Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Redraft DONE*

I finally finished my redraft of novel 2 after a frenzied week off, during which I rewrote at least 2 chapters a day, no excuses.

My motivation for pulling out all the stops?

I wanted to get it finished before Christmas so I can have a proper break without thinking 'how on earth am I going to tackle that scene?'

Although I worked my socks off I did, masochistically, enjoy (most of) it. Not only do I thrive on self-imposed deadlines (despite moaning 'I don't want to work on my book today' to anyone who'd listen) it was refreshing to work on my novel, and nothing but my novel, for a whole week.

Without work interrupting for 8 hours a day I was able to hold the storyline in my head and live and breath my characters. I expected to feel nothing but relief when I reached the last chapter today but, not only did I tear up mid-scene, I also felt a massive adrenaline rush when I reached the end. This isn't a first draft, it's a redraft, but I still felt the same kind of elation.

So what now? Well, I'm going to take a well-deserved break over Christmas. I promised the redraft to my agent and editor for the 1st of January so I'm going to grab a couple of days once Boxing Day is over to re-read the entire novel and make any needed tweaks and then off it goes.

I'm visiting three different cities in the UK over the Christmas period - and am very excited about it - so fingers crossed the snow doesn't stop play.

So, that's probably it from me for this year. Happy Christmas to you and yours. I hope you have a wonderful, warm and love and laughter-filled time.

*When I say 'Done' I'm fully expecting some edits from my editor once I've handed it in so the work isn't totally over yet. But, fingers crossed, I'm one step closer to a finished novel.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A quick book recommendation (or two)...

Because I've been so busy with novel 2 this year I haven't read a lot of books. I've picked up and started quite a lot but, for some reason or another, I haven't finished many. Of the handful of books I have read from start to finish two have stayed with me - for quite different reasons - so I thought they deserved a mention here.

The first is Rowan Coleman's 'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts'. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy and, being a fan of one of Rowan's previous books - The Accidental Family - I couldn't wait to get started.

'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts' is about Ellen, a woman who loses her husband and is forced to take lodgers into her home so she can provide for her young son Charlie and avoid bankruptcy. Her new house guests include an aged Mills and Boon type novelist called Allegra, a separated German business woman called Sabine and Matt, a lads mag journalist. I'm not going to write a detailed book report (you'll have to read it yourself to find out more!) but I wanted to mention that what really stood out for me in this book is how well Rowan does characterisation.

There's so much depth to Ellen, her main character and you find out so much about her - her past, her personality, her hopes and fears - without the pace ever slowing or huge passages of exposition breaking up the plot. Ellen genuinely feels 'real' and while I really enjoyed the storywhat really stuck with me was Ellen's character arc - she ends the book in a very different place from where she started it.

Something else Rowan does brilliantly is to drop little hints about a secret that underlie the plot. As the reader you pick up on them but the characters remain woefully ignorant and that sense of 'why haven't you figured it out yet?!' really propels you through the book.

Rowan is also the mistress of the third person POV head switch (she does it seamlessly) so if you're writing a chicklit/women's fiction book using the same device it's definitely a book you should study.

And let's not forget that 'The Happy Home for Broken Hearts' is a wonderfully enjoyable, escapist read. Buy it as a Christmas treat for yourself!

The second book I want to recommend is 'The Unit' by Ninni Holmqvist.

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this on my blog before but I'm a HUGE sci-fi fan. No, really! Some of my favourite books, ever, are 'Brave New World', '1984', 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Fahrenheit 451' but it's a genre I've neglected a bit in recent years.

I was given 'The Unit' as a birthday present by someone who knows I'm a secret sci-fi enthusiast and I was immediately intrigued by the claim on the cover that it's a novel for 'Orwell and Huxley fans'. It could almost have been written for me!

I wasn't disappointed.

'The Unit' is a gripping, dark and thought-provoking novel about a dystopian future where childless, single, unproductive men and women over the age of fifty are sent to the Unit. Once incarcerated they live out the rest of their days in comfort...well, apart from the 'donations' they have to make to society in the form of medical, physiological and psychological experiments until the time comes for their 'final donation'. 'The Unit' follows the story of Dorrit and I found it utterly compelling and devoured it in a matter of days.

What gripped me most about this novel was the first person voice. It was so distinctive, so real, that my emotions were thrown all over the place. I really felt for Dorrit. I felt her disappointment, her disillusionment, her sorrow and her hope. I have mixed feelings about the ending of the novel but it in no way detracts from my huge enjoyment of this book. If you loved 'The Handmaid's Tale' you HAVE to read it.

I'm currently reading 'The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox' by Maggie O'Farrell (an author who totally blew me away with her novel 'After You'd Gone'). It's another compulsive read and one that I've temporarily had to (force myself to) put down until I've finished my novel 2 rewrites.

Talking of which - I'm over 2/3rds of the way through now. Hooray! 30/43 chapters REWRITTEN and good feedback from the agent and ed so far. I'm planning on getting the last 13 chapters out of the way between now and Christmas so I can have a nice, relaxing break then give the rewritten novel a quick read-through and tweak in the new year.

It means I'm going to have to rewrite about two chapters a day/night which is a bit of a tall order but it's got to be done....

Friday, 19 November 2010

We have a winner!

Jacqui won the This Morning photo competion with 53% of the vote!

This is her winning photo. It'll be displayed in the window of the This Morning 'Hub' room.

Huge thanks to everyone who voted!

Photo (c) Jacqui Elliot-Williams

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Someone I know is going to be on TV!

Noooo, it's not me.

It's my cousin, the very talented Jacqui Elliot-Williams!

Back in the summer of 2009 I wrote a blog post about how very talented Jacqui is and how grateful I was for the gorgeous author photos she took of me.

