I used to think that only historical novelists needed to write a timeline for a novel. Someone like me, writing contemporary fiction set pretty close to the real world, didn’t have any use for it. I read Joanna’s excellent (and detailed) account on this blog of the timeline she constructed for her Regency-set Lady in Lace. And thanked my lucky stars that this was so. (It’s a lovely book, by the way.)
Only, of course, she is not just talking about setting her characters into a sequence of historically documented events. She is talking about the timeline of the whole novel, including the stuff she’d made up. Scene by scene Joanna records what her characters do and feel as well as well as facts of place and history.
But I still thought I didn’t need that sort of hassle in a contemporary story.
I was talking to my daughter over lunch the other day about the books we’re reading.
She belongs to a book group that reads “serious” fiction and, coming up on their list is Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. It’s a book much loved by Sophie Weston and I have taken advantage of Amazon’s “download a sample” button to get a feel for the voice, the story.
Reading cozy crime
My daughter and I talked about a crime series that I’ve read (not cozy) Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series. Annoyingly, it appears to have stopped, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
She downloaded the first book but she’s not sure. She didn’t quite take to the main character and while I read very fast on kindle, she listens on audio (she has three children and doesn’t have time to sit down with a book) which gives the listener a surprisingly different experience.
I knew the series was set in Wales but she was getting the accents, which can make listening hard work.
Books set in bookshops
Then, because I enjoy cozy crime, she mentioned a book by Helen Cox, called A Body in the Bookshop that she thought I might like and we started talking about how many books are set in and around bookshops.
Amy suggested I try the Pultizer prize winner, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which was on her book group list. Time for another sample because there is something inherently appealing about a book set in a bookshop.
I fell in love with Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road a lifetime ago – and Anthony Hopkins in the film, playing the man with whom she had a long and profitable correspondence.
Anne Bancroft fell in the love with the book, too, and her husband, Mel Brookes, bought the film rights so that she could play Helen.
Tomorrow is the Queen’s funeral. There will be a great deal of black and much sombre music. And probably quite a few tears. Not a day for laughter.
But the Queen was a woman who had a mischievous sense of humour, a woman who, in private and sometimes in public, loved a joke.
Remembering the Queen’s sense of fun
So today, in advance of all that sombre black, I suggest we remember her funny side. Mostly, as Sophie said last week, she kept a straight face in case someone was offended. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had a chance to let her puckish sense of fun have full rein.
Last week the Libertà Hive and several fellow authors were on a writing retreat in the north. It was a great shock, when I came down to raid the fridge for lunch on Thursday, to find four of them, very serious, sitting round the table looking at the news feed on various laptops. “It’s over,” said one. “The Queen is going.” They had heard the announcement made by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
At first, I didn’t believe it. I may even have said, “Going where?” But then someone else said, “Of course it’s been coming for a long time.” And I realised what they meant.
It was like that moment on a staircase, when you trip and think you’ve righted yourself, only then to find you’re still falling. All the way to the bottom. (I’ve done it twice.)
I am a storyteller. Does that have to mean research overload?
Storytelling is an art as old as time. I make up stories, tell yarns.
I am not an academic, I didn’t go to university and I didn’t study the art of writing at any college. I remember telling stories in primary school (possibly it began even earlier, I can’t remember) and I learned my art as I went along. Still do, in fact.
So I am NOT telling you how to write (or how to read). I am talking about stuff that distracts me when I’m reading a novel. Things I try to avoid.
“Write what you know”
We have all heard that old maxim, but whatever genre you write in, you will come across something that needs you to do a little research. At least, that is my experience. Continue reading →
I’m desperately in need of cover help.
Basically, I can’t decide between two different covers for the Christmas book that I’m about to republish. I’ve revised and extended it and I want it to be right. So I’m asking for advice here.
I moved into my present flat four years ago. At the time it seemed perfect but, as happens to all of us, I wanted to rip out the kitchen and have something that worked better for me. More storage…
Clearly I could do nothing during lockdown, but in January this year I took myself off to one of those vast out of town warehouses. I picked up a catalogue then, drawing a deep breath – and an even bigger chunk of money from my bank account – sat with Michelle, who took me through the exciting process of buying a new kitchen. (This picture is utter fantasy – I think my entire flat would fit into this!)
Starting from Scratch
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
I was going back to the bare walls, so there was the choice of oven (yes, I chose the one that cleaned itself!) and a space age hob. It was only later that I discovered I was going to need new pans for something that modern and my mother’s beautiful stainless steel pans were gratefully received by my daughter (who has a gas hob that isn’t fussy). There was a much needed new fridge/freezer and I went for a smaller dishwasher and sink so that I could fit in an extra cupboard. (Needless to say, this picture is also a fantasy!)
Then there were the worktops. Hyperventilating at the cost of some of them, I eventually made my decision.
“One of the great problems of attracting attention to a new book,” said a much loved novelist friend of mine, “is that Writer Writes Book is a crap headline.” Reader Loves Book, sadly, is not much better.
X Thousand Readers Love Book might do the business. Publishing phenomenon – which could include contested auction, record advance, film deal or all three – would be even better. That’s talking about cold hard cash, not ephemeral stuff like love.
Actually, even the last headline probably wouldn’t intrigue me as much as Reader Hates Book So Much She Throws it in Bin. Because that’s serious feeling there. And yes, I admit I have done it, but only twice and I’m not proud of it. Continue reading →
In May this year we booked a holiday. To explore the scenery, landscape and, of course, the history of the Outer Hebrides. It was not intended as a Jacobite tour, but from the very start we kept bumping into Charlie! I knew some of his story, of course, because I researched much of it while writing my Highland Trilogy. Two of the books actually mention Bonnie Prince Charlie.
In the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Almost)
I’ve called this blog Points of View because that is what I’ve been thinking about, off and on, since the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference two weeks ago.
Not just in a relation to writing, either, as you will see.
I admit, however, that I have been struggling for some time with POV issues. I’m in the process of an Absolutely Last Edit of a book that, when I first imagined it, had a first person vibe. It didn’t last and it has much improved as a result. But in some places the “I voice” has left an uncomfortable shadow.
At least, I think that’s the answer. Especially after a really excellent workshop on Psychic Distance from Emma Darwin.