All Writers Are Mad

Last night’s blog experiment actually worked!

It’s incredible. I talked myself out of the problem. I was then awake till stupid-o’clock this morning writing, but that’s better than not writing at all.

I recommend Procrastination-Therapy to all creative people stuck.

So last night I bashed out the ‘cut-out’ of a chapter which was formally 8, and the ‘moving it’ to become chapter 10. It took a little rejigging.

I had this whole bit where it was coming up to half-term holidays and there was a rush to use the school computers. I think it’s a hang over from another time; that and my addiction to Buffy… But then I had a rather obvious solution; smart phones. Why couldn’t Crystal be in the Hobbit-type-hole AND be researching using 3G?

So I’ve moved that plot point to be set in the Hobbit-hole and actually it provides a much better backdrop for the conversation. It’s also the meeting of two VERY different worlds, which I love; lots of chance for humour.

Humour is harder to plan than you might think. So when an opportunity presents itself you have to grab it by the proverbial-balls. Looking forward to writing that!

I then had an issue with time passing. Actually that’s something I struggle with generally.

To me, it’s easy to write something serial without large gaps of time. In this book there is a three month passage of time. Necessary purely because of the setting/backdrop. Last night’s musing allowed me to understand what would happen during that passage of time; the answer is: not much. But that gap allows for some domesticity which is something that I sort of revel in in this novel.

The little passages set at breakfast or dinner etc are some of my favourites. There is a time and place for chatting whilst doing the dishes, and there is a time for evil talking squirrels.

As an author, the passage of time does throw up some problems. For me, I tend to structure set-pieces that I write towards. For example, this book has a big Halloween set-piece. It is going to be a joy to write; I cannot wait for that! But more than that, it will look brilliant in your head.

However, to get there I have to travel through October. Right now in the narrative it is September. I don’t want to get too specific, but it’s the 22nd. This is because I want to reference the Autumn Equinox in this chapter; a time for reflection, to breathe deeply and thank the Goddess for food enough for winter. The theme of looking back and forward is a lovely touch for this part of the novel; it really is the end of one Crystal and the start of another.

So after chapter 9 there is a month until the next set-piece. During this month a couple of cool things are planned to happen, but those things need to bridge this gap in time. Sometimes as an author you can spend hours, if not days, thinking about these things. It’s as if my mind needs to understand everything implicitly before putting fingers to keys.

This can of course drive you mad. All writers are mad. And it can be maddening too. When you really want to write but you need to figure out why Crystal would be listening to that song, or using that pen, or eating that chocolate…

And then there are times when you revel in the creation-part.

Just today I went back and did my second pass at chapter 9 and created something completely new that I didn’t know I needed and now I LOVE AND CAN’T BELIEVE IT WASN’T PLANNED UNTIL NOW.

Now that chapter really sings. And the adrenaline from that creation spurred me on to basically finish the chapter, which is what I did today.

I’m so glad that Crystal needed a lantern to see the squirrel she was talking to… (Oof! I’m a tease!)

Sometimes little things like a source of light are just left out. I’m glad that I have some common sense in there somewhere that realised it’s night time; how will she see that the squirrel was talking. Because you’d need to see it, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t believe it was happening.

So today was a success.

Earlier on I wrote about my ‘second pass at the chapter’ and I think I need to explain that. Usually, I write a chapter with descriptions and speech but it ends up being quite basic. My second pass is where I add the colour; the heart of it appears on my second pass. And I have to keep reminding myself that this is my process. I often feel downhearted after writing the first pass, as if the story feels flatter than it did in my head. As if I’m not a good enough writer to realise the story on paper.

I think we all doubt ourselves.

And I have to push myself to do the second pass because otherwise I will leave the chapter without heart and when I return to it a week-or-so later, I will feel like it isn’t good enough and that it will take too much to put right. Delete. Total re-think of whole book. Start again.

All writers are mad.

Procrastination-Therapy

I am off work until next Monday. I love having holidays in January. And I’ve completely de-worked. I’ve hardly thought about it… with the exception of my return to work, which is looming a bit now; looming.

So I have given myself a mini-task with a mini-deadline.

The plan is to finish my current chapter by the time I return to work. Right now, this is proving difficult. I’m not going to say the words “writer’s block” because that would be inaccurate. However, I am still struggling with this chapter.

I just thought to myself, maybe if I wrote a blog about why I am struggling, I may actually write my way out of the struggle. Sort of Procrastination-Therapy; that’s a thing, right?

