Tag Archives: fiction

Getting to Grips with Scrivener

My Christmas Cactus didn’t get the memo, either. It’s flowering in February…

I’m not that keen on New Year’s Resolutions – I know it’s nearly the end of February, but please don’t judge me  – they are usually a good idea, but untenable. So, I rarely put much effort into making them – or keeping them.

But when 2018 arrived, I had the nagging feeling that I should be getting to grips with certain aspects of my writing career, so I resolved to fix a few things. I tried not to call them resolutions…

Top of the list was my need to master Scrivener. But it is SO difficult! I’ve talked to people who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread (or whatever the writing equivalent of that is), and I’ve talked to people who wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole (whatever one of those is). And there are even more people who have probably never even heard of it. Scrivener? What?

It’s one of those all singing, all dancing word processing software thingies that will (almost) write your novel for you. Or not.

One of the reasons I gave Scrivener a try a couple of years back is because an author I respect raved about it – and it came with a free trial. And canny are the Scrivener software people because they give you a 30-day free trial – not consecutive days, but cumulative ones. In my case, it took me almost a year to get through half of my free days, then I went mad and actually paid for it (thankfully, it’s not expensive).

The software then sat on my computer for several months before I thought about using it again. I’m tuned into Microsoft Word, which is usually sufficient for most of my writerly needs.

But it’s been niggling me that I haven’t got to grips with Scrivener. Spoiler alert – I still haven’t, but I’m working on it.

There are plenty of on-line tutorials, of course. (Need to know how to boil an egg/do open heart surgery/make playdough/unblock a sink/write a best-seller? Try YouTube.)

But nothing beats getting stuck in and trying to use the software yourself. It has great templates to help you set out a novel, or a script, or short stories. And there are corkboards for notes and research where you can pin videos, pictures or other virtual bits and pieces. You can keep all your research, timelines and character sketches together, and switch effortlessly between scenes and chapters, so what is there not to like about that? You can even get it to monitor your daily output and set word-count goals.

I just can’t quite get it to write the damn book for me. Where am I going wrong?

Just kidding – I’m at about 40,000 words of a new novel (written entirely on Scrivener),  which I have high hopes of a) completing and b) getting published. Oh, and it’s going to win me at least a Booker nomination. And a Costa one. Richard and Judy will love it, so will Oprah, I’ll even get on the Late, Late with it.

Ha, ha! Ever heard of ‘famous last words’?

And you can check out Scrivener for yourself here.

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Imagine that!

No, I can’t imagine, either

One of the best things about being a writer is having free reign with imagination. Writers can create whole worlds – plus all the creatures that live in them.  And they can make up characters and force them do whatever they like. What power!

There’s that fridge magnet/bumper sticker that says something like: ‘I’m a writer. Yes, of course you’re going to be in my book. You come to a grizzly end on page 27’.

I feel a bit that way at the moment as I’m writing a longer-than-usual short story based on something that’s been going on in my life lately. But the clue is in the word ‘story’. What I’m writing may be inspired by reality, by living people and actual events, but I’m putting such a twist on it, the characters will be unrecognisable to themselves (otherwise I get sued, of course). It’s called fiction and I love it! I’m having a great time changing the reality to suit myself. It might even have a happier ending than the real thing, I haven’t decided.

And sod all those writing gurus who say, ‘write  about what you know’. I’m all for writing what I’d like to know.

Chess (the feline one) imagining he has a chance here

Of course, it is unlikely I’ll ever *murder my husband, take a toy boy lover, eat raw steak, drive the wrong way down the motorway doing 100 mph, use cocaine, climb Mount Etna, learn to fly a helicopter, join an on-line dating agency, or learn to play the piano, but any of my characters can. I can make them do whatever I want (so there), and I hope that by now, after all these years of practice, I can make their lives convincing to the reader.

And aren’t we lucky to have the research tool that is the Internet at our fingertips? If we don’t know how something works, someone will have put a You Tube video on line to explain. Research for writers is a doddle these days (so long as you trust your source).

My own life has been quite interesting so far, so I’ve a deep well of personal experience to dip into. I have insider information about all kinds of activities, including keeping alpacas and bees; polytunnel growing and selling organic veg in farmers’ markets; camping and outdoor survival; Austin Sevens and ships in bottles; treasure hunting and archaeology; hot air ballooning and light aircraft. And that was just last week (!).

I’m still trying to figure what names suit my fictional characters best and although I think I’ve decided, I’m going to have to proof-read very carefully when I’ve finished, after I discovered in an early first draft I’d used the name of the real person (oops!).

Killing off characters, making them scruffy, ugly or fat, giving them tattoos and bad breath, making them jump off a cliff. How cathartic is that for a writer with imagination and issues!

*In case you’re wondering, only one of these things is a vague possibility for me, but I’m not saying which.

