Stepping Into A Writer’s World

In my recent post, A Season for Writing, I wrote about the fact that I’d started a new WIP set in California, and that I could almost feel the sunshine.

And the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this feeling of place, of inhabiting the world where my characters live, is the way I know that my story has ‘legs.’

I don’t know about you guys, but I get story ideas all the time. Walking down the street, at the airport, in the shower. Some become stories, but others, for now, remain fragments, nothing more than a few sentences.

I’m not a plotter – I don’t sit down and write detailed plot graphs and chapter plans. I tried it once, but my characters didn’t like it and decided to run off in an entirely different direction. I knew then that it wasn’t for me. I’m envious of people who can plan their books that way – though I love the excitement of flying by the seat of my pants when writing a new story, there are moments when I have no idea what will happen next, or whether I can bring things to a speedy conclusion, and a nicely plotted graph would be very helpful. However, when I can ‘see’ my characters and their surroundings clearly, I take it as a signpost that all will be well.

Instead, when I start a new story, I take one of the little fragments – an idea, a couple of characters, a key event – and I start writing. I don’t think about it too much, because if I squeeze the idea too tightly it won’t be able to race forward, dragging me along with it. It’s quite a balancing act, caring just enough that the story knows you’re interested, but not so much it decides to quit, or run off with someone else. (If you’ve read Big Magic you’ll know what I’m talking about). And sometimes it goes nowhere – I don’t get that magic tickle in my stomach and fingers, I’m not thinking about the characters when I’m out walking. But sometimes, a world starts to spring up around me. Scenes and characters appear, almost as though they’ve been waiting for me to shout ‘Action!’, one scene linking into the next. I find myself thinking about the new story world at odd times, little snippets coming to me. And that’s when I know I’m on my way.

And so it is with this new WIP. I’ve been working on it for a little while, up to almost 10K words now, and I confess I did get slightly stuck at one point, but a chat with my critique partner (which will be another blog post) soon got things going again. And now that I can hear the surf, feel the sunshine and see the streets of the (fictional) town where my characters live, I know it’s going to be okay. That the story will unfurl for me. Because that’s how it’s always been. Whether I’m wandering the green woods of Ambeth, the beach Heaven in A Thousand Rooms, or the near-future world of The Last Raven, as long as I know where I am, I can see a way forward.

And maybe that’s how life is, sometimes, too.

How about you? How do you know when a story has ‘legs’? Are you a Planner, or a Pantser, or something in between?


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

New Week, New Writing Leaf

Last week I wrote about a writing wobble, and you were all so lovely, giving me encouragement and reminding me what it is I love so much about this blogging community – thank you all so much for your support.

This week I have a week off, the first in while, and I’m back where Ambeth began, the park where Alma disappears between the trees just a few minutes’ drive away. Today I’m heading further west to Wales, where her story continues, and I’m hoping that the combination of some free time and seeing these places again will immerse me fully into that world once more.

For now I am re-reading Under Stone, making small adjustments but not yet quite ready to don my editing hat. Which is kind of a problem, as I’m supposed to be doing Camp NaNo, and the edit is my project. Oh well. We can only do what we can do.

And perhaps, that is the lesson here. That you can’t force things. That, unless we’re lucky enough to be able to write full-time, life has to be addressed. The creative urge is a powerful one, for writers no less than any other, and it can be difficult, sometimes, to find that balance. I know for me that my blogging life is not as active as it once was, and I am woefully behind when it comes to reading, my TBR pile teetering, my Kindle stuffed with unread titles.

Still, it’s not the end of the world, is it? To be able to inhabit other worlds, whether as a writer or a reader, is a privilege. And I remain forever grateful.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

Ironing, Oak Apples and Editing or, How I Survived A Writing Wobble

I had a bit of a writing wobble earlier this week.

I’ve just begun editing Under Stone, the fourth book in my Ambeth series. It recently returned from a professional edit, and so I was taking suggestions and beta read comments on board, polishing the final crevices and tidying up punctuation and prose, ready to go to the next stage.

At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing.

But something wasn’t right. Even my groaning ironing basket held more allure than playing with words. Even though it’s what I love to do. I mean, editing isn’t my favourite part of the process but there is still something immensely satisfying in taking a book through the final stages before publication, seeing the changes from rough first draft to the end product. So I was ready, I thought.

But I just couldn’t find the thread. The story thread. The Ambeth thread. Whenever I step into that world the voices are clear, the images sharp. I know all of the characters intimately, their backstory, what drives them, where they are going. But, for some reason, they seemed a little… distant. As did the world of Ambeth – the gardens, the Palace, the sighing sea, all felt as though I were viewing them through the wrong end of a telescope.

And so I had a wobble.

After all, it’s been a while since my last Ambeth book, Hills and Valleys, came out. Since then, I’ve published A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s fiction novel, as well as almost finished the first draft of Silver and Black, another standalone work. I’ve also started a new job which is taking quite a bit of my time. So I was worried. What if the story, the wonderful story that started me writing, words pouring out of me, had decided to, well, get up and leave? I mean, I had been working on Ambeth – Under Stone was quite a complex book to write as so many threads from the first three books came together, many of them to be resolved in this book. So it was only a couple of months since I’d last visited. But still – it had been a while.

And I couldn’t find my way back into the story.

So instead I fell into a wormhole of sadness and despair. But, after a pep talk from a lovely writerly friend and a good night’s sleep, I decided to approach things from a different angle. Instead of editing, I decided simply to read the story again. And, it seemed to help. A piece of music I associate with the books started playing in my head, and carefully, slowly, I started to wander back into the woods. I’m not all the way there yet but, thanks to music and oak apples and reading and thought, I think I might get through the Gate again.

And that ironing basket isn’t looking so interesting any more…


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Enigma – Your Fault

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge runs every week, and is a prompt based on one of her wonderful photographs. Here’s my response to this week’s image:

‘This is all your fault.’

‘Humph!’

‘Don’t you ‘humph!’ at me. We wouldn’t be in this mess if you hadn’t insisted on staying till the last minute. As if you had any chance, fighting against that lot. We should have left when I said, when we saw the first smoke on the horizon.’

*incoherent muttering*

‘Don’t think I can’t hear you, muttering under your breath! The least you could do is answer me. You drive me absolutely crazy, you know that? And now we’re stuck here and you won’t even talk to me?!’

*quietly* ‘I didn’t know this would happen.’

‘Oh no, of course you didn’t! You had all the ideas, didn’t you? Stay here, you said. It’ll be fine, you said. They won’t use magic, you said. Fat lot of good all those ideas are now, aren’t they?’

‘You were the one who had to look back-‘

‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?’

‘You heard me.’

‘Are you seriously saying to me, are you seriously suggesting, that this is somehow my fault? That my wanting to take a last look at our home as we fled in fear thanks to, if I might remind you, your insistence on staying, is somehow to blame for this?’

‘Well, if you hadn’t turned around when you did-‘

‘How on earth was I supposed to know that their druid would be right there? I mean, really. As if I could have known. And our druid – completely useless. I said, didn’t I, I said when they hired him he was no good. And he just disappears at the first sign of danger-‘

‘Well, he couldn’t exactly help it-‘

‘Oh, just because his magic wasn’t as powerful as their druid’s. You get what you pay for, that’s what I always say, you get what you pay for. And mark my words, that council of ours were lining their pockets instead of spending money on a decent druid and now look at us. Turned to stone for goodness knows how long! And you!’

*wearily* ‘What have I done now?’

‘Well, you couldn’t even get petrified facing me. It’s like you did it on purpose, turning away from me like that! What am I supposed to do now, talk to the back of your head?’

*sighing* ‘Well, it’s not like you’ve much choice now is it, dear.’

‘Well, I still think you could have been a bit more considerate. I mean really, am I supposed to spend eternity stuck like this?’

*silence*

‘I asked you a question, Arthur!’

*silence*

‘Arthur? Arthur! Answer me!’

*silence*

‘Arthur?’


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#BlogBattle – Resolved – The Shimmering Shoal

img_1682Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle is a weekly prompt where you’re given a word and a genre, then have to write a story. The stories must be posted on the Tuesday of the week in question, and then you can vote on your favourites.

This week’s prompt was Resolved, and the genre was Tall Tales. For some reason I thought it was supposed to be 1500 words, but apparently it’s only 1000, so unfortunately I think my story might be a bit long. But I still like it so I thought I’d share it anyway. And if you want to add a story of your own, there’s still time – head on over to Blog Battle and check out the prompts!

The Shimmering Shoal

‘Did I ever tell you how I got this scar, the one under my eye?’

Sara shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one.’

‘Well,’ he said, his voice a wispy quaver, ‘It’s a rather good one.’

‘Your stories do tend to be,’ she said, wiping a cloth across the small wooden table next to his bed. His gnarled hands were dark gold against the white sheets, his bald head spotted with age.

‘You see how it’s shaped like a star?’

‘Yes.’ She had noticed it, but had thought it a remnant of some youthful folly, like a faded blue tattoo almost lost in the folds of skin under his eye.

‘That’s because it’s from a kiss. A mermaid’s kiss.’

‘Oh now, come on,’ she said, moving over to the shelving unit. She started lifting each small ornament, wiping it carefully before putting it back. ‘There’s no such thing as mermaids, surely.’

‘There are,’ he said, ‘and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ He started coughing, deep rasp in his chest. Putting down her cloth she went to the trolley by the bed and poured him a glass of water from the jug, handing it to him.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘You’re getting yourself all worked up. And you know what the doctor said-‘

His hand gripped her wrist, hard, shocking her into momentary silence. His eyes met hers, and for a moment they seemed filled with stars falling, with endless seas, and she caught a glimpse of the handsome young man he had once been. ‘Let me tell you,’ he whispered. ‘It’s the last one, I promise.’

She nodded, and he let go of her wrist. ‘I wore a younger man’s skin in those days,’ he began. ‘Everything where it should be, my hair dark as a raven’s wing.’ He huffed out a laugh. ‘And I loved the sea. Every day I would take the fishing boat out with the rest of the crew, every day. Catching a thousand fish, ten thousand fish, a hundred thousand fish or more, so the deck was awash with scales and the bow so low in the water it was a wonder we made it back to shore.’

This was more like it. He told her a story every week, each one more fantastical than the last. ‘That many fish?’

‘Indeed. The sea was alive with them, shimmering in the waves, so thick in parts we could walk on water if we were fast enough.’ He laughed again. ‘That’s what I was trying to do, the day I met her.’

‘Walk on water?’ She liked playing along with his ridiculous stories. ‘You must be joking.’

‘I swear it, on my sainted mother’s grave,’ he said. ‘So there I was, lowering myself over the side of the boat, the fish churning and splashing like a great rippling silver carpet. I had my net in hand and my sturdiest boots on, and I stood on the back of the great shoal and felt the power of their mass rolling through the soles of my feet. I dipped my net once, throwing the fish on board, then again, then a third time. But the net grew so heavy I couldn’t lift it, dragging me down through the shoal and into the deep blue waters below.’ He coughed again as though reliving the moment, taking a sip of water before continuing.

‘Why didn’t you let go?’ She’d finished the ornaments and was wiping along the slats of the blind, each one rattling faintly against the glass.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t let go. That net had been woven by seven maids from their own hair, each one more fine and delicate than the last, yet together stronger than steel. It was a great treasure, it was.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Down I went, my lungs feeling as though they were about to pop. Then I saw her.’

He paused, and Sara realised he was waiting for her response. ‘Who?’

‘The mermaid. First her face, pale ivory in the gloom. I thought it a mask at first, a dead man’s caul, some witchery come to take me. She smiled, and her teeth gleamed like pearls. She had the net in her hands, smooth slender fingers curved through the knots. It was she who had pulled me down. “Let it go” I said, but she shook her head, laughing all the while, hair greenish brown around her.’

‘But how-‘

‘Could I speak? I used the last of my air, words forming in bubbles above my head before fading away. We floated there together, staring at each other. Then she put her hand on my arm and, all at once, I could breathe. I could hear her in my mind. “I like your net,’’ she said. ‘’And I wish to keep it.’’ ‘’But it’s mine,’’ I said. At this she frowned. ‘’Every day you take what is mine. So why should I not get something in return?”

Sara raised her eyebrows. Sliding the cloth along the last of the slats, she pulled the blind up, letting in pale sunshine. ‘What did she mean?’

‘Well, it was the fish, of course. Turns out she was some sort of sea shepherdess, the shoal of fish her flock. Each day she’d bring them to our part of the ocean, and we’d come with our boat and take part of it away. Of course we hadn’t realised what we were doing.’ He huffed out another laugh, the bed creaking as he moved. Sara went over to help him, plumping up the pillows behind him.

‘So how did you escape? And why did she kiss you?’

‘Well…’ His voice trailed off and he winked at Sara. ‘Why do you think?’

‘Oh, don’t tell me you charmed your way out of it.’

‘I was a charming fellow in those days. You don’t get a net made from the hair of seven maids for nothing, you know.’

‘So, what did you do?’

‘I pulled the net closer, meaning to trap her in it, but she was too fast for me. With a flick of her green tail she had me trussed up like a caterpillar, then she towed me away, the shoal around us all slithering scales, like a great cloud. I could see the hull of our boat getting smaller and smaller, and I thought I was done for, truly I did.’

Sara shook her head. ‘Well I never.’

‘She took me to a little island, a rocky outcrop way out in the sea. We all steered clear of it on account of the rocks below the surface like sharks teeth, ready to tear the hull of your boat. She pulled me onto a little bit of sand, towering rocks all around us, the murmur of the sea in our ears. Then she unwrapped me.’

‘Unwrapped you?’

‘Completely, if you get my drift.’

‘Ooh, you be careful!’ Sara laughed, moving over to one of the pictures on the wall and wiping the glass.

‘Oh, there was nothing careful about it. She was about to have her wicked way with me when there was a shout from the ocean, and there I saw the head and shoulders of a noble looking fellow, all silvery hair and beard, holding some sort of trident, bobbing in the waves. When she heard the shout she flinched, pulling back. Our eyes met, and she leaned in and kissed me. I think she meant to get my mouth but I turned my head and she got me just below the eye. Turns out mermaids are venomous, y’see.’

‘Oh, now I know you’re having me on.’ Sara realised she’d been cleaning the same picture frame for far too long and went on to the next one.

‘I swear on my blessed father’s grave I’m not,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Before she slipped between the waves, leaving me half-unconscious, she put a shell in my hand to remember her by. Blue and pearl it was, green as the sea. And I resolved that I’d see her again, one day, and finish what we started, but I never did.’

‘Oh, you and your tall tales,’ said Sara. ‘Right, I’d better get on, I’ve plenty of other rooms to clean. See you tomorrow.’

The next morning Sara knocked on his door. But when it opened the room was empty, the bed made up. Someone came up behind her and she turned to see one of the night nurses. ‘Where’s he gone?’

‘Died in the night, he did. Funny, though.’

‘What was funny?’

‘Well, when I went in to check on him, there was a smell everywhere, like the sea, you know? And he gave me this, said it was for you. The next thing we knew he’d gone.’

She dug in the breast pocket of her tunic and pulled something out. ‘Here.’

Stunned, Sara held out her hand. The nurse dropped something in it.

It was a shell, blue and pearl, green as the sea.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Too Many – 30 Day Writing Challenge

img_4590It’s Christmas Eve, and also day twenty-four of the 30 Day Writing Challenge. Today’s prompt is: Too Many

Now, the obvious thing to write about today would be presents- as in, is there such a thing as ‘too many’? If you asked my daughter I’m sure she’d say no. However, when I cast around for an idea, I only had a fragment come to me:

‘I love snow.’ I rested my chin in my hand, dreamy, watching spiraling white flakes fall against the dark trees. Outside it was cold, the sky a swollen grey, but inside all was warm and cheer. The fire was crackling, a blanket was tucked around me and the smell of baking – really, the only thing that could have made it more like a Christmas card would have been a small child singing carols.

How would you end it? I had a vague idea of the snow turning to a storm, the power going out and the idea that there was such a thing as ‘too many’ snowflakes. However, it seemed a bit of a stretch and so I’ve left them as is, comfortable and warm in their living room, watching the snow fall.

And perhaps that’s where I’ll leave you all too, as night falls and Christmas beckons. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate xx


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

 

What Happens Next? Add To The Story…

IMG_2594On Thursday I posted my usual Thursday Doors post, although my door this week was blocked up. It happened to tickle the fancy of Craig Boyack, who started to write a tale based upon what he thought was behind the door:

For over a thousand years, the ancient evil remained walled up behind a blessed doorway at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
In the summer of 2016, an overzealous archaeologist detected something behind the wall using electromagnetic sounding equipment…

Then I added another bit:

…entering through the old crypt, the archaeologist made their way through the vaulted chambers, footsteps echoing as they headed deeper into the dark…

Then Craig wrote another bit, adding that maybe we could invite participants:

The smell of moss and rot filled their nostrils. The light failed. A slight dragging noise came from farther down…

So I added another bit:

… the smell grew stronger, but with a hint of something darker, like smoke from a funeral pyre. All at once the archaeologist was aware of the great weight of stone pressing down from above…

And I agreed with Craig – it would be fun to get some more writers involved. So, what happens next? Make sure you read the comments, and let’s see if we can keep this story thread going 🙂