Monthly Archives: March 2016

Spring – writing as a way of healing

daffsMarch16I realise there are tragedies big and small every day which touch individuals and peoples profoundly, and I would like to acknowledge each one of them. Inevitably, there are some which have a greater effect on me than others, and the bombings in Lahore and in Brussels have bewildered and grieved me in equal measure.

I write and read a lot of crime, yet the inhumanity of one person (or one group) against another still takes my breath away. I do believe it has always been thus, we are no more, nor less, cruel than we have ever been. It is just that we have created machines and substances which can cause greater carnage and we are now much more aware of what is going on. It would be great to think we could learn from history, but it seems all we learn is the force and pervasiveness of ignorance, fear, violence and delusion.

I know the tenets of Spring – new life, new beginnings, hope – are in short supply for many of my fellow citizens of the world. If I focus on my small corner, though, there are the colourful shoots of the daffodils and crocus and the chirruping of robins and cole-tits in the budding trees. And I have completed another re-write of my novel, The Art of Breathing, the third in my #ScarboroughMysteries series which already includes The Art of the Imperfect and The Art of Survival.

I am pleased with what I have achieved so far. Of course, there is still re-reading, re-writing, copyediting, proof-reading to be done, but I am taking this moment to be pleased and satisfied. rainbowMarch2016I have begun to really notice how creating these fictionalised stories is aiding with my understanding of my own story and with my own healing. It is something I may explore more through going back to research and non-fiction articles.

This week I also wrote and added in a chapter where a character receives the comfort they need. Of course, I know it echoes my own desire for comfort on a personal level, but maybe it was inspired in part by the injured and the traumatised I have seen on the news lately.

Is your writing healing for you in any way?

 

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How to write a (crime) novel #3: plotting

Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘pantser’? In other words, do you prefer to know exactly what is going to happen on every page of your novel before you write it? Or do you prefer to start writing and see how the story unfolds.

I always thought I was more of a pantser but for the third volume of my crime series (the Scarborough Mysteries) I find myself becoming more of a planner. And probably most writers will move between the two. I think both approaches have their pros and cons. I think being a pantser is likely to create more quirky and interesting plot lines as there is the space for the unexpected to emerge. However, especially when talking about a crime novel, a certain amount of the planner is useful to ensure all the loose ends get tied up and none of the twists culminate in unintended dead ends.

Stories can start from anything – with a notion perhaps, an image, a character, a plot, something overheard, a dream. Generally I tend to start with a gaggle of characters in search of a narrative, so I am always on the hunt for a plot or two. I collect them in a folder; they particularly include pieces which catch my eye from the news or documentaries or the local paper.

Here’s a writing exercise
Take your local paper and go to page 5. Write a couple of sentences from this page in the middle of a sheet of paper, then begin to ‘mind-map’. Jot down on the empty space ideas and words which spontaneously occur to you. After about fifteen minutes a narrative thread may well be revealing itself to you, one which you could begin to follow.

There are particular issues around plotting, structuring and pacing a crime novel which I will explore later in this series.

Meanwhile are you a planner or a pantser?

Author Interview: Kate Rhodes

kate head2 copy 651219Today I am very happy to welcome the successful crime writer, Kate Rhodes, to my blog. Kate Rhodes began her writing life by keeping an ’embarrassing’ (so she tells me!) teenage diary, which she hopes will never have to reread. She produced two prize winning collections of poetry before writing the first crime novel in her Alice Quentin series, CROSSBONES YARD, in 2012, after working for years as an English teacher. The series has won critical acclaim from readers and reviewers, with Woman and Home describing the central character, Alice Quentin as ‘a terrific new heroine on the block.’ The Daily Mail has praised the series for its ‘cast of really believable and entertaining characters… both the plot and the writing keep one thoroughly engaged throughout.

So Kate, what are you currently working on?
I’ve just completed the fifth novel in my Alice Quentin series, BLOOD SYMMETRY. Now I’m working on a crime novel set in a remote island location. It feels like a big departure, after writing five books set in London. Suddenly I’m describing seascapes and tiny village communities instead of the chaos of city life. It feels like I’ve taken a holiday, packed my bags and headed for the coast!

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
The Thames inspired RIVER OF SOULS, the fourth book in my series. I grew up on its banks, in Greenwich, and I’ve always been fascinated by the way it divides the city in two. It’s always seemed like a river with a split personality. It has carried the city’s freight for hundreds of years, but it’s also a deadly force. Twice in recorded history it has burst its banks and washed the entire city away. It’s also the last resting place for countless suicide and murder victims. I wanted my novel to conjure up the river’s fascinating and scary history.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
A lot! To some extent my central character is a small, blonde version of me, only twenty years younger. Although we have different jobs, she’s a forensic psychologist while I was a teacher, our world view is essentially the same. This connection came about accidentally, not by design. When I began my first book, it was easiest to make my narrator as much like me as possible, but after five books, it still seems to work.

Five tips on writing descriptive passages
Descriptive passages cause a lot of writers to wring their hands in woe, because they’re easy to get wrong. My first tip is to spend time in the location you’re writing about. Walk the streets and absorb the atmosphere. Secondly it’s a good plan to take photos, to trigger your memories of the atmosphere when you get home. My third tip is to try to involve all the senses in your scene description. What aromas can you smell when you stand on a street corner? What sounds can you hear? Is the air warm or cool against your skin? If you use all five senses, the reader will feel like they are walking the terrain with your characters. My fourth tip is, don’t be afraid the cheat! Use the internet to research buildings, parks and landmarks in the neighbourhood, to make them feel a hundred percent real. And finally remember that less is more. Try to sketch in the atmosphere of the scene you’re creating, but leave enough room for readers to imagine it for themselves.

How would you describe your writing process?
It’s pretty organised, mainly because I need to write one book a year. There’s not much time for slacking, which is a pity, because I’m great at being procrastination! I get up quite early each morning but tend not to begin writing until ten or eleven. I normally start by editing the chapter or section I wrote the previous day, then write new material from midday onwards. If I’m in the groove I’ll keep going until six, with few breaks.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
Oddly enough the place I’m happiest writing is on a long train journey. Being in limbo helps my imagination, or maybe it’s the landscape spinning past the window, no one calling on the phone. The worst distractions tend to be email, texts and phone calls. If I quit writing to answer messages my ideas disintegrate, so I tend to leave emails until the evening, or blitz them in the morning, before I start to write.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
I do a lot of research, because I love gathering facts to support my stories. I’ve got several great contacts in the Metropolitan Police, and the Thames River police have also taken me out on their patrol boats several times. Interviewing experts has helped a great deal with each of my stories. I tend to carry out research during the writing of my books, instead of doing loads at the start, otherwise I’d get so immersed in details I’d forget to tell my story.

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
I followed the conventional route into publishing by writing to lots of agents, eventually being taken on by Teresa Chris, after plenty of rejections. Teresa has been a brilliant agent since she took me on in 2012, getting me a three book deal with Mulholland and also arranging some international publication. I’ve been lucky to work with just one editor, Ruth Tross, who commissioned my first book. Ruth has edited my last five books, and these days the process seems to work like a well-oiled machine. Some writers have antagonistic relationships with their River2editors, but I’ve been lucky with Ruth. She gives great advice, and is also a nice, funny person to have coffee with. I’d tell any writer to look for an editor you like on a personal and professional level. Like a marriage, the relationship may last for a very long time.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
Take a look at www.katerhodes.org, or follow me on twitter @K_RhodesWriter. I always suggest that people start with the first book in the series CROSSBONES YARD (http://goo.gl/nmQY9r) but you can dive in anywhere, because all the books work as stand alones. Kate Rhodes author page on Amazon: http://goo.gl/I3MCTt