Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallows' Greetings

Have been a busy bee baking for today with DD while the boys play....

Tomorrow begins the month of mad writing and who knows what that will bring - but hopefully some form of a rough draft of Pilgrimage. Don't know how often I will be blogging as I must channel as many words as possible into the book but will try and do both :-)

Happy Halloween

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Cakes and F1 in Abu Dhabi

This is day two of me not going to the F1 events in Abu Dhabi. Yesterday I took ds1 to have a hair cut and for a bit of shopping and today dd and I have been making ghouly cakes for Halloween. I will simply post a few photos to show how the other half of my beloved family is keeping themselves occupied. Me jealous? Of course.....not...much!
(pictures were clearly not taken by me who was not there but by ds2)

Monday, October 26, 2009


It's half term and all my chicks are here, which is brilliant. However it means that no writing gets done nor should it - they are my focus.My editing has ground to a halt and A Cornish House remains at two chapters polished. Fine.

Now next month is crazy. This is the month where I compose the family Epistle to send to family and friends come December. This should be a quiet month of preparation but alas it is not meant to be. I will be all over the place again. First I am hosting an alumnae function for Mt. Holyoke and several of the Sevens Sisters here in Dubai when DH is away - so sans extra hands to help. Then I am off to the UK again - for a couple exeats, the RNA Winter party and so on. I return from there to be at the naming ceremony of two vessels for DH's work on the 24th then it's Eid here and DH wants to see the kids so I am back on a plane for a long weekend in the UK and boom November is over...

Not a lot of time for much of anything but breathing really. So being typical me I realize I won't have the focus required to continue editing ACH because it demands my full attention to really see what I need to do and make the appropriate changes. This is where the reckless bit comes in - do I want to lose a month of the year to not writing? Who me - wonder woman? Absolutely not therefore I have signed up for NaNoMo. Yup- stupid definitely but I have nothing to lose. I'm hoping that joining up with other deranged souls I will produce a sh*tty first draft of PILGRIMAGE. This is truly madness because I have been toying with idea of making this a time slip novel and I haven't done the historical research - so the first draft may well be all the present part with chapters full of 'fill in here later'.

So today I begun making cards of things I do know about Pilgrimage - the title and it is set in Cornwall but haven't decided where. My heroine's name is Prudence (Pru).

That's not a lot to begin with but I have nothing to lose.......

Now can you share with me what pilgrimage means to you?

Friday, October 23, 2009


Yesterday I was out shopping with DS1. He needed a book to read and I don't need any encouragement to go to a book shop. So we had lunch at the Dubai Mall and then went up stairs to Kinokuniya, which is massive to say the least. However they didn't have the two books that are hot on my must buy now list - Cally Taylor's HEAVEN CAN WAIT and Allie Spencer's TUG OF LOVE. However I wandered the store with DS1 and kept saying - she's a friend as I saw a row of Katie Fforde's books and then came across another row of Jill Mansell and so it went...Eventually he said, "Do you know everyone?" and I replied, "No." However the next shelve we stumbled upon made me sound a bit of a liar and very privileged indeed.

As I looked across the middle shelf... I had to say that Nell Dixon, Veronica Henry, Julie Cohen and Phillipa Ashley were all friends. In fact in JUST SAY YES by Phillipa there is actually a thank you in the acknowledgements to moi....

So we ended up buying him a ton of Bernard Cornwell books - six to be precise.

I also decided to be brave and probably foolish when we came across another one of Katie's books on a bestseller shelf and I pointed to a spot on the shelf and said to DS1, "One day my book or books will be right there." Bless the child, he rolled his eyes and said, "I know that Mum but could you just hurry up and do it." Don't you just love kids...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Links, Editing and Temptation

My editing is progressing slowly, which might not be a bad thing. However I think this is due to the fact that I loathe hard work. I am trying to look at my work objectively and logically (not a strong point of mine). I am making index cards for each scene stating what it achieves - who is in it and so on. This for me is not the fun part of writing and I wonder if I will ever do this for another book. In some ways I hope not. I want to learn these lessons on this one so that I can continue to keep the magic and the fun in the writing but I know I may not be that lucky.

