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Recycling your Darlings: novel writing with Lesley Glaister – 22 November 2017

It was a foul November night. But it was heartening to see such an excellent turnout for a visiting speaker.

I knew Lesley Glaister was my kinda gal when she said, within minutes of opening her mouth, ‘Are you she?’ I could use that on 6 December, I thought, briefly (which is when Pat is running her Pedantic Grammar workshop). Before I could pursue that idea, Lesley had grabbed my attention again. Talking about descriptions, she said, ‘It doesn’t matter if readers see a different shaped hill or a different way of walking from the one in your head. Everybody brings to it (i.e. your writing) their own knowledge of the world.’ That is excellent advice. Many novice writers tend to write far more description than is necessary. It’s best to sketch in the outline and let readers fill in the detail from their own experience or, as Lesley says, ‘knowledge of the world.’

Lesley read to us, beautifully, from two of her novels while battling a sore and dry throat. Thanks to Kirsty for saving the day with a pack of Strepsils! So enchanted was I by Lesley’s prose that I bought one book, Little Egypt then went back for the second The Squeeze, at the end of the evening. I justified my extravagance by having one dedicated to my future daughter-in-law, a fellow bookworm. Think that will do as a wedding present?

When we got to discussion time, there were a lot of interesting questions. Here are a few and Lesley’s response:

• Writer’s block? Keep writing. For those who have no time to write, Lesley sends this assurance: even one sentence a day, or three minutes’ worth of writing, will help. Get into the habit of ‘Daily Observation’ – by that she means, really look at or really listen to the world around you and try to engage as many senses as you can.
• Lesley cheered her audience by telling us that Little Egypt took twenty three years to write. She was asked how to deal with the ‘boggy bit in the middle’. Her answer is to leave it and write what you like, the parts that appeal. Lay them down as stepping stones across the bog. I’ve heard Alexandra Sokoloff suggest the same approach. These writers do not believe that writing must be a linear process, especially when the going gets ‘boggy.’
• Lesley was asked about the challenges of being married to a writer. She said it has advantages in that she and her husband know each other’s world but that it can be irritating when one is prolific and one is blocked.
• Lesley spoke about two characters she’d written over the years, in Little Egypt and described how they had got ‘too big’ for the book. She was asked about ‘killing her darlings’ and explained how she sets them aside to be used again, maybe in a novel of their own.
• Lesley told us she’s not keen on using social media and has managed thirty tweets!
• She doesn’t change her writing in response to critics and considers ‘bad language’ acceptable when it’s appropriate and true to the character.
• She shared her views on how publishing has changed in the twenty seven years she’s been a writer and welcomes how much more democratic it has become, while regretting the dropping of ‘mid-listers’ by the big houses for whom it’s often more about profit than quality. Hear-hear, we said.
And hear-hear for another great speaker!

Pat Young

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