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).