In Search of Virginia Woolf


Inspired by “Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith” at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in February, and embarrassed by not getting to the end of any of Woolf’s books or even the wonderful biography by Hermione Lee, I persuaded a friend to come with me to Rodmell for a day out.

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Rodmell was the get-away-cottage that Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased in 1919 and to which they moved on a permanent basis during the war. It is where Virginia wrote, and reworked, many of her famous novels. It is also, of course, where she died.

Having seen Patti Smith’s photographs I was keen to see the bed Virginia slept in and her walking stick. Delightfully, I got to see both. In those days, of course, people sleeping alone would have slept in a single bed but it was still a surprise looking at the room with 21st century eyes. The bookcases are all original though  most of the original books owned by Virginia were sold long before the house became a museum/shrine. All that remains are the collected works of Shakespeare which Virginia had covered herself shortly before her death. 

Virginias bed

I think that it is still possible to get a sense of the woman and writer even after so many decades and changes to the house. The handpainted fireplace, for instance, gives a wonderful sense of the artistic life which surrounded VW. Her sister, Vanessa, was an important artist of the early 20th century.

The bedroom has terrific views from two large windows of the garden, the church and the countryside. It must have been inspiring to work there. It was a tranquil place and the Woolf’s spent a great deal of time in arranging it. It was here in the garden that they entertained their many visitors.

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Within view of the house is the writing hut where VW repaired to do her daily stint of writing. VW had a view of the garden but not so much of it as to provide a great distraction from her work. 

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The house itself is a collection of cottages knocked together to form one large building. The house, when bought by the Woolf’s, consisted of an entrance, a sitting room, a dining room and a tiny kitchen downstairs. By all accounts it was a mean kitchen and the Woolf’s had a newer extension built to accommodate some modern accessories. The upstairs had one large and two small bedrooms. The toilet was outside. I assume that after VM’s death, Leonard made some improvements. 

upperfloor

The house and remaining possessions provide a connection with the two writers but do not necessarily give much of an insight into how they lived and wrote. My friend thought she could feel something of VW’s spirit in the writing hut, though. I understand more of how VW wrote thanks a video I saw a few nights ago with Elaine Showalter, who talked about VW’s style of writing and how she put her novels together. The villagers I met who had known VW mentioned how she used to walk around mouthing lines from her books as she tried them out. I can imagine it was easier to get away with that in the countryside that in central London. 

I am not sure that I understand Virginia Woolf’s writing any better than I did (despite having written and read endless commentaries on her novels during my MA) but I have been inspired to pick up Hermione Lee’s biography again and find VW’s works on my Kindle. What can a writer learn from visiting this remote location? Possibly that what a woman writer needs is not just a room of her own but also sustaining relationships to help her realise her potentials. 

Picking fonts for your book


When you are designing your self-published book the questions of which font to use and which font size are important ones. A good font can be one of the reasons why a reader picks up your book in the first place. You need your book to be legible and easy to read. It may be necessary to use different fonts / typefaces for different formats.

Every basic word processing program has  an array of fonts and many more are available online. However, not all of them work well on eReaders or in print. The most popular fonts seem to be Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans but there are others out there which work for readers as well.

Thanks to computers one of the most popular fonts is Times New Roman. Obviously Times New Roman was designed for the Times Newspapers in the days when newspapers used narrow columns and small font sizes because print and paper were expensive commodities. It was nice, clear and elegant even in small type. Another popular font for word processors is Arial. Arial is a version of Helvetica, a popular font of yore. Helvetica is a clear font without any serifs so it looks clean on the page and is easy to read. As such it is a popular choice for road signs and companies. Arial itself is easy to read and good for people who are not good readers as it is a sans serif font.

Personally, I think Times New Roman is too squashed up with not enough kerning or letter spacing for a modern print book. I use Arial a lot for work publications but I am not sure I would like to read a whole book in it. The original Garamond is a little too fussy for me and I am not fond of serif typefaces. I am not sure it would work on an eReader either.More modern versions seem cleaner and clearer.

