On Writing: Part 5 – Prue Batten

This is a six part series on fanfic writing.  Here are parts 123 and 4.  Joining me today is Prue Batten from the lovely and insightful writer’s blog Mesmered’s Blog.  Prue is the author of several novels including The Stumpwork Robe,  The Last Stitch and A Thousand Glass Flowers.

Here’s what she says about herself on her website at pruebatten.com:

Like most writers, I’ve written since I was a child, fiddling around with paper and pens, rather the way an artist does with brush and paints. The scale of the writing increased with my age, to the point where when my children left home, I thought I had the time and space to complete the novel I had always wanted to write.

I live in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the island bunkered down to the south of the Australian continent. Having been born and educated here and despite living in other places, my husband and I moved back about 18 years ago. The island ethos appeals to my own sensibilities – the security, beauty and freedom of living removed from the rest of the world. It makes for a perfect environment in which to write.

We farm a cropping and wool-growing property just outside of Hobart and when time and seasons permit, I load the Jack Russell terriers in the car and head to a little ‘House’ on the coast and write, swim, walk and kayak. The coast is where I’m truly at home. I feel content when I am on the beach or the water – in summer or winter and a deep sense of all that’s right with the world ensues.

I’m university educated with a media and bookish background. The scholarships awarded for an Arts degree and for a postgraduate diploma in librarianship and my later occupation as a journalist were a past history that laid some hefty foundation stones for investigation, an absolute pre-requisite for the craft of writing.



J:   Thanks so much for joining me, Prue. I know you’ve just launched your latest book, A Thousand Glass Flowers.

PB:  It’s lovely of you to have me here. I’m honoured.

J:  This series is about helping new writers like me understand the writing process. Certainly there was a time before you became a published author when you were honing your skills.  How and when did you start writing?  Did you do fan fiction?

PB:  I’ve been writing all my life. I used to love composition at school and later, in Year’s 10, 11 and 12, I always enjoyed any creative writing in the curriculum. In the annual examinations I used to get myself into trouble with time in the English exam as there would always be a creative component and I would lose myself in whatever I was writing.

At University, I used to write prose for fun the way others might write poetry. Then I became a mum and writing disappeared out the window, but came back in when the kids reached later teen years and left me free to follow my own interests.

I never intended to write a novel. Ever. I just thought I’d try one day and ended up writing a fantasy trilogy which I have since thrown away.

Fan fiction was something I dabbled in for fun last year for just a moment but it isn’t something I would do again.

J:   Was writing difficult at first?

PB:  Because I was only writing for myself, it was fun. But when I started to take it seriously, doing a course in creative writing and then editing, some really large hurdles appeared. There is an awful lot to learn, a lot to remember. There are rules which can’t be broken if your novel wants to make sense. I’m still learning.

J:  Were you influenced by other writers?

PB:  Not so much. I read a lot and I often think I should like to write like my favourites, but then it wouldn’t be me, would it? So I look at what people do right and what they do wrong and therein lies the learning curve.

J:   How did you improve as a writer?

PB:  Firstly I joined an online peer review called YouWriteOn.com where you submit pieces for review and gain points by reviewing others’ works. I learned what worked and what didn’t and some of the review is seriously helpful. YWO.com also ultimately became my indie publisher.

I also send every manuscript to a literary consultancy called Cornerstones (www.cornerstones.co.uk) for assessment. It can take up to two years and quite a bit of outlay to come up with an ms that might ultimately be considered commercially viable. The company read the first 50 pages before they commit to working with you… it’s rather like submitting to a publisher/agent and you have to be convincing in that first 50 pages to be considered worthwhile.

J:  Did you have previous training?

PB:  No, but I’m a former librarian and also a former researcher/presenter for radio and TV, so I learned the value of a good fact. That said I honestly believe that no amount of literary qualification makes any difference. It depends on how much you want to write and how much you read. If anything matters, I think it’s whether you have a creative streak or for want of a better word, imagination. One can learn the rules but one needs to be blessed with that unique streak. People can learn the rules of art but that won’t necessarily make them a good artist.

J:   What do readers look for in fantasy/fanfic?

PB:  I confess I don’t know because I’ve only read one piece of fan-fict and have also only written one piece.

J:    What do you feel about writing erotic scenes?  How far would you go in writing such scenes and how do you prepare?

PB:  For myself I don’t write erotic scenes as such. When I wrote the various love-scenes of Gisborne, I wrote what I like to read in a book or see in a movie and believe it or not I asked my husband to help me. I would write it and then read it to him and he would review it… hard!

I dislike flagrant erotica but it might suit others. I like the idea of seeds sewn but then a reader’s imagination coming into play.

How does one prepare? Goodness, the mind boggles!

J:   Would you write fantasy/fanfic again?

PB:  I will always write fantasy. I have at least two more titles in the Chronicles of Eirie to write, making the series a five book series.

Gisborne sits between historical fiction and historical fantasy, and there are two titles in that saga so still a way to go there.

I won’t write fan-fiction again unless it is from a ‘classic’ derivative like Austen and for a very specific purpose. (eg I was one of the 50 writers who wrote an Austenesque novel on Twitter based on Pride and Prejudice and I have been invited to be involved in an entirely new concept, but can’t say anything about it till November)

J:   Would you encourage fantasy/fanfic writing as a starting point?

PB:  I think we might need to define the terms fantasy and fan-fiction from my POV. Fantasy is a specific and absolutely huge genre within the commercial market and inevitably takes place in a parallel world of an author’s own and very unique creation.

I’m sure there are many writers of fan-fict who say it too is a genre with a commercial base, but for me the difference is that the themes generally spring from someone else’s original idea.

