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

Guest appearance on Dizzy C's Little Book Blog

Today I'm a guest on Dizzy C's Little Book Blog talking about The Palio of Siena and incorporating research into a scene.
Have a read if you fancy it.

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.