#IWSG Surprising Writing #amwriting #WWWBlogs

The IWSG is a fabulous site for authors to share and encourage ech other by expressing doubts and concerns and looking for advice and guidance in our writing life. It’s a safe haven and meeting place for insecure writers of all kinds!
The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day when we post our thoughts on our own blogs. Check it out and join in here! 
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG
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I’m taking part by answering this week’s optional Question: 
Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? (For example, by trying a new genre you didn’t think you’d be comfortable in?)

I surprise myself every time I pick up my pen, because I (almost) always jot down my ideas on paper before I sit down to the ‘real’ work of giving shape to my untidy notes on my laptop.

I always carry a pen and notebook, ready to capture the idea on the spur of the moment, before it escapes forever… Many of those ideas are never transformed into complete stories, although they may become part of a story. I use the same notebook until all the pages have been used up, which usually takes about a month, and I keep them at hand, just in case, for years.

This was sitting on a plane, but my favourite place to write is in the car, when I’m not driving!

I’ve written three historical novels and have started a fourth, but my heart isn’t in this fourth novel, at least not yet, so it’s resting on my shelf for the time being, because I wanted to write something different, but I haven’t known what for a long time.

I felt lost, not knowing what kind of novel I wanted to write. I kept filling notebooks full of  ideas which never came to fruition. It wasn’t writer’s block, because I had plenty of random creative ideas, but I felt I lacked purpose. I needed to find a project that would absorb all my creative thoughts and energy. I was getting worried. Although there were many ideas, not one pulled me obsessively, which is what I need to immerse myself in a novel completely.

It has taken me about a year to feel overwhelmed by a new project, but it has finally happened, when I least expected it, on a long car journey, as co-pilot, the seed of an idea dropped and flourished. When I arrived, I had a rough outline, main characters, setting, and a sense that ‘this was it at last’.

Throughout the following month of August, at a holiday flat by the sea, the plot grew and the characters came to life. It’s not a historical novel and it’s not a family saga. It’s a type of novel I never thought I’d write. A contemporary, romantic thriller simmered for 30 days, in a whole notebook of ideas. I’m back home now, and the proper, chapter by chapter outline is almost complete.

I’m a plotter, mostly, although I enjoy improvising, too. I love it when a character I hadn’t planned surprises me by popping into my mind and taking over, or when a plot twist happens unexpectedly as my characters are thinking or speaking. I can deal with these surprising characters and events and rework my original plan. On the other hand, I find it impossible to write without a destination, and that’s where plotting helps me focus.

I welcome surprises as a writer. I never know when or how a creative idea will take root in my mind, and I love the challenge of continued surprises as the novel unfolds.

Antonio Machado (1875 – 1939), drawing by Leandro Oroz Lacalle (1883 – 1933)

A famous Spanish poet, Antonio Machado (1975-1939), wrote, “Traveler, there is no road; you make your path as you walk.” I agree with Machado’s idea, but I also like to know where my destination lies.

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Do you like surprises as a writer?

Have you ever surprised yourself?

#IWSG ‘Weird Research’ ‘The Sin Eater’ #amwriting #Histfic

It’s the first Wednesday of the month when we, Insecure Writers, share our insecurities with each other and the blogosphere in the Insecure Writers Support Group monthly blog hop. Join in here and tell us all about yours.

There’s an optional question every month, this May it’s: 

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

My work in progress is a contemporary thriller, but so far I’ve written historical fiction set in Victorian England, and although I already knew a great deal before I started, I’ve had to do a lot of extra and specific research, which I greatly enjoyed.

I’ve researched clothes and accessories, recipes for food, household management, furniture and household ornaments, cookery books, working conditions, poor houses, funerals, novels of the period, theatres and plays performed, opium addiction, most frequent illnesses, sea voyages and everything to do with ships sailing to America from the UK, and plenty more details to make the readers feel they were immersed in the 19th century.

If I have to choose one aspect as the weirdest, I’d have to choose the Sin eater, a sinister character in my novels, who is based on real people who carried out this disgusting chore, in order to have a morsel to eat, or occasionally because they had a macabre interest in being close to death and dead people.

Sin eaters existed in England up to the end of the 19th century. They would be summoned to a deceased person’s bedside to perform a ritual usually including eating food from a plate on the dead person’s body, symbolising the eating of their sins, so the dead could pass on to the next world in a sinless state, while the sin eater absorbed their sins.

Many sin-eaters were beggars, and the custom was carried out in different parts of the British Isles, including Yorkshire and Wales, until mid-19th century. The last Sin-eater reportedly died in Shropshire, in 1906.

The Eyre Hall Trilogy is not a horror story, but there gothic elements and some sinister characters and events in the novels, which are set in Victorian England. 

I originally introduced th Sin eater in my first novel as a gothic element of mystery surrounding a funeral. My Sin eater was more evil than eccentric, and as there were several funerals of nasty and sinful characters throughout the trilogy, I realised his presence would be required more than once.

As the trilogy progressed, the Sin eater became a recurring and even essential part of the main plot of the novel, as his character grew from an eccentric or macabre person to an evil and sinister one, more akin to the devil’s servant, or even the Devil himself.

Many of my readers are surprised and even shocked by his presence, which adds a paranormal and sinister element. Mr. Isaac Das Junot, originally from the Netherlands, claims to be a descendent of Judas Iscariot, and member of an evil clan who search funerals of the evil to absorb their sins and grow even stronger in their wickedness. 

However, Junot cannot influence or make use of good people. He has no use for goodness. He is only attracted to evil, which is why Jane Eyre is not afraid of him, although she is aware that he is evil and respects his powers of evil.  

Here is part of a scene in which he has a conversation with Jane Eyre, who is now Mrs. Mason, in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. This is their second meeting and the second time he appears in the trilogy. Junot narrates this chapter.

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“Why do you not fear me, Mrs. Mason?”

She stopped outside Mr. Mason’s door to answer my question. “Because I know that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, just as happiness and sadness, and beauty and ugliness are all part of our nature. There is no good without evil. Each of us has both. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. You chose evil, so you make the rest of us your opposite: good. Why should I fear you?”

“You are unwise not to fear me,” I said as we walked into the same room I had entered the last time. The corpse was laid out, dressed, and blackened. The smell was the most nauseating I had ever encountered. Was he already decomposing? Had his soul escaped before my arrival?

“When did his body perish?”

“Five days ago.”

“Close your eyes and turn away. He has been expelled from the flesh, which has already been taken over by the corpse eaters, but he is not far, yet. I hope I am still on time, for my sake and yours, Mrs. Mason.”

She turned to face the door. “Do what you have to do quickly.”

I proceeded with my incantation. He was indeed still there, naked and petrified, unable to return, and yet unwilling to leave, so I stole his sins and left his carcass to wither.

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Have you ever heard of Sin eaters?

Which is yor wierdest character?

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#IWSG #AtoZChallenge @TheIWSG #amwriting #WWWBlogs

This post was written in response to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly (first Wednesday of every month) blog hop to where writers express thoughts, doubts and concerns about our profession.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

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April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

This is my third year taking part in the AtoZ challenge. My first year 2015 featured an author spotlight and a book review every day. It was exhausting, but I planned well ahead and it worked out perfectly. If you want to check it out here it is.

Last year, my theme was All About Jane Eyre, and I didn’t complete the challenge. I think it was because I didn’t plan ahead enough, and the posts themselves were demanding and time-consuming to research and write. If you want to check it out here it is.

This year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be taking part, because I hadn’t planned anything, but I’ve been inspired to write a lot of poetry in the last few months, and it occurred to me, more or less on the spur of the moment, to write a poem a day. However, I needed some kind of prompt, and I thought I could use another poem written by my favourite poets, include it in the post too, and use it as a prompt for my own poem.

This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of both poems will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge. I’ve more or less planned the famous poems and poets I’m including, but I haven’t yet written my own poems, that’s the real challenge. I’m not always inspired. I may have bitten more than I can chew… Here are my first posts so far.

In the past two years I met a lot of people doing the challenge, hopping around the linkys and on twitter, but this year, without the linky, and having to do a complex (for me) process to comment and activate my wordpress link, it all seems much more of a hassle, and I haven’t checked out many other bloggers. I’m mostly following the AtoZ posts of those I’m already following. I haven’t noticed many new followers, although it’s early days yet, I suppose, but I’m not sure it’s going to work as well, at least not for wordpress blogs. I aim to keep taking part in any case, because I enjoy the challenge.

My posts aren’t directly related to my books, and although my books are visible in my posts, I haven’t observed more sales in April. In fact, although I love my blog and interacting with other bloggers,  I’m not really sure if my blog actually sells any books, but it’s part of an author platform I need to maintain, and I suppose it’s publicity for my books, but that’s not the main reason I carry on blogging.

