11 April 2015

Character Traits and Revisiting Favourite Places

I’ve just come back from a visit to Sydney sandwiched with a short road trip along some of the coast north of the city. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog you’ll know that Sydney is my favourite city to visit. It has the spectacular Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and is built on a beautiful harbour. A ferry trip anywhere from Circular Quay gives you stunning views. The city has some beautiful architecture in its older government and cultural buildings, as well as fabulous parks and gardens. I absolutely love visiting Sydney. One of my favourite pastimes is taking a ferry trip to Manly, not least because you have the best views of the harbour bridge and Opera House. 


We spent the last evening of the trip in Manly. It was a lovely warm evening and so we were outside on deck on the ferry trip back to the city. As we reached the promontory with the Opera House, everyone pulled out their cameras and phones to take photos. It doesn’t seem to matter how many photos you have of this amazing building, there’s always a reason to add a few more. Just as we were snapping away, there was a blaze of fireworks for about two minutes, what brilliant timing! 



When I was younger, I used to wonder why people would visit the same place year after year, I couldn’t imagine anything more boring. To be honest, I still wouldn’t want exactly the same holiday every year. I guess one of the delights of visiting Sydney is that it’s usually a long weekend visit and so doesn’t really count as a holiday!  However, there are pleasures in revisiting a favourite restaurant or café and in seeing sights and views that continue to inspire and amaze you. 

On a different note, although there is a connection, I have just about finished the first draft of my latest novel. I still have a few scenes to write, but the main story is finished. 

Editing is an interesting process, and very different from writing the first draft. Before I start to write a novel, the characters have lived in my head for several months, sometimes a year, so I already know them pretty well.

Once the first draft is finished, I know them even better. I’ve been with them during an event or two that sends their life into a crisis they never imagined, and through mounting problems and challenges that bring them to despair. 

The editing process is a little like going to a destination you’ve visited before. There are places you love and want to see again, but also new things to discover. With the main characters in a novel, there are personality traits and characteristics you already know and show in the writing, but there are also deeper qualities and attributes you need to explore or even discover to make sense of the things they do.

For a character to be well-rounded and real, there has to be understandable reasons for the things they do, otherwise they appear two-dimensional. This is especially true of the villain or nasty character. Very few people wake up in the morning and think, today I’m going to be horrible and make everyone miserable. There is a reason they act like that, or at least in a book there needs to be a reason so the character is realistic.  Think about the most memorable evil or unlikeable characters in novels you've read. Something has happened to shape them, and sometimes even make us feel sympathy for them even if we don't like them.

Currently, I'm looking at the early life of one of my less-likeable characters to figure out what made him like this. As authors, we put our characters through hell, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

18 March 2015

One Lovely Blog Hop

I've been challenged by Amy Spahn to join in the Lovely Blog Hop. The blog hop is intended to let you in on a few of the things in my life that have helped make me the person and writer I am. 

If I haven't bored you stupid by the end, you'll find some links to blogs and writers I like. If I’ve nominated your blog, you don’t have to participate, but if you do please include a link back to this post. This is a lovely way of networking writers’ blogs as much as sharing things from our shady past.
 
So here goes with some interesting facts. Well, they’re interesting to me at least! 

First Memory 
Some people seem to have masses of memories from their early childhood. I can only remember a few things from before the age of five or six. 

Not surprisingly, given my love of books and reading, my first strong memory is of a book. I can see myself clutching this book tightly with one hand while holding onto my brother’s pushchair with the other. From that image, I guess I was about four. I can see the book clearly. It’s longer and narrower than the average book, and each page has six or eight small coloured drawings with one or two lines of text under each picture.

When my mother was in hospital a few years ago, and we had more time than usual to talk, I described the book to her and asked if she remembered it. I thought it was a long shot, but she did remember it. Like most children I had a favourite bedtime story, Mum and Dad had often talked about the 'robber foxes', and how bored they got reading that story to me. It turns out, the book I remembered so clearly was that story.

There’s only one moral to this tale, and that’s to ask your parents all the questions you have while you can. My mother died a couple of years ago and while there are loads of things I should have asked, and wish I’d asked, I’m glad I solved the mystery of this memory. 

Books 
Reading has always been my number one favourite way to spend time. As a kid, I was the stereotypical bookworm. I spent most of my pocket money on books. I’d save up until I had enough and then go to our local stationery shop, which was the only place locally I could buy books. They had one twirly stand of children’s books, most of which were Enid Blyton. Needless to say, I grew up on a diet of Famous Five, Secret Seven, the mystery books and Malory Towers. I’d read the back cover of each book on the stand carefully, sometimes twice, and after much deliberation I’d make my choice. Then I would rush home, eager to lose myself in a make-believe world of solving mysteries or life at boarding school, although I never actually fancied going to boarding school. 

Libraries 
Libraries and books shops are two of my favourite places – not surprising really. As a child, because my reading outstripped my pocket money, I was a regular visitor at the local library. Around the age of eleven or twelve, I’d long since read all the children’s books, and so I used to sneak around the corner of the children’s area and borrow books from the adjoining shelves. Those shelves housed authors whose surnames started with C, and so began my year of reading Agatha Christie. 

What’s Your Passion? 
Recently I walked past a billboard which posed the question, ‘What’s Your Passion’. I have no idea what the board was advertising, so I’m obviously not an adperson’s dream, but the question stayed with me. A few days earlier, a friend and I were discussing that very topic, although more in terms of a work-life balance. We both agreed it was important, even necessary, to have a life outside of work, and this very often touches on the passions in your life. We both have a strong passion that takes up a lot of our time outside of work. Mine is writing and hers is horse riding. I love walking either coastally or in bush and forest, but it isn’t the same as the passion I have for writing. If a few days go by where I’m not able to spend at least a short time continuing the latest work in progress, I definitely get ‘antsy’. So what’s your passion? 

New Zealand 
One of my other passions is for the country I’ve made my home. I was born in England, and I realise that growing up there has shaped a lot of who I am, but after travelling around with work and family for quite a few years, we came to New Zealand for work and made it our home.

I think New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We are lucky in such a small country to have the diverse landscape that we enjoy; from lush rolling hills with herds of dairy cattle, to forests, beaches, cliffs, mountains, volcanoes and glaciers. Here in Auckland we enjoy a beautifully calm east coast contrasting the west coast beaches with dangerous seas of heavy surf, rocks and black volcanic sand. With all this inspiration it's little wonder that my latest work in progress is set here. 

Learning 
I love learning new things, and feel very lucky that doing so is part of my job. Some of the subjects I have to research and develop training courses for aren’t necessarily things I’d choose to learn about, but there’s generally something interesting to discover. Even if you’re writing fiction, there’s plenty of need for research and finding out new things, and in some genres it’s almost obligatory.

What interests me most is people. What makes us who we are, how experiences impact on us and change our perceptions, and how what we view as normal, is often so different for each of us, even with similar backgrounds. All very useful for writing fiction.

Writing 
I couldn’t really leave writing out of things that inspire me and have made me the person I am. I’ve always written, not always novels and short stories, but writing has played a big part in my life. My parents never had a computer, so if you add this to the mix of travelling and living overseas you can understand why letter writing was important. I’ve kept a lot of the electronic copies of letters I wrote as they’re my journal of events and places I’ve visited.

I wrote short stories as a child and young teenager and returned to that again as an adult. When I decided I wanted to take writing seriously, my learning focus came rushing centre stage. If I was going to do this thing, then I wanted to learn everything I could about the craft of writing. I attended a number of workshops and classes, and read heaps of books on writing. Ultimately, you come to a point where you know the theory. What you then need is a person you trust (or a group of people) to kindly but honestly point out the craft areas you need to work on and strengthen. I feel very fortunate to have found such a group.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll have seen from the recent posts that writing and thinking about writing appears to occupy a large part of my waking (and dreaming) time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you're still here, below are the links to blogs and writers you might find interesting. In the list are people I've met, while others are virtual friends. Some of the blogs are chatty and personal, and others have good writing information. Some combine both those attributes. Some are written on a regular basis and others less so, but all are great people.

