Love is in the air, says British Corporate Thriller writer A A Abbott. But in a dark way. We were both reading at ‘Hearts of Darkness’, a live fiction evening last night at Brewsmiths in the Jewellery Quarter. The theme of the evening was the darker side of love, with the result that the love stories were twisted around themes such as murder, jealousy, ghosts, sex toys, genetic cloning, and ecclesiastical senior management (as applied to the saints).
The Telegraph Creative Writing Group October Competition sets a theme of ‘Life Change’. I’ve had a story about Voltaire knocking around in my computer for a while, although it’s mostly concerned with the writing of his first drama ‘Oedipe’, interwoven with that of the relationship between the Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, the Duchesse de Berri.
I’ve just visited a good friend in the Hague, and as we were walking around the older parts of the city I started to think about Voltaire meeting his first love there, about 300 years ago. His late teens and early twenties make a great coming-of-age story. I hope I’ve done justice to it in ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’.
From the Rothko exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague.
It can be hard to connect with abstract art. Rothko’s blurry oblongs seem at first to be mute and meaningless. But following the progression of his work from the figurative, one sees how images of people, of subway and street scenes, are replaced by rectangles of colour.
The artist speaks to us mood to mood, short-cutting the middleman, leaving out the figures in a landscape, the still life. Black speaks of grief, red of passion, sombre browns and greens of quietude.
Rothko, who would withdraw from exhibitions if his works were not displayed in the right environment, would have approved of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. It’s a wonderful Modernist building from the 1930s, tiled and calm and democratic. Their audio tour was on an electronic device around my neck. I was struck by one section: Rothko’s seven core qualities for art.
I wondered if these could also be core qualities for storytelling.
Always unable to remember lists, I typed them in to my phone:
6. Transitoriness and random chance
It’s all organised in a complex hierarchy on my computer; the parts, the chapters, the sections. It’s like a house I’ve moved into, a few rooms adequately furnished, my scanty belongings still in cardboard boxes in the spare bedrooms. The Novel. It started as a couple of scenes in a screenplay, a radio play; the equivalent of a student bedsit with a few possessions carefully arranged.
Then I graduated to this partly occupied house. Chapters echoingly empty, although I have vague ideas of how they should be furnished. Characters I had not envisaged are coming to stay. The findings of each day are jotted down here and there; 200 words, 300 words, like lampshades, occasional tables, saucepan sets. Each room is furnished slowly and piecemeal. History becomes an IKEA catalogue: that might go well there.
Will it all end up like my friends houses? Manicured, perfect, spacious, elegant? Or become an unmanageable mess of clutter?
As John Braine once wrote, ‘The novel, once put aside, is never taken up again’ (or something like that). But, then, why would I move out of my house?
90% of UK public libraries enable their readers to log in to the Oxford English Dictionary, free of charge, using the number on their library card. Otherwise, a personal subscription costs over £200 per year.
I’m grateful to the wonderful Library of Birmingham for enabling me free access to this national treasure.
All I have to do now is arrange the words in the correct order, and a work of literature should appear.
TCWG Short Stories 2013 has been published by the Telegraph Creative Writers’ Group in time for Christmas. A sparkling anthology (don’t miss the writers’ bio section!). Themes include Trees, Time, Newspapers, Flitting, and many others. We all write for the fun of it, and for the enjoyment of sharing our writing with others, and so the pleasure of writing bubbles up through the pages.
The Telegraph Creative Writers’ Group welcomes any writer, from anywhere in the world. Come and join us here!
These are tiles on the wall of the Electress’s Kitchen, Amalienburg, in the grounds of Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich.
If you look closely, you will see that some of the tiles don’t match, but the overall design is still preserved. Isn’t this a perfect paradigm for historical fiction?
I recently took part in an excellent on-line workshop run by Stephanie Dray of Maryland Romance Writers.
This inexpensive four-week long course explored a number of different approaches to plotting a novel. Although the workshop was particularly aimed at the romance genre, the principles applied to other genres too. I started out with a very basic idea, which might just about have made a short story, and this became amplified over the course of four weeks into a decent outline for a novel. I also rejigged my ‘Work in Progress’.
Although the course emphasised the use of Scrivener and Aeon Timeline, both being helpful software programs, the exercises could probably have been done on index cards or pieces of paper, as the emphasis was on thinking about characters, their motivations, and pivotal points in the plot structure. I have found that the planning and structuring particularly helps me as a part-time writer, making it easier to resume writing after a break.
They have more online workshops timetabled, so I shall be keeping an eye on their website.