My reasons for blogging are to meet and interact with other writers, learn more about and improve my craft, and provide the outlet I need for my creativity. I’m also keen on sharing information about literature in general and Jane Eyre and Victorian literature, which is my passion.

Rereading the post, it sounds like more of a stream-of-consciousness rant than an IWSG post, but that’s where the question has led me.

What about you, how has taking part in the AtoZ helped you as a writer?

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#IWSG Reworking Old Stories @TheIWSG #amwriting #WWWBlogs

This post was written in response to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly (first Wednesday of every month) blog hop to where writers express thoughts, doubts and concerns about our profession.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

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Every month there’s an optional question to discuss.

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Some people think we live in chaos.

I don’t believe in chaos. There is order in nature, in the universe and in our comparatively small lives, because every cell in our bodies is both part of the universe and contains the universe.

There is no chaos.

The sun doesn’t rise every now and again, the moon doesn’t spin and show its dark side whenever it pleases, leaves don’t turn blue if it’s cold, people don’t have two noses. There are exceptions to some rules; it might be hot on a spring day, someone may claim to have seen a heavy snowfall in the middle of summer, really? But when exceptional events do occur, it doesn’t mean there’s chaos, it’s only a tiny glitch.

The universe works like clockwork.

And nothing happens quite by chance. I mean there’s always a reason for everything that happens, although we might not realise at the time, or ever, in fact, but that needn’t worry us; there’s so much we’ll never understand.

The IWSG question resonates with me this week because, quite by chance, I’ve been rereading the beginning of a novel written by my sister twenty-eight years ago. Of course, you all know by now, that I don’t believe this happened by chance, at all. It was meant to happen.

My sister died, twenty-eight years ago. It seems like yesterday, every day, but still, the calendar says it happened twenty-eight years ago.

Last week, one of my sister’s friends ‘found’ me on Facebook and we started chatting. I’m afraid I didn’t remember her very well, she and my sister were five years younger than me, which isn’t a lot when you’re over thirty, but is a great deal when you’re under twenty!

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She was intrigued that I had become a writer, and I mentioned that it must run in the family, because my sister was writing a novel when she died. Her friend knew, but she had no idea what the novel was about. Elsa, my sister, was very secretive about it. I myself found out about it after she died.

She lived in Harrow, London, just around the corner from where she had been born twenty-five years earlier, and I was married and had moved to Spain, where I lived with my husband and three children, so we only saw each other once or twice a year, although we often spoke on our landline phone and wrote letters, as people used to do twenty-eight years ago.

Elsa had only just started her novel when she died, unexpectedly and tragically. 

I have a prologue and one chapter printed out on an old dot matrix printer, and obviously corrected. There are a few more chapters, but although they’re also typed, these were typed on an old typewriter and it’s obviously a first draft, which hadn’t been edited yet, in fact, it may not even be part of the same novel.

Unfortunately, there was no outline, no handwritten notes, or any other evidence of how she meant the novel should progress, and nobody knew about it, because she hadn’t discussed it with anyone, at least not with anyone I knew. This leads me to believe she was obviously a pantser and it was all in her mind, or there might have been a plan, but it has been lost.

I’m not a pantser, but I have nothing against panters, yet I don’t believe she wrote without a plan, because it was some kind of intricate thriller, so she must have written notes somewhere. And, in the 80s, people used pen and paper a lot, I was there, and I remember.

The novel is called ‘One Woman’s Story’, which may be a working title, and starts out with a woman who dreams about her own murder, death and funeral. She tells her best friend about her recurring and distressing nightmare. Shortly after, she is murdered and everything happens just as she had told her friend it would. There it stops.

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The few pages I have of my sister’s novel, One Woman’s Story.

I have no idea at all what she had in mind for the rest of the novel, but it was obviously going to be either a detective or psychological thriller, which would have required at least some notes, and a brief story line, yet, there is nothing at all to go on.

Elsa had no first hand knowledge of police procedure, that’s why I’m inclined to believe it was more of a psychological thriller, but that’s a hunch. We both loved reading Ruth Rendell novels at the time, and psychological thrillers weren’t as popular in the 80s, as they are now, but who knows?

I’ve often wondered whether I should continue her novel or not.

Last week, after speaking to her friend,  I reread it once again and tried to imagine a novel of my own, unsuccessfully. My version would probably look nothing like hers would have, because I have no idea what she had in mind.

