Saturday, 8 June 2019

SURPRISE! SURPRISE!

Something a bit different for our joint blog this time. We all answer 3 simple questions:

    1. Do you like surprises? Have you ever had a memorable surprise from anyone?





 2. Have any of your characters surprised you by 'talking back' or doling something you hadn't plotted?

3. What makes you smile?

    KATH starts us off:
1. Ye-es... I do like surprises... but sometimes they can be a bit overwhelming, so I always urge caution to people planning them. My most memorable surprise came on the weekend of Valentine's Day, 2000. I had thought we were going to visit friends for the weekend, then going out on Valentine's night (the Monday), and had booked a restaurant and babysitter. Unknown to me, my husband had thought it would be nice to spend the first Valentine's of the new Millennium in Athens. So, on the Friday morning when I thought I was spending the day working from home, my parents turned up to babysit for the weekend. I was asked to pack quickly, then whisked away, with no idea where we were going until we arrived at the airport check-in gate. My husband had arranged my days off work, cancelled my meetings, phoned the friends I thought we were visiting and asked them to play along, phoned the babysitter I'd booked and explained the situation to her as well, and cancelled the restaurant reservation I'd made. It was a litle disorienting!
Anyway, we had a wonderful few days and it was a memorable long weekend, but a part of me felt I'd missed out on what I'd planned. Also, anticipation of an event is half the pleasure, isn't it? Since then I've said I like surprises BUT I like to know that a surprise is coming. Does that make sense?


2. Oh yes, my characters don't always do what I had planned for them. I remember one in particular, in The Girl from Ballymor, who told me in no uncertain terms he'd grown up and was a different person now, and just wasn't going to do what I thought he would, and therefore I'd need to work out some different motivation for him. Actually he was right and the book was all the better for his intervention, so it worked out in the end. Half the fun of writing is getting to know your characters, and finding out how they react to the situations you put them in!
3.  What makes me smile? Mountains. I have what my family call a mountain smile, which only appears when I am half way up one. I also smile at kittens, cute children and large cups of tea being handed to me by my husband.

JO:

1. Hmm…it rather depends on the surprise. A delivery of flowers I wasn’t expecting? Lovely. A dead (or worse, live) mouse in the kitchen (courtesy of the cat)? Not so much. And then there’s context. If the loving note I find on my pillow is from my other half, I’m over the moon. If it’s from a complete stranger, I’m calling the police.
2.  My characters always surprise me, partly because I write the first draft as a way of learning about them. I won’t give details because of spoilers, but at the end of one of my crime novels one character revealed themselves to me as the killer. I had written the whole thing convinced it was someone else…
3.What makes me smile? Cute animal videos. Clever visual jokes. Good guys triumphing against the odds and bad guys getting their comeuppance. Sunny days. Happy endings.


LINDA:

1. I like surprises unless it’s a surprise meal out somewhere posh and I haven’t been warned and am in scruffs! One of the loveliest surprises I’ve ever had was coming up to my birthday when a parcel from Amazon arrived and inside was the most glorious book, The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. A whopper of a coffee table book I would never have bought for myself it is full of the most exquisite paintings of nature with calligraphy letters and short verse.



2. My characters speak to me always. But it was Janey in Christmas at Strand House who surprised me most by announcing she wanted to be an artist – that wasn’t in the script – and it meant I had to do a bit of extra research on art on her behalf!
3. Trees make me smile, always. I love the almost silk fabric texture of emerging leaves, sparse at first, as though some unseen hand has magicked them onto the bare winter brnaches. Then they fill out, week on week during summer getting so dense you can’t see the centre, before the bonfire flame display of autumn. And we go full circle again with bare branches against a steel-grey winter sky ..... how can all that not make you smile? 

VICTORIA:
1.   I would love to have a surprise party thrown for me (as long as I am dressed for the occasion and not looking as if I have been dragged through a hedge backwards!) Or a surprise holiday (as long as I have nothing already planned). Hhhmmm, I always thought I liked surprises, but perhaps the reality is that I don't!  
2.  I am a great plotter, but I didn't plot the twist in A Daughter's Christmas Wish. Nicholas, the hero, was keeping a secret that even I wasn't aware of until I wrote and exposed it.
3.  What makes me smile? My husband when he is being funny. The sound of birds on a summer's day. Animals and little children doing silly things. My adult children when they are happy about something. Lots of things ... too many to list here. They usually cost nothing and has something to do with nature and the positive (or innocent) behavior of animals or humans.


RAE:
1.Yes, I love surprises. Although when I think about it, I haven't actually received that many. The most recent was tickets to see Michael Bublé in concert in Hyde Park. I've had a crush on him for years and practically hyper-ventilated when I opened the envelope. Perhaps it's for the best that I'm not surprised too often!

2.Yes! In my current emotional fiction novel I mapped a whole strand for a main character who, half-way through, decided to take a different route. She is someone who doesn't trust authority, so perhaps it was to be expected!


3.What makes me smile? The brilliance of nature in all its forms - a wild coastline, snow-covered mountains, the baby crow I found, my pet cat, the perennials that bloom in my garden despite being irnored, wildlife documentaries - all lift my spirits. As does listening to the La La Land playlist.


JENNIE

1. I think I do like surprises although like Rae I haven't had any real surprises recently. One I remember though happened a couple of years ago. We'd taken the dog for his five minute mid-day stroll the usual 200 yards down to the river and as we walked back up we could see a car parked outside the cottage. Our daughter and family had come for the weekend. 'We wanted to surprise you,' daughter said. Well they did that!
2. Yes, my characters often take me down plotlines that I hadn't anticipated. I wish I could be more of a plotter than a pantster but I can't. Writing a synopsis before I've written the story is my béte noir - once I know the ending, as far as I'm concerned the story is finished!
3. What makes me smile? Phone calls from friends, watching Django our rescue collie play with Gus our stray cat, walking along a Devonshire shoreline in winter,

baby goats, hearing happy news from my children and watching Mama Mia always without fail makes me feel happy. I'll finish the post with the picture of Gus on the roof because he's always making me laugh.




Saturday, 1 June 2019

FREEING UP YOUR WRITING


Over the next few months the Novel Points of View team will be inviting guest writers to the blog. Their brief is to write a post connected to writing, reading, books and creativity. I'm delighted to introduce writer, Morton S.Gray to the blog as she shares her experience of facing and overcoming the times when the words just don't want to flow.
Victoria Cornwall
Morton S.Gray
Author
We all have times when our writing isn’t flowing. I never like to use the much-worn phrase of writer’s block, as to give the unfortunate phase of your writing that label seems to give it far too much importance. Instead, you need to get writing freely again before the problem becomes entrenched, so don’t give it the courtesy of a name, just move past it. I hear you cry - how? Probably accompanied by much gnashing of teeth, cleaning of the oven and fridge and eating of chocolate and ice cream.

Please be assured that I am not trivialising this wilderness you find yourself in – been there, done that, got several T-shirts.

Try the following methods to get you going again and good luck. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have any other ideas please add them in the comments below – you might just save someone’s manuscript and sanity!

Take a step back for a specified period you agree with yourself, preferably no longer than a week. You may just be exhausted.

Rewrite the last scene you wrote from a different point of view and see if that helps you to move forward.

Have a shower. This never fails to work for me, as evidenced by the soggy opened out toilet roll tubes with writing scribbled all over them in my study.

Write a short story or poem about one of your characters, or your setting to gain a different perspective.

Take a walk. It is surprising how often a sight, smell or noise on your journey can evoke a new thought or even a memory that can be incorporated into your work in progress.



