Disintegration and Other Stories: Ebook Cover Re-Design

Eventually, the re-designed new cover for Disintegration and Other Stories, in ebook format, has worked its way through the channels at KDP.

The old placeholder version was a little too rough and ready, and this suits the bill much better. Is anything ever finished, or should we just move on?

All books are available at the bookshop.

Book Release: Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II)

Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II)Announcing the release of my latest fiction offering (following my previous post and waiting for the KDP process to filter its way back to my inbox). Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II) is available for purchase via the bookshop link on the left-hand side bar.

At the start of this particular writing process, I didn’t envisage a year long project in all honesty. The previous instalment of this series took the best part of three years to come to fruition, but Volume II was intended to be a quicker write. What we learn along the way is that words won’t be rushed.

As a taster of the contents of this second volume (and something I haven’t yet done in order to promote the contents of the first volume), there follows at the end of this post a very brief overview of the thirty pieces therein. I call them ‘pieces’ because I always have: they’re not stories in the conventional sense of the definition (by which I mean, the view that such writing has a ‘beginning, middle, end, plot, crucible/conflict’, and so forth); these pieces, in their intentional brevity, sometimes have a storyline to them, are sometimes a moment in the telling, sometimes they’re the middle of things that might expand out in the mind, etc.

How to write a synopsis of such brief affairs (being in the region of 60-1000 words per piece)? The succinct, below, shall describe the brief.

Prices have been reconsidered to reflect the individual work in question, but I’m open to the idea of a free copy coming your way if you drop me a line on my Joel Seath: Writer Facebook page, or send a message on this blog site. This free giveaway is for promotional purposes and therefore with a limited initial period (if it’s successful, I’ll do likewise again sometime). So, contact me by January 17 please.

As the independent writer/publisher’s promotional work is aided by honest reviews, you’ll know then — as a reader — that a review of the book is requested in return for a free copy. There is a reviews page set up on this site for readers’ comments. I thank you kindly in advance of your interest.
So, to the writing in Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II):

being a story of love taken to its inevitable ends

in which we cannot escape

I, Revenant
exploring the unreliable

The Glass Girl
being a fractured moment of a fractured man

The Wasps’ Nest
in the midst of a garden tale

A Memory of a Love We Almost Shared
exploring what could have been

When We Never Were
in which we see peripherally

All is Far from Clear in War of Love
continuing battles fought in love

Written on the Streets
a window on the fearful follower

Cardboard Love
a small sliver on dimensions

Red Queen of Stones and Wings
being a fractured obsession

The Fragility of Sense Geographies
exploring an inner urban landscape

Our River’s Bones
in which one inner landscape is condensed and falls

exploring a city we don’t control

Composition in Water and Other Elements that Mark
being the self-portrait of a city

City of Trees
in which she murders

The Lure of the Threshold
an urban escape

Future Perfect
a simple tense construction of the world

in which we might see other than we usually see

Incorrigible Mr Yu
being the reflections of the eponymous maybe-misguided

Stained in the Republic of Amnesia
exploring a simple construct of love

following a twisted flame

Absence and Fondness
in consideration of misplaced loves

Orphans of the Wasteland
a small view of loss

Soldiers of the Hidden World
in which empathy and the sensory overcome the emptiness

To the Slippery Wordlessness of Us
in celebration of words and wordlessness

Paper Trees
a brief moment in dejection

She Salutes, and Waves
a true story told

The Thought of Disappearing
in contemplation of time

My Boy the Writer; My Father in Dementia
for my father, who is missed
Peace be to my readers (here on the blog and there in my books).

In Review 2013

Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II)

Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II)

It was always my intention to release my latest fiction offering before the end of 2013, and though the first ambitious self-set dates for this passed by, this aim is now all but achieved. The second in the Savage Short Loves series is currently in production (at what once would have been the printer’s, but what now manifests itself as the inner workings of KDP). Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume II) is almost ready, so this post serves to draw attention to this. Details of how to access the book will be made available once (all being well) the digital fruits of my love are blessed at KDP.

