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  • The Film of The Book

    Actress Loretta Young. If she was still with us she’d absolutely be my number one choice for Dottie.

    Writers are at heart, fantasists, and for many of us, there is no more entertaining—or time-wasting—fantasy than to ask yourself who would play your main characters if some movie mogul had the urge to transform your book or series into a blockbuster movie.

    I think we all know that there can be a big difference between how each of us sees our ‘hero’ on the page, and how that is translated to the big screen. For fans, and no doubt, writers, this can lead to a terrible sense of disappointment.

    Movies from books that I loved:

    The Harry Potter series: I felt they nailed all the characters perfectly

    Bladerunner: from Philip K Dick’s short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The late Rutger Hauer is wonderful, as is Harrison Ford and Sean Young. The silence in this work is as speaking as the words.

    Bridget Jones (the first one): the same – I loved the characters. In fact I enjoyed the film even more than the book, (apologies to Helen Fielding).

    Dial M For Murder/The Perfect Murder: both sensationally wonderful adaptations of Frederic Knott’s play Dial M For Murder: a collage for voices.

    Murder on the Orient Express: now obviously there have been several versions of this, and I’ve loved them all.

    The Da Vinci Code: well I’m a bit half-and-half on this. I loved that they cast the brilliant Jean Reno as the policeman – when I was reading the book, I thought to myself, ‘You know who would be perfect in this part? Jean Reno.’ I take all the credit for the casting decisions in that direction, (even though they don’t know me and had no idea that this was what I wanted.) And I also like the role of what’s-his-name being played by Sir Ian McKellen. But Tom Hanks? No. Sophie thingie? NO!!!

    A Room With A View: just beautiful, and all the more so for not having E M Forster’s sad, cynical epilogue of reality to ruin the spell he’d cast over all those pages. To anyone who hasn’t read the book, I’d say skip the epilogue, it will mar your enjoyment of the work forever.

    Anyway, this is the game I’ve been playing at home. ‘Someone Wants To Turn My Book Into A Film’. I’

    m talking about my 1930s Dottie Manderson cosy mystery series.

    My main characters are:

    Dottie Manderson, aged 19 at the start of book 1 which is Night and Day. She is 5’ 7, has dark wavy hair, hazel eyes, lovely skin and a gorgeous, slender figure. She comes from a wealthy background, and lives in London with her parents. She is a wee bit shy, loves her family, loves dancing, and works as a mannequin for Mrs Carmichael. She’s idealistic and a little naïve. In the books, we see her maturing as she learns about the world, and about relationships between men and women. She is nosy and gets into murder-related situations. She is compassionate and detests bigotry and moral ideas that put appearance before compassion and respect.

    William Hardy is the detective she frequently ‘runs up against’. (Yes that is a double-entendre, if not a triple…) He is a little older at 28. He is a policeman working his way up the ranks after his father died and left the family penniless. They had to leave their privileged lifestyle and he had to leave his law studies to earn a living. He is (of course) six feet tall, if not a bit more, and well-built. He is fair-haired, and blue-eyed. He has a penchant for a certain dark-haired young lady which makes him awkward and embarrassed at times. He has a slightly different attitude to women than the majority of men of his era in that he is respectful and does not think of women as inferior or as domestic drudges. He is determined to improve his family’s fortunes by sheer hard work and devotion to his work.

    There are other recurring characters too:

    Mr and Mrs Manderson, Dottie’s parents: Her father is largely to be found behind a newspaper. Her mother is brisk and no-nonsense, but as the series develops we see that there is a deep love between these two, and that Mrs Manderson has a marshmallow heart under the stern exterior.

    Flora: Dottie’s older sister is married to George, a very wealthy young man. They are about to become parents for the first time. They are devoted to one another and to Dottie.

    Mrs Carmichael: The rough and ready working-class woman who through hard work and dedication has over the course of many years built up a fashion warehouse of her own, and has a loyal clientele. She has a fondness for Dottie, and it is revealed later that she ‘knew’ William’s father many years earlier.

    So here’s the big question: Who would play these roles if my books were made into a TV series or a movie? I’ve been thinking about his quite a bit. But I’m somewhat hampered by the fact that I really don’t keep up with who’s who in the acting world, so my ideas are probably really out of touch.

    Make sure and tell me who would work better, in your opinion, obviously I need all the help I can get here.

    Dottie: I’ve got a couple of ideas.

