Brought to book

It’s official now: this blog has become a book! It’s been up on Amazon for a week or so and costs £6.99. You can find it here.  It’s available on Kindle too. The title, like the blog, is The Belated Writer: Odd Thoughts on Writing and Life.  It looks like this, and incidentally tells you my name. The cover design is an off-the-peg one from Amazon (a friend of mine has used it for a book of hers, in different colours) but I think it suits this book well.

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I’ve tweaked and formatted the inside and arranged the posts by theme as well as chronologically. Adelina is delighted to have a whole section to herself. The biggest section is, not surprisingly, about Writing, but Life comes into it too. I’ve included the posts about Brexit but haven’t included, or even written, anything about Trump. I may well post something about the situation here, but for the moment it feels too dreadful to think about.

After Brexit I went into a flurry of writing and reading, like a chicken clucking about with all her feathers fluffed. The Trump situation feels more like having swallowed a very large and heavy stone and feeling it sink slowly down and down. Surely there must be other words than ‘No’: no, this can’t have happened, no, I don’t want it to be like this, no, we can’t let things get any worse – as they daily begin to get worse. One of the worst things for me was seeing a picture of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina processing down a street in their ghastly garb to celebrate Trump’s victory. All of that hatred is crawling out of the woodwork. And if all I can do is hate the hatred, then I’m buying into it too. Like a lot of people, I’m alternating between anger and despair, when I’m not trying to forget about it altogether.

I won’t say more now. The main point of this post is to show off about the book, in the hope – of course – that some people may actually want to buy it. The ten copies I ordered arrived yesterday and yes, it really does look like a real book. If you’ve read any of this blog before you’ll know what to expect, but to me there’s something very different about reading it in print. Somehow the printed page makes it look more – well – authorial. You can see for yourself, if you want. Or you may just prefer to read it for free here on the blog…

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Hello again from Adelina

Aardvark

Hello everybody

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this Blogg, but in the mean-time I’ve been busy writing a Forward and an Afterward for the Book that the Belated Writer is making out of Pieces of this Blogg, including all the Pieces I’ve written. Yes, I’m going to be a Published Author in a real Book. Isn’t that Exciting? Except of course that it’s not quite a real Book as the Belated Writer is Publishing it herself, which means it hasn’t had to be Accepted by a Publisher. It’s nice for the Belated Writer as she hasn’t had any of those painful Rejections, but on the other hand if you’re Published by a real Publisher then People know it really is a real Book, so you will probably sell more Copies and get more Royalty.

I think the Belated Writer has already told you that her Poetry Collection is going to be published by a real Publisher, which is very Exciting too. She doesn’t yet know when, but it won’t be for quite a long time as the Publisher has got lots of other Books to Publish first. I was very disappointed to hear that the Collection won’t be Published in a proper Album. My Husband, who as you know writes such beautiful Poetry, used to collect Stamps. He kept them in a lovely Album, but perhaps it’s harder to do that with Poems as they are usually bigger than Stamps. It is a pity that my dear Husband hasn’t written more Poems, otherwise he could have a Collection Published too, with or without an Album.

I’m sure the Publisher will make the Book look as nice as possible so that People will want to buy it. There are 58 poems in it and they are on several different Subjects. Some of them are about sad things like People dying and Unrequited Love but there are some funnier ones too, so reading the Book shouldn’t be too painful. One Poem is about eating Bacon backwards on account of being Jewish, or something like that. There is a Contents list at the beginning so that you can choose which ones you want to read, but I have to say the Titles don’t always tell you very much about the Poems.

I do hope you will buy both the Belated Writer’s Books. She will put the Details on the Blogg as soon as she has them. She is Publishing the Blogg Book on the Amazon, but if you order a Copy I don’t think it will take too long to arrive.

With love from

Adelina A Vark (Authoress) xx

 

 

 

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Of making many books…

As well as being a blog, this blog will soon be a book. Emboldened by my to-be-published poetry collection, and like many bloggers before me, I’ve decided to collect together posts from this blog into a self-published not-so-slim volume. Why? you may ask. Isn’t a blog sufficient unto itself? Well, yes, it is, and it’s nice that a certain number of people follow it and (I hope) read it. But a book would be something more substantial; I could even call the pieces ‘essays’ rather than ‘posts’. The question that inevitably follows is: are they worth it? I’m not the best person to answer – author’s vanity, and all that – but it seems to me that there probably is enough substance there. For better or worse, I’ve always tended to write my blog posts as little articles rather than just thoughts in the moment. And I like the process of collecting writings together and editing them into a readable sequence.

