Friday, 29 March 2013

Pursuing a Different Dream

Very often it is too easy to believe that the path is laid out before us and we have to tread it. I proved to myself that this doesn't have to be the way but sometimes we have to place a foot on two paths to get to where we need to be. One path is of routine work with the occasional couple of weeks vacation and the second, a private rocky path to our dreams.

I had to go about my business, working 9 to 5 and beyond but at the same time pursue my private dream of being an author.

I blogged on 15th Feb about "Books and Baseball." I'm a UK author who inexplicably loves baseball and I was surprised to discover that my nearest town once harboured its own group of people who pursued a different dream - the "Rochdale Greys."

They were a professional baseball team of which only 3 were Americans and the rest, local men. They played in the North of England Baseball League from 1935 to 1938 and then WW2 intervened. An amateur team persisted after the war but eventually fizzled out by 1955.

This is akin to a cricket team suddenly springing up in the USA and pursuing something other than national sports. It provided me with a tenuous but heart-warming connection to the place I live (my books being inspired by local scenes) and it was another example of how cultures can extend their influence and be welcomed. Call me cynical, but I don't see much of that in real life despite upbeat media reports.

So, now I tread just one path and my ultimate goal is not so much overwhelming success or material gains as just being able to love the game - my own private game of life and writing...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Things People Say....

I had lunch with my good friend Linda yesterday. We used to catch the train together each morning to Manchester city centre and would then part ways. The train was always packed with grumpy people with long faces and Linda and I would see the same faces when we met each evening at Victoria station. However, the journeys sparked friendships and conversations that long outlived the terrible journeys.

The things people say; words dropped innocently into everyday conversation, can find their way into one of my books. Linda's contribution was: "Beans-On." Whenever I asked her "What do you think you'll eat tonight?" she would laugh and reply jokingly: "Beans-on - something quick and simple - beans on toast, beans on a jacket spud." Who knew that years later, one of the characters in my first book would use this very expression?

Sometimes, just listening to strangers animatedly discuss a complaint or event may inspire a written dialogue, which then leads to greater things. A joke passed between friends can be the seed to a story plot or the expression on a stranger's face when they think nobody is looking, can make you wonder what deep sadness lies beneath.

The train journeys were long and suffocating but a rich source of information mixed with people's dreams and a few characters I'll never forget: -

"Side Show Bob" whose huge feet blocked the centre aisle and Linda fell over them one day.
"Captain Pike" who, when seated, looked remarkably like an old Star Trek character.
"Tourettes" who used to make us jump if we didn't realise he was standing behind us.

And - that strange university lecturer who intrigued and then disgusted us one day with his old tobacco tin, which he stroked lovingly throughout the journey. Then, when he opened it we saw it contained pieces of string with a paper clip at either end. The disgust came when he used one of them as dental floss!!!

I still cannot fathom why people do or say some things but, may it long continue because without weird and wonderful characters, life wouldn't be as entertaining. It was my great pleasure to enjoy a brief time each morning and evening travelling with Linda as my companion in mirth.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Interview with Author Peggy Kopman-Owens

Peggy Kopman-Owens, author of nine Paris-based mysteries, is published by Aventura eBooks Ltd, London, UK.
Hello, Peggy, thank you for answering a few questions for your readers.
Q. First, what is the title of your current work in progress? And especially for your fans, do you have a target date for completion?

“First, thank you for this opportunity to talk about my books. In addition to a seven-book mystery series, published in 2012 by Aventura eBooks, two new mysteries are finished and set for release spring 2013. They are: THE MIST OF MONTMARTRE, a dark romantic mystery, and PARIS, APARTMENT FOR RENT, a decidedly lighthearted mystery."
“Presently, I’m preparing (for ebook publication) plays co-authored with my husband, Michael Owens. Seven Short Stories for Stage is a collection of lighthearted whimsical plays; perhaps, called farce. One or two have been borrowed by actors for audition pieces, and some were performed at actors’ labs in California. However, to date, none has been produced in a commercial venue.”

Q. Who designs the art for your book covers?

“Roger Kopman designs all of my book covers. Roger’s travels around the world have inspired some wonderful photographs and artwork. He uses a camera to capture light in a way that great old master artists used paintbrushes. Truly, amazing. My publisher and agent were correct in showcasing Roger’s designs on the covers of my books. It has proved a brilliant marketing decision. Readers decide in less than 10 seconds, if a book cover justifies opening the book.”

“Paris and Fashion. Books and Art. What would one be without the other?
An empty stage waiting for the curtain to open … waiting for an audience.”

To view Roger Kopman’s gallery, visit:  
Gallery website

Q. Would you say that you are still experimenting with different styles of writing, or have you settled into a style, which feels uniquely suited to you?

“A reader called my style ‘musical,’ suggesting that my earlier mysteries were ‘staccato’ in style, exhibiting phrasing that was short and sweet, while describing my later work as ‘allegro,’ long and complex. I find that analogy quite flattering, because – unbeknownst to him - my family has a history of musicians for more than five generations. A great grandfather made and played violins. My father and mother were both musicians. So, I think ‘my style’ – however one chooses to describe it - is a natural result of genetic history and environment.”

Q. Which comes first to you, story or characters?

“Difficult to choose, but I would say – characters. I can imagine characters delivering dialogue, long before I settle upon the context of the story, or set a venue.”

Q. How do you approach character development?
“Like other writers, after that first emotional embrace of a character, I put together an intellectual assessment of him or her – a biographical outline of the character’s life. Where did he or she grow up? Schools? Etc. Then, I have a framework for understanding and describing the character’s worldview, and can anticipate how the character might react to a particular event in the storyline.”

Q. At what age did you decide writing would become your method of creative expression?

“My mother wrote short stories and music with lyrics. In addition to being musicians, my father and my mother were both avid readers, consuming two or three books a week. By the age of five or six, I realized that both music and books were important part of our lives. By the age of ten, I was experimenting with writing short stories. A Junior Journalist card from a newspaper association still sits on my desk as a souvenir of those early years.

Later, during my career in aviation, I moonlighted as a feature writer for an international aviation magazine, sending in my articles from various layovers around the world. However, the idea of creating something magical from a blank page, the way my mother could do, was still tugging at my mind and heart. Eventually, writing novels was the natural evolution of the desire to follow in her footsteps.”

Q. Outside of your family, who has been your greatest supporter in this endeavor?

“Sandy Fisher, my literary agent, has been incredible. Her offer to publish my nine Paris-based mysteries was an incredible leap of faith. When someone makes that generous an offer - to help a stranger fulfill a dream - it makes the recipient work even harder to become worthy of the gift.”

Q. What has been the biggest surprise about your success as a published author?
“It’s been a delightful surprise to learn readers continue to recommend my mysteries to friends via book clubs and social media, but I am equally humbled to become simply the topic of morning coffee. What an honor that is, to become the ending of a sentence that begins with, ‘Have you read Peggy’s latest…?’ ”

Q. If you had one piece of advice to share with someone starting his or her first novel, what would that be?
“I’ll share advice given to me – many years ago. Forgive me for not crediting the source. I do not know the author of this wonderful quote:

‘Nothing in life is as easy as you would like it to be – nor is it as difficult as others would have you believe.’ ”

Thank you, again, Denise. Best wishes on your continued success. I look forward to reading more of your best-sellers!

Peggy Kopman-Owens’ mysteries are available from publisher, Aventura eBooks Limited, London, UK.
Aventura eBookstore

Also - Amazon, WH Smith, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony eBooks.

Peggy also writes a blog for and entitled: “Mysteries for the Inspired Traveler”

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Visual Aids

One of the views from my garden
As well as keeping a storyboard, character profiles and general notes as part of my writing process, I also use visual aids.

Art, photos or just a picture from a magazine can inspire an idea for one of my characters or evoke an emotion that I wish to re-experience when I come to write a scene or dialogue.

The photo above was taken from my back garden last autumn. I remember it well, because it was a fresh, bright Saturday morning when I was too busy indoors with household chores and unloading the shopping. Then, through my kitchen window I saw the hot air balloon approaching from the distance.  I ran outside and watched as it flew nearer until I could hear its burner as it tried to ascend higher so as to avoid the church tower.

I was totally enthralled and like a kid again, waving at the people in its basket and grinning from ear to ear. It was one of those moments when routine is suddenly overtaken by a sense of magic and freedom. I like to look at it now and then just to remind me that whatever is happening within my life, it would look a whole lot better from above.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Magazine Feature

I had a wonderful birthday present yesterday: my first magazine feature...Click on the link below to read it. See page 36 of the Spring edition.

CLICK HERE -> Rochdale Style magazine 2013 Spring edition

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Story Structure - Hollywood style

Hollywood story lines
I came across a guide for a typical Hollywood movie structure a couple of years ago. It is designed to keep the film moving and viewer interested. At first glance, I thought little about it but then it came to me that it could be useful if adapted for a novel structure.

Personally, I think everyday life is far more bizarre that most Hollywood films, minus the special effects of course. Monsters exist, you only have to look at the news most days; mystery? well, a lot of things people do and say completely mystify me and as for aliens? I listen to people with weird perspectives and also the normal variety who are so normal it hurts and it's almost like they have been grown from an alien seedpod in a greenhouse somewhere and have just popped up. The planet I occupy and theirs is not quite the same.

So, anything that forces me, as a writer, to rethink and look again at story structures is another useful writing tool. The following are the bare bones:

1. Set time, space and setting
2. Something happens that refers to theme to show protagonists need for change or action
3. We now know who the hero is, what he wants, his plan to achieve it and the urgency and premise
4. Hero prepared to execute his plan, leading to the first turning point and his failure. His plan is pivoted unexpectedly
5. Hero tries a new way to achieve his goal and the plot moves forward through conflict
6. He fails again, but not as traumatically as his first turning point because the character is changing and adapting. Returning to his old life would be defeatist
7. The plot moves forward through conflict. He realises his plan failed again and he must move forward entering a strange new world / perspective to achieve his goal. This is the point of no return
8. Something gives moral support providing encouragement to move forward and strengthens character
9. Second turning point - hero will win or lose everything
10. Final climax, then resolution

Friday, 1 March 2013

A Life Before Books - Character Profiles

I've included a document I find very useful: a "character profile." It can be tailored in any way you wish.

All characters within a book had a life before they appeared on a printed page and although some of the detail on their profile may not be directly applicable to what they do within the book, their basic details and notable life events shaped their personalities, attitudes and ambitions.

At first, I used profiles to keep tag of basic details, because sometimes a character appears briefly and then has a greater part in a story later on. But, they help me when planning how all the characters interact and they serve a purpose that doesn't become apparent until a few have been completed.

I put flesh on their bones and find I'm able to get into their mindset, useful if I write a scene later and then become unsure of how a character would act - I look back at their profile and it's easier to get back into their mindset.

They can also prompt a twist or another dimension to a planned story plot. A random thought while completing details can lead to greater things. Sometimes I'm reminded of an irritating habit or a catchphrase used by an old acquaintance or loved one and that part of them adds a dimension to the character.

Do not underestimate the value of spending the time to become a profiler.

Character profile - writing tool