    1. Claire Foy

    2. Flora Spencer-Longhurst. Though I must admit they are both a bit older than Dottie is in my books. What do you think?

    I’ve pinned some images on my Leading Ladies board on Pinterest, which you can view here:

    William: I’ve got almost no ideas for William Hardy. Except for Alex Pettyfer. Can you take a look and tell me what you think? I urgently need help here: you never know how soon someone might knock on my door to present me with a tempting contract…

    As for Flora and Mr and Mrs M, what about these lovely people:

    Tuppence Middleton for Flora

    Herbert Manderson: What about the gorgeous Jason Isaacs? He’s a little older now (sorry Jason, but you know it’s true) and he’s nicely craggy.

    Mrs Lavinia Manderson

    Well there’s Kristin Scott Thomas, I think she’d work really well in this role: (can we afford her?)

    And for the redoubtable Mrs Carmichael:

    Miriam Margolyes:

    Or if she had still been alive, Patsy Byrne (you will remember her as Nursie in Blackadder).

    So, dear readers, please help! We need to get this cast list sorted before MGM or 20th Century Fox come knocking on my door.

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  • The anti-social writer

    This is what I overheard in a café in town a while ago: “I find that writers aren’t very nice to work with. One or two are okay, but most of them…well, they very much like to keep to themselves, don’t they? And they don’t like the competition either. It would be nice to have a chat, you know, but most of them just won’t. You get the odd one who will say ‘Hi’, but that’s about it.”

    Needless to say, my ears were flapping as I tried (surreptitiously) to hear every word and quickly write it down as I knew I would forget it, and at the same time I’m trying to look casual and eat a caramel-topped, cream-filled doughnut (definitely high on my mental list of priorities, I don’t get out much), and hoping they won’t turn round and see me writing down their every word. I decided Lady Number One must work in a theatre or something, and the café we were in was close to Quad in Derby, where they run both writing doobries and theatrical thingies. (Please pause here to marvel at my expert use of the English language.)

    She went on to talk about how some of the actresses had been very moved by the speeches they had to deliver. Lady Number Two was her friend-from-another-workplace and just kept nodding and agreeing.

    Now I freely admit that we are all entitled to our opinions…

    But…

    I apologise on behalf of all writers everywhere if we aren’t as good at chatting as you would like us to be. It’s not always easy talking to someone you don’t really know too well. Just give us another chance…

    Quite often it can be difficult to shut a writer up. Once you get them started, they can talk for hours – all that time spent alone with a journal or laptop means they rarely see actual humans, let alone enjoy conversation. But it’s also often said that a writer is busy with an internal life others are not privy to, working away at the coal-face of a tricky plot or puzzling over the intransigence of a character.

    But maybe, like everyone else, sometimes writers are just rude. Or shy. Or nervous. Or feeling out of their depth. Or worried. Tired. Or maybe even wondering if their wife is having an affair, or if the kids are in trouble, or yes, about their work, if their plot is shallow or their characters wooden. Maybe they are looking at you and thinking, ‘Wow he/she would be the perfect victim in my next book’. Or an arch-villain.

    Do we hear people complaining about dentists not being chatty enough? No. All too often, anecdotal evidence – and TV comedies – tell us that dentists love to talk and only ever require an answer if your mouth is full of putty, fingers, sharp objects, or that scary sucky gadget.

    And no one complains that hairdressers don’t talk. Or lawyers. Or retail assistants. Or window cleaners. Usually lack of conversation is a bonus in everyday situations. So why do writers have to be so chatty?

    Is it because we’re ‘wordsmiths’?

    (I hate that word – so pretentious! Imagine me up all night, filing and drilling and smoothing then peering myopically through a loupe at my carefully crafted, gleaming word. Congratulations, it’s a pronoun!)

    But I can’t deny that words are my – our – profession. Does that mean I have to share them constantly? Does a banker hand out free cash to all their friends and acquaintances? If only! Do my marketing and publishing contacts promise me freebies to help me sell my books? Nope! Again – if only!

    No. We all inhabit our little solitary worlds. It’s not because I’m a writer that I’m rubbish at making conversation with a total stranger. It’s because I’m a human being. There are loads of things I’m rubbish at, making conversation is only one of them.

