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Less than a month to go before the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (supported by Theakston's so I imagine there will be plenty of beer!) and I'm looking forward to going. I've got the weekend pass which means that everything apart from the Thursday workshops and the Come Die With Me dinner is included. I do have a lot of reading to do between now and then though so my TBR pile is going to increase horrendously! Special guests include Jo Nesbo, Kate Mosse, Ian Rankin, Peter James et al. so have a look if crime's your thing.

Check out the website here: http://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/crime/ 

So, what have I been up to (apart from day-jobbery) for the last couple of weeks? Well, the Derbyshire Literature Festival has been on with events up and down the County for people to attend. At the previous Lit Fest two years ago I didn't go to anything; this time I went to four events - 3 of which were writing related.

Event number one was a morning on the basics of Japanese Bookbinding and I came away from that session with one medium and two small books that I'd made and enough enthusiasm to immediately head for a craft shop and get paper and card supplies to make some more for presents for people. I think they'd make nice photo albums so I'm going to try it out as a Father's Day gift and see how we go from there!

Event number two was a two hour 'Plot Your Novel' session with Louise Doughty (novelist and journalist). The most helpful aspect was when she got us to encapsulate our novels (completed or planned) by having us finish the sentance "This novel is about..." But we had to do it twice - once for plot and once for theme - which gave us a blurb by the end and was handy for determining whether there was enough of a story there. In the second half, Louise spoke about the problems she had with the structure of her latest novel (Whatever you love) and how she eventually sorted things out. It took over two years and she wrote numerous drafts, and from what I overhead at the event what most people took from that was that even published, successful authors don't hit the mark first time every time. Sometimes they fumble too. It was a good event.

Event number three was a presentation 'From Finland to Bagend' by members of the Ironville & Codnor Park Myth & Magic Tolkien Reading and Language Fellowship (all school children) whose love for Tolkien's work really came through in the hard work they put in to researching the place of The Hobbit as an integral part of Tolkien's mythology. (It's not all about The Lord of the Rings). It was great to see schoolchildren so engaged with reading and I just hope that more students get involved with the Fellowship. (And that more get involved with their public libraries as well and join reading groups and such.)

Event number four was a busy day in Bakewell (why, yes, there was pudding, now that you ask!) entitled 'Reading and Writing from the Archives with Sara Sheridan' and it was split into three parts. Part one was 'Ask the Archivist' and we had staff from the County Archive telling us about the resources that were available to the public at the Archive and online. They'd also brought along a broad sample of resources for us to look at and I found the County Asylum records of female patients from the 1800s fascinating. (Most of the conditions were mania or melancholia.)

Part two was the first of two talks by Sara - and this was about narrative drive - how to keep things jogging along and avoid boring your reader/ making them put your book down. One of the things that she said was that modern culture is more visual than in the past and so one of the things that *might* help is to storyboard your short story/ book to see whether there are any areas where nothing is happening. Then, obviously, you need to think whether nothing needs to happen (there is room for introspection and reflection in novels that you don't always have time for in visual media) or, is the lack of something going on and indication that you've missed something? That you need to ramp up your narrative drive and get the ball rolling again?

I think I will try this with a short story first and see how that goes. The reason being that, Sara read four pages from one of her books and then went through each board for the action points in those four pages and it came to 15 storyboard boxes! So I'll try it with the 32 page short story before I try it on the 400 page novel!

She also recommended Robert McKee's 'Story' for some useful hints on ramping up the narrative drive and if I can find the notebook with the chapter information in I'll add it here later.

Then we broke for lunch and Chum #1 and I headed off into the town for a pasty (Lamb & Rosemary for me, and Steak for her) before swinging by one of the Original Bakewell Pudding shops and picking up a couple of individual puddings and a large one. Yumm. I had a disturbing moment when I got back to the event and took the lid off my Latte to find that not only had the server put a Latte in my cup but a tea bag as well. It wasn't an unpleasant taste initially, just unusual, but it got progressively worse so I'm putting the initial 'Hmm, not bad' down to the novelty factor rather than it actually tasting ok. (Seriously kids, don't try that at home.)

Part three, Sara did her author talk and explained how her love of history and objects came into being; how she researches for her books and the glee experienced when you come across new documents no-one's looked at before. She read from her post-WWII mystery 'Brighton Belle' which I'm looking forward to reading (it's in the TBR pile but I have moved it to the top). She reads very well but I have to say the best reading she did on that day was of another writer's poem about being a writer. It highlighted why poetry is wonderful when read aloud by someone who really engages with the words and throws themselves into it. Again, as with the chapter in Robert McKee's 'Story', when I find the reference I wrote down I'll put it on here.

