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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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romance

The Reliquary

Every month The Rogue Verbumancer posts a photo on his blog and demands the people of the internet write a short story about it, posting links to every entry at the end of the month for all to see.  He calls it the Pictonaut Challenge and you can join in too, if you like, for it is open to all.  This is my one for January.

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What I Know About Creating Fringe Shows So Far

Today I have a guest post from blogger and Fest Magazine kids editor Ruth Dawkins on how husband Young Dawkins’ 2011 PBH Free Fringe show, What I Know About Women So Far, has been a definite team effort.

It’s not always easy being married to a poet. Young and I use up a significant number of babysitting credits not on romantic dinners, but on evenings in dingy pubs, where I sit and watch him reading to half a dozen people. He is always shouting ‘that’s a poem’ in the middle of our conversations, and rushing off to scribble down a phrase or idea. And we spend hours trekking around stationery shops looking for just the right notebooks, because no others will do (yellow Levenger – A4 – lined).

I have always consoled myself with the thought that maybe, one day, Young would write a lovely poem about what a wonderful and supportive wife I am.

In some moment of madness, earlier this year, Young agreed to do a solo show as part of the PBH Free Fringe. He may have still been on some crazy, slam-induced adrenaline high after his time at the Poetry World Cup in Paris, or he may have genuinely thought it was a good idea… I will never know.

All I know is that it has taken over our lives for the last couple of months. We had no idea what was involved (and I use ‘we’ intentionally – this has certainly been a joint venture). Doing a ten minutes slot at someone else’s show is one thing; doing a whole hour by yourself is quite another.

Continue reading “What I Know About Creating Fringe Shows So Far”

Happy Saturday

Morning all.  You’re looking nice today.  Have you done something different with your hair?  I imagine by this stage mine wants to get up and crawl off my head.  I don’t normally go this long without a shower, but when camping there’s not a lot else for it.  Still, The National were good weren’t they?  Probably.

Anyway, it’s Saturday, and you’re probably hanging around in your pyjamas thinking about making eggy bread but not quite getting round to it.  Why not relax further with a bit of:

Hyperbole and a Half (brilliant cartoons drawn apparently in MS Paint by Allie Brosh, who is some kind of comedy genius)

– A foray into research on the Romance genre.  Includes hilarious quotes.  Well, I thought they were hilarious… April’s Genre

I Have Questions

Further to Monday’s shout out for guest bloggers, for the rest of this week I am answering the queries of Andrew Blair, an Edinburgh-based writer of comedy and other things.  You can see some of his work on this website, or follow him on Twitter @aagb1884.

Tuesday 26/4/11, 08:00

Ali,

I have been reading your blog sporadically. I have questions.

Number 1. You are writing in 12 different genres. This is not a question. What genres of books do you predominantly read and have you enjoyed the experience in researching others? That is a question.

Andrew

Tuesday 25/4/11, 13:01

Andrew,

I don’t really have a favourite genre, although I lean towards books with a sense of humour and quite like things with a fantastical element.  I also like a lot of YA and kids books, and Scottish fiction.

To give some examples: some of the best and funniest books I’ve ever read are the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton, which I’d recommend to anyone (even though they’re really aimed at 8 year olds).  Meanwhile in fantastical terms, I go from the very dense prose of Isabel Allende to Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman graphic novels with a bit of future dystopia from Aldous Huxley or Margaret Atwood along the way.

In terms of YA, I’ve recently enjoyed stuff by Holly Black and Gemma Malley, as well as The Gates by John Connolly who started out writing adult crime novels.  You can read the first chapter on his website, and I think it’s awesome.

Great kids books I’ve read lately include The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forrester and The Secret Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  I’d also recommend Steve Augarde‘s ‘Touchstone Trilogy’ which is suitable for 11+.  Good Scottish novels include The Ossians by Doug Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Alan Bissett, and anything by Muriel Spark…  Essentially I like to think I’ll give anything a go, and as such my ‘to-read’ list is very, very long.

In terms of research for 12 books, so far I have probably enjoyed the romance month the most because the genre is often unintentionally very funny.  It’s quite rare to find a romance book that is genuinely romantic, I think partly because a lot of authors tend to get caught up in sex scenes – one of the reasons why I decided to go for unrequited love, actually – and these are notoriously difficult to write well.

