Friday, 8 December 2017

Triskele's Best of the Year!


The Triskele team look back at 2017 and select some of our highlights ...

Gillian Hamer

Best book of the year?

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon - wonderful unique voice and clever storytelling.

Best literary discovery?

Bit late to the party but revisiting Daphne Du Maurier this year has been a real joy.

Top personal achievement?

Publishing Sacred Lake - third book in The Gold Detective series.

Catriona Troth

Best book of the year?

An almost impossible choice in a year of so many great books – from Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien to Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge. But I am going to plump for something that won’t be on many people’s radar on this side of the Atlantic: The Break by Canadian Metis author Katherena Vermette. This is a tender exploration of the impact of sexual assault on an extended family, and of the resilience of indigenous women. The women have a strength forged by a lifetime of tough experience, and the bonds of love between them are warm and tangible. They have made their lives and homes in the city, supporting their families while their men, for the most part, have retreated to the bush. Between them, their voices draw us, not just into this one tragic event but into a family history that encapsulates the experience of Métis women. A story that will stay with you long after you have closed the final page.

Best literary discovery?

2017 saw the inaugural award of the Jhalak Prize, and I was lucky enough to be able to read all the books on the shortlist before attending the prize giving in March. It introduced me to so many incredible books and authors that I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, and I can’t wait to see what is on the shortlist for 2018.

Top personal achievement?

In August this year, I placed a bid in the Authors for Grenfell auction and won a workshop with the amazing Sunny Singh. Singh is a Creative Writing tutor at London Metropolitan University. A lot of the work she does with her diverse student body is to make them aware of the way they inhabit the world and to allow that to inform their character building. I came away from the workshop feeling my mind had been stretched in at least five dimensions – and I had a huge amount of work ahead of me, but that I’d been energised to tackle it.

Liza Perrat

Best book of the year?

Zoli by Colum McCann

Best literary discovery?

Psychological thrillers, eg Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant, Why Did you Lie by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, The Stranger in My Home by Adele Parks.

Top personal achievement?

My top achievement would be struggling through the breast cancer treatment. And getting the idea for Book 2 in the Aussie 70s trilogy. Working title: Swimming with Seagulls.

Jane Dixon Smith

Best book of the year?

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Best lit discovery? 

Erm ... 24 Hovrs in Ancient Rome - really worth reading for anyone remotely interested in every day life of the Romans.

Top personal achievement? 

Starting book 5 in the Overlord series

JJ Marsh

Best book of the year?

I'm currently preoccupied by politics and the patterns of history. So I'd pick Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis or Munich by Robert Harris.

Best literary discovery?


Our wonderful mentee, Sophie Wellstood. Having won our Big 5 Mentorship competition, Sophie responded with intelligence and hard work to feedback from super-editor Catriona. She rewrote and improved her novel as a result. Then when she was ready, she snagged an agent in a matter of hours! We are all absolutely delighted for her.

Top personal achievement?

Getting my head around advertising and finding a huge and friendly readership in the US. So much so, I've caved to demand. Beatrice Stubbs Book Seven is on its way.




Here's to many more successes in 2018!









Friday, 24 November 2017

Ian Rankin and the future of the crime novel?


UPDATE: Since publishing this piece, originally titled 'Death of the Crime Novel', we've been alerted to the fact Ian Rankin was misquoted in the Daily Record. Rather than predicting its demise, Rankin was acknowledging current world events might affect its future, leading readers to opt for a different kind of crime novel.

His original interview can be read here.

We are huge fans of Ian Rankin here at Triskele Books. Really, we are. So his latest interview sparked an interesting discussion between the crime writers among us.


Ian Rankin

"I think this may happen -- a move away from serial killers and bleak dystopian crime fiction towards something with a more comforting message," Rankin tells AFP. "Maybe good will be seen to triumph and ordinary people will overcome crises in psychological crime novels," he adds.



Let's hear from our two resident in-house crime authors JJ Marsh and Gill Hamer.

Ladies, over to you …
Latest novel from Gill Hamer


(GH) I think Jill and myself may be on opposite sides on the fence on this one, but I’ll put my penny-worth in first! I think a thriller is a thriller no matter what goes on in the real world. People will always seek escapism and not everyone wants to escape into a cuddly, idyllic world. Choice is vital.

(JJ) Yes, I'd stand right by that statement: choice IS vital. Crime novels offer an opportunity to experience scary situations vicariously and hopefully see the status quo restored at the end. I think people read crime for different reasons, much like picking up a newspaper. If you want to stare brutality in the face, you can read the headlines (eg, a Karin Slaughter novel). Or if you're in the mood to analyse what brought us to such a point, the politics pages (eg, more like a Robert Harris). Then again, you might just be in the mood for stretching the little grey cells with a crossword puzzle.

