Change…

I’m not gonna lie, this week has been a struggle both personally & professionally. We seem to have stepped into a world where humanity and what it means to be human have been trumped (literally) by the fissures which cut in and divide us. I have watched with sadness and disbelief as things I never thought possible have stampeded across all of the goodness and kindness that exists. Our world is broken, we are broken. The more I watch events roll out in front of me, the more I’m convinced we are at the pinnacle of a ‘now or never’ moment. We have but a small window, an opportunity to stand up and help to heal our broken world.

But I’m afraid we’ll miss it, that we’ll be so caught up in ourselves that we won’t understand or see our one chance for real change. But you know what? Self awareness is a wonderful thing, and I have been heartened to see a collective consciousness take hold across the world. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that unity affects change.

If by reading this it’s made you think about how you, as one person can help to rid our world of the two deadly virus’s which plague it, Corona Virus and racism then that is a good thing. I’m not saying come up with an overnight fix which can fast track us to utopia, but by shining a light in the dark corners we can make it known neither are welcome here. We have been given the ability to write a new book, to write our chapter of history. What is it we want to be remembered for?

International Woman’s Day 2020

Happy International Women’s Day brothers and sisters! In celebration I wanted to share with you some of the woman writers whose books have inspired me over the last 5 or so years. This is by no means a complete list, and given eternity perhaps I could fill it. I have highlighted only the last 5 years because we all know the classics which have been listed to death! The books on my ever growing list are those which for one reason or another have had a profound effect on me. Books can do so many things, they can educate, inspire and help you make sense of the world. Any book that makes me feel is more precious than gold, and the books listed below did exactly that. As the wonderful Maya Angelou said


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

If you haven’t read some of these books I would urge you most strongly to seek them out and allow them to work their magic. In no particular order…

  • Sealskin ~ Su Bristow
  • The Goldfinch ~ Donna Tartt
  • The Hiding Places ~ Kathryn Webb
  • A Little Life ~ Hanya Yanagihara
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine ~ Gail Honeymoon
  • The Salt Path ~ Raynor Winn
  • The Giver of Stars ~ Jojo Moyes
  • Grown Ups ~ Marian Keyes
  • The Binding ~ Bridget Collins
  • The Miniaturist ~ Jessie Burton

You can find all links below. Happy reading!

What lies within your heart?

Today I happened upon this quote. It spoke to my heart so I thought I would share it.

“At heart write always for yourself, not for family and friends, for admired teachers, for reviewers or publishers; but make sure you write from your real self, not that one besotted by vain glorious dreams of a future self. One day you will realize that the true rewards of writing lie inalienably in the writing itself.”

John Fowles

Photo by Ileana Skakun on Unsplash

A Charmed Life ~ The Importance of Character Flaws

Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!

A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!

Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.

As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.

As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!

They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!

We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.

I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!

Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!

So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…

 

Are you ready to get into the water? Photo by Francisco Jesús Navarro Hernández on Unsplash

 

Early Bird or Night Owl?

I have been musing recently about optimising the time I spend writing – or, to be more accurate, the time I spend thinking about writing!

My writing seems to follow a seasonal pattern. In the spring and summer months I write more effectively in the early mornings. During the autumn and winter that drive for early morning words is reversed. The dark evenings beckon and I sit and commune until the wee hours. Is this true of other writers I wondered.Does seasonality play a role?

Taking that thought further, I wondered if seasons not only direct when I write, but what I write. I can’t say as I’ve delved into this too deeply, but I’m sure it’s one of those interesting facts someone somewhere must know!

Moving sideways, I was curious to discover whether I adopted a ‘default’ season in my writing. A quick bit of analysis said not. It appears I write across all seasons. My current season of choice is winter. During Forbidden Colours it was most definitely Autumn. So, does any of this matter? No, not unless you are me! I am sadly time poor. I needed to know when I worked best, and if any of it had become habitual. It is of course habitual by the fact that I try to write each day, but, thankfully, what I write is still as free and unpredictable as it’s always been.

The #5amwritersclub is where it’s all happening right now and I busy with another edit on my historical fiction novel. It has become like an old friend and I look forward to moving it forward each day, even if it’s only a few words. As they say ‘every little helps’.

Life in the Fitton house is as chaotic as usual. It is exam season, conference season and time to sort the garden out season!

Do you have a preferred time of day to write or a ‘go to’ season? Do let me know.

If you’re not a writer, do you find seasonality plays a part in what you do? Pop a comment below… until next time adieu.

Photo: Cliff Johnson at Unsplash

Me, Agatha and The Snow….

I can hardly believe it was only two weeks ago that myself and four very talented ladies got together for the most magical of experiences. The occasion was a writing retreat, but my lovelies, this was not just any writing retreat. This was a magical adventure, held in the most magical of places.

Heartfelt thanks go to Rosie Longstocking from Greenacre writers who organised the retreat. We were treated to four days at Agatha Christie’s summer home – Greenway in Devon. Yes, that is what I said, I stayed at Agatha Christie’s summer home!!

My goal was to complete the first full edit of my historical thriller and to tighten and rework the first few pages.

Having never met the other writers I was apprehensive. In the days leading up to the retreat, I wondered why I had been so cavalier in signing up, but as they say, he who dares and all that. Maybe I am not as introverted as I like to think!

My worries soon disappeared on meeting these fine ladies. They were funny, friendly, and oh my, so talented!

We shared meals, taking it in turns to cook (who knew you couldn’t make rice pudding with Basmati rice??). The rest of the time was self-directed.

What followed were periods of procrastination involving – long walks, visits to the boathouse, a scoot around Agatha’s house, another visit to the boathouse, discussions concerning impending snow, attempting to find a phone signal, yet another visit to the boathouse – you get the picture… until….. finally…. I began to write!

It worked! Whether it was Agatha sending me good vibes, the wonderful company, or the location I know not. What I do know is that it was my perfect storm – I wrote my heart out. I was spurred on by receiving news that one of my short stories had been shortlisted in The Fiction Factory short story competition.

I can happily report that my edit got completed and my pages got tightened (nowhere else will you ever hear me say those words). And here’s the best bit ….. it was fun!

Between us, we created an environment that was supportive, encouraging and creative…. I think Agatha would have been pleased. Her sanctuary for those few days also became ours, and we flourished.

Highlights included:

Episodes of Poirot

The Boathouse

Writing

Stunning views

Laughing a lot

Playing story cubes after several sherbets!

Reading with the girls

Writing some more

Camillias

Snow

Finding Ingrid in the bathroom writing!

Eating

Making lists

Cooking

Continuing to write

Ladies in the gift shop

Murder….

Got ya! There were no murders, well not real ones!

There really were so many special moments.

Our adventure continued when we came to depart. As had been predicted, the snow came. A frantic half hour ensued. We debated whether or not to ‘wait and see’ and risk getting snowed in, or to depart. I think it was Agatha’s way of trying to keep us there… ‘Five Get Snowed in at Greenway’… Logic got the better of us and we left. The snow continued to fall… heavily, and so began the long haul back to our own worlds. We got stuck on a snowy hill, stuck trying to leave Torquay (roads closed due to snow), snow, snow and more snow fell. Thankfully we all made it home safe and sound.

Jane Lomas, Rosie Longstocking, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Michelle Cunnah – you ladies rock!

To coin a phrase – It really was the best of times!

Five Go to Greenway…. there needs to be a sequel!

Photos courtesy of: Rosie Longstocking, Jane Lomas and Nicole Fitton

View from the path

 

Karma Camillias…

Agatha’s House Greenway. My room is top right with the window slightly open.

Spot the difference! The first fluttering of snow!

The famous Boathouse

Room with a view

Murder… did someone mention murder? Our living room.

View from my room…

Me and Jane, Jane and me and a very big window!

The lady herself!

Here come the girls

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

Movin on Up ~ Driving Your Story Forward

    We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.

     Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.

    I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:

    – Who the hell wrote this?

    – Oh, that’s rather good 

    – What a load of tosh!

    It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.

    I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !

    I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….