18 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (29)

I've been using my Quotable Friday series to introduce the top 10 books from the BBC Big Read public vote taken in 2003. I finished reading the top 100 last year, but thought I'd spare you numbers 11 to 90 (for now!). This week is number five - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling. I don't know if I was in a bad mood when I rated this, but I gave it 6/10 for enjoyment when I first read it. I remember it better than that! (Although I do prefer several of the other Harry Potter books).

Being the fourth book in a seven-part series, there are perhaps less profound quotations to be found, but that doesn't mean they're not there. This might not be an entirely original thought, but it's a good one...

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

15 April, 2014

Learning to Talk - Short Story Prize

I was delighted to receive a phone call recently telling me I've won third prize in the Chudleigh Phoenix Short Story Competition. As I live in Devon I also win the prize for the best local entry as well, so that's a bonus!

My story, Learning to Talk, was one I wrote for a different competition last year. It was the kind of competition which gets tonnes of entries but I was hopeful of getting somewhere with it. I didn't. And, of course, when I looked at my story again I could see a dozen small ways in which it could have been so much better and kicked myself for sending it out too soon. So I spent a little time re-writing and editing my manuscript until I had something I was much happier with - and this is the result. I'm especially pleased because I've written extremely few short stories in the last 18 months and am out of practice to say the least. This was a real struggle for me, but something I felt as if I had to do - partly to stop myself forgetting how to do it completely, and partly just to stay sane in the midst of novel writing!

Learning to Talk is a story about Sarah, whose abuse at the hands of someone more powerful than her brings back difficult memories of childhood secrets. Can she slay both demons at once, or is it too late to ever be anything other than a victim? You can see the full results on the competition website, where you'll also be able to read the winning entries sometime later this month - I'll let you know when!

13 April, 2014

Infinite Drafts - The Writing Process Blog Tour

Writing isn't a grand form of high art that some people can pluck from thin air. It is a process, a discipline, a labour of love.

I've been nominated to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour - discussing how I go about writing my novels and short stories - by Simon P Clark. Simon is a British writer currently undercover in the USA. His first children's novel, Eren, is out later this year. Now is a great time to get into his fabulous blog as all the exciting stuff is starting to happen - cover designs and all sorts. Check him out there or on Twitter.

So, here are my answers to the Tour questions. At the end I nominate another writer to take the baton from me. Make sure you check out her answers next week!

What am I working on?
Officially I am working on my second novel (well, about my fourth or fifth novel, but the novel I hope will become my second published one!). However, I got about 20% of the way through the first draft and then I went and had a baby, so I'm doing very little writing right now. Once we get past this first crazy month, I hope to ease back into writing - probably with some flash fiction or editing some old stuff first, then back to the novel. I will also shortly be promoting my first novel as it is published.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don't easily fit into a genre, which might not be a good thing. I don't write "genre fiction" certainly. I describe my work as Contemporary Commercial and I'm sure it will get lumped into Women's Fiction at some point, but I've been told my writing stands out for its emphasis on the psychological portraits of the main characters - thoughtful fiction rather than high-octane drama.

Why do I write what I do?
I wish I knew! I love to try writing all sorts of things. Before I found my feet (and an agent) I'd had some good feedback on a children's novel and been shortlisted in a novel-writing prize for a flippant fantasy novel. I've also won a few short story and flash fiction prizes. But I think I like contemporary adult fiction for now. I love getting under the skin of a character - the drama and madness of each individual life, put under the quiet microscope of a book.

How does my writing process work?
Again, I wish I knew. I've called this post Infinite Drafts because my best work always seems to take so many drafts - though the variation from piece to piece is huge. I'm amazed when somebody writes one draft and then edits that one straight-off. I usually end up re-writing the whole thing - short story or novel - from scratch at least twice after that first draft before I can get on to the multiple passes of editing that I need. In particular it often takes me a couple of drafts to decide on person (first, second or third) and tense (past, present or future). With short stories it sometimes even takes me ages to decide which character needs to tell the tale!

I am a planner at heart. I do like to know where a story is going when I start it, though I'm difficult and also don't like to know exactly how I'm going to get there; I want to feel secure but not bored. I tend to plan events in my work before I start, but I don't like to plan characters in the detail some writers do. I prefer to have a broad idea of their personalities and then find out what they're like when I write that first draft, otherwise they feel too contrived to me.

So, I don't think I have one process for all my work. Once I have an idea I might be able to run with (the hardest part for me, certainly), I tend to jot some handwritten notes then start typing and see what happens. I actually think I prefer the later stages - editing each sentence, trying to find a new way of describing something eternal, attempting to bring the people and places alive. I find greater satisfaction in a paragraph that seems to fit exactly what I wanted to say, than in a rough draft of a whole novel. But each stage has its own joys. The one thing I try to be strict on in the whole process is giving myself time between drafts. You just can't be objective about work you've only recently finished. Head-space and variety are the keys to keeping any writer's work alive. This writer, anyway!


And now on to my nominee...

Suzi Retlaff
Suzi started writing as a kid. Unfortunately, she took a huge break until a few years ago when the voices in her head wouldn’t be quiet. She started writing, and since then hasn’t stopped. Contemporary is her favourite, young adult and adult, and she’s still working on her goal of becoming published. You can find her on her blog or on Twitter.

11 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (28)

We have reached number six, in our countdown of quotations from the top 10 most popular books in the UK (according to the BBC Big Read 2003). The sixth most voted-for book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This was one of three books in the top ten I gave 10/10 for enjoyment when I read it. It is also the book that appears most often on "must-read" lists.

There is tonnes in this book about justice and injustice, fighting, winning, courage and morality. But I quite like this little observation...

"There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results."

04 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (27)

In 2003, the  BBC Big Read created a list of the 100 most popular books of the time, voted for by the British public. As part of my wider Quotable Friday series, I'm counting down the top 10 from that list. This week is number seven - Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, first published in 1926.

I'm sure it would take a lot of effort to find a quotation from this gorgeous children's book that most people haven't already heard (British people anyway - did Winnie the Pooh make it abroad?). So I haven't tried. I can only ask that you go and read the entire book if you haven't already. It all needs quoting! There are so many sweet passages between Pooh and Piglet, any of them are worth a few seconds of anybody's Friday morning. Here's one sweet one and one to make you smile. If anybody has got this far in life without meeting Pooh, the second quotation gives great insight into his character.

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh?' he whispered.
'Yes, Piglet?'
'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.' "

" 'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?'
'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?'
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."