Friday, 10 February 2017

Writing a PLAN - a new skill.

I hate being bad at something. If I sign up for a course I tend to do a lot of preliminary research first so i don't appear stupid, which when you think about it, is stupid as I've now signed up to do a course about something I already know a lot about. I find it really hard to sign up for something I'm naturally bad at like - languages. You won;t see me struggling with basic French any time soon. But here I am signed up to a new publisher (yay!) with a great new editor (yay!) who wants me to write a book plan. What's the anti-yay? Help? Howl like a wolf stuck in a hole? 

Like a lot of writers (surveys suggest about half) I start out with an idea and write and it sort of - happens. Then I run out of ideas and it's really nerve-racking, sweating in from the the keyboard in case it doesn't come back. So far, it always comes back but the new bits won't fit with the first bits and then a nasty feeling character C shouldn't come into the story at the beginning after all creeps in - writing like this means a lot of rewriting and restructuring in the second, third and ninth draft. It's downright inefficient.   

Writing a plan makes perfect, brilliant sense. I should definitely do it. Only now I've written A Baby's Bones and now I have to write a plan for the sequel, I'm finding it really hard. I have a story (the easy bit for me) but structuring it in advance has been a real challenge but I think I've done it. It's not a good outline and I have had a lot of help (thank you so much to Ruth and Jane and others who have helped) and I know it sort of meets the basic requirement for an outline - it runs linearly from the discovery of a body to the solving of the crime via some interesting chapters. 

Now my worry is - what happens if an even more fun idea occurs during the writing of the book? What happens if it veers wildly off course into the nettles of improvisation? I do have an editor and agent to run ideas past, of course, but I don't want to bother them all the time. 

On the very plus side - I can get on and write any part of the book - I could make a list of chapters and scenes and draft them out of sequence. That really appeals, I could write the scary bits when I'm sitting at a sunlit desk  - rather than sit up at two in the morning next to a window with no curtains and write the dark stuff until I can't sleep. I just wonder if they would be as creepy!

It's been a positive experience and I hope that in future I will be one of those half planned, half go-with-the-flow writers who plan islands of plot to aim for - I think that would be helpful. 

On that note, I recently wrote the first half of a book called I Will Find You and I actually did have a bit of a plan for that. I'm getting the hang of this writing business - about time.
Picture of my sunlit desk.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Research into werewolves and monsters

Yesterday, A Baby's Bones was sent off to my new editor. Today, I'm free to fall into research for book 2. Editing is a creative process, of course, but new stories are yummy to come up with. One of the places I love (after the Island, which will always be special) is the New Forest, and I'm planning a 'research' trip to find some puzzle/crime for Sage to work on. It helps that it's close to her university and it's a very ancient bit of landscape. It has the highest concentration of really old trees of any woodland in Britain or even Western Europe, with oaks up to 600 years old and hollies over 300 years. 

It's got a lot of history, too, since William the Conqueror established it as a royal forest. I love walking in the forest, you can very easily feel like you're alone, just the sounds of forest birds or deer and ponies spooking you. It's my favourite bit of the drive down to the Island, too, as we head for Lymington and the ferry. 

So I'm looking at bronze age barrows in the forest, known locally as 'butts'.
I'm sure Sage would have loved to get her trowel on an unexcavated, unknown version. I'm going to play around with the idea until I have a plot, then see what the editor thinks. Should be fun!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A challenging, difficult and wonderful year

It's been six months since I blogged, which by my standards is forever. But it's been a strange year, a challenging year, and it's challenges aren't quite over.

In April, I went to the doctor with a peculiar problem retrieving words. I don't mean not being able to find the right word, I mean the inability to find any word, or come up with totally inappropriate words. It came and went, between bouts my vocabulary and recall were normal - as was my writing. For long periods at a time I struggled to have anything like a normal conversation - but wrote 115k words. When I looked back at the words - they were as fluent as usual and I couldn't understand it. I was sent for tests at the memory clinic, under the shadow of the word 'dementia'. There was a long, long wait. They ruled out brain tumour, stroke and since I aced the dementia test it wasn't that either. A psychiatrist took me aside and suggested I might be suffering from 'extreme stress'. I pointed out that waiting for three months hadn't helped.

It's funny how you can see other people's strengths and weaknesses and not your own. It's amazing how we reach out to help, forgive and understand people we can see are struggling, while we can't forgive ourselves for the smallest slip. 

I've moved house twice in two years, I've coped with my husband's cancer and lack of certainty around the future, my biological children essentially left home, my precious step-children moved away, the health of both my in-laws declined, I wrote five books in three years and had two published, signed another deal and have just seen my first grandchild born. I didn't have a very good experience of my own grandparents, they offered little support to my parents. In their turn, when I became a parent neither set of grandparents were really engaged with the children. The prospect of becoming a grandparent - and maybe not bonding - was painfully real for a while in the summer. 

So I stepped back for a while. I disengaged from moving house and let Russell do most of the legal stuff. I gave myself time off being a wife and mother and moved some of my life down to the cottage. I trimmed back commitments, concentrated on what relaxes me, makes me better, stronger. I fell back in love with writing, which had never been a problem, and took time (and a course of antidepressants) to get better. And I fell in love with being a grandmother. Lily Alison (8lb 3oz) made me a grandmother and watching / helping / supporting my daughter through her labour reconnected me with being a mother. Although we're approaching the end of the year with my husband's parents facing change and illness, although we're only just settling in to our new home and I'm not all better yet, things are definitely on the up.

This is my beautiful, kind, smart and loving child. And her child. It has been a good year.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Off to the Island

We go to the isle of Wight a couple of times a year, mostly to catch up with friends and family but also to reconnect with the memories of the past. Living on an island is different, there is a love-hate relationship with the ferries, for a start. There is a love-hate relationship with the tourists, too, but that is common to all seaside/holiday resorts. For me, it's the extra cars on the roads, which are potholed and tatty. 

So we try and go in June or September. The weather is usually lovely, the tourists are at a sensible level, and everything is open and flourishing. then we remember why we love the Island (I can't help capitalising it) and why we miss it. We also have a lot of happy memories, especially with friends who shared our choice to home educate our children. there are sad memories too. We usually fit in a visit to the woodland cemetery where Maya, Russell's wife and my friend, is buried amongst newly planted trees.

Then there will be favourite places (Culver Down, Bembridge foreshore, Compton and too many more to name) to visit, a few shops we like in Newport or Yarmouth. But my favourite thing to do is still the ferry. I get a huge rush of affection for it - now I don't have to do it all the time - and a sense of 'going home'. Only now, I get the same feeling each way, which is lovely, because North Devon is also home. 

Meanwhile, my publishing career wanders on. The Secrets of Time and Fate is out and I will be at the Winchester Writers' Festival on Saturday and Sunday. I have two different books being read and commented on by different editors, with one delightfully complimentary refusal so far. Who minds someone coming back to you and saying sorry we can't take your book but uses the word knockout? Not me.   

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

All the flowers in my garden

... are blooming. The family are well, the words are throwing themselves on the page in an orderly manner and the summer is coming (admittedly in fits and starts). Our gardens are filled with vegetables and flowers, the house is comfortable and the cottage is feeling more and more like home.

Something else is happening. My son Kez is studying creative writing, which is great, we have plenty to talk about. But what has astonished me these last four weeks is seeing him grow as a writer. He has always had a great storytelling ability, he can make up an excuse on the fly, creates wonderful stories, helps me plot whole books... but when he went to write his own ideas down something stilted his words, his writing became removed from his own voice. Admittedly, second drafts would untangle some of the distant, stunted passages he wrote, they started to sound more like him, but he was reluctant to really let go and let himself live on the page. Then something happened, some combination of talking to his tutors, writing his assignments and getting feedback, exploring story in books, films and video games changed something. His first drafts are starting to sound like him, from the get go. His second drafts are opening that up further, and he's writing emotion as well as action. His dialogue, always a weakness, sounds like people. It happened quite suddenly after he wrote a ratty first draft of a contemporary short story. All his writing has shot up a gear, and better than that, he seems to understand a lot of what is better about it. Learning to write creatively and imaginatively is also about learning about the craft of writing, the techniques that transfer your imagination into words with the least loss of detail and truth. 

