Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Psychoanalysis of an Aspiring Writer

Nan Bovington calls herself an aspiring writer, but if you’ve ever read her blog – The Essential Guide to Being Unpublished – you will know that nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s almost unbelievable that despite writing for three decades, launching herself into novels, radio plays and screenplays without a second thought, and sometimes almost ‘making it’, she still refers to herself as an aspiring writer.

It’s about time we changed this silly notion, and put her straight…

WENDY: So, Nan, when did you first ‘aspire’ to be a writer?

Proustian thoughts for Baby Nan
NAN: Thank you Wendy for asking. I think it was when I was sitting in my pram having a Proustian thought about the first time I tasted a Farex Rusk. It must have been a windy day, because at that moment a sheet of newspaper wrapped itself entirely around my head. Luckily it was the Sunday Times book review section. I was enthralled and then appalled. People get paid to write this stuff? I remember thinking, I could do that. By the time someone thought to remove the paper from my face, I had already set out on the road to authorship, fame and money. (Looking back on it now, I wish it had been a copy of The Racing Times and I had put ten bob on ’Lively Lass’ in the two-thirty at Haydock Park.)

WENDY: Have you always ignored good advice? (For clarity, readers might like to take a look at Nan’s earliest blog post ‘Never fail to ignore all advice from seasoned writers’ in which Nan reveals how Canadian literary legend W.O. Mitchell assured her she was a writer.)

NAN:  Yes, Wendy, it’s a matter of principle with me. That’s the kind of person I am – you know, principled.

Never mind the
WENDY: Did the hard-drinking, cigar-chewing, bullfighting and womanizing interfere with, or enhance your self-image?

NAN:  It definitely enhanced it, although I do now walk with a strange loping gait, have a rather alarming twitch and am compelled to wear lorgnettes. I attribute this to an arm wrestling contest with ‘Hem’ and the crew of a Panamanian fishing smack, (great guys) in an all-night tattoo parlour on Key West; although I still regret having that marlin tattooed across my chest. That’s why I think I may have to turn down a personal appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival – I don’t want to frighten Richard Dawkins.

WENDY: Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychological condition?

NAN: No comment - Who have you been talking too? If it’s Dr Otto Von Kraumsmeltzer....  I’m warning you, Otto; I’m suing!

WENDY: By your second blog post (Don’t wait for a plot - just write the novel) you have switched to the second person point of view. Was it a conscious decision or does this represent an underlying (and desperate) need to disassociate from pain and rejection?

NAN:  I have to confess you are right. What you have to understand is that I was frightened by Margaret Atwood at an early age; OK, I was thirty and she wasn’t a lot older than me. We were in Canada, on a creative writing course together. Technically she was the guest lecturer and I wasn’t, but you know.
Nan was reluctant to show
Margaret Atwood her tattoos.

Anyway in a mistaken attempt to get her to read my verse drama – A History of The Soviet Union from the Perspective of a Wheel-Tapper on the Siberian Railway – I offered to buy her a drink in the bar. She squinted at me warily and then said that she would have a ‘screwdriver.’ Well, I thought, scrap the drink; she has obviously got some kind of plumbing emergency. I imagined how I could ingratiate myself by sorting it out for her, so ran out of the bar to find the college maintenance department, borrowed a screwdriver and ran back to triumphantly present it (In retrospect, I shouldn’t have kneeled) to Margaret.

She looked at it, said, ‘Didn’t they have any vodka and orange juice?’ and squinted at me again; called me ‘a veritable literalist’ and laughed a good deal, (which I took as a HUGE compliment.) Sadly, I found out later that in Canada a vodka and orange juice is called a ‘Screwdriver’, and worse than all of that, Margaret Atwood would never read my verse drama. 

Until I recovered – many years later – I was temporarily incapable of referring to myself in the first person, and the twitch got worse.

Nuns with guns
WENDY: We are given a brief insight into the real Nan Bovington where you describe your early life and persecution by catholic nuns. How do you think this has affected your writing career?

NAN:  I wish you hadn’t brought this up Wendy. Look, I’ve never had any kind of romantic life because of the huge welts on my knees from the years of constant PRAYING. I have a flinch reaction whenever I see a ROSARY and am compelled to write everything to do with GOD or RELIGION or THE VIRGIN MARY in capital letters. I think this has put me at a certain disadvantage: and another reason why I can’t bump into Dawkins at the Oxford Literary Festival.

WENDY:  Do you have a well-defined guilt complex?

NAN:  Nothing about me is ‘well-defined’ as you well know Wendy!

