Thursday 27 October 2011

Coincidence in fiction

The other day, our car broke down on a busy dual carriageway. While my husband was on the phone, and the kids and I were standing in the rain on the grass verge, a good Samaritan stopped and offered us a tow home. At that very moment, my brother-in-law passed by, and gave me and the kids a lift home while my husband was precariously towed.

My brother-in-law was only passing because the route he'd been taking to work was dogged by tractors, and his first meeting of the day ran over.

It occurred to me at the time that we'd been very lucky. But then it occurred to me, because I'm always on the look out for story ideas, that the coincidence of my brother-in-law passing would be a step too far for fiction. Luck is not a plot devise. Or, at least, that's what I've been told by all those 'How to Write...' books.

In fiction, the characters have to get themselves out of trouble - in fiction, being rescued by a knight in shining armour should be reserved for Snow White and Rapunzel (although even Rapunzel had the foresight to grow her hair and, therefore, help herself). When contemporary characters are in peril, too easy a solution makes the reader feel cheated: a lottery win when we were never told they played, a screwdriver pulled from an oddly placed pocket of an evening dress... In fiction, we'd probably have been left with the choice to wait or walk - neither very appealing.

So, question, do you feel cheated by a plot that's too easily/coincidentally resolved?

Monday 24 October 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

My blog has been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award, by Teresa at The Wittering Woman.

I now have to tell you seven things about me (I assume they should be interesting, but that's a step too far), and then nominate fifteen - FIFTEEN!! - blogs to pass the award on to.

So here goes:
1) I love the book Pride & Prejudice. I LURVE it. I read it at least once a year, and if I ever find myself ill in bed, I bring out the BBC Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle version. I own two copies of the book - one is a beautiful copy that was given as a leaving present from my job in a library.

2) I swapped a job in a library for a job in a gym.

3) I got very excited the day I managed to leg press 100kg at the gym. Since then, I've backtracked somewhat - but my goal is to get to 105kg. Oh, and complete a pull-up.

4) I support Manchester City - so I'm quite happy at the moment.

5) I hate shopping, even when I have something to shop for - I usually get frustrated and go to Thorntons for a hot chocolate (they give you a free choc with every cup - why go anywhere else?!)

6) I love listening to bagpipes.

7) I'm very bad at following new blogs, and therefore might have trouble finding fifteen blogs to nominate. My goal for the long, dark winter months is to make new blog friends!

# # # # # # # # # # # #

Phew! That was hard. I was trying not to repeat the facts I gave in a previous post. I think I managed (note: no link to that post so you can't check up on me).

When Teresa accepted her award, she said that she might repeat some of the blogs that her awarder mentioned, and I fear I may do the same. I was going to try not to award blogs I've awarded before, but after trying that for a couple of minutes, I only got four, so I've included a couple from previous losts. They're all great, and nominated because of that reason: I don't follow blogs I don't enjoy.

S. L. Hennessy at Pensuasion
Rosalind Adam at Rosalind Adam is writing in the rain
TOM VOWLER at How to Write a Novel
Suzie F. at My Not So Secret Writing Life
 Alex J. Cavanaugh at Alex J. Cavanaugh
Sarah Pearson at Empty White Pages
LindaK at Excuse Me While I Note That Down...
Jenny at Fulfilling Dreams
Amy at Stuff and nonsense
Sally at Quiller's Place - View From The Shed

And a totally random one about fitness and training:
Team Aegis at Aegis Training | London Personal Trainers - Fitness News and Views

Eleven. Not bad. But time to address Number 7 in my list of facts about me!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Man Booker Prize 2011

Julian Barnes wins the 2011 Man Booker Prize with a novella! Yippee!

That's all I really want to say. I write novellas, and therefore I'm expecting a huge surge for shorter fiction. (Actually, I don't write novellas - I write novels, but they seem to be complete at around novella length, if that distinction makes sense.)

Except there probably won't be a huge influx of shorter fiction. Julian Barnes probably got this novel published because he's a successful writer and his editor was indulging him. Not many publishers entertain the idea of novellas, or indeed short story collections, from unpublished writers, and I wonder how many wonderful writers are being missed with this policy.

The cut-off for novel-length seems to be different depending on the genre and the individual publisher. 70,000 here, 85,000 there - which makes it, once more, difficult for the writer: I don't think any new author writes for a particular publisher, it's a rather limiting approach should that publisher say thanks, but no thanks.

To refuse to even consider a novella submission seems odd to me: "We really love this story, Ms Writer, but you need at least 30,000 more waffle and padding to be of interest to us."

Why? How would 30,000 words of staring out of windows, brushing teeth, considering the minutae of a tedious train journey enhance the story? Answer: it probably wouldn't. But a nice thick book would stand out on the book shop shelves, and they could sell it for £2.99 more than a shorter book.

I could easily add 30,000 words to my 44,000 word WIP, but it would compromise the style and the impact of the story.

All I can hope is that this is the start of something new within the publishing industry. Fingers crossed!

Friday 14 October 2011

Over to you...

Following very quickly in the footsteps of my last blog/rant, I'm just wondering: what is the daftest/weirdest/most hair-pullingly ridiculous celebrity book you've ever seen? (I'll take novels 'written' by the celebrity or autobiography.) There's no prize, apart from the joy of ranting!

I'll get the ball rolling with Katie Price, not least for being four years younger than me and already having four autobiographies!!!

Over to you...

Tuesday 11 October 2011

The silly book season

This!!!! Tyra Banks becomes a best selling author

I suppose it's telling that the article is in the Fashion section of the Telegraph and not the Culture section, but...!!! I just want to fall on my knees and scream 'Why!!!!!!!?'

You can see I'm irked by my irrational use of exclamation marks.

Firstly, I'm irked because Tyra Banks is a best seller. Straight away. First book. Bam! Thank you very much, just put all that lovely money over there. Many, many thousands of writers are barely scraping by and Tyra Banks - who's worth quite a lot, I should imagine - just makes a mint.

Secondly, I'm irked because I'm sure - well, I'd bet a packet of Revels, but not a triple chocolate cheesecake - that someone may have suggested writing book to her. Gasp! I'm not sure she's gone home after a hard days modelling, or judging, and poured over a half-completed manuscript, desperate for the right words. Second-and-a-half, I'm not convinced she went anywhere near a pen, not alone anyway.

Thirdly, I'm irked (and I seem to have lost my thesaurus) because her characters are "aspiring models Myrracle, Desperada, Zarpessa Zarionneaux, and Theophilus Lovelaces", and that just smacks of a seven-year-old girl playing dress up.

And lastly, and this is possibly the biggest, I'm concerned that serious literature will get overlooked in the mad celebrity-led publishing party. Who - really! - buys these books, this book? I'm also concerned - as I am with TV news coverage and some newspapers - that we are being dumbed down without our knowledge. If all you see on the shelves are books by Ms Banks, Katie Price et al, that's all you think there is; and finally you'll stop seeking out Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith, Alice Munro (chosen because that's what I can see in front of me - other very good writers also exist!).

Yes, fiction should be about entertainment - but surely entertainment can make you think, empathise with another viewpoint, become irate on behalf of a downtrodden character. Since the days of Shakespeare we've been encouraged to embrace characterisation and plot.

I'm not sure Myrracle or Desperada will find too many issues to deal with.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Location, location, location

Years ago I read Madeleine's Ghost by Robert Girardi, bought solely because I loved the front cover. I've read it several times since, because I equally loved his evocative descriptions of New Orleans and Brooklyn. He has a wonderful knack of bringing these places alive and making even the most mundane of daily occurances feel exotic, just because it's happening in a different country. (While searching for the link on Amazon, I discovered he's written lots of other books, so I've now added them all to my list of books I need to read.)

I got to thinking, "Well, actually, Brooklyn isn't that exotic." Probably the people who live and work in Brooklyn don't think it's exotic at all, it's just home.

