Five things you have to know before you start writing are:

  • your plot
  • your characters
  • your genre
  • your voice
  • your limits!
Maybe this is going to happen in your story?

1. Know your plot – I’m as guilty as anyone here for having only a vague idea of how things are going to turn out when I sit down at my computer and start to type. I make use of mindmapping these days to help me devise an interesting plot and keep me on track. It’s likely that your story may start to take its own direction once you’ve begun. Think about this. If that’s OK, and you can replot successfully, then go with it, but if the change of direction is only going to derail you in the long term, then be firm and get back to your blueprint.

2. Know your characters – not necessarily all of them, as who knows what minor ones are going to appear along the way. But you must have a concrete idea of what your main characters are like – their names, ages, shoe sizes, favourite colours and foods, senses of humour. I’m not kidding. And you have to know how they’re going to react to what you’re about to throw at them as the plot unwinds. The more you know about each character, the easier it will be to write about them.

3. Know your genre – what sort of book is it going to be? Steamy sex romp? Genteel historical drama? Fast-moving spy thriller? Children’s non-fiction? The type of book is central to all the other facets here. It will determine the sort of characters that will appear, what the plot is going to be, the vocabulary, the voice you will use. You can mix and match genres to some extent – for example, a romantic interlude in a hard-hitting cops and robbers story won’t come amiss – but there has to be one overriding one that will become the soul of your writing.

4. Know your voice – first person or third person? First person is more fun to write and it’s easy to construct a personality for the book to work through. But its limitations are that this person can only know so much of what’s going on around him or her. And if you use first person, is it you with your personality, or are you going to be stepping in someone else’s shoes? The third person gives you an all-seeing eye, allows you to swap between characters easily, but the disadvantages are, in my opinion, that it can easily become passive, and definitely convoluted when describing action involving two characters of the same sex. ‘His’, ‘her’, ‘him’ and ‘she’ become confusing, and the only way around that is to use clumsy over-explanatory sentences.

5. Know your limits! You know your energy levels, your time available, your likes and dislikes, your strong points and weaknesses. Work within those and you’re much more likely to be successful. Don’t set your sights on writing a ten-book historical saga when your preferred medium is the short story. You can’t organise your way out of a paper bag? Maybe best not sketch out that complicated, internationally-ranging, high-tech thriller.

You know what you can do. Now do it!

A quick bike ride will perk you up!

Five tips to help you keep writing when self-doubt or fatigue starts to creep up on you and it’s all becoming a bit of a chore:

 

 

  • Read a book similar to the one you’re working on. That should encourage you to keep going. This author did it – so can you!
  • If you’re at your best early on in a project, than start another one. Leave the original to one side for a while, but come back to it once you’re re-energised from getting a new book going.
  • Put some music on and maybe even have a little dance. Go for a quick walk. Tidy your desk. Do a short, physical activity like those that you enjoy. It’ll brighten you up and get you into a positive mood again.
  • Write something. Anything. Keeping a blog is brilliant. Sitting down to write a short post for it is a good springboard for moving on to writing your book.
  • Read other people’s blogs, and see if they can give you any advice. But not for too long! Make some comments, make some notes, then go back to your own writing.

Everyone works differently. It’s a matter of trial and error to find what’s best for you. At the moment, I’m flitting between four different books and my two blogs. I’d been trying to focus on just the one story to get it finished, but that wasn’t working for me. I’m much more productive now I’ve got several things going at once.

But make sure you do something. Your book won’t write itself!

Something Fishy has become enormous. I’m at 180,000 words and not finished. It’s too big. So I started thinking hard about what to do today while lugging hay and water around for the llamas and goats. It’s amazing what a spot of not-so-gentle exercise can do for the old grey matter. I found the solution. I’m going to break the whole thing up into two (or more) books. I’d already been planning the sequel. And the sequel’s sequel! So … it will mean a fair bit of replotting and rewriting, and of course new writing, but I’m confident the project will work a lot better that way. Just need to jiggle the plot here and there. Watch this space!

I’m starting to think about a cover. This website was brilliantly helpful. I need to start taking lots o fishing photos to choose from. Here’s one that will be on the ‘to be considered’ list:

It’s maybe a bit too ‘quiet’ for my story but it’s a beautiful picture and an inspiring starting point. The only books out there that are even remotely like my book are in The Syndicate series by Mark Cunnington. Here’s the cover of one of them for comparison:

You know what – I can do better!

How to fit a few more precious moments of writing into a busy day around your day job:

Five extremely practical ways:

  1. Only wash up/load the dishwasher once a day.
  2. Stop checking Facebook, Twitter, your blog stats etc quite so often.
  3. Shower faster – or less often. You choose!
  4. Cut housework down to the absolute minimum to stay hygienic.
  5. Do bigger grocery shops to cut down on trips to the supermarket.

Five extremely effective ways:

  1. Sell your children.
  2. Shut yourself away from the world for a month.
  3. Hire maids, gardeners, cooks etc so you don’t have to do anything other than write.
  4. Go without sleep.
  5. Type faster.

OK, I never said they were practical!

STOP PRESS: There’s still time to read the brilliant A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson before Eurovision on Saturday on your Kindle. I’ve just had a lovely email from him, in response to my review of the book. What a nice guy.

 

 

Writers who only use 'said' make me mad!

I’ve got the bit between my teeth over this. (See my post 25 Ways To Say ‘Said‘.)

Here are another 25 much more interesting alternatives to ‘said’:

Answered, anticipated, bantered, bawled, begged, coaxed, enquired, encouraged, explained, exclaimed, frowned, hassled, pondered, prompted, promised, remembered, roared, sobbed, shrieked, soothed, tempted, sympathised, wept, wheedled, yelled.

And another 25:

Apologised, contradicted, cooed, deliberated, denied, dictated, droned, echoed, empathised, enticed, enthused, exhaled, expostulated, gulped, grinned, grimaced, ordered, sighed, sang, yelped, swallowed, realised, repeated, reported, winced.

More soon …

My children's names are Ruadhri, Caitlin and Benjamin - not on the top ten lists

How many boys’ and girls’ names are there? Hundreds of thousands I imagine. So why is it I have managed to use the same name twice for different characters in Something Fishy? Because I wasn’t keeping a list. This is something else I’ve learned the hard way writing my first adult book. The problem never arose with my children’s books. They were short enough to keep a tally of the names in my head, and I tended to write them quickly. But here with my 150,000 word project which I’ve been writing over about five months now, and a largish cast of characters, it’s a different kettle of fish. So over the weekend, I shall be rereading and drawing up its dramatis personae. From now on, every book will have one from the first word.

Live and learn!

In case you were wondering, the most popular names in the UK in 2009 were: 1 Oliver; 2 Jack; 3 Harry; 4 Alfie; 5 Joshua; 6 Thomas; 7 Charlie; 8 William; 9 James; and 10 Daniel. For girls: 1 Olivia; 2 Ruby; 3 Chloe; 4 Emily; 5 Sophie; 6 Jessica; 7 Grace; 8 Lily; 9 Amelia; 10 Evie. Mohammed would in fact topple Oliver if all the different spelling variants were aggregated. There are plenty of lists of most popular names on the Net which can be a very useful resourse. I’ve only used 7 out of the above 20 ones. I should probably include more to be as modern as I can.

My Kindle and carrying bag

In a nutshell – yes! They would be bound to pick up scratches or worse if you don’t put them into some kind of case or bag for carrying around. I use a small Peruvian shoulder-purse as my Kindle cover. It could have been made for it, it’s such a perfect fit!

How else could you cover your Kindle. Well, if you’re good at arts and crafts, you could have a go at one of fifty different covers at this website.

And if you prefer pre-prepared, there are plenty of covers to choose from any of the Amazon sites.

To help you narrow the field down, try this site, at cnet.com, which lists its preferred 15 covers and other accessories. Some covers are said to have caused problems, making the Kindle freeze (really annoying when that happens), but Amazon has promised to replace them.

There are so many to choose from, you’d be best to make a list of what you’re looking for in a cover when you start your search, such as: hard or soft, sensible and subdued or funky, low cost or top of the range, with or without a stand, with or without a light …

I’m glad my bag proved to be so perfect or I know I’d be agonising for days over what to cover my wonderful Kindle in!

I enjoying translating from French to English.

Our part of France, Creuse, is famous for its stonemasons. In years gone by, the masons left for Paris in spring and stayed there until November, working. They sent money home to their families, who looked after the farm while the men were gone.

Here’s my version of a very famous poem about the masons by Jean Petit, also known as Jan dau Boueix, written in 1855. I’ve kept as close as I can to the original, but here and there I’ve had to resort to poetic licence for the sake of the rhyme!

Enjoy!

You hear all sorts of songs 

In all sorts of styles

About lovers and warriors,

Triumphs and trials.

I don’t want to be boring

And so I will choose

Something new for my song –

The masons of Creuse.

 

On a fait des chansons,  

De toutes les manières,

Des filles, des garçons

Des guerriers, des bergères.

Pour ne pas répéter

Une chose ennuyeuse,

Moi je veux vous chanter

Les ouvriers de la Creuse.

When springtime is here 

They say their goodbyes

To their families and friends

With tears in their eyes.

Their wives are upset

As they bid their adeius

To the men that they love –

These masons of Creuse.

 

Quand revient le printemps, 

Ils quittent leur chaumière:

Adieu amis, parents,

Enfants, pères et mères.

Ah! quel grand désespoir

Pour la femme vertueuse

En disant au revoir

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

And so they are gone 

On their working campaign.

They head up to Burgundy,

Paris, Champagne,

Lyons and Bordeaux,

To form building crews.

They’re very hard workers,

The masons of Creuse.

 

Les voilà donc partis 

Pour faire leur campagne;

Ils s’en vont à Paris

En Bourgogne, en Champagne,

Lyon, Bordeaux, même ailleurs…

Ils ont la main calleuse,

Ce sont des travailleurs

Les maçons de la Creuse.

When they’ve arrived 

And have found jobs to do,

Without hesitation

At once they set to.

They’re never unwilling,

They never refuse.

You have to respect

These masons of Creuse.

 

Quand ils sont arrivés, 

S’ils trouvent de l’ouvrage,

Se mettent à travailler

Avec un grand courage,

Sans trop s’épouvanter

D’une vie laborieuse.

L’on devrait respecter

Les maçons de la Creuse.

How the railway lines 

That criss-cross the land

Have caused them backache

And blistered their hands.

The bridges and canals

From the Saône to the Meuse

Have cost them great pain,

The masons of Creuse.

 

Que ces chemins de fer 

Qui traversent la France

Ont coûté de revers,

De maux et de souffrances;

Ces ponts et ces canaux

De la Saône à la Meuse

Ont coûté bien des maux

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

They sing as they work, 

Despite their tough role.

They’re happy at heart

And have a glad soul.

Then the season is over.

No more homesick blues,

Because now it’s time

To go back to Creuse.

 

Malgré leur dur labeur 

En travaillant ils chantent

Ils ont la joie au coeur

Et l’âme bien contente.

La dernière saison

Est pour eux bien flatteuse

Pour revoir leur maison

Au pays de la Creuse.

The work is all finished, 

And so in November

The masons assemble

And go home together.

Look at the joy

Of the children whose

Fathers have come home,

Back home to Creuse.

 

Les travaux sont finis 

En novembre en décembre,

On les voir réunis

Pour s’en aller ensemble.

Vous voyez ces enfants

La figure joyeuse

Pour revoir leurs parents

Au pays de la Creuse.

Winter brings happiness, 

Long country walks,

Time spent with sweethearts,

Intimate talks.

It’s cold and it’s dark

But the skies are all blue

For the girls who have got back

Their young men of Creuse.

 

Enfin, pendant l’hiver 

C’est leurs belles journées,

Ils vont se promener

Avec leurs bien-aimées.

Dans ces tristes saisons

Les filles sont heureuses

D’avoir dans leurs maisons

Les garçons de la Creuse.

This poem’s author – 

Well, he’s no famous bard.

Just one of the lads,

Who works and plays hard.

Contentedly living

The life that he’d choose

And proud to admit he’s

A mason of Creuse.

 

The beauties of Paris,

Like the great Panthéon,

The fine Tuilieries,

The Louvre and Odéon –

These beautiful buildings

Which make folk enthuse,

We owe them all to

The masons of Creuse.

 

 

L’auteur de la chanson 

Ce n’est pas un poète,

C’est un vieux compagnon

Buvant sa chopinette,

Toujours gai, bien content,

Trouvant la vie heureuse,

Et se vante gaiement

D’être ouvrier de la Creuse.

 

Voyez le Panthéon

Voyez les Tuileries,

Le Louvre et l’Odéon,

Le Palais d’Industrie,

De ces beaux monuments

La France est orgueilleuse,

On doit ces agréments

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

 

Rors loves BDs - bandes desinées (comic books), but even they ring the changes with different type styles to denote how things are said!

I was reading a book with nine-year-old Ruadhri the other day, and it really grated on me that the author only said ‘said’ in the dialogue. What a wasted opportunity both to enhance the story with suggesting how the characters said what they said (whispered, gasped, cried etc), and to expand the reader’s vocabulary. Children will only learn new words if they’re exposed to him. OK, you don’t need to go too mad in children’s books, but at the very least I would expect to see a dozen or more variations.

Quite a lot of adult books only manage a narrow range of ‘said’ equivalents too. Come on, let’s get more creative and interesting!

Here are 25 alternatives to said, and that’s just scratching the surface:

Asked

Argued

Bellowed

Challenged

Cried

Croaked

Demanded

Gasped

Giggled

Grumbled

Guffawed

Laughed

Mumbled

Muttered

Offered

Pouted

Shouted

Screeched

Snarled

Suggested

Threatened

Whined

Whispered

Wondered

Yawned

 

Another 25 coming soon …

Writing is tiring, no two ways about it. Non-writers tend to roll their eyes in that ‘yeah right’ way when you say that. But they should try a stint of a couple of hours of creative writing or blogging. They’ll soon see!

It’s not just the concentration that can be fatiguing, there’s the physical side too. I was intrigued as to how many calories an hour’s intensive blogging might burn off, so I did some digging around on the Net. The act of typing or writing burns around 100 calories an hour. However, I’m sure that if you hit the backspace button as often as I do, that burns a lot more! And thinking takes energy too. I’ve come across estimates of everything from 20 to 100 calories an hour for exercising the old grey matter. So that’s up to 200 calories consumed in sixty minutes’ work, the same as housework or yoga. What’s more, the chances are you’re up and down during that time, looking something up in the dictionary, digging out your notes, catching the runaway goat before it eats the lilac bush – again. Or does that last one only happen here?

So it’s OK to feel bushed after being creative. But I find that when I’m in full-throttle writing mode, I can’t sleep, no matter how tired I am. My brain won’t turn off. I’m having a bad dose of insomnia at the moment, mainly for that reason. I’m up and down all night, raiding the fridge, making cups of herbal tea, even sitting in the garden listening to the nightjars. Which is lovely, although the not-sleeping is aggravating.

But I wouldn’t give up my writing for anything.