Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

I have done a lot of reading this week. Three novels to be precise, by writers separated by a mix of gender, age, nationality and time period.

I compared them, seeing what drew me into them: characters, storylines, ideas, genre, settings all had an impact on my way of perceiving them, and it gave me a chance to think about what skills I need to develop in my own writing.

I was surprised how much the storyline of the third book appealed to me, as it was a crime novel, a modern-style ‘whodunnit’. I have found this genre more enticing over the last year or so, but historically it’s not really been that interesting to me and has never been what I would choose to write.

And yet… I think that might be a great way to get back into the art of writing. To try out a new challenge and a new genre. Not with any intention of getting a full novel or a marketable piece of work from it; more because I want to get myself out of the writing slump I am in right now.

There is something that puts me off completing my current work in progress, a sense that the tangled histories can’t be portrayed effectively using my natural style of writing.  The plot is there, the setting is there, the idea is there – but I am not sure I am able to sell it.  I think exploring a ‘whodunnit’ idea might help me with this block in my approach.  It will allow me to test out ways to mislead and misdirect the reader in a way that commercial fiction doesn’t really allow.

I remember being taught not to introduce ideas or characters that don’t affect story outline but that is precisely where ‘whodunnits’ succeed: they bring in red herrings, lines of enquiry that appear to go nowhere, characters who couldn’t have been the killer.  It is the way their information is used that makes them valuable, and that is the writing skill I want to develop.

So the next few weeks will see me planning a short crime story complete with cast, alibis, motives and of course victim.  If I can get to grips with the filtering of information from unreliable witnesses, untrustworthy narrators and unwilling conspirators I will be ready to go back to the work in progress and make something of it.

And if I can’t, I’ll know I need to consider another approach!

In other news – I am falling behind in the 100 novels list, but suffice it to say I haven’t read 66 or 67.  Now I am exploring the books I inherited I am far more likely to come across obscure and out of print books of the 40s/50s/60s than anything else for a while (just because these are currently the easiest to reach!) I am not going to add to my personal reading list for a while and will simply see where the tales take me!

And finally – with panto rehearsals, my new dance classes, book club and writing group, my evenings are going to be quite busy for the next few weeks, so I am not going to re-start the Thoughts on a Thursday posts yet.  I do, however, hope to get back on track with these once I’ve learnt all my lines and cues for the show.  Having never done any local am dram I may have taken on a bit more than I can chew with this one, but it’s all in good fun…

Happy new year to you all,




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…or something of that nature.  Although I’ve never ridden a horse so maybe it was a bad choice of words.

Anyhow – I’m back from my jaunts and slowly trying to get back to some sort of normal. My return isn’t normal though, it’s exhausting! I barely unpacked my suitcases and was straight into preparations for Christmas, I have had to jump into panto rehearsals, I was in Belgium buying chocolates yesterday and today I have started going through the wedding paraphernalia trying to find a home for 100 candle holders and half a tree trunk…

Writing – what’s that?

Now, before it seems like I have been completely useless I will say that one of my gifts when I got married was a beautiful notebook which my parents gave me to write down my meandering thoughts when I was away. I just made a few disjointed notes at the start of the honeymoon but as the days went on it became a journal of what I had seen, felt and experienced, almost like a travel memoir. I could see the lure of writing in that environment – it was sunny, warm, beautiful and unknown.

I have subsequently been thinking about my writing, and my writing style. I think I write for the damp air and soggy grass of home, it is part of the world I explore. But what could my world be if I moved it – if my ghosts weren’t in the foggy winter of an English house, but existed in the sun-baked streets of Morocco, or the sultry Mexican coastline? What if my stories were about colour, brightness, light? How well would I be able to maintain a world that I only know for a handful of days at a time?

There’s no answer to this yet. My mind is wandering through countless possibilities and in the meantime I am thinking about poetry and imagery. Still, it’s given me a kick up the posterior to get myself back into the writing fold – and to really think about what exactly I am doing, and why.

In other news – I missed a fair few books on the 100 novels list but to keep this brief I have not read 59, 60, 61 or 62.  That’s not likely to change any time soon either, there’s too much on my to-read list as it is!  However, The Big Sleep is one I’d like to look at in the future, because for some reason I feel drawn to it.  No logic there, I know – but reading isn’t really about logic, for me 🙂

And finally – you may have already spotted this story about people generally preferring to read books written by someone of their own gender.  I thought this was interesting after my last book review when I talked about possible differences of style between male and female writers.  Maybe I had a point after all.

It does happen, you know…

Until next time,

Happy writing,



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I managed to read three books during my break – the joys of flying and sunbathing 🙂 – but I’ll only be counting two for the challenge because I’d read one of them before.

Book 50 – Pompeii by Robert Harris.  I borrowed this from my husband when I finished reading my non-numbered book; it wasn’t really my kind of thing but despite that it was an engaging read.  It follows the experiences of a disparate group of characters whose lives overlap in the runup to the eruption of Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii.

To all intents and purposes, this was a historical action story, with significant historical research undertaken.  The main characters were mostly chancers, risk-takers or power-brokers with a few key exceptions who were specialists in aqueducts and water systems. Harris also wrote the very famous, very real, Pliny in to the tale, who was known to have died as he tried to rescue friends by sea. The only woman of consequence in the story is idealised because of her looks, the description of a mother and child dying in childbirth was horrific, and generally the book is about men and their power games.

This one was a mixed bag for me – it was very readable and despite the size only took a few days to get through; it was historically interesting and detailed; it was intelligently written.  The key issues for me were a few unnecessarily unpleasant scenes which did nothing to bring the story along; a vaguely frustrating ending which I won’t spoil but didn’t satisfy me; the ongoing technicalities of the descriptions.

I also feel that, even at the end of the story, I know relatively little about the main character.  I can’t imagine writing a book where the character is so hidden from view and I wonder if that is a male v female writer issue, or simply that I tend to write about the ‘human experience’ rather than big world events…

Or maybe reading in the sunshine, I didn’t give it my full attention, which is more than likely!

Book 51 – Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen – I read this one at the same time as Pompeii, depending on the mood I was in!  Having struggled to read Emma I wanted to try an alternative Jane Austen, and this one is very simple, very sweet, and fairly inoffensive.  The story follows Catherine Morland as she experiences her first taste of adulthood on a trip to Bath and then with her new friends on to Northanger Abbey.

It’s fluffy and frivolous in many ways: Catherine is naive, unworldly, foolish and blind but also honest, decent, loyal and loving.  Her first experiences of friendship, with Isabella, open her eyes to a life outside the confines of her own reality, and lead first to meeting Henry Tilney, then his sister, then finally seeing her to Northanger Abbey.  It is clear from the outset what Isabella’s focus is on, and it is also clear that Isabella’s brother is equally mercenary and disinterested in the Morland’s as people with true feelings.

Catherine’s odd behaviour on arrival at Northanger Abbey goes nowhere, and seems ridiculous but as a 17 year old in a strange house at that time in history, it may have been less so; either way it does make her seem a fool and that is unfortunate.  Still, the ending leads to exactly what the reader would expect – albeit suddenly rushed through and unexplored.

I read this one easily, and quickly.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as Pride and Prejudice (but I had no Colin Firth in my mind as I read!), but far more than Emma – so I have decided to try Sense and Sensibility soon to see where that falls on the Jane Austen spectrum!

As I said before there was one more that I’m not counting for the challenge as it doesn’t meet my self-imposed rule of new books only – Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.  I read this before the other two, and having first read it many years ago, I still found it very affecting.  I am not going to do a full review on it but I would suggest for anyone who hasn’t read it, it’s worth a look.  It’s a great example of a book which contains concepts that are so powerful they become part of everyday language – and how many things Orwell imagined in his nightmare future that have come to pass.  I don’t know if that says more about him, or us…

Happy reading,



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This week I haven’t got a whole lot further with the table poems – I have resigned myself to a last-minute rush.

I have, however, been investing time and money in poetry anthologies to give me some inspiration. This has been helpful, and frustrating, in equal measure.

I am very particular about the language of poetry shared in a formal setting – there are some terms and ideas I simply don’t want to parade in front of my extended family and friends. You can call it prudishness, or self-consciousness, if you like; I firmly believe that public, family occasions should be treated as such, and the language used should reflect the audience.

This is a very roundabout way of saying that lots of the love poetry I have read is very sexual, and that is not a road I am planning to travel in my writing for our big day. There are some beautiful poems, with beautiful sentiments, which are rendered unusable because of an explicit reference here, or an unambiguous metaphor there.

Of course I could cut lines out, call it an excerpt – but poems don’t generally improve with having parts of themselves ripped out. So the search continues for poems I love unreservedly or that fill me with the inspiration I seek to finish what I’ve started.

One way or another, poetry will be part of our day.

In other news – I am falling behind a little in checking the 100 novels list so I’ll simply say that I haven’t read book 54 – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett or book 55 – As I lay dying by William Faulkner and I’m not particularly likely to any time soon.  Maybe when I’m pulling together my reading list for next year I’ll revisit these, specifically As I Lay Dying as the sense of a lost way of life seeping from the pages can be very affecting.

And finally – I wanted to share this article detailing the inspiration behind the 6 shortlisted stories for the Man Booker prize.  As a writer, knowing where and how inspiration grows is important – as is understanding what struggles other writers go through to bring those ideas and concepts to life.  We are all hunting for the right word, the right phrase, the strength of a sentence to put forth the image we want to share.  Whenever you feel disheartened, that’s a great thing to remember.

