Dinosaur erotica: what the reviews say

We’ve delved deep into the frankly bonkers world of dinosaur erotica as part of our ‘sex in fiction’ series. Now, not only can you find out all you need to know about this literary phenomenon through our in-depth introductory guide, but you can also get an insightful glimpse into this monster erotica sub-genre of literary erotica through our helpful collection of excerpts from some of the most famous dino-erotica book titles (with pictures, of course).

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But while dinosaur erotica can make millions of dollars for its authors, what do the people actually buying the books think of them? To find out – and to help you if you’re considering purchasing a couple of these books yourself – we’ve compiled some of our favourite reviews from the readers of dino-erotica themselves. Check them out below!

“Dinosaurian magic” – Richard W Girdwood 

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“After reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park I was left feeling scientifically fulfilled but emotionally distraught. Now I know why.

I have to recommend this most heartily. I was transfixed by the subtle arrangement of words into a tale of lust, so much so I struggled to read for more than say, 2-3 minutes at a time, often having to take short breaks between reads to recompose, arrange short expeditions to find edible berries, spear neighbour’s dogs and clean up the Kindle.

Needless to say those 2-3 minutes were spent deep in the mindset of a caveperson, wondering what dinosaurian magic might come next. After reading this literary wet dream I wouldn’t mind a Velociraptor opening my door handle at night!

I would love to see her branch into other forms of prehistoric erotica, such as ammonites and giant sloths, or fantasy creatures. Cthulhu with his many tentacles comes to mind. Bravo!”

Something about the description of this mid-sized dromaesaurid was getting me hot and bothered” – VelociFAPtor

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“I was at a stagnant place in my love life when I purchased this book. I hadn’t been able to get aroused by the usual erotic novels that women like me take a common liking towards, so I was just taking a shot in the dark with this book. I’ve always been a fan of Dinosaurs but never knew how much I truly loved them until I got to page 3 of this masterpiece. I began to feel wet immediately, something about the description of this mid-sized dromaeosaurid was getting me hot and bothered again. I was hooked as if they claws of the reptilians in this book had reached out and touched me with arousal themselves. Trust me ladies, weather you’re a hardcore dinosaur fan or just mildly amused by the film “Jurassic Park”, this is not a book you want to pass up. “In the Velociraptor’s Nest” will give you that pleasant sensation you’ve been looking for and you’ll find yourself relished for the rasp of a raptors tongue. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.”

“Shouldn’t have been hot but it was” – Author K Webster

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“Wow! This story shouldn’t have been hot but it was! Marie was such a naughty girl with the dinosaur! Will they have mutant babies???? Jim is a perv but I liked his character and wish he got his chance with her too. I will read more by this author.”

“Tale of aerodynamic arousal will warm your heart, and groin” – John H 

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From start to finish, this piece is reminiscent of a controversial episode of animated classic, “The Flintstones”, in which a similar thing happens involving Wilma and the garbage disposal. While they resolved to replace the disposal (prompting the comment “I guess I’m getting disposed now!” and a humorous wap-wahhh sound), in this book they go a different direction: a very arousing one.

Easily the highest point of this book (no spoilers) is when they’re up in the air, though while the shepherd is on the ground is by far the low point. It has its up and downs, but this tale of aerodynamic arousal will warm your heart, and groin.

I will admit, though: you’ll never look at your local museum the same again. I walked by the dinosaur exhibit, and whispered “Pterodactyl? More like tear-me-dactyl…” and licked my lips while walking away. The lip-licking was due to being out of chapstick, but you get my point.

“A lot of unanswered questions” – LCisMe

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“This story was short and lacked character development. WHY was Dianne taken by the pterodactyl? Why did the pterodactyl keep her? And how will she survive in his nest? This story left me with a lot of questions, and I don’t think the author is planning a sequel.”

“The Wuthering Heights of Billionaire Gay Dinosaur Fiction” – Liam Pierce 

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“I strongly recommend replacing the word “his” with “his billionaire dinosaur” at every opportunity. It puts you that much more in the moment.”

“Having sex with a dinosaur would be a lot of fun” – Daniel Michael Cowan

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“Not only does Dr. Tingle paint a vivid picture of the future colonization of faraway moons and planets, he also really drives home the message that having sex with a dinosaur would be a lot of fun.”

“Makes a great retirement gift” – 

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“I thought this was going to be just like every other book of gay dinosaur erotica, but I was so wrong! If you ever read 50 Shades of Grey thinknig, “If only the mysterious billionaire was a homosexual dinosaur…” this is the book for you. You’ll bite your nails as you wonder whether the two characters will get together, you’ll cry as they talk about past pains, and you’ll shiver with delight as author Chuck Tingle turns up the heat.

