Thursday, 31 October 2013

Rushing to the Ball Part 3

[Last week we saw my take on the old fable The Tortoise and the Hare. from the point of view of Harold Racer. This week's snippet of new prose is the same story, told through the eyes of Tommie, his brother.

I wasn’t looking forward to the Summer Ball. Harold had persuaded me to go, in fact he’d paid for the ticket so I couldn’t really complain, but I knew what would happen - it had happened before, We’d go there together, sit together for the meal - and then he’d get off with someone and I’d be no more use to him.
“You OK to get home on your own?” he’d said to me last year as he’d shepherded the Carnival Queen out towards the car park. I’d ended up walking the six miles home - and that’s no fun in a DJ and new shoes.
This year, I was going under my own steam. The Land Rover’s not too smart, but at least I'd have my own set of wheels.
I left home ten minutes after Harold - he’d been in a rush as usual. It had been raining all day, well, all year really, and the lanes were quite treacherous. As I got to the bottom of the hill, I slowed down. I knew it had been flooded there before. And that’s when I saw him. Oh dear, I know it’s not really funny - but he looked so forlorn standing up to his knees in water. I’d have stopped, but he’d already called the AA. As I drove past, I had a sudden thought; this year’s Carnival Queen was even fitter than last year’s.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Planning a Writing Project

Writers are creative people; we work when the muse visits us. We don’t have to worry about working to timetables or plans like people with ‘proper’ jobs. Right? Wrong! Whether we are writing an article that has been commissioned for a particular edition of a magazine; a short story for a competition; or a blog posting that’s due on a Monday (!), we all work to deadlines most of the time. Even those of us who are writing our first novel, without the pressure of a contract and an agent breathing down our necks (and wouldn’t that be a nice pressure to have to deal with?) will probably have a milestone we are working towards.

So we all need plans at one time or another, especially if we know the time we have is limited. I use simple Gantt charts for my planning, starting at the end and working backwards.
Let’s imagine we’ve been commissioned to write a book about how WWI impacted on our home town/village. The original author is no longer available and we’ve been asked to step in at this late hour. There is a clear deadline for publication: 28th July 2014. There will be no negotiation on that date; it’s been set in stone for 100 years. We need to work out how long we can spend on research and how long on writing. So let’s start by running through the stages of the project and working out which ones are fixed and beyond our control:

·        Research; photos & maps; interviews

·        Drafting

·        Writing

·        Editing & proofing

·        Copy deadline

·        Printing

·        Cover design

·        Pre-publicity and marketing
We know that printing will take one month; so the copy deadline is fixed at the end of June. If we allow 2 months for editing and proofing, that takes us back to the end of April. So we know we have six months for all the research, drafting and writing. How we plan those six months depends on our style of writing. Some writers can do the two activities in parallel; others need to have all their notes and research in place before they start. Personally, I’m in the latter group and would probably devote three months to research and plan to start writing at the start of February.

The last two activities are shared with other people and can be done simultaneously with the main project.

So our Gantt chart would look like this:
You can buy commercial software packages that do this for you, but I find a simple spreadsheet works just as well.
This is how I plan many of my projects. What sort of planning methods or tools do you use?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Rushing to the Ball Part 2

[A couple of weeks ago, I posted my take on the old fable The Tortoise and the Hare. This week's snippet of new prose is the same story, told through the eyes of Harold Racer, one of the two brothers.]

He’s such a slowcoach that brother of mine! I’ve been ready for ages and he’s still fiddling with his bow tie.

“Come on Tommie, get a move on! “ I say. And then he tells me he’s taking the Land Rover — well, he could have told me before — I’d have had a chance to suss out the talent while the Pimm's was being served.
OK, keys, ticket, wallet — here we go. Car’s looking good. I had her polished specially — the girls do love driving in a shiny red motor.

Oops, that was a bit slippery — someone could hurt themselves there — must mention that blind corner to the old guy up the road — he’s on the Council — he’ll sort it out.
Funny, the road looks all shiny down there — late sun shining through the hedge I guess.

Oh my god, come on girl, keep going! Can’t brake, she’ll stall...
Oh bugger!

Yeuk, that’s going to stain.
"Hello, is that the AA?"

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Evolution of Language: An Old-Fashioned Rant!

Our language is evolving. New words and phrases are admitted to the dictionary every few months.  The August 2013 update of the Oxford Dictionary includes: hackerspace [a place in which people with an interest in computing or technology can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge]; double denim [a style of dress in which a denim jacket or shirt is worn with a pair of jeans or a denim skirt, often regarded as a breach of fashion etiquette] and twerking [and if you don’t know what that is, you’ve probably never heard of Miley Cyrus either].
I don’t have a problem with new words entering the language; it’s part of the growth of our culture. In my business studies days, we were told that a business that doesn’t grow will die. I guess it’s the same with a language: just ask the Romans.
I even get text speak. Although I’m probably one of the few people who put apostrophes into my texts, I have been known to describe something as gr8 on occasion and even know where the emoticons are found on my phone.
But there are a couple of linguistic habits that really annoy me — and, no, it’s not the use of the word ‘like’ in every possible phrase: that like so upsets me, there’s not like enough time to put all my thoughts down — so I’m going to leave that one to your own like imagination!
The first is the use of ‘no problem’ as an automatic response to any request. If I’m asking someone to do something really difficult and I’m not sure if it’s even possible, then ‘no problem’ would be a reasonable response (although a verb might be nice as well). Having a meal in a local restaurant recently, every request from a jug of water when we sat down to the bill at the end was greeted in that way. And I’m not going to mention the restaurant in question, since it’s by no means an isolated case. Somewhere in this country, is there a training company that teaches waiters, shop assistants and telesales operatives that ‘no problem’ is the appropriate response for all requests? Because if there is — I wish they’d stop!
The other phrase that sets my teeth on edge is ‘what was the name?’ I phone to check on progress with a delivery; I call at the box office to collect theatre tickets; I arrive at a restaurant where my every wish will prove to be ‘no problem’ and the first thing I’m asked is ‘what was the name?’. Please tell me I’m not the only person who is tempted to respond with ‘it was the same then as it is now’.  
So, on this very wet Monday morning, join me in giving in to your inner grump: what words or phrases really set your teeth on edge?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Rocking to Parenthood

[Recently, I was delighted to win the weekly 'Write Invite' competition. Based on one of three triggers, posted at 5.30pm on a Saturday evening, the exercise is to write and submit a piece before 6pm. In such a short time, the emphasis is inevitably on getting the words down, rather than fully polishing the piece. Today's snippet of prose is the story that won me my prize.]
I might not have been conceived in the back room of the Kings Arms just after closing time one Saturday night in December 1998 - but that's where it all started. My mother had gone with her mates to see Crimson Star playing their farewell gig before heading for London and 'the big time'.
Everyone loved Crimson Star - four local lads with ambition to top the charts and then make it big in the States. Charlie Mann the lead singer was everyone's favourites. He had all the girls - not to mention a few of the boys - sighing after him. Yes, everyone wanted to be with C the Mann - apart from my mother, that is.
Mum took one look at Chris, the drummer and she was gone. He had long curly hair tied back with a leather strap; he wore sleeveless T-shirts, even in the middle of winter, and he had a picture of Keith Moon tattooed on his chest.
When the gig was over, mum's mates all gathered around Charlie; everyone was paying attention to him; no-one had eyes for anyone else, so no-one noticed when Chris took mum's arm and pulled her away from the crowd and into the back room.
When Crimson Star left town two weeks later, my mum went with them. Well, not exactly with them, in the van - but she ran away from home, moved to London, got a job as a temp - and then started following the guys around wherever they went. At first they laughed at Chris, told him he was soft to put up with her, but gradually, they stopped, when they realised he was serious about her.
By the time they'd all been in London for six months, mum had stopped temping and started acting as a backing singer on some of the gigs. But then she got pregnant - and things started to go awry. My dad didn't want her working while I was on the way. The band didn't want a pregnant woman cramping their style - not a good look in the dressing room and at the late night parties. So mum and I came home. She didn't expect to see Chris ever again.
If you're going to be brought up by a single parent, it sure helps to be able to tell your mates the missing one is a rock star. When they ask me why it's always my dad who picks me up from school, I tell them about Crimson Star, about four young lads who lived the dream until they woke up. And I tell them about one - called Charlie Mann - who became a record producer, remembered a pregnant young woman with a voice like Janis Joplin, and took here away to change her life. Then I point to the pictures on YouTube and in Hello!
"That's my mum," I say, "she's a rock star."

Monday, 14 October 2013

Elizabeth Chats With...Tina K Burton

[Today, in the first of my monthly interviews, I'm chatting with Tina K Burton, author and avid crafter. Tina and I met through a Facebook group for writers and discovered we live not far from each other in beautiful Devon.]

