Tuesday, 29 January 2013

New Challenge

My doctor is a bit tick happy. Blood test, sure, why not, I was a bit anaemic last year. But why does she tick all the obscure, random boxes, just in case? Anyway, she ticked, more blood tests were done to confirm and now I'm waiting for a biopsy to confirm coeliac disease.

I knew a bit about it - it's gluten intolerance, right? I will have to cut back on wheat and so on. Well, yes, and no. Coeliacs can't tolerate gluten AT ALL, so I've been scouring the backs of packets to look for gluten free products. So far, I've found gluten in all breads, cakes, pastries, crispbreads and biscuits (of course), stock cubes, all cereals even porridge, pickles and vinegar (malt product), sauces, oven chips and similar cheaty products, hot chocolate, some dried fruit (!), mustard, custard, sausages, burgers, some cheeses like Stilton...the list goes on. It's quicker to relate what was gluten free in my kitchen. Um...fruit. Vegetables. A bit of elderly Brie. Olive oil. Even dried spices weren't all completely safe.

So, a few shops in gluten free aisles in the supermarket, and a trip to a great health food shop in Glastonbury later and I have some gluten free alternatives. So far, OK. Bread has the wrong texture but toasts OK (but is nearly £3 for a tiny loaf). I'm not a huge fan of cakes and biscuits. But all the alternatives were a) hugely expensive and b) difficult to source. This is going to be a challenge. The hardest thing will be eating out - going out for a meal is one of our favourite treats, especially when we go away for a few days. Well, I like a challenge.

Meanwhile, I'm researching folklore and legends on Dartmoor, and will need a bit of a field visit. There's a gluten free restaurant on the way down, at Crediton...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Inspiration for new book

We disappeared off for a grown up weekend and came back with a whole plot for a book. In the first scene I ever wrote in the series, I found two characters in opposition: Jack and a dodgy dealer called Pierce. Book 5 will be focused on Pierce, the strange 'rat-man' as Jack calls him. Bringing a story beyond the main two characters will be fun, especially as I can play with more recent history, and the strange dark energy of Dartmoor. I love new stories, this is the first new plot I've come up with in nearly a year, and I was starting to worry! This means I have two sequels on top of the three books that are sold, and I couldn't sleep for the excitement and had to keep writing notes in the middle of the night.

Finding inspiration for a story can strike from the smallest starting points. In this case, a combination of years of loving cryptozoology - the biology of strange and mythical organisms - has got me interested in why persistent rumours of mythical creatures persists. Take Sasquatch or Bigfoot legends. There is NO biological evidence, no bones, no food detritus, no DNA, no hair samples, nothing that has been definitively identified. Yet the rumours and heartfelt accounts of sightings continue. I'm intrigued by human beings' need to believe. Loch Ness monsters, fairies, unicorns, angels, ghosts, aliens...all have thousands of believers and I am interested in our ability to 'see' the weird, strange and unusual. I'm not judging here, I had an encounter with a ghost back in the late nineties. I tried to explain it in terms of delusion (even while it was there) but the evidence was disturbing. But confined to one person: gullible, suggestible old me. So it was lovely to pull together a series of myths to find a belief system that might answer the question - what exactly is the rat-man?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The joy of being back at work

There is something joyful about creating new words which is what leads me to write. I'm getting paid to edit, rewrite, smooth edges, fit awkward shaped characters to familiar corners. But the raw material is a joy to play with, and it's all mine. In A Baby's Bones, I didn't use my sixteenth century narrator, Edward Kelley, but now I'm putting him into the story. With his curiosity about the world, and interest in what he thinks of as 'science' (you and I would call a lot of it magical belief) he is open minded, keen to experiment and fascinated rather than scared by the 'other'.

The antagonist, Agness, is different, brought up a woman but having none of the benefits like being allowed to have a partner or children. An intelligent, passionate woman, frustrated by her role as perpetual housekeeper for her brother and not understanding why, her infatuation for an attractive young man spills into obsession. Writing  more of that, and with Kelley observing and understanding her agony, is helping me tell the rest of the story. Fun stuff. It also allows me to pull together threads of book 1 and 2 even though Baby's Bones is a prequel.

Meanwhile book 3, which I haven't sold, is growing in my head and started to complain that I'm not writing it. I'm making notes. This is the joy, the making something new, the playing with imagination and new ideas. Great stuff, fun stuff. I need to remember that, while editing is hard work (it is) it's also fast, and necessary. A few weeks here and there...small price to pay for all the fun of writing.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The creative process of rewriting

When I first started writing, I honestly believed I would write a single narrative, maybe tidying up as I went, and that would be 'the book'. Maybe it is for some people, maybe they plot better or edit better as they go. maybe they just write wonderful prose from scratch. I don't know. But my first drafts are confused, full of loose ends, cobbled, inconsistent, and written in cliches and repetitions. I've just delivered draft 9 of the first book.

So I stalled at the rewrite. The first book I completed to reasonable standard is full of complications that don't get explained or resolved, or characters whose personalities change with the weather or my mood, that day, as I was typing away. I just didn't know how to rewrite, and doing an MA didn't help. They didn't teach us how to rewrite anything bigger than a short story either.

I'm finding my own way through it. First, I realise that no matter how badly I want to jump into a book, it has to be left alone so my brain can detach from what it was trying to achieve in order to assess what I actually achieved. I need to analyse what I have, in order to come up with ideas about what doesn't work and how to fix it. Also, new ideas that can sharpen the book, or add interest.

Then then is the dreaded pace. Some chapters meander along and don't really deliver any forward movement to the story (sometimes people just drink tea in my books). It's OK after a big action scene to have a reaction of some sort, of course, a breather and some thinking time for the reader as well as the characters. But great swathes of tea drinking and desultory conversation, too many sighs, no-one sorting anything out...I seem to excel at these.

I have decided to update and improve A Baby's Bones before my editor sees it, so he can see what I'm trying to achieve, and feed back suggestions so when I come to do more final edits in the autumn, I've got something to work on. I'm trying to separate out the two strands: historical and contemporary, so I can work on them. I've given myself ten days, then off it goes and the big rewrite of book 2 has to start in earnest. I'm nervous, I don't know if it's had enough time and I don't know where to start, but writing it down in these blog posts, and reviewing what I did last time, is helping me work out a system. It may be a bit rubbish, but it's mine. I'm toying with going to one of Arvon editing courses. Maybe that would help! 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Anno Domini

All the way through my journey of discovery through the world of publishing, I have been warned that I am too old. That the ceiling for new writers is forty, or even younger. Well, I have just been interviewed by a journalist, and she didn't ask for my age. My agent never asked, the editors at the two publishers that made me offers didn't ask. Admittedly, my picture doesn't suggest a youthful writer, and I'm certainly not hiding my age, but still. It turns out, it's the book they are interested in, after all. So, if you are any age at all, and are prepared to work at getting published, age should not be a problem. It's writing the right book that should be the focus.

The other reason I'm thinking about this, is the pension system will be different for people like me when I get there. I decided to look up when I would be eligible for, you know, an actual old age pension. Fourteen years time? I've just taken up a new career, it seems astonishing that I might get a bus pass in fourteen years time. Thirteen and a half years, actually, and my husband will get his the year before. I'll be living with a pensioner by 2025. Blimey. But I don't feel any different. OK, I creak a bit (my back has been bad since my late twenties, though, so I can't put that down to age). I can't say I'm enjoying the first stages of the menopause either, it's like PMS only for months at a time. But basically, I'm as childish and excitable as I ever was. I'm also planning to deliver three books this year, two already finished just needing polishing, and one in first draft waiting for its re-writes. If I worked up to my 'pension date', assuming I am able to sell any more books, I could easily deliver a couple of dozen books by the time the rocking chair beckons.

There's hope for all ages, then. Last year, some years after reaching retirement age, my father-in-law decided to write about his experience as an acclaimed cartoonist in children's comics, and I helped edit the book for him to self publish. The book is lovely, and a reminder that you can start your writing at any age. It's available from Lulu.  

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

When is a draft ready for the world?

Last year, convinced The Secrets of Life and Death would not sell, I wrote another book. I called it A Baby's Bones, and I knew straight away that it was a better first draft, and I had learned quite a lot from polishing and editing earlier books. I was pleased with it, although I could see straight away that it had a lot of potential to be radically improved and my 16th century narrator, Edward Kelley, could have a place in it. It was written as a prequel to Secrets, and I sent it off to my agent just to see if it was on the right track. She liked it, and when talking to the publisher who was considering a three book deal, sent it on to the editor there. He hasn't read it yet and I've asked him not to. I don't think it's ready for all that! When do we let go of drafts? How comfortable are you at having early, flawed, scruffy possibly, drafts seen by people outside of your writing buddies? Do you even show early drafts to them?  

I have a tight schedule for book 2, but at the mere suggestion of him reading Baby's Bones I'm desperate to look at it, make the improvements I think it needs, rewriting at high speed. This isn't about the editor at all - in fact, I think he would help direct the changes very usefully - but I'm embarrassed that it's so unfinished. I've asked for a couple of weeks to work on it! Is this me being daft?

Meanwhile, I'm working on the list of suggestions he gave me, especially about character development. The advice he's given me is priceless, this is a fantastic learning opportunity, why don't writing courses do this? Basically, he's nudging me to consider the reader more.

If you have a spare hour and have ever thought you could 'knock out' a Mills and Boon, this brilliant programme from the BBC might be informative. Stella Duffy, the novelist, took on the challenge to write a submission for M&B. Through the whole process, she was reminded to consider the readers, to meet their expectations and she found it DIFFICULT. I think she looked at her own writing from another perspective, too, and we get an insight into the writing process in her other work, too. Great programme, a nice reward for me after a day of pruning and editing (but only on iplayer for another 5 days). I don't think I'll be writing M&B any time soon! It did give me a sense of respect for people that do write romance, though, and reminds me of the old writing adage, write what you read.  


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Big edits!

Back to work meant back to The Secrets of Life and Death - which I haven't read since June. Looking at it, I was able to consolidate three pairs of chapters into single chapters, which works very well. I was also able to clarify the relationship between Edward Kelley and his mentor and master, Dee. Hopefully it will come across more consistently, now! It's strange that you can write and rewrite many times, and not see obvious mistakes...too close to it, I suspect. I've also ramped up a bit of the tension in a few places. I tend to throw away tense moments with a couple of terse lines. My narrator is possessed by a giant angel. Yeah yeah, one sentence. So I had to go back and imagine being possessed...yuk. Much more description now.

It's hard sitting down to work, but I'm making myself. It's strange, a month ago I was raring to go, but a break over solstice/Christmas has put me in a melancholy mood and I feel like I've lost the momentum that daily writing gives me. To get it back, I've set myself a word target on another book just to keep the imagination going and the fingers flying.

I did treat myself with Xmas money to a tablet. It's a 7" Google Nexus, and I'm having loads of fun with it. I have an assortment of notebooks I carry around with me, and scraps of paper all over the desk of bright ideas I had when travelling or away from home. Now I can put them all in one place, and it enables me to keep an eye on emails etc. as well as access to the internet when I'm away from the desk. I'm one of those restless people who can't just sit still and watch TV, I have to have a book as well, or be looking things up as ideas come to me. It must drive the husband mad, but I have turned the little clicks off... I need a Kindle as well, I'm suffering from shoulder ache from holding heavy books and folders all over December. Oh, well, back to work...