Firstly, thank you to the wonderfully incisive, insightful, humane creator of multilayered poetry, Ivy Alvarez, for asking me if I wanted to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour. You can see her blog for the Tour here. I had the honour of reviewing Disturbance (Ivy’s most recent book of verse) for New Welsh Review, and you can see my thoughts here.
Secondly, you can see the Tour blog by novelist and short story writer, Carol Burns (who invited Ivy to contribute) here.
Thirdly, next Monday, April 28th, you will be able to see what the lovely and inspiring poet, educator and literary event event organiser, Christina Thatcher has to say about her writing process and more here. See after my blog for her bio 🙂
Fourthly, my answers to the four questions you will find answered at each stop on the tour…
1) What am I working on?
—Prepping for Oxslam 2014, May 1st, the fourth annual poetry slam between Cardiff and Swansea, facing off in a good cause. I will be the Cardiff Team Captain. Facebook event Page here.
—Simultaneously prepping for the Dylan Thomas Festival in Laugharne the following evening when I will be among other (mainly Cardiff based) performers at the Dylan Thomas Festival in Laugharne as part of the Back of the Pub Poetry Club.
—Working on a parody performance piece The Priestly Boys, (w)rapping up Catholicism in a Beastie Boys flavoured package for an open mic event I will probably also be the guest host for around mid-May (will blog nearer the time).
—Working on promoting my booklet of my story in verse and prose Human Beings (Dickensian Twist) launched at the monthly Cardiff Rhyme and Real Ale poetry event last Monday night (see my website for artwork, willdeanford.com). Next up booklet-wise is likely to be one of my other longer form verse/story pieces, Cupid’s Evil Twin.
—Working on collecting together the comedic and more serious aspects of my performance verse and longer story verse pieces for submission to a publisher actually inviting such things.
—Going on then coming off the back burner as time allows, a collection of short stories provisionally titled The In and Out of Control Freaks of Fordham City. A series of individual stories, all set in Fordham City, in part a parody of the idea that everybody in a city has their own story while they can be blissfully unaware of the stories of others. The characters are mainly linked by wishing to be more in control of their own situation, but facing something that conflicts with that. The theme of hunger (literal/emotional/metaphorical) features regularly as does the idea of the Alpha Male (eviscerated/parodied/exposed as illusory and temporary). The power struggles of sex mad ducks; the sexual politics of one night stands; addiction as a psychological duel between the addict and his Helldog; a mysterious condition called Somnia; a man answers his front door to a woman who throws a kitten at him then scarpers; an Infernal direct sales letter; Jesus escaping from an asylum; many more oddities offer a kaleidoscopic approach to the recurring themes writ small, large, and every other size things may be writ. The name of the city came from The Dudemen, my knowing, but affectionate parody of the comic book genre, with Fordham City being my proxy for other cities like Gotham. And once I had that setting, Fordham ‘adopted’ my other tales and became a city where literally anything might happen.
2)How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t consider myself to be following a particular genre. If I do anything at all as a ‘motif’ it is to cast the ordinary frustrations of life into as realistic or fantastical a setting as best suits a particular piece. My writing has been described as semi-noir or B-Movie style, casting a quizzical eye at the quotidian, like a moving version of a painting by Edward Hopper. But that is just one approach I use, and rather than seeking to fit into a genre I seek to ask a reader to trust me to have a reason for the choice of genre or setting and the comedic or otherwise tone I have struck with any particular piece. Which in marketing terms no doubt makes me an awkward bugger.
3)Why do I write what I do?
I wonder about things. I wonder about the world, its past, its present, its future and I wonder about human beings, the things that are expected of them, the desires they have within and how they reconcile any distance between these things. I want to make people laugh, I want to make people think and sometimes I want people to be doing these things simultaneously. I write what I write as reflection of self, upon individuals, upon society, upon how people really feel inside and the pressures to follow the flock on the outside. I wish to reflect on my own contradictions and complexities and credit other people with the intelligence to read into what I do whatever they happen to perceive. In simplistic terms, I would rather be the sudden curveballs, gut-punching blindsidings and merciful sudden comic relief of Breaking Bad than the ‘We will tell you what you should feel because we know best’ approach to drama.
I use a television reference here because even people who love to read watch films and TV. The snobby type would have it that one form of writing is inherently superior to another, but that kind of attitude keeps people small and denies them many rich experiences, in my opinion. People do want shorthand in trying to decide what to make of a writer, however, so I have just given the simplest explanation I can in the previous paragraph. To me it is all about knowing what response you are going for, nudging people towards that specific response via the best available technique, and wanting the kind of audience that is willing to pay attention to small details and reach their own conclusions as part of the fun. Whatever the form, it is all about trying to engage the imagination of other human beings. As a ‘consumer’ of the writing of others, I know what I am willing to give, I know how patient I am willing to be. I know how willing to wait for a payoff I am and I want to have that kind of relationship with anyone ‘consuming’ what I do. My writing is a formalised version of my relationship with the world. And on any given day, depending on the mood of the time, or the context of events, the way we see things changes. There is doubt. There is frustration. There is random humour. There is tragedy, but there is brilliance and hope. All human life is out there and the individual imagination is infinite. So in writing terms, whether it be dark or light, serious or silly, I write with the hope that something unexpected will happen. I write to know myself and the world better.
4)How does my writing process work?
Sometimes strict parameters can be set in advance, sometimes an idea can be followed to see where it leads, without fear, because nobody ever has to see the results unless it has led somewhere. And how can anybody ever become the unique individual wordsmith they have the capacity to be if (allowing for the pressure of deadlines and expectations of editors), they have never roamed the inside of their own head and discovered that there are no frontiers there but those they select or have imposed upon them?
For me the process is secondary to the initial spark of the idea. Something sets the process in motion and the process used should serve that something. I wrote Cupid’s Evil Twin after wondering if there was an anti-Cupid, causing all the heartbreak in the world. The words “Cupid’s Evil Twin Fires poison tipped arrows, into the hearts of the lonely, on every cold night” came quickly. I decided to write whatever came next and worry about structure later. Similarly with Dickensian Twist (the title/theme of a poetry slam), the words “It was a dark, dark night. Dark, dark things were happening…” came from somewhere at the back of my mind and I wrote what came next, than what came next, and didn’t know where it was going until it got there, then came the work of making things flow inexorably until it appeared that it was inevitably going to take the form it did (a late brief appearance in the tale of ‘The Elephant Man’ seems to indicate that was always going to be the point of my use of the words ‘Human Beings’ as a recurring phrase, but, hand on heart, this perfect little moment didn’t come until the writing process was very nearly over). Trusting in the process of writing a piece to prompt the subconscious to provide what you need can bring great dividends. You don’t always need to know precisely where you are going to get where it was always heading! I was writing for a one off poetry slam yet ended up with something people have been willing to pay for, to read in their own time. A definite process for approaching the former might never have led to the latter.
Conversely, another story/verse piece of mine arose from the thought of how it might feel to to be a First World War deserter, waiting to be shot the next day. Then, with a stricter verse structure set in advance than I normally impose on myself, I imposed an absolute time limit on the writing of the piece. I set an alarm for 7.00am, began writing at midnight and gave myself that time for my narrator to tell his story, a story of a life running out of time. And the more time ticked away, the more angry and questioning the narrator became. King and Country were condemned. God and Christ were disavowed, as the capacity for man to be cruel to his fellow man drained the narrator of all his hope. I wrote as if my life was the one being snuffed out when daybreak came and there would be no time to say anything else, ever. And the reaction to the piece when I have read it has been wonderful.
Also, shorter time limits, writing to prompts given in a class, can also draw pieces of work, practically fully formed, from the ever active subconscious that would never have occurred to a writer operating in their usual way, employing their tried and tested processes.
To sum up, the process I would use would be as formal or as experimental as seems appropriate. Sometimes the goals are completely consciously pursued, sometimes it is a wander into the woods of the mind to see what is discovered. Whatever works best for the project is best. If there was a magic formula or infallible approach, we would all already know what it is!
I look forward to exploring the thoughts of other writers on this tour, including, next Monday (April 28 2014) the ever encouraging Christina Thatcher 🙂
Christina Thatcher is an American graduate of the Creative Writing MA program at Cardiff University. While studying, she fell in love with Wales and now runs creative writing workshops for at-risk youth and community members across the valleys. Christina keeps busy in Cardiff too where she facilitates the local ‘Roath Writers’ group, hosts open mic events, and tries to keep on top of her PhD. Her poetry has recently been published in The London Magazine, Neon Literary Magazine, and the Lampeter Review, among others, and her first pamphlet is forthcoming from Stairwell Books. To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website/blog, or follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.