THE WRITER Q & A TAG

pne&notebook

With less than a week to Bloggers Bash in  London I thought this was a perfect time to introduce myself a little bit more through this Writer Q & A tag. Many thanks to Marje at K Y R O S M A G I C A for nominating me. She has a lovely varied blog and it’s always a delight to read her posts. Do pop over and have a look for yourselves.  Now to the Q & A Tag:

  1. If you met a sexy vampire what would you do? Hook up, get the garlic and crosses out or run a mile?

nosefratuBlimey, what a corker of a first question! Can vampires be sexy? The only time they’ve crossed my path is seeing Count Orlak in the 1920s film Nosferatu – definitely not sexy, just creepy so guess I’d…ruuuuunnnn!

2. What’s your favourite genre of book and why?

sisterGlancing at my bookshelves I must admit to a predominance of what is called ‘romantic fiction’. However in that case I feel the likes of Jojo Moyes and Jodi Picoult bring that genre up a notch. Overall I read a lot of literary fiction, also some fantasy, YA books as well as humour books for light entertainment. Recently Nick Spalding’s books have been perfect for a good laugh wrapped around an easy going story.  Books I will not touch are horror – reading Cujo as a teenager was bad enough!

3. Who is/are your favourite author (s) , poet (s)? What is it about them that inspires you?

This is an impossible question! I like so many authors for various reasons…

4. If you had to control a classroom of year 6 kids would you bail, or enjoy the challenge? Would you be (a.)  too undisciplined to do so, you’d just join in the general mayhem, (b.) enjoy bossy them around, or (c.) pray in a corner for the bell to sound.

teacherI can be a bit  bossy, so would probably be (b.)  but with fun, laughter and silliness thrown in. I spent time helping in my son’s classroom from time to time and luckily never had to supervise more than ten at a time.

5. What made you become a writer/blogger? Do your family support you or do they think you’re crazy, bored,  attention seeking, or all of these? Tell us a bit about your current WIP and/or books…

blog2Like so many I started the blog as I’d read you need a ‘platform’ as a writer. Very quickly and to my joy I discovered it was so much more – the interaction with other bloggers is wonderful and the epitome of blogging.

Luckily my family are cheering me along all the way…although it’s my son who now reminds me of the no-devices-at-the-table rule! Abashed I will switch off and place it out reach. Blogging is strangely addictive.

Earlier this year I was overjoyed to have completed my first/second draft of my first novel. Island Girl is about a girl, Anna, growing up on an island off the coast of Sweden. Initially this is a paradise for her but as she matures the very island she loves, threatens to become her prison.

6. What is the most awful job and/or experience you’ve ever done/had?

I just realised that I have been very fortunate and actually enjoyed most of the jobs I’ve had. The toughest was a summer job spent baby-sitting for a couple’s two young children. I loved the job itself but it became increasingly stressful and tricky as the extremely naughty five-year-old boy was allowed to boss and hurt his three-year-old sister with impunity. Whenever I tried to put a stop to it I was reprimanded! My heart went out to the poor girl and I do wonder what the future held for her.

7. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Does this spill out onto other parts of your life? Are you generally organised/disorganised?

virgoI’m not sure if it’s to do with being a Virgo but I am known for being very organised in my life. Around the home, planning trips, dealing with finances and always at work. Beware anyone who dared touch or alter my working system.

first-draftWith this in mind it was a surprise to myself that although my novel was sketched in my mind I started writing without a written plan. Early on though I realised this was not the best way to go – my timeline was all over the place, I kept forgetting names, events and so quickly I developed a quasi plotter/panster method using Scrivener which worked well for me! I do use their cork boards and don’t know if I could have finished without them!

