What We're Reading/Writing/Watching

Tracey - I am currently watching Game Of Thrones (hooked!) and reading what already looks like my book of the year, Bring Up the Bodies.

Fionnuala - I'm doing a 'Ross and Rachel' i.e. taking a short break - from writing... I'm about to read 'So Much For That' by Lionel Shriver and I'm also hooked on Game of Thrones on the telly.

Debs - Taking a breath from having just finished the second book of "Fifty Shades" series (too much in this heat) and reading "The Girl on the Landing" by Paul Torday of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" fame. Watching "Grandma's House""The Voice" and anything with Graham Norton in it - which included the Eurovision Song Contest but we won't dwell on that! Writing wise I'm filling out conveyancing paperwork for imminent house move. Oh, its all go here :)

Caroline R - I'm planning the structure of my new non-fiction book, thinking about what I can include from my existing work and how much new material I'll need. This is a bit of a departure for me as I'm normally a pantser, but I'll have to make myself get organised for this one! I'm about to start reading Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, and I'm watching The Voice.

Caroline G - I am just about to start writing a new project, having abandoned the last one I was writing. This book is contracted by my publisher and am a bit nervous about getting it right. The one I finished over the winter and early spring didn't work at all! Has had to be binned. (Ouch) As for reading, I've just started Julia Crouch's second book, called Every Vow You Break. Loved her debut novel, Cuckoo. Watching? Bored, bored, bored with TV. Need a good box set.

Gillian - I've set sail on my next book, provisionally called Arktanic - yes that's right - a fusion of Noah's Ark and the Titanic. I'm reading A Parachute In The Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary and watching Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve, as he's a friend of a friend!

Derek is: 1. Writing job applications. 2. Rewriting an old novel, plus an edit, to have a go at self-pubbing through Lightning Source (having received author contribution requests of £1300 and £5000, in the last couple of months, from conventional publishers!). 3. Collating stories. 4. Writing plans. (Yes, that's writing writing plans!) 5. Reading The Little Book of the Great Enchantment by Steve Blamires.

Guest Author Clodagh Murphy gets steamed up in a cupboard with... well, you'll never guess!

Where do you get your ideas?...  has to be one of the questions readers most frequently ask (so much so that it's become a joke), and one of the most difficult for writers to answer.  'Out of my head' or 'everywhere', while accurate, can seem dismissive and unsatisfactory.  We're suspected of being evasive, even mean-spirited, refusing to share our secrets (which may be true – the secret being that we haven’t a clue).  I want to answer, like Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, 'I don't know.  It's a mystery.'

Maybe it's different for planners, but as a pantser, my stories evolve as I write.  Characters, scenes and whole threads emerge that take me by surprise, and by the time I get to the end of a book (or even the middle) I've often forgotten where most of it came from – if I ever knew in the first place.  Sometimes ideas literally seem to spring from nowhere.

That was certainly the case with my latest book, Frisky Business (out on June 1), about a woman who has Darth Vader's baby ... kind of.  So where does an idea like that come from?  I'm still not sure, but I do know that it was very much a product of the marvellous institution that is NaNoWriMo.

When I signed up for NaNo 2010 all I had was a character called Romy, who was a property developer, and the house she lived in, which was inspired by a gorgeous house I'd seen while out walking one day – a big pink house with a green gate.  I had a strong sense of who Romy was, but no idea what was going to happen to her.  However, in true NaNo tradition, I didn't let lack of plot stop me, so on November 1st I just started writing.  Being that time of year, I suppose it's no surprise that the first scene I wrote was a Halloween party  – what was a surprise was that next thing I knew, Romy was having sex in a cupboard with a guy dressed as Darth Vader.  Then it was a year later and she had a baby, and no idea of the father's identity.  I certainly hadn't seen that coming.

All sorts of other things fed into the story as it went along.  A magazine article I read about adult children who ended up moving back in with their parents due to the recession inspired another character's story.  It got me thinking – what if you'd been working abroad and leading a life that your family knew nothing about, but then found yourself forced to move home?  That's what happens to Kit, Romy's first boyfriend, who has lost his Wall Street job and returned to Ireland.

Other elements came from all over: some BDSM stories I'd been reading; a Groupon deal for an adventure weekend; blog posts by Médecins Sans Frontières volunteers; property renovation TV shows ...

So, like I said – out of my head, and everywhere.  But mostly it's a mystery.

GIVEAWAY! If you'd like to win a signed copy of 'Frisky Business', leave a comment below telling us who you'd like to be up close and personal with in a cupboard and who knows, you could get a nice surprise!

