Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas magic

When I was a child I didn't go to see Santa at a store, he came to me. Every year I would wait patiently at my front gate and wait for him to appear. When it was nearly eight o'clock I could hear music drifting on the cold air and it was then I began to feel the magic of Christmas. The music and ringing of bells would grow louder as his brightly lit horse and cart travelled along nearby streets and then, I would hear his voice ring out as loudly as bells when he appeared at the end of our avenue. Of course his horse wore antlers but I never once questioned it. As a child it was a magical experience. I looked up in awe at his happy homely face and when we had eye contact it was as though Santa knew exactly who I was and where I lived. I would reach up for the sweets he scattered from his cart. Whenever I passed grotto's in stores I felt sorry for squirming kids in a long queue.

I'd forgotten about my Santa until last week but could still vividly recall the sense of magic he'd left behind. It was a moment of simple naivety, a suspension of reality. Being out in the open night air and waiting for it to happen was part of its enjoyment. One year I didn't go outside even though I could hear his music and bells. I'd been told he was some local guy who liked to do it for the kids but I regretted not going outside that night. I'd lost the magic and suddenly felt very grown-up. When I peaked around the curtain I just caught a glimpse of his cart as it turned a corner.

Becoming a writer helped to bring back that feeling of magic and it is difficult to relinquish it between books. Writers of children's books must get a lot of satisfaction from the magic they can conjure but I like to think we adults need it too. Fantasy, Science Fiction, even the conclusion of a good Crime Thriller all count as suspension of reality, a moment of magic. So... are you going to watch yet another repeat of some old Christmas program on TV or are you going to choose your own particular brand of magic then become immersed in a book or seek out that old black and white movie you used to love so much? I'm going to begin this week and... the added bonus for a writer is that I can retain that magic then use it in my own books.
Sometimes you have to look for the magic
 


 

 



 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Caught between rainbows

Recently I saw this double rainbow at the back of my home and it brought a touch of magic to my day. I took a photo so that I could tap into that magic whenever I wanted to. Today is cloudy, damp and windy so I looked at my photo then realized that it sums up my present situation.

double rainbow at the back of my home - Littleborough
Having worked extensively this year on revising my first two books for print then completing my third before I put it through numerous editing stages, I'm now torn between writing two very different books. One could be the follow-on from my third. One could be something in a different direction. I'm caught between my rainbows. Writing is like being caught within its beam and experiencing life through a different spectrum. Anyway... I will continue to look at my photo today and decide which rainbow I will step into.

For me, each book I write is a personal journey to somewhere just over the horizon. With each one I find a buried treasure but it is like finding a clue within it to the ultimate destination. Pushing oneself onto new ground and testing ones writing ability should be part of the course and for me, the journey is everything. I may have seen the last of the rainbows for this year as the weather turns increasingly grimmer but, what a great time of year to reflect and ensure that it ends with something new.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Thunderbolts

The last few weeks have been hectic but I'm finally coming to the end of my mammoth editing sessions. With only a couple of chapters left to go and the school half-term holidays a week away, I can look out at a beautiful Autumn morning, knowing I can soon take a breather.
 
What I can see from my garden today
A writer doesn't stop learning. The challenge is to continually improve ones craft. I was thinking about what I'd do when I've finished editing. After considerable thought, I knew I wouldn't be able to just stop writing, even for a break. I knew I was ready for something new last night. While watching TV, I found myself making hasty notes on a pad I keep at the side of my seat. I thought of a sentence, a short sentence, but instantly, I could visualise who would say it and when. I often wonder if a book can contain one pivotal sentence the author had in their heart when conceiving a story.  If so, then I found mine last night.


I reckon I have about 3 more days of editing to do, then.... am I the only person who has to get their house absolutely spick and span before a holiday? Physical work is a great way to focus the mind. Switching off from consciously thinking about writing, characters and story lines to focus on a task in hand, somehow brings out sudden ideas and inspirations. I would recommend it to any writer struggling to resolve an issue or who needs a thunderbolt idea.

With my first 3 books I had thunderbolt ideas, a bit like one of those dreams you can't forget upon waking. The ideas struck me suddenly and then, I was charged to get them onto paper. It is almost a tingling sensation and one I was never taught or experienced when studying literature or English language at school.  Perhaps, people from different professions feel the same way when they have found their vocations? 

And so... for now... back to a day of editing.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Word count

Autumn has arrived and as I watch leaves fall from trees I think how apt this time of year is to my recent workload.

Word count, the writer's battle
I've decided that 2014 is my "year of editing" because that is all I seem to have done. At one point I thought of Michaelangelo who said that David was already in the stone and all he'd done was chip-away until he found him. I also wondered how long I would have to look at my stone until I decided where to place my chisel.

Word count is a strange thing. Some publishers say: "If you reduce it then you'll lose the essence of the story." Others: "Keep it under 100k because anything over is too expensive."
So - it's like being trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. I've been chipping away and every tap of the delete key on my laptop has released a little more of my David.

I saw his face last week. My new book is precious to me and I only want to place a spotlight on it when I know I can remove the final fig leaf. My David is a departure from anything I've written before but he's taught me that I should release my dark side more often.

My son told me he'd started his Christmas list yesterday and I was shocked that it's only 13 weeks away. Time is also falling through my fingers. I know that when I've finally released David that there is another block of stone behind him. Perhaps 2015 will be his year?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Scarborough & Henry Poole

My week at Scarborough was full of surprises. Firstly, I was not expecting a heatwave at the end of August and secondly, I didn't realise the UK North Sea coast had such beautiful places.

