Monthly Archives: January 2014

Friday Flash

Well, golly.

Today’s a whirlwind of activity for me – you may or may not have noticed that I’m, oh, three hours late with the blog post, so if you’ve been inconvenienced let me heartily apologise – and I must dash now, too. The wind is howling outside, I feel like I’m wearing ice-block socks and I am in dire (dire!) need of a cup of coffee.

So, without further ado, I present today’s Flash! Friday entry. This week, contestants were asked to include a telephone call as part of the story, and the prompt image follows (apologies for the poor quality – but you can always visit Flash! Friday’s blog if you’d like to see it more clearly. Nudge nudge, wink wink, why don’t you enter a story this week? Anyway):

Image: zazzle.com

Image: zazzle.com

Overdue Justice

‘Jen? Pete. Look, uh –‘

‘Pete? It’s four a.m.! Couldn’t this have waited?’

‘Nah. Listen. Jen, I found our boy.’

‘You what?’

‘Chrissakes, Jen! Arlon! I swear it’s him.’

‘I’m – I can’t be hearing this. Arlon? The chronofugitive? The murderer?’

‘Nothin’ wrong with this telephone line. Arlon Nash, big as life.’

‘But – when? He’s been in the vortex so long –‘

‘Got careless, I guess. All I know is, I’m lookin’ at an image, 1920, 21, and it’s him. Laughin’, standin’ near a car wreck. Jen, he’s smirkin’ like he knows somethin’ we don’t.’

‘Pete. Listen, I’m coming over.’

‘God. If we found him, after all these years?’

‘Don’t get your hopes up. And don’t Slip without me, okay?’

‘Sure thing.’

Pete hung up and stepped straight into the Slip, leaving the photograph on his screen.

Jen arrived within minutes. The first thing she saw was Pete’s broken face behind the wheel of the car. Arlon was long, long gone.

**

I really enjoyed writing this story; I loved the apparent mismatch between the prompt image and the prompt element of the telephone call. However, one thing that writing this story taught me is this: titles are important. I apologise for the title of this one. I went through several options, including ‘Timehunters’, ‘Chronokiller’ and ‘Justice, Overdue,’ and – in a fit of desperation – settled on the one you see above. It’s not great, I know. But it’s what you got. Sometimes life is cruel like that.

Happy reading, and happy writing! Why don’t you get involved in a writing challenge, enter a competition, or even just create something that only you will see? It’s the best way I know to put those grey cells to work. Speed-the-pen.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

 

Nice Surprises

Yesterday, the results of the 2013 Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair were announced. I already knew I wasn’t one of the winners, but what I didn’t know was that the judges had decreed that I, along with 9 other writers, had produced work of a high enough standard to be considered longlistees.

Sulu say 'whut?' Image: ratemydrawings.com

Sulu say ‘whut?’
Image: ratemydrawings.com

This was a real surprise, and rather a comfort in the face of, once again, missing out on the top rank of ‘winner.’ I came in exactly the same position last time around (in 2012’s competition, the results of which were announced in 2013), with the same book (albeit a vastly different and entirely reworked version); if I decide to enter this competition again, I think the universe may be telling me: ‘Choose a different book.’

It’s wonderful to know that I am a strong enough writer to make a longlist two years in a row – sweetly, my husband did the maths and worked out that I was in the top 7.2% of entries, which was very cool to hear – but what I want to take from this experience is a lesson about what my writing is missing, what it needs to improve on, in order to be good enough to make it.

Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve learned that I can put together reasonably good sentences, and that I can write on demand and under pressure. I’ve learned that I can hit deadlines, and that I have a reasonable amount of self-motivation. I’ve discovered a love for short stories and flash fiction, and I’ve ‘met’ some talented fellow writers who seem to think my stories – at least, some of them – have a little merit. I’ve found that I respond well to prompts, and that I am capable of turning an idea into a fully-fledged novel.

But where am I falling down?

