Category Archives: Safe Space to create

New Fiction: The Groupie Situation

lorrie fox guitar

Laurence Fox

One of my writing goals for this summer is to clear the decks of as many of the half-finished stories lurking in my computer files as I can.  I’ve got three or four outstanding Lewis stories hanging about, and since I have a quiet week ahead of me this week, I’m hoping to tinker with them to the point of some form of completeness.

‘The Groupie Situation’ is one I’ve been working on since Laurence Fox started touring with his latest album. I’d been thinking about a story I’d heard of Japanese fans having his lyrics tattooed on their arms, which seemed a bit extreme to me.  I wondered what he must think of that.  And thus this story was born.  And I’ve been playing with it ever since.

I have to admit when I was typing out the synopsis, I suddenly started having qualms about publishing it.  It talks about a woman having an obsessive and paranoid mental illness, after all, and I reckon some people will criticise me for making sweeping generalisations, not least about women.

There will also be those who will criticise my (potentially inaccurate) depiction of medical procedures.  That always happens.

I’m not a doctor.  I don’t want to be a doctor.  I don’t think its necessary to exhaustively research a little story’s details to the point of knowing what size needle a stitch is made with.  The point is to paint an impression for the reader.  A few details should tell them all they need to conjure up a treatment room, whether from their own experience or from TV medical dramas. But any more than that?  No.  Its just a fanfic, after all.

I’ve also decided not to publish on Fanfiction.net anymore.  I’ve had such mindless trolling there, its just not worth it.

I’m putting this fic out in spite of my fears of criticism.

Its a brave act to publish any work of art.  Especially when you are feeling vulnerable.  But I’m increasingly of the opinion that this is my Truth, and I intend to Speak it.  I believe, trust and hope that there will be others out there who will enjoy it in the spirit in which it was created.  I hope you are one of them.

You can read ‘The Groupie Situation’ here at AO3.

Happy Creating,

EF

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The Muse with the Limp

Walking with my Muse

Walking with my Muse

My Muse is limping.

I’ve only just noticed. I think she has probably been hobbled her whole life. Or at least since my teens. Perhaps even since my childhood.

Since the moment when what other people thought became more important than what I thought.

I didn’t know until I looked at her. I didn’t know until I began to think seriously about her, about where we are going together, about what we want. I think most of all she wants to be set free of expectations.

Other people’s expectations.

Or rather, the way I constrain her by caring what other people think.

All the ‘how tos’ and ‘SHOULDs’ and ‘OUGHTs’. All the maxims and formulas. The schemata and diagrams and plot arcs and exhortations about what ‘The Market’ is looking for next.

Most of all, the Rules. You know the ones. About what is valuable. What is Serious. What is High Art. What is Literary.

I’m ashamed of the art I make. I’m ashamed of the fact that I write fanfiction. I’m ashamed that I write about sex. And about romance. Because romance is tacky and pink and very definitely NOT Literature.

(Never mind ‘Pride and Prejudice’ being a romance. Never mind ‘Jane Eyre’ being a romance. Never mind pretty much every great novel there has ever been having a love story at the centre of it, because this is what we do as human beings – we fall in love. Barbara Cartland made it cheap. Barbara Cartland has a lot to answer for. Or perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Just the fault of the patriarchal publishing industry which packages ‘women’s fiction in pink, tacky covers and gives it all the seriousness of maribou feathers, in order to keep us girls in our place. But I digress….)

One day I was walking along, enjoying the chilly afternoon sun, head in the clouds, and a revolutionary thought came to me:

I can do what I want.

I don’t have to listen to anybody else.

I don’t have to care what anybody else thinks.

I can do what I want.

I cannot tell you how extraordinary that thought was, coming to me not long after I had offered a story to a friend for feedback, only to have it be ripped apart (in a loving way, of course) and then to be told how to rewrite it – as she would have done. I should have known better, of course. The story wasn’t cooked yet. It was still in that wobbly, puddingy state when it hasn’t yet set. Not ready to be seen by anyone else, in other words.   And because I respect her opinion, because she is a SERIOUS writer, a Literary writer, I listened.

And my Muse has needed a wheelchair ever since.

(I note the use of the word SHOULD in that sentence earlier by the way. You see, I’m getting quite good at spotting them these days!)

But what would happen if I decided to disregard what THEY think. All those people out there whose opinion I value above my own?

What if I listened to my gut?

Medical scientists have discovered recently that there are more neurons, using more serotonin, in the human gut, than in the brain. That’s where the majority of your serotonin goes, in fact. That’s why we have what we call ‘gut feelings’.

Maybe I should listen to my gut. And give my poor, battered Muse a bit of physiotherapy. Perhaps I can set her free from all the OUGHTS and find out what she wants to do. Maybe we could have a bit of fun together, the first unrestrained fun we’ve had since I was writing Blakes 7 fanfics when I was about 8!

I’m not expecting to write the Great Novel that way. But perhaps I could just write MY novel.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to throw out all of my ‘How to Write’ books, so I can discover how I write.

Happy creating,

EF

Learning the Lessons

Footprints Ardnave 1I have to admit to being a bit nervous about posting again.  Which is silly, really.  But last week’s battering has really knocked my confidence, and the events of the intervening days have been a rough ride.

But just when you think you can’t cope anymore, the Universe hands you a rose.  This time in the shape of Pola’s loving and kind comment on my last post:

“The reason I’m writing is to let you know that I really appreciate your talent in writing. I appreciate your devotion to your craft and your desire to help others in developing their own style and creativity. So whatever you decide, I just wanted you to know that I think you’re an important voice in the world of writing and that I hope you never give up in your endeavor to have your voice heard. This world would be less without it.”

Thank you so much, dear, dear Pola.  I cannot tell you how much this meant to me.

With your words ringing in my ears, I got back on the horse last night, and wrote a new story, 2207 words of trying something new with ‘Lewis’.  It was somehow important to start again with ‘Lewis’ given that it was a ‘Lewis’ story that caused all the trouble in the first place.  I don’t know where the story came from, it just popped into my head.  I don’t know if I’m ready to publish anything yet either, but it feels so good to be back in the saddle.

I was made to write.  I don’t know how not to.

Somehow, I’m going to have to learn to deal with criticism better, from the sort that is justified to the sort that is completely out of order.  Its very hard to do that when you are already in a tough place.

I realised that I posted the story because I wanted a confidence boost.  I wanted some good reviews to cheer me up.  And when I didn’t get them, got the reverse in fact, it knocked me over completely.

Important Lesson #1:  Do not post your fanfics just to get applause.

I posted ‘Not So Innocent’ on a whim.  I don’t have a beta, so it hadn’t had a second reader look at it.  There was no one to tell me that it had dodgey elements in it.  I had doubts about it, I have to admit, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what they were.  If I’d had backup, maybe I would have seen its faults.

Important Lesson #2: Get a beta reader.

Preferably someone who knows the fandoms I write in, has excellent capacity for spotting my hidden prejudices, and my inability to cope with apostrophes.  I read last night’s creation to Husband (a stickler for apostrophes), which was a very useful exercise (reading your work aloud is always enlightening), but he doesn’t have the time to be a proper beta, and he’s got enough stress on his plate as it is.

I’ve always fought shy of having a beta because I don’t like the idea of the delay it involves.  I’m probably too protective of my work anyway, so having an editor would be good practise in stepping back, and would probably help me handle criticism better.  Plus I’ve had bad experiences with supposedly ‘helpful’ readers in the past.  And I know what a lousy beta I am in terms of getting around to reading other people’s work I’ve offered to read.

If anyone is interested in being a beta for me, and can offer a fast turn-around time, dedication to grammar and a fine eye for possible offending material, please let me know.

Its hard not to feel over-sensitive at this point.  I confess I am still very wobbly.  Things in RL are on shaky ground.  I’m trying to support Husband and his family members as best I can, while dealing with my own illness, and the onset of the most difficult time of the year for me in terms of mental health.  Taking it slow and looking after myself, so that I can look after him, is the best I can do.

Important Lesson #3:  Look after yourself.

And of course:

Important Lesson #4:  DON’T GIVE UP.

So thank you for your continued support.  One way or another, we’ll all get there.

