Chick lit, the cover-up

Chick lit, the cover-up

Published in Know Magazine 2013.

I used Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Kate Long and other female writers as examples for the works my novel might end up on the bookshelf next to when pitching to publishers. This led me to thoughts about genre and it was then I realised that I had to find a better term than ‘chick lit’.

My issues were dark; loss, grief, abusive relationships and learning difficulties, told in a light and sometimes humorous way. So why was I trying to steer away from chick lit? What did I have against the term?

The phrase ‘chick lit’ was first appeared during the 1980s. The term took off after the 1995 anthology titled Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction. More recently everyone refers to (or blames) Bridget Jones instead.

After some initial research beyond basic definitions (in which Helen Fielding’s character kept being used as an example), it became clear why I was wary.  From an article in The Independent I got a definition of ‘sex, shoes and shopping’, which appeared to be a trend in media descriptions of chick-lit.

However, Wikipedia defines it the following way, ‘Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and light-heartedly. Issues dealt with are often more serious than consumerism.’

But in the media it was most often described as frivolous, and even dangerous.  The Guardian recently ran an article reporting that a Virginia Tech study found fictional representations can affect female readers’ self-esteem and that women’s body image is negatively affected by chick lit. Again a photo of Bridget Jones looking ‘fat’ was used to accompany the article.

In my search to uncover the cover-up of chick lit, the most surprising thing I found was the reaction of some female authors themselves, who also seemed to see the genre as dangerous, but to their portrayal as an author and not their dress size.

This took me back to The Independent. The piece they ran in 2011 asked if we’d fallen out of love with chick lit.  They were talking about a slump in sales but I was particularly interested in the back-lash against the genre they mentioned.  The article stated that: ‘Literary experts believe that readers are rejecting the identically-jacketed “sex, shoes and shopping” tales pushed by publishers in favour of more complex, psychologically ambitious novels by women writers.’

In this article Eithne Farry, literary editor of Marie Claire, blamed patronising marketing campaigns for this rejection. She said: “Chick lit has become a derogatory term. I’m surprised when I see that a lot of books are sold in covers with shoes and cupcakes because often the subject matter of the book inside isn’t frothy and frivolous.”

It also reported that Polly Courtney publicly dropped her publisher, HarperCollins, in protest at the “condescending and fluffy” sleeves they had chosen for her books. She said that her work should not be reduced to ‘chick lit’ because it dealt with social issues.

Even Cosmopolitan had a go at the genre.  In a 2009 article it said: ‘Word is out that chick lit is having to get real in these credit crunch times.’

The co-author of this article, who called herself ‘Venus’ (seen reading a book in her underwear on a fluffy white pillow on the web picture), says that chick lit doesn’t provide the right role models for ‘ordinary’ girls. She wants to bring ‘a touch of reality to the bookshop shelves’.

In her opinion chick lit lacks all of the following: ‘The tales of women who are drowning in debt, unlucky in love and actually have to go to work to earn a living.’

In the views of ‘Venus’, the genre is all Prada shoes, dashing lawyers and champagne cocktails.

I combined that throw away attitude with something someone I know said to me recently. “I had an idea for a novel but then I thought it was just so basic and chick lit style, I’d be able to bash it out really quickly but there wouldn’t be a market for it because there’s loads of books like that.” Hmmm.

Lots of things annoyed me about that, mainly that writing is in any way easy, and that chick lit is even easier. Maybe she was a female Jack Kerouac. I doubted it.

But is the problem in the PR? Mars agreed with me in this case. That is Cosmo Mars who writes the column with Venus. He admits to never having read chick lit but still hating it.  He does make a valid point though as he says, ‘Carrying one of those books around feels about as shameful as carrying porn.’

And on Marian Keyes he added, ‘So when I read reviews of her ‘Rachel’s Holiday’ on Amazon and it says “don’t be fooled by the bright pink jacket, this tackles the issue of addiction sensitively but also manages to be entertaining and funny” I want to shout, “Then why put it in a pink jacket?!’

Before this turns into a Leveson Inquiry into the treatment of Chick Lit it does touch on the issue that the media’s responsibility is to get their facts straight, and to thoroughly research something before making claims. If you can label an entire genre of books, shouldn’t you read more than a few of them and back up your claims with proof?  Or should the blame lie with the publishers and not the media?

In February 2012, Jenny Geras editorial director for fiction at Pan Macmillan was talking in The Guardian about the main problem with chick lit being the name.

She commented, “Because as a publisher of commercial women’s s fiction, I seem to spend an awful lot of time these days reading articles by intelligent women asking – as questions like “Why a woman of Kinsella’s intelligence would want to write about women at their silliest”. And why other women would read it.”

She brings up the issue again that the journalist making these comments hadn’t read much chick-lit.

“Some of Sophie Kinsella’s heroines do indeed have silly and ditzy aspects (though some of them also do not) but that’s no surprise: she is writing comic fiction. The bigger question is: why is so much energy expended on patronising this particular area of the market?

“Book jackets are made by publishers. We decide what a book looks like and this is a complicated decision, influenced by what we think looks good, what we think will position the book most clearly in the marketplace, and how best to signal quickly to both retailers and readers what kind of book it is.

“The downside of this labelling process is that a whole range of completely different books get lumped together and confused. The only thing that these books really have in common is that they’re written primarily by women and about relationships.”

Because I work in PR and it’s important to think how I will present myself as a writer this was especially interesting to me. My MA Writing tutor had mentioned the typical book covers before, woman hanging out of a bath, shopping or looking upset. I think I’ve managed to find typical examples from my own collection, although no shoes or cupcakes disappointingly. I want to present the books as evidence against all this and really go under the cover of the books.

Giving Up On Ordinary

Giving Up on Ordinary by Isla Dewar – is about bereavement (loss of a child) and an unfulfilled life with lots of questions about missed opportunities. There are some very good observations about grief.  But here we have a woman in a bath with a glass of wine.

Flora's Lot

Flora’s Lot by Katie Fforde – a young woman struggling with a new career and getting a hold on a family business while being treated like shit by her cousin and fiancé. It’s about finding your feet in life, career-wise and in relationships.  On the cover we have a girl in a top that shows off her stomach This Charming Mandusting a cat.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – brutal domestic violence – quite disturbing.  You can be forgiven for missing this point with all the stars and pink lettering on the front of the book.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella – terrible family relationships – a Mum who doesn’t care, a job that has taken over her life, no work-life balance, lonely and intense insecurities – and she’s a lawyer with an IQ of 158. Yet there’s a lovely red The Undomestic Goddesshandbag is on the front spilling out make-up and cleaning products. Oh but there’s a calculator sticking out too so that must be the mark of intelligence.

The Bad Mother’s Handbook by Kate Long – here we have a stick woman on the frontThe Bad Mother's Handbook cover waving and smiling. This should be a pregnant stick drawing at least – in a school uniform.  This books deal with difficult issues very effectively including teenage sex, teenage pregnancy, dementia, being a mother at any age and family relationships.  A lot of people commented on being thrown by the cover in reviews when they realised the deeper issues of the book.The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice – this is about growing up in post-war Britain, with children who lost their father in the war and how the family copes. There are money worries, generational conflicts especially between mothers and daughters, coming of age, war guilt, rationing, drugs and being a teenager. This cover shows a girl in a pink dress drinking tea and playing with pigeons. Me Before You

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – about a girl who looks after a man who is wheelchair bound after an accident. This is both heartbreaking and insightful, throwing up questions often debated questions about assisted suicide.  However the cover is a girl throwing a bird up into the air set against a pink sun.

From this quick list you can see that underneath the covers these books do contain social issues. Many of them are funny. They are comedy based on tragedy.  In terms of my own writing, they mostly seem to suit the key themes I study, of loss, grief, abuse, relationships and real life – which must be why I’m drawn to this genre.  They are books that on the cover look like ‘easy’ reads but are far from it.

Broadly chick lit covers – childbirth, relationships, working in another country, right a wrong in life, make new friends, find a new place to live, get ahead in career, figure out how to fix life problems, get over an ex-boyfriend/husband who has really messed up a life, dating and relationships to grieving over lost family members, cancer and miscarriages. And everything in between you can imagine.

The genre is also a truly fascinating character study.  A chick lit author can take a character and put them through a series of mostly realistic ordeals – many that many women can relate to. The end result is usually very interesting, detailed, fun-to-read and satisfying.

And some of the best, deepest, most well-written literature is hidden behind brightly coloured covers with alluring titles. So if this is chick lit as a genre then I’m proud to be part of it.

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Chick-Lit: The Cover Up

My article about the misconceptions of chick lit has appeared in Know Magazine, an independent online literary magazine which is devoted to artistic expression through art and writing.

