My third novel was languishing in a bottom-drawer file on my PC. I couldn’t see the way through it, even though I had all the characters, the plot and subplots, and the ending, firmly in my mind. I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Was I being too ambitious? It’s actually a good story; I’m very proud of it, but it had become a dense, tangled muddle. I had to figure out why it wasn’t working, why the damn thing wouldn’t progress. I decided a more forensic approach was needed if it was going to be resurrected. Continue reading
While on my desert island recently, I was thinking that it might be fun to bring a writerly perspective to some of the more random, even philosophical questions I’ve been asked over the years. Some are pretty run of the mill; some have personal resonance and most have nothing, specifically, to do with writing. But I think they’re interesting enough to run a series of author interviews in the future. See what you think. Continue reading
As a fledgling writer I was advised that my reading pleasure would be ruined for ever; that I would minutely study everything I read, dissecting the dialogue, the use of language and vocabulary, the narrative style, to determine how it worked. I would treat every novel as a lesson. And I did, up to a point. For a newbie, it was a great way to learn. But I’m getting over that now. I still read a lot of fiction but I’m not obsessed with dismembering every book so I can scrutinise its inner workings in forensic detail. And I still learn a lot from my reading, that’s one of its pleasures. Facts I was previously unaware of, a novel approach to an everyday plot, the crafting of a story arc, I absorb it all. Some books are instantly forgettable; others stay in my head for a long time. Some take up permanent residence, and it’s these that I’d like to share with you. Continue reading
Are you the sort of person who listens to music that reflects your current mood and reads novels that imitate your life, or do you prefer your listening and reading choices to challenge the status quo? I’m certainly in the former camp: I want mournful music when I’m anxious or depressed; uplifting tunes when I’m happy. I don’t want to be cajoled out of my sulk; I want to wallow. My reading material has to mirror my current frame of mind and, if I’m going through a particularly blue period, it should suggest an escape, or a way forward.
Committing thoughts to diaries and journals is an established method of exorcising our demons. Writing negative feelings on a sheet of paper, wrapping it round a stone and throwing it into the sea or off a cliff is still a popular way of ridding ourselves of bad vibes, so could the same effect be gained from writing fiction? Just as we use reading novels and listening to music as therapy, can we use writing to ease the kinks out of our lives? Continue reading
One subject that keeps coming up in my writing group is how to create convincing characters.
All characters need a context, a goal, a challenge, a history, but do you start with a blank page and watch your characters develop as the narrative progresses, or are you familiar with every aspect of their backstory before you start writing?
So how do you build a character? Continue reading
The Amaryllis on my windowsill is in splendid, flamboyant bloom at the moment. Pity I can’t say the same about my writing. I’ve never believed in writer’s block, so the last few months have been difficult: I’ve come up against an immovable obstacle that I’ve been unable to push through. I’ve hit the wall.
I make notes, use diversionary tactics and bring out all the tried and tested solutions but I still find myself, against my own advice, messing around in the foothills, constantly editing and re-editing the first few chapters. It’s all procrastination. I should be pushing forward, not marching on the spot. Continue reading
Writing is quite a solitary experience. Even when you’re writing in a library or crowded coffee shop you’re not exactly inviting people to sit down and chat. You don’t want to be interrupted, torn from your story and required to make conversation; all you want to do is explore that really important plot development you’ve just thought up. The folk on your wavelength give you a wide berth, appreciating your need to be alone. And you’re grateful for the solitude.
So why is it that after a long day with only the notebook or keyboard for company, you feel exhausted, intellectually drained, fit only for an evening vegetating in front of the television? Continue reading
I’ve been a member of a writing group for almost ten years now and I can’t tell you how valuable it’s been. The comments and criticisms I’ve received have been very helpful and the regular input and support from people who understand the writing process is a huge benefit. You soon learn whose opinions to take seriously and not to get too hung up on negative comments. Even when the other fourteen members all agreed that the latest chapter in my WIP was rubbish. To a man they fell, like a row of dominoes, queuing up to tell me how bad my work was. The criticism went round the table like a Mexican wave. I went home bruised, and questioning my ability. What was I doing wrong? I put their behaviour down to mob mentally but at the time, it hurt. I mean, none of them were even published. 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
I’ve done a bit of guest blogging over the past few weeks. I’ve been thrilled to appear on the blogs of far more experienced writers than me and I didn’t want to behave badly or hang around too long hogging the limelight, so I heeded Benjamin Franklin’s advice: Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days, and kept my remarks short and sweet. I tried to be honest and I hope they revealed something about the real me, and that my natural reticence didn’t get in the way.
Our conversations have covered everything from what I read as a child to which book I would read if the world was coming to an imminent end. (I couldn’t answer that one). In between we tackled my writing inspiration, how much time I spend on social media (far too much and not nearly enough) and what I’m most proud of. Some of the questions really made me think, like what would I be doing if I wasn’t a writer? I have absolutely no idea.
I’ve been asked if there’s a special place that works best for me, what’s the best time of day and which writing instruments I prefer, but one other necessity didn’t get a mention, so I’ll address that now. The humble cup of tea. This is an absolute must-have. Preferably constantly refilled by an unseen hand that knows better than to interrupt, and accompanied by the occasional biscuit. A bag of liquorice is a nice bonus (well, I do come from Pontefract, its spiritual home).
My sincere thanks to these fellow bloggers who have hosted me over the past few weeks: