Friday 16 December 2011

Why do I write?

This is one of those times of year when I miss my mother. She died in 2002 at the age of 52. At the time it was sudden and shocking and I still haven't got over it. I didn't get chance to say goodbye so I wrote her a letter. Then I had to write a speech to read out at her funeral. After that I returned to the stressful job I was doing in the City, working in the back office, finalising documentation for the Derivatives traders. I was working 11-12 hour days and under a great deal of pressure. It's difficult to grieve in that environment so I took a career break just before I got married at the age of 29.
After I got married, I thought 'what shall I do now?'. I wanted to have children but not right away. I remembered that writing the goodbye letter to my mother and the funeral speech had made me feel better. Writing was like therapy.
I wrote a great deal as a child when we lived in the middle of nowhere in Yorkshire. I wrote a series of stories about a cuddly pink mouse I owned and sent them to Ladybird. I still have the beautifully-worded rejection letter. I won a story competition at the age of nine for a story called 'Bottle on the Beach'. Writing has always made me feel happy.
I thought back to the three weeks I spent putting together my dissertation for university about the changing role of women in Italy. I went home as it was the Easter holidays. It was spring, the sun shone through my bedroom window and the garden was in full bloom. My mum brought me cups of tea and discussed bits of it with me every now and again. I'd enjoyed creating an 8000 word piece of work and I got 68%. This made me think that I should be capable of creating a novel.
My mum liked to write. She wrote poetry and had been writing a novel for more than ten years when she died. I never got to read any of her novel but I knew that it was set in Italy and Yorkshire and that there was a love story in it somewhere. So I decided to use those ideas as my inspiration. My parents met on holiday in Italy and we'd been driving to Italy every summer since I could remember. As a child I loved the sound of Italian and I made up my mind that I was going to learn how to speak it one day. I went on to study Italian and French at university and I lived in Grenoble and Siena during the third year of my degree.
Writing my novel was initially part of the grieving process. It had to be an upbeat genre as I wanted to write to be uplifted. In January I'm going to send it to more agents and enter more competitions and do my best to get it published. Then I need to get on with Book 2. This seems like such a mammoth task. But writing is all about perseverance and I shall carry on writing until hopefully I get somewhere.
This is my last blog post of 2011. (My husband has asked me to stay away from blogging, Twitter and Facebook over the Christmas period and I feel I ought to try!) I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading my blog since I started it in October. I've really enjoyed writing it. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2012!
I'd be interested to read your comments about why you write or anything else.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Bringing scenes to life with photographs

The novel I recently submitted to an agent with working title 'The Grandson' is set in Siena, Italy. I lived in Siena for eight months in 1994. Five months of that time was spent studying Italian and three months was spent as an au pair. In 'The Grandson' the main character, Jessica is an au pair and she looks after an eighty year old lady called Sophia. Sophia's Italian-American grandson is the hero, Alessandro.
I have an album full of photographs from my time in Siena which I've used as inspiration for scenes in my novel. It's amazing how a photograph can jog a memory. The picture above was the view from the flat I lived in when studying. I've used that view as the opening scene in my novel. The heroine, Jessica is hanging out washing when the hero buzzes on the intercom.
In 2006 I went to Florence for the weekend with some friends and I got the bus to Siena for the day. I took some more photographs that day to help with scenes I'd written or planned to write.  Here is a selection of photographs which I've used as inspiration for scenes.
Above: The view from Jessica's bedroom window. The other rooms in the flat overlook Tuscan scenes.
Above: Jessica's flat is the one with the washing hanging from below the window
Above: The grand entrance to the flat where Jessica lives.
The restaurant where Jessica and the hero, Alessandro go for dinner twice. The first visit is a success. The second visit at the end of Act 2 is a disaster.
The above photograph was taken at the August Palio in 1994. At the end of Act 1 there is a series of scenes on the day of the Palio. This photo provided me with so much information: The heads in the crowd facing the same direction, children sitting on parents' shoulders, contrada scarves wrapped around shoulders, people taking photos, the red material hanging from windows, the way people in the crowd are crammed together, the hot weather demonstrated by the boys with bare torsos, the fact that noone can see anything...(The Palio is a bareback horse race around Siena's main square, La Piazza del Campo. There are two Palios each year in July and August. Siena is divided into 17 contrade, meaning districts. In each Palio 10 contrade take part)
The photograph above was taken at the street party of the Tartuca contrada which won the Palio in August 1994. There is a street party scene in my novel where another girl, Natalie competes with Jessica for Alessandro's affection.
The family that Jessica au pairs for have a villa in Castiglione della Pescaia, a charming seaside resort not far from Siena. Alessandro turns up at this villa to surprise Jessica at the beginning of Act 2.
This is just a handful of the photographs I've used to help bring scenes to life when writing my novel. I'd be interested to know if you've used photographs as inspiration or if you have any other comments.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Christmas scenes

When re-drafting or planning scenes I run through a list of words: time (year, month, day, time of day), place, temperature, lighting, season, senses, conflict, what happens?, goal for next scene etc. This helps bring a scene to life.
If a scene isn't working, I ask myself whether it can be cut. If the scene is essential to the plot, I find changing the location or season can make a difference. Christmas is a useful time of year to use. 
The run-up to Christmas can be hectic, but once Christmas Eve arrives and the presents are wrapped, I relax. A break from the daily routine is a treat and I enjoy drinking and eating my way through the festive period with family.
What a character does at Christmas says a lot about them and their relationships with others in the book. In Act 3 of my novel, 'The Grandson', the main character, Jessica spends Christmas with her family. She changed her mind about spending it with her fiancĂ©, Sebastian's family at the last minute. This shows that she's having second thoughts about their upcoming wedding.  She talks to her mother, Mary in the kitchen on Christmas Eve whilst her mother prepares the turkey. The father is noticeably absent because he's working on the farm. He doesn't need to but he avoids Mary as much as he can.  Jessica's parents are stuck in a loveless marriage and Jessica points this out to her mother. Mary goes quiet and they have an awkward moment. Then she suggests they leave the kitchen to sit in front of the log fire with a sherry.
Christmas is a time when we make the effort to see the people we care about. Having a Christmas scene in a novel gives a writer the opportunity to show what a character's relationships with others are like. Helen Fielding uses Christmas in Bridget Jones's Diary with success. It's easy to see what Bridget's relationship with her parents is like. Her mother's pushiness is demonstrated when she tries to set Bridget up with Mark Darcy at Christmas drinks. When Darcy wears a ridiculous Christmas jumper given to him by his mother, it's clear that his mother has an influence on him.
Have you used Christmas scenes as an opportunity to show a character's relationship with their family or friends? Or do you have any other comments?