Thursday, October 20, 2011

When writing a novel doesn't go according to plan...

I've mentioned before how characters and situations in my stories often take turns that I had not intended and many a time it's like a slippery wrestling match between them and me. I think, most of the time, there's a happy truce in the end and the finished product is the better for it.

But, what happens when the writing doesn't go to plan and it's got nothing do with characters or storyline but to do with real life people and events?

I do moan, a bit, I know about how busy my life is: wife, mother, teacher, general do-too-much-for-everyone yaddi yaddi yaddi. What I haven't said is, that, added to the above has been a serious health issue for me which has taken a good few months out the year to sort out and still requires time and energy as I make my way to improved health, our family has been wrestling with... and here I pause, trying to be accurate without betraying someone else's struggle...wrestling with mental illness which keeps manifesting itself in erratic and 'out-of-the-blue' events.

The latter sucks the hours and the energy. For example, I spent Wednesday from 6:30pm until 3:30am today at the emergency dept of our hospital. When we got home, I was wired and couldn't sleep so tried to work on the novel. About 30 mins into that I thought 'What the hell are you thinking? Go to sleep. Forget the deadline.'

Today has been a complete write-off - for the four of us. I am juggling the emotions of being on edge for my loved one and checking on them constantly, the anxiety of the looming deadline, the guilt that I still keep dreaming up scenes and conversations for the story which is alive and humming and just being held back by shear exhaustion.

So, in response to the title? I haven't been aware of similar situations of other authors having their personal circumstances impinge on the their ability to fulfill their contact.

I'll let you know my story when the book has been patted on the bum and sent to the printers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let grief convert to anger. Blunt not the heart; enrage it.

the Tragedy of Macbeth: Act four scene three

When I started Birthright over a year ago, I had another quote from the play to begin my story. It was the start of Banquo's soliloquy in Act three: Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis - all at the weird women promised. And, I fear, thou didst play most foully for it.'

Back then, though I had known the key elements of the story, I thought the idea of revenge for one of the characters was best summed up in that quote.

Now that the book is mostly complete, I see that the quote no longer fits. Instead, Malcolm's words to the grieving Macduff are much more apt.

'Blunt not the heart!' What a fantastic reverse image. For all of the people whose stories I am telling, this is critical advice.

I suppose like choosing the best fit title, for me getting the opening phrase just so is as important. As a reader, I take my time 'opening' a book - I check out the imprint page; I ponder over the dedication; I read the author's note and/or acknowledgments (if there are any); I wonder with anticipation as the selected lines before the book begins proper.

I hope my readers do the same.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How do writers do it?

Most writers I know have much more demanding second or third or fourth jobs than the one which means sitting in front of the computer, tapping away. Almost all writers I know have another job which pays the bills (because we all know, only a small percentage of published writers world wide can actually live off their royalties); many have a job that ensures children are fed and watered; and some, gifted and generous ones, work at roles which help keep the world ticking along - one that guarantees a place in the role of belonging to the human race.

These past few weeks I have been high-tailing it on my own to the best place in the world – Naseby – and I have written up a storm. Forget the pious, I aim to write 1000 words a day. I’m talking about 1000 words within the hour. I have written 10,000 words in three weeks compared to it taking me months to do such a thing. And, in between, I done my second and third jobs reasonably well I think.

I feel selfish and delighted and blessed. Here I am, in this beautiful place which is so like Scotland (so the Scottish dairy owner tells me – very useful chap btw. A walking encyclopedia for me), on my own with enough food (lovely crusty bread rolls, camembert cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and bacon) and not enough tea bags (dammit – should have brought those) and lots of silence. Well, external silence because the chattering going on in my head is what is making me write so much.

They have so much to say, these characters. They want their stories to be told and I have to say, I am learning a lot. A lot about love and death and the destructive power of unrequited hope and resentment.

Meanwhile, the owners of the place where I’m staying are away and their cat has adopted me and, can you believe it, it’s Zeus incarnate. The purr is down pat.

There is no internet access where I stay so, once a day, I wander down into the township (two pubs, a coffee house, a dairy, bike shop, couple of museums, playground, visitors' centre), set myself up at the Royal Hotel, order chips or toasted sandwiches or the roast of the day - and tap into their free wireless internet so that I can send messages of love to my whanau (also no cellphone coverage btw).

Right now, I wish this could be my full-time life: naps in the afternoon, writing and writing and writing - scribbling down the urgent whispers of my characters who are desperate I don't miss their voice.

The guilt lingers at the back of the room of mind: I may have got all my marking done but the carpets at home need cleaning and my study is a mess and I really should sort out the plastic cupboard

Here in Naseby, no one's talking about such things. They are looking at the sky and nodding in agreement snow is on its way; the tavern staff are preparing for a band debut-ing this afternoon. Locals happily wander in: this is their turungawaewae.

Okay, more groups have come in and my retreat is now not so quiet and manageable. I have almost finished my toasted sandwich and will head back to my lovely wee sanctuary to continue telling Ross's story. Yes. He who only flitted in and out of books one and two.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

So many people; so little time

Thanks to the gift of the grant from Creative New Zealand, I have managed to steal time away from my normal hum drum of goddess wife, mother and teacher. Last night I feel I broke the back of the giant which is Birthright. Today, I began a character list so that I could ensure continuity. OMG, there are so many characters - twice as many men as woman (go figure).

I have a lot of work to do, especially as I killed off a character much later than I had earlier planned and there is some continuity needed.

Here in Dunedin, the sun has been shining and the weather so warm we have opened doors and windows - something we did all the time in Auckland and rarely do down here. It has brought out the Gisborne Maori in me: Chillax bro kind of thing. As well, Dan Carter has suffered a terrible injury and I have had to second myself away from the RWC to focus on more serious concerns.

I am excited that the narrative has actually tightened but there is much to write for there is much to resolve (think of the unsolved stuff of the first two books). Still, a clever kid did suggest I could start all over again with another trilogy featuring Keavy and Bree. Now there's a thought.....