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The great pretender, or why it is so damn important to read your own genre!

I am pretty comfortable with my writing voice. I would go so far as to say that I rather like my writing voice, which is a good job as I spend so much time using it. But this week I couldn’t find it. Instead I found myself rather bizarrely writing in a cross over style between myself and…William Boyd.

Have you ever encountered someone with a strong accent and found yourself accidentally imitating that accent? Imagine that, but whilst writing. It is unsettling, bizarre and, to be honest, a bit annoying.

I am reading Sweet Caress by Mr Boyd this week and it is exceptionally good. The only problem is I have found myself writing as though I am Amory Clay, the protagonist. This is not so good, especially as I am writing a psychological thriller and not literary fiction. That teaches me for reading outside my genre!

There is very little point trying to write as someone else; you have to find your own damn voice and stick with it. Imitating other people’s writing will never flow quite as naturally, nor will it ever be as good as the original, regardless of whether you’re imitating them by accident or not.

So, how did I manage to regain my voice, you may ask? Firstly, by only reading Sweet Caress for half an hour a day before I go to bed and never, ever before I sit down to write. Secondly by re-reading the last few chapters of my novel, thereby reminding myself of my own voice and lastly by staying on-genre with my reading list!

It has been a very valuable lesson.

sweet caress

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The Perks of Having no Time

Time is all we had, but, as Take That happily remind me, it was never ours to keep.

This week time was never mine to begin with. I have had NO TIME. And by no time I mean no time to write.

But as I sat down today to write for the first time in ages (HOORAY!!!) I realised that actually I am a lot better off for taking a break, however enforced. My eyes are lovely and fresh and I can see sooo many mistakes and areas for improvement that I could not see before and, even better, and I can see very clearly how to right those cheeky little wrongs.

You see, I hit a tricky patch in my current rewrite. For the past three months I have been pouring over the first half of my book examining sentences, structure, areas of missed dramatic potential, etc. The words SHOW NOT TELL have been on repeat in the back of my mind. About two weeks ago, finally happy(ish) with the first half I decided to bravely delve into the second half of my novel and begin rewriting that.

Queue total self confidence meltdown.

I read it. I re-read it. I cried. I read it again and thought oh jesus everything I ever wrote of any value is all in the first half and the second half is bad scrambled egg.

And then this week happened. Ill children, first week of school, subsequent bedtime/sleeping issues and then an ill me all meant that I spent a total of forty minutes writing when I would normally aim for fifteen to twenty hours.

But I am no longer grumpy! Because guess what? A week off made me finally realise that, three months ago, the first half of my novel was just as horrific as my second half and I didn’t cry then, I just worked bloody hard (with a lot of guidance from the fab Simon Hall) until it got better.

So what do I have to do to get the second half up to scratch? I have to work bloody hard. And that, my friends, makes me very happy.

 Time can help you find the ground and knock you off your feet. Oh Take That, where would I be without you?

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Comfort: the killer of creativity

This may sound like quite a bold claim and of course it is. There are many more things that kill creativity, but for me comfort is the biggest one.

Picture the scene: a cosy living room, a log fire glowing and warming your toes, your belly full of roast chicken and apple pie and a quiet evening stretching out in front of you, hours and hours of peace and quiet for you to write.

But wait… something’s wrong. The words don’t flow, the characters turn their backs on me with lips tightly sealed and my plots start to unravel.

Give me an empty stomach, goosebumps on my arms and a drafty room and suddenly I am the queen of creativity. And if I’m thirsty? My God, the words shoot out of my fingers like bullets.

Now I’m not saying I would go to the lengths of Kurt Hamsun (have you read Hunger? If not, turn off your computer and go and read it now!) but there is definitely something about discomfort forcing the best out of you. My mind seems slightly sharper and, whether I’m writing something new or editing, I can work faster and more easily. And it’s not just speed, the quality of my writing is soooo much better.

Why the hell is that? I don’t know, but if it works I don’t tend to question it.

So for the foreseeable future I will save the times when I am nice and cosy for reading.

And if I am hungry, thirsty or cold then you better not stand in the way of me and my computer.

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All the fun of the…graveyard

Ooooh I love a graveyard. A bit of nature, a bit of peace and a bit of the BEST people watching ever. And I don’t just mean the living ones.

Try this for a creative exercise: take a walk around a graveyard and examine the gravestones. On a good trip you can discover some fabulous real life names that are just begging to be turned into characters; Gwendoline Annie Banny would make a great crazy aunt in a children’s’ book. Looking for a romantic heroine? How about Molly Jean Summerhayes? And they are just some of the relatively normal names. Look a bit harder and you can find some real corkers.

Midge Inglis, Colonel Malcolm Trumpet, Ruth Beauty Cloud.

But my absolute favourite game in a graveyard? Spotting the connections between graves and trying to figure out their stories.

In a nearby cemetery is a collection of graves that are a little over a hundred years old. Edith Ward Brown is buried there, dying at 67 years old. To her right is William (Billy) Ward who died three years before her, also aged 67. To her left is Donald Henry Brown who died the same year as Edith and who was also 67. What’s the deal?

I have often imagined that Edith and Billy married young in the kind of semi-arranged marriage that was common at the time but, late into their married life, Edith fell head over heels in love with a neighbour, Donald. Being the good woman she was she waited until Billy died before moving on and marrying Donald. When Donald died a couple of years later a broken hearted Edith followed him to the grave.

But this doesn’t answer some of the more peculiar questions.

  • Why were they all 67?
  • Why was Edith not buried under the same stone as one of her imaginary husbands? And
  • Edith died last, yet is buried between the two headstones so a space must have been left for her.

The truth has been buried with them so I’ll never know. Perhaps it is merely coincidence and they are all strangers linked by the peculiarity of names (though I hope not, I would be so disappointed.)

Whatever the reasons they have kept my mind occupied, sometimes with romantic stories, sometimes with a serial killer obsessed with 67 year olds.

Next time you’re in a graveyard take a minute and have a look at the stones. You’ll be amazed at the stories you can create.