Friday, 2 December 2011

Making The Most Of

A writer-friend recommended the following article, and now I'm recommending it to any of you writerlies who want to hear some good suggestions on how to make the most of the research and early draftings you do towards finished pieces.

'Tis interesting and useful.
If you enjoy it, if you'd like me to include further blog links here in my own blog, let me know.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

More haste, less hash

Okie dokie,
that twitter address for my good self is @Fibenson1.
See, this is what you get when you dash, an unnecessary desire for hash.
Let this be a lesson (to me)

Busy Bee

Buzz, buzz ...
It's been a hectic few writerly months.
My epublished Hang On A Minute! - on Amazon for Kindle UK & USA - has sales nicely trickling in, I've written two children's books that I'm merrily revising-and-hawking, revising-and-hawking, I'm almost finished the anthology Through The Skylight - humour & travel, and I've started to write a supernatural thriller (ooooo, spoooky!).
I'm gaining much from LinkedIn sub-group discussions and I've switched from PC to Mac (actuarlly I'm ambidexterously using both at the moment until I get the full hang of the Mac-machine, having fun).
And I've started to tweet - I cannot tell you how perfectly the Twitter concept suits my butterfly modus operandi .... oh, I just did. I'm at ... hache fibenson1 (hmmm, where's the hash key on the mac keyboard .. must find out ...)
What you up to, followers??

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

No Time To Waste

 A member of my online writing group – who has a full time teaching job and a young child - asked everyone how they fitted in time for writing with the demands made by the rest of their lives, how they made their writing time productive. I’m repeating here what I replied ...

I think there are two separate issues here.

The first is the fact that a common difficulty for writers - other than the A list-ers and maybe it's the same for them (because marketing & promotion is damned time-consuming) but they just don't say it - that there isn't enough time for actual writing, there are too many distractions.

Especially if most of one's hours are taken up with paid employment and/or family or domestic roles.

Easy to feel impatient during precious writing time, easy to feel as if you're not getting anywhere unless you have made the available writerly hours count.

I'm a full-time writer but I still have occasions of impatience, a discontent that I haven't completed more pieces and have them out, out, out, looking for a pay-return home. There's always so much that we want to have done, so many ideas that we want to follow up, it's easy to be unhappy with the amount of output we feel we've achieved. Especially when we know there's likely to be a lengthy wait to find out whether editors, publishers, producers are accepting our hard work - and make us feel that it's all been worthwhile - or rejecting us - which makes us feel ... rejected ... and of course unpaid. Bad, very bad, why did we waste our time, we must get on, get on, get on with it ....

This discontent does have some value when it -

makes us set deadlines for ourselves to have finished this or that piece of work, tightens our focus;

keeps us at our writing desk (or equivalent) beyond the point when we might have thought 'that's enough for now' - or as Stephen King referred to it in his 'On Writing' - gives us 'butt glue'.

But ... we shouldn't get carried away with revering 'product' as the one and only criteria for our overall and ongoing artistic success . Creativity involves process, and can't be converted into the desired final product without that effectiveness of process.

So when we're analysing objectively what we've achieved, we need to take into account the 'value added' by activities or reflections that have enhanced the process but not necessarily yet been converted into finished product.
This is all very corporate-sounding because to be a professional creative (whether it's writing, art, music) you have to have a business perspective. But to be creative per se you need to acknowledge what the process of creation needs, nurture it, give it the same respect as the final result. The creative process needs freedom to grow, stimulus to inspire or unlock it, space for play & experimentation. Creativity is an unstructured and unpredictable entity. Which leads to frustration for the person trying to capture it in a given period of time. Which is why, in our impatient modes, we feel that hours spent on the process without a definable product is wasted, unproductive. But if the process isn't properly fed and watered it's going to pass out and die before it gets to the outcome destination.

Whenever I feel impatience coming on I call to mind -

a description of writing that I came across years ago, referring to the activity as 'constructively staring into space'

the relatively non-prolific output of acclaimed (and one of my favourites) writer Kazuo Ishiguro (who's had only about half a dozen books published throughout his entire career)

the classic writer - I think it was Dickens - who described how he'd once spent a whole morning putting in a comma, and the whole afternoon taking it out

the fact that David Fanshawe, reputed to be one of the world's most original composers, spent 10 years travelling across the Pacific continent to come up with his African Sanctus (latin mass with African music merged). I met Fanshawe once, attending a live lecture from him about his life. When he talked about those 10 years he pointed out that he had no commission, did not have any guarantee about what would be his musical results of those years or whether anybody would pay for them and that writers and artists had to be passionate about doing what they were doing for the actual doing of it, and just keep going, keep going, keep going

my recently learning that the script of the brilliant (imho) contemporary film 'Inception' also took 10 years in the writing (Chris Nolan, the writer, obviously working on other stuff in the meantime, like the Batman Dark Knight film, but still)

So, we need to go easy on our manic urgency for speedy product output.

