Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cooking up a new book, by Jenny Harper

Making cakes is a great displacement
activity from writing!
Photo Ardfern, Wikimedia Commons.
I'm back at the beginning again. I've spent the last couple of months editing, rewriting, proofing and scaling the vertical cliff that was my learning curve for uploading to Kindle and CreateSpace. Now it's time I started another book.

Part of me is itching to write! Another part is groaning, because I know that the next three or four months are going to be frustrating to the point of head-banging.

Why? It seems to take me an age to settle on a good idea, create and get to know my characters, add in the kind of complexity I like in my books, go off down half a dozen blind alleys, rename the main characters, change the plot ... well, you get the picture.

I envy writers like fellow NPoV blogger Jennifer Young, who comes up with loads of great plots with apparent ease! For me, it's hell.

'Just relax and the ideas will come,' I'm told. Wrong. Just relax and I'll find myself making cakes, seeing friends, watching telly, going for walks – all very pleasant, but not contributing much to the ideas pot.

Having said that, of course, those great dinners with friends, all those places visited on walks, or city breaks, or holidays, provide lots of material for characters and locations, and I know my writing would be poorer without them. But still, I'm like a dog with bone - I get hold of an idea, then have to worry away at it, turn it that way and this, chew it over, rearrange its shape and structure, until it's finally something I'm happy to embark on.

My recent experience of preparing my books for Amazon taught me that a great one-paragraph blurb, combined with a two-line trailer really focuses the attention on the core of the story. I was determined not to move on to developing the idea until I got these two elements honed to perfection. After all, they will be the teasers that will intrigue readers and draw them to my book. The trouble is, what seems a good idea on Day One, somehow seems to have shifted by the time I get to Month Six!

I do have the beginnings of an idea. I think I'll note it down and put it in a sealed envelope somewhere safe. Remind me to look at it again in six months and I'll confess just how close/adrift the novel is by then!

Please tell me there are others out there who struggle with this first part of a new book too!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A SENSE OF PLACE by Gill Stewart

A sense of place is (in my opinion) essential in a good novel.

But how to get that sense of place, to evoke a world where the reader wants to be or, indeed, feels they have been?  There are many examples of books that have done this successfully, obvious ones like Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series or Winterfell in Game of Thrones (although you wouldn’t necessarily want to be there!) but many other books that have a charm that stays with you long after the reading do so because of their clear sense of being there.

 So how can we do it?  Here are a few suggestions:

Know it - Either the place should be based on somewhere you are very familiar with, or you have created a fictional world that is complete and about which you know every detail (where this alleyway joins that road, what the tiles on the roof are like, what the people eat). If it helps, keep photographs and maps to hand.

Describe it – By this I don’t mean paragraphs of description, I mean small snippets dropped in when appropriate, but giving that essential backdrop to the story and the characters’ actions.  The reader needs to know how it feels to be here, what it smells like.  Think of the little details – is the road cobbled or tarred?  Where does the sun rise, the wind blow from?  What people eat and drink and wear is a crucial part of bringing this new world to life – but again, don’t labour these points.  Drop them in a little at a time.

Refer back to it – Refer back to things that have already been mentioned, as you would in life.  The balcony that A stood on when she first saw B, the water in the lake was so much warmer than…  This gives the sense of continuity, of this being a place that has existed and still does.

Make it integral to the story – the setting can add to the story, almost like another character, influencing the plot and the characters’ actions.

As a writer, getting to know this secret world is one of the joys, something that grows as the book and the details of the world grow.

I'd be keen to hear of suggestions and hints that other people have.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Year, New Me...

by Jennifer Young

It’s official. I’m excited.

It isn’t the fact that it’s the New Year and all my resolutions remain unbruised by the practicalities of everyday life, or the fact that now the Christmas and New Year festivities are out of the way I can finally get stuck in to the pile of books, paper and digital, that I’ve been accumulating (I’m already well into Jenny Harper’s Face The Wind And Fly - and loving every line).

No, what makes me excited is the fact that I have a cover for my novel. It’s not news that Thank You For The Music is due for publication in February (the 20th, since you ask, but more of that in weeks to come). This being my debut novel, the process is wholly new to me and so it’s shot through with excitement like a trifle is with sherry - and it’s just as intoxicating.

My publisher, the wonderful Tirgearr, asked what I’d like on my cover. I filled in a form, in great detail. People, objects, setting, plot summary, character descriptions - all variables which feed into a convincing picture of what the book is about.

I confess, I was nervous even as I pressed the send button on my email. What if I didn’t like it? What if I hadn’t described my characters in enough detail, or if I’d failed to get my ideas of them across? Imagine what a humiliation that would be for a writer. And, worst of all, what if I looked at the cover and felt that crushing blow that you feel when you stumble on the face of your favourite radio presenter and find, to your horror, that it doesn’t fit the voice?

My fears, as it turned out, were unfounded. A short while ago I was sent a couple of options and asked to choose, and to make any comments. The waves are there, lapping on the shore as I imagined they would; and my hero and heroine, in a tender embrace, hide their faces from the reader and leave enough to my imagination.

Either draft would have done but one stood out for me - and that’s the one you see here. You’ll see much more of it as the launch date approaches. Publication feels real, at last…