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Walking to where?

This is a painting by someone I used to know, a writer and artist. She’s dead now but her images and stories are still here and giving pleasure. She used the theme of figures walking to an unknown destination a lot – when I look at her pictures, I always want to know where they are going and why.

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One of the reason I think these images resonate we me is because you don’t know the character’s destination. It is such a contrast to life in general, where everything you do is supposed to have a purpose.

It’s a bit like this blog. You must have a blog, they* said. It’ll get you noticed they said.

* They = people who are supposed to know about how to promote yourself as an author.

Well, I found out this week that someone actually reads it (waves). I feel a sudden sense of responsibility that this has to be more entertaining / amusing / erudite (delete all of the former) than before. Unfortunately, I generally find myself writing here when something annoys me and I want to scratch it, like a scab which is why about the best I can aim for is sardonic. (Very annoyed I can’t say sardony). These ramblings are neither a cutting-edge promotional tool nor a how-to guide to writing, just the musings of somebody who is generally pretty positive and purposeful but occasional needs to give herself a talking to.

So the point of this column – I’m not sure there is one. And that is rather the point…

 

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Points of view…

Weekly, I go to a writing group. Next week, it’s me setting an exercise to get us to think about points of view and the difference these make. I will be asking people to think about a scene and imagine how adopting a different voice for the writing will change the story.

This is a variant on a classic writing technique where, if you are stuck with a scene, imagining it from another narrator or viewpoint can unblock the flow. This can be challenging when you have got yourself into a comfortable niche. The majority of my writing is third person focalised and I find writing in first person very hard to sustain (see what I did there?).

As writers, we are used to doing this. Having a look at the world at the moment, it does strike me that as opinions become more polarised, what we all desperately need is to be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes…

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Someone else’s eyes…

I am a firm believer that nothing written really exists before it is read. It’s in a state of limbo, a concept, until eyes pass across the words and then they take on a form. What staggered me at first is when I realised that the more people that read the words, the more forms they take, each unique to the particular reader.

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I’m at that stage of book 2 where I need to read my own work. This is both a positive and a frustrating experience. The story is clear in my mind but when what is on the page doesn’t get that across, there is the struggle to get the two to match.

So, I am very grateful to friends who read my drafts and give me the benefit of their eyes. I’ve just had someone give me comments back on my draft and there are a lot of them. Duplication, things that don’t make sense and outright bad writing – all highlighted. It makes that next stage just so much easier…

 

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Writing resolutions…

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As light dawns on a new year, I take the label off a new diary and think what I will be filling it with. I like to plan and have always tried to balance optimism and aspiration with a healthy dose of pragmatism so that I don’t finish the year a disappointed mass.

So, the writing resolutions for this year are:

  1. Finish the second book featuring DI Robyn Bailley. No choice on this one really but there’s also the pride of seeing a character grow and develop.
  2. Help someone else. One thing that really feels like a badge of pride is being accepted as a mentor for the Womentoring project. The mentoring I received was instrumental in me getting published – to be able to pass on some of that help is a wonderful feeling.
  3. The next book. Once you start this writing lark, it’s a slippery slope – there are always more ideas wanting to come out. A first draft is the plan.
  4. And 4 – enjoy being an author. Take part in the writing community, talk (to anyone who will listen) about writing and revel in the fact I achieved a dream in a year which most people seem to feel was pretty rubbish.

May 2017 be the year you want it to be…

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Feeling cocky…

Yes, I’m afraid I’m rather pleased with myself after finishing the second draft of my second book before Christmas. OK, it was a couple of weeks later than planned but let’s look on the bright side here…

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Have also discovered a second book is a very different animal to a first book. For a start, it’s to a deadline. Now the couple of weeks extra don’t impact the overall timetable, they’re just reducing the head-clearing time between drafts. But there is also the weight of expectation that I should know what I’m doing this time. I have a huge advantage that this is a sequel, so I have a core of characters and the same location but the other side is that I have to make sure each character is on the right place in the Narrative Arc. Sometimes, the whole thing is so beastly, I think of it as a Narrative Ark (no more animal jokes – Ed).

Sorry. What I mean is that all the things I had happen to my characters in He’s Gone, they will be bearing the scars of in book 2. At the same time, there has to be enough explanation of what is going on so that someone who hasn’t read book 1 can still work out what is going on, without boring those who read He’s Gone cover to cover and know every word (there must be someone, surely?).

It’s been fun seeing what the characters do next. It will be even more fun seeing if what I’ve written still makes any sense in the new year…

 

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Putting the work in…

Of all the reactions you get when you tell someone you’re a published author, the most irritating was the person who said ‘oh, yes, I’ve been meaning to do that for a while, it’s easy enough.’ Maybe he thought I’d self-published, I didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Far more fun to find another real writer and talk about how HARD everything is…

What he should have done was start a conversation the correct way. This could be anything along the lines of ‘gosh, well done’; ‘publishing a book must be very difficult’; ‘I don’t know how you find the time’, allowing me to modestly explain how yes, it was hard but I managed to struggle through.

Then I listened to myself as I was having such a conversation and I did have to tell myself to get a grip. After all, writing is not like digging a ditch. (For the record, I once decided to create a vegetable patch and dug over a patch of earth approximately six feet square to a depth of around eight inches. I couldn’t move for a couple of days. I will never have a buried corpse in any of my novels unless a JCB is involved as I don’t believe any modern person is capable of the kind of sustained effort to dig a proper grave.)

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There is also the point that no one made me write. I have a full-time job which supports me. Writing is a hobby and a pleasure which has, through a combination of effort and luck, become something more…

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A day for everyone…

Today is International Men’s Day. It’s purpose is to highlight men’s health issues and it is hard to argue against taking a special day to say this when you look at male causes of death and find suicide is the leading cause in some age groups.

The differences between men and women has always been a fruitful subject for comedy, drama and pop psychology. For a writer, this is a gift of a subject to feature in books as there are so many examples. A further topic for earnest debate is whether these differences are genetic or brought on by social conditioning. Campaigns like Let Toys be Toys have sprung up to remove these differences in books and toys. Their theory is that the gap in the number of female engineers starts when little girls are handed a doll rather than a construction set.

There is also increasing awareness that gender is not a binary question. Unfortunately, this is an area where debate tends to get irrational fairly quickly and courts are being asked to make decisions in the most personal areas of people’s lives. It’s worth pointing out that the exhibition of David Bowie’s gender-defying costumes was the most popular show ever at the V&A Museum while in October, a four year-old boy was told by a delivery driver he shouldn’t wear a sparkly fairy costume because he should be a superhero.

How to resolve this? Simple – treat everyone with respect and dignity. Giving people space to make choices may not mean the best choices but it means they have a better chance to live happy, fulfilled lives…

Let Toys be Toys campaign

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