Friday, 30 March 2012

Speedy writing

Yesterday I defended speedy writing, so today I thought I’d take a closer look at the idea. What would help me write faster?
If I’m sure of my material, I suspect life would be a whole lot easier. Do I know before I begin what the scene requires, what my high point should be, what the let-down might be? If I don’t, I ought to. Making notes or bullet points might help me stay on the straight and narrow of my plotline.
I need to have done my research. If my characters are sailing down a river I need to know it is navigable, but dangerous white water, or idyllic as in punting down the Cam on a sunny afternoon. I need to know how my characters will deal with whatever watery situation I have put them in.
 Something else I need to do is eliminate all distractions. For me that means  no tv nitpicking away at me from other areas of the house, and forgetting about FB and Twitter. For others it might mean different things.
So then I can start to write. (Flexes fingers in anticipation.) Once I start, I should write without worrying about sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and ignoring the inevitable typos that come along. I should really never notice them! For some, setting a time for the session helps, knowing that they've only got to keep going for ten minutes or whatever time they've decided. For me, it’s more a case of writing till the scene is complete. Most of the time, it goes well.
Sometimes, I get stuck. Then I walk away from it – go for a walk, do some gardening, ironing or whatever. I don’t worrit about it, or the fact that Trollope wrote 250 words in fifteen minutes. So what? Nor do I think about the famous 10,000 hours rule that says you need to spend that many hours on something, be it tennis or playing the violin, before you can claim mastery. Over the years I probably have spent that many hours on creative writing. If I write for four hours a day, that's 2,500 days or 6.8 years. I've been writing longer than that. How long has it been for you?  (Or is my maths incorrect?)
Psychologist Ronald Kellogg says "Writing extended texts for publication is a major cognitive challenge, even for professionals who compose for a living." So there you are - give yourself some credit. You’re attempting something that is not easy, and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Good habits

If you keep a diary on your work desk, (something I recommend, but then I have a stationery quirk; new notebooks and diaries of all shapes and sizes lure me saying Buy Me, Buy Me! Last year in France I bought a diary and then discovered it was intended for French school kids, and started in August instead of January. But still, it has lots of names of French saints and other interesting stuff). anyway, to get back to the topic - if you keep a diary at your work desk, record how long you actually worked at writing your wip, how many words you achieved and where you did it.
Looking back over a week or a month, you can figure out if you do your best work in the living room with the kids, a coffee shop with no wifi or your desk. You'll also know if you do best mornings or evenings, before or after walking the dog....make the best of that knowledge, and make it work for you. Sometimes, we need all the help we can give ourselves! 

Some parts of  a story we approach with eager excitement, others bits we know have to go down on paper but the scene doesn't exactly excite us. The only answer is to try and drum up some excitement in how you approach it get on with it. Try and change the scene somehow. Give it a kick up the backside, turn it on its head, do it from another POV, anything to make the scene live, so that you have some pleasure in writing it. 

Get rid of the idea that it's a sin to write fast. Some of our famour authors write really fast, though there are others who take years to finish a book. As we've said before, some of the best scenes come really fast,  for whatever reason, and then what are we tempted to do? Get out the proverbial red pen and go through it until we've taken all the life out of it. Knowing when to leave well alone and move on to the next scene is hard to learn, but it's worth it. Believe that fast writing can be good writing and leave it alone. You can always go back to it later, when you're on a second draft.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Spring and writing

There may be writers who take half a day to decide where a comma should be placed in the wip, and there may be those who write sixteen thousand words in a day. It doesn’t follow that the former is a better writer or that one finished product is better than the other.

"Efficiency" and writers don’t seem to naturally go together.  Words like “muse” creep into conversations.  I agree with the writer who said that the slowest and dullest writing happens when she didn’t know what happened next in the story. The reason was because her writer's instinct didn't know what they should be trying to do, and so the right words failed to materialise. I agree: it makes an astonishing difference to my writing if I know what’s going to happen, and – just as important - why it is happening.