Prior to my holiday I'd been looking forward to early morning walks along a deserted beach. I wasn't disappointed. The North Bay was stunning and I had to take a photo.
North Bay, Scarborough
Take a walk between North and South Bay. There are some great photo opportunities.
I also discovered Peasholm Park, nearby. I got talking to a local grandmother who was baby sitting for the day. She told me that in winter, when people rarely walk through, the park is magical under a layer of snow.
The bench where I sat as a golf-widow while my son and husband played shot-and-put
The view from my bench
The other side of Peasholm Park. You can sit at the lakeside and watch the dragon boats go by
Scarborough Castle
For history buffs there's Scarborough castle where you can watch a jousting match. Anne Bronte is buried in the graveyard leading up to it. You'll need strong walking boots for the walk afterwards!

Scarborough Castle
If you spend a few hours strolling along side-streets and their many gift shops you'll see great wall art.
Wall art in Scarborough
 
At night there are many restaurants and bars to choose from and afterwards take a leisurely stroll along the sea front or go mad with your tuppences at one of the amusement arcades. Or, you can be scared silly in the Terror Tower.
Speaking of terror -  there was an ornament in the luxury apartment I was staying in. I thought it odd that such a freaky and old-fashioned item would be positioned under the wall-mounted plasma. Its eyes followed me wherever I went.
The stuff nightmares are made of
I won't bore you with any more of my holiday snaps. I spent a day in Whitby, one of my favourite haunts but there are many places around Scarborough to visit such as Pickering and Filey. I may have been away for only one week but it felt a lot longer, a sure sign of a good holiday.

Relaxing at home with a glass of wine, I watched Henry Poole is Here. If you haven't seen this film then try to. It was a strange movie but one that leaves you thinking for ages afterwards. I'm glad I watched it on my return because it caught me at the right time, when I wasn't yet ready to face everyday routines.
Yes, this is correct. You would have to see the film to know why the picture is different from the film title.
And so, back to rewrites. I'm on my final run, then? Yes, I was inspired during my holiday. I have a new novel planned, its story and characters fleshed-out but I was hit by a lightning bolt. I've decided to take it into a very dark place and now that the nights are beginning to draw in for Autumn I can think of no better time to write it...

 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Packing

I have a friend who goes abroad so often that when she returns she launders her clothes then packs them again. Her suitcase is ready for the next trip. This morning I have to pack mine. In it are the usual things but I always manage to forget something then have to buy it. I should have made a list.

After months of rewrites I'll be able to unwind but for a writer that probably means something totally different than for most people. A new place, new people, new conversations are like opening a door to a new world and through it the writer steps - open to everything, absorbing it all and then cherry-picking what to take home. It will end up in a scene, dialogue, a character's appearance or just seeing a sign above a doorway can trigger an idea.

Most of all I'm looking forward to my early morning beach walks. Watching the world busily getting ready for a new day on shore, just being a short distance away but looking at it from the sea's perspective. I know I'll be immersed in new ideas and I can almost feel the sea breeze on my face (odd! as I'm writing, I just received a tweet from a Twitter-buddy @KimSea2shore about early morning beach walks - might see you then Kim!).

And, the beauty is that when I return I can put to good use all the wonderful memories and experiences.

A photo I took on a previous trip - it reminded me of something out of Star Wars


Friday, 15 August 2014

Lives under a microscope

It's been a strange week...

News of Robin Williams came as a shock. It was one of those bolts from the blue. I don't follow celebrity gossip or news much so I wasn't aware of the problems he'd suffered.

I was still in the throes of rewrites but had to take a break. As I clicked my electric kettle for tea, it came to me that all the small tasks we perform each day we take for granted. We go about our business, sometimes automatically. We think about what needs doing next, the following day or a holiday that will take us away from the thousands of small tasks we perform. At that moment, I felt the importance of small tasks. I don't often think 'in the moment.' I found myself saying:
"I can do this. I can make tea and then continue rewrites. Robin cannot."
Suddenly my day seemed to stretch out before me.

I felt extremely sad that someone had found their problems so intolerable that they'd become frozen within them then couldn't see any way out, except one. Over tea, I told my teen son:
"It must be terrible to have become so overcome that you resort to suicide.
He said:
"You'd have to be in a bad place to do it."
I agreed but he looked at me with a funny look on his face then said:
"What if, there wasn't any other way out?"
I wasn't sure what he meant.
"What if, the mafia were after you, their top hit-men. You knew that wherever you went they'd find you?"
I thought:
'Trust him to think along those lines.' I told him:
"In that case I'd have to try to get them first. At least I'd go out trying."
"What if, you had a disease and no cure. You knew that your natural end would be bad?"
"That would be a hard one. You'd have to decide while you were still able to do it yourself. You couldn't put that responsibility on someone else, not if you wanted to go peacefully."
"What if, you lost everything. Your relatives, husband, money, house, everything?"
"Then, I'd have to start again at Year Zero."
"What if, you lost yourself?"
That question I couldn't answer. It seemed ironic that my rewrites involved a Reverend who did exactly that.

Later this week I heard that Lauren Bacall had died, aged 89. She's one of those Hollywood icons who instantly brings to mind sultry beauty. She continued to look good in old age, not full of plastic. I couldn't help but think how she had lived to "a good age" as most people say. I couldn't help but make a comparison with Robin. 

