The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self

There’s one issue I’m facing again and again as I try to become whatever sort of writer is the right writer for me to be: my first book is a coming of age novel, its central character is a young woman, and depression and recovery are writ large. Told that, people assume it is autobiographical, and I assume they will assume that and so I’m embarrassed to talk about its content at all. Here’s one for the record: it’s a novel – it’s a work of fiction.

This blog, on the other hand, is not fiction. Here I’ve been experimenting with different postures towards the writing world, sure, but I’ve been ‘honest at the time’ in the way I’ve tried each of them. The blog is autobiographical not primarily in the sense that it tells you what happened (though sometimes it does that too) but instead in its attempted true reflection of what I’m learning about myself, my writing, and where that writing might fit in. It’s an attempt to tie down my current thoughts, to translate fluctuating neural networks that are at times disabling onto the relative stability of the page. (Many of you have said that exploration has benefited you. Thank you for telling me that.)

So: blog autobiographical, if inevitably faultily so. Fiction not. Why does it matter?

Continue reading “The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self”

But am I really a writer?

My first blog asked ‘Am I now a Writer?’ Readers charmingly chimed in saying I write so by definition am A Writer. I didn’t quite believe them.

The question has continued to haunt me. My Facebook and Twitter profiles have picked up followers who are undoubtedly Writers. Every time I’ve used ‘writer’ of myself, or (worse) ‘author’, I’ve felt unworthy. Truth told, I’ve waited for Real Writers to point and laugh.

As I’ve waited, here’s what I’ve wanted to say:

Continue reading “But am I really a writer?”

How to be an unknown literary author (part II)

In Which An Unknown Literary Author Googles Herself

Google ‘Kate Armstrong’ and you will find a multi-millionaire insurance magnate who restored a medieval Scottish castle and is currently reenacting the Highland Clearances on its estate. She hails from Sydney and is an internet tycoon. She and I are not one.

Delve with more specificity into the networked world, and ‘Kate Armstrong Writer’ exposes artists, curators, travel writers, editors. They have engaged in projects ‘focusing on experimental literary practices’. They slaked a childhood thirst for adventure by running away from home, and now inhabit The Lonely Planet. They ‘love the way haikus teach the writer to focus on the briefest, most microcosmic fraction of a moment.’ On this first page of Google results they are, I think, despite their multiple entries, three – like the witches of Macbeth. They are in Vancouver, travelling, and offering global editorial services from no stated location. Google assigns their works to them collectively: one to all and all to one. These are the perils of a common name.

Continue reading “How to be an unknown literary author (part II)”

How to be an unknown literary author (part I)

I have a novel coming out in June. Someone else is taking the financial risk on it and therefore must believe it is good. But there are as yet no reviews or sales declaring me to be the next Plath. Nor (you will be reassured) am I holding my breath that they will come.

I have learned a lot about the literary publishing world over the last year. Here’s a sample of that hard-earned wisdom to enlighten and cheer you as we enter 2016: Continue reading “How to be an unknown literary author (part I)”

Writing an emotional novel?

I’m forty thousand words into the next novel. The writing experience is completely different from last time. Some of that is deliberate. With Suspicion, I’m aiming for clearer plot, more characters, at least one important male viewpoint. I’m writing loosely in this initial draft. My sentences are passable but not gorgeous; there is little that I will feel unable to delete in the next version as I pare down to what the story is.

I’m also feeling emotions as I write, and that is entirely new. Continue reading “Writing an emotional novel?”

Fiction set in the corporate world: why is it so hard?

A confession: I work forty hours a week in a glass-walled office which forms part of London’s corporate world. Most of the time I enjoy my job. My colleagues are largely extremely congenial and many of them have become good friends. It is an environment in which I am both extremely competent and at home. Yet when I try to write fiction about that world in which I spend half of my waking life, and which interests me, and in which I have been immersed for the last eight years, I fail.

That failure frustrates me. Not least because many people who read books work in similar offices, in open plan spaces, with photocopiers and coffee machines dotted around, and (mais bien sûr) water coolers. Some of you, I’m sure, hate that environment. Most of you find it relatively pleasant, even exciting, day-to-day.

Surely if there were good fiction set in the corporate world we would be interested to read it. More importantly, if good writing aims to deal with all aspects of life, then excluding the environment in which millions of adults spend so much of their time and which shapes most people’s concerns far more than most arenas do is an admission of failure by the literary world.

I went hunting for novels that have the corporate at their core. Continue reading “Fiction set in the corporate world: why is it so hard?”

Starting from here

I used to think I’d rather start from anywhere but here. I saw my life in fragments. Teenage depression and breakdown. Stop. An attempt at an academic career. Stop. Businesswoman criss-crossing the world. Stop. Breakdown and crawling recovery. Crawling on.

I propelled myself forwards, never looking back, and I took on different characters to survive. I avoided maintaining a common thread. My life felt like imitation, like pastiche. It affected my writing too: pastiche was my literary habitat. Continue reading “Starting from here”

Am I now a writer?

When I was sixteen I knew I could write. At nineteen, with deliberate renunciation, I closed and locked that door. I’m now thirty five, and next June I will have my first novel in my hands.

At sixteen I was depressed and gushing self-indulgent prose. At nineteen I crashed out of my English degree into a psychiatric ward. When they let me out I needed above all to get well. I had no support but my own body and brain, and I had to function in the practical world. I thought mental illness and creativity were unavoidably entwined. I sacrificed my writing self. Continue reading “Am I now a writer?”