YOUR MSLEXIA MSLEXIA
letters, posts, emails, tweets
HILL RULES OK Although I find Susan Hill’s attitude and philosophy refreshing and radical, she contradicts her view on ‘no rules’ when she makes her ruling: ‘Do not write about what you know’. It is what I know, from growing up on the island Grenada, that fills me with colourful and spicy stories to tell. This is what got me started. Lera McKenzie, Lincolnshire
The cover of the latest issue made me smile because Susan looked about as happy as I would to be on the cover of a magazine. But it was so inspiring to read her advice – ‘There are no rules. Ever’ – that I have pinned the article on the notice board above my desk. I struggle with my punctuation but Susan’s wise words were a light-bulb moment for me; I’d like to thank her for giving me the reassurance that I can do this. Helen Phifer, Cumbria
NOVEL FATIGUE I get so tired of every writing group or workshop being focused on the novel, and memoir being relegated to ‘of course this can apply to memoir writing too’. Mostly the answer is ‘No, it can’t!’. We are a minority group, which is poorly catered for. Incidentally, a great book on the subject is Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington (Eighth Mountain Press). Anna Meryt, N London
Bear with us, Anna. We are planning a competition for memoirs. DT
I get slightly (discreetly) agitated about the division between fiction and nonfiction, and the notion that you’re not a writer until you have written A Novel. There are many short story and nonfiction writers whose work is important and extraordinary. I am sure I will one day write my novel, but it won’t be until there is one pushing hard on my creative (excuse me) sphincter. Federay Holmes, N London
TICK BOXES I’m loving your little surveys. Funnily enough they have a positive impact on my writing, by giving me a gentle nudge to keep going. Lynn Brookes, Devon
I enjoyed this survey; it helped me answer some questions. Why did I really want to write a novel? How far had I actually got? Who did I have to talk to or to read my work? These questions helped me realise what I should do next: some serious networking. I have no author friends or colleagues and felt that a few trips to readings, workshops and literature festivals might be a start. Thank you. Gillian Hesketh, Lancashire
DRESSING UP Intrigued by the survey suggesting some people have a special ‘writing outfit’. Are we talking wizard gowns? Think we need photos... Amy Bird, via Twitter
▶Cartooniststhoughtheages1926HELENE HOKINSON (1893-1949) ‘I start with little rough triangular shapes and work out from that’
Letter: PO Box 656, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1PZ Email: postbag@ mslexia.co.uk Message: facebook.com/ mslexia Tweet: twitter.com/ mslexia Comment: mslexia. co.uk/blog or follow the links from www.mslexia. co.uk
Rant When people find out I have a female partner, they ask: ‘Does your family know about your lifestyle?’ ‘Which one of you is the man?’ ‘What do two women do in bed?’ ‘Who cooks and who does the DIY?’ ‘Can I watch?’ Or they say: ‘I don’t mind gays, but why do they have to be out about it and in your face?’ and ‘I never had to question my sexuality’. BJ EPSTEIN, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Rave She is the only conductor who says ‘totally awesome’ and flashes scarlet cuffs as she takes an orchestra, physically, through Bartok or Barber. She casts down icons and raises creation through her presence, body language, language: ‘If the door is closed, go in through a window.’ Her energy sings and steams. Marin Alsop is set to set the Earth spinning for the entire first half of this century. MAUDE LARKE, Dijon, France
◀ Submit your Rants or Raves to submissions@ mslexia.co.uk
4 Apr/May/Jun 2011
NEW YORKER, 26 FEBRUARY 1926, REPRINTED IN FUNNY GIRLS, ED. LIZA DONELLY (PROMETHEUS BOOKS)
Now I have the excuse of ‘I’m not wearing the right outfit’ for dithering and procrastinating on my novel. Helen Dix, via Facebook
WATER WORKS Some people really write in the bath?! Claire Handscombe, via Facebook
Writing a whole novel in the bath is for people who can afford a very large gas bill. Kirsty Logan, via Twitter
I don’t write in the bath but I have been known to get out of the shower mid hair-wash to make notes and write a few lines. Zelda Chappel, via Twitter
I write in the bath by balancing a notebook on the edge, on a towel. It’s sometimes the only quiet room in a house of seven. Besides, I am sick of having brilliant (OK, maybe not that brilliant) ideas and then forgetting them as soon as I open the door and the family start asking for things... Julie Noble, via Facebook
MIXED MESSAGES I’ve just finished reading Amanda Craig’s ‘Departures’ selection and what a difference! They are clever, comic, thought-provoking, uplifting. Too often I find that the work in the magazine is self-indulgent, lacking in plot, and overwhelmingly miserable. Penelope Randall, Cheshire
I thought Amanda Craig’s assessment of the ‘Departures’ stories (Issue 48) was extremely condescending. MSLEXIA YOUR MSLEXIA
magazine survey What you said, what we did
Over 2,000 of you completed our three questionnaires about changes to the magazine – thank you! Here’s a brief digest of the main results.
