Writer and Author

Tag: Book 1

The Flow of the Narrative

I was watching The Last Seduction with the Husband last night. It’s one of my favourite films.  Afterwards we were jokingly wondering if this might have been the film that gave Sharon Collins the idea for her ill-judged bit of online retail.  It’s doubtful. The similarities between fact and fiction are slim, to say the least, but it’s a joke we always make. After all, if Sharon had simply been one of my characters then she probably would have been influenced by one of my favourite films, I could have made her influenced by anything I wanted.

It might seem like an obvious distinction between fiction and non-fiction but it’s one that it’s all too easy to blur in the writing. Writing a book is completely different from writing a piece for a newspaper or a post for this blog about the trial while it’s going on. It’s an opportunity to stand back and look at how the story flows, to find the rhythm at it’s heart. It doesn’t feel any different telling a true story or making one up once I get down to writing. The research and planning stages might be different but once the story starts to pick up speed it’s always a question of following the narrative flow. It’s the same with characters. Whether I’m replaying in memory words and actions I know happened, that have been proved in front of a court of law, or allowing the characters to block out their own movements in the theatre of my imagination, it all comes out much the same.

I’ve remarked here before about how strange it feels seeing “characters” in the flesh when a case comes back to court. Something happens when you’ve spent weeks in front of the screen with a subject. In a way it becomes part of you, as do the dramatis personae.  You can get rather possessive. With recent cases the problem’s academic. They’re live stories that will continue to develop outside the scope of my book. But today I’m more concerned with the flow of the story itself.

Why does it seem amusing that Sharon Collins might have been influenced by The Last Seduction? Because it works with the story. It underlines her mixed attempts to be a real life femme fatale by contrasting with a great fictional example.  When I was writing Devil in the Red Dress I used to listen to the Last Seduction soundtrack (a great noirish jazz affair) and my movie viewing tended to revolve around Bogart and Bacall or the Coen Brothers. While I couldn’t do anything with the facts of the case or the words of the witnesses, the underlying beat to that one was most definitely Hollywood Noir with a rather comic edge.

I’m not one of those writers who has to work in silence. I’ve been a journalist for too long for surrounding babble to worry me that much but given the choice I’d rather have my choice of music than Sky News and radio bulletins. So far each book has had it’s own mp3 playlist on my laptop. Devil was smoky jazz, Death on the Hill was written to an accompaniment of mainly French pop and this new one appears to be insisting on passionate instrumentals of Irish or Russian origin. When I was working on my novel I had a different playlist for each character – it helped to keep them solid while I was still working them out.  Whatever it’s content though the playlists all serve the same purpose. They’re a shortcut to the narrative flow. A way of getting to where I need to go.

At the moment, because I’m at an early stage of writing, I’m still feeling for that rhythm but I know it’s there. I think that narrative flows through life like an underground stream. We all instinctively know what works and what doesn’t, based on the facts before us and our knowledge of our fellow man. It’s that same knowledge that can lead a jury to a verdict or make a novel feel like it isn’t working. It’s that gut feeling that creates archetypes and truisms.  There’s a rhythm that undercuts everything and any story has to fall into step or at least be damn good at syncopation.  I’m not talking about the simple stuff that we’d always like to be true – boy gets girl, good always triumphs and evil gets it’s just deserts. It’s just real life. They’re basic rules that always affect the story no matter what you write – true crime or crime fiction, chick lit or fantasy.

At the moment I’m working on something where hearing that rhythm feels more important than ever. I don’t have the benefit of observing my characters and I can’t make them up. If I get them wrong I’m doing a disservice to a story that has, after all, already unfolded.  It’s rather different from anything I’ve ever done.  But I think I’ve found the melody at last, enough for me to follow until the narrative flow catches me and the story takes hold.

A New Year and a New Decade

2010 has arrived and I’m feeling optimistic.  It’s been an incredible roller coaster of a decade but I’m ready for something new.

As we went into the new millennium I wasn’t married and I hadn’t graduated college. Both those happened in 2000 and I’m hoping 2010 will be just as exciting.  Over the past ten years there have been ups and downs but I’m happy with where I am now – it’s all to play for.

In the last few years I’ve started working in the courts and had my first book published.  My first novel is with my agent and I’ve high hopes that 2010 will be the year it finds a publisher.  Looking back on where I’ve come from I’m proud of where I am and confident of where I can get…one day.

So I’m sharing my New Years Resolutions in the hope that, once they’re out in the world I won’t be able to back out of them.

First on the list is a commitment to write.  Quite apart from the freelancing I already do I want to get more disciplined about fiction writing.  I’ve been talking for ages about posting short stories on this blog to give you readers an idea of the non court reporting stuff I do so that’s resolution number 1.  At least one story to be up on the blog each month.

Next I have to look to my next fiction project.  If Book 1 finds a publisher I’ll probably have to start work on the sequel (it’s the first of a trilogy) but these things can take time so I’ve another book to be working on in the meantime.  I know my characters and have a strong plot outline…what I need to do now is start seriously drafting it.

With all this fiction to be written, on top of the day job, I think resolution 3 ought to be to do with the blog.  I’ve ideas to expand it, including podcasting and possibly themed posts but at the moment all I’m committing to is at least three posts a week – I’ll be aiming for daily but if deadlines loom I’m afraid the paying gigs get priority!

Finally one of those grandiose resolutions that really don’t have any major bearing on day to day living.  I’m resolving to have faith that all this will work.  That even on the slack days when I’ve no commissions and the fiction looks like nothing more than a pipe dream, I will trust that this is all going somewhere and I’m not wasting my time.  It’s so easy to have doubts but I’m going to try to keep them to a minimum this year.

I’ll try and keep all of these resolutions and a few more I’m not sharing.  It’s a good time for promises and this year anything seems possible.

The Blank Page

So my novel is finished and with my agent.  A whole summer of feverish writing and editing came to an end just as the first leaves fell off the sycamore tree in the back.  I’m pleased with what I’ve written.  I like my characters, I’ve got rid of the plot holes and the thing comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  As far as I’m concerned it’s done.

I’m not saying that it’s absolutely done and dusted.  It can’t be just yet.  Up until it goes into print there will still be time to tweak and trim but from now on it’s not just my baby.  My agent’s got it now and soon we’ll be dangling it in front of publishers to see who bites.  Any changes made to the manuscript from this point in will come from either agent or eventual editor.  I’ve done what I can with the images I had in my head and now it’s out there.  It needs other pairs of eyes over it now.

Which leaves me with the problem of what to do while I’m waiting.  I had hoped to segue happily into a nice juicy trial as the Central Criminal Court kicked off it’s new term this week.  But life has a habit of not being particularly accommodating and the interesting, news worthy trial I was hoping for failed to materialise.  So I’m sitting in front of my computer, staring at the wall in front of me and quietly going mad.

It seemed like a good plan to start the next book on my list to occupy myself while the novel was doing it’s thing away from me.  I have plans, notes, even research on not one but two new books.  There’s another true crime and another fiction (the sequel to the one that’s so recently finished).

After much deliberation I decided to let the sequel sit – for the moment at least.  My characters need a rest and I need a break from the intensity of conjuring up all their emotions, fears and hopes.  It’s hard not to be slightly method when you’re drafting a story.  Editing gives a distance that allows a far more pragmatic approach but a first draft requires throwing oneself in head long only coming up for air when eating becomes a necessity.

So no sequel.  Instead I’ve turned to the next non fiction book I want to write.  It’ll be another true crime book like Devil but a bit wider in scope.  I’ve high hopes for this idea and have been looking forward to working on it for months.

So why is a blank page staring back at me?  I have everything in my head for this project.  I know what order the chapters will go in, what sources I’ll use, all the rest of it.  I even know how I’ll tell the story.  But when I sit down to write, the words will only drip onto the page in sulky fits and starts.

I’ve had the same 300 words squatting in the middle of the page for a week.  Occasionally I’ll move some of them around but for the most part they sit there staring at me accusingly.  On their own they look a little silly, insubstantial, flimsy.  They need the weight of a couple of thousand companions before they can do the job I’m giving them.

But waiting for the kettle to boil for the umpteenth cup of tea today I recognise my predicament.  I’ve been here before.  Every time I’ve started a book, every time I’ve started a long article, going back further, every time I started an essay.  This is apparently what I do when I start a new project.  This is the noisy, frustrating birth of whatever the latest project is.

I wish I could work some other way.  This way is annoying and gives me a headache.  But apparently this is what I do.  I’ll chip away for the next hours, or possibly days, and eventually the block will shift and the words will flow the way they’re made to.  In the meantime,  I think I’ll make another cup of tea.

And Now For Something Completely Different!

For the past couple of months I’ve had my head buried in Word as I worked on finishing my second book.  As the end approached I got more and more tunnel visioned and consequently my updates here have been sporadic to say the least.

Well today I sent the finished opus off to my agent.  Changes have been made, characters further developed and endings tweaked until I was as happy as I was ever going to be.  I’m not saying that I will never write another word in that particular manuscript – there may be changes suggested along the way from agent or, eventually a publisher – but I am now stepping away and saying enough.

It’s been a long journey with this particular book.  The opposite experience to last summers frenzy to get Devil in the Red Dress finished so that the book could be released as soon as possible after the sentencing in the trial.  The new book is not a trial book.  It’s fiction, fantasy fiction at that.

It comes from an idea that had it’s seeds in my childhood.  The manuscript I sent to my agent today might have had very little in common with the story I wrote on my mum’s manual typewriter at the kitchen table one winter when I was about 11, but that was the genesis.  One or two of the characters share names with the earlier attempt, a few bear a passing physical resemblance but the story is a totally different animal.

I’m happy with my finished draft.  I think it can stand up on it’s own but ultimately it doesn’t matter what I think.  From now on it’s on it’s own.  I’ll be open to suggestions with any last minute tweaks but the story I wanted to write has now  been written and it’s time to start something new.

For the past couple of chapters in the edit I’ve been thinking ahead to what comes next.  This book will have a sequel, a few chapters of a preliminary draft already exist.  Then there’s the world that this blog and Devil belong to.  Mainly concerned with crime and courts.

The courts are back in a couple of weeks and I’ll need to check the diary and plan what to do next.  I’ve also started thinking about a follow up to Devil but that’s a story for another day.

One thing I’ve learnt about writing over the past year or more is that it never stops.  You’re either writing  something or you’re thinking about writing something.  There is no time when a little part of your brain isn’t looking and noticing and filing away anything that might be useful.  This is just the way the mind works in this kind of job, it’s a nervous tick, a habit you get into.

I’ll miss the characters I’ve spent the summer with.  They were my first, old friends who I know as well or better than people I see on a regular basis.  I’ll never work with them in the same way again and that’s a little sad but I’m excited about what comes next.

It’s been a long time since I’ve explored the thrill of the blank page.  I’m looking forward to the blocking and the researching and the roughing that must all come before I’m back to the polishing.

So tomorrow I’ll get up and start that something completely different.  The notebooks will be unearthed from their summer resting places and I’ll be back dealing with reality.  There’s a couple of weeks to get organised before the courts are back and I’m raring to go.

So I’ll be writing here more regularly from now on.  The summer’s over and normal service has been resumed!

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