Opinion seems divided on whether or not lockdown in the UK is resulting in a surge of creativity, a surge of Netflix bingeing, or absolutely no change whatsoever barring a sudden desire to eat more crisps. Apparently in the eyes of whoever collates this information these things are mutually exclusive, and many very tiresome newspaper columnists of the sort who get paid £800 a column to write nothing edifying or even funny have made pronouncements of the “no one is really baking sourdough bread and learning Duolingo Latin, we’re all binge-watching TV, haha, aren’t I relatable” variety.
I rather think that all that’s happened is that people have reverted to what they find most comforting that’s actively available to to them in this period. For some people that’s binge-watching TV, because that’s what they’re into anyway (Long Suffering Boyfriend has run out of TV and is now marathoning the Aliens movies to supplement his usual diet of games and his recent hobby of doing pushups at 6am; The Resident Australian has acquired a wrist brace and gone back to drawing while watching YouTube videos, and taken up doing pushups at about 12pm). For me, someone who for reasons which I suspect actually constitute a neurological disability, cannot watch TV without being highly stressed and talking constantly, that means I have been churning out fiction as if my life depended on it.
I’ve also taken up doing push-ups in the living room in the time when the others aren’t, but we’re going to look at the writing.
One of the most important changes I’ve made to my writing life this year has been to return to fundamentals of style and technique, which saw me start the year with writing exercises, transition into writing things for my own consumption without a thought of potential audience (this is ongoing, and has seen me write over 50,000 words since I started–all longhand, at a glacial pace), and most recently has resulted in taking inspiration from my more ambitious reading material to return to another lesson from university: look at different ways of telling a story.
Delving back into structure, narrative, literary Dadaism, concepts like the antinovel, experimental fiction and literary rather than genre-specific approaches to writing has been a breath of fresh air for me. The last time a book’s germinus came about from a specific idea about structure was when I tried to envision a book in which the passage of a core plot was relegated to its rightfully unimportant place in the lives of most of the characters that it passed through.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the 11 years or so since finishing Pass the Parcel working on plotting because I was very aware that it’s a weak point. I have spent a lot of time trying to pursue more naturalistic and less forced plot progression because I am aware it’s a weak point. I’ve approached a lack of desire to research and I’ve made myself comfortable with the “why not” approach to casting characters (“does anything about the plot require this character to have the privileges of a white, male, able-bodied cis man for it to be able to function? Then that’s not what that character is”) and I have in the last couple of years done the following:
- a full, page-by-page plot breakdown of someone else’s book followed by a page-by-page rebuild of a similar plot with completely different features to it.
- gotten to grips with the short story format a little better, rather than just writing vignettes, and taken on “this thing needs to express an idea and imply an entire world”.
And I’d argue that this, in addition to making the uneasy acquaintance of things like “in-depth planning”, “editing”, and “no seriously, more editing”, has seen a serious improvement in the quality of work. However, by last year it also shoved me into a rut and made me bored.
Laying aside the usual concerns has allowed me to concentrate more fully on returning to things that invigorate my imagination, and almost as a by-product resulted in a lot of other, more normal work being shaken loose!
And it also inspired some art:
From the surface, Earth feels limitless and permanent, which is perhaps why it took so long to accept that it is not immobile at the centre of the universe.
“I’m very excited,” says Frank.
There may be very few places in the average galaxy where atoms have come to contemplate atoms. / But technology will advance very quickly over the next few hundred years.
It took seven years for The culmination of a long-held
view of the cosmos, made of ice.
With the sun’s powerful rats eclipsed
gravity of other celestial bodies
reveals an icy floodplain.
We are hungry for unknown aspects of a solid, flat surface carpeted with / a thin golden line in the dark.
by firing an electron atmosphere was tinged with less–than meets the eye.
kaleidoscopic ball above like beads on a string. / From space, our world appears finite and fragile, a tumbling grain of dust.
We can see the virus here thanks.
FIGHTERS Fairy tales
As a city kid, / based on a century-old idea:
a vast forest, impassable roads seemed to disappear
elk and wolves, / began to shrink.
They were hunters, / drugs that strip / the category of family, / hunt and kill foreign invaders.
That’s a physical representation of / blocks in its way,
and is armed to / be able to target more
“because you need silence.”
drought, and overuse
clusters of abandoned / stranded; the fish / born of drought.
like ice cream in a freezer that has melted / into thin air
warm water encourages growth.
air was lip-chapping dry / across the lake flooded
Water that once spread / nourishing rivers.
shrunk to a sliver / and worsening drought.
Winds that whip across / for the return of their dried-up lake.
On the “more normal writing” front, I’m delighted to also be able to announce that an excerpt from a longer project, When Someone Speaks Your Language, will be included in New Smut Project‘s forthcoming flash-fiction erotica anthology, Erato: Flash Fiction. I’m very excited to see the other work I’ll be appearing alongside–New Smut Project have a great dedication to erotica with character and imagination, and humanity. I’ve had the good fortune to have published with them previously, under the romance/erotica pseudonym Melissa Snowdon, in anthology Between The Shores (still available!), but this is the first time I’ll have published with this excellent imprint under my own name. Hopefully not the last, however, as they’re great people to work with.