Thursday, 30 April 2009

Character Focus

So I've written the life histories of my characters. I have a good idea of what they look like. I've even thought of actors who could play them in a film. Sometimes though, even after carrying out these useful exercises, my characters still lack a focus. They're this and that but none of it really knits together to make a whole.

A couple of weeks ago, while working on Split, I came up with an exercise that, so far, has worked for me with each of my characters. It may not be new and my memory is possibly dredging up this method from past reading but it's an idea that has helped me immensely whenever I am struggling with one of my characters.

Sit your character down and, examining him/her/it from all angles, decide on a word, one word, that describes the essence of that individual. What is it that drives/scares/inspires them most? I'll give you some examples from Split.


Here's a description from the first chapter.

'At a richly coloured, sturdy desk to one side of the shop, sat a short, thickset man. He had something of a leonine presence to him with his mane of grizzled chestnut hair and his wayward beard. His age was unguessable. He could have been fifty or one hundred and fifty.'

Hartley is a character who has been with me for many years. On his own homeground - his shop or the Old Town - I find it very easy to write about him. However, when he is taken out of his element, I become less sure of how he will react.

The word I came up with for Hartley is 'rogue'. My dictionary tells me that rogue means (a) a dishonest person, (b) a person who is playfully mischevious, (c) someone or something which is not true to its type and is inferior, and (d) a vicious wild animal which lives apart from its herd. Well, Hartley can certainly be elusive, if not necessarily dishonest. He rarely tells the whole story. There is much behind those hazel eyes that will not reveal itself. He is certainly playful and mischevious. He uses humour whenever he can and his laughter is a rumbling, roaring delight. Is he true to his type? That depends on what you deem his type to be. Is he a typical shopkeeper? Probably not. The shop serves to provide him with knowledge, enjoyment, a meeting place for his friends and a front that hides much of what he is. I wouldn't say he was a vicious wild animal but he does have a dangerous side to him and he can be unpredictable.

He's a rogue, no doubt about it.


Isabelle has lost so much, so many people that she loved. Her magical powers are nurturing, not agressive like her family or husband. As a result, she feels powerless. For much of her life, she has been on the run, always hiding. Now she has her daughter to think of too.

The word I came up with for Isabelle is 'fear'. She is driven by the fear of loss and in the end it is this fear which will drive her to leave her safety zone.


Winters is the head of security at the Corporation. He's not one of the original characters I came up with when my novel was in it's original form but I do enjoy writing him. In the past, Winters felt in control of his life. He was especially smug about how much control he had over his boss. Now that has changed and he is struggling.

His keyword is 'pride'. Pride drives his reactions because in his mind he thinks he knows best.


Try it for yourself. What is your character's keyword? What drives them most? You may be surprised by the results.

Monday, 27 April 2009

In the beginning...

The first few paragraphs, if not the first sentence, of a novel have to grab the reader instantly if they are to continue reading. If they're not hooked immediately, then the book they've picked out will go back on the shelf with its competition. And let's face it - there is one hell of a lot of competition to run against.

So do you go for a quirky opening, drama, or perhaps a philosophical comment? Here are two of my favourite openers.

A headless corpse was floating on the ornamental pond. It troubled the view and it troubled the ducks and it troubled the two park rangers.

taken from 'The Da-Da De-Da-Da Code' by Robert Rankin

What a killer (if you'll excuse the pun) of a start - brilliant! It grabs your attention and hints at the humour and quirkiness that is to follow and a mystery to be solved.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

taken from 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

This statement instantly points to the domestic nature of the novel and the opinion of the writer and therefore likely the world that the novel is placed in. It raises the expectation that a romance will ensue with just such a single man.

My own novel, Split opens with one of the main characters in a dangerous situation.

The door shut behind her. The room was dimly lit, shadows reaching in from the corners. It smelt of bleach and urine and death.

My aim was to cause the reader to feel what the character felt - fear, foreboding - and by this sympathy to care enough to find out what happened to them by reading on.

Have a look at the openings to some of your favourite novels and find out how they grabbed you.

Panto Progress

So we had Windoleen and Zoflora. Windoleen is the outspoken (mind not in gear before mouth is operative) sister. Zoflora is the sarcastic and morose one. Those are the ugly sisters. Or rather they 'were' the ugly sisters until the PTFA asked me to add another facially disfunctional sibling to the mix.

Meet Vileda. She's the silly one - daft as the proverbial household implement. She also fancies Buttons. Methinks there might be a happy ending to his unrequited love for Cinderella. Awwww...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


I took this photo on my mobile phone whilst on holiday over the Easter break. We'd gone away for a long weekend and while my husband reclined and my children splashed around in the waves, I took a few moments to look around.

As not only an avid writer but also a keen blogger, I am constantly on the look out for photos that I can use, either to post online or simply to have on my computer for inspiration.

As writers, we find inspiration in many ways - the newspapers we read, the conversations we overhear, a thought of 'what if' when in certain circumstances. I take much of my inspiration from my photos.

So I thought I'd share a couple with you. See if they inspire you too.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Too many buses

So you know the saying that men are like buses. None come along for ages, then three turn up at the same time. That's how it is with my writing at the moment.

For the first few months of the year, my writing career was extremely thin on the ground (can you hear the rustling of the scrub bushes blowing through the ghost town that was my creativity). My muse had not only gone on holiday. She'd taken a sabbatical to Outer Mongolia.

Now I find myself with not only sufficient writing assignments to fill my evenings but indeed a glut of creative activity. There is the ongoing development of my novel, Split. I've been commissioned to write a pantomime for the PTFA at my children's school. Finally, I've found two short story competitions to enter.

Am I a sucker for creative punishment? Of course! I'm just praying that procrastination doesn't set in. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


One of the main incentives for starting this blog was to use it as a companion to my novel writing - a way to discuss thoughts and ideas as they arise through the creation of my novel, talk through progress and think up answers to any problems that I may come across.

'Split' is the first of a series of fantasy novels. The world of Split is a version of our future when society still doffs a cap to religion but the main culture is based around technology. Magic also exists in this world but after a supposed terrorist attack is outlawed.

The idea for 'Split' started out as a Tolkien-esque fantasy story that featured wizards, angels, elves and monsters. I toyed with the idea for many years, even completing the novel in this form. I still have the original typed manuscript. Still, it never felt right or complete.

A couple of years ago I got the idea to set my novel in a future world and what had been titled 'The Crystal Prince' became 'Split'. Suddenly the story felt right.

Along the way I had come up with snippets of ideas - storylines, scenarios, characters - and these have combined to create the other novels in this series.

The world of 'Split' is coming into focus.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

My list of creativity

It's the Easter break at the moment, two weeks holiday - no school, lots of children time, not so much me time, even less housework time, but plenty of trips out. Today, unfortunately for the kids, we had to do the boring stuff - supermarket, laundry, paying bills -but neither the queue at the till nor the lack of mummy time ("not now, I'll play with you later, Mummy has work to do") dampened my children's ability to find magic and fun in their surroundings.

It got me thinking about creativity and how we all fit it into our day, even if we don't notice. Here's mine:
  1. Before I had even got out of bed, I had a conversation with my four year old son about the merits of Pokemon over Power Rangers.
  2. I persuaded said son to leave Mummy to have a shower by selling him the idea of building a Pokemon from Lego with the negotiated proviso that he brought assorted limbs in while I showered to ask my opinion.
  3. Breakfast (Weetabix) was provided for my two children with strawberry limbs and nose, raisin eyes and banana hair.
  4. I had a light-sabre fight with my son while speaking on the phone to our electricity supplier.
  5. Having realised that I had forgotten to buy any items that would sensibly knit together for an evening meal for the children, I quickly made some big bread baps into pizzas, found the remaining two potato waffles in the freezer and combined them with a tin of baked beans to produce a mini feast.
  6. I even managed to tell the children a story about dragons (which they then created with Lego) while I worked on my novel.
  7. And finally, the children are asleep and here I am being a creative blogger.

Murdering The Text

Although I am a hopeful novelist and currently working on a novel for publication, I also earn money writing murder mystery plays for amateur theatre groups and general fundraisers.

Back in 1997, the am dram group that I was part of faced a dilemma that most amateur theatre groups come up against on a regular basis. How do we raise extra money to keep our group going? Although our shows were usually profitable, we wanted to try some newer playwrights who didn't attract our usual audience but that would obviously have a knock on effect on future productions.

The profusion of table top sales, tombolas and quiz nights rarely brought in much money over the cost of venue hire. Even a dinner dance with three course menu had attracted only a limited audience. So what else was there?

Knowing I was a writer, another member of the group approached me with an idea. We could write a murder mystery play of our own that would incur limited costs to perform and which would provide a chance for audience participation. We approached other members to find out their reaction to this idea. We got a mixed response but were given the go ahead to test the waters.

Our first production was a play called 'The Tangled Web', set in the 1950s in a hotel in a village called Dedleigh (pronounced 'deadly'). We decided to seat the audience around tables so they could form teams to question our actors once the play was over before deducing the identity of the murderer. We used black curtains as a backdrop (saving on the time and expense of creating scenery) and the barest of furniture and props. Music of the era was used to add atmosphere.

Unsure how a bar would go down with our audience, we included two glasses of wine in the cost of the ticket, and free non alcoholic drinks. We bought token prizes of chocolates for the teams who correctly deduced.

The evening was a resounding success. Our audience loved it. Our cast had fun. Best of all, we made a very healthy profit. We had proved our idea to our group too and this was to be the first of many.

News of our success soon spread to neighbouring am dram groups. We began to receive requests to purchase our scripts. Over the last 12 years, we have increased our catalogue of plays immensely and sold them to groups and general fundraisers across the UK, in the United States and Australia.

You will find links to the website and blog for Murdering The Text on the side bar of this page.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Oh no, you didn't...

I've been writing murder mystery plays for 12 years now but a recent conversation at the school gate has added a new arrow to my bow.

The PTFA (parents and teachers association) at my children's school have asked me to write a pantomime for them to be performed by the teachers and parents. I've acted in several pantomimes during my years of am dram (see if you can spot me in the photo - I was blonde then) but putting the words into the actors' mouths is a fresh challenge.

They've asked for Cinderella and have recruited almost the entire school staff. The headmistress has been targeted as the wicked Stepmother. I've put together the song list already. I hope the head won't hold it against me that she has to sing Diamonds are a girl's best friend. I have my scene plan. Just need to write it now. I have two weeks to get the first two scenes to them so rehearsals can begin.

Wish me luck.

Getting to know me

So what's it about, I hear you ask? Fi? Magic? Writing? Well, to be honest, all of the above. I already run two blogs for my home businesses, Haven Crystal Gifts and Murdering The Text but I wanted something that was a little more about just me and my life. I started this blog as an outlet for my writing, thoughts and inspirations.

For the past twelve years, I have been writing murder mystery plays for amateur dramatics groups and general fundraisers, but I've also been living with an idea for a novel, in fact several ideas. Last year I put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keys) and started my novel 'Split', a fantasy novel set in a future world. I aim to use this blog to discuss my writing progress, along with any other writing news I may have.

I'd also like to use this space to discuss other writerly topics - subjects connected with my novel, operating as a writing mum, links and contacts that other writers may find useful.

So here we go. Welcome to the Haven. Enjoy!