Wednesday 25 November 2015

Where are we now?

Landmark London by night
I recently treated myself to a trip to the cinema to see the film 'Burnt'. A top chef (Bradley Cooper) self destructs, then climbs back to win 3 Michelin stars and probably Sienna Miller. Not a rom/com - maybe more a 'with romantic elements'. Lots of F words and plate throwing and a few of my favourite character actors in 'blink and you miss them' bit parts. The critics were a little lukewarm, but I enjoyed it. I'd have liked a bit more information about the food we were seeing on the plate though. And I seriously want Sienna Miller's hair.

But one of the chief reasons I decided to see it was the London locations that I glimpsed in the trailer. It was set in the Langham - which I visited when it still housed the BBC staff bar.(I was with the engineers - the nerds equivalent of 'I'm with the band.') And I've stayed there since it was reinvented as a posh hotel. On a cheap weekend offer, I hasten to add.

There were lots of shots of the river Thames and the bridges - I'm a sucker for bridges. And the back streets and alleys around Leicester Square. I have my doubts though about the scene that seemed to imply that the Langham had a
And by day
river frontage.

It made me think again about that perennial question of location. If you know a place, does it add to the attraction of the book or film? In this case it certainly influenced my decision to go. And what about locations that are made up?  In that case, the author really has to do their work to make it real.

Places I know, or which are vividly portrayed certainly add to the atmosphere for me.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

That wish fulfillment setting

Dreaming of living  close to the sea?
There's bound to be a book for that.
Following on from last week's post, I was thinking about the ingredients for the setting of one of those re-write the lifestyle books. Yes folks, it's another list! Again, in no particular order :-

  • Beautiful countryside - suitable for long healthy walks. Or horse rides. Or maybe a bike ride?

  • Quiet - where the noisiest sound is the birds. But - take it from me, if these are seagulls, that's pretty noisy.

  • Local food/produce - buying vegetables from the market, local sausages, wine, beer...

  • Clear skies - for romantic star gazing.

  • A local community - friendly neighbours, book groups, allotment societies.

  • An artistic community - studios, talks, classes

  • Impressive weather - i.e. wonderful sunshine, spectacular storms, cloud formations to make Turner weep. Not too much rain, unless it's the warm summer kind - cue one of those romantic scenes where hero and heroine have to dry off together - well, you can imagine the rest. Or a sudden torrent at the black point of the book, so the hero/heroine is physically devastated as well as emotionally. 

  • Attractive buildings - to included stately homes, fisherman's cottages and the derelict with potential.

  • Historical atmosphere - historic sites, traditions, folklore. Particularly if these have some sort of public celebration attached, like a parade or a fair.

You probably wouldn't have all these in one book and I'm sure there are more, but that's all that strike me at the moment. They are fairly transferable too, whether it's Cornwall, Tuscany or Indiana. Whether they actually exist in real life, and how attractive they would be on a permanent basis - that's another question, but I take the view that one of the purposes of genre novels is to help readers to dream, and if necessary, to escape for a while. If writers can create a bit of wish fulfilment as part of a story - for me, that's all good. Others like their fiction gritty, mine are also scary - at least I hope they are - but always with a positive ending.

As they cliche says, it takes all sorts, which is what makes life, and reading,  interesting.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Living the Dream

Running away to the sea?
We all have our little fantasies. No - not that kind of fantasy. I'm talking about the ones where we run away to the seaside, the countryside, rural Italy, an island somewhere ... and start on a whole new way of making a living. This usually involves something creative, self employment and spectacular scenery. Writers, being good with fantasies - we make stuff up all the time - are always ready to oblige, either with books with protagonists who have done just that, or books set in the dream situation/location.  Just for fun I've assembled a few suggestions. Yes - it's a list, folks. My baker's dozen of new life dream escapes.

In no particular order :-

Other 'creative' retail - bakery, patisserie, sweet-shop, florist.
Plant nursery/smallholding/vinyard.
Art Gallery
Pottery/artist studio
Restoring and opening an historic house/garden to the public.
Running a museum/staging a festival
Interior/garden design
House sitting/dog walking
Running a B&B/boutique hotel/holiday let.
And, of course, writing that best selling novel.

It's interesting to speculate how far these are dreams, fun to read about but not for real life, or secret hopes and plans. Are writers feeding fantasies, or ambitions?  

Maybe a bit of both?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Standing at the crossroads?

When something that has been a fixture in your life for a long time suddenly changes - as has recently happened to me - it can be a catalyst for a re-examination of goals, lifestyle, etc. And, of course, it is exactly the sort of situation that writers love most. The kicking off point for the story. Catching your character at a point of change. Which got me thinking, as you do, about some of those classic change points. And I made a list:-

Loss - a loved one, a job, a home.

Gain - a dream job, a new relationship, the birth of a baby, a legacy. Silver linings that might just have a cloud attached.

Rites of passage - leaving home, a significant birthday, marriage, divorce.

Threat - now, in the kind of books I like to write, that's likely to be the ominous phone call, a visit from a stranger, a violent incident, but it can also be something like illness or accident.

A mystery - a letter from the past, a tin box in the attic full of family papers, a discovery about the family tree ...

An acquisition - I'm thinking of the kind of thing that might kick start a time slip novel - a painting, a house, a piece of jewelry.

Travel - a holiday, a business trip, a journey for family or personal reasons.

Discontent - the hero or heroine is unhappy with their life and decides to change it.

Those are the ones I could think of, but there are bound to be a whole lot more.

Crime writing, if it is a police procedural or features a professional/amateur sleuth, might be a bit different as it is often linked with an event - like the discovery of that unexpected body in the library ... But then there can be consequences for a whole circle of people, all with their own journeys to follow.

Whatever your genre, if you have your character standing at a cross roads then there is bound to be a story. The points where two road meet have traditionally been thought of as dangerous places ...

In some cases the journey from the change point can lead to one of the others - loss of a job to landing that dream job for instance. And we writers do like to tie things up neatly. I've often thought, when reading, that in real life you don't get a sudden windfall, or meet that fabulous new love, or inherit a house, just at the moment you most need it. But if you write fiction with a positive outlook, especially if it is romance, with an expectation of a happy ever after, that's the way it has to be. I believe readers do know this, but the whole point is optimism and possibility. An affirmation that things can be worked out.

I've got a lot of support from those affirmative books while standing at my crossroads. I'm grateful to the authors who have written the stories that are keeping me going.