In order to do it cheaply, I’m afraid I’m resorting to the iniquitous Amazon. A friend of mine has published several novels that way and recommended it to me, and it seems pretty straightforward as well as cheap. And the book will be easily accessible to potential readers, though unless the author does a huge amount of marketing I would guess that the majority of self-published books are bought mainly by friends and acquaintances. As it’s printed on demand and I don’t have to buy copies in advance I’d be quite happy with that: I’m not looking to this book for much more than the satisfaction of creating it. Of course I’d be hugely chuffed if friends wrote nice reviews (no pressure here) that encouraged a few more people to buy it, and of course I’ll put it out on the book table at readings and open mics, but we’re talking small numbers and pin money here.

Never mind. A book is a book is a book. In the days when I so desperately wanted to be a writer but thought I was wasting my time, I put together two collections of writings that I sold or gave to friends. The first one was a sort of portfolio of all the different kinds of writing I’d done up till then –  short stories, extracts from a novel I’d written, poems, autobiographical pieces, ‘therapy writing’, even a short verse drama. It was produced in the early 1990s on an Amstrad word-processor, with a printer that sounded like a machine gun, and photocopied on A4 pages because I couldn’t reduce it. The covers were copies of two paintings I’d done and I lettered the title on a sticky label, the corners rounded with a pair of nail-scissors. The comb-bound ‘book’ was so big and bulky that several people said they couldn’t manage to read it.

The second attempt, ‘published’ in 2002, was a more manageable A5 size, in Times New Roman font, with sections in bold or italic and fancy colophons. It even included photographs – technology had moved on a lot by then. This book was rather different, in that it started out as a project for a personal development course and was about ‘me, my family and dragons’. Again it was a collection of short pieces – a mixture of fiction, autobiography and reflections about writing – the strands interwoven in a sequence that seemed random but had its own logic. The cover was a photograph of a collage dragon made of shiny paper, and I lettered the title on the computer. I think more people read this second one and some certainly liked it, but some of the writing was too personal to put into the public domain.

I still have copies of both these books, and of a short anthology of poetry and fiction by therapy colleagues that I self-published under my own imprint on 2012. This last one is definitely a book, properly bound and with a professionally designed cover. I did include some of my own writings – I’d just finished the MA and was full of everything I’d written – but once more the main satisfaction was in arranging the pieces by theme and in the best order, so that it read like a proper collection. I was quite proud of it and so, I’m glad to say, were the contributors.

When it came to putting together the poetry collection I was no stranger to the process, having previously entered several pamphlets for competitions. I enjoyed making the poems link with one another linguistically or thematically, choosing where to follow like with like and where to introduce a contrast of tone or form or subject matter. I’m enjoying doing something similar – though less sophisticated – with the blog pieces, grouping them according to date and subject so that there is a progression. The book isn’t done yet, but when it is then naturally I’ll blog about it.

 

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Ready for collection

I don’t know how many posts I’ve written on this blog about having manuscripts rejected, failing to win competitions, not being a proper poet etc etc. I didn’t think I’d ever get there, but I’m now extremely pleased to report that somebody wants to publish a poetry collection of mine. Yes, a whole collection – 58 poems, to be precise – by me and nobody else. I’ve had going on for 50 poems published by magazines, anthologies and websites but I wasn’t at all sure if or when I’d get to the book stage. I could have decided to try to publish a pamphlet (about 20-30 poems) first, but in the end I plunged in and went straight for a collection. And a publisher took it! I did have a rejection from the first publisher I tried, though they did think it was worth trying elsewhere. This was my second attempt, which isn’t bad at all by fiction standards. (I don’t know how many agents I tried with my novel before realising I’d need to rework it – again. Of which more anon.) And the acceptance arrived, as if by magic, the same morning that I sent in the full manuscript. Yes, I know – it is unbelievable. It just so happened that the publishers were having a reading day….

So here I am, a to-be-published poet, getting geared up for my book’s emergence in the second half of next year and already thinking about who I’m going to invite to the launch, where it’s going to be, what refreshments to have etc etc. Some people are a bit squeamish about launches, but if you’re a poet you have to get out there and sell your books. And the way to do it is to have as big a launch as possible, then follow it up by giving readings wherever you can, preferably with other poets who are also launching their collections. If you’re lucky you may be invited to read at various sorts of poetry gigs, but you will also need the chutzpah to ask for invitations and set up your own readings. No room for shrinking violets here. And it’s good to read and have your poems received by an audience, and to get better at it so that you really feel you can communicate, not just on the page but in person too.

Unlike most prose authors, poets don’t get paid an advance on royalty. They are given the opportunity to buy a number of their books at reduced price and sell them at full price, which hopefully makes some sort of profit, even taking into account all the copies you feel obliged to give away. I’ll get five free copies from the publisher, but I imagine I’ll hand out far more than that to people without whom… And of course you get a royalty on the copies that the publisher sells, but the publisher won’t be likely to sell very many unless you do the work of publicising the book.

