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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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western

Which One Will You Choose..?

It’s the third day of questions courtesy of Elaine from the Dreams and Whispers Blog, and she asks something I’ve never really thought about before… to choose which of my children I love the most!

Today’s question is about the characters in your books. For me as a reader, I find that interesting characters can really make a book brilliant. With you being on your fifth book now, you must have invented and thought about a fair few people, so which of them stand out the most – which two have been your favourite and least favourite so far?

I agree with you that characterisation can make or break a book.  Good characters stay with you and you want to find out more about them – this is presumably why so many authors write in series.  Whereas bad ones can make it difficult to carry on reading (although I’m pretty tenacious – it’s rare that I don’t drag my way kicking and screaming to the end of a book).

So far my favourite character is probably Caligula, if I can legitimately claim him as a character!  I enjoyed trying to get into his mind and second guessing why he did the crazy things that he was meant to have done – that’s the revisionist historian in me trying to come out, I think.  The sources on Caligula are fantastically biased but it makes for interesting reading.

I have a lot of affection for Victor McGlynn as well – he was the main character in the Western and I gave him quite a rough time of it with a pretty sad back story and a not amazing here and now, but he coped with dignity!  I am also really looking forward to writing the main characters in my kids’ book in July, because I’ve been developing them in my head for about two years.

There aren’t any characters I haven’t enjoyed writing at all, but I suppose my least favourite is Jennifer, the protagonist of the last book.  This is partly because I swithered an awful lot over how to write her – this has been the most difficult book so far.

I was trying to write her as a stroppy teenager but I think I may have gone a bit overboard with her lack of empathy and self involvement, so I’ll have to sort that out when I go back to edit it!  Think I should make her a bit more likeable!  Although having said that, Stephanie Meyer didn’t bother making Bella likeable and she did alright.  Maybe I’ll just leave it….

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Inspiration

A second email from Elaine of Dreams and Whispers fame.

Next I would like to find out a bit more about your inspiration for the twelve books – did you already have ideas before you started, or are you taking it book by book and seeing what develops for each one? As you write, do you find that most of your theme/plot/character ideas are coming from things you encounter in life, people you meet, your imagination, or somewhere else?

I had a few ideas before starting, many of which are laid out on the ‘Get Involved‘ page and in the Facebook photo album.  I went into it with the hope that members of the public would challenge me by giving me different suggestions to incorporate as I went along, giving the project a more interactive feel but also forcing me to plan things so that I’d include all their ideas.

As it happens, I think a lot of people find it intimidating to have me say ‘just suggest anything at all’.  For instance with book 2, where I got suggestions from staff at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, basically everything I got was anecdotal stuff about working in a theatre.  Nobody seemed interested in motive, murder weapon, or red herrings, and I ended up going on Twitter when I’d already started writing to ask people to suggest names for characters I’d just invented.  This meant that the book developed much more out of my own brain than I think I expected.

At the other extreme, with the Western story I got a very in depth story suggestion from someone, but I ended up not using it because it would have required an awful lot of historical research on my part – the suggester obviously knew quite a bit of the history of the west and had some very specific ideas, which frankly I felt a bit dodgy about using!  So hopefully he will write it himself one day!  It helped me though, because when I read it I realised that a traditional story like that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do, and came up with what I think was quite a strong idea to work from.

For paranormal romance I think the only suggestion I got was a name and occupation for the central character.  I used the name, Jennifer, but changed the occupation very slightly.  I hadn’t planned for it to be paranormal to begin with, and was hoping to do quite a bittersweet story.  I changed my mind to challenge myself – I’ve never quite got the appeal of paranormal romance and have slagged it off a bit, so I thought why not put my money where my mouth is and see if I can do any better.  With all that dithering, though, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if people had suggested things or not – I had a definite, but at the same time very woolly, plan!

This month is fantasy, and I’ve had a couple of pretty good suggestions for that – clearly it’s a genre that readers of this blog can relate to!  But even then they’re basically character suggestions, so it’ll be me that thinks of the plot, dialogue, narrative and so on.  That sounds like a complaint – it isn’t!  I love making things up – this would be a very strange project to be doing if I didn’t.

I am definitely taking it book by book.  I have to, really.  So far there hasn’t been time to plan any further ahead than that, and in most cases I’ve not even written an outline till I’ve got about 20k in.

None of my characters are directly based on anyone real, but there are elements of dialogue and characterisation which do draw a lot from encounters I’ve had or exchanges I’ve heard in real life.  The first line of my first book, for instance, was, “Nah mate, that’s lies!” because it was something I heard every single day from the kids that came in to my place of work.  For some reason most of my settings have been Scotland so far as well, although that was quite unintentional.

Having said that, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of point in ‘writing what I know’ verbatim.  I recently read an interview with Susan Hill in Mslexia Magazine where she pointed out that the whole point of reading fiction was to escape from the mundanity of every day life, so of course you should write everything from the imagination.  Who really cares about a character who is trying to make it as a freelance journalist whilst also writing fiction and occasionally arguing with her boyfriend about whose go it is to do the dishes?!  But occasionally real stuff bleeds through – hopefully funny, insightful or interesting things, though!

Confession

You may have guessed from the comparative blog silence that book 3 has been going pretty slowly.

I am currently out of the house at my temp job between 7.30 and 5.30 Tuesday-Friday, which gives me evenings, weekends and Mondays for this and other stuff.  Unfortunately I am juggling a bit more of the other stuff than usual at the moment.

