Monthly Archives: July 2014

Self-Publishing: decision made

It has been with much soul searching that I have finally decided to self-publish The Art of the Imperfect, the first in my crime series set in Scarborough. I have moved from saying, ‘I think I will…’ to ‘I will…’ And I am in the process of gathering information from various people who have done this in the past and from websites, guides etc.

For me, there’s still a certain amount of stigma attached to self-publishing. At the recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival a panellist said the oft repeated, ‘If the story is good enough and the writing is good, you’ll find a publisher.’ (Easy to say if you’ve got one!) That’s the script I’ve grown up with, even though I know somewhere in my gut that there is much awful writing being churned out by traditional publishers and there is much that is quality coming out of self-publishing.

My decision has been helped by two things. One is an article in The Telegraph recently . Val McDermid is quoted as saying she would never have got a traditional publishing contract if she’d started out today. Also Jonny Geller, literary agent supremo, calls the traditional publishing industry ‘a lottery’.

Secondly the panel at the festival at Harrogate on self-publishing (with the lovely Mel Sherratt – was so inspiring and encouraging, it did give me more confidence that I could do it as well. They all said that the down-side to self-publishing is that the writer has to do everything; and many of them, as soon as they could, took advantage of the skills of an editor. However, they all appeared to relish the control and satisfaction self-publishing gave them in seeing their own works through to fruition.

I hope it maybe so for me too.

Novel Writing Techniques – Dialogue

Once again the writer is performing a sleight of hand in their contract with the reader. Dialogue has to sound real while at the same time not being a facsimile of how people  speak in reality. And if you’ve ever transcribed a recorded conversation, you’ll understand why; there are far too many ‘um’s, ‘you know’s (plus similar phrases) and digressions for it to work on the page.

However, writers can learn a lot by listening in to conversations (on the bus/train, in the café) and noting down interesting or engaging turns of phrase. This is especially true if we are trying to capture a particular regional dialect or way of speaking. In addition, we may want to talk to or interview people with particular experiences or knowledge in order to be able to bring in specialist language to add authenticity to a character’s speech. One criticism of my first novel (written thirty-two years ago and never published) was that everyone sounded like me. I have strived to ensure this can no longer be levelled against my writing, against my fiction and poetry at least.

I have recently discovered that indirect or summarised speech has been given a bad name by certain creative writing tutors. It is direct speech which has impact, students are told. This is true. However, it also loses its impact if there are pages and pages of it. One way for it to maintain its wow factor is to balance it with summarised speech, leaving the quote marks for that crucial line. Here Margaret Geraghty (The Novelist’s Guide) is once again instructive. Summarise the discussion about the greenfly on the roses and then, bang, add in direct speech, ‘Honey, I’m leaving you.’ Readers will happily forego the advice on gardening, for the pleasure of being brought swiftly and skilfully to the denouement.

Novel Writing Techniques – Point of View

Recently I have been once again considering the thorny issue of point of view in writing fiction. There are many decisions to be made when choosing a point of view for a novel. Margaret Geraghty’s The Novelist’s Guide gives a good explanation of all of them and their pros and cons.

I have chosen the third person POV for my series of crime novels and this in itself has several permutations. We can take the stance where the narrator is not a character in the novel, but some omniscient being who is able to see and know everything that is going on (ie the author incarnate). Often with this approach, the perspective from which the story is told keeps shifting. One moment it will be the main protagonist and then we will get a thought about, or an emotional response to, that character from their side-kick or best buddy or worst enemy.

David Lodge in his excellent book The Art of Fiction, suggests this carries the twin danger of getting in the way of an intimacy with the characters and of breaking the unwritten contract a writer has with the reader. As writers we are inviting the reader into a world we have constructed and we are asking them to come with us and BELIEVE. By being able to move smartly from the thoughts and emotions of one character to another and then to another, god-like, we are breaking into the fantasy of this being a reality.

Personally, I also think there’s a challenge for writers in sticking to a restricted number of POVs. Yes, maybe it would be convenient at that point for the reader to know what our protagonist’s wife is actually thinking about him. However, there is a skill in writing the scene, sticking with the perspective we have started out in AND allowing the reader to discover what’s really going on.

I have chosen three third person POVs for my crime series novels. This does give me a freedom in terms of telling the story and showing the main protagonists from differing angles. It also, in my humble opinion, tests (in a good way) my capabilities as a writer to encourage the reader to enter a made-up world, become intimate with the characters, and, at some level, experience it as they might the world around them.

This is my approach. However, I have just read two of Nikki French’s Frieda Klein’s mysteries, and the POV changes in these books more often and quicker than my Twitter feed updates. They’ve sold shed-loads of books, so, in the end, what the hell do I know?

Next time: my thoughts on dialogue.


Therapists in Fiction

Given I am writing novels which have a central character who is a counsellor and encouraged by Anne Goodwin’s blog: I have been investigating how some writers have chosen to portray therapists in fiction.

My holiday reading was The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers and two of the Frieda Klein mysteries by husband and wife team Nicci French. Both therapist characters in these books come to ask interesting questions about therapy and their role as ‘helper’. However, there were moments when both novels stretched my credulity beyond breaking point.

The seven-hour therapy session at the heart of the Vickers’ book was one of these moments. Not only could I not believe that this would ever happen, but also the fluency of the client’s recall, especially of exact conversations, was implausible. But then, one of my compulsions in my writing is about memory and how narrative is always a fashioning, whereas this was obviously not a concern for this Vickers.

In terms of the Klein books, firstly it was her managing to fit meetings and lunch in the odd hour she has between clients, something I would never even attempt to do, particularly if I had to travel across London to do it. And secondly, and more crucially, her constant rushing into intruding on other people’s lives and private spaces. Klein apparently doesn’t like people coming uninvited to her own house, sees it as an intrusion into her privacy, yet she has no questions about pushing her way into the homes of others (including clients). There are hints at complaints and disciplinary action, which come to nothing (because she keeps solving the cases) but she herself appears to have little hesitation. And the she seems to have only started doing this since she began working ‘with’ the police, it’s almost as if she’s a repressed peeping tom given permission to go on the loose.

However, for me there is one glaring omission in the two books. Both Vickers’ narrator and Klein should be having some decent supervision. The need for this doesn’t stop when a therapist becomes ’eminent’. In addition, in my own humble opinion, they could also do with their own therapy. And the writers have missed out on an excellent technique for telling the narrative. I have found with my novels that supervision and therapy sessions are ripe with possibilities in terms of plot and character development.

I do like that these novels do explore the therapists’ vulnerabilities. The idea of the wounded healer is strong in the two stories. It is also an aspect of my novel series and an issue that as a counsellor I recognise only too well.