Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ten Commandments – Thou Shalt Not Covet (Well Maybe A Little)

I have broken yet another commandment (I will be spending a long time in purgatory the rate I’m going!) I have been coveting my neighbour’s novels. Not my actual neighbour, I don’t think he writes. Maybe I should ask him. No, I have been coveting other people’s work.

Every time I pick up a book that vaguely has anything to do with YA or fantasy I am filled with envy. I see their sparkling prose, their clever plotting their sure hand with characterisation and I burn with jealousy. How did they do that? How can they be so good?

Looking then at my sloppy and saggy draft I want to cry. How can I ever be as good as that? How?

At this point I have been known to fall to my knees, rend my shirt and beat my breast whilst howling ‘WHY???” at the heavens (this could explain why my neighbours don’t talk to me).

And then a tiny voice comes to me… their books have been edited, polished. I am comparing my unfinished and unformed story to one that has been through more processes. I am comparing a child with an adult…

So I have decided that all though I am allowed to covet my neighbours books, I have to dig deep to find what it is that I envy so much. And when I have found that I can apply it to my own work.

Or of course I could just stop reading (would save on those rended shirts)

Whose work do you covet?

Come back on Sunday when Susanne will be chatting.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Persona

I'm a bit more ways than one. The alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and I didn't know where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. This of course is not surprising with my travel schedule but it has been happening in other ways. In 2011 I have apparently changed. Yes I am still wife and mother but I am now author. This last bit is the change. Of course I have been writing for years but my debut comes out next May and that has waved some sort of magic wand over me.

You see people are behaving differently towards me...on the flight on Friday I was asked for my autograph even though isn't yet a physical book to sign. Staying with close friends over the weekend I was questioned and treated as almost a celebrity by another friend of theirs.

This is a very peculiar feeling. One minute feted and the next emptying out my eldest's school truck with the accumulated five years worth of rugby mud and teenage junk. I have moved from writer to author and most people now are treating differently (except the family of course - the magic wand hasn't vanished the laundry or the ironing).

It's must be like this one someone has changed the hair colour being a brunette and the suddenly being blonde and people assume you don't have a brain...or the other way around. It's an interesting experiment...maybe one of my characters will alter radically in my next book book so that everyone treats them differently although nothing has really changed. Has this ever happened to you or to one of your characters?

Now I must figure out where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing.

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two Heads Are Better Than One

... or maybe in this case, four eyes are better than two?

You’re probably wondering what I’m on about, although if you’re an author perhaps you can guess? Yep, I’m in the middle of doing rewrites/edits on my forthcoming novel, which means I’ve got someone else scrutinising my work – an extra pair of eyes checking it over. It’s a bit scary, to be honest. I mean, before getting to this point, the story is just that – a story I’ve written and sent to a publisher for possible publication. Once the edits arrive, that’s when it really hits you – this is going to be a proper book and people are going to be reading this! Yikes! It had better be good, or as good as I can make it.

Which is where the copy editor comes in ...

She/he can look at the story objectively, and at a distance I don’t think an author could ever achieve with their own work. I always find it amazing how people can have such different “takes” on things, but I know that if the meaning isn’t clear to the copy editor, I haven’t done my job properly and it needs to be rewritten.

I have to say this is my least favourite part of the writing process. It’s a bit like when we had to dissect some poor unsuspecting (hopefully very dead) frog back in high school biology. I just felt sorry for him, I didn’t particularly want to know how his organs fitted together or why some of them worked in a particular way! By the time I send my manuscript to the publisher, I’ve read it so many times I never want to see it again. Ever. So the last thing I want to do is tinker with it or try to analyse why a particular scene isn’t working.

However, I know my writing is far from perfect and that other people can see the mistakes more clearly than I ever will. Not just typos, but glaring plot holes and inconsistencies in the way characters act and so on. For each book I write, I think I’ll learn to catch these myself, but still they appear. So the editing is vital and there’s nothing for it but to knuckle down and try and see the story from the other person’s eyes, then hopefully improve it.

It’s very easy at this stage to start thinking “OMG, I’m a crap writer, why am I doing this and how could I have missed these things myself?” But that’s when you have to take a deep breath and trust your publisher/editor/copy editor – if it was really that bad, they wouldn’t have taken it on in the first place (would they?). Well, I hope not! So now all we have to do is make sure it’s as perfect as we can make it. I say we because it IS a team effort - we’re working towards the same goal.

Would the end product be as good without a copy editor? No way. So I’m very grateful and would like to send a big thank you to all copy editors out there – you probably deserve champagne and chocolates at the very least for putting up with neurotic authors like me!

Please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Props and Prompts

(Image from

I'm a procrastinator. Generally I will do just about anything to avoid sitting down to work. Therefore I've evolved a certain routine to get me writing, prompts that tell me 'It's Work Time' rather than 'It's Muck Around On Twitter Time'. The idea is that if you do the same thing every time you sit down to work, your subconscious will get itself into work mode and it will be ready to go. This is particularly useful when you don't work in an office, but rather a cluttered corner of your own home.

Over the years I've tried lots of writing prompts. I have a spray bottle of scent, for example, that I can spray around when I am seriously distracted, with the idea that the smell will remind me to be productive. (This one doesn't work so well, because I like the smell so much that I often spray it around when I'm not working, too. Thereby confusing my subconscious mind, but improving the atmosphere of my house.)

My most basic essential prompt is a cup of tea. I've tried doing this with a glass of water instead, since it's so important to drink lots of water, but for some reason only a hot beverage really works. It's either a cup of jasmine green tea (if I'm off caffeine) or a cup of PG Tips with milk, preferably strong enough to leave tannin rings on everything it touches.

I get through a frankly obscene amount of tea every working day.

My other habitual prompt is music. I make a sound track for every book I write—usually it's an organic thing, that grows as I write the book, but sometimes I plan it out in advance—and I only listen to that music when I'm writing, or thinking about my book. Other times, I play the radio or listen to other CDs. This works even better than the tea, and I know this because it works in reverse, too. I can have a cup of tea any old time and I don't always think about my book; but if I hear one of the songs on my soundtrack when I'm away from my desk, say on the radio or the TV, I immediately think about my characters. If I've got my iPod on shuffle and one of my soundtrack songs comes up, I'm transported back to the world of my story, even if the song is from the soundtrack to a book I wrote years ago.

To be accurate, I guess that my tea is a writing prop, whereas my soundtrack is a writing prompt. (That extra m and t make all the difference.)

What are your writing props, or prompts?

Come back on Thursday when Anna will be posting...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Cousins and Characters

Today being my cousin Kerri’s birthday, my thoughts have turned to family and the role they play in both our real lives and the stories we create.

My first cousins both live in Arizona, meaning I don’t get to see them very often. I haven’t been to Arizona since I was in high school, but my cousins, first and second, and their families, are a huge part of the fabric of my life.

I may not be there for the daily interaction, but across the distance we still share each other’s joys and triumphs, and our losses. We have “watched” each other’s children grow, through photographs and through our parents’ conversations. We still end our phone calls with “I love you”, and we mean it, and I know that if I needed them they’d be there in a heartbeat, with no questions asked.

A person doesn’t have to be beside you to be necessary to your life, and knowing this myself I try to give my written characters a family that extends beyond the people we can see.

I like to find this as a reader, too, in books like Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, where Elena’s “family” member Logan, far away and on the phone, is such a vital part of who Elena is, and what she does, or in Lucilla Andrews’s The First Year, in which her brother Hector’s words of wisdom, from the wings, guide Rose’s interactions with the men she meets.

There’s something about family I can’t quantify or name, but it connects us to each other all the same, for good (in my case) or for bad, and I like to let my characters experience that kind of deep connection.

Has a far-flung family member, in your life or in a book you’ve read, had that effect on you?

(And to my cousin Kerri down in Scottsdale, Happy Birthday! Love you.)

Don’t forget to come back Sunday, to catch up with Julie Cohen…

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ten Commandments - Adultery

I have a confession. I have been cheating on my book. I know, I know... I am a horrible person. How could I do that? I have committed myself to be there for these characters and their story until it is ready to be set free and yet I have been ensnared by others.

Don't judge me. I couldn't help myself. It wasn't them, it was me. I am a weak individual, we are in that humdrum difficult middle stage. The revisions are going well but slowly. I know these characters I know their strengths and weaknesses... sometimes they surprise me but not the same way they did when we first met.

I'll tell you what happened... it isn't an unusual tale. We've all been there. I was having a bad day, sitting in front of my book... deleting more than I was adding. Twiddling with the edges I suddenly craved some excitement so I did the unthinkable. I started a new story.

When I say new story that isn't strictly true. This is a story that has been tickling my brain for ten years but I started it again and put it in a different setting. Oh it was fun! It was sparkly and exciting. Who were these new people? Why were they doing what they were doing? What was going to happen?

An hour later I came back to myself with a 1,000 words written and guilt burnt across my heart.

Sheepishly I re-opened my book, I stared at my familiar characters and saw them in a new light. I recognised them for what they were, unique and well loved and mine. Reinvigorated I was back into my revisions.

And what has happened to that new story? Well it is brewing gently, simmering in the background waiting for me to be free. Do I regret it? No. Sometimes straying, a light flirtation can re-ignite your fire.

Are you a story flirt?

Come back on Thursday to hear from Susanna

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Power of The Subconscious

We've all seen the t-shirt 'be careful or you'll end up in my novel' but it happens whether people are careful or not. As writers we are like sponges absorbing things from all sorts of sources. Main sources are friends and family. All those little snip-its that pass by us and our brains grab them and tuck them away. I doubt we even think about it half the time. We might acknowledge something as interesting, but chances are we won't have even said anything and certainly not have written it down - unless it is vital to the book in process or maybe the next one up.

There are a couple of reasons I say is because the subconscious plays such a key role in most writers' lives. I am continually surprised at how events or people or objects appear in my books or things magically fall into place even though I never planned for it to happen (or to the best of my knowledge thought of it ever before)....

At times this can be almost eerie when it happens. This week I'm in Cornwall 'filling the well' as Biddy says (can't do anything else as the kids are here with on holiday and knee deep in major exam revision - I am at the moment Attila-the-mum). My editor asked me to take some pictures of what inspired me and of things I would like to see as cover images....a lovely task...

So I did what I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would do...I'm a very shy person at heart. I knocked on the door of the house that has captured my imagination for 20 years. I wanted to take a few pictures and wanted permission to do so. As I waited, I wondered what maniac had taken over my body. What on earth was I going to say...

I blurted out something about being a writer and that my book would be coming out next summer. The poor woman thought I was  mad, but kindly showed me around the outside of the house and the garden,which were more beautiful than I had ever imagined from the quick glimpses I had from the road over the years.

On our way around the house I was hit over the head by a feature of it that I didn't know had existed. Something that is key in THE CORNISH HOUSE...a tiny window beside a chimney (easy to miss it's so small). I asked about it of course. The windows opens on to a very small room off a bedroom...

Now had I read about is this somewhere? Had I seen this before? I don't think so as I'd never been this close to the house, but my mother-in-law was something of a specialist in Cornish gardens and may well have told me about such a things or maybe in one of her collected books on Cornwall I had read about it. I don't think I'll ever know but there in a real house was secret window...

I think our subconscious hoovers up information without us realizing it, but I also think uncanny occurrences do happen to...I'll never know whether I heard, read or saw something about a small window by a chimney, but I have already told DS1 that his story of sleeping in his friends car after party will end up in a book. Why you ask? Because they (he and two friends) woke up to find someone had put the pig's head from the hog roast in the car with while they slept and they woke up to it staring at them....somehow that will end up in some story....

Please come back on Sunday when Biddy's here...