Cat’s Eye View of Night (prose poem)

Cat’s Eye View of Night

Low down, up from the ground – faster faster. Tooth and claw, pissing hissing screaming; the city lies dreaming. Night-sight like green daylight, fight or flight; this is what freedom feels like. The four-footed assassin, staking and playing with prey. Stealthy acrobat, sure-footed. No nine lives but the skills to survive. Black coat predator – killing, playing, fucking – fucking any bitch who stands still long enough. Moth-flicker. Hammer-paw. A thousand luminescent eyes in the urban tunnels; friend and foe. A mob war for the streets. No crack or smack but piss, pissing everywhere. Blood on claw. Blood on paw.

Cat Capone – Cat the Ripper – the foxes flee.

 

Poetry Editing 101: Session Eight – Onwards

Sadly, we’ve come to the end of this little course. I hope you’ve found it useful.

There is still a very long way to go and much to learn on the path to poetry perfection, but if you follow the advice I’ve set out over these sessions, you’ll be heading out in the right direction and bringing your poetry to the point where it’s publishable.

Rather than cover a new topic, I wanted to end things with some final advice and tips for your continued poetry practice.

Right at the start, I outlined a process for writing and editing poems using multiple drafts formed out of your initial idea. I’d like to return to that for a moment and talk about its importance.

The goal of a good poem is to encapsulate a single theme/idea in a way in which the reader can unpack it in their minds and turn it from words on a page to actual experience. Does this sound like something that’s hard to do? It should – poets spend a long time in practice getting these things right, and you’ll never get to your best stuff on a single draft poem.

So here’s the first piece of advice I want to leave you with – stop writing one draft poems. They’ll never be good enough. They might pass muster in a workshop group but they’ll never be the best you can do and that shouldn’t be good enough for you.

The other important thing is reading. Many novelists will tell you, the only way to get good at writing fiction is to read loads and write loads. In the very first book I read about the art of fiction, Stephen King’s, On Writing, that advice was given multiple times like a mantra. It’s true of writing fiction and it’s true of writing poetry. If you want to write great poetry you need to read great poetry – and there’s so much of it out there.

Make your reading as wide and deep as possible. Read from all the schools and eras but, most importantly, read modern poetry – read what’s being written now.

Tim Liardet, one of my poetry tutors, used to say, “The more poetry collections you read, the more you start to sound like yourself.” This is true because, as you start your journey into poetry, I’ll guarantee you, you’re going to find that you’ll read poets entirely new to you and you’ll spend weeks writing poems afflicted by their style.

It’s impossible to avoid this when we’re in the formative stages of developing our craft because we get blown away by the work of a writer and we start to incorporate their phrasing, tricks, and tics in our own work.

There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s how we develop our toolbox and technical vocabulary. It fades as we read and write more and more and allow our own style and voice to emerge.

On the subject of voice, I want to say a little more on conservation of language. One thing I’m noticing is that many developing writers think it’s a good thing to edit out articles, conjunctions and prepositions from their work. This doesn’t add to conservation of language. It only makes your work sound weird and truncated.

Read the work of some great modern poets and you’ll see it’s not something that’s needed. Making your poetry sound as naturalistic as possible makes it better to read, easier to understand and much more accessible.

So there we have it. If you’re still with me, well done for getting this far. I wish you all the best with your journey onwards – read loads and write loads – let poetry be part of your life.

Now, go write!

Damian

200/300/400/500

 

I was going to do a post about taking a break when you’re a writer and how hard that seems to be. I will get to that, maybe later this week or early next, but today, I want to provide you all with a swift kick up the arse and, hopefully, some motivation.

I know what it’s like when things pile up and the last thing you can think about is writing. At that stage, anything seems like a better option.

It can be the same feeling you get when you’re at your wit’s end about something, staring into the abyss. Such situations are not much different from staring into a blank page and feeling like you’d just rather go play Freecell. If you don’t break the cycle you can spend weeks in exactly the same mental position.

All of this is especially true if you’re writing a novel. What you need to do is use the energy of a good writing session to fuel the next one. But getting that particular ball rolling can be a real Catch 22.

So here’s a little trick I’ve found that I hope might help you out. On those days, instead of looking at that page and expecting yourself to fill it, just push through it with a small word count. Give yourself a minimum.

200/300/400/500 words per day – these are achievable goals for you to meet. One or two 15 minute sprints with Sprinto would get you right there. Let me break down what these minimums mean.