Clodagh is the author of 'The Disengagement Ring' and 'Girl in a Spin'.  She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and she has a website that's nearly as lovely as she is where you can even read the first chapter of 'Frisky Business'!

Sodding technology

Technology frustrates me so much. I’ve no patience. I’ve been known to unplug the printer and threaten to throw it across the room. I haven’t yet followed through on this, but I’ve come close to it. I am aware however that a simple act like this could make me come across as a complete psycho. ‘Charles Dickens didn’t have this sodding problem,’ I mutter.

Let me tell you about the printer, the device I was hoping could produce quality print-outs, so that Mr Big Agent would be really impressed. It’s manufactured by a very well known company and I was impressed with the sales advisor’s pitch when I went in search of a new model.

‘Yes it churns out fifty pages a minute or something like that,’ he said.
‘Wow,’ I replied. ‘I’ll take it.’
‘The print quality’s great too,’ he added.
Better still, I thought. Mr Agent won’t need his glasses as he squints at the botched printing. He’ll be impressed with the quality of the pixels and the glorious sheen, so much so, he’ll e-mail me back and ask me the name of the manufacturer.

(As I drove home, with the printer in the boot, I cast my mind back to the good old days. I got a typewriter from Santa for Christmas 1983, when I was eight. And I loved it. Each night I diligently sat at the breakfast bar and created beautiful asymmetrical lines of:


If I made a mistake, I borrowed my mum’s special rubber and erased the mistake. The page, when complete, was so pleasing to the eye. It was the most beautiful square.)

Once the new printer was rigged up, I tried to print my fifty pages/first three chapters. But the useless lump of a thing kept sucking the pages back in, creating a big blob at the bottom of each page. I ended up with thirty spoiled sheets. I was convinced it did this deliberately.

‘Sorry, trees,’ I whispered as I loaded yet more sheets into the tray.

At that point, I wanted to kick the printer, pull the leads out of the back and hurl it across the study. Deep breath.

I think it’s a problem we all encounter at some point in our writing lives – the inability of technology to co-operate. I am comforted by the fact it’s a universal problem. But it sucks up so much time. If only we could journey back to pen, paper and Tippex.

Not impressed with this printer*

*I could be doing something wrong. In all honesty, it’s probably not a manufacturing fault and more to do with the fact I refuse to read installation and instruction manuals.

It was on special offer though and the cynic in me believes that this is the shop’s way of clearing out what falls short of the mark.

Today is the official publication day for my second YA novel, Cracks     
Woohoo! Etc...look away for a minute while I attempt a cartwheel.

*adjusts clothing and tidies birds-nesty hair*
But they’re funny things, publication days, because they don’t really exist. Or at least, not in the sense of their being one particular day on a calendar.
Cracks has been available on Amazon for about six weeks. My publisher has tried to explain the complex system by which warehouses operate and how Amazon is able to get books in early sometimes, but I still don’t really understand it. It remains one of those mysteries of my life, like why my son likes Call of Duty so much and how to make custard  in the microwave (if anyone has ever done this successfully, do share your secret).
So I’m glad I decided to go for a launch party. Last week I had a wonderful evening with friends and family at the Camden branch of Waterstones (who were brilliant hosts...thank you again to the staff there) to launch the book.
This felt like the day when all that hard work, angst, re-writing, biscuit and wine-consumption and gnashing of teeth became worthwhile and I was able to say, ‘This is my book. Hope you like it.’ Today I’m ‘officially’ saying it again. Here’s my book. I really hope you like it. 

Oh and here’s my trailer. Hope you like that too (thanks again to Nick Morgan who made it and brilliant young actor Bailey Pilbeam).

What's In a name?

When I meet a character for the first time, I can very quickly decide whether I love/hate, dislike or empathise with him or her. For instance, if they’re commiting some heinous murder in the first few pages, then I’m not going to be inclined to like them.  However, if they’re committing a monstrosity and their name is Holly Golightly, then I’m at least intrigued.

How do you name your characters? For me, the process is instinctive. Before beginning to write, I think about the character’s characteristics and use the name that comes quickest and feels right. In fact, I’ve rarely changed the name that I’ve first given a character.

Sometimes, names are easy. If I’m writing about an elderly Amish character living in a small Pennsylvanian community surrounded by tumbleweed, something like Elijah Kaufmann feels right. Pete Wong would be wrong, so to speak. (Okay, don’t write in; there’s no reason that a man of Chinese origin may not be living amongst the Amish, but that, in itself, sets the scene for another story)

Naming your character right is vital for the set up of the story.  If my character is a young woman, living in the heart of modern Essex, left school at sixteen, works as a hairdresser - naming her Chardonnay or Helena will speak multitudes. Which of them is more likely to have a monthly direct debit to Amnesty International? Helena! Helena! I hear you cry. Possibly, but what about an Amnesty supportive Chardonnay – they exist and probably have a tale and a half to tell. As would Helena – it all depends on the story you want to tell.

