Blog Hop

Many thanks to Gary Bonn for tagging me in this blog hop and posing the following four questions:

What am I working on?

Sitting here at my desk today, I have to; catch up with my blog as I’ve ignored it while on holiday, write an article for a writing group newsletter, prepare a presentation for a writer’s workshop on Saturday on Raising the Stakes, try to complete my list of tasks for a writer’s group board meeting plus update the group’s website and Facebook pages, read and edit chapters for an online critique group meeting tonight and remember to turn on Skype at 7pm for same meeting.

If I can squeeze any actual writing time today, I want to edit the first chapter of the current novel I’m working on – Sing Inside The Thunder.  I didn’t do any writing when I was on holiday – just got back last night so I’m pretty jet-lagged and have mounds of laundry to get through – but I got in some very valuable thinking time and have lots of ideas to strengthen/deepen the story I’m currently working on.

How does my work differ from other works in the same genre?

That’s a difficult question because I write in a few genres – romance, women’s fiction and children’s – and like every other writer out there, my aim is to craft ‘a good story well told’. So how is my work different? My voice, tone and personal outlook on life, I hope.

Why do I write what I write?

My stories all come from the heart with characters and situations I feel passionate about. However, I have noticed a common theme which frequently creeps in – the idea what we get second chances in life. Interesting, given that my favourite book of all time is Persuasion by Jane Austen.

How does my writing process work?

Irregularly irregular.  Sometimes I write like a fiend for days, sometimes I just do a lot of planning or editing and rewriting. But I do try – when I’m not on holiday – to get in at least one hour every day of solid new writing.  (Sadly, won’t happen today. The pile of laundry seems to be growing!)

Tagging forward: Mahrie G. Reid, Victoria Smith and Vivien Martin

Dougie Maclean – Caledonia

dougie2I’m still thinking about Dougie Maclean’s concert last week and playing his music on my iPod as I’m writing this. All his songs are very beautiful and powerful but, when people go to one of his concerts, there is one song, above all, they want to hear.

Caledonia.

Caledonia was the name the Romans gave to Scotland, the country beyond the wall that they were unable to conquer.  (Sound familiar, Game of Throne-ers?) Somewhere around Perth (not Hadrian’s Wall) is where The Roman Empire ended. Caledonia, the song, has become popular world-wide.

The Americans love it, the Irish claim it as their own. It’s played at weddings, funerals, football matches, military tattoos, rugby games, adverts and is often called Scotland’s unofficial national anthem.

Dougie Maclean calls Caledonia his loveable monster because it’s taken on a life of its own. He wrote it a long – long – time ago on a beach in France when he was feeling very homesick. It’s a song of longing – and belonging – written from the heart.

And therein – I believe – lies its magic.

As writers we’re told to write about the specific, not the general. By writing about the specific – in the case of Caledonia, Maclean’s homesickness – he touched on one of the unique experiences and emotions every single person in the world feels, understands and relates to.

You don’t need to be Scottish to understand the love you have for your homeland – whatever that country may be – or your need to be with your ‘ain’ folk.

You just need to be human.

There are all different versions on Caledonia available on Youtube, but even though I’ve already posted this one several times it remains my favourite.  Enjoy.

Advice To A Young Author – Arthur Conan Doyle

I visited the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh on my last visit there, a fascinating – but quite gruesome – place. One of the exhibits detailed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s training as a doctor at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh before he became celebrated as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It included the following poem, which I found both inspirational and thoughtful.

ADVICE TO A YOUNG AUTHOR by Arthur Conan Doyle

First begin

Taking in.

Cargo stored,

All Aboard.

Think about

Giving out,

Empty ship,

Useless trip!

 

Never strain

Weary brain.

Hardly fit,

Wait a bit!

After rest

Comes the best.

Sitting still,

Let it fill.

Never press,

Nerve Stress

Always shows

Nature knows.

 

Critics kind,

Never mind.

Critics flatter,

No matter.

Critics curse,

None the worse!

Critics blame,

All the same.

Do your best,

Hang the rest!

Did She Go or Did She Stay?

I know Wednesday is supposed to be my travel writing day, but as Shirley Valentine was set in Greece, maybe I can squeak it through.

ShrielyI’m trying to write a one-woman play for my nightclass, so I’ve just spent the morning reading through the script (stage version) of Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell, working through the GMOTS that I mentioned in Friday’s writing post, to try and figure out how it’s done by an expert.

Shirley clearly articulates her physical goal (to drink wine in the country where the grape is trod) and emotional goal (to be Shirley Valentine again and ‘jump off the roof’) while being very conscious of the high risks (the loss of her marriage/family/friends) she will face in their pursuit. There’s no messing or tiptoeing around these goals and possible consequences. The stakes are high.