WENDY: In your post Undone by the Comma, Drusilla Lockheart-Leary gives you a grammatical drubbing, and later ‘drags you through English grammar by your nose; administering irrigation to your colon and semi-colon, snipping your dangling participles, and ram-raiding the Oxford comma.’ How did this rather harsh lesson in punctuation affect your belief in your writing abilities?

NAN: I have made a careful and considered choice to abandon grammar. We never got on, we never will/shall/will.

WENDY: Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious… Your post, The Vestibule of Literary Hell has a very dreamlike quality to it. Did you write this post in your sleep?

NAN: No, I was drunk

WENDY: Your characters are a joy to behold. Let’s think about three of them in a little more depth. Clyde Darling, Bart Zeidegger, and legendary gangster Carlo (The Mouth) Carpacci – Snog, Marry or Avoid?

Dreamboats Clyde, Bart and Carlo.
NAN: Fascinating question Wendy! Well, obviously, anyone would want to snog Carlo (The Mouth) Carpaccio; know what I mean? You should see him dealing with an entire smoked salmon and caviar canapé chess board – it’s unashamedly erotic.

At first I thought obviously I would marry Clyde Darling, because he is a lit agent working for fab, super, cutting edge agency, Mallory Makepeace Associates AND HOW ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET A BLOODY AGENT? But then I thought no, repulsive as Bart Zeidegger is (and really, believe me, he is) at least he might help me get my novel pitch down from a paragraph to a sentence and then to just three utterly compelling words. So maybe I’d marry Bart and avoid Clyde…

You see, it’s quite likely that even Clyde, with all his connections, might have to overlook my lit genius. Economic pressures might insist that he drop me in favour of pushing a brilliant edgy idea like ‘Footballers Favourite Philosophers’ (Wayne Rooney riffs on Wittgenstein) or some Bake-off celeb’s debut novel which offers a searing insight into the socio-political ramifications of doughnuts in pre-war Europe. Thinking about it, Clyde probably wouldn’t or couldn’t, get me published! The bastard! I hate him! Why did I marry him?

WENDY: Which literary figures do you aspire to be like?

Sooty Bramblestoke
NAN: Mrs Euphemia Bramblestoke who wrote, the much overlooked and underrated, ‘Little Mitherings’ series. There were seventeen books in all, mostly about defecating cats and boundary disputes with neighbours, but compelling narratives written in such lucid prose with just the slightest wink of irony.  She died in poverty, obscurity and a large pool of gin, and was only found ten years later surrounded by her equally mummified cats.

SJ Perelman's
Heimlich Manoeuvre
AND S.J. Perelman - Master of the surreal pastiche, and sometime scriptwriter to the Marx Bros. I have a fantasy that I find myself sitting next to him on some flight, which is unlikely as he has been dead since 1979 and I have a phobia of flying. Nonetheless during this entirely imaginary flight, we strike up conversation and I tell him an amusing anecdote. He laughs and he offers me a pastrami and dill pickle sandwich while patting me on the back. This causes me to choke. Perelman then performs the Heimlich manoeuvre on me and we become instant writing buddies.

WENDY: Following your in-depth report from the Glossy-Smarte Literary Consultancy in May 2012, you took a step back from your own writing and choose to interview Tarquin Overbite (10 year-old literary superstar) and subsequently hand your blog over to Rip Lunge. Were you nursing wounds, or busy working on a rewrite of ‘The Indistinguishableness of Indistinguishability’?

NAN: That man Rip Lunge is frightening, I didn’t hand my blog over, he actually tied me up with electrical cable and shoved me into my own airing cupboard – quite relaxing really, after a while.

WENDY: In mid 2012 you embark on a series of blog-posts which tell the stories of Hideous Publishing Accidents, (beginning with The Keening of Lucretia Doonshafte) Were these posts unconscious vehicles for you to transfer your own feelings of disaster/failure/anger into a safe channel?

NAN: They were true Wendy, every single one them. People don’t understand how dangerous publishing is!

WENDY: Ah, denial…the perfect self-defence mechanism. Tell me, Nan, do you have trouble controlling your temper/feelings?

NAN: Why are you asking me all these questions? Why?!!

WENDY: For almost an entire year, you did not blog at all. Were you undergoing a series of hypnotherapeutic interventions to destabilise your feelings of inadequacy as a writer?

NAN: I was sitting in a lawn chair.

WENDY: Your returning post, in January of this year (I went missing for an entire year and absolutely no one noticed!) was a welcome relief for your fans. You followed in quick succession with two more posts … Where has this new burst of energy emerged from?

NAN: I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr Glockenspiel’s Invigorating Tonic for Depressed Bloggers? It came with a recommendation from Dorothy Wordsworth. She always kept a bottle tucked down her liberty bodice and frequently swigged from it as she raced about the fells feeling murderous, because William was ripping off everything in her notebook and bloody well making a name for himself; leaving her only to silently adore his genius and apple cores.  I can get you some at a very reasonable price. Just send cheque c/o Coleridge.

Nan, before and after Dr Glockenspiel’s Invigorating Tonic
WENDY: How do you feel about total strangers reading between the lines of your blog and making up their own theories about your writing abilities?

NAN: Actually I would actively encourage this, please, if there is anyone out there who has a theory about my writing ability and can explain it to me, please send it on a plain postcard to Essential Guide to Being Unpublished.

Nan's favourite
WENDY: What is your favourite cake?

NAN:  The biggest.

WENDY: After 76 years on the slushpile, nonagenarian Gladys Meakin found success posthumously, but where do you see your writing career ending up?

NAN: Badly

WENDY: The dictionary definition of ASPIRE is – to direct one's hopes or ambitions towards achieving something. Given that your combined blog, twitter and Facebook following exceeds that of Beyoncé, would you not agree that you have already achieved that dream, and that you are indeed, a writer already?

Unhappy Nan,
with Will Self as a polar bear
NAN: I know you are trying to cheer me up Wendy, but really, until I either earn at least £1 from my life’s work, or am carried on a litter around the Frankfurt Book Fair hurling handfuls of small change at Will Self, I will never be happy.

Until then, I shall press on writing my novel, called ‘Last Best West’ which is set in Canada in 1906 and is the story a highly educated young woman who goes to the far North to become a gold prospector (you think I’m joking here, but I am deadly serious) It’s all huskies & aurora borealis and strange disjointed love! (Well, it’s bloody cold up there, you know.)

WENDY: I’m not trying to cheer you up. But then, you are clearly delusional. It says here, (in my Puffin Children’s Dictionary of Psychoanalysis) that “Delusional disorder is characterized by the presence of either bizarre or non-bizarre delusions which have persisted for at least one month.” Apparently there is no cure, but on the other hand, it makes for some very entertaining blog posts.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be analysed.

Read Nan’s Blog here.
Follow on Twitter here.
Like her Facebook page here.

Donate to the Nan Bovington School for Tattoo Art here

Sunday, 1 February 2015

I'm proofreading

I had a dream last night that the commissioned book I have just finished editing, went off to the printers and only then did I discover a whole rash of missing words. I woke up in a cold sweat, shook my husband awake, and declared, "I need to proofread!"
Lassie and Timmy
(before he fell down the
abandoned mint shift)

Proofreading. It’s what you do AFTER editing and BEFORE publication.  I’m talking Errors. Typos. Missed words. Misspellings. The little stuff the eye doesn't always see, especially if you’re gripped by the writing. Your writing. You get so engrossed with what’s about to happen when...

Timmy has fallen down the abandoned mine shaft,

that you forget to notice what you've actually written is...

Timmy has fallen down teh abandoned mint shift.

There is some comfort in knowing that there are always errors, (even in the best books, published by the best publishers), but it’s still annoying when these little babies reach out and grab you by the throat, AFTER publication. 

So, TOP TIP #1 - read your work backwards. Not, like, sdrawkcab… but last chapter (or paragraph) first, then the penultimate chapter and so on, through to chapter one. It does help.

TOP TIP #2 - read your text aloud. What the eye dosen't see, the ear can hear. It's much harder to miss things when you read aloud.

TOP TIP #3 - keep a checklist of mistakes you repeatedly make. I have a friend who often types CLAM instead of CALM. One of my own mental blocks is FRO instead of FOR. Anytime you notice your own repeat offenders, add them to your list. You can do a search (Ctrl + F) of your manuscript and replace these nasties wherever they appear.

TOP TIP #4 - don’t just proofread on screen; print out your text and review it on paper. Reading your work in a different format might highlight different errors.

TOP TIP #5 - use the spellchecker. Seriously. It’s not fool proof, but if you do see a red line under a word, you can’t afford to ignore it.

Top tip #6 - have a holiday from your work. Doesn't have to be a fortnight in the Bahamas, but a few hours or days away from your writing will give you fresh eyes and a fresh chance to see any problems.

TOP TIP #7 - get help. Ask a friend or pay a professional. And remember to be grateful when they point out all your mistakes. You want your work to be the best it can be, and a good clean copy might make the difference between getting read and getting binned.