Friday 17 January 2014

World Building

Living in an ice world
World building can be a particularly wonderful part of writing. It is often associated in the main with fantasy and science fiction where you have an opportunity to create everything. Good world building adds credibility to your story. It makes it believable and draws the reader in.

It is important to understand what the difference between setting and world building is? Setting is all about describing the basic needs in a story but the world you build is all about adding layers of details. The light and shade, bringing you story to life.

World building can come in a variety of forms, from worlds that are created totally by the writer to those that take a nation or culture out of history and use it as the primary inspiration for a fantasy world. There is historical fantasy which is a story based in a real historical period but introducing the fantastical, particularly technologically based if you are thinking about steam punk. Of course there is the worlds created for sci fi which includes science and/or technology. These again can be truly fantastical or they can be embedded within an element of truth. Whatever aspects need to be included they have to be plausible and as a writer you need to understand the rules of your world totally. It is not just about what your world looks like and its geography but also how the culture works, the politics, the science, the nature including the flora and fauna. What is the racial distribution of your population? Are they even all human? The reader wants to believe that the impossible is possible. They need to believe in the world.

World building is not just about fantasy and science fiction or even dystopian fiction as even in realist books you have to have an understanding of your world. For example, you need to know your geography. Is the journey you are sending your characters on feasible and consistent? Can you describe it? Google maps, tourist guides, historical artifacts etc are great resources for this if you haven''t been able to visit the place.

Remember readers will put the book down if they can no longer believe what is happening. Your world has to ring true in whatever format you are writing. It doesn't matter who you are writing for - children, young adults, adults - you still need a plausible world that the reader can get lost in. But most importantly don't spend so long building your world that you forget to write the story. World building can inform your writing but don't let it take over there still needs to be a great story and strong characters.

So go on, enjoy playing 'god' as you build your world.

And here is a bit of Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles for all the lonely people in their own worlds...just because really.

Sunday 12 January 2014

To collect photographs is to collect the world - Susan Sontag

Wine time!
I was given a new camera yesterday by gorgeous daughter and her husband. Mine broke ages ago and I just hadn't got round to replacing it. It was a total and glorious surprise. It seems pertinent too after my previous post where I was discussing the idea of an 'Art-Track'. I love photographs. My sister has a degree in photography and has produced some truly outstanding pieces - I must get some to show you. I always admire how she can just see the perfect image.

For me photographs freeze a moment in time. A memory. A flicker of emotion. A lifetime long ago. Loves and losses. Happiness and sadness. Laughter and tears. Susan Sontag suggests that '[t]o collect photographs is to collect the world.' So true. And it is so simple now in this day and age. You take a photo with your camera, your phone or your tablet and within seconds it can be shared with the world if you wish it. Long gone are the days of taking the film in to be developed. Now it is all about the instant gratification. Social media means you can share these images with friends and family. For all the negativity which surrounds social media, it is a wonderful way to keep in touch with a family that is spread far and wide. It allows them to still feel involved and up to date.

The photo above is of my mother at my niece's wedding. Two wine glasses in hand and much laughter epitomises her. A single photo can initiate so many other memories. I have bags and boxes of family photos dating back to the late 1800s. Full of faces who no longer have names. Taken at times we can't necessarily understand. But they are all memories. All are fragments of our identities. These days the bags and boxes have been replaced with the likes of iCloud or Dropbox. All photos securely saved in the ether. That tactile moment of holding a photograph has been removed. It is all about the visual now.

With thanks to
National Geographic
Photographs are also a great source of inspiration for writers. As many of you, who read this blog, will be aware that a certain photograph was the motivation behind my PhD novel. It was the fear in the girl's eyes that got me asking the questions: 'What is she afraid of? Why is she hesitant?

When you take a photograph you appropriate the object you are photographing (again as suggested by Susan Sontag). There is an element of power and knowledge as it becomes yours. You own that image at that particular moment. With my new camera I intend to take lots of photos. Ones that I can use, or my students, for inspiration. To stir up those creative ideas. If they are any that are any good I may even share them with you. They will become part of that 'art-track' again. If you are willing you could send me some of your favourite photographs that I could use as a source of inspiration. Maybe I will try and write a short story to match each one.

In the meantime here is another memory. It is seven years since I travelled to Albuquerque for a conference even though I had only just started my PhD. Where has all that confidence gone? I ended up sleeping on the floor of Denver Airport when snow stopped our flights and didn't 'feed' for several days. It was an amazing, if exhausting, experience. Here is Neil Young singing 'Albuquerque'

Monday 6 January 2014

Art as inspiration and as the 'art-track' of your life

James Allan Untitled (2013)
There was an article in The Guardian recently by Alain de Botton which was discussing whether art can provide solace, hope and reassurance. For me this is a given, of course it can and it doesn't stop there. Art can provide inspiration for writers too. I suggest to many of my students and the authors I work with that they should go to art galleries. Sit and take in the pictures/sculptures. Let them talk to you. You never know what might come out of such an experience. It may be an idea for a novel or the starting lines of a poem. Open your heart to all art. (Have you ever noticed that art is such an important part of the word heart...)

But it also got me thinking about the idea of an 'art-track' as opposed to a 'sound-track' to your life. I believe our tastes in art evolves and develops throughout our lives, consequently, it only seems logical that, like with music, certain artefacts can inspire and remind us of certain moments in time. They capture a memory. Below are some of my 'art-tracks'...

The James Allan piece above is an installation that I find intriguing. It makes me think of Icarus and soaring high into the sky. James is an artist I have only recently found. He is based in New Zealand.

The picture on the right was introduced to me by Philip Pullman at a conference. When I asked him about the picture he very kindly sent me all the details and a link to where I could find it. Unfortunately it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Somewhere I have yet to manage to get to. One day...

I love the simplicity of it all. It is entitled 'Man Reading in the Garden' by Daumier. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of it for my birthday last year. It is waiting to be hung in my office. It is such a peaceful picture and reading in the dappled shade of a garden is something I love to do.

This is obviously a Rothko and it brings back some very happy memories of a time just after my final viva for my PhD. I went straight up to London for a conference and to spend some time with a great friend. We talked, laughed and cried a lot over those few days as we drank a lot of bubbles to celebrate my success. But we also spent a lot of time in companionable silence in the Rothko Room at the Tate Modern. A perfect time.

Then there is of course Folon - another artist that I was introduced to during my PhD.

This is one of my particular favourites as I love the idea that your head is being led by your heart. The colours are so warm and joyous.

The picture on the right was a piece of original art I bought in my past life when I was a business person. It was an investment. There are two more original pieces waiting to come back out from under the stairs as I reclaim my house. I loved this piece for the colours.

And finally, my latest acquisition, which you have already seen. A Christmas present, just called 'It's never too late...' And it is never too late to find the art that makes your heart soar and sing.

Obviously these are just a few of the pieces of art I love. I could go on forever...but won't! What are you favourite pieces and how do they inspire you.

Here is an appropriate song for today and another one from the sound track of my life. This was one of my mother's favourite songs when I was very young. It is Vincent by Don McLean

Wednesday 1 January 2014

I've just typed 'The End'

My most pressurised moment of 2013!
Courtesy of Ben Randall Photopgraphy
And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never 
--Rainer Maria Rilke

How apt is it that on the last day of 2013 I typed 'The End.' It was the last words of the first draft of my new novel.  One that I started back in September.  I have done my normal of writing 'cold', so I get the bare bones of the story down (hence why it was written so fast). I am now going to print it off and leave it sitting, fermenting in the corner before I go back to it and I start painting the colour in. When I will rewrite/edit 'hot'. This is how I write. I am not saying it is the right way or the only way but after many years of trying, it is the best way for me.  I have to mull things over, allow inspiration to take me by surprise as all the details start to appear to me.  It is like a tapestry. I first of all do an outline edge to the picture, once complete and I can see how it looks I go back and fill in the light and shade.

I started this last night and now it is early on the 1st January, the first day of a brand new year. I spent the evening with family and friends, many of whom I have known for over 20 years, and had a wonderful time, where I could say farewell to the old and welcome in the new. Even better is I have no hangover as I didn't drink last night as I was driving gorgeous daughter and baby grandson (son in law was DJ-ing where we went). Happy times.

I suppose there should be a moment of reflection. In 2013 there were some amazing highs, including my daughter's wedding (see picture - that was me trying to lace up her dress, oh the concentration and pressure to get it right!), both my sons have found gorgeous girlfriends and have left home,plenty of perfect moments with Noah and the others,  I turned 50, my contract at the University of Winchester was made permanent and to my surprise I became a Senior Lecturer, I got a book contract for an academic book and, oh joy of joys, I started working with The Golden Egg Academy and Imogen Cooper and her gaggle of editors: Beverley Birch, Chrissie O'Brien, Bella Pearson and Maurice Lyon. - a specific highlight from this was being told at the launch, by Barry Cunningham of Chicken House and JK Rowling fame, that  Imogen and I were scary women! This made me laugh out loud as I am anything but. 

Anyway as with all life this was countered by some unbelievable lows, which I am not going to dwell on here. They shook me and my belief in myself to the core. It has taken a lot to come out the other side. I won't ever be the same person but am very grateful to the family and friends who stuck by me and supported me throughout. 

But what about 2014, what is that going to bring? Lots of challenges for a start. I have this book to write on writing young adult fiction, which I am busily researching at the moment. I have the aforementioned novel to edit hot, polish then get out there - there is a huge amount of pressure to get it right as when I mention the story to anyone they say 'That's amazing, can't wait to see it, it could be a film!'  Think I might stop  saying anything... I have many exciting things planned with Golden Egg  as well as  many wonderful things that I will be doing at the University too - am hoping I may have a little announcement connected with that soon too . It is a year where I need to find out who I am and reclaim the house as my own. It is a strange feeling as I am living totally on my own for the first time ever - exhilarating yet daunting at the same time.  All those labels that I have hidden behind for years have gone - no longer mother, student, daughter, wife. Who shall I be now? Maybe this year I will try and fit some travel in. There are many places I would like to go. But whatever happens I am ready for it - bring on 2014.

I hope 2014 brings you all plenty of happiness and laughter and all the strength in the world to deal with the moments that, inevitably, will not be that great - but let's also hope those moments are few and far between. Happy New Year everyone.

And I couldn't end this post without a piece of music from  my personal sound track. This is the music that my daughter walked down the aisle to with her two brothers either side, preparing to giver her away. I could never have been a prouder mother at that moment. It was a Perfect Day....oooh there's another song...but for another time. 

Sigur Ros' Hoppipolla