Friday, 30 January 2015

The Child Behind Every (Grown-Up) Writer by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

The other day I shared a picture on Facebook, a selection of classic Ladybird children's stories. It prompted the sort of response that led me to think, Ah FB isn't so bad, after all. It isn't just a bunch of people shouting out random things and being ignored. I suppose I was becoming a bit too cynical. Anyway, it got me thinking about books and childhood and the stories that shape us as we grow up.

Here at Novelistas Ink we're a very diverse bunch of writers. 

As you can probably tell if you're a follower of our blog. We're all good friends, though, and our lunches are infamous throughout North Wales. OK, slight exaggeration, but then we do write fiction. The common thread we share is our passion and love of writing. We're besotted with it. Head over heels. Can't get enough of it (or perhaps we can when we've got a deadline looming, or edits-from-hell to wade through, but on the whole we enjoy it).

Our genres range from witty romantic comedies to moving war-time sagas. From atmospheric historical novels to sparkling Regency romances. From plot-twisting, cliff-hanging romantic suspense to modern, grown-up fairy tales. And all that wonderful stuff in between such as contemporary YA or straightforward novels about relationships and marriage. I'm not sure anyone's written a spy thriller yet, but give us time and we just might.

But what steered us to write in our favourite genres?

What made us the writers we all are today? Was it the books from our childhood or the books we've read as adults, or maybe a mixture of both? I believe it's a mixture, but I also think we can't deny the power of those stories we've carried with us most of our lives. Those treasured tales that lodged in our hearts and never left.

As a girl, I spent hours in my small local library...

It was just round the corner from our house, so I often hid away in there after school or during the holidays. Sometimes with similar minded friends, but often alone. If I wasn't reading I was writing or researching. I've written stories since I first learned to misspell words, aged four. There was also a bookshelf in our house full of novels that looked like this, no dust jackets or blurbs, just the bare bones of a cover:

As an only child, I spent hours entertaining myself reading. My parents still own most of those books, and my own children's shelves still hold the favourites I loved to read over and over again.

A beautifully written and illustrated anthology
This anthology of classic fairy tales from around the world (see photo) is probably mine and my daughter's current favourite. I owe a great deal to this huge collection of stories. It was given to me as a gift by a family friend. Little did they know how much it would shape me and nurture a love of fairy tales that's stronger than ever these days.

Of course, I loved Enid Blyton, too. I had all the Famous Five and Secret Seven books.

I think those taught me how to pace a plot and keep a reader turning the pages. Those were the ones I read under the covers with a torch. Come on, admit it, we all did that. Maybe some of us still do.

Now admittedly, if you write erotica, you probably didn't read it as a child. Or maybe you used to sneak down the more adult books from the shelves at home when your parents weren't looking, and thumb through them for those, er, interesting bits. As a teenager in the 80s, I can still recall all those mini-series on TV based on the doorstop sex-and-shopping novels that were so fashionable...

Lace, Mistral's Daughter, Princess Daisy, etc.

These are the books my friends and I consumed and tried to emulate in our stories (I wasn't the only one of my gang who wrote fiction back then). It was a glitzy world we knew nothing about apart from what we read or saw on TV, but boy did we have fun trying to write about it! Then there was Virginia Andrews and Danielle Steele and Barbara Taylor Bradford... The list is quite lengthy and I could probably rattle on all day, but then this post would be too long, and the whole point of it was to provoke a discussion.

Do you think the books you read as a child have influenced your writing as an adult?

If so, to what extent? I think it's a fascinating subject to consider, both for established or aspiring writers.

Every now and again it's good to examine why we write what we write. Because doing it for the market alone will never truly make us happy if we don't pen (or type) our words with love, honesty or joy. We need to find that balance in our work in order to be healthy and well-rounded. We owe it to our readers as well as ourselves. They can always tell if we're short-changing them.
Just a small selection...

So maybe, if you're stuck in a rut right now, and don't know where to turn or what genre to aim for, it might help to travel back in time and remember the tales that inspired you and made you want to be a writer in the first place.

I can tell you, hand on heart, a few short years ago this is precisely what helped me.

Please leave a comment if you have something to add, I'd love to hear your views on the subject.

All the best,
Valerie-Anne x

Valerie-Anne Baglietto's latest release is the full-length novel FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY.

Romance, magic and vintage fashion in the sleepy Cheshire village of Fools Castle, where a young fairy-godmother who normally gets things very right suddenly starts getting them disastrously wrong.

A modern, grown-up fairy tale perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Cecelia Ahern.

Amazon US - view here
Amazon UK - view here
Twitter: @VABaglietto
Facebook: Valerie-Anne Baglietto Author

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Writer's Resolve ... by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

So - what exactly does RESOLUTION mean?

Its original definition was, apparently, 'to loosen or dissolve again'. Ironic I think, because that's exactly what happens to most people's New Year ones as January lurches on, freezing, wet and windy, and possibly the bleakest of all the months in the northern hemisphere. Our resolutions, like tight, tense knots in our days, loosen. Our determination dissolves in the face of teeth-chatteringly cold mornings and dark evenings. Spring is somewhere out there, we can sense it, but it's still too far away. We try to starve after Christmas, forgetting that our bodies need a few calories to stay warm. We vow to go to the gym, but funnily enough, there still aren't twenty-five hours in a day, even in our technologically advanced 2015. We promise ourselves lots of things we never live up to, and so we get depressed and winter eats into our bodies and souls until we get the flu, or just binge on wine or hot chocolate or too much tinned soup. Anyway. 


My resolution this year was paradoxically not to make any. I broke it almost immediately by making one. My wardrobe is so fit to bursting that I decided to take a leaf out of my daughter's book and try experimenting more with what I already have rather than adding to it. My daughter isn't afraid to try out combinations you wouldn't think would go together, and quite often, she manages to pull it off. Maybe you can get away with this when you're nine.

Well, I then went and broke my resolution not to buy any new clothes almost immediately last weekend when I bought this... 

I couldn't resist, it was on sale. It's obvious I need to stay out of shops because my willpower is pathetically low.

So as my husband returned to work and my three children to school, I turned my attention to the WIP that I'd put aside to make way for Christmas. Maybe instead of resolutions I knew I couldn't keep - anything involving retail therapy basically - I would focus on my writing instead.

Writing in itself has always been like a form of counselling for me. When it's going well and I'm getting lots of words down on paper, it helps keep depression at bay. But sometimes there's a glitch and I'm not getting those words down fast enough, and the glitch isn't life getting in the way but my own fixation on making those words Perfect with a capital P. I can obsess for far too long and lose sight of my reader, who won't care or notice that I substituted a fancier word for another with the same meaning. If the emotion is there, and the page-turning elements of the plot, it shouldn't make any difference, as long as the word I decide to use doesn't jar, or detract, or fall short. 

I know voice and style and good prose are vital, but not at the expense of getting the story across and making it resonate in the reader's heart. What I mean is that I'm going to focus on the emotion in my story, and on the narrative more, and not get so bogged down by the prettiness or cleverness of my language quite as much.

So, that's my first resolution. For me, it's important. It should increase my productivity. But at this gloomy time of year creativity in general might need a boost anyway; like a blast of virtual Vitamin D, we often need something to pep us up. Another creative outlet besides writing often helps. 

I'm no good at crochet, sadly. My spirit is willing but my fingers are rubbish at it. I do enjoy photography though, I always have. Nothing serious, but these days I like the challenge of taking good photos with nothing but my phone. I also like playing around with filters afterwards. 
#NoFilters (Taken on 29th Dec 2014)

It serves a second purpose because I'm also taking photos of places or objects that inspire me and might end up in one of my books. So I'm resolved to enjoy this hobby more than ever this year and take advantage of Instagram. It's fun and I've met some lovely people on there. 

As writers, our words and stories paint pictures but sometimes we need to fix that picture in our own heads first before we can convey it to our readers, and with the digital wonders of Pinterest we don't need that pin-board hanging above our desks any more (which is just as well as I don't have room for one.)

Well, these are my most important writerly resolutions. I think some of the Novelistas are planning to share theirs, but we'd love to hear yours, too...

Happy 2015!

Valerie-Anne x 
Twitter: @VABaglietto

The perfect antidote to winter... 
(Yes, really.)

Marrying the man of your dreams might be more literal than you think.

A modern fairy tale for grown-ups, available on Amazon worldwide. 

FREE on KindleUnlimited and Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

E-Readers versus Paper Books: a Practical Debate by Johanna Grassick

Are e-readers a better alternative than not reading at all?

Is it really ‘sad’ to see children holding tablets rather than traditional paper and glue pages?

There’s been a lot of discussion on this subject, with articles such as this one reporting the opinions of actress Hermione Norris and this one with James Daunt's (boss of Waterstones) comment that “reading digitally can't compete with the delights of the tactile feel and smell of paper”.

But opinions are subjective, so why not keep things practical? I have an e-reader, but I also read paperbacks. Here are some thoughts for and against:

1. I can’t take my e-reader in the bath

Some of you might,  but I’m very clumsy and I sometimes fall asleep reading. So my solution is to always have two books on the go – one digital and one paper (preferably tatty and used, so if it gets a dunking no one will be upset).

2. E-readers are great for reading in public places

There is the obvious thing of not wanting other people to see what I’m reading and judge me for it, but there’s also the fact that my Kindle syncs with my phone and it’s my phone that I read when waiting for the train or at the dentist.

3. It’s easy to skip back and reread sections of a physical book

Not impossible with an e-reader, I know, but I have a visual memory. I’ll half remember that a passage was near the beginning of the book or at the bottom of a page, but a ‘navigate’ function is not enough – I need to flick through until I spot the place.

4. E-books are cheaper (or free)

Especially if, like me, you follow your favourite authors on Twitter and Facebook – then you’ll be one of the first to know about promotions and special deals.

5. On holiday, no one will steal your paperback

Yes, e-readers are great for voracious readers when travelling, but I get twitchy leaving mine by the pool. It might get splashed, it might disappear... So, yet again, I’ll take a paperback. 
Plus, I regard it as advertising for my author friends when I leave their latest book on the sunlounger.

6. Paper books can be given as gifts 

This is the clincher.
This is the reason I hope paper books never go out of fashion.
Because there’s no greater pleasure when I’ve read a really good one, than to share it with others. For Christmas and birthdays I want to be able to buy a bundle of books and give them away as presents, in the hope that the intriguing characters or gripping plot or beautiful descriptions will bring my family and friends as much pleasure as they’ve given me.

Which books have I given away recently? Well, obviously each is tailored to what I think the recipient will enjoy, but my most popular choices recently have been:

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

Have you given away any books recently? Or received them?
If so, which? I’d love to know...

Friday, 2 January 2015

J is for...Journey by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of the month, Novelista Annie Burrows shares insights into the life of a writer - alphabetically.  As we reach the turn of the year, she has reached the letter J...

The kind of stories I enjoy the most are ones in which the main character changes and grows, emotionally, during the course of whatever adventure the author has sent them on.  There are various ways of describing this aspect of story-telling.  Often writers refer to it as "the character arc".  I prefer to think of it as the "emotional journey", (probably because the word "arc" conjures up an image in my head of an object which curves right up, then ends up on the same level as where it started.)  I like to think I'm sending my characters on a journey, in which they not only have an adventure, but also learn to abandon their prejudices and hang-ups along the way, and end up better people. 

Perhaps the most obvious example of a story like this is "A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens.  At the start, Scrooge is a miserable skinflint - a man who makes everyone around him almost equally as miserable.  By the end, he's giving away turkeys, raising his clerk's wages, and generally spreading Christmas cheer.  The story is so powerful, and spreads such a touching message of hope for even the most hardened cynic, that it has been adapted over and over again, for retelling to a modern audience.  Over this Christmas season alone, four different adaptations have been aired on TV (that I've noticed) including my family's favourite - A Muppets Christmas Carol.  The story of this one man's emotional transformation never seems to grow stale.

It is particularly suited to telling at Christmas time.  Don't we all make New Year's resolutions?  Isn't the turn of the year the time when we examine ourselves, take stock, and vow that this is the year when we'll do better?  Stories such as A Christmas Carol, that show a character overcoming his own flaws and weaknesses, give us hope that we can do something similar.  Though I have to confess, I'd broken every one of my resolutions before the end of January 1st!  And yes, they did all involve eating habits, and exercise.

Scrooge changed (literally overnight!) because of intervention by supernatural beings - the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  But there are many other classic stories where the central character is transformed by the (often healing) power of love.  As a writer of romance, these are the ones that have always particularly inspired me.  As a child I couldn't get enough of fairy stories, such as Rapunzel - where the hero's blindness is cured by the tears of his beloved falling onto his eyes, and The Snow Queen, where Gerda's tears wash the splinters of the troll mirror from his heart.  (Oh, dear, it's always tears, isn't it?), or Beauty and the Beast, where the heroine learns not to judge by outward appearances, and breaks the curse to find the Prince inside the Beast.

Then, as I grew older, it was stories that contained a more romantic love that I enjoyed the most.  The ones where the hero's character and actions helped to unfreeze the heroine's heart in some way.  Or vice versa.  I think that is one reason why I love reading Harlequin romances - fairly often the heroine's integrity is what persuades the cynical hero to soften and open his own heart to love.  She "rescues" him from a life of cynical isolation.

On reflection that's probably what I love about Rapunzel, and Beauty and the Beast, and The Snow Queen.  Although the hero starts out with all the notional power, it is the woman who comes to the rescue in the end.   Rapunzel cures the Prince's blindness, Beauty breaks the curse holding the Beast in thrall, and Gerda travels through the Arctic to rescue Kai from the Queen's ice palace.

Gerda is the one fairy tale heroine who goes on an actual journey.  My own characters rarely do.  It is their inner journey, often from a dark place, that I love to describe.  I was half way through writing A Mistress for Major Bartlett (release date June 2015) before I realized my heroine was very like Rapunzel.  Although she isn't under a real curse, she has shut herself up in a psychological tower, into which nobody has access, apart from her beloved twin brother.  It takes a real shock to jolt her out of her self-imposed isolation, set out on a path to self-awareness, and open her heart and mind to the possibility of love.

Her hero, the Major Bartlett of the title, also has his own emotional journey to undertake.  Like the prince in Rapunzel, he has been wandering in darkness for a very long time.  And it (sort of) takes the heroine's tears to open his eyes to not only what he is, but what he could become.

Wishing you all the best as you journey into this New Year.