Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another World

I was scratching around yesterday looking for a blog topic - I felt pretty bad for neglecting my blog so much lately! - and one helpfully showed up on the bus this morning. If I didn't spend so much time on buses I'd never think of anything useful.

Backtrack a few days.

I was at work and I'd forgotten to bring a book to read at lunchtime. Had one picked out and everything, just forgot to throw it in my bag. This is a catastrophe in my world, just so you know.

Luckily I work in a pretty well-serviced suburb/village/town, so I hit the charity shops and the second-hand bookshop looking for something. I didn't find anything, but I did see a copy of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. I already own it and have read it lots of times, so I couldn't justify buying a second copy even if it was just what I fancied that day (it isn't Forever Amber and I'm not a week from home, after all) but at least I had my next book picked out.

I restarted The Secret History yesterday and I was reading it on the bus this morning. As I've probably said ad nauseum because it annoys me, my bus journey can be anything from forty minutes to an hour. Today it was closer to forty minutes, but I can't remember the last time I was so absorbed in a book. Bearing in mind I've read The Secret History before, lots of times, and I know every last little plot twist.

No spoilers follow, if you haven't read it.

It was the part that took place over the winter break, when Richard's college closes for two months and he has to move off-campus in the coldest Vermont winter for twenty-five years. I've never experienced that kind of cold (aside - my dad once told me that on a business trip to Norway one winter, he left his hotel on the first morning and when the air hit him, he thought he'd forgotten to put his trousers on). I'm Irish, and all we do is whine about the weather, so I like to pretend that I have, but I haven't. We don't get extremes here.

But the sense of place was evoked so well. My bus stop sneaked up on me, and I got off the bus feeling like I'd just woken up. It was a surprise to see Dublin in 2010 and not Hampden in the 1980s.

What books have done that to you? Has any book ever drawn you in so completely that looking up from the page feels like waking up?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do As My Link Says, Not As I Do

There's a great post on editing dialogue on The Blood-Red Pencil today.

I love dialogue. It's my favourite thing to read and my favourite thing to write. I often tune out of books if they go too long without anyone saying anything, unless the writing is really engaging and there's a strong sense of character, even if the character isn't saying much. Dialogue for me makes a piece of writing humann - if there's a person, and they're talking, I feel more like I can get to know them. But since I love dialogue and write a lot of it, naturally I make a lot of my mistakes there.

I'm most guilty of the Filler Dialogue problem.

'How are you?' asked Rosie.
'Fine, fine,' said Elizabeth, sitting down at the table with a sigh. 'Jack got over that awful cold, thank God.'
'Oh, I'm glad to hear that. . .'

Bleugh. No one needs to read that. Unless, somehow, I need to use that dialogue to imply that Rosie isn't happy at all that Jack is feeling better because she has - DUN DUN DUN - poisoned him with a synthetic version of the common cold virus. People did that all the time in the forties, honest.

I'm bad for the Talking Heads problem too - once my characters start nattering, I often find myself leaving them to it. In real life, there's nothing I'd rather do than talk and listen. The biggest drain on my writing time is meeting up with friends to talk, so when my characters start talking, I'm quite happy to just sit back and let it happen.

Not allowed though, it doesn't read well.

Do you guys have any problems with writing dialogue? Do you prefer to skip it altogether?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Surfeit of Sweetness and Light

Have some great literary insults. Some of these are very good.

I do wonder, though, what will happen to literary insults in the future. All of the writers on my blog list, both published and unpublished, are such nice people. I don't have anything bad to say about any of them. You're all utterly lovely, and I have nothing bad to say about any of you. How dull :p

Perhaps some of you wouldn't mind being nasty for a bit, so we can get some fake feuds going? We can still be friends in secret.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Impending Big Thing-age

Yes, I have been asking Joss Whedon to write my blog post titles. It's kind of you to notice!

I came across this on Twitter today - what will be the next Twilight?