SUBMISSIONS When asked about opportunities to submit, your top preferences were for more slots in short fiction (requested by 71% of you), poetry (39%) and features (32%). We’ve responded with our new ‘Pen Portrait’, ‘Monologue’ and ‘4 Lines that Rhyme’ slots (p49 and p46) and with guidance from our ‘Pitch’ feature (p15). WRITING EXERCISES We were excited (honestly – that’s how sad we are at Mslexia Towers) to see how many of you (63%) were trying our exercises (especially Margaret Wilkinson’s New Writing exercises and Bekki Hill’s ‘Keep Going’). So we’ve added two more exercise slots (p46) and asked Bekki for a regular full-length feature (p23). TOPICS What would you like to see covered more thoroughly? Short stories and literary fiction were top choices (voted for by 64% and 61% of you), followed by genre fiction and poetry (both 35%) and writing for children (29%) – and you’re really (really) not keen on graphic novels… You also requested masterclasses on the short story (66%), the novel (58%) and on editing (49%). Jane Rogers’ brilliant fiction masterclass aims to tackle the first two (p43); an editing series is coming soon. BOOKS In the Books section, we’ve kept what you liked best (How to Write a Bestseller, 43%, and genre groupings, 41%) and cut those you liked least (reviews of Children’s and YA books and ‘One of a kind’). We’re also fulfilling pleas 24% of you made for Books to be more relevant to writers.
I wondered how many gems she rejected on the grounds that their authors hadn’t (in her estimation – how could she possibly know?) read enough. By contrast, Christina Patterson (Issue 46) offered warm praise and encouragement; criticism was confined to the gentlest hint that the themes of many stories were rather predictable. One of the few rules we set in my writing workshop is to respond with positive criticism, and if we express a negative opinion, it should be intended to be useful. Elaine Hinks-Edwards, Surrey
Amanda Craig comments that the majority of submissions were written from a woman’s point of view (‘I don’t believe it!’ Victor Meldrew). She would have preferred a broader selection of protagonists, including men and children. Is this really Mslexia? I do not ‘tend’ to write from the point of view of a woman. I am a woman. So I write from a woman’s perspective. Freda Bateman, Mérillac, France
LONG-DISTANCE TIPPLE We have started a reading group using the Mslexia Writer’s Diary as a prompt. The first book is The Vintner’s Luck. We have people reading it in Namibia, Italy, Canada and hopefully Australia – and intend having wine and discussion via the internet.
Happy days. Jane Brenchley Reynolds, via Facebook
CREATIVE CRITICISM I don’t agree that students of creative writing courses produce similar work. The group on my MA is as diverse as you can get. Our ages range from fresh out of university to retired; our educational and professional backgrounds are varied, as is our writing, from my own steampunk novel, to the literary, to the mainstream. I feel that our writing is growing stronger in its diversity from immersing ourselves in such a wide variety of work. Sophie Playle, Essex
It amazes me how rude and unconstructive Marilyn and Frances both were with their comments (Issue 48). There are three things I think they need to learn. Firstly, be a good loser. There will be times when you think your work is better written than what has been published. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But that is the life of the writer. Secondly, all magazines have a certain preference or style. Find a magazine you like that matches your preferred styles. Thirdly, join a writing group as this will show you how to give constructive and considerate criticism! August Head, Bristol
One tweet = 140 characters including spaces. Send your week to submissions@ mslexia.co.uk
A WEEK OF TWEETS Monday Not yet in Montevideo. Research on 15hr bus inc chatting to ex-pats & nice local nun. Getting notepad ready & memorising map. Wish had WiFi. Tuesday Read loads online for hotel, restaurant & nightlife recommendations. Can’t trust tho. Wander streets to find post office, 24hr pharmacy etc. Wednesday Start routine: write-ups in morn, pounding streets in aft. Visit markets, take pics. Observe feast day celebration on beach for box article. Thursday Sights & museums today. Feet hurt. Odd to find statue of Michelangelo’s David in big plaza in Uruguay. Fab Carnival in eve, 2nd box article. Friday Found best veg buffet, def going in book. Unsubtle notes=free ice-cream. Nap then out at 2am to hit nightlife. Bouncers think weird by self. Saturday Invent lies to hotel reception staff so can see rooms – grandparents visiting, 1 wheelchair. Many great, some awful. Late night to finish off. Sunday Send off assignment. Happy knowing found some gems to help others have great hol, & helped local businesses. Now aft on beach. Move on tmrw.
EMMA JONES is currently writing, travelling and volunteering in Latin America. She taught in primary school for five years, and was an MEP Labour candidate in 2009.
Be our guest We commission a new blogger each month. For details, visit www.mslexia. co.uk/submit
■ ALI GEORGE took up the NaNoWriMo challenge last November and liked it so much she couldn’t stop… So she has decided to try and write a further 12 novels over the next 12 months. She thought we might like to track her progress – we thought so too, so she started blogging for us in March. Visit www.mslexia.co.uk/ blog/author/ali/ ■ SOPHIE PARKES is writing a biography of folk musician Eliza Carthy – while she’s still alive. Sophie also works full-time and plays violin in a psychedelic indie band. She starts blogging for us in April. ■ NAOMI CARTWRIGHT is Senior Rights Exec with Hachette Children’s Books and will be telling us what really happens at a book fair and why the Spanish don’t like kittens. She starts her blog in May.
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