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Showing posts from October, 2009

Smoke and sheep

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Our moorland roads are pretty, but there are hazards. Definitely not the place to drive in ice or snow. Even in mid-summer and autumn there are heather fires and sheep on the road. There were several plumes of smoke on the hillsides when we drove this way a week or two back, and driving through the down drift we got a lovely whiff of heather smoke. Made me think of garden bonfires we had as a child. Now of course we live in smokeless zones. We've definitely lost something in our modern life with central heating and plain walls instead of open hearths. I still remember crouching by the fire, cheeks glowing in the heat, with a piece of bread on a toasting fork. "Is it done yet? Is it done yet? Ahhhh! it's burnt!" Nothing happened and then in a second, the toast went from white to black! a great learning experience about the way fire burned and might burn you should you be stupid enough to play with matches and fireworks. I admire Sheep. They manage to thrive in the mo

Bad Guys

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How bad do bad guys have to be before they are unbelievable? These days such horrid crimes are committed in real life that almost anything might be considered believable in a fictional character. Not that I want to move into Stephen King territory with my current wip, not at all; but I find that most of my characters qualify for the label villain in some way. I've come to the conclusion that the times about which we write dictate the villainy level of the characters. Possibly genre matters, too. I would expect a Thriller villain to be a worse villain than a Romance villain. Your average villain in a Regency Romance may need to have some redeeming qualities, but not so with a villain facing Rebus in the grey streets of Edinburgh. Which leads me to wonder about villains filling the pages of historical novels. Documents list hideous facts, and I turn away from them, shuddering. But if my characters live in those times, then their senses are bound to be less sqeamish than mine, are t

When it goes smoothly

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Matho's Story is going well at the moment. I hope I'm not risking the terrible finger of fate turning in my direction when I say this, but it all seems to be falling into place in the most pleasing way. I could be totally off the plot with it, but I hope not. Perhaps I feel at home in the time period; perhaps it is because I'm not conciously trying to write romance any more. But whatever it is, I'm happy with it, and happy with the writing, too. If I get to the end of a chapter and get up and walk away, I tell myself I'll go for a walk, or do the ironing and I'll think about what is to happy next . I start to think about it, sure, but before long my brain wanders off, distracted by some other stray thought, and sometime later I realise I haven't thought about my plot at all. Not conciously, that is. But because I sit down the next day and start to write without any trouble, I realise the little old subconcious must have been busy plotting away all the ti

Style

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So many things go to make a writing Style. Each one of us must find our own and not allow anyone change it. It is probably the hardest part of writing, for anybody can string words together. But do they tell the story in a good way? Here are a few snippets to help get it right: -do not misuse long words; -don't use cliches; -use the best word to express the idea; -do not abuse commas, em-dashes and exclamation marks - use them correctly. For example use an exclamation mark in dialogue only when your character is shouting. -description should be unobstrusive and lend substance to a novel; -description is not and never should be an inventory; -don't focus on the generic but give us the specific; -do not reiterate something you've already mentioned; -treat time carefully; -use appropriate metaphors - a comparison must be accurate; -The larger ideas in a paragraph should lead from one to the next so the text is not jerky. -don't flaunt your vocabulary unnecessarily.

Characters must have

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More words of wisdom, this time on CHARACTERS. First of all, Don't Introduce a Character to No Purpose. Always remember your character has to have one; he must be more than a gender stereotype. Err on the side of the specific, concentrate on features and qualities. Above all, Ignore that Mirror! Remember that a POV character knows what she looks like, and that a POV character "sees" whoever she thinks about. Don't overdescribe clothes, and don't use politics as an accessory. Lastly, but important - perfect people are boring. As for SETTINGS - don't stop in the middle of an action sequence to describe the scenery. If you're running from a murderer you don't think "What a beautiful tree" as you tear by. Well, you wouldn't, would you? Mention food only to advance the plot or illustrate a mood. Reading the comments in a list like this, it is so easy to chuckle and think well, of course not. Which idiot would fall into such traps? But beg

How Not to write a Novel

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How Not to Write a Novel is entertaining. (Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark are the authors) By advising that we write in a style that will certainly fail to achieve publication, they pass on sound advice and amuse at the same time. Cut out the backstory in chapter one, for example. Don't bog down on only two characters (unless you write category romance, I suppose). Don't write a scene twice. They say these three are the biggest mistakes. As soon as I read the subtitle In which the character's childhood is introduced to no purpose , I realised I needed to do some work on the opening paragraphs of my current wip. Where the author substitutes location for story, Where the author stops short of communication and In which the reader is unintentionally misled give you a flavour of the style. Sigh. It is easy to get so immersed in a character's life that other characters get shoved onto the back burner and when they reappear the reader thinks Who is this? Ah, wasn'

What not to do

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Writers must write something that makes readers want to turn the page. Therefore, plot must be number one in the list of priorities. So if we start with a thorny problem and a sympathetic character, we should be on the right track. The plot must thicken (like a good sauce?), the hero must be hindered in every possible way but triumphs in a surprising way that once you know it, seems inevitable. Almost every How To Write Book I've ever read says such things. They say it in different ways, but say it they do. So you'd think that by now I wouldn't be writing about a hero, and then bring in his mother, father and three sisters and her cat and have them discuss their lives to date. I wouldn't drivel on endlessly and get to page 120 without so much as a hint of what the storyline will be once I get around to it. I won't be writing a prologue where my hero stares at a flower, gazes through of a rain-drop covered window, walks through the long grass and contemplates

Literary Agents, are you listening?

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What is the magic ingredient that agents and publishers look for? Does anyone know? Do agents and publishers know that they want? I am sure there are thousands of well researched, well written books flooding through their letter boxes and inboxes every day and most of the writers receive no more than a polite thank you, but no thanks. It can be disheartening. It can be soul-destroying. I heard someone say of Mills & Boon that they make "nice" rejections, because they are kind people and they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. That can be bad, too. The next agent, perhaps pushed for time, may tell the plain unvarnished truth of the same submission: this is total rubbish and unpublishable. Which is the kindest in the long run? What would help, and is virtually impossible to receive, are concrete facts on what publishers want. I think the truth is they want the next bestseller but don't know it until they see it. A bit like me searching the dress racks re

Acorn Banks and Roman Wall

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The dovecot at Acorn Banks (right)now serves as the Office and shop. The name Acorn Banks was first recorded in 1597 and refers to the ancient oakwood that lies behind the house. The house dates back to the sixteenth century, with earlier links to the Knights Templar. The property was owned by the Dalston/Boazman family from 1543 to the 1930's, then by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, a wealthy writer, traveller and art collector. She gave it to the National Trust in 1950, and it was tenanted up to 1997. I have to say I don't recognise the lady's name, but I will look her up. The watermill on the Crowdundle Beck is believed to have been on the site since the fourteenth century. As we drove west beside Hadrian's Wall the views were exceptionally clear. I stopped and took a shot looking south towards the Durham Hills. I'm standing in the car park for the Mithraic Temple which is in a little dell over to the right of the picture. People still leave offerings of coins on the li

Acorn Banks

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Wonderful day out yesterday. Headed out to Gretna on the west coast, visited the Outlet Centre (I stocked up on nothing more exciting than M&S knickers and socks!) then south down the M6 to Penrith. Acorn Banks at Temple Sowerby was our destination and it did not disappoint. We had brilliant weather all the way and I realised all over again why I love autumn. The clarity, and colours, the crispness. Acorn Banks is famous for its herb garden which is certainly one of, if not the best, herb garden in the country. Names of herbs I read about in historical novels are growing there in profusion. Mandrake, hemlock, a section marked Women's Herbs... The house is not open, but I'm sure the National Trust magazine will not mind if I quote a snippet from their Autumn 09 pages: Acorn Bank in Cumbria, a fine old red sandstone manor with "glorious views, acres of wild daffodils in the spring, ancient oakwoods, orchards and a watermill. But the old house was nearly impossible

From Historical to Horror

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The Man Booker prize, awarded last night, went to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall. I shall wait for the paperback, or the library copy, as I haven't had much success with reading Ms Mantel in the past. The most interesting thing about the final six for me was the fact that they were all historical novels. Hopefully, this may mean the genre will open up again after being on the back foot for a few years. Paranormals rushed into the market place and must have helped push historicals to the back of the queue. It was interesting to see how many historical writers added a paranormal twist in the hope that the new "young" market would read them. I'm not so sure the market was or indeed is "young" in the sense of teenagers or people in the early twenty something bracket. The paranormal novel has been around for years in different guises - sometimes called gothic, sometimes horror, sometimes horrid. When I worked in public libraries, I was amazed to find that the mos

Writing Time

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Morning? Afternoon? Late at night? When do you write? I used to write when I had time and when the mood took me, and the combination didn't happen very often. Seventeen years is a hell of a long time to write a first book, but it is proof positive that you need several things working for you. Now that I have the luxury of choosing when to write, I've found a few things that surprise me. First of all, you need time to write. That's almost a given. Then a place to write. I know some people write amid the hubbub of family life, but I get irritated when the tv pricks my bubble of concentration, or the phone rings, so I retreat upstairs to a converted bedroom which now proudly bears the name Jen's study. It's OK - dh has one as well. Then I need a tidy desk, because I can't work in chaos. It only takes a moment to tidy things away, and then I'm good to start. I've tried writing all day, and it is wonderful when the story flows, but however good it is, afte

Truth and writing

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There's very little scope for danger in the world these days ! If you click to enlarge the pic you'll see people are fobidden to abseil from the disused railway bridge and neither may they jump into the river below. Not that I'd want to do either, you understand. It makes me wonder though - if people have been warned off, does that mean someone has tried to abseil? Doesn't seem the right place for it somehow. In the middle of last night I woke up thinking I knew what needed to happen in my wip. (I was worried I didn't have enough story to get to the end of 100k) I am guilty of narrowing my interest down to two people - wouldn't you guess it's the Hero and Heroine? and "reporting" what other character are doing. That comes of trying to write for Mills & Boon. What I need to do is widen out my scope and write the missing scenes. Problem solved. I hope! I'm reading Alison Weir's The Lady Elizabeth at the moment. The author is a histor

Revelation and AT

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I have discovered C J Sansom , and I'm loving his work. Somehow I assume the writer is male, though I have not checked. I grabbed Revelation because it is set in 1543, the exact year in which I am working in my (as yet titleless) wip, and would have read it for that alone but it has become a fascinating read. A hunchback lawyer on the trail of a serial killer and a background of religious fanaticism. I am aware three or four titles from this author have been on the bookshop shelves for some time now, but the covers gave me the impression that they would be heavy, slow and slanted towards religion - not my usual fare! However, my expectations were so very wrong. The story is lightly conveyed in modern dialogue so easy to read that it slides by without effort. The detail comes in the workings of the court and officials, the backgrounds, the lives lived by those who suffered under the dissolution of the monasteries - detail, yes, but in a way that fascinates rather than bores. 600