• Writing Tips

    Research for Fiction?

    Even though fiction is made up it might still be factual in terms of the places the story takes place in and perhaps the way certain characters behave. Often the experiences of the characters are based on the experiences of real people who have been in similar situations.

    Highgate Village
    Highgate Vllage

    I read Joanna Trollope’s book: The Soldiers Wife and I know the author spent quite a bit of time with soldiers and their wives so that she understood the intricacies of their lives before she wrote the book. As a result it is a very interesting insight into the challenges these people face as well as being a good story.

    Before I started writing Forever Lucky, I went to Highgate Village in London (where it is set) and walked around taking in the ambience of the place, lunching at one of the cafes and taking endless photographs. This provided rich material for me and actually made the writing easier in terms of developing the story around my key idea. As a writer you can mix some facts that you like with your characters and storylines.

    The view from Waterlow Park
    The view from Waterlow Park

    I chose Highgate because I had lived there for a short time as a student but that was a long time ago (yes, very long) so I wanted to update my memories with how it is today as the novel is set in present day. Also, I am so much more observant now as I wander around. As a student I was pretty blinkered!

    When I first started writing I thought that having to do research would make the whole process too time consuming. I do admire those that write historical novels; you need a really good knowledge of your chosen period (how did different classes behave then etc..) before you can even make a start!

    Anyway I’m happy writing contemporary novels hand picking the factual details that serve my story well whilst developing characters that are completely made up. Ha!

    You may also find interesting:

  • Writing Tips

    Hand writing or keyboard tapping? Which is best?

    Do you prefer the creative connection of putting favourite pen to beautiful notebook OR the speed and efficiency of onscreen typing?

    Putting pen to pagePutting pen to notebook

    • You can write anywhere with a notepad and pen
    • When friends and family know you are a writer they tend to buy you notebooks! And if they don’t you can indulge your love of stationery.
    • Waterstones and Paper Chase do some lovely notebooks.
    • You write more slowly and have more time to think about it
    • You get a truer connection to yourself and your deepest thoughts
    • Fiction, which is more of a creative process, may lend itself better to hand writing.
    • Putting pen to paper is a more fluid experience
    • Going back through what you’ve written and making changes can get very messy

    The cool efficiency of screen typing

    • Quicker if you can type at a reasonable speed. If you are still at the two fingers stage it might be worth doing an online touch typing course e.g. www.typingclub.com
    • typing
    • Easier to go back and edit
    • If you hand write you will still have to type it up making that process even longer (although speech to text software may help with this.)
    • Non-fiction might lend itself more so to typing as it is a more structured form of writing
    • To ensure you don’t lose anything you have written make sure you back up. I use Dropbox so my files are available to me on any computer. So, if like Louis de Bernières you lose your laptop with 4 chapters of a brand new novel on it, you will not lose your work too (as he did).


    So which do I advocate?

    I do both.

    I love scribbling in a cafe as I watch the world go by and I always have a notebook with me wherever I go. So if the mood takes me, I’m ready to go.
    I have Dragon software which enables me to talk my work into a Word document but I can’t honestly recommend this as there are always mistakes in every sentence. The danger is that it will type something that is not what you said but that is correct grammatically and spelt accurately so that spell check doesn’t pick it up. So you have to read it back with a beady eye.
    By the time you have corrected the piece, it most definitely isn’t quicker but it does cut down on the amount of typing which for those who are still at the two fingers stage is a bonus!

    If I’m at home I tend to go straight to a computer. I have a writing desk set up downstairs in the living room which looks out onto the summer room and the garden beyond so I have a nice view!

    You may also find interesting:

  • Writing Tips

    The power of writing your own story

    My friend Julie Willard read my novel, Unlikely Neighbours, and then gave me Hidden Talents by Erica James to read. 

    ‘Have you thought about writing more? she asked me. Looking at the near-500 pages in my hand, I realised she meant a longer novel. (Mine is around 200 pages.)

    It was a question, I pondered, as I read Hidden Talents.

    I really enjoyed the book. The characters became like friends, all well penned and I felt I pretty much knew them by the end. The storylines, whilst quite dramatic in places, are gentle with you and everyone turns out to be basically good even if they have had their moments.

    Woman with book in parkIt is about a group of writers who meet once a week and, to that extent, it was very interesting for me as I started writing in the same way. Dulcie is a retired sixty-something and decides to advertise for local writers to join her on Thursday evenings. As they read their work to each other, you hear storylines of infidelity, marriage breakup, romance and dramas various.

    One thing that struck me about the newbie writers was that they were writing their life stories.  They say that to begin with you should write about what you know, and this was definitely a case of that.  It meant that the members of the writers group inadvertently got to know each other through their life stories.

    I thought about my own writers group and wondered if the same thing had happened. Perhaps it did but in my naivety, I hadn’t realised. Although, John’s book, which was a sci-fi thriller seemed an unlikely scenario for his own life! However, his book on the struggles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was more likely to be a cathartic scribbling, as he grew up during the troubles.

    When you write from experience you write from the heart and this makes your work more powerful. Whilst it doesn’t have to be a completely true story, many people’s ‘real’ story is rich material to draw upon.

    You may also find interesting:

  • Writing Tips

    Character development is Story

    For any story, short or novel length, your main character needs to develop in some way by the end.

    In other words, they need to change somehow; it might be that they learn from their mistakes, or maybe climb out of a situation they are thrown into and become a better person for it.

    James Bond - No Character DevelopmentJames Bond – How not to do it!

    James Bond is a good example of a character, who does NOT develop from start to finish from one film to the next. He remains reliably arrogant, charismatic, charming (?) and the ultimate hero throughout. You know that whatever scrapes he gets into, he will be beaming at his latest conquest as the credits roll. James Bond films rely on extreme action to thrill us. Having said all that, I think Daniel Craig has been an improvement on the rest in this regard.

    Character Development in Action

    In the novel I’m currently penning, Forever Lucky, middle-class Katie is left at the end of Chapter One with no husband, two spoilt, demanding daughters who are used to a certain lifestyle, and very little money.  Her character develops to meet the challenges she faces, and the story evolves through how she does this and what she becomes as a result.

    So when you start your novel, think about how their character will develop to shape the story. What or who will influence them? What are they like at the beginning of the novel and what are they like at the end. It’s a good place to start.

    You may also find interesting: