Thursday, November 30, 2006

The bit before 'The End'...

Like the rest of the romance-reading world I followed Julie Cohen's first page challenge with great interest-- and, given that book number 2 is progressing at roughly the same place as an arthritic snail, not a little envy too. The contributions from authors right across the fictional board were enlightening and entertaining, and many of them are such good examples of best practise that they sent me scuttling back to completely re-write the opening chapter of book 2 (about 3,287 times, actually, but that's a whole different post. And not a happy one. It involves loud music, half a box of tissues, copious post-it notes and seventeen squillion calories worth of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts.)

I don't recall having nearly so much trouble with the opening chapter of book 1 (did I mention that it's called The Italian's Defiant Mistress and is coming out in July 2007? No? Oh, well, it's called The Italian's Defiant Mistress and it's coming out in July 2007...). I do, however, remember very distinctly the struggle I had coming up with a suitable finish. Obviously I had a clear vision of how the book would end in plot terms, but I'd spent so long living with the characters and following them on every step of their journey that actually choosing the right words with which to leave them was impossible.

I didn't want something too sudden, too final, as I wanted to give the impression of a beginning within an ending. It also had to have an air of authority about it, to make the reader feel satisfied that a natural conclusion had been reached, and above all it had to convey the new relationship that had blossomed between the hero and heroine, while still remaining absolutely in line with both of their characters. (In other words there was no way I was going to be able to have the hero say anything remotely sentimental. He's spent the whole book struggling to be open about his feelings-- even to himself-- and although he's come a long way and overcome lots of those demons he's nowhere near the stage of being able to use the word 'soul'. Or at least not without sounding sarcastic.)

I wrote the final version of the last chapter and epilogue at the last possible moment before submitting the ms, which meant that by the time I received the proofs to check I couldn't actually remember exactly how it had finished. I was dead keen to read through to the end straight away and refresh my memory, but as I turned the last page I do believe I made the kind of outraged, disbelieving squeal that my children utter when they open the biscuit tin and find it empty.

I'd failed. That indefinably conclusive air that I'd striven so hard to achieve was so lacking. I could have cried-- which isn't usually a bad response at the end of a romance, but in this case was definitely not for the right reasons.

And then I found the last page, which, in the general squalor and chaos of Grey Towers, had become separated from the rest (and slightly besmirched with jam in the process). I breathed a huge sigh of relief. On it was typed...

And he did.


... and those four words made a world of difference to my perception of the whole, entire book.

So, what are your favourite final lines from a book, and how did you solve the finishing dilemma in your own writing? From where I am (ie still marooned in the fog of the first 3 chapters) it's a problem I'm longing to be in a position to tackle!


Sunday, November 26, 2006

The usefulness of writers' groups

Those of you who read my last post won't be at all surprised to learn that I'm writing this one from my prison cell having been arrested for some sort of insider book trading. Actually, I don't mind. The food is pretty good, I can watch telly all day long (ha ha, Amanda) and I have use of a pc. In fact, I'm rather hopeful that this brief respite from the world of work and household responsibilities will help me overcome my writer's block and give me time to compose my best seller. Failing that, I shall take the opportunity to complete an MA in creative writing.

To that end, I have enrolled in HM's writers' group which meets every Tuesday in the well-stocked library, giving its members (a mix of warders and inmates - to encourage communication between parties - a bit like a mixed NHS ward) the opportunity to read out pieces of work they are working on and receive constructive criticism/feedback from other members of the group. This is particularly useful given the nature of some of the, er, shall we say, bold (hardened) personalities (criminals) who are not in the least bit afraid of speaking their mind.

If one is not working on a piece oneself, then one is given an assignment to complete before the next meeting. Last week the assignment was to write a 1000-word short story set in a hi-tech industrial complex with a trapeze artist as the main character and a pocket watch as some meaningful article within the story. I can't tell you here what I came up with as this is not a secure site (indeed, I understand from my colleagues that there is no such thing - and, frankly, they should know) and I wouldn't want to be plagiarised (though, believe me, that is not the worse thing that can happen to one in here), so I leave it to you to come up with your own ideas.

Anyway, getting back to the point of this post, since joining the writers' group and being forced to write something (anything), and having the warm and loving support of my fellow writers (okay, Jane, you can put the baton down now, nice and gently, that's it - yes, I have written it exactly as you wanted me to, word for word), my writers' block has vanished and my formerly frozen fingers fly fleetingly across the keyboard.

So, as soon as I get out of here the first thing I'm going to do is join a writers' group on the outside and write my book - 'Bad Girls What Write Good'. Best seller or what?

(And yes, Jane, of course all proceeds will go to the Prison Officers' Benevolent Fund, as promised. Now, I think you'd better lock the door and get back on duty before the Governor notices you're missing.)


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An open book

To me, a book without any markings on its cover is like an open whorehouse window to a peeping tom - irresistible. I just have to take a look inside. Big mistake. Pulling one such book from the bookshelves in a book store last weekend, I inadvertently fumbled it and it dropped to the floor - well, actually, on to the toes of a man standing next to me. The book helpfully opened itself to reveal a graphic picture of two naked women cavorting on a trampoline. In bold, black letters next to it was the word 'Lesbians' (presumably just in case the picture didn't make that point absolutely clear and one might make the mistake of thinking one was studying a book about trampolining techniques). Red-faced, I rushed to pick up the book and ran out of the store. Only when I was half way home did I realise I still had the book in my hot little hands. What did I do with it? What could I do with it? I donated it to a charity shop of course.


Monday, November 06, 2006

It's all in the stars

When I was at the RNA conference earlier this year, several people recommended the use of an astrology book as a helpful aid to 'knowing your character'. So, when I was in a book store recently, I actually remembered to seek out such a book and consider its virtues for myself. Naturally, I couldn't remember the title of the book nor the author but happened upon one called 'Love Stars' by Claire Petulengro - 'Astrologer for Express and OK!'. Within minutes of picking the book up, I was hooked - it gives not only the general characteristics of each star sign but also which star sign is suited to which, what sort of job they may hold, what sort of mother-in-law they may make, what sort of friend they are and what their sexual needs might be! In other words, everything you need to know about your character and what makes him or her tick. Equally naturally, the copy I held in my hands was the only one on the shelf and well-thumbed. 'Go and ask them if they have a better copy in stock,' advised my husband. Off I trotted and obediently asked the question. 'No,' the assistant replied, 'I'm afriad we don't. We only have that one. I can give you ten per cent off that copy if you like, or order you a new one.' As the book was only meant for me and as I was in Cheltenham at the time (about 150 miles south of home), I decided I didn't mind if the book was slightly dog-eared. It was only going to go further in the same direction once I got it home after all (I'm not one to preserve my books, especially reference books, they are there to be used, not to look pretty). My husband then said I was the only person he knew who would haggle over the price of a book in Waterstones. I pointed out to him that I was not haggling, merely following his suggestion, to which he responded with a boyish grin and a waggle of his eyebrows in a 'I know, you're so easy to lead astray', kind of way.

Naturally (word of the day in case you hadn't noticed) once home, I just had to read all about me - an Aries. And what did it say? It said I could be led into something, and that I could be tight with money - though did add 'but there is usually a good reason for it'. How right you are Ms Petulengro - what better reason than getting ten per cent off a book?