Friday, 1 September 2017

I Can't Write Without... by Sophie Claire

…My stash of rough paper.


I know – it's not glamorous, it's not an expensive gadget, and in this world of laptops and printers you might think it's a little peculiar and very old-fashioned.
Obviously, I have a computer and this is essential for editing and making the manuscript presentable to the rest of the world, BUT without rough paper I simply wouldn’t have a book to show in the first place.

What Do I Use It For?

  • Morning pages (à la Julia Cameron). To get me into writing mode at the start of the day I write three pages of whatever's on my mind. It's a great warm-up, and also good for getting any worries off my chest so I'm then free to focus on the novel I'm writing.
  • Sketching out a new scene. Everything I write begins life as rough scribbles, sometimes pared down to pure dialogue to give me the essence of the scene, and I build up from there. 
  • Thinking through problems: if I’m stuck, I stop typing and go back to paper. I brainstorm solutions, or write a kind of stream of consciousness, putting down on paper any thoughts that come to mind. Anything at all. This often throws up surprising results and sometimes the solution isn’t as difficult to find as I first thought.

The stash:


It’s made up mostly of discarded printouts of my work which I’ve scribbled all over (are you surprised that I also edit by hand?), but environmentalists will be pleased to know that I also salvage from around the house any paper which can be re-used. Letters, flyers, the children’s old homework, including maths papers and sheet music. (For some reason, these especially delight me: I love to see the outlines of graphs which are beyond my understanding or the notes of silent melodies). 

It’s messy - but that's the point:

The fact that it’s not pristine sheets of paper is crucial

It tricks my brain into believing that what I write doesn’t matter, that I can relax and anything goes. Whatever I scribble on there can be as messy, as clichéd, as honest and as terrible as I like because it’s for my eyes only. The paper’s usedness, its tatty, second-hand rejected state encourages me to open up and just write.

The first couple of lines are usually rubbish, but then I tackle the problem, thinking around it, or getting into the head of the character who’s been enigmatic. They begin to reveal important facts, or sometimes, if they’re still holding back, I ask them questions. (I’ve been told that if I did this using my left hand to write it might be even more effective because it unlocks the right part of the brain, but I confess I’m too impatient). 


With the help of my stash of rough paper, I often unearth gems of ideas, or come up with novel solutions to plot problems. I simply couldn’t do without it.

Do you ever use paper and pen? What is essential for your writing?

Sophie.x



Her Forget-Me-Not Ex is currently 99p/$1.30 in the Kindle sale! 
It's available here.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Research On the Go - a fairy tale by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Once upon a time...

...a woman of indeterminate age set off on a journey. This woman – with dark hair that was not entirely natural anymore, and dark eyes framed by black geeky glasses – was, and always had been, a Writer. The journey wasn’t as perilous as others she had embarked on, as it didn’t involve the M6; but the A49 proved eventful enough.


The cottage the Writer was staying in for a week had a wonderful, quirky name, yet she wouldn’t reveal it to anyone until her dying breath – or at least until it popped up in one of her novels.

The detachment of being away from home lent a fresh perspective to her research. She found herself taking lots… and lots… of photographs with her phone. (Thank goodness for WiFi and that one terabyte of cloud drive, she realised, as she made sure to back them up daily.)

Now, oddly enough, the Writer lived in a picturesque village herself. But somehow, it was easy to be blind to sights she saw regularly. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” didn’t seem so cliched when she considered how a never-before-seen vista can spark inspiration, or a new outlook lift a story up out of the grey and into a rainbow of light.

Trying to capture the essence of a place in a photograph wasn’t easy, the Writer discovered, especially with a phone case that made the edges of certain photographs blurry and pink. But it was worthwhile and fun. Viewing the typical settings of her stories with a fresh lens meant creativity was stirred and new scenes imagined.

An old gate here (ooh, the possibilities of where it might lead!) or a pretty cottage. A crumbling, ancient gravestone remembering a tragic young life, or a war memorial marking the loss of so many others.

The Writer’s brain was never still, never silent. 


Without the infinite number of errands and chores she faced back home, it was uplifting. Only a finite number to tackle here. Such as feeding the dog. And the children. The writer might not be sitting at her desk slaving over her keyboard, but she was working, even while enjoying a break from the chains of deadlines or fitting in laundry (washing and hanging) between chapters. She was “on holiday”, and yet… she wasn’t. There was no need to feel guilty. She was free. Her mind was free. More importantly, inspiration was free – to run wild.


How fortunate Writers are these days, she thought, to be able to record their travels in pictures, storing them in albums on hard-drives or printing them out and pinning to study walls. Perhaps she would add her photographs to a Pinterest board. Or use a particular favourite as a screensaver. She would decide once she was home. There was no rush. No pressure. It was satisfying simply to be able to enjoy them and play games with the possibilities...

A whitewashed cottage for the heroine,
with flowers around the door.

A posh house - for a posh person? 
The hero's imperious mother, maybe?

'The Old Vicarage'. 
Does that mean an old vicar should live here?

An uber-modern interior for the posh house?
Interesting...

Who would want to walk along here on a dark night?
*shudders*

Every village needs a quaint church,
but just look at that impeccable lawn!
(Gardener with a strain of OCD perhaps?)

And of course, the village local.
Indispensable.

Once upon a time...

...a Writer went on a journey and finally returned home, if not with a tan (it was only the Forest of Dean, after all), then at least with a whole new village in her head.

The End



By day, Valerie-Anne Baglietto writes contemporary, grown-up fiction. By night, she clears up after her husband and three children. Occasionally she sleeps. During her career so far she has written rom-coms for Hodder & Stoughton, won the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Award and been shortlisted in the 2015 Love Stories Awards. Valerie-Anne tweets @VABaglietto

Valerie-Anne's latest modern fairy tale for grown-ups is available from Amazon worldwide click here for more details.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Learning Storytelling Techniques from Writing Serials by Juliet Greenwood

I’ve learnt so much from writing serials. Seeing the latest serial by my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, has reminded me just how much the techniques have helped me when writing my novels.

Juliet Greenwood

The art of writing of a serial is not to be underestimated. It has to be divided into parts, with enough characters and action to keep the story moving, while each part builds to a cliffhanger to leave the reader itching for the next part to arrive. Possibly not with quite the frenzy that greeted the climax of Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, but as near as. No one has yet stormed my local newsagent on the day of publication, but you never know …

Juliet's latest serial in The People's Friend
You also have to keep the story moving evenly between the various sets of characters, so the reader doesn’t have time to forget or lose interest, and so keeps a vested interest in finding out all their fates. At the same time, the arc of the story must build, as in a novel, and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode need to build as well, ratcheting up the tension until you reach the final climax in the penultimate episode. 

Vanity Fair
The final episode then has to resolve the story and tie up all the ends without leaving a sense of anti-climax. A lesson in exactly how not to do this is Thackery’s Vanity Fair, which was originally written as a serial. When I re-read the novel recently, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe at the final ‘episode’, when the author had clearly finished the story and absolutely and totally lost interest, but had a word count to fill (even Dickens and Thackeray wrote for filthy lucre) and was waffling shamelessly.

Funnily enough, although I studied Vanity Fair as part of my Literature degree, it wasn’t until I became a writer of serials that the damp squib of that ending made sense. Because I love Becky Sharp, I’m quite glad Thackeray’s half-hearted pontificating is more in the cause of money than good old Victorian pomposity! I’m still nervous when planning the final part of each of my own serials and the endings of my novels. It’s definitely a lesson I’ve taken to heart. 

The White Camellia
Most of all, I’ve found I go back to the lessons of serial writing when I’m telling a story from two different points of view in my novels, as in The White Camellia, published by Honno Press, which is told from the viewpoints of two very different women, linked only by a family feud they need to resolve. Balancing the two viewpoints, and maintaining the reader’s vested interest equally in Bea and Sybil, was something I found a real technical challenge. It was overcoming that challenge that made me understand just how invaluable I’ve found the lessons I’d learnt while writing serials like Together We Stand.

Writing a serial, which is on a smaller scale than a novel, is definitely an excellent way to practise the techniques of writing a page-turning story with the interest balanced between the characters – and I always get a childish kick out of actually getting my story illustrated! 


If you want to try writing a serial, you need to check out the market and follow the guidelines – they know their readers and exactly what they like. Magazines like The People’s Friend will work with you on a serial they feel has potential, and are very supportive and great to work with. They also have a huge readership, so are a good way to start getting your name out there.

Useful Link 

Writing Serials for The People's Friend An excellent blog post from author Wendy Clarke, with tips on exactly what the magazine is looking for


Juliet Greenwood

Juliet is the author of three serials under the pen name ‘Heather Pardoe’, and has had three novels published by Honno Press. The first, ‘Eden’s Garden’, was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’, and the second ‘We That are Left’ was completed with the aid of a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Both reached the top #5 in the UK Amazon kindle store. Her latest novel ‘The White Camellia’, is set in Edwardian Cornwall, with a crumbling mansion, a goldmine with a dark secret, and a long-running family feud. She would definitely like to turn that into a TV serial!

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