Tag Archives: writing problems

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles #AuthoringAnnals #Brainfluffwritingblog #MantivoreWarrior #AmWriting

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I’m on the final lap of editing Mantivore Prey, the second book in The Arcadian Chronicles, which will be released on 30th November, barring any major catastrophes. This is the cover for Mantivore Prey, which as ever was designed by the marvellous Mhairi Simpson and I’m really pleased with it.

I made a strong start on Mantivore Warrior while in Bexhill on a wonderful writing retreat with my sister-in-law last month, but once I hit Chapter Three, it all slowed down a bit. Chapter Three provides the first major plotpoint which changes everything up. I’ve flung everything, including the kitchen sink into this pivotal scene, which is ambitious as there hasn’t been all that much time for readers to bond or care about the characters. Initially, I had one of the antagonists killing a relation in the outline, which worked well enough. But when I actually came to write the scene, it turned into something a lot more visceral and violent – and I began to feel uncomfortable about writing the death. Granted, we hadn’t known the character all that well beforehand, so there wasn’t going to be a major shock to the reader. But it seemed a rather bleak beginning to have a character that the protagonist really cares about felled at a time when he’s hoping to turn everything around. What had seemed reasonable in the outline, suddenly was far more of a big deal, given the emotional heft I’d added in the writing of it.

I’ve tweaked events, so said elderly relative is now in a coma and fighting for her life. I’m leaning towards sparing her life, as things stand. But I do reserve the right to have her die after all, if I think it will better serve the story. I’ve rewritten the outline so that both outcomes can serve the story, though it will affect the overall tone if young Jessob is mourning the loss of this character and vowing vengeance. It was what I’d originally intended.

But once I finished Chapter Three, that plotline felt less effective than the alternative, where he’s fighting to help her recover. So I’m looking forward to getting further along so that I can discover which plotline will be the one that prevails…

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Sunday Post – 10th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

And here I am a whole month after my last Sunday Post. It’s been a difficult one. During half term I had a bad reaction to my blood pressure medication and am in the process of waiting for things to calm down before the Dr begins another treatment. I cannot speak highly enough of the fine folk in the NHS, who have been nothing but prompt, professional and kindly – such a relief to feel I’m in capable hands.

But what that did was bring forward a decision that I’d been considering for a while. So when I returned to Northbrook after the half term break, I tendered my resignation as Creative Writing tutor to take effect as from the end of the summer term. Given my health is still iffy and I am striving to step up my writing output, something has to give – while I’ve loved teaching at Northbrook College, it takes a lot of work over and above delivering the lessons and I simply need to ease up. As ever, Himself has been a rock throughout.

Other than that, Life whizzes by at its usual breakneck pace. Himself and I are attempting to clear out the loft and have made some progress by taking bagfuls of books to the charity shops. It’s made a bit of a dent… Last week we went down to Ringwood and had a lovely day with my in-laws and I spent last Sunday with my sister, which was fabulous – I haven’t seen much of her recently.

Last week I read:
Day 115 on an Alien World – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard
A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been.
They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival…
I really enjoyed this colony world thriller and will be reviewing it in due course.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
Haunted by memories of children he could not save, Jon Moore becomes so increasingly self-destructive that even his best friend, the hyper-intelligent Predator-Class Assault Vehicle, Lobo, is worried. So when Jon receives both a job offer and a message from a woman from his distant past, he and Lobo leap at the welcome diversions. That the job is illegal is the least of their problems. They’re happy to retrieve stolen artifacts from Jon’s quarantined home world, and their fee is high even for a job so highly illegal. The forces protecting their targets are formidable, and the assault team that’s chasing them is even more dangerous–but Jon and Lobo are used to that. The scientist Jon and Lobo need for the mission has an agenda of her own, but they’ve faced that problem before. This time, though, the knowledge that they and the others seek spells doom for Jon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books in the series – and will be now tracking down the fourth one. The relationship between Jon and Lobo is both poignant and funny and I love the overarching story arc that is emerging. Review to follow.

 

Frozen in Time AUDIOBOOK by Ali Sparkes
Ben and Rachel Corder are sure they’re in for the longest, dullest summer ever, until they discover an underground vault at the bottom of their garden with an amazing secret inside – two children from the 1950s who have been asleep for decades. But waking up Freddy and Polly Emerson means unearthing the secrets that were buried with them. Why would their father leave them frozen? How is cryonic suspension even possible? Why doesn’t the world know about the process fifty years later? How will the Emersons ever fit into the 21st century world of cell phones and microwave dinners? And why does it feel like they’re all suddenly being followed?
I’d loved reading this children’s thriller to Frances years ago – and then bought her the audiobook, so when she helped me get my Kindle Fire going during half term when the grandchildren came to stay, this was the first book I wanted to listen to. It’s been great fun – and so very different to reading it. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Cyanide with Christie – Book 3 of the Crime with the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Friday Face-Off featuring The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of String City by Graham Edwards

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Jonas Brothers Carpool Karoke #Jonas Brothers #James Corden http://www.fundinmental.com/jonas-brothers-carpool-karaoke/#.XIT9objgrb1 When I spotted this offering by Sherry at Fundinmental, I knew it would make this week’s cut. I love James Corden – talented and witty and very, very funny – what’s not to love?

