It’s true that yes, the show does veer somewhat over the top at times, but the writers on Corrie know what they’re doing. They continue to impress me with their solid plot development, realistic dialogue and energetic pacing. These strengths take a while to appreciate fully. You can’t just watch part of an episode and stop because it seems boring, or you can’t understand their accents. (Trust me, you start to totally make sense of those accents within a couple weeks of watching the show. You’ll even be able to pick out the different dialects and you might even find yourself using some of their British aphorisms in your own speech—e.g. “I want nought to do with it! “I’m knackered” or “Cheers mate”).
I’ve heard of people criticizing the writing on the show as being simple, predictable or unexciting. Not true. As a writer myself I can tell you—there is some subtle genius going on in this program. Here are some of the top writing lessons I learned from watching my daily episode of Coronation Street:
I recently had the pleasure/bizarre experience of listening to (some of) my first novel, Girl in Shades, read on audiobook. I had been looking forward to this experience ever since I heard the news that my book was going to be released this way, and even had the chance to correspond with the voice-over actress who would be reading it - Marieve Herington (www.marieve.ca).
So first of all, Marieve didn't dissapoint. I am thrilled by the attention she put into reading my book aloud for hours (10 hours, 41 min to be exact, with who knows how many more for outtakes). She was bang-on with the characters and tone and I'm honoured that she made that out of what I wrote.
But I have to say, listening to your own words read aloud, is not unlike listening to your own voice, or watching yourself on video (two things I never do). As I started to listen, I felt a little bit uncomfortable, like my private, intimate thoughts were being put out for everyone to hear. The words also sounded somehow foreign to me, even though I had memorized each one. This meant that I was given the chance to experience the story I wrote from a totally different angle—giving me a fresh new perspective on my own work (i.e. “geez, this scene is pretty sad,” or “that really is kind of funny!”). However, the act of listening to it also left me teetering between being proud of my work, and being totally embarrassed by it. I found myself hanging on each word, still self-editing, and afraid that the next sentence would reveal a blatant change that was missed (it is after all, hard to ignore these things when heard out loud, that’s why I try to read out everything I write at some point).
I’ve always envied playwrights and their ability to watch their words come alive on the stage. At the same time, I now have insight into how cringe-worthy it might be to actually hear those words coming alive. That said, I’m still so grateful to have had the chance to hear my book in this form. Although, as the author of the words, it seems to be a bit less stressful to connect with readers through the quiet, safe space of the written page ; ).
If you’d like to hear for yourself, you can download the audiobook to your device here: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-in-Shades/dp/B00AME0W66.
This past weekend, I had the honour of being asked to join the 2nd Annual Ontario Blog Squad Meet Up – a gathering of Ontario book bloggers. It was wonderful to be around people who love books so much that they write as many as five reviews every week. Just for the joy of it! My time with the bloggers showed me the power that books still have. It was a celebration of the benefits that reading can bring and an affirmation on the continued relevancy of the written word.
It seems to me that book bloggers and book authors are dealing with a similar craving to write and read. We have to do it to truly live, and for that reason, I felt right at home amongst their sea of excited faces. It was great to sit down and hear their stories and interests. Book bloggers really are on the side of the author, and this is evident in the respectful and thoughtful reviews that they write. It was a wonderful experience to be able to thank them in person for that.
Here's a pic of me talking with a group of bloggers at lunch (I absolutely loved how their eyes lit up when they found a new book they wanted to read! Books are magic!)
I recently had the pleasure of experiencing the moment when you open a box and see, for the first time, a shiny new book that you wrote (and believe me folks, this is one beautiful book, thank you ECW Press!). My son Noah took this photo of me holding a copy of IN THE BODY for the first time. Then we had this conversation:
“It took your mom ten years to write this book!” I told him.
“Wow, why so long?”
“Well, I wrote it slowly over time. There’s one story in there called Birthday Boy that I wrote when you were a tiny baby, because I loved you so much.“
“What did the Birthday Boy do?”
“Hmmm, well, it’s a story for adults. You can read it when you grow up.”
“Okay. Can I play on the ipad?”
And as fast as it blew in, my momentous moment of satisfaction was over. But it was most definitely worth the ten years of "work".
Like many, I am all-together horrified by the recent shooting in Colorado, and devastated for all the families of the victims. Events like this make me question whether there is any logic in the human experience. Why on earth would people, innocent people, who are just sitting and watching a movie, have to be subjected to the most horrific of acts and many of them (including an innocent 6-year-old girl *tear*), lose their lives when they were doing absolutely nothing wrong. It makes no sense. It’s scary, it’s awful and it makes me seriously question the mental state of the world.
At the same time, I’m shocked by the people online who are instantly damning the accused shooter to the fiery pits of hell. I really feel like the good that can come out of a tragedy like this, is that it provokes us to look at the bigger picture of things, to put things into perspective, to understand each other better. That includes James Holmes. When I watched this young man in court yesterday, I was struck down by an additional wave of sadness. What happened to turn this ambitious kid, promising young med student, into a mass killer? I think we can all agree that something went wrong here. There has to be mental illness, because what he did is not at all a sane thing to do, not something that a balanced person would even think about trying to get away with. Something has changed in him, and it’s not my place to speculate on what that was.
But I can’t help but to be saddened by the thought of a kid, slipping into mental illness without anyone noticing or caring. I’m overcome with emotion by the idea of a mother being woken up in the night to be told that her son (that baby she once cradled, the boy she nurtured) has committed a sickening act and is now despised and damned by an entire country. To me, these tragic stories should be added to the list of tragic stories coming out of this. In my view, there is always more going on in any given situation than we realize. We all have our list of circumstances that have gone into making us who we are.
