Saturday, 5 November 2011

Seasonal Writing

My mood drops with the temperature as the cold seasons arrive. I only realize this when the sun comes back and the green shoots start to appear. That's when I can compare my new sunny mood to the gloomy cloud hovering above me during the winter.

I'm sure this isn't very professional, but my mood influences my writing. The story becomes darker during the overcast months and lighter as the days become brighter. In fact, it's lucky I don't write romantic comedy. The upbeat nature of the story might turn into a tragic or angry one if I haven't finished it before the leaves begin to fall.

There are many other factors that influence my writing, like tiredness, what I'm reading, what I've just learnt... I admire the writers who can sit in their writing bubble and block out the outside world while they plunge into their own imaginary one.

I do admit, however, that this is a two-way path for me. I have found that what I'm writing can influence my mood too. I've even ended up laughing as I wrote a scene, so hopefully I will be able to find a balance between my seasonal moods and what I write. Otherwise, I will have to write horror novels during the cold seasons and romantic fiction during the other half of the year.

What influences your writing?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

If I could be anyone I'd be...

My dog. Even if I do admire many people, I can't think of a single human being who'd live a better life than my dog. Lazing around all day, I'd get my food brought to me, I wouldn't have to clear the table or wash dishes, I'd get tickled by raising my eyebrows into a don't-I-look-cute pose, I'd get to be told I'm a good girl for just sitting down or lying down... And as for my duties, when I feel like it I'd just have to shout at someone. If I got really lucky I might even get the chance to bite them.

However, Talli Roland's new heroine, Willow Watts, gets pushed into being Marilyn Monroe and she doesn't get the chance to laze around, it fact she finds herself in the most extraordinary situations...

About Watching Willow Watts
For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father's antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain's Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow's epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn's ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow's town is overrun with fans flocking to see the 'new Marilyn'. Egged on by the villagers -- whose shops and businesses are cashing in -- Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn's legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village's newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How do your characters sleep at night?

A few nights ago I was planning to rob a bank with a bunch of thugs (none of them George Clooney unfortunately). I won't disclose the details in case I ever decide to take up that career, but when I woke up I felt as if it had all been real. For a whole day, I had this burden on my shoulders that only lifted when I remembered that it had only been a dream. I kept reminding myself that I didn't have to feel bad about going into a bank and shouting at the bank manager -although that could happen even if I wasn't robbing the bank. I didn't have to feel anxious in case I got caught, because there would be no grand escape or car persecution. It was only a dream.

However, my conscience had something to say about my dream's scenario. It was telling me it was wrong. So I keep wondering how swindlers, robbers, murderers and any other offenders can sleep at night. Don't they feel bad about it? Isn't there a little voice telling them that that's wrong?

I've been reading Nicola Morgan's fantastic Write to be Published and it has a whole section on characters. One of the things she mentions is villains and how they should have some redeemable feature (she says it much better than I do, of course, but I've paraphrased her). And the truth is, that hopefully the baddies in our stories have a conscience too, the little voice reminding them that they're behaving badly. We will have a rounder character if they hesitate before acting and have doubts eating them up. If there is a believable reason behind their behaviour.

So, I'm going to dig into my baddy's behaviour, make him think about it (maybe he should sit on the thinking step) and I hope he will feel bad about it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Finding hope in our friends' success

The past weeks have been full of good news for several writer friends. There's been a bout of joy rippling through twitter triggered by writers being taken on by fantastic agents, astonishing book deals, successful book launches... 

The bearers of these good news received congratulations from all corners of the world sent by people whom they've never met in person, but they were honest messages. At least I think and hope they were, despite having recently read an excellent blog post about jealousy among struggling writers which got me thinking about this. In these cases, however, I'm convinced that we were all genuinely over the moon with their success. 

Most of our happiness lied in the fact that they are very nice people whom we even consider friends, but I believe that part of our delight lies in seeing hope in their examples. These writers have worked hard, suffered rejections and been eaten by self-doubt for years, but they found the light at the end of the tunnel and they have shown us that it's worth all that effort and tears in the end. Their well-deserved success is the encouragement we need when our faith flags and despair casts a shadow over our expectations.

I can say that I'm truly delighted for those people and I hope that one day they will be as happy for me.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A foreigner in your own country?

I've been reading Head over Heel by Chris Harrison this weekend. It's his witty account of life in Italy through the eyes of a foreigner and it got me thinking about my life in Spain.

I've lived here all my life but I still consider myself a foreigner in many ways and there are things I find difficult to get used to.

For instance, Spanish people are extraordinarily welcoming. If they invite you to pop in for a coffee or drink whenever you want, they mean it. In fact they'll give you a bright smile when you knock at their door early on a Sunday morning and say "Hi, we've come all five of us and the dog for lunch today" and stay on until twelve at night. Even if their fridge is completely empty they will fabricate an edible meal with an egg and a potato (also called tortilla). 

Now this sounds idyllic if you're the one knocking on the door, but if you're the one answering it in your pyjamas which you had planned to keep on all day whilst lounging on the sofa with a book and eating nothing but crisps, the scenario may not be as ideal. Maybe that beaming grin is actually a muscle spasm caused by the shock of opening the door to the couple with the hyperactive children who were so kind as to decorate your walls with inedible ink while you had to look through 500 photos of their trip to the beach. "Oh, look there's the little one with a full bucket. Look, here he is with an empty bucket. Ah, look at him filling the bucket..." 

You just know you will have a stiff neck the next day from all that nodding and you will probably not be able to recover your usual mouth shape after stretching your lips into a smile for so many hours. The subtle hints in the form of a yawn or "Hey, is it that late?" gradually lose their subtlety, "Such a pity we've got to work tomorrow," "I'm exhausted and we've such an early start tomorrow", "Don't you have to work tomorrow?" until you finally get up, say goodnight and ask them to lock up after they leave.

But then of course, I'm still a foreigner and I've got lots to learn about hospitality.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Search & Replace or Search & Reproach?

I've been rewriting my first novel this past month. When I say rewriting I don't mean a little tweak here and there, I mean cutting out entire scenes, killing off some characters and resuscitating others.

Anyway, when I got to the end I realized I had to change my hero's name. Well, I must be honest, it wasn't me being clever, it was Julie Cohen nudging me to consider my mistake. So there I was on page 1 of my manuscript summoning the Search & Replace window to change the name. However, I've suffered many disasters in the past with the S&R -forgetting to activate the Whole Word and Match Case options may prove catastrophic- and my hand began to tremble as the cursor hovered over Replace All so I decided to go for the safe alternative, i.e. replace them one by one.

If you're not careful, changing Mac to Tom indiscriminately might make your characters eat tomaroni, hold a tomhine gun or put on a tom for the rain. On the other hand, changing Tom for Mac might make them eat macatoes, stroke a maccat or leave it till macorrow.

In fact I mentioned my fear of Search & Replace on twitter and I got several examples of Word disasters:

Miranda Dickinson, author of Fairytale of New York changed Eric for Zac and ended up in Amzaca.

Word can change your story of its own accord too. The autocorrect option may drive your story in a completely new direction:

Susanna Kearsley author of Mariana found her Sir Geoffrey de Mornay of Crofton Hall turned into Sir Ego de Moron of Crouton Hall, her swordfights turned into swordfish and the approaching hoofbeats into approaching houseboats. It certainly gave the plot an extraordinary turn.

Julie Cohen author of Getting Away With It on the other hand nearly had her hero Angus re-baptised as Anus which would probably have sent her book to the erotica section in bookshops.

So, as much as I love Word, I know it can betray you when you're not looking and nothing must prevent us from reading through our work once we've finished it. A single click could make so much damage to a manuscript.

Have you had any Word disasters?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Words that mark the difference

At a young age, we strive to fit in with everyone else. Trying to be normal is the common aim at school and any difference with the rest will probably trigger a complex, so we hide it to blend in with the masses.

However, as we grow older, we strive for the opposite. We seek the unique quality that will distinguish us from the rest. We no longer want to be lost in the crowds but rise above them. Both in our professional lives and our personal lives. We want to be remembered and I think this is driving force for many writers.

I've read many books and blog posts worth remembering. Each with a different idea or phrase that made them memorable. So even if those writers haven't been published or been recognized for their uniqueness, they will be remembered by those who read their work and maybe their words will make a difference to their readers at the time or in the future. Their efforts will have an impact.

When I was 12, my Spanish teacher said I wrote beautifully. I believed her at the time and her words had more influence on me than she could have expected. I felt I was good with words and it gave me the confidence to use them and try to improve the way I used them. I often wonder if she really meant it, but even if she didn't, they gave me something to exploit and pursue.  

Words said by the right person at the right time can change your life for the best. So we should always take great care over our words. We never know the influence they may have on our readers or listeners. They may mark the difference.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Feliz New Year

Feliz Año Nuevo, or Happy New Year for non Spanish speakers.

Many of you are sliding back into your routines, but the Christmas holidays haven't finished yet in Spain. We are now awaiting the arrival of the Three Wise Men on the 5th of January. Traditionally, children wouldn't get any presents on Christmas Eve in Spain, they'd get them on the 6th of January, brought by the 3 Kings on their camels. Many families are still faithful to this tradition, but Father Christmas has begun to creep into some houses here and sometimes shares the workload with the Kings.

In any case, this means that we are celebrating, eating and drinking during two weeks. By the end of it, many of us are pretty glad it's over. I think I need another holiday to get over the festivities. However, I do enjoy Christmas and part of me is sad when it ends so I'll try to make the most of this week before we're back into our daily routines. And most importantly, I'll build up on the calories before I say goodbye to them.

I hope this year is full of writerly and personal success for all of us and I hope we can share and celebrate them together.

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