Fact or fiction: autobiographical novels with Édouard Louis

This episode of the Guardian Books podcast featuring Édouard Louis had me absolutely hooked.

I hadn’t heard anything about Édouard Louis before, but two things struck me about his interview. First, the eloquence and clarity with which he talks about his childhood and the impact it had. Second, the way he was able to separate his own story from the writing. Such a difficult thing to do.

Here’s more information about Louis and the context of the interview:

Édouard Louis received huge acclaim in France at the age of 21 for his debut book, The End of Eddy, an autobiographical novel about a gay child who grows up surrounded by poverty and homophobia in a post-industrial French town. Despite France’s long history of autofiction, Louis’s book sparked a hunt for the truth, with French media descending on his home town in Picardy to talk with locals and try to determine what was real.

I highly recommend you give the episode a listen. It’s not often I hear an author talk about their work and feel compelled to go and buy it. This morning, I bought The End of Eddy and can’t wait to get stuck in.

Shelflife Club

This week I launched Shelflife Club, a membership scheme for writers, readers and other creative types.

It’s an extension of the Shelflife newsletter and a chance for subscribers (or anyone, really) to support the work that goes into putting it together. And get some cool stuff in return.

That cool stuff includes:

  • Shelflife Quotebook – a regularly-updated directory of quotes from and links to great articles from around the web.
  • Shelflife Feedly Collection – access to the roughly 50 blogs and websites that I subscribe to via Feedly.
  • Members-only podcast – a one-man show where I talk about writing, publishing, books and whatnot.
  • Shelflife Goody Bag – a mystery bag of literary tricks that includes audio stories, reading lists, templates and more.

If any of that takes your fancy or if you just want to support my writing, Shelflife Club costs $2 a month or $20 for a year.

And if you aren’t yet subscribed to the newsletter, you can do that too for absolutely nothing. It’s full of great stuff for creative folk, especially writers.

Some goals for 2017

I do tend to give myself goals at the start of each year, but I don’t often write them down and I’ve never shared then publicly before. But then this year does feel different, somehow. I don’t know why.

Work

I’ve spent the last year doing content strategy and managing some ace projects at Yoomee, a Sheffield digital agency. I’ve produced websites and apps, ran all manner of workshops and learnt an awful lot about project management along the way.

However, my contract with Yoomee is to cover maternity leave and that ends pretty soon. I’m currently on the hunt for new opportunities and have started ramping up my freelance work again, which I do via my own budding content agency, Very Meta.

It’s a strange thing to not know exactly what I’ll be doing work-wise over the coming months, but it’s exciting too.

If you or someone you know needs an experienced copywriter or content professional, feel free to send them my way. Or if you have a super interesting project you’re working on that might use my help, just email iain@verymeta.com and tell me about it.

Writing

I’m a novelist too, remember? Remember!

If you’ve followed me for any time, you probably know that having three children in four years (plus a full-time job – see above) has somewhat affected my ability to quickly pen a second novel. I’ve come to accept it and I try to reflect on this excellent quote from Jessica Hische on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly.

“I think I'd be able to forgive myself for a few years of not being the most productive designer, but I couldn’t forgive myself for a few years of not being the best parent.”

But at some point the work must be done. There has been a lot of thought and planning gone into this second novel already. Words have been written, of course. But most of all, I now have a real sense of what I want the novel to say and do. I understand its tone. I just need to write.

So what’s the goal? I will try and be realistic and say I aim to have a first draft complete, as a minimum, by December.

Internetting

We recorded the last episode of the Write for Your Life podcast at the start of 2016. Soon after, I redesigned, renamed and relaunched my newsletter: Shelflife. It was the only thing I consistently published throughout the year.

Shelflife gets consistently excellent open rates and the response to the new format has been overwhelmingly positive. That said, I do very little to try and get new people to subscribe. I plan to do something about that in 2017.

Primarily, that means I’m going to start sharing here on my website. I don’t currently have time for 2000-word think-pieces, but there is no reason why I can’t share more of what I read and watch online with you. My plan is to post regularly for the next three months and see how it goes.

So much – like, everything – depends on what I’ll be doing for a living, but a new podcast with Donna Sørensen is also on the cards. We have the idea. We have the will. We just need to create the time and make a pilot.

I know what you’re thinking. If I am to write a novel, how will I do all this other stuff too? Truth is, I’ve tried giving up the other stuff and it hasn’t worked. In fact, my slow retreat from the internet has made me feel more and more disconnected from the whole idea of being an author.

It’s up to me to work better.

Reading

Finally, I thought I should talk about my reading. I’ve always been a slow and slightly picky reader, but the last couple of years have been particularly bad for me in terms of the number of books read. Can I blame having children again?

The good news is, I have already started dealing with this. In November, I started tracking my reading. I decided to read at least 25 pages a day and I’m using an app called Momentum for extra motivation.

25 pages may not seem like many, I know. But I’m finding it a very doable number. I’ve missed just a handful of days, mainly over Christmas, and that daily progress has helped me fly through a few books. As a technique, it’s working and that’s what matters.

Again, being realistic, I’d like to read around 30 books in 2017.

Anything else?

Yes, just one more thing and I touched on it when I wrote about the US election results. This year, I aim to change how much I use technology to read the news. 2016 was brutal, but it was also addictive.

I’m not going to live in a hut somewhere, but I do want to significantly reduce how much noise I let into my brain. It’s not good for me and it’s not good for you, either. So let’s switch off and make stuff instead.

Empathise

A few days before the EU referendum vote, someone close to me said that they were probably going to vote Leave. I was flabbergasted.

First, I could see no logical reason for it. They were intelligent, comfortably middle class, apparently liberal-minded and entirely unaffected by immigration. There was no protest to be had. When pressed, they spoke of ‘tradition’ and ‘British values’. I was lost for words.

That person changed their mind at the last minute and voted Remain. But my eyes had been opened. It made me realise that far more people (and types of people) than I thought possible simply did not think like me. As the reality of Brexit emerged, I saw that England specifically was and is at least half full of people who lack empathy.

I’m being generous when I say that the Brexit vote had undertones of racism and xenophobia. The US election and Trump in particular has taken those things to the next level, made them very public and thrown in a deeply repulsive dose of misogyny and homophobia too.

It has been and will always be disgusting. Truly deplorable.

I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated by the US election over the last couple of months. I’ve watched a lot of Youtube. I’ve read a lot of think pieces. Even before the result, I thought about how happy I was that my children are not yet old enough to understand what’s happened. I don’t know how I’d be able to explain.

Trump is terrifying, no doubt. Even more scary for me, as we saw in the UK only a few months ago, is how many people seem to care so little about other human beings. How completely unable they are to even try to understand or put themselves in the shoes of people who are not like them.

So, what now? I’m not sure. Some people in the US will be heavily affected and rightfully afraid. I’d say we’re more than a little anxious over here too. If you feel politicised and ready to speak up and campaign, that’s a constructive use of any anger or energy you currently feel. I have friends who’ve been inspired to take similar action.

I’m trying to do two things. First, to vastly reduce the amount of rolling news I allow into my life. I’d like to find a way to stay well-informed, but without letting the relentless bullshit impact my mind and mood. I need to let less in and put more out.

Which leads me to point two. Writing, music and all forms of art are built on the idea that it is good and right to explore the other. To try and see then show the world through other people’s eyes. I’m not really sure what else to do right now but hold on tight to that notion. And to do the following.

Read, listen, watch, create, share. Empathise.

Everything Burned

The EU referendum and the absolute carnage it has created in the UK has been on everyone’s minds. It’s impossible to escape.

I’ve wanted to write about the situation, but found it very difficult to articulate how I feel. I’m just so angry, dumbfounded that a group of incompetent politicians, born into wealth and blinded by ego, have waltzed our country into so much economic uncertainty. It’s truly unforgivable.

There are so many blog posts and opinion pieces on what has happened. So instead I’ve written a story.

I published it in the latest issue of Shelflife – my weekly newsletter.

You can read it here too.

You can find out more about Shelflife right here.

Every fortnight, I send a collection of interesting links from around the web, some thoughts of my own and short, original fiction. It's completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time. 

#159: Red Horses

In the last ever episode of the Write for Your Life podcast, me and Donna talk about our feelings as the show is ending, as well as potential book titles for equally potential erotic novels. We also fill in a few gaps in both our writing stories.

Visit the page for episode 159 on 5by5 to listen, subscribe and find show notes.

A huge, ginormous thank you for listening to the show over the years. Watch this space for what's next.

#158: Plough Your Own Furrow

So this is it. The first of our two final episodes of the Write for Your Life podcast. We discuss our decision to end the show at length and touch on some of the reasons behind it. We also answer a range of listeners' questions that sees us cover my pre-Christmas 'writing retreat', our long-term writing aims and the concept of writing 'greatness'. Pop your headphones on. Listen up.

Visit the page for episode 158 on 5by5 to listen, subscribe and find show notes.

#157: Frantic Underachievers

In this episode of the Write for Your Life podcast, me and Donna talk about Author Day and whether publishers really care about us writers, social media and its various pressures and problems, taking your audience with you on your journey, and the idea of wasting time and being better at it!

Visit the page for episode 157 on 5by5 to listen, subscribe and find show notes.