Posts Tagged Library of Birmingham

Writing Stories of the Self and Others or ‘Life Writing’

I had never heard of the specific skill of  ‘Life Writing’ until I applied for a place on a day workshop run by Testimony in Practice at the Library of Birmingham and held last weekend. I came away much wiser and full of advice from Emilie Pine and Carmen-Francesca Banciu.

Emilie is the author of the award-winning collection of personal essays, ‘Notes to Self‘. She used writing exercises based on our own life experiences, relationships and memories to school us in the practice of adding emotion and detail to our writing. She had us switching tenses and view points to test their impact. She told us to delete our fist paragraphs and to take our opening line from somewhere in the middle in order drop the reader straight into the scene.

Carmen is a writer who has chosen to share her life experiences through memoiristic novels. She explained that writing directly about yourself and trauma can be too painful and it can be awkward for the friends and family you include in your work. Turning it into fiction can make it possible to record experiences more honestly. Carmen encouraged us to use our imagination about an object hidden in an envelope and, once revealed, to place that object in a fictional setting. She made us try writing with our left hand in order kick start other areas of the brain and see how that affected our writing.

Both women emphasised several common points, some of which we already know but sometimes fail to implement:

  • Put writing at the top of your ‘to do’ list
  • Free yourself from the necessity to be good in a first draft. Make it good through editing later.
  • Write quickly in whatever pocket of time you have
  • Fiction can be a form of testimony and gives the writer the necessary distance to tell a difficult story
  • Authenticity in memoir is not always about absolute accuracy but about honesty of intent i.e. the essence of experience.
  • A first draft may come up with contradictions, such as ‘I love him’ and ‘I hate him’. It is at the hinge of such contradictions that the real story starts.
  • Passages of high emotion can be made manageable for writer and reader by including a less intense interlude of description.
  • Slowing the pace and inserting detail can vastly improve a manuscript.

Now I’m raring to get back to my WIP and have the intention of adding increased emotion and fine detail to my work!

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Writing Romantic Novels with Sue Moorcroft

Last Saturday I had a great time (and learned a lot) at a workshop organised by the Birmingham Chapter of the

Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft

Romantic Novelists’ Association. It was held in the lovely surroundings of the new Library of Birmingham.

Sue Moorcroft came to talk to us about writing romantic novels. She gave us much good advice such as:

  • Know the publisher/market you are aiming for before beginning the book and she told us that Harper Impulse are currently open to submissions.
  • Have a one sentence synopsis to describe the book and also know what tone you are writing in i.e. light and frothy, grittty, tearjerker etc.
  • When planning the story, avoid listing the scenes/ideas down the page. Instead use a spider diagram so that your brain is not chanelled into what happens when too soon – instead your mind can jump about and pick the most appropriate scene.
  • What should you do when a story runs out of steam or you have a ‘saggy’ middle? Introduce something dramatic such as the revelation of a secret, a new character (maybe an ex-boyfriend or an illigitimate baby), a skeleton in the cupboard or anything else that will add drama to the situation.
  • Keep the hero and heroine apart by giving them conflicting goals.
  • The traits required of heros and heroines – they should both be decent, honest people but should have some flaws and vulnerability like the rest of us.
  • A prologue (where the book lends itself to it) gives the author two chances to hook the reader (once in the prologue and once in chapter one)
  • Chapter One should move the story forward. Do not clutter it with back story or scene setting.
  • An epilogue can be used to prolong the reader’s feeling of happy satisfaction at the end of a book. It may be a wedding, new baby or other tieing up of loose ends.
  • When writing, remember Act, React and Interact. This will make it easier to Show rather than Tell. For example the characters should react to their environment – such as squinting at the sun – rather than the author describing the sunny day.

We had a lovely buffet lunch and the whole day ran smoothly. Special mention should go to Marilyn Rodwell for her organisational skills and her doughnuts which gave us all a sugar kick first thing in the morning!

And if you’d like more of Sue’s invaluable advice take a look at her book  Love Writing – How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction – available in paperback or as an e-book.

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The Library of Birmingham

Prince Charles once said that the Central Library in Birmingham looked like ‘a place where books are incinerated, not kept’.

The Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square ...

The Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square with Birmingham Rep in foreground (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That 40-year-old concrete building will now be demolished. It has been replaced by The Library of Birmingham, which opened its doors for the first time a few weeks ago, at the beginning of September.

I’ve been to see it and was very impressed by the modern, light, hi-tech interior. There are also outdoor spaces for reading, chatting or relaxing – the Discovery Terrace is an elevated garden and includes herbs, fruit and vegetables and the Secret Garden Terrace on the seventh floor gives a quiet place to sit and admire the view over the city.

The ninth floor houses the famous Shakespeare Memorial Room. This was first designed and built in 1882 for the city’s Victorian Library. In the early 1970s it was moved to the, then new, Central Library and it has now been re-located again to sit atop The Library of Birmingham. It must have been quite a feat to carefully remove and then rebuild all the wood panelling along with glass printed shelves and metalwork. The ceiling has some very ornate plasterwork and stained glass windows.

Also on the ninth floor is the glass-enclosed Skyline Viewpoint giving stunning views across the city from 51 metres above street level.

There are two cafes – selling wine, champagne and expensive paper cups of tea.

The Library of Birmingham was a £189 million project. There has been a lot of controversy in the city about whether that money should have been spent, when smaller, community libraries across the region have had their opening hours drastically cut.

This new library has a lot to offer as a tourist attraction but I’m not sure whether it will get more people reading. However, it is open seven days a week and was very busy on the Sunday afternoon that I went – but most people were just there to have a look around it rather than to read or borrow books.

Personally, I’ll go again when the novelty has worn off and the place is quieter. Then, maybe, I’ll find a quiet corner and do some writing – if I’m not distracted by the thought of roof terraces and a glass of champagne!

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