Posted in Uncategorized

Re-Reading Your Old Favourites

We’ve been out of lockdown a certain amount of time. We’re constantly watching the news, constantly thinking about how to react to it and constantly worrying about what’s going to happen next. This is we as a country, we as a people, we as the world. Each day we, humankind, get flooded with information. We start to become desensitized to some of the bad and then boom, another thing hits bringing in a new type of bad. At the beginning of the year, there were constant jokes about having 20-20 vision and yet now we’re as blind about what’s going to happen as a badger-mole that’s lost its earth-bending (yes, I have been re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s an amazing show).

            On a personal level I opened a business in the hospitality and tourism industry at a time when nobody wants to travel. I’ve tried multiple other ways to bring money into my household, so that I can keep myself (and my sanity) afloat. I’ve attempted to give people peace of mind, I’ve attempted offering teaching classes to locals, I’ve attempted writing and entering competitions and each time that I’ve failed I’ve felt a little bit more of myself breaking off. And the worst part is, I know there are other people in worse positions. I feel guilty for my stress. I feel like I should punish myself for feeling the way I feel. But everyone has a right to that. Even me.

            So, what do we do when all these worries wash over us? What do we do when the world seems so uncertain and stress-inducing? Do we start a new project, one with a fulfilling end? Do we begin to watch a new show, to enter into an exciting new chapter? Well, from what I’ve been seeing over the internet and in my own household, I’d have to argue no. What we do is we return to something familiar. Something that, unlike the year of 2020, we know the end to. We re-watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. We re-read our favourite books. And then we realise what we hadn’t noticed in those things ever before.

            Beyond remembering how amazing of a show or book something is, we also start to see new things. Last night I started to re-read one of my favourite books from when I was a teenager: ‘House at the Corner’ by Enid Blyton. It’s not a book you may have heard of. Enid Blyton, maybe, yes. She’s an extremely famous author. One of the only authors allowed to continue being published during World War 2, in fact. But when you think of Enid Blyton, you tend to think of The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Noddy etc. These are all big household names (speaking as a Brit. I’m not entirely sure how well known she is in America etc.). I love all of these books, don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact I didn’t know until University that Lacrosse was a sport still played today, despite the fact that many of the views and language are outdated, even despite the fact that the main characters in reality would never have even probably had the time of day for me, I love them (bar Julian from ‘The Famous Five’, who for some reason annoys me no end).

            But ‘House at the Corner’, one of her more obscure works is my favourite. It relaxes me, and even as an adult I give a round of applause to how well the characters are portrayed. I still love it. I still will re-read it and re-read it again, but I could not stop laughing at certain things that happened on this journey into it.

            Okay, to quickly summarise. The story is about the Farrell family. Pam, the oldest: eighteen, too smart, too beautiful, big ego. Tony: fourteen, again too smart, doted on by mother, fairly strong, joker, big ego. Delia and David: ten year old twins, the most sensible members of the children, very serious, very kind, very honest, love them completely, always get ignored by their family. And then there’s Lizzie: sixteen years old, plain looking, wears glasses, wears braces, dotes on her family, drops anything in a heartbeat to help them, shy and quiet. Most importantly for this discussion, she’s a writer.

            Now, maybe there’s a particular reason I’ve always liked Lizzie (or sorry, Elizabeth, as she prefers). Maybe it is that she represents a successful writer at sixteen (let that age wash over for you for a while. Does it sting, just a little?). Basically, Lizzie gets persuaded to write stories because her Great Aunt says she’s good at writing letters. We’ll let that one slide for now. Although a woman I talked to recently mentioned that her friends believed the same of her because she was good at writing letters, and she found she was not very good at stories. Hey hum, moving on.

            So Lizzie writes a successful story, with little to no editing. As you do. Her Great Aunt loves it. Amazing. She sends in to a newspaper aiming to be published. Gets rejected and her Great Aunt persuades her to try again. Great. That’s amazing advice, from a writer to a writer (thank you, Enid Blyton). She sends off to another paper and they accept her. They agree to publish her across six of their papers in children’s corner and agree as well to publish one of her stories in each edition for a paid sum. She starts at £3 a story and then moves to £5 a story. A substantial sum at the time.

            Tony comments at the end: Would they have published her if they’d known her age? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they were publishing her knowing nothing about her. She could have been under the age for working for all they knew (which, as far as I’m aware, though lower, did still exist at the time). She could have been anyone.

            I think what irked me about this is, not that she’s successful at a young age and I’m still sat here desperately trying to find the confidence to put down words, but that she gets to be completely anonymous. I know that’s not what she wanted. She wanted her name in print. But I want that, please. I’d love to publish things without a name, just get paid and then get on with writing again. That’d be great. Please. Can I do that, instead of making my books all about selling me? I’m not nearly as interesting as what I write. Believe me. I have to live with myself.

            Why, you ask, am I sat in my garden writing a rant about this one point. Well, to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve written on my blog and it was about time. If Lizzie can be anonymous, getting published and being paid for it, then maybe there’s hope for the world yet. It turns out even in the 1940’s (or around about when Blyton was writing) writers still had a fantasy of being a writer. It’s okay to dream about it. It’s okay to want to earn a living from it. At sixteen. Anonymous even to your publishers. You do you. And have fun with it.

            For real though, how was she so productive? One story each edition? Edited? And she claimed she wrote children’s stories because she wasn’t up to the standard of writing adults fiction? Come on, children’s fiction is hard work. They’re very harsh critics. Although, ironic that a children’s author should have been the one to write that line.

            I would highly recommend reading ‘House at the Corner’, especially if you’ve got any aspiring young novelists in your household. I hope you’re all having a good time escaping into your own fantasy worlds.

A Bientot, les ecrivians,

The Literary Onion

Posted in How to Write

Writing and Why Mistakes Can Be A Good Thing

I know. It seems like a weird choice for a topic. How could a mistake be a good thing? We spend hours, days, months (years, in my case) editing or writing. We fix the spelling, wording, syntax. We re-write whole sections of work to show our writing at its very best.

            But, hear me out. Imagine if we didn’t do that. Imagine, if you could just write a piece and it was perfect. Imagine how stale it would be and how complacent we would become. We’d have nothing to strive for, no reason to write anything or read anybody else’s work. As it is, whilst editing we’re learning. We’re growing into a good writer (emphasis on not stretching to greatness or perfection, which is impossible to reach in such a subjective artform).

            So that’s one reason right there to love mistakes. Now, after all your editing is done and you’ve published your story or poem, surely any mistakes left in by this point are a bad thing? Well, actually, for the most part, I would argue otherwise. I’m not saying put in a mistake on purpose. I’m not saying you should have thousands of grammar or spelling mistakes. I’m talking about a rare, simple mistake (specifically focusing on wording).

            I started reading Chris Colfer’s ‘Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey’ the other day. It’s an extremely engaging story with extremely realistic and lovable characters. So far in my read I have found three mistakes and only one of these I would count as being a negative one (just a personal negative writing choice which I see often in children’s book and disagree with).

            The positive ones however were just a matter of wording and it had to do with names. Alex and Bree are two separate characters with clearly defined characteristics but all of a sudden, during a scene with Bree and her cousins, Bree’s name is accidentally written as Alex. It was jarring. It stopped me reading, made me question myself. And then I started laughing. It was clear that Colfer had been so used by this point to writing ‘Alex and Conner’ that as soon as he was supposed to write ‘Bree and Cornelia’ his hand wrote for his brain. ‘Co… nner… Co…rnelia’, the beginnings were the same, so Bree became Alex.

            I’m sure Colfer must know about this mistake by now, and it may be fixed in future publishing, but I loved it. It showed me how absorbed in the book I was and just how much I cared for the characters. It made me think about the work with logic and it made me realise just how much I actually cared.

            The same thing happened when I was younger when reading ‘Candyfloss’ by Jacqueline Wilson. After they finished baking a cake (Floss and her father) they ‘cooked’ it. Of course, it was supposed to be ‘cooled’ and child me thought it was hilarious and somewhat gratifying. Jacqueline Wilson made mistakes. Maybe it was okay for me to make them too. I haven’t read ‘Candyfloss’ in years but the small mistake is something ingrained in my memory and I love the book all the more for it.

            Not even a book series can escape making mistakes. In Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ series, the first book states that the Fisherman’s son who looked after Timmy was ‘James’ and by book five or six he’d become ‘Alf’. She’d forgotten his name but I hadn’t and I never held that against her because it was a testament to how great a writer she was that I had noticed. I cared about the most minor of characters and that takes true skill.

            I’m not saying you should try to make mistakes and I’m not saying you shouldn’t edit your work (editors need to make a living too, you know?) but I’m just trying to show you a new perspective. If you make and publish a small mistake, well oopsy daisy, but it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve done your job right and your work sucks your readers in, and they care for your characters deeply then maybe a small mistake will give them the same reaction I had. Maybe you’ve given them a good laugh. Maybe you’ve given them the courage to know that they don’t have to be perfect.

            And, regardless, before editing focus all your energy on your story and characters (or poem, for all you poets out there). If those parts are great then being merely a ‘good’ editor could be enough.

            Thank you for reading and (gosh, it’s been a while since I said this)… A Bientot, les ecrivians.