Thursday, 4 June 2015

O is for...Osmosis by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer.  And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order.  This month, she's reached O...

I have to admit I was a bit stumped for an "O".  I have to thank fellow Novelista Johanna Grassick for coming up with the fabulous word "osmosis".

The dictionary definition is: "Tendency of solvent to diffuse through porous partition into more concentrated solution."
Or, "The process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc."
In other words, "soaking stuff up".

I have to admit, when I first started writing, I did a lot of "soaking stuff up."  I'd studied literature at university, but not creative writing.  So that although I could write essays about style, metaphor, and subtext, I didn't have a clue about how to achieve any of those things in a work of fiction I'd written myself.

I've already mentioned in an earlier blog (M is for...Mills & Boon) about how I discovered that any writer who wants to submit to a publisher of genre fiction had better read a lot of them to get a "feel" for what they are looking for.  In other words, I needed to soak up the atmosphere of romance that Mills & Boon publish.  I've read, since then, all sorts of books which go into clinical detail about how to become a better writer, specifically of romance, but I still think the best way to get a real feel for the genre is to read lots and lots in the same line, and soak up the atmosphere.

I have shelves full of Georgette Heyer, and other Regency romances, so it's not surprising that the stories I've had published are also light-hearted Regency romances.

I'm not trying to write like Georgette Heyer, though.  I'm trying to be as original as I can be.  Which brings me to the slight drawback to learning to write by a process of osmosis.  And that is the danger that I might unconsciously soak up someone else's style.  That is why I steer clear of reading any kind of Regency romance at certain stages of writing my own books. I don't want to accidentally reproduce someone else's turns of phrase.

It isn't just the art of writing that I needed to "soak up", though.  In order to make a historical background convincing, I have needed to positively wallow in research books.  The only way I can confidently mention a mode of travel, a political undercurrent, or the cut of a gown is by reading as much as I can about the period.  The only way to get into the mindset of my characters, and make them come to life, is to understand the way people in that era would have thought and acted, which means reading biographies of eminent figures of the day.  And period newspapers.  Soaking up as much knowledge as I can makes it possible to bring the era to life on the page for my readers.  (hopefully!)

Going to museums and stately homes is also another way of soaking up atmosphere.  I can imagine myself as an aristocrat, strolling through the grounds in a full-length dress, or going for a ride in a carriage.  The view from a window, or the pattern of wear on a carpet can spark ideas, so that I often come home from trips to a stately home with inspiration for a new story.

A lot of writers will say that their mind is like a kind of compost heap.  All sorts of things go in, get absorbed, transformed, and produce a rich crop.
That's me.  A veritable compost heap!

Annie's latest release is "A Mistress for Major Bartlett" the second in the "Brides of Waterloo" trilogy from Harlequin Mills & Boon.

 Available from Amazon


  1. I love the compost heap analogy, Annie! And I do admire you for all the historical research you do but which is so subtly woven in to your books. It's a great skill in historical writing.

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