The other purpose of this post is to take stock of the writing year. Recent posts have shown the difficulties for my family in the past few weeks, but words are never far away. It was always my intention to dedicate this latest book to my father, ever since we came to realise the scale of the failing of his health. It is apt then that the processes of writing, reviewing, editing, production have come together at this time.

Is there ever a year in which a writer writes all that he or she sets out to? That said, the first two Savage Short Loves books have been released in 2013, and that is reason to be pleased. The final volume in the series should have a more realistic target publication date. To that end, I tell myself: no later than the end of 2014.

When we write, if we write for the possibility of publication, we must also write for ourselves. So I count these private writings as achievements too. Though there have not been as many as of previous years (for a variety of reasons), there have been some to keep me ticking over. Some are scribbled in notebooks, some straight to the screen; some are scraps or lines of poetry; some are the daily notes that grease and crease the creativity. We need our private words as much as we need our public words to be read.

Then there are the ghost formations of works that will be written, but not this year. These are the novellas and novels that sit and wait. Even words that have yet to be written, if formed in abstract shapes, if felt, left to stew, are our writerly achievements; though if they reach this stage and then fail to manifest, we may think in some way otherwise. Included here in possibilities are the various collaborations that have been mooted to me. Of these there are two exciting ideas in the offing: one, the possibility of writing loved/seen arrangements of beauty and subtlety (this is the way I think it at this stage); the other, more of a formation of a journal of depth and delicacy. Maybe neither will happen, but they both exist in the present in the liminal space of ‘maybe’.

In the scholarly field, there have been invites for collaborative writing and working. It is to this aspect of my writing practice that I also intend to focus more attention in 2014. It’s high time that I set about more papers to compliment and advance my thinking and writing (such as the ‘other’ blog) in the field of children’s play. There has already been much written here, and there continues to be plenty of scope for more. I’m fortunate to have contact with a circle of respected writer/peers in this field, and their honest appraisal of this writing will be invaluable.

In the world of fiction in 2013, I’ve also been blessed in having the support of people like Kirsty Fox at her Bees Make Honey Co-operative. Kirsty’s taken on some of my books for sale and, by the looks of things, is making great strides in promotion of independent artists of various flavours. I’m keen to get a local designer to create the cover of a future book (he said he would, and I’ll hold him to it). Sometimes local, crafted, loved, shines through. Online in 2013, amongst many, I would like to pay special thanks to the continued writerly support of people such as Sonam C. Gyamtsho (who is editor, reviewer, nagger, friend in a far land, all of these), Ty Roper, Exiled Prospero, and Val Cameron.

So, onwards and onwards. Words are love. Keep writing.

The Reading Vows

There are times when reading is absolutely necessary. There are times, here, when there is a great need just to read. It comes in cycles, I find: it tracks me for a while, behind me like a shadow; I don’t know it’s there. Then, quietly, it insists itself on the days of my life. In days like these I have every need to read widely. What can cause this? Do I not have enough words of my own to sift and assemble? It’s not this. I don’t know what it is. It’s a desire that can’t be pinned. It passes, though I also don’t know why this is; it passes, but when it’s here it’s like a thirst.

Yet there is just so much matter out there in the ‘worlds’ we live in (paper worlds and digital virtual places). It can be overwhelming trying to locate the matter that needs the reading. I don’t know what I’m looking for, exactly, when I do look. I do know that when I find something that suggests it has a certain flavour to it, I must read it. I also know, however, that there is just so much wading to be done. Quadrillions of words in trillions of aggregations, perhaps, conspire to show repeated weaknesses. There is slurry, and maybe we’ve all contributed a little to this, alas.

There are gems amongst this though. Perhaps the knowledge that these do exist, must exist, maintains the will for the hunt. ‘Writing is a safari . . . it means going out there and spotting, nabbing and bringing home to the cage of the page the most marvellous living stuff of the world.’ Who was it who wrote this (which I left unattributed in my Germany-period notebook)? It doesn’t matter here for now. If writing is a safari, so too is the preparation for reading.

Finding is one thing, but giving oneself over to the find is quite another. I take a book by the hand and I know, before I open its cover, that I am about to commit to it. To have and to hold, to love and to finish . . . When I hold a paper book I can sense it: I can see and feel its weight and the potential time within it. I will read its covers and its author’s notes, its preface or its preamble: I will go straight to the last page — not to find out anything ahead of time, cheating — but to commit the page number to memory. I take extra care not to see the words there. This carving of the last number in me is not a way of trying to weigh myself down; rather, it’s a vow in the making (till death do us part, which I see to be page 210 . . .)

Taking an e-book by the hand is not so easy. It hides its secrets well and I sometimes find the e-book difficult. Let me see your pages whole, I think when I try to find it within the ink that isn’t ink at all, within the thin depths of the small plastic slab in my palm. I don’t care for the number limits of the chapters; I want to feel the weight of this whole book in time. Yet, even here, there are gems to be found: this I know; this I think.

This phase of the present need to read isn’t over yet. I still haven’t found, this time, what I’m looking for — exactly; though I have found moments in some stories, stories in themselves that linger, possible books to re-read, possible authors to try from new. There is slurry, and there are gems, and there is commitment called for.

Book Release: Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I)

Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I) Cover Introducing my latest ebook release, ahead of schedule. I had planned to release this collection on or around February 28, but it all came together. Having learned the bulk of what I needed to learn for my first ebook release towards the end of last year, it was just a process of remembering the details. It gets easier, this publication process, especially if you follow the template you’ve devised the first time round.

Now to the book itself. This has not been a quick write. This is fine. I like my words to settle, to take their time, to marinate. Four Kinds of Wreckage (FKoW) is a book of micro-fictions. I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, and for quite some time now, that writing succinctly isn’t always as easy as it might appear. FKoW is comprised of thirty micro-fictions, ‘short shorts’, which range from a mere 60 words in length to just over 700 words.

I would like to make it clear that this collection hasn’t just been trotted out in a couple of hours. On the contrary, it was written in parallel with my other recently published book, Disintegration and Other Stories (DaOS), and the two titles have taken — in total — three years to produce: in the writing, in various peer review processes, in editing, in the loving removal — where necessary — of aspects that needed this. Micro-fiction does not mean micro-thinking!

There are some overlaps in themes in the two books. I aim to produce a ‘body of work’: this is the writing plan. As such, FKoW (Volume I) will inform Volumes II and III. They will be linked. FKoW and DaOS overlap in places. The individual pieces in FKoW each connect, not in characters or storyline or the like, necessarily, but they connect to the piece immediately before and after in the running order. In these ways, this body of work, this density of the written assemblage is gathering around me.

I had aimed to release FKoW for free. However, the cheapest I can release it for, as a permanent price, would appear to be £0.77 / $1.17 / €0,89, etc., at the time of writing (Amazon have an annoying habit of shifting the dollar price, slightly and occasionally, and not making that known). The sterling price of such offerings does seem to remain pretty constant though. This is a short book, so I offer it at the lowest price.

However, I add a caveat to all readers: please read it slowly. My writing pays deliberate attention to the particular words I’ve used, to the rhythm of the piece, to stories within stories, to references to myths or folklore, in places: just because a piece is 200, 300 or 400 words long, only, it doesn’t mean it should be flicked through at pace.

This is one of the points of micro-fiction, as I see it: that much can be transmitted in few words. Hemingway’s famous six worder is a case study (I won’t repeat it here, but you’ll find it if you need to); Kafka wrote a series of short ‘meditations’; Brautigan was keen on brevity; Calvino wrote some beautiful gems . . .

You can find details of how to get a copy of Four Kinds of Wreckage (Savage Short Loves: Volume I), and other releases, at the Bookshop link above or click here. Scroll to the bottom of that page to find out about the free Kindle App for PCs (if you don’t own a Kindle device).

I thank you, and if you buy any of my book offerings please do let me know your thoughts on them.

Interview by Nick Wale

I return from my travels with the possibility of words forming. Until they do, however, the following is a majority excerpt of a recent interview I gave to Nick Wale. Nick helps promote books via his site Novel Ideas and contacted me a few weeks ago through my Facebook writer page (see the link in the side bar here). He’s helped me and I’m happy to help him in his venture by publicising links on my blog. The direct link to the interview below can be found here.
Q) So Joel, why did you become an author?

A) It’s a compulsion, a drive, I suppose. When you write you just need to keep on writing.

Q) What does a compulsive drive to write feel like?

A) It often feels like blocking out, locking in, sinking in. You know? Some days it’s a rush. Some days you read and re-read and it’s like you’re looking at something that shines (or might shine) and you want to keep that, show that, have that, always.

Q) Do you ever find it hard to stop yourself from writing? Is it like a daze or a dream you can’t break from?

A) Physically writing (or typing), yes, I suppose. I mean, it can be extremely immersive, as many writers will know. However, that immersion also plays itself out in the day-to-day, pen not in hand, computer not on. Words (or the possibility of them) are everywhere.

Q) Words are your thing as a writer? So what is your favourite word?

A) What an excellent question! A barman asked me what my favourite book was recently (your question reminds me of that): how to pick one? You can tell by the long pause that this has given me cause to think. I can tell you what my most recently learned word is (and, by extension, a current favourite): tenebrous.

Q) Tenebrous? So what does tenebrous mean?

A) It’s to do with the obscure, the dark, as I understand it. This isn’t a reflection of my writing; rather, the word has a sort of rhythmic quality to me.

Q) Well, you have to learn something new everyday! So, lets reflect on your writing. What do you like to write about? Tell me about your writing.

A) In all its forms, long and short, my writing is intended as a means of finding the small gems of this world. There are hidden things in between what we just see on the surface — there are textures and layers to relationships, subtleties, moments. I’m looking for the moments that also linger. There are ‘objects’ of beauty, even in the laments, in many places.

Q) It’s interesting that you write about ‘beauty’, as everyone’s definition of beauty is so different. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written about? What is ‘beautiful’ to you?

A) Well, beauty is subjective, of course, but I’m sometimes taken aback by how things turn out. It’s unexpected. There are moments that happen which I read time and again because they still have some power over me. In one of my stories, a child’s brief interaction with the narrator takes me in every time; in another piece, it was something I wrote in a female voice because I needed to do this more, I was there with her, as her, in Venice because the words were in that flow state; poetry is a vanity, but there are lines of colour and there are lines that sink me sometimes. Questions such as these are like choosing between children!

Q) If you could write anywhere in the world, where would it be? What landscape would really incite your creativity?

A) On a beach, in the mountains, in a forest, all of these. Specifically, though I’ve done my fair share of overseas travelling, I’d come back to the west of Cornwall. Standing on the cliffs overlooking some of the little unknown coves down there, the sea and the wind in your hair and on your face, that huge sky (it really is huge, like they say in their tourism promotions), makes words just come in for me. The artists there laud it for the light; I just can’t get enough of the energy.

Q) I understand that you’re published so others can enjoy your creative energy. Which of your works are currently available?

A) I’ve got a collection out at the moment (Disintegration and Other Stories). I loosely label this as literary fiction (though that term can be interpreted in many ways). DaOS is out in ebook and print. This collection came together in an odd way: I didn’t realise that there’d been a thread running through some of my writings for a number of years. It was like seeing invisible ink slowly become visible. I’m working on a collection of micro fiction, which will be a first volume (Four Kinds of Wreckage) to be added to. Micro fiction is much misunderstood. Away from fiction, I’m also published in the field of what’s known as ‘playwork’ (a particular way of working with children). I’ve had writings taken on by the national/international playwork publication for the sector, as well as credits with the organisation concerned with psycholudic playwork practice. (Now though, I fear I’m stepping into the jargon of my other calling — though writing is also a big part of this, too).

Q) So tell me, Joel — why did you want to be interviewed by me?