8. Do you believe in Ghosts? Fate? Love at First Sight? Fairies? Psychic happenings?Numerology, Mermaids, The Loch Ness Monster, Demons…etc…

bullarI definitely believe in elements beyond our very limited realm and have had many experiences of ‘something’. In one of the houses I grew up, the lovely smell of home-baking would fill the dining room -although no one was even in the kitchen. Also a warm draft of air would pleasantly waft across my legs. Talking to older neighbours we learnt that the original house’s kitchen and oven were exactly in the place these incidents took place. Spooky but a gentle genial ghost I felt…

9. What is the worst haircut/clothes/hats you’ve ever had/worn? Photos please, or describe in vivid detail…

chick.jogMy worst hat incident occurred after I won the best made Christmas hat competition whilst at primary school. I learnt a valuable lesson that Easter – never set the bar too high at the start!  My concept was brilliant – I glowed with expectation. My hat, at first just a cardboard frame, would become the Easter chick of all Easter hats. I painted – yellow. I glued on feathers like a demon. The more I glued, the worst it looked. By then it was too late and taking it in to school (in a carrier bag!) the teacher encouraged me to place the hat on my head. I wish I could have put the bag over my head instead! The whole class, including the teacher burst into laughter. I doubt I’ve offered so much hilarity to anyone since. As tears ran down my friends cheeks I put the offending hat back into the bag. But no, it had to go on the display table…

10. Please finish this sentence with more than three extra words: Life is one foot in and one foot out, you ….

often trip up. The key is to get up, stumble along and hopefully soon enough you’ll be navigating this life safety, with joy, excitement and contentment.

words

 

TURNING POINT

100_7592

It wasn’t so much hitting a wall, rather a slow drift into silence. The voices gradually lost their clarity and what had previously flowed as if by magic became steeped in effort.

For days I didn’t write. Was this the infamous writer’s block?  It felt less a block, rather a  stillness. Time to take a break from my friends; with two thirds of the book written, we need a rest from each other.

Then the past few nights new ideas have pushed their way into my imagination; characters previously sketched out for another novel are now clamouring for attention – shouting to tell their story.

During the past few months I have learnt so much and my approach this time will be different.

I will…

  • Be more patient and considered.
  • Prepare full character profiles before I start writing.
  • Prepare a rough plan of the book, with the highs and low as well as the points of conflict clearly indicated, although allow space for unexpected creative diversions.
  • Try out various POVs before I start to write to see which works best.
  • Sketch out a time-line in order to avoid confusion whilst writing.

100_7616For a few days an emptiness filled my spirit as I bleakly faced the silence. My friends departed – for now, but not forever I’m sure. Then suddenly an excited flutter, a surge of adrenaline as new characters were formed sub-consciously, their strong dialect reverberating in my head. As with the previous novel, I already have the end clear in my mind for this new project. I believe I will get there this time. I also believe the first novel will find its natural completion in due course.

“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where

creativity and solutions to problems are found.”

Eckhardt Tolle

BACK TWO WEEKS & BACK IN THE GROOVE

Play in Blues

How does a holiday break affect your writing?

That was one of my concerns when I left for Sweden in Easter. There I faced two weeks without writing on my novel. Two weeks with my thoughts drifting further away from my fictional friends.

On my return I approached my desk that first Monday morning with trepidation. A sprawling mess of papers lay scattered across its surface and on these were our passports, tickets,my jewellery. With a nudge I cleared a space for my Ipad and keyboard.

stone in seaI felt unprepared to start; my memory hazy and mentally timings were out of kilter. Baby steps, I told myself. Baby steps. I therefore picked up my tablet and started to read the last chapters of my first draft, familiarising myself with the story and its characters.

Until now I’ve tried not to reread too often what I’ve written, concerned that I  would become excessively critical and too keen to do a major rewrite early on. I feared my flow would be be halted.

My fears were groundless.

After happily reacquainting myself with the story, I studied my notes on Scrivener’s Corkboard and noted which section I intended to tackle next. I was  glad for the side notes I’d made previously, they proved very helpful.

To revisit my friends in the book I read through the character notes I have made in my notebook, once again thankful that they were so complete and detailed.

By now my mind was once again buzzing with the book, the characters started to whisper their words, the story painted in my mind.

benchStill, I was not quite ready. I decided to wait until the following day. Tuesday morning, with all travel paraphernalia cleared away, I read the notations I had made during my holiday. Yes, I know, I lied! Strictly speaking I wrote a few pages of notes now and then.

