Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 30 April 2016

THE IMPORTANCE OF A TIDY DESK by Gill Stewart



I've been struggling to make myself focus on my writing recently. Struggling to pin myself down to writing this story on this day. Previously, when all else failed and I thought I was never going to be able to write again (because I hate my writing and the place I write and the whole process …) I used to go for a walk. And sometimes that helped, but not always.

So today I decided on a new approach: I tidied my desk. And it’s amazing! The clear space! All my notes in neat piles, somewhere to put a pristine sheet of paper to start another set of notes. Bliss.

And oddly, not just bliss, but productive. It’s as though I’ve cleaned out my mind as well. Bits of this story, that review, the new plot outline … they were all muddled together inside my brain. And now they’re not. They’re also in nice tidy piles with labels on them so I can come back to them when I need them but I don’t need to get tangled up in all of them at present. I can pick one pile and start working on that, nice and easy and straight-forward.

Now I admit some people may not need to go through this process because they always have a tidy desk. (Who are these people??). But for me it has been a useful exercise. One I probably need to do more often. But not too often, or I wouldn’t get that amazing eureka! feeling of the difference between the old desk and the wonderful new one.

Has anyone else tried tidying their desk recently?

Friday, 22 April 2016

It's Behind You!

When I wrote my introductory post, someone - Rae? - said they would like to hear more about the pantomimes. This came back to me the other day while I was sitting having my nails done (Shellac. Marvellous stuff) and a discussion began among the beauty operatives (!) about their favourite Disney films. One was saying that her daughter couldn't understand why people wanted to watch people being cruel to one another. Now, it's always been my understanding that children loved a bit of cruelty and a good ol' baddy to boo. What came out of the conversation, in which, of course I just HAD to join, was that all of these young women had no knowledge of the original stories. "Didn't you ever go to pantomimes?" I asked. "Well, yes," they said. "Well, they are nearer to the original stories than Disney is," I told them. They were bemused. Disney is obviously the oracle.

But we all know - don't we? - that the original panto stories are the themes for an awful lot of literature - genre and literary. The wicked stepmother, the abandoned child, the quest... in fact, pantomime is in general done a disservice by popular opinion, which dismisses it as fluff, and rather tacky fluff, at that. My take is rather different. One of the great truths of pantomime is that Good MUST triumph over Evil. These days, the baddy gets off rather more lightly than in the past, but they are still vanquished. Children absorb this truth along with their ice creams at the interval, and, as it is frequently the first live theatre to which children are exposed, it must be done well. Admittedly, they are more used to small screen watching these days, something made clear to me several years ago when a little voice in the auditorium piped up "Can you press pause, Mummy?" Caused a riot. But, year after year, children go to the pantomime and are uproarious in their appreciation.

So, they are a joy to write, perform in and direct, even though directing a full scale panto in a modern theatre is more than a full scale job. And they are a great discipline to master if you are intending to become a novelist. When I began writing them it was because I had been acting in them and directing them for some time, and I decided I wanted to use my own scripts, something most Panto Production companies do. I had no idea I was going to become a novelist. Jolly good training for dialogue, though, writing for the stage.

So there we are. And there's another reason theatre companies put on pantomimes. Here's how the great David Garrick put it at Drury Lane in 1750:
"But if an empty house, the actor's curse,
Shews us our Lears and Hamlets lose their force,
Unwilling, we must change the noble scene,
And, in our turn, present you Harlequin...
If want comes in, importance must retreat;
Our first great ruling passion - is to eat."

Which is why I'm up there at the top of the post with a green face (which never came out of the bedclothes), and, of course, why the very author of those Lears and Hamlets wrote so many of them. Happy anniversary Mr Shakespeare.

Lastly, although she didn't write them, she was the essence of good comedy, and what is pantomime but comedy? Not always good, admittedly, but comedy, nonetheless. So thank you and goodbye, Victoria Wood. I saw you live three times. You only saw me once, but I aren't 'arf proud of that.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Points of View on NPoV by Jennifer Young

Whose point of view from this viewpoint?
On a blog called Novel Points of View, it seems perfectly reasonable to talk about points of view in a novel. Doesn’t it?

I confess, it isn’t really a subject on which I have had much of a view, at least until recently. There are lots and lots of ways of doing it and most of them work, if you do them well enough. You can use first person or third person or omniscient. You can have a single point of view or multiple points of view. You can have one dominant point of view and many shorter ones. You can have the whole book written from one point of view, except for a tiny bit, if you really want to. Whatever, as far as I’m concerned. Just as long as it works.

It doesn’t always, of course, and the chances of success decrease as your combination of points of view become more complicated. Michael Frayn’s Spies is an example, in which I became so thoroughly confused by who was actually narrating that I gave up. But he was doing some really fancy circus tricks with the craft of writing, the sort that aren’t for the faint-hearted.

Generally speaking, it’s what works and how well you do it. A poor writer might not even handle a single point of view well, just as I can’t perform a simple, single dance step without falling over my feet. That’s all. Easy, no?

So it struck me as interesting, if not significant, that the last two reviews I’ve received, of two different books, have both raised the issue of point of view. I usually prefer to have my heroine in first person and my hero in third — it makes it easier to tell whose point of view each scene is from, and it allows the reader to become more closely involved with my heroine (who i always my main protagonist).

Of No Time Like Now, Suzanne Rogerson wrote: “I didn’t understand why the author chose to have Megan’s chapters in first person and Tim’s in third person. It didn’t detract from the story at all, but I don’t think it added to it either. I had no problem switching between both viewpoints and it was well written.”

Of my newest release, Going Back, Elizabeth Caldwell observed: “My only quibble is that the chapters from Leona’s point of view are told in the first person and those of the other characters in the third person, a stylistic choice I’ve never been very keen on – I’d rather see all first person or all third person”.

Admittedly, neither of these is particularly critical, but it did get me thinking. Do you have any preferences for point of view? Any must-dos or any no-nos? Or do you not care at all?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

HOW-TO ....... be a better writer Linda Mitchelmore

There can be few of us who are so gifted we don't need advice and tips from those who have gone before. The very excellent publications, Writers' Forum, and Writing Magazine, come out monthly but after a year or so all areas of creative writing have been covered and keeping every single mag takes up so much cupboard space, doesn't it? So, I prefer books. Real books, printed on paper that I can dip in and out of easily and which sit on a shelf over my desk to remind me how far I've come. When I first dipped my toes in the creative writing pool, my cousin, David, in Canada sent me STARTING FROM SCRATCH by Rita Mae Brown. At that time Ms Brown wasn't a novelist but now is. She has a way with words and although I no longer have this book (loaned to someone whose name I now forget and who never returned it) two bits of advice I've never forgotten is to be a decent 'writing weight' much as a boxer has to be a certain weight (slightly underweight was her advice actually) and that a glass of wine could help the creative juices to flow. I never, ever, managed to crack the first bit of advice, but I'm pretty good at the second! I came late to Elizabeth Berg's novels but couldn't get enough of them. I wanted to write like her - not managed it yet! So, when I discovered she had written a How-to book, ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: THE ART OF WRITING TRUE, I had to have it. It is quite wonderful. And if you don't know it, then buy one or borrow from the library. You will find out a lot about writing but also about yourself along the way.
So, I wrote the novel, with Elizabeth Berg's book to hand. And then came the dreaded synopsis. A synopsis is not a blurb was the, verbal, advice given by novelist friends. And agents vary in how long - or short - they like synopses to be. Anything from one page, single-spaced, to ten pages it seems. So the advice there was to check and see what is required and then give not a penny more, not a penny less. But how to write the darned thing? It is a very slim volume, but very sharply written and easy to follow, and I found Stella Whitelaw's. HOW TO WRITE AND SELL A SYNOPSIS excellent value for money. I've since bought it as presents for friends who want to be novelists and they've all benefited from it too.
Now then, much to my surprise I have been asked to contribute to How-to books myself. Before becoming a novelist I wrote and sold, and had published, quite a lot of short stories (still churn them out on occasion!) and it was that experience that Della Galton and Jane Wenham-Jones wanted for their books.
So, these are my go-to books if I need a bit of bolstering. What are yours?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Social media the curve ball it can throw

I thought I knew exactly what I was going to write this week however life threw a curve ball and I had to think fast to come up with a new blog. I have had a busy period on social media these past few weeks.

It all started with Visit Scotland getting in contact via my Instagram account. I have previously been showcased by Visit Scotland but it was still exciting to hear from them again.  I was asked if I would allow one of my photos to be displayed at various events throughout Scotland over the next year, of course I said yes as it is an amazing opportunity. 

Once I had submitted my photo Visit Scotland informed me that my image along with other photographers will be displayed on digital billboards at the major train stations in London as of the 18th March.
This took me by surprise as I thought it would only be events in Scotland that the photo would be shown, so if any of our lovely readers have spotted the displays please get in touch and let me know as it would make my day.

Balmedie Beach Sunrise 28.02.2016


It goes to show how beautiful this little section of beach is as I posted a photo to my Facebook page and could never have predicted what happened next.

Like any normal evening I posted a photo of Balmedie Beach (it just happens to be my favourite beach), my phone began to ping and vibrate at a ridiculous rate. I like to interact with the people who take the time to comment as I feel it gives that personal touch, OH has a different opinion to this and often reminds my that is why FB installed a like button.

Well that night I could not keep up with the lovely comments and was overwhelmed by the response, I usually achieve likes between 45-150. When I retired to bed I had over 1000 likes when I woke up in the morning it was up to 3000 likes. 

I was on a bit of high but soon the low hit as my subsequent posts have not reached that level. Do I mind, not really. Would I like to replicate the magic in that photograph of course, unfortunately the magic is in the hands of the light and timing. 

See what you think....

Balmedie Beach 13.03.2016

I'm glad I caught this curve ball, social media it certainly kept me busy this month.
Feel free to pop over to my Facebook page and Instagram @neily39.