Usually I work in Bookman Old Style font which was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It has wide characters and lower case letters are 3/4 of the way up the upper case letters giving it a nice look on the page. The letters  look clean on the page as each letter is balanced with kerning which makes for uniformity. However, I have been looking at Granjon which derives from Garamond. It was the font used in Patti Smith’s M Train with a nice line spacing where it worked well. I am not too sure how it will work with literary fiction though as it is a lighter weight font. Similar to Bookman Old Style is Palatino Linotype. In Palatino the letters are more chiselled and the foot of the letters is shorter so the typeface seems cleaner on the eye.

If you are interested in learning more about fonts and typefaces I have found the following article useful: Picking Fonts. For information about typography I recommend  an article by Janie Kliever which is where the illustration below comes from.

 

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Mapping out a novel


maps

I love maps. Whenever, I decide to visit a place I aim to get a printed map and study it carefully. The map speaks to me of the layout of the place and how it has developed. This helps me to get inside the place a little bit.

On my desk at the moment, are five maps which are connected to my novel, Weaver of Words, which is set partly in Czechia and partly in Poland. When I first arrived in Český Těšín I used the map to orientate myself. I had in my mind the railway station and the border with Poland. Looking at the map, I could see that the whole of the original town centre had two railway stations at opposite ends, with the border in the middle. It gives an understanding of how the modern town developed – one railway line served the Polish side and one the Czech side. Every municipal building of importance was situated with that boundary. The two halves of the town seem, on the map, to mirror each other. The town halls of both sides of the river are on the right hand side of the main street which runs from one railway line to another, straight over the bridge on the Olza. This is clearly visible from the map but might not be so obvious from the ground.When I visited the town, the map gave me a greater understanding of the layout and feel of it. It also allowed me to see how I could have my characters interact with the town.

My three maps of Prague date roughly from the same era – the 1980s. The largest one, gives the layout of the whole city including suburbs. I used it when I went to live in the Czech Republic to help me get around. It still has some of my markings on it. When visitors came, I used the second map, to explain the history of the buildings. This map came with a booklet giving the provenance of all the buildings in the centre of the city.  By looking at these maps it can be seen when the streets were constructed and in which order as the building number and street numbers are both written down. (The building number is the order of construction). This allows observers to locate a building in the archives. The map has the names of streets, buildings and metro stations as they were called in the Communist Era.There are such delights as the Square of Soviet Tanks, which has probably been renamed by now. This is the city as my characters would have experienced it. When I used the maps to walk the city, I photographed the buildings and then located them on the street map. Would my characters have noticed this? Would they have visited the shops? Which pubs would they have sat in? The ones nearest their hostel?

The smallest map, is a tourist street map showing the areas the Communist government thought tourists should be interested in. It is a snapshot of a view of the city at a particular time in it’s history. It has the pubs, cafés and restaurants marked which has helped me to accurately locate places from the time and give buildings the name they would have had in that period.

When I look at the maps I am instantly transported to a different place and a different time. I look at the street names and wonder who are what they celebrate. I look at the buildings and infrastructure to see how the town planners envisioned their town or city. What were the important buildings and places for them? I see the out-of-date names and am reminded of times past. I look at the length and width of streets and wonder at their destinations. In maps, I see a country and I see dreams. When I can, I walk the streets with my map in my hand and experience the place from the ground. Then, I come to know the place.

The books which have inspired me as a writer and helped me learn my trade


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Years ago, when I was thinking of becoming a writer, I consulted a few how-to-books by well-known writers and then went on to read their novels to see how their ideas worked in practice.

One of my favourites back in the 1990s was Rita Mae Brown. I read her book Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual (1988), which contained lots of ideas for a beginner writer. And, of course, I read lots of Rita Mae’s own books. Back in those days it was harder to get information about publishers and so on, so this was a really useful manual.

I also owned Patricia Highsmith’s Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1989) as well as several of her books.

Many years later, when the idea of fiction writing re-entered my head, I looked at other manuals for budding writers. A key text was The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery written by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick (1998). The large number of post-it notes inside the book shows how I used it to plot various novels. It is an excellent guide for anyone starting out as a mystery writer. The ideas for character development and plotting are extremely useful.

I have owned several different editions of Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft (7th ed. 2006). This is a book which never fails to help and guide. The short stories and extracts demonstrate how the techniques work in practice. Her insights into the writing process are both profound and encouraging. She notes that “most of the time spent writing is not spent putting words on the page.” (2000: 13) So true. I recently spent an entire week flicking through the internet and reading articles about my topic before setting down to type.

Finally, in the list of writing manuals I must mention Derek Neale’s A Creative Writing Handbook (2009), which I have just pulled out of my backpack. What a wealth of information and ideas there are in this book! Like Burroway’s book, there are lots of extracts from successful writing to show you how it can be done.

The fiction books I have read are far too numerous to mention. I am sure that, in some way, practically everyone has had some influence of my writing. The novels which are currently finding their way into my hands time and time again are small classics. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is a masterpiece of condensed writing. I love the way she can convey information and atmosphere in such a controlled fashion. The short, sharp sentences say all that needs to be said. Stephen Isherwood’s writing in A Single Man is sparse but powerful. It is a masterpiece of writing. The film, I have to say, is a wonderful companion to the book.

I have been learning how to create characters from Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. This is a marvellous book set in a small town and dominated by one character. From Olive herself, and the people who have been affected by her, we learn about her as an individual. She may not be the nicest character you have read about but Strout presents all sides of her story so in the end you understand her. I read this book straight through so as not to miss any of the nuances. It is a lovely lovely thing.

Always behind the scenes are the novels of Carol Shields. I find myself referring back to her characterisation and storytelling time and time again. Her final novel, Unless, has been one of my favourites since it was published. The storyline is not an easy one to read but it is told so beautifully that I have to keep going back to it.

A thread on a web-forum has just alerted my to The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (1990). The extract I have read looks promising. I can see this book in my hands with a day or two. Why have I never heard of her before? I note that according to Wikipedia she has been influenced by Thoreau, Emerson and de Chardin. It seems to me that I have much to learn from this writer.

The search for inspiration and advice never ends. I read practically every newspaper or article I get my hands on about the writing process. I read books regularly. Some of the books I read are old favourites. Some are books new to me. Once discovered all books have enlightened me in some way whether they were, in my opinion, good or bad books. Not all the books I have read have held my interest to the end but I have admired the craft behind them. And I shall carry on reading and writing.

 

When was the last time you did something for the first time?


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Border crossing

The headline is a quote from leadership and  inspiration guru John C. Maxwell.

Here’s some more inspiration:

“Seven Steps to Success
1) Make a commitment to grow daily.
2) Value the process more than events.
3) Don’t wait for inspiration.
4) Be willing to sacrifice pleasure for opportunity.
5) Dream big.
6) Plan your priorities.
7) Give up to go up.”
John C. Maxwell

I guess I am following some of those steps right now. How?

  1. Interacting more with social media and using my Instagram and Tumblr accounts to promote my work and ideas.
  2. Checking social media more to see what other people are doing and to get inspiration.
  3. Updating my website with background images and text which really reflect my writing and photography. It is all about focus.
  4. I am dreaming big – I am going to format and publish my Riga novel and then approach some independent bookshops to see if they are will to stock a copy or two.
  5. Living in a changing world as we do, it is no longer enough to keep going with the flow and letting life wash over. It is time to be pro-active. I am going to start running my own writing workshops NOW!
  6. I am accepting that in order to move forward I have to give up on projects which are not working. So I am shelving that Estonian crime novel I keep coming back to until I have a really good idea.
  7. My upcoming trip to Belarus must lead to something not just a big adventure. Photobook? Guidebook? Travel video? Novel? Journal? Who knows?
  8. Decluttering. Without clutter I am free to think and dream and produce.
  9. Getting up and going first thing in the morning to take advantage of the peace and quiet in the house.

 

Image source:https://i.ytimg.com/vi/qDH3ddNUuaU/maxresdefault.jpg

Writer’s dilemma: laptop or notepad


electronics

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 challenge – taking notes on the road

When I was planning my recent research trip to the Czech Republic and Poland, I thought long and hard about how I was going to take notes on the trip, how I was going to store up any ideas and information and how I might actually revise the manuscript on the move. Having keyed in about 20,000 words, I thought a print out would be too heavy and bulky to take on the trip, especially since I was travelling by budget airline.I considered a proper notebook but that hadn’t worked well for me the previous year because I keep scratching things out and altering them. The result was a proper mess I could barely make head or tail of. I had not wanted to cart around the huge laptop because of the luggage requirements which is why I decided to invest in a tablet.

I equipped myself with a reconditioned Samsung Galaxy Note 10, set it up and downloaded a third party App to enable me to use my Apple keyboard. I did a dummy run with the pen and managed, with some difficulty, to get the machine to recognize my handwriting. I have long been aware that my handwriting is an issue for people being a mix of Central European 7s and Ts with old school penmanship. People not familiar with how things are written to the east of France appear to have some issues with it. Nevertheless, I thought the Samsung seemed to be coping.

With priority booking on Wizz Air passengers are allowed an extra small bag for camera or laptop and so on. I purchased a small carry bag just bigger that the Galaxy Note and packed it up.

As a back up, and because I like to read books on the Kindle App, I also packed my iPad Mini. This was fortuitous as once abroad the Galaxy Note decided it would no longer recognize either my writing or keypad. It also took issue with downloading my MS Word manuscript from my Cloud Drive. This was frustrating. After a wasted evening I put the Galaxy Note back in it’s carry bag where it remained until we returned home.

The solution? I received quite a few odd looks as I stood in the middle of Český Těšín bus station dictating the scene and notes into my LG Sprite phone. This method I supplemented with taking notes in a small notebook I had packed. It seemed to work.

The idea had been to have one tablet PC to do everything: take notes on the move using the pen, type up notes in cafes or on trains, make adjustments to the manuscript whilst in situ, use the on-board camera to take photos and videos to combine with the words and generally to reduce baggage and confusion. The Galaxy Note did not do it for me :(.

What have I learnt from this challenge? What can others learn from this challenge?

In the absence of any other solution (I think the Note was the third tablet I tried), I measured up my ASUS 15.5 inch laptop and discovered fits into a nice backpack along with its charger, mouse and IKEA riser. Therefore, it will go on future trips. The “smartish” phone came into it’s own as I was able to make recordings on it as I walked along the streets and even interrupt the recordings to add a snapshot of the scene. How good is that? Now, I have the updated Kindle App with white pages and everything on my iPad mini I don’t really need the old Kindle. I still bought another new notebook in Prague in the hope that I will one day fill it with thoughts. All the other stuff, I stuck into a small exercise book using glue tape I found in a small shop en route.

The Galaxy Note failed me and I am gutted. I had such high hopes for it. I hope it’s new owner has a better experience :).

Lynn

 

Deep Writing


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Prepared text for a modern printing press

I recently read an article on the topic of “Deep Writing,” in which the author advises that writers need to park their worries and concerns before they start writing. I think that is an excellent point – it is difficult to write when stressed or worried. It is only natural that these stresses get in the way of the though process.

The writer recommends several techniques to create that special kind of “writing world” that “real” writers seem to inhabit. These involve setting timers, parking worries in a box outside the door, not checking emails or websites until the day’s writing is done, writing a set amount each day and so on.

I am NOT one of those writers who can write everyday. In fact, I sometimes don’t write for a whole week. I might think about writing but I don’t do it. As a writer of historical fiction, I spend a lot of time fact-checking and in the process get carried away looking at interesting things which are not necessarily relevant. I think I am a more rounded person because I learn all kinds of random things from the internet. I am not sure I am going to find much use for today’s nugget that the Duchess of Wessex has a computer database of all her clothes, but you never know.

However, I can enter a kind of writing zone when I want to. The whole of this week I have been doing my research with the backdrop of builders working overhead. I got a surprising amount done, considering the noise they made, and happily immersed myself in Wikipedia and various YouTube films. When they disappeared on Thursday evening, I was wound up enough to sit at my laptop and make major revisions to chapter one. Then, I went back to doing other things. I plan to work on chapter two tomorrow but there’s no hurry. The story will come when it is ready.

I sometimes wonder if I would write more if I didn’t have to go out and earn a living. I don’t think I would. I do “deep writing” when my brain tells me it is ready to write. When my brain is distracted then I do other things. Somehow or other, I seem to get to the end of the novels and produce, I think, something worth reading. That, I think, is the aim.

BTW the writer of the original article has had hundreds of articles etc published. That is impressive.

I include the original article for your perusal:

http://ezinearticles.com/?Deep-Writing-Requires-That-We-Put-Our-Worries-on-a-Back-Burner-Before-We-Sit-Down-To-Write&id=9466586

Lynn