Wednesday 24 June 2015

What's the sense in that?

Writers are often reminded to make use of all their five senses when writing, and include the results in the manuscript. Not always as easy as it sounds.
Sight - that's pretty much a given - if you're describing it then you are seeing it. Hopefully your reader is too.
Hearing - mostly obvious, but maybe slightly more testing? If your book has conversation, then that sense is covered, but what about other noises? Everything from music to the roar of a motorcycle? I think this one might be especially useful to those who write horror and generally creepy stuff. Hearing something without being able to see it is pretty creepy. Where would that haunted house be without the clanks, creaks and the odd mournful wail? Footsteps in the dark, rustling in the bushes - the imagination works overtime - which is what it is all about, after all.
Touch - the favourite one for er ... intimate moments. But it's got it's place in description too, the feel of the pile of a velvet dress, the softness of cashmere, the roughness of a brick wall. I'm wondering about that awful squelch when you step in something and you don't know what it is. If it's on the other side of your shoe, does that count?
Jasmine. My garden smells heavenly at the moment. 
And that leads nicely into Smell. I know a lot of historical novelists really go to town on the way history must have reeked and I have to admit I get a bit bored with it. I can get plenty of nasty niff's in the real world, thanks. At the pleasant end of the spectrum, there is perfume and of course it's another for the intimate scenes. But there are other issues too. Scent is apparently one of the biggest reinforcers of memory. I know I once freaked out in a big way while washing my hands in a  ladies loo in a department store in Paris. The soap in the dispenser was exactly the same as that in the hospital where I'd had a major operation, and it took me right away from a lovely day (Paris, retail therapy) to a very dark and scary time. And I didn't even know it was in the memory bank until it happened. I've got to use that one in a book sometime. Don't anyone steal it, or I will come and haunt you.
And the last one - Taste. Is this the trickiest one? Food is the obvious source and of course that intimate stuff again. In fact. S.E.X. seems to a be a good work out all round for the senses. There is occasionally the chance to use this sense in a more unusual setting - the taste of the salt in the wind and such, but it needs a bit of care if it isn't going to sound daft. Babies are experts in putting stuff into their mouths to find out what it might be, but once you've reached the age of discretion, not so much.  

What got me going on all this? Well, I've been doing quite a bit of early morning walking lately and been thinking about the things going on around me - an experiment in creating a town scape. I'll tell you about that next week.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Dreams and Nightmares and Midsummer Night.

Ill met by moonlight ?
Fellow Choclit author Alison May's latest book came out in ebook last Friday. One of her Twentieth Century Bard series, it's a modern reworking of the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Called, appropriately, Midsummer Dreams. As part of the launch celebration a number of fellow authors blogged about dreams and nightmares, and that got me thinking about the fact that both are the stuff of romantic suspense.

Extreme emotions are the bedrock of the genre - fear and love. How often have you heard it said that a painful experience in the waking world was 'a nightmare'. And, of course, love is so often linked to hopes and dreams. Really, when you think about it, this has to be day dreams, as sleeping dreams usually don't make sense. At least, mine don't.

Nightmares don't make sense either, but the emotion they usually provoke, of fear, is real. And that's where I come in, turning those emotions into a story. (Pause for evil laughter.) Why are we, as readers, so interested in crime and mayhem? No wants it in real life, but between the pages of a book - that's different. And, of course, love and romance turn up the heat too. Crime and romance are two of the most popular genres of fiction. Plenty to get your heart beating faster in both of them!

As I say frequently, it is very much easier to turn up the heat between hero and heroine when they are facing some external threat together. Nothing like fighting for your life to persuade you that the guy/girl fighting next to you just might be 'The One'. But first the writer has to decide on the threat. Nightmares are not much good for plot, the writer has to provide that, but they are great for the scary stuff - claustrophobia, being chased, being thrust into a situation that you are totally unprepared for. Anxiety dreams - but all the ingredients of a romantic suspense hair raiser, right there, in your own comfy bed.

Alison's book is in a much lighter vein, but if it follows the Shakespeare play, it has it's dark moments too. I'm looking forward to finding out how she has handled the supernatural elements of the play. Are the lovers going to be held under the spell of a mysterious love potion? And it all has to work out in the span of one night, The seasonal dates on the calendar have always had a certain resonance - the summer and winter solstices, midsummer, Halloween, points where supernatural realms are mean to be much closer to the regular human ones. Time when you can believe in magic. And dreams?

About Alison May's Midsummer Dreams

Four people. Four messy lives. One party that changes everything … Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect. Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself. Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers. Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach. At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

You can download the kindle edition of Midsummer Dreams HERE

Wednesday 10 June 2015

The Purpose of Siblings

Do heroes and heroines of romantic suspense have to be only children?

I've been musing on this one since I realised that all mine are. The published ones and the ones lurking in the filing cabinets. A few of them saw the light of day yesterday when I had to remove all the drawers in order to wheel a desk past them. The handles were sticking out. But I digress ...

I can't think of one book where the protagonists had siblings. Except for the Work In Very Slow Progress. Tess, the heroine, starts off with two brothers ... Not going to say any more, as that would be a spoiler before I've even got the book out from where ever it is inside my head that books wait to be written.

Of course it might be that I write about only children because I'm one. Write what you know, and all that. But I think there might be something deeper going on too. One of the key features of romantic suspense is that the protagonists should feel under threat. Isolation ups the stakes. So having no brothers and sisters - possibly no close family at all, to provide support and refuge - helps to increase a sense of menace.

Us writers tend to be a heartless lot when it comes to characters. They are expected to serve a purpose and pull their weight in driving the book along, or they have no business being there. The most obvious roles for a brother or sister are close confidant or arch rival. Or they could be under some sort of threat - the older sister who has to seek unsuitable employment or undertake some distasteful task in order to provide for her younger siblings is one of the staples of historical romance. She usually meets the hero as a result, so everything turns out right in the end.

A hero or heroine from a close family who is obliged to keep some sort of secret from them might be interesting to write, but on the whole a protagonist who has no-one is on a winner from the start if you want to write creepy and menacing. Which I do. Most of the time. Interestingly (well, I find it interesting) the H&H from the romantic comedy crime novella which I keep harping on about and which I really do hope gets published sometime this year (!!!!) are also onlies. In both their cases there is a reason for that which is not creepy or menacing. That's how they arrived, but I don't think the plot would hang together if either was part of a large family. Coincidence? Or is that the 'write what you know' surfacing again?  

Wednesday 3 June 2015

It's all about the stories

A couple of weeks ago I did a lightening hop to London for the RNA summer party - as much fun as always and so good to catch up with friends. And soak up the writing atmosphere that I have been missing of late. The award for the Joan Hessayon was the big event of the evening ... congratulations to the wonderful finalists and winner Brigid Coady, who was very sweet about letting me hold the trophy. I gave it back with only the smallest of struggles.

I also managed to squeeze in a couple of hours at the Chelsea Flower Show the evening before. When I lived in Chelsea I was a regular, but I haven't been there for a while. Fun again to catch up. I took pictures, intending them to be for myself - a few memories and ideas for my own garden. (Dream big!!!!) When I ran through them I realised that several of the gardens and displays I had chosen to photograph seemed to tell a story, be an inspirational setting or be connected to some point in history, so I thought I would share a few of them after all.
I loved this one for the cool quality of the stone and the white and green planting. 
This was an evocation of a garden in the South of France. Perfect setting for a book? 

This was France again - the retelling of a story of an airman shot down in WWII

One for the history buffs - celebrating Magna Carta

Another historical theme - this time Waterloo