The Writing Process Blog Tour – woo hoo!

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Yes folks I’m really on tour – okay, I’m virtually on tour!  And from the comfort of my very own computer!

The lovely Judith Cranswick, crime writer extraordinaire, generously invited me to take part in my first ever blog hop – thank you Judith!  I urge you all to check out Judith’s books, too, I can tell you from personal experience they are a fab read, especially if you love mystery or crime.  Here is her blog so you can find out more: http://www.judithcranswick.co.uk/

This blog hop/tour/extravaganza thingy focuses on The Writing Process, and each week two writers share their insights and experiences about their own writing process.  So welcome to mine!  Further down this page, I will be introducing the two brilliant people I have invited (bullied and cajoled) into taking part next week! And as if that isn’t enough, you can hop over to:

http://jaynemariebarker.blogspot.co.uk/ and see what a fellow sufferer has to say about how it all works for her!

And so on with the show.

Q: What are you working on?

A: I’m working on two main projects at the moment. The first is the third book in my Posh Hits trilogy, working title is “Check Mate”, due for release in 2015. The trilogy is about a well-to-do young woman, Cressida Barker Powell, who decides to kill her mother-in-law, basically just because she hates her and her interference. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan and pretty soon the body count begins to rack up. The other book I’m working on is a different series, and hopefully this will also be a trilogy, although I must admit at the moment it’s giving me quite a bit of trouble so about twenty times a day I’m tempted to just throw it away. The working title for this one is Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind.  It’s a cozy mystery, set in the 1960s, and Miss Burkett is the detective in question.  She is very young, only 20, and following the death of her beloved great aunt, Miss Burkett decides to emulate the old lady and become a ‘private inquiry agent’. This book features her first case, and will hopefully be out next year. I also write short stories and life pieces.

Q: How does your work differ from others in its genre?

A: That’s a tricky one as I’ve found it quite tough to categorize the Posh Hits trilogy.  I’ve gone for murder mystery, but because they are told in an epistolary style, sometimes there’s not too much ‘mystery’ about whodunit in the traditional sense. They are a bit like a chick-lit novel too, in that they are chatty and we are given all Cressida’s thoughts and feelings.  I hope that they are darkly humorous, and that although she is a monster, Cressida is also very likeable and caring. But she really is a monster!  Miss Burkett is a traditionally styled murder mystery, but she is much younger than most detectives, and is very much learning as she goes. Unlike many old-school mysteries, she’s very open to people from a different background – I have tried to draw on my own experiences as a child growing in up in a rapidly-changing Britain in the 1960s for this.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: I love to read. I suppose we all do. So a lot of what I write is inspired by or because of the things I have read that have influenced me. Miss Burkett came out of my enjoyment of the books by the now largely forgotten mystery writer, Patricia Wentworth, whose books I absolutely love. In fact Josephine Burkett is the great-niece of Miss Silver, Wentworth’s detective, and the story largely grew from me wondering about how the little girl mentioned in the books would grow up and what she would do with her life. The Posh Hits stories were simply a bit of fun with turning on its head the idea of the protagonist as a hero. I wanted to write about someone who wasn’t very nice. And I wanted her to literally get away with murder. No one ever seems to figure out what’s going on in the Posh Hits stories!

Q: How does your writing process work?

A: I write well in a café, away from the temptations of home. I also write well under pressure, because if I’ve got oodles of time and no deadline, I waste a lot of time day dreaming and procrastinating. I find it hard to organize myself. But basically I mull over an idea for weeks, sometimes months or even years before I begin to write.  And then I usually just plunge straight in.  After ten or twenty thousand words I realize I’m writing ‘Mr XXX said’ because I’ve forgotten all the names of the minor characters, so that’s when I stop and do a bit of mild planning and a list of characters. I write long hand and then type up, doing a little editing as I go, then I go back and edit and rewrite another two or three times.  It takes ages! Unlike many writers, I hate writing the first draft and love the subsequent drafts.

Phew – that was a bit nerve-wracking!  I’m a little bit glad it’s over, and a little bit excited to do another one – like a kid at the funfair! Once again, my thanks to Judith Cranswick:  http://www.judithcranswick.co.uk/

Now next Monday – 7th of July, these two lovely people will be continuing the fun and mayhem on their own blogs: Maria Constantine and Kev Heritage.

First up, Maria Constantine:

Maria’s debut novel, ‘My Big Greek Family’, was published in October 2013. She writes commercial women’s fiction and draws much inspiration from her dual cultural background. Maria lives in London and is working on the next book in the series. She can be found on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.
Maria will be posting her writing process blog at:  http://mariaconstantine.wordpress.com   on Monday 7th July
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Next up the almost-as-lovely Kev Heritage:
Kev Heritage is a writer of Sci-Fi, Epic Fantasy & Paranormal Mysteries, including the brilliant The Cowl (Ironscythe Sagas) and Blue Into the Rip. Don’t forget to take a look at his website, Kev will be posting his writing process blog on Monday 7th July and you can see it here:
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Blue Sky Thinking?

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“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We often are told in writing to draw on our senses to bring reality and immediacy into our writing, to create texture and believability, creating a world for our reader to step into in their mind. The same is true of the weather. Painting the weather into your story works every bit as well as using sensory information: capture a background, a stage, a canvas, on which your characters can live out their lives.  Weather often overlaps with sensory description – you make your reader feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, or the raindrops on their face, let them hear the thunder or feel the rising humidity or the biting of a north wind every time the cabin door opens and someone struggles to push it shut again.

“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”
― Dr. SeussThe Cat in the Hat

Where you are writing about a specific time of year, remember that extremes of weather can be used to move a plot forward – an unseasonably warm spring day, a summer downpour leading to flooding.  In Judith Allnatt’s book “A Mile Of River” the events of the story unfold in Britain’s long drought of 1976, to devastating effect.  I can remember snow falling in July once in the 1980s when we lived in Aldershot, and five years of living in Queensland – even with its reputation for being damp – has made me love grey skies and rain. One of the first people we met was a cab driver from Hull who had been in Aussie for 35 years.  He told us he hated the sun and longed for drizzle. so weather can also be part and parcel of who we are and affect our outlook on life.

“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.”
― P.D. JamesA Taste for Death

I’ve always wanted to use that phrase so often featured in the Peanuts cartoons: ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ Originally used by a British writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, it was ridiculed from the off for its melodrama.  So I haven’t used it.  But it’s tempting! I love storms and it always feels as if anything could happen during a storm.  Likewise we think of spring as bright, happy, a time or hope and rebirth…

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
― T.S. EliotThe Waste Land

I have adorned a funeral with pouring rain in my WIP, Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind (no, I still haven’t finished it .) I always think a large black umbrella is full of possibilities for crime or romance. But sometimes, regardless of your misery and grief, the heavens refuse to open, and the sun shines, the birds sing, almost in mockery of your emotions. And this too, can produce a mood that works nicely on paper, inducing your character to take some form of action.

But don’t overdo it.  You don’t need to update your readers on every other page unless it’s a book about climate change, or you’re engaged in rewriting Wuthering Heights. (I’m sure they would all have lived happily ever after if they hadn’t lived in such a bleak and lowering spot.)

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”
― Jerome K. JeromeThree Men in a Boat

The Silent Woman – some background

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When I first began to think about and make notes for my paranormal novel The Silent Woman (still in progress), I began to think about speech and silence.

The title came to me – I don’t know how, just out of the blue – and because this has happened before, I decided to do some research.  There is the famous case where I named a character Ben Sherman, thinking the name just sounded so ‘right’, not realising that was the name of a famous fashion designer … So now I do a quick check on the Interweb for names, titles etc.  No point in publishing a paranormal mystery called The Silent Woman if there are already three paranormal mysteries with that name. (And with that in mind, I always try to be flexible about names and titles, ‘just in case’.)

So I turned up some interesting stuff.  I came across an old pub sign, The Silent Woman.  As I still had no idea what my book was about, I found this full of possibilities.  There were other pub signs with parallel concepts – The Quiet Wife, The Honest Lawyer etc.  They all depict a decapitated person.  The Silent Woman carries her head under her arm or sometimes on a tray in front of her.  This is the only way you can keep a woman quiet, or a lawyer honest, is the implication.

There is a kind of mythology about silence and the deliberate withholding or enforced withholding of speech.

The Silent Woman may appear to be consensual, as silence is often construed as agreement, but in this case, it has been ensured that she cannot speak up for herself.  Nags and gossips were ducked like witches, or a scold’s bridle was employed to prevent speech, particularly nagging.  (without which we’d have no Minette Walters – ooh folks, The Ice House is showing again – Daniel Craig from way back.  Though my favourite bit is right at the beginning where the Labrador has rolled in or eaten some of the freshly discovered corpse 😉  eww!  )

So in some quarters it seems silence is not only welcomed but preferred.  Hence we ‘suffer in silence’.  Children are ‘seen but not heard’.   We women give the men in our lives ‘the silent treatment’ when they have done something wrong. And we mustn’t forget too, that even the fool, when he is silent, may be deemed wise, according to the Bible.  There are loads of bits in the Bible about speech.  Like how the tongue of a nagging woman is like the constant dripping of water wearing away a roof.  Notice nagging is something only women do.

In my book, the beheaded woman becomes a vengeful spirit.  She may have been silent, but actions, we are told, speak louder than words.

Silence can be non-disclosure, the enigma of Mona Lisa.  Silence, as I have said, can imply complicity and agreement.  But silence is alienating, and can mean an inability to engage in social activity, leading to isolation and solitude.   This is something us only-children have to learn to deal with, the lack of socialisation.

In Susan Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ (also known in prose form as A Jury Of Her Peers) a woman’s only companion is her pet bird, and when the bird is killed by her husband in a fit of temper – well (spoiler alert)  let’s just say it didn’t bode well for his future existence.  Men are sent to investigate, and end up having to take their wives along.  The women quickly unravel the truth and conceal it by their complicit silence.

So silence – is it ‘Golden’?

As Ronan Keating says “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”

Resistance – a short story

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I’ve had this on here before, a while ago.  I came across it again recently and ‘tweaked’ it.  It’s rather bitter-sweet.

Resistance

The pockets of Gran’s bathrobe were empty. She found an old tissue, that was all, nothing useful. No matches. There wouldn’t be anything in Lottie’s school backpack apart from homework and her sports kit, so no point in even looking.

Lottie’s giggles were gone now, the fun was over, the outing spoilt. Their transport, the ambulance, was parked crookedly behind them, the doors open, the driver’s seat empty. Gran didn’t know where the ambulance-driver had gone. She remembered arriving in the vehicle but the details eluded her. She knew she had sat in the front, with Lottie beside her, giggling and asking where they were going. Gran remembered telling her it was a surprise. But there must have been a driver, surely? So where was he?

This wasn’t how Gran imagined it would be. And now she was puzzled. Why had she thought this would work? Outings needed to be planned, not carried out on the spur of the moment. It was growing colder now, and soon night would crowd in around them. Lottie was hunched on a tree stump, kicking her feet, bored, miserable. They needed a fire. Rubbing some sticks together hadn’t helped, had not produced the required spark. Everything was damp from the rain earlier.

“What are we going to do, Gran? Are we going to live in the forest forever?” Lottie asked her. Gran knew her granddaughter was trying hard not to cry. Then as half-expected, Lottie said, “I think we should to go home now, Gran. It’s cold. Mum will be worried. Can we please go home?”

Gran shuddered. Home meant different things to different people. To Lottie, home was a big, bright kitchen, a cat on the window-sill, a plate of chicken nuggets with a blob of ketchup.

To Gran, her childhood home was a dark, cold place where bombs fell from the blacked-out sky. Where all around you was ruin and destruction. Or more recently, home was a converted old manor house, down on its luck and smelling of boiled cabbage, a place filled to the brim with old, crazy people like Gran herself, and harried nurses who had no time to spare for a chat or a cup of tea.

She felt a surge of resistance rush through her. She was not going back. She renewed her attempts to kindle a fire, girl-guide style, in the little pile of damp twigs and leaves. Nothing happened. After another half-dozen attempts she gave up. She had lost the knack, along with so many other things.

In spite of her original expectation, there was no fire, no food, no fun. She slumped down next to Lottie and the nine year-old leaned against her and they sat together for a while.

Gran was wondering about the driver of the ambulance parked behind them, but Lottie spoke and her voice chased the other thoughts away.

“Gran, what does it mean when you say resistance is futile?”

Gran looked at Lottie. “Where did you hear that?”

“Dad says it sometimes. He got it off the telly.  What’s it mean?”

“It means there’s no point in trying to fight,” Gran whispered, and a tear crept down her cheek. She looked down at her slippers as if seeing them for the first time. Why was she wearing her bathrobe and bedroom slippers? And where was the ambulance driver? She had a mental image of herself at the wheel. But surely not? She hadn’t driven for years, and she had never been a paramedic or driven an ambulance, she had been a teacher. That’s right, mathematics, that had been her subject. She had even written articles and books on teaching maths in junior schools. But another mental picture showed her coming out of the day-room and seeing it parked there, the paramedics had been summoned for Mrs Watson who had died in the night. Yes, Gran remembered, she had seen the ambulance and wondered what it would be like to drive a big vehicle like that. It had seemed exciting, she had thought of the places she could go, the things she could do. Yes, now she remembered. She looked about her and saw it was growing dark, and she trembled. She was aware of Lottie, warm, valiant, sweet as ever.

“I never fight,” Lottie said, “you get kept in at playtime for fighting. And then you can’t go on the climbing frame.”

“I know, Darling, I know.” Gran placed a kiss on Lottie’s hair. Then, “shall we get back in the ambulance?”

Lottie nodded. “Yes, Gran.” Brightly, she added, “we could do this again next week. If they let you borrow the ambulance again. It was fun going along fast with the siren on.”

Gran nodded, but she still didn’t move. Lottie grabbed her backpack.

“I did you a picture at school today.” She hauled it out, slightly bent at the corners. Gran took it and carefully smoothed out the creases and looked at the bright yellows and blues.

“It’s lovely, Lottie. Thank you, Sweetheart, thank you.”

“You can put it on your wall. It’s you and me at the seaside.”

“It’s lovely, Sweetheart. Thank you.” Gran said again and she carefully folded it as she got up. She and Lottie gathered up their things. They got into the ambulance and Gran started the engine. “Let’s go then, buckle up!”

Gran knew by the time they got back, the police would be waiting, and her daughter Jo, Lottie’s mother would be there, frantic with worry. Gran had a feeling this might have happened before but she wasn’t sure, perhaps she was remembering what was about to happen. But in any case, she was too tired to resist any more. There was nowhere to go. And it was getting darker and colder.

“Gran, did you have electric when you were a little girl?”

“No, love. When I was a little girl, your age, we were very poor, and we lived out in the country. Then there was a war. A lot of houses got destroyed. And people. Lots of people died.”

“So how did you see to watch telly with no lights?”

Gran hid a smile. “We had candles.”

***

 

The Errant Queen Cornered

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Sometimes little snatches of narrative come to me and I have to write them down “just in case”.  Evernote on my Kindle and on my PC is great for this as you can be out and about with your Kindle (or any tablet or phone …) then sync the ideas or notes when you get home.  I have set up a number of ‘notebooks’ – ‘various ideas’ then also WIP-specific notebooks in case of a sudden flash of inspiration – or desperation – when I’m away from home, or just can’t be bothered to go to the PC, so I can make notes and save them all in one folder, so linked ideas are together.  I’m still very new to Evernote, so you no doubt have better ways of working, but at the moment, I’m feeling pretty smug about this!

Below is one of my flashes, it’s a bit florid, I don’t know if it’s going anywhere but I enjoyed the moment of high drama, seeing in my mind a noblewoman on the deck of a ‘Tudorbethan’ wooden ship.

The Errant Queen Cornered

  I would sooner risk ending my days in the cold grey waters of our English channel than turn to safe shore and meet His Majesty’s hot rage and spited vengeance in the Tower.  or so thought I when I fled.

  But now the moment has arrived, and I find I must pause.  My courage hides itself behind these woman’s skirts and I cling the rail with white hands, hesitating.  I do not wish to hasten death.  And yet – what other choice have I?  Tell me, is there some other way I have o’erlook’d?  No, no, so thought I.   His Majesty’s clipper approaches from the South, the Royal Pennant can be seen even from this reach, and they will be upon us all too soon.
  How good of you to come so far at my blighted side, faithful friends.  So I leap.  And yet – yet – truly say me, is’t other course still to be found?  No, no, I reckoned it stood thus.  Well then, adieu or as God allow, fare thee well.  I leap.  Sure the sea appears full deep and chill.  God grant my skirts shall weigh me down and end it quickly. Take my arm then, good knight, help me over, and I pray thee, I may yet see thee anon.  The lack of me shall free thee all, His Majesty shall not vent his wrath upon any of my friends, it will suffice that I am gone.  Farewell.

Fear – the creative tool

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When I talk about writing, and my own version of it, I talk about beginning with ‘what if’ and going on from there.  But sometimes I ask myself other questions.  Questions such as, what would I kill to protect?  What is the one thing we all need? How would I feel if … ?  I have to get inside my main character to be able to write my story.

Another useful question to ask yourself when embarking on a new project – or I should say – when looking for a new project – is ‘what am I afraid of?’

Fear can be a terrible, paralysing emotion.  But conversely it can galvanise you into action like nothing else on earth.  It can be a useful, creative tool.  Sit down in a quiet corner and ask yourself in all honesty, ‘what am I afraid of?’  Getting too ill to care for myself?  Losing a loved one? Losing my mind?  Not being able to pay the bills?  Being paralysed?  Home invasion? I think most of us fear these big things.  But what about small, more intimate fears?  Fear of losing your hair?  Fear of being stuck in a job you hate for twenty years or more?  Fear of not being able to turn the cheek one more time? Other fears?  Spiders?  Worms?

What about childhood fears?  Fear of the dark?  Fear of statues and scarecrows?  Loved one replaced by a very convincing robotic double that only you can detect? Dr Who has so much to answer for!  Murderous clowns – thank you Stephen King!  What about getting lost?   I can remember losing my mother in a supermarket many years ago and I sobbed as the nice store manager asked me what she looked like – and with a child’s real terror I wailed ‘I can’t remember!’  I remember this with absolute clarity 48 years after it happened.  (For Spock’s Beard fans – the chilling, relatable vulnerability of the child who says ‘Mummy comes back/She always comes back to get me.’  Because if Mummy doesn’t, that is something too terrible to contemplate.  For me to write a book around that would have me in therapy within an hour.)

What about fantastical things that frighten us as adults and as children: Ghosts? Goblins? Witches? Aliens? Bats? Spiders? Sharks? Snakes? Crocodiles? Scorpions? Cockroaches? (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about cockroaches!) Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of fear, basically. We are told fear itself is the worst kind of fear.  But there is something else.  If I were to base a short story on an old fear, a primitive fear, a childhood horror, it would be the fear of being alone.

 

Infamous Adverbs or To Boldly Go

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Writers are told to avoid adverbs like the plague.  Once we’ve looked up in our Children’s Book Of Knowledge what an adverb is, we are usually struck with panic!  OMG! Almost everything I’ve written is an adverb!  Remember Enid Blyton?  All those “George said, crossly” and “Anne smiled gently?”  Well, turns out we are not really supposed to use those adverbs!  Like a toddler having a tantrum in a posh restaurant, we’re supposed to pretend we haven’t noticed them.

The first advice to writers when editing their own work – strike all your adverbs!  I’ve said it myself – I’m not a fan of description of any sort – there’s not enough time to read a flowery passage about a sunset – I just want to know where the body was when they found it and who died, and how!  I have to admit to getting fed up with all the he ran erratically, she said languidly, he walked elegantly – you get the idea.

And we’re told, use the verb to create the action.  Instead of  ‘she said languidly’ say, ‘she drawled’, ‘she murmured’.  Let your characters wobble, plummet, sneer, grumble, whisper, yell, howl, wail.  It’s better for you, it’s better for the story, it’s better for the reader.

BUT

What about impact?

What about the fact that adverbs have a place in language?

What if they become extinct because we don’t use them carefully? (Thought I’d sneak one in there)

How can Captain Kirk proclaim, “To go boldly …” ?  I mean we’ve already had the split-infinitive people on the phone, now it’s Captain Adverbs? (From the planet Ly!)

So to summarise my obscure and poorly presented argument.  Sometimes we need them.  So just because you been told ‘don’t use them’, doesn’t mean you should NEVER EVER use them.  Sometimes the best verb you can use is an adverb.  Action all the time is exhausting for the reader, and it doesn’t make for a comfortable read.  Because after page upon page of deathless prose, it’s nice occasionally to have a simple, ‘she said crossly’.

Sirens

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We all love Sirens, don’t we?  They usually travel in three, like witches.  Though sometimes they hunt alone, like the Lorelei siren, luring sailors to their death on the rocks.  Their typical characteristics are: physical beauty that is often a mirage or facade and that is used to seduce, song or music to sooth the senses or even to call unnatural slumber to fall upon their prey.  They lie in wait, ready to snare the unwary, the naive, the innocent adventurer who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Like the scene with the Sirens in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, there is a pleasurable anticipation of what might happen.  They have mysterious powers, and they can bend a man to their will, no matter how good and chaste he may be.  Maybe he’ll get ‘loved up and turned into a horny toad’!  Sirens are bringers of doom, of ruin.  They are depicted as mercurial, evasive, changing and insubstantial, there one minute and gone the next.  We don’t see their true self until our ruin is complete. No one can resist the lure of the Siren when she has decided to call them.

But the Siren is not the only one who owns this fatal attraction.

The innocent – pure or naive, chaste of body or merely without guile – this person is as alluring to the Siren as she is to him.  Evil craves purity.  Wickedness pursues goodness to overtake and devour it.  Monsters are always appeased – and manipulated – by their need to consume maidens.  The dark always seeks the light, because in its own way the light has become the Unknowable to those who live in darkness.  The Siren can never know or experience innocence, because that would mean a subjugation of their own essential nature – it would requite cleansing, sacrifice and purity, a way of life that is alien and impossible for the Siren to bear because they are forced by their nature to live outside of society’s acceptance and to live by instinct alone.   Thus the innocent, completely oblivious to their power, draw in Sirens after them as the moon cannot help but follow its preordained journey across the night sky in the wake of the golden sun.

 

 

Your name seems familiar …

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“That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s suggestion that names are not important is hopelessly wrong for writers.  Who hasn’t sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper, agonising over what to call a character.  And if it’s your protagonist, that only makes it harder.

Occasionally a name for a character just comes to me:  Meredith Hardew from my WIP Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind.  Amy Harper and Kym Morris in The Silent Woman. (still lying fallow!)  These are names that sprang fully-formed into my consciousness as I began to write the story.  But it doesn’t always work out like that. But I can spend hours, literally, agonising over the right name for a character.  There are times when I actually cannot begin writing a story because I can’t seem to find the right name.  Sometimes I can’t remember the names I’ve given to my characters, usually when I’m away from home and writing ‘middle’ chapters, and I have even written several thousand words with varying numbers of capital XXXXs to denote each character.  It can get confusing.  In these cuircumstances I have to write long explanations to myself of who the person is, as well as the XXXXXXs.

But I can’t always trust myself when a name does just spring into my head either.  Like the time I had a main character called Ben and I needed to give him a surname. Sherman.  Hmm, I thought, Ben Sherman sounds really good.  It’s like those two names were meant to go together, somehow.  What a great, natural-sounding name for a character, I thought.  Too often I hear people moan, no one would be called that, it’s not a name anyone would really be called.  I told my daughter.  She rolled her eyes heavenward in what can only be described as her ‘For God’s sake, Mother!” expression.  Apparently there is already someone well-known with that name.  Oh well.  Back to the book of baby names again.

Names can be absorbed by osmosis from society and culture and we don’t always know where they’ve come from.  I usually check my friends’ names on Facebook or for authors on Amazon to be ‘on the safe side’.  I had also written five chapters of my WIP before I realised that two of the main characters were named Meredith and Edith. Edith had to become Sheila.  You need to keep the names quite dissimilar to avoid confusion, unless that is germane to your plot.  And never feature  Jack Peters and a Peter Jackson.  (I’ve known it happen, and the confusion accidentally created by the author seriously impacts on the enjoyment of the story!  You can’t suspend belief if you’re trying to remember who is who.)

When it came to creating character names, Dickens was a master.  He used names to ridicule his characters, to reveal societal trends and attitudes, and to denote characteristics or personalities.  Think of Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild in Hard Times, think of Uriah Heep, Mr Cheeryble, Squeers.  He also used another technique that is still useful for writers today.  He used to take names that were ordinary and just slightly change them, creating something different and yet somehow familiar.  Thus Philip became Chilip.

Think of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games heroine, Katniss Everdeen, think of Margaret Attwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale – the woman Offred was the ‘property’ of Fred. Also for bizarre names it is impossible to beat Alistair Reynolds’  Pushing Ice character Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird.  So don’t be afraid to play around with names and have fun. Maybe Isaac can become Istac; Sophie can be Phosie, Mary can become Maare, John could become Hjon, Dohn, Joon.  In creating fiction, you are creating a whole world, so a few names is not much more of a stretch.  Just make sure they are not the names of a successful designer.

Don’t look down

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The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump.  The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again.  Why am I doing this to myself, I ask.  I sit in front of the keyboard and think, I can’t even remember the names of all these people, what they look like and what they did.  My murderer is too obvious, my victim deserves to be bumped off – whiny, stupid and pushy – the only mystery here is why someone hadn’t bumped her off sooner.

Staying focused is the hard part now.  Some 35,000 words into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory.  The desire to write something new, something easier is strong.  But I have to press on.  This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish.  This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience.  I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever.  I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning …   anything – even ten words – are better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the internet.  Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I have to sit down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story.  I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell.  Mary Wibberley, a great British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life.  It was the first how-to book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write.  It was called ‘To Writers With Love’, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing.  Her advice?  “Don’t look down”.

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, filling yourself with fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled.  It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, then you will gradually reach your goal.  Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed but move forward, overcoming difficulties one at a time.  So I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring such joy and a sense of accomplishment. ‘The End’.