And if you’re nice to me, I won’t let you get killed off until page 500.

The Plot Thickens

Luri Cole
One of us might need a haircut before we get too deep into this writing lark

Did I mention I’m writing a novel – a joint effort with my criminologist daughter? It’s a kind of grip-lit character-led thriller.

Standing in the supermarket queue, that’s the sort of thing to drop into a conversation beginning with Irish weather/Brexit/refugees/the price of petrol/Leo-at-the-helm (delete as appropriate). Or is it?

Since we went public with our plans to write a novel together – we’re ‘Luri Cole’ (a mix of Louise and Rhiannon), we seem to have ground to a halt. The more people we tell, the slower moving the project, or so it seems. Not sure why.

Originally, we thought we might write the book in chapters, each one finishing on a cliff hanger. I’d write the story into a corner and Rhiannon would write it out again, and then into another problem for me to solve. Like a game of consequences. Simples. Ha!

Instead, we plotted it quite carefully and drew up a set of characters we believe in. Now we’ve the story and the first 50,000 words. But.

And then today, while Rhiannon was slaving over a hot stove (which is another story which might turn into a rant about decent job opportunities for criminologists in mid-west Ireland, so I’ll keep it to myself), I took myself off to an editing workshop for writers.

Another workshop? Well, yes.

Trust me, there’s no end to the number of tips and insights you can get from meeting working authors. And I really enjoyed this one.

Elizabeth Reapy’s workshop was in the Linenhall, Castlebar, County Mayo. I recommend her novel ‘Red Dirt’, which some might find surprising given my stance on cursing and swearing. red dirt ‘Red Dirt’ is a cracking (very sweary!) story of young Irish ones in Australia. But in the same way that Donal Ryan and Kevin Barry churn out the hair-curling vernacular, the language is pivotal to the characters’ story and it races along in a way that made me want to keep turning the pages (or swiping, I read it as an e-book).

At the workshop, Elizabeth recommended we write down what we find difficult in our writing, and later suggested we might ask one of our characters to tackle a part of the story that isn’t working.

Ah, ha! There followed a light bulb moment, and I rushed home to pick up Luri Cole’s story where we’d last left off. We’ve already changed tense, points of view, and ditched a main character, but there was something else wrong, and it has only now occurred to me what that is and how we can fix it.

Recently, I was at Listowel Writers’ Week, at another excellent workshop, this time with short story writer Danielle McLaughlin. And over several days, I got to listen to some successful new(ish) authors talking about their novels – and I found the whole thing very inspirational.

lying in wait   my nameis leon  himselfMy favourites were Liz Nugent (‘Lying in Wait’), Kit de Waal (‘My Name is Leon’) and Jess Kidd (‘Himself’). All come highly recommended by me (as well as by just about everyone else).

 

If Luri Cole’s forthcoming novel can be anywhere near as entertaining as these, I think we might be onto a winner.

Time to superglue bums to seats in front of the laptop and finish the damn thing!

 

Working Titles and The Sound of Time Passing

img_8664
Just because…

Why has no-one ever before told me about the joys of audio books?

Faced with the prospect of a boring, solo four-and-a-half-hour car journey last week, I asked around about the best way to pass the time.  Obscure local radio stations and over-used MP3 playlists notwithstanding, the consensus seemed to suggest listening to stories.

So I ventured into a dusty corner of my local library and discovered a small but significant collection of audio books.

I chose ‘The Hills of Kilimanjaro’, a collection of Ernest Hemingway short stories. (Him again. I’m re-living my teenage years somehow).  Good enough, as they say around here.

But I also picked up a box of ten CDs (which represented nearly 12 hours of listening) ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ by Kate Atkinson, read by Steven Crossley (who was really good with all the accents and the male and female voices). The time then passed easily enough as I drove from one side of Ireland to the other, and then down some (Rosslare Port is a long way from where I live).

But I hadn’t expected to be at the end of my journey and so gripped by the story that I would have to transfer the CDs to my laptop and sit listening well into the small hours because I wanted to know what happened. And a laptop and earphones are way more awkward to fall asleep with than a good old paperback.

I like Kate Atkinson’s style – literary crime fiction stuffed with strong characters given to sarcastic exchanges, albeit in absurdly twisting stories of unlikely coincidences and happenstance. I’d not read this one before, not least because of the title.  It sounds like some religious self-help tome – or perhaps some frothy rom-com. Not that there’s anything wrong with either things, they were just not what I wanted to read at the time.

Which goes to show that titles can be incredibly important. To me anyway.

Before I even read the blurb on the back cover, the title has to appeal.  But then, that’s only if I’m trawling the bookshop looking for something interesting, without any particular guidance. Although I often end up reading recommended novels  that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention. Like ‘Burial Rights’ by Hannah Kent (I loved it), ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara (I hated it), and ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss (I’m still reading it).  All were Book Club suggestions that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention because of iffy titles.

