Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Collecting pictures?

Writers have a variety of techniques for sorting out the stories that run riot in their heads. I know one who allegedly wraps a roll of wall paper all round the room and plans the whole thing on that. Post-it notes, in various colours, are very popular. One of the more artistic ways is to make a story board. An author will collect pictures - hero, heroine, the dog, the perfect cottage, the car ... you get the idea - and put them together like a collage. It always looks like a lot of fun, although I'd worry about getting a bit obsessed with collecting, rather than writing. That comes under the heading procrastination, and we all know how authors love to do that!

I don't use pictures of people, my characters usually arrive in my head without that, but I'm wondering about doing a bit of story boarding of things and places for future books. I already do it in a small way, as I have a bag of odds and ends that are going to fit into a story sometime, but they tend to be written stuff, not visual. I like to create location tours for books, but those are usually done after the book is written, not before.

When I was in London last week, I took a few pictures of interesting things, including this one, of a garden area in a very up market block of apartments It looked even prettier lit up after dark. I made up  my mind then that someone was going to live in one of those apartments, and soon came up with Romily, who is a actress with a very rich daddy, who could certainly afford to buy her one - maybe it was a birthday present. She's not going to be appearing in a book for some time though, as she is heroine of book three of a romantic suspense trilogy.

Which gives me plenty of time to collect some more pictures to make a board.

Maybe I've started something here?

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Visiting London

Regular readers - you know who you are, and thank you - will know that I usually make a trip to London in November, to attend the Romantic Novelists' Winter Party. Actually, I will jump at any reason for a trip to London, but this is an especially good one. I hadn't actually been away anywhere since submitting the PhD, so I had a few extra days, with the party as the high spot at the end.

As I stayed in the Premiere Inn at County Hall, the first night I got myself a ticket for Witness for the Prosecution, which is an Agatha Christie court room drama which is staged in the old Council Chamber for the Former Greater London Council. Not a really a court room, but it was very atmospheric, the acting was good and I enjoyed it. I also had a chance to see the posh end of a building I used to visit many moons ago when working for a London Borough, like any public building, plenty of boring offices behind the facade. I was particularly interested in wall plaques with the names of former leaders, including Herbert Morrison who left in 1940 to become Home Secretary in Churchill's wartime cabinet. He gets a few mentions in the PhD as a result.

Next day I did a very special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on the PreRaphaelite Sisters - the women who inspired, modelled for and generally supported the more famous male painting group. The exhibit was the best I have seen for quite a while, staggering in the amount that these talented and dedicated women achieved, largely out of the spotlight, as well as raising a family. I'm sure they will find their way into a book sometime. After that I took myself off to afternoon tea in the National gallery next door and then to see Ian McKellen in his one man show which is touring the country to celebrate his 80th birthday. His Richard II was my first experience of seeing professional Shakespeare in the theatre. I'm not admitting how long ago that was, but it got me hooked and it has
been down hill ever since.

Thursday was the party. I didn't take pictures - camera wouldn't fit in my handbag, just as I didn't fit in the first three outfits I was hoping to wear. PhD spread!! It was a new venue, lots of space and lots of old friends. Plenty of pictures on the RNA website, if you want to have a look.

In between I found lots of locations and ideas for future books, including the Christmas market on the South Bank and a very very grand and expensive apartment blocks where a future heroine is going to live. All in all, it was a very good trip. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ten things I will probably never write about.

With all the stuff about elections flying around, I started to think idly of things I would be unlikely to write about. I say unlikely, because never say never. I wouldn't really have expected to write about Christmas or about snow, but I've done both. I think we are pretty safe on the following though:

Although this was a big part of my working life, since I've turned over to being a writer/academic I've left it behind. I probably wouldn't write about religion either. I'm quite happy to admit that the other famous taboos, money and sex, do find their way into my books.

I might possibly have a hero who played rugby or cricket, off the page, but the heroine - well, probably not. This is the girl who organised dental appointments every Wednesday morning for a month, in order to avoid playing hockey. I was much happier at the dentist!

