Saturday, 26 February 2011

Getting from notebook to novel - #1

1. Be creative – start with a character, an image, a place, a ‘what if’. Let’s play!

Sometimes you get lucky with a character. He or she hovers at the back of your mind, clearing their throat from time to time, reminding you that they’re waiting. Other times they’re more forceful than that, barging through, pushing the others out of the way, demanding to be written about. Evie in The Watchers was like that.

When inspiration doesn’t strike it really does help to just sit down and start writing. An idea for a whole book came from one of these writing sessions years ago –a teenage boy and girl sitting by a campfire in the middle of forest with a tired looking man. That’s one book I never finished but I’m determined to go back to.

If you’re struggling to find ideas, take a look at the world around you. Go for a walk and just pay attention. You might see a person, an animal, a place or an incident that makes you curious. Or sometimes the mere act of walking and moving helps get the ideas moving in your brain. Last summer when I was writing The Watchers I got into the habit of writing in the morning and then going for a walk on the beach. While I was walking I would be plotting, sometimes muttering like a mad woman into the voice recorder on my mobile. Action leads to action.

If you’re having a lazy day, flick on the news or check it out online. Pick one issue of the day and just start writing about it. Sit for a while and let the words take you wherever they want to go. Usually something you have written will snag your attention. Is it turning into a situation you could write about? Write for yourself, not for an audience, especially at this stage. Thinking about readers will make you self-conscious and that takes all the fun out of writing. This is just to get you started.

To be honest the ideas have always been the easy bit for me. People have asked me where I got a particular idea from. When I think about it, the idea usually started as an image or a bit of wordplay. Right now I have ideas for at least ten books –for me, the tough bit is sitting down and writing the story from beginning to end. I’ll be writing about that in the next post.

In the meantime if you’re really stuck, spend twenty minutes trying one of these three...

• Two men are talking intently in a bar. One looks sad, the other one angry. What’s going on?
• You’re walking on an empty beach when you see the strangest paw print...
• A group of teenagers go missing from a crowded town centre on a Saturday night. Weeks later they still haven’t been found. What happened to them?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Je love le weekend!

Some weeks go by in a blur and this was one of them! Between book stuff and work stuff and social stuff *I* am pretty much stuffed! Like the cat in the picture I am really looking forward to some well earned chill-out time!

Too tired to write anything even remotely helpful or intelligent but I hope you all have a lovely, relaxing weekend.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Late night edits...

It would be fair to say that a late night working on edits is bad for the old peepers. I was up until one o'clock this morning trying to finish revisions so I could get the book away to Gillie. It really shouldn’t have taken that long but I found reading it so closely threw up lots of little tweaks I wanted to make. Happily I finally sent it to her and crawled into bed. The alarm this morning went off much too soon.

It’s a strange experience doing edits. On the one hand it’s easy to get defensive when someone else has read your book and suggested a particular paragraph doesn’t really add anything. An outside reader also notices your trademark peculiarities and quirks much more readily than you can do yourself. For example, one of mine is a love affair with the word ‘grimace’...

On the other hand it doesn’t help to become a raging perfectionist. Yes, there will always be little turns of phrase that seemed great at the time and now fall a bit flat. But at a certain point you have to step away from the manuscript and allow it to be prised from your sweaty paws. If you can’t take that leap of faith you’ll become one of those writers with ten unfinished novels lying in a drawer. Been there, got the t-shirt!

Reading a book is such a subjective experience. What I’m realising is that two people can read the same passage and have completely different views. It’s good to listen to some opinions you trust –but in the end you have to go with your gut.

Oh - and top tip: if you click on the picture link it will take you to a helpful page all about how to cover those black circles after a late writing session. When I think of my appearance this morning... It’s enough to make a girl grimace…!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Meeting my agent!

I haven’t posted on here since last weekend because I’ve been busy, busy, busy! It was an exciting week for several reasons! I went to London to stay with my friend Sarah and met her lovely baby son Daniel for the first time. But that wasn’t the only meeting I had – while I was there I finally had the chance to shake hands with my agent for the first time!

I sent The Watchers to Aitken Alexander because they represent my writing tutor Bernie McGill. I sent it off with no great hopes, knowing the doom and gloom stories and telling myself sternly that I should prepare for the worst. Luckily Gillie was very enthusiastic about the sample chapters of the book, which encouraged me to finish writing it!

We had spoken on the phone but it’s great to get the chance to meet someone in person, especially when they live far away. Gillie is lovely and made me feel at ease. She could see I found the whole experience a little unreal at first and apparently I’m not the only new writer to feel this way. After all, writing a book is such a solitary experience. It’s just you and the computer screen. It feels strange sending it out into the world and giving it a life of its own!

We had a very pleasant lunch and a good chat. It’s fantastic getting a chance to talk to someone who knows so much about the whole publishing industry. She gave me some advice about a couple of chapters which need ‘trimmed’ so that’s what I’m working on this weekend. They’re small changes but I can already see the difference – how tightening some paragraphs increases the pace and flow of the action.

Alas, I think I have procrastinated enough! Back to the grindstone!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Racing on with revisions...

Ha! Love this cartoon! It sums up pretty well how I'm feeling about doing revisions. I was still at work last week and busy on a few evenings so I decided if I could even get through two chapters a day I would be doing well!

And it's amazing how quickly you make progress without realizing it. I'm about to start working on chapter 11. I've made some cuts but I've also made some substitutions, taking out words that read nicely and replacing them with words that read nicely and further the plot and characterisation. There are always more of those first words than you think…

Editing your own work is hard. You have written every word on the page and you're a little bit in love with the whole thing. That's why it's so helpful to find someone you trust to give you good advice and get them to read it. They'll be the person who will help you see more clearly what's hot and what's not.

The target for today is to get to chapter 15. By then I will be well past the halfway mark. Anyone else got any writing plans for today / the rest of the week?

Friday, 11 February 2011

Friday night feeling!

Oooooooh, so excited! I borrowed this DVD and planning to watch it tonight or tomorrow. It sounds like a great film - I love films that are a little bit different! I'm probably the last person in the world to see this - so please, no spoilers!

And not just off work this weekend - but all of next week too! I'm going to London on Thursday to finally meet my agent in the flesh. So far we have been bouncing emails backwards and forwards and have chatted on the phone - but sometimes it's good to do things the old-fashioned way...

So before I do any more revisions, I feel I need a Chinese, a beer and a chilled out DVD night. Excellent!

Enjoy your weekend, whatever you have planned!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The red pen is out again!

Just as the title suggests the red pen is out again! It’s time for another round of revisions on The Watchers. Things have been manic in work for the last five weeks but hopefully we’re coming back into a more settled period –which means more writing time.

I’ve also been writing something completely different, just to take a break from the world of The Watchers. I’ve enjoyed it and found it relaxing which can’t be a bad thing. It’s hard to get that balance right between staying absorbed in the world you’ve created and not getting totally obsessed with it! I’m hoping all of this comes with experience…!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Stephen King fans?

Exciting news! There is possibly going to be a film version of Stephen King's book The Stand! Apparently the great man himself is not convinced by the whole thing but I would love to see it!

If you don't know the story, it's a post-apocalyptic book, after a plague has wiped out 99.9% of the human race. Cheerful stuff, eh? But really it's a book all about how the survivors try to carry on and it becomes something a lot more - a metaphor for the battle between good and evil. There's a strong plot and really believable characters - it's the kind of book you are sad to finish and I still pick it up to re-read it every so often.

They made a mini-series in the eighties or nineties which I've seen. It was actually quite well-cast, apart from the actress who plays Fran the main female character. Anyway if you want more info you can find it here.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Another cool song!

And these guys are local! Seven Summits is the name of the band and the song is called Burning Heart. Enjoy!

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