Tag Archives: Writers Resources

The hotshot, the hero and the loathly lady – creativity and archetypes

Tuesday evening took me to the environs of Liverpool Street for another treat from the London Writers’ Café – a workshop on characterisation run by Rowan Coleman, author of no less than twenty-three books under three pen names.  When someone has been published that many times with still not a grey hair to be seen, you know she’s worth listening to.

The workshop was great, the Q&A even better.  Having spent the previous hour and a half poring over exercises to get under the skin of the characters in our various works in progress, an annoying little doubt was niggling away at me: was it really possible to invent an entirely new set of characters for any new project? Or if, as it’s often said, a writer’s characters are all really aspects of him- or herself, does the time come when we exhaust our cast lists and begin to reproduce essentially the same people?

What better person to ask than someone who’s half-way through their twenty-fourth book?

Rowan started by saying that she believed all her characters were unique. Perhaps, she suggested, I should buy all twenty-three of her books and let her know whether I agreed? (That’s a challenge I may yet take up – although if anyone reading this has got there ahead of me, please let me know what you think.) But, she mused, perhaps there is a signature that an author leaves on her characters, something that you might discern if you read all her works back to back. Rowan, it turns out, is a fellow fan of Stephen King, and having done just that with a sizable chunk of his output she thought that was the case.

But what then is that signature? Is it simply that a strangely high proportion of The Master’s protagonists are white men of a certain age with more than a passing interest in creative writing? Or is it something deeper – something about their way of speaking and interacting with others? About their way of looking at the world? And do we, as readers, connect with those characters because, no matter how different we may be on the surface, there’s something there that we recognise in ourselves?

Jung hypothesised that there were twelve primary archetypes, including the hero, the innocent and the jester (Bridget Jones’s Diary, anyone?). But a bit more online digging reveals that’s a long way from the end of the archetype listing: the intriguingly named www.howtofascinate.com tells me that there are, in fact, 49 personality archetypes – which, with the help of their “senior strategists” can be analysed to determine someone’s “Personality Brand”.  I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated…

Then there are the archetypes-within-archetypes: eight hero archetypes apparently (http://www.likesbooks.com/eight.html), and sixteen master villains (http://www.tamicowden.com/archetypes.htm) – well, the villains would have to go one better.

The loathly lady - she was furious when she found the artist hadn't painted her best side.

The loathly lady was furious when she found the artist hadn’t painted her best side.

And that’s before you get to Wikipedia, which lists over 130 stock characters. These include the fabulously alliterative (“loathly lady – a woman who appears to be hideous, often cursed”), the satisfyingly rhyming (“hotshot – also known as ‘badass'”) and the weirdly specific (“Herr Pastor – an authoritarian pastor in an ethnic German congregation”).

What conclusion to draw from this little lot? I’m not sure I know, but I’ve decided on one thing: if, as writers, our characters really are aspects of ourselves, I can’t wait to unleash my inner Herr Pastor.

Qualification shmalification: who needs an MA in self-publishing?

What’s the point of a qualification?

If anyone had asked me that question before today, I would probably have answered something along the lines of it being a combination of a) proof for an employer either that you already have the knowledge and skills needed to do their job, or that you’re generally bright enough to pick them up; and b) a sort of pat on the back to yourself for spending time and energy learning something new. It can be both of those things, or one or the other, and either is fine. But basically, that’s what it’s all about.

"To Amazon!"

“To Amazon!”

That was until today.  Because today I heard about the University of Central Lancashire’s new MA in – wait for it – self-publishing.

Now I’m not going to come over all Michael Gove here.  If someone wants to do a doctorate in the evolution of the daleks, or the plot structure of Hollyoaks, or how that fairly thin woman without luggage managed to take up the entire corridor all the way between the Jubilee and Bakerloo lines at Baker Street this morning, that’s fine with me.  Hell, my degree was in Egyptology, so you’re not going to find me throwing stones in that particular glass house.  All of these topics come under the general heading of “self-fulfillment” in my book, and if you can afford the time and money, why not?  Who knows, you might even stumble across a shiny new logarithm to prevent tube station corridor-hogging by skinny women in leggings.

But self-publishing? Really?

I mean, presumably the way you demonstrate you’re up to the requirements of the course is – I don’t know – to publish something? And if you’ve gone to the trouble of writing that something, wouldn’t getting it out there for the world to see be reward enough?  Wouldn’t wanting people to read the thing that you’ve pored over and sweated over and drained your very lifeblood into be kind of the most important thing?  And wouldn’t the best possible indicator of how well you’ve done the job be, not a certificate and a photo of you wearing a silly cap, but the number of copies you sell?

As for impressing a potential employer… Imagine the conversation – sorry, monologue:

“Well when I’d finished writing The Amazing Adventures of Millicent Muckraker, I naturally considered self-publishing. So I took myself out for a coffee, and I was really impressed with my vision for the book.  I was nice enough too, and I obviously had my best interests at heart… But when it came down to it, I just wasn’t happy with my credentials. Anyway, a year later, I got in touch with myself again and this time I had this great qualification – oh yes, from the University of Central Lancashire – and I thought: yes, this is the self-publisher for me!”

And before people tell me I’m underestimating the new market in assisted self-publishing, that’s not how this course is selling itself. There’s no mention of “assisted” in the title; no reference to dealing with authors who refuse to have their work edited, or to accept that they might not meet with the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Needless to say, that doesn’t mean the marketing team haven’t mentioned E.L. James in the blurb, for they have, the not-so-subtle implication being that fame and riches await those prepared to shell out a little upfront investment in the other UCL.  After all, says course leader Debbie Williams, gamely attempting to maximise her market, “Everyone has a book in them.”

A course in self-publishing I can get behind.  Everyone I’ve spoken to who has any experience in it says it’s bloody hard work, and giving people the skills to do it well seems a perfectly legitimate endeavour. But the idea of self-publishing as an end in itself? An MA – a post-graduate degree, no less – not because you’ve managed to produce anything worth reading, but because you’ve got something, anything, published on Amazon? That seems a pretty hollow enterprise to me.

Let me know what you think! Am I being narrow-minded? Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with a self-publisher getting an extra couple of letters she’ll never use after her name when she’ll be doing all the work anyway?  Add your comments below…

Chin up – how to cope when it has, in fact, already happened

For reasons I won’t bore you with, the last three weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.  It’s brought home to me the truth of that remark I’ve heard so many times: how important it is for a writer to be resilient.Resilience

The question is: how do you do it?

When I was back at the day job, the department I worked for underwent some pretty dramatic restructuring.  Forty per cent of jobs were to go.  Sessions on “resilience” were made available to managers to help them cope, and in turn to help their own staff through the process.

The one thing I remember about those sessions was the reference to plumbing – what the tutor referred to as energy “taps” and “drains”.  In other words, the things that you, personally, find boost your energy levels – perhaps going out for drinks with friends or a long walk somewhere scenic; and those that deplete them – say, just for the sake of illustration, arguing religion with your father-in-law.  The theory was simple: when things are difficult, find ways to maximise exposure to your energy taps and limit the time you spend with your – er – drains.

Of course, if you’re feeling miserable the things that might actually make you feel better won’t necessarily be that appealing.  At the end of a knackering week, the last thing you might feel like doing is dragging yourself out to the pub.  Apparently, that doesn’t matter.  You should do it all the same because, after the initial effort, you will feel better.

This is all well and good as far as it goes: but what about those situations that can be both taps and drains?

I’ve written before about the importance of Countdown to my writing day.  Switching on and solving the conundrum before either of the contestants would definitely give me a lift.  Ditto finding an eight letter word that didn’t end in “ing”.  But what if it turns out I’m having a real thickie of a day? What if the only word I can find from that combination of nine vowels and consonants is “and”? If I suddenly can’t remember my 75 times table – or worse, my 100 times table – for the numbers game? That’s not going to do my self-esteem any favours.  Does this mean I should abandon Countdown altogether, just to be on the safe side?

And what about people? First port of call for energy replenishment would usually be the Husband.  But what if he’s had a crap day at work too?  What if all he wants to do is sit in front of the telly with a cuppa and a packet of crisps?  Well, in his case the answer is obvious – it’s tough, because he’s going to have to listen to me whinging whether he likes it or not.  But I’m not sure that’s going to cut it for all of the people in my “tap” column.

