Escritora Errante 19: ¿Lectores Beta? Sí quiero…

Caracol
¿Veis el caracolillo en la esquina, enfrentándose a esa frondosa espesura? Esa soy yo en el mundo de la escritura…

¡Buenos días! Las horas de sol en Lancaster van creciendo exponencialmente según nos acercamos a mi tiempo favorito del año en Inglaterra, esa estación conocida como primaveraverano (lo digo así porque es una mezcla de ambos y, como siempre, aderezada de lluvia).

De hecho, esta mañana me he despertado a las cinco de la mañana porque el sol brillando en la ventana no me dejaba dormir… lo dicho, ¡una gozada! Y no es nada irónico, porque después de la oscuridad del invierno, toda hora de luz (incluso las más intempestivas) son bienvenidas.

Últimamente ando bastante liada y con la sensación de que no llego a nada: el doctorado, conferencias varias en las que presento artículos, editando mi primera novela en inglés antes de que se publique, el trabajo, el programa de radio y este blog… ¡en fin! A veces me entran ganas de desaparecer en la espesura y empezar una vida hippie en una camioneta en la que pueda recorrer el mundo. Pero, como no tengo carné de conducir…

La semana pasada, sin embargo, tuve el privilegio de reunirme otra vez con dos compañeras del Máster de Escritura Creativa que hice el año pasado en Lancaster. Anne y Maggie han sido personas que me han inspirado mucho en este viaje, sobre todo por aquellas cosas que ellas ya han logrado y que yo estoy por conseguir.

Volver a estar con dos amigas sentada en un pub hablando de escritura me recordó lo importante que es rodearse de otras personas que escriban. Antes, yo solía pensar que la escritura era una actividad obligadamente solitaria, especialmente si no queremos que otros nos ‘contaminen’… ¡ja! No podría haber estado más equivocada. El año pasado, en un grupo de catorce escritores (cada uno de su padre y de su madre, como quien dice) aprendí más que en todos los años anteriores que llevaba juntando palabras.

Los escritores son criaturas curiosas (y muy egocéntricas, yo la primera) y aunque tiended a enfurruñarse con quienes les dicen las verdades sobre sus textos, nadie entenderá mejor tu dolor ante la página en blanco o toneladas de carateres por editar que otro compañero escritor. Si eres escritor de esos que (como yo) buscan compartir sus historias con un público, nada mejor que contrastar tu arte con otros para aprender nuevas técnicas, disimular errores y encontrar la mejor manera de contar una historia…

¿Alguna vez habéis pensado en buscaros una lectora beta?

Una lectora beta (o lector, pero voy a hablar en femenino) es aquella persona a la que le dejas tu texto cuando aun estás trabajando en él para que te da la opinión y algunas directrices sobre cómo seguir. Normalmente, en los primeros borradores, no se tiene mucha idea de lo que estamos haciendo (yo no la tengo) y toda está cogido con alfileres. (Perdonad que use tantos dichos, ¡pero es que los hecho de menos!)

Hay que tener mucho cuidado con a quién se enseña estas primeras páginas (no sea que nos quiten las ganas de seguir, aunque, por otro lado, sin un par de comentarios te quitan las ganas de seguir… ¿realmente te gusta tanto esta historia?)

Personalmente, yo encuentro que una o dos lectoras betas que te acompañen a lo largo del camino son una bendición. Dos puede ser un buen número porque así si ambos coinciden en que tu villano es plano que una tabla de planchar no tienes derecho a enfadarte porque queda claro que algo falla en ese personaje, mientras que si ambos se contradicen quizás sea una pura cuestión de gustos…

¿Pero, cómo elegir a tu lectora beta?

1. Es otro escritora. Esto no es obligatorio, pero ayuda. Sí, ya lo sé, no solemos escribir solo para escritoras, sino para una audiencia más grande que no tiene por qué saber de técnica y solo quiere pasar el rato. Pero otras escritoras pueden ayudarte a reconocer, precísamente, errores técnicos, además de darte buenas ideas de cómo solucionarlos. Además, las escritoras son gente muy creativa, con lo que su visión seguro que aportará algo a tu historia.

