A Jobbing Writer

11 08 2014

“You’re so lucky you don’t have a real job!”

“You just swan around all day”

“What do you know about work/life balance?”

The questions a professional writer faces every day from the public who don’t get what writing really is. As a fiction writer you could argue that there are clear deadlines, pressures to complete, pressure to compete as well. But why bother? I often do swan about. I do often put life above work. I don’t have a real job!

I don’t have a real job. I have a passion. I swan around and think and observe and create. One man’s swan is another’s royal meal.

Life is work, work is life. A truism of anyone who has to understand life to be able to work effectively.

There was a time when I was a salaryman but I was lucky enough to find a way out of the trap. Now I don’t have to work but I want to!

…. and I probably put in more hours than most 9-5 office workers!





Ebbs and flows in writing output

28 07 2014

You’ll have noticed the clever name of my blog site. “Writer’s Blog”. It’s a pun you see, a play on words. Writer’s Blog = Writer’s Block. (I know you know this but in case one or two people missed it thought I would spell it out – it’s not a great pun, not a classic)

It’s funny though. (not the pun, obviously!). It’s funny that since I started blogging last year I have mentioned writer’s block only once. In passing. In a blog about something else.

Why?

I do believe in it. Can’t deny it. Sometimes a story just doesn’t want to come, a character seems to suddenly not have the capability, the capacity, to escape from the situation they have got themselves into. How do they get out of the locked cellar, get away from the man with the big chopper and black balaclava? They don’t have the skills and suddenly giving them a Houdini backstory without at least a couple of signposts earlier on will stretch reader credibility. More importantly, it will stretch the picture you carry in your head of your hero/heroine.

They have to be real.

But that’s for another blog. For now I give you my solution to writer’s block. It’s not advice, self help, guidance counselling. It’s just what I do.

I open my mouth and speak aloud and tell, just TELL, my subconscious to get on with it and find a solution. I tell it three times. Think about it hard for a minute or two to reinforce the need.
Then
Forget
All
About
It

And so a write something else, read a paper, cut the grass. Anything!

If it is only a minor problem I might carry on with other aspects of the story but if it’s a biggie I’ll just let my mind get on with it and eventually I will stop chewing mid-muffin and know the solution.

I suppose this isn’t pure writer’s block when nothing will come out but that has only happened once and that REALLY is “a HH Coventry revelation” for another day.





Using a photo of your hero/ine

18 06 2014
my hero?

my hero?

How do you picture your hero? Your leading lady? That person you are spending every spare waking hour thinking about and trying to get inside their heads – what do they look like?

Most first time writers find their characters too close to either themselves or to a friend, ex-colleague. Then they have to go through and add a false moustache, dodgy accent or side parting. However, is there an easier way for us to disassociate with your characters whilst also having a focus for the thoughts and feelings you are endowing them with.

I use photos and portraits. Some might argue it’s a bit of a cheat but I argue back. How is it so different to illustrating a character for a cover of a book? It is still from imagination since all I have is a face, hair, sometimes not even a body. But with a picture I have a base to build their dreams upon.

But whose to use? I have a red folder full of faces. Some cut from magazines, some from the internet, some blown up from backdrops in holiday shots. All filed away in order of hair colour initially, then within hair colour are grouped people with the same shape of face, down to nose categories. I built my folder with a hundred men and a hundred women some five years ago so even if any had backstories I had glanced at in the magazine of choice I have no recollection of the facts. They are just fodder now. Nameless faces I build my books upon. Ghosts.

How do I picture my heroines, my leading men, by bit characters and murderers. I look them up in the directory and give them their names. Then they build their biographies as their stories come to life.

Hopefully some of their fictional lives make up for hard times in the real world.





Rubix

13 06 2014

I was given a Rubix cube at a book launch the other night. Each side was coloured complemented by text, each side giving a teaser about a certain aspect of the plot or about one of the character’s back-stories. I loved it and it got me thinking about these 30-year old toys.

They are very like a writer’s mind at the start of a story. So many different aspects of a tale whirling around. A dervish of character and plot and scene. But then you get some clarity. A block of colour appears on one side. Your hero is formed. Some of the side colours adjacent to the block still need moving around to match other sides, but the hero’s heart, his voice has become clear.

Then another side, or perhaps the middle layer. You have a tale. You have it in your mind. Clear. Nearly focused but still some work to go and this is where it gets a bit trickier. All the side stories have to come together. The edges rotated. To give the whole. The plan, the future. Where you are aiming.

I took that cube home from Mayfair and played with it. I got a side quite quickly. The basic idea. Then I stalled.

So I cheated. It’s what I do in so many things.

For this cheat, Mr Google came to my rescue. I used his mind to creatively solve the rest of the puzzle and now it sits on my desk as a reminder. I didn’t finish it you see. Two corners still need to be rotated to give six sided symmetry. I know the pattern of moves to fix these flaws but I like them. They’re a reminder. They remind me that no matter how far along a story you are as a writer there is always something ready to jump out of a character or a scene to make you need to stop and reassess. Stop and think. Your job is never finished.

