Thursday, May 26, 2011

Comic Book Heroes

Someone I know is writing a dissertation about Superman – discussing among other things why he needs to look the way he does when really he could have had a perfectly ordinary body just with added super powers. And why is he seen as the perfect man (apart from the whole tights thing of course) and a role model for others? He’s not the only one though - it seems to me we’re being inundated with comic book heroes at the moment, but I for one am not complaining!

There are the X-men, who seem to be coming at us right, left and centre, with a new film instalment due out shortly. We’ve had Iron Man times two, Thor, He-Man (okay, it was a while ago, but still ...), the Fantastic Four, umpteen Batmen and Spidermen, Green Hornet and Green Lantern, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Hellboy and The Phantom. Captain America is coming soon and apparently next year he’s joining forces with Thor and Iron Man in the film “Avengers”. Sounds good to me, but why are we so fascinated with these guys? (Or is it just that the film companies can’t come up with any original stories?)

The comic book heroes seem to have all the qualities we try to give our fictional heroes, at least the alpha kind – they’re handsome, muscular (have more or less perfect bodies), are always on the side of justice and they're unbeatable. You can depend on them in a crisis and no matter what fate throws at them, they always triumph. The only drawback is that they’re not really human. Maybe it’s the fantasy of these perfect men we like? The thought that somewhere, out there, is a guy like that – almost too good to be true, but real.

So what does that say about all the poor normal men who don’t measure up? Can a normal man actually be as great? Can our fictional heroes? Obviously, they’ll never be as physically perfect (and I kind of feel sorry for the actors who have to play those parts, with all the body-building and incessant eating they have to do!), but not everyone wants a muscle-bound hunk, so nicely sculpted will do. For me, a lot of the comic heroes seem to be lacking a sense of humour too, which is a really important hero trait I think. And although they’d be great at protecting you, I don’t necessarily want a body guard 24/7.

Still, it’s a nice fantasy and my current obsession (apart from Prince of Persia, which I still haven’t let go of) is Thor. Angry, larger than life, but still quite human in his emotions, I think he’s wonderful! If I was to meet any of the comic book heroes, I’d choose him any day. And he doesn’t wear tights, which is always a plus ...

If you could choose a comic book hero, who would it be? (Julie, I think I can guess your answer, but everyone else ...?)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Company of Writers

I had a treat last Friday. I went to my local RNA chapter meeting.

It's been a while since I've been, and it was exciting to see the many new faces among the familiar, and have a sense of so many established, just beginning and up and coming writers assembled in one place.

In the beginning there were just four or so of us, meeting in each other's houses, sharing a pot luck lunch. Last Friday there were thirteen of us who could make the date.

We run the gamut of romantic (and non-romantic, come to think of it) genres and every form and format of publishing. We're in libraries and magazines, stores from Asda to Waterstones. Published and unpublished, we all have manuscripts under the bed, stories unfinished, and hopes for the future. We come from all over Northumberland and Newcastle, with a couple of interlopers like myself, out on my little limb in north-west Cumbria.

Although I'm the official 'contact' for the group, work commitments and sheer distance (and diesel prices!) keep me from going as often as I'd like. They say writing is a solitary profession, and they're right - you only have to look at the way writers gravitate to e-loops, message boards, and social networking sites to get together with other writers and combat that solitary state.

Once in a while, though, the desire to connect transcends the world wide web. We need to get together, discuss our latest projects, fickle reviewers, unaccountable rejections and impossible revisions. We need to look each other in the eye, laugh, groan, sympathise, cheer... and remind ourselves we're not mad.

Or at least, that we're only as mad as other writers.

Do you get to meet with other writers in the flesh? Where, how, and what do you talk about?

Pop back on Thursday to see what's on Christina's mind...

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I have a post-it on my computer monitor saying WRITE CRAP. It's one of the most valuable pieces of writing advice I know.

I told that once to a reporter and they happily printed the fact that I believed I was publishing foecal matter, so let me explain what I really do mean.

