This week, it’s Laura’s Life Cycle of a Writer, and she’s far from twiddling her thumbs.
In celebration of National Stationery Week: Pen and Pad Porn.
It doesn’t seem like five minutes since I was here blogging about receiving my edits for The Half Truth (click HERE to view). Since then my third Harper Impulse novel has flown the nest and is fending for itself out in the big wide world. I will be honest in saying that afterwards I felt quite drained by the whole process. Despite having plenty of writing to get on with, I didn’t feel emotionally or physcially able to do any. At the back of my mind the writing advice of ‘write something every day’ kept plaguing me but try as I might, I couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm. I was also very much aware my family were well in credit for some of my time, having graciously and lovingly, supported me when I was under deadline pressure.
So, ignoring the ‘write every day’ advice, I decided I would do anything and everything but that. I must admit I’ve had an excellent six week writing break, which took into account Easter holidays too. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve spent huge amounts of time with my children, my family, celebrating three of our birthdays, catching up with friends, visiting places, pottering around the house, sewing, reading, making cakes (and eating them!); it’s been great.
To begin with I didn’t even feel the urge to do any writing in any shape or form, but gradually over the weeks, my mind has turned to my WIP and I’ve even started toying with ideas for the book after that. However, I’m holding out until next week before I pick up with my WIP. It’s about 71k words in and going well. First though, I’ll probably spend some time plotting out the book after that one before I forget.
I have to say, taking a writing break, as in no writing whatsoever, has been the best thing I’ve done for a long time. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s certainly worked for me. Now I’m feeling revived and enthusiastic and I’m very much looking forward to getting back behind the keyboard.
There’s been a bit of a writing doldrums period recently when I’ve felt very sorry for myself because my writing time was so swamped with work commitments. You’ll be glad to hear this is now over so there will be no whinging in this post. No moans and no grumbles, okay? Not one.
The two virtual slaps needed to bring out this new, rather irritating Pollyanna-I-Love-Life-Again version of myself were the Easter Holidays and a brilliant course in the wilds of beautiful North Derbyshire on Outdoor Learning in the Curriculum. I know the second one doesn’t sound inspiring in itself, but stick with it and you’ll see what I mean.
First of all, the holidays. Eight days in a caravan in a field. Sounding better? To some, yes… to others, not so much. But the field was on the edge of the Quantock hills in Somerset. Miles of unspoilt walking country with hardly a soul about, hours to write in, with chilled wine and even more chilled husband. Food – lots of it. Near enough the sea to paddle. A visit from the offspring. Now it makes sense?
Then, the course. The keynote speaker stood up. He was long and thin and bony – a real outdoors type. I thought he was going to lecture us about obese children (not to mention their teachers). Instead, he talked for 40 minutes in the most fascinating way imaginable about helping children and adults to get the most out of life.
He told us about positive emotions; developing ‘robust’ relationships and character strengths like hope, zest, gratitude, curiosity and love. If it had been a Barry Manilow concert, I’d have been on my feet and swaying with my lighter by this point.
In the end, the message was to learn how to savour and revisit (in your head, no time travel tips here, sadly) positive experiences – to expect that good things will probably last and bad ones will hopefully be a flash in the pan and soon over. If I can pass this on to the kids I teach, I’ll be a very happy, and inspired writing person.
I hope all this hasn’t made you all too nauseous. Apologies if so, and best wishes for a positive summer,
It’s always a pleasure to have guests on the blog and Samantha Tonge is no different. Here to launch her latest novel GAME OF SCONES, Sam is talking about settings.
Most of the settings of my novels are based on places I know. In Doubting Abbey, Applebridge Hall has similarities with a stately home local to me, that I visited whilst doing research for my fictional building’s interior and many times when the children were small. I lived in Paris as a young woman, so had many memories to draw on for my next book, From Paris with Love. And Mistletoe Mansion is set in Harpenden, a quaint Hertfordshire village I grew up in. As for Game of Scones, the story takes place on the Greek island of Kos. I went there with a group of girlfriends years ago. Plus my husband and I honeymooned on Zante.
So for me, I have so far balked at setting a book somewhere I have absolutely no experience of. Granted, my memories of Greece may not be sharp now, but I still have deep-seated sensual memories– the garlicky smells and sea breeze sounds, the rich taste of the food, the vibrant colour of the sea. From Paris I recall the stuffy odour of the underground, the universal soundtrack of busy tourists speaking in different languages and the delicious sweet smells wafting out of bakeries.
For me this basic, hands-on understanding of a location is important. I might get the overall “feel” of an alien place wrong, if I just go by information on the internet. Although online resources are fantastic for filling in the detail, and I don’t know how authors used to manage before the invention of the World Wide Web.
Before I became published, I had a number of editorial reports on my first novels done, and one pointed out that my settings just weren’t clear enough. I had a strong vision in my head of say a main character’s flat, but wasn’t transferring that to the page. So now I realize how important the smaller bits of information can be – some crumbling brickwork or the exact shade of that magnolia wallpaper. And the beauty of the internet is that the building blocks of your setting can be easily enriched. Thanks to photos and videos and tourist spot descriptions, you can create a realistic vision of a place you don’t actually have day-to-day knowledge of.
For Game of Scones I’ve read tourists’ reviews ad nauseam and studied town maps until I’ve got a headache; have scrutinized photo after photo of local food; then there’s hours of Googling the fragrances of certain local flowers and trawling gardening sites to find out exactly when they bloom. Plus I listen on Youtube to hear how a Greek person speaking English really does sound and also I studied local architecture, to get my descriptions of towns just right.
Doing all of this, in advance, helps the story just spill onto the page and hopefully, by the end of the book, the reader really has become immersed in your fictional world. However, by the same token, I try not to become too hung up on getting every single detail right. After all, I’m a fiction writer, not a tourist guide.
Wait a minute, though. Thinking about it, I did once write a book based in a country – and era – totally foreign to me. Lunchdate with a Tombrobber is set in Ancient Egypt. It is chicklit meets Carry on Cleo, and in my opinion my best book. Sadly no publisher agrees with me and it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre! I had huge fun researching it, but didn’t get lazy about the detail. In fact I found a wonderful Egyptologist online, who agreed to answer any questions for £1 a pop, via PayPal. Is setting as important in historical fiction, as no one can say that they’ve experienced it and that your version is wrong? Probably more so, as you have to get the reader’s imagination working hard too.
Some people say “write what you know” and to a certain extent, I agree. However, I’m not one for setting anyone – myself included – boundaries, so who knows… Perhaps in the future, I’ll set a chicklit novel on Mars and find out if that really is where men come from!
A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan!
Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones –with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niko by her side…
Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niko and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project – The Tastiest Little Teashop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…
If you’re a fan of Lindsey Kelk or Lucy Diamond then don’t hesitate to step into Samantha Tonge’s truly delightful tea shop.
Samantha lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. Along with writing, her days are spent cycling, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at Disneyland Paris. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels and short stories is her passion.
Samantha has sold over 80 short stories to mainstream women’s magazines. Her debut romantic comedy novel from CarinaUK Harlequin, bestselling “Doubting Abbey“, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award, 2014. Its fun sequel is From Paris With Love. Mistletoe Mansion is a fun standalone Christmas novel.
I’m sitting here staring up at the empty space where my ceiling used to be… A few weeks ago, it was just a ceiling – white painted, a light in the middle, it did the job it was meant to do. But then there was a leak that made a hole and then we decided to get the house re-wired. When the electrician turned up, he looked at the ceiling and said why not pull it down and get it done again properly, rather than patch it up and keep on making do. Cost-wise, there wasn’t much in it. Yes, there would be mess, yes there would be disruption and yes, it would take longer, but in the end it would be perfect. Finished, perfect and just how we want it. (Hold on – I am coming to a point with this.)
Sitting there, staring at the mess, it struck me that this is just like editing. My book was finished – first draft done, it was okay; it did the job it was meant to do. But there were plot-holes, a saggy middle, a bit of a tangle at the end… I looked at it again. I could patch it up, but I’ve decided to pull it apart and get it done properly. Yes, there’ll be mess and yes, there will be disruption and yes, it’ll take longer, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it.
So that’s where I am with my writing – the old edit is in bits in the back garden and I’m looking at the bare bones of it, getting ready to put the new ceiling up.
The timing for my week on Life Cycle of a Writer has turned out to be perfect –
At the end of last month, I was thrilled to be awarded a bursary from Literature Wales for my work-in-progress The Murder House. The bursary is allowing me to take six weeks off from the day job to write, and this week is the first week of that bursary period, the rest of April and the whole of May stretches before me with nothing to do but write (well, between the hours of 9am and 3pm anyway – then it’s back to school runs and after school activities and real life.)
It means for the next six weeks, for six hours a day, five days a week, I’m being paid to write – I’m getting a taste of living the dream. Even with no ceiling and an awful lot of mess.
I’ve spent the last few weeks planning my time – setting myself targets to get the most out of the time. I want to have The Murder House finished and polished by the time I go back to work – and I’m also hoping to have the next book, which is currently just a few fragments floating about somewhere in my brain, plotted and planned and ready to go.
At the moment, writing is limited to evenings, the odd day off work and sneaky half hours snatched at the weekends. Being a full time writer is a long-held dream and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this little taste of it. I’m not going to waste a second of it, so if you see me on twitter, tell me off and send me back to my desk.
See you later – I’m off to live the dream.