A couple of other things can help us have a better relationship with our writing time.

The first is our aspirations to perfection. I'm not about to say that making sure we do a good job of our writing isn't important, it clearly is. But 'a good job' doesn't always have to be the Ultimate in Perfection. John Fowles put out his The Magus for publication even while he was not totally satisfied with it, but he thought it was good enough to be published, which it was, to acclaim. Sometimes we need to say to ourselves, that's the best I can do at the moment, let's finish there and get it sent out.

This was borne home to me with my very first publication success, a story in a national magazine. I subscribed to the magazine so was familiar with it. I'd studied the nature and length of the short stories already published in that mag. I wrote my story, sent it to them, heard nothing for four months. I took my copy of the manuscript out of its 'pending' drawer, read it through again, decided that it had loads of weaknesses I hadn't noticed when I'd sent it out. I wouldn't publish it either, is what I thought. But I thought I'd just write to the magazine, ask them to confirm that they weren't using the story and could they give me feedback. They wrote back with a 'sorry for the delay, yes we'd be delighted to publish your story'. Really? Hurrah! Readers loved it. It was accessible, coherent, interesting. The fact that it didn't reach my current literary standards wasn't an issue. This was a big lesson in the subjectivity of views of perfection.

So, the first issue is how we perceive accountability of our 'pure' writing hours. The second is how to make the writerly, creative most of the time that's taken up with getting on with the rest of our lives.

There are loads of ways that we can be developing our writing without actually being sat 'doing writing'. Some of them very simple. We have to find the ways that suit our individual personalities, lifestyle and commitments. Mine include:

getting out and about to new places - can be done will all the family, with friends, alone - paying particular attention to the sensual detail of the place - sounds, smells, etc - building up a bigger repertoire of potential settings or partial settings for our tales;

reading - and this can include reading to our small children - which stimulates the story-telling imagination, introduces us to new types of characters, extends our vocabulary and ideas of symbolism, exposes us to structure of stories and character development;

jotting - noting down bits and pieces, fragments, of ideas, phrases, observations - on whatever scrap of paper that's to hand, then collecting them all together as a stimulus resource for later stirring of imagination or putting wholesale into a longer piece when we're doing the focussed stuff. I put all mine in what I refer to as my 'paragraph book', even though there's all sorts of tiny bits of stuff in there. For example, one morning a long time ago I was out in the garden with my rise-at-dawn son, outside so that the rest of the tribe weren't woken up and beginning the attention-demand day prematurely. While I was playing with son I made some visual observations that I jotted down on an envelope in my pocket. Thus:

the sun is breaking through curtains of mist, bringing to three-dimensional life the two-D silhouettes of the firs on the wooded valley I'm overlooking ...

the landline phone rings and because it has been days since I heard it, the Godfather theme tune does not immediately resonate with my brain response, and when it does it has stopped and the mobile's ringing instead. Who would ring this early?

They're tiny snippets, but they're keeping the creative muscle exercised ...

I hope some of this is valuable for any writers following the blog! Leave me a comment and let me know your opinions on this discussion.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Hang On A Minute! Day 1

I am having an extremely motivating and transformational birthday month.
I've been learning 'epublishing'. I started to skate along this particular learning curve because my From Wear To Wye book has sold well locally but is imprisoned in a bookshop in the woods. I have regained the publishing rights and was going to court another, bigger publisher. Or find an agent. Well, folks, that was only a couple of months ago but I've so moved on!

I'm undertaking an epublishing apprenticeship with From Wear To Wye, which I've rebranded as 'Hang On A Minute! Tales of a writer's life in the ancient Forest of Dean' (there are search keyword reasons for such a long subtitle btw). And I've taken those tales into the global playground, to meet new people, make new friends, new sales, new readers who want to read more of my work.

Initially, I've published via Amazon Kindle, and via the free download available for Kindle for the pc (see links below). But I'm learning, learning, learning ... and more global publishing platforms are to be undertaken in the very near future (could be next week for one of 'em).

I have no qualms at all about epublishing/self-publishing. Any form of publishing does not guarantee you sales. It's all about the promo and the distribution, honeys. To epublish is to give you global distribution. That's quite a big market you know. And it's free. You don't pay money up front, Amazon Kindle etc take a proportion of the sale price per book (just like trad publishers).