Thinking time is valuable.  One writer said she found time at the ironing board great for thinking out wriggles in the plot, so the next time I had the ironing board in place, I started thinking about my next chapter. Before I finished ironing the shirt, my mind had wandered to what I was going to cook for dinner. I wrenched it back to plot, and began another garment. Before I completed a sleeve, I was thinking about my last holiday and my next holiday, anything but plot. I need the discipline of sitting down at the computer to concentrate my mind so I do a few notes, or a chapter outline. A few notes about the progression of a scene works for me, too, and saves that awful feeling of getting triumphantly to the end and then realising you’ve omitted the most important fact of all. But if you can focus on plot while doing something else, do, because it is an invaluable skill.

Something else I’ve noticed is that writing about certain characters is easier than others. I assume that means I have more empathy with the character who comes to the page more easily. Subsidiary characters ought not to be cardboard cut-outs, but they are understandably less charismatic than the leading characters.

Most important of all - it’s important to get the story down, to have a first draft that you can then edit. To write effortless prose while working out a plot-line is something only the few can do. Editing too early in the process can soon stifle the flow. No matter how much the story changes as you charge along, getting to the end is vital. You can always go back and edit, as long as you have something to edit.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Christmas at Chatsworth
I picked this up from Facebook today: It's all about Richard Armitage wanting to get a project about Richard III off the ground, so  if you have an interest, why not pop over and have a look?

I'm working hard at the moment, picking up the strands of my current wip after doing a stint of editing on a previous wip. I found I couldn't do both at the same time even though the major characters are the same in both stories. Details got muddled and the storyline confused - and to be honest, my writing on the newest story suffered, so I concentrated on one thing at a time. Obviously I'm not one of those multi-functional females!

I watched  the final part of the She-Wolves series on tv last night and realise I've missed some very good programmes. I'll have to go back and check on I-player. Last night's story concerned the three Tudor Queens - Jane, Mary and Elizabeth.
Dr Helen Castor is an excellent narrator, but I do wish someone would tell the camera man not to sink to his knees so the camera is staring up the nose of the person speaking. It results in an unflattering angle and gives the narrator a haughty, unkind look. But then I have lots of pet hates about tv camera work and I won't bore you with how I hate jiggling cameras, whirling around people, glaring into their faces as they drive and talk - bound to be a bad thing, in my view.

Received my first review for Reluctance, and placed it in full on British Romance fiction blog Don't let the red notice put you off, the site is quite safe!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Facebook Friends

Do you have lots of friends on Facebook? If you do, research in the US is suggesting that it may be an indication of how narcissistic you are. It seems Narcissistic Personality people have more friends on Facebook, tag themselves more often and update their newsfeeds more regularly, respond more aggressively to derogatory wall comments made about them and change their profile pictures more often. They also claim that young people are obsessed with self-image and shallow friendships,

This isn’t the first time psychology studies have linked Facebook and narcissism, but it is some of the first evidence of two "socially disruptive" elements of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism (GE) and entitlement/exploitativeness (EE).

GE includes ''self-absorption, vanity, superiority, and exhibitionistic tendencies" and people who score high on this aspect of narcissism need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They often say shocking things and inappropriately self-disclose because they cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion.

The EE aspect includes "a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others".

Unfortunately, the greater the number of friends on Facebook, the higher someone scored on aspects of GE.

Carol Craig, a social scientist and chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, said young people in Britain were becoming increasingly narcissistic and Facebook provided a platform for the disorder.

Another researcher added a touch of reassurance by adding it was difficult to be certain whether individual differences in narcissism led to certain patterns of Facebook behaviour, or whether patterns of Facebook behaviour led to individual differences in narcissism.

It is amazing these days what psychologists actually do research, and we’d all better beware of adding friend after friend to our Facebook pages. Who knows what it might say about us to these tricky psychologists? I don’t know how many friends I have. Must remember to check next time I’m over there.

On a more normal note, our little pond has had frogspawn in it for a couple of weeks now. I have a photograph of three frogs clutched together in a sort of orgiastic ball, but am not sure how well it (they?) will show up on screen. Could be a trifle off-putting for some!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Yet more on conflict

Greenhouses at Chatsworth
Conflict also has to come through plot though it is not divorced from character.  Having a brand new character suffer tragedy on their first appearance in the pages won’t work because the reader is not emotionally involved with the character. Having said that, let me qualify the statement. The only way it will work is if the tragedy is an early event in the life of the hero or heroine and we’re going to find out in the rest of the book exactly why it mattered so much. This sort of event often sits at the front of the book as a prologue, and it has to grip the reader and make them want to find out what happened next.