A) You do a good job of finding writers, Nick. When I became aware of your work I came over to your blog, and yes, I like what I see here. What you’re doing is exactly what writers need — a way of getting their words out there.

Q) Thank you, Joel. One of my stock questions is to ask — if you could be any writer from any time who would it be?

A) As far as writers are concerned, I have a range (as we all do probably): Milan Kundera, Gabriel García Márquez, Jeannette Winterson, Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, Adrian Henri. There are others. I wouldn’t want just one small list to define me, though we start somewhere with questions such as these.

Q) Characters are important to you. What makes a good character for you?

A) The unusual wrapped up in the usual. Subtlety people often might not see. The strangely put. Love in odd places, ways; perceptions of this. Someone who aches in some way.

Q) It has often been said that ‘repeated readability makes a book’. Would you, as an author, agree with that?

A) Yes, I think I would. Who was it who said that journalism is read once, whilst literature more than this? Something like that. Anyway, it’s the sentiment here that counts. There are books on my shelf that I come back to time and again; there are passages on some pages that just astound me. Kerouac wrote about ‘fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries’ in On the Road. I come back to that time and again.

Q) You strike me as an intellectual — someone striving for the beautiful things in life. Would you agree with that?

A) I don’t know about intellectual! I certainly am on the search for the beauty of the world though. That’s in words, in moments, in art, in love and lament, in the play of children, in the play of us, in nature.

Q) What would you personally deem as ‘ugly’?

A) There’s nothing so ugly as not wanting to see, perhaps. Ugliness is also wrapped up in the politics of power, greed, deceit.

[End of excerpt]

Writing Processes: Ways of Seeing

‘What process do you follow?’ I was recently asked by tyroper. I took this to mean, specifically, ‘how are you writing currently?’ (Processes of projects shift, I find, with each of these). So, I replied:

Write (and be aware that some pieces won’t make a final cut); look for themes and threads through the whole; tweak these pieces out; look for a running order; edit all the while; fill in the gaps, as necessary; offer out to peer review as I go; some fine tuning (like bonsai!); craft into the object of beauty; think on other writing all the while; produce and promote; write all the while . . .

This is, of course, a project process about a collection. Last night I finished the first draft of the final piece for this collection (the first of which was written in 2009). That, in itself, may say something about this process. It is love. However, my reason for writing here is because that prompter question has given me cause to think on writing processes, personal and persistent.

Some days on from the original question, I now interpret it this way: ‘In which ways do you write?’

I write with time. Years ago, somewhere, maybe from a tutor at University, I was offered the suggestion that we can place a ‘problem’ into cold store, let it be; the ineffable matter of our subconscious pliability would work it all through. It would deliver when it was ready to deliver. These are not the exact words given to me. This is the sentiment given to me. It’s the same now with writing. One day, when the idea is placed, the day continues; some day, when the idea becomes, it is delivered.

I write as I walk. I don’t use ink but air. I don’t use air but space. I don’t always think it all through. I let the walking take the words along. I don’t write the words in exact orders as I do this. I don’t really think about the words at all: it’s just a process of letting things seep. Or perhaps it’s a steeping, a brewing.

I write, physically, in notebooks, when words insist themselves — no matter how inconveniently — and when the writing time is now. This isn’t a way of suggesting there’s a time to sit down and write and a time to go wash up the dishes: this is a way of saying that when words insist, the ‘writing time’ is all that the present is.

I write, slightly removed, by keyboard, but I pause first. I wait. Sometimes this might take half an hour. I sit, lean back, think, but I try not to push that thinking. Words don’t come when pushed. If I’m at my keyboard it’s because writing time is possible.

I write slowly because each word might have weight. If I’ve written only two hundred words, one hour, then I have written two hundred words and that’s fine. The process of every one of those two hundred words is the same: the feel of it, the placement, the texture, the rhythm, the poetry (though this is not poetry I’m writing about here), the flow, the possibility. Some writers advocate the process of ‘write, don’t edit as you go’. I find, if I’m deep enough in, I write, I check, I write, I edit, I think, shift, re-read, all on the go. It doesn’t stop my flow, though it enhances it. I write slowly: perhaps we now know why.

