Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's a school night

Tomorrow I go back to school for the year. It's a teacher only day but there are loads of things to do. I am really strict on myself that school is for school and home is for home so I have not been in at all until I am required to. Though, I have been keeping abreast with the English Online chatter over the holidays and thinking about my students from last year and my students for this year.

I have been granted a publishing extension for the last book which is very welcome but 2011 (ten years since.....) and I have also given thought to some goals for this year.

Spend as much time reading as I do writing.
Spend more time writing than I do watching tv.
Spend better times with my family.
Pray more.
And, despite the weakness of my 45 year old body, exercise more.
Eat and drink less.
Work toward forging a lifestyle which reflects my heart's desire: to be humbly obedient to God and passionately involved in the lives of others.

By year's end, this is what I hope has happened:
Bloodlines has been nominated for at least one award;
I am a free agent, helping kids and writing up storms;
My eldest has had a great first year at uni and been offered another scholarship'
Our youngest has had a successful first senior year and nailed the 100cm jump with her horse!
Hubby, god-like man that he is, has done all that he has desired for the team he works with and scored three more A+s for his uni papers.
My mother (and his) have continued with good health and heart.
The debt is a little less and the happiness much more.

All do-able me thinks.
kia kaha

Thursday, January 27, 2011

writers' advice

Two things happened today of writerly note:

The first was being struck by a sentence in Joy Cowley's memoir Navigation. She says: 'We [writers] can pare sentences into splinters so fine that they enter visceral organs without pain and the reader only detects their presence much later.' Pg 11 and 12

I thought YES! That's exactly what I strive for: to write in such a way that the reader does not notice the writing; does not see the cogs or the pullies used to create the illusion.

That is what is propelling me at the moment with my back and forth, going over and over a chapter until I am feeling that all who read it will be taken in by the magic. I never allow my actors to go front of house in costume or makeup. They must keep the secret of the stage contained therein. To show the punters a look at the performers outside of the the set means that for all, the enchantment is spoiled.

So it is with my stories: typos, continuity problems, jarring word choice or awkward syntax – these are the sins I work hard not to allow in the final product.

The second writerly realisation came about while I was doing what I do daily which is check out Maureen Chrisp's fabulously helpful blog and Melinda Szymanik's honest and helpful blog, both with links and assertive comments. I clicked on their links in a vague hope that I might find the magic key to making being a writer an easy occupation. I read the links which linked to other links and I thought. Pah! I know all this already.

Yes I do. I have been a 'real writer' since 1995. As my husband cheekily reminds me, I am an award winning writer. Two of my books have many times been on the best sellers list.

So why have I gone after all this advice from editors and agents and writers and wanna-be published writers? Because I have yet to learn to trust myself and my talent.

The real 'trick' for me at this stage in my career? Write. Read and write. And revise, revise, revise.

Thankfully, I do not have to get my work 110% perfect before I send it to an agent or editor. I already have those relationships (not by fluke or chance but by hard apprenticeship) so I can trust them to point out gaps I was too blinded to see.

From now on, I will stop searching for the key to making writing a novel easy because there isn’t one. Writing is, like all art, difficult and requires sacrifice and blood, sweat and many tears.

I will consider the links offered by my generous writer friends but only for my students who are still learning and growing and find these snippets honey to the bees.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloodlines - a recent print review - short and sweet

Struggles of a Scottish King make for gripping novel.

Dunedin author TK Roxborogh continues her intriguing imagining of life after Macbeth in Bloodlines, the sequel to Banquo’s Son.

The book follows the adventures of Fleance who, as new king of Scotland, must try to bring his divided nation together in the face of many challenges and the abduction of his betrothed.

A novel for young adults, Bloodlines (Penguin, $40) cleverly matches a fast-paced, gripping story with strong characters matched by historical detail.
This is an entertaining series, and readers of all ages will be eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
Brenda Harwood, The Star.

Writers like reviews like this. Pithy and enthusiastic showing a real sense that the reviewer enjoyed the reading process. As to the comment about readers 'eagerly awaiting', it is true. Yesterday, while having a hot chocolate with my youngest, a fellow teacher came up to say how much she loved the books and couldn’t wait for book three. ‘I kind of wish I had saved reading them until all three were available.’

Her thoughts were echoed today when, with the family at the local A&P show, an old (well, not old, but friend since uni days) said she loved the story and was very much looking forward to reading the last book.

As to Birthright. I am approximately now a third of the way through. I think I have slowed down because I’m about to send my characters into some really dark places: physically, emotionally and spiritually and I’m a tiny bit afraid- just as I was when I convinced the youngest to ride the ferris wheel with me today. ‘Just close your eyes if you are afraid,’ I told her. This is what I did. That allowed me not to see the danger but enjoy the sensation which was exhilarating.

