Tag Archives: writing

World Book Week – Day 1

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I’m writing this the night before the day it all kicks off.

Overnight I will go from reclusive, sitting on the sofa with my laptop writer, to all singing all dancing author in schools .

Normally, I slope about in gardening clothes, a bit grubby, but ready to respond to a falling tree or leaf at the drop of a hat.

Tomorrow, proper clothes, proper shoes. A powerpoint (just that word sends chills down my disorganized spine).

There will be maps of schools to find. Names to remember and corridors that are all remarkably similar to negotiate. School lunches, and school smells. Smiling teachers, anxious teachers, smiling children, reluctant children. In some cases, hostile children and I have to be honest, at times, I will long for my sofa and my laptop and my gardening trousers.

But then, when it’s all over and I look for photos on my phone and I remember to tweet and I write down the mileage (quite a lot this week) I will long for a trip out. A chance to leave my manuscript hanging, my characters stuck in a cave, half way up a cliff. I will long for someone to make me a coffee, not me. And I will remember the children that laughed, that got excited about books, that stared into space and told me about the best thing they ever read.  And I will treasure the letters like the one above that arrive unbidden from children who have read my books.

And I will be glad of being a children’s author, rolled out for this annual festival.  I will long for the excitement of World Book Week.

Just remember though. We are, like puppies, not just for one time in the year. Most of us like to crawl out of our shells more often. You just have to ask.

 

Stuff that holds you up.

Now I’m not doing Nanowrimo – which for those who have never heard of it is a group of people who all try to write a novel in a month.  It leads to massive word counts and finished novels and is probably a thoroughly good thing, but personally, not for me.

I am though, trying to write a novel in a month. Or at least, finish one that I started a while back – I’m motoring through, huge word counts, massive chunks of plot down on virtual paper and the end is in sight.

But then I get stuck.

And its the silliest thing.

Two girls get into a boat and look for some food.

Olivia reached out for Grandpa’s lunch package.  Oh no. Innuendo.

Olivia rummaged around under the seat and found Grandpa’s sandwiches. Now I can’t stop the innuendo.

Chloe handed Olivia Grandpa’s packed lunch.  Even worse.

Reaching into a bag Chloe took out the lunch that Grandpa had given them.  Too  long.

“Time for lunch” said Chloe, digging out Grandpa’s package.  Arghghgh!

At which point, I go and have lunch and spend all afternoon looking for an old photograph.

 

As you were….

Thinking about Agatha…

Today I took my mum and her best friend, Vicky to to visit Agatha Christie’s holiday home, Greenway, on the banks of the river Dart.

It was overly hot and overly full and Mum struggled with the stairs, but it was stuffed with stuff, much of it collected by Agatha and her children, some by her various husbands.  It was all fascinating and little fragments of Poirot or Miss Marple sprang to mind as we wandered around the various rooms gazing at objects that showed insight into Agatha Christie’s thinking- kind of like an author’s slideshow, but in 3d.

In one room, they had this:

Agatha Christie

I stared from the window, recognising exactly what she meant, and applying it to my own writing – just downstairs I had seen a typewriter and written it into a plot – I know it wasn’t Agatha Christie’s, but it might have been.  The house was beautiful, the trees falling away to the river breathtaking, the distant glimmer of water stunning.

All of it was marvellous, inspirational,

She wrote so much,

So many stories, so many hours bent over that typewriter.

I really needed to be more disciplined, use every scrap of the day.

Then it occurred to me, she never had to do the washing up.

 

 

 

 

Writing from the heart…

busstopsignJust about a year ago, when the world seemed a more innocent place than it does now, I had a conversation with my editor at Piccadilly Press, Tilda Johnson.  It wasn’t the first conversation we’d had.  In fact it was probably the last in six months of conversations by phone and email that had been circling around what kind of book I would write next.

Before Tilda, I’d been having that conversation with Sara O’Connor, about the same book.

It had been going on for the best part of a year and it felt like the third wish. The last book in a contract, what was is going to be? It needed to be good, heartfelt, emotionally true, compelling, funny in parts, sad in parts.  I needed to believe in it, Tilda needed to believe in it.

The date was 16th July, and I started, once again to put down an idea on paper. But this idea was different, it came from somewhere else, definitely not my head. It came too fast to ram into a synopsis, it was running out of me like sand and I felt the need to tell Tilda really quickly before it disappeared.

I spewed out Amy’s story, Zelda’s story, the book’s story – and Tilda listened.  At the end there was a silence and she said: “I sense that you really want to write this?”

I realised that I was going to write it anyway, whether or not she liked it.

“Yes,” I said. “I really do.”

It had to go to various channels, editorial meetings, sales chats in which an incomplete synopsis and a hasty first chapter stood their ground. It was called Phone Box Baby.

By 29th July it had a new title. Bus Stop Baby.

I promised it would be written by the end of September – ” Hurrah!” replied Tilda, “I knew this was special as soon as you started pitching it on the phone – it feels very real already somehow.”

I began writing on 3rd of August and by the 19th August, there was a first draft.

Even for me that’s fast.

It wasn’t the end of drafting – that went on for months, and backwards and forwards it went, some parts getting bigger, others smaller, but a remarkable amount of it went through just as it was written – straight from the heart.

Bus Stop Baby is published today.  £5.99 Piccadilly Press.

 

 

Crossing the line.

treesLast night we went to an outdoor performance of The Tempest.  It was in gardens surrounded by fields and trees, a kind of parkland.

Being cheapskates, we had booked “groundling” tickets.  A snip at £5 – but no seat, and no cover if it rains.  We sat in front of the stand, coats and cushions under our bums, a couple of feet from the actors and with a 180 degree view of the action.  The best, but the most uncomfortable seats in the house.

We watched the first half, totally absorbed. Catching every nuance, every raised eyebrow.  Fully aware of the lighting that gradually changed the giant oak, centre stage, from green to pink.  It was thrilling. Caliban addressed us. Ariel’s skirts brushed us. We could see the goosepimples and hear the sighs.

But at the interval, our daughter said that we should sit in the empty seats at the top of the stand. She felt too vulnerable at the front. We agreed, our bums ached, it was getting chilly, and surely it would be just as good.

Well it was, but it wasn’t.

We couldn’t see so much, we couldn’t hear so much, and we weren’t part of it.

It occurred to me, as I sat at the back of the stand, that it was the difference between a book that is “close up” to its characters, and a book that isn’t.  I realise that I both choose to write, and choose to read books in which the characters are speaking to ME. And probably only me. So that some bridge of intimacy is formed in the first few pages and which I am loathe to break.

It’s the whole Point of View thing.  I remember learning about it at Bath Spa and I’d never even thought about it before, but I’m beginning to think it’s the most important part of starting any new story – who is going to tell it, and how?

As I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to plots, all I can ever remember about a book that I’ve read is the sound of the character in my ear.  Where I’ve been sitting inside the action, rather than lying back, away, ever so slightly removed from the story.

So here’s a short list of books where for me the voice has sucked me in:

Liar and Spy – Rebecca Stead

Sky Hawk   – Gill Lewis

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Bramachari

A Greyhound of a Girl.   Roddy Doyle

The Year of the Rat – Clare Furniss

The Last Leaves Falling –  Fox Sarah Benwell

The Book Thief  – Marcus Zusak

I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith

Restoration – Rose Tremain

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

 

And next time I go to outdoor theatre, I’ll take a thicker cushion and stay on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

Being a writer is fun…

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Being a writer is fun.

Being a writer is spending all day in your imagination,

Flying over mountains,

Swimming deep in oceans,

Foiling criminals,

Demonizing someone,

Making someone a saint,

Falling in love, again, again, again,

Sometimes a wedding,

Sometimes a funeral,

Building dens,

Saving wild animals,

Seeing it from everyone’s point of view, and no-one’s.

All of the above.

And of course it’s fun – that’s why we do it. But it’s also very hard work.

A desk job that you can do at almost any desk or sofa.  That leaves you elated and exhausted in equal turns.

Full of doubts.

And that’s the dreamy creative, focussed outpouring bit.

But a massive part of it is editing, editing, editing.

And that’s really hard work. When it’s going well, it can be like stepping stones, wonderful paths that suddenly make sense and lead you on with silver promises of a story resolved. Other times it’s a dreadful slog. Sometimes boring, and sometimes challenging, and sometimes very nearly impossible.

It requires a totally different part of the brain.  The one that changes all the “ to ‘ except when it’s a ‘.

The part of the mind that spends half an hour thinking up an alternative phrase, trying every combination of words to keep the rhythm but improve the meaning.

The one that works out, to its horror, that the basic premise of the story is, in fact,  too far fetched. That the central character is unappealing.

And after rewriting and rewriting and rewriting,   (seven years of it)

The one that compares a manuscript to to its original, and finds that of 52,000 words, only 2500 remain.

That is being a writer.

 

 

You mean it has to have chapters?

 

 

 

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When you ‘re a child, and someone’s reading to you,  there’s always that hope that they might read you another chapter; and as an adult, you ponder, as you approach the end of that chapter, whether you can stand reading another one, or will your own voice send you to sleep.

At this point, the chapter seems relevant, useful, essential.

They’re often about 1000 words apart and they help to regulate the story, like a heartbeat, or a pendulum.

But as the readership gets older and the story perhaps more about inner dialogue and less about action, so the placing of the chapter break becomes more difficult.

I’ve just finished the almost final draft of Bus Stop Baby, a book about Amy, a twelve year old who finds an abandoned baby in a cardboard box in the village bus shelter.  I wrote the book in a single splurge in sixteen days last summer.  It had been boiling up for a while and came out like a geyser, faster and faster until I abandoned the spelling, the punctuation, the names, all of it in favour of getting it out before I forgot the initial intensity of Amy and her character.

The result, a rope of a manuscript with no regulation. No formal breaks. No chapters. I put in the punctuation. The spelling was done by my computer – but the chapters…

Well, I’m still struggling with those.

 

BUS STOP BABY will be published in July of this year.