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?

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

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.

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!

Juliet's Books

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Little Learning by Anne Bennett

I can't remember a time when I didn't write. I was a voracious reader and they seemed to go together. However, I never expected to earn my living by writing books!  That sort of thing didn't happen to working class kids in the 1960s when I was growing up.  I also wanted to teach, though I achieved this by  a roundabout route, entering Teachers' Training College as a mature student after I had got married and had two children of my own.  By 1976 I had my teaching certificate and was doing a job I loved.  Alas, in the spring of 1990 a spinal injury caused lack of feeling and movement down my legs. I had to use a wheelchair and I was invalided out of teaching.

We moved from the West Midlands to a beautiful town in North Wales, but my life stretched out like a void and so to fill the days ahead I began to write. I began to research the origin and meaning of nursery rhymes, a topic that had always fascinated me. I then went on to write for children, interspersing this with writing short stories for the writing magazine I took every month.

I only ever submitted one of the stories.  It was for a competition for Valentine's Day and my story came second. The prize was a year's subscription to the Romantic Novelists' Association  (RNA). This organisation run a critique service, the New Writer's Scheme, where unpublished writers submit manuscripts to be read and critiqued by established authors.

My first submission  the reader said was good but not good enough to be published but, more importantly, it explained why it wasn't. So I made sure I didn't make the same mistakes with the second submission! That was called A Little Learning and it was accepted by Headline. I was ecstatic. It was the most semi-autobiographical book I have ever written.  I was advised to 'write what you know', and so the house on the original cover was the house I moved into at the age of seven. The book opens when Jane Travers was 11 in 1947. I wasn't born until 1949, but like her I was a scholarship girl, the only one on the sprawling estate I lived on to pass the 11 plus. Like Jane's mother, mine had a  cheque she had to pay in weekly, because the cost of the uniform and other required items came to nearly £100 -one hell of a lot of money for working class people in 1960!

By then the government had built new grammar schools, although mine was only two years old, but before then private schools had to offer a quarter of their places to scholarship pupils.  My school was set in a middle-class area and most of the pupils were middle-class too. Scholarship kids from council estates were a race apart.  If I suffered discrimination, I could easily imagine what my Janet Travers was going through, and I had a very special feeling for her - my first heroine and the journey through the book she had to make.

It is over twenty years since I wrote this book and life is very different for me. I joined Harper Collins in 2001 and regained the ability to walk in 2006. A few years ago Harper Collins bought the rights for the books I originally wrote for Headline and are re-issuing my very first book this summer. Although the title stays the same, there is a new jacket cover. This shows my Jane all grown now and a teacher on playground duty.

A Little Learning will be released on the 24th August 2017 and hope you enjoy it! 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Ask Annie: How do you plan your books?

"How do you plan your books? A kiss at 25%, sex at 50%, an argument at 75%? Or do your books grow organically?"

Organically, definitely.  From somewhere out of the depths of my imagination will come a scene, or an incident… (eg, a girl waking up in bed, naked, with a stranger and no memory of how she got there, or hiding from an embarrassing moment in a ballroom only to witness a scheming woman trying to entrap a man, and facing the moral dilemma of whether to risk more embarrassment by coming out of hiding and saving the hapless man, or staying hidden and feeling guilty for leaving him to his fate.)

From then, I imagine what led up to that moment.  And how the participants in it will deal with it going forward.  And, yes, since I write for Harlequin Mills & Boon, how I can resolve all their problems and give them a happy ending.

The scenarios that will lead to a happy ending may get worked into a synopsis, or brief outline, and filed away in one of my many notebooks.  So that if ever I run out of stories I’m burning to write, I can consult them for inspiration.

Sometimes the story flitting round in my head is so consuming I HAVE to write it down, and really come up with ways by which the poor unfortunate creature I have imagined in her pickle, can find a way to achieve a happy ever after.

The actual amount of kissing, or sexual intimacy which I write can vary immensely, since it stems very much from the characters personalities and the situations into which I have flung them.  In some stories, for example where the couple have to marry for some reason at the start, they may work through their issues with arguments alternating with make-up sex (I think of these as honeymoon books)

In others, if my heroine is a complete innocent, and the hero is trying to win her, or rescue her, then they might not even kiss with any passion until pretty near the end.  (my courtship books)  It really does depend on the characters.

So my books are a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.  (And please, no quips about preferring hard or soft centres!)

The one thing I do need to factor in, at a certain point of the drama, is the “dark moment”.  Just as the characters seem to be finding their way to each other, there has to be an incident which will almost tear them apart, which will test the strength of their love, so that when they come through it, the happy ending feels much more emotionally satisfying than if they hadn’t had to face it.

But of course, being a romance, they will come through, in one way or another, whether it means the hero climbing in through a bedroom window with a rose tucked into his crossbelt (An Escapade and an Engagement) or simply writing the heroine a revised list (Lord Havelock's List)  (Though it’s funny how it nearly always seems to be the hero who has to do the grovelling!)

To be honest, I think that planning out my books to the extent you mentioned would feel a bit like painting by numbers.  Maybe it would be a bit easier if I could produce stories in this way, but I wouldn’t feel as if I was being so creative.  Nor would I get that sense of getting to know my characters as I write about them.  They wouldn’t become such real people to me, or, I suspect, to the reader.

Annie's next book is "The Major Meets his Match," the first of a mini-series with three heroes attempting to solve a crime.

Annie considers it one of her "courtship" books.

It is available for pre-order from Amazon.

You can read the opening on Overdrive