From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “The Creative Process”

A Make-over Mess

Living in our house right now is like living in a renovator’s delight.

One simple makeover/reno job has upturned, upset and upended every single room in the house. (Much like a manuscript makeover does a story.)

We started with a major expense project – new carpet – but not an overwhelmingly physical operation, one would assume. Then again we all know what happens when one assumes.

Long had Mr B complained about the unevenness of our floors and berated their long gone out-of-business builder, who built a lovely home, but took a few shortcuts and not just with the floor. (A bit like a writer thinking no one will notice that bit, being too busy taking in all the fabulous metaphors and striking similes.)

So we couldn’t do the simple take up and dump the carpet – or preferably pay someone else to break their backs doing it – and get our new carpet laid immediately. We needed to investigate the problem/s lurking beneath the underlay.

Do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do! (Cue ominous Jaws theme here!)

Yes, Mr B was right. (He has to be occasionally.) Those flooring sheets had peaked – pushed together unevenly, or swollen, as I’m told flooring is apt to do – ALL OVER THE HOUSE. Creating hills and valleys and now, some twelve-years post being laid, unsightly lines in the carpet. Not to mention the room where the builder’s flooring didn’t quite meet the walls, leaving gaps for dust and dirt to vent and over the years discolour the carpet along some edges.

White carpet I might add. Not my choice, but it was here when we bought the house. So Mr B has had a big job planing off every join and now we are back on the level – bar the last two rooms to be done  – albeit in a hell of a mess.

It seriously reminds me of trying to do a manuscript makeover and the more you do, the more problems you find or work needing to be done. And before you know it the manuscript that, before you fiddled, looked not far off ready, begins to look an insurmountable mess. Bits that need rewriting, moving, fixing and uneven bits found everywhere.

But then you approach it systematically, move some things, discard others, refresh a few gappy sections, and you begin to see what it could be. Still it’s damn daunting when everything’s pulled apart and you discover a few other tweaks timely. For example, a good time to paint a couple of walls too. Might as well while the landscape is clear and changes sparking fresh ideas.

It’s that creativity and new ideas that keep me inspired. I know it’s going to be great when it’s done.

One added bonus/pest of our carpet makeover is that all my books had to exit the bookcase/s to take up the carpet. (Explaining why my office is one of those last two rooms due to the effort of packing and sorting “too” many books.) I know this looking at the fourteen packing boxes I’ve filled. And that doesn’t count the six full shopping bags I took to the op-shop.

With a blog post in mind, I wrote down some of the titles of books I’ve sorted “to read” and the “keepers”, but like everything else in my office, I think those pages went into a box.

I feel a little guilty to be heading off to Tassie next week for research and leaving Mr B to finish on his own. But I’ll come back to oversee the new carpet being laid and begin the task of putting my house back in order.

I know I’m going to come back really inspired to get stuck into writing this new project, and that will prove a great impetus to get my house in order faster.


Murder on my Mind

Going back through my old word doc’s spanning ten years, I came across some old friends as well as some cringe worthy try-hards.

I’m talking about old story files. Some with unrecognisable names – only to open the doc and discover that “Baldy”  and “Blue Cap Boy” were early renderings of my Nelson title “Darcy Devlin and the Mystery Boy”. Funny to read some of those early drafts. Characters names changed, plots changed, my God, the writing quality changed. Looking back I can see how far my writing has come.

It was inspiring to find some old friends, a few who may yet see print. Some stood up well to a revisit and are now resaved in a current folder to work on. Some pieces sent me ducking for cover. Oooh! Did I write that? A few I’m embarrassed to say were even sent out to publishers: way too prematurely without earning the price of their postage.

It was fantastic to see the metamorphous of most stories. How they developed and improved and then found publication. (Not too many fell onto the page and converted to contracts, though a select few did.) The exercise proved the endurance of my apprenticeship, which is what I believe this past decade plus to be.

Thank goodness, most manuscripts improve dramatically with redrafting. This proved itself even more when I opened an early version of my current adult historical novel. I thought it was developing pretty well a couple of years ago, but I laugh now to see the overwriting and so many bits that are now gone. Some that I loved too. Then there were the gems that have been there from the start.

In the last couple of months, I’ve had murder on my mind. So many of my darlings to kill; some beautifully crafted sentences and descriptions that I worked and  reworked, tweaked and loved, yet still had to guillotine and be ruthless about which had earned their place. Did they push forward the story, the characters, the plot? Sadly, some did not. They had to go. Some spent weeks highlighted in yellow because I did not want to give them up. And then as I read the manuscript without those words, I could see they did not need to be there.

Of course, I kept those that add atmosphere, setting and tone to the story, but I became hard-hearted as to which did and did not add to these things. Sometimes, the words were not too shabby (even if I do say so myself) but too much detail. Hit that delete button.

I also worked hard at turning my main character’s face to the camera. Turning exposition and narration into her viewpoint, which in turn reduced extraneous detail. All of it beautiful prose, I’ve been told, but not all of it necessary. So cut – more words gone.

I even chopped another character out of existence. She was a lovely moment in the story with a couple of loose connections, but she had no impact on the story or real reason for existing beyond set decoration. Goodbye Lily.

I can honestly say the manuscript is tighter for these departures. The pace has picked up and in turn I believe the page turning drive increased.

What a journey? What a rollercoaster ride?

It’s been fantastic looking back where I’ve come from, but I’m totally excited at where I’m heading with my historical novel not too far off ready to go out into the world.

What’s your writing journey? Where are you on the path? How many drafts do you do? Or do you find, like me, as many as it takes?

Shattered Anzacs and Broken Promises

Mid-way through the year, I realise my pledge to read 52 books in this Year of Reading may have been a bit of an over-estimation on my part. Hey, I know what went wrong, I should have aimed for shorter books. All the ones I’m reading are hundreds of pages long. So from now on, I’m going to leave off the number of books I’m up to and just enjoy the reading.

I’m back into reading the era I’m about to write again for my new historical novel, set during and post WW1. I’m not usually one for war movies or books depicting the grit and gore of battles. My passion lies in the personal, emotional and psychological journeys of my characters, living through those times, but for me to understand how they think, feel and react I must read the books. Some are harsh; so is war. The more I read, the more I cannot believe that WW1 is not a key focus in our education system. Before I began researching four years ago, you could have grown crops of wheat to feed whole suburbs in the gaps in my knowledge. I still have so much to learn, as evidenced in my research trip, but I’m engrossed and passionate about the people and the time enough to set and write another historical saga in the same era as my previous novel. Plus I really need to write and learn more in order to understand what went on and what it was for.

Shattered Anzacs living with the scars of war by Marina Larsson

Historian and author Marina Larsson explores the impact of war disability on the lives of soldiers and those of their families upon their return from WW1. Larsson comprehensively details the effects and attitudes of society, the government, and real families utilising interviews with the offspring of returned soldiers of WW1. Larsson’s text is accessible and highly readable, despite the incredible breadth of her research. The text explores the effects of having a soldier living in the household with an ongoing disability, often a “nervy” and “changed” man. It further addresses the  financial and physical effects and impact on disabled WW1 returned soldiers’ employment prospects.  I highly recommend this excellent resource for anyone writing on the experience and legacy of war.

University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2009

ISBN: 9781921410550

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The strength of Birdsong is Faulk’s authentic battle scene descriptions and their shocking psychological effects on the men fighting. He takes you into the trenches and onto the battlefield. And he doesn’t let you escape a single moment of the unrelenting battle morning where tens of thousands went over top to be mown down, caught on the wire or tripped up in the bodies of their mates.  Events in the past are described in captivating detail – as if it’s happening now. The character progression of the main character, Stephen Wraysford, an initially selfish young man who seduces his host’s wife and whom appears to care about nothing and no one, is riveting. Alternating viewpoints enable a steady progression in Wraysford’s mental deterioration and those of his men.

I enjoyed “most” of Birdsong. Except for the modern day viewpoint of Wraysford’s grand-daughter, which to me added nothing to the story. The character Elizabeth discovers/reveals nothing that couldn’t have been shown in “real” story time. The writing in this section also dragged the reader out of the atmosphere of the story and read as pure telling. The book does tend to “tell” a lot but the power of the battlefields prose kept me turning the page. It is a searingly authentic look at what our male ancestors went through and why these men were never the same.

Random House

Epub ISBN: 9781407052564 (Vintage 1994)

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.

Never poke a writer (or a Mama Bird)

This time last year I made a vow – after discovering a tiny baby bird alive but flopped on our back deck with a bleeding cut on its back – that if Mrs Pigeon showed any sign of setting up house this year, I would wave her off sans hésitation. I had no wish to repeat that worry or ensuing mercy dash to the vet. I never rang to enquire after the baby’s health but chose instead to believe that she pulled through and grew up to rear a family of her own.

But when the day came a few weeks ago that Mrs Pigeon flitted and fluttered around my deck, carrying twigs and fluff and the usual building blocks of a pigeon home, I couldn’t bring myself to stop her. What if she was ready to nest and I upset the process and as a result another chick was lost? The dilemma was momentary and I gritted my teeth, hoping for windless days and no premature barrelling overboard this time.

We’ve watched and listened while Mrs Pigeon cooed and sat, sat and cooed until finally, after her comings and goings recommenced, we got to see a little head poking up yesterday and one eye peeping over the top of the nest. A short time later when I went out with my camera, Mama bird had returned and so I asked hubby if he could climb the ladder and take her picture. To my absolute horror, he ventured too close, (we have zoom Mr B, 10x zoom!), and Mrs Pigeon panicked. She flew out of the nest, under the pergola, crashed into both windows before flying away into the treetops. I’m not sure who got more of a shock, her or us, and I was bereft fearing she may not return and what would happen to baby bird then?

Thank goodness, an hour after we slunk inside, out of sight, she returned. This morning, she is cooing and peaceful and I assume that means baby bird is too.

Baby birds are as fragile as new stories and Mama birds as flighty as any writer of a new work. Don’t poke the nest or creep too close. Any interference or perceived danger can send the writer fleeing, project abandoned and all the promise of that new work doomed without persistent warmth, heart and gentle coaxing. It may never take wing at all without a long gestation, application, and a writer willing to stick around long enough for it to be ready to throw it out of the nest.

Yesterday’s episode is a reminder to me too not share too much of my new WIP at this very early, fragile stage. Sometimes interested others can poke the writer’s nest without intending to and we can be such a flighty bunch. I have great hopes and plans to stick around, but I also have a feeling I’ll be nesting and sitting here a lot longer than Mrs Pigeon.

Do you share your WIP? Talk about it? Discuss it with family, friends or the postman?

My Year of Reading Challenge

Book 6

In the Human Night by Peter Bakowski 1995 (2000)

I love Peter Bakowski’s poetry. I can actually understand it and with its varied and recognisable subjects, refrigerators, mountains, clocks and kings, it speaks to me. So many gorgeous lines like “back under the axe of being alone: hearts eaten by banknotes: In your arms I find puddles, xylophones and all my chains turned into skipping rope”.

 Hale & Iremonger ISBN: 978 0 86806 539 0

Book 7

 We Don’t Know We Don’t Know by Nick Lantz 2010 

My daughter introduced me to the poetry of Nick Lantz. I found much to love in his lines but my favourite poem has to be Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake, an amazing poem on Alzheimer’s that resonated keenly with me. You can read it by clicking this link

Graywolf Press MN ISBN: 978 1 55597 552 4

Who Wants A Fair Fight?

What a great way to start a new year – with the release of a new book!

A Fair Fight is a bully story with a twist, proving you don’t always have to use your fists, you just need to fight fair.

“Outsmart the enemy,” advises Gramps. Easy for him to say. Every day Andrew has to face the bully Pryke and his gang, and they always call the shots. But Gramps is right, there is no way Andrew can out-muscle them. So how can he change the rules to make  a fair fight?   (Gilt Edge Publishing – New Zealand)

I’m not sure I want New Zealand kids fighting over this book, but I hope they’ll be scrabbling to read it.

From a writing perspective, this is one of my earliest stories. It’s seen its day as a 1000-word and a 5000-word story and is now published bang in the middle around 2500-words. The kookaburra has morphed into a NZ tui chiming in a kowhai tree instead of laughing in a gum.

Some stories stick with a writer. Even when they’re short and not going to win the Booker Prize. You just know there’s something in there that hooks you in – as A Fair Fight did me. I’ve always liked Andrew and his mate Sean, but I think it’s the twist in how Andrew outsmarts the bully that really kept me believing in the story. And dragging it out of the bottom drawer and rewriting it.

I’m hoping A Fair Fight shows kids there’s other ways to sort bullies than with their fists. Andrew’s resolution wouldn’t work in every situation. Just as his first try feeding the lunch stealing bully a treat of vegemite and sprout sandwiches wasn’t the way to do it either.

The gorgeous cover illo by Soda Design is a cool hook into this fast-paced chapter book for 7-9+ readers.

Come on fellow writers, spill. How long have some of your babies been in and out of the bottom drawer before finding publication? 

A few good words… (To word count or not to word count?)

In keeping with the promise of a fresh start to the year, setting new goals, tweaking the lifestyle, I thought a new theme for my blog would be cool. So here I am with a whole new look. (Hair cut next week too.)

With a new year, new goals, new challenges, I want to look at word counts. They’re a pretty important deal for writers. How they’re achieved is a varied process. I’m pretty diligent, but I’ve never worked to a per week word-count target on a novel before. While I deeply admire those who can achieve the 50,000-words of NaNoWrMo in the month of November, I know it’s not for me.

Historical fiction, particularly in the early days can be a real stop/start business. A lot of lines of manuscript can trail off in a series of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx’s, the details to be worked in after checking the facts, discovering whether trains actually ran every day to a certain stop, or whether that small country town had cars as early as 1919 etc. etc.

But I want to finish this new novel in “good” time. What does that mean? I’m not under contract, so I’m not bound to one year or eighteen months to complete it to publishable standard, but I am working as a full-time, professional writer, who aims to be published and read. So how do I ensure that I don’t meander along at snail’s pace, waiting for my muse to appear and giving in to a deliciously organic process that might side-track or detour me along varied paths before I get to point B?

I’ve got to set a word-count target and not let myself off the hook. But neither do I wish to produce crap to achieve that aim. So I’m working with the goal of “good” words. Keepers. Or at least a strong basis and a trajectory that is heading to the finale.

I can write 3000-words a day when I’m on fire. I’m sure I could write more if I forced myself. But I’m happy to aim for 1000-words a day – on writing days – I will have to take time out for uni. And I really want a “good” life/work balance this year. (A blog for another day.) If I’m firing, I’ll keep going, but I won’t add that into my weekly target and say, Yay! I got it done in two days, so now I can play. I’ll sit down the next day and tap, write, sweat out those next thousand words.

And, I’ve faced the fact I’ve known for quite some time, perhaps since mid-2010 when I joined a certain social network, that it’s brilliant to keep in touch, finger on the pulse, and connected with writing buddies and peers, except, Man, does it eat into your writing time. So FBook is another tweak. Everything in its time and place. First and foremost, I am a writer. I want, live, breathe, to write. And I’d like it to translate to a new novel sometime next year.

I love my blog too, so I’ll be ranting and raving and talking writing to anyone good enough to drop in.

Being a writer means I have an inherent curiosity as to how other writers “do it”. Come on now, lift your minds a bit higher please. I mean write, achieve words, word count goals.  Do you set a target? What gets you motivated, gets those words on the page? Let me know in the comments.

PS: Condolences to all the clichés that gave themselves in the creation of this post.

A Novel Beginning

“So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the pith of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours. The history of literature — take the net result of Tiraboschi, Warton, or Schlegel — is a sum of very few ideas and of very few original tales; all the rest being variation on these.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Where do you start a new novel? According to the famous words in A Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi, the “very” beginning is a very good place to start. But for my new novel, I don’t think the very beginning is the right place to start.

I mean how can a writer know so early in the writing? Often nothing much is happening in the “beginning”. Hence the value of backstory and flashback. Sometimes important incidents shaping the character or journey might be found in the past, but are these the best starting points? Or, are you best to start in media res (in the action)? Or in a poignant moment.

You know what, it doesn’t matter, because…

Yay! I’ve started the writing. And my initial chapter one starts not at a birth or even when characters first meet, but at a significant event where all their lives are about to change. The moment in time is inevitable and unpreventable.

Whether this start remains as the beginning one, two, three years from now when I finish this novel, I am yet to know. What I do know is that it’s fantastic to have started and to have met one of my main characters. I cannot wait to get to know them all.

I have lots of scene ideas and a storyline. It’s complex and going to take time. I do know this novel is not going to be written like the last with a chronological narrative. That’s exciting in itself. And opens up a whole new way of writing for me. I’m usually pretty linear. But because I have lots of ideas and multiple viewpoints, I think this story and characters will lend themselves to growing and weaving into each other. Of course, it might all tangle into one hell of a mess too, but the beauty is the freedom to write in disconnected scenes. Of course I envisage the connections in my mind, but it’s going to be a little like a jigsaw putting it together.

I’m excited to have bought the new Scrivener for Windows program and am hanging out to try it. I’ve just got to put aside a couple of hours to go through and learn the basics via the tutorial. I love that I’ll be able to write in scenes and then shuffle them and draw them all back together via the program. I can see lots of possibilities. I’m also eager to try the digital index cards and cork board, though I’m equally impressed with the value of laying out hardcopy index cards to map a manuscript too. (If you’re into index cards, and haven’t already done so, you might like to check out my previous post on manuscript mapping.)

I’m glad I’ve had a few months to begin to separate from my last novel. It was very funny and quite strange to see in the new writing where the main character is supposed to be a young Aussie male that the voice and speech mannerisms came out fuddled with the unique voice of Maire, the main character from my recently finished novel. Funny because she’s female, young and Scottish. Hmmm. Perhaps the distance from the first is not great enough yet.

I have lots of research to focus on before progressing too far with the writing. Though I am writing in a similar era to my previous novel so have the benefit of a great starting knowledge on the history, lifestyle and culture. Really I’m just thrilled to have made a start.

The writing process is different for all of us. American author John Irving begins with his novel’s last sentence and works his way backward through the plot to where the story should begin. I don’t have such a process to  start. Though with my background in writing for children and YA, I try to go with action, or start the point of story where things begin to happen, hot up. I’d love to know if you begin your new story by a set process or how you begin. I wonder if it affects different genres, age groups, styles. Please share if you’d like to in the comments.

(The photograph above is the birth of my new baby zucchinis, or they will be soon. Writing novels takes preparation just like vegetable plants. Only I’m not sure that my new novel will look as beautiful for awhile. I’m sure I’ll be eating these zucchinis long before my novel is ready.)

What I am Reading

Words to transport me across generations, centuries, continents and viewpoints – such is the mastery of writer Arnold Zable in his acclaimed memoir Jewels and Ashes.

What began as a “case study” for my Master’s exegesis – too dry a term by far for this riveting narrative and beautifully told story – became a lesson in the art of traversing narrative time. I chose Zable’s work because I’ve long admired him and his writing and have attended various of his talks and his inspirational Painting with Words workshop. (You know how every now and again you get that feeling your writing has upped a level, well, I believe this workshop prompted one of those shifts. But, I digress.)

With my next novel unstarted, at the time, but swirling in my mind, I wanted to write my exegesis to inform on an aspect of its writing. I can already see the structure of my new novel forming as a complex narrative where I plan to show three characters’ viewpoints and visit them in different time spans, on different continents and be able to crisscross between them all. Hence my exegesis topic: Traversing Narrative Time, Space and Viewpoint. Part of the reflective practice in my uni subject’s title is to look to the masters to see how they’ve achieved such techniques. Zable was my first choice, though I also studied Gabriel Garcia Marquez who is the master Zable says he studied to learn his artistry of transitions.

Jewels and Ashes traces the author’s pilgrimage to the birthplace of his Jewish parents, (in Bialystok, Poland), crisscrossing the decades of the twentieth century to uncover the truth and fate of his extended family. When I first read the book several years ago, I marvelled at how Zable showed history while weaving his family background around his 1986 journey to Poland, but I didn’t really understand what he was doing craftwise, how he was doing it or why. I just knew whatever he was doing transported me on one amazing journey. Mind you the way Zable paints his words in such rich detail and description transports you with seamless ease too.

Of course, I’ve read many novels featuring multiple viewpoints, time and places, but I’d always been keenly aware of the transitions from one to the next. Some jolt you out of the story with a clunk, or shifts only occur at the end of chapters or storybreaks, whereas Zable weaves into the next event, place, time with seamless transitions, be they in mid-sentence or mid-paragraph.

How does he do it?

Through my study of Jewels and Ashes, and Arnold’s own explanation of his technique, I understand him to effect many of his transitions by connecting story fragments or threads using subtle and well placed links. Closer study of the text reveals these to be both tangible and intangible associations, such as events, trees, photographs and letters, and/or sensory connections, such as memories, smells and sounds. For the purpose of my exegesis I extracted the examples below to demonstrate:

  • Decades later,… (p. 8 ) a simple flashforward (prolepsis)
  • We leap through the centuries (p. 46) transition bringing narrative forward two-hundred years
  • As a child I would often gaze at his portrait in the Bialystok photo album… (p. 46) transition back through flashback (analepsis)
  • Father has now warmed to the subject. He draws me with him to Nieronies Lane. (p. 76) transition of place
  • Years later, when Mother fell on a Melbourne street, the memory of another fall, in a time and place far removed, came flooding back. (p. 88) incident as link to another time
  • At 4 a.m. on summer mornings, throughout the twenties… (p. 93) connects one paragraph later through the link of season to On a summer morning in 1986…
  • Above all, Father recalls the seasons (p.139) a memory and seasonal transition of time and place.

Arnold Zable is not only a wonderful storyteller, but a generous humanitarian, and I was lucky enough on two chance occasions during the writing of my exegesis to have opportunity to speak to him and ask him about his practice when writing his memoir. Arnold told me he did not plot the narrative of Jewels and Ashes, but followed his physical journey and allowed the threads of the greater story to emerge instinctively. However organically these evolved, the chronological discontinuity and disruption of story serve to build a sense of mounting dread even in a fact-based narrative where the reader knows the holocaust history:

‘At Linowe station the trains were drawn up by the platform, waiting. The time-tabling was precise, the organisation efficient. The doors of the cattle wagons slid to a close on entire families, crammed together, robbed of light, air and hope. Soon after they were on the move: a journey of several hundred kilometres southwest, across the breadth of Poland, to a town called Auschwitz’ (p.137).

The switch to a new focus in the next paragraph serves to discontinue the narrative and heighten tension even with foreknowledge of the horror coming.

This post offers only a glimpse of one of the multiple narrative devices available to traverse time, space and viewpoint to best dramatic and emotional effect. Regardless of whether you’re interested in the writing craft, I urge you to read Jewels and Ashes. You’re in for a treat, a harsh history beautifully told and one that must never pass out of memory. Honour goes to Zable and all those it recalls.

It is so true what they say about  the value of reading as a writer and what you can learn. Though I’ve never studied a topic quite so intently (or academically) before, and found the initial drafting of my exegesis extremely challenging, I can honestly say what I’ve learned is invaluable. If I can begin the writing of my new novel and in some small way emulate the beauty of the transitions of Arnold Zable in his writing, I’ll  be thrilled. What once seemed impossible, now seems achievable.

I hope this post excites the idea of some ‘narrative’ time travel in your writing. If so, I’d love you to let me know or leave any thoughts you’d like to add in the comments.

The Unresolved Ending

No time to blog properly at present.

Except to say… I’m excited. I’m getting so close to the finish line. Well, my WIP is.

I’ve just spent three days solid reworking the last chapter – and finally – I think – dare I say – it’s singing.


It’s been giving me grief on two planes.

Knowing the final chapter overrun with telling. Telling that (for some, still unexplained, reason) I couldn’t see despite hours searching for it, fiddling, tweaking, changing around words, cutting out sentences. And then, all of a sudden, the ***TELLING*** blared out at me like a Las Vegas billboard. (The battle was fought and fraught but two days later I think I can say Chris 937 vs Telling 0. Alright perhaps Telling still has a point or two.)

Second major problem was trying to end the story in a way to satisfy readers, yet not resolve everything. A big part of my main character’s journey is coming to the realisation she has choices, a right to happiness; a polar view to the pre Great War era where the story begins, when demands of Church, Society, a domineering Irish Catholic mother, not to mention the drawback of being of the female gender, excluded such possibilities. 

The last thing I want for the ending is to leave this strong, young female character with her life tied up in a neat bow, and no scope to explore choices or see her future open with her having an active role. A tricky balance was required to ensure I leave readers able to imagine beyond the final page. I think I’ve accomplished it.

The best thing, and my safety net, is my workshop groups and Master’s tutor will no doubt pick it up if I haven’t.

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