In The Plotting Shed

In The Plotting Shed
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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My first talk about writing

TALK RE BOOKS

I have always wanted to write.
Ever since I could read, that's all I wanted to do but, you know, life just got in the way.
I made all the usual mistakes in life - well most of them really! but when my kids were born in the mid-eighties, I got really interested in complementary medicine. My own health hadn't been good and I wanted them to have only natural things. That lead me down a very long garden-like path of herbs and aromatherapy and lately, Reiki healing. (see www.gowerserenity.co.uk)
I've loved it all but now that my kids have flown the nest, I've finally had time to indulge my first passion. And I'm loving it!
I wrote one book, based in the Welsh mountains, about drugs, called 'Getting High'. I didn't think it good enough to publish but I'd proved to myself I could finish a project. It sits in a drawer at home!
Then, my son, Tom, a sci-fi writer, put me on to a critique site run by the Arts Council, called 'YouWriteOn.com'. On this website you post a piece of writing but, in order to receive comments on it, you have to critique someone else's. You have to review 8 before you know your score, so it motivates you to look at other people's work. I found this an illuminating experience and learned so much and was greatly encouraged by the response that my stories got. I made it into the top ten with all of them. It was a tremendous amount of work, as each piece was between 3000 and 7000 words long and I was reviewing at least 2 a week.
Through this website I made some wonderful writer friends who introduced me to various Facebook groups and, from that, into self-publishing on Amazon.
I published The Twisted Vine last year, told all my friends about it and let it go free a couple of times. I was astonished at how well it did. The research was easy because it was based on my own experiences of picking grapes in France in the 1980's. I thought - not everyone has had that experience, France is gorgeous, most people like to drink wine and would be interested to know how it's made - but it was only a chance meeting with another woman who had gone hitchhiking in France at the same time, that Armand le Clair was born. She had been attacked by a man who'd given her a lift and had fought her way out of the car and found refuge in a Convent run by a silent order of nuns. Even the meal, with its exquisite peach sprinkled with tiny mint leaves, was true. This anecdote ignited my old notes and the story about the le Clair dynasty was born. I found it really exciting to write the mystery part. It felt like I was making a Rubik cube slot together perfectly - something I've failed to do in real life!
Encouraged by the success of The Twisted Vine and the reviews by other authors especially, I dug out my old manuscript about the village where my children were born in Wiltshire.
We had an old neighbour there, Harry, who had a wooden leg. My son, Tom, was the first baby to have been born in this village for many years. It was a tiny place, deep in a valley, a bit like Parkmill, with a big mansion at the top of the hill above it. Harry told me how there only used to be a village pump for water on the little green, then a standpipe at the end of our row of cottages - they were tiny but very pretty houses for the workers - I called it 'Skid Row' - and then the glorious day when sinks were installed in each lean-to kitchen with their own tap.
Once I began researching this era, it was unavoidable to leave out the cataclysmic event of WW1 and I found the research very moving and absorbing. I didn't want it to be about rich people. Downton Abbey came out at this time and I didn't want to compete with that. I wanted to explore what this era was like for ordinary people. And of course ordinary people still have fascinating lives with love affairs and yearnings, births and deaths, and so Katy and Jem emerged and battled their way through many ups and downs.
I found the way the British Army treated their troops particularly shocking and there's quite a bit about the experiences of foot soldiers, as well as the role of women in the WAAC.
So what started out as a happy memoir of picking grapes in The Twisted Vine turned into a murder mystery and my fascination with plumbing in the early 1900s turned into a war epic!
But that's the joy of writing. That's the reward for the hard slog of research, the discipline of working at it every day; it's the birth of characters who never existed before, who form in your head and come out through your fingers. It is when these characters start to run with your ideas that things get really exciting. I found, especially with the first two books, that the characters wouldn't behave in the way I had planned at all! They took the story and ran with it and I had to bend to their will.
I'm also working on a ghost story, called "The Rose Trail" which explores the thin veil between those of us who are still alive and those who have passed away. I've had some interesting experiences when giving healing to the bereaved, and after I've lost people in my life, and I wanted to weave these into a mystery.
But I'm writing the sequel to Daffodils now after lots of requests for it, so "The Rose Trail" is on the back burner, and the first draft of "Peace Lily" is almost finished.
Even though the characters are firmly embedded now, I am managing to keep a firmer grip. I seem to have got into a rhythm of writing.
I go into my shed, light my candle, read my angel cards and open my computer. I edit, re-read as much as I need to and then I wait. The method that seems to work for me, is to get behind the character's eyes of whoever's point of view I'm in, and watch what happens, but I'm keeping that story arc firmly in place. It's still wonderful when that delicious moment comes and I see them, as if they were in a film, taking the story to places I never imagined.
My Editor is my son Tom, and when I get stuck, I brainstorm with him. Sometimes I just need that little push of young energy to unlock the plot, find the twists and develop the characters through talking about them.
It never ceases to amaze me when we do this, as if the characters were real people. I hear myself saying, but Katy just wouldn't do that, or, Jem is handy and resourceful - he's easily capable of this, or that!
I can't see myself ever stopping now. And with the government pushing back the pension age, I really hope to be able to get an income stream from creating these stories out of my head, out of thin air, until I fall off my perch!
I love my clients and enjoy helping them but aromatherapy massage is hard, physical work. Writing, unless I lose my marbles, is something I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life.
The Twisted Vine and Daffodils are on www.amazon.co.uk or in paperback from www.feedaread.com
Peace Lily will be out this year with a third book in the trilogy, called Speedwell, will be coming out soon. Then I can get back to The Rose Trail which I hope will become a series based on a couple of psychic detectives.
Thanks for listening. You've been a great audience.


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