Saturday, 8 September 2018

Dancing With the Devil: the Misery of the First Draft


This was probably not the low point, but it's typical...
I’m writing a book. 

I’m always writing a book. In fact, I’m always writing several books, each one at a different stage. One or more are ideas in my head; one is at the planning stage; one is first draft; one at an advanced second/third draft; one requires a final polish; and one is with my agent (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying that). 

When I’m talking about the process, I always tell people how much I love every single stage of it, and that’s mostly true — but there is one part of the process that I hate beyond words, and that is the middle part of the first draft. No matter how well I plot, or in his much detail, there always comes a point where I don’t know what to write but I daren’t stop, because if I do I’ll never start again. It’s like dancing with the Devil.

I think this is why the concept of word racing works so well. You set your target and I, being target-driven, always get there. Every November I “enter” National Novel Writing Month (NANoWriMo) and every November I “win”, usually completing 50k words within a week. 

Yet somehow I can’t do this at any other time. I’ve written about the boggy middle of my books elsewhere — that middle third where the plot doesn’t fit together the way I thought it would and the characters go off and do their own thing, so that the second half of the book bears no resemblance to the first. 

Writing that middle third is hard. The opening is easy, with the setup and the back story, introducing the characters and finding a hook. The final third is great, too, as the pace picks up and lives are on the line. (I write crime.) But the middle third is grim. It’s a hand-to-hand fight, a battle with every syllable, every word, every sentence, and it’s a battle that you can’t give up.

In the middle third I hate what I’ve written. The writing is poor, very rushed. Chunks of what I’ve already written are no longer relevant and that the later parts of the plot have nothing to do with it. New characters appear and I know nothing about them, but in order to keep the plot going I write them anyway and they are superficial, inconsistent and not credible. Plot twists emerge from nowhere. They refer to incidents that have taken place in the early part of the plot that are missing from the early part of the draft. A character’s backstory suddenly changes because the plot doesn’t work if they spent last year abroad. That sort of thing.

I’ve been through that fight this week, and it was miserable. When I finally got through it, I looked back and realised that it’s dreadful, full of square brackets in which I shout at myself to GO BACK AND ADD A BIT EARLIER or even THIS DOES NOT WORK! But the first draft is always dreadful. And, crucially, with a lot of work it’s always fixable. 

Did I ever tell you how much I love editing?



Jennifer Young

Saturday, 1 September 2018

VICTORIA CORNWALL AND THE DAUGHTER OF RIVER VALLEY

Hello and welcome to another in our get to know our team and their writing series. Today it’s the turn of historical romance writer, Victoria Cornwall and her latest release, The Daughter of River Valley. Victoria’s debut novel, The Thief’s Daughter, was published in 2017 by Choc Lit, introducing readers to her Cornish Tales series, as well as being selected as a finalist for the prestigious Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award. Whilst penning novels, Victoria also loves connecting with readers online and has a heart-warming short story published in this month’s Your Cat magazine. (Which gave me the purrfect excuse to buy one!)

But before we discover more about Victoria and her writing, here’s a taste of what to look forward to in The Daughter of River Valley

Can you trust a man with no name?
Cornwall, 1861
Beth Jago appears to have the idyllic life, she has a trade to earn a living and a cottage of her own in Cornwall’s beautiful River Valley. Yet appearances can be deceptive …
Beth has a secret. Since inheriting her isolated cottage she’s been receiving threats, so when she finds a man in her home she acts on her instincts. One frying pan to the head and she has robbed the handsome stranger of his memory and almost killed him.
Fearful he may die, she reluctantly nurses the intruder back to health. Yet can she trust the man with no name who has entered her life, or is he as dangerous as his nightmares suggest?

Author - Victoria Cornwall
Hello Victoria, and thanks for agreeing to take the hot-seat today. Let's get started... 

1. Beth Jago is a character many aspire to be like – capable and resilient – and yet, following the death of her beloved grandfather, she has also been left fragile, taking comfort from the familiar landscape and seclusion of River Valley. What drew you to explore Beth’s attachment to place, rather than say a family member?

I think it is a primal need in all of us to feel safe and secure and have a place we can call our home. People also have the natural desire to protect what they hold dear. Beth, the character, only had this need met and the desire to protect it, when she arrived at River Valley.  I used this theme as I felt readers would relate to these very natural, primal feelings and connect with Beth and the emotional journey she takes.

2. Without giving too much away, one of my favourite scenes in the book is
Rocky Valley, Cornwall
when Beth and Joss explore River Valley together for the first time and a magical natural spectacle appears. I noticed in the author’s notes that River Valley is based on Cornwall’s Rocky Valley. Is this scene imagined? Or is there an area of Rocky Valley where this takes place? (Readers will have to read The Daughter of River Valley to discover what this is!)


Rocky Valley is a beautiful valley. There are narrow earthy tracks, a tree where visitors hang tokens and ribbons, water which were once thought to have healing powers, a waterfall ... and of course a river. There are also stone carvings, which I did not put into the novel. However the natural spectacle that I think you are talking about is not related to Rocky Valley. It was inspired by Chipman Valley, which can be found on the coastal walk between Bude to Crackington Haven. Locally it is known as Butterfly Valley.


3. It was fascinating how dress, whether it was Beth’s Sunday best or the correct amount of a lady’s cleavage showing, enabled characters to identify where others belonged in the Cornish social hierarchy. What research did you have to do to establish how seamstresses worked at the time?

I have started a small collection of research books relating to life in the Victorian era. The internet is also a great help, although the information is not always accurate and needs to be cross-referenced to check the details. Beth's profession was inspired by a very old sewing machine in the family, however fashion through the ages is my secret passion and once you know what you are looking for, you can date a dress to within a few years as fashions changed as quickly as it does now.


4. The historical period, feisty characters and romantic setting will very much appeal to lovers of Poldark. How much has Winston Graham’s novels inspired your own writing? And why do you think writers and readers love to return to Cornwall, both literally and in a literary context, again and again?

First of Winston Graham's
series
I am a great fan of Graham's writing. It is poetic at times, yet realistic to the era and keeps you turning the pages. I would say he is a massive influence on my writing style. I have read his Poldark novels many times and tend to compare everything I read to his writing style. It is partly why I began writing in the first place. I write about Cornwall because I am Cornish and I live here. It is a place and community I know well, so it was a simple choice for me. Many people have been to Cornwall or aspire to visit the county. Reading a book is about escaping the present and what better place to escape to then Cornwall? Writers recognise this market and cater to it by setting their novels in Cornwall.


5. There is an interesting strand of Cornwall’s military history sprinkled throughout the novel. What drew you to include this part of Cornwall’s past?

I am very interested in our war history. So many men and women died in
the name of our country so I feel it would be wrong to forget our past. I honour them in my own way, by visiting museums, watching documentaries or films. I was visiting the Cornwall's Regimental Museum, in Bodmin, to learn about the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry and was surprised to learn that soldiers from the southwest took part in a very famous battle related to the Victoria Cross, which is the highest award a soldier can earn. This inspired part of the plot and was my way of honouring those soldiers who took part and all they had to suffer.


6. The questions I can never resist – which authors do you enjoy reading? Which books might we find on your bedside table?

For beautiful, plot turning pages, it would have to be the first seven books of the Winston Graham's Poldark series. 
For fascinating historical detail in fiction it would have to be Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
For pure sensual poetry in fiction, The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella


7. The Daughter of River Valley is book number three in the Cornish Tales series, although it can also be read as a stand-alone. So what’s next? 

There is a full-length novel waiting in the wings, which will be published by Choc Lit and is part of the Cornish Tales series. I hope that will be released next year. I loved writing it and hope my readers will love reading it.

