Sunday, 30 August 2009

Mystery crickets, truth in fiction

Over the years on my London workshop balcony I've had waves of different creatures, some more welcome than others. One year mice ate all my lobelia; I've had a couple of outbreaks of slugs, and waves of sparrows were followed by blue tits then blackbirds. I once saw a sparrowhawk. All very interesting.

But this spring for the first time ever I heard the gentle stridulation of crickets. Though I couldn't find them among the plants, I was quite excited (Chris Tarrent used to say he liked a woman who was easily excited) and added them, for a bit of extra atmosphere, to the scene in Catch a Falling Star where Caz and her friends have a birthday supper on her roof terrace in Hoxton.

This week the crickets were still there, chirping away, as I thought. Then realization dawned that the intermittent squeaking came, not from insects, but from one of those cheap circular plastic fans set in a window pane on a nearby building (you can see it in the photo). I went to the National Biodiversity Network site and looked up the distribution of crickets. According to their map, they are in Islington, but not in the Shoreditch/Hoxton area.

I wondered if I should remove the reference to them in my novel. In the end I didn't. Caz, after all, lives in a slightly better version of reality; akin to a Richard Curtis film, where friends are funnier, weather more interesting, and life is never dull. She has the crickets; I, alas, don't.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Revision - is there no end to it?

No, probably not, is the answer to that. Death or publication are the only means of stopping me tweaking my novels. Each time I look at them I find new things I can improve. (Which is quite encouraging, really, as it must mean my writing is getting better.)

I am not alone in this. Jasper Fforde says, 'If it were possible I'd be around Waterstones with a pot of glue and replacement pages and perhaps after that knocking at your front door with a bottle of Tippex and a pen, "Excuse me, my name is Jasper Fforde. Do you have a copy of 'The Eyre Affair' by any chance? I've spelt Steller's sea cow incorrectly and I was wondering..."'

I've been revising Trav Zander. I've done five chapters so far. What I am getting rid of mostly are:
  • Unnecessary speech tags, often where I also have a description of what the character is doing which tells the reader who is speaking.

  • Bits that tell the reader what is going to happen, instead of just letting the story unfold.

  • 'He thought' or 'she thought' - generally a sign the writing is under par (thank you, Alan). There are better ways of getting the information across.

  • Deleting 'that' if it's not necessary and there is more than one.

  • And word echoes, my bane - I'm still picking those out, but at least now I have help at hand with Autocrit. It's astonishing; I must have been over Trav twenty times, including reading the whole thing out loud, and I've still missed some repeat words. I recommend Autocrit for anyone with the same problem; it costs $47, and you can try it free first.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Form an orderly line, please

Today I am touting for followers. Would you like to follow this blog, with all the exciting benefits that brings?

(No, I don't know what they are, either. But please do.)

Just scroll down the sidebar until you come to the Followers bit, and sign up.


Thursday, 13 August 2009

Advice for unpublished authors

  • Under no circumstances whatsoever, ask a non-writing friend if she would like to read your novel. She wouldn't, but she can't tell you that. She will see it as a chore, and worry about what to say if, as she suspects, it turns out to be terrible.

  • Try not to mention you are writing a book, even when you are totally caught up in its toils and unable to think about anything else. Nobody wants to know.

  • If you find you have inadvertently ignored my second bit of advice, then be ready with a succinct answer to the question, 'What's it about?' With TORBREK and the Dragon Variation, I would find myself saying, as their eyes glazed over, 'Well, it's fantasy, but not standard fantasy as the characters talk normally, and there aren't any elves or anything; it's set in an alternative Middle Ages with dragons, and it's about this girl who discovers that she's not only a Dragon Master, but that the black jewelled dagger her grandfather left her means she is...'

  • If an agent should express interest in your novel, DO NOT TELL ANYONE. Well, all right, you can tell ONE writing friend. That is all. Because your non-writing friends will not understand how thrilled you are, and will be tepid in their congratulations; and you will have to tell your writing friends the bad news later if it comes to naught, and they will understand how depressed you are...

Monday, 3 August 2009

An insight into platforms...

I ran my daughter to Bristol yesterday - she had too much baggage for the coach. She's already accumulating books, something that's crazy to do until either you own a flat or a car, as they are so heavy to transport. Her bookcase can't hold them all, and I idly looked through the excess piled on top.

'Ooh, can I borrow this?' I said. The book I'd found was Flying Under Bridges, by Sandi Toksvig. I'd picked it because Sandi Toksvig, as The News Quiz's chairman, makes me laugh.

Then I realized what I'd done. I'd selected a novel on the basis of the author's success in another, unrelated field. Just what publishers expect the public to do; the reason why an actor/television gardener/pop star can get his first novel published while better, unknown writers cannot even get an agent.