So, let’s have a bit of fun with character naming today.  Here’s a list of ten Christian names and ten surnames. Pick one from each list and quickly write a few lines on them. Who are they? Where do they come from? What do they look like? What are they wearing? Have they siblings? How old are they? What’s their favourite song? Etc etc.

Annabel                                                                                   Radanovic
Chuck                                                                                      Smith
Pete                                                                                         Morley
Sally                                                                                        Williams
Henry                                                                                      Ford
Lettie                                                                                       O’ Sullivan
Klaus                                                                                       Handcock       
Ellen                                                                                        Appleby
Isabella                                                                                    Eddison          
Stan                                                                                         Gonzalez

Hmmm... I picked Sally Appleby, and here’s my instinctive response:

She’s a middle aged wife and mother of two grown up children, lives in rural Wales, though  hates it and dreams of returning to Sussex, where she grew up by the sea. First, she has to figure out how to divorce her husband. She’s at her still life painting class in the village, wearing dungarees that she wore in the seventies and still fit her. She knows she was once beautiful but no longer believes this applies. She’s restless. She needs her roots done.

Or she could be a single librarian, or a music executive, or a jewellery designer working from home, or an ambitious detective. They all fit - just depends on the story you want to tell.

Have a go? And do let us know if it leads to a story or scene...

The name's Res... Des Res

single storey detatched with far-reaching views
Words are great, aren’t they?  They can seduce, they can reduce the hardest of hearts to what our American friends would call Jello; they can construct, de-construct and they can transport us to places we've never been to, never heard of and lead us to destinations that only exist in the the writer's mind.
And we all wouldn’t be here - and by ‘here’ I mean on the Strictly Writing site - if we weren’t in love with the written word, would we? 
We ALL LOVE words *group hug*.

Okay that’s the preamble over with.  And isn’t PREAMBLE a great word? 

(preamble [priːˈæmbəl]n
1.     a preliminary or introductory statement, esp attached to a statute or constitution setting forth its purpose

So it makes unutterably good sense to me that I care about what words I say, how I say them, how they are said to me and how they are laid out to construct meaning and create atmosphere. I still pick people up when they say a soft ‘huh-aitch’ when spelling out a word with an ‘H’ in it.  I can’t help it; it’s one of those colossal bugbears that really grates on my sensitive Writerly nerves – like the fingernails down a chalkboard *can’t say blackboard anymore… sigh* - and now I’m over the hill, it seems I can speak my mind about a lot more things, because people of a ‘certain age’ are expected to be irritable buggers. Much like crabbity indifferent Doctor’s Receptionists, for example.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes.  The Aitch word becoming an eff word. 

But, like any other Wordsmith, I do enjoy seeing those misplaced apostrophe sign’s (see what I did there?) – at least I like them now there’s Facebook and Twitter because it makes me feel less anally retentive when I get all privately hot under the collar by their misuse.  Jeez the weight I must’ve lost in the past, before the advent of social networking sites, when I’d spot a sign that said ‘vegetable’s for sale’ or *shudder* ‘bargain book’s.  My spleen was never more relieved than the dawn of this technological age where everyone shares everything with everybody else whether they want to or not.

So it understandably confounds me that people who are being PAID as part of their job to WRITE stuff for general public consumption are allowed to use words that are misspelt, or written to mislead and entice in ways they really shouldn’t be.

Of course by ‘People’ I mean Estate Agents.  Of course I do.  And by ‘General Public’ I mean my husband.  Oh - and me.  Alright then – just ME!

I know it’s not meant to be great literature and I know it’s not exactly a job which requires the firmest grasp on the basic use of the English language, but.. well…  I am maddened beyond belief to report that the following details seem entirely acceptable to use in the land of Estate Agent:

The property enjoys gas central heating and

The property enjoys a South facing garden. Really?  Can an inanimate object enjoy anything?  Really?

The property delights in a rural location. Well, that’s nice for it - wouldn’t we all?

The property boasts superb pitch roofed outbuildings. On actual inspection, the only factually correct word in this sentence was 'property'.  I don’t know anybody – not least a building – that would boast about having an outside toilet and attached coal bunker, especially if neither doors opened due to the jamming of beds and/or wheelbarrows from within.  This description has, I noticed, changed on the particulars since I pointed out the vagaries of its veracities whilst trying to extricate my foot from an errant mattress spring and ducking out the way of a falling tile.