It’s easy to say, “Give him the death penalty and we’ll all feel better about this.” That’s the easy way to think, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about the senseless tragedy that has occurred. Maybe I’m weird, but all I keep thinking is that as crazy as it seems, and despite all the evil acts that exist in the world, the fact remains that we are all one. All of us are from the same place whether we like it or not. And it’s only when we realize that fully, when we let go of our pre-conditioned ways of reacting to things, that any changes will come to our human consciousness.
I have a little bit of a problem with hanging on too tightly to things in life. You know, stuff like plans, perfection, and as it turns out, books I’ve written. Seems like I was just here, but I am about to release yet another of my book babies into the world. In the Body (a book of 12 short stories and a novella) will be available on October 1st from ECW Press. It has taken me a long time to reach this point. I’ve pondered and written these stories over the course of many years. I’ve made countless rounds of revisions based on the feedback of my editors. I’ve done my final read-through of the Advanced Reading Copy and given my final round of edits. Now, I am preparing to let go…or trying to.
Considering my last book only came out last fall, it may look like I had to rush to get this second one into the world. The truth is that the gestation for this book has been even longer than what I had for Girl in Shades. That’s right, some of these stories were written as long as ten years ago. Wow. I was only 26 years old at that time, I had no kids and in many ways, had no clue about where my “grown up” life would take me. My final read-through of the book brought me through many of those old emotions. In some cases, it brought me nose-to-nose with who I was when these older stories were written, and that was, I admit, a little bit uncomfortable at times.
It’s strange to put yourself back in a stage of insecurity, of unknowing, and re-live it again. I think for this reason, I am more comfortable with the newer stories in the book; they feel more in line with how I think now, who I am. However, I feel so incredibly lucky to have the chance to see all these stories—a virtual time capsule of my life so far—together in one printed book. I’ve spent so much time with them each one-on-one, over many, many years, and together, they have become something else entirely.
So now comes the time when I will let my little stories into world for any one to read and comment upon. This, I have learned, is the most difficult part about writing—it is such an intimate thing to hand over your inner-most-thoughts to strangers—but it also a great opportunity to practice my ability to "just let it all go". I have no control over who will connect with these stories, and who won’t. All I know is that these quirky characters seemed to want me to write about them. And I did. I wrote about them, I dreamt about them, I obsessed about them, and for the most part, it was lovely.
And now, as I let them go, I can shift my attention back to other things. I can enjoy spending time with my kids, and get on with writing my next book. I can do this all while knowing that the stories that have held my attention since 2002, have been completed. That I have expressed what I wanted to express with them, and now they are free. They are free and I am free from them.
I've been pretty busy lately with work on my next book (which is at the proof read stage, yay!), but I wanted to take a moment to share a great new title that all writers should read.
There are a lot of books out there that tell you how to write and where to submit your work for publication. There are not a lot of books that give writers insights into how to make sense of the writing life. Work Book by Steven Heighton should be on the shelf of all writers hoping to survive the strange process of letting their work out into the world.
I loved this book for a number of reasons:
1. It is like a meditation book especially for those who write. Awesome.
2. It helped to put things in perspective, i.e. how to open yourself up to the process of creativity and at the same time being able to handle people actually reading your work.
3. It is unlike any other book on writing that I have ever read.
Here are some sample quotes from the book to show you what I mean...
On the lost art of boredom:
“We have to remember how to invite and receive the words and insights we can’t force to mind. We have to relearn how to muse, drowse and stare into blankness, adrift, dormant, even bored, especially now when our various screens are always present—firewalls between us and the reality of dreams.”
“To listen to critics, pro or con, and take their words to heart is to subcontract your self-esteem to strangers.”
“Aggrieved writer-critics suffer from an understandable illusion: that if they can identify real flaws in the work of another writer, they must be inherently better, smarter, either in what they’ve written already or in what they will surely write someday.”
“There are few critics whose harshest opinions would be tempered, or even reversed, in the wake of their own large-scale success.”
“The writing life’s cruelest irony: the creation of good fiction and poetry requires a life lived with existentially open pores, while handling the public side of a career requires thick skin, a closed carapace.” (*love this one!)
On the writing life:
“The writing life, like life in general, has a sacramental and a secretarial side. As years pass and debts and duties accrue, the secretarial, clerical mode spreads like a lymphoma and starts to squeeze life from the sacramental, creative side.”
“Cast a spell and small flaws don’t matter.”
“Every moment spent in full attention is a moment spent in eternity.”
“So have you been to India?”
This was one of the first questions my editor asked me when I met with her about publishing Girl in Shades. This question arose from the fact that a latter section of my novel is set in India, and I had worked pretty hard to create an authentic experience of visiting the country.
The answer to my editor’s question however, was “No, I have never been there.” This led to me telling a story of a good friend who spent three months traveling around India, and after arriving back in Canada came directly to my apartment. The smell she brought with her—a strange mixture of dust, sweat and incense on her clothes, her luggage, herself—was something I will never forget. So, to my editor I said that, “I have never been to India, but I have smelled India!”
The real question is: is smell enough to adequately describe a country? I have to admit that I was a bit nervous when the book was released that people would question how I represented Maya’s trip to India. Don’t get me wrong, it was very thoroughly researched and was (I feel) an important journey for the character to make. However, are there subtle nuances of any environment that can only be learned by actually setting foot in said environment? Can we never really know a place until we’ve visited there?
I suppose if this were true, then authors would be limited to writing scenes that take place in areas they have actually been to; which seems a shame in terms of the creative experience. Perhaps instead, it is about finding that one little insight—a smell, a token, a picture, a story—that opens that new world up to the writer in a meaningful way. It’s also about giving ourselves permission to explore that new place using our imagination instead of our passport, and knowing that the experience could be just as rewarding (plus, no jet lag!).