Tag Archives: writing

Writer’s Toolbox

I’ll be putting stuff here that covers both the craft and the business of writing.

The Business of ‘Selling International Rights’ by Moira Allen is a must-read for any freelance writer.

A Craft post – Gayle Gonsalves on Character.

Also check the workshop links on the site and the business links.

Re the Business and the Craft of writing, don’t forget to use the search feature to the right, to look up some ‘opportunities’.

I have a lot of links about my craft and my experience in the business. And here’s a link to my business of freelancing.

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It pays to Experiment, It’s essential to dream

“That’s when the hand fell out. Goldine stared. It was just a hand—innocent looking, really, brown with black hairs, manicured nails, bruised knuckles, and a Rolex.” – from The Cat has Claws by Joanne C. Hillhouse

I just came across this noir piece I wrote and can’t remember if I’d shared it here. It’s an example that proves the headline of this blog posting (It pays to experiment…). I’d read but never written noir before. I decided to try my hand at it (because, why not) and what I wrote was picked for publication in Akashic’s Mondays are Murder Series.

More recently, there’s the fairytale With Grace, which I wrote when I was trying to work through some very negative feelings which I decided to channel into this very positive medium, sort of a way of turning that frown upside down I guess. Fairytales, of course, we know sometimes have dark origins and deal with some what could be the stuff of nightmares but, in the fairytale world, they all lived happily ever after, and with that certainty we can get through the bad stuff. The world doesn’t work like it does in children’s stories, of course, but good things can come out of challenges. And out of the challenge that led me to write With Grace came a story I love very much, I really do, because the fairytale form was an interesting and stimulating challenge for me and I also enjoyed colouring outside of the lines a little bit.  I was encouraged when I shared it with the participants near the end of my Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project last summer and they gave it the same treatment we’d been giving, with my guidance, every story they themselves had shared. They critiqued it.

What they thought worked… “very descriptive …the song was good …effective use or irony…good manipulation of the stereotype(s)…good  (haunting) ending…”

What they thought needed work… “(character’s name withheld) interesting but the introduction was abrupt …need more description of (character name withheld), her back story and what she looks like … some explanation of (plot point withheld)…”

Sidenote: one of my nieces was in that workshop and, though I thought she knew, I think it finally hit her that this is what I do, write stories, because she came up to me afterwards and said with a kind of curious wonder in her voice, “Auntie Joanne, you wrote that…?”

Anyway, I listened to the feedback and the story evolved. More happy news, the story was an honourable mention in the Desi Writers Lounge 2014 short story contest and they’ve contacted me about including it in a forthcoming publication.

“This story came ever so close to making it to the top three. With Grace combines feelings of love, hate, greed and generosity to weave a powerful narrative that is magical in spirit and human in character. Hillhouse is an accomplished writer and her elegant prose shines through in this story.” – DWL on their website, re With Grace

This is in addition to my still very early hope of turning it into a children’s picture book. Yeah, looks like the bug has well and truly bit after Fish Outta Water.

Right now, I’m reviewing edit notes for my forthcoming young adult novel, Musical Youth. By now, you’ve probably heard the story of my 11th hour decision to go for the Burt Award and the story that evolved from that. I’d written stories that have been marketed to the Young Adult market before – The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight were originally part of Macmillan’s schooner series for the teen and young adult market, but they weren’t written, I’ve said time and again for that market; they were just written. With Musical Youth, I was keenly aware of audience during the writing, which is unusual for me, because for me its story first, audience second. But somehow during the writing these blended in my mind, I was writing about teens, I was writing for teens. And I was taking a leap. Look how it turned out:

“Musical Youth is a beautifully crafted novel with the leitmotiv of music running throughout it. This is a powerful and credible story of young love between two likeable heroes. The characters’ gradual exploration and growing knowledge of each other is reminiscent of the way a novice would learn how to play a new musical instrument and slowly get better at it with practice. The use of musical images and the regular musical rhythm that reverberates throughout the text will delight young adult readers.” – from the website of CODE, sponsor of the BURT award

second prize for the Burt Award and (once I get past this editing hump) hopefully in short order a book that will become a favourite among young adult readers from the Caribbean…and maybe beyond. A girl can dream.

A recent dreaming spot during the Emerge wellness retreat (https://www.facebook.com/ECaribbeanWomen) ...because I need a picture for this post and why not this one.

A recent dreaming spot during the Emerge wellness retreat (https://www.facebook.com/ECaribbeanWomen) …because I need a picture for this post and why not this one.