Yesterday, reading the IWSG question, I started to think about continuing my sister’s novel, again. Is that a coincidence? But I don’t believe in coincidences, do I?

Any suggestions or ideas? Should I go for it or forget about it?

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#IWSG Writers as Readers @TheIWSG #amreading #amwriting

This post was written in response to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly (first Wednesday of every month) blog hop to where writers express thoughts, doubts and concerns about our profession.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

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Every month there’s an optional question to discuss.

February 1 Question: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

I prefer reading to writing. I’ve said this before. I spend more hours reading than writing most of the time, except when I’m in the final stages of drafting, rereading and editing my latest novel, and I become almost exclusively obsessed with finishing it and doing nothing else.

I was/am a reader first.

I loved being just a reader, but that didn’t last very long. I soon started writing poems, short stories, anything to let my imagination fly and invent people, places and plots.

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However, at first, I didn’t take my writer’s life very seriously. It was just an enjoyable, almost secret, hobby, until I owned up to it and decided I was going to pursue my life long dream.

That was four years ago, in June 2013, when I decided I was going to write the sequel to Jane Eyre, by July, I realised I needed to write more than one novel, because the characters had so much to say and do, and the plot kept growing in several directions, so The Eyre Hall Trilogy was born and written over the next four years.

I didn’t feel like a ‘real’ writer immediately, but four years and three novels later, I shamelessly admit I’m an author. Not everybody likes what I write, and that’s fine, I don’t like everything I read either, but I’m an author. I can write, I enjoy writing, and many readers are reading my books, so I feel part of this wonderful profession. I also have many insecurities, which is why I’m part of this blog hop!

Going back to the original question, I still read a lot. I read and reviewed 19 novels in January, but I definitely do not read in the same way I read before.

I read more critically for two reasons, firstly to improve as a writer, and secondly to help other readers find books they might like.

reading

I never used to review books on social media before I started writing. I had the idea that reviews were written by experts only. Since I started writing, I review almost all of the books I read, because I’ve realised that anyone who reads a book can and should give an opinion to help other readers decide if it’s a book for them, and of course as an act of solidarity and support to other authors like myself.

I don’t review books I dislike. I don’t like to think I’m discouraging writers or pointing out negative aspects of their work publicly, which may be partial and subjective in any case. I carry this philosophy to the rest of my life. I’m a parent, a grandparent and a teacher, and I make an effort to point out people’s strong points, while I also encourage them to improve. I’ve never seen the point in being negative, and it generally builds an even more negative response.

Every single book I read teaches me something about writing, and it’s not always a positive lesson. It often shows me what I shouldn’t be doing and it helps me understand why.

For example, I’ve learned how important secondary characters are for the reader. I feel dissatisfied as a reader with books where the main characters are engaging and the rest of the characters are wooden. It’s like watching a film with only two good actors, the rest are extras reading their lines.

I’ve also learned that less is more. Trusting readers and enticing them to reach their own conclusions is more effective than spelling it all out constantly.

When I read a book I wish I’d written, that’s the greatest moment of all. I have a role model, someone to aspire to follow, and I don’t mean copy. Great books are an inspiration for readers and writers.

The books I wish I’d written are well-crafted, with tight and twisting plots, believable, engaging and varied characters, a moving story, and a pleasure to read, because the language flows easily, and it all comes together perfectly.

This is what happens in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, which I started reading last year, I’m in the middle of the final book in the trilogy, The Edge of Eternity right now, and loving every minute.

century-trilogy

 

I’m learning so much by reading these books and reading Ken Follett’s Masterclass on his webpage.

These are some other great books I read last year. Some extraordinary books I read in 2016 are reviewed here. 

So, do I read in the same way now as I did before I started writing professionally?

The answer is no, I don’t read in the same way since I’ve become a writer. I read more critically, and I enjoy it much more, because I try to squeeze out, every ounce of knowledge and craft the author I’m reading has learned.

What about you?

 

#IWSG Plotting & Pantsing #amwriting

This post is written in response to the insecure writers support group’s monthly prompt.

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January 4 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’ve been thinking hard about this question all day, and I can’t think of an answer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a writing rule which has influenced me so strongly and negatively that I wish I’d never heard it.

I’m not aware of following rules when I write. I do listen to other author’s advice and opinions, and I’ve read many books on writing, but I’m aware I have to adapt this information to my own way of writing, my story and my characters. I’ve always trusted myself to write on my own gut feeling. I write because I have great fun recreating imaginary worlds, characters and stories. I’m mainly concerned with pleasing myself, although I also worry about not boring or annoying potential readers. What’s the point of that?