But unlike traditional publishers, the epublishers don't take the lion's (lioness's) share. I received 15% of my paperback price. I receive 70% of my epublished copies.


Even when you set the price low to attract more readers (HOAM is £2.15 to download), you're still able to get paid more per book.

Oh, the delicious control of it! It feels great!

You still need to work at promoting your book - just like you do with traditional publishers - but that's only fitting really, it's your book.

But you don't have to wait months and months - maybe forever - for publishers & agents that you are courting to stop playing hard to get and tell you how they feel.

It is so motivating, I just can't tell you ... well, I can, because I am. It's marvellous!!!

And for any of us who are writing genre material - fantasy, science fiction, horror - there's a huge and hungry market. Huge. And hungry ...

Below find my Kindle blurb and the relevant links.

And that's enough for day one, except to say that I've already made 2 sales - including one in Ireland that I didn't have to travel to in order to promote or sell - and that's 2 more than I've sold in months.

More, much more, anon

From Kindle Store:

"Whether she's communing with a dead composer, performing to an audience of uni-cycling cherubim or time-travelling through a gateway in the woods, Fi Benson's tales are filled with cheery nuggets of wisdom and hearty laughter. Hang On A Minute! is a collection of tales about Fi's life as a writer and dramatist in the ancient Forest of Dean. Wry and quirky, her stories sparkle with faerie dust and provide a magical introduction to a beautiful setting.

'That one little book has made me feel better than 6 months of therapy'

'Fi's vivid characters make me laugh - they remind me of the people I know'

'Totally absorbing'

'Has she written the next one yet?'"

It's epublished in Amazon's Kindle Store - if you haven't a Kindle you can read the book on your computer via the free download 'Kindle for pc' with the following link:
For  UK, it's £2.15 and available at:

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Writing autobiography - risky business

The seven tales that I wrote for my anthology 'From Wear To Wye' are all explicitly autobiographical. By explicitly I mean that I name names, referring directly to family members and friends, so I talk about them in material that is intended for, and has reached, the public domain ...

Depending on what you say and how you say it, doing this can quickly lose you those beloved family and friends, so you have to be careful, careful, careful. Especially since, as much as we like to think we know some folk inside out, we actually don't. Who of us shows everything to anybody except perhaps a miracly-discovered soul mate (come on, it has to be a miracle, what are the odds against that ever happening). So the risks are high that your view of something you're saying about somebody being completely harmless, inoffensive, and actually true, aren't guaranteed to be received that way by the somebody themselves.


My anthology tales comment on happenings from the past, from my personal history, and of course from the personal history of everyone I mention in the book. But much more risky it seems is writing autobiography for a family member and actually writing their lives ahead of where they are now. Because I've just finished reading A S Byatt's 'The Children's Book' - which I borrowed from Ross-on-Wye public library but which I love so much I'm intending to shell out some of my small-but-special writer's income to purchase my own copy of the book. I wanted to start reading it again the moment I'd finished it - and a character in the book is a writer who is writing autobiography ahead of the game for one of her children. With dire consequences. Of course, this is the fabulous Byatt, and none of what I'm describing is as simple as this summary of it. But it did make me think more deeply about the implications of giving an opinion about somebody in a public work, and the risks of that opinion becoming self-fulfilling.


'From Wear To Wye' is published by Doug Maclean Publishing in Gloucestershire, but remaining copies now available only from my good self, if you'd like details of how to buy a copy put your enquiry in a comment to this posting, I'll find ye ...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

What do you get when ...

...  you cross a writer with a meeting-of-like-minds opportunity?

A 3-hour conversation in the cafe at Taurus Crafts Arts Centre (better order another coffee since we're taking up a table)
a 3-hour conversation in the bar at Cafe Rene (better order another drink since we're taking up a table).

It's good to talk!

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Echo-Children

In a recent posting I was telling you about the first of my three days at a primary school local to Gloucester City who have been having a Celebrate Gloucester week. I worked for three mornings with years 1 - 3, so 5 - 7 years old. At the start of each session I chatted with them about where they personally liked in Gloucester. Not necessarily where the obvious tourist attractions might be but where they themselves liked to be. Maybe there was a particular little lane, or shop window, or building, that they particularly liked. The overall concept was for the children to create personalised tour guides for my bear Ursula who lives with me in a cottage in the woods and has never been to Gloucester ...

The children had the choice of creating the tour guide in a comic strip paper-based form, or of creating a piece of performance ... with a narrative ... using settings from around the city.

