Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Who Am I?

 
Lots of new readers recently. Hello! Hopefully you're here because of my writing, not because Google broke and redirected all searches for cheap Viagra to this URL. (If you've come here for that I apologise, I only sell books. Links at the top).

I have the usual bio page, which has a brief introduction. Recently I applied for a writing mentorship programme. I wasn't successful this time: unprecedented number of entries, high quality of applicants, yada yada yoda, which is okay - you win some, you lose postage stamps. As part of the submission I had to tailor a biography and also a "personal statement". I hate those things. Everything on my blog is a personal statement, and I like my blog, but in this case it tends to mean you have to really sell yourself as if the evaluators are your pimps and you're weaving words seductively wearing a tight black miniskirt. (If you've come here for that I apologise, I'm more likely to be wearing trousers. Though for the right patron I might shake it like a dog). Anyway, I spent time writing that flippin' thing so I'll paste it in here as a way of saying howdy doody to new friends and maybe providing a new insight for my existing friends.



Biography
I grew up in Manchester, a place I love and hate. My father died when I was a child and we moved around a lot. New schools, new houses. I found it hard to keep making new friends so retreated into books and fell in love with story-telling. There were other worlds I could visit as I read at the top of the weeping willow, or underneath my bed by torchlight. Then I discovered that I could make my own worlds too and began writing stories and poems, often quite dark juvenilia. They were published in school magazines and that made me happy.

With the exception of English, where I always got top marks, I was a rebellious and problematic child, unhappy and worried about my family. I experienced my first bouts of depression, a mental state that has been my occasional companion in life. Then I went to a further education college and it turned my life around. I learned to love studying – not because I was told to, and punished if I didn’t, but because I wanted to learn. I studied extra subjects and went to night school too, despite it meaning I was sometimes in college for 12 hours. I became the first person in my family to go to university and eventually got first class honours in English and Classics (specialising in Ancient Greek language).

I moved to Wales, achieved an MSc in Information Studies, and became a university librarian. All this time I kept writing. And every year I would look back on my older work and see its flaws, learn from them, and continue writing new stories. I recently decided to dedicate myself to writing full time and left my library job after 25 years of helping staff and students. I have accepted shaky income prospects in exchange for being able to immerse myself in what I love – writing.

Personal Statement
I have been writing short stories since childhood. Around ten years ago I wrote my first novel in lunchtimes while working full time – the only way I could fit it in around all my other commitments. I decided the end result wasn’t quite good enough so I put it aside, wrote and re-wrote two other novels, and self-published them. Then I went back to my first novel, and entirely re-wrote it. Although I really wanted to give up and move on, I knew I would learn more by fixing something that wasn’t working. Every element was inter-connected: altering a character meant adjusting the plot; removing a scene meant adding foreshadowing elsewhere. After separating the engine’s parts and reconnecting them – and replacing and polishing and refining – I learnt a huge amount, including how to avoid making those mistakes again in the future, and how to cut words without regret! And that’s where I am now, with three novels self-published and generally well received (my Goodreads rating is c.4 out of 5, from 120 ratings and 95 reviews). I collaborated with professional writers and literary editors on all three and have taken all this previous writing as my apprenticeship. It’s been a steep learning curve but an educational and rewarding one.

The mentorship would mean so much to me; it would be a massive boost to my writing and confidence. I know this because in 2011 I received a small bursary from a literary organisation to work on one of my novels. It gave me confidence in my writing ability and what I had achieved so far. That faith in me was more important than the money, and kept me writing through some difficult times. That faith changed my life and fuelled my dedication to be a professional author.

My writing is literary but often dark; and in experimenting with pace and plot I sometimes use elements of genre fiction. Regardless of what niche a particular work falls into my aim is always to tell a good story. It would be amazing to work with an experienced mentor who could help me improve on my writing strengths (dialogue and character) and work on areas where I feel I can make the biggest gains, such as plot, style, and keeping a commercial eye on my work. In the past I have benefitted from the advice of various editors and industry professionals who I hired to help me with the substantive edits for my novels, including a recent winner of a national Book Of The Year award. I have not had the opportunity to receive extended guidance before, such as this scheme offers.

I would also value the residential taught elements. I’m a great believer in their importance, both for the freedom from distractions, and for being surrounded by writing and ideas. They provide the fertile soil that stays with you when you leave with so many new seeds to tend. In the last two years I have been on three week-long writing courses and in every case I learnt a huge amount from the tutor-writers and my fellow students. In fact, I recently promoted the value of writing courses in an article for a national magazine. A course isn’t just about the five days you are there: the experience, skills and relationships continue. After the Arvon course myself and a number of my fellow students set up an online writing group where we critique each others work via Skype and email.

The timing would be ideal for my next project. [Blah blah blah - redacted.]

I love the idea of the participants working together to create a shared anthology, finding connections in our varied approaches and styles. In 2015 I was included in an anthology of UK short stories and was involved with the launch at a major city arts centre, where I gave a reading. The anthology was a great way of bringing writers with various styles and interests together, but illustrating that we all had the same goal – to communicate something to our readers. Different paths to the same place.

I’ve recently become self-employed as a full-time writer because this is what I’ve always dreamed of and spent my life working towards. That need to write, communicate, and improve is what keeps me going on days when the words don’t flow. I’ve taken a huge risk in leaving my job to follow my dream, but I’m willing to put in the hard work to give myself the best chance of success. A good example of that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I took part for the first time in 2015, and although it was tremendously hard work I succeeded in writing over 50,000 words in November. It involved dedication, endurance, and late nights, but the sheer pleasure and excitement chased away tiredness. The intensity generated new ideas, the pressure pushed me to work harder. I think the work I did in November is amongst the best I have ever written.

The world of publishing is changing, with new and multiple routes to our audience. My self-publishing journey has led to a range of new skills (marketing, design, collaboration, social media, giving talks and readings, being involved with professional writing organisations) and the awareness that we can reach people in many ways, using whichever avenue is appropriate for that book. The end goal is to be read, and for our readers to gain something positive from the experience.

I am excited about where my writing will take me over the next five years, and if I was successful in applying for this scheme then it would be an incredible boost in achieving those goals.

John Cleese funny walk version 2

Well, that's me. Who are you? Say hi, introduce yourself - tell me what you read, or what your favourite music is, or your loveliest animal. Go ahead. Blow. My. Mind. (And thanks for making it this far.)

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3 comments:

Marc said...

Did you ever write letters to Amiga Format magazine? If it was you did you ever keep the prizes you won?

Karl Drinkwater said...

I did indeed! Wow, a blast from the past! In fact, I still have the T-shirt (though the binder is long gone). Have a look at my latest blog post (well, in 10 minutes' time) - I'll put up some scans of the letters. :-)

Marc said...

That's awesome, cheers!