And that was the last event I went to. Well worth it; I had a lovely time this year and if there are any Literature Festivals in your County/ area then it's always worth having a look at the brochure and seeing if there's anyone you want to go and see/ listen to or any workshops you want to take part in.

Next stop, Theakston's Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in July.

Not dead yet...

Did absence make the heart grow fonder?
Easter, a conference, a death in the family, a holiday, and day-jobbery work work work have all conspired to make Merry a very dull Hobbit. :-(

But I am back, hopefully with a little more frequency, now that day-jobbery is calming down a little more (although we'll be packing up a library for the summer and then unpacking it again later so it's not all ease and grapes on the veranda! Boo!)

How goes it all with you? Busy, busy or lying in a hammock under a sweet smelling tree whilst being fanned by a housedroid waving a huge feather fan?



>> Zoom! << (That was time flying...)

I can't believe it's been a month since I posted last. Day jobbery has been busy-busy and the brain has been tired but now the sun is shining, seedlings are growing (the tomatoes, anyway) and the Easter break is just around the corner. It is 23.9 Deg C in the office but it doesn't sound as if there's any central air on so that probably doesn't help. Lots of people outside enjoying the sun while I'm stuck indoors, but at least the weekend is nearly here.

Things to do:
Garden - digging a hole and levelling it off for paving slabs we don't have yet / taking dead pots & tables to the dump
Book with no name
Short story with no name
Collie wrangling
Trip to the pictures to see Hunger Games. Maybe. If I can persuade Chum #1 to go with me. Maybe that'll be next weekend if we haven't all run out of fuel to get there by then.

How's Life, the Universe, and Everything where you are?


A post about the weather? Surely not! But, I think it's right to (tentatively) mark the emergence of Spring in all her (now rainy) glory. For the second night this week we did not need the fire lit to heat the house. Unfortunately, also for the second time this week, we discovered this when they fire was well under way and so we were rather overheated. However this does bode well for saving money on coal this year so a positive outcome from a lesson learned. (There'd better not be freak snow in April, that's all I can say.)
Along with the warmer temperatures I also saw three hares on my drive to work on Monday. They raced across a couple of fields as I drove by and it's the first time I've seen more than one in the same place; I only wish I had my camera and could have got a picture of them. Life is full of missed opportunities.


Process | how do you write yours?

I tend to start off with my ideas notebook where I write down any of the key points that bubble up in my brain about the story. Then I write the odd paragraph about the world/ people in it, followed by little character bio(s) of the main character(s) - what do they want; what are they lying to themselves about etc. Once that's done I sit down with a pile of notecards (6" x 4") and write a scene on each one and then when I have the approximate number of scenes I want I start to lay them out in acts (following Alexandra Sokoloff's 3 Act Structure layout) adjusting the high points according to the number of pages/words I'm aiming for. This is to try and ensure that I get high points/stakes at critical sections of the novel and keep people involved and (hopefully) to avoid any soggy middles. (I didn't always do this - initially I'd do a chapter by chapter synopsis in Word and work off that but I moved onto this method in an effort to tighten things up and make it easier to move scenes around.) If any of the scenes don't seem to fit I can move them around/ put them earlier or later in the plan (or ditch them altogether and replace them with something else). For me, it's a great help to have it set out in front of me in that way. At least, it worked well last time and is going well this time so I'm still pleased with this method. YMMV.

When I finished the last novel (the YA) I also went back and did a plot board (using Diana Peterfreund's instructions) where I marked squares on a couple of large pieces of cardboard with each square representing a chapter in the novel, then I went through every chapter and wrote down the scenes I had on post-it notes. No more than a sentence per scene, and each POV had a different coloured post-it so that when all the squares were filled in you could see who got the most scenes (was it your main character or have you discovered you like your secondary character more so you gave them more page time?); you can see whether a character's prominent for a few chapters and then disappears off the face of the earth when they weren't meant to. It also helps you spot whether you have clumps of activity and then stretches of boredom so that you can remove/ tweak things and hopeully make it flow and be exciting/interesting. And that method <i>was</i> helpful, the tricky bit is tying that all back into the redraft to tidy it up.* (And taking out all the instances of your main character crying...I mean, I know I put her under a lot of stress but it wasn't until the read-through that I realised she was a bit more <i>whiny</i> than I'd planned.)

