Not an Aspiring Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #234

Staycation chez Martin

Staycation chez Martin

One of the challenges I’ve discovered with being a self-published author, or I suppose a writer of any kind, is expecting others to see it as a real job. After all it doesn’t pay well (or at all), you have no one imposing deadlines but yourself, and you spend all day dividing your time between gazing out the window, researching random things (skydiving in New Zealand anyone?), designing the odd front cover or giveaway bookmark, and playing on social media.

It’s all work, it’s done with purpose, but compared to a teacher, doctor, project manager or business director, it’s all a bit nebulous.

A friend recently asked my husband, while they were at a kids party together, if I get paid for doing the blog. Tee hee wouldn’t that be nice? I think it was because I couldn’t join my baby group one day in the café as I was racing to get my post live by my 10am deadline (which I’m going to miss today, unfortunately, due to a bout of insomnia). I probably should have missed my post that day and joined them for coffee. But, to me, the self-imposed deadlines, the deliverables, the targets, are all very important. I need to feel like I have a job, a career, or the sacrifices I ask my family to make would not be worth it.

No, I’m not getting paid, but my friend did seven years of university training to be a doctor without getting paid. This is my post-grad creative writing degree taken at the university of life. I’ve never been more serious about a career before or enjoyed one as much.

My creative daughter

My creative daughter

I often read posts on Kristen Lamb’s blog about the importance of not calling yourself an aspiring writer, (her latest is Are You a “Real” Writer? Is This Even the Correct Question?) . I am a writer; a published author. My sales are no fewer than the vast majority of even traditionally published books, which apparently rarely exceed 100, and I don’t think I’ve sold any to friends and family, so they are all genuine sales. (In 2004 c.80% of books sold fewer than 100 copies: The Ugly Truth about Getting Your Book Published. These figures might be out of date but I have read a similar figure recently, just couldn’t find the source!)

In a week or two my second novel will officially go live, in print and e-book format. Then I’ll start on revising my third novel, Class Act. Maybe I will rough draft the sequel to Dragon Wraiths during November’s NaNoWriMo if there’s a scrap of spare capacity. I’ll churn out my 1500 words of blog post and Claire instalment every day, with a couple of pictures, and I’ll answer every comment. I’ll squeeze in some social media and read a dozen posts from my online community sometime during the week. It’s a 40-hour week that drains me and leaves me exhausted.

Despite all of this, I’m never asked about my ‘job’ as a writer by people I know. It’s not taken seriously as a career. Thankfully my husband believes in me, as do my online friends. That’s why I love my blog. The daily challenge is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Every ‘like’, every ‘been there’ comment tells me I’m not crazy, tells me I belong somewhere, tells me I’m on the right path. I believe I’ll make an income one day, when I’ve written enough words, published enough books. I just have to keep working. I am a writer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire climbed down from the bus and wandered a short way into the bush. After five minutes the pain was too great and she looked around for somewhere to hide with her book for a while. Every part of her body ached, as if she had spent the day before stretched on a rack rather than hiking through volcano country. When the bus driver had told them the morning schedule was for a two-hour walk to see the waterfalls, she’d nearly turned round and gone back to bed.

And as for river-rafting this afternoon, I think I might just opt for the horse riding or discover a love of golf.

It was a satisfying ache; the pain of a body pushed to its limits. But without a hot bath to sooth the muscles, she felt like a wooden puppet every time she tried to walk. At the hostel, some of the other travellers had gone to a natural spring in the river, and raved about the novelty of sitting outside in the autumn while soaking in hot water. It had almost tempted her to go herself, but the thought of the walk put her off.

I miss my car.

Pushing the thought aside, Claire searched for her place in the paperback she’d picked up at the last hostel, and allowed herself to be transported to a different world.

The trill of her phone wrenched her back to reality. Assuming it was either a nasty message from Carl, or a random text from Conor, Claire was tempted to ignore it. Only the vague hope that it might be from Kim made her put down her book and find her phone. The message wasn’t from a number she knew, and she frowned as she opened it.

Hi Claire, long time no speak. I caught up on the blog recently and saw that you’re in my neck of the woods. Are you planning a trip over to Oz while you’re here? It would be great to catch up. Josh.