Until next time – happy writing,



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People often said how brave I was to give up work to write, and see where it took my life.  Yet for me, going back to work was a far greater challenge.

Challenges are part of all our lives: we face them every day and it is in overcoming them, or at the very least managing our response to them, that we learn and grow.

I was watching the launch show of one of my favourite time wasters tonight – Strictly Come Dancing – and it occurred to me that challenges expose the very best and worst in us, in a lot of ways.  They can bring out tenacity, strength of will, unknown talents; they can expose weakness, poor sportsmanship, childishness.  In learning about our best and worst traits we can learn how to harness them, if we’re smart.  In experiencing different facets of ourselves, and others, we can explore what I call the human experience.  We can explore life.

From a writing perspective, challenges build us up to face rejection, and feed our subconscious and conscious minds with data that we draw on for characterisation and storytelling purposes.  We build up a mental log of body language, facial expressions and verbal retorts.  We see that responses aren’t illogical, that they come from somewhere inside – and we build that into our characters.

But don’t forget we all respond differently to the situations in our lives; our characters must too.

In other news – we missed book 49 of the list, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos. Honestly, I didn’t know this was a book; I’ve seen the film and enjoyed the music, and Madonna’s subsequent ‘Material Girl‘ video in homage to it 🙂  It’s something I might look out though – relatively short, an a little dark under the top layer and the basis of an iconic film, what more could you ask?!  Book 50 is Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf; this sounds a little heavy-going and although Virginia Woolf is on my ‘must read’ list for the future, I think it’s going to take a little too much out of me at the moment!

And finally – I’ve got one possible guest post for when I’m away on honeymoon, but I’m still looking for a couple more guest bloggers so if you want to share your experiences of writing here, please let me know!

Until next time,

Happy writing,








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Due to the stormy weather here (including thunder that shook the house and lightning that hit homes in a nearby village) my internet is being very temperamental so I’m keeping this very short.

It’s been a very busy week and the writing has been going badly but I have a day to myself tomorrow to get some done so I hope to catch up a little.

The temping work I do – which is basically covering holidays and absences – has been good for me though; already it’s introduced me to new people, new environments, new industries which can help me expand my writing. As I stood on an industrial site on Friday, in the 30 degree heat, I found myself noting little details.

In some respects, it’s not just work, but research. And that helps me counter the frustration of not having the time to write.

In other news – There are two books from the 100 novel list to share today: book 42 is The 39 Steps by John Buchan, and book 43 is The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence.  I haven’t read either of these; I have tried to read Lawrence before and didn’t get very far, so I doubt I’ll be adding this one to the list.  However, I hope to read The 39 Steps at some point – just not now!

I’m going to leave it there for today, and hope this posts ok!  See you next time,

Happy writing,




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This week, I started writing the new book, ‘The Ridge House’. I have an opening page or so – not masses, but neatly tied in with the planning work I have done. I haven’t made a final decision on the writing software, but all the notes and character profiling I’ve done is just as good (for my purposes) right now.

If you were to look on my computer, or in my notebooks, you would see sections on characters (including background and personality traits; I based my notes on the Epiguide.com character chart with a few tweaks); on the house; on the health issues covered in the story; on the plot and structure and key plot point and milestones within the story.  I’ve also got all archived notes, segments of writing I might want to use, ideas that are repeated throughout, and more.

I really feel that there is a proper path in this story from start to finish – and from chapter to chapter.  I also feel there’s enough in it for a good 80,000 word story so there’s no risk of having to fill in gaps; this was identified and resolved when I was working through the plot on retreat and I found a logical way to resolve it that was in keeping with the storyline.

Seeing how in-depth the planning and organising is for this book, compared to what I did for the Woods one, I know how that went so wrong.  I still love the characters and still see the merits of the tale but it’s clear that in its current format I don’t have the tools I need to bring it back in line with the intention.  There is no path marked, so you can’t see where it started heading down the wrong one!

Once I’ve drafted up the first version of The Ridge House I’m going back to basics on the other – archiving the whole of the writing as a resource if needed but starting once again with the plot planning.

I said when I started this blog that I would share lessons I learnt along the way and I think that’s one of the biggest really – a great idea can’t become a great book just based on hope.  It’s a bit like building a house – you must have solid foundations or it can’t stand on its own.

Anyway, over the next week I hope to get most of the first chapter of  The Ridge House done and then we get to the spookier parts – which I’m really looking forward to writing 🙂

In other news – we’re on book 33 of the 100 novels list: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.  I have a copy of this so hope to read it soon, mainly because I read that it should be devoured quickly and I’m falling behind on my reading targets!

And finally – I’d like to say hi to all my new (and continuing) followers; it’s so exciting to see that little plus sign pop up, and I really appreciate the support I get from people who e-mail, follow, comment or just pop into the blog to have a look around.  Over time this blog has really changed and I hope you enjoy what I post – if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see just let me know, I’m always up for a challenge!

Happy writing,



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My partner got this picture when we were on retreat; the bird here had to take a back seat to a very cheeky, sneaky squirrel who kept climbing the tree and filling his tummy with bird food.

Bird on a missionI cropped in when I uploaded it as I think it’s more dramatic than the original – and I am a self-confessed lover of drama 🙂

There were some sheep behind this tree, and they seemed to eat all the time.  Lying down, standing up, going to the toilet – sheep eat.  How I missed that for the past x number of years I’ve seen sheep about, I do not know!

In fact, it doesn’t matter how often you’ve seen something, when you look with your writing eyes – when you look with the intention of noticing every detail you can – you see things you’ve missed.

In writing group I’ve encouraged everyone to try some sensory perception exercises, because they force you to look about, listen, and think about everything in your environment.  I really found these useful when I was studying – the exercises were based on some I did in my second writing course – and it was a timely reminder to use my environment to my advantage.

I looked at this picture above once more, before signing off for the day and I noticed something I hadn’t seen the last few times – what looks like a wire, strung parallel to the branch.  I wondered what it was for: outside lighting, or was there another feeder out of sight, or a speaker to spread the sound of birdsong in midwinter – or a microphone to listen to conversations.  Were our hosts recording conversations?  Why?…

Well, me being me, this thought process ended up a little bit sci-fi and I won’t bore you with it – but I was pleased that such a convoluted story came from a little detail.  Try it out and the same could easily happen with your own observations!

Keep your writer’s eyes open, and keep looking – there are little stories everywhere.

Happy writing











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Back now 😦

But I’ve got loads done 🙂

Planning in progress

This week’s retreat was a great one for me: I wanted to get the plan for the next novel completed during the break, and I just about managed it (I skipped my evening walk on the last night to finish).

So now I can tell you it’s tentatively called ‘The Ridge House’; the house is at the centre of the story and to all intents and purposes is a character in its own right.

I started with a basic plot outline based on all the research I’d done before I went.  I revised the character plans a little, as the male character had taken a turn for the worse, personality-wise, and I needed him to be more sympathetic.  Once I’d done that, I wrote a more detailed overview and finally a synopsis of each chapter, showing links between the elements introduced in other sections and the development of the interwoven characters and their experiences.

Of course I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy that it is in a good state and I can start writing fully from now on.  My time sheet is coming back out, having hibernated over the last few months, and I’ll be aiming to write content for at least 15 hours a week until it’s completed.

I feel positive that this one will stay on track, and then I can get back to fixing the woods novel!

In other news – We’ve reached book 32 in the novels list – The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  I haven’t read this one and it’s never really appealed to me – so if you’ve read it let me know what you think, I’m reading a few from the list as I go through the year!

And finally – Alongside the novel, I got a fair amount of new poetry and some haikus drafted during my break so I’ll be looking into setting up a new performance soon!

Happy writing,



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I am slowing down at the moment, only finishing one book a week – although that’s technically what I am due to do, it does feel a little light on the back of my earlier successes.  The problem is that some books really take a lot of attention.

Case in point…

Book 26 – The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James.  I read this one knowing it had elements within it that may be of interest as I develop my ‘ghost’ story (they won’t be: this is not at all what I had in mind at all).

The tale follows a governess as she embarks on a job caring for two orphans on behalf of their uncle; she is plagued by fear and doubts about sightings of two staff previously employed at the house – two staff who have died.  I think we should question her mental state, alongside that of the children she cares for but the set-up suggested she was an entirely reliable woman so that didn’t work for me.

I can’t help feeling that the underlying issues – the potentially inappropriate relationship of the children with the dead staff, their relationship with their new governess, the damage done to the children as a result of these relationships, to name but a few – are lost in the dense and unyielding style of James’s writing.  I thought I’d share a sentence so you can see what I mean… ‘It was a pity that, somehow, to settle this once for all, I had equally to re-enumerate the signs of subtlety that, in the afternoon, by the lake had made a miracle of my show of self-possession’.  There is very little directly stated in the book, and we are left to decipher what we can.

As a writer I completely appreciate that each of us has to write in the style we wish to follow; as a reader I found it very hard-going and I didn’t enjoy reading the book.

This novel is an odd one, really – a beloved classic with psychological undertones and truly hair-raising experiences, for some – and a hard-to-read product of its melodramatic time, for others.  I’m in the second group, sadly – but at least I know something about what I don’t want to do, and I’ve ticked another book off the list.

All in all, I think this was worth reading even if not my cup of tea!

Happy reading,





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