2. Está dentro del género. Estás escribiendo una novela de terror gótico donde el protagonista es un nigromante que se dedica a beber los intestinos de las ovejas del Lake District para tener visiones del inframundo… y se la das a leer a tu amiga que es fan de 50 Sombras de Grey y los libros de Federico Moccia. Mira, no es buena idea, porque lo único que vas a conseguir es que a la pobre le de una indegestión. Cuando buscas una lectora beta, tiene que ser alguien que se sienta naturalmente atraído a tu género. Hay personas que se duermen leyendo narrativa histórica y piensan que los libros de Jean M Auel son un tostón. ¿Vamos a ponernos aquí a discutir?

Cuando yo escribía horror gótico en mi máster algunas personas me decían que les daba tanto asco leer mis capítulos que no podían terminarlos. A otras les iba el hardcore más puro y aun les parecían flojillos… cómo podéis ver, todo es cuestión de perspectiva. Y si escribís literatura de género, es aún más importante saber las expectaciones de tus posibles lectores.

3. Es sincera y no le das miedo. Si le dejas tu manuscrito a tu hermana que sabe que te pondras como una fiera de siete cabezas si te dice algo malo… lo más probable es que te lo devuelva solo con débiles halagos. Seamos sinceros: tener a lectores coaccionados no sirve de nada. Y con quien más se aprende son con aquellas personas que no temen decirte exactamente lo que piensan. Una de cal, y otra de arena, sí, pero desconfían de aquellos que te vienen con críticas muy extremistas (tanto buenas como malas).

4. Se molesta en darte el feedback por escrito. Las reflexiones o el feedback de otra persona sobre tu escritura suelen venir mejor cuando llegan por escrito. Así tienes tiempo de leerlas tranquilamente, guardarlas en un cajón y luego volver a ellas cinco semanas después. Muchas veces me ha ocurrido que alguien ha hecho notas sobre un capítulo mío y lo primero que he pensado ha sido: ‘¡¡oh, no horror!!’ Tres meses después he releído el mismo comentario y me he dado cuenta de que:

A. No era para nada un comentario tan extremo sino un apunte de lo más razonable.

B. Ella/Él tiene razón.

5. Sientes que puedes hablar con ella. Para que esto funcione, tiene que haber una relación igualitaria en la que siempre sientes que puedes hablar. Por ejemplo, a veces me encuentro con personas mucho más mayores que yo y con muchos años de experiencia en esto de escribir, y a veces siento que, por vergüenza, respeto, o una combinación de ambas no me siento tan cómoda al hablar claramente. También me pasa con personas que tienen mucho carácter y quizás se muestran cortantes cada vez que intento controponer mi punto de vista… Estas cosas se notan, pero cuando la comunicación fluye, es una gozada. ¡Seguro que sabéis a qué me refiero! Tu lector beta es como tu amante en el truculento camino de la escritura: va a acabar conociendo tus ‘trapos sucios’ y la cara menos bonita de tu libro, con lo que, al menos, te has de sentir cómoda para charlar siempre que te apetezca.

¿Compartís lo que escribís con otras personas? ¿Tenéis lectoras o lectores beta? ¿Algún otro consejo para conseguirlos?

Por cierto, si alguien quiere profundiar en el asunto, aquí os dejo un pedazo de artículo en Gabriella Literaria que os despejará todas las dudas. Yo me limito a hablar de mi experiencia, pero ella, como siempre, le da un buen repaso al tema…

 

 

 

 

Escritora Errante 17: Se Abre Una Puerta.

Las puertas del infinito

Este año no está siendo fácil. Decidí quedarme en el norte de inglaterra por mi sueño de vivir de la escritura, pero la verdad es que desde que empecé el doctorado escribir no ha sido tan divertido como siempre. ¿Qué anda por mi cabeza?

¿Cómo ganar dinero mientras escribo?

¿Cómo encontrar lo más parecido a un hogar en la Pérfida Albión?

¿Es el doctorado en inglés el camino adecuado?

Tras haber conseguido un trabajo me pasé la Semana Santa currando (y recordando por qué quiero ser escritora y no tener un trabajo de oficina para mantener mi salud mental). Luego me fui de vacaciones a España, pero esos días empezaron teñidos de angustia. Primero porque, como buena escritora, me gustan los dramas (e interpretarlos). Mi dos principales preocupaciones:

  1. Solo dan 10 días de vacaciones al año en el trabajo. (Osea… condiciones dickensianas).
  2. La beca del doctorado. No me la dieron el año pasado y me la jugué invirtiendo mis ahorros para pagarme el primer año, cruzando los dedos para que me la dieran los dos años siguientes.

