Rip it Up and Start Again

One of things I struggle with as a writer is revising and rewriting. When I finish something, I want to move on to another project or idea. The thought of going back to a manuscript, reading through it and working out what’s wrong never appeals.

I decided to try something different with one of my finished/unfinished projects – Two Slices of Carrot Cake. Writers tend to get wedded to their own words. It’s difficult to detach. I’m editing a book at the moment for someone else and it’s easy for me to strike that red line through unnecessary text, or see what needs to be rewritten.

Some years ago, I read an interview with the writer, Elizabeth Buchan. In it, she said when she writes a book, she writes it three times. Her first attempt gives her the ‘bones’ and from there she starts again and improves the original story. I’ve decided to try this, albeit I’ll just be writing the whole thing one more time, and not two…

The Creative Stuff

Although it seems daunting, writing the story again appeals because it’s about doing the enjoyable, creative stuff again. I know the plot, I know the characters and what they are like, how they speak and I know what happens to them afterwards, seeing as I wrote another book that featured them.

I wanted to change the angle of the story slightly too. After I wrote my first book, Katie and the Deelans, I sent it to agents. It was rejected by all of them, but I was contacted by one after I’d published it through Comely Bank Publishing, who said that he liked my ‘voice’ and was I working on anything else?

When I told him I was working on Two Slices of Carrot Cake, he said I could send it to him when I’d finished it. I did, and he rejected it, saying the ‘issues’ thing in it (eating disorders) didn’t work for him, but he did like the ‘voice’ and he thought a better idea would be to concentrate on the teenage girl using multiple personalities online and the trouble that results. Keep the eating disorder, but don’t make it the main focus.

The Flow Trap

When you try to shift the focus of a story by going back to the existing document, it’s hard. Sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow in a certain way. You get caught up in that flow – if I change this, then that won’t work, etc. If you start writing again, the existing flow isn’t an issue.

I’ve started it. I’m excited about it. I’m feeling creative once more. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

The Power of the Postcard

“Look what I’ve got!”

Daisy’s face was triumphant. She waved the postcard in front of Katrina’s face.

“It’s from Mick!”

No way on this earth would Katrina ever take that postcard from her hand. Even though she wanted to. Daisy knew this, which was why she dangled the card, wafting it in front of Katrina, that annoying half-smile on her face. Theirs was a relationship that depended on the to and fro of power. Postcard drifts up to Katrina’s nose, the advantage. Away, the ball back in Daisy’s court.

Debbie had come into the kitchen. She snatched the postcard from Daisy and handed it over to Katrina.

“Here, you go. Take no notice of my cow of a daughter.”

Debbie and Daisy’s relationship never ceased to surprise Katrina. Her own mother was a mystery to her, a weird, unknown quantity who smoked, watched TV, spoke seldom and rarely expressed an opinion. Since she’d moved down south and in with Daisy, her mother Debbie and brother Toby, Katrina’s mum had been in touch twice.

Aye, Mum. Full of loving concern, right?

I do not care. She said this over and over.

Mick’s postcard was something else. He wrote me a postcard! She hugged the thought to herself, skipping up the stairs to her room. The Walkers lived in a big house. They kept telling her it wasn’t, but for fuck’s sakes, this place had four bedrooms! And a dining room. A kitchen with a table in it, so they could all sit around it and eat! It smelled permanently of lavender, thanks to the potpourri Debbie littered in every room.

Aye, posh. Right enough.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

When she’d got to the age of thirteen, Katrina had hit upon the idea of people calling her Kit-Kat. Why not? Mick never listened. He’d called her Catty from the first time he’d met her when she was twelve, and he was fifteen.

His mum, Morag, was an old schoolfriend of her mum’s who ran the local hotel, the Star Tavern. When they’d left Katrina’s dad, Morag had taken them in for a while, giving them a free room in the hotel. Katrina’s first sight of Mick came the day after they moved in.

She heard voices downstairs, a whispered conversation where one party sounded aggrieved.

“They’ve nowhere else tae go, Mick. Think of it as a good deed. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, aye?” At that, Morag laughed, the sound of it dark and dirty. Her words made Katrina uncomfortable. She and her mum were or had been, Jehovah’s witnesses. Morag’s words held a mocking edge to them.

Katrina made her way slowly downstairs, treading heavily so that they heard her coming. Stood in the doorway to the lounge bar, Morag grinned at her.

“Wee Katrina! D’ye want some chips, or are you down here on the scrounge for vodka?”

That deep, dirty laugh again. Morag had said a few things along those lines since Katrina and her ma had moved in.

“No thanks, Morag, but your vodka needs replaced. The bottle’s just aboot empty.”

Morag started at that, ducking back behind the archway and checking the optics behind her. When she came back, she looked at Katrina differently, appraisingly. She hadn’t expected a smart mouth or the bossiness.

But any thoughts of Morag vanished. A second figure had materialised, taking up space beside Morag. Katrina fell in love. It had to be love, right? Her stomach flipped over, the blood rushed to her face warming it uncomfortably, and her legs appeared to be glued to the spot.

Mick was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. He was taller than Morag, though he shared her blonde hair and blue eyes. His hair was a lighter blonde than his mother’s, and the ends of it touched his shoulders.

Katrina hadn’t known many men with long hair—Jehovah’s Witnesses tended to favour conservative hairstyles—but this was the best hairstyle she’d ever seen, she decided. A little mousse and some scrunch drying would make it perfect. The thought of being allowed to run her hands through that hair made her shiver.

“I’ll order him to let me do it,” the thought leapt into her mind. “I’ll just go into his room with my mousse and tell him he has to let me style his hair.”

Two days later, she did as she’d promised herself. Mick had returned from catering college, his beautiful blonde hair greasy and messy after having spent its day covered by a bandana.

Katrina knocked on his door. Her hand shook as she held it out, so she knocked extra hard. There was no answer. She knocked again.

Mick opened the door and peered around it. “What d’ye want?” He glared at her.

“I’m gonnae do your hair,” she announced, pushing past him into the room so he couldn’t shut the door on her.

His room was covered in posters, film posters in the main and the odd band she didn’t recognise, though given her upbringing that was no surprise. It smelled different too, antiperspirant layered over sweat and something else, something sharp and salty.

Mick ran a hand through his hair. He looked flustered and irritated.

“What’s wrong wi’ ma hair?”

“I can make you look like a film star,” she said and watched various emotions chase their way across his face: irritation, calculation, want…

Who didnae fancy the thought of resembling a film star?

“Aye, alright then.”

The postcard she held now showed the statue Greyfriars Bobby, the wee dog that had sat next to his master’s grave in Edinburgh for years. Flipping it over, Katrina read the words again.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

The next bit said words that were surprising and at the same time, not so. “I might be going on the telly!”

Hadn’t she told him years ago that she’d make him look like a star? Here was the proof she was right. Wee Katrina Allan, forecaster of people’s careers and fortunes.

This being Mick, your typical lad, the postcard lacked any further detail. Like, when he was coming. All it said was, “Maybe I can come and stay with you? Mick x’.”

Katrina hadn’t written anything much to Mick over the years, the odd birthday card, and a good luck card when he moved to Edinburgh to take up that sous chef position at the fancy-pants restaurant. She never put a kiss, too frightened he’d see it and think she was coming on too strong.

Of their own accord, her fingers moved to the cross after his name, tracing the tiny lines of it.

There was a soft knock on her door. “Can I come in?”

To be honest, Katrina was astonished Daisy had managed to hold off barging her way into Katrina’s room this long.

“Aye. If you must.”

Daisy’s eyes sparkled, and she clapped her hands a few times as she came in, like some kind of demented clown.

“Mick’s coming to London! My mum says he can stay here, by the way!”

She sat down on the bed beside Katrina. The Walkers had given Katrina their spare room and told her to do with it as she wanted. Katrina had bought herself some cushions and posters, and a noticeboard. Mick’s postcard was about to have pride of place there.

Daisy’s offer on behalf of Debbie irritated and gratified Katrina at the same time. They’d read the postcard and discussed it! On the other hand, the thrill of Mick coming to London and being able to stay here…

And then on the other, other hand… bloody Daisy, knowing that Mick meant so much to her when she’d never so much as admitted anything.

“Who says I want him to?” she said. “He’ll be a bad influence on Toby.”

Toby was Daisy’s little brother, and Katrina was very fond of him.

Daisy rolled her eyes. “What, and you’re not?”

It was a fair point. Only the other week, Katrina had brought the thirteen-year-old Toby a porn mag, saying his boys-only school kept the boys in ignorance of what women looked like. Possession of the said magazine increased Toby’s popularity at school ten-fold.

“You can tell me,” Daisy wheedled now. “Dead exciting, isn’t it? Mick coming here? What do you think he’s going to do on TV? Be a presenter, or maybe he’s an actor and has been one all along. How exciting!”

She didn’t need answers, Katrina reckoned. This stream of consciousness questions thing was something Daisy did all the time. Mick was yet another of those distractions the Walker family loved.

Something that took their mind off the fact that their husband/father was in prison.

Katrina leant back, letting her elbow support her. Daisy was still sat upright, and she turned her face so that she could look directly at her.

“Say thanks to your ma.”

“For what?” Daisy smiled. The to and fro of power.

“For saying Mick can stay here. That’s awfy nice of her. I’ll write to him and say that it’s okay.” Sometimes, you just had to give in to Daisy.

Daisy beamed, triumphant. “Good-o!”

Her face changed, comedic acting at its finest as something appeared to dawn on her.

“But we don’t have any other spare rooms! Where’s Mick going to sleep?”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

A Meeting

Here’s a little flash fiction…

A Meeting

The tutor looked familiar. It took her ten seconds to remember – the sofa in her flat, ten years previously.

Did he recognise her? Hopefully not. She made sure to look at him when he talked, the way someone who has no history with another person would.

Maybe she waved her left hand about a bit too, waggling the fourth be-ringed finger. His own left hand was bare.

Nonetheless, when he said ‘good’ in response to a point she made, she glowed. At the end, she thanked him – glad that his attention was taken up by others anxious to talk.

Exes.

Book Revising & Editing – Some Tips!

Not so fast, my friend. Now, the hard work begins…

Ever heard of the ing sentence construction? It’s new to me, but once the concept had been explained, I thought, “Aha! I do that a lot. Time to stop.”

Here’s an example:

Grabbing the cheque from his boss’s hand, George ran for the door.

What, at the same time?

George grabbed the cheque from his boss’s hand and ran for the door.

Dropping ing sentence construction was one of the tips I picked up at a recent Book Revising and Editing Course I did as part of the Aye Write festival. It’s hard work rewriting and revising a book – far harder, perhaps, than writing the first draft – but that’s where the magic happens.

What did T S Eliot have to say about rewriting? “I maintain that the criticism employed by a writer on his or her own work is the most vital… and that some writers are superior to others solely because their critical faculty is superior.”

General tips for revising and rewriting include:

Check punctuation. Punctuation errors wear away the reader’s confidence in the writer and his or her abilities.

Shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to read. As a writer, you want to make your prose as readable as possible.

The ing sentence construction. See above!

Dialogue arrangement. Generally, if a new person is speaking, put the dialogue on a new line. Make it clear who is speaking.

Read out your dialogue to check it sounds authentic.

Remove redundancies, padding and clichés. Redundancy examples include “screamed loudly”. Isn’t it enough that the person screamed? Padding includes too much description and lots of adjectives. Clichés are overused phrases, such as “cling on for dear life”.

Try to show, not tell. Angrily he put the book down. He slammed the book down on the table is better.

Other things to consider are:

  • Is there too much exposition or back story? If there is, it feels as if the story is taking place in the past. This kills the energy of the story.
  • Are points of view consistent?
  • Are there too many characters?
  • Are there any digressions or tangents that don’t tie up with the main plot?
  • Is there anything you think, “I’m not sure that works”.
  • Is there any possibility of a gap between your understanding and that of your readers?

If you can say ‘yes’ to any of the last four points, revise and rewrite.

I have plenty of material in need of revision. Having a list of issues to go through will help considerably.

 

 

Alternatives to Shaking or Nodding Heads

wordcloudWho doesn’t love a wee word cloud? I came up with this one to help myself and to help you.

Some time ago, I found an interesting discussion online about characters forever shaking or nodding their heads. “Aha!” I thought. “Me too! Yes, my characters have become flippin’ marionettes.”

Or characters from a Twilight novel. I can’t confirm that last comment as it’s a long time since I read any of the Twilight series and at the time I didn’t look out for excessive head nodding or shaking.

When you’re writing communication scenes, the first technique you use is dialogue. But if you have ever watched people communicate with each other, you soon realise the words they speak only make up a tiny part of communication.

(70 percent, I was told once.)

The rest of it is body language, tone of voice, pitch and what the eyes are doing. And yes, we all nod and shake our heads frequently.

So, how do you make your writing less repetitive? You find other ways for your characters to communicate non-verbally. Other examples include – she signalled her disagreement or agreement, he acknowledged the truth, she moved her head up and down, he moved his head from side to side, he saw that she didn’t want to accompany him…

 

 

Writing Residencies: Alone With The Voices in My Head by Jackie Copleton

Ever wondered what a writers’ retreat is like? Me too…

Author Jackie Copleton (A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016, a BBC Radio 2 book club pick and a Richard and Judy Book Club choice last year) kindly obliged me with this explanation…

Alone with the Voices in My Head

By Jackie Copleton

I’m just back from a two-week writing residency in rural Ireland in January, probably one not best suited to those who like the comfort of a street lamp or a café that hasn’t closed for winter. But I loved my stay at the Heinrich Böll Cottage – including all the solitary hours and one offer to marry me off to a neighbour who sold turf.

The ‘Secret’ of Writing Retreats

Jackie Copleton

The desk in the room where the Nobel prize winner Henrich Boll used to work – a bit intimidating at first!

The cottage had a fire but no internet or television and only one radio channel. By day three I already knew which presenter to avoid. Nightfall came at 5pm and unless I wanted to put on a luminescent safety jacket and walk ten-minutes in the dark to the nearest pub for human company, that radio was the only contact with the outside world. It was lonely but I wrote shedloads. I had little to do by way of an alternative. And therein may lie the ‘secret’ of a writing retreat.

The temptation to get the whip out and only write from dawn to dusk is understandable if you’ve forked out money on a tight budget for a self-funded stay and that voice in your head keeps asking, ‘Can you afford this? Is this whimsical self-indulgence? Why can’t you just write at home?’

However, a writing residency isn’t just about the words, it’s about space and time. The best lines, the plot breakthroughs, the aha moments of observations or dialogue often come when you’ve fallen in a bog or have run into an abandoned house to avoid the hail or you’re having a stand-off in the middle of the road with an annoyed looking tiny horse.

Flowing Words

wr-viewsDespite setting myself rough word targets a day, I also managed to get outside to walk, cycle and drive over Achill Island in County Mayo. I saw megalithic tombs, a deserted village, treacherous cliffs, rainbows and stars. And I suspect these spots of beauty, rather than chaining myself to a desk, were what helped me get the words out in a flow rather than a dribble.

I have no idea if what I’ve written is any good, but in a fit of enthusiasm I went from that funded solo retreat to a subsidised self-funded one with other artists at beautiful Cove Park in Argyll thinking I’ll push on and try to finish a first draft – but I’ve hit a tiny wall. I’m still writing but not in the flurry I experienced in Ireland.

As I type these words a couple wearing matching slippers are curled up on the sofa opposite me in front of a wood-burning stove at the main centre. They look the picture of domestic compatibility while my book and I appear to have had a small domestic. Our slippers are not matching but we are still talking to one another.

Noisy Distractions

That’s the thing: you can find the perfect location, a great set-up (solo or surrounded by inspiring other writers), have an action plan and the money saved but if you’re not feeling it, you might as well be at home doing the ironing or getting your tax returns completed, with Facebook, Netflix and Radio Four all providing a glorious noisy thrilling distraction until the words bubble to the surface.

However, if you get the opportunity, go for it. But remember to leave your chair at regular intervals – you’re collecting experiences not just writing about them.

dictionaryJackie’s book is available in all good book shops and from Amazon and other e-book outlets. You can keep up to date with her news on her website, jackiecopleton.com

(Top pic shows the paperback cover, while the bottom picture is the hardback.)