I have stumbled on to some very good links this week. One came from Michelle Styles. She has provided me with many a light bulb in this writing journey of mine. She links to this article by Alexander Chee. I have printed it off and used a highlighter to bring the multiple valuable points out. The one that resonated the most for me was this:

"Very quickly, she identified what she called ‘bizarre grammatical structures’ inside my writing. From the things Annie circled in my drafts, it was clear one answer to my problem really was, in a sense, Maine. From my mom’s family, I’d gotten the gift for the telling detail—Your Uncle Charles is so cheap he wouldn’t buy himself two hamburgers if he was hungry—but also a voice cluttered by the passive voice in common use in that of that part of the world—I was writing to ask if you were interested—a way of speaking that blunted all aggression, all direct inquiry, and certainly, all description. The degraded syntax of the Scottish settlers forced to Maine by their British lords, using indirect speech as they went and then after they stayed. And then there was the museum of clichés in my unconscious.

I felt like a child from a lost colony of Scotland who’d taught himself English by watching Gene Kelly films.
The passive voice in particular was a crisis. “Was” only told you that something existed—this was not enough. "

Now take the Maine out and put Massachusetts in and the same with Scottish and Irish.....I have tripped up all my writing life with a natural syntax that leans heavily on the passive and until I read this article never knew, other than that the Irish use it, why.

Nathan Bransford held a competition recently on opening paragraphs which was amazing. In this post he sums up why he chose the finalists. His insight with the examples on why excellent openers didn't make it to the top ten is brilliant for 'seeing' things that as writers we often hear in criticism. Here is a snippet of the post and do read it and the paragraphs as it is eye opening:

"I don't have any set preferences when it comes to structure and approach. frohock left a great comment that sums up my feeling about first paragraphs almost entirely. Essentially, I think the first paragraph has three important functions: it establishes the tone/voice, it gets the reader into the flow of the book, and it establishes trust between the author and reader.

The concept of flow and rhythm is especially important. It's hard to begin reading a book. The reader is starting with a blank slate and doesn't have much context for understanding what is happening. It takes a lot of brain power to read the opening and begin to feel comfortable in the world of that book. So even if the novel starts with action, or especially if it begins with action, it's very important to draw in the reader methodically, with one thought leading to the next. The flow of the words and a steady building goes a long way toward hooking the reader. Quite a few paragraphs jumped around or felt scattered, and it made it difficult to stay engaged.And on the trust issue: I shy away from anything that feels like a gimmick. A novel is simply too long for gimmicks. Not only do they get exhausting, anything that is clever merely for the sake of being clever comes at the expense of trust between author and reader. To put it another way: if a first paragraph is how an author makes their first impression, using a gimmick in the opener is kind of like going to shake the reader's hand while wearing a hand buzzer. There might be a quick thrill, but they're probably not going to trust you after that. There was a feeling of forced cleverness in many of the entries where I wasn't able to lose myself in the paragraph and forget the hand of the author who was writing it. "

This one from Jane Friedman at Writers Digest is self explanatory.

And the last for today is from Michael Hyatt's blog on 'What It Takes To Become a Master Writer' by guest blogger Mary DeMuth. Hard to read but I think true for most of us.

And finally that brings me to the I mentioned above I am struggling with the editing (which to me means I need to knuckle down and just get on with it) so I am sorely tempted by NaNoMo. I have Pilgrimage lurking in my head. I want to do the research and I would love to knock out something that in truth would be nothing more that 50,000 word outline. Oh, the call of the fresh and new....

Is anyone doing NaNoMo this year? For me it would be a bit impractical as I will be doing a bit of travel again....................

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Bud's For You - Rant Warning

First let me say I had a perfect Dubai weekend. It began on Thursday night with and unplanned evening with friends that finished up eating out by the sea at the sailing club. That evening led to a pj day on Friday and relaxing evening watching a film.

Saturday was a day out in the desert - wadi bashing with friends. I love Dubai but the craziness of it can and does get to you. So a little effort is required to escape the madness. After a leisurely breakfast at the aforementioned sailing club watching the racing dhows prepare just off the beach, we set off to Wadi Ray in Oman.

First rant - just across the border into spectacular scenery the small truck in front of us first chucks soda can out of the window then a plastic bag. This is one of the most beautiful if stark spots on earth and suddenly the pristine landscape becomes dustbin.

We made to the wadi detouring to enjoy the geology (bonus of having a DH a geologist). We arrive at the wadi and find just two other Dubai cars parked there. This is a bonus as on the weekends beauty spots can be packed. We were delighted to find that there was actually some water in the wadi (wadis are dry river beds and some have pools of varying sizes). We slowly drove up the wadi to find a picnic spot. In the shade of a dying date plantation we stopped. It was just us, the flies and the wasps - quite perfect.

Then coming from the direction of the village a large crowd appeared. No problem until I saw how they were dressed - HELLO. This is not Brighton Beach but Oman. All the men bar the boy were topless and none had a body worthy of exposure. This in itself wasn't the problem for me (although why I had to look a their sunburned beer guts I don't know) - it was the lack of cultural respect. Don't they know that this type of exposure of skin may be okay on a Dubai beach, but not anywhere else. The women were all in short shorts and tank tops. Even now I find anger bubbling in me.

So my totally perfect weekend was scarred (which I can certainly handle) but this lack of respect drives me wild......society as a whole has lost respect. People swear on a continuous basis regardless of who may have to hear. They dress inappropriately for their location. This is a problem world-wide and is a total outward symptom of the me me focus of today. 'If I want to swear - it's my right too. I don't care if there is a child near by so what. If I want to strip off - it's my right to. I'm hot and I don't care if the view of my naked body offends and so on....'

I know this rant makes me sound frightfully old fashioned, but I see evidence of the lack of respect everywhere I go. People not giving up seats to the elderly or the pregnant. How they treat people working in shops, on buses and trains. Listening to their private music so loud that three carriages could hear it let alone the poor person with the seat beside. Or the deliberate polution with rubbish.

I ask myself continuously why this is happening. What is so different today than ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Has this rise in self, this cult of me, led to loss of respect of self.? Here - I am thinking of binge drinking.....I could go on but I won't.

Instead of more ranting, I will leave you with some beautiful pictures of the weekend and wish you a respectful week treating others as you wished to be treated.

PS I think the picture of the Bud Tree says it all.... (the bag trees were in full bloom too plus the odd goat tree here and there :-) )

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Notes From 'How To Get Published' Course - Part One Michael Ridpath

I know I promised these notes from 'How to Get Published' workshop at Kingston University ages ago but time....well lets just leave it. First let me say that again these are my notes and therefore are only what I heard and are therefore riddled with mistakes. So Michael Ridpath, if you drop by, I hope I haven't made any terrible faux pas and if so - sorry.

I found Michael's talk brilliant. It was enlightening and honest. It was filled with concrete advice. His website is filled more wonderful information too.

Herewith my summary of Michael Ridpath's talk.

-writes thriller
-was a bond trader
- very analytical
- FREE TO TRADE was first book
-uses index cards (he’s a planner which is very important for a thriller)
-took 6 mos to write during which he gave up tv etc, woke at 4, word count 90k
- characters were flat, stereotype plot
- 3 to 6 mos later gave him the distance to see this
- he couldn’t let it go though
- took 6-9 months rewriting it which he enjoyed
- then took another year & another draft which was much better
- put together a list of agents and submitted to 2 at a time – had 3 rejections then Carole Blake requested the full
- after a bidding war it marked the highest offer at that time ever offered for a 1st novel
- made it to #2
-he wrote 7 more books all financial thrillers; 2nd was difficult; enjoyed the 3rd; 4th set in Boston very difficult because of relationship in it; 5th ok; 6th good; 7th hedge fund; 8th his best
- he had success in UK – US very different – it’s all down to luck
- over time sales of his books declined and he moved publishers – he tried to work out why sales were declining and realized that readers preferred legal thrillers to financial ones
- in 2005 dropped by the publisher
- agent suggested he try something else and he thought of a detective from Iceland called Magnus (book comes out in the UK in the spring- WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE)
- this whole thing caused self doubt and he could have given up or even two years before that
- things are on the way up

What to Write About
- what you know and enjoy
- details are important
- you will get more pleasure this way

Don’t Copy
- write your own book not what you think will sell
- needs to be something original that can come from ONLY YOU
- what do you want to say; don’t let them take that out
- keep in YOU

It the 1st chapter, 1st paragraph, 1st sentence that sells first books. Go to a book shop and read all the first paragraphs all the first novels published.

Key things:
-act professionally at all times
-be reliable
-expect rejection and don’t give up
-the higher your profile and the more you make – the more bad things will be said
-know when to give up
-learn the craft
-techniques can be learned
-you can never write the perfect book – you are always learning
-you are always worried that your writing isn’t good enough
-you must always be striving to write better
- you mustn’t get complacent
-don’t rely on income always being there-have a plan

Writing Process
-total time 1 ½ years
-6 mos to pan and research
-5 mos first draft
-7 mos subsequent draft
-crime or a thriller needs a plan
-begins with a I page story idea
-then spends months widening it; asking questions about the characters
-he does a schedule of 12 ideas which grows to 120 which covers each scene

The first draft is fun
-after about 25% of the way through he stops to rework it and compare to plan; sometimes he goes with the difference or he then goes back to the plan or not – which ever works better.
-he does the same process at 50% and 75%

-ideally 6mos so you can see faults and solutions more clearly

Get feedback from trusted sources
-if they aren’t pros then ask specific questions like- where is it slow and what do they like most

The Role of the Unconscious
-when writing you make up things all the time – day after day. But you get stuck; stand back; look at connections from a new angle
-on a Friday he will think about the problem and write down the questions that needed to solve the problem; then he doesn’t think about it consciously all weekend
-then on Monday morning he sits with a blank sheet and answers questions then and there
-if still stuck he writes down all the possibilities

Alsion Baverstock
then summed up the talk before opening it up to questions. Her highlights were:

Structure –for time and writing
Replicable talent – that you can produce professionally
Think of what happens to your manuscript when it gets into an office

He was then asked a series of questions:

-he does roughly 2000 words a day – min 1000 and max 3000
-a book is never finished however most people think it is finished too early
-when leaving a book to ‘rest’ he takes 4 to 6 weeks ‘holiday’ but he is always planning
-he always writes in the morning
-he used to basic books on writing to learn about character and plot – both were by Writers Digest
-he takes notes on every book he reads to see what he can learn from the book


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Playing With Colour - Another Little Revision Exercise

Followers of the blog will know that I am a seat of your pants writer. Once I begin a story (usually with only the beginning, end, my main characters, and location), I write the first draft feeling my way. Not very scientific or organized but that’s how the story teller in me works – I like being surprised.

This slapdash method has huge pitfalls and I have fallen into each and every one of them. However I can’t ever see my writing method changing so I need to tackle how to fix the problems without killing my voice or the life of the story. Herein the difficulty lies.

When I took the fiction mantle back onto my shoulders in 2004, I thought it would be easy. I could write and I could tell stories. Simple. No. I can see with hindsight that from 2004 until today I had to relearn how to write prose again. Now I need to work on the mechanics of making my story better, tighter, and correctly paced. These, with those previously tackled, are the tools of writing. They need to be in shape so that the stories I need to tell are conveyed in the best way they can be.

These past five years have taught me is that this journey is not a race. Finally I have embraced this apprenticeship time. The current state of publishing is also a bonus for the unpublished writer. The pressure is off because things are so bad. Now is the time to fine tune skills and write books for the joy of it.

So yesterday I played again with my highlighter collection. Using Scene One, I looked at exactly what was there – description (pink), dialogue (orange), action (green), introspection (no colour). I wanted to see how the balanced or unbalanced it was. When in the full flow of the first draft, I never consider these things – my only thought is to get the story onto the page. Now ACH has been worked on before and I think the balance reflects this - so it would be interesting to do this exercise on a scene from Penderown which hasn’t been touched to find out whether I naturally balance these things or I am totally unbalanced (my suspicion). I do know that when writing dialogue – I just go for it. I don’t put speech tags or actions in and I need to layer these in afterwards.

