Friday, 31 October 2014

A haunting we will go

What will you be doing for Hallowe'en? Personally, I'll be spending the evening as I always do, with my family, and remembering loved ones who are no longer with us. That's what Hallowe'en means to me. If the veil between the dead and the living is thinner at this time, then what better way to re-connect?

For most people, though, Hallowe'en is about scares and witches and long-legged ghoulies. Children dress up in fancy dress (okay, quite a lot of grown ups dress up too) and pounce at doorbells for sweeties to add to their trick or treat buckets. It's a great way to bring people together.

Just in case you're not heading out on a confectionery rampage though, I thought I'd offer up some suggestions for Hallowe'en reading and viewing.

Scary Books

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - not a light read by any means but incredibly atmospheric and masterly writing with a constant sense of doom.

2. Haunted by James Herbert - plenty of ghosts, betrayal and scares in this one. It was also made into a film which kept reasonably to the book.

3. Cabal by Clive Barker - a story of otherworlders who see us as the terrors. Again, this was made into a film, although it was never as good as the read.

4. Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub - this was a follow up novel to the jointly written The Talisman, but works as a stand alone read. Murders, monsters and abducted children.

5. It by Stephen King - this had me frightened to look in my fridge for a long time. You'll have to read it to find out why.

Films to watch from behind the couch

1. Evil Dead - I saw this when I was sixteen years old with my then boyfriend (a couple of years older than me) and it reduced me to a quivering wreck, mainly because of the relentless horror with very few breaks for humour or breath. I still don't like cellars.

2. The Exorcist - I saw this one on a first date at a late night Hallowe'en showing. Never saw that guy again.

3. An American Werewolf in London - Again, saw this when I was sixteen or seventeen with then boyfriend. Loved the gruesome transformations, the rotting friend and the Yorkshire tavern at the beginning. Boyfriend wouldn't put his car away in the dark garage that evening.

4. Salem's Lot - Watched this at a friend's house when I was at secondary school. She lived in a tiny village with only one lamp-post. Just as we were settling down to sleep, lights off, we heard a tapping at the window. This was a first floor bedroom and visions of a floating vampire boy of course jumped into our heads. I made my friend go and check. Thankfully, it was only her cat wanting to come in. Phew.

5. The Cabin in the Woods - A more recent horror film. I don't watch much horror nowadays but my husband persuaded me to see this one. Written by Joss Whedon, it probably features every aspect of horror you can imagine and then gives it a Whedon twist.

So there you have it - scares aplenty. However you spend tonight, have a wonderful time.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

Writing can be a lonely business so I was very interested to find out about the latest Writers & Artists video series, 'Write With'. It kicks off with writer, Cesca Major as she begins the second novel in her current series.

'Write With' Cesca Major - Week 1

Monday, 27 October 2014

What have I learned from writing my first novel?

My first children's fantasy novel - Haven: Shadowbinder - is languishing in a drawer (well, actually a folder on my laptop) for a little while and the plan for the follow-up novel (the second in a trilogy) is well on the way, so I thought I'd take a creative breather and look back over how I managed to write my first novel, the challenges and the lessons learned. Here's what I discovered.

The first draft is always going to be rubbish. Think of it as creative brain discharge, a bit gooey, sparse in patches, difficult to see through in others. It doesn't have to be your best, yet. Just get the words out. Throw it all down on the page and then see what you have.

Perseverance is key. There will be days when you doubt yourself, doubt your story, or feel ill. Characters will refuse to talk to you. Plot twists will start to unfurl. It's ok. It's all part of the evolution of your novel. Don't be disheartened. Every writer goes through this so you're in good company.

Make a plan but be flexible. I'm a planner. I set up a chapter plan which I try to follow but I'm happy to throw that plan into disarray if it serves the story I'm writing. The initial first chapter in my novel is now the second. The initial second chapter is now chapter seven. The end of my novel has radically changed (not in the final result but in how I present the aftermath). Your original plan is a brilliant guide for your first draft but after that it can all be changed if it would serve the story to do so.

Sometimes, you need a break. There will be occasions when the words do not flow, when you just can't see your way past an event in your story, when you even have to back track and take a different turn. That's fine. If approaching your novel head-on isn't working, come at it from a different angle. Work on your chapter plan. Do some research. Jump ahead a chapter. Go for a walk/have a bath/have a nap and let the ideas swish around in your brain for a while. Don't make it into a battle when it should be a dance.

A second pair of trusted eyes is a gift. I'm not talking about drastic plastic surgery here. Having a friend, relative or in my case, husband, who is willing to read your work and throw ideas around with you is a wonderful gift to a writer. A recent conversation with my 12 year old daughter over lunch showed me how to move on in my chapter plan (I mean, what do mermaids really want?) and my husband has a way of inspiring my writing and me when I've looked at my novel for so long that I'm blind to it. Make sure these other eyes are trustworthy though, someone who has your best interests at heart.

Constructive criticism is incredibly useful, if a tad painful at times. My husband is my main critiquer (is that a word?). He often throws my mind and my novel into turmoil with his suggestions and comments, but he's usually right to question certain parts of my writing. He makes me think. His comments enable me to look at the novel differently. He refuses to let me be lazy. He also makes me stand up for my novel, defend the parts that I believe don't need to be changed and have faith in myself as a writer.

Get to know your characters but you don't have to trawl through their dirty washing. Now, this is very personal to me. I know that everyone forms their characters in different ways. Some people set up intricate grids that include questions like eye colour, job, attitude to mother, and so on. Personally, this doesn't work for me. I'm not a detail person so maybe that's why. Creating a grid of characteristics leaves me cold. It doesn't give me a feel for each character. Instead, I put the characters in a situation and let their personalities unfold with their actions. Their choices and their pattern of speech inform me who they are. As they tell me things about themselves, I keep a note. Equally, I haven't described all of my characters' physical appearance. We know Blessing is 11 years old and has long hair, for instance, but it doesn't matter whether her eyes are blue or  brown, whether she is tall or short, or any other physical detail. I only include that detail if it serves the character and the story. You'll find no description of my main character, Steve in my first novel, other than that he's 14 years old. That's all we need to know because we see the story through his eyes. Don't over think your characters. Let them tell you who they are.

Believe in yourself. At the end of the day, even those trusted people and critics can't do this for you. You have to see the merit in your writing and in you as a writer. There have been occasions when I've thought, 'Is this any good? Am I any good as a writer?'. It happens to all creatives. Self doubt is part of the package and this is when my second point comes into play - perseverance. Keep at it. Work your way through the doubt, even if it feels like you're just plodding along for the sake of it. It's like that thing they say about how if you act happy, you'll eventually feel happy. It may be fooling yourself to begin with but soon enough it goes beyond that and you actually are happy, and writing well. There are plenty of nay-sayers out there already. Don't buy into their negativity. Believe that you can do it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

Perseverance. That's what it takes to be a writer. You keep on finding the ideas, pushing them into a write-able shape. You work at the first draft until it's finished. You take out the red pen and push through the re-write, then you keep on polishing and honing until you have a book that you're happy to submit. Phew - I'm exhausted writing about all that perseverance.

In his article, Writing Is Worth It, Simon P Clark writes about this issue from his point of view. It's well worth a read of this post on the Writers & Artists website. Have a look.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

It's that time of year again, when writers all over the planet dive into the challenge of writing 50,000 words in only a month (November, to be exact). This year, I'm taking part as a way to kickstart my next novel. That leaves me a couple of weeks to finish my initial chapter plan which is already well on the way to being complete.

I've never actually made the 50,000 words. I think, 25,000 was the most I managed one year. This time round though, I have the added motivation of working on the second novel in my trilogy. I'm itching to get started.

If you want to be my writing buddy on the NaNoWriMo website this year, or just want to follow my progress, you can find my NaNo profile here.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

With my first novel finished, taking the next step (seeking an agent) is a scary prospect. I haven't even considered said agent acquiring a publishing deal but of course that is the ultimate intention.

In Getting a Book Contract is Hard Work (But You Can Do It), Jeff Goins interviews Chad Allen, editorial director for Baker Books on just this subject. The interview is in both podcast form and transcribed text. Well worth a read/listen.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Photo Inspiration for October

On the way back to the car after a family walk, I came across this signpost and it struck me how the name of the street, 'Paradise' didn't really match with firstly, the condition of the signpost and secondly, its location in an area of city terrace houses.

Even though I'm not a Christian, for me the idea of Paradise still links to the original, biblical idea (ideal?) of a beautiful garden, not a built-up row of red brick dwellings with tiny amounts of outside space. How could this be Paradise?

Perhaps, the mistake is in my thinking. Perhaps, each of us has a different idea of Paradise:

  • a break from the children and some adult conversation,
  • freshly laid, untouched snow,
  • or the buzz of the city.

Where could you find an unexpected Paradise?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

In my children's novel, Steve Haven plods along (miserably). He thinks he knows what to expect in the life that has been plotted out for him. It isn't until all of that certainty is thrown into disarray that his real life begins

In The Inciting Event, Janice Hardy discusses just such a point in plotting your novel. She says, "The inciting event is the moment when things change for the protagonist and she's [he's] drawn into the main problem of the novel, or problems that will eventually lead to that core conflict". Have a look. It's well worth a read.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

National Poetry Day #thinkofapoem

Have you heard of National Poetry Day? If not, here's the explanation of what it's all about:

"National Poetry Day is the nation's biggest celebration of poetry. Everyone is joining in, releasing poetry into the streets, squares, supermarkets, parks, train stations, bus-stops and post-boxes. We know of poetry police, poetry funeral directors, poetry ambulances. Add yourselves to the ever-growing list by tying verse on trees, to make a poet tree. Or stick it in your window for the world to see. This year's theme is Remember, so if you remember a poem, however short, pass it on with a hashtag #thinkofapoem."

You can find this explanation and more details on the Forward Arts Foundation website.

This week also sees my late father's birthday so the theme of 'remember' seems very appropriate. My father was a well read man, a lover of theatre and a great fan of Robbie Burns so the poem that I remember and share today is 'To a Mouse'. My father would quote parts of this poem to me as a child and the term 'Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie' has stayed with me to this day.

So here it is, my poem for National Poetry Day and for Charlie, Robbie Burns' To a Mouse.

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie, 
O, what a panic's in thy breastie! 
Thou need na start awa sae hasty, 
Wi' bickering brattle! 
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, 
Wi' murd'ring pattle! 
I'm truly sorry man's dominion, 
Has broken nature's social union, 
An' justifies that ill opinion, 
Which makes thee startle 
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, 
An' fellow-mortal! 

 I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve; 
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! 
A daimen icker in a thrave 
 'S a sma' request; 
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave, 
An' never miss't! 

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin! 
 It's silly wa's the win's are strewin! 
An' naething, now, to big a new ane, 
O' foggage green! 
An' bleak December's winds ensuin, 
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste, 
An' weary winter comin fast, 
An' cozie here, beneath the blast, 
Thou thought to dwell - 
Till crash! the cruel coulter past 
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Whoops Wednesday Words

Firstly, apologies for the delay in posting what was supposed to be a  Tuesday Choice Words article. A hospital appointment distracted me for the day. I'm fine, although a little tender and light headed, and raring to get back on the horse (or should that be a unicorn?).

Perseverance is an important part of my life. I persevere as a parent to keep my children safe, healthy and happy. I persevere in trampling though the tangles that life throws in my way. I also persevere in my writing, even when I want to tear my hair out over a plotline or a paragraph. Isn't that what human existence is about, essentially, striving to continually move forward?

In her article, Acme Anvils and the Long Unicorn Ride to Publication, Beth Cato discusses how she persevered with her own writing journey through agent and publisher rejection, penning her books, and the fight against self doubt. This is a topic that affects most of us writers. Have a look.