The moral of the story , I think, is try new things, in life and in writing; you never know…

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Better Late than…

WSj13_Cover_Med-1I’m just now realizing I never posted the press release announcing the release of Womanspeak Volume 7, the 2014 edition. Huge apologies to Lynn Sweeting, the Bahamian editor of this distinctive Caribbean collection. My only explanation is my seemingly endless computer woes, including lose all of my information for a while, thankfully recovered, and having to send a brand new computer back to manufacturer…but that’ no excuse. Good thing books neither age, mould, nor go out of fashion. Here it is:

WomanSpeak. A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women, Publishes New Issue

WomanSpeak Books of The Bahamas has announced the publication of the new issue of WomanSpeak, A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women, Vol.7/2014, edited by Lynn Sweeting.

The new issue, especially themed, “Voices of Dissent: Women Writing and Painting to Transform the Culture,” showcases new short fiction, poetry, fairy tales, essays and art by thirty contemporary women writers and painters in a beautiful, perfect bound, full colour, paperback edition featuring the painting “The Butterfly Effect: The Duchess” by Bahamas painter Claudette Dean on the cover.

Creative work by established authors, prize-winners, rising stars and new voices from fifteen countries around the world make up this long awaited new collection. Contributors include Opal Palmer Adisa, Lelawattee Manoo Rahming, Vahni Capildeo, Althea Romeo-Mark, Marion Bethel, Carla Campbell, Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, Sonia Farmer, Angelique Nixon and more.

Founded in The Bahamas in the 1990s, revived in 2011, WomanSpeak began as a personal labour of love for Sweeting and a few local writer friends in Nasssau, a forum where they could publish their own creative work. After a long hiatus the journal returned four years ago, publishing vol.5/2011 and vol.6/2012. With the release of vol. 7/2014 WomanSpeak is poised to become a noted international literary journal and a valuable forum for contemporary women writers and painters everywhere.

Sweeting says WomansSpeak Vol. 7/2014 “is a must read for women writers and painters everywhere, as well as students of women’s studies and Caribbean literature and art and those who love women’s writing and art.”

The long awaited new issue of WomanSpeak is now available for purchase at Lulu

Watch for announcements about the select bookstores where limited print editions will soon be available. Now available at your local bookstore.

 

Back cover blurb

WomanSpeak, A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women, Vol.7, 2014, brings together 30 contemporary women writers and painters of the Caribbean in a new collection especially themed, “Voices of Dissent: Writing and Art to Transform the Culture.” The writers and painters are known and not-yet-known. Some are avowed feminists writing and painting to challenge the unjust status quo. Some are writing stories that are straight out of the headlines as well as stories that never make it to the headlines but should. Some are challenging history’s account of the story of the Caribbean woman. Some are writing new creation myths in which Goddesses do all the work and get all the credit. Some are telling the truth about their lives for personal and political transformation. All are voices of dissent in the patriarchal Caribbean simply because they are women, and women alone, gathering together to share their creative expressions, without the company of men.

Imagine: A feminist literary movement out of the Caribbean. Every WomanSpeak journal is created out of this dream. This issue is not a movement but it is proof one could happen.

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The Long Arm of the Lawless

The Long Arm of the Lawless, a short story by Barbara Jenkins, has won much praise and a trip to Scotland for its author.

The theme of crime writing was introduced during the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in partnership with Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, and the British Council.

Participants in a one-day workshop, led by two prize-winning Scottish crime writers, were encouraged to enter a mini Bloody Scotland short story competition with the winner being offered an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bloody Scotland Festival as part of an ongoing international exchange between the two events.

Dom Hastings, Festival director, says, “We were delighted to be able to attend the NGC Bocas Lit Fest earlier this year, both to showcase Scottish writing and experience a fantastic festival and burgeoning literary scene. I’m incredibly excited to be able to bring a small piece of this back to Scotland and invite a Trinidadian writer as talented at Barbara to our Festival in 2015.”

As a guest of Bloody Scotland, Barbara Jenkins will attend a crime writing masterclass with the University of Stirling and be introduced to the Scottish literature scene. The author says, “I am thrilled. This is my first crime story but I do plan to continue to mine real life in Trinidad for inspiration. Denise Mina and Allan Guthrie led an inspiring workshop. They even got us started writing at the workshop. From then, there was no way I could just let their gift lie unused. I must thank the NGC Bocas Lit Fest for creating this opportunity.”

The annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest is sponsored by the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago as title sponsor, and is also supported by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, Courts, First Citizens and Flow. Its local partners include One Caribbean Media. The British Council, Commonwealth Foundation, Arvon and CODE are among its international partners. The 2015 Festival takes place from April 29 – May 3, 2015 at the National Library and the adjacent Old Fire Station, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

See the website: www.bocaslitfest.com  or contact the Bocas Lit Fest at
info@bocaslitfest.com.

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Do our children lack the abilty to imagine?

I was asked to present at the public library camp over the summer, as I did last summer.DSC_0346Couldn’t do it. But it provided the opportunity to introduce the children to the writing of one of our Wadadli Pen Challenge winners (or so I hoped).

Margaret Irish - winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize collects her gifts courtesy Caribbean Reads Publishing and plaque sponsored by Joy Lawrence.

Margaret Irish – winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize collects her gifts courtesy Caribbean Reads Publishing and plaque sponsored by Joy Lawrence.

Margaret Irish is the winner of the Lead by Example Teachers Prize 2014, and, from the beginning, the idea behind that was encouraging teachers to write, and getting them to get creative in a way that could inspire their students to do the same, inspire them to share their own stories. The teachers were Challenged to submit entries that they could share with their students. Margaret’s The Skipping Rope is a good example of this and that’s why I thought she’d be a good match for the library programme. She readily agreed to do it (thanks to her for doing that) but as she informed me in a subsequent email (shared with permission) she didn’t share her story after all. Instead, she said, “I took them through an exercise in learning to use their imagination” I’m still disappointed she didn’t share her story but adjusting to the circumstances in the field is perfectly reasonable; matter of fact, absolutely essential. Her adjustment was driven by her observation that “students are unable to write creatively, simply because they cannot, they have not developed their imagination.”

As I write this, I remember one of the judges making a similar comment in her review of the 2014 Wadadli Pen Challenge submissions (a comment that echoed the 2005 judges’ report, in which the judge commented about the writers playing it safe, if I’m remembering correctly). The 2014 judge wrote: “The talent is there but I think they need to be taught a few techniques in story writing. I think they suffer from writing too many structured school stories. It is as though they don’t know they can use their imagination.”

This judge’s comment also has me considering another part of Margaret’s email. When she asked the 80 or so students (campers) how many of them liked writing compositions, only five or six raised their hands; when asked how many hated writing compositions “you should have seen the frustrated looks and defiant hands. It was sad.”

Sad indeed.

Possibly, part the problem is in the phrasing. One of the participants in my summer media training workshop at the Department of Youth Affairs comes to mind. She was distracted and disruptive throughout, but, as our rap sessions revealed, sharp as a tack and quite articulate and opinionated. Like most of them she resisted settling down to the work. I remember when she was required to present her review of the first film we’d watched. She hadn’t written a thing and I know she expected me to skip her but I told her she was still expected to present. And she did; she winged it. Interestingly, she did a pretty good job, there was good recall and clear insights in her ramblings and I couldn’t help thinking she’d have had a pretty good presentation if she’d taken the time to even organize her thoughts into bullet points if she didn’t want to write. I remember my one on one with her to discuss the article that each participant was required to produce at the end of the two weeks. She identified her topic, one of the topics we’d discussed earlier in the week but as I pressed re her action plan, trying to get her to focus and to draw on the tools and techniques I’d been sharing with them, it was clear she had no interest in the assignment or the topic. The assignment I dug in my heels on – I was determined that each person would at least try – but why would you pick a topic you had no interest in? So I threw it out and opened up a conversation with her about her genuine interests; it was a bit like pulling teeth at first but eventually I got her talking about one of her biggest interests and suggested to her how that could be a story. She hadn’t finished by the end of the week, and, frankly, I was doubtful she would, but she’d started. When she showed me her progress, it was primarily structured as responses to the questions I’d thrown out to guide her and I realized she’d need more time learning to structure them into prose. But I counted the baby step of getting her started on something as a win. The connection I’m seeing between that story and Margaret’s observation and the judges’ comments is the way we sometimes get locked into this square way of thinking, everything inside the box. One of the reasons I do Wadadli Pen is to awaken that idea that the stories are right there in their own backyard, in their own lives, not remote from their reality. Sometimes it’s enough to get them thinking and talking about the stuff they actually want to think and talk about, a little difficult to do in a one-off session with 80 people (with anything over, say, 15 – 20 really). Sometimes you have to jump start the conversation with films or songs or really whatever works. And, as I tried to do with the breaks and journaling activities at the DYA workshop, sometimes you need time to just be still within yourself, idle even, let your brain just float.

Because the imagination is key to everything: without the imagination there  is no writing, without the imagination there is no creativity, without the imagination there is no visioning, no seeing beyond where you are to the impossible. This is not just about writing now because seeing beyond where we are is something we need as individuals, period, and as a nation; it is this imagining that guides our feet, and lifts a song of promise and possibility in our souls, staving off stagnation and cynicism. So what is it about our environment that has them so uninspired and how can this be addressed not by way of one-off sessions but consistently?

Questions to ponder. Because it’s not that our kids lack imagination. As author Andre Dubois lll said, “We’re all born with an imagination. Everybody gets one.” And it is the font from which writing flows, and not just writing but everything that’s magical in the world.

During her session at the camp, Margaret read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, instead of her own story (and I still, all said, have some issues with that decision because why not do both). She chose that story though I think to reinforce the idea that “when using one’s imagination, the events do not have to make sense.” It opened up the opportunity for her to engage them in an active exercise in which they would make up a story on what one could find on entering a wardrobe. And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t looking for shoes…maybe unless they were ruby red slippers which, clicked three times…conjured up a magic carpet that spirited you away to…Wonderland???

It sounds like she did it as a chain writing exercise, which I do too, as it’s a great way to get everyone involved and a good way to get out of the safe zone as you never know what the person before you is going to add to the story so you can’t over think it, you just have to go with it. Which reminds me of another quote (for you writers still reading this) from the Dubois article: “I love that line from E.L. Doctorow: ‘Writing a novel is like driving at night. You can only see as far as your headlights—‘ but you keep going until you get there. I’ve learned over the years to just report back anything that I see in front of the headlights: Are they yellow stripes or white? What’s on the side of the road? Is there vegetation? What kind? What’s the weather? What are the sounds? If I capture the experience all along the way, the structure starts to reveal itself. My guiding force and principle for shaping the story is to just follow the headlights.” It’s a good way to get out of that zone of what writing is supposed to be and just letting it be, a good way of just imagining where the story could go. It sometimes takes them a minute to warm up to it, to embrace the freedom inherent in the idea that everything doesn’t have to make sense. At least not the first time around; that’s what revisions are for.

To answer the question headlining this piece, no they don’t lack the ability to imagine, though it sometimes needs to be nudged awake, even as we put to sleep this idea that writing is this daunting, insurmountable, dead, and deadly boring thing.

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FYI – BEST OF BOOKS SUMMER READING AND WRITING PROGRAMMES

 

Spreading the word re another writing and reading opportunity, an alternative to my own Jhohadli Writing Programme, this one via the Best of Books.

summer camp primary 2014 Best of Books Teen Writing Camp 2014

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The Jhohadli Writing Project Set to Begin

I’m in the process of preparing for the first session of the Jhohadli Writing Project, successor to last year’s Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project. Unlike last year’s programme, which was a one week camp free to teen and tween participants thanks to generous donors recruited by me, the JWP is a week to week, one session per week, pay as you go creative writing programme for writers at various stages and levels or for people who simply need to boost their writing skills for some other purpose. My expectation is that it will continue beyond the summer as  long as there is interest. That it is not sponsored/free probably accounts for the comparatively low registration. But I plan to press on with this project and anticipate that it will grow as time goes on.

It begins the first Thursday in July, continuing weekly thereafter, with the ‘teen stream  – creative’ programme (as that is where the confirmed registrants have come from). As explained on my Jhohadli site,

“This is for anyone in the teen bracket; into being creative, interested in learning more about craft and open to receiving constructive feedback on works-in-progress. As we work together, participants will hopefully become stronger artistes, and more aware of the great art in and beyond their world.”

As the synopsis suggests, we’ll be looking to other works, Caribbean and non-Caribbean,  classic and modern literature and art for instruction and inspiration, and participants will be encouraged to read, observe, discover and write, and will engage in discussion and receive feedback and guidance.

If you or any young person you know could benefit from this kind of programme, you can contact me at any time at jhohadli@gmail.com for more information or to register.

Feedback from last year’s camp:

“It was truly a help to me and this experience inspired / encouraged me to continue writing as well as share my writing with others.”

“You helped me on my path to being a writer. Thank you so much and I’d like to return next year. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“I’ve been slacking off on my writing and this got me on track.”

“I gained a lot of tips in writing to make it more realistic.”

“I also got a lot of healthy criticism to better my writing skills.”

“I learned a lot from this camp. I can honestly say that my writing has improved from this experience and because of it I’m sure I will get better. Highlight of my summer.”

“I definitely gained more confidence in my writing and extra knowledge on writing stories, books, etc.”

“I gained courage to share my work with others, I learned to look beyond/deeper than what’s on the surface and to show the readers rather than telling them, which makes the piece much more interesting. I also learned that detail is very important.”

“The activities we did were very helpful in developing writing, reading , observational skills and more.”

The Jhohadli Writing Project is a writing instruction and mentoring project spearheaded by Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of several books including The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad! Joanne is also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach, and workshop facilitator who operates out of Antigua and Barbuda but is not limited to Antigua and Barbuda in her interactions with clients or her literary ambitions for herself and others with talent, potential and a strong work ethic. Joanne is passionate about the literary arts and hopes to stir similar excitement and confidence when it comes to literary expression in programme participants.

 

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