Monday, December 17, 2012

How I feel about writing a sexual attack scene

I can do battles; I quite like writing about that (even if I still cover my eyes during some parts of Brave Heart). I've done car crash injuries (Grit, Runaway); I've written about dog fights (The Ring); I've even blown up some people (as yet to be published G-Force).

I don't usually read thrillers or crime fiction (unless written by my friends) although I did read Luther. And I do tend to enjoy watching Danish crime tv (The Killing and The Bridge) but when it comes to what I'm working on right now, I'm struggling...

Like a number women I know, I have been the victim of more than one sexual assault - one no more than a bit of a opportunist grope; the other more serious. In both cases, I knew the perpetrator. As a child, I was also subjected to sexual molestation over a period of many years and I reflected these experiences in my first novel.

It's not an area I like reading or writing about. I find it disturbing to read but even more disturbing to create.

I'm in the throes of shaping the last bit of the final book in the trilogy. I care about these characters and, for one of them, it has come about that a sexual attack has to happen. I'm struggling with the writing of it. Not because I can't write but because I want to write it well: to make sure I get it authentic. I want to frighten you. I want your heart to race (as mine does when I read over what I've written so far). I want you to feel sick (just a bit) but not so much that you put the book down. I want you to hang in there until my character is able to overcome and you are punching the air going 'Booyah!'

Personally, I don't know how other writers of darker works cope. Maybe I should just get it over and done with and trust in my skill as a story teller.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finishing touches

I was trying to think of a clever analogy for what I'm doing with the edits but I can't. Instead I'll tell you plainly: it involves an atlas, discussions with my daughter about horse endurance and realising, even at this late stage, I missed some things.

The friar in Romeo and Juliet says to Romeo: they stumble that do run fast.

He's right. Though it may not have been for the best reasons (ill health, family concerns) that this last book has been delayed, it's a better book as a result of the time it's taken.

We read books very quickly in relation to how long it takes the writer to create it. And, we have high expectations as to the quality of the writing, the credibility of the narrative and the absence of mistakes. So we should.

I think historical fiction demands even more time - even if the writer is well-versed in the time period for which they are writing.

These are not excuses as to why it's taking so long but just an explanation and I am pleased with the outcome: the timbre and rhythm of the prose; the development of characters; the action; the twists and wee surprises. And, of course, the ending.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How much editorial say does the editor have?

People interested in the writing process and esp the relationship between writer and editor, often ask how much say the editor has in my work and how much power I have to control what goes into the final book.

The truth is, if a writer has a great editor (and I have been fortunate to have had stunning editors for almost every single book), then it really is up to the writer to trust the wisdom and skill of that editor. I think of it very similar to doctor/patient relationship or even your relationship with your hairdresser: there’s a bit of getting to know how each other ticks (which takes time), personality match, interest match, communication – going both ways.

With Katie (my editor/publisher), I rarely, rarely ‘reject’ her suggestions. Sometimes I’ve metaphorically put my hands my hips and gone ‘no, you can’t take that away from me!’ (only to, in almost all cases, gone and deleted it anyway. Or, I might ring (as I did a few days ago) and say (in a weedling pleading voice) ‘Can’t I please keep that bit. It DOES develop the character of Cawdor and you DID say you liked him..?’ Katie said I could keep it if I felt strongly about it but in the end I didn’t because she was right: it doesn’t add anything to the momentum of the story or the development of characters that we’ve not already realised in action.

Below are a few of her comments from the last lot of edits which will give readers a taste of some of the dialogue between writer and editor. I hope she doesn’t mind sharing our ‘conversations’. The first one made me laugh out loud. She was right, as always

1) I really think that the whole need to pee situation makes Charissa seem like a ninny. Even though she is sitting by a sick person’s bedside, she must know that getting up to go to the loo is unlikely to take long enough for Morag to deteriorate significantly. I also think the whole Charissa needs to pee idea seems a bit like an inappropriate bit of comedy in what is a very serious situation. Would urge you to leave the poor character’s bladder out of this particular instance!

2) Medieval wooden balls have been dug out of the Thames, so they might have had them in 11th C Scotland. It may also have been a spinning top that flew out of control. [I wrote ‘wooden thing’ ]

3) I think it’s stronger if you finish here. [then, she deletes a couple of pages!]

4) This is a very strong way to end the chapter. The scene with Margaret does just make it dribble away – sorry to describe it like that. The conversation between Fleance and the dowager explores themes that characters’ actions prove and as such it is exposition, not story. I feel like the ‘Get on with it’ scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail here . . . but get on with it! [again: delete/delete/delete. When we talked about it later, she said: I think it's pretty common to need to write in the ideas behind a book before taking them out. Like you need to be able to say before you can say it without saying it ... if you sort of know what I mean!]

5) There is no later mention of the bishop travelling with them, so I’ve taken him out and shuffled your dining plan! [This one I rejected – sorry Katie – but went back and made sure that we know the bishop is with the party as well (how else was he going to get to Scone before them all when we last saw him at Forres?)

6) Not clear what she is doing. [one of those moments when, as a writer, it’s damn difficult to put into words the action. What she was doing was systematically pushing the cuticles back on each of her fingers – like a stroking, comforting action. Meeeh. Didn’t work. I deleted it.

7) Watch out for clich̩ Рjust say black unless you can think of a more original way of putting it. [duh Рraven hair Рblerk! Really, Tania?]

8) I think this is the more useful argument for Bree. She doesn’t need to know that Graham wants to wipe out the family . . . She would see this an important bargaining chip. [I didn’t agree with Katie’s suggested rewrite but she was correct that it needed work. I’ve left that bit highlighted to go back to once I’ve mulled it over a bit.]

9) To use a scalp as a trophy is a very American Indian idea – and head is a bit more ghoulish [she also picks up my kiwi vernacular as well]

10) Give a little more description of this. How are they so well hidden? Can Rosie see how many men? How many tents? [hmm, good point. How DO you hide an army?]

11) I quite like the Thane of Cawdor and I don’t think he should vanish, he’s quite interesting. [I do too and I like him that he doesn't really like Fleance that much but is loyal because that is the proper thing to do. I wonder if they will become friends. I kind of see their relationship like that between Bones and Spock]

12) Why only one horse? Don’t understand. [Glad she spotted this. In Bloodlines, there was a continuity error over a couple of horses and I’m not going to make that mistake again]

I trust my hairdresser and I trust my doctor. I even trust my mechanic. I trust that they are skilled and have my best interests as their motivation (each has proven this fact to me over and over). They are not perfect and I do not blindly accept their advice but I give weight to what they say. It is the same attitude I have of my editor. As well as a huge amount of respect.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Birthright in the finishing room

Well, hello. Long time between posts. Have been busy doing the boring stuff readers probably don't really want to know about: know you, the working parts showing/mic too low, camera man spotted in the mirror accidentally type of stuff.

This is what I stare at currently. Double click on the photos to get a really close look-see:

And there are pages and pages and pages of it. I need to read/check/agree or disagree with the suggestions/corrections/changes my publisher has made (mostly agree) and then address the comments (like the brussel sprouts or cooked cauliflower on my plate), I leave these till last because that's the hard stuff.

This is how I have been (and will be) spending my school holidays: the last touches to the final novel before it heads off to the line editor to make sure all the gaps are where they should be and no gaps where there shouldn't be.

This is NOT the creative phrase and is why I am so pleased to be part of an established publishing house. I'm the talent (to continue with the movie metaphor) but it's everyone else who makes the final product fantastic.

Creatively, I'm nibbling away at some new projects, writing a bit of poetry, running the youngest out to the horse farm, teaching my lovely students and getting myself healthy.

And reading lots and lots and lots of books - bliss!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Birthright rewrites - finished

Love the poetry in the title of this post. Love the feeling right now that I've handed over the manuscript to my fab editor and I'm going to stop thinking about the book now.

I wrote the end. I re-wrote the end. I re-wrote the re-written ending until I had satisfied my IR (what Stephen King called the Ideal Reader), my 20 year old daughter, Mackenna. She has moved out of home to another city to study being a vet so I emailed her the final chapters this afternoon and later we talked for half an hour on the phone and she told me that I was being too G-rating in my ending.

'But, I don't write sex scenes,' I cried.

'Mum, they're not having sex in the street - it's just a kiss,' she said (or something like that or maybe I thought she said that or maybe I made it up but it certainly would be something she would say.)

I then read her the raunched up sizzling end (after being reminded by said 20 year old all the shit and hell my hero has been through the past years) and got the thumbs up.

She gave some excellent specific advice and lots of 'well done, Mum' comments and so I'm satisfied I've provided you, dear reader, with a thrilling climatic final book in the trilogy.

Synopsis written:23/08/2009
First chapter finished:15/07/2010
Word count:115,000
Publication month: April 2013

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Feedback - writer's nectar (warning: long post)

I get asked for advice a lot and I give advice a lot especially in my role as an English teacher. As I write this, my senior students are finishing off their writing internals (these are writing tasks assessed against a nationally assessed standard which, here in New Zealand, is called NCEA)

During the day, I watch my students beaver away at their writing and they come to me for feedback - most of the time I can't give them what the really really want to hear: what mark would you give this (without me officially submitting it for assessment)? what do I need to do to get an Excellence (the top mark one can get)? Is this enough to pass? Is it any good?

I can't answer most of those questions because the conditions of assessment restrict what I can say. I can usually answer the last one and I love it when I can say: I really liked/enjoyed what you wrote.

Mostly, I can comment generally about the structure of the piece ("Your start really grabbed me/I found the start confusing" or "It ends too suddenly/I didn't understand what happened at the end/I LOVED the way you tied it all up!") or about the ideas ("I think you need to clarify what it is exactly you want to say" or "I would like to know more about some of the things you say in the second paragraph") and/or the mechanics ("Watch tone/use of commas/apostrophes/spelling...").

Almost always, I can tell my feedback is unsatisfying.
Yesterday, I was able to hand back one class's writing internal marks. Many were pleased just to have passed; a number were philosophical about their marks - understanding that they could have gained a higher grade if they had taken more care with the mechanics. One student blushed when I told her the result:

"You got an Excellence," I said. "It was a very effective and convincing piece."

"I've never got an Excellence in English before," she said.

I then gave some more specific feedback about how much I like the strong sense of personal voice, the way she used imagery to describe the farm and the sensitive and reflective touches which really lifted the piece.

I swear she walked out of the classroom two feet off the ground.

During the evening and on weekends, like my students during the day, I beaver away on the re-writes for Birthright.

This morning I received a couple of emails from my agent. They were feedback from two sections I'd sent of my rewrite and I hope he doesn't mind me repeating them here on this blog:
I'm done with the first set of chaps and reading the second. I think it's awfully good. Couple of things, but I'll give you more info when I am done later today.

...I'm around 15 pages from the end. I think you've done an absolutely marvelous
job to this point, particularly the first section you sent to us. In the second, I think Flea and Blair spend a little too long getting to Philip's feels a little meandering. Your short spicy chapters in the first bit were very effective, though.

I'll finish this afternoon if traffic out to New Jersey doesn't get me...and will email you tomorrow night. The upshot, though, is that I am generally very happy with
what you've done.

A few things I want to say about how valuable this feedback is:
Firstly, it made me feel FANTASTIC because it was confirmation that I wasn't wasting my time on the re-write.

Secondly,it confirmed my belief in my editor and that her brilliant suggestions were spot on and she was right and I was right to follow them.

Thirdly, the comment about 'spend[ing] a little too long' has made me take stock of the section I'm working on right now and is a reminder that this story is mostly an adventure/action story. I am very much inclined to spend time writing deep philosophy which is all very well but not so good for what I'm doing.

Getting feedback is like having a coach as you run a marathon; it's like someone handing you a cup of cool nectar; without it, I think I would shrivel up and not finish the race.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm having a writing affair...

In 2005 I was awarded a writing grant from Creative NZ and the 2006 Children's Writer in Residence at Dunedin's College of Education to complete a YA novel entitled G-Force about three girls who meet at a hotel in Hawaii. Each girl is from a different country but are there, under protest, with their fathers. And then I blow them up.

It was a fun story to write and I love the characters and, though I completed it in 2006, it's undergone some rewriting. Then I shelved it when a publisher turned it down and the idea for the Banquo's Son trilogy came along.

I'm in the final throes of finishing the rewrites to Birthright but I 'met up' with my other book (G-Force) a couple of months back and I keep running away to 'catch up' (which is author speak for opening the file and reading bits and fiddling here and there and sharing parts to members of the family and students in my writing tutorials). The adrenaline of first love still lingers and I feel really sad that I neglected that book for so long while I was enamored with Fleance and Rosie and Rachel.

But, just like a good friend, time does not diminish quality. I did promise one of my publishers that I will give this book its due attention, spruce it up and present it to her before the end of the year and I do like to keep my promises. It's something I'm looking forward to and I believe the things I have learned while writing the trilogy will only make me a better (re) writer when tweaking it.

It takes real will-power to stay faithful to a story which has had its ups and downs - distractions via family demands and work commitments; the need to re-write and then re-write again (books 2 and 3). I could continue to wring the life out of the 'writing a novel is like a marriage' metaphor but I won't. I will leave that to your imagination.

I have had to give myself a good talking to and tell G-Force that I cannot meet for another few weeks. By then, the re-writes will be done my end, they will go back to the fantastic Katie and I will take a break from Scotland (and take a holiday to Hawaii with my three (fictional) teenagers) before plunging back into 11th C with the next lot of edits in the September/October school holidays.

There: I've made a public renewing of my vows to the Banquo's Son Trilogy. Back to finish the very last section: it's a Rosie kicking butt scene - very cool.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How do I do it - writing, that is?

If you look at the photos of writers - the official ones - they are usually in front of a laden book case (some tidy, some messy) and/or looking meaningfully into the camera or just off to the side or they are at their desk in front of their computer/typewriter/notebook.

Many writers talk about their routine which, in all its varieties, still means solid hours with bum on seat doing the business of writing. These are the lucky writers - mostly non New Zealand writers - who earn enough money from their writing to have it has their JOB.

They are the ones I envy. Not because they earn enough from their writing to make it their sole occupation (although, that might be nice if I didn't love teaching so much) but that they have so much TIME.

I shouldn't moan. I get the weekends and school holidays although having a family often eats large chunks of that time (yesterday being a prime example for me: planned to do shopping for senior ball and then hair-do for teenager in the morning; writing all afternoon. What happened was teenager slept in; Hair appointment was a disaster. Cue tears and frustration and a reinjuring of her broken ankle and, well, there went the rest of the day. Mummy hat staying on firmly while my characters mumbled and complained under the writer hat stuffed down beside my bed.

Which comes to why I started this post. I have a study. (click on the word study to see it). It's beautiful. Spacious. Large table, bookshelves with all my essentials and even a bed to curl up on if I want. Trouble is, I have to go outside and across the garden to get to it. It's freezing in winter and too hot in summer (and if I leave the door open, the flies come in). Worse, internet access is intermittent.

Sounds perfect and it is. I don't need to 'go away' to get away to write. The children rarely bother me if I'm out there because that necessities them doing something more than yelling my name.

I also have a lovely little corner in my bedroom (click on link to view) with a desk and a lamp and some writer essentials. It's close to the kitchen and the bathroom. What more could I want?

So, where do I do most of my writing? Where I'm doing it now: in front of the fire, in the living room, in my PJs with a coffee with the dogs and the kids and the telephone and the comings and goings of the family.

I realized this morning that this is exactly how I have written most of my books: amongst the chaos of family. I am the hub and I'm also rather nosey so I like to be where the action is. I have enjoyed having the solitude to write (paid for by a grant from Creative NZ) and did some solid work then but I'm most comfortable where I am right now: feet up on the couch, lap top on my knees, coffee and chocolate and warmth and whanau where I can reach them.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

As flies to gods are men...

Some people lie awake worrying about paying their taxes (I don't - the govt takes mine automatically); some people lie awake worrying about their mortgages (I used to do that - I've resigned myself to that curse); others lie awake worrying about family members - I'm that one except, in the past three years my 'family' has grown to include not just my hubby, children, mother and siblings but the created ones as well.

As a parent, I think about how to raise my children to become the best type of citizens that fits with the way God created them. But, sometimes, life (as in the bad part of 'life') reaches in its big fat hairy hand and rips the guts out of all you had put together to allow them to go on and enjoy happiness.

The irony is, a writer does that all the time. We do. We are mean. Nasty. Horrible to the fictional characters we love. We are like the boss in Katherine Mansfield's The Fly, waiting until the hero has scrapped off all the crap life has dropped on it, waiting until he or she is free to test drive key faculties then WHAM down goes another blob.

Yup. Mean as.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I am sick at heart…

...And that which should accompany old age….I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath…’ The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 5 scene 2

Two things we’ve been thinking about this week: the value of words and actions and the idea of friendship and loyalty.

Ironically, Shakespeare – a man of words – is often critical of the emptiness of them. It is what we do and how we behave that speaks louder than what we say. Toward the end of the play, it is very clear that most of the Scottish soldiers are fighting against the invading British army because they are either being paid to do so or are terrified of what might happen should they turn their back on their king rather than out of a sense of duty.

For most people (and teenagers even more so), having true friends is the most important asset – people who will keep your secrets and who will have your back.

At the start of the play, Macbeth is lauded as this most amazing warrior: loyal, fearless, brave. How quickly those truths about him were forgotten when he began to make the wrong choices and how quickly he lost the security of friendship. This phenomenon is observed over and over for those in the limelight (politicians, actors, musicians) who break the law, behave stupidly or criminally: any good they may have done in the past is null and void in light of the affect of their recent misdemeanour.

Many of us feel sorry for Macbeth. We even admire that, even though he knows he’s had it, he will continue to fight to the death. In this final scene, the qualities of Macbeth that we learn about in the beginning, come out again.

One student commented that it really is sad (a tragedy) because if Macbeth had just left things alone, he would have surely been able to enjoy all that was promised to him – something he himself considers early on ‘If chance will crown me king then chance will crown me without my stir.’ He KNEW that if he was going to trust in the prophecy, then he didn’t have to do anything but just wait it out. A difficult thing to do for a man of action.

Next time, I will muse on the differences between the first Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth.

Monday, May 14, 2012

400 year old insights from William Shakespeare

Today, both my y12 classes, who are studying Macbeth, looked at Act 4 scene 2 (the murder of Lady Macduff and her family) and the first part of scene 3 (when Malcolm 'tests' Macduff.)

I spent some time talking to the class about the importance of the role of Thane: that it was an honored position which carried great responsibility to the people of the thanage - to ensure that they were well looked after; kept safe; that their issues were sorted; that they had enough to eat and were able to thrive. Also, that to be a king's thane meant absolute loyalty to the king - God's representative on earth. To bring discredit or to publicly criticize the leader of ones country was treachery.

We talked about the modern day equivalent - Chris Carter speaking out again the leader of the labour party here in NZ. I asked my students what they had observed of the fate of any politician in power to spoke out against their leader. Did the leader fall? No. The person who criticized did.

Lady Macduff was right to call her husband a traitor. She says that even the tiniest of birds, the wren, would do all it could against the owl to protect its babies. Her husband did not even have the courage of a bird. Later, Malcolm asks the same thing of Macduff - how could you leave your family so vulnerable - especially at this time?

It is poignant when Lady Macduff makes this comment - one that is a universal truth:
I am in this earthly world, where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly.

I said to my students - it takes great courage to stand up and do good. We talked about those that did and do: Martin Luther King Jr; Rosa Parks, Emily Pankhurst; Kathryn Bolkovoc; Sam Childers. We talked about the great challenge: Evil Flourishes when good men do nothing (Edmund Burke).

When we looked closely at the way Malcolm tests Macduff's loyalty, we spotted another universal truth - one that has chilling recognition for many of them studying recent history:
A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge.

In other words, I was ordered to do it by my commanding officer.

The way human nature works - its expression and reaction to what people, circumstances and dreams come their way is richly mined in the works of Shakespeare.

As I work on the final rewrites for Birthright, I am so lucky to be daily saturated by the incredible insight from a man who died over 400 years ago.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I could go on tinkering forever...

Maurice Gee once said this about his writing. He talked about the discomfort (horror?) of reading his work in print where he would 'see lost fictional opportunities...things [he] could have done better...'

I have driven about 1000 kms in the last two days. We left Dunedin 10:30am Friday and arrived back from North Canterbury at 4pm today (Saturday). My husband and I took turn about with the driving and while he drove, I had the lap top propped up on a pillow and worked on the edits of Birthright. When I was driving, I was thinking about the edits of Birthright. Sometimes, I solved a problem I'd encountered; sometimes I made more trouble for myself.

We went to visit a special friend whom I've known from school days and her husband on their amazing farm. It was so peaceful and beautiful and I plan to go back soon and justify it as an ideal (idyllic) writing retreat. Go here to get a peak.

Stories are not static things - even when they are locked into their published state. Ideas shift; characters develop long after the writer has typed 'The End' and sent the manuscript off into the world of cyberspace. Giving your story time has huge advantages and many more eloquent than me have advised this: better story structure, better crafting etc etc. But I think one can over think/over analyze. Yes, of course that would be interesting to make the character do that; it would be just as interesting to make her do this thing as well (whatever that or this is). In the end, the critical thing is whether what you select pushes the story further/deepens our understanding of the character.

In our house at the moment, the mantra is (from my husband and daughters - probably the dogs too if they could speak English) - just finish the damn book! I suppose it's because I'm insufferable and I'm not doing my share of the household chores. I could go on tinkering forever...But I can't. I have a deadline. My patient editor is waiting waiting waiting for the rewrites and I owe it to her and her busy schedule to send her my work to get cracking on.

The other (almost horrifying but weirdly satisfying) thing is that I am deleting large chunks of stuff which I thought deepened the characters etc but all it was was rehashed ideas. I am aiming for a quicker, tighter narrative.

So, in saying all of this, I best get back to it. I've given myself all of Sunday to read over what I've done and hope that I pick up any glaring problems before sending it back to the publisher for its next bit of scrutiny.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The madness of writing

It's not a real job. Not a day job. Not a job in the dictionary definition of the word. You can't clock in and out or fill out a sensible timesheet - not really. If I did, mine might go something like this:

3:54am: dreamt of conversation between Bree and Graham. Thought about turning on light and writing it down. Decided to replay in my head a couple of times so as not to forget.

4:30am: lay on my back worried I would forget scene (see above)

7:05am woken by teenager thumping down the hall. Remembered something about a conversation between two characters. Kicked myself for not writing it down.

8:00am in the shower. Remembered conversation. Got out of shower and wrote details on toilet paper. Floor covered in puddles but essence of scene successfully captured.

10:00 wonders if time spent on daily cryptic crossword counts...

11:00 on the way back from taking youngest out to the horses, and in between remembering new road rule, was 'given' another scene. This one about dead bodies and missing bodies and had to turn off radio so I could listen to what the characters were saying. No pen or paper in car so some of it lost by the time I got home to write it down.

12:30 File has been open for an hour. Word count has gone from 97179 to 97233 to 97170 to 97350. The dump file has continued to expand.

1:00 finished looking over editor's notes again. Decided I disagreed about putting in Rachel's thoughts about her love life at this particular moment - there's no way I was thinking about sex when I was throwing up....

4:00 Wonders if watching back-to-back episodes of The Big C counts as research. And, playing computer solitaire

10Pm: In bed, electric blanket on, chores completed and the book is up on the screen, the curser blinking at me like the pointed finger of an angry aunt.

Sometime after, I drift off thinking about a scene and wondering when someone will invent an app that allows me to download all the stuff in my head straight to the laptop - even better if it can done while I sleep.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Character versus Story

I have been thinking a lot about one of my initially minor characters, Bree. Bree is the youngest sister of Duncan and Rachel. She's a brat. In the first book, she's stroppy, demanding, and absolutely devoted to her big brother. Fleance's is wary of her and the feeling is mutual. Keavy, Fleance's adoptive sister, adores her.

In book two, the strength of her will and penchant for violence is touched on as she grows from a child into a person. And, by the end of of Bloodlines, it is very clear how much she hates Fleance.

Bree is tall like her brother and sister. She's been brought up in the royal court. She has grown a lot since we first met the young girl being lifted over the puddles by her big brother. She's determined, angry and has a plan.

To be honest, I'm having a damn hard time trying to wrestle her into line.

I've been a teacher since the late 1980s and I've met various forms of this character: girls who are mean; girls who are super insightful - way beyond their years; girls who are tall (or short) for their age. Currently, I have a student who looks 17 or 18. She's a model. She's intelligent, articulate and posed. She's only just 13. I first met her when she was 11 and I thought she was in high school. She's also absolutely wonderfully kind and generous.

I've had a couple of people suggest that what Bree is busting to do in Book 3 is not 'realistic' - after all, she's still a child. What I've realized is that the Bree that has come out on the page in Banquo's Son and Bloodlines is only the tip of the character who has been living inside my head. My editor gets her (and understands her - thanks Katie!) and so does my agent.

So, today is Bree's day. I'm going to give her her head and see where she leads us and what damage she does.
In the words of my eldest child, she has to do something catastrophic - everything else will be lame.

I've got the story all mapped out but it might be that the force of this one character alters the course.
I'll keep you posted.

What fun!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

laying the foundation - check

2011 was spent writing and rewriting the draft that would eventually be sent to my editor. In 2010, my editor, agent and I had pretty well nutted out the detailed synopsis so last year was simply about writing the story.


But, though the above sentence (um) and the one before it are easy to type, making it come true has proved to be harder. In my youth, I have worked on construction and building/renovation sites. Then, I was impatient to 'MAKE SOMETHING' not understanding the need for good planning, accurate drafting and careful foundation work.

I eventually learned my lesson and became a much better renovator because of it.

With Birthright, the planning was done perfectly (and audited); the drafting was solidly done. Now, it feels like I've built the house, painted most of the walls and put the furniture in only to have my agent and editor come through and humm and haaa.

They are the professionals. I have no artistic talent: I can make a tasty, nutritious meal but no cordon blu stuff. I sit at my writing desk now with all of Katie's fantastic suggestions: to move the red two-seater red onto the landing to stand beside the maiden hair fern (which I'd shoved in the bathroom). This is metaphorically speaking of course. With a simple wave of her (editorial) hand, she has brought to life my sound and solid and somewhat plain opening chapters and for that I am ever grateful. (the above photo is of a couple of pages of her 'suggestions')

I have never yet met a good writer who produces great writing all on their own. Don't think I want to otherwise I might be tempted to do something awful to them *grin*

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year and here's the opening of Birthright

Scotland, May, 1055

They were the feared, the spurned, the filthy. Stinking women with grotesque exaggerations of the normal human afflictions. Most people fled from their approaches but a few hurled abuse and objects. Sometimes, these mortals’ threats were as terrible as the prophecies the women themselves uttered.

And, with the king’s ban on their vocation, it had become more dangerous of late to advertise their activity. So, the three had gathered, as was their moonlit custom, to a hovel half way between the back-road from Perth to Scone because this would ensure their safety from either the small group of pious villagers or the monks. It would keep secret their plan.

All who had knowledge of the spirit world knew that things kept in secret held power. And this was crucial to what they had planned.

For the past hour, they had been preparing themselves by drinking the bitter, intoxicating liquid made for such a meeting and boasting about the disastrous events caused by their devices.
‘She did think it were her husband,’ one said at the end of her story. They laughed at the stupidity of the dull wife.

The second finished her account gleefully exclaiming, ‘The lad was so upset he threw himself, weighted-dead with rocks, into the loch.’ The other two squealed with excitment. ‘Let us hope they blame the king,’ the woman added and her companions, grinning, nodded vigorously.

The final of their trio grabbed her conspirators, silencing them. She recounted a pastoral problem ending in death for some. Her eyes reflected the light from the candles and fire and she then offered her act of deceit. ‘They said the belly ache was the barley. No one thought that the wheat was the cause.’

All three clapped their hands. The first to speak then raise her cup. ‘Another victory!’

On it went until the eldest among them, wearing an eclectic arrangement of senseless clothing, threw the contents of her cup onto the earthen floor. She coughed, wiped her mouth and then waited for the other two to be silent and give her their full attention.
Her crusted eyes intent on mischief, she tilted her head. ‘When shall we three meet again?’ The recognition in their faces was a pleasing acknowledgement of her wit.

The tall, white-haired companion, the youngest of the three, nodded, expressionless. ‘Let us say: in thunder, lightning and in rain.’
A second of silence in the stuffy room then raucous noise as they roared wickedly at their vivacity. How clever they were to remember the power of using the identical question and response from another time. Their black hearts hoped for similar ruinous results as it would please their master.
But, on with the plan.

The third of the group scratched at her cropped head. ‘When the helter skelter does begin,’ she said, crushing a fat louse between her blackened fingers.
The first woman sniffed. ‘That will be after reaping.’
‘Cat will mew and ass will bray,’ whined her shorn-headed sister, twisting her hands.
‘A king might laud but maids will pray,’ sang the youngest, her pale complexion ghost-like in the moonshine.
‘Yes,’ cried the first woman. ‘Set to store the kingdom’s rule.’
They held hands and began to walk slowly in a circle, chanting:
‘Make and mar him as a fool.’
‘When the place?’
‘Before the spring.’
‘There to meet with Scotland’s king.’ With that, they joined hands again and began to pace around, dirty and powerful incantations dredged up from the blackness of their soul, to wind a charm strong enough to do what must be done.