Shirley achieves both those goals, but the ending of the play is ambiguous when it comes to the risk involved.  Does she manage to keep her family… or in finding herself, does she lose them?

Or was the greater stake the even smaller life she would have lived if she hadn’t had the courage to find herself?

WindmillI found a posting on the internet where someone posed the question – Did Shirley Valentine stay in Greece or did she return to England? Apparently the women who responded said she stayed, the men said she went back.

Interesting.

Early in the play Shirley says she remains married because she needs to – she’s terrified at the idea of facing life alone in the world beyond the wall.

But once she does go out into the big wide world perhaps that marriage isn’t as important as her self-actualization.

I don’t know for sure what happens.  I think she stays in Greece for a while and then moves back to England or moves on – with Joe if he’s willing to accept Shirley Valentine, without if he needs her to be St Joan of the Fitted Units. But her life will never be the same again.

What do you think?

And is it important that the ending of a story dots all the ‘i’s’ and crosses all the ‘t’s…or can a little ambiguity sometimes be a good thing?

Caroline Russell-King

A couple of weeks ago I stepped waaaay outside my writing comfort zone and signed up for a playwriting course taught by award-winning Calgary playwright and dramaturg Caroline Russell-King.  Writing for the stage is very different from anything I’ve attempted before, but I believe that anything that challenges the writing brain cells has got to be good for developing one’s craft. Fortunately, Caroline creates a very safe emotional space in which to work, experiment and learn.

The one thing I love about taking writing classes is that although you may ‘hear’ the same lessons over and over again – eg plot structure, character development – sometimes a teacher will use a word, phrase or expression that turns the light bulb on and allows you to reflect on something in a different way.

Using the acronym GMOTS, Caroline Russell-King did just that, forcing me to examine various elements of my plot as a whole rather than individually. Like most people, I’m familiar with Goal, Motivation and Conflict, but I like how Caroline Russell-King breaks it down even further.

G – GOAL – Your protagonist wants something.

M – MOTIVATION- Must be High.

O – OBSTACLES – List the obstacles the protagonist will have to face.

T – TACTICS – What tactics does the protagonist use to overcome the obstacles.

S – STAKES – What are the consequences if the protagonist fails to achieve his/her goal?  These MUST be high.

And the real zinger?

Once you’ve worked all that out for your protagonist, repeat the process for your ANTAGONIST. In doing so, you’ll discover hidden layers of conflict in both your protagonist and antagonist.

And conflict is drama, right?

http://www.carolinerussellking.com

Research

I still haven’t managed to make too much progress on finding out more information on the Canadian Native soldier who apparently died in Glasgow in 1916/17.  However, while researching information about him and his unit, I’ve discovered some great tidbits from The Glasgow Herald newspaper’s archive.

These were all taken from the paper’s December 7-10th, 1916 editions.  When it comes to ideas for stories, they’re an absolute gift for historical fiction writers.

Penpals wanted for Irish POWs imprisoned in Germany.

1,000 maids wanted in Canada.  Travel and personal costs all paid for. (Why did Canada need 1,000 maids in the middle of a war??)

An ex-soldier, who married at the beginning of the war in 1914, was discharged a year later for medical reasons.  His wife then ‘refused to take up house’ with him, so he ‘married’ another woman.  He was found guilty of bigamy and jailed for 2 months and the woman he ‘married’ jailed for 30 days!

A psychic, who told a woman her husband would die in France, was jailed for causing emotional distress and lowering morale.

An angry letter from a woman whose husband was a POW. She was required to donate over 2 pounds sterling a month to insure he received care parcels while only receiving 3/4 of that per month to house, feed and clothe her family. Imagine the physical and mental hardships she must have suffered caring for her family while worrying about her husband.

 

Don’t Write A Book. Write A Poster!

The idea of sitting down to write anything from a 50,000-100,000 word novel is pretty daunting. The former consumes at least half a box of paper, the latter will eat up the entire 500 sheets.

Sgtaplspaper

Add in revisions, synopses and query letters…  that’s a whole lot of dead trees and empty pages to fill.

Even more challenging than completing the physical pages is the emotional energy expended creating a book.  As Red Smith said:  There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

500 pages.

Gulp!

This summer I visited Platform 9 3/4, the shop containing all things Harry Potter at King’s Cross Station.  In amongst the wands and Gryffindor scarves, I noticed something that – to me –  was truly magical. A poster containing the full text of of JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.

HPPOser

It so captivated me that I went back to the shop three times to look at it before finally buying it.  A poster, no matter how small the text, couldn’t contain the WHOLE text – 76,944 words – could it?

Well.. yes it could.

I might not be able to write a book as amazing as Harry Potter –  and the idea of facing 500 empty pages may be very intimidating – but I CAN write a poster.

And so can you!