A heroine who can't cook
Or a hero for that matter. I like to cook, and I have to say I am very snobby about people who can't or don't. I like to eat, and write about meals. One of my quirks.

A heroine who doesn't like shopping
I LOVE retail therapy. Even buying a loaf of bread does it for me. A shop is a shop.

Outdoor pursuits
I have to be a bit careful here as I have a hero in the pipeline - well, let's just say he is a bit of an outdoors type. But you won't get books built around climbing, or marathon running, or camping holidays. Glamping, maybe. I rather fancy a yurt, just for a night or two. 

Locations that require long distance flights.
This is a bit of a regret, but as I like to set books in places I have visited, or hope to visit, and I hate flying, that rules out anything that involves long haul. 

Maybe a bit might occur in a book, if absolutely essential, but  nothing more than a little light dusting. Decorating, yes - I'd rather paint it than clean it, and my tile laying skills are awesome, or they used to be, when I didn't need a crane to get off the floor. 

Wimpy heroines
My heroines have to be able to look after themselves, up to a point. They have to have careers, and be capable of supporting themselves, which is another of my quirks. 

Anything involving survival skills
Heroes have to be able to take care of themselves, so they might have something rufty tufty in their repertoire, but you won't get any heroines lost in the jungle or the mountains after a plane crash. I'm a city girl to the core.  

Sad endings
I get teased about my love of a Happy Ever After, but I don't like downbeat endings to a book, so I wouldn't write one. No problem with plenty of angst on the way there, but it has to be over by the end.

That's it, ten. Looking at them, I can see a theme - a writer has to be committed to what they are writing. If it doesn't interest you, and you have no emotional experience to draw on, then it is probably going to come over in the book, so it's a good idea to write the stories you would enjoy reading. 

In that case,  I can confidently say that no-one will be playing hockey in any of my books. ☺

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

How did this happen?

Can someone please explain how I seem to be writing a Christmas novella that is a prequel to a series that I haven't written yet?

Writers are weird.

A. I am not supposed to be writing anything at all. I'm supposed to be doing preparation for my PhD Viva which is approaching far faster than it ought to be.

B. If I was 'writing' I have a completed half edited book and two half written manuscripts that come first in the queue.

C. How can this be a prequel to an unwritten series? I know. I can hear you saying it. If the series isn't written, then why isn't it just the first, not a prequel? I don't KNOW. It just is.

It's driving me nuts, but in a fun way. I told you - weird.

You see I had this idea, and as it wasn't going away, I decided to write a bit until it stopped. So far it hasn't, but I am going to have to pull the plug on it imminently. Hah!

I blame reading too many Christmas books. I ordered a raft of them from the library, ready for festive reading, and they all arrived much earlier than I expected.

A writer's mind is a very strange place.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Theatrical Inspiration

Having shaken loose, at least temporarily, from my academic bondage - although preperation for the forthcoming viva has to begin this week - I have been indulging myself with a few trips to the theatre. Writers can get inspiration from other writers and I always find it interesting to watch how dramatists have done their thing. So - what have I learned from four productions?

The Mousetrap - vintage, but still going strong, the current tour visited Cardiff and I enjoyed the performance. What did it offer a writer? Suspense, and red herrings, from a mistress of the art. Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. I'm going to see Witness for the Prosecution in a few weeks time - it will be interesting to see how the two compare. Classic detective whodunnit against court room drama.

Midsummer Night's Dream, the current Watermill tour. If it's Shakespeare it has to be the poetry. A play full of words and all about the power and madness of love. What more could a romantic novelist ask?

Frankenstein - now this was an unknown quantity, a new play by Rona Munroe, which I saw on Halloween. It told the story of the book, but included the original author, Mary Shelley, in the production. It was an intriguing concept, and Mary's struggles to get he characters to behave, to make connecting bridges between the scenes she had tumbling through her mind, and frightening herself with what she had imagined and called into being, in the monster, were very familiar.

