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About this book

This revised, updated and expanded new edition of The Road to Somewhere will help you to acquire the craft and disciplines needed to develop as a writer in today's world. It is ideal for anyone - student writers, writing teachers and seasoned authors - seeking practical guidance, new ideas and creative inspiration.

The Road to Somewhere: A Creative Writing Companion, second edition offers:

- new chapters on writing for digital media, flash fiction, memoir, style and taking your writing out into the world
- updated chapters on fiction, scripts, poetry, and experimental forms
- an examination of creative processes and advice on how to read as a writer
- many practical exercises and useable course materials
- extensive references and suggestions for further reading
- information on how to get work published or produced, in real and virtual worlds
- tips on how to set up and run writing workshops and groups
- a complete Agony Aunt section to help with blocks and barriers
- guidance on the more technical aspects of writing such as layout and grammar.

And, to lighten your writing journey a little, we've tried to make this second edition even wittier and smarter than the first. So whether you see yourself as a published professional or a dedicated dabbler, this is the book to take along for the ride.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
The idea of life as a story and of the story as a journey seems to be hard-wired into our consciousness and culture, which is why this book is called The Road to Somewhere. Thousands of years ago, most human beings gave up the nomadic hunter-gatherer life and settled into villages, but perhaps old memories of walking from place to place, of owning nowhere yet belonging everywhere, are still locked into the synapses of our brains. Like dogs, whose legs twitch as they run in dreams, so we still wander the world, the imaginary universe, in our stories of journeys. Each of us must find our own way to the art of writing — to the voice that is ours alone. But writing is a practical craft as well as an art, and like all crafts, it can be learned, given time, effort and motivation.
Robert Graham, Heather Leach, Helen Newall, Julie Armstrong, John Singleton

Getting Going

Frontmatter

1. Becoming a Writer

Abstract
I used to work in an office. I used to sit at a desk next to a window, which looked out into an odd half-secret space, an inner enclosure. Around the walls were other windows, usually blinded. I was often bored, sifting my way through reports and policies, writing my own in the same rational calm language that slowly gets things done or undone. There was a door at the bottom of the courtyard which I supposed was used by maintenance and repair people, but I never saw them, and so as far as my office day was concerned this strange interior space was inhabited only by birds: pigeons, starlings, sparrows; occasionally a pair of magpies (one for sorrow, two for joy). Throughout a whole year I watched them come flying down out of the trapezoid sky, their anxious fluttering and flapping amplified by the walls as they hustled for space on ledges and buttresses. In the rain and cold they rested there in rows, patient, silent, looking back at me, their thick white droppings staining the already soot-stained stone.
Heather Leach

2. Creativity

Abstract
That word creative can have the strangest effects: some would rather go apple-ducking in a tub full of spiders than be labelled creative; while others (dream-struck and wild-eyed) are only too eager to set off on the path to Creativity World. If you ask any group of people (even would-be writers) whether they’d describe themselves as creative, the majority will regretfully say something like: ‘no, not really, maybe sometimes, not very … I don’t think I am.’ There’ll be one or two brave souls who go against the grain, owning up to a special kind of mind, personality or experience that they label as creative. Yet ask the same people to define what they mean by the word and there’ll be a wide range of divergent responses, many tentative and vague, many others dependent on outdated stereotypes and clichés. In this chapter I want to explore some ideas about creativity and to suggest ways of developing your own creative abilities.
Heather Leacn

3. Journals and Notebooks

Abstract
One of the virtues of Kate Atkinson’s award-winning first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was the level of specific detail about the 1960s. Atkinson was able to include details such as the fact that schoolgirls back then wore a particular kind of blouse for games, one covered with pin-prick air-vents that was manufactured by a company called Aertex. It so happens that Atkinson’s impressive range of historical data was thanks to the journals she had kept while growing up.
Robert Graham

4. The Necessity of Mess

Abstract
In the beginning was mess, and it was called chaos. And out of it God ordered the world.
John Singleton

