Sunday, 30 December 2012

What will you write on your blank page?

2013 is almost here, bringing with it the chance to start something new. How do you feel about that? Excited? Worried? Brimming over with ideas? Or are you simply carrying on as before? A lot of people will and there's nothing wrong with that. I'll still be making the weekly trips to school with my children, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and writing (of course). Some things never change.

And yet, to take this opportunity of a new year as an inspiration to start at least some things afresh seems to me to be a gift that we should prize. Call it new year resolutions or turning a page, but the act of re-creating something, anything can be just what we need in the middle of the winter.

The Words on my Blank Page

1. On 1st January, I start a new diary, literally a new blank page to be filled with the multitude of words in my head.

2. Once my husband has returned to work and the children to school, I'll start work on the third draft of my novel. I've spent the festive break tearing and sewing my story into an improved form all ready to return to writing it.

3. I will be taking part in the Mindful Writing Challenge throughout January, creating a small stone each day of that month.

There are many more personal blank pages to begin in my life too, all of which I look forward to with both excitement and a level of trepidation. Change can be transformational but at the same time, stepping through into 'other' can be frightening too.

So what will you create? What flame of inspiration will you breathe into flickering life in the darkness of January? What will you write on your blank page?

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

No Tuesday Choice Words for you today. Instead I have a wonderful quote from the film, The Christmas Nutcracker, that I think sums up the life of a writer perfectly.

"My work is merely showbusiness.
You supply all the magic."

Have a wonderful festive season.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Story of You

Years ago (decades actually), I attended a writing class run by a local poet, Pat Borthwick. I was the youngest attendant by far. Pat's classes centred around using our life experience and memories as a subject and basis for our writing. Homework would often require us to tap into our life - one Sunday morning, a poem using symbols to describe a loved one, a holiday memory. The others in the class, including Pat herself, had a wealth of experiences to call on and I quickly came to realise how describing what some might consider to be a mundane act could often lead to a fascinating read. By comparison, my own life experience seemed, if not boring, then limited and pale. I felt I had few memories to offer up that would make for an entertaining tale.

Move on around ten years and I started to write murder mystery plays for the am dram group I was part of. Based around a known cast and a familiar stage, what started as a way to fund a hobby quickly turned into a business I loved (and still do). The more plays I wrote, the more I pieced in characters I had met, situations I had come across or lived through, and the humour of my home town.

When my parents died in 2002 and 2007, I began to tell my children about them, and the stories they had told to me. With each rich memory, I wove a tapestry of warm colour and cosy texture to wrap us all in.

Writing my novel, I pull in my own experiences of motherhood and loss, and the colourful characters I have met throughout my life who held a magic of their own.

No experience is ever wasted and no life is grey. We all have a story to tell and whether we use the details, the memories, or the characters in our writing, our lives are a rich resource.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Altering the Quality of Time in Your Novel from Live Write Thrive talks about the use of time in your writing.

Why Stories Should Never Begin At The Beginning from Terrible Minds discusses where to start your story.

Too Much of a Good Thing: Over Plotting Your Novel from The Other Side of the Story talks about striking a balance when plotting your novel.

The Not-So-Long Goodbye from Live Write Thrive discusses how to write the ending of your novel.

Writing Rewards from diy MFA is just what we need at this time of year.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Write It Proud

When I studied business studies at college (seemed like a good idea at the time), my least favourite subject was economics. I got it. I understood the theory. That wasn't the problem. It bored me. I appreciated the relevance of the subject on my course and the importance of economics in the running of the world. It just wasn't my kind of thing.

Our lecturer was a serious, young woman who was obviously very knowledgeable on her subject. She and I never really hit it off. During one class, she asked us to write down what our three favourite television programmes were. I think she hoped that we would exhibit our maturity by making choices such as the news or Question  Time (political discussion), or other such, sensible and serious viewing options.My list included Robin of Sherwood (hence the image above), the cartoon He-Man and some other fantastical programme that I can't recall at this time. She read through our choices and upon reaching mine uttered the words that I'll never forget, "She can't be serious, surely?". If I had any standing in her opinion, it completely dissipated at that moment.

As writers, we can often come up against a similar reaction, perhaps from our friends, often from strangers and occasionally from our loved ones. It's as if writers are a lofty, superior class and we, as lowly normal folk, could never make the leap to such accomplishment. This reaction is rarely meant unkindly. It just seems too extreme a stretch of reality for the commentor to refresh their view of us.

If only they could see the world with our eyes. If only they could become as familiar with our characters as we are. If they could accomplish either of those things, they would understand that we have an added layer to the person they think they see in us. We have magic and wonder and, on occasion, a devilishly devious mind. It's not their fault that they don't know this side to us because most of us keep it well-hidden, afraid to stand out or bare our literary souls to criticism.

