Friday, 31 December 2010

Hogmanay - Old Year Thoughts

Funny how this day brings out the nostalgia. It's been an eventful year for me, and not always on the good side. I started the year full of hope that my revised novel would snag a certain agent who'd shown some interest. By the end of January my optimism had evaporated. Disheartened, I fought through the miserable winter weather uncertain about the future. Did I really want to keep going with this business which had brought nothing but disappointment?

Then in March my sister died. She was only 3 years older than me and although not in the best of health was hardly at death's door. The event was sudden and shocking, leaving all her family in a turmoil of grief and self-recrimination. I too felt a weight of guilt. I'd spoken on the phone to her a fortnight previously and she'd told me her symptoms. Concerned, I'd urged her to get to the doctor. "Maybe I will," she'd said breezily, before hanging up. It was the last conversation we had. I wish I'd pestered her about it now. How wise we are after the event. But one thing her death did was show me in technicolor clarity how short our time is and if there's something you want to do you better get on and do it now, while you can.

A few weeks after the funeral I fell down some stairs and sprained my ankle. Sitting in out-patients that evening - a first for me - I saw a big slice of life up close, many poor souls a lot worse off than me. Again, life's fragility on display.

An internet friend contacted me around this time to ask how things were going submission-wise. She urged me to keep sending the novel out and not give up. Talking to her made me realise I couldn't give up, I'd come this far and I had to see it through. So I jumped back on the submissions wagon again.

I had a perfectly nice week at Loch Ness in June. Time to get away from writing and take stock. By this point I'd more or less decided to forget about the novel and concentrate on other projects I'd had ideas for. When I got home I got right back to work and started writing Redemption, another ghost story. By October I was well into it and took the plunge to participate in Nanowrimo to get it finished.

The first week of Nano I was stricken with a nasty bout of what I suspect was swine flu. Dragging myself to the computer with blankets and hot water bottles to keep warm, coughing up my lungs and snuffling into boxes of tissues, was hardly propitious for a creative pursuit. But somehow I managed to do it. And at the end of the first week I received the email from my agent offering representation.

It's funny how life gives and takes simultaneously. Just when you think you can't feel any worse something marvellous happens. It's happened to me time and again throughout my life, but it still never fails to amaze me.

So that's where I am now. I've no idea what 2011 will bring, but I hope it brings success and happiness for all of us in whatever way we desire. Here's to a bumper writing year!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Goodbye snow!

The temperature got up to 4 degrees today! After the last month of icy winter weather when we've either been chilled to the marrow by arctic winds or skidding around on inches of frozen snow it's felt positively balmy. Walking out with Theo this afternoon I was amazed to see golfers on the still flooded golf course, no doubt desperate for a game after weeks without. The beach was surprisingly busy - people flocking once again to the great outdoors after so long huddled in the warmth of their houses.

It struck me how pleasant it is just being able to walk normally along a pavement without measuring every step. The world looks so colourful again now its white blanket has melted away. And it reminds me of how wonderful the world is, when we bother to look at it. I felt like running up the ninth fairway a la Julie Andrews and singing The Hills Are Alive.

Monday, 27 December 2010

New Year, New Me...

So another Christmas bites the dust. As usual after all that eating I'm left feeling fatter and totally unfit, and there's a reason for that. Last Spring I sprained my ankle and lost the momentum of regular exercise. Somehow the months rattled by too fast for me to catch up, but all that is about to change. I took a trip up to Waterstones today and splashed out on the new Beverly Callard DVD and a couple of diet related books, one by the guru herself, Rosemary Conley. So with those two formidable ladies to inspire me I haven't a chance of failing in my efforts to shape up.

Does getting fit matter? Well it does for me. I hate feeling flabby; that lethargy affects everything, and worse of all I lose my drive. And I've been plagued by colds and flu this year which I'm sure is connected. The benefits of being fit are having more energy so everything is easier, clothes fit better, I feel more confident. Getting fit is top of my New Year Resolution list. And you never know, in a few months I might look like this...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I hate to panic you but there's only TWO DAYS TO GO!!

I probably won't see you again before the Big Day arrives, so I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my followers a very happy Christmas. Hope Santa brings you lots of scrummy pressies.

Here's one for you now. Some delicious clips from one of my favourite films:

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Happy Yuletide

Well it's the Winter Solstice or Yule, if you want to go all pagan. Anyway it's the shortest day of the year.

This winter is proving a particularly severe one; we've got huge piles of snow in the drive and the news programmes are full of 'travel chaos' stories. Walking out with Theo I can't help reflecting on how pagan peoples viewed this time of year. Their lives were so much more basic than ours, the prospect of a major freeze must have been both catastrophic and terrifying. When I look at the louring sky full of snow, blotting out the light, I wonder what they made of it, sitting in their ramshackle shelters around a log fire for warmth. The sun was so important to them, its absence and the death of nature all around must have filled them with the most primeval fear.

And even today with the benefits of heating and artificial light we get a sense of that gloom. But on the plus side, once this day is passed the days will gradually get longer again and before we know it Spring will be here. Although it's hard to imagine at the moment...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Christmas Carol

There's a rumour going around that it's going to be Christmas soon...

Here's a clip from one of my favourite Christmas films, Scrooge, starring the wonderful Alistair Sim as the eponymous miser. Enjoy!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

On Silly Rules

I don't mind a lot of the silliness I see posted on writers' forums, but one thing that really annoys me are those blanket "Never do this" or "Always do that" type. You know the kind of thing. Apparently Mark Twain once famously said "If you see an adverb, kill it". Well good for him, but does every writer on the internet have to quote that in their signature? Okay, maybe not every writer, but I've seen it enough times to set my teeth on edge. For one not insignificant thing, it's a crock of shit.

Then there's the ubiquitous lists. Ten things Agents hate, or variations on the theme. We all have pet hates, agents included. But why poke them up everyone's nose on blogs and forums? To me it's an attempt to create a formula that will guarantee acceptance: Avoid these pitfalls and you too can write like (insert great novelist here). But here's the uncomfortable truth: there is no formula. For everyone who hates adverbs there are just as many who love them. For every editor who tosses a manuscript that opens with a prologue, there is bound to be at least one who finds it intriguing and wants to read more. There Are No Rules. That, my writer friends, is the only rule.

That's what makes literature an art rather than simply a craft. It might be inadvisable to start a novel with It (yes, I've seen that silly rule a few times) but there have been great writers who've managed to pull it off. It's your job as a writer to test the boundaries, to push the limits and see what you can get away with. Tastes change. So experiment. It's your right as an artist. And you duty. If there was a coverall formula for writing good fiction how boring the world would be.

