Gillian

  • 771

Hello :)

Most of my work is children's fiction. I am also working on some adult fiction that is based around the themes of trauma, abuse and survival. I am a very novice writer though I have been jotting down stories since I was a child. The wealth of information that I have been discovering since joining Jericho has been quite overwhelming! It's great to have resources that can help me to reevaluate and develop my writing. If I'm feeling like I've had too much screen time or I've just been agonising over the same part of a story for too long, I like to switch to a little painting. Sometimes I paint characters or scenes from my stories, which is quite a nice way to connect with the world that I'm creating. Sometimes I like to paint from photographs of plants or animals. I'm just beginning to learn a little bit about photography too which is lovely. It's nice to use your own work as a reference where possible. I'm preparing some stories for competition entry just now which is taking up a lot of time. Having a deadline is a real motivator for me, and the knowledge that people will be reading my work gives me a real thrill. Enjoy your writing journey, everybody :)

Relationships
Empty

Thanks everyone! My husband is delighted for me and my friends have congratulated me, but it’s really lovely to be able to share here with other writers. Your good wishes mean a lot :)

Thanks for sharing… one of my stories has made the finalists list!!! 😮🤪🙌🏻🙌🏻

Congratulations that’s wonderful news! I also submitted some work after seeing a post about the awards on JW ‘competitions’ group. One of my children’s stories has made it to the finals!! I’m completely blown away and so delighted!! It’s nice to know that whatever I’ve been doing must be at least half right! Good luck for the next stage and your your writing aspirations 🙌🏻🙌🏻

I’ve been pretty quiet on here, busy focusing on writing and editing and glad to say … one of my children’s stories has made it to the finalist list for the Page Turner Awards 2021!! I’m hoping to win a writing mentorship - please do keep everything crossed 🤞🏻 for me!! I still can’t believe I’m sharing this news! Super delighted!! ✨🙌🏻

Why is it that when reading a piece of my own writing after, say, a month away from it, two dozen previously unnoticed errors suddenly jump right off of the page?! Anyhoo ... I have not shared anything thus far because I am a big scaredy-cat. Here goes. An excerpt from Jezzly The Jittery Witch...


... 

The freezing wind bit into her bare fingers as she hurried home. The parcel that she had concealed within her vest scratched her skin and rustled as she ran. She prayed that her aunt would not catch her. Being late would get her a tongue lashing. But a parcel, hidden in her vest? Jezzly would be accused of stealing and didn't dare imagine how angry Aunt would become!

Her hands were shaking as she neared the house. She stopped and glanced up at the windows. They were empty. She had not been seen. She walked quickly and quietly past the garden gate, squeezed through a gap in the fence and ran behind the bushes to the back of the house. She slipped off her boots and stepped through the back door. Ever so quietly, she made her way up the stairs to the attic.

Safely inside, she closed the door behind her. Quickly, she hid the parcel beneath her mattress and then slunk back downstairs. Her heart pounded in her chest as she listened for the sound of her aunt's boots crashing towards her, but she heard nothing. Relieved, she got on with her chores. She had to scrub the floors, clean the drains, wash the dishes and do one hundred other yucky jobs. 

Jezzly only saw her aunt once that day when she served supper. Placing the plate of food onto the table, her hands shook, and a potato rolled onto the floor.  Aunt looked at it, sighed and stared hard at Jezzly.

"Just as well, you have this place here with me. Nobody else would have you. You're far too stupid and clumsy. You'd be out on the street eating rubbish. The bad people would get you and turn you into a scarecrow. You must work harder if you want me to keep you here. I feel one of my migraines coming on. Take dessert to my room and leave me until breakfast. Do you understand, stupid child?"

"Yes, Aunt." Jezzly curtsied and walked back to the kitchen to heat her Aunt's dessert. It was a blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. The pastry glistened with caramelised sugar. The warm gooey blueberries oozed from inside. The ice cream smelled of sweet vanilla, and Jezzly's tummy rumbled.

Placing the tray in Aunt's room, she went back downstairs to finish her chores. She was exhausted, but before she could go to bed had to check that all of the windows and doors were locked. There were seventy-three windows and five doors. It was midnight before Jezzly finally put herself to bed.

Climbing under her thin blanket, she lay down on top of the lumpy old mattress and heard a rustle. The parcel! She was so exhausted that she had almost forgotten about it! Excitedly, she pulled it from beneath the mattress. Holding it up to the only tiny window in the attic, she slowly unwrapped it. Sheets of brown paper fell away to reveal the most incredible looking biscuit she could ever imagine! It was as big as her hand and sparkled in the moonlight as though it had been baked with silver sugar. In the middle of the biscuit was a big heart shape. It smelled divine, like an orchard on a summer day. Jezzly closed her eyes and whispered. "Thank you, biscuit man." Then, she took a bite and chewed dreamily, her mouth exploding with an otherworldly sweetness that she had never before tasted. Remembering her promise, she mumbled through a mouth full of gooey crumbs. "I wish that I could escape from this place, to somewhere I can be happy, where I will be loved, somewhere ...' she tried to remember the word the biscuit man had used ... 'magical."

Before she could take another bite, it happened.  There was an almighty crash downstairs! Smash! Bang! Crack! Jezzly's heart began thudding in her chest. She dropped the biscuit and pulled the blanket around her, wondering what she should do. There was shrieking, running, footsteps coming up the stairs. Jezzly panicked. She ran to the corner of the room and hid behind an old trunk. The footsteps sounded heavy and angry. The attic door flew open, torchlight swept across the room and landed on Jezzly's bed.

"Where are you, child?!" Roared her Aunt's voice. "Get out here where I can see you! Get out!"

The torchlight landed upon the dropped biscuit. Aunt walked towards it, picked it up, looked at it and then marched straight over to the chest. Hauling Jezzly up from the floor by her hair, she screamed at her.

"What is this? It's not one of mine! Stealing, eh? Disgracing my house, eh? Is that why you left all of the windows open? So that some other little thief friend you met at the market could come in here and rob me blind? Is it? Well, I hope you're happy. The wind has blown all of my windows right in, smashed! Smashed glass everywhere!"

Aunt held a blood-stained foot up to Jezzly's face.

"This is the last straw, you might be free, but you are less than useless. I could get a stuffed teddy to do a better job than you! Think yourself lucky I don't march you down to the police station myself!"

"But I did lock all of the windows!" whimpered Jezzly, who was afraid and confused.

Aunt dropped her on the floor and shone the torchlight in her face. "I see—a liar as well as a thief. Get out. Get out of this house and never come back. I tried to do my best with you. It's not my fault you're no good. GET OUT!" 

Jezzly's legs were shaking, and tears rolled down her cheeks. The cruel words tore through her like thorns, and she felt that she might fall apart, like a broken little doll. She scrambled in the dark to pull on her smock, her boots and her coat, and as she did, fifty pennies fell to the ground and rolled, jangling, all across the floorboards.

"YOU!" Screamed her aunt.

"I found them!" 

"Ungrateful little thief!" Aunt ran at Jezzly, who sprinted from the attic, down the stairs and to the front door - her eyes widened as she took in the piles of broken glass on the floor. The curtains were billowing in the wind, and a cold breeze swirled around the house.

'I didn't leave the windows open!' She thought.

Confused, she ran out of the front door, which slammed behind her. 

Standing in the front garden, all was quiet. There was no wind here. Befuddled, she walked through the gate, not knowing where she was going. She just walked and walked until she came to the path over the old railway bridge.

It was unnervingly dark and terribly cold. All she could hear were the hoots of owls and the scurrying of little beasties in the undergrowth. Shivering, she sat down, put her head in her hands and began to sob. Then she heard something else, a kind of squeaking noise. It was getting closer. She looked down the path from where she had come but saw nothing.

"Eee, ee," it was getting closer. Jezzly pulled her coat around her and buried her head in her knees. The squeaking got louder - what could it possibly be? "SQUEEEEEAAAAK." The noise stopped beside her, and a familiar voice sounded.

"Little 'un?"

Jezzly looked up and saw the bright blue eyes of the biscuit man shimmering in the darkness. He was pushing an old trolly with squeaky wheels. 

"Oh, it's you." She said.

"Yes, it's me. What you doin' out 'ere?"

"She went mad!"

"Who did?"

"Aunt! The wind came and the windows smashed and she said it was me but it wasn't me! I promise! I closed them! I told her but she screamed at me so loud I thought my ears would burst!  And the biscuit! She saw it and she called me a thief and my pennies! All my pennies I lost them all and she was going to take me to the police. I didn't steal them. I didn't. Now I have nothing and no one."

"But did you make a wish?"

Jezzly looked up at the biscuit man and felt angry with him. 

"I wished I could be happy and now look at me! Go away!" She yelled.

"Take this map and follow it. You'll find a place to stay." The biscuit man handed her a crumpled piece of paper. Jezzly opened it, but it was too dark to see. She looked up to tell the biscuit man, but she could not see him.

"Wait!" She shouted.

His voice came from somewhere far off in the darkness. "Oh, I almost forgot, this is for you! And remember, follow the map!"

"But I can't see the map!" Jezzly shouted, peering ahead, but she could see nothing, except ... something was moving in the shadows, getting closer. She instinctively began to back away, not knowing what it was. Then she heard a 'meow', and a tiny little furry body rubbed up against her legs. Two green eyes flashed up at her, and a pink nose sniffed her boots.

"Oh," she exclaimed and knelt. A tiny ginger cat began purring and climbed into Jezzly's arms.

"Oh hello, who are you?" She asked. The cat peered intently into Jezzly's eyes, licked her nose, jumped onto the ground and ran off up the path.

"Wait, where are you going? Come back!" Shouted Jezzly.

Two green eyes appeared in the distance and waited. Jezzly ran towards them, and then both she and the cat disappeared from view, deep into the trees.

Whoa where did the first half of the year go?

I haven't been very active here, but I have been working really hard on some writing, would you like me to share?

February into May was such a busy time. I submitted five pieces of work to the Page Turner Awards. Clearly, I work better when under pressure! Their optional developmental edit was well worth the extra cost, I wish I could have an edit every day! 

In addition to that my fiance and I tied the knot, after postponing for a year. We did absolutely everything ourselves so it was a bit manic with furniture restoration, napkin sewing, flower cutting, wall painting, food shopping, bar building, bunting assembly ... the list goes on ... great fun! 

Now it's time to really knuckle down and write - or more to the point - edit. What a great webinar with harrybingham yesterday evening - thank you. Listening to you go through the process was a great learning experience. Self-editing is a skill I am eager to develop.

Onwards and upwards we go! Perhaps a little sideways some days, but that's okay!

Added a post  to  , Gillian

Hi Gillian, There’s such à lot of information and support on this site, I am sure you will love it.  Some really knowledgeable writers too.  Great to meet you here.  Good luck with your writing.

changed a profile cover 
changed a profile picture 
Added a post 

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

Added a post 

Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?

Well.

It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon

Harry

Added a post 

I’ve been reading a terrific guest post on our blog by our Craig Taylor. (And actually, “guest post” doesn’t feel like quite the right term, if I’m honest. Craig’s a buddy, not a guest.)

The post is on how to write a scene and, in it, Craig asks:

If the theme of your work, say, is unrequited love, does your scene angle in to that theme? Does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling which is associated with unrequited love? Or does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling about requited love, so as to throw into relief the experience that one of your characters will have about unrequited love?”

And those are interesting questions, aren’t they?

I, for one, don’t write a book thinking that every scene I write has to “angle in” to my major theme. But what if that’s wrong? What if, in a well-constructed book, pretty much everything angles in to the one same issue? (Or, rather, cluster of issues, because a book that is rich thematically can never be too neatly categorised.)

And here’s another thought:

What if you don’t especially think about these things as you build your story? What if you do concentrate on good writing (nice prose, strong characters, a well-knitted plot), but don’t overthink the thematic stuff?

What happens then? Is the result strong? Or will it never reach the kind of thematic depth and congruence that Craig is hinting at?

Hey, ho. Interesting questions. So I thought I’d take a look at my own work and see what’s actually happened there.

So my last book, The Deepest Grave, has a cluster of themes that include:

  • Ancient history, specifically post-Roman Britain and the shade of Arthur
  • Treasure and fakery
  • Death (because this is a murder mystery, but it is also a book about Fiona Griffiths, whose attitudes to life and death are deep and complicated.)

But then, I only have to write those themes down on the page here – something I’ve never done before; I don’t plan my thematic stuff – and I realise this: that those themes absolutely and necessarily contain their opposites. So a book that is about fakery and death is also, essentially, a book about:

  • Authenticity
  • Life – or, more specifically in Fiona’s case, the whole knotty business of how to be a human; how to establish and maintain an identity in the face of her overawareness of death.

OK. So those, broadly, are my themes. Let’s now look at whether my various scenes tend to hammer away at those things, or not. Are themes something that appear via a few strong, bold story strokes? Or are they there, fractal-like, in every detail too?

And, just to repeat, those aren’t questions I consciously think about much as I write. Yes, a bit, sometimes, but I certainly don’t go through the disciplined thought process that Craig mentions in his post.

And blow me down, but what I find is that, yes, those themes infest the book. The book never long pulls away from them at all.

So, aside from a place and date stamp at the top of chapter 1, the first words in the book are these:

“Jon Breakell has just completed his chef d’oeuvre, his masterpiece. The Mona Lisa of office art. The masterpiece in question is a dinosaur made of bulldog clips, twisted biro innards and a line of erasers that Jon has carved into spikes.”

That’s a nod towards ancient history. It’s a nod towards authenticity (the Mona Lisa) and fakery (a dinosaur that is definitely not a real dinosaur.) It’s also, perhaps, a little nod towards death, because in a way the most famous thing about dinosaurs is that they’re extinct.

It goes on. The mini-scene that opens the book concludes with Fiona demolishing her friend’s dinosaur and the two of them bending down to clear up the mess. Fiona says, “that’s how we are—me, Jon, the bones of the fallen—when Dennis Jackson comes in.”

That phrase, the bones of the fallen, puts death explicitly on the page and in a way which alludes forward to the whole Arthurian battle theme that will emerge later.

That’s one example and – I swear, vow & promise – I didn’t plan those links out in my head prior to writing. I just wrote what felt natural for the book that was to come.

But the themes keep on coming. To use Craig’s word, all of the most glittering scenes and moments and images in the book keep on angling in to my little collection of themes.

There’s a big mid-book art heist and hostage drama. Is there a whiff of something ancient there? Something faked and something real? Of course. The heist is fake and real, both at the same time.

The crime that sits at the heart of the book has fakery at its core. But then Fiona start doubling up on the fakery – she’s faking a fake, in effect – but in the process, it turns out, she has created something authentic. And the authenticity of that thing plays a key role in the book’s final denouement.

Another example. Fiona’s father plays an important role in this book. He’s not a complicated or introspective man. He doesn’t battle, the way his daughter does, for a sense of identity.

But what happens in the book? This big, modern, uncomplicated man morphs, somehow, into something like a modern Arthur. That identity shift again plays a critical role in the final, decisive dramas. But it echoes around the book too. Here’s one example:

“Dad drives a silver Range Rover, the car Arthur would have chosen.

It hums as it drives, transfiguring the tarmac beneath its wheels into something finer, silvered, noble.

A wash of rain. Sunlight on a hill. Our slow paced Welsh roads.”

That’s playful, of course, and I had originally intended just to quote that first line, about the Range Rover. But when I opened up the text, I found the sentences that followed. That one about “transfiguring the tarmac” is about that process of transformation from something ordinary to something more like treasure, something noble.

And then even the bits that follow that – the wash of rain, the sunlight on the hill – don’t those things somehow attach to the “finer, silvered, noble” phrase we’ve just left? It’s as though the authenticity of the man driving the Range Rover transforms these ordinary things into something treasured. Something with the whisper of anciency and value.

I could go on, obviously, but this email would turn into a very, very long one if I did.

And look:

Yet again, I’ve got to the end of a long piece on writing without a real “how to” lesson to close it off.

Craig’s blog post says, among many other good things, that you should ask whether or not your scene angles in to your themes. But I don’t do that. Not consciously, not consistently. And – damn my eyes and boil my boots – I discover that the themes get in there anyway. Yoo-hoo, here we are.

Uninvited, but always welcome.

So the moral of all this is - ?

Well, I don’t know. I think that, yes, if you’re stuck with a scene, or if it’s just feeling a little awkward or wrong, then working through Craig’s list of scene-checks will sort you out 99% of the time. A conscious, almost mechanical, attention to those things will eliminate problems.

But if you’re not the conscious mechanic sort, then having a floaty awareness of the issues touched on in this email will probably work as well. If you maintain that rather unfocused awareness of your themes, you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards phrases and scenes and metaphors and moments that reliably support the structure you’re building.

And that works, I think. The final construction will have both coherence and a kind of unforced naturalness.

And for me, it’s one of the biggest pleasures of being an author. That looking back at a text and finding stuff in it that you never consciously put there.

Damn my eyes and boil my boots.

Till soon

Harry

Info
Full Name:
Gillian
Friends count:
Followers count:
Membership
Standard