Claire read the message several times, until the words no longer made sense. Of course she’d thought about him, but she had put all thought of seeing him to one side. Fiona wouldn’t like it, and some scars were best left to heal before they were put under any stress. Would he think it rude, though, if she fobbed him off?

Claire rested her head against the tree and closed her eyes, trying to analyse her emotions. It seemed that every time men became involved in her life it became uncomfortable and complicated. Easier to push on with her travels and concentrate on the blog. And yet …Yet what?

It’s not like I have so many friends I can afford to lose one. What harm a quick visit?

In the end she settled for a non-committal answer, carefully worded to leave her an escape route.

Hi Josh, lovely to hear from you. Yes, I’m touring NZ at the moment: it was meant to be for a job, but that fell through. Now I’m here, though, I thought it worth gathering things for the blog. I’m on a Kiwi bus for the next few weeks. Budget willing, I can fly home via Oz. Will let you know. Cx

She hit send and tried to pick up the thread of her book, but the words kept dancing on the page. With a sigh, Claire packed it away and walked back to the bus.

***

Stealing Memories: 2013 365 Challenge #132

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

As a writer it is difficult to know how much to borrow from the people around you. I often have stabs of conscience regarding writing about the children on my blog, particularly as I use their names (I’m not a big fan of calling them child 1 / child 2 or anything).

I rarely share stuff about my husband or friends, particularly not names or specifics. But utilising stories, that’s different. I need other people’s lives and experiences. I have a great set of my own memories to draw upon – I’ve had a varied and not always easy life – but there are also many things I haven’t done that my friends have.

I have a doctor friend, two teacher friends, a nurse. They share titbits about their lives that I end up weaving into stories. Never the exact tale, certainly never exact people, but definitely flavours. And it does make me feel uncomfortable. How else to find stories though?

My Dad how I like to remember him

My Dad how I like to remember him

Right now I am borrowing my husband’s memories, combined with my own, to write Ruth’s story in Two-Hundred Steps Home. My father suffered from cancer and eventually lost his battle (not specifically with cancer, but associated complications). My relationship with my father was rocky, though, and I live more with the guilt of not doing enough, than with the memories of caring for him. If I’m honest I could have done more and been with him more, but he didn’t want to burden us with how bad it really was and it was too easy to take him at his word.

My husband lost his mother to a brain tumour, a year or two before I met him. They were very close and he felt the loss deeply. He has spoken of it many times and the memories of his last few months with her are raw and beautiful.

I haven’t recreated either scenario completely in Two-Hundred Steps Home (or in the Nanowrimo manuscript I wrote last November, that also features hospital scenes), but I do ask Hubbie about details to make my stories authentic. It feels wrong, though, to ask personal questions just for the sake of my writing. When does it stop being acceptable and become a bit icky? I suppose that’s one of the many unanswerable questions that comes with being a writer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Mummy, Auntie Claire says she’ll pay for me to go to ballet again, can I go, can I, please?”

Sky’s rush of words made Claire’s tummy squirm. She looked up guiltily at Ruth, remembering her thoughts about why the ballet lessons had stopped. Don’t say anything spiteful about the ballet teacher, for goodness sake. Then Sky is bound to tell you she met up with her father and said ballet teacher’s baby.  

The morning with Sky and Ruth had not been an easy one. Sky’s chatter, irritating at the best of times, came with the added burden of fear, worrying what titbit from her ten days with Claire she might toss out for Ruth’s entertainment. On top of that, Claire could see her sister was sagging under the weight of endless words, but didn’t want to let her daughter out of her sight.

Mouthing, “Sorry,” at Ruth, Claire fished in her handbag for the iPad. “Sky, poppet, would you like to play that word game I downloaded for you, so your Mummy can have a rest?”

Sky’s head spun quickly, her hair whipping Ruth across the face. She scrambled off the bed and climbed onto the pull-down mattress next to Claire. “Can I paint nails instead? Pleeeeease.”

Claire’s cheeks flushed red-hot in the stuffy room. Great, now Ruth’s going to blame me for letting Sky play silly computer games. This isn’t how it was supposed to go: I was meant to drop her back home and carry on with my assignment, not sit and listen to all my Auntie-Fails being revealed.

She studied Ruth’s face to see what level of censure it contained, and exhaled in relief at the sight of her closed eyes. Poor thing. I find Sky exhausting, and I’m not sick.

Silence spread through the room, punctuated only by the buzzing light and the whir of technology monitoring Ruth’s life-signs. Claire let her mind drift, wondering where Robert had disappeared to, and whether Carl had noticed yet that she hadn’t blogged a new hostel.

I’ll have to call in and book this week as holiday. I have no idea how long Ruth is going to be in here and it doesn’t seem right to dash off to whatever remote destination boasts the nearest hostel. Carl will just have to sod off.

Settling back against the wall, Claire shifted until she was vaguely comfortable, then she followed Ruth’s example and closed her eyes.

When Claire woke, Sky was no longer sat next to her on the bed. Heart hammering in panic, she flicked her gaze towards Ruth’s bed. Ruth was still sleeping, but her daughter wasn’t with her. Rising slowly, trying not to disturb her sister, Claire crept from the room and prayed her niece was out in the corridor.

Maybe she’s gone for a wee. Yes, that must be it. Claire trotted to the ladies and called out for Sky. When there was no answer, she went back to the nurses’ station and asked if they’d seen a blonde child.

“Yes, she went up to the canteen with the man that came in this morning. Mr Carleton? Is that Ms Carleton’s husband?”

Claire frowned, wondering if Chris had come to the hospital. How would he know? I can’t believe Ruth would have called him. Then the penny dropped. Mr Carleton. Robert, of course.

With a smile she shook her head at the nurse’s assumption. “No, that’s our brother. He flew in from Geneva this morning.” Another thought teased into her brain, scratching at her mind like a briar. Mr Carleton? Not Mr Carleton-Bise? Since when did he drop Francesca’s surname? I thought they loved that whole double-barrelled thing.

Claire’s mind whirled with conjecture as she walked the now-familiar route to the canteen. I wonder if everything is alright with him and Francesca. She recalled their conversation over coffee what seemed like days ago but in reality was only that morning. Now I think about it, he was acting a bit odd. It made the knots in her stomach tighten even more. Robert and Francesca had been together since she was a teenager. The idea that anything could shake their marriage gave her the shivers.

***

A New Challenge

My new project will be based on a travel-journal

My new project will be based on a travel-journal

An email landed in my inbox from WordPress last week, looking at the best daily and weekly blogs of 2012.

It got me thinking whether I could do something like that. I have struggled to even write a blog post every week since I started my WriterMummy blog back in March 2012. Maybe I need a challenge to keep me motivated next year. Something like NaNoWriMo, to force me to write and post daily.

Except I don’t blog unless I have something to say and some weeks nothing much happens, particularly when I’m writing a new novel. Then I thought, why not use a first draft of a novel for my blog?

I originally came up with the idea of 365-365 – writing a book in instalments with each daily entry being 365 words long. That would challenge my daily writing and my need to be more concise. But I suspect the second 365 might be more than I can manage so I’m going to stick with trying to post something every day, starting with a new project.

The story needs to lend itself to short episodes so I came up with the concept of travelling. Ten or twelve years ago I travelled around New Zealand and kept a diary. Recently I helped my sister self-publish her travel journals from America to New Zealand.

I don’t want to do New Zealand though, as that feels a bit close to home (and a bit like cheating, as I’d probably reuse chunks of my diary.) So then I thought what about someone travelling around the UK staying in hostels? The next thought was Why? And how would I integrate a story arc (or even a character arc)?

I came up with the idea of a main character who is a bit smug with her own life. Maybe she has a sister who is a single mother or a brother facing divorce and she’s happy with her middle-class existence, with her designer shoes and handbags and pristine flat. How would she cope staying in youth hostels? Then I had to figure why she would choose to visit youth hostels, which made me decide it would be part of her job. Maybe she’s an advertising executive and her client has asked her to visit the hostels to improve the advertising campaign. Maybe she will write some of her posts on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure I’ll figure some more out before I write my first post tomorrow!

As you can see, I hope my posts will cover how my writing ideas develop (I’m a pantser mostly, so plot as I go) and how I go about research. As I haven’t visited many hostels in the UK I think the YHA site and Google Maps will be my friends.

Fingers crossed I’ll manage to keep up with my challenge, but if not at least I’ve given it a go! See you in 2013 for episode one.

Happy New Year!

The Long Silence Explained

SylvesterIt occurred to me after I posted my essay on guilt yesterday that I forgot entirely to explain the long silence, despite putting that in my title. Making it a separate post possibly gives it too much weight, as if anything more than normal life has been going on in the last four weeks. It hasn’t. That said, there has been a convergence of events since the beginning of November, creating something like a maelstrom in my life. Some I’ve mentioned already – my husband being made redundant for example – but others happened amidst the whirlwind of NaNoWriMo and beyond.

NaNoWriMo in itself was a struggle this year. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and about the life of a Writer (with the capital letter firmly in place.) I didn’t start NaNo until several days into November because my brain was frozen after weeks of editing. Ideas don’t exactly spill out from my tired mind on the best of days but I had truly exhausted my imagination writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in nine months (ready for the Mslexia competition – more on that later). So in the end I opted to write up a story idea I had for NaNo back in 2010 (abandoned for something easier due to having a tiny baby to care for).

The idea excited me because it combined my favourite things – love stories and Georgette Heyer. The basic concept is a girl auditions to be an extra in a Georgette Heyer movie (based on the book Sylvester) but ends up being cast as the lead role despite having no acting experience. Various plots and dramas ensue and it ends with a love story.

But oh the writing was hard. I know next to nothing about making movies – not something that would normally daunt me, that’s what Google is for. But researching during NaNo is difficult as it breaks the flow. Then I realised I had no story arc, only character arcs, so I was writing into the dark. Again not something that normally bothers me, but this time (whether due to sleep deprivation, mental depletion or just a rubbish story idea) I drove into the dark to find only more dark.

nano_12_winner_detailI managed to limp over the 50k mark with two hours to go, but it was the greatest struggle and I was happy to abandon my half-written novel for Christmas Shopping on 1st December. Will I pick it up again? Hopefully one day. I began to understand my characters and get interested in the intrigue, but it is a draft that requires a complete rewrite so it’s likely to languish for a while. What did I learn? That maybe I’m not a Pantser writer after all. Perhaps, now and then, I need a better idea of where my story is going, other than that it will end with a happy ever after. I learned, too, about sitting down and just getting the words out. I had a week of no writing towards the end, leaving myself a 20k target for the last couple of days. I know I can write that much, but only when the ideas are flowing. This time I dragged myself along, like someone finishing a marathon long after the wall has been hit. And it was good. Good to know that I can write even when the ideas aren’t flowing, when the sleeping isn’t coming, and when I’m praying every day for my last novel to fly. Maybe I could make a career out of writing if I ever find an agent.

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

That brings me on to another event – Mslexia. My novel didn’t get shortlisted for the Children’s Novel competition but I did receive a very encouraging (group) response to suggest why. I was told that there were many strong novels written in the first person (like mine), many covering contemporary issues such as climate change (like mine), many with strong individual voices (hopefully like mine) and where there were two books covering the same topics only one was shortlisted. So maybe mine was just nearly good enough, rather than way off mark. Either way I believe in it, which is a first, and happily started sending query letters to agents the next day. The month before Christmas is probably not the time to be querying but I shall start again in the new year after reading through my newly acquired Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

artintheheartThe other things that have been happening are that I have had some paintings accepted into the gallery Art in the Heart, despite my view that they would think them insufficiently arty (see earlier post). It was fun getting all my paintings out of the loft and choosing four to be displayed in January, alongside my miniatures and cards. It was nervewracking too, trying to narrow twenty paintings down to four, and writing an Artist’s Statement that was both interesting and honest. I still have much to do – getting new business cards and flyers and promoting the gallery through social media, as indicated in my contract, – but it was great to temper the disappointment of the Mslexia competition with a success.

www.amanda-martin.co.uk

I might have to expand my website – Author/Artist/Photographer/Mummy isn’t covering it all any more!

Finally I had a job interview last week for a Marketing Manager (although really a Marketing Director) role. I had to pull together a presentation with a day’s notice, and despite tears and tantrums (mine and the kids) I managed it. I was rather relieved not to get the job as it turned out I would be managing 8 staff – I find it hard enough managing two pre-schoolers – but it was wonderful to put my heels on again and remind myself that I used to be good once. It’s funny how, in this slash-slash generation, you can forget the lives you lived before. Funny, too, that Artist and Marketing Manager should both come back as Writer and Mummy were under pressure.

PublishingLogo2cmSo, where next? I have decided I need to try harder to start my own business, to use those brain cells that have been long dormant. I rather-jokingly came up with 3AD Publishing when I prepared Pictures of Love for self-publishing, so that I would have a publisher’s logo on the spine.

My husband has started 3AD Solutions to promote some of his Product Management ideas. I think it might be time to combine forces.

The cover I designed for my sister's book

The cover I designed for my sister’s book

I have enjoyed preparing texts to self-publish (I did one for my sister and her husband for Christmas, as well as several of my own) and I loved designing the front covers. There must be a market out there for those services!

Whatever happens, Writer/Mummy will continue, even if she morphs into Artist/Writer/Photographer/Mummy/Marketer/Designer/Editor.

Phew.

Bring on 2013!

Art, Literature and Authorial Intention

Do you see a donkey’s head (upside down) a gladiator (tilt head right) or a tiny ballerina?

Apologies, this is a whopper-post about some stuff that’s been whirling in my brain!

This week I had the amazing opportunity to take some of my paintings into a new gallery that has opened in Peterborough, called Art in the Heart. The gallery is a grand eclectic mix of artwork produced by artists who live within a 20-mile radius (preferably within the city but thankfully the Director, Dawn, makes exceptions as I fall in the 20-mile bracket).

The lovely Dawn generously gave me half an hour of her time to look through my abstract paintings, desk art and cards, as well as the marketing literature I have produced since I left work four years ago to become a full-time artist. It is the first time I have had the chance to speak properly to a gallery owner (which probably explains why I gave up my dreams of being a full-time artist fairly quickly) and it was an enlightening experience.

It seems that Art is all about the artist’s intention.

Now I’m the first to confess I know very little about art. I’m more or less self-taught in acrylics and have only had a few classes in watercolours since I did GCSE art twenty years ago. For me there has never been much in the way of meaning. I paint because I love colour (my one solo exhibition was called It’s All About Colour).

It’s All About Colour – Exhibition Flyer

I choose my palette of two or three colours, squirt them on the canvas, and then let my subconscious, or the paintbrush, or the paint, or whatever, take over. I push and pull at the paint to create texture, I follow what seems to be needed and I keep going (usually past the point where it’s at its best!)

When the painting is dry I ask other people to have a look and see what they can see. Often there is something to be seen: a skeleton, a tiger’s eye, an emu, a dancing ballerina, a skull. These are all things that have appeared in my paintings. Not everyone can see them but, like those pictures of dots where you see the image if you go slightly cross-eyed, once you have seen something in my pictures it’s hard to see anything else. My husband’s favourite piece hangs in our dining room: a 4ft x 3ft dark red, black and gold painting that he stared at for weeks when he was really sick once. It is so personal to him now because he sees a gladiator fighting a lion.

Me, I see a donkey’s head.

It annoys me.

I daren’t show him where the darn donkey is or that’s all he’ll ever see, thus ruining his appreciation of the picture forever. (That’s partly why I don’t read book / film reviews. It’s too easily to be shown something that spoils your favourite book/film forever).

So for me there is no intention in my artwork, but I don’t think it makes it any less artistic. If anything, I think a picture is more profound, affects people more deeply, because they have decided what it means to them. They have invested their time and energy in interpreting it. I haven’t tried to push them in any given direction. Okay the pictures have titles, but usually they’re added afterwards.

Do you see a carnival mask?

I might be motivated by the colour of river weed in sunlight or the bark of a Tibetan cherry tree but that isn’t necessarily what I’ve painted. If someone else sees a carnival mask or a desert landscape, then that is what the picture is to them.  In writing that would come under Reader Response Theory: the author and reader create the text between them and it is recreated new – and different – for every reader. Much nicer than being told what to think by the author, surely?

When I spoke to Dawn at Art in the Heart I got the impression that wasn’t enough. To be taken seriously in Art circles it seems I need to have profound thoughts before I began to paint. I need to want to say something, or to shock or question or promote thought. I like to think my paintings do that, if you give them enough time. But I can’t lie and say I’m trying to make people question their inner being or their religion or what it means to be a celebrity.

