Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Reading in your genre

I write contemporary romantic fiction and I love reading it. When the book is excellent, it's quite depressing, but when it's not so excellent, it will boost my self-confidence.

I like thrillers and mysteries too, but I find it helps to read in the same genre as I'm writing to get in the mood. I noticed that my sentences became blunter and shorter when I was reading thrillers so my pace speeded up when the scene didn't require it.

I know lots of experienced writers prefer to read in another genre to avoid being influenced by what they're reading. They're naturally worried that the contents might implant surreptitiously in their mind and they'll accidentally pour it out on their manuscript. This worries me of course, but I think this could happen with any genre you read or even watch. An idea, character or scene might sneak in from a murder mystery too and transform somehow into a love scene in your work in progress.

Maybe I'm relying too much on my memory, and I think I will remember what I've read. But I can't imagine not reading in the genre I love and I've got so much to learn from the people that master this genre, I feel it will only help me improve. However, I will go to extremes if I think something might have any similarities with what I've read and sometimes there is not really any resemblance at all, only something that triggered a memory of that book, even something meaningless, like the colour of a wall.

What do you read when you're writing?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Switch from real life to fiction

I enjoyed the privilege of listening to Julie Cohen at the enlightening Cornerstones' course I was in September. As she taught us countless writing essentials, the recurring motto was "Fiction is Better than Life".

This is the plain truth. As a writer you shape fiction into your dreams. You mould the hero to your tastes, portray unimaginable (or imaginable) landscapes to your needs and you think up the most awkward and unexpected events possible (or impossible).

One of the best things about fiction is that, if things don't work, you simply rewind and change them until they do. If you don't like a character you just get rid of them and make them suffer until you feel satisfied (that sounded quite psychotic, but remember this is fiction). 

In my case, as a romantic writer, men are romantic and actually do romantic things that make your insides go up and down like a yo-yo. They don't give you vacuum cleaners for birthday presents or make you walk home under the rain on your own because they're taking the car for a wash, or prefer to spend your anniversary evening killing zombies on the PlayStation. No, my fictional characters will walk through the desert for the heroine or face a blizzard to get to her.

So yes, Fiction is Much Much Better than Live and I am so happy I have the honour to read and write it. It is my exhaust valve. 

What is so good about your fiction?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Hating Game, brilliant debut novel by Talli Roland


Help Talli Roland's debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/hNBkJk

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

Coming soon in paperback.  Keep up with the latest at www.talliroland.com.


When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

I've had the honour to read this prior to its release and it made me smile from the first page to the last. It was witty, original and full of excitement. It's one of those books that makes you feel happy even after you've finished it.

Friday, 19 November 2010

I want to know everything about Copyright, what about you?

I have read many blogs and sites on Copyright and I must say I've found mixed information on this topic. Some say you should always copyright your work, others say it's not necessary, that the moment you write something it is yours. I'll always remember reading an agent's blog (Jane Judd) where she joked about our work probably not being that good to steal anyway, and even if she was joking, she is most likely right. However, as a writer, this issue affects me and I want to know I'm covered in the face of any events. I want to have all the details confirmed and the facts verified by a reliable source, that is why I'm going to keep a close eye on Jane Smith's blog who has declared an official Copyright day over at her place: http://howpublishingreallyworks.com/

I encourage you to visit it if you have as many doubts on copyright as I do.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Aggressive Anonymous

It’s funny how we need writing to establish terms formally and make sure there are no holes in agreements, and yet writing often leads to many misunderstandings.

The lack of intonation, visual feedback and personal connotations or context can often make the reader understand a completely different message. This is where sarcasm is so dangerous in emails. A few months ago a friend of mine wrote an email saying something like “so and so was as horrible and mean as usual”. I didn’t know this other person and I had no background on their relationship so I immediately raised my hackles up and felt annoyed at this stranger. Luckily my friend then made it quite clear that it had only been sarcasm and her intention had been the opposite. They were in fact very good friends and she was far from being horrible or mean.

Writing is such a powerful tool and we have to be very careful with how we use it. A few days ago, an anonymous blogger tried to explain their knowledge on a topic but their tone was quite offensive. My first reaction was to ignore their message even if the contents were interesting, even if I eventually decided to focus on the information and not the tone for my own benefit. Maybe their intentions were honourable and only meant to help, but their choice of words came across differently and caused a sense of rejection.

I’ve found this across several blogs lately, where people seemed to be nasty just for the fun of it, and in many cases they didn’t really contribute or give any constructive criticism. I've noticed they are mostly people writing under a pseudonym and this must give them the impulse to be nasty without restraints. I can’t help wondering, what’s the point of doing this? Is there a new trend called the Anger Blog Therapy? 

I think choosing the right way to convey your message will get you further. The reader will be willing to listen to you if you address them politely, even if they disagree. If you are considerate, tolerant and polite, you are more likely to be heard and your opinion respected.

Have you encountered any of this aggressiveness? I hope not, it makes life so unpleasant.

Note: If you're wondering about the conflictive post I'm talking about, you can see it on Jane Smith's excellent blog How Publishing Really Works, which is always very useful and insightful. http://howpublishingreallyworks.com/?p=3450

Friday, 5 November 2010

Deep-frozen Imagination

I've always considered myself as someone with little imagination. However, I recently discovered that by using it and exercising it I could make it work.

In Spain, the educational system, especially in secondary school and university, consists on learning things by heart. Yes, it's useful if you process and understand what you're learning by heart, but you can probably get away with pouring out the contents of the lessons as an automaton.

I think this made my imagination go into hibernation. I didn't need to use it, I was never asked to write a short story or account, or even draw whatever I wanted, so I pushed it into a burrow and forgot it ever existed. It was deep-frozen for the future. Now it's thawed and woken up, however, I find it taking a main role in my life. I'm sitting at supper discussing the day's events when the communication component in my brain turns off and the imagination one jumps in, taking over all other activities. This is where my eyes glaze, my smile freezes, my ears block and my head nods rhythmically until someone affectionately -sometimes- slaps me on the back of my neck or pokes their face in mine to bring me back.

It's so much fun having that inside world playing scenes in my head. No wonder children can be hours playing on their own, they've got a whole universe of activity and characters to entertain them and no guidelines to contain it.

I'm so happy my imagination has woken up and I hope it won't go back into hibernation, I'll make sure it keeps awake. Did yours ever hide away in a burrow? Or are you lucky to have kept yours in full motion?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Give your mind a break, make it think

This may sound contradictory but the fact is I recently realized I barely give my mind a rest to think on its own. I'm constantly feeding it with information. It's like one of those poor geese in France being fed through a funnel to fatten their livers until they practically burst. I keep doing the same with my brain. When it's not work, it's reading books, or listening to audiobooks or the radio, or watching TV. My brain is constantly receiving external information and this means it barely gets the chance to have a thought of its own and produce something useful.

