One of my major interests is inner worlds: the subjective experience of being human. Perhaps, then, it goes without saying that I love to write the self, and I love to read the personal accounts of others. So I’ve been thinking about the different ways we choose to do this, and in particular the various methods available for presenting it. Here I share some distinctions I’ve made along the way.
Autobiography is the most ‘objective’ method for writing the self, with the aim of presenting events as they really happened. It will usually (but not always) be in chronological order and span most of a lifetime.
Memoir is a collection of memories from a specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. It is usually presented in an entertaining way, with some distance between the narrator and the subject, some hindsight, but also some intimacy of emotional context.
An Autobiographical Novel is the semi-fictionalisation of real events. It puts more distance between the narrator and the subject, and allows the use of plot devices, imagined events or characters, and heightened drama. There is an expectation that the author will do this not in an attempt to mislead, but to make the text more attractive to readers. Like memoir, autobiographical novels will usually cover a specific aspect or time period in the author’s life.
Following the success of our first anthology, we are pleased to announce our second. Abyss: Stories of Depth, Time and Infinity will feature the very best fiction we can find on these metaphysical themes. We’re looking for high-impact experimental pieces, unique voices, streams of consciousness and fictional accounts of altered states. We’re looking for extrapolations and interpretations of reality as we know it, or visions of drastic changes. We’re looking for boundary-pushing, genre-bending, literary and speculative fiction. The entertaining will be juxtaposed – or combined – with the philosophical in this volume of big unknowns.
If you’d like to be part of it, please visit our submissions page for full details.
I’ve been reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and I don’t want it to end. I’m not sure what it is that I find so spellbinding about her writing, but it was the same with M Train when I read that last year. Like a pair of comfortable boots, I’d live in them I could.
M Train begins with the line: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” And you may be fooled into thinking it is a book about nothing. Patti talks in streams about coffee, cafes, wandering, memories, books, waiting, superstition and coincidence with little linearity or focus. But in showing us what her down time looks like, she shows us the profound. Poetic vision isn’t some gift radioed in from another world; it’s in the everyday, in the gaps between ego events. Our art is in the little things we notice when we think we’re doing nothing. And sometimes there is no point, no single focus of meaning. Sometimes the only thing we need to take away from an experience is our own natural response.
“Life is at the bottom of things and belief is at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.”
For me, M Train was itself on a trajectory of synchronicity. It was exactly a year on from writing Mind in the Gap (which has a main character called M and a string of wacky experiences on trains) that I noticed it, and I was still at a bit of a loss as to what I would do next. I’d been playing about with some ideas, redrafting an old novel, but nothing seemed to gel. Then, somewhere between the lines of Patti Smith’s nothing, I started thinking about my own nothing. And, from a stream of consciousness style notebook I kept on a trip to London, I got a good start on the novella that is to become Endless Circles. Something comes from nothing.
Micah Thomas is author of the Eudaimonia series – a unique blend of paranormal with literary fiction. In the final interview of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to chat about isolation, spiritual teachers, and layers of meaning.
Hi Micah, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! How are things over there in the US, are you feeling as ‘locked down’ as us?
I have been a shut in for a few years. The isolation certainly has intensified as online friends focus on keeping themselves… I don’t know. Keeping themselves together.
Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
My creative stages have an isolation mode, where I’m heads down working. The creation place is very private and I don’t like eyes on me. However, my sharing motion needs witnesses and that is tough right now. I’m releasing so much art and writing and it’s really not a good time for it.
So you’ve released two novels so far in the Eudaimonia series, when can we expect the third?
The final novel and the final volume of short stories will both be available in April. I’m formatting Evidence of Changes vol 3 as we speak. The novel will be formatted next month. Then I’m practically done with this Eudaimonia world. Kinda.
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you talk a bit about what the Eudaimonia world is?
Michael Walters is author of The Complex, an unsettling novel about the human psyche and its relationship with strangers and virtual reality. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, Carl Jung, and the importance of subtext in creating atmosphere.
Hi Michael, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing?
I’m faring well, thank you. I’m very lucky — I have a job that I can do from home, the kids are safe, and our parents are healthy. Being at home all the time with a full-house is challenging sometimes, but some people are going through hell at the moment, so I’m not complaining.
The lockdown is definitely not isolation for me. I like being alone. Being alone is the only way I can let my mind wander. I’m an introvert, so when I have to turn on the extrovert afterburner, I do need to recover. That’s really hard at the moment.
Are you finding the opportunity to work on anything new?
I wrote a short story in January and February which I hope will get published later this year. After finishing that, I wanted to get into my next novel, then coronavirus hit. I’ve been able to flesh out some ideas — I have a map of the location in my head, some characters, a few possible scenes, a title — but I haven’t started the first draft. The momentum is building. I hope I can finish a draft by the autumn. That might be hopelessly optimistic!
I wanted to talk a little about your recent novel, The Complex, which explores the psychological effects of unfamiliar spaces, both virtual and real. Can you tell us about the premise and how you came to write on this theme?
Jonathan D Clark is author of philosophical novel Arcadia, and his short story The Video was published in our recent anthology, Vast. As part of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to discuss isolation, paranoia, and the dark side of our relationship with technology.
Hi Jonathan, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks for having me as part of this series. It’s a pleasure.
How are you surviving in these crazy times, do you find isolation is a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve always been a rather reclusive individual (going to and from my day jobs throughout the years without speaking to anyone), so besides the limitations on what there is to do around town—and having to snipe for groceries—not a whole lot has changed for me due to the lockdown. Although, it did give me the chance to tell my more extroverted friends “welcome to my domain.” And as for productivity, it did witness a spike in the first week, but it has since slowed back down to its original pace.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
For the past year I’ve been working on my next novel, along with the occasional short story here and there when I feel I need a break from the grand narrative.
Canyou tell us anything about the new novel at this stage, or is it top secret?
Unlike Arcadia, my current WIP (titled False Cathedrals) will have a more contemporary setting; taking place in 2012 in the fictional town of Midtown, Vermont—as well as a few chapters taking place in the mid-to-late 90s. At the heart of the novel is Daniel Bloom, a middle-aged psychotherapist who can’t seem to escape the haunting memory of his first wife, Karen; even after fourteen years have passed since her untimely demise at the hands of a crazed shooter, now dormant. Hoping to distract himself, Daniel puts all his focus into helping a patient find lucidity after well over a decade of uncertainty. But it doesn’t help when he hears that the shooter has started a new, violent rampage.
Chris Beckett is an Arthur C Clarke award winning science fiction author. He’s published six (soon to be seven) novels and dozens of short stories, often focusing on ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’ space. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, metaphysics, and tribalism in modern society.
Hi Chris, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Is isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve been having difficulty moving my writing forward this last couple of months, but this often happens – I simply dry up and can’t seem to write anything – and it may have nothing to do with the lockdown. However I do think my ability to concentrate (never brilliant to be honest) is worse than usual.
When the real world is stranger and more engrossing than usual – and I am finding it engrossing – it is perhaps harder to focus on imagined worlds?
In my life generally, I’d say I am finding the lockdown more interesting than distressing. I’m used to spending a lot of time by myself at home, and in some ways the lockdown is providing a stimulus for me to find ways of keeping more in touch with some people than I usually would, which is nice.
I have a little granddaughter – she is 13 months old – and I’m very sad not to be able to spend time with her, as the plan had been (until this happened) that I would be looking after her for one day a week.
I’ve heard from several writers that their creativity is at a low point. I wonder if being engrossed in new situations is all part of ‘refilling the well’ of inspiration. Do you think we’ll see a different kind of fiction emerge on the other side of this?
I think that’s exactly right about ‘refilling the well’. We have to stock up on life in order to have anything to write about. And none of us have had many experiences which are completely comparable to this one. (In fact a lot of writers have had pretty quiet lives generally, I suspect). I’m sure new kinds of fiction will come out of this, but I really don’t know what. This virus has changed life for everyone, but in so many different ways.
I wanted to talk in particular about your recent novel, Beneath the World, a Sea, which is full of strong, surreal imagery, questions of the unconscious and philosophy of mind. When so many science fiction writers are focused on future technology, what made you turn inwards and address the nature of consciousness?
Ellinor Kall is an explorer of the liminal, embodying the blend between fiction and non-fiction. The popularity of her short story The DreamCube Thread in our recent anthology sparked this conversation on isolation, automatic writing, and occult influences.
Hi Ellinor, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks, it’s my pleasure!
So how are things over in Sweden, are you feeling as ‘locked down’ as us?
From what I gather you in the UK seem to have a stricter policy than us. There are restrictions on how many can gather in one place, on visiting the older and vulnerable groups and things like that. Many work from home if possible, but many people are still out and about.
Every spring Swedes go crazy when the sun returns after a long dark winter and people HAVE to gather at the temporary outdoor seatings that pop up outside the pubs – no virus can stop this annual sun-worshipping ritual. Maybe it’s a remnant of some stupid viking mentality: if we die in battle with the virus we’ll get to sit and drink beer in the sun on plastic chairs outside Valhalla.
Haha! Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
I’m a rather introverted person, and before this I was already working from home at least one day a week. And when not working, well, I’m mostly staying at home, reading, writing, listening to music, watching films and playing games. So this “isolation” is normal for me.
When I’m working on something longer I need time, preferably over several days, to get into the right mindset, get into the world, arrange all the pieces before I continue writing. Any disturbance from the outside world and I have to start over again. My mind is kinda chaotic and wants to go off and do other things all the time. So I have to spend a lot of energy keeping focus until I get into flow. But once that happens it’s hyperfocus to the point I forget to eat.
Logan Ryan Smith writes dark, disorientating, and highly imaginative streams of consciousness with a unique sense of humour and madness. In the third of this new series, I caught up with him to talk about isolation, the flow of writing, and the unreliable narrator.
Hi Logan, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Hi, C.R. Thanks for the invite to participate. Very happy to be a part of this.
How are you faring in these strange times, is isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
Outside of the occasional moment of being overwhelmed emotionally by the terror and beauty of a whole planet trying to achieve something together, in unison, not only for themselves, but for their families, neighbors, and those workers out in public selflessly providing essential services for the rest of us, I guess you could say I’m doing quite well, actually. As I’m betting you’ll hear from most writers, I’m not incredibly social. I’m not antisocial, but the things writers like doing (reading and writing) are things done in isolation already, so it’s not a huge disruption to my life. And I’m in isolation with my favorite people, my family, so why would I complain? So, we’re taking this lockdown very seriously and fortunately they’re like me — not super social. I guess we were all homebodies to begin with, so we’re not dealing with the same stress as those that have a real need to be out and about with bunches of people. So it goes.
As for the creative process, I guess it has stymied it. I usually take a break after releasing a new book, but I likely would have begun a new one by now had this whole thing not happened. I am fine with (some) isolation, but I actually do a lot of my writing out of the house. That’s mostly due to not having any kind of writing studio in our house, which means the kids would be asking every five seconds what I’m doing, what my book is about, and if they can help me write it. But when I say, “Sure. Tell me how many S’s there are in ‘occasional.’ I can’t remember,” they just give me blank expressions and start hitting the keyboard, laughing madly like a couple tiny maniacs. It’s frightening. You should see it. That said, even if I get my writing studio with a door that locks (we’re going to try to convert the garage during this time of lockdown), the six-year-old is already a master lock-picker. So we’ll see how that goes.
Aside from needing space, I’m also not the type to write when my mind is completely occupied by something other than the thing I’m writing at the moment. I turn on the news every morning, hoping against hope that the death and infection rates are slowing, and as yet, it seems to only be increasing. Hard for me to think about my next book when that’s how the day starts. Then of course there’s getting used to working from home. So, sitting all day in the house on the computer for the day job makes it a little daunting. I mean, to basically “clock out” of the day job without having gone anywhere and then to simply “clock in” to the writing job is an abrupt change in gears and I’m much better working when there’s more of a transition from one thing to the next. I hate abruptly changing gears.
All THAT said, the itch to write is a lifelong affliction, and that has returned. I’m ready to get rolling. What that will likely do is inspire me to get to work converting the garage ASAP. So, long story short, this whole crisis has affected me by inspiring me to do some home renovation. Who’d a thunk it?
Gavin Jefferson is a multi-genre author, spanning time travel, fantasy, humour, and the paranormal. In the second of this new series of interviews, I caught up with him to chat about isolation, trigger warnings, categorisation, and the impact of comic books on his work.
Hi Gavin, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks for having me, I love this idea!
So, how’s this crazy situation been for you so far – do you find isolation a help or a hindrance as a writer?
I find it okay, to be honest. Although I work in an office full of people in my day job, I tend to live there in my own world, with over-ear headphones and music. You might say that I’ve been prepping myself for this for quite some time, ha ha!
I tend to do most of my writing on my lunch breaks or late at night, so because I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to work from home, I’m getting roughly the same amount of writing done. One thing I didn’t expect from the lockdown is how it has made me look at my work in a different light.
Really? In what way?
Well, it’s forced me to consider theme and story setups more. I’m a firm believer in trigger warnings, but I never really considered pandemics as triggering events. I know, for me at least, I don’t want to read anything relating to that right now. And I don’t think I’ll want to in the near future, either. To think I intended to reread Station Eleven this year, too.
Take The Surrogate, for instance. That’s the story of the world’s last obese man. The way I eradicated obesity in that book was to have the worldwide governments band together secretly and have them release a virus into their respective drinking water sources, altering everyone’s genetics. It felt like something only bigger people, like me, might be offended by. And, to be honest, I thought the presence of that potential trigger would be clear from the synopsis. But, the virus idea… I hadn’t even considered it. I put a tweet out prior to the lockdown telling people not to read the book, or to take care with it if they did. The last thing I want is to upset people. I mean, it’ll happen whether I want it to or not, I guess. But, I’d rather present the warnings upfront and have a clear conscience about it than not.
I jokingly said that there would be an influx of pandemic-related fiction over the next decade, but now that I think of it, there probably will be, right? This’ll be taught in schools, at the very least.