Friday, August 25, 2006

When the villain turns your head

On the weekend over at Word Wenches, Loretta Chase sparked a lively discussion about villains and how some have a knack of turning up in subsequent books playing the lovestruck hero. I was too late to reply to her post—getting paid to write nonfiction all day long has really put a dent in my blog surfing, not to mention my creative writing time—but I'm curious to hear whether other writers have had an experience similar to mine.

Many years ago I set out to write a story wherein the heroine is pursued by two beaux: one a blond, blue-eyed beta male with a heart of gold; the other a dark, sinister alpha male driven to possess, conquer, and pillage if not rape. Naturally, beta boy was expected to win the buxom bride. But a startling thing happened. The scenes featuring the villain of the piece proved the choicest bits by far: the dialogue sparkled, the man showed far more wit and spunk than his pale adversary, and the heroine's heart (not to mention her nether regions) gradually softened. To top it all off, Mr. Alpha Male then began to demonstrate a vulnerable side, ever so slowly, by degrees. He won us over. Both of us, heroine and author both.

That novel has been rewritten. No trace of the blue-eyed boy remains. It's all about dark, silvery-eyed Montgomery and his conquest of his lady love.

Now, tell me, has this experience ever befallen you? Has a character so completely taken over the story that he/she transformed it before your very eyes? (And, I wonder, is that a good thing? Who is the master of the piece, after all?)


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Yearning for mists, mellow fruitfulness and all that

So-- Whitby. Barbeque on the beach-- tick. Fish and chips on the pier-- tick. Fossil-hunting, sandcastle-building, rockpooling and ice-cream at every verse end-- tick, tick, tick, tick. I'm now officially ready for Autumn.

The trouble is there's still two weeks of the summer holidays to go, and I'm definitely feeling that the term 'holiday' is something of a misnomer. Find myself utterly worn out by lunchtime each day from the hours of psychological wrangling/bribery/threats of physical violence required to get 3 daughters out of their pyjamas and into clothing suitable for a trip to Sainsburys. (Three weeks ago I would not have included a scarlet lurex party dress and fairy wings in this category. However, standards are slipping.) The freedom from routine that seemed so intoxicating at the start of the holidays now feels oppressive, the garden has degenerated into a damp, bedraggled jungle and the house seems to have been colonised by Polly Pockets and turned into the headquarters of the rubber fetishists society. (For those who are blissfully ignorant of Ms. Pocket-- she is a tiny blonde doll with an improbably large head and an extensive wardrobe fashioned entirely from rubber. I shudder to think what subliminal messages the daughters absorb from this.)

I love autumn. I love the huge harvest moon and the scent of woodsmoke and the feeling you get that first morning when you step outside and feel a hint of frost in the air. I love the fact that it's time to do away with salads and start cooking proper, robust food again. I love the colours, and the way that even our garden manages to look like a Pre-Raphaelite painting (if you half-close your eyes and ignore the yellow plastic slide in the centre of the lawn), with knee-deep drifts of russet leaves and the apple tree laden with fruit.

But after countless years happily buried in the education system what I really love is that Back To School feeling. And this year, with a second phase of revisions awaiting my attention, not to mention the book that has been stuck at 11 000 words for months, I'm particularly looking forward to it.

Especially as it's not me who's going back to school...


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Never been tagged before

It's a first. We've been tagged by Ms. Creativity. (Is it a form of cyber tag/tig? If so, it looks like we've been caught fair and square!)

The question is:
"If you could write a novel about any subject, what would it be?"
First of all, since we're all writers here, and therefore have presumably already exercised our right to choose a subject of interest, what is this question really asking? Perhaps...what might we write if we didn't have to worry about pitching, selling, market demand, making a mint, etc.?

Then, I'd venture to say:
I'd write a story featuring an unreliable narrator...first he lulls you in, you believe every word, and then by degrees you begin to wonder, to doubt, and ultimately to disregard him. When the axis upon which the book revolves is suddenly gone, the reader must find another character on which to depend for veracity. Even, perhaps, the heroine on whom the narrator has become fixated, his objectified obsession? Gad, could she be the character capable of providing the moral compass integral to the story, despite her many flaws?

[Now for the game. Scribes' Sanctuary, in turn, tags Sharon Jacobsen, provided she's online once again, Amanda Ashby, Stacy Holmes, and Brown over at the Romance Writers of Edmonton blog.]

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

What would you do?

Tell me, what would you do if a well-known publishing house had your full (not partial, mind!) manuscript in its possession for nine months without getting around to reading it? What if you'd sent numerous emails asking for updates, keeping them apprised of your new manuscript, and otherwise assuring them that you're still alive and well, only to receive virtually the same response each and every time: "Our office is terribly busy but with any luck we hope to get to your manuscript soon"?

Would you hang tough and wait or start tossing query letters right, left and centre? Many publishing houses don't want to see your manuscript if it's being considered by another publisher. But after nine months, come on. And how likely is it that two would become interested at the same time, particularly when separated by the proverbial pond?

So, what do you think I should do? Admit it's time to move on or exercise yet more patience?

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Friday, August 04, 2006


So, here I am, finally finished work for a whole month, my cyst has burst and is almost completely better and the steamy summer sun has hidden itself behind an oversized grey blanket which occasionally wrings itself out and very helpfully waters the garden for me. Perfect conditions for settling down indoors to write a best seller. In theory, yes. In practice, no. I cannot, repeat cannot, settle at all. All I can think about is hitching my rucksack on to my back and donning my best walking trousers - the clever ones that transform into shorts at the hint of a sunny ray. Although I have to say that the first pair I ever owned were not so clever. I wore them more often as shorts and consequently the shorts bit faded whilst the legs retained their original dark beige. One evening on holiday having dressed for dinner (okay, zipped my legs on in the back of the hire car), I walked into the light of the restuarant only to have my husband point out that I was wearing two-tone trousers.

However, before I digress further, here I am, having been given the perfect opportunity to sit at my computer and form sizzling sentences, punchy paragraphs and dazzling dialogue, and what am I doing instead? I'm lounging on the sofa flicking through 'Property Ladder' magazine and wondering how Sarah Beeney gets her hair to stay stuck out at such unlikely angles from her head; I'm trying out all the different herbal teas I have stacked in my kitchen cupboard, such as ginger and lemongrass (needs honey to make it palatable), green tea (needs honey to make it palatable) and camomile (needs honey to make it palatable) and adding 'honey' to my shopping list; and I'm not only answering the phone when it rings, but entering enthusiastically into a conversation with someone from India on the merits of changing my mortgage, my insurance and maybe even my identity (actually I think that last one was a bit suspect).

What I am not doing is writing my book, which has to be sent to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme by the end of August. Which is weird - not the fact that it has to be sent to the NWS but the fact that I'm not writing it, because I love this book. Okay, I'm only on chapter 10 of the first draft, but every time I read through what I've written, I get an excited tickling between my ribs (which, okay, may be due to the fact that I forgot to pluck the pheasant that we had for last night's tea but mainly I think it's because I quite like what I've written) and I can't wait to write on, but then I get up from my chair, change into my walking trousers, load up my rucksack with herbal teabags and take a hike into my kitchen. There, I flick through 'Property Ladder' whilst waiting for the kettle to boil and answer the phone.