So have you looked (visually) at the balance of a scene? And if so has it helped?
Finally a few links....
- a brave and thought provoking post by JA Konrath
- This link came via @BubbleCow on twitter Behler Blog gives Tough Advice

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Little Revision Exercise

So yesterday the revision of A Cornish House began in earnest. I know I have many things to address, but on day one I wanted to be able to say I had achieved something...anything really. So I tackled Scene One. This consisted of first reading it in hard copy (just over four pages) and addressing anything that hit me in the face - and yes there were plenty. Next I inputted those changes and printed again. For my second go through I wanted to narrow the focus on my verbs, yes my verbs. See photo. I highlighted them. This helped my easily distractable mind to FOCUS. So then I asked myself these questions:

1. Any obvious repetition?

-answer yes, need appears far too much

2. Needless/Lazy use of 'to be'

-answer yes

3. Passive?

-Yup (it's the Irish in me, I swear)

4. Are they the best verbs for the job?

-yes and no

5. Finally looking at them as a group do they help convey the point of the scene?

-interestingly for me the answer was an overwhelming yes

So the question for today is - have you ever done this and has it helped? BTW I did another two passes through of the scene and that's it done and dusted until the final read through - I think....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'm Calling it Finished

This morning I have been looking at the bottom of page 105 (in part three - this time I have written with only scene break and divided the document up into three parts) and realizing that in order to really pull all the threads of the story together to reach a good end I need to go back to the beginning - so for me this means first draft is done. Once I go to the beginning again it will be start of major work especially as poor Penderown has been written in large chunks separated by months at a time. It is very disjointed however the basic story is there. Now it needs to rest....

So onto the next project...I spoke a bit about my Cornerstones' Workshop and that it gave me fuel for thought.....I had a one-on-one with Julie Cohen in which she played devil's advocate. It made me stop and think through exactly what I was going to do next. Based on her experience she felt I should now just look forward - leave A Cornish House resting, finish the draft of Penderown and move onto Pilgrimage - not to look back. These were fighting words! Since I took up the fiction mantle again after years absence I have learned to love the that which I had despised - the rewrite. I worked August Rock to death (but this year breathed life into it again by yet another rewrite) and A Cornish House has not be rewritten many times (total 4 which included the one for the NWS submission this summer which I didn't feel was a full rewrite as I was so rushed) as I didn't want to make the mistake of killing it with rewrites BUT I can see its faults now and I think I can fix them without losing its soul.

So I chewed on Julies words - I respect her opinion. I quizzed Helen Corner over coffee. She looked at it differently than Julie. She asked was A Cornish House the book to launch me? Was it the right subject and characters? I knew as she asked this that Penderown as it stands certainly wouldn't be as older heroines (remember Victoria began the novel as the villain but I let her have her way and she stole the book and unlike with ACH and Serena I don't feel it would be right to change it). So she gave me something else to chew.

I then shared some emails and eventually chatted with a lovely agent - her advice was to follow my it's now been a few weeks and quite frankly my jaw is tried of all this chewing. I am going to rework A Cornish House one more time...........and in the meantime Penderown will rest and I have started researching Pilgrimage.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Jet Lag, Dogdy Connections and RNA Conference Notes

I'm back in Dubai but I don't think my brain has arrived yet. I hate this wobbly headed feeling. I normally don't suffer jet lag to badly but maybe because I don't have to rush around suddenly I can 'indulge' in jet lag???

New time in the UK was brilliant - glorious weather, friends, writing, shopping.........but terrible Internet connection. My dongle wouldn't stay connected for more than two second if it would connect at all. Ended up using friends 'puters which is fine for a quick check of emails but not much more. So I am way behind on all the things I need to do - like catch up on emails etc.

I don't know if its the jet lag or something else but am having a tough time reconnecting with Penderown at the moment. It certainly could just be the muzzy head, which a strong espresso isn't helping. It could be I have come to stuck plot point and it isn't working. I'll give it until tomorrow before I start digging for the glitch.

I am way behind in posting loads of things for you. I received an award 'The Lovely Blog' from the fabulous CS Harris. Blushing here especially having been such a bad blogger lately but I solider on.

