Review: Dare to Remember

Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard

It’s rare that you pick up a book and find it resonates with your own experience, especially experience that is intensely personal.  Just like the protagonist here, I once had an accident in which I very nearly died. Like her, my memory of the  event has gone and I have no recollection of what happened: it’s a blank. I’ve also been closely involved with death and bereavement. Understandably, then, I was curious to see how other writers treat such an emotive combination. My experience has frequently resulted in disappointment as both are often treated too lightly or with little real insight.

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An inspiring afternoon: Kit de Waal

I drove up to BCU this week for an ICCW afternoon session with Kit de Waal and a tutorial for my MA. I also took the opportunity to spend some catch-up time with some people I respect and admire – Nafisa, a talented writer I met on the MA, and my MA-notetaker-turned-critical-reader, Saima. With both Saima and Nafisa, it was time well spent and I have to give a great deal of thanks for their support, friendship and encouragement. It was also well worth the face-to-face tutorial with the fantastic Anna Lawrence-Pietroni, though I have brought away a chapter that is absolutely covered with pink notes and comments.

But it was Kit de Waal’s talk that was the richly-decorated, marzipan-and-fondant icing on an otherwise very productive and inspiring 24 hours (we’ll forget the pain). Kit was talking about Flash Fiction as well as her writing process as a whole – 1.5 hours roughly split between the two. As she has won the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction two years in a row, she is worth listening to.

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HWS Meeting October 2015 – great stuff

Despite feeling awful due to a rather nasty infection, I attended the October meet-up of Hampshire Writers’ Society at Winchester university last night. Once more, I am really please I pushed past the pain and illness to attend – I’ve mentioned the society and recommended the meetings before, but I really have to stress that it’s worth anyone in or around the area to attend the meetings. Why? Simply because of the quality and range of speakers that Barbara and the committee bring in.

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One of those times…

Writing has almost crashed. The 1,000-a-day minimum quota has been broached, downwards, despite working when I can to make it up.  I can point to a whole host of reasons why, including a new grandson and supporting my daughter, but the reality is that something has had to give.

Take yesterday, for example: radio show in the morning, pop back to check on a carpenter finishing our kitchen, then a drive up to Birmingham for an evening book launch & publishing group launch, sleep overnight, drive back, sort out Shipton Shorts, handle admin, continue some marketing stuff to help with this year’s Orwell Dystopian Fiction Prize, drive to local library to support the Summer Reading Challenge, then back home. Rest. Whither writing? Sure, a blog entry, but it’s not the 1000 words.

Trouble is, that in these situations, I always feel like pushing myself to do more.  Such behaviour is a mistake, though, a habit from the past.  The reality is that all these activities have to be surrounded by, and enmeshed within, Pain Management. For others, that may seem to slow things down; for me, it’s as fast as I can go without punishing myself.

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Received words of wisdom – reality vs the reader

After having numerous events in my own life I was reminded, recently, of an important aspect of writing by the words of one of the lecturers at BCU: that all ‘writing is an artifice’ (R. Thompson). Life throws myriads of strange things at you; indeed sometimes it seems that numerous momentous interactions or events seem to happen at once, so that you only react to one, or two… or none.  ‘Bad things happens in threes’ is one triusm that all too often seems true.

In a short story, though (unless you’re writing about bad things happening in threes, of course), just a single, dramatic event can cause mayhem and our reaction to it exposed.  At the same ICCW afternoon, Helen Cross stressed that having more than one significant or horrific event in a story just means we become inured to the horror or despair – it is likely to have the opposite effect than intended.  Piling death, abuse, suicide and horrors on top of each other can even become comic.

It’s a trap we can all fall into and far too easily.  It’s like writing dialogue exactly as it might be said, with all the hesitations pauses and repetitions. Whilst an insider (one who has experienced the events) may well say ‘Yes, all these momentous events can happen and this really is how I reacted’, an outsider (one who has not) can struggle to comprehend how the insider coped at all.  For insiders it is just one event, out of all those that took place, that stays in their mind and the others fade into the background.

When reading about these events, though, we do not feel like the insider: we are overwhelmed by the amount of tragedy.  It is the writer’s job to prevent us being drowned by detail and make us understand how the insider felt and about what. In that, the numerous, unimportant events can be completely removed in order to focus on the one event or situation that was so dramatic to the principle (whoever they are – the protagonist, perhaps).

For short stories, in particular, this is key. I have a suspicion that it might be the same for longer stories, too.

A living wage…

Recently, the Bookseller and the BBC both published articles on the early results of an Author’s Licensing and Collection Society (ALCS) report called ‘What are words worth now?’. It’s no suprise to learn that the headline news is that the average UK professional (full time) author earns just £11,000, down from £12,330 in 2006. The reality is much worse: the infamous ‘real terms’ drop is from £15,450 and the average income of all authors is only £4,000. :wince: The ALCS report mentions the £16,850 Minimum Income Standard – that required to maintain a minimum standard of living – and suggests this disparity may be why full-time authors are in a decline.

Am I allowed a moment of sarcasm? What a surprise.
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