Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Writing Exercises

I joined a Facebook writing group recently and was given a choice of writing prompts for the month of February.  I leapt into action immediately, choosing the one that really grabbed my attention, intending to get to them all during the month.  Of course, life and another novel got in the way and I didn't get to the others.  We were also supposed to share and critique each other's work.  Erm... I kinda let life get in the way of that one as well.

Since the March prompts have just come through, I thought I should finally share my writing exercise from February.  I started with the image as suggested in the prompt and wrote what was pretty much a stream of consciousness.  I stopped when I realised my viewpoint was wandering and I got fed up with myself.  The suggested writing time of fifteen minutes was up by then anyway.

This was the prompt: 
She walked slowly up the long, winding driveway, her dress trailing in the mud. 

And this was what I wrote (there may be mistakes, but the point was to just write):
 She walked slowly up the long, winding driveway, her dress trailing in the mud.  Her arms hung by her sides like branches of a tree, hanging on with their last piece of bark.  Her foot scraped the gravel as it took her one small step closer to the house.

In the moonlight, her organza dress was as ephemeral as a ghost.  The breeze caught the skirt where it had ripped almost to her waist and it fluttered like a moth, wrapping around her exposed leg.

The house was lit up in the darkness.  A warm, orange glow making it a welcoming sight.
The front door would have been the natural choice, but the light made her turn toward the vast windows where the orange light spilled out on to the terrace.

She put her heavy hand to the glass door and gazed in.  Patterns of mist appeared around her fingers.  The green blaize of the billiard table was central to the room.  A corpulent man with a large moustache and round, pinkened cheeks leant over the table with a long cue.

Balling her hand into a fist she banged on the glass, louder and louder until the men in the room looked up.  They all looked into the dark outside the window.  They couldn’t see her.

The glass shook as both fists fell upon the window followed by her body.

A younger man stepped forward and undid the catch on the door.  She fell inside, tumbling into his arms.   The others gathered around.

“Put her on the table,” one of them said.

She scratched at her prickling skin.  

“Can you hear me, young lady?” an older voice said.

The billiard table was hard.

“Get a blanket,” another said as a hand tried to pull the ripped skirt over her leg.

“Ring the bell for Mrs Kent.  Ask her to fetch some warm brandy and blankets.”

“Who is she?”                                             

“Do you know?”

“Have you seen her before?”

“Who are you?”

“She’s shivering, for goodness sake, someone get a blanket.”

Something was placed over her.  It wasn’t a blanket.  A jacket.  It was warm.

“So cold…” she thought she managed to say, but she could have just thought so in her head.

“Don’t tell the ladies.”

“Sir?” a woman’s voice, finally.  

“Mrs Kent, we have a situation.  This young lady just appeared at the window and stumbled inside.”

“I see sir.”

“Perhaps some warm brandy and blankets?”

“Shall I fetch the doctor, sir?”

“I suppose we must...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Paper vs Electronic books

I have a Kindle.  I have an iPad and an iPhone - both with iBooks and the Kindle app.  I have ebooks stored ready to read so why am I being drawn back to paper?

Ebooks were great when my daughter was a newborn, the whole Jack Reacher canon got me through her constant feeds day and night.  The convenience of ebooks is definitely the main reason to choose them, after all - there is nothing worse than finishing your book on the tube and then having to lug it around with nothing else to read.  With a Kindle (or similar) you can have most of your library with you.

I also love the fact you can get the classics for free and yet free books are how I've fallen back in love with paper.  Since being on maternity leave money has been tight and I began taking my daughter to the library to choose her own books (no one is too young to start 'reading').  Whilst there I impulsively got out books for myself (using my library card for the first time in three years). And I'm hooked. 

So, despite the convenience of ebooks I'm back on paper for the following reasons:
- the feel of the paper
- being able to read in the bath (I had a dream about my iPad and the water meeting)
- I like being able to flick back easily to find a reference
- a good book should be passed on, and this is the main thing I have missed during my flirtation with ebooks: instead of passing a book on I've just had to give a recommendation
- I want books on my shelves so my daughter can discover books I loved with ease.

However, I am grateful people enjoy using their ereaders as this is how I make my living through book sales.  And I think I'll always take an ereader on the tube.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Post Baby Novel

I know - I've been rather quiet.  Who knew a small child could be so demanding?

I've been a first time mother for ten months now and I am still getting to grips with my new job.  It's certainly more demanding than anything else I've ever done.  My daughter gives me her own rewards though, and as she grows I learn so much more about being a human being and our capacity for growth.

During these ten months I finished The Reed Bed (which I started the November before) and started a new Nanowrimo project.  I sacrificed the little sleep I was getting for writing during November and tapped away on my iPad as soon as my daughter was (briefly) asleep for the night.  Then the iPad started misbehaving and PND caught up with me and the sixty thousand words of Snowbound juddered to a halt.  It might have stayed that way if it were not for cake. 

Let me explain: my friend Ellie asked me if I was doing Camp (Nano's spring/summer equivalent) and although I hadn't intended to do so, I've been rather bullying Ellie into completing her novel (followers on Facebook, EHWalter, will have witnessed some of these spats).  I thought I should do Camp so Ellie would and then, somehow, we placed a bet.  The first person to write twenty thousand words won cake.  Fresh, homemade cake.

The promise of cake spurred me on and with the help of sleep training I had a little more time to write in the evenings.  Bit by bit I finished the first draft of Snowbound and cake was won.

For me this was more than cake though, it was reassuring that despite most of my time being spent on nurturing and raising a small human I could still finish a novel.  I could still write.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

New Tricks

I've discovered, as a new mother, you need some tricks to get the words down on the page.  Whereas before ER came along I could write as soon as my job was done for the day... Now there is no end to my job, it's twenty four seven!

The first thing I've done is try to identify a time during which ER is asleep, but I am too awake to sleep (no matter how much I want to).  This is usually a brief window after six am.

Secondly I've been giving myself two word count targets a week.  A realistic one of maybe a thousand words and an ideal one which is where I really want to be.  This cuts down the chance of feeling like a failure and also motivates me to at least try and meet the realistic one.

Thirdly, my laptop and I are now casual acquaintances at best and my iPad with the Pages app has become my new best friend.  It's easy to get going, type one handed and put away safely.  I do type a lot quicker on my laptop, but the iPad is better than nothing. It also cuts down on social media procrastination as it takes longer to switch between the windows and I often can't be bothered.

These tricks have helped me keep going as a busy writer and so, to answer that age old question - do female writers need a room of their own?  No, just an iPad and some reasonable targets.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

It's almost Nanowrimo time again!

An author friend often asks me why I do Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) every year.  He quite rightly points out that I write every day anyway - so why do I need the pressure of a fifty thousand word deadline by 30th November?

I'll tell you why I am committed to Nano'ing every November. 
  1. Writing is a lonely pursuit. Although many people are writing and believe they have a novel in them, very few are confident enough to talk about it.  That all changes every November. I love the write ins and the forums.  They make writing just that little bit less lonely and more of a social pursuit - for thirty days every year.  I also have friends who I have met purely through Nano and may only have a virtual friendship with.
  2. It's a chance to take a gamble and write something new.  If it turns out badly I've only lost a month from my other writing projects.  I have found the best way to approach Nano is with the barest of an idea, maybe a picture or book cover, and just write, write, write. It doesn't matter what comes out, it doesn't matter if I think it is any good or not.  The only thing that matters is getting to fifty thousand words.
  3. I'm grateful to Nano.  Without it I might have more half finished books littering my flat as I kept skipping from project to project, waiting for the one that would be instantaneously amazing.  Writing isn't like that; it's hard and your first draft may suck.  What Nano taught me is the important thing is to finish a draft, without that last sentence you have nothing.  Once it is done you have options, without it you just have lots of good ideas you can't be bothered to finish.
I'm not sure what I will write yet.  I've been looking at pre made e book covers as I want to publish on Smashwords as I go (I've done this for the past couple of years).  I'm tempted by a few random ideas.  One thing is for sure, I won't know what to write until I start tapping away on the first of November and writing doesn't get more exciting than that.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Writing a Synopsis

Despite having written six novels in three years I have yet to submit one of them to a publisher, prefering to e-publish myself.  E-publishing certainly gives me greater control as a writer, from the cover to staying true to the stories I wish to tell.  However, with a limited budget of pretty much nothing you rely on word of mouth to get your book noticed.  I have done quite well - but I would like to do better and so decided perhaps it was time to look at more conventional routes into  publishing.

There has been one major barrier to my submitting to a mainstream publisher - writing a synopsis.  I have never been able to master the art of putting the whole story in such a condensed form and making it sound good!  However, a synopsis is a must to get a publisher or agent.  From what I've read it helps reassure them you know how to plot.

I turned to my old friend Google to help me and read a few websites offering synopsis writing advice.  This is the one I found the most useful and I have adapted the fourth option:

Paragraph 1: describe the background to the novel
Paragraphs 2 - 4: tell the beginning, middle and end of each thread of the novel in a separate paragraph (once sentence for each part)
Paragraph 5: the resolution to the story

Using this concept I found it much easier to create a synopsis and stick to the one page rule. I don't know whether it is good enough to attract a publisher, but it is better than anything else I have managed thus far!

Wish me luck!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Jasper Fforde on writing and getting published

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jasper Fforde and pick his brain about writing and getting published.  This is the man who gets on the best seller lists every time a new Thursday Next book comes out, so he knows what he is doing.

His first warning was not to write "me too" books, copying something that is already out there.  This is worth remembering these days where if one book becomes outrageously successful a glut of "me too" books follow as writers and publishers try to cash in on the originals success.  Jasper said there is always new ground to be broken as a writer.

He stressed not to let thoughts of selling the book be your main motivation for writing it - write to entertain yourself.  If you enjoy it, other people will.  If you write something that is not 'you' it will come through in the writing.  He drew the analogy of meeting someone for the first time; you draw conclusions as to what type of person they are and if you spend six hours in their company you know if they are being genuine.

Jasper said the most enjoyable part of writing for him is the "downward canter towards the end with about twenty thousand words left to go" and he said there is always a point in the middle of the book where you are not sure where the book is going.  This is when most aspiring writers give up.  This is the part you must continue through.  Your novel will have several threads weaving through it and one of these will get you to the end.  If you are finding it hard think about what the character really wants.

If you wish to be a professional writer Jasper warned of e publishing; your first few books probably won't be very good and if you put them on the Internet they will be out there forever and may put people off reading your later, better books.  He said it takes about eight to ten books in before you have really learnt your craft as a writer and have produced a really good book.  To help you get there he said writing something, anything, every day - a journal entry, a short poem...  Keep your hand in and practise your craft every day.

Jasper's advice in summary is - if you want a ten year career as a writer keep going and write every day.  By your eighth book you might have something good enough to sell.

I spoke to Jasper Fforde at the Fforde Ffiesta which happens every eighteen months in Swindon (home of Thursday Next).  The next one is in May 2015 and details can be found at 

A small group of seven people have now been challenged to complete a first draft of fifty thousand plus words by the next Ffiesta - although we are expecting one and a half books from Mr Fforde and one of the writers is creating a graphic novel so we've agreed half of it should be complete as it has the extra challenge of words and pictures - you can follow Roger's blog at