This month’s post contains something for writers and something for readers. Both parts though offer some much needed positivity in a world that at the moment seems a bit too full of the opposite. I hope it offers readers of the blog some reasons for optimism. Thank you for here and enjoy!
Keep learning and keep an open mind
Much as writing fiction is an imaginative process, when you write contemporary fiction, as I do, it has to be rooted in the real world and that can cause problems, doubts and questions for an author. My novels have included in their cast characters born and living in the Middle East, characters with disabilities, and characters whose lifestyles are often very different from my own. I always do my research but I do worry whether it’s been enough and that my understanding is accurate. So I was pleased to come across a most enlightening and reassuring article on one aspect of these sort of issues that fiction writers face.
Inclusivity, Diversity and Lived Experience in Fiction Writing
As a writer of contemporary heterosexual romantic fiction I owe it tomy writers togive them a credible story set in the real word of the present day. There needs to be a woman and a man as the main characters, they have to fall in love and they need to overcome all obstacles to their finding happiness together and the story needs to take place in settings that support the telling. I also need to populate the setting and plot with a collection of supporting characters that reflect that setting Sounds simple. But it’s not.
After all, I want to keep writing books and I want to keep entertaining my loyal readers. However, although the above recipe of essential ingredients needs to be followed if I’m to maintain the trust of my readership, it would be pretty dull for me and them if I stuck to only writing what I know and to experiences I’ve actually had in my own life. Yes, of course I do use my own lived experience to inform and inspire my writing. But there’s only so much of it that’s gripping or even interesting to anyone apart from me.
So, I have to go beyond what I’ve experienced as a sixty-something white Scottish woman living in Scotland as a wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. I have to imagine other lives. But imagination is only sufficient up to a point. What I write imaginatively must have strong foundations. It must be realistic, fair and credible.
Therefore coming across an article which included a piece by writer Eliana West recently – on the Alliance of Independent Authors website – at selfpublishing.org – was both enlightening and reassuring. The article was called Racism and Writing but it mentioned and can be applied to writing about all sorts of diverse characters – such as those with disabilities – and included several resources for writers who want to write outside of their own direct lived experience but also to write inclusively, realistically and respectfully. Eliana’s website can be found at elianawest.com and she runs a Facebook group called Writers for Diversity.
Below are some sample quotes from the full article:
Instead of asking if you are the right person to write this story, ask yourself what your intention is with your writing and what impact you hope it will have.
As a writer Eliana West urges you to consider these intentions:
- I am committed to creating characters that reflect the world I live in.
- I will take the time to examine my own bias and do the research needed to write characters who are not stereotypes.
- I will strive to use the appropriate language to describe my character’s identity.
- I will recognize and be respectful of individual experience. I understand I cannot define an experience for an entire race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or community in my writing.
And to ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you want to write this? What is your motivation?
- What is your personal, emotional, psychological, ethical investment in writing it?
- Can someone else tell this story better? Is it someone else’s story to tell?
- What does your telling of the story do? Does it replicate prior violence, oppression or injustice? Does it provide new understanding or insight?
- What is your power balance/imbalance as a writer to the subject matter?
- Should you write/publish this at all? As with most ethical questions, the key is not can one, but should one?
Finding information, balance and comfort through reading
It can be hard at times to keep a positive take on the world around us – especially if we pay too much attention to some of the news headlines and certain areas of social media and not enough attention to keeping things in perspective.
So it’s good to find books that help to provide balance and/or comfort.
Two of my September books of the month both non-fiction are full of optimism around two of the ‘bad’ things we’re hearing a lot about at the moment. One is about the planting of a forest as an act of faith in the future and the other is a positive take on ageing populations and on contesting the taboos and misconceptions around this topic. And my third book of the month is a touching, romantic and absorbing novel and provided the perfect escape when I needed a break from the real world.
The Five Acre Forest by Trish Nicholson
From the back cover:
Planting a tree is an act of faith, an expression of hope.
The Five Acre Forest inspires that hope
In transit from the globe-trotting life of an aid worker, Trish Nicholson came upon an eroded dune beside a lake in New Zealand’s far north and felt a strange attachment. The following year, she abandoned her Celtic roots and returned to plant a thousand trees.
Twenty years on, the author shares the physical and emotional trials and triumphs of transforming the dune into a five acre forest, and describes the lives of its native trees, birds and insects, enchanting us with local legends and her nature photography along the way.
Woven into Nicholson’s personal narrative is the deep-time story of an extraordinary landscape of dunes, lakes, swamps and beaches formed from an ancient shared geological ancestry.
Extra Time by Camilla Cavendish
From the back cover:
From award-winning journalist, Camilla Cavendish, comes a profound analysis of one of the biggest challenges facing the human population today.
The world is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift. By 2020, for the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 and over will outnumber children aged five and under. But our systems are lagging woefully behind this new reality. In Extra Time, Camilla Cavendish embarks on a journey to understand how different countries are responding to these unprecedented challenges.
Travelling across the world in a carefully researched and deeply human investigation, Cavendish contests many of the taboos around ageing. Interviewing leading scientists about breakthroughs that could soon transform the quality and extent of life, she sparks a debate about how governments, businesses, doctors, the media and each one of us should handle the second half of life. She argues that if we take a more positive approach, we should be able to reap the benefits of a prolonged life. But that will mean changing our attitudes and
using technology, community, even anti-ageing pills, to bring about a revolution.
Always and Forever at Glendale Hall by Victoria Walters
From the back cover:
What if we’re all just searching for something?
Anna Stewart is lost. After barely surviving a car accident as a teenager, Anna is scared of settling. Flitting between jobs, boyfriends and homes whenever she gets bored, she has no idea what the future holds. Then her brother Brodie, minister of Glendale, suggests she moves to the beautiful Scottish village, lining up a housekeeper job for her at Glendale Hall.
Out of options, Anna agrees to take the job just for the summer. Once at the hall, her culinary skills impress everyone, and she agrees to give Hilltop Farm’s new manager, Cameron, cooking lessons. Sparks fly between Anna and the handsome Scot, but Cameron keeps pushing Anna away, and Anna definitely isn’t looking for love. But it’s wedding season at Glendale Hall, and Anna is about to discover that her new home has a way of working its magic on even the coldest of hearts.
Will she really be able to just walk away at the end of summer, or could Anna have finally found a place to belong?
It’s summertime so pack your bags and escape to beautiful Highlands village of Glendale with this gorgeously uplifting, romantic read. Fans of Milly Johnson, Heidi Swain and Holly Martin will love this charming romance.
Update on my own writing
Before I go, for anyone who’s interested in where my own aforementioned writing is at currently …
I have finished one novel and I’m busy redrafting and generally knocking the manuscript into shape before it goes off to my editor. And I’m halfway through writing another novel. More about both of these soon …
And that’s just about it for this month.
Just a couple of questions for you? As a writer do you wrestle with diversity/inclusivity issues? As a reader, have you read anything inspiring, informative or just downright comforting this month? As always feel free to share in the comments below.