Go out for a coffee and listen to those sitting around you. Write down a few phrases you hear people saying and see if you can write on from there. Examples from my own eavesdropping – ‘Lucy disappeared you know.’ ‘Nothing has been the same since I dropped my favourite mug.’ ‘I just walked in on them …’

Listen to what you have written so far by getting voice software to read it to you. Microsoft Word now has this capability and I find it so useful, almost as if someone else has written the manuscript.

Write a character study including backstory for your main characters. You will often find this enriches your story and gives you a new avenue to explore in the plot. Write questions for your characters to answer about how they are honestly feeling about their role in your story.

Have fun by writing a list of things that can’t possibly happen in the next scene or chapter. This often clarifies what can actually happen.

Use a timer to reduce pondering (procrastination) time. Begin by writing for five minutes, then do something else for ten. Then write for ten minutes, and so on.



Join one of the 1000 words in an hour challenges on Twitter. Search the hashtag #1K1HR.

Draw a spider diagram – put a dilemma from your story in a circle in the middle and then any thoughts about it on branches around the edge. Keep expanding until something strikes a chord for you to write from. I have an example in my second novel for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried, where I actually managed to incorporate most of my spider diagram into a scene. See if you can reconstruct my spider diagram from the following extract.

“She searched through a drawer in the old-fashioned sideboard. She had the feeling that Carver was watching her. She was pleased she was wearing skinny jeans and that her back was turned, as she was sure her face was bright red.
     She sat down opposite him with her pen poised over the pad of lined paper. ‘How do you want to play this?’ She hoped the colour had faded from her cheeks.
     ‘Just throw out ideas however silly and then we’ll discuss them. I’ll kick off with “abducted by aliens”.’ He laughed. ‘That’s the favourite explanation my mother and I had for the disappearance of Dad, by the way.’
     ‘Russian spies who had to leave the country.’
     ‘Good one. How about intelligence service operatives?’
       Jenny wrote the ideas in neat columns on the page.
      'You mean like James Bond?’
      ‘Possibly. Your turn, let’s keep the thoughts coming. Don’t think too much, or you’ll dismiss ideas.’
     Jenny sipped the strong coffee and watched the expressions flashing across Carver’s face. She was enjoying this and the thought made her go quiet while she questioned why.
    ‘Come on, don’t censor your thoughts, just throw them out.’
    ‘Okay, some sort of crime, bank robbery, murder, fire, fraud.’
    ‘So, they could have got away with it and been living abroad, South America, perhaps?’
     She wrote South America in capital letters on the page, followed by a large question mark.
     ‘Or they might not have … maybe they’ve been in prison for twenty-five years.’
     ‘Surely we’d have known if there had been a trial?’
     ‘Not necessarily, we were both quite young.’
     ‘True, but I can’t think news wouldn’t have got out. We’d have been teased at school, surely?’
     She rubbed the side of her nose with the pen as she thought. ‘Maybe our dads were witnesses in a trial and had to be whisked away to a safe house somewhere.’
     ‘But wouldn’t they have taken us too?’
     ‘Not sure. I don’t know how these things work.’
     He sat looking miles away for a while and then his face became animated again. ‘Horrid thought, but maybe they murdered someone and fled.’”

Thank you, Morton, for joining us on our blog this week and sharing some great advice. To find out more about Morton, her novels and latest releases, plus purchase links,  just read on ... 


Two children in a police waiting room, two distressed mothers, a memory only half remembered …

When Jenny Simpson returns to the seaside town of Borteen, her childhood home, it’s for a less than happy reason. But it’s also a chance for her to start again.

A new job leads to her working for Carver Rodgers, a man who lives alone in a house that looks like it comes from the pages of a fairy tale – until you see the disaster zone inside …

As Jenny gets to know Carver she begins to unravel the sadness that has led to his chaotic existence. Gradually they realise they have something in common that is impossible to ignore – and it all links back to a meeting at a police station many years before.

Could the truth lie just beneath their feet?

Available in eBook
paperback & audio formats.
Biography for Morton S. Gray

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. This story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon. The book is available as a paperback and e-book.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel. The book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. This book is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook.

Christmas at Borteen Bay is Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse with her mother, and local policeman Ethan Gibson, as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can catch up with Morton on
Twitter - @MortonSGray
Facebook - Morton S. Gray Author 
Instagram - Instagram Profile 
or on her
Website mortonsgray.com




Saturday, 25 May 2019

Writing on the move


As I write this, I am sitting in our motorhome, affectionately known as Gertie, on the edge of a tiny hilltop village called Sainte Agnes in the Alpes-Maritimes area of south-eastern France. It’s a pretty good spot in which to write.

Writing in the van

I’m spending about ten weeks travelling with my husband, and we’re spending most of it exploring this corner of France. We adore mountains, and love walking and cycling so this is a perfect area for us. A typical day will involve a short drive to the next idyllic spot, park up somewhere – either a campsite, an ‘aire’ or just a suitable car park that has no restrictions against motorhomes. Then we’ll go off and explore, or go for a cycle ride. By mid-afternoon we’ll return to Gertie and that’s when I’ll get a couple of hours in which to write. This isn’t a holiday from writing – I would hate to have so long away from my novels, and anyway, there are deadlines I need to hit!

My husband will cook dinner, and afterwards we’ll play cards, drink wine, sit outside if the weather’s warm enough (though it’s been chilly up in the mountains!), read books or watch an episode of Breaking Bad (we brought the entire box set of DVDs with us).

A couple of years ago we spent six months travelling around Europe in Gertie, so we are well used to this kind of lifestyle. The great thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere, so why not do it on the move? I love travelling, exploring new places, contemplating new vistas, and life in a motorhome allows me to keep up with my writing at the same time as travelling. The perfect combination.

Gertie admiring the view


My work-in-progress is set in France, and while I could have chosen almost any part of rural France as the setting, I thought I might as well pick an area we love and that we wanted to explore. Hence the Alpes-Maritimes. So while we’re out and about cycling or walking or wandering around exquisite medieval villages, I keep my writer’s head firmly attached and soak it all up, so that I can use it all when writing later on. I find it really helps for inspiration – not just for the current novel but also to spark ideas for future novels.

Sitting outside to write at a campsite

Sometimes I’ll sit outside to write, but if it’s too bright or cold I’ll need to sit inside the van, with my feet up, laptop on lap and a cup of tea to hand. Or maybe a glass of wine. Just like writing at home, except that beyond the window is a view to die for.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

GETTING THE NAME RIGHT IS THE NAME OF THE GAME

It's hard enough choosing names for new babies in real life isn't it? Oh the suggestions and the rejections abound. Some parents go all out and OTT with lots of names whilst others give just one forename. With girls their name may be a good fit with the parental surname but what happens if they marry and decide to take their husbands name? I once met a woman called Mary a good old-fashioned name that went well with her family name but her new husband's surname was Christmas. Poor woman.

It's not always obvious at first sight that the name is a mistake.
Robyn for a girl is different but teamed with Banks it doesn't work. Penelope Wise - nice name but use the diminutive Penny and it's not so good. As for Joseph King - well I think you get the point when Joseph becomes Jo.

Research carried out by Professor Richard Webber [King's College, London shows that many old British surnames handed down for generations have disappeared in recent years. Names that in the 21st century people find funny or embarrassing  like Shufflebottom, Cock, Daft, Pratt, Balls are dying out. In 1881 the most popular surnames were, Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, Wilson, Evans and Thomas. Those nine names are still popular today.



Getting the right character names for my heroines and heros is a real struggle. Sometimes they come to me ready made other times nothing suits either them or the story. In the past I've been known to be ten or even twenty thousand words into a story when I realise it's not working because the main character's name is wrong. I do have a tendancy too to re-use names without conscious thought particularly for my older characters. Names like Harriet, Matilda and Anna are just three that I have to avoid for future books. In fact I've created a list of all the names I've used in my books so that I can see at a glance which ones not to use again. These days I've learnt that giving my characters the right names for them is essential before I start writing.

Writing contemporary fiction as I do, I find naming characters is a minefield. Of course using everyday names it's virtually impossible to avoid giving a character a name that turns out to belong to someone in Real Life. For this reason I always check via Google these days to see whether there is anyone living with the same name who could possibly be living a similar life as my character. For instance, in the book I'm currently writing, one of my characters is married to a Member of Parliament so while I've given him a fairly ordinary forename, his surname is definitely unusual and I've checked and doubled checked there is no MP with that name. Another thing to worry about is the name of younger characters. Some names given to 21st century babies are quirky and celebrity-led with parents wanting unusual names to ensure their children stand out from the crowd. I can't help wondering whether their grownup children will thank them - or head straight to the nearest Deed Poll Office.

I'lI leave you with this quote from J.K.Rowling and a picture of a boy who couldn't be called anything but Harry.

"I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character." 



I'd love to hear how you all choose your character names.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

KNITTING IDEAS TO CREATE SOMETHING NEW ...

... the whole day stretched ahead of us, bright as the glistening rollers
rumbling ashore...

I’m a magpie when it comes to inspiration, seeing ideas in the work of other writers, photographers, painters, musicians, but what I’d never considered was that another artist might be inspired by my work. I’m plagued with far too much self-doubt for that. Yes, I’ve had short stories published, but does anyone read them?

Imagine my surprise and thrill when photography student, Susan Orr got in touch on Facebook requesting permission to use my short story, Jenny’s Well as a basis for her college project. I was delighted to agree. Susan read Jenny’s Well in a Scottish Book Trust anthology and felt the story of the young girl playing by the beach, wearing an itchy knitted jumper, stirred poignant memories of time spent with her granny during caravanning holidays. She wanted to know more about what inspired the story (a personal memory) and where the story was set (along the Moray coastline – northeast Scotland). It turned out that the place where Susan enjoyed childhood holidays was a picturesque village called Portsoy, which is about five miles from Cullen, the spot that featured in my story. We decided to meet.

... the water ran clear and fresh as we cupped our hands, dipping our heads,
making a wish as we drank... 

As part of the project, Susan’s mum knitted an Aran cover for the workbook containing her course notes.  How amazing does it look? Susan then invited a young actress friend to Portsoy to re-enact extracts from Jenny’s Well.
Photographer, Susan Orr with the
Aran covered workbook...

I was as fascinated by Susan’s work as she appeared to be with mine. She drew further inspiration from photographer Martin Parr, whose work is bright and vivid, focusing on the mundane to reveal the extraordinary. You can check out his amazing work using this link.

... We picked our way steadily between briny rock pools, slipping sometimes...  

I suspect this may be the only time my fiction is brought to life via photographs. When Susan showed me the amazing photo-book she has created, I struggled to hold back tears! To have my wee short story touch someone in a way that inspired her to create something new is a privilege. Susan was kind enough to allow me to share some of her work.

... There was a swing set beside the chippers, so I gripped the rusty chains,
kicking high as I could...
But as if that wasn’t fantastic enough, then publishing student Alison Donn asked if she might use extracts from my Doric short story The Whole Hog within a zine she is creating, showcasing contemporary Scottish and Doric writing, as part of her MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. Again, I was honoured to help.


Extracts from The Whole Hog included with a zine
created by Alison Donn...

So which artists, whichever medium, have inspired your practice? Or has your work inspired others to create something new? Or does the thought of wearing a scratchy knitted jumper bring back fond childhood memories?

Writers love notebooks, perhaps beautiful Aran covers will catch on... 

Huge thanks to both Susan and Alison for not only reading my work but also requesting extracts and creating something fresh and exciting. Good luck to them both with their future studies.



Rae x