5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?

 

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I Confess…I Write My Books For Me

I think it’s time to admit the truth. Who am I aiming to please when I write and publish a book? Well, mostly it’s me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. 2018 was an endless round of editing and revising for me, as I prepared Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for release in October, and revamped and released The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts One and Two, and edited Parts Three and Four. Because of this amount of editing, and the fact I was taking part in a reading challenge, I didn’t get a hell of a lot of reading for pleasure done last year.

Which made me think about a few things. One, I really, really enjoy reading my own books, no matter how many times I’ve edited or read through them… Eek, I know, sounds big-headed, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I love my characters and my storylines have me hooked so much they keep me awake at night. Every single book I’ve ever published has a sequel bubbling away inside my head. I just can’t fully let any of them go. I’d miss them too much.

So, when I edit, revise, read through, proofread again and again and again, I enjoy it. I genuinely do. I become immersed in these characters lives. I enjoy the drama and the twists and the turns, even though I know how it ends! Weird, right?

Well, maybe not. After all, why do writers start writing in the first place? I’ve been thinking about this. Now, I’m sure for some it’s the dream of money and fame, of making it ‘big’, becoming an international, award-winning bestseller, who has all their books made into films. JK Rowling or Stephen King, in other words. I mean, it sounds amazing, so who wouldn’t want that?

And I’m sure for some, it’s the urge to entertain, to spin tales, to amuse, to awaken, to entice, to deliver a message.

But for others, I think it’s something different, something they’re not entirely in control of. And I think reading sparks it off. Reading a good book at a young age, then reading more. Becoming utterly drawn into a made-up world that holds your attention, keeps you amused, enthralled, or terrified. The kind of book you don’t want to end. The kind you want everyone else to read just so you can talk about it with them. The kind where you want the characters to be real, and almost believe that they are.

And then, because this is just so exciting, you start to wonder. I could do this myself. I could entertain myself. Then I’d be in control, and it need never end! I can create worlds and lives and people just how I want them, and I can make it funnier, or scarier, or sadder, whenever I want to. Forever!

'If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.'-Toni Morrison.jpg

And thus, a writer is born. A writer who originally set out to please only themselves.

That’s definitely how it was for me. Throughout my childhood and my teenage years, I was totally addicted to writing. I wrote early versions of some of the books I have since published or are working on. I wrote short stories, poems and endless, endless diaries and outpourings of words, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. My writing kept me sane, and it kept me entertained. I was never lonely or bored. I absolutely adored this game of make-believe, and I still do.

I write what I want to read, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe this is true of a lot of writers, I don’t know. It’s no coincidence that the kind of books I write are the kind of books I am always searching to read. I long to read books with amazing, complex characters, the type you never forget, the type you love and loathe in equal measures, the type you can empathise with and root for. I love realistic dialogue and prefer that to too much exposition. I like to read about characters I can relate to, which is difficult as so many books contain middle-class characters. I like to read gritty, hard-hitting storylines. I like realism.

So, there you have it. When I write a book I am mostly writing for myself. I want to write something for me to read. That’s not to say I don’t then spend years trimming it, honing it, revising it, proofreading and editing it until it becomes something I am proud to put out into the world. That goes without saying. I do want people to read my books. Desperately. I do want those reviews and those messages. Without a doubt, I would like better sales! And of course, my ultimate dream is to have all my books made into films or TV series! You got to have your dreams, right?

But in the beginning, it’s me I’m trying to please.

And I think that’s okay. At the very least, it means I will never stop writing!

 

 

February Indie Book of the Month; A Funeral For An Owl by Jane Davis

It’s the end of the month, so that means it’s Indie Book of the Month time here on my blog. This is a new feature for 2018, where each month I will highlight the best indie book I read. This month please let me introduce you to another award-winning writer, Jane Davis. I first discovered Jane’s writing when another author I admire, recommended her book An Unchoreographed Life. I read it and loved it; it ticked every box for me as a reader. For this reason I was very keen to read A Funeral For An Owl and it did not disappoint at all. When I read books, I want good writing and a good plot, something to keep me turning the pages, but I also want to feel invested in the characters. I want to feel strongly about them, I want to worry about them and wish I knew them. Jane’s characters satisfy this need for me. It left me feeling I am in safe hands with her as  writer and will enjoy anything she writes because of this.

