Achievements and deletions

A spate of ideas had spated. A flow of words had flowed. I thought all that was needed was to continue at roughly the same rate and in a few weeks a final first draft of a second novel would spew out. But my heroine‘s been delayed again.

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My heroine asked me to reuse an old picture, to save time drawing a new one.

The reasons this week? One was a stand alone story for children that sprung unexpectedly from the novel a few months ago. A publisher showed a glimmer of interest, if I could adapt it to be suitable for a wider market. I spent time tinkering. My heroine didn’t mind, she’s a mother herself.

The local bookshop advertised for part time staff. Could be fun, could keep me off Facebook. I spent hours compiling a CV, before realising, though I sympathise with the difficulties of a tiny independent bookshop trying to stay afloat, the rate of pay and terms were so poor I would end up enemies with the owner. My heroine was drumming her heels. So in lieu of fresh ideas I made corrections to a previous section of the novel that I’d printed off.

This week I had appointments with the dermatologist, dentist, hygienist, and at the eye clinic. No, they didn’t keep me waiting long; no, there was no devastating news to put me off my stride. But it gave me the chance to research ideas for a novel about our wonderful NHS. I might make some money to donate to the poor old behemoth (the scriptwriters for “Casualty” must be laughing all the way to the blood bank). I also tried to participate in the online Mslexia Max Monday forums with authors, editors and publishers. But my internet was on a go-slow (in solidarity with my heroine?)

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What a planning document!

On Tuesday morning I worked out how A would lead to B and  C result from that. I wrote the episodes (2,000 words – hooray!) and added them to my structural plan (a table with columns for chapter numbers, characters involved, location, how the action moves on, page numbers, themes highlighted, and any national/local/historical events that ought to be referenced). Then I had fun colour coding it with contrasting pastel backgrounds, one for each week of the narrative (spread over five weeks). Now it looks like a block of Neapolitan ice cream.I spent some time admiring it. My heroine sniffed.

On Wednesday I wrote the synopsis, for sending to a mentor I’m meeting in March. It eventually emerged coherent.Then I edited down my first 6000 words to 3000, because that’s the limit she’ll look at, and managed to fit a list of key questions for consideration at our meeting to one page. A reasonable day. My heroine lost quite a few calories/words in the course of it.

On Thursday I looked at my emails before starting work. How fascinating – one involved an invitation to a Gala Dinner to celebrate one year of the Jolabokaflod campaign in the UK. I can’t not go to that! It’s at the Café Royal, and there will be networking opportunities and canapés. Or should that be canapuneties and opportés? Either way, jolly good book trade fun. Acceptance entailed looking at their crowdfunding campaign and book promotion possibilities for The Infinity Pool. I shall report from the field next week. It reminded me I must get some new business cards, so I spent a happy hour designing those (book one side, blog the other). Anbook-launch-invite-small equally fascinating email concerned a book launch (see left) and a course to be run by Writers & Artists, From First Draft to Final Draft, with William Ryan. I once took a Guardian Masterclass he ran with  Matthew Hall and it was excellent. I look into details; I note I’ll be abroad during some sessions; I consider it anyway. At least the dreaded synopsis is written, and the 3,000 words are ready!

Then there were two free video courses to investigate.The first was from The Write Success, about writing a catchy blurb, and the second from The Writers’ Workshop. I probably won’t watch them unless there’s a transcript so I can skim the introductory rhetoric such videos tend to feature. I spend enough time in front of a screen as it is. But there may be gold within. There was the Authors’ Licensing and Copyright Society newsletter, less dry and more useful than you may think, and some correspondence with my German translator, about publishing possibilities there. My heroine shrugged. She’s not in the right book.

With a birthday just before Christmas and a family of bookworms, I have an enviable TBR pile. I’ve got through a lot of them – an author has to read, to see how others achieve results. My heroine is also a reader, so she’s resigned to that.

All this before the window cleaner pinned me to the doorstep. In five minutes I discovered he loves Del Shannon, runs the Del Shannon fan club, went to LA once on his way to Australia and called on Del Shannon, took Del Shannon jogging, then went with Del Shannon to watch a studio recording session but found it boring as he doesn’t like music. Eh? Do not pinch this character, folks, he’s mine, although he won’t fit into the current WIP. However he could be somebody’s dad (not my heroine’s).novel

Today is Friday, when my blog post takes priority. So as far as the WIP goes, heroine, I make that approx 2000 words added, 1000 deleted. Not bad for a week’s work.

Finally, I spent time thinking about an elegant, hilarious, informative writer who has been around all my life and has continued regularly to produce fine words in the face of illness. I’m so pleased there’s another Saturday Guardian column by Clive James today (updated 28th January) and I’ll always treasure this one from last week which I feared might be the last.

©Jessica Norrie 2017

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In the same class as Shakespeare

Some of you have said you’re impatient  for more news of my heroine, but she had to sit in the waiting room for a few days last week while I went on a trip of my own. Reviewing a guide to Shakespeare recently reminded me he’d rather left my stage, having played a lead role at other times.So off we went to Stratford-upon-Avon (proofreader’s nightmare, that, since the district council differ from the official tourist website and call it Stratford-on-Avon. And I only set out to check if it has hyphens. Still, inconsistent usage is in the Shakespearian tradition.)

We did things in the right chronological order. This was inadvertent, but I do recommend it to give a sense of his life: childhood, education, maturity, creativity and legacy. It’s all easily walkable. Shakespeare’s birthplace has been much tarted up lately – (whoever knew they had an early form of wallpaper? It’s oilcloth, designed to keep out draughts.) We moved on to his school, then to New Place which he bought as a successful playwright, next to his daughter’s home Hall’s Croft, and finally to an acclaimed production of “The Tempest“.

 

Actors are on hand at each property: one played Shylock. His most famous speech should be played on a loop in these times of Trumpian intolerance and Brexit braggadaccio (substitute any faith/orientation/race /characteristic you like):

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison
us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? 

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Appropriately, this actor was performing excerpts from “The Winter’s Tale”. “Shylock” is behind her, in the grey cloak.

All the Shakespeare properties were fascinating in different ways, but as a retired teacher (I can’t say that word often enough!) I was most struck by Shakespeare’s school. When last summer I blogged If Shakespeare had sat SATs, I didn’t know I was soon to sit where he sat. Warning: exclamation mark deluge ahead. It’s still part of a school! In the morning before the building opens to visitors, King Edward VI Grammar School uses it for registration and sixth form assembly! So supposing your son passed the 11+ (it’s a state school but fair to say, not that easy to get into) or your daughter was in the sixth form, s/he could learn/daydream/mess about* in the very same classroom as Shakespeare! Sitting on replica benches, at right angles to the teacher as he would have done, and as K.E.S students do every morning, we watched a video in which boys from the school play a scene showing Shakespeare and his classmates learning to translate Latin poetry. It was humorous, instructive, evocative. I can’t get over the clever obviousness of using Stratford schoolboys to dramatize the schooldays of their dramatist old boy. I bet the Drama teachers there don’t have to worry about their department being axed.

Another actor, the schoolmaster, offered to test our Latin and despite my partner’s Classics degrees, he declined. He’d had no reason to return to a classroom since his own school days, and found himself fearful of possible ridicule or the consequences of wrongdoing. My son and his father – a left hander who’d been made to work with the “right” hand at primary school – had the same reaction when we went to the Victorian Ragged School in Bow, London. Such fear is strong enough in children to remain with them even as successful adults, and as teachers we should always remember it. (Oh, but I’ve just remembered I’m retired. Hooray!)shakespeare-school-bill

In the replica Georgian classroom next door, we wrote with a quill pen and tried on a scholar’s cap. A gentler volunteer praised our efforts and we quietly glowed. (That’s how I’d do it. If I wasn’t retired.) There is a more information about these historic school buildings here. It’s a long time since the stage of my career when I taught Shakespeare to secondary school pupils, but I would have used it to help bring him alive. (Too late now: I’m reti….)

These museums didn’t feel like museums, they felt like homes and workplaces. (I learnt a lot about glove manufacture too – John Shakespeare was a glover.) I think it was because such care was taken with the special effects. Shakespeare himself used the latest special effects whenever he could, as did the RSC at The Tempest that night. Arial really was a magical sprite, his avatar seen and heard simultaneously on several different parts of the set. Thus the isle was indeed full of voices. Yet at the very end, the effects bonanza quietened and Simon Russell Beale held the audience more simply, still and alone on the stage, letting the words cast their magic in his beautiful, diffident baritone. To a younger audience than in London, I noticed.

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After the storm

Do go to Stratford if you get the chance, out of season if you can (did I mention I was r……?). I may even take my heroine if she’s not too busy fighting to remain in the UK.

*I may be maligning them here. I never saw such well behaved home time bus queues as in Stratford.

©Jessica Norrie 2017

The heroine now arriving at platform 1

Last seen through a glass of Prosecco, my heroine returned this week. She flickers a bit, but she’s coming to life. This week she’s made cakes with her daughter, had the courage to oppose a demo against her right to be in the country, and rewarded herself with an ice cream after it had gone past.

heroine-with-suitcase-2Who knows what mysterious alchemy transforms a character in an author’s mind, sketched in outline, conceived but not yet three dimensional, into a creature of flesh and blood? I don’t, but like passengers on an erratic train service (though better than Southern) my characters turn up in an unscheduled way. They leave the train at the far end of the platform and gradually become substantial, walking towards me as though they were there all the time and don’t understand why I’ve only just got to the station to meet them.

My heroine is a tactful traveller. Unlike her author, she brings an overnight bag only, which she carries herself.The episode she’s packed today may involve another member of her family, her current mood or perhaps her state of health. It may appear trivial (that ice cream) but lead to something important (what if the ice cream van driver were a serial killer?) Her one bag is significant: full of essential documents and the wherewithal to survive: perhaps her immigration status has been revoked, she’s lost a job or her child has been injured and together we must find a solution by the end of the book (if all goes in her favour).

Look, she’s brought her friends with her. They’re taking shape too: the neighbour, the child’s teacher, the man in the flat downstairs. Helpfully, my heroine is telling me what the weather’s like that day, what clothes she’s wearing, even that her net curtains need a wash. (Can I possibly turn that into an interesting plot point? You just watch me!)

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It’s a strange feeling when your characters come to life. When I was working on the last novel, I remember lying in the bath one day (bare with me), vaguely thinking about people I used to know. I wondered what happened to W, whether X’s marriage lasted, if Y ever managed to stop drinking, and if Z’s career turned out as brilliantly as it looked likely to do…and then, I started wondering what happened to Adrian? What was he doing now? With a shock I sat up. Nothing would happen to Adrian, unless I made it happen, heroine-with-suitcase-1_newbecause I’d invented him. And yet for a moment he’d become so real to me he’d joined the flesh and blood ranks of people I’d happened to lose touch with. How strange – but what a good sign. It must mean I’d invented a rounded, interesting, believable character.
Next week: will my heroine stay in the shadows, blaze in all her glory, give away so many plot secrets it won’t be worth writing the book – or will she hide in the siding of my mind while I write here about something else entirely?

Watch this space (please).

©Jessica Norrie 2017

Prose and Prosecco

Sadly, “Prose and Prosecco” isn’t a newly unearthed Jane Austen novel whose intelligent heroine triumphs over a bubbly rival. The juxtaposition describes a more mundane dilemma: how to take up the pen (well, mouse) again after Christmas and New Year?

hibiscus-2Rich food has clogged my plot, chocolate stuffed my characters, and I certainly wasn’t inside the head of my Muslim heroine while glugging snazzy cocktails. This year there was an unexpected and beautiful present on Christmas Eve: a jar of hibiscus flowers and a bottle of Crémant de Loire to start us off in style. I thought I deserved it – I’d posted a seasonal article that very day on the BritFic Authors website, and another the day before on this blog.

The label on the hibiscus flower jar said “average contents 11 flowers” so in order to waste not and want not we also tried them with Prosecco and pink champagne (too sweet, crémant is best). I’d promised myself the week after Christmas off (though I hankered after escaping the clutter and decorations for the quiet of my study), and since my blog posts oil the wheels of the Great Second Novel, it too ground to a halt. prosecco-1I spent days sofabound, reading. Reading is essential for any author and these books were gifts: Margaret Drabble and Somerset Maugham and a new Austen biography, tales from and of establishment figures happily received despite my having been rather preachy about diversity just before the Prosecco season began. But such reading is not helping the Somali mum take shape. The plot, never very distinct, has receded altogether and the characters gone on leave. The world looks fuzzy…

When I remembered to make a resolution, it was to spend less time on social media. Authors are supposed to use social media for marketing, but with only my debut novel still to market, and that now identified with the year before last, I need to produce Novel Number Two more than I need to faff about on Facebook and Tweet to an unlistening world. Although, one of the Facebook book groups might give me the stimulus  I needed? Maybe in the form of a review to investigate or a discussion of writing methods and procedures? I broke my resolution in five minutes.

How depressing, to be honest. The main thread in the first, usually supportive, positive group I visited was about the objectionable behaviour of a self-styled reviewer/blogger who gets as many books as he can free and doesn’t bother to review them. I agree this is dastardly behaviour – no, seriously, I do – but by comparison with all the dishonesty, violence and abuse the world has seen recently the length, outrage and personal sniping of the comments thread did seem excessive. (Fortunately the threads were very soon back to their normal sense and sensibility.)

I tried another group, also usually helpful. This was even worse. More outrage, some justified, this time aroused by a tactlessly written, poorly researched Huff Post article about how bad indie authors are, on the lines of “If you can’t sell to an editor how will you ever sell to the public?” As I begin to note ideas for this post (Monday 2nd), the writer has issued an apology and claims to have received threats of rape and death. Her initially enraged critics have variously commiserated with her or disbelieved her, and the argument has set off again. The indie writers stake their claims to respect (rightly, though some would aid their cause by checking their spelling and grammar first). The traditionally published writers weigh in, one so aggressively I couldn’t work out whether the post was intended ironically or to be taken at face value (if the latter, just imagine you’ve been knocked out cold). Whichever side they’re taking, these people are all so FURIOUS! Happily it’s Friday now and there seems to be a ceasefire, or maybe everyone’s just worn out.

Those were books, authors and reviewers you were talking about, folks. People can discuss them in a light hearted way or a scholarly way. People can enjoy them, dislike them, ignore them, be mystified or delighted or amused or frightened by ambiguitythem, but they are only authors telling stories or reviewers of stories (most of the books referred to were fiction. I agree non fiction has a different range of influence and importance.) Fiction is written and published via various economic models, one of which is currently threatening the market share of the other. How that will pan out is not yet known. But nobody is getting killed (except in fictional ways); nobody’s home has been bombed, nobody has been forced into hiding or tortured or lost their families. In every culture and every market, the majority of authors have always struggled to make a living, and that matters, but it won’t be solved by a mass throwout of toys from the pram.

The world has huge problems.No point listing them, we all know what they are. In 2017 we’ll need intricate, complex, long lasting, multi faceted diplomatic conversations and careful, damage minimizing action to resolve even a small number of the political, environmental, and economic difficulties we face. And we can’t even talk about book reviewing and publishing without flying into a rage?

It makes me wonder whether it’s even worth writing my Somali mum, supposing I can beckon her back from the shadows? The Prosecco tastes sickly in the light of so much anger: I need to find a more serious drink to divert my attention. If the new book ever sees the light of day, please don’t use it, me, the publisher (if any), the reviews, the price, the genre or any other aspect of its existence as ammo in a slanging match.

 

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Happy New Year!

 

©Jessica Norrie 2017