Tag Archives: writing

Life between worlds – writing a novel

notebook, pen, laptopYou can get a bit lost in writing a book; it’s a long process and quite isolated too. You spend a lot of time with your characters, immersed in their world. Sometimes the real world is a welcome relief, sometimes it’s an irritating distraction. At times it can seem quite distant. The story grows and develops; it follows you even when you’re not actually writing. Your protagonists and antagonists feed you information, not always at the most opportune moments (mine often decide that the best time to tell me something vital is when I’m driving, usually with nowhere I can pull over to scribble it down). It’s as if you’re living in two different realms at the same time, each as tangible as the other.

You try hard to get the writing right, to let the characters have their say but also to keep the story flowing the way it should be. You cheer when it goes well and the words pour from your fingertips; you groan, procrastinate and drink far too much tea when the plot sticks or your characters decide to go off and do their own thing without telling you. And they do do that. Without so much as a ‘by your leave’ and then you find that they’ve changed the timeline or reconfigured the plot without so much as even conferring with you or asking what you think. Well, why should they? You’re only the author after all.

Eventually, eventually you get to the end.

Of the first draft.

But that’s not the end as a writer. Because the first draft is the basis but it always needs lots of work; editing and reworking paragraphs and dialogue, adjusting timeline inconsistencies, ensuring continuity of all sorts of things from the colour of people’s eyes to who has a dog and who likes what music. And then there are the typos and the grammatical errors and the repetition of words and phrases that need to be corrected.

So you plough through again, rewriting, amending, tightening up the prose and getting it closer to how you know it needs to be. And when you’ve finished the second draft, you go through it all again a third time, just to make sure.

Phew!

You’d think that’d be it then, wouldn’t you?

Alas, no!

It’s usually when I’ve got to the end of the third draft that I ask my lovely band of pre-readers to read through it and feed back to me anything that doesn’t fit right or hold true, anything that seems superfluous or out of place, anything that they think needs altered or adjusted. With these invaluable critiques it’s time for – you’ve guessed it – draft number four.

By the end of the fourth draft, hopefully the manuscript is as near finished as possible and as good as it’s going to get. This is usually the point where, having been living and breathing it for however long and having read and reread the story countless times, I usually think “This is complete and utter rubbish. Why did I bother? I might as well just dump it in the recycling bin and do everyone a favour.”

At that point I know it’s time to consign draft four to my virtual drawer and ignore it for a month or two. When I come back to it, it’s usually not as bad as I’d thought. Usually needs a few tweaks but generally it’s OK.

That’s the scary point. Time to unleash it…

Publication Day!

Today is a very exciting day. My second novel, Three Words is officially published and it’s a thrilling feeling. For an avid reader who as a child ate books for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and decided aged 9 that she wanted to write them, to have one novel published was a dream come true. To have another one out seems nothing short of miraculous. I’ve written on here about the magic of books before but I think it’s worth revisiting.

open book with mermaid

From the reader’s perspective, each book we open is an adventure, a journey into another world full of new people and situations. As we read, that world becomes real in our minds; we see and feel it, become part of it, if only for a few hours or days. When we finish the book and put it back on the shelf, the real world is just that little bit altered by the experience that we have had.

From the writer’s perspective, a story just needs to escape from the head onto the page. All writers work differently so I can only speak for myself, but my characters are very insistent that their stories are told. Their world becomes as real to me as my own; I can see them, hear them, I know what they’re thinking and feeling. Somehow I have to get that down on paper or screen. It doesn’t always go to plan, it’s not always easy, but I owe it to them to complete the tale, to give them their freedom.

And when those thoughts and ideas then become an actual physical entity, a real book, that’s extraordinary. That’s magic.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from the scientist and author Carl Sagan:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

The Magic Oxygen Literary Prize

MOLP posterMagic Oxygen, as you will be aware if you have clicked on ‘My Publisher’ at the top of this page, are the wonderful people who have published my books. But unless you have visited their website you may not be aware that they take pride in having a much fairer and greener ethos than most other companies out there. And they are very keen on encouraging creativity, wordplay and storytelling (most usually accompanied by a lovely cup of tea and some biscuits.)

This is why in June this year they launched the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, a competition with two categories, short stories up to 4000 words and poems up to 50 lines. Each category carries a first prize of £1000, with a second prize of £300, a third prize of £100 and two highly commended prizes of £50. All the winning entries will be published in an anthology. Not only that but, true to their ethics, they have pledged to plant a tree for every entry they receive, to create the Magic Oxygen Word Forest.

It’s only £5 to enter and is open worldwide to anyone over 16. And it doesn’t close until 30th November 2014. So pick up your pens and get writing. Get your entry in! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything potentially to gain and what’s the very worst that could happen? You’ll have helped to grow not just a tree but the amazing and wonderful art of words.

For more details about the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize and further information about the Word Forest, go to http://www.magicoxygen.co.uk/competition/

Good luck!

Writer’s block.

Blank paperWe all get it sometimes. That panic when everything we try to write turns out wrong, dull, clichéd, not how we wanted it to sound, that horrible feeling of paralysis when faced with a blank page, the nightmare when we know what we need to write but we just can’t do it. The words skitter away like ants, the pen is frozen. It’s frustrating. It’s demoralising. It makes you want to tear your hair out, or drown your sorrows in wine. Or chocolate. Or both. So one day I decided to turn the foe into a friend and this is what I came up with.

I stare
The paper stares back
Blank, white, merciless.
It says ‘You
Are uninspired, unworthy,
Worthless.’
I try harder, twitch the pencil,
Stop mid air.
The paper laughs
‘You still think you can?’ it taunts.
‘Go on. Dare you.’

Camp NaNo

Camp NaNo badgeIn April I was gently coerced (is that possible?) by the newest group of characters that had wandered into my head into starting another novel. They had very kindly presented themselves just in time for Camp NaNo, which is another writing month run by the organisers of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Having successfully completed a novel last November, I decided to aim for the same target as then, i.e. 50,000 words, although in April (and July) you can set your own target and work on any writing project you like, non-fiction, plays, short stories etc.

I am feeling quite proud and a little smug at the moment because I DID IT, with the support, of course, of family and friends (thank you!) and an industrial sized amount of chocolate. Although the novel is not quite finished, it’s great to have the structure in place and the bulk of it written, even if it is only a first draft.

So Camp NaNo, I thank you, as do my characters Serena, Seth, Tallie, Ethan, Gaia and Great Aunt Rose. They are most grateful that I haven’t made them wait for eight years like Robyn, Bryn and Holly (my November characters) had to!

NaNoWriMo update

Hand writing with pencil

Picture by Caleb Roenigk

NaNoWriMo has been such a great experience so far. It’s been so great having a deadline because it’s made me sit and write EVERY DAY, despite having all the usual things to do as well. If nothing else, it’s taught me that I can make the time if I try hard enough, so I won’t be able to use the ‘too much else to be done’ excuse any more! Continue reading

NaNoWriMo

Heavily edited book with pen

Picture by Nic Mcphee

Just in case you’ve not heard of this, November is National Novel Writing Month. And it’s not just a celebration of the novel and writers and a stimulus to start one or finish one or even read one.  No. As if the thought of writing a novel isn’t daunting enough NaNoWriMo is the month when you write THE WHOLE THING! IN 30 DAYS! Madness… or is it? Continue reading

The Origin of Stories

Pen and writingAt the risk of sounding quite crackers, my stories usually begin when a character walks into my head; they always have a story attached. They are often associated with a particular place as well. They mooch around for a bit and eventually become insistent that I write them down – often then the story continues to develop from there. The writing process occasionally drives on to the end (deadlines can be handy), but more often than not continues in fits and starts over a variable time frame. Continue reading

Science or Mystery?

Test tubes UnicornMaybe I have a subversive streak, but I actually really like things that can’t be explained. Studying science at school and then physiotherapy, everything had to be proven, results had to be reliable and repeatable, all techniques had to be justified; the best and most efficient means to an end. And while this is absolutely desirable and necessary in many, many fields, it kind of knocks the wonder out of life a bit. I want the best of both worlds; I’m greedy I suppose. There are so many bizarre coincidences and odd happenings that we experience in life, and most of the time we measure them against our known parameters and come up with the most likely, logical explanation. But sometimes I think what if there is something else going on? Some other force at play? And as well as scaring myself silly, ‘what if’ is a very good place for a story to start.

Fairy Tales for All

A FairyWhat is it about fairy tales that draws us in, adults and kids alike? After all, as far as story telling goes, they’re pretty basic. No hooks, no questions, no mystery, no frills, little description or scene setting AND we know how they end before we’ve even started. Good overcomes evil, love conquers all, the underdog wins the day and the bad guys get their comeuppance. Karma sorted all round. And who doesn’t want that fairytale ending…? But it is a matter of perspective. The hero and heroine may live happily ever after – but that doesn’t take away the trauma and pain they’ve suffered. And the same can’t be said for the wicked stepmother/sisters/witch. Their fate is tolerable at best and downright grim(m) (pun fully intended!) at worst – some of the original tales are really quite horrific. Continue reading