Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Closing Ceremony

So we've reached the end of the Olympic Games, and I'm sitting in Spitalfields Market to watch the closing ceremony. We've all been affected by having the Games in dear old London. For one thing, 70,000 of us have been volunteers, people of all ages and backgrounds who gave freely, cheerfully and with great common sense (that least common of gifts).

 I've been enchanted by the 'ribbon of gold' wild flower park, which snakes through the Lee Valley, where I was born. We hope it will leave a lasting legacy. Time will tell whether the Olympic Stadium will do for the East End what Docklands did for the Port of London, i.e. push out the local people and replace them with Merchant Bankers. Please the Good Lord that in ten years' time the East End of London hasn't reverted to some sort of graveyard for the Olympic legacy that never was.

The secret behind the Games was the preparation - I couldn't help noticing. It applied to the organisers, the volunteers, the children who didn't even tell their parents their great secret - that they, not a famous sports celebrity, were going to light the cauldron in the stadium, and most of all the athletes.

So anyway now I'm looking at a synopsis for my W.I.P. Time was when I used to bash out the synopsis after I'd finished a story. Now I'm going to have a go at preparing it before I've started.

A good synopsis should mimic the novel's tone, according to Sarah Domet (90 Days To Your Novel). For example if the novel is fast-paced and exciting, the synopsis should be the same. If the novel is full of mystery, yes, the synopsis should be too.  I've gathered that you must not leave out major plot points, and especially, the resolution.  Pay attention to detail, hone, edit and re-edit. Don't stop, not until that finished story's in your hand and it's really, really time to go home. And right now, it's really, really time to go home. I close the notebook and head for the station.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Bitter End

So, day 3 of my impromptu writing workshop.  Still Diamond Jubilee weekend, so I gravitate to Buckingham Palace, and follow a detachment of gorgeous police horses. Once more, there are punters who camped out all night, desperate to reserve a place for the concert this evening.

For me, I'm stalking the final third of my Thomas Tarling novel, and I lap up the atmosphere, which is a bit akin to that of the fairground. The rain has been torrential in the night, the St John Ambulance work through the crowd dispensing first aid and hot drinks. Me, I'm surviving on porridge - I've discovered what the Scots have known for centuries;
  • it's nourishing
  • it's cheap 
  • it's great for those on a diet.
My first task is to list the final scenes by bullet point, and then to mirror the first day's work by jotting twenty 'last lines'.
I can't believe I never thought of this 'twenty first lines, twenty last lines' idea before. In fact, I didn't think it up, I got it from Sarah Domet's book The 90 Day Novel. It's a seriously searching exercise. I'm finding this business of ending the novel so hard. But I suppose everyone does.

Every writer I know has trouble writing - Joseph Heller

You can find Buckingham Palace here

Souvenir sellers flock to Buckingham Palace

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jubilee Dawn

Today I got down to the Tower of London at dawn, to work on deepening the 'middle' episodes, the heart and backbone of my novel. Already at that hour preparations were in hand for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, with police officers on duty at the Tower of London and the first sight-seers surveying the scene.

It takes dedication to 'get down to it' that early, but of course, it's what the experienced royal-watchers do, on every occasion - be there, with your mac, your flask of tea and your flags. So my goal today was to work on the dramatic - the backstabbing, the weeping, the scintillating dialogue - well, that's how every writer hopes their work will turn out!

As the first of the crowds settled themselves, and bear in mind this was 6.30 hrs, for a Pageant due to being at 14.00 hrs, I sat on a wall with my coffee and asked myself a series of questions: 1) Have I added complications for poor Thomas? 2) Is he changing? Is he affected by the events that have landed in his lap? 3) Did I deepen the drama? 4) What will the climax of the whole novel be, when I get there?

After a couple of hours, I looked up, and noticed that the crowds were swelling and swelling, an estimated 1 million at least and in the pouring rain too. Only in Britain - and that's the spirit Thomas Tarling must show, too.

I packed my flask and notebook away, ready for a proper breakfast.

You can find The Tower of London here:

The Tower of London

Friday, 6 April 2012

Passion on Good Friday

Been working every hour of the day on setting this week. I'm fascinated by the way mood in a story can be implied by the setting - that includes the season, the weather, the wildlife, the antics of the general public. As a Londoner born and bred, I love to be out and about in my beautiful, diverse city. It's like a character itself, with its many moods and changes. Today, on Good Friday, Trafalgar Square was sombre

Passion of the Christ, Trafalgar Square

and grey, as thousands gathered around Nelson's Column to watch a bloody but beautifully acted Passion of the Christ. It was a great moment to make notes for the lowest scenes in my current novel - the haunting, the despair, the bits where Thomas can see no way out.

It seems barely a couple of weeks, in fact it is barely a couple of weeks, since the same square was bright and full of laughter for Chinese New Year. On that occasion, too, I took my notebook and tried  to etch the details on my

Chines New Year Celebrations, Trafalgar Square

mind for use in some fictional scene or other. I think setting can be a brilliant way of implying everything without overstating it - remember Charles Dickens' character Miss Haversham and that house, all neglected and wild, just like the poor lady's mind?