Which brings me – ahem – to the book itself. I may as well mention now that it’s called A House of Empty Rooms and that it will be published by the lovely Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams. (Don’t you love the names people give to poetry presses?) Watch this space for further details. I may even reveal my name in due course, having ditched the pseudonym as it was just too complicated to be two people at once. I decided the likelihood of my therapy clients reading my collection and knowing it was by me was so small that I might as well come out and be named. But you never know. I’m always surprised at the way people from one corner of my world seem to link up with people from other corners, and I’d just have to cross that bridge in the best way I could.

Anyway, I can now say that I’m officially A Poet and can well and truly stop worrying about whether I am one or not. I can feel equal to all my poet friends who have published or will be publishing collections, and when people ask me if I’ve got a book, I can say, ‘I’ve got one coming out next year,’ which is a lot better than ‘I hope I’ll have one sooner or later’. Now I have to start thinking about the next one, not to mention that novel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo

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Mimi Thebo is another member of our illustrious writing group. She has written both  adult and children’s fiction and is a senior lecturer in creative studies at Bath Spa University. Dreaming the Bear is a novel for older children set in Yellowstone National Park. Mimi Thebo, who hails originally from Kansas, spent several summers in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and her descriptions of it have great reality.

Darcy, the main narrator of Dreaming the Bear, is a bored early teen who is uprooted from her school, her friends and her urban life when her father takes on a research job at Yellowstone. Darcy and her older brother Jem are living with their father in a cabin on the edge of the park; their mother is still in England. It’s the middle of winter with thick snow everywhere, and Darcy is recovering from pneumonia. She can’t go to school and has to walk every day to build up her strength. On one of her walks she climbs higher than she can manage and, exhausted, falls down near a cave where there is a female grizzly bear. To her surprise, the bear takes care of her. Darcy goes back to the cave and despite bear safety protocols begins to develop a close bond with the bear, who has been shot and wounded in the shoulder.

When the family is snowed in, Darcy becomes ill again. She and Tony Infante, the son of a neighbour, start to develop a friendship but she doesn’t tell him or anyone else about the bear. She recovers and when the weather starts to thaw she begins to worry about the bear, who should now be out foraging for food but is handicapped by the injury. Darcy secretly stockpiles food for the bear and takes it up to the cave, avoiding discovery for as long as she can. Eventually, still often unwell, she gets her brother to help her, but she knows that sooner or later the bear will come down from the mountain to scavenge in the town.

The book pivots around Darcy’s relationship with the bear and their close connection. Parts of it are written from the bear’s point of view, and at times when Darcy is seriously ill and out of her body she connects deeply with the bear. Through Darcy’s involvement with the bear Mimi Thebo shows us, touchingly and affectionately, how her human relationships begin to grow, especially that with her father. Her teen romance is handled with a light touch and we see her closeness to her brother. By the time her mother arrives at the end of the book, she has discovered the cause of her recurring illness and found the strength within herself to deal with a tough situation.

The book is far from all sweetness and light and will have great appeal for young teens who are on the brink of stepping into a more adult world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even though it’s a long time since I was a teenager!

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Facing it

Nearly everyone is addicted to something, and probably more than one thing, whether it’s tea or chocolate or cigarettes or booze or crossword puzzles or The Archers or running five miles a day. Or of course the Internet in all its many guises, not least social media. I’ve never had a Twitter account and wouldn’t dare open one: I know I’d constantly be tweaking my tweets. In the pre- and post-referendum days I could feel myself sliding into a serious Facebook addiction: reading article after article on Brexit and its ramifications, more articles on the state of the Labour party, friends’ opinions (everybody seemed to have one) about the situation, not to mention all the other things that people post, like photographs, poetry successes, funny or sad little anecdotes about their lives, and pointless quizzes that tell you how much you know about British (sic) culture or the geography of the North American continent – oh, and poems, which I have to confess I haven’t always read, as it gets a bit depressing when I’m not writing them myself. For a while I’d spend hours a day, getting more and more involved and wound-up inside, pulled back to the computer as though I’d been tied to it by elastic strings and couldn’t move away without being pinged back again.

Eventually it eased off. Since then the addiction has surfaced sporadically, more like an outcrop of spots than a full-blown acne rash (to mix a few metaphors). I’ve noticed that the times when it does tend to surface are those when I’m feeling unhappy or anxious or upset and want to get away from it: to immerse myself in a brightly coloured, endlessly compelling virtual world. What it gives me is a way of connecting with people I may hardly know in real life, a community far larger than – and in some ways a substitute for – the community around me; but it’s also a never-ending source of distraction from what I really am (or could be) thinking and feeling. Which may be painful. For me, as for a lot of people, the feelings around Brexit were troubling and painful, so what better way of dealing with them than by funnelling them into comment after comment on article after article, or diverting myself from them with the myriad snatches of entertainment that other people post?

