Feed Your Soul ~ Ramblings of a Writer

There really is nothing finer than writing – except perhaps reading. Both provide food for my soul. There are times when the words refuse to come, so I read. Then, there are the times when all I want to do is read, and so, I don’t write. They are two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked by my imagination which flows to and from the words on the page and, as much as it pains me, I love it with all my heart.

Yes, dear reader, it pains me – big deep unabashed stabbing pains of self-doubt and inadequacy fill me. A sense of never getting it quite right sits on my shoulder in judgment as I type away. I often wonder where the words come from and at times am left questioning if it really was me that put them there! Perhaps the words are using me, not I them?  A conduit by any other name but a conduit no less. Weird? Not really. Who knows where the words come from. All I know is they burn images and sentences within me that do not abate until they are released.

Each day is a battle to continue, to sit and know that most of what I will write will be dross and disappointing, yet it is because it is dross that I continue. It was Beckett who said ‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, and that is what I intend to do ‘fail better’.

Don’t get me wrong there are victories, small quiet ‘pat myself on the back’ victories and it is these that make my heart sing. Moments of self-congratulation, however, do not stay long, they are fleeting and come crashing to the floor at every given opportunity.

Sometimes the words I smugly admired not 24 hours before have, overnight, magically transformed into the worst sentences I have ever written! On rare occasions, the opposite is also true and I dance for hours, complimenting myself on such skillful wordplay. But…. when I am there, like really there, in the zone, allowing myself to freefall into the words, there really is no place I’d rather be. It is food for my soul and I love it!

‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’.

Samuel Beckett

My Reading Challenge 2018

So 2018 – how’s it going?

For me, this year will be about reading more and writing more, oh, and parties, I have a few of those to organise too!

Today I’m going to focus on the ‘reading more’ aspect of my year ahead. Whilst I have committed to read 60 books I didn’t want to leave it there. I wanted to be a little more adventerous and give myself a few parameters. Hopefully I’ll be able to find new unexplored (by me) bookish delights. If you’re a list person then please feel free to jump onboard and join in.

I shall endeavour to keep you posted. My task is simple – to read books that fall into the categories below. To help keep me on track I’ve designed a nifty bar chart – who doesn’t love a bar chart! I shall feel like a right clever clogs if I manage to adhere to my bookish plan into February never mind December!

Here’s my list:

Read a book that is /was……

1. Written by a Devon-based author (excluding myself obvs)

2. Historical

3. A comedy

4. Contains a month of the year in its title

5. A classic children’s book not yet read by me

6. Published in the year of my birth ( not quite a classic yet… hehe)

7. A fantasy novel

8. Written by a new author

9. Set in Africa

10. About mental health

11. Set in India

12. Contains a song lyric in its title

Whoa! That is a whole heap of mischief right there, I reckon I’m going to be hitting the bookshop and the library this weekend to see what I can find.

As you can see my bar graph looks a bit sorry for itself right now and a bit blurry, no I’ve not been on the wine – January is a dry month for me! Hopefully, over the next few weeks, I shall be adding a multitude of colourful lines and colourful reads to my chart. I’m hoping to average 5 books a month. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of neat reads, which fit into the categories above I’d love to hear them. Please pop a comment in the comment box below.

NIC’S 2018 READING ADVENTURE

 

Is It Friday Already?

Boom! Shake – shake – shake the room! Where did this week go? Sorry for bringing the DJ Jazzy Jeff ear-worm out to play (I bet you can’t get rid of it now…. apologies). So this week…..did it really fly? Perhaps it was my time spent up in the clouds that prompted today’s post (have a look at my lovely photo)

I found myself quite literally blue sky thinking …see what I did there? You would think a smooth flight, time on my hands, me, a captive audience of one would provide ample opportunities for those words to flow.. eh.. No. As Dr Seuss so skilfully put it ‘Oh the things you can think’. Therein lies my problem – too much thinking! Whether it was the recycled air or the lack of adequate leg room I’m not sure, but thoughts raced through my mind at the speed of… well, the speed of Concorde (yes, I’m old enough to remember Concorde). Ideas whizzed around my head so quickly they didn’t stop long enough for me to capture them. A good problem to have. Usually, staring out of an airplane window results in, well…just staring.

So, why am I telling you this? Yes, why indeed. Because sometimes, it’s OK. It’s OK not to capture every idea, every phrase. It’s OK to let the heat escape out of the roof. By allowing my ideas to come and go I felt I was just allowing myself to think in no particular way, about no particular thing, and do you know what? I felt more refreshed stepping off that plane than I had done in ages. Some people call it daydreaming, perhaps it was. What it wasn’t was planned, focused or structured!

It’s now Friday, my to-do list has grown and I haven’t written very much at all this week, but that’s alright, tomorrow is just around the corner. As if DJ Jazzy Jeff wasn’t bad enough, I shall leave you thinking about those immortal lines from Pharrell Williams:

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I’m happy

Life in the Fast Lane…

I know, I know. I have been a bit neglectful of you lovely people recently. I wholeheartedly apologise. I feel as if I have been living in the fast lane but without the F1 shizzle that goes with it!
In a nutshell, and hopefully without boring you beautiful folks, here’s how I’ve been keeping out of trouble:

I have been watching some of this…..

Visiting universities…

Found a few of these bad boys… yep in a field! Who would have thought it?

And as if that was not enough, I have been getting stuck in lots of traffic, Devon style 

 

So, there you have it my friends, I blinked and missed most of September and some of October. In addition, I have been editing ’til my heart’s content. The finishing touches are being added to my collection of short stories and my historical fiction novel is…well, let’s just say I am investing in some new red pens! I promise to get my groove back shortly and will be boring you all silly with my random posts.. Until then enjoy lots and lots of this…..

What have you guys been up to? Please leave a comment below…

Photo by Brigitte Thom courtesy of Unsplash

 

Getting Your Head Down Whilst Keeping it in The Clouds

There comes a time in every writer’s life when all good things must come to an end right? Ah, I see I have your attention ……

I’m talking about editing the beast of a novel I have just completed. Hold on, did I say completed?? Yes, yes I did. Since completion, I have randomly danced around the house teaching my dog 1980s dance moves and spontaneously burst into song. All done much to the embarrassment of above my kids. I have taken myself and above-mentioned hound on long bracing walks and eaten my weight in chocolate. I am soooo rock and roll.

Whilst one major milestone has been uncoupled, another has landed firmly in its place.This one is bright red and has the word ‘EDIT‘ written in big bold scary letters.This time I have decided on a different approach to the ‘E’ word. I have parked feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. I have ditched worrying about cutting too much or too little. I have adopted a different mind set.

In business, there is often talk of improving by 1%. Here’s the concept. Sir David Brailsford – coach to the British Cycling Team believes in a concept called “the aggregation of marginal gains”. He explains it as “the 1% margin for improvement in everything you do”. His belief is that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, then those small gains will add up to remarkable improvement. The British Cycling Team went from winning nothing to winning everything including the Tour de France. Now I am not suggesting I ride a bike, although lord knows I should after my calorific dalliance with cocoa based confectionery. No, I am going to adopt the 1% marginal gains principals for my editing.

The cyclists started by optimising things that were easy to improve. They changed their seats or improved their tyres that sort of thing. For me, that translated to checking my grammar and punctuation. The stuff I would ordinarily do,  but my aim was to do it better. Are you with me so far? OK, next the cyclists looked at the small insignificant things. Things that were over looked that nobody really noticed. They looked at things such as the pillows in hotel rooms, were they comfortable enough to aid restful sleep? So how could I apply this to my writing? What were the small things I had overlooked that could be tweaked and improved? I had to be brutally honest with myself. Was every word needed? If I could answer yes immediately I left it alone. If however, the answer I gave was more wishy washy then I applied further pressure.

Here’s an example. Adverbs. Oh, I love them! I know I love them and I know I use them excessively. Here’s what I mean. Consider this sentence:

‘Anna ran quickly across the car park, she looked back fearfully’.

Now whilst there is nothing wrong per-say it could be better, way better. In its current form, it is bulky and clumsy. Now compare it to this:

‘Anna ran across the car park, fear biting at her back’.

I ditched the adverbs, the result is a much punchier sentence. My 1% was staring me in the face with a wicked ‘I told you so’ grin.

Two days in and I am happy to report the editing is going well. I have settled into a new routine and I may even have time to go for a out for a bike ride!

 

Photo by Nikki Varkevisser Available at Flickr

 

Book 4

Now then you lovely ones, whilst you lot have been busy sunning yourselves I have been chipping away at the iceberg that is book 4. I am pleased to report progress is good. Book 4 is turning into a beaut. I’m over 70,000 words and estimate another 20,000 and I’ll be finished. Slashing and burning comes next (no it’s not a horror story), courtesy of a rather large red pen. Standing as judge and jury as each word fights for its right to be included is my least favourite part of the writing process. My approach of ‘harsh but fair’  should serve me well as I critically eye each phrase, each beat. Yes, these are fine words, the reality my friends is less so. Thing is, I’m a big softy. Each word will have me fighting for it too easily. The game of ‘keep or kill’ is never easy. It may take me some time, perhaps years, don’t hold your breath!

A quick glance backward confirms this has been my most challenging adventure to date. Let me explain, book 4 is a historical thriller. And your point is what? I hear you ask. I have never written anything vaguely historical unless you count writing about the 1980s in which case I’m an expert! Thrillers are my bag but not historical ones… yet. I have found a new appreciation for authors who write in this genre. In my small Devonshire world, I have elevated them to Godlike status. The sheer amount of research and tenacity needed is overwhelming. Book 4 has been a fascinating and exhausting experience.

It is set in 1912, a period of time which until recently I knew very little about. I had given up studying history at 16. My class had been too busy obsessing about the Tudors to pay any attention to something only a hundred years ago. As my protagonist kept piling on the pressure (‘are you going to write this book then or what? type of thing), I cast my eyes heavenward and set to it. My wish was and still is that my novel would be able to conjure up a real sense of the time and the place in which it’s set. I want my readers to get under the skin of the protagonist and use her eyes to see into her world. It is a world she has slowly been revealing to me. I had the story, a good plot and a very willful lead character, what I lacked was the historical accuracy. If I was serious about this book I had to do it justice. I  threw myself headlong into every piece of historical anything I could find from 1900 to 1920. I wanted to immerse myself. If it hadn’t been for my protagonist Virginia Penrose taking up residence in my head and refusing to leave I would still be clueless. If like me your knowledge of this time period is woefully light then take a leaf from my book (yes, deliberate pun intended) and read everything you can. It was a time of great change, a time when women had the courage to stand up for themselves. It hadn’t happened in isolation. The volcanic eruption that ensued had been bubbling away for centuries. My book is completely fictional, however, the time line is real. I have had to walk a delicate tightrope of marrying my ideas with the age in which they are set. Did people really think like that, what were the personal challenges, what were the expectations? I wanted to make it as realistic for the time as I could. Some things made the cut some did not.The joy has been watching not just my protagonist grow but also myself. Trying to get into the mind of a twenty something is never easy. Coupled with a backward time jump of over 100 years could be compared to how our younger generation of teens now views anyone older than 30. We have grown up in a different age, with different world views and collective opinions, some would say a different language too IMHO – see what I mean!

I have felt privileged to have the magic of a new book birthed before my very eyes. The most surprising part has been the challenges it has thrown my way. I have been challenged to re think assumptions which I had held without care or consideration. I watched them crumble and fall as I realised they were incorrect. It has been wonderful. I hope before long I will be able to present book 4 to you, red pens and editors permitting.

Now then what of book 3?

Soaring ~ My collection of short stories is due later this year. It is bright and bold and would make a perfect Christmas gift. Christmas, did I mention Christmas? Shameless, absolutely shameless!

 

D is for Dialogue ~ Keep it Real

I like a good bit of dialogue, a bit of banter, a bit of he said she said but…. and it is a very big but (not mine, although mine is rather large and has 2 t’s) only in small doses! There I’ve said it. Dialogue that goes on for pages bores me and can slow the pace of a book no end. I do not profess to be an expert, I just know what I like. As a general rule three sentences are about right for me before the red mist descends. If you have a character who is angry or needs to speak for longer try to break it up either with another character cutting in or action. What’s their body language saying, are their arms flailing, is their face reddening? You get the idea. The point behind dialogue is to make it seem real.Now then, whilst we are on the subject of dialogue another pet hate of mine is name calling.You want your character to be believable, yes? So why continuously use their names? Here’s what I mean. Meet Alan. Alan works with Jan and has done for five years. Whenever Alan speaks to Jan this is what he sounds like:

‘Hi Jan, how was that restaurant last night?

‘Well Alan it was really nice’

‘ I’m glad to hear that Jan’

‘Yes Alan I would highly recommend it’

AARRGGGGHHHHH…….. No, no,no,no,no. Unless you are writing comedy (in which case it is funny and reminiscent of Gavin & Stacey) do not do it – it is not real! It sounds wooden and flat and well… yuk! Remember, less is more. If in doubt speak it out (oh, I quite like that). If it doesn’t sound right to you think about how it’s going to sound to your readers.

OK, so now we’ve sorted out Alan & Jan here’s a question for you – Do you need it? The dialogue that is. Is its presence warranted? As with all things bookish it has to have a reason to be there in the first place. So, with your hand on heart should it stay or should it go? To help you decide here are a few questions to ask before letting yourself lose with the scary red pen:

  1. Are you advancing the plot? By that I mean building suspense, revealing something new that was not known before. Well, are you?
  2. Are you introducing, revealing or changing your character’s relationships? In Forbidden Colours, Midori Yates talks about her family a lot. It was a way for me reveal the importance of her family. Dialogue is a great way to add depth to your character and reveal sides to them not yet seen or known.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on dialogue. Here’s to dialogue being sharp and to the point – I know, I know, time to leave! Next week I shall take a look at small touches that can make a big difference to dialogue. D is also for dog and mine is biting at my heels wanting to go on an adventure. So, for now, I bid you adieu…

Please feel free to comment and/or share  🙂 Have a great weekend people!

 

FC Book and looking glass

Cover Reveal ~ Soaring ~ A Collection of Short Stories

Whilst work continues on books 3 and 4 I have been busy beavering away with my short story collection. For those of you that know me a short story collection will come as no surprise. I love the short form in all its gloriousness and have over the last few years built up an eclectic body of work. My shorts range from humorous and funny, to poignant and sad with everything in between. Each story ranges in length from 500 words up to 3,000. Many have been entered into competitions with the title piece ‘Soaring’ being shortlisted and featured in the Black Pear Press anthology for 2016.

I wrote my first short story in 2015. I had just finished reading fellow author Wayne Barton’s ghost story ‘Coal House’, which btw I would highly recommend. It stirred me to move out of my comfort zone. I did not want to write a ghost story, but I did want to try something new. I have always been a fan of short stories and toyed with the idea of giving it a go. I had just completed my debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties and was thinking about writing Forbidden Colours. I put pen to paper and wrote my first piece of short fiction ‘6 months and 3 days’ over the course of an evening. It was 500 words long. The experience of using so few words to convey an entire story had made my mind do mental gymnastics but I loved it. I was unsure what I should do with it, so in typical fashion, I jumped in feet first and entered it into a flash fiction competition. I then forgot about it and got on with the task in hand – writing what would subsequently become Forbidden Colours.
A month or so later I heard I hadn’t won, I had not expected to, but I was shortlisted which was a big surprise. During a lull in proceedings with FC, I challenged myself a bit further and wrote ‘Come Tilly Come’, a 2,000-word tale of love and loss. I showed it to my sister and it made her cry, which was a good thing! CTC was longlisted in the Exeter Short Story Competition. It was another lovely surprise and gave me the confidence I needed to continue writing shorts as and when I could.
When I’m writing novels I like to step away from them to regroup and gather my thoughts. It’s what I need to do to maintain my sanity! Writing short stories to enable me to do that. They plug the void, making me think in different ways about everyday things and I love it. It’s a bit like therapy. What is it they say, a change is as good as a rest? Well, that’s certainly true in my case. I have to deliberate so hard over every single word it’s a real lesson in disciplined concentration! Once I’ve rewarded myself by writing a short story I returned energised to my larger pieces of work.

Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you short stories are easy to write – they are not. Every word needs to be needed, every word needs to count and every word needs to propel the story forward. So here I am, almost ready to release my first collection. It is scary and exciting.
‘Soaring’ is a story that features in the collection. It is a tale of marital abuse and the oppression of women. It is my favourite short story and it arrived quite by accident. One night whilst I was watching TV, I got up from the sofa, reached for my notepad and pen and started to write. By 2 am ‘Soaring’ had arrived.
There is something quite magical and edgy about crafting words to a defined number. Short stories stretch me in a way that screams ‘pay attention, it’s important’ and that’s what appeals. Whilst I have a little way to go before it’s release I wanted to show you its’ beautiful cover. Once again James at goonwrite.com has done me proud. He has designed all of my covers to date and they are all stunning. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you ‘Soaring’. I hope you love the cover as much as I do.

Do you or have you ever thought about writing short stories? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Pop a comment below.

 

Soaring - High Resolution

What Are You Reading?

I blinked and seem to have missed most of the month of May. It proved to be a busy time in the Fitton household. In between having my head stuck in a book and writing, I hardly came up for air. Apart from going to work and walking the dog –  two things I have to do otherwise I’d get fired! Oh, and keeping the fridge full for exam stressed teens, that is ongoing! Who knew food shopping could be such a source of inspiration?  My birthday at the beginning of last month seems like a lifetime away. It can’t be June, can it?  During the month of May, I wrote and read my socks off. I managed to read 7 books, write over 7,000 words and entered 3 short story competitions. Not bad for someone whose day job involves a lot of travel eh?  Oh, and I made some mean meringues – more on those later. I’m really not looking for a pat on the back (well apart from the meringues, they were rather good). What surprised me was the number of books I read. Usually, I find myself at the other end of the spectrum, we’ve all been there, right? – End of the month and you are still trying to get beyond page 50 of book one? Thought so. Last month, however, marked a change for me. I added early mornings to my late night reading ritual and… ta da… more books read. Rocket science it was not. I even had time to make those stellar meringues everyone is talking about…. I confess… it’s me, just me talking about them. I’m sure others would have talked about them had they lasted long enough. Remember the crazed… sorry, stressed teens? Nuff said. Now, where was I?… Ah yes…books. The number of exciting new books around is staggering. I have been pleasantly surprised and found myself marveling at the beauty of the language, and the complexity of the plots. My taste is quite eclectic, I read pretty much any genre. Sadly, Not every book last month was a winner. They fell into three distinct categories – the good, the bad and the ugly. No, I’m not going to divulge which ones got the rotten tomato award. Suffice to say, more were good than bad! So, onwards I go, armed with a Kindle full of adventure. So what am I reading this month? Here’s what’s on my list so far:

Hear Me ~Julia North

Stillhouse Lake ~ Rachel Caine

Finding Miranda ~ Iris Chacon

If I am to match or even better last month I need some suggestions. Ahem… (clears throat loudly).. This is where you come in. What would you recommend adding to Junes list? What are you reading? As I said, eclectic taste, so please pop your suggestions in the comments below and I shall give them a go.

Oh, the meringues? Yes, I promised you more, brace yourselves….  Meringues

 

Opening Lines… Getting Hooked!

Today has been a very good day. Today I have managed to finish another 3,000 words and it is only 3 pm! Not bad, not bad at all. By way of a reward, yes I do need to reward myself, I have started on the chocolate. Lindt chocolate with hazelnuts to be precise. Now 4 squares in, I’m starting to feel a bit sick. I love chocolate but it must be said I am a light weight. The same is not true of wine. Wine deserves a blog post all to itself! I digress, now where was I?…Ah yes, today has proved to be a good writing day. If I had to sum it up in one word I would say ‘hooked’. Yep, that’s what I want my readers to be, hooked from the very beginning, in a way that is entertaining and keeps them turning the pages. Managing hooks and the expectations around them are never far from my mind. I worry a lot, about pretty much everything, but I especially worry about the beginning of a book and how much to reveal straight up. Are the first few pages interesting enough to warrant continued effort? Have I revealed too much too soon? It is a dilemma, a happy dilemma to have, but only when you get it right!

If you don’t get the beginning right nothing will fit correctly. Hooks are, in my opinion, inextricably linked to the first few pages. Of course, they feature throughout your story especially in thrillers and suspense novels. However, it is the beginning which will set the tone and pace, and push your story forward. You know when you’ve got it right because everything slots into place. Like a good solid jigsaw puzzle, the whole picture starts to emerge as each piece is placed correctly. Today has been a ‘placing the pieces correctly’ kind of day and I am over the moon.

I want my readers to open my first page and be transported into a personal version of the world I’ve created. Today my 3000 words flowed with ease because I reworked the beginning. Yep, I went back to the beginning, red pen and all. Earlier this week writing had been a  struggle. I sat, looking at a radiant blank screen. It remained blank for the whole day! There was nothing for it but to go back to the beginning and try to figure out what was going on, and that’s when I realised some of the pieces had been misplaced. I shifted around a few key sentences and rearranged those opening lines and viola! Success!

You get one shot and one shot only at asking readers to invest their time and emotions into your book. They will want a return on that investment. Your opening is your big reveal, you do not want to disappoint. Being able to fulfill your readers’ anticipation and carry them with you as the story develops is the most amazing feeling, as I said, you do not want to disappoint. If you lose a reader at the beginning it will be hard to pull them back, first impressions really do count! So with that in mind, I have put together a few questions that I asked myself when I faced the dreaded blank screen! Challenge yourself and ask yourself the same questions, you may find they help you complete your own puzzle. Sometimes you have to write the opening last, sometimes you have to write it or rewrite it midway through, as in my case. Whenever you turn to the opening, make sure you give it your full attention.

  1. Have I grabbed the readers attention within the first few paragraphs?
  2. Have I grabbed them firmly or is it more of a gentle nudge? ~ If it’s a gentle nudge rewrite.
  3. Is the opening talking to the readers I’m trying to attract?  ~ No good telling them about lemons when the rest of the book is about pears!
  4. Am I showing or telling?  ~ Show, always, no telling…
  5. Is there emotion? ~ Are my readers able to feel the pain, anger, happiness, envy, love etc.
  6. Is my narrative voice compelling? ~ Can readers connect to my protagonist’s voice.
  7. Why here? Is the starting point a pivotal moment.
  8. Am I intrigued, do I want to know more?

My favourite opening lines are from Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, what’s yours? Please leave a comment below I’d love to know!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times