The Fountains, Trafalgar Square

When summer comes, it'll be the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The crowds will come again but the fountains of Trafalgar Square will be a bright oasis in the heat.  It'll be a great space for writers like me to do timed writing exercises, make lists and dream of the happy ending - if I decide to let my Thomas Tarling have one, that is.

You can find Trafalgar Square here

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Blowing Life into A Story

I've been working on the characters I need for my second novel. When I started my first book I knew nothing about planning a novel so I just launched in and typed away until I ran out of steam (around one and a half chapters in). I didn't want to be one of those ghastly people who say, at every social gathering, 'I've got one and a half chapters in my desk drawer but of course I've no time to finish them' so I joined a writing group.

One of the first things they taught me was how to make a character chart - by taking 10 or so names, and writing each at the head of a long column in your notebook. If, like me, you're comfortable with spreadsheets, then do it electronically. Then, you start to fill in the columns with names, characteristics, relationship to the others, jobs, and so forth. It's vital that you have this material noted down in order to avoid those awful mistakes, halfway through a novel or maybe in your third, when the blue-eyed boy becomes a brown-eyed charmer.

Some of my first characters had jobs I've never done or am likely to do, but I researched by reading first and then going to visit the places they might have worked. In order to find out about glassblowing, I went, one freezing cold morning, to watch how it was done. I chose a studio, Bath Aqua Glass, where glassblowing is still carried out in the traditional manner, albeit with the safety equipment my characters would not have had in 1826.

Once I got into the studio and felt the heat of the glasshouse fires and the laughter and jokes of the men, I realised that I did have a stock of memories to give colour to my novel.

My own Grandfather was a surgical instrument maker, and I well remember him coming home from the forge, and what his hands were like, and what he ate, and his tales of the doings there. He had a passion for his work, and a joy in the artistry of it, which I saw again in the faces of the men in Bath. They told me about the history, and the dangers, and that arsenic oxide smells like coconut. This is how the novel has its first quickening, and shows the first tender signs of life.

Fill your paper with the writings of your heart - William Wordsworth

You can find Bath Aqua Glass here

Friday, 27 January 2012

Public Rage, Secret Agendas

So, we're all getting hot under the collar about the bankers' bonuses which are, apparently, 'not even enough to brag about in a coffee bar'. You could buy five coffee bars of the kind I frequent for one banker's bonus, only we call them cafes out here.

Still, it's been a good week - lost 3lbs now, still amazed that Cheesy Wotsits are only 3 points but a nice piece of apple pie is 7. Where's the justice in that, eh?

Extended my work on plot to include 'setting' and this week I've been learning all about the secret agenda. Tried this exercise in which you describe a garden shed as seen by a man who's just lost his son in the war. You don't mention the son, or the war. Let it roll around in my subconscious while prowling about London until I came upon Covent Garden, the setting of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Eliza Doolittle - now there was a girl with a secret agenda.

I think of my almost-finished WIP, the one about the glassblower, and how those men slaved for fourteen hours a day, and died from the chemicals that pounded into their lungs. What must it have taken to get out, with a wife and six little uns in tow? Secret agenda.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Stars Bright, Wikipedia Dim

So Wikipedia has gone dark but most of Britain are watching the stars with dishy Professor Brian Cox in any case. Meanwhile I've lost a pound on my Weightwatchers' diet, progressed to drinking two bottles of water a day and made pleasing progress with my outlining. I never realised it could be like this - usually I'm wrestling with the plot and the prose at one and the same time, and the plot points get all lost in the 80,000 words minimum it takes to write a novel.

I've been able to construct my plot using real details from actual crimes, as it's a mystery. That's stage 1. Then, of course, I'll be letting the creative voice take over, and the real work of fiction will begin - the true life crimes are just a beginning point. To use a real-life crime only barely disguised, especially when the many victims, including the family and friends of the deceased, are still alive - very poor, in my opinion.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Blue Monday

The Nag's Head on Blue Monday, The Most Depressing Day of the Year

Today is 'Blue Monday' - supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Strange, because we had excellent meeting in the back room of The Nag's Head.

Amazing what four writers, who pay critical attention to one another's manuscripts, add a dash of love and a jolly good helping of freshly baked flat-breads and olives can achieve.

After years of being a pantser writer - ie one who launches in and wrestles a plot out of the skin of their pants - I've decided to try OUTLINING my next novel before I write it. Possible ways of outlining, so I gather, are the 'Structure Plus', the 'Signpost', the 'Notecard', the 'Spreadsheet' and the 'Flowchart'.

Decided to try the Spreadsheet because I ploughed through a Learn Direct course on spreadsheets - might as well put it to use. Always did hate Flowcharts. Returned home, counted Weightwatcher points - how can a Chai Latte possibly be ELEVEN points?