Finally with the tablet and keyboard up, I was set. I had to laugh at my own ridiculous state. My nerves jingled as I faced the blank screen. I flexed my fingers, relaxed my neck back and forth. Then I took the plunge. And typed.

A few sentences in I was thoroughly enjoying revisiting my book and letting my creative spirit flow.

Often you read about writers being worried about taking a break.

Does it really cause such difficulties?

Don’t writers, as people in every profession, need a holiday?

An opportunity to recharge their creative energies?

I really would like to read your opinions about this; whatever your profession.

Until then, hope you enjoy the video – writing the title of the post brought it to mind. This song and many other ‘80s pop songs got me through all my school exams:-)

“If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”

Bertrand Russell

Current Word Count on first draft of my novel: 62,358

DON’T PANIC

lone runner

The Wall. 

Everyone has heard about The Wall faced by marathon runners during competitions and with family members who have run the 26.4 miles, I have listened aghast to their descriptions of pain and fatigue. In quiet awe I have seen them overcome this obstacle and continue to the finish. I  just never imagined I too would one day face the wall, not through running but through my writing. 

Although a ferocious reader since young, I honestly never considered the effort and work required to produce a book. I hold up my hands in surrender, ‘mea culpa, mea culpa’, I was one of those, taking books for granted, their magic appearance on the shelves almost a matter of routine.

Now I know better and since there is a long way until any book of mine might be produced I am fully aware that my learning curve is long and steep. I am only on the start of the  climb and have reached my first base camp.

At just under 50,000 words on my first draft I hit The Wall. Friday afternoon at ten to one. With a marathon writing session completed, I stopped typing. For the first time in a couple of hours I lifted my head from the screen and saw the white doves circling the rooftops and garden. My heart tried a bounce of joy. To no avail. Confused I headed to the kitchen, my legs heavy and my body surprisingly fatigued. A cup of tea and some biscuits, that would help. Wouldn’t it? Picking up the newspaper on the table, tea in my other hand, letters swam around in a swarm on the paper. Finally they settled into a mishmash of words, all individually comprehensible but my mind refused to stay with them and instead floated away, blitzing its way through the morning’s writings, its ideas, plots, characters, twists.  Resigned I put down my cup.

This must be my wall. My creative meltdown.

‘DON’T PANIC’. Don't Panic

The famous words written on the cover of ‘The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ sprung to mind that afternoon and I found them oddly comforting.  When I thought about returning to the writing my mind froze.

Don’t Panic.

What could I manage to do? Some gardening and with secateurs in hand I turned into the demon bush pruner – with glee attacking dead twigs in the garden, cutting bushes to within a few inches of their lives. My mind did not think, it just was. Pure bliss. Afterwards housework tasks were no longer a chore, but completed with satisfaction. I knew this couldn’t hold out for too long.

Don’t Panic. 

Relaxed that the wall was being chipped away, that I would soon return to the first draft, I decided not to push too hard, to force myself against such a obstruction. By Monday afternoon ironing had lost its glow and I resumed my other writing tasks. A short story for a competition and then preparing my next blog post.

I had named this blog a journey – hoping to capture reader’s interest and imagination and bring them along on a journey as I wrote the first draft of a book. What I had not anticipated was the emotional journey within myself. 

Having read countless ‘how-to’ articles in writing magazines as well as a few books on how to write a novel I am now struck that none mentioned the emotional impact of such an undertaking.

Not until I hit the wall.  Now, with a good rest, the house gleaming and garden ready for some new plants, I am ready. With my mind exercised with alternative writing, I am ready. Refreshed both body and mind, I sit down and feverishly start typing. After all, there is another 50,000 words or so to go!

“I like the cover,’ he said. ‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligent thing anybody’s said to me all day.’

Douglas Adams in ‘The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’.

A Break and Biographies.

100_5458

It’s amazing what wonders a break can make.

Last week was half term and I had therefore decided to give my first draft a welcome rest – we needed to give each other some breathing space. Instead I had a restful and fun time with the family. On Monday out came my iPad, my Keyboard and once clipped into place I was set to go.

