Against the backdrop of Cambodia’s violent past and the beginnings of its new Tribunal for 'justice', a story of displaced souls unfolds. In Cambodia, innocents are everywhere. Everyone is innocent, or so they would like to believe – everyone, except the few who, for their own private reasons, take on the guilt of the many.
I took advantage of Sue's good nature (plus the fact that she was available because of promoting the book, she's the busiest person I know!) to ask her to write about something that fascinates me - how the writer can be an entrepreneur too. Here's what she says.....
Thanks, Sarah, for giving me this chance to visit your blog. And thanks also for giving me this opportunity to put down in a (hopefully) coherent fashion the lessons I’ve learned from my rather meandering and, admittedly, iconoclastic approach to my career.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I knew how to read. My first piece written for public (ie my class of fellow 7 year olds) was an adaptation for “the stage” of my favourite novel at the time – I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t remember its name, but I know it had something to do with mice. But it took me well into my forties to begin to believe I could write anything worth showing to anybody else. My first publications were a short story and a poem, both in the same year, in different magazines. I was 44. But here I am today, eleven years later, with 2 novels and a poetry play published, another poetry collection completed and a full-length play in development. I say this not to toot my own horn, but to show that it can be done. Now, as my second novel, “A Clash of Innocents”, is being published by the new publishing firm of Ward Wood, it’s a good time to look back and see what I can offer up as advice:
• Take your creativity off the page and put it into your life
We are all creative people, and writers are especially good at creating characters. Use that creative energy to create yourself. Think outside the box and let your imagination run free as you contemplate your own life. I suppose the rebel in me has always made me think that I can do things differently, I don’t have to do anything exactly the way everyone else does it. Agood example of this was the creation of my poetry play, “Dreams of May.” I had been taking my writing seriously for several years at that point, working on a series of short stories which eventually – and surprisingly - became my first novel, “Tangled Roots.” But at the same time I was writing more and more poetry and braving more and more open mics. Was I a poet? A short story writer? A novelist? Who knew? All I knew was I was writing and it felt good. I was trying to get my poems published but I realized that the poems which seemed best received by audiences were not necessarily the ones being accepted by magazine and journal editors. It made me question why, think about the differences between hearing and reading a poem and then I thought, “hey – why not turn my poems into a play?” I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing, but it didn’t stop me. I literally got a few friends together to help me get it done, and the result was a two-week run in London’s Pentameters Theatre. I also created a text which I assumed I would Xerox and hand out to people coming to the show, but another friend convinced me to send it to a small press who, quite shockingly, decided to publish it. Presto, I was suddenly a poet with a book published and a playwright. That bit of creativity helped me to become the person I had always wanted to be and to live the life I have always wanted to live – namely a life spent in the practice and contemplation of the literary arts. I used my “flair for words’ (as an early English teacher once said) to create Sue Guiney, The Writer. I guess I’m my own best creation.
• There is no one way to get something done
I’ve made all sorts of choices that have seemed sketchy at the time. I didn’t get a creative writing degree. I chose not to look for a big publishing house but to publish my first novel with a small press – and even though that press went bust, I’m today publishing with another small press (though one I know will be better run). I no longer have an agent. I write across several genres without focusing on any one of them. I’m not saying that others should make these choices, just that there are many roads that lead to the same place. My yoga teacher always says, “there are no shoulds.” I think she’s right.
* Dare to be bold and don’t edit your actions
Some of my most successful and rewarding ventures have been ones that I supposedly should not have been able to do at all. As I mentioned above, I wrote and published a poetry play and produced it against all odds. This was wonderful in its own right, but it also It led to my first publishing contract and then the formation of my arts charity, CurvingRoad (www.curvingroad.com), which has led me into a world of theatrical pursuits that I had never dreamt of. Over the past five years we have produced a photography exhibition and four plays, one of which was a West End World Premiere. There was no way that I ever had imagine I could accomplish such a thing. And all of these efforts have impacted each other and have led to new ones. In other words, don’t let the rational you stop you before you get started. Now that I think of it though, maybe it’s not that I have been so bold. Maybe it’s just that I’ve allowed my own naivete to lead me down paths I should have known not to go down. In other words, don’t let the rational you stop you before you get started.
• Be truthful with yourself about your goals
Don’t be ashamed of being ambitious. It’s the only way to get anything done. But be realistic. If you want to go for fame and fortune, terrific. But write the sorts of things that will get you there. I decided I didn’t need to have my face on the side of a bus, so I’ve stuck to writing things that are not necessarily mass market sellers. But I demand excellence of myself, just as we all should. I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread a sentence. I know I’m no artistic genius, but I do finally believe in my own abilities and force myself not to settle for “good enough.” It’s not easy. It takes more patience than I normally have and so I ‘ve also realized I need help. I rely on trusted readers to tell me when it’s not good enough and when I’m ready to move on. To be honest, I have paid people to do this for me. It may seem like a luxury, but it really isn’t. Sometimes an objective outsider is the only one to tell you the truth. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, and when you think of how much time you invest in your writing, throwing a bit of money into the investment as well really does make sense. I worked long and hard on “Tangled Roots,” and it was the help of a paid tutor which pushed me towards the level of excellence that I was able to achieve with that book. I have worked just as hard, though not as long, on “A Clash of Innocents,” and I have relied on outside readers with that as well. Whether other people agree that it is up to the standard of my first book is yet to be seen. Pretty scary! But I believe in it and know that I couldn’t have done any better on it, and I suppose that’s my real definition of excellence.
I alsoBut I do promote myself as much as I can bear, because I admit that I do want to be “known” and interviewed and asked to be on panels and workshops (still working on that last bit). I do want my work to be read by people other than those who already know me. And, as long as we’re being truthful, I do want/need an occasional evening when a room is full of people congratulating me for a job well done (ie my wonderful book launch on 30 September!).
• Step away from your desk
Writers are by nature shy. We like to sit alone, playing with words and creating worlds in our heads. But you need to force yourself to go meet writers and readers. Go to readings, launches, conferences. Embrace that awful verb: to network. This is always torture for me, but I’m never sorry. My latest publishing contract grew out of a conversation I had at a poetry reading with a woman I had known through my first publisher, but who I got to know better through Facebook. Going out into the world forces you to say out loud to strangers, “Yes, I am a writer.” And believe me, that was the hardest, but most important step of all.
I’ve rambled on too long. Thanks for sticking with me. But I do believe that with flexibility, imagination and old-fashioned gumption we can all live our dreams. It’s taken a while, but I know I’m finally beginning to live mine.
I love this piece - there is so much here that makes sense. May we all step away from our desks a little, dare to be bold, and above all, live our dreams!
You can order A Clash of Innocents from the Book Depository here