The rules are simple:
1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

I always find this a bit tough but in this case I have to give the award to Anita Burgh who will curse me for it but she is doing the most wonderful posts at the moment beginning with the start of writing a novel (make sure you read the comments too on the latest post as other writers are sharing their processes too) and JJ for the way she enjoys her expat life and struggles with writing.

Now think back to summer, that wasn't if you were in the UK, I began most on the RNA conference but never finished them. So below find my notes for the wonderful talk by Jodi Thomas - she gave us so much that it was hard to get it all down.

Jodi Thomas ‘Plotting for Success in a Writing Career’

She has been making a living by writing for twenty years and before that she was a family counsellor.

Book Plotting
-first it’s all about the characters
-must care about the characters
-we have to identify with them
-has to have flaws; if good looking and perfect on the outside the flaws must be within
-he has to have a goal – need or want something and we need to know this from the beginning; the reader needs to know that
-we need to throw his world into turmoil; has to be basic down to the ground
-think of the character and think of the flaw and the need – they go together even if not reveal to the reader totally until the last page (you find out that he is an orphan on the last page and this is what has driven him to want a home and family so badly)
-fully developed as he needs to come alive
-has to be fully rounded; backside and front side; every character trait has two side – the positive and the negative (a gentle man which is good but you fear he will be unable to act to defend you)
-people develop in a story – everyone ether gets prettier or uglys up like they do in real life- not by the way they look but by their actions

You have to have a mountain in front of your character’s way – he must climb up and fall back again and again
Don’t bother with a conversation if it doesn’t have conflict in it
Create a character - Character's Name- would have been perfect if she hadn’t wanted ........ so much – a silly example (mine - I think) Ben would have been perfect if he hadn’t loved pizza with such passion
What if?
-he is gluten intolerant
-his wife hates pizza with the same passion as he loves it
-if he is actually so obese his mouth has been wired shut

Then make it personal - change to first person
-What if I am allergic to cheese and wheat
-What if I love my wife so much I can’t make her have any more pizza
-What if I am determined to lose 100 hundred pounds and regain my life

1.Wagon wheel
Put the problem in the middle and fill each space with a solutions – then create the spokes out of there with further possibilities of what it
2.Tell a few friends your basic premise and have them throw 20 scenarios at you as quickly as possible
3.Write down five things your character would never do- force his wife to eat pizza, use wire cutters to cut open his mouth to eat the pizza...
4.Push your characters out of their comfort zone whatever that may be...make them uncomfortable
4.Set aside time to plot – we are always in such a rush to start a new book – to get going. Take time – take a day or two or a week and change your environment to do it – even if it’s going to a coffee shop in a different part of town so no one knows you and can interrupt

Plotting your Writing Career
-Clearing the land, preparing the land. This is the time to learn your craft; take courses, read books
-Practice Writing - get a critique group
-Challenge yourself and Set Goals
Pitfalls: Too comfortable so you get stuck
-A writer writes –the secret of a successful writing career is to write)
-wear a stop watch and see the actual time you write (be honest)
-writers like to ‘build their nest’ cut this time down to ten minutes
-if you write for twenty hours a week (actually write – remember the stop watch above) you will be published
-only failures are people who don’t try
-when you feel you are going to quick and all is against you remember ‘triumph comes through perseverance’
Pitfall – fear of rejection so have a rejection plan so that when they come in and they will you open the envelop you keep it in and enact it - be eat two of the best chocolates, buy a pair of shoes, go to dinner with your husband, or have a pity party with two of best mates and drink until you can’t remember the rejection
The Fall/Autumn
-this is the harvest
-doors open – the hardest book to get published is the first
-don’t get the big head (bout the time you think you’re hot snot – you’re cold buggers)
-we are all on the same road – doesn’t get an easier
-all books won’t be perfect (she gave a great quote about a journalist was taking a multi published author to task for the quality of books 5, 7, and 11. The author said that may well be but I have to write them in order to 6,8 and 12)
The Winter
- The warm cosy place – a time to smile. I did what i set out to do
- Learn to trust your gut
- The books are better in your head
- You give away your best ideas
- Creativity is not a bucket – it is a river and the more you use it the more it flows
- Help others – be a guide to others – your best book may yet come out but in others

Jodi's latest book.