29 October 2012

Bits and Pieces

I wrote a short story last night. It's been a long time since I even had an idea for a short story as I’ve been busy with other projects, work and life in general. This one came out of the blue and mostly complete. The problem is that it came to me around 2 a.m. as I lay restless and tired, but not sleepy. You know what’s coming! I should have got up and actually written it. 

I remember most of it now as I sit at my laptop, though the sparkling prose isn’t quite as sparkling it was in the early hours. But I will persevere…

It’s interesting (for interesting you can read annoying/frustrating) how something that should help in your work can initially slow you down.

I have a shiny new toy, except that when a laptop is a requirement for your job it’s not a toy.

Recently I had problems with my (old) laptop which necessitated taking it back to factory settings. Fortunately it didn’t just die so I was able to ensure I had all my backups, but the reset meant I lost many of my customised settings in programmes. I recreated a lot of those settings, and now with the shiny new laptop I’m doing the same, plus getting used to the new operating system. 

New is not necessarily better, at least until you get used to it.

This week I’ve also been battling a back injury; hence the lack of posts as sitting hasn’t been an option for a few days. 

There is an old saying along the lines of, ‘you don’t realise how good it is not to have a headache until you have one.’ I can certainly agree with that one this week, when every movement has been accompanied by vocal noises ranging from a groan to something louder depending on the pain scale.

So that’s been my week in a few paragraphs. Sitting is still problematic, but my Kindle has been a boon as I've been able to read and make editing notes on the book I'm working on. Hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.

19 October 2012

The Sound of Thoughts

I received an email from a friend this morning. It had eight or nine photos of groups of people in various locations – sitting in a cafĂ©, a restaurant, by a beautiful painting in a museum, at the beach, at a game, driving around the city in a convertible.  The point of similarity in each of the photos was that everyone was totally absorbed in their phone. 

The quote at the end of the email said, "I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots." Albert Einstein.

I’ve been away for a few days in Sydney - a mixture of work and fun. Sydney has a population of approximately 4.6 million people compared to Auckland at 1.5 million, and as I mostly work from home and live in a sleepy coastal suburb, I really notice the difference in pace and energy in my surroundings.

I love visiting Sydney for this vibrant, enthusiastic atmosphere, and it gives the writer in me an opportunity to people watch and listen to snippets of conversation.

I think you can tell a lot about a city by watching the residents early in the morning. At Circular Quay people exit the ferries from suburbs on their way to work. The weather was hot and sunny while I was there, and what better way to get to work than by cruising past the Harbour Bridge and Opera House on a ferry. Walking across Anzac Bridge from Darling Harbour another morning, people were walking, jogging and running to work.  The monorail runs above the bridge and later in the day (when it was close to 30 degrees) the only shade on the bridge was immediately under the monorail. There was a trail of people (myself included), like a line of schoolchildren following their teacher, walking across the bridge in this sliver of shade.

One of the things I noticed is how plugged in we are. On the city streets during the peak commuter times the majority of people wore headphones, and the same was true of most people at any time on the underground. I like to listen to music on noisy flights, and I need music with a good beat when I’m running (it’s the only thing that keeps me going!), but I also love going for walks with just my thoughts as company, and I wonder in all this world of noise we have, whether we’re losing the capacity to enjoy quiet times.

12 October 2012

200 - Flashback Memories

A couple of weeks ago I missed my 2nd anniversary of blogging.  Fancy forgetting that and missing the opportunity for a celebration! However this is another milestone - Post No. 200. 

It's been fun meeting people through this blog and via their comments and emails, and also meeting them on Twitter and the occasional forum. Thanks for reading and here's to another hundred posts. Actually that's quite a daunting thought. I started blogging just before Driftwood was published, so it was a very exciting few months with lots happening, and so obviously lots to write about. 

There have been plenty of times I've hit a blank spot when I've tried to write a post, but as with any type of writing, the more often you write (rather than thinking about writing), the more open you are to those triggers, thoughts and inspiration. 

When I don't write regularly those flashes of inspiration seem to disappear.  What I've realised is that they're always happening, it's more that I'm not in such a receptive mood and don't notice them.  That's certainly a great reason for writing often.

Recently a friend commented she'd planted pea seedlings in her garden.  My dad loved gardening, and when I was little he planted peas every year.  He rarely got more than one cooked meal of peas because my mother and I loved eating them as 'sugar snaps'.  I remember us so clearly in the garden. My mother would be hanging out the washing or some other job and I would be on the swing, and then we'd have a look at the plants to see if there were any peas just right for picking and eating.

We didn't have a very large garden, but it was a treasure trove of things to eat as my dad had various fruit bushes: blackcurrants, red currents, raspberries, gooseberries, as well as an apple and pear tree.

He always did wonder how come the peas only produced enough for one meal each year. 

My mum died just over a year ago and this was a very special memory, something I'd not thought about for years and triggered by a mention of a friend planting peas.

In my first draft of Driftwood I had large chunks of backstory as sections. In subsequent drafts these became flashbacks, and finally through an assessment and editing some were removed and others cut down to what was absolutely necessary.

We often use flashbacks as a way of dumping backstory into our manuscript, and as a reader this often makes me skim over that part. There is a place for flashbacks, but they should be used carefully, and after honestly answering the question - Does the reader NEED to know this?

The other point that occurred to me, after thinking about my mother and I eating those pea pods, was the way the memory made me feel. I don't think I've really considered this while writing, but if our protagonist has been reminded of something that happened in their past, how does it make them feel? It may change their mood - they may have been happy, but the memory could stir feelings of anger, regret, sadness, and therefore change the way the rest of the scene continues.

My memory was a happy one, and it made me feel good.

09 October 2012

What's Your Theme

Over the last few weeks I’ve been editing Lies of the Dead, which started me thinking of when the initial idea came to me.

This book actually began with the narrative structure I wanted to use, and then came Liam (the main character), followed by an older brother and sister, Tom and Andi. Once I knew the characters, the conflicts and inciting event emerged, but as I began to mentally write the first chapters, much to my surprise, Tom's voice took over. 

Liam was the central character around which the story flowed, but the voice was definitely Tom. I tried several times to get back to Liam’s voice, because the narrative structure I wanted to use required that, but it didn't happen. Eventually I gave up fighting, listened to Tom and the story developed using a different structure.

Theme is one of the most insubstantial elements of writing and storytelling, and a long time ago I took on board the advice not to worry about theme until (at least) the first draft is finished.

I had no idea what the theme of Lies of the Dead was until I read the first draft. At that point there was a forehead-slapping moment because it was so blindingly obvious. I even had two characters in the book that epitomised the theme, although I hadn’t realised it as I wrote. 

I think a theme needs to be found rather than placed. If you start with a theme and try to mould the story to fit, the reader can feel as though a moral value is being forced on them.

Maybe you're reading this wondering if your novel has a theme.

Personally I don’t think it matters, some people may disagree, but when I read a book I’m not looking for a theme. I want a well-told story that takes me out of my every day and packs a strong emotional punch. Sometimes I’ve recognised a theme while reading a book, but often in discussing it with other people they’ve seen a totally different theme. I've also had people talk to me about links/ideas/themes they've seen in my writing, often things I hadn't recognised or even considered. Theme is not a hard and fast 'rule', people will find ideas that resonate with them.

If you see a theme in your book, great. Treat it with care - like fairy dust - lightly weave elements through your narrative that enhance the theme. If you can’t see a theme, don’t worry, because you can be sure that some of your readers will find one.

05 October 2012

Airport Ideas - Small Changes

I was at the airport yesterday, always an interesting experience during school holidays. As I was a little early (useful as the car park was full!), I spent some time wandering around. Watching people arrive and depart (doing my writerly duty), I was reminded of the opening lines from the film Love Actually – yep always a sucker for the sentimental.

‘Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.’

I’ve travelled on my own enough to know that moment when you stop momentarily in the arrivals lounge, and look around for that special person (or people). There's nothing quite like it.

As I mentioned the car park was full, and for a moment I experienced the sinking feeling of where the hell do I go now? Then a lovely man in a high viz jacket approached, asked me how long I would be parked, and directed me to some other parking.

Even though it was bedlam inside the airport building (school holidays!) the lady on the desk was polite, friendly and very helpful. 

Even simple experiences can turn on the edge of a coin. Nowhere to park and working to tight timeframes can change even the best mood into something less than lovely. I’ve known people be very polite, while still being extremely unhelpful and obstructive.
My experience yesterday was good, but it made me consider how small the change of events needed to be, to make it an unpleasant experience.

Consider your characters. They should already be under pressure with the big challenges and conflicts you’re throwing at them, but do you have any situations or events where everything goes okay for them, or scenes that could do with a little more tension? How could a small, seemingly insignificant action change the way the situation unfolds? It doesn’t have to be the main conflict or plot, but something else in their life that doesn’t run according to plan.

This has been on my mind recently, and in changing a few small things, I’ve made life so much harder for Tom, just as in the real world – tomorrow probably!