Monday, 31 May 2010

Of bustles and procreating

The scene. My bedroom, about noon. A few days ago. I lie in bed, in that not-quite-awake state between pressing 'snooze' on my alarm and waiting for it to go off next. Then, I hear the voices. Nope, it's not the Christmas elves. It's not even the tooth fairy. It's, of course, my characters and boy, are they wide awake and kicking.

What do you mean, a bustle?

I mean a bustle. Goodness, Echo, haven't you ever seen a bustle?

Do they have anything to do with those awful Jane Austen adaptations you're always making me watch?

LEKHA [squawks]
Awful - no, no, I shall not rise to the bait.

[mutters a number of words under her breath that amaze me, because I'll bet she doesn't have the faintest idea what they mean.] 

ECHO [bewildered]
Since when is you piece of marzipan considered an insult?  

Echo, do you want to get this costume finished or not? Did you say it was for that trollop of a girl who's playing you? Yuck, should we make it ugly? 

Oooh, we could! Put her in something that'll clash with her hair! [Pauses] She really doesn't like me. I don't know why, I've never done anything to her. Well, I might have said I'd never seen hair quite so ginger in my life, but I didn't mean it to be rude.

[LEKHA snorts knowingly. So do I.] 

What? What? I know that snort. Why doesn't she like me? Do you think it's because of what I am? 

Hoo! Why would she get herself cast in a play about echoes if she hated echoes? Isn't it obvious why she doesn't like you? 

But I've never learned anything about this kind of situation, how can I possibly guess - 

Well, never mind, put it out of your head. Do stop procreating and tell me what you think of using a bustle for this costume. 


Who is? It sounds contagious.

[ECHO sighs.] 


Sunday, 30 May 2010

I must be such a disappointment to the writer gods, dear readers

Well, I'm simply not writerly enough.

Sure, I keep erratic hours. I usually fall asleep between three and six A.M. (if I'm lucky) and usually wake up some time quite late in the day. Okay, so there's that, and yeah, okay, I have trouble with insomnia, I get moody, and my spirits do sometimes get quite low.

And fine, so there are days when I write about five thousand words and feel flushed and exhausted, and then there are days when, like Sherlock Holmes, I slump in my chair and hate the very sight of a blank page.

But this simply isn't enough. My dears, why don't I need a daily fix? Why do I drink something cold and refreshing like Asda's very own bitter lemon instead of the required gallons of strong coffee? Why do I drink sedate centimentres of ice cold Baileys just because it tastes good, when, really, I should be tottering around in a perpetual drunken stupor? 

Why am I not a haphazard alcoholic, or anti-social drug addict, or dismally depressed young woman who wears peculiar fashions like a top hat to the supermarket?

I'm, quite frankly, a poor excuse for that exalted position of A Writer.

Doubtful? Take a look at this.

It tells me everything I need to know about A Writer's Habits.


Or maybe, just maybe, writers don't have to be any of the above. We don't have to be Agatha Christie (much as I love her), Truman Capote, or J.D. Salinger (both of whom I wouldn't want to be anyway). We can be fashion-loving, sometimes moody-often cheerful, book-obsessed types who like watching a bit of Sex and the City now and then.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

"Wake up, open the door, and escape to the sea"

My new song obsession is Blaqk Audio's 'Wake Up, Open the Door, and Escape to the Sea'. The song does not at any point use those words, but it's a lovely, lovely song anyway. Any fellow fans out there? 

I've been listening to it so much, I'm probably going to hate the very mention of it in a few days. I hope not, though, because it's done such an amazing job of inspiring me! The moment I started listening to it, about a thousand images from Book Two of ECHOES leapt into my head, and my characters started talking to each other, and it was just wonderful to sit there and listen.

What song can't you stop playing today? How has it inspired or moved you?

I read Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver for the first time this week. If you haven't read it, do. It's amazing. I read like a maniac, but even I haven't read a book I've loved this much in a while. I've also been reading some retellings of 'Beauty and the Beast', like Robin McKinley's Beauty and Alex Flinn's Beastly, both of which I really liked.

I'm going to stay at Steve's for a couple of weeks on Monday, so my blogging might be a little erratic, but odds are it shouldn't change.

I've created a new page for the blog, where I describe each of my present and ongoing writing projects. I thought this would be nice to have, but also useful for any of you who are new to the blog or who lose track of what I'm referring to when I mention a certain book. The link's at the top, right beneath the header, next to the 'Home' page. Hopefully it's bright and noticeable, and I do hope you'll take a peek sometime!

To any aspiring writers who are daunted by the finding-an-agent process, Roland has a great post about how to get yourself out of the slushpile over here.

Finally, just a reminder about the Character Interview Blogfest on the 15th of June. Do join in, I'm sure we'll all have lots of fun getting our characters to be cooperative! The signup sheet's in the sidebar, below my little greeting. If you're interested, pop your details in the linky stuff and you're good to go!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Harry and Hermione, Harry Potter (Themed Week Day 5)

Like Holmes and Watson yesterday, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger of J.K. Rowling's famed Harry Potter novels, are not an emblem of your typical love story. For a start, as most of you will no doubt know, they don't even end up together and at no point do they ever get together (though that's not to say other characters don't suspect it, or that I didn't want them to. I did. Oh, I did.) Whatever their ultimate choices, when I read these books, and re-read them, it's always Harry and Hermione I come back to.

 Earlier this week, Nina commented on my post about Emma and George Knightley, pointing out that while Knightley steering Emma the right way strikes the reader as appealing, a female character steering a male protagonist seems to make her come off as 'saintly'. 

This comment struck me as very ironic, partly because I was already planning to write about Harry and Hermione today, partly because Nina's right (how many times in the books are we told that Hermione is very by-the-book, very good for trying to do the moral or right thing), and partly because I rather think the Harry/Hermione relationship is very much like the Emma/Knightley one.

Think about it. Just as Knightley makes Emma better, so does Hermione make Harry better. Harry, lovely as he is, has a temper, is impetuous, and he does tend to fall off the path. Eight times out of ten (the other two being reserved for occasional bits of wisdom from Lupin, Dumbledore or Sirius), it's Hermione who steers Harry back on track, who reminds him of what is right, and logical, and practical, and she's the moral compass by which he grows up and fights by. What's even more suggestive is that, like Emma, Harry might feel resentful of the truth offered by Hermione, but he almost always comes to understand that she was right and he follows her advice. Ultimately, I think any Harry Potter fan knows that if it hadn't been for Hermione a thousand times over, Voldemort would still be rampaging about and Harry would be dead.

Moreover, like Holmes and Watson, Harry and Hermione are equals. I always found it interesting that the one subject Hermione doesn't do as well in at school (Defense Against the Dark Arts) is the one Harry excels in. It's as though, if you were to fit these two together like a jigsaw, they'd be able to cope with anything; they are each other's foils (the one spontaneous, the other logical) and they compensate for each other's weaknesses.

What struck me further about these two is the fact that they are somehow elevated above the rest of their peers and most of the novel's characters. It is striking that over the course of the series, Hermione is the only person who never fails Harry, who never walks out on him, who never fails to follow him into whatever he does, even if he asks her not to. Even when she disagrees with him (see the climax of Order of the Phoenix), she'll help him. Even when Ron, her apparent 'love' and eventual husband, gives her an ultimatum (he as good as says 'I'm leaving, and he's staying. So who's it gonna be, eh? Him or me?' - see Deathly Hallows), she sticks by Harry. Good grief, she even makes her own parents forget her existence so that she can protect them and fight by Harry's side at the same time.

And Harry is by no means unaware of the sacrifices she's made for him or of her unique status in his life. Hermione, though, bless her, she doesn't know it, is given the single greatest compliment Harry offers anybody in the entire series. No, it's not the way he repeatedly talks about how clever she is.

He says he loves her. Yes, he says 'I love her like a sister' to Ron, so it's not the pinnacle of romance. But whoever said it had to be? I find it immensely touching that Hermione is the only person Harry ever states, aloud, that he loves.

Towards the end of Deathly Hallows, as he prepares to go meet wicked old Voldy in the woods, Harry also reflects silently on the people he loves, and, shock horror, Hermione is the first he thinks of.

Conflict, drama, sacrifice, loyalty, a moral compass, keen protective instincts (see the photo for further evidence of what's already clear in the novels), and two characters on equal footing who are set apart in some way from the other characters. And even, dare I say it, a certain chemistry that always flashes out at me when I read scenes in which these two argue and steadily step closer and closer together... 

For a pair that were never portrayed as romantic, Harry and Hermione seem to fit almost everything that I look for in a memorable and effective literary relationship.

Is it any wonder, then, that when I think about the relationships in Harry Potter, or even of fictional relationships in general, this is one that truly stands out for me?

What do you think?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Holmes and Watson, Sherlock Holmes (Themed Week Day 4)

Okay, so I'm somewhat loosely playing with the idea of a love story here. No, I'm not going to start telling you how I think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have a homoerotic relationship. But I am going to say that I think there are aspects of this friendship, and the way it's portrayed to us, that are more effective than many typical 'love' stories.

I've written a post about Holmes and Watson before, so this one will be rather short because I don't want to just go over every single I've said in the past. I just want to highlight some key details and talk about them, so that we as readers can appreciate them or try to work out why we appreciate/don't appreciate them. Also, so that we who are writers can see if we can apply the same principles and strategies to make our own character relationships as immortal.


First, another snapshot-

Watson, mate, we're going out.

Ugh, Holmes, I'm trying to sleep. But okay.

Watson! The game's afoot!

Yeah, I'm coming, would you just stop being so untidy and erratic already?

Watson! I'm busy with this Really Important Case, so could you head over to this Remote Part of the Country and meet with This Person in Distress and Observe Things For Me? (Of course, though I'm not going to tell you this, I'll probably be lurking there myself, in secret, and you'll suspect me for some time, only to realize it's really me! By which point I'll have solved the case! Hooray!)

Yeah, why not?

If Watson had been a woman, I have no doubt there would be many an outcry today about his devotion to Holmes and Holmes's taking of Watson for granted. However, it must be noted that for all the hilarity in this formula, Watson doesn't just help Holmes for Holmes; he does it for him, yes, but also because he likes it himself. He likes the mystery, he likes the excitement, he likes being put in charge of things, even if it's Holmes who always finds the answers. He enjoys being the chronicler.

So lest anybody think Watson is Holmes's flunky, I have to point out that they need each other equally, and their relationship, for all its appearance, is one of relative equals.

Which, of course, is why it works so well and is still such an appealing relationship. Equals, whatever appearances suggest.

While Watson never refuses Holmes his help, whatever the unnatural hour, it's equally obvious that Holmes needs Watson; Watson is the only one he trusts and relies on. There's also a wonderful scene in the story of the three Garridebs, where Watson is shot and Holmes's reaction gives Watson - and the reader - all the satisfaction we need.

As I see it, and bear in mind this is just me, I think characters need to be equals for their relationship to really stick with us or mean something to us. Sure, the power's got to shift from one to the other in a story. This is for drama, for tension, for conflict. But ultimately they must be equals - in the reader's eyes, in other characters' eyes, in each other's eyes - for it to work. They must be worthy of each other for it to be a relationship or love story that a reader can get invested in.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Romeo and Juliet (Themed Week Day 3)

It honestly wasn't deliberate, but I seem (thus far) to have picked love stories that, when trying to pinpoint why they work or last, these reasons can be boiled down to two. Romeo and Juliet is no different, but I think some of my thoughts on this story are going to be met with much outrage.

So, here we have it, mid-week, and I'm talking about the love story of all love stories. They're a by-word in popular culture, they're often the first play anyone thinks of when they hear the words William Shakespeare, they've been the subject of songs, retellings, adaptations, movies, good God, this list could go on. They're the Romeo and the Juliet, and I don't think anyone can name their child Romeo or Juliet these days without a whole world of connotations (poor little Romeo Beckham; is he ever going to live up to the romantic ideal girls will attach to him?).

Today I'm going back to the original play. A rose by any other name, and all that.


What works

Forbidden love
Ah, the lure of the forbidden fruit. This trope hasn't yet gone out of style, and I don't think it will. There will always be a market for forbidden romances, star-crossed lovers, and the like, so if this is what you write, then you can be sure a lot of people will love your story!

I'm not psychology student, so I couldn't really explain why the forbidden is so appealing to us. I just know that it really is, at least to most of us, and this is one of the two core reasons why I think Romeo and Juliet is immortal. While it certainly wasn't the first to set the forbidden trend, it's the story of star-crossed lovers, it's the tale of feuding families and forbidden love and the consequences thereof.

Realistically, would Romeo and Juliet have been half as memorable if it hadn't ended with such devastating tragedy? There's something immeasurably stupid - and therefore tragic and memorable - about such hideous misunderstandings that lead to two suicides that could so easily have been avoided. I'm sure that the frustration many of us feel, that urge to shout for God's sake, Romeo, she's freaking alive, damn you, is part of what makes the story click; as readers, we need to be anguished, and frustrated, and want to shout; we need to be moved.

The deaths themselves have their own merit because, of course, what says true love better than dying because the one you love is dead? It's melodramatic, it's not exactly selfless, and it's certainly not what any of us want to be doing in real life, but it's very appealing to our dramatic souls when we read it and watch it in fiction. 

And now, for the controversial part...

What DOESN'T work

What? you cry. There's something about the great romance that is Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet that doesn't work? Well, yes, I think there is.  

The characters, quite frankly, suck. Of course, this is purely my opinion, so feel free to tell me I'm being an idiot. I don't mean all the characters, because I rather like Mercutio, the Nurse, and even Benvolio for all his mild-mannered not-doing-much-really-ness. 

It's the lovers I find sorely lacking. I mean, this love story has become immortal, legend. But it's not because of Romeo or Juliet. It's because of their circumstances, their tragedy. These characters have nothing memorable or distinctive about them. Romeo appears to be somewhat indecisive, hot-headed, and full of pretty words. Juliet seems to swing like a pendulum between being meek and being rebellious, she's somewhat indecisive, and she's got lots of pretty words in her pretty head too.

What about either of these two, as characters alone, appeals to you? I genuinely can't find anything that appeals to me. The truth is, if someone were to transplant these exact characters into a book or movie today, disguised under different names, I don't think I would think twice about them. I might be mildly entertained by the book, but would then put it down and never again think about these characters or the story, simply because there would be nothing sharp about it, nothing that later clings to you.

Ultimately, I think there's a great formula to be found in Romeo and Juliet, and it's been used countless times, recycled, reused, and we're still not utterly weary of it.

But Romeo and Juliet, minus the italics? Well, they might be the star-crossed lovers, the epitomes of tragedy and of forbidden love. But I think it's been done much, much better elsewhere.

I'd love to know how the rest of you feel about them.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler's Wife (Themed Week Day 2)

Yesterday, I suggested that the reasons the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship appeals to readers are two-fold; today, I'm going to do a similar thing with Henry and Clare from Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.

I love this book and I absolutely love Henry and Clare's relationship. It's not simply because the fantasy/sci fi aspects of the story are firmly grounded in real-life things like Henry being annoyed by the way Clare taps a spoon against her teeth; or their wildly active sex life; or the very real supporting characters. These things help, obviously. Great, well-executed characters can make any story good and real to a reader. But the reasons I think this particular love story (and yes, I mean the book-version and am not actually talking about the movie here) made more of an impact on me than many others are as follows.

For one thing, Audrey Niffenegger's writing is beautiful. She seems to take immense care with every word, weaving sentences that are poetic without being cloying, emotional without being soppy, and just plain lovely to read. I'm going to type in a couple of passages here from my somewhat ragged copy of the book, to give those unfamiliar with the text an idea of the writing.

"Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why has he gone where I cannot follow?" -- The Time Traveler's Wife, p. 1
"I tape the drawing over a window and I begin to prick the paper full of tiny holes, and each pin prick becomes a sun in some other set of worlds. [...] I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say, "Vanish," but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing." -- The Time Traveler's Wife, p. 516

The thing about beautiful writing is that it makes you feel. It makes you laugh, and cry, and makes you feel exactly what the characters you've grown so fond of are feeling. And if a writer can make his or her readers feel every part of a relationship, or character, or story, then that story and relationship and character works.

I honestly couldn't tell you if I would have found Henry and Clare half as effective, moving or wonderful if it wasn't for the writing.

The other reason I think this relationship made such a huge impact on me is the inevitability of it. 

For those of you who don't know, Henry, a time traveler, meets Clare in his late twenties and falls in love with her. They get married and he frequently travels back in time, involuntarily, to meet and get to know a childhood Clare. The thing is, of course, is that Clare knew Henry all her life, because of the trips through time that he makes in his future. Confused? Sorry, the book makes it clearer than I do.

The point is, Clare has always known Henry (well, since the age of six) and she has always loved him in different ways. He's been her friend, her companion, a kind of protective brotherly figure, and as she grows older, she understands and acknowledges him as a lover and equal. There is never any doubt, not once, in her mind that she will always love Henry and will marry him. This certainty and inevitability is stamped into her by a man who visits from a future in which they are married. Sure, she's always got a choice, she can always choose. But she knows that whatever she chooses, that's where her choices will lead her. Even if she were to decide never to see him again, she knows she'll change her mind. She loves him and he loves her.

That certainty is kind of enviable, don't you think? It's the kind of thing that really makes a reader think; do we want that inevitability, that certainty? Or do we want to be doubtful, go into the world not knowing?

Clare knows that, in the end, the consequences of whatever she does will ultimately lead her back to Henry. I may be crazy to think so, but that really, really appeals to me. To know that, whatever happens, you're free to do what you want, you will face the consequences of those choices, but you're going to be with the man you've loved?

Well, I guess it depends on the reader.

What do you think? Does beautiful writing make for a beautiful story/love story? Does it, at the very least, amplify what might otherwise be a slightly unusual but not special story? Does the inevitability appeal to you, make you feel for them? Or does it put you off?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Emma and Mr. Knightley, Emma (Themed Week Day 1)

Today begins my themed week, in which I talk about one 'love story' each day for the next five days, and generally offer my thoughts on why they work/don't work, why I love or don't love the characters, and so forth. I always love your comments, and you're all amazing with them, so please do keep them coming!

So today I'm going to talk about Emma and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen's Emma. Most people will wonder why I've skated over Darcy and Elizabeth, but, quite frankly, I'm a bit bored of them. 

I actually surprised myself when I chose this pair, mostly because I don't like Jane Austen much (sorry, Austen fans). That said, I always thought there was a certain charm and appeal to the Emma/Knightley love story and I decided it was worth talking about in terms of the way it's portrayed and executed.

First, a snapshot-

I'm such a good matchmaker, I'm totally going to keep doing it.

Emma, you're going to be sorry you meddled.

I'm going to meddle.

Emma, look at what you've done! You're a spoiled, selfish cow.

Oh, no, look at what I've done. I'm a spoiled, selfish cow.

I told you so.

Oh, I have seen the error of my ways! And now my dear friend loves my other dear friend, but I love my second dear friend. Oh, woe, what shall I do? How did I mistake this love all my long years?

Chill out, Em. I love you too.


Tongues and cheeks aside, this has become a classic story. Girl/boy has a Best Friend or Close Older Friend of the opposite sex, develops a crush on someone else, realizes this isn't true love, and ultimately realizes that True Love has always existed in the form of said Best Friend or Close Older Friend. Often, Best Friend or Close Older Friend will be the moral compass by which Girl/Boy makes tough choices, and will be the one to point out Girl/Boy's mistakes when they go astray and bring them back onto the path of What is Right, Good, and Generally All Those Soppy Kinds of Things.

What really worked in Emma can be boiled down to two reasons:

First, the value of the love story between the flawed character and the true friend who makes them better, but also loves them in spite of their flaws. I think this appeals to us on a most basic level. Whatever her flaws (many readers don't even like Emma), there's something intensely comforting, romantic and sweet about knowing that there is somebody who points out her flaws, steers her the right way, but also loves her unconditionally.

It's what we want, isn't it? We see Mr. Knightley accept and love Emma and we think, yes, we're flawed too. Okay, maybe we're not meddling in everybody's blinking lives, but we're all flawed. But that doesn't mean we won't be loved for exactly what and who we are.

Secondly, there's the twist. Readers like being tricked, as long as there's a pay-off, a safety net that still maintains the trust between author and reader. For instance, if we spend half a book being conned into believing that the main character is a human being (deliberate human characteristics, personality, etc), only to find out at the end that he/she is a cat, we're going to be a little pissed off. That's when the trick has no safety net and we feel betrayed by the author.

But when, as in any good detective fiction, we are shown certain things that lead us to one conclusion (rather than being told them) only to discover the answer is different but the clues were there all along, we feel thrilled. We've been tricked but caught, and it's brilliant.

Austen sort of does that. Dipping into Emma's head, we live the story through her lack of knowledge of her own feelings. Rather than being told that Emma feels this way, we are shown it, and when she discovers she was wrong and blind about her feelings, we understand and feel the same way too. We are led along with the character, tricked just as she was tricked by her own self. 

The twist amps up the tension and excitement in the story, and ultimately the pay off too. Believing that things had gone badly wrong, as Emma does, we are thrilled with the happy ending. 

What this sort of says to me, as a writer and reader, is that playing with a reader's expectations, if done right, really, really works.

Having said that, it's interesting that most readers who pick Emma up for the first time these days go into it knowing that she and Mr. Knightley are going to end up together. I mean, it's general knowledge, isn't it? And I think this foreknowledge lends a different appeal to the book. It's like reading your favourite mystery for a second time, and feeling excited as you see the clues and go 'yes! There it is!'

So to add that up, it's essentially Being Loved For Who You Are + Well-Executed Twist = Great Love Story. A healthy dose of humour doesn't go amiss, either.

What makes this relationship somehow more appealing than many others using the same formula is the realism in Austen's prose. While dry and obviously intended to be ironic on many levels, Austen does fit into the realism of the times. This leaves us with the impression of a very down-to-earth, plausible relationship that doesn't at any point ask us to suspend disbelief. As much as we adore the sparkly vampires and sexy werewolves of our paranormal-infested culture, none of us really believe we'll find an Edward Cullen. Heck, many of us don't want one. Many of us want a George Knightley instead.

How do you feel about Emma? Do you think the above formula makes for a great story or memorable love story, if done right?

While you ponder that, my dears, I'm just going to be hiding from all those Edward Cullen fans...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Writer's Block, a Myth?

Okay, I'm really really curious to see what other people think about this (because I'm betting we're all creative people in one capacity or another), so I'm throwing this out for general debate and offering of opinions:

That nasty phenomenon known as Writer's Block; that Dreadful Affliction that apparently keeps writers, authors, artists and other creative people from going about their creative business; that Condition where the Muses have deserted us; that dry spell -

is it real? Or is just a myth made up to cover for a creative person's laziness/dry spell?

Can it be broken if you try hard enough? Or do you have to wait it out?

My thoughts on this? I think I can be genuinely blocked (like I am right now), genuinely unable to think of how to go on. But this is often because I have phases when my enthusiasm for a project dims, so I don't feel like writing it. So I don't know if it's that I can't.

I do think it's possible to muster up some energy and discipline and get cracking through that block, even if what you end up writing is rubbish. I just don't know if this necessarily means it's a challenging task rather than one you're passionate about.

Yep. My somewhat muddled thoughts on the subject. Now I'd love to see yours. Myth? Not a myth?

Bombard me!

Note: My themed week begins tomorrow! Powerful relationships, love stories, tragic could-have-beens! Drop by for a peek and for anguished cries against my controversial thoughts! (Yes, a few will be very controversial)

Don't forget to sign up for the Character Interview Blogfest! The signup sheet's in the sidebar, and the post date is the 15th of June. 

Update: Have just signed up to two more blogfests (yep, 'tis definitely the season). The first is the Cognitive Dissonance Blogfest, hosted by the fabulous Zoe, aimed for the 28th June. And yes, she does explain what that means, don't worry. I was kinda freaked out too.

The second is Tessa's brilliant idea, to do The Blogfest of Death. Makes you go ooooh, right?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Logline/Hook Line Blogfest

Today is the day of the Logline/Hook Line Blogfest, hosted by Bryan over at the Time Guardian Blog

Here are my possible loglines, for my novel ECHOES. Please do go to Bryan's page for the fest and take a look at his and the other entries!

1. When her identical other dies in a car crash, Echo must travel across the world to replace her, to fight for a name and identity of her own, and to survive in a world that despises echoes like her.

2. Echoes are born for a single reason: to mimic, learn and perhaps ultimately replace their other, and failing to do this can be fatal; the problem is, sixteen-year-old Echo just wants to be herself.

3. A girl is stitched in the sunlight of the Weavers' Loom, shaped in every way to mimic her other across the world; sixteen years later, she breaks every single one of the Weavers' laws.

4. Falling in love with a guardian, crafting wings instead of reading history, rebelling against her other's life and personality: these are things an echo must never do, only Echo, of course, does them.

I don't think any of these are quite right, or perfect, but hey. It was the best I could do! Cramming 400-odd pages into a single sentence is hard.

Thanks for the great blogfest, Bryan!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tales of the Week

I'm going to open this post with a question: has anyone ever tried to write a book, find a house and plan a wedding in the same week? 

Yes, it's been a crazy week.

So it all began on Saturday, when Steve proposed. Many of you will know who Steve is, or will have at least seen him in the comments or in a few guest posts, but for those of you who don't, it's probably fairly clear by now that he was my boyfriend/now my fiance. There's a word I never thought I'd use. And lest my somewhat frazzled post suggest otherwise, I am actually terribly excited and happy about it! Yay! I'm engaged!

Of course, this has meant that I've spent the week neck-deep in messages, phone calls and the like from my friends and members of my (very large) family. I've also been neck-deep in planning a wedding (so exciting and so much fun, but, can I just say, so stressful). At least, I've been trying to, what with conflicting schedules, timing problems, legal things, etc etc. 

Yeah. Apparently it's not all gorgeous fashion, presents and pretty tablecloths.

Steve and I have also been looking for house for July, because I pretty much finish at Lancaster in June. And house-hunting, while also fun and exciting (because it's my first one ever), carries its own share of mayhem. Wowee, you wouldn't believe it unless you've done it yourself. But we've found a couple places we really like, and we're going to see them two weekends from now, so that's something near to look forward to!

