Category Archives: Writing

Grading the ascent

Many writers insist that when they are writing they write for themselves, they don’t think about the reader. A noble sentiment, even a necessary one, but is it true? Even Emily Dickinson wanted to be read. Do we not all, when we are writing, have in mind if not our ideal reader then our ideal writer, the writer who drives us forward, the writer whose audience we would like to share, the writer – if we dare admit it – we would most like to impress?

It is useful to acknowledge the truth of this, because it opens a window on to the summit of our ambition. Ambition is often seen as a dirty word, but for me it is a powerful word as well as an honest one, an abstraction that is physically revealed in the very act of writing.

How far do we want to climb? I’m not talking about a universal standard, a clearly measurable distance. It is a matter of the kind of terrain we wish to traverse.

Nina Allan

Beyond the Narrative Arc

Patterns other than the wave, though, are everywhere. Here are the ones Stevens calls “nature’s darlings.” Spiral: think of a fiddlehead fern, whirlpool, hurricane, horns twisting from a ram’s head, or a chambered nautilus. Meander: picture a river curving and kinking, a snake in motion, a snail’s silver trail, or the path left by a goat grazing the tenderest greens. Radial or explosion: a splash of dripping water, petals growing from a daisy’s heart, light radiating from the sun, the ring left around a tick bite. Branching and other fractal patterns: self-replication at different scale made by trees, coastlines, clouds. Cellular or network patterns: repeating shapes you see in a honeycomb, foam of bubbles, cracked lakebed, or light rippling in a pool; these can look like cells or, inversely, like a net.

These fundamental patterns inform our bodies, too. We have wiggling meanders in our hair, brains, and intestines; branching patterns in capillaries, neurons, and lungs; explosive patterns in areolae and irises; spirals in ears, fingertips, DNA, fists. Our brains want patterns. We follow them instinctively: coiling a garden hose, stacking boxes, creating a wavering path when walking along the shore. And we even invoke these patterns to describe motions in our minds: someone spirals into despair or compartmentalizes emotions, thoughts meander, rage can be so great we feel we’ll explode. There are, in other words, recurring ways that we order and make things. Those natural patterns have inspired visual artists and architects for centuries. Why wouldn’t they form our narratives, too?

Jane Alison at the Paris Review

PGR vs JCC

The feature interview in this month’s issue of Now Then Magazine is the result of yours truly having a chat with the bard of Salford himself, Dr John Cooper Clarke.

Residents of Rust City can pick up a pulped-wood copy from all the usual places, while those elsewhere can peruse it in electronic form via the website. Many thanks to Dr Clarke and his publicity people for setting up the interview, and for the two Sams at Now Then for letting me talk to a legend.

“Staunch”, as read for radio

Through an agreeably unlikely chain of events that started with a chat at the bar of my favourite pub, one of my stories has been recorded and broadcast on Sheffield Live!, a community radio station.

For those of you keeping track, “Staunch” was originally written for Jason Heller’s CyberWorld anthology, and repubbed in Newcon Press’s Best of British SF 2016*. And now it’s been read by Joy Wright and produced by Andrew Tildesley for the Write Radio show, and uploaded to Y*uTube for posterity:

I sat in on the recording, mostly to reassure Joy on some of the word choices and emphases; in contrast to my poetry, my stories aren’t necessarily written with audio performance in mind, and there were definitely some spots in this one where my rather prolix and terminology-dense approach to prose doesn’t make for easy reading-aloud. (Something to watch out for in future works, I think.) Nonetheless, I was pleased to find I liked the story better than I remembered.

Now my doctoral research is done, I’m working to reestablish my fiction-writing practice; it’s pretty rusty from neglect, and I’m arguably busier now than I have been in the last five years, but nonetheless a couple of things are starting to take shape. Watch this space, wot?

[ * – I was initially disconcerted to find there were no VCTB posts about “Staunch”, until I recalled that it was published around the time I was experimenting with using Known as a blogging platform at my canonical website… and then Known went the way of so many FOSS projects, and I needed to revamp that site, and so I pulled it down and junked the blogging there, because I couldn’t find an easy way to import the material to WordPress. So there’s a hole in my personal history for web historians to ponder over, I guess… though it seems likely they’ll find more important things to worry about. ]