Now that Kindle allows you to give books as gifts, this becomes the perfect gift for your favorite new graduate, your best friend’s birthday, or a pair of newlyweds who could use some steamy reading in their honeymoon suite. It even makes a great retirement gift, saying, “Yes, you’re old now – but dinosaurs are ancient and they’re still getting it on.””

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If language is a drug, Sci-Fi is crack-cocaine

 

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Peacock IV (2016), by Victoria Stothard – cover designer of new speculative fiction project, ‘The 8th Emotion’ 

“Science-fiction [is] the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug.”

            — Arthur C. Clarke, “Of Sand and Stars”, 1983

First off, apologies for the title. It’s a shameless piece of provocation. Obviously, crack destroys lives, and I wouldn’t want to equate it – in all seriousness – with an addiction to spaceships, lasers, and aliens. Nonetheless, the title sounded good, and it does get at what I want to discuss.

Sci-fi is not as narrow a set of parameters as perhaps many believe. It is not really just “lasers, spaceships, and aliens”, although I imagine this is what comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term.

Culture shock

Sci-fi, if anything, is about culture shock. It’s a form that implicitly dictates that something new be brought to the table, whether it’s a new world, a new species, a new technology, a new psychology… you get my drift. Some sort of breach with our everyday reality, our everyday culture, is required. Therefore, it is a form which, at its core, is built on the notion of a culture shock.

At this point, I’d like to make a distinction between the Arthur C. Clarke quote with which I began this article, and my own belief (although his wording is probably just a by-product of his time). I believe ‘speculative fiction’, though a tad clunky to say, is a better term to use when considering the most potent type of mind-altering fiction, encompassing as it does science-fiction, fantasy, and everything in-between. ‘Science-fiction’ – to me at least – has a degree of prescriptiveness: it’s exotic worlds, final frontiers, and advanced technology. ‘Speculative fiction’, as long as it’s a break from our current world, can be anything. It has a less restricted sense of what a story can be. And as the most drug-like, visionary fiction can come in a variety of guises, that seems like the safest term to use here.

So, to my original point, now amended – speculative fiction relies on culture shock. It can incorporate any genre within it (see the beautiful romantic plot thread in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, or the noir detective elements in the Blade Runner franchise) but it must always, even in a very watered-down form, contain this key ingredient.

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Speculative fiction can incorporate any genre within it – including the noir detective elements in the Blade Runner franchise. 

However, this isn’t quite the culture shock we get when we go on holiday and think, “oh, so here the steering wheel’s on the other side”, profound though that is. Culture shocks in the real world occur in a state of flux: we’re being bombarded with from all sides by ever-changing, multi-sensory stimuli; incessant distractions that diminish each other and compete for our attention. Prose is very different: it’s a very controlled reality, experienced moment by moment, word by word. With a painting, you can look around the canvas, your eye roving across the detail in whatever order it pleases; an order that is unlikely to be the same from one person to the next. Prose is the only truly linear experience of reality I can think of. As a writer, it lets you specify the exact stimulus for a brain at any given moment (through a word-form), and precisely how that flow of impressions should be arranged. It’s a very effective and finely-tuned means of interacting with another human consciousness.

“Prose is the only truly linear experience of reality […] it’s a very effective and finely-tuned means of interacting with another human consciousness.”

On a broader level, purely verbal communication is as close to telepathy as we’ve got. It’s mind communing with mind, the whole material world stripped away, leaving just information: the best rendering of our thoughts that we have. And in my opinion, the better the thoughts, the better their drug-like effect when expressed. Trite thoughts, captured in words, dull the mind. Numb your senses. High-grade thoughts can excite and elevate you, sharpen your mind, make you see the world in a whole different light. This is euphoria. And, at an extreme end, they can even produce physiological side-effects – but I’ll come to that in a second.

Really, it’s the thought, conveyed from one person to another, that is the drug. The language is just the necessary packaging; the means of transmission.

The power of language

There are two stand-out instances in my life that drove home how powerful language can be. The first was the most physiologically striking: it was after I’d been to see a live performance of Alan Moore’s spoken-word piece Unearthing, which was accompanied by music and a photographic slideshow. All these components worked in synchronicity, informing each other, vying for pole-position in your awareness, impossible to follow in their totality. I had to leave the event two-thirds of the way through, rushing to get my coach home. I remember sitting on it, staring at the passing traffic lights: they were glowing slightly but distinctively brighter than usual, like psychedelic blurs of luminosity. I felt stoned. And exactly like someone in that condition, I barely blinked for the first forty minutes of that trip.

(Later, when Unearthing was available to download, I listened to it again, this time the entire way through. Again, I felt stoned, unblinking, although here the effect lasted for more like three minutes. I imagine familiarity wore away some of its impact, as did the lack of a multi-sensory presentation.)

This is probably the peak version of language-as-drug: when it works in tandem with other art forms (like henchmen backing up a criminal mastermind) to overload your senses and mind.

The other stand-out instance utilised words alone. I was in a café, above a bookshop, in a busy central area of London. A long-term friend and I had been talking, for a couple of hours or so, about concepts like time and the quantum world. Then, in the space of a few seconds, reality got strange. I felt light-headed, trippy, as if I could happily stare at any part of the world; as if it was all full of fascinating detail. It also felt like I could sense the atoms that made up the table we were sat at, their energy; and consequently, I had the bizarre impression – while knowing it was false – that I should be able to pass my hand, ghost-like, through that solid block of wood. Between its atoms.

Like I say, this only took a moment to kick in. I asked my friend if he felt it, without specifying what ‘it’ was. He said he did. Switching back and forth, without – as far as I can recall – any leading comments, we described what we were feeling. It seemed to be identical; more than that, it had been induced synchronistically during our conversation.

Obviously, this may all sound crazy. And although, certainly on that latter occasion, it felt like I was in a heightened state, I’m not saying there was any objective validity in my sensations. But you can’t deny that’s pretty trippy.

(And no, smart-arse, I hadn’t taken any drugs that day, or even that week, and at neither event was I sat in a fug of second-hand marijuana smoke. Otherwise, these anecdotes would be rubbish).

As I mentioned, similar effects have happened to me at other times after some sort of intense interaction with language; but these are the two most pronounced cases. And what’s great when this state hits is, unlike with conventional drugs, you retain full cognitive and motor facilities. It feels like you can put the energy you have to much better use.

So if language operates exactly like, or at least has the capacity to be a drug, as these experiences have pretty firmly led me to believe, then there’s an immediate implication for prose. Seen as a psychedelic chemical compound, with words forming the atoms of the overall substance (work with me here) then the less extraneous words there are to dilute the compound, the purer and more intoxicating the final result will be. Think of it as an alcohol with a higher proof. This would fit in with the Hemingway school of writing, where you pare away every unnecessary word until the minimalism almost drives you mad (there is a daily holocaust of adverbs in his name).

Where this perspective cleaves away from that orthodoxy is in the potential of chemicals, mixed correctly, to trigger fizzing and spectacular reactions in each other. So while the spare approach of Hemingway may state that sentences should be short and sharp like a gun report, with all floridity excised, this drug metaphor would argue – and I’d agree – that words can have some of their most exciting effects when the unfamiliar collide. Three adjectives where one would do? Yes, cut that down. But three adjectives that you’ve never seen together before, which spark off one another in interesting ways, like James Joyce’s description of a woman’s body in his short story The Dead as “musical and strange and perfumed”? Keep it. That’s up there with the best of literature.

What this means is that the dictums ascribed to Hemingway and Orwell aren’t the be-all and end-all of prose style. There’s a wider palette of possibilities on offer.

However, what I’ve just said applies to all writing. And I know what you’re thinking: I began this essay in good faith expecting to learn about sci-fi and where I can get a fix of crack cocaine before midnight. Cut to the chase already!

Okay. Geez. I was just about to get there.

The other key thing that the conversation in the café above the bookshop implies is that, for language to get you into a trippy, altered mind-state, this comes easiest when you’re discussing big ideas. Ideas that feel bigger than your brain; like it can’t contain their magnitude. The concepts of time and the quantum world were the examples in that instance, but there are plenty of alternatives: space; the ancestral path and all the DNA matches that, after millennia, led to the creation of you; parallel universes; how different the universe would be if light only travelled at 30 mph; what the psychology of a deity would be; what the ramifications would have been, big and small, if that pivotal historical event had never happened/gone the other way.

All of these notions involve a large sense of scale regarding either time or space, so maybe that’s the key to spinning out your own mind with concepts alone. What they also have in common is that, though such ideas could appear in any genre, they are very much the province of speculative fiction, with them and their ilk having formed the basis for countless stories in that ideas-obsessed narrative field.

A genuine, mind-altering drug on the page

Speculative fiction is where such concepts are literalised, are given concrete form so that the reader can have – on an imaginary level – a visceral engagement with them. It is where such abstract, mind-altering notions are brought to life.

Although most speculative fiction may not reach the giddy, psyche-warping heights I’ve expounded upon here (perhaps a lack of finesse in the prose; perhaps a failure of sustained intensity of imagination) I believe this area of literature, more than any other, has the potential to do so. And the evidence is plentiful and wonderful.

