From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Writing Inspiration”

Inspiration, Imagination and an Operation

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration and imagination of late. This has been an unusual year for me, as it’s mostly been taken up with editing and rewriting and not a lot of new writing. After a spinal surgery last December, I gave myself time out to rest and recuperate, but back then I had no idea how long it would be before I’d get back to my WIP, or started on my new adult novel project or even how neglected my blog would be since then.

Then, while researching the new novel, Hugo turned up. In truth, the name of the young man pictured above is not Hugo. I will share his real name and shattering story another day, but for now this image (blu-tacked to my Mac screen) represents my protagonist in my new adult work. His deeply expressive eyes drew me in and in short time the character has become real to me. The voluminous research has sparked so many ideas and every day I add more to my story map. The excitement and pull to begin writing is electric. It’s like an adrenaline shot that I’m sure all creators experience. It’s made me think a lot about inspiration, imagination and what helps us create place and people when we’re not out in the world physically scouting settings or spying on Joe or Jillian Public.

Sitting at my desk, I’m sure, like other creators, I’m surrounded by ephemera deeply connected to my writing life. The bits and bobs, I’ve collected over time that resonate with my stories and ideas, but may look like an assortment of oddities to anyone else.

My fascination for the Great War and post-war years continues and is probably the reason my inspirational touchstones have not changed much over recent years. Though I was almost sorry to roll away my rabid gang of 1830s convicts that served as evil inspiration while writing (my war-based exception) a YA historical convict era novel. The sometimes defeated, sad, ugly, vicious, devastated faces of these men filled my dreams some nights and I’m sure gave rise to traits in one or more of the vile characters that I’ve been told I write very well. Not sure what writing them says or reveals about me.

I’ve now returned to a large wall map of the Somme that I bought during a trip to France in 2012. My research at the time was not as in depth, as the novel I was writing was set largely in Australia. I couldn’t have imagined then the significance of that battlefields’ visit or the excitement of the story idea that has emerged since.

The shrapnel and rusty wire pictured were retrieved from the edge of a field on the roadside by our guide. I debated whether it was somehow wrong to remove them, but accepted after I was assured that farmers are digging up shrapnel, bits of barbed wire and WW1 relics all the time and that the soil of the Somme will probably never be rid of it. Just as it still gives up a body, or rather skeleton, on occasions.

The small pebble (at left) comes from the banks of the Strathclyde Loch in Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell, Scotland. Undoubtedly, it was brought in for the construction of the park, long after the pit village of Bothwellhaugh was removed and the paths my great-parents trod, or stones they skipped in the River Clyde, had long gone. But it connects me to them and to my story, the day I stood on the water’s edge writing a scene that refused to wait for me to get out of the lightly, misting rain.

The silver miniature of the coal miner with pick axe came from a shop in a museum in Scotland. It reminds me daily of my great-grandfather and the life he and my characters, Liam, Joe and Da led.

The little steam engine came out of a Kinder Surprise™ many, many years ago. Somehow I still have it, and it has become a touchstone to my great-grandparents journey from Scotland down to catch the steamship at Tilbury Dock, along with my character’s journey, and my own steam train ride through the Yorkshire Dales where I crossed the same spans of the Ribble Head Bridge in 2015.  (My blog banner at the top of the page features my photo as we’re about to cross that amazing bridge.)

I bought the decorative horse brass (at right) from a small, cluttered craft shop at Land’s End in Cornwall. The pit pony and miner on the cart practically jumped off a pile of dusty similar brasses as I passed, which items tend to do when I’m travelling and/or in story mode. They seem to find me as often as I find them.

I wonder, what’s your inspiration?

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Oh, what a feeling..!

Sheldon excited

That feeling when your brand new story/character/world becomes real and – OMG, it/he/she speaks to you!

Especially when you feared after finishing your previous project (of many drafts and years) that the same passion might never strike you again.

