Guest Post: Don't Tell Stories (Badly) by Georgina Penney
Today on the blog we have the delightful and irrepressibly humorous Georgina Penney, two times author, here to celebrate the publication of her latest novel, Fly In Fly Out, which was released on Friday, 2nd January 2015.
She's decided to share a burning issue, something that will most definitely resonate with a number of would-be authors out there, that of practicing your writing craft "until you're good at it"!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty though, I'd just like to thank Penguin Australia for arranging Georgina's contribution, as well as Georgina for this fantastic post. Here's a bit of an introduction to Ms Penney and her writing.
Georgina first discovered romance novels when she was eleven and has been a fan of the genre ever since. It took her another eighteen years to finally sit in front of a keyboard and get something down on the page but that's alright, she was busy doing other things until then.
Some of those things included living in a ridiculous number of towns and cities in Australia before relocating overseas to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam and currently, Scotland.
In between all these travels, Georgina managed to learn to paint, get herself a Communication and Cultural Studies degree, study Psychotherapy and learn all about Hypnotherapy. In the early days she even managed to get on the IT roller coaster during the early noughties boom, inexplicably ending the ride by becoming the registrar of a massage and naturopathy college. There was also a PhD in the mix there somewhere but moving to Saudi Arabia and rediscovering the bodice ripper fixed all that.
Today she lives with her wonderful husband, Tony in a cozy steading in the Scottish countryside. When she's not swearing at her characters and trying to cram them into her plot, she can be found traipsing over fields, gazing and hairy coos and imagining buff medieval Scotsmen in kilts (who have access to shower facilities and deodorant) living behind every bramble hedge.
Her second novel, Fly In Fly Out can be purchased from the following links:
If you’ve ever met me or heard me on my podcast, The Bookish Tarts, it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m a talker. I always have been and, until my late twenties, I saw this as something to be a little embarrassed about.
It’s not really surprising that my talkativeness wasn’t something I brought out the bells and whistles to celebrate. How many positive words can you think of for a talkative woman? I just opened my Thesaurus and immediately found chattering, gabby, gossipy, long-winded, loose-lipped, loud-mouthed, prattling, rattling and windy. Most of these words could easily be gendered female. I’m relatively sure I’ve never heard a man being accused of prattling, gossiping, gabbing and chattering without some implication that he’s behaving like a woman.
Positive words? They’re there certainly. I came across effusive, glib, loquacious (my favourite) and articulate... but they’re far outnumbered by the negatives, which is rather telling.
Further investigation quickly shows that it’s not just my Thesaurus that’s prejudiced against loquacious women. In writing this article, I did an inventory of my movie collection to see if I could find a talkative heroine. I couldn’t come up with one example. The heroine’s friend is usually the talkative one because it makes for good comic relief but chattiness doesn’t seem to be a quality Hollywood thinks a leading lady should have. There might be the odd exception — maybe in the thirties and forties when a wisecracking broad was a thing of beauty — but for the life of me I can’t think of one and a Google search hasn’t come up with anything just now either. It seems talkative gals don’t get the guy or win the war because while chattiness can be funny, it’s not seen as sexy or smart.
With this kind of message floating around, it’s not surprising in hindsight that I made the New Year Resolution in 2009 to get rid of this seemingly unattractive character trait. My bright idea was to give an aura of quiet introspection a go. It turned out to be as easy as crocheting cobras and lasted all of six months.
During my experiment I remember finding myself listening to a group of people discuss their vegemite sandwiches and suddenly felt all the chatter, all those stories I’d collected over the years bubbling up, wanting to come out. In those moments, I knew that I genuinely had something to contribute that could liven things up. The only problem is that I knew once I started ‘contributing,’ there was a good chance I’d end up taking over a chunk of the conversation. Telling myself that no one wanted to really hear what I had to say, I kept my lips zipped.
But the thing that I was discounting in my quest to keep quiet and not be that woman, was that I’m not only a talkative woman. I’m a listener and an observer as well.
There’s a word that’s used to describe observant, talkative men that I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard in relation to a woman. It’s raconteur, which is defined by my handy dictionary as ‘a person who tells anecdotes in a skilful and amusing way'. A quick search brought up a whole list of male raconteurs, all lofty people like Mark Twain, Earnest Hemingway, Bill Clinton and more, but no women.
Why do we never hear of lady raconteurs? Why only the guys? Well, one of those reasons may be that when a man is a good story teller, it’s a celebrated trait. When a woman has the ability to tell a tale, it can be easy to label her a gossip. And that’s certainly what I’d labelled myself.
Having given up my failed attempt to badly impersonate a quiet type and not yet having come across the idea of a raconteur, I was left with a conundrum: I had the ability to listen, observe and then share stories and anecdotes about the world around me but I felt as guilty as hell for doing so because I didn’t think anyone wanted a woman who talked like me around. As you can well imagine I was a prime candidate for therapy... or maybe just some fresh air and a good walk outside.
It wasn’t until I moved to Brunei Darussalam that I started to channel all the ideas and tales in my head into writing. (It was either that or keep talking to myself in the supermarket and let’s face it... not really a good way to impress the locals.)
My first optimistic attempt at literary genius didn’t quite work out as planned. I didn’t understand structure. Pacing was something I thought people did with horses and spelling and grammar were distant lands in a galaxy far, far away. But on rereading my first attempt, I can clearly see why I had wanted to keep going with this writing business. I hadn’t written a novel, I’d written hundreds of little stories, all vignettes that I’d collected over the years instead. What I hadn’t done was work out how to glue them all together properly. I was trying to write like I talked but books don’t work like that, they need cohesion. (Most of the time.)
I gave the draft to my husband and while he read it patiently, I didn’t see that expression he wore when I was verbally telling him a story and had nailed it. I got encouragement but I didn’t get a laugh. Given the fact that my first attempt at a novel was comedy suspense, I had a problem!
I’m sure many a newby writer goes through a stage of self-doubt where they go to Amazon and decide to buy a bazillion books that tell them how to write because it’s obvious to them they’re doing something wrong but they don’t know what it is. And as I look to my left at my bookcase... sigh... that’s a lot of money I could have spent on a nice holiday.
Because, in the end I didn’t need the ‘how to’ books at all. Not really. (Okay, maybe I did for the grammar.) All I needed was to accept that I was a raconteur and that talking, or rather story-telling was a skill I needed to improve on, not suppress.
The defining light bulb moment came while I was watching a brilliant documentary about female comedians called ‘Girls Who Do Comedy’. Here was a group of ladies that had made it their life’s work to talk a lot and talk well. Seeing these amazing women -- Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Margaret Cho, Joan Rivers and more -- talk about coming to terms with who they were and the fact that they were good at talking, good at telling stories and making people laugh made me realise I was being dishonest with myself. I was trying (without much success) to pretend I was someone I wasn’t and in doing that, I was not only stifling who I was as a person socially, I was potentially stifling any chance I had at a writing career.
Instead of closing myself off, I started to embrace the fact I had stories to tell. I started sharing the anecdotes I’d collected without feeling guilty about talking too much and I started writing a lot, the words coming much more freely now that I wasn’t constantly trying to self-censor.
And along the way I learned to have a whole lot of fun. With fiction, I could switch things around. I could change ages, gender, race, and location. I was unrestrained from the ‘tyranny of fact’ as the 19th century gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe coined it. And boy did it feel good.
I won’t say I don’t have the odd day where I think I’m a gossip, a chatterbox, full of hot air or just a talkative pain in the arse but they’re a lot fewer and far between now. There’s nothing like working out your place in the world and learning who you are to make things alright. I’m a writer, a raconteur and it feels pretty damn good!
I sure hope you find your light-bulb moment, just like Georgina has.
After months working on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean, engineer Jo Blaine can't wait to get home. Her job is tough, and she is desperate for some long-overdue girl time. When she walks through her front door to find an unexpected man in her house, she's tempted to head straight back out to sea.
Stephen Hardy has always felt guilty for the part he played in ruining Jo's leaving home years earlier and jumps at the chance to make amends. It takes some fast talking, but he finally convinces Jo to let him look after her apartment and her giant cranky cat while she's away on the rig. And by the time she leaves for her next shift, they're both eagerly anticipating her return.
But balancing family and friends with a new relationship when you're never around is tricky, and Jo is also keeping secrets about her past. After a lifetime of taking care of herself, Jo isn't used to sharing her problems – especially when they involve her messy family history. Picking up the pieces every time she comes home is getting harder, and Jo begins to wonder if a fly-in fly-out lifestyle is really worth it . . .