The tip of my nose feels like an iceberg; someone should design beanies for noses. I start to put on layers, to prepare. On top of my camisole vest and long-sleeved t-shirt I wrestle my cuffs into a chunky, zip-up hoody. I put my woolly hat and fingerless gloves on the shelf, just in case I’m stuck in this place for hours. My feet are cocooned in a pair of trainer socks, followed by thick, walking socks, and my jeans are carefully rolled down over cosy leg-warmers. I wedge my socked feet into cream boot-slippers and stretch another pair of grey leg warmers over the top, pulling them over my knees. My legs are half polar bear, half elephant. My coffee is steaming. I take a sip, and my fingers tingle as I wrap them around the tall, china mug. The final layer is my cashmere blanket, which I lay across my lap and wrap around my thighs. Now, I’m ready to write the words for the day.
Welsh roots draw me in; it can be anything, from hearing about the Dylan Thomas centenary to Caerphilly Christmas market. There’s that strange, mystical comfort when driving over the Severn Bridge, and the lilt of the Welsh voice that feels like home-from-home. Under Milk Wood is a play my mind unearths from time to time; I played Mrs Dai Bread Two in a college adaptation, and because my grandmother was Welsh, I made the Welsh cakes for the interval on a griddle that came from Llwynypia, my grandmother’s village in the Rhondda valley. So now, I’m drawn to Blake’s exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff. It’s a ‘must see’ when it comes to Welsh culture. Read this, and you’ll see: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/nov/22/peter-blake-under-milk-wood
Authors have different reasons for writing; although enjoying the task is something all writers must share. When it comes to what we write about and how we present it, that’s where writers differ. Some authors write for an audience and others don’t care if the audience enjoy the work or not; they write purely for themselves. After that, comes how we present the work to our readers. Do we write the whole novel in one large chunk, split it into long chapters or parts, have it interspersed with fragments of flashback moments or a character’s thoughts or diary pages, or do we write individual scenes in small chapters. I’m reading a novel at the moment where the author uses the last method – small chapters in scenes. I’m enjoying it immensely, and that is part of the reason. Many readers like to feel organised about the way that they read; they like to put the book down at the end of a scene or a point that brings something to a close. However, if many readers like stories presented to them in this way, it is the novelists job to pose unanswered questions or cliffhangers at the ends of scenes or chapters to keep them reading.
Finished a novel by Lottie Moggach today – Kiss me First. I enjoyed the exciting fast track ending, tying up the many loose ends. The story covered modern day ways of communicating, mainly by facebook and email. It questioned our online identities and how different they can be in comparison to the people we really are. It also covered issues on euthanasia. This aspect was even more interesting to read about in the novel after meeting the author at the Ways with Words lit fest in the summer. Well done, Lottie. A great read.
Colin Robinson’s article, Writers should take a year off, and give us all a break http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/16/writers-year-off-publishing in the Guardian, on Fri 16th Aug, has some truth, at first glance. There are a great many more books being published in recent years, and the quality of the writing varies. Robinson, however, makes two unfounded assumptions: he proposes that writers “have made up their minds and seek to deliver the resulting verdict to what they imagine is a waiting world,” and he suggests, “if you’re writing then you can’t be reading.”
The first statement implies that writers don’t care about their audience, and whilst it is true that some authors write to satisfy a need within themselves, all writers care about their readership and wish to produce books which are not only well-written but will provide enjoyment for as many readers as possible.
Secondly, all writers are readers. Reading allows writers to learn, and widen their experience and knowledge, as well as allowing good writing from other authors to influence their own work. How else would reviews from other writers get onto book jackets or paperback covers if the writers hadn’t read them? It strikes me that it’s writers that do most of the reading, and for that reason alone it is impossible to “divide the world into two groups”, writers and readers.
I’ve just finished reading ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’ by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s the third novel I’ve read by this author, and the best yet. She has a great insight into family life; she notices the small things that surround us and make our lives interesting, and she shows how the tension in families draw us apart for one moment in time and pool us together in another. Her conflicts are resolved neatly and the ending is neat and not overwritten. This is brilliant storytelling bringing an everyday Irish family alive.
I’m hanging on every word of this novel so far, and that’s just the first chapter. Four main characters introduced in this short chunk of narrative, but then, it’s only about 45000 in total. I’m looking forward to savouring the next (only eight?) chapters, and hoping that Baz Luhrmann hasn’t sensationalized the original story too much.
I’m starting to think of writing and publicising as two marathon runners; one runner carries the impetus for writing the novel and the other the marketing and publicising package.
They should always be neck and neck, on an endless race, but at the moment the marketing and publicity guy is way ahead of the writing guy. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t get too far behind writing guy, you need to keep up.
Now that you have your first draft you should know your characters well; they should be like old friends, or maybe enemies.
To stay in touch with your characters, ask them questions or conduct an interview with them every so often. Get to know them inside out, so that when they do something in the narrative it’s in character, or you have foreshadowed the event to match their character. If you don’t ask the questions, your story will appear unrealistic.
Try this short exercise on your characters:
Have them empty their pockets, handbag, man-bag, rucksack. Then list the contents, explaining why the character has the items and what they have been used for. Think of characters you know in real life and the sort of things that they carry around and why.
The synopsis is the copy you will be sending to agents and/or publishers, as a brief of what the novel is about. Therefore, you are allowed to tell all; you don’t need to keep anything back, no secrets and no mere hints as you did in the blurb.
It can be longer than the blurb, but not too long, you don’t want your would-be agent falling asleep reading your synopsis, neither do you want her/him falling into a state of confusion because so much seems to happen in your novel. Talk about the main characters and the main events in your story, and keep it to about one page of information (double-spaced, 200 – 350 words max).
Writing the synopsis can help with the plan of your second draft. You will be able to see the main events in your story folding out before you, and it will give you a clear focus on your storyline.