I am currently writing chapter 9. I had started writing it a while ago and then decided to change the direction slightly as the story was lagging. I had managed to pick up some speed and the way I had originally started the chapter slowed the whole thing down. The chapter used to start with Crystal having a conversation with her aunts, now it starts with her running out of the door into a dark and mysterious threat-filled forest; the best kind.

It was always the plan to go to the forest, but it was after that particular conversation. And by scrapping the chat, it works so much better. I still need to have that conversation, and they will, but after a night in the scary woods.

It was around this point in writing my last novel that I came across an empty abyss of no narrative or personal drive. And I know exactly why… There was a natural pause in the story. All movements up until this point were exactly that; movement. A story needs breaks, don’t get me wrong, but its hell for the writer because it means you take a break. Your mind takes a break. You’ve been writing like mad to get to where you have, I’d say a good third of the way through the novel, and then you sigh a great big sigh of relief. And then you stop.

For like 6 months.

That’s how long it’s been since I last properly wrote. It might even have been longer. The difference this time around for me is that the basic story is planned out, to the chapter. And during the last few months, whenever I wanted to write the next part, I read my plan in my notebook and just felt uninspired.

That’s when I normally re-read what I’ve written and edit. I have sort of indulged in some editing. It was not my favourite part of the last novel by a long shot, which is probably why I’m tackling a little at a time this time around. But this time it’s sort of pleasurable. It’s a lovely thing when you re-read what you’ve written and it pulls you in. You get all enthusiastic and up-for-it, literary speaking.

Crystal runs out into the woods and the story changes direction slightly. She meets some new and interesting characters and can’t really apply any thought to what has happened up till this point, because the new characters she meets are animals; that can talk.

She decidedly blocks out all other events to concentrate on the fact that there is a squirrel talking to her. And he’s not very nice.

This book means a lot to me. That sounds like such an obvious thing for a writer to say, but more than that it is the culmination of everything in my life so far. I love books where animals can talk, and are even heroes. I admit they are an acquired taste, but they are my taste and this is my book. This shift into a slightly ‘lighter’ story is also heavily influenced by the fact that I have a nephew now.

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Mason is amazing and he deserves to have a book written for him.

And if I really think about it, a story that is primarily for children but adults will enjoy too is another thing which I have always tried to achieve.

But more than that, Crystal is a character that I have given so much of myself too. I haven’t done that before. But she has my school, my teachers, my best friends (all-be-it mushed up together) my music taste and my family. My family will hopefully get a kick out of this because I have taken our lives and given them a story; a magical story with elements of us in it.

Don’t get me wrong, my aim is for this to not be a complete act of self indulgence; the things my family will laugh or smile at are inconsequential to the normal reader. Or at least they will be if I’ve done my job right.

The writer is nothing if not an observer. I observe and can somehow remember lots of little tidbits that I have squirreled away in the depths of my mind to recall when needs must.

Ask me to bring milk home and you’ve got no chance.

But a story or connection or moment or name etc will stay in there until it is used.

That’s what this story feels like to me. I’m using lots of those moments that affected me in some way to the benefit of this story; and it’s probably worth mentioning here that this story is meant to take place across many books. Hopefully 5. I have elements of 4 planned ready, with lots of options for number 5. I even have names for some of them…

But I’m getting ahead of myself! I’m supposed to be bashing out chapter 9!!!!!

See this is what happens when you use Procrastination-Therapy; you never know where it might lead.

Chapter 9!!! OK.

Crystal is finding it difficult to process that animals are speaking to her; not all animals mind, just these particular ones. The rest of the chapter has 2 directions it could go down.

1. She could be directed to a small really cute little Hobbit-type-hole, where I have a lovely moment planned. This part does HAVE to happen, but it’s whether or not it fits in this chapter or not that I’m concerned with.

2. Or she could be taken by the nasty squirrel to meet the Lord of The Wood. She HAS to see him to get the next vital clue which will send the narrative steaming in another direction; but again it’s whether this chapter is the place for it.

I have just come out of a dark passage in the narrative and from that dark passage, she ran away. It was too much for her to take in.

And that was the right decision, character wise. Crystal would of course run from what has just happened to her; I know I would.

She didn’t intend on meeting these forest-folk, but she has. Her world will be much better off because of it, in the long run. But it’s making this decision which I am struggling with.

Do I stay in the dark with Crystal before returning to the light with a much more heartwarming passage? Or do I take her to the light for a respite, before plunging back into the mystery again.

This all also happens in one night. By the time the sun rises she has to have been to the Hobbit-type hole AND have been to see the Lord of the Wood.

Or does she????

No. Don’t deviate too much from the plan; stick to the plan and these structural changes could be made in the edit.

