Thursday 12 June 2014

A Plotting Pantser's Writing Process

I'm very happy to have been tagged in a blog hop, haven't done one of these for a while, and this one is called my Writing Process. 

Thankfully it isn't focusing on how I get the words on the page which amounts to little more than managing to sit down in front of the pc or one of my notebooks (you know how I love my notebooks) with the intention of writing or editing a story. Of course there are a few obstacles on route to my desk. I have a need to see the bottom of the ironing basket and to have hung out the washing because I-did-say-I-needed-my-netball-kit-tonight. And I can't really settle until I've cleaned the kitchen because it doesn't clean itself, I said, it doesn't… oh never mind. Once through my study door, I then have to negotiate the tricky writing buffer which is THE emails, in their belief that I need to hire a car every day since my holiday three years ago and have the time, inclination and finances to create three personalised photo albums and a bonus calendar on a daily basis. Then they kindly alert me to the revelation that I may have had an accident at work ten years ago which could pay me £6,000 - unlikely as I haven't worked in an office for over fifteen years and don't see a great deal of mileage in suing myself. I suppose I could have had a dreadfully debilitating accident whilst teaching but suspect that if such an event had come to pass, the mortification of humiliating myself in front of a class full of writers who would then weave the indignity into a prize-winning story would have stayed with me and thankfully, save for the odd tongue twister moment, I have no recollection of that.

The blog hop batten was passed to me by the lovely, gracious, witty and generally uber talented Lesley Richardson, copywriter extraordinaire, who is so close to getting her novel published I can almost hear the champagne fizzing from her hometown in Ireland. You can see some of Lesley's writing here. We swap 'near miss' publishing stories on a regular basis as well as tales of hair woes (the eternal frizz combat) and hair highs (life-changing frizz-taming products) which only fellow curly haired people will really understand. Yes, I know I can't really count myself in the curly haired camp at the moment, jumped, as I have, to the 'other side', but in my head, I'll always be a curly haired girl, I just haven't got the panache to be anything else.

So, now I need to answer four questions and then I get to pass the baton on myself.

What are you working on?
I was writing a third novel, The Deadline, which is a story of a girl born to a Nazi officer and growing up in Britain but instead, find myself involved with two previously written novels at the moment.  

The first is, Misguidance, a story I wrote fifteen years ago and was embarrassed to allow back into my consciousness, such was the utter drivel I remembered the 100,000 words to be. However, happening upon it whilst dusting off the rusting filing cabinet in the inner bowels of my pc to make room for my teenagers' photography habit, what I found surprised me. As expected the style was awful – contrived, first person narration for a story which quite clearly needed some third person distance. But I did, and here's the surprising bit, enjoy the story. More than enjoy it, I couldn't stop reading.

So, after submitting my second novel, Glass Houses, following one of its re-writes, I marched off into Misguidance, moving it from first to third person and bringing it up to date – my twenty year old had to stop using the land line - oh and I ditched three characters and created another three and made it a dual narrative and well, I may as well have started again.

I was 30,000 words in when I had some great feedback from an agent on Glass Houses. It was feedback on which I knew I had to act or I would never forgive myself. And so Misguidance went back into the drawer – a little happier than when it had first come out.

And so the cycle continues; at the moment I'm back on Glass Houses following suggestions from two agents who've both seen the full manuscript and given very similar feedback – both the good stuff and the could do better, Jackie Buxton…

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Both novels are works of general fiction with strong female characters leading the plot. Where I hope they differ from books in their genre is in the choice of hero – I like to choose unlikely ones. In Glass Houses, Tori, the main character, has committed what people consider to be a heinous crime. Her 'mistake' allegedly caused an accident which killed three people and killed many more. It would be easy to despise Tori, indeed, she doesn't always help herself, but I'd like the reader to think that there for the grace of god go you or I.

