MSt alumna Bette Adriaanse on writing, the course and getting published

Bette Adriaanse on writing, the course and getting published

In the second year of the Master in Creative Writing, I started writing what would become my first novel, Rus Like Everyone Else. There was no plan, I only had a few characters that had slowly emerged from my experience living in Amsterdam and London. Those characters had been wandering around inside my head for a while and their stories seemed to be connected somehow. There was a lonely secretary waiting for her life to start, an elderly man with agoraphobia, a granny with a soap-opera addiction, a young immigrant trying to make it, and Rus, a young man who had to start taking part in society after living the first twenty five years of his life under the radar.

I was living on a small farm in Devon when I began writing the novel, where I helped with the horses in the morning and tuned into the city-life of my characters in the afternoon. At first I was worried that being in the countryside I would only get ideas for stories about fields and horses, but the distance to my everyday life gave me the space to fantasize and create a fictional city.
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‘Every beautiful poem is an act of resistance’ – MSt Tutor Jenny Lewis at the Al Kalima International Forum of Poetry, Morocco, March 2015.

‘Every beautiful poem is an act of resistance’[1]: reflections on a voyage poétique.
By Jenny Lewis, 31 March 2015

Carcanet poet abroadFor every physical journey there is an accompanying internal, psychological and spiritual one and my trip to the Third Rencontre Internationale de la Poésie in Morocco this month was no exception. The fact that the festival theme this year was ‘poetry and resistance’ was the reason I had been invited. Since the publication of my book Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, 2014) I have been categorized as a contemporary war poet, tackling themes of resistance and dissent. The fact that I have a growing body of poetry translated into Arabic (with the help of the Iraqi poet Adnan al-Sayegh) has also given me a passport to Arabic-speaking festivals and is a key factor in opening doors to a wider international readership. Over the eight days of the festival I and the other 22 poets from 15 countries gave 12 readings and took part in round table discussions on where the poetry of dissent is taking us in the continuing aftermath of the 2003-2011 Iraq War. My book started as a search for my lost father who fought with the South Wales Borderers in Mesopotamia-Iraq in the First World War and died when I was a few months old at the end of the Second World War. Because of this it is deeply personal to me and the fact that poems from the book shared the same forum as the work of great activists such as André Breton, Yannis Ritsos and Mahmoud Darwish – not to mention the other poets I was travelling with – gave me a sense of a validation. A core theme of the debates and round table discussions was the importance of moderation in the revolutionary discourse, reflecting Mahmoud Darwish’s assertion that ‘every beautiful poem is an act of resistance’ and Adonis’[2] belief that focusing on the artistic aspects of poetry is a more effective way of educating people than propaganda, and a better way to serve the nation than more aggressive forms of resistance.

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MSt tutor Roopa Farooki calls for diversity in fiction for children in “The Author” magazine

In “The Author” magazine, the journal of the Society of Authors, MSt tutor Roopa Farooki, “calls for more diverse heroes in books written for children and young adults”.

Download and read the full article  (thanks to “The Author” magazine for permission to make the pdf available. You can see more about the magazine and subscribe to it here).

MSt tutor Marti Leimbach – “A Word On Agents”

A Word On Agents
Marti Leimbach
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A writer may think of agents in London, New York and elsewhere as gateways to publication in a major house, or she may consider them as fortresses that barricade her from the world of publishing and all her hopes in that direction.

They are both, of course.  At times, they may seem elusive, discouraging, and wholly disinterested in anyone who isn’t already in the media with a grand following. They attend parties and launches and awards dinners for already-established authors, and appear to have no interest whatsoever in bringing aspiring authors into the fold.

By contrast, agents can dazzle you with attention. Sell a few stories, or appear in a newspaper article with what seems like a good non-fiction idea, or have another writer slip your manuscript into the right hands, and suddenly you are treated like a celebrity. The same agent assistants who once protected their boss from you now crowd around, telling you how much they love your manuscript. The assistants are smart and educated and often the daughters of terribly famous other authors. They present you to an agent who has a list of the best prospective editors for your work, ideas of how to sell your foreign rights, and enormous confidence in your future. You go out to lunch and your agent wants to talk about you, your book, and even your next book. Finally, you’ve entered the beguiling and heady love affair that is the author/agent relationship, with your life’s work at its centre, and it feels just great.

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MSt alumna Daisy Johnson “On getting an offer for my writing …”

On getting an offer for my writing …

Daisy Johnson

I found out I was going to be a Jonathan Cape author on a Thursday morning at eleven. My agent, Jack Ramm at Eve White, had told me the night before he’d asked for the final offers from the publishing houses who were in the auction. He would ring me to discuss my decision the next day.

I didn’t sleep very much that night. I was certain not only that the deal was going to fall through but that, really, all along it hadn’t been me they’d wanted. There was another Daisy with a similar surname and a short story collection. The idea of someone wanting my writing, not only wanting but PAYING money for my writing was, and is, mindboggling to me.

The short story collection I’d finished, Fen, is set in the Fens of England. I decided I would not spend Thursday morning hyperventilating, instead I would cook a Fen Feast for some friends to celebrate whatever-the-outcome-would-be.

When Jack rang I was trying to whip egg whites into chocolate mousse like peaks with a fork.

My housemates in the next room went very quiet.

It was a two book deal, for Fen and for my second book, a novel. I lay on the floor for a while and then rang my Dad who swore eloquently down the phone.

Getting a degree was exciting; getting into Oxford more so; beginning working with Jack on the collection was phenomenal and a huge privilege. But getting a book deal with Jonathan Cape is the pinnacle, the apex of everything we all work for.

(image. from Eve White Agency)