Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Rules

Many people have said funny things about writing a novel. My favourites include:

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Don't be too harsh to these poems until they're typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. ~Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

Starting a novel is hard. Luckily, Nathan Bransford has tackled the topic here and once a blogger has written about something it magically becomes easier. Right?

OK, not so much. But it's still a good post.

I read through it with some trepidation. My current project started out as pure fun (inspired by a notebook, would you believe) and now I'm working on it seriously. I expected to fail every test but was pleasantly surprised.

  • The Main Plot Arc - Yes, I have one. Which is a relief. You may laugh but while my last book had one, you had to dig for it.
  • Obstacles of Increasing Intensity, With Ups and Downs - Further sigh of relief. My protagonist would hate me if he were real, but at least Nathan and I agree.
  • Protagonist - Yep. I have one and he wants stuff. Check.
  • Setting - FECK! I was doing so well! My setting is all over the place - it has kind of been tacked on as it was needed. Imagine a very modern and experimental stage production with a poor stagehand running around behind the actors tacking up green felt to denote a forest and blue wallpaper to denote a drawing room. Needs work.
  • Style and Voice - Has undergone one major change. Needs work.
  • The Climax - Hasn't happened yet, please check back.
I imagine it will take me some time and a few revisions before I'm fully happy with all of the above, but if one was happy enough with all of those, there wouldn't be too much left, would there?

And since I brought the subject up - anyone have any other good writing quotes they like?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nom de Plume

I am still getting to grips with this Twitter thing (not being naturally gifted at brevity) but it has just thrown up a very interesting article about pen names, so maybe it's a good idea to persevere with it.

Pen names have always interested me. Imagine going to all the effort of writing a book, and overcoming all the hurdles involved in getting it published, and seeing it on the shelf, in a proper bookshop, all full of pages and everything.

And that bitch you hated in school won't even know if she sees it?

Obviously, I never hated anyone in school. I was a charming and lovely teenager (ahem).

I do wonder why people decide to publish under a pseudonym. Apart from enabling genre-hopping, or distancing your author persona from yourself if you are well-known in another field, I don't quite get it. I'd fancy the recognition.

Maybe it's a hangover from having an uncommon last name. I can never pretend to be another Ellen Brickley. If someone spots my name and says 'Didn't you live/study/work in _________?' I really can't get away with saying that I didn't. I don't mind, because it means people can get back in touch with me very easily - but it does make me very conscious of name-recognition, and particularly how names can stick in people's heads.

That said, if I had a very common name, I might consider a pen name. I recently tried to Google a feature writer who has published pieces in a few Irish newspapers, and both of her names were quite common (I hate saying common. I prefer popular). Even specifying Ireland, she was hard to find. It didn't help that some of her namesakes worked in related professions.

And then there's blogging, and tweeting, and profile-building. . . all of which may have to be done under a pen name if you intend using one.

And how do you choose one? I have a hard enough time naming characters. How on earth do you name yourself?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Words We Use

The Guardian has published a list of interesting words in other languages.

Did you know there is a word in Portuguese for someone who shows up at wakes to get free food? Or that there is a word in Arabic for the sound earrings make as you walk?

Douglas Adams and John Lloyd produced a book called The Meaning Of Liff, which should be on everyone's bedside table. The premise is simple - in life, there are many concepts which are familiar to all of us, but we don't have words for them (someone who shows up at wakes and funerals to get free food, for example). And yet our maps are scattered with words that are barely being used. The Meaning Of Liff was an attempt to marry the two.

It's full of definitions for things and experiences that we are all familiar with, including a whole section on corridor etiquette. You know when you're walking down a very long corridor towards someone you recognise and you both try not to acknowledge each other too early - but it sometimes goes horribly wrong? That has a name. So does every possible way of handling it. There is a name for the bristle that sticks out at a 90 degree angle to a cheap paintbrush and the ex-girlfriend you have almost completely forgotten about, but that drives your wife inexplicably mad with jealousy.

That's often a mark of good writing - the ability to pinpoint and express something universal that hasn't become a cliche yet. There is a line from A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley that I've always loved: 'The evening lay before me, and all I had to do was receive it.' I recognised that feeling when I read that line, and it was that recognition that made me love the scene.

For my part, I feel there should be a word for that sense of anticipation and possibility that one gets when one sees a large display of stationery, knitting wool, fabric, paper, musical instruments or art supplies - the feeling that in spite of my total ineptitude with any of the above, the mere sight of their existence is enough to inspire me to do something great with them.

Or is that one just me? :p

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Pint and A Haircut

I got some good news today - my mother is getting published!

Londubh Books are releasing A Pint and a Haircut later this year. It's a collection of true Irish stories and all royalties will go to Concern's fund for victims of the earthquake in Haiti (so you'd better buy a copy, Wyclef. I'm watching you).

It looks like it should be a good collection and it will be out in time for Christmas.