I've already mentioned the tale of Ursula's Scary Visit To Gloucester created by the children on day one of the project. Days 2 and 3 brought tales of the homeless (princesses all dressed up and nowhere to go), two silly secret agents (Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau would have been proud of their slapstick performance I'm certain), a boat crash on the canal (Oopsie!) and an enchanting tale of children who could throw their voices, by echo, all the way from Gloucester docks to the Forest of Dean.

All of the tales were performed to an audience that consisted of the bear and the other children in the group.

On the third and final day, there happened to be over 20 children in the overall group, so several performance pieces took place. As the last one finished, a child who had been an enthusiastic audience member but not in any performances herself, shouts across the room to me to ask 'which one did you like the best?'

'Which one did you like best?' I counter, because I don't feel it's appropriate for me to show favour based on the limited time they've all had to create their pieces.

The questioning child is around 5 years old, but one of those 5 year olds that are going on 30, you know the ones. So she repeats her question. I like all of them equally, I tell her. And she gives me a look that tells me in no uncertain terms that she knows I have a favourite, that she knows which one it is, and she wants me to declare it.

I resisted. And after a brief internal struggle with herself, the little lass decided not to persevere.

But I'll tell you ... it's the echo-children that return to me every time I visit Gloucester city.

The image that accompanies this posting is one I took during the Crucible sculptural art exhibition that was held at Gloucester Cathedral last year.

I visited the exhibition several times but I've never worked out why we were warned to 'take care'. Danger! Look out! There's a sculpture about! I wonder what the echo-children would have made of that?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Bear Truth

Here's a picture of the lady herself, Ursula the bear.

I found her a few years ago, sat inside the doorway of a charity shop in Coleford, which is one of the Forest of Dean market towns.

She has been a valuable colleague during many of the drama and writing workshops that I do in primary schools. Mainly through her active listening skills - the 'active' not a mean feat considering her biological status - when a child has needed an ear to which to tell a story or a poem and all the live grown-ups are busy with other children. Well done that bear!

Even though, when I first adopted Ursula, neighbours warned me about taking her into Forest schools (I'm sure they were joking) because of the following Forest of Dean myth ...

In 1889 four Frenchmen came to the Forest with two Russian bears which they exhibited in the forest town of Cinderford. The troupe headed for the nearby village of Ruardean - either because they were already intending to, or because they were being chased. A popular myth at the time was that foreign bear-keepers fed the bears on the flesh of children, and a rumour had spread throughout Cinderford that the Russian bears had killed a child and seriously attacked a woman. The residents gave challenged the Frenchmen, chased after them and their bears, caught up with them, viciously attacked the Frenchmen and killed the innocent bears. Some of the Ruardean residents took pity on the Frenchmen and rescued them from the attack.

The attackers were caught and charged with their crime, but during the legal process they were wrongly referred to as being residents of Ruardean, not Cinderford. The mistake created longlasting scorn and lingering 'tribal' animosity.

Two interesting links here ...

For a description of the attackers' sentences, see Notes from the Offences Book of Drybrook Police Station 3 May 1889, in the Forest of Dean Family History Forum,
And for a BBC article about the remains of the bears being discovered in a vegetable patch, see

All I can say is that Ursula is the best two quid I've ever spent.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ursula in Gloucester City

I've been working in a primary school in Gloucester today, leading a comic strip and performance devising workshop with a group of 5 - 8 year olds. The school is having a 'Celebrate Gloucester City' week, and I'm there for three days as part of a creative programme offering lots of creative activities to lots of different groups of pupils.

What fun!

So stimulating to work with four small children who were bursting, just bursting, with ideas for a performance story. I love devising by improvisation, it's like letting your imagination into an adventure playground.

The children came up with 'Ursula's Scary Visit To Gloucester', a delicious ghostly story that took in the cathedral (of course), the railway station (not sure why Ursula was going to Scotland for three days but at least she came back because she was missing Gloucester), and the little cafe stall in the indoor market that apparently does great hot chocolate and marshmallows (who knew!).

Ursula is my bear by the way.

More on Ursula tomorrow.

For now, just well done to this morning's group who devised, rehearsed, dress-rehearsed and performed the play - to an audience of some other pupils and Ursula her furry self - in a morning.

I'm working with a different group tomorrow morning, same theme, same workshop, but there'll be massively different results. I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Emerging From The Mist

From my garden.

Just like the mist is clearing over the valley,
I'm gaining a better view of
my writerly aspirations.

I've opened a new page in this journal, My Writing, where I'm posting pieces of my work. I hope you pop in to take a look at the page, and I hope you like what's there.