 

Image: vecto.rs

Image: vecto.rs

One of my main issues is, I think, with plotting. Taken as a series of scenes, I think my writing works fine, but overall, as a completed novel, I’m not so sure. I think I manage to come up with good seeds for a story, good ideas which form the basis of whatever I’m working on, but the act of fleshing them out seems to drown them. My plots either aren’t strong enough, or the conflict isn’t sufficiently dangerous, or the antagonist not adequately evil. It’s hard to write a story which you believe in, one which you love, the sort of story you’d like to read, while at the same time thinking about marketability and originality and whether your characters are unique, your baddies not ‘stock’, your protagonist not a walking bundle of stereotypes. Sometimes, a plot you adore won’t find a home with an agent or publisher because they know what you don’t – the shape of the market, the fact that ten thousand other books are already out there on just the same topic, readers’ needs won’t be met by your work – and it’s hard to be told that something you’ve worked on just doesn’t have a place in the landscape of publishing. I know I struggle with plotting, and I guess the only way to overcome it is to practice – and to read as widely as I can.

Another thing I need to work on is pacing. Yesterday, I finished my paper edits of ‘Emmeline’, and – while I’m still happy with the direction the story took – it does feel like the ending is rushed. Also, while I’ve managed to remove a substantial total from my wordcount, I think I am still being too wordy in non-critical places, and not wordy enough in others. The middle third of the book, which I had thought was all right on my first round of edits, actually is a bit longer than it needs to be. The thought of changing it substantially is making my brain melt, but it’s going to have to happen. As well as this, I know my pacing issues centre on the final ‘act’ of my novel, when everything comes together and the final showdown takes place. My Grand Conflict ends up falling flat, because it’s all squashed into one or two chapters. This is a problem. However, knowing you do it and finding a way to fix it are two entirely separate things.

Something else I learned about myself while doing the edits for ‘Emmeline’ was my tendency to use redundancies, like ‘her stomach yowled with hunger‘, or ‘his eyes flashed in anger,’ or – my personal fave – ‘he stared at her with a mixture of anger and fear on his face‘. Of course a stomach yowls with hunger – what else would cause it to do that? And naturally a person, when staring, does it with his or her face. It would be hard to do it with any other body part. So, why did I include the words ‘on his face’? Poor writing, that’s why. I haven’t yet read over ‘Tider’, so I’m not sure whether errors like that cropped up in that book, too, but it’s likely they did. I also tend to repeat myself, whether on a micro- or macro-level; repeated words within paragraphs (sometimes, within a pair of sentences!) are not unknown in my work, and larger repetitions – plot devices, sentence structure, conversations between characters – are also no stranger to me. Somehow, I do this without noticing when I’m drafting, so it’s important to be aware of it when it comes time to edit.

But I am aware, and I am trying. So, I guess it’s just a case of doing it again, and again, and again, until I get it right.

Image: brandonvogt.com

Image: brandonvogt.com

Huge congratulations to all the authors who were shortlisted for this year’s Novel Fair, and to my fellow longlistees. The Novel Fair is a fantastic endeavour, and – year on year – it leads to book deals, the successful publication of some wonderful novels, and a lot of happy people. Novel Fair 2014’s closing date won’t be until October, so there’s plenty of time to get your magnum opus written. See you there?

Wednesday Write-In #76

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

suspicious behaviour :: auburn :: shock :: grin :: dawn

What follows is my story, based around those prompts. What would yours be?

Scene from 'Rear Window'. Image: writingeditingspring2013.blogspot.com

Scene from ‘Rear Window’.
Image: writingeditingspring2013.blogspot.com

Alex, Extraordinary

‘And hello. Dawn has broken one more time over the beautiful Auburn Heights … or, well, I’m sure it did break, several hours ago while I was unconscious, but who cares about that, right? Anyway.  As usual, your intrepid observer of human nature is up and at ‘em, poking the merciless binoculars of justice between the musty, paisley-patterned curtains of Suspicious Behaviour. Or, just ‘the neighbours’, if you prefer. There’s no movement yet -’

‘Alex? Who’re you talking to?’

‘Good morning to you too, Mum!’

‘Answer the question, please.’

‘I’m not talking. Me? Wouldn’t know how.’

‘I’ll be up with your breakfast in five minutes, young man. You’d better have that ridiculous recorder switched off by then, or there’ll be consequences.’

‘Sure thing! I’m turning it off right now!’

*scuffling*

‘Yeah, right. As if. She’s just worried I’ll put the footage up on YouTube again, but a promise is a promise. Well. Unless she gives me excellent content, that is. Of course. You just sit tight, old friend, and we’ll take what we can get. Now, if the stupid microphone would just point down…  Gah. Right. That’ll have to do.’

‘Alex? Are you decent? I’m coming up!’

‘Some ‘five minutes,’ Mum! Geez! I could’ve been doing anything up here!’

‘What, like tap-dancing?’

‘Yeah! Or stepping into my zero-gravity suit. Or watching a grin flickering across the face of a beautiful woman as I –‘

‘All right! Boundaries, Alexander. Remember those?’

‘Please, mother. Between us? Surely not.’

‘Surely not, indeed. Good morning, darling. Did you sleep?’

‘I think so. I’m filled with boundless energy, ready to jump from bed and attack the day, at least.’

‘You’re such a funny little man.’

‘Little? I am fifteen! In the prime of my wasted life!’

‘Alex! Stop that. We’ve talked about the ‘wasted’ word, haven’t we? Now. You ready for me to start?’

‘It’s that or starve to death, I guess.’

‘Alexander. Give it a rest, all right?’ *rustling* ‘Now. Let’s get your feed bag ready…’

‘Ow, Mum. Take care, will you?’

‘Alex, please. This is hard enough without you –‘

‘I reserve the right to be more freaked out by being fed through a tube than you are, Mum. God!’

‘But honey, you can’t even feel what I’m doing. Right?’

‘Shock, horror, Mum. I can still see when you’re being too rough. That’s one thing I can still do.’

‘I’m sorry, darling. I’ll take more care. All right?’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Okay – almost done. Let me just set the pump, and we’re good to go.’

‘What flavour mush is it today, anyway?’

‘Let’s see… Oh. Carrot, maize and sirloin steak. Apparently.’

‘Hmm. Piquant. Notes of oak and – mustard.’

‘Oak and mustard?’

‘It could be mustardy. Nobody will ever know.’

‘Such a funny boy. Now, are you comfortable?’

‘Probably. How can I tell?’

‘Let me just straighten up these pillows for you – Alexander!’

‘Mother?’

‘The light on your headset is still on. Have you been recording, all this time?’

‘I cannot tell a lie.’

‘Honestly. You are too much. If I so much as get a sniff of this conversation online, I will be very upset. Do you hear me?’

‘What – you’ll ground me? Deny me the car keys this weekend? Take away my stash of beer? You’re so unfair!’

‘Just – I can’t even. Just don’t put up any more descriptions of Mrs Stroud’s underwear, all right? It was bad enough the first time.’

‘But I named no names! A good journalist never reveals his sources, after all. It could have been the underwear of any middle-aged woman with a large… clothesline.’

‘Alexander! Oh, my God. You’re too much.’

‘Amen, sista. Hey, Mum?’

‘Yes, darling.’

‘Love you. Look, I even said it on tape.’

‘Love you, too, Alexander. Get some rest, now. And do keep the spying to a minimum. Your father might just lose what little mind he has left if the police end up knocking on the door. Right?’

‘Ach. What’s life without a police raid, from time to time?’

‘Peaceful!’

‘Boring.’

‘Goodbye.’

‘Get going! I have an empire to run up here!’

*laughter, fading*

‘Finally, a bit of peace. Now. As I was saying. All is quiet this morning in Auburn Heights, but the sun is high and the day is bright, and that means all I’ve got to do is wait. And boy, am I good at that. This is Alex, investigator extraordinaire, signing off – for now…’

 

Line by Line

As a girl, one of the eternal truths I learned (along with ‘other people care a lot less than you’d imagine about your life,’ and ‘tears are very rarely worth it’) was ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and, that usually means it’s going to take forever and drive you ’round the twist.’

Well, quite.

You’ll be pleased, perhaps, to know that editing continues apace on ‘Emmeline.’ It’s, at once, the most dreary and the most exciting thing imaginable. It’s great to feel the book taking shape under my hands, and it almost feels cathartic to slash and burn my way through stupid sentences and pointless description and continuity errors that would be embarrassing if anyone else had a chance to read them, and I’m really enjoying the act of indulging my inner pedant.

But, as well as that, it’s hard. It’s hard work. There’s no way around it.

Image: cutestpaw.com

Image: cutestpaw.com

One of the most useful things that editing on paper does is it forces you to read your work as though it was already a book. I know that sounds a bit ‘out there,’ and perhaps it is, but that’s how it works for me, at least. Reading on-screen feels a little informal; it makes my brain think I’m reading a Work-in-Progress, where errors don’t really matter too much. When I’m reading on a screen, my work is in a permanent ‘holding area’ where nothing needs to be finalised or corrected because, on some level, you’re always thinking: ‘there’ll be another draft after this. If I miss something, no big deal.’

