Kurt Vonnegut and the Myth of Talent

In over 50 years Kurt Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of nonfiction, with further work published posthumously. He is most well know for writing Slaughterhouse-Five, which was published in 1969.

He had an interesting story about ability the myth of talent…

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of ‘getting to know you,’ questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, ‘
‘Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘ I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘Win’ at them.”

Shortlisted in Lunate Fiction Flash Prize and two more publications

I discovered yesterday that my story has been shortlisted for the Lunate Fiction Flash Prize, judged by EllipsisZine Editor, Steve Campbell. Very exciting news!

Flash Prize Longlist

Another story was also published today by Lunate Fiction – A Place of Unfinished Sentences

A Place of Unfinished Sentences

The woman sitting opposite me looks like the guy I used to date. Her face is angular, her eyes fixed to the page of a book I cannot see. I wonder why she reminds me of him, and whether her features are particularly masculine, or his more feminine; maybe both. The door clunks back into the frame of the train’s carriage. A thud as it stops makes me jump and a man with a trolley walks through and scans the seats.

“Tea? Coffee?” he asks, glancing at the ex-boyfriend lookalike.

“Neither,” she says, her eyes remaining fixed on the pages in her hands. 

He looks at me. “Coffee, black, no sugar,” I say, without waiting to be asked. He lowers his shoulders, exhaling slowly as he pours me a cup from a large metal coffee pot. Steam rises from the spout, the scent of it licking at my nostrils. Saliva fills my mouth in anticipation….continued at Lunate.co.uk

And, in case you missed this one, Do You See Me Coming, was also published in July at the new Burnt Breakfast Magazine.

Do You See Me Coming?

Do you see me coming, when the days are short and the nights feverish, when the family gathers round, wondering whether to call the doctor or let you slip away, peacefully. Do you see me coming when the flicker of evening light reminds you that your ancestors are beckoning you home. You think about your childhood and remember days where you came inside, covered in dirt and Mother shooed you away with a flap of a hand, and the smell of creosote where Father had painted the fence. You loved the smell but you weren’t supposed to. It was toxic, you were told, but you also loved the hot scent of tarmac. You always liked the things that you weren’t supposed to. You remember the way the swallows came in to nest then left, like Father, when I had come to him, too. He saw me coming. The rest of you only saw me leave, taking him with me …. continued at Burnt Breakfast  

Speaking at a Book Group

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This morning I spoke at a book group meeting. The members of the group had read my debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, and they invited me to come and speak. They wanted to discuss the writing process and the background to the book.

It was an interesting experience for me as an author and I learned a great deal about what readers want to know. Their questions mirrored many of the reader emails I receive. One of the most interesting questions was, what, if anything, I would have changed about the story. Many readers have said they felt devastated by the loss of one of the characters, which the book group agreed with and they had also felt the same way. This led to a discussion about what captures the heart of the reader and how we become involved in the lives of the characters. They also wanted to know if finishing a manuscript created a sense of loss for an author. My answer was a resounding, yes. It does, it really does. When you spend a few years inside the lives and minds of your characters, closing a door into their world is a bereavement of sorts, even if only fictional.

We covered many areas of publishing, editing, writing, research and whether people prefer ebooks over paperbacks. We discussed the length of the editing process and what happens at each stage of the publishing process at Random House. From an initial idea to the final product, it takes roughly a year to create a book.

They were keen to know the million dollar question (and it is one that is asked most often at literary festivals and in author interviews)….

“Where do your ideas come from?”

While it is difficult to give a tangible answer, because the answer varies from writer to writer, and from story to story, what I can say is that most writing develops from an idea. That idea is often sparked by your own experiences or feelings, or those of others. Every experience creates an image or a thought, every person reveals character traits that can be woven into a fictional character. And in the case of my short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo, I said that some of the stories are purely fictional, while others find their origins in real life experiences.

We discussed the fact that many ideas evolve from a snippet of information or a scene that appears in your imagination. We discussed the creative process and the difficulty of writer’s block. There were many questions and ideas but what really resonated with me was that fact that everyone gleans different experiences from the same story.

 

 

 

 

How Art Can Save Your Soul

I have often wondered what it is about certain books that resonates with the reader. There are certain books that, no matter how much time passes, still hold a place in your mind – books that stand out as sharing something powerful, books that heal, books that tap into a fear or a passion. What is it that makes some of the books we read stay with us?

And so it is with art, music, and many other forms of creativity.

I came across this fantastic article and talk at brainpickings.com, and if you haven’t read, it I would highly recommend a look. The brain child of Maria Popova, who has written for Wired UK, The New York Times, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, and The Atlantic, among others, the site delves into art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and more. It never fails to come up with interesting and creative articles. This one is too good to miss. In the video below, British philosopher Alain de Botton expresses a need to understand Art and its psychological impact on our lives. 

He focuses on the the seven psychological functions of art, all of which I think can be applied to books and reading:

1. REMEMBERING

Since both memory and art are as much about what is being left out as about what is being spotlighted, de Botton argues that art offers an antidote to this unease. With the written word, much of its power also lies in what is not said, what is left to the reader to fill in and imbue.

2. HOPE

Both art and the written word present a form of hope, however dark or ‘pretty’, they inspire and give us a form of hope that can become lost in everyday life. “Cheerfulness,” de Botton tells us, “is an achievement, and hope is something to celebrate. If optimism is important, it’s because many outcomes are determined by how much of it we bring to the task. It is an important ingredient of success.

3. SORROW

Sorrow in art and in books reminds us of the legitimate place for negative emotions and for sorrow in life. It helps to process pain and to feel less alone in our suffering, when times are hard.

4. REBALANCING

Art can help us to balance our psychological states, relationships and working routines. “We might, for example, tend to be too complacent, or too insecure; too trusting, or too suspicious; too serious, or too light-hearted. Art can put us in touch with concentrated doses of our missing dispositions,” according to de Botton. We are sometimes drawn to books that differ greatly from our lives, and the knowledge or emotion we gain from reading a particular work can fill in a gap in our knowledge or feelings about life. A work of art or a book can portray a virtue we are missing and restore a form of balance to our lives.

5. SELF-UNDERSTANDING

Much of what is mere intuition in our lives can be opened up to us through a painting or a story, as they delve into the depths of the soul. De Botton proposes that, “from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: ‘what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.’ ”

6. GROWTH

Many forms of art widen our horizons. Paintings and books both take us to places we my otherwise never venture into, helping us to grow and develop. I can think of several books that have taught me much about the heart of human emotion and of situations which I have never encountered. The writer can take you into the mind of a person experiencing something you haven’t met in your own life and a painting or a photograph, in turn can help us to connect and to grow.

7. APPRECIATION

In the busyness of our lives, we so often miss the small details, the expressions on a child’s face, the light catching a new bud, a word unspoken, a colour, a scent, a sound. We rush through our lives and often fail to appreciate what we see. The artist and the writer can draw us into a specific scene and dissect life in a way that we may miss.

If you are interested in finding out more about Alain de Botton, you can find him on the website and on twitter. His new book, Art as Therapy, is one of the best art books of 2013. He founded the lecture series The School of Lifeartastherapy (1)

What Can You Learn From Writing Blogs?

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There are many writing blogs with an array of articles on different aspects of the craft of writing. I read a range of them and have learned a great deal about writing, publishing, editing and much more. The writing blog WRITE TO DONE is searching for the Top 10 Blogs for Writers in 2013.  Edited by Mary Jaksch, Write to Done posts regular articles on writing fiction, copywriting, freelancing, blogging, creativity, and the art of writing. It is an invaluable resource for writers, so if you haven’t yet browsed their pages I would recommend having a look. It will be well worth your time. Their top 10 chosen blogs from previous years have led me to many new and useful blogs.
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Those of you who read this blog regularly know that there are a range of author interviews, book reviews, guest posts and writing posts, and despite advice from some bloggers not to blog about writing, they are precisely the posts which receive the highest number of hits on this blog. The difference between a post on writing and a book review, or a post on something less related to fiction is surprising. Many writers obviously read posts about writing, although some prefer not to, and readers are also curious to know about the inside workings of the craft of writing. Give me someone who loves Formula One racing who wouldn’t want to step inside a Ferrari or a Lotus, or a person who loves classical music who wouldn’t want to sit in an orchestra pit and watch the conductor at close range, and the bows of the string section moving in time to the conductor as he sets the tempo for the sound. Are you with me?
download (16) So, now is the time to vote for any writing blogs which have inspired you over the year. Here’s how you can nominate a blog:

How to Nominate Your Favorite Writing Blog:

→ Nominate your favorite blog in the comment section.
→ You have only one vote (only your first will be counted).
→ Please include the web address of the blog.
→ Explain why you think the blog is worthy of winning this year’s award.
To make the cut, a blog must be nominated more than once. Nominations must be received by 12th December, 2013.
The top 10 list will be incredibly helpful for other writers once it is compiled. Here is a brief list of some of the blogs which have inspired me.
http://annerallen.blogspot.co.uk which is written by Anne Allen and Ruth Harris. It is one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers and is full of honestly and humour, and is really informative.
http://writershelpingwriters.net which used to be http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.co.uk written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
http://www.jonathanpinnock.com This blog, Jonathan Pinnock’s Write Stuff has a great range of information and thoughts on writing and, again, is very honest. He also covers short stories, which keeps me happy.
http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.co.uk Written by Nicola Morgan, who has had 90 books published (!) and knows what she’s talking about. She also self-publishes.
http://www.claire-king.com/blog Claire’s advice and insights are to-the-point and given from the perspective of a writer who is rigorous and, again, honest. Do you see a theme emerging here?
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite writing blogs and do add any others in the comments.