Happy Creating,

EF

Unexpected Attack of the Killer Critics

“Well, it smacks of arrogance to me,” she said, when I explained to her what a blog was.  “To assume you have something to say that anyone would want to read.”

After that, I admit I lost track a bit of what she was saying, distracted by the fact that the word ‘ARROGANT’ seemed to be written above our heads in flashing red neon capitals.

And then was somehow branded on my forehead.

This, from a long-time friend, someone I have known for many years through both ups and downs, hers and mine.  I thought she knew how much my writing meant to me,  I thought she understood,

Of course, it all comes from fear.

Fear that the world is changing, and she doesn’t understand it.

It is fear that makes a person, however intelligent, assume that because they don’t understand something, it has no value.  The irony of this position is that it puts the fearful person in the centre of their universe, which is as good a definition of arrogance and egotism as I have seen.

Driving home, I realised my heart was hurting.  I looked up at the sun piercing shafts of silvery light through the evening rainclouds (“God speaking”, as my mother says whenever she sees such a sky) but I couldn’t see the beauty of it.  I was hurting too much.  But it won’t stop me, her criticism.  I will make lemonade.

Why?

Because I can’t not write.

Regardless of whether anyone thinks that what I have to say has merit (and I know some of you do because you kindly subscribe, favourite, like and comment, for which I am eternally grateful), I will go on writing because I am compelled to write.

Because its my job.

It’s my life’s work.

Its what I do.

I don’t get paid for it – not yet anyway, though I have hopes.  Some friends still don’t get that, either.  Their measure of success comes in pound notes.  They can’t understand my ‘failure to monetize’.  They don’t understand that to me, success means averaging 400 readers a day of my fanfiction, over 400 subscribers to this blog, or on some days, just managing to write two or three coherent sentences.

My critical friend doesn’t understand the compulsion to be creative, to have a voice.  She doesn’t get that if I don’t write every day, I turn into the Evil Twisted Passive-Aggressive Psycho-Bitch from Hell.  And she doesn’t understand that:

EVERYBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO SPEAK THEIR OWN TRUTH.

So if you take nothing else away from my work, and from my complaining about my thoughtless friend, or why money-oriented people don’t understand creativity as an end in itself, please take this:

SPEAK YOUR OWN TRUTH.

IT IS YOUR RIGHT.

This is my message to you, and whether it has merit or not, it is my life’s work to say it, over and over again.

Happy Creating,

EF

Finding the Right Place to Write

Roald Dahl in his writing hut.  From the CBBC website.

Roald Dahl in his writing hut. From the CBBC website.

As regular readers will know, me and my study have a kinda love-hate relationship. In recent months, I’ve been trying to do it up a bit, make it a nice place for me to work, somewhere that reflects who I am and what I want. Somewhere I want to inhabit. Because I really do think that it is important to have ‘A Room of One’s Own’.

The problem is that it doesn’t seem to work for me in practise.

I do most of my writing sitting in my comfy armchair in the living room, with my laptop in my lap (strangely enough!), or writing in notebooks resting on a brilliant drawingboard that I bought from The Art Trading Company. And seriously peeps, this drawingboard is brilliant, and I’m going to get another one for my bedroom so I can be comfortable when I write in bed, because I also write there a lot, especially in my journal.

Now, it has lately occurred to me that this habit was set in stone when I was just a little kid. When I was small, I had a tiny bedroom only just big enough for a not-quite-full-size single bed, and certainly not large enough to include something as luxurious as a table. As I got older, and siblings moved out, I moved into their (larger) bedrooms, but there was never really enough room for a table or desk.

Aha! But I had my trusty piece of board!

Yes, I said ‘board’. It was a thin bit of old chip board, about A3 size, and I used it for hours, sitting on my bed, for drawing and writing, as a working surface for sewing and painting and plasticine and homework, as a play area, and for all kinds of other activities. That board was a miracle. I could have it on my lap when I was snuggled up amidst the sheets, and it kept the ink from getting on the cotton as well as giving me a firm surface to work on. I loved it, and I was never without it until I left home. After that, I think my mother threw it away. But who knows, it might still be in her house, under the spare bed, along with my ‘A’ level art portfolio!

The other day, I was thinking about my lovely old piece of board as I sat in my armchair with my lovely new drawingboard on my lap, and I remembered seeing photographs of Roald Dahl’s writing hut, where he sat in an old armchair with a board on his lap, and wrote the great classic of my childhood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (My husband actually knew the Dahl family and played in that hut at one time, the lucky hound!)

Nicole Kidson as Virginia Woolf inthe film 'The Hours'.

Nicole Kidson as Virginia Woolf inthe film ‘The Hours’.

Then I remembered a scene from the film, ‘The Hours’, in which my heroine, Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, sits in an armchair by the window at Hogarth House, with a baize-covered board on her lap, and scratches out the first few lines of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ with her new pen nib. Woolf was actually more inclined to write at a high table, standing up, but the image is potent for me.

It is very nice to have a desk and a study, and sometimes, that is exactly what I need. But I am also fortunate in that I spend a great deal of time having the run of the house to myself, which means that I can write pretty much anywhere I have a suitable work surface, enough light, and where I can get comfortable. I’m not ungrateful to finally have the luxury of my own study, believe me, but having it as made me realise that really, it wasn’t necessary. I was always saying I couldn’t be a proper writer until I had a study of my own, but that just wasn’t true. I have written far more words in my armchair or my bed.

The lesson I have come upon, and the one I wish to communicate to you, Dear Reader, is that actually, once you find the place that suits you, you can write anywhere. You don’t need a study. And if you have one, as I am lucky enough to, you may not end up using it. Don’t beat yourself up about not doing so. Take Woolf’s exhortation to find ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as a wider license to find space of your own. The local Costa Coffee may be your perfect place to write. Or, as for my husband, the comfy chair by the roaring fire of your favourite pub may be just the place. Or you may indeed have your own study and revel in it. The important thing is to get comfortable and have a firm surface to write or type on, so that you are not distracted. It doesn’t matter if its in a caravan or a lorry cab, so long as your imagination can take flight. Because once it flies away to your story world, it doesn’t matter where you are.

Happy Creating,

EF

Clear the Decks

If you listen to the elderly, you always find wisdom.  One of the things I learnt this weekend was from my husband’s aunt, who was in her day a deeply respected midwife.  (She delivered Roald Dahl’s children, as well as tennis player Tim Henman.)  She is a very tidy person, and when I asked her about this, she told me that part of her nursing training emphasised the importance of starting with a clear surface at all times, whatever you were doing.  So she tidies up after herself obsessively, even now, when she is so disabled that she can barely move.

I took this idea away with me.  It occurred to me that one of the things I love most about going on a writers’ retreat is arriving in a room with an empty desk, uncluttered, a space to work.  It inspires me hugely.  Obviously, Auntie’s edict on clearing the decks is an excellent one.  It’s not rocket science, either, to make space for your creativity.

But.

And this is a big but.

I went into my study this morning and this is what I saw.

The shelves as you come into the room.  Total dump.

The shelves as you come into the room. Total dump.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

My study is the only place we can dry laundry in the winter months.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

The current state of my desk, complete with pile of unopened post.

A bit not good, as Sherlock and John would say.

What does this space say about how I prioritise myself and my creativity?  I think it shows how little I value myself and what I do.  How can I do my best work in this mess?

I long for a clear space in which to work, but this is what I’ve got.  No one but me is responsible for this chaos.  Okay, yes, Husband tends to keep his study clear by dumping stuff in mine, but I let him do that.  I allow these heaps of junk to build up, blocking the energy, my energy.  And after all, who would want to work in this mess?

So I think it is time for another push on making my study work.  I’ve done this before, as you know.  But really, how much have I invested in that process?  I always find an excuse.  I’m always too tired to make it a priority, or too busy.  I can always work downstairs on the sofa, and I usually do.  But then I have to go running up and down to get what I need.  Meanwhile, Husband has a lovely study that is a dedicated space for his business, which is tidy and organised, and which he loves.

If he can have it, so can I.

Its time to clear the decks.

Happy Creating,

EF

When to Share

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about timing.  Specifically, the timing involved in releasing our artistic work into the world.  This may arise from the fact that after nearly two years I am still wrestling with the second part of ‘Three Weddings and an Explosion’, one of my johnlock stories.

My natural writing process is to write a story and then let it sit for a while.  There’s no set time limit in my head.  I just like to let it ‘cook’ for a bit.  Then I can go back to it, and edit with a fresh eye.  By then, I feel so much less attached.  I can pick out most of the typos, and identify the things that really don’t work about the original piece.  Letting your work sit allows space for objectivity.  It’s easier to ‘kill your darlings’ as they say – to cut or change the scenes you are really proud of, but that simply don’t work in their current context.

(That is why my recent series of ‘Friday Quick Fics’ has been such a challenge – they are invariably stories I have knocked off the day before and not allowed to rest, but published immediately instead.  That is a real challenge to my writing confidence, and let me tell you, it takes guts!)

I’m also a huge believer in the idea that our writing helps us explore our own psychodramas.  My story, ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ allowed me to revisit a time when I was starting to deal with a traumatic experience, and much of the reactions of Sherlock in that story are actually my own.  Writing that story allowed me not only to come to terms with the original experience, but also with memories of the distressing period during which I processed it.  It helped profoundly with my own healing.

My stories continue to represent what is going on in my subconscious as well as my conscious mind.  I wrote a very long MPREG story while a close friend was pregnant two years ago, work that enabled me to begin to come to come to terms with my own childlessness.  And only the other day, when I came home from visiting my mother for a few days, I sat down and, in a single sitting, wrote a 2600 word story about Sherlock’s relationship with Mrs Hudson.  After I had finished, I looked it over and thought: ‘Oh, yeah, Mother issues.’

So now perhaps you are sitting there thinking ‘I’d really like to read that MPREG story, why haven’t I seen it?’

The answer is that I am not ready to share it yet.

Perhaps the emotional odyssey of my not being a mother is not over.  Perhaps the issue for me is still too raw.  Or perhaps I am just not artistically satisfied with what I have done.  Either way, I am not yet comfortable with releasing that story into the wild.

The other day I was reading something written by Leonie Dawson about being spiritually ready to share one’s art.  About how she made the decision to put her paintings up for sale only when she felt that they had done their work in her own life.  She made a conscious choice to follow her own instinct about when she was ready to sell.

This is something that is really hard to do.  It takes confidence in your own artistic decisions and your spiritual connection to yourself.  But if you can do it, if you can hold out despite all those voices of readers, hungry for more (which means you are doing your job right, by the way), or buyers wanting your paintings for their own walls, you will open an artistic integrity in your work.  You will know when a piece is ready to leave home.  And you will be happy to let it go, knowing it will go on to do its healing in someone else’s life.

And art is healing, believe me.

When I unleashed ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ on the world, I had a number of emails from readers, saying how it had helped them with their own healing.  The story helped me, and now it continues to do the same for others.  Which, to me, is what art of any kind is for.

Part of the skill of being an artist of any kind, in any medium, is knowing when the time is right to release your work to others.  To know when you are ready to let go.  It is not just about being satisfied that something is finished, or about perfectionism.  (That is a whole ‘nother story!)  It is about being emotionally and spiritually ready too.

Letting go too soon, whether it is because the work is not yet finished to your own standards, or because it is still to raw and personal for you, can be a nightmare, as I discovered this summer when I published a story I loved but was not happy with.  It caused me untold grief.  I learnt my lesson.  The work wasn’t cooked.  It was not ready to leave me.  And I was not ready to leave it.

Try to trust where you are in your artistic life.  Take time to ask yourself whether this is the right time for your work to leave home and begin its new life in the hearts and minds of others.  Maybe you will never be ready to do that – there are plenty of artists if all kinds whose work is never seen in their lifetime.

That’s okay.

Learn to trust the reasons why you release your work in the way you do – or choose not to.  Maybe you choose your timing for purely practical reasons – taking into account such considerations as when you are struggling with a large parallel workload, or major life upheavals such as moving house.  At such times, it may simply not be feasible to expect to present work to the public.  Or maybe the work is too close to raw emotions.  Maybe you just aren’t ready.  Maybe it just isn’t cooked yet.  Trust that.  Sit with it.  When the time is right, you will know.

Happy Creating,

EF