Life Cycle of a Writer ~ Jan Brigden ~ Interviewing your Characters

In the early stages of drafting As Weekends Go, I gobbled up every nugget of writerly advice going – I still do – you never stop learning and any guidance is invaluable.

I’d already created detailed profiles for each of my main characters, some secondary characters too, i.e. ages, physical descriptions, family backgrounds, schooling, jobs, habits, likes/dislikes, friendships, relationships, star signs. A further suggested exercise that proved brilliant for me was “literally” interviewing them. Instead of writing a structured Q&A for each, I let them chat away on the page (so to speak) to see how they viewed themselves, to hear their voices and obtain an insight into specific personality traits, hopes, values, etc.

Here’s a brief glimpse at two of the main cast members – random facts in no particular order –  to further illustrate what I mean :

Hello, could you please tell me a little bit about yourself...

“Hi, I’m Rebecca Stafford, married to Greg for four years, no children as yet, but having now moved into our new home, we plan to start a family, which I’m so excited about. I just hope Greg’s workload reduces. He’s been so stressed lately – a bit snappy too, (between you and me) – and could really do with relaxing a bit more. I do worry about him.

I’d say I’m a good listener, diplomatically honest, as I hate to hurt people’s feelings. I’m quite a home bod, and I love the company of my friends and family, especially my best friend Abi who I’ve known for years. I dress in what suits me. I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion as they say, but I do take pride in my appearance.”

Next please ... (1)

“Hello, I’m Alex Heath. Describe myself physically? Well, I’m very fit  – in the sporty sense (I wasn’t being vain!) as my profession demands it. I’ve always been active, trained hard and appreciated all the challenges and rewards it brings. I’m not really into the celebrity thing and shy away from publicity even though I know it’s all part of the job. I think it’s important to stay grounded, have good friends and family around me and never forget what a privilege it is to be doing what I love.

I’m a good judge of character. Some people say I can be stubborn, (my mum, usually!) which maybe I am, but it helps me to focus on what’s important. Nobody likes being taken for a fool, do they? Do I like being rich? Well, it certainly has its advantages. I’d be a liar if I said otherwise, but I’m level-headed with money; prefer spending it on other people than myself.”

***

Now I know these exercises won’t necessarily be for everyone. Admittedly, a lot of the pre-interview detailed character profile information I didn’t actually use in the book, i.e. Rebecca’s favourite film or her opinion of her first boss, but it did give me an insight into how she might react in certain scenes, or to the various people she met, whatever the situation. Same with Alex. So too, with my other main characters.

I did the same thing for my second book which I’m currently writing. If you think interviewing your characters is something that might help you develop your own stories, then give it a try. I can definitely recommend it.

 

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Love Jan x

Life Cycle of a Writer: Debbie

It’s been a while since I last blogged. (Ooer, that sounds a bit like a confession.) Unlike most of my fellow Romaniacs, I’ve had little to shout about. In fact, NOTHING to shout about.

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A bad case of the January blues ran into February, then March and before I knew it Easter had been and gone and I was no further on with progressing, ‘Living in the Past,’ the novel I (finally) finished last summer. Why?

Well, once again I have any number of reasons, although a critical NWS review comes high up the list. After I’d digested the five page report which, in a nutshell suggested I might be better off to put what I’d learned so far down to experience and move on to the next novel, I lost all motivation to respond to the 5.30am alarm clock set on dark, damp mornings to get up and write. The pain of my arthritis and news that I need to have two lots of major surgery to replace my existing prosthetic jaw joints consumed me. Morphine patches meant I spent up to four hours asleep in the daytime. Deranged blood results, yet more building work, the garden, domestic chores, not enough hours in the day; these things individually may not seem much but all together they threatened to overwhelm me. 3

For months, I returned to deriding myself. ‘You’ll never be a writer … You’ll never get that book published … What if the reader is right and the agent who was waiting to see it (three years ago!) also thinks it’s a pile of poo? And what if, after reading it, they won’t entertain the idea of ever receiving anything from me again?’

‘Man up, mom!’ said my eldest son. ‘So the reader didn’t like it? It’s one person’s opinion. Not everyone will like it. But the question is; do you like it? You’ve been working on it long enough. Or if not, do as they say and stop talking about it!’

He was right. It has taken four years to write this novel so far and all I’ve ever really done is talk about it, except when the opening chapter got runner up in the inaugural Festival of Romance in 2011. However every time I’ve almost condemned it to the waste paper bin ‘something’ has stopped me. I still believe. I still believe it has legs.

So, I HAVE A PLAN and writing it down here will make me do it. I’ve made a start, re-read the whole thing and also re-read (several times) the NWS critique. Interestingly, because I’ve let the MS rest a while, I’ve returned to it with fresh eyes and concede the reader raised several points that are fair comment. I don’t feel anywhere near so gloomy about it. Using two different coloured highlighter pens I’ve gone through and highlighted, a) the areas I need to change and, b) all other points I’m still unsure about which I must ponder on. With any luck if I work through systematically, I’ll find the holes, make my heroine more appealing, nail the research, expand the characters, dig deeper for more conflict etc because one thing’s for sure; I’ll never be a writer or get a book published if I give in.

You know, this writing malarkey really is a battle of wills. Is it a pile of poo? It may be. It may not. The only way for me to find out is to try. I haven’t spent four years on this to give up now. Don’t get me wrong; if the agent agrees I may need to re-think the plan but until then I have to give it my best shot.

You heard it here first; by the time I next post, it will be done. Polished. Finished. No more twiddling. And by then I’ll have contacted the agent to see if they are still interested!

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Wish me luck. I’ll be in the summerhouse.

Until another day

Debbie xx

Elaine Everest talks about The Woolworth Girls, Book Jackets and Models

 

Hello, Elaine and a very warm welcome to The Romaniacs’ blog and congratulations on the publication of your novel THE WOOLWORTH GIRLS.

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Thank you, Romaniacs, it’s an honour to be your guest.

Could you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your publishing journey?

This is where I realize how old I am! I’ve always written and like fellow writers love a new blank notebook and possibly a fountain pen in my Christmas stocking. Pip the pixie was my first novel on a Petit Typewriter. I have no idea what happened to that masterpiece! In my fifth year at secondary school I had a teacher who realised I could write and made me feel special and not the shy girl at the back of the class. But, being a writer was not an option at my school so I trained and worked in accountancy for many years moving onto office management. I also had a Saturday job as a Woolies Girl that has come in handy recently.

My lovely dad died in 1997 and it made me think about my future. I knew I wanted to concentrate on my writing. I’d also walked away from a horrid job with bullying bosses so decided to attend adult education classes and just go for it. I started selling short stories and moved to articles and features, always learning along the way. My specialism was the world of dogs, as that is another part of my life, and I was commissioned to write three non-fiction books for dog owners. All that time I was dabbling with writing novels but it wasn’t until I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme that I knuckled down and concentrated on my novels. My second year submission was a saga and was picked up by a publisher – I was now a full member of the RNA! It also led to a fortuitous meeting with Literary Agent, Caroline Sheldon who signed me up on the strength of a one-page outline of a story called Sixpenny Sarah. I had written three chapters when Caroline secured a two-book contract with Pan Macmillan and the hard work began.

The Woolworths Girls is a great title and I’m sure will bring back fond memories for many readers. Did the title come first or the setting? What inspired the story?

The setting came first. I set my sagas in North West Kent where I was born and grew up. The town of Erith, before it was razed to the ground and replaced with a concrete jungle in 1966, was a lovely place to live. On the bank of the River Thames with a thriving shipping and retail area we had everything required to shop locally. I’d lived in a Victorian terraced house close to the town and knew it had survived two world wars. I’ve often thought what stories that house could tell. It became the home of my main character, Sarah, when she lived with her nan, Ruby. Sarah was starting work and would meet her two new friends, Maisie and Freda. Where better than the Woolies I’d known and loved and a store known by many people with fondness. It was a joy to write.

Have you always wanted to write in the era The Woolworths Girls is set in? What attracted you to it and what sort of research have you had to do?

I love the thirties and forties. In many ways it was a time of innocence for women and so much happened on the home front while the men went away to war. It was the women who interested me most. How they lived and loved and carried on despite the horrendous situations they found themselves living in at times. Just imagine sending children away not knowing where they were while worrying about a husband fighting on foreign shores or high in the sky. I’m lucky that Woolworths had a fabulous museum and the curator came up with all kinds of information for me about the Erith store. The London Borough of Bexley (Erith has now slipped into the London Boroughs) has so much information about the era I’m interested in and on Facebook I belong to local groups where members are only too pleased to tell me stories of their family during the war.

I’m never really sure if a book set in and around the 1940’s is classed as a historical or not. Is there a rule for this?

1940 is definitely classed as historical. In fact I’ve been informed that the sixties, and even the seventies, can be historical. That does make me feel old! (Sue : I think it makes a lot of us feel old! The seventies … historical!)

I think I read that you were able to pick the models for the cover of The Woolworths Girls, could you tell us about the process?

Yes, my editor and the production team were extremely generous sharing the cover plans with me. I was sent a large file of images of professional models and was able to point out who I thought looked like Sarah and Maisie. It was hard to look past the modern hair-styles and make up to see my girls from 1938. Fortunately the models I chose were in the shortlist. As the photo shoot day approached Pan Macmillan had to source uniforms of the period and again the curator of the Woolworths Museum came up trumps with the right style although the colour was not correct. After the shoot was complete I was sent many images and told to ignore the grey uniform as the colour would change. It was hard to find a short list of images as they were so good, but again my choices were considered and then the sales and marketing people took over, they are the experts on the right image for the book shelf but by then I was convinced they had done a super job.

Rom blog Elaine EverestThank you, Elaine for taking the time to answer our questions. Wishing you every success with your novel.

Thank you so much for sending such interesting questions.

Amazon

Facebook Author Page

Twitter: @ElaineEverest

 

Roving Romaniacs and Erica James

An Evening with Erica James.

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Sue: With three of us Romaniacs located within an hour or so travelling distance of each other, it’s always lovely to be able to get together in between RNA events. So when Laura mentioned that author, Erica James, was giving a talk at Southampton Library, it was the perfect opportunity to catch up. We met beforehand and had supper at an Italian restaurant before heading over to the library. Erica gave a great talk, she came across as warm and funny, as well as very modest. I have to confess to not having read any of her books but after listening to her talk about several of them, I have The Dandelion Years in my sights.

It was also great that we got to meet up with Laura from Lozza’s Book Corner and Shaz  from Shaz’s Book Blog, both lovely ladies and super book reviewers.

Erica James

Catherine :  My first NWS report told me to read Erica James novels to help me learn my craft. I was already a fan and enjoyed doing as they advised. So it was quite special to discover my debut novel was being published on the same day as Erica’s 20th. The chance to meet Erica was great and she had some brilliant advice and insights for everyone at the talk. Here’s to 20 more!

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Laura: It was a fabulous evening, spent with wonderful friends, and I have to thank Laura (Lozza’s Book Corner) for the heads up, as I would not have wanted to miss the opportunity of meeting one of my all-time favourite authors. The first Erica James novel I read was Love and Devotion. It made me cry. It has stayed with me for years. It is a superb example of how to pack an emotional punch and write a beautiful story. Erica was warm, engaging and delightful, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting her. She will continue to be a major influence and inspiration in my writing. I am one very lucky and very happy writer.

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Life Cycle Of A Writer: When It All Happens At Once

The writing life is full of waiting and I’ve discovered in more recent months that when it does happen, it all happens at once! Following a successful book launch for Waiting for You, I then had my deadline to reach for Book Two.

Sending the next book in was more than nerve-wracking. I’m so used to getting other’s opinions and I didn’t get the chance this time so I was thrilled when my editor informed me that it’s wonderful! So I’m delighted to be able to share the title and bio for my second book:

All That Is Left Of Us

One of My Own…

Dawn loves being a mother. No matter how Archie came into her life, or the fact he’s a little different from other children, he is precious and loved. He is hers, after all. Especially because she’s never told anyone who the father of her son is.

So when Dawn’s twin brother David and his wife Rebekah are struggling to have their own child, Dawn agrees to become their surrogate, as it is the one thing she can do to help.

However, creating the perfect family doesn’t always go to plan and when Dawn realises just how much her nephew needs his mother, she begins to wonder if the time has finally come to confront the past she has kept secret for so long.

It has gone up on Amazon for preorder today! So if you want to help me through this round of revisions please click preorder. It’s due out in September.

If that wasn’t enough excitement for the week (bearing in mind it is only Tuesday), I’m now able to share the news that Waiting for You has been shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon Award this year in a stellar list with 14 other friends and authors.

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The results for that will be announced at the RNA Summer Party on May 19th. I had my photos taken by the talented Chris Neaves of Neaves Brothers Photography and although I now have some super serious author shots, don’t be concerned, in real life it’s business as usual:

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With all that having happened over the course of a couple of months, I need a spa day to rejuvenate. It’s a shame my twin girls have other ideas! Why is it all the excitement is always clustered? Maybe it’s because the powers that be know I need a lengthy period to recover.

Catherine x

Guest Post ~ Welcome, Gabrielle Mullarkey

Gabrielle Mullarkey is a novelist, short story writer and journalist, who has worked on women’s magazines for over 20 years. Since gaining her MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes in 2014, she works with writing groups for mental health charity Mind, and writes with and for patients at local hospices.

 

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A Tale of Two Sisters, her second novel, takes the reader to the heart of a simmering sibling rivalry that explodes into all-out war!

Having pondered sisterhood while writing the book, she has more question than answers on the bond that can seem like a bind…

Can your sister be your best friend, too?

The art of being a good sister is, to coin a friend’s term, ‘a slippery rabbit’. Anyone who’s tried to cuddle a bunny will know just how mercurial and evasive the fluffy critter is. But even if you do consider yourself close to your sister, is she also your best friend? And if so, is that friendship fostered by shared interests – or is sibling rivalry intensified when sisters follow the same career path or share a passion? Serena and Venus Williams seem to get on OK, despite an intense professional rivalry – but actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, A-lister sisters from Hollywood’s golden age, reputedly fell out over who won the race for an Oscar (Joan beat big sis Olivia in the Best Actress category at the 1942 awards, Olivia bagging the statuette five years later). Joan is even supposed to have said, ‘I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.’

joan & olivia

Blimey, when you get competitive with your sister about who’ll die first, that takes sibling rivalry to a whole new level!

I’m not sure how I’d feel if either of my sisters wanted to be writers. As they’re both teachers, they may be keeping a competitive eye on each other’s league tables, but I’m happy to let them get on with it, never having felt the urge to scale the north face of OFSTED paperwork. And growing up, I didn’t turn to either of them for advice on school, boys, accessories or anything else – I had my best friend for that.

In fact, one of my BFF’s key roles was to let me moan about my sisters, since we all went to the same school – and this is probably why Nikki in a A Tale of Two Sisters gets some of the best lines in the book as the ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ best bud to Katie, disgruntled sister-at-large. Keeping it real, Nikki listens, commiserates and – while she doesn’t hesitate to point out Katie’s contributory culpability for her all-out war with sister Flick – makes helpful suggestions on resolving the schism, such as offering to go halves on a hitman to take out Flick. To Katie, this confirms the blind loyalty you expect (possibly demand) of a best friend precisely because siblings withhold it.

I don’t know about your family, but in my mine, you could only rally followers to your righteous cause (convincing Mum or Dad the other sister did it and ran away) by excelling at the sort of ‘what’s it worth to side with you?’ horse trading that characterises every episode of House of Cards. In fact, if Kevin Spacey ever gets tired of delivering thousand yard stares and gnomic utterances straight to camera, some of my siblings would welcome an audition…

I’m pretty good at that game myself. But what about my own BFF credentials? Well, I may flatter myself, but I was pretty good at that game as well, because my BFF at school had more brother than sister trouble – and I’ve got four of those blighters!

A Tale of Two Sisters by Gabrielle Mullarkey cover

 

Find A Tale of Two Sisters at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tale-Two-Sisters-sisters-boyfriend-ebook/dp/B01CBUPHR2

www.gabriellemullarkey.co.uk

Connect with Gabrielle on Twitter ~ @authorgabrielle

 

Life Cycle of a Writer: When Life gets In the Way

IMG_6365For over two years I’ve struggled with symptoms of ill health which I’d put down to being a woman in her late forties and my rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve experienced headaches that floor me, limbs that can’t support me because they’ve turned to jelly or they’re weighed down with concrete blocks, interrupted sleep, dizziness, nausea, the usual sore and painful joints, and starting each day convinced someone has concertinaed my feet into my shoulders overnight. Every morning I would say to my husband that my pillow was made of rocks.

My focus was shot to pieces and my memory was full of holes. There were times when I struggled to recall people’s names, which I found highly embarrassing as I’ve always been good with people and places. I was fatigued – more so than my usual fatigue that comes with RA – there were days when I couldn’t be bothered to change the channel on the TV because it took too much energy. Thank goodness for my friends and family, who never questioned my actions, or inactions, and who never pushed me to be or do more than that which I felt able.

The symptoms increased – the pain was worse, the headaches lasted longer, the waking up feeling like I’d been in a car crash happened every single day, and I was exhausted. The thing is, I’ve lived with pain for over thirty years. My mind set is that some days are better than others, the bad times will pass, and tomorrow is another day. I’ve always tried to focus on the positive. I never put much emphasis on not being able to run around with the children, choosing instead to enjoy the wonderful times I spent reading to them or listening to them read, watching Barbie or Thomas the Tank Engine videos with them, or simply chatting.

My children are older now, extremely capable and have strong independent streaks. Thank goodness, as this recent bout of poor health knocked me so flat, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t concentrate for any length of time, and I couldn’t think straight.

And I couldn’t write.

I had book four planned. I knew the characters, the plots and subplots, the issues, the romance, the first twenty thousand words – I had it all, ready to go, but I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything. If I managed to get myself to the computer, headaches would kick in within fifteen minutes and that was me neutralised for the next few hours. I resorted to sitting in a comfy chair in the living room, intending to write longhand, but even that was beyond me, partly down to the lack of focus and headaches, and partly due to my dodgy hands and fingers. I tinkered about a bit on my laptop and it seemed the change of position and the distance of the screen helped for a brief time, but still I wasn’t writing. I was putting together promo pieces for my existing books – creating ads and images to use as pinned tweets. I felt I was doing something positive. Something other than nothing.WDKY Twitter Evie Quote

But I should have been writing.

It became my mantra. I should be writing. I should be writing.

I should be writing.

I’ve always managed to write through the bad times. Always. Why was this so different?

I think I’ve just worked it out; quite literally this minute, as I write this post with hindsight: I didn’t fully understand what had changed and it was hard to see an end to the constant cycle of lack of sleep, fatigue, pain and brain fogginess. At that point there was no promise of a better day, the bad time appeared to have no intention of passing, and tomorrow was another day of much the same. Or worse.

In October 2015, in a regular, scheduled RA appointment, when I explained to my rheumatologist that I lived each day feeling as if I’d walked into a brick wall, that my knees and hips hurt more than normal, that I suspected my jaw was the culprit of the severe headaches, he checked my medical records, gently pressed on a few pressure points around my body, which had me hitting the ceiling, and asked if I experienced other symptoms such as dizziness, lack of sleep and confusion, all to which I said yes. His conclusion surprised me but at the same time, I felt validated.

‘Mrs James,’ he said, ‘it’s fibromyalgia.’

I recall returning home with a sheet of paper which contained addresses of FM websites, in my hand, walking into the living room and my husband asking me if I was all right.

‘Yes’, I replied. ‘But this explains the last few years.’ I handed him the paper, his brow went up, and he nodded.

I hadn’t gone to that appointment seeking answers. I’d gone for my regular RA consultation, but thank goodness for my marvellous doctor and his team. I’ve been again since and between the rheumatology department and my wonderful GP, we are finding a way to move forward with the FM.

The best bit? I’ve managed some serious blocks of sleep and within the last week, I’ve got back the writing bug.

Before finishing, I wanted to thank my publisher for their patience and understanding, and say thank you to all my friends and family for the support, care and space they’ve provided.

I realise this has the potential to be a long and winding road, but today, the sun is shining, my pillow is soft, and I’m excited at the prospect of an empty page.

And tomorrow could be even better.

Take care.

Laura x


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