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  • To Bludgeon or Not To Bludgeon

    Writing murder mysteries means that I constantly have to try to find a different, even grisly way to ‘eliminate’ my victims. Like a lot of writers of murder mysteries, my search history leaves a lot to be desired. Those who know me have sometimes remarked (thinking they were safely out of earshot) that I’m a bit weird. I’m not really. (okay, maybe I am a teeny bit odd, but in a nice way, right?)

    I just overthink things and take them a bit too seriously.

    Like weapons for example, and the various means of disposing of someone.

    I know some writers go over the top to try out a new method of dispatching a victim for their books. They might talk to experts, spend time at chemistry labs researching poisons, do a short course on blood spatter analysis, or go to firing ranges or interrogate forensic specialists. They might purchase a raft of books on forensic stuff, or even, like character Gil Grissom in an early episode of classic CSI, get a pig’s carcass delivered to his place of work and proceed to inflict various atrocities on it. I don’t think I could do that. I’d be unable to forget it was (once) a living creature. I’m not a vegetarian, just a bit squeamish.

    It’s quite easy, though to absorb this kind of thing via osmosis. TV shows, factual and fictional, go into the aspect of how a person died to a very useful extent. And as I said just now, there is plenty of literature on the subject, as my book shelves will attest. Then there’s the internet… And news media…

    It used to be said that the female weapon of choice was murder. Is that still true in these days of equality?

    I’ve poisoned a few people in my time. Fictionally, of course. But the blunt instrument is still my favourite. You can whack someone with almost anything.

    Spoiler alert:

    If you follow my Dottie Manderson series, you can look forward to a death by blunt object in the upcoming book, The Thief of St Martins. You can read a short taster HERE.

    Does anyone remember that brilliant episode of Tales Of The Unexpected from years ago where the woman killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooked it and served it to the investigating police officers. They ate the evidence! Fantastic. That’s definitely my favourite episode.

    To date, in my books, I’ve had people stabbed, poisoned, die in various forms of road ‘accident’; they’ve been suffocated, executed, shot, strangled and bashed over the head. I like to vary it a bit, but it’s hard to get away from the old-but-good methods.

    My murderous main character Cressida in The Friendship Can Be Murder books talks about how hard it is to come up with a murder weapon these days.

    The Grandes Dames of the murder mystery genre, practising their art in the early and middle parts of the twentieth century—what one might term the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction—espoused the pleasures of poisoning. Fly-papers were meticulously soaked to extract their lethal properties, berries and toadstools were carefully gathered and sliced and diced and surreptitiously introduced into steaming casseroles and tempting omelettes. On every domestic shelf such things as sleeping draughts and rat poison and eye drops sat unnoticed and unremarked, and a home was not a home without at least a few jars of cyanide or arsenic sulking forgotten in garden sheds and garages.

    But, sadly, these items are notoriously tricky to come by nowadays in our ‘Nanny state’.

    Of course, one watches these TV programmes that explain all about the forensic process, so that one is pre-armed with useful information. Knives wielded by the left-handed protagonist cut quite differently to those employed by a right-handed person. Equally so the short protagonist and the weak slash feeble protagonist.

    In addition the actual wound inflicted by a classic blunt weapon can yield so much information about not just the weapon itself but also the attacker—the approximate height, stance, and even weight and probable gender, for example, and the ferocity of attack is sometimes a gauge as to motive and psychology. Firing a gun leaves residue on one’s clothes, gloves, and skin, and, contrary to popular belief, it can be quite a job laying one’s hands on a firearm.

    According to the Daily Tabloid, a gun may readily be obtained at certain pubs in our larger cities for as little as £30, usually from a gentleman going by the name of Baz or Tel, but the problem is, these tend to be the kind of establishments one would hesitate to enter in broad daylight, let alone late in the evening.

    She’s got a point, bless her, and ‘fortunately’ she manages to find a way round these problems. I’d love to try flypapers! Maybe I’ll save that for my next book.

    I’ve also been experimenting with a mad professor and an ‘infernal machine’. I might use that at some point. In another series–still not published yet–I’ve used a fetishist and a special piece of rope that he loves to moon over. Elsewhere I’ve had social leaders employ minions as an execution squad, and of course there’s another old favourite, the fall from a high place.

    Most of my perpetrators are people who don’t usually make a habit of ‘this kind of thing’, they just find themselves pushed little by little into a situation where they feel they have no choice but to lash out at the person or persons who is putting them or their comfortable life in jeopardy somehow.

    If there’s nothing new under the sun, it is at least pleasing to come up with a bit of variety, though bludgeon has, as Michael Douglas’s character says in A Perfect Murder, (based on Dial M For Murder, one of my all-time favourite films)  ‘a spur-of-the-moment ring about it’. I like the idea of a spur-of-the-moment crime, where the perpetrator loses control and spends a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to get away with it. It’s not all about the victim, you know!

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  • How To Get ImposterSyndromeForAuthors.version1

    What is it?

    Imposter syndrome is a widespread professionally recognised psychological disorder encountered by people in all walks of life, but here I am talking about us writers. It’s essentially a negative, destructive mindset that gets a hold of you and messes with your head. It makes you doubt yourself – more than doubt yourself – if left unaddressed. It convinces you you have no right to stand with your peers or to call yourself a writer. If you let it take a hold of your life, it’s then all too easy to find yourself in a deep well of misery and be unable to function.

    I’m speaking from personal experience. It was many years before I realised it wasn’t only me, it was a quite common problem that many people have to overcome, not just once, but sometimes many times in their life. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the occasional, short-lived self-doubt everyone has, especially when trying something new. I’m talking about paralysing, life-altering, behaviour changing self-disbelief leading to a deep depression.

    What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome?

    Check these out, be honest with yourself. If you can say, ‘Yes, that’s me’ to a few of these, maybe you could do with some help to overcome these issues in your life.

    • You don’t see your own strengths. Not just modesty, you really think you’re useless.
    • You believe your luck is running out, that any success you’ve had was a fluke, and is about to leave you forever. You are convinced that it is only a matter of time until people realise you are not a real writer, painter, sculptor, dressmaker, teacher, secretary, doctor, politician, musician… and that you will be publicly denounced for the fraud you are.
    • You feel like you need to work harder than everyone else just to stay in place.
    • You can’t accept compliments, but always feel uncomfortable, even apologetic, and need to rationalise how you ‘accidentally’ did something good or right.
    • You shrug off success as a beyond your control, going-with-the-territory result of your hard work, rather than your ability.
    • You’re a workaholic.
    • You’re a perfectionist and feel you’re never quite finished with a project. When something is done, you see only the glaring flaws.
    • Failure is not an option for you. You feel humiliated, even ashamed when you have to back down or cancel any project you’re working on. You feel people laugh at you or despise you for failing.
    • You’re not comfortable with confidence. You feel awkward and fake when promoting your work or talent.
    • Comparisons undermine and upset your brief flashes of self-confidence, and stop you functioning.
    • You only see the negatives and the limitations of your work. You may have worked hard for years to achieve a certain level of ability, but you only see your shortcomings.
    • You downplay your role in projects or in helping others, saying things like ‘anyone would do the same’ or ‘I had so much help from others’.
    • You have irrational feelings and thoughts such as, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I can’t do it’ and even the dreaded, ‘I’m giving up’. This last is the worst, because you can lose a lot of creative, productive time, sometimes years, even a whole lifetime, because of this destructive mindset. I’ve also known people to destroy their work (I’ve done this) in the belief that it is trash.

    So now we know what it is, how do we deal with it?

    The important thing is to remember you’re not the only one with these kind of thoughts. I recently read somewhere that ‘experts’ (no idea who) say as many as 70% of people suffer from this disorder. 70%. It’s possible that out of ten people you know, more than half have the same sense of inadequacy and fear that you do, or I do. That’s a lot!

    So it’s obvious that it’s not just—YOU—this problem isn’t something that only affects you. Does that help? It helps me A LOT to know that huge numbers of other writers feel the same as me. Just knowing that means that it’s not just me, therefore a lot of my thoughts have to be false.

    Some things we can do:

    • Know and acknowledge your strengths. Not everything you do is wrong or weak. Realise that you have assets and talents. If you don’t know what they are, ask your friends, family or trusted colleagues what they think are you best qualities or your biggest abilities. They will surprise you by seeing things that you didn’t even know were strengths. Hold on to what they tell you, write it down to look at when old doubts come back to haunt you.
    • Share your feelings, don’t keep them bottled up inside, afraid to tell anyone how you feel. Often people will respond with compassion, support and even, ‘Yes, I worry about that too’. If they don’t, find another person to confide in, someone who ‘gets’ you.
    • Count your blessings. Old school but it always helps to realise that there are many good things in your life. Start small, it is usually the small things in life that bring joy, rather than the big things. This attitude helps you to develop and keep a positive mindset.
    • Make large projects or tasks manageable by breaking them down into components or sections—this will help you to feel less overwhelmed and less daunted by what you have to do.
    • Grow to understand that it is not a failing to fail. EVERYONE fails sometimes, and you cannot go through life without that. So don’t fear it, but embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and to connect with others as you are open about your fears and your failings.
    • Recognise that you are always changing, always learning. Learning is not something we only do at school. Our whole lives are about moving on and increasing our abilities. Just because you struggle with something now, that doesn’t mean you will always struggle with it. There is always room to develop and to build on skills. So be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to learn new things.
    • Don’t be afraid to admit if something isn’t working for you and give up on it. you will always learn something from any abandoned project. Don’t let it stop you from trying again with something else.
    • Learn to accept compliments without shrugging them aside. Learn to say nice things, positive and nurturing things, to yourself. Refuse to allow mean thoughts about yourself and your abilities to flourish. Try to avoid comparing yourself with others. No one is the same. No one can be the same.
    • Don’t let other people criticise you in a negative way. No one has the right to do that, and it’s usually born out of jealousy or guilt. If someone attacks you in this way, verbally, or on social media, however they do it, walk away, literally or virtually. Cut it off before it gets into you and eats away at your newly acquired self-esteem.

    I hope this has helped. You can contact me if you want to talk more about this subject.

    Further reading you might find useful:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome

    https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-different-types-of-imposter-syndrome-and-5-ways-to-battle-each-one

    https://impostorsyndrome.com/10-steps-overcome-impostor/

     

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  • 10 tips for getting on with your writing

    I think most of us have days when we stare into space and can’t think of a single thing to write. Here are my top tips for getting on with it. There’s not anything really earth-shatteringly new here, just practical ideas to keep you—and me—writing. Some are obvious, some are simple, some are just coping mechanisms that have worked for me.

    • Keep social media out of your work area. It’s so easy to ‘lose’ an hour or two just checking your emails or catching up with social media—and this is a really good one for disguising as work. But if you are a media junkie and know you spend too much time oohing and ahhing over other people’s cat pictures or searching for memes, do everything you can to keep internet availability to areas away from where you work. Keep your breaks short—just enough time to eat, drink, pee and then get back to work. (btw Eat, Drink, Pee is the little-known follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. Less successful because it lacks the strong spiritual appeal of the original.)
    • Plan. Yes, even if like me, you are more of a pantser, when you struggle to move forward with your work, then leave yourself a couple of lines of notes that will give you a kick-start to begin your next writing session. I heard it suggested that a writer even breaks off in the middle of a crucial scene to create an easy pick-up point. However, if like me, you’re a bit forgetful, you might not find this idea too effective. Instead I prefer to scratch down a few lines in pencil, just to give myself a little push in the morning. (Not a morning person!) while it’s still fresh in my mind. I often have an idea in my head of where the story is going to go, but can forget some of this by the next day. This idea is a good one to avoid losing the plot—literally.
    • Take a notebook everywhere. Yes, I know this is an obvious one for writers, but trust me, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to either abandon a brilliant idea or rush to buy a notebook when out and about. And trust me, notes written on a napkin in ketchup or eyebrow pencil aren’t so easy to read when you get home. You don’t have to take along a huge, heavy notebook, just a teeny one that fits into a pocket will be fine, so long as you always have something with you in case inspiration strikes. For me, any time I’m left alone to stare into space can be a good time to write—on the bus, train, waiting for the bus or train, waiting for loved ones to finish work or try on a dress… or you could get a note-making app on your tablet or phone, I like Evernote. I do a lot of my best writing in a caff with a cappuccino at my elbow. So before you leave the house, make sure you have a notebook and about six pens. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Notebook…?
    • Count your words. This is really a coping mechanism for if you are going through a sticky patch. It’s really aimed at people who, like me, write longhand before they transfer work onto a device. Each morning, before you start work staring at the crack on the ceiling, count the previous day’s word total manually. Doing this will mean a) you get a quick overview of what you wrote yesterday and that will help you to get into writing mode, and b) you will feel encouraged to build on what you already have. This works for me when nothing else does, even if I end up discarding half or more of the previous day’s work.
    • Break up the blank. This continues from the one above. If you sit and stare at the white page or screen in dismay and your brain refuses to create, try this:
      • Do Step 4 as above.
      • Then start each new page with the date and running word total in the top left corner.
      • Number the pages bottom right.
      • If you are using chapter headings or titles, write that too, or simply write chapter and the number.

