Join me…on 42nd Street!

Shhh… Today is my birthday…

I intend the celebration to be somewhat muted. Except tonight. Tonight I’m going to the theatre to see 42nd Street.

And as I tread over to the wrong side of fifty I can’t help wondering why I find the theatre such an entrancing place to spend an evening. Is it simply the romantic novelist in me or am I in good company?

Since I was a young girl I’ve always loved musicals. I enjoy ballet, opera and plays too but particularly love musical theatre with the combination of songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. It’s been fun over the years – impersonating a nun to go and see the Sound of Music and wearing a Basque and heavy eye-liner to join the camp frivolities of the Rocky Horror Show. Nevertheless, it’s dressing up to the nines which gives me most pleasure and perhaps it’s because I can’t afford to go very often that it’s a treat when I do.

Even thinking of theatre buildings evokes my romantic side, from Amphitheatres, introduced by the Romans and Elizabethan timber-framed open-air theatres to the modern day Art Deco splendour of the RSC Stratford or the Barbican in London. However, my most memorable experiences of theatre stem from my time as a young girl at the wonderful City Varieties in Leeds. (Some of you may remember it as home of the BBC television programme, ‘The Good Old Days,’ a recreation of old-time music hall.)

Imagine the musical halls you’ve read about in stories; an intimate, doll’s house interior; rectangle shaped with boxes separated by cast-iron columns along the sides at circle level; seats and plinths covered in plush red fabric and gold gilt; swags of red velvet curtains everywhere; illuminated interiors showing off dramatic, sculptural decoration; carved plaster forms conveying deep shadows and pronounced surfaces; the rich sitting apart from the rest of the audience in prominent box positions enabling them to be seen and admired in all their finery and jewellery – the ladies in their long evening gloves, opera glasses posed to look at performers more closely and fanning themselves to keep cool in the heat of the theatre…

You see, I told you I was a romantic when it comes to the theatre!

I’m pleased to say Leeds City Council and the Lottery must be too as the music hall recently underwent a £9.9million refurbishment to preserve the Grade II listed theatre that was built in 1865. They have preserved it, largely unchanged.

Photo courtesy of City Varieties, Leeds

Since I’ve embarked on my writing ‘apprenticeship’ I find it interesting the parallels (as well as the differences) between the written book and plays or musical theatre.

When reading, we only take in one impression at a time. In the theatre, however, we respond simultaneously to the words, the movement of the actors, their expressions, their voices, the silences, the sound effects, the lighting, the scenery, the costumes, the gestures, the groupings of characters, the rhythms, the space, the atmosphere, and so on. All elements carefully selected, unified, and honed by the collaborative effort of actors, director, playwright, designers, and technicians.

The principals of a good book and a good production are much the same because the first job of every play or book – musical or not – is to tell a good story. In the same way as a novel, a musical book must keep the story line clear and easy to follow, create characters that are easy to relate to, without resorting to stereotypes.

If you’ve seen a musical, you’ll be familiar with the two-act format with an intermission in the middle. There’s a common theme through them all when I think about it…

With Little Orphan Annie, we’re left wondering if she’ll find her long lost parents. Les Miserables, you can’t help musing how will the many characters we’ve met in Act One get through the imminent revolution. And as Liza Doolittle dances off with the scheming linguist Zoltan Karparthy in My Fair Lady, will her secret be exposed and Professor Higgins’ work ruined?

The first act does not have to end with a cliff-hanger, but we’re curious to see what happens next and want to return to our seats to watch Act Two. It’s much the same when we write – we try to hook or make a page turner at the end of each chapter and encourage our reader to continue.

The end of Act Two is even more important. It is what audiences walk out with, and a powerful final scene can make up for a lot of shortcomings earlier in the show. Having a great song helps – many shows reprise their strongest ballad – but in the same way as the book writer wants to pack a punch at the end, bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion and tie up all the ends, the play/musical writer must structure the production so that the last scene packs a genuine wallop.

For example, thinking back to orphan Annie, can you not help but cheer when her long-lost pooch, Sandy pops out of a gift box on Christmas morning. And is there not a tear in your eye when the Von Trapps escape to freedom over the Alps as a chorus of nuns sing “Climb Every Mountain” in the Sound of Music?

Over the years, as the discerning theatre goer has expected more, so musicals have adapted and nature rules the stage in all of its often tempestuous glory. More and more plays and musicals have become a kind of melodrama. The theatre goer wants to be convinced. The play and set up have evolved to present an illusion of reality with moveable props and scenery, flying, trap doors etc.

More and more focus has centred on characters, just the same with writing novels. We have to like the main characters. We have to care. There’s usually a main protagonist who’s strong of character and often succeeded because he or she was true to his or her feelings or gut emotion. It’s always clear in a melodrama who’s good, what is good and who and what is bad or evil. With the most popular theatre, there’s generally a sense of poetic justice: good guys win, bad guys are defeated. Even if a good guy dies or whatever, he or she still manages to make the world right.

For me, what makes good musical theatre is the soul and heart a performer puts into the performance. Top of my list is Phantom of the Opera, closely followed by Les Miserables. Isn’t it the same when writing a novel? The best novels are written from the heart, with soul, with a huge dollop of romanticism..

So what’s your favourite musical theatre performance?

Debbie

xx

Through the Wilderness

I think a lot. Some might say I’m a serial over-thinker with my tendencies to analyse, deliberate, cogitate, and ruminate.

My brain hardly ever shuts down. Even when I go to sleep, I’m prone to stirring through the night and once awake, my head whirs into action and off I go again, mulling over the day or the day to come, fretting about my personal life or on occasions, a character or scene from my WIP robs me of sleep.

Having been paralysed by writer’s block for the last eighteen months I became hung up on that and spent countless hours considering how to overcome my inability to write. Somehow, I managed to get a partial in to the NWS for the deadline and last week I received the most supportive and positive feedback imaginable back from my ‘Reader.’ I’ve already made the suggested tweaks on the submitted chapters. My reader helped re-affirm that I can write and how much I want to be published, so much so, that their words of encouragement made me take a step back and re-evaluate what I’m going to do to get there. After all, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” And the solution came as somewhat of an epiphany while I was out walking the pup a few days ago…

I realised that instead of thinking about writing all the time, rather than the actual writing, and allowing the other personal and domestic matters to interrupt my creative flow and frazzle my brain, I need to get a grip, free my mind and do what writer’s do – WRITE!

There is plenty of time for thinking when I’m in the bath, swimming, driving or out walking the dog. I need to compartmentalise my time. And I need to stop procrastinating! So I intend trying, if I can, to use the ‘dead’ time, like when I’m swimming my lengths, to benefit my writing ideas – maybe mull over characters or scenes. Then, seeing as some of my best work is done when I’m ‘at one’ with nature, I’m going to make the most of that too.

I’m blessed to live where I do. Being a huge countryside and nature lover, there is something about gazing at a sunset…

…and the stars at night and seeing the combines make tracks in the field. Walking the puppy in the rain and clomping along. Studying the birds on the bird table. They all inspire me. The trouble is, despite having a view to die for and all of these things around me daily, there are too many distractions. Like for example, my eldest son blasting out music or playing the Xbox if he’s not working a shift, or the neighbours popping their heads over the hedge for a natter, or the housework.

So guess what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks which seems to be working?

I’ve taken to getting in the car and driving to a peaceful place for some solitude. It’s a National Trust valley with lunar views of the South Shropshire Hills and a babbling brook only a few minutes drive from where I live. My car loaded with all the essentials – a fold up chair, blanket, water, my laptop, fingerless gloves in case it’s cold – I set up and write for a few hours without no interruptions except an occasional sheep or hiker walking past. If it’s too windy or rainy, like it is as I write this blog, I sit in the car, push the seat back and perch my laptop on my lap. No internet, no mobile phone connections, no people, no noise. No thinking. Just writing.

My own little outside office.

Perfect.

Yes, it may sound a little extreme and my friends would think me eccentric if they knew, (but then they probably know I am already!) but so far, it seems to be working. Even if it is only short-term or until the weather gets too cold to sit in the car, I’m being productive now.

It won’t be easy. Fear of Writer’s block hasn’t left me, and how do I find time and space in the day when I’m (to all intents) a single parent. Mummy duties, being a taxi driver, head chef, gardener etc have to be worked around if I’m going to get my novel re-written and off to the agent who’s waiting to see it. This will require all my powers of determination and being more single-minded. And if it doesn’t work, I may have to re-think…

So where do you do your writing ‘thinking’ time? And do you ever find you have to get away from it all in order to focus.

Debbie

xx

How to ‘find yourself’ on-line dating

The last time I dated, I was a fickle fifteen year old, snogging a different boy at youth club every week.

It’s tough being a middle aged, mother of two, starting out on the dating scene again. For starters, where am I supposed to meet a new man when the highlight of my week is a trip to the supermarket or the local Parish Council meeting? And another thing; do I really want to subject myself to all the treading on eggshells, getting to know each other business that goes with the whole dating malarkey?

A few good friends and my brother found their partners on-line and encouraged me to have a try, saying the worst that might happen is I won’t find ‘the one,’ but I might have some nice coffees, or meals, and some decent male company, and it might make me feel alive again!

Put like that it didn’t seem a bad idea. I knew what I wanted and definitely what I didn’t want! I felt ready for the next stage of my journey and hadn’t given up on the possibility of finding love again altogether. And so I decided it might be good to see if I could find some ‘virtual’ company to while away the long, lonely evenings when the boys had gone to bed.

A few months down the line and it’s been interesting to say the least. On-line dating doesn’t have the stigma it used to these days. It’s safe, private, you simply punch in your pre-requisites, how far you’re prepared to travel and ‘search’ to find your ideal matches. The computer does the rest for you.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster if I’m honest. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. Self-promotion goes with the territory for a writer but it’s a different story altogether selling yourself to a man, highlighting your good points and trying to make yourself sound vibrant, funny and stand out from the crowd.

When I first started, there were times when it felt quite gloomy, scrolling down the laptop at endless profiles of Hagrid look-alikes or topless men, half-blinded by the flash as they pointed their mobiles phones in the bathroom mirror. And you’ve never seen so many men who want to straddle their motorbikes or proudly show off their polishing prowess on their Ford Capri’s.

It can be daunting, mustering the bravery to send your photo to some gorgeous guy who you never hear from again or chatting to someone on-line several times only to find they disappear as quickly as they showed up. However, other times, I’ve found the whole psychology of it fascinating. On-line dating is like doing the lottery. It has to be fate or serendipity that makes your cursor hover over a particular profile that on first appearance has no photo and no written profile other than the basics. And how does it happen that a guy who lives a few hundred miles away finds you when he was looking for someone in a twenty mile radius of his home and ten years younger? One of my friends found her husband on-line and discovered he only lived a few streets away!

It’s hard to know what makes us connect with a particular person. I confess. When I first started, I admit I probably viewed most men as a prospective husband. However, I’ve had messages from men I’d probably never have contacted myself yet they somehow found me and turned out to be lovely and within no time we’re messaging each other most days. Now, I simply enjoy the company and since I’ve made some friends along the way, my pre-conceptions and ‘ideal’ criteria have fallen by the way-side.  Lots of men share the same values as me and can make me laugh and if nothing more, it proves that genuine and lovely men do still exist.

In the same way each of my friends give me different things, I’ve found different qualities appeal. It’s not necessarily a physical attraction that makes me connect with someone. I’m not shallow, so looks-wise as long as they’re somewhere between Shrek and Brad Pitt, I’m happy. Sometimes I find the lure of an open, sensitive face irresistible , or soulful eyes draw me over the laptop screen. Then there’s the clown who makes me laugh out loud with a funny quip, or someone has something in his profile that strikes a chord. I’ve even had a couple who have written me poetry!

It’s funny how you find people. People come into our lives for a reason. Some stick around. Some flit out again; butterfly friends. They all teach us something, if we’re open enough to learn from them… because one thing’s for sure, you can’t find your soul-mate if you haven’t found yourself…

Ahh, I can hear you all asking – have I found any soul-mate prospects?

It struck me in a very short space of time that about ninety percent of men on the site mentioned the ‘S’ word. Finding a soul-mate to spend the next twenty-three years with may prove harder. It’s what most of us on the site are probably searching for, and yes, I’ll let you in on a secret. There is one potential but we’ve only been on one (nine and a half hour!) date so far.

The trouble is, it’s not just about finding ‘the one.’ The timing has to be right too. For both parties. It’s important to be about the same distance along your journey. And then there’s the distance in miles, and all the practical stuff, like kids, and homes, and lives. Hey, I told you this dating malarkey is a lottery.

On-line dating is somehow symbolic. It’s as if by registering, you’re declaring to yourself, ‘It’s time to move on. I’m ready.’ Of course some of us are, and some of us aren’t ready. Yet. It’s progress. Baby steps. Giant leaps. It’s as much about finding yourself as it is finding a new relationship. Time will tell and I promise to keep you all posted!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you met your ‘soul-mate’ and especially if you have experiences (or tips) for on-line dating!

Come on then, spill the beans. This is the stuff of books, you know! I’m certainly enjoying the research and storing up some of the material…

Debbie

xx

Dear Writers. Can you help?

Dear fellow writers and friends

I have a conundrum. A crippling problem that seems impossible to overcome, try as I might, these last months.

It appears I’m suffering a huge dose of writers block. No, not just some temporary glitch in creativity. It’s a ruddy great chasm that’s growing bigger every time I look.

Other than the occasional blog or two, the most writing I’ve done lately is to complete the application to send to Jan Jones for the RNA Summer Party! Yes, this is serious and that’s why I’m here, appealing – no, pleading – for help and advice.

It seems these days I’m more barren than rain in winter or a tree in February, yet despite my over-analysing tendencies, the reason isn’t clear. You’d think I should be flying through the re-write of my WIP, knowing an agent (Jane Judd) is waiting to see my full MS following last year’s Festival of Romance New Talent Awards. Maybe that’s the trouble. Maybe I’ve become so intimidated by the thought that an agent of this calibre might want to see my novel, it’s putting me under pressure to create some sort of giant masterpiece and has interrupted my flow of creative juices.

Perhaps it’s the other stuff that’s going on in my life at the moment that have contributed to my lack of self-belief or confidence. With divorce imminent and on-going health problems, it’s hardly surprising my pen doesn’t flow freely. My writer friends humour me, telling me writing will be my salvation and a distraction. I might even find it cathartic, but bottom line is; it’s not happening, it hasn’t been for months and if anything, it’s getting worse.

You may think these are excuses for the weak, un-disciplined and un-motivated but I promise you, I used to be the most motivated, disciplined person ever. So where has it gone?

This is my third full re-write of this WIP and I won’t give up but I don’t have chance to let it rest in a drawer for a few weeks. I can’t give up, knowing I have an agent who wants to read the finished MS. Every day I switch on the laptop, re-read the latest section I was working on and tweak and twiddle. Then I twiddle and tweak a bit more… then delete. Somehow I’ve developed this huge monster who has crippled my fluidity and no matter how many times I try to give myself a good talking to and get a grip, nothing works. In fact in six months, I’m still on chapter three of the re-write and can often spend a whole day on a particular sentence or paragraph, or research, trying to get it right.

I know it’s pathetic, especially considering there are still another thirty chapters to go. Writing is as much about the mind as it is the pen. But how do I conquer whatever’s causing the drought in my writing, and splatter the crows that sit on my shoulders some days, pecking away at my confidence and self-belief, and get it back on track.

Do you have any answers? If you’ve been here, did you feel the same; as if you had forgotten everything you’d learnt about the craft of writing?

A lot about WIP’s is self-belief and I can see my story in the ideal shape and form in my minds eye yet I can’t get it down on the screen or onto paper.

I know what they mean now about a ‘labour of love.’ Should I continue labouring, keep up this persistent modifying in the hope that I’ll seize the very sentence or scene that will inspire me and drag me by the eyeballs to speed across the page, furiously typing away, and progress to the next chapters and beyond. Or should I stop taking myself so seriously, forget about judgements, lighten up, write drivel if necessary, which can then be honed and fine tuned at a later stage. Well, ‘Writer’s Write.’ If only it were that simple.

Come on fellow writers, RNA members, aspiring authors or anyone interested in the creative word. Can you give any advice/snippets to help answer this rookie writer with the question ; is there such a thing as ‘writer’s block?’ And does anyone have any pearls of wisdom on how to push through the pain of re-writes on a WIP?

Yours in hope

Debbie

xx

Hero or Anti-hero? Help me find Mr Right

Well, I thought I’d finish the week as we started it; with a post about ideal men.

I think about men quite a lot these days, obviously when I’m writing, but also because I’ve found myself single again after twenty-two years with someone I thought was Mr Right. After months of sorting practical matters, soul-searching and re-discovering the girl I used to be, I’m coming through the other side. Being an eternal optimist and true romantic I realise not all men are swines or lack scruples and integrity. So here I am; a peri-menopausal, middle-aged old bird, with two sons, a cat and Labrador puppy, about to start contemplating whether I’ll find my ideal man again.

According to friends, I’ll discover him in the most unlikely of places and when I least expect it. If all else fails, Sainsbury’s on Friday night (‘singles night’) is a sure bet. It seems a little drastic to go browsing for more than just food and hit on some poor unsuspecting guy who happens to pass me along the frozen food aisles. What am I meant to do – somehow bump trolleys, check him out while giving the inside of his basket the once over, to see if it’s full of microwave meals for one and thus make him a prospective beau? Really, I’m not that desperate.

I admit; I rather like being single, being able to do as I please. So it’s going to take a rather special man to get me to give up my independence, persuade me to hand over the remote control and switch off the electric blanket that stays on all night if I choose! And just say I did go to the supermarket to pick my ideal man off a shelf. What would he be like? I suppose there are some basic pre-requisites;

–          Somewhere between Shrek and Pierce Brosnan would be good.

–          No grease monkeys – and he must have clean hands and short nails

–          Clean shoes. (Yes, you may laugh but my Nan always told me you can tell a lot from a man by his shoes, and I don’t just mean the size of his feet!)

–          A man with the same values as me

–          A man of integrity

–          Patience and understanding are imperative; especially as it’s probable at our stage in life we’ll both have baggage and children.

–          The ability to make me laugh. Give me laughter over looks any day. Well, dashing good looks, charm and the appeal of an Alpha Male are all well and good if it’s simply going to be a fling or dalliance, but if I want a man to spend the next twenty-two years with, I’ll want one with a bit more substance.

Perhaps it’s my own experiences that have made me more realistic, but I’m not expecting, nor do I particularly want, whisking away by a knight in shining armour on his white horse for a lifetime of happy ever after. I think like many women these days, and certainly the Romantic Novelist, the idea of the predominant Alpha Male has evolved somewhat over the years. We writers focus more on the psychological and spiritual aspect of our heroes in order to make them true to life and want our readers to be intrigued and have sympathy. We’ve developed the structure of a story so the main character has more of a clear character arc and changes throughout the course of the novel, until the climax shows him to be a true hero at last.

Like the hero character of Romance novels, my ideal man will have emotional depth and flaws. Give me a tortured soul over a brave heart any day. Flaws and the complexity of the character are what will hook me and really get hold of my heart. Imagine a man who has the propensity to bruise my heart or make it bleed and truly hurt you…

I know put like that it sounds a frightening prospect and you may think having been hurt already it seems a rather macabre way to look at a potential suitor, but perhaps it illustrates the point better if I tell you the first hero character I fell in love with in a novel was Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, closely followed by the fathomless, brooding and unforgiving Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights.

Neither of them might be instantly loveable, yet they both have the ability to grab me by the heart and pull me to them in a heart-stopping, emotion-wrenching, all-consuming kind of way with their complex characters. Mr Rochester might be horribly flawed but I see his vulnerability and forgive him, knowing he is trapped by his predicament in a wretched life.

It’s ironic that by the end Mr Rochester shows he’s the archetypal Alpha male and redeems himself when he saves his mad wife from the attic, in the process losing his house and to the peril of his own well-being. Do you see what I mean? How could I not love him?

Is it simply something that captures my romantic, creative mind about the anti-hero? Or is it the same for you? Don’t we all just love the underdog? And isn’t it the case anyway that lots of men might look perfect from a distance, but beneath it all they are probably an anti-hero, or at any rate a struggling knight-in-the-making. It’s when you get close enough to touch them that their flaws become more obvious, just like the rest of us.

Well, I’d better get back to my quest to find my own terrific hero and happy ending. Perhaps instead of  looking for Mr Right, I’ll try for Mr ‘Right Enough.’ Or maybe I’ll do what was suggested to me by a friend.  She said if I kiss enough frogs, one day I’ll find a Prince!

Bye for now

Debbie xx

 

PS – We’d love to know what your ideal man is like, both in life and the kind you like to read about.

Is it the anti-hero with the troubled persona or the charismatic hero who always gets it right?

 

 

Introducing… Debbie White

Sperm are determined.

And swallows. Look how they fly thousands of miles from South Africa to make a nest and raise a brood in the eaves of our barn just because it’s where they nested last year. It’s their natural instincts to do so. They travel to whatever lengths, face whatever challenges and jump whatever hoops to achieve their goals.

As humans, we’re just as determined in the way we live our lives. Sometimes we’re driven by instinct, although more often by our upbringing, or our own goals and plans for life. My Nan brought me up and taught me the mantra, ‘There’s no such word as Can’t’  from an early age. It’s her legacy that made determination my middle name, so you can imagine how it affected me when I had to retire from my job as a Bank Manager due to ill health when I was only thirty-three.

After spending weeks in hospital over the next couple of years my health stabilised, and I eventually grew bored of watching daytime TV and the continual stream of mum and toddler coffee mornings. I needed something for me; something to strive for, to make me feel alive again. So I started a small business, hand crafting and painting personalised keepsake gifts but a few years later, my health got the better of that too. I hated the thought of giving up again but I couldn’t keep battling the flare-ups in my hands and wrists.

It didn’t take long for the familiar cloak of boredom to weigh heavy on my shoulders again and for my restless brain to crave stimulation. Not being one to sit around moping, I considered doing an Open University course. I’d always fancied myself as a bit of a writer and wished I’d stayed on at school and studied English and been a teacher. But then one day, I came across a notebook in a drawer and I read the pages of a storyline I’d written while on maternity leave with my second son. It was funny, but I’d forgotten all about that notebook.

A little like Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Sliding Doors,’ do you ever wonder if you’d done one tiny thing different, whether the end result might have changed completely? Well, as I sat and read through the story I’d jotted down it came to life in my mind’s eye and I felt compelled to write it, even though I had no idea how to write or structure a novel. Armed with a copy of Jane Wenham-Jones ‘Wannabe a writer’ I booked myself on an Arvon Course. Now three years down the line, I’ve served a fulfilling apprenticeship learning the craft of writing and am currently on the third re-write of the novel.

Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Living with an auto-immune disease and being in chronic pain has meant I’ve had to adapt and re-invent myself several times over the years. It’s meant compromising but it doesn’t mean abandoning my dreams. I still have dreams. They are what keep me going some days.

Sometimes I feel like a salmon – another determined little breed – with the constant feeling of swimming against the tide, travelling upstream. However, one thing I do know is I’ll never ever give up.

I have to write. When I don’t, I feel restless and unfulfilled. Writing is the milk in my tea; the fondant on my cup cake, the ice-cream on my jelly. And with the support of my amazing friends and family, the RNA and my wonderful writer friends on the NWS, I know I’ll get there in the end…

Hopefully, you will follow my writer friends and me on our journey.

Until another day

Bye for now

xx