Ali

Thought Process

Yesterday morning I was mostly taping up resource packs to send to schools (FYI – avoid ‘tesa’ brown tape if possible, it splits if you so much as look at it), and considering the best way to progress with book 4.

Something is bothering me. If I am to write Jennifer as an engaging, even normal-ish teen (who happens to be a vampire), she’s going to need a bezzie.

I’ve set her up with a love triangle, as is the way of things, but between all the unrequited love and the being an orphan and other vampires trying to persuade her to start drinking human blood over animal, there’s too much angst and not enough silliness.

Even the most solitary people I knew at school tended to have at least one friend. Social outcasts band together just as popular types do. And whilst Matthias is a friend to Jennifer, he is also blatantly in love with her. Even though he’s unlikely to admit this to her, she sort of knows, and as a result he’s not someone she is going to be able to let herself go with.

But all this does is provide her with more angst. What she really needs to make her a teenage girl rather than a miserable caricature of one, is someone she can confide in, giggle with, and occasionally fall out with and feel like it’s the end of everything. A BBFL, in fact. And because she’s straight, I reckon it needs to be a female one.

For you see, to me it feels a bit like Jennifer’s self control re not drinking humans is related to not allowing herself to give in to any other hormonal type urges, like going out with Martin who she really likes. Her internal logic dictates that if she gets into a relationship with him she will relax too much, allow her instincts to take over, and possibly bite him.

Either that or someone else will have a go in order to get to her. Vampires are mean that way.

This type of pressure would get to a person, and it would have to manifest itself in some way. A lot of teenagers in a similarly high pressure situation, with a grim secret they can’t tell anyone, would act out (get in with the wrong crowd, do drugs or drink or petty acts of crime) as a cry for attention.

There isn’t a lot of point in Jennifer doing that, as nobody can help her. She has no family, and she can hardly go to a school counsellor or social worker and be like “yeah, I’m a vampire and stuff…” She takes the tack of attempting to remain invisible, and bottling everything up inside. Which is probably just as dangerous as making a fuss, because at some stage all those pent up feelings are going to overflow.

However, if she has a bezzie – a pal who understands that she is different, perhaps guesses at the reason why – then she can let some of it out in increments, and perhaps keep herself from going in to meltdown. Her sanity will be needed for any showdowns that may be forthcoming later on.

If the friend is a girl, maybe a goth who doesn’t have many other mates herself, maybe even one who has some sort of paranormal/supernatural secret not as yet defined (werewolf from space?!), it seems plausible that Jennifer would feel able to relate to her (after an initial period of worrying and over thinking it, naturally).

She can’t be allowed to have a completely straightforward relationship, though. So to complicate matters slightly, I’ve decided to make this girl Matthias’ twin sister. Her name should start ‘Ma’ because owners of twins can be like that, so I’m thinking either Mareike or Mathilde… (They are German, by the by.  It has just occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve actually mentioned character names on the blog so this might not be immediately apparent.  Oops.)

Research

I’ve done bugger all research for this book, and as yet I haven’t had time to come up with any sort of outline, let alone a chapter plan. Nevertheless I’ve steamed on and written around 10k so far, most of which is actual fiction as opposed to stream of consciousness padding.  I’m not sure whether my voice comes through in the same way as it has done with the last couple of books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the last issue of Mslexia, Susan Hill gave an interview in which she suggested that ‘write what you know’ is a load of old cobblers.  Who would want to read about the minutiae of your daily life, she asks. Surely the point of fiction is to take you away from such mundanity?  Writers ought to use their imagination.

A somewhat cynical look at the already fading Paranormal Romance genre may not be entirely what she was getting at, but a certain amount of imagination is required to write about a teenage vampire.  I’m not immortal, or overly sensitive to UV, and I didn’t spend those formative teen years sucking blood.  Well, not any more than is normal for young persons of that age range.  So most of this is going to have to be made up.

Still, I’m a bit worried about running into clichés.  The imagination is influenced by what you’ve seen and read, which means that the more research I’ve carried out the better because I can avoid doing things that have already been done.  Unfortunately I’m limited to ironic viewings of the Twilight movies, 3 episodes of Being Human, and half a short story.  I am, therefore, a mite concerned that my imagination will tread paths already trod.  Frinstance I have been leaning towards sticking a werewolf in there – like that hasn’t been done to death.

Unless I think of an original twist.  Maybe it could be a werewolf FROM SPACE.  M. Night Shyamalan eat your heart out…

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