Personally I’m not in favour of childhood incidents that then resonate through the life of the major character when we pick up the story thirty years later. For me this would be better handled as a mystery thread, making the reader wonder why the hero acts as he does until we find out at a late point in the story what that dreadful childhood incident was. If it’s something in the near past, say a year ago, then it’s OK to treat that differently, for then it adds a different element to the tale, because the reader knows that the hero will react badly to certain stimuli that are certain to arrive sooner or later.

I heard a tale locally of a writer reading her first page to her writing group. It began with graphic sex, which made everyone uncomfortable, not because of the sex, but because they had no point of reference. They didn’t know either character involved and therefore were not “clued in” to the story or the strangers performing such intimate acts.
 It’s a lesson worth remembering!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

One more gripe

The newspapers are saying that E-books are skewing the book ratings. It seems that because digital sales are known only to Amazon and its equivalents, we have little idea what the UK is reading. This, they say, makes it difficult for publishers and agents to assess the market accurately, and doubly difficult to invest in the future. How can they tell what is the coming trend, except by having complete sales figures?

Amazon declines to share its sales figures. It has released a list of the top ten British e-book best-sellers, but keeps the figures to itself. Genre fiction – thrillers, romance – are selling well thanks to e-books, and they say that people buy three times the titles they once did now they have an electronic reader. I know I do.

The US and the EU may decide to break up the system whereby publishers set the price at which electronic books are sold, thus keeping the price high. Since the NBA on print books was abolished decades ago, that seems only fair to me, even though I was against the NBA when it came in.

2011 saw a 500 per cent increase in e-book sales, and a similar increase is expected this year. (I guess Amazon must have released the numbers for last year, but perhaps only totals?) There is an interesting rumour that women’s commercial fiction now has a male readership because of the anonymity of e-books. I never hesitated to read whatever I wanted to read – ah, but I have to admit I drew the line at reading category romances in public! Those covers! But that too is probably irrelevant now. I can read whatever I want on my Kindle, in public or out of it, and the only person who will know is me.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Conflict ongoing

Satisfaction may be great in real life, but in fiction,  the struggle is the thing. If your character faces troubles in the world around him, why not add to them by giving him inner troubles as well?
My current character is doubtful of his own abilities as a courier-cum-kidnapper, and for every step forward in confidence and ability he falls back two - or that's the way I'm trying to build the plot. He's doubtful of the rightness of what Henry VIII has asked him to do - more internal struggle. If he does what the king asks, he'll have his foot on the first rung of the ladder to success and riches - but at what cost? If he goes through with it, he can afford to take a wife, if he doesn't, he has no way of supporting her. Lots of struggle, I think. The only thing is, the struggle is all in my mind - but have I brought it out onto the page? Will my readers (if I ever have any!!) appreciate  his inner thoughts?)
Chatsworth House, south front

I've done a third draft of Treason, which needs a change of title as the hero, as an Englishman, is not exactly committing treason no matter what he does when he's in Scotland. (I'm thinking of The Hope of Scotland, but may come up with something better) and will now read it through hoping I have cut out all the repetition, glossed up the sentences and upped the tension sufficiently to keep people turning pages.

This morning is the first of a 3-day freebie for Fair Border Bride on Amazon Kindle, so if you fancy a great free read about Harry and Alina's struggles among the Border Reivers, do something about it now!

Friday, 9 March 2012

E-book sales rising

Here in the UK we bought almost two and a half million fewer books than in the opening weeks of 2011. Incude non-fiction and childrens's books and the total number of books sold in the UK fell by 4.7 million to 25 million over the same eight week period, according to Nielsen BookScan. We are talking printed books, of course.

Almost 1.4 million e-readers were sold in the UK over Christmas, double the amount sold the year before, and e-books sales are soaring by as much as 623 per cent between January and June last year.

It seems the writing is on the wall for the independant bookseller, and the bigger chains may well be worried. I've rarely patronised an independant, not as a conscious decision, but because I live in an area that is well supplied with bookshops of the larger variety, yet I'm always sorry when one goes out of business. I don't try and square that with preferring to buy a book as cheaply as possible. Getting a good read for less will always appeal. It's the way I am, the way most of society is these days, if we're honest. And not many of us can afford to buy as many books as we'd like these days. Twelve and thirteen pounds for a paperback seems way off the mark to me. What we need is another man like the one who set up the first Penguin paperbacks - a good read, but a cheap read.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Chatsworth House
We’re told tension in creative writing comes from conflict, and depending on the genre, it has different causes. With romance it’s all usually quirks locked away within the characters, only to emerge when one party meets the (potential) love of their life only to discover an opposing habit or quirk that means they cannot be together. Think kleptomaniac meets policewoman – bound to be problems there. Or man with alcohol problem meets Salvation Army woman; addictive personality meets iron-willed volunteer. How do you get those two together in a lasting relationship?
Battlefields, courtrooms, schools and hospitals all provide conflict without the author having to struggle too much, but seeking conflict in suburbia is more difficult. Suburbia is inherently safe, at first glance.  But think of the Bennet women, living under the threat of being turned out of their home once Papa died. Unless one of them married well, they were doomed to a life of drudgery and that sort of conflict rules lives and forces decisions that would otherwise not be taken. Fortunately houses are not usually entailed in suburbia these days, but sometimes it is damned difficult to keep on paying the mortgage. Pile on the agony by having the breadwinner die unexpectedly, and a teenager turn to drugs or run wild, or worse still, run away. The result is almost more tension than the writer can handle.

the drummer
Unfortunately, none of these examples are particularly original, and that’s what everyone’s looking for these days. But the basic idea holds good. The writer needs an original twist to an old problem, more than one plot layer and characters that will live in the mind of the reader after the book closes. How does a writer achieve that? Well, give the characters something difficult to achieve, problems to overcome, make them suffer and live dangerously close to disaster. That’s how – but exactly how is up to each writer. March to the sound of your own particular drummer.

This is just a reminder for me to sail Matho closer and closer to the wind…

Monday, 5 March 2012

Upping the tension

Take a deep breath and go to this site today: here It belongs to Nicola Morgan, and there are two novel extracts up for comments.

In this day and age I think nerves of steel are required to put work up so openly and, given the occasional ill-natured comments that crop up on Amazon reviews these days, putting work up in this fashion could be said to be begging for  nasty comments!

On the other hand, I'm sure there will be good advice too, and  I'll be popping back to see what is offered in the way of constructive criticism throughout the day. Initially I must go into town, but once I'm home again, I'll keep checking. and I must do some more editing.

I'm up to chapter eighteen in editing my first Matho story, and I've taken out at least a couple of thousand words . In many places it's simply because I've smoothed out and combined two sentences into one.  I've also removed odd snippets of information (accurate and interesting) that are not really relevant to the story I'm telling. Aiming for clarity is always intriguing, and of course I kow my characters so much better now than I did when I was first writing thestory, so I've been able to up the tension in places. Maybe there's a whole blog post in that phrase, but I don't have time to go into it now - maybe Wednesday!

Friday, 2 March 2012


right-handed drummer
Experimented this week by putting Shadows up for Free on Amazon Kindle. I'm not too sure how it will work, but it has been interesting, and what happens next week might be even more interesting. Or it could be a great big disappointment! The first day I checked several times as 751 downloads went out from, 237 from and 7 from Germany.  Today is the last day and because the time goes by the Pacific coast time, I'll have to wait until 8am GMT tomorrow for a total number.

They say that giving away a free book is great publicity, and since I feel like a matchstick in a logjam among the vast array of publications available on Amazon, any publicity has to be good. It certainly seems easier than visiting yahoo groups and trying to talk up my books!

Left-handed drummer

If a 1000 books go out, then surely a percentage of readers will decide they like the story? I noticed 3 returns on, which made me think that at least 3 people hated it! But then I wondered, why bother to return it if the book was free anyway? Wouldn't it be easier just to delete it? Novelrank doesn't record these downloads, as they're not sales, so I'm wondering how I can check the Amazon rankings to see if I've moved up their listings. People talk of moving up the rankings, so there must be a way - another learning curve to master!

The pictures were taken in the grounds of Chatsworth House just before Christmas, when "the Halls were decked for Christmas." It was a wonderful day out, and I'll be posting  more shots over the next few posts. Barry Flanagan's statues of the drummers were large, far taller than me, and exciting. They were for sale, but we never got as far as discovering the sale price! They'd have been a trifle large for our garden....


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...