Saturday, 26 November 2011

What Was I Thinking?

As I pointed out to an author friend recently when she asked how my writing was going: 'How can I concentrate on the 17th century when the 21st is riding my butt so hard?'

I couldn't abandon the 17th Century that easily, however, so instead of tackling a new wip, I have recently re-visited a manuscript that's been sitting on my hard drive for at least three years. I did what all the good author sites tell you -  Read It As If You Didn't Write It - Suffice it to say, I gave myself an unpleasant shock!

From a reader's viewpoint, the story is still engaging, [Hopefully] as are the characters, [even more hopefully] but my style strikes me as simplistic and naive. By that, I mean everyone's speech reflects their actions, the story moves from A to B with no sidetracking to F or G, and the villain is a villain from the outset.

It's not grammatically incorrect, or even clumsily written, but all those extra details I imagined weren't needed are missing - like describing all my heroine's inner thoughts to the very last choked gasp when she is facing a situation which terrifies her?  I assumed a reader would work that out for themselves.

I was wrong about that. For a reader to empathise with a character requires introspection on that character's part. It occurred to me that some people react differently in certain situations, and in an attempt to make my heroine stand out more, and live longer in my readers' minds, unpredictability can be an asset.

To make the novel into a better, deeper read where the characters themselves have more dimension than previously, I inserted reactions in some places which are contrary to the norm. For instance, fear reacted to by anger, violent defence and a sharp tongue instead of heart-thumping withdrawal.

However, the thought keeps intruding that maybe I'm kidding myself and I should leave well alone? That by these changes I am destroying a perfectly good story. Then I go over a re-written chapter and am convinced it really does sound much better. There is also the undeniable fact I have learned more in the last three years, specifically about cause and effect [thank you Ginger] showing not telling, making dialogue serve a purpose as opposed to being lighthearted chat which goes nowhere, and removing as many dialogue tags as possible.

My pace and story arc could use some work though - so this re-visiting an old file is proving to be fascinating, as most of the hard slog and 'what do the characters do now' work has been done already. I know how it ends, but I can make that ending more deserved, more emotional and maybe my readers will close the back cover with a sigh of satisfaction rather than reaching for the next book in the to-read pile.

An author can only hope.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Fair Border Bride by Jen Black

In the interests of promoting the small press authors whose work I enjoy, Jen Black's story of 16th Century rivalry on the English/Scottish borders is not to be missed. Jen is definitely a name to look out for, and I happen to know she is working on more great adventures with these characters.

In a Northumberland market place in the year 1543, Harry Wharton, a spy to King Henry VIII travels to Scotland and encounters a beautiful girl named Alina Carnaby. Harry would like to linger but his secret mission takes precedence. However moments later, Alina is about to be gored by a runaway bull.

Harry steps up to the mark and rescues the lady, but learns she is already betrothed, and her father happens to despise anyone by the name of Scott, the name Harry gives to hide his true identity.

Before leaving for Edinburgh and the dangers of border country, Harry takes a detour to see what Alina’s home, Ayrdon, is like, arriving just as the estate is being visited by cattle raiders, and in the ensuing pursuit, he is thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious.

Alina's father, Cuthbert Carnaby has ridden off on what is known locally as a Hot Trod,  to catch the raiders. While he is away, Alina finds Harry, and knowing how her father feels about the Scotts, decides to hide him to recover from his injury in a barn out of sight.

However what she doesn’t bargain for is the fact Harry’s blow on the head has given him temporary amnesia and not only can he not remember seeing Alina before, but his mission to Edinburgh appears to have been wiped clean too. His memory returns, but only for him to be discovered and hauled up in front of Cuthbert Carnaby, who demands he be subjected to ‘The Leap’, which turns out to be less of a feat of endurance, but execution by being thrown into a ravine.

Alina’s pleas for clemency are ignored and she is told to prepare herself for her forthcoming marriage to John Errington, a young man who has matured into a not unattractive proposition. However he isn’t Harry and heartbroken, Alina rushes to her grandfather, who is less than sympathetic.

In fact the entire family appear to have had any sentimentality rubbed off by the cruel Northumberland winds, and the only person willing to help Harry is Matho, a family servant, with whose help, Harry survives the jump and meets up again with Alina.

Will Alina have the courage to stand by the man she loves, or will her father succeed in his quest to kill Harry off for good and drag her his daughter to the altar to marry the man of his choice?

Jen Black’s novels are consistently enjoyable to read and, I recommend this romantic story set in a time when women were possessions, obedience was taken for granted and their lives subject to the will of a patriarch. Jen's style is succinct, colourful and she conveys descriptions and emotions beautifully.  Alina, Matho and Harry are engaging, well rounded  characters and I’m happy to say Fair Border Bride isn’t the end of their story and there is more to come.