You are a writer. Like me, you may not produce the obvious literary product (novels). I write plays for a living. Perhaps you write articles for magazines or you blog profusely. It doesn't matter because you know that attached to your heart is a tiny tag that reads 'Writer'. You're not a writer in waiting or an aspiring author. You are, right now, a writer. Be proud of it. Tell the world, or don't, but do not let people dismiss this incredibly important aspect of who you are. Be brave because yes, you are serious about being a writer and a creator and a teller of tales only you can tell.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Worldbuilding Revisited, part 1  and part 2 are the latest posts in David B Coe's On Writing and Creativity series on the Magical Words site.

How to Write a Killer Logline from diy MFA explains how to dig down to the core of your story.

Write the book you would want to read, not the one you believe you should write is a post on Galleycat by Mona Zhang.

#Hashtags GALORE! from Stacy Green discusses the use of hashtags on Twitter and some useful, related services.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Prolificness and why we should never say should is the latest podcast from Iain Broome in discussion with novelist, Emma Newman.

Letting Creative Ideas Percolate by Geoff Hoff, the Creativity Expert, outlines a creative method that I use all the time.

The Opposite of Eavesdropping from diy MFA is a writing prompt that suits me fine as a people watcher.

The Info-Dump Scene from Magical Words discusses how to reveal information in a way that doesn't drown the text of your novel.

How to Escalate Conflict in Your Novel by guest author C J Redwine on The Other Side of the Story discusses the different factors of and approaches to conflict in your writing.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Small Kindness

This was me at my wedding reception. It was a day of trips and falls, and laughter and leaps. I married the love of my life. My gorgeous children walked me down the aisle. Friends and family came together to help us celebrate (and got on tremendously well).

It was also one month since I had had an operation in hospital. I was still recovering and ill. I'd lost a stone in that time which would normally have been a welcome development but on this occasion it meant that my wedding outfit was too big. Other things went wrong which verged on spoiling the day but what I remember the best are the small kindnesses that added to the joy of our wedding.

We didn't have much money. When we started planning it, money wasn't a problem but as so often happens, life throws the proverbial detritus in your lap when you're least expecting it. All of a sudden, we had a photographer and a venue but little money for a cake, flowers or clothes (let alone invitations or dressing the reception room). What should have been a day to remember fast began to turn into a nightmare money-pit.

What saved the day were a number of people who, without being asked, showed us incredible kindness. One friend offered us the silk roses from her wedding cake to dress the supermarket, iced slabs we bought. The hotel where we were holding the reception leant us an antique cake stand and knife for free and decorated the cake for us. Another friend let us have the left over balloons from her sister's wedding which we used for the children at ours. Yet another friend sent us left over children's favours - little toys, notepads and crayons. More friends still sent me information on stores and websites where we could buy what we needed for a low price. My manager allowed me to print off our wedding stationery at work. The sister of another friend, a professional photographer, supplied me with a beautiful, autumn photograph for free for the front of our invitations. There were so many people that contributed to the day that above all the problems, we felt supported and approved of and loved.

Sometimes it is the smallest kindness, the least expected gesture, that stays with us the longest.

This article is part of the Small Kindnesses blogsplash.

Tuesday Choice Words

A Writer's Pre-Flight Checklist on the Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing offers a check list to test your manuscript.

Create Key Moments with Secondary Characters from the Live Write Thrive site discusses a method for the  creation of relationships between your main character and their supporting cast.

How Much Do You Need to Describe Your Characters? from The Other Side of the Story is an interesting read on the subject of character description - a topic that I personally need to look into.

Thinking in Multiple Drafts is an excellent article from Steven Pressfield about wearing 'a different hat for each draft'.

How Much do you Need to Describe Your Setting? from The Other Side of the Story is a checklist on necessary setting description.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Looking Forward to Small Kindnesses

 On Tuesday, 27th November I will be taking part in the Small Kindnesses Blogsplash and writing out a special small kindness someone paid me in the past. Would you like to join me?

The Blogsplash is organised by Fiona Robyn to celebrate the release of her novel 'Small Kindnesses' which will be free on Kindle on the day. All you have to do is write something about being kind - a memory of someone who was kind to you, a list of kindnesses over the past week, or something kind you did for someone else. It'll be a celebration of kindness in all its forms, especially those little kind acts that make all the difference.

You can find more details here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Have you tried Media Deprivation? by Julia Cameron discusses the value of uninterrupted creativity.

How to write a fairy tale is a Squidoo lens written by Tolovaj.

An answer worth the journey: plot and story from This Itch of Writing discusses the difference betwenn story and plot.

Storyteller Saturday: Anne Rice is a talk from Anne Rice on advice for writers on the Mindful Banter site.

Living in My Head: Crafting Natural-Sounding Internal Thoughts on The Other Side of the Story discusses getting inside a character's head.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Right Teacher

Or should that be the 'write' teacher? This post could apply to almost any course you take but I'm specifically thinking of writing courses today. They come in all shapes and sizes and modes of transmission. Some follow a specific theory. Others are tailored to an event. The trick to finding the one that will offer the most learning value to you is two-fold:

1.   Discover the learning vehicle that suits you, and

2.   work out what kind of teacher can instruct you the best.