I did go through a phase of trying to avoid any books with ‘girl’ on the cover (which was quite difficult at one time recently), although I stumbled across ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ by Kate Hamer and enjoyed it. Gillian Flynn’s excellent ‘Gone Girl’ has a lot to answer for (and that was one clever title in my humble opinion).

Then there have been Rachel Joyce’s books ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ and ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy,’ which weren’t in the usual style of titles (I loved them both, too).

And I read (and mostly enjoyed) ‘The World Hums in B Flat,’ by Mari Strachan which I picked up just because of the intriguing title.

Kate Atkinson’s other works all have clever titles, among them: ’A God in Ruins’, ‘Life after Life’, and ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ (what’s there not to like about using Emily Dickinson in a book title?).  So I’m probably missing something from why she chose the title: ‘When Will There Be Good News?’

No matter – I enjoyed the audio version very much.

Trouble is, I have my long journey in reverse tomorrow and only Hemingway’s stories for company. And as everyone knows, there’s rarely any Good News in those tales.

The reason my house is a mess

bookpile

I have good intentions when it comes to housework – I don’t like living in a tip. But really,when there’s a choice, what to do?  Read a book or mop the kitchen floor? It really is a no-brainer for me.

Only the thought of visitors copping a sight of my unwashed floors/windows/dishes (delete as appropriate) will spur me into action, and then only if its people who have never been to my house before.

Joan Rivers had it right when she said: “I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again”.

On some level, I must mind what people think of my housekeeping skills (or lack of them), although most of my friends know that I live in a kind of eclectic chaos, surrounded by unfinished writing projects, cats, a dog and a jungle of potted plants, so they don’t expect anything other than dust bunnies and tea stains everywhere. And books, of course. Lotsabooks. Step through the front door and there are two big bookcases in the hall stuffed to overflowing. And that’s just the entrance.

Of course, some of the books I love, some I’ve never read, some I never will, and some of them I wish I hadn’t bothered (and still more, I’m likely to read again).  But that’s the point really, they are there for me to dip into if I have the inclination. And for me, it has to be paper, it’s just not the same as firing up an e-reader (although I have one, surprisingly).

The book pile in the picture is some of my recent reading. I haven’t read the Anthony Doer yet (‘All the Light We Cannot See’), I’m saving it for next week and a book club discussion the week after. Today,  I’m reading the Anne Tyler (‘A Spool of Blue Thread’), which is another of her intricate Baltimore family observations, with some clever writing (of course) and a good story line. Very enjoyable. And so much more fun than floor cleaning.

 

Elephants, Retired Policemen and that Ladies’ Detective Agency

book covers 1I like quick reads for entertainment (as well as slow reads for intellectual challenge) and came across ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’ by Vaseem Khan recently.

The tag lines on the cover describe the novel as ‘utterly charming’ and ‘endearing and gripping’, which wouldn’t necessarily pull me in. But what intrigued me was the premise of a retired Indian police inspector with an elephant as his sidekick. A scrupulously honest ex-policeman with the gift of a baby elephant to care for and a nasty crime to solve, no less.

This is the first in a series of tales involving former Inspector Ashwin Chopra and is heralded as a ‘Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation’.  Writer Vaseem Khan, a London-based criminologist, has them all rather cleverly mapped out, with the next one expected in May 2016.

As I read about Inspector Chopra, I had in mind the Alexander McCall Smith series ‘The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ (I know, different continent) and kept thinking Precious Ramotswe of Botswana would really get on with Ashwin Chopra of Mumbai. Principled, honest, generous, steeped in convention and tradition, yet prepared to cross lines for the common good. I guess that’s not far from what the publishers wanted/expected.

But despite all that, I loved it! The writing is uncomplicated and the story fairly linear with a nice beginning, middle and an end (not always easy to find in modern novels), with well written characters to draw you into the story (although a life-long buddy unexpectedly turning out to be a serious baddie was a bit hard to swallow). I liked the character of Chopra’s spirited but childless wife, Poppy, and expect her to feature well in future stories.

I relished the taste of India (not somewhere I’ve ever been to) and was readily transported to Inspector Chopra’s Mumbai, its seedy side revealed as well as its quirky, well heeled residential areas. This is a quick, easy read with an exciting murder story at the heart of it.

Well written, I found it very enjoyable, and it comes highly recommended.

And just in case you’re wondering (because I might have unintentionally made it sound like I’m anti), I love Alexander McCall Smith, too. First published in 1998, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency paperback I own is from 2004; it was reprinted in 2003 (13 times) and again in 2004 (11 times). The stuff writers’ dreams are made of!