Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Muse – Litopia’s New E-zine

Readers and writers alert! Or as my borrowed countryfolk would say, Achtung! Litopia – the very lovely, friendly, creative writers’ colony where I hang out – has just published the first edition of its online literary magazine Muse. It’s sharp, it’s sexy and you want to read it.

Here’s a link to the pdf. Here’s another link, if that doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back soon with an actual post. With content. That is, words written in order, by me, with a point to them. And that’s a promise!


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Weighing and Balancing

I’m busy trying to select a high school for my ten-year-old and believe me, that is not a typo. German kids start secondary school at the ripe old age of ten. Not only that, they are streamed at ten according to their academic results into the three different types of high school: Gymnasium for those who’ll go on to university, Realschule and Hauptschule for those who won’t. So a Maths test L did last week will help to decide whether she goes to university or not.

Unable to do anything about the bizarre system, I am breaking the mould by not sending my kid to the nearest school as a matter of course. We are looking at a range of schools, state and private, in the Heidelberg area. For me, it’s a huge decision: she’s my first child and the first person in our whole family to be heading for high school in the German system. The decision we make has to be a good one: she’ll be there for eight long years, and it should be a school that suits our other two. We want a school that has a good mix of Germans and foreigners, and where there is emphasis on languages. Nothing too homogenous.

The first of our six school visits took place last night. We went to the local high school – a vast place with more than 1000 pupils that educates kids from the Burg and all the surrounding villages. It’s the monopoly gymnasium. There are no other options nearby. We were impressed by what they had to offer, but I fear it’s going to be too homogenous for us. Plus it keeps us in the Burg for ever.

Tomorrow’s visit is to a private school. Private schools have a weird  reputation in Germany – they are seen as places where rich people send their thick or difficult children in order to drag them through Abitur. They are also considered elitist and someone said to me in all seriousness, ‘Are you sure you want your child to have an elitist school on their CV?’

So we are weighing and balancing, taking some things we see and hear to heart, ignoring other things.

I’m in the same process with my novel. Right now, I’m weighing the plot, what works and what doesn’t and throwing out the latter. I have a whole file called ‘extra stuff’ full of back-story that I’ve chucked out. Now and again, I find a use for a sentence or two and I thread them back in.

The next iteration will be on the language level. One of the readers from my writers’ forum pointed out that my characters nod and shrug a lot. She’s right, of course. I’ll be working through it line by line, strengthening the verbs, improving the body language, working on stimulus and response. The plot might be colourful and vibrant, but the language needs to be too.

So that’s where I am, dear readers, weighing and balancing. Trying to make good decisions that will stand my family and my novel in good stead. Trusting my instincts. Moving forward.


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Women Writing

I finished the second draft of my novel on Monday night. This was a complete rewrite of the first draft, and took six months to complete. (The first draft took 15 months.) When I finished, I felt scattered, unsure, anxious. I was prepared to dive in and start a third draft in the voice of yet another character – the feeling of being scattered also pertains to the novel, where I can’t seem to commit to a protagonist. It’s the same story, over and over again, with different narrators.

I went to my new writers’ hangout, Litopia, where I received some sage advice: put the manuscript in a drawer and take a rest from it. Look at it again in six or eight weeks’ time. In the meanwhile, carry around a notebook and note down any novel-related epiphanies. Write other things. Just don’t look at the manuscript.

After a day’s grief (this is my baby; we’ve been together for 21 months), I decided to follow the advice. My emotional reaction to the words of wisdom was indication enough that I absolutely needed to pause, reflect and gain some distance from the words in which I’ve been entangled for nearly two years. I am in no place right now to edit; I’m too tied up to be objective, and I strongly feel it is too early to bring in my readers.

One of the books I read this year was A Room of One’s Own, which made me think about my own writing process, about interruption and about having to live life as well as write about it. Then I read Rachel Cusk’s superb article on women writers in today’s Guardian. Here she talks about the woman writer:

What compromises women – babies, domesticity, mediocrity – compromises writing even more. She is on the right side of that compromise – just. Her own life is one of freedom and entitlement, though her mother’s was probably not. Yet she herself is not a man. She is a woman: it is history that has brought about this difference between herself and her mother. She can look around her and see that while women’s lives have altered in some respects, in others they have remained much the same. She can look at her own body: if a woman’s body signifies anything, it is that repetition is more powerful than change. But change is more wondrous, more enjoyable. It is pleasanter to write the book of change than the book of repetition. In the book of change one is free to consider absolutely anything, except that which is eternal and unvarying. “Women’s writing” might be another name for the book of repetition.

Cusk talks about how both Woolf’s book and de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex shaped the discourse of 20th century women’s writing, a discourse that is about property. She says, “A woman needs a room of her own to be able to write; thus her silence has been the silence of dispossession.”

How funny then, that as I put down the manuscript, I immediately began writing a story about a group of women who get themselves a room. Some like the version of themselves they find there, some learn something and take it back to their real lives, others are inspired to recreate themselves and still others run in terror back to their own lives, hating their new reflection. What happens to us when we are graced with space and time? Why is it so scary? Why is it so much easier to be in the flow of everyday life and not think too hard? Not challenge ourselves?

My family have made sacrifices over the last 21 months for me to get my novel written – my children have had a mother constantly at the laptop, they’ve probably watched too much TV (though they have done some stunning independent crafting too – my son turns out to be a dab hand at basteln), I’ve earned less in the last two years than I have previously, and I’ve been grumpy and distracted. On the other hand, they have a mother who has a passionate interest, and all three of them have written their own books this year, not necessarily completed, but the thought counts.

My writing life will continue to be a juggle, probably forever. But what I love is that as I’ve gained confidence, I’ve taken more time for myself, moved from writing sneakily or when people are sleeping, to openly spending large chunks of time writing. I’ve made the space in my life for my writing. I have given myself that gift, terrifying though it seemed at first to even suggest I deserved it.

Since I stopped writing my manuscript, I’ve written one short story, revived two old ones and started a fourth. Twenty-one months of writing means I have momentum, ideas and energy. I’m getting the novel-related epiphanies, as well as amazing support from online and real life friends. And my family are there, being sweet to me and greeting me with smiles when I deign to arise from the cellar.

I have given myself a room, I have allowed myself the time. All I have to do is keep writing.


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Dani Noir

One of the joys of blogging is being able to connect with writers all over the world, right here from The Dorf, Germany. One writer whom I “met” early in my blogging days was New Yorker Nova Ren Suma, who blogs at Distraction No. 99. Nova has inspired me and many others with her dedication to writing. She is a writer with every core of her being; she lives and breathes it. (Occasionally, she breaks from writing to eat cake, which is another reason to love her.)

Having ghosted a series of tween and YA novels, Nova decided to try her hand at writing for younger readers. It was clearly the right decision: her debut Dani Noir was published by Simon and Schuster’s Aladdin imprint in October this year. Within a month, it was on Amazon’s list of Top 10 Books for 2009: Middle Readers.

I’ve read Dani Noir and I loved it. It’s witty, pacey and delightful. If you are looking for a present for a girl this Christmas in the nine to 14-year-old range, Dani Noir might be just the thing. Be warned though: you might have to start renting Rita Hayworth movies!

Here’s a link to the Dani Noir site, and to my recent interview with Nova, published today on Buzzine.