I know that I am going to have to be really disciplined over the next couple months but it is the holidays and I have so enjoyed all the DVDs I’ve watched, the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve gone to see. And, holidays does mean I get a bit more time with my friends and my family.

In about six weeks, I’ve post the a bit of Birthright on the blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

meeting new people

Yesterday, in my mail was a post card from one of students, Annie - one of the babes! It was of Glamis castle. She was in Scotland and thought of me. I was delighted with the postcard and her dedication to 'our' story.

The castle she had visited sounded interesting and so I researched it. It was centre of a small thanage in Scotland. I needed a small thanage in Scotland and so Annie provided me for a new character.

Now, because of Annie, he has just been asked to be the king's advisor.

What a wonderful twist. This red-head, robust middle-aged man is so full of life he leaps about in my writing - I can barely contain him and he makes me smile. He is a good, solid bloke who is that father of seven children. His wife, whom he adores, has suffered EVERY pregnancy so he had learnt the art of muddling through those eight months of hell.

I really, really like him. So does Fleance.

The people you meet, eh?

Timewasting stats

Banquo's Son's final manuscript was 296 pages and just under 120,000 words (though with the editing process, it got a lot higher). I pretty much wrote it in less than five months.

Bloodlines final maunuscript was 226 pages and just over 100,000 words.(also got higher with the editing process). It took me 12 months to write.

Birthright is currently at 90 pages and I'm at number 49 of the editing. Word count 37,000. I've been working on this ten months to date.
It's slower going because a) life interrupts me b) there's a lot of thinking going on and, c) I want it to be amazing!

Friday, January 14, 2011

"I don't know how you do it!"

Ah, yes. I'm sure I've blogged about this topic before. Funny that that word (blogged) is now part of my lingo - it wasn't when I started this journey - but, hey, such in the nature of English (language) I tell my students and children - evolving all the time.

As an aside, I learnt a month ago that the 'hararu' (hongi/pressing noses and shaking hands during the welcome ceremony on a marae) is a transliteration of 'how do you do?' - what the English people said as they greet the Maori.

Anyway, I digress.

In answer to the above question and one I was asked twice today - I mean, yesterday - is the very fact that I am typing this at a quarter to 3 in the morning.

I am a light sleeper. If I am awoken (as I was again for the umptenth time this week), I get up and write.

I delegate. I've prepared and cooked the dinner for the past four nights. Last night, I prepared and then passed the buck. I got fed. Writing got done.

Mind you, I am on school holidays so I can have a nanna nap to compensate for lack of sleep. During term time, I can only squeeze in a couple of hours if I'm lucky either early morning or after dinner.

But, I'm not getting younger. I'm certain my crazy hours will catch up with me soon and wack me across the back of my head. The learning is fun though. All the stuff I now know, not only to do with language (yes, the words wrecked, nausea, opposition and vomit are all pre-Shakespeare) but wow, Scotland and its history - so amazingly interesting.

Yet, there is annoying (for me, a clean freak) clutter in certain parts of the house (mostly the teenagers' fault) and lots of dust in some parts and I'm probably not very fit despite walking at least one of the dogs every other day. I'm sure my family would prefer that I didn't talk about my stories and characters in the same way I talk about my sisters, cousins and best friends (and their sisters, brothers cousins, friends!) but I do.

How do I do it? Well, I think God dumped this one in my lap and said: you've got the ovaries to tackle this one, luv. Way ya go.

Cheers, guvner, I say. What else is a writer to do but struggle up, take the story and wrestle it into shape?

How do I do it? *Tania sighs* Only because I have a huge team of supporters who love and believe in me. This team consists of my husband, my daughters, my dear, dear friends, my fellow writers, my agent, my publisher and the people who love this series who contact me to tell me so.

I do it because I want to see how it ends. Will the damn boy finally find happiness?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Through another's eyes

For Banquo's Son, I relied heavily on the babes to critque my work. For Bloodlines, I still had the babes but I also had a lot of input from my agent, Josh Getzler, and my publisher. This time, I've kind of kept Birthright close to my chest. My original editor/publisher has moved to another house and I'm working with someone newish for me (she was editor for Bloodlines and was FANTASTIC).

But, I needed fresh eyes so I bribed my eldest (who wants to launch Birthright). I'm her mother. She's mean to me because, well, I'm her mother. And, she's a damn fine reader.

'Fold the washing, will ya?' I say.
'Aww, Mum, it's the holidays.'
About five mins later. 'Can you just read this to see if it's, you know, crap or okay?'
Cue twinkle in her eye complete with spock like raised eyebrow. 'Is it the washing or the book?'
What a stupid question. 'The book!' I say. (BTW, she still folded the washing of her own accord!)
She reads. I watch her as she: frowns, types furiously, nods, frowns some more, sighs, frowns and types again. 'Okay. There's what I think of the first chapter.'
As I expected, her comments were astute and exactly what I needed. But, I needed more. 'Is it any good?' I plead.

She sighs. 'Yes Mum. Now stop procrastinating and deal to the issues.'

Issues promptly dealt with, I sidle up to her while she is sprawled on her bed watching a documentary series about evolution. In my arms is my lap top; chapter two on the screen. 'Again, please?'



'okay. This will be finished in ten minutes.'

I place my lap top between the cat and her teddies and retreat back to the living room, mindful that I have promised Josh a look at the first part but am too insecure to send him anything. I read a bit. Chew my nails. Eat. Have a cuppa tea. Eventually I get a call from down the hallway. 'Mum. I'm done.'

I go to her room, retrieve the computer and head back to the living room. Thank goddness! Less yellow highlights. I fix and I am pleased with my fixing. Twice I go to her for clarification and twice I go back knowing she's spot on.

But, I can't send Josh only two chapters. So I beg her to read the third.

No reluctance this time. By the time I've made her a cup of tea, she's finished and nodding sternly. 'Very good. Very, very good.'

I push her (actually literally I do - I am so mean) out of the seat and deal to her yellow highlights and then send to Josh.

During this 48 hour period there has been some very high dramas in our family but we are a tight unit. I didn't manage to get her to look at Chapter four before she skived off to spend the evening with her boy.

That will be her reward in the morning. I will do her washing and her chores so long as she does what's she been doing - a fantastic job patting her dear old mother on the back and saying: you did good. Now, finish the damn book!

Monday, January 3, 2011

reading is easier than writing

of course!

This morning, I decided today was going to be a pyjama day. That's a day where I don't get out of my PJs cos I intend staying home. When I woke at 6am, the weather was miserable. I got up, fed the cats, boiled the jug and made a cup of tea, read the paper (and completed the suduko and code cracker) and then settled down to finish reading Anita Shreve's Change of Altitude.

That was done by mid-morning by which time I'd eaten breakfast, put on a load of washing, had various conversations with members of the whanau and then picked up Testimony but the same author. A very, very intriguing read. Well done Ms Shreve. So many voices and so convincingly done. The only 'voice' which jarred was that of Ellen in the second person which is ironic because my YA novel G-Force has a character who originally spoke in second person but I'm taking it back to first or third at the request of the publisher.

Anyway, I have spent the holiday period watching countless DVDs (wonderful finds!) and reading. It's all about story. The thing that I know and understand as an author is that, though it might take us a couple of hours to watch a movie and a day or so to read a book, the creation of the text would have taken hours, days, months, years, frustration, lots of supporters and other gifted contributers.

Confession time: I think Fleance, Rosie and Rachel are getting fed up with me stalling.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Another comment about the writing process

Okay, I'm not procrastinating really, it's just that I want to share with you some things I've noticed about the way I'm writing. And, after 24 published books, you'd think I'd have this writing thing nailed.

Nup. I am an evolving and ever learning student of the art.

I love reading and I read a lot. Both YA, middle grade (which we call junior fiction here in NZ) and adult. I am currently reading Anita Shreve's 'A Change of Altitude' and it is a pleasant read. I use the word ‘pleasant’ because, before I became a 'real writer', I consumed every piece of work I could get of hers - and others. Now, I read with a much more sensitive soul. So now, I'm noticing how Shreve executes a certain writer's problem; how she manoeuvrers from one thing to another. Sometimes I go 'of course!'; other times I go 'um. nah. That doesn't work for me.'

So, back to an explanation of the title of this blog post:
This past month, this is what I have been doing: I write and while I write I often put in [more here] or [why] and highlight these yellow and then continue.

Then, the next time I write, I go to what I've just written and look at my highlighted editorial comments and often 'fix them'.

The other thing I've noticed recently about the way I write is that I am writing what I would like to read. I know that this is not rocket science and I should have thought of it before but with a sweeping historical epic, I need to think about what it is my readers want from such a genre.

Personally, I fell in love with the characters in The Bronze Horseman and Cross-stitch so I stayed with the telling of their stories but the last Jamie and Claire story frustrated me because it was sooooo loooong and had detail I didn't care about. But then, others love that kind of stuff and who am I to complain. I'll be cueing up for the next installment.

But, back to me.

It's not easy. Actually that's a weak comment. It's damn hard being a writer. And I only continue to do it because these characters need their story told and they picked me.