Writing Process Blog Tour

The Writing Process Blog Tour is a kind of whistle-stop tour of writers exploring their writing process -- they answer four questions about their work, then send you on to the next writer. Today, I'm one of the stops.

First, I’d like to thank Vanessa Harbour for inviting me to take part. Vanessa is programme leader for the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, where I worked for six years, and a writer of young adult fiction.

What am I working on?
Two major projects are coming to fruition at once. My short story collection, The Missing Woman, is being published in April 2015 by Parthian Books. The stories circle around women who are either literally missing (a mother in rehab, a sister who’s disappeared from a bike trail) or who are missing a metaphorical part of themselves. The best stories, I hope, contain both. At this final stage, I’m looking again at stories that have already been published in journals; hoping to finish a few on the go; and even, if I’m ambitious, writing a new story or two over the spring and summer. My deadline is October.

At the same time, I’m finishing (again) a novel, The Anatomy of Light, which I’ve been working on for longer than I’ll admit today. I’m so excited about this final draft (truly final!) which, I hope, has expanded this very interior story of a photographer learning to “see” the lack of intimacy in her marriage through a very sexual affair, and cast it (and her) into the larger world – in this case, 1998, the release of Viagra, the Clinton/Lewinsky controversy, raising questions of trust and sexuality and openness in both the private and public realm. I’ll be looking for an agent, and hoping that Parthian might be interested, too.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Oh my gosh, has the marketing department asked me this question? I use different words than other people might use; I come up with images that are mine, not theirs; I use too many semi-colons. I do think I write about sex very frankly. Maybe that’s distinctive.

Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to. I just had a brief discussion with a male friend who’s reading just non-fiction – the real world is so fascinating, why bother with made-up stuff? A former journalist, I strive to accomplish what non-fiction can’t. I am fascinated by interior lives (Henry James, Virginia Woolf, are my classic loves) and I try to imagine, discover, convey what it is like to be a human being on this planet.

How does my writing process work?
Writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. I had a wonderful first editorial meeting with Susie Wild, my short story editor (and, yes, one of the next bloggers). We began with my very favorite story in the collection, and I could see, with Susie’s help, and even with just the knowledge she’d be coming back to me with ideas, ways to make it better. Rewriting, again! I was scared walking in to our meeting. Sitting there with her, in the Pettigrew Tea Rooms in Cardiff, I found that work so exciting.

But that’s at the end of the process. I’ll concentrate on the beginning. I don’t, consciously, begin anything (well, except my novel). My drafts feel like kaleidoscopes. I write a paragraph one day that describes some moment or image. The next day, I might write something else; the next day a few other short bits. At some point, I turn the kaleidoscope and I see a pattern emerging -- I realize I’m putting together a story. This is all on paper. When I have enough, and I need the logic and order that a screen demands, I allow myself to type up what I have into a Word file. I print, scribble, type, type again, turning and turning the kaleidoscope until each individual turn works in itself, and fits into the overall design.

For my novel, this was sort of how I started, but the logic, plotting, re-plotting, required me to create a more sustained trajectory – more like a movie than a kaleidoscope. But even if the trickery has worked and the reader sees a line of action, behind that illusion is still a series of images and intense interior moments that my fiction is about.

I've just looked up "kaleidoscope," and discovered it means in Greek the "observation of beautiful things." That seems right.

Next stops:
Ivy Alvarez's second poetry collection is Disturbance (Seren, 2013). A recipient of writing fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden Castle and Fundacion Valparaiso, her work is published in journals and anthologies in many countries and online, with selected poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. She also worked with Paul Edwards and me on Imagistic. Her Writing Process Blog will appear April 14 on her Google Plus page.

Susie Wild (@Soozerama) is a writer, journalist and editor based in Cardiff. The Art of Contraception was her first book. It was long-listed for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2011 and won 'Fiction Book of the Year' in the Welsh Icons Awards 2010. Her Kindle novella 'Arrivals' was released globally through Parthian Books in May 2011. She is the General Editor (Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction) at Wales' Leading Indie Publisher Parthian Books. Her Writing Process Blog will appear April 21.

Previous stops that I particularly liked were by author Judith Heneghan, also a Winchester lecturer and the Winchester Writing Festival director; Claire Fuller, whose first novel is coming out with Fig Tree/Penguin next year; children's writer Kat Ellis, and writer Virginia Moffatt.

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