200 WPD

A little over 200 WPD will see you writing in one year a novel the length of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling

300 WPD

That’s the first draft of a 110k novel over a year. The same kind of length as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

400 WPD

146k words a year. That’s two drafts of a shorter novel around the length of The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

500 WPD

182k words a year would net you a first draft around the length of a huge novel like The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien.

And all of these are assuming you stick at this word count, which you won’t, you’ll have those days when you fly right past it. And for those of my friends on Discord, go and work out how much you wrote today just chatting to people.

So that’s my advice: set yourself a daily minimum, even if it’s only 300 words. It will seem much less daunting when you’re looking at that blank page.

Now, go write.

Damian

First Serial Rights, Steem and You

This might be a bit of a strange writing tip today, as it’s not so much about writing as it is about approaching the various markets for publication of your work. In this case, especially after you’ve already posted it to your blog.

I’m covering this today because I’ve heard a remarkable amount of misinformation about it around the platform. I believe this is causing many bloggers to miss out on further opportunities to distribute and earn money from their work.

What are First Serial Rights (FSR)?

When you allow a newspaper, magazine, journal or website to run your story/poem/article for the first time, you’re not handing over the copyright, what you’re doing is giving them the right to publish your work first so they can offer it to readers before anyone else does (essentially, this is a license).

This is why you’ll make your biggest chunk of change from the FSR.

But once the work has been published and those rights have been exploited you are free to seek publication elsewhere (though do check, sometimes there will be a clause not to publish elsewhere for a set period of time ie. the license you granted to the publisher should have an expiration date).

So the question we need to ask as bloggers is: does the posting of my work count as FSR?

The prevailing opinion of many of the members of the Steem community to whom I’ve spoken about this seems to be yes. In actual fact, it’s partly yes and partly no.

We need to think markets over minutia.

In realistic terms, the reason a publication wants FSR is so they can bring your work to their audience first. So my short story appearing in Granta gets to their readers before it gets to those of, say, The New Yorker.

Here you can clearly see the issue. With those two publications there’s a big chance of crossover and a huge readership for both. If you’d given FSR to one, it would be a big deal for the other in ever considering your work.

As for blogging, let’s use me as an example. How many people actually read one of my poems or short stories? I’d like to think it’s a ton, but if I were to suppress my ego for a moment I’d be able to admit that, if I said twenty, I’d probably be pushing the number up slightly.

So, if I were to say 50 max, I’d be 99.999% certain about it.

And this really gives us our answer. None of the audience for either Granta or The New Yorker has ever read the work on my blog. In realistic terms, FSR has not been given up.

So what does that mean for me?

When you’re looking for a place to send your work, consider places that say they won’t publish work that’s been published elsewhere (unless they specifically say that includes blogs).

Don’t lie about it. Just say something like this:

This story has been posted to my blog, and read by less than fifty people.

If the editor looking at your work is rational, that isn’t going to make a difference to them.

I will point out that a fellow member of The Writers’ Block had a piece rejected from a journal that did accept reprints, because it was on Steem and couldn’t be deleted, so that does remain a possibility.

Just don’t rule out FSR on your own work because you’ve published to the blockchain. The worst an editor can do is say no.

And, in fact, one of my friends who’s been hunting around for places to pitch our work found a place today that specifically said that they don’t publish work that’s been published elsewhere, but that blogs don’t count in this (other markets specifically mention blogs as counting, so it can go both ways).

And you know, one day, I might even tell you what that publication is, once I’ve had a chance to send my stuff there first, of course.

Now, go write!

Damian

PS: While we’re briefly on the subject of copyright, legitimate publications will never ask you to give it up. If anyone ever asks you to give up your copyright – run – run like the wind.

PPS: A huge thank you to @thinknzombie for casting his legal eye over this piece and making some very relevant additions.

Oxford – A Brief Literary Journey

I was in London last week, spending some time visiting my parents and relaxing with hubby. John, one of my oldest friends, wanted to take a visit to Oxford.

I was fortunate enough to attend Ruskin College when I decided to embark into higher education, so I was thrilled to go back there for the first time in years and show my hubby and my friend some of the cool places Oxford has to offer.

John picked us up and we set off fairly early. It didn’t take us too long to get to the outskirts of the city.

For those who don’t know, Oxford is a city which hates cars. You’d be more likely to find a first edition of Lord of the Rings lying around on the streets than a decent parking spot.

So we stopped at one of the Park and Rides to catch a bus for the final part of the journey.

John and Luke (hubby) at the Park and Ride.

Our first stop (well, after grabbing some ice cream from the amazing G&Ds on St Aldates) was the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. It was just around the corner from Ruskin and a place I often popped into for inspiration, while I was studying there.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

The museum has a fantastic collection of antiquities. Here are a few examples:

Athena
16th Century Chinese Sewing Box
Didcot Coin Hoard
A collection of lutes

Well, wouldn’t all that art and history be enough to give you a terrible thirst? So our next stop had to be a bar.

Those of you who know me are probably quite aware that I write a lot of speculative fiction for younger people, so there really was only one choice (made somewhat easier by its close proximity to the Ashmolean).

The Eagle and Child

Why is this place such an important literary landmark? A blackboard in the back of the place explains why:

Inklings

There were several nods to the Inklings around the bar:

Hobbit Cover
Unexpected Party

And a door you probably wouldn’t want to mess with:

 

Aslan is watching
Close Up

So we had a fine meal in there and, of course, a pint. Then set off for the place my hubby wanted to go most of all, the botanical gardens, to see a particular bench:

Will and Lyra’s Bench

So, those who’ve read Phillip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials, don’t need to ask how important this place is, and I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t experienced the sheer brilliance of this trilogy.

I’ll only say we were there on the day after midsummer, so we missed them by 24 hours.

It really was a fantastic day. The experience of going back to Oxford has rejuvenated me in a way I could not have wished or expected. I plan to go back again in a couple of months and, this time, I’ll take a decent camera with me.

Luke and Damian

 

 

Clay’s Writing Tips: Landmarks and Signposts

I’m a pantser. There’s just no escaping it.

The last two novels I’ve attempted to write, I tried to change my game and planned them out, in an attempt to make things slicker and smoother and, hopefully, require less drafts to bring me to the stage when I could start to edit. Both of them failed almost totally.

So, I’m a pantser, and I should just live with it. I’m not going to try planning again. When I wrote my first poetry editing post, I defined the first draft of a poem to be like mining for ore. The first draft of a novel is exactly the same. Only, when you’re pantsing, you’re going mining without a map.

One question I’m asked a lot by planners is: “Are you mad?”

I usually laugh and say something about horses for courses. But then they tend to ask a more pertinent question which often applies to them, even though they do plan.

See, the thing is, even when you plan you can run into problems. Something occurs to you halfway in the novel which is a much better idea than the one you had at the outset. And why wouldn’t it be? You’ve actually brought your characters and world to life. They may not like the plans you had in mind. As your initial plan grows into reality, you may see a lot of possibilities you like a lot better.

So back to that question. They ask: “What do you do when you can’t see a way forward?”

That is a good question and I have two possible solutions for everyone.

Landmarks

So you might be a planner. You’ve veered off your initial course and can’t see the way forward. Or, like me, you might be a pantser and just don’t know where to go anymore.

Landmarks are clearly visible locations you want your character to end up. If you have planned, look through the rest of your plot. Is there a place you know you want the character to end up?

I don’t mean in a specific location in your world, though that is a possibility. It could be anywhere the character needs to be, physically, mentally or emotionally:

I need Mr Hicks to realise he’s made a mistake by firing his servant.

The cowboy has to get to the dry springs so he can meet the cartographer.

Tim from Ruislip has to see that his relentless body odour is holding him back in his relationships.

Planner or pantser, all you need do is a little forward thinking to work out where your protagonist has to be. From there, you just need to work out the incremental steps to get them there, or, even one step, just moving them forward will do. So long as you keep your landmark in mind when finding the next step, you’ll get them there eventually.

Mr Hicks feels unwell and realises he’s not taken his medication because his servant wasn’t there to remind him.

The cowboy is captured by his enemies. They leave him stranded in the desert. His only chance for survival is to get to the springs.

Tim tries to go swimming but is turned away by the pool receptionist and shamed publicly.

Signposts

Signposts are the opposite of landmarks, though they also present us with another way forward.

Signposts are those little, extremely forgettable, things we write that have no use or meaning beyond that initial inclusion:

She said she might go to Skegness. What did he care about that place? Wasn’t that where working class drinkers went to get sunburnt on the beach and glass a few locals? He’d been there once in his childhood at the home of some distant relation. He’d never been so bored in his life.

So right there, we’re using that verisimilitude to give his view of Skegness some weight. We had no intention of pursuing the path of his distant relative.

But what if we did? What if that relative is the key to further resolution in the story?

So signposts are another great way forward. Read back through your manuscript and write them all down. You’ll more than likely find the one which points forward.

Now. Go write!

Damian

 

Together Bears

Together Bears

For Luke, on our 12th anniversary

You’d never have believed you’d be eating onions
as part of almost every meal.
If your 19 year-old self saw you drinking coffee
he would totally ask, what’s the deal?
If I’d told you that curries would be your top choice
you’d have told me my brain was misplaced.
And if I’d said, you’ll be vegan one day,
you’d surely have laughed in my face.

But what could I see, twelve years in the future,
and why would it matter at all?
When the one thing I knew is that we’d be together
holding hands through each rise and each fall.
Through triumphs like defending your thesis,
while so poor we shared one pair of shoes.
For better or worse, it’s a beautiful curse
to know I’ll be right here with  you.

 

Chicago-Method Writing Workshop Rules

Over here at The Writers’ Block, we’re pretty excited about getting the Chicago workshops running.

It really is a different and insightful method to get a variety of reader’s and writer’s opinions on your work and put you in a fantastic position for making revisions to bring your work to burnished perfection.

What follows is a guide to explain the rules and give you an idea of the process, in the hope this makes the events an easier and smoother experience for everyone involved.

Anyone is welcome to take part. Pop along and join us at The Writers’ Block Discord: https://discord.gg/k23eX8Y

If you are joining us for the workshop, please take the time to read through these guidelines.

Before the Event

If you’d like to have a piece of work included in the workshop, or even if you’d just like to attend, please fill out the sign-up sheet you can find at Google Forms.

You’ll need to make two copies of your Google Document: one should allow for comments so that your fellow workshoppers can annotate your work; the other should be read-only to allow the reader to concentrate on the piece without the major distraction of people live editing as they do so.

If you are submitting prose, please make sure it is formatted to have a single line space after every paragraph.

Submit only a single poem, up to three pages (max 1500 words) of prose, or five pages of properly formatted script.

Please make your submission at least thirty minutes before the start of the workshop so we can fix any problems in advance of it beginning, as there won’t be time to do so once the workshop has begun.

Before entering the channel, please set your discord mic settings to push to talk.

During the Workshop

Work will be workshopped in the order it appears in the queue.

A reader will be selected to read the piece out. It must be someone other than the author. It should be read exactly as it is on the page. The reader must resist the urge to extemporise or correct errors as they go. This way the writer gets to hear their words read back to them with all the clunks and stumbles.

After the work has been read, the members of the workshop will have a chance to feed back over voice chat on the piece. This must be done with no interruptions from anyone. You must wait for your turn to feed back.

Once everyone has fed back, the writer can ask readers to explain any comments that weren’t clear to them or they didn’t understand and ask one or two questions if there were concerns they had about their piece that weren’t brought up. Just remember if there is a long queue, and many people who want feedback on their work, to be fair and reasonable in the number of questions you ask.

We then move on to the next piece in the queue.

If we don’t get to your piece this time it will keep its place in the queue for the next workshop.

Chicago workshops are a fantastic way of developing your craft as a writer. So why not come along and give it a go?

Damian (AKA Big Bad Bear)

Macaroni

Macaroni

One day Mum felt bored and lonely
so she made some macaroni.
She cooked it in her giant pan –
the one reserved for stews and lamb.

It boiled away for hour on hour
till all the liquid was devoured.
She added milk and added water,
a pint of blood from her eldest daughter.

She put in pepper, sprinkled salt,
a clove of garlic, spoon of malt.
But something she had done unknowing
kept the pasta growing and growing.

It hit the floor and filled the kitchen
expanded through each room we lived in,
brought the house down, didn’t stop,
this soggy swelling pasta slop.

Soon it swamped the entire planet.
That was the end and so I’ll have it –
never let my mum cook pasta.
It’s going to be a huge disaster.

 

Friendship

Friendship

Open up your door and I am there
standing, waiting on the dusty street,
ready with a football and a day,
time enough for both of us to smile.

Our weekends are fields and lakes and trees
and walks out in the woods with pack and tent.
I always have a story or a song
and you, a riddle, or a funny joke.

And if there is stream I cannot cross
you push me on and guide me safely through.
I hold you through the damage that’s been done
by your family’s cold indifference.

Be it in pain or obstacles to pass,
we haul each other up into the light.