I write immersed. I can’t write skimpily, throw away, without thought or at least without the possibility of layers: I can’t do this because I don’t want to do this. The stories and pieces that take place might be the simplest, slimmest slivers, but they need subtle weights too. I write whilst looking out for these.

I write in acknowledgment that some pieces will be beautiful, possibly, and some will fall short. I write in acceptance that some pieces will not flow the way I thought they might: they will take me elsewhere, darkly, strangely, or with grace I couldn’t hope to muster in my waking conscious thoughts. I write with an open hand, trusting that I’ll be led to a fruitful place.

I write in other ways. These ways here are just the beginnings of seeing. What other ways are there, will there be?

Letter to an Unnamed Writer

Dear Unnamed Writer

I recently downloaded some fiction. One of the pieces was something that you had written. I was attracted to it because it was a work of short fiction, and short stories are what I’m currently reading. Every so often I like to experiment with reading the work of writers I have yet to ‘meet’. I feel this is important to do: writers need unknown readers in order for their stories and abilities to be spread around. I’m afraid that I won’t be returning to your work though.

Your story was acceptable enough: I’m still thinking about it. I will admit though that, as a fellow writer, I wondered how I could write that story better. I won’t do that. That story is yours. If an indicator of a story’s worth could be said to be the way it lingers after the reading, and your story does linger a little, then that indicator has been met.

Your characters weren’t disagreeable (though I do have concerns when I read names I can’t easily pronounce). I sometimes give my own characters unusual names, but I will have to make sure that they’re agreeable in the light of what I’ve just written. Reading other writers’ awkwardly named characters only distracts me: it makes me want to keep checking that the vowels and consonants are in the same order every time the name comes up.

Your concept, written in your synopsis, drew me in. It played itself out well enough, though the ending was a little weak. You did repeat yourself in places, and I think you took a few liberties with points of view here and there — writers do sometimes need to be granted space to experiment from time to time though.

Despite all of this, however, I won’t be coming back to your words. You offered me a teaser chapter, for your novel, at the end of your story: I read this diligently but I won’t be buying your longer work. What can cause me to say all of this? Sometimes only minor things can trouble me in my reading. I can forgive experiments in writing here and there (I do it myself in my own writing from time to time), but it all breaks down when I lose faith in a writer. You see, if I’m lead to believe that you don’t know how to form a full sentence properly, in this case, I don’t want to read any more.

I won’t reproduce in public what it was I read of yours; I will create some examples instead:

The wind blew across the moor. Sideways into my face. With a long moan. In the dark. A wolf. Howling.

This bears no resemblance to your story, but can you feel this reader’s anxiety? It even troubles me to write such examples of malformed sentences as those ‘sentences’ above.

I fully accept that I may accidentally have written some malformed sentences in this letter here myself. In our defence — yours and mine — we are human and sometimes we can get tired; however, your errors lead me to lose faith. That’s a shame. I am sorry: I had hoped we could be friends. Your other readers may well disagree with me, but I bear you or them no malice.

Sincerely yours,

A reader (departed).

The Feel of New Year’s Day Writing

There is a story I have always wanted to write. Actually, truth be told, I don’t know what that story is, but I do know the ‘feel’ of it. I know the texture and the pace of it. I know how it might linger. The first day of January, every year, tends to bring about the general feel of this story. I’ve written it in several ways, though it’s never the same story. You see, I’m just exploring the ‘feel’ of it, not the story itself. Today, this first day of January, is no different.

It is beautiful when words come together. When I drive and I think of the story that has been playing itself through me for years (the story I don’t yet know, the characters I haven’t yet met), I don’t approach that story in the usual way. I don’t think of a character’s name or a scene or a possible ending or a beginning: I think of the ‘fabric’ of the piece. That ‘fabric’ is snow and ice. That’s the only way to describe it.

The snow and ice of this place, this space, this story that runs through me, is not the physical snow and ice of a scene (although there is likely to be snow and ice there eventually). The snow and ice is what runs through it all. If this is sounding too pretentious, I apologise! This is the way it needs to be described right now.

So, as it’s January 1st, and as it’s that time when this story finds me, every year, I write: I wrote The Ice House because it’s part of a greater whole. As with my other current writing, if it sinks into something to be loved, in the shortness of time, it will be included in the next collection. I have high hopes for it because it’s part of the ‘feel’ of something bigger, something that’s been here a long time. If it slips away, not included (which I suspect it won’t), it will embed itself in the continuing magnum that forms the greater whole that is ‘New Year’s Day writing’.

If you’re writing, do you have similar bodies of work developing? The way that others write is a story in itself.

Writing as the Opposite Gender

How do you get inside the head of a woman? That is, how do you think like a woman if you’re a man, and vice versa? Getting inside the thinking processes of any other person (in the shape of character) is difficult enough. Switching genders in your thinking — for the duration of that writing period, and more, for the duration of the ‘building up’ to writing — is a stretching of the imagination. We have different brain processes, men and women (I would imagine!), and we have different psyches.

Even Carl Jung suffered from this difficulty. In his analytical psychology, Jung developed ideas on the anima and the animus: the first being the female representation within the male, and the second being the male representation within the female. Jung, being male, focused more on the anima. This is how I read it. He could, perhaps, only really speculate on the unconscious male archetype — the animus — within the female.

Jungian archetypes, in writing, are interesting with regards to character. That is, archetypes are ‘figures’, characters, call them what you will, within the collective unconscious (something we can all tap in to), and are ‘characters’ we can all associate with. These are not stereotypes. So, for example, we can all associate with ‘mother figure’ (not ‘mother’ here), ‘healer’, ‘goddess’, etc.

Archetypes, for me, can provide a useful starting point. By their very nature, archetypes aren’t fleshed out at all: they’re just outlines, templates. As such, the writing still needs to be put in. However, the template is the easy part: just take it off the shelf. How do you get inside the thinking of someone of the opposite gender though?

We need other starting points too. Within the text of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Milan Kundera wrote:

It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother’s womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation. Tomas was born of the saying ‘Einmal ist keinmal’. Tereza was born of the rumbling of a stomach.

This has stayed with me for years. Just like chance meetings with strangers in pubs, the after image of which might play itself out in characterisation in some story somewhere down the line, some other small oddities and insistences also find form and become personified. Thoughts on the minor movements of a dancer, perhaps, might play themselves out and grow into a character themselves.

That said, it doesn’t fully resolve the question: how do you get inside the head of a woman? How do you think like a woman if you’re a man, and vice versa? In what turned out to become Disintegration (2012), I realised that I was writing plenty of pieces from male perspectives because that was the way my brain was tuned. When the epiphany hit, I focused on tuning out of myself and into ‘the other’. What transpired are examples that still fascinate me.

In Kundera’s model, I don’t know what the equivalent rumbling of the stomach was for pieces such as Salute di Castellaneta, Tristan and Isolde, and Mbayo. Perhaps the main rumbling was my conscious focus on genders. However, what the other drives were, I can’t now tell. This is not troubling. The pieces have found their own forms, their own ways, and I am now not a part of them, as I might have been in other discarded works.

Briefly, Salute took me from an unknown start point (or, at least, not now remembered) to a way of thinking mainly alien to me; Tristan/Isolde was a conscious effort at voicing the female part through the medium of the male character; Mbayo came about as a thought on oral histories and, as such, the story and the narrator took on their own forms.

What I have learned in these departures is something I’ve known for a while, but something that I needed to be reminded of: stories take their own shapes, after a while, and characters written from unusual perspectives, such as those of the opposite gender, can also manifest in such ways.

Whether we start from archetypes, or templates, from observing the oddities of real others, or from developing characters based on minor moments (such as rumbling stomachs), richer characters can form the farther away from the writer they are.