I set myself a task of writing about my hometown. At the time, I had a story that I was already working on which was set around some generic inner city canal. Luckily, my hometown has a river, so I switched location, changed some of the descriptions to match the real area and hey presto! - I had an exotic town.

Except I didn't. Because in the meantime, I'd started writing another story that linked with the first one. And my descriptions got a bit out of hand. My narrator added in a manor house that doesn't exist in my hometown. And then this same wayward narrator added a war memorial in a town square, which also doesn't exist.

Writers, I believe, do this all the time: it's called creative license, and means I can play around with geography as I wish. But by playing around so much - and actually missing out the most famous feature of my hometown - I'm left with a place that, while being very important to the stories, cannot be named; and I'm left with stories that haven't become as exotic as I'd hoped.

Although, maybe if I find a reader who lives in Brooklyn, they'd see the romance that I found in their town within the pen of Robert Girardi.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Insecure, Moi?

The premise of the Insecure Writers Support Blog is here, so I'm not going to explain it again. There's also a link on the same post to all the bloggers taking part, so please have a look and check out a few of them!

So, why am I insecure this month?

Because I didn't win a competition. In fact, I didn't win two.

My writing 'career' has been a little bit hit and miss, as you can see for yourself if you check out my Writing CV. There's lots of activity - like last year, for example, when I placed in three competitions - followed by a vast desert of non-publication. Every time I reach this desert, I feel like my writing life is over, done, finished. (As a writer, I feel it's my duty to be melodramatic!)

This year, as with every other year where this has happened, I've been locked away working on longer pieces of work, forgetting to submit - or not submitting at all, while telling myself I really ought to - to magazines. So I know there is a legitimate reason - ie. it's my own fault! But that doesn't help - I don't want rational thought. I want to wallow! But, on the other hand, while I'm wallowing - I mean, working hard on the bones of a novel - new names are emerging, new talents are changing the goalposts and moving the short story market on a few notches.

Competitions are my lifeline, my one way of proving I still exist - it's much easier to send out entries to comps than to research markets and email covering letters. So, when I don't win, don't come second or third, don't even make a mention on the long-list, I wonder if I'm still really here...

Sunday 2 October 2011

Music to write to

After reading Sarah Pearson's Musical Stories series, I've been considering the part music plays in my own writing - and using it as an excuse to share some links. I love music - if there's none to be heard, I create my own personal soundtrack in my head.

It occurred to me, while writing that last sentence, that some of my current writer's block issues might be to do with not playing music while I write at the moment. There are two reasons for this. Now that I'm writing in the dining room and my hubby's home more often during the day, I don't want to disturb him. Also, as he's a musician and currently writing some songs for an album, I might miss something fantastic blasting out from the other room.

But perhaps the time has come to plug myself back in. So, to get me started, here are some links, and some memories.

Years ago, I was writing a novel, which will never see the light of day. It was a pretty depressing novel, and I played the same album on a constant loop, Try Whistling This by Neil Finn. As the novel progressed, and my depression deepened (yes, the story is that depressing), I listened to this album more, and thought the album was equally depressing. It's not, it's wonderful - it was definitely a case of fiction skewing reality. The song that most seemed to mirror the main character is this one, Last One Standing:

This next song I used to listen to on the way to work. It sent shivers down my spine. I had a image of a girl floating just beneath water whenever I heard it. But it was like a dream, I couldn't quite catch it to work out what the story was. I just had this image. Finally the story came, only fairly recently - I'm still reading and tweaking. The song is called False Alarm by Cherry Ghost, but I could only find a German YouTube which is why it's announced as Charry Ghost, Fals Alarm:

This last song didn't inspire a story, but it was what I was listening to all the time while I wrote Beth . Click the link and search 'Beth' - it's on the page, way down. I just think it is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

So, I hope you've enjoyed these choices - embarrassingly 'easy listening', I hadn't realised! What songs have inspired you? (Don't worry, Sarah, you don't have to answer - your list would be long far too long :-))