I am proud of him. While I do read his drafts when he asks me, and I do suggest punctuation or point out repetitions, he's much more comfortable doing the creative work. My previous role was mostly threatening him and bribing him with treats like a Labrador. 'Just a hundred more words - just another reference.' Even better, he has a real idea for a dissertation piece that could build into a novel.

Whether he becomes a writer or not, I am very proud of the writing he's done in the last month. And it's all made him a better editor (which is what he wants to be). He is my first reader and first editor. I'm looking forward to seeing what he writes next.    

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

A new season

There's a spring vibe around. The bulbs are finished, largely because they started flowering in December (bonkers weather this year!). Although there are cold snaps to come (and Arctic winds forecast for the weekend) there is real warmth in the frequent sunny spells.

In keeping with the spring theme, we have had a family wedding. Our middle son, Sam, married Becky, a lovely girl from a nearby village that he met at university. As luck would have it, she's a creative writing graduate. I wonder what she will write about in the future? In the meantime, we are all reflecting on the best wedding I've ever been to, and had the extra joy of having all of our children in one place at once - which doesn't happen very often any more. Not to mention gaining a lot of lovely friends and family through the young couple. Becky's parents made the whole weekend lovely for us all.

I've run out of plot for the new book (it had to happen, I'm at about 60k words without stopping) so I'm working on the sequel to A Baby's Bones, which is also at the 60k point but pottering along nicely. It is creeping me out - always a good sign. I enjoy writing all the crime stuff, of course, but fantasy is a great pleasure to work on because it surprises me all the time. 

The Secrets of Time and Fate will be released on June 2nd and it's starting to get exciting. We're having a launch party at Walter Henry's Bookshop in Bideford on Wednesday 8th June at 7pm. If I tell you the book includes a ruined cottage in the wilds of Dartmoor, a massive exorcism and a lot of pirates you might guess this is my favourite of the three books in the trilogy. Not to mention that I love writing my great friend Franco Marinello, an entirely made up Venetian sea captain that is a joy to follow around the Mediterranean. I shall be on the Island after that, then off to Winchester Writers Festival, a great privilege to be sharing my passion for fantasy with other writers. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Still racing on

Another week of plot twists and characters surprising me. I've slowed down a bit (phew) and have written another eleven thousand words, the book is developing nicely and I know how it ends (sort of). It will be a relief when the Twins book comes back from my helpful agent with ideas on how to improve it, tidy it up etc. to see if it's ready to go out into the world. Scary stuff but exciting. 

The cottage we bought is in Appledore, a great fishing village full of lovely, friendly people. I have joined the Appledore book Festival volunteers, and hope to do some stewarding in September. I so enjoyed some of the workshops there last year.

My absolute favourite was a workshop given by two printmakers, one of which lives in North Devon called Merlyn Chesterman. I absolutely love her woodcuts, and she ran off a massive print while we were there, incredible. If I had a big enough wall I would want to buy one of these:

And if I had an even bigger wall I would go for one of the Pine Feroda prints that she is part of. She has a wall of prints at the Coffee Cabin in Appledore and her studio is in Hartland. I love prints, they do something that paintings don't do for me, they are like - well, printing words as opposed to scribbling in pencil. There is something permanent and authoritative about them. 

Making prints makes me write poetry, I don't know why. I've been teaching poetry all over the place and it's making me work on new drafts and old ones. Poetry makes you think about all the connected meanings of words, how they don't just have a dictionary meaning but carry culture and history and mean different things to different people. Words are wonderful.