There is a garage en bloc. This, I have noticed, is quite a popular term to use these days for ‘there is a garage in a block round the corner’ but is meant to sound fancier, like it’s in deepest rural Brittany and not the arse-end-of-nowhere-near-the-house.

But I did come across a description that plucked at a heart string or two as I read them; evidently written by somebody who has more things than monthly commission on their mind:
“The soft neutral schemed bathroom is perfect for relaxing in after a hard day at work, and with the kitchen on the same level it means that the chilled wine isn’t far from reach….
..Imagine curling up in front of the roaring open fire on a chilly winter’s night or entertaining guests on the block paved sun-trapped rear garden which enjoys* panoramic views to the countryside beyond….”

This person is clearly overpaid as an Estate Agent.  They should be struggling to find a Literary Agent and tearing their hair out in Rejection Hell like the rest of us. 

Actually, it's making me think of a career change - if I got paid to make up lovely little scenes like this for the general public, wouldn't that be one step closer to proper recognition?
*I let them off this one minor indiscretion

Flash Friday!

Happy Friday to all our readers.

Today, I'm going to set you a challenge, an exercise to flex your writing muscles to prepare for a weekend of writing!

The word is 'Lips'. The challenge is to write a story from beginning to end in as few words as possible, ideally under fifty, then post it as a comment below.

I've been a flasher before, (yeah, yeah, enough of the naked runner images) and really enjoyed it, but more than that, I found it amazing that, even when using so few words, the process is the same. You write a story, make sure it makes sense, has structure, then edit it down to make more sense.

Good luck!

So , all you budding flash fictioners, we can't wait to see what some of you do with lips (so to speak...)

Interns: opportunity or exploitation? Guest post by Lynn Michell, Director of Linen Press Books

This recession is taking a heavy toll on students as graduates search in vain for jobs. In September 2011, BBC News reported that 28% of UK graduates who left university in 2007 were still not in full-time work three and a half years later.

Worse, I sense a growing climate of blame and diminishing sympathy, as if young people are not doing enough to help themselves. Claire Rogers, writing recently in The Independent, strikes me as naive and out of touch: ‘There are several different ways a graduate can fight off the depression of being unemployed while simultaneously improving their chances of landing the right job. One thing that all disenchanted graduates should certainly do is get work experience, even if unpaid.’ So off you all go - take what’s going, don’t expect any pay, don’t complain and don’t get depressed.

So, by taking on interns, am I buying into this growing acceptance of unpaid work? I run Linen Press, a small publishing house for women writers. It is a one woman band with no publicity department and no funding. I live on my passion for beautiful prose, optimism and determination. And fresh air. I have four interns. The question is: am I exploiting them in an economic recession or am I offering them useful experience which may help them if they find the right career job?

Instead of telling students to get on their bikes, I want to acknowledge how tough life is for them. One of my interns, Lauren, describes her current passage through university:
‘Undergraduates and graduates are under enormous stress. My case may not be the norm but I have spent the past three years studying at university while working 5 nights a week, as well as keeping a house and looking after a child. At the moment, I am in my final year, juggling family life while working on my dissertation and taking an additional module. We are encouraged to find a job related to our degree so I also work in a library. Experience is essential for pursuing your career choice so I chose to work with Linen Press. I am also a member of the Children's Panel, gaining further skills and experience. There is an extremely intense pressure on graduates to have something extra, to show initiative, to demonstrate their work ethic but even with the number of things I do just now, there is no guarantee of a job.’

Even rubbish holiday jobs are hard to come by. When I was their age, and paying my own way through university, I walked into a temporary job at the end of every term. I was a fruit picker, a factory welder, a film company’s Girl Friday, an Avon lady and a model advertising bath plugs. Every summer holiday I pushed an ice-cream trolley round Bognor’s Butlins for twelve hour shifts that ended in the theatre with a tray of tubs and choc-ices round my neck. A Whiter Shade Of Pale is forever etched into my memory.

If I were making a handsome profit, of course I would pay my interns, but I have invested all my own royalties into this small business and have not paid myself a bean for three years. I made a couple of expensive mistakes but now each book published by Linen Press outsells the previous one. It’s been a steep learning curve for a mere writer but Linen Press now feels a good place to be.

In my defense, I encourage my interns to take ownership of a project which interests them so that they see it through from start to finish.
• Rhona is the Linen Press Bodyguard. Where I am computer-chaotic, she is organised. Where I am impulsive, she is considered and protects us from my wilder ideas. She does a lot of the back-stage work, maintaining and changing the web-site and running facebook. I consult her on major and minor decisions, moan at her on bad days and joke with her on good ones. She takes it all in her stride. If I had the funds, I would employ her tomorrow.
• Bea joined us a few months ago after a chance meeting in The Feminist Library. She is a voracious, intelligent, intuitive reader with experience in scientific publishing and a true understanding of the ethos of our company. Already a contributor to several literary blogs, she volunteered to help vet the submissions that pour in at the rate of 10-20 a week. She also runs the Linen Press Twitter account with a professional yet quirky assurance. Thank you, Bea!
• Lauren arrived a few months ago and is building a library of resources so we don’t re-invent the wheel every time we publish a new book. She has researched prizes and awards, made lists of media contacts, and hunted down events that would be good matches for my authors. She has taken on tedious tasks and done them with competence and cheerfulness.
• Jac is our newest intern but has settled right in. I’ve been sending her submissions too, and back they come with coherent comments. This saves me a huge amount of often unproductive time. She is helping with the editing of a novel we have just signed up and with her background in art, I’ll be turning to her about design and presentation.

My interns are not standing in a queue at the PO with parcels of books. They are not making coffee or phoning every editor in the land to beg for a review of a book. They are dipping into real, varied jobs within a publishing company and finding out where their skills and interests lie. They know that their contributions are valuable - even necessary - and they are contributing to the growing success of a young company. And I will say that in their references.

Lest I should forget it, Rhona reminds me now and again that she is working for nothing. No doubt the others will too. But she also acknowledges the usefulness of the experience and the satisfaction she gets working for a small, committed publisher. My aim is to make Linen Press feel like a small literary family with authors and interns and my dog all part of the team. Or is that a cop out?

So why can’t I pay these willing, gifted young people? I’ve blogged before about the arithmetic of buying and selling books but I’ll briefly recap here. My books are expensive to produce. I pay an excellent designer and copy-editor because I want beautiful covers and no typos. I am restricted to shortish print runs of about 400 copies which takes the cost per book way up. Our next publication - a 90,000 word novel - comes to £8 per copy plus author’s royalties. Amazon would take 60% of my RRP and I would have to pay the postage to replace the book. On a book selling for £8.99, Amazon would take £5.40 plus £3 p & p. You do the sums. I don’t sell Linen Press books on Amazon.

One day I may stumble on that best-seller and do a run of 500,000 and have Hollywood directors on the phone. Then I pay my interns. Until then, I offer them hands-on experience, heartfelt gratitude, an excellent reference and the occasional meal in a Glasgow veggie cafe.

Thank you, my interns! You are invaluable.

Lynn Michell is Director of Linen Press Books, Edinburgh.

What's my motivation?

Porsha is not amused by tales of dogs and foxes.
We all know that the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog, but what I want to know is why? After all, it could have gone tiptoed past the dog. It could have given the dog a wide berth, and gone down the pub instead (the Fox and Hounds, presumably). Or maybe it actually jumped over the dog on a motorbike, as part of a charity fundraiser, but history has simplified the event?

Motivation and purpose are key elements of good characterisation. Yes, we need to know who the goodies, baddies and ambiguities are, but we also need to understand what made them that way and what governs their actions.

A mindless psychopath is infinitely more fulfilling as a protag or an antag once we encounter an event that triggered their behaviour, or discover the childhood incident which was a warning sign that all was not well.

It's true of other figures too. When we understand why Mr Darcy reacts to Elizabeth Bennet the way he does, our feelings for him change - he shows complexity and vulnerability, and perhaps a little more swoonability (I'm guessing here).

This subtle reveal needs a light touch, and is best achieved without a surfeit of adverbs. Consider this slice of Flash Fiction* (which I will now hastily make up to order)...

He watched the fly crawl up the chopstick, marvelling at its instinct for survival. Seven times now, and still it found the strength to escape the water in the beaker. The fly was only millimetres from the end before he gently lifted it on to his finger, and then flicked it back to the bottom of the beaker. "Nice try," he smiled. His other hand, palm upwards, held the glistening insect wings he had pulled off at the start of the experiment.

I don't know about you, but that guy makes my flesh creep. However, I also want to know what makes him tick. Maybe if I can appreciate what made him turn out like this I can overcome my revulsion and keep on reading.

Motivation and purpose add layers of depth to your characters. Knowing what drives them, and perhaps what they're running away from, can suggest actions and reactions you might never otherwise have considered. It can be the catalyst for the magical moment when your characters come to life and - as I've discovered twice in my novels - start arguing for their rights or suggest plot ideas.

So, do you know what makes your characters tick, and how to get that across to your readers?

And for the non-writing readers among you, does understanding Mr Darcy's motivations make him more desirable?

* As today is National Flash Fiction Day, allow me to introduce Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories by Flash Fiction South West. You can also read a little more about it here.

An Apple For The Teacher...

Not, much of a teacher, me. My children remain spectacularly incapable of placing a wet towel on a radiator. As for the dog, let's just say it's a rare day she doesn't leave me a little 'gift' under one of the dining room chairs.

Consequently, it's always a dilemma when I'm asked to give a talk or a workshop. On the one hand I love to pass on any information/expertise I may have, but on the other hand, my track record of getting it across, is not without failure.

It helps if I tell myself I'm not actually teaching or attempting to teach. Rather, I'm having a nice chat with some nice writers. Chats involve tea and smiling. Expectations are low.

With this in mind, I found myself, a few weeks ago, setting off to a literary festival to have a chat in a room above an independent book store-cum-cafe (lots of tea and home made cake!).

I greatly enjoyed my little chat, touching as it did on one of my areas of interest; why suspense in any genre is imperative and some good ways to employ it.

Judging from the emails I received from my fellow chatterers, they too enjoyed themselves and found our chat helpful. So when yesterday morning I finally cleaned out my bag and found my notes, I decided to pass them on to you.

Why do all stories need suspense?
Suspense is often seen as the province of crime fiction and of course any piece of crime fiction without it is a pretty derisbale failure. However, I'd go further and say any piece of fiction without suspense is lacking a vital ingredient. Sure, a fabulous voice and delicious writing, will take us a long way, but these things alone, won't sustain the average reader. At least not for 80,000 plus words.
Think of all the great books you've read. What keeps you turning those pages, desperate to find oit what happens next? The answer is well crafted suspense.

How then to craft it?
First, don't be fooled into thinking you need a complex plot with a twist at every turn. Some of the most simple of plots have great suspense: will they or won't they get together? A person dies, but who did it? A lot of things dont have to happen (though they can), but what does happen needs to be delivered effectively.

There are lots of ways to do this, but here are four to try at home:

Discovering the story at the same time as the narrator, is a good way to build suspense. We the reader, only know what the narrator knows. When he is surprised, so are we. First person narration can give intensity here in a way that third finds difficult but care needs to be taken not to get bogged down in what 'I' am thinking. I speak from expereince here.

Another effective way to build tension is to let the reader know things that the main character does not. Build a 'he's behind you' moment and your readers can hardly dare look from behind their hands.

Make the stakes very high. You will have already asked what your character wants and why he/she cannot get it. Suspense and tension will build when you show your reader just how important it is that he/she gets it. Make this work on as many levels as you can. If he or she fails disaster will ensue in all aspects of your character's life, personally, professionally, every way. The higher the stakes, the more you create ther need to read on in expectation and uncertainty.

As suspense builds towards denuoument, consider making the langauge simpler, descriptions less complex, sentences shorter. Reading becomes a breathless experience, moving us faster and faster towards finding out what happens.

Right then, I hope you've enjoyed our little chat...

What we're reading and watching.....

Here's what some of us have been enjoying lately..

I'm still into comfort reading as life is bumpy - alternating between Alexander McCall Smith's 'The Dog Who Came In From The Cold' and Sue Limb's hilarious 'Love's Labours'. I'm also dipping into a Buddhist book called 'Radical Acceptance' by Tara Brach, and 'Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui' by Karen Kingston - guess who's moving house?!? Oh, and I'm kind of saving my own novel, now that it is a Real Book, to read as if I were a Real Reader... And I'm watching The Voice, The Apprentice and a horribly addictive series called Four Rooms: if you ever want material for eccentric, downright wierd characters, take a look at both the dealers and the sellers.
I'm reading The Reluctant Detective by independent author Sinclair Macleod. It's set in Glasgow - where my former boss and some colleagues were based. There's a great sense of the city and its underbelly, with a whiff of Scottish noir about the book. It's good to see how another writer creates atmosphere and scenes. And it's a timely reminder - as the author promotes his fourth novel - that I need to get my finger out with another one of mine!  

I'm reading The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner City Neighbourhood by David Simon and Ed Burns. It's an in depth, gritty and disturbing look at the drugs war in Baltimore. I'm watching Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve on BBC and Skins which I Sky Plused ages ago. 

I'm just finishing 'The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year' by Sue Townsend -  I haven't read anything of hers since Adrian Mole lost his last zit.  It's had its humorous moments and it's been perfect bed-time reading. My next on the list is either 'The Book Thief' or Jodi Picoult's 'Lone Wolf'. 
Telly-wise we've been cringing at the 'Judges' trying to sing on The Voice (the contestants have NOTHING to worry about) and trying to work out which bit of Simon Cowell's face is still real on 'Britains Got Talent' - I know, we're so cultured in our house! 

I'm reading 'Incendiary' by Chris Cleve and loving it. An unusual and gripping narrative, with an intriguing mc, though I have to confess I'm finding one of the secondary characters a little caricature like.. I'm watching and addicted to 'Homeland' on tv (am a little bit in love/lust with Damien Lewis) Plus the new series of 'The Killing' started this week and I can already tell its going to both enthral and drive me mad!

I've just finished Slated, the brilliant debut YA novel by Teri Terry and am now on my book group choice, Every Contact Leaves a Trace. Too soon to tell but looks right up my street.  As for television, I'm mourning the end of both Scott and Bailey and Homeland, while guffawing at the Apprentice and then hiding behind my fingers at Dexter.
Caroline G

What books and tv/film are you enjoying right now, dear Strictly readers? Got any recommendations?

Where do you do it?

What does a coffee shop, bed, a living room, a library and a garden have in common? No, it’s not a joke, it’s actually a list of possible answers to a question we often ask our guest bloggers. Where do you write?

Recently, you got a glimpse into our own writing spaces, compiled by Fi, and we had a range of interesting responses.

It’s one that has me puzzled because in my opinion, there’s only one answer. I mean, to put it simply, I can’t write anywhere other than my own house. If I try to write in public, I get the feeling I’m being watched and it’s incredibly distracting. Take the library for example – I’m sitting at the table with my laptop and Mrs Jones comes in and says hello to the librarian behind the desk, Mrs Pettigrew.
‘How’s young Johnny?’ she asks her.
‘Not too good. I just can’t believe what happened.’
‘Well, give him my best wishes. Hopefully he’ll pull through soon.’
A solemn faced Mrs Pettigrew takes the books off her and thanks her.
Then I wonder what has happened to young Johnny. Has he been in a car accident or did he fall down a well on a farm? I wonder if he has banged his head in the playground or if he has measles. Or a life-threatening illness. I hope not.

This diverts my attention away from what I’m supposed to be doing – working on my WIP. Then I notice the guy at the desk beside me has logged onto crazypeople dot com or something like that, devoted to Doomsday followers. He leaves a message saying the end of the world is tonight, and I wonder if he’s right. His ear lobe is cluttered with rings, about ten or twelve, and he has a skull tattoo, a really angry looking one. The face is coloured in. It’s red and orange. He clenches his fist as he types with one finger, then he logs off and leaves the library. Next to the chair is Ronnie who is applying for a job as a taxidermist, but after keying in all his information online, the form fails to go through. He gets up, kicks the desk, then composes himself. He then starts to browse through the other job vacancies and stops at ‘beauty therapist required for top salon.’

Or picture this – I’m in Starbucks with my laptop and Betty and Bertha sit down beside me. They’re a larger than life duo and they eagerly tuck into their Verry Berry scones and apple and cinnamon pies, to be washed down with double Caramel Macchiatos. They really shouldn’t be here. I wish they’d bought healthy salads instead.

Betty starts talking about her forthcoming weight loss surgery and I wonder why the pair are not at the village hall attending Weightwatchers. They talk about Stanley and Herbert, who I assume are their significant others. Stanley has just been made redundant, having worked at Wally’s Engineering Works for the past forty years. He’s at a loose end, says Betty. Betty and Bertha make for a comedic pair and I can visualise them having cameo roles in my next book.

Of course, all these vignettes give me ideas and ideas are good when you’re writing a work of fiction. But as a caveat, it’s distracting when you have your whole book planned out and you don’t need any more scenes or walk on characters. More importantly, I don’t like to be the subject of someone else’s curiosity.

‘I wonder what she’s doing,’ whispers Betty.
‘I’m writing a book,’ I say, logging off and slamming the laptop lid shut.
‘Oh, that’s great, dear. I tried to write a book once about my arthritis.’
I roll my eyes and leave for home.

Where do you write? I’m interested to know if you find it distracting? Do you feel you are being watched? Or can you work as you would at home? Just curious. I hate tea and coffee anyway.

Writing in Real Time

This might sound familiar.  This is how a typical wordcount happens in my own ‘Real Time’ i.e. including all the interruptions, distractions and meandering trains of thought.  These words are fresh and in no way represent anything I’ve ever written (nor perhaps ever will).

The banks of the river lay heavy with morning dew, the fronds wait a minute, ‘fronds’, is that the right word or do I mean fernds? No, surely there’s no such word as ‘fernds’, I’m thinking of ‘ferns’ but I don’t think ferns grow by water do they? Aren’t they more… tropical?  Okay, I’ll have to Google it. Oh… look… Fern Britten’s lost a lot of weight lately hasn’t she?  And that Jennifer Aniston (“did you mean ‘Friends’?”) should start using a better hair colour, you can tell it’s not real….  