 

En esos días agridulces en los que me planteaba qué camino tomar si se me cerraban las puertas del doctorado (y la verdad, no se me ocurría nada, porque no me veo trabajando de nueve a cinco en una oficina y escribiendo por las tardes) llegó a mis manos un libro qué precísamente hablaba de puertas: la nueva publicación de José Antonio Cotrina con Víctor Conde.

Cotrina es mi escritor favorito en lengua castellana. Sus palabras me transportan a lugares imposibles y me hacen ver cosas que probablemente solo podría alcanzar bajo los efectos de algún hongo alucinógeno. Su manera de escribir es detallada sin ser barroca (como a mí me gusta) y sus argumentos tienen siempre ese giro oscuro e inesperado que logra afianzarlos en mi memoria. Todos sus libros y personajes (el Conde Sagrada, el Demiurgo, Rocavarancolia…) siguen conmigo aun meses (y años) después de haberlos leído.

Así que en estos días en los que no escribí ni una palabra ni pensaba que iba a leer, su nuevo libro fue como un soplo de aire fresco. Empecé con la primera página y ya no lo pude dejar hasta terminarlo. La historia es una locura: hay magia, acertijos, monjas, números, sueños, paranoias, crueldad, putas, dragones, el Londres victoriano, morsas verdes, ciudades imposibles, dioses e ídolos de la fertilidad…

Fue leerlo y recordad por qué quiero ser escritora. Por qué estoy dispuesta a sacrificar tantas cosas solon por el placer de crear algo parecido.

Las Puertas del Infinito tiene mucho de Cotrina. Una protagonista femenina que no me da arcadas (para variar), sino con la que me siento indentificada. Unas descripciones que podrían ser cuadros de El Bosco. Un final que quiero discutir con los demás lectores (y con el propio autor, ¡ojalá!) Pero quizás, lo más importante es la manera en que te atrapa. Sus frases son como virus malévolos que te devoran el cerebro para controlarte y que sigas leyendo hasta la última página. Y eso, he de decir, es la maestría en el arte de contar historias. Te pueden convencer más o menos ciertos aspectos, pero si al final te quedaste escuchando hasta el final entonces ese barco ha llegado a un puerto.

Hace tiempo que no escribo por diversión. Últimamente todo son fechas de entrega y un número máximo de palabras a cumplir. Pero gracias a Cotrina y a Conde (que no he leído nada suyo pero con ganas estoy después de esto) vuelvo a mirar el arte con otros ojos. Y estoy dispuesta a comer un poco menos y a ser un pelín más pobre solo por seguir creando.

Por cierto, que al final sí terminaré esa trilogía de novelas cortas en la que estoy trabajando. Porque algunas personas en la Pérfida Albión piensan que merecen la pena y han decidido pagarme la matrícula del doctorado los dos años que me quedan. Si hubiera sido inglesa, la gran noticia habría venido con un dinero mensual para mantenerme, pero como nací en un país con sol me toca seguir haciendo malabares para comer/contar con un refugio. Pero… ¡qué importa! Cómo los aperimantes del libro de Cotrina y Conde, he descifrado la clave de esta puerta y estoy más que dispuesta a cruzar el umbral.

¿Qué puertas habéis abierto vosotros?

¡Nos seguimos leyendo! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are not alone: Write in the language you want!

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Some people ask me why I write in English, when I know it’s going to be twice as difficult to have a writing career in a language that – I don’t have a problem to admit this – I’m still learning and ‘conquering’.

Well… There are many reasons and none at all, but summarising:

  1. I love travelling and I wanted to get out of my country (and English is a lingua franca).
  2. Publishing/getting a writing career in Spain was getting too complicated and depressing.

Truth is, sometimes I feel alone, as if I was a painter using some colours that just I can see – so for other people they are invisible, and artists have to live for their audience as well, so that’s a problem.

