As Baby Number Two has gone off to the New Writers’ Scheme, I’m enjoying a few weeks of blissful ignorance of how much more work there is to come. I’ve been able to read, something which has been lacking these last few months when evenings and nap times have been dedicated to writing.
My mind is already toying with the next project. Looking back, Baby Number Two arrived after two light bulb moments. One was at a dinner party with friends when we were discussing the number of children we’d like to have. It created a What If? question in my head and I realised it would make a good story. The second light bulb moment was when I was at the London Paralympics where I realised it would be good to make the story into a documentary and it gave me the hero I needed. There were lots of smaller moments of inspiration along the way, but those were the main two.
Currently, for my next project, I have half an idea and I need a spark to come along to complete the idea. Personally, I find sitting at a keyboard is not the way to find the next eureka moment, so I tend to get out in the sunshine and seek the answers there. Although, as this project will involve some research, I might have to start reading up and hope there is inspiration amongst the pages.
Over the next few weeks I will be doing a further revision of Baby Number Two before sending it out to publishers and agents. And whilst I wait, I’m planning to make a start on my next project. So let’s hope the other half of the story comes to mind.
Where do you find your sparks of inspiration? Or is there no telling when they might pop up?
When I was a child I was entranced by the idea of magic. I believed in fairies (and Father Christmas) for far longer than is reasonable or rational. I talked to the fairies in the garden and they answered me. I admit I never actually saw one, but I suspected – because pansies have faces – that they lived in the pansies. So I talked to the pansies and they’d nod or shake their heads. Proof. And as I got older, even though I kind of knew it was all nonsense, I stubbornly clung to the faith, more because I wanted it to be true than really believing in it.
And, of course, my favourite reading was fairy stories. I can still recall the smell and feel of those books. I had a volume of Hans Anderson’s fairy stories – a Collins classic, with the dark green plasticised cover. And I had a volume of the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm. This was a heavy, old hardback, with thick, deckle edged pages the colour of weak tea, and I suspect the famously ‘grim’ stories had been heavily expurgated, to make them more suitable for young minds. I don’t recall ever being frightened or disturbed, but I do recall being disappointed about the way many of these classic tales (Anderson’s and Grimm’s) concluded.
I was always making up stories, peopled typically with knights and ladies, princes and princesses, and fairies of course. But I didn’t write anything down until I was nearing the end of primary school, and even then it was my big sister who gave me the idea. She was writing a Regency romance, and it suddenly struck me that writing it yourself was the perfect way to make a story turn out the way it should. This is how I caught the writing bug.
Throughout my teenage years I wrote ‘books’. I never finished anything. But what interests me now, looking back, is why I was I writing the kind of story I was writing. I read Georgette Heyer, Daphne DuMaurier, even Jane Austen. Young Adult didn’t exist as a genre in those days and – other than adult fiction, which I moved onto fairly swiftly – historical romance was all that seemed to exist for teenage girls. But unlike my sister, I wasn’t interested in writing in that style. I was far more strongly drawn to write darker tales, set in the present, of self-destructive bad boys, rescued and redeemed by the love of a girl who sees the good in him. I suppose I was influenced by pop music, films, TV and teen comics (although these were disapproved of in our house and I rarely read them).
In some ways, I think I still write in the same vein. I am no longer romantically drawn to the haggard hero, at deaths door, either through his consumption of drugs or drink, or as a result of a horrific motorbike accident due to speeding. (This was never due to weakness or degeneracy, by the way. He would have been lured into these self-destructive behaviours to “forget” some tragedy in his life.) But even though I’ve left these poor emaciated and emotionally damaged wraiths behind, I still prefer to write contemporary stories about people with faults and failings and emotional baggage. I write stories with an edge about real contemporary life.