Learning Vehicle

I've studied several writing courses in the past, some good, some not so good, and have looked into many more that I decided not to take. I know from personal experience that what works best for me is face to face learning in a classroom environment and reading books on the subject (although not all books - I'll expand on that in a moment). What appeals to me though, won't necessarily appeal to another student of words. Discovering what learning vehicle works  best for you is the first step in making a decision on which course to take.

  • Classroom based writing courses - often held on an evening in a local school or college, classroom based writing courses can work well for writers who like to interact and compare notes face to face with other like-minded souls. This can work especially well if you enjoy reading out your work.There are also more extended writing schools that you attend for a weekend or several days, writing retreats to get away from the demands of daily life, and something I would love to do, writing holidays. 
  • Books - there are an incredible number of manuals on how to write and all the different aspects of the publishing world too. Have a look on Amazon or in your local book shop. It is worth investigating these books before purchasing one because not every writing manual will suit you. Read a couple of pages, look at the chapter titles, and find out about the author beforehand. Personally, I prefer books that intertwine writing lessons with the writer's own journey such as On Writing by Stephen King. 
  • Online courses - some run to deadlines and timetables while others (such as the Open University's free courses) leave the timing to you. If you spend a lot of time online and are happy communicating by email, then this kind of course can be convenient and easy to fit into. Online courses may include forums to discuss course material with lecturers and other students, and some lecturers also set up a blog to communicate with students. 
  • Podcasts - I have found a handful of courses that teach via podcast (an audio file). These can work well if again, you're familiar and comfortable with online interaction. If you're a visual person though, you may find yourself distracted away from listening to the podcast.

Whether you're an extrovert, an introvert, a technophobe or an online whizz, there's sure to be a course that will suit you.

Learning Motivation

To work out the best teacher for you, you need to find out about your learning motivation. Just as we are attracted to different learning vehicles, we are also motivated to learn by different things and different people. Think back to the teachers at school who taught you the best and the most and the easiest - the ones you remember.What was it about them and their teaching that caught your attention and made the lessons stick in your mind?

For me, it was the teachers who enthused about their subject, the ones who were passionate and animated and larger than life. My first secondary school English teacher was a ginger haired, wiry man with a rolling accent and an energy that propelled him around the classroom. With a book in one hand, and the other hand sweeping through the air, he drew us into each text like a fisherman casting a net. A retired actress taught me for my English literature A'level at college. She would cry over Shakespearean tragedy (we studied Romeo and Juliet) and become rather aroused, and hot and bothered, over a scene in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd where  Sergeant Troy flirts with Bathsheba with his sword (read it and you'll see why). Over the years there have been other teachers too whose words have stayed with me, and each time they have been enthusiasts and performers. That is the kind of teacher that suits me best. Find out what kind of teacher is the most effective for you.

A Word of Warning

Don't just accept any course or teacher without researching them first. Read a couple of pages of a book before purchasing it. Visit the website of an educational organisation or writer before signing up for their course. Search online or elsewhere for reviews. Anyone can say they have this or that qualification or experience. Check before any money changes hands. There are some wonderful writing mentors and teachers out there but equally there are people who will embroider their experience to charge a lot of money for information that you could have found anywhere (or probably already know).

Good luck. Good learning.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Nine No's of Dialogue from diy MFA is an excellent examination of how we can strengthen our dialogue.

Harness the Power of Words on the Finding Bliss site discusses the intentional and clever use of words to enrich our writing.

Treasures in the Attic is the latest in the Making the Most of Ideas series of articles by David B Coe on the Magical Words site.

How Stephen King Writes Imagery from Galleycat offers some excellent writing advice from one of my writing favourites.

Stay On Target: When is a Subplot Leading You Astray? from The Other Side of the Story talks about the  value and danger of subplots.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Happy Birthday Bram Stoker

165 years old today! Although he died in 1912, his name lives on as the creator of Dracula, a figure that, like Frankenstein's monster, has become entrenched in our cultural memory.

I read the book as a young teenager and scared myself witless for a few weeks afterwards. Every tap at my window was a vampire intent on drinking my blood (of course it was actually a moth drawn by the glow of my nightlight). That shadowy figure staggering down an alleyway in the city where I lived was surely another blood-sucking villain (no, just a drunk on a mid-day binge).

What many people do not realise is how prolific a writer Bram Stoker was, the author of many other novels (The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lair of the White Worm, to name but a couple), short stories and non fiction.

We see the mark of his classic vampire character in so many of our novels and films. The current trend for young adult vampire romance owes a great deal to this Irish writer.

Bela Lugosi in 1931's Dracula

Christopher Lee as Dracula in 1968

Al Lewis as Grandpa in The Munsters
Gary Oldman as Dracula in 1992

Leslie Nielsen as Dracula in 1995

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

In the Beginning: Which Type of Opening Works Best? from The Other Side of the Story discusses the pros and cons of different kinds of story openings.

Setting: The Stepchild of Writing Craft is a guest post by Blythe Gifford on the Erin Reel website suggesting five reasons that setting is such an important element to our stories.

How Emerging Authors Can Make The Perfect Pitch: Advice from Katharine Sands on the bookbaby site discusses pitch-craft.

Secondary Characters Have a Life of Their Own from the Live Write Thrive site talks about your novel's supporting cast.

The Scene Conflict Worksheet - Developing Tension in Your Novel from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing is a useful checklist to bring more depth to the conflict in your novel.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A scary (true) story for Hallowe'en

Many years ago, long before I met my husband, I lived in a bedsit in a house that I shared with a disparate group of strangers. There was the couple in the room next door who would row every day to the point of violence. Sometimes I would return to the house to find 'she' had thrown 'his' belongings down the stairs. There was the young man whose mother would send him food parcels each and every weekend, convinced that he would starve without her. In the other first floor room was a young woman whose 'boyfriends' would let themselves into the house in the early hours and tap on all the doors, calling for her, until she let them into her room.

None of us said more than a passing hello to each other. Each of us drifted around the others, separate in our own worlds. If the door bell rang, the person who was nearest (or the one who was in) would answer it. If the gas and electricity meters needed to be filled up, the one who noticed would take the key and card to be recharged. We could have been alone in that house for all the notice we took of our companions.

One a frosty day one winter, I found myself alone in the house. It was a Thursday. I was ill. The house was silent. Until the other tenants returned (I had no idea when that would be), I could pretend that the place was my own. I stayed in bed with a book.

The door bell rang. I considered ignoring it. Perhaps the caller would go away. The door bell rang again, longer this time. I imagined a finger pressed to the button, knuckles white. My room looked over the rear of the house so there was no way I could tell who the caller was, salesman or neighbour. I wrapped myself up in my dressing gown and padded down the stairs.

Through the frosted glass of the front door, I could see a short, grey figure peering through. The bell rang again.

When I opened the door, the caller stepped back. She was indeed grey, a short elderly woman dressed in a grey coat and scarf, a shopping bag slung over the wrist of one arm, a navy leather handbag grasped in the other.

"Is this the key cutter?" Her voice was dry, like rough skin on silk.

Her question took me by surprise. She asked me again, raising her voice and taking a step closer.

"No," I said eventually. She looked cold, grey hands trembling. I thought about asking her in so she could warm herself. "There's a hardware shop on the high street. They might cut keys."

"Are you sure?" Closer still, she stared up at me, then beyond me, considering the interior of the house.

"Yes, I'm sure."

She grunted, then chattering to herself about the cold and her aching feet, she turned away.

It was then that I saw it, except I couldn't quite realise what I seeing. It made no sense. I almost could not believe my eyes.

As she walked away, I could clearly see that her back, from the top of her head to the hem of her coat, was covered in matted, coiled cobwebs. This was not a single cobweb that had been brushed off a hedge or even one that had been spun on a hung up coat. This was a concoction that could not have been missed, a structure that would have taken months to construct.

She slammed the gate, glared at me once, then started up the path, still chattering to herself. "Keys," she said. "Keys."

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

On beginnings from Carrie Ryan of Magical Words discusses how to balance an inciting incident with an introduction to your characters at the start of your story.

Don't Make Your Character a Victim from Writerly Life suggests that however many hardships are thrown at your protagonist, they should never be a victim.

In Mojo, Steven Pressfield discusses the acquiring of this magical element through commitment to our writing (amongst other things).

Get Your Butt In A Chair And Write is an interview with author Jonathan Maberry on the Galleycat site.

Finding Characters Wherever You Look is written by Misty Massey on the Magical Words site. This is a piece of advice I faithfully adhere to, people watching to find characters.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

7 ways to survive NaNoWriMo

1. Plan your book

I don't necessarily mean write out a chapter plan but at the very least sketch out an idea of where your story will go, the barest bones of its plot. You don't have to keep exactly to this plan but at least you'll have a guideline to start from.

2. When will you write?

It's all well and good to announce that you're going to take part in NaNoWriMo but when during each (and every) day in November will you fit in that writing? Be realistic. You will still need to eat and sleep, go to work, have a bath and so on. Don't sabotage your writing month by not working out when in your current routine you can fit in this creative onslaught. Look at the things you have to do in November. Reschedule if you can. Juggle. Delegate. Beg mercy from your family. Find your slot and stick to it.

3. Where will you write?

You may already have a perfect corner to do your writing or you may be one of those people who writes where they can, or wherever they like. Again, be realistic. If you write every day for a month, where can you park yourself? To create a continual flow in your writing, it will probably be best to set up your creative station in the same place each day. Where can you do this without disrupting the rest of the household or your life (unless of course you want to disrupt your life)?

4. Park the internal editor

One of the joys, and demons, of NaNoWriMo is the need to write as much as you can, hopefully 50,000 words. This requires that you do not go back and edit. It's ok to read back but even this can raise the head of your internal editor. There will be plenty of time to call on him (or her) once December begins. For this month of 'literary abandon', send the IE on holiday.

5. Warn your family and friends

Yes, of course we fellow writers understand what NaNoWriMo requires from you but your loved ones may be unaware of the time, strong coffee and 'being left in peace' requirements that the month cries out for. Warn them in advance. More than that, tell them how important the process is to you. By all means, promise them the world in December once you've returned to the land of living - life is all about negotiation after all - but give them fair warning of your unavailability during November.

6.Seek out fellow NaNoWrimers

The month is all about writing as much as you can but it doesn't have to be a journey you take alone. There is a wonderful community of fellow travellers to call on. Visit the NaNoWriMo website to share your experience with all those other writers braving it along with you.

7. Finally, do not get hung up on word count

Yes, I know that there is a lovely little device on the website to record your word count and of course word count is what the month is all about but set yourself this rule. For the period of time each day that you write, do not check your word count. Stopping to check will  interrupt your flow of writing. Write, write, write and when you can write no more (or time runs out), stop and then see how much you've written.

Good luck, fellow travellers. On your marks...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Daydream Yourself into Your Work by Geoff Hoff discusses a method I use to prepare each section of my writing.

Be a Tree is another exercise in creativity by Geoff Hoff. Give it a try.

You'll Have to Go Through Me: Eliminating Filter Words from The Other Side of the Story is an excellent post on tightening your writing.

Mapping Out Your Story from diy MFA presents a new way to 'map' your storyline. It appeals to me particularly because of my experience of writing plays that I bring to my novel writing.

How To Revise Your Novel from the Prolific Novelista is a series of posts which have dropped into my notice at just the right time as I'm about to start the second draft of my novel. I have the first two parts of this series for you:
Part 1
Part 2

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Bit of Bookish Fun

I recently came across a range of accessories by Lulu Guinness that appeals to my book-habit.

I may have to invest in some early Christmas presents. Shush - don't tell my husband.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Although How to Turn Your Author Website Into a Resource Center Your Readers Can't Live Without from the bookbaby site is targeted at ebook authors, the advice it provides could be applied to any writer website or even their Facebook page. Have a look.

Forcing the Issue: Adding Conflicts to your Scenes from The Other Side of the Story talks about inner conflicts.

The Secret To Your Next Creative Breakthrough from Jeff Goins discusses the balance (or imbalance) between your art and your life.

5 Archetypes for Supporting Characters from DIY MFA talks about the role of the other characters in your stories.

Writing as Catharsis by Nathan Bransford talks about channelling our own emotions and life experience into our writing.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Where the creators gather

A British writer friend of mine recently made the comment that she had little idea where and when writers' conferences took place. I was sure that there must be a way to track these events down so from a trawl on the internet, I came up with the following.


Winchester Writers' Conference
Milford Writers' Conference
Edinburgh Wold Writers' Conference
Get Writing Conference
Swanwick Writers' Conference
Southern Writers' Conference
Northern Writers Workshop, York


Paris Conference
Williamette Writers Conference

Wikipedia  has a list of writers' conferences too. Have a look.

In the UK, you can also find news of writers conferences on the British Council website.

Other places to look are writing magazines, online and on noticeboards at libraries.

Finally, you can read about the benefits of attending a writers' conference here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

More on Fear and Writing, part I: Confessions of an Idle Writer from Magical Words talks about the fear of starting the next book.

The second part of this series - Imposter Syndrome - discusses the fear that we're a fake.

PR Daily's Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers is a short but interesting post from BookBaby.

How to Become an Exceptional Writer from the Copyblogger site looks at what makes a writer.

Shh! It's a Secret: Raising the Tension and Conflict in a Scene is an excellent piece from The Other Side of the Story.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Making the impossible possible

Many of the books I've read over the years, in fact the ones I've enjoyed the most, have been fantastical. They have been peopled by cyborgs fighting for their freedom, time travellers and fairy folk. Their characters have journeyed between dimensions, fought monsters and defeated aliens. Some have been fantasy stories and others have been science fiction (my preferred genres). On occasion, I've dipped into horror novels and quirky contemporary fiction. What all of these stories have done well is to create worlds where the fantastical elements do not detract from convincing me that these characters are authentic, feeling, living beings.

In the novel I'm writing, magical powers are an accepted part of society and yet Steve Haven still finds himself shocked by what he finds - a man who can travel miles by using a door, any door, to transport himself to a separate building, a woman with magical healing powers and children who can create light orbs. What earns his acceptance is the people behind this magic, the courageous shopkeeper, the protective mother and the loving daughter.

There's a lot of advice out there about how characters should be created. Some writers create a grid of set questions to answer about each character. Others find photos. Some just launch in and see how their characters develop. There's no right answer here. Trial and error will show you how to people your stories.

A reader will believe anything is possible if the characters in your stories are fully-fleshed out, genuine people (even if those people are green, tentacle-clad aliens). Their backgrounds, their attitudes, their slants on life will decide how your characters react. Will they fight or flee? Will they protect the small guy or join the bullies? Get to know your characters so well that you can reel off their life history in your head and they will develop a depth that your reader will love.

