fcmalby

writing


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Two New Short Story Publications

It has been encouraging to receive such a positive response to my first published short story, The Bench. Take Me to the Castle is continuing to sell well, both in paperback and eBook formats. Several readers have been asking when the next short story will be released. I am pleased to announce the publication of two short stories: BLOOD RED and BIRD. You can download copies by clicking on the images on the side bar at the right. Here is a little information on each one.

Blood Red

Blood red cover final

This short story set in India reveals the hidden tension in the mind of a young boy as he has to let go of the girl he loves for an unknown young bride chosen by his parents. But as the wedding day approaches, will he be able to follow his parents’ wishes in the face of his passion and quiet desperation?

Bird

Bird cover
A caged bird, an aging mother and a family loss that noone will talk about. This short story delves into the pain and longings of a girl caring for her mother with an insight into the world through her unspoken wishes.
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The Influence of Film on Writing

The impact of art and film on my writing is, in part, due to the fact that I am a visual person, and when I write I imagine every scene as a film shot or a photographic image. Creativity fuels ideas and triggers thoughts which help me to write. See posts on Writing, Art and Outlining and follow the links at the end of this post. Some of my free time (which, as is the case for many of you, is limited)  is spent in galleries or watching films. I love the big screen effect and recently enjoyed The Great Gatsby in 3D, but I also regularly download films from iTunes to watch when I can.  I used to go to as many exhibitions as I could in London and in Vienna I go to both photographic and art exhibitions from time to time.

I wanted to write about the influence of film on writing because I believe it is important to look at mediums other than books, which affect the way we think and develop ideas. I have a Pinterest board with my music and film influences if you are interested but I wanted to touch on two films, in particular, that have had a lasting impact on me, both of which cover themes that now run through much of my work: The Lives of Others and Rabbit-proof Fence.

The Lives of Others:

This film is a beautifully crafted story written by a debut German filmmaker set in 1984 East Germany. Released in March 2006, it garnered a record breaking 11 award nominations, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The plot revolves round the monitoring of East Berlin by secret agents during the communist era of the Eastern Bloc. Although fiction, it is a chilling account of the intricacies of spy techniques used at the time and the destruction of trust and relationships. I watched this whilst writing about the effects of communism on the Czech Republic in my debut novel. The film gave me the impetus to keep going and helped me to create the sense of distrust and destruction within every day lives and relationships. It is a film that will stay with me for a long time to come. Its power lies in the detail and the clever plot twist towards the end. It leaves you with a sense of hope that, despite dire human circumstances, there is an inherent good to be found in ordinary people.

Rabbit-proof Fence:

This film is set in 1931 and is based on the true story of an author’s mother in the book, Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence, covering events of  ‘the forgotten generation’ of Aboriginal children in Australia. Released in 2002, the film follows three girls who have been ripped apart from their mother by authorities and taken to the Moor River Native Settlement. They escape and walk for nine weeks along 1,500 miles of the rabbit-proof fence, the longest in the world, to return to their community in Jigalong. A tracker is sent after them and tension runs high as they try to cover their tracks and throw the tracker off scent. The impact of this film lies in the separation of the children from their families and the injustice of their removal. What struck me was the endurance and tenacity of the children, their ability to remain untraced and to keep going as they trek through some of the most barren landscape. Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack adds to the impact and the heart-rending scenes along the way. I have added the long and the short trailers. The longer trailer is much better, but if you are pressed for time at least watch the second shorter one. It really is one not to be missed.

Both of these films, and many more, have influenced my writing in ways that are both seen and unseen. Themes of dislocation, injustice and separation run through the films and through many of my short stories, as well as the novel and my current work in progress. The impact of film on your writing, if you allow it, can be immense, giving you new perspectives on themes, plot, characters and, at a deeper level, on the difficulties in the lives of people in different situations, highlighting what the human spirit can achieve to overcome adversity. That, I believe, is the very essence of a good story. Both of these films are based on true stories or historical situations, but films of all genres can influence your style of writing and your thought processes.

Here are a few links to articles I have written that have been inspired by art, music or film:

Argo: What We Can Learn From Film About Not Overwriting

5 Top Tips for Finding Inspiration

What Do Authors Have in Common with Orchestra Conductors?


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The Power of Place

I have been buried in research for my book over the past few days and it has highlighted, for me, the impact of place on people’s thoughts and emotions. Some places leave an indelible mark on your psyche, no matter how distant the experience. I have been researching the histories of different people and places for various chapters and it has triggered many memories and experiences of the people and places that have had an impact on me and has changed the way I think and the way I view life.