I used to describe my books as gritty, but came to realise this conveys the wrong impression. I’m not Martina Cole. Despite my teenage tastes, I don’t write about ‘Crims’ and ‘Toms’ and seedy lowlife. I’ve never lived in that world and I don’t know it. I don’t even watch East Enders. But I don’t shy away from issues. I prefer to write as truthfully as I can about real people in a world I recognise, dealing with the stuff we all may have to deal with. A world where people don’t always make the right decisions – where actions have consequences – where we muddle along and sometimes, all we can hope for is the best. What I write is ‘romance for grownups’. This is not to say there are no happy endings. There may not be a transformation scene, where the beautiful, but innocent and humble heroine is given the sparkly crinoline and marries her handsome, rich and perfect prince. But in my books there is hope, and a light at the end of the tunnel. There may not be a promise of happy ever after – who can guarantee that in real life – but, by the book’s conclusion, my heroine is always a good deal happier than she was!
FLY or FALL
Eleanor – known as Nell – thinks of herself as a wimp. Even though her life has not been easy, she clings to the safety of the familiar. Married young and dependent on her teacher husband’s wage, Nell has stayed at home, in Battersea, with her children and her increasingly invalid mother. Following the death of her mother the family’s fortunes suddenly change. Trevor, is wildly enthusiastic about their ‘move up in the world’; he plans to give up teaching and move house away from London. Nell, however, is gripped by a nebulous fear of some unknown disaster waiting to trip them all up, but her husband, steamrollers her objections.
Now in her early thirties, and living in an unfamiliar landscape away from old friends, Nell feels cast adrift. She is increasingly aware that Trevor is no longer the man she married, and their young teenage twins, Jonathan and Juliet, are grumpy and difficult. The women she meets, Felicity and Katherine, seem shallow and promiscuous. The new house is unwelcoming and needs modernisation; she’s thrust into a continuing chaos of rubble and renovation. Patrick, one of the men working for the building firm, is infamous as a local Lothario, but he doesn’t make a pass at her. At first she’s grateful – she’s not that kind of woman – but her feelings towards him grow increasingly confused and ambivalent.
When Nell takes a bar job at the local sports club, she is exposed to an overheated atmosphere of flirtation and gossip. Influenced by her new friends and the world in which she now moves, she begins to blossom and to take pleasure in the possibilities which seem to be opening up for her. She meets and forms a deeper friendship with the quirky, new-age Elizabeth, a very different character to her other friends. As Nell begins to enjoy herself and to become enthusiastic about her life, it seems her husband is on a downward trajectory, on the opposite end of a cosmic seesaw. When she is pursued by a beautiful and enigmatic young man, called Angel, she is tempted into behaviour she would never previously have imagined herself capable. The earthquake, felt as a tremor of apprehension at the start of the story, rumbles through her life and the lives of those around her. When the dust settles nothing is as she previously understood it.
FLY OR FALL follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her husband, her teenage children and even herself are revealed. Relationships are not what they seem. The hostility between brothers is exposed and finally explained. And the love that blossoms unexpectedly from the wreckage of her life is doomed, as she acknowledges the hair’s breadth between wishful thinking, self-deception and lies.
By the conclusion of FLY OR FALL everything has altered for Nell, the woman who doesn’t like change. But she has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked with optimism on a totally transformed life, a life that offers the chance of love.
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.
She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.
Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village. Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new mainstream publisher – Accent Press. FLY OR FALL is the second book to be published in the three book deal. The first was TORN, published in 2014, and LIFE CLASS is coming out later this year.
To connect to me:
TORN: MyBook.to/gilliallansTORN (universal or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Torn-Gilli-Allan-ebook/dp/B00R1FQ1QE)
As we look forward to warm weather, balmy days, and writing in the garden, we take a look back at the last eight weeks of the Romaniacs Life Cycle of a Writer.
Laura: Having subbed book 3 to my publisher, and following wrist surgery, I took a short break from writing, enjoying the Easter holidays with my family. A major thrill was when I visited the local branch of Waterstones to find Follow Me Follow You on the central table and on the shelf next to one of my favourite authors, Erica James. Although I’ve not been writing, I have been mentally planning book four and am keen to get started. I’m still searching for a title …
Sue: Since having The Half Truth published, I took an extended writing break which I blogged about here. The past two weeks have seen me tentatively dip back into an old WIP that has been kicking around for 3 or 4 years. I think, finally, I can see the end on the horizon.
