Tag Archives: novel

Making Up Friends…Charles Dickens Quote.

“It is the fate of most men who mingle with the

world, and attain even the prime of life, to

make many real friends, and lose them in the

course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or

chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and

lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the

full extent of their misfortunes; for they are

required to furnish an account of them

besides.”

― Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

For those of you who have written novels, how have you felt when you’ve reached the end and your relationship with your characters is over? Or, worse still, when you’ve killed off one of your favourites?

I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

B – Writer’s Block…Quotes A-Z April Challenge.

“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations.

I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write

and imagine that you will achieve something magical

and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in.

The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you

will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write

a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or

three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I

consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare.

All hail the tortoise.”

― Malcolm Gladwell

My theme for this year’s A-Z April Blogging Challenge is motivational quotes for writers and creatives working on ambitious, long term projects like writing a book.

Today, we address B for Writer’s Block.

Not unsurprisingly, Writer’s Block is almost synonymous with writing and volumes have been written about strategies for overcoming block and keeping the flow going and even overflowing.

What doesn’t get talked about and is equally important for many writers and creatives, is creative overflow. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced overflow but it’s when the creativity takes off and becomes all consuming, making it difficult to attend to the necessities of life and especially switching the idea off, slowing your brain down and trying to to get to sleep.

The aim therefore, especially when you’re working on a big, long term project like writing a novel or any kind of book, is to somehow tread the balance between the two. Stimulate yourself enough to get things moving, but if you’re prone to overflow, you might need to take deliberate steps to de-stimulate yourself. I find going for a walk can help keep myself on an even keel.

I also liked the above quote from Malcolm Gladwell because I think anyone trying to write a book has to have high expectations, yet at the same time lower those expectations to get through all the grind which goes along with it and to ride through the ups and downs involved.

By the way, I strongly recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers. The really spoke to me, was the 10,000 hour rule which argues that 10,000 hours of considered practice are required to reach the top of your field. Or, as we have always been told: “practice makes perfect”.

How to you deal with writer’s block? Have you ever experienced writer’s overflow? I’d love to hear from you. 

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 13th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

As much as I’d love to have you over for coffee tonight, you might want to reconsider. It’s so cold that my fingers are numb. Of course, it would help if I accepted that it was still Winter, and that turning on the heater or putting on a jumper would be a good move. It’s evening and currently 11°C or 52°F.

Rosie tennis balls laptop

Rosie with her tennis ball collection on my laptop.

Before I proceed, let me just introduce you to Rosie, our black and white Border Collie x Kelpie, who is staring straight at me with dogged persistence. She has a serious fixation with chasing balls, sticks or anything which could possibly launch through the air with her in hot pursuit. Rosie’s been parked in front of my chair for hours patiently depositing fragments of stick on my keyboard depositing fragments of sticks and tennis ball on my keyboard, and wondering why I haven’t seen them. Indeed, the pile is growing and she’s just upped her campaign and brought me a forbidden wooden peg. You should see the focus on those eyes and the highly strung tension in every cell of her body. She can maintain this pose for hours…and hours. I’m ignoring her more than usual tonight. Wonder if she thinks I’m broken? Or, perhaps she’s concluded I require more training… She certainly hasn’t given up trying to motivate this comatose human. She is the personification (or should that be dogification?) of persistence.

Rowena Haircut

Sporting my new haircut at the local waterfront. 

My big news this week, is that I’ve finally had my haircut. While I acknowledge that for much of the population having a haircut is a non-event, for me it’s more of significant and I’m out there ringing the brass bell.  Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been around two years since my last haircut, and that rushed ponytail or makeshift bun have been heaven-sent. I know it sounds terrible now I’ve actually reflected on my crime and the horrors -of “letting myself go”. It’s just that it takes a lot of effort, not to mention money to maintain the facade, and my prime focus is more on what goes on underneath something money can’t buy.

Rowena Flying Hair

Trying to get a photo of my new haircut…the wind showed no respect and kept blowing it around. 

After my haircut,, I headed back down to Terrigal Beach for a Fisherman’s Basket and thought my hair hair was about to fly away…so much for respecting my new haircut. However, I was grateful to find a parking spot. It took quite a tour to find one. What? Did they know I was coming? Obviously not.

Last week, I mentioned that I was reading Raphaelle Giordano’s  French novel: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. This inspirational book is a hard creature to categorize. While it claims to be a novel, for me it reads more like a memoir, which is perhaps the ultimate tick of approval for any novel. After all, they’re supposed to feel real, and lure the eager reader into their web.

However, most novels don’t include action steps and writing post-it notes to change your life. Fill the void surrounded by all the trappings of success, supposed happiness, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

I decided to take on these challenges myself. Why not?

The first task was to throw out ten items. Me being me, I started musing to myself about what these ten things should be. Of course, I could follow the letter of the law and throw out ten bobby pins and cross it off. However, obviously to experience the full benefit, I needed to embrace the full spirit of the law. Ideally, I would’ve moved on the piano, car bed or table I’ve been meaning to sell or give away, but that wasn’t going to happen quickly. So, I found a sort of middle ground and the deed was done. Too much analysis was only going to lead to paralysis, something I knew too well.

In the book, simply throwing out these ten items launches Camille into a cleaning and renovation frenzy where she even ends up painting their apartment. Such monumental change seemed too good to be true. However, I’m also finding a renewed desire to straighten things up around here. As usual, all roads are leading to my desk and the kitchen table, which always end up as a layer cake of family detritus. Indeed, I have no doubt that there are even fragments of stick buried on my very desk. Clearly, when it comes to sorting all of this out, I’m up against it.However, I’m not aiming for clinical perfection. It is our home. We’re a family. Love, connection and relationships are what it’s all about. Yet, these diametrically opposed worlds collide in every home and we each just try to make the best of it.

Have you read any good books lately? Has anyone read the Jane Hawk series by Dean Koontz? I heard a great review this week, and am tempted to have a go. I don’t usually like reading series and am more of a non-fiction reader, but might give it a go.

How has your week been? What have you been up to? I hope it been great.

This has been another contribution for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. You’re welcome to come and join us for a cuppa.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Dealing With Characters in Non-Fiction.

Not every writer aspires to write a novel. Although I have stumbled into a passion for both writing and reading flash or bite fiction, my book-writing aspirations focus almost exclusively on writing non-fiction.

By non-fiction, I’m not referring to something along the lines of memoir and motivational writing. However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon some gripping stories through my family history research, which were writer’s gold. You know, the sort of stuff which could easily be described as “the Big Bang”.  After all, as the saying goes, “fact is often stranger than fiction”.

Anyway, after having yet another monumental tussle with a character this week, I thought I’d share a few peculiarities I’ve encountered dealing with characters in non-fiction.

Obviously, the very clear distinction between developing characters in non-fiction, is that your characters are or were real people. They’re not products of your imagination, even if they were inspired by real people.

This places certain limitations on how you construct and develop your character. For example, you can’t just make up where they lived, their occupation. Moreover, something real has happened to spark the story in the first place. So, as the author, you’re not really in command of character development or plot. Indeed, you’re role is more that of a meticulous restorer, than a designer.

Using the Proust Questionnaire.

This is where turning to the Proust Questionnaire can be particularly helpful, as it allows you to focus on and bring out the idiocyncracies of your character. It poses a series of questions, which may be used to “interview” your character. Here’s a brief snap shot, which was taken from the Vaniety Fair version.

1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?

__2.__What is your greatest fear?

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others?

__5.__Which living person do you most admire?

Character Have Limitations in Non-Fiction

Clearly, with your characters being real, this places all sorts of restrictions and limitations on how you can develop your character if you are trying to be truly authentic, rather than using a real person as a launching pad into fiction.

With the pieces I’m currently working on, I’m trying to be as authentic as possible. Indeed, I am in effect being, in effect, more of a restorer, than a designer. I’m working with my tweezers and magnifying glass to get those little details right, and yet at the same time, using a broad brush to create suspense, action and all the usual tools that you usually use to make a story worth reading. After all, a reader has no obligation to read anything we write, and there has to be an exceptionally good reason for them to even read the title, let alone the opening page. The days of readers bowing and scraping to the almighty author are long gone. We are the ones who need to get down on our knees and thank the reader. Be thankful they gave us their precious time.

Meticulous Research, Minimal Use.

This is why you don’t want to burden your reader with too much detail, even though you may have volumes of research. They should only see the tip of the ice berg. That’s not to say you don’t need the ice berg, but the reader is also interested in the other bells and whistles. You need to know your stuff. They need to know you know your stuff, but they don’t want you to regurgitate it all over them.

There is beauty in simplicity, something I’ve been appreciating more and more through writing and reading flash or bite fiction. A well-chosen object, piece of clothing, or even the use of language, speaks volumes. You don’t always need to write a novel.

Best Guess is Good Enough.

Another challenged I faced writing non-fiction, was working out about how to fill in the gaps. There’s stuff I don’t know. Can’t find out. Making things up bother me. Was it lying? However, I don’t believe there’s any harm in a best guess scenario. After all, the lines between fact and fiction are really quite blurry once you look into them. There’s always an overlap. Well, at least, that’s my humble opinion. I certainly wouldn’t call it “lying” or “fabrication”, and I am fairly fastidious about getting historical detail right.

The Character Drives Plot. The Author is the Passenger.

This week, I struck a another challenge peculiar to writing non-fiction. You are not writing or making up the plot. Rather, your character is in charge, and doesn’t care whether their next step is going to scuttle hours of work, and your entire philosophical position. No. They just do what they like and all you can do is structure and arrange facts and events, through your own editing lens.

The project which brought this to light, was actually my family history research. While I have been developing a series character sketches, which I’ve been posting on the blog in preparation for a book, I actually had nothing to say about my 4th Great Grandfather, John Johnston. I couldn’t find anything.

Plot is Unpredictable

However, after 20 years of passive research, I found out John Johnston was convicted of bigamy in New Zealand in 1864. Indeed, not only was he still married when he married my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Flanagan. They even had four children, and it wasn’t like they weren’t living nearby either.

Photo2

This could well be John Johnston approx 1886.

As you could imagine, this changed a lot of things. Indeed, it actually changed his name. He was known as “Alexander John”, despite having a younger brother who was Alexander.  Moreover, instead of immigrating directly from Scotland to New Zealand, I found out that he had been living in Liverpool. Indeed, he had married Jane Ellen Jones at St James Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool in 1855. Alexander John and Jane Ellen then lived with her parents for four months. They ultimately had four children and at least two of them were born in England. Alexander John moved to New Zealand around 1860 and three months later, Jane Ellen and the children sailed out. They settled in Dunedin where Alexander John was licensee of the Argyle Hotel until he went off to the diggings.

Understandably, my impressions of John Johnston nose-dived sharply. Although I’d never found any signs of greatness,  family legend had it that he’d built the North Sydney/Cammeray Suspension Bridge in Sydney in 1892. As it turned out, that was built by his brother, although we’re sure he was in there somewhere. Previously, I was thinking very much in terms of right-hand man, not the family charity case. Meanwhile, his other brother, Angus Rutherford Johnston was some kind of Indiana Jones type character who’d fought in Nicaragua, had been shipwrecked and captured by Indians, escaped, found gold and settled in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island where he ran a successful store. This has been, and continues to be, a family of high achievers. I’d always thought it was just a matter of time until I found out that John had built a railway, a monumental bridge or somehow made a name for himself somehow, and certainly NOT as a bigamist.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the bigamy case here, except to say that he stared straight at his first wife in court and denied being married to her, despite their four children. Indeed, when he took the the detective round to see his wife, he really seemed to apply the charm: ” Jane, my girl, you wont prosecute me,” You see, it was actually the Crown which was pursuing the case. In the end, “Alexander John” was found guilty and fined. He got off lightly on a technicality.

However, it wasn’t just the bigamy, or his denial which shot him down in flames. He was also a perpetrator of domestic violence. In 1863, he attacked Jane Ellen with a knife:

Threatening to Stab—Jane Ellen Johnston I charged her husband, Alexander John Johnston with threatening to stab her with a knife on the 13th inst. The defendant was required to give bond to keep the peace towards her for six months, fined in the amount of £lO, and to find two sureties tor £2O each.”

Otago Daily Times, Issue 464, 16 June 1863

I knew nothing about this a week ago, and as you could imagine, it changes everything. I was shocked right to the very core. After all, you don’t really need much of a sense of ethics or values to know this man was a bastard, or at least capable of acts of pure bastardry.

However, as if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

On the 8th February, 1866 Jane Ellen and Alexander John’s nine year old son found a pistol, which his mother thought was safely out of reach. Jane Ellen was out in the garden weeding with two of the other children, when she heard a firearm exploding. Nine year old, Thomas James Johnston had shot his 15 month old sister, Ellen Overton Johnston, in the chest and she died. He didn’t know it was loaded.

Clearly, real life has now moved into the pits of hell, and to compound his first family’s agony, Alexander John was off living with my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget. Indeed, their son Angus had been born on the 6th January, 1865 and Margaret was born roughly a year later.

This wasn’t the story I was planning to write, even for my own consumption.

Of course, not all non-fiction takes such a turn for the worst. However, the story of John Johnston certainly illustrates that you need to be prepared for surprises, and somehow make the necessary adjustments.

The Challenge of Writing My Own Motivational Memoir.

I’ve faced different, but related challenges, working on a motivational memoir, known as: “The Book Project”. Just as I thought the plot was reaching it’s climax and about to trail off to its “living happily ever-after” conclusion, fate stepped in and the book was dead.

You see, I was working on a motivational book about overcoming my severely debilitating auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis and for 12 months, I was soaring. Flying high. I’d managed to all but turn my mountain around. I’d lost 10 kilos despite being on the fat drug, prednisone. I’d taken up the violin despite my disabilities and had played at a happening local music venue at our end of year concert. I’d started my blog and had built up an online blogging community. I’d also gone on an adventure camp where I’d gone parasailing, driven a quad bike and gone down the water slide on the boat without my glasses on, and had ridden a camel. I’d also managed to return to work one day a week as Marketing Manager of a local IT company and was also helping out in my son’s classroom as a volunteer teacher’s aide, and sometimes took the class. These were all things not only I had deemed impossible. It was all there in black and white, or at least shades of grey. The grand finale for the book, was going to be skiing down the Front Valley at Perisher, which would represent turning my mountain. Unable to climb a mountain and ever the individual, I’d decided to ski down the mountain instead.

Indeed, I did it. More as a terrified, quivering wreck of my former self, but I’d pulled it off.

However, even while I was still  down at the snow, I developed the beginnings of a severe chest infection, which blew up into pneumonia. One night while coughing uncontrollably, I briefly even stopped breathing. Meanwhile, a CT scan on my lungs showed that I’d developed fibrosis as a complication of the dermatomyositis, and suddenly the thrill of soaring steadily upwards, came crashing down and didn’t stop at ground level. It kept falling. Seriously, at this point I thought I was looking at a death sentence. Twelve months to live. I’d smacked into the wall, and I was all but a dead duck.

This wasn’t how the Book Project was meant to end. You can’t write a motivational book, which finishes off with you drowning in your own lungs. Come on. That’s not even a story you could give away, let alone become that guaranteed best seller I’d written in my head right down to the second last page.

Fortunately, my doctors put me on a series of chemo infusions of a drug called cyclophosphamide and five and a half years later, I’m still here, and I’ve been in remission ever since. Amen!

While these plots certainly plunged unexpectedly deep into the dark side, they do illustrate how when you’re writing about real people, the author is not in charge. Indeed, you’re much more of a passenger, than sitting in the driver’s seat. Indeed, you can see that at work even when I was writing my own story, although in that instance, it was fate which stepped in.

Clearly, this has become a very lengthy post, and so I’m going to stop it there and turn it over to you. Have you ever written non-fiction? How did you face and overcome some of the hurdles involved? It was be great to get a bit of discussion going.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Must Read: Hugh Mackay, Selling the Dream.

For me, it’s a no brainer. Hugh McKay’s seventh novel, Selling The Dream is a must read.

