’s. The writer, the narrator, and the main character are three distinct people – unless the narrator and the main character are merged, in which case, that distinction blurs. But even if narrator and main character are tightly aligned, the writer’s voice should still be distinct. If your protagonist’s favorite thing in the world is a good old-fashioned hoe-down, your narrator doesn’t have to show up in a gingham checked shirt and over-alls. And neither do you.

Voice is consistent. The plot will sweep a full spectrum, pace will pick up and slow down, there will naturally be diversity in the work. But the emotional delivery, the way the reader connects with the writer, remains. Further, the way that writer connects with readers should be essentially consistent throughout all their work. A writer is gentle or playful or erudite or brash. Or a wild mix of delivery, page by page. But he or she presents a personality and sticks with it. Writers who cross genres sometimes use pseudonyms for differentiation. Generally speaking though, if the emotional vibe between writer and reader meets reader expectation of voice, whatever the genre, no pseudonym’s required. My best advice is to simply be you.


So how to develop voice? Five ideas:

1) Don’t overthink. Write how you speak, for a first draft. Rapido! Rapido! Get your words down on the page, fast. Use dictation software, if it helps you speak your story. I like Dragon Dictation.

2) Go easy. My high school creative writing instructor recommended beginning a story “Dear Mom,” and then you just write a letter. My mom both loved and criticized everything I wrote, so writing to her would have stymied me. But it’s a great point. Pick one person to write for, and your voice will remain consistent. Who loves what you write? Who gets you? Who brings out your good stuff? For me, it’s my friend Annie J. She doesn’t even know this! She’s awesome and fun and just formal enough, I think, to demand my attention to detail and clarity – and she wouldn’t put up with too many gratuitous swear words. She makes me a better me, even when she’s only in my imagination while I’m writing. It works for revising too – read your draft out loud as if Annie J’s in the room. You might find some good opportunities for rephrasing.

3) Slang. Use it, but don’t abuse it. If you aim for a super casual relationship with your reader that allows for f-bombs and whatever-the-hells, have at it. But if that doesn’t suit your readership, be judicious.

4) Be yourself! Be someone else! You can take on whatever voice suits your story. Know your genre. Know your market – and use the right voice, accordingly. You can ask someone to check your voice for authenticity when you’re finished. Does it sound real? Is some phrasing awkward or incorrectly used? Is it right for its time period? Be brave and ask.

5) Eavesdrop. My 8th grade creative writing teacher had us sit in a coffee shop to record nearby conversations. Today we might get busted for stalking or general weirdness doing that. Maybe you can use your phone to record people talking and transcribe the words later. Or transcribe conversations on TV shows. Copy down passages from other authors whose voices you admire. By writing it down, you develop your ear for nuance, fine-tuning vocabulary and manners of expression. Of course, conversation does not equal dialogue between characters, and dialogue does not equal voice -- but studied eavesdropping informs the dialogue between you and your reader, i.e. voice.


Nancy Freund is a writer, editor, mentor, speaker, and prior English teacher. Born in New York, raised in Kansas City, and educated in Los Angeles, she was married in England, and today lives in Switzerland. 
 She is the author of Foreword Reviews finalist for Book of the Year in General Fiction and Category Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prize 'Rapeseed,' (Gobreau Press, 2013) 'Global Home Cooking: International Families' Favorite Recipes' which earned the Eric Hoffer Prize Honorable Mention and Amazon #1 bestseller status (2014), and 'Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel of Racing, Dares and Danger, Occasional Nakedness, and Faith' which was named a Foreword Reviews finalist for Young Adult Book of Year (2015) and a Writer's Digest Young Adult/Middle Grade finalist. 
Her writing has appeared in many journals and her radio interviews have aired on BBC London, World Radio Switzerland, and Talk Radio Europe. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing and an M.Ed. from UCLA. She begins work toward her Masters in Creative Writing from Cambridge this October.

website: www.nancyfreund.com
www.facebook.com/nancyfreund/
Twitter: @nancyfreund
Instagram: nancyfreund



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Creative Kicks - Introduction

For the last two years, we've run a FREE summer creative writing course via Triskele Books. Ten weeks of playtime. Forget the WIP and word count. Come have some irresponsible fun.


This year, we're relocating to Words with JAM. Each week we post an exercise from a well-respected writer who invites you to participate. Share if you like, or keep it to yourself. Either is fine with us.

The course starts next week and we'll be exploring Voice, Character, Blurb, Lyrical Language, Names, Pace, Plots and Going Wild amongst others. We're very excited about our guests who can bring genuine gravitas to the topics and offer useful advice as to improvement.


