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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What's your writing plan for 2013?

  

This will be my last post of 2012. I need to move away from the computer and make mince pies with cheesy Christmas tunes as the soundtrack.

Whilst researching The Painting over the past few months, I've learnt a great deal about the late eighteenth century, both here and in Italy. Now I can step into that world with more confidence.

I've found that researching daily life and past events wasn't enough. I also needed to look at vocabulary and the way of speaking. The task of writing prose for historical fiction could be compared to writing in a different language or dialect (previous post: Do you use dialect or other languages in your writing?). Peppering the text with words and phrases from that time will hopefully give the writing authenticity without making it difficult to read: eg. she was 'fatigued' or she was 'melancholy' and 'he was a worthy character'.

My writing plan for 2013 is:

1. Continue with my quest to get The Grandson published

2. Produce a decent draft of The Painting by August 2013 for the RNA New Writers' Scheme

3. Write and submit a short story to at least one competition

4. Submit flash fiction to competitions

5. Come up with the plot for Book 3

What is your writing plan for 2013?

Thank you to everyone who reads and comments on this blog. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas!

The most popular posts:

Since the blog began: The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense

Written in 2012: How do you write?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Who is your 'ideal reader'?



I've talked about Stephen King's book, 'On Writing' a few times recently, but I thought this point was worth mentioning.

He says:

'I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, 'I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?''

Stephen King's ideal reader is his wife. This made me think 'Who is mine?' (and luckily for my husband it isn't him!)

Whilst considering this question during a pilates class the other day (trying to remove a few pounds so I can put then back on again at Christmas), I pictured my ideal reader for The Grandson: A woman who has a passion for Italy. She goes on holiday there/ lives there/ has lived there or wants to go there. This woman may also have an interest in the themes I mentioned in a recent post: Do you have anything to say?. Of course The Grandson isn't only directed at my ideal reader. This reader is the person I've been subconsciously aiming to please as I wrote it. 

If I had to name a specific person, I'd say my ideal reader is my late mother.

Who is your ideal reader?

It's less than two weeks until Christmas. I still have cards to write, presents to sort out and did I mention that we're hosting for eighteen this year? I've defrosted the freezer, located our Michael Bublé Christmas CD and I'm really looking forward to spending time with family. Hope your preparations for Christmas are going well.

Christmas scenes (post from last year)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

You've Got the Look Meme



My Twitter friend and fellow blogger, Stacey Mitchell has tagged me for the You've Got the Look Meme. Thank you so much Stacey!

This meme asks that you go to your current WIP, find the word ‘look’, and post surrounding paragraphs. Then tag 5 more people to do the same.

I've copied and pasted a bit from Chapter 1 of The Grandson.

Jessica didn’t like the way Alessandro spoke to her, but she put it down to tiredness. She went into the kitchen and put the coffeemaker on the hob, lighting the gas with a match. Whilst pouring a glass of water from the fridge, she wondered how long he was going to be in Siena and what had happened to make his mother emigrate to America. He wasn't in the mood to be asked questions and she didn't want to come across as being nosy. The idea of going back into the lounge made her feel anxious, her nerves heightened by the heat and she turned on the cold tap, holding her wrists under the water to cool herself down.
    The coffeemaker gurgled and she filled two espresso cups, stirring sugar into his. She carried the drinks in on a tray and handed him the thimble-like cup which looked tiny in his large hands. He muttered 'thanks' and knocked it back. Holding her espresso, she perched on the edge of the chaise longue by the window. His presence made her feel awkward and she didn't know what to say. As she watched the long hand move around the clock on the wall, its ticking punctuating the silence, she considered making an excuse to leave the room.
    Alessandro pointed at the painting of Sophia’s late husband which hung above the fireplace.
   ‘Is that Giorgio?’
   Grateful that he'd brought up a subject to talk about, Jessica said,
   ‘Yes, your grandfather?’
   He nodded.
   ‘He did that one himself,’ she said. ‘I take it you haven’t been here before?’
   He studied the painting of the distinguished man with crisp white hair and a roman nose.
   ‘This is my first time in Italy.’
   His eyes glazed over and it was clear that the self-portrait moved him. She was tempted to ask why his mother had moved to America, but she decided against it.
  ‘It’s been a tough day I expect?’ she said.
 
I would like to tag the following lovely ladies:

Rosemary Gemmell
Michelle Flatley
Jules Wake
Debs Carr
Liz Harris

No worries ladies if you don't have time or don't fancy it!

I can't believe how close it is to Christmas-I'm off to do some internet shopping...

Similar post: The Lucky 7 Meme Challenge

My board on Pinterest for The Grandson

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Do you have anything to say?



I recently met another writer who said something along the lines of: 'I need to know if I have anything to say.'

This made me think. When I studied Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen, Wordsworth etc for English Literature A-Level at school, much time was spent analysing what these writers were trying to say. Often someone in my class would pipe up with: 'But I'm sure [Shakespeare] wasn't intending to say that at all.'

Stephen King says in 'On Writing' when talking about 'the first read-through' of a novel he's written: '..I'm asking myself the Big Questions. The biggest: Is this story coherent? And if it is, what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme? I'm asking myself What's it all about, Stevie, in other words, and what I can do to make those underlying concerns even clearer. What I want most of all is resonance, something that will linger for a little while in Constant Reader's mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.'

When I analysed my Book 1, 'The Grandson' whilst editing I realised that the themes had more or less written themselves, coming from my subconscious whilst I focused on the plot.

Some of the themes are ones which appear often: love, the role of women, marriage and family relationships. I'm fascinated that a difference in time can influence how someone lives their life. Currently I'm engrossed by the eighteenth century for Book 2, 'The Painting' and how this impacted a woman's choices. For 'The Grandson', I found I'd compared a woman's options during World War II to the 1990s.

Which themes have you written about without realising or do you have any other comments?

Ps. I had a great time at the RNA Winter Party last week. There are a few photos on my Facebook page: Anita Chapman Writer

Pps. Best of luck to everyone finishing NaNoWriMo this week!

Similar posts:

Is it worth sharing a work in progress with a writing class?

Do your characters have a Twitter account?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Getting into the writing zone: Peaslake Part II




This weekend I returned to The Hurtwood Inn Hotel in Peaslake for 'Write Away!', a course with Ruth Brandt. Ruth has had short stories published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 4, in several magazines and her short stories have been long and short-listed in writing competitions.

Peaslake is a picturesque village in the Surrey hills which looks like a film set. The trees were at their best in shades of yellow, red and brown. Peaslake is quiet apart from the occasional car engine and the chattering of cyclists who huddle in the bus shelter whilst taking a break.

