Here’s a true story for you:

In November 2010 I turned back on a mountain called Ama Dablam in Nepal. Afterwards, back in Kathmandu, I was in a secondhand bookshop and I bought Matthew a mountain expedition book as consolation for him not having been able to come to the Himalaya with me. It has only just occurred to me to look out of interest at what that book was. And … it was the story of the first ascent of Nanda Devi.

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Who wants to be a writer?

Did I want to be a writer? I don’t remember.

Until I was eighteen I didn’t know anyone who’d written anything beyond what they’d had to at school. Writing essays was certainly easy for me, which was reason enough for me to be content to do it. But school essays were a superficial intellectual exercise. That is not what writing is; not as I understand it now. So I suppose I’m talking about creative writing, wanting to be a creative writer.

At school we had to write fiction as well. When I did that my hand moved over the paper and I went into a trance. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy anything. But when I did it something different happened in my brain. I went deeply into myself. Writing fiction, even while sitting in the classroom with my peers, wasn’t about the cleverness of an essay, wasn’t about how to get the top marks. It was something that came from inside. I had no idea what inside was. Often I didn’t hear the bell go at the end of the lesson.

Continue reading “Who wants to be a writer?”

How personal is too personal?

My most recent blog on this page was my most popular yet by a factor of four. The words went far beyond my usual networks and they went there fast.

The blog worked because it was honest, because it was personal, and because I am not alone in thinking what it said.

So there was a payback to my honesty, not just in reach but in connection. But I was still left with the unease that maybe I had been too personal, maybe I had revealed more than I was comfortable having out in a public space.

So how much is too much? Continue reading “How personal is too personal?”

The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication

November 2014: Holland House Books offered me a contract for The Storyteller. June 2015: I accepted that contract. Seven months of indecision over an offer that should have been a dream come true. One simple reason: I didn’t believe in the novel or myself.

There were other, smaller, reasons as well that I could use as an excuse for procrastination. Aspects of the book were too personal to share openly. I worried I would hurt someone else. I couldn’t explain it at work. Perhaps I should be completely rewriting the text as the Penguin editor so charmingly suggested. Continue reading “The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication”

Writing a novel is all about reading

This week ‘The Storyteller’ will be out in the world. Not only is it my first book, but it is also almost the first piece I have ever published. There were a couple of academic articles ten years ago (in my maiden name, so good luck finding those). There’s this blog, and my Facebook page. But that’s it. This week will be the first time my name will be out there in proper print. Here are five (big) things I’ve learned along the way: Continue reading “Writing a novel is all about reading”

Four weeks to go…

It is just less than a month until ‘The Storyteller’ is published. Four weeks from today I will be relaxing with friends post-launch. (If you haven’t had an invitation and you’re in London and you want one, then let me know. The more the merrier: Daunt, 31st May, 6.30pm.)

There’s still a chance of some reviews in major publications; we sent the book in; it’s on the piles on their desks. I’m still oddly hopeful and excited that this will happen. ‘Oddly’ because the probability is low. Once the new books by major authors, and the major books from big publishing houses have been reviewed, there remains little space for the debut literary novelist at an independent press.

In this context small personal activities matter, and my head is swimming with things I should do.

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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)”