In the meantime, I am delighted to say that I have a Christmas novella coming out in November. A soldier returns from the Great War to fulfil a promise to a fellow soldier, which is to bring Christmas to the fiancé he will never see again. As it's the 100th year anniversary of Armistice this year, it is my tribute to those who fought and suffered for our freedom during WW1.


Sounds a wonderful tribute, Victoria and a great Christmas read too. And in the meantime, readers can enjoy The Daughter of River Valley or catch Victoria's short fiction in September's Your Cat magazine.


Happy reading,


 Rae x

Saturday, 25 August 2018

In Which We Discuss Starting a New Project



“Man cannot discover new oceans, unless he has the
courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Andre Gide

Batten down the hatches, everyone. I’m starting a new book and am chock full of maritime metaphors, as is often the case when I’m sitting down to that ever intimidating blank screen.

For me, starting a new book is similar to getting on the SS Minnow with Gilligan and the Skipper. There’s a very good chance that rough water will be forthcoming, and a shipwreck will more likely than not set things back. Most writers know this going into a new project. Those of us who plot, clutch our trusted outlines to our chest, even though we will ditch it midway and replot the entire second act. Many of us do all the laundry, make meals to freeze so we can hit the computer when we come home for our day jobs. Those who are pantsers (write their stories without an outline), sit down chock full of ideas and let the story unfold. I take my hat off to these writers. If I tried to “pants” my way through a book, I’d surely wind up in hospital. No matter your style, the path to completing that coveted first draft is a bumpy, stormy, turbulent ride of joy, tears, and often paralyzing self-doubt.



Writing fiction – and learning to write fiction – takes a long time for most people. I recall an essay by Ira Glass (of This American Life fame). I’m paraphrasing, but his take on writing –or any creative endeavour – was that you start out as a beginner with good taste developed from the books you read. You decide to write your own book, finish it, and realise that it is not nearly up to the standards of the books that you have read and enjoyed. You write yet another book. Yes, you see improvement, but your sophisticated taste reminds you that your work is still not quite up to snuff. Most people give up at this point. Ira Glass’ point – and I wholeheartedly agree with him – is that you shouldn’t give up! Keep writing. Keep painting. Keep making movies. If you keep practicing, eventually your ability will catch up to your taste.

Here’s Ira’s essay, for those of you who are interested:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
--Ira Glass

I have written four books – book five is now underway – and each story has taught me something deep and meaningful about my own place in this crazy world. Has my writing ability caught up to my taste? Not even close. But I’m definitely getting there. When I’m two hundred pages in and the usual questions come burgeoning forth (Is this book horrible? What if no one likes it? What if my publisher doesn’t want it? What if this book ends my career?), the only thing to do is keep writing. When I feel like I’m in the middle of a stormy sea, far away from the shore, I dig into the story knowing that the words will keep me afloat. When I push away from the dock, I am more than ready to get lost at sea. I know that only through being lost can one truly appreciate the magnificence of finding the way. And I am most definitely not giving up!



            Who’s starting a new project? Would love to hear about your process and how you deal with ups and downs.

Cheers,
Terry

Saturday, 18 August 2018

LINDA MITCHELMORE SPENDING SUMMER AT 23 THE STRAND


Today I’m delighted to continue with our Question and Answer series introducing Novel Points of View authors and their writing. Please give a warm welcome to novelist and prolific short story writer, Linda Mitchelmore and her delightful summer novel, Summer at 23 The Strand.


Hello Linda,

Before we get into the interview, let’s have a little introduction to Summer at 23 The Strand.

It’s May, and actress, Martha, has bailed out of a Hollywood movie, escaping a romance that she knew was doomed before it had even got really started. She comes to Devon and 23 The Strand for some time-out and to plan her next move. Meeting Hugh wasn’t in that plan but, to her surprise, she finds herself falling for him as they help one another heal from their respective, emotional pains. Martha decides to leave a welcome gift for the next occupant, something each of them continue to do throughout the summer – Cally, Arthur, Lucy, Ana, Stella, Bella, Caroline, and Margy – carry on. Come September, 23 The Strand has worked its magic on them all.

I loved the premise of the novel, having each visitor to 23 The Strand leave a small, thoughtful gift for the next occupant. Where did the inspiration for the storyline come from?

Paignton harbour where many of the characters
 go to get on tripper boats
This is something that was lodged deep in my memory banks! When I was growing up, my mother used to clean holiday chalets on a Saturday morning, and when I was in my teens I used to help her – earning the grand sum of 2/6! Very often, visitors would leave things behind … items of clothing, combs, books, amongst other things. My mother was supposed to hand anything left behind to the supervisor, but times were hard and if it was something useful then she’d simply slip it in her bag. But once, to her great delight, someone left a box of chocolates with a note on top – ‘For the cleaner’. I remember her delight that it was for her and not other people’s rubbish.

As I began each chapter and met each fresh set of characters, I enjoyed trying to second-guess what token they might leave. If you were to take a short break at 23 The Strand, what might you leave behind?

A parmesan grater. I’ve stopped in lots of cottages/gîtes and there’s never been a parmesan grater! I mean, who can make a spag bol, even on holiday, without freshly-grated parmesan on top?

The location feels very real and somewhere I’d love to visit. Do the beach chalets exist? (Please say yes!)

Ah well, I’ve taken a bit of poetic licence here with the chalets. The place
Colourful chalets at Preston beach
is real – Preston beach (and I’ve taken a bit of poetic licence with that as well!!) which is halfway between Torquay and Paignton and which most holidaymakers never find so it’s still very much a locals’ beach. There are chalets there but there are no facilities and you can’t stop overnight in them – they’re just somewhere to take a camping stove, get water from the standpipe on the prom, and store your bathing gear.

Each visitor to 23 The Stand brings their problems but it’s being close to sea and nature, along with the people they meet that helps them see life afresh. Do you enjoy spending time outdoors?

Seal getting friendly around the local coastline
How did you guess? I’m like a caged animal if it’s sunny outside and I have to be indoors. Even if it’s raining I usually get a short walk in every day. My house is perfectly placed – fifteen minutes walk from the beach, and a quick hop over the back hedge to the wood behind my house and another fifteen minute walk and I can see Dartmoor in the distance.

As I mentioned in my introduction, you are also a hugely successful short story writer. Short fiction and novel writing are very different disciplines – how do you juggle both?

Ah well, funny you should ask that. A magazine short story editor once
Author Linda Mitchelmore
told me that short stories are, more often than not, a terrible waste of a good novel plot! This, when she asked me to stretch a short story to a serial, and said serial then became a novel. So the discipline of writing is no different as such. That said, if I’m working on a novel I do find it hard to leave my characters on their journey of 350 pages or so and write about another character who might only cover 500 words. So, while I’m working on a novel I might only write a short story or five as a diversion from a sticky patch in the novel.

The questions I love asking writers – which authors do you enjoy reading? Who inspires both your novel and short story writing? 

I’ve been inspired in the craft of writing – both short stories and novels – by the American writer, Elizabeth Berg. She has a most excellent how-to book, Escaping into the Open, The Art of Writing True. This will open up your mind and help you bare your soul as a writer which, I think, is what you have to do to be good at it. Elizabeth Berg has written short stories although I’ve not read any. She’s also had many novels published and I’ve read a fair few of them ….  ‘Say When’ remains a favourite.

You write short stories, have completed a novel trilogy, and now Summer at 23 The Strand. Can you share a little about what you’re working on next?

I’ve also had two novellas and a stand-alone full length novel published
First in Linda's Emma Trilogy
before HarperCollins published Summer at 23 The Strand. I’ve got a couple of novel ideas out there under consideration at the moment; one is set at Christmas and the other is a summer, seaside-based one. While I wait to hear if they’re to be taken up I’m writing short stories … just so I don’t forget how!

Your joy in keeping busy shines through Linda. Thanks for giving us an appreciation of the inspiration behind your writing and we’re sure many of our readers will also enjoy spending time this Summer at 23 The Strand.

Join us next time when Victoria Cornwall, author of Cornish historical fiction, will be in the spotlight.

Until then, happy reading!

Rae x

Saturday, 11 August 2018

CHARACTERS: HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM? YOUNG OR OLD?




Fay Weldon recently wrote a piece in the Writing Tips feature on her website entitled ‘What age are your characters?’ In which she said: ‘Publishers, who these days tend to turn away novels by middle-aged women about middle-aged women on the grounds that they are depressing, are probably wise to do so.’  That in itself is a depressing statement. You can read the complete feature here: http://fayweldon.co.uk/writing-tip/what-age-are-your-characters/

The feature has upset a few readers and writers on social media. She must surely have forgotten the success of authors like Hilary Boyd, Veronica Henry, Joanna Trollope, to name but three who write about older women? 

Fay Weldon is a highly experienced writer but is she right when she says older women - who are prolific readers of fiction - prefer their novels to feature young women rather than old?

Anne Williams, a respected blogger (http://beinganne.com) in a review of Fanny Blake’s latest book ‘An Italian Summer’ says of the characters, ‘the fact that they’re beyond the first flush of youth makes such a refreshing and welcome change’. Anne also told me she actively seeks out books with older protagonists with whom she has some common ground.

Personally I lose patience very easily with young characters in chick-lit taking decisions that are so clearly wrong for them. To be honest I find the term chick-lit slightly patronising and off putting and rarely read in that genre anymore. I like the books I read (and write) to have a mix of characters of all ages, both male and female. Once past the age of 50 whilst we can, of course, remember what it was like to be 20 or 30 and recognise and understand the problems characters at those ages have, I don’t believe we identify or relate to them as an older reader - our life experiences have moved us on! Mature readers can identify far more easily with older characters at a higher level when there is a common interest and maybe a mirror placed on their own life experiences.




Claire Baldry who last year started the FB group ‘Books For Older Readers’ has this notice about the group pinned to the top of the page: ‘This Facebook group is intended for readers in mid-life and beyond and writers who write books which particularly appeal to this age group. As with all ‘genres’ it is very difficult to give an exact definition, but books discussed in our group tend to include themes such as second chances, late life career changes, adjusting to retirement, bereavement, and love in later life. At least some of the content is likely to reflect the perspective of the more mature characters.’ Claire’s group is going from strength to strength with an active membership highlighting books for this particular demography of society.

Reading Fay Weldon’s theory that older women prefer to ‘identify with themselves when young, not as they are now, in the days when they were sexually active, agile of limb, and not afraid of adventure’, I laughed out loud. Oh come on, in an age when 50 is supposed to be the new 40, they maybe ‘less agile of limb’ but they are certainly not afraid of adventure or of having relationships.

I like writing about women who have ‘lived a bit’ and at least six of my books have older protagonists. ‘Summer at Coastguard Cottages’ published late last year featuring new relationships and second chances managed to gain an orange bestseller flag on Amazon, so I think women most definitely do like to read about older characters. It’s not depressing, it’s actually life enhancing and encourages women to never give up on their dreams or ambitions. It may be difficult to do but it’s rarely too late to change things. 


One part of Fay Weldon’s feature I do agree with wholeheartedly though, is the following statement: ‘Women past their nubile prime don’t get parts in films or jobs announcing on TV. It shouldn’t be so, but it is.’ 
My personal opinion on having older feminine characters in books, grabbing at life with both hands, starting second careers, falling in love and having adventures, is that it can only be a good thing. At the very least it's a way of adding something positive into the fight of discrimination against older women. Discuss!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

BEST CELEBRITY BOOK CLUBS

It’s time I came clean about a summer obsession I’ve enjoyed for many years.

On the whole I’m happy for the ups and downs of celebrity lives to pass me by. However, there’s one strand of celebrity culture I’m proud to embrace, the rise of the celebrity book club and in particular their recommended summer reading lists.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT CELEBRITY BOOK CLUBS?


Nowadays book recommendations are available from a host of different sources – book bloggers, book tubers, bookish websites, Facebook reading groups, newspapers and women’s magazines – so why do I love celebrity book clubs so much?

Successful book club hosts make recommendations that encourage discussion, meaning their choices are both interesting and thought provoking. Most also select a varied range aimed to appeal to female readers, who make up the majority of book club members.

WHICH CELEBRITY BOOK CLUBS TO FOLLOW...


So if you’re planning on relaxing with a great book this summer, why not take a peek at some of the books these celebrities recommend…


REESE WITHERSPOON (HELLO SUNSHINE)

Reese Witherspoon
I discovered Reese Witherspoon’s book club on Facebook and was instantly drawn to the variety of of fiction and non-fiction featured. Witherspoon actively champions women authors, telling female driven stories, both through her book club and media production company Hello Sunshine. Examples of her production work include both Wild, an inspirational memoir by Cheryl Strayed, and Liane Moriarty’s bestselling Big Little Lies. Hello Sunshine has also optioned the film rights for Gail Honeyman’s fantastic Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
 

But back to the book club side. #RWBookClub was where I discovered one on my favourite books of 2018 (thus far) Celeste Ng’s, Little Fires Everywhere. Also, Witherspoon is über savvy when it comes to marketing and makes it easy to follow her book club on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram.


RICHARD AND JUDY (in association with WH SMITH)


The couple that got me hooked on celebrity book clubs was husband and wife team, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. The Richard and Judy book club began as part of their television chat show in the early 2000s but is now accessed online. Like Witherspoon, Richard and Judy use social media to the max, sharing author interviews and bonus material via their podcast, where authors not only share the inspiration for their novel but also their writing process and helpful writing tips. It’s also possible to see the couple interview authors about the books selected on You Tube, or join in the conversation on both Facebook and Twitter.

Richard and Judy’s Late Summer picks include the poignant Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, alongside Rachel Hore’s Last Letter Home and Leila Slimani’s Lullaby, both novels I mean to add to my reading list. I can’t finish with Richard and Judy without mentioning my favourite of their 2018 Summer picks, which was Together by Julie Cohen. Head over to the website to read Richard and Judy's full review here...

FERN BRITTON (in association with TESCO and Harper Collins)


The shiny new kid on the celebrity book club block is writer and broadcaster Fern Britton, who has teamed up with supermarket giant Tesco to recommend books by publisher, Harper Collins. I was delighted to discover that Fern’s first picks were How Hard Can It Be by Allison Pearson, Mother, the Romantic Novelists’ Association winning debut novel by Hannah Begbie and the epic historical novel, Last Letter from Istanbul by Lucy Foley.

I’ve already read and loved both How Hard Can It Be and Last Letter from Istanbul, with Mother riding high on my to-be-read list, so I can tell that Fern’s Picks are ones I’ll definitely watch in future.


ZOE BALL #ZBOS


A television book club has been sadly missing from the UK schedule for some time and so I was delighted when it was announced that Zoe Ball was to host a new weekend book club. It’s one for early risers though, as Ball’s book club discussion is included in her Saturday and Sunday chat show at 8.30am on ITV, where she reviews her choice with a celebrity guest.

Viewers/readers are also given the opportunity to upload a video review of the titles selected - something I haven’t plucked up the courage to do just yet! However, if 8.30am sounds too early for the weekend, never fear as each author in the spotlight has produced a short film providing a feel for their story. Ball’s choices include Rowan Coleman’s Summer of Impossible Things (one of my favourites of 2017), Sally Magnusson’s The Seal Woman’s Gift, Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am. For the full list, as well as catching up on previous episodes, follow the link

YOUR FAVOURITE CELEBRITY BOOK CLUBS

So which celebrity book clubs do you ALWAYS check out? Which amazing authors have you discovered? Which brilliant books have your read? ...

Please get in touch and let me know.
Perhaps I am seduced by celebrity after all!

Happy summer reading,


Rae xxx