Ten of us attended the course, four for the second time. We had chance to get to know each other over meals and during tea breaks. After dinner we gathered in the cosy bar next to the log fire, some of us into the early hours. Being in a hotel meant no cooking or clearing up so I could focus solely on writing (and eating, drinking, sleeping...)

Ruth talked about story ingredients, characters, driving a story forward, beginnings and endings; and editing. There was free time to write and we had two workshops. Ruth gave me valuable advice during our one-to-one and we discussed the plot of my Book 2, 'The Painting'.

I came away from the weekend pleased to have moved forwards with the eighteenth century part of The Painting. I'd been mulling over a scene and I produced a draft of it whilst scribbling in a quiet room.

Sometimes escaping everyday life, especially with other writers is a good way to get into the writing zone. It was lovely to meet everyone on the course. Thank you to Ruth and the staff at The Hurtwood Inn Hotel for making our stay so enjoyable. The next 'Write Away!' will be in April 2013.

Here is a photo of us all having lunch (one of many meals together!). I'm in the grey jumper third from the back on the right.



Do you go away to write?
My first 'Write Away!' weekend in Peaslake in the snow

Friday, 9 November 2012

Two steps forward, one step back?


I started to write the eighteenth century part of my Book 2, 'The Painting' this week, but I had to stop because I didn't know enough about my character's day to day life.

I've spent the rest of the week taking notes from books I found in the library and mulling over ideas. Next week I'll get back to the writing.

Some of my Book 1, 'The Grandson' is written as journal excerpts from World War II in the UK and Italy. I wrote the first draft of these excerpts without doing much research because I've studied World War II in the past.

The difference with Book 2 is that I need to do more research before writing.

With The Grandson I used a lot of information I knew already and I've lived/ worked in all the settings I used: Italy, London, New York and North Yorkshire. I do have a file filled with research notes (and I read a lot of text books/novels/biographies about Italy and Italian history), but the file for Book 2 will be considerably fatter. I've read that many writers use what they know to inspire their first novel. Maybe this allows a writer to focus more on learning how to write a novel.

Sometimes as the French say: Il faut reculer pour avancer. It's worth taking one step back.

What do you think?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

NaNoWriMo-yes, no or kind of?



I haven't blogged recently due to half term and a streaming cold, which hopefully is on its way out. The photo is from Polesden Lacey in Surrey, one of my favourite places for a walk, especially at this time of year.

Firstly I'd like to wish those writers taking part in NaNoWriMo the best of luck. I won't be taking part, but on Monday when half term ends, I'll be taking part in my own mini NaNoWriMo, aiming for 1000 words per day on Book 2.

I went to Guildford library a couple of weeks ago and found some great books to use for research. Next time I must remember to take a carrier bag and to park a bit closer!  I was pleased to find a biography from the 18th century which includes information I've been searching for. At the moment, I'm using these sources to tighten the plot so I can get on with my own mini NaNoWriMo on Monday. Currently Book 2, 'The Painting' will be set during two time periods: the late 1700s and now. But I may change my mind!

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo or using it to motivate yourself in some way?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

How do you get back into writing?



There are times, I think when all writers; published and unpublished struggle to write. I spent a month this summer writing at every opportunity. In the final week, I worked until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning every day. My motivation was the deadline for The RNA's New Writers' Scheme, a scheme which is wonderful not just because it gives unpublished writers the opportunity to have a whole manuscript critiqued by a published writer, but also because it gives unpublished writers a deadline. It's amazing how quickly I can produce writing of a standard I'm happy with when I'm working towards a deadline. When there is no deadline or when it's months away, I amble along: researching, mulling and producing sub-standard prose. Does a writer needs these times of no pressure so that when the pressure is there they can go for it?

I need to produce a decent draft of Book 2 by August 2013 and at the moment that deadline seems a long way away. I'm seeking out books and websites of interest and writing at a leisurely pace. I've considered taking part in this year's NaNoWriMo, but instead I'll aim for a certain number of words or time spent writing each day in November so I can complete the first draft by Christmas.

How do you get back into writing when you've had a break from it? I do things loosely associated with my novel: reading books and watching films which can be used for research.

Other activities such as the following seem to get the brain going:

Taking photographs: Pinterest and Instagram are great places to collect them.

Visiting art galleries and museums: I recently went to The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and The National History Museum. My second novel has working title, 'The Painting' and I gathered some information at the art galleries. Just looking at paintings, old and new is inspiring.

Reading novels which inspire me: I recently read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith-wonderful. The main character's father is a writer struggling to write his second novel...

Scenic walks: I love visiting National Trust houses and their surrounding gardens. The history of the houses: the portraits, the furniture etc is inspiring. One of my favourite walks in London is from Waterloo station across either of the footbridges over the River Thames to Embankment: one has a view of Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. There's a Le Pain Quotidien en route which serves coffee, hot chocolate in a bowl French-style and wonderful cakes.

Sometimes ideas come from nowhere when I'm getting on with everyday life. This morning I went to buy a dustpan and brush as the one we'd had for about ten years finally snapped in two. Whilst walking back to the car park, I looked through the windows of a closed restaurant and the solution to an impasse in the plot for Book 2 came from nowhere. Random thoughts I'd had before and research I'd read all suddenly linked together in my mind. A significant part of writing needs to be spent mulling I think.

How do you get back into writing after a break? Do you like a deadline? I'd be interested to read your comments on anything relating to the above.

Similar posts:
What's in a photo?
Bringing scenes to life with photographs
Paragraph Planet: 75 words on The Ditchley Portrait

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Paragraph Planet: 75 words on The Ditchley Portrait (and other stuff)



Queen Elizabeth I ('The Ditchley Portrait')

National Portrait Gallery, London

*see below re use of the photograph
 
Paragraph Planet

I'm on Paragraph Planet today with 75 words inspired by this beautiful portrait.

Are you ever drawn to certain paintings when walking around an art gallery? This happened to me a few weeks ago when I went to the National Portrait Gallery. I looked up at Queen Elizabeth I for a while and the image stayed with me afterwards. When searching on The National Portrait Gallery's website, I found a photograph of the painting and decided to submit 75 words on it to Paragraph Planet. Thanks to Richard Hearn for including this story on his website.

According to The National Portrait Gallery's website, the theme of the portrait is forgiveness. There is more information about this here.

Flash-Lit Fiction-Brighton Digital Festival (#flflive)

On 16th September there was a competition during the Brighton Digital Festival: #flflive-a story in a tweet including the word 'now'. I was thrilled to be shortlisted and my story is here under @neetswriter. The story was inspired by selling a couple of items on ebay. I made £10.50 and lost money on postage so won't be doing that again for a while...!

My blog's birthday

My blog is a year old today-can't believe where the time has gone.

I've really enjoyed being a 'blogger' over the past year and I'm so grateful for the support of my followers/friends on Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for reading my posts and for your comments.

*Use of the photograph above

I spoke to a lovely lady at The National Portrait Gallery to check I'm allowed to use the photograph of the portrait on my blog (there is also information on their website).

I've downloaded the photograph under the Creative Commons license (use in non-commercial, amateur projects) and have made a donation of £5 to The National Portrait Gallery (a birthday present to my blog). The lady advised me to use the Copyright symbol followed by the words I've used next to it above. Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to use the photo of this wonderful painting.


Monday, 1 October 2012

When did you last go to the library?



I went to two libraries last week-Horsley Library on Wednesday for Judith Kinghorn's talk and Guildford Library on Saturday.

My library card didn't work as I haven't used it for a while. The librarian reactivated my card and gave me a pin number so I can use the Surrey online library.

With this pin number I can:

• renew my books online

• search the catalogue for all Surrey libraries, reserve books and request a book to be moved from one library to another so I can collect it there.

• use the online reference shelf-including 19th century newspapers and The Times Digital Archive-every issue of The Times newspaper between 1785-2006

On Saturday I found some art books to use as research for Book 2, 'The Painting'. Instead of handing them to a librarian like the old days, I had to scan my card, then the book and a machine produced a receipt with the 'return by' date on.

The books I borrowed on Saturday were worth around £80, so half an hour at Guildford Library was a great use of my time.

How often do you go to the library? Do you borrow books for research? Do you ever write in the library?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Judith Kinghorn's talk at Horsley Library, Surrey



I went to Judith Kinghorn's talk at Horsley Library in Surrey last night, which is down the road from me.

Judith's novel, The Last Summer is one of my favourite books published in recent years (click here for my Amazon review). The Last Summer will be released in the US in December 2012.

Helena Towers from Headline led the talk with Judith, then the audience asked questions.

About The Last Summer:

Judith wanted to write in first person narrative and about life in the UK during World War I, rather than the trenches. She researched The Last Summer (set 1914-1930) by submerging herself in that period: reading novels, biographies, diaries and listening to music. One of Judith's favourite wartime memoirs is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (published in 1933). One of her favourite novels is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, written in first person narrative.

Initially writing The Last Summer was an indulgence, escapism until the storyline evolved. Judith said, 'When you write, the book takes you on an adventure'. She didn't plan much as she'd spent years researching the period, although she did draw up outlines of the characters. Judith wrote The Last Summer in five months.

How Judith works:

Judith is at her desk writing at 9am and she rarely stops for lunch. It can take an hour or so to get into the world of her novel. She uses photos to help set scenes and to see characters. Her Pinterest board for The Last Summer is inspiring.

Judith's next novel:

The Last Summer is the second novel that Judith has written. Her first novel, The Memory of Lost Senses will be published in February 2013. She described this novel as a 'labour of love' and it took her a long time to research and write it. The Memory of Lost Senses is quite different from The Last Summer and there are three protagonists. It's set mostly in 1911 and moves between Italy and the UK. I look forward to reading it.

I know Judith from Twitter (@judithkinghorn). It was lovely to meet her in person and now I have a signed paperback.

Thank you Judith for an interesting talk.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Imagine if you could buy the paperback and e-book together


I took a Kindle on holiday for the first time this summer. This meant I didn't weigh the car down with my usual pile of books.

Sometimes after reading an e-book, I find I'd like the paperback as well. If I enjoy a novel, I want to put it on the bookcase and re-read it. As a writer, sometimes I like to flick through a novel to find examples of a certain kind of writing or to look at how chapters or scenes are structured. It's not the same doing this on a Kindle.

When I read the Stephen King book, 'On Writing' on my Kindle, (For more about this book, see post-Is it worth sharing a first draft in progress with a writing class?), I wished I had the paperback, so I could use post-it notes to mark pages I wanted to look at again.

I saw many tweets during July and August saying something along the lines of: 'I wish I had the e-book version of the paperbacks in my TBR (To Be Read) pile-as I want to take those books on holiday.'

So what's the answer? Wouldn't it be nice to have the paperback at home and the e-book version for train journeys and holidays?

I had to renew the anti-virus software for my computer recently. These days I get a code called a Product Key, which allows me to download the software onto three computers.

This made me think about buying both versions of a book. What if when you buy a paperback in a book shop, you could pay a bit extra for a code which allows you to download the book to your e-reader? Or what if you could buy the paperback at a discounted price if you've already bought the e-book?

Would this be a way of saving the paperback and book shops, which may decline if the growth of e-books continues? And would it mean more sales for authors?

What do you think? Have I been drinking too much coffee?

I'd be interested to read your comments on anything relating to the above.

More posts about e-books/Kindle:

Does downloading samples change the way we read?

How has the e-book changed being a reader and an unpublished writer?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

How do you write from the heart?



This blog is almost a year old and the most popular post has been Why do I write?

Maybe the photo of me and my mother on my first birthday is what made readers click into it. Or maybe the reason is because it's the only post I've written from my heart.

I watch a lot of films; sometimes when I should be doing other stuff (like hoovering or cleaning the bathroom), using the excuse that I'm watching the film for research. I like to listen to the dialogue and to see how characters and plots are constructed. I like to analyse why a film has or hasn't been a hit.

The other day I watched a film called 'The Art of Getting By'. It's on Sky+ Anytime at the moment. I hadn't heard of the film before it was on Sky, maybe because it wasn't promoted much. I found the plot to be weak in places; the pace a little slow and the male lead, who plays George not that convincing. There's almost always something I can take from a film which isn't perfect and I continued to watch it.

In the film, George is in his final few weeks at high school and the headmaster tells him he's unlikely to graduate. He can't motivate himself to work and the reason for this can be found in the backstory of his family life. He meets a girl. Then he meets an artist who visits the school to do a talk. George is good at drawing and doodles in classes instead of listening to the teacher. He and the artist talk.

George says: 'I just don't know what to paint.'

The artist says: 'The fact that you struggle with it is a really good thing, but how can you call yourself a painter if you don't paint?'

This is much like writing.

Towards the end of the film, George turns a corner. The headmaster offers him the chance to complete a year's work in three weeks and he accepts.

His art teacher says: 'I want one, one meaningful work from you. I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, make an image that speaks to the real you, what you care about, what you believe.'

And he does just that. I won't tell you what he paints in case you want to watch the film, but you can probably guess.

Writing is the same. If it doesn't come from the heart, how can it be a writer's best work?

My first novel is written from the heart, but at the moment I'm trying to work how to put that heart into my second novel. Hopefully if I keep writing, I'll get there in the end.

And on those days when I don't feel like writing, I read that post-Why do I write and remind myself what made me start in the first place.

Do you find it easy to write from the heart? I'd be interested to read your comments on anything relating to the above.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Is it worth sharing a first draft in progress with a writing class?

On Writing

I read Stephen King's 'On Writing' on holiday this summer. This book is well worth a read with advice on all aspects of writing. It was so good that I'll read it again soon and make notes. However, the first part is autobiographical and it takes a few chapters to get to the bits which are especially useful. I could write a whole series of blog posts about the points Stephen King makes (and maybe I will), but this week the point most relevant to me is about showing the first draft to a writing class.

He says:

'The pressure to explain is always on, and a lot of creative energy, it seems to me, is therefore going in the wrong direction. You find yourself constantly questioning your prose and your purpose when what you should probably be doing is writing as fast as the Ginger-bread Man runs, getting that first draft down on paper while the shape of the fossil is still bright and clear in your mind.'

I agree.

Last year I started my first draft of Book 2, 'The Painting' and went to a few writing classes, using the novel for homework exercises. This part was useful as it gave me ideas on where to take the plot. But when it came to reading out my homework in class, the subsequent analysis seemed to hinder my progression. I began to analyse what I'd written instead of getting the story down without thinking too much about it.

I must point out that these writing classes were great for me in many ways. I hadn't written a first draft for a few years and I wanted to do timed exercises to regain my confidence. Also my fellow students and teacher were lovely and I've kept in touch with some of them (Hello if you're reading!). I enjoy spending time with other writers and it's comforting when someone in a class says, 'I don't feel like writing at the moment and don't know how to get back into it...' It's good to know I'm not the only one who has to put the kitchen timer next to my computer and make myself write for twenty minutes sometimes.

In hindsight, I should have used the class for writing about other stuff, keeping Book 2 to myself until I'd completed the first draft.

So now I'm aiming to complete the first draft of Book 2 ('The Painting') by Christmas so I can submit an edited version to The RNA's New Writers' Scheme next summer (as long as I'm lucky enough to get onto the scheme again). I shall continue with my quest to get Book 1 ('The Grandson') published, but in the meantime I need to produce another novel.

I'd be interested to read your comments on first drafts or on anything relating to the above.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

What's in a photo?


I recently created a board on Pinterest for my novel 'The Grandson'. When writing/ editing, I use photos quite a lot to help visualise a scene. Many of the photos on this board are my own which I've uploaded.

When editing my manuscript recently, I got stuck on a scene set in Florence where the hero and heroine are standing on the Ponte Vecchio.

I've stood on this bridge a few times, but I couldn't remember exactly what you can see from the bridge. Then I found photos which I took when standing on the bridge a few years ago. Suddenly I could see: rowing boats and a man speaking into a megaphone on a motorboat alongside them; a series of bridges, the next one along with cars driving over it. There were flats with balconies and graffiti on the wall where the hero and heroine would have been standing.




About the Ponte Vecchio:

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence which wasn't destroyed during The Second World War. However, buildings at each end of the Ponte Vecchio were destroyed to deny access to it.

There is a statue of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)-an artist, sculptor and painter-on the Ponte Vecchio. In recent years lovers have locked padlocks to the railing around the statue and thrown the key into the river Arno. There is now a fine for doing this. I spent a few hours once researching Benvenuto Cellini and the padlock story hoping to use it in some way (all fascinating stuff), then I realised I couldn't use it because my novel is set in 1994-before anyone was doing it.


Have you created a board for your novel on Pinterest?

Do you find photos useful when writing/editing?

I'd be interested to read your comments on anything relating to the above.

A similar post-Bringing scenes to life with photographs

Monday, 20 August 2012

Does writing shorter pieces help with editing a novel?



I recently wrote three short pieces:

1. Two 75 word stories for paragraph planet: How Times Change and How It Was

2. The last 100 words of a collaborative story started by Michelle Elvy: This Day

3. A travel writing article when returning from holiday for a national newspaper's competition. It didn't win, but I found squeezing my 2 week holiday experience into 500 words a challenge. The angle had to be right and every word had to be geared towards that angle, much like with the plot in a novel. Writing the article was a good exercise and when I returned to my novel the following day, I saw it through different eyes.

I've written short pieces in writing classes before during timed exercises. The difference between timed exercises and having as much time as you like is that you can edit the piece until you're happy with it.

Editing a short piece of writing can take up to an hour or even two hours, but it's not as much work as editing a novel. For all of the above pieces, I wrote more than the required word count and edited down depending on whether words were relevant to the story/ angle. I ended up with pieces I was pleased with. However with How It Was , my editing brain noticed after submitting that it should say: [in its place] instead of [replacing where it had been] because I'd already said [had been] at the beginning of the sentence. If I'd made this change, I would have needed to readjust the rest of the paragraph to make up the 75 words.

Writing short pieces is almost like building muscle in the gym to be a faster runner.

Now that I've sent my manuscript to the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme, I shall be getting back to Book 2 with current working title 'The Painting'. I'd like to write more flash fiction and maybe some short stories too.

I'd be interested to read your comments on anything relevant to the above. Do you have any points to add re editing or writing short fiction/articles?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Paragraph Planet (2)






I've just returned from 2 weeks with my family in Brittany, France where the weather wasn't too bad at all. The photo is of a beach in Saint-Cast-le-Guildo.  There will be no more morning trips to la boulangerie to get pains au chocolat for breakfast and baguettes for beach picnics.  Now it's back to the rain and to my manuscript for the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme (more info in previous post).

I'm thrilled to be on Paragraph Planet again today with How It Was. This 75 words is a World War Two version of the 75 words published on 5th July-How Times Change (click on each title to read)

Hope to get back to blogging in a couple of weeks (or so).

See you then!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

My 75 words on Paragraph Planet!



Just dropping in to say that I'm on Paragraph Planet (5th July) with a 75 word paragraph entitled, 'How Times Change'

Here is the link

I'm still editing my manuscript for the Romantic Novelists' Assocation's New Writers' Scheme and I plan to return to blogging when it's been posted.

Thought I'd throw in a photo from a recent visit to Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey-a lovely spot for tea and cake.

Hope everyone has a great summer (and to those in the U.K-let's hope the rain stops!)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Collaborative story

In March I took part in a collaborative story.  Michelle Elvy sent 100 words to two writers in different countries from herself. Each of those writers added 100 words and forwarded to two writers in different countries from themselves and so on during the month of March. Michelle has posted 6 of the stories on her website and it is an interesting collection. There are more to follow.

The story which I took part in (#5) with Michelle Elvy, Martha Williams and Claire King was posted on Michelle's website today. I wrote the last 100 words.

Thank you to Michelle for allowing me to take part in this and to Claire for forwarding the story to me. It was great fun!

Here are links to the stories in the first series:

1. Collaborative
2. Waiting
3. Time Flies
4. Journey
5. This Day #5 is the story which I took part in (last 2 paragraphs).

There are more stories to follow on Michelle's website next week.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A blogging break!

I usually aim to write a blog post once a week but it's been a bit hectic lately.

On 17th May I went to The Romantic Novelists' Association's Summer Party - link to photo gallery on the RNA website here (I'm in the photo second from last). There are more links to photos and blog posts on my Facebook page-click here.

This was a great night as always and I really enjoyed catching up with RNA friends I've met through Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

On 24th May I went to the launch of Liz Fenwick's novel, The Cornish House. This was a lovely evening at Waterstones in High Street Kensington. Click here to see photos etc on Liz's blog.

For the next few weeks I need to focus on completing my submission for the Romantic Novelist Association's New Writers' Scheme. I feel privileged to be on this scheme and I'll be submitting the manuscript of my novel, 'The Grandson' (may be changing the title soon).

I find it difficult to focus on writing/editing at the same time as blogging, so the posts (and comments on other blogs) may be a bit here and there for the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who reads and comments on my blog and I hope to be back before long...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Does downloading samples change the way we read?

Before owning a Kindle (a Christmas present) I of course went about buying books in a different way.

I've always liked browsing bookshops, big chains and local ones. I was disappointed when Borders in Kingston, Surrey closed down. I used to spend ages (and too much money) in there.

Since October when I set up this blog and joined Twitter, I've discovered authors whose books I may not have noticed in a bookshop.

I read two books on Kindle recently which I'd seen mentioned on Twitter. These are The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn and The Apothecary's Daughter by Charlotte Betts. I enjoyed both of them immensely. I wrote a review (my first) on Amazon for The Last Summer (click here).

I've recommended both to a couple of friends who like reading. They hadn't heard of either of these books but are likely to buy them on my recommendation. If I'd bought the paperbacks I would have lent them these. Does this mean e-readers are good for sales?-a subject for another blog post...

I have a pile of books by my bed (TBR pile) which I've started and abandoned. Some of these were hand-picked from the tables in Waterstones or from the Bestsellers in Sainsbury's (it takes too long to do a food shop now my local Sainsbury's has a book and DVD section). A few weeks ago, I noticed the 'Send sample now' button on Amazon when about to buy a Kindle book (probably ages after everyone else). Because of the TBR pile by my bed, I read samples of the two aforementioned books before buying them. As I enjoyed these books so much, I wish I'd bought the paperback versions instead of downloading the e-book so I could put them on the bookcase.

I wonder whether downloading samples to e-readers will change the market. Although this option allows a reader to be more cautious when buying books, could authors sell more books this way?

Do you download a sample before buying the rest of the book (and then which version)?

Have you downloaded e-books which you wish you'd bought in paperback/ hardback?

So many questions! I'd be interested to read your comments on anything related to this post.

An old post on a related subject.

Monday, 7 May 2012

What are your characters thinking?



I recently watched the film, 'I Don't Know How She Does It', based on Allison Pearson's novel (which I haven't read) and starring Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP). SJP's voice was used as a narrator and several of the characters, including SJP talked directly to the camera. This made the film seem like a documentary and I found it difficult to get lost in the story.

In films a character's thoughts are usually shown by their actions or through a confidante. Occasionally a first or third person narrator reveals a character's thoughts, which can ruin a film for me. I find Woody Allen gets away with it some of the time, although I prefer a narrator (ideally third person) to an actor speaking to the camera.

In early critiques of my novel, 'The Grandson' (a few years ago in writing classes), other writers used to say 'I want to know more of what Jessica's thinking'. Jessica is the heroine in my novel. Although I knew what she was thinking when writing earlier drafts, I didn't include as many of her thoughts as I needed to.

I wonder why a reader wants to know what a point of view character is thinking. Is it because this makes a reader feel closer to that character so they identify with them?

There's the question of how to get a character's thoughts into a novel effectively. I'm editing 'The Grandson' at the moment and my next step is to highlight Jessica's thoughts throughout the manuscript. I want to ensure that there's a balance throughout the novel, that I haven't included thoughts which are obvious to the reader (this is easy to do around dialogue) and that her thoughts don't contradict each other.

Do you need to remind yourself to include a point of view character's thoughts? Or do you have any other comments?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Are you always thinking 'How can I use this?'


We went to Le Touquet in France last weekend. I couldn't help thinking-'How can I use this?' for most of the time we were there.

Le Touquet was filled with locals and English tourists milling about; some with pushchairs, some with dogs, some with cigarettes hanging from their fingertips. The shop windows were filled with clothes, shoes, chocolates and pastries to drool over.

Something about being abroad heightens the senses. I noticed the richness of the milk when ordering a café au lait, the bitterness of the complimentary chocolate placed on the saucer and the blandness of unsalted butter on crispy baguette thrown into baskets and put on tables in restaurants. The croissants at breakfast were so fresh they deposited flakes everywhere when I spread jam on them.

On the beach there were children flying kites and building sandcastles behind windbreaks. The sand blew into my face as we followed the path through the dunes and climbed a slope to the summit as sand filled our shoes. We sat on the beach, shielded from the wind by the dunes as the children searched for shells to fill their buckets.

Going through the Eurotunnel was like taking a trip into the future. There's a sci-fi feel as you drive up the ramp onto the two-storey train. The doors beep as they close between the carriages. Instructions come through the tannoy in English and French about putting the car in first gear, keeping the windows half open for ventilation and not walking between the cars. As we waited to reach the other side I couldn't help thinking that we were under the English Channel, a thought I cast out of my mind as soon as it crept in.

So the question is how can I use this?

There are scenes in my Book 2 which take place in France. I've been to France many times and lived in Grenoble in 1993 when studying French, but it's good to see the country with fresh eyes.  My hero and heroine in Book 2 will be taking a trip to France which will probably lead them to Italy. I might book them a ticket for the Eurotunnel with an overnight stop at Le Touquet.

Are you always thinking 'How can I use this?' or do you have any other comments?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Is seeking agent representation like auditioning for The Voice?

(The video originally included with this post is no longer on Youtube)


I empathise with the contestants on TV programme, The Voice U.K.

The singers auditioning are like unpublished writers looking for an agent.

The judges may be looking for a female, male or specific kind of voice to make up their team. On Saturday, Will.i.am said he didn't turn his chair around for a contestant because he already had someone on his team with a similar voice. An agent may be looking for a specific kind of book when reading a submission. (Could they please be looking for a 1990s love story set in Tuscany with journal excerpts from The Second World War?!)

If a singer is chosen they may need to work on tuning or breathing just like a writer may need to rewrite or edit a novel.

The singers who aren't chosen on The Voice are usually gracious when none of the chairs turn around, their eyes reflecting their disappointment as they force a smile. Some of them may be one step closer to success because they went on the show. A rejected writer could be one step closer to finding an agent who will fall in love with their manuscript.

As soon as I receive a rejection, I change the colour of the agency in my spreadsheet from black to red, input the date of receipt and move onto the next one. That way there's a chance an e-mail may drop into my inbox or my mobile may ring displaying a 'Private number' and someone might say 'we'd like to see the rest of your manuscript'. 'The Help' written by Kathryn Stockett was apparently rejected by 60 agents. I've had 3 rejections but I shall persevere!

Can you identify with contestants on The Voice or other singing contests? Or do you have any other comments?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Does good weather distract you from writing?


Now that spring is here, it's tempting to skive and enjoy the sunshine. In the U.K. there is the general feeling that when the weather's good it's worth making the most of it as you don't know how long it will last.

Spring brings more distractions from writing than usual. I suddenly feel the need to put on sandals and go for walks, catching the sun on my face. Weeds appear between paving stones in the driveway and in the flowerbeds. By the time I've managed to clear them all, they've grown back again. Lambs' tails drop from the hazelnut tree onto the decking asking to be swept away. The lawn needs to be mown (my husband takes care of that when the lawnmower is working). Foliage quickens the pace at which it grows and has to be cut with secateurs and pushed into compost bags. Washing demands to be pegged to the line. It seems silly to throw it over an airer inside when it can take on the scent of spring in the garden. I wanted to do this today but I couldn't locate the pegs.

The last thing I want to do is sit at a desk when I can see the blue sky through the window. My way around it is to walk somewhere with an exercise book squeezed into my handbag and find a café to sit in. Tree surgeons sawing off branches at a neighbouring house, like they were today is enough to make me do this. This way I get to enjoy the weather and write. Otherwise there are evenings. The house is quiet, it's dark outside and I don't feel that I should be doing stuff around the house. And it means my husband can watch what he wants to on TV (ie. sport!)

Does this weather distract you from writing or do you have any other comments?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Lucky 7 Meme challenge

Today, the lovely Melissa Gardiner who writes a blog at My Unpublished Life tagged me in The Lucky 7 Meme challenge. Thanks Melissa!

Here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

2. Go to line 7

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they're written.

4. Tag 7 authors

5. Let them know

Here are 7 lines from the latest draft of the MS for my novel, The Grandson. They are taken from the heroine's grandfather Peter's journal written during WW2.


Our fate has been decided by Churchill and Roosevelt during their meeting in Casablanca and we’re on a ship headed for Algiers in Tunisia. Conditions are cramped but I have enough to eat. I expect that this is nothing compared to what we have to come.

     Leaving Eleanor was never going to be easy. She’s the first girl I have loved. I was lucky enough to see her alone last night. Mother made a splendid going away supper. She’d saved up all of her points and managed to get some sausages. I’d been expecting Woolton pie, the vegetable pie being promoted by Lord Woolton, the Minster for Food.


The 7 fabulous ladies I am tagging are:

Laura E. James
Michelle Flatley
Clare Wartnaby
Debs Carr
Rebecca Leith
Debbie White
Lucie Wheeler
By the way ladies-I totally understand if you're too busy to do this or if you don't want to reveal any of your WIP/MS!

Thanks again Melissa.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

The shoebox

This is a poem which I wrote for a writing exercise a few years ago. The task was to write a poem about a box. I chose the yellow shoebox which I keep things in to remind me of my mother.

I've found Mother's Day difficult to deal with since she passed away ten years ago. I didn't get to say goodbye and I miss her so much.


It's a way of remembering her

When it happened I gathered

Everything I could find

Associated with her

Photos, letters she'd sent to me

A letter I wrote to her after she'd gone

Sometimes if I want to think about her

I take off the lid and remove the contents

Sifting through



My favourite photograph is the one in France

With me, her and my sister

Smiling as we stand on a bridge

The letters make me laugh sometimes

Telling me what she's been doing

And telling me what I should be doing



My favourite piece of correspondence from her

Is a 21st Birthday card I recently found

I'd been searching for it since she'd gone

It said what I needed to hear

I am very proud to have a lovely daughter like you.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

How do you write?


I read a rare interview with one of my favourite writers, Anne Tyler in the Culture Section of The Sunday Times on Sunday. She will be appearing at this year's Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on 1st April to accept the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. It will be her first public event in Britain.

This is how Anne Tyler writes her novels:

longhand over and over again

types into a computer

prints out

writes again in longhand

reads into a tape recorder

retypes into a computer

I wonder how long it took Anne Tyler to come up with that method of writing a novel. Although it must take ages, I can understand why she reads the manuscript into a tape recorder. It's amazing what can be picked up when writing is read aloud. I've found this a benefit of reading out work in writing classes to be critiqued.

This is how I go about writing a novel:

I write the first draft of each scene by hand. Then I type it into a computer, rewriting as I go and editing by printing, marking it up and retyping (a few times). When I'm as happy with that scene as I can be at that stage, I move onto the next scene and go back to writing by hand. Somehow writing the first draft in this way means I can plan the scene in my head more easily. I like writing in cafés as it's good to get out of the house for some of the writing process. Sometimes I end up writing more than I would at home because there aren't any distractions. I use exercise books as they're light and can be squeezed into any handbag. I also like disposable fountain pens and have several in different colours, pink being my favourite. Of course after all that there's loads of redrafting and editing to do.

I'd be interested to know if you write by hand at any stage in the novel-writing process or if you have any other comments.

The Sunshine Award

Thank you to Rosemary Gemmell for nominating my blog for The Sunshine Award. I enjoy reading Rosemary's blog and you can find it by clicking on her name above.

This is what makes me happy:

• my family and friends

• holidays-especially those in the sun near a beach


• good food and wine-anything from bacon and eggs to a Sunday roast. Also love pasta, Thai, Chinese and Indian food. Don't mind a bit of champagne but also like rosé (especially Pinot Grigio Blush), Chardonnay and enjoy a cold beer on a hot day.

• a walk somewhere scenic

like here:


This would make me even more happy:

• If I could just get my book published that would be really nice.

I'd like to pass this award to Laura Thayer's blog, Ciao Amalfi. I enjoy Laura's blog because as you probably know by now, I love Italy and she captures daily life in Amalfi perfectly. My husband and I went to Amalfi on our first holiday together in March 1999. The drive from Naples airport to Amalfi along the coastal road is stunning but it wasn't easy negotiating the hairpin bends! It rained a bit whilst we were there but we had a wonderful week and I'd like to go back one day.



Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Getting into a character's head

Sometimes it's not possible to experience what a character's going through but I think it's worth trying to where possible. It would be nice to go on a trip to Florence. I've been there before but it would be good to see the place from the point of view of my main character and her situation. That's not going to happen at the moment so I'll just have to work with Wikipedia and old photos.

This week I did Ashtanga Yoga for the first time. I went to a beginner's yoga class about ten years ago and pulled a muscle in my back so I haven't tried it since. My friend suggested we go and I decided to. I haven't been able to motivate myself to do any exercise since Christmas and summer is approaching.

This is what I recall from the yoga class:

The teacher was friendly and she approached my mat, shaking my hand from above before doing the same with other newbies. When the class began, I couldn't see the teacher demonstrate what to do because I'd placed my mat at the back of the room. The teacher told me and my friend to take off our socks. I'd kept them on because the room was cold when I arrived. I tried not to laugh when the teacher said we were going to practise 'alternate nostril breathing' where you inhale through one nostril and exhale out of the other. This apparently slows down your heart rate and relaxes you. As I worked through the exercises, the parts of me which were being stretched ached. I wondered how I'd feel the following day, hoping I didn't pull any muscles so I could return. The room was a calm environment to be in and I was surprised at how quickly the hour and fifteen minutes went. Towards the end of the class, everyone did shoulder stands and then put their legs backwards over their heads. I decided to opt out of this move as I worried about what I might do to myself. Afterwards me and my friend went to the café downstairs where we ordered cappuccinos and shared a pain au chocolat, noting in our diaries to return the following week. If we could we'd try to squeeze in an extra class every week as the teacher had said this would help sort out our spare tyres in time for the summer (as long as we didn't share a pain au chocolat afterwards).

I doubt I'd have got this information without going to a yoga class. If I'd asked someone who did yoga, I probably wouldn't have picked up the minor details which could bring a scene to life.

We were talking about research in the writing class I attend last week and I realised that I need to go into an art gallery (the kind which is more like a shop) and speak to the staff so I can get into the head of Book 2's main character. I need to know what paperwork there is to be done, how the relationship between the artist and the owner of the gallery works and many other facts. If I'm feeling brave, I could ask to work there for nothing for a day or two (as long as they don't think I'm casing the joint said someone in my class!) I haven't done it yet, but it's the only way Act 1 of Book 2 is going to come to life.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Versatile Blogger award


Anne Mackle has kindly nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award. Click on Anne's name to see her blog-I am a big fan and I recommend you have a look at her posts which are always interesting.

Thank you Anne for the support you give to my blog and for nominating it for this award (and sorry it's taken me a few weeks to post this).
On accepting the award, I have to tell you seven things you don't know about me and I have to nominate seven blogs to pass this award to.

1. I once had a job in the university holidays snipping the end off parsnips in a warehouse. A minibus picked me up from the end of my road at 6am and dropped me back at 7pm. We had to stand around a conveyor belt with a knife and snip the parsnips before putting them on another conveyor belt above. The people I worked with were great fun and we talked incessantly to get ourselves through the day, telling each other stories. Sometimes we'd laugh until we had tears running down our faces.



2. I lived in Grenoble for 5 months in 1993/4 as part of a French and Italian degree. Me and three girls from my university were in rooms next to each other in a Hall of Residence half way up what we called 'the mountain'. It was very steep and it would take a good half hour to walk up it.  Our rooms were damp and the only equipment in the kitchen was a hotplate. We could see Mont Blanc out of our bedroom windows and a cable car passed us on the way up to a castle on top of the mountain. We didn't have a fridge so we hung our food in carrier bags outside on the handles which opened our windows. We had the best time though and went out most nights to bars in Grenoble where we ordered jugs of beer with our student budgets.

3. I once did a Secretarial course but never worked as a secretary. After university I had no idea what to do with a language degree so I got a loan and did a three month course at a secretarial college in South Kensington, London. I learnt shorthand and touch typing.

4. I used to work in Investment Banking. Whilst doing the secretarial course, I registered with some recruitment agencies and was lucky to get a temping job at Deutsche Bank using my languages. Initially I had to chase confirmations. (Confirmations are legal documents used to confirm Derivatives trades.) I had to call my equivalents at French and Italian banks and ask them to sign and return documents. I got to know the staff working in these banks and we had a laugh chatting to each other. I also worked at Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse before returning to Deutsche Bank where I managed the Structured Derivatives Documentation team. I left banking in 2003, shortly after my mum died as the hours were long and the job was stressful. I needed time to grieve and I haven't returned as I've since had children (not that there would be a job for me now!)

5. I like handbags. My favourite is a Gucci pink and brown bag which my husband bought for me at Malpensa airport in Milan before we flew back from our honeymoon in the Italian lakes. I don't have any other designer ones (but I would love to own a Chloe handbag one day...)

6. I love cheese. My favourites are Brie, Gorgonzola and Manchego.

7. I am a fan of 'just being'. I love going out and seeing my friends but sometimes I think everything can get a bit too organised and hectic.

I am going to break the rules and pass this award onto one special blog (as the others I wanted to nominate have already got it.)

To a great new blog which has a variety of upbeat posts on different subjects - writing, funny stories, chat-up lines, technical advice on how to upload an MS to Kindle etc. The Romaniacs are a group of lovely ladies on the RNA New Writers' Scheme like myself. I wish them the best with their new blog. You can also follow them on Twitter @TheRomaniacs

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Do your characters have a Twitter account?




I'm finally at the stage with Book 2 where the characters have started talking to me. My hero has told me that he'd like an iPhone. He would be on Facebook but only for work purposes. My heroine would be on Facebook but she probably wouldn't update her account very often. My hero would be on Twitter again for work purposes but at this stage my heroine won't be setting up a Twitter account. She may change her mind when I write Act 2.

One of the reasons I joined Facebook and Twitter in October last year was because Book 2 is set in the present day and I can't expect to write about twentysomething characters without knowing how Social Media works.

Most of the information about our ancestors comes from journals, letters and the odd photo. I wonder if my grandchildren and their offspring will one day read my Tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts (and it would be nice if they could read my published novel(s) too...)

In recent years technology has changed the way we live. When writing a novel the same themes remain as they did in Chaucer, Shakespeare and Austen. Love, marriage, the role of women and family relationships are some of those themes which feature in both my novels. I wonder if the same themes will always remain with technology unable to touch them.

I'd be interested to know which themes feature in your novels, if your characters have Facebook and Twitter accounts or if you have any other comments.

(Link to one of my first posts-How do social media and technology influence a character's life?)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Do you prefer to write about where you know?

Doing research on the internet and by reading books is useful, but it doesn't tell me what my senses would.
By being in a place, things occur to me which otherwise wouldn't.
I went to the London Aquarium on Saturday. If I wanted to set a scene there, I could look at photos and read about it on the internet but I wouldn't pick up what I did when visiting. When you first go in you have to negotiate the shark walk, a glass walkway with sharks swimming below. This worried a lot of children including mine. I didn't like it either as there was a queue ahead meaning I had to hover over the glass walkway with a deep tank of water beneath it. Out of the vast selection of marine life at the Aquarium, my favourites were the jellyfish which glow in the dark and the seahorses which wrap their tails around the reeds. The eerie music reminiscent of a health spa and the darkness became irritating after a while. There was a stench of fish and the need to take my coat off in the tropical section and to put it back on in the penguin viewing ice cave. Of course if I was setting a scene in the Aquarium I wouldn't use all of this information. But it would help me to picture what the place is like and it's always good to know what a character is wearing. If I was writing a scene set in a different Aquarium, I could get away with using my visit to this one as research. But if I was writing a scene set in a City such as New York City I think the only way to make that scene come to life is to go there.
I worked in New York in January 2001. I was called into my boss' office on a Monday asking if I could go to New York on the Tuesday to clear a backlog and do some training. I hadn't been to America before and I was so excited. I stayed in a hotel on Park Avenue which was walking distance from the office on Madison Avenue.
Although I'd seen loads of films set in New York, being there felt different from what I'd expected. There was the reaction of Americans to my English accent and the need to use American words and phrases to make myself understood. I started saying, 'Can I get a latte...?' when ordering my morning coffee. Initially I was confused when Americans said 'Excuse me?' because they wanted me to repeat something.
I walked down Park Avenue a few times during a blizzard, watching the snow ploughs at work. The traffic continued as if there was no snow, the taxis slipping and sliding everywhere, beeping their horns at cars ahead. Heaps of snow lined the streets and the aroma of hot dogs and roasted chestnuts wafted from the Street Vendors' stalls.
When it wasn't snowing, the sky was blue and I needed to wear sunglasses. The sub-zero temperatures and starched hotel bed linen made my skin incredibly dry. I put on half a stone as the restaurant and takeaway portions were twice the size of those at home. The steaks were incredible. There was so much choice when ordering food in a restaurant - the different varieties of cheese on offer to go with a burger were astounding.
These are just a few of my observations of New York which I used for several scenes in my novel, 'The Grandson' (which I'm trying to get an agent for...). Again I didn't use all of this information when writing these scenes but it did help me to imagine what my characters lives were like so I could structure the scenes more effectively.
I'd be interested to know if you prefer to write about places you've visited or if you have any other comments.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Writing in the Surrey hills and using snow to make a character vulnerable

On Friday I went to Peaslake, a village in Surrey for a writing course with teacher Ruth Brandt. We stayed at The Hurtwood Inn Hotel, a charming hotel with a log fire in its cosy bar. I couldn't get a signal on my mobile phone and it was an opportunity to focus solely on writing (as well as eating and drinking wine). We knew that snow was forecast on Saturday night and we waited for it to appear, which it did after dinner. The snow settled and we wondered if we'd become stranded.


Saturday night (L-R - Liz Cooper, Gill Green, Michele de Casanove, Liz Manterfield, Ruth Brandt, Eleanor Williams, Brian Simmons, Me.)
It was great to be immersed in the world of writing and Ruth talked about Plot, Character and Setting. I think we all enjoyed workshopping as we could get lost in each other's stories. Some of us gathered in the bar after dinner which bustled with locals and the cast from Dick Whittington which was on at the Peaslake Memorial Hall.

Sunday lunch (L-R Me, Gill, Ruth, Liz M, Liz C, Brian, Michele, Jenny)
It's interesting how a change in weather can make us vulnerable. Fortunately our lovely teacher, Ruth had brought a shovel which we borrowed to clear the snow from around our cars. We worried about whether we'd be able to make our way along the winding and sometimes steep country lanes back to the A25 without getting stuck.
On Sunday afternoon Liz C and I set off with her driving. Liz M followed in her car. As we pulled onto the road out of Peaslake, Liz C said, 'this is fine, we've got nothing to worry about.' We continued to chat about the weekend and what we'd do when we got home. When we reached a junction, I suggested we turn left without a second thought.  After about ten minutes the road became what is known as a sunken lane.  (I looked it up on Wikipedia-Click here for more info.) It was single track, covered in snow turning to ice and we were surrounded by woodland which seemed to be closing in on us. A car ahead had pulled over as if it were stuck. Liz C said 'Are we going the right way?' Of course we weren't!

A young fearless couple driving past rolled down their window and said, 'you can get to the main road this way but it gets really steep'. We managed to turn around in a passing place which was covered in snow. Liz M who was following us, quite rightly didn't want to risk getting stuck whilst turning as it has happened before in her car. For ten minutes or so the setting worthy of being on the front of a Christmas card became threatening.  This was ironic as we'd been talking about how to use conflict in a beautiful setting only that morning. It was possible that Liz M wouldn't be able to turn her car around. It would be dark in forty-five minutes and there was slim chance of a mobile signal. Liz M reversed, her car slipping and sliding until she reached a turning which was clear enough for her to turn around in. Liz C and I made our way to the A25 on the right road, allowing ourselves to laugh with relief.
I've been writing a scene for Book 2 where my main character visits a town in the heart of the Cotswolds for the day. The snow in Peaslake has inspired me to set this scene in February rather than in May. I can use the snow to make my character vulnerable. She can have trouble getting her car out of the car park and she'll need to find somewhere to stay as the roads out of town aren't safe.
Thank you to Ruth and everyone else for a wonderful weekend with lots of laughter.