(GH) There will always, always be a thirst for good versus evil, goodies versus baddies, and for me there's even more need for that when times are tough. People want to believe good conquers all, crime fiction puts readers into the driving seat and sends them off on all kinds of adventures. I don't think that will ever change.

Latest novel from JJ Marsh
(JJ) He has a point in that the world is sometimes grimmer and more depressing than fiction because we have no assurance it's all going to turn out well in the end. But I agree with you, Gilly, the appetite for crime novels in all their guises doesn't seem satiated.

(GH) No matter how bad the world gets, I’ll never turn to romance or science fiction as my choice of escapism! The cold war didn’t stop spy novels. And Trump and terrorism won’t stop people enjoying the thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding out 'whodunnit'.

(JJ) Although I don't think I could write one - they're harder than they look - I do read 'chick-lit' as escapism. I am also keen to read contemporary crime novels which manage to encompass the modern world. But I have never enjoyed an excess of violence and that's unlikely to change.

(GH) There’s such a wide variety of crime fiction out there. I'm not all about the violence and gore. From cosy crime to noir, there's surely something for everyone. I love Agatha Raisin books – you could go so far as call them feel-good novels. Let's not forget the brilliant Beatrice Stubbs too! And I love The Killing, Rebus, Cormoran Strike. I think readers can choose what suits them across the board and there are enough different options out there.

(JJ) Thank you! I think perhaps there's an age factor here. Many of my readers tend to be at the older end of the spectrum, so prefer a little less bloodshed. Whereas I imagine your readership is maybe broader. You're right though, the Gold Detectives series is not all blood and gore. My favourite elements are the locations, the historical connections and the character relationships. Overall, there are trends that ebb and flow but I can't see any visible decrease in the enthusiasm for well-written crime fiction.

(GH) Well, nope, I'm not swayed either. Crime fiction has been a huge part of my life and always with me.











































Friday, 17 November 2017

The Big 5 Diary #2

The latest instalment from Sophie Wellstood, winner of a year's mentorship with Triskele Books, in which she shares some exciting news!


Sophie, it’s almost a year since The Sky is a Blue Bowl was chosen as the winning entry and you’re fast approaching the end of your mentorship! How has the year worked out for you so far? 

It’s been a pretty damn wonderful year in terms of writing. I’ve had a story included in the Best British Short Stories 2017 (pub. Salt) and another is forthcoming in a second volume of Stories for Homes, an anthology supporting Shelter. But it’s the novel that’s been more or less all-consuming.

Winning the mentorship was a fundamental part of me gaining more confidence in and energy for the book. I know how good the other Big 5 entries would have been, and how close the final decision was, and I did not want to mess up this incredible opportunity to benefit from the skills and experience of the Triskele team. Be careful what you wish for!

Catriona’s forensic dissection and appraisal of the ms left me daunted, thrilled, and overwhelmed in equal measure. There was a lot to fix and I knew it would take me months rather than weeks. I am a very, very slow writer, which still surprises me because the ideas seem to come at the speed of light sometimes. 
Sophie and the Triskele Team

Tell us the truth, has it been hard graft or good fun?


Both. Although maybe ‘fun’ doesn’t quite describe some of the emotions I’ve been through! Definitely hard, hard graft. I remember pacing around my flat, holding Catriona’s editorial report, muttering what? what? really? no way! Oh God she’s right. Yes, yes, she’s right. But if I change that then I have to … re-write … the entire book … ok … So I re-wrote the whole book. Of course it’s still the same story, same themes, same characters etc, but this time I went into every single paragraph with a very different head on me. I started the novel seven years ago without a clue about what I was doing. I was writing it simply to challenge myself. Now it was time to get tough, and to get better. I felt like Catriona’s editorial gave me permission to cut the crap, to give the novel a stronger spine. And once deep into the re-write, I absolutely loved it. My sentences felt 100% punchier, the pace steadier but swifter. I added new scenes, new twists, more jeopardy, more edge, cut the waffle, cut (some of!) the puerile humour, made the tragic more tragic, made the stakes much higher. And made the happy bits very happy. I actually made myself cry with one scene, which told me I’d freshened it up enough to start feeling it properly again. (And that I’m extremely sentimental, no surprises there).

Now you’re happy with the final draft, are you ready for the next steps? This is where the whole team start working in parallel. You’ll get two full copyedits from Gilly and Liza, while briefing Jane on cover design and myself regarding blurb, strapline, etc, plus all our know-how in terms of marketing, metadata and platform.

I’m very happy with the final draft, and have been excited about the next steps – definitely needing the copy edits, and imagining gorgeous covers etc. And I know absolutely nothing about marketing, metadata and platforms, so have been looking forward to learning about this new world. Then two weeks ago things took an unexpected turn.

At the beginning of the month I sent the new version to a few select agents, just to test the waters, fully expecting to hear nothing until after Christmas. However. One of the agents emailed me within three hours of getting the first chapters, asking for the full ms. Stunned, and assuming she must be intoxicated or otherwise completely mad, I sent it to her the next day, and 48 hours later – the Friday afternoon - she called me to say she absolutely loved it and wanted to offer me representation. The evening was spent in a state of complete disbelief mixed with a small drop of gin.

I met with her last week, and was relieved to discover she’s neither mad nor intoxicated but is absolutely passionate about my story and keen to get it out to editors as is. No further work needed. At the time of writing, I’m about to sign with her.

It’s taking a while to sink in. From submission to an offer of representation in four days? I’ve literally not been able to think of anything else. I’ve been dreaming about it. I’m trying to be measured, trying to be realistic – pessimistic even - but am actually deeply, deeply happy.

That I was able to re-shape the novel into this new form is entirely due to Catriona’s editorial skills, her insights and the effort she put into identifying the heart of what I was trying to get at but was struggling with. I will never be able to say thank you loudly or often enough, but thank you - to the whole team. Thank you!

That is wonderful news! How do you want to proceed?


It’s bittersweet. I really do feel torn, and in a way disloyal to Triskele for probably not now taking up the whole offer because it’s such a generous and life-altering prize, and going by the skills of the editorial team, I’ve no doubt the rest of the package would be equally as professional and the finished product would be of the highest quality. But I have always wanted agent representation, for better or worse, and this is a chance I cannot pass by.

We understand completely and we're all thrilled for you! So would you recommend the mentorship to other writers?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Last question, what have you learned from working with Triskele Books?

Writing is work. Sometimes it’s a twelve-hour shift. Writing is a craft, but sometimes the beauty is out of reach. When the beauty is out of reach, revert to the work. Put in another twelve hour shift. The beauty is never far away.

Take criticism seriously. Take your writing seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously.

I’ve learned – or I should say I’ve had it confirmed again and again – that writers are generally the most wonderful people. The Triskele team are up there with the very best: skilled, professional, supportive, creative, passionate. It’s been a life-changing experience to be a part of this and I will never, ever stop being thankful.


Thank you Sophie and it's been a pleasure to work with you. Good luck and come back soon to let us know how you get on. Congratulations!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Why Read Short Stories by Vanessa Couchman

I’ve always been an avid reader of novels, but I first became aware of the short story as a different but equally inspiring form when a teacher read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops to our class. The story is set in a far-off but credible future. People depend on the now failing Machine to survive, but they have discarded their humanity somewhere along the line.

I was hooked. I read more of Forster’s stories and then sought out other authors who had written them. The list is long and distinguished: Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Mansfield, Alice Munro and Helen Dunmore, to name a few in no particular order.

What was it that captivated me? I didn’t analyse it then but, having now written short stories myself, I can offer some thoughts.

A good short story sucks you in immediately, absorbs you and engages your emotions. It presents the main character with a dilemma that must be resolved by the end and tells you something about the human condition. A story can be particularly effective if it finishes with an unexpected twist.

Okay, but a novel does that too. Isn’t a short story an easy option?

Not in the least. I find short stories more difficult to write than novels, although they don’t require as much stamina! In a short story, every single word and your overriding premise have to count; in a novel you can elaborate and introduce more characters and ideas. You can afford to have weaker bits in a novel; you can’t in a short story.

Think of a novel as a treasure chest in which some of the jewels sparkle more than others. A short story is like a single gem that is cut and polished to perfection. 
 For readers, an advantage of a short story is that you can read it, or listen to it, at one sitting. They are perfect for relieving a tedious commute, taking your mind off work during a coffee break or whiling away an hour on a rainy day.

You can also try out other genres you might not normally read. For example, I don’t generally read sci-fi, but I’ve enjoyed short stories by John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury.

So, while the teetering TBR pile on my bedside table is largely composed of novels, short stories are usually lurking in there somewhere.


Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in Southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies. French Collection, her collection of short stories set in France, was published on 9th November.
 




Friday, 27 October 2017

BOOKCLUB: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

This month on the Triskele Book Club, we're discussing Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell

About the book:
A MISSING GIRL. A BURIED SECRET.

From the acclaimed author of I Found You and the Richard & Judy bestseller, The Girls, comes a compulsively twisty psychological thriller that will keep you gripped to the very last page.

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

Discussion:

Then She Was Gone is a thriller. Which aspect chilled you the most?

(JDS) What got to me the most about it was the idea that the scenario in the book could quite easily happen in 'real life'. That unnerved me slightly. It was a very plausible situation.