As mentioned above, I've been trying to write this week too, which has proven more difficult than usual. I've outlined most of TEA WITH DEATH, DESIRE AND RAGE and have done some more work on planning the sequels to ECHOES.

Yesterday, the lovely Tessa Conte gave me this award, so, thank you, Tessa!


So, in passing it on, I'm just going to pick five of my many favourite pretty blogs, regardless of how prolific their writers are (no offense to the others, I've had a really hard time just picking five for now!)

1. Jane at Novel Pretender, for her gorgeous background and amazing word cloud

2. Marian at Just a Trifle, because it looks so pretty and it's about Sherlock Holmes

3. Terresa at The Chocolate Chip Waffle, for that beautiful photo at the top

4. Nina at WICKFIELD, 'cause I'm a sucker for Disney

5. The Slushpile Slut, because I'd love a few of those stilettos.

I've decided that next week is going to be a themed week! Themes! Hooray! 

As I feel rather mushy these days (reasons why above), I thought I'd focus on love stories. I'm going to pick five literary or fictional couples, iconic or not so iconic, and write about them. One for each day of the week, Monday to Friday. I'll talk about why I love them as a couple and as individual characters, why the love story works on paper, how it's conveyed, and I'd love any contributions about why you might agree or disagree with me.

Now to pick those couples...

Finally, please don't forget to sign up for the Character Interview Blogfest if you're interested! The signup sheet is in the sidebar, so swing your eyes right!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Blogfests, Wednesday Blues, and Salty Crisps

It's finale season on the telly, and it's obviously blogfest season online. I've just decided to host one (please do sign up in the sidebar if you like the sound of it!), but I'm also participating in a few others. Namely the Logline/Hook Line Blogfest, hosted by Bryan, on the 22nd of May; the Beach Scene Blogfest, hosted by Rachel Bateman, on the 5th of June; and the Bad Boy Blogfest, hosted by Tina Lynn, on the 20th of June. If any of these sound good to you, mosey on over and sign up! Woo!

I've done absolutely nothing this week, writing-wise, which is making me very sad. It's always worst on Wednesdays, I find, just because I feel like I've wasted half the week and now have to make the most of the other half. I don't know about the rest of you, but when I don't or can't write for a stretch of time, I start getting very restless and feel that all's not quite right in the world. 

That said, this has been a crazy week so far, so I suppose I should be paying more attention to other things! And by 'other things', I mean general craziness, the last scraps of university, and watching the finales of my favourite shows while eating salt and vinegar chip-sticks. Ah, crisps.

I tweeted this yesterday, but it must be said again. Writing and editing a novel should count as exercise. It's not fair that all this work does little calorie-burning.

If you've managed to get this far in this rambling and somewhat incoherent post, here's your reward (if you can call it that). The opening of ECHOES, my YA urban fantasy that's currently out on submission to agents.

But first, a couple of definitions from the ECHOES dictionary;

Echo (n.) flesh and blood individual, stitched from mysterious materials by a Weaver. Sole purpose is to mimic his/her other in every way, and ultimately replace them if necessary. They are raised in isolation far away from their others. They are not considered human.

Other (n.) real person in the world, often the child of familiars. When others die, echoes replace them, if they're wanted. It's a very controversial idea and many people don't like it one bit.

Familiar (n.) the person or persons who pay for and ask the Weavers to make an echo for somebody they love.

Weaver (n.) two men and a woman who stitch echoes at their Loom in London. While familiars (almost) always have the final word on an echo, the Weavers own and govern every echo.

Hunter (n.) person who has sworn to hunt down and rid the world of echoes.



(Text from the novel removed. Sorry!)


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Character Interview Blogfest!

I've decided to jump on the blogfest bandwagon and try my hand at hosting one! I don't know if this one has been done before, but I thought it would make for a lot of fun. 

So please, if you can and you're interested, do blog or tweet about this or tell people about it. The more, the merrier!

The Character Interview Blogfest

Many of us have experience with characters who whisper in our heads late at night, or characters who remain resolutely silent and stubborn when you need them to tell you what's going to happen next in your story. Some of us may even have sat down with a cup of tea or coffee, and interviewed our characters.

So that's what we're going to do.

Pick any one of your characters, and interview them. Then post that interview on your blog. It can be funny, it can be serious and enlightening, it can be deep, it can be completely frustrating if your character's being difficult. Either way, I think it could be a lot of fun to do (and to read). Not to mention it's a great character exercise!

Try to limit your interviews to about 500-700 words.

The post date is Tuesday the 15th of June, which is exactly four weeks away.

How to enter-

Comment on this post, letting me know you're wanting to enter.

Then just sign up using the sheet in the sidebar!

And that's it!

Once again, I do hope you'll participate, and please do let people know about it!

Monday, 17 May 2010

So, University. What did you teach me?

With my degree now pretty much done, and graduation in July, I thought I'd look back on the last three years and ask them: what have I learned from you? 

More specifically, what have the last three years done for me in my writing?

My degree is in English Literature with Creative Writing, which means I've spent three years attending workshops once a week where the group critiques each other's submissions. That, obviously, has done wonders for my writing: I've learned control, I've learned to be disciplined (usually), and I've learned how to avoid the common mistakes that appear in my work. I've also learned to critique other people's work effectively, which in turn makes you look at your own work more critically and objectively.

What about the English lit part? I really think reading a lot helps you write better, but I have to say, looking back, there have been so many concrete moments of inspiration that I've derived from specific texts and ideas we've explored.

In my first year, we looked at Robert Browning's poetry (amongst many other things, obviously) and that was when I learned about beauty, death and the attraction these ideas had for writers of the time. This didn't have a direct impact on my writing but now, three years on, I often find myself, when writing about death, touching on the intensely physical and beautiful aspects of it. The cold skin, the sound of a waning heartbeat, orchids and lilies, all these things that intertwine beauty and poetry with death and tragedy.

In my second year, I did courses on Romanticism and Victorian lit. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights each inspired, in different ways, what eventually became my novel ECHOES, while Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' inspired the albatross that appears in TEA WITH DEATH, DESIRE AND RAGE.

This year, my third year, I wrote a dissertation on dystopian fiction, which lent me so much material and understanding and theory that I've been able to apply to the slightly dystopian Weaver/echo premise of ECHOES. One of the novels I used was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which gave me a wider grasp on clone-related fiction and helped me research the subject a bit more. ECHOES is about a fantasy variant of clones.

I also did a course on modernism, which made me really passionate about using the city or the landscape as a heaving, thriving force in my writing. Now I very rarely write a story or novel without making the setting a hugely important and almost alive part of the text.

And finally, being at Lancaster University gave me Lancaster: an old, beautiful city surrounded by absolutely incredible countryside. This setting is significant to ECHOES, and will continue to be hugely important if and when I write the sequels.

There's a parking lot in the city where, if you look out over the city's skyline, you could actually be standing there a hundred years ago and it would probably have looked just the same.  I find that incredibly poignant and amazing.

It's worth mentioning too that some of my best memories are set in Lancaster, on campus, around this university. It's not just my writing that fell in love with this place. I have too, and, awful weather aside, I'll miss it dreadfully.

Can you trace your ideas and stories back to a specific root or inspiration? Has school, university or just learning something new triggered off a story or a passion for you?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Weekend adventures

I've been appalling remiss in my blogging this weekend. It was my birthday on Friday, which meant I had barely enough time to sit still all day and night, let alone think of something to blog about over the weekend. Then I spent yesterday recovering, going on a nice romantic drive with Steve to get some fresh air and make the most of the sunny day, and I've barely had a spare moment since.


So that's my rather pathetic excuse and I do hope you'll bear with me. Tomorrow, a new week begins, and I shall be back to my old writerly self, full of all the strange and hopefully entertaining things I usually blog about!

How did everyone else spend their weekend? Any exciting stories you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them! 

Friday, 14 May 2010

Silver Linings

So today, in the wake of yet another query rejection (I'm bouncing back, I'm bouncing back, I'm thinking of the four requests instead of the eight rejections), I've decided to do another list. A list of Why Rejection is a Good Thing.

What? I hear you cry. Have you been drinking? (Why, yes, I have, it's my birthday - as I'm sure anyone who has seen Steve's 'grand surprise' below will know) Have you lost possession of your senses? (Well, I'm not entirely sure I ever possessed them. Who wants sense, anyway?)

Seriously, though, my judgment is in no way impaired and no, I'm not actually crazy. At least, not as far as I'm aware. So bear with me, and let's frolic through the riot that is Rejection. 

Why Rejections Are a Good Thing

1. Being rejected tells you one of two things. First, that your book/project is just not good enough yet and that you need to do more work on it. Or, that the person who rejected it is not the right fit. Either way, you've learned something and you can move on accordingly.

While form rejection letters are a pain, they usually do tell you which of the above is more applicable. I just didn't connect with the writing sample means your sample wasn't good enough/didn't appeal to that particular agent. I don't think I'm a right fit for this usually means just that. Try someone else. Also, I've had my sample pages rejected one day, only to have a different agent request them the next. This doesn't mean they don't need more work, because they probably do. It just means tastes vary so much.

2. Tastes vary. So rejections can often mean nothing! 

(Warning: too much of this attitude might earn you a reputation as Arrogant Prize Jackass Who Refuses To Understand the Work is Just Not Good Enough Yet. Fine line to be toed, but toed it must be.)

3. You are one step closer to the award of Most Rejections Ever in the History of the World, a most prestigious, admirable and enviable award celebrating the recipient's thick skin, persistence and appalling bad luck.

4. They remind you that luck has a lot to do with this process, so really, don't blame yourself or your project for every single rejection slip/email.

5. Rejections are the perfect excuse to have that extra bar of chocolate, second glass of Malibu, or a nice lie-in the next morning. Rejections also get you loads of sympathy and, if you're lucky, a foot rub. Aw.

6. Some rejections can be very helpful. Many agents, rejecting a partial or full, will offer you at least one honest reason why they passed. While you can choose to ignore this if you think the agent didn't 'get it', most of the time these comments are useful and tell you where you can improve. If nothing else, knowing an agent didn't 'get it' could suggest you're not being clear enough. When agents move from the generic to the intensely subjective about their reasons, however (an agent once told me he wanted to see more action scenes in my book), this is where you need to be careful about what you listen to and what you politely ignore. I didn't take the agent's advice on that one, simply because it wasn't supposed to be an action-packed book and because I knew his tastes were obviously different from mine. But I gave it careful thought before deciding 'no, I'm not going add more action scenes in'.

7. Some rejections can be downright encouraging and sweet. My favourite rejection ever was from an editor from a very big fantasy publisher. He sent me a form letter telling me that the house didn't feel my story was right for them. Enclosed in this letter, however, was a handwritten note in which the editor had written the following:

Lots of promise and talent here, but needs shaping. Do hope you'll work on it. Don't give up! Best, [Editor's First Name]

I swear, I adored him for that, rejection or no rejection. It wasn't that I needed to hear praise (though it was nice). It was simply that he had taken the extra time to write a note at all, that he had been considerate of a teenage writer's sensitive feelings; it made me realize that rejections aren't personal and they're not meant to hurt you. 

Every single time I read or hear that editor's name now (and I read it and hear it often), I smile and think fondly of him and of my youthful self with all her excitement and passion. It reminds me to keep trying with the project I'm pitching right now, and it reminds me not to get too discouraged.

Thoughts? Anguished disagreements?

Happy Birthday, Sangu!!

Hi, ladies and gentlemen,

Sangu is in bed (shocker!) and I've got up especially to surprise her with this. Hope you enjoy it.

Sangu is 22 today, which is quite old really. So lets have some pictures of her when she was less old...

Right, I think that's enough embarrassment for one day, to be honest...

Hope you all enjoy.



Thursday, 13 May 2010

Thoughts on Villains

I was talking about villains to Steve the other day, and I think I got rather passionate in my views on the subject. So I thought, hey, why not blog about it? After all, baddies/antagonists/villains/wicked types are essential to most stories and most novels. As readers, writers and book-lovers, aren't villains almost as important to us - if not as important - as the protagonists and heroes?

There have been millions of antagonists in the literary world, ranging from caricature blustering bad guys to the more subtle kind of evil. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and it always comes down to this question: which kind of villain is more effective/more interesting to read/watch? Outright, bone-chilling evil? Or someone more ambiguous? 

I thought I'd talk about a couple of my favourite antagonists and try and pinpoint why they work so well (for me, anyway. Feel free to disagree!) 

   Melisande Shahrizai from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books (two trilogies)
   I hated Melisande almost from the moment we met her, and obviously, that's one of the things a writer must want her readers to do. To hate the antagonist for her cruelty, her manipulation, her ambition, her general coldness and brilliance and the pain she puts our beloved protagonists through. Jacqueline Carey could have left Melisande this way, leaving us with the impression of an awful, chilling, clever, beautiful woman.

Instead, she humanizes her. Melisande shows Phedre mercy when she didn't necessarily have to. She shows genuine shock when she finds that one of her schemes resulted in the death of a man I think she truly counted a friend. And ultimately, with the birth of her son Imriel and her surprising love for him, she is redeemed. I don't think readers ever quite forgive her, but she redeems herself for Imriel.
I loved this about her. That she was human, that there was an arc to her, that she showed more characteristics than 'coldness' and 'brilliance'. I loved that she was ambiguous, in the end, that you couldn't predict what she might or might not do.

I felt similarly about Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, because she too had an arc: she went from a cold, wicked, truly frightening woman to one who sacrifices her life for the right cause and, more importantly, for her daughter's sake. I don't think anyone didn't hate Mrs. Coulter in Northern Lights, but did anyone continue to hate her as much by the time you finished The Amber Spyglass?

   Scar from The Lion King
   I could sit and listen to Scar all day. I hated him, I detested him, but I also love him. This, I will quite frankly admit, is largely down to the incredibly way Jeremy Irons voiced him. While many could (rightly) argue that Scar is inspired by Claudius from Hamlet, I've never felt about Claudius the way I do about Scar.

There is very little ambiguity to Scar, which shows that it's possible for a villain to be effective without necessarily being ambiguous. But he has something very essential: he has charisma. His voice charms, his manner woos. I really think antagonists must have, if not ambiguity, then some kind of charisma to draw you. There's very little fun in an antagonist who whispers coldly from the shadows and does little else (*cough* Sauron *cough*)

   Mrs. Holland from Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke
   Okay, so Philip Pullman seems to be a dab hand at character. Mrs. Holland is, for most of the novel, a vicious, amoral, nasty piece of work, and if anyone's seen the BBC adaptation of the book, you'll know Julie Walters does an incredible job of bringing this character to life. There's nothing Mrs. Holland won't do, which makes her terrifying.

But in the end, we also discover that she is, quite simply, mad. Her obsession with the ruby has long since driven anything good out of her, and that makes her quite a sad character, a figure who loved and was betrayed and has been driven mad by obsession. This adds a dimension to her that might not be as frightening as her wicked incarnation, but it does make her a hundred times more interesting.

Of course, this has to be done well and done originally to work, as Mrs. Holland does. Books about psychotic killers who were abused as kids are tired, overdone, and, quite frankly, make most readers feel a lot less sympathetic. It's an awful excuse and I really hate reading about it, which is why Pullman's version is different and originally executed. When reading about the abused-kid-turned-killer, I always think, 'fine, but what about all the abused kids who have turned into lovely, good people? They don't count? It's not a blinking excuse!'

Sorry. Rant over.

So there you have it, my thoughts on villains and antagonists. What do you think about the examples I've offered? If you know these villains, do you think they work as well as I felt they did? What are your favourite antagonists and why do you think you like them/love to hate them/find them so interesting?

P.S. The least effective villain? The ones who never show up.