Monday, 30 August 2010

Personality revealed


Is there a danger of revealing one's own personality in fiction writing ? I promised More on that Tomorrow, so here we are.

Some books are written with a message at the heart and give out constant little drumbeats of reminders in the pages. Assuming that message is meaningful to the author, and by that I mean verging towards the really, really meaningful, then I suppose some of the author’s feelings have been revealed. But the average reader won’t know unless the author states publicly, via a blog or during radio/newspaper interviews, that she or he cares deeply about this particular topic. And the chances of the reader knowing that fact and remembering it when reading the book must be quite slim.


Imagination is a wonderful thing. It's my belielief that no correlation of assets and traits can be assumed between an author and her protagonist. A book full of adventure and brave heroics may have been written by a sit-at-home-never-do-anything-type person who has a wonderfully fertile imagination and learned the difficult craft of writing believable fiction.


Every writer who has written a sexy love scene and then cringed as she thought Help! My mother, father, or aunty is going to read this knows what I mean. And of course, the stock and truthful answer to any smart comments is But I made it all up! It’s not true!


How many writers write real love scenes? Scenes that accurately recall their own sexual experience? Or detail their private, personal love habits? Very few, I would suspect. A germ of reality may be there, but much embellished and polished. (Not to say that authors don't have great sex lives; it's just that I don't suppose they put it all on their pages for everyone to see!)

How many writers read love scenes written by other writers, like a phrase or a word and use it in their own work? How many love scenes have been written and read over a person’s lifetime? Thousands, and some of it gets reproduced. Not exactly plagiarism, but a sort of template that sticks in the mind and twists according to need and personality when a new book is being written. Many years ago I read a Stanley Winchester book. The only scene I remember from the whole damn novel was Him making love to Her on the Telephone table in the Hall with Windows onto the street while She continued a telephone conversation with her Mother.
Now why has that stuck in my mind when the rest of the book has vanished? Because it shocked me. Surprised, jolted, maybe. I wasn't shocked in the censorious this-should-not-be-printed way, but that someone could contemplate such a scene.

Now, I haven’t had any of my characters make love on a telephone table in the hall (the fact that they didn’t have telephones in the sixteenth century may have something to do with it) but the “template” of that scene is always lurking there at the back of my mind, and I can find many ways to translate that into my stories (with or without a telephone).
Not many care to write of their personal knowledge of sex, I would guess. For one thing it would be a violation of their private relationship, and for another it’s a rare man or woman who constantly experiences the kind of swooning rich passion and fulfilment authors give their lucky heroes and heroines. In spite of detractors of Harlequin, Mills & Boon who claim the contrary, we all know real life just isn’t like that.

On other themes - death, rivalry, injustice - many of the same argument might be applied. But these themes often do resonate with writers, and may well be a public telling of a personal event. In such cases, it seems to me that people could match a book theme with an author’s personal demons and that the author wants this to happen. If the writer doesn't want publicity, the only people who will know the truth will be close friends and family. If they know already, why worry that they will read about it in your book?

Friday, 27 August 2010

What five years does...


I recently put an excerpt from my first published novel up a post on bellesandbeaus
It was interesting to look back and see how I was writing then and compare it to how I’m writing now. I have to admit I made all the common errors everyone talks about – repetition and overuse of words, etc etc, but in spite of it all I can see a directness I like in that early story (which was the longest of my four published titles).
Perhaps I’m now trying to hard. It’s a question that concerns me sometimes. In absorbing all these rules of how a writer needs to write to please editors and gain a contract, I may have lost that vital spark, that freshness that makes things leap off the page. Or maybe I’m deluding myself, and I never had it at all. That’s possible, too.
I read a post yesterday and planned to keep and comment on it. When I went back to read it again I found I’d deleted it along with all the other stuff that comes in everyday, so I cannot refresh my memory, or give credit to the author, which is a shame. The gist of the post was that a writer gives away a lot of his or her own personality in writing. I’ve heard this before, and I’m not sure I agree with the premise.
Surely a writer makes things up, uses her imagination, builds a story around characters which are usually (but not always) a mish-mash of people we know and characters we’ve read or seen on the screen with a dash of our originality thrown in? What makes a successful story-teller but the ability to blend traits we recognise with out-of-the-ordinary, heroic style deeds? To take and everyday situation and think What if, and take it from there, into realms the ordinary person in the street would never contemplate?If that is what fiction writing is about, where is the danger of revealing one’s own personality? More on that tomorrow.
And just in case you wondered, the starter was salmon...and it was delicious. But it has absolutely nothing at all to do with this post!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Storytelling


I'm blogging over at bellesandbeaus today, so if you're quick you'll catch an excerpt from my very first published novel!

I think my style has matured in the last five years and though there are certainly places where I long for a magic red editing pencil, on the whole I'm happy with it.

I'm gearing up for an assault on writing projects because I have done very little lately. Too many distractions: redecorating my study, finding that the latest Norton update took up most of the spare memory on my laptop and then working hard to discover how to add more memory - plus all the normal thing like washing, grocery shopping. I have one more thing to do - go to the library this avo. I can't bear to have nothing new to read in the house. Must have my book fix soon. I've been reading a Shirley Nicholson's A Victorian Household and though it has charm, it is set a little late in the century to help me with my latest work.

I did not finish Dragon Child, the first volume of M K Hume's Arthur trilogy, but thought the second, Warrior of the West, might be better. I've read 60 or 70 pages and it hasn't gripped me any more than the first voume did. I don't know why, as the writing is competant, the research is probably excellent and the story...well, perhaps covering a lifetime is too great a span of time.

The blurb certainly ought to stir my interest: "Twelve long, blood-soaked years, have passed since Artor fulfilled his destiny and was crowned the High King of the Britons. Against all odds, Artor has united Celtic Britain and with a last great campaign, has banished the Saxon scourge. The legend of Camlann has begun. But even as Artor’s kingdom is at its zenith, even as he has succeeded in conquering all external threats to his rule, his kingdom is being undermined from within. For Artor has chosen Wenhaver (Guenevere) as a second wife.

Queen of the Britons, Wenhaver will always love what she cannot have and have what she cannot love, and her bitterness threatens to bring down all those around her. Not only is Artor betrayed by the one person he should be able to trust, he has also learned of appalling perversion at the heart of his kingdom. He must make a terrible choice. Does he commit a deed that leaves him open to comparison with the despotic Uther Pendragon, or does he let evil go unchecked? The burden of leadership, of power, now rests solely – and heavily – on Artor’s shoulders for Myrddion Merlinus, master tactician, guiding light for so many years, has left Artor to his fate. Could all that Artor has fought for, the destiny of Britain, be lost? Will Britain be torn apart?"

Hume places the story of Arthur to the correct time period, the 5th century, and was able to use years of study in Art, Ancient History and Literature to build a factual world that might have existed in Arthur’s time.

So why doesn't it grip me? Perhaps the story is too well known? Perhaps however different the approach, however deep the scholarship, a tale simply cannot be told over and over again with the readers' mind glazing over. If Arthur's
story is new to you, then read it and enjoy. For me, I think it's been one Arthur story too many.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Disaster

The Fatal Bogs Disaster of 1910 (Prudhoe Heritage collection)
Cottages near West Wylam Colliery were demolished by falling trees as heavy rain washed away the bankside. Men returned from work to discover that they had lost their families and their homes.
This is a piece of local history I didn't know about and I want to find out more. I think I know the place but I'd like to be sure, and if I am right, there's only a roundabout at the bottom where water still pours down the hillside in heavy rain.
Little things like this can spark an idea for someone who writes. The finished story may not be about the West Wylam community, but the incident will be woven in somehow. It may be the inciting incident , the thing that starts a series of changes in a story that tells what happens to those men, the few survivors, when all the helpers have gone home and the water is still pouring down the hillside.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Rafael Nadal


Rafa is competing at Cincinnati and by the end of the month, at the US Open at Flushing Meadows. He's had a good run since Monaco, and hopes are high among his many fans that it will continue. One of the most interesting pieces of writing about Rafa's last couple of years is the one I'm going to quote here. Elizabeth Kaye wrote this as Wimbledon was starting off for 2010 and I hope she will be complimented that I wanted to reproduce it! She says:


"Now that we know to take nothing for granted... it's been a long year, in which he weathered what appeared to be an annihilating storm. There were the injuries, the subsequent time away from the game he was born to play. There was the crushing divorce of his parents, the pained withdrawal from Wimbledon, the days and weeks of recuperation when this most vital of beings was consigned to do nothing. These grim reversals must have taught him that every life has a point that distinguishes before from after. Before, he was the number one player in the world, seemingly invincible, and headed inexorably toward a fifth consecutive win at Roland Garros, a feat that had never been accomplished. Before, his home in Mallorca was his haven, and his reliance on his parents was so deeply rooted that when he was at home and they were out, he would sleep with the lights and the TV on. After, his haven was permanently disrupted and he was booed as he walked off the court at Roland Garros, having been defeated there for the first time, two days after setting a record of 31 consecutive match wins.


He handled that loss as well as any one possibly could. He was devastated, yet capable of summoning a hero's dignity. "You need a defeat," he said, "to give value to your victories."
In the six months that followed we watched him struggle. There were no trophies for him to bite. He beat only one top ten player and was run off the court by younger guys that he once would have dominated. In the process, his ranking sank to number 3, then number 4. Along the way, he lost the two things that his game most relied on: his sense of calm, and his confidence.
This grim passage was difficult to watch. He was mired in a conundrum: needful of a big win to restore his sense of self, but needing his sense of self to achieve a big win. Yet, despite the doubts he inevitably harbored, he recognized something that eluded most onlookers: that what would ultimately restore him was the struggle itself. Now, the struggle has roused him and he has played his way back to mastery.


Many of his fans are much older than he is, yet we always learn from him. Again and again, he's taught us that excellence springs from the insistence to keep on keeping on. He's shown us the transformative power of hard work and belief. He's convinced us that there is honor in the desire to improve and to strive. Now, as Wimbledon begins, he has resumed his place as his sport's toughest and most electrifying competitor who is beloved as much for his spirit as for his game.
To see him on the court, healthy, dynamic and vibrant, is to understand how much we need him and missed him."


Elizabeth Kaye.


Yeah! Here's hoping for a successful conclusion to his year. I think there are lessons in Rafa's struggle that we writers can take to our hearts and emulate in our own lives.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Thoughts on Entertainment


Our last view of France was not one to endear itself in the memory banks. It rains there, too!
This is the St Malo ferry off-loading, viewed from our car as we waited to drive aboard. But we do have some good memories, not least some of the meals we enjoyed at Lou Peyrol. See the artistic leaping tiger prawns below...

My post yesterday seemed to catch the interest and I'm glad so many people added their views to mine. The answer to the question of continuing success seems to be that readers go off the boil as easily as authors.
Added to that, certain topics (aka backgrounds to stories) resonate more with some people than others. I have to admit that I have no urge now to read a story set in a very foreign setting, because I have no background knowledge of the land or its people and the story would float in a sort of bubble. I read Lin Yutang’s Peony as a teenager, Mishima’s books, and some set in Persia at a time when the Shah was facing Khomeni, but they were rarities at the time. Now so many foreign locations and stories flood the bookshelves. I’ve tried Hossain’s Thousand Suns and gave up because although the writing was enjoyable, the subject matter was grim. Accuse me of hiding my head in the sand if you like, but I don’t want to read grim and gritty last thing at night before I sleep, otherwise my dreams are horrendous. I am aware that such things go on; but I don’t need the detail in the form of literature.

TV’s going the same way. Last night I tried The Deep. Perhaps fortunately, I missed the first two episodes while I was away, and at the end of an hour watching the video, felt that I’d wasted my time. So little story, and that preposterous, dragged out over an hour with much weeping and wailing to allow the actors to emote. If we have to have female Captains then I’d prefer those who didn’t break down in tears when faced with a difficult decision.
I caught up with Identity and found that weird, too. Keeley Hawes doesn’t so much act as turn her wonderful face to the best angle for the camera, and I do wish she stop wearing such skin tight skirts. Dive – it began with a young girl’s training session in the diving pool. I watched the first twenty minutes and gave up when she got home after a two hour session to find that not only had her father moved out of the family home, but her mother’s new man had moved in and was helping with the washing up. This is entertainment? Not in my book.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Nora Roberts and Success

The reading matter for sale on board Bretagne was not great, but I accept there’s a space issue involved. I wish they would open their bookstore as soon as people are on board instead of making them wait an hour or more. (I don’t know exactly how long, because I gave up after an hour and a half and bought a book from the even smaller section in duty free.) I chose The Search by Nora Roberts. Pricey at £12.99 for a paperback. I’ve read Nora before, and though this one held my attention on the ferry and afterwards, I don’t think it was her best by any means.

