Keep Reading

The header is a quote, all writers should be familiar with.

Stephen King may not have been the first to coin such a phrase, but it’s the one I come across most often.

Understanding the importance of reading to be used as a tool when writing is absolutely vital, particularly for any budding writer.

Aside from the obvious pleasure reading brings, the education a good book provides is invaluable:

  • World building – excellent examples of this can be found in Brandon Sanderson’s work; he even invented an entire universe, named the Cosmere.
  • Magic systems – from the simplistic tropes of elemental magic to more complex practises, creating a unique type of magic will help your writing to stand out.
  • Structure – is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Are loose ends neatly tied up or left open for a sequel?
  • Pacing – do the chapters flow or jar? Does the momentum continue at a steady pace or do you find yourself struggling to read past the first few chapters?
  • Characterisation – there’s nothing worse than one dimensional characters. This maybe fiction, but characters should have personality, quirks and foibles. Can you empathise with the mc?
  • Vocabulary – seriously, I make a note of any words I come across in a book, look up its meaning, and look for a way to work it into my own writing. Better than any thesaurus.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from reading in order to make a better writer.

Other things to consider:

  • Who, or what, inspired you to write?
  • Has a particular writer or book grabbed you in such a way, that it lit that fire inside?

I can remember clearly, the first time I thought about writing. It was after reading a book titled The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the late Joan Aiken. An alternate history set in the mid-19th century in which England has been overrun with wolves, and two young cousins fall into the clutches of an evil older cousin. I loved it, and my first attempt at writing was to completely plagiarise the story. I was still in junior school then, and didn’t know you couldn’t pass off someone else’s story as your own…Obviously, it’s never seen the light of day.

Nowadays, inspiration comes to me from all sorts of sources. The books I read, films, TV shows or the voices in my head. Honestly, sometimes they just don’t shut up!

Horizon Skies, my debut, currently languishing in the “please finish these final edits!” area of my head space, has been doing the rounds in my head since my early 20’s. It was a story I simply had to tell. I don’t know if it will ever be published, it may forever be consigned to the rejection pile, but at least – I did it. I wrote a book. 

If it hadn’t been for all those stories of my childhood, including books by Noel Streatfield and Monica Hughes, I may never have discovered the passion for writing I have now. Reading remains my number one pastime, my books have always been a constant in my life. When the crap has really hit the fan, diving into a Terry Pratchett or James Herbert has rescued me, allowed me to live a different life for a few hours.

So, if you’re wondering how to be a writer, make sure you’re a reader first. The knowledge and experience will enrich your world.

 

 

I’ve Written A Book…Now What?!

A week ago today, I placed my pen down, closed my notepad and realised, “I’ve done it. I’ve actually written a book!”

How anti-climactic it felt, this huge achievement, that there was no fanfare, no ticker tape and, more importantly: no wine, (an oversight that has now been rectified). I wanted to cry with joy both at finishing the damn thing and completing it in the most ordinary of places: the sofa.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during the writing process is that the first draft isn’t perfect, it’s never meant to be perfect. The first draft exists as the progenitor to all other drafts that come. It bears the main crux of what the story is about, who the characters are and where they’re going. What I will need to work out over the coming months is how to expand on that story further, flesh out the characters, trim the fat and tighten it up into a real page turner.

I have written the story I would want to read; that much is true. The characters who have taken up residence in my head finally have breathing space and purpose, they’re free to run amok and create chaos in the world I have created for them.

I have written 37 chapters, two of which are the prologue and epilogueNotepads, 90,820 words (80,000 original target) over three notebooks (I write long hand) and dedicated as much time as I could over the last five years to getting my book written.

My story has had many incarnations over the years. When it first popped into my head in my mid 20’s  it had a very different plot but the characters were basically the same. I used to write on a digital typewriter so the pages were there instantaneously but, life, as you know, has a habit of getting in the way on occasion so I dipped in and out of writing for years before really getting down to it.

Even as a kid I used to write but I was very plagiarist back then (even though I didn’t know it). I once wrote a story called The Secret of Sarah Willow which was directly influenced by the fabulous Wolves of Willoughby Chase but at least I was exploring the ability to write. Who knows, I may return to that story one day and write it from my own imagination and not that of someone else.

I digress…

What next? According to my research and other writers I’ve connected with via places like Twitter the main consensus is to have a break from the book (someone said two months!) so I can go back to it with a completely fresh outlook. I’m not sure I can wait that long as I’ve written in such fits and starts over the years that sometimes I’ve left it more than two months between chapters so I’m thinking a couple of weeks might be in order. The prologue was written in 2012 and having glanced at it recently, I’m pretty sure that it will need an overhaul as will most of the very early chapters.

But, how many drafts and rewrites should I do? Do writers get to a point where they think, “That’s it, I can’t do anymore?”  or do they keep going?

Should I find an editor first or beta-readers? An agent or a publisher? (I’m thinking to try for an agent first). Is self-publishing better than e-publishing? What’s a good way of marketing my work?

So many questions!

It’s safe to say however, that, if I ever had a bucket list; then writing a book would definitely be on it and I can happily tick it off

 

Progress on Horizon Skies

The other day, I reached something of a milestone in the progress of my novel Horizon Skies.

Chapter 20.

Ok, I realise some of you will be thinking, “how is that a milestone?”

For anyone who has known me throughout my life, they will know that as I’ve been writing on and off for decades with nothing to show for it this is indeed, a momentous achievement. It means that for the first time in realising one of my ambitions I am actually sticking to the plan and getting it done.

