Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Reading Writer - or The Writing Reader

Once you get past a certain point in the journey to becoming a writer, reading loses it's simple pleasure. It becomes a multi-layered experience.

I can still lose myself in a book if it is good - if it isn't, I don't stand a chance. In a good book, I tend to find myself looking for the strings and trying to peek behind the curtain, though, which does spoil the fun of being a reader. Even the best books are unlikely to surprise me lately, and I miss that uncomplicated relationship with story, where you're along for the ride.

But I love trying to work out how my favourite authors have achieved a sleight of story, or created the emotion or flavour that I've enjoyed. Being able to combine two of my favourite activities - reading and writing - in pursuit of a single goal is pretty wonderful. How often does that happen in life? And reading consciously means you really appreciate a book, and all that the author has done...although, perhaps you're no longer enjoying the book as the author intended.

I may not have time and money for a creative writing course at the moment, but I have masters of the craft at my fingertips, and through some self-initiated study, I can learn a lot. So when I ask Santa for a pile of books for Christmas, it's all in the name of self-improvement and work, and nothing at all to do with escapism, widening experience or the joy of a good story......honestly. Maybe you should ask Santa for some new reading material too, and spend the holiday with your nose to a page...?

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Crazy Christmastime

It has been over a week since I last found time for writing. It hasn't stopped me keeping my ears open - I had a particularly good idea for a short story while having my hair cut on Wednesday, while listening in to the conversation next to me...eavesdropping sometimes does pay off!

But it's a busy time for everyone right now, and extra busy for school teachers, and extra busy for mothers so I'm going to be kind to myself and not get the guilts about not writing....but I'm also going to be kind to myself by making time tomorrow.

In the past week, I've had two ill children, an extra day and a half in work (the extra money will be appreciated in January, but both days happened to be Thursdays, my morning when Chick Pea is usually at pre-school and I have time to write), swimming lessons to squeeze in between nativity performances, carol services, and all that writing of cards and wrapping of gifts (especially the children's which I'm trying to do while they're out at school. I'm not a big fan of Christmas Eve wrapping - I want to be stress free and enjoying the evening with the kids on the day).

So I'm going to let circumstances dictate tomorrow. The five year old is ill - currently trying to breathe through a blocked nose while sucking his fingers, with a temp of 39.9 (which is fairly impressive, but I've seen worse) next to me on the sofa. There is no way he will be in school tomorrow, nor will I be able to do the shopping I needed to do, nor run the errands I've been desperate to fit in this week. So I'll be housebound with him and the little one, but they will occupy each other a bit; or sit and watch TV, which I allow more of when they're poorly. Which means I'll be free to write....sometimes the spanners in the works are in your favour after all!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Point of View and Subplot

Do you think each significant character in your plot needs a subplot? 

I haven't really thought about it like this before, but I have been overdosing lately on a favourite author, and realised that one of the ways in which she creates a multi-layered plot, and also makes all her main characters three-dimensional, is by creating subplots that eventually collide with the main one.

Now, I have subplots. But they're not usually specifically targeted at a character like that. In my last novel (which is not ready for the light of day) the subplot belonged to the police officer investigating my main character's crime. Then there was a very lightweight little plot which doesn't deserve to be called a subplot, which just fleshed out Mr Love Interest a bit. But perhaps Mr Love Interest needed a bit more going on.

In my current work, there is a triangle of characters, who I will name (somewhat misleadingly, but tough, I'm not going for a synopsis here) Mrs Main, Love Interest 1 and Love Interest 2. The conflict is between Mrs Main and Love Interest 1, so he doesn't really have a subplot. There are side issues arising, which Mrs Main doesn't know about immediately, but they're still part of the main plot. Love Interest 2 is crucial to the main plot in every way, but doesn't have his own subplot. 

He has a backstory - career, family, failed engagement, hobbies - the lot. The relevant parts will be in the story. He is a point of view character - I have written scenes through his eyes.

But does he need a subplot of his own? Would it make him more believable? Or would it complicate the story too much? 

I feel as though the lack of one may be undermining an important convention in the kind of books I read (and want to write). 

There is another character who is also vital to the whole, and the threads of her story weave into the main, underpin it and provides a different voice, told in a different tense and person. She is also important, and brings texture to the whole....but I'm not sure her story can really be called a subplot, either. 

So is this story too slim? I'm a long way through to be having doubts, and I think I may have to plough on and just see...it has felt good so far, and it already needs serious pruning to make it a sensible length, so it isn't  as if it's flimsy in terms of length. But perhaps it lacks depth...

What do you think? Should all the main characters have a serious problem of their own going on 'on the side'?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Kindle and Paper

I love my Kindle. I love the way I can buy books at the click of a button at any time of day or night and be enjoying them in seconds. I love the fact I can take a huge pile of books on holiday without filling a suitcase. I love being a book consumer on a grand scale without running out of bookshelf room.

But I'm never going to be able to live without real books. An ebook can't replace a real one. When I read an ebook, there is a dimension less to the experience. It makes the experience shallower, and more forgettable. Frequently now, I don't know if I've read a book, even after reading the blurb. I recently got to the last paragraph of a book that I'd bought at the supermarket before realising I'd already got it on my Kindle!

I miss being able to handle a physical object - feel the weight of it, the thickness of the pages. I miss navigating through it - especially if I lose my place, or want to flick back to something - such a simple place-finding exercise is time-consuming and irritating on the Kindle. I don't get to read and savour a blurb before I open an ebook; I miss the aesthetic pleasure of the front and end pages - that delicious anticipation as you approach page 1. (Perhaps I am a bit of a book geek..?) I miss seeing the cover and title each time I reach for a book - that subtle reiteration of what I am reading, which is crucial, apparently, if I want to remember what I've read.

Are these things insignificant? Not for me. I find it incredible to cruise Amazon and realise that I don't know the name of a book, or what it looks like - that the plot is floating, fragmented and untethered, in my mind. It unsettles me. And rereading a book without realising it -  I'm sure this isn't just my age; I'm sure it's linked to this Kindle syndrome of reading text out of context - out of the context of real pages, a cover, illustration, blurb...

I've embraced the ebook revolution; I do love my Kindle. I've been excited about the power that authors now have to publish their own books with such ease. But now I'm wondering if there is a downside. If an unknown author publishes with KDP, and is lucky enough to have their book in great demand, it is disappointing to think that the memory of that book is likely to slide greasily out of the readers' memory within a week or two of reading. It doesn't bode well for that author, trying to build a fanbase when the very form of their book discourages memorability.

What do you think? Do you find it harder to retain digital text?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Fascinating first lines

We all know that our first lines have to be gripping. I wonder what your favourite first line of a novel is? Do you like the first line of your favourite novel?

Here are a few of my favourite books and how they start:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier.

"The van der Lindens' house was distinguished from the others on the street by the creeper that covered half the front, running up to the children's rooms beneath the eaves, where at night the glow from the sidewalk lamp gave to Number 1064 the depth and shadow of a country settlement, somewhere far away from this tidy urban street." On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks.

"The Boulevard Du Cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens." Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks.

"Hush...Can you hear him?" The Distant Hours, Kate Morton.

"They said I was a drug addict." Rachel's Holiday, Marian Keyes.

"When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow." To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.

"Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits." Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver.

"Mabel had known there would be silence." The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey.

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip." Great Expectations, Charles Dickens.

And if I keep playing this game, I'll never be done; opening the doors to my bookshelves has sent me on a delightful half hour of revisiting old friends, and reminding me how long it has been since I've read some of these. Just one more, that most notorious of first lines:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

Whew, what a range, what power, what trends to consider in all these. Look how long Faulks can be; how gentle Dickens. I got a tingle up my spine opening The Distant Hours - that first scene was so gripping that reading the first line made me instantly tense. So much to aspire to! Now onto what prompted this little excursion.

My nine year old daughter, who is an obsessive reader (at parent's evening, her teacher said, "I've never known a child read so compulsively" as though it were a sin. I thought I'd better not admit to the same disorder) has never shown interest in writing. I thought she never would, and then, two weeks ago, I saw the light in her eyes. She's been scribbling, on and off, ever since, then nagging me to help her to type it onto the laptop. Today we started typing and I was struck by her first line.

"Once, some Time-Travellers made a bed, and because they were poor they had to sell it, which was a shame as it was a most pulchritudinous bed."

How's that for originality? I expect it will fall down at line two, because she is only nine, but I'm fascinated to know why there are Time-Travellers in her story, and if they have capitalisation for a reason, and if the story is really about the bed or if it will wander off down other avenues. As always, I wish I had a pinch of the originality of a child. What a gift...it's always good to be inspired by others whether they are literary greats, skilled writers of today or nine year old girls. Hope something inspires you today!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

WoMentoring Application

It's taken me a long time, and agonising rewrites, but I think I've just about finished my 500 word statement ready to apply for a mentor through the fabulous WoMentoring project.

Is it best to be earnest, dedicated and committed? Or fun and light-hearted? How do you get yourself over in 500 words - and without it being a boring list of things you've achieved and dreams of being a writer (which is hardly going to set you apart from the crowd)?

The thing is, I could procrastinate over this for months longer, miss the deadline and miss out. This year I was meant to be focused on Opportunity, and I can't let this one slide by, so I'm settling on what I've written, and I'll allow myself one more proofread, and then I'm going to apply. And cross my fingers so tightly they won't be fit to type with.

Monday, 29 September 2014

He who smelt it, dealt it

Remember this puerile little saying? I'd like to pretend I've not heard it recently, but my seven year-old is firmly in the scatological phase and shows no signs of emerging. In fact, this is one of the more polite comments he's likely to make at inappropriate moments.

The thing that fascinates me is the way we write the past tense of words like dream, smell, feel and build. On the periphery of awareness, I've noticed that sometimes, jarringly, I'll read things like "The room smelled like cabbage" and wondered if I was trailing behind in the evolution of language, until I discovered an intriguing online discussion.

What I discovered is that the distinction is one of those national things. In England, it's not only acceptable to use smelt over smelled, but usually preferred. In other countries, the opposite may be true; especially in the USA, people recalled being pulled up on using the 't' ending over 'ed', and believe it to be ignorant.

What do you think? Have you noticed this difference when you have read books by authors from other countries? Do you think it matters?

And would it be wrong to teach my other children, "He who says the rhyme, did the crime"...?