Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crafting your work - a post with an extract

When teaching writing (or guiding the writers), I often encourage my students to understand that it is a very rare person indeed who can get perfection first time. I will then show them an example of an early draft of a chapter sometimes with editoral queries and get them to have a go at 'fixing' the peice. Then, I will show them the final published extract.

If you are interested in seeing an example of this, go here to read the raw, shitty first draft (and my first ever) fight scene. I have to say, I really did struggle with them and I mention this struggle and the reasons for it. So, after asking myself a number of times 'what do I see? what do I hear? How do I feel? This is the final, edited version of the fight scene with Fleance and Macduff.

From Chapter 31, about half way into the chapter:

They had been fighting for three hours and only the runners, who came with water and supplies, and their determination to fight to protect Scotland, kept them going. Fleance had trained his mind to see the men before him as difficult branches he had to cut down for Magness. It would undo him to imagine them as flesh and blood.

As Duncan has said, the rebels were not so well armed or trained as they had all been led to believe. Their weapons were inferior and their soldiers poorly equipped. Only anger and strength, it seemed, propelled them forward.

Beside him, fought Macduff. The old man talked all the way through his fights with whoever he was up against – sometimes with humour and sometimes with rage. In another life, Fleance thought after one such dialogue, the man would have been a great jester of the court.

Sword and shield moved as if with a life of their own, following the pattern Macduff had taught them. Fleance held up his shield and blocked the crash of his enemy’s axe, swinging his sword up and around, driving the blade into the vulnerable gap between the two pieces of armour.

Spinning against the falling body onto the next man. Block. Swing. Aim for the gap. Hack. Don’t think. Don’t stop. On and on.

Many men fell under their onslaught. Fleance was glad to have Macduff by his side as he fought against those who came against him. Some he killed; a number he fought but they, knowing they were out-smarted, quickly ran away.

Such was the case of the last man to try his luck against Banquo’s sword. After two attempts to thrust his own into Fleance’s side, both times blocked easily, the rebel threw down his sword in defeat and lifted his hands in surrender.

Macduff had dispatched his last enemy and turned to the trembling man who stood before Fleance. ‘Away with yer, yer skanky dog. Take yer tail between yer legs and tell yer leader Macduff says it’s a foolish man who tries to conquer Scotland.’ The man hesitated a moment and Macduff feigned to charge him. The terrified rebel turned on his heels and sprinted back across the battle field to his own side. ‘Foolish geat,’ Macduff growled. ‘You were kind to spare his life.’

Fleance shook his head. ‘Honour, not kindness. He had surrendered. Had I run him through, it would be murder.’

The field lay before them. Many fellows were down. Sounds of moaning and crying drifted into the cold, spring air. Fleance and Macduff removed their helmets and lent against their swords, breathing heavily.

‘You have your father’s skill and strength,’ Macduff said, looking closely at Fleance.

Fleance shook his head. ‘Twas not from Banquo I received this education but from my adoptive father who spent many long hours teaching me the skills of the sword and crossbow.’

As they rested, catching their breath, Fleance sensed the fight against the rebels was almost won. Many men fled the sight of the Scottish army and, after a gruelling three hours, he could see soldiers from both camps withdrawing, staggering back to their posts into the mist and cold.

Around them, the battlefield was littered with bodies – some alive and some dead. Fleance and Macduff were two of the few left standing. It was a gruesome and sad sight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Visiting the blog

You may have stumbled upon this site looking for the same answers I had when I thought about Macbeth, by William Shakespeare: What happened next?? What about the prophecies?

Thanks for coming by. Like you, these are vexing issues with the conclusion of the play but I have written the sequel. It's very good. I have a number of keen readers who have encouraged me. This story is legit: book is coming out in NZ in Sept. Date for international release yet to be confirmed.

But, I can see, by my site meter, that there are some regular visitors to this blog. Introduce yourself. I am delighted with your interest.

a public outing

Last night, at the Dunedin branch of New Zealand Society of Authors we were invited to read something of what we were working on. What a priviledge it was to sit there listening to some of New Zealand's finest writers. Then, it was my turn. I read the prologue to Blood Lines. I think it went well. Certainly, I felt pleased with my reading and the response.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The page 69 test

I found this information while following a link from a link of Beattie's Book Blog which I found on The Campaign for the American Reader blogsite which cited Marshall McLuhan who suggested that you should choose your reading by turning to page 69 of a book and, if you like it, read it. So, I've done that withe Banquo's Son but it's not a proper test as it's still in its manuscript/copy edits stage. Still, this is page 69. What do you think?

There was a knock on the door. ‘Enter,’ Duncan called. Firth, Donalbain’s serving man, entered with a tray and another servant carried in jugs of wine. At the sight of the lone Duncan, Firth paled. ‘It’s alright, man. Father has left but I don’t think he’s wanting food just now. Perhaps if you could have some at the ready.’ The servants came further into the chamber and Duncan deliberated over having his meal here alone, in case his father came back, or to go join the others in the dining hall.
Because he didn’t know where his father had gone, nor how long he would be, he decided it prudent to stay put.
As it turned out, it was a judicious decision for not fifteen minutes after the servants had left, Donalbain returned with two of his advisors: Old Preston who had looked over his father’s affairs since Duncan was seven, Bree’s age now; a scrawny, bad tempered man who all the children of the castle loathed. There was always something distasteful about the way he looked at the girls, especially Rachel of late, and the fawning way he addressed Donalbain made Duncan’s skin crawl. They did not even enjoy a reprieve when the family fled to Ireland after King Duncan’s murder for Preston had travelled with them.
The other advisor had only joined the castle last spring. His name was Calum and he had a strange way of speaking so that Duncan had difficulty placing where he was from: the highlands? Lowlands? Further south? That he was educated was obvious and he spoke a number of languages: Latin, French, German and Celtic as well as English. He didn’t say very much but Donalbain seemed to trust him implicitly.
‘Calum,’ Donalbain said. ‘Duncan here has given some good counsel.’ Duncan saw Old Preston twitch with displeasure, his top lip lifting in a sneer. ‘He says to ignore that fool brother and get down to the business of preparations.’
Duncan knew better than to correct his father’s loose translation of his advice.
‘Indeed, your lordship,’ Calum replied, his attentions completely on Donalbain. ‘I think Duncan is very wise for his age.’
‘Just like his father then,’ Preston whined. ‘He is a mirror image of you sire.’
Donalbain ignored him. ‘We need to get the household ready to mourn my brother’s imminent death but we also need to show the people of Scotland that they are to gain a king who has the good of the country and its peoples in his heart.’ He spun around to Preston. ‘That was good – write it down!’

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Two treats from two tarts today

Actually, they're not tarts: they're two of my very dearest friends. Firstly, Jo, intrepid photographer of everything God created was kind enough to come over and photograph my writing space (the charger for the camera disappeared down the back of a cabinet).

I've just been doing the end of the year accounts (to see, yet again, how I've spent far too much of my royalties on books and research but at least I get a refund!). On the long table is where I do the hand written stuff: the reading over of the manuscript, making notes, agreeing or disagreeing with the publisher. To the far right of the table you'll see a small pile of video tapes - this is school stuff (yes, it IS the holidays but I promised the boss I'd do some work for her.)There's also an incredibly useful resource: A historical atlas of Scotland - where to look when you wanna know it your main man is going to ride through a forest in the winter of 1054.

Out of the picture, on the far right, is a wall lined with shelves. These house all my reference/writing books, a large treasure box full of treasures, one dumbbell (pink), copies of my books and various other things I've taken off the desks to give you the impression I'm a tidy person.

The white board is a critical part of my writing life: I write goals for myself, reminders and deadlines. I feel, by putting up a list of books in incubation, I might just give them life one day. Here's a photo of the whiteboard at the College of Education when I was the Children's Writer in Residence

It's pleasing to see Space Gum and Bully Book have both been published. G-Force has been rejected by everyone and the other three are the aforementioned in waiting.

However, I love this photo because it's quite symbolic of my writing topic at the moment.

On the screen is the prologue to Blood Lines; that little book gets a special mention in the acknowledgements of Banquo's Son - out of print Thesaurus; and the paper weight from my dear friend Gillian. It's a portrait of Virginia Woolf and the saying: A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

But, finally, this is what I look out on (if I'm not sitting at the dining room table like now)

The other gift is from the domestic goddess herself, Vanda Symon She sent me a sisterhood award

Thanks Vanda. It's nice to have a friend on the outside to recognise that this 'being a writer thing' is not necessarily something which comes easily or without sacrifice.
As with these awards there are a few simple rules:
1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate up to 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude!
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.
I must (and it's not hard to do), nominate others for this award.
Firstly, to Vanda Symon (by the way, click on her name and go to her webpage) because she's generous, patient, puts the needs of her family before her own and is bringing up two very special boys (whom she delights in). Not only this, she gives of herself for her community: the boys' school, NZSA the Otago community with her work on Radio, the telly, and a wide variety of writery and not so writery friends. And, she still manages to smile and laugh (and sometimes cry) and have coffee with me every now and then. However, for me, it's her faith in me - that she actually still loves me despite all the momentous cocks up I spring upon the world.

Another woman I'd like to give this award to is Jeannie McLean Jeannie mentored me through many years as I worked hard to rise to the top of my education field. She cheered me on and was sympathetic to my many knock backs. In the same way, I believe in Jeannie as a writer and she deserves this award for persisting even when the rejection letters arrive. Like Vanda, Jeannie is a crime writer but for YA and they are fab stories. She has a tight, energetic, no fuss style and the kids love her books.

The last woman (for now - I can think of four others off the top of me head but I've been working on this post for an hour) is Fifi Colston Years ago, when I was struggling with PND and crying, pooing babies and all I wanted to do was be slim again and wear nice clothes (or at least one shirt without baby puke on it) and go back into the classroom where it was much safer, Fifi uplifted me with her hilarious poems in the Next magazine. Never for one moment back then when I was laughing through the tears, could I imagine a time would come and Fifi and I would be friends. Like all the other women nominated, we have felt the sting of rejection for our talent. And, like us all, we're darn fine writers.

I must go as the the first of the four male guests from the National Youth Choir has entered the kitchen to cook scrambled eggs for everyone - their mummies would be pleased. Such georgeous young fellas. One is sooo handsome, I'm gonna take a photo and send it to the publisher as a potential face for the cover of Banquo's Son.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blood Lines

I am so enjoying writing the sequel to Banquo's Son. I lay awake at night and in the morning participating in the scenes I see before me. I know what happens in the end but it's so cool to be apart of the process of getting there.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Outcome of the meeting with the babes

They all agreed they loved the title 'Blood Lines' for the sequel. So, from now on, that's what I shall say when I'm talking about book two.

Secondly, I said: Fleance needs an advisor - who should it be. After a brief discussion we discovered that William (the conquorer though he isn't that yet) of Normandy has a randy, disruptive younger brother whom he sends to Scotland in the hope that he will be sorted out. We are delighted. This young Frenchman is an incarnation of Macduff: witty, brave, reckless and very, very funny. He's also a sex maniac (though, I prefer the term, a romantic).

I'm always so excited when new character comes along. We are going to have so much fun with this guy - he will be a foil for Flea (and maybe a pain in the A at times as well). Still, he has a heart of gold and also (which is very needed in these (2nd book) anxious times) well versed in the royal way of things.

I've promised the babes I will have the first five chapters to them before the end of the 2nd week of the holidays (which started today - praise the Lord).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just giving you a taste - will post another next week

It was too hot and she should not have worn the tight woollen dress for this day. Ma had suggested the lighter blue dress but the red always made her feel pretty. Children milled around the large cordoned off area at the top end of the field, their excited chatter and laughter filling the air. Rosie sighed as she scanned the crowds. There were no girls her age – or boys, for that matter. Those gathered were either older women and men or young ones keen to have a go at the variety of games and competitions the village elders had organised.

Suddenly a voiced called her name. ‘Rosie!’ She looked in the direction of the sound and saw Miri’s daughter, Keavy making her way forward.

‘Rosie,’ Keavy shouted in excitement. ‘You must come!’ The little girl flew at Rosie and pulled on her arm.

‘What is it?’ Rosie laughed as she was dragged along.

‘We are to do the three-legged race but Flea won’t have a partner.’

Flea? Rosie’s heart skipped a beat. She’d only met him twice but each time she had seen something in his eyes that promised so much more. She had not even considered he would attend the carnival. Her parents had spoken of Magness being reclusive and it never occurred to her they would attend something like a carnival. Why hadn’t she anticipated this? Still being pulled by the little girl, Rosie tried to tidy her hair with her free hand, pushing fly-away strands back into her braid.

‘Keavy, slow down!’ she cried as she tried to stop puffing. By now, Keavy was running, pulling Rosie behind her.

‘Come on!’ Keavy giggled lifting her skirts above her knees. ‘I'll race you. Ready. Set. Go.’ And the wee one sprinted off before Rosie had a moment to think.

‘That’s not fair!’ Rosie called after her and jogged along. ‘You're faster than me.’

She heard Keavy call before she disappeared into the small wooded area, ‘Not as fast as Flea!’ And then, she was gone.

Flea. Rosie stopped, put her hands on her knees and tried to catch her breath. She remembered the way he looked at her when they first met. Then the night they had visited Magness’s family he had sat close enough for her to feel the brush of his arm against hers as they laughed and talked around the fire. Her stomach took a sudden flip at the memory, her heart fluttering with excitement. How she’d dreamed of him. His soft blue eyes, his nervous glances at her…And now, she was to see him again! She walked toward the shaded crop of trees, smoothing down her dress and fussing with her hair. With all this running, did she look too wild? Breathe and be calm, she told herself as she walked toward the sounds of people working and laughing which came to her on the warm breeze.

‘Whao, whao, whao!’ cried a man’s voice. ‘Look out, lad!’ There was a loud tearing sound and a heavy thud as tent and uprights landed in a heap between the wagons.

Rosie walked forward and there he was. ‘Oh,’ she said, covering her mouth before she was noticed gaping.

Flea stood over the fallen tent. His tunic was tired around his waist and he worked bare-chested. Rosie stared, her mouth dry; her heart pounding. Magness stood there also shirtless but with a deep frown on his face.

‘How did that happen?’ Flea asked.

Magness kicked the post at his feet and a large piece of wood came away from it. ‘Ahh,’ he growled. ‘The thing’s rotten.’

Just then he looked up and saw Rosie. ‘Rosie, lass. Is yer father here too?’

‘Aye,’ she said, trying hard not to look at Flea’s naked chest. ‘Do you want me to fetch him?’

‘But what about the race, Rosie?’ Keavy cried.

‘Race?’ Magness began pulling up the canvas and Flea helped him. ‘Concentrate lad,’ he growled again and Rosie was pleased to see that Flea was paying more attention to her presence than the task in front of him.

‘Da, there’s to be a three-legged race and Rosie hasn’t got a partner nor has Flea because they are too big for the other children so they can go together,’ Keavy gasped all in one breath.

Both Magness and Flea stopped dragging the tent and stared at Keavy. ‘Well,’ Magness began. ‘I guess I can spare yer lad while I talk to Dougal about some wood for the uprights.’

Flea looked straight at Rosie and grinned. ‘You’d have me as a partner then, Miss Rosie?’ Her stomach leapt.

‘There’s no one else,’ Keavy pleaded. ‘Please Flea. Da?’

Rosie took in a deep breath. ‘Well,’ she said, sounding much braver than she felt. ‘I will have you know that I am fiercely competitive, Flea, so I am hoping you are as fast as Keavy boasts you are.’

Flea pulled the tunic from around his waist and put it on. ‘Aye, I am known to be good at some things,’ he said and she saw the delight in his smile and it warmed her heart.

‘Hooray,’ Keavy said, now tugging on her adoptive brother’s arm. ‘It is to start soon. We must go back now or we will all miss out.’

With Keavy between them, Rosie and Flea return to the main carnival. The wee child’s chatter was a welcome distraction. Rosie kept trying to push from her mind thoughts about Fleance which threaten to undo her. He was just a man. No more. She should not be so affected by his presence. But, truth be told, she was happy that he walked beside her; that he was so handsome and she knew, only the way a young woman can know, he was drawn to her also.

The gaggle of children and the colour of their costumes hit Rosie as they approached the starting arena. ‘You must tell the judges,’ Keavy said. ‘I have my partner and we have registered but you must go and say that you are a couple.’

Rosie’s heart jolted at the word but she looked up at Flea. ‘I will do that. You gather the ties and I will meet you anon.’

With her heart racing, she spoke to the master that there would be an addition to the race. The ruddy faced man looked at her and then over at Flea and grinned widely. ‘Aye. Yer father would be pleased then wee Rosie.’

Rosie tried to ignore the assumption but she was pleased others had noticed the potential for a fine match.

Flea, looking slightly out of place, held the ties and was searching for her. She waved at him and smiled and so did he. Rosie breathed out. Be calm, she counselled herself. Don’t fuss. But, with her heart giddy, the two of them secured the ties around her left and his right leg and stood waiting for the signal.

‘If you’re too slow,’ Flea said. ‘I’ll lift you and carry you myself.’

She did not know what made her but she thumped him in the arm. ‘Or, man, I might have to carry you!’

He roared with laughter and they missed the starting horn so a mêlée of children swarmed ahead and they were left trying to co-ordinate themselves.

Rosie could not stop giggling.

‘Quiet, Rosie,’ Flea laughed. ‘You are undoing me. And us.’ She tried to bounce along with him, his strong arm around her waist and hers around his but, they were too slow. ‘Damn it, woman,’ Flea cried, laughing and he picked her up, carried her on his hip and hopped all the way to the finish line.

They had not come last, thankfully but Flea did not let go of her when they crossed the finish line and they both tumbled to the ground.

Rosie laughed so much she feared she might embarrass herself. They lay there in the hot morning sun staring at the rich blue of the sky above. She thumped her hand gently onto his chest. ‘You made us lose,’ she told him, feeling completely at ease.

He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. ‘You made us lose, dear Rosie, for being too unprepared. But I am pleased we were partnered, never-the-less.’

‘Me made us lose?’ she said sitting up awkwardly. ‘I was doing everything right but you are uncoordinated.’

Flea was lying on his back holding her hand, as the noise of the laughing children surrounded them. His eyes were closed and he wore a slight grin. Such thick dark lashes, Rosie thought.

He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. ‘You were slower,’ he said quietly, ‘and, I could not lose you, Rosie so I held back.’ Flea rolled over and looked at her a moment, melting her heart.

Fleance leant over her, then, and kissed her.

Rosie knew at that moment she had fallen hopelessly in love.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Girding the loins...

because the second book is now HOWLING at me. I keep saying 'just a few days until the end of term and then I'm all yours.' But, my nights and, sometimes, my days are plagued by thoughts and dreams of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Meeting with the babes this week to discuss their availability to critique the first few chapters of the second book and perhaps to discuss the title (which is making us all frown.)

Husband looks at me and says: it won't be so intense this time? I say: as intense but not such a short space. I've got a year!

He looks away and sighs. Oh what it is to be a writer's widower....