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. 

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 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. 

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.

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.