NEW! Feature: “The phrase ‘chick lit’ first appeared during the 1980’s. The term took off after the 1995 anthology titled ‘Chick lit: Post-feminist Fiction’. More recently everyone refers to (or blames) Bridget Jones instead. Defined as ‘sex,shoes and shopping’ by some media, this often overlooked and disparaged genre actually contains some of the best, deepest and most well-written literature beneath the often frivolous covers and sleeves,” writes Clare Doran.

Read the article at:
http://www.know-magazine.net/index.php/feature/94-chick-lit-the-cover-up

To find out more or to submit to KNOW Magazine email  info@know-magazine.net.

Me head’s chocker

Good writing has a place. And by that I mean a town, city or region. I used to make the mistake of being too vague.  So I decided to set my novel in Liverpool, because I know it and also because it is such a great setting for a story.

What I didn’t know is just how Liverpool to make it and by that I mean slang, idiosyncratic terms, dialect and dialogue.

Would I alienate people from outside the city by calling things ‘boss’ or ‘sound’, saying that someone had ‘lost their bottle’, using the bizarre phrase ‘alarse’, calling every kind of alcohol ‘ale’ and adding, ‘lad, la, kidda’, and ‘is right’ and the occasional ‘proper’ and ‘pure’ before words to make a point about just how boss something was? It was proving to be a tricky mix. So what to do abar (about) it?

In my novel – The Dictionary of Departures , Gina is a scouser and I’ve been working phrases and words familiar to the city into the story, but in a way that doesn’t exclude readers from other places.

I found some useful tips on the Daily Writing Tips website that suggested writers ‘should pay attention to phrases and idioms that pertain to a character’s geographic location…’ It reported that this won’t slow the reader down, distract or confuse them.

I wanted to use one of their phrase examples “she’s dumber than a bucket of hair, bless her heart,” but that places someone in the American South. My offering could be– ‘she’s proper dozy her la’?

I looked to three other writers for help.

God, them fishfingers are gorgeous

I’ve just finished All She Wants, the debut novel by Jonathan Harvey. This does use phrases and words particular to Liverpool with occasional explanations. The main character Jody explains ‘trainees are trainers’ but ‘arlarse’ is left alone.  This book takes a lot of its humour from the very scouse way the characters talk but often this is in such a way that any reader can detract their meaning. When Jodie first works on an advert one of her phrases in fact haunts her for a while – God, them fishfingers are gorgeous. The main point is that the reader always gets it.

Not very casual West Country

In The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling a lot of debate has centred on her harrowing and dark departure from Harry Potter but I started to study the dialogue. One of the characters Krystal Weedon is characterised by her language and so are her family. The setting is the fictional West Country village of Pagford but it has clear West Country accents. Rowling has been criticised in The Guardian for creating underclass characters all using a kind of generalised, Dickensian lower-order-speak e.g. “I takes Robbie to the nurs’ry”; “Tha’s norra fuckin’ crime”; “No, shurrup, righ’?”.

Rowling reportedly drew on her own mildly unhappy West Country childhood, in a village outside Bristol and then later outside Chepstow.  It was a great book in my opinion but I did get the point about the Dickensian dialogue.

Irishy stuff

Marion Keyes said in her newsletter that the late Maeve Binchy gave her the confidence to ‘write with an Irish accent’. She said: ‘I personally owe her a debt of gratitude because when I started writing, I was appalled to discover that I was writing in an Irish accent – I thought nobody other than a few Irish people would be interested in reading my Irishy stuff. Then I remembered Maeve – she wrote in an Irish accent and most of her books were set in Ireland and it hadn’t done her any harm – she was beloved worldwide. So she gave me the confidence to ‘write in my own voice’.”

One thing is in common for all of the above – they all write where they know or have known. That is already what I am doing. But how to make this authentic…?

So Me head’s chocker and you can help 

What scouse words and sayings would you want to see in a book set in Liverpool? And how would you spell them? Tweet @ClareDoran or email clare12doran@yahoo.co.uk with any ideas!

Bagsy all the best ones for my book.

This has nothing to do with the above article but I found this overheard in Liverpool phrase quite funny and I’m going to have to use it somewhere, perhaps if I become a scapegoat for bad scouse sayings in my novel: 

‘They can fuck right off. I’m no one’s escaped goat.’

Which pitch?

Next week (Wednesday 24/10/12) I will be pitching my novel to a publisher in my MA Writing class.  I have two options so far and both are subject to changes. Let me know what works best and what questions you have from either as a reader. What would you download on a kindle or buy after reading on the back of a book? Or if it’s neither – what am I missing? I’m also trying to work out which working title I prefer:  The Dictionary of Departures or The Distorted Dictionary.

If you can’t post on wordpress I’m on Twitter @ClareDoran Thanks 🙂

Option One

The Distorted Dictionary 

One girl. Two boys. One dictionary.

When Gina Ellis gets out of an emotionally abusive relationship, she tries to understand how she got there in the first place, taking us through her experiences and penning new dictionary definitions under ordinary words to make sense of her life.

Heartbreaking scenes of her Mum’s death redefine the meaning of a ‘hug, ’ her sex life is bracketed under ‘fridge’ and ‘peace’ is disturbed by both the biting fish in her stomach caused by grief  and the tropical kind; the Liverpool girls with their big hair, colourful make-up and expertly chosen clothes that she longs to be like.  Gina thinks she is a goldfish, plain and worthless, until she is abducted and must fight for her life.

Option Two 

The Distorted Dictionary 

One girl. Two boys. One dictionary. Twenty-six re-definitions  Lots of fish. A fight for survival.

When Gina Ellis gets out of an emotionally abusive relationship, she tries to understand how she got there in the first place, taking us through her experiences and penning new dictionary definitions under ordinary words to make sense of her life.

From heartbreaking scenes of her Mum’s death which redefines the meaning of a ‘hug’, to the repercussions on her family where the word ‘censor’ takes on many forms, Gina needs to find a sense of peace.

But she must also get over the fish which in their new definition are the nibbly, biting ones in her stomach caused by her grief but also the tropical versions; the Liverpool girls with their big hair, colourful make-up and expertly chosen clothes that she longs to be like. You see in her head Gina is a goldfish, plain and worthless, and until she gets over that then her real love interest, long-term friend but elusive Anthony, will remain out of reach.

Unfortunately her old life with ex-Daniel is a redefinition she is yet to get away from, and just as the fish start to settle she is abducted and must fight for her life.

Write up your life?

‘So am I in it?’

 

The response you will get at least once when you tell someone that you’re writing a novel. And most of the time they’re not really joking. In truth the answer should be, no – but a small fraction of your personality might be mixed in with twenty other people’s character traits, or maybe half a sentence that you said once or a slither of a Facebook status. I’m currently trawling Facebook for inspiration and it really is quite brilliant what people say. It reminds me of another comment people make, ‘you should write about my life, honestly you couldn’t write it.’ Well no I couldn’t and I wouldn’t want to. But I can rearrange it and steal some parts from you.

 

That’s what writing from personal experience is; it’s mixing it up, spicing it up, and developing events, people and places into something new. Because life really isn’t that exciting. Unless it is and you’re writing a memoir.

 

But what happens when authors are writing something really disturbing that goes beyond the boundaries of what society considers normal? Even I do the ‘is this your life in some way’ when reading a book. I think to myself – but how did the writer knowthat and know it so well? Yet then I remember that writing fiction is an extension of real life but not always the author’s life.

 

And writers read, often a ridiculous amount, they also watch, listen and learn from everything, so in the end the extensions come out of everywhere. A story could therefore be from the memory of a book read once, mixed with a character they know or combinations of people they know and how they would act in that situation, with snippets of a film or news item once watched and snatches of conversation from an unrelated resource. The final result through all this would not necessarily be something the author had experienced themselves although it might contain the emotions they have felt from other events.

 

Of course there are elements of death in my work and a lot of social work issues. I have experienced both and it’s a shame not to use it. I felt a bit bad about this when writing a particularly harrowing death scene but then this coincided with a time when Jimmy McGovern came to visit our MA Writing group (by the way please watch The Accused currently on the BBC – a great example of how good he is). He was talking about writing from experience and mentioned alongside retelling how his Father died said he remembered thinking, ‘This is awful…I’ll use this.’ He wasn’t making light of it but like all writers, he was making something of it.

 

So how much of an author’s life goes into their work?

 

Experience

 

Some famous examples are actually quote surprising. The Dementors of Harry Potter, which feed on positive emotions, were inspired by J. K. Rowling’s bout with severe depression before her success. She described the feeling as an “absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.” So this became an element of her work.

 

Rowling said her Mother’s death also heavily affected her writing and that she introduced much more detail about Harry’s loss in the first book, because she knew about how it felt.

On a lighter side, JK Rowling based the character of Gilderoy Lockhart on someone she knew but stated that he would be unlikely to recognise himself.

 

Reading

 

Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi must have been inspired by the thirteen months he spent in India visiting temples and zoos and the two years he spent reading religious texts and castaway stories as the protagonist explores issues of spirituality. But his inspiration for the book actually came from reading a book review of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar’s 1981 novella Max and the Cats, about a Jewish-German refugee who crossed the Atlantic Ocean while sharing his boat with a jaguar. This almost didn’t end well for Martel as Scliar was annoyed that he hadn’t been consulted about the idea and was considering whether to take any action. They spoke and the issue was resolved. A dedication to Scliar “for the spark of life” appears in the author’s note of Life of Pi.

 

Listening

 

JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You came about after she heard a radio story about a young rugby player who had been left quadriplegic and persuaded his parents to take him to Dignitas. Moyes was shocked by the story and it wouldn’t leave her mind, so she decided to write her own version.

 

Watching

 

Referring to another favourite of mine The Raw Shark Texts, is in the last section a literary retelling of the film Jaws, and must have been inspired in some part by Steven Hall watching this film. Casablanca is also referred to in the book with the line ‘Here’s lookin’ at you kid’ ending the novel and giving the reader a hint that Eric is alive and in a conceptual universe.

 

Or are we just terrible people?

 

The late Nina Bawden’s classic children’s novel Carrie’s War drew from her own evacuation during the second world war. But Bawden was a bit more harsh in her idea of how writers use life. In writing both for adults and children, she liked “making use of all my life, all memory, wasting nothing”; her books, if read in sequence, were a “coded autobiography”. She concluded in her opinion that:

“All writers are liars. They twist events to suit themselves. They make use of their own tragedies to make a better story … They are terrible people.”

Terrible people, liars or simply sharers of experiences? I prefer this idea:

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” Joss Whedon

But maybe all writers should carry warnings (robbed from a retweet by writer Nicola Copeland @NCopes87):

Taking the Time to Unpack

Something I always struggle with in my writing is the show versus tell debate. A fellow writer, Sarah Tarbit (check out her blog http://sarahtarbit.blogspot.co.uk/ ) posted some advice from Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) as a possible solution.  

He starts with a simple declaration:
In six seconds, you’ll hate me.

But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

He was definitely right about the first part. But there was a possibility he could be about the second, so I decided to try it.  

Following Palahniuk’s rules in my writing would mean cutting out all thought verbs: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realises, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

This went on to include love and hate, is and has. I couldn’t think of many words I would have left for my characters to play with unless they moved through a sea of constant description invoking the five senses on a continual basis.  But would that be a bad thing?

Instead of the character wondering something for example, I would have to unpack into description, gestures and actions, presenting the right details to the reader using specific sensory detail.  

However, I quickly realised that gestures and actions could replace thought verbs and leave more room for sensory verbs like felt, heard, saw, looked, touched, smelled, etc. And it did still read well, in fact it read better.

There were other obvious benefits to this, including increasing my novel word count. Look at how Palahniuk turns one sentence into several.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”

You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen was always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her ass. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

So, although the idea terrified me, at first it was working. I could feel myself writing differently and in fact certain scenes were coming to life. But then I got stuck again. I was trying to do too much unpacking.  And I was doing this in first person which I started to think made a real difference.

I did my usual research with the question ‘what do other writers do?’

I’m reading The Slap at the moment so I turned to that first, which is in third person perspective. Tsiolkas seems to mix it up so that devices such as photos (particularly for Connie where I’m up to currently) take over the thought verbs with description. He also makes the characters bounce off each other and uses their dialogue both for and against them. For example the swearing and violence of Harry’s language tells us a lot about him.  In fact when we first meet him, it is the descriptions of his surroundings, the food he smells, his arrogant and self-satisfied actions, and not thoughts that set the scene.  (Note: for characterisation techniques, read this book – Tsiolkas is a master at creating multiple characters from different backgrounds, ages, sexes and lives).

But was this just applicable for the style of narration where we aren’t speaking directly as the character and could therefore afford some distance? I opened a random page of  JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You  (which by the way is fantastic and will be featuring in a future blog piece ‘under the covers of ‘chick-lit’) and noticed a bit more packing was going on: I wished, I was so lost in my thoughts, I realised – but they were interspersed between action, dialogue and description and not as common as I thought they would be in first person.

From this I saw that a little bit of packing usually needs to take place between the unpacking for this to work in any perspective. It also became apparent that unpacking takes time; it can’t be rushed and therefore it makes you pay attention to every word that you write. 

Francine Prose, the little bible on my desk that is Reading like a Writer provided some further insight.  She offers a passage from Alice Munro where the thought verb ‘noticed’ is used twice and also quite a bit of telling goes on.  

Prose states that she uses this Munro piece to deliberately contradict ‘a form of bad advice often given young writers – namely that the job of the author is to show, not tell.’

What I gained from Prose was the fact that although ‘is’ and ‘has’ can be used a lot, thought verbs don’t have to prominent when a writer is telling e.g. ‘she had worked as an editor…she was also a poet.’ These things tell us quick facts about the character without venturing too much into how they think and feel about it.
Unpacking the Wheelie Bin

I decided to unpack a scene from my window.  This whole unpacking theme does fit into the fact that we have recently moved house. There is actually an unpacked box under my writing desk but I’m not taking that as a metaphor.  And what you are about to read did happen, but the police came while I was still typing so it all ended well apart from the wheelie bin died and is still a melted mess on the field, sorry to ruin the ending but I don’t have time to write it.

Instead of the ‘packed’ : I could tell that he loved fire or just he loved fire, I did this instead:

The flames licked at the tall boy’s face. A slow smile spread across it and his eyes lit up for more reasons than the fire dancing in it.  He threw scraps of furniture on the fire that burnt in seconds, to satisfy a quick rage.  He was standing so close that the tracksuit, loose against his body, closed against his skin as though shrinking away from the heat.

And in first person from the perspective of one of the police:

Packed: I wished that the kids would stop doing this. I realised that the younger community officer cycling up on his bike felt the same. But I knew it would happen again of course.  I noticed how they all ran off in a streamed line, like ants who knew where the holes to their underground homes were.  The smell of the fire was strong. 

Unpacked: I watched the kids run off like little tracksuited black ants pouring back into hedges and holes leading to the usual tracks they were used to escaping through.  But there were plenty more wheelie bins, bits of furniture outside gates of alleyways, long summer days nights to fill with parents who encouraged ‘playing out’ and an empty field wide with weeds and tall grass ready to burn. The smell of fire filling nosy residents’ noses until they spluttered out the taste of the smoke and dialed 999 again and again. 
‘I’m fucking fed up of the kids around here.’  The community officer pulled up on his bike, eyes still on the wheelie bin.  It didn’t matter. The kids would do it again. 

Now all I have to do is properly practise unpacking and then unpack my novel which is at 67,000 words so far…I might unpack the box under my desk first. 

So it goes…

my first blog post.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of Mother Night, one of my listed influences later in this blog post, used the phrase ‘So it goes’ 106 times in another of his novels, Slaughterhouse-Five.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to do this.  However, I did think it was a good idea to start a writing blog looking at some of the writers who influence me.
As this blog develops I’ll be exploring what I read and write with the main aim of getting over my fear of other people reading my work. And also to improve, learn, develop and be able to think of myself as a writer.
I suppose the phrase and Vonnegut’s use of it; life, death, dying and mortality, providing comic relief, moving on and both accepting and dismissing everything, is perhaps what I’m trying to do with my writing.  
There probably won’t be many opportunities to read my fiction on here. That’s not just because I’m not brave enough. Copyright rules seem to suggest in most cases that publishers and agents don’t accept work that has appeared on blogs or websites as it’s seen as previously published.  This is the same for many competitions.  So it goes as a better idea to go with things that come into my head, views on writing, books I’m reading, techniques, views from my window, World War Two (I’ve got to stop following tweets from 1940 – it’s scaring the life out of me as if I don’t know the ending), etc.
So it goes that this is my attempt at gaining some writing confidence.  And I’m not hiding behind Kurt Vonnegut here. It just makes sense for what I want to say.  I think it’s important to take the best influences from great writers and use it to improve.
I revise and edit work consistently. It’s never good enough.  I know that writing is rewriting but sometimes I don’t think I know where to stop. But I won’t be rewriting my blog posts. This will be words on the page as they are, a practice run in believing in my own words more.  
And what better time to start than now? After all in some other words of Kurt Vonnegut, ‘when you’re dead, you’re dead.’
So it goes that I want to talk about my top ten writing influences. I have to add that I complied this list last year and all that has changed is I would put the fantastic Kate Long alongside Marion Keyes.  Kate’s work is an example of amazing character technique and voice.  I’ve reviewed her latest book on Amazon and would recommend her to all writers and readers.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/pdp/profile/A3J46OQ7U7G29N/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdp

I’ve also recently discovered Deborah Morgan and Sharon Owens, and with each new brilliant writing find like these; I’m inspired to continue trying.
So it goes that I hope writing a blog gets easier and that one day I make it into someone’s top ten.
Booked-up – my top ten influences
I chose this list at random from a number of titles I’d scribbled across a notebook. Breakdowns, mental illness, grief, family issues, alternative realities, Nazis, blasphemy, and some dark chick lit, hmmm…
1.  My Oedipus Complex – Frank O’Connor. A brilliant short story that captures a child’s voice blended subtly with an adult perspective and although it has a good viewpoint from families in war – the issues of these family relationships are quite timeless.  It’s also very funny: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2010/dec/07/helen-dunmore-frank-oconnor
2. The Raw Shark Texts – debut novel by Steven Hall, – literally (or literary) Jaws but with words, and a great idea of an alternative reality. At the same time it is a very sad story when you step back and see what it’s really about. Can you surround yourself with words as a form of protection in life (not just from sharks)?
3. The Life of Pi – Yann Martel – I’d love to have thought of this! A hyena, a monkey, a whingeing zebra and a tiger called Richard or…choose which version you believe when you hear it again within the same novel.
4. Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut – perhaps the best and most honest foreword to a novel. It really raised the question ‘what would you do?’ when caught in certain periods of history. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera. “We all need someone to look at us.”  He divided people into four types based on this: those who need a public of unknown eyes, those who need familiar eyes, those who want to be in the eyes of the person they love, and the dreamers who live to be seen by an imagined being.  A friend and I (reading this at 18) decided we were the last type but couldn’t find many people who also chose this option (it makes more sense if you read the full explanation in the novel).  Apart from that I think the book annoyed me overall.
6.  God is Dead – Ron Currie. This raises questions through nightmarish satire (I seem to like this theme). What would we do if it was confirmed that there was no God or that a God no longer existed? The world doesn’t end but after the expected chaos people begin worshipping their children (think financial advice from a child leading to investment in hungry hippos), and in what seems to be an obsession of mine in fiction, animals have a central role, see the chapter: “Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God’s Corpse.”
7. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger – ‘Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic’- true in a way if you’ve had a strict Catholic upbringing – maybe because the rituals are so strange even from modern Catholic schools and have a lasting effect (I don’t mean this in a dark way at all).  It can feel like emerging from a cult and outsiders might say ‘what do you mean you were made to go to mass every week until you were 16?’ and we had a mass for everything in school too and most of us could probably recite mass or at least sing a few hymns all the way through. I also like the idea that Jesus picked the Disciples at random so it wasn’t really his fault how they turned out (I laughed out loud on a plane to that bit). And of course the baseball mitt which I think reveals the whole reason behind the main character’s behaviour.
8. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath –  I found the fig tree analogy brilliant in describing how it feels wanting to do too much in life and therefore missing out on being good at anything through indecisiveness.  I always think when I read this: ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ but then bring it down further to not even being at ‘jack’ level through being so unfocused.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
9. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey. I’ve never seen the film, but apparently it is very different? Horrors for the past treatment of mental illness and lobotomy aside, and all the characters may be flawed but you still don’t want the ending to happen the way it does.
10. Marion Keyes – should never be underestimated as people so often try to do with ‘chick-lit’.  She’s truly brilliant and her work is both funny and moving, light and dark. Rachel’s Holiday (drug addiction), This Charming Man (violence towards women). Best described from her website: “The books deal variously with modern ailments, including addiction, depression, domestic violence, the glass ceiling and serious illness, but always written with compassion, humour and hope.”
I also have it on good authority from my Aunty that she is a nice person – apparently they held up a book signing queue in Adelaide, Australia discussing Dublin bus routes. This was probably not Marion’s fault, having emigrated to Australia over 30 years ago, my Aunty will even discuss the 75 to St Patrick’s Cathedral with anyone who’ll listen.