Viking Heritage Day at Woodstown https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/09/viking-heritage-day-at-woodstown/ Once again, Inessa’s fabulous pics bring a slice of beauty into my life – and this time around, she’s gone time travelling…

Understanding and handling your bookworm. A guide https://thisislitblog.com/2019/03/04/understanding-and-handling-your-bookworm-a-guide/ Shruti’s funny take gives outsiders some inkling of what it is to be gripped by a passion for books.

Eagle Eyes https://storyshucker.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/eagle-eyes/ Stuart’s delightful account of a classroom incident that happened waaay back is worth a read.

New blogsitential questions https://readerwitch.com/2019/03/09/new-blogsitential-questions/ Alexandra discusses issues that we all have to face when we suddenly find the days have slid past and we’ve been too busy to post a new blog article…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am so sorry about my lack of response and am aiming to try and get back on track during the next week or so. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – WRITING RETREAT #Brainfluffauthorannals

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a writing retreat with some of my writing group members. I’ve been part of this group now for nearly ten years and we try to meet up twice a month over tea and cake every other Wednesday evening to share each other’s work and provide constructive, but honest criticism.

This retreat was at a converted barn with 8 double bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Six of us were there for most of the week, while three others joined us for part of the week. The barn was tucked away down winding single-track roads etched into the red West Country earth at a farm on Exmoor near the hamlet of Roadwater. The weather was fabulous, so we’d aim to write from 9.30 am, stop for lunch at 1 pm and go for a walk at between 4-4.30 pm, though I only broke off a couple of days for the walk. And then we generally stopped writing at about 6 pm and took turns to prepare the wonderful meals organised and provisioned by Sarah Palmer, who not only organised the whole thing, but happens to be a fabulous cook. After clearing up, we sat around the table and read our work aloud to each other and gained valuable feedback. We then played quizzes or chatted until going to bed, before repeating the whole process again the next day. Bliss…

My bedroom view was across the lawns to the main farmhouse, with a large lavender bush right outside the door opening onto the gardens, which was open most afternoons because otherwise it was too hot. It was so lovely – this was where I chose to write

The internet connection was practically non-existent in the barn, apart from the occasional text and if we wanted to make a phone call we had to climb the hill at the back of the property. I found this a huge advantage, though others weren’t so impressed, but it meant that there was no question of messing around on the internet in displacement activities – it was all about the writing.

It’s been such a treat to have spent that amount of time as a writer – the part that often gets tucked away until the end of a busy day, or squeezed between other chores – that I’m very aware just how very lucky I’ve been to have such a wonderful opportunity. But did I make the most of it? Nope. I made some fundamental mistakes that meant I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.

The biggest problem was my lack of preparation. During the last year, I’ve published a space opera adventure The Sunblinded trilogy, which meant I spent hours in the head of my main protagonist, Lizzy and immersed in the world. I don’t know what made me think that I’d be able to seamlessly switch into Kyrillia’s viewpoint in Mantivore Preys and absorb all the details, backstories and most importantly of all – the speech rhythms and dialect differences of Arcadia without at least rereading the first book, Mantivore Dreams. But I didn’t and I paid the price. While Felina, the protagonist who made a takeover bid for the book during my last retreat, had poured from my fingertips, Kyrillia didn’t. The going was slow and I kept having to break off to check up on various details.

That said, having read several scenes to the group, who gave me suitable feedback, I’ve returned from Somerset with a stronger start to the book. And while I was there, I also had an epiphany regarding Miranda’s Tempest which is currently on the backburner, until the Arcadian trilogy is finished.

But the biggest advantage was to get a break from my everyday life in a setting that made me feel happy and peaceful, with the mental space to realise that my current work rate simply isn’t sustainable. I need more sleep and fewer hours in front of the computer – I suspect my raised blood pressure is part of that problem, too. So now I’m back home, I hoping to put in place some major changes… watch this space!

#Authoring Annals – Writing in Heaven and Plunging into Uncertainty Hell… #BrainfluffblogAuthoringAnnals-1 #SJHigbeeWritinginHeaven

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I’m conscious that over the last year, I’ve been writing a lot of reviews and not much else other than my weekly roundups. As you’ll see from the subtitle of the blog, the original intention was to provide more variety – and as I am not only a keen reader and reviewer, but also a writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as a Creative Writing tutor at Brighton Metropolitan College, I think it’s high time I wrote a bit more about my other activities.

