Tuesday 28 February 2012

Plotting, a lesson in life...

...or another way of looking at it:

I’m worried that my life is like a weak plot!

Yesterday I read over some notes on the theory of plotting but this led me to an unsettling realisation. I have the same problem in my life as I do in my writing!

I looked at the pace of a story and compared it to meeting new people at a party:

PLOTTING: Is the beginning of the story boring because you’re giving lots of background detail to set up the story?
MY LIFE: I suspect I tell new acquaintances lots of background information about myself and fail to see them glazing over.

PLOTTING: Does the middle of the story contain sufficient peeks and lulls in the conflict to maintain interest?
MY LIFE: I’m hopeless at maintaining small talk and often dry up and look round the room for something to say.

PLOTTING: Don’t tell too much of your story too soon.
MY LIFE: The alternative is that I continue gabbling on about myself until someone comes and rescues my newly-made acquaintance.

PLOTTING: Is your conclusion a satisfying one?
MY LIFEI hate saying goodbye to people at parties. It’s awkward. Do they expect kisses, handshakes, arrangements in the diary for get-togethers? I have been known to creep out so I can avoid these social uncertainties.

As for the nitty-gritty of the story plot, it compares quite unfavourably to the way I run my life:

PLOTTING: Don’t get bogged down with secondary character’s lives. They’ll provide excellent material for that sequel.
MY LIFE: I am rather nosy and spend more time than I should listening in to conversations [all in the name of character research] of people I don’t really know and I am far too fascinated by gossip for my own good. [Gossip is bad. I think I've mentioned before that in Hebrew gossip is called Lashon Ha-Ra and it’s considered a sin.]

PLOTTING: Characters need adversity to change. Conflict is essential. Linking conflict to character change brings your story to life.
MY LIFE: In that case, my world is less than alive. I’ll do anything to avoid conflict, anything! [Mr A disagrees with this statement and I admit that I do stand up for my rights but I hate living in a house where every discussion becomes a disagreement.]

PLOTTING: The protagonist should be primarily involved in causing the plot to unfold and should be involved in nearly every event thereby having some effect on the plot.
MY LIFE: Whoops! I rarely feel that I’m in charge of what happens in my life but merely respond to events that are thrown at me.

PLOTTING: One primary purpose of plot is to force the protagonist to change by overcoming internal conflict.
MY LIFE: So that’s why I can’t make personal improvements! If I shy away from conflicts then I’ll never be forced to change in order to overcome them!

Do you run your life in the same way that you plot your stories?

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Why does history hide in holes?

To get from our house into the City centre we go down the main London Road but for the last month it has been awash with cones and construction vehicles. The council are laying pipes down the centre of the road. 

We drove past yesterday and, looking into the hole, we saw the old tram lines exposed. The centre of London Road did once carry tram passengers so it came as little surprise to see the rails but why were they in a hole? How did our road and pavement levels become so much higher in such a short space of time? The houses along that stretch of road are Victorian and so does this mean that they had higher steps up to their front doors or were the pavements in those days raised up from the road? And what would happen if workmen continued to put new road surfaces on top of old ones? 

You only have to view an archaeological dig to see that this phenomenon does not only apply to newly tarmacked roads.  Over the other side of Leicester is The Jewry Wall with its excavation of an original Roman Bath. It’s considerably lower than the present pavement level so how did this come about? Is it true that workmen demolished old buildings and simply built on top of the rubble? Are we living on top of hundreds of years of dirt, rubbish and old bricks?

I did a bit of Googling and discovered that in the 1580s it was estimated that the streets of Rome were 30 feet above the level of the ancient Roman roads. How much higher would they be now? Apparently each year an inch of dust falls on Rome. This is made up of leaves, pollution, sand from the nearby coast and a stream of powder from hundreds of ruins dissolving steadily in the wind. It’s an amazing thought.

If our streets are so much higher than those of our ancestors then is the world getting fatter? Are we steadily rising up into space? Will we soon be able to reach for the moon? It’s a fanciful notion... or is it?

Sunday 19 February 2012

About Picture Books

I’ve been thinking a lot about picture books recently. I’ve been trying to analyse what works and what doesn’t. I’ve treated myself to some books on the subject but more about that in a minute. 

First of all I want to remind you about The Picture Book Den. It’s hosted by eight successful children’s picture book writers, including Pippa Goodhart, and there’s always something there to inspire. Today Pippa's blog post is called Pick a Book, Any Book! Do pop over and have a read.

While I’m on the subject of Pippa Goodhart, her latest picture book has just been published.

Little Nelly’s Big Book illustrated by Andy Rowland  

It’s about an elephant who thinks she’s a mouse. Pippa blogged about this book in a previous Picture Book Den post here where she talks about the importance of pictures in books.

It may not be obvious to anyone buying copies of the amazingly successful Winnie the Witch books that these too are written by Pippa Goodhart. The original character was created by Valerie Thomas but Pippa has been writing them for several years and very entertaining they are too!
Winnie Goes For Gold with illustrations by Korky Paul will be out on March 1st.

If you can’t wait until March then you can get any of her other Winnie stories including Winnie Shapes Up and Winnie Takes the Plunge on Pippa's website here and they’re all illustrated by Korky Paul.

I recently bought myself a fascinating reference book. It's called Children’s Picturebooks – The art of visual storytelling. It’s by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles and it’s packed with information and inspiration about writing picture books. Right now I’m looking at its analysis of word and image interplay. Pictures can be used to either illustrate, to fill in the gaps or as a counterpoint like the well-known Rosie’s Walk where the fox never gets a mention.

I knew about these different styles. We’d discussed them when I went on a course about Writing for Children many years ago but I needed reminding and they’ve helped me to make some drastic changes to one or two manuscripts that are about to go out so I’m keeping quite a few things crossed because it’s almost a year since I had a book accepted for publication.
Maybe some of Pippa’s magic writing dust can float down upon my fingers!!

Thursday 16 February 2012

Springtime and a Good Read

It feels like spring is on the way. I know it’s only February but the sun is shining this morning. There are flowers struggling through... 
I photographed these Hellebores this morning in our garden.
...and the birds are singing in a slightly different way. I can’t quite say how, maybe a higher note, maybe more cheerily. You know what I mean, don’t you? Anyway all the bushes have new buds appearing and they’ll soon be opening and talking of new things...

[apologies for a truly groan-worthy DJ link] 

Annalisa Crawford’s new book, Cat and the Dreamer, is out this week on Kindle and as a pdf. Here’s the blurb:

Cat and the Dreamer 
published by Vagabondage Press

As a teenager Julia survived a suicide pact while her best friend, Rachel, died. Julia’s only escape from her guilt, and her mother’s over-protection, is her imagination. When Adam arrives in the office Julia’s world takes a startling turn as she realises reality can be much more fun than fantasy. Finally she has someone who can help her make the most of her life. But can she allow herself to be truly happy?

Annalisa told me that her book is now on Good Reads. I’d never been to that site before so I clicked the link and had a prowl around. It seems like a great idea, getting suggestions of books you might enjoy based on the books you've recently read, but when I tried to join up, it wanted to know a lot about me and my contacts. Maybe I’m just being super-cautious but has anybody had a bad experience through joining Good Reads? Or would you recommend it as a the next best thing to having your own personal librarian?

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Win some, lose some

There are three winners for my blog quiz but before I tell you who they are I’ll explain the loser bit of the blog title. 

I was so desperate to consume chocolate on Sunday night that I bought a large bar and ate the lot. I was not very well in the night [no details!] It continued into yesterday and now I have a thumping post-upset tummy headache. You’d think at my age I’d know better. 

*sighs quietly so as not to cause head further pain*

And so to the quiz results! 

There are two runners up:

The first runner up is Annalisa Crawford. She posted up her answers almost before I’d posted up the blog and even though she didn’t get them all correct she was nothing if not persistent. Annalisa is one of my regular blogger friends. Do pop over and visit her at Wake up, eat, write, sleep.

My second runner up is Sarah Pearson. She was a little late entering her answers as the winner, Pippa Goodhart, had just pipped her to the post! [*groan* Sorry for the pun... pipped... Pippa... Get it? It's not the same when you have to explain them!] Sarah is another of my regular blogger friends and so I know she was being truthful when she said she had all the correct answers. Do pop over and visit her at Empty White Pages.

A message to Annalisa and Sarah: If you’d like me to promote any recent events, publications etc then please email me at rosalind (dot) kathryn (at) googlemail (dot) com with the details.

And the winner is... 

*very quiet roll of drums 
as head is still thumping* 

Pippa Goodhart 

Pippa Goodhart is a children’s writer who I admire very much. You can find her website here. She has over 80 children’s books to her name and I’m delighted that she took the time out of her busy writing schedule to provide the following correct answers:
  1. Kellog's cornflakes
  2. McVities Hobnobs
  3. Ben and Jerry ice cream
  4. Heinz Scotch Broth soup
  5. Andrex toilet tissue
  6. PG Tips tea
  7. Silver Spoon sugar
  8. Becks beer (I would have said lager but I have it on good authority that they are pretty much the same thing.)
  9. Pizza Express pizza
  10. Yeo Valley yogurt
Pippa is a good friend of mine [no, it wasn’t a fix!] and so I happen to know that she will be blogging at The PictureBook Den this Sunday. I’ll shout out a reminder for us all as I just know it’s going to be a good read. 
The Picture Book Den is a brilliant new blog run by seven successful picture book writers. It’s well worth a follow if that’s your area of writing interest.
Message for Pippa: I know you have some new children’s books out soon so do please send me the details and they will appear on my blog with the greatest of pleasure.

... and now I shall go and lay my head on a cool pillow!

Sunday 12 February 2012

We won the Quiz!

So I've devised a quiz for you to do too...

Last night our team won at our local Annual Fish & Chips Quiz night. We've been going to this quiz for years and never come anywhere near winning. It must have been the extreme cold. It must have sharpened up our brains.

I was hoping the prize might be chocolate. Only hours earlier I'd wandered the house looking for chocolate. Even something with a covering of chocolate that I could lick would have done. I couldn't find a thing. Not even a pot of drinking chocolate to shove a dampened finger into. I'd eaten the lot. [What do you do when you've run out of chocolate? I ate some dried dates instead but it wasn't the same.]

I seemed to remember that last year the quiz organisers gave chocolate to the winners so I have to admit I did jump up and down a little. Unfortunately the prize turned out to be bottles of wine and, as regular visitors to this blog might remember, I don't drink. *sigh* Still never mind. It gave me an idea for today's blog post.

During the supper part of the evening we were given a fun quiz to keep us out of mischief while we waited for our turn to collect freshly fried fish and chips. It was rather a long wait as we were on table10 and had to wait for our number to be called but they were well worth the wait, delicious and steaming hot, and the supper-time quiz was good fun too so I thought I'd devise a similar one for you. It consists of pictures showing parts of food and grocery items, with apologies to those of you who live in countries where these items are not available. All you have to do is to identify the product and brand for each of the ten pictures below.

There are no actual prizes for the winners but I'm offering a virtual prize instead. I will put a link to your blog or website, or whatever it is you're wanting to promote, on my next blog post and give you some shout-outs on Twitter if you manage to score ten out of ten in the quiz. Please post your answers plus your blog link in the comments below. I'll announce the winners next week.

The Quiz







Thursday 9 February 2012

My Cats are Fat

It’s official. 

The vet has declared that both Mabel and Charlie are overweight. I knew that Mabel was a big girl but, in comparison, Charlie looks like a dot. Apparently she’s not.

It’s almost a year since we adopted them from the RSPCA and so it was time for their annual jabs, or MOT as daughter calls it. We discovered something about the girls even before we arrived at the vets. They miaow in harmony. [They usually purr and brrrp at home.] Mabel, being the larger cat, surprised us by having a higher pitched miaow to little Charlie who has a thick, double-cream voice. We had to smile at them even though we knew they weren’t happy girls.

Once at the vet’s they fell into a sullen silence. They must have known what was about to happen. It wasn’t the flea check. They passed that without a twitch and the heart check and neither of them noticed their jabs. They weren’t even concerned about the news that they have a bit of tartar and may need some dental treatment at some stage, but to be told that they must go on diet was not what they wanted to hear. They do love their food.

Over the years I’ve had many cats, all rescue and usually with delicate digestions and food fads as long as your tail. These girls are solid [according to Mr Vet, Mabel is 5.75 kg and Charlie is 4.69 kg] and they’re almost always hungry. I’ve bought a large bag of the light version of their usual dry food and we’re slowly moving them over to it plus we’ve reduced their wet food, just half a sachet each a day. They’re not happy. In fact, they’re furious. So I now have a problem. How do I survive my cats’ new diet regime? Any kind-to-cats suggestions gratefully accepted.

Friday 3 February 2012

I like you, but I'm sorry, I don't love you

We can still be friends but I don’t want to feel that I’m tied to you.

That was not an easy thing to say, especially as I was talking to my Kindle. I thought this was going to be a lasting relationship but somehow things haven’t quite worked out between us. I know all the points in favour of my Kindle. 
  • I can take a whole pile of books on holiday with me and I don’t have to pay any excess baggage costs. 

  • I can open it up and there is the last page that I read, no risk of the bookmark sliding onto the floor leaving me growling with frustration. 

  • I can buy and start reading a new book at any time day or night, instantly. 

  • I can make the print larger when I’m feeling tired and the world is blurring before my eyes. 

  • I can tag good bits. 

  • I can search for specific words… 

...but it’s not a book!

Two days ago, when the frost was thick on the ground and I couldn’t face going out, I ordered some books from Amazon. They arrived this morning. They’re on the settee next to me as I type this and I keep glancing at them. I can’t wait to open them and start reading. I’ve missed a shiny front cover. I’ve missed flicking through the pages. I’ve missed being able to sniff the paper… [Did I really admit to that in public? Whoops!]

So I’m sorry, little red Kindle. [Yes, I even treated it to a flashy leather jacket.] I may still take you out occasionally because I quite like you, but it’s books that I really love and I guess I always will.

This is my 200th post.
Just thought I’d mention it. Hurray! J