I always try to outline whether it's a line per scene or a couple of paragraphs to let me know what I was thinking at the time. I don't do very well on winging it (I have c.15 versions of the same 2 sections of a short story to attest to that) so I have to have some kind of plan but then, in everyday life, I'm the sort of person who does quite well with instruction manuals etc. so this approach works well with my learning style. What I now need to develop is a process for doing something similar for short stories that takes into account their compact nature as my key problem is an inability to keep it brief - but again, an outline, whether it's on cards/ paper/ computer, should highlight whether what I think is a short story is actually a novella/ novel so that I can make that adjustment.

So how about you? Do you plan and if so are you a slave to the detail or are you happy with the skeleton? Do spit in the eye of outlines and throw yourself into the writing like a base jumper? Or do you occupy the middle ground and do a little bit of both?

*One of Diana's readers does the plot board beforehand, so it's similar to AS' instructions just with the scenes delineated by POV with the differently coloured post-its. So if you've never tried it before it might be an idea to do one beforehand and one afterwards and see what works best for you.

Plotting problem sorted

I've been plotting (very slowly and without the hand rubbing and bwahahahaha that normally accompanies same) the new novel and had got up to chapter 16 in the outline constantly accompanied by the uneasy feeling that there was a leetle problem with the reason for one of the main characters to be where he was. I wasn't convinced so there's no way that anyone else would be. However, late last night (and why is it always night?) when I was out walking through the snowy woods with the bounding Collies I realised why he was really there. It was logical (Yay!) but it has meant that the earlier chapter outlines need a bit of a tweak (Boo!) to account for the changes. I actually feel confident that this weekend chapter one may get done. Hoo-Rah!

It has snowed...

Not enough to snow us in, but enough to make the two roads away from the house treacherous with ice so it was an exciting start this morning. There was a bit of black ice on the motorway but the real problems came when I arrived at work. The paths had been cleared but not the car park which meant that people parked where they could (rather than in a designated spot) with some cars sticking 2 feet out into what's meant to be the roadway. The snow made my tyres spin when I parked so I'm not looking forward to the experience of trying to drive back out again. Mind you, I'm not that keen on the thought of the roads back to my house, either.

Baby Bear and co. are ecstatic, however, as snow is wonderful for Collies to run in, snurt their noses through, roll in (with all four legs waving joyfully in the air). They love it!

I hope wherever you are that you have the weather you want; but, if you don't, that you're fully supplied with all necessary rations. (Like Brinjal Aubergine Pickle - perfect (and hot and spicy) for sandwiches - mmmmmm!) Time for lunch...


Walk this way...

Via mizkit and many other people across LJ

I'm running a (curiosity) test to see who's reading my posts. So, if you read this, leave me a one-word comment about your day that starts with the third letter of your LJ USERNAME. Only one word please. Then repost so I can leave a word for you. Don't just post a word and not copy - that's not as much fun!


Progress | On outlining and reading

So, first the outlining: I've been going through some of the guidance on Rachel Aaron's blog about 'Plotting a novel in 5 steps' (I haven't ditched the scenes I've marked out, they'll go into the scene phase, but I was having issues with the plot because there were a couple of things I hadn't thought out properly and the free-writing pre-planning bit helped surprisingly well with those issues.) Now I'm just trying to work out if this is a stand-alone or could be part of a series (not with the same characters) and if so, what is it that will tie the books together so that the idea of a series is logical and not a bolt on. But I'm happy with the progress I've made so far and I'm hoping that all ducks will be in a row for me to start chapter one at the weekend.

Reading: I am in the middle of reading 'A Discovery of Witches' by Deborah Harkness. (NB: If you go to DHs website music starts pretty much automatically.) I picked it up because, y'know, witches. (And vampires, daemons, and dreaming spires). I took it home, stuck it on a tower of books and then ignored it for a while until it floated to the top of my mental list. It got off to a slow start, so slow that within the first 2 chapters I could quite happily put it down and go off and do something else for the rest of the day, but once a second viewpoint was introduced things began to jog along more. The main character Diana is a witch, but not a kick-ass one (not so far anyway), and yet the mystery about a hidden manuscript, the death of her parents when she was a child, the origins of all 'creatures' i.e. those who aren't human, their DNA and the secrets they hold - all these things have built up to be compelling enough to keep me reading; to wish I didn't have to put the book down to go to bed/ work. I'm glad I perservered beyond those first two chapters because now I want to know how the story ends and I want to continue enjoying the journey that will take me to that ending.

