Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Lady and The Poet

I have a favourite spot in St Pauls Cathedral that pulls me in like a magnet whenever I step through the front door - which I try to do often.

It's a small statue, probably half sized, of John Donne, who was a dean of Old St Pauls during James I's time. He was sculpted standing on an urn wearing a shroud, 'So God will recognise me.' The urn has black marks on it and one of the handles is missing - damage done during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The statue was saved, when so many of the cathedral treasures were lost, and stored for thirty five years during the rebuilding and was re-installed in the new cathedral. I stare at it in fascination as it once stood in the pre-Fire St Pauls and still bears scorch marks.

I am now reading, 'The Lady and The Poet' by Maeve Haran about John Donne, and Ann More, the daughter of Sir George More and Lieutenant of the Tower of London, the girl the libertine opportunist poet and fomer Catholic Donne fell in love with and secretly married in 1603, against the wishes and to the spiteful rage of her family.

My full review will go into the Historical Novel Review Blog, however I would recommend this book to those who like a seventeenth century love story that is not only poignant, but true.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Where's My Muse?

One of the members of my crit group had a bad week and threw up her hands, and her laptop probably and said, 'That's it, I can't write' and resigned from the group.

Don't we all have days like that? I certainly do. When the writing muse deserts you for a while and that last crit threw you for a loop as you worked for hours to make that conflict solution clear, but someone seemed to think otherwise and they don't like your heroine. [Whiney brat was one description I received]

You keep plugging away and sending out those darned queries and all you get back is form rejections addressed to 'Dear Author' The house is untidy because you simply don't see it anymore and who has the time when there is all this dialogue to write. The family thinks you are anti-social and obsessed because you miss whole conversations and when someone says,'Did you see that?' they follow it immediately with, 'No of course you didn't, you're too busy bashing away at that keyboard'.

Besides, none of them think you will get anywhere anyway, after all, 'Everyone thinks they can write a book', don't they?

Yet surprising things happen even after the worst days, and deep down, we all know we will be back again tapping away at the old keys. [I wear the letters off mine regularly] because we have to. It's who we are!

Oh, and our despondent writer is back in the group, after all that's what we are for isn't it? Writing is a solitary, often demoralising occupation because you need constant validation and feedback. Sometimes that feedback can be hard to take and you lose all motivation. But with writers, the obsessive/compulsive ones certainly - it doesn't last.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The PoV Question

Over the past week, I have read, three new books written in first person PoV. Well, to be accurate, I have started three books. One I discarded after chapter three, one I finished and enjoyed, and the third I am really ‘Into’ and it has inspired in me an ambition to write one of my own.

However, any critique group and other writer’s forums will tell you that First Person PoV is frowned upon by editors who advise
strongly against using it. So what about these three books I picked off the shelves of Waterstones last week, all published in the last five months written in First person.

I write historical fiction, so if I am going to attemp
t this, I need to have a strong and interesting main character. The plot and other characters have to be seen entirely through her eyes, and yes, it will be a she. Those happenings require a unique slant to make the reader empathise with the character, are 'walked through' their life and care what happens to her.

I also have to place her in a world she doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with. After all, if she’s meek, obedient and hasn’t an original thought, she'll be predictable and who’s going to be interested enough to persist to the end of the novel?

My reasons are: instead of writing as an observer after the fact, I can live the events with my character. The shock of a discovery, an impulsive action she regrets later, her remorse, contrition and then the resolve to do better in future. All the things handled in third person PoV, but in a more raw, immediate way.

The disadvantage of course is that events that happen ‘off screen’ have to introduced as eavesdropping, hearsay or using some other way of revealing facts. The story has to unfold with all the misinformation, prejudices, incorrect conclusions and revelations which happen in real life.

With first person, everything has to be made clear in one head – the heroine’s. How she reaches the knowledge she needs, the character growth and overcoming a prejudice, cannot simply happen, but must be logical and credible.

I would be interested to know what others think about first person PoV.
Is it a natural and easy way to write, or do you find it restrictive and full of obstacles?
Do you like reading first person PoV novels, or do you prefer seeing things through multiple character’s eyes?

Sunday, 19 April 2009

When Good Enough Isn't Good Enough

It's been quiet round here just recently, mainly because I have been focussing on edits on my latest wip so that my agent can begin submitting [Wow! lots of passive voice] to publishers. The first three magical chapters which make or break an introduction have been polished to a fine shine, or until the gilt has started to come off, I'm not sure which!

Submitting queries and receiving rejections, or even a response at all, is a stressful time for any writer. Several authors on my critique group are in the throes of submissions, and they have reported back recently that rejections from agencies and publishers are being accompanied by glowing tributes to the storyline and style, finishing with,
'Your writing is eminently publishable, but in this current climate we are unable at this time to offer you etc etc.' or words to that effect.

Is that an encouraging response, or not?

It used to be accepted that a rejection meant your work needed more work, and if you received a few tips on how to improve, so much the better. You could then apply what was necessary and try again. It appears that in these precarious times you can be every bit good enough to be published, but there's no place for you right now on the world's bookshelves.

So where does that leave new authors? Are established writers receiving these comments too? If so what do they do with them? If an agent or publishers says your work is good, do you shelve it until the trends change, or continue to improve? And where do you stop? There is such a thing as over editing - well I think so anyway.

I cannot 'not' write though, so my next wip is taking shape as the bubble beneath the skin has stared to erupt as new ideas emerge. Perhaps that one will interest a publisher enough to produce it - what am I saying, negative attitude or what, my agent hasn't even submitted the novel yet!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Editing Gems

This last weekend, Gingersgroup have been having an impromptu editing workshop. Some of what was demanded of the authors in altering their stories were examined and discussed.

Some excellent writers and acquisition editors, among them, Ginger Simpson, Maryann Miller, Sloane Taylor, Lisabet Sarai, Lea Schizaz, Cheryl Wright, Chris Redding, all contributed and came up with some real gems they had come across in edits. Such as:

..........it almost seems SOME editors are trying to make our stories into truth rather than what we intend. I always thought being a fiction writer gave you freedoms to express yourself in your writing, but with each year, more independence is snatched away and the box of conformity gets smaller and smaller. Anyone else feel that? Some of the smaller houses have rules that mimic mainstream. I know I certainly feel the competition tightening in the six years since I debuted.

..........my publisher didn’t like the blue windbreaker. She wanted windbreaker. She didn’t want the burgundy recliner, she wanted recliner. So I dropped the color, and now I have a windbreaker and a recliner. I don’t necessarily agree, but, hey! she’s the publisher, and in the long run, it isn’t that important.

..........my gumtrees and kookaburras being changed to generic trees and birds, and with a child character’s mode of address to his mother – Mam – being persistently changed.

..........I’ve had dialect words removed, and three-year-olds made to speak in proper syntax.

.......... changed the pies and cordial my blue collar children chose to buy in the shop to cookies and juice. The book was set in Tasmania, and blue collar children here do NOT buy cookies and juice. They buy pies and cordial. The editor asked if I’d agree to “soda” instead of cordial. I couldn’t go with that either, as no Australian child would drink soda. It is (a) a caustic substance for cleaning and (b) a strong alkali for softening water and (c) a rather sour-tasting fizzy water. Australian children of that time and place, drank cordial, or sometimes milkshakes, orange or apple juice - but never, 'soda' or 'juice'.

Ginger hopes to stage some more discussions like this for all authors and aspiring authors to join in. Do drop by if you feel this could be of some interest - she welcomes new members.

My apologies for not attributing the comments - but the discussion became fast a furious and I cherry-picked a few for the illustration here.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

A Brief Word On Critique Groups

I am in the process of putting my latest draft novel, a Victorian Romance set in Scotland in 1900, through one of the two critique groups I belong to. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, other writers read each other's work and comment on technical issues, characterisation and plotlines etc.

I wouldn't dream of not doing this before I asked a publisher to look at something I have written, because the other members pick up all my weak spots and lazy phraseology. They don't take prisoners and I'm thankful for it - they keep me on my toes!

I received an e-mail yesterday from one of my regular critiquers who hasn't had much time to crit lately as she is bound up with her own writing and editing work. She said she had uploaded the last few chapters I posted, and doesn't know when she can get back to critiquing, so would I mind sending her the rest of the novel as she cannot wait to see what happens!

That, I decided, is why I write - to hear things like that.

And just a quick update to see how the magnolia is doing - I think it's lovely and the first thing I see from my bedroom window every morning. Our gardener is not so impressed as it will start to drop petals any day now.

It flowers briefly but spectacularly - like most artists would wish to.