Printing out your work and going through it with a pen makes you realise – this is a big deal. Printing makes it more permanent. Printing means investment, of time and effort and money, and that fools you into taking it more seriously. Printing something reminds you that there is an end-game in sight; this is what you’re aiming for. You’re shooting for a day when your words will be down on paper, permanently, like the ‘ever-fixéd mark’.

Even if – as it does for me, right now – it feels so far away that it’ll never be a reality, you have to keep heading for that permanence. You have to keep believing that every tweak, every removed comma, every excised sentence, every smoothed-over paragraph, every cliché bopped on the head is bringing you closer to that goal.

Image: picturesof.net

Image: picturesof.net

Editing requires hard work. Writing the book requires hard work, of course, but somehow editing takes a different sort of effort. Writing the book can feel a bit like freewheeling – you feel a certain wild joy as you put something together for the first time, and as you watch an idea that you’ve nurtured and grown finally take shape. Getting to the end takes huge effort, and sometimes – when you’ve struggled over the line – you feel like the work of bringing forth the idea is done.

Except it isn’t. It’s only beginning.

Just like you can’t bake a lump of dough whole if you’re trying to make perfectly shaped cookies, or thinly-rolled pastry, you can’t deliver a freshly slapped-together book to a reader and expect them to be able to digest it. The ingredients are all there, present and correct and in the appropriate quantities, but it’s just not right. It needs shaping and refining and – crucially – it needs the unnecessary bits trimmed away. ‘Emmeline’ was full of errors in its first draft – the character wearing a dress in one scene, and trousers in another; Thing’s eyes were green in one chapter and brown in another (this is so common as to be embarrassing); characters were short and stumpy in one chapter and tall and willowy in another – and that sort of thing is bound to cause dyspepsia when it’s read. It’s depressing to read other books where the idea is there – the ingredients are all used, and used well – but the finishing hasn’t been done to quite the right extent. It makes me more determined to make my own work as sleek as possible, as well-formed as I can, before it is sent anywhere. I don’t always succeed – I am, needless to say, still learning the ropes – but it’s something to aim for.

Luckily, as I’ve read further and further into ‘Emmeline’ (I’m now just over halfway through, again), I’m spotting fewer and fewer basic errors. I’ve stopped mixing up eye colour and appearances, and Emmeline’s clothing has decided what it wants to be. This means that I can pay even closer attention to the plot, in particular those parts where my eye skips or my brain turns off, because those are the parts which need the most work. If you find yourself skimming over any part of your writing, then it’s vital to force yourself to go back over it in forensic detail. Perhaps you’ve tried to patch over a major plot hole in such an awkward way that you don’t want to deal with it, or perhaps it’s just that your story sags at that point, becoming turgid. Either way, it can’t be allowed to remain unchecked. It’s as difficult a thing as anything I’ve ever done, this ‘forcing myself’ to go back over my own work when something in me really doesn’t want to – it makes me feel like I have a stroppy teenager in my brain, refusing to clean up their room.

But just as a teenager can be coaxed, so can your brain. Changing up your working environment always helps me; something as simple as burning a nicely scented candle or making a cup of coffee can work wonders. Reminding yourself how great it’ll feel when the work is done is also a help, sometimes. Taking a break and getting some fresh air is also vital.

But the most vital bit of all is never giving up. Hitting ‘print,’ taking up the pen, turning on the critical brain, and understanding that, with every correction, you’re bringing yourself one step closer to your goal is the most important thing you can do – and not just once, but day after day after day until you’re done.

So, like I said. At once the most exciting, and the most dreary thing imaginable. But, like anything that’s important, it’s absolutely worth it.

Image: menaulhead.wordpress.com Artist: Kevin Spear, 2009; kevinspear.com

Image: menaulhead.wordpress.com
Artist: Kevin Spear, 2009; kevinspear.com

 

 

Staking out the Weekend

I was recently given the most amazing gift. I’ve got to tell you all about it.

Image: adkwriter.wordpress.com

Image: adkwriter.wordpress.com

So, we visited some friends at the weekend, and (as well as having a wonderful time), they made my husband and I – or, well, me really – a present of seasons 1-3 of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer.’

No – wait! Don’t run away!

What do you mean, 'aaaargh?' Image: gautamsofficial.blogspot.com

What do you mean, ‘aaaargh?’
Image: gautamsofficial.blogspot.com

I know the topic of ‘Buffy’ can divide opinion – and, sometimes, it’s the people who’ve never watched the show who can have the loudest opinion – but I have to nail my colours to the mast right here.

I’m a fan.

I’m a massive fan of Joss Whedon, for a start; I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything he has had a hand in which I haven’t liked, at least somewhat. I love the way he writes women, and his imaginative use of myth and folklore, and the intelligent, complex humour that weaves its way through everything he’s made. So, it stands to reason that I’d be a fan of Buffy Summers and her ragged little Scooby Gang, battling to keep the world vampire-free.

However, I came late to ‘Buffy’. To me, the show is all about Willow being a powerful and sometimes rather evil witch, and Buffy’s complicated relationship with the vampire Spike, all of which comes well into the show’s development. Season 1 is all about Buffy’s relationship with the vampire Angel, of whom I was never really a fan – mainly because the show was all about Spike when I watched it – but I’m finally developing an appreciation for Angel as a character and as a focus for Buffy’s affection. It was moving to watch them fall in love, all the while with Buffy thinking he was human, until the inevitable moment when his true nature is forced to make an appearance.

In fact, I spent *cough* several hours yesterday watching one or two (or six) episodes, and it was huge fun to see all the characters as they were at the beginning of the show – young, and innocent, and in possession of the clunkiest high-heeled shoes and the frostiest lipstick known to man. It made me very nostalgic for my own 1990s teenage-hood, when girls went out to nightclubs dressed in slacks and jackets and nobody had mobile phones and the very idea of the internet was mind-blowing and most people listened to decent music and sarcasm was the lingua franca of everyone under thirty.

Sometimes, I really miss those days.

It was also great to see Willow the way she was at the show’s beginning – gentle, and quiet, and nerdy, and devoted to Xander, and totally unaware of her own magical powers. She was always one of my favourite characters (even when she was, you know, evil and set on destroying the world, and stuff), and watching the show would be worth it just for her.

Naaaaaw! Image: angelsrealm.com

Naaaaaw!
Image: angelsrealm.com

It’s a strange experience, from a narrative point of view, to watch the show backwards – as in, to only be experiencing its beginnings now, despite knowing how the story arcs end and how all the characters develop. It makes my viewing experience at once brand-new and exciting, as well as bittersweet. It also makes me appreciate exactly how much the characters grow and mature, and how interesting their stories are. For me, Buffy herself was always a weary, sick-and-tired-of-saving-the-world-again type character, so to see her as she is in season 1 (a cheerleading wannabe, running away from her past, trying to date and have a normal teenage life, full of pep and snarky humour) is great.

But mainly what watching ‘Buffy’ does is make me really, truly crazy that ‘Twilight’ is the vampire story that most young people are familiar with these days. ‘Buffy’ is still popular, and still a part of the mental world of teenage audiences, but I do think it has largely been replaced by Bella Swan and her moping nonsense. How has this happened? How have we replaced Buffy Summers – a kickboxing, weapon-slinging, intelligent, brave, resourceful, fearless, duty- and honour-bound warrior – with Bella Swan, whose single greatest achievement is managing not to fall over while walking down a school corridor and having a crush on a guy who sparkles in the sunlight?

Gaaaah!  Image: twilight.wikia.com

Gaaaah!
Image: twilight.wikia.com

It makes me ferocious to think that role models for girls have regressed to the point where they’d rather read about a character who devotes herself – body, mind and soul – to the needs of a man than learn about Buffy, who is a self-possessed, confident heroine in her own right. Buffy doesn’t need anyone. Her relationships are her own choices, and she owns her mistakes. She bravely goes wherever her duty calls her, and she never backs down. She sacrifices everything she has in order to save the innocent. She looks like the kind of girl who could cause some serious damage (and, indeed, the actress who played her had a black belt in taekwondo); Bella Swan looks like she’d fall over in a stiff breeze. Bella Swan never thinks about anyone outside of her own small circle. Bella’s story – from what I remember of it, which isn’t much – is largely about herself, and Edward (the vampire who becomes her husband), and their family. They fight, sure, but it’s to save themselves. Buffy fights evil because it is the right thing to do, and because it is her responsibility, and even though it weighs heavily on her she doesn’t shirk it. She fights to save people who don’t even know they’re in danger, and she suffers for it.

But no. We’d rather squee over Bella Swan’s wedding dress than fangirl over Buffy’s prowess with a crossbow.