The single most useless piece of advice was probably don’t plot, just write and go with the flow. I’m not sure exactly who said it first, but I’ve heard it a lot. It might work for some people, although I doubt it, but if I did that I’d end up with a disjointed mess, not a publishable novel. Writing, plotting, planning, editing, re-writing, re-editing, re-plotting are a constant cycle in my writing process.

Some people attribute this idea of not plotting to Stephen King, but he never actually said he didn’t plot, he said he didn’t use ‘written outlines’. He said he starts writing and lets the ‘patterns’ develop later.

“I start a book knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly…and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn’t do in real life…For me, the first draft is all about story. I trust that some other part of me—an undermind—will create certain patterns.”

On the other hand, other authors, such as J. K. Rowling or Ken Follett , don’t start writing their novels until they’ve worked out a detailed plot outline.

It seems that both approaches work, as they’re used by successful authors who write excellent novels.

This is how I’ve done it in my first five novels (three published and two in process).

My first phase approaches King’s advice (pantsing).

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1- I start with some characters, usually one or two at first, and an idea or situation, which I explore.

In order to explore, I start writing my story, not knowing where it will go yet.

I don’t start serious planning until the idea itself has developed into a complete story with more characters, scenes, places, etc and I’ve convinced myself I’m interested in pursuing the idea and telling the whole story.

This is a crazily creative period which usually takes about one month to write 20,000-30,000 words.

2- At this point, I start outlining my plot. I divide it into the basic three-part dramatic arc; exposition, climax and denouement, which are subdivided into about 30 chapters and 40-50 scenes.

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Perhaps Follett’s approach relies too heavily on outline, but I can see that it helps, especially if your novel is a complex web of characters and events spanning various decades.

More about my writing process here.

Although plotting versus pantsing is an interesting debate, I wouldn’t say it’s very helpful for authors, except that it helps us reflect upon our writing process. We each have to find out what works best for us and our type of novel.

However, if you’re very intersted in this debate, this article is enlightening and Ken Follett’s Mastercalss on his blog is priceless advice on outlining.

More about Insecure Writers Group Here

Happy New Year to all fellow Insecure Writers!

 

 

#IWSG Writing Book Three in a Trilogy

This post was written in response to The Insecure Writers Support Group, which posts every first Wednesday of every month.

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Today I’m feeling especially insecure and apologetic, as a blogger and as a writer.

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I last blogged. I definitely need to explain myself.

Apart from work and a few personal matters, which cropped up unexpectedly and inconveniently, and I’m not going to bore you with, the rest of my time was taken with re-re-re-editing the third and final novel in The Eyre Hall Trilogy. Everything else had to stop, including my blog (and the A-Z Challenge) and most of my social media interaction, because I just couldn’t cope with everything that was going on, and I’d put my book up for pre-order, thinking I had plenty of time… and I didn’t, as always.

I struggled with book one, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, because I was proving to myself (and the unsuspecting world) that I could actually write and publish a novel. In the end I felt and still feel proud of my efforts.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed book two, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. I had proved I could do it, so I was just enjoying the ride. Lots of romance, action, adventure and suspense. It’s definitely my favourite.

Unfortunately with book three, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, the insecurity, struggle and strife has returned… in a big way. Can I do it? Can I finish this trilogy the way it deserves? Can I close all the threads? Do I even need to tie it all up neatly? Where do I stop?

I completed my first draft at the beginning of April, and since then I’ve been listening to beta readers’ and editors’ comments and tweaking bits here and there, and adding a chapter, which they convinced me was needed. The whole process has been driving me crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the comments were positive and my ‘test’ readers have enjoyed it, but, there are always comments and suggestions for change or improvement, so over the previous months, I’ve been  focussed on what needed to be improved, which was a stressful focus.

I’m now waiting for the last proofread to be returned to me. Then I have to re-read it once more and make the final decisions before I upload it on kindle next Thursday, the 9th of June. I should be looking forward to it, shouldn’t I? So why aren’t I?

I’m more than insecure this time, because I’m downright terrified of not getting it right and spoiling the end and the whole trilogy.

I can’t wait for next month, when the launch will be over and I’ll be feeling more optimistic perhaps…

How do you feel just before your book launch?

Have you written the third part of a trilogy? What was your experience like?

If you’d like to read some of the other posts by insecure writers, they’re here