30 Mar 09

Mentored (Part 3)

Thanks to the Koestler Trust, I am now being mentored by Sally Hinchcliffe, a published author with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London, taught by Julia Bell and Russell Celyn Jones.

After reading chapters 4 to 6 of the draft of my book, Green Bologna and Pink Boxers, Sally offered this advice:

Choreography and timing. Make it clear to the reader how much time is passing and where you are. Try to remember the layout of the jail is confusing to the uninitiated. For example, you wrote, “I parked my rolled-up mattress by the sliding door.” This needs more description. Where are you? You need to place your characters and yourself in physical situations.

Consider stepping back at some point and describing how the jail works. Such as the layout, terminology, even the fact that it’s for prisoners on remand. Now that your disorientation stage is out of the way, give the reader some clues.

There is a much better sense of yourself in these chapters, but be careful of editorialising. Tell us what you feel, but don’t tell us what to think. For example, you wrote, “‘OK,’ I said, worriedly trying to digest all of this advice that might save me from violence” That might save me from violence isn’t necessary because you need to allow the reader to know what to think.

Most of Chapter 4 is excellent. Nice pace. Well described. But I have a few quibbles with the prose. The end sort of dribbles off with the prisoner showing you the ants coming out of his wall where he sleeps. I’m not sure what that adds. I would be inclined to jump straight to the lockdown time. Ending a sort of “settling-in” episode on a downbeat, contemplative note.

Chapter 5 in comparison feels quite patchy. It has a stop-start rhythm. I would like to see it told as a more continuous story. For example, setting up the situation (crystal-meth glut), and then having the characters succumb to paranoia one by one, ending with the violence of the guards. As it stands, it ends with a bit of a whimper. The goon squad have come in, but after that it sounds like a Girls Scouts outing as you get your laundry changed out. Make the goon squad more ominous.

In general, think of each chapter as a short story to get the narrative flowing better. Then the thread and the narrative arc become clearer.

Each chapter has a clear theme, which is good. In general these three chapters feel solid and well realised, and would fit in well to the book however you slant it. Good stuff.

Sally recommended I read The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis. It’s a book of literary criticism, containing pieces on some of my favourite authors such as Tom Wolfe and Don DeLillo. Here’s Amis decorticating Hannibal by Thomas Harris:

Following the riot of paceless implausibilities that serves as the book’s climax, Hannibal and Clarice ecstatically elide. What is the more incredible, at this point: that Clarice should actually go off with the murdering bastard or that Hannibal would cross the street for such a charmless little rube? (It’s hard to think what woman would be capable of diverting Hannibal for more than five seconds. Mata Hari? Baroness Orczy? Catherine the Great?
‘Look at this crowd,’ Harris writes, ‘scruffy, squinty, angry, egg-bound, truly of the resinous heart.’ Vintage Harris: what does ‘of the resinous heart’ mean, truly, and what does ‘egg-bound’ ever think it means?

And for those of you following the progression of the opening page of Green Bologna and Pink Boxers, here’s the latest version I’ve asked Sally to breathe her fire on.

“Tempe Police Department! We have a warrant! Open the door!”
The stock quotes flickering on the computer screen lost all importance as I rushed to the peephole – it was blacked out. Boots thudded up the outdoor stairs to our Scottsdale apartment, setting my nerves further on edge.
Bang, bang, bang, bang!
Wearing only boxer shorts, I dashed to the bedroom. “Claudia, wake up! It’s the cops!”
“Tempe Police Department! Open the door!”
Claudia scrambled from the California king, her blond hair tousled. “What should we do?” she asked, anxiously fixing her pink pyjamas.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!
“Open the door!”
We searched each other’s faces.
“Let’s open it,” I said, not wanting to make matters worse. With Claudia clinging to my arm, I was hastening to let them in when – boom! – the door leaped off its hinges.
Big men in black fatigues and ballistic armour blitzed through the doorframe, aiming their steel at us. Afraid of being shot by some trigger-happy rookie, I froze, terror-struck. I could only gape as they converted my living room into a scene from a war movie.
“Tempe Police Department! Get on the fucking ground now!”
“Police! Police! On your bellies now!”
“Hands above your heads!”
“Don’t fucking move!”
As I dropped to the floor, they fell upon me. There was a beating in my chest as if I had more than one heart. Crushed by hands, elbows, knees and boots, I could barely breathe. Cold steel snapped around my wrists. I was hoisted like a puppet onto my feet. As they yanked Claudia up by the cuffs, she pinched her eyes shut; when she opened them, tears spilled out.

Click here to read Mentored Part 2.

Click here to read Mentored Part 4.

Email comments to writeinside@hotmail.com or post them below. To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

Good morning. Read your blog about the Koestler Trust and Sally Hinchcliffe. I need to find the equivalent of Ms. Hinchcliffe over here in the States. Constructive criticism from someone who knows what they are doing would be very helpful. Everyone I show my writing to at present just tells me how good it is. The praise feels good, pumps up my ego, but is not really what I want at this point. Got any ideas to where I could get a mentor like Sally over here?

Weird Al

Jon said...

I'd ask Dr.S who did our creative writing/critical thinking class if he knows anyone who will mentor you in the Tucson area.

Sally came about for me thanks to the Koestler Trust, but Koestler only cover England.

Shaun Attwood

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a work in progress. I never knew such hard work went into writing a book. The miniscule details seem to be grueling at times and may call for a pint! I would have thrown my hands up in the air a few times already. The constant re-visions. But you are doing your thing Jon. Congratulations. :) -Jose in San Diego

Chris Phoenix said...

Once again, I have to disagree with your mentor. She has a style. You have a style. They are different. I like yours better. Your text is evolving more and more toward her style. You are being well mentored, in the sense of learning what she wants to teach - but I still like your style better.


Corbs said...

Maybe I have read to much of your stuff, but your opening section is starting to sound more like a work of fiction or you writing it as an observer than as someone it is happening to. It sounds less like your voice. Maybe ask Sally how you can preserve that quality while still improving the prose.

Briandi said...

I think we all have writing styles, it's great to get constuctive criticism, or at least some other ideas to work with. Great that you're even as far as you are in your book. I have started 'Prison Widow' as of a few days ago it's just a bunch of ideas and timelines but it's a start 'eh? I can't wait for more of your little excerpts...keep 'em comin' Shaun!

Chris H said...

Yo yo yo

Any more for us loyal few to read, Big Dawg??

I await your response with baited breath...

Hugs & Kisses,

Chris H

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

I sort of agree with the continuing argument that you don't want to "lose your voice", but I know once again from the visual arts, that takes years to develop-to consciously put something down that is that consistently you and is also readable. I think you'll combine the best of both worlds.

P.S. Our famous creep of a judge, Mark Ciavarella, made Luzerne County, PA famous by appearing on 20/20 (Kids for Cash scandal), the NY Times, Philadelphia major news...I think we have a contender for the Sheriff of Nothingham position. Oh, just on our local news today-he insists he has judicial immunity. How do these men grow such insufferable egos???

Anonymous said...

I have just spent the last three days reading my way through all (well most, I have skipped some posts) of this.
And first of all i have to say damn you. I was meant to be getting on with uni work!
more seriously though, wow.
I'm quite lost for words actually, but must of course say that it's good you're not only out but have been for some time now.
I'm definitely going to be following this in real time, at the very least until i find out when I'll be able to get my hands on that book.
hope to comment more in the future and best of luck, enjoy Guildford, it is kind've of nice in it's own staid manner.

Jon said...

Thanks, Erik, for taking the time ro read my nonsense.

Chris H, I'll see what I can slip you after I make a few more revisions.

Chris In Phoenix. It is my hope that my style is slowly maturing, that I am not losing my own voice. I think Sue O sees where I'm going in the long term with this.

Shaun Attwood

Suzanne said...

I really like Sally's ideas, actually; I especially like her notion of you describing the jail layout. I'd even devote a small chapter to that - that location is al inchpin to your tale & spending a few pages walking thru the grounds would be enormously beneficial to your readers.

It would be great for you to walk through the jail grounds andall that entails - the violence, the fear - let us feel it & you can move on to describing events without worrying that exposition is needed - better not to use obvious exposition - our imaginations can do wonders when we have an idea where we are.

i'd recommend Dickens, Poe, or Upton Sinclair for references on acquainting a reader with filthy condition and dark emotional spaces. Or Louis Ferdinand. ;-)

Chris H said...

I read the new stuff man...

Never knew that the 'roach situation was THAT bad!

I've read all your blogs, etc.. but never got the same sense of 'ewwwwwww'.

More please... Pretty please? I NEED A FIX! It's worse than crack - I imagine

Hugs & Kisses

Chris H

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