Similarly in Misguidance, its main character, Evelyn, appears to have caused misery and destruction where ever she's lived, so much so that there is one solitary well-wisher at her funeral. But when her guilt-ridden neighbour looks further into Evelyn's past she sees a pattern and manages to persuade the motley crew which make up Evelyn's past to view Evelyn, and themselves, a little differently.

I suppose I want you to like the bad guy.

Why do you write what you do?
I wish I knew! I seem to feel compelled to write about personal disasters and yet I am quite a happy little soul really. I revel in hearing stories where people triumph out of adversity and personally plump for books where characters achieve happiness against the odds. Perhaps my writing is fuelled by that.

I'm also constantly amused and bemused by the eccentricity of the human species. We all say that people make mistakes, for example, that none of us is perfect and yet, friends, family members, colleagues, neighbours, you name it, can fall out for years, forever even, as the result of an impetuous comment, a single irrational action or some badly timed honesty. In other words: a mistake. It's so easy to shatter what we've worked towards and once broken, it can't be re-built to look the same as it did before. This fragility in what we hold dear is a concept which fascinates me and has certainly leaked into both my novel plots so far.

How does your Writing process work?
Scrivener - highly recommended
In the line which runs between the writing process of (flying by the seat of their) pantsers and the plotters of the writing world, I am squarely in the middle. There's nothing I enjoy more than sitting down at the pc or with my notebook and bashing out the next 10,000 words of the plot which I didn't know existed until my characters pulled them from my brain and poured them thorough my fingers onto the page. However I have to do some work before I can get to that stage. Usually when I'm not at my desk, and most often when I'm running, driving or even cleaning (much as I despise it), I'll bash out an idea in my head. But if I can't clearly see the reason for writing the story, at least one of the characters who will make my story happen and how the story's going to end, then I won't even put pen to paper. Like a plotter, I have to have this scaffolding before I can start. After that my writing process is the anteater's tongue; a sort of tether rolled out to its full extent on page one and then quickly rolled in pulling the story with it along a clear trajectory to the ending. How the characters choose to dance on the tongue, well that's up to them.

Other than that? I use lots of cups of tea, way too many print outs to be good for the environment, the wonderful Scrivener software so that I have all my ideas and chapters on the computer rather than covering the floors of a study, bedroom and landing. I also use different locations. In different places I spot howlers and see beyond blocks which had made my writing stall. I suppose some may see this as an excuse to visit an array of different coffee shops. I couldn’t possibly comment.

So, what have you allowed to fester in a drawer for years, writing or otherwise, and been pleasantly surprised when it's reappeared? Please share!

Now for my own two tags in the Writing Process Blog Hop.

First up is Annalisa Crawford  whose wonderful blog I'd describe as 'soulful humour' - although at the moment it's all just very exciting over there as she has a new book out, a collection of short stories called, Our Beautiful Child. And thank you, Annalisa, for always finding time to leave a comment on my blog, bless you :)

My second choice is Jane Alexander who writes thought-provoking, often quirky, tales of her observations and findings as she travels around England and further afield in the search for better health (physically and spiritually). Catch Jane's blog here.

Monday 9 June 2014

Tutu's ready? And we're off!

Ready to start. Tutu? Essential.
After 240 minutes on a bike (nought point no miles travelled) and with four bottles of energy drink, four litres of water, two jelly babies, five Nutella sandwiches and a handful of cashew nuts behind me, I'd like to offer you all a very big and sweaty hug for sponsoring me to do the four hour Spinathon in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. 

It was a great way to spend a morning, even if I did scowl a little at seeing 6am on a Saturday. Wonderful pedalling camaraderie and mad teachers made it fantastic fun and the promised chocolate cake and Bucks Fizz at the end gave us truly professional athletes that final kick of motivation to keep us going.

The organisers at The Hydro Leisure Centre had hoped that the 20 of us who took part in Saturday's Spinathon might raise a good £500. The latest total is in excess of £2,700. Thank you so much to all of you who responded to my blog and took the time to visit the Justgiving website with your wallets open. I was overwhelmed and so touched by your support.