Category: Fiction Writing (page 2 of 2)

A World between the Shadows and the Surface

Just a quick post to say I’m back from an amazing scuba diving trip and looking forward to getting back into reading and writing in the upcoming weeks. I was diving out in the Red Sea in Northern Egypt on reefs and wrecks. The more and more I dive, the more I feel like there is a clarity gained in that space between the dark, far-reaching depths and the clear surface above.

Time passing is audible in the long, deep breaths through your regulator and yet there is a deep calm and weightlessness. Coming upon a wreck is particularly curious: corridors and passageways open up around, giving shape to the underwater world that you’re living.

Yet, it is still the reefs and coral swim-throughs that are my favourite, experiencing vertigo suspended above the deep blue, mountainous coral walls rising ahead.

And you never know what you might find in the infinite blue.wreck3wreck4.

Beta Readers and Critique Partners

Last week I extended my network of Beta readers. In the past I’ve just used the writers’ forums I frequent, but I’ve been so happy finding lots more readers/writers to swap with at Goodreads this week. (Thank you to all those people who reached out). It reminded me of the thoughts of a debuting author, Shirley Anne McMillan. She entered the 2014 Undiscovered Voices Competition and I read her YA extract entry, which was excellent and is going to be published in 2016. Loved what she said on the UV website and completely agree: writing could be a lonely occupation, but it isn’t with so many enthusiastic readers and writers out there 🙂 So thank you to everyone for likes, comments, emails and Beta reading/swaps.

Been reading a few of Nicole Morgan’s books lately: Dear Agent, Write a Great Synopsis and Write to be Published. All great sources of advice for aspiring authors from a talented, down to earth, amusing writer. They are books that give no nonsense advice, with black humour thrown in. She made me laugh about her take on some of the silly things aspiring writers can fall prone to complaining about, such as, ‘but there’s so much rubbish that gets published, it’s not fair!’

Response: “…there’s an art to writing good rubbish. It’s not easy. Have you tried? There’s a fortune to be made, I’ve heard.”

I giggled at some of the things we’re supposedly ‘aspiring’ to as well:

“Your publisher will blame you for your poor sales and dump you. This is like being made redundant but without the money. On the other hand, writing is often like working but without the money.”

None of this matters though as we’re still here and continuing to persevere – that’s what counts! And feel free to get in touch if you fancy Beta reading for me or if you’d like your MS Beta read by me 🙂

Calling all immortals!

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while. A future post will definitely be saved for the topic of an in-depth analysis of the glorious vampire! Perhaps also for the werewolf and witch. But for now, I wanted to speak about my reasons for loving the supernatural genre. I’ve heard lots of people who are into the genre say its appeal is in the magic and the mysticism. Yes. Some say its about escapism. Yes also.

But take the vampire as an example. The one leaning against the mantelpiece.  Don’t you love it when they lean 😉 His thoughtful gaze is fixed on the flames in the grate, but the fire doesn’t warm his icy skin, or chase away the shadows that fill his eyes.  O.K, sorry…but in each vampire, and supernatural story, is the same theme, which speaks to us and draws us. Whether your vampire dresses in velvet and lace, or leather and denim, whether his pallor is permanent or sparkles in the sun. He is immortal.

In other words the paranormal/urban fantasy/science-fiction wraps up our own mortality in a cast of characters – be they vampires or witches, elves or wizards. They carry us through time and give us the potential for an infinite story.

Suspension of Disbelief

I wanted to post a quick something I was thinking about recently – how useful Science can be in the SFF genre when used tentatively. I watched the film, The Age of Adaline, and in it the MC’s immortality is explained by a fluke accident, involving a car crash, hypothermia and electric shock by lightning. (All rather amazing, I know, but the short scientific aspect of the story is that during the accident some of her cell functions were altered). Lots of people, (who understand more about molecular biology than I do, would take umbrage at this scientific mumbo-jumbo; I know because my older sister’s one of them,an ex-biochemist). But a tentative, vague Scientific explanation is a great device to help suspend the reader/viewer’s disbelief and build that bridge from your fantasy to the real world.

A few months ago I did my own research into t

elomeres and the aging process, linking recent DNA research with goings-on in my Urban Fantasy world, (with my sister’s help of course). A great Fantasy book that uses this device successfully is Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. Have a read and enjoy how easily your disbelief falls by the way-side.

Characterful Settings

I’ve been reading some of Chekhov’s short stories (love them), but one of the things that struck me reading them was how wonderfully the characters interact with their environment. Their thoughts, emotions and outlooks infuse the landscape and the setting in turn reflects them and their story so powerfully, making everything richer.

For example in ‘The Kiss’ Ryabovitch, a soldier has a passing kiss with a woman, accidentally, and everywhere hereafter the place is affected with his new feelings:

“On the other side of the river a murky fire came into sight, and having nothing better to do, they spent a long time in discussing whether it was a camp fire or a light in a window or something else…Ryabovitch too, looked at the light, and he fancied that the light looked and winked at him, as though it knew about the kiss.”

In ‘Enemies’ there is a wonderful interaction between the mother of the dead boy and her surroundings; her grief is so tangible within her surroundings:

“…she did not stir; but what life was suggested in the curves of her body and in her arms! She leaned against the bed with all her being, pressing against it greedily with all her might, as though she was afraid of disturbing the peaceful and comfortable attitude she had found at last for her exhausted body.”

And then there’s Sonya, who is putting life as she knows it in danger by being on the verge of embarking in an affair:

“Sonya…turned towards the embankment with a burning face. The engine slowly crawled by, then came the carriages. It was not the local train, as she supposed, but a goods train. The trucks filed by against the background of the church in a long string like the days of a man’s life, and it seemed as though it would never end.”

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

I’d like to throw the limelight on the figure who lurks in the shadows of novels like the wizard of Oz behind the curtain. The narrative voice. A few books I’ve read lately lend themselves to the analysis of voice, that  diction that imbues the landscape of the novel with its unique tones and hues. I’ve found myself ruminating a lot on this topic lately.

Two books that struck me as having a very strong narrative voice that I’ve read lately, were McInerary’s, Last of the Savages and Fitzgerald’s, Great Gatsby. In both books a character bears the narrative voice. In the Great Gatsby, Nick is the reticent, passive character, narrating rather than participating in the events of the story. Similarly, Patrick in Last of the Savages bears the reflective, often cynical voice of the author.

Nick narrates darkly when he first meets Jordan, “Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me” and when first dining with her, Daisy and Tom, says of them, “…their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire.” Patrick narrates the tale of his friendship with Will Savage, and it is his derisive outlook on life that once again causes the character Savage to shine in the same way Nick’s perspective brings Tom, Daisy and Gatsby to life.

The narrative voice of Patrick is similarly dark. He says of his mother that he is “…acutely embarrassed by her sheer volume…” and that his “father, as if to compensate tended to recede…” And Patrick’s very passive, cynical character and narrative contrasts and in turn imbues life into Savage’s character that gives the story its vitality: “His very aloofness seemed to attract those who were less self-contained and he did nothing to discourage these satellites.”

More lately, I found myself examining the voice in the short stories by Franco Marincola (Check out Franco’s voice here if you haven’t read his wonderful work). Franco said that he, like myself, is more interested “in the process of life than life itself.” I think this really does sum up the narrative voice, using characters as smoke screens from whose tongues our words and outlooks roll off.

