Tuesday, 31 July 2012

85,000 words and still going...

So you know that 'sniffing distance' I was on about in my last post? No chance! I'm at 85,000 words now and I've still got two and a half scenes to go - and that's just to finish the main narrative. Then I've got the parallel narrative to write! Fortunately it'll be shorter than the main thread. It'll also be in a different format which will hopefully make it quite fun to write.

I haven't written a parallel narrative before but I think this novel needs one to explain why the (unreliable?) narrator acts the way she does in the present. It'll also, hopefully, be a page turner in it's own right (I'm sure I'm not the only one to skip through a parallel narrative to get back to the main thread of a novel). Maggie O'Farrell used parallel narratives to really good effect in 'The Hand That First Held Mine' although I'm no Maggie, that's for sure!

What do you guys think? Are you a fan of parallel narratives or would you prefer the occasional flashback instead?

How lovely was the weather last week? The Spudling and I went to stay with his grandparents while the boyfriend went off on a camping/mountain biking expedition. I don't think the Spudling has ever had more attention - from his uncle, auntie, cousins, grandparents and great aunts - he was in seventh heaven. Everyone wanted to cuddle and play with him and, to make the weekend even more momentous, he decided it was the perfect time to start crawling! Time to baby-proof the house now we're home...

Not long now until my maternity leave is over and I go back to work (September) so only a few weeks left to enjoy spending all my time with the Spudling until he goes to the childminder three days a week. I'm going to miss him terribly but part of me is quite looking forward to talking to other adults about non-baby matters when I go into London for team meetings, and listening to my CDs and records on the days I work from home (instead of nursery rhymes on a loop!).

Between now and then, however, there's lots to be done. The boyfriend and I are buying a house so there are mortgages to sort, surveys to arrange and measurements to take (it feels like forever since we last saw the house we're buying. I hope we still like it!) and, if I didn't have enough on my plate, I've agreed to send Maddy (my agent) the first draft of novel 3 by 24th August. Even if I pull out all the stops I'm not going to have much time to give it much of an edit and that makes me nervous - I normally edit a novel within an inch of its life before I show it to anyone but maybe this is a more efficient way of working  - any structural issues can be fixed before, rather than after, I spend hours primping and polishing the prose.

Better get on with it then...

Friday, 20 July 2012

The end is within sniffing distance...

75,000 words into novel 3 and only seven scenes left to write. So close to the end, right?


I still have to write the parallel narrative that runs alongside the main story! I think the final word count is likely to be about 120,000 words - which will make this book the longest of all my novels.

It struck me this morning that I've not made it easy for myself with my novels because they all have different point of views and structures:

HEAVEN CAN WAIT - first person point of view, past tense, hero's journey

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS - two alternating first person point of views (there was a 3rd person POV too but that was cut during the edit), past tense, 3 Act Structure

NOVEL 3 - first person point of view, present tense, parallel narrative, 3 Act Structure

For me HEAVEN CAN WAIT was definitely most straightforward of the three to write, structure-wise.

What have you used in your novels? Have you tried using different POVs and structures? Any you found easier than others? What are you going to choose for your next novel? Any you'd never do again?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 19 July 2012

How to increase suspense in your novel: a guest post by Niki Valentine

Today I'm delighted to welcome Niki Valentine to my blog with a guest post about novel writing and the secret to suspense. 

Niki Valentine is an award-winning writer who, as Nicola Monaghan, has been published internationally to huge acclaim. When she isn't working on her next psychological horror novel, Niki teaches Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University. As Nicola she has published Starfishing,The Okinawa Dragon and The Killing Jarwhich won a Betty Trask Award, the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award and the Waverton Good Read.  

Her second Niki Valentine novel, Possessed, will be published on Kindle on 25th July. 

Over to Niki...

The art of thrilling isn’t (too) hard to master

Analysing student writing, I sometimes think there’s a mistaken belief that the secret to suspense is to keep the reader waiting and be mysterious. The problem wit h this is that, if the reader has no idea what’s at stake, why would she feel any tension or terror? In fact, the first rule of suspense, I think, is that the reader needs to know what’s the worst that could happen, up front, and why it’s important that it doesn’t. The main character’s life, love, career, reputation, whatever it is on the line, the reader needs to know, and they need to care about it too. So your protagonist is important. He or she needs to be relatable; someone we can care about.

The secret to storytelling, whether we notice it or not, is rising action. It’s certainly something we notice when it isn’t there. If you’ve seen Mulholland Drive, or Synecdoche New York, or Last Days, you will know exactly what I mean. These films have their artistic merits but suspense is not one of them. The rising action model relies on an ‘inciting incident’, which kicks off the action, followed by complications, which grow and develop to a climax and are then resolved. This model is de rigour in screen writing but key to a good thriller too. We need to feel uneasy, then worried, then a bit scared, then scared, then very scared, then terrified, then utterly terrified until we finally have the pay off and the tension releases. The action rises and rises before we are ultimately allowed to relax. The more tense we’ve felt, the more the pleasure in that release. This is why people like these stories.

