Wednesday 27 February 2019

Changing the weather

One of the advantages of being a writer  - amongst other things, you get to control the weather. If you want to have a long hot summer in the book, you got it. Need a convenient storm, fog, deluge of rain, all you have to do is call it up. Most writers try to keep within the bounds of possibility though, just. The idea that the UK has long hot summers as a matter of course, can be a bit hard to swallow sometimes, but it looks as if truth is beginning to look stranger than fiction, and making the unlikely a lot more plausible.

When I was writing What Happened at Christmas, I wrote a freak snow storm with my tongue slightly in my cheek. And then the Beast from  the East  arrived and a sudden amount of heavy snow didn't look quite so much like something a writer might invent. I must admit that the snow in the book did disappear conveniently quickly, but you can't have everything.

And now we have record temperature in February. I must say that I have often taken a picnic lunch to the beach in February, but it's usually been eaten with my coat on. In the last couple of days in the middle of the day it's been like summer. Still frosty at night though, which is an interesting contrast. Apparently it is going back to 'normal' later in the week, but the precedent for unseasonable weather has been set. And don't get me started on the garden. Daffodils, jasmine, bees. In February.

There are some things that don't change though, sunrise and sunset are fixed points and one of my pet 'things'. I get annoyed if I'm reading and other authors don't take note of them, and I've had to change planned scenes in my own books when I've realised it would be too dark, or too light for what I had in mind.

Not everything is in the writer's control. You still have to work with nature sometimes.   

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Not quite research

Authors make jokes about research, Everything is research - even chocolate. This week I did some research in reverse. Stocking up on ideas in advance, as it were. It's not inspiration, because I don't have a story out of it. It's just a bit of information, that I might be able to use, and it came from a visit to the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings in Bristol. They are from the Royal Collection and there are small exhibits of about a dozen pieces in each, in various galleries all over the country. There's one in Cardiff, which is on the agenda for later in the year.

The Bristol display was fascinating. Drawings and sketches from da Vinci's note books - horses, cats, skeletons. A bit like an author's collection of post it notes, only a lot more elegant. And older. I enjoyed the exhibition, and there was one little nugget of information that I stored away for future use. Maybe. There was a lovely sketch of a woman's head that may have been have been for a picture of the Madonna, but not one that is known about. The exhibit mentioned several Madonnas and Child that da Vinci was working on towards the end of his life that have completely disappeared.

Now my friends know I collect missing pictures - not the real thing, unfortunately - but little snippets about paintings that have dropped out of sight for one reason or another. It has become  'a thing', to the extent that they collect anecdotes for me. I'm so predictable. So I now have the possibility of an unknown da Vinci to play with, if I ever want it, and I know what she will look like. I just have to  wait for a story to go with it.

If it's meant to be, it will happen.

If you are interested in the exhibition, this is the link Bristol Exhibition

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Write what you know - or write what you like?

One of the received wisdoms that new writers are handed as sage advice is 'Write what you know.' Which is yet another of the seemingly impossible things you are supposed to do, along with figuring out where to put the commas and wrestling a story arc. And it's all very fine, if you have an exciting day job, or home life. But if you are just an ordinary Jill, or Joe? That's hard. But when you think about it, how many of those stories you like to read start with the protagonist at a point of change, very often moving away from the ordinary to something new and scary?

I finally came to the conclusion that, like a lot of advice, you had to moderate it to suit. If you start thinking in terms of what you like, love, are interested in, are prepared to find out about i.e. research, and we all know about writers and research ...

If you are curious, then you can go on the journey with your protagonist. And of course the Internet is a boon - which is one of the reasons you should never look at a writer's browsing history, if they write crime. There's a hint in that too - write what you know - but I don't think that any of my crime writer friends are serial killers in real life. I hope not!!! But they can tap into imagination and emotion. We've probably all had times when we have felt we wanted to murder someone.  Thankfully it usually lasts only a few seconds, but in those seconds it's there. And your imagination does the rest. And all the other human emotions too - love, envy, home-sickness, regret, jealousy, contentment ...

I've reached the conclusion that the mantra needs to be 'Write something that interests you - preferably something that excites you.' And this may not be something from everyday life. As an historian, I should probably be writing historicals, but that's never been what really attracted me.

Except ... I have a new idea, and disconcertingly it is playing into lots of things that I actually know - or think I do. It's not in any danger of being written any time soon, or even ever, but it's always fun to day dream.   

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Which comes first - the cover or the title?

Cover reveals are an important event in the life of a book - the first time it gets to appear on the world's stage. A cover sums up the contents of the book, so it's quite exciting. But I have been wondering lately about the relationship between cover and title. On a paperback book the way it looks on the shelf is probably more important, but with e-books? I know that a cover is meant to look good as a thumb nail - but a thumb nail is a very small area. Can you really make out too much detail, except for the colours? 

And such a lot of covers look rather like each other. Thrillers with a indistinct but colourful background and the title in large letters, often with a strap line as well, or even more than one. The title - words, being the thing that stands out. And all those historicals with an interchangable, partly dressed heroine in a succession of pretty, colourful gowns. It really can be difficult telling one from another.  And the cookery and self help books with the picture of the chef or the guru. And the thrillers that are all about some sort of quest, that have a vaguely historical looking scene, often with the back view of a figure in it. Sometime running. And sagas with a group of girls or a group of children or one child, looking woebegone in period costume. And the drawing of a cottage on a village green for romantic comedy. And snow scenes at Christmas and beach scenes for holiday reading. And we won't mention all those guys who have managed to lose their shirt somewhere along the way. All those covers do their job - they immediately tell you what the genre is - but it seems to me that lately it's the title that makes the difference.  Which is rather gratifying, because a title is words, and books are about words. 

But,of course, the author often doesn't get to choose the title ...