Thousands of times I’ve been told that my setences are awckward or that I’m not using grammar in the conventional way. Those are the moments when I feel that writing in another language has challenges I won´t ever overcome because I cannot see these kind of things unless someone (a native, usually) points them out for me.

But… I’m happy, because I’m not alone. When I was doing a Creative Writing MA I used to feel I was the only one struggling in this second tongue to tell stories, and it was pretty frustrating. Thank God, I met other people along the way who were in my same position and inspired me. I seem to be the only one who feels so apologetic (and even an impostor sometimes) because I write in a second language. Whenever I meet other ‘wandering writers’ they seem to be proud of choosing this path and – what is more – usually they maintain they feel more confident writing in English than in their mother togue, something that doesn’t happen to me (so far).

For those of you struggling (or enjoying) writing in English even if it’s not the first language you learned I wanted to bring a compilation of all the interviews we made so far in our radio programme to wandering writers from all over the world. There are tons of valuable advice… Enjoy!

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Yamuna Venugopal

She’s a very intense writer who always manages to reach your heart with her simple – yet powerful – prose. She was born in India but came to Lancaster to study Creative Writing. She was my writing pal there and taught me a lot of things about writing. People liked a lot the way she blended Indian English with her writing – in dialogues and descriptions – as well as words from different Indian languages. Reading her stories was like having a free plane ticket for one of the most fascinating countries in the world. I think from her I learned to bring things from my own culture into my writing.

 

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Leonor Macedo

She’s a Portuguese writer who likes fantasy and YA. She grew up reading English writers such as Neil Gaiman, so that´s why she finds natural to write her dystopian novel in this language. Also, she points out the publishing sector in Portugal is very small. If English is going to give you more chances to write and live doing what you love, go for it!

 

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Monica Guerrasio

What I loved about Monica it’s how easily she talked about writing in both languages, English and Italian (her mother tongue). Since I started writing in English (almost two years ago now) I had felt the need to surround myslef with English books, English cinema, English friends… you could almost say I’m afraid of Spanish as if it was going to ‘pollute’ my English! But sometimes I feel sad about it (hey, Spanish is also cool…) Monica made me think that perhaps switching between different languages just depending the country you’re in can be done. She was also very convinced about translating her own stuff from English to Italian and vice versa. Definitely, something that inspired me a lot, because I can stop seeing languages as ‘enemies’ and start using them in a more complementary way in my art, just as I (try to) do in this blog.

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Oscar Delgado Chinchilla.

Oscar was my other writing pal from the MA. What can I see? He’s an amazing Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Steam-punk writer. Check out his stuff there and you’ll get what I mean. He said that writing in English he felt he could be more honest. I also feel I approach writing in different ways depending on the language I write in. Perhaps in English I can be more distant from what I write so I can see the picture and its mechanics better so the final result it’s better (or I feel so). Oscar is also a model to follow because he’s a uni professor (my current goal) and he has this easy way to explain and transmit things in a way that is useful but honest, so you can trust each piece of advice he gives.

We are not alone! These four people really inspired me to continue this journey. They might be the next big name out there, but in any case I’d say that someone who’s so brave as to try writing in another language and sometimes travelling thousand of miles leaving families and friends behind just for the sake of a dream it’s pretty serious about it… Go you!

Have you ever tried to write in a second language? Can you be creative in English? Let’s share experiences!

 

 

 

Climbing mountains and writing

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This landscape is one of the reasons why I chose to live in Lancaster…

Last week I went to Grassmere to do hiking. Hiking and writing are two things that I equally love and feel scared of. There’s always something beautiful about seeing mountains from the distance and thinking: in two or three hours, I’m going to be at the top. It’s also beautiful to imagine yourself with your own book in your hands: somehow the idea has made its way through paper and words.

But, what happens in between?

1. The desire.

All books and walks start with that desire, curiosity, wanderlust. Your life woul be ten times easier if you just stuck to routine, or job, or the simple things like eating and sleeping. But somehow you’re not enterely satisfied. You need to do something crazy like climb a mountain and write a book. Why? It’s not about survival or  being reasonable or realistic. But, who cares? You want to. So that’s why you decide to start up the journey: going towards the mountain or opening a new document in our computer.

 

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2. The peak between the clouds.