I found I was writing with renewed vigour and energy as well as a greater sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. My fingers struggled to keep up with my thoughts, stumbling over each other on the keys. One downside of this extra vitality is that my poor brain never seems to stop buzzing and even half asleep I will find myself trying to recall sentences to write down in the morning. The world of my characters are becoming such a large part of my real world that even in my sub-conscious the border between real and imagined is blurring.

When I started this project I knew many of the ‘rules’ of writing a novel and realised from the beginning that I had committed a cardinal sin in my approach. My error – never starting,  no matter keeping up to date, a biography of my characters. Week after week I have winged it, just writing away, everything held in my head. It seemed to work well enough although I was forgetting names of smaller character. After the weeks holiday my memory had lapsed even further so yesterday I finally started my biographies.

First there is the obligatory visit to a good stationary shop for  a new notebook. As all writers know, you can never own too many of these. After throwing away a small fortune on a blue striped ‘Pukka Pad Project Book’ I returned home and set to work.

On a separate page I wrote the name of a character featured in the story and then added detail.  As I need to reinforce my time-line I have given birth dates to everyone as well as surnames, siblings, school names, type of work. I finally got round to writing a clear description of each character, including any particular features, eg. a lop-sided walk, nervous habit of fidgeting, their speech manner. etc. Furthermore I have added their likes and dislikes as well as their fears. Also I like to describe the characters’  clothing, the feel of the material, the look.

Below are a couple of character biographies I completed last year for another book idea which as yet has not been developed further. They should  give you an idea of what is involved.

My Fictional Biographies Examples.

Christine Brazier.

Christine was born on 12th May 1978 in North Yorkshire and lived in a small village called Bellingham. She later attended the highly prestigious Harrogate Ladies College and later studied medicine and in 2002 graduated from Durham University.  She is currently a paediatrician at Leeds General Infirmary. Christine did not have an easy childhood, losing her mother to cancer aged ten and thereafter, although her father cared for her, she lacked love and warmth in a normal family setting. Her older brother was largely disinterested in her. As a result Christine has become a very uptight and controlling person, almost a perfectionist. Although she will listen to others she has often already made up her own mind. This flawed character trait is crucial to the story. She is a keen health fanatic and enjoys spinning at the local gym, road running and races and is addicted to tweeting.  Her guilty pleasure for relaxation is on-line bingo – but always within limits. To start with she has no sense of humour. As the story progresses and she loses control of her life we see her change to a more easy-going, relaxed person, willing to accept help from others as well as learning to laugh in adversity. Christine is divorced with two children who mean the world to her. Christine is very skinny, tall and has green eyes and dark red hair cut short and  straight. She has a habit of tilting her head to one side when listening to others. When talking she tends to talk in short clipped sentences at work and her frustration with people she considers working too slowly is palpable.

Owen Boyd. Journalist, later Christine’s friend.

Owen was born on 23rd March 1968 in a poor suburb of Bradford. He is a disillusioned reporter on the Yorkshire Post, which is based in Leeds, and he has become bitter over the years about his lack of career advancement. His dreams of working for the nationals has never materialised. He left school at 16 to work at the local paper and attended college part time to gain his national certificate in journalism. Boyd, as he is referred to at work and outside, has scruffy blond hair with blue eyes and does not have a keen sense of style. This shows up more than usually as he is tall and has a solid build.  His comfortable style of clothes for work does not sit well with the modern sleek expectations of the office.He never walks or saunters, rather strides purposefully forth as if on a mission.  Following his years of experience in the print press he feels this gives him unique knowledge of how to work and he resents taking orders from younger more senior but inexperienced managers. This often leads to confrontation. However he is often right and his dogged obsession with the smallest detail and meticulous research skills have stood him in good stead.  Following a bitter divorce and estrangement from his teenage daughter Boyd has  became addicted to prescription drugs and started smoking again. His love for the outdoors hasn’t dulled with time and he is still a keen cyclist and gardener. In his childhood he had a passion of keeping tropical fish and this interest has been revived since living on his own and he now has one room at home filled with fish tanks.

