If love makes the world go round, it’s hardly surprising that romance crops up as a subplot across most genres of fiction. But, as writers, we need to beware of letting the love interest get out of hand and obscure the more complex themes of our novel. As readers, we need to be alert to publishers dressing up a gruelling narrative as a modern Pride and Prejudice because, let’s face it, sex sells.
For Valentine’s Day, I’m reviving a post that appeared in October 2015 on the Reading Writers website, which is now defunct.
While I’ve opted out of commemorating the day I was born, my book’s first birthday is another matter. The day itself sees me signing copies at Waterstones York, but most of the festivities will be virtual, with a Kindle promotion (on Amazon UK and Amazon US and Amazon everything else in between) from 18-31 July. To coincide, I’m embarking on a two-week blog tour with a mixture of guest posts, reviews and Q&A’s, revisiting some long-established friends and forging some new ones. It won’t be as long as the five-week tour I did last year, but it’s sure to be as enjoyable. I’ve even given it its own page on the site, where I’ll be posting the live links as they are published. Here’s a preview of what you can expect if you can find the time to join me.
As someone who’s drawn to subtle stories with complex characters and hates being bludgeoned with being told what to think and feel, I shouldn’t be surprised that there are times when my expectations aren’t met by the book in my hands and I’m tempted to give up. Usually I try to unravel why it didn’t work for me, with the aim of both getting a stronger sense of what I like and don’t like, and what I can learn from this for my own writing. But sometimes I feel quite disorientated by my bafflement, by my lack of connection with the author’s words. If I’ve been unlucky – or chosen unwisely – and experienced a string of disconnections, I can feel quite low. The activity that has always been my refuge becomes a claustrum. It’s like being internally homeless or losing a good friend. (Or finding your compatriots have voted overwhelmingly for xenophobia, which still has me reeling almost a week on.)
I’m proud to be taking the reins this week at the Carrot Ranch, with a flash fiction prompt on showing someone around a property. My theme arose partly from the open weekend at North Lees Hall, which attracted over a thousand visitors across the two days. Although I got rather chilled standing in the doorway trying to steer a one-way system on the two sets of stairs, it was great fun. For those who couldn’t make it to Derbyshire, here’s a virtual tour of the house, both inside and out.
Did you notice the p-word in my opening sentence? Did it make you wince? If so, I hope I can persuade you that, not only is the adjective perfectly apt for the purpose, you should lay claim to it yourself.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating my identity as a novelist: how, on the one hand, it’s a simple statement of fact while, on the other, it represents an existential anxiety about what I’d be if I couldn’t describe myself in terms of something that sounds like a job. So these two novels exploring identity and make-believe, albeit with reference to film rather than fiction, have come along at exactly the right time.
Last year, I set out to read 60 books and read 96. This year, I set a target of 100 books, and read 120. This suggests I’m reading more each year and making more accurate predictions. Of course, it’s not a competition, even against myself, but I do like figures. And, daft as it seems, I do like producing an annual report!
After proving such a generous host on my own long-distance blog tour, I’m delighted to welcome Kate to Annecdotal as she launches her second novel. Here she describes how she links creative writing and emotional healing. Read on and enjoy!
I had been writing for over twenty years when the depression (which is a part of my make-up) overwhelmed me. Up until that point, I had been very focused on publication, writing feature articles and non-fiction copy for magazines, newsletters, annual reports and newspapers. I also had several unpublished novels.
When the emotional and psychological crash came, I stopped writing. Life became an endless succession of treacherous puzzles and traps which I somehow had to work my way round. Picking up a hairbrush became an enormous act of will, never mind picking up a pen and doing something worthwhile with it. I felt very bleak and hopeless. I became inarticulate. When I went into therapy I would cry but I could not speak coherently. After several sessions, my therapist, probably out of exasperation, said, ‘You’re a writer, write and we can look at that.’
When I posted my reflections from my Sunday walk last week, I failed to do justice to the writerly fruitfulness of that particular walk. Not only did I mull over getting lost, consistent with that week’s flash fiction prompt, I also began to formulate some ideas for a short story. Call me psychic – although the theme was more likely to have come from my recent post on Readers Writers Journal about the seduction of romance – but this story with a rare (for me) examination of love was the exact fit for Charli’s latest prompt, apart from being at least three times longer than the 99-word limit. But, tight for time, I’ve decided to use the opening as my contribution to this week’s compilation:
You saved me a seat in the lecture hall, knowing my bus was always late. You cheered louder than anyone when I got the prize for the highest marks in our year. You persuaded the corner shop to stock gluten-free croissants, so you could serve me breakfast in bed. You held me tight when the memories overwhelmed me, despite knowing no amount of holding could undo the past. You wore top hat and tails at our wedding, though more at home in jumpers and jeans. You did it all with perfect grace. You did it gladly, unthinkingly, for me.
The story I want to write in full is a bit darker, but the essence of being loved remains.
Out walking at the weekend, the latest post from Charli Mills was preying on my mind. She’s writing about feeling lost, and challenging us to write a 99-word story on the subject. I can do that, I think. Despite being trained in navigation, I often get lost out on the hills. But there’s another kind of lost that’s more than geographical; as a psychologist and writer, I’m interested in lost as a state of mind.
I set out on Sunday in territory less familiar than my usual stomping ground, only intermittently checking my progress against the map. Avoiding a crowd of noisy cattle, I plunged through shoulder-high bracken, soaking my trousers with the residue of the previous day’s rain. I headed for a path I thought I recognised only to realise, ten minutes later, the rest of the topography didn’t fit. But I pressed on, seesawing between anxiety and excitement. I love discovering new corners of the landscape, finding enormous satisfaction in the moment when the strange intersects with the known. But there’s an edge of concern that I’ll delve too far into unknown territory, that I won’t make it back to base in time.
As one of those who nagged Geoff LePard to give his second novel a proper launch, I’m delighted to be a calling-off point on his blog tour. By a strange quirk of fate, I find myself opening proceedings on the very day I’m over on Terry Tyler’s Zodiac Files explaining how I lack the leadership qualities said to typify a Leo. Whatever the ironies of that, I’m honoured to be able to return the favour of when Geoff welcomed me to his blog last month with an introduction that made me laugh. I can’t match Geoff’s talent for comedy, but I can give another side to the story of our original meeting at an Arvon course six years ago.
Although the course was on second drafts, he and I were in the minority in having actually completed our first. Lugging my box-file of assorted papers down to the classroom/diningroom on the first morning, I found Geoff thumbing through a spiral-bound A5 book, I gormlessly asked if that was his novel, trying to keep the envy out of my voice. One of them, he quipped. I’m not sure how I coped with the discovery that he had four first drafts completed at that point, but I did get to read each of them in those early stages, so it’s wonderful to witness their gradual emergence into the world as bone fide books.
Given my own interest in fictional research, I was curious to learn more about Geoff’s experience of writing a thriller about the controversial issue of embryo research. I hope you enjoy his account as much as I do.
The year I turned fifty, I undertook a long-distance walk: 190 odd miles across northern England from the west coast to the east. Instead of trying to cajole a group of friends into joining me, I chose to do the whole thing alone, but arranging for various friends and family to accompany me for a day at a time. Sometimes I walked solo, sometimes with individuals or a small group of four or five, with my husband – not an aficionado of rambling – valiantly attempting to fill in the gaps. Although the planning process stretched my organisational capacities to the limit, the event itself was wonderful, despite blisters, inadequate navigation skills and the vagaries of the English weather. After two and a bit weeks hiking across three national parks, I reached my destination at Robin Hood’s Bay, exhausted and exuberant. Back home, with a couple of days free before returning to work, I began writing the novel that became Sugar and Snails.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional with mutterings about reading and writing seasoned with psychology.
Annecdotist is the persona through whom I navigate that in-between space. When not roaming the blogosphere, I'm reading or writing, tramping the moors, battling the slugs in my vegetable plot or struggling to sing.
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some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on writing and my journey to publication and beyond.
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Sugar and Snails on 2016 shortlist
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