Restoration Reflections

After the week I’ve had (I know it’s only Tuesday) all I needed to do was to lie quietly in a dark room and recharge. After a super early start and a 5-mile walk with the naughty dog, I sat down to write. It was to be my quiet time, my time to complete another round in my (editing) chamber of hell. That reminds me, my third novel, I’m pleased to report is being tweaked and polished… Again! As a distraction, I wanted to work on something that did not involve a red pen and lines.

For inspiration, I looked through projects I’d begun and not finished. Works which for whatever reason I’d put onto the back burner but didn’t burn. Maybe secretly deep down I hoped they could be resurrected. After all, where there’s life there’s hope, right?

I spend the first hour or so on the internet doing ‘research’ (OK… randomly doing anything but writing), then set to it.

I had two lightbulb moments –

‘who the hell wrote this dross?’ and ‘some of this isn’t that bad.’

The dross has now gone to the log basket to be ‘recycled’ – the rest? Well, the rest is being restored and will be looking for a home in the not so distant future. Onwards people onwards…

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

 

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….

    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

     

    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

    Oscar The Alien ~ A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine

    I first met Oscar last summer. He was compiling an ‘Interstellar Travel Guide to the Solar System’. His travels had taken him far and wide, covering thousands of light years in search of the next ‘big thing’. We sit on the veranda and watch the sun continue its rise high above the Montserrat Mountains. I give him quick sideways glances and tell him he is lucky to have landed in Spain. Oscar watches me intently as I fill his glass with my favourite Cava; his three purple eyes full of wonder. He sniffs it tentatively before drinking the lot. As I refill his glass his skin starts to change colour from a deep moss green to mustard yellow. He assures me this is a good sign.
    “We are the third largest wine producer on the planet,” I say helpfully.
    “You mean there is more of this… where?” Oscar licks his lips and holds up the now empty glass.
    I take him on a tour of the vineyards. It is the most surreal wine tasting tour I have ever conducted. Over the course of the next six hours, we talk and drink. I tell him about Earth, about Spain, its peoples, and traditions. I tell of the historic and celebratory importance of wine, of the differences the soil and climate make to its taste and flavour. He listens attentively as I discuss the centuries of love and dedication given by each generation to the vineyards. He sips each glass I offer, holding it first like a precious jewel, his skin changing colour with each sample. The Cava makes his skin turn yellow again, whilst the big bold Tempranillo makes him glow red like a fire truck! His colour changing extravaganza seems restricted to the colours of the Spanish flag and I smile. If I have learned only one thing today it is that Aliens can hold their drink!
    Earth he says will not be featured in the ‘Interstellar Travel Guide’ and my heart sinks. Oscar is at pains to explain that this is, in fact, a good thing, a very good thing. No other planet compares to the beauty he has found on Earth and none have such treasure as Spanish wine – he should know! He will direct future travellers to Jupiter, and we shall be safe from an influx of interplanetary travellers. He, however, shall be coming back next year. I agree to act as his guide and excitedly chart out a road trip from Madrid to Bilbao via https://winetourismspain.com/ . He is particularly keen to visit more vineyards!
    Boarding his spacecraft he bids me farewell offering out his large green hand. Spain he tells me shall always have a special place in both his hearts! I raise my glass as he disappears into the starlit sky. I await his return with anticipation, I am already dreaming about the wines we shall discover. I am happy to have met Oscar and glad that Spain will be his solar secret!

     

    Road_trips_in_Spain

     

     

    April 1st 2017 ~ Brace Yourselves…

    The ultimate in fake news April 1st, 2017 does not disappoint. Here’s my top five ‘fake news’ favourites.

    1. Skin & Tonic ~ The Gin Spa. If only this were true! Those clever people at Groupon have even come up with a short advert on YouTube. The blurb reads:

    “Groupon has teamed up with June Iper, the creative director behind London-based spa, Skin & Tonic, to create a gin inspired wellness experience. Instead of regular steam, the water used is infused with a high-quality gin that contains botanicals including coriander seeds, orris root and cassia bark.”

     

    Superb right? The possibilities are endless – Prosecco Spa, Red Wine Spa, Rum Spa….

    2. Google Wind – Why not? As it continues its plan for world domination why not invent a windmill to blow away the clouds? It gets my vote!

     

     

    3. Not to be outdone Amazon have done themselves proud… Introducing the Petlexa via Amazon Echo. It allows your pet to place orders for themselves with Amazon. Just think if it were true. You arrive home to discover a hundred weight of gravy bones and sausages!

     

    4. One for all you drivers out there. Honda Dream Laboratories present to you an emoji driver to driver communication system. Offering drivers expressive horn sounds matched to a variety of emojis! Check them out..

    https://youtu.be/B1qmmf6cYow

    5. Last but by no means least Google Japan have outdone themselves. Introducing the bubble wrap keyboard! Ah but it is so much more. It’s a keyboard, a stress reliever, and an olfactory sensation!

    So there you have it. A bit of light-hearted fun to make you smile on a Saturday. What April Fools fakery have you come across? Please leave me a comment.

    A Snapshot from my Mind….. February

    I had no idea I would be so happy to see the start of February. January was full of the ‘T’ word and the news from everywhere was depressing. February already feels more… dare I say it – optimistic! With a rather large spring in my step I am heading for my first ever writers retreat. I have some idea of what to expect, although my knowledge of such gatherings is based on my own expectations more than fact! I hope there shall be lots of writing, not much procrastination and perhaps a glass or two of some nice fizz. Do I expect too much? Quite possibly! I shall report back next week on my findings.

    Work with my latest muse Virginia continues and is proving enlightening. Virginia Penrose is developing into an interesting character with a lot to say! I hope my retreat shall give me a chance to get to know her better. I can tell you the book is set around 1910. Whilst doing my research I came across this old photograph which sums up what’s going on in my head perfectly!

     

    Picadilly London 1910

    The Joys of Formatting an eBook

    I have spent the best part of today getting my head around formatting my forthcoming release Forbidden Colours for  eReaders. Oh the pain, I would rather be sticking pins in my eyes! I have neck ache, back ache and am in urgent need of wine – which, I have promised myself will be my reward when I finally beat this spawn of the devil!

    I followed the same process I used when I formatted my debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties but, for whatever reason, this time, the computer says ‘no’ and has been saying ‘no’ for the past 4 hours. The problem is the different formats do not talk to each other! So I have to convert ( or in my case create a mess of) my book in different ways.

    I have no option than to go nuclear. Smashwords has a rather helpful style guide ( link below), which shows exactly how to ‘go nuclear’. For now it’s more a question of time needed to press the button and un format to reformat. Oh the pressures of the modern world my friends!

    So that I never, and I mean NEVER find myself in this situation again, I’ve put together a few quick top tips to all things eBookish. It is not a definitive guide by any stretch of the imagination – that is not what it is. Hopefully the tips below will help you and eliminate the need for you to go nuclear too!

    • There are three main eBook formats that are widely used – PDF, EPUB and MOBI. The formats are driven by the device on which they are to be viewed, so naturally they don’t all use the same platforms – that would be too simple!
    • Most eBooks are what’s called ‘flowable’ – allowing the reader to choose different size fonts. Therefore keep it simple with your fonts. Fancy fonts do not fare well when converted.
    • Do not include page numbers. As helpful as they may be for you, they are pointless on e Readers. Devices usually tell the reader how far along a book they are e g. 20%, 30% etc. If you have a table of content at the front with page numbers it’s irrelevant.
    • Headers and footers are a no no, take them out. They just confuse everything!
    • Separate paragraphs with only a single return not more, they do not convert well and your work will look disjointed with great big gaps everywhere.
    • The best thing I have discovered is the ‘non print characters’ button (see image below). It shows all of the extra formatting that’s contained within your document –  things you had no idea were there, such as extra spaces, extra returns, line breaks etc. It means you can strip out all of the unnecessary added extras which will hamper your file conversion.
    • A nifty thing that is very straight forward is to add hyperlinks to your table of contents. This is very simple and very effective It allows the readers to go directly to different chapters as if by magic! For full details tap it into a search engine, there are some super tutorials out there.

    formatting_3076819b

      The non character formatting button – A revelation!

    •  The Smashwords style guide is a great free resource that can help you a lot Click here

    So after everything how did I fare?

    Let’s just say the Chateuxneuf du pape is going down a treat!

    wine

    Have you had any formatting nightmares? Please comment below & let me know that I’m not alone!!