Cyrano de Bergerac, at Bristol Old Vic. I'd not been to the theatre since it had a major revamp, so it was interesting to see the results and try and fit what was there now with how it used to be. The play - love, poetry, swordplay and swashbuckling, a damaged hero, and a poignantly tragic ending. Not one I would have written as I am firmly wedded to the HEA, and my publisher expects it, but still a masterclass in love and the tension that accompanies it. And I have not given up the idea of finishing that Georgian smuggling story I have lurking in a drawer.   

Four very different plays, but I got something from all of them, which I hope will inspire future writing.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Absolute power?

One of the plus sides of being an author is the power to re-arrange aspects of the world in the way you want them. My particular favourite is the weather. If you want snow, or rain, or a long hot summer, you can have it. (I tend to go for the latter, personally) You do have to observe some natural laws, of course. Snow in the UK in July might be pushing it a bit.

Geography can be a little more tricky. You can invent your own, or interfere with what really exists, but the reader has to be prepared to go with you on that. Willing suspension of disbelief. Some things are difficult. Moving mountains around, having the whole of the south of England covered in forest, that sort of thing. There is only so much latitude for invention. I'm currently incubating a Welsh Village that doesn't appear on any maps, which is a lot of fun, but it will have to be based in an element of reality. Sort of, says she, blithely. We'll have to see how that turns out.

Time, unless you are writing time slip, is not really to be messed with. If it takes two hours to make a car journey, for instance, there is no way you are going to get the heroine there any faster. History can be difficult to re-organise too.  Maybe some jiggling at the edges, conflation of events, a little reorganising of the order on occasion. But it is going to be hard to reschedule the battle of Hastings to 1067, however much you want to.

If you are into supernatural, paranormal or fairy tale, then things are a lot more fluid, but even there things have to make a certain sense, at least within the story itself.

This power thing occurred to me last week when I  reorganised the train timetable to suit my convenience. I discovered I'd managed to have my hero on a journey running backwards from the route he would have taken - a salutary reminder that you really do have to check everything. Something had to be done, so for once engineering works came to the rescue. I shut the line he was on for emergency work and sent him across country on an alternative route, to get him where I wanted him to be. Maybe it wasn't the way the train company would have organised it, but it was plausible, so hopefully that is enough to get by. Took a bit of figuring out, mind you. With power comes responsibility.

It's power, but it does have to make sense. The reader has to be able to accept what you have done.

But I do love having control over the weather.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Keeping up with your characters

A couple of tweets this week from two big name authors, bewailing the fact that the characters from their Works in Progress have not lost the plot, but simply run off with it, got me pondering about what goes on inside a writer's head. Many writers will tell you a similar story, of protagonists who refuse to co-operate, doing  their own thing, disappearing  into the distance, sometimes running, often laughing ... It's an occupational hazard.

But -  the big problem is, although the characters feel as if they have an independent existence, and wills of their own, they all actually originate with the author. It is a totally disconcerting, but fascinating realisation. Clearly the mind has it all worked out, because the characters' independent adventures usually work out in the end.  The weird thing they did on page 40 suddenly makes sense on page 192.

How does that happen? I really wish I knew. There is probably material there for a scientific study.Or is there? If the author doesn't know, can anyone else find out? Presumably it's all to do with the subconscious mind, which apparently has a heap of rich independent stuff going on.  This is presumably where murder, mayhem and villainous villains originate, which is the disconcerting bit. I'm not sure, but I'm wondering if this is also where the problem of characters' names comes from. Sometimes you just know that a character is not right, and it turns out that they have been labouring under the wrong name. Or the supporting character who grows and grows and attempts to take over the story. I haven't had that problem personally, yet, but I know friends who have been forced to promise them their own book, just to keep them quiet. It's all very mysterious.

I'm not doing any original writing at the moment, other than my homework for evening class - more of that anon, as they say. I'm currently mostly sorting out chaos left over from months concentrating on the PhD, with some revising and editing of something I hope will be going to the publisher early in the new year. When I start writing again I will try and make a note of what is going on with plot and characters. I strongly suspect it will remain a mystery though.