I have the cube, I see the teasers on each side. Can’t be bothered to read the recently launched book though!

20140613-110210-39730609.jpg





On the corner of Worship St

9 06 2014

I tweeted the other day (@hhcoventry) about the title of a story which came to me whilst walking through Shoreditch in London. It whirled around in my head with various ideas slotting into place. Some I discarded as derivative e.g. where we first met, where she died, where I was born. Some I discarded because they were just a bit shit.

I am a chick-lit writer. It’s in my soul. But there has to be more. My drawer of ideas fills up regularly and so perhaps it is time to consider other genres, other foci and then do a bit more than just consider them. Chick-lit isn’t dying but tastes change and readers are looking for something different.

Chick-lit will continue to be the bread and butter of my life but why not try a different flavour of jam. Suspense, thriller, psychological nightmare horror. All are in the mix but for Worship St I am thinking about a heist.

I do detectives in my chick-lit novels. Chick-lit-dicks as I have called them before. But now it is time to jump to the other side of the fence and stay within the law when solving a mystery. I see a police detective – a woman of course, it’s what I know – with a snitch who hears something about Worship Street in the wind. A half heard conversation. A hard nut vanishes for weeks only to be seen in Shoreditch. Why Worship St? Just a quiet backwater or a cut-through for a security van when the high st is closed for repairs?

I like the idea of fitting a story to a title. That’s why so many competitions do the same in the writing world.

Now I need to decide which one of my creative minds I will task to bring DI Sheila Cooper to life. Make her breathe. Make her strong. Make her love. Make her real!





Secret doors, dream sequences, lucky breaks and coincidence.

19 05 2014

There is such a thing as coincidence. Happens all the time. Meeting someone on a train you haven’t seen since school is a coincidence. Having the same birthday as a relative is a coincidence. Not liking Manchester United is normal but also a coincidence what chatting with new friends.

But should you rely on coincidence in your writing? Would it stretch your reader’s credibility if your hero was “coincidentally” watching CCTV live output when the villain of the piece walked by? No matter how much it may happen in real life, you are not creating real life. You are creating a new world in each of your reader’s heads. It may have foundations in the real world but it dances to your tune, your rules.

If not coincidence, how often can you rely on a contrivance to get you through a sticky plot cul-de-sac. The most famous dream sequence in recent(ish) cultural memory is a whole series of Dallas on US TV. However many episodes (20+ probably) all a dream whilst one character took a shower? This is not credible.

The secret passage from a prison cell. That’s credible if you lay enough groundwork in the rest of the book – old castle, passages on the upper floors, historic unexplained escapes etc etc. But putting a secret passage behind a vanity bookshelf to hide a crime no-one know is happening may be stretching the drumskin of reality a touch more thinly than it should be.

Of course, I am not you. I wouldn’t do it but doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I read a book years ago where everything just happened as it should because of coincidence not contrary to it. I was laughing out loud at parts of it. Unfortunately I don’t think the author intended it to be a comedy – which is why I am not stretching my memory to remember the name of it now. Libel and slander, not for me thanks!

It would be a bit of a coincidence if anyone out there in the blogosphere had also read it and then read this blog.





Pseudonyms – what’s in a name?

26 07 2013

 

JK Rowling is actually Robert Galbraith – or is that vice versa? “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was not written by some canny bloke with a striking turn of phrase about women’s clothes but by wizard obsessive Rowling.  She has moved on in more ways than one. Tales about Harry, Ron and (admittedly less common) Hermione have now become more adult and talk about one Cormoran Strike. Good name – is it a pseudonym as well?

 

I have no problem with pseudonyms. Lots of good reasons for using them – from JK’s anonymity and desire to be judged on her own literary merits, through to hiding something about your real self. Would Mein Kampf have sold so well written by Hilda Bathwater, Five go to Kirren Island by Brigadier De’Ath?  There is also the embarrassment factor. Should a respected journalist, literary professor, industry stalwart want their google name search interspersed with fan-fiction about the soft porn novels churned out in their spare time? Better Trudy Biglove gets the fans and Professor X gets the cash and solid reputation!

 

I did like the spate of books that came out when Da Vinci Code appeared. So many men suddenly had names which rhymed with Dan Brown or could be easily mistaken for his name by a commuter in a hurry. Dan, Sam, Tom. How many were real names?

 

If an author has a good reason then so be it. Let it lie. However, should we have the same view if it is (crassly?) commercial decision by the publisher? Should authors allow themselves to see their work under another’s name simply because their surname has too many syllables or doesn’t translate well into another language? Are commercial reasons so bad? Are they all crass?

 

My writing is my own. My name is my own. I am me.  Honest!