Read about my writing journey and why I write about what I know.
After the death of my father some years ago I became the curator of the family photographs. Dad and Mum had collected them throughout their lives, stuffed individually and often anonymously into boxes and biscuit tins or mounted and labelled carefully in old leather-covered albums. There’s my older brother’s baby book, framed wedding photographs, wallets of holiday snaps from unknown destinations and hundreds of single images of who knows who. Sometimes there’s a scrawled name on the back, but often there are no clues about the identities of the individual or group of people caught in fading sepia. Continue reading
We fiction writers already know how life experiences can inform our creativity. How getting lost in an unfamiliar town or eavesdropping on a quarrel can ignite that light bulb; how the unexplored stretch of coastline or narrow, unmapped street can form the basis of a whole new storyline.
But what about experiences that aren’t part of this life? I don’t mean being abducted by aliens… I mean a different, altogether other-worldly event.
Let me explain. Continue reading
Writing realistic dialogue is tricky. It’s a skill that comes naturally to those lucky people who have an ear for convincing dialogue and can produce it effortlessly, but most of us have to practice, listen, then practice some more. This is a common problem for new writers (and some more experienced ones, too) who want to produce natural and lifelike exchanges between characters without sounding clunky, over-dramatic or plain wooden. I’ve talked about this before but some things bear repetition, so a revisit might be useful. Continue reading
Recently I was prompted to revisit the start of my otherwise completed second novel. I am indebted to Cate Hogan http://bit.ly/1QIYuhd for her insights into creating interesting characters, which brought about this reassessment. It made me think that the introductory chapters of the novel should be more dynamic. I was reminded of some writerly advice along the lines of, if the story doesn’t get going until chapter three, that’s where you should start. The week before submission, I decided the beginning of the novel needed a complete overhaul. Continue reading
We’ve all got our special writing places in our homes, rented office space, local cafés and libraries, but how often do we take ourselves completely out of our comfort zones and spend time in different places with no one but ourselves for company? How far are we willing to go, and for how long? And does it work?
My first experience of a writing retreat, though that wasn’t the original idea, happened many years ago, after a difficult and painful split with my then husband. A good friend offered me her family’s apartment in Puerto del Carmen on Lanzarote and I took off for a week by myself, intending to do nothing but eat, sleep and sunbath. Actually, I’m not much of a sun worshipper, and I’d sort of lost my appetite, so that left sleeping…. and I did an awful lot of that. Mental exhaustion or something.
During the long, solitary days, I started jotting down my thoughts, initially as a means of clearing my head. It didn’t take long to exorcise my demons and I was soon onto different subject matter. Stuff that was in my head, waiting impatiently to be released. Who knew? Anyway, I sat under a parasol for five days and wrote. And wrote. It just poured out of me. I didn’t even read much, which was most unlike me.
I was totally unprepared, and when I ran out of notebooks I had to search for writing paper, scouring local shops and supermarkets until I found some pads of cheap, lined paper. This enterprise took a long afternoon, on foot, in blazing heat, but I was not to be deterred. I had caught the bug; I was hooked.
I still have those desperate scribbles; it was painful and embarrassing to re-read them when I got home. They’re so bad, full of all the mistakes a novice writer makes. Let’s just say they are better left at the bottom of the cupboard. But I could see a story developing. Even better, it wasn’t my story; it was the product of my imagination. Fiction. Much easier to deal with than real life, and I can change the outcome to suit.
Since that holiday, I have taken myself off on occasional retreats and residential writing courses and would definitely say I’d benefitted from these periods away from the daily routine. It’s like looking at life from a different angle; you see things you hadn’t noticed before. The enforced absence from the daily grind gives me a new perspective on lots of things and I find I’m much more productive as a result.
I hadn’t realised there was so much junk in my head that needed to get out and without that week away with nothing but my own company, who knows if it might still be in there?
Last week we attended a concert of classical music performed by the South East London Orchestra. We heard some stirring Mendelssohn, a very interesting piece by Fung Lam and Dvorak’s crowd pleaser, the New World Symphony. I get quite teary when listening to dramatic music like this and my husband squeezed my hand sympathetically as I dabbed my eyes. Afterwards he commented that the Dvorak had obviously gotten to me. No, I said, the tears sprang into my eyes while the orchestra was tuning up. Sadly it seems mine is a purely Pavlovian response to the ‘A’ note the musicians tune their instruments to, and little to do with the music itself, beautiful though it was. Continue reading
Conscious that this writing lark is not very conducive to maintaining a decent level of fitness, I recently started swimming again. Now I don’t have a pool of my own, so when I was invited to join some friends in their time-share slot at a local private establishment, I jumped at the chance to use a pool that I didn’t have to share with the world and his wife (and their children). Even better, the next week none of my friends could go, so I went on my own.
Brilliant, I thought. I’ll have the pool to myself; I’ll get that all-important exercise, and I’ll be able to devote some serious thinking time to the development of my new novel, unhindered. That’s the good thing about swimming: the very mindlessness of ploughing up and down frees your brain to wander. You can concentrate on nothing but the number of lengths you’ve covered, but if you’re a true daydreamer, you can use the time much more effectively.
Or that’s what I thought. Swimming alone turned out to be a very spooky experience indeed. Continue reading
There’s no doubt about it, the current trend for verbification – using nouns as verbs – can have a profound effect on our writing. We have social media to thank for some of this – the requirement to express complex ideas in 140 characters was bound to have a minimising effect – though verbification has been around a lot longer than Facebook and Twitter. The knock-on effect is that our use of language has changed subtly to accommodate this phenomenon. We parent, we text, we friend. We used to set a trend, now we are trending. Our writing group used to offer criticism, now we critique. Once, I wrote pieces for this blog. Now I simply blog. The noun has become the verb.
Worryingly, hunting for antiques has become antiquing, in the USA at least. I’m happy to report that we haven’t succumbed to this practice yet in the UK. Continue reading
I’ve just had my passport photograph updated – who is that woman? She looks like she’s had an interesting life – it’s certainly left its mark. Which ties in nicely with this week’s theme – creating characters.
People-watching can be very fertile ground and there are plenty of opportunities for observing personality traits and characteristics in colleagues, friends and total strangers in the course of your working life and leisure activities.
I’ve been lucky to work in some colourful and exciting environments, full of large than life personalities, who transfer easily onto the page, albeit with a little tweaking. Here are some possibilities for you to consider: Continue reading