Category Archives: Writing

Dear 2016…

Enough now.

You’ve had quite a haul. There’s a post sitting in draft that is too sad, too negative, but perhaps that’s what you need to hear. Or I need to get off my chest.

You took my music hero very early on. David Bowie. It still catches in my throat when I realise he’s dead; no more new genius. Others you took too. Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Prince, Victoria Wood, Caroline Ahern, Ronnie Corbett, Terry Wogan, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, and recently, Andrew Sachs.

You messed up the political landscape. Made a path for hate and intolerance. Cost Jo Cox her life.

Donald Trump; can’t even go there.

You stole my health for a good chunk of the year. My ribs still ache. My lung is tight.

You put holes in my mother-in-law’s memory; ones that she is falling in to. Her husband, her rock, in hospital. My husband is now away more than he is home caring for them. Our family.

The father of my godson, the husband of one of my oldest, dearest friends, you have handed terminal cancer. He is 48. Today I heard of another that you have your grip around. Motor Neuron Disease taking over a body previously dedicated to yoga, and fun.

Enough already.

You shut me down, 2016. I became less. Did less. Achieved less. Felt less.

But do you know what. 2017 is coming, and may be it won’t take as much. But hear this. I’m not taking any more.

They say that you can’t change others,  or anything, but you can change how you respond.

Hear that 2017?

2016, you will soon be history.  Just to let you know, I intend to put up a good fight when your successor rolls in.

Sincerely,

In conversation with Tony Lee Moral…

Tony at the book signing early in September
Tony at the book signing early in September

This is new for me, but back when Playing Mrs Kingston was launched, Tony asked me if I’d like to do an interview on my blog. I’m not sure why I didn’t at the time, but I asked if I could take him up on the offer when I reviewed Ghost Maven. Tony is incredibly generous, which is conveyed in his writing, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him a little better. Enjoy!

Julia: Where did the idea for a Ghost Maven come from? And the term? I love it!

Tony: I lived in Monterey for two years, so I know the region well, and I wanted to write about the beauty, the history and the supernatural lore of the region. All of these combined to form the idea for ‘Ghost Maven’. I was also inspired by the JM Barrie play, ‘Mary Rose’, about a young woman who disappears on a Scottish island and reappears unaged twenty years later. The working title of the book was ‘Evening Tide’, after Henry’s boat, but I changed it to ‘Ghost Maven’ about half way through, because I thought it would appeal to paranormal romance readers, and there is something more evocative when you have the word ‘Ghost’ in the title. The idea for a Maven arose from this premise, someone who has command over spirits, and Alice who is preoccupied with the afterlife having just lost her mother, seemed like a good candidate to go on this incredible journey to becoming a Maven.

Julia: Why move into Young Adult Fiction – what is the attraction for you as a writer?

Tony: I’m a storyteller and am keen to reach a wide a readership as possible. Young Adult readers are also very demanding, and need a fast paced plot and less exposition. They lose interest quickly, so as a writer it is challenging to create scenes which keep readers turning the pages. I specialize in mystery and suspense because of my background writing about Alfred Hitchcock, so I use his tools and techniques for creating suspense. I talk about these principles in my book ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass’, which is a writing manual on how to construct a thrilling screenplay.

Julia: Do you think that Ghost Maven is more love story or suspense/thriller?

Tony: I think it’s more of a love story as Alice and Henry’s romance is the central part of the book, and the sections I enjoyed writing the most. Their meeting occurs at a point when Alice is suffering tremendous grief and bereavement from losing her mother. They are both very lonely characters, and find solace in each other, as they have shared interests in literature, nature, the outdoors and the colour purple.

Julia: I’m sure you won’t tell us, but did Henry Raphael die? And what might be next for Alice?

Tony: At the end of the book, O’Reilly, the enemy survives, so someone will have to fight him in the sequel, which may give you a clue about Henry’s fate. In the next chapter, Alice discovers her powers to be a Ghost Maven, and it’s a very exciting time for her, but also very dangerous. So the book is going to be very dark, as Alice comes to terms with who she is and what is her destiny. Writing a sequel is very rewarding for a writer, as your characters are already fully formed, you know their likes and dislikes, and so does the reader, so you can push the characters further.

Julia: Last we heard, you were doing a follow up of ‘Mrs Kingston’ when you were in Italy. Is she coming back?

Tony: I wrote the sequel for ‘Playing Mrs. Kingston’ last year and Catriona Benedict is definitely coming back. The title of the book is called ‘The Two Masks of Vendetta’ and follows Catriona and her Italian boyfriend Mario in glamorous 1960s Italy. She also comes face to face with her old adversary Louis Ferrero and the twists and turns are so unexpected. I had so much fun plotting and writing the novel, which was an excuse to visit Italy four times last year, as I spent time researching the novel in Rome, Florence, Arezzo, Santa Margherita and Portofino. The book is set in the La Dolce Vita period and follows Catriona and Mario as they are on a quest to find the True Cross of Jesus Christ.
Julia: Now that sounds really intriguing. If I can ask some questions about you as a writer. It’s something I’m very curious about. So, what’s your writing day like?

Tony: This depends on whether I have deadlines, but a typical day when I’m working on a novel is writing about 3000 words. I’m more of a night owl, so I write better in the afternoons and evenings. I wrote an article about Blue Sky thinking which is on the Ghost Maven website and is full of interesting tips on how best to achieve creative insights.

Julia: When do ideas come to you – and how do they come.. Fully formed, or in little morsels?

Tony: I often have the tagline or synopsis for a book, and if I’m very keen to pursue it, I spend hours thinking how to flesh the idea out. I was at my most creative when I lived in Monterey Bay. There is new evidence that being outdoors, and colours like blue and green, can facilitate creative insights. I also derive many of my ideas by going to the cinema. I’m a member of BAFTA, and many of my novels started off as ideas for screenplays, my scenes are often cinematic, and I’m very preoccupied by how my characters look and talk.

Julia: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘panster’ as a writer? By that I mean do you plan/map everything out before you start writing, or go with the idea, the characters and see where the story goes?

Tony: A combination of both. Normally I have the basic idea mapped out and know the beginning and the end. The middle is often the hardest chapters to write, as you have to engage the reader and not lose them half way through. Sometimes my characters take a life of their own, and dictate where they want to go, and I’m always thinking of how they would behave in a situation. I would say I’m more of a plotter overall. As Alfred Hitchcock said, everything has to be planned out on paper, so I do like writing a detailed synopsis if I have problems with a plot, so I can step back and see where the story beats are.

Julia: That’s all fascinating. Thank you so much Tony. Let’s hope that Ghost Maven flies off the shelves. To find out more about Tony and his latest book, Ghost Maven, head over to his website:

www.ghostmaven.com

Tony’s lovely photo was taken from his Twitter feed, @TonyLeeMoral

 

And how is the writing going…?

My sister visited this weekend. “How’s the writing going?”, she said.

“Hmmm…”

She asked the question directly. I’ve been avoiding asking it of myself. She gave me a look. A look between sisters. It reached the neglected writer, who seemed to wave back. I hung my head in shame.

It’s October for goodness sake. Yes, you were derailed, but you’re healing well.

The truth is that I’ve lost the habit. I’ve misplaced it somewhere. I think it’s probably folded up in the wallpaper/post-it notes by the side of my desk. The sum total of Draft Two.

Oh, but there are excuses. Many of them. I was going to start in August. We had visitors. And then Steve asked me to help organise a music festival in aid of local charities. I couldn’t say no, and it took up my spare time. Mike D’Abo came to our little village to sing in a tent! It was awesome!

Then I was going to start in September, but Bessie arrived. The sweetest little black labrador puppy. Our first dog. They weren’t joking when they (whoever they are) said that a puppy is a perfect time waster. Hours, days have evaporated! She chews away at time. It is wonderful. But it’s not getting the manuscript done.

Bessie
Bessie

And so it is October. Five days in. My husband is away (he’s been away for the last four weeks), so sole responsibility for the puppy has been even more full-on than it might have been. What was that – another excuse?

How’s the writing going? The Osteopath  asked me yesterday. He hasn’t asked me that in ages. The Universe is closing in.

So here I am, part confessional, part motivational. Why am I not doing the thing that helps me feel like me? Why am I neglecting the project that has absorbed hours of time and of me? Why am I not fighting for the habit? There are no answers. There is also no real point in engaging the self-critic.