It's alive! | aka the burgeoning outline

The outline is expanding scene by scene (jotted down 17 yesterday - didn't write them, just noted what they would be) and last night (just before bed which is always the way) I finally figured out why Niall would have been sent on such a detail on his own - it's a punishment for not playing well with others. So I can incorporate that into the scene list/ layout. My outline this time has a mongrel pedigree - I've read bits from Alexandra Sokoloff's blog on the three act structure; Lynn Viehl's (Paperback Writer) blog posts on Quantum Writing (1 and 2) as well as other bits and pieces filtered from the intarweebs and am using those pointers to help build the skeleton. We shall see!


Outlining proceeds for the paranormal which got sidelined before Christmas due to Life! The Universe! Everything! I think I shall do the initial outlining on cards and then put the scenes up on a board (rather than doing a plot board at the end of draft zero) and see if that makes an appreciable difference in speed/ coherence or not. I'm still aiming to complete the revisions of the YA but I feel like a hamster spinning on a wheel whenever I look at that so it may need outside interference to get me back on track and make substantive improvements. We'll see.

It is now dark. (At 17:36hrs) Which means that dog walking will require bike lights for the hounds and a head torch for me. Last month I saw 13 shooting stars when I was out with the dogs; 10 in one night and mostly between Orion and the Pleiades. Will this month be better or worse? I will go off to investigate tonight! And then I will cough, for the house is still full of lergy. ::phbbbt::

Have it good!

Happy New Year!!!

Greetings and a Happy New Year to all. October to December were busier months than I thought they'd be in the day job including an unexpected office move (least said, soonest mended), but hopefully things have settled down a little now and I will get lunchbreaks regularly at work!

Hope all is well with you and yours and that 2012 is kind to us all.

Okay, so novel_in_90 is starting up again on November the first running through to January with the aim of completing a Draft 1 (or Zero) in 3 months. The introductory post is up now if you want to sign up and take a slower run at cranking out wordage.

I'll be alternating between doing my revisions and working on a new paranormal. I think three months is quite reasonable for that first draft so I'm fairly confident despite Christmas being in there.  o_0  The way the weather's been going the last couple of years there's bound to be a week of snow days that I can put to good use. (Other than the obligatory collie walking, naturally.) 
Wonder of wonders I actually managed to carve out about 45 minutes for revisions over lunch today. If I'm writing fresh I can usually do about 800 words in that time. Revising, I had a net gain of about 350 words and advanced 8 pages. However, my chapter six is now my chapter 2 (and chapters 1-4 have vanished completely. When I start in the wrong place I really start in the wrong place.)

Thanks to stephanieburgis I came across a post on Terri Wyndling's blog about Creative Burn Out - something I could relate to as the past 6 weeks of day-jobbery have been unbelievably busy and really the slow down isn't likely to happen until the last week of November. We will strive to write and revise despite that, but if there aren't enough lunchbreaks (or lunchbreaks long enough) to acheive that during the week then it may have to be the weekends that bear the brunt of any creativity my tired brain can dredge up. (I think I also need to cut back on the coffee and up my intake of water and fruit juice instead.)

In other news, I have been sleeping well due to my autumn-cleaning tasks on Saturday which involved the washing and putting away of the summer curtains and the putting up of the winter curtains. (Velvet - Mormor picked them up from a charity shop for next to nothing.) They're lined so going to bed is very much like hibernating in a cave because even the street light can't get through, hard as its little orange glow may try. Of course, the downside is that when the alarm goes off at 06:00hrs it's still like being in a cave and no-one wants to get up. Early mornings are traumatic in our household. The beasts don't like late nights either and start pestering for the entire household to go to bed at 22:00hrs thank you, very much.

In other, other news, a screech owl has decided that now is the perfect time to fly around. Screeching. The last time we went out in the evening, about 20:30hrs, we actually got buzzed by it. The beasts ducked and so did I but I think that if I'd stayed upright I could have reached up and touched it, it was that close. Fantastic. And on the positive side at least it didn't screech whilst doing the fly-by. I think the beasts would have legged it if it had.

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