Charley Barnes in praise of collaboration:
Imagine this: You read something in a book – it can be poetry or prose, drama or hybrid. Whatever the line, it sticks with you. You carry it around for days upon days and idly think, ‘God, that’s a good line,’ whenever your mind wanders back to it.
Now imagine being able to call the author and say, ‘This is brilliant, you know, truly brilliant.’
Now, imagine being able to write back.
For both Hierarchy of Needs: A Retelling and now Myth | Woman, that’s how it’s felt to work with Claire. She gifted me with polished and flavoursome boiled sweets and in return I wrote back about the hard candy crack of her descriptions. Both of our collaborative projects have helped me to grow as a writer, with descriptions, ideas and even interests spreading into areas I mightn’t have found on my own. It’s a joy, really, to have someone say, ‘But this is how I see it…’ and to have the time to sit and explore that view, and respond accordingly with your own language, structure, voice. Still, voice is an interesting area of conversation, too, in my experience of collaborating because there have been times, in both books that we’ve published, where Claire and I have looked back and said, ‘I honestly can’t remember who wrote that.’
Claire and I have – or had – very different styles of writing when we first came together. I think that may have even been part of the appeal; to see what one might loan from or to the other. We’ve upheld those separate styles in our own independent writings. But when we collaborate something genuinely special happens: we borrow words; share perspectives; split ideas down the centre and scrape out pearls that neither of us had considered the existence of before.
Note: If you’re sensing a sea theme, that’ll be Myth | Woman talking.
Of course, with every writing project there are lows. There are the moments of, ‘I just don’t know that this is any good.’ Collaborating has meant that these, too, have been shared though. When one has doubts, the other becomes the voice of reason. Fortunately, Claire and I have even managed to tag team this part of writing; when one begins to sink, the other becomes an airbelt.
Two projects, both now published, have given Claire and I a confidence in our work – as writers and collaborators. The overwhelming response to Myth | Woman so far has been a help along the way, too, giving us exactly the boost we need to catapult us it into our next project – which we are, of course, already planning…
Claire Walker in praise of collaboration:
Writing, by its very nature, can be a solitary activity. This can be what makes it so enjoyable – the space to let your imagination go in whatever direction it pleases. The flip side, though, is that it can be a lonely endeavour. What if you’re desperate to share with someone your discovery that merfolk appear in Noah’s Ark? Or, how about if you need to brainstorm the most effective way to present sunflower lore in poem-form? Sometimes, you need a writing partner to phone and say ‘so I’ve been reading this article and I’ve got this idea…’
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Charley Barnes on two collaborations. Our first co-authored pamphlet, Hierarchy of Needs: A Retelling, began after a chat in our local library café about the possibility of working on a book together. We chatted at length about what this might look like, and what subjects we’d be interested in exploring together. It turns out that - happily! - we have a lot of writing interests and instincts in common, and after a discussion that began with Attachment Theory and ended with plant lore, we hit upon the idea of re-imagining Maslow’s 1943 theory. We decided upon a call-and-response way of working and, as I’d had the seed of an idea for a ‘starter’ poem, I drafted the first piece for the book, nervously sending it to Charley for her feedback. I remember the excitement I felt when she emailed back her ‘response’ poem, and the joy of then using that piece to write my own response. The collaboration felt very natural throughout and, after placing the pamphlet with our publisher, it was also a source of reassurance and encouragement to have the support of a collaborator during the editing process – and very special to have someone to share the ‘we did this!’ celebration with on publication day. We’re very lucky to have been able to repeat all of this process (and associated emotions!) with a second pamphlet, Myth | Woman.
We’re now busily planning our next project. We’ve decided to branch out into a hybrid poetry/prose book, and are moving away from a purely call-and-response format into something more character-led. We even have field trips planned! Initial research has been exciting, and has confirmed without doubt that yes, indeed, sometimes you really, definitely, do need a writing partner to phone and say ‘so I’ve been reading this article and I’ve got this idea…’
You can keep up with Charley and Claire's work by following them on Twitter at @charleyblogs and @ClaireWpoetry.
All I See Is You is my new psychological thriller, forthcoming with Bloodhound Books on May 4. Now we're this close to the release date, I thought it was about time I shared a taster of what the book is really about. Scroll down now for a look at the blurb and a sneak preview taken from the opening chapter...
"If you can't remember being bad, does that make you good?
Meet M who works in publishing and enjoys watching people.
M suffers from memory lapses and has established an unhealthy relationship with Caleb across the street.
Caleb doesn't know M exists...
But when M starts to practice memory recall exercises, to learn the truth about past behaviours, it sheds light on this fascination with the man across the street.
Is M dangerous or just disturbed?
And is Caleb about to find out?"
Check out the first chapter below.
It seems strange to confess to something that you don’t know for certain you’ve done.
At heart, I’m an honest person. One of my earliest memories is of finding a man’s wallet on the pavement, not fifty yards up the road from our house. I picked it up and, without looking inside it, I took it home to my father. He glanced inside and made a show of checking the cards. But, when he thought I wasn’t looking, he took a slim fold of notes from the back of the wallet and stashed them into his trouser pocket.
‘Kid?’ He raised his eyebrow. At the age of nine, this felt like a challenge.
‘Nothing,’ I said, then went back to my business of identifying flowers along the roadside, which probably felt more important to me at the time anyway.
At heart, I’m an honest person, yes. But I’ve never been especially big on confrontation. One of the reasons this is one of my earliest memories is that my parents spent the majority of my formative years arguing with each other – not over me, I hasten to add. I was never a troublesome child – at least, not that they were aware of. But over pretty much everything else there was to argue about.
‘Did you pay the water bill?’
‘What do you mean you didn’t get beef?’
‘How are you breathing so damn loud?’
Minor issues, really, in the grand scheme of things. But it doesn’t take a therapist to work out that the issues they were arguing over probably weren’t really the issues they were arguing over. It did take a therapist to reassure me it wasn’t unusual that I couldn’t remember it all though. The first time I relayed my pick-and-mix childhood to a counsellor – at some point during my three years at university, when well-being is shoved down your throat – I asked whether it was normal, to have misplaced these things so easily.
‘What is normal?’ she asked.
I hate people answering a question with a question. But I said, as plainly as I could, ‘Being able to hold on to your childhood memories, for a start.’
She laughed. ‘They’re unpleasant though. Why would you want to hold on to them?’
‘Is that how it works?’
‘Sometimes.’ She made a note of something. ‘Do you remember everything bad that’s ever happened to you?’
It felt like a trick question. ‘I mean, how would I know?’
‘Okay, do you remember everything good?’
‘No, I suppose not. How could I?’
‘So, with this limited filing system available to our brains, why would we use that space up by holding on to memories that are bad, when we don’t even have enough space for memories that are good?’
It didn’t seem like the most sophisticated explanation for the human psyche I’d ever come across, but it sort of made some sense. For the years after that, I never thought there was anything strange in misplacing things that didn’t fit inside the proverbial filing system of my mind. Argument with a friend? No, thank you. An exam grade I wasn’t happy with? Absolutely not. Being fired from a job? Eesh, pass.
There’s a problem with that though.
See, at heart, I’m an honest person. But I’m not exactly the most reliable…
The Cutter, available to pre-order now, is the third and final DI Melanie Watton novel (but it can certainly be read as a standalone). A detective novel with a new twist, Melanie and her team find themselves tracking the murder of a celebrated taxidermist who lived in the local area.
Where does the book go from there? Well, not only is the taxidermist murdered but his studio is ransacked, and after close inspection it becomes clear that several taxidermy structures have been taken from the crime scene.
Strange, eh? Stranger still, soon after this initial crime takes place the taxidermy structures start to re-appear one at a time - but they're being left at other crime scenes, complete with messages.
The team soon discover that someone is coming... for Melanie.
A twisted tale packed with targeted crimes, The Cutter completes the DI Watton series with a bang and, to find out who makes it out from this cat and mouse game alive, you'd better get pre-ordering. Remember, too, that if you pre-order on Kindle you'll bag the book for just 99p and it will be delivered directly to your device on publication day, March 15.
To pre-order now, click here.
Yesterday (February 14) I launched my debut collection of poetry, Lore: Flowers, Folklore, and Footnotes, into the world. It's been a work in progress for some time - throughout my year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate, and since the tenure finished - so it's a joy to see it unleashed, with kind reader reviews already appearing.
I, like most writers who are about to launch a book, told anyone would listen - and a few who looked like they may have stopped listening - that I had a book coming out. This announcement by me was invariably followed a burning question from them:
"So, what's the book about?"
I would flick through one lengthy answer after enough before smiling and saying, "Mostly flowers."
And they would give me a look - that look - to suggest, "But of course it's about flowers. What else could poetry be about..."
At the launch yesterday, though, and while I continue to ferret around in the back-end of plantlore and folklore to find interesting tidbits, I realised that the book isn't really about flowers at all.
It's about the type of poisons used by tribesmen who are hunting. It's about the suicide tree and how many suspected homicides it may have been responsible for. It's about consent. It's about the ocean. It's about about witchcraft and feminism and loneliness and even, a teenie-tiny bit, about love.
When flowers have been used - which is often, I'll give you that - there is a footnote attached to explain an entirely different narrative. This is usually about a myth; or an explorer; or a wild historical event. Sometimes it's about folklore and medicine - or should that be "medicine" - that used to make the world work (or at least keep it going). In many ways, Lore isn't only a collection of narratives, it's a collection of sub-narratives; stories that have slipped down the cracks, and maybe a few that never even found air .
In a time where we are looking to the future, always, for something better, I've found one of my best distractions is sitting in the garden and looking at the past.
And, to me, that is what Lore is really about.
Praise for Lore: Flowers, Folklore, and Footnotes:
‘In these pages, Barnes has shouted Boo at me, and I am mute. Well, almost. These poems have the tender
touch of Naruder’s Love Songs and the bristling brutal barb of Anne Sexton. In Lore, she guides us through a
veritable Pre-Raphaelite landscape—as deadly and murky as it is full of life-giving sensuality. Ephemeral folktales and folklore are grounded by the historical and the place-specific, both aspects weaved together with deft precision. These poems come in the form of howling riptides and gentle splashes.’ R. M. Francis
Intention wasn't just my first novel; it was also the creative element of my Doctoral thesis. In my reading and researching, I struggled to find a female psychopath who didn't feel like a candy-cane version of her male counterparts. I wanted something grizzly, twisted - but also a woman. There are books like this, I know, but throughout my days researching these books it was starting to feel more and more like female psychopaths didn't have quite the same stance that males did - and I wanted to change that.
So Gillian, Intention's narrator, is as authentic as I could think to make her. She hails from an abusive household, she leans towards animal cruelty (consider that a content warning), and she's looking to cut her teeth. Coming of age meets serial killer fiction, Intention is a young psychopath's journey into killing, and you can read a sneak preview of the book here...
You want to know what it’s like. I can understand that; I wanted to know as well, I suppose. Ultimately, it’s like anything else that any one person does despite knowing that they shouldn’t. But they do it all the same, because they’re too familiar with the feeling that they’ll experience afterwards.
Life is so heavy most of the time. You’re struggling under the surface with a weight on you and what do you do? How do you find a way to breathe again? We’re all dying to know the answer – and don’t think that I haven’t noticed the wonderful irony there – but, lacking any feasible explanations for life’s largest dilemmas and questions, instead we simply guess.
We assume things that will improve our little existence. And these assumptions, they then become our unashamed justifications for whatever condemnable behaviours we throw ourselves into. ‘It makes life a little better,’ we say, excusing our tendencies to cheat on our partners, overeat unhealthy foods, smoke. It makes life a little better, and for the majority of us that is reason enough for anything.
Does any of this sound familiar? There must be something – one mostly harmless little thing – that you allow yourself. That one cigarette at the end of the day; that eye contact with a colleague you hold for a beat too long?
‘No human beings were harmed in the making of this bad habit,’ we remind ourselves; a disclaimer to our misdemeanours. It’s only a problem, you see, when people become aware of it, when people are hurt by it. That’s when the masses will frown and judge – as though that has become the benchmark for human depravity. You’ve hurt another human being? Well, that’s a line! But it’s a line that we love to see crossed, don’t you think? There’s nothing better than finding someone more evil than ourselves because those people really put things into perspective.
If you'd like to know more about Gillian and what she gets up to, Intention is available on Amazon Kindle now for just £1.99 (you can download it here).
It started with the taste but then became the touch. The cold skins, muddied by the earth, that lay warming against the treated wood of the bench. I felt the moss fleck away from their pulled roots, watched the soil drop back to where it belonged. It occurred to me that I might eat them, then; hold each firm around the trunk and rip my teeth through their tops. You would want to cook them, though, and make a meal of kindness. But these days I would happily have them raw, and after.
Over the last few weeks, my Bloodhound Books novels have had something of a makeover. Their names have changed (Copycat became The Copycat, while Play became The Watcher), and my own name has changed too. In a world where female authors are excelling in their chosen genres, it felt like the right time to shift away from the neutral C.S. and, for the first time ever, use Charlotte on the front cover of something.
In March the third and final installment of the DI Melanie Watton series will arrive. Before then, though, there's a huge amount of promotional material to look forward to, including Bloodhound Books' Daily Deals which currently sees The Copycat available on Kindle for just 99p.
So, to get you in the mood for a weekend read, I thought I'd push the boat out with a little preview from the book. Here's one of my favourite extracts from DI Melanie Watton's first story:
"DI Melanie Watton stepped over the police-tape cordon that surrounded the playing fields. The PCs in charge of manning the barrier batted back the crowds that tried to follow her through. There was a medley of photographers and reporters bound up with bloodthirsty civilians. Whatever their motivations, everyone was trying to get a good look at the scene of crime officers, the police constables, the arriving detectives. It was always the same, Melanie thought; where there was tragedy, there were happy onlookers.
She tried to drive out her distaste for the madding crowd as she walked closer to the incident tent, erected, Melanie assumed, over the body that was being examined. She cast a look around the surroundings – grey skies and muddied grounds from days upon days of rain – and she had to admire the determination to keep the crime scene clean, although it seemed likely that irreparable damage had already been done. As she approached the final cordon – a smaller, closer circle of trust that existed around the immediate crime scene – she was given overalls and shoe covers. From the corner of her vision, she spotted DC Chris Burton, manipulating herself into the same attire that Melanie had just been given.
‘I didn’t realise you were here already,’ Melanie said, leaning down to hook a plastic casing around her black boot.
‘I rushed. Early bird and all that.’ Chris sounded jovial as she zipped together her torso’s white plastic covering. She had always hated this gear. At her first crime scene, Chris had joked that the overalls made her feel like she was tucking herself into a body bag. It had been met with laughter by the team at the time, but she’d never quite escaped the feeling. She smoothed down the front of her suit and glanced at her boss who was zipping up her own protective gear.
The two officers made their way towards the small tent, housing the woman that had brought them all here. There was a hive of activity to pass through on their way though. Overalls continued to scour the surrounding areas, scraping samples from different parts of the playing fields, collecting whatever maybe-evidence they could find.
‘I’ve got something!’ one voice shouted and while Chris’s attention was pulled to the SOCO in question, Melanie stayed her course, pushing through the loose flaps of the evidence tent and arriving at the foot of a young woman – her skin mottled, her clothing muddied, and her life quite clearly extinguished.
‘I didn’t think anything in the world could get you away from that lab,’ Melanie said, crouching down to the hooded figure sitting cross-legged on the wet ground. ‘To what do we owe this honour?’
George Waller pulled down his medical mask revealing a pale face that was trying, but failing, to force a smile.
‘Truthfully, I wish I hadn’t bothered.’ Hands flat on the floor, he levered himself into a standing position and assessed the body splayed out before them both. ‘Suffocation, I’d guess, hence the bag.’ He pointed to the clear wrapping, still secured around the woman’s neck. ‘She struggled, hence the state of all this.’ He pointed to her parted legs, her widespread arms.
George shook his head. ‘I’ll know more when we’ve got her back at the lab, obviously, but cause of death is fairly clear. Time of death will be difficult, due to,’ he faltered, waved an arm beyond the tent as though gesturing to the general state of the world rather than the October weather. ‘As I said, we won’t know the fine details until we’ve had a proper look, and we won’t have a proper look until…’ he trailed off again. It looked as though something was troubling him but without more information, Melanie couldn’t guess at what.
‘What’s so bad about this one, George?’ Melanie knew how she sounded, but she didn’t have the patience to soften herself with a trying case already laid in front of her.
‘A couple of things, really.’ George crouched down to his open kit case. ‘Firstly, there’s this.’ He handed Melanie a clear evidence bag that contained a square of paper, no bigger than a few inches, on which was a handwritten message: Remember me?"
To find out what happens next, why not treat yourself to a Kindle download for the weekend? The Copycat is available just here.
Some of my students are struggling to get in the creative mindset, given the new lockdown restrictions that have been rolled out. I discussed one or two techniques with them last week but, as always, I stand by free writing as a way to loosen cogs. After all, "The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." (Louis L'Amour)
This morning, before we talked about the nitty-gritty dirty work of editing, I gave my students five minutes to scribble ideas in response to a picture. And, because we need to practice what we preach, I joined in...
These things, as they often do, started innocently enough. But, like bad debt, I found the more I poured in the more I poured after, throwing good intention after bad. Addiction feels like a term that should be reserved for those worse off than me. But with every ring of, "Just once more," I felt sicker and sicker in myself - or, with myself. Like light chasing after shadow, good after bad, I promised this one - this very last one - would be a line in the sand. It was easier to make that promise, too, because I really didn't think I'd have the guts to steal someone's heart a second time.
Earlier this year I ran a number of online workshops for The Swan Theatre, looking at some of the most popular genres in writing. Now, I'm excited to launch another series! Starting in late November and carrying on into 2021, this new series will look at the nuts and bolts of writing, and the programme looks a little like this:
"Is there such thing as writer's block?" (Sunday, November 29)
"Planning, plotting, and pulling things together" (Sunday, December 13)
"Creating characters to carry a story" (Sunday, January 3)
"The Writing Life According To..." (Sunday, January 17)
All of these workshops will run from 11:00am, and last approximately one hour. The Zoom room will be open for entry from 10:50am, to allow from a prompt start.
The workshops cost £3 to attend and tickets can be bought now through the Worcester Rep website.
If you're looking for a little advice on the business side of writing, then you might be interested in a bonus workshop that I'm running for Tortive Theatre next month as well.
On December 5 I'll be running a "Marking Your Writing and Yourself" workshop, to talk you through how to make yourself even more attractive as a writing product. The workshop will also include information on building a social media profile, and learning to engage with digital communities.
This online workshop starts at 11:00am (and will last just over an hour), and it's £3 to purchase a ticket. However, if you sign up as a member to the Tortive Theatre website (which gives you access to all sorts of other creative wonders) then the workshop is completely free. You can find more information about that on the Tortive website just here.
If you have any questions about the planned workshops then please don't hesitate to contact me, or either of the represented organisations.
It was reading week last week, which meant that I wasn't joining in on any free writing activities with my students. I was, however, gifted the free time to start writing a new novel (hurrah). At the time of writing this post I'm around 13,500 words into the new book, and it's a mixture of joy and horror that's carrying me through the hours of writing. That said, this week I was back to free writing with my students, and this morning it occurred to me that I hadn't yet been brave enough to share the results.
It was always where we met - knees knocking beneath the table; fingers grazing at the counter-top while we both gestured towards the same cake; hands holding, only for a second, when we grabbed the teapot. I didn't much care for the confectioneries. I only wanted a quiet hour where we could laugh, and play at being young women in love, in plain sight of the boys who we might one day be married off to. It was an idea we laughed over - until someone asked. She didn't tell me. She only showed me the ring and refused a cake - said she was watching her waistline now, that she had to think of slimming into the dress.
I have no desire to move forward or back - only to sit. It took so long to find a quiet crevice. Here, nature is so loud that I can pretend the rest of the world doesn't really exist - that there's nothing beyond this crater.
How could the 17:05 into Birmingham be louder than breeze clapping through trees? The hum of the office lighting, how could that overshadow the short showers of small rocks on larger ones as another bit of earth breaks away?
No. Here, I can imagine quite easily that I haven't left anything behind at all.