Despite reading many blogs/interviews/author biographies to the contrary – the promise of a long-held idea becomes real. Maybe even has legs!

Oh, what a feeling!

 

 

My Tribe (SCBWI Australia East/NZ)

Der Arme Poet

Writing is such a solitary endeavour. Of course, we writers/illustrators/creators are no longer isolated or starving in a garret as in years or centuries past. (Forgive the aside, but is it only me who perceives ‘starving in a garret’ as somewhat romantic when transported to 20th century Paris? I could happily go hungry in such company as F. Scott-Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway.)

Alas, in reality, I like my food/wine and comfort too much to suffer such deprivation. But I do look to the company of like-minded hearts and creative souls.

Writers/Illustrators are a tribe, co-joined by our aspirations and drive to create and share our stories. We want readers to thrill and thrall to our tales and to see our work in print. Often it can be a long road to publication and the initial marks of ink, publishers’ cruel rebuffs. So we look to our peers to commiserate, communicate, collaborate and coalesce. What better way than at a writers’ conference?

syd-conf-logo300pxI am privileged to be part of the warm and welcoming team of SCBWI Australia East/NZ and to serve as Assistant Co-ordinator of SCBWI Vic. Every two years we gather under the banner of the bi-annual conference in Sydney and mentorship of Regional Advisor, Susanne Gervay. The warm, funny, all embracing Susanne inspires all to believe their publication dream is possible. Of course, adding in a little luck, perseverance, industry savvy, research and a measure of talent too.scbwi-crew

The 2016 SCBWI Australia East Conference was a fantastic gathering of the tribe in September at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney and a great chance to catch up with friends and peers and meet many new members attending. It was brilliant too, post-conference, to hear of all the wonderful outcomes in contracts, representation and requests that came out of SCBWI 2016.

scbwi-vic-crewFantastic, detailed conference reports by Dimity Powell and her roving reporters plus lots of pics can be found on the SCBWI blog. But here are a few tips and tweets from the conference: Be poignant. Bestow ideas. Don’t give up the day job. Never risk starvation. Unless you’re in Paris, sharing a garret with F Scott-Fitzgerald. Pre Daisy days, of course!

 

 

 

The Art of Story and the Narrative Game

A few months ago, on the hottest day of summer, myself and five other fearless writers gathered in an (unairconditioned) artist space in Mornington to participate in a documentary with a difference. The Art of Story gives an inside view into the creation of stories and the stories behind the stories.

The Art of Story and the Narrative GameThe initial six episodes feature novelists, publishers, editors, TV writers, filmmakers, cinema proprietors, actors and others involved in bringing story into our lives through different media.

My involvement was participating in a writing workshop scenario with other experienced workshoppers where we discussed the value and process of workshopping, dispelling some of the associated fears and sharing a few hints and the many benefits of workshopping gleaned through our collective experience.

Despite some initial apprehension, on my part, never having been in front of a television camera before, it proved a fantastic experience. The diverse range of writers and personalities in our group made for some insightful viewpoints and approaches – ones many writers will relate to.

The Art of Story promises to be a valuable insight into the creation of story, the highs and lows and view from the writer’s desk to the publisher’s to the filmaker’s.

Series One is currently being screened on Channel 31 on Mondays 6.30p.m. and Tuesdays 4p.m. Each episode is also available on Catch Up C31 website for two weeks (the Wednesday after screening).

For those who missed episode one, here’s the link: http://www.c31.org.au/program/view/program/art-of-story

The Art of Story and the Narrative Game is produced by Nathan King and David Muir.

Writer Meets Research

IMG_7909 Ribblehead Viaduct croppedFrom the instant the wheels of the London train began to cross the twenty-four arches of the Ribblehead viaduct, it seemed everything Mary had ever known fell behind and no one seemed even to care. Every thud served a stab to her heart like each span were crumbling, blocking her way back. When they reached the far side of the bridge, it struck her that every moment passing instantly becomes a memory. Worse, she became only a memory to it too and all trace of the reality either side knew—gone.

It seems a lifetime ago since I first wrote those words into my adult historical novel. They spoke of a place I’d never seen, but one I had a great affinity for through both my characters’ journey south from Glasgow to London early in 1914 and following in the footsteps of, or close to, my grandmother and great-grandparents when they journeyed to Australia, just prior to World War One, from their tiny pit village in Scotland to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in Australia.

That journey is the impetus for my novel. Though the plot and characters are entirely fictitious, it is a small nod to my forebears and my heritage. A story born of whispers when I first visited the reconstructed State Coal Mine site in Wonthaggi back in 2008.

P1010591 Yorkshire DalesmanSo it was my utter thrill to return to Scotland recently and take the steam rail journey on the Yorkshire Dalesman from Skipton to Carlisle and cross the Ribblehead Viaduct and see for myself this amazing landscape and piece of history. The views, I suspect, are not so very different from the vista a century ago when my family travelled the same rails.

P1010611 Yorkshire DalesWe were lucky to experience a fabulous blue sky day and witness the etchings of clouds on the hillsides and valley floors. I wasn’t the only one catching flitters of coal grit and straining for a look (photo opp) out the window. Our fellow travellers appeared seized with a like excitement and thrill. For me it held a deeply personal resonance and I found my eyes prickling at the double whammy of life meeting art, and the timeliness. I’m sure my ancestors experienced an even greater excitement, perhaps fear, heading for a new land, rather than a delicious bistro lunch and glass of vino.

The viaduct was built between 1870 to 1874 by over one-hundred navvies (manual labourers) who set up camps and shanty towns on the land around the site, which is now a scheduled archaeological monument. Over one-hundred men died during in its construction through accidents and illness and lie alongside an equal number of their women and children in nearby cemeteries.

The viaduct is 400 metres long and sits 32 metres at its highest point. It is breathtaking to see and a credit to the workmanship and hardship endured by those who built it. And to those who dared travel its breadth and beyond.

P1010559 Chris Bell Yorkshire DalesmanOnce again it reminded me of the courage and exertions of our forebears and how very, very lucky I am to all these years later to have had the opportunity to experience the same journey and tiny part of the history for myself.

If you’d like a small taste of a similar journey crossing the viaduct, please check out the Youtube video below.

 

Baggage limit? But there are books to buy!

Bartrums Hay-on-WyeHow can a travelling author be given a baggage weight limit when there are books to buy? Lots of books. Plus lots of amazing new book shops to visit, not to mention literary museums and quirky stationery shops! And when one location turns out to be the very setting and inspiration the author was searching for, complete with printed histories, background info and individual (published) stories…

P1000641 Chris Hay on Wye

Eek, the conundrum! Especially when said author has a small domestic flight from Belfast to Inverness that insists on only 20kgs of baggage and a stop off first, in Hay-on-Wye – national book town of Wales – where every second shop is book related – plus they have the incredible Bartrums & Co Stationers. How was I possibly going to gain less than 3 kgs before flying?

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Of course, I couldn’t leave Hay-on-Wye empty handed and I picked up several books including two novels The Miniaturist and The Little Paris Bookshop at the wonderful Richard Booth’s Bookshop. I know I could get both of these novels at home, but I do have to say it, books are cheaper in the UK – even applying the horrifying June 2015 exchange rate of the Aussie dollar to GBP. Here The Miniaturist sells in the three majors I checked for A$19.99. I paid £7.99 (equiv approx. $16.00). The Little Paris Bookshop sells in Australia for $29.99 and I paid £12.99 (equiv approx. $26.00).

Isn’t it good when one can make an almost reasonable excuse for one’s passions (read obsessions)?
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Admittedly, I did have to add 67 euros postage in Ireland to post my purchases and paper paraphernalia back to Oz pre domestic flight. But by then I’d also found my potential story setting and acquired a lot more accompanying research literature besides, so the novels didn’t substantially affect the 7 kilo cost.

Books bought os

The hoard pictured above is the greater majority of my book and literature purchases this trip, bar a couple lent out already. Alas, most of it purchased pre domestic flight! Hence the hefty postage charge.

It doesn’t include all the associated brochures, maps and sight-seeing site literature one picks up along the tourist trail. I can’t believe how much paper stuff I discarded. Tourism sure takes a hefty chomp out of the world’s tree population. In fact, I think I think it should be mandatory that every castle, museum, place of interest, provide recycle bins at exits for visitors to dump printed paraphernalia. Most tourists probably bin it before stepping back on the plane anyway. Except writers, of course, who often want to study the minutiae later, on the look out for that elusive idea, word, name, inspiration that they may have missed whilst taking in the vista. Or while saving their concentration for climbing and descending the multiple x multiple stairs UK/Europe insist upon to earn your rite of passage!

Yet I could’ve bought so much more, especially post small domestic flight.

P1020477 Chris Bell Foyles LondonFoyles in London, is reader heaven. I practically had to be dragged out of the place. I was incredibly well controlled though, as I wouldn’t buy anything I could buy at home once back in England. But the range in Foyles, spread over four levels, is incredible. I was possibly too overawed to even think much about purchasing. I was also too busy plotting how could I move to Charing Cross Road, work there/write there. At least for a year or two!

Book buying is almost always as much part of my holiday pleasure as reading. I’m not sure if I should be worried that I spent more time buying books while away than actually reading them.

Every writer needs a hobby

Writers are lucky. We love our work. Well we do when we’re not having to rewrite whole slabs that seemed so promising at first, but fell so flat; or freaking out didn’t I change that bit last week? Have I lost that draft? Aaah! Or suddenly discovering that something we’ve set up cannot work and it’s all about to come crashing down. Eeek! Etc, etc.

We love our story so much that sometimes it’s easy to keep writing, day in and day out, until one day, you realise that you’ve not only forgotten to smell the roses, but they’ve budded up, bloomed and fallen while you’ve not been looking. I think the official term is “lack of balance”.

This year I’m going to try working to more like office hours, take weekends. (Of course flexi-time is included. And maybe even RDOs, since I do the roster.) At least when not working to a deadline or in that heady, urgent “new” story zone that demands you write, right then, to catch all the ideas and characters buzzing in your head.

It’s sort-of hard getting away from writing/work when one’s hobbies are reading and writing poetry though, but, with a new address and larger garden, I’ve discovered a new passion – growing vegies and herbs and all things edible.

DSC04620Growing food is not unlike writing a new story, especially watching it grow from seed. Waiting to see if that tiny kernel will sprout into a seedling. One that will grow and grow and flower and once the prettiness falls away, the fruit remains to develop and mature into something palatable. Something to be enjoyed and satisfy and leave  you recalling it later. (Sorry, that could just be indigestion!)

I’m loving the watering (thinking time), harvest, and the eating of what we are growing. Nearly as much as sending a new manuscript out into the world and seeing a published book come back.

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A Varuna Fellowship – a tick off the old bucket list!

Varuna Writers HouseWhen I first started writing seriously and heard of Varuna Writing Fellowships, and Varuna Writers’ House, I wrote “achieve a Varuna Fellowship” clearly on my bucket list of writing goals.

So forgive me while I jump up and down with excitement to share the news that I have been awarded a 2014 Varuna Retreat Fellowship to work on my YA historical novel Prison Boy.

I have been to Varuna. Back in 2011, I paid for a one-week residency. It was writer heaven to be encircled by the quiet of the house, knowing my fellow writers too were squirrelled away at their desks, writing, reading, imagining. Best, there were no interruptions. No appointments, no ringing phone, no clothes to wash and most importantly and best of all (if you don’t count the writing) no meals to prepare. The wonderful Sheila prepares and cooks the most incredible meals and all one has to do is come down to dinner. Oh, and share a drink and conversation with fellow writers and/or illustrators.