So for your sake as well as your readers, do it your way, and ignore silly rules.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Another Brand New Thingy

I've been at it again. Yesterday, prompted by discontent with my last effort to make a reasonable stab at a free website, I blew my Christmas money on buying my own domain and now have a brand new website.

Of course I then spent the rest of the day trying to knock it into shape. It's not finished yet, but I'd really appreciate feedback - this website malarkey is new to me - if you can spare a minute to pop across. You can leave a message on the contact page, or email me directly at

I have the option to have a blog on the website too, but I'm not sure what to do about that. I like this blog and I'd hate to lose all my posts and my followers if I moved. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Creating tension

Well the snow has gone - mostly - and I never thought I'd be so glad to see pavements and grass again. Funny how something as romantic and harmless as snow can cause so much trouble when it goes on for too long and freezes to treacherous ice.
I've watched and read a few scary stories lately and that is the secret of creating a sense of menace and therefore tension, taking the innocuous and making it threatening. Like the little girls in The Shining - why are they so scary? Yet the image makes such an impression it is much copied and parodied. Daphne du Maurier created another unexpected threat in The Birds, a story prompted by seeing gulls follow a tractor in a field. Who would have thought something as harmless as a bird could be scary?

But anything can be scary, in the wrong circumstances. (Which is why I'm now terrified of snow.)

And here's an article from Mslexia featuring advice from several agents about how to land an agent.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Brand New Thingy

Well, I've relaunched my website. It took me all morning to do it, but I think it's a much better showcase than the old one.

In my defence I must say my first stab at it wasn't bad for a complete novice, but that was TWO WHOLE YEARS AGO! Yes, I know, where has the time gone? But I've been knocking around the internet for long enough that the newbie excuse just don't hold water any more. So I've slimmed it down, cut out a lot of nonsense and focussed on the work, which is after all the point of the exercise. Now, if I can only do the same thing here...

Please take a look and see what you think. I'd really welcome any comments - you don't need to be a member to leave a message in the visitor book, or you can post your thoughts here. All feedback appreciated.

Friday, 10 December 2010

On Leading Ladies

Yikes! Time getting away from me again.

I have been busy this week. After a long while outlining my rom-com I've finally started to write it. About 4k in so far and it's going pretty well, although it always is in the beginning. The hardest thing with comedy is getting the tone right. That's what's been holding me up, I think. But I've plumped for first person just for the purpose of getting the story down.

My heroine is Lindsay. She's young and ambitious, clever but insecure. I think I like her. Do you have to like your protagonist? I think it probably helps, if only because you have to live with them for so long. Hating your main character might be a bit like sharing a flat with someone you detested. You'd spend all your time skulking in your bedroom to avoid them.

In other news:

Heard from Sophie Playle that my article has been accepted for the next issue of Inkspill Magazine, which is very thrilling. I have never been published for non-fiction (unless you count angry letters to the local paper) so it's a first for me.

I've been freezing in the snow and ice and trying to keep spirits up despite food shortages, petrol increases and the boiler refusing to come on this morning. This winter is a real humdinger and no mistake.

And I really must update my website which is looking sadly dated. Perhaps I'd be better starting a new one at Clicky. Any thoughts?

Monday, 6 December 2010

An Award

An Award Winner

Thanks to K R Weinert for this award :). What an honour. I'd like to thank my family and ...sorry, wrong speech.

There are a few things that the new recipients must do should they decide to accept this award. They are:

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award.
2. Answer the 10 survey questions.
3. Pass the award along to other bloggers who you think are fantastic.
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked to let them know about the award.

Now for the questions:

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this; if you are not anonymous, do you wish that you had started out anonymously so that you could be anonymous now?

* I didn't even know you could blog anonymously! What's the point of that??

2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

* When I was four I wanted to go to the park with my older sisters but they didn't want to take me. They sent me inside to get something and when I came out they had gone! I remember the pain of the betrayal to this day, but I wasn't going to be defeated. I took off on my own - crossing a main road to get to the park. Next thing I remember was my dad arriving, breathless with panic and incredulous that I'd managed the journey alone.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

* Ugh! Trust me, you don't want to know.

4. What is your favourite summer cold drink?

* Carbonated water. No, really...

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

* Listen to music.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

* To be published.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

* Mixture, but I've always liked making people laugh.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

* The day my dad died.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

* It's easy enough, whatever my "true self" is!

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

* Read a book. Talking is hard work these days.

Now go and visit the bloggers I nominate for this award. Off you go...

Steven Chapman

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas is coming...

Sssh! Don't tell anyone but it's very nearly Christmas.

Oh, Joy! I hear you all cry. Or is that weary sigh only my own jaded response? Try as I might I can't seem to get in the spirit this year. But I did force myself to buy some pressies today so that's some kind of start.

I remember Christmas as a child - squeezing into a packed Woolworths, the smell of hot roasted peanuts in my nostrils, the jingle of carols piping through the public address, to spend my Christmas money on the usual gifts; stockings for Mum, Old Spice for Dad and who-knows-what for my sisters. Most of all I remember that giddy thrill of excitement - the eager anticipation that made time slow to a standstill as the day approached. Christmas eve I'd be too excited to sleep, even though I desperately wanted to so Christmas morning would come quicker. I'd lie awake in the dark, listening to the sounds downstairs and trying to work out what those odd noises might be - could that repetitious tapping be my longed for typewriter? For years I'd jammed a pencil into the side of metal paint box to get that sound, but could I at last be about to get a real one?

As a matter of fact I did. It was very cheap and ropy, and the square plastic keys always stuck, but it thrilled me anyway. Kids are like that - or at least back in the pre-PS and Wii Sixties they were. We were glad to get anything.

I don't remember what happened to that typewriter, but it's odd the memory has stayed with me. Maybe that's what Christmas is meant to be about - a moment to remember. Actually, thinking about it is getting me in the mood...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

How Well Read Are You?

Following on from L'Aussie Writing, I am duplicating the list of books of which the BBC reckons most people have only read 6 out of the hundred. If you want to accept the challenge, copy and paste this list into your blog and link back to here.


• Copy this list.
• Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
• Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible - (yes, really!)
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma - Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

*Last book is missing. My suggestion for book #100: Rape, A Love Story - Joyce Carol Oates
What book would you suggest?

So that gives me a total of 22. Hmm...not bad. Better than 6 anyway!

How did you score?

Farewell, Frank Drebin

I was very sad this week to learn of the death of Leslie Nielsen, one of my all time favourite comic actors. I vividly remember going to see Airplane! when it came out in 1980. I was staying at my sister's in London and the film was getting such rave reviews the cinema was packed out - not typical of the time, I think it was the first time I'd been in a full house. Well, from start to finish the audience were roaring with laughter so much you missed half the jokes, but we couldn't wait to go and see it again. Since then I must have watched it a hundred times and it still cheers me up when I'm down.

We put the DVD on the other night and watched the director's commentary with David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and producer Jon Davison. One great feature of DVD releases is the director's commentary - I find them very instructive about what changes were made and why, a great help with editing any story. This particular one was no less instructive. Firstly it was obvious what a fun group of people they were and what a joy it would have been to work with them; they laughed constantly through the film, recounting funny episodes and making fun of themselves in the process. The film took years to write and get made. It's a long slow process to get a film into production, and it could easily have worn them down, but there was no sign of it in their version of events. And I think it's their abundant joy that is the secret of Airplane!'s success. It's playful and silly, and we all need more of that in our lives.

And that is why I'll miss Leslie Nielson, who went on to make the Naked Gun films with the Zucker/Abrahams team, not to mention a long list of other spoofs. His bumbling hero always raised a smile. Wherever he is now, I bet he's making people laugh.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Small Announcement

It is with great pleasure that I announce I have signed with the Kate Nash Agency.

It is over four years since I wrote the first draft of The Bookseller and two years since I started subbing it to agents. During that time it has been through some changes, most notably the huge revision I did last year, and according to my agent (still getting used to saying that!) the renamed Jedza's Gate will still need some work before we sub to publishers. So the moral of this story is Never Give Up.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


It has snowed on and off for the past two days and nights. Yeah, I know, it's magical to look at, but the novelty wore off about mid morning yesterday when our cleared pathway got covered by another blizzard and I nearly got frost bite operating my camera. And the Met Office is predicting two weeks of these arctic conditions.

The roads are barely passable and uninviting. We live on the outskirts of a medium sized coastal town which hardly ever gets ice and snow because of its proximity to the sea. I can only assume the conditions are much worse inland because so far I haven't seen one snow plough or gritter go past here although we're just off a major trunk road. It's a weird feeling, the dual sense of connectedness as everyone suffers the same conditions, with the disconnectedness of being cut off from the rest of the world. Luckily we have a supermarket within walking distance so we shouldn't starve.

Theo is finding it all very confusing. The drifts on the golf course were taller than him this morning, so he was scrambling on his belly across the surface of the snow, almost as if he was trying to swim through it. Meanwhile I trudged through it the hard way. There's something about the whiteness contrasting with the black sky and boiling sea that makes you feel very insignificant in a blizzard.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It's So Cold

Sorry to complain about the weather, but it is *&%$@y freezing!!

My post Nano giddiness continues. I'm getting the hang of the 2.0 version of Scrivener which I downloaded earlier this month. I've raved here about Scrivener before, so I won't bore you with the details, except to say it's definitely improved with lots more smashing features and more accessible buttons on the toolbar. Definitely gets Sandra's Seal of Approval.

With a view to outlining a comedy project next I raided my piggy bank to spring for John Truby's Comedy Class. I've already read his excellent Anatomy of Story (which you should read, if you haven't already) and heard enough about his genre classes to know the guy has a clue about his subject. He is a Hollywood story consultant so there isn't much he doesn't know about story structure, and with comedy more than any other genre, structure must be right from the word go.

What I got for my $50 (about £32) is six hours of MP3 files of his talks on the subject. So far I've listened to about a third of them, and taken notes which I'm transcribing. It's intelligent and thought provoking. He doesn't impose a formula but points out features and aspects common to successful stories. As I listen I find it is sparking my ideas, just like Anatomy of Story did. His talks are lean and relevant; no padding or irritating diversionary anecdotes, and so packed with information I sometimes need to listen to sections more than once. I'm impressed, but we'll see how it goes.

Here is one of his general story talks from Youtube.

Keep warm, folks!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What now?

This is my first non-Nanoing day (funny how Nano has spawned a whole new vocabulary) this month. After three weeks of constant pressure and feeling I should be sitting writing all the time I now feel very weird to have a few minutes of idleness. It's a bit like the day after the Big Exam you've been worrying about for months. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

I have one or two ideas I've toyed with lately so I might try and outline a new project out of one of them. I'm dying to have a go at a Romcom, and it would certainly make for some light relief after the heavy subject of my Nano book. And I really should revisit my historical play before long. Hmm...decisions, decisions...

Monday, 22 November 2010


Just made it across the finishing line. The last few thousand were the hardest, I must say. Some kind of fear of finishing seems to kick in, manifesting in the desire to clear out all the cupboards and wash the roof. But I managed to resist the urge and get my bum to stay in the seat to put those last few pages down.

Must say I thought I'd feel a lot happier but I'm truly just exhausted. It'll sink in eventually I suppose.

Meantime here's a Happy Dance to celebrate:

Monday, 15 November 2010

Downfall of Grammar

With all this frantic writing for Nano this is perhaps a moment to reflect on the Downfall of Grammar.

Well, it's a bit of light relief, anyway.

Hope everyone's well, by the way. I'm still frantically scribbling away so not long to chat. Reached 32k yesterday so the end is in sight.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Half Way

Phew - just dropped in here to say I've crashed through the 25k mark today and so that's me half way there.

It's not been a bowl of cherries this week. Quite apart from the Second Week doldrums of scenes not panning out and characters getting difficult I've been fighting the flu. Not only that I had a hot water bottle spring a leak on me a couple of days ago so I was sitting in a puddle - but still writing! So I'm either incredibly stupid or indefatigably driven to get this bloody book finished. I'll leave it to you to decide which.

One thing I've noticed is more than normal obsession with word counts this year. Don't know whether this is down to the new Novel Stats page on the Nano website which gives you a complete breakdown of where you are and what you need to do. True, it can be useful to see it all worked out for you, but the downside is it can make anyone falling behind feel a bit dejected. Nobody should ever feel like that - it's all about taking part and the word count is just a goal. Keep reminding yourself of what you've achieved and give yourself little treats as rewards. And remember to enjoy the journey!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Why would anyone hate Nano?

Haven't got long - I shouldn't really be here at all but wanted to share this preposterous article I saw posted on a forum.

What a load of crap. Of all the evils in the world, why would anyone choose to find fault with something as harmless and pleasure-giving as Nano? No one puts a gun to your head if you don't fancy it, so why the griping?

She says of herself
As someone who doesn't write novels
and therein lies the answer. The world, in my experience, is divided into two types of people: those who do stuff, take risks, go out on a limb; and those who stand around watching them, too afraid to try in case they fail and resenting anyone who goes for it. We nano fans fall into the former category. It takes a lot of guts, hard work and sheer determination to push yourself to meet that word count. It ain't easy but we do it. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. But that isn't the point. Life isn't about playing it safe, or it shouldn't be. And if no one ever wrote a first draft which sucked huge water melons there would be NO books in the world AT ALL.

Of course it's easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise. Maybe she should try Nano before she pours her supercilious, mean-spirited scorn on the rest of us.

(Ooh, and by the way - I've done over 11k so far!)

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Countdown begins...

Sssh...can you hear it? That eerie silence is really the revving of millions of word processors, the sharpening of millions of pencils, the whispering rustle of paper. In a few short hours, Nanowrimo will begin...

When tomorrow dawns I'll be more than a little preoccupied getting my novel finished, which means you might not see much of me on here for the next few weeks and if you do my posts might leave a bit to be desired. Apologies in advance, but a writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do. I'll try and keep you posted about progress but I've installed a handy little widget at the side>>>>>>> which will tell you my word count so far in case you're wondering. If it suddenly stops rising without explanation it means I've probably expired due to caffeine poisoning.

Wish me luck, dear followers, and I'll see you on the Other Side....

Friday, 29 October 2010

Some pep talks

Gearing up for the marathon of writing ahead, I took a look at what Youtube had to offer in the way of inspirational pep talks.

Here's a couple to help fire you up:

Nanowrimo veteran blythe025 shares tips and tricks to help you keep going. By the way, I'm going to start a list of plot bunny ninjas so if you have any ideas please post them below.

Best wear a crash helmet for this one.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Feeling a bit sheepish today because I've gone and done a foolishly reckless thing and signed up for this year's National Novel Writing Month. It's a few years since I last gave it a go so I'm filled with a curious mixture of eager anticipation and dread at the prospect of trying to write 50k words in 30 days. You're supposed to start a new book from scratch but since I'm already in full swing with the WIP I'm going to attempt to get the first draft finished which should be possible within the 50k. I did consider doing something new but it's too short notice to get an outline done and besides I really want to finish this bloody book before it drives me mad.

If you haven't seen NaNoWriMo it's worth a go. Exciting, terrifying, thrilling, frustrating...a real roller coaster ride of thrills and spills, and you never know what's going to come out on the page however much you've planned it. Go on, give it a whirl.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

What is a Writer?

Someone once said (I'm too old and brain addled to remember who) you can serve truth or you can serve money, but you can't serve both. He must have been a regular viewer of Question Time.

But it's a poser. What is a writer for? To tell the truth as he/she sees it, or to chase the money and write what people want?

Why not both? The trouble with the truth is it's more often than not unpalatable. And what is truth anyway? Isn't it just your personal view of things? What is truth, exactly?

Is art the expression of truth? I believe real art comes out of us unconsciously, in our unguarded moments when we aren't intending to give ourselves away. But it's hard to pin down, like pictures our minds create in the leaves on a tree or the clouds in the sky.

Maybe I should leave the last word on the subject to Bukowski.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


The Chatterley trial raises the question of whether censorship is ever justified. It is interesting that although Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in Britain between 1928 when it was written and 1960, it was obtainable abroad during those years by anyone with the means. So, the conclusion would be it was less a fear of the corruption of morals than the fear of the implications of an elicit liaison between the classes that kept it on the censored list. Britain in these years was seeing the slow but steady dismantling of its class structure. Change always brings fear; the social unrest that manifested during the 20s and 30s might have been inflamed by such a book. The working class might get ideas above their station. I've no doubt the Establishment were running scared of revolution.

Were they right? Can the morals of the characters in a novel be a risk to society?

Interestingly it tends to be sexually salacious material that is targeted rather than violence. I've read many books whose characters carry out the most loathsome acts and hold the most loathsome opinions. American Psycho, springs to mind. The inner thoughts of a psychopath who tortures and kills for entertainment is about as loathsome as it's possible to get. If we're concerned about morality shouldn't books like that be banned? But they aren't and no one suggests they should be.

So why is sexually explicit material more damaging to us than violence? That's not a rhetorical question, I'd really like to know.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Lady Chatterley Trial

What? Two posts in one day???

Yes, I know it's extravagant but I saw this article on a forum and just had to share it.

It's a terrific story (the trial, I mean, although the book isn't bad either), and an interesting legal perspective from Geoffrey Robertson QC. I particularly like his observation that
The key factor in the decision to prosecute was that Penguin proposed to sell the book for 3/6; in other words, to put it within easy reach of women and the working classes. This, the DPP's files reveal, was what the upper-middle-class male lawyers and politicians of the time refused to tolerate.

I'll be posting about censorship next time.

Finding stories

For me a good source of story ideas is news headlines. You know those little snippets of news you can't avoid when you go into your email? I'm not talking about the headlining stories about world shattering events, but the little human stories that come and go without much attention.

It's perhaps ghoulish to capitalise on the human tragedy these stories contain, but this is the stuff of drama. When a spurned lover sabotages his rival's parachute or a bankrupt farmer goes amok with a shotgun everyone wants to know the whole story. We're drawn to it like moths to a flame. Because we're all muddling through our usually mundane lives and the calamitous events of someone else's give us a vicarious thrill. That's why we have to look when we pass a motorway smash. It could have been us.

Some tragic stories linger in the imagination, and its one such event (or actually two, now I think about it) that are at the heart of my current WIP. Of course, many of the details have been changed to make this my story instead of someone else's. But as a writer I'm less interested in the who or why than in what the effects of the events were. How did it feel, for the people involved? That's something only the victim can know for certain, but it gives plenty of scope for an author's imagination.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

When (and when not) to seek feedback

Saw an interesting post on a writers' forum lately. Author had posted first 76k of her novel for review on a peer review site and after getting some feedback was now completely blocked and unable to continue with the project. She was asking for advice on how to get her mojo back, now that well-meaning critters had told her the plot sucks, the characters are weak etc etc.

I read it with horror because I can't think of anything worse than showing a first draft to anyone. What can it achieve? It isn't your best work so the chances are it isn't going to impress anyone. And what's worse getting an adverse reaction will put the kibosh on your creative muse as effectively a bucket of cold water on a pair of rutting mutts.

I subscribe to the opinion that we have two sides to our character when it comes to creation. The elemental force that comes up with the initial ideas is unconscious, from our dreamy undisciplined mind. When you're banging out the first draft it's that side you're tapping into. It doesn't care about logic or form, it's just raw material. And at that stage you must let it flow, not interfering with the process. Cast a critical eye over its output and you'll send it running for cover never to return. At this point in the process you must believe totally in the world you are creating, in the characters as they appear in your imagination. Start fussing about the details and the river will dry up.

The editing or left-brain side of our nature doesn't come into play until after the first draft is done and put aside for a good few weeks to let the dust settle. This is the heartless bitch (see Edie Tor if you don't believe me) who ruthlessly savages our work. But by this point we have the whole story down so it's just a case of tweaking and reworking. Our creativity won't be stilted because it's done its job. Only after we've exercised our own stringent editor is the book ready to go out into the world to be brutalised by someone else.

So you can see how much damage is done by getting crits too soon. I hope the author learns from her error, assuming she ever gets back to where she was before.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Why Writers are Drama Queens

I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment: Three Uses of the Knife - On the Nature and Purpose of Drama by playwright David Mamet. It's not an easy read - when it's finished I'm going to read it again because I really want to understand what he's saying - but it's worth the effort because he has some profound ideas about the nature of drama and why we need it.

Novels are dramas on the page instead of the stage. The novel form may be relatively new but dramas are as old as humanity and meet some psychological need we all share. Don't we dramatise everything in our lives? Don't we love to hear gossip? And doesn't it explain the success of soap operas?

I think writers are particularly prone to this, which accounts for the compulsion to write stories. Our minds are like super-computers, piecing together the intricate jigsaws of the world around us, embellishing the mundane with flights of fancy. And spending so much time alone in our imaginary dramatic worlds makes us different. We live in our heads. It can render us prickly and neurotic when we come up against the real world. Writers are sensitive souls, prone to exaggeration and flouncing out if our feelings are hurt or our sensibilities affronted. I see this behaviour on writers' boards all the time.

We need delicate handling. It's sad that the world doesn't usually afford us that gentleness. The submissions process is particularly painful to the sensitive artist, and all around us are obstacles and injustices designed to break our spirit. But it doesn't have to be so bad. We should be aware of our own vulnerability and act accordingly, learn strategies to shield our fragile egos. We can treat our fellow writers with generosity and kindness. We can be the change we want to see in this harsh Writing World.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Director's Cut

Do you like Director's Cuts?

They used to be so rare as to be non-existent. Only after a movie had become part of the culture was the Director allowed to reissue it in his preferred (always longer) form, invariably including all those clever arty shots and scenes he was sure would win him an Oscar. Luckily for all of us there was an editor around to rein him in and insist those bits came out to get the movie down to a manageable and slick shape for release. A lot of art is sacrifice - you must murder those darlings without a shadow of remorse or you'll never produce anything of any note. So why this fashion for putting it all back in the Director's Cut?

Well, I guess it's a clever rebadging exercise to generate more income from a product that's had its moment of glory and now sits at the back of everyone's DVD collection gathering dust. It's also a chance for the Director to prove he hasn't sold out by showing he kept all those arty bits for just such an occasion. It's also an chance to restore something that might have been hacked to pieces by the studio on its original release, eg The Wicker Man. (Definitely worth a view, although the restored footage is very rough and not all of it could be found).

I can understand that. What I can't understand is releasing a Director's Cut DVD immediately following the cinema release, as has happened recently with Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. Putting in more footage so soon smacks of a lack of confidence in the product.

But it got me thinking. What if there were Writer's Cuts versions of novels? Would we at last see the bit in Wuthering Heights where Heathcliff cross-dresses and Cathy chases him up the moor in her best dress? Or the bit in Harry Potter where the vampires lure Harry into their secret lair with strawberry jam sandwiches? It's a thought...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A few Crumbly observations

You know what they say about nostalgia - it ain't what it used to be.

I've never been one for nostalgia much. It seems like a curious way of looking at the world, with your back to the engine staring at where you've just been rather than where you're going. But recently it's been creeping into my viewing habits. It started with the box set of Blakes Seven, followed by Sapphire and Steel and even the Avengers. You know, all the good stuff they never seem to show on UK Gold.

Must be my age I suppose. It's tempting to think things were better back then, but I have no illusions about that - they weren't. It may seem that way at times because what we have in youth is boundless energy, good health and a heart full of optimism about the future. Somehow the shine comes off over the years and is replaced by a weary cynicism. When you've been round the block so many times it gets to resemble a shooting gallery (with you as the duck dodging pot shots) rather than a Great Big Adventure.

But there are compensations to getting older. I don't miss the crippling self-consciousness, and it's comforting to know that however much of a prat you make of yourself someone somewhere has done it a lot worse.

And you get to ramble a bit, like this post. Stop me when I get to "when I were a lass..."

Sunday, 10 October 2010

My Name Is Sandra and I'm an Addict...

Okay time to 'fess up, as our American cousins say. I'm addicted. No, not fags or booze or even Nightnurse (although it is great when you're choked with the cold). My particular weakness is writers' forums. Yes. Pathetic, eh?

Like any addict I am in total denial about my addiction. I can handle it, I tell myself. Just a few minutes a day, it's harmless. I can walk away any time...

Ah, if only that were true.

The odd thing is they wind me up something rotten. I've lost count of the times I came perilously close to hurling my computer at the wall out of sheer frustration at some of the pompous, ignorant downright stupid comments made on these boards. And it's pointless to argue - it's like feeding the flames - you then get ten pompous ignorant nitwits jumping on your head instead of one! So I try being mature and ignoring it, only of course you can't really ignore it, can you? It's like a car crash on the motorway, you have to gawp at all the bits of wreckage and bloody remains even if it gives you nightmares for months. And all the time I'm bottling up my indignation until fit to burst, swearing I'll never ever go on there again - until the next time.

Every time I have one of these episodes I end up signing up on yet another board and the whole ghastly cycle starts again.

So what's the cure? Cold turkey? Take up another hobby? Disconnect my computer from the internet? Any and all suggestions welcome.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Where do stories come from?

Interesting one, this. Do we generate stories ourselves or do they come from somewhere else?

I'm sure you've had the experience of being on a roll and feeling the words you are writing are coming fully formed from some other plane - as if you were only a cypher for someone else's thoughts. I've had that feeling a few times, most notably during my major revision last year when I had to beef up a minor character into a major one and found him there, fully formed with a complete life history and world view, and a voice that was distinct and unique. I'd like to think he was my own invention, from some deep level of my unconscious mind, but could I be channelling the thoughts of someone real?

Jung, the famous psychologist, believed at a deep level we were all joined the way that islands are joined on the sea bed. This is the basis for archetypes which we are hardwired to recognise and turn up again and again in fiction. Perhaps past life regression and psychic experiences are evidence of this link too. Is deja vu simply tapping into the thoughts of someone who was in that place before you? Are our thoughts and experiences gathered in some great cosmic database that we can tap into if we know how?

It's a seductive idea. For one thing it gives you complete immunity from responsibility for what you are writing. But then, maybe that's not such a good thing.

I know there are people who claim to channel famous dead figures from history, but can we (or they) be sure they are not just deluding themselves? After all, it's very flattering to think Queen Cleopatra is telling you, and only you, the salacious details of her life story. It's the ultimate scoop. And no one can disprove it, can they? But therein lies the danger.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Rejections they might have had

Sent another couple of submissions today, so I've had the whole business of rejection on my mind. Wouldn't it be funny if some of the most famously successful books had been rejected? How would the rejection have read?

Dear Author

Thank you very much for sending us "The Bible" but I don't think we are the right agency to represent it.

Although I found it an engrossing read, I have to say at 770k words it would be a very hard sell in today's market. The narrative was over complex, with too many plot threads and repetition. Cut all the stuff about who begat who, nobody cares believe me. You could easily simplify this and strip it down to a more linear narrative. Modern readers will not stick with long complicated stories and sales would suffer. And the title is too dry. May I suggest as an alternative "God v. Satan: The Final Showdown". You could stick in a few vampires for good measure, they always sell well.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

On Puppies and Publishing

October. Time for taking stock, looking back over the past year as winter looms on the horizon.

At this time two years ago I had just acquired a new puppy and had sent out my first batch of submissions into the Big Bad Publishing World. I remember it well. Shivering in the garden waiting for Theo to do his business and thinking about whether the post would bring any news. I had a fair share of highs and lows over the following few months.

Yesterday and today I sent off another pair of submissions. They're for the same book, albeit radically revised so it's probably dishonest to call it the same but the core story isn't altered, just the method of telling. The point is how different it feels two years on. The giddy sense of nervous anticipation has been replaced by a resigned pragmatism. I suppose that's progress. It doesn't do to be too emotionally attached to one's work; therein lies misery and heartbreak. The world doesn't love your book the way you do, and never will - if you're seeking validation you will be disappointed.

But I do miss that dewy-eyed innocence I lost somewhere along the way.

The puppy is now two years old and not the wide eyed, exuberant little bundle of licks and scratches he once was. He doesn't play as much as he did then, and he's more settled and sensible. He's grown up. And so have I.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Inspiration fatigue and burnout

So now the play is put to one side I'm back on the novel. I was well into Act 2 when I left it, so yesterday I open up the last chapter to refresh my memory. Again, it's an anxious moment. What if, on returning to it, I find it's unmitigated rubbish? It could happen. But it's a relief to find it's not bad at all.

I'm coming to the conclusion that having more than one project bubbling away is a good way for me to work. Perhaps I'm not alone in getting so obsessed with a story I get far too close to it and can't exercise good editorial judgement. A week or two away from it and hey, presto! I a can see the glaring flaws I'd missed. Perhaps I'm more of an editor than a writer. But working on several things gives you the chance to flit between them.

I know not everyone works this way. I've seen writers say on forums they have to sit down and churn out their word quota whether they feel like it or not, otherwise the book would never be finished. I don't mind doing that occasionally - I've done Nanowrimo a few times and it is exhilarating - but I know I couldn't do it constantly. I get inspiration fatigue. And worse, I get an aversion to writing which is dangerous. To stop the burnout I give myself days off doing other stuff. As long as I'm writing, I don't worry about it.

It's important to have fun. It's not my living after all and as the saying goes, it ain't brain surgery.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

First read-through

Feeling all of a quiver. I just printed out my first draft of Play and read it through with hubby (who's conveniently on a week's holiday). I always view these read throughs with trepidation - after all the weeks of work will it be ghastly? But it wasn't! At least, I don't think so and neither does he. We got quite caught up in it and my heart was pounding by the end, but it more or less hangs together quite well, I'm pleased and relieved to say.

So now it's a case of shelving it for a few weeks before going back for another look. In the meantime I'll have to scout around and find somewhere to send it.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Another website

Something drew my attention to the free build-you-own-website site Weebly recently, so I've been taking a look and setting up a site for my play. I'm quite impressed with the ease of use and presentation so far. If you're interested you can take a look at it here, and please feel free to make any suggestions.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


The great thing about writing a play is you can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. I'm up to 85 pages on the New Historical Play, and in the process of doing an edit. I've no idea whether it's finished yet - probably not, if past experience is anything to go by - but writing it and reading through what I've written (which I do aloud to get a feel for the dialogue) is very entertaining if nothing else. I'm enjoying the process hugely.

The great thing is imagining the scenes, without being hampered by having to agonise over long passages of description. As I edit I put in odd touches in the stage directions, tiny character descriptions to add some colour. It's the time to check details as well. Being a historical subject, and based on real people, I have to be careful of getting the background facts right.

Now I have to decide which medium would be best. I started it thinking Screenplay, but it's not easy to get historical movies made even after the success of Braveheart and Robin Hood. Then there's radio - might be worth a throw as there's supposedly a huge demand for original material at the BBC and radio is the traditional way in. I'd like to think it could be a stage play too, in fact I think this might be the perfect outlet, but how easy is it to get a stage play produced?

Monday, 20 September 2010

When is it finished?

How do you know when a project is finished?

You do get an excited rush when the first draft is complete, and it's easy to fool yourself that's the work done. But unless you are a prodigy it probably isn't. I put mine away for a while and write something else then go back for another look - it can be very painful to realise it isn't as good as you remember, although sometimes it can be encouraging when it's better than you remember. So then I have another go at it and put it aside again. You can repeat that process until:

a) you go mad or

b) you get up the courage to get some feedback - a crit group is your best bet

Then it's more revisions until you reach the stage that your eyes bleed every time you try to read it, which is nature's way of telling you to:

a) burn it and bury the ashes in consecrated ground,

b) give it up and start again or

c) send it out

Even then it probably isn't finished as agents/editors will more than likely demand more changes.
Good thing you love writing, eh? :)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Which is more important: Character or plot?

