Not for the Faint Hearted and the third thought

Last night was the ninth Not for the Faint Hearted session that Ellen and I have run. I still feel the same excitement about the event that I felt for the first. We're also still bringing in new people along with our regulars. That mix of friends and newcomers is one of the things that keeps it fresh.

The prompt images that we used last night were:

This time we used several black and white archive images. Weirdly I found those more difficult to write about than modern photos.

My favourite thing about these sessions is hearing the different responses people have had to the same images. For me, one of the challenges is finding a good idea in the time available while still having time to write it.

I know now that I can write and edit a basic story in about 90 seconds – although I prefer to have longer. This gives me time to sift through ideas, abandoning the first few until I encounter one that surprises me. This reminds me of some advice that the journalist Caitlin Moran was given by Alan Coren:

"The first idea that occurs to you, will have occurred to everyone. The second idea that occurs to you, will have already also occurred to the clever people. But your third idea – only you will have had that one."

Writing and the Tarot Workshop


On Saturday we had the latest of the Brighton Creative Writing Sessions workshops, on Writing and the Tarot. Ellen and I were very excited as we had a guest tutor for the event, poet and tarot-reader Naomi Foyle.

The tarot has an interesting history as a tool for writers. Italo Calvino described it as a "machine for telling stories", and used it as the basis for his book The Castle of Cross Destinies. (Apparently there was supposed to be a third part of this book, called the Motel of Crossed Destinies, which was never written).

The workshop explored the Major Arcana and Fool's Journey. We played with relating the archetypal symbols on the cards with stories. For me it was most interesting to see how different people interpreted the cards, and the way these symbols could be used, something I want to continue exploring. I was also fascinated to learn that Ted Hughes collection, the Birthday Letters can be analysed in terms of the Major Arcana – more information here

I had a fascinating day – thank you to Naomi for running the workshop, and to Jake for providing the space. Ellen and I are now planning 2011's workshops. We have a Top Secret session planned for January, and Writing Brighton in February. Details to follow!

Some links on writing that have excited me recently

  • James Bridle on Chetan Bhagat. I read all of Bhagat's novels on my holiday. They were a more interesting glimpse into India than many of the books I read written by non-Indian journalists. Bhagat is one of the most widely read authors in the world.
  • Russell Davies has posted some of his favourite quotes from the new Coupland novel. The comment he makes introducing them is interesting: "I'm sure I'll read more of Mr Coupland's books but I'd almost rather read his lists or his notes. It seems like he's the perfect novelist to write the something-that's-not-a-novel that must be just around the corner." Having recently read Reality Hunger, I'm starting to see signs of this something-that's-not-a-novel all over the place.
  • Another James Bridle article Birth Pangs of a New Literature: " Authors will keep on writing. They won’t get paid much, but hey, they never did. In fact, there’s a chance they’ll get paid more, if they’re smart, but probably not.
  • John Scalzi's Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and their students), prompted by the James Frey controversy. Some good points here, but one thing fills me with horror: some Americans are going into six figures of debt for a creative writing program? That sounds insane. More here.
  • An awesome post from Everett True. The comments are worth a read too. "You don’t have to work for them. You don’t have to write for them."
  • Fantastic interview with Mark Z. Danielewski, author of House of Leaves: "20 pages of architectural names. Ed Kastenmeier recalls this as MZD’s way of telling/showing Ed that the names weren’t meant to be read, that you were not expected to absorb every syllable in this book. Which is why when he was asked to cut them down, he sent back a revision with double the amount of names in it. Ed then understood that some of the passages in House of Leaves were not meant to be studied, at best, a misdirection at worst."
  • Via Tom: Six Word Story, which seems to be an online game similar to the Not for the Faint-Hearted workshops Ellen and I run.
  • Yet another link from James Bridle, who argues that publishers are losing millions to book guilt: "When someone with a bad case fails to finish a book, they don’t start a new one; they go into a holding pattern, crippled by guilt over their failure and unable to let go and start over. All reading stops. People have confessed to me that it’s been months since they last picked up a book, because they still haven’t finished the last one."
  • The cost of a Richard and Judy recommendation: £25,000 and 50p per copy sold
  • One last link, not really on writing… Path sounds like an interesting social network. Like twitter, it adds limitations: only 50 'friends' – focussing on quality of interaction, not quantity. Another limitation is that communication is restricted to photos, with the idea of 'giving' glimpses of moments. There is an interesting article at Wired. Today, I saw Path described as an 'anti-social social network'. Not sure how useful that description is, but this is an interesting category.

Some Thoughts On Writing About Clowns

Raymond Chandler once gave the following rule for writing: "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

You can certainly see that in Chandlers' work. When the Big Sleep was being adapted for cinema, Chandler was asked whether a certain character had been murder or had killed himself. He confided in a friend, "dammit I didn't know either."

When I am writing at the Not For the Faint-Hearted events, I have a number of tropes that I fall back on if I am stuck. One of these is clowns. They're so easy to write about. They're supposed to be having fun all the time, so if a clown unhappy you have an immediate question to work with. A clown sitting at the side of a street, with a half-empty bottle of whiskey: why?

I've shared my clown theory with my friend Louise Halvardsson. Her first clown story, Clowntown, was recently read at a short story night. I think there should be more stories about clowns. As Louise advises, "add a clown to your writing whenever you get stuck."

Twelve Ways to get into Glastonbury – Tuesday 7th December

I had a strange day yesterday, with a bus crash, snow and wandering through a somewhat diffuse protest on London Road. I also attended a rehearsal for Michael J. Parker's new show, 12 Ways to Get Into Glastonbury:

I've been helping out a little with the show over the last month or two. In fact, the first run through of the show was in my lounge back in September:


The show includes poems, songs and stories based around the Glastonbury festival. It's been fascinating to watch the work being honed over last couple of months and I am very excited about the point Mike has reached. The night also features cabaret compered by Paul Stones, including poetry from Chris Parkinson. It's going to be a great night. You must come!

12 Ways to Get Into Glastonbury: Tuesday 7th December, 7:30pm, Komedia Studio Bar, £5/£4