Yeah. You know the way writers are told never to try to predict the Next Big Thing? You know how we're told not to fixate on being the anomalous JKR/Stephenie Meyer type? You know how we're told the write the book we want to write because we want to write it, and not because we've identified the hottest trend and want to cash in?

Well, d'you ever wonder where we get the idea to think like that in the first place? *grin* I mean that good-naturedly, Publishing Industry, of course you have to think ahead and we shouldn't. I just find it funny.

This week I've been thinking a lot about finishing books. Some of you might remember my writing pal who finished a trilogy at Christmas - I'm almost done reading the last book in that trilogy, and tomorrow I head out to his place for tea, lunch and finally finding out what happens!

It's time for another shout-out, though - my long-time writing friend and blog follower Paul has just finished the first draft of his first novel too :D So big congratulations to him too!

I'm feeling wholly inadequate at the moment, though! My fun notebook story is crying for attention and I have another few busy days ahead before I can get back to it. Rosie wants some revising, and when she wants something, you tend to hear about it. Finishing these two stories is like an itch I can't scratch.

And I'm very glad to have this itch back, it vanished there for a while. Unfortunately, the only way I can make time to scratch the itch this weekend is to set my alarm clock for tomorrow an hour earlier than planned. I'll be tired but thoroughly scratched.

Wait, that came out wrong. I should get someone else to write my posts too :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Schroedinger's Robin Hood

There's an entertaining article here about the historical origins of Robin Hood. He may well have been a Yorkshireman, you know. Or he might not have existed at all.

I can't say that Robin Hood is my favourite mythical personification of England and English heritage - I'm more of a King Arthur girl. I do like Nottingham a lot, though, so I was interested enough to read the whole thing.

Stephen Knight, a professor of English in Cardiff University, is quoted in the article. He was asked if Robin Hood really existed and his response was:

"When the Doncaster News rings up and says 'Did Robin Hood really exist?', I have a variety of answers." [. . .] "One is, 'How do I know you exist?' or 'What do you mean exist?' But I like to say, 'Of course he exists, we're talking about him.' My view is that the empirical, real Robin Hood – like the 'real' King Arthur – is a 20th-century take on reality. Who cares if there was a real Robin Hood? There's a real myth which is living and breathing."

I studied English for four years. I found that when I immersed myself too deeply in the study of the humanities, my grasp of the nature ofreality got a little wobbly. Also, I developed a long list of answers to the question everyone asked me the most often, just to shake things up a little, so I have a lot of sympathy with the professor's response. But I'm also a history nerd, and I do like to know if people were real. I love knowing if the myth is historically inaccurate too. I'm fond of inaccuracies. They're interesting and make you look like a smart-arse at parties.

But the professor makes a very good point. Does it matter? I know King Arthur probably wasn't real, but I still love the stories. I love the book Forever Amber, which is largely historically accurate, but if I discovered a huge mistake in it, I'd like it just as much.

How important is historical accuracy? If you discovered that George IV was really smart, would you enjoy Blackadder less?

Caught Up

I'm almost caught up with my typing!

Although I feel a bit like Sisyphus - I'm just about caught up and I'm already planning to write more, and so the whole circus starts again.

I have a busy week ahead so I won't get much time to write. I want to re-do that scene I mentioned recently (the one that wanted to go in a different direction when I typed it). I'm also about to write a Big Horrible InfoDump but I'm hoping to keep it short. I don't like scenes where two characters sit in their bedroom discussing things (although as a reader I don't mind them if they're done well). They've been discussing things for about a page and a half and I feel they're pushing it a little. . .

Even though I'm busy for very nice reasons, I always find it demoralising when I get a period of time when I just can't write anything for practical reasons. I start having visions of me aging in that way they use in films, with calendar pages rifling past and clock hands spinning and suddenly I'm a hundred and ten years old and I never wrote a book!

Being an hysteric is part of my charm, you understand.