I just want to bring pleasure.

It’s hard to remember to keep the freedom of a child

Somebody bought one of the paintings at my exhibition because she said it was an exact representation of the inside of her head. It doesn’t get more personal than that! Yet some of the feedback I got when I had my exhibition was the usual ‘My two-year-old could do better.’ Actually, when I watch my two-year-old painting, I think that’s actually a compliment. We have a freedom when we’re young, a disregard for what others think, that allows us to be completely uninhibited. My artwork got safer, more boring, less exciting, as I started to care what people thought. I lost some of the freedom of just painting for me, because it made me high on adrenalin to take a blank canvas and turn it into something vibrant and alive.

I’m trying to avoid the same thing happening with my writing. As I read books and blogs on writing craft I sense a danger of trying to conform to expectations, of shoe-horning myself into a genre or a three-act structure or what I am told makes good literature. I’m forcing myself to accept that, through writing what I like to read, I might be writing something that will sell without being too safe.

At least when it comes to authorial intention it doesn’t seem to matter so much in literature as it apparently does in Art. It doesn’t seem unforgivable to start writing without an intention, to not know where the story is going when you tap out the first sentence. I am sure there are as many authors who set out to teach, shock, thrill, amaze, tease or terrify as there are authors who start merely hoping they’ll get to the end of 100,000 words and have a story that works.

It was never my intention to paint a skeleton (right hand side) it just appeared!

Thinking about it reminded me of a section of my English Masters course about Authorial Intention. At the time I hadn’t written anything creative since GCSE English, ten years earlier. So, when I read that an author’s work could (should) be separated from the author’s intention, I thought What rubbish. Surely an author is always in control of their own writing? You can’t read into a character’s depth without accepting that the author meant for them to be like that. You can’t debate whether Hamlet is mad without accepting that Shakespeare knew very well whether he was or not. He must have had an intention.

Now, as an author with five novels and dozens of unruly characters under my belt I understand what baloney my old opinion was. Characters are sneaky: they do things we don’t expect or intend them to do. Their motivations can turn out to be nasty when we meant them to be good. They go off at tangents and fall for the wrong man. Somewhere in our subconscious we probably know why, but I don’t think it’s always a result of our intention.

I’ve found myself analysing my characters after I’ve finished a book, looking for their motivations, their flaws and strengths. To begin with that felt as fraudulent as adding words to my paintings after they’re finished, saying they’re about death or anger or whatever. The difference I guess is that people are easy to analyse by their thoughts and actions, presented there on the page. Paintings aren’t. And it isn’t fraudulent to look at Leah at the end of Dragon Wraiths and say she has suffered from growing up without a father figure. It’s there in the text, if you look for it. And it’s something I’ve been told is true about me. So I’ve written it into my character subconsciously because I understand it as a concept and because it fitted with my character and story. It wasn’t my intention but it’s still there.

One of the texts I studied on Literary Criticism during my MA is the one quoted below (borrowed from Wikipedia)

W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley wrote in their essay The Intentional Fallacy: “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.”[1] The author, they argue, cannot be reconstructed from a writing – the text is the only source of meaning, and any details of the author’s desires or life are purely extraneous.

I can’t remember how I viewed this during my MA – those years are thankfully a blur – but I know how I view it now. True and not true (actually that’s exactly what I would have said then. My academic answers were always neatly balanced, me being a Libran and all.) I believe my books can be judged separate from me – as my paintings can – but you could use details of my life to help understand them better. My own relationship with my father, for example. Fathers, living or dead, feature quite often in my work. (In my NaNoWriMo this year the father has just had a heart-attack). Whether you could use that information to better understand my characters I’m not sure. My characters are not me. They draw on my experiences, they live lives I might have lived, or would want to live, or am glad I never lived. They often have red hair and green eyes (which I have always wanted!) or grey eyes (like a Georgette Heyer heroine) but they’re not me.

Wikipedia do a lovely summary of the different approaches to authorial intent in literary criticism (which made me quite nostalgic!) here. It was fascinating to remind myself of it all having now written some novels. It makes me want to go back and review my course through new eyes. Maybe it should be a requirement that every literary critic has written at least one novel (preferably a deadline-driven NaNoWriMo one, when your characters are most likely to wander off by themselves.)

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, thank you so much! Having scanned back through my post it isn’t always lucidly written. My academic days are long gone I’m afraid. But it’s been fun revisiting all those ideas and it was good to have your company. I would love to hear what you think!

Tarot Cards, Dragons, Babies and Georgette Heyer

My novel Finding Lucy is all about Tarot

Tarot Cards, Dragons, Babies and Georgette Heyer: What do these things all have in common? They’re the main themes of my last four novels. Just as I have an eclectic taste in books and music (Metallica and Einaudi currently my car-CDs of choice) I appear also to have a varied set of themes and genres for my writing.

I’ve heard it’s wise to settle on one genre and writing style that represents your voice and stick to it. But when in your writing career do you do that? I’ve enjoyed writing Young-Adult-first-person-paranormal as much as writing third-person-contemporary-woman’s-fiction and now (hopefully) a romantic comedy. Who is to say which one is really my style?

Except they’re all romances. Gotta have a love story.

I guess maybe the market decides, by what you manage to get accepted by an agent or what sells online. Georgette Heyer, the subject of my NaNoWriMo this year, wrote forty odd Regency romances and something like a dozen detective stories, together with a historical novel or three. By all accounts she despised her romances and the people who read them and her best book is considered to be one of her historical novels. Yet her witty and well-researched historical romances still bring pleasure to millions. Even Stephen Fry counts her as one of his guilty pleasures.

I guess the thing to accept is that unpublished fledgling authors like me won’t know what their voice, their style, their genre is until it’s validated externally. If I’m extremely lucky I might get one of my styles published. I’m not fussy which one!

Until then, in my best Strictly Come Dancing Bruce Forsyth voice, “Keep writing!”

NaNoWriMo irony

 

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

I’ve been really struggling this week. Not just with a bad cold, conjunctivitis and a newly-unemployed husband at home scuppering my writing routine. None of those things has helped, of course, any more than the freezing rain, or the end of British Summer Time that has resulted in my kids getting up at 5.30pm every day.

No, what’s really killed my Muse at the worst possible time is the appearance of an unknown character in my head: my Willing Editor.

I’ve met my Inner Editor before – that nasty critic who stops me writing before I’ve even started and tells me everything I write is rubbish. I’m even on nodding acquaintance with my Reluctant Editor. The one who half-edited Pictures of Love before getting bored, and who tortuously ploughed through Dragon Wraiths to meet a deadline.

But to want to edit? To want to edit more than write something new for NaNoWriMo?

Unheard of.

Until now.

I think the change came when my husband commented on how much easier it was to read the second draft of Dragon Wraiths and has told me several times since how impressed he is at how good my editing was.

Praise – it works every time.

Also I’m deliriously happy that I managed to edit Dragon Wraiths enough to make the darn thing actually made sense. For the first time editing has produced tangible results rather than just giving me a headache. Hurrah.

The irony?

Well it’s Nano. I wasn’t going to do it this year, knowing I had too many projects on and am neglecting the family as a result. But I got swept up in the online chat, the excitement, the buzz (although that’s not being helped at present by the fact I’m not receiving the pep-talk emails. I really miss them and hope the guys at Nano fix the problem soon.) I persuaded my husband and my best friend to give NaNoWriMo a try this year. I wrote my top tips which said just get on and do it.

Then I got Writer’s block on a scale I’ve never experienced before. It has taken me five days to even settle on a topic and the one I have chosen is an old novel idea that’s so technical I keep getting dragged off into research. Thus far I’ve managed 1600 words including the synopsis.

Oh, and I’ve edited 30 pages of Pictures of Love. Properly this time. And do you know what? I think I enjoyed that more!

What if anything has derailed your NaNoWriMo this year? Will you get back on track? I now have a dual target of 50k words and 500 pages of editing for November. Apparently I work best under pressure.

p.s. one of my best NaNoWriMo-avoidance activities this week was making a mock front cover for Dragon Wraiths so I could print a copy for my mum for her birthday. It’s not what I’d choose for a final cover but I was pleased I managed to turn a word doc into a printed Lulu book (interior and exterior) in eight hours!