Nagged By Your Notebook (it could have been a novel, you know…)

Apologies if you’ve been deafened by my manic laughter. It’s the heady feeling of freedom, you know. That’s what’s to blame. Yes! My advanced creative writing course – and Diploma – are now over. Done. Ended. Finito. Now I just have to wait with fingers crossed to hear whether I’ve gained the right to be an incredibly sad muppet who puts Dip CW after my name.

I fear most people will think it means Care Work and try to drag me round to Auntie Rose’s house to change her colostomy bag because it’s come loose and it smells funny. Sigh…

Meanwhile, some things never end. And one of them is my love of stationery. ArtyDaughter came back from town the other week with a delectable little bit-smaller-than-A6-size project book in different shades of blue. This will be perfect for my handbag – small enough to fit in snugly, and with those lovely dividers so that my random thoughts can be organised for easy access later! Perfect.

And a few weeks earlier, ConstructoBoy got a box full of Waldo Pancake goodies for his birthday. (Be still, quivering heart; how can I not have known about these things before?) Amongst these treasures was a notebook:

Waldo Pancake Notebook - I could've been a novel.


Yes, I know. The front cover is enough to make your writing procrastination guilt come hotfooting it through your door. But the worst is yet to come. This quote is unfinished.
And when you turn it over, you see the end.

…instead of a stupid little notepad, which is what I am.’

You see? It really is a notebook that nags.
And they have other weapons in their arsenal too, these Pancake people.

There are others, but these were a few that I thought all the writers out there could relate to… 😉  In case you’re tempted, you can buy them – and lots of other funky bookmarks, coasters etc – here

ConstructoBoy, great writer though he is, has not taken the hint and started a novel (though he did consider it. Bless the boy.) Instead he is writing down the details (lined pages) and drawing relevant pictures (plain pages) of a computer game he is designing. It features a lot of tanks of different kinds, and he is determined to get every fact right…

Thank heavens for the internet and Usborne’s Second World War cards 🙂

K is for Kidnapping Characters

I was quite tempted to take up Sylvia Ney’s ‘k sound writing challenge’, which I urge you to take a stab at, but since I already had this blog post in mind I stuck with it. I was determined to bring you all over to the Dark Side. To make you walk the Path of Criminality. To make you Dabble in the Depths of Depravity. To-

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Though I am here to encourage you to kidnap someone. But that someone has to be fictional.

Perhaps you already know a character you want to kidnap – a character who didn’t act in a convincing way (you could have written it better); a character who you wanted to see more of (you knew exactly what happened to them next – why didn’t the author?) or perhaps a character you love so much that you’re keen to give them some new adventures.

So go on – kidnap a character. And now give them either a challenge made up entirely by you, or a challenge from another character’s story. Perhaps even another character in the same book.

How would Lydia Bennet have handled Mr.Darcy?

How would Lyra (Northern Lights/Golden Compass) have dealt with Long John Silver?

The Pevensie children have gone through the back of the wardrobe and met some good-looking vampires…what happens next?

Artemis Fowl is Number Four. Lemony Snicket found the One Ring.

You get the idea. How would these characters react in these situations, or ones you can make up for them? How would that change the outcomes of the original plots?

How would Will Burrows (Tunnels) react if he was in an aeroplane about to crash?
What if the doctors in Sebastian Faulk’s Human Traces had been trapped underground?
How would these characters cope:

Hermione  – with her parents getting divorced
Ron – on discovering one of his brothers was gay
Harry – discovering he had a long lost sister
Miss Havisham – given the chance to travel backwards in time
Christopher Boone (Curious Incident) – breaking his leg? Trapped in a lift?
Robert Langdon – given the chance to travel forwards in time
Rincewind – given a super-power
Henry DeTamble (The TT’s Wife) – winning the lottery? Being trapped in a mine?

Hopefully by now your brain’s already working on one of these. Or one of your own. While I’m not suggesting you should steal a character wholesale (although consider the publicity surrounding Pride, Prejudice and Zombies – perhaps honesty might serve you well!), this kind of shake-up could give you ideas for a best-selling novel of your own.

I’m off to write about what happened to Jack Sparrow when, curious chappie that he is, he prodded open the door of a certain blue police box… 😀

I for Inspiration, J for joke

What inspires you?

It’s a big question.

Some of us can rattle on for hours about what inspires us, whether it be the source for our religion, our art, or our parenting style we’re describing – there are plenty of things, it seems, that people might need, or find, inspiration for.

But for some writers – and artists and musicians as well – it can be hard to ‘categorise’ your inspiration. And the whole subject can feel woolly or pretentious. Those of us with basically lower-class roots can still feel a little self-conscious about starting a sentence with ‘what inspires me is…’ or ‘the inspiration for my novel was….’ It’s not always easy to specify what your inspiration was anyway; sometimes it’s a subconscious thing,  or the interaction of several influences that sparks something. Even then it can be a glowing ember, gradually catching the material around it alight, or an instant explosion of sparks – a real eureka moment. Sometimes we forget what our inspiration was – we just find a few notes we jotted down one day and perhaps we spin them, years later, into a coherent story thread or an idea for a piece of art.

I don’t think there are many people, then, who could give one stock answer to the inspiration question. I’m sure that like me, most of them could name a whole host of things. Sometimes it’s music or a lyric; a film; a phrase in someone else’s story; overheard dialogue; a photo; the view fromthe car window; someone else’s experience or point of view; the label on my cardigan; my past, my future, history, a dog, a cat, a tree, my job, blah blah blah.

Sometimes it’s even a Joke.
For ‘Pop’, my story that’s due to be published in the 100 Stories For Queensland book, the inspiration was a situation-comedy-kind-of-joke – a scene with a speech bubble and caption on the front of a birthday card.

The characters were there. The twist was there. Even a snippet of dialogue was there. It was just asking to be turned into a story! And this is often what it feels like. I wish I could remember who it was that described writing and rewriting as being like sculpting – the perfect work of art is inside the rough stone all the time, you just have to chisel the stone away patiently until you’re left with what you were looking for.

Inspiration often feels the same to me. It’s there all the time. But sometimes we’re just not looking – or listening in the right direction.

So what inspires you? Or is it too hard to talk about? 😀

The Creepy Way To Create A Character

I say Creepy, because it may seem slightly stalkerish to some of you. I am, however, just leading your metaphorical horse to water. You don’t have to let it take a drink… 🙂

In Louise Doughty’s excellent book A Novel In A Year (which may or may not help you write a novel in a year, but will definitely give you a lot of excellent advice, strategies and inspiration), she often presents her readers/writers with a situation to thrust a character into (even if it’s not one they envisage being in the completed novel), or to write about a time a particular situation happened to them, such as: having an accident, getting lost, feeling trapped (emotionally or physically), being of a different nationality from your own, being a character from the past, and being an inanimate object.

Of course, these exercises are designed to generate plots and characters, and she then helps you assemble this generated material into a novel. I found those chapters fascinating and incredibly useful (Big Respec’, Louise). And it’s sparked my own ideas on ways to create a character – or to get to know an existing one better.

My Writing Idea of the Day is:

Make your Character walk in your Shoes
(because actions speak louder than words)

Walk your character through your day (or even week). Lterally, if you want; think about your character wearing your shoes! Would they? Imagine your character living through your day. Would they be good at your job, more or less patient with your children/ mother/ dog/ boss? Would they have gone for coffee with that friend? Would they walk the children to school or drive? Bus or train to work? Would they remember to send that birthday card as you did, or are they forgetful/ lazy/ inconsiderate? Would they be a blogger or do they not know their Mac from their PC?

Or perhaps walk them through days in the lives of people you know. I have a female friend who is a bouncer. This wouldn’t be every woman’s cup of tea, but what kind of woman is prepared to do a job like that? (One who is also a black belt in Karate, if you must know!).

Look out your window – is your neighbour off to a club or their work? Would your character be there too? Karate or WI? Or both? And if you have no idea where your neighbour is going, use your imagination – where could they be going, why, and would your character be likely to be there too? Asda or Waitrose? Deskbound or a landscape gardener? Would they have waited patiently in that traffic jam or would road rage have taken over? What might have resulted if they had lost their rag?

Now prepare for boredom.

My uneventful day: Took son to school, spoke to Mum on phone, emptied & refilled the dishwasher, tweeted, revised opening of my novel, researched readability score/reading age of a few novels using MyNovel software, had text conversation with my boss and agreed to increase my hours, drank tea, coffee and a double chocha mocha, ate a chicken and coleslaw sandwich, picked up the post, did some more writing, emptied the bins, went to village shop to buy chicken, bread and fruit juice cartons, collected son from school (delivering two papers from my daughter’s round on the way), spoke to my black-belt friend and another who runs a natural beauty products company, filled in a school form to say yes, son & I would love to go to the Royal Wedding barbecue at school, emailed Techy Husband holiday dates, spoke to Arty daughter when she got in, spoke to Techy husband when he got in, deleted 4 spam comments awaiting moderation on this very blog, read a few other blogs, spent ages converting file type & reformatting text of the work newsletter so I can put it on the work website (which I run), dispatched my family to karate (yes, they go to classes run by black belt friend!), and then wrote this post.

Now your answer may be similar, or completely different – but ask yourself:

What did your character actually DO today?


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. 🙂