The heroine runs a dog-training centre and there is a good deal about dog-training in the book. It’s almost a manual. I found it interesting, but many won’t and will skim through the doggy bits. There’s a quality about this book that is common to most of her work - it’s full of dialogue; the NR short, snappy sentences. There's what I call the Area of Interest. Sometimes it's Alaska's cold, sometimes it's haute cuisine, sometimes its gardening. There’s third person POV internal thought: He’s cold she thought. Hungry now, and scared. He wants his mother. Next we jump into straight into author-POV on the next line: When the rain increased, they continued on, the tireless dog, the tall woman in rough pants and rougher boots. Her tail of pale red hair hung in a wet rope down her back, while lake-blue eyes searched the gloom. A year ago, I wouldn’t have noticed this, but now I do. Terrible writing habits, to skip between POV like that, according to the text books and my critique group!

The relationship between hero and heroine is much as usual – two handsome people meet, one or both has some kind of hang-up, reluctantly admit to attraction and gradually admit to love. All through this book I kept thinking of a previous book and hero. The connection was wood, for both are carpenters. The earlier book was set in the east coast mountain range where the heroine takes over a dilapidated mansion and has the local carpenter do the work of restoration for her. The bit that sticks in my mind is where he tells her not to go into a certain patch of garden, which she resents and heads off there at once; he stays where he is and says ‘Snakes.’ She gets out pretty darn quick.

So: the Area of Interest in this one is dog-training, interlinked with a heroine who once escaped being murdered and finds the killer is still after her. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it, but I worried the killer would murder the dogs more than I worried he would target either of the protagonists. The h/H just didn’t personalize themselves for me in the way the 4 dogs did.

Somehow this one lacks the high PTQ (Page Turning Quality) of her earlier books, and could have been shorter by a fair amount. One has to wonder if Nora has got to that point where her publishers will publish anything she writes because it has an assured audience waiting to plonk down their money and devour the story in three huge gulps. I suppose writing is like any other business – you try hard to achieve publication, achieve it, plateau with success and then – does the quality go down as the mind runs out of drive and stories? Does pride make a person go on when it is no longer a pleasure or a necessity?

Or, and this is the bit I find fascinating - do we readers follow the same rise and fall – find the books, devour them, become habituated to the style, the quality and therefore lose the sheer joy they first brought? If this had been her sixth book instead of her sixty-first, (or whatever amazing number it is – 190 something, I think) would I be as critical?

Probably not, because she would still have that newness, that freshness (for me) that excited me. So, instead of saying Nora’s “gone orf,” maybe I should stop reading her and look for new authors to give me the thrill I want. If enough people think, like me, that they’ve OD’d on NR and sales of her books fall, then Publishers will probably complain that readers are faddy, and she will feel as if she’s failing. Seems like it's a negative cycle and I can't see how to break it.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Normality strikes