I have to say that last time, a little part of me didn’t quite feel I’d earned the right to be there. I still coveted a Fellowship. Three weeks after the announcement, I’m still pinching myself.

Maggie the MuseI can’t wait to revisit, hopefully, the same productivity and inspiration of last time. Also I want to see if my little mate, Maggie, the magpie, and muse, with his twisted foot, is still there. I hope so.

Varuna, here I come!

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.

Step by step to publication

 

After lots of emails crossing paths in the ether all week from various writing buddies… I’m putting it out there. How can we writers inspire, buoy, encourage and fool ourselves into keeping steadfast on our journey to publication?

More often than not, it’s a long, long haul from Point A – the idea that inspired the story to Point B – publication.

Sounds simple enough. I mean how hard can it be? A few thousand words! How long can it take? A few months!

Turns out – not so easy. Not so fast. A novel isn’t written in a day, a week, a month or, for most us, even a year. It needs to evolve, develop and be written page by painful page, draft by draft. (Unless, of course, the muse is in town and on those golden days it verily hurtles along.)

We need sustenance along the way. Small incentives towards making the dream a reality and I’m not  talking chocolate, a glass of bubbles on each chapter completed or trinkets in small velvet boxes. No, I mean some writerly stepping stones to support our self-belief and enthusiasm from point A to B. Because at some point along the path, there’ll be more quicksand than shore, more shale than stone under our feet. With no agent, or publisher beside us mopping our brows and waving the chequered flag, we can be the ones to flag. Our writing stalls and suddenly that brilliant idea seems trite, unoriginal and going nowhere.

We don’t get a treasure map, or to kick the odd doubloon to tell us we’re on track. We shake the compass, but it only points north – as the crow flies. It doesn’t tell us the easy roads or shortcuts.

What we need is some tips to inspire and gain some kudos along the way – always great for the C.V. but more important, great for our confidence and self-belief.

Here’s my top ten stepping stones towards publication:

  1. WRITE – only words on the page can grow a story.
  2. Join a writing group (find kindred spirits who get what you’re doing, and offer real, productive critiquing that helps your work, builds your craft, and theirs, spiralling you all towards publication).
  3. Enter competitions – to gain confidence, writing credits and crafting competence. (Not to mention certificates for your achievements book. Okay, brag book, if you want to call it that. See tip 5)
  4. Submit to anthologies, magazines – to get your name out there, gain confidence, writing credits and inspiration to continue.
  5. Keep an achievement (display) book to keep copies of those small steps, Letters to the editor, commendations, reviews you’ve written – great to browse those milestones on days you need a reminder that you’re moving forward.
  6. Build a website – create a cyber presence, AND/OR create and maintain a blog – gain a voice, a following, a kinship with fellow bloggers. (Remember to comment on other blogs and exchange reciprocal links.)
  7. Rework your chapter, story, base premise, for fiction short markets, or find non-fiction links and submit to newspapers, magazines, journals, e-sources for publication, gain writing credits and link back to your WIP.
  8. Build your writing profile through social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Jacketflap, LinkedIn. (Suggest keeping your Facebook author persona separate from your personal family/friends persona.)
  9. Network – online groups, associations, writing organisations, attend conferences, lit festivals and industry talks.
  10. Daydream – see your book cover on the shelf – crucial to keep motivation and self-belief alive. (I’ve been known to create a cover to manifest the dream. Love modern tech.)

My writing friends and crit buddies are invaluable in keeping me focussed and motivated. Their successes enthuse me and absolutely inspire and energise me to try to keep up with them and pull out all the stops to emulate their successes. And when none of us are getting far, we can commiserate together because none of us want to kick the dog.

Sometimes that finish line PUBLICATION seems invisible and as unreachable, un-navigable as a line in a river of frothing, foaming, rushing water.

Love to hear how you hold the sometimes rickety writing craft on course – please let me know in the comments.

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