My problem in the past has always been developing the story beyond its initial beginning. The ideas are always there, I can picture it in my mind’s eye but developing it on paper had always been difficult. I would find the story unravelling, like watching a thread pulled loose in a piece of fabric. My characters would meander, I could never work out how to weave elements together and this would always lead to me abandoning the manuscript and forgetting about it until I felt inspiration strike again.

This time, however, I have noticed a definite trend in a lot of books I have read which I believe has really helped me with my writing.

The dedication of a chapter per character is a brilliant writing skill. Not only does that character develop entirely within their own universe but there’s room for their back story and room for them to breathe within the pages. I’ve noticed it with a lot of writers (Morgan Rhodes and Trudi Canavan for example) and I find it provides a definitive line between each character’s story until such time as their destinies bring them together.

This is the approach I’ve taken with my story. I have five central characters, two of whom are thrown together fairly early on but it’s not until I’ve reached this final part of the story that I’m now at the stage of being able to bring them together which will move the story towards its finale and set the scene for the sequel.

I’m very excited about this; I look back through my scribblings and notes, little doodles in my notebook and feel I’ve done myself proud. When the book is finished I can get to editing and fine tuning and then take the next step on my journey as a writer 🙂

Books Books Books

One of the reasons I love writing is because I love reading and I want to be able to get all the fantasy residing in my head down onto paper and share it with the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a professional writer, I am not published and so far only have this blog and one short story to show for my efforts but that doesn’t stop me from pursuing this most rewarding of pastimes.

I say pastime because to do all the things I want to do, I am not yet in the position to be able to give up my 9-5 and live the life of an accomplished writer.

Books to me are like paintings to an art lover. They are objects of abject beauty and deep mystery. It is through the written word that we can explore life through the eyes of another from the comfort of our favourite squishy armchair. Is there anything better than sitting inside on a cold, wet day; cup of coffee in hand, a cat snoozing on the sofa next to you and some old black and white movie on in the background as you read your latest treasured novel? I absolutely love days like that!

I currently have four books on my bedside table. The Shepherd’s Crown by the late great Sir Terry Pratchett, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by the wonderful Patrick Ness. So many words, all the time in the world.

If I can ever come close to producing anything as good as the books on my bookshelves I will be a happy woman. I have those writers and so many more from childhood who have taught me so much and taken me to places that can only exist courtesy of an imagination so rich that to not go there would be to miss out on an exquisite experience.

Bittersweet Gifts

On the 12th March, 2015, my literary hero, Sir Terry Pratchett succumbed to the Alzheimers which had been slowly leeching his life away since his first diagnosis some years earlier.

I honestly believed; as I’m sure so many others did, that Sir Terry would be around for a lot longer. I dreaded the day he would no longer be able to write. The idea of him actually dying was something I couldn’t really get to grips with and six months on, I’m still mourning his loss.

My first foray into Discworld was around the age of 16. My dad, always a keen supporter of our local library, one day brought home The Colour of Magic. Unable to get on with the writing style, the book was passed to me and so, a new Pratchett fan was born. It was 1989, the year Pyramids and Guards! Guards! were published. I had a lot to catch up on.

I’ve always loved how Sir Terry could take a modern world phenomenon, event or catastrophe and adapt a story to it. Parodying anything and everything from football (Unseen Academicals) to the movies (Moving Pictures) opera music (Maskerade) and even the discovery of a new country (The Last Continent).

His characters represent so many aspects of the human psyche, cleverly disguised as witches, wizards, money men, police, Igors, Golems; even that monstrously clever dictator of Ankh-Morpork Lord Vetinari, but the writing is so sublime that the parallels are subtle.

Sir Terry was able to provide a viewpoint without ramming it down the reader’s throat.

Yesterday, my copy of the Shepherd’s Crown arrived in the post. A new Pratchett always used to be an exciting time for me, I behold his books with such reverence that to finally have the very last book caused tears to spring forth and by the time I read the dedication, I was a mess.

Writing this now brings a lump to my throat.

I’ve never been one for things like conventions and fandom get togethers but now I really do wish I’d gone to at least one to connect with other fans who love Sir Terry as much as I do.

I was very lucky to meet him once, at a book signing in my old hometown Southampton. The bookshop itself no longer exists but after queuing for hours, down the stairs he came. Dressed in a safari suit and minus his now famous hat, Sir Terry was smaller than I imagined but exuded oodles of personality,  was well spoken and articulate. He reminded me of a dotty professor type from some dusty university somewhere and probably would have fit in very well at Unseen University itself.

“Grace, the Turtle moves!” he wrote and signed “Terry Pratchett” with a flourish.

I must admit to being rather shy and speechless at the signing, pausing only to speak my name whereas others were engaging him in conversation and getting him to sign not only books but Discworld mementos, figurines and suchlike.

And so it is now, that with the last ever Discworld offering in my hands that I embark on the final story and say goodbye to so many beloved characters. I cannot name them all but if it weren’t for Rincewind, the Luggage, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Death, Captain Carrot, Lord Vetinari, Tiffany Aching as well as non-Discworld characters such as Johnny, Maurice, Dodger and Mau I would have missed out on an incredible journey that has enriched my life and taken me to places I could never otherwise visit.

For that, I only have one thing left to say.

“Crivens!”

xGranny WeatherwaxShepherd's Crown