Welcome to IAAY number nine!

This week it's all about British writer and editor, Marian Newell, whose first novel was inspired by childhood memories of the Cinque Ports and their lurid smuggling folklore.

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments section or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It’s All About Marian Newell
It’s All About Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

 It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’

This must be one of the greatest closing lines in fiction, quite an achievement when you remember that the book has a cracking opening line too. The words moved me to tears when I first read them in my late teens, and the nobility of the protagonist’s sacrifice retains its power for me still.

This book shaped my taste in fiction, making me seek grand themes and psychological depth.  Most of all, it piqued my interest in motivation. I want to get to know characters as if they were real people, and I want to understand what they want and why they act as they do.

One of the grand themes in this story is redemption. It asks whether a worthless life can be redeemed by a single noble act. It also invites us to consider whether the sacrifice has less value because the life is worthless, a burden to the man who sacrifices it.

The quoted words are finely crafted, using the literary device anaphora — the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. This occurs throughout the book and underlines the recurring theme of doubles. There are the two cities of the title and the two characters so alike that they can be repeatedly mistaken for one another.

For me, though, the power of the quote is in the satisfying resolution it gives to the story. An ending that might have been unbearably sad is lifted by the fact that death holds no fear. There is utter confidence that the path taken will leave everyone, including the man who forfeits his life, better off.

A sense of closure remains important to me. I often find stories that end ambiguously to be unsatisfying. While recognising that there is value in personal interpretation, I usually prefer to know what the storyteller means rather than to discover my own meaning in their work.

It’s All About Me

A Devil’s Dozen by Marian Newell (2012)

This, my debut novel, is a fictionalised account of real events. It describes the rise and fall of a smuggling gang that operated on the Kent coast in the 1820s. The tale demanded a strong focus on historical detail and actual incidents but my own interest was more in the nature of the fourteen viewpoint characters. I wanted to use fiction as a tool to look beyond the recorded facts.

It struck me that any group of that size includes a variety of people, doing similar things but for a range of reasons. Having read as much as I could about the time and place, I considered how the men might have differed in their backgrounds and circumstances. The motivations of the characters that I created range from need to greed, from the wildly irrational to the coldly calculated.

My story is unlike A Tale of Two Cities in that it has a factual core and doesn’t impose specific themes on what took place. However, and with no comparison to Dickens’ mastery of the form, I do see ways in which my work was influenced by his. Much of the impact of the sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities comes from its unexpected source. Our expectations are often confounded: people we consider reliable may let us down, while people we dismiss may surprise us. I tried to cast against type when I allocated actions derived from contemporary local rumours to the individuals I had characterised.

Returning to endings, the optimism of mine certainly owes a debt to his. I was mindful of the importance of opening and closing chapters and considered my personal favourites. It was Rebecca (‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’) and A Tale of Two Cities that sprang to mind.

My manuscript originally ended on a reflective and slightly sad note. During the editing process, I revised it to conclude in a more forward-looking way:

‘You sees that, boys? Paul? Tommy? You sees it?’

Tommy looked at Pierce, who closed his mouth and swallowed. They all stared at each other for a moment or two, then Pierce cleared his throat and shouted back.

‘We see it. By Christ, Quacks, we all see it.’

I had lacked the confidence to stop at this point but feedback made me realise that cutting what came afterwards would make the ending stronger. Readers would be able to see what the future held, just as my characters were seeing it.

I wonder if Dickens knew all along that his story would end with the uplifting sentiment we read in the final version. I suspect he probably did.

Welcome to IAAY number five!

This week it's all about Australian composer and guitarist Simon Imagin, whose skills at both have to be heard to be believed - fortunately you can do that by following the links below. And if you happen to find yourself in Melbourne, make sure you get to see him live - I know I will.

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It's All About Simon Imagin
It’s all about JS Bach
JS Bach's music has been a huge inspiration for me as a composer, musician and person. 

I first discovered Bach as a teenager studying classical piano. I had no time for the pomp and circumstance of the classical world - I just needed to know how people like Bach accessed the music which seemed to flow through them in rivers of intertwining melodies. 

Music filled my head but seemed stuck there for the time.

I was learning Bach's 2 & 3-Part Inventions and was comparing various recordings to show me different approaches. Most were performed efficiently but said very little to me. Then I heard Glenn Gould's versions.

Not only did he have a total technique and understanding of the music, but this eccentric Canadian was allowing the music to take him over. Everything was coming out of the moment that both Bach and Gould had found themselves in.

Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is the one I visit the most. Amazingly a film was made of it.

It’s All About Me
Now, although I am not anywhere near either man in skill, as a composer I had a small Bach/Gould experience in 2009 when I experimented with writing music in one sitting - virtually slow-motion improvisation. Bach often gives me the feeling where he is just as interested where the piece will lead as any listener so I decided to follow my inner ear with an open mind and see what I could come up with.

I started by inventing a short and simple melodic fragment that lasted a bar or two - just a few notes that suggested a rhythm. I wrote out the logical extension of that line until I had a nice musical statement that went for 4, 6 or perhaps 8 bars. Next I added a supportive bass melody and maybe a third inner line. If anything didn't quite sound right I erased and rewrote but I was always moving forwards and working steadily one bar at a time and not letting my attention wander too far.

When I found that I had a cohesive chunk of music (or "A part") I continued with writing a complementary (or completely different) "B" and "C" part using the same procedure. I also came up with an intro and outro to bookend the piece. The process wasn't far from that 'kindergarten feeling' of making something with the objects at hand. At the end of the session I had a two page composition and left it on the table. The next day I played through it and was amazed at it's originality. 

How did I write that? 

Not allowing myself to feel too smug I wrote 'piece two' and each night or so I added another until I had completed 36 complex pieces in the space of 60 days. Some nights I felt more tired but that seemed to help the music to come out more easily as I wasn't questioning the process. With a few small revisions these were arranged into six suites of six pieces each and they now form the bulk of my setlist. It amazes me how many simple moments added together can lead to such richness.

The notes are out there for us all I believe and we can catch them in our butterfly nets if we keep an open ear and are patient. Here are simple run-throughs of pieces 2 and 20.

You can contact Simone via his email address: simonimagin at gmail dot com

Tabla de Contenidos
1. The Darkness Beneath - Free Copy
2. It's All About You

The Darkness Beneath: Sex, Death and Trains, all Yours For Nothing (still!)*

*Terms and Conditions apply: you can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 people to sign up can claim a free copy.

It's All About You - Time to Get the Excitements On
This Wednesday an unsuspecting world will wake/be already awake/fall asleep to the news that my very first It's All About You blog will be published.

And our first contributor will be the very marvellous writer and extremely industrious Maureen Hovermale. She'll be catapulted into the digital stratosphere on the 20th June.

It's All About You will then appear every Wednesday and will probably vary a bit for a while as I'm sure I'll have to get all experimental on the format. 

I've already got five people lined (three writers/two artists) but I'm greedy and want more contributors, and I want them now! And any of these could be you. Yes, that's you I'm talking to, the one looking at your computer or other handy digital device. 

I want to know what turns you on about being creative: what book or work of art gave you the wanna-do's and the I-must's? And when you did done or were all must-ered out, what did you produce?

I want to know about that too, so it's a great chance to show a slice of your work and tell everyone why it thrills you to have created it. You never know, you might even give someone else the wanna-do's and I-must's - and sharing and spreading the power of creativity has got to be, in my opinion, one of the best things any of us can do.

All you have to do is write 250 words on something or someone that inspired you to go create (and supply the quote or a pic of the art work). The second part features an example of your work and another 250 words on why you like it or how it makes you feel or... well, whatever you like really.

The only rule is that this isn't an opportunity to big up a mate, unless you happen to be mates with Cormac McCarthy or Francis Bacon. That said, it doesn't matter where you are in your career: I want to hear as much from the unpublished or unexhibited as much as I want to hear from those further up the success ladder. All are welcome.

If you want to take part, contact me via my blog's comments or comments form, or on the Twitter: @mickdavidson.

As I write there's four hours left of 2011 - a year I'll be glad to see the back of, yet it wasn't all bad. The financial sword of Damocles continues to dangle above my head, wiping the smile off my face if I go over-exuberent about being alive - but what the hell! I am and I will not be defeated.

There were plenty of good things but I can't say 2011 was the best year I've ever had: a lot of the surprises and twists and turns life takes were negative. I won't go into the details, but it wasn't just about me - some close and dear friends also had some severe setbacks.

On the upside I got a fair amount published, becaume a regular columnist with Specter Magazine and a member of the Specter Collective, and got an offer from Trestle Press to publish my first novel as an ebook, which will be out in the new year. Alongside that I submitted two short stories and the first three chapters of Novel 2 to organisations who I think highly of. One is for the BBC (should find out if that's been accepted in the summer), one its for the short story competition run by Peirene Press and the last was for another competition. The prize for the later is to have the story critiqued by a real live literary agent. There's also a poem entered into the competition run by Holland Park Press.

I've also found at least one really good target to pitch my second novel - a bike-based romance set in the Netherlands - which is a huge bonus as we all know a focussed submission is less likely to fail than a more random one. More on that as soon as I've despatched the finished work to them.

So 2012 is already lining up to be a good year: I know the BBC will accept and broadast my story, and it's a dead cert that I'll win at least one of the competitions - how can you doubt me? :) Yes, I know - no one but a fool would believe such nonsense. But as I said, I will remain optimistic (and yes, sometimes I will be wildly optimistic!) and not be held down by negative feelings and natural and unnatural disasters.

The start could hardly be better as I'm off to Melbourne in Australia for three weeks, two of which will be a holiday and all of which will be spent with a very talented and creative friend. And I'll be on such a high from that I'll still be soaring like a bird come June! :)

Happy and succesful new year to you all. xxx