Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Onwards from 2015 and Upwards in 2016

I know it's not quite Christmas  but, as I will not be adding to this blog until 2016 is well under way, now is he time to reflect on the past year and the year to come. And fear not. I do not make New Year Resolutions. After all, 2015 for me landed me a bitter blow with the totally unexpected death of my lovely, wonderful brother, Chris.

How can we know what the future will bring?

What I can do is concentrate on some of the many novels I have read this year and the wonderful writers I have met. Although I read a varied selection of books, I shall only mention novels. After all, that's what I do and that's what I mainly dwell on. (Of course, they are mostly historical.)

Firstly, I want to talk about a contemporary thriller that took the world by storm this year. It's easy to sneer at such novels but I have to say The Girl on The Train by  Paula Hawkins deserved all the plaudits it received. When I was in my twenties I commuted for a year in an out of London along. AS is the case of repetitive journeys, I knew almost every house I rattled (or sometimes crawled) past. Like Rachel, I often created lives for them in my head that were far more fulfilling than my own because I happened to be in a bit of a mess myself and didn't know where my life was heading. Fortunately, I soon pulled myself together. Rachel, on thre other hand, sinks deeper and deeper in the mess she makes for herself. She is the archetypical unreliable narrator, making me angry and frustrated by the mess she made of everything and the lies she told. However, her drunken confusion and the mess she makes are not entirely her fault. This is a stunning novel that still resonates with me

I know that The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton was first published in 2014 but its slightly surreal quality and its secure history still resonates with me even now. I shall definitely read her next novel. Unlike Jessie Burton who sprung on the scene so unexpectedly, I have been a fan of Esther Freud's novels for a very long time. I was therefore very shocked when Mr Mac and Me failed to hit the heights. I still don't understand why. It is a novel of the time during the Great War, that Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife lived in Suffolk. But as the title of the novel makes clear, the novel is actually about a boy who becomes obsessed with them both and what it reveals of the suspicions and paranoia of war and suspicious minds. Masterful fiction.

In the past few years, I have mentioned how much I love about the annual Harrogate History Festival, organised by the HWA. There have now been three of them. This year, it exceeded itself with the appearances by two of my favourite men: Neil Oliver and Melvin Bragg, both with historical novels out which I haven't yet read but will do so. Also speaking was Michael Morpurgo who, to me, should be classed as a National Treasure for encouraging children in a totally unstuffy way to love reading.He speaks to children directly without talking down to them.

I have always enjoyed engagaing with writers whose novels I admire. It was lovely to meet Emma Darwin and Andrew Taylor who writes brilliant novels that somehow, although they sell well, rarely win the big prizes. An Andrew Taylor novel is always a treat. This year, as well as The Silent Boy which centres on The French Revolution, it was also my pleasure to read a previous historical thriller of his: The Anatomy off Ghosts.

There are many times when I wonder why I bother writing fiction when I am not a patch on any of the writers I mention here.But, don't we all feel like that more often than not?

This year's HWA conference also introduced me to Anna Hope and her stunning novel Wake which tells most vividly of  the legacy of grief and mental disintegration of those 'left behind' by war. Three woman, seporated by class and their situation. One is a mother, another is a sister and the other is one who works although she is rich enough not to. Yet, all of them are linked by one particular vile even in the war. What ties them together and  determines ther novels structure, them and links, is the disinterment  and re-burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.  Another novelist worth reading. And I am looking forward to her next novel, The Ballroom. It is set in High Royds Hospital, well-known, or should I say once notorious mental asylum in the Leeds area, where, incidentally, my brother in law once worked as a doctor and where he now lives in an house in the new housing development following its decommission.

Thanks to the conference I have also acquainted myself with drinker, gambler and bad boy with a heart of gold, Thomas Hawkins,  the hero of The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. I am about the read his second outing, The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins.

 The nature of such book-related events is that you keep bumping into many people again and again over the course of three days. Then, when you get beck home you discover that plenty of people you know well were also there but you never even saw them even at a distance.

So it was while I sat on a bench at Harrogate station waiting for the York train where I would change trains. At my feet was a big bag (stuffed with books) with the Festival's logo emblazoned on it. Someone sat down next to me and we started taking about the festival that had just ended. And we talked and talked and talked on the train all the way to York where we had to go our separate ways. (Yet I hadn't seen her at all at the Festival  although she is a committee member of the HWA.)

Elizabeth Freemantle (for it was she) is a really lovely lady. Well, of course she is. She's a writer of excellent  historical novels, of course, which I have been reading with great plesure and admiration ever since we chatted. Although I thought that the Tudor period held nothing new for me, I was wrong and have already devoured Queen's Gambit and Sisters of Treason.

Then, as the New Year dawns with the popping of corks and the crackle of fireworks, I look forward to reading Watch The Lady.  

And, with the new year, with any luck I will have finished writing my latest novel and maybe even have it accepted by an agent and/or publisher. 

In the meantime, I would like to wish all of you who might have glanced at one or two of my blog posts this year - says she, always the optimist - A Very Happy Christmas and a Stupendous 2016. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Where am I?

Silly question. No, I've not just recovered from a prolonged blog-break with amnesia. I know exactly where I am physically and geographically, thank you very much. It's Monday 30th November, it's pouring with rain and cloud is shrouding the moors above the village. I know that because I can see it if I turn my head leftwards and upwards through the roof-light, which is a contradiction in terms because, even at one pm, I have my desk lamp blazing brightly. Now where was I.....?

...Oh yes. I'm sitting at my desk at home. This blog post is merely a report on where I stand here and now at this moment in time  (as they say but I don't) with my writing 'career' (cue canned laughter) as we approach the winter solstice. Because, being winter, I am spending more time at home and at my desk, I have spent the summer doing anything but: supporting husband Jon through his many iron-man-distance triathlons plus sightseeing, researching and restoring my batteries.

So I have re-opened my dormant blog which is now blinking and shaking off its layer of dust. I had intended to attach some photos here to show you where I've been but Blogger is increasingly driving me mad so you'll have to imagine them and picture Scotland's east coast, Northumberland and County Durham (a few times to visit our ticklish and giggly grandson), Nottingham, the Peak District and finally down to Dorset and Weymouth.

Back home now and with the short days and long nights enveloping me, I'm back to writing, writing, writing. As I have decided to stick to what I know best now and am most comfortable with after having made grandiose plans to publish shed-loads of flash fiction, enter lots of of short story competitions, test the waters with pocket  novels and women's magazine serials. I have since had a change of heart. Having said that I did have a tiny burst of success with, first of all, publication of the first 500 words of a contemporary crime novel in Writers Forum. Later on, that same lovely magazine awarded me 3rd prize in one of their short story competitions with publication of said story and a cheque. (I think that issue may still available from newsagents.)

However, having established that I can still write something that is reasonably publishable, my confidence has risen a bit although I still need more yeast. Basically, I need to write better. (As Samuel Becket said, 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better). So I've come to the conclusion to stick to writing novels in the traditional (and very difficult) way and not by self-publishing. I've discussed this before on this blog. I'm not against self-pubbing in any way, but have realised that it's not for me. I need someone else's approval for my writing which means probably an agent and, even if not, a traditional  publisher. Also because I  do not want to go all out with publicity, promotion and selling. 

So this is what I've done in my new resolute state of mind. I found an excellent experienced published writer to take a look at the first few chapters. I researched this person carefully and felt they would provide an honest opinion of my medieval novel that my (then) agent slammed in no uncertain terms. The report was very thorough and insightful and offered some brilliant advice to give the manuscript far more panache, more character motivation . A major rewrite with this in place could make it more publishable in these increasingly difficult times for fiction writers.

What with this, that and the other, I have gained more confidence to march forwards, I am now in the process of a major rewrite and guess what? I'm much happier with my manuscript now. I know there's a very long way to go and will have to set foot again on that steep and long agent-trail yet again - with  its steady stream of rejections. So what? If I get 100 rejections, I'll explore 100 more avenues. I will NOT  give up. After all, that is par for the course. I'm a writer. I've been writing for over 20 years. I'm not dead yet.

PS. I'm having repeated trouble with my Google account and it still won't let me download any of my photos because it wants to contact me by my mobile phone. Only, there is mobile signal here. I have a mobile phone which I use mainly in emergencies but can only use it when I'm not here. Grrr. Why won't these techie people realise some of us have slow internet speeds and NO MOBILE SIGNAL! Google are pretty awful. I can't even post a comment on my own blog. 

PPS Another of my future plans is to ditch Blogger (which is Google) and get a proper website with a blog attached.

Watch this space. 


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...