There are all sorts of aspects that can be thrown into the mix. Time constraints add to the tension… defuse the bomb, for example, is a commonly used thriller device for a reason. A dilemma can be effective; save your wife or save your child, 24 style, and push your protagonist in two directions. As a writer of suspense you want to pull your reader as many ways as you can; you want to make her grit her teeth harder and harder.  When writing my first novel, I remember analysing my chapters, one after another, and checking that the end of each left something urgent unanswered. Where it didn’t, I changed chapter breaks to try to make sure that, as each ended, the reader had a reason not to put down the book.

Perhaps the very best advice I can give here is similar to the idea ‘delay your gratification’. Human instinct tries to end suspense, which is why the reader will keep reading, rather than put down the book, if you keep it tense enough. So, as a writer, you have to fight this instinct yourself and not let the reader off too easily. You have to keep the stakes high, and the situation unresolved, for as long as you can bear it. And then a bit longer. In order to ensure that your reader enjoys the full extent of the relief when the story is resolved, you need to take them to a place you don’t particularly want to go to yourself.  

By Niki Valentine
Published on 25th July as an ebook (£5.99)
Published 25th October 2012, £6.99 paperback original

Who do you trust when you can no longer trust your own mind?
Emma's life has always been a struggle, and now she's been accepted at a prestigious music school, she is determined to excel. But when the impossibly chic twins, confident Sophie and quieter Matilde, come crashing into her life - surrounding her with champagne and parties - they demand Emma's full attention.
Then shy Matilde commits suicide and shockingly, her identical twin Sophie flourishes. Now odd things are happening to Emma: blackouts, waking up in strange places, bizarre dreams. Something, or someone, is consuming Emma's mind. Terrified, Emma begins to doubt everything and everyone around her, especially the beautiful Sophie...


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Romantic Novelists' convention - Penrith 2012

Last weekend was special in two ways:

1. It was my first weekend away from the Spudling since he was born 9.5 months ago
2. It was the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) convention in Penrith, Cumbria

I went to my first ever RNA conference last year and had an amazing time which was made even more special when I won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy for best novel opening. This year it was my job to hand over the cup to the new winner at the Gala Dinner and there was no way I was going to miss out on doing something as special as that. I was nervous though, about going to the conference. I've only ever been apart from the Spudling for 5 hours and that was a few months ago when his Daddy drove him to Birmingham to meet his Great-Nan and Granddad (and I cried then!) and I was worried about being so far away if he needed me. I needn't have worried though and huge thanks to all the ladies who told me to stop worrying and enjoy my very rare taste of freedom! (you know who you are).

Last year I shared a flat with only two other people and, as I was pregnant, I didn't join in the drinking/late night talking festivities. This year couldn't have been more different! We had the best kitchen (I know everyone says that) and that was down to Mills & Boon authors extraordinaire - India Grey, Scarlet Wilson, Natalie Rivers and Fiona Harper - and my flatmates, and good friends, Rowan Coleman and Tamsyn Murray. Special mention should also go to Gillian Green (editor at Ebury Press) who joined us around the kitchen table for wine after the gala dinner on Saturday and...er...enlightened.... us about certain erotica practices (the erotic imprint Black Lace is back, she wasn't talking from personal experience!). I think we may even have scared the lovely Liz Fenwick (who very kindly supplied the photos in this post) off when she popped in for an impromptu hello!

The talks this year were every bit as entertaining and informative as they were last year. I particularly enjoyed Talli Roland's on online marketing, Kate Harrison on the research she's carried out amongst readers, writers and industry professionals about the future of women's fiction, Tamsyn Murray about sex in Young Adult literature and Julie Cohen on what the Pixar films can teach us about structuring story. Here's a quick round up from what I can remember...

Talli's talk - online marketing for writers

Talli talked about blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon author pages and how we should manage them in order to promote ourselves as a 'brand'. She said that we, as the author, are the brand rather than our books and we should create a tag line (mine might be 'writes sparkling romantic comedies that make you laugh and cry') and reinforce it with our online activity. Talli stressed that we should ensure we fill out our Amazon author pages on .co.uk, .com, .de and wherever else we have a book presence.

She also mentioned that you should separate your Facebook personal page from your Facebook author page (your 'like' page) by adding something like 'Author' or 'Novelist' to your URL (something I've actually done! Mine's www.twitter.com/CallyTaylorAuthor) or else you'll end up with two Facebook URLs that feature your name and readers won't know which is which.

Regarding blogging she stressed the importance of replying to all blog comments (something I'm guilty of not doing) and of following all your followers back (again *cough* I've not been the best at that but, since returning from the RNA conference, I followed over 100 of my followers and am planning on adding the other 163 over the next few days!).

One final point about blogging - make sure you're consistent. Once a day, once a week, once a month, it doesn't matter how often you blog as long as your followers know when they can expect to hear from you. Talli's enthusiasm for her subject was so infectious she's inspired me to follow her advice and I'm going to try and blog more frequently from now on - at least once a week. Feel free to kick me up the bum and tell Talli on me if I don't! ;)

She also said to keep blog posts short - oops!

If you're interested in online marketing do friend Talli on Facebook and 'like' her author page. She regularly guest posts on a variety of subjects to do with online marketing and today she's linked to a blog post she's written about Facebook marketing. As well as being a fabulous novelist she really is the guru on all things to do with ebooks and online marketing.

Kate Harrison - the future of women's fiction

I won't blog too much about Kate's talk as she'll be publishing the results of her research on her blog/website very soon but, basically, she carried out online research to find out why, if we believe reports in the press, the sale of women's fiction are in decline. She gathered data from over 300 readers, 50 authors and dozens of industry professionals and presented us with the results - which were very interesting.

As well as dividing the readers into 3 separate groups with different reading tastes and patterns, Kate was able to establish what it is that the majority of readers want from women's fiction. Off the top of my head I think the top four qualities were funny, moving, thought-provoking and thrilling.

Kate didn't say as much but the fact that many of the readers also wanted to 'learn something' from their books also suggests that we might be moving slightly away from purely entertaining 'fun' chicklit and more towards women's fiction with deeper themes that's thought-provoking (but the sample size, at 300 readers, was relatively small so don't quote me on that!).

Anyway, do follow Kate's blog if you'd like to read the survey results in full when she publishes them online.

The only downside to going to Kate's talk was that it clashed with Nell Dixon's talk on editing (something I'm creeping ever nearer to as novel 3 has just hit 72,000 words). Fortunately I ran into Nell on Sunday and she very kindly gave me a copy of her print out. What a star!

Tamsyn's talk - sex in Young Adult books

Tamsyn's talk was a lot of fun. She discussed the history of sex in young adult literature (anyone remember 'Forever' by Judy Blume? Yes, I thought so... ;)) and gave us a variety of examples of sex in YA books these days - from masturbation and sex in Keris Stainton's 'Della Says OMG' to the rather more chaste 'they spent the night in each other's arms' in her own 'My So Called Afterlife' series to the really quite explicit no holds barred intercourse in 'Adorkable' by Sarra Manning. 

After the talk everyone joined in the discussion which ranged from YA authors being banned from school talks because their books contained sexual references, to Irish librarians sticking red dots on racy books, to 'Banned Book' week in America. 

Find out more about Tamsyn and her books here.

Julie's talk - what Pixar films can teach us about story structure

Julie's talk was all kinds of fun! Not only is she one of the most enthusiastic, energetic and fun workshop presenters I've ever had the honour of watching but she's also hugely knowledgeable about the craft of writing.

Julie talked us through a number of subjects including the 3 Act Structure (her handout on how 'Cars' follows the 3 Act Structure was so good it's going up on my study wall!), beginnings, plots and subplots and climax and illustrated each one by talking about various Pixar films, showing clips and explaining how and why Pixar are so good at what they do.

And then, just when we thought her talk couldn't get any more enthralling she showed us a clip from 'Up' and made the entire room cry!

Julie Cohen is currently planning a series of workshops on writing for next year. I cannot recommend her highly enough so if you live in the Reading area or are prepared to travel to see someone who's energetic, fun and really knows her stuff then please get yourself over to her website and sign up for her newsletter.

The gala dinner on Saturday was wonderful. Jan Jones decorated the tables beautifully, the food was delicious and my table - Kate Harrison, Tamsyn Murray, Rowan Coleman and Miranda Dickinson - was an absolute scream. It's not often I turn down apple pie but when Jan came to get me to present the Elizabeth Goudge trophy to the new winner I was out of my chair without so much as a 'does it come with custard?'. I had no idea who'd won it - I hadn't even read any of the entries but I stood by Annie Ashurst, RNA Chair, as she read out the titles of the 3 shortlisted entries and gazed around at the rapt faces.

As she opened the envelopes, revealing the names of the third place and second place writers I noticed a squealing woman on a table to my left with her hands pressed over her mouth and a look of delight on her face - it was Alison Maynard, this years winner! I loved how excited she was - it reminded me of my own reaction last year.

Sunday came by all too quickly and I was gutted when 1.45pm rolled around and it was time to say my goodbyes - not least because it meant I had to miss Miranda Dickinson's talk on her rollercoaster experience as a bestselling author (although, lovely lady that she is, she gave me some of her exclusive 'Wordy' stickers and postcards before I left. She's going to put some on sale on her website very soon so make sure you sign up to her newsletter to find out when that is).

But say goodbye I did and before I knew it I was on the train back to Bristol, sat next to Tamsyn, earphones plugged in as I tapped away on my netbook (anti-social I know but I had to do some work on novel 3 while I was away, and Tam was working too!).

And as for the Spudling? He was crying when I came in (he doesn't like getting out of the bath) and he continued to cry when I popped into the bathroom to say hello but one big cuddle and a rendition of 'Wheels on the Bus' and he was all smiles. And so was I.

So cheers RNA - not just for an amazing conference but for making a rare weekend to myself so very, very wonderful.

Monday, 16 July 2012


...to anyone looking for the Niki Valentine post on how to increase suspense in your novels. I was trying to schedule it for 19th July and published it today by mistake. Please come back on the 19th when it'll be available to read.

Also coming soon - my round up of the RNA conference in Penrith...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad