Monday 31 March 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour - Write Cold , Edit Hot

Emma Greenwood
Thank you to Emma Greenwood for the kind invitation to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. I first met Emma through The Golden Egg Academy where I work with Imogen Cooper and other great editors. A second string to my bow alongside my work at the University of Winchester and my own writing and something I love doing.

Emma Greenwood is the green columnist Liberti magazine and a writer of YA fiction. Her short stories have been published by Mslexia and Cinnamon Press and she guests on a number of writing blogs. For her leg of the Writing Process Blog Tour she wrote a brilliant post on Method Writing and Stanislavski - check it out at

So here we go. I will answer the four questions and then pass the baton on to others:

1. What am I working on? I am currently working on a YA story loosely based on a true event from the end of the Second World War. This is a total departure from my normal writing. Apart from one MG soft fantasy (please don't google that phrase as I did you get some very strange images!) entitled The Book Protectors' Daughter all my novels have been gritty, realist YA dealing with sex, drugs and alcohol - but then that was the subject of my PhD after all. 

I am also currently writing a book for Palgrave Macmillan entitled Writing Young Adult Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches which should be published in 2015.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Someone recently told me when I read the first chapter of the new novel.out at a public event that it is Sound of Music meets Black there's a strap line!There is grit, battles,  drama, a sprinkling of horse whispering, unavoidable death, a hint of romance with a dose of hope and new beginnings. I like to see my stories in terms of layers and texture meaning you can take away from the story what you want from it. It becomes your story not mine.

3. Why do I write what I do? Stories for me always grow from a nugget of an idea. It might come from a photograph - as I have explained in previous posts - a tale told to me or as in this instance, a true fact found when doing some random research. As I was reading about this incredible event a small idea for a story started to grow and grow. It was very different this time round as the story seemed to come to me almost fully formed because it had this element of truth to it. I should say I don't really say I only write a specific type of story. I write what inspires me. I think it is important to be open to different ideas. I hadn't thought about writing what is basically a historical novel but when I mentioned it to Imogen Cooper, who I work with on my novels as well as alongside at Golden Egg, she immediately fell in love with the story and asked me to drop everything and write it. So I did. It does combine two of my interests. My parents were both old enough to have been directly involved in the Second World War and had told me many a story plus horses have been a passion since I was a very small person. What a perfect combination to play with - some might say weird but that sums me up really.

4. How does my writing process work? Some people find my writing process strange,which is fine I can understand that and I am under no circumstances going to try and claim that the way I write is the 'right' way to do it. What I am telling you about is the way I have found that is right for me. I write cold and edit hot. I can hear many of you saying - yer what? 

A lot of 'how to' write books assume people write with lots and lots of superfluous detail. Excess telling, a pile of adverbs and adjectives, paragraph after paragraph of detailed description of setting and/or character - all very 19th Century novelist-ish like - but then you have to go back in and edit it all out. Write hot - edit cold. See where I am coming from now?

I do not stop and revise and edit as I go along consequently the first draft is always written very fast.  I know many people do agonise over every paragraph, focusing on each chapter until it is perfect and only then moving on - I am not saying that is wrong - but I don't, I can't. I write the bare bones of the story down until it is complete and whole. I need to be able to see the foundations or perhaps structure is a better word. For me I imagine it looks like the outline of a drawing, the edges of a tapestry perhaps. As can be seen by the picture at the side here you can see the structure of the image. You have an idea of what it is. But there is no depth, there is no texture or layers. It is flat. And that is what I do when I am writing cold. I create the arc of my story and hints to the layers but that is all. This is what I mean about writing cold. 

Once I have done that. I leave it be for a while - ideally several weeks - and then I go back and I start to edit hot. This is where I add in the colour, the texture, the layers. The light and shade needs to be poured in. I build the picture up from the foundations, filling in the structure so that the story is no longer just the bare bones instead it becomes fully formed. Incidents are built up to and the drama is teased out. Characters become fully formed and subplots strengthen and support the main plot. The story is no longer flat and the narrative begins to lift off the page (hopefully). Just like the photo the colour brings it to life. This can take several rewrites and edits. It is not a quick process. There is no fast fix. Neither is it an easy one. But it is the one that I find works for me. 