Here are a few examples of our most popular posts from the previous courses:

Story Fundamentals by Emma Darwin

Characters Inhabiting Their World by Sunny Singh via Catriona Troth

Flirting with Subtext by Jason Donald


Join us every Wednesday (or whenever suits you) for half an hour of muscle-flexing. Even if you don't write poetry, just give lyrical language a go. Try out an exercise on scientific world-building. Use creative moves you've not tried before. You might be surprised.



This summer, we hope you get all the kicks you want.


Next week, Nancy Freund on Voice.

Images by Julie Lewis

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Women's Prize 2018

By JJ Marsh and Catriona Troth

It's nearly time! The winner of The Women's Prize for Fiction is due to be announced today. We've read all the shortlisted novels and quite a few of the longlisters. Below, you'll find extracts from our reviews with ideal accompaniments and our own top tips for who we think should win.

When I Hit You or Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.

A fictionalised account of domestic violence and rape within a marriage, told through many different lenses. It begins with the mother recounting, over and over, the state of her daughter’s feet when she fled home. There is poetry in this prose, and a humour so dark it’s like pepper on the tongue.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved
: Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank and intimate depiction of domestic and sexual violence

Perfect Accompaniments: Cumin and coconut, turmeric and chilli flakes, cinnamon and star anise.


Sight by Jessie Greengrass

This was a tough one to like but eventually, I did. Greengrass allows her character to meander and ponder and consider the human condition in every aspect. Stream-of-consciousness is a term often over-used and patronised, but here Greengrass uses it to best effect. Self-awareness is the only way to X-Ray the mind.
 Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Mrs Dalloway, Zoƫ Jenny, Scarlett Thomas

Avoid if you dislike: Self-examining narrators and lack of narrative

Ideal accompaniments: A fried egg, camomile tea and a still pond.


  Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Western media has been quick to paint all those who have been drawn into the net of the Islamic State as uniformly evil – and their families as either equally evil or ignorant dupes. Home Fire dares to look beyond the headlines at the human beings caught up in the apparently unending cycle of violence unleashed by terrorism and the ‘War on Terror.’
A powerful and important book that should be read by anyone wanting to find humanity beyond the headlines.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie; Antigone by Jean Anouilh, The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

Avoid If You Dislike: Looking beyond tabloid headlines about terrorism

Perfect Accompaniment: A mug of the best coffee you can find and a quiet corner to drink it in.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Part road trip, part social critique, part American nightmare, this beautifully written novel makes us feel the weight of the past in a visceral sense. There is an inexorable feeling of tragedy, as if we know what must happen in the end, but cannot help hoping things will turn out differently.
The book won America's National Book Award 2017 and was selected as Book of the Year by The New York Times amongst others. I can see why.
Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward or Meridian by Alice Walker.

Avoid if you dislike: Dysfunctional families, violence, ghosts.

Ideal accompaniments: Gravy and biscuits with a glass of cold water


The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The Idiot perfectly captures that nihilistic stage of late adolescence. That feeling of being out of phase with the rest of the world. Desperately seeking meaning in the most mundane of words and actions – and feeling depressed because you fail to find it. The inevitable passion for someone just out of reach. Mistaking sophistry for sophistication.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Idiot by Dostoeyevsky, The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician by Tendai Huchu, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Avoid If You Dislike: Story lines that drift rather than drive

Perfect Accompaniment: Hungarian vodka


The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar


Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this. The author's sympathies with the lot of women and comprehension of class permeate every chapter. Limited opportunities, social judgement and the currency of beauty is a delicate balance for a woman with no means other than looks and intellect. The ladies refer to their genitalia as 'the commodity'.

Gowar builds a London as it was, and a cast of characters so real, spiteful, snobbish, kindly, humble, capricious and arrogant, one cannot help but want more.

Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Sarah Waters, Rosie Garland, Angela Carter

Avoid if you dislike: The grim injustice of female situations in the 18th century.

Ideal Accompaniments: Millefeuilles and sweet wine, or freshly shucked oysters and brine.


And who do we think should win? 

Kat's tip: Utterly torn between Shamsie's Home Fire and the astonishing blend of poetry and brutality that is Kandasamy's When You Hit Me. Either would be worthy winners, but for sheer beauty of writing, my heart goes with Kandasamy.

Jill's tip: I think this is Shamsie's year, although Ward is a powerful contender. But my personal favourite was Gowar's The Mermaid. I still miss those characters.