You know this moment when you’re still down in the fields and you are surrounded by mountains and an endless sky? You’re still happy and curious but one part of you is thinking: ‘there’s no way I can get so high.’ You want to laugh, turn back, have a couple of drinks in the local pub and go home to watch a film. It’s also easier to turn on TV than defy the blank space of the page. But it’s not going to happen – leaving – because the peak between the clouds is still too fascinating. Too attractive.

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That bag stands for myself in the picture.

3. Climbing.

Now it starts the fun part. The village and the field behind, you can just see one hill after the other. It might be easy at the beginning, but you know this is just the start of hours of struggling between you and the mountain. And then, zas!, you discover a beautiful view. Because that’s the joy of writing and hiking, the sublime might just be around the corner. Just as I started climbing in Grassmere I discovered this beautiful place where the mountains reflected in a big lake creating another world down the waters. The same way, once one starts writing a piece there is always an initial revelation.

Hiking-the crags

4. No way back.

There’s always a point when you find yourself climbing using hands, feet and mouth if necessary. You try not to look down – there are just crags and cliffs – and focus in each little step. The hand here, the feet there. I imagine myself going down, breaking my neck, or my leg, or even dying. ‘Young writer ends her days in the Lakes.‘ I can already read that in the local news. And, most important, I know there’s no way back. I would like to say: OK, I’m going home. But I know there’s no way I try to go down through those risks again, so the only solution is to keep going until the top (even if it seems there’s never going to be one). The same happens when have passed the mid point of your novel: you cannot leave it there even if what you have produced so far feels like crap…

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5. The peak?

After the difficult part, when you believed you would never make it, comes ‘the peak’. And I’m saying it like this because it’s never ‘the peak’. THE peak is still a little bit further away but at this point you need to sit down, enjoy the (already) astonishing views and take your time to eat some well-deserved lunch. This break always feels like the best part of the hiking. All the previous suffering is forgotten and you feel truly grateful for being alive. In writing happens something similar when you finish the first draft of your novel or piece. You feel you have done it, you feel like a hero. There’s still so much way ahead, but for a brief time it feels like a nice conclusion. The idea is already on the paper. The thoughts have turn into letters. Now, it’s good to remember we need to keep walking. If you stay too long high in the mountain just looking at the views you start feeling really, really cold and dump. In writing, the first draft is merely the door to editing and rewriting. So let’s keep going!

6. THE peak!

This can be a tedious part in the hiking. You had lunch but the hills are still there, one after the other. You start thinking why you bother about climbing, I mean, you already got the nice views and all, does it pay off to get to the peak? Who’s going to care in the end? When you are telling the adventures of the hiking to your friends next day you can always say you reached the peak anyways. I always tell myself these things when I’m dragging my body to the peak. It never seems good enough to deserve the effort at that point. In a novel, the editing process can be equally grueling. You always reach the point in which you just want to throw the whole damn thing into the bin, I mean, who cares? The world already got Shakespeare and Clive Barker and José Antonio Cotrina. But then…

Then you reach THE peak. And I’m not going to explain but that feels about because if you have reached THE peak in hiking and writing you already know it and if not… you need to discover it for yourself.

7. Missing the hills.

Yep. Remember all that suffering when climbing? You never thought you would miss such a thing, would you? Well, there’s just something worse than going up murderous hills… and that’s going down. Becasue the possibilities of sliding and suffering a bloody death increase in 267%.  In writing this is the moment when you want to put your piece out there and realise than the process of getting it published is much worse than getting it written. Because there are so many things you cannot control and don’t depend at all on you. It’s part luck but part hard-effort – believe, if something I’m learning from interviewing authors in The Writing Life is that all of them worked incredibly hard before they had that ‘lucky’ coincidence or encounter with an agent/editor. So even if you feel you’ll die, go slow but don’t stop. You need to get out of the mountain (or get your story out there) at any price. That’s why you climbed it in the first place!

Hiking-sweet hills
Can you see the tiny daffofil in the rock on the river?

8. Those sweet vallies.

And finally you’re down there. You find the path and everything is easy, too easy in fact. The mountain is behind and you already miss it. You feel happy with yourself but already start thinking about the next hiking, and promise yourself you’ll do it as soon as possible because damn it, it feels so, so good. Whenever I hold a book in my arms I feel incredibly proud but at the same time the story has been detached of myself. It’s not ‘interesting’ anymore. I need something new to ‘get me high’ and that’s writing another book!