“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the faded dessert spoor of his lost self; and so I came to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.”

Laurens Van Der Post

Word count of first draft: 35,108 words

Hearts

Wicker Woman

The last few weeks we have been bombarded with hearts – Valentine heart cards, heart decorated wrapping paper, teddy bears cuddling huge red hearts. Hearts swaying from shop ceiling as they join in the extravaganza called Valentines.  How could I fail but to recall a piece of flash fiction I wrote last year and is aptly named ‘The Little Heart’. Romantics be warned – this is not a love story.

The Little Heart

In my bubble I bump against life, insulated from its joys and sorrows. My child gesticulates wildly, his face alight with excitement and there must be words. Such sweet words from that gentlest of voices, but for me inaudible. The fog within me wraps around my nerves, slowly strangling all the senses.

“They’re here to help you,” my husband promised.

“You’re the one who needs the help,” I screamed.

In those days I could shout, argue, feel, love, rage.

“Take it!” The man in white orders. Glancing down in my hand, I obey. The beguiling beauty of the hollowed heart of the blue tablet pulsates reassuringly. I glimpse closer. It’s not a heart, rather a soft-scooped “V”. V for victory to the zombie that in the ensuing days commandeers my body. It overwhelms me and all that remains is a modicum of myself, a spectator to this tragedy.

“She’s much calmer. Happier even.” The words drift painfully to my brain.

My son appears, hugs me and his sad wild eyes penetrate my soul. He leaves – his ghostly presence imprinted on my mind. I was tricked into this hell. Trapped. I’ll fight my way out. For my life and child.

The End

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

From Dubliners by James Joyce

The Journey So Far…

100_2345

I thought it was time I wrote an update about this amazing Novel Writing Journey I embarked upon at the start of the year and which spiralled into this blog.

For the past six weeks I have managed to retain a respectable weekly word count and am now up to  30,000 on the first draft.

I thought it might be tough, but had not foreseen the depths of the lows and the heights of the highs. Ironically enough, none of these were caused by the actual physical writing itself – once I sat down and wrote, the words flowed easily and quickly.

One of the highs involved finding my name long listed for the Inktears Short Story Competition! A whoop of surprise followed by yes, all the effort is worth it. For the opportunity to be able to share ones writing with others and for it to be recognised. As always I am fully aware of the fun, enjoyment and satisfaction of writing itself.

The high of finishing a chapter and realising that is good, although recognising the improvements I can make and noting down new ideas to add later.

The writing highs are a gem. When upon re-reading a particular paragraph I tingle with delight in the way that it works; perfect.

The lows are the why bother moments? These surely engulf every writer. What is the point? This is going nowhere?  Sound familiar? Of course. Most of the time I booted these thoughts out of my brain with a ‘don’t you dare come into my head and hibernate’. Most of the times these reprimands were successful. The negatives fled my head, leaving room for constructive thoughts and ideas; off I set on writing.

However, there were days – and now I realise there will be many days – when no amount of arguments or walks would ease the bad away. It was as if a physical sticky cud of earth had infested itself in my brain and commandeered it.

At first I fought. Valiantly, I tell myself. To no avail. In the end I felt as if I were under the orders of the Daleks –  ‘resistance is useless’ – and so succumbed to their control. My prison however was writing inactivity and when the house was cleaned, the car washed (yes, even in winter!) and the fish fed, I retreated for an hour or two for down time. My vice? Netflix and an episode or two of ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Good Wife’. One day of such R&R was usually enough to break the bleak cycle and the next morning my fingers would be flying over the keys again.

So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o’er my head!

By John Keats

IDEAS

Tropical fisherman

IDEAS

Scientists say you have three seconds to cement an idea or puff, there it goes, evaporating into the ether. This has happened so often to me recently that I’m beginning to think the three seconds is generous.

A most perfect thought pops into my sub-consciousness and I grasp at its tendrils, reigning it in with the power of my conscious brain. I rise from the sofa and head towards my notebook. Once present in the real world, it will be safe, cosseted and nurtured; when suddenly another idea ignites and detonates in my head.

The  original thought explodes quietly into smithereens. Deep within my head I flail around for the slightest hint or image of my idea. It’s there, hidden behind the dust cloud of destruction. If only I can reach that bit further. The debris is clearing, I’m sure of it, think and think again. My eyes are closed tight, head is bowed in concentration.

No, it’s gone. Irretrievable. At least, I have the new thought to hand though. Haven’t I? What? What was it again?…Nooo…

Luckily many of my ideas do make it to fruition although I seem to have rather a scattergun effect of ideas. Various words or images will create a series of ideas which I hastily jot down. An old man’s lop-sided gait, witnessed in town, became central to a short story. A pair of hand-repaired spectacles, recalled from childhood, featured in a chapter, highlighting the character’s despair and worry. Like many writers most of my ideas will remain known only to myself, until they have been moulded into a short story or such. Only then will I show the first draft to friends.

Ideas are fragile things and can easily be killed off by the slightest shrug of the shoulders, the questioning bemused look of a friend. That poor idea that could be so vital to the writing and lead onto new paths decimated by well-meaning.

So, catch your ideas, nurse them, mould them. Once they turn into a piece of writing, then happily share. Not before though.

Happy Fishing and May Your Thoughts Bite Aplenty.

 A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.

By Ovid

Battle of Views

Black Tulip

In the past week the Battle of Viewpoints has been fought within the pages of my novel.

Automatically I started writing in the the third person, feeling comfortable and at ease.

Then one of the main characters clamoured to be heard and as an experiment I switched to her first person voice.

The result was not the triumphant powerful success which I had imagined.

Although I enjoyed being in my character’s head and travelling with her thoughts and observations on paper (or screen), my writing suddenly became simplified. This could be as the character at this stage is a young girl aged 10 and my language in her voice couldn’t help but reflect her youth.

Furthermore the passages of description which I feel are critical to the story became lost as the need to describe the settings became superfluous since they are familiar to the character. Any such description became false and forced.

Often writers use first person as this allows the reader to quickly engage and identify with the character, thereby drawing them into the story. I have often written from this viewpoint in my short stories and found it ideal. There is one danger though and that is the reader is limited to that one character’s perception of the story, through their eyes only. It is virtually impossible to introduce any events away from the character. One way to add further dimensions in the first person perspective is to use two or more characters.

Having just read ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd I did consider this approach. In her wonderful book there are two narrators: the slave girl, Handful and the slave owner’s daughter, Sarah Grimké, who alternatively swap the story telling and thereby relate two very diverse and diametrically opposing worlds and experiences.

As I could not imagine two characters alone carrying the my story I knew more would be needed and was concerned this could be become cumbersome.

At one stage whilst discussing my dilemma with a friend she questioned if I could use both first and third person? I hesitated and gave the notion a thought. I cannot remember reading any books written thus, but perhaps they do exist. The mental and emotional logistics of such a narration though seemed fraught with difficulties and pitfalls, so I decided to avoid that route and instead reverted to the third person.

On the whole it was a relief to return to the third person viewpoint. The floaty descriptions returned but now enhanced with a third person perspective. The distant narrator is replaced with a more personal viewpoints of the characters.

Although the chapters are not headed by the which character is leading the story, there do exist ‘signposts’ very early on showing which character’s viewpoint will dominate the chapter.  I now retain the freedom to write about events well outside the characters if required whilst ensuring characters are personable and well-rounded. To avoid confusion I am sticking to four character viewpoints in the third person, this gives me the breadth to explore their emotional and inner feelings and thoughts of each one. The plot will still be pacey whilst other characters and subplots can be easily introduced.

In her book, ‘Sunrise’, Victoria Hislop writes beautifully and in the third person, so effectively at times I didn’t realise it wasn’t in the first person. The pain, anguish, deceit and love of the characters  are depicted with startling vitality.

The battle is over, calm reigns and now I just have to rewrite a couple of chapters. No problem.

I told myself reading was a kind of freedom, the only one I could give.

Sarah Grimké in ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd

Current word count of first draft of my novel:  14,940 words