Tag Archives: plot problems

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?

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

There’s a possible TMI warning on this morning’s blog post. If you can’t handle reading (not very graphic) details of a (not very gross) minor medical condition, then I’d recommend you return to munching down your cereal and slurping your coffee, and catch me tomorrow instead.

Are you going? You’d better go now, because I’m about to start.

Seriously. It’s seconds away, now. See you later.

Ticktickticktick... Image: lssacademy.com

Image: lssacademy.com

Right. Time’s up. I’m jumping in.

Still here? Interesting.

Okay. So, I may not have mentioned before that I have dermatitis on my palms. Sometimes, it doesn’t bother me at all, and my hands are as smooth as the proverbial baby’s behind, and all that; other times, though, like now, it erupts into red hell and itches so badly that it feels like I’ve minced up a few Carolina Reapers and rubbed ’em into my skin. It can take me totally by surprise, too – yesterday evening, my hands were a little itchy, but I thought nothing of it. However, I woke up this morning and I’d turned into a crab-clawed witch, and so, it was out with the steroid cream and in with the self-pity and whimpering. Several years ago it got so bad that I had to take sick leave from the job I was working in at the time because I pretty much couldn’t use my hands for about a week, and that, my friends, was not fun. I am nowhere near as bad as that at the moment, of course, but every time I get a flare-up, I think of it.

I’m not really sure what causes it. I’m told it was originally an allergic reaction (but I don’t know to what), and it seems to flare when I’m stressed. It’s an indicator of stress that I might not even be consciously aware I’m feeling, actually – everything seems okay this morning, but my hands are burning so I can assume something’s going on somewhere inside me. As well as being monumentally irritating, though, it also makes things like typing quite difficult, which is handy (no pun intended) when typing is all you do, all day every day. I feel a bit like fat-fingered Homer.

Image: dailydot.com

Image: dailydot.com

It’s easy to take your health for granted, and to just assume you’ll be well – physically, mentally, spiritually – when you wake up every morning to start your day. Sometimes, though, it’s not as straightforward as that. I’m not even talking about myself, here – I mean that in a general sense. I’m not suggesting a bit of dermatitis is equivalent to a proper medical condition, or anything like it. My hands aren’t painful this morning, really (there have been times when they’ve literally looked like stigmata, bleeding and raw, which is terrible), but the itch is such a distraction that it is making concentration difficult. It’s sort of cruel, because I spent all weekend keeping far, far away from ‘Tider’, and even trying not to think about it; as a result my brain is bubbling with ideas this morning about how to solve the problems I’ve been running into. It’s also bubbling with the urge to tear the skin off my palms, though, so there’s a definite conflict of interest there.

Rawr! I am dermatitis. Feel my sting! Image: en.wikipedia.org

Rawr! I am dermatitis. Feel my sting!
Image: en.wikipedia.org

So, today will mostly be spent feeling itchy and resisting the urge to scratch, and (doing my best attempt at) rewriting the end of ‘Tider’ in accordance with a flash of inspiration that occurred to me as I was going to sleep last night. My new plan for the book’s conclusion solves a huge plot wrinkle that I’d been trying to work around, will be significantly shorter and (hopefully) a lot more interesting.

I’m also a lot more enthusiastic about it this morning than I was on Friday, so that’s good.

Right, that’s it. I can’t resist the temptation to dunk my hands in ice-water any longer, so I’ll leave it there for now. Have a good day. It’s Monday, don’t forget, so please do be kind to yourself. See you tomorrow, when – with any luck – my hands will be healed and calm and not driving me round the bend.

Tider Tuesday

Today, I’m beginning a monumental task. What better day to do it than a Tuesday, yes? Yes.

Today, I am beginning a rewrite of ‘Tider’. I’m sure y’all will remember me talking about this poor, long-neglected novel of mine, which I started last year and thought I’d finished in January of this year. You may also remember the near meltdown that engulfed me in the latter stages of said novel, and you may (or, probably, may not) have been wondering why I’ve been so quiet about it ever since.