Well guess what?

She entered a photograph of her family into the 'This Morning' photography competition and she's only gone and beaten 12,000 other entrants to become a finalist!

The final is going to be aired, live, on Friday 19th November and viewers will get to pick which photo they like best.

I think Jacqui's photo is, without doubt, the winner (okay, I haven't actually seen the other finalist's photos yet but I bet it is!) and if you happen to watch This Morning on Friday, and agree with me, please do vote for her!

Having seen my own publishing dream come true I'd love nothing more than for my cousin's talent to be recognised and rewarded. She's got a very busy life with a husband and three kids to look after and she puts every spare bit of time she can wrangle into her photography.

Vote Jacqui!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

I'm not dead I'm rewriting...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

I thought I'd neglected this blog in the past but - really - no updates since 19 July? Shocking!

So yes, while my blog has slightly decomposed over the last few months I'm very much alive.

The truth is that, while my editor loved the changes I made to novel 2 while I was at the writing retreat in Ireland in the summer, she felt that it needed a bit more work before it was ready to move on to the copyediting stage. Work that has involved me removing two fairly central characters and jiggling the plot around a bit to make it stronger without them.

I've been slogging away at the rewrite since August and it hasn't been easy. I haven't had to rewrite a novel before - 'Heaven Can Wait' didn't need more than a few tweaks here and there before it went press - so it's been a whole new learning experience. It's also been the longest I've ever worked on a novel. It'll be two years in December since I started this book.

If coming up with the idea for a novel is like meeting the man of your dreams and getting started on the first chapter is like falling in love I'm currently at the 'moving in and realising he leaves wet towels on the bed' stage. What I mean is - I can still remember why I fell in love with this novel originally but we've spent so much time together now I'm fully aware of its flaws.

So what's this rewrite? A holiday somewhere tropical to try and reignite the romance? Surprise breakfast in bed? Probably more like couples counselling (not that I've ever been). Tough, tricky, frustrating but, if you get through it successfully (and now is not the time to tell me you got divorced after couples therapy!), you're a little bit more in love at the end. And proud - proud that you worked hard and got through a difficult stage.

I'm over a third of the way through the rewrite now and I'm feeling optimistic. The first 30,000 or so words were always going to be the most difficult as the two culled characters featured heavily in them and, although I've still got 50,000 words left to go, I feel like I'm on the home straight.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Radio silence broken!

Gosh, it's been FOREVER since I last updated my blog. Sorry about that!

I've been working on my edits for 'Happiness Ever After' for what feels like forever. I thought I had until 1st August to get them done but, when my agent told me that the publication date of Jan 2011 had been confirmed and they'd need my novel back by mid July, I went into panic mode and booked myself into Anam Cara for 9 days so I could get it done.

And, after a LOT of hard work (and HOURS at my desk), I did!


So it's back with my agent and editor now. Fingers crossed they like the changes and it doesn't need lots more work. I don't know if I've got the energy! I realised, the other day, that I've been working on novel 2 for 18 months now and, apart from a 10 minute screenplay, I haven't written anything else in that time. I'm ITCHING to get started with something new.

What else?

If you're not following me on Facebook you won't know that I've seen the cover for novel 2! It's lovely! It's very similar in style to 'Heaven Can Wait' and features Brighton Pier (or a very similar pier) on the front which makes me very happy! I can't post it up until I'm officially allowed to. 'Like' me on facebook if you haven't already as it'll probably go up there first.

What I can show you is the cover of the Chinese version of 'Heaven Can Wait'. I absolutely love it. I think it looks like a film poster. What do you think?

Oh yeah - and there's an interview with me in Twisted Tongue magazine where I talk about creating characters, dream jobs and film versions of my books. If you follow the link below you'll see a link on the right hand side of the page that takes you to a free download of the magazine. My interview is on page 67


I'm sure there are loads of other things I should mention but that's it for now...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

An Interview with Nik Perring

I’m delighted to welcome Nik Perring, prolific blogger, children’s book author and short story writer, to talk to Writing about Writing about his new short short story collection - ‘Not So Perfect’ (published by Roast Books).

I was lucky enough to receive a copy last week. After I admired the cover and the wonderful smallness and squareness of the book (it’s perfect to pop in your handbag!) I immediately turned to the first story. I’ve got a terrible concentration span and can usually only manage two or two stories in a collection before my attention wavers and I put it down. Not so with ‘Not So Perfect’ – I couldn’t stop reading!

Nik’s short short stories (also known as flash fiction) made such an impression on me that I let out a little ‘Oh!’, ‘Ooooh!’, ‘Wow’ or ‘Eep!’ as I finished each one (much to the consternation of the person sitting beside me!).

There’s so much truth in Nik’s stories that you can’t help but react emotionally.

Some of the stories make your heart break a little bit (“Sobs”), many of them provoke memories of failed relationships (“Pieces of Us”, “My Heart’s in a Box”), some give you hope (“The Mechanical Woman”), some make you desperately jealous of Nik’s story-telling ability (“Shark Boy” – my absolute favourite of the collection) but they all touch you in some way.

The biggest compliment I can give Nik on his collection is the fact that his words inspired me to write flash fiction again. I’d forgotten how much a few hundred words can do. Flash fiction stories may be short but they can still carry a huge emotional wallop.

So, onto the interview...

Hello Nik and welcome to ‘Writing about Writing’!

  1. I’ve just mentioned how your collection has inspired me to write more flash fiction. Which flash fiction writers inspire you?

Cally, that’s about the best compliment ever! That makes me very, very happy. And I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book so much.

Which flash fiction writers inspire me? Etgar Keret is the first I’d mention. In fact, reading his work (as well as the wonderful Aimee Bender’s) absolutely changed me as a writer; it changed how I wrote and what I wrote about. So him – for his humour, for his imagination, for his ability to really affect in such a small amount of words and for the way he so effortlessly makes the different feel familiar. Yes, he’s a hero of mine.