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm writing this for myself. I'm trying not to think 'Oooh, how would that plot element work in a query letter?' or 'Would an agent think that idea was crap?' The whole point of this exercise was to rediscover the sheer joy in writing after spending a lot of time in the edit/polish/revise/redraft cycle on the last novel. And so far it's working. My insane fantasy elements are proving to be quite a lot of fun. I once wrote a fantasy novel for Nanowrimo where every character apart from one was named after a gemstone, a season or a metal. It was an exercise in pure cheese, and although this one isn't quite so deliberately bad, it's still fun in that throw-a-bag-on-your-head-and-do-it-for-Old-Glory way, as William Goldman says.

Does anyone else find that they need to switch off their inner desperation to be published in order to actually enjoy the first draft? Or is it just me?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Which Our Heroine Types A Lot

I've waxed lyrical about the joys of occasionally writing by hand before, but I must admit it's starting to annoy me.

I'm still working on my silly, light-hearted fantasy story (although is it still light-hearted if the Devil is involved?) and I'm still writing it by hand. However, I'm a bit of a show-off and I want other people to read it when it's done, so I have started typing it up to make that easier.

Talk about bloody tedious.

On the plus side, typing is a form of editing. I was typing up a scene between two characters recently - one male, one female. And I realised my female character dropped a bit of a bombshell (she knows about something that is supposed to be very, very secret) and the other character didn't notice she'd done it. Evidently I didn't either. . . clever writer, me.

As I was typing up the scene, I found I wanted to take it in a different direction. Instead of keeping up the gentle banter between them, I wanted him to say 'hang on - how do you know about that?' But I'd forgotten if there was anything else important in the scene, and I was too short on time to start a major edit, so I just typed it as it was written, except I popped in a line where my male character thinks 'Something she said isn't sitting right and I can't figure out what it is.' Or words to that effect (this scene takes place at five in the morning, so he isn't at his smartest, just so you know. And he'd had a bit of a shock earlier that night. And he's being written by a writer who hadn't noticed the bombshell first time around).

Once I'd finished typing up the scene, I realised my idea for the edited version was better than what I had written. He does need to notice, and they do need to talk about it (and it needs to be dazzlingly written, which is the hard part, of course. . .). I think this will work better, because their conversation will now be about confrontation rather than about two characters talking to each other because I need them to.

That would be the advantage of writing by hand and typing as I go. I spotted this early, while still on my first draft, so I can fix it early. In fact, I can fix it before I've wasted time writing the scene that was slated to take place two days later, in which my hero has a Eureka moment.

The disadvantage is that it is so. Bloody. Time. Consuming. I have to allocate separate time for writing and for typing, which is difficult because finding time to write is my biggest problem as a writer anyway.

The notebook shopping makes up for it though. Completely :)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Yay, Blog Award! And Dublin Stuff

I have two blog awards to share, but as my first post is likely to be a bit long, I'm taking them one by one!

KarenG has very kindly given me the Beautiful Blogger award :)

So I am now supposed to post seven interesting things about myself and pass the award on to five deserving bloggers. At least the second part will be easy :) But since Karen bent the rules by posting seven self-defeating attitudes for writers (which are very good, by the way, and worth a read!), I'm going to cheat a little too and post seven interesting things about Dublin. I'm an Irish blogger, after all, Paddy's Day wasn't long ago, and my blog is looking pretty green at the moment! Also, just after I decided to do this, one of my new followers (Kathi) suggested she'd like to hear more about life in Dublin - I hope this counts, although life in Dublin isn't all about lions, old libraries and arthouse cinemas, unfortunately. . .

1. The writer Jonathan Swift is buried under the aisle of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Nope, not because he was a writer, it's not our equivalent of Poet's Corner - when he was alive, he was the Dean of St. Patrick's.

2. The relics of St. Valentine are allegedly in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin 8. I say 'allegedly' because there are a few sets of relics of St. Valentine and various sources disagree on how genuine they all are. Special masses are said in Whitefriar Street church on Valentine's Day for people in love, and couples about to be married can bring their rings to be blessed.

3. Handel's Messiah premiered in Dublin in 1742. In Fishamble Street, to be precise. It was sung by the combined choir of Christ Church and St. Patrick's Cathedrals - and yes, Jonathan Swift was Dean at the time. I'm hoping to make it along to the anniversary celebrations next week.

4. The Dublin urban area population is 1.045 million, and somehow we support three arthouse cinemas.

5. The first public library in Ireland was Marsh's Library, opened in 1701. It's still open and functioning as a library today. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you should go and visit if you're ever in Dublin - it looks like a tiny version of the Hogwarts Library and the founder was named Narcissus Marsh, which is a pure Harry Potter name! Also, it's just around the corner from St. Patrick's Cathedral, so you can pop in on your way to visit Jonathan :)

6. The earliest known copies of the Letters of St. Paul, the Book of Revelations and the Gospels and Acts are in Dublin, in the Chester Beatty Library. Don't ask me how we swung that. We have Alfred Chester Beatty to thank for it, anyway. The museum they're in is free to visit and has a rather nice restaurant/cafe in the grounds.

7. The lion that roars at the start of every MGM-produced film was born in Dublin Zoo. His name was Cairbre. Apparently.

Now, to pass the award on to five bloggers that I think are really good!

DL Hammons at Cruising Altitude
Houston A. W. Knight
Donna Hosie, at Musings of A Penniless Writer
Nicole Ducleroir at One Significant Moment At A Time
Julie Dao at Silver Lining

Thanks again, Karen!

Feelings of Blog Inadequacy


I recently found out what that 'Edit Pages' button at the top of the 'Posting' tab on Blogger does. It allows one to add pages to one's blog, so that one can have a nice row of links along the top, linking to things that deserve a full page independent of the main blog. As the name implies.

What kind of things? Well, I started wondering. Whenever I hear the word 'pages' I get this uncontrollable urge to be somehow involved.

A bio, perhaps. Except that my bio, over in the sidebar, is pretty much as good as it gets. I don't need a longer bio. I really am a compulsive reader and would-be novelist who lives in Dublin, and it is all completely true about the tea (scandalous. . .). I don't have a long list of publication credits or places I've lived. I don't need to direct people to my knitting blog, my movie blog, my baking blog or my macrame blog. I don't have three beautiful children that can behave cutely in front of the camera so that I can post their adorable toothless grins on a blog Page.

I am simply not Page-worthy.

I've been trying to think of other uses for blog pages, as I do so love the idea of a blank page to play with. Any ideas? Do you know of any bloggers who've done something fun or creative with them? What do you use yours for?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Alternate Version Blogfest!

Happy April Fool's Day everyone! I was thinking of putting up a fake post saying I'd gotten a book deal/agent/puppy, but I decided not to tempt fate and just go ahead with the Alternate Version Blogfest instead :)

The Alternate Version Blogfest is about taking a passage from your WIP and rewriting it in a few different styles. If you follow the link above, it will take you to Livia Blackburne's blog so you can check out the other participants. Some really great bloggers are taking part (Livia, DL Hammons, and SE Sinkhorn among others) so it's worth a click!

I've deliberately set out to use genre cliches, by the way, so please don't take offence if you write historical romances that aren't obsessed with what society thinks, or if your chick-lit is a Martini-and-Manolo-free-zone. No insult is intended to any of the genres parodied.

And the last one isn't just a new genre - I also switched point of view. Just because.

Here's the passage I used - it may look a bit familiar, as it cropped up in the Love At First Sight blogfest on Valentine's Day too. The rewrites are all a lot shorter, too, I promise.

Original Version, from The Home (literary women's fiction-ish)

Rosie sprang up behind Elizabeth just as she was telling Billy exactly where her house was.
“Lizzie! Who's your suitor?” she joked. Elizabeth's heart sank.
Billy laughed. “I'm Billy McCarthy. And you must be Black Rosie, who else could you be?”
Something in Billy's voice made Elizabeth's insides tremble. There were two Rosies around Clonleth, and they had gone to the same school. To distinguish them, the boys called Rosie Martin 'Black Rosie' because her hair was the colour of new leather shoes. The girls had never adopted this habit and called both Rosies by their full names – except Elizabeth, who called them “my Rosie” and “the other Rosie”.

Sometimes in the shop, Elizabeth heard people allude to Rosie in ways she didn't like – that she was “fast”, that she was “troublesome”, that she was “popular”. Elizabeth had some idea what they meant – she knew she was naive but she also wasn't stupid – but she could never bring herself to believe it. Rosie was wild and funny, and Elizabeth had always felt she was running to keep up with her, but she was a good person. Elizabeth was certain of this because she kept a running tally in her head of incidents that proved Rosie's goodness, and whenever Rosie upset her – which was often – she used them to construct a defence of her friend. She had listed these incidents so many times that she had a private shorthand for them, and a single word could stand for an episode in their friendship that had strung out for weeks.

Elizabeth didn't want Billy to know that Rosie's reputation wasn't perfect. She also didn't want to think about how he seemed to know it already.


Liz Sullivan's heart jerked at the sound of her name. She turned.
‘Who’s your suitor?’ Rosie Martin was leaning on the back of her chair.
Billy laughed. ‘I’m Billy McCarthy. And you must be Black Rosie.’
‘How did you know?’ Rosie asked.
‘Who else could you be?’ Billy said, and he smiled.
Liz struggled to keep her breathing even and her face blank. If Billy knew who Rosie was, that could blow the whole operation. Liz had faith in Rosie, but still – she was a loose cannon, and everyone knew it.

Historical Romance

‘Elizabeth!’ She felt a hand on her shoulder. ‘Who’s your suitor?’
Mr. McCarthy laughed, his blue eyes crinkling at the corners. ‘I’m Mr. McCarthy,’ he said, extending his hand. ‘Delighted. And you may rest assured, madam, that your reputation precedes you. Do I have the honour of addressing the famous Black Rosie Martin?’
There was an archness in his tone that Elizabeth didn’t like, and a teasing smile played across his lips.
He couldn’t know of the stains on Rosie’s reputation, could he? It was certainly true that she had been forced to shift for herself from a young age, and that she had been driven to certain . . . social transgressions due to her circumstances. But she was a sweet girl, really, and Elizabeth still hoped that she could find a place in society. She swallowed anxiously.


I swiveled, almost falling off the bar stool. Rosie was making a beeline for us, tripping slightly on the carpet in her Manolo Blahniks. My heart sank.
‘And who’s this?’ Rosie asked, smiling and extending her hand to Will.
‘I’m Will,’ he said, smiling back. ‘And you must be the Rosie I’ve heard so much about.’

This always bloody happened. Every time I met a nice guy, I got eclipsed by her as soon as she showed up. If she wasn’t my best friend I would have been planning some serious revenge on her wardrobe with a sharp pair of sewing scissors.
Except I wouldn’t. Because I’m a good girl, and good girls don’t, right?
I stirred my martini desultorily.

Hard-boiled PI.

He’d been talking to Elizabeth for a while, trying to find out how much she knew and if any of it was useful, when a black-haired broad came over to their table and tried cracking wise with him.
‘So who’s this?’ she asked, her lip curling.
‘Don’t get cute, sister, you know who I am. And I know exactly who you are.’ Billy said, his voice barely above a growl.
He watched fear shoot across Elizabeth’s face. She was too good for a place like this, for a set-up like this. And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.
‘You know her?’ Elizabeth asked.
‘I’ve heard of her.’ Billy said, and his gaze flicked back to the broad. ‘The boys call you Black Rosie.’