I recently had a chat with Kate Lace (author of A Class Act) and she said she didn't listen to audiobooks when she was driving because she found it an excellent moment to think over her plots and characters. Then Jane Wenham-Jones (author of Wannabe a writer?) also said something that applied to this. She sent a tweet suggesting that if you don't have the time to sit down and write, at least take every opportunity you have to think out what you want to write and this will save you time for when you do have a chance to write it down.

I know this is probably basic for you, but I'd forgotten to do this. I'd forgotten to let myself think things out while I was cooking or driving or having a bath. I was stuck with a part in my plot and I was avoiding thinking about it because I didn't know where to lead the story. I had many helpful suggestions from different people on how pull your feet out of the mud, but in this case it was all down to facing the problem and thinking about it. And that is what I did. As I was driving, instead of plugging in the audiobook, I plugged in my brain and thought about the plots and plans. And the answer came to me.

So I've decided to feed my brain a bit less instead of making it into foie gras and I know the exercise will do it good.

Did you ever have this problem?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Flying dreams - #FridayFlash

He looked up and resorted to his habitual shake of the head to flick the hair out of his eyes. As his sight focused again, his gaze met the almond shape of bright green eyes. He didn’t look away in a hurry as she did, embarrassed by the intimacy of the moment.

He fumbled trying to thread his belt through the tight loops of his chino trousers and barely suppressed a smile as he risked a glance towards her while she hopped from one foot to another fitting one black boot and then the other and zipping them up her calf under the long skirt with as much grace as she could muster under the circumstances.

She’d never seen him before but she now felt compelled to lift her gaze and quickly take in the clear blue eyes framed by the laughing lines which were clearly used to working all day. She noticed his dark tousled hair falling into his eyes as his tall frame bent down to pick up his shoes.

The feeling of heat spreading inside him made him sense her eyes upon him and he breathed in deeply before looking up again to meet them. This time, she paused a second before letting her gaze drop with one delicate movement.

She’d glimpsed the flash of gold on his fourth finger before burying his hand under his jacket. This didn't surprise her, she’d got used to men of her age being married, but it wasn’t often that she felt a tinge of disappointment. He oozed charm through his expression, his eyes and the smooth movement of his hands. The slight ascent of the corner of his lips showed a mouth prone to smiling.

When they were both fully dressed and they’d arranged their clothes to hide the previous disarray, they each picked up their belongings with slow, lazy motions making the moment last that little bit longer, knowing it was never to happen again.

A cold, impersonal voice interrupted their thoughts, 'Please move on quickly, people are waiting.’

At that, they both looked at the security guard in surprise and then indulged in one more surreptitious glance at each other before parting in the direction of their respective boarding gates. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Are you a Fraud?

As a newbie writer, one of my recurrent problems is insecurity. In any career, we want to know that we are reaching goals and improving our skills. So writing isn't any different. We want to know our writing is moving forward and we are heading towards mastering the different techniques.

So this insecurity doesn't only affect newbie unpublished writers who don't even have the approval of editors or the audience, but also well-known authors. If you're on twitter, you will often hear popular (even best-seller) authors express their fears when their new book is about to come out and some won't even read Amazon reviews in case they find negative and hurtful criticism.

However, I think it is this insecurity that forces us to make a greater effort. Not only in writing, but in any other area of interest too. Living with the fear that what we do is not enough or sufficiently good will push us to better ourselves. Overconfidence can lead people to slack in their efforts and the outcome can be disastrous however good author you may have been in the past.

I'm using my insecurity to push me to read and learn more about writing and hopefully improve a little bit more every time. And there are so many blogs out there with excellent ideas on how to improve your writing, there is an endless source of improvement.

Do you now feel confident about your writing? When do you feel satisfied with your work?

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Why Factor

Last week I was on a writing course in Oxford. It was How to edit your own women's fiction given by Julie Cohen and Helen Corner

In three days I learnt so many things it will take me some time to wrap my head around it, but the most important  advice I came home with was to always ask yourself WHY. You should write as if you had a nagging little four year old sitting on your shoulder and asking Why about every single word in your manuscript. This will give depth and credibility to your plot and characters.

During this course we had the chance to look at each other's work, and as we analysed mine, I realized I didn't know my characters properly. I hadn't understood or considered their background enough to determine why they followed one path or another, so I hadn't been able to form round live characters that would engage the reader.

Also, I've learnt many of the basics I needed (e.g. pacing, show and not tell) to feel more confident about what I'm doing. This means, I feel ready to dig deep into my story until I find the treasure I was looking for.

Where did you get your writing knowledge from? Courses, books, blogs...? Or are you lucky enough to have been born with that knowledge.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Should you enter Twitterland?

I'm a known addict of Twitter. Maybe I should try to sound professional and say my reasons for using it are related to work or writing, but I'd be twisting the truth.

I first went on Twitter because it was mentioned in a writers' email loop and it sounded as a good way to meet other writers, both published and not published. I don't know any English ones in Spain and the long journey to publication can get pretty lonely. My first aim was met in only a few days and I have been meeting people related to the writing and book world ever since. You get advice, courage, and understanding from other writers and authors who've suffered the same frustrations and fears. In fact, I've been pleasantly surprised by how approachable many of the successful authors are. They are more than willing to share their experiences and advice.

I've also met people who aren't related to the writing world but I have still learnt from them or they've simply made me laugh. Somehow you tend to find people you have something in common with and this makes you feel part of a friendly community.

However, I have seen people stalk and pester other people to achieve their career objectives and it makes me feel anxious for their victims. For instance, Carole Blake, a well-known literary agent, often has to remind her followers that you do not pitch your books on Twitter unless you're ready to risk being blocked if you do. On the other hand, there are job opportunities announced on Twitter, but the advertisers are asking to be "pitched" or will indicate an email to do it correctly, and I suggest you do follow their guidelines.

But all in all, my real reason to visit Twitter day after day is the fun and the need to cry out to someone when I'm alone at my desk. Working at home has many advantages but there are times when you really miss having someone to talk to, even if it's only to complain about the insurance sellers who call day after day to drill into your head all the catastrophes that are looming ahead.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Has anyone seen my brain?

A large part of me is back from holidays -in fact it's larger than it was a week ago-, but I must have left another part behind because I just can't get it to work. I've given it the order to initiate and function several times, but it just stalls and crashes on me.

Maybe it's time to change my hard drive, but I'd have to transfer so many files and images I'd be bound to lose some on the way and I've got enough problems with memory as it is, so I think I'll stick to my old one for the near future.

I just find it so easy to change from working mode to holiday mode, I can even do it in advance, but it takes me days to turn the working mode back on. So hopefully, by next week I'll be back on track. In the meantime, I'll try to get up to date on all the posts I've been missing in the blogosphere.

At least it's not the end of my holidays this year, I'm going to England at the end of September to a women's fiction writing course and I'm counting the days.

How was your summer? Are you still trying to get back into the routine?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Holidays and books

I'm going away on holidays this week. I'm going to a small village by the seaside, near Murcia. It's on the Spanish coast but it would be hard to tell if it wasn't for the sun. Everywhere you go you'll find English and German people acquiring a surprisingly bright colour of beetroot under the sun.

There is such a large English community in that area, that many cafés have a corner with bookshelves where you'll find a curious array of books, and all of them in English. It's basically an exchange system where you pay 2€ for the book you take home and get 1€ for the books you leave at the café. This means that the stream of books is constantly flowing.

I find this the perfect way to discover new authors. These books come from very different people so you'll find books for all tastes, and as the choice isn't as wide as in proper bookshops you'll be more likely to get a book by an author you didn't know before.

Can you believe this is the part I'm most looking forward to? I've got a pile of books I'm going to leave there in the hope that those authors will be known to new people. However, I do find it difficult to decide which books I'll part with. 

Now there's something thing we can't do with eBooks! However, my eReader is coming with me too.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Are you an eReader?

I'm delighted with my eReader. I can fit it in my bag and take it everywhere with me, and it's pink and shiny!

For some reason, I read faster on the eReader than on paper, I haven't quite worked out why. Maybe, due to my job, I've got used to reading on screen or maybe it's just that the books I read on my eReader were lighter reads.

Having an eReader means I can download books from the e-Library and I can save on postage and package expenses which get quite high when living abroad.

However, there are a few inconveniences I've found: 
  • One is when I've got to choose the next book I'm going to read and I can't remember what the books I downloaded are about. There should be a system where you can access the blurb of each book directly, or say have it after the cover page of each eBook.
  • Another is giving eBooks as a present. I tried buying a few eBooks for a friend's birthday present yesterday and I can only give them to her if her eReader is connected to my computer. Also, I can't really work out how to wrap it up.
  • And the third inconvenience I've found is getting it signed by the author!

Do you renounce eReaders or are you a technology freak like me?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

What is your comforting vice?

Hi my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to...

For a long time, television was where I found comfort and I'd watch about anything. However this comfort was usually quite short, it would only last an episode or film, so the cravings would come back every 90 minutes. 

For a time I also found cooking had a calming effect but it had a very fattening side-effect, so I had to decrease the consumption.

Now I find my soothing weakness is reading. It can also have a fattening effect as it does mean I sit around all day, but its soothing effects last longer and I can take one book after another without risks (unless I left something on the cooker and forget about it). It's also something I can smuggle around in my bag and sneak it out when I'm feeling lonely and I've gone cold turkey, without raising too many suspicions. My eReader too has proved to be very useful with this addiction as others often think I'm working.

What is your comforting vice?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A Spanish Summer

For me, the arrival of summer not only means a change of season, it is also a complete change of rhythm. Not only because the heat seems to dry up all my energy and I drag myself from one place to another, but because people in general are more relaxed. There are no more races to and from schools and you can take your time to get ready and for some unknown reason. Knowing you'll soon be on holidays or having just come back from them makes staying up late much easier than during the winter, and having longer days makes you want to take advantage of those extra hours of light.

Summer is also a time to meet up with your friends, and Spain is well known for its bar terraces serving ice-cold beers and tapas. Wherever you go, you'll see tables full of people eating and chatting under the sun umbrellas. In the evenings, you'll still find the tables outside full of people whichever day of the week and often until late hours in the night.

Children will also be allowed to stay up later, but this won't lower their energy levels and you can usually hear their cries and splashes from swimming pools in the vicinity or a beach nearby. Also, there is always the option of the well-known Siesta which will reboot your system ready for more socializing.

I find the bustling of bars and beaches relaxing and watching other people so happy and at ease infects me with the same feelings. You forget that this country is afflicted with the crisis and political corruption by watching people laugh and joke around the table and I'm glad people still know how to enjoy themselves and have fun even under the circumstances and pressure.

What are summers like where you live?

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Do you write with a smile?

In a way I'm lucky that all the writing I do doesn't have any deadlines. This means I can write when I feel like it and I can set my own rhythm. I do however set myself a wordcount target because I do need a bit of pushing and it forces me to get into a routine. I usually stick to my targets and make sure I write every day, otherwise I get a bit lazy.

However, as I hear authors rushing to meet their deadlines and having to write 4000 words a day to reach them, I wonder if the pressure dampens the joy of writing for them. I often find myself smiling as I write because I'm enjoying it and I have time to relish in the process knowing I don't have to finish it by a certain date and there is no axe over my head when I don't write because I want to think the scene out at a leisurely pace.

After all, not being published, has to have some benefits.

Do you need pressure to write? Do you feel happy when you write or do you see it as an obligation?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Do you like them short or long?

I know people who will only go for long books. I'm not sure if this is a way to get their money's worth or because they feel more drawn into the story if it's longer. Others like short books because they don't read much or don't have much time and the sight of a big fat brick is a bit overwhelming.

I don't have a set preference but I usually go for average sized books (about 350 pages) because I feel I can read two books in the time it would take me to read an 800 page book. But this isn't always the case, because there are books that keep you so hooked you'll finish them in no time, whereas others you'll struggle to get through it and it will take longer. Also, there is the patience factor. I'm quite impatient and I want to know the end as quickly as possible, so really long books will have me racing through the pages to get to the (hopefully) happy ending.

With blog posts I've found I leave the longer ones for later when I've got more time to read them if it's something that interests me. However I'll read a short post right there on the spot. 

What do you prefer? Do you like short or long books? Do you think about it before buying a book?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Why I Write

Why do I want to be an author? Well it’s obvious, I want to win an Oscar, earn loads of money, be invited to parties with other stars and have an excuse to kiss Hugh Jackman. Ooops, sorry, wrong career.

One thing is for sure, I’m not aspiring to earn loads of money with my writing. After talking to several authors I’ve come to the conclusion that writing will not make me rich, in fact it would make me quite poor if I quit my day job.

Am I aspiring to become famous? There again, considering the amount of books published and how difficult it is to promote your book, I don’t think fame is on the horizon either.

So, is it for the mere pleasure of writing? No. I enjoy writing, but I don’t find it’s enough; otherwise I wouldn’t go through the trials of becoming a published writer. What I’m really seeking is recognition. I want my effort to be recognized by others and to know that it is worth reading and it is enjoyable.