For instance,  I said to STV Local “sure, I’ll profile all 21 bands involved in the Sick Kids Charity CD I wrote about for you” – which means setting up interviews with 21 bands, and trying to ask them all slightly different questions so that all the articles don’t wind up being the same. This means quite a bit of prep, and of course it takes time to write these things up.

I had another article commissioned by IdeasTap too, but the interviewee is very busy and hasn’t had time to answer my second round of questions – so essentially I can only file when there’s a gap in her schedule, which almost certainly won’t coincide with gaps in mine.

I’m also supposed to be setting up weekly Ten Tracks blogposts, which will hopefully get done today, and likewise I think I’m overdue a Mslexia update (although the onus is on me – there’s no set pattern agreed for those).  I’m also awaiting the answers from an email interview for an article for The Edinburgh Reporter, and need to send out some more for a different article I’d intended to have done for this week.

I’ve blown off several social events to give myself writing time, but it hasn’t been enough.  I think that logically, sleep now has to go!

Today being Monday 21st, if I was sticking in any way to the 2k daily word target I should be on 42, 000 words – barely any to go before 50k.  As it is, my word count is 8, 519.

If I can bash out 3,771 words a day between now and the end of the month it’ll be fine – theoretically that should only take a couple of hours because I know what I’m doing with the story and when I’m in the zone I type pretty fast.  But where to find those daily 2-3 hours?  In evenings this week I have at least 3 face to face interviews to do, which means travelling to various bits of Edinburgh, so maybe I can get some done on the bus – depending how much interview prep I’ve managed to get through already.  And I can do some in my lunch breaks, I guess.

I’ve also got to go to a gig on Thursday, because most of the bands I need to catch up with will be there; and a cocktail party on Friday because several people I blew off last weekend will be there and I can’t do it again.  The point of this project is universal adulation, not pissing off all my friends and acquaintances…

So anyway, I’m finding it a bit hard to get book-writing time shoehorned into my schedule just now (and don’t even get me started on reading time, because it makes me feel sad), but I’m going to schedule a few #WIP type posts from the meagre amount I do have for this week so that I don’t leave you hanging.  Next weekend I think there’s going to have to be a night of writing dangerously.

Also, if anyone has any thoughts on how to pre-empt the intevitable RSI that my writing lifestyle is surely going to cause before the end of 2011, do leave a comment!

#WIP

A snippet.

She regarded me with clear grey eyes that gave nothing away.

“Don’t you start making grandiose plans,” she commanded.

I shifted uncomfortably from right foot to left, like a child that has been caught out.

“Ah amnae,” I protested, which was true, really.  My plans weren’t grandiose, not by a long chalk.

She frowned.

“You can’t be the hero in this, Victor.”

Western Tropes

Obviously you can’t write a piece of genre fiction without researching the genre.

Well, technically you can, but chances are it won’t work.  Sometimes it doesn’t work even when you do research the genre, as with my first novel, which was supposed to be a Mills and Boon romance parody but became something very different – even though I read ‘The Millionaire’s Inexperienced Love Slave‘, one where an American tourist falls for a Greek Tycoon, something about a Rake, a deeply disturbing one in which a grieving widow falls in love with her dead husband’s long lost twin brother… the list goes on.  My one regret is that I never got around to the charmingly alliterative ‘Mediterranean Billionaire’s Blackmail Bargain‘.  I say regret, but that’s not what I mean.

Anyway, this week I’ve been researching the Western genre by reading short stories from a rather amazing website called Rope and Wire.  This is essentially a bunch of Western enthusiasts enthusing, and as such some of the stories are quite fun, whilst one or two are kind of terrible.  I enjoyed ‘Mexico George and the Cabin at Rio Del Poncho‘ in the same sort of way as I enjoyed the Owen/Gwen dialogue up against a tree in the ‘Countrycide‘ episode of Torchwood – slightly open mouthed in disbelief and going ‘really?  You thought that would work?’

As I go along I’ve been compiling a list of elements to consider including and updating for Book 3.  Here are some of them.

– Area used to be home to an industry such as mining (in my book could be steelworks, or some other factory) but is now very poor
– Injuns (maybe mine could literally be a person from India – possibly owner of a local business or something)
– Shaggy eyebrows (well, those are timeless)
– Whisky, straight up (ditto)
– A weatherbeaten complexion (he likes gardening…)
– A mysterious stranger to blame ill fortune on – who ends up saving the day (not sure how to use this yet)
– A trusty steed (scooter?)
– A nemesis (slightly older teenage lead of the gang)
– Guns (air guns?)
– Mention of the war (the one mentioned in Westerns is obviously the American Civil War between north and south – Victor’s would have to be one that happened in the 1950s or later – could potentially be a ‘war’ as in industrial action rather than armed combat?)
– A beautiful woman with a tragic past
– People in need of help (someone to stand up to the kids who are terrorizing the street)

Any more for any more?

#WIP – The Golden Nugget?

In the past few minutes I’ve mostly been describing Victor’s local, and wondering whether to call it ‘The Golden Nugget’ in tribute to Salty’s Gold by Will Parr…

The bar itself is old and worn, and usually slightly sticky. It’s not that surprising really; I’ve seen the rag they use to clean the thing with. Minging. Most of the varnish has rubbed off, there are nicks in the wood from where altercations involving blades have occurred, and you can see grooves where the elbows of the regulars have rested over the years.

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