Wednesday 27 September 2023

According to plan?

 I spent a productive half hour train journey a few weeks ago drawing a location plan of a house and garden on a headland somewhere in Wales. It is fictitious, hence the need for a plan. I'm trying to get the story straight in my mind and having done timelines I realised I needed a map as the location was a hole in my thoughts. 

I'll also want a house plan and one of the garden, but I'll get to that. They are for me and I doubt if I'll ever share them anywhere, but it made me think of a discussion a little while ago in the Crime Writers' Association magazine, Red Herrings, on the value, or not, of plans, cast lists and family trees appended to books for illumination of readers.  Some liked them, others didn't. All a matter of taste. 

As a device used now, they sometimes have an old fashioned feel - I recall a number of Agatha Christie novels with floor plans as part of the text. - they would be an authentic touch for current cosy crime books that have an historical setting. I know I have found a cast list very useful when there are a lot of characters involved and a family tree can be invaluable to work out who is related to who - they usually appear in multi generational family sagas. 

The big difficulty these days is, of course, reading electronically. If any or all of these reader aids appear in a book they will be at the beginning. In a paper book there is no problem in flipping back for a quick look - a bit more complicated keeping your place on a reading device. 

Maybe this will mean that the practice eventually dies out? I think it would be a loss if it does. It doesn't suit every book, but if the author feels that it adds to the story, then why not?

Wednesday 20 September 2023

The power of tea?

 I'm late with today's post. Apologies to those who have been waiting with bated breath. I had rather a stressful day yesterday so didn't wake up until late and then couldn't resist listening to Just One Thing on the radio before I actually got up.  I'm functioning now, sort of. I have brushed my hair, so we'll call that a win. 

Just One Thing is a Radio 4 half hour, with Michael Mosley where he considers a relatively small thing that you might do to increase your well being and live longer. If we do them all we will presumably live forever, but I'm still trying to get to grips with brushing my teeth while standing on one leg. Good for your balance apparently. 

Today the topic was drinking tea. All sorts of benefits from keeping calm, to helping your bones and stuff to do with concentration and learning. I was still a bit dozy when listening so if you want to know more you can listen to the episode by downloading it. 

I was pleased to know though that it was good for me, as I drink about six or seven cups a day - all sorts of varieties, including one that tastes of toffee.  I was also amused as Elliott, the hero of the latest Riviera book, Masquerade on the Riviera, is a tea drinker. Oolong for choice. He can be a bit of a show-off at times. These academics! Good to know that the learning and creativity stuff  of tea suits him.  

It also seems that the advice that was so often given in papers to do with morale that I waded through for the PhD was actually sound. Tea does have a calming effect. 

Off now to make myself another cup! 

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Tools of the trade

 Attending conferences held by your professional organisations - in my case the Romantic Novelists and the Crime Writers - is a chance to acquire or hone skills. At the recent RNA event many writers were thrilled to be exploring the delights of Canva  and Scrivener. Me? No way. The description of how Scrivener works has me hiding my head in a hole and my one attempt of Canva ditto. I'll settle for pen and ink and Bookbrush, thanks. I seem to be able to find my way around the latter fairly well and the pen and paper stuff I've been doing since I was six. 

The differences in style made me think about how one uses the tools of the trade. Over my many many years in the RNA New Writers' Scheme I attended many workshops and seminars on 'How-to'. Some of the tutors in the dim and distant days in the beginning could be quite prescriptive  - not quite 'My way or the Highway' but very much - 'this is what you must do'. One of the things I learned in my long apprenticeship was - 'My brain doesn't do it like that'. 

I do have some quirks but mostly I'm an organic sort of writer - start at the beginning with a biro and a pile of scrap paper and then keep going.  I've used mind maps  ever since writing essays in the sixth form, but then I didn't know what they were or that they were even a 'thing',  I'm big on time lines - which is weird as for an historian I'm dreadful at dates. I have to know when people were born and if necessary die, and must get the generational things right if, as at the moment, I'm playing with a multi generational script. I live in horror of suddenly discovering that someone had a baby at twelve years old - not impossible, I know, but not in the current context. 

Something I also do is a bit of interrogation - not the kind where you have a list of questions like first pet or best friend in school and yes, that is one of the techniques I have been recommended and failed dismally at  - I go back to a question my Mum used to ask - probably when I was being annoying. 'What's your problem?' They always do have a problem, and if they don't you know that needs fixing. 
I'm currently doing it for a whole new series of characters.
Works for me. 

Wednesday 6 September 2023

The difficult second book

 I've seen a couple of posts/articles about this topic lately and it got me pondering. I never had the problem as my then publisher took both the books I had - finalists in American contests, so with a track record - and the second book was actually the first written. It was a paranormal that came out of nowhere and I have not been tempted to try one since. I am tinkering with some supernatural/spooky stuff  for the WIP- just a little bit witchy - we'll have to see how that turns out - it's just a sub plot/thread, not the whole story. Anyway, back to second book syndrome. When you think about it logically, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for doubts that have nothing to do with a superstition about the book's place in the running order. 

Conditioning - how often have you been told about 'the difficult second book'?

Deadlines - you have maybe been working on that first book for a long time. Now you have to produce to someone else's (probably shorter) time table.  

Expectations - now you have something to live up to. You have readers (we hope) and have been edited. You now have other people in the room with you, as well as your characters. Other people with agendas. And you don't want to disappoint them. 

Book One may have been 'the book of your heart' - the one you always wanted to write. Now like a certain famous Doctor, you have to find yourself another heart. 

It can be done. Writing books is hard. It's work. Don't let anyone tell you different - and if you ask any published author, whether they are on book five or book fifty, they will probably  tell you that the book they are currently writing is rubbish. The next one will be better - of course. 

We have high expectations - which is how it should be. Readers deserve the best. We just have to hang on in there and give it to them.