5. Visions and Dreams

Abstract
‘Seeing’ images and having visions is a powerful part of the visual imagination. Some writers naturally have a strong sense of the visual. Others have to work at developing this sense, much in the same way as a Zen Buddhist seeks to develop powers of concentration in order to meditate. Indeed, some writers consider writing, with its senses of heightened awareness, to be a form of meditation, something we’ll return to later. For now, however, since a strong visual imagination is an asset to any artist, let’s explore ways to develop this, and use it in your writing.
Julie Armstrong

6. A Writer’s Territory

Abstract
There are no right or wrong answers; the most suitable place to write is the one that best suits you. However, it is important that the place you choose is the one in which you can immerse yourself most deeply in the act of writing. Some writers prefer bustle, others tranquility — somewhere they can dream uninterrupted.
Julie Armstrong

7. Reading as a Writer

Abstract
Friday morning. It’s raining outside and I’m staring through the window at nature grey in tooth and claw. My notes are lying expectantly on the desk close to my elbow. I’ve typed the title: Reading as a Writer at the top of the page and now I’m peering at the screen waiting for words to appear. You have to have a beginning: you have to find a door in the page’s wall. Then my daughter comes in with a cup of coffee. She leans forward and reads the title: ‘What’s the difference?’ she says. ‘Why can’t writers just read like everybody else?’
Heather Leach

8. Writing Together: Groups and Workshops

Abstract
There are more writing workshops, classes and courses now than ever before. Google creative writing courses and you’ll get almost six million hits and rising. In the real world, wherever you live, you’re almost sure to find a writing group at least a bus ride away. Many universities and colleges have writing options and an increasing number are offering half or even full degree courses in Creative Writing. Some newspapers and publishing houses have started to offer courses: the Guardian and Faber, for example, but they are often expensive and London-based, and far beyond the means of most would-be writers living in provincial bedsits.
Heather Leach

9. Reflection: Looking Your Words in the Face

Abstract
We’ve already learned that writers are readers who write, but perhaps that should be developed further: writers are readers who think carefully about what and how and why they write.
Robert Graham, Heather Leach

10. Revision: Cut It Out, Put It In

Abstract
Singer’s observation is simply irrefutable. Any committed writer will not only have boxes and boxes of printed-off and discarded drafts but endless digital folders of work in progress. Raymond Carver claimed to do up to thirty drafts of a story, and never fewer than ten. Tolstoy was always revising — right through to the galley-proof stage. And Yann Martel, author of the 2002 Booker Prize-winner, Life of Pi, is so bent on getting the words right that he is happy to finish a day’s work having written a page.
Robert Graham

On the Road

Frontmatter

11. Layout for Fiction and Memoir

Abstract
Roughly every decade, the conventions of layout for fiction shift. At the time of writing, here’s my understanding of the current view of how to lay out your short story, novel or memoir.
Robert Graham

12. Characterisation

Abstract
You can’t have credible action without characters (although you can have characters without action). However, it may be oversimplifying to see the two as a hierarchy. As Henry James pointed out, the relationship between character and action is too interdependent for that:
What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?’
Robert Graham

13. Point of View

Abstract
‘Nothing’, Ethan Canin says, ‘is as important as a likeable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.’1 If the narrative is the end product of the fiction-writing process, the starting point is the narrator. The reader of a novel or short story is entering into a relationship with the narrator.
Robert Graham

14. Dialogue

Abstract
Sometimes you hear writers praised by reviewers for their ‘natural’ dialogue. Such and such has a ‘real ear for dialogue/ordinary speech/conversation’, they write approvingly, as if the ability to capture actual speech is a gift. It’s not. It’s a misunderstanding of the true nature of dialogue.
John Singleton

15. Setting

Abstract
If narrative is a journey, character being the driver, and plot the vehicle, then setting is the scenery along the way. The big mistake, however, is to think that it’s merely the backdrop: if you use it well, setting can powerfully amplify theme, show character, advance the narrative. It creates atmosphere; it is the world in which your characters exist; and in some cases, it’s the story itself. Some writers have even gone so far as to say that they treat landscape as another character.
Helen Newall

16. Plot: Your Vehicle

Abstract
Yes, you’re on a journey as a writer, but don’t forget that you want to send your readers on a trip, too. Plot is the vehicle in which you roll them down the road.
Robert Graham

