The beauty of the blank page and the magical effect of tapping into your subconscious were two of the main themes at the talk Oxford-based writer, Ali Shaw, gave to Abingdon Writers and guests on March 29 at Abingdon Library.
In a generous and inspiring talk in which he shared his creative processes, Ali Shaw talked about how a single idea can grow into a novel – and how he believes that tapping into the dark, primeval part of his brain has enabled him come up with his fresh and beautiful stories.
‘One of the best things about writing is when you realise that your instincts that were causing you to write what you did were correct and that it is only when it is written that you realise what the books is about,’ he told the audience this week.
Ali Shaw’s first book ‘The Girl with Glass Feet’ was a popular and critical success, an original blend of beautiful, atmospheric writing, a fairy tale theme, and a love story. It was shortlisted for no less than three major awards for debut novels and won the Desmond Elliot prize.
It is a story, he says, about how you have to wring what you can out of life, but he didn’t realise this until it was finished, as he starts with an idea and builds from that, rather than trying to write to a theme.
He wrote his first novel while working full time and says he thinks trying to fit his writing in around this probably helped allow his subconscious take over. He often wrote when he was very tired – either late at night when he kept himself going with a glass of whisky, or he woke around 4am when he needed lots of coffee.
‘A time when you have forced yourself out of bed and are exhausted is actually a good time for writing. But I suppose you have to be honest about why you are doing it. Most people who write will do it whatever, because there are easier ways to make a living. But while people do feel compelled to do it, interesting books will continue to be written. I just tried to write the kind of book I would like to read. I just sort of plunged in and hoped.’
Ali Shaw has recently published his second novel ‘The Man who Rained’ about a boy who has been exiled from his small remote town, people by superstitious folk who believe he is the embodiment of a thunderstorm (Ali also said he had delivered his third novel to his agent that day, so we are now looking forward to that one!)
The idea for this story came from realising that many of us living in centrally-heated homes can find it difficult to understand how unstoppable and powerful the weather really is.
Writing the second was a different experience as not only was there already expectation from his first novel, he didn’t have to show his first to anyone until it was at a much further stage towards completion.
Yet he says he feels really lucky to have been published at all ‘You’ve just got to keep sending your stuff off because chance is against you.'
Local writing group, Abingdon Writers, had invited Ali to their group and had opened up the meeting to those who wanted to hear Ali's talk as part of Abingdon Arts Festival. Several members of the group spoke about how important they have found belonging to a writing group and encouraged other writers aspiring to be published themselves, to join.
Ali Shaw said one of the best things about writing groups was the fact that it encourages you to keep going.
Abingdon Writers was founded three years ago is actively seeking new members and meets two evenings a month in central Abingdon to share critique, support and marketing ideas.
Many thanks to Abingdon Writers, Ali Shaw and Abingdon Library for helping make such an interesting event as part of the town's arts festival.