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
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
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
It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words but sometimes my imagination goes temporarily awol when I’m supposed to be creating a coherent piece of writing. Staring at that blank page can be daunting so I thought it might be handy if we revisited some tricks for waking your writing mojo.
Remember those six honest serving-men from Kipling’s Elephant’s Child: What? Where? Why? Who? When? How? They help us evaluate every situation and character and once we’ve got past the seemingly obvious questions about who the character is, what they are doing and how they come to be doing it, we can widen our scope and pose other questions that reveal different facets and characteristics and help us build up a character, a situation, maybe a story.
No, I’m not suggesting actually going out and holding up your local post office or committing a murder. I mean, writing a crime story or even a novel, where you can let your imagination run riot. I couldn’t kill someone in real life – apart from the occasional parking ticket I’m usually a law-abiding individual. But in my head it’s quite a different story: I can visualise all kinds of lives lived on the other side of the law and all manner of grisly ends for a variety of people, some deserving, some not so much.
There are various forms of crime fiction and the choice of form and plot is huge. Should I write a police procedural, with a protagonist on the police force, like Peter James’ Roy Grace or Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne? Should it be a traditional whodunit, when we get to know the identity of the perpetrator at the end of the book, or perhaps the more modern inversion, where the crime and the identity of the perp is revealed at the start and the novel describes the attempts to solve the mystery.
On the news this week I heard a reporter refer to someone ‘traversing’ a road. Traversing? Whatever happened to ‘crossing’? Traversing implies a journey, possibly hazardous, negotiating the Yukon or the Andes, not a suburban road. Maybe he was taking the lunchtime traffic into account.
Still, it got me thinking about our use of language in creative writing and how selecting that inelegant synonym to avoid repetition, doesn’t always work.
The brief for this week’s homework from the writing group is to write about a grandparent, creating a fictional account of a factual event from their life.
Easier said than done, I thought. Two of my grandparents died before I was born and the only memory I have of my maternal grandmother is of a tiny woman with greying curly hair, sitting at the kitchen table, warming her hands round the teapot. So that leaves my paternal grandfather; long dead now, but I have plenty of memories from my childhood.
It was my turn to take our writing group last week and as my theme I chose a topic I’ve written about in the past – Characterisation.
As well as what the story is about, readers are interested in who it’s about. They want a protagonist they can empathise and identify with throughout the story, but these characters won’t necessarily be nice people; some memorable characters from literature have been downright horrible – think Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock. Whether likeable or thoroughly villainous, we need to believe that the characters we create are real, breathing people or our readers won’t believe in them either.
I had intended to use the time off work to get some serious writing done – I don’t often have the opportunity of a full week to clear my mind of all household- and work-related matters. Pity it didn’t quite work out like that.
Day 1 – coincidentally the first day of an unpredicted Indian summer. Late sunshine too warm to resist. We packed sunscreen (yes, sunscreen, in Norfolk, in September. It beggars belief.), books and a picnic and headed for the coast. Kids are back at school now and the beaches round here, never very densely populated, are deserted.