Diary of a Writer – June Prompt

Last month after a gap of several weeks, I put up two posts. One a tiny apology, but heartfelt, for being away for so long. I called it Missing in Action.

Missing in Action must have been a woeful message to receive in wartime. All that uncertainty heaped on the general difficulty of life in strange times by those words. Hope not quite extinguished, however, more a tongue of flame when perhaps you weren’t looking for it. Perhaps the person named is still alive and ‘in action’ elsewhere.

What caused me to shut down? Two very dear friends were terminally ill – but it was my brother who died. Many of you will have lost family members and are able to empathise. I don’t need to say anything more.The everyday carries on and is marked, in my case, by enormous kindness and assistance from all sorts of people – both personal and professional.

Writing has been on a back burner, but I have completed a short story for a project I’ll be telling you about soon. Shh! I have some stuff out to an editor and got useful suggestions back. I submitted a story to a magazine whose short story writing course I took 18 months ago. Blushes with embarrassment – what took so long?

Tongue of Flame – what has been your tongue of flame? What has brought a destroying effect into your life? Was it also cleansing?

Round Robin – Does getting the First Chapter Right Mess Up the Rest of the Book?

This month’s topic is the first post of the fifth year of Round Robins and has been suggested by Skye Taylor:

Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers’ advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

As many of you know I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The RNA runs a scheme, possibly unique, whereby people may join as ‘New Writers’ and for a modest fee submit a MS once in the year for critique by an experienced writer in their genre.

I was in this scheme for 5 years and submitted 5 books. The critique of one stated baldly that I wrote a very good first chapter, but the reader needed the rest of the book, too. So, you might say, I’ve had contrary advice and indeed paid for it.

Dancing shoes with medals

I see exactly where Both Skye and the anonymous NWS reader are coming from. I came to the understanding many years ago that it’s the puzzle I’m interested in. My house used to be full of drawers containing the first chapter of a novel or the opening scene of a play or, and this is what eventually made me understand why I never finished anything, the back of a hand-knitted jumper. Once I knew where the story was going or how the knitting pattern worked, there was little need to complete.

I was enchanted by Elizabeth Hawksley’s lovely post about her vintage, antique even, sewing machine. You can read it here. While I knew many people in the late 60s and early 70s who did make and wear their own clothes, my efforts were in general not fit to be seen. Being an ‘A’ student, I learned Latin after 2nd year and so never developed the discipline of making a garment. That’s where the NWS scheme triumphs, I think. You have a go in year one and learn a bit. In year two you do carry that learning forward…and so on. The discipline of completing an annual MS was invaluable.

Other advice will suggest the ending needs to be strong and, in romance, that the ‘black moment’ has to be apparently unsolvable. Carried to extremes all of this turns good writing practice into pastiche, in my humble opinion. Yes, readers remember particular bits, but it can be surprising when people tell you in conversation which bits. They aren’t necessarily anything to do with the landmark moments.

The Menzieses’ House No 20

My friend awaits my Edinburgh based regencies so she can walk the pavements she walked while growing up in Buccleuch Place and indulge in a little sentimental reminiscing.

Other lovely people have been mulling over this topic and they can be found on their blogs below:
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diary of a Writer – March Writing Prompt

dsc01314This picture was taken just over a month ago in Trinidad, Cuba. The horse or pony was much in evidence as a means of personal transport and as a draught animal.

Travelling between Havana and Trinidad by bus, we saw many pony and cart combos not only in the fields, but on the highway. Occasionally, they were driving against the traffic! There wasn’t a lot of traffic, but some of it travelled fast.

What does this picture ask of you? I see the light and shade. I see the interesting local houses. I see an animal taking its rest when it can.

And I wonder. Who left it there? Will it be the same man (didn’t see any female riders, folks) who comes back to it? What if a different man rode off?

Currently re-thinking the W-I-P, but still in Regency Edinburgh although on the High Street for this one. Courting the Countess still at 99p.

Also deeply involved in the Romantic Novelists Association’s Awards Night. If you’re there, I’ll be on the front desk. Come and say Hello, why don’t you? Ponies should be tethered outside.

 

Round Robin – Description – How Much is Too Much – Too Little?

 
Description I remember a writing lesson exercise at primary school. The task was to describe the living room of our house. It was a huge joy when the teacher said of my piece that he would be able to walk into that room and not bump into anything because my description was so careful, he knew where everything was.
     So, is that degree of detail appropriate for the kind of historical fiction I write now?
I don’t think so. I prefer to give the reader a few clues and allow them to visualise countryside, room, people, animals, in their mind’s eye. I like to think that a clue will conjure a world.
     If it’s pouring rain, the reader will see the water from a phrase like, ‘She came up out of the underground into a mass of folk hurrying on their way beneath a jostling canopy of umbrellas.’
     On the other hand, if the sun is blazing, I might use, ‘She shielded her eyes beneath an outstretched palm. It was hard to tell whether the heat was more shocking than the expanse of flesh on view. She knew her mother was right when she said Brits don’t dress well in summertime.’
     I want to include enough to let the reader know the bits of information it is important they do not get wrong. I want them to see the difference between a young lady and her maid, a crossing-sweeper and an Eton school-boy – and so on. One of my favourite passages from one of my own books is this from Mariah’s Marriage:

“Of course Tilly would be interested in the earl’s tailored wool coat with his spotless waistcoat and carefully tied neck cloth. The men who normally visited here wore ill-fitting garments which were often stained with food. Not only that, but the earl had a clean-shaven face and the hair of his head was trimmed into a neat style that allowed his strong bones to be seen easily. Seen and admired, she thought.”

I think this little snippet of description not only tells us what Tobias looks like, but how overwhelmed Tilly is and, indeed, how Mariah, too, is succumbing.

London Girl

London Girl

     Our topic also asked whether I skimmed description when reading a book. Oh dear, yes I do. I am most likely to skim scene-setting description. It’s very unfair of me and maybe I should try harder, but honestly, I want to know the characters are in a dental surgery or a fast-food outlet, but I don’t need to know what colour the paintwork is. Unless, of course, that’s relevant to the plot.
So, if description interests you, then read on among my Round Robien friends below. I think you’ll enjoy…

Diary of a Writer – Writing Prompt – February – New Experience

dsc01373Some of you may have noticed a wee absence of posts on this blog during January. The chap above is one of the reasons why I’ve been awol because I’ve been visiting Cuba and Costa Rica.

The baby sloths – the apparent furry car rug is a pile of six – have all been orphaned and brought to the Toucan Rescue Ranch for nurture and possible release back into their jungle habitat. The ranch’s intern, was delightfully droll about the difficulties of acting as mum to a baby sloth. Press too hard on the syringe of goat’s milk that is used to feed them and you may cause the baby to ingest the milk, rather than digest it, which can lead to pneumonia. Toilet training – well, in the wild, they learn from mum that going to the bathroom once a week s good. In the Rescue centre that would be the intern’s finger in some other sloth urine encouraging the wee ones to perform. Glamorous it is not.

Some of you editing types may have noticed the name of the ranch, Toucan Rescue Ranch, and be puzzling over the inclusion of sloths. Well, get a GOOD name in the bird and animal rescue world and who knows what will arrive on the doorstep?

The sloth babies were immensely attractive little bundles, but one needs to remember that sloth mouths are a very dirty environment. A bite if untreated could kill you.

Here’s one of their actual toucans as reassurance that I haven’t lost all plot.

dsc01385

All writers need new experience to refresh their pool of ‘things to write about’. Orphans are a big issue in our world where humans are displaced daily by war and animals killed by loss of habitat, predation and interaction with the human world.

While I’ve been away, Endeavour have dropped the price of Courting the Countess to 99p Don’t know for how long, but a good moment to add to your kindle.

 

 

 

Diary of a Writer – Writing Prompt January – the Door to the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door to the Year is Georgian and I found it while walking around Dublin’s beautiful Georgian streets. As many readers know, I focus my own Regency and early nineteenth century fiction in Edinburgh and London. On the other hand who wouldn’t wonder what’s behind this lovely door and its equally tempting neighbour?

Early January is the time for handing in entries to the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference competitions. I have at least a short story – can’t give any clues what that’s about – and you may be going along and have entries, too. Headline speaker is Helen Lederer and you’ll find the Conference Schedule by typing September into the search box. Day delegates are welcome. The Westerwood Hotel and Sports complex is welcoming, comfortable and easily accessible from the train to Croy or by car.

Occasionally competitions excite my creative imagination, but more and more, they’ve become a distraction from the main work. Of course, as with the People’s Friend serial writing competition, sometimes the distraction pays off. Shortlisted and published, together with two subsequent short story sales, it was a profitable distraction.

So, what is The Door to the Year opening up for your writing.? Will you share a few hopes with us?

Round Robin – Prologue and Epilogue

PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE The temptation to misquote from something half remembered is too strong to overcome. In my beginning is my end…

I don’t use either prologues or epilogues in the four novels I’ve published so far. It is fair to say that Daisy’s Dilemma carries on the story of Lady Daisy and by doing so tells any interested reader what happened after the first book, Mariah’s Marriage, ended.

But that is novel length and hardly a short rounding off of anyone’s story.

So – why not?

Prologues almost, but not quite, fall into the same category as Introductions for me. I don’t read them before I read the book and sometimes not even then. Is this impatience to be getting on with the story? Is it arrogance? Why do I need to have someone’s view of a subject before forming my own?

Prologues of course are little tasters. They plant a hook deep in the reader’s brain about what happened to, or in the life of, one of the characters who are about to unfold on the book’s stage. I prefer to have all of that in my story. Maybe it’s just a question of stylistic preference.

Epilogues round off or flesh out the ending the reader has been presented with. Just in case one was unsure doubt is removed. Yes, there was a happy ending and here is how it evolved. No, it was a bittersweet ending and here is how it evolved. Oh dear, the baddie was rescued by a passer-by and is recovering in hospital to plague the hero and/or heroine in another book.

Personally, although I do read epilogues, I like my own imagination to have room to weave an ongoing fantasy.

Our full topic asked if you could have one without the other. I don’t see why not, but perhaps my fellow bloggers have reasons. Catch their opinions below.

Anne Stenhouse Author

Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-QS
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diary of a Writer – December writing prompt – When is that project too big?

Colourful Tree Decoration

Colourful Tree Decoration

 

When is that project too big? I’ve always loved knitting and have dabbled with crochet, too. I find, despairingly, that I sometimes set knitting aside when I have worked out how to complete a repeat of the pattern. The challenge has been met and the garment might never be finished.

On the other hand, I have a fairly responsible outlook and try very hard not to let people down. So, would I have crocheted this engaging tree decoration? Why did anyone do so?

It certainly brought a smile to my face when I encountered it in Argentina – so maybe that’s the answer to why. It did make people smile.

Many well known and much read authors also write stuff for fun that is out of their recognised genre. Or write in several genres. Shakespeare for instance wrote his wonderful sonnets as well as the plays. Thomas Hardy wrote novels and poetry. Georgette Heyer interspersed her Regencies with detective fiction.

A great many writers will just be taking a deep breath marking the end of their NaNoWriMo effort. I did that a couple of years ago and had to set the MS aside when December arrived. It’s a busy month.

However, I did go back to the unfinished MS and completed BELLA’S BETROTHAL which is the first of my historicals set in Edinburgh.

Bella’s Betrothal

I still love the energy and humour I read in Bella’s story and think it’s probably down to writing under pressure and also to writing about a city I love. I’ve come back to Regency Edinburgh for

Courting the Countess and the wip is also set here.

So are you into decorating random trees – or only the family Christmas Tree? That’s a whole other story and I might share some of it with you after the decorations come out of the attic.

How big was your biggest project? Are you writing an alphabetical series? A trilogy?

I heard recently that courting the Countess was recommended to a book group in Aberdeenshire. Hope you’re enjoying it, ladies and would love to know what you thought.

Diary of a Writer – Start in Time

Wise Owl

Wise Owl

Start in Time

Time management has never been one of my stronger character traits. I greedily gather in brochures and leaflets. I note deadlines for Edinburgh Writers’ Club, founded 1947, competitions and for comps or challenges being run by other organisations I belong to and they approach steadily. They approach so steadily that I often reel with astonishment to see a closing date is now tomorrow.

Why is this? I do know, and in fact live with, people who are capable of starting in time. whether it be planning a holiday, whittling down the purchase of Christmas presents or writing a paper, they do it bit by carefully timetabled bit.

I have tried it and while it was great last year when I knew I needed to lose some weight and achieved my goal with three weeks in hand, it sometimes leads to duplication of effort. I cannot ever believe that I can leave the house for three weeks unless I’m in a lather of organisation and waist deep in lists, lists, lists. So I start re-checking. Yes, I did cancel the milk and the paper delivery. Yes, I have emptied the fridge. Yes, I did ask someone to water the house plants.

It unnerves me more than a little and perversely I head off sure that I’ve forgotten something.

But in some walks of life, I am getting better. For example, today I’ll be decorating large boxes for the local church’s Gift Services. Every year, I collect 7 or 8, strengthen them with parcel tape and cover them with Christmas wrap. This year I have all the boxes, I have the parcel tape and the wrap. Ready to go without having to stop and buy extra – provided no one has ‘borrowed’ my stanley knife. There’s no doubt it makes the job feel less stressful.

If you would like to donate a new and unwrapped Christmas Gift to someone who might otherwise receive nothing, check out The Salvation Army’s local appeals here.

Writing the next novel..

Well, it’s on the stocks and I have two lovely central characters, a setting and I’ve made enquiries of an editor. What’s holding me back? Thinking I might enter those competitions. Is it maybe over-programming rather than lack of planning that gets in my way?

Naw! I don’t really do time-management. How about you?

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