Dyslexic tales · Masters tales

The Dylan Thomas Prize

7th November 2012

Well, technically this is a reading week but we were lucky enough to have two of the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlisted authors visit and discuss their writing processes. Their books were brilliant and although I have my favourite, they both sounded great from the extracts that were read out.

The first was:

Andrea Eames: The White Shadow

Eames was born in England but grew up in Zimbabwe, where her first two novels are set. There she attended Jewish, Hindu, American and Catholic schools, and her family moved to New Zealand when she was 17 to escape the turbulent political situation. There, she met her now husband, whom she married in 2007. They have now moved to Austin Texas. She wrote her first novel at 15 in England, where she had been sent to live with family to avoid the escalating violence in Zimbabwe, and it was published in Zimbabwe. Her Masters project at Canterbury became her first ‘real’ novel, The Cry of the Go Away Bird. The White Shadow is her second.

Oddly her style of organising and writing was something that I understood. Andrea wrote the first 10000 words very quickly by just copying what her character was saying. Anyone who writes will be able to tell you that sometimes a character can get loud and brash, and drown out other stories, so much so that the only way to get rid of them is to exorcise them onto paper. This is what Andrea did (or at least what I think she did based on her talk). She then cut the sentences up and arranged them in a scrapbook to create an order – now this is something I do. Because of the dyslexia sometimes stories are not necessarily in the right order which means a bit of manual chopping is required. I actually make a really long document (the longest was 20 feet) and then start at the beginning and do a rewrite.

The second to talk was:

Tom Benn: The Doll Princess

Tom Benn was born in 1987, and grew up in Stockport. He is a graduate of UEA’s Creative Writing MA programme, and was the recipient of the Malcolm Bradbury bursary. The Doll Princess is his first novel, and has been longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger of the Crime Writers Association and shortlisted for the Portico Prize. Now living in Norwich, his sequel entitled Chamber Music will be published early next year, and has been described by his publisher as ‘an electrifying noir novel about lost loves, stolen drugs and dragons’.

Tom’s style is much more precise, he even acknowledges that he will count syllables so that the sentence, paragraph, page sounds right. He is what I can only describe as a musical writer. His book flowed as the character he used was one he had created whilst still at university, so he knew how he was going to react to a given situation. I suppose it must have been like writing about an old friend. Tom had known the general story for his book and started writing it with a vague idea but he didn’t know who had committed the murder. I plan my stories well but allow characters to go off at tangents. To not know where you are going makes Tom a brave writer.

The winner of the prize was announced Friday. Unfortunately neither of these authors won, but I hope they each have success as their books are good.

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