Shirley Jones looks at the work of Northamptonshire Authors Co-operative and listens into a talk by the writer Stephen Loveless…
You and I have a relationship: you are reading what I’ve written. But it is an odd relationship – I’ve written this ‘specially for you, yet I don’t know who you are. But I hope to impress you and I hope you like what I write.
So why do we write and read the writings of others’?
The Northamptonshire Authors Co-operative is for published authors in the county, which consists of about 30 members and is about two years old. The annual membership fee is £20.
The group includes members who also run writing groups in the county, members who have been self-published and those who have been published by usual publishers, and in some cases, a combination of the two.
The topics written range from aromatherapy, crime and horror, re-incarnation, fantasy, fiction of all types from modern-day romances to that set in Uganda thirty or forty years ago, historical novels and children’s books.
Two of the group work professionally as editors and two ex-policemen write crime fiction.
I asked those present why they thought writers wrote. Because it is cathartic, because of egotism, to let people know what a place was really like in the recent past, and that writing can even be a compulsion, and a need. One member has written an autobiography about being married to a bank robber and how the resulting illness – her bi-polar disorder and voices in her head – meant , for example, being convinced on the way home from shopping that the meat she had just bought was poisoned, then having to think about how to get replacement meat. She agreed that her illness was a source of creativity.
I would have also liked to have asked whether, for example, any of them read or liked Shakespeare? What did they think made people tick? Once you start to analyse writing can you still enjoy it? Some said they would read work critically, sometimes thinking that they could do better themselves. Or knowing what would happen next during a film: an opened draw would probably take on significance later on. I suppose that in a sense, it must boil down to the ‘ego’ bit or the money bit: nobody writes – except for a diary – to keep their writing secret; to keep it to themselves. And feelings of envy, perhaps, towards good writing, and whether writing can be or has to be a vocation.
But I was told that I could not stay as the rest of the meeting was to be ‘confidential’. The authors meet to discuss, I think, the business of books; it is not a writing group. They had ‘beta readers’- friends and families and so on who would read and critique their work.
The Northamptonshire Authors co-operative have a website and they can provide speakers for various types of groups.
Stephen Loveless is a local writer who does make a living out of writing and, sometimes, the teaching of it. He mentors writers as well.
I’ve spoken to Stephen many times and what has stuck has been his telling me that one can only really write well about emotions as one gets older and that all writers have to know how to depict women.
He’s won awards: the first ever awarded Daphne Du Maurier prize and a Radio Netherlands prize, had scripts turned to television dramas and been short-listed for other prizes, the most recent a nomination for his one-woman stage drama about sex trafficking.
He has recently set up an Independent theatre company with an actor, Robin Hillman who he first worked with for his one-man play abut John Clare. Robin also acted in Stephen’s one-man play about William Blake and has a play featuring Robin and another actor, Rachel Connors in ‘Jack Luck’. Stephen is also rehearsing a horror play, and in the past has written cartoon strips. Most recent past productions and those shortly to come are ‘I am John Clare’ at Abington park in October and again in October at Helpstone, Clare’s Birthplace. ‘Jack Luck’ is on the 2nd November at Tasnsor, and the last showing of ‘I am John Clare’ at Long Bucky on the 18th November. A new play ‘Something Scary’, is at Corby, at the Art On The Roof (the old library) on the 29th November and next year, in Evesham, sees performances of ‘Fearful Symmetry’, the Blake play.
Stephen agreed that the life can be financially precarious, but that if he was not able to write he ‘would go mad’.
So given that he seems to be able to turn his hand to anything, how does he choose what to start on? Sometimes he goes with what seems to be in vogue and at the moment, and particularly in the States, it is science-fiction and horror. And novellas have also made a come-back. Insecurity in general can make people yearn for nostalgia. Stephen tells how Meryl Streep went to see what she described as ‘the British musical’ Mama Mia on stage after the 9/11 attacks for some light relief and the films stemmed from this.
He does not believe in any permanent writer’s block –only that you need to take a break and go off and do something else which is creative. He says that it is only when you cease to enjoy writing overall that it has then become a problem. So, in this sense, you do write for yourself.
And Stephen thinks, we become more honest with ourselves as we get older. He remembers a meeting with an American film director he met, who had worked with, amongst others, Kirk Douglas and Monty Python, who had dedicated in his signed book for Stephen: ‘ don’t lie to the audience’.
Stephen says that it seemed to be the Americans who wanted ‘closure’ or ‘resolution ‘ or ‘redemption’ more. A neat, tidy ending, I would add, of the sort that seldom happens in real life.
All of a writer’s characters have to be fully-rounded; including the villains. And a writer has to know what makes a villain tick: Simenon once said ‘don’t judge your characters’, which I suppose means that you simply present them to the reader or the audience.
We had a general discussion about the blandness of contemporary art – how even children’s cartoons are now PC, in stark contrast to, say, the (cartoon) violence of Tom and Jerry. Stephen feels that acting now seems to consist more of shouting. And he recounted how one man involved in theatre had said that all actors should be prepared to have ‘real’ sex on stage. Stephen said he pointed out that this amounted to prostitution – to have sex with a stranger for money, and back came the reply ‘I hadn’t thought about it like that’. He also thinks what now counts as ‘novelty’ generally tends to now mean sex and violence and he once went to Shakespeare’s ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ which had a nude scene. Although making a living out of writing is harder, now, in the UK, it is much more so in Europe.
Writers have to be a chronicle and the times that we live in so that two generations down the line they will see how things really were.
So we do have to write about what we know? No, you write about what you are also prepared to research. And other general tips for writers : write every day, be honest and exercise a sense of responsibility; for example, he believes that no writer should belong to a political party – although of course they have opinions and vote – as they should be prepared to disagree with and criticise anything. You will always offend somebody anyway, so be prepared to rock the boat. As a writer, you have to be on the fringes. And then , know your story , know your character and let characters write their own dialogue.
So here we have a slightly circular article – writing about writing and reading (can anybody paint about painting? Even a self-portrait doesn’t usually show the painter in action). And that, possibly, is at the core of the appeal and attraction; you can look at practically anything by reading and writing – perhaps the greatest liberation there is?