 

Do you like hiking? Does it inspire your writing in any way?

 

 

 

 

 

Escritora Errante 14: House of Shaws.

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Un hogar. Desde siempre ese ha sido un tópico en la literatura. Ulises u Odiseo se va de casa para luchar en una guerra y tarda veinte años en volver (pobrecito). ¿Pero qué sucede cuándo no se trata de volver si no de encontrar un hogar? En ese caso estaríamos hablando de algo más parecido a la historia bíblica de Noé. Después del diluvio universal, Noé se tuvo que buscar un sitio nuevo en el que vivir con su familia. Esa es más parecida a la historia de un inmigrante.

Desde hace unos meses el tema del hogar me da qué pensar. Nunca me había sentido más desubicada, perdida o desconectada. No sé si esta es la experiencia normal del inmigrante o del estudiante extranjero (yo soy, técnicamente, esto segundo). Quizá solo está en mi cabeza y es como una tragedia griega que mis sentidos y percepciones se encargan de representar (exajerando). Pero es que pienso en volver a ‘casa’ (el lugar donde vivo ahora mismo) y se me hace un nudo en el esófago, justo bajo la garganta, y me escuecen los ojos.

Muchas heroínas deambulaban con mi edad. Por ejemplo, a Jane Eyre la sacaron de una casa en la que la maltrataban para meterla en un internado donde la trataban aun peor… finalmente encontró trabajo como institutriz en el lúgubre Thornfield Hall – que al cabo de los años, irónicamente, acabó por ser su hogar.

La historia de una de mis novelas gráficas favoritas, Persépolis, narra las aventuras de una chica a caballo entre Irán (en guerra) y Europa.

Harry Potter tenía que volver a Private Drive todos los veranos y dormir en el cuarto debajo de la alacena (sin ventanas ni nada) aguantado a los Dudley.

Obviamente, a mí no me maltrataban en casa ni mi país está en guerra ni en mi casa me hacen dormir en la alacena. Vine a Reino Unido por voluntad propia, y me encanta lo que hago. En España no podía hacer lo que de verdad me gusta (escribir) pero aquí me estoy labrando una carrera en ese campo.

Vivo en una casa perdida en un pueblo fantasma llamado Galgate. Vivo con mi casera, una señora mayor que lo único que hace es beber vino mientras ve la televisión. La casa es vieja, la pintura de las paredes se cae a pedazos. Los rincones están llenos de pelusas del tamaño de cachorros de gato. Hay plantas dentro de la casa cuyas hojas secas alfombran la moqueta, llena de manchas misteriosas. La casa está llena de liebres (liebres de peluche, liebres de porcelana, tazas de liebres, platos de liebres, cuadros de liebres… etc) porque son el animal totémico de esta señora (por lo visto). Todo esta sucio, pegajoso y lleno de bichos (muertos y vivos). Y botellas de vino vacías. Y copas y platos sucios. Y, por supuesto, cumbrian spiders (clickad en el enlace para ver una maravillosa foto). Todo huele a húmedo, a fluídos, comida podrida.

Pero no solo es eso. Es el hecho de estar fuera, luchando, todo el día. Luchando para completar este doctorado, para  estar al día con mis trabajos de profesora de español y traductora, para solicitar más trabajos porque estos no me dan para vivir, para pedir becas que me ayuden a completar el doctorado… luchando para sacar el programa de radio adelante, para que me publiquen algo, para comunicarme en un lenguaje que a veces e frustra.

Y al final del día tengo que volver a ese lugar donde no me encuentro. Es la sensación de ser un huesped, de residir en un espacio que se me hace hóstil. No sé si merece la pena callar y aguantarse o intentar buscar algo mejor, deambular de aquí para allá con mis maletas, mis cacharros y mis libros.

Podría ser peor. En la trilogía Los Juegos del Hambre, bombas destruyen el Distrito 12 dejando a Katniss sin casa y prácticamente sin amigos o conocidos.

En La Casa de Hojas, la susodicha casa es el monstruo de la novela que devora uno a uno los personajes (que en ese caso estaban mejor fuera de la casa que en ella).