Jan: Having recently signed with Choc Lit as a result of my novel As Weekends Go winning the Choc Lit and Whole Story Audio Books Search for a Star competition, I had a mild panic upon receiving my first structural edits report … BUT … upon meeting my lovely editor for a coffee and a chat, who brilliantly explained how the suggestions would help strengthen the novel, I feel really excited about cracking on with the revisions.
Debbie: It’s no secret that I’ve been treading treacle for over two years. The only time I seem to get any quality words down is when I’m on holiday, away from domestic chaos! Determined to get the WIP I’ve been working on for almost four years finished once and for all, I went to Cheshunt for Tamsyn Murray’s, ‘Live, Breathe, LOVE Writing,’ workshop at the middle of April. Julie Cohen and Miranda Dickinson were inspiring and motivational guest speakers (as well as slave drivers!) and I met some lovely kindred spirits including Bernadette O’Dwyer and Helen Walters whom I’ve been acquainted with on-line for several years but never met in person.
The main message was simple. Get it finished! Stop being frightened, stop making excuses, stop procrastinating and stop allowing those crows to peck on my shoulders, telling me I can’t do it! ’ Most important is to keep writing until I type, ‘THE END.‘
It was just the kick up the butt I needed and, with the spurring on of Bernadette and Helen, I’m now up to 86,364 words and writing four or five days a week to get it off for the RNA NWS before the end of August deadline.Read More »
PS Thank you so much for doing this for me, Catherine. That’s one of the many great things about being a Romaniac – nobody gets cross if life gets in the way of the big writing picture and someone always steps in with a helping hand and a virtual hug/cake/glass of wine.
Update on office life – it’s SATs week and we heard yesterday we have Ofsted too, today and tomorrow. Double whammy! So, heads down at school and hopefully normal service will return soon…
Dear Auntie Romaniac,
I’d love some advice on how to make my hero irresistible. What traits make you as a writer and a reader fall in love with heroes and how do you translate that on the page?
Lucie: Hi Laura, this is a fab question. For me, both as a writer and a reader, I need my hero to be real. I don’t want him to be this perfect example of what men should be – because that isn’t real, it isn’t identifiable. He needs to have flaws. Not massive, oh my God I can’t believe you would do that flaws, but everyday flaws that us humans have. He needs to have a journey that will make him, in my eyes, be irresistible. There’s nothing more attractive than a man who works hard and makes the most of his life. Life is hard, obstacles are put in our way to test us, so show me that in a hero and show me that he will work hard to overcome these, and I will love him! I don’t want a ‘perfect’ man – what is that, anyway? Yes, good looks, humour and the like are great qualities to have, but you must get the personality and rawness of his character there, too. As for translating it on the page, I would just say write it real. Don’t sugar coat things or skip over it, tell it how it is and indulge in him. We all love a bit of indulgence 🙂
Jan: I like my hero to be caring, respectful, strong enough to take decisive action when needed yet not too proud to reveal his innermost concerns, even if only to me. Someone with a great sense of humour who can take a joke at his own expense too. Protective, loyal, well-mannered, hardworking, self-assured enough to stand by his beliefs. Someone who would ‘have my back’ in public even if in private he was miffed with me! I suppose as far as translating these things onto the page goes, I would take each character trait and create a scenario that showed both sides of it. With ‘caring’ for instance, I’d have him show that side of himself to the heroine or to sub-characters but, equally, show it in the way people speak of him to others; their love or regard for him as a person. Of course, as Lucie says above, a good-looking hero always ups the temperature, but it’s the inner qualities, I believe, that make him more credible and irresistible. Sigh …
Sue: Yes, to all of the above. I like my heroes to be real in the sense that they are not perfect. There needs to be something in his character that challenges the heroine, a side that will appeal to readers, so that the reader is rooting for him too, despite any flaws he may have. I think the trick is to remember that the hero has two love interests in the novel; that of the heroine and that of the reader.
This week, it’s Laura’s Life Cycle of a Writer, and she’s far from twiddling her thumbs.