I am a great believer that there is no right or wrong way to write. You can equip yourself with as many tools as possible to help you write. Learn the craft as best you can and then work out what works for you as a writer. Just because you don't work the same way as a book says or as another writer doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong if it is effective for you. Trust yourself. If however, you find yourself struggling time and time again maybe it is time to look at your writing processes and consider whether you need to find an alternative way. 

With thanks to Nicky Schmidt for her photos and her ability to create the images I wanted - You are a star.

I'm handing on the Writing Process Blog Tour baton to other writers now. I picked three writers who I thought you would find interesting and have lots to say about writing. They will post their blogs on the 7th April. Be sure to check them out!

Nicky Schmidt: Born and raised in South Africa, Nicky Schmidt has worked as a scriptwriter, copywriter, brand and communications strategist, and marketing director. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA/New Adult fiction in the magical realism genre. When not being hijacked by characters and ideas, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestye and travel for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words and Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA E-Critique Group. 
Nicky Lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers. Find out more about Nicky on her blog, Absolute Vanilla (

Jen Morgan is based in Cambridge and teaches creative writing to both adults and teenagers. She also works in the children's department of the fabulous Heffers Bookshop. Jen has an MA in Writing for Children from the University of Winchester and two small and highly opinionated children of her own. As long as there is teaching, children and literature in her life she is happy. Oh, and a bit of fitness too. Her blog is about her experiences of writing and running.

Carole Burns is editor of Off the Page: Writers Talk Beginning, Endings, and Everything in Between, published by Norton, and based on interviews with writers including Colm Toibin, Tobias Wolff, A.S.Byatt, Joanna Scott, Hannah Tinti, and Alice McDermott. Her book of short stories, The Missing Woman, will be published by Parthian booksin 2015. A regular freelancer for The Washington Post's Book World,she is Head of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton in England, and is working on a novel. Her blog can be found at

Today we are celebrating with the third years as they are about to go out into the big wild world. I have just spent some wonderful time with my own children and I had the chance to listen to a fabulous concert by Elbow while marking so I thought it would be a good end to this blog to share this song - One Day Like This.

Saturday 29 March 2014

For Mothers and Women Everywhere

She did love her wine...
Time for a more personal blog. It is Mothering Sunday tomorrow and I am lucky enough to be spending it with my children. Unfortunately this lady won't be with us. This is another photo of my mother. As you already know a lover of wine. We all still miss our wine times but do our best to keep up the family tradition.

She was born in a time when often a woman's dreams were not allowed to be fulfilled. In fact she was sent away to boarding school in Belgium in an attempt squash them. The Second World War intervened and she had many a story to tell about her time as a WRN. There was a brief moment when she acted with Laurence Olivier but she never really could become the actress she dreamt of. She loved poetry, theatre, ballet, books, music, singing and laughing (oh and wine). She saw beauty in so much but also knew exactly how to let someone know she wasn't impressed with them.

Her dreams put to one side she brought up five children who all followed their own lives and did their own thing. Four daughters and one son. All daughters are now mothers and their own daughters are beginning to be mothers too.

From one woman and one man came this family, which I am very proud and grateful to be part of (and we're not all here)

So this blog is for all of us. All those mothers and women out there. Follow your dreams however big or small.

This was one of the 'old girl's' favourite songs so seems appropriate to put here. We still miss her so much. Happy day!


Sunday 23 March 2014

Point of View - what is it and how do you decide

Do what feels right
It was my turn to do #GEAQA last week. Always an intense half an hour on Twitter that gets the old brain cells working. Those old 'Eggers' certainly can ask some interesting and thought provoking questions. We were talking about 'point of view' - a subject which can always cause quite heated debate as people have very personal opinions about it.

Point of View is so much more than just grammar as in what pronoun you use - 'I', 'he', 'she' or 'it'. It is about bias, what perspective your story is being told from and how your reader can expect to experience the story.

This is how I understand they work:

First person: This is where the 'I' is the narrator, they are part of the action and embedded within the story. Everything we learn about the story is from their experience and their perspective alone. It can come across as quite chatty and colloquial. It is very intimate.

Second Person: This is quite difficult to maintain and therefore quite rare. Often found in role-playing game books allowing the reader to be part of it. All the time you are writing you are addressing an implied familiar reader.

Then there is Third Person, the over-arching voice, which has its own variations.

Unlimited or Omniscient: This allows for multiple perspectives and revealing the subjectivity of more than one character. The ability to know everything that everyone is doing and everywhere. Often something used in adult fiction. When you do use it, it is important to make sure you are giving the reader plenty of clues as to which character is speaking or doing or thinking at that particular moment. Multiple viewpoints can be used effectively in alternating chapters for example.

Limited: This is where you write from the point of view from a single person's point of view. It is like sitting on there shoulder, almost a camera. You can see what they are seeing and can get in their heads to a certain extent but it is not as close as first person or as informal.

Confession: Third person limited is my POV of choice.

People often ask me what POV they should write their story in. My honest answer is to say what comes naturally to you. What you feel most comfortable doing. But also what fits with the voice of your characters. I have before now rewritten whole manuscripts from third to first and then back again trying to make sure I found the POV that worked the best. And I know I am not the only one to have done that.  It is a good writing exercise for a start!

Again, as with so many other things connected with writing it is comes down to gut feeling. Do what feels right.

When you get feedback, if one person doesn't like the point of view, listen but don't necessarily change.  If, however, you are getting repeated comments about it, saying it is not working, then it is definitely time to look at it again.

Now off for a bit of sound track history.  When I was child, there was no daytime TV except during the summer holidays there would be occasional morning programmes such as Banana Splits, Belle and Sebastian, Robinson Crusoe, Why Don't You..., the Monkees and White Horses. I loved that last programme in particualr and often re-enacted it. The irony is not lost on me that my current WIP which I am loving so much is based on white horses. So here is the theme music, it reminds of those very happy times and one of my sisters who I also know has fond memories of that time too. For you Jacky xx

Saturday 15 March 2014

Finding Your Creative Voice

Bath Looking Beautiful...
There is often a huge amount of emphasis put on finding your creative voice. Lots of discussions on how to do it, where to find it and exercises to help. But actually we are all born with our own creative voice already part of us. It develops in different ways and is embedded within our own cultural moments, which is influenced by: our upbringing, history, social background, cultural experiences, politics, biology, psychology, education and all the other parts that make us who we are.

I am not sure it is quite as elusive as is often made out. What I do feel is that voice is often tied into a story rather than only the writer. And that for each story you write the voice will adapt to that story, particularly if you have fully imagined worlds and characters. Human beings, are by our very nature, flexible people and that is often reflected in our writing and our processes.

The voice in a story has multiple levels. Of course the writer contributes to it, but so do the characters and also the reader will bring their own cultural moment to their interpretation of that voice thereby making the voice their own. This is important because the reader is not someone who is passive, they are an active participant in the story. They want to experience the narrative - live the story.

Some people worry that by reading lots they will be influenced by those books and they will end up copying that writer's voice. What might actually happen is the writer slips that voice on for a while but their own voice will come through.A writer's voice also changes as they develop as a writer and as they get older. Due in no small part to the change/increased amount of experiences they can bring to their writing.

Therefore voice does not stay the same, it constantly evolves, but it needs to come from your heart. You need to be brave and bold but also trust  that you do have your own voice.

This just seems right after such a beautiful day which has followed a long, grey, wet winter

Monday 10 March 2014

Research and Proust

Clearing out madness
Marcel Proust said that the remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. For me this quite pertinent as I am writing a story based loosely on a historical event. How far should my research go and how closely to the truth should I stick? But those are questions that face every writer of historical fiction. And I confess I have no answers for you. Only you can decided what is write [sic] for you.

I read the first chapter of this story out at a Writers on Writing event this week. I felt very vulnerable doing that for several reasons. This was the first time the piece had seen the light of day. I had shown no one other than my editor IC, not even my critique group. This in itself might not seem unusual to you but for me it was a totally different way of writing. For the past decade all my writing had been shared. It had always had some form of academic input or supervision. My new novel had none of this and there was a real sense of freedom as I wrote it, also trepidation. Could I do it on my own? I found out yes I could. I could ride without my stabilisers! Even when reading it out I wasn't editing it as I went - a first for me.

Going back to Proust’s comment above. I was asked about my research for my story and I spoke about the work I had done on the horses in my story - which are the focus. I should now point out that the story is based at the end of the Second World War. A member of the audience promptly challenged me, she was a German and the daughter of a Nazi officer, and wanted to know why I wasn’t talking about the research I had done into the people. For me, I hadn’t spoken about it this time as though important and extensive I felt it wouldn’t be as interesting to the audience. Talking to her, it was very obvious that she was seeing the world very differently to me and we were never going to see it the same way but then that is the truth about writing, you are never going to please all of the people all of the time and you just have to accept that. Don't get me wrong I am not dismissing the importance of research. I am great believer in it. Just don’t get so embroiled in doing research that you forget to write your story. Your research and how you do it is up to you, you don’t need to justify it. Just make sure you are true to yourself.

The sun has been shining and the weekend has been all about reclaiming life and about nostalgia. Milan Kundera says the Greek work for ‘return’ is nostos and algos means  ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return, which seems quite a negative idea. I have been wallowing in nostalgia this weekend but with no desire to return to those moments just to enjoy the memories. I have been going through some bags that I cleared out of my mother’s house full of photos and documents. There have been tears and laughter all in a good way. So my nostalgia has been about moving forward with my life and my story which is embedded within history.

While the sun was shining there was  a lot of clearing out as can be seen by the number of bin bags in the photo - I may have gone a bit mad! Am busily trying to create a clear work space for writing both my books in. 

Here's is something from my sound track. I saw them live many years ago and it reminds me of when my children were small and sunny weekends like the one we just had. 

Saturday 1 March 2014

Editing - follow your gut feeling.

Over the last few weeks I have been giving a lot of feedback in a variety of forms. At university I am supervising several students who are about to hand in their ECPs (Extended Creative Project or dissertation to the rest of you) and last week I did some one-to-ones with some fabulous Golden Eggers during The Art of Story workshop (which is where the photo was taken).

On several occasions I have had conversations that have gone something like this:
Me: 'I think you need to work is not quite working.'
Writer: 'Yes, I knew that but I was ignoring it, you are quite right though, I'm going to change it. Now you've said it too I really know I need to change it.'
But that's it, it is hard to have enough confidence in your gut feeling to follow it. But invariably, and I know I have said this before, it is right. If something is niggling at you do it, make the change. Be brave and you might be surprised by the result. You will more than likely have a stronger manuscript for it. It is something I have learnt through experience. There have been times where I have been the one on the other side of that conversation with my toes curling in embarrassment as IC suggests I get rid of something that I have known for ages is not working...if only I'd got rid of it earlier and followed that gut instinct.

However precious a piece of writing is, if the voice at the back of your head is saying it doesn't fit in, you have to take it out. A real case of  'killing your darlings.' Sometimes very painful - but don't delete these little gems have a document entitled 'Darlings' and deposit them in there, you never know you might just be able to use them somewhere else. See no writing is ever wasted!

I am thinking of getting stamps created with 'show not tell' and 'don't info dump'. These are things I have been talking about over and over again. The importance of leaving clues for your reader so they can create their own picture from your narrative but also trusting them to be able to work out what you suggesting without handing them everything on the plate. Look at your manuscript and think are you guilty of these things?

It is a very interesting time for me at the moment as they have changed the drugs I take to prevent migraine. One of the side effects of the new drug is word blindness. This is not ideal for someone who is so reliant on words! There have been several gold fish moments as I stand there mouth flapping as I try desperately to think of the word I need. It has made me realise quite how important words are to me and how I take my vocab for granted. What happens if we have no language to express ourselves? This has been part of the reason I have been a bit quiet on this blog. Word blindness impacts on all parts of your life. Am hoping I am finding coping strategies now so will be back.

My sound track of the week is especially for my gorgeous daughter. It was our song for a long time and I know she will understand why I have chosen this for her this week.  It is the Lighthouse Family  with High