People are what stories are about. Readers read to live vicariously through the characters in the book. If they can't identify with those characters, the story falls flat.

Of course a story needs a well drawn, believable cast of characters. But a book with only well drawn characters and no plot is not a story. It's a character study. You need to decide whose story you are telling and what will happen to them at the outset, when you first formulate your premise. Your choice of character is paramount. He must be ripe for this story to happen to him, or your story won't engage.

So why have you chosen him? What is he lacking that he needs to learn from going through this experience? How will it change him? Get this right and your character will react and drive the plot as they sort out their personal issues. It's called a Character Arc and it's as old as storytelling itself. For a more detailed analysis check out these books:
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey

Your character should be interesting rather than likeable - some of the most compelling literary characters are utterly deplorable human beings! - and they should be flawed in some way they are not aware of.

How to make characters real? To write a convincing characterisation you have to know them as you would a friend. There's more to that than a list of attributes and a CV. To flesh out your characters you could try an online journal or blog. Write in the voice of the character, play at being them. It's a good way to explore their attitudes and background, but don't fall into the trap of trying to put all that information into your book or you'll end up with the dreaded info dump!

Monday, 13 September 2010


I've been inspired, over the weekend, to resurrect a project I've been fiddling about with for years - honestly, I first got bitten by the bug nearly 20 years ago. It's a story from the 16th century, well documented but still a mystery, which I've researched on and off during that time, always searching for new angles and insights. But none of my half assed attempts to retell the story have amounted to much. In the end I give up, telling myself it's a hopeless task. But obviously some part of me still hankers after it. Hence my weekend inspiration.

It was prompted by watching The Lion in Winter, the 1968 movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. If you haven't seen it recently it's worth a trip to Youtube. Hepburn alone brings this potentially dry story to crackling intensity, but she's helped by a marvellous cast including youthful Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. The film was based on a stage play and the action takes place one Christmas when Henry II gathers his feuding and plotting family to discuss the future of the monarchy. Limited sets, no special effects, just great dialogue and wonderful acting. It has inspired me to use the device of a single weekend and a gathering under one roof to tell my own story.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

When to give up?

I've seen a few of these posts lately on the many boards where I lurk.

"I've spent forever on my book, sent it to every agent and publisher in the English speaking world, got nowhere with it. Should I attempt yet another rewrite or give up on it and start something else?"

Some are even more profound. After years of trying the poster is wondering whether to throw in the towel altogether.

Tough questions. And they're not the sort there's a simple answer for.

Time was when publishers and agents were the acid test of what was publishable - if they didn't want you it was a fair assumption you weren't good enough so maybe you should call it quits. But the times, they is a-changin'. How do you measure your worth when the publishing industry is in a recession and even previously published authors are finding themselves on the scrap heap? You could drive yourself mad endlessly rewriting a book that's perfectly acceptable in the mistaken belief it will bring a book deal closer. All the time the book deal isn't there, however good you are.

I've read a couple of interesting blog posts this week which touch on the changes happening around us. The Book Deal touches on the issue of self publishing as a real prospect for getting noticed by mainstream publishers. He speculates this may be the source for publishers' mid list in the future. It's a controversial suggestion - a couple of years back no industry insider would have entertained the idea. But it's indicative of the way the landscape is shifting.

And here is an interesting interview with Writers' Digest publisher Jane Friedmann about how she sees the role of agents changing in the future. Food for thought.

Friday, 3 September 2010


I read somewhere - probably in one of the million or so books on writing I seem to have purchased over the years - that in order to write realistic fiction you have to do even more research than you would for non-fiction. Not only do you have to know the facts about the world you are creating, you have to internalize them to such an extent that you can create real people to live in that world.

I don't know how true that is, never having attempted non-fiction, but I would say research is something of a quagmire for me. It's so easy to get absorbed in the details and carried away with immersing yourself in an area of research you can find yourself drifting away from the original point of the exercise. At the moment I'm looking into faded stately homes for my current WIP - it's not a major plank of the book but it helps me visualise the setting for the main part of the story. The upshot is I can spend far too much time trawling through books on the subject. It's not a hardship by any means - I've always loved visiting stately piles and looking at classical architecture - but maybe that's the trouble.

But for all the pictures I can't seem to lay hands on architectural plans for these houses. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Starting with a bang...

Interesting query came up on one of the boards I frequent:

We're constantly told to begin with action, but how does that fit with the 3 Act Structure?

Every story has a logical sequence of beginning, middle and end. That's all the 3 Act Structure is - so simple it's a wonder someone had to find a name for it, not to mention all the myriad books on the subject.

So you have to be aware of these three stages. Mostly you will be before you even give it a thought. If you've ever successfully told a joke you'll be aware of it.

First Act: Man goes to the doctor.
Second Act: Man says, "I think I'm a pair of curtains"
Third Act: Doctor says, "Pull yourself together, man!"

If you're unsure, watch a few Star Trek episodes. Roughly ten minutes at the beginning sets up the story (First Act), the struggle and complications which take up the next half hour (Second Act) ending with the climax and return to normal, including that annoying jokey bit of banter between the leads (third Act).

So we've got that. But we still need to start with something interesting enough to pull in the reader/viewer. So what do we do?

Well, in literature and movies there is a well trodden tradition of starting in media res - or in the middle of the action. You can start at the end of Act 1 when the main character is in a tight spot and has to make a desperate choice - or at the end of Act 2 where he's in a tighter spot and has to make an even more desperate choice. Then you can flashback to the events leading up to this dramatic opening. If you've done your job of making the start intriguing enough the reader will stay with it to find out the background. The story order is fixed but you can tell it any order you want. That's the magic of storytelling!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Truby's 22 Steps

In my constant quest to figure out what the hell I'm doing at this writing lark I've been reading yet another screenwriting tome. John Truby's Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller is a very interesting book. He takes apart the traditional three act structure and in its place gives you 7 essential steps around which to build your story. Further to that, he details the eponymous 22 steps, not all of which have to be included, but the fact that he mentions them gives you food for thought.

I'm reading this book with mixed feelings. There are lots of Eureka moments where I can see what is wrong with my WIP, but also those sinking feelings when you realise you need to go back to the start and rework the characters and the premise at the most basic level. It's great and I'm loving it. Because if it means a lot of hard work it's probably improving the story as well as teaching me things I didn't already know.

He has an excellent website which promotes his software and add-ons to the book, but if you sign up to his mailing list you get a free Secrets of Genre booklet. You all know how I love my freebies!

I downloaded the Blockbuster demo yesterday for a free 15 day trial, but it looks complicated and the book covers all you really need to know so I don't know whether it's worth the expense.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Rules? Nobody told me there were Rules!

Everywhere you go on Writers' Forums you run into lots of excellent and not-so-excellent advice. Little nuggets and homilies, usually littering people's signatures, like "If you see an adjective, kill it!" and "The Road to Hell is paved with Adverbs".

I've been knocking around these places long enough to see a few sacred cows built up only to come crashing down when someone comes up with an exception to the Rule. The net result is I no longer believe in rules. Of course you need grammar and spelling, those kind of rules. But once you get to the creation of fiction anything goes, and there is only one rule as far as I can see: IF IT WORKS, DO IT.

So why do these so-called rules get bandied about? I think it comes from well meant feedback people get from their submissions - an Editor or Agent mentions the fact that Wannabe has too much description in his first chapter. Wannabe then relays this to his group as "I was told not to have weather in the first chapter" and before you know it it's been enshrined in marble.

The point about being creative is you have to be flexible and open to any new ideas. Same with your method of working. There are no hard and fast rules about how a manuscript comes into being; some people painstakingly outline, research for months and plan every detail meticulously before they write a word. Then they sit down every day and churn out thousands of words at a time without pause. At the other end of the spectrum some take the Nanowrimo approach, barely plan anything and bash out a rough draft full of holes and margin notes to ADD LATER. Some write a passable first draft that hardly needs a spell check, others go through a hundred drafts before it resembles something readable. Does it really matter? Is one way right or wrong? It seems to me writing a novel is such a personal endeavour it must take a personal approach. So do what suits you best, and don't listen to any so-called Rules.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Agent, anyone?

'Get an Agent', is the oft heard advice for wannabe authors like myself. Writers' blogs often sing their praises. On some writers' boards it's almost a rallying cry and has become an end in itself, with whole forums devoted to catching an agent's attention. Agent Hunting is akin to a sport - and with all the time and energy devoted to researching the perfect agent for you and Agents' likes and dislikes - how can you make your query letter stand out? it's a wonder anyone has time to write a book.

With all this attention it's no wonder agents have become the celebrities of the publishing world in recent years. But are their days numbered?

In the last few weeks I've spotted some interesting developments. Penguin, one of the largest publishing houses and not the sort of place one would expect to welcome unagented submissions, has thrown open its doors to authors' queries for a three month period. Their sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Daw, is also seeking unagented submissions.

I can't help wondering if this is a trend fuelled by the Wylie/Amazon debate which effectively kicked publishers out of the loop. Are publishers afraid of the power they have given agents and now seek to claw some back? Like Dr Frankenstein, have they woken up to the fact that they have created a monster which may yet destroy them?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Getting involved

For years I used to think I was a weirdo. I'd be reading a book and I'd get so caught up in the emotions of the characters that I had to put the book down and go and do something else. My heart would be racing, mind filled with images that weren't always pleasurable. Given that most of my early reading experiences were horror or thrillers you can imagine the nasty surprises I tormented myself with.

But now I'm trying to write myself I can appreciate that this is exactly the response the author was trying to get. As someone once said, it's better to be upset than to feel nothing at all. Surely we read to feel vivariously the emotions of others? So it turns out I'm not a weirdo at all - at least, not in that respect.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Why write?

There are many reasons why we write. For most people it's a compulsion to create something unique and personal. Something lasting, an achievement they can be proud of.

I don't think it really matters why we write, as long as it gives us satisfaction. That should be reason enough.

Getting published is a whole different proposition. It comes as a shock to discover the world of publishing is not designed to satisfy the needs of writers. It is designed to meet the needs and desires of readers. This is where writing ceases to be an indulgence and becomes a job. Just because I get pleasure from writing my thoughts doesn't mean anyone will get pleasure from reading them.

So whenever I feel despondent about the mountain climb to getting published, I remind myself that no one ever promised me a book deal. It's a sad fact that many, many writers never get published. So getting published should never be the thing to pin your idea of success on - write for its own sake, because you love it. Write something you are proud of. Don't compromise to attain some elusive goal that may never happen.

And you'll always be a success, whatever happens.

And when it comes to getting published, remember you always have a choice. Moonrat's wonderful blog Editorial Ass discusses the options available for writers here.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Coping with Rejection

There's always a lot of moaning in writers' blogs and forums about rejection. I've blogged about it before, so I won't go on about it again. But I wanted to post a link to this hilarious take on the subject. It makes a nice change to see the funny side of such an angst-laden topic.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Twitter Stories

I joined Twitter a while back, only because everyone kept going on about it and as you know I always follow the herd. I wanted to know what the fuss was about. At first I confess I couldn't see the point of it - who apart from fans and stalkers cares what minor celebs get up to between gigs? And let's face it most of us aren't remotely interesting in the minutiae of our dull dreary lives. Or so I thought.

Over time it's really grown on me. I don't follow a huge number of people, about forty or so, enough to get an interesting cross section of thoughts and activities. So there's usually at least one interesting post when I visit. And if there isn't, well it's only a sentence or two so no time wasted. Unlike blogs people have to get to the point pretty sharpish. I like that. And over time you see a pattern emerging in people's posts that is more revealing of them as people than their more showy blogs and websites.

So it's taken me a while but I finally see the point of Twitter. It's a rare skill to condense your meaning into a few words - anyone who's wrestled with poetry will appreciate that. Yes, we all know about the joy of unrestrained prose and being drunk with words, but those words we're drunk on are usually more rewarding to ourselves than those we're communicating with. Mostly it's unmitigated drivel. Restraint is good. It makes us artful - every word must count. Real writers respect words and know their power; diluting them is wasteful.

So I wonder if it's possible to write a story in a Twitter post. 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Beginning, middle, end. You know the drill: get to it!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Sky Is Falling...

Hot topic this week is literary agent Andrew Wylie's deal with Amazon to epublish his clients' books, cutting traditional publishers out of the loop. With such an illustrious client list as John Updike and Saul Bellow this has caused seismic ructions in the publishing community and been met with much gnashing of teeth and cries that this is the End of Publishing As We Know It.

I don't pretend to know enough to offer an opinion on this, but we certainly do live in interesting times. The implications are huge. One author I know of, Joe Konrath, has launched himself as a self publisher after being dropped from his traditional publisher with apparent success. If high profile authors can publish themselves why would they need publishers, or even agents for that matter?

Joe Konrath discusses the issue on his blog. It's food for thought.