There is the cosmic, puzzle-like world building of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, whose grandeur and intricacy dawns on you like a creeping madness; the fecund neologisms and innovative typography of China Miéville’s Embassytown; the screaming, horror-drenched, pioneering and unmistakable purple prose of Lovecraft; the magisterial and idiosyncratic visions of William Blake. And hopefully, in a hundred years, these authors will be seen as the mere vanguard of what was to come.

Speculative fiction is where you can unite the experimentalism of the modernists (form, language, story content, narratorial and character voices, imagery, setting, etc.) but justify it for narrative reasons, and tie it into a ripping yarn. It can be a genuine, mind-altering drug on the page.

It is, I believe, where the next level of literature lies.

About the author of this post

FullSizeRenderAttempting to practice what he preaches, Josh Spiller has written his own speculative fiction novel, entitled ‘The 8th Emotion’. He is currently trying to fund it through Kickstarter, and you can check it out – as well as get your own signed first edition – here.

 

 

 

 

 

We need to write about climate change

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Can we imagine the end of the world? Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published the most meticulous report and scientific peer-reviewed report on climate change and global warming in decades. Despite being viewed as a generally conservative association, the IPCC report describes, in dry, detailed language, the complete collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospers, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other life forms and organisms depend.

What the report details, in other words, is the story of catastrophic climate breakdown – a story of such complete disaster and ill-consequence that climate change and global warming are entirely inadequate descriptive terms here.

As activist and writer George Monbiot notes, “this is a catastrophe we are capable of forseeing but incapable of imagining. It’s a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.”

A problem of imagination

A key problem facing us, then, is that the stakes – while they couldn’t be higher – do not seem tangible enough to focus our attentions on the reality facing our species and the planet. While theorists such as Slavoj Zizek have argued it is “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, what we may in fact just be realising is that we aren’t even able to imagine the end of the world, either.

So, may all writers the world over step in at this moment. For, if it is a crisis of imagination we face, surely there are few warriors out there equipped with the skills and ability necessary to render this reality in ways that people can understand, comprehend, and realise in their own minds.

No time to lose

The urgency with which we must, as writers, act, is extreme. Donald Trump has, since his inauguration as the President of the Untied States, made persistent moves to attack what minimal environmental protection regulations and safety nets were in place, and the climate change denial he and his Republican administration advocate threatens our entire planet. We cannot deny or ignore the stakes at play here – we must move quickly to dispel any doubt over the future facing us if we do nothing.

However, such is the difficulty in imagining the potential future of our broken planet, there are precious few writers out there who are drawing attention to this most vital of causes.

As Amitav Ghosh, author of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, writes in a Guardian article:

“It is a simple fact that climate change has a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion. As proof of this, we need only glance through the pages of literary journals and book reviews. When the subject of climate change occurs, it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon. Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel. is a simple fact that climate change has a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion. As proof of this, we need only glance through the pages of literary journals and book reviews. When the subject of climate change occurs, it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon. Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel.”

So what writers are out there who are currently writing about – or who have written about – climate change, and the consequences of ignoring it?

In a masterful letter to the future, Kurt Vonnegut puts the stakes pretty clearly as he tells us in no uncertain terms to “stop poisoning the air, water and topsoil.” Yet, as any writer knows, there is a difference between telling and showing: and while telling us to change our ways is one thing; what is needed now is for writers to show us what our future holds.

We need fiction, in other words.

Searching for ‘climate fiction’ on Amazon returns just over 1000 results – although the search algorithms mean that many self-published and a large quantity of non-fiction books also appear in this list. Yet there are “big-name” literary authors among them. Think, for instance of Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, Barbar Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan and T Coraghessan Boyle.

There are other great books written by brilliant authors, too – such as The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, or Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich.

We have compiled a list of some of the most important – and best examples of – books about climate change here at Nothing in the Rulebook. And it’s vital we are able to read these and see what has been done – and is being done – in the world of ‘climate fiction’ (cli-fi, if you will). Because it is by reading the works of others that our own writing, and our own understanding of what writing works well, improves. And this knowledge will prove most critical as a new generation of aspiring writers finally starts to address the startling gap in our cultural narrative, and help make the “unimaginable” consequences of climate breakdown real.

 

 

 

Esther Freud’s seven golden tips for writing

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In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the whole list and, week by week, will be bringing you the timeless counsel of the great writers of the 20th and 21stcenturies.

Last time out we brought you the rules of writing from Elmore Leonard himself. And in the past we’ve also featured Zadie Smith’s exquisite balance of the practical, the philosophical, and the poetic. Then there’s Neil Gaiman’s timeless counsel on writing, which complements the writing commandments of Jonathan Franzen, as well as the wise decree of Margaret Atwood. Today, we’re pleased to feature the writing advice from renown British novelist Esther Freud. Enjoy!

  1. Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
  2. A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
  3. Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
  4. Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
  5. Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
  6. Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.
  7. Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.

