Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Words with emotional freight

 I'm a writer - words are what I do. The building blocks to be manipulated into a story. I enjoy them and what they can achieve. When you're writing, and reading, some words carry more weight than others. As a reader I particularly notice this with the sad words - forlorn, dejected, heartbroken, desolate - all stir something inside that goes a bit further than just unhappy. On the other side, ecstatic give you a lot more than happy, although happy is good too.  

Power to convey an emotion with just one word is heady stuff. It's not just the "emotional" words though. We invest all sorts of words with their own emotional baggage - possibly in a way that is unique to each of us. It all comes down to our experience as humans. Think of something like the word midnight - what do you get? Dark for a start, probably mysterious and after that it might begin to get down to personal association. Maybe romantic - the time when trysts are made and magical things happen in fairy tales. It might be spooky, assignations in graveyards and things that go bump in the night. In folklore terms it might be classed as perilous - boundaries, crossroads and thresholds being dangerous places, and midnight is the crossing place from one day to the next. I go with the romance/mystery - it's secret meetings and the glitter of jewels and swish of silk on the turret stairs, masks and long cloaks and masquerades, although there's a suggestion of the dangerous stuff in there too. 

As a writer it can be a challenge to go against the grain of words. The word wedding usually conjures up a joyful event, so making it an occasion for the predations of a con man in A Wedding on the Riviera was interesting. 

Writers are told to look at strong substitutes for more ordinary phrases - instead of 'walk quickly' you can hurry, rush, sprint, bolt. Even those can have gradations though, or they do for me. Bolt suggests running away - possibly with an element of alarm attached. Or maybe that's just me?

This post may have been inspired by the fact that I am currently doing the penultimate pass though the work in progress. I tend to write long, and I am attempting to chop off anything up to five thousand words, so am looking to make shorter substitutions. The use of words that will convey everything I want in one place is exercising my mind - that and removing some of the descriptive bits. I'm gathering those together as outtakes - maybe they'll be the subject of another blog at some stage. 


Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Creating a villain

 Many authors will tell you that they love their villains - or love creating them. It sounds a bit sinister, but there is a lot of fun to be had making up something that is really nasty. I always tell myself that it's therapeutic, letting out all my inner evil. Some people claim to take out their real life frustrations - with a unpleasant boss or colleague perhaps, by writing them into the story. I don't do that. My villains come straight out of my imagination, which is possibly just a little bit disturbing? 

While  revising the current WIP and thinking about books to come, I've been pondering the nature of villains. They are not all presented in the same way. In the last book I unexpectedly had two - one evolved during the official editing process. Before that he was a shadowy bit player. Sometimes the identity of the villain is a secret - the essence of the whodunnit, with the final unmasking. In the WIP - The Villa in Portofino - the reader knows from the outset who the villainess is - which gives me the chance to develop her personality, and her motives and also let the reader know in advance what she next has in store for the heroine and hero. That is a variation of the pantomime 'He's behind you.' Possibly it's the easiest format to manage. I don't know how satisfying or not it is for the reader - maybe that's one for a Twitter poll sometime in the future. (Makes a note) You do get the chance to enjoy the villainy up close. 

At the moment I am contemplating the shape of the next book - Masquerade on the Riviera - I want to have two villains, one seen and one not. At least that's how it looks at the moment. I'm wrestling with the complexities of keeping the identity of the second player secret, while still showing the reader what they are up to. I will work it out, but at the moment it is taxing the brain. One of my favourite romantic suspense authors, Jayne Ann Krentz is very good at a final twist with a second villain, so I am trying to channel her expertise. 

Does a book have to have a villain? For romantic suspense, yes. In other genres there might be an antagonist - a mother in law from hell, a stroppy ex, a business rival. In one of the favourite romantic tropes - enemies to lovers - the hero and heroine do it all themselves - very economical that. It's not for me - I enjoy my villains too much.

Now, about this hidden villain ...

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Progress report

 Update on The Villa in Portofino  - Book Three in the Riviera Series

It's made progress from something that looks like this 


to a typescript. Theoretically this is the second draft stage. Mostly it's just that I have got the words into type. 

Now the tricky stuff starts. This is the bit where all the proof reading, fact checking, and re-organising occurs. As I write long, it has to come down by a few thousand words. All the bits and bobs have to be put together, so that names and descriptions match. Yesterday I spent the afternoon sorting out a family tree - I have a Welsh family over four generations so I had to check when everyone was born and died and where they overlapped, and also fit them into a time scale for another family in Italy who also overlap at crucial points. It's done, and I am pleased with it , but even so there is still the nagging fear that I've got it wrong somewhere and someone is 120 years old!! I've trawled for Italian names and slotted those in where the draft helpfully said 'X'.  I've just checked on Italian Prisoners of War in Wales, to make sure those dates are right and I still have to check my thesis notes to confirm when there were POW's working in the cemetery in Cardiff. All the POW stuff is the story before the story, but I still need to make sure that it is right. As I go through cutting and editing I'll be making a list of all the other things that need fact checking, and a final time line to make sure that holds up to scrutiny. (Editors have eyes like eagles over stuff like that!)  I've shifted the timescale of the book significantly from what it was when I started writing, to make it fit with the growing season in the garden that is a major factor in the action. I'll be looking at that too - I have lots of magazine cuttings about growing roses to sort thorough. 

Bet you never think about all that backroom work when you're reading. Necessary scaffolding for the story. Writing the book is the easy part!

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Meeting Claire Sheldon - to talk about her second book - A Silent Child

 

An expression you will frequently hear in writing circles is “The Difficult Second Book”. The next book after a debut is supposed to be notoriously difficult to write.  There are some supporting factors for this idea. The first book might have been written and revised over a long period of time, years even. If the writer attends courses or belongs to a professional organization it may also have had the benefit of all sorts of advice and critique services. Then, after the euphoria of actually being published, reality strikes. You have to do it all again.  Your timetable is now in months, not years, and you have an editor to please!  And the biggest factor of all – you have readers – people who hopefully enjoyed the first book and are looking for more of the same, expecting it to be as good or even better.

 


With this in mind, when I invited Claire Sheldon on to the blog today I suggested this was something we could discuss. Clare’s first published book – a twisty thriller called Perfect Lie came out in June last year. Now her second in the “Lisa Carter Files” - A Silent Child, arrived as an e-book and paperback from Ruby fiction on 23 March 2021, and is already picking up great reviews.

 

Claire was happy to talk about the work that went into both books – but was the second book a problem?

 

For the first book, Clare’s protagonist, Jen, didn’t start out as a detective

 

When Perfect Lie was originally written Jen was going to be a former MI5 agent - same storyline and with the same characters but Max and the team were MI5 agents and not detectives. I had some interest from another publisher and when working with them we decided that it was best if she was just a former detective which is how Perfect Lie made it into the format it is in today.

 

As often happens in the world of books, that deal didn’t actually materialise, but Claire had already taken all the best advice for would-be published authors and was well into writing the next book - A Silent Child.

 


When I was signed by Choc-Lit/Ruby  I had one and a half books, but had to go back through A Silent Child and remove or change all the references to MI5 and then complete it to submit, which I did around the time Perfect Lie was released.

 

So far, so good. Difficult second book, what difficult second book? It was all systems go for book three. (And book four)  But then you throw in a pandemic.

 

I was all yeah I’m going to write book three and get it submitted when A Silent Child gets released! HA! I’ve been struggling! I have an idea for book four, contract permitting, but the events in book three have to happen first and any sort of creative writing has gone out the window. I don’t know if that is due to Lockdown and home schooling while spending most of my day sat at my computer working from home or the fact I brought a new computer game with my first Choc-lit pay cheque! The third book isn’t happening and won’t be being submitted by the 23rd March. Some say it’s the second book that is the killer, but in my case it is most definitely the third!

 

 I have every sympathy for that “life intervenes” scenario. My first two books were already written when Choc-lit took me on – they’d been completed for a reality writing contest in America – then life threw me a couple of curve balls and  there was a long gap before the next one came out. Claire clearly has her plans for books three and four mapped out. While she may not have met her own strict time table – and writers can be notorious perfectionists - there is still plenty of time for another installment to be ready for 2022.  We will be cheering her on, and in the meantime there are Perfect Lie and A Silent Child to enjoy.

 

 

The brand new book – A Silent Child

 

The streets are no place for a child ...



After a traumatic event that almost ripped Jen Garner’s family apart, life is finally starting to get back to normal.
Then a woman’s body is found in the river. Shortly afterwards, a young boy is discovered wandering the streets. He refuses to speak to anyone, just repeats one name over and over, to the confusion of most of the local authorities –but Jen knows exactly who he’s asking for, and it’s enough to make her blood run cold ...


To buy your copy click here

 


 

The first in Series - Perfect Lie

 


What is ‘perfect’ trying to hide?
Jen Garner tries her best to be ‘wife and mother of the year’. She helps organise school plays and accompanies her husband to company dinners, all with a big smile on her face.
But Jen has started to receive strange gifts in the post ... first flowers, then a sympathy card.
It could just be a joke; that’s what she tells herself. But then the final ‘gift’ arrives, and Jen has to question why somebody is so intent on shattering her life into pieces ...


To buy Perfect Lie click here.



Claire’s biography



Claire lives in Nottingham with her family, a cat called Whiskers and a dog called Podrick. She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and as a result of the disease had to reduce her hours working in insurance for an Insolvency Insurer. This spare time enabled her to study a creative writing course which inspired her to write her debut, Perfect Lie. When Claire isn't working she enjoys reading crime novels and listening to music - the band Jimmy Eat World is her biggest muse! Claire is also an avid reader and book blogger. The inspiration for her novels comes from the hours spent watching The Bill with her grandparents and auntie; then later, Spooks and other detective programmes like Morse, A Touch of Frost and Midsummer Murders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

A new Welsh Crime Festival

Fancy spending a Saturday evening with Lee and Andrew Child of Jack Reacher fame? 

Well you can, as part of the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival.

