A male writer’s fascination with female perspectives
Fiction writing is — in equal parts — imagination, empathy and transmogrification of lived experience.
The alchemy which turns my leaden autobiography into fictional gold (hopefully) is often a change of viewpoint. It’s the ‘What if?’ which sparks the narrative from the inciting incident.
Very often, I find myself wanting to write fiction from a female perspective. I’ve been told, by female readers whose opinion I value, that I’m good at it. About seventy per cent of my regular readers are female, so I guess I can’t be too lousy.
That’s gratifying praise, but I would be sad if it were unusual. Why should biological sex be a barrier to empathy or imagination? A man who cannot step outside his own ego to consider what a woman might desire in a lover, what she might hope for or fear in life, her insecurities, passions and preoccupations, is a sad specimen of humanity.
We consider it unremarkable that a female author might write a male protagonist well. The converse should also apply. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of study material, in terms of literature by female writers, and — shock! horror! — real live women to converse with.
A teen obsession
One of the great passions of my teenage years — that turbulent time of consuming and confusing passions — was the music of Kate Bush.
On the occasion of my wife’s birthday, we’re in Melbourne for the week. For the first time since COVID hit our shores, we find ourselves in the CBD with time on our hands.
Suze likes to spend hours poking around markets; I’d sooner stick wasps up my arse, frankly. Luckily, we’re accustomed to giving each other space to do our own thing, rather than approaching every outing as a joint activity.
Fear not: we also have a shared calendar of events with multiple highlights and points of interest and time spent with friends – those who haven’t contracted COVID in the last couple of days. I’m not leaving the poor woman entirely to her own devices on the august occasion of reaching three-score years and ten.
So anyway, this morning, Suze was buying music-themed socks at the Vicky Market (hey, it’s her birthday) and trying to work out the location and name of that pub she went to with the girls that one time that sells Belgian cherry beer: an absorbing task for a woman with scant sense of direction and a love of Kriek.
If you’re an indie author like me, you’ll already have made the discovery that ‘Write it and they will come’ does not work. It will never work.
It doesn’t matter how good your writing is: how gripping your plots, relatable your characters, polished your prose. Your writing will languish unread, unless you find ways to get readers to clap eyes on it.
Fortunately I like a challenge, and I like learning new stuff, so this doesn’t bother me much. In the past year, I’ve had more than a few ‘Eureka!’ flashes of inspiration which quickly turned to ‘Meh …’ realisations. I pick myself up, dust myself off and try something else.
… but also I keep doing what I’m doing – constantly refining and trying to do it better. Building an audience requires dedication and commitment. It ain’t gonna happen over night.
Who needs video games to keep them entertained? This stuff is FUN!
My output of stories has been prolific over the past months. Clearly, a world-record series of lockdowns here in Victoria has been good for something!
However, ‘Write it and they will come’ isn’t proving to be a sensible way of getting my writing to readers.
I ruefully recognise that I only started reading some of my favourite contemporary authors after an obituary in the media. That’s a little long-term for this writer. I’d rather be read alive than dead.
How well does the platform perform for fiction writers?
I started publishing stories on Medium back in February of this year. So far, I’m pleased with my time as a Medium writer. I thought it was time to reflect on some of my experiences. If you’re considering publishing your work on Medium, you may find these observations useful.
I see myself primarily as a writer of prose fiction, with occasional memoirs and essays thrown into the mix. I’m a minority writer on Medium, therefore, and inevitably limiting my readership.
Readership is heavily genre-dependent
Factual pieces seem to get the most traffic. If you write how-to articles about starting a business or making money, opinion pieces about feminism or sexuality, commentary on current affairs, you’ll be tapping into Medium’s core readership and, with persistently good writing, could build a steady following.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, ‘An Odd Sort of a Job’, I write fiction as part of my work as an educational writer. It’s mostly basic stuff: little stories and dialogues, as a vehicle for teaching English or German.
It follows that I’m not inhibited about sharing my creative writing or getting short imaginative pieces published. Still, writing a novel, a novella or even a substantial short story is, as they say, a different kettle of fish.
Over the years, I’ve had a few goes at writing a novel, and I don’t think any of them have got past a single chapter. Probably just as well: they would have been desperately dull.
You see, I was following the standard advice about planning a novel. You’ve read the kind of thing:
First, decide what story you want to tell. Next, envisage your reader … Write a short synopsis / cover blurb … List your major and minor characters … Do background research … Structure your story … Write a chapter plan … etc etc etc
That might work for some writers, but it sure as hell wasn’t working for me.
Here’s my alternative recipe. It seems to be working out (early days!) – maybe you’ll find it helpful too?
It has been another busy couple of months for me on Medium. I’m continuing to learn a lot, engaging with other writers, exploring links with publications and pushing my creative writing in different directions. Here’s a little glimpse of what I’ve been up to.
Music has been a big part of my life for the last six years. It has been a wild and bumpy ride – and not just for me.
Like so many kids of my generation, I left school thinking that I had no musical ability. Music theory just baffled me, and my croaky, deep, unruly singing voice embarrassed me.
I envied my mate Jon, with his electric guitar and his apparently magical ability to understand what the hell our music teacher, the fearsome Mrs Dix, was talking about. (Four beats to a bar? Really? Why?? Who decides where the bar starts and ends? And where’s the four in 3/4 time?)
Later at uni in Germany, one of my friends was a competent sax player and I’d tag along to his Dixieland gigs. I loved music, was moved, delighted, captivated by it, but music wasn’t something I was ever going to make. I couldn’t even keep a beat while dancing.
Most of my life I’ve been involved in creative hobbies of one kind or another: drawing, woodcarving, sculpture, ceramics, music – and these days, writing fiction, of course.
Jewellery making is another craft that I wanted to try. A handcrafted piece of jewellery is a small thing, but potent with meaning. All the more so if you make it yourself, or if someone you love makes it for you.
I now have the chance. A new art and craft space has opened up in Drysdale, offering classes and workshops, and one of the artisans is John McAleer, a master jeweller with nearly 40 years’ experience.