I'm not saying my books are crap. Well, they might be, but I'm sort of attached to them so I wouldn't abuse them so soundly. What I'm saying is that at the composition stage, it's actively useful for me to allow myself to write badly. If I felt that I needed to fill each and every page, every little sentence, with exactly the right words—if I tried to produce a final draft when I was really creating a first one—I would be paralysed. I would be depressed. I would never write anything at all.

I realised, quite early on in this game, that my first drafts are rubbish. They're full of bad words, or good words put the wrong way. Dodgy motivations, two-dimensional characters, sketchy settings, large chunks where nothing happens, things that basically any four-year-old with a pencil could write better than me. They have big gaps where I'm not sure what should happen. They have XXXs where I haven't been bothered to find the correct word or do a bit of research.

They are so bad, that nobody should ever be forced to read them, ever.

The thing though, is this. First drafts are MEANT to be rubbish. First drafts are written to benefit the writer. Some people call them "discovery drafts", which is a useful way of thinking: a first draft exists so that the author can discover the story, making lots of mistakes along the way.

At the beginning of a story, I need to allow myself to write crap. Depressing as it can be, I need to write words knowing I'll be deleting them later. Because the wrong words lead to the right ones. And making mistakes—writing crap—means that when it comes to doing a second draft, I'll have learned the right thing to do to make the second draft NOT crap.

You write crap so that you can fix it later.

I'm reminding myself of this right now, because I've just finished copy edits on a lovely, finished, polished manuscript which is as perfect as is humanly possible for me to make it right now, and I've plunged immediately into writing a new first draft for a new story. And boy, is it bad, especially compared to the coherent thing I just sent off to my editor. It jumps around all over the place. I can't get a grip on the heroine, or her friends. I'm not really sure that the plot makes sense. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

But I need to give myself permission to write crap, or else the crows of doubt will be pecking my eyes out with a vengeance. I need to remember: it's okay to make mistakes. It's NECESSARY to make mistakes. We all do it, because we all need to.

I might need some more post-it reminders, though.

Please come back on Sunday, when Anna Louise Lucia will be posting something possibly less crap-focused.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Killing Off Characters

Photo from Warner Bros. films

Every now and then, I have to kill someone.

I never like to do it, and I have in fact been known to try to save them, in my rewrites, from that necessary if untimely end. In one case I created a character specifically to kill him later on, to give my heroine the push she'd need to launch her into action, but as the book went on I grew so very fond of him that, when the moment came for him to die, I really suffered. Tried a hundred other ways to write that scene, to let him live, but in the end it wasn't any good. The story simply didn't work unless he died. But I still mourn him, and I know that there are readers out there now who don't forgive me for that scene, and never will.

I understand. For me, there's always been a difference between killing off a character I barely know, and killing someone I have come to care about.

To illustrate: For years now I've watched countless Star Trek redshirts meet their ends without it making me feel more than passing sympathy, if that.

But watching this scene did me in completely. (Still does, even now).

It think that it's the level of the loss. The way it changes things. Because a death should change things, in my view, at least in fiction—it should never go unnoticed.

If you know me, then you'll know my books will always have a happy ending. Nothing ruins my own enjoyment as a reader more than having everything end badly, with the central couple torn apart by death or war or circumstance (unless I can imagine their reunion for myself, and "end" the story where I feel it should have ended).

But because I rarely plan my books, I sometimes never know myself just who will be left standing at the end and who, in rewrites, I'll be trying to revive. I only know that those who die (except for villains, maybe) will not die for nothing. And I know that if their death upsets me, then I've done it right. If that makes sense.

Have you killed characters yourself? Or do you know a character whose death, in your opinion, was unnecessary?

(Don't forget to come back Thursday, when the less bloodthirsty Julie Cohen will be posting..)

Thursday, May 12, 2011


As in “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (from John Lennon).

I was on top of things this week. Or I was at the beginning. Blog posts, work, revisions all ticking along nicely. I even had a plan about how things are going to be in the next few months. Done, I thought. Now I can just get on and do my stuff. You know churning out x words a day, every day.

And that is when life came knocking. Nothing shattering, nothing awful just the unexpected which made most of those plans unworkable. So now the blog is late, revisions have stalled and the next few months are all over the place. I am discombobulated to say the least. Now every thing is whirling round my head as I try and juggle it all. The easy rhythm of revisions has stuttered to nothing. Damn.

It was a timely reminder that I have to be more flexible. I am a planner/project manager by trade and I instinctively take tasks and break them down to the basics and work out the critical path. This works reasonably well with IT projects and building projects but not so much with other stuff. Stuff where it turns out other people have been making plans too... and they got theirs out there first. I'm not sure everyone got the memo that I was in charge... ;-)

I suppose it isn’t any different to how characters in a novel feel.  There they are making plans when BAM we, the author, make life happen to them. Maybe this is my comeuppance? I have been being nasty to my heroine and she’s had a word with someone and I am getting my just deserts.

All I ask is that I get a happy ending…

Come back on Sunday to see what has been happening in Susanna’s life…

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What's In A Name?

by S Fenwick
I have a challenge in front of me. I may have to change name of the house in THE CORNISH HOUSE...

Currently the name is Carnew which I had changed slightly from Carnewyth meaning 'new camp'. I wanted to keep it simple and easy to pronounce.

Many have heard the phrase...

'By Tre, Ros, Pol, Lan, Car and Pen,
Ye shall know the most of Cornishmen'

So I'm looking for a new's the hitch. In AUGUST ROCK the house is Trevenen and PENDEROWN is the title and the name of the that leaves me with Ros, Pol, Lan or Car...

When my mother-in-law passed away I was lucky enough to inherit her books on Cornwall and have spent many a happy hour or ten stuck in the pages and I'm back there again. The one that is missing from the rhyme above is Bos (or bot or bo which means house and in view of the name of book maybe this is where I should head...however I was thinking of Bosworgy (home above the water) for the cottage in the book brewing ENEMY.

Bosnowyth (new house)
Bosventinew (home at the head of the springs)
Boswarthan (shelter)

Now their are other beginnings that mean house... Ti, Ty, Chy....
Chyfenton (house by a spring)
Chy-an-gwel (house by a field)

I could go on...the name of the house is important because it is a character in the story and like naming my heroine or any other character is has to have meaning and resonance not just to me but to my reader.

Do you have a favourite house from a book? What was its name? Have you had to name a house? I haven't found the meaning for Manderley yet...and then there's Nancherrow in the Rosamund Pilcher books...

Happy Mothers' Day to those in the US, Canada and Australia....

Come back on Thursday to see what Biddy is up...

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Over on another blog we’ve recently been talking about feeling old, and how even when the outside is a bit weathered, on the inside we stay 25 (or whatever was the best age for us). I don’t like being judged by how old I am and really resent it when people expect you to behave in a certain way just because you’re not a teenager any more.

Of course I understand that there comes a point where you have to act responsibly, but does that mean you have to become really boring or stop having fun occasionally? Does it mean you’re not allowed to go wild, a little crazy or go with the flow? I had a weird experience last week which made me feel this is the case.

I went to a concert where the majority of the audience consisted of what would be called middle-aged people (not a term I’m fond of either – how do we know what’s going to be the middle of our lives?). Anyway, this was a rock concert, because the main attraction was Paul Rodgers, formerly of the bands Free and Bad Company. (If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you’ll have to take my word for it, they were huge!) And when you go to a rock concert, you rock. Right? Not this time.

Here, the audience sat very nicely in their allotted seats and occasionally nodded their heads. They listened politely to the warm-up band (who happened to be Joe Elliott, lead singer of Def Leppard, and his new pet project the Down’n’Outz – trust me, those guys can rock!) and a few people clapped along to the last couple of songs. Then there was an intermission while we waited for Mr Rodgers and there were vendors selling ice cream from little trays in the aisles the way they do in theatres! I was astonished. I mean, who goes to a rock concert and eats ice cream? Never happened to me before. Beer, hot dogs, dodgy hamburgers and crisps maybe, but ice cream?

Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong kind though. The last few concerts Ive been to were in the company of my teenage daughter, since I happen to like the kind of music she listens to as well. Those were attended by a much younger audience who didn’t sit down at all, but “moshed” and threw beer around while dancing in wild circles, crowd surfing and generally going mad. That may be a bit extreme, but they were showing their enthusiasm for the music. They were doing something!

Mr Rodgers eventually got his audience to stand up and sing a bit, even clap along to the beat, and a few daring souls tried a spot of head-banging, but they were in the minority. It was all so staid I wanted to scream. The beat had me tapping my foot and wriggling in my seat. I had to force myself to stay sitting down. I wanted to dance, punch the air with my fist, sing along tunelessly (that’s one of the great things about loud concerts, isn’t it, no one can hear how bad your singing is). But I didn’t dare, because no one else was.

It got me wondering – at what age do we get that inhibited? And do we, as authors, ever get to that point with our writing? Will there come a day when I think “nope, can’t write that, it’s too exuberant for someone my age”. I hope not! When I write, I let my imagination have free rein, the way I wanted to do with my tapping feet at the concert. If I want to be 25 again (via my heroine of course), I am and I would be annoyed if someone told me I couldn’t do it because on the outside I’m older than that.

How many of us have the courage to be who we really want to be on the outside? How many of us dare to let go of our inhibitions and act contrary to everyone else if we feel the occasion merits it?

Maybe next time I will, just to see what happens. What would you have done?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Favourite Things

I don't know if Julie knows that I sometimes have a hard time thinking up something to blog about (probably because I'm usually posting on a Sunday, when I'm all wound-down and empty-brained) or if she just thinks of me whenever she makes a cake. Which is by no means unreasonable.

Either way, she's quite right, I do have a Fine Appreciation of Cake. It's been dented in recent years by my wheat-free status, but that's okay - it's just reinforced my pavlova obsession.

And believe it or not, thinking about cake did actually bring me to a topic for this blog about characters and making them real.

Via cake stands and aprons.

Yes, cake stands and aprons. I have, at the most recent count, seven cake stands and nine aprons. I like them. I like to look at them, and I like to use them. They are pretty, practical and two of my very favourite things.

So, what are my heroines' favourite things? Those things that make them double-take on the high street, go ooooooh at a picture in a magazine, and beg on their birthday?

Thinking about heroines in my published and unpublished manuscripts, I mostly drew a blank. Countryside Ranger Jenny has a thing for trees, it's true, but it's subtle, and not of the common or garden birthday-present variety. Mari, growing up as sole carer for her ailing father, hasn't had much opportunity to even KNOW what she likes, a fact she acknowledges herself. Shiftless thief Lisa's two favourite things are pretty much her only possessions - her boat and an item of her mother's jewelry. And she abandons them both the instant she realises owning the boat has made her an unwilling accessory to murder. Another heroine has everything money can buy, but nobody's ever asked her what she actually wants. Another has been busy being a Mum since she was sixteen, and is only ten years later starting to think about what she wants out of life - even her three children have their favourite things, but she doesn't.

Now, I THINK this is because I tend to write heroines who are out of their depth and suffering, for whom favourite things are just not important. I HOPE this isn't because I write shallow characters, because I actually think little details like cake stands and aprons give a character depth. Especially when the character who covets them also has, say, chainsaw certification and dirt under their fingernails.

But I'll be thinking about this again when I'm editing the current WIP.

How about your (and your characters') favourite things? What springs to mind?

(And for the curious, the cake stand pictured is one I received from my lovely in-laws for my birthday last month, and the apron is a red version of the green one Biddy (who has impeccable taste) gave me some years back. Mmmmmm.....)

Pop back on Thursday for Christina's next post!