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

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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.

Round Robin – Emotion and all That

How emotionally involved are you in writing some scenes is the question posed for this month’s round robin.

Well, it’s a biggie. I think the emotion I personally find hardest to deal with is disappointment. I’m writing this on the 24th June 2016, so many in the UK will know disappointment this morning and throughout the whole day.

I’ve just had a peek at Facebook and astonishing stuff is coming through. People who voted ‘Leave’ (the European Union) because they didn’t think their vote would count so it wouldn’t matter (Eh?). People who believed Eurocrats made the laws – where were they when the rest of us were voting for our MEPs?

However, we’re talking writing here and as I write romance with lots of ups, downs and round-abouts, there’s enough emotion to find a few heart-wringing moments to tempt you.

MARIAH’S MARRIAGE

London Girl

London Girl

Mariah’s Marriage is shot through with disappointment. Sir Lucas is disappointed he could not snare the Earl for his sister. Lady Mellon is disappointed she cannot secure a suitable wife for the heir. Mariah is bitterly disappointed she cannot continue her life teaching because the earl has trapped her in a compromising situation. I really felt that tug between what one wanted to do and what one must do.

And I hugely enjoyed the resolution which I was able to write with, I hope, laugh-out loud farce.

 

 

BELLA’S BETROTHAL

Bella’s Betrothal

Bella’s Betrothal charts the resolution of disappointment because Bella feels abandoned, if not even cast off, by her family. I really invested in the scenes early in the book when she tries to defend herself against the pragmatic arguments and physical attractiveness of Charles Lyndsay. Well, how do you choose the lesser danger of a bogeyman out there and a heart-stoppingly attractive man in your room at the inn?

 

 

DAISY’S DILEMMA

Daisys Dilemmal 333x500Daisy’s Dilemma springs out of disappointment and it’s all the more poignant because Daisy doesn’t see it coming. Actually, as the creator, neither did I. Reuben Longreach’s voice caught me a little by surprise, but I soon grew to love him dearly and I wrote one or two of his scenes entirely wrapped up in him.

I refer a lot throughout this book to The Foundling Hospital where mothers could leave the babies and small children they were unable to keep. Some were never re-united. Today in Camden, within walking distance of King’s Cross, you can visit the Foundling Museum which sits in some of the original buildings and in Coram’s Fields. The display case exhibited there of the tokens – sometimes a button or scrap of a shawl – by which mothers hoped to identify their baby should life improve and they could reclaim them, is deeply moving. So, yes, I was emotionally very involved in writing much of this book.

Thomas Coram

Thomas Coram

So if you fancy learning how other authors go about it, try one of my friends, below:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/

Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/emotion-in-writing
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

MOTHERS, MOTHERS, MOTHERS

 

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Bella’s Betrothal, set in Edinburgh 1826, has two mothers offering opposing views of that position. Bella’s actual mama is a distant and critical woman who does everything in her power to diminish her talented and engaging daughter. Why would she do that? Obviously, it’s a plot device, but it happens in life and many women will sadly recognise the relationship.  Hatty, to whom Bella flees for succour is red haired and feisty like her niece. She’s also the kind of mother we all long for: supportive, encouraging and loving without being suffocating.

Mariah’s Marriage a roller-coaster read with razor sharp dialogue.

Mariah’s Marriage, set in London, 1822 has a motherless heroine who wonders wistfully if her life would have been different had her mama survived. But she’s made a very good job of growing up with only one parent and when confronted by the Earl of Mellon’s mama, Lady Constanzia, has mixed feelings about the relationship. The earl, finds his mama exasperating, loving and a great excuse for trapping Mariah into marriage. Will he, though, get the high-spirited girl as far as the altar?

Daisy’s Dilemma a brilliant exploration of what it was to be a lady in the 1800s

Daisy’s Dilemma,  set in London 1822 and later brings us more of the story of Lady Constanzia and another of her children, the talented and stifled, Lady Daisy. How does a girl behave when her duty is clear, but her head and her heart are at war? Can her mama help resolve her difficulties? Once more, Anne Stenhouse juxtaposes two mothers in Lady Constanzia and her sister-in-law, the monstrous Lady Beatrice. Whose will prevails?

