From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Story ideas”

Talk to me, I’m a writer!

And people do. Incredibly generously. No matter where I go, if I ask a question and say I’m writing a book, mouths and doors open. Even when we barely speak the same language.

My recent research revealed that the location of French farmhouses, at least in the Somme area of France, aren’t like our Aussie farmhouses situated out in the middle of paddocks, far from town, but are located within the village, often on the main street.

Big buildings with high wooden doors and entries, or perhaps steel for the more modern, can line the street, like in the photo here. Beyond the walls and doorways are the yard in the middle and the farmhouse at the back. When asked why farmhouses weren’t on the farm land, my guide explained that it’s safer in the village (in numbers) unlike being isolated out on the land alone. In a country invaded often over the centuries, this made a lot of sense.

The farmyards’ location and set-out is integral to an important meeting of two central characters in my story and when I learned of their true location, I realised I’d set up their meeting all wrong. Only trouble was, since my guide wasn’t a farmer, how did I find out what lay behind the closed doors and gates of French farmyards to even begin to imagine their set out or setup? Many haven’t changed layout much over the century since the war, but, of course, most are much more modern in technology and living arrangements today.

Skulking along the main road of a small village seemed the closest I could get to seeing inside, snapping surreptitious photos through the odd door or gate left ajar. Until… My sidekick and I came across the huge house (pictured) next door to a “farmhouse”.  When Jackie, as we came to know him, stepped out the farm gate to retrieve something from his car, we bade him ‘Bon jour,’ and when he responded in-kind, I took the opportunity to ask him how old was the house as a lead in to asking about the farm.

He said he’d pop back and ask the owner of the “chateau” who was inside. Minutes later he returned and asked us to come in and meet the owner. Before we knew it, we were shaking hands with Jacques, Jean Claude and Jackie and explaining my interest as a writer in both the chateau and the farm. To my bemusement, Jean Claude started filming me while I interviewed Jacques. I feared, he may have misunderstood and thought me famous. The word writer seems to carry such weight. I started to explain that I was your garden variety writer, not discovered yet, but knew my words not understood by Jean Claude’s grin and failure to put down the camera, so we both continued to enjoy the moment.

Next thing, Annik, Jacque’s wife arrived and she very graciously took us off to show us through the lower floor of their delightful chateau. I was both awestruck and embarrassed, not having meant to impose so much on their kindness and generosity of spirit. My time with Annik stretched my French to surprising lengths and I found long forgotten phrases and words in my efforts to communicate with her. How could I forget, la fenêtre, the window and other such descriptions around the house from Form One French class? Sr Austin would be proud of me.

Annik and Jacques allowed me to take photos and answered all my questions. I also got to see through the disused farmhouse and imagine how it might have been when one of my characters lived there so very long ago. She may not live next to the chateau but I’m hoping it’s going to find a small role in the book too.

The meeting reminded me how often and how much people are happy to share their knowledge, expertise and sometimes important parts of their lives with me, indulging my writer’s curiosity with an openness of spirit I delight in and very much appreciate. I’ve spoken to rodeo clowns, sailors, itinerent workers, coal miners and now chateau owners to bring authenticity to my stories. Each time I feel they’ve given me a gift. They certainly enrich my stories.

Publication is a tough gig, but the writing life is pretty damn cool.

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Writing into the Inspiration of Place

Roman brig – Bothwellhaugh – 1911

During my time in Scotland, researching my novel, I fell in love with a small Roman brig near the site of where my great-grandparents’ mining village once stood. (Bothwellhaugh, Lanarkshire) It conjured for me a strong sense of place and a romanticism that followed me home, begging me to write it into my story.

I knew that it really had no place to sit naturally, so for a long time I gave up on the idea. Until… I needed a short intro to the setting and characters that I wanted to set some years previous to the story.

In my mind, I could see a laddie and a wee lass with him, hiding under the brig (as they called it) and could hear them whispering. The rest you’ll have to wait to find out about when you read the book. I wanted to share my source of inspiration though.

Chris at Roman Brig – Bothwellhaugh 2010

(Special thanks to the marvellous Tom Eadie in Scotland for sharing so generously, and often, of his knowledge of Bothwellhaugh and things Scottish. And for sharing the image on the postcard pictured at top.)

Where Writers Write

There’s nothing like the sound of graders and diggers jack-hammering into rock to send a  writer out of the house and into the “real”.

They’re laying new pipes and digging up old drains in the land across from our street. Tearing at my solitude and banging in my headspace.

Sending me out to write in the world out of doors. What a treat! One I forget that I can easily have – anytime – instead of sitting within the same four walls. Today, I rediscovered writing out of my normal environment is also a great idea generating activity. One I intend to utilise more in the future. (And I might need to, if only to escape and preserve my sanity while the new estate goes in over the road.)

Have laptop, and/or notebook, can travel. And where better than to the park on a day like today. Warm and sultry and lulling. SNAP. Into the writing, please. That’s what you’re here for, not to snooze and daydream all day. Oh, scratch that. Daydreaming is good. I’m a writer. I’m allowed to daydream whenever I want – it’s called working for us writers.

Yet, how often was I told as a child to get my head out of the clouds? Oh, what brilliant novels might I have written already if my head had stayed up there imagining all these years. Anyway, time to get those daydreams down. On with it now.

Ideas abound all around the park.

 

From that dog over there – off his lead – sniffing all the wonderful smells and checking out who’s been visiting before him. What stories he could tell.

 

 

 

 

To the ibis wandering around the picnic tables, waiting on crumbs. With such a long beak, I bet that fellow’s ventured into many a body’s business. I’m sure he could tell some tales.

 

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If ideas enough aren’t found in nature, look at the old man sitting on the bench in his old scaffy suit coat on such a warm day. His shopping bags don’t look much like they hold groceries. What stories lie behind the deep grooves in his cheeks, dark with ingrained dirt. What life has he led? Once upon a time did he have a small boy who called him daddy and wanted to grow up just like him? What happened in between?

Or the lady gardener wrenching around the hose on her weed spray with such ferocity like she’d like to pick it up and strangle someone. Who’s she mad at? What was the screaming match about before she left home this morning?

And why is that icecream vendor scowling out his window inviting the customers closer. Not! What does he go home to? Who is not waiting for him at day’s end? Is that why he trundles around the streets into the evening playing his shonky tunes? Why doesn’t he want to go home?

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Do you ever write in the real? Where do you go? How does it change your writing? Do you take your laptop or write longhand? Love to hear your thoughts, just leave me a comment.

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