It would be disingenuous to say that the feelings I’ve been trying to get away from are only about the political situation. Not that what’s happening in the world isn’t important, but alongside the drama of external events most of us are also living through the drama of our own personal lives. Over the past few months I’ve been trying to process a situation that isn’t life-threatening or even all that terrible, by many people’s standards, but that for me has touched into some of the deepest places of pain and loss. Some of the time, through meditation and Focusing – less through writing – I’ve been able to open to the pain, even welcome it, but a lot of the time I’ve avoided sitting in meditation, choosing instead to busy myself with chores or – yes – start checking emails and Facebook. And it doesn’t feel good. The pain doesn’t go away; it just burrows its way underground and emerges as headaches or tension or that wound-up, overstimulated feeling that comes from too much hopping around from clip to clip and site to site, especially if I’ve been drinking tea as well – another escape.

At those times when I am able to sit with it the pain may be intense, so that I’m not able to stay with it for very long, but I’m there’s also the relief that comes from no longer running away. And, as I continue to let it be there, I sometimes come home again to the sense of the benevolent space around the painful feeling, and an acceptance of it that can deepen until it sometimes stops being ‘pain’ and becomes simply a feeling or sensation that in the moment doesn’t have a name. I can’t say that always happens, but when it does the  relaxation and even wellbeing is unmistakable. In fact I could say that in that sense feeling bad feels good: the more fully I can meet it, the more fresh and alive it is.

And of course it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it really is too much, and sometimes an anodyne seems to be the best solution, especially if I have things to get on with and people to see. But I know that in the end what eases the pain best is facing it, not Facebooking it.

 

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The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

9781408858431I’m privileged to be part of a writing group that has some hugely talented published writers, as well as some who are just as talented but haven’t yet been published.We’ve been going strong ever since we finished our MA at Bath Spa University and I’ve learnt a lot from everyone. Our members include Jane Shemilt, author of two bestselling novels, Daughter and The Drowning Lesson, Mimi Thebo, whose whose recently published children’s novel Dreaming the Bear has been much praised, Victoria Finlay, author of two fascinating and successful adult non-fiction books, Colour and Jewels, as well as The Brilliant History of Color in Art for young people, Peter Reason, another non-fiction author whose book Spindrift is both a vivid description of a sailing voyage and a deeply felt and deeply considered meditation on our relationship with nature, and Emma Geen, whose original and enthralling debut novel The Many Selves of Katherine North has just been published by Bloomsbury.

The Many Selves is set in a near future where the technology exists both to print living replicas of animal bodies, known as ResExtendas, with a brain stem but no higher brain function, and to allow ‘body jumpers’, known as phenomenauts, to project their consciousness into them, primarily for purposes of research. Katherine North works for ShenCorp, a company that recruits children and young teenagers as its phenomenauts, since their brains have greater plasticity than adults’. Most of them don’t continue for long in the job – for reasons that become clear at the end of the novel – but Katherine, known as Kit, has been body jumping successfully for several years.

At the beginning of the novel Kit experiences being run over and killed while body jumping in a fox ResExtenda, or Ressy. She survives in her human body but is profoundly shaken by the experience and starts to question her identity. She also believes she has encountered another presence, in the form of a fox, which does not appear on any of the records. Buckley Maurice, her neuroengineer (body jump guide/technician) who has been with her on all her jumps, is concerned about her continuing to work as a phenomenaut, but Kit loves the job and at the comparatively advanced age of seventeen can still pass the brain plasticity tests. She is committed to ShenCorp’s research programme into species that are endangered or little understood and resists when the odious Mr Hughes, supported by Buckley, tries to manoeuvre her away from research and into body tourism. This is a commercial project where those who can afford it pay to body-jump into a species of their choice – or even a human Ressy – accompanied by an experienced phenomenaut like Kit.

If Kit wants to stay as a phenomenaut, she has no choice but to accept the transfer. She struggles to continue doing what she loves in a way that satisfies her, and this throws her into conflict with ShenCorp. As she tries to deal with the dilemma, her life begins to disintegrate and she feels entirely alone. Buckley seems to have turned against her and to be responsible for the other presence, and she doesn’t know where else to look for an ally. Leading a feral existence, part human, part fox, she is determined to understand what has happened to her and reclaim her life.

What stands out for me in this remarkable and poetically written novel are the descriptions of the body jumps themselves, into species as diverse as a spider, an octopus, a tiger and a blue whale. Emma Geen makes us believe completely what it would be like  to experience the world as another creature while retaining human consciousness, and we can feel the respect for other species that this would give us. The book’s questions about humanity, identity and the relationship between mind and body are far-reaching and universal, but at the same time it is a very human story of a teenager finding her own way of being in the world. The Many Selves of Katherine North is deeply thought-provoking and a very good read.

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