Unsensational Celebrities & Character Creation

 Today Plinky demands that I talk about my top celebrity sightings. Ok – haven’t had many of those, so it’s not diificult to recall them – and it occurs to me that there’s a writing lesson to be learnt here.
When our children were young we decided to spend the afternoon with a friend at Brogdale Farm, just south of Faversham in Kent. What’s so special about a farm, I hear you ask. You ignoramus! Do you not know that Brogdale Farm is home to the National Fruit Collection, and supplier of fruit to her Majesty? Tsk, tsk.
No, we didn’t see the Queen. Don’t get excited.
We had gone there on a whim qite late in the day, and found that we were just too late for a guided tour. Rather disappointed, we were just about to head off for a mooch around and a quick look in the gift shop, when there was…well, a commotion might be going too far – let’s call it a slight stir – over on the ticket desk. And then someone came over and told us that there would be another tour after all, if we would like to come.
We looked over. Who’d managed to wangle that then? What did they have that we didn’t? It looked like an ordinary family. Then the Dad turned round. It was Suggs from Madness.Mystery solved.

Suggs @ Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Did we have a good time? Yes. Did we ask him to autograph a pear for us? No. We played it very cool. Didn’t even hum ‘Our House’ as we wandered round learning about the Queen’s favourite apples.

Oh and Techie Husband and I have also sat opposite the lovely Patsy Byrne (y’know – Nursie from Blackadder) on the tube – many years ago now. We didn’t ask for an autograph then either. Why? Well she was very simply dressed and nobody else had noticed her. (She knew we had though and gave us a lovely smile). I thought she deserved to be left alone. And – I’m embarassed to admit I couldn’t remember her real name, and felt if couldn’t, I didn’t really deserve an autograph.

Oh! Almost forgot! Walked past Rory McGrath a couple of years ago during the Cambridge Science Festival.

On the whole, I’m quite pleased I saw these celebrities when they were just going about their daily lives. After all, they’re just normal human beings who have a talent. That talent is just one facet of who they are. And perhaps that’s a good reminder to those of us who write, when we develop our characters – we may have to show their strong and possibly controversial traits, but we shouldn’t forget to show them as rounded people – nobody is all about ambition, greed, revenge, adventure, love, research…whatever. So don’t forget – let them have a cuppa occasionally. They’re characters – not just the embodiment of a theme, or a plot device.

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A Walk Round The (Writer’s) Block

If you’re a writer, at some time you’ve been stuck (if not, I’m green with envy).  Flat as a pancake, stuck in the mud, brain so mushy that if you dyed it green and stuck it in a tin, it would pass for peas. Caught up in cliches. You get the idea.

We all know – don’t we? – that WB isn’t a strange incurable disease. You’re just stuck; feeling unusually uninspired.  Short of new ideas, unsure how to start or end – or wondering where to go next. How does Matilda Mudbottom get to America? What clue leads Patrick Pritstick to the old vault under the church? Perhaps your plot’s got more holes than a teenage boy’s socks. The internet’s full of ideas to help, but not all ideas work for everyone, all the time. So the more the merrier, I say – here’s mine. Which, like all good ideas, engenders lots of others.

You take the opening line of one novel and the last line of another. Then ask yourself – how could I get from here to there?
Of course, there’s lots of variations. You could:

  • use the idea above – but use lines from the same book
  • if the first try doesn’t work, swap the books round and use the first line from your ‘last line’ book, etc.
  • use a last line as your first line – or vice versa
  • try the same idea with chapter beginnings and ends
  • look at chapter titles and imagine what chapter you would write for that title – or make it the title of your short story or novel instead
  • or if you’re a non-fiction writer (or writing hussy like me, who writes both!) you could challenge yourself to write an article from a chapter title.

And of course once you get going, you can change those lines and titles as much as you want.

Just in case you are suffering from the dreaded WB right now, here’s your starter for ten. I have beside me Sebastian Faulks Human Traces  and Kate Mosse Crucifix Lane…

Faulks starter (shortened!): An evening mist, salted by the western sea, was gathering on the low hills.

Mist, eh? Will someone get lost in it? Is it normal mist or a supernatural phenomenon? Who could be out on those hills? Or in the sea?

Mosse finisher:  Annie took it. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’ve come home.’

What did she take? Who is she talking to? Where’s home? Perhaps she was lost out on those hills, in the mist devised by Mr.Faulks…and just for variety, we’ll try it the other way round.

Mosse starter: Five o’clock. A wet and grey London morning.

Somebody’s up early…

Faulks finisher: …the last vestiges of her presence were washed away, the earth closing over as though no one had passed by.

Who is she? Vestiges – footprints or something else? Are we on a beach or in a flood…

Go on then – off you go and WRITE. 🙂

Giveaways & Good News

Just to confuse you, I’ll do the good (although slightly old) news, first.

Which is (drum roll):  despite writing it in a tearing hurry, my submission to 100 Stories For Queensland was accepted! If you haven’t heard of this excellent volume, it’s an anthology that will be published to raise money for charity, following in the footsteps of 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan.

I was pleased to be on the shortlist, but thought that’s as far as it would go, so very chuffed with the news. The story is called Pop, and it’s about…ah, well, that would be telling. You’ll have to buy the book. I’ll just say that it’s a light-hearted humorous tale that was inspired by a birthday card – one that was sent to Techie Husband several years ago. So you see – ideas really can come from anywhere!

The book will be available in print, digital and audio formats, and is full of the work of other lovely writers, such as Sally Quilford, Simon Whaley, Glynis Scrivens, Sue Moorcroft…and 95 others, of course!
More info soon.

Now for the Giveaway (drum roll again please, Mr. Collins. And do take that gorilla suit off).

I have a paperback copy of Lisa Gardner’s The Neighbour to give away to the first correct answer of this question:

What’s the title of Lisa’s first Det. D.D. Warren novel?

I have a little stash of book goodies to give away in the near future, but I’m thinking of auctioning some for Comic Relief or other good causes, so keep your eyes peeled (but only metaphorically, please. Don’t want any bloodstains on the blog.)

Mmm…great title for a novel…’Bloodstains On The Blog’… 😉

Old MacDonald Day

On Friday there was a meeting – not of minds, but of both my jobs. We took our preschoolers for a session at ‘big school’, where I also work. It was Old MacDonald Day so everyone dutifully dressed in jeans, boots and checked shirts!

Even though it’s only a few  minutes walk from one to the other, we were drowned by the time we got there. Of all the days for the heavens to decide to open with a whoosh! But the children had a lovely time – they made animal masks, went on a farm animal treasure hunt in the hall, dressed up as animals, made funky horse masks, coloured in farm pictures, and of course they played with the toy farm as well. Oh, and sang Old MacDonald whilst learning the Makaton symbols for the animals. Lots of enthusiasm!

In a rare moment of relaxation (although it kind of crossed over to writing work as well) I finished the Writer’s Tale 2: The Final Chapter by Russell T Davis and Benjamin Cook. Great entertainment, lots of laughs, a behind the scenes look at Dr.Who and an insight into Russell’s writing – who could ask for more?

Personally I think he served an OBE just for the book, never mind ‘services to drama’! Reading it was like sitting ion the midst of a cosy chat – it’s all emails, save for the ocassional text message, so it really feels like you’ve just pulled up a chair…
The downside is, I had that really bereft feeling you get when you come out of a ‘book world’ you’ve been so comfy in.

Never mind. Thanks to my lovely husband, supplier of all things Christmas-booky, I have already betrayed the memory of Russell and Benjamin, and floated into Mr.Fry’s Chronicles. Armchair, anyone?

I have a horribly busy week ahead, and the playscript is still not finished. But I’ve made progress today, and the back is feeling a bit better. So there’s hope for me yet!

Things I Never Thought I’d Write

So this Advanced Creative Writing course I’m on. It has made me try Something New (how very dare it!). Play-scripts! Aargh.
Not just scripts in general, oh no. That would be too easy, and after all, as we hapless students are often reminded, it is an Advanced Course. So, after some generalised work on the concept of script rather than story, we’ve had to learn the subtle differences between writing for radio, stage and screen.

Of course, I’ve written play-scripts before. With 8-10 year-olds. Who have learning difficulties.
Worryingly, I get the impression my tutor is looking for something rather more sophisticated.

My current assignment requires me to adapt the short story I wrote for my first assignment, into a play. Gulp. It’s been trickier than I expected. Just as scary is the prospect of, once again, writing a commentary on why and how I wrote what I…er…wrote. And rewrote.

But that isn’t The Thing I Never Thought I’d Write. Oh no. That thing occurred in the process. It’s a scrawled note to myself from this morning, and I’m left wondering what people will think if I ever, heh heh, become famous, and my notebooks are studied for posterity.

Because just before I dashed off to work, I wrote:

DO WE NEED STEVE??
could back-refer + swallow into Dan

Perhaps I should put that in my commentary. <Interesting how I always use the royal ‘we’ when I scrawl these notes. Perhaps it’s a subliminal desire for a co-author.>

(BTW – I rewrote the scene and Steve in now gone. Poor Steve. He is now only referred to, and has indeed been swallowed ‘into’ Dan. Which sounds dodgier every time I write it).

The London MCM Expo

So here’s a post that’s sat in my drafts for nearly a month, waiting for me to fiddle with photos etc.
But there was too much for one post anyway, so here is the first instalment of my witterings about the London MCM Expo (MCM = Movie Comic Media).

Those of you who used to grace my Writeous Indignation blog may recall I went to the May Expo, and missed seeing the cast of Stargate Universe due to a late train and no timetable for the shows (gnashes teeth at memory). Techie Husband and I go for the sci-fi and movies, Arty Daughter goes there for the – er, art. And Constructo Boy goes along for anything related to Dr.Who and Star Wars.

Arty Daughter brought along her best friend this time (we’ll call her K the Cat – you’ll see why in a mo), because she has infected her with the Manga Madness too. Poor girl. They had a fantastic time and dressed up, because this is The Thing To Do. K was…a cat, kind of, and Arty Daughter went along dressed as Misa from Deathnote.

For comparison, I give you: Misa

Below: Arty Daughter and K the Cat – a but fuzzy I’m afraid (blame TH, he took the photo!), and Arty Daughter isn’t smiling – not because she is going for the moody look, but because this is just before we left, and her black lipstick had wandered on to her teeth by that time…

Arty Daughter (right) and K the Cat.
Arty Daughter (right) as Misa, and K the Cat.
And yes, K the Cat did have a tail, which attracted strange looks at Stevenage train station 🙂
This time we made sure we were there early, so TH and I caught the interviews we wanted to. Haven, Eureka, Warehouse 13…more on them soon.