My gut feeling after writing this blog is to take her to the darker more mysterious place first. Get given the clue before being taken to the Hobbit-hole. Then come home at sunrise and have to have that conversation with her aunts…

Actually I’m thinking the Hobbit-hole needs to move to another chapter. There has got to be a reasonable reason for her to go there a little later on in the narrative. I think I’m going to spend tonight revising the plan slightly to get Crystal to the Hobbit-hole a bit later.

It will just be too much all in one go! And of course there is the physicality of time; would she  physically have enough time before the sun rises to do both? I don’t think so.

Do you know what? I suddenly feel lifted. Cutting out the Hobbit-hole opens up the chapter to what it needs to be.

I remember hearing a marvelous piece of advice once from a TV writer (it must have been a DVD extra) and they said to “remove the thing that you love the most from a scene and it will all click into place”.

I love the Hobbit-hole. And now that it’s out, the chapter is going to work.

Of course I’m still going to use it, but just a few chapters further down the line.

And sigh.

This blog has done what it needed to. Tonight I will re-jig the structure slightly, and then tomorrow I can crack on with chapter 9.

Hooray!

The Start of Something Beautiful

E-mail from Mike 8/1/13

Alex,

Val,

I am writing to you with an idea. It is not necessarily a new idea, but I think it’s a good idea and a good idea is an idea worthy of doing.

You know the ill fated ‘Book Club With A Difference’? Well, it didn’t work. I don’t know if it was a format thing, or just pure laziness on my behalf. But the roots of that site have merit. I believe that sharing in the writing process is important; and an important tool in focusing me into achieving… something; anything!

2013 is going to be a good year. A year of productive authoring and blogging. And I feel that those go hand-in-hand.

Speaking of hand-in-hand, will you join me?

You both were so incredibly instrumental in the bringing about of my first novel (however ill fated) and I could not have done it without you. But I’m asking for further help and guidance.

My idea is this…

We e-mail.

We have long conversations with countless forwards and responses, talking about whatever we feel the need to talk about. Of course it will stem from the ‘writing’ but I don’t think it should be confined to just that topic. It’s like a group message on the iPhone (which Val and I just experienced for the first time thanks to Rachel) but with an added sense of purpose. I’m hoping you will help me finish this book; this book which I fully intend to be the first book I have published. No more pussy-footing about. This has to happen.

I’ve started a new blog. It’s called ‘Woods End Cottage’ (https://woodsendcottage.wordpress.com/) and it’s on WordPress, which is new to me but very exciting! There, I will be blogging about writing and the process behind it all. I’m also hoping that if you guys feel like you can help me through these e-mails, that the e-mails themselves might find their way into the blog; charting the progress of the book, and encapsulating a year in our lives in which we joined to create something.

That’s how long I’m giving myself; a year to complete this book…*

It is a year that holds change (from 2 decades to 3 being a big one!) and it sort of feels like the right time to get serious.

I’ve also seen a lovely idea on other blogs where those particular bloggers have had their years worth of blogs bound into a hardback book for re-reading sometime in the future. This may sound like sentimentality gone mad, and I think if I were to just bind my blog into a book so I can read what I wrote again and again would just be so terribly self absorbed!

But if you were to join me, it would somehow become less self absorbed… and more of a shared experience worth remembering… or would we all just be totally self absorbed? But self absorbed together!

That’s my idea. Sort of like a Bridget Jones’ Diary Three-way… that sounds so wrong…

From Val 10/1/13

Sounds fab hunny, count me in!Just signed up to follow the new blog, will have a read now!

From Alex 8/1/13 (via Twitter)

@inizia Bridget Jones’ Diary Three-way with @mikehonour and @valdoherty84 lool!

I think that means she’s in???

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(If you don’t remember this photo being taken it’s because it wasn’t. It’s two pictures merged!)

*A countdown has been added to the blog; it just got serious.

Prologue – A Reflection

It seems that I always know where a story begins. 

I’ve already written a book. It remains unpublished and possibly, if I’m being completely honest, unworthy of publication. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But something deep in my bones tells me that first novels aren’t for general reading. First novels are almost an exercise into how to craft a story into becoming a novel.

I learnt so much writing it. It’s hard to explain specifically what… Planning was a big thing. The first book I wrote, or at least the story and characters, were alive in my head for many years before actually putting fingers to keys. So when it came to formatting it into a coherent and exciting story, I sort of winged it; it was quite a fluid exercise and I think in retrospect it feels it. The story is a little… how shall I put it… woolly. 

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but I think if I had planned more accurately then I would be more pleased with it; and you might even be reading it!

My point, and I do have one, is that I wouldn’t be writing the book I am today if I hadn’t gone through the conception, development, characterisation, setting, research and general plot twisting-iness of that novel. 

