Another sulking day… great for writers, not so good for half term

Thursday. Day 4 of the half term week and it’s STILL raining. The poor peregrine chicks atop the NTU building in Nottingham look very bedraggled and totally fed up. My cat refuses to leave the house. Even the hamster seems depressed. It’s incredible how the weather, one of our favourite talking points, can influence our mood and it doesn’t seem to matter if we have skin, feathers or fur.

As a writer, this ‘moody’ weather can be useful for inspiration when creating a sense of place. Think of Wuthering Heights – would it have been so atmospheric if the weather was glorious? And I can’t think of many crime fiction novels where the murder takes place on a beautiful summer’s day. Fans of Sally Wainwright’s  ‘Happy Valley’ will no doubt agree that part of the drama’s effectiveness is as a result of the dismal setting (and brilliant photography).

But as a mum, during half term, trying to stave off that dreaded purveyor of doom – boredom – the weather is, to be polite, unwelcome. As a mum who is a writer, it’s mixed blessings. I could make the most of it and write another murder scene. Or take my 11 year old to an exhibition (there are several in Nottingham) which would invite moans, unless it involved Xbox or (a new interest) Marvel comics. Or a movie, of which there is a never-ending supply, for a wad of cash, of which there is not said never ending supply.

Direct action is called for. Rally the troops – in my case my best friend and her children – and decide on a day in Matlock Bath. A kind of inland Skegness, without the beach. But it does day-trips very well; there are chip shops and slot machines galore, an aquarium (rather shabby now) with some interesting sea-creature-residents and a ‘petrifying well’ showing the effects of lime scale over time. I have no doubt that a bag of chips and a bag of 2p pieces will make for a happy day for our kids, which will, of course, mean a happy day for us parents. And I will, as usual, have my notebook on hand, for any interesting observations.

 

A K Foxwood 29.05.14

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The results are in…

Project update 29.04.14

I am very happy to report that the mark I was awarded for my second presentation was 73, the same mark as the one I received for my first. And whilst I still await the mark for the project itself and reflective essay with more than a little anxiety, I am pleased that the presentations went so well.

This project was, in fact, the ‘Final Project Portfolio’ module of the Creative and Professinal Writing degree. Which for me is not an accurate title, as I still have one more year of study until I hopefully graduate. But it was very enjoyable and the effort it involved will be invaluable because what I learned I can take with me into my final year.

Working on my novel, as a result of what I learned in my project, will be part of my summertime activities – I intend to address all of the issues raised and advice given and, of course, I intend to get it to more agents.  That and I intend to look at my children’s novel again, continue reading and writing poetry (Helen Mort’s Division Street is essential reading and available at Five Leaves Bookshop* in Nottingham), and also, amongst all this, to have a serious conversation with friends and with myself about what I want to do in the future.

I hope to add to this blog too, some experiences which I have had as a part-time, mature student which may help others in a similar position. Watch this space!

SPOILERS: I have already started the sequel to my novel – in which my protagonist starts to take control of her visions, and use them to her advantage. I have also done the outline to another children’s novel involving computer games and magic, and I am re-visiting  an idea for a non fiction book involving schools which I first started earlier in my degree course. Busy times!  If you would like to ask me about any of these projects feel free to email me at shapingtheword@gmail.com.

*Five Leaves Bookshop information can be found at: http://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

News and update

31.03.14

 

The presentation has happened, and apart from missing a couple of minor points which I wanted to say, and snagging my brand new jumper, it went okay. Some of the students had prepared very technical visuals, but I think my good old Powerpoint slides did the job for me. In fact, one student had no visual aids at all, just himself, and his presentation was awesome. What I deem from this is that how you say something is often just window dressing for what you say. In fact, as was the case on Friday, keeping my presentation simple allowed me to say much more.

Saturday was pretty special too. The Writing East Midlands Writers’ Conference was remarkable. It provided me with fresh ideas, gave me the opportunity to see the world of literary agents from their perspective, allowed me to listen to and mingle with an assortment of published and respected writers, and got me a delightful plate of sandwiches, a goody bag, and unlimited tea and coffee.

It was a pretty intense couple of days in my writing world, but I gained some valuable last minute tips to put into my project. And an idea, courtesy of Nicola Valentine/Monaghan that I have already acted on.  Today has seen the launch of my new blog, but written in the voice of one of my characters from A Place to Speak to the Dead. Niki suggested that this would help me with character development and to create a back story which was one of the requests made by my readers. The character who is ‘writing’ this blog is Tom, my protagonist’s assistant. And, as difficult as it is to write from the point of view of a character who is not only nearly three decades my junior, but also the opposite sex, I am already enjoying it. Tom will create a world that is complimentary to my novel, and who knows, may even get a following of his own. His first post is out into the world of cyber space, a short introduction to what I hope will become a long term adventure.  Check out ‘Tom’s’ blog at http://tclarkin.blogspot.co.uk/  and follow if you want to know more!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Being a writer

Project update 17th March 2014

‘A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’

~ Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947

I am now editing the eighth draft of my reflective essay. I am hovering around the 7700 maximum word count, and I still feel that the essay does not say everything that I want to say. So why am I having such a difficult time?

Perhaps what is happening is that, just like writing the synopsis of my novel, I am trying to summarize something that is too complicated. The essay is, after all, a summary of everything I have done since last July for my Final Project Portfolio. And I have done a lot. I have met a host of wonderful people at libraries, workshops and literature festivals. I have had amazing feedback from readers and professional writers. I have read more books in the last few months than I have in my lifetime, watched more detective dramas and crime documentaries than I could list, and come to the conclusion that I could, in fact, set up my own Private Investigations business.

And that’s just the start. I have learned about training for the clergy, how detectives work, and even what happens to a body after it is disposed of. I now know that DNA can still be used to identify someone decades after the crime.

Publishers, fellow students, friends and, of course, my mentor have all been invaluable during this process, sometimes even giving me the proverbial ‘kick up the ass’ that I occasionally needed, when I became slightly over-morose because someone felt some of my work could be better.

It’s no wonder, then, that I find putting all of this into a 7700 word package so difficult. Writing about what I have done is often tougher than what is, after all, the point of it all – to re-write the central chapters of my novel.  And when I look at the eighth draft I am still not happy with it, and I am beginning to have a great deal of empathy for editors.

A K Foxwood

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On writing…

Progress update 12.02.14

One of the things that I have learned as I progress through this university project is that writing is not an exact science. Whilst there are certain techniques to learn, such as writing dialogue to create suspense and reveal character, there are also elements which, no matter how much you stick to the guidelines of textbooks and tutorials, will always remain subjective.

To illustrate this, I have received feedback on several chapters from my debut novel from a variety of people who enjoy a variety of different genres. In fact, my novel crosses genres – it is a crime thriller and a supernatural mystery. One of the readers giving feedback described it as a ‘psychological shocker.’  But each reader gave their honest, if personal, opinion. One loved my references to Nottingham, the town where I live and where the story is set. Another disliked it, saying that there were far too many local landmarks mentioned. One thought the pace was just right, tense and atmospheric. Another that it was too fast, they would have preferred the story at a slower pace and in smaller chunks. The question is, if these readers were all faced with my book on a shelf, would they each, with their different tastes, buy it?

The answer is, of course, no. Some would be put off by the ‘blurb’, the description of a crime thriller with a supernatural twist. Some would buy the book because of it. Learning to accept that it is impossible to write a book that everyone will enjoy is a valuable lesson, and applies just as much to a novice, like me, receiving a variety of comments in feedback as it does to a multi-million-copy-selling author. Even successful writers have their critics. A certain book about a dull colour is a case in point. Although I do wonder, when you are as successful as the writer of that particular trilogy, would you really care? I would like to think so.

So as I look at the feedback I have received so far, and see that every piece of it has positive, encouraging comments as well as the suggestions for improvement, in the end it comes down to the technical lessons. If I get that right, I am 90 per cent there. The remaining 10 per cent, is it a good story that readers will want to buy, is a matter of taste.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Progress update 05.02.14

There are many things that I have realized about my project as I write the ‘reflective’ essay. One of them is  the fact  that I am, several weeks from the finish line, writing it whilst  the project is still in progress. I know from experience that leaving a 7000 word essay until the last minute would be virtually impossible unless I worked solidly for 48 hours with no breaks and no sleep.

I have received some, but not all, of the feedback that I am hoping for. I have done some, but not all, of the research I had hoped to do and I have done some, but not all, of the investigations into the market that I have planned. The re-write of my chapters has not happened yet because I have done some, but not all, of the work I need to do to be able to re-write them. However, I have made a start; character names have already been changed as a result of feedback. Dialogue has been expanded to cover character background.

What I still need to do though, is keeping me awake at night. I spend several hours a day working and writing about working. And yet I still lie thinking of what I should be writing; what work I should be doing. And feeling guilty that I am lying there thinking about working rather than doing it. That I also need to sleep does not cross my mind despite the fact that my temper is getting noticeably shorter and my energy levels noticeably lower.

I had planned to send out the opening three chapters of my novel to an agent. This was going swimmingly. I had the synopsis  hammered down to two sides. I had composed my pitch letter. I was, in the words of Jodie Foster’s character in Contact, ‘good to go’. Then I was cut down at the knees by one word of feedback. My synopsis  was ‘convoluted.’  My two-hundred-and-seventy-odd-A4-page-novel-down-to-two-sides work of art became hamster bedding. So, to date, the agent has not had the pleasure of my masterpiece.

Another thing I have learned is (having done so much research, asked for, and mostly received, some encouraging, and some valid, if painful comments), the uphill struggle I now face incorporating it all into the re-write. Did I spread the project out too much, expect too much from other people and from myself? Perhaps I should have planned to work with just one person. After all, when I do, eventually, send my work to an agent, and get taken on straight away with absolutely no rejections, how many people will I be working with then?

One thing is certain – the agent won’t need to do much work on the central chapters.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Progress update 31.01.14

The last day of the first month of a brand new year. Time for a quick assessment of my progress with my university project.

There have been a few setbacks, as there always seem to be with any kind of project, but the worst had to be the health problems at the end of last year. I am not going to bore anyone with this, because the upside is that after Christmas when I was reunited with my ‘mojo’ I had a renewed sense of wanting to crack on. So I produced a synopsis, from a 300-ish page novel, which after not much time had become my nemesis. From six pages, to five pages, to four, still far too long. How DO you condense a 28 chapter novel down to 500-1000 words, without missing any important plot points? Various books and websites helped, but the one which seemed to help me the most was www.mslexia.com which has a plethora of worksheets, including how to write a synopsis. Using their advice, I managed to edit mine down to two sides, which it seems is acceptable by some (but not all) agents. I was rather pleased with myself and could  finally get my sample chapters sent to my ‘readers’.

The first piece of feedback I received was from a published author which I was thrilled with. He made some valid points which I shall be taking on board, but he also commented on my synopsis. The word, which negated any feelings of self congratulation which I previously had, was ‘convoluted’. Back to the drawing board then. An e-book that he recommended on the subject is now sitting in my Kindle for PC reader thingy- I am not a fan of electronic books and so reading this is taking some time. But I will persevere- I want to get this right. Then there’s the ‘pitch’ letter. Such a short letter can’t be difficult, right? Wrong. This is the first, and arguably the most important, piece of writing that an agent/publisher will see. So EVERY word has to count. Again, I researched and researched. And finally came up with something I was reasonably happy with. I showed it to my university mentor who advised me to do away with the wishy-washy and stick to positive language. So the ‘might sit’ became ‘will sit’. My boss took a look and as a publisher himself, pointed out what would appeal to him, and what would not.

I have also received feedback from members of a local book club. It is one of the strangest, and most wonderful, sensations when someone talks about a character that you as a writer have created. Someone that you, in a sense, gave birth to. When they are curious about your creations, ask why they behave in a certain manner, as though these characters breathe, is probably the best feeling I have had about my writing since I started the book. And as readers, rather than writers, they noticed things which I did not, valid observations which I can work on. Overall the feedback was very encouraging, they enjoyed the story and want to read more. And having had such feedback, I am determined to stick with this book, to give my characters a chance to go out into the world. After all, that is what it’s all about, isn’t it?                                                     A K Foxwood 31.01.14

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized