I come from a family of writers (a brother and sister who are both journalists, a younger brother who can spin a story like nobody’s business, an Uncle who was an academic, another – my namesake who was a poet). Ive always been the artist.
I cut my writing teeth over the years on short autobiographical pieces, written to accompany my exhibitions. There’s always been a story there, lurking behind my paintings. Then I moved on to short stories in their own right – three were published in an anthology of short fiction by artists, published by Serpent’s Tail, in 2006. The anthology was edited by Eileen Daly and Jeremy Akerman. From then on, I was hooked on writing stories, and it suited my life style. I was teaching a lot – at 3 different Art Colleges, so I seemed to be on trains an awful lot. Painting requires time – lots of it, and a dedicated space, but with writing, as long as I had a notebook and something to write with – preferably a blue biro – my space was there. Then, when I had time, I could bring all these fragments together and process them.
When Im stuck with my writing, movement helps ideas fall back into place – swimming or walking… Walking back from swimming (which I dont do that often) I rush to get back home and write something down that’s suddenly fallen into place. Sometimes, I record it on my phone – afraid the idea will disappear before I return.
My memoir A Conversation About Happiness began life as one thing, and ended up as something else. I pretended I was writing a novel for a long time, but really I was writing about my own life. But I thought novel writing was more worthy. I wrote about a young female artist, living in East London in the 1980’s, and then I wrote a bit about her childhood, and that sort of took over – the childhood became the story, and I threw most of the 80’s away. I thought by writing in the past tense, and using ‘she’ that I would get distance, and in a way it did give me distance. And then I changed the she to I. And finally I moved the I from the past to the present. To recap: First I held the story far away (like a film), and then I brought it closer, and closer still, by putting myself there, in the present – I am. It’s quite hard to keep that up, especially -‘in my memoir, where Im sometimes thinking back from the present (in the past) to the further past!
For my memoir, I used a range of references as memory prompts – photographs, films, letters….And I wrote some dialogue which I never thought I could do, but I did, and it seemed to bring my characters to life. Also dramatising a scene, rather than telling it.
In order to see my writing with a fresh eye, I change font size; I read my work out loud to myself to hear if its right; I print the pages out to ‘see’ them physically on the page; I send chapters and stories to my iphone to get a smaller view – anything to help me ‘see’ what Ive written objectively.
For a ‘fresh eye’ Feedback is invaluable – from a trusted editor, fellow writer, or friend. But they have to be critical – no pussy-footing around! I like a deadline – for short stories and commissions, and it’s often useful to work with a word-count restriction. Cutting down, editing to a required word count can be quite creative in itself.
I’m now working on a Novella/love story – set in East London in the 1980’s, but that could all change!