Controversial Characters

Controversial Characters

Whatever the book is, characters are like Marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Perhaps you are completely in love with the main character’s best friend, mother, or pet cat, but you just can’t stop loathing the actual main character? I have had many heated arguments with people over my all-time favourite character ‘Amy’ in the brilliant book ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn. She manipulated pretty much everyone she knew, and murdered when dissatisfied. Yes, the definition for evil, right? Anyone who read that book must  just hate her. No, absolutely not! Quite frankly I adored her. I adored her brilliance, her intelligence, her needs for revenge. I related to nearly all her feelings towards men and patriarchy, as I am sure many more of my fellow women did. Her description of feeling the need to be ‘cool girl’ for other men, her consistent feeling of needing to win against people who mistreat her, and – most of all for me – being forced to become someone you don’t want to be, because someone is leaving you no choice: being that naggy, irritable, angry girlfriend without even realising. You see others do it and you just think well, I’ll never be like that. You soon realise it is not so easy, as Amy clearly indicates to us in the book.

I feel that the message of the book is simply ‘don’t let them get away with it’. This is where people might get the wrong idea. It’s not as if I am all of a sudden going to frame someone for my murder and then bolt, obviously. It just means I can empathise with her empowerment. The book is not an incitement to violence, it’s evoking the vengeful side in all of us. I’m not agreeing with what Amy did, I’m simply admiring her strength and resilience, not to mention her intelligence! It makes the reader wonder am I capable of that? Could I really do that? Is there an evil side to me? It intrigues us. A common argument is simply, well yeah but she did horrible things, it’s morally wrong, blah blah blah, but that’s not the point. The point of a book (an adults’ book especially) is not to be morally correct, or have a happy-ever-after ending, where the damsel in distress is saved by a mighty male warrior (which is so bleak, let’s be honest here). The point of a book is to involve the reader in a world they may not be used to, to leave questions in their minds, to perhaps even disturb them. You think if Amy bought groceries and watched ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ for the whole book it would still be exciting? Or if she accepted her life as a housewife and stayed obedient? Some will think aw come on man, he only cheated on her, no biggy, completely missing the point of a controversial character. Maybe they should go back to reading children’s books?  I don’t know what you think but Amy is my kind of Marmite.

© Martha Lynn

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WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

WRITERS IN RESIDENCE

Could I sit in a public place for three hours and write a thousand word short story? I’d no idea – never tried it before. I’d written a couple of short stories years ago and sold them, but this was beginners’ luck. Somehow I had not managed to rise again to that level of success. I didn’t have the knack. Other writers seemed to be able to turn out beautifully crafted stories with ease; hot, exciting, precise little oeuvres, like Nadia’s bakes. Something had to be done to shake me out of this creative lassitude (idleness?). And here was a challenge. Frome Writers’ Collective were looking for writers to participate in the annual “Writers In Residence” event, part of Frome Festival.

Having been a member of the Collective for several years, latterly as a trustee, regularly attending meetings, socials and readings I felt that it was time to participate in something that involved actual writing. So I volunteered.

Each writer is issued with a prompt, a table and chair and a space in a shop in Frome town centre, and left to get on with it in full view of Saturday morning shoppers.

As a seasoned clog dancer I am not unduly fazed by Saturday morning shoppers. After all someone who is prepared to put on a strange costume and prance around to folk tunes in the market places of various British tourist traps must have acquired some immunity to shame. It couldn’t be more difficult than Ivy Sands’ Exhibition Steps, could it?

It could be. Turned out it was a competition, with prizes for the winners given out at a Festival event in Frome Library, and, later, we’d all be asked to read out our offerings at a FWC social. Two days before the event we received our prompt, a quotation from Mary Shelley: “Every thing must have a beginning”. Gothic is not my thing, but it was too late to back out with any semblance of dignity.

Running across the footbridge over the river on the fateful Saturday morning I passed a beggar. I was in too much of a hurry to open my purse and ran on, ignoring him, feeling very guilty. I glanced back at him over my shoulder and I had an idea.

They put me in a rather smart dress shop on Cheap Street; surrounded by beautiful clothes. The clientèle were quiet and respectful (probably more interested in fashion than literary endeavour) and the proprietor, tactfully, left me alone.

I thought of the beggar, dipped a ladle into my literary stockpot (where I keep offcuts from old plots permanently on the boil), interviewed some characters from the “Bestiary” (my own personal “Book of Beasts”) and I was away. Fighting off the occasional impulse to browse through the dresses, I finished my story.

It didn’t win, but it did respectably, receiving some positive feedback after the FWC social, and some very useful advice. The standard, as it always is at FWC readings, was scarily high, which made me feel proud of my also-ran story. I’d actually managed to write something acceptable in a very short time, and to specification – more or less.

So the moral of this tale is “have a go!” You don’t know what you can do until you try. Though the event is nominally a competition, the atmosphere is kind and supportive. You are among friends.

