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Sunday, 2 July 2017

How to know what you don't know...

Write what you know.

That's what they say, isn't it? And, as long as you've led a jet-setting life, with frequent space flights interspersed with cattle ranching in the Peruvian uplands and occasional bouts as an angst-ridden rock star, then that's great. You've got enough material, go, write!

But what if you've never been further than Uttoxeter? What if you've never even met a rock star (hard to imagine, I know, but there must be some people out there who've never been hauled aboard a tour bus) and your day job involves pencilling tick boxes on a council form for compost bins?  What then?

(Wanders off to imagine book about Uttoxeter-dwelling council worker...)

OK. So I'm going to tell you how to write about what you don't know.
I don't fancy yours much
Emotions translate. That's all you need to know.  You may never have been widowed, but remember that time your cat died when you were nine? Remember that feeling that you'd never see them again and how hard it was and how you missed them? Hold that feeling...

You may never have decided to up sticks and move to Spain to get over your loss. But remember that school exchange visit to France, when you spent the first three weeks feeling desperately homesick and missing your mum and then you discovered you loved cycling along the lanes in the sunshine? Hold that feeling.

You may never have suffered from a life changing illness. But remember when you had that flu that time? And you couldn't get out of bed for a week even to answer the phone and you felt so awful that you were sort of afraid you'd die? And how it took you six weeks before you could stay up past nine o clock and how you felt as if you were about a hundred years old for ages?  That...

Because we all know so much more than we think we do, but none of us can have lived all the lives we write about (at least, not if you want to write more than one or two books, or recycle the same plot). But emotions translate. Loss is loss, whether it's your husband, father or dog, grief is the same. Its severity and duration vary depending on the relationship, but the sheer gut-pulling, hunched-over-crying, inability to function shock remains the same.  Fear is fear, whether it's your child straying out of your sight on the beach or a noise behind you in a dark forest, your mouth dries the same way, your heart thunders, your body freezes...And love, whether it's a partner, your dog or Aiden Turner, you still feel that warm smile on your face when you think of them (unless you've got a dog like mine, in which case your jaw sort of clenches at the same time).

You know so much more than you think you know.
Except space travel. You're on your own with that one.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Rocky Road to story telling

I've not written much lately.

Not because I haven't got any ideas, but because I've got too many.  What should I write next? Should it be the one with the llamas in? Or the 'quiet man in the caravan' story? Or should I finish that vampire novella that's half done and sitting on my desktop like a big accusatory finger wagging at me whenever I start my machine?
Yes, I'm inclining towards the llamas myself

It's like...you know when you fancy a bar of chocolate?  You just think 'mmmm, I want some chocolate,' so you go to the shop and you stand in front of the 'chocolate' section and... do you want milk, plain or white? Do you want ordinary chocolate, or chocolate with bits in? Posh chocolate, which you tell yourself you will only eat a little bit of because it's so rich, or cheap chocolate where you know you will scoff the whole bar in seconds? Or would you rather have something covered in chocolate, like peanuts or raisins?  Or even a pack of chocolate biscuits, because they are chocolate and you can also dunk them in your tea?
Choose fast, choose wisely
Too much choice, you see?  I sometimes wish the inside of my brain was like Soviet-era Russia, no choice, one item and you have to queue for a fortnight to get it. If I had to work for ideas I wonder if I would value them more and feel more inclined to work on them - rather than discarding them if they seem to have too many nuts in in and not enough toffee.

And then I have the tendency for my ideas to become like Rocky Road - llamas, plus quiet man in caravan, with a few vampires floating around for good measure.
But, whereas nobody ever said 'what that Rocky Road needed was a few less cherries and not quite so many marshmallow pieces', a book CAN have too many elements in it for proper storytelling.  Too much going on and you can't focus on the characters.

I think I'll go and stare at the chocolate section again for a bit. Warning: my next story may contain nuts.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Cake of Disappointment...

I apologise for the sporadicity of my blogging lately.  I used to be hugely regular, but since I started a job where I frequently work weekends, I have found myself with less oomph on the bloggage front.  And, I suppose, there are only so many pictures of my dogs and cats that I can put up to entertain you with...

So, anyway.  On Tuesday, my book 'Can't Buy Me Love' came out in paperback!
You can buy it  at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781893535
And I duly celebrated by baking the world's worst cake,  I know, I know!  I should have just gone out and bought myself a fabulous cake from a proper shop, preferably one with 'Congratulations' on it in fat icing (I love icing).  I debated buying fourteen cupcakes and icing a letter on each one, so that I could eat them in a 'GIVE ME A C!  GIVE ME AN O!' flamboyant sort of a way.  But I didn't (mainly because I took the dogs on an 8 mile walk and was too lazy to go out to the shops afterwards. Honestly, my feet hurt).  And I'm generally quite good at cakes and I had a big thing of ready made icing in the cupboard that needed using up so... anyway.  I made a cake.

Well.  Quite clearly I have offended the Gods of Baked Goods.  Because that cake was the worst cake I have ever made (and I once mistook wholemeal bread flour for ordinary self raising and made a cake you could have laid as a foundation stone).

It looked all right when it came out of the oven, all puffy and spongey and like it was supposed to. So I left it to cool, whereupon it listed sharply to starboard and sank sideways.  It looked less like a book celebration cake and more like a Titanic memorial sponge. But there's no such thing as bad cake, right?  So I cut it in half (revealing its patchily soggy middle) and filled it with jam and buttercream, spread icing on the top and prepared for a feast.
No.

It tasted like it looked.  A slightly-sweetened brick, with overtones of raw egg.

I hold that there are few disappointments quite as...well...disappointing, as food disappointment.  You know, when the icing from your bun sticks to the paper bag, or your eclair topping melts, or that yummy jam that you thought was apricot and spread all over the middle of your victoria sponge turns out to be marmalade?  It was like all that.

It wasn't so bad when it was fresh, but after two days, when the icing went hard, it was almost inedible.  But only almost.  I mean, it was a celebration cake - I had to eat it!

Next time it's straight to the Co Op...