Home again, and it is so good to be back.
We had almost five weeks away, and enjoyed all of it, even though the journey back was tedious in the extreme, mostly because I'd forgotten the ferry left St Malo at the very civisilised time of 10.30am on Tuesday morning. Now I wish we'd opted to travel overnight.
We drove up through France with no hassle, dropped in on the Campanile in St Malo and secured a room, dinner and breakfast. I like Campaniles because you know what you'll get - nothing frilly and pretentious, but good food, crisp, clean sheets and thick towels. The showers are good, too, in spite of the fact that the two males in our party had been moaning about the inadequacies of the Bricolage as regards the tools of le plombier - you see, I have picked up some French while I've been away! Evidently French plumbers and electricians are totally illogical about how bits and pieces match up, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if our two handymen truly knew the trades inside out, as the French tradesmen do, then things would seem easier.
Anyway, back to our civilised start. It meant that we spent a long time at sea; from 10.30 until 6.30pm to be precise. The day was murky, to say the least, and there were no views to be seen as the coastlines of both France and England were shrouded in mist and cloud. So no views of white cliffs heralding England this time around. The Bretagne plodded across the calm sea and lots of people slept, but I'm not one of those who can sleep all night and sleep all day as well.
We drove off the ferry at seven o' clock, sped north up the motorway and arrived home at 1am on Wednesday morning. We had one stop for petrol and a loo break, ten minutes at the most. And we think the UK is such a little country.
Now I am surrounded by dirty clothes that need washing, and clothes that have been washed and need ironing. We also needed food....so I am only slowly getting back to my interests
But it was fun. My tan is fading already. In fact it faded while we were there, because we had a ten or twelve grey days with no sunshine. The temperature stayed around a steady 24-26, but the sun disappeared. So did my sun tan.
Once the kitchen was torn apart we saw no mice, though I did see some little giveaway pellets that indicated they were around. And we heard them. Pitterpattering away at four in the morning among the pipes and wiring we think, judging by the noise they made, and the mice scat the men found when they opened up the trunking. Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? But then the house is three hundred years old, and its in the middle of farm land, with forests all around. What can you expect? The owner of the house is threatening to kill off the little buggers, but I think another mouse famiy would move in pretty soon. I think they're an inescapable part of living in the country. We simply bought another toaster and put the old one outside. Or rather, we put the old one outside when we saw what had happened and then bought a new one several days later when we realised how much we missed our breakfast toast and we'd forgotten what might have happen ed inside it... Would you believe that toaster was the first thing Sam the labrador sniffed at when he jumped out of the car? The little tail that hung out of it was pretty pathetic, I can tell you.
I've included a couple of pics of modern Bergerac. It's an elegant town, though some parts have been tarted up with posters and road signs, and the pavements off the main roads are somewhat wavy-davey and resemble a miniature roller-coaster.The flames remind me of one of my favourite times of day; dusk - when we're about to eat and the sun is sliding down the sky, the wind is whispering through the treetops and a glass of red wine stands ready to hand while we wait for the barbie to get to the right heat for the steaks and sausages. This pic was taken after we'd eaten, when I piled fallen wood on what was left of the barbie because I love to watch the flames and smell the woodsmoke and it has the other distinct advantage of keeping the biting insects away....

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Travelling on


A final picture to say goodbye. We set off for home in the morning, stay overnight at St Malo and catch the ferry back to Portsmouth on Tuesday morning. Then its the long drive all way back to the north, so we won't be home till - possibly, depending on traffic flow and hold ups - late afternoon, early evening.

The weather is hotter than ever today. Even Sam the labrador is exhausted walking in the sun.
Tomorrow promises to be hot, too, with temperatures on the Loire hitting 32 degrees. But eventually we will have to adjust to cooler temperatures.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Heat


I think it is Saturday today, but could be wrong. Days are flying by, one merging into another, and it seems a longs time since I did any writing. I'm starting to feel guilty about that, and I can't say that I'm even thinking about the story while I do other things as there is so much going on around me that I've no spare space for thoughts about Mel and Mrs D. I've stolen a few minutes this morning and I'm sitting in the sunshine on the patio outside our room - the cord will stretch just far enough to allow me to do that - and a ten minutes past ten in the morning the sun is blasting down. Soon I'll be creeping into the shade, feeling fried to a frizzle.

But at least I'll have made an entry on my blog! The pic is of one of the local villages with its sleepy main street, restaurant on the right and church at the end of the road. In the time I've taken to write this much, my left leg is starting to feel too warm in the sun. I'll have to move....

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Building work!


We're all business here. Our friends have arrived, and the old kitchen has been ripped out - sometimes with a sledgehammer. Sam the labrador lies and watches, front paws crossed, with a slightly bemused frown and I expect the cheeky little mice who popped up beneath the lid of the old fashioned cooker, and ran across the sofa in broad daylight, will be miles away by now. We found their nest, made up of scraps of kitchen paper, beneath the draining broard. Amazing how they found the gap and set up home in a space less than two inches high.


So now we're camping out - washing up outside, eating outside - but of course we have all the other conveniences of toilets and hot showers and sprung mattrassess....right now I've stolen away while they plan the positioning of the new sink. I've re-joined the critique group, and now some of my time is taken up critiquing the work of others, and honing my own stuff for perusal. I've begun a story called Victorian Beauty and I've just sent in chapter 2 - and for once I don't know what the ending will be. I play with ideas for the ending before I fall asleep at night, and have several variations, but have made no decisions.
It's raining today. A soft, drizzly rain, the kind we get back home, and I haven't had time to trim down any new pics, so here's one I took last week. It's the Grand Rue in Bergerac.