Tag Archives: Crime Fiction

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

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One Hundred Percent

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Yesterday I got a hundred percent for assignment two of my crime fiction writing course. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever scored a hundred percent on a test paper, and I probably never will again; and although I’m incredibly pleased (so pleased I almost burst into tears when I read my results), I’m still trying to work out exactly how the percentages were divided up, and how anyone can get a hundred percent for a writing assignment which included open-ended questions such as: ‘in no more than fifty words write the opening to a crime story that will make the reader want to know more’.

It’s funny, because often when people find out about my brain injury they eyeball me suspiciously then make sweeping statements like: ‘oh, but you’re a hundred percent now’, or ‘you must have made a hundred percent recovery because you look fine to me’; or my favourite one: ‘Well, thank your lucky stars you’re back to normal now’. I’m never really sure how to respond to these people. Because I do feel ‘fine’. Most of the time. I’m physically fitter than most people I know, and probably more intelligent than a few of them, and all in all I’m very happy with my lot. But I find it difficult not to constantly compare myself to folk my own age, and this often leads me to thinking that I’m a failure and an embarrassment because I haven’t got a nine-to-five job or a mortgage or, more importantly to me, a recent book deal. And even when Antonia reminds me that ‘normal’ people don’t get into a lot of the situations I do on a daily basis – they don’t sleep for fourteen hours two nights in a row, or mistake wardrobe doors for toilet ones; they don’t forget the name of their current partner, what he or she looks like, or whether or not they’ve just had sex five minutes ago; they don’t spend over an hour looking for the way back to their own street like I did the other day – it doesn’t stop me from giving myself a hard time.

Years ago, when I sat my Standard Grades at high school, my maths teacher took me aside and told me he was amazed that I had managed to get the highest mark in my year for the General (intermediate) exam – and the reason it was so amazing wasn’t even that I’d outranked students in higher classes, but that I’d also FAILED the Foundation (lowest level) maths exam. I don’t know how I managed it: I couldn’t see any logical explanation for it and neither could the teacher. But I do wonder what would have happened if I’d been allowed to sit the Credit (advanced level)… would I have scraped a pass? Could I have gone on and sat a Higher exam in maths the following year if I’d wanted? That really would have been a miracle though, seeing as I recently had to ask my friend, Sophie AKA the original bean-cruncher, what shape a rhombus was.

(Sophie is one of these ridiculously brainy people who only this week bought a raspberry pi – not the edible kind – and was teaching herself a random computer programming language ‘just for fun’ on her day off; she once got one-hundred-and-five percent in an algebra test – and, no, there was no marking error.)

I’ve always preferred learning from books or instructional CDs at my own pace, which is why I chose to do a home study course rather than sitting in a physical classroom. It’s better for me to be completely in control of when, where and for how long I spend reading, writing or listening – especially since my concentration span is like a pendulum that allows me to be wired to a subject for two hours at a time one day and then two minutes the next.

And I constantly think about returning to uni. I fancy going back and doing a BA in Creative Writing or in English Language or even just finally doing that phd I keep deferring. I could even do it long distance which would save me from getting lost on campus. But I’m scared of having to remember huge chunks of information that I’ll later have to spew onto an exam paper or debate with a board that is judging my thesis. And then there’s all the money that would be wasted on fees if I were to drop out.

So I’m not a hundred percent sure where this mystery story is going, never mind what I’ll be doing after I’ve finished assignment five and the final paper. I may or may not save up and do a similar course. Maybe Romance? Or Historical fiction? Or Sci-fi? Or perhaps I’ll just ask Sophie to build me a time machine so that I can go back to nineteen-ninety-four and retake those maths tests… stranger things have happened…

The Amateur Detective Novelist

On Sunday I attended the tail end of Noirwich, Norwich’s first crime writing festival. I had never been to Norwich before, and I probably would have gone sooner, if only I had opened my Mslexia magazine when it arrived I’d have discovered that the bloody events kicked off on Wednesday.

My friend Elaine has been telling me for years that I should try my hand at writing crime fiction. She writes it herself and often asks me to proof read early drafts of her manuscripts because I’m good at spotting red herrings and unravelling literary puzzles – unfortunately the same can’t be said when it comes to TV and film versions, because I often get confused with who’s who when two or more characters of the same ethnicity, gender and approximate age appear on the screen at the same time.

The thing is – aside from trying to avoid the genre because I didn’t want to tarred as just another stereotypical lesbian mystery writer – I don’t actually know that much about crime fiction. I mean, OK, I’ve watched a fair few film noirs (Bound, Brick, Double Indemnity and most movies starring Humphrey Bogart) plus several series’ of Poirot in a row and, I did once attempt to cowrite a dystopian-lesbian-vegan detective script set in Glasgow during a fictitious third world war – but I’ve only ever read one Agatha Christie novel (and that was last month) and until recently not much else.

Elaine is also a retired procurator fiscal with a late husband who was in the CID, so she has connections stretching all the way from the court room to the rest room of her local police precint, whereas I haven’t got a clue about the law (aside from the stories I heard from my ex-students back in the creative writing class in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution).

Of course, what I’ve realised over the last few weeks, as I’ve been delving into everything from classic pulp fiction to tartan neo-noir, is that I much prefer hardboiled detective novels to police procedurals or cosy murder mysteries; and reading about forensics and post mortems bores me rigid.

So that’s a start I suppose.

At the moment, I’m working on my first assignment of module one, ‘Crime, Mystery And Suspense Writing’ from the distance learning course I’ve signed up to; I’m also trying to figure out who to kill off and who to frame in my novel ‘Kingstreet’ (previously a transgender comedy about a troupe of drag kings who enter a Glaswegian LGBT talent contest), because after seven years of cutting and tweaking and trying to get the story lines right I’ve decided to lose the whole plot and recast my narrator as an accidental amateur detective who just happens to be transsexual.

Personally I think there’s a lot of mileage in using things like false beards and spirit gum. Old Agatha seemed to think so anyway, and she’s still a best seller.