Monday, 26 January 2015

Points of View

Sacha Ferrier's Transcience exhibition
‘I know you’ve worked really hard on this,’ Tom begins cautiously, ‘but I prefer the first version…’. Tom’s always the first person to read my work, usually when it’s finished, so it’s rare to run anything past him at this early stage. The thing is, having finished my first chapter of the new novel, I keep having a mental ‘tickle’ that has to be scratched; what if I write this in the first person? 

We’re inclined to trust first person narratives and are often seduced by their immediacy, that sense of having direct access to a character’s thoughts, but I also liked the idea that first-person narrators are unreliable; memories change every time we retrieve them, or we may gloss over events and deceive ourselves about what really happened.

The re-write proves to be an interesting experiment; I learn a great deal more about my protagonist, but I can’t quite tell why the story isn’t quite working until Tom gives me his reasons for preferring my initial draft, saying that the second makes him feel boxed-in and he misses seeing the broader picture. I’ve mentioned before that my stories, long or short, always begin with something like a ‘still’ from a film, then, very slowly, the frame unfreezes. As it starts to roll I learn who the characters are and what problems they’re trying to solve, consequently there’s a strong visual element to the way I work. As for viewpoint, I like to use ‘deep’ third, trying to accomplish what first-person narration does with ‘I’ using ‘he’ or ‘she’. I write each scene from one character’s point of view, showing it through his or her eyes and filtering it through his or her emotions. (Note: one scene, one character, and despite one claim to the contrary – grrr! - no ‘head-hopping’ ever!). So it’s back to what I think I do best and even though a small part of me mourns for the chapter I’m now discarding, I’m back on secure foundations and will hopefully build from here.

It’s been a busy time here with lots of visitors, so we decide a change of scene is in order with restorative trip to Aberystwyth. After lunch at the Arts Centre we wander round an exhibition there, a fascinating, beautiful and profoundly moving series of photographs by Sacha Ferrier, then round the day off for quick look at a different beach and more lovely views…

Looking down across Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Looking towards the Creative Studios with their distinctive 'puffer' jackets!

At the beach.

Monday, 12 January 2015

When Words Fail Me

‘But, Chris,’ Si, my son-in-law, tells me gently, ‘it’s only you who thinks that way.’ We’re sitting at the kitchen table where I’ve been moaning away about my professional disappointments in 2014 and awarding myself a Could Do Better grade for my efforts. ‘Anyone else would be pleased to have just one novel published - ever – you’re just comparing yourself to others in a very small circle.’

I’ve thought about our ‘turning of the year’ conversation a lot since then because it helped me to see that the only person giving me a hard time, is me. Some of it’s due to panic; I’ve had several writing projects in mind and started them only for my Inner Critic to rise up and savage them. Some of it’s due to a sudden urge to put everything in order, a frenzied outbreak of cupboard tidying as if I’m trying to create a sense of calm so I can concentrate in peace. And a lot of it’s because I’ve been ill, in pain, busy with other commitments, worried about other people, irritable and feeling generally burn-out.

What to do? I hate anything I perceive as wasting time, but even I’ve had to admit that sometimes you just have to stop and refill the well. Firstly I’ve tried not to think about writing, but to do lots of reading. And while I’m on the subject of books, two I particularly enjoyed at the tail end of last year, were Helen Macdonald’s beautiful, obsessive H is for Hawk and Henry Marsh’s troubling and unflinching Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. I’ve listened to new (to me) music including Ben Howard and Grey Reverend. I’ve been able to go out running again (hurray) and we’ve also taken time simply soaking up the views along this quiet, unique coastal strip.

The first sign that I might not entirely have forgotten how to write came when my publishers asked for volunteers to contribute to a series of very short stories, based on the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas, to be given away as post-Christmas treats. After several days of wringing my hands over ‘Four Calling Birds’, the alchemy suddenly happened and my characters came to me as if I was watching a film. And then one of the projects I’ve had in mind started interrupting my sleep and demanding attention. In some ways I dread the hard work, the long hours, the madness of characters taking over my head, but the compensation is a visceral thrill, which I can’t compare with anything else, when the first stirrings of a novel feel right. So now to the long road ahead and brave new words!

Many thanks, Amey, for the inspirational glass pictured above.  I look forwards to reaching The End!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Climb Every Mountain

A view from the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path
After our mountain of visitors – nine over two weeks, eight of us altogether at peak times and, believe me, we have a dormer bungalow not a country mansion – I have a few mountains to climb (washing, ironing and putting bedding back in store) before I’m back in the swing of blogging. However, I also have heaps of very happy memories to treasure; like the sight of Ma’s face when she discovered that Santa had left a Christmas stocking on the end of her bed.