There’s also my friend, and another wonderful writer of small things, Tania Hershman (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/) – her work’s brilliant. Michael Czyzniejewski (http://www.michaelczyzniejewski.com/)and Sarah Salway (http://sarahsalway.blogspot.com/) are ones I’d recommend too.

And then there are the older ones, the greats. Franz Kafka wrote some wonderful short-short stories, so did Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, O Henry, Ray Bradbury...

  1. Some of the readers of this blog might never have tried their hand at writing flash fiction before. What makes good flash fiction in your opinion? Any tips on how to go about writing one?

I think good flash fiction tells the story of a moment efficiently and in such a way that the moment it’s telling stays with you long after it’s over. Like real life. It has a resonance, an echo. As I said in an interview the other day: If a novel is a choir in song, flash fiction is a single hand clap in an empty cathedral.

So, tips? Well, I think the most important thing (in any writing, not that I’m an expert on – well, anything!) is to understand and accept that a story will be as long as it is. So the first thing a potential flasher needs to do is to accept the story that they write. I don’t think I ever set out to write something of a specific length, more just think: this’ll be a longer one, you know? Often, it isn’t!

Also... find the character and the moment in their life you want to write about, and try to tell the story in the most efficient way possible. Get to the point! You might be surprised at how much you can get into 1000 words or more. Or less.

The other tip would be (and this is the same for other writing too, no?): take out absolutely everything that doesn’t need to be there. Be brutal and be brave and be confident in the story: a story’s about the story, not about its length.

  1. Have you written longer stories? What is it about short shorts that most appeals to you?

I have written (and published) longer things, yes. They just don’t tend to be as good as my little stories. I think I understand the structure of short stories better than I do anything else. What I found really interesting a few months ago, was re-reading my children’s book and realising that it wasn’t, as I had assumed, one mini-novel, but six separate, linked, short stories.

I do worry that that has something to do with my limited attention span!

  1. I’m curious about how you write. Are your stories inspired by a voice in your head, a line of dialogue, a feeling or something you’ve observed? Do you write only when you get the urge or do you ever use prompts etc to get yourself writing?

All of the above, I think, but at different times. Mostly I’ll start with a question. You know, err: what if there was a guy who actually couldn’t stop moving? What would happen if, when you fell in love, you actually gave your heart away (and could you get it back??). Or: wouldn’t it be cool to have a story set in house where the owner has decorated it in Post-it notes? Then that leads to: who would do that, and why? I’ll write to find out the answers.

Other times a story will come from something I’ve seen or heard or been told about. People are, and life is, a great inspiration.

And then there are the other times. The weird times. The times when I’ll just sit down and see what happens. In Bare and Naked in Siberia, I remember just starting with the idea of someone watching their dad watching a documentary on the TV. By the time I’d finished I’d ended up with a teenage girl coming of age and comparing herself to a baby woolly mammoth they’d found preserved in the ice. And here’s something freaky – the day after I’d written the first draft, a documentary was on the telly about a woolly mammoth they’d found in Siberia. Lyuba is actually real.

As for prompts. I don’t tend to use them other than for exercises. That said, there were a couple of writer friends (the lovely and brilliant Caroline Smailes and Tania Hershman) who, for a period of time, used to give each other other people’s titles as prompts. We had to write our own stories of, A Tale of Two Cities, or The Bible, for instance. That’s where The Other Mr Panossian came from actually. It was originally The Other Perella – from a title of a story by the brilliant Tamar Yellin (http://www.tamaryellin.com/) (which, incidentally, I’ve still not read).

  1. Although some of the stories are about hope there’s a slightly melancholy feel to the collection - it explores loneliness, identity, failed relationships and miscommunication. Lots of songwriters say they can only write when they feel depressed, low or pissed off. If they’re happy they can’t write a word. Do you agree? What is it about the more negative aspects of life that appeals to us as writers?

I think the negative emotions are easier for us to communicate and explore. When we’re happy we tend to concentrate on being happy, on doing what’s making us happy, so we don’t really have as much time, perhaps, to look at being miserable or sad.

But the beauty of being a fiction writer is having the opportunity (and duty!) to Make Stuff Up. Some of the sadder stories in Not So Perfect were written when I was relatively happy. I’m perfectly capable of being miserable and pissed off even when I’m happy, which probably says a lot!

You know, I wonder if maybe there are more layers, or more shades of grey (or black) to negative emotions. Happy’s pretty much covered, isn’t it? But there are so many things that can make a chap or a lady sad, and those things tend to be so much more interesting than the things that makes people happy.

  1. Something I noticed about your collection was the number of animals featured in the stories (“Bare and Naked in Siberia”, “Shark Boy”, “My Wife Threw up a Lemur”). Do you draw inspiration from animals (I have an image in my head of you being glued to David Attenborough documentaries!) or is it more of a sub-conscious thing?

Well, bearing in mind that I’d never thought about it before – definitely subconscious! You are very perceptive, Miss Taylor! (You’re not psycho-analysing me, are you!)

I do love animals and I do watch my fair share of documentaries, but I think having animals in the stories has more to do with basic emotions and feelings - and image and metaphor too. I think it’s about breaking things down to their core elements, almost in an atavistic way (I have been wanting to use that word since my GCSEs – thank you!).

You know, we all know how it feels to be hungry, but to be hungry like the wolf has much more weight to it, I think. And a wolf man... well that could be another story!

I’m also really attracted to the idea of blurring lines and of merging things. And I like pretty weird imagery too – it’s fun, in a Dali way!