I want to share some of these places with you and to talk about the impact and the memories they hold:

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. I visited while I was in Jerusalem and the power of the city as a place is indefinable. There was a palpable tension in the air as I passed guards on the ascent to Temple Mount, and as I stood looking at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the aqua tiles of the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome and imposing stature. The view from the Mount of Olives was breath-taking and the churches passed en route to the top were full of symbolism and a deep sense of history.

But it was the museum at Yad Vashem which left the strongest imprint on my memory of the place. The atrocities of the holocaust are heightened by the collective photographs, paintings and sculptures; by the narrow walls funneling you through into the various rooms of exhibits. I have visited Anne Frank’s house (now the Anne Frank Museum) in Amsterdam and, although people say there is more power in the story of one person, I found the impact of the exhibits collectively much more choking. The final circular room, The Hall of Names, forces you to look up to the cone shaped ceiling displaying 600 photographs and fragments of pages of testimony commemorating the victims.

Yad Vashem is not a place you will ever forget. Memories of the museum pervade my thoughts from time to time along with memories of my Grandfather. Our family believe that he was Jewish, although it was never talked about and my Grandmother dismissed the idea. They met before the war and all that we know is that his family fled from Eastern Europe. A tall, slim, dark haired man, he was highly intelligent and intensely private. His quiet presence will never be forgotten. My memories of him teaching me to play Moonlight Sonata on the piano before I could read music are coupled with memories of him pulling funny faces at breakfast, somewhere out of my Grandmother’s line of vision. He was an accomplished organ player and a mesmerising pianist. When my mind wanders and fixes itself on the images I remember from Yad Vashem, it takes me back to my Grandfather and I wonder if I can trace his family tree back to Jewish, I wonder if he ever had relatives who did not survive.

Yad Vashem

Sistine Chapel

Rome is a frenetic city, full of tourists clamouring to reach the sites; a place with another unique history, a place tracing its roots back to the Roman Empire, it is one of the oldest cities in Europe. In amongst the traffic and bustle of people lies the Vatican, and on a rainy day several summers ago I queued in a long line of umbrellas for the fortuitous last Sunday of the month. I say fortuitous, as these Sundays offer free entry into the museums and the Sistine Chapel. I remember the relatively plain walls circling the museum complex around which several hundred people waited, sharing coffee and swapping stories of where they had come from.

Upon finally reaching the point of entry, we all walked slowly through the grand and elaborate complex containing the quiet halls leading in to the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s detailed frescoes of The Last Judgement and the Garden of Eden are undoubtedly a feat of immense skill and talent. The statistic of well over 5,000 square feet of panels painted in a mere three years is a dizzying thought. As we all looked up and around the side walls, the intensity of the blues and the tone and shading of the skin on the subjects made the images look three dimensional, giant, imposing.

What struck me was the vastness and the power of the images, the care and attention to detail of each and every section of the frescoes. I had visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and admired the paintings and sculptures collected by the Medici family, and drawings by Da Vinci; I had seen Michelangelo’s  famed Statue of David, but nothing had prepared me for the awe inspiring sense of beauty and greatness of the walls of the chapel.

Memories of the Sistine Chapel reminds me of the power of human endeavour, and of the capacity of art to bring beauty to a world where we are bombarded with advertising images and all that is temporal.

sistine chapel

Khayelitsha

The Khayelitsha Township sits on the Western Cape of South Africa. It is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing townships and is a reminder of some of the racial segregation and discrimination within South Africa and of it’s troubled history of Apartheid. Established in 1985, large numbers of black South Africans were relocated to the Khayelitsha Township.

What struck me as I met some of the families was not only the physical closeness of the homes, but the extended families and their  warmth towards each other. I remember images of grandmothers carrying babies and young children playing in large groups, making toys out of old tyres and various materials. I remember watching men gathering in large groups and of people, unnervingly, visiting the local witch doctor with his feathers and potions suspended from the roof of a tin hut.  Despite the poverty and the clear sense of displacement, there was a cohesion that I think many people search for and struggle to find in their own societies. I saw similar relationships and communities amongst the Badjao people in the Philippines and the Nubian communities along the River Nile in Egypt.

khayelitsha

Valley of the Kings

How is it that we can build some pretty unattractive and unimaginative buildings with the most sophisticated modern day machinery, when the Ancient Egyptians managed to build elaborate tombs and pyramids, sphinxes and sarcophagi? I often wonder how, with the increase in technology, our architecture is rarely a match for buildings such as the temple of Rameses II, the Taj Mahal, the temples of Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, the sandstone rock cut monuments of Petra. How did we end up propelling technology forwards at such a rapid pace, yet, conversely,  diminishing a passion for beauty, detail and grandeur?