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

And today sees the Scottish Regency short story – Winter Wonder – draw to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed following Lady Mary Calder’s return to her senses after the dastardly attempt on her life and might read the story of another lady in distress, Bella Wormsley.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder concludes:

“You shall hear from me, Rintoul,” Lennox said in a low and deadly voice. He leant into the doorway and dragged his mama out without any ceremony. Mary had to move quickly to catch the hessian bag in which Lady Grizel hoped their jewels were secreted as it dropped from the older woman’s hands.

“Lennox!” Lady Grizel squealed, but her distress did not impress her son.

“Silence, Mama, I think you have caused enough damage to the family and one must now wonder how much disgrace this story will bring down on its name.”

Rarely had Mary heard her lord so angry and she could almost feel a twinge of pity for her mama-in-law, but then that lump on the back of her head throbbed and she knew Lennox was in the right.

Rintoul sent a man claiming to act as his Friend. This scruffy individual was not versed in the language or practice of duelling and it became abundantly clear to them all that Rintoul had no intention of meeting Lord Calder, but had probably left town. Lennox sent Red Will out after the second and he soon came back with the information that Rintoul had boarded a coach for Glasgow.

The night passed in gloom and misery. Lady Grizel did everything possible to deny the accusations Lennox presented to her. He dragged the wretched doctor, Wilson, from his house in George Square, and questioned him hard about the events leading up to Mary’s assault and his unethical treatment of her thereafter.

It was a sorry tale of loss, gambling, bigger losses, money-borrowed, money owed and theft from families and friends. Lady Grizel fainted away when their man of business brought a jeweller to the house. McCallum confirmed Lennox’s suspicions – the jewels were fake.

“I see you come round, Mama. Did you truly believe the money lender would simply hand back your sureties?” Lennox spoke wearily and Mary knew the heat had gone from his anger when he learned Rintoul had fled any gentlemanly resolution. She was a little glad her husband would not be fighting illegal duels in his tired and weakened state.

“It was in his interests,” Lady Grizel said at last. Beside her, Wilson fussed and brought salts to aid her breathing. “I told him you would most likely call him out and he is a cowardly individual.”

“Indeed,” Lennox agreed. He allowed the maids to come in then and take Lady Grizel to her chamber. Mary knew he was plotting, but waited until the outsiders had left, too.

“Lennox, you are too calm. It cannot be simply because Duff is recovering and Rintoul has gone. I believe you’ve arranged something.” Mary challenged him and watched with satisfaction as a flush covered his face.

“I cannot escape your intelligence, my love. Donal and Red Will are galloping hard to reach the first stop on the Glasgow road.”

Mary lifted her brows in puzzlement and then smiled as realisation seeped into her exhausted brain.

“You gave Red will the bag after the jeweller examined the paste copies. Are the men going to…”

“Plunder Rintoul’s baggage?” Lennox interrupte. “With a fair wind and some luck, they will find the originals in his baggage strapped outside the coach. If not, at the next stop, they may distract him and swap bags in the tap room.”

“Gambling debts are often considered inescapable, are they not?” Mary asked tentatively.

“My mama stole those jewels, my love. If we go to the law, she would go to the gallows. I cannot countenance that.”

Mary gasped. He was right, of course.

“But, equally, I cannot countenance that man living on the profits of your jewellery gained from my mama in her miserable pursuit of distraction. If we succeed, I do not foresee Rintoul making any kind of fuss.”

It was into the afternoon before the horses came wearily to a halt in the street outside. Lennox’s wild whoop brought Mary fully awake from her doze in the drawing room. She smiled contentedly and stroked back Alfie’s curls.

The End

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Dark Days

If Lennox was going out into the city after his mama, she would accompany him.

Mary watched Lennox scramble to his feet without trying to assist him. She thought that if he could do so on his own and then stand, he would be able to negotiate the paths and alleys between here and his quarry in the Old Town. He pulled himself upright and took a few shaky steps.

“I cannot think your presence will be beneficial, my love,” Lennox said fixing his beloved gaze on her. “As you see, I am a little shaky and will need to devote much energy to my own safety without I have to have a special care for you.”

“I will accompany you, sir,” Mary said with greater force than she was accustomed to use even when in good health. This, she thought was no moment to simper and plead or whinge either. “I know now where I saw mama-in-law head off the main street into the Grassmarket. Even in the dark, my sense of smell will take me there.”

She watched Lennox raise his brows at this unwonted display of assertiveness, but his answer surprised her.

“Sense of smell, my love? Surely my mama’s rose brier will not override the pot pourri of the Old town?”

“Be sensible, Lennox. I was walking near a tannery and an hostelry. As the man’s arm came around me, I smelled your mama’s soap. The door beside me was labelled Rintoul,” Mary said , and quickly realised she’d give away her advantage.

“He is the man,” Lennox growled as he took his pistols from Malcolm. “Very well, we waste time arguing. Red Will, can Duff be left?”

The stable-man muttered something in his mix of Gaelic and Scots that Mary found incomprehensible, but Lennox was satisfied and with that they set out into the dark toun.

Donal was standing guard on the threshold, but at a nod from Red Will, he pulled the great door of the house closed behind them and fell in with the party. Mary struggled to keep up. The men were intent on their quarry and paid her little heed. Once in a while, Donal paused to allow her to catch up, but then set off again behind the others. She was grateful for the flare he carried as it was often the only thing showing her where the others were.

Soon enough the Grassmarket sank below them beneath the great castle on its rock. Mary breathed deeply and moved forward  beside her lord. He would need to know she was there when they found his mama. His mama – who appeared to have stolen Mary’s jewels to pay her money-lender. Was it not bad enough for families whose men gambled away fortunes? What was it going to be like for them when it became known, as it surely would, that Lady Grizel had done such a thing?

Rintoul’s door came into view and the rank smells of leather and stables, fires and rubbish hit them hard. Mary reached out and grabbed Lennox’s sleeve. She was little prepared for this sortie. Weak from lack of food and illness, she knew the coming confrontation with the woman she had called mother would drain her reserves.

“There’s movement ower yonder,” Donal hissed. Red Will scrambled ahead and within seconds, they heard a low  moan of pain.

“Guid man,” Lennox said, “He’s got one of them.”

Guid, indeed, Mary thought, but which one of them?

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Dark Days

“My ruby and garnet set is missing,” she said bleakly.

“I know, my love. Agnes made an inventory and your wedding diamonds have gone, too.”

“What does this mean, Lennox?” Mary asked although an impression was forming in her mind. An impression of a woman’s voice, cracked with tension, with temper and, she thought deeply, with pain formed into wraiths of misty memory. Lady Grizel had not only been at her side through her weeks of illness, but she’d been there in the beginning.

“I remember a smell. I was desperate to tell you this afternoon and then when…” she tailed off and waved a hand around the vestibule. The pale blue walls and the gleaming mahogany furniture seemed to mock the injured: Lennox whose face was now scarred for life, Duff who panted and squirmed and herself, weak from days of unnecessary medicines and lack of food. Red Will came diffidently through the main door with Alfie urging him on. The man in his rough stable clothes lowered his glance and studied the tiles.

“See to Duff, Red Will,” Lennox said.

“It was Lady Grizel’s smell I remembered,” Mary said. and she heard the growing confidence in her voice. “She favours that soap scented with brier rose.”

“Malcolm,” Lennox said, “Fetch my duelling pistols.”

“Lennox?” Mary rose then. If Lennox was going out into the old city after his mama, she would accompany him.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

and she slid to the floor.

When Mary roused , Lennox had propelled himself onto his knees and was crawling towards her. The servants were racing back from wherever they’d hidden, and she heard Lennox’s shout and Agnes’s strident, almost accusatory tones, chiding the master.

“Agnes, where are ye, woman?”

“Here, sir. Did my lady tak fricht ower the mention o the Grassmarket?

“Of course she did. Can you lift her if Malcolm helps?” Lennox asked. Mary heard the frustration in his voice. No doubt he wanted to be able to lift her himself, but he was weak from the blood he’d lost. She stirred and let out a tiny moan to alert them to the fact she was awake.

“Lady Calder,” Agnes said. “Let me help, ma’am. Here Malcolm slide your arm below my lady’s shoulders.” Working together they managed to raise Mary onto the chair she’d left so precipitously. She watched through lowered lids as Malcolm turned to the Master and helped him onto another chair.

“We make a fine sight, do we not?” Mary asked her lord, although she thought he might be in no mood for levity. “Why does the Grassmarket upset me, Lennox, when the shadow in my memory lurks in woods?”

“We think they took you there,” he said abruptly. “To the stand of trees along by the Boroughloch. It is to my shame that I did not put the incident into its proper perspective. Wilson and Mama are connected by their love of the table.”

Mary wiped her brow with the cloth Agnes handed her. Her dress began to feel tight once more and she breathed slowly.

“My ruby and garnet set is missing,” she said bleakly.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Round Robin – Christmas Writing

The lovely Rhobin has set another interesting topic: During the sometimes hectic holidays do you find it hard to find writing time? If not, how do you handle it with the expectations of others to visit and share time together? Or do you appreciate taking a vacation from fiction to  enjoy time with family and friends?

Yes, I do find it hard as I’m the chief cook in this house, although I do have a bottle washer. Actually running a kitchen where you make something and continue in that vein or with the results is an ongoing task and it takes up a lot of organisational skill.

For example, if you cook a turkey, then there’s always a carcase and stock to make. Once you have stock, you need to make soup…  If you ordered too much cream and bought too much cheese, and who didn’t, then pudding or pasta recipes need to be looked out.

It’s all a bit like writing a novel – keep it wet along the edge and everything will be fine.

Other people are always a bit uncertain about how a writer works. Do you have a routine? is the favourite question and it’s hard to answer. ‘Sort of’ is the best I can do. Curiously, I find my most productive moments are the hour before a meal when I would be cooking it, if anyone was home to eat it. Maybe one creative energy substitutes for another.

And yes, it is nice to take a vacation from writing sometimes. Get out into the country and walk. Go to the theatre. Visit folk. shop in the Sales where the wonder of human nature is seen – red in tooth and elbows.

But finally, who can say they don’t get a lot of ideas and inspiration from gatherings of relatives, whether they are your own or others?

I love Christmas, but Do Not Buy Me A Onsie. You have been warned.

 

If writers’ method interests you, then follow on to Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/ and any of the other great bloggers listed below. Thanks for dropping by. I’ll be continuing my Winter Wonder story for the darker days on Monday. You can catch up on it by scrolling down.

 

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

 

 

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Bob Rich       http://wp.me/p3Xihq-A9
Hollie Glover  http://www.hollieglover.co.uk
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

Mary stared hard at her husband. The words rattled around her brain and made a mystery even more muddling.

“How can you be sure, Lennox? How can you know?” she asked, finally.

“I have been unhappy for the last few days, maybe as much as a week, about the amount of laudanum, Mama persuaded Wilson to offer you and I have been substituting a lesser preparation and then a cordial with no sleeping draught at all,” Lennox said. Mary heard the words with little understanding.

“What business has Lady Grizel telling such a distinguished physician how to minister to his patients?” she said at last. The idea forming in her mind lowered her spirits and scared her equally.

“What business indeed? However, it seems my mama and Doctor Wilson are both known to one Hazeldean, a moneylender. This individual keeps his premises in the Grassmarket.”  Lennox paused and Mary realised the servants had all melted away.

She lifted a shaky hand and brushed back her hair. Its thick mass felt matted and uncomfortable. Why did the Grassmarket cause icy shivers? Surely her earlier memory was of a shadow in woods?. Nausea rose in her throat and she sank onto a chair.

“The Grassmarket?” she questioned. “I sometimes go to visit my school friend in the Lawnmarket. Mistress Bailey, she is now.”

“Indeed, you do, my love,” Lennox was watching her closely. “And do you remember your last visit there?”

Mary sought his loving glance and tried to hold it, but the world went black once more and she slid to the floor.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.