Thursday, March 30, 2006

Crown Chronicles Epilogue

Word Count: 46,763

And so it came to pass that the lab sent the tooth to my dentist and my dentist instructed, 'Open, open, open, open,' (in a rather high-pitched tone, as if I hadn't heard her the first time. She's a little like Jo from The Apprentice which is unsettling). And she cemented it in place.

As expected, it feels like I have piece of white goods the size of an American-style fridge-freezer in my mouth now, but I am also hugely relieved that it's all over - touch wood. Though the yellowy tone she chose from the 'tooth colour chart' has got me thinking that perhaps I should consider whitening treatment.

Actually, it's a bit sticky-outy and I wonder if it really matters whether it's been put slightly in the wrong position? I will probably have this funny foreign object longer than I will own my latest car so no doubt I will get used to it.

I worked out today that I have twelve weeks left at the Beeb. Strange but exciting. I've booked in for all these courses they're providing for people who are leaving, even though none of them sadly cover 'how to make your novel hit number one in ten countries.'

Lovely Link of the Day:
Courtesy, yet again, of Karin at Southern Comfort, this is a very technical guide to scene writing which I found practical if a bit scarily detailed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Daffs and drafts

Word Count: 46,068

So now I have my plot all ready to go, it should all write itself, eh? Yes, and no. New stuff always comes in, for example, a four-foot plush velvet goldfish has made an unexpected appearance and is going to have a starring role. It’s the first time I have used a cuddly toy in one of my novels and I feel it’s a significant turning point…

Maybe it’s the extra hour of sunlight that’s making me a bit odd. Funny how changing clocks by just one hour messed with my sleep, though, perhaps it’s age (or it might be the fact that I am still getting up at 6.30am for the early morning commute). Spring is definitely here: don’t think I have ever seen so many daffodils. Fab.

Not much else happening, the Day Job and the Night Job (a.k.a. all writing related things) are dominating life at the moment. No house news either. Yawn.

Lovely Link of the Day:
I could pretend this is about writing, or set an exercise around writing from someone else’s POV to tie in with it, but actually I am linking to this fake letter from Britney (from those wonderful people at Go Fug Yourself) simply because it made me splutter coffee all over my screen. The salad line is the one responsible for my coffee explosion.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thickening the Plot

Word Count: 41,967

I was planning to motor ahead with the word count today, but instead I've decided to review the plotting of Book 4. I've said before that I lurk somewhere between a Plotter (someone whose synopsis containts every single significant event in the story, more or less a template for an entire book) and a Pantser (a writer who gets to the end of their novel flying by the seat of their pants).

I thought it might be interesting to share the evolution of a book:

Stage 1: Vague Concept
This usually begins when I am in the final, agonising chapters of the work-in-progress, wishing I'd never started it. Other ideas appear like sparkling gems: the idea that will make me a billionaire, simultaneously winning me the Booker and a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt. I have learned that the sparkle soon wears off, but I try to follow up the most promising ideas, using lots of 'what if' questions to build a scenario that's intriguing...what happened if the nastiest girl in the school organised a reunion? Could you make a better job of your life by re-learning your Brownie badges as an adult? What if the worst happened to a girl who has always lived her life afraid of what's round the corner?
At this point I might have two or three ideas for the next novel...

Stage 2: Synopsis with Holes
This is where I try to flesh out that idea with characters and plot twists. Often I'll write the first chapter or two, to help me imagine the most important people and 'where' the story begins.
It's often suggested that stories should begin 'in media res' (scroll down on this link of Latin phrases) or in the midst of things, i.e. when when there's action underway. Yet often we start with our character in stasis, i.e. stuck in a rut before the 'call the action.'
It's an interesting decision: with my first three books, it's definitely an 'in media res' situation, whereas the current book - in the first draft at least - shows the main character in her rather frustrating life before the action kicks off.
I might still have two ideas at this stage.
Often, even after writing the synopsis, I don't know what will happen to my heroine or the other characters - I know the psychological state she'll end up in, but not quite how she'll get there. Which helps to give me a reason to write the book, of course.

Stage 3: Opening Chapters, More Tweaking and Playing
At this point, I'll begin writing. I tend to have done more work on the first few scenes anyway and they are also an exercise in getting to know my characters, making decisions about everything from their eye colour to their fatal flaw. I will tweak the plot a bit, maybe scribble down a few plot ideas, but I tend not to go back and revise the synopsis in detail.

Stage 4: Revision of Plot/Brainstorming
If this was a map, it would be marked YOU ARE HERE because this is the stage I'm at now. I've spent the day playing with scenarios. Now that I know my characters in more detail, I can mess about with their lives, test their weaknesses, and give them the endings they deserve. Lots of fun.
I also like to have more than one timescale going on within a book, so structure is also important: how can I make it clear to a reader that I've moved backwards or forwards in time? I might do this by changing Point-of-View, or tense, or simply by putting a date at the beginning of a new chapter.
Today I worked through the storylines for the past and the present narratives, and also worked out how to test my main character, Jo, to the limit. Quite hard work, mentally, but satisfying as I can compare it to my original synopsis and see how far I've come.

Stage 5: Race to Finishing Line
So now, in theory, I have all the information I need to write the book in - I don't know - a month? I cut and paste the few sentences I've written for each chapter into my manuscript, and use those as a template as I write. New ideas will occur to me, but I know I have a fallback positition. And a plot!

Stage 6: Edits (Including the Implausibility Conundrum)
The edits can be as much work again as the rest of the process, depending on what my editor thinks, and how I feel it's working. The Implausibility Conundrum is one issue: everything must be believable in the context of the world you've created as a writer. That last bit is crucial - otherwise how would J.K. Rowling get away with broomsticks and Quidditch and Dementors? The question of how far you can go is a fine judgement: for example, a lot of new (and not so new) writers rely on coincidence too heavily. A little coincidence is forgivable: a lot is simply another version of that literary cop-out, 'and I woke up and it was all a dream...'

I'd love to know how other people do it? Anyone?

Lovely Link of the Day:
Lee Masterson has an interesting 'how to' article on plotting. Stella Cameron has a very informative article called Six Steps to a Perfect Plot. My other google searches brought up a lot of 'this software will write your blockbuster for you' ads. So tempting...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Adventure

Word count: 41,611

I'm still enjoying writing, though it does strike me that I am slower with this one with previous ones: that's the actual churning it out, words-per-hour rate. And I wonder if that's due to spending more time thinking about sentences/character progression before actually typing OR whether it's old-fashioned procrastination?

Certainly, I feel as if my writing is more economical, a little less overblown, in this one. Could be wrong, of course. Frequently am!

Not much other news. House situation is very static at the moment as I am waiting for news so I feel rather nervous. I watched Whistleblower on BBC1 on Monday, about tactics used by some unscrupulous agents and it just made me feel even less confident about EVER being able to pull off this whole purchasing thing.

Even the final episode of the Crown Chronicles is on hold because the dentist hadn't got my shiny new tooth back in time to cement it into place.

And I also did one of those quizzes and discovered:

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.
You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.
Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.
And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Try it here (the HTML on this has been driving me crazy so it may not work)

Ah…so that's where I've been going wrong!

Lovely Link of the Day:
I've really been enjoying enjoying Agent Obscura's 'Choose your Own Adventure' postings where she shows you 'nearly real' query letters and you get to role play agent: reject or ask for sample chapters. Scroll down to view in date order, so you can decide before seeing what AO would do.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Writing Rules (OK)

Word count: 39,853

I've finished marking my Open University assignments AND my feature about diary-writing, so I finally have time to write. Sometimes a mini-break from the WIP can be what the doctor ordered and certainly I've enjoyed writing over the last couple of days. Actually, I enjoyed the marking too but doing at least 23 hours of marking in just one week (in between the day job and all that jazz) was rather a marathon.

I never know whether it's a good sign when I'm enjoying my writing. I know that sounds very bizarre: after all, writing has to be more of a passion than a chore, otherwise none of us would bother to start, never mind finishing, stalking agents until one agrees to represent us, and so on. But certainly once you've written more than one novel, there are bound to be days when it feels like any other job.

So when you go back to a MS and find yourself smiling at the characters, or feeling good about a passage of description, there's a certain degree of nervousness. Should I really like it? Shouldn't I be in an artistic slough of self-loathing, despair etc etc? Will pride come before a fall?

I don't know the answer to this one, alas, and won't until a) I've finished and b) I've shown it to the Judges (agent, editor and, ultimately, readers) but maybe it's better not to over-analyse, but to make the most of enthusiasm.

