27 May, 2014

Introducing: The Art of Letting Go

If you've visited me here more than once before, you probably know that I am about to have my first novel published by Thistle Publishing. I think I've mentioned it once or twice (per week) ever since I accepted the offer of publication. As the day draws nearer when my book will be available to buy, I thought it would be well to actually tell you what it's all about.

The Art of Letting Go is a novel about art and artifice, extraordinary secrets and ordinary madness. You can read a short blurb on my website. This is the slightly longer version!

In the seaside village of Brackton, physicist Rosemary Blunt appears to be living out her retirement in content solitude. But Rosemary has a secret. Twice a week she visits a nearby hospital to see a man who has been lying in a coma for over a year. This is a man she has every reason for hating, and now she must decide whether to keep him alive or let him die.

Whilst in the middle of this dilemma, Rosemary is annoyed to find an abstract artist has moved into the cottage on the beach. Ben paints pictures of  things that can't be described in words - happiness, jealousy, fear. Rosemary is determined not to like him, especially when she finds out he is trying to paint a picture of God. Ben however, is equally determined they should be friends and Rosemary finds herself rapidly drawn into his abstract world of colour and shapes, distortion and manipulation. 

When Ben becomes entangled with two other women, Rosemary's secret is in danger of being revealed, but it also becomes clear that she is not the only one hiding something. Nor is she the only one battling to keep the ghosts of the past away. As summer wears on and time begins to run out, Rosemary and Ben must decide whether they can trust each other with their secrets, choosing between the madness of admitting the truth and the insanity of maintaining their lies. 

Will Ben ever finish painting God? Why can't Rosemary let the comatose man go? Are there some secrets too terrible to be told?

I am currently waiting to see the cover design options for the novel and then I should be able to give you a publication date. Getting exciting now!

20 May, 2014

New Website

After months of saying I will, I have finally got round to making a website. Or, more accurately, I have finally got round to getting my wonderful husband to make me a website. You can find it at chloebanks.co.uk - do go and take a peek.

We decided to keep my site simple. I looked at a lot of writer's websites and there was a huge range of styles. The famous writers tended to be very professional and have great photography, slideshows of book covers and all sorts of other snazzy things. Most writers though have much smaller-scale sites and many seemed not to have thought much about the content. Or rather, they'd thought about everything THEY wanted to say, not what the reader wanted to read. So many websites or blogs had tonnes of different pages and 'About Me' sections that ran into hundreds and hundreds of words detailing the author's life from childhood - not just their writing, but house moves, divorces, every piece of inspiration that helped them on their way. A website isn't an excuse to write an autobiography. It's great to know a bit of detail about a writer but nobody is going to read a full essay. We're not as interesting as we like to think we are!

So, while the content on my website is almost certainly not perfect, if you pop over there you can take heart in the knowledge that it will take you five minutes to read the whole site. I'm not a believer in padding things out for the sake of it. Hopefully one day I'll need one of those big slideshowy, snazzy sites, but for now I'm just happy to have one book to tell the world about.

Have you seen any great examples of writer or artist websites we could all learn from?

16 May, 2014

Quotable Friday (33)

Here we are - the final countdown! Since the middle of March I've been posting a weekly quotation (or few!) from each of the 10 most popular books in Britain according to a vote done by the BBC Big Read. It took me a decade to read through the top 100 books on this list, so I hope you'll forgive me for taking a couple of months to quote from just the top 10.

Today, I finish with the most popular book in the UK - The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. This epic novel in three volumes is often held up as the primary example of fantasy fiction. Some people hate it, or at least can't see what the fuss is about. I happen to think it's pretty amazing. I gave it 9/10 for enjoyment when I read it. The entire story is very long, thus the scope for quotations is almost overwhelming. I'm not going to try to find an unusual quotation this time therefore, but will go instead for two of the most obvious ones - as befits the most popular book in Britain.

Firstly, a wonderful line that appears in literary tattoos and jewellery more than most:

"Not all who wander are lost."

And secondly, the famous poem about the rings themselves. I find it oddly chilling:

"Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Which is your favourite of the top 10 books? (Jane Eyre; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; 1984; Winnie the Pooh; To Kill a Mockingbird; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; His Dark Materials; Pride and Prejudice; The Lord of the Rings)

12 May, 2014

Letter to My Son

Our Dear Digory,

You are a story waiting to be told. You are the clean blank page in the fresh notebook; the hopeful, frightening words ‘Chapter One’ written large on the top line. You are a tale more fantastic than fiction and more magical than the myths told round campfires. 

How can it be that you – so tiny – have taken over my story so entirely? In my life,  every chapter from now until The End can never be the same because of you. Daddy and I, our own books bound together inextricably, now find ourselves captivated by the opening lines of your story. And I wish I could write it for you. I wish I could abandon my book mid-sentence; break off and leave it to write yours – to make sure the structure and shape, the characters and twists are perfect. But I can’t. You must write it yourself.

If I wrote your life, I would create a fantasy world for you. I would set your story in a land where the sun never set on sadness, and where the moon watched over you at night. There would be no enchanted forest of thorns, nor wicked witches to place you under a curse. Evil stepmothers would be banished, dragons would lie down with lambs. There would be no Black Moment, no All-is-Lost. It would be a story with many heroes and no villains. And nobody would want to hear the tale, because it wouldn’t be a true story. It would be a prison. 

In these early chapters of yours, Daddy and I are the vocabulary that underlies every sentence. We are the heroes who can fight away fears. I know it can’t last. That is a parent’s curse. We must give you the words and the grammar, the inspiration and the imagination, and then we must let you write your story your way. We must love you more fiercely with each passing chapter, while gradually retreating from the tale. For a few pages we may be the villains: the keepers of keys, the setters of curfews, the curtailers of freedom. Then, all too soon, we will not even be that. We must retreat to be minor characters among your cast of friends and rivals, popping up every few pages to remind you how much we love you, knowing we’ll never really be able to make you understand. Before long you won’t look to me for comfort when you come across something new; you won’t need Daddy to rock you to sleep in his arms. And we will be sad, and we will be excited. And you will not even mark these passing moments. You will be too busy writing your tale.

You learned to smile last week, Digory. Soon you will learn so many other things – more important than walking, or reading, or tying your shoelaces. You will learn how to face rejection and how to be disappointed. You will learn that you are fallible. You will discover how marvellous it is to laugh until you can’t breathe and how to sit in silence with someone who fits into your story perfectly, as Daddy fits mine. You will learn how to be gracious in victory and how to get over defeat. You will know you are as self-centred and confused as the rest of mankind. You will know you are as beautiful as any human ever was.

So I don’t wish for your life to be free from dragons and witches, curses and thorns. I only pray that you know how to meet them. When they appear in your tale, meet them with courage and gentleness and, when the page turns, leave them behind. I feel as if I should have words of wisdom to impart to you as you start out. But I find there’s only one thing I have to tell you. There’s one secret that I hope will help you to enjoy life. It’s this: nobody really knows what they’re doing; we’re all just making up our stories as we go along. Isn’t that marvellous? Doesn’t that make you free? I hope so.

As I write this you are lying in your basket just a few feet away, gurgling at the monkeys decorating the wall and gradually falling asleep. And there’s so much I want to tell you when I look at you. I want to teach you every lesson from every mistake I’ve ever made to save you from making them yourself. But until you write your story I won’t know which lessons you need to learn. I must let you lead the way. So instead I should end on a quotation from a great piece of literature for you to carry with you through life. And however hard I think, I can’t think of a better one than this passage from Happy Birthday To You! by Dr. Seuss – “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” 

That’s why you need to write your own story: you are the only you there is. Be kind. Be gentle. Be compassionate. But don’t let anybody else write your story for you, or try to write anybody else’s. For if you don’t write your tale, it will never be told. And there is no greater tragedy than an untold story. Write your story, Digory. Write it well. Be free.

09 May, 2014

Quotable Friday (32)

After many weeks, this is the penultimate post in my mini-series of Quotable Fridays. I've spent the last couple of months counting down the top 10 most popular books, as voted for in the BBC Big Read 2003. This week the quotation is from the book that came second in that poll - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I gave this book 8/10 for enjoyment when I read it.

I love Jane Austen. Emma is probably my favourite novel of hers, but I can see why Pride and Prejudice has so many fans. Austen is witty and sharp; her books may be mostly about society and marriage, but they are anything other than fluffy. It's tempting to quote the opening line as it must be one of the most famous openings in literature, especially as there are few other standalone lines that are really striking (that's not to say there aren't many brilliant longer passages). Instead, I shall quote something that writers and readers everywhere can sign up to...

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

02 May, 2014

Quotable Friday (31)

And so we come to the top three in my quotation countdown of the BBC Big Read. I finished reading this list of 100 books - voted for by the British public - last year. The book that came third in this 2003 poll was actually three books in one - His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. This trilogy is usually categorised as children's fiction, but I read them all as an adult and gave them 10/10 for enjoyment. Pullman is a brilliant writer.

This quotation is from the first of the three books - Northern Lights (known in the USA, the cinema, and perhaps elsewhere as The Golden Compass). Short and simple.

"You cannot change what you are, only what you do."