(GEH) Agree that the total disappearance of Ellie, and the way the family fell apart, felt very believable. I found Noelle the most chilling character right from the very beginning her attitude towards Ellie felt wrong - so I think their relationship was probably the most chilling for me.

(JJ) The hamsters! Well, that and the psychological damage inflicted on all of Ellie's family by one seriously selfish individual. What chills me most about any of these abusive/controlling situations, is that it's probably someone you know.

(JDS) Oh yes, the hamsters! Very creepy.


The book centers on Laurel, the mother of Ellie who has gone missing. Do you think this was a wise focus to take with the book?

(GEH) Yes I think it was a good idea as Laurel was the key link with both the past and present story. Her life was destroyed when Ellie disappeared and we follow her journey right through to what she believes is her start of recovery when she meets a new man. We then see her feelings change again when she begins to question her new relationship.

(JJ) As a psychological thriller, I think Jewell takes the right perspective. We're in the head of a woman with something like PTSD, who begins to realise her all-consuming grief for her lost daughter causes her to neglect the rest of her family. Just when things start to look up, she begins to doubt herself and her relationship. She's not an unreliable narrator as such, simply doesn't trust herself any more.

(JDS) I really liked Laurel as a character and she's most affected by Ellie's disappearance. Everyone else, although they are obviously distraught by what's happened, move on in life. Laurel never really does. It makes her perspective so fascinating.


The book has plenty of moments which pull on your heart strings. Which elements did you find most poignant?

(JDS) The way Ellie's disappearance affected her family and the relationships between them actually affected me more than her going missing. Particularly the damage done to Laurel's relationship with her other daughter.

(GEH) I also liked the slow rebuilding of the relationship between Laurel and Hanna. But also I thought Poppy's odd character which ended in such worldly bravery was very poignant and I'm so glad she got a decent future to look forward to.

(JJ) The hamsters! There's also the tragedy (in the classical sense) of only one possible outcome for Ellie. We know what happened, but are gripped by the events that led to that-



Which was your favourite character and why?

(JDS) Sara-Jade by far. There was something really surreal and mysterious about her I couldn't quite figure out but she really drew my attention and I wanted to get to know her more.

(GEH) As mentioned above I'm going to go with Poppy. Who can imagine what she went through in her early years, then with her controlling father and the 'game' he put here through. I loved how her 'oddness' blossomed into 'strength' and thought she was really captivating.

(JJ) Yes, all the girls, including Hanna, were well drawn and side-stepped cliché. But I think the character I liked most would be Paul. He seemed such a decent guy, forgiving and gentle, with a patient appreciation of Laurel's emotional struggles, whilst he must have suffered agonies himself.


Do you think Laurel should have twigged what was going on earlier in the book? To the reader the unraveling of the plot happens a lot faster than it does for her.

(GEH) You're right to say that I (as a reader) grew suspicious much sooner than she did. But in her defence we did have numerous other POVS to read who were drip-feeding us the background. I think Laurel had been so numb and damaged for so long, that when she discovered she was still an attractive women, she maybe got carried away with the attention and ignored the warning signals. She came good in the end though which was the main thing.

(JJ) As you both say, the structure of the book makes the reader privy to a lot more information than the characters. Plus the circumstances are so absolutely outlandish, it would take a twisted mind to imagine such a thing could happen. Yet happen it has - see Josef Fritzl. No, I think part of the pleasure is watching Laurel piece together the clues and wondering if we'll reach the same conclusion.


Each character's story wraps up nicely by the end, but do you think they got what they deserved? Would you have liked to see any of the character's storylines end differently?

(GEH) No, personally I thought all the threads were tied up nicely, and yes, everyone got what they deserved in one way or another.

(JJ) I wish Floyd's journey had ended differently. For all his faults (and there are more than a few), he really loved Poppy and Laurel.

(JDS) I'm with JJ, I kind of wished Floyd's journey had been a little happier.


How do you feel about characters who are drawn to or become embroiled in relationships with unhinged characters?

(GEH) I think they make for extremely good psychological thrillers!

(JJ) I'm more concerned about those people we don't realise are unhinged, and don't share a relationship of any kind, unless it's in their mind. When Noelle meets Ellie on the street and reacts so badly to not being recognised - that twisted my gut.

(JDS) I'm in agreement with Noelle meeting Ellie on the street. So sad, and so affected by it. I think we as people can all be drawn to slightly unhinged characters because they're interested - even though we generally quickly back away when we realise how disturbed they are.


Poppy is a 'unique' character. Did you like or loathe her? How did she make you feel?

(GEH) I may have covered this above but I grew from confusion to real appreciation of her character as her story was uncovered.

(JJ) She's precocious and as such can be irritating and delightful in turn. But she's nine years old and had a very bizarre upbringing. By the end of the book, I felt sure she'd turn out just fine.

(JDS) I found her really odd to start with. I wasn't that keen on her as a person, but she made for a fascinating character and I think she will grow up to be a wonderful person in Laurel's care.


Where do you think Poppy's 'weirdness' stems from? 

(GEH) Principally from her weird father! The lack of real affection in her life must have also played its part, but for most of her life she had simply been a pawn in a weird game of chess and there's little chance she could have come through that without being emotionally scarred.

(JJ) Intelligence, lack of interaction with other children her age, stifling attention from her father, too much time alone, under-developed social skills.


There's a sense of all is not lost and of future hope by the end of the novel. Did you find your feelings between this and Ellie's demise conflicted?

(GEH) No, not really. Because it is a fact of life that life does go on however awful the death of a loved one, and however deep the grieving process. And it's that light at the end of the tunnel that comes through with this book. I thought it worked very well.

(JJ) That's one thing the author pulls off perfectly. Although there is a sense of closure, there's also unbearable regret. As readers, we're still wishing for a happy ending for Ellie (not to mention the hamsters) even though we know that's impossible. But Gilly's right, we gain a sense of development, acceptance and for the characters, a hopefulness for the future. I'd say pretty much all of them are going to need years of therapy, but might just work out as a team. It reflects the messiness of life.

(JDS) I really appreciated the lightness at the end and the great sense of hope. I think it was incredibly well written and also a reminder to us all when we're despairing or grieving that there's always hope to be found.


Read our interview with Lisa Jewell in Words with JAM magazine

Friday, 20 October 2017

What are you reading (1) ...?

By Gillian Hamer

Writers are first and foremost readers. Some of the best books I've read (The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell and All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr) to name but two have come to me through suggestions or reviews from other readers whose opinions I value. And both examples would most certainly have passed me by without this as they do not come into my usual choice of books or genre.

In the hope of discovering a few more masterpieces, this is the first in our regular feature where we'd like to share our current reads with you - and ask for your latest hot reads in exchange. Please join in the discussion and let's spread the word about some of the great books out there - whether classics or latest finds.

OCTOBER - What are you reading?


LIZA PERRAT

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands


Headline: The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself…

Quote: … life on a manade, a traditional ranch where black Camargue bulls were raised … men, the gardians, on the back of wild white horses, riding through the surf and herding the bulls, evoked romantic images of a way of life that was quickly disappearing…

GILLIAN HAMER

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Headline: A 19th century tale of passion, injustice, hypocrisy, betrayal, seduction and murder.

Quote: ... Tess Durbeyfield, the daughter of a poor farm labourer, learns she may be descended from the ancient family of d'Urbeville. In her search for respectability her fortunes fluctuate wildly, and the story assumes the proportions of a Greek tragedy.

It explores Tess's relationships with two very different men, her struggle against the social morals of the rural Victorian world which she inhabits and the hypocrisy of the age.

Once you get used to the language, this book will fill your soul and touch every emotion.


JILL MARSH

We Are The End by Gonzalo C. Garcia

Headline: It’s an ARC from Galley Beggar Press. I always get excited when they publish a new book, because their writers never disappoint. This looks to be another winner.

Quote: ... Set in Santiago, Chile, Tomás is stuck. His girlfriend dumped him with the cryptic line, “I didn’t know I could do better. And now I know”. He can’t sleep and even if he could he hasn’t fixed the bed up in his new flat. He can’t come up with any ideas for his job as a video game narrative designer, he drinks coffee through a straw and the staff at Domino’s Pizza call him by his first name. Not only that but the Serge Gainsbourg vinyl album is stuck on the same track. It’s dry and lonely and funny and has a meandering internal voice which is oddly hypnotic and you just know you’re going to miss it when it’s over.

CATRIONA TROTH

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola, published by Cassava Republic.

Headline: Two friends so close they are like twins. One who never stops talking. The other who never stops running. In the summer before their eighteenth birthdays, their lives pull them in different directions. Karl flies to Nigeria in search of a father he never knew existed. Abu stays behind, in a London about to explode into riots.
Quote: ... This is a coming-of-age tale that explores friendship and trust, sexuality and gender. It touches, too, on the long legacy of slavery and colonialism to be found in both London and Nigeria. The voice is unusual, almost as if you’re overhearing a story one friend is telling another, and they’re not going to wait for you to catch up or fill in the gaps.
The sort of book that opens a window in your mind and lets in a breath of fresh air.












Friday, 13 October 2017

Who’s Afraid of a Nobel Prize Winner – a Celebration of Kazuo Ishiguro

By Catriona Troth

Stop the average reader in a library or bookshop and ask them to name five winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and many would struggle. Ask them to name one that they’ve read, and they might struggle even more. The impression, however unjust, is that the prize is given to the obscure, the difficult – to authors you certainly wouldn’t think of taking away on holiday.



This year’s winner is different. Even non-readers are likely to know of Kazuo Ishiguro, through the films of his books Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

I remember shortly after reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), I was in Cornwall. Walking along a cliff path, I came upon one of the stewards of the Boardmasters Festival. She was sitting on a stile, a book in her hands. I recognised the cover of Never Let Me Go and had to stop and talk to her. It was that sort of book. One you wanted to share with everyone. Even if the book infuriated you, you had to talk about it.

Ishiguro’s first two novels, A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986) were set in Japan. In an interview in the Paris Review (2005), Ishiguro talks of how writing about Japan freed him from the constraints of everyday life in London. It seems those two novels allowed Ishiguro to find his own voice, because Remains of the Day (1989) which won the Booker Prize, is set in an English country house and is narrated by a pitch-perfect English butler.

In another interview from 2015, widely quoted since the Nobel Prize announcement was made, Ishiguro gently mocked those reviewers so taken up with the novelty of a Japanese-born author heritage writing in English they couldn’t avoid clichéd Japanese-y metaphors.
They would talk about a still pond. With carp.” 
I will try not to fall into that trap! But it is certainly true there is a stillness and quiet on the surface of Ishiguro’s writing that he uses to conceal underlying turmoil. It draws you in, only slowly revealing what lies beneath.

In Remains of the Day, that stillness conceals both the narrator’s own emotions and dark political secrets. In Never Let Me Go, the characters appear to move almost placidly from childhood innocence towards their inevitable fate. But pay attention! The anguish is there. You just need to listen for it in the quiet.

Here are some other comments on Ishiguro’s writing:

JJ Marsh on Nocturnes


Occasionally, you come across a piece of art which creeps up on your emotions. Kazuo Ishiguro is a master at that with his novels, but can also pull off a similar feat with his short stories.

 In Nocturnes, literature and music intertwine. A collection of short stories, which feels like a full concert in five movements, changes mood and tempo with great subtlety, leaving a melancholy resonance behind.

This is about relationships, both between characters and with music, all in a minor key. Classic Ishiguro understatement leads to achingly poignant moments, but he also demonstrates his sense of humour with a few well set up moments of pure farce. As the title suggests, there is darkness, but also moonlight, laughter and that quiet magic which happens when you catch a lovely refrain carried on an evening breeze.

Gillian E Hamer on Never Let Me Go

One of the most poignant and thought provoking novels I have ever read. One of the only books on my shelf I've read more than twice! There's something unique in the writing of this novel that as a reader I find captivating and as a writer fills me with jealousy. The characters are so real, vivid and engaging - and yet the narrative is a plethora of questions and confusion.

It's very difficult to describe the storyline without giving too much away, and I don't want this to be a plot synopsis, but what seems like a story of innocence and adolescence through the eyes of a group of youngsters, always has a dark, ominous cloud hanging over the story, and, as the truth is gradually revealed the reader is pulled through every feasible emotion. And it also contains one of the strongest plot twists that stays with me still.

If you want a book that ticks every box and ties up every loose end, this isn't for you. But if you want a book that will turn your world on its head for a while I would highly recommend Never Let Me Go. I am so glad a writer like Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize - for ordinary readers like me it's a justification somehow that our feelings count too!

Sheila Bugler on When We Were Orphans


I read the final section of When We Were Orphans on a London bus, travelling from my job in Oxford Street to my home near Tower Bridge. I spent the entire journey weeping uncontrollably, devastated by the haunting sadness at the heart of Ishiguro’s fifth novel.
Like many of my favourite books, When We Were Orphans was recommended to me by my father. I had already read – and loved – The Remains of The Day (another ‘dad’ recommendation) so my expectations were high. 

The novel is narrated by Christopher Banks, a famous detective in 1930s England. Through the gradual unfolding of his memories, Christopher’s early life is revealed to the reader – an expatriate childhood in Old Shanghai, boarding school in England and on to the privileged world of high society London.
Although he’s a top detective, Christopher has never been able to solve the central mystery that has shaped his life – the disappearance, in Old Shanghai when he was still a young boy, of his parents. As the novel unfolds, it becomes painfully clear that this loss is at the heart of everything Christopher does. It defines him and renders him incapable of moving past this tragedy. 

Believing his parents are still alive, Christopher returns to Shanghai, a city on the brink of war. By now, it’s apparent that the great detective’s image of himself is at odds with the impression others have of him. The more he is drawn into the catastrophic events of the Sino-Japanese War, the more he loses sense of what is real and what isn’t. 

The moment Christopher finally learns the truth about his mother’s terrible fate, and realises how much she loved him, is unbearably moving. Although it’s too late to free him from the ‘emptiness’ that has been with him since he lost her, he realises too that ‘Her feelings for me, they were always just there, they didn’t depend on anything.’

When We Were Orphans is a devastating tale of the unconditional nature of parental love. Having spent over half my life in a different country to my own parents, the novel reminded me that afternoon on the bus that I should never take that love for granted.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Beauty of a Boxset

As the nights draw in, curl up in front of the fire and dive into a boxset. Binge-reading is good for your health, mind and brain, thus heartily recommended by all great authors.

Here are two crime series and two historical fiction sets for you to devour. Plus there's more where they came from ...

The Gold Detectives

By Gillian E. Hamer

Includes the first three crime novels of the series in one handy boxset.

Encounter the dark underbelly of North Wales and the island of Anglesey - featuring DI Amanda Gold and her team.


What readers think:

If you like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves or Peter May you’re seriously going to love Amanda Gold and her team.

I've become addicted to Ms Hamer's books! After thoroughly enjoying the first in this series, I read her other books before coming back to the Gold Detective books. The characters are complex, with their strengths, foibles and personal problems making for a realistic -though gruesome! - story. As usual, the body count is high, and there's some painful detail, but it kept me hooked to the end. And what an ending! 

Hamer does something quite special with her writing. She manages to combine glorious descriptions of Anglesey with quite gruesome murders. These combined with a pacy narrative, make her novels a compelling read indeed. 

The Beatrice Stubbs Series 

By JJ Marsh

Meet Beatrice Stubbs, your new favourite detective.


For lovers of intelligent crime fiction, three heart-racing adventures through Europe
Beatrice Stubbs: detective inspector, metaphor mixer and stubborn survivor.

What readers think:

For those who like their crime with a lighter, less gruesome touch. - The Bookseller

If you've not yet read a Beatrice Stubbs book, I envy you. What a treat you have in store. - The Bagster

My favourite thriller / procedural novel type has a strong female lead. One that is convincingly human and real, who isn’t the classic maverick detective, but works as a cog in a team, supporting her colleagues, just like in real life. Oh, and she needs to have some flaws. I need them to be written honestly, with interactions, opinions and emotions that echo people I know. Beatrice has all this in spades. - Dawn Gill

Overlord 

By Jane Dixon Smith

My name is Zabdas: once a slave; now a warrior, grandfather and servant. I call Syria home. 

I shall tell you the story of my Zenobia: Warrior Queen of Palmyra, Protector of the East, Conqueror of Desert Lands …

What readers think:

JD Smith's wonderful characterisation and meticulous research paints a vivid and dramatic picture of Syria in the 3rd Century AD at a time when Rome is disintegrating under the weight of its own corruption. The early years of Zenobia, one of the great enigmatic figures of history, are seen through the eyes of her cousin Zabdas, a slave who becomes a general. Zabdas is the perfect narrator and his story follows Zenobia from clever, precocious young girl to imperious manipulator of kings and emperors, from the desert kingdom of Palmyra to Rome and back. Full of passion, intrigue and drama it draws the reader in and holds them to the very last page.
Douglas Jackson, author of Caligula

Syria's Boudica [Boadicea], self-styled Cleopatra, and real-life Daenerys Targaryen.


Zenobia, Queen of Palymra, can now take her place beside a couple of other picturesque and photogenic fictional queens - Danerys and Maergery from Game of Thrones. The difference is, Zenobia really existed.

Historical Fiction at its best.


The Bone Angel Trilogy

By Liza Perrat


Three standalone stories exploring the tragedies and triumphs of a French village family of midwife-healers during the French Revolution (Spirit of Lost Angels), WW2 Nazi-occupied France (Wolfsangel) and the 1348 Black Plague (Blood Rose Angel) in one boxset.

What readers think:

Olga Núñez Miret, author/translator (English/Spanish), psychiatrist, book reviewer:
 … a must for lovers of historical and women’s fiction. Beautifully written, carefully researched, and emotionally charged, the three books are connected by an amulet
and the female legacy it represents … adventures of strong, brave, and
determined women who will pull at your heartstrings.


Terry Tyler, author: An intricately researched and beautifully written series that artfully shows how the threads of the past link generations together.

C. P. Lesley, author of The Golden Lynx and other novels: Three compelling heroines linked by a bone angel with a mystical past—a French village struggling with revolution, world war, and Black Death. Follow Victoire, Céleste, and Héloïse as each undertakes a richly imagined, emotionally complex journey toward a definition of womanhood that is uniquely her own. This trilogy--on my list of Hidden Gems--is one not to be missed.

Josie Barton, Book Blogger at JaffaReadsToo: … grips your imagination from the very beginning and the momentum doesn’t stop until all the stories are completed.