When I tell someone I’ve written a novel, they often tell me how proud I must feel and what an achievement that is. But the truth is I don’t feel fully achieved because I don’t have the certainty that it is worth reading. I should think many people can sit down and write a book, but not knowing if readers will enjoy and appreciate it will prevent them from feeling they’ve done a good job.

What are you seeking? Do you need recognition?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

How do you do?

One thing I did find a bit awkward at the RNA Conference was the introductions. There were all these people I felt I knew from Twitter and email, some I "talk" to everyday, but when I eventually met them, I didn't know how I was meant to introduce myself. Should I give them two kisses like in Spain? A hug? Shake hands? An acknowledging nod of the head?

I've always feared the moment when you're introduce to people. In Spain, people normally give a kiss on each cheek, but that's usually once you've met them or if they're relatives. If you don't know someone or it's a business situation, you'll be shaking hands.
So, you get the awkward moment when you're introduced to friends of friends who you don't know, but it feels a bit too official to shake hands.

In England, I haven't been able to work out the customary thing to do. Some people will give you a hug, others will shake your hand and others will even give you a kiss on the cheek, but I haven't deciphered the pattern for doing this and I probably come across as curt when I'm introduced to someone because I always wait a moment or two to see what the person facing me will do or expects from me.

Have you ever found these moments awkward? Are there any tricks to know what I should be doing?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

I Hear Thunder

There are three things I find mesmerizing and soothing but only entail watching. These are storms, the sea and fire.

It is so hot here I won't even mention fire again. Only the thought of it makes my brain steam. But it is something I could sit gazing at it for hours on end. The same goes for the sea, which I'll spend hours watching and never feel bored. There is something very relaxing about hearing the waves come and go and the sound of seagulls circling above. Even the cries of children running and playing on the beach makes me feel calm.

And as for storms, I find they're like books. They build up slowly, putting pressure on the characters and showing a grey scenario while anticipating excitement and the burst of thunder. Then, when the downpour comes and washes away all the negative emotions and the overload in the atmosphere, and lightning lights up the way for the characters, peace finally comes leaving happiness in its wake.

What do you find relaxing?

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Joy of Peaceful Solitude (#FridayFlash)

Every Friday afternoon Mary had her friends over for tea. They had their own ritual, they’d have their cupcakes, flapjacks, China Rose Tea... and then they’d clear the table for their game of bridge. 

It was one of the pleasures of not having a husband. She could invite whoever she wanted, whenever she wanted. There were no arguments or sneers about her choice of friends or the noise they made. She was free to live her life without having to give explanations or excuses. 

Now, as she sat in the garden with her friends and listened to them chatting away and catching up on the gossip, she relaxed in her chair, knowing she no longer had to rush back to the kitchen to get her husband’s dinner ready by eight o’clock on the dot. 

‘Mary dear, you’re ever so quiet today. A penny for your thoughts?’ asked Emily. 

‘It’s now been a year since John left,’ answered Mary quietly. 

Her three friends gasped and looked at her concerned. ‘Oh, no. We never realized. It must be such a painful day for you.’ 

‘Painful? Why would it be painful?’ she asked and searched their wrinkled faces in surprise. ‘I was wondering if the bottle of champagne would be chilled by now.’ 

Her friends exchanged gazes. They’d always assumed the fit of giggles that had possessed Mary at the time was part of a nervous breakdown. Could it have really been happiness? 

They eyed her carefully and were further surprised by the wide grin spreading over her face. 

‘You should all try it. It is absolute bliss,’ said Mary as she got up and walked towards the kitchen. 

A moment later, she came back carrying a tray, but as she approached the table she caught sight of her Terrier trotting back from the end of the garden with his paws covered in dirt and something in his mouth. As she made out the shape, she dropped the tray and the champagne bottle and flutes fell with a crash on the floor. 

The Terrier came up to her wagging his tail and she tried to free the object from his jaw, but he wouldn’t let go. ‘Oh you naughty little dog, I told you it wasn’t a ball. Go and put that skull back where you found it. What will my friends ever think of the state of him now, as if he wasn’t ugly enough during life.’ Then, she turned to her friends with an apologetic smile as they all watched her in horror, ‘Sorry, girls, but my husband is determined to embarrass me, even after dead.’

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Comradeship at the RNA Conference

I've been in England this last week, that is why I was so quiet. This is actually a lie, because I haven't stopped talking. First I was with my family and then at the Romantic Novelist's Association Conference where I met lots of people I already knew from Twitter and email.

I found the prospect of meeting these people both exciting and slightly daunting. It's often easier to hide behind your desk and have time to think witty answers than talk face to face with people, but all my doubts disappeared   the moment I arrived there and started introducing myself to friendly people I recognized by their photos, although there were a few that were unrecognisable and improved no end in person. I've realized cameras can be a very mean enemy if their not on your "good side".

One thing I've learnt this weekend is that authors are very aware of the struggle it is to be published and there is a feeling of comradeship among writers that I don't think many professions can boast about. I met all kinds of writers at the conference, both published and yet-to-be-published, and I often heard the words "I know exactly what you mean" because they've all suffered the same hardships at one time or another. It's not only the pen and paper they share, it's the joys and sorrows too. 

As for the working side of the conference, I really wished I'd had a larger memory this weekend, because I've had lots of advice on writing which seemed essential to me and I'm worried I might forget it. This means I was ignoring one of the main advices: Always keep a notebook with you and write everything down!

Monday, 5 July 2010

The sacrifices of femininity

I must admit I'm not a feminist, I like all those gentlemanly details, like opening the door to let us through or the feeling that you're protected, even if it's only an illusion and your man would probably run away while you hit muggers with your 45lb bag full of cosmetics, books, cards, pens, notebooks, toys and no money.

I'm obviously quite a selective sexist because I'll defend women's rights and freedom to act and decide, or whenever I think it convenient for my objectives, but there are still things I expect a man to do, like DIY things, mow the lawn or kill spiders so I have a guilt-free conscience.

Women have fought for equality, but I find I don't want all of the package that equality entails. I'd much rather stay at home without working if I've also got to look after kids and cook and fill up washing machines and clear up and race around like a maniac to pick up the children from school on time... Unfortunately I can't do this if I want to keep a certain lifestyle, so I have to be a modern woman who works and does those things too.

And then there are all those image sacrifices. I often think about the people who discovered things or implanted traditions. One of those things, for instance, is beauty trends. Like who on Earth decided to shave for the first time? Didn't they realize the consequences that would have in the future? The long-life commitment to suffer that involved? What's wrong with looking like a cuddly orangutan? I'm sure we'd save on heating and warm clothes in the winter. In fact, women do tend to go back to the furry look sporting minx coats in the winter.

Then of course you get the "you need to be thin to be beautiful" fashion. Whoever decided that? Did they really think about the hunger and lack of breathing and all other thinning sacrifices that this trend would mean to women's nature? If I'd met that person in time, I'd have smacked them on the head and say, "think very carefully what you're going to say, you're about to change the life of lots of happy bulgy women".

So, next time I talk to the manager in charge of my rebirth, I will make sure they tick the "Man" box on my form before chucking back into the world.

Friday, 2 July 2010

A Juicy Date (#FridayFlash)

“You must take my word Grace, Matt is a fine young gentleman. He’s kind and very bright. And he’s a businessman, he’s got his own fishmonger’s,” she said talking to Grace and the rest of the customers, who nodded interestedly in return.

“Yes, Mrs. Peckbot, I’m sure he’s very nice. But I’m really not interested. Is there anything else you need?”
“Not interested? Don’t give me any of that nonsense Grace. A girl of your age must think of having a family, and you can’t wait too long, you’ll regret it. I’m sure Matt would be delighted to take you out to dinner one night.”
Grace was losing her patience. She’d been hearing old-women’s advice on her love life for the past year and it didn’t look as if they would give up soon. She did as usual, she smiled politely and nodded at the right times even if she was bursting to shout at them.
“Shall I tell him to come over then?” Mrs. Peckbot enquired.
“Who?” asked Grace coming back from her thoughts.
“Well, my nephew of course,” she said rolling her eyes at the other customers who’d been listening and giving their own opinions.
“Oh, no thanks Mrs. Peckbot. I’m fine as I am,” Grace said with the calmest smile she could muster whilst trying to ignore the rest of the stares. “Now, do you need any more apples or kiwis?”
“No, no, that will be all thanks,” she said. She paid for her fruit and vegetable and hurried off in a huff.
 As the day went by, she listened to other offers to set her up on a blind date with sons, nephews, neighbour’s great-sons and even the milk-man. “Do I look this desperate to find a man?” she said to her sister over the phone while the shop was empty. “Yes, of course I feel lonely and I would like a man to share the evenings after work with, but one that I chose and certainly not a blind date. I don’t believe in blind dates set up by mothers or grandmothers. It’s the perfect way to put anyone off someone. Going out to dinner with a man who your mother deems suitable or appropriate is enough to kill the sparkle and attraction.”
 She looked at her watch once the shop was empty and was relieved to see it was nearly time to close. She heard the bell above the door tinkle as the door opened. There was always someone who had to spoil her plans to close the shop early. However, a customer is a customer, she thought, and turned round with her usual smile.
The smile broadened heartily as she saw a tall man with dark wavy hair stride up to her.
“Hi,” he said with a lopsided grin which just opened enough to show white glimmering teeth. His hazel eyes were slightly turned down at the corners giving him an air of sadness despite the deep laugh lines at the corners.
Grace nodded, unable to answer. What was a man like this doing in a fruit shop? He was too beautiful to be doing ordinary chores. He belonged in a film set or an important business board, but not in a small village shop. She looked away to try to recover her breath and mind.
“I’d like some of those melons, they look firm and delicious,” he said with a husky voice. She looked up at him to follow his gaze, but his eyes weren’t targeting the Cantaloupe melons, they were pinned on her and he slowly lifted them to her face. “They look fresh and juicy.”
“The melons, yes, of course” she said in a mere whisper and started to move towards them. Through the corner of her eye she noticed his hand went to touch the peaches.
“They’ve such silky skin,” he said slowly. “I feel an urge to stroke them when I see them. I think I’ll take some too.” He took a step closer to her and picked up a papaya. “These have such a refreshing flesh and exotic taste. I want some too.”
The rumble of his voice made her blood race to her face and her fingers trembled as she chose a ripe melon and left it on the counter. She moved under his straightforward stare and once again, he slowly raised his gaze inch by inch to lock his eyes with hers. She rustled the paper bag to bring herself back from the intensity of the moment and, as she reached out for the peaches, he came closer.
She turned round to find herself face to face with him and took a small step back as she found the closeness too overwhelming to control her urge. He held her free hand and lifted his other hand to her hair and cupped her face. As she leaned her face in his hand she breathed in his smell and her eyes opened wide in surprise. Her nostrils filled with the smell of fish.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Crossing Over to a Land Called Fiction

There are books you simply can't tear yourself away from until you reach the last words. I've stayed up until 4am reading a book because I couldn't go to sleep without knowing the outcome and I become deeply attached to those characters when I'm left alone with them at night, no noises or voices to distract me. I'm immersed in the world of fantasy jutting from the pages.

When I wake up the next morning, there are a few instants where fiction and reality haven't come apart yet and I'm still playing the role of the heroine in my mind. As I read lots of romance, I might wake up feeling incredibly happy with the memory of a handsome millionaire proposing to me last night, and those nights when I've been reading a mystery or suspense novel, I'll feel an exhilarating delight as I remember how the hero saved me in the small hours from a being shot by the murderer.

I sometimes find it difficult to remember that the lines I'm reading are fiction and I'll mourn the death of a character as if I'd known them. When this happens, I wish I could write to the author and ask them to change their words, resuscitate their character as the feeling of loss becomes so real.

There are books that require a few hours to stew and linger in your mind and take over your thoughts and sensations before you open the cover of your next experience. When I'm still feeling a roller coaster of emotions inside as I replay the scenes in your mind, the thought of starting the next book makes me feel unfaithful to the characters I've just shared their lives with.

Do you get totally wrapped up in books and forget the characters don't exist in your real life? Do the scenes become alive in your minds?

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Siren

This is my first #Fridayflash. I've barely written any short stories, so I don't have much practice. (I know, I'm searching for excuses to justify any dreadful work I post, but this is scary.) 

The shrill of the siren came back to her. The sound was so engraved in her memory that it still triggered the dreaded shivers of anxiety down her spine as she woke up each morning. She heard it for the last time a year ago and it meant the end of one life and the beginning of the next. But today, a whole year later, she would go back to the comforts of her old life. She would have to bid farewell to the excitement and adventures she’d been living, but she’d had more than enough, she couldn’t take any more of this lifestyle.

            It had taken her a month to adjust to her new surroundings. She’d felt completely lost and frightened at first. She even doubted she’d survive in this foreign world, but her inner instincts had pushed her to fight for what she needed and she found energy and will where she thought there was none.

            The hardest part was the loneliness she felt. The inherent need to talk to someone and share her fears and sorrows or even her jokes on her good days wouldn’t fade with time. She’d always felt silly speaking to herself, but as the days went past, she’d realized it was the only way of channelling her feelings. Listening to her own voice as she recited her thoughts helped her distance herself from her problems and make a reasonable decision, despite the lack of objectivity.

            Now, as she felt the cool water cascade on her back, the tension released from every muscle and she let hope warm up her insides. She looked back at these past months with pride.

            What had she learnt from this past year? She’d learnt to appreciate the small pleasures that fill our lives and make it worthwhile. Those everyday treats we ignore when they’re within our reach but we miss once they’re not available. She missed the smell of her favourite detergent, the creaminess of chocolate mousse, the softness of her TV rug, the warmth of a pullover she’d had since she was a teenager, the squishiness of her childhood pillow, the sight of people bustling in her hometown fair, sitting at her local pub talking to her friends, the crunchiness of homemade cookies as they come out of the oven... But most of all, she’d learnt to value friendship and family in a way she’d never thought of before. Not being able to phone her best friend at any time of the day or cry on her shoulder when she was at her wits limits had made her realize how you take all these things for granted.

            Would she miss anything from this last year? She would miss her freedom and independence. She rejoiced in the way she didn't have to give any explanations to anyone about what she did. She would miss the lack of routines and timetables, as well as the activities she’d mastered, like lighting a fire, barbequing, fishing, picking fresh fruit from the trees, watching the stars in complete darkness and quiet...  

            Her mind went back to the first day of her new life. It had begun with a sunny morning announcing the perfect weather for a special outing. The only items in her bag were a book, sun cream, sunglasses, a towel, her iPod and a bottle of water. Her feet touched the fine sand which tickled all the nerves on her soles. She walked away to a hidden cove and lay down to read her book and listening to the music, but the heat was overpowering and the sound of the waves lulled her into sleep, the book fell out of hand and landed gently on the sand.

            She woke up startled by the loud siren. It took a few moments for her to remember where she was. The sun was nearly hidden behind the horizon and the light was pale and soft, the waves now stroked her towel. She stood up in a rush and clumsily picked all her things as fast as she could. As she raced back she heard the siren again, but this time the sound came from the opposite direction and she was completely disoriented. After running through the tall vegetation for a few minutes she stopped to catch her breath and terror run through her as she realized she was lost. She made up her mind and followed her instincts until she reached the beach where all she could see were footsteps leading in all directions, but most of all, a marked trail heading towards the shore where the boat should have been.
            Again, the siren in the distance teased her, and as she raised her sight, she saw the large ship sailing into the horizon, ready to reach civilization in a few days. Shock brought back the words of the girl at the agency, "The Secret Cruise is a luxury trip to a secret desert island. No-one knows where the island is and it’s only visited once a year.”

            She’d counted the days and an exact year had gone by. Today, The Secret Cruise would come back and she would make sure she didn’t miss it. 365 days after, she would go back to civilization.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Sadly We Don't Only Use 10% of Our Brain Capacity?

I'm in shock after discovering that the famous "we only use 10% of our brain capacity" is in fact a myth. Scientific evidence proves that this isn't true and is a myth that presumably arises from a misinterpretation of research made in the early 1900s when researchers said that "only 10% of the neurons in the brain fire at any given time" (it says so in Wikipedia, not that I know anything about this type of thing).

Anyway, this revelation is pretty unsettling because it just shows what a low brain capacity I've got. I always found some comfort in thinking I couldn't do much more with only 10% of a brain, so being so forgetful wasn't really my fault. I've suddenly lost my excuse for being a half-turnip. Now what do I say?

For the past months I've been reading blog after blog in search of all the writing suggestions and advice that will make my novel worthy of an Orange Prize -in fact any colour prize would make me happy, as long as it's not foggy grey or doomed black.

So, as I read through all the wonderful advice available, the level of information in my brain rose and rose until it was so crammed it just couldn't save any more words. This is when I was expecting the other alleged 90% of brain capacity to kick in, but it never happened. It's reached its maximum capacity and either I delete some of the data stored or no new information will fit in. Which means, not only my house needs tidying up, but my brain needs decluttering too and I don't know where to start.

There is such a variety of opinions, rules, advice, do's and don't do's which I need to know, that if I delete the wrong information I might miss my chance for an award. Any ideas? How do you select which information to keep? Whatever matches your own ideas or your current situation? Whatever someone you admire says? Whatever someone successful says?

Friday, 18 June 2010

False Friends?

The Social Media must be the most popular way of making friends at the moment. I'm pretty addicted to twitter and I'm meeting all these amazing people without even putting a foot outside my house. Many of them I talk to every day, others only once a week or two, others I'll read but won't talk to them..., but on the whole, you do get the feeling of friends. And it's people from all over the globe, from different cultures, jobs and lifestyles.

I'm always a bit weary of using the term friends for people I've never met, but lately I've realized I talk to many of these newly found acquaintances just as I would with my "real life" friends. It's usually just fun and jokes, but you can also share your problems and you'll get buckets of sympathy and courage and suggestions. It's what you'd expect from friends.

However, doubts do start creeping in, and you wonder if you're just seeing more than is there, you interpret other people's interest as a sample of their friendship but they are simply being kind and answering your messages. I find it a bit difficult to define these new trend relationships, but I guess it's a matter of time as with any other relationship. Time will either strengthen or fade the relationships and the permanent and reliable ones will remain.

Have you made real friends through Twitter or blogs?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Will evolution lead to an annex in our brains?

You know how evolution has adjusted our bodies to our needs. The most evident change being our vertical posture which implies walking on two feet, although my body resents this fact and hunches back into dangling arms position by the end of the day, maybe I evolve at a slower pace than the rest or I've ended in the wrong era.

In any case, I've been wondering if evolution will head towards an additional section in our brains. For some time now I've spent time with people who have this protuberance coming out of their hand. It's not an extra thumb or pinky finger, it's called a mobile, smartphone or iphone. These people have incredible skills with this bulge, they can eat with it in their hand, they can watch telly, drink coffee, drive, and  I wouldn't be surprised if it shares places with the sponge in the bath.

However, some people have more developed skills than others. Some are more limited and they can only nod while they fidget with their protuberance (um, still talking about their phone here), this is fine, because the person opposite them thinks they are listening to them, but others can even nod AND answer back while their fingers type these tiny keys on it.

How do they do it? It can only be because they've grown an additional section in their brain. There can't be any other explanation. These people have an advantage over the other less developed people who simply stop reacting to your conversation while their gaze is fixed on the little screen of their bulge and thumbs race over the keypad, which leaves you feeling as the most boring person on Earth. But don't worry, you're not that boring, you just can't compete with the world surfacing from that screen: web contents, blogs, twitter, email, online shopping...

I want this additional section in my brain. Where do I get one? Can you buy iBrain attachments? I wouldn't mind an extra memory card for my brain either. It would be so convenient for multitasking and I'd get so much more done in my too-short 24 hour day.

Have you evolved into the iPeople or smartpeople race or are you lagging behind like me in the under-construction-race?

Friday, 11 June 2010

Tough Challenge: Unveiling 10 Things You Never Knew

Today I’m tackling a difficult challenge Talli Roland gave me. It comes in the way of an award and I should tell you 10 things that aren’t of common knowledge. I’m too uncultured to give any exciting information you won’t know, so I’ll try to think up things you don’t know about me:

1.- I’ve got an excellent memory for useless details. I’ll remember any gossip you tell me, but will probably forget to collect my children from school.
2.- Despite having studied Business Administration before Translation I’m completely dyscalculic (learnt this word the other day) and block the moment you mention a figure. Thank goodness for mobile directories and calculators.
3.- I tune out of conversations sometimes. I can’t help it, a word triggers my imagination and off it goes, oblivious of what the other person is saying. If you ever talk to me, give me a little nudge if my eyes glaze and I’m smiling when you’ve just told me your cat fell off the roof.
4.- I think I left my energy dose at the hospital when I was born. If you mention the word sport I might walk (never run) in the opposite direction.
5.- I’ve tried all sorts of hobbies, riding, ice-skating, photography, sewing, pilates method, badminton, sailing, wine-tasting (that is a bit blurry, I wouldn’t spit after tasting)... Some of those were fun, but I’ve discovered my real passions are cooking, eating, writing, reading and watching films and TV.
6.- I speak Spanish, English, French and could get by in Germany but I’ve forgotten most of it. I tried practicing in Germany but everyone would just answer back in English and I started wondering if I was in the right country. Maybe I should try the south of Spain, I’ll have more chances of hearing German there.
7.- My best friend is called SuperLex and he’s an Oxford Dictionary. I wish I could install it on my mobile phone. He’s my faithful assistant. Thesaurus is a good friend too.
8.- Some of my favourite words are flabbergasted, dumbfounded, scarecrow and butterfly.
9.- I was told I was no good as an interpreter as my voice is so monotonous. I’d probably bore the audience to sleep. I’m very shy and I blush like a lobster when I speak to a crowd.
10.- The more I work at home, the more of a hermit I become so my addiction to twitter is increasing at terrifying paces. Do you know of any good twitter rehab centres?

Phew, that was difficult. Now I’ll pass this award to another five people:

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

What happened to Silence is Golden?

I've just been over at Talli Roland's blog where she was complaining about all the noise surrounding her house and I could imagine how nerve-racking it must be.

I now live in the middle of the country, where the loudest noise you'll get is the cowbells. Well, and a few peacocks screeching their heads off in the middle of the night. However, I've grown accustomed to the quiet of rural life.

But life in general is full of noise. Even if we're alone we'll turn on the radio or TV or rush to the phone. If you peep through your neighbour's window you'll see they're listening to some sort of entertainment.

There are times, nevertheless, when you crave for silence. There comes a time when you just want peace and quiet to hear your own thoughts. Just stop and listen to yourself and, if you're a writer or an incipient writer you'll probably hear voices screaming at you to let them out.

And the truth is silence brings us precious moments. Whereas you'll often find yourself trying to fill in those awkward silences with people you barely know, you'll be sure you've made a great friend when you can sit in silence with them comfortably. Or put your head under the water (remember to take it out again) for a few moments and feel the peace and silence invade you, probably reminiscent of your pre-world life. And what about those moments when everyone is asleep and you have silence all to yourself, which means no-one is directing your line of thought, you're free to ponder about anything you feel like...

So I try to make the most of those brief moments when all is silent and I'm left alone with my characters. I sometimes hush them, but they'll just ignore me and keep the party going regardless. Silence is so often bullied away by noise that it only makes shy appearances and comes in tiny doses, so I grab it whenever it dares to creep into the room.

Are you a silence seeker or will you play music whenever you're alone?

Friday, 4 June 2010

Age-less media

In line with a previous post on the age of our characters, I've been giving the age subject a bit of a thought lately.

I've recently met lots of different people by email, twitter and blogs. Some of these people don't show their faces and you've no idea what their age is, but we just treat each other on equal terms. In fact we tease each other without second thoughts about our ages, just the usual respect for each other.

I've watched people talk to older people, and there isn't the natural, relaxed relationship we get on the social media. That is one of the things I like about this virtual world, lots of the prejudices disappear the moment you can't actually see the person on the other side of the "line". You've got to be careful, of course, hiding behind a keyboard can make you careless and lead you to lose the customary respect, you may lose all your inhibitions.

Also, written language can lead to misinterpretations, so you've got to take extra care with your sarcasm and irony. But on the whole, it makes life so much more fun for those of us that work at home alone.
Have you made friends of all ages through Twitter or blogs?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Is this simply a house?

To you this will probably just be another house, but to me, this is a result. 

I'd been looking for this house for a long time. I'd seen it in the Real Estate Agency's window but I couldn't find it in the village. One day, however, someone talked to us about a house on sale. They didn't describe it, but we went to see it nevertheless, driven by our curiosity. When we got there, I was amazed to see the house I'd been looking for during the past months. 

The surveyor declared it in ruins, and I think he was actually being generous there. It was a heartbreaking sight; the roof had caved in in several places, the walls were black from the dampness, spiders everywhere (eeeeew)... But this didn't deter us. After many fights with licences, councils and banks, we bought it and spent the next five years wondering if we were crazy. We did most of the work inside, but luckily we hired someone to do the roof and plumbing. However, I've devoted many hours to plaster walls, churn cement, fill in holes, paint walls... and I had never, ever touched a builder's tool (no puns please). There is still lots to do, but we converted a derelict pile of stones into a habitable home.

Now, I look at my house and feel pride. It's the result of all our efforts, money and tears, but it was worth our while.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Comforts of Our Era

If I had to think about the 3 best inventions from the past century I'd find it very difficult to keep it down to 3. Heating and dish-washers spring to mind, among many other cons.

I may dream about the romantic atmosphere of the late 18th century I've pictured in my mind, but the truth is, I wouldn't give up all my comforts to live in a cold mansion with Mr. Darcy and no TV, phones or cars. I think I'd be asking for a divorce after a week and packing my bags to come back to this century.

However, the invention I most appreciate right now is the Internet. I can't begin to imagine the time translators and writers must've spent in libraries before the Internet.

Now, if I need to do research on 16th century armours, on wind-driven generators, on 18th century cures, on 2-core processors or on how to put someone under a curse (don't worry, I haven't had the need for that yet) I just go about clicking my mouse and typing in a few words from the comfort of my home and voilà.
I've learnt so much about writing these past months just by reading blogs. And each blog leads me onto another one, it's like the little boy who tried to count the stars, to think about the amount of blogs I'm missing is quite overwhelming.

But also, I get answers to all my questions by email or twitter in only a few minutes. If I had to wait for a courier on a horse to bring me the answers, I'd probably be 90 by the time I finished a book.

I love our era. Which invention do you most appreciate and which one has helped you with your writing?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Happy Endings for Children and Adults

Should children be shocked into reality? I like happy endings. I read books and watch films that will give me that feel-good smile at the end, and I certainly hope to find that in children's films and books. However, I've seen quite a few films lately where one of the characters dies and it doesn't add anything to the story. It merely catches the older audience by surprise, who then fights to hide the tears before the puzzled younger audience starts asking what has happened and why is everyone crying.

I grew up reading and listening to fairy tales and books where all endings were happy. Maybe this has influenced in my optimistic approach to life or maybe optimism is just part of each person's nature. But all these happy endings and the belief in one's own happy ending hasn't prevented me from facing harsh realities when they've hit me in the face. In fact, it's probably helped me to overcome them.

I don't write children's books so I'm unaware if children's authors are required to know some basics on education or psychology, but I imagine they have to bear in mind the impact their stories can have on a child. I understand the need to make children aware of social issues, but is it really that awful to keep them in a bubble of fantasy during the time they read a book or watch a film? Will these realist portraits of life and social issues bring up new generations with a highly developed social conscience and mentally prepared for death?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Strolling through literary fiction, galloping through commercial fiction

This may be an obvious observation but I read literary fiction much slower than commercial fiction. Based on an exercise I read about on the yingleyangle blog (which has amazing advice for writers) I've been comparing the layouts of the pages and evidently literary fiction has long chunks of narrative without dialogue, whereas commercial fiction is mostly dialogue with the odd paragraph of narrative.

Now, in the report on my novel I was told I used too much narrative so I set out to splash it with dialogue, but there came a moment where the dialogue was flooding the pages and I was loosing my voice. I like narrative, I know too much makes it boring -I often skip it in books when there's too much-, but a balanced amount helps the reader visualize the scene and actions in detail and immerse oneself in the plot.

My point is, I think there is a tendency to include more dialogue to the detriment of narrative, but then literary fiction enjoys greater prestige among literary critics so, in theory, this is what we should be aiming at if we want to become "proper writers". Here I'm being sarcastic because I don't believe literary is better than commercial, just different styles for different tastes and different storylines.

I believe our voice will determine the right balance between dialogue and narrative but it will also depend on the genre we're writing and the audience we're targeting.

Do you find narrative makes books too slow and tedious? And do you feel the pace of books with barely any descriptions is too fast?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Naive writer in search of basic instincts

It's time for a confession. I only began writing in July 2009 and I had the idea that you just sat at a computer or in front of a notebook and wrote down whatever sailed through your mind. So that is basically what I did.

I set myself a wordcount target for each day. I had to write 2000 words a day and I forced myself to do it. Three months later I finished it, I quickly showed it to my sister and mother who, of course, said it was marvellous and I thought, OK, that's it. I'll send it to publishers/agents and have it published by Christmas. (Stop laughing, this is serious.)

That was when I started reading blogs and I learnt about the reality of sending query letters and submissions, about rejections and the infinite community of yet-to-be-published writers, about the average time it takes to see your book in a bookshop window (if ever), yes, about today's writers' hell.

Then I received the critique on my manuscript from the Romantic Novelists' Association which was another bombshell. There were all these things to be considered when writing, all this about the balance between dialogue and narrative, ending chapters on cliffhangers, proactive characters, meandering plots...

But how did the great classical writers know all these things when they wrote? I'd swear they couldn't enrol on online Creative Writing Master Degrees, they couldn't check blogs for advice on how to show but not tell, no How-to-get-published books, no desperate tweets to fellow writers asking for suggestions... Maybe they didn't have as much competition as we have today, but it can't have been easy in their times either.

So why are our natural instincts no good any more? Or is there still people out there who do have those natural instincts for writing and get it right at their first try? That's probably it, the classical writers that made it to our era were those very few writers who were born with innate instructions on how to write. And it was probably them who set the models in the first place for everyone else. So there you go, I've found someone to blame for my struggle to find the right balance in plot, characters, page number...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What age are your characters?

I recently read a book where the main characters were barely described and you never got to know their ages. I tried to work it out, but the years didn't make sense. I found it very difficult to visualize the characters and I never became attached to them in the way I usually do when I read a book.

This distance between me and the characters also prevented me from getting genuinely involved in the plot, and even if I enjoyed the storyline, I didn't feel anything by the time I finished the last page.

Age shouldn't matter, but it's a fact I need to know to be able to recreate the scene in my mind and plunge into the story. I find knowing the characters' age makes them more credible, it explains their actions, vocabulary and train of thought too. I don't care if they're 20 or 50 years old, I just want to know their age.

This subject also makes me wonder why authors choose one age or another for their characters. Most books I've read lately have women in their late twenties or early thirties, but this may be because I love romances, and it seems it's the perfect age to find the love of your life, unless you're reading one of the classics where the perfect age will be early twenties or younger. Sleuths I've noticed tend to be a bit older, you probably need more years to gain the power of deduction and the expertise to identify a murderer by the way a leaf trailed in the wake of a long-distance lorry ended up on the victim's shoe.

What I'd like to know if this usually matches the writer's mental age. You know when someone asks you your age and you have to think twice? I always think 26 or 28 at first but then realize (shocked gasp) that is not my age any more, in fact it's been five years since. You would think I'd get the idea by now... But this is what I mean by our mental age, and I often wonder if this is the reason to choose one age or another for our characters, or if it's chosen to fit in with the plot.

Do you need to know the age of the characters? And why do you choose one age or another when writing?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

An Alien in the World

Remember the song I'm an Englishman in New York, I'm an alien...? Well I'm an alien in the world. I was born in England but was flying over to Spain only three months later and I've lived here ever since.
However, I can't say I'm Spanish either, I'm always an outsider wherever I am. This has its advantages, as it justifies any weird things I might say or do. People will attribute them to the fact that I'm foreign and I get away with lots of mischievous behaviour in the name of bilingualism.
But it also has its disadvantages, like I never get the feeling of patriotism I admire in other people, or people give me wary looks when I say my name is spelt with an h, or my name is pronounced in the strangest ways possible, which has earned me a suppressed smile or two.

On the whole, I enjoy being both Spanish and English, it means I get the best of two countries and it has become the perfect tool for my job as a translator. But please don't ask me which football team I support, I'll probably give you the name of an F1 team. I'm useless at sports whichever the language or country; in some cases, there's no nationality to blame.

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