Joanne Phillips

Susan Murray

Donna Joy Usher

Sue Moorcroft

Bev Robitai

Anita Chapman

Di Jones

Rob Mustard (City Noir) - not a blog but some beautiful poetry

03 March 2015

Writing Thoughts

Sometimes I wonder if everything I notice turns to writing thoughts. As an example, one of the local bus companies has a number of cartoon adverts on the back of their buses trying to persuade people to use public transport.

Most of these ads have a myth at the top and use a male and female couple in different conversations. As I wait for my bus a few of these adverts have caught my attention from a writing perspective. Here’s one of them:

Myth: Posh people don’t travel on public transport.

Male: People with names like mine don’t travel on the bus.’

Female: Oh poor you, Rupert.’

I don't know any men called Rupert, so I can't ask them if they've ever travelled by bus, but we do often make assumptions about people without knowing them well. In this post I wrote about selecting names for characters and the associations names may have for us.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a group of people about some aspects of writing, and I was asked whether I tried to select unusual names. The answer isn't straightforward. Sometimes a character arrives with exactly the right name, and on other occasions it can take a long time to come up with the perfect name for them. A few characters have been particularly troublesome and have ended up having their name changed several times - thank goodness for Find and Replace.

The protagonist of my current novel is Anna King, and in one scene she recalls it was easy to learn how to write her name at school as she only had five letters to master, half the number of her best friend, Corinne Jamieson.

Here is another of those bus adverts.

Male: How can we make the people on the North Shore realise it’s hip to travel on the bus.

Female: Don’t use the word hip for one thing.

Just as names give us an image of a person, so the words or phrases they use can have the same effect and help to deepen the reader’s image. For example, the character of Evelyn in Still Death is an older lady, and when I read my first draft, I realised I'd given her a speech tick where she called most people ‘dear’. I hope I used it enough to orient the reader it was her, but not enough to irritate.

Fitz (a minor character in Lives Interrupted) is Irish, and one of the speech ticks I’d noticed while in Ireland was the use of the word ‘yous’ when talking about either an individual or a group. Again I tried to use it judiciously so it wasn’t on every line, but used at least once in a scene where he was involved.

There’s nothing quite like listening to real conversation and picking up on people’s favourite words and phrases, especially when they're given an individual twist.

26 January 2015

More Writing Inspiration

Following on from the previous post about where writers get their ideas, here are a couple of pieces of inspiration that came to me from situations recently. 

In a work meeting, I was introduced to someone who looked so like another friend of mine they could easily have been brothers, it was quite disconcerting. This reminded me of the first time I saw a photo of a favourite author, and realised he looks uncannily like an ex-colleague. We do sometimes see people who remind us of others, or who could be the double of someone we know. In fiction these occurrences can be used for deception and mistaken identity, but I’m sure (with a lot of thought) we could come up with a more extraordinary use. 

A few weekends ago, I walked out to a sandbank in the inner harbour area at low tide. I was able to go out quite a way, and this gave me a very different view of the harbour bridge than I usually have, and it also gave me a view of the city and marina which I can’t normally see because of the bays and headlands. 

In artistic terms, perspective is about painting, drawing or representing three-dimensional objects on a two- dimensional surface to give the impression of height, width, depth and position. In writing terms, it’s about seeing objects, people and events through the eyes and filters of a particular individual, our point of view character. 

You only have to raise the subject of politics to realise that people can view the same person, event or action in very different ways. As a writer, you don't have to agree with your character's perspective, but you do have to get into their head to understand how they would view another person or event.

This should make for more realistic characters in our writing, and if it's something we think about on a personal basis, it could make for more pleasant everyday interactions!

19 January 2015

Writing Inspiration

'Where do you get your ideas?' 

This is a question writers are often asked. Some manage to think up amusing answers, but basically ideas come all the time. The thing is recognising them as possibilities and remembering them. As an illustration, here are a couple of incidents that happened to me recently. 

There is a local café we visit on a semi-regular basis, perhaps every couple of weeks for weekend brunch. About a month ago, we saw one of the guys that works in the cafe going into a house not too far from where we live and guessed he lived there or was visiting a friend. The last time we were in the café he served us, and we mentioned in passing that we'd seen him over the Christmas holidays. He replied he didn't live in the area and hadn't even visited it. Hmmm interesting! It wasn't important to us, so we simply said we must have been mistaken, but we knew we weren’t. Why was he there and why did he deny he’d been there? If you were writing a murder or mystery, the answers to those questions would be different than if you’re writing a romance, but there are plenty of options.

Another incident occurred last weekend during a walk along the beach. We approached a couple of picnic blankets spread out in the shade of a tree. On the blankets were various bags, food and belongings, at least I guess that’s what they were because the things were covered by another picnic rug. Ironically, or perhaps purposefully, the lumps and bumps made by the possessions under the blanket looked very like a body. If I was writing a murder mystery, it wouldn't be bags and food hidden by the rug!

Using our imagination can be lots of fun and there is inspiration all around.

05 January 2015

I was thinking...

Christmas and New Year seem to be the time of year we take stock of our lives, look at what we're doing and ponder whether it's what we actually want to do. It's also the time we often decide to make changes, although whether we actually follow through on them and for how long is another post altogether.

On the professional front, I've set myself some writing and marketing goals, but on the personal front I'd decided to do things a little differently. I had been considering some different ways of approaching that and when I read this article I decided I'd take the challenge and rotate through each of the truths weekly. 

I won't bore you on a daily or even weekly basis, but I wanted to share the challenge this week of not letting circumstances determine my mood. Today was the first day back at work after a two-week holiday. At the moment I'm working in the city, so the challenge has been not to let back-to-work thoughts spoil the last few days (or this morning!). It was a beautiful summer morning and after taking a few quick photos I concentrated on how lovely it was and how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world. It seems to be working for so far!




Let's make the most of all our moments in 2015.

04 January 2015

Holiday Season

It's holiday season here. The schools are closed for the long summer holidays and most people have time off work from Christmas Eve through to early January, and many take more time off to kick back and enjoy the sunshine and glorious beaches.

Yesterday we took a trip to Rangitoto, the volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf. When I think of Auckland, Rangitoto always comes to mind. 


It's about a 30 minute ferry ride from the central city and dominates the views from the city and North Shore coasts. The island is about 5km wide and rises about 260 metres. It's a relatively recent landmark to the area being about 600 years old. I can only imagine how the locals felt during the eruptions.

It was a hot, sunny day and we were glad of the shade from the Pohutukawa trees as we walked along the tracks, but the views from the volcanic cone are definitely worth the effort. From the top there are views back to the city and North Shore, and over many of the other islands in the Hauraki Gulf.






 
Given the history there are an amazing amount of trees, shrubs and flowers growing on the island, but the lava fields are a reminder of the violent beginnings.


Perhaps it was because the tracks were steep in parts or rough so you had to take care, or perhaps because most people were in groups, or maybe it was because we've had a week or so away from work and everyday stress, but I didn't notice many people absorbed in phones and other technology - other than people taking photos at the cone and lookout points along the way.

One of the things I've noticed is that we do get sucked into making sure we're recording what we're doing and then linking to social media so everyone else knows what we're doing, that we forget to enjoy 'the now'.

Yes, it's great to have photos of family, friends and places we've visited, but we shouldn't forget to actually enjoy and appreciate the moment. Take the photo, and then enjoy the sunset, or the meal, or the group of people we're with. Uploading it to wherever can happen later.

Happy holidays and a wonderful 2015.