It’s always been really important for me to use the wellspring of my own ideas and that is exactly what happened with Gisborne because Gisborne the character has mega-shifted from the Robin Hood Gisborne. Maybe I should change his name…

J:  Do you have any advice for novice fantasy/fanfic writers?

PB:  Advice for writers is always the same: read, read, read and write, write, write.

J:  Thanks so much Prue for joining me 😀

PB:  It’s been an absolute pleasure, Judi, I’m not sure I will have helped anyone make a choice to write, but it would be nice to think so. Thank you so much for asking me.


NEXT: Final Reflections

I Be Stylin’?

I was an avid reader as child.  I consumed reams of books, first for the pictures, then for the stories.  I craved a good ripping yarn that transported me away from my troubled world.  I recall reading very little children’s books but hit the ground reading books for tweens and young adults.  I was inspired to write my own stories, although I never thought to get them published.     Teachers and relatives reacted favorably to my efforts, and truth be told, I felt quite puffed up.  So I dreamed of writing The Great American Novel because that’s what great writers did.

Then when I was 17 years old, I perversely asked for a book for Christmas, any book.  My parents scratched their heads, grilled a sales person and gave The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.  I was floored.  Her prose leaped off the page from the first paragraph.  The words were smooth, lyrical and rich without getting in the way of the story, and, to me, enhanced the telling.  I found myself stopping to savor phrases like good wine (as if I had any taste in wine) and then deconstrusting sentences to learn how she did it. Did words flow from her brain that way or was it an acquired skill?  In my mind, this was a true wordsmith and I wanted to write like that.  Then I understood that I’d fallen in love with her lyrical style and realized every good writer had his or her own distinct style.  I devoured more books and reread others, looking for style.  (I’ve seen learned that lyrical prose can be taken too far.  For example, I adored Toni Morrison’s work until it seemed she’d become so enamored of her own lyricism that it drowned the storytelling.) As I reread books, the question hit me like a shot out of the dark: what was my style?  How was I to compose deathless prose with no style?  I didn’t have a clue, and as I’ve gotten away from writing, still don’t have a clue.  Maybe I’m not clear on the concept and simply can’t see mine. I’m just not sure. It’s part of what this experiment is all about.  There’s this feeling that with better understanding, I can remove an obstacle blocking my creativity.

RA had a similar revelation.  He had trouble at auditions until he once arrived for one completely in character.  Then he realized the immersive method style worked for him and best showcased his talent.  He’s been honing that skill every since.

Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) gets his total crazy on in Robin Hood, S3.1; richardarmitagenet.com

On Being My Own Worst Critic

My writing hiatus had given me time to read old posts and take stock in my progress.  The original purpose of this blog was to regain the ability to write tight creative prose.  As I dissected each post, I realized the biggest problem wasn’t so much about finding the right action verb, or active tense or pithy adjective.  Something else has been getting in the way.

The problem is one of the pitfalls of introspective writing: how to discuss thoughts and feelings without talking so much about oneself.  I’m sure Dear Reader has encountered that writer whose navel gazing prose is so intense and relentless that it crosses the line between introspection and narcissism, leaving a bad taste.   I want posts to be at least interesting, not insufferable.

This worry has led to increasing self-consciousness.  How many “I’s” can I cut out and still make sense?  Was the story overstated in the haste to emphasis a point?  Did I understate something else?  Is it organized and flowing or babbling?   Do those words accurate reflect my thoughts?  What’s the point to this?

Having made a pact with myself not to rescind a post once it’s published, I then lapse into a heap of insecurity the instant I click the button.  Is it too personal?  Is it too much?   Will readers understand or is it simply more I, me and myself?  Then I anxiously watch for replies and realize it’s not as bad as envisioned.  Things didn’t blow up in my face; I avoided looking a fool.   And then I start drafting another post and the agonizing starts again.  I realize the self-consciousness and insecurity is caused by the vulnerability in revealing parts of myself, but it never gets any easier.

For these reasons, I’ve turned to closely reading blogger, Roger Ebert, the famous film critic.  He still critiques movies but now writes about everything from soup to nuts.  He’s a gifted writer with a simple elegant style and a penchant for just the right turn of phrase.  I’m reading him for not only the technical, expressive aspects of writing, but also for how he deals with posts that have backfired on him.  He treats these occasions as learning experiences, apologies,  clarifies or corrects and then moves on.  (For the creative side, I’m also reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.)

So in essence I have to deal with the ongoing issues on the process of introspecive writing in addition to the techinical presentation and the topic being discussed.  Had this dawned on me at the beginning, I might have thought better of the whole experiment.  But I’m in for a penny, in for a pound, so the blog goes on.

John Thornton (Richard Armitage) has no choice but to be in for a pound in North & South; richardarmitagenet.com

Surreal Saturday

The weekend is here.  I conclude the first week of blogging and didn’t keel over.  Stream of consciousness jotting is easy but concise, precise, introspective prose does require care and time.  I realize how I’ve done so much of the former and so little of the latter. The wheel is still very rusty but I see some bits flaking off.  The weekend is a good time for a mental break, so I’m giving myself breathing space by allowing simple jotting on these days.  Don’t worry.  I’ve got a heavy post coming next week.

I’m drawn to the unusual no matter what medium. Garden variety simply doesn’t hold my interest; I need to have something to pull me in.  I really liked Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I adored the book and audio adaption of Vurt written by Jeff Noon. I’m a big fan of the British sci-fi show  Doctor Who because it’s fantastical. (However things do have to have some internal logic, so don’t start me ranting over S9 of Spooks.  Grrr.)

Jane Austen was talented and unusual woman for her time and her literature has endured through the centuries.  What best to kick off my first Silly Saturday but an off the wall mash-up of her work.

And because I know what you people come here for, here is a great video by Delicate Blossom: