Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Book Review - Stardust....and what I gained from it

Sometimes you don't have to really enjoy a book to get something out of it. I picked up Neil Gaiman's Stardust in a charity shop because it looked interesting and he was someone whose books I'd never read. I soon realised that this wasn't my kind of book. I've found in the past that fantasy isn't really my genre and I hadn't realised quite who Neil Gaiman was (how awful!).

However, though not my cup of tea, the book is well written and I liked the twist and how he brought all the parts together in the end. This is the kind of thing I'd maybe watch on TV rather than read but I rarely give up on a book. Besides this had an interview with the author and extra material.....something a writer loves to read! This was when I realised who Neil Gaimen was and that I had watched Coraline (which he wrote) on TV and enjoyed it!

I was particularly interested in how Neil came to write this book Stardust and that he previously wrote a prologue to a book called Wall  set in the same location. He then abandoned it. He says he may or may not write that prequel. In the meantime Gaiman witnessed a falling star and suddenly Stardust was written. It's little things that this that make writing so interesting and what motivates an author to write. I find it utterly fascinating.

A little while ago I experienced writer's block with the novel I am writing. I was stuck with the next scene. I had ideas and an ending but I was stranded in no-mans land staring at the screen and nothing was coming. So I took a diversion. I have, I know, overthought the 'family tree' to my characters and have extensive extended family who do not feature in the novel and may not even get a mention. But there were a few there who interested me and I thought might be worthy of fleshing out and basing a story around. So I went back to my 'trees' and began to write. I now have two short stories. It was a nice diversion and I enjoyed finding out who these characters were. Meanwhile on one of those dreadful sleepless nights I get now and then I played through some scenes for my novel and things began to fall into place. The next day I wrote the next scene and the novel has been gathering pace ever since.

I am now into the last quarter of the novel. I know there will be a lot of editing to do and I don't relish that. I have no idea what happens after that - I guess I need someone to read it. For now I'm just enjoying the writing and don't want to think beyond that. I've spent a lot of time on it and if it's rubbish it will be like receiving a years worth of poetry rejections in one go!

I set out to write a novel as a challenge (I never thought I could string out a story to novel length). My methods for doing this have so far worked (my targets, breaking things down into chunks - that's the natural way I work). Suddenly after all these months I can see the end coming. It's rather scary.

So, there we go. Gaiman handles his genre well. I might not enjoy reading his stories in the way others do but we all have our preferences. There were, however, aspects of this book that I appreciated - the handling of two worlds. It was good to see how he did it (my novel is set in two times zones but is very different to this). So I did get something from the book. No read is ever wasted.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Artists Rifles Poetry workshop

Artists Rifles Exhibition
I took a day off from the novel yesterday (I need some mulling time anyway) and set off down to Basingstoke in Hampshire for a day of art and poetry. I was there for the Artists Rifles exhibition at the Willis Museum and to attend a two hour poetry workshop based on the exhibition and run by Hampshire Poet Joan McGavin.

I arrived early so I had time to see the exhibition at my leisure. It wasn't a huge display but interesting. As well as paintings there were cases of uniforms, sketchbooks and other memorabilia as well as a seven minute video. This came at an interesting point - not longer after the study day I attended on WWI artists - so it was all still fresh in mine.

The afternoon took place in the Function Room covering the whole top floor of the museum. The ceiling was rather impressive - painted in what I call a Wedgwood blue, with cream cornices. The table we worked at was large, made of solid wood with a leather(?) inlay. Just right for us writers!

Joan was great - very relaxed and came armed with some clipboards and a sheet of questions. She asked us to go and look around the exhibition and pick one object, answer the questions and make notes. On our return Joan gave us another sheet with tips on writing and suggested we take one answer we'd given or a line we'd written to start our poem. After about twenty-five minutes it was that scary time of sharing! It was interesting to hear what others had written and which painting or object they had chosen.So many powerful images came out. I didn't think my efforts were very good and I'd not written a great deal but as I read it out I was more satisfied with my beginning. Joan gave feedback on our poems and made suggestions. We were then given a final sheet with suggestions on re-drafting our poems.

Our class was small - just five of us - but everyone had written poetry before and at least three of us had published poems. We all came away with something to work on and at £5 for the workshop it was amazing value.

This afternoon I completed a second draft of my poem so I'm getting there. What was lovely is that Joan offered to feedback on our final poems if we wished!

For those interested the exhibition runs until 27th September after which it moves to the Gosport Discovery Centre.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

FREE VERSE: The Poetry Book Fair: Free Verse 2014

Look great. I am going. Let me know if you are too.

FREE VERSE: The Poetry Book Fair: Free Verse 2014: We are delighted to announce our completely free programme of readings and discussions at this year's Poetry Book Fair o...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Reaching the half way point

A milestone for me....yesterday I reached the halfway point in my novel. With 40,000 or so words I stopped to congratulate myself. Then I thought where do I go now? I didn't have an ending, I wasn't sure where my main character was going next and it all began to feel like an anti-climax. I wondered how I would have enough material to finish. So I decided to do some brainstorming.

It was a lovely evening so I went to sit on my favourite bench with my note pad and pen. I plugged myself into some music (Akon's Freedom album) and began roughing out potential ideas/directions and asking myself questions. Gradually things began to come together and finally I knew how things would end. In fact I think I'd always known and it seemed so obvious once the decision was made. How to get my character to this point will still take some working out but at least I know where I am going. It was such a relief!

I also began thinking about what I had written so far and jotted down some amendments I want to make when I come to editing. There are sections to fill out, give more detail to but in the rush to get words on paper I tend to skim over them to get the essentials down.

I am finding that my characters and story are beginning to weave into my dreams - it's like I can't switch off from  them. This does happen from time to time. When I'm fired up I walk down the road and am hardly aware of what's going on around me because I am so pre-occupied with scenes playing out in my head. I'm sure I'm not much fun to be around, tapping away on my laptop with my earphones plugged in. The housework piles up and I hate having to down tools to cook. When I'm not writing I'm reading!

We have someone coming to stay later in the week so I will have to take a break and do some housework. Having breaks is good, I think, for me anyway, as long as they are not too long. It's great to do something completely different for a time and come back renewed to write. Well, that's the plan!

Friday, 25 July 2014

A....sort of win!

I am still chuckling over this one....just had an email from the editor of Areopagus to say that I had sort of won the summer competition (which was to write the first part of story and then other writers would contribute a paragraph each time). The 'sort of' won it is because mine was the only entry! I fell about laughing.  I really don't mind. The magazine is a small publication (perhaps 200 odd subscribers) but I did think a few writers would have a go at this. The piece I used was edited from a writing prompt a few years ago. Anyway, Julian has asked if he can end the piece slightly before where I left it to make the next contributions more interesting. Again, that's fine but I'll be laughing about this one for a long time.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Fiction and poetry

Sustainer of like - cake! My courgette and lemon cake.
(The other half is in the freezer)
I've just been doing that stressful thing of online submissions so I thought I'd relax by posting on my blog!

I've gone back to my novel. Having done a quick edit of what I've written so far I'm pleased to say I still like my story, which is just as well as I've spent so much time on it, My method varies between thinking out the next 1,000 words before I write them (not good when doing this in bed as it keeps me from sleeping!) and writing straight on to the laptop with only a vague idea where I'm going. Both methods seem to work but I prefer the former. Am I writing notes? Er.....well if it is something I think I will need to refer to like a make of car, or a place that I need a description for, that sort of thing. I have my profiles (and family trees) which are working well, and a map I drew of somewhere as well as local information and maps collected on a visit.

The problem with not having your own writing space is that all my books and papers are stacked on one corner of the dining table and my laptop on the other. We end up not using the table for eating at as it's such a hassle moving everything (one of my sons has a claimed another corner to keep his keys, odd receipts and rubbish! and hubby the other corner). Everything gets moved now and then for guests (unless they are used to the mess in which case they slum it like the rest of us!). Once things get moved, papers go walkabout and I have to track them down again. One day it will all be worth it.....hopefully.

You may remember I told you that I was giving an episode of my 'online soap' to a friend to read. We met recently to discuss it. She liked the writing and characters. We talked about my concerns about quick changes in scene, the amount of characters, how it would fair on the internet (followers and the like) and where I should go next with it. Nothing was resolved and my friend suggested I put the episode on my blog and get feedback. This might be worth trying, but for now I've decided to concentrate on the novel as switching between two pieces of fiction gets confusing, where as fiction and poetry switch quite happily. Likewise another story which I began editing this year has also been abandoned for now and is somewhere under the pile.

Meanwhile I've been writing a sequence of poems on one particular subject and this is nice to go back to when I want a break from fiction. However, I found myself become obsessed with my sequence poems over the weekend and had to stop. I have some poems I'm really happy with as well as several in first/second draft form. I can't even remember where the idea came from for these poems but it's been good creatively.

Well, time for lunch over an episode of Doctors!  Happy writing.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Character profiling again!

How I long for a room with a huge pin board right now. I've returned to my novel and immediately realised I'd forgotten the name of a character! Flicked through my few pages of notes on my characters to find it and wondered how I could forget such a was my dad's name!

Decided some proper profiling was needed and boy have a got myself into a muddle but I'm getting there. One thing to come out of this is how certain things link together to make the story better (hopefully) and I'm finding that the characters are coming to life more and I'm beginning to understand where they are coming from. Found some good tension spots between two characters which will be useful. I've had to expand on my characters' family trees and I have been going through the first part of the story and editing a little. I need to get a feel for the story again and add more detail before I continue with it.This seems essential at this point, especially now I'm putting flesh on my characters. Of course further edits will be needed but this will be  a better draft.

Another thing that's come out of looking at the novel again is the similarities to my 'soap' style story. I realised that both are mainly set in villages (one not exclusively) and the names of the villages are similar! Not only that but two names appear in both stories. None of this was intentional and I am wondering whether I just don't have much imagination, whether it was subconscious or I like writing things based on similar ideas. Probably it's down to not profiling characters properly first! Well, Victoria Hislop writes similar things - all her books have two timelines (with back story dominating) and look how successful she is! Oh well, I think it's time for a break - my head is overloaded with dates, names and places. I'm off to wash up and then watch the footie - come on Costa Rica!