Rejection and the 365 Challenge Day #16

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though...

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though…

I received my first rejection for Dragon Wraiths today. I’m quite happy about it. I’ve sent out about a dozen query emails for the novel (did I mention just how long it takes to research an agency, choose the right agent, pitch the query letter as close as possible to what they want and then send it?) and this is the first reply I’ve had. So it was a rejection, so what? Aren’t you meant to get about forty rejections before you’re accepted? So that’s one step nearer.

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

It reminded me of a bit in Clare Balding’s great autobiography My Animals and Other Family where she and her brother are told a jockey isn’t a real jockey until he’s fallen off his horse a certain amount of times (I think it was sixty but if I go and check I’ll start reading the book again and I already have no idea what I’m writing for today’s Claire post so that will scupper it entirely.) Anyway, the kids keep falling off their horses deliberately, in order to build up to the magic number. Their frustrated mother points out that it doesn’t count if you do it on purpose. I’ve sent out query letters before but I haven’t put my heart and soul into them. This time I’m doing it properly so this is my first genuine rejection. Only 39 to go.

IMG_9930 (2000x1333)

Taken in the field across from our house. I get to walk this every day (when my knee isn’t playing up as it is now!)

As mentioned above I don’t know what I’m writing about today for my novel. I’ve spent the last twelve hours with two fragile, screaming, over-tired preschoolers, taking them to play with their friends and then going sledging. My nerves are zinging and I’m only fit for bed. So I’m just going to write and see what happens. Apologies if it stinks! I have joined the YHA and am just waiting for my membership card in order to be able to send off for a guide to the hostels. Once that arrives I’ll be able to start my proper research, plan out Claire’s travel route and get on with the novel proper. Until then it’ll probably be another post introducing characters which hopefully won’t be as boring as it sounds.

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“Please pass the salt.”

Claire located the salt pot amidst the silverware on the table and handed it to her father. He thanked her without making eye contact and returned to demolishing his lamb roast.

Chewing the slightly over-cooked meat, Claire looked up at her parents’ bowed heads and wondered when they got so grey. And boring. I remember when they used to talk at dinner. Maybe I’m making them feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t a nice thought. Claire was used to not getting a prodigal-son welcome when she came home but the constraint surrounding her at the dinner table that evening was suffocating.

“Kim’s dyed her hair red for a role in a Shakespeare play.”

“Hmmm.” Her mother speared a green bean and put it in her mouth.

“She looks great, like a life-size pixie.”

“Hmmm.” This time it was a baby carrot that felt the fork.

“She’s having her nipple pierced and leaving Jeff for the cleaning lady.”

“Hmmm… I beg your pardon?” Her mother’s face whipped up and she looked at Claire for the first time since they sat at the table.

“Joking. Just wondered if I was actually here.”

“It’s not healthy to talk and eat, it causes you to take in too much air. Your father suffers from heartburn so we have silence at the table.” She spoke the last words pointedly and returned to the massacre of the vegetables.

Sighing quietly, Claire focussed on eating her dinner as swiftly as possible. She had had plenty of time to regret coming to visit her parents in the two days since she’d arrived. She had barely shared three words with her mother and tonight at the dinner table was the first time her father had even appeared. She was shocked to see how old he looked.

Has it really been so long since I visited, or has he been aging in double-time since he retired?

Claire tried to turn her mind away from the mausoleum of the dinner table and think nice thoughts. Her future wasn’t exactly swimming in them. In the morning she had to load her hated rucksack into her loathed old banger and drive 300 miles to stay in a flea-ridden youth hostel. She had taken the decision to invest in a Sat Nav, having found it difficult to even get home to her parents’ house without the inbuilt one in her company Audi. It had taken until an hour ago for her to bring herself to plot in the route to Berwick and she was shocked to find out it was going to take at least five hours to get there when she left in the morning.

Probably six or seven in that stupid car, it only manages seventy-miles-an-hour downhill with the wind behind it. I’m going to have to leave at 5a.m. to get there by dinner time. She looked around the table at the chewing waxwork figures of her parents and gave a tiny shrug. That’s not going to be a hardship. I might not want to go to Berwick but I can’t wait to leave here.