What both novels share is a common denominator in their prologues; and that similarity is that they were the first things I ever wrote for both stories, and they both remained untouched throughout the entire writing process.

It seems almost barking mad that the first thing you write for a story lives up to the complexities and scrutinies of the book as a whole. But for me, they do; or at least they do so far…

In this prologue, Crystal is a young child and she builds a snowman. It seems so simple. And it is. But the best things usually are.

For me, the prologue works because it is a tiny taster of where this story will go. But more than that there is some in-built imagery which I think is just as powerful as the story itself. After all, what is a book if not a way to paint a picture with words?

I think stories are an incredibly illustrative medium. Sometimes in developing a story I may just have an image in my head of a particular scene, or character, or setting, or all of the above. And the whole narrative is just an excuse to get to that picture. 

This prologue is strong because of that image of Crystal standing back and looking at the snowman she has built. All on her own, I must add, which to me really emphasises how strong she is, even at such a young age. 

Although, my favourite image is the look on her face when that white, wet hand rests on her shoulder. Her mouth wide open for all the flies in Wales to fly into and buzz around for a moment whilst she gathers herself. 

Even though it isn’t described here, in my head the snowman smiles down at her. Which I think is even more exciting! (It isn’t described for good reason, and you may take that as a teeny teaser!)

The prologue is short, it’s even quite basic. There isn’t too much detail; on the other hand I think you do get a feel for the house, and for the family that live there, and for Crystal herself. There’s lots of miniature moments; mini-mos if you will.

And I’m starting to understand my writing style in that these mini-mos may be insignificant and just add pretty colour to the scene; or they may just be of the utmost importance. 

I wonder if this prologue will change over the course of finishing this novel? 

 

Prologue

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There had always been something about Crystal Green. Ever since she was a little girl, strange things seemed to happen when she was around.

Probably the strangest thing of note happened one Christmas Eve.

Crystal had spent all day outside in the deep fresh snow. The bottom of her jeans had soaked up the moisture from the soft white blanket that had covered her garden path. The sleeves of her pink woollen cardigan that her aunt had made her had been rolled up so that she could concentrate on the job at hand.

A snowman.

It had taken her all day. Her cheeks were rosy from all of her hard work. But when she took a step back, she saw her fine creation.

He was six feet tall with big buttons that Crystal had found in her grandmother’s sewing box, in a line down his front. He had two almost perfectly spherical lumps of coal for eyes and a great big knobbly carrot for his nose.

Crystal had sneaked into the kitchen and borrowed one of her mother’s rusty red saucepans. She had to stand on a bucket to place it on top of his head, but now that it was there she was proud.

He was almost perfect. But there was something missing. He needed something…

As fast as a spark she ran from the fading light of the garden, burst through the bright red front door, raced up the stairs to the third floor and found what she was looking for in the dusty cobweb covered attic.

There amongst the old toys and the never opened boxes she saw it; her grandfather’s suitcase.

Crystal dragged the bulging case out into the centre of the room and brought it to rest on the circular woven rug under the scarlet light that streamed through the oval stained glass window.

She clicked the locks open and rummaged through the cracked leather case. It wasn’t the first time she had stolen a few minutes with her grandfather’s most prized possessions. She adored pushing her strawberry blonde hair out of her eyes and roving over these mysterious objects. But there was no time for that now. She knew exactly what she was looking for.

Her hands dug deep and her fingers closed around her treasure of the moment and off she went back out into the cold.

Carefully and proudly she wrapped Gramps’ red and brown striped scarf around the snowman’s shoulders and tied it tightly so it rested perfectly on his pale chest.

Her feet crunched on the yielding snow as she backed away from her finished masterpiece. She smiled.

The light from the house swiped across his eyes of coal making them glisten. Crystal thought this made him look more alive than just a statue of frozen water.

She looked deeply into his shining eyes and for a moment the world seemed to go quiet. The wind that had been rattling the trees seemed to diminish just as the noise coming from the loud television inside the house vanished from her ears.

Crystal continued to stare into the sparkling lumps of coal until something moved in the corner of her eye. It drew her attention for the tiniest of seconds and brought all sound back to the garden.

She shook her head. And with her eyes facing the ground she laughed. It was such a silly idea; nothing more than a silly idea.

But all of her silliness ceased. A heavy white hand took hold of her shoulder. She stopped. She slowly lifted her head.

He was alive.

She pulled in a deep long breath of shock and wonderment which left her mouth gaping for a long time. But there was no doubting it, there could be no mistake. He was alive…

There had always been something about Crystal Green.