5 Things I Learned From A Book Launch (Number 6 Will Amaze You!)

God loves an independent bookshop, yes she does, especially the self-help section. Independent bookshops are places of love and beauty, so small that thirty people assembled for an author talk is as good as a stadium crowd. (The best ones, like mine, also have a coffee machine.)

My local independent bookshop is Drake in Stockton, where I went to hear Stephanie Butland read from, and talk about, her sixth novel ‘The Woman In The Photograph‘ *

I loved the extract she read (enough to buy the book), but it was the Q&A session that delivered treasure – because, dear Reader, I am that unhappiest of creatures, a First-Time Aspiring Novelist.

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Stephanie Butland at Drake Bookshop

Here are the marvellous titbits of inspiration I took from Steph’s talk, all of which I will immediately try to apply to my writing life:

1. There are no RULES for the writer’s working day, only PREFERENCES 

Oh joy, you mean I’m not failing if I haven’t written 1000 words by 8am? No! Steph works when she feels most able to sit down and focus on the work. As it happens, for her that is first thing. A 2-hour morning might yield 1000 words that would take twice as long to squeeze out if she started in the afternoon. BUT – if the morning is taken up with other, unavoidable things, then a long afternoon of writing will happen. The woman has professional persistence.

2. 1000 words a day for 3 months = “a bad first draft”

I love that “bad”. If I could fixate on completion at the expense of perfection, I might be in with a shot of writing this damn thing!

3. Novels will bring their own ways of being written

Now, I’m working with a formulaic genre (cosy crime), which Steph is not, but I still found it inspiring to hear how each time she writes a novel she comes up with a different way of ‘how to write a novel’. This current book was meticulously planned using a spreadsheet. Her previous book, ‘The Curious Heart Of Ailsa Rae‘, was written in a huge outpouring and then sculpted into shape. It’s OK for me to not know exactly how to write this first book of mine. Even better, it will be OK for me not to quite know how to write the next one, and the next – better to be interested in the process than the product!

4. Don’t read inside your own genre while you’re writing

I’ve been a reading a lot of my genre, because as a first-time writer I need to spend a bit of time working out how it’s done. But now that I’m into the actual writing, I can see the sense of giving my brain some space. Should probably lay off the cosy crime TV dramas, too! Steph reads Young Adult fiction, and dystopian fiction, so this could be a great excuse for me to widen my reading landscape.

5. Editing is great, but after a while you’re not making the book better, you’re making it a different book.

I haven’t reached this stage yet, but I’m going to bear it in mind when I do…

And the bonus bit of info is this:

6. The presenter for uber-macho TV show Top Gear was actually Angela Rippon!

Proof! 

*’The Woman In The Photograph’ is a story about feminism and fierce friendship. It is out now from Zaffre Books and if you buy it online via Hive then you can nominate a local bookshop to collect it from. The bookshop receives a small fee. This is massively better for authors and booksellers than going to Amazon, but doesn’t make it any more expensive for you – please make Hive a habit! 

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Looking for Persephone in Hartlepool

You’ve heard this one, right? Once upon a time, there was a goddess called Demeter. Her power ripened corn, and brought the fruit to sweetness. But when her only daughter was abducted and taken to Hades, she went mad with grief. She wandered the world, searching for Persephone, and the world descended into perpetual winter.

Poets write based on Greek myths a lot. I have a poem in Under The Radar magazine issue 23 based on the Demeter/Persephone myth, and I thought I’d tell you how I came to write it – by doing to myself just what I did with Rose Condo in my last blog.

On a bitterly cold day in January 2015, I created a ‘Demeter body’. I asked myself –

DP1What if she wandered all the way to 2019?

What if she searched as far as Hartlepool?

What would she look like?

How would she move?

I imagined a muttering, distraught homeless woman, ingrained with grime, constantly scanning the gutter-edges of towns for a trace of her daughter, neck hunched forward, arms compulsively reaching out, quivering with painful hope at every child.

I got into character and went on a very long walk through the frozen streets. “Listen with your feet, the shadows are all ice”

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I hunched myself, crunched my neck, and limped through some of the most neglected parts of Hartlepool Headland, down the walkway where “the old coal rail / is tarmacked and sequinned with broken fifths of scotch” and into town.

I walked through housing estates I’d never visited before. “Black dog on Vincent Street, slaver on its jowls”

I was astonished by the screams coming from playtime at the local schools. “Rosy little children / breathing out steam like rotting compost”

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I even pushed through a damaged fence to search in the scrub near the railway, because by then the body was telling me that Demeter absolutely needed to check everywhere. Every dirty corner where the lost and trashed accumulate.

I lived, trusted and followed Demeter’s body for about four hours. When I came home, I was aching and exhausted, but I had a poem that seemed to have discovered a new voice.

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The photographs featured here are composite images created from shots I took on my phone during my walk. They are my attempt to find a visual equivalent for the emotional atmosphere of the poem.