Friday, 30 April 2010

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult spoke yesterday at Hexham Book Festival and sounded relentlessly upbeat and charming. She has written 17 novels, but I've read only one of them - My Sister's Keeper.
As I mused on the energy she put into her talk, it seems she does the same thing with her writing. She rises, she told us, at 5am every day and goes for a three hour walk with a friend and gossips all the way. Once the kids are off to school she settles down to writing, which she does until 3pm when she metamorphoses into a mom again and starts car-pooling.
She follows this routine for nine months of the year, and reserves the other three for PR work, visiting spots all over the globe. Yes, she assured us, she devotes nine months to each new title. That includes research, writing, editing, until it is finally out of her hands and with the publisher.
(I felt exhausted by this stage, and I was only listening.) Within that time period she might also be editing another title, and doing research for the next novel.
She gave a reading from her latest title: House Rules, which is about a boy with Asperger's Syndrome who falls foul of the American legal system.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Chart Wizard


I like using chart wizard, and after I read Anita Burgh’s blog I started thinking about using a chart to demonstrate how my multiple viewpoint characters were showing up in the wordage stakes.
Now if you don’t like using spreadsheets or think they’re simply too much hassle, you could be right. But if your mind ticks over like mine, then you may enjoy the process. First of all you need to be prepared to count the words in each chapter. And list them in a spreadsheet. OK.

Then you need to count how many of those words were in which character’s viewpoint. It’s all easy enough to do using Highlight and the Word Count option under Tools. Three cheers for computers!
If you have three or so viewpoint characters, count their wordage and enter it in columns in the spreadsheet. You’ll end up with something that looks like this:

Chap Matho Harry Meg Lennox Jane
1 500 200 300 70 50

(I have a nasty feeling blogspot is going to render the numbers in one line, but I assure you they are supposed to be in columns - Matho 500, Harry 200, etc.)
Obviously you’ll need to do this for every chapter you do, so it is definitely easier if you start as you begin a new work. But an hour can have the biggest novel licked as long as you persevere. Once you get to the end, command the totals for each of the character columns. You use the formula =SUM(and between the brackets insert the line numbers you want adding) and lo and behold, Excel adds them all up for you.

Then once you’ve done that for each character, highlight the whole spreadsheet and click on Chart Wizard and you will have the info in graph form. Splendid! You can do this just on simple totals, or you can really drill down and see which chapters are hogged by which character. Watch out, or you’ll soon be hooked.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Genre defined

The term Genre used to plague the life out of me. Now I think I've got a handle on it. Genre is also called category fiction, and because its publishers have specific requirements it is often maligned as being formulaic. It includes romance (of course) mystery, suspense, sf, fantasy, westerns and horror. Chick lit (often called women's fiction lite) about girls 20-30, and lady lit, about women over 40 are now included.

Authors who don't follow the specifics write mainstream. The story may be a romance, but it will use more POV characters, and likely have a complicated plot, with sub plots. The writing style may be more sophisticated, and the endings are not always happy. Mainstream can move a long way from genre, but there is a place at the lower end of the range where they overlap and one morphs into the other.

And then comes literary. All the things about mainstream apply to literary, but more so, and it lives at the opposite end of the range to genre or category fiction. Mainstream also morphs into literary. The thing to look for is the writing style, which will be distinctive and well executed. Characterization is usually deeper, and symbolism is important. Psychological issues often come to the fore here, and a more experimental approach to the way the book is written is not unusual.

So it is possible to have someone ask you the genre of your book, and you could reply 'romance,' and feel you've been concise and clear. Or you could add a tad more detail and say 'mainstream romance,' or 'literary romance.' If you are sure of yourself, you could claim 'literary.' Only you will know, until someone reads your book and then says 'Oh, but I thought it was...'

Friday, 23 April 2010


I do it elsewhere, so I thought it was time I promoted on my own blog for a change. So here are the links to buy my book Till the Day Go Down, and below is a short excerpt for your enjoyment.


Blurb
A rip-roaring adventure set in the Borders between England and Scotland in 1543 when theft, arson and kidnapping were a way of life. Alina has two men claiming her hand at the altar rail, and neither will give way…

Excerpt
"Ah, Alina," he murmured. "Would that we had no iron bars between us."
His flesh hardened. If this was his last night on earth, he wanted some pleasure to beguile his thoughts. He reached both hands through the grill. Obeying some deep instinct he drew her close against the iron bars and in truth she was not reluctant, even when his hand roamed beneath her cloak, caught a ribbon and her nightgown gaped from neck to waist. His palm found the firm weight and curve of her breast and nestled around it.


Warm, silky flesh and the sound of her gasp in his ear as his fingers closed on her.
Alina choked, pulled back and met the firm resistance of his palm on her spine. Murmuring her name, he continued to caress the miracle of smooth naked flesh. Elation flashed through him as the hard stub of desire unfurled and grew beneath his fingertips. She turned easily under his hand and her breath came faster.
"Oh, Harry! I cannot bear it…"

His fingers stopped instantly.
"Not that," she said. Her gaze raked the air above them both. Perhaps the invisible Matho lurked on the wall-walk above.

Without conscious thought, his fingers moved once more. She quivered in his hands, and her head went back, rolling from side to side. Her eyes were closed. Moonlight silvered the tear that rolled down her cheek. Something closed hard and painful in Harry. He let go her spine, moved his hand up and caught the back of her head in his palm. "Alina, kiss me," he whispered.
Her eyes opened. She released him and caught hold of the bars in both hands, pulled her body hard against the iron and angled her face to meet his. Harry licked the salty tear from her skin.

Well? Does it want to make you read more? Answers on a comment box, please!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Order out of chaos


Other people's blogs can be such a rewarding place and I recommend a trip over to anita's to discover the organisational skills a writer needs. I use some of them, I suppose we all do some of them. I like little spiral notebooks, 4 inches by 3 inches which open vertically rather than horizontally. I find it much easier to write notes and read them back in this format. It fits in the smallest handbag, or a pocket, sits in the car dash pocket ~ and it really is a go anywhere pad. I'll probably end up with one for every novel I ever attempt.

I finally mastered using the Style button to highlight my chapter headings. They then come up in a separate pane at the left side of my screen, and with one click I am transported from chapter 20 to chapter 2. Great for checking or editing. It had me going for a while though; I used to end up with the whole chapter in the left pane. I soon learned to be very careful about highlighting only what I wanted. On the other hand, you could include the first lines of each scene if you wished.

I have a spreadsheet that combines chapters, word count, page numbers and one-liners as to content chapter. Having read Anita's piece I shall now try her colour chart for checking POV/character as that sounds a really good thing to do. And I'm curious to see how even-handed I've been.
Vamos Rafa - good decision to withdraw from Barcelona.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic ash and luncheon


Volcanic ash is causing misery around the whole of Europe, including this country, but so far I've seen no sign of it. But it must be there, high in the sky above me, for the airport 9 miles away is closed. Airports to the north and south are closed, too. Strange feeling, to look up and think what's there, and that it must come down somewhere, sometime.
didn't get much work done over the weekend as it was our turn to host a Sunday lunch. Now I know that those of you with families do this sort of thing in your sleep, but for me, a three or four course lunch with wine and coffee is a major undertaking.
I tackled one of Gordon Ramsay's recipes. Lamb rump with thyme and potato boulangere. Sound simple, but our local Farm butcher had no idea what a lamb rump night be. At this time of the year, he said with a smile, local lambs are so small that 3 lamb rumps for six people would mean I had six hungry guests. He thinks it's a New Zealand term and maybe their lambs are big enough, a different breed of lamb, perhaps, to make the cut worthwhile. Not here, so ~ Gordon Ramsay please take note ~ use terms that are recognised throughout the UK. It will make my life so much easier.
Good to see our friends happy and tucking in, enjoying the Cloudy Bay - still our favourite white wine, and there wasn't much of anything left, so I guess that means something. Then I couldn't sleep. Still hyped up and mind revving, but not sensible enough to do work on the wip. So I found Rafa's match at Monte Carlo and enjoyed the various snippets of him winning the final against Verdasco.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Writing for pleasure

Dare I say I'm doing my own thing?
That is to say I'm writing as I want to write, and if that means using past tenses, then they get used. They're there for a purpose, and I don't subscribe to the idea that books should be written without it. Every book, every character, has a past - and it is up to the author to make it interesting.

I think we can all agree that no story can take place entirely in the present, so there has to be way of describing whatever past history is necessary. Something that happened ten minutes ago is in the past, and something that happened ten years ago might have made a huge difference to the way I live my life now. The past is important. We are made up of x-years worth of past (fill in your own number!) so I am going to use it.
Maybe I'll never get published again if I break all those fiddly little rules: do not use had, was, do not use -ly words, do not and write in desperately short sentences that make Janet and John look longwinded by comparison, but hey! I'm doing it, and I want to be proud of it when people read it. There is a difference in what UK agents ask for and what is demanded in the US, so I guess you pick your market and write for it.
That's my little rant for the week. Now I'll go do some work, in between peeking at the live scores to see that Rafa is doing OK in Monte Carlo. Oh, the picture? That is looking up the hill at the Great Hall of Stirling Castle.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Grand days out


I would normally have done this post earlier today as I'm well aware that most bloggers and readers "go home" at weekends. But today I'm late because I have been out gallivanting around town with a long-time friend. We've been friends since we were twelve years old, and that's a long, long time ago, let me tell you! A splendid day with lunch somewhere new, a discussion on books and a promise of Wolf Hall just as soon as she finishes reading it. I really should read it soon as its about Thomas Cromwell and almost "my" period of history.
The pic is what you would see if you stood where I was standing in the last pic - ie leaning on the Beheading Stone. It will enlarge if you click on it, and then you should get a good idea of Stirling looking south with the castle probably just out of sight on the extreme right.
Work goes on in between these jolly jaunts. I'm up to chapter eight of the wip, on what is really a third draft since I went through each chapter several times on what I laughingly referred to as the first draft. It is coming along nicely, and I think it is the best thing I've done so far. Still a way to go. Almost everything I read these days is connected to the wip in some way. My latest read is partially set in Stirling - The Merchant's Mark by Pat McIntosh, an author I've never noticed before. It is set a little before my period, in 1492, but interesting for all that. And I am having great fun working in all my little bits of research - but not making them info dumps, oh no no. The trick, I think, is to look at the info through the eyes of the POV character. Would they think it was interesting, out of the ordinary in any way? Or something they see or smell every day of their lives? Then write it as they think of it. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Heaven preserve me from info dumps!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Beheading Stone

Behold the beheading stone, in use on Gowan Hill
in medieval times. It took us ages to find it. Hunting for the stone from the Castle side of the hill proved a total failure, but gave us lots of exercise.
Driving into Stirling next morning from our B & B in Bridge of Allan, it was plain as a pikestaff on the hill overlooking the river and the eastern edge of the town. I nearly knocked dh and our car into the next lane by grabbing his arm while he was negotiating strange roads and shrieking something like There it is! in his ear. Two great cannons stood next to it. Good clue, really.
Dh's first comment when observing the stone: 'Its rather high. I wonder how they laid their heads on it. A stepladder perhaps?'
Anyway, its where three noble lords met their end in 1425. Imagine being led out of gaol and then having to walk about a mile, climb steep inclines - all to stand there and watch one or two men before you getting their heads lopped off. Imagine having to put your head where their's had been - the place now covered in gore, possibly with their bodies and heads still within sight.
Enough to give me nightmares.
There are no signposts to guide the tourist to the stone, so its a case get out on your own two feet and track it down. Helps to know where you are heading for though, as the hills get overgrown with brambles and thorn bushes. Fun in the summer, with lots of little tracks and dells where you may wish to munch your sarnies and contemplate the rich history of the our land.