I am extremely grateful to all those members of FWC who organised the event and read all the stories to pick the winners… And returning to my car after a recent Trustees’ meeting, I met a beggar on the bridge and dropped a pound coin into his hat.

Sian Williams 12/09/2018

What makes a writer?

What makes a writer? Is it the talent to have hundreds of books published like James Patterson, or the ability to write a top class comedy programme that runs for many years like Roy Clarke’s Last of the Summer Wine? Maybe it’s the ability to write great poetry and be nominated as the next Poet Laureate?

Writer

Or… maybe it’s something to do with the pleasure of writing for its own sake?
I started writing when I was quite young. While still at school, I would get ideas and scribble them anywhere. Once I got a comment from a form master who said:

‘I quite enjoyed your story but in future please do not write on the back of your exam papers’.

Early on, I realised that, as a writer, my main fault is that I have a butterfly mind. Although short story writing is my favourite field, I can be jotting down one idea, then get an idea for another which completely distracts me. This is why I now have several portfolios at home with at least 320 short stories of all genres in them!

Working in writing groups has been very helpful over the years, though I have learnt that sometimes people’s views are very different from within the same groups. In one group, a member told me I should cut out the first two paragraphs of my story, while another thought the paragraphs were essential.

Occasionally, courses have given me very useful insights. It was attending one course, several years ago, that set me on the short story trail. During this session, it was suggested that we write a short story from the opposite gender’s point of view. I found I liked writing this way so much that I now have female characters as my lead nearly all the time.

Stories mount up. I find that I have now written several plays, both short and full length, a number of poems and three novels. My first two books were handwritten and the second was destroyed by accident, but my first one is still here. Unfortunately, this was typed out by a friend of a friend – a good typist, but someone, it turned out, who couldn’t read my handwriting, so there’s a little more work to do here!

With the help of a fellow writer, I have recently had booklets of my work printed independently and this has been very satisfying. My slim volume, ‘Seven Sides of Life,’ has so far sold about 45 copies, and I have a second volume called ‘What you Want,’ which is waiting to be printed. Recently, too, I finished a compendium of short stories – sixteen tales in all. A number of people have said they like my stories – though often I haven’t believed them – and my new novel which has been read and reviewed by around eight people. One of these days I will take the plunge and send it off. Submitting anything makes me nervous, though. A writer’s fear of rejection slips perhaps?

But it’s not all about getting books on shelves. I enjoy writing and will keep on writing because the simple fact is that I like doing it, like seeing where the stories and characters lead me.

Maybe it’s this that makes a writer?

Alan Somerville.

 

Writer image courtesy of blogspot.com

Wooooooooo

Wooooooooo

The lights were dimmed to black and the pumpkin glow set to red. The photographer adjusted his light settings and the roomful of writers uttered a collective sigh. The first ghost story of the session was about to start…

Caroline’s spook was unpleasantly smelly, with ‘an odour most wretched’. It put one or two people off the slices of cake in front of them – portions from the celebration cake, baked in honour of Eddie Martin, local musician and writer and the hundredth member to join Frome Writers’ Collective.

cake1 (Medium)

Alan’s ghost, Georgina, was next. She liked walking along in sewers at night and didn’t seem cut out for a long-term relationship with her non-ghost fiancé, unlike the next phantom, who was clearly an expert in keeping secrets for years.

Liz’s story had a mysterious vessel gleaming in the Kefalonian pre-dawn light, while Alison’s murderously-intentioned wife got things horribly wrong – as she discovered, in the undertaker’s office – and rather too late.

Amazing apparitions and ghoulish ghouls of all kinds whirled around the upstairs room of The Three Swans. As one of the oldest and most interesting pubs in Frome, the venue was well-furnished for the task.

Writers leant forward in their eighteenth century chairs to hear the tale of Annie McBride in her tartan cape – and leant back quickly as the bloody dagger advanced.  The air stirred to the arrival of mysterious carvings and chilled to tale of an army riding the land forever, never to dismount. Poor Frederick, the hapless office ghost, with his wilting flowers, drew mutters of sympathy and the LED nightlights flickered at nearly all the right moments.

In the first-ever FWC evening of ghost stories, Caroline, Alan, Andy, Nikki, Liz, Alison, Colin, Sheila, Lisa and Barbara shared their scary tales with a very appreciative audience.

More creepy yarns anticipated in 2018!

In Pursuit of Fame – Part 2

Unfortunately, writing fame like snow leopards has become an endangered species, and far easier to achieve in, say, the last years of the nineteenth century than in these early years of the twenty-first. Maybe there were fewer aspiring novelists vying for the prize. For the vast majority, the idea of putting pen to paper was as bizarre as journeying to Mars is for me, especially for those for whom attendance at school happened only to others. Besides which, the word ‘leisure or spare time’, a basic requirement for any aspiring writer, had not yet formed part of their existence.

As for leisure pursuits … nope! And what the hell are those?

People were either sleeping or working … no time for fancy embroidery or petite pointe unless it was an occupation to put bread on the table, in which case it was likely to occupy every waking hour. Candidates for writing fame grew from families who had a bob or two to spare, and who were able to educate their children and keep them at home without the family starving to death.

Although it is fair to say starving in a garret in Montmartre did become the in-thing for artists around this time. Never the most dependable of men, a good dose of cold and hunger went a long way in their search for fame and fortune, which brings up the point: how did they manage to live in squalor and never pay rent and yet spend all night in a bar drinking copious amount of brandy or wine? Be that as it may, once fame and fortune struck it was for many artists already too late to jettison the attic in favour of something warmer and more comfortable. Sadly, all too often the cold and damp, not to mention cheap liquor, resulted in TB which took them off at a very young age. (Look at La Bohême and La Traviata).

Surprisingly, this garret business did not apply because writers needed a smattering of education which had to be paid for. In this regard the Bronte sisters might well be considered cool. Their father’s income was, or would have been, sufficient to keep them all handsomely had not their brother run up huge debts. However, having been fortunate enough to belong to the gentry who actually believed in girls being educated, and living in a picturesque part of Yorkshire, they were able to decide on a writing career as a way of providing for themselves, even if they did have to pass themselves off as men.

(What a long way we women have come!)

Indeed, it is likely there are more writers currently starving in garrets or basement flats than there were in the 19th century.

Barbara Spencer

The Three Swans: Home to Frome Writers

The Three Swans: Home to Frome Writers

The Three Swans is ‘home’ to the Frome Writers’ Collective; its welcoming
atmosphere is why the FWC has made it the venue of choice for the last three
years.

The landlady, Helen Rowlingson, unfailingly serves good beer and offers its
upstairs meeting room generously for functions. It’s a comfortable and happy
place to spend an evening. But this has not always been the case. This 17 th
century pub has a long and lively history.

Its early origins are obscure, but the pub was once mentioned in the
national press when, for a bet, a man consumed 193 oysters with a quart of
ale. That was in 1827.

In the mid 19 th century, the pub gained a reputation for ‘wantonness’. One
landlord was summoned before the magistrates for keeping a rowdy house
with troopers and prostitutes ‘carousing lewdly’. We still enjoy music there on
a regular basis, but the lewd carousing seemed to have disappeared.
The unusual room layouts indicate that the Three Swans was probably once
two buildings. It even has an interior ‘external’ passageway, where today
smokers congregate.

Some things don’t change though. In 1860 an advertisement offered ‘Chops
and Steaks’ and ‘Home Brewed Beer of the Best Quality’ at the Three Swans.
And the pub has recently branched out to provide similar lunches at
weekends. In a further echo of its past, in 1891, during one of its most
respectable periods, the landlord was fined for keeping a dog without a
licence. Today, this is no longer an issue and the Three Swans is probably the
most dog-friendly premises in Frome. Helen loves them.

It is also the most eclectic pub in Frome. Local businessman, Chris Moss,
bought it because he wanted ‘somewhere to go for a decent pint’, but then he
filled it with an amazing assortment of furniture and wall displays. There is
nowhere like it in the town, and it is probably unique in the country. It’s
certainly popular with the people of Frome.

Facts garnered from local knowledge and Historic Inns of Frome by Mick
Davis and Valerie Pitt.

In Pursuit of Fame – part 1

In Pursuit of Fame – part 1

Why does an otherwise normal person decide to commit their life to writing a book?

The answer to that question would form a vast mound of paper because we all have different reasons for setting pen to paper. For Daphne du Maurier, a foremost writer of the last century, it was to escape the unhappiness of a loveless marriage. For me, it was being forced to replace a sparkling career with the more mundane aspects of domesticity – cooking, cleaning and ironing. Maybe it was the tedium of housework that led me to writing for children, for whom the joys of domesticity, housework to you and me, remain undiscovered, somewhat like the river Nile, until they are at least 21.

Nevertheless, regardless of what we give as the reason for days spent peering into a notebook, typewriter or pc, the pursuit of ‘fame’ although strenuously denied is the most obvious goal, even if the words ‘and fortune’ do not accompany it. If someone says to me, I write only for myself, my retort is likely to be: ‘I confess the lady/gentleman  protests too much,’ something Shakespeare used about Hamlet’s mum in Hamlet. I mean, if they genuinely do only write for themselves, the book can live on a shelf or in a drawer – like Fagin’s ‘guilty secret’. (Dickens) It does not need the Internet.

I concede that the word ‘fame’ maybe too strong. Maybe recognition is more apt; the recognition of your peers who think it pretty damn good. That, for any would-be writer is the Everest of accolades.

However, if in doubt as to your motives, apply the litmus test: why should someone buy my book? And does it matter if they don’t?

Broken_AZ_Medal_101916.jpg

If your answer is: Like hell it does. Then, like the rest of us, I strongly suspect that you are seeking at the very least recognition as a writer, plus a wish and desire for fame.

Barbara Spencer