Of all the sites in Egypt – the pyramids, the collections in the Cairo Museum, the temples of Luxor and beyond, Abu Simbel – the Valley of the Kings is perhaps the most impressive for its intricate paintings, and for the sheer ability of the Ancient Egyptians to tunnel deep into the rock structure and carve out the most elaborate tombs. The mystery surrounding the embalming and the burial rituals of this  ancient civilisation has captured people’s interest for centuries. I took a hot air balloon at dawn over the Valley of the Kings and it is possibly one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Although you cannot see the interior of the tombs from the air, the mist over the Nile, scenes of camels grazing along the banks and farmers pulling donkeys and carts, create a place that has remained relatively unchanged over the years since the tombs were built. The Ancient Egyptians were able to irrigate the land, growing similar crops to those seen today, and agriculture is still a primary source of income.

The silence of a cloudless sky and the view of the silver light on the river at sunrise is a picture that I have tucked away in my memory. Where many places change and evolve over time, the views along the Nile are very similar to the views of 2,000 years ago. Although tourism has changed the coastal towns, and brought with it an alternative source of revenue, the beauty of the Nile and the mystery of an ancient civilisation is what makes the country, in part, so captivating.

valley of the kings

 The power of a sense of place is an integral part of every story, the history and the atmosphere, the people and events. They all tie in to the actions and behaviour, affecting the emotions and thoughts of the people inhabiting the space. This, in any writing, can have an impact and intensity that deepens the reader’s experience.


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First Drafts

writer's notes

The previous post about blogging received a record level of traffic and an unprecedented response, given this blog’s short life span, so I’ll come back to it and write more on the topic soon. It is clearly a subject that people feel strongly about and I had not realised the level of passion and dedication behind so many blogs.

First drafts is the issue I’d like to tackle today.  I am in the stage of the first draft of my next novel and I have been thinking about the changes through each stage of writing up to final publication. There is something unique about a first draft; a freshness, an expectation, a certain level of hope.

The first draft is the place of mountain peaks and valleys, it is the place of the Eureka moments and the what ifs, it is the place of ‘first thought’ excitement and of apprehension, the place of originality and of doubt.

In writing your book for the first time, before you go through rounds of editing and rewrites ad infinitum, there is an enthusiasm about where you will take the reader, in fleshing out your characters and plot, in travelling to new places. There is also an apprehension surrounding your words; questions, doubts, fears. Will I be able to keep up the tension and the pace? Will people want to read it? Will I be able to finish it? Is it going to be too long/short? Did I choose the wrong topic/genre/setting? Do the scenes link up? Is there enough cohesion and consistency?

There are endless questions that seek to counter balance the moments where you get lost in the the sentences, your fingers running away with themselves, tapping furiously at the keyboard and you forget to eat.

What is it about first drafts that make them so enticing, yet so difficult to wrestle with? Give an artist a blank canvas and paints, give a singer a microphone and close them in to a sound proof recording studio, give a dancer a stage and a preview audience. There will always be fears surrounding your ability, your audience’s reaction, the longevity of your career (if you are thinking long-term). All art forms are highly subjective, creating a range of responses. I recently scanned some well promoted and popular books, only to find a great and confusing diversity of reviews. This, I think, reflects the fact that no two people will love the same books, music or art. Although there are varying levels of skill among writers, the result, as the publishing industry well knows, can be unpredictable.

How, then, do you wrestle with the first draft to produce your best work? I have struggled with nagging thoughts of what people will think when they read it, much more so now than with any of my short stories or my first novel. I think it is partly down to the fact that there is more pressure with each book that you write to make it better than the last, to keep up reader interest, and to prove that you want to be able to keep writing. There are several people in publishing who are waiting to read my current novel and, whilst it is encouraging, it is also nerve-wracking. When I self-published my previous novel I had complete control over the process and the outsourcing; the deadlines, the cover design, the editing, and it felt safe in many ways. Now I feel a sense of pressure and, sometimes, of impending doom. I have felt paralysed by the need for the first draft to be perfect and to be commercially viable. The truth is no first draft will ever be perfect and nobody can predict what will sell.  Whilst I have been surprised by the sales of my first book, I am under no illusions about the state of flux in which different types of books remain.

My response  to these doubts when they creep up on me, as they always will, is to write as though noone will read it. That’s it. It’s really that simple. Write your book without wondering how good it will be or if it will sell. Imagine that it will never be read and write it for yourself. You do need to be aware of your audience when planning, but I have found that since I made the decision to stop thinking about reader response and beyond, I have moved from writing around 500-800 words a day to up to  2,000 or 3,000. I know it won’t happen every day but it is liberating and freeing. So, here’s to days of carefree writing before you apply a scalpel to the parts that you won’t need, before you carve and sculpt your work. Here’s to writing for the love of writing.

Photo credit: A Leonardo da Vinci notebook with diagram of a potter’s wheel, c. 1508-1509. Flavorwire