At the end of last month, my sister-in-law booked a seaside flat as a writing getaway and invited me to join her, as there was a spare bedroom. I’d never been to Bexhill-on-Sea before, despite it being not all that far along the coast. I joined her on Bank Holiday Monday, expecting the town to be heaving with holidaymakers keen to catch the last of the glorious summer by the sea. However, it wasn’t all that busy. While there were certainly tourists around, overall this town had a peaceful serenity that seemed more in keeping with the early half of the last century, to the extent that the two of us felt perfectly safe wandering around the streets on our own late at night.

As for the flat, it was fabulous. The highlight was the room we ended up writing in – a hexagonal room with views on every wall, so that as we wrote, we had panoramic views of the sea. It was magical – it’s always been on my bucket list to write in a room overlooking the sea. And here I was! I managed to get 16,000 words written on the second book of my trilogy featuring my telepathic alien, Vrox. I rewrote and edited the first book, Mantivore Dreams, earlier in the year and was delighted at how smoothly it went.

When I started the second book, Mantivore Prey, I was confident that it, too, would give me no trouble. I was wrong… I love my main character, Felina Keeper. She is in charge of keeping the village’s produce safe from hungry pests, thieving individuals and selling on anything left over from the quota set by The Council for much-needed cash. The village is perched on the edge of The Arids, where rainfall is scarce and the heat of the two suns is fierce. Trouble is, Felina, who is loud, bossy and very overbearing has marched in and taken over the novel. The plotting and pacing have been stomped flat under those hobnailed sandals of hers and I need to nip in quick when she isn’t looking and wrest control back.

Kyrillia, who is the main protagonist in the first book, needs to get a look in, I think. So, I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start this one again… I’d love to be one of those indie authors who can happily write two books plus a year, but right now it seems a distant dream. I’m hoping that I can use some of those words I wrote while staying at Bexhill – it was such a happy, creative time. But if not, then I’ll chalk this one up to experience. Favourite characters need to kept on a very short leash!

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2015 – May Roundup

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At the end of yet another month, how am I doing with my series of my ambitious targets? Hm. Not brilliantly. Family commitments have to come first, of course and during May they featured fairly heavily.

• I have had some extremely detailed feedback on Running Out of Space from two of my marvellous beta readers, so I’m in the throes of addressing some of the issues they suggested I revisit and fix. It’s been very helpful to be able to give the manuscript a thorough going-over before presenting it to another wonderful writing friend who has agreed to comb through it for me. As for the other two manuscripts – I’m still in the very early stages of knocking them into shape.
Challenge – To have my science fiction series, The Sunblinded Trilogy,moon ready to publish by the end of August. A target that is looking increasingly unrealistic. I’ll keep working as hard as I can to get the books ready, but obviously the requirement is to have the books as polished and readable as possible. It would be completely daft to compromise the quality of my writing for the sake of a timescale.
• I wrote eight reviews this month, so I’m still on target for the year. Although I’ve noticed that so far this year, I’ve read and reviewed 9 less books than this time last year.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2015. I should still easily fulfil this target, unless something major happens before the end of the year.
• I am still in the process of submitting Mantivore Dreams and Netted to agents.
Challenge – To seek and procure representation for at least one of my novels. Still ongoing.
• As the academic year at Northbook College draws to a close, I have an opportunity to judge whether this year’s courses have been successful. Overall, I think they have worked. The interactive nature of this term’s course has meant I have had to alter my working methods more than I’d initially anticipated and it should run more smoothly next year. But I am definitely going to give it another go. The students seem to have found it an enjoyable and stimulating experience to share their favourite authors with the rest of the class and I have found it fascinating and enlightening to observe the wide variation in choices.
Challenge – To make this term’s Creative Writing courses more interactive.

In addition, I gave a talk to West Sussex Writers’ in May, along with my committee colleague and computer guru, Ian Black, on the available technology to help writers. It took us a while to organise and design a structure so we could deliver the information in the most user-friendly way, but it was evidently worth the effort as the talk was received positively by the membership.

It’s a busy time of year. My teaching commitments are intense right now, the garden needs knocking into shape if it is going to be anything other than unruly jungle for the rest of the summer, and Family need more of my time than I’d anticipated. But then, that’s Life isn’t it? Unpredictable, often frustrating and taking me off into unexpected directions. And if that didn’t happen, I’d be a diminished, narrower version of myself. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. Though I’d LOVE a clone to get on with all those boring-but-vital chores that still need doing.

In the meantime, I wrote just over 9,000 words on books reviews in May and just under 11,500 words on my teaching courses, bringing my word count to date to around 106,500 words. There’s been one bright spot in my creative landscape. I am not a brilliant poet, but sporadically the idea for a poem rattles around in my head until I do something about it. As submitting to magazines takes time and organisation that I currently don’t have, I’ve been posting some of my poems on my blog. This has prompted me to tidy up and thoroughly edit some of my rougher-edged efforts. Thank you for the kind comments and Likes some of you have taken the trouble to leave. It was unexpected and very cheering.