We had a sharp reminder of how very precious moments with family are at the end of December when we heard about a very bright light going out in this world. Her story is not mine to tell, but it certainly made me hold my loved ones closer. 

 But there was good news too; a reprieve, hopefully, even, an ‘all clear’ for my mother-in-law, new jobs, new plans and lots to look forwards to in this fresh new year. And after The Bad Back from Hell that drove me to the doctor, I even managed to join Rose, Si and Tom for some coastal path walking where the ups and downs are equally lovely.

Si, Rose and Tom brave the cold wind!

Me and Him

Friday, 19 December 2014

Good Times

We're going to be travelling and catching up with family so I will take this opportunity to thank you for reading Home Thoughts Weekly.  Like any other year, 2014 has brought its share of ups and downs but I'm going into the New Year thinking of all the happy times.  

All best wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Author Specification

Got a book inside you? Thinking of making 2015 the year you let it out? Here’s your author specification so you can hit the ground running.

Essential Information
Before you begin, ask yourself whether or not you’re completely and utterly in love with what you’re writing. If you don’t care about your work, why should the reader? Besides, it’s a long old slog writing 90,000 words. If you want to make a career out of this you’ve got to find the stamina to complete this journey not just once, but over and over again.

None. Anyone can do it, can’t they?
Please note; excuses about not having enough time are not acceptable. Everyone is busy.

Experience and Knowledge
Proven evidence of writing skills is desirable though not, unfortunately, essential. However, useful examples include writing for publication in magazines and newspapers and competition wins. Have you stamped all over the internet? Left your digital footprints on the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify… what do you mean, you’re supposed to be writing?  Do you want to find your audience or not? Who else is going to do this stuff for you?

Attributes and Abilities
Insane optimism. The ability to believe that the good times, the film deal, the sweet spot when your novel hits the zeitgeist are just round the corner.

Know when to listen. If a professional is good enough to give you their opinion, please act upon it. Please don’t think that she/he is wrong and that you, your partner, your best friend and your dog know better!

Know when to shut up. One star reviews can make you feel sick, weep or fill you with rage. Alas, telling the reviewer to take a full refund and jog off is not an option. What’s the point? Many of them have downloaded it for free or paid 99p for the results of your year of hard slog anyway. The thwarted writers, the misery-makers, the readers who just HATE your book will just keep coming and you have to learn to suck it up. This can be particularly tough.

Be a content machine. The more work you put out there, the more people will discover you. Well, that’s the theory. It also means you’ll end up doing a lot of unpaid work for the ‘exposure’. This is peculiar to the creative industry. Good luck finding a restaurant providing free meals for ‘exposure’.

Working Hours and Pay
You’ll never have a day off. In every waking moment, and some sleeping ones, your work in progress is there in the background of your mind demanding attention.

Be a Breatharian. You’d better hope that the satisfaction of having written is enough to sustain you because you’re going to have to learn to live on thin air. For every dazzlingly successful novelist there are thousands who don’t even come close to earning a living.

Be content. People who love your work will give you the energy to keep going – isn’t this why you began writing? To reach out to others and to strike a common chord? It’s immensely uplifting when readers are kind enough to tell they’ve enjoyed your novels. Take pleasure in looking at the various editions of your books on your shelf or the thumbnails of your ebooks online. You’re doing what you love – one day you might even make some money at it.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.

The dream...
These are the shoes I bought for my dream life, the one where I’m far more glamorous, far more successful … and don’t actually have to fret about walking further than from car to bar. I haven’t worn them – unless you count trotting round the house a few times for the sheer joy of wearing such pretty and impractical footwear. However much I might secretly dream of topping the Sunday Times best seller list, I’m fully aware that every time I step in the shower and wash in water that’s cleaner and more abundant than many people’s drinking water, I’m already living someone else’s dream.

I’ve been knocked out by the worst cold I’ve had in ages and it’s forced me to sit passively watching the world go by. Christmas always worries me anyway; too many memories of trying to make it special on a very limited budget when my daughters were growing up, but more than ever it seems that so many seasonal messages are all about buying that festive feeling. All that debt for the fragrance, the clothes, the car, the food, the little bits of coloured plastic that promise to change your family’s life only for the magic and sparkle to disappear with the discarded wrapping. I’m not suggesting we wear hair shirts on Christmas Day - I enjoy a treat as much as the next person - but I do think this is the time of year when the pressure to make dreams come true makes it easy to lose sight of reality and of what’s really important.

Another fantasy that’s dismayed me this week (don’t worry, my cold seems to be going so expect normal service to be resumed) is the hype around the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The cover photo of a young woman weighed down by outsized gold wings, her bottom barely covered, might have cheered up some readers of this week’s Telegraph magazine, but it makes me want to weep. When far too many women are shackled by their own societies, how is trussing up a model and sending her down a catwalk buckling under the weight of a 40lb frame a good thing? Really, is this what women’s liberation amounted to?

And I suppose you could say, that as a novelist I’m guilty of peddling dreams too, because, yes, I do have to promote my books from time to time. However, I’m not promising to make my readers lives better, but only to tell them a story with a happy ending about female protagonists who discover that joy comes from within and that self-belief takes you higher than an 8 ft pair of gold wings.

... and the reality.

Friday, 21 November 2014

An Indomitable Bill

Towards Little Spitmarsh
My fellow Choc Lit author and friend, the delightful Liz Harris, has invited me to join in a series of blog postings which began with Australian readers and writers of rural romance and has grown to include lovers of the great outdoors everywhere. Liz introduced us to handsome rancher Will Hyde, the hero of her novella, A Western Heart and a man more than one young lady would like to saddle up with. Liz's passion, not just for her hero but also for the American West, is evident in this novella and in her lovely novel A Bargain Struck. Both are set in 1880s Wyoming so it's not surprising to find that Liz has stayed in a working ranch in Wyoming herself, although, as she states, rather more recently.

Liz's evocative covers 
You can find out more about Liz and her varied and interesting books here where you’ll quickly notice that there’s no shortage of material for her novels. Most recently, Liz’s travels took her to Australia and having seen some of her beautiful photos in and around Sydney I’m hoping there’ll be a novel from Liz featuring this stunning location. 

If you can’t wait for some armchair travel and would like a little ‘me time’ this Christmas, Choc lit have put together a trio of mini treats in a collection which features, Liz’s A Western Heart, Angela Britnell’s What Happens in Nashville and my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales here.

Only True in Fairy Tales is set in a little village on the edge of the Downs which is very like the place where I grew up. That sense of living in an ‘in-between’ place beyond a small suburban town and close to somewhere that felt like proper wild space has stayed with me and influenced my writing. All my novels are set in locations off the beaten track because I’m so drawn to those places. Little Spitmarsh, the faded fictional seaside town that is the setting for my novels Turning the Tide and Follow A Star, is an amalgam of some of the down-at-heel resorts and sleepy harbours I fell in love with sailing round the British coast. Penmorfa, my fictional Welsh village, is influenced by where I live now, on the very edge of Cardigan Bay.

My sort of inspiration!

Today though, I'm going to talk about Bill (we Choc lit authors seem to love a good William!) the hero of Follow A Star. When May, my heroine, meets Bill it's not long before they're both at sea, not just with their emotions but also in a little boat offshore...

1. What is the name of your character?
Bill Blythe, a builder with fierce red hair who looks as if he could single-handedly wrestle bullocks to the ground. Bill's a proper bloke; strong, dependable, someone to rely on, the kind of man who'd take the stars right out of the sky for you... but first you've got to get past that rough, tough exterior!

2. Is Bill fictional or a historic person?
I suppose I have to admit that he's fictional but he's real to me. I really enjoy meeting the heroes of all my novels, but I do have a particularly soft spot for Bill!

3. When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the present day. May Starling, the heroine, has had enough of her demanding career and even more demanding ex. Responding to a ‘crew-wanted’ ad, she follows her dreams of escape only to find herself at sea with Bill who isn’t quite what she was expecting ... 

4. What should we know about Bill?
Bill's got so much on his plate he's nearly tearing his red hair out: he's got too much work, a very sick uncle and he needs helps to get a little wooden boat from the south coast round to little Spitmarsh fast. He's intensely loyal to his friends, fiercely protective of his uncle and will do anything for his loved ones.

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Ah, that would be May, the woman who's not exactly coming clean about why she's running away to sea. Initially it’s May’s peachy bottom that’s so annoyingly distracting, then it’s the boiling pot of emotions aboard a small boat, but it’s when they reach dry land that Bill’s problems really begin.

6. What is the personal goal of the character?
All Bill wants is to bring his beloved uncle’s wooden boat home so that the old man has a reason to carry on living.

I’m now passing the baton to another friend and Choc Lit author, the very amusing and hugely talented Jane Lovering whose latest book How I Wonder What You Are is out – drum roll – on 1 December! Jane lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire and if you haven’t discovered her blog yet, you’ve got another treat in store. Over to you, Jane!