It's a brand new Welsh festival when readers get the chance to hear crime authors talking about their work. There are some other familiar names like Elly Griffiths, Clare Mackintosh, Peter James and Martin Edwards, but there are loads more writers too, who may not have crossed your radar yet - members of Crime Cymru - authors who have connections to Wales, and who write all sorts of books from historical  crime to thrillers. It's a chance to discover something new and have some fun. You might pick up a new favourite author or two. There are also events related to Welsh crime on screen - The Pembrokeshire Murders and Keeping Faith - and a Welsh language event. 

The festival starts on 26th April and runs until 3rd May and this year, as it is on-line, it's free!

Next year it will all be live in Aberystwyth. You'll have to pay then. If you've attended or read about events like Bloody Scotland, Crimefest in Bristol or the Theakstons' Crime Festival in Harrogate, you'll have an idea what to expect. This is the Welsh version. If you've not experienced this kind of festival before, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy it. This year is an opportunity to find out from the comfort of your arm chair. 

As I said, this year is free, although you do need to get tickets. There won't be a chance to get books signed, have a drink in the bar and maybe a chat to an author, but we'll have all that to look forward to next year. The festival is linking with a selection of Welsh indie bookshops, so you can order books through them, if something takes your fancy having heard a talk. 

You can find more details, and sign up for the festival newsletter on the website here. FESTIVAL WEBSITE

I've got my tickets, so I'll 'meet' you there. 



Wednesday, 10 March 2021

All in the name?

 If we ever get back to having live events for authors, you know, with people together  in a room, like a library or a bookshop - remember them - it's likely that the audience will at some stage be given the chance to ask the captive author questions. If you'd like to ask something slightly more inventive than usual - 'Where do you get your ideas' I'm looking at you - you could ask about choosing names. 

The power of names is very strange. Many authors will tell you that a book is not working, and then they change the name of the protagonist and it falls into place. When you have a few books out there in the world you have to keep tabs on supporting cast - keeping on repeating the same name can cause confusion. My 'go to' all purpose name appears to be Bobby. Why? I've had to change it at least once to avoid confusion. I currently have two partially written manuscripts in my stash, separated by about twenty years,  that I want to go back to, and both the heroes are called Luke. This will be a problem, because the name fits both of them. I think one is going to have to become a Luc/Lucian - I'll have to give him a French mother. He might even become Jean-Luc. Not a problem. 

Are there fashions in names? This post was prompted by reading my third novel in a month with a hero named Kit, short for Christopher. I love the name - fell in love with it reading Georgette Heyer's False Colours. I must remember it for a future hero. 

Names do have to have qualities attached to them. Very sorry to all those who bear that name, but I could never call an alpha hero Nigel. It just wouldn't feel right.  Names can denote age and social position. I frequently trawl those internet sites that give the most popular baby names in a particular year in order to make sure that I get a good fit. At one time there were choices you wouldn't make for a contemporary novel, but with old style names like Ava, Archie and Wilf coming back into fashion, everything has changed again.  Bible names are usually a safe choice, whatever the era, although better for males than females. Shakespeare is quite good for pretty names for girls. As I'm slanting work towards settings in Wales, Welsh names are coming up my agenda. I know that authors who write historicals swear by a trawl around a cemetery. Those who write vampire stories do too, but for somewhat different reasons. You can denote eras quickly with the right choice of names. A Regency hero, or a contemporary one, might be Justin, but the name is not such a good fit for a WW2 flying ace - he'd be more likely to be a John or a Peter. 

It's a very simple thing, or it seems that way, but naming of characters can be a fine art. 

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

It's a secret

Authors love secrets. If you pick up any fiction book off your bookshelf, it's pretty likely that someone in it will have one, or that the whole plotline is based on a secret. Secrets, of course, have to be kept, which gives you the plot driver straight away. 

I must admit that as a reader, I'm picky about my secrets. I get can quite annoyed when protagonists keep things from each other when if they just talked the whole thing could be resolved. Of course that would also be an early end to the book.

I suppose one of the criteria for a secret is that it had to have weight. Disclosure has to have significant consequences - life or death ones being the best. Also those that have consequences for people other than the protagonist. Protecting the innocent is another powerful plot driver. 

Why, as readers, do we have such a fascination with secrets? Is it innate nosiness? Is it the chance to play detective and try to figure it out? Is it identification -  shared experience or the chance to try on an experience that you've never had and can't imagine having. I must admit those books where a group of friends get involved in something terrible  as teenagers and then go off to live their lives with that secret behind them sometimes gets me speculating. How would you cope? I'm not sure that I would be able to. There's a common story that if you phoned any group of people and muttered the equivalent of 'Fly - all is discovered' a large proportion would be packed and at the railway station by nightfall. 

At the moment I'm unwinding secrets in the WIP, which is why they are on my mind. The majority are not being deliberately hidden, which is why I say unwinding - they are family mysteries, things that my heroine simply didn't know about. I think those are quite common 'secrets'. How often have you read about families discovering a father or grandfather had a distinguished war record that was never mentioned? The advent of popular DNA testing is taking that in a whole different direction too.    

In the future I've got an idea for a book that will involve a very big secret, that has been kept for centuries. It's an idea that I've been carrying around for a long time. I hope the time will soon come to write it.  

Writers love secrets.