This whole pleasure/pain aspect of writing (are we all sado-masochists? Discuss) is also in my mind because I know that, although I've been as constructive as I can in my marking, I have also needed to point out where there's room for improvement...However carefully I phrase my suggestions, I know it's hurtful when a piece you made as good as you can, comes back with some criticisms. But I also know that the right kind of editorial comment has made me a better writer, and I hope my comments might do the same for my students. Fingers crossed.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Short and sweet, this piece from Time magazine suggests Five Easy Steps to a Best-Seller, based on Dan Brown's testimony in the plagiarism case. Very funny. Am off to think of a "big idea with a grey area."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Reading matter

Word Count: 38,287

A writing working day at home...and I've finished my edits of the first section, so can despatch it off to my agent again now. My friend is the second person to have read it and she called last night and said she REALLY likes it, which is good news. OK, so she probably wouldn't tell me if she hated it, but she sounded very enthusiastic.

So now it's more marking for the rest of the day (well, the weekend actually), plus writing a feature about my diary writing habits over the years. I began writing my diary when I was 13, but it's been rather neglected over the years which is very frustrating when I read back a few years and can't remember who any of the people are!

The weather is seriously miserable: icy winds, even a few flakes of snow when I was out earlier. I've got some soup on the go for lunch, at least. And I might treat myself later to a few chapters of the Jennifer Weiner novel I am reading, Goodnight Nobody. It really is terrific: witty and smart and engaging and all the other things that women's fiction ought to be. As well as enjoying it, I am taking note of technique points, the ratio of description to dialogue and so on, but not in a way that spoils it. I've read one of hers previously and plan to go through the backlist soon. Maybe also get out the DVD of In Her Shoes which was based on her book. She also has a great blog and a cool section of her website for new writers.

Rant of the day is against hopeless Argos, who promised to deliver some garden furniture within 7 days on the 12 February. Today they were still saying 'oh, we can't quite find it, it'll be next week.' OK, so we won't exactly be sitting out on the balcony in our t-shirts this weekend, but hopefully the sun will get his hat on before too long and one needs to Be Prepared. Boyf has blown 'em out so we shall be seeking folding chairs this weekend.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Anna Louise is a rare beast, an editor who blogs (Miss Snark sent me her way) and she has some terrific posts which aim to demystify publishing. Always worth knowing what the paymasters and paymistresses want!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Not Tempting Fate

Word count: 38,758 (goin’ down as I edit out the flotsam and jetsam)

This time around I am not going to write chapter and verse on the ins-and-outs of my property purchase, because I don’t dare tempt fate. BUT I do seem to have found a place I like, at a price I can afford, so please send fairy dust my way.

What with all the phone calls required AND my OU marking AND revising the first bits of Scaredycat AND feature-writing AND work AND all that jazz, I am still being a very below average blogger. Sorry and all that. It will improve soon.

Lovely Link of the Day:
While I am being slack (what a great word slack is, must try to get it into a sentence of the book), some links. This Guardian piece, inspired by the Dan Brown plagiarism case, is all about the women behind male authors… I came across Saskia Walker's blog via Wendy Wootton’s blog, and she has a valuable range of great writing resources.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Double Trouble

Word Count: currently editing on paper so no idea

Busy weekend – lots of house viewings as per usual (I can’t face many more despite my instinctive nosiness) and actually, two I felt the need to make offers on. It’s so crazy at the moment that one place had three offers within two hours of going on the market.

I have tried to forget about this (ie the biggest financial transaction of my life) since then: round to see friends for dinner on Saturday, staying away overnight and back today to get cracking on my OU assignment marking. I’ve done about half a dozen so far, each one takes about an hour, and it’s full-on concentration. I am really impressed at the standard, and also inspired by the variety of approaches and topics. But it’s hard work, no doubt about it.

Might try to have a stab at my own writing tonight a bit later on. Weekend? Relaxation? Ha ha.

Lovely Link of the Day:
An interesting, if slightly highbrow piece on creative inspiration in today’s Observer: I found the contributions at the bottom, about individuals and their techniques, the most interesting bit.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Crown Chronicles 4: Brighter Side

Word count: going down

Right, that's enough feeling sorry for myself. Especially now I know I've got some extra hits via the forum for students of the Open University's A215 writing course, who are no doubt about to be propelled into party mode as the deadline for the first assignment passes at midnight.

Of course, for the tutors with 25-odd assignments sitting in their inbox, the fun is only just beginning...

I've been able to talk to some writer friends and they've calmed me right down. Before I was published, I honestly expected other authors to be very bitchy and it's been one of the best surprises to discover that so many of them are immensely kind and supportive. Perhaps it's because the nature of our work is so solitary...and we need our friends when things are going slowly, but also to celebrate when it's going well.

So here are Kate's Glass-Half-Full Top Five Reasons Why It's Great to Be a Writer:
  1. You get to make invent entire universes where people get what they deserve. Not that I have a God complex or anything, but there are few things more satisfying than being able to ensure that What Comes Around Goes Around.
  2. It doesn't matter what you wear. Yesterday at work a colleague admired my trousers. When I told her they came from Sainsbury's (their short-arse fit is the perfect length for me) she looked faintly horrified. When you're a writer, no-one can see your supermarket own brand clothing, except on the very occasional days when you're wheeled out by publisher etc to prove you exist. You can even do it in the nude. Though laptops get rather hot on the underside so not all that advisable in my book.
  3. When it's working, there is nothing on earth like it. Flow, they call it. When your characters and settings take on proper lives of their own, it's the best feeling. There's even a certain satisfaction in taking a clunky sentence and wrestling it into elegance.
  4. Writer Chums. See my comment above.
  5. Saying something and knowing it will last forever: I don't imagine that people will be reading my work in the next century (sometimes, I wonder whether they'll bother next week) but the good ol' British Library keeps a copy of all published books and there's something rather lovely about your words being made into a physical object that so many people have backed and believed in and collaborated on to make it real. Every single individual has a unique take on life and it's a wonderful privilege to have my particular quirky world-view turned into a book.

OK, those are enough to be going on with. You get my drift...all occupations have their ups and downs but having the right attitude can turn a terrible down into a tiny dip. And the ups will take care of themselves.

What do YOU do when you're on a low with your writing? I'd love to know.

Dental update, cos I know you care: am getting used to my little stumpy tooth. Will miss it when it's been covered in a huge new fake version.

Lovely Link of the Day:

I'm feeling inspired by the warm feeling I got from other writers, so here are some communities. The TrAce site is an online writing community and site based at Nottingham Trent University and has some fascinating insights into process and technique. WriteWords is an excellent UK writers' resource, though there is a payment for some of the information including the agent directory and many of the forums. I like Great Writing, which emerged from the old BBC Get Writing site (which has lost its forums, but still has some fantastic tools and resources). Have I missed any?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Crown Chronicles 3: Stumped

Word count: don't even go there

Back from the dentist. Predictably not as bad as I'd feared although it still went on for ages and I ended up with water all over my face cos the nurse with the little vaccuum cleaner didn't seem to have a good aim.

Now I have a stump where my carefully filled tooth was. But the good thing is I don't have a temporary crown, which was horrid last time. Face is gradually emerging from numbness and I have treated myself to some yummy mushroom risotto for lunch as I don't have to chew it.

Feeling a bit cheesed off generally as I heard some less positive book-related news today, completely out of the blue. It's something I don't totally understand and also I got it in an email which is never ideal, as I thought everything was fine: over the last few years it's all been good news so I guess something disappointing had to happen sooner or later. With my instinctive Kate's-glass-is-half-empty reaction, I suddenly wondered whether I should abandon my plans and try to stay in TV, but every writer I know has had set-backs: signing that first contract isn't a route to eternal sunshine. It's just unfortunate to hear today while I was feeling sorry for myself.

Sorry to be so mysterious. On the upside, went to a very interesting session last night about the Future of Publishing at the Guardian Newsroom, where they keep the archives. The Observer's Robert McCrum chaired, and on the panel were Amanda Ross from Cactus TV which makes Richard and Judy (she was just voted Number One in the Observer's list of movers and shakers in the book world), Joel Rickett from the Bookseller magazine, plus the Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion.

It was great to hear people talking passionately about books - Amanda Ross was especially interesting, not just about the increase in figures her choices have achieved, but also her pure excitement about the variety they're able to promote, and her personal enthusiasm for reading. Joel was incisive and the PL was frustrated with the lack of promotion for poetry. In general I felt the panel members were more positive than the audience, there was a slight feeling in the questions of 'fings ain't wot they used to be' which is a) true and b) inevitable. In particular I was intrigued by the whole question of whether celebrity signings (e.g. Wayne Rooney's girlfriend Colleen getting a very tidy sum for her fashion non-fiction books) damage the rank-and-file novelist like me by cutting out advances. I don't actually know: part of me thinks they bring in lots of cash and potentially also attract new readers into bookshops, but part of me can also see how deals and books like these might crowd out work with less immediate mass appeal. But that's showbiz, folks. Any thoughts?

Anyway, it makes a change to think about the bigger picture, rather than the motivations of my imaginary friends...

Lovely Link of the Day
A great piece in the Independent with a reality check for would-be authors imagining they're about to hit the jackpot. I know one of the authors, the highly talented Victoria Routledge, while the other writer, Jane Sigaloff, has had a career path very similar to mine. Worth checking out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Crown Chronicles Part 2: The Waiting Game

Word count: I’m not even going to say.

A busy weekend – went with the boyf to Birmingham for a friend’s 40th birthday party. I was initially not sure I could go as I feel a bit overwhelmed with all the work I’ve got at the moment, but I do have to try to have a life and so we drove up in the afternoon after a couple more house viewings (one gorgeous, but on a busy road, and the other totally inappropriate).

Boyf has never been to Birmingham so I went into show-off mode as I do like the city and what’s been achieved – it’s why I set The Starter Marriage there. We stayed at Malmaison in the Mailbox development – hotel was very swish and though I’d read bad things about service on the tripadvisor website (my bible whenever I’m booking an hotel), they’d obviously sent them all to Charm School as they were all very concerned about my onward journey etc etc. You also get lovely big bottles of shower gel to take away.

My friend gave us a lift out to the party, which was tremendous fun. Two perfect hostesses, birthday girl Alison plus Julie, made sure our glasses were topped up and our plates full, with the consequence that I had hiccups for a good hour.

Up early the next morning, with a hangover, and off to the north to see some relatives I haven’t seen for ages. One is house-bound and the other, her husband, cares for her full-time which means he also struggles to get out and contact the outside world. Am trying to convince them that buying a computer is the way forward, as I honestly believe it would transform their lives. We hear so much about spamming and phishing and all the dodgy emails offering drugs and porn, yet for people like them it could make such a difference. Fingers crossed they’re able to do it.

And now I am preparing myself mentally for my time in The Chair. Thanks for the tips. I will try to regard it as a research experience for future pieces that might involve dentistry. Or something like that.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Once again via Karin Gillespie here are here are Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing. I have, alas, broken most of these in my time, though I think I get better as my experience grows! How about you?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Crown Chronicles part 1

Word Count: 39,488 (wow, a whole 12 words in five days)

I am now getting cold calls from my dentist. Well, not cold exactly. If I'd known who is was, I wouldn't have answered but I assumed it was just another estate agent ringing with some hopelessly unsuitable house.

Instead it was the dentist warning me that all their prices will double in April and so 'we thought you might like to finish your treatment before then.' This is the crown I was meant to have before Christmas and keep putting off, despite the ache.

I know, I know. It's pathetic. A grown woman with a fear of the dentist. Once I went eight years without going.

Anyhow, the thought of it being painful AND costing double has finally forced me to go next week. Does anyone have any tips for calming yourself beforehand? Rescue Remedy doesn't even touch the sides.

In other news, I've printed off the first (nearly) 40,000 words and am going to do some editing over the weekend. I've been working out some of my supplementary characters' journeys as well. Like Brown Owl's Guide to Life, the new book has two timeframes, present-day plus an early 80s narrative, so I am trying to plot connections and make the transitions smooth and also increase the resonance. I never really used to do this kind of work in this way, but I do think that as I become more sophisticated - or at least, as I want to try new things to keep my own momentum and enthusiasm - it becomes more important to strive to add meaning, without swamping the story or becoming too portentous.

On the leisure front, went out last night with my friend for a curry in central London, but we are so sad that we both actually prefer Sainsbury's Sag Paneer to the restaurant version, which was cold and a bit tasteless. This weekend, me and boyf are hoping to head up north to see some people. Trouble is, snow is forecast so it might be a rather arduous journey. All it takes is four flakes and the British transport infrastructure goes into meltdown.

Lovely Link of the Day:
More than anything else, I associate Martin Amis with teeth, having read Experience in which he goes on at length about his root canal treatment. I bet this is not how most people think of him and only proves my shallowness. Searching for entries on this one I found a horrible piece from the Guardian about British Teeth. Yuk. This is not helpful.

I have also just finished The Lincoln Lawyer. Actually I finished it at 2am today, just after a power cut which made me convinced an attacker had pulled the plug and was about to break in. Not helped by the fact that boyf had gone on big night out. Great book, incredibly tense, even though it's not a genre I usually read.