So I’m appealing to anyone out there trying to grow that thick skin, look on the bright side, keep your chin up and believe the cup is half-full: how do you do it?

Answers on the back of a fifty pound note, please. Okay, a fiver.  And if your idea doesn’t work, that’s enough for a large glass of red.

 

Over, over, under

Monday evening was spent at the brilliant London Writers’ Café with a talk from Scott Pack, publisher of Harper Collins imprint The Friday Project.  As well as enthusiastically promoting Harper Collins’ online community for writers, Authonomy (authonomy.com), Scott gave loads of really clear and practical advice for would-be authors.

For anyone, like me, dreaming of one day seeing your name facing out from a bookshelf, his observations on the most common mistakes made by unpublished writers are worth thinking about.  Reproduced here for your entertainment and edification…

Common Mistake 1: Over-writing

In other words, using six long words where one would do, cluttering up your prose with tautologies and other unnecessary verbiage, and… better stop there.  Scott surmised that writers’ tendency to do this stems from a wish to impress: we all know how many people are out there scribbling away, desperately trying to get the attention of someone in the industry, so it’s not surprising that we sometimes go a bit OTT trying to ensure we stand out from the crowd.

Scott gave a couple of pieces of practical advice on how to exorcise your over-writing demons:

Pick up a book from an author you admire and type out a passage of their prose.  Then type out a passage of your own.  Unless you’ve picked Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis (clearly not favourites of Mr Pack),  you’ll almost invariably find that the work of the established author is simpler in language and style than your own.

Re-read your work and do ten sit-ups every time you come across an adverb.  You’ll either de-clutter your prose or get great abs. What’s to lose?

Common Mistake 2: Over-explaining

What it says on the tin – spending too much time telling your reader things they either don’t need to know at all or should work out for themselves.  A close relation to both “telling not showing” and…

…Common Mistake 3: Underestimating your reader

Looby Loo, Andy Pandy and Teddy: for the avoidance of doubt, they were all great friends who loved each other very much.

Looby Loo, Andy Pandy and Teddy who, for the avoidance of doubt, were all great friends who loved each other very much.

You get what I mean, right?  I don’t need to tell you that Andy Pandy hates Teddy for running off with Looby-Loo when he’s spent the last two pages carving AP 4 LL on tree trunks and doodling pictures of Teddy with his stuffing coming out of his neck.

Don’t patronise your reader.  It’s rude and, worse, it’s boring.

Right, I’m off now to look again at draft three.  My abs need the workout…

After the End

After the EndThis weekend was spent at the Faber Academy’s two-day course, After the End.  Since one of the things I learned there was the importance of a good title, I thought I’d play it safe and stick with their example…

The “end” in question, as anyone else out there desperately trying to finish their first novel will already have deduced, is the end of the manuscript. In other words, how do you know when it’s ready to send out, and what should you do to maximise your chances of success with an agent or editor.

Two days of information and discussion on those questions were led by Sarah Savitt, an editor at Faber & Faber, and Nicola Barr, a literary agent at Greene & Heaton.

They were both brilliant.  Honest, open, empathetic and immensely knowledgeable. For anyone at this stage of their writing, if you can get along to a future course I’d highly recommend it. (And I’m not on commission.)

At £275, though, it’s a lot of money.  So here are a few of the things that I took away from the discussions:

Good writing is the single most important thing.  Both Sarah and Nicola described the feeling they get as they’re reading a first page and their shoulders drop as they relax because the author knows what he/she is doing. Having said that…

…there are a lot of people out there who know how to write.  That’s not necessarily the same thing as being able to tell a story.  No matter how beautifully written something is, it’s going to lose the reader if it’s not taking them on a journey, and if they don’t care about the characters.  Sarah said, “If I’ve read 50 pages and I can’t see what the story is, I’ll be impatient.”

Think about your “hook”. In other words, how would you describe your story in a way that would make someone interested to read it. That might be because it’s high concept, like the Time Travellers’ Wife; or perhaps something distinctive about the story telling.

Trends are important to publishers. The reality is that a publisher doesn’t just need to love your book, they need to believe there are enough people out there who are going to be prepared to shell out their hard-earned cash to buy it.  We talked about the success of Gillian Flynn’s brilliant “Gone Girl” and the trend that set for smart, psychological thrillers aimed at twenty- to forty-something women.  Publishers will, though, get twitchy if they think readers may be on the verge of getting bored of something – so timing will be important to the appetite for your book.  Given how long it takes to write and publish a novel, the conclusion I took away from this is that there’s little point trying to write in order to jump on a bandwagon (and if that’s the only reason for writing your story, your readers will probably see through it anyway); just be aware of the market and realistic about what this might mean for your book.

Both the market and the relationship between the industry and readers is changing.  Self-publishing and new ways of communicating, particularly social media, are having a massive impact.  Agents and editors are recognising that they are “no longer the sole arbiters of taste” and, encouragingly, both Nicola and Sara said they’d be completely open to writers bringing them previously self-published work.  Recognising what a difficult process self-publishing is, they also said that not having sold many copies wouldn’t be an automatic turn-off.  We talked a lot about social media, but the basic message was: get on Twitter, participate in things like #pitmad, and don’t be shy about approaching people in the industry through that route.  (My own observation on this would be that some agents are more responsive to this than others, so you might want to follow them for a while to see their response to new contacts before deciding to get in touch this way.)

The editing process can mean big changes. I’d somehow imagined this to be a case of cutting an adverb here, or changing the sentence structure there. Not so.  Perhaps the single most useful part of the day for me was seeing two examples of first pages that had been submitted by authors who now have publication deals, before and after editing.  This really brought home the importance of focussing on the action to keep people reading. The realisation that your material can be good, and can fit well at other points in the book, just not at the beginning, was a real light bulb moment for me. Seeing those examples alone was worth the course fee.

Of course, the other great thing about the course was meeting other writers, all at a similar stage. What a genuinely lovely group of people they were.  Here’s hoping we see our names on bookshelves one day.

London Calling

Have you ever had one of those moments when it suddenly becomes clear to you that you’re a very fortunate person?  Not with any degree of smuggery or self-satisfaction, but just, in an instant, understanding that there are a lot of things you take for granted, and that you should really spend far more time than you do saying thank you to whatever deity you believe in – or, for the atheists in the audience, at least reflecting on your good fortune?

I had one of those moments this week when I attended an evening of short story readings hosted by Faber Social, an arm of Faber & Faber.  For the princely ticket price of £5.95, I was treated to a line-up of six, very different writers, less than an hour from my front door.

The star turn was Booker Prize-winning author, DBC Pierre.  Yes, DBC Pierre! It was when he took to the stage that I had my moment of pure gratitude for living in this great city.  (I can’t decide whether I’m thrilled that it’s possible to see someone at the very top of their field of art for less than six quid, or depressed at what this suggests about the earnings of even the most feted authors.)

Have you ever heard DBC Pierre read?  He has a wonderful voice – deep, sleepy, knowing, as though he’s telling you something secret and a bit dirty.  He read some pieces from his collection of short stories, Petit Mal, and they were brilliant – original, thought-provoking and very funny.  That was almost incidental; with that voice I could have listened to him reading the telephone directory for hours.

As you’ll have gathered, his reading was the highlight of my evening, but I thought I’d just give you my quick take on the other writers.  Take it as read that I realise how presumptuous it is for me to comment on people who are about a million times more skillful than I am – but hey, this is my blog…

Peter Hobbs – on first.  Pleasant, unassuming sort of chap who read from a WIP about death.  Poignant, with moments of almost painfully sharp insight.  Surprisingly cheerful, all things considered.

Will Burns – poet-in-residence somewhere I’d never heard of and as yet unpublished.  I saw him as I was going in – there was a queue to get to the downstairs room where the readings were held and he was, very politely and nervously, trying to edge around the outside to go and prepare.  He seemed a touch overawed by being in such august company – who can blame him? – and I wanted very much to like his piece, but truthfully it was my least favourite of the evening. It was the story of a man who’d had an ill-starred relationship with a French woman – arty, beautiful, and enigmatic, naturally –  involving him moving to Paris and the pair of them spending far too much time staring into the middle distance in sulky silence at pavement cafés.  After five minutes I was wishing he’d just split up with the moody cow and find someone he could talk to.

Emma Jane Unsworth – who read what she said was a ghost story.  Clearly a very talented writer, there were some beautiful turns of phrase.  I’m not keen, though, on narrators using coarse words en passant, as though assuming we all go around talking about taking a p*ss, etc. – I always get a slight jolt of offence that detracts me from the story.  And I’m sure this makes me painfully traditional, but I prefer my ghost stories to actually feature A Ghost. All beautifully written, but I’d rather have an E. F. Benson.

Brian Kimberling – just brilliant. Also very tall.  So engaging I almost didn’t notice the fight he was having with the overhead lights and microphone stand.  I shall be going out to buy Snapper forthwith.  And it turns out he blogs too: http://briankimberling.com/

John Niven – a pornographic George Galloway who read from his

John Niven: a man who brought together the words "high pressure hose" and "wallpaper paste" to most unexpected effect.
John Niven: a man who brought together the words “high pressure hose” and “wallpaper paste” to most unexpected effect.

 

novel, Straight White Male.  I suspect I’m not his demographic but laughed like a drain all the same. (Before anyone reports me to #everydaysexism c.f. Ms Unsworth, I have no problem with exclamatory swearing – that’s what it’s there for.)

By the time I emerged into the darkening streets near Oxford Circus, I’d been moved, intrigued, amused and inspired.  Oh, and I’d had my wrist stamped. Stamped! Made me feel like a teenager again.

I love London.

Losing the Armbands

How do you exercise your writing muscles?  And how do you know if they’re getting stronger?

This weekend, I watched my sister compete in her first ever open water swimming competition.  She finished in the top third of men and women for her distance, and third in her age group of women (30-34 years old, in case you’re wondering).

Like me, Little Sis learned to swim at the age of four or five.  She swam at school and sometimes went to the local pool on weekends.  On family holidays, she mucked about diving over waves or trying to get onto lilos in the sea (have you tried this? Don’t bother in Britain’s choppy waters unless you have an hour to spare and no concern for your personal dignity).  In recent years, our occasional visits to health spa pools involved looking up occasionally from a book or magazine to watch a lone swimmer thrash up and down a few lengths.

In other words, swimming wasn’t a serious pursuit – until the last year.  Little Sis started going to the pool several times a week.  She started timing her swims and telling me about stroke length and body rotation.  She bought a proper swimming costume.  Then she bought a wetsuit.  Last weekend, I watched her swim 1500 metres down the river Thames in 34 minutes and come out at the other end fresh as a daisy.  Being impressed doesn’t come easy to older siblings, but impressed I was.

Okay, it’s not news that practice improves performance – but it made me think: am I practising my writing with the same degree of discipline my sister showed in improving her swimming?  What does that even mean for a writer? And how do you know if it’s paying off?

In the first month after I left my job, I was focussed on finishing the first draft of my novel.  I made sure I wrote a minimum of 2,000 words a day.  Some days it was easier than others.  I don’t think what I wrote in the last week of the month was any better than what I wrote in the first.  I’m not sure it was any better than what I wrote when I first started the manuscript, two years ago.floating rubber ring

I’m now struggling through the editing process.  One third of the way through, I’m no clearer than I was at the beginning on whether my edits are improvements or just changes.

Before I go and slit my wrists, I’m going to ferret out a few positives.

I have at least written regularly.  My own stuff, that is, not the policy papers or letters or emails I wrote in my job. I think the creative process now comes a bit more readily.  I’ve always been able to string a sentence together (feel free to take issue with that)  but my imagination doesn’t need quite the prodding it once did to stir into life.  Sometimes it used to refuse to get out of bed at all; these days, it only gets to hit the snooze button once or twice before grumbling into consciousness.

Thanks to my writing group, the excellent London Writers’ Café, I’m slowly reclaiming my critical faculties. I find I have things to say about other people’s work. At some point, this has got to (surely?) translate into being able to critique my own writing.

I know I have a lot more to do.  I subscribe to some great writers’ prompts and fail to do anything with them.  I read other blogger’s short stories and don’t get beyond telling myself I should give flash fiction a go.  I faff about reading other people’s tweets when I should be editing the bloody manuscript.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? And if it does, have you found any techniques to help? And any ways to assess your progress?

One thing’s for sure: I might not be a stranger to the swimming pool, but I’m not ready for an open water swim just yet.

Christmas Jumpers, Citizenship and Never Saying Goodbye – What “The Killing” Taught Me About the Power of Place

I’ve just reached the end of a marathon viewing of the first series of twisty turny Danish crime drama The Killing. I realise this puts me two years behind the rest of the country but hey, at this rate I’ll be work out what all the fuss is about The Only Way is Essex before the end of the decade.

Call me hopelessly parochial if you like, but I’ve never watched a foreign language TV series before (unless you count Keeping Up With The Kardashians).  Aside from the compelling plot and intriguing characters, Forbrydelsen, as it’s known in its native tongue, had an awful lot to teach me about the cultural shorthand I take for granted in British and even American drama.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert in all things – or indeed, anything – Danish.  As far as I know, they make good bacon and hate to see their beer exported. And being a bit Scandinavian, I presume they’re pretty right-on, though not as right-on as the Swedes or Norwegians, obviously.  Having now watched twenty episodes of The Killing though, I think I’m better qualified to set out a few things that separate the Danish way of life from that here in Britain.

Sarah Lund: Losing her family, her boyfriend and her marbles, but at least she's staying warm.

Sarah Lund: Losing her family, her boyfriend and her marbles, but at least she’s staying warm.

So here we go:

The Danes wear their Christmas jumpers with pride.  Now, I know festive jumpers –  by which I mean thick, knobbly woollen ones with repeating patterns of snowflakes or reindeer – enjoyed a resurgence amongst Young People last year; but that was “ironic” wasn’t it?  I mean, kids were spending fifty quid on some cream and burgundy nightmare from French Connection, not actually wearing Aunty Mabel’s lovingly home-knitted Arran cardi.  Not so in Denmark, where robust knitwear is clearly not a laughing matter.  I think that’s something we can all learn from.  I’ll be putting in my order with Aunty Mabel forthwith.

They’re just a bit more sophisticated in their politics than we are.  One of the characters in The Killing is a politician seeking election as mayor. We get to hear a bit about one of his flagship policies as a way of distinguishing him from his main rival.  If this were set in Britain he’d be talking about “crime” or “health” or “education”.  At a push, we might get “welfare”. In Denmark, the chosen policy, the one picked so that viewers will know exactly where this chap is coming from, is “integration”.  And not just whether or not it’s a good idea – that’s so last decade – but the efficacy of role models in addressing the apparently high levels of crime against some immigrant communities.

I mean, can you imagine this conversation in the Queen Vic?

“‘Ere, Peggy wot d’yer think of this Hartmann geezer’s role models, then?”

“Nah Ricky, it’s patronising innit? He’s gotta focus on the socio-economic issues!”

Nuff said.

The Danes do a fine line in interior design.  The family of the girl whose death is at the centre of the plot run a removals firm.  They rent a flat above the depot.  They’re clearly not supposed to be that well-off.  And yet their kitchen is A-Maz-Ing. There’s a whole wall of cupboards with stunning backlighting illuminating various pieces of vibrantly coloured glassware. No peeling formica or wonky doors here. It looks like a photo from an Ikea catalogue – in a good way.

I could go on, but that last one’s reminded me of my own aged kitchen and it’s all too depressing.

Suffice it to say, that The Killing taught me that the minutiae of everyday life aren’t quite as universal as I’d thought, and that bringing together those tiny fragments can show us an environment that’s subtly but inescapably different from the one we’re used to.  In other words, it’s not always necessary to write paragraph upon paragraph of description to bring your readers into the world your characters inhabit; a few, well-chosen details can speak volumes.

One more thing: some things transcend cultural barriers.  Whether they’re British or American or Danish or Gujarati, central characters in tense telephone conversations NEVER say goodbye before they hang up.

This drives me mad.  Surely there’s nothing so time-critical that the split second it would take to close the conversation politely just can’t be spared?  Nothing that wouldn’t wait for the moment needed to stop the poor sod on the other end of the line standing there saying, “Hello? HELLO?” It’s hard to maintain sympathy for the protagonist when they go around doing stuff like that.

So just to be clear: this is it for today.  I’m off now.  Goodbye.

An Appeal for Carol, Deserted By Her Inner Critic

I’d like you to imagine some tinkly, sentimental music playing as you read this.  Sad-faced children looking entreatingly into your eyes. Perhaps a kitten.

The camera pans to a small desk at a window.  A girl – alright, a woman fast approaching middle age – is sat, chin resting in her hands, staring out at the garden.  (There was a tree there until yesterday, but that’s another story.)  In front of her is a pile of typed pages, a little creased and dog-eared now.  The margins are filled with scribbles, crossed out and replaced with others, now almost illegible.  The woman twists and turns a biro between the fingers of her right hand, clicking the top so that the nib pops in and out.

Only you can help Tiddles smile again.

Carol’s cat: only you can help Tiddles smile again.

Voice over:

A long time ago, Carol – not her real name – dreamed of writing a book. 

She wrote first chapters – lots of them. But she could never get any further.

You see, Carol couldn’t silence her Inner Critic; the voice that told her everything she’d put on paper just wasn’t good enough. The voice that told her she was wasting her time. 

Then, one day, Carol decided she wasn’t going to live like that any more.  With your help, she locked up her Inner Critic.  She made herself develop a plot and characters.  She gave herself word count targets.

Carol finished her first draft. She thought she’d succeeded.  But the story doesn’t end there.

Now she must edit her work.  But Carol’s Inner Critic is sulking and refusing to help. Carol can’t decide what’s good and what isn’t.  Is she improving her writing, or just tinkering pointlessly?

[Music rises to a crescendo]

That’s why Carol needs your help again. 

For just one pound a month – I mean, with just one comment on this blog – you can help Carol know that she’s not alone.

Your editing stories can make a difference.  Please, post a reply and share them with us today.

Please.  For Carol’s sake.

 

People Are Strange – But Are They Strange Enough?

How different are the characters you write about to the people you know? Whisper it: how different are they from you?

Now, I like to think I’m fairly cosmopolitan. I live in a bit of London that could serve as a good location for a gritty and realistic crime drama.  My husband is a different colour to me.  I don’t have kids, but I’m pretty sure my cats belong to a gang.

They're good kids, they just want to belong...

They’re good kids, they just want to feel like they belong…

I was also brought up in a tiny village in Wales where there was one bus a week and everyone knew everyone else. I went to university, but I was the first person in my family who did.  I have friends and family who are doctors, warehouse workers, academics, police officers, company directors, tube station attendants and shop assistants.

Like I say, I like to think I’m fairly cosmopolitan. But I’m not.

This was brought home to me a couple of times in recent weeks when, as a result of circumstances I must conceal to protect the innocent, I found myself in company with People Who Were Very Different to Me.

If I tried to describe why I found them so different, I could say that some of them lived in different kinds of places – more or less affluent, small towns, rural areas or even just different cities. I could say that some of them had different sorts of family background and education to me. Some of them were quite a lot older, some quite a lot younger.

But really, it wasn’t any of those things.  It was that, for one reason or another, they had a very different outlook on life.  A different way of relating to other people that’s hard to quantify.  I found them difficult to talk to. I expect they had the same experience.

It made me think: how individual, how genuine are the characters I write about?  How different are they, not only from each other, but from me?

Okay, I’m not – to my knowledge – a murderous psychopath or an increasingly unhinged, phobic charity worker, or an anally-retentive, overbearing older sister (alright, I might be that last one) – but how far away am I really from the thoughts that go on inside their heads? From their way of looking at the world around them? How far is it possible to give them a life that isn’t, in some way or another, my own?

And doesn’t that make writing just about the most public bit of soul-bearing it’s possible to do?

Hmm. I’m glad I didn’t think of that before I sent my draft to my beta-readers.