Just. Need. To. Get. On. With. It.

Just write.

You must drink champagne immediately…

THE END!
THE END!

I typed THE END last week. Then I wrote it in my scratchy pen on my scene tracker. Then I nearly cried. I texted my sister, my mum, Jane (of Writing Retreat fame). My sister was the first to come back with, ‘you must drink champagne immediately.’ Unusually for us, there was none chilled, but that was soon rectified.

I’m a little under the word count I was aiming at, but the story had reached its conclusion, so I decided there was no point in punching out scenes to hit the 100,000 word mark. In most cases, at least the bits that will survive the chop, it is underwritten. And anyway, I don’t really care, because the words have to serve the story, and the story is going to be as the story is. I’m feeling like I’m sounding like Forest Gump.

How did it feel? Oh… oh so strange. THE END. I hadn’t even thought about writing that (so clichéd), but when I’d wrapped it all up, I was compelled to finish like that. I did nearly cry. Mostly, I just sat and stared at the screen, feeling overwhelmed. It was like a big fog swirled around me, and then out of the wispy feeling, I was aware that I felt very grounded, and very proud. Right in the centre of me, this very tangible feeling, like a strength. I think this was the sense of achievement, a kind of wonder, but in a solid way. It’s light and substantial at the same time. I’m not sure that this is making any sense, but I’ll resist the temptation to edit. It is what it was (cue Forest Gump again).

What excites me, not only having achieved a massive goal in my life… Hey. I’ve written a novel! It’s a long way short of publishable standard, but I’ve stuck it out! Get back on point, what excites me is the idea of making it better. I am so looking forward to the first cut, which I will plan out in the next couple of weeks. Jane and Kath, the wallpaper is coming out, but perhaps more of that when I live the technique. Structure next, and then the pruning and polishing can begin.

For now, I’m just living the dream. I have achieved something really quite substantial.

Goodbye 2015… Hello 2016

What a way to wind up 2015 with… The Caribbean. Antigua is utterly beautiful, and I fell in love with the island, its people, and those warm, warm waters. It was perfect to just escape from this relentless revolting weather, let alone the happy reunion with my salty sea dog.

We saw out 2015 back here in Cornwall with friends, and it’s taken me a few days to gather myself for the annual appraisal. I know, it’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

When I look back at my goals for 2015, I’m feeling pleased with my achievements. Specifically my writing ones. I entered three competitions, and had success with  Sherbourne, I pitched an article, accepted, but hasn’t been published! Better luck next time. I’ve been disciplined with the daily journal and also the travel journals (Thailand, and almost done with Antigua), but only a B+ for the blog. It’s my WIP that I have most to shout about… 83,000 words last year, from nothing a year ago. I am immensely proud of this.

So, turning my mind to 2016, the year hangs around time, and the phases of the year. From now until May it’s a major on training for the Scillies (for the World Pilot Gig Championships) and getting the first draft done, and working out the direction for the first edit. I’m also hoping to sneak in a field trip to Lanzarote at the end of February. May – July we will then turn our attention to sailing on Whinchat, but where will we go?  July/August I want to see friends and family and FUN. Then the Autumn clocks around, and I will pick up the WIP and work hard on the first edit. There is much to fix, of course.

Do something that scares you? Scillies are terrifying to me, particularly as the weather has meant our training sessions keep getting cancelled, and I’m just not fit enough. New running shoes are on order! I should buy that wetsuit and get on the paddle board, my friend’s husband said he’d teach me. Body board – I’ll be stronger come May after all that training!

Learn something new – the Uke. I did so well earlier in the year, and then hit a rut. I’m going to push through that and learn some more chords so that I can strum my way around whichever body of water we end up sailing in.

I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? It’s up to me to make 2016 count.

My second Writing Retreat

(photo credit to The Writing Retreat)

I wasn’t going to attend another writing retreat this year, but Kath Morgan and Jane Moss enticed me by the subject matter. The hook was ‘The Narrative Structure’. I wasn’t disappointed.

In truth, I benefited long before I turned down the rough track to Rosemerryn. Having it in my diary made me focus. I wanted to get the most out of the week, so I chipped away at my WIP, and arrived with what I thought was a fairly fully formed project…

I enjoyed going back to Rosemerryn – the house is inviting, warm and comfortable. Thankfully I avoided the wisteria-climbing cat by being housed in the cottage in the grounds with a fellow-writer. It was a glorious space to spend time in, both with Alan, and alone with my WIP.

There were workshops every morning, working through different elements of narrative structure. We were encouraged to develop our own projects alongside the workshops, and Kath and Jane both provided excellent support when the mists descended over our brains. As with the last retreat, the attendees were free to attend or work on their own projects as they wished to. The content of the workshops was perfect for me, at my stage of my writing career, and my WIP. I attended every one.

Mid-week we had a session with a visiting tutor, novelist Emily Barr. Emily was generous with her own story as a writer, her process, and her experiences in being published. Her workshop was also well-timed. We were asked to leave our own projects to one side and ‘play’ with the craft of writing. Excuse the cliché , but it was a creative breath of fresh air. I think I have another piece of flash fiction in progress to go out for competition as a result. Possibly two. A Brucie bonus.

The afternoons were free to use as we wished. There were one-to-ones available with Kath and Jane (one 50 minute slot with each tutor for each of the eight attendees). I worked harder than I did last time, and only broke for the coast on Wednesday afternoon, when I was desperate to have a decent walk and feel the sea air on my face. I picked a wild day, so was not disappointed.

A wild day at Porthcurno
A wild day at Porthcurno

I’m pleased that Kath and Jane took on the feedback about the food – there was less food, and less cream, and no one went hungry. There were some complex dietary requirements (including mine), which were superbly managed. The menus were enticing, varied and the combination of chefs delivered. There is something wonderful about preparing and sharing food together, and I appreciated this as much as in March.

My highlights from the week:

  • The one-to-ones. Simply golden time.
  • The cumulative question throughout the week – ‘how does your project fit in?’
  • The dedicated studio, separate from the house. It gave a place to ‘go to work’ to.
  • Learning from others, and sharing my work with others, particularly the ‘wallpaper’ exercise on the four-part structure of a novel. Five of us were prepared to offer up our work. The feedback was invaluable.
Sharing our work, making a difference (photo credit to Jane Moss)
Sharing our work, making a difference (photo credit to Jane Moss)

My lowlights from the week:

  • Hardly anything, but it rained so much that I never checked the chains were still on my inner critic in the Fogou. He must be, as he’s not reared his head in a while.

It was an up-and-down experience, as I wrestled with the whole of the project. I know this is part of the work. I felt frustrated at times, lost at others, but always engaged and motivated, and more importantly, supported. I thought my WIP was ‘fairly fully formed’, but I realised that it wasn’t. The story shifted in the week, as I found the motivation of my protagonist (thanks to Jane), and the key events that will shape ‘the whole’ better (thanks to Kath). Since the retreat, I’ve revived a character who I’d killed off, because she’ll serve the story better. I am half-afraid of what else will emerge.

If last time I left walking taller as a writer, this time I have far greater confidence in my work. I think I have a great story, I only hope I can do it justice.

Writing stamina

Working in front of the fire on retreat last week...
Working in front of the fire on retreat last week…

This is more of a musing than a blog post (is there a difference, really?), something that has struck me in the last couple of days. I can only liken it to training for a long distance race.

In 2008 I did the 10 miles of the Great South Run, which I found gruelling. I’ll blame that on the horrendous weather, but at the end of October in Portsmouth, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’d run my first 5k race in 1998 not long after my dad died, and have run ever since. The increase from 5k (3 miles) to 10 miles is a process. You have to increase the distance steadily, incrementally, over time. I think it took me about 6 week to shift from 6 miles to 10 miles.

At the beginning, I thought I would never get to 10 miles. I was comfortable doing 3 miles, 6 even. Actually, I loved running the 10k distance, really finding a rhythm after the first 30 minutes of relative discomfort. It was like that for the novel. I thought I could never get to 100,000 words (I haven’t yet!), and I wasn’t sure that I could sustain the story. 2,000 words of short story was challenge enough. In those early days of churning out the words, it was a stretch to make it to the 1,000 word marker (my per day  minimum), but in the last days, it’s been 1,800, 2,000 and yesterday 2,300 without the pain that it felt earlier in the year.

I can only conclude that my writing stamina is increasing, and I think that’s worth noting.