Hello Tina; thanks for agreeing to chat to me. Let's start right back at the beginning: What is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?
Lying in my cot waiting for my mother to wake up because I was hungry. I recently told my mum, and described the room we were in – my father wasn’t there, my mum was in bed on her own - and she told me it was when my dad was away at sea just after I was born, so I was only a few months old, yet I can remember it very clearly.
Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?
Sitting on top of a crop of high rocks – a tor – at Burrator in Devon. Because it gives you a fantastic view out over the reservoir, moorland and forest, and because I feel happy and at peace there. Mind you it’s not as easy to climb up the rocks as it was when I was younger – they’re quite high up!
If you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you?
My husband, my koala bear that I’ve had since I was about three and my Nintendo 3DS.
Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know...”?
That I used to be a 1940s re-enactor.
Great picture! The 1940s was such an fascinating period, wasn't it? Sticking with the historical theme, if you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?
Enid Blyton. She got me reading, and because of that I wanted to write wonderful stories like she did.
Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?
Definitely right. I’m not the least bit analytical, and I’m not great at logic either!
OK, time for another picture. Can you show us an image that best represents you, and tell us why.
I’ve given you a photo of one of my quilling canvases, because it shows the creative side of me. Actually I write and do all sort of crafting, so I’m very creative. Take away the writing and crafting and I’d be lost!
You're certainly a creative being, as anyone who's read your stories or seen your quilling will know. If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?
That I had more confidence and that I’d started writing seriously a lot earlier – sorry that’s two things.
So how do you relax?
I don’t. Seriously, even when I’m supposed to be relaxing, I’m fidgeting about. I don’t think I know how to relax!
If you knew you only had 24 hours left, how would you spend them?
Surrounded by all the people I love, eating chocolate and drinking wine.

OK, Tina, I’ve set the earlier questions; now it’s your turn: Write the last question yourself and use it to tell us something about yourself, your life or your work.

My question: If you could achieve one thing, what would it be? I’m halfway through writing a dark thriller, which I think would make a great two or three part serial, so, I’d absolutely love that to happen. To watch something you’ve written being acted out on the TV must be amazing.
Thanks, Tina, for taking the time to come and chat with me.
If you'd like to hear more from Tina, her blog can be found here
Tina’s Amazon UK author page is where you can find her books for sale.  For other reading devices, her novel Chapters of Life can be found on Smashwords 
You can see more of Tina's crafting on her Pinterest board. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Rushing to the Ball

[Following on from last week's modern telling of an old nursery rhyme, today's snippet comes from a similar exercise, retelling one of the traditional fables from different points of view. So, here's part 1 of my version of the Tortoise and the Hare.]

“Come on, Tommie, or all the girls with be snapped up,” said Harold Racer as he checked his appearance in the mirror and headed for the door. He was really looking forward to the Summer Ball. “I’ll get the car.”
“No, don't wait for me, I’m taking the Land Rover,” said his brother Tommie, who wasn’t going to get left behind again when Harold got off with the Carnival Queen like he did last year.
“Suit yourself but you’re going to miss out,” and with a roar of the powerful V8 engine, Harold was off down the lane leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Tommie sighed. He checked that his boots were in the back of the vehicle, then jumped in the front and started off after his brother.
Just before he reached the cricket field, he saw red lights blinking in the distance, They were reflecting off the deep pool of water blocking the lane - a pool that was gently lapping over the sills of a stalled Ferrari. Harold was standing besides the car, water seeping up the legs of his DJ trousers. He was talking into his mobile phone and glared at Tommie as he slowed down.
“AA’s on their way, but it could be a while,” he snarled.
"I'll give your love to the Carnival Queen bro, shall I?" Tommie said as he waved to his brother and inched his way through the water.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Another Change of Direction

I've been trying out a few different approaches to this blog over recent months. Firstly, I finished my year-long series on Writing as a Small Business. This was partly because I ran out of topics; there are only so many things that can be dealt with by a non-accountant, non-lawyer - and it gets boring to continually read (or write) "if in doubt, consult a professional". Also, I wanted to pull all the articles together into a 'how-to' book; and that's my December project (October being sort out the novel in time for a competition deadline and November being NaNoWriMo). And I wanted to widen my topics so I could talk not just to other writers, but to non-writing readers too.
Next, I started posting snippets of new prose at the end of each Monday's blog.  I know there's a huge debate on whether writers should give away their work for free or not (and I'm not going to go there today), but I also know free samples are a tried and tested method of marketing in other industries, so I thought I'd give it a go. However, that didn't work too well, as each post ended up way too long. So, I moved my new prose to a Thursday, keeping the Monday slot for factual posts.
And then I ran out of things to talk about. You might say I was stumped for ideas!  Actually, that's not quite true; as anyone who knows me will confirm, I can always find something to talk about. But something interesting that other people might want to read - well, that's a different matter.
So I did what I always do when I'm uncertain of the way forward: I wrote myself a plan!  I plan to post a different type of blog each Monday of the month, which meant sorting out four different types (and an extra one for the occasional month with five Mondays).
And here's the new schedule:
  • First Monday: The best ...
  • Second Monday: An interview with...
  • Third Monday: My thoughts on...
  • Fourth Monday: How to...
  • Fifth Monday: My top ten..
I hope you're all impressed at the thought that's gone into this plan. I'm particularly excited about the interviews I've got lined up between now and the end of the year. I've tried to come up with some interesting questions and will be introducing a range of people from different walks of life, not just writers (although they will feature quite heavily of course).
But today's the first Monday in the month (OK, in most parts of the world, it's actually Tuesday, but somewhere, on a remote island just this side of the international date-line, it's possibly still Monday) so, here are my nominations for three of the best bloggers for writers.  
I always read Molly Greene. Molly describes herself as a author, blogger, blogging specialist and coach. She blogs weekly with an emphasis on advice to indie authors. If you hate new twitter followers who send automatic DMs urging you to like their FB page/subscribe to their website/buy their book, then you might enjoy 10 Tweets You Should never Send and, like me, consider sending the link to anyone who commits any of the 'sins' listed. Alternatively, if you read her article on 101 Fabulous Blog Topic Ideas, you will recognise just where my shiny new plan came from.
Anyone who reads my snippets of new prose will recognise the name Morgen Bailey. Morgen's writerly activities are so widespread, they run into six lines of menu, including online writing groups, critiquing, book reviews and competition lists! I regularly use her daily writing triggers for my warm-up exercises and find them particularly good for flash fiction.
My third blogger is author Matt Haig, who posts periodically on a variety of topics addressed both to writers and readers. Recent non-writerly posts have included a moving piece on depression, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Weaker and the self-explanatory The World (A Rant). But my main reason for putting Matt on this list is recent his post on 30 Things to Tell a Book Snob. I particularly like numbers 3, 17 and 19. I'm sure you all know people who would benefit from reading that post. I know I do!
So who would you nominate as 'best blogger for writers'?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Clarissa, Cordelia and the Little Dog

[Today's snippet came from a prompt give to us by Jean Grimsey at one of the Chudleigh Writers' Circle meetings. I'm not going to tell you what the prompt was; let's see how successful I was at writing to it.]

Clarissa the Cat, Clarrie to her friends, curled herself up on the sofa, tucked her tail neatly underneath her and grabbed the bottle of chocolate milk sitting cooling in the middle of the table. As she filled her glass, she threw a quick glance around the room.

“He’s not here,” she pouted. “But he promised we’d meet up for a drink tonight. I’ve run all the way from my violin lesson so I wouldn’t keep him waiting.” 

“So, who is he anyway, this new wonder of yours?” asked her friend Camilla, who’d been through this scenario with Clarissa many times before.

“Oh, he’s just one of the guys I met at the gym,” said Clarrie, examining her claws and trying but completely failing to look nonchalant. “He’s a high jumper from the local athletics club. They’re trying to build him up for the big one.”

“Not the Lunar Leap,” said Camilla, impressed in spite of her misgivings, “wow, he must be some kind of superstar to try that one.”
The two were so engrossed in their chat, they failed to notice the young beagle at the next table. Buster had been shopping. His back hurt, his paws hurt — and his wallet definitely hurt — but he was so excited about being out on the town on his own, he’d decided to end the day with a quick drink and a bone before bedtime.

Suddenly, the noise in the bar dropped and everyone looked towards the door. The lights dimmed as a bulky shape moved into the room.

“Oh,” squealed Carrie, “it’s him.”

“What do you mean, him?” hissed Camilla. “That’s not a he; that’s a she! Honestly Clarrie, you can be so dim at times.”
Cordelia the Cow took one look at the two cats drinking their milk, then turned on her hoof and headed for the door. As she did, her tail caught the table, sending all the china and cutlery to the floor. A battered spoon stuck to the encrusted tomato sauce in a used pasta dish, and the two rolled away together, into the darkest corner of the bar.

Oh, how Buster laughed. It really made his day.

[So what do you think the prompt was?]