Yes, it's been a strange week. I don't think I can ever watch a Robin Williams film in the same way again. I was reminded of Peter Sellers. I remember watching a film called Being There. Maybe, instead of watching one of the film tributes on telly, I'll watch that. It was a pity that Robin never made the remake.






 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Juggling

I have had two solid weeks of juggling work, writing, school summer holiday, booking a decent holiday and having work done to the house (still ongoing). I remember a time when one of these juggling balls wasn't part of the mix - writing. Now, its a daily activity and at weekends I've had my fingers unpeeled from my laptop by my family so that I can relax.

But, as a writer, how do you explain to someone that it isn't working, it's pure pleasure?  Now, don't get me wrong, there have been days and nights when it has felt like work but that is usually during the editing and rewriting phase. The majority of the time is like sitting on a beach with a good book.  It's the same experience of being able to sit quietly and immerse oneself in a story while everyone else is running around like headless chickens. The ultimate pleasure is that the book is whatever I want it to be. It becomes a personal challenge.

Juggling work, writing and life
I have more to do. The juggling continues and with it comes a great sense of satisfaction. Being so busy, I've had a boost of adrenalin, ideas are flowing. Good things are happening.

For all writers and readers out there, I hope you get chance to sit quietly this weekend. Juggling will begin again on Monday!




Friday, 11 July 2014

Selective hearing

Last Sunday the Tour de France took minutes to fly by the upper edge of my village Littleborough and by all accounts there were some 20,000 people who had passed through to line the hills and moorlands. In one weekend £1,000,000 entered the local economy.

On Monday, things were back to normal. Faces were a lot more tanned and with expressions usually seen when just returning from a holiday. I turned to my rewrites and was then tormented with one sentence, dialogue between my protagonist and a character who would sorely test him.

I'd written the sentence, the whole dialogue scene, last year and at that time it seemed right but when rereading I knew it wasn't. I'd written what I thought the protagonist would say in his circumstance but what I'd forgotten is that any dialogue needs two people. I asked myself questions:

"What does the other character want to hear and how do they interpret what's actually said? What would the protagonist say if they needed to step out of character thereby fooling his listener?"

I tried to write the sentence again and again but each time it didn't seem right so I walked away to clear my head. That evening, my husband and I watched TV and one of the characters said something I didn't interpret the same way as my husband. We used pause on Sky TV and rewound to replay it a couple of times before we both decided it would be better to watch what happened next to confirm what was meant. That one sentence gave a clue to a suspect. At that point my one sentence became even more important to me.

Do I want to deliberately mislead the reader OR does my protagonist want to mislead the listener? Where am I in what he says?

As a writer I know how my story should pan out, I've planned it, I can see the bigger picture. But, if I'm true to my protagonist then would he really do the things I, the puppet-master, would want him to do and would he say the words I think he should say? Interesting concepts...

I had to remove myself from the dialogue. This was the protagonist's story and the sentence had to be what he would say regardless of where he was in the storyline and how his words would be interpreted. I rewrote the sentence and this time it felt right.

And so I had deliberated for two days about one sentence out of thousands in my book. It seemed ironic because on Sunday the whole day revolved around a couple of minutes that whizzed by before we knew it. 






 

Friday, 4 July 2014

As the Tour de France passes by...

There's a lot of excitement this weekend in my local village Littleborough, beginning today in Hare Hill Park.
Rock le Parc, a concert featuring indie bands takes place this evening about five minutes from my home before the onslaught of two days of the Tour de France.

According to news and relentless surmising by everyone within a 5 mile radius, the weekends activities will mean a traffic gridlock or a 'people and bike only' zone due to numerous road closures and restrictions, none of which give too much away about what to actually expect - we will see!
Advice given has ranged from "make sure you do your weekly food on any other days," "leave your car at home," to "leave your house early if you want to be part of the crowd."

It will be interesting to actually see what happens and I hope it brings only good things to the area and not the disruption and chaos gossiped about. But, such is life in a small place.

For me, it will be a weekend of something different, a break in the norm and I could do with one, having just finished rewrites of my new book.
I'm feeling satisfied, ready for a change before I begin looking at my first two books with my publisher's future print plans in mind.

Sometimes we need something bigger than ourselves, a reason for people to come together and step outside everyday concerns, routines and perspectives. I for one intend to do so whether I'm into the whole cycling scene or not. Anything that brings sport, music and excuses for good charity events is a bonus and so I for one will be grasping the occasion.

I'll let you know how the weekend goes...

 
 


 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Halifax, Yorkshire - a walk into another world

After writing and then editing my new novel, I left it alone for a good while. Then, when I was ready to begin rewrites I took a trip to the place I had used for its story - Halifax, Yorkshire.

I began my journey at the closing scene in my second book 'Star Keeper.'  In it I had used my home town, Littleborough as the point of departure for my protagonist and it seemed fitting that I should repeat the journey she took. Without realising it she left a nightmare situation to then enter a new world of intrigue and mystery. I didn't have the storms and torrential rain she had travelled in but after one of the wettest winters on UK record, it wasn't difficult to imagine.
Littleborough train station where Star Keeper's protagonist made good her escape
When I alighted from a train I was back in the place that had so inspired me for my new book. I left the train station to take the same walk as my protagonist but I looked at what seemed like ordinary streets through her eyes.
Halifax, Yorkshire - an old Minster town. My protagonist from Star Keeper enters a new world of mystery and intrigue.


I then walked to the places that had inspired scenes for my book.
Piece Hall, Halifax - a scene for one of the chapters in my new book and now being renovated
By the time I had finished (too many places to list here) I was immersed in my story afresh. When I returned home, I was then able to re-read my manuscript through the eyes of not only a reader but the characters from my book.

Tactile connections, a simple walk, a journey, can re-open the creative flow and with it comes new perspectives. When I thought about how this would work for a writer of sci-fi, I realised that it is not so much about the physical structures as how those structures make the writer feel and then what the writer does with them.



 

 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Summer retreat

It's Friday morning and I've been working since 7am after a week of 12 hour days. Who says being a writer's life is easy? Writing a blog is my break this week.

I discovered recently that my first two books, Temptation and Star Keeper will go to print hopefully by the end of the year and I've been charged with taking a fresh look at them - no doubt there will be changes. I originally wrote Temptation in 2007 and Star Keeper in 2010 but then took a couple of years to rewrite and refine. A lot has happened since then and I felt my writing evolving. Before I attempt to look at them though I must finish rewrites on my third book.

And so I'm faced with a Friday of writing and when I look up from my laptop all I can see is a whole summer of rewrites. Now this may seem daunting for most folk but to me its doing something I live to do.  At least I have somewhere beautiful to write - my garden.

On top of all this I thought of another book and had to reluctantly push research notes and jottings to one side but every now and then I can't resist taking a peek at the many visuals pinned to them. It's like waiting for a Christmas present and I won't know exactly what will be in it until I begin to peel away my notes.

My garden






 

Friday, 30 May 2014

The car wash that could take a soul

In last week's post I talked about the day I found the perfect scene for a death. I was in the planning stage for my second book 'Star Keeper.' A few weeks later I found another, not so aesthetically pleasing but nevertheless unusual.

It was a Sunday morning. The previous night's rain had annoyingly deposited sand all over my car and I knew it would be one hell of a job to clean it off. The car wash was quiet and as I sat in the car, watching huge blue rollers spin in front of me, I had that Sunday feeling, the one when you have a whole luxurious day of doing nothing in particular in front of you.

I continued to gaze through the windscreen as the car slowly jostled along automated track but as blue rollers lowered and touched the glass a random thought struck me and then tormented me for the rest of the day.

What if a driver went into a car wash alive and well but when his car emerged on the other side he was dead? What could have happened in the few minutes in between?
The car wash where I thought of a death for Star Keeper
Sometimes, it isn't necessary to answer every question but allow the reader to be drawn into the scene and then pose the riddle. Once again, I had been presented with an ideal death scene and all that remained was to find the victim which didn't take me long to do. My characters each have a profile and destiny.

Such moments of inspiration always take me by surprise and what I relished with extra gusto that particular day was the recognition that one doesn't have to bust a gut or have long think-tank sessions in order to come up with ideas for plots or scenes. It was whenever I was distracted or thinking of everyday mundane concerns that my best ideas came to me.

I used to carry a notebook around with me but now I use my iPhone notes and photo aps. Once I'm in a quiet place I can expand ideas and I have photos to remind me of the inspirational moment. Who knows? I may end up with a scrap book full of them and what an eclectic mix it would be!




Thursday, 22 May 2014

A stunning place to die

In last week's post I described the moment I stumbled across Mephisto's grave in my local park. Later that day I had a death scene in mind as a focal point for my second book 'Star Keeper' (although at that stage it didn't yet have a title).

I needed somewhere for the scene to happen and I didn't have to wait long before I found it. A week later, sitting in the courtyard of Skipton Castle I suddenly visualized how the scene would pan out while sitting beneath a tree and looking up through dappled sunlight.

Conduit Court, Skipton Castle - inspiration for a death scene in Star Keeper
It was a glorious day and although I was reluctant to leave the castle I couldn't wait to jot down all the ideas that had come to me while there.
Skipton Castle
The sun was baking and my son desperate for a drink so before we left I took him to a small shop near the castle exit. While he was buying a drink I looked at a wooden bench outside at which a cardboard sign had been propped and it had the words: "grown in the grounds" roughly crayoned across it. Out of several pots I chose one that had a smaller sign describing it as an orange poppy and as it was only 75 pence I bought it as a memento of the day.

The poppy was planted in my garden 2 years ago and when it flowered I found it bore a beautiful almost carnation-like flower. Now, whenever it flowers, and it does profusely throughout late spring and summer, I think of Skipton Castle and its beautiful courtyard and I am instantly transported back there in my memory. Sometimes, one doesn't have to travel to wild and exotic places to find a beautiful moment.
My Skipton Castle orange poppies - a memory of an inspirational day

 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Stumbling across Mephisto's grave

I remember it quite clearly. I'd finished writing my first book and just had a strange experience which prompted an idea for my second. However, I needed something more - a direction for the story. I took a walk to clear my head.

Over the past 20 years plus, I must have passed through my local park countless times on my way to the library or using it as a pleasanter route to and from my home. That morning, I walked by something I'd never noticed before and it surprised me.

It was a small gravestone and someone had weeded around it and attempted to clean it up. I paused, stooped down to look, wondering what on earth a gravestone was doing in a park? The name 'Mephisto' gave me something to contemplate. He was as he was born 1891 and died 1893.


Mephisto's grave

Back home I did some research. Hare Hill House, a part of Hare Hill park, was once owned by the Newall family in the 1800's. Mephisto was a pet monkey and legend has it that the monkey escaped, climbed up to the roof and then fell to an untimely death. It was such an odd story and odd little grave that it stayed with me and it was later that evening that I decided I too would have a character whose devious actions would lead to a fatal fall from a roof.

And so, in 'Star Keeper', my second book, there is a character named Mephisto who is not all that he seems but he is not the one to fall. Now, every time I walk along the park path, I pause briefly to glance at the grave. I wonder how many other things I have walked by each day and not seen?  I wonder how many other ideas for story direction are out there?
Hare Hill House, where Mephisto fell from its roof



Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Novel Endings

I finally got to the end of Dickens 'Little Dorrit 'and whereas I prefer to close a book with a deeply satisfied sigh, I was left wanting. All the nice little parcels of conclusion were not fully tied with ribbons of closure, which was a first for a Dickens novel. I still had a bad taste of painfully-true seedy characterisation in my mouth and the good guy had to suffer the idiots around him way beyond what I expected.

Its been a week for deep thinking. First I had 'The Tree of Life' to twist my noggin and then as a complete contrast I watched 'Dinner with Schmucks.' At one point I cried with laughter once I'd gotten through all the slapstick and into the zany meal scene, one even Monty Python would have been proud of. But, again I had a bitter taste in my mouth having balked at the premise of a meal to which idiots were invited and then ridiculed under the banner of 'unusually talented.'

My next viewing choice then took me to Britain's Got Talent and I at first thought how the only thing in common with the previous film was David Walliams before realising there was more to it than that. The audience bayed for the idiots who arrived on stage convinced of a serious talent or so caught in ego that everything they did was rose-coloured.

So - endings? Do I really want my reading novels tied up with neat little bows? Do I want to share my dinner table with highbrow, like-minded people? Do I want the shining talent to always win? Truthfully - no.

Little Dorrit couldn't have ended with the complete satisfaction of A Christmas Carol. Dinner with Schmucks? - who were the Schmucks exactly? And, BGT? - without idiots it would be boring. I concluded that I had worked myself into a rut lately and it was time I mixed things up a little.

I was taught to think of Easter as an ending followed by a new meaningful beginning and with Spring now rapidly running away from me then it is time that I too had a new beginning. You may notice a few changes to my website and social media outlets during the next few weeks.
Easter 2014, so what's next?


Friday, 11 April 2014

Beware of Writer's Rules

Every few weeks I come across a fresh list of writer's rules published in a periodical or on the Internet. I always read them and then find I'm questioning what I do and how I do it, maybe not such a bad thing but definitely not good when I'm in the middle of writing a chapter.

However, there are other considerations and so I decided to pen my own rules with tongue in cheek.

1.  Moving ones butt - writing is bad for physical health and although I have heard of authors who stand up when writing it is always better to encourage endorphin production through some good old-fashioned regular exercise, plus it helps the thinking process.

2. Watch for a drinking problem - no I don't mean alcohol! Tea and coffee can become a vital part of the writing process and you'll know you have a problem when you are awash with caffeine or somebody asks you if you've been using shampoo with tea extract in it.

3. Try to look interested when a new acquaintance tells you that they always meant to write - becoming a writer means that suddenly everyone you know or meet has that "one novel" in them.

4. Be more self-aware - during conversations it is easy to stare into aimlessly into space whenever a new idea takes hold. It is also disconcerting when you are very attentive and suddenly start watching the other person's every move because they have something you can use.

5. You are expected to say something interesting - part of the territory.

6. Sleep - When you are on a roll, it is difficult to settle down and if you are not on a roll then your mind wanders.

7. Posture - slumped in your favourite comfy chair or over a laptop plays havoc with your back. Sit up and don't play balancing acts.

8. Wondering back to your favourite place - it's easy to say to yourself: "I can write without constraint when I sit here." Get out of your comfort zone.

9. Do word counts and chapter lengths really matter? Don't become OCD about them. Write and then pick up on them during rewrites.

10. Beware of writer's rules - If you want to write according to someone else's formula then join a class. Rules are there to be broken!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

When the fog lifts

This is the second day of highly polluted fog over the UK and as I gaze out from my balcony at the murkiness below just one thought comes into my mind. It is a thought I once had and was reminded of this week.

The fog from my balcony this morning
'Silk', a UK legal drama ended this week. It does not have the tongue-in-cheek humour or quirkiness of the US 'Suits' or 'The Good Wife', it has a heady reality and its protagonist Martha Costello kept me enthralled for all 3 series. She is a strong Northern woman with the heart of a lion and the temerity of a champion for the underdog and it ended quite unexpectedly. Her colleagues continued their chosen path, one slowly drowned it in drink and another reluctant to let go of the only path he ever knew, but Martha? She woke up.

There comes a point in real life when the whirlwind of a high-pressure career is blown away by something quite unexpected. All the relentless striving, effort, sacrifice in the pursuit of personal satisfaction or doing 'what's right' is swallowed by the politics of the workplace or that once-loved whirlwind becomes a treadmill and your feet so used to walking, it was never noticed. For those without the reward of self-satisfaction or stuck in a job out of necessity then the treadmill was always there and difficult not to notice but, with a whirlwind or not, the sudden monotonous whine of the treadmill awakens a part of you that has slept in ignorance.

"Is this me?"
"Is this all that I am?"

This epiphany, this absolute conviction that you have missed something along the way is difficult to live with if you do not pay heed.

Looking out into the fog, covering the farmland, distant hills and tree tops I usually see from my balcony, I remembered the expression on Martha's face when she awoke to her epiphany, her absolute conviction. It was the same expression I once saw on my face when I turned off my work laptop at the office and caught a glimpse of it in the black lifeless screen. It was the same expression I saw on Sam Tyler's face at the end of 'Life on Mars' (UK series).

How many of you said as a child: "I want to be....a fireman / ballerina/ pop-star / artist / daredevil stunt-driver.... "?
How many of you did it? If so, then congratulations - was it really all you ever wanted it to be?
How many of you put away your childish things and dreams?

Fog can be cold, damp and cheerless or a muffler, a cosy blanket to disguise what is really there - I do hope it lifts soon.

Friday, 28 March 2014

My Field of Dreams

When I was a kid, magic and wonder in books was mainly to be found in the Narnia series or The Hobbit. Romance was provided by Jane Austin, Du Maurier or Victoria Holt and Cartland for those who sneaked such frowned-upon books into our school. Conan Doyle and Christie provided intrigue, Lois Stevenson - adventure, Bram Stoker and Shelley - horror.

As I grew older, I discovered a wider world and eagerly worked my way through more modern avenues but at my core, those first literary tastes had shaped my palette. I knew what I liked. Now, the choice is so overwhelming that I often struggle to find something to spark my imagination. I've been bombarded consistently with so much that the magic wore off, romance faded, intrigue dampened, I'd already lived enough adventure in my life and horror? - often gratuitous and repetitive. I found myself reverting back to the authors I used to read. To my surprise, since becoming a writer, I now see patterns, hear the author's inner voice in places I hadn't recognised previously.

But, how I now long to be so lost in a story that I do not see or hear anything behind the tale! Those first heady words that draw me in and keep me there agog just as the first page of Catcher in the Rye did or Zen and the Art... Is there anything new or has it all been persistently re-invented over the years? I read something and I'm reminded of something else. I also now switch off TV programmes for the same reason - long, drawn-out stories that should have ended long ago.

Despite the parade of the "next best thing" I'm still looking for that one unique Voice that will change standards and possibly life as I perceive it. The Voice that doesn't have to shout to be heard or use a string of profanities to make a point. I want a protagonist I can admire, hate, fall in love with and see all doubting Thomas's get their comeuppance. I want to cheer and rage, be lost in the character's psyche, to feel what they do and see through their eyes as well as be the observer from my lofty advantage point.

It is a kind of high perhaps, so long dependent on street-peddled goods that I want to experience the good stuff anew, that one supreme high. As a writer, I can only dream of being able to do it myself but as a reader, a viewer, then I look for it constantly out of the corner of my eye.
Welcome to my field of dreams

Friday, 21 March 2014

Finding a TV gem

I watched the first of a new series on Sky Arts last night, Michael Parkinson's Masterclass. He interviewed the comedian/actor/epic marathon runner (and future candidate for Mayor of London!) Eddie Izzard. I love Eddie's surreal humour and relaxed ability to just go with the flow when performing stand-up but I'm equally impressed with his proficient acting ability, e.g. a serial killer in Hannibal.

By the end of the interview I'd found a new respect for Eddie's work ethic - doing what he wanted to do as opposed to what was expected of him, persistence in the face of adversity, consistent attention to detail and constantly facing his fears. I am sure all performers have to keep reminding themselves of these ethics but they equally apply to writers too.

Eddie also pointed out that he had years of epic failures as a street performer and stand-up comedian before he began to use what he learnt from those failures. Again, a similarity to writers. In this instant-gratification society it was good to hear that being true to ones own self still means something. He was keen to point out that success can disappear overnight and that is where the attention to detail comes in.

What struck me most was how he couldn't explain a deep-rooted thought that if he achieved enough then somehow it would bring his mother back. She died of cancer when he was 6. He was sure that all people who lost a parent early or had a dysfunctional or unloving parent, must have a profound sense of loss in their lives and that is why they strive so much.

Good TV promotes good conversation and after the interview I was able to discuss it with family. Afterwards, I continued to think about Eddie's unexplainable thought and asked myself who did I write for? There is a point during the writing process when it is difficult to re-emerge from its characters and plot. Writing suddenly takes a firm hold and when deep in its clutches there must be that subconscious voice speaking through the words. Is it speaking to a definite someone or is it speaking to an inner lost person or who could have travelled a very different path if given no boundaries?

I reckon its like peeling an onion and after many years of deep and meaningful conversations I formed the general opinion that it isn't necessary to know every single thing about ourselves, what makes us tick or why we do things. People have made fortunes within these fields and perhaps we are missing the point somehow.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and will look forward to the next - Dynamo the magician, a contemporary master of illusion from a humble background. Who can forget him walking across the Thames? I'm pleased to have found a gem on TV.
My personal favourites are Darth Vader at the Battlestar Canteen & the banana/monkey sign language!!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Little D

Breaking with my usual mould, I thought I would write about the struggle I had since last October trying to read a book - Dickens 'Little Dorrit'. I adore Dickens' novels and was expecting to soon become lost in the intricacies of overlapping plots and a myriad of characters brought easily to life by vivid descriptions of physical traits and habits.

Yes, it was partly due to me! I kept putting the book down and wandering away, grumbling because I wasn't about to allow the last Dickens book on my reading list defeat me. I forced myself to continue reading with an almost Captain Ahab stubbornness but something must have happened to change my perspective since becoming an author myself.

And yes, there was that damn song, the one I loved so much - Jamiroquai's 'Little L,' which I couldn't help but hear in my head every time I sat down  to read. I had begun to have the same sentiment towards Little Dorrit; I 'Loved' it' with a little L.

I was swamped with long rambling descriptions, too many characters and I had to backtrack to keep up with who was who. During this time I had one pervading thought:
"If Little Dorrit was submitted to a publisher today would it be accepted for publishing?"
My answer was:
"No."
It stuck me particularly during the first chapter - publishers want to be swept away!

Gone are the days when a serialised novel is then hungrily devoured by readers who relish satirical comment about society, absurd social graces and wrongs forced upon its members. No doubt, Dickens was a game-changer but would it wash today? We have become a cynical public. Publishers would reject and say:
"Not commercial enough"
"Narrative too wordy"
"Who is it aimed at as I cannot see a clearly defined genre?"
It would have become lost in the quagmire.

I pushed myself to read on and when I arrived at page 200 (out of 778) I suddenly found myself mesmerised and found that small nugget of self-comfort, the warmth of being lost in a story. It was only then did I admire the mastery of describing human nature and presenting it so eloquently and without apology. Greed is the theme and how easily people get carried away with themselves.

And so, I am now just over half way through the book and find that I am looking forward to sitting down to read. Ahab has been replaced by Gollum, so precious has my reading time become that I ignore complaints by family when they roar: "put that damn book down and join us!"

Now... the big question is....Would I have done the same for any other author?
Ahab and Little Dorrit





Friday, 28 February 2014

Space to think

Ideas for a novel suddenly present themselves at times I least expect to think of anything except the immediate task - sitting in a theatre or church pew, taking a stroll through a park on chilly day or climbing the spiral stone steps of an ancient castle. Sometimes, just sitting having a cuppa on a hazy, sunny afternoon invites inspiration.

Armed with a laptop and iPad, painfully writing out chapters by hand is not an option. I can write anywhere and have been blessed with the ability to completely switch-off from all distraction and focus completely on what I am doing. I take my equipment to outside benches, parks, cafes and pubs and when I do not have anything with me then I rely on a small handheld notebook to hold those sudden bursts of inspiration and my iPhone for visuals.

But, it all goes back to the single idea that forms out of the ether, moves me strongly and then lodges itself firmly within my brain. I can remember where I was and what I was doing when it happened for each of my novels - the local church for 'Temptation,' in front of a PC screen taking a virtual tour of a street I used to frequent for 'Star Keeper' and ascending the slippery cobbled streets of Halifax, Yorkshire for 'Crushed' which will be published later this year.

As that initial idea takes shape and is added to, it is easy to allow it to run away or become stifled by too busy a plot or too many characters. If I reach the point where I need it all to make sense again then I have one favourite place to sit and ponder it.

Where I find perspective
Exposed but yet private, I sit above everyday concerns and can watch cars speed through the streets of the town below, look up and see birds form arrows beneath the clouds and all suburban noises are distant and muffled by the sound of rustling leaves around me. Everything slots into place and so do my thoughts.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Finding a diamond amongst the rough

One of my favourite past times is looking for a book that will capture my attention and I usually find it when enjoying a morning stroll through a market or while perusing the overloaded shelves of some backwater store where the owner is not overly fussy about display or the order of genre.

I found an interesting bookstall in a market just over the Lancashire/Yorkshire border at Todmorden and whenever I visit I find myself drawn to many rare and unusual titles from a wide range of areas, mostly non-fiction.

I paid a visit on Thursday and I found the owner blinking against spitting icy rain and a bitter wind but as usual she still had a friendly smile and was only too happy to discuss her range of books.

As a moderator for Needful Books (an increasingly popular Google Community for readers, reviewers, authors and publishers as well as artists and photographers) I have the privilege of seeing photos of wonderful old book stores posted by members from across the globe. My own small contribution this week is a snapshot of the market stall owned by Wigan Lane Books and I have chosen it simply because I always feel a ripple of warm curiosity whenever I visit it. Sometimes, a rustic location or artistic photo is not necessary to convey the simple pleasure of running ones fingers across book covers and then being able to stop at the one that calls out to be opened. I have found some of my most interesting reads this way and often on subjects I wouldn't normally opt for.

I was pleased to hear from the market stall owner that she has a new online store too and so I would highly recommend it to any readers who have far-ranging tastes and interests.

Wigan Lane Books Online

Wigan Lane Books market stall at Todmorden

Friday, 14 February 2014

My Bloody Valentine

I've always been conflicted about cut flowers, preferring to see them in their natural environment, alive and able to resurface year after year. A bunch is nice now and again but there's something slightly off about seeing beauty slowly fade and shrivel in a vase.

Around 15 years ago I decided to celebrate Valentines Day with a gourmet-style home-cooked meal, complete with wine and candles. We had suffered a few years of indignity at local restaurants who seemed to think that a special valentines meal consisted of a giant strawberry on a grilled steak or a plastic rose handed out as you walked in (and of course, the meals are always slightly more expensive than the norm!). Then, there's the dessert trolley, boasting names that would look apt in any Ann Summers catalogue!

On the first occasion we decided that Valentines is much better at home, I ran out at lunch time to find a semi-romantic film for us to watch after our meal. I didn't want anything too slushy and as I was extremely short of time, I ran into HMV and grabbed 'Red Rose' thinking "what an apt name for a film on Valentines Day."

Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be a ghost/horror by Stephen King but nevertheless it was very good and so began our Valentine tradition.

Tonight we have 'Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter' and now that I think about it I've realised that our valentine tradition has become increasingly bloodier over the years. That may be a reflection of 20 years of marriage!
My Bloody Valentine

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Publishing Pecking Order

Trying to get a book published is like that old 60s sketch "Class" with John Cleese and Co; there's a pecking order but first, you must get yourself a pedestal....



The various parties involved can use a tyre pump to inflate their pedestal at any one time during the proceedings. When first starting out, it goes something like this: -
Publishing Pecking Order
 
Sometimes the book will act as the type pump and then, who knows how high the pedestals will soar?

A lot of writers have chosen not to have a pedestal and therefore remove themselves from the pecking order. These writers prefer a mobile pedestal and try to do wheelies in and out of the pedestals shadows. Very occasionally they can jump over a pedestal.

Before you sit on a pedestal there is just one very important fact that can easily become overlooked if you decide to enter the pecking order or apply wheels to your pedestal - the book drives or inflates it and it can therefore inflate or deflate other pedestals.


Friday, 31 January 2014

Blushing facades

During the 80s my friend's sister was a stunning figure who could turn heads. She looked like she had stepped out of a magazine; slim, long blond hair and heels that could be used as a weapon if so desired.

Then, one day I called around and she was hanging washing in the back garden. She had her back towards me and I saw her long blond hair blown in the breeze but when she turned around I was speechless. It was one of those awkward moments when you don't know what to say. Her eyebrows and other features were bare, totally devoid of cosmetics and I didn't recognise the face I was looking at except for the baby-blue eyes staring back at me. Her features had disappeared, a pale blank canvas surrounded by pale hair. She would have given the villains from 'Matrix Reloaded' a run for their money.

That summer, we didn't see much of my friend's sister; she had a boyfriend and I used to think would he ever see her without her slap. He didn't last long but she dumped him and I found her one day in a flood of tears.

"Why me?" she sobbed and I was immediately transported into a world where even the beautiful people have troubles.
"What's happened?" I asked, once again totally mesmerised by a totally white and featureless face.
"I went to his house last night..."
It was a while before she could resume, then...
"It was all romantic, the way it's supposed to be. Wine, music, soft candlelight and then, he said he would slip into something more comfortable."
There was silence for a moment and she released a huge sigh.
"I was thinking: 'surely that should have been my line' when he was suddenly in the doorway and I screamed."
I dreaded what she would say next, thinking that the police may have to hear this.
"What did he do?" I asked, hesitantly.
"He didn't do anything," she groaned, "he just stood there, dressed in a red silk basque with fishnet stockings."
"So what on earth did you do?"
Once again, she had surprised me.
"I fled, knocking him out of the doorway."
"You did right! But, didn't you ask him why he dressed like that?"
She shot me a look.
"No I did not! And, now all I can see when I close my eyes are the thick curly hairs sticking out of his fishnets!"
She then looked at me with watery blue eyes that would look better on a baby seal and I smiled.
"Well, for whatever reason he dressed like that you're better off without a bloke who would dip in and out of your wardrobe for the rest of your life."
And then we both laughed through tears of a different kind.

Years later, she saw him again. She was temping in an office and guess who the boss was? Suited and booted, the very picture of respectability. She lasted one day.

It is very rare I meet someone without a facade of one kind or another, maybe not as drastic as the two I've told you about but nevertheless, a cover to enhance or hide. Perhaps they need it so that they can be more than they are or believe it will take them to exciting places. I wonder if in this case, one facade misread the other?







Friday, 24 January 2014

Walking into the past

There is a long road I used to look forward to walking along many years ago. During the day, overhanging tree branches brushed against the top of my head and on a sunny day, shafts of light would dance through the leaves to sprinkle warmth across my face. It was a very pleasant walk and I associated it with "coming home." But, during the evening it was a totally different road.

Once, a delivery van came hurtling along and just skirted the curb. Its rear doors sprang open and I was pelted with bread buns. In a second the pavement was littered with muffins and rolls, most of which shattered into crumbs upon impact. I was grateful no one was around to see it. The van didn't stop.

On another occasion, two men passed me pulling a trolley on which a new washing machine was precariously balanced. The police caught up with them at the end of the road. The men had walked into a store, held a knife to an employee's throat and demanded that the machine on sale from the front window was loaded onto their trolley. They then marched away with their loaded trolley. How on earth they expected to get very far is beyond me!

Then, there was the bus shelter, open on two sides to the elements. It was a popular haunt for one amorous couple who consummated their relationship sprawled across its bench after visiting the local pub. Quite often, two or three people would be standing in a queue around them, supposedly waiting for a bus!

It was the road I first crossed when I started a new school in a new town and I first cycled along. It was the road where I waited for a bus to take me to college. It was the road I walked along to get to my first job and it was the road I walked above while hand-in-hand with my first love. It is the road I sometimes think of on days like these. I now live far away, with different roads but none conjure up vibrant memories. I drive along them, taking only fleeting notice as I drive by.

As a writer, it is vital that I feel connected to my environment. By walking I can notice small details otherwise missed from a car window and I can use my senses to experience what is around me, feel the sunlight or drops of rain on my skin and with this experience often comes a surge of new ideas.

I see the new year ahead as a new road stretching before me and I do not know what it will bring until I read its end. As I grow older, the road seems increasingly important and I pause more to enjoy its moments.

I think I'll take a journey today and take a look at that old road. It's not raining but I'll wrap up...