Category Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Writing is not a Performance Art

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Sometimes, we write what we most need to hear.  And this is one of those moments.  So pull up a chair and a cup of coffee, because I have something I want to tell you that I need to hear:

A friend was publishing a new story in a new fandom. The fact that she was not getting the readership and the number of comments she wanted was causing her great distress. Her predicament got me thinking.

So often as artists, we base our self-esteem, our value of our own work, on what other people think. The family who surround me, for example, do not view me as a ‘proper’ writer because my work does not come neatly packaged between two cardboard rectangles with the name of a reputable publisher stamped on the back. I do not make money from my work. Therefore I do not ‘work’, and I am not a ‘proper’ writer. I am not a stranger to the humiliation of being told at a family dinner to move over because: ‘There’s a writer at the table’, when another relative, a talented journalist (whose work I greatly admire and whose success I happily delight in, I should point out) arrives to sit down.

At our recent writing retreat, my fellow writers and I had a long and animated discussion about the ever-present problem of how other people react when we tell them what we do. One friend told the horrible anecdote of an acquaintance’s response to the news that she was a writer – ‘Never mind, I’m sure you can get a job at Tesco!’

(I know, right?)

I suspect that writers are second only to actors in the low opinion the public has of our earning power. Either you’re Benedict Cumberbatch or you’re unemployed. This completely ignores the thousands of jobbing actors who make a reasonable, if somewhat precarious, living doing low profile but necessary jobs in voice-overs, radio, small TV parts and rep. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch has spent a substantial proportion of his career doing exactly that. (If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll see and hear him pop up all over the place!)

The point I am trying to make is that creative people don’t do it for the money. And if you think that, you have missed the whole point.

Modern society, where success in any endeavour is measured in filthy lucre and TV appearances, clearly has failed to read the memo.

Another friend, who has been a visual artist as well as a writer all her working life, which I suspect helps, responds to the dreaded question about earnings thus: “I don’t do it for the money. I do it because it keeps me sane.”

And that is the point.

Writing is not a performance art.

At least, fiction is not. (Journalism obviously is, and I’m still on the fence about poetry!)

Writing is not about the number of comments or reviews you get.  Its not about the number of ‘shares’ on Tumblr.  Its not about the number of hits you get in a day.  Its not about being published by Harper and Collins, or getting an agent from a top agency, or being on an arts programme on BBC4, or giving author readings, or getting your picture in the paper,  or winning the Booker Prize, or making the bestseller lists on Amazon or the Sunday Times, or getting a three book deal, or selling your script to Warners and getting a theme park made out of your book, or making £100k a year.

Writing is not about how many people like you.  Its not about applause.

Writing is about making stories.

We do it because we have to. Because we have a compulsion to tell our stories.

I am delighted to tell you that my fanfiction friend soldiered on against the tide with writing and publishing her new fanwork. Over time she accumulated a substantial following, but more importantly has rejoiced in an explosion of creativity, producing more works and excelling in other art forms as a result.  And I’m thrilled for her.  She is going through a renaissance of creativity because she refused to give up.

“How people receive your gifts is none of your business. You were given a unique set of gifts, life experiences, and passions. Your only job is to share them.”

Rebecca Campbell, ‘Light is the New Black’

When it comes down to it, it does not matter whether family notice that I get over 100 readers a day, a tally that most conventionally published writers could only dream of. (I’m the only person who is hung up about that, after all!)  It does not matter whether they read my work. (Actually, I’m quite glad they don’t!) It does not matter whether they like it. It does not matter whether they think I am an idiot not to charge for it. It does not matter how much I earn or don’t earn, or what other people think of that sum. It really doesn’t matter what people I meet at dinner parties think when I tell them what I do.

And really, it doesn’t matter what my audience thinks either.

The point is to make the art.

And to keep making the art.

To keep on speaking my truth.

Because the people who need to hear that truth will find me. And the rest don’t matter.

Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it so beautifully:

“If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to GO MAKE THEIR OWN FUCKING ART!”

Happy creating,

EF

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Friday Quickfic: Don’t tell me what to do unless you’re naked!

John and Sherlock - Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's 'Sherlock'.

John and Sherlock – Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’.

Sometimes a story pops into your head that is just begging to be written.  Sometimes, you just can’t help it.  Sometimes, you just have to be naughty.  Sometimes, being a tiny bit wicked is the only way to make the world seem a better place.  ‘Bawdy’, Atlin Merrick once called me.  I take it as a complement.

So, in celebration of that spirit, I offer you today’s slice of naughtiness.  I haven’t written a Sherlock fic in quite a while, so it was a nice little self-starter.  I hope you like it.

A Taster:

“The incriminating words were out of his mouth, and then he couldn’t swallow them back, couldn’t reel them in. They seemed to float in front of his eyes for a moment, a skein of humiliation, the letters glowing a wanton scarlet.

He never did this. His will was of iron. No sentiment. No human weakness. No Freudian slips. And above all, no desire.

And then those secret little daydreams that he had been nurturing, hiding them away even from himself, unfurled a frond, a delicate tendril that encircled his tongue like a noose and tripped him over.”

You can read ‘Don’t tell me what to do unless you’re naked’ here on AO3, or here, on FF.net.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

The Benefits of Giving Up

The Cumberbatch

Gratuitous Cumberbatch photo. Just because I felt like it!

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you about why its sometimes a really good idea to give up.

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

In my last post, I wrote about the folly of trying.  Of pushing ourselves beyond endurance, and as a result, being unable to achieve the things we want.

That post was an example of me writing my own permission slip.  That day, I took my own advice.  I gave up trying.  I spent a lot of time just lying around.  I felt terrible, so why do anything else? I simply surrendered to what my body was trying to tell me.  Which was, in essence, ‘STOP’.

So far, so good.

The next day, I woke up at 8.30am, earlier than I am normally able to do, and in addition, woke with a clear head.

I grabbed my laptop and opened it up.

And I wrote.

I wrote all day.

In between spells of writing, I stripped the bed, put clean sheets on, did three loads of washing, tidied the kitchen, ironed some fresh pillowcases, made some long overdue phonecalls, and cooked a lovely supper for Husband and myself. I got so much done!

By close of play, i.e.11pm, I had written (get this) 6470 words.  Thats 27 pages.

The most I have ever written in one day.

(Round of applause, please.)

And all because I had given myself some much-needed space.

This is why you must learn to stop.  Yes, it is important to write every day.  Little and often is imperative.  Regular practise for any art form is necessary.

And there will be days when you sit down at your desk or in your studio and think:  ‘I really don’t want to do this today.’  And when you start, the brush strokes will be ugly or the words will come out like lumps of lead.  And then you will get going and things will flow and it will be alright.  (In fact it will be better than alright.  Because all the pain and depression you may have been struggling with will fly away, and creating will heal you.)  That is the point of any practise.

I am not saying you should only write when you feel like it.

What I am saying is that you must recognise that there are some days when your body is leeched to a husk, when your brain is too full or too empty to do anything but be.  Those are the days when you need to be gentle with yourself.  To put away the expectations.  And you will know those days.  The days of crisis.  The days when Life just steps in and pulls the carpet from under you.

If, like me, you live with chronic illness, working out which those days are becomes a little harder.  After 17 years, I am getting better at it, but I’m still not great.

The important thing to remember is that when you release the pressure on yourself, the result is often magic.

Its very Zen to say: let go of perfectionism, let go of expectations, but its easier said than done.  We all carry expectations from society, our upbringing, our peers and ourselves.  Letting them go is a daily practise in itself.  I am reminded however of an old saying I once heard:

“Let go, and Let God.”

Once we stop trying, once we stop tensing up and forcing things, the creativity flows through us freely onto the page or the canvas or the keyboard.  When we are free to make crap art, we learn.  And invariably, in my experience at least, when we give ourselves permission to make crap, what comes out is pure gold.

So here I am, in the aftermath of this great day of writing, assessing what I have learnt, what I can take with me from this experience.  I don’t know if what I wrote yesterday was gold or dross.  Chances are it will be about 50/50.  I don’t really care.  To be frank, it was fun.  It was an enormous relief just to spread my wings and fly without judging myself at all.

And I’m looking forward to doing it again just as soon as I can.

Happy creating,

EF

 

Fanfiction: Opal

Old fishing boat on the shingle in the mist.

Old fishing boat on the shingle in the mist, Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

I wish I had something fresh to offer you today, but I’m in the middle of a ‘perfect storm’ of illness, and I’m impressed I’m actually able to be this coherent!  Still, thank goodness for the back catalogue, eh?

Today you can read the last part of The Plato Series, freshly transferred to AO3, and slightly rewritten for clarity.

A little taste:

“John twisted to look at the bedside clock. ‘Oh, fuck.’