Soy un poco como David Balfour en la novela de Stevenson Kidnapped (Secuestrado) viviendo en la ruinosa  House of Shaws (aunque espero que mi casera no me venda como esclava en un navío…)

¿Cuánta importancia créeis que tiene el hogar? ¿Vivís en una mansión o espacio de esos de literatura?

 

 

 

 

No coffee, no writing

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I mean, it’s 9.36am here in Lancaster and I’m drinking coffee while I write this. I have the light one because outside is pitch dark and rainny and… well, it feels like night time. Coffee is literally saving me life – and it does so every morning, preparing me to face the challenges of everyday.

I started drinking coffee when I was 18 in a London airport. I had taken a plane at 6am in the morning which meant I was at the airport at 4am and that I had got up at 2am. So when finally my plane arrived – to London – I tried a coffee because I was feeling pretty destroyed and I had heard that coffee lifts you up. A year into drinking it I decided to be a true coffee lover and drink it as it is – no sugar, no milk. It took me a while, but no I can’t stand it sweet, which I guess it’s good for my teeth. I try not to drink more than three or four coffees a day though.

What I noticed  when I started writing for my masters and I had to meet weekly deadlines is that the size of my coffees was increasing – significantly.  By the time I was polishing my novella I was drinking just large coffees, and I bought myself a massive mug that is with me in the office now. Normal mugs just seem too tiny for me now…

Coffee infuses warmth and happiness to my heart, basically, – and If I don’t drink it in the morning I get a  very bad headache. Also, it helps me a lot to associate the pleasure of drinking a super hot coffee with writing my daily 500 words, as I explained in this post.

Do you like coffee? Tea? Do you have any drink or meal that you need to be more creative?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing like a Hindi God… Congregation of Innocents

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Congregation of Innocents

 

Writing with several hands, is it possible?

I’m not only a writer, but also a pianist. And I know that playing four hands it’s incredibly difficult. There are so many things that can go wrong – the rhythm, the time… even physically, your fingers can just run over the other person’s! It can be a dissaster because it requires perfect communication with your partner – yes, you need to be soulmates to grant success, basically.

In writing should be easier because there is not the stress of the immediate performance – you have more time to discuss, argue and scream at each other hoping that the final product doesn’t come out drenched in blood.

I have experience on that: I wrote with my father, who’s also a writer. How was it? Well, it was writing with my father

We see things so differently. For him there is LITERATURE –  this includes all the books he likes, which are mainly Literary Fiction – and then that commercial crap that is not any better than a hamburguer at McDonalds – and this includes almost all genre fiction and the books he just doesn’t personally like.

Yes. We argued a lot.

Also, he thinks that what is told is always more important than how it’s told. And that anything you write has to be based on experience. I write about doctors who mummify children and perform c-sections without anesthesics in a lost mansion in the Highlands – did myself experienced all that…? Well, you might not want to hear the answer…

Of course for him is easier to talk about experiences – he has travelled all over the world. He’s also an amazing writer, and he’s funny, and satirical, and critical, and socially-engaged – all things that I admire and I wish my writing had – at least in a stronger way.

Our experience writing together was enriching but in the end, when the book came out everyone thought that the serious, literary parts were his and the funny comical bits were mine – because of the age, I assume. They got it wrong.

Today I want to talk about another book wirtten by multiple hands: Congregation of Innocents, edited by Curious Tales. It contains four short stories by Emma Unsworth, Richard Hirst, Jenn Ashworth and Tom Fletcher plus a graphic short story by Ian Williams. It also has the illustrations, photos and cover design by the artist Beth Ward.

I was lucky that this was the book read in our Gothic Reading Group at Lancaster University and Jenn Ashworth came to talk about the process. She mentioned very interesting things. First of all, the four writers are all friends and work all together editing each other’s texts. I can see here the challenge of having friends and giving them feedback and still being friends after that. We all have such big egoes – I do, at least, although I was partially cured since I started writing in English and I became really humble about it because it’s not my first language… Also, I’d also feel a lot of preassure if continuously giving feedback to my friends just in case I don’t like some of the stuff they do – even if I love them as people, obviously. Art is such a subjective thing… For example, Jenn pointed out that it too her quite a long time to understand Tom‘s short story whereas I fell in love with it immediately.

These people are not just professional writers, they also funded a publishing houseCurious Tales – and have done a trilogy of short story collections called Five Curious Tales. It all started when they decided to exchange ghost stories as a Christmas present. I think this is a such a genial idea.

How do they unifiy their collections, though?

They dedicate their volume to a writer and then gather inspiration fom him or her to write their short stories – as a response to the work of this particular author.

For example the second collection was called Poor Souls’ Light and it was inspired by Robert Aickman, whereas the third one, Congregation of Innocents,  – which I have in my hands – is inspired in the short stories by Shirley Jackson.

The illustrations are, in my opinion, what brings the stories all together. Jenn explained how Beth acts as the core of the project. She gives feedback to everyone, she decides how the illustrations will complement everyone’s story, she does the artwork from the cover  – and that picture is like the essence of the collection itself, not an easy thing to do, I imagine! She even decides the order of the short stories.

I think this is very wise. First because words can come together through other media – in this case visual images. And third because someone from another media may be more able to see the whole picture.

This volume – we all agreed in the Gothic Reading Group – it’s about endings. All the stories are drenched in the bittersweet essence of farewells. And the cover irself represents – as it couldn’t be other way – a detail from a pink and purple cherry blossom. It looks so Japanese and delicate… and the green colour from the title letters is ghostly and unsettling –as if it was whispering to us that this is a horror story collection nonetheless, so we should be prepared. The first pages also have details from the cherry blossom branches in black. It looked like a sort of radiography so again, even if cherry flowers are beautiful and delicate, it was as if they were already dead.

Preceeding each of the stories there are black and white rows of three photographs – without titles or any word indeed, just the naked image. In The Festival the images show what it seems a piece of embroidery (complexity? a hard work? women?), some round glasses reflecting two boats on the sea (travelling?) and white petals on the ground (death of someone who is young?)

In Do You Know How To Waltz? the photographs are difficult to see because there is something that reflects on them – like the light through the blinds over a dark room. What we can see are the silouettes of flowers and trees. (Nature? Something that is hidden? Danger? Vulnerability?)

The Women’s Union Relief has the image of an isolated park, then a mug filled with tea or coffe, and then another mug but from a different perspective. (Home? Comfort? Lost childhood?)

Desert Stories has – in my opinion – the most unsettling set of images – and this was the story I found more unsettling too among all of them. We have some small hands  closed as if praying (a child’s?) a seed that has just started to grow and an empty room with an open door and an empty chair. (Abscence? Infancy? Lose? Revival?)

Now that I have read all the stories I can interpret better the photographs and see how much they are linked to the story. I think it has a wonderful idea to have another medium – photography, in this case – to express another part of a story. We live in a culture where images are very important, why shouldn’t literature nurture from them? The images don’t just reflect what is said by words but also open new paths to the interpretation of these. It is as if images where an integral part of the story, another organ in the whole body. The fact that they are in black and white adds to the atmosphere – we tend to relate black and white with the past, from where ghosts come to haunt us. There are organised in three shots, and this makes the piece cinematic. The details in the photos talk to each other and tell a story by themselves. I think the plastic artist’s work was magnificent because she managed to create a decadent universe where all the stories in this collection can co-exist.

Another visual feature I want to praise was the inclusion of a short story but told in the form of a graphic piece. It’s written by Ian Williams and it’s called The Brood of Desire. The first image occupies the first page and it shows a key with an intrincate design in its hanger. When I saw it for the  first time I felt as if the author was invinting me to his world by offering me the key – but it looked like a key made to hide dark things, so I knew that taking it would bring consequences. The graphic short story is also in black and white and what stroke me the most is the way its simple pictures transmit me so much repugnance – in the best way, because when I read horror I want to feel repugnance, and fear, and shock.

To sum up, I believe that Congregations of Innocents is a rare not to be missed piece. It is a collection of short stories set in a dark, dangerous universe. You would not necessarely want to inhabit it – or to meet its people – but when Christmas comes and you’re sick of sweets and Christmas songs and blinking lights and you feel you need something to balance it… this is your thing! Winter is not just about warm fires and hot chocolate but also about naked sharp trees and never ending nights. And there is so much art and talent in this little book.