As she tried to get comfortable in the z-bed her mother had deigned to put up for her, claiming the linen in the spare room was in the laundry, Claire mused that at least she’d had some practice sleeping in a lumpy bumpy bed. That was the only prep she had done for the big adventure that was due to start in a mere twenty-four hours.

It’ll be fine, she thought sleepily. I’m good at winging it.

***

Marriage Proposals and 2013 365 Challenge Day #14

Tangled - A proper modern fairytale

Tangled – A proper modern fairytale

I had a glorious three hours at home by myself today, as Daddy took the children to the local Farm. Normally it’s my favourite place to go, and it was a lovely sunny day today, but the children decided they wanted Daddy to themselves and I had to admit that it was probably time to do a bit of cleaning. Spending my spare time writing about Claire is having an impact on the house!

I did manage to hoover the bedrooms but what I spent most of my time doing was watching Tangled (I am still poorly!) We recorded it at Christmas for the kids but I hadn’t managed to see it and it was a delight to become absorbed in it without a dozen “what’s she doing?” every minute. I have always enjoyed Disney movies but this is the first princess one I’ve seen for a while. I must say, it isn’t my intention to analyse it here (though I could) but I thought it was very well done.

Generally I don’t mind my daughter watching Disney movies (not that she’s seen many – they are so expensive!) but I do have an Usborne fairytale book that I try not to read if possible for the simple reason that, at the end of every story, when the prince asks the girl to marry him she always replies “yes please”.

I mean, what?

Have a happy ending, that’s fine, I happen to be an advocate of marriage. But not “yes please“.

[Deep breath, avoid ranting.]

Phew. Anyway I liked Tangled because we see the man’s journey as well as the woman’s and at the end he jokes about her asking him to marry her. It’s nice to see the man have a character arc too instead of being a dummy in a suit.

Sorry, that was a total digression, but I thought I’d add it so I could put a nice picture from the movie as my page picture (taken from the television, Disney, before you try to sue!) and it was in my mind after reading the two articles I’ve listed below, from the Ubiquitous. Quotidiant. blog that I have recently discovered (worth a look).

It is slightly relevant to my story-writing as well because this novel is only from Claire’s POV (so far) whereas usually I like to write from the male and female protagonist’s perspectives. I haven’t decided yet whether there is going to be a significant male in this story but we may find one coming in later.

On to Claire….

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Claire parked around the corner from her parents’ house and turned to contemplate the rucksack on the back seat. Taking it in with her was going to raise questions, but leaving it in the Skoda was tantamount to putting a sign on it saying “Steal Me”. Even in this part of Cambridge there were bound to be people handy enough with a wire coat-hanger to break in.

She pulled the tiny silver handle to open the door. I could probably break in myself if the need arose. Maybe I should start carrying a piece of wire in my handbag. I’m bound to lock my keys in at some point.

She pushed down the lock and checked she was holding the keys before slamming the door shut. One of the quirks of this particular car was that it wouldn’t lock from the outside. I miss my beep-beep button already and it’s only been a day.

Claire opened the front door to her family home only after ringing the bell to see whether anyone was in. She wasn’t surprised to find the house empty. The journey had taken much longer than expected and her mother was probably already at her WI meeting. Her father was rarely in during the week. Despite taking retirement he kept himself busy during normal working hours, as if the groove made by fifty years of work was so deep he could do nothing but run along the same path.

She looked around the hallway and lounge, trying to tell if anything had changed. It was unlikely. If her father’s groove was created by time spent in a suit and tie her mother’s ran between her charities and the WI. Home decoration and interior design had never been her thing. Claire supposed a house of magnolia and pine was better than frills and flowers everywhere but it did make the place feel cold. When they were little there had been a few photographs of her and her siblings around the place, the odd painting tacked to the wall. Now the pictures were as bland as the furniture.

Claire shivered, cursing herself for forgetting to unpack a cashmere from the rucksack. The house was always several degrees colder than was comfortable. Another quick yell confirmed that the house was empty. Walking through to the kitchen, Claire headed for the kettle, hoping her mum had thought to put some semi-skimmed milk on the sign for the milkman. There was a note by the kettle. Mum does at least know me that well, Claire thought with a smile.

“I bumped into Kim at the supermarket and mentioned you were coming home for a few days. She said to call her if you fancied a drink.”

The note was written in beautiful curling handwriting on a piece of pink paper torn from a notebook. Claire stared at it, wondering if she was feeling strong enough for a night out with her oldest friend. Nothing cuts through your life to the core like an hour spent with someone who has known you since you were five.

Claire poured steaming water into a large mug and gave the teabag a prod, watching the rich red-brown colour spread out like spilt blood. She was conscious of a strong pulling sensation somewhere in her chest. It was the lure of the Maldives; of empty sandy beaches and no one having any idea where she was.

***

Related Articles:

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disney Princesses: Ubiquitous. Quotidian (http://rmbenson.wordpress.com)

Fairytale Fact Check: Do Dreams Really Come True? Ubiquitous. Quotidian (http://rmbenson.wordpress.com)

The Knife of Never Letting Go ~ All about conflict

I have just finished reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – part of the reason why I have been quiet on the blog for a while. That and I have been writing a guest post for Findingmycreature, which will hopefully be on her blog sometime in November.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a stunning book, one that drags you along from the first sentence to the last. I have learned a great deal from reading it, as it consolidated some of the lessons I have been taught through reading blog posts such as Kristen Lamb’s on the role of conflict and Annie Cardi’s on the importance of voice in Young Adult literature.

The voice of Patrick Ness’s main character, Todd Hewitt, is so well realised I almost wept with envy. It has made me revisit my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, and realise there is little distinction between my voice and my lead protagonist’s voice, despite Leah being 20 years younger than I am. I have a lot to learn about creating the voice of a teenager and I may have to wait a decade until my daughter is one before I can recreate the voice as authentically as Ness has.

The book also has conflict in bucket-loads. There is conflict in every scene right through to the very last line. The pace is relentless and the story so compelling it made me sit up until 2am to finish it, even though I knew there was a chance the kids would then kept me awake the rest of the night (they did).

However the book also left me bereft and unsettled because (for me) there was too much conflict. Even when there was the occasional scene without conflict, I knew it was just creating the calm before storm, setting up the irony for when it all went pear-shaped again.

I’m a Libra, we like balance and harmony. My inner peace is wrenched apart by too much conflict. As a result, even though I accept the advice from people like Kristen Lamb about the importance of Goal – Conflict – Disaster, I find it very hard to write. My attempts either become terribly predictable: Oh look, my character is happy, let’s throw some crap at them and make them feel rotten, or I shy away from the places where I could ratchet up the tension and let my protagonist off far too easily.

Reading through Dragon Wraiths I found myself noting again and again – Make more of this, build up this scene, make it harder for Leah. When there’s a sentry in Leah’s way he doesn’t chase her for a league making her terrified and sweeping us up in her fear. Instead he’s distracted by his grumbling tummy and she sneaks past. Another security guard is conveniently on the floor above when she needs to avoid detection. She’s running from the authorities but not once is she approached by a policeman or gets accosted by some busybody in the street who has seen her face on TV. The entire book has less conflict than an episode of Noddy.

I guess the problem for me is that my life is full of enough (generally internal) conflict that I read to escape. At times in The Knife of Never Letting Go I found myself skipping ahead during the most tense and dramatic scenes, to find out the end result, because they were so drawn out I couldn’t sustain that level of suspense for so many pages. It was so expertly written, and I was so caught up in Todd’s exploits, particularly as a result of the very intimate first-person-present prose, that I had to metaphorically hide behind a cushion for some of the scenes. Only Doctor Who ever normally makes me do that (and the only characters in Doctor Who that have made me do that since I was eight are the Angels).

All that aside, Patrick Ness has written an amazing novel with a brilliant concept, 4D characters (my favourite being Manchee the talking dog) and enough things to get me thinking about my own characters’ voices and motivations to keep me re-writing Dragon Wraiths for a decade. It’s just a shame about the cliff-hanger ending. The characters were left in danger. I hate that. And I’m not ready to read the next one in the series yet. After a novel that edgy I need at least three Georgette Heyers to restore my equilibrium. Now, where did I put Friday’s Child?

Planning and pesky characters

 

Artwork by Amber Martin

I don’t write plot plans or outlines and this blog explains why.

If you follow regularly you’ll know I’m rubbish at planning what I write, preferring instead to let the story develop as the words (hopefully) flow from subconscious to computer screen.

However after writing my post about the Chicken House / Times children’s book competition, I decided to write a plot plan for my young adult novel, Dragon Wraiths. I had an idea where the story was going, haven written half of it, so it seemed a safe, logical thing to do, particularly as I haven’t got long to draft and redraft before submission in September / October. I hoped that a plan would help me get all the continuity right first time and save some long-term pain. All good.

Except the pesky characters won’t do what they’re told.

I’m two chapters into my ‘plan’ and already I’ve added a whole new section to the novel, extending it from 3 parts to 4. I’ve changed a good character into a barrier and rewritten the whole ending. Twice.

So far my adherence to the plan resembles my children’s colouring: The lines are there only to be scribbled over. As a parent I have tried to let my kids colour how they like, seeing it as too controlling to tell them to colour inside the lines. Am I giving a free-rein to my own creativity by scribbling all over my own plot plan, or am I just scatty?

I have also discovered that, while I find it almost impossible to summarise a chapter into one line, it is easy for one line of planned plot to become two or three chapters.

I have written 7,000 words today and covered only two lines of plot plan.

They find the missing girl and she agrees to help takes no account of how hard it turned out to be to find the girl or the fact that she was rude and uncooperative when they did find her. My whole story depends on the girl being helpful: I didn’t expect her to have a mind of her own. In twenty words of dialogue, written while walking the dog, she has destroyed my whole plot outline with her rudeness. Grrr.

So I am ploughing ahead without worrying too much about the plan. It is still useful as a guide for key plot developments, particularly for the sciency bits that are not my strong point. As for the rest, even I don’t know if the darn woman will help out in the end, or finish up being written out of the book entirely.

That’ll show her.

Pinteresting

Amanda Martin's Pinterest board for Pictures of LoveI’m always late.

I was late getting the kids to nursery this morning. We were late to a Christening yesterday, although, thankfully, so were the baby’s parents. I am always sliding into the chair at the doctors or the dentist hoping that they, too, are running late.

The thing I am usually proud of being late for is getting on a band wagon.

Who wants to jump on a band-wagon too quickly? 

Sometimes it’s because it’s a band wagon and I don’t want to climb on until rush hour has past and it’s a bit less noisy and smelly : I didn’t read any Harry Potter until the third book was out. I only saw Avatar last month and I’m resisting the urge to see what all the fuss is about with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Sometimes I’m late on a band wagon because I’m stupid. I don’t think something will work for me or I don’t see the point. Like Twitter and Pinterest. Now I’m still there with Twitter: I have an account and tweet occasionally (see, I know the terminology, just about) but I can’t get into it. I think maybe you need to be able to see it all the time on your phone or computer to make sense of it. My technology isn’t there yet. It leaves me feeling like the person arriving late at a party, who comes in mid-conversation and doesn’t understand the punch-line to a joke because they didn’t hear the beginning.

Pinterest though, now that’s a different matter. I originally dismissed Pinterest as not useful or relevant to me, although I enjoyed seeing my friends’ posts; links to lovely crafty things that I might have the time one day to do with my children. I hope. Then I read an article, sent to me by LinkedIn, about how photographs can help people engage with your brand. I don’t have a brand, but I am about to self-publish my first novel. So I thought I’d better see what Pinterest was all about.

And oh my how much do I love it?

I love photos anyway, photography being a former attempted-career. And I have always had scrapbooks for my novels (usually on my laptop but sometimes actual physical cut and paste ones.) For my first novel, Finding Lucy (currently unfinished because I inconveniently went into labour before completing the first draft) I have a giant scrapbook of pictures of the main characters, taken from stock photo sites. There are also biographies, timelines, star signs, pictures of their houses including floor plans for ease of writing scenes. It is my treasured possession.

I haven’t done a scrapbook for Pictures of Love, my current WIP, because if I get scissors or selotape out now, the kids are on me like ants on jam. So I have a file on my computer, full of photographs I took when I went to London to visit my locations in Fleet St, Earl’s Court and so on, as well as headshots of people I have found that look like my characters do in my head.

And now I can pin all those pictures in one place and carry it around with me anywhere I can get internet access. I can share it with my friends, show my beta readers what I think my characters look like and see if they agree.

I can put pictures on a site without worrying about copyright, as everything is sourced. [Update: it turns out this isn’t enough to stop you worrying about copyright. Since writing this post I have deleted most of the content from my Pinterest boards for fear of infringing someone’s copyright. I may be over-reacting, but better to be safe than sorry. You can read about someone who has learned this the hard way here and here (comment #76).]

And because everything is sourced I erase another problem – file location. For some of the images in my scrapbooks I wasn’t organised enough to keep internet URLs.

Idiot.

I have spent the last two days trying to track down all the images online (sorry family). And thankfully I have found most of them. My husband is not so lucky. I designed a fab (if I say so myself) front cover for his children’s novel Max and Shady, and got a copy printed for Christmas a couple of years ago. Only now he wants to publish it online and we can’t use the cover because we can’t find the image in order to purchase usage rights.

So Pinterest I thank you: for keeping me in tune with the zeitgeist, for giving me something fun to do while watching Euro 2012 (not that I need to worry about that so much now) and most of all for keeping me organised.

If you want to check out my Pinterest boards, to see what my sexy leading men (and women) look like, you can find them here.

Have you used Pinterest to plan out your novels or create your universes? How has it worked for you?

Maybe I’m not lazy after all

Edit Ruthlessly

I think I’ve discovered my problem with editing. I always thought I was just lazy, each time I found myself resisting the necessary process of honing and polishing my work. After all, serious writers spend months and years editing and I can hardly bring myself to do a few days before I’m ready to start writing a new novel from scratch. I’m clearly not a serious writer, just a housewife with delusions.

But maybe it isn’t that at all (well, perhaps the delusions bit is true).

I think the problem is to do with visible progress.

When you write a first draft you can watch the word count growing, the number of chapters increasing. Characters develop and do crazy things, taking your carefully crafted outline in a new and unexpected direction. It creates a buzz, fills you with euphoria. It’s like going for a run, when everything is working properly and you feel like you could fly if only you knew how.

With editing there is no way to track progress. Word count, if anything, goes down. Chapters need to be moved, re-numbered, scrapped. And who’s to say the chapter you’ve just spent three hours rewriting is actually any better? It’s more akin to doing housework: five hours’ of effort and what is there to show for it, particularly after the kids have been home five minutes.

I get confused, too, with what I’m actually doing. Am I checking for readability? Grammar? Continuity errors? If I’ve spotted a character gap do I go fix that, trying to find the right place to add in extra scenes or sentences that will make the character work, or do I stick with my linear progression through the novel?

I’m not the most organised person and I find it hard keeping track of what needs changing, particularly when I only work on it two days a week, with two or three days of childcare in between. (There’s nothing like 57 verses of Wheels on the Bus to dam your creative flow.)

I could do with a tool that magically highlights everything written about one character in green, another in red. All adverbs could be in blue, all passive tense in orange. Clichés could be highlighted in flashing letters so you can pick them off one by one. Even better would be a tool that says ‘This bit’s great, this bit is pants, re-write it.’ (I know, now I’m just being silly.)

Thinking about it seriously though, there are probably thousands of writing programmes out that that might make me more organised. Maybe I should look for one. Or is that just another form of procrastination (like starting a new novel or short story) to take me away from the unavoidable hard slog of editing? I think I probably know the answer.

Still, if anyone knows of super-organising software that won’t kill my netbook, I’d love to hear about it.

P.S. Since writing this post (while out walking the dog, as usual) I have downloaded the free trial of Scrivener, which I have been meaning to do since completing Nanowrimo last November. So far I’m half an hour in to the two-hour tutorial and it does look as if it might be helpful, if only I can figure how to use it!

Anyone used it before?

When is it good enough?

Once again I woke with a story in my head. Well, not so much a story as a What if on my own life. Actually much of my fiction is based on that premise, so much so that I sometimes write the real names instead of the pseudo made up ones. This was definitely one of those.

Of course, me being me, I immediately abandoned my current novel (the one that also came in a dream, the one where, 35k words in, I still have no idea what it’s about) to write this story. Luckily it came out as a short story, two scenes, 2,700 words. I’d nailed it in less than two hours over tea and toast in the coffee shop, after dropping off the kids.

Problem is, I think it’s great. I bought a copy of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special on the way home (I don’t know a lot about where to sell short stories, so it seemed a good place to start) and I’m all set to send it in. Besides I need to get something published soon before the bills send me back to work.

And that’s my Achilles Heel.

Having been told in the past that my writing was dull, any time I pen anything vaguely readable I’m just so excited I think This is it!

Of course, in reality, I should add ‘sh’ to the beginning of that last word because, as a first draft, it undoubtedly is. The difficulty for me is, once I’ve accepted the ‘sh’ bit, I don’t know what I need to do to make it better.

I write in a certain style, quite simple and chatty. Should I be more descriptive, build in alliteration, metaphors, similes? More sounds, smells, colour? Make my plots more complicated or daring. Make my characters suffer more, make them funnier? And if I do all that (assuming I can, of course, which is another issue entirely), will it retain what I love most; the easy going chatty style? And more importantly, will it sell?

I was always told to write for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reasons: I do love to write and that’s mostly why I do write, but, you know, the bills still need to be paid. I know that only a lucky few make a fortune as a writer, and not that many make a living. I just need to make enough to pay for childcare.  

Hmmm. Answers on a post card please!

Carry your story with you

For me, one of the secrets of the writer/mummy is to always take your story with you in your head. If you carry your characters in your mind you can chat to them, shout at them, fire questions at them – their answers won’t always be predictable and the conversations can be very interesting.

Creative writing advice books will tell you that the more you know about your characters the better your writing will be. If you are the kind of person that makes lists or is very good at being thorough, there are various forms available online to work out all the details of your characters – star sign, favourite colour, place of birth. This is a particularly comprehensive one I have discovered (but am far too lazy to fill out for any of my characters!)

These character maps are useful, they enable you to be consistent and understand how your character might react to a given situation. However, if you’re honest, could you say what your best friend’s favourite colour is or where she was born? That doesn’t mean you don’t know her inside out, though, does it? You learn more about her real character from gossiping over a glass of wine or from watching how she copes in a crisis.

For me the same can be said of my characters. When I’m out and about I like to imagine what my characters would say to each other, how they would handle a range of situations. I fantasize about their futures in the same way I used to fantasize about my own whenever I got dumped (you know, those scenes where he comes back grovelling and begging for you to forgive him, but you spurn him with a toss of your sleek blonde hair.)

It can help if you think of plot and character development as a series of ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ questions. What if your female protagonist jacked in her job to take up sky-diving, what if your male lead got dumped at the altar? Why would she take up sky-diving – is it to conquer her fear of heights, because her ex said she was too scared to do anything dangerous, because her mum forbade her and she’s just pissed off at the world. Why did he get dumped? Was he a bastard, did she meet someone else? Has his fiancée found out she’s dying of cancer and doesn’t want to put him through the pain of losing her slowly?

When I’m in the throes of writing, particularly in the early days of a new book, my head is flooded with questions and potential answers. I often don’t know the answer that will appear in the book until I write, (and characters have a nasty habit of not doing what they’re told) but I have already played out all the various permutations in my head while in the supermarket queue, driving the car or lying awake in the night between bouts of teething tantrums.

Another important thing is to always have writing implements to hand – a crayon, a notepad, a mobile phone – to write down that dazzling piece of dialogue or dastardly plot twist. Once you start with the what ifs and whys it can lead you down the most meandering of mazes. It’s best to take notes as you go along, unless you’ve had enough sleep to have a particularly retentive memory.

My mobile phone is my most important writing tool, aside from my laptop. (As I write, my mobile phone is dead; I am utterly bereft and trying to fathom how to work my husband’s spare!) I like the phone because I always have it to hand; it is both pen and paper; it doesn’t get scribbled on by the kids (though often covered in yoghurt or chocolate) and – best of all – I can send my texts to my laptop, thus saving me the effort of writing it all twice.

My favourite time to write conversations between my characters is when I’m walking the dog, as I can text and walk at the same time (us mothers are good at multi-tasking, yes?) and for some reason I find the rhythm of walking sets a good pace for dynamic dialogue.

If you think you don’t have time to write, then think of all the times in the day when you can tap out a quick text message – waiting in the supermarket queue, sitting in the car with a sleeping child, lying in the dark waiting for them to go back to sleep. (I wrote some of this section at 6am, on my mobile phone, with a sickly child asleep on my chest.)

So, next time you’re tired of listening to the twentieth rendition of Miss Polly Had a Dolly in the car, pass your toddler a banana and, while she’s busy eating, have a think about the stickiest situation you can land your characters in. Then work out the most outlandish way you can rescue them again.

I would love to hear about your favourite ‘thinking’ times, or your craziest plot twists. What is your favourite way of taking notes?

Write what you know

A mug of tea

Never be afraid to write what you know. If you think your life is boring, you couldn’t be more wrong. People like to hear about lives they don’t live and, most definitely, lives they do live. As a Writer/Mummy, especially as a mother of small children, you can share the horror and humour of everyday life and make a fellow mum laugh in empathy and recognition.

If you don’t believe me, check out the amazing Parenting with Crappy Pictures blog. It never fails to make me smile, laugh, or even weep in shared sympathy. Note how many people follow the blog and read some of the comments. It can be lonely being a mum. There is nothing nicer than hearing you’re not the only one going slightly barmy on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Talking of caffeine, I have found that cafes and coffee shops are an excellent place to overhear fascinating tales. You don’t have to be hobnobbing with the rich and famous to come up with cracking storylines. The art of penning entertaining dialogue can often be enhanced by surreptitious eavesdropping. (As you develop your writing you’ll learn what to leave out, such as the ums and ahs of natural conversation. I will write more on dialogue in a future post).

I devised an entire character after eavesdropping on a public school boy having lunch with his visiting grandparents. The character doesn’t vaguely resemble the boy – instead it’s the lead protagonist in my first romance – but the ideas flowed from the life the boy was describing and the reactions of his grandfather.

Next time you are surrounded by chaos at breakfast, store in your mind the sights, smells and emotions that bring the scene to life. Today’s grey-hair-inducing tussle with your two-year-old is tomorrow’s true-to-life hilarious scene.

Honestly.

How many times have you moaned to a friend about the horrific supermarket tantrum and realised that, with distance, it was a bit funny.

Even if you don’t want to write about life as a mummy, or your job, or your time at university, or your gap year, your first date, your childhood, your parents. Even if you want to create a fantasy world on planet Zarg with a tin robot as your lead man, you can still take inspiration from the world around you and the life you have lived.

It isn’t just your experiences that inform your writing, but your sensations. The emotions you feel, the physicality of your existence. Childbirth pain? I’m sure the same sensations could translate into how it might feel to be tortured by an alien device. Seeing your little one off to school for the first time? Those feelings of pride and desolation, the swelling heart, the racing pulse, the nausea, might just belong to an Army Sargent sending his troops into a no-win situation.

The most important, unique, thing you can bring to your writing is you.

So, next time your darling daughter is screaming at the top of her shrill register in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury’s, don’t reach for the Valium, reach for a pen.