The Chocolate Book Challenge

Thank you to the wonderful @janeisaacauthor for inviting me to this blog challenge. You can find her post at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk/blog.

This post is a little late due to network problems (do not get me started ) so I apologise for that in advance.

The idea of the challenge is very simple, to liken some of your favourite books to chocolate bars. At least it seemed simple at first glance but it took me quite some time to whittle down my reading list to the following contenders, even though I limited my choice to books read in 2014 to give myself a smaller task. Here goes,

Dark Chocolate – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

A beautifully written story which explores the nature of reality. It is a surprisingly gentle read for a book covering very dark and difficult themes. Thought provoking with touches of bitterness the content moves from the banal to the shocking and back with the same unnerving ease that Murakami moves across the boundaries of reality. Expect the occasional talking cat.

 

Milk Chocolate – The Analects of Confucius

This is not an easy read but well worth the perseverance. It is a collection of snapshots from the life of one of humanity’s great thinkers.  The passages jump from event to event and conversation to conversation but, if you relax and let them wash over you, you begin to appreciate the warmth and the humour of the man. These works provided the foundation for one of the world’s greatest civilisations. You were not considered educated unless you could quote the teachings of Confucius and as such they are the wonderful Milk Chocolate of all that is China.

White Chocolate – Bridget Jones – Mad about the boy  by Helen Fielding

As white chocolate isn’t really chocolate so this isn’t really literature but I did enjoy it. Admittedly I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it but I appreciated the silliness and the glimpses of a rushed home life were all too familiar. The eponymous heroine seems to have aged without maturing at all, which made me feel slightly sad for the character, but this is not a book to engage deep thought, it’s frothy and silly with an occasional effort to touch on darker themes. Great company while cleaning the kitchen.

 

 

The follow up post will be courtesy of the lovely Rebecca Mascull. You can find her at
http://www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com
@rebeccamascull

Writer’s Reflections – Jane Isaac

For the second post in the Writer’s Reflections series I am pleased to welcome Jane Isaac, to talk to us about her latest novel.

 

Thank you so much to Rachel for allowing me to guest on her lovely blog. My second book, THE TRUTH WILL OUT, was released last month. I started this novel in the spring of 2011 and it took me almost eighteen months to research and write, six months to find a publisher and another twelve to work with Legend Press to transform the pile of paper that it was into the book that sits on my shelf today. THE TRUTH WILL OUT is a police procedural/psychological thriller crossover, the second in the Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery series, although written as a standalone novel and sees her biggest case yet.

Why did I write the Truth will out? Aside from being a crime fiction fan for most of my life( I was raised on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie which later broadened into Peter James and Jeffrey Deaver), my main interest lies with people. I’m fascinated by putting ordinary people into extraordinary situations and watching how they react. In this novel Eva Carradine witnesses an attack on her best friend over Skype and, due to a shared secret, is unable to go to the police. Fearing she will be next, she goes on the run. We follow the police investigation into her friend’s murder through the eyes of DCI Helen Lavery and the other side of the story through Eva’s eyes.

I researched extensively into Helen’s character for my first book, An Unfamiliar Murder, and interviewed police officers at different levels in my local force to create a character that is based on reality. She is not a lone divorcee, that role has be carried out by so many other authors – she is a single parent of teenage sons, juggling her home responsibilities with carrying out a murder investigation.

I genuinely like Helen: she is a strong, focused character with a vulnerable side. She is not interested in promotion or management, more in making a difference to the people of her town by catching the really bad guys and that often pushes her to pursue unorthodox methods to solve a case. When I finished the first book, I found it hard to leave her behind and it wasn’t so difficult to find new challenges to stretch her further.

What did I learn from the experience?

First drafts should be viewed as such – a rough diamond to work into shape. I set out to write page turning roller-coaster rides with characters that feel real and twists and turns aplenty; a book that I would like to read myself. My biggest challenge is unravelling a plot and developing characters while keeping the pace fast and the tempo high, and it can take several re-drafts of each and every scene before this is achieved. 

Much like your last reflections post this book may never have been published. I decided to switch from an American publisher to a UK one to help distribution, but I received several knock backs simply because it was the second in a series. Luckily it was picked up by the lovely Legend Press team, who have been great to work with.

It can be difficult to write a second book featuring the same character. There is always the worry that people will be disappointed in their further development, but so far we have been blessed with wonderful reviews and it’s great to receive  messages tweets and emails from readers who have enjoyed.

I wish your readers all the very best with their own writing and look forward to reading about their experiences in future weeks.

Jane x 

http://www.janeisaac.co.uk

Twitter: @janeisaacauthor

Facebook: Jane Isaac Author 

Coffee Break – With a Writer

Hello, come in and take a seat. I’m just taking a short break from work, it’s a great time to chat. What have I been working on today? Well, I’m writing a short story in which my protagonist has quite a distorted world view. He may or may not have killed a man and I’m not sure that I’m going to find out in 6000 words or so but he certainly believes that any action he took was inevitable. It’s quite nice to write in first person as a different character. It gives you a bit of a break from the self and lets you explore other people’s motivations and thought processes. I suppose it could be viewed as quite a dark story but the tone is deceptively light because the narrator isn’t particularly concerned by his actions. It works well because it’s a nice juxtaposition.
I’m enjoying writing in short story form at the moment. Every day is very different. It allows a lot of time for play. I like to play about with words and ideas and the whole format works supremely well for that.
Yes, I probably should get back to it too. Good luck with your current piece. Drop in soon.

Stronger than we Look

Writing is a strange profession. It calls for a certain amount of stubbornness, a dogged bloody-mindedness, that keeps you writing and working when it all seems hopeless, and that isn’t all. The stubbornness has to be met with an equal if not greater desire to learn and the ability to accept and weigh criticism when it inevitably comes our way. That isn’t an easy thing to do. Writers put a level of self into their work which sometimes leaves them feeling very vulnerable. Add to that the financial constraints of working in the Arts and you can see that it takes a very special balance of qualities to make a writer. It amazes me sometimes that so many people succeed. Ray Bradbury puts it like this, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

The one thing you can guarantee about those who do succeed is that they love to write. For many of those writers the act of writing is the end and purpose and the finished article almost serendipitous, to be put aside as they move on to something new. There isn’t really any lesson in this other than a call to love, love, love what you do. Love it. Love the pattern of the words as they fall onto the paper. Find joy in the phrasing. Because the love of your work will take you through whatever comes your way and out the other side.

Writer’s Reflections: Rebecca Mascull

This month I am starting a Guest Post series on my blog. I want to ask writers not so much how they wrote what they wrote, but why, and what did they learn from the experience. The marvellous Rebecca Mascull has agreed to be the first writer to ponder.

( If you are interested in contributing to this section of my blog then feel free to contact me @stirlingwriter or by leaving a comment and contact after this post. )

Rebecca Mascull: A Writer’s Reflections

My latest book is my first to published, THE VISITORS. It came out in January this year but I wrote it from January to May in 2012. I was researching it for about a year before that. Time can move in a stately fashion in the world of publishing. Since, then I have finished my next novel and started researching another one( but I’ll save those for future blog posts…) This book is about a deaf-blind girl called Adeliza living on her father’s hop farm in late Victorian Kent, her relationship with her teacher Lottie and the mystery surrounding the Visitors.

Why did I write THE VISITORS? Well, I’d worked with deaf students when I was teacher training and loved the experience. I also watched a Hellen Keller bio-pic as a child and was fascinated. I wanted my character to learn to communicate, to experience friendship and love, and to go on an adventure. I also wanted her to learn some truths about herself and the world. I’d written an historical novel before this one and it was a huge learning curve. I taught myself how to research, how to find what was required and resist the temptation to waste time down fruitless avenues. I learnt how to record my findings efficiently so that I could find them easily when I was writing; to always look for at least two sources for every key fact; and that I needed to leave the research for the second half of the book until I came to write, as otherwise I’d forget it all by the time I got there. All of this came to fruition when I wrote THE VISITORS. Files of research were distilled into an intensive five-month period of writing.

I’d written three other novels before this one, and two text books. The novels I wrote before THE VISITORS were not as good as this one. They were very good practice though. Some lucky writers get it right the first time, but for the rest of us who try, try and try again, it’s encouraging to note that. I thought it felt good when I was writing it, but I had no clue if it was good enough for publication. I was more surprised than anyone when Hodder and Stoughton made an offer. I’d had a good few years of publishers( and agents) saying No Thank You and you get kind of jaded about this stuff after a while. But now THE VISITORS is out there, and I’ve read some lovely reviews from people who have been moved by the book, have perhaps looked at the world a little bit differently after reading about Liza, and at the very least have enjoyed it as a good read. And that’s been wonderful and made it all worthwhile. It really has.

Keep Writing, my friends!

Rebecca

 

Rebecca Mascull author of THE VISITORS published by Hodder and Stoughton Jan 2014

http://rebeccamascull.tumblr.com

@rebeccamascull

http://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

I write Bad Words

Sometimes I write bad words. No, let me correct that. Sometimes I write truly awful words. Shocking. The thoughts in my head good sentences will not do. Like that one. Sometimes sloppy thinking meets sloppy sentence structure and before I know it I’ve confused myself never mind anyone else.

But that’s okay. 

It’s okay to write bad words.

It can be difficult not to sink into the Slough of Despond when the words don’t flow, but if you are sitting there with your head in your hands and mentally melting door knobs with an Edvard Munch type scream, let me just point out this one thing,

You know that they are bad words.

How do you know that?

Because your mind is comparing them to a checklist of things that you ought to be producing and sending up the red flag. Even if you don’t know why they are wrong your mind is gently prodding you in the right direction. Our wonderful minds notice and compare so many more things than reach our conscious awareness. Each one of us is brighter than we think.

If you know that something isn’t right you are at least halfway to fixing it. So put down the knitting Miss Marple, put aside the tisane Poirot, and get the little grey cells working on the problem. Each case of mistaken word identity, adjective kidnapping, or punctuation theft that you solve makes you significantly better as a writer, and sometimes the solutions that evade us the longest are the lessons that teach us the most.

 

Like Me!

It seems recently that never a day goes by without an email or a direct message from an Artist or a Writer begging me to like them.

Apparently it’s irrelevant whether or not I even know them, or their work. And the question of whether I actually like what they do is, well, that was never on the table was it. You see, no one is asking for my personal opinion ( It’s a shame, I have good opinions. ) What people are actually asking is for me to give them more visibility in the market place so that they can sell what they do.

 I have no objection to people selling what they do. In fact I’m all for it. I sell what I do for heaven’s sake. But I’m not sure anyone’s career can be greatly assisted by a lie, however well intentioned. 

Before anyone gets hugely upset let me just say that I don’t ever ask anyone to validate anything of mine. You don’t have to like it unless you like it. And I don’t assume that I will dislike what people do, I am charmingly non-committal until I have read a thing. If Facebook swaps is how you work then it is how you work but please remember that this is false data. It is a manufactured marketing tool and  not opinion. The numbers will go up and down based on the hours spent rather than quality of your work. There will be times when you write something wonderful and you don’t get the “likes” you are looking for. Don’t be disheartened. The numbers are a fiction. We are writers. We understand fiction.

The other despairing communication I get is that “Nobody is following me.”

That is an easy one.

What are you doing for them?

People are busy. People have complicated, wonderful, disorganised lives. But people will follow you if you give them something they want. What are you giving them? Some people write a weekly book review. Some people provide pictures of beautiful Art. Some pictures of funny cats. Some provide intelligent comment. Some provide silly comment. It doesn’t matter what it is, you will find a niche market, but it has to be consistent and people need to know what you do.

If they truly LIKE you, they will follow.

So decide what you provide.

 

Why don’t we write?

We don’t write as often as we should. 

Now I’m not a task-master. I’m not one of those people out to give you a hard time about perseverance and word count. We all have our own writing road to travel and we get there in our own time and in our own way. No, I’m talking about those times when we have everything we need, computer, book and pen, beverage of choice, time and space, and yet we shy away from the act of writing. Frustrating isn’t it? Oh yes, we dress it up in fancy terms. We say that we are procrastinating or researching or reflecting, which are fine things to do, whereas, if we were honest with ourselves we would own up to the fact that we are having a bravery crisis.

Putting your thoughts out into the world can be a scary business, people aren’t always kind, sometimes we do a less than stellar job, and our writing might not be good. All of those things are true but every writer faces those anxieties, even the good ones. I am talking about the really, really good ones, the ones that you read and think, now that is a true talent. They all have pen biting days. They face the question of whether they can do it, and in some cases the question of whether they can do it again, over and over. The most prolific writers, the best writers, will all write bad stuff. They produce less than wonderful writing on a regular basis and they continue to write. They sift and hone. They learn and grow. They learn to recognise the good stuff and keep it. That is what it means to be a writer. 

Not every sentence from your pen will be golden, not ever. Not even after a Booker/ Costa/ Guardian prize. 

So write. Let yourself write. You won’t always find it easy to overcome the nerves but be kind to yourself and let the bad stuff out. In the gravel and the grime you will find those nuggets of gold that keep you coming back and keep you moving on.

 

Who Am I?

I’m a writer currently living in Middle England. I am taking time this year to write a collection of twelve short stories.
I have a great and very patient Editor. I hold an Honours Degree in Applied Human Psychology and I tend not to talk about myself very much mostly because I put all the interesting things on the page, and when you have done that what is there left to say?
I read a great deal and widely. I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Plato’s Republic because, well, I haven’t before. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing.
I enjoy writing and I try to make each piece better than the last.

Every Day?

Recently I’ve been pondering the different ways that we all get to a finished manuscript. There are those who throw themselves in at a tremendous pace and edit for meaning at the end. There are the precision writers who craft every line with an intensity bordering on the maniacal, and then there are writers with a plan who jump the stepping stones of plot until they reach the bank, quite literally. Writers are individuals and as such they write. We write. Each one of us finds our own way, and if we don’t then our manuscript never reaches the reader. There are no rules about how you reach completion, the point is just to get there mostly sane.

One area where most writers agree is that it is better to write on more days than you don’t. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it is easier to keep the momentum going on a long project if you develop a writing habit. Secondly, the more words you write the more you learn, the more you learn the better you get, you can’t help it. Writers aren’t any fonder of unnecessary work than anyone else. Thirdly, it is the best way to help you develop your love affair with words.

So should we write every day? Well, some people do. Others write most days. Some people write Thursday and Sunday after gym class. Some write in the morning and others write in the night. In the world of the writer there is only ONE should,

When you begin a project you SHOULD finish it.

Try writing more days than you don’t, if that is possible, but there are no rules, no generalisations, no master plan. The way I work probably won’t work for you. You need to discover the way that you work, and remember that there is only the one SHOULD in the world of the writer, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Only you can speak for you. Only you can write for you.