Category Archives: Writing

What is the theme of your book?

You have to know. You have to be able to say, very succinctly, what your novel is about. What it ultimately IS. In one sentence. Go on. Say it. If you can’t, there’s a good chance you don’t really know what your purpose is for this book.

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just three rules would be easy . . .

A funny little quote from W. Somerset Maugham is all well and good and lightens the mood in an old-fashioned, quaint sort of way, does it not, Madam? Sir?

But we ain’t writing old-fashioned, quaint sorts of books, are we? Unless we’re Alexander McCall Smith and he’s a master so there’s no point in trying to emulate his style.

We have to have thrust. We have to have a clear picture of where we’re going right at the very beginning of this book, and we have to keep watching the SatNav all along the way to prevent from wandering from our ultimate purpose.That’s why we need one clear sentence that says what this book IS. That’s why we have to keep that one clear sentence lodged in our thinking as the plot progresses.

Loving the writing

flyingpants

pantsing doesn’t always get you where you want to go

I looked at my tag cloud.  What? The blogging word was getting too big. It was almost as big as the writing word. See what happens when you’re not looking? When you’re pantsing instead of planning. For initiates pantsing is flying by the seat of them. Get it?

Pantsing is great for that piece of morning writing when your head needs clearing and you just write down the first thing you think of. Afterwards, you can have a look at what you wrote and decide whether any of it’s worth keeping. Mostly, it isn’t. So you have to plan what you’re going to write.

lovereading

in love with reading

lovewriting

in love with writing

Did I mention before that as well as short stories, I write novels? And, as it’s Valentine Day, I’m taking this opportunity to dedicate myself to them: my novels. I am in love with all of them. I shall be in love with the next when it arrives. My love for them has no bounds. Like with your children, your love grows: you don’t steal from one to give to another. You love them all.

You can’t please everybody

This morning, I happened to catch a UK television programme I hadn’t seen before. Artists went before a hanging committee to win a place at an exhibition at the prestigious Tate Gallery. Three judges sat on the panel and contestants needed a majority vote to go forward.

A young photographer made it through and said she’d charge three hundred pounds if somebody wanted to buy her exhibit. That would cover her costs. On exhibition day, prospective purchasers were requested to put in sealed bids for work they wanted to buy.

There was only the one sealed envelope for this young woman’s work. She sold it for nearly three THOUSAND pounds.

Now then, what if one more judge had given her the thumbs down? What if that particular buyer hadn’t attended the exhibition that day? Might that talented young woman have gone home thinking that nobody liked her work? Might she have been so disillusioned by the whole experience that she simply gave up?

Here’s the thing. You can’t please everybody, so don’t try. Stick with what you know you do best. Make sure it is your best. Don’t be put off.

Waiting for submissions feedback

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an old British Rail waiting room

Waiting. Waiting. Drumming your fingers on the desk. Making another hot drink. Not being able to settle. Can’t read. Not even a newspaper.

I hate waiting. So, I don’t. I write instead. Actually, I blog and network and do some writing. Maybe a bit of editing, too. I go outside with a coffee and do A LOT of staring into space. Walking helps with the waiting thing as well. We have plenty of places to walk – mostly through the vineyards surrounding the village. I take my camera and see what’s new for the upcoming Wednesday Vine Report. The whites have begun sprouting leaves already.

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vineyards below the village near the river

So, my time is filled productively without too much waiting. And a very strange thing happens while I’m out walking along the lanes. Ideas arrive! They pop up from behind a bush or they streak across the sky with Ryanair on its way to Beziers airport. My feet crunch through gravel and here’s a tale of lost luggage and a mix-up at the car hire desk where a kind person offers the lost luggage person a lift home. Hmmm. Romantic interlude or Samaritan from Hell? I think that’s already been done. Left, right, swishing through the grass and here comes another idea. Fast on its heels there’s an answer to that question I had about a character in a short story. I meet a couple walking their dog and now I know exactly what my elderly male character ought to wear on his head. I climb towards home. There’s a young man sitting on a bench by the side of the road. He has his mobile phone to his ear. Hang on a minute, goes the old grey matter, that there is an old folks’ bench. What is a young man like him doing sitting on an old folks’ bench using his mobile phone?

And before you know it, another short story is bubbling like Evian, featuring the very handsome young man, a distraught, wronged lover and a victorious wife biding her time for the killing. I dash indoors for my notebook. Then, I come back to my garden for some more staring into space.

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Flowers and fruit at the same time

Outside on my baby lime tree there are mature fruits and fruits barely formed and flowers waiting for the bees. A bit like my writing really.

I have three completed novels. Let me rephrase that. I have one novel under consideration at the moment and I consider that one finished after two rewrites. The other two novels need complete, hefty editing. They’re all different genres. One’s a family saga and at 140,000 words needs the heftiest axe. Another’s a psychological drama and needs a restructure. The third’s a book club read and at 86,000 words is close to optimum. I think. I’m waiting to find out. I’m also waiting for feedback on two short stories submitted to Woman’s Weekly. And the serial. So, that’s four pieces of work I’m waiting to hear about.

Then there are the flowers waiting for the bees. Two half-written novels, umpteen short stories and a file called Ideas which keeps growing longer every time I go out for a walk and see handsome young men on their mobiles in the wrong place.

By the time my limes fizz at the top of a clinky drink of Gin and Tonic, I’m really going to need it. Make it a big one. Easy on the tonic!

Killing my babies

It has to be done. The thing’s too long. I have to bring out the edit knife and chop.

My serial is set in the French village of Bugarach. On the night of twenty-first December 2012, Bugarach was at the centre of international media interest over the coming end of the world. This remote village in Languedoc is the location of the magic mountain. Its rock formations are upside down; the oldest rocks are at the peak rather than at the base. Legend has it that one day the rocks will part and aliens will arrive to save believers.

Where better to hold an end of the world party? Where better to set a story about struggling relationships and people who want to make changes in their lives?

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The Magic Mountain of Bugarach

But it’s too long. Pass me the light sabre.

Writing a serial for a women’s magazine

She likes the idea. The Fiction Editor at the magazine is intrigued. I think I’m getting closer. We’re keeping in contact while I do the rewrites.
This is my third go at writing a longer piece for serialization. The first, by chance, was too similar to a story they were currently running with a similar main character. The second was considered too downbeat. I understood perfectly. It’s more of a story for Mick Alec Idlelife and if you haven’t met him yet, check out his page under ‘A writer in the making”.
So, fingers crossed for third time lucky.

Ae Fond Kiss at the Burns’ night with guitar accompaniment

He was an excellent guitarist. When he sang to his own accompaniment, the room hushed and listened. But, we couldn’t work together. He didn’t know what I was doing with my voice and I didn’t know what he was doing with his chords.

See, if we’d had a chance to prepare, things might have worked out better. So, after the first verse I asked to carry on ‘a cappella’ as they say in the music world. The term comes from Italian and means in the style of chapel singing without instrumental accompaniment.

We had a word afterwards and he told me I’d done the right thing.

So, this brings me to the subject of my previous post. You have to have the confidence to sing in your own voice, to write in your own voice. Some people will like it; some people won’t.

Finding your own voice in your writing

Do you receive Holly’s weekly tips? I do. Holly Lisle writes fantasy novels. I don’t, but what she has to say on all manner of writing issues is relevant to all genres. Find her at http://www.hollylisle.com

Here’s today’s gem from Holly: ‘It’s disastrous to use someone else’s style as your own.
Consider—the writer whose work you love is an original.
If you set out to use her style, you can AT BEST only
ever be a second-rate copy of her. Worse, you will work
twice as hard copying her style as you would developing
one of your own.

What you love about her style is the way her mind puts
the story on the page. But you don’t HAVE her mind.
You have yours, and what comes naturally to her and flows
from her hand as a part of her would sound false coming
from you.

If you managed to make yourself a good imitator and
managed to sell your work in her style, some of the
people who liked her work would certainly find you.
But many of them would consider you a pale imitation
(and they’d be right), and they would wander away.

Whereas, if you develop your own style, the people who
find you and love your work CANNOT find another voice
like yours. There IS no other voice like yours. Your
readers will stick to you because only you can give
them YOUR stories.

You’ll find your own voice as you write. It isn’t
something you have to struggle with; it isn’t something
you have to twist yourself into pretzels to “create.”

Your voice is you, talking naturally to your reader,
telling stories that matter to YOU. It takes time to
find your voice, and a lot of words written to get
past early awkwardness that comes from trying too hard,
but once you come home to who you are as a storyteller,
no one will ever mistake you for a cheap knockoff.

Be yourself. Pretending to be someone else will
leave you miserable, uncertain of the value of your
own work, certain that you only gained any success you
ever obtain because you copied some quirk of another
writer’s mind.

You would never be able to believe that the people
who loved your work loved YOUR work. You would
always believe it was the way you copied someone
else’s punctuation and grammar that they were
responding to.

Only you can tell your stories. Be sure you tell them
in your own voice.

Cheerfully,
Holly ‘

And my response – ‘thank you for this. It’s brilliant! I think it’s so important to find your own voice – like a singer whose style is instantly recognizable as soon as she opens her mouth. I’d go further. It’s in the timbre of the voice, to borrow a musical term.
Some people have operatic voices; they sing great arias, but get them to attempt something contemporary and it comes out all wrong and out of place. Others sing rock to raise the roof, or blues to make you cry and they’d sound just as misplaced trying to sing something from Puccini.

Tonight I’m singing a Robert Burns song at a Burns’ Night celebration. It’s a well-known song, but I’m doing my own thing with it. Isn’t that what we hear on X-Factor? You took this song and you made it your own?
I’m not looking to be a great singer. I just like singing. I love writing more. I know I have to have the same kind of confidence to do my own thing with it.’

Holly always signs off with ‘Write with joy’.

I do. So does Mick although he wouldn’t admit it.