Tuesday 18 October 2016

Guest post - Rosemary Dun

Rosemary Dun is a lover of words and a performer of poetry – she’s been known to whip out her ukulele (unless you ask her very nicely not to!) The Trouble With Love is her debut novel with Sphere, Little Brown, and she couldn't be more delighted. She’s also a creative writing tutor, mother to two grownup daughters (how did that happen?) and she lives close to Bristol’s historic harbourside with her bonkers labrador Tallulah.

I asked Rosemary to provide a blog on one of three possible topics - she's gone above and beyond and provided info on all three topics 9and every interesting it is too)

·         How does writing poetry help with writing a novel?

Thank you for asking – it’s a great question. I guess that regular writing of any sort helps, especially when tackling a big project like a novel. So there’s that.

Writing poetry has helped me be unafraid of the blank page. I’m happy I can get something down on paper: it’s taught me to feel the fear and do it anyway. I love the playfulness in poetry, the mucking about with words and phrases which can produce exciting juxtapositions, surprises, and alchemy.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that poetry is “the very best words in the very best order.” So, there’s a discipline to poetry which I’ve come to embrace and love; this too has helped hone my editing/ revision skills which I can then apply to my novel writing.

On a good day I may liken the writing of poetry to the making mud pies, i.e. you scoop up a load of mud (words/ phrases/ ideas), throw it (them) down (on to the page) and set about shaping it. To stretch this metaphor to squeaking point, writing novels is playing with whole mud towns/ people/ universes. If I go too far, get overly worried, or my inner critic is threatening to ruin the day, then I try to remember advice from playwright Simon Stephens: “Don’t worry, nobody died, it’s only writing.”

·         Ten things I wish I’d been told before sitting down to write a novel – let’s say my first novel (unpublished and languishing in a box somewhere):

1.      If you’re not careful you’ll develop “writer’s bum” and an addiction to Kettle’s crisp sandwiches! Beware comfy clothes and comfort eating!
2.      Wear comfy clothes – it’s physical, it’s tiring even exhausting, it’s hard work.
3.      Learn how to plot, embrace the plot, love a plot – a plot does not mean that you’re writing something unoriginal; instead it’s a thing of beauty and is akin to an artist learning perspective. As the late great comedian Frank Carson used to say “It’s the way I tell ‘em!”.
4.      A novel is all about character. Time spent on characterisation - instead of rushing off like a greyhound out of the traps – is key and essential and will get you out of plot scrapes. If stuck return to character and freewrite around the problem.
5.      Get a copy of The Wisdom of The Enneagram and The Emotion Thesaurus (goes without saying that you’ll actually have a book copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary and a Roget’s Thesaurus – the internet is not as good!).
6.      Write every day – even if it’s only half an hour (or 10 minutes). Get that shitty first draft on the page – and then the “real” work (of rewriting/ editing/ shaping) can begin. Get it written first, and then get it right!
7.      Keep a notebook and carry a small one with you everywhere – from now on your subconscious will be working away at your novel and bright ideas/ the solution to plot problems, etc., will suddenly pop into your head – write them down. You can’t retain a thought for more than 2 minutes.  
8.      Know your main character’s wound, and don’t forget his/ her emotional journey. Don’t just have stuff happen: what changes your main character – what is their “journey”?
9.      Under no circumstances overwrite, indulge in literary folderols, engage the purple prose – NO! Instead keep it simple, be specific, and you will find your voice and the unique way you and your characters have at looking at things.
10.  Be a method actor. Inhabit your characters – know their motivations, needs and desires. There must be a want – what does your protagonist want to achieve, what is their goal over the whole story? Oh, and never ever head hop.
11.  I add in this final one – HAVE FUN!! (Sometimes it will be hell – but it will also be fun, moving, tear-jerking, exciting, and there will be “blimey I had no idea that was going to happen” moments.)
12.  Ah – no – just one more (sorry) – have a plot, a plan, know where you’re headed otherwise you’ll get lost along the way. Writing a novel is a journey for the writer too.

·         How Has Bristol Crept Into Your Writing? i.e. Setting As Character

I love novels which employ setting and I love to employ setting. As you know, I  teach creative writing, and I often find that setting is a key element which new writers sometimes forget e.g. they may forget to let us know where and when we are; which month/ season; what the weather’s like; what is the mood of a scene; what the characters are doing; how they are moving about their setting; what the protagonist notices/ experiences around him/ her via viewpoint, etc. etc. It’s powerful stuff, is setting.

I’m a Bristolian born and bred – there’s something about Bristol with its whiff of adventure, its whole being a famous port and home to pirates and smugglers. You can sniff it in the air. I write commercial women’s fiction and read a lot of it too – I was becoming a tad bored (sorry) of novels set in London or the Cotswolds – especially when I live in such a marvellous place as Bristol – so it was a no-brainer!

A setting informs your characters: it helps mould them into who they are. I can’t avoid setting – to me it’s as essential as characterisation. So, yes, it creeps in and is put in, and is just there helping us to connect to the stories of the characters and enabling us, the watchers, the interlopers, to better spy and eavesdrop on their lives.

Then there are the film rights! Ah yes. If you can visualise your novel and see it in your mind’s eye, playing out like a film, and you are able to bring this to the page, then you’re part way there!

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