17. Immediacy: It’s Showtime

Abstract
I once heard a BBC radio documentary on which a researcher for Ace Records was talking about being in the vaults of the major label that owns Otis Redding’s recordings. He was ploughing through tape-box after tape-box, sifting for recordings to lease for reissue, when he came across a box labelled ‘Otis Redding — Dock of The Bay — Take 1’. He described playing the tape for the first time. He explained that the sound effects — the waves washing onto the shore, seagulls — had not yet been added and the whistling solo was fluffed: ‘Otis wasn’t actually a very good whistler.’ What the researcher said of the experience was, ‘It put you right there on the studio floor.’
Robert Graham

18. Style

Abstract
Narrative craft is important, but even more important is the ability to write well and with style, so that each line is a pleasure for the reader. What is style? According to Jonathan Swift, it’s not much more than proper words in their proper place. The writing in a decent instruction manual might achieve that — Hemingway talked about getting the words right — without being what you or I might think stylish. So there has to be a little more to it than clear expression. The novelist Henry Green said that a writer’s style is ‘himself, and we are all of us changing every day’. Perhaps writers’ styles emerge from the rhythms of speech where they grew up, from the style of authors in whose style they aspire to write, from the lyrics of songs they know, from writing they find in print, online and in the media. It may well be to do with the sound of language, as well as its meaning. The foundations of style lie in some of the aspects of writing we’re about to examine: language, syntax, vocabulary choice, grammar and punctuation. Let’s look at the style of a couple of contemporary writers.
Robert Graham

19. Memoir

Abstract
Everything we write exposes who we are, but, even more than other kinds of writing, the memoir strips us to the skin. As such, it isn’t a form for everyone. The best memoir writing exposes the author in a raw state, for which not all of us are ready. A memoir also exposes the other people in your life, and not all of them are going to be enthusiastic about being shoved into the spotlight …
Robert Graham

20. Flash Fiction

Abstract
In 2006, I published a book of flash fiction called Sawn-Off Tales. But until only a little while before that, I hadn’t heard of flash fiction or micro-fiction or sudden fiction or short-short stories. Then, on poet Ian McMillan’s recommendation, I parcelled up a manuscript made entirely of this stuff and sent it to Salt Publishing, a poetry specialist. Fifty-eight stories, each exactly 150 words long. The odds were entirely against me. No one wants to publish short stories, least of all by an unknown. And stories that took less time to read than to suppress a sneeze? I was chancing it, I knew.
David Gaffney

21. Scriptwriting: for Nervous Beginners

Abstract
Dramatic writing requires the craft skills of character making and narrative patterns dealt with in many other chapters in this book, but it differs fundamentally in that it concerns the creation of what is in effect a list of coded instructions, or a blueprint, for a work still to be completed rather than the finished work itself. Between writer and audience there are many more stages requiring others to read and interpret and add to what the writer has written before the audience experiences it. A scriptwriter’s first readers are thus the team who may or may not decide to commission the work. And then, if it is in production, subsequent readers include the directors, designers and performers who will realise the finished thing. So before it is ever watched, a script should still be a very fine read (but as Friedman notes above, remember that the audience doesn’t read the script). And it should use the narrative and layout conventions of the medium for which it is written. This is a huge signal to those first all-important readers that you know what you’re doing and that, in a hugely competitive market, you might be worth a second glance.
Helen Newall

22. Poetry

Abstract
Writing poetry, or beginning to write poetry seriously, seems to throw up unique problems. We’re often faced with students who are either filled with dread at the prospect of writing a poem, or ones who feel quite confident about what is required, but know very little about it. It’s sometimes easier to encourage the first group than it is to redirect the second. In fact, both groups are often labouring under the same illusions. Perhaps you, too, are prevented from achieving a breakthrough because of your notions about what poetry is.
Robert Sheppard, Scott Thurston

23. Poetry for People Who Don’t Like Poetry

Abstract
Walk into a seminar room and ask a normal-looking bunch of students whether they like poetry. Watch their reactions. Many people will screw up their faces as if they’d smelt something disgusting; a few will grimace awkwardly and waggle their hands in an awkward ‘maybe, maybe not’ gesture. After a few moments one or two brave individuals — three at the most — will raise a finger, looking round the room to make sure they’re not alone.
Heather Leach

24. Digital Writing

Abstract
Let me tell you a short story, not short enough to fit in a tweet or a text, but brief enough to qualify as flash fiction.
Heather Leach, Helen Newall

Going Where?

Frontmatter

25. Writing as Self-Invention

Abstract
Why do people want to write? It can, after all, be a frustrating activity, and a very lonely job, as Stephen King notes in On Writing. However, whether one is a published writer or not, writing is rewarding, and if not a compulsion, a way of life.
Julie Armstrong

26. Taking Your Work Out into the World

Abstract
Elizabeth Baines is a prize-winning author of novels, short stories and stage and radio plays. Her stories have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and her collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was published by Salt in 2007. Her latest novel, Too Many Magpies, which came out in 2009, was described by one Amazon reviewer as ‘an appealing, bewitching read, one that feels slightly dangerous and a little bit thrilling’. As well as being an occasional actor, she somehow also manages to find time to maintain a lively and creative presence on digital media. Her blog, Fictionbitch, covers the contemporary book world both on- and offline — see her October 2012 post, which reports on a fascinating debate on the impact of the internet on publishing. She has her own author’s website and blog — with the strap line ‘How To Be A Writer Without Ending Up Sozzled, Behind Bars or Insane’, and links all of these with Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Robert Graham, Heather Leach

27. Getting Published

Abstract
The hard yards: write a good book; one that excites you, not your mum, not your kids, not the vicar, not your imagined reader. You are the first, last, and most important reader of your work. Nothing else matters.
John Singleton

28. How Not Being Published Can Change Your Life

Abstract
Here’s a story. You wake up one morning and make your way slowly and carefully down to the place where they give you some coffee. You’re nursing a headache: let’s not go into the reasons why. You look out of the window and see whatever’s out there: grass, street, traffic; the usual. Somebody, a friend, sits down opposite you and tells you to cheer up. You don’t cheer up. They say, this so-called friend, ‘OK. Well, just don’t think about elephants’, and then they get up and go away, whistling. Loudly. You stare at the tabletop and try to forget what they just said. You look out of the window and see, mixed in with the grass, street, traffic, the faint but unmistakable outline of an elephant. You shut your eyes. No, you think to yourself, I don’t want to think of an …. But the word insinuates itself into your mind: the more you tell yourself not to think of an elephant, the stronger the thought-elephant becomes. Test this for yourself — with a little variation. Today, as you go about your normal business, try not to think about a giraffe. Try hard.
Heather Leach

Help

Frontmatter

29. Paragraphing and Punctuation

Abstract
This chapter is designed to help you if you are in any way uncertain about some of the basics of written expression. Sometimes I may well end up teaching my grandmother how to suck eggs, but my guess is you won’t read this part of The Road unless you are in the dark about some aspect or other of paragraphing and punctuation.
Robert Graham

30. Agony Aunt

Abstract
Ideas are a tricky little kettle of fish. Some writers lay traps for them and surprise them at dawn. Others go hunting at night with sharpened pencils and alcohol. But ideas are not always on the run: sometimes, they chase you, and they can ambush you at surprising moments. They hide in atmospheric pieces of music, in beautiful pictures, and childhood memories. They can be particularly troublesome at night, when they have been known to disturb the sleep of unwary writers. To protect yourself from such nocturnal encounters, always keep a pen and notebook by your bed: this almost certainly guarantees that no ideas will ever come to you at night.
Robert Graham, Heather Leach, Helen Newall, Julie Armstrong, John Singleton

Going Further

Frontmatter

A Writer’s Bookshelf

Without Abstract
Robert Graham, Heather Leach, Helen Newall, Julie Armstrong, John Singleton

Writers’ and Reader’ Festival

Abstract
In the past twenty years there has been a huge increase in the number of festivals for writers and readers. Some last for a fortnight, others only for a weekend; some are huge international events, some are small and local; but all offer an inspirational feast for lovers of language, ideas, debate and literature.
Robert Graham, Heather Leach, Helen Newall, Julie Armstrong, John Singleton
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