25 November 2013

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

Today is Blog Tour Day where authors answer questions about their writing process. Lindsay Townsend, historical romance novelist, posted last week, and I thank her for my invite. Check out her writing process at http://www.lindsaytownsend.net

As for mine, well do come in. Step over the files on the carpet, push the maps off the spare chair and make yourself comfortable. Untidy office? You think all these photos of pristine writing spaces aren’t staged? Research needs to be to hand. Drink your espresso and luxuriate in reality.

What am I working on?
Ah, this needs a three-fold answer.

I am well into the last lap of The Bull At The Gate, the second in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. The novels have three core characters: Nick who carries the stories, Alice his girlfriend, and a Celtic water goddess who has no intention of fading into the obscurity of history. Threading through each contemporary book is a different period of history with strong ties to the setting. Click the Trilogy page at the top of this blog for more info and/or sign up for a Newsletter shout when the ebook becomes available.

As the finishing line approaches, elements for the untitled third novel start waving flags. I already know where it’ll be set, Durham, so I’m gathering research material for the area. However, my alter ego is stomping around in a hissy fit because I promised him a Western novella to re-charge my own batteries, so I can foresee a bout of mental fisticuffs around New Year.

I’m also promoting/marketing. Or trying to. It just goes with the writer’s territory these days, no matter if you’re taken on by a mainstream or small publisher, or you’ve kicked both into touch as I have and are going it alone as an indie author. If a book launch is on the horizon groundwork needs to be laid.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Because I’ve eschewed publishing houses I am not writing within genre limits – which may sound strange to readers but I can see novelists nodding already. Please cut the history to a minimum… in a historical novel; …please cut the length by 10,000 words to fit X imprint… when I thought I was writing for Y imprint. Enough. Suffice to say that my novels now turn out the way I want not the way an accountant dictates for the benefit of the company’s balance sheet. Readers will always get a full-bodied read.

Why do I write what I do?
I like to push genre boundaries, even if just gently. For instance, Beneath The Shining Mountains has no “civilising” European characters in it – and who would have thought that would have created such a stir? Give me a moment while I roll my eyes. The trilogy’s genre is recognised as paranormal romantic thriller, but the books are written in gritty realism set in existing places that readers can visit. To reflect the character set each has three main storylines, three being a Celtic sacred number, hence trilogy rather than series, and the storylines obliquely reflect one another giving a resonating back-beat. Am I writing about the resurrection of a pagan goddess? Sure, but in truth I’m exploring perceived realities. …but that is too literary a concept for the genre… [cue eye-roll]

How does my writing process work?
The premise comes first; sometimes it comes as a lightning bolt, more often it takes years to coalesce. The trilogy is a single premise; the Native American came from a what if? while reading a biography, the Western by turning a short story of mine on its head. Then I research around the premise, and as other elements drift in I research those – think spider’s web. When possible characters start appearing as ghostly apparitions I begin to plan them in tandem with general research. The main-character planning is actually more important than the background research which can be added to while the writing is on-going. The characters need to be fixed indelibly because altering a character’s traits/foibles mid-write destines any book to disaster.

I don’t write about my characters, I become my characters and write. Actors act on stage, I act on paper, embraced in a cloak spilling the full set of senses that character would notice at that time under those conditions. Hence, I rarely describe my characters and never ‘in full’. All that information stays on that character’s information sheet among my research papers.

Deciding which character needs to step into the story first, and at which point, can take a good amount of juggling; it will all depend on the first frame I want the readers to step through, because that frame – tone and atmosphere as much as information on setting and character – determines how the unfolding novel is perceived.

Then I write. Yes, for so much pre-planning there is scant forward plotting. I know where to find The End, I may even have that scene drafted in my head, but I never plan portions of the book because I work organically, and slowly, giving my subconscious time to simmer. A look, or a pause in a dialogue exchange, can sprout an entire subplot. I always ask why? and keep asking why? until the character reveals his/her motives. I don’t live in a bubble and neither do my main and subsidiary characters.

Because I write slowly I edit as I go, making full use of my software’s Comments facility to make notes in the margin. Once the book is written and the Comments addressed, unless I’ve found a major hole it is on to the spit & polish stage before being read and commented on by trusted beta readers. Then I go through it again. By this stage I am already putting in place marketing/promotion, and future projects are baying to be heard. And so the whirly-gig turns.

Thanks for stopping by. Do leave a comment or ask a question; I’ll be pleased to respond. Explore the tabs at the top of the blog, too. If you want to read the start of any of the books, click on the covers and you’ll be able to ‘Read Inside’ via Amazon no matter the country you’re based in.

Monday 2nd December there are three very different UK authors explaining their writing process: Penny Grubb, Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger winner and much, much more; Sylvia Broady who writes historical women’s fiction set in and around World War II; and Stuart Aken who writes everything from Fantasy to Erotica, all at high speed.

Penny Grubb – Penny writes crime novels but also has a couple of writing-related day jobs, one of which involves teaching writing techniques to university students and the other a lot of fighting (for writers’ rights, fair pay and so on). She will go almost anywhere in pursuit of research for her novels but tries to draw the line at criminal activity and very high roofs.

Sylvia Broady – Sylvia first wrote short stories and a serial for radio, and short stories for magazines and anthologies, before moving on to write novellas and then full length novels. Now published by Robert Hale in hard back, large print and audio, her latest novel, A Time For Peace, is out on 29th November.

Stuart Aken – Stuart was born against the odds to a widowed mother in a neighbour’s bed and raised in an old railway wagon perched on a crumbling cliff. He’s currently engaged in finishing the third volume of an epic fantasy trilogy, the first book of which, A Seared Sky: Joinings, is due to be published later this year. A writer who refuses to be handcuffed to any one genre, he’s written in the field of romance, thrillers, sci-fi, humour, erotic lit and, of course, fantasy.

19 November 2013

The Bull At The Gate excerpt

I've just passed the 85,000 word mark on the w-i-p The Bull At The Gate, which means that I am on track for hitting The End at around the estimated 100k target. Although I do a lot of research planning, I don't plan out my chapters to any great degree as my workflow is organic and relies heavily on the nuances of previous scenes. I'll be talking more on this on the 25th when it's my turn to explain My Writing Process as part of a blog tour.  

But part breather, part celebration, I thought I'd share some of the last scene written. The novel is the second in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, and each novel has three main strands, one of which is historical. This exercept is part of the Roman strand set in Eboracum, modern York, where contempory threads are set.

It'll take half a blog to set the scene properly, so I'll won't bother. Vibius, retired centurion with the Sixth Legion Victorious, is the viewpoint character. Enjoy.

Looking down at her wrapped form stretched along the lid of the sarcophagus, his memory superimposed the dishevelled Luna priestess lying prostrate on the temple floor. She’d been throwing water from the shrine pool over her head, lamenting the loss of Luna’s benevolence, Vibius had thought. But was it more? Driving her ox-led biga across the night’s sky, Luna was a constant in the heavens as was Sol Invictus. Had the priestess truly sent away the temple acolytes because of the Christ-men’s fetid approach, or had the Lady used their thieving guile to send away an anointed rival, a usurper for her role? What had she thought when she’d seen the strange garb and those starlit, night-sky eyes? He wondered if she would be there when he returned to tell of their salvation through her acolyte. Or would the ash-faced Christ-men have visited her with more than eggs?
He did not wish to think of it at this time of contemplation, but Marcus Caecidius’ warning kept repeating in his head, and the way he’d been deserted by the temple officers rankled anew. He should not have to face this alone. He was the Keeper of the Temple, he was not the Pater.
But, as it had been when he’d worn the colour, his vow was his life. Sol Invictus would have his Consort. The name of his life-friend would be spoken and the spirit of Tetricus would rise up to feast with Mithras at the gods’ table.
And if the ash-faced Christ-men ventured near, then he would use his gladius to offer up on the altar more blood than the sacred stone had ever carried.
Three guesses where he and the, er, drugged acolyte are? 
Do drop by on 25th for an in-depth look at how I tackle my writing.

10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

I'm watching the television programmes marking the march by the Cenotaph in London, listening to the ladies who worked long hours at Bletchley Park deciphering code during WW2, to men and women coping with combat stress after the Falklands, the Gulf War, and all the rest, to the young men with missing limbs determined to build a new life for themselves. And I think of the local families grieving for their loved ones.

I wanted, too, to remember the young men who, in 1944, left in a Halifax from an airfield close by my home and came down in a field not far away.