Learn how to write 'it'
Readers of this blog will know how much I love Anthony Anaxagorou's work. I have all of the British poet's collections on my bookshelves, have attended several of his workshops and watched his glorious videos on YouTube. Yup, I'm a fan.
Then, before the summer, I found out that he'd written a book on writing in general and grabbed a copy. It's published by Merky Books, a division of Penguin and has an original format. It's only 150 pages and about A6 size, so it's cute as a button. Small and perfectly formed, that's pretty much like Anthony's poems.
The content is unique too, because, rather than a book focusing on the practical elements of a normal 'how-to', it's mostly memoir, taking the reader on the journey of a London-born Greek-Cypriot unable to speak English when he started pre-school. A chap who grew up in a bookless home and became an award-winning poet. It's incredible that his voice, his writer's voice, is erudite, articulate and brimming with words and wisdom that, like the finest platter of mezze must be eaten slowly and savoured.
Each chapter ends with tips that are unlike any others I have seen in a book for writers. His are ideas about how to get ideas, starting points and triggers that are unique and ingenious. He has some exercises too and these are worth doing.
It's a book that inspires and through the authenticity of his voice it somehow encourages us to be braver with our language, to go for it and be more literary.
It's a perfect stocking-filler and I'm set to buy a few myself.
You can find an video of me In Conversation with Anthony on the Virtual Events page of my website. It's down at the bottom the page.
Would you like to write a how-to book or memoir?
If you think you would like to have a go at writing a how-to book based on your expertise or a memoir about a portion of your life then why not join one of my Book Writing Coaching Programmes? Six two-hour online sessions take place over 12 weeks in small, supportive groups. After three months you will have a plan, a road-map and have written a chapter or two. Take a look at my Virtual Events page and ask for a course description.
Two new courses will start in the New Year.
Reach out on LinkedIn
I’m increasingly fond of LinkedIn, finding it a rich resource of folk I needed to meet. Margaret Ghielmetti is one of them. She reached out to me on LinkedIn with a connection request a few weeks ago. Now, just in case you wanted to connect with me, I never agree to connect with a complete stranger unless they send me a private note with their request. Why would I want someone in my network who I didn’t know at all? What use can I be to them and what use can they be to me? It’s pointless. So, when Margaret reached out we ended up in conversation via the LinkedIn message tool during which she told me she was a) an expat, albeit a repatriated one and b) the author of a new memoir called Brave(ish) a memoir of a recovering perfectionist. Of course, I wanted to read her book and so I asked for a review copy, telling her that I would post a review on our www.expatbookshop.com website if I liked it. She agreed. Of course she did. New authors need to hand out review copies if they want more people to find out about their books. These days it’s easier than ever because we can send a PDF or Kindle version without it costing us anything.
Anyway, I received the book and after a few weeks it reached the top of my reading pile. I teach people to write memoir and often work with authors of memoir on their manuscripts. I read other memoirs to keep myself sharp. I also like to meet people who, later, if I like them, I can introduce to you via my Monthly Inspirer.
I enjoyed the book not only because I could relate to its theme of living abroad in multiple countries but also because I could see how Margaret had worked hard to find the themes and story arc I knew were needed for a memoir to work. She made herself vulnerable and was wholly authentic, which I liked. Margaret was inspiring too, because by sharing her story she could help similarly perfectionist readers to shed their people-pleasing chains too.
Successful memoir should resonate with the reader and though many readers may not have the good fortune to be married to someone who works for the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain, many will be familiar with parts of her story. This is why it works.
A good piece of writing should either inspire, support, inform or entertain. Brave(ish) is a super example of a memoir that does all four.
Not only did I post that review on Expatbookshop as promised, but I have also asked Margaret if I can interview her for one of my In Conversation events next year. Further, I’m writing about her here. I’m glad she reached out and I expect she’s pretty glad too.
You can meet Margaret too when she is part of my In Conversation panel of new memoirists on February 4th 2021 at 2pm UK time. You can register here, for free. Find out about more of my Virtual Events at www.joparfitt.com/virtual-events/html.
Of course, you could also reach out to her and send her a message via LinkedIn.
Blood, sweat and tears
The inspiring bit
Blood, sweat and tears
With Ian and I spending six weeks in temporary accommodation in the Westminster area of London before we move to a long-term flat in Crouch End, we are exploring. Every afternoon we take a walk. Each time we vary our route and the destination. We’ve already explored Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the rather dull park with a neglected ‘City Farm’ that was once the place to go to find entertainment, gigolos and ladies of the night. We’ve wandered the neat Georgian parks of Pimlico, the gardens of Lambeth Palace, walked past Downing Street, through Whitehall, the length of plane tree lined Mall that leads to Buckingham Palace and watched grey squirrels bury nuts in the grass in elegant St James’ Park. We know we are lucky and that London’s Tier 2 status means that the streets are lined with drifts of autumn leaves rather than tourists. Yesterday, was Green Park’s turn. The times I have taken the tube to Green Park underground station on the way to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, to buy loose green Earl Grey tea at Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly or to wander to Hyde Park, and yet this was the first time I had ever taken the time to walk the perimeter of the park that is bang opposite the station.
It was the end of the month and I had still to choose my topic for this month’s Inspirer so was on the look out for an idea. And there it was. An impressive new memorial, erected in 2012, to the Bomber Pilots of the Royal Air Force who lost their lives during World War II. Over 55,000 of them. Their hard work and dedication despite immense fear struck me as I gazed at the group of bronze statues. There was a mix of emotion on their faces. Some downcast, some hopeful, some shielding their eyes from the sun. And there above them was a beautiful blue sky. Carved into the frame of the stone opening was the RAF motto – per ardua ad astra. Through hard work to the stars. I found my inspiration.
Being a writer is hard. It takes training, application, dedication and no small amount of fear. The serious writer tackles jobs that may fill them with dread and maybe little chance of success but still they battle on, knowing that the end goal is worth fighting for.
I think of my own writing journey, and of the many new authors and students who come to me for mentoring, consultancy and tuition, and recognise how much there is to learn. How hard it is. How daunting. How there are many days when you just want to give up and ‘go home’.
As you know, I have been running a number of online writing classes and writing circles over the last eight months. In my Wednesday Virtual Writers’ Circle I give a lesson followed by a task. Last week, I decided to teach them about editing their own work. I wrote a piece that had no typos, was laid out properly and had a clear message. This piece, however, contained 33 of the most common mistakes. First, I gave them a list of these errors, such as:
And then I gave them my badly-written text and asked them to edit it. I have found, as an editor, that you will be more aware of your own errors when you have to find them in someone else’s work.
My students were shocked to see so many mistakes there were and realise how often they are guilty of making them too. However, editing is just one of the many tough mountains there are to climb if you want to be a ‘real writer’ and actually (there’s a word I didn’t need) sell some of your work. Let me give you a short list of the main ones:
The Top 12 Common Mistakes Made by New Writers
Seeing the memorial to those Bomber Pilots yesterday was a stark reminder that if we want to do something badly enough we have to work at it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Blink, claims we need to spend 100,000 hours practising and honing our craft.
Trust me, if you put in the hours, the clouds will part and the sun will come out.
Per ardua ad astra.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer