Blog Tour Award…

Photo on 2015-07-04 at 15.25

The author at home in Macclesfield (SA), where surrounding yourself with books provides good insulation in winter!

Thanks to Claire Belberg of mountainbeautiful for asking me to take up the Blog Tour Award. Basically, the rules are:

  1. Pass the tour on to up to four other bloggers.
  2. Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post.
  3. Answer four questions about your creative process that lets other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.

The questions are:

  1. What am I working on at the moment?
  2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?
  3. Why do I write or create what I do?
  4. How does my writing/creative process work?

To follow up my post today, I’ve nominated two thoughtful and talented writers to take up the challenge: Queensland based writer and blogger Danielle Carey (due to post Monday 20th July) and South Australian fantasy writer Michael Hawke (who will post Monday 27th July). But without further ado, here are my answers:

  1. What am I working on at the moment?

Regarding my work on this blog, I’m always penning thoughts about writing and creativity, some of which inevitably get worked into articles (if not lectures). On that front, teaching at Tabor affords plenty of opportunities to discuss the writing life with students, and I hope to encourage more input from them in bringing that conversation to a wider audience via the blog. Indeed, one of our Masters graduates (Ann Greer) recently posted here a digest of her thesis on Magical Realism. Making real connections between scholarship, reflection and the work of writers, is what the blog basically aims to do. We’re also looking at ways to make better use of the blog as a publishing venue, not only for our students but also the wider Christian writing community. For instance, next year we plan to publish a new e-journal through the blog, dedicated to showcasing excellent poetry and prose from Australian and potentially overseas writers. We’ve seen a lot of high quality, entertaining and thought-provoking work submitted for the annual Tabor Adelaide Creative Writing Awards, and would love for these writers to have their work recognised and read more widely. So stay tuned! Personally, I’m in the process of writing new material for a YA novel currently under consideration at Ooligan Press (in Portland, Oregon). They were gracious enough to consider my proposal and provided a thoughtful developmental edit. So I’ve been revising my manuscript in light of their feedback. The book is called Never Let Go and is about a boy searching for a way to survive a fractured relationship with his father, even as he faces off against the deadly Alaskan winter. I’ve also been making slow, intermittent progress with a second novel called Truth Will Out, about a young lad who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation in a small Australian country town. All in good time!

  1. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

I have a genre? I guess we’re talking YA fiction. Well, I notice an awful lot of issues-based fiction for teens these days. And, not surprisingly, a lot of awful issues-based fiction! I’m always wary of it, and have been since I was a teen. I hated books that I felt were trying to ‘talk my language’ or tap in to what the author thought I’d find interesting or ‘relevant’ just because I was of a certain age, or lived at a certain time. I was more interested in books about the adult world, and about universal themes and perennial questions – that’s what interested me then (though I couldn’t have told you at the time), and that’s what interests me now. So how does that affect my writing? Well, while my book is about a child from a broken marriage, it’s not really a story ‘about divorce’. It’s more about forgiveness, and I suppose what it means to be a man – what masculine strength is, at its best. But those are themes I only became aware of along the way, or even in hindsight – i.e. I didn’t set out to write a book that explores ‘such-and-such’ an issue. Instead, I started with a setting that I found compelling, and the characters and their various problems emerged from that. Setting is really important to me – it’s like a character in its own right. So that could be a distinctive feature of my writing, too. I’m also very interested in the adults in YA fiction – more so than the teenage protagonists, I suspect. Of course, teens make great characters because they’re in a clear state of transition – on the brink of adulthood and in the midst of a turbulent but formative stage. Yes, it’s a time of life when the company and approval of your peers is generally preferable to that of your parents or other grown-ups, but I’m convinced the adults you do have around at that time are crucial to the outcome (the plot?) of your adult life. So crafting interesting, realistic and challenging adult characters has been a definite focus for me, and I think that’s distinctive of my writing.

  1. Why do I write or create what I do?

I love writing sentences. For me it really is that simple. In a recent blog post I observed how when I write, I see my thoughts solidify, magically, like curds in milk. This is a wonder and a marvel of which I don’t seem to grow tired. I also have a certain flair for words. So writing is something I’m both good at and really enjoy, plus it ties in naturally to my work as a teacher. Both my parents were teachers and they read to me and my brothers when we were young, and that has made a lasting impression too – the power of words to open windows onto other worlds, to enliven one’s appreciation of the familiar, and to enable a meeting of minds across time and space. Writing begins in reading, and must return to it constantly. For a long while my interest in literature lay dormant – perhaps due to over-analysis in high school. But it was rekindled when I became a teacher and studied an approach to English literacy known as Scaffolding (or Accelerated Literacy). It involved teaching the mechanics of English language through a close reading of high quality, age-appropriate literature, with consolidating activities in creative composition. Details aside, this program helped make me aware of all the things authors are doing when crafting a story, and it made me want to be a writer. Instead, I went on to do a PhD in Education. It was hard, but I loved it, especially the writing. I’m quite as happy writing sentences in academic prose as I am when crafting a poem or a story. But during my study I often grew despondent at the thought that hardly anyone would ever read my thesis, and that the rather heavy content would be less likely to make a lasting impression than would a novel or a poem. For respite, while studying, I worked on a children’s book called Trousers & Speckles: A Tale of Two Greedy Goats. So much more appealing than Aristotelian Realism and the Cognitive Anatomy of Moral Understanding, don’t you think? I think we live in an age when creative works are more likely than reasoned argument to engage and sustain public attention. Not that I would ever pit reason against imagination! But art (including good literature) can convey so much more than can be expressed in formal propositions. I’ve read poems and short stories and even single lines in novels that have pulled me up short and made me gasp, made me wonder, made me think, cry or rejoice! So whenever I write, whatever I write, it’s that possibility which motivates me.

  1. How does my writing/creative process work?

‘Process’ may be too strong a word here. See below…

Writer's notebook (90% empty). Also observe Procrastination Exercise #238 Designing a Retaining Wall

Writer’s notebook (90% empty). Also observe Procrastination Exercise #238 Designing a Retaining Wall

I’m a reluctant writer, I think, because I know the effort required in order to produce something even remotely good, and I’m basically a lazy person. A lazy perfectionist – Heaven help me! I find inspiration and creativity almost seasonal. That is, it comes in cycles like the seasons; but also like the weather it can be unpredictable. Sometimes there are dry winters, or cold summers. Sometimes spring and autumn slip by unnoticed. I have to remain very attentive – with one eye on the weather, so to speak – so as not to miss an opportunity when it arises: when to cultivate, when to sow, when to water, when to harvest. I’m still learning the tell-tale signs. Because the end product depends on all those things, it often doesn’t look like I’m writing, when in fact I am. Reading (fiction and nonfiction) can be a crucial part of cultivating the creative soil. But so can staring into space, walking, playing guitar, or chewing a pencil…

I like to keep a set of dental records around the office - in case of spontaneous human combustion

I like to keep a set of dental records around the office – in case of spontaneous human combustion

Writing when I don’t feel like it (e.g. doing some poxy activity for a writing group) is often when the seed of inspiration is sown. Almost always when I’m not expecting it. Getting the first words down on the page can feel like hard labor, but I find the more time I’ve spend cultivating the easier it is. I’m a private gardener; I need to have the house to myself. When I get to an impasse, it’s time to walk again, or bake bread, or service my VW Kombi. Sometimes switching from keyboard to pencil and paper helps, or writing about what I’m writing, rather than trying to write it. But eventually – in fits and bouts and as weather and mood permit – something starts to grow. Occasionally, all the stars align and it’s like living in the tropics: the temperature is perfect and there’s plenty of rain and, if anything, it’s the pruning you can’t keep on top of. But that’s rare for me – I love visiting in the tropics, but I could never live there. Some people think I’m mad, but I love editing and proofreading: weeding and pruning. I do a great deal as I go, so I’m a very slow writer. But, for me, working on a hard copy of a finished draft with a red pen is where it’s at! I really look forward to that stage, when most of the mistakes have already been made. Having other writers read my work and provide feedback is a relatively new joy to me. However, it still seems a little masochistic, like skinny-dipping in midwinter. ‘Bracing’, that’s the word for it! Thankfully, my wife is happy to read my work and usually gets what I’m trying to achieve and can tell whether or not it’s working. She’s an English teacher with a Masters in Linguistics, so I’m happy to hear her opinion. And if she’s ever mistaken (it could happen!) I’ve got 15 years experience pretending to heed her advice while actually ignoring it. Don’t look at me like that – why, if not for my writing, I might never have the last word! James Cooper James Cooper is a writer and teacher of writing at Tabor Adelaide in South Australia. He lives in Macclesfield with his wife and two sons.

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2 thoughts on “Blog Tour Award…

  1. This was so cool to read. I love getting an insight into others’ creative processes; it feels a little backstagey and personal, and yet it’s also motivating — like watching those “Through the Windows” segments on Playschool that I loved as a kid.

    Your thoughts on exploring the adults in YA fiction were super interesting to me. I’ve been on a bit of a reread kick lately, and have revisited a lot of the books I loved when I was around 13 or 14 — prime YA zone. What’s stood out to me most about these books is how I feel about the adult characters. Some of the adult characters didn’t even lodge in my memory, while others were dismissed for their unlikeable qualities. But it’s interesting to note that I’m a lot softer on the adult characters now than I was as a kid. The ones who seemed crusty or overbearing then seem less cruel and unbending today, more like real people who struggle to express love or understand the other people who populate their world. And they have a much greater role in the story than I recognised as a kid.

    Thank you for the nomination! I look forward to formulating some answers of my own.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Danielle – glad you found something of interest in that mess! I sometimes think I missed my youth and went straight on to middle age! I look forward to reading your take on those four questions! – James

    Like

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