  1. In my second novel I tell the story from the female AND male point-of-view. It’s a bit of a risk, trying to convincingly portray a member of the opposite sex, but in ‘Not So Perfect’ several of your stories are told from the POV of a woman and you do it very well. What made you decide to write from a woman’s perspective? Did you hear the character’s voice in your head or get an idea for a story about a woman and consciously decide to tell it from her POV?

Thank you! It’s hard, isn’t it! I just try to concentrate on trying to make the emotions and themes as universal as I can, and the characters as believable as possible. I think concentrating on the story and putting myself in someone else’s shoes is something that comes quite naturally to me, so writing something from the point of view of a woman is an extension of that. I’m just glad (and RELIEVED! )that people have said it sounds okay! And I’m very much looking forward to your next one!

  1. A number of the stories in your collection were originally published online. Would you advise flash fiction writers to follow this route to publication? How do they decide which sites are reputable and which aren’t? How did you go from online publication to printed collection?

The way I see it is the internet’s there to be useful, so if you can use it to your advantage then do! There is an incredibly large number of potential readers out there, and a good portion of them are actively interested in reading.

We’re in a position now where there are a good number of quality literary magazines, who only publish really good stuff – some are as difficult to get into as the good print magazines - and a good number of print mags put content online too. My advice to anyone looking to be published, in any form, would be to do your research. Read the magazines. See if they’re any good. See if your work would fit with what they publish and ask yourself if you’d like them to publish your work.

But, to get you started...

Duotrope’s Digest (http://www.duotrope.com/)is a wonderful resource with lots of information, including things like how long editors take to get back to you and the percentage of submissions they accept.

And Tania Hershman has compiled a pretty darned comprehensive list of people who publish short stories in the UK and Ireland (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/2010/01/non-complete-list-of-uk-and-ireland-lit.html).

Some of my favourite literary sites:

3 :AM magazine (http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/)

Locus Novus.( http://www.locusnovus.com/)

SmokeLong Quarterly (http://www.smokelong.com/)

Word Riot (http://www.wordriot.org/)

and Metazen (http://www.metazen.ca/)

though there are many, many others.

  1. Finally, what’s next for Nik Perring? And what are your writerly dreams?

What’s next? I’m launching Not So Perfect on June 3rd at 7pm at Simply Books in Bramhall (south Manchester)(http://simplybooks.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TBP.Direct/CustomerAccessControl/Home.aspx?d=simplybooks&s=C&r=10000115&ui=0&bc=0&collection=10071408) – do let me know if you’d like to come (http://www.nperring.com/page10.htm) so I can go about popping you on the guest list.

Then there’ll be more writing (I hope!).

I think the only writerly dream I have is to be able doing what I do to a standard I’m happy with and for people to keep liking my work.

And Cally, thanks so much for having me on here and for not making me cry!

Thanks Nik! It’s been a pleasure.

To get your hands on a copy Nik’s fantastic book (I recommend you do! I found it hugely inspiring and I think you will too) visit:





The Big Green Bookshop http://www.biggreenbookshop.com/simon-likes-/not-so-perfect-by-nik-perring/prod_349.html


Nik Perring is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. Not So Perfect, his debut collection of short, short stories is published by Roast Books on June 2nd.

Nik’s particularly fond of the autumn, cats, wildlife documentaries, lemurs, and certain books have made him cry.

Nik blogs here (http://nikperring.blogspot.com) and his website’s here (www.nperring.com).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Caroline Smailes - Like Bees to Honey

I'm delighted to be part of Caroline Smailes' amazing blog tour where her third book 'Like Bees to Honey' will be published, in its entirety, over a serious of blogs. I received my copy yesterday and can't wait to read it - not least to find out what the mysterious black-framed pages signify!

Like Bees to Honey

A major new novel from the acclaimed author of In Search of Adam and Black Boxes.

Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents. Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house. This will be her final chance to make her peace with them. But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine.

What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them. Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them. And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself. Like Bees to Honey is a story of family, redemption and ghosts. It is a magical tale that will live with you long after you finish reading.

You can read the entire book online - for one day only - by skipping from blog to blog. I'm hosting Chapter Eighteen, below:

If you'd like to start reading at the very beginning please visit Caroline's blog:


And if you're after Chapter 19 of 'Like Bees to Honey' please visit:


Tantalised? Intrigued? Want a copy to touch, stroke, cherish and carry around with you? 'Like Bees to Honey' is also available to purchase on Amazon:


Monday, 17 May 2010

The editing starts in earnest...

Sorry for the blog silence - I've been in NYC!

Not for the whole time since my last blog post (though I wish I could have stayed that long!) - for 5 nights at the end of April/beginning of May.

I'd never been to NYC before and was slightly nervous that I'd find it an overwhelming, scary place. No chance - I absolutely LOVED it (photo on the left is of me in Times Square trying, and failing, to take it all in) and will definitely go back one day (there's so much to see and do there was no way we could fit it all in in four days).

A couple of people have asked me if I'll write a novel based in NYC? Quite possibly - one day. I just need the experience to fully sink in first (and possibly go back for a second/third/fourth visit!)

Anyway, back to Blightly. I've got until August to get the edits done on novel 2 and, after an enthusiastic flurry of activity (word cutting and index card plotting) after I met with my editor and agent it's time to knuckle down and PROPERLY start tackling the edits - including writing new scenes and rewriting existing scenes. It's not going to be easy and it's a much bigger job than the edits I had to do for 'Heaven Can Wait' but I know I'll enjoy it (sort of) once I actually get on with it and stop procrastinating.

Time is a problem though. With a full time job, a kickboxing class and a screenwriting session each week I don't know how I'm going to get it all done on time. I'll definitely have start burning the midnight oil (instead of burning up my electric bill watching dvd boxed sets at night!) and will probably have to take some time off work but the worst thing I could do right now is panic. Because if I panic I just freeze (or procrastinate even more) and the edits won't do themselves. I also have to write the first draft of my 10 minute script for screenwriting over the next two weeks. Er, what was that I said about not panicking?!

Changing the subject (and definitely giving me more motivation to get novel 2 finished) I found out the other day that 'Heaven Can Wait' has been sold to publishers in Croatia! That's ten countries publishing my debut novel now. Amazing! I'm tremendously lucky.

What else? I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Nik Perring's book of short short stories, Not So Perfect the other day and gobbled it up in one sitting (very unusual for me as I usually have a very short attention span when it comes to short story collections). It's utterly brilliant and actually inspired me to turn my hand to flash fiction again (after August obviously!). More on Nik's fantastic book on Sunday when his blog tour will be visiting my blog and I'll get to ask him questions about women who vomit up small animals and men called 'Shark Boy' (really!).

I'm also delighted to be part of Caroline Smailes' blog tour for her new book 'Like Bees to Honey'. I haven't received my copy yet but I will, exclusively, be posting the 8th chapter of her book on this blog! You can read more about her amazing and unusual blog tour over on Scott Pack's blog.

Oh yes. And if you're frustrated that I'm not updating this blog very often why not 'like' me over on Facebook where I try and post some kind of short update a couple of times a week (though I'm making no promises!).

More soon...

Friday, 23 April 2010

If you liked my short story competition...

...you'll love this one!


The prizes are fantastic - especially for writers working on a novel/trying to get it published.

Oooh yes, and I'm a judge! Along with Rowan, Tamsyn Murray, Lucy Diamond and Caroline Smailes.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I'm back!

Prompted by womag's comment at the end of my last post I thought I'd quickly pop by the blog to say that I'm back from skiing!

Actually I've been back for a while *ahem* I've just been kind of caught up in real life! (I know...real life... outside of blog world? Who'da thunk it! ;))

So, skiing was... bloody hard to be honest! For someone who'd never even put on a pair of ski boots before (it amused me to watch people walking in them - half robot, half swagger - until I realised I looked the same!) never mind clipped them into skis and then attempted to move, it was a steep learning curve! The lessons with the instructor were great. My attempts to practise without him...not so much. I fell on my arse A LOT. And if I wasn't falling on my arse I was careering down the slope at high speed after misjudging a turn and failing to slow down!

Oh yes and I totally had a Bridget Jones moment!

One of the travelators up to the nursery slope was really icy and my instructor had to keep shoving me onto it. Before the end of the lesson he showed me how to shuffle onto it in a snow plow type move (skis pointing in at the front, wide at the back). It worked fine when he was there, but when I tried it alone I lost my balance, tipped to the side and tumbled into a snow drift! My head and shoulders were in the snow, my legs were waving in the air like an up-turned beetle and there was no way I could get back up because

a) I couldn't reach my skis to unclasp them and
b) the travelator was still moving so I couldn't plant my skis back down and push myself up using my poles.

I lay there for what felt like ages until someone finally turned the travelator off. I shuffled onto it in a most undignified manner, un-clipped my skies and prompted stomped away to the nearest cafe and ordered myself a beer!

So yes - it was a mixed experience. Feelings of supreme joy when things clicked and I managed to zig-zag my way between the poles and make it to the bottom of the nursery slope in a controlled manner and feelings of utter despair when I failed to recreate the experience alone. I was soooooooooo jealous of the skiers on the proper slopes, zooming along, knowing what they were doing, stopping to admire the view (and grab a beer). I'm a bit of a perfectionist and if I can't do something well I don't want to do it at all - but I kept trying (for a woman who is afraid of heights AND going fast skiing might not be the most natural sport in the world!) and I'm proud of myself for that. Someone once said you should do something that scares you every day. That person was obviously an idiot! I've done my SCARY thing for this year and that'll do ta! ;)

Anyway, I really enjoyed the apres-ski, the four course meals we were served every night in our hotel, the spa we found in a neighbouring hotel, the clean air and the utterly breathtaking views.

Next holiday (a week tomorrow) I'm off to NYC (for the first time EVER). Sightseeing, walking, shopping - now there's my comfort zone :)

Oh yes - writing news... the results of my short story competition were announced on 15th April so a huge congrats to all the prize winners and huge commiserations to those who didn't make the cut. Don't be disheartened if you were one of them. There was a lot of stiff competition and just because your story didn't win a prize in my comp doesn't mean it doesn't have merit or that you're not a good writer.

Other news...I had a meeting with my agent and editor about Novel 2 and I'm now, officially, editing it! Okay so basically I've just done a lot of index card plotting, shuffling and scribbling and they're now stuck on a huge piece of cardboard in my bedroom but I finally know what I'm doing - I know how to fix novel 2 - which is a huge relief and the rewriting starts very, very soon.

Thank you to Becks and Lily for the blog awards they mentioned in the comments in my last post. Thanks so much ladies I'm touched :)

I'm sure there's something else I should mention but my brain's gone blank (no change there). More soon...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gone skiing!

For the first time EVER.

Am very excited.

And a little bit scared.

Am particularly scared of heights/chair lifts.

And ski clothes. Why do they make you look the size of a house?

Anyway...les slopes, here I come!

Back soon.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Authors online (Jane Costello and Caroline Smailes)

The Liverpool Daily Post are running a series of author interviews and readings on their website. I particuarly love the one with Jane Costello where she talks about how she became an author.

Jane and I are represented by the same agency and I was delighted when she turned up to my book launch in December last year. Not only is she lovely but she's a very talented writer and recently won the Romantic Novelists Association 'Romantic Comedy of the Year' award for her book "The Nearly-Weds".

Check out her interview:


Not only that but fellow blogger and general lovely person Caroline Smailes gives us a tantalising taster of her new book "Like Bees to Honey" which is out in May.

Watch Caroline read an extract:


Monday, 22 March 2010

Developing characters in screenplays

Okay, so the last screenwriting session I attended was about character. There are three basics of character:

1) External elements e.g.

- gender
- age
- physical distinctions (eye colour, hair, skin, build etc)
- movement (facial expressions, the way they walk, mannerisms)
- verbal expression (slang, pitch, speed of voice etc)
- appearance (clothes, cleanliness, style etc)
- sexuality (how is it expressed)
- tension/pleasure (how are they expressed)

2) Inner elements e.g.

- intelligence and knowledge
- introvert or extrovert
- temperament and quality of judgement
- what do they like/dislike about themselves?
- what or who do they care about most?
- self image
- what do they want in the future?
- what do they fear?

3) Context e.g.

- relationships (friends, family, lovers, co-workers etc)
- culture (birthplace, education, occupations, nationality, ethnicity etc)
- their past (both personal and within the confines of the story).

Very early on in the session we watched how Jack Nicholson's character is introduced in the credits of 'As Good As it Gets'. How, we were asked, is his character portrayed and what devices did the screenwriter use? We talked about the way the female neighbour's expression changed when she saw him, the way the MC tries to get the 'little doggie' into the lift and then chucks him down the garbage shoot, about the language he uses and his attitude when he talks to his gay neighbour and the way his OCD is introduced when he locks and unlocks his front door and flips the light switch on and off.

We discussed the fact that Jack Nicholson's character is a racist, homophobic, rude, inappropriate and unlikeable but we still find him compelling. Why? Because he's unusual and interesting. All of his flaws are on show.

I've been thinking about flawed characters since that question. WHY did I find the rapist, paedophile character of T-Bag so compelling in Prison Break (so compelling in fact that I didn't want him to die!)? Why are people so fascinated with Tony Soprano? (I've recently started watching the Sopranos for the first time and found the early scene with him wading into his swimming pool to feed the ducks really interesting. A bit like the whole 'make your main character sympathetic by having him be nice to a dog' thing). Why is Hannibal Lector so fascinating in Silence of the Lambs?

Anyway, something the tutor said is equally applicable to novel-writing and screenwriter - "You only get the opportunity to introduce a character once so find a way to give the audience/reader a handle on that character".

In films there are five different ways to introduce the audience to a character (often more than one are used):

1) A snipped of their childhood (e.g. Broadcast News)
2) Their relationship with their family
3) Their reputation (e.g. Clint Eastwood's character in 'Unforgiven'. People talk about him before he's introduced)
4) Pure visuals (e.g. Audrey Hepburn's character walking through the streets in the opening of Breakfast at Tiffanys)
5) Through voiceover (e.g. Adaptation or Transpotting)

Something else the tutor pointed out, and this is definitely true of novel writing, make sure that your character WANTS something (really badly) at the start of the novel and make sure they pursue that desire actively. Over the course of the film, or novel, the character changes - often realises there's more to life than what they want. In my novel, Heaven Can Wait, Lucy wants to be reunited with Dan more than anything in the world and the central plot is entirely focused on her attempts to try and make that happen. Does she change and learn anything by the end of the novel? Yes...but I won't say more than that in case you haven't read it yet!

Anyway, back to character. Towards the end of the session we interviewed each other as though we were the main characters in our short films. We were asked the following questions:

1) How old are you?
2) What is your family set-up?
3) Where do you live?
4) What sort of house?
5) Who do you live with?
6) What do you do for work?
7) What are your hobbies?
8) What makes you angry? (I thought this was a really interesting question and I had to think for a bit to work out what WOULD make my character angry)
9) When were you happiest (also a good question I think)
10) Faced with new situations how do you respond? (If you can nail your answer to this one you've got a good handle on your character's personality)

We were then asked questions specific to the character within the film:

1) Who are you?
2) What do you want?
3) What stopped you from getting what you want (in the film)?
4) Who helps?
5) What else stopped you?
6) When will you know you have what you need?

Okay, that just about covers it. You can probably tell from the scrappy way I've pieced this together that I haven't totally worked out how character in screenplays tie in with characters in novels but I think there's a lot of thought provoking stuff there. I hope you think so too!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Photo prompt

The other night Brighton was so misty the whole atmosphere of the city seemed to change. I took a photo and, to my surprise, it turned out wonderfully spooky. When I posted it on twitter earlier people interpreted it so differently I thought I'd post it on my blog too, in case it inspires someone to write a story...

(NB: This isn't the blog post on character I promised in my previous blog. That's up next...)

Author Blog Awards

I'm not suggesting for one second that you nominate my irregularly updated blog *embarrassed cough* but there are lots of great author blogs out there that deserve your support. AND you could win lots of goodies (books, e-books, e-readers, book tokens etc) just by nominating. It only takes a couple of minutes...

In other news I've just looked through my diary for the next few months and it's so jam-packed I'm wondering how on earth I'm going to get book 3 written! If I want to get it written in 5 months that's about 4,100 words a week which, if I find three blocks of time to sit down and write, is just about do-able. But is that likely without completely giving up my social life?


And I quite like my social life.

So what I think I'm going to do instead is give myself until my birthday to get the first draft finished (25th October) and if I can fit in a quick edit before Christmas that'd be great.

I'm still in the thinking stage (my favourite bit) at the moment and, prompted by a session in my screenwriting course earlier this week, I'm scribbling down lots of notes about my characters. More on character in my next blog post...

Monday, 15 March 2010

The beginning of book 3...

I did it! I wrote two synopses for book 3 last weekend and only lost a small handful of hair in the process (although I did huff and puff far more than normal).

Earlier today I sent synopsis A and synopsis B off to Lovely Agent, secretly hoping she'd go for my favourite - synopsis A.


I guess that's the green light to actually start writing it.

Er...how do I do that again?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Screenplay, A Synopsis and a...Swanky Do!

Hi!...*peeps around monitor*...I can't believe I haven't blogged in over a month.

The official excuse: I've been hard at work judging my short story competition

The actual truth: I have been hard at work judging my short story competition (along with Sally Quilford and Tamsyn Murray who've worked their socks off and who I can't thank enough. Our job is done now and it's up to the agents/publishers to decide the winners from our shortlist) but I still haven't done any actual writing and admitting that on a blog called 'Writing about Writing' is a bit, er, embarrassing.

Anyway...I have been busy - mostly going to kickboxing and learning how to do a spinning back punch without lamping my partner (or myself) in the face. I also attended Orion's author party at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and very glamorous it was too - they even had the decorations from the previous night's BAFTA awards still up!

Oooh yes - then there's the screenwriting course I'm doing.

Now there's something writing-related to blog about!

Learning how to write screenplays is fascinating. I've always loved films and thought my novel-writing background would give me a bit of an advantage when it came to writing them - particularly the fact that I LOVE writing dialogue and am not so keen on description - but, in actual fact, I'm having to re-learn how to write. Apparently a mistake a lot of beginner screenwriters make is to go heavy on the dialogue when a lot should be shown through visual shots ('show don't tell' also applies in films).

One of the first things I learnt was that a film premise should be written in no more than three sentences (possibly a useful tool for authors who need to summarise their books succinctly).

To write a film premise you should:
  • State the genre
  • Introduce the central character - description, name, age etc
  • State the location/time
  • Mention the dominant antagonistic force
  • Indicate what the central character's dramatic problem is
  • End with a hook
In one of the first sessions I attended we had to try writing the premise for a film we'd seen but without mentioning any of the characters so the other students could try to guess the film we were talking about.

This was my effort:

A children's film about a little boy who lives in a single-roomed house with his grandparents. They're so poor there's never enough food to go around but when the little boy wins a golden ticket to the biggest chocolate factory in the world he's given the chance to change his family's fortunes forever. Can he beat the other children to the prize and survive the strange chocolate factory and its even odder owner?

Any guesses?

Anyway, you get the idea! Can you summarise your novel in three sentences?

The other thing we've been learning about is the difference between narrative, plot and story in a film. A narrative is the totality of a screenplay. Sound, dialogue, colour, locations etc are added to the plot to form a narrative. A plot is the combination of various character/s' stories and/or theme(s) to form the dramatic shape of a narrative. A story is motivational framework for a character. It is different from narrative and plot as it relates to a single character and their motivation.

Story is basically the 'character's story'. In a previous post on this blog I linked to Julie Cohen's posts about character arc. Basically 'story' in a film is very similar and applies to main and secondary characters (in fact, all characters that play a major role in the film have their own story). The handout we received listed the main story types in films and I thought they might make interesting reading if you're currently trying to work out the character arc for your novel.

Here's a selection:

a) The Romance

i. A character is seen to be emotionally lacking/missing something/someone.
ii. Something/someone is seen by the Character as a potential solution to this problem (aka the object of desire)
iii. Barriers exist to stop the Character achieving a resolution with the object of dire.
iv. The Character struggles to overcome these barriers.
v. The Character succeeds in overcoming some, if not all, of the barriers
vi. The story is complete when the Character is seen to have resolved their emotional problem, and united with their object of desire.

Whether or not they stay united is up to the writer. Being united with the object of dire is the end of a romance story, but not necessarily the end of a romance narrative.

e.g. The stories of both Romeo and Juliet in 'Shakespeare in Love', Bridget in 'Bridget Jones' Diary', Mark Darcy in 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. Wallace in 'A Close Shave'.

b. The Wanderer

i. A character arrives in a new place
ii. The character identifies a problem associated with the new place
iii. The character attempts to solve the problem
iv. The character is successful
v. The character attempts to move on.

e.g. Alex in the film 'Snow Cake'

c. The Gift Taken Away

i. The Character is seen to have a gift
ii. The Character loses it
iii. The Character seeks to regain it
iv. The Character reconciles themselves to a new situation, which they discover in pursuit of the gift

NB: The character may not or may not regain the gift

e.g. Lilo in 'Lilo and Stitch', Golum in Lord of the Rings.

The other Character stories are:

d. The Debt That Must Be Re-Paid (e.g. Dell Boy in 'Only Fools and Horses')
e. The Spider and the Fly (e.g. Valmont in 'Dangerous Liaisons')
f. The Quest (e.g. Jason in 'Jason and the Argonaunts')
g. The Rites of Passage
h. The Character who cannot be put down (e.g. James Bond)
i. The Unrecognised Virtue (e.g. Donkey in 'Shrek', Julia Roberts' character in 'Pretty Woman')
j. The Fatal Flaw (e.g. Basil Fawlty in 'Fawlty Towers')

In the last session we had to come up with a premise for our own 10 minute screenplay. We had to read out our 3 sentence premise and then SAY NOTHING while the other people in our group discussed it and threw up potential issues and issues. That was a really interesting exercise as a premise that's crystal clear in your mind may be mud-like to someone hearing it for the first time! Several members of our group ended up totally re-thinking their original ideas.

I'm basing my screenplay on a short story I wrote a few years ago. It was placed in a competition a few years ago but hasn't been published. You'd think having a ready-formed 1st person POV short story would making writing a screenplay easier but noooooo... as there's no internal dialogue in a film (unless you include a voiceover, which is a bit of a cheat) you have to totally re-think how to portray what your character is thinking and feeling.

Anyway, learning about screenwriting is stimulating me as I'm learning a new skill and facing a new challenge but also making me think about how I can apply what I've learned to my novel writing.

In other news... no news on my book 2 edits. They're due any day but I haven't received them yet! I don't know why I'm so keen - I know I'll probably feel overwhelmed the second I read through them.

Edits or no edits this is the weekend I'm finally going to crack on with writing the synopsis for book 3. Actually that should be the synopses as I've got two ideas and I want my agent to give me some feedback on which she thinks is best. I know which one I want her to choose (see excitement in previous post!) but, given my previous history of providing two choices, it'll probably be the other one.

There - I've said it now - I'm going to write my synopses this weekend. I'd better do it!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

By jove I think I've got it!

Sorry for the radio silence recently - I've been up to my knees (okay, mid calf) in entries to my short story competition! I'm aware of how much time and effort the writers of those stories put into their entries so am taking my time over them. It's fascinating to see how people have interpreted the theme of 'heaven' and there have been some really interesting interpretations.

Other than that, well, to be honest... and this is a bit of a confession ... I haven't been writing.

In fact...

*brace yourselves*

...I haven't written a WORD for two months.

Two months!!!!

That's the longest I've gone without writing for a long, long time. To be honest the end of last year was so mental (promoting book 1, editing book 2, doing the day job, moving house etc) that by the time December rolled around (when I delivered book 2 to my editor) I was absolutely exhausted! I told myself I'd give myself December off and that I'd start 'working' again when my editor returned her edits for novel 2.

Only she hasn't!

That isn't a criticism (she's been busy with other projects that have more pressing deadlines/publication dates) but it threw me a bit. The short story comp closing date wasn't until 15th Jan and I didn't receive the entries until about a week later so I was left with even more time on my hands.

I carried on doing what I'd been doing - watching DVD box sets (The Wire - brilliant, Oz - very good, Dollhouse - slow to get going, Fringe - not for me, Dead Like Me - brilliant), reading (excellent books by Matt Dunn, Lisa Jewell and David Nicholls as well as some graphic novels and some non-fiction) and I waited...

What was I waiting for? (other than the stories and the edits to book 2)

Inspiration to hit.

After seven weeks not writing I was itching to get started on novel 3 but there was one problem...

I couldn't come up with an idea that excited me enough.

I had a character, I knew what job she did and I knew I wanted to write about her. I wanted book 3 to be funny and romantic. I also knew I had to add some kind of supernatural slant but could I come up with an idea that melded all three?


I started to get nervous.

I had a few ideas that were do-able (aka 'okay') but they didn't excite me - they didn't jump about in my head as I walked down the street and say "And you could do this! And add this! And what about this!" - and I got more nervous. I didn't want to write a book that just ticked the supernatural chicklit boxes. I didn't want my readers to feel shortchanged by me just churning something out for the sake of it (I've seen a few Amazon reviews where people have basically accused authors of that). And I really, REALLY didn't want to spend up to a year of my life writing a book that I wasn't excited about.

Seven weeks and nothing. Not a single idea that 'worked'.

Maybe I'll never have another idea that excites me, I thought. Maybe I'm a two book wonder.

And then...


I was cleaning out my purse (something I only do when it's bulging with receipts and used train tickets) and I found an article I'd ripped out of the newspaper and folded up. I read it.

And then it hit me.

Or rather, all the pieces of the jigsaw started to fall together and my tummy did a little flutter.

"This could be it," my brain whispered. "This could novel 3!"

I got out my notebook and scribbled everything down as fast as I could. I went to make some dinner - "Add this!" my brain shouted. "And this! And how about this!"

Tonight I walked home from kickboxing (I graded as a red belt, grade 1 last Saturday!) my brain shouted some more ideas at me and when I walked through the door, instead of taking off my coat, I grabbed my notebook and wrote them all down.

THIS idea excites me. I can see it in my head (i.e. visualise scenes). This story needs to be written (assuming my agent and editors go for it of course!).

So now I can relax. Now I can let my brain whirl away, fill in the gaps, add more to the notebook, pull it all together.

For me this is the best part of writing a novel. The absolute best and I'm going to enjoy it.

Just don't ask me to tell you what it's about because I'm superstitious about that!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Character arcs

Just a quick post to point you in the direction of a couple of excellent posts author Julie Cohen has written about creating character arcs in novels:

Character Arc

Character Arc Part II

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Gosh, I feel like I haven't blogged in forever! I hope you all had a Christmas and New Year and that you're coping with the snow. One of the bonuses of moving into the centre of Brighton is that most of the streets are pretty clear and I don't have to deal with the 'hills of icy death' at my last flat (no actual death occurred I hasten to add) although I do kind of miss watching the students sledge down them like last year.

Writing wise I'm going through a bit of a lull at the moment. I don't really need to promote 'Heaven Can Wait' any more, novel 2 is with my editor (her edits will probably come back any day), I'm still waiting for an 'oh my god I need to start writing it NOW' idea for novel 3 to pop into my head and my short story competition doesn't close until 15th January so I haven't started judging it yet. Really I should be enjoying the lull - filling the time with novels from my towering TBR pile and consuming DVD boxed sets (Dollhouse, The Wire, Gavin and Stacey, Fringe), all of which I'm doing - but I actually feel a bit guilty! I also feel like there's a big gap in my life. I don't really feel like me unless I'm writing.

I know, I know. I should just shut up and make the most of it because, sooner or later, I'll start whinging about how much I've got to do. Some people are never satisfied!

Before I go (series 4 of The Wire is calling me!) I'd just like to point you in the direct of Average Jane's website.

She's got a signed copy of 'Heaven Can Wait' to give away (closing date 18th Jan). Just visit her blog and send her an email to be in with a chance of winning it. Good luck!