Whatever.

I know where my loyalties lie.

Image: italiansubs.com

Image: italiansubs.com

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Skull in the Wood’

Oh, thank goodness for this book. Thank goodness.

Image: sandragreaves.com

Image: sandragreaves.com

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed good, solid, decently scary, folklore-tinged, well-written storytelling until I read this book, Sandra Greaves’ debut novel. Published late last year by the wonderful Chicken House, it’s a gem. I hope the author is planning to keep writing, and that there are plenty more stories where this one came from.

The novel is narrated through the alternating viewpoints of two primary characters, thirteen-year-old cousins Matt and Tilda, who are forced to live together during a particularly charged and emotional time in Matt’s life. His parents have just separated, and his father has removed himself entirely from the family, leaving Matt to deal with his mother’s new boyfriend Paul (the ‘four-eyed pillock’, as Matt memorably describes him on page 1.) Matt, understandably, struggles to cope. He decides to decamp to his uncle’s house – the widower of his mother’s late sister – in order to get some space. This brings him into close contact not only with Tilda, but with Kitty – his bubbly, beautiful five-year-old cousin who is, in so many ways, the focal point and the heart of the story.

Among the new people he meets on Dartmoor (for this is where his uncle and cousins live) is Gabe, the handyman neighbour, an older man who is in touch with the local folklore. Gabe is a strange and slightly odd character, interesting and layered and eccentric, and I loved him. It’s from him that Matt hears about Old Scratch Wood, a scrubby area of woodland, apparently the oldest in England, which lies some miles away across the moor. Gabe warns him off going there, which – of course – has the effect of making Matt want to see it as soon as possible. Tilda is instructed to bring him, and – during the course of their attempts to frighten one another half to death inside the spooky old wood – they discover something strange, buried deep in the long-undisturbed soil. This strange object starts to have an effect not only on Matt and Tilda and their relationship to one another, but also the continued existence of Tilda’s family. It is so slow and gradual that the children don’t understand that a larger force, a corrosive force, is at work, but Gabe knows better. He repeatedly tries to warn the children about the ‘gabbleratchet,’ a gathering of infernal darkness heralded by birds; at first, of course, they have no time for what they perceive as nonsense, but they soon learn that they’re mistaken to treat it so lightly. Gabe has seen the gabbleratchet once before, and he knows exactly what to look for…

This was a delicious story – and I mean ‘story’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a satisfying read which ticks all the boxes and sends the customer home singing, with no bells or whistles or unnecessary faff. It had everything I adore in a book, and more. I loved the mingling of the supernatural – and the darn spooky supernatural, at that – with the ordinary, everyday existence of the characters; I loved the ‘city boy’ Matt and his inability to get into the flow of life on a farm. I adored beautiful Kitty and her sparkly, sunny ways. I even liked Tilda, bruised and battered since the death of her mother, forced to take on too much responsibility, afraid that the life she knows and loves is about to be taken from her – and with nobody upon whom to focus her anger besides her cousin.

In so many ways this story reminded me of Alan Garner’s work; it’s not in the same league in terms of language, at least for me, but it definitely comes from the same mindset. It features so much stuff I love, which I also find in Garner’s work: a traditional setting, taking in folklore and folk wisdom (I loved the ‘gabbleratchet’, a version of which is also found in Garner’s majestic ‘The Moon of Gomrath’); confused and frightened children facing down a supernatural power vastly superior to themselves; innocence threatened, and deep family secrets coming to the fore.

Image: amazon.co.uk

Image: amazon.co.uk

The central motif of the story – the actual skull itself, which has lain in Old Scratch Wood for so many years – is thrillingly spooky. I loved the way Sandra Greaves uses the characters’ inability to appreciate the changes in the skull as a way of pointing out to the reader that it contains some deep and disturbing power, and I loved the way the gabbleratchet is described. It’s different, while remaining completely true to its traditional roots. A reader doesn’t need to be familiar with English – or, I suppose, British – folklore to understand or appreciate the power of the gabbleratchet, as it’s so well described and perfectly utilised within this story, but if you do, it can only help to heighten your appreciation for the finer details in the story. I loved, too, that the raising of the gabbleratchet is not the only problem the children face – there are also ‘real life’ issues for them to deal with, including separated or deceased parents, parents taking new partners, families with money worries, devastating illness and fears for the future, which end up being harder to sort out than the supernatural.

This book is well-written, expertly handled and perfectly realised. It has great pace and suspense, as well as emotional heft. I know it’s early days for 2014 yet, but I don’t expect to read many books this year which will top this one.

Highly recommended.

Friday Befrazzlement

This morning’s missive comes to you from a person who has been trying to put together a flash fiction piece for the past three hours, and who is starting to foam a little at the mouth.

So, here’s the deal. I have to create a story between 140 and 160 words, based around a picture prompt and a word prompt, and I feel like the proverbial camel going through the eye of the needle. My brain has a story in it, but it would take an entire novel to tell it properly, so getting it down to a teeny-tiny tale is proving (almost) too much for me. I am definitely feeling the Friday frazzle, and I have an idea that today is going to be a challenge.

My head is tired. My shoulder aches. My eyes are blurred. Writing is a hazardous endeavour, don’t you know?

Image: skybackpacking.com

Almost *exactly* like this… Image: skybackpacking.com

So, it’s been a busy few days for me. This past week, I edited ‘Emmeline’ on-screen. I thought things had gone pretty well; I’d managed to take a huge chunk out of my wordcount, bringing it down to a far more reasonable level. The book had seemed reasonably strong, and I felt I had a good, stable base to build draft 2 upon.

However, then I also started the process wherein I print out my work, in order to take a pen to it and slash it into ribbons. As before, I have been amazed by the difference between looking at a text on a computer screen and seeing it, in the flesh, in front of you; errors that I just didn’t see when I was writing the book, and even during the first editing go-round, leapt out from the printed page. I found myself drawing lines through whole paragraphs of carefully-worded text, excising them without a twinge of conscience – but it’s so much easier to do that than hit the ‘Delete’ button. Watching your hard work disappear into oblivion before your very eyes is a lot more difficult than just scribbling over your printed text. At least your words still exist, after a fashion, beneath the scribble, but when you hit ‘delete’, well. They’re gone forever.

The short of it is this. Draft 1 was all right, but not as strong as I’d thought. Draft 2 has, hopefully, started to spot all the stupid mistakes and the mindless repetition and the poor word choices and the clunky dialogue and the idiotic descriptions, and here’s hoping Draft 3 doesn’t see me putting them all back in again.

The process has been excruciatingly, painfully slow, though – I’ve only got as far as page 53 – and I hope this means that I’m doing a good job. I just want this book (complete with a shiny new name, which I’m keeping under wraps for now) ready for querying as soon as humanly possible, so that I can move on to my next project, which is already butting at the back of my brain. Such is the never-ending conveyor belt of life, isn’t it – just as you’re trying to finish one job to the best of your ability, along comes something else which needs your urgent attention. Oy vey.

Anyway.

Today, I need to take care of some writerly stuff, but also lots of non-writerly stuff, such as taking myself off for a long draught of fresh air, and doing some stretches, and remembering what life is like outside of my office. I may even bake some cookies, like the crazy renegade I am.

In the meantime, here is that piece of flash fiction, written in tandem with this blog post (finally):

Statue of the Republic, with the Court of Honor and Grand Basin (1890s) Image: illinoisstatesociety.typepad.com

Statue of the Republic, with the Court of Honor and Grand Basin (1890s)
Image: illinoisstatesociety.typepad.com

The image (above) had to be combined with the idea of ‘Destiny’. Tough, isn’t it?

So, of course, I decided I’d write about something really complicated.

The Stonecarver’s Boy

At his birth, his mother wept.

‘A daughter would have been wiser,’ frowned the doula, taking him away.

His training began immediately. He grew within the workshop, chisel in hand, prodigious and alone. From a distance, his mother watched.

In time, the Emperor took a wife.

‘Let it be his masterpiece,’ came the order.

His mother tried to warn him; once, she even passed beside his workbench, so close she could feel his warmth, but her dropped note was swept away.

The finished statue was fit for a goddess. On its raising day, The Imperial Guard came for its maker, and – willingly, unknowingly – he went.

‘You will never better this,’ decreed the Emperor. The blade fell quickly – there was no time for anguish. He never knew his fate was sealed from the day he was born, like all stonecarvers’ boys.

The Empress’ statue was anchored with its maker’s blood; a fitting memorial stone.

 **

Happy Friday, and happy weekend.

I am a warrior! Image: cutestpaw.com

I am a warrior!
Image: cutestpaw.com