So, here is the blurb for A Funeral For An Owl;

A schoolyard stabbing sends wingbeats echoing from the past.

One shocking event. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and collide.

‘If you want to laugh and cry and stamp and cheer – all in the space of a few hours – then this book is the one for you.’ Bookmuse

The best way to avoid trouble, thinks Ayisha Emmanuelle, is to avoid confrontation. As an inner-city schoolteacher, she does a whole lot of avoidance.

14-year-old Shamayal Thomas trusts no one. Not the family, not the gang. And at school, trusting people is forbidden.

Jim Stevens teaches history. Haunted by his own, he still believes everyone can learn from the past. History doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

A powerful exploration of the ache of loss set in a landscape where broken people can heal each other.

Fresh, funny, heartbreaking and real, this original and compassionate study of when to break the rules and why is perfect for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Rachel Joyce and Ali Smith.

“A perfect balance of gritty and feel-good.” society that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable.”

And here is my Amazon/Goodreads review;

“Having previously read another novel by this author, I was keen to read more and A Funeral For An Owl did not disappoint. In fact, it ticked so many boxes for me as a reader that I instantly pre-ordered the author’s new book which is out in the Spring, and I will be working my way through her backlist without a doubt. The plot of this book revolves around Jim, a history teacher who is stabbed while trying to protect a pupil at school, his colleague Ayisha who witnesses the attack, and Shamayal, a fourteen-year-old pupil Jim has befriended. Jim helps the boy one rainy night and a friendship grows between them, which is of course, very much against the rules. On the surface, it may seem like Jim and Shamayal have little in common, but it turns out Jim grew up in the same block of flats on the same notorious council estate and suffered many of the same issues Shymayal is dealing with. They even have a friend in common, Bins, a local misfit who knows everyone on the estate by the nick-names he gives them but is unable to recognise faces. With Jim in hospital, Ayisha comes to his aid and discovers the unlikely friendship between him and the boy. At first, she is very disapproving but as the story continues she finds herself drawn deeper into the lives of Jim and Shamayal. This book does an excellent job of weaving the past with the present. In 1992, Jim was a twelve-year-old boy with a penchant for bird-watching. His father is in prison, his older brother has been thrown out, and the estate is rife with danger from gangs. One day, Jim finds a teenage girl in his bird-spotting place. The mysterious Aimee White provides the thread that holds the past and present together. Jim’s friendship with her, the funeral for the owl and what happened to her, are things that have haunted Jim throughout his life. The reason this book ticked every box for me was that the plot kept me turning the pages, and the characters kept me there as I became increasingly engrossed in their lives. I wanted to find out what happened to Aimee, I wanted Ayisha and Jim to recognise the attraction between them, and I desperately wanted things to turn out well for Shamayal, who was probably my favourite character. A brilliant book, so well-written and compelling. I highly recommend it and this author!”

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Other Indies I’ve Enjoyed This Month;

The Finest Hat In The Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson

Best Traditionally Published Book of The Month;

Release by Patrick Ness

 

 

Top Tips Tuesday; Dialogue!!

DISCLAIMER!! I am not an expert or a professional. I am sadly not a bestseller either. These tips are written from my own personal experience as a writer and as a reader. I hope you find them helpful if you are struggling with how to write convincing dialogue.

You see, dialogue is my thing. I love reading it and I love writing it. I am guilty of slightly cringing when I come across dialogue that does not convince. The prose might be beautiful, the descriptions breathtaking, the plot gripping and so on, but if the dialogue is stilted, stiff or unconvincing, it will annoy the hell out of me and make me want to stop reading…

Show not tell? As writers we hear this mantra all the time and it is an important one to understand. You do not want your narrator, whether first or third person, ‘telling’ the reader everything. There are many ways to avoid too much telling, and using dialogue is one of them. Let the characters do the talking. In short, let them speak! You don’t need to keep telling the reader that Brian said this and Lucy said that; let the people talk! If the characters are talking, they can do some of the ‘showing’ for you. Instead of using the narrative voice to tell the reader what is going on, allow the characters to talk and have conversations that put this information across. Conversation is fascinating if you think about it. Think about what people mean, but do not say. Think about whether they are lying or exaggerating for effect. Think about what their body language can convey to the other characters. Does Brian scratch his beard when he is thinking? Does Lucy tug at her lip when she is nervous? Don’t rely on reams and reams of pretty narrative to get your story told, or to move your plot along. What is a story without its characters? Use them and let them speak, let them do the telling for you, in their own way.

Visualize your characters. Every time you write dialogue, you should be able to see your characters in your head. Obviously you will know, or you should know, what they look like. Write down their general descriptions such as age, sex, hair colour and build so that you don’t forget. But more importantly than that, build them in your mind. See them completely. Know their face as you would know the face of someone in real life. Learn their mannerisms. Do they stammer or stutter? Do they bite their lip? Do they brush their hair behind their ears when they talk? When your characters start to speak, when you start to fill their mouths with words, see them in your mind. Know every little detail about their physical presentation, so as you start to write the words, it is like having a little movie playing inside your head.

Read dialogue out loud. As you write it, as you start to make the characters speak, read the words out loud. Become them. Become their mouthpiece. Don’t worry about accent, just say the words as they would say them. Let your face become their face, along with any nervous twitches, throat clearing or wiping of noses. Read it out loud as you write it down and it should become obvious if it sounds wrong. Personally I read it out as I am writing it, and then read it out loud again when I am going back over it. This usually points me in the right direction and helps me pick out any words or phrases that do not feel real.

Pay attention to people when they speak. Sounds obvious, but sadly not all of us are terribly good at listening these days. We are often good at talking, good at voicing our opinions, but how well do we stand back and really listen? Practice this craft and you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the way that people speak. People do not speak in long, flat, monotones of dialogue. They break their speech up with pauses….their voices go up and down, their body reacts as they speak, releasing sighs, laughs, coughs and eye rolling. All sorts of things go on when people speak. They frown, they make faces that convey their opinions on things they are hearing or seeing. They interrupt and talk over each other, they trail off, or get distracted and change the subject. Watch and listen and where possible take note. When people are talking around you, become a silent observer. Listen in on conversations on the train or the tube or the bus, or while in the shops, in the Doctor’s waiting room, in the school playground. People are everywhere and they are never quiet! You can learn so much about speech and will find it easier to apply all these quirks to your own characters.

Don’t force things on them. Okay, you want them to help you ‘show’ not ‘tell’ too much. But don’t use them like puppets either. Don’t force your opinions into their mouths and be careful that you are not making them say something that is not realistic, just because it helps you push the story forward. Know your characters inside out and know what they would say and what they would not say. Dialogue is all about personality. Yes you need to drive your plot forward, so you need to move the characters about and you need to be in control, but just not too much. Be subtle. Think about how your characters will react. Imagine they are real and exist in your life. They come to the shops with you, they eat meals with you, they go on walks with you. Now ask yourself, would they really say that? And in that way? Or are you just wanting them to?

Be realistic. Think about your characters before, during and after you make them speak. If they are a teenager and it’s been a long old time since you were one, are you really getting it right? Are you sure you know how young people speak now? What about regional aspects? Not just accent but regional phrases and cultures. Would they really say it the way you have written it? Think about gender. Think about every aspect of your character’s personality and life. Does their background effect the way they speak? Are they quiet and withdrawn? Do they mutter? Be consistent or it will come across as unconvincing. Use dialogue well and it will really help bring your characters to life and encourage the readers to fall in love with them. Make your characters individuals who speak differently to each other. One will speak one way, and one another. Some people say ‘um’ a lot, some people start sentences with ‘so’ or ‘like’. Some people have a favourite swear word…

Avoid cliches/predictable dialogue. Hard to avoid unless you are aware of what they are, or can be, but my advice would be to read, read, read. Only when you have read really bad, contrived and cliched dialogue will you know what it is! If you’re not sure, just think about things people would never say in real life, and imagine that. Over dramatic, over the top, overly wordy or descriptive, that kind of thing. Who talks like that in real life? Well I suppose some people do, and if you are writing about them, then fair enough. However, bear in mind that if things get too predictable every time your characters speak, then something is lost. Remember that one of the main reasons characters fall flat or fail to convince the reader, is poorly written dialogue. You want your readers to believe in your characters, fall in love with them or loathe them, want to be friends with them or wish they could take them to the pub for a drink. This is not going to happen if your characters to not speak like real people.

I think that is all! For now…!