Friday, 9 December 2011

As I write, joyfully...common pitfalls in my writing

It's been a few weeks since my last post, because I met an agent at the RNA Winter Party who asked me to send her 'something' from my new novel. Consequently, I've been tidying up my first three chapters of my current novel and not writing new blogs. I'm not holding my breath, but it would be fantastic to get some kind of professional feedback.
Said three chapters now off in the post, I wanted to write something about adverbs and the use of 'as'.

I've mentioned it before, I'm notorious for putting in adverbs after 'she said', 'he said'. I think it probably comes from school, where I was taught never to use the word 'said', but rather 'whispered', 'shouted', 'announced'...everything that is condemned as bad writing when you reach adulthood. So, I now search through my writing for 'ly', and am finding that I'm increasingly getting better at avoiding them.

A new problem I've just learnt about is the use of 'as'. I use it a lot, and that is apparently a sign of an inept writer. *Sigh*

'As' should apparently not be used to mean 'when', 'while', 'because' or 'at the same time'.

I have used 'as' to mean all of these things. Hence, I shall add it to my list of things to avoid doing.

Monday, 14 November 2011

When the gab is not a gift

I'm currently in my favourite part of novel writing. It's the part where the story starts to work by itself, and new little tendrils of storyline sprout in unexpected directions when I'm in the shower, going to sleep, or out for a walk.

The words are pouring out, and my characters suddenly have a lot to say to each other. The problem is, I've just looked down at a page and realised that my characters have done nothing but talk for ages. Talk, talk, talk.

Ok, so there's the odd smile, the odd nod, the odd looking out of the window and thinking about stuff, but pretty much nothing is happening except the characters discussing things.

So how much talk is too much?

A quick google led me to this very useful blog, which led to a few others:

It seems I need to do the following:
- Get rid of any part of the conversation that is every day or commonplace (do you want a cup of tea? Why yes, thank you. Lovely weather, isn't it?)
- Use narration to connect scenes
- Add gestures, tones, thoughts to break up the dialogue, every three to five lines or so
- Use dialogue only for conflict, not for exposition. (I found this one tricky - you shouldn't use narration for exposition either, the old 'show don't tell' how do you get exposition across? I guess the answer is, you don't. You let the reader work it out. Sounds brilliant, in theory at least).

So, here I go. Out comes the red pen.

Friday, 11 November 2011

New writing business cards

I thought I'd invest in myself and get some business cards specifically for writing printed.

Well, today they arrived, and they're utterly gorgeous! I spent a little more than I should and got them printed with Moo, who always do a fabulous job. I chose a design that looks like little note books and they are oh, so lovely.

Now I just can't wait for the RNA Winter Party next Thursday, so I can distribute them to all and sundry.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A tenth of the way...

I've been writing my new book for the past few weeks, and it's finally starting to get somewhere. I've hit 10,000 words, which I'm telling myself is a tenth of the way. Nine-tenths to go, with the intention of finishing my first draft by 1 April 2012.

I'm taking a whole new approach to writing, and it's proving to be a worthwhile experience.

With my first two novels, I thought of a concept. For example, for my last novel I thought of the impact of a grandmother dying and leaving last wishes for her two granddaughters to broaden their horizons in very specific ways. Then, I pretty much started writing. The plot points came out as the story did, new characters emerged (sometimes unexpectedly), and even the endings were somewhat of a surprise to me.

With this novel, I'm trying to be much more strategic. An agent is only going to see the first three chapters, so I can't waste time getting the story started. I wrote a full synopsis, and then decided to start the story about a third of the way into my synopsis. With each chapter, I'm writing key points that the chapter needs to achieve. Once those points have been achieved, the chapter is over.

I think it's working, but only time - and eventually some feedback from others - will tell whether this book will go anywhere. Despite the strategic approach, this is a story I've long wanted to tell, and my heart is going into each (carefully constructed) sentence.

Monday, 17 October 2011

True love and inspiration

On Saturday night, the women of the Ciren Writers Group - joined most thrillingly and unexpectedly by the lovely Katie Fforde - headed out for a spot of dinner and the True Love session at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. The session featured Jill Mansell, Adele Parks and Penny Vincenzi in a panel interview. Jill Mansell was the key attraction for me when I booked - I think she nails perfectly the funny end of women's fiction - but I'm now also keen to try some Adele Parks as she was simply charming on the stage.

The session was full of interesting anecdotes and pieces of advice from three very successful novelists. Rather than summarise the whole thing, I thought I'd just put down the bits that are sticking in my memory now...

Jill Mansell's hand-written manscripts are typed up by her daughter (formerly her mother), so there is no, um, you know, in her books. I'd never noticed so they clearly don't suffer from the lack of them.

For Adele Parks, true love is all about forgiveness for the daily little things. I couldn't agree more with this. Sometimes I'm utterly horrid to my husband and he's still here, being supportive and generally wonderful. Similarly, I stick around, even though he always leaves the makings of his after work snack on the kitchen bench...

Penny Vincenzi's suggestion for writing ensemble novels is to construct a list of names of the characters and place a tick next to them when they're mentioned. In this way, you can see when you're forgetting someone. I haven't tried an ensemble approach, but it seemed like a useful tip.

Thanks to these women and the encouragement of the writing group, I came home and spent my baby's nap time on Sunday working on my main character for my new novel.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Your voice - stick to it or branch out?

My writing group met last night, and one of the topics that came up was about voice and style, and whether you should follow the market or just do your own thing. It's an interesting question and one that continues to remain unanswered in my own head.

I have completed two books so far, both of which have been written in a light-hearted, funny, chick-lit style. So far, they remain unpublished. But, I've also written a lot of short stories, some of which have been closer to the literary end of things (I'd say the literary/commercial divide, rather than pure literary). Quite a few of these have been published. So what's my voice?

In my experience, it depends on my mood and what I'm writing. I find the light-hearted stuff easier to write. But, according to the current publishing industry, chick-lit is just not being bought at the moment. One of my writing group last night was saying that rising food costs have led to the Tesco book purchase being the first thing to be dumped from the weekly shop, which has had an impact on everyone. So, I'm currently trying to write something else.

I feel instinctively if I can find the right voice for this book, it will start flowing, but I'm currently still struggling. Is this because I'm trying to write in a voice that's not my own, or is it just because I'm still learning how to be a writer? I feel and hope that it's the latter.

And perhaps, if I find a new voice for myself, I might meet with greater success. After all, anything that's worth having rarely comes easily.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Writing stories for magazines

Over the past year or two, I've tried to hone my craft by completing short stories for the few magazines out there that still publish fiction.

At the outset, I had no idea what I was doing. Pulling together a few stories I'd already written, I sent them off to magazines that published fiction. Of the first nine, just one was accepted. I realised I had a lot to learn, bought some more magazines, did some online research, and started over.

Of the online information available, Womag ( is the unsurpassed Queen of How to Get your Short Story Published. Her blog has all the guidelines from the different magazines that publish fiction and she and her 450+ followers are involved in campaigns to keep the short story slot in magazines.

Thanks to Womag and my ever-patient husband who reads everything I write, I'm getting a much better hit rate. Every acceptance makes me feel like I've won the lottery. In the midst of agent rejections and the continued absence of a bidding war over my latest novel, seeing my name in print and receiving a few pounds for my efforts feels amazing. And, in the process, I've found that short stories are really helping me to learn how to manage my time, come up with new ideas, and adapt my voice.

Now, I read each magazine carefully, think of stories that might appeal to their demographic, and write specifically for that publication. The People's Friend, the Weekly News and Yours magazine have accepted my stories, and I feel like I now understand what they're looking for. Women's Weekly is still proving elusive, but I'm going to keep trying.

Wish me luck!