 

For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the excellent musings of ground-breaking Scottish author, Iain Maloney; and complement that with some priceless advice from Kurt Vonnegut, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.

Alternatively, you could get all this and more by signing up to our free, weekly newsletter for everything interesting. Join the gang!   

Turning ideas into reality: the four stages of creativity

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‘Krakow Sunset’ – Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images, via Flickr

One of the defining features of humanity is our ability to create; and to turn flashes of inspiration and new ideas into solid creative constructions: be they works of art; photography; writing; film; dance or any other one of the forms through which creativity can be channelled.

Yet just as creativity is an intrinsic part of who we are; so too is the difficulty in actually working through the creative process. “Creative Block” seems to be utterly tied with creativity, and we will all have encountered it in some form or other during our lives.

We’ve previously documented how various great writers and artists have tried to circumnavigate the various travails of creativity by developing rigid routines; but is there a more general structure we can, as aspiring creatives, use to culture our ideas and inspiration, and turn them into creative works of art?

Well of course there is! We wouldn’t have started writing a post about it if there wasn’t, would we?

In fact, the question of how to master the strange process through which the conscious develops with the unconscious; the voluntary becomes entwined with the involuntary; and we are able to somehow bring something physical out of the mystical realm of the imagination, was pondered 90 years ago in 1926 by the founder of the London School of Economics; Graham Wallas.

68 at the time, Wallas penned a rather incredible book called The Art of Thought – an insightful theory outlining what he saw as “the four stages” of the creative process. He based this theory on both his own empirical observations, as well as by drawing on the accounts of famous inventors and polymaths.

Sadly, the book is now long out of print, and only available in a handful of public libraries. You can, if you’re lucky (and rich), purchase one of the few surviving copies; but be prepared to spend around £1000 or so.

However, not so sadly, the general outline of Wallas’s model has been preserved in a chapter of the 1976 collection of essays titled The Creativity Question. Within this tome are to be found an invaluable selection of meditations on and approaches to creativity by some of history’s greatest minds; and we heartily recommend you purchasing a copy of your own (it won’t cost you a fortune).

Yet what caught our eye was Wallas’s outline of the four stages of the creative process, which he sees as being preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. These stages can be seen as essentially universal across all forms of creativity. They proceed as follows:

  1. Preparation
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

Of course, some might argue that you can never prepare yourself for creativity or inspiration: ideas, surely, are known most of all for their ability to fly out at the most unexpected of moments, catching us off guard as we idly clip our begonias. However, consider the way in which ideas so often come to us shortly after doing or seeing something that inspired us. There is a reason so many ‘advice for writers’ articles place “reading” as one of the most important parts of writing: it is part of the process of preparation.

To return to gardening imagery, for a moment, during the preparation stage we ready the mental soil for the sowing of creative seeds; and the subsequent growth of ideas. Wallas describes this as “investigation in all directions”; by which he means the accumulation of intellectual resources out of which we are able to construct new ideas. Through this deliberate, fully conscious process, the unconscious is exercised, and the involuntary production of ideas and inspiration made possible.

It entails research, planning, and developing the right frame of mind and holding the right level of attention. Wallas writes:

“The educated man has, again, learnt, and can, in the Preparation stage, voluntarily or habitually follow out, rules as to the order in which he shall direct his attention to successive elements.”

  1. Incubation
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‘Dickens’s Dream’ by Robert William Buss. 

Once we have prepared ourselves, the next part of the process is a period of unconscious processing – the time we get the clippers ready and head into the garden; the times we sit quietly by ourselves and listen. It requires no direct or deliberate effort; it takes place in our unconscious; in our souls.

Wallas notes that the stage has two divergent elements – the “negative fact” that during Incubation we don’t consciously deliberate on a particular problem, and the “positive fact” of a series of unconscious, involuntary – Wallas terms it “foreconscious” and “forevoluntary” – mental events taking place. He writes:

“Voluntary abstention from conscious thought on any problem may, itself, take two forms: the period of abstention may be spent either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all conscious mental work. The first kind of Incubation economizes time, and is therefore often the better.”

Wallas proposes a technique for optimising the fruits of the Incubation stage by deliberately building interruptions of concentrated effort into our workflow:

“We can often get more result in the same way by beginning several problems in succession, and voluntarily leaving them unfinished while we turn to others, than by finishing our work on each problem at one sitting.”

  1. Illumination
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

This is the stage that makes you drop your trowel/hoe/spade/cultivator (delete as appropriate), and gasp at the sudden exhilaration that comes with stumbling upon a new idea or creative thought.

Wallas based this stage on French polymath Henri Poincare’s concept of “sudden illumation” – the flash of insight that the conscious self can’t conjure itself and the unconscious self can only produce once all the elements gathered during the Preparation stage have been nurtured during the Incubation stage. The famous “Eureka” moment.

Wallas writes:

“If we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous “flash,” it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will; because we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an appreciable time. On the other hand, the final “flash,” or “click” … is the culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains. The series of unsuccessful trains of association may last for periods varying from a few seconds to several hours.

[…]

Sometimes the successful train seems to consist of a single leap of association, or of successive leaps which are so rapid as to be almost instantaneous.”

  1. Verification
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Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images. Via Flickr

The final stage of the creative process shares a more deliberate, conscious effort of focused will, as was necessary during the Preparation stage. It involves the practical art of testing whether or not the idea created during phases two and three is actually any good or not. For scientific discovery, this means testing the chemistry or maths behind it; for art, the act of putting paintbrush to blank canvas; and for the writer, the act of “putting one word after another”, as Neil Gaiman advised.

Wallas writes:

“It never happens that unconscious work supplies ready-made the result of a lengthy calculation in which we only have to apply fixed rules… All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruit of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced. … They demand discipline, attention, will, and consequently, conscious work.”

All together now

Wallas is keen to note that it is not possible to conjure creativity through any one of these stages alone – regardless of how well one executes that particular stage. None of them exist in isolation from the others, because they are each part of a much grander mechanism of creativity, which is built from innumerable complex, perpetually moving bits and pieces. He writes:

“In the daily stream of thought these four different stages constantly overlap each other as we explore different problems. An economist reading a Blue Book, a physiologist watching an experiment, or a business man going through his morning’s letters, may at the same time be “incubating” on a problem which he proposed to himself a few days ago, be accumulating knowledge in “preparation” for a second problem, and be “verifying” his conclusions on a third problem. Even in exploring the same problem, the mind may be unconsciously incubating on one aspect of it, while it is consciously employed in preparing for or verifying another aspect. And it must always be remembered that much very important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or by a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles musical composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution” scheme. Yet, even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and the Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other.”

Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writers

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Few professions are as solitary – indeed, as secretive – as writing. Yet perhaps a strange quirk in the attitudes of authors is the willingness and desire of writers to share what they know with other students of the craft.

But of course, writing, to put it bluntly, is kind of a strange gig. There is a plethora of advice out there available to writers – aspiring or established – which they can choose to heed or ignore as they see fit. Some might term these pieces of advice as “rules” and, for want of a better term, we might follow them, especially when they come from some of the great masters of writing.

In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the full list, previously bringing you the writing rules of the brilliant Zadie Smith. We’re on the case again, and here bring you some timeless counsel from one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Neil Gaiman.

Some of Gaiman’s rules sound deceptively simple, enjoy:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

 

For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the writing tips from author and creative writing lecturer Julia Bell; and complement that with some priceless advice from Kurt Vonnegut, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.

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How we read: Theodore Roosevelt’s rules for reading

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Some of the greatest thinkers in human history have long pondered the power of books. Aristotle found that reading surpassed “all stupendous inventions”, while the great author and critic E.B. White suggested books could produce “a sort of ecstasy”. Not only have these great minds tried to give a reason to why we read; they have also put forward suggestions on where we should read – asking whether there is such a thing as the ideal sanctuary for books and reading.

Yet we have not yet tackled questions on how we should read – or whether the way in which we consume books, information and literature has a bearing on our reading experience.

This is a subject pondered by one of the most zealous readers in the history of mankind: Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.

To give you an idea of the level of Roosevelt’s literary consumption, it is well-known that he would read a book before breakfast every day, and up to a further two or three books again in the evening. By his own estimates, he read tens of thousands of books over the course of his lifetime.

A lifetime advocate of the power of literature, Roosevelt noted in his autobiography a series of points that can be taken as his suggested “rules” for reading, which, if applied correctly by the reader, can ensure they make the most of books and literature.

We’ve noted them here below:

  1. Dispense with booklists

Roosevelt writes: “The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.”

  1. Read what you enjoy

Roosevelt writes: “A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time […] Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”

  1. Ignore what people tell you to read

Roosevelt writes: “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbours say those needs should be.”

  1. Don’t fake enjoyment

Roosevelt writes: “The reader must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.”

  1. Beware the mad pride of intellectuality – don’t judge others for their book choices

Roosevelt writes: “Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”

  1. Read poetry, novels and short stories

Roosevelt writes: “Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels.”

  1. Stock your library with the books you want to read – not those you feel you have to

Roosevelt writes: “Ours is in no sense a collector’s library. Each book was procured because some one of the family wished to read it. We could never afford to take overmuch thought for the outsides of books; we were too much interested in their insides.”

  1. Learn what it means to be human by reading

Roosevelt writes: “[We] all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.”

 

So! There you have it. Some wonderful guidance on reading from an ex-president. But just how did he read tens of thousands of books in his lifetime? Perhaps his speed reading is something we will need to revisit – I sense another post in the making! Until then comrades.

 

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Writing as autobiography – is there no difference between fiction and non fiction?

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Dickens’ Dream, by Robert William Buss.

The line between fact and fiction has always been fuzzier than most people find it convenient to admit. It is a common line to argue that the work of the novelist is engaged with the creative imagination, while the memoirist is engaged with some accountable “truth” or “reality”, and is trying to tell us – the reader – what really, actually happened.

It is a distinction that is easy to voice but perhaps harder to sustain in logic, for there is a good argument to be made that any account of a person’s real, lived experiences can never be “true” in the sense that any such account would be verifiable if it were recorded on CCTV cameras. Equally, fiction – and ultimately all art – comes from within the writer or artist’s own mind and own heart, and their choice of words and the way they use language is designed by their own personal experiences of the world. The writer of a fantasy novel exposes their true selves to the same extent that a memoirist does.

Consider the words of J.M. Coetzee – recipient of the Novel Prize for Literature – here:

“In a larger sense, all writing is autobiography: everything that you write, including criticism and fiction, writes you as you write it.”

Or else, of Jorge Luis Borges:

“I wrote a story once about a man who began a very large picture, and therein was a kind of map – for example, hills, horses, streams, fishes, and woods and towers and men and all sorts of things. When the day of his death came, he found he had been making a picture of himself. That is the case with most writers.”

The idea that writing is about self-exploration and self-discovery is not new. Harper Lee said, for instance, that writing “is a self-exploratory operation that is endless”. Emerson said there was neither fiction nor history: “only biography”. Samuel Butler wrote that “Every man’s work – whether it be literature or music or architecture or anything else – is always a portrait of himself.”

Something that may therefore be inferred from this idea then is that all stories – whether they concern goblins or spaceships or Russian princesses or Greek warriors or a middle aged man from Croydon (or all the above) – are, indeed, true. On some level, there exists within every work of fiction an element of reality – an ultimate truth perceived perhaps only in glimpses; that truth being the human being, their feelings and thoughts, behind the words on the page, behind the typewriter (minimalist or otherwise).

Writing in the Guardian, the writer Belinda McKeon clarified this position: “Writing cannot be anything but autobiographical. To try for distance, for the narrative which is somehow purely imagined, would be the most nakedly autobiographical effort of all. […] Writing, all writing, comes from the well of the self. From the way the mind works; from the places to which the mind goes.”

If fiction, then, is autobiographical, what does this mean for those works that actually attempt to be autobiography? What does this mean for memoir?

There are plenty of examples of fiction – and of imagined or perceived truths instead of actual happening truths – in memoirs and autobiographies. Some of these are blatant. Consider, for instance, the “choose your own autobiography” memoir of actor Neil Patrick Harris, who, having not actually lived “a miserable childhood that later in life you can claim to heroically overcome”, simply invents one.

Then there are those autobiographies in which the fictions are hidden more deeply. Lance Armstrong’s memoirs, for instance, in which he supposedly overcame testicular cancer to win the Tour de France repeatedly without the aid of performance enhancing drugs, are now revealed to be largely self-congratulatory fabrication.

The outrage surrounding Armstrong’s supposed “memoirs” reached a nadir when people who had bought his book demanded refunds from the publisher. In a similar reaction to how readers responded to the revelation that James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, actually hadn’t done very much of anything he claimed to have done in his “autobiography”.

But perhaps the “untruths” or what we might call fictitious elements that are contained within memoirs and autobiographies may be expected. As David Shields suggests in Reality Hunger, “A lot of nonfiction is highly imagined. We dream ourselves awake every minute of the day. “Fiction/nonfiction” is an utterly useless distinction”.

This is a position suggested by memoirists themselves. For instance, Mary Gaitskill said, “My books tend not to have the narrative and story you associate with fiction, but at the same time they are arranged and structured, to put it pompously, as works of art rather than accumulations of information. To that extent, I like to think they’re more novel than many novels.”

Perhaps a reason for this is the inherent, slippery nature of language, and the act of writing. Jonathan Raban, for instance, posits that “the moment you start to arrange the world in words, you alter its nature. The words themselves begin to suggest patterns and connections that seemed at the time to be absent from the events the words describe. Then the story takes hold. It begins to determine what goes in and what’s left out. It has its own logic and it carries the writer along with it. […] that is fiction making.”

This idea suggests that the moment you begin to write a narrative account of anything, be it a real ‘lived’ event or something from your imagination, you immediately stray from the real actual happening truth. It is an idea also proposed by Sebald, quoted in The Emergence of Memory: “You adulterate the truth as you write. There isn’t any pretence that you try to arrive at the literal truth. And the only consolation when you confess to this flaw is that you are seeking to arrive at poetic truth, which can be reached only through fabrication, imagination, stylisation. What I’m striving for is authenticity; none of it is real.”

There may seem to be a paradox here: that to create something that is “real”, one must fabricate and imagine. One must invent; one must write fictions; one must lie. Yet it is the inverse of the paradox encountered in writing and reading supposed fiction: that what may set out to be an entirely imagined story contains within it more reality and truth than supposed fact-based narratives.

Ultimately, perhaps, the gap between fiction and autobiography is entirely artificial. Perhaps it always has been. This may, at its heart, point to some ultimate, universal truth. As David Shields writes: “to be alive is to travel ceaselessly between the real and the imaginary.” Writing and literature, then, are the craft upon which we travel this journey. Writers, in that context, may then be seen as the pilots.

 

Stephen King on writing and dreaming

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We know that sleep plays a crucial role in sharpening our memories and that a misaligned sleep pattern can prove mentally crippling. Writers and creatives are often advised to take a pencil and notepad with them to bed, not only because this can help us to fall asleep when our minds are whirring; but also because those moments before sleep are those when new ideas are most likely to pop into our heads. Yet can it also be beneficial for writers to adopt a dream-like, almost sleeping state while they are awake? According to Stephen King, yes.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King explores the similarity between writing and dreaming. He considers the role of a daily routine – as so many other writers have done – in helping us to mesmerise ourselves in a way that not only disciplines our minds, but also unleashes previously restrained creative potential. King calls this “creative sleep”:

“Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule — in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk — exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go. “

In fact, King goes further, arguing that the creative process is akin to a wakeful dream state. He suggests that this “dozing” of the waking mind shapes our creative capacity by releasing our repressed imagination:

“In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.”

Just as other writers have railed against the modern digital age in which distractions abound and it is near impossible to focus and find solitude and quiet, so too does King lament the barrage of distractions that fill the spaces of everyday life. He offers some practical tips on warding these off in order to create the kind of still space necessary for wakeful dreaming:

“The space can be humble … and it really needs only one thing: A door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business. . . .

If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write. … When you write, you want to get rid of the world, don’t you? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.”

 

 

Bath Spa University receives funding to develop creative writing in local schools

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Arts Council England is set to award Bath Spa University with £600,000 in funding to develop creative writing education in schools across the South West of England.

The grant is from the Creative Writing in Schools fund, and will support a three-year project called The Creative Writing Education Hub.

This project will be led by the university in partnership with Bath Festivals and the National Association of Writers in Education. The project aims to link nationally recognised writers with hundreds of schools in the region.

Bath Spa University

Bath Spa University

As part of the project, children aged eight to 14 will be given workshops by professional writers, thereby helping them to write and expand their imagination.

Alongside the programme, a series of workshops for teachers and writers will run concurrently to the schools programme, thereby helping to try and develop new approaches to teaching creative writing.

Participating schools will receive support to achieve an ‘Artsmark Award’, and pupils will receive help to achieve an ‘Arts Award’.

Phil Gibby, South West area director for Arts Council England, said: “We believe that every child and young person should have the opportunity to experience the richness of arts and culture and this funding will give more young people the chance to engage in and enjoy producing and showcasing their own creative writing.

“The consortium boasts some of the South West’s expert educators, researchers and writers whose joint leadership will make for a strong and unique programme of work.”

Bambo Soyinka, creative director of the project, said: “Creative writing should be part of every child’s education as it develops imaginative thought, language and literary skills.

“The Creative Writing Education Hub will introduce school pupils from varied social and cultural backgrounds to the joys of creative writing and will enable young people to learn alongside professional writers.

“Over the next three years we will be researching and testing best practice models for creative writing education.

“We will share our findings through innovative events, workshops and digital platforms, to guide and inspire teachers, pupils and creative writing tutors.”

Bath Spa University is one of two lead applicants awarded a grant from the Creative Writing in Schools fund.

The other successful applicant, First Story, will use a grant of £600,000 to bring professional writers into secondary schools serving low income communities.

This fund targets the North and the South West because these are areas outside London where creative writing opportunities for children and young people could be improved.

Analysis

Professor Wu says: “Projects like this are absolutely crucial in a society increasingly devoid of imagination – and a stunted ability to think outside the box. Evidence suggests that creative writing – and, indeed, creativity and art in all its myriad forms – can improve a child’s enjoyment and attainment in English language and literature.”

“What is more, by encouraging children to think creatively, we encourage them to look at the world in new and interesting ways, which is critical for human society as a whole. Just think of those wise words of Albert Einstein: Logic will take you from A to B, but imagination will take you anywhere.”