Tuesday, 8th October’s meeting was one filled with warmth and a relaxed, chatty atmosphere throughout. Audience members were able to ask questions of the two friends as they thought of them which ensured that time was made for everyone’s questions, with two openhearted, welcoming speakers in Special guest Hilary Hares and main speaker Claire Dyer.
Special Guest: Hilary Hares – Writer and Poet
Poet Hilary Hares gave a captivating talk about honing your craft. While some poets may jest that you should never trust a poet who can explain what their poem means, Hilary told how it’s important to know the essence of what you’re
“When I’ve written it, I often cut it in half to distill the essence,” Hilary told, elucidating this further with “as much as property purchasing is about location, location, location, poetry creation is about revision, revision, revision.”
Hilary suggested the following edits and checks to strength your work after the first draft:
- Read aloud to feel the rhythm;
- Check your verbs – are they powerful enough?
- Check your nouns – are they all working well?
- Move things around;
- Change the point of view;
- Change the piece from passive to imperative voice. This will reveal which voice is stronger for this piece.
You need to know whether you’re just writing for yourself or for public consumption, because if for public consumption you will need to make decisions on how you want this to happen. A second pair of eyes is a must; Go to open mic open nights. There’s one in Winchester, even if it’s just to listen; You could Attend a tutor group or poetry school – some good ones are Arvon (https://www.arvon.org/writing-courses/courses-retreats/) or Live Cannon (http://www.livecanon.co.uk/courses).
“Most valuable is a trusted poetry friend. Claire Dyer is mine. You become to know each other’s style and likely edits. We know what will be e-mailed to each other now so we make those amends before sending for review.”
“I’ve written about 600 poems, so I use spreadsheets to keep track of where I’ve sent them and where they’ve been used.” You must be disciplined about sending work. Hilary recommends setting aside a day a month specifically to do this, whether sending to competitions, magazines or works being published. Set yourself small goals but be realistic with time lines. Print magazines may take six months to respond but online magazines’ turnaround is closer to three weeks. But also read the print or online publication you’re submitting to first, do your research. You want to be sure of quality.
Hilary told how ‘rejection is your friend.’ She voiced how it can feel personal when you put your heart and soul into a poem but ‘if you look at the poem as an entity in its own right which needs to find its way in the world, like sending your children off to university, it becomes easier.’
Hilary has used this system for 11 years and so far has had 150 poems published either in print or online.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Radio 4. For example, I heard on Radio 4 about a whale who gave birth to a baby girl and a baby boy. The daughter went off to be her own personality but the son stayed with his mother, learning from her. There is inspiration everywhere – Facebook, funnily enough. I don’t engineer inspiration. Things pop up.”
“Some of my favourite poets would be Jo Bell, Kim Moone, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald. The list goes on. No particular genre. We would be here all night if I listed them all.”
Main Speaker: Claire Dyer – Chapter & Verse
Claire is an author of three poetry books and four novels published via two agents and two publishers (with many more written and hidden in the loft); being a writer of both chapter and verse, Claire is often asked which she prefers. But she finds this question very similar to ‘which one of your children is your favourite?’ the answer will always be: ‘I like them the same.’ “There are different challenges with poetry and prose but in both you need to use character, message, atmosphere, voice.”
It was the 10 years of experience on top of studies that led Claire to discover her voice. Claire joined the Poetry Society (https://poetrysociety.org.uk/), went to festivals, studied for a Masters at Royal Holloway, and 10 years later was when she noticed a change in her writing, “Nothing beats thrashing out ideas with other poets. All life is material. Nothing is ever wasted. Writers’ lives are exciting and frustrating in equal measure.”
Claire has been teaching creative writing for five years. She has seen writers grow in confidence and conviction during this time. She also runs a critique service – Fresh Eyes (www.clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/) – which she hopes most writers will find less extortionate in price in comparison to the typical fees you expect from paid critique services.
“Writing can be frenetic and other times can be silent. I had to learn to be silent.” Putting a poetry collection together can take years, Claire’s first collection took 10 years, her second took four years and her third took five years to compile.
“And learning to live with rejection is important. Writing is a journey of wonderment. We’ve been to some amazing places, but I also have enough rejections to wallpaper St. Paul’s Cathedral… and I still don’t take them well,” she laughs, self-deprecating.
But Claire’s favourite part of writing is the personal connection: “Living with the work is so wonderful. Living with the writing life is my oxygen, publishers are a secondary consideration. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one page or a 100,000.” Claire loves writing a character that even she doesn’t know what they’re going to do next, until she sits and writes their pages. “Many writers will know exactly how their story is going to end but I like the ending to be a surprise for me and then I know it will be a surprise for the reader.”
Claire started her writing journey with ‘very bad short stories’. Her first novel at just 20,000 words she was advised to put under the bed. So she did and it’s still there. Claire said how with rejections you only ever remember the negatives, those directions to hide things under beds, you miss the positives comments of what worked well. But there are things that you can do that will help, Claire suggests ‘being in a writers’ group – such as Hampshire Writing Society – is step one; and to read! Read in your chosen and other genres. Look for good dialogue/bad dialogue; ask yourself ‘how is it constructed?’; inspiration is everywhere.
“I’m often inspired by one tiny idea, one tiny thought; for example, with my book Last Day, I wanted a love triangle where everyone got on and wondered how that would play out. Inspiration could be found looking at a photo, looking at a door, books can grow from the smallest idea. I have even spent time with potters, carpenters, firefighters just to learn.”
Last Day, underwent three major rewrites. “It’s no surprise it can take 18 months for a book to reach the shelf when you see the process of publishing a book.”
“Sometimes you’ll have three sets of experiences live in your mind at one time,” Claire explains. “The book that’s on the shelf selling, the book that’s with the publishers going through the process and the book you’re currently writing. I’m a nightmare to live with at this point,” Claire quips.
With 15 books written, Claire is familiar with sometimes falling out of love with a book when you’ve left it a while. And then it can be impacted by timescales, continuous advances in technology, for example, and can make it even harder to go back and change it. Changes in readers’ expectations as time moves on also plays a part. As a comparative in example, modern day readers like to be thrown into a book but Victorian readers enjoyed the slower introduction.
“It’s about the journey, not the destination. So much of what we do is predicated by luck. Our chances are slim but we keep hold of hope. Keep the faith in your work and maintain public contact… And don’t get too drunk at book launches.
“Enjoy the friends you meet, the points of view you get, live the writer’s life. You’ve got to be in it to win at it, after all.”
photos by Alex Carter, LexicaFilms