POEM – Catching Balls

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There’s are balls in my brain –
knotted tangles of thoughts,
dreams, yearnings and ideas.

Some bounce around my skull
with the thudding intent of
alpha-males playing squash.

Some slip through marble-
small and insistent – rolling
through creases in my cranium.

Others spring – beach-ball sized and
multi-coloured – filling my head so
there’s hardly room to eat or breathe.

But these balls only bounce
around my head for so long
before they leap away again.

Gone. With no trace they ever were.

Worse, there are those I caught
and fumbled – their rounded
perfection forever dented.

When I think of all those lost balls –
and the ones I dropped – I am haunted
by the waste. And strive to get
better at catching balls…

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On Birthing Books: Breathing Space

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A bit of context – I am an avid reader, I teach Creative Writing at Northbrook College in Worthing, West Sussex and I write. I’ve been writing for what seems like forever and while I have written the occasional short story and poem, I write mostly science fiction novels.

Breathing Space is the third book in a trilogy I started with Running Out of Space about 19-year-old Jezell Campo, the daughter of an Sarah writingIberian merchanter who yearns to serve on her father’s ship. I wrote RooS, followed fairly quickly by the second book, Dying for Space, as at that point I had a publishing contract for the first book and the publisher was also interested in other books – subject to sales. However things didn’t work out, the publisher and I parted company and the copyright reverted to me before the book got to see the light of day. Instead of going on to write Breathing Space, I started Netted, a post-apocalyptic story set in Maine, as the whole experience with RooS left me feeling a tad raw and disinclined to continue in Jezell’s world.

But after completing Netted and working on an extensive rewrite of another novel, Jezell wouldn’t leave me alone. I liked the idea of writing a science fiction crime series and Jezell seemed the ideal protagonist all set to solve my murders – I even have the plot of the first murder mystery sketched out, along with the working title of the book, Murder in Space… But, of course, Breathing Space needed to be written to complete her story arc up to the point where Jezell starts sleuthing.  I’ve always written organically – but back when I was writing Dying For Space, I had a forest of ideas about how the story arc for Breathing Space should progress. So when I finally started writing the book in mid-May, I had a fairly good idea where the story was going – all I had to do was to get it down.

But it wouldn’t. I restarted Chapter 1 three times – it didn’t help that I was also grappling with Scrivener and it managed to tuck away the first couple of chapters in a dusty corner of my hard drive. I’d read that Dropbox and Scrivener didn’t play nicely together, but hadn’t realised the implications of what that entailed… I stayed up all night looking for the missing work – somehow the backup on my memory stick hadn’t stuck, either – and the missing files popped up suddenly when I’d all but given up searching and was in the process of shutting the computer down in exhausted despair.

I’ve sorted that out now, but still wasn’t happy with the beginning of Chapter 1 and didn’t want to move on, because I’ve learnt from experience that as I always write chronologically, if the start isn’t right, then the wrongness will eventually catch up with me and I’ll hit a brick wall further along the way. There seemed to be an awful lot of narration in Jezell’s voice, telling the reader about slices of her life in the interim – Breathing Space starts three years after Dying for Space ends – and scene setting. I didn’t like it. The other two books were fairly light on looong passages of description and explanation, relying on taking the reader into the scenes as they happened. In comparison, this book seemed a lot flatter and less vivid – even though the opening scenario had plenty of drama.

I read what I’d written, then discussed the problem with my writing group – Sarah Palmer, Geoff Alnutt, Debbie Watkins and Katie Glover – who were all really helpful. They agreed that I needed to cut down on all the explanation, and Sarah suggested I start the story earlier before the first crisis hits Jezell, so we get a sense of her in happier times and I’m not constantly having to refer back to the moment when it actually goes wrong, because the reader shares it… Debbie pointed out that her relationship with her second in command didn’t ring true – there needed to be more of an edge to it. Which made perfect sense – focusing on all the other plotpoints, that was an aspect I’d overlooked. At last, I could rewrite Chapter 1 and make it work.

I’ve still had to curb my tendency to write too much tell instead of show – I’ve currently cut 10,000 words from the manuscript and I’m only on Chapter 13, but I am finally comfortable back in Jezell’s skin.

This has been the hardest novel to start by far – I normally start books very quickly and slow down during the boggy, mid-book bit, accelerating again once I get to Chapters 21/22 when the ending feels within touching distance. So I’m wondering if my normal writing pattern will surface as I continue working.

Has anyone else found it a terrific struggle to start a writing project they thought would be very straightforward? I’d be interested to hear about it, if you have…