In case you haven’t heard of Hugh McKay, he’s an accomplished Australian social researcher and best-selling author of eighteen books, including seven novels. I heard him present at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years ago, where he well and truly lived up to my very high expectations. He has amazing insight and can well and truly read in between the lines. More to the point, he takes us on the journey with him.  So, you can learn a hell of a lot from Hugh McKay, who is undoubtedly a man of great substance and wisdom. Words I don’t throw around lightly.

MackayHugh03

Author Hugh Mackay.

If you have been following Beyond the Flow for some time, you might’ve noticed, that I very rarely do book reviews. This is no coincidence. Partly, it’s because I have a huge book pile, which is largely untouched. Moreover, I tend to feel that writing the odd book review bears more weight, unless you run a book review blog. I should also add, that I don’t finish books which don’t appeal on some level, let alone write a review. Indeed, I rarely write a bad review of any sort, although I’m about to spread the word about a brand of children’s vitamins which taste disgusting, despite being labelled: “chewable”.

So, when you see me write a book review and read that I couldn’t put the book down, you should take notice. Even more so, when I tell you that I bought this book for my Dad’s birthday, but read it BEFORE I gave it to him. Obviously, that says this book is not only good. It’s very good!  That’s very high praise from an Australian. (After all, “not bad” would be an Australian’s equivalent to an American’s “awesome” or something to that effect.)

Although reading a book before you gift it is poor form, my Dad’s a practical man. He’ll understand the logic in reading it while it’s here. Moreover, as a voracious reader, he’ll be grateful that I’ve bought him a book so good, that I couldn’t wait for him to read it first. I can also see Dad with his nose stuck in this book and laughing his head off, just like he did when I gave him: The Rosie Project. I’m really looking forward to talking it over with him too, especially as one of their close friends used to head up a multi-national advertising agency. That could well influence how Dad reads the book.

I’ve actually worked for two advertising agencies myself and would be back working in one in a flash. However, these days I’d be on the creative, rather than the sales side.

That said, I’m honest to a fault and would be chewed up and spat out by the likes of the characters in this book. Characters, who I’m sure weren’t characters at all. They’re so very real.

I really don’t like spoiling a read by exposing too many details. Indeed, I would recommend not even reading the back cover of this book. It says too much. Aside from being a book by Hugh Mackay which for me is reason enough, I also bought it based on this endorsement by John Clarke on the front cover:

 

“If someone asked me who should write a satirical novel about the advertising business – someone with inside knowledge who could write well and was extremely clever and amusing – I’d say, ‘See if Hugh Mackay is available.'” John Clarke

“Lincoln The Hunter is living the dream. Universally admired and terrifically charming, he has a formidable reputation in the world of advertising, and is the jewel in the crown of agency KK&C.

When Linc is handed the reins of the high-budget, high-profile campaign for the groundbreaking new snack ‘The Ripper’, he knows it’s his chance to leverage his way to greater success and greener, more glamourous pastures. No matter that it will leave KK&C floundering in his wake …”

Unfortunately, despite loving this book and being utterly impressed with McKay’s use of language, being a gift, I obviously couldn’t do my usual thing of underlining my favourite turns of phrase. So,I did a quick flick through after my post-it notes fell out. There was one excellent phrase I managed to rediscover: “Fishing off the company pier” , which refers to having an affair with a work colleague.

If you haven’t heard of Hugh McKay, perhaps I haven’t said a lot to convince you to go and read this hilarious, insightful read. That is, other than my word for it. Without spoiling its many twists and turns, I’m just going to say “you’ve gotta have faith”.

You can get to know Hugh Mackay a little better by visiting his web site.

Have you read Selling the Dream or any of Hugh Mackay’s other books? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

How To Structure A Novel from Daily Write.

Here on Daily (w)rite, author and editor Michael Dellert has spoken about how start a novel, a post that continues to be popular. Today he’s here to talk about story structure, with fantastic tips on how to structure a novel, some of which I highlight below for you in blue. ——————– Romance of EowainMany writers…

via How to Structure a Novel #Writetip — Daily (w)rite

NaNoWriMo: Planners or Pansters

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.

Sample Floor Plan Wikipaedia

Sample Floor Plan Wikipaedia

The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.

What a beautiful garden. Sadly, it;s not my own!

What a beautiful garden. Sadly, it;s not my own!

The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.

And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

― George R.R. Martin