Setting: Sea, diving and inspiration

cenotes 4

Photos by Nikki Irvine

I have woefully neglected blogging of late, but may reasonably be excused as I’ve been away on holiday for a while. Nothing like a change of scene to give you food for thought and writing fodder. A scuba diving holiday has done just that and I thought I’d get back to the writing by sharing a short story inspired by one of the places I dived: the Cenotes in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. My favourite being Dos Ojos, El Pit, which inspired the story below. I will try to put up a few things over the next few days too. Hope you enjoy the dark, fervid imaginings concocted during my cavern diving (deepest of which I went to being 36 meters, a new record for me)   🙂
cenotes el pit_n

The Pit

The pit opened up as the two divers descended. Their torch beams pierced the gloom, illuminating a cathedral roof of stalactites. Paul took a breath through his regulator, moving his jaw and successfully equalised; hearing the expulsion of his breath clearly again. He glanced at Ana, noting her descent steadying as she added a little more air to the buoyancy jacket. They leveled their path at 30 meters, coming down through a white mist of sulphur, caused by the decomposing vegetation in the cavern. A leaf caught in the glow of the light, almost transparent, but for its tracery of veins, fine as gossamer.

Paul finned harder, his light flickering slightly to his right as he checked on Ana. Beyond her, he caught sight of a wide-berthed tree that rose up through the mist. It sat at an angle in the cloud, looking like an upturned banquet table, its rotting surface having long forgotten the feasts of the past. Paul wondered for a moment, perhaps they should turn back, perhaps this was wrong. He couldn’t shake the feeling that in the surrounding caverns and watery passageways something was waiting for them.

Paul slowed his pace and caught Ana’s eye, nodding to her. She held her breath for a moment, but fell in behind him as planned, careful not to direct the torch ahead. Paul’s beam was poised aloft as he continued through the halocline, the cavern ahead becoming distorted as the salt and fresh water mixed together. As he came out into the water again, tales that Ana had first told him of her ancestors percolated. The Mayans held that Chaak resided in these caves, stocking them with earthenware jars, which he poured from the sky to give the people rain for their crops. Imagining the green canopy of the jungle above only made the waters seem more hostile and he tried not to remember how much more comforting this dive was during the day, with shafts of light colouring the underwater terrain.

Their purpose dictated discretion: the night was necessary. Paul stopped finning and waited as Ana drifted over, holding herself next to him. Her deeper breaths made her movements more pronounced than his. She stilled as she caught sight of the wall: ammonites decorated its wide expanse, their swirling forms telling a story millions of years old. Paul tried to recall what he knew about the mollusks. They had become extinct in the Cretaceous period. Cephalopods lived in the last chamber of a pod. The animal could rise and fall by filling the tube that connected all the chambers with water or gas.

Ana’s hand latched onto Paul and tugged at him. He’d started to rise as his breathing had quickened. Ana’s brown eyes were round behind the plastic of her mask, but their usual rich hue was leeched by the darkness. Her look was fierce, endeavoring to conceal the yearning and desperation, but it still threatened to engulf him. The last few years had been hard on her, on both of them. They’d been trying for a baby, but no amount of prodding or poking, tests or consultants were going to produce that miracle. As Paul felt his will crumbling, words his mother had taught him as a child, which he’d never believed in before, now marched through his mind with ferocity: Sheol, Gehenna, Hinnom, Bor, Abaddon, Sha’hat, Tehom, Hell.

Ana finned ahead and as she stilled before the wall, he knew the choice was hers. Even if they ascended and discussed it further, he could not take her place; the old gods only dealt with their own people and his Christian musings belonged to a modern world that was devoid of hope for her. Her gods were of the deep: ancient and powerful.  They believed in trade. If you wanted something enough, you had to give a thing of equal value.

Slowly, he lifted his torch until it shone over Ana’s form, projecting her shadow onto the white wall of fossils. Paul imagined the porous limestone absorbing her just as the rock had swallowed the rain water above, thousands of years ago until it had collapsed in on itself to form this very cavern. The lines of Ana’s shadow grew sharp and its expanse was heavy on the stone, like pigment seeping into plaster. Its edges blurred until her shadow disappeared entirely. Ana remained as before: rising and falling in the water.

They ascended side by side, circling gradually upwards, until hovering at their 5 meter safety stop. Paul felt uneasy being stationary and grew stiff, surveying the water around them as if expecting something to swim at them. They surfaced in the glint of the moon. Paul’s stomach lurched. Ana’s eyes, their warm resin light was extinguished. He knew that the exchange was complete. The water had been a vehicle for the trade, and if it wasn’t already, Ana’s womb would soon be heavy with life. The water had taken its payment too, and Paul could see the bright tones that had once resided in Ana’s eyes now bathed in firelight: the newest fresco on the walls of Hell.

The Threshold of Redrafting

I believe I have recently made a stride along the long, often wearisome road that is Writer’s Way. Learning from a previous foray into the world of literary representation: I redrafted, edited, formatted and sought a professional critique and report on the opening section of my new novella. My previous attempts, a few years ago, found me with my very first novel, blindly happy and sure that if I could see the brilliance of my fantasy story, somewhere an agent would too. A few months later and a handful of rejections, I decided that perhaps my novel wasn’t quite as brilliant as I’d supposed. (It wasn’t).

Over the last year or so I have learnt a lot about crafting a good story, reading lots of fiction in various genres, reading other writers’ work on forums and practising with short stories, as well as continuing to work on longer projects. Anyway, long story short as expected from my critique and report: I still have some way to go!

I’m still guilty of committing some of the 7 deadly sins of novel writing. Great tips from Angela Ackerman on this page if you haven’t read it:

Mine are:

  • Low stakes
  • Counterfeit characters

So bring on the redrafting!

My editor said:

“Editing is a long and arduous process – I’m always in the throes of editing one thing or another, and boy does it never get any easier.”

This rings true in a blog I’ve enjoyed reading by the author Penn on the Creative Penn:

who quotes Anne Lamott as saying “write shitty first drafts…” and continuing to say “you can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them.”

I think it’s important to remember this along the writing journey, whatever stage you’re at. By putting pen to paper or fingers to type-pad – you’ve already come so far. The execution of your idea may need work, but it exists and can thus be refined so that it is as great as you first conceived it.

In my redrafting I am going to focus closely on plot and narrative vehicle. I was reminded of Jam
es Scott Bell’s book Write Great Fiction – Plot and Structure when working through my critique:

He breaks plot and structure down very simply with obvious examples. I have read this and a number of books and blogs littered with such advice, but am still guilty of a little self-delusion and categorising some of my narrative as sound and necessary.

Bell explains the importance of driving the story’s narrative:

” (The) Lead’s normal world. A place of safety and rest, is on one side of the doorway. Problems may happen here, but they don’t threaten great change. Lead is content to stay here. Something has to happen to push him through the door.”

Again, it reminds me that everything I show my characters doing, everything they think and feel must be necessary, must show the reader something more about them, but always drive the story on-wards. Bell quotes Hitchcock as an example:

“Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was life, with the dull parts taken out.” and wisely counsels all us authors to bear this in mind when writing.

With regards character, I believe I’m finally beginning to understand what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant by:

“Character is plot, plot is character.”

I’ve heard this kind of take on the two so many times before, but my editor honed his point, mentioning his interview with the novelist Francis Hardinge who said:

“I’m not particularly nice to mine (characters) – the heroine’s father is disgraced; her mother oppressive; they move to an island where the entire community goes against them; it gets worse and worse. This gives your heroine a chance to shine through.”

What I thought was enough of a dilemma for my heroine isn’t and in order to truly be real and show her character – she must suffer more.

So it’s back to the drawing board! I will restructure until my crooked doorways are sturdy structures capable of carrying my heroine through on the tides of change.

The Consciousness of Character

I’ve been working on exercises on crafting characters last week. I finally treated myself to a book I’ve been hankering to get my hands on to. I’d like to say it’s because it was recommended to me, which is the case, but as well as this, its the appropriateness of the title: Take your Characters to Dinner with you by Laurel. A. Yourke.

This title, I believe encapsulates something one feels as an author. I’d like to show you, rather than tell you 😉 Here it goes:

I flick the final tab in the browser shut and close my laptop over.  In the blue glow I hadn’t noticed that the day’s light had ebbed away. I’m running late: having spent too long on finishing a chapter. I slip my shoes and coat on, grabbing my handbag in the hallway. The bedroom door stands ajar, the lines of the long corridor softened in the gloom. As I turn, I catch a fleeting shift of movement and do a double take. I lock the door and join the busy street.

Commuters hurry past, as well as others off out for the evening. Even amongst the crowd and passing traffic, I’m able to detect a set of footsteps that marry mine. They keep pace with me as I run up the stairs to the platform and onto the train. And yes, this is London, so a handful of other people follow onto the train behind me, but not my companion. My stalker is already here. The skin of my forearm prickles as if its been brushed. I can almost feel hot breath upon my cheek. My gaze examines the empty space beside me as the train pulls out from the station…

O.K. No, I do not flatshare with a poltergeist, who when sociably disposed accompanies me out for dinner and drinks. Yet, I am hardly ever alone, even when I’m by myself. Uh, huh – I’d like you to meet Xavier, or perhaps it’ll be El you see me with another day. Sometimes our roles are reversed and it is me that feels like a ghost, my step so faint in the world. That is the way we authors like to live, in our characters’ heads, attempting to view the world through their eyes, through their experiences; their foibles and fancies.

And there’s that comical moment when you see someone who reminds you of one of them. Maybe its the way they walk, a gesture, a look, which causes you to gawp like you’ve seen a celebrity. Perhaps you’re more restrained, but your eyes still can’t resist stealing glances of them. You trace their form and face as though you’ve just seen someone you used to know; someone you haven’t seen in ages and you want to know everything about.

Stop…I hear you say! They’re not real! But that’s the novelist’s job – to make them real and maybe, just maybe, if we obsess enough over them, we’ll make it so that you see them too 😉

A walk in the Past

After umming and ahhing about whether to start this blog for a few months, I finally gave in; for as we all know even unpublished authors should build a web presence. After researching and discussing it on writer’s forums and with friends and family, the thing that swayed me was realising that I could furnish this space with stuff I was actually interested in! You may well think this is obvious, but the number of author platforms and blogs out there harking on about how important it is to establish your web presence and brand is enough to spur one into a state of immediate inertia.

Eventually I shook this off and decided to start by posting up something I have enjoyed co-writing for almost ten years – a selection of correspondences to my sister.  (If any of you should wish to acquaint yourself with this esteemed personage, and join in our banter, you can now do so by going to my other blog, The Gentlemen’s Journals.)

In turn this has given me a subject to blog about for my first post: the past in the present. I don’t mean tracing back the origins of our political system to 5th century democratic Athens; I mean how literature, films and any fancy that bring the past back into the present day in an unexpected, reflective or unusual way, is always thrilling.

First, on a light-hearted note, I’d like to recommend or reminisce over fondly (if by chance you share the same tastes) an older TV show, film and newer book.

  • Lost in Austen ITV mini series
  • Kate and Leopold
  • Northanger Abbey, Updated rewrite by Val McDermid

All for anyone wanting to just get swept up in the past, in the today.

I love the idea that a lot of American TV shows are presently exploring of, as in Kate and Leopold, individuals from the past coming back into the present day. Check out:

  • Forever
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • The Age of Adaline (Looking forward to going to see this new movie)

And yes, the paranormal/immortality is an obvious, but excellent way of having the past instantly before us in stories.

Lastly, I recently read a great novel:

  • Jay McInerary’s Last of the Savages.

I love that through it there is an undercurrent of the past that imbues the story with depth and the present with glimmering vitality.

Here are some tasters from ‘Last of the Savages’, when describing Will Savage:

“But he came from a haunted family, a vanquished land, and even as he stormed the crenelated walls of convention, he inadvertently taught me about the past’s implacable claims on the present – that it is if anything, more tangible than the vibrant, breathing moment.”

“He sounded exactly like his father – perhaps his great-great-grandfather, the slave owner, who’d killed a man in a duel over an obscure point of honor. He was a hippie one moment and a Savage the next.”

Well whether reading, writing, watching – enjoy. And feel free to pop in and quote Austen in a silly manner in the now, always like a bit of that, or equally good, for a bit of reflection on any stories you like!


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