    You could also do Step 2 for this point, again to give yourself a little push.

    • Change your routine. This is another one that works well for me. Try sitting somewhere different to your usual spot, give yourself a new viewpoint. Listen to different music—even music you hate can be useful. I used to sometimes sit in one of my children’s bedrooms when they were at school and listen to some of their music. Just changing your daily routine or habits can trick your brain into creating fresh words. Try getting up in the middle of the night, if you’re a morning person, or go out and write in the pub or the library or the park. Anything different is good and will help to lift you out of your slough of despond and help get rid of that wading-through-mud feeling.
    • Revise. If you’re really stick, go back and look at your original premise for your WIP and see if there’s any aspect of your story you’ve missed, ignored or just plain not considered. Did you go down a blind alley? If you don’t have old notes to go back to, write down a couple of paragraphs of what you remember about getting the original idea for your story. How did it work out in your mind? How does that compare to what you have actually written so far? Try to see your story as a whole unit, like a ladder with rungs moving the story forward. What needs to happen to your characters to get the story to the next rung?
    • Read. This is the easy one. I’m not advocating spending weeks and months reading hundreds of books, but just take some time out to read for half an hour or an hour. Refresh your mind, read some poetry, or a familiar favourite book. Again too, you could try something new and different that will get your creative juices flowing. If I’m writing fiction, I read a non-fiction, usually history.
    • Write something else. So often I find the minute I start work on one story, I get ideas coming through for another. Usually it’s another story where I’ve already completed the first draft and am just subconsciously mulling it over. Try your hand at a short story or a haiku.
    • Doodle. Make yourself some brain-storming cluster diagram. Put your key word—or your character name, or anything to do with your WIP, and then bring lots of lines out from the central idea and at the end of each line, write a word or phrase or idea that somehow relates to the key word. You can do this for every character, or every location or plot point etc. You can put down anything that is linked with your main character, or maybe just ideas that are only tentatively linked. You could sit and create a list of words from your title, or your character’s name. You could try Googling your character’s name and see what comes up—but don’t get side-tracked, it isn’t supposed to replace writing but to stimulate it. Try brain-storming something completely different, a colour or a sound that is relevant to your story, eg blue—then write all the things you can think of to do with ‘blue’: the colour of royalty; meaning sad or depressed; lapis lazuli used to be used to make the pigment blue for artists, and was more expensive than gold, so hence very little of it used in paintings, only for the special few key characters, which brings us back to royalty again; the Greeks had no colour for blue, and used the word for brass; the Bible says sometimes when you pray the ‘Heavens are as brass’; does that mean they are blue, or they are hard and impenetrable? Blue is a cold colour, blue is the colour for baby boys—but used to be the traditional colour for baby girls up until the early 1900s, then mysteriously it swapped, so did this result in confusion? Hopefully you see how this technique can generate ideas.

    So those are my top tips. Hopefully if you do get stuck with your writing, or you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, one of these might help you to get back on track and find fresh and exciting ideas. Above all if you’re struggling with a particular idea or a specific part of your WIP, don’t panic. Do something else for a little while or try one of these ideas. You’ll soon get your mojo back.

    ***

  • By the light of a candle’s flame

    I’m a very image-driven person. I am inspired by music and the written or spoken word, yes, but nothing moves me to create more than an image. Sometimes if I’m stuck for ideas, I browse through Pixabay or through my own photo albums, virtual and paper. This is what I thought when I saw these images.

    I look into the flame and see…

    Candles. Flames. Bobbing gently, like stars reflected in a pond. Shining points. Barely moving. Warm. Sun-bright. Thinning the darkness and concentrating it; the surrounding darkness grows smaller, denser, darker, like turning on night instead of light. Two candles together, mirroring. Let there be light. Rasp of match. And there was light.

    Worship the light, as your ancestors did, for when the light was gone, the herds moved away, the food was gone, the heat, the shelter. You lost everything because there was no light. Pleading with the gods for another spring, another dawn, for the sun to rise again and bring new hope.

    Prometheus stole me to illuminate Bede, to shine upon Shakespeare’s moving quill. Does the flame recall their struggles with words, with pages? The artist slaving in his garret, with only a flame to light his way, his hands and pages covered in spent wax, the litter of the revelation.

    The questor in the labyrinth. Lighting one step at a time, no more. You move ahead by faith alone. At any moment the light could be snatched from your grasp and where would you be? Alone, in the dark, where the minotaur prowls. You hear its step ever closer, its breath on your cheek in the gloom.

    The flame bobbing and dancing shows the presence of evil in your room. We used to tell one another ghost stories by this small light. We decorated our cave walls with the shape of things our dreams told us. Superstition, hand in hand with creativity. Reaching forward as well as back through time. Immemorial time. When time began, there was the light, ready and waiting to draw you onward.

    The light on a tomb or grave, don’t let them go into the dark and be forgotten. The candle of prayerfulness and sorrow, of all-night vigils at bedsides, of pain and fear, of inability to understand the endless cycle of night and day. No relief found in this golden glow. The candle of celebration has been blown out. The last one to leave, turn out the light.

    Does the candle see me? Is the flame aware of those who cluster moth-close around? I’ve seen it all before. You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last, to be awestruck by my intangible beauty. Flame is eternal, the word is fleeting.

    ***

     

  • Words and music

    This week I’m underlining the link between music and the written word, mainly by the shameless use of other peoples’ words to prove my point.

    Music and words have in common that they are both made of small separate parts that can be placed together in a variety of ways to produce a greater whole, one that reveals meaning and emotion to the listener or reader.

    But it’s not only poetry that has a rhythm or musical, melodic features. Prose whether  fiction or non-fiction makes use of rhythm and even tempo to draw in the reader, whether it be repeated use of phrases or words to prove a point in a speech or a polemic article or essay, or whether it is a deliberate use of stylistic elements to lull the reader into a certain mood or to create tension and dramatic emphasis.

    But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear from some notable people much better equipped to comment than me.

    Music expresses that which cannot be put into words, and that which cannot remain silent. Victor Hugo

    Okay, true he has just unproved my point there but bear with me. He created a link between words and music and the emotional power each of them seek to demonstrate.

    And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music. Friedrich Nietzsche

    We all dance to our own (unheard) music, at least, I hope we do, inside if not actual dancing. But I believe it’s true that as a reader it’s hard to completely capture the author’s vision, and as an author, it’s hard to put onto the page in concrete terms something you’ve only glimpsed in a dream. Not everyone will hear your music.

    Most people die with their music still locked up inside them. Benjamin Disraeli

    Don’t be one of these people! I think creative expression of all kinds can only enhance and beautify an otherwise difficult life. Reading—and listening to music—promotes good mental health, stimulates creativity, positivity, intelligence, compassion, socialisation and arguably conversation. So it’s a good thing to surround yourself with artistic endeavours and to enjoy them.

    Here are a few more, in case you still need convincing. Read books, listen to music and prosper, as Mr Spock probably would have said if a writer had given him those lines.

    It is always fatal to have music or poetry interrupted. George Eliot: Middlemarch

    Poetry, plays, novels, music, they are the cry of the human spirit trying to understand itself and make sense of our world. Laura Malone Elliott: Annie Between the States

    A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place. Robert McKee: Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

    If you were music, I would listen to you ceaselessly, and my low spirits would brighten up. Anna Akhmatova: The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova

    Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea. Mina Loy: The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy

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  • Writer’s Showcase: Caron Allan

    This week I’m cheating yet again, as I’m reblogging a post about me from Christy Oslund’s website https://colliedogpress.wordpress.com
    Take a look if you’ve got ten minutes to kill, it’s full of fascinating insights into authors’ lives and work.
    And thank you, Christy, for taking the time, and for the great conversations. I appreciate it.

    Collie Dog Press

    Genre: Mystery (Friendship Can Be Murder series), Romantic Historical Mystery (Dottie Manderson series).

    Background: I wrote my first novel Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! in 1970 and unfortunately it is now lost because my mum kept it in a drawer with my drawings, a knitted bookmark and a tea-cozy I made. I started reading adventures at age seven or eight and was reading Agatha Christie by age nine. [Eventually] I remember sitting on my bed in Aldershot, Hampshire, UK, and thinking, I want to write a new story, but what shall I write about? Then I thought, what is it I am afraid of?

    Writing Highlight: I had to overcome [close] people telling me that a) I was no good as a writer, b) it was wicked thing to want to write fiction, and c) who did I think I was anyway, thinking I could be a writer? So…

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  • Gold or silver?

    I found these notes in an old journal. I had been pondering the attributes, from a writer’s point of view, of gold and silver, and how whether as metal or colour, they are portrayed in literary works.

    Gold is the colour of royalty, of quality, of the authorised, and acknowledged, of states and state, religions and churches and faiths, of the accepted and acceptable, of righteousness.

    Gold is pure, incorruptible, reliable, ‘pure gold’, good, honest and forthright.

    Gold is given in blessing and to enrich, it is security, savings and wealth. Gold is warm and appealing. It is masculine, and constant; the colour of the noonday sun, giving life to all and sight to all. The ‘gold standard’ indicates a status achieved, a level of existence and compliance, of regularity and trust, and a line by which all else is measured. Gold is laid up for the righteous, we are told.

    But silver? No. Silver is ‘other’. Silver is secretive and fleeting, it is mercurial and unremarkable in nature, and always not quite good enough: doomed to be second best. It changes hands easily, each time serving or claiming a new master.

    Silver works its arts by night, it is hard, feminine and bright and although it’s the colour of small change, ready money, the easily-obtained (for some people, anyway), it really is a confidence trickster: appearing cheap and easy to get, but actually constantly demanding more from us, just that little bit beyond our grasp.

    It is the colour of the stars and the light of the moon, alluring, beautiful, cold. Silvery and secret, sinister and elusive, it dances through the sky, always out of reach, now hidden, now displayed. The thirty pieces of silver, the betrayer’s coin, the turner of hearts and souls, the illicit, the unauthorised, the denied, or the denier.

     

    These gorgeous images from Steve Bidmead, Arek Socha, Kevin Schneider and Patricia Alexandre, all at Pixabay.com 

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  • Working on the WIP

    WIP stands for Work In Progress. What we really should call works in progress is WIFITDSE. I know that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, though. It stands for: Work I Frequently Interrupt To Do Something Else. I know I’m not the only guilty one here…

    And what I’m talking about here is not wandering off and doing something totally different. I’m not talking about attending to long-forgotten chores to act as displacement activity, or your basic everyday procrastination. I’m talking about legitimate stuff that still somehow gets in the way. Research. Plotting. Blogging. And of course, everyone’s favourite: social media. (Because as we all know, networking and promo is soooo important, right?)

    With my current WIP, oh it’s been so hard to just sit down and get on with it. There are a couple of reasons for this.

    One is I’m a bit of an anti-planner. If I plan my book in detail, then something in me just throws its pen and paper down, folds its arms and says, ‘Well, I don’t wanna…’

    I do plan—a bit—I know roughly who is going to get snuffed out, and I know roughly who will make that happen. With my Dottie Manderson series, I already know the vaguest outline of the next five books, even though I’m beginning to realise I won’t release some of them for another three years. I know the main theme of each book, the things that will happen to my main character, Dottie. That’s all there in my head. I just don’t have any details.

    But some writers I know—quite a few actually—have a chart or a big page or something, all spread out and every chapter documented with who does what, who says what, what happened when they were all having breakfast, that kind of thing. Every page of every chapter is meticulously planned and positioned in the story. They use words like Story Arc and Resolution of Sub-plot.

    I don’t do that.

    I have a few snatches of conversation in my head, as if overheard from another room, and possibly a couple of facial expressions, and a random mental image of an object. This is all often scrawled on the back of an old fag packet or old envelope then stapled into a notebook. I have sticky notes all over the place, all different colours. But where some (organised, smart) people might have a different colour for a different kind of note, mine are completely random and it’s just a case of whatever I could put my hand on at the time I needed to make the note. During the course of the first draft I scribble a list of characters, their names, ages, occupations, and the only reason I do that is because I get confused by the ‘Mrs X said to Mr X, “I wonder if Mr X has seen Ms X?” I imagine you can see how that might get messy. But it’s my mess, and it’s how I work.

    So I’m not really a planner.

    And you don’t have to be either, if that’s not your bag, baby. One approach/size does not fit all. Find your method as well as your voice, and if it works for you, stick with it. This is my method, if it warrants such a name, I kicked against it, tried to fit into the popular writing systems and methods that works for thousands of others, and for me they did not work. So I am a big advocate of the ‘go your own way’ method: find the method that works for you. Stick with it, believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.

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