Writing Bad…

I want to tell you about ‘the short bad book.’ It’s the title of a chapter in Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, of which if you read my last newsletter and/or blog you will know I’m a huge fan .
I’m an even bigger fan now, since I tweeted my blog and had a lovely and totally unexpected reply from Dani Shapiro herself. She lives by her words which are generous and egalitarian.
But, back to this ‘short bad book.’ The idea is that anyone can write a short bad book, right? So telling ourselves this or some version of this, is a way of releasing ourselves from the pressure that comes with wanting to succeed and to find publication. Well, for starters, I definitely identify with ‘the short.’ Deciding to write a novella or allowing a book to be the length that suits is very appealing to me. It takes pressure off, even if in the end you write long, or as I did, longer than intended.
Of course I hope I won’t ever write, ‘bad,’ but I don’t think we’re meant to take this too seriously. Say it with panache, a smile or a hint of irony and it’s not difficult to see how it helps to let us off the hook. It’s a bit of a shop stopper too and I like that.
Shapiro says ‘The more we have at stake, the harder it is to make the leap into writing. The more we think about who’s going to read it, what they’re going to think, how many copies will be printed, whether this magazine or that magazine will accept it for publication, the further away we are from accomplishing anything on the page.’
We can’t help it of course, thinking about getting published, hoping for recognition, competition success, an audience for our work but there’s no doubt in my mind that this gets in the way. I’ll admit I’ve been there – only recently I saw a big competition I thought I’d like to enter. I don’t enter competitions much now but this was different. This was special. I wondered what kind of a story I could write, what kind of a story would win. It would have to be exceptionally good I felt, original, and very different, it would have to be…what? What could it be? Ideas failed me. Nothing seemed good enough. I was paralysed by the brief and then forced to remind myself (you’d think I might have learned by now!) that the best stories and the best writing come of their own accord. That all we can do is sit down and begin, endure, work hard, write every day that we can, and trust what comes. Writing to formulas or for prizes simply doesn’t work.
I think we all need our own version of the ‘short bad book’. I think I might write a ‘short, lousy book,’ or maybe a ‘short, insignificant, book,’ or perhaps just a ‘bad short story.’
I remember the lovely, late, Julia Darling running a workshop I attended where she instructed us to write the worst beginning for our story that we could think.
We did this and then read around. It was startling to see how many great beginnings there were. If you have a story in mind or have even started one, why not try this and see? It might change things, it might free you up, something unexpected might happen, because there’s something about writing bad that is is fun and liberating.
The above is an extract from my weekly newsletter for writers which you can subscribe to HERE
Tagged , , ,

At Least 5 Reasons to Read, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro

still-writingOne of those rare books that is both beautiful and useful. Still Writing is an exploration of the writing life, lit up by Shapiro’s luminous voice. Susan Orlean

Every now and again it’s possible to unearth a treasure.

I thought I’d bought and read most of the good and important books on writing but I hadn’t reckoned with Still Writing, by Dani Schapiro.

Still Writing arrived in the post this week and I read it in a day, refusing to put it down, apart from to make coffee and grab a sandwich. It was published in 2013. How had I missed it?

From page I was captivated and inspired and couldn’t resist taking out my pencil and underlining almost everything (after a while I had to be more selective.)

So why is it so good and why should you own a copy? (And no, I’m not on commission) Here are 5 reasons – if pushed I could come up with 50.

• Because she writes with love and passion but with the understanding of what it is to be a writer and the difficulties that brings.
• Because she talks of courage, endurance, rejection, the inner critic, the blank page, the big idea (a myth?), envy, beginnings, middles, ends and so much more.
• Because she is honest and she puts herself on every page.
• Because she makes me smile – as in ‘The Short Bad Book,’ a great approach to the writer’s fear of failure and how having too much at stake can interfere with our writing.
• Because its full of her hard-earned wisdom, it is entirely human, because there’s much to learn here and much comfort to be found. (4 reasons in one)


Tagged ,

On the Tide – an Artistic Collaboration

This is the first step in a collaboration of words and painting (shown here in first draft) between myself and artist Jan Duyt. It begins as a response to a visit to Weston-Super Mare where I grew up. Jan’s beautiful and haunting sketch – she describes it as a sketch – made me think of times coming home from school alone, waiting for the bus, watching the sea and thinking – maybe even then making up poems in my head. Jan’s painting was a gift to me bringing words with it on its tide.

weston pier 1


On the Seafront, After School

sand and tide are as glass,
words on a mirror sea
glimpsed, not etched, only half-made
half-dared, never voiced.
like the glassblower’s breath
in the bubble; molten still,
as the sea-bird stilts of a pier in mud,
waiting for a moon as red as a bus
to scooch above the marine lake,
fired in the oven of the sea.


Tagged , , ,

Why Write? A Manifesto…

I first published this post in January 2014. People often seem to come back to it and that includes me, so no apologies for re-publishing it now…

A Manifesto

Whenever I have serious doubts about my work or am bogged down with feelings of inadequacy, of not being a good enough writer, when I’m between projects and wondering what to write next or where my writing is going, when I’m reluctant to get out my notebook or sit at the machine, when I ask myself what the point of all of this is, then it is inevitable that I ask the question why write at all? Below is my answer, it’s what grounds me, and time and time again it has brought me back to what’s important, to a place where I can start again…

  • I write because I discovered I could, because after years of looking for ways to express my creativity, without ever feeling whole, I finally found what it was I could best do. What it was I wanted to do.
  • I write to connect with the world, to reflect the lives of people who live on the margins, who others might think unimportant.
  • I write to make myself whole, to disappear in the act of writing, to lose myself completely, so that time passes unnoticed.
  • I write to spend time in other worlds that fascinate me.
  • I write because I get my own room with books and flowers.
  • I write because I love reading and words and I love polishing my words over and over.
  • I write because then I am never lonely.
  • I write to give purpose to my life.
  • I write because now I have to, I must, it has become an essential part of who I am.
  • I write because it brings me great joy and takes me to many places.

I note there is nothing here about writing for success or publication! Why do you write?Answer the question as spontaneously as you can then make your answer your manifesto. Copy it up, print it out and put it somewhere prominent. Don’t lose touch with what it is you love about writing.



I once spent two months writing here – The House with the Stone Door, Agde

Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.

― Stephen King, On Writing

Still Summer in the Alderwood

Teasels at Low Barns

This morning I took a walk down to Low Barns Nature Reserve, which is on my doorstep and to my delight I met a  sleek young fox. It stopped and eyed me from across the river. We said hello. I smiled. I met a photographer too, in the West Hide, hoping to catch a glimpse of the kingfishers. We waited together in silence for some while but no luck.

Autumn is waiting in the wings, the time of grasses and seedheads, of rowan berries and the first falling leaves. But under the rare Alder a carpet of water forget-me-nots flourish; it is still summer in the Alderwood.

I’ve been thinking so much this week about the refugees that I’ve found it hard to write. I am so thankful today that at least transport out of Hungary has been provided for them. I am angry and saddened by the UKs response but glad the rhetoric has finally changed.

Being outside today was a good antidote to my helplessness and anger

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  William Shakespeare

A Poem and a Picture for Monday

Under Glass

Small taxidermies and two house wrens, a trumpet made of brass, the wax anatomical heart, red. Leafless tree of birds, rabbit’s head, sparrow, shell and moth. A clutch of men’s collars, a wayward glove. The leaning tower of Pisa, the Coliseum, a cardboard British museum in a blue egg nest. Skeletal seahorse spines, curled foetus, paper, ink and quill, songs for a hoopoe, twenty seven cotton reels and a corset unravelled. Threads of rain, condensation’s ash, your finger’s touch. Fir cones and dandelion clocks. The two-headed calf from the freak show. Hooks, keys and mould. Plants that survive the dark, curiosities and Sylvia Plath. Fraying ballet shoes, a trapped bee, coral fans and the Cottingley fairy. Cloud, a slaughterhouse made of glass. Closed mouth and floating head, the child’s pose, parasols, prayers for the dead, a family of dolls like those that lined my bed, with shell and seaweed surround. The glassblower’s breath on last year’s hyacinth bulb.

Avril Joy


Noses Point Seaham – visited this beautiful spot yesterday – photo by Carol Bleasdale licensed for re-use under Creative Commons

Tagged , , ,

Writers’ Rooms – Pam Plumb

Today in my Writers’ Room series I take a look inside Pam Plumb’s writing room. Pam has to share her writing space with the rest of the family – now that can’t be easy! Take a look and read what she says about her writing – HERE

Tagged ,

Meeting Banksy in W-S-M.

dismalandWe arrived in Weston-Super-Mare on Tuesday afternoon – myself and partner, my brother and his partner –  we were bringing my father back to visit his former home and friends. That evening the four of us took a stroll along the seafront. It was dark, 10.30 ish, the pier closed, donkeys put to bed and the evening tide retreating.

As we approached the site of the Tropicana, once an exotic outdoor lido where our children had swum, now derelict, laser beams appeared in the sky and the skeleton frame of a fairy castle with turrets rose above high fences and barriers, its ragged flags fluttering in the wind off the sea. As we got closer we could just make out a scaffold horse and the upturned wheels of a truck. Everything else remained hidden.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Writer’s Rooms – Ruby Speechley

Today Writers’ Rooms features Ruby Speechley. Ruby recently won the Retreat West Competition with the first chapter of her novel. Yeh!

So if like me you love to see where and learn how other writers write – take a peek HERE.

If you would like to feature in Writers’ Rooms drop me an email amjoy@hotmail.co.uk and I’ll book you a place – ALL are welcome here – I am simply interested in writers published or not.

Tagged ,

Somerset Bound

cropped-GEP007SomersetLevels1.jpgI’m off to Somerset, land of my birth, to take my father back for a visit to old friends. I wonder if there is still more I have to write about this beautiful county?* I’m feeling encouraged by the response to my White River, Arkansas stories – a longlisting for my story How the River Breaks Your Heart, in the international Raymond Carver Short Story competition and what I can only class as a stunning rejection, possibly the best ever, for my novel – perhaps (for once) I really do believe they won’t have the room for it. Of course common sense tells me that in the end you find room for the irresistible – so nearly, but not quite, yet!

* My first novel The Sweet Track  is set on the Somerset Levels

Tagged , ,