We're very pleased to welcome Bibi to the blog. Since being shortlisted with us, her amazing novel The Watch, was also shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Prize. It has recently been published by Salt, and we wish it the very best of luck.
Three Short Thoughts on Writing
1 Writing fiction – for me anyway – has always been an exercise in coalescence. An idea knocks about in your head for a long time, years maybe, but it isn’t until several other, apparently disparate ideas stick to it that you’re good to go. The Watch coalesced. I’d set my heart on writing a small, intense story. Small in the sense that it drilled down into a single situation, character or relationship. But I had to wait for the situation. It arrived causally while listening to the radio one day. A senior clinical psychiatrist was talking about student mental health. It used to be the case, he said, that undergraduates who were in danger of harming themselves would have another student put in with them overnight, to keep an eye on them until parents could be fetched the following morning. What would such a night be like, I wondered, given that young people feel such heightened emotions and have the time and inclination to pull apart their feelings and explore every inch of their psyche? Which is where the next idea eventually stuck to the first few. Altruism. Such a soaring ambition in the young. Can it last? What drives it? Can it ever be misplaced?
Don’t be put off. Those are the stuck-together ideas. My aim was just to make a very readable tale out of all those elements. I dearly hope I’ve succeeded.
2 Something has changed in the way I write.
It used to be a solitary affair, a very private occupation. I didn’t talk about it, didn’t show my fiction to friends or family members. That’s how it went for years. How strange – what a waste of those years – that I didn’t want to share it. And how counterintuitive.
That detached process is anathema to me now. The mechanics of writing still require solitude, of course, but the perfecting of a story has become far more collaborative. I need to know how a plot is going down with a reader. I want to hear what they have to say about the characters. I was lucky with The Watch. Two friends and an agent read the manuscript not once but twice. I owe them a lot for that. Competitions, if you’re lucky enough to be placed in one, can provide a very similar service to the friendly reader. Being short-listed for the the Exeter Novel Prize was a turning-point in many ways for me. There’s something very special about that competition. I’m extremely glad that it exists and that it gave me such a kick up the backside.
But it’s not the only useful kicking I got. Which leads me to…
3 Writing for audio.
I love making audio. I love writing it, I love getting other people to write it and love shouting about it. That’s how my production company, Tempest, was born. It helped that there was a listening revolution going on, with huge demand for new material, both fiction and non. We were in a strong position: I have a background in journalism and broadcast, while the co-founder, Mark Lingwood, is an actor and director. We had all we needed to create something new and, we hoped, engaging.
But for years I had thought it was novels or nothing. Even as I found myself less absorbed by them, still I thought that no other literary form mattered. I have my children to thank for opening my mind. Young people consume stories in a a multiplicity of ways, from fan fiction to YouTube, music to gaming. It all feeds a primitive need to lose ourselves in lives other than our own – and to find those captivating moments of recognition.
The joy of Tempest for me is that anything goes as long as it’s well-written. We’re more channel than podcaster, now, open to all ideas and genres. Our series Unbound, for example, started under Lockdown. We knew that people would be looking for new listening material and that there were plenty of stories out there that translated perfectly into a narrated recording.
Just as the nascent film industry was always on the lookout for stories, so the streaming world is hungry for content. If you despair that a short story you wrote will never be read, open your mind to the idea of it being listened to instead. It will become something new and slightly different. But then that’s the adventure of collaboration.
The Watch is published by Salt The Watch, Bibi Berki - Salt (saltpublishing.com)
You can find more details of Tempest Productions at www.tempestproductions.net
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