Exploding Out of Writer’s Block

Hindenburg disaster
Hindenburg Disaster 1937

Okay that’s a tad dramatic, but to be honest I’ve been struggling the past few days to get words on the screen, for my latest novel, working title Love in a Green Climate. Ironically, I wrote more words per day when I was on holiday in Lanzarote than I have at home with no distractions. I even resorted to clearing out part of the garage and waiting in the line for the recycling centre to avoid writing. The story is all plotted out ( thanks to the Global Wordsmiths retreat a few weeks ago) and I have written the backstory of my characters, but the words flowed as readily as bitumen, by which I mean hardly at all.

I didn’t like the characters very much. It’s an enemies to lovers tale (two people on different sides of the climate change debate) and they were just being snarky and bitchy with each other. I thought there’s no way these two would ever get together. I pushed through, trying to force them together but nothing worked. They made it very clear they didn’t want to be in the same room together, never mind anything else.

So I paused and let them settle and sulk while I did more research on the whole climate change debate. I love electric cars but it worries me that lithium, which is critical in batteries, is a finite resource and is devastating for the environment when it’s extracted. I then explored the use of hydrogen, which got a bad rep after the Hindenburg disaster in the 1930s, yet the latest technology uses smaller cells and is less explosive than fossil fuels. To be truly ecological though the hydrogen needs to be made using renewable energy. As always there are compromises and concerns, and I wanted to show this in the novel without becoming proselytising. I’ve taken copious notes, but I was still stuck on the writing.

If you don’t like your characters how can you write about them? I can’t, and I’m sure people wouldn’t want to read about them either, unless they have a very strong understanding of why they are as they are.

This morning about five am I woke from a strange dream where I was running. Although I entered half marathons and 10ks in the past, I haven’t run for about ten years because my knees have had it, but it seemed obvious that my characters needed to go for an impromptu run to break down the barriers while they sweated and competed against each other. I don’t know if it will make the final cut, but it was the breakthrough I needed to get me back on track. I was going to say “off and running” but thought that would be too groan worthy.

Finally, my characters are talking to me. But they’re feisty, strong women and don’t want to be coralled where they don’t want to go. So I’ll let them have a bit more rope and see where they take me. Wish me luck.

To Read or Not To Read, That is the Question?

Recording studio for a day

There is nothing so excruciating as hearing your own voice played back with all the stumbles and sibilants. I take my hat off to the professional voice actors who do this day in and day out. My editor suggested that I record me reading my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes. I would have loved to pay for a professional to bring the characters to life, but it is a dual timeline, dual romance book, which means it is long, and would be beyond the budget of a debut author, unless I treat it as a loss leader!

We only recorded three chapters ( of fifty) as a sample and it took all morning. I was very lucky that a friend has all the equipment ( and editing skills) and was happy to do it as a favour, but I felt guilty at taking up his time. I couldn’t help giggling at a malapropism or two and was surprised at all the pacing errors, sharp intakes of breath, and crinkly trousers. Who knew walking trousers have a noisy rustle to them?

You would have thought with two degrees, professional qualifications and a career’s worth of presentations that I would be able to read my own words without sounding inarticulate, but no. To be fair, Paul, my friend, said with some practice and chopping it down into smaller segments I could get there. The question is whether I want to invest the time and effort and maybe still not be happy with the result. Conversely, I could squint at my bank account and pay for a professional, but what if they don’t voice my characters as I have them in my head, and I’m still disappointed?

So I’m left with a dilemma; to record my own work or not. What are your views on authors narrated their own works?

The Unexpected Emotions On Completing the Shitty First Draft

Finish of the Shitty First Draft…

I’ve completed the shitty first draft of my latest novel with a day to spare. The revised goal was to complete it by the end of the year, and it has been a struggle as I’ve spent a large chunk of the last few months looking after my 92-year-old Dad and my brother who has just had a major operation. I was then laid low with labyrinthitis, which sounds like it ought to by a sequel to a film by Guillermo Del Toro, but is an infection of the inner ear, so it was sit up and throw up for a number of weeks. I’m very grateful to the help of my friends and the writing retreat run by Global Wordsmiths to get me to the finish line.

After dancing around the lounge in celebration, I returned to the computer, was faced with an empty page, and felt … bereft. I’ve got a million things to do, none of which appeals, and I know I’ll motivate myself to do at least some of them later on, but I was surprised by the strength of the emotion. It’s not as if I don’t know I’ll need to rewrite the novel a few times before it is fit for public consumption, because I do, but I expected to feel jubilation and relief and a sense of achievement, not an aching sense of loss. So, after a cup of tea and a little reflection I reckoned it was the loss of sense of purpose. Not the obligations and duties which seem to increase exponentially because those are always there with their heavy reminders, but the sense of doing something that fills my thoughts and warms my soul.

Does anyone else have this sense of deflation after finishing something?

Hello, Reader World!

I think I got into reading as it was something in which I could beat my brother. He was severely dyslexic, and they didn’t get support in those days. He was three years older than me, brilliant at cricket and everything else, and I idolised him. But reading was my thing.

As a child, I lived in Zambia and school finished at 1:30 p.m. In the afternoons, we were free. The dust tickled our noses, and we were serenaded by cicadas. It was so hot we would intersperse splashes in a friend’s pool with bouts of reading to dry off. We read anything and everything we could get hold of, from the Times of Zambia to classic children’s books, and we swapped with each other. We even picked up a copy of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao.

Television schedules were indicative rather than actual, so I’d read and tell stories to my brother’s Action Man and Eeyore while we waited for the one children’s programme to appear. I started to write the stories down. If I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say, “a writer.”

At eleven I fell in love…with Shakespeare. On a trip back to London we went to a magical outdoor Shakespeare performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park, and I was hooked. From then on I started to write poetry and study performance. 

Established back in the UK, I was lucky enough to attend the same girls grammar school as Carol Ann Duffy (although some years later!), and was taught by the same English department and by the wonderful Mr Walker who inspired and encouraged her so much.

I continued to write poetry but moved into economics and accountancy for a full career’s worth of numbers and report writing, which slowly stifled my creativity. In my very limited spare time, I tried to write a novel but struggled with the plot and having enough headspace and energy to explore and play.

I was determined to retire from full time employment as soon as I’d paid off my mortgage, and I saw an advertisement for Global Wordsmith’s course in Spain—to begin the day after my retirement date. It was fate.

The course was much more than I hoped, Robyn and Brey being the perfect balance of ultimate professionals and welcoming hosts. I soon realised how much I didn’t know, and that writing a novel is not like a glorified work report or indeed an extended poem. Within a day, the plot I’d been billowing around with for months formed into a parabolic arch locked with a keystone of midpoint crisis. 

I shall always be grateful for their wisdom and encouragement. So when I was approached to see if I would submit a short story for the upcoming anthology, LesFic Eclectic, I leapt at the chance, and I feel very honoured that it was accepted.

In the meantime, I’m working on my novel, Cider, which is a great excuse to go around and sample different ciders in the name of research. For details about my novels, please see my website tab, Scribbling. So I hope you enjoy my short story, and I look forward to years of creativity and connection with you all. I’ve got a lot to catch up on…