           It was half past six on Sunday morning and they were supposed to be having a lie-in. He’d arranged for breakfast in bed at 9, and everything. He’d been determined. And now this.

            ‘I get it,’ Sherlock whispered, breaking his train of thought.

            ‘Get what?’

            ‘The light. That’s why it’s so beautiful here. It’s the light.’ Sherlock seemed almost breathless. He reached out his skinny hand and pulled John across the bed to join him. ‘Can you see it?’”

You can read ‘Opal’ here on AO3.

Alternatively, you can read the entire series from the start, here.

And hopefully, I will be a little less catatonic by Friday!

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Friday FanFic: In Praise of Plato

John and Sherlock - Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's 'Sherlock'.

John and Sherlock – Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’.

Olivianoelle14 messaged me on ff.net a little while ago to ask me if I would consider transferring my old fic, ‘In Praise of Plato’, to AO3, on the grounds that the interface there is so much easier to read.

How could I refuse?

When I went back and looked at it, I decided to make a few tiny amendments.  Its two whole years since I wrote it, and it feels like a lifetime.  I can’t believe I wrote 38 fics that year.  Not all of them were publishable, or published, but still, I must have been on a huge roll!  I certainly haven’t matched that output since.

Anyway, here is a much loved old faithful for you to enjoy.

“‘They don’t understand how two men can be so devoted to one another, and be sharing a flat, and not be having sex. It doesn’t fit into their stereotype system. They can’t fathom how it can be possible, and therefore they fear it.’”

Read it here on AO3.

Happy Creating,

EF

Friday QuickFic: Older and Wiser

john and sherlockWe write out our own psychodramas,  Thats why I believe writing is so healing.  I can explore the emotions in my fiction that I can’t deal with in real life.  This week I wrote this tough fic, called ‘Older and Wiser’.  I had not intended it to be so raw and uncompromising, but it came out that way.  I think this is because my life is currently full of difficult emotions, sad situations and lives in the process of ending.  Whether I know it or not, these things are undoubtedly on my mind all the time, and they are bound to seep out in my creative expressions.

I started this fic with the prompt ‘Older and Wiser’, and with the image of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, sitting at the table at Baker Street, contemplating how his relationship with John has changed over time.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how BC’s smoking is damaging his skin lately, about the wrinkles he is developing as a result, and those wrinkles were definitely on my mind when I started to write.

I think this may be a universe I want to pursue, but we’ll see.  In the meantime, here is the quickfic version, which I knocked off on Wednesday morning, and you can read it here at AO3 and here at FF.net.  I’d love to receive some feedback if you can spare the time.

I won’t say happy reading because its not, but thank you for reading if you can bear it,

EF.

Outflow: Aftermath

john and sherlockSo last night, the last episode of series 3 of ‘Sherlock’ was shown on British television, and we have all survived to write fanfics another day.

Frankly, I am glad it is over.  I am fed up of it.  I am fed up of all the over-analysis and navel-gazing and second-guessing.  Its worse than teenage girls talking about their boyfriends!  I didn’t wait two years for uncontrolled squeeing and unalloyed adoration.  The whole series had massive problems as well as sublime moments, and I have reservations.

Reservations about the series and the way its going, and reservations about fanfiction.

Don’t get me wrong, fanfiction has been good to me.  It has taught me to write in ways I could never have explored otherwise.  It has given me the inspiration to write thousands of words and dozens of new works.  I have written every day, and I have loved every minute of it, even the bits when I was sweating blood over plot bunnies and getting aggressive reviews.  It has allowed me to deal with deep emotional trauma and reclaim my sexuality, something I never expected.  So, hooray for fanfiction!

But right now it feels a bit like a straightjacket.

I’ve got so used to writing with other people’s characters that I have lost the confidence to write my own.  And that is more than ‘a bit not good’.

Somewhere along the line, I have lost myself.  My own voice.  The only voices I can hear in my head these days are those of Cumberbatch and Freeman.  My own original characters have fallen silence, and I need to give them back their voices.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will never write fanfiction again.  I’m convinced that pretty much everything I have ever written has been a fanfic underneath.  And I had a surge of inspiration yesterday that finally undid the plot block I’ve been struggling over in my ‘Cuddleverse’ story, so hooray for that because it means I will be able to finish the damn thing!  And I so need to finish it!

But now my brain is finally coming back online after our Christmas Emergency, I am realising that I need to branch out in new ways.  That feels scary.  New stuff can be scary.  But if we don’t test our boundaries, how can we ever grow as artists?

Happy boundary testing,

EF