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" Albus Dumbledore

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

25 Inspiration Sources for the Discouraged Writer from Cheryl Reif Writes is an encouraging list of what to do when the muse goes on strike.

Jumper Cables - Kick-Start Your Writing Life from DiY MFA is a fun introduction to your writing journey via the route of a do-it-yourself equivalent to a masters degree in the arts (specifically, writing). Have a read.

How To Create A Killer Marketing Plan For Your Book Launch from Socialmouths is an informative and interesting article that I'll be bookmarking for future use.

Thinking in Blocks of Time from Steven Pressfield is all about pacing and resistance.

Wordsmithing: Backloading for Power from Magical Words discusses word order in your writing.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Whatever The Weather

Over in the UK, September has brought us weather that is reminiscent of Noah's ark-building days. There have been floods galore. The town I grew up in, York, has been especially affected.
Over here in Wales, the playgrounds at my children's school have turned into ankle-deep paddling pools and I was forced to buy myself some new wellies. Cold, crisp September mornings are bracing and encourage me to look around but the constant drip drip drip of rain drops from my hood or umbrella just make me want to curl up on the couch.

I use this feeling of rain chasing us away home, causing us to look down and inwards, in the first chapter of the novel that I'm writing to create a sense of people apart from the crowds that surround them, caught in their own thoughts, which is a major characteristic of my main character, Steve Haven.

In The Mist, a story by Stephen King, the fog lends a similar quality of being disconnected but in this case, the disconnected are in groups who ultimately turn to each other. The main character David Drayton is trapped in a supermarket with several other people. The fog is mysterious, restrictive and claustrophobic. It is as much a character in the story as the people in the supermarket.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis, the snow represents the hold of the Snow Queen. Like her, it is cold, numbing and unfeeling.

Setting the mood of a piece of writing by using the device of weather is an old trick and yet it is one that still works well. How do you use the weather in your writing? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Use a Simpler Word from the Writerly Life site discusses the efficiency of simpler language in certain situations.

J R R Tolkien was an early writing hero of mine - I have a great leather bound tome of his trilogy, Lord of the Rings - so I was delighted to find this article on the Bestseller Labs site - J R R Tolkien's Top 10 Tips for Writers.

On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part V - The Quest from David B Coe on Magical Words is the latest instalment in this series of articles.

Ugh, What Do I Write About? The Struggle for Ideas by The Other Side of the Story talks about finding inspiration and revamping the ideas you already have.

25 Reasons to Keep Writing from Paperback Writer is a fun but very true list. Have a look.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Today is the Autumn Equinox, the day at this end of the year in the UK when day and night are the same length.

Autumn can stand for many things, in our lives and our writing. This is the season of harvest where we gather and benefit from what we have 'sown' over the spring and summer. It can symbolise a move from youth (the summer) to adulthood (the autumn), especially as our children charge into a new school year. It can also bring over us a feeling of melancholy. This is a season of both beauty and sadness. The golden colours and ripe fruit present us with their glorious hues and yet it is also time to pack away the toys of summer, time to look back and ahead.

I was married in autumn, a wonderful day in October that united friends and family for a few playful hours. It was one of the happiest days in my life, but the saddest too. My father had died a couple of years before that and my mother was too ill with dementia to attend. We played a favourite song of my father's as I walked down the aisle (What a wonderful life sung by Louis Armstrong) and the cake was decorated with roses, my mother's favourite flower. I spoke of their absence briefly in my wedding speech but it was a personal sadness that I kept to myself for the most part.

Autumn can also stand for change and as I am a child of change it suits me well. Each autumn, I look at the changes that have happened in my life over the past year. The biggest changes are always in my children as they grow and learn but there are also more subtle differences there too.

What does autumn mean to you?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Take Note

Among the many wonderful things I inherited from my father is something that I don't admit to many people. It's a bit embarrassing but I know I'm not alone in doing this. I talk to myself. If you were a fly on the wall in my home, on frequent occasions you would catch me throwing my hands up while I pace around and talk over some problem with me, myself and I. I don't do this in public or even when my family are around. I have to be alone because it still strikes me as a tad odd to be doing this but, you see, it works. It allows me to brainstorm, albeit with only my own brain, all the challenges I come up against in my writing. Would that character really say that? Would blackmail be sufficient motivation for violence? How tall should a housemaid robot be? It all gets thrown into the mix, tossed around and dumped on a plate of conclusion (mostly).

The only downside to my lone rantings is that I sometimes enjoy the conversation so much that I forget bits of it. For example, I've recently been  throwing around the elements of the end of my novel which presents the final confrontation. It's an exciting, fast-paced series of events that I've rolled out in my imagination like scenes in a film. 

Enter protagonist who is immediately accosted by antagonist and his helpers.

Switch to protagonist's friends who are finding another way into the building.

Switch back to the captured protagonist who...

It goes on and on and when I initially began to run this film through my mind, I forgot a couple of details. I was forced to retrace my thought process back but then I lost some of the later details and had to go forward through the train of thought. I should know better because I've already learnt the lesson that it's fine to get carried away in this brainstorming of ideas, after all it's that enthusiastic wandering that makes my writing so organic, but that I must also make notes, be they scribbled on a pad, typed on the computer or added to the note function on my mobile phone.

Always carry some way of recording your thoughts, even if it's only a pen and a screwed-up receipt. Make sure that when the muse bashes you on the head with the speaking stick, you can record the resulting inspiration. If you only have space for one word or a phrase, that's fine. Just ensure that you make a note.

I have some work mapped out on my novel to get back to. I have three men in a dark apartment and a robot. At the moment, I'm throwing around the ideas of where they find the robot and how it reacts. Is it violent? Is it on charge? I haven't figured that one out yet but before I get too carried away, I need to find a pen. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Today, I have changed tack to bring you writing advice from a number of authors via YouTube.

Howard Jacobson

Lisa Jewell

Anthony Horowitz

David Walliams

Philippa Gregory

Oliver Jeffers

And finally, a bit of bookish fun.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Turning Pro

It isn't often that I speed through a book like the proverbial bullet, especially when it's a non fiction read. Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield has been a recent exception.

Unlike some instructive tomes, Turning Pro is a relatively slimline publication, under 150 pages long. I had heard a lot of praise for Steven Pressfield online in the run up to the appearance of Turning Pro and the more I investigated, the more I found genuine, well-read people enthusing about Mr Pressfield. This wasn't just buy-my-book 'hype'. His website is thoughtful, interesting and educational and you can find an excellent biography on his about page.

I'm one of those people who tend to dip into books, maybe daily, maybe weekly. I could pretend that this is down to a deep tendency to take my time to let the book's subject matter sink into my being. I could tell you that, but I'd be lying. What actually happens is that I fit in my reading as and when I can. I have a book at my bedside, a book on my iPhone and usually perched somewhere in the house a third book for reading while I eat my lunch. I read half an hour here, forty five minutes there and perhaps a couple of minutes on my iPhone while I stand waiting outside school for my children to launch themselves into the afternoon. I rarely have lengthy reading sessions (oh the decadent luxury of an hour's quiet reading with a glass of wine and the remote control hidden from the rest of the family). I expected to read Turning Pro in my usual fashion and flicking through the book, the short sections appeared to lend themselves to this. So I got my lunch one day during the summer break and settled down to eat with Turning Pro as my companion. My children, having sped through their food to return to their computers, had abandoned me. It was just me, a sandwich, and Steven Pressfield.

A while later, my husband interrupted me. Peering round the door, he said, "You're very quiet. I thought you'd gone out. Have the kids eaten tea yet?"

Four hours had passed as I travelled with Steven Pressfield. I hadn't noticed them pass and yet they had definitely departed. What I had expected to be a book of  school-room lessons turned out to be a journey through the lanes of self-doubt, discovery and triumph. Pressfield uses his own experience and wanderings to express what so many writers go through, and to describe the commitment  (and self realisation) it takes to step off the 'amateur' boat and become a professional.

I was so impressed by my first Turning Pro reading fest that I finished it off the next day. Unlike a lot of instructive writing manuals that I personally find rather 'dry', this book proved to be a colourful, heartfelt delight. I love stories. I'm a story-teller myself. What better way to teach me, than with stories?

I wrote in the War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.

Steven Pressfield

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Something Unique To Say by Steven Pressfield discusses the value of our individual voices.

How To Write Better: 7 Instant Fixes from Write To Done is a useful article on tightening your writing. I shall be keeping this one to hand for when I start my second draft this autumn.

The Eyes Have It: Are You Overlooking Things In Your Manuscript? from The Other Side of the Story talks about the over use of 'look' and similar words.

Is Your Author Website Helping Your or Holding You Back? from bookbaby gives some useful tips on improving your author website.

Pitching Your Book to an Agent at a Writer's Conference, also from bookbaby, talks about the realities of jumping the query letter queue.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors is from the BuzzFeed site and provides both an interesting and inspirational read.

A tested way to write a gripping story from Writers Village discusses the use of Freytag's pyramid. Confused? Read this article to find out more.

Tricks to Keep You Writing on the Writerly Life site is a list of methods to keep on going.

Writing great cover letters to agents and publishers is a podcast by Iain Broome in which he talks to author, Nicola Morgan.

Writing Lapses: 5 Tips to Get You Back on Track from the Write It Sideways site offers ways to get started (again).

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Thinking a Career by Steven Pressfield talks about the existence of your 'career-in-potential'.

From Blog to Book: An Interview with Author Rachael Herron discusses whether a blog is right for you and how it can enhance your writing.

Everything is Fiction posted by Keith Ridgway on the New Yorker site talks about how the writing process doesn't get any easier with practice (and publication).

A Right Fit: Navigating the World of Literary Agents written by Michael Bourne, a staff writer for The Millions site describes his journey to find an agent.