*PING* Oooh look… Pizza Express are doing one of those lovely offers; two main meals for a tenner… what should I do? Are we going out between those dates? Should I just delete it in case it entices me, or should I keep it in case the Girl wants to use it with her friends?  I’ll quickly text her to see if she needs the voucher saving. 

Okay definitely fronds.  That’s fine.  I’ll go with fronds.  But where was I going next?  Do I really want my banks heavy with morning dew? Now that I’ve seen before and after pictures of Fern Britten I’m less inclined to go with heavy.  Oh god now I can feel a biscuit coming on.

*PHONE* No, we’re fine.  No, we had it done a few years ago.  Yes, very happy thank you.  No.  Yes.  No.  Not really.  Okay then not AT ALL. Yes our Soffits and Fuschias are just dandy thank you!”
Maybe I shouldn’t have had that biscuit, now my head hurts.  Or perhaps it was the sales call. Where was I?  Oh the Girl’s texted back.  She doesn’t need the voucher but can I take her to her friend’s house tomorrow night.  I don’t know.  I could say yes but we might be doing something else.  I’ll have to text the hubster just to make sure.  

So fronds it is then. 
Camberley Abbey stood regal and proud in the grounds beyond.  Its splendour shone from the majestic leaded windows on the upper floors to the heavy dark oaked doors beneath.  Wait; is it oaked or oak?  If something been ‘oaked’ does that mean it’s been, like, treated with Oak – as in laminated?  I don’t think a majestic splendid Abbey would have laminated doors, would it?  And heavy?  Again with heavy?  Okay how about In the distance, Camberley Abbey’s splendour shone with majestic leaded windows on the upper floors to the great wooden doors below.  Now that’s just stupid. Nothing shines with lead and wood, does it, FFS. God I HATE descriptive stuff.  Why can’t I just cut out the middle man (like, agents, publishers etc) and go straight to film? That way I wouldn’t have to bloody worry about my heavy flippin’ fronds and my majestic laminate doors. They'd just BE THERE.

*PING* Oh, one of my Strictly teammates has a technical problem.  Should I help or should I let someone else handle it?  If I try to help I’m going to get distracted.  But I don’t want to seem rude by not responding.  And aren’t I already distracted by worrying that I might get distracted?  I’ll see if there’s anything I can do. 

*BRRRR* (that’s the mobile – just to differentiate between that and the *PHONE* landline) Yep, that’s fine.  Two o’clock.  Yes.   What, aren’t you coming with them?  But we gave you a key and everything.  But I might be… yes, we are serious about selling but… yes I know, I’m just concerned that… no, it’s fine.  Yep, sure.  Yes, lovely. I’ll see them then.

Right I definitely need a biscuit now.  This is ridiculous.  What are we paying an Estate Agent for if WE have to do the showing around ourselves?  I could probably have run up some details and stuck an advert on the RightMove website myself for less that we’ll end up paying them to do just this.  I’m cross.  I need to calm down.  I need a cup of tea and then I’ll see how quickly I can cobble together some house details and photos.  Ha – maybe I’ll have a change of career.  Then I could do one of those pieces in Good Housekeeping* about how I changed my life at 49 and ‘found myself’.  I’ve always wanted to find myself.  I’ve looked everywhere…

*TEXT ALERT* Ah.  We’re not doing anything tomorrow night.  Hang on, though, why do I need to know this again?  What was I doing with this information? He’s either being deliberately obtuse or I’ve forgotten… ah wait, yes, it’s coming back to me now… I have to text the Girl .

*PING* Ah the Strictly techie problem is sorted.
*PING*  the Strictly techie problem is sorted.
*PING* the Strictly techie problem is sorted. Yes I know that.
*PING* Aaaargghhhh the Strictly techie problem is sorted.
We’re  such a helpful lot, arent’ we?  Maybe I should just turn off e-mail alerts.  But what if something REALLY important comes through, like encouraging news from an Agent.  I’m sure there’s at least ONE agent out there who hasn’t vilified the last three chapters I sent off.  In fact to save them the time and trouble perhaps I’ll send them a ‘multiple choice tick-off’ postcard with the next lot of submissions I send out.  IF I send any out that is, if I haven’t left the country or stuffed stones in my pockets and wandered off into the nearest….. ah… my fronds… my majestic abbey….


I don't really need the wordcount icon on my computer.  I can count to ten by eye!

 *Other glossies are available.