Well. The reason is this.

Writing ‘Eldritch’ has given me a huge insight into the kind of writer I want to be. Writing ‘Eldritch’ has shown me that I really truly do love children’s books, and that while I love reading YA books, I’m not terribly good at writing them – at least, not at the moment. In the current version of ‘Tider’, my main character is in her mid-teens, and there’s a love interest, and she’s awkwardly finding out about her feelings for this love interest while simultaneously trying to save her family, and quite possibly the world, from destruction; I realise now that the love interest was superfluous – at least, as far as I’m concerned. The important thing about the story was the character, her family, and her love for them. In short, ‘Tider’ – in its current form – is a children’s book trying to be a YA book.

My original idea for ‘Tider’ involved my main character and her best friend going off on an adventure in an attempt to save the life of the best friend’s father, and unwittingly getting involved in a situation much bigger than either of them could have imagined, which leaves the fate of the world at stake. In the course of the book, the characters would be faced with hard choices, about their families and also about their friendship, and my MC and her own father would be set on a collision course due to his unwillingness to help them in their quest. For some reason, this became a story about a girl rebelling against her father and wanting to find out the truth about her mother, getting involved in a vigilante group and falling in love with one of its ringleaders, who then go on to try to take her father out of business (because his ‘business’ is illegal and immoral and wrong, something the MC gradually comes to see.) You might also remember that ‘Tider’ was far too long – somewhere in the region of 150,000 words, which is lunacy – and the time and effort that would be involved in taking it as it is and editing it down to a manageable size would, I feel, be better spent in ‘simply’ rewriting the book completely.

I’m being very calm about this, all things considered.

I look a bit like this guy, but that's irrelevant. Image: creepypasta.wikia.com

I look a bit like this guy, but that’s irrelevant.
Image: creepypasta.wikia.com

Over the past few days and weeks, the idea for ‘Tider’ Mk. II has been taking shape in my head. I think I have a first page, and a first chapter, and a revised structure – basically, the plot is the same but without some of the more complicated subplots and, of course, the romance element – and, really, all I’m doing is going back to my original plan for the book. In a way, I feel it’s been a long, painful, but necessary process.

I do wish, sort of, that I’d been able to come to this conclusion without all the stress and sweat and panic and hard work, but then, that’s what learning is all about, isn’t it?

Things I have learned from this process:

If you’re struggling – to the point of tears – with a book, then take a step back and reassess it. If it’s not working, it may not be anything you’re doing wrong. It may just be not working.

If you’re panicking about your book, and plot twists or ‘patches’ or ideas are coming to you at a crazy pace, and when you work them into your book and they fix something for a while but cause you bigger problems later on, don’t just leave them there. Go back over what you’ve done, and calmly, rationally unpick it, and see if there’s something better you can do.

If you’re not enjoying the writing – with the caveat that, of course, writing is work, and hard work, and should be challenging – then something may be slightly off-kilter. Again, take some time to think and reassess and, perhaps, take a complete break from what you’re doing for a while.

Do not set yourself minimum word limits every day. Do not force yourself to reach 5,000 words, or 6,000 words, or 7,000 words… every day, just write the amount of words you can write, and be happy with that.

If you’re really not getting anywhere with a project, start something else; come back to the first project when you’re ready.

So. Wish me luck? And, I hope, if you’re having trouble with a piece you’re working on, that you’ll take heart from my struggle and realise nothing is too difficult to overcome.

Right. I’m setting phasers to ‘Write’. See you all tomorrow!

Start Your Engines!

So, it’s Monday. It’s grey and windy outside. My husband went back to work today after having some holiday time at home, and I miss him. I’m feeling a bit blech and I don’t really know why.

Oh, yeah – now I remember why. It’s my birthday today. Let the grimacing commence!

I feel old (even though I’m not, really) and completely unmotivated to do any work, as I’m sure most people are on their birthdays – at least, I hope so! I don’t want to be the conspicuously odd-one-out lazybones over here. But I will get myself down to it as soon as this blog post is done. Writing a blog is great on so many levels, but I appreciate it most as a kick-start into the day; once I’ve written my post, I have no excuse not to keep writing. This is what I tell myself, at least!

I do feel like today’s writing is going to be an uphill struggle, though. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my characters, and I’m still having ideas as to how to strengthen and improve the story so as to make it richer, more layered, more enjoyable to read and more interesting, but there’s always that little voice whispering to me, its words pervasive: this isn’t very good, now is it? Who do you think is going to read this, hmm? Well, maybe you can count on your family buying a copy, but they’re not actually going to read it. Come on now, let’s be realistic – given the amount of writers out there, why do you think your work is going to make any sort of impression? And so on, and so on.

Homer Simpson with angel on one shoulder, devil on the other

I know how Homer feels right now!

I’m not writing in order to be rich, or famous, or to have people harass me for my autograph over the frozen food aisle in the supermarket, or anything like that. If that’s what I wanted, I’d go on one of those sick-making ‘reality’ TV shows that are popping up like warts all over what passes for popular culture these days. I’m writing because it’s been an urge, a compulsion, in my heart ever since I can remember, and despite how hard it is (and it really, truly is hard work) I know I will feel this urge for the rest of my life, and life handed me an opportunity to pursue it for a while, and here I am. So, really, the little inner voice shouldn’t even bother me, and motivation shouldn’t be an issue.

But it is.

I’ve finished draft 2, and today I’m going to start work on draft 3. This means I will, hopefully, have managed to work through one more draft than I’d planned to by the time this book needs to be finished. I had planned to finish draft 2 by the end of November, but I managed it a little bit more quickly than I’d expected. I’m hoping this is because my editing/rewriting skills improved as I went on, and not because I wasn’t doing my job properly as I got closer to the end! I do feel the book is stronger now than it was before, but there are still some scenes I’m not entirely happy with, and which I feel a professional editor, were I to employ one, would tell me to get rid of. But that’s the beauty of drafts – nobody ever needs to see draft 1, draft 2 or even draft 3. Nobody but me ever needs to read the silly, clunky, unrealistic, ridiculous scenes that are currently littering this book, and which (with any luck) by the beginning of January will have been excised. Fingers crossed, with any luck this story of mine will – one day – be published, and all people will read is the polished, practically perfect finished product. In fact, I hope all this effort will culminate in a good piece of work, even if it never comes to publication.

Another problem is that my WiP is very long – longer than guidelines suggest books of its genre should be when you’re trying to find an agent or a publisher. I know this isn’t good, so that’s going to be priority 1 for this next drafting exercise. I think, however, I’m sort of programmed to add, rather than remove, words – I don’t think I’m a good editor of my own work. I’m much better when editing someone else’s writing, probably because there’s no emotional connection there. I’m also not sure I can make the story any shorter – if I cut scenes out, I have a feeling I’ll realise that I’ve lost a vital plot point and they’ll have to be reinstated. Or, I’ll have to rewrite the scenes to include the vital plot point, and I’ll end up creating an even more ridiculous scenario that takes even more words to describe! *Sigh*

Well, I guess there’s nothing for it but to just get started. The kettle’s boiling, and the coffee’s on the way. My lovely husband bought me two brilliant albums for my birthday present – Neil Young’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’ and Jack White’s ‘Blunderbuss’ – so I have some inspirational company as I kick off draft 3.

Wish me luck!

Some Saturday Reading

Yesterday (a little ahead of schedule) I finished my second draft of the WiP. It’s by no means ready for public consumption yet, but it’s that little bit closer to being how I want it to be. The end is still not right – it happens too fast, and almost seems like an anti-climax after the story that comes before it, and I still have some work to do with my protagonist (though she’d like to say thanks to everyone for asking after her, and wants to let you all know she’s much happier now that she gets to kick some butt).

So, I thought maybe I’d write a quick post about what I’ve been reading, and some of what’s on my to-be-read list. I’ve just finished ‘What’s Left of Me’ by Kat Zhang, which I really enjoyed, even if the author is so absurdly young that it’s made me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life.

It’s a wonderful concept – the book asks how would you cope if there was more than one soul, more than one consciousness, in your body? In Zhang’s imagined world, people are born with twin souls and they spend their early lives inseparably entwined. After a certain age, though, doctors begin to get worried if one soul doesn’t prove itself to be ‘recessive’ and begin to fade away; if this doesn’t happen naturally, children are brought for treatment to ‘help’ one of their souls to disappear. As is made clear throughout the story, each soul is a distinct personality – it’s not a case of someone hearing a voice in their head, or anything like that. The main characters in this book are Addie and Eva, two unique young women who happen to share one body. It’s a book that asks hard questions like what it means to be a human person without any power, not even the power to move your own body, and what rights you should expect; it asks questions about psychiatric care, and how doctors with no experience of the condition they’re treating can possibly know what’s best for a patient. It made me wonder about individuality, and how it would feel to be inside a body which may be doing things you find abhorrent, but over which you have no control. The writing is good – it’s clear, and the plot moves along quickly. At times I did feel as though the larger issues were somewhat glossed over – or, more exactly, I felt that the author didn’t make the best of the wonderful ideas on show – but this book is the first in a series, so it remains to be seen what she’ll do with the characters. I’d recommend it. It has tinges of Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’, but is a very different book in terms of style.

I also recently read ‘Wolf’ by Gillian Cross – this is not a new book, so it might be hard to find. The edition I have dates from 1992, and I’m not sure if there are more recent editions.

It’s definitely the kind of book I like – unique, original, a bit crazy, peopled with memorable characters and a plot which seems completely unfettered in places, giving the story a sense of freedom and unpredictability. Our protagonist is a young girl who lives with her grandmother, except for occasional breaks where she is sent to live with her mother. These breaks are always preceded by a strange midnight visitor to her grandmother’s home, and the girl (Cassy) isn’t sure who the visitor is. The book shows its age in terms of technology – telephone boxes, no internet, and so on – which is great for readers of my vintage, but even so the story throbs with life, exploring the meaning of family and love, and what it means to not be sure of who you are. It’s excellent – if you can find it, I recommend it.

I also read ‘The Emerald Atlas’ by John Stephens not so long ago; I’d had this one on my radar for a long time.

It was good, too – a nice long, complicated, twisty storyline designed to get the neurons firing. It involves time travel, three siblings who must unravel the mystery of their missing parents, and figure out how to use a strange book with incredible powers in order to save an entire village from an evil witch and her undead warriors. I did like this book, but not as much as I thought I would – some things irritated me, like the fact that the author decided, conveniently, that two versions of the same object can exist at the same time. As in, if someone travels back through time clutching the mysterious book, which also exists in the past, that both versions of the book can exist for about half an hour before one of them will disappear. That annoyed me because I thought it was a cop-out, of sorts! I really liked the writing, though, and I loved the siblings’ relationship with one another. So, overall, this one is worth a try. It’s the first part in a series, too, so perhaps things will improve.

I picked up Frances Hardinge’s ‘Twilight Robbery’ last weekend, so I’m looking forward to getting into that. I read the previous book to this one, ‘Fly By Night’, a few years ago and wasn’t too sure about it, but the writing is good enough to entice me to give it another go. I also have ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ by Michael Chabon on my to-read shelf; this, despite the title, is not a children’s book. I do occasionally dip my toes into grown-up literature, too!

I’m off to enjoy some words that I didn’t sweat and agonise over, for a change – I hope you find some time to read and/or write this weekend, too. Whatever you do, enjoy and take care.

The Stillness of Saturday

*whispering* Hello, everybody!

My house is so quiet at the moment, I almost feel like the sound of my typing will start a mini-earthquake. My husband’s having a bit of a lie-in, as is only logical on a Saturday, and we’re easing ourselves into the day. We have a long journey to complete later today, and – as is so often the case – when you know you’ll be busy later, you tend to take it easy when you can. Saturdays are the best day for this sort of thing, which is why I love them so very much.

Yesterday, I did a bit of work on the WiP – not as much as a regular day, because I was a lady with a lot on her mind. I did manage to get to the bottom of one of my crazy plot issues, the one I said was on my mind over breakfast yesterday morning. When I went back to look at it again, it actually didn’t seem as bad as I’d remembered, but I changed it around a bit anyway to make it seem more real, and more human. I think, actually, that what I’d done wrong with that scene was the same mistake I’ve made at several points in the WiP, so I had a good sense of how to improve it. Sometimes it’s hard to bear in mind when you’re writing a scene at a particularly emotionally charged moment in your book that you have to keep things logical, realistic and consistent – at least, it is for me. What I mean is, you have your plot in the back of your mind, and you know where you want your characters to be in two or three pages’ time, so sometimes – unconsciously – this knowledge can spill into earlier scenes and skew them. Your main character is having a fight with her father, for instance, and it’s important in order to show problems in their relationship or to hint at difficulties the father is facing and cannot, for whatever reason, get his children involved with – and that scene is important in its own right. But you, the author, know that your main character will shortly be rappelling down the side of a building with a bomb clutched between her teeth (or whatever!), and so this seeps into your delicately constructed scene between her and her father, making it seem rushed or making her react out of character, or making her give away too many hints at what’s about to happen. I do this because I’m excited about what’s coming and I want to get to it, but I know it doesn’t make for a great reading experience. That’s why drafting and editing are, for me, so vital – I never see these things until I’m going over my work a second, or even a third, time.

I go through up-and-down phases with this work; sometimes, writing it feels like chewing glass. It’s hard, I don’t want to do it, and I know it’s going to hurt. A lot of the time, though, it’s the best thing in the world – I’m tapping away at the keyboard, filling up the screen with my imagination, and it’s an incomparable feeling of freedom and joy. The highs definitely make the lows worthwhile, but it can be hard to remember the happiness of flying high above your imagined world when you’re stuck in the nitty-gritty, trying to remember what colour eyes you said such-and-such a character had way back on page 4, or whether a plotline you’ve spent weeks perfecting actually works, now that it’s down on a page. But how can I complain? The more I do this, the more I feel I’m on the right track. I may never be a well-known author, and I may never have any readers outside of my immediate family. Come to that, I may never be published at all! But every day, or every other day, when I sit down to unravel some more of this complex, maddening, beautiful (to me), long-cherished tapestry in my mind, I know that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. As my mother says, if you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life – and she’s right.

Speaking of my parents, it’s actually my dad’s birthday today. Hip-hip-hooray! He won’t be reading this until next week, because he’s off away for the weekend with my mother, but I wanted to send him love and congratulations anyway. Happy Birthday, Popser.

Whether or not it’s your birthday, and whether or not you’re working on anything in particular, and whether or not your Saturday has been quiet or manic or windswept or whatever so far, I hope you have a wonderful day. As ever, thanks for reading, and we’ll talk again soon.


The Kraken, The Weather, and Me

Well, somehow it’s managed to become Tuesday again without my noticing it. I hate it when it does that.

I spent a lot of yesterday reading – which will come as no surprise to most of you, I’d wager – and I’m finding myself engrossed by China Miéville’s ‘Kraken’. Like all of Miéville’s novels, this one is so imaginative that it leaves you breathless as you read, asking yourself ‘did that just happen? How did that just happen?’ The plot asks us to imagine that someone has stolen a massive specimen jar from London’s Natural History Museum – a specimen jar which contains the preserved body of a giant squid, Architeuthis. The jar is so large that it seems impossible, at first, to imagine how (or why) it has been taken, but it soon starts to become clear to our protagonist, Billy Harrow, that strange things indeed are afoot. He is faced with a succession of strange and creepy Londoners on his quest to find out what happened, and some of these characters are among the most interesting I’ve ever met. I’m particularly fond of Collingswood, the smoking, foul-mouthed and wisecracking young PC (who is also gifted in extraordinary ways) who begins to crack the case. I’m not finished the book yet, but I have enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Miéville’s style can sometimes be complex, with a lot of neologisms and complex (and unexplained) jargon which we just have to do our best with; it’s a bit like jumping from one stepping stone to another across a wild, rushing river. It’s worth the effort, though. The setting for ‘Kraken’ has been compared to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, and I can see why – it’s about an alternative London, it’s peopled with strange and weird creatures and magic crackles between the paving flags of the City. I love ‘Neverwhere’, and I do think ‘Kraken’ borrows some ideas from it, especially the fact that it also features a pair of sickeningly evil characters who go about together, one of whom is silent and the other extremely talkative – reading Miéville’s Goss and Subby is the same as reading Gaiman’s Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. But, that said, I definitely have room in my heart for both these books.

Reading it has set me off thinking about the Kraken again. I say ‘again’ because I used to be obsessed with it as a child.

I first came across pictures like this one in books and encyclopedias when I was very young, and I never quite shook the fascination with these gargantuan kings of the sea. I used to imagine the heart-shredding terror of being on board ship as tentacles the size of giant redwoods started to wrap around the vessel, and the sheer helplessness of knowing there was nothing you could do about it. I tried to picture the Kraken and the Whale, locked in their eternal combat, and even tried on several occasions to draw my own version of the battle between these two sea-giants. It has always interested me, so much so that when I first tried my hand at writing a book, over a decade ago now, I featured the Kraken as a character. Or, at least, I kept mentioning the Kraken all the way through the book – but he/she/it never actually made an appearance. This glaring omission did not occur to me until I’d finished the book, and was reading back through it. It made me wonder how on earth I’d managed to bring one of the most compelling creatures in fiction into this story of mine without actually remembering to feature it at the story’s conclusion.

There may be a good reason why this story has never seen the light of day.

Some years later, I started a new story, also featuring the Kraken, but I haven’t yet managed to finish this one. It’s on the back burner, and as soon as I have time to get back to it, I will. Reading Miéville has renewed my interest in the Kraken, and it has also reminded me of the lesson I learned all those years ago – don’t keep mentioning something in a story if you have no way to bring it in, properly, to the plot. It’s like the dramatic principle described by the playwright Anton Chekhov – if you feature a loaded gun on stage in Act One, it must be fired by Act Three; if not, it has no place on the stage to begin with. I hadn’t intended to create a huge red herring through my (mis)use of the Kraken in my first book, all those years ago – it was merely a rookie mistake, but a valuable one. I promise to feature the Kraken the whole way through my new story – may I be dragged beneath the waves by a giant tentacled arm and drowned if I don’t!

As for the weather – well, I’ve learned a lesson in self-pity lately, all because of the weather. I’m really beginning to feel the needle-teeth of winter here, and people are starting to speculate about whether we’ll have a ‘hard’ winter, i.e. whether the very bad snow and ice we’ve seen in recent years will make a comeback. I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself at the prospect of facing into that sort of hardship, when I turned on the news last night and watched the coverage of Hurricane Sandy. I was taken aback by the scale of the thing, and a friend of mine (whose parents and other relatives live in Connecticut) told me that her family have had to furnish their basements and bring their generators down there in order to prepare themselves for the next few days. Apparently, as ‘hardy New Englanders’, none of this is new to them – but I felt very small for being afraid of the sort of weather we’re likely to get here. It reminded me how lucky I am to live in Ireland!

So, I hope you have a snow-, ice- and Kraken-free day, wherever you are. And if you’re in any way affected by the Hurricane, my thoughts are with you. Fingers crossed it won’t take too heavy a toll.

How was your Weekend?

Happy Monday!

It’s sunny here, and the trees at the end of our garden are golden, which automatically puts me in a good mood.  The light is wonderful, and it’s the sort of day that begs you to go outside – as soon as I’ve written this, I’ll go exploring for a while.

I hope everyone had a good weekend.  I spent mine recovering from a heavy cold, reading a lot and doing quite a bit of baking.  Yesterday, we went to the cinema to see ‘Looper’ just before it leaves; I was a bit scared to see it, because I thought it would be very similar to my WiP in some respects.  Turns out it wasn’t at all like my WiP, and it was also a good movie, if a little full of unanswered questions.  Somehow though these don’t seem to matter, because the film overall is entertaining and well-paced.  I’m not sure what they did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look so different, and I’m also amazed by how good a job he did in ‘impersonating’ another actor in the movie (I don’t want to give too much away in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet!), but it was pretty impressive.  It made me wonder whether it’s easier to get away with unanswered questions and sticky, problematic plot holes in the media of film as opposed to in writing.  Perhaps I’m wrong!

I also read some books.  I’m afraid to say how many in case you think I’m a nutter.  Sometimes my husband gets a bit afraid when he sees me reading; I think, secretly, he fears I may be an android.  (I’m not, I swear!)  One of the books I read was ‘The Poison Throne’ by Celine Kiernan, an award-winning Irish author.  I absolutely loved it, and I can’t wait to read the second and third book in the Moorehawke Trilogy (‘Poison Throne’ is Book One, obviously).  I’m amazed by how books have now really taken on the mantle of ‘tutorials’ for me in recent months – not only am I reading them for enjoyment, but I’m also learning from them more than ever before.  I always admired things like narrative voice, structure, characterisation, imagery and so on in the books I read, but now that I’m mid-way through my own effort to create a finished book, I’m really taking note of how other people manage the things I feel I have problems with.

Celine Kiernan is a wonderful writer, and she’s deservedly award-winning.  Things I learned from ‘The Poison Throne’ include:

How it’s all right, even if your book is action-driven and full of tension and serious Goings On, to have funny dialogue and very amusing scenes; it doesn’t derail the tense bits;

How to use details to make something seem real – for instance, Wynter and her father in ‘The Poison Throne’ are carpenters, and Kiernan uses just enough information about what they do to give us an authentic sense of it, without overloading us with the nitty-gritty and making us feel like we’re drowning in sawdust;

How to handle action scenes, and make them scary and real without coming across as corny;

How to create a confident, self-assured, charismatic protagonist without making her seem arrogant, and how to pitch a voice which is appropriate to a person of the age my own main character is.  I really found that hard, so reading this book gave me an insight into what’s suitable.

As well as all that, it was a wonderful story which gave me such enjoyment, and it’s full of well-fleshed characters, each with their own voice.  I loved how her characters hint at their hidden depths and their back stories, and I really loved the political intrigue of life in the kingdom.  I really got a sense of the suffocating nature of protocol and how horrible it must be to have to do something for fear of angering the king in ‘The Poison Throne’ – the punishments for crossing ‘Good’ King Jonathon are laid out very clearly!

I still haven’t dared to revisit my own WiP; the more I leave it to settle, the more my ideas around it are becoming clear.  Details I could add are occurring to me and certain plot problems are beginning to work themselves out, so I suppose leaving it to settle for another few days might be a good thing.  I suppose, too, it’s good to stay away from it until I really start to miss it – that can only strengthen my desire to make it as good as I can.  Here’s hoping, at least.  Meanwhile, I’ll look a bit like this:

Whether you’re writing, editing, or (like me) percolating, I wish you well.  Have a great day.