Making the most of ideas: Part IV - Blindsides, gaps and spinoffs from the Magical Writing site continues the 'making the most of ideas' series.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Next Big Thing: Week 10

This post has been created as part of the author event 'The Next Big Thing'. The lovely Zoe Brooks was the one who tagged me so thank you, Zoe. The Next Big Thing is an ongoing process, hence the 'Week 10' in the title.  Within the rules of this blogging event is the requirement to answer ten questions about your current work in progress. So, here goes.

What is the working title of your book?

Haven Falling.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a difficult one to answer because the original idea, born decades ago, was completely different from the one I have now. What is the same are the basic characters. It started out as a Tolkien-esque fantasy about the need to join two halves that were once whole and has finished up being a futuristic fantasy about magic, robots and joining two parts of a society that have been wrongfully torn apart.

What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your charcters in a movie rendition?

This has changed from time to time, especially as the characters have developed in ways that I didn't expect but:

Steven Haven - James McAvoy
Winters - Sean Bean
Nigel Locke - Nicholas Hoult
Daniel Moran - Ian McKellen
Eleanor Palmer - Judi Dench
Hartley Keg - Brian Blessed

I'm undecided about Isabelle, Mariana and the darkling.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Steve Haven inherits his uncle's corporation, is attacked, rescued and dragged into an unknown world of magic all in the space of 24 hours- as Mondays go, it's interesting.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'd like to go down the route of traditional publishing, hence with representation by an agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Still working on it but due to be finished within the next couple of weeks. It's been a long haul from the original concept but in this format, it's taken me about three years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don't really like comparing my work to anyone else's because, to paraphrase Audrey Hepburn, I'd rather be a first rate version of myself than a second rate version of someone else.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

If I look back to the original idea, I have absolutely no idea where it all came from. In its current form though, I'd say my favourite film 'Blade Runner' had some influence on the world in the book, or rather the look of it. Inspiration can be fleeting, mysteriously leaving you with a gem.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

This is the first of a trilogy - three individual stories but with an over-riding story arc that will hopefully surprise the reader and make them look back on what they've read with fresh eyes. I plan to create a world that encapsulates all the novels I write (not only the trilogy) - a world where magic exists, shadows live and help can come in the strangest of forms.


So there you have it. Now it's time to tag five writers to pass this on to. Here goes.

Kelly Hashway
Rebecca Woodhead
Iain Broome
Sue Ann Bowling
Stacy Green

Please do have a look at their sites.

Rules of The Next Big Thing

  • Use this format for your post.
  • Answer the ten questions about your current work in progress.
  • Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing
  • What is the working title of your book?
  • Where did the idea come from for the book?
  • What genre does your  book fall under?
  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your  book?
  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
  • What other  books would you compare this story to within your genre?
  • Who or what inspired you to write this book?
  • What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you tag.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Why Are We Wired for Story? from Writer Unboxed asks what a reader really looks for in a story.

Make me turn the page, I dare you! by John G Hartness from Magical Words discusses compelling beginnings.

Should writers rethink butt in chair mentality? from Suzannah at Write It Sideways discusses how our writerly lifestyle can affect our health.

Work on another part of your story from Writerly Life talks about how to get over a writing stumbling block.

Making the most of ideas, part III from Magical Words discusses the fear of being scooped.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Finding the Unfamiliar Phrase from Magical Words discusses word play.

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar on the 109 site is a fun, informative article.

Making the Most of Ideas, part 1 and part 2 on the Magical Words site discusses what to do when inspiration strikes.

What's Love Got to Do with It? by David Boyne on the Author Magazine site is a wonderful interview with the late Ray Bradbury.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Sound of Inspiration

Have I told you that I like to write to the sound of, well, silence? I also like to be alone which is why most of my writing is done while my children are at school. This means that the summer holidays can play hell with my writing routine and my sleep allowance because during those six weeks, I snatch evening hours to write. Without those times of silence in the morning and early afternoon, my brain finds it difficult to centre itself to the place I need to be to write.

However before the sumptuous silence sets in, I like to get my creative juices flowing by playing one or two favourite songs. Here is my inspirational playlist this summer.

Earthquake by Labrinth

Tron Legacy by Daft Punk

True Colours by Cyndi Lauper

Here comes the rain by Eurthymics

David Guetta Without You ft. Usher

David Guetta and Kelly Rowland - When Love Takes Over

Inspired by Suz Williams

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Throw a Wrench in the Works from Writerly Life talks about adding conflict and complications to your story.

How to write with insight comes from a site and a writer that I've only just discovered - Sarah Selecky. It discusses how curiosity can produce some of the best writing but can also be uncomfortable for writers.

Calling All Inspiration Hunters by Danielle LaPorte talks about hunting out inspiration rather than just waiting for it to come to us.

Getting Things Done and the Mindful Productivity Ninja from Think Productive is all about coping with lizard brain. Confused? Read this article to find out more.

Steve Pressfield is fast becoming another writing hero of mine. His latest blog post Inside the All Is Lost Moment is another great read.