Cathy Ryan, Book Blogger at Between the Lines: … a sweeping saga following the fortunes of three strong women bound together by a bone angel talisman, passed down through the generations. Fascinating, moving and realistic - a must for lovers of historical fiction.








Friday, 22 September 2017

BOOKCLUB: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan



This month on the Triskele Book Club, we're discussing The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan.

About the book: Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.
Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the 'Keeper of Lost Things' have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters...


Discussion:


I thought there was something completely captivating about this novel from the first page to the last and couldn't believe it was a debut novel. What appealed to you about Ruth Hogan's style?

(GH)  I think the feeling of confidence that comes from 'good' writing, whether a debut novel or not. Confidence in the story, confidence in the characters, and confidence to deliver a satisfying read to their audience.

(JJ) I agree about the confidence. There's a gentle rhythm to the way she writes and you just know you are in good hands.

(LP) I enjoyed Ruth Hogan's charming, fairytale style of storytelling; the way she quietly moves you.


I would class this as my 'comfort read' of 2017 so far - did you feel the same?

(GH) Yes, although I came to the novel believing it would be quite a sad read, touching on love, loss and grief. And while there was certainly elements in there, it also had numerous touching and moving moments, glimpses of humour and jealousy, and a lot of happiness and awakening of minds. A real balance that couldn't help but put a smile on the reader's face.

(LP) Yes, I found this a quite a soothing kind of read, the heartwarming moments nicely balancing out the tragic moments.

(JJ) Exactly. Very human and although it takes in the sadness of loss, it was uplifting and left you feeling positive towards the rest of the species.


Although this is essentially a story of loss - from Anthony's wife to the assortment of lost items - it is also a 'feel good' book with more highs then lows - which is a clever balance. How do you think the author achieved her goal?

(GH)  It felt to me that the reader simply connected with her characters and let them get on with telling their story. That may sound simple, but it is anything but. However, I feel the writer was so in tune with the novel that she let the highs and lows write themselves. If it feels right to the author, it will feel right to the reader, and everything fitted perfectly in place here.

(LP) Yes, I did relate to it more as a "feel good" book, perhaps because of the clever, quirky moments, in particular with Sunshine, some of which were "laugh out loud".

(JJ) Well yes, there is loss but also recovery or at least learning to live with the absence. Plus the characters handle their misfortune in many different ways. Sunshine is certainly an endearing personality and wholly unpredictable.


The author examines many sides of human nature, using the lost items as a catalyst for each story, which I thought was uniquely clever. Did you enjoy this narrative - and could you name another book with similar structure?

(GH) I really enjoyed the narrative structure. I liked how the 'lost things' became plot points. And one of the main reasons I liked it was the uniqueness. I cannot think of a similar book!

(LP) Yes I too loved this unique narrative and can't think of another similar book.

(JJ) I've read/seen stories which feature items threading their way through different peoples lives, but not across such a range of time and place. The structure was perfect, with each sub-story retaining its own atmosphere.

Which was your favourite character - and why?

(GH) I'd like to say Sunshine but that's probably a little unoriginal. So, I'll say Anthony Peardew because without him there would be no story.

(LP): I didn't have a favourite. They were all enjoyable, unique and interesting in their own way.

(JJ) Eunice, I'd say. From a modern-day perspective, you could say she's not a great role model, but I admired her quiet dignity and generous heart.


The author carefully handled Sunshine as a character, not shying away from her Downs' Syndrome, but using it as a positive rather than negative trait. Did this work for you?

(GH) Sunshine lived up to her name. She brought an unpretentious quality to the story. Her simple honesty and genuine highs and lows were refreshing against the muddied lives of the other characters.

(LP) Very much so, as Gillian says, her child's innocence was a welcome break from the sadness.

(JJ) And rightly so. There's no self-pity in Sunshine, but a huge optimism and expectation of welcome. I thought she was great fun and a good lesson to many of us.


There was an element of the supernatural, particularly centred around Sunshine, that added an unexpected layer to the story for me. Did you feel the same?

(GH) I liked it but then I like books with an extra paranormal edge, and to be honest it felt perfectly natural to me that Sunshine would have a connection with the lost things. I felt as if Anthony always knew this, and it was all part of his big plan.

(LP) This was the only element of the story that I didn't really relate to. I found it a bit intrusive and not really necessary. However, it certainly did not spoil the story for me.

(JJ) I tend to agree with Liza there. The positive, moving-on thrust of the book was imbalanced by that particular thread. But we can't all love every element or it would be very dull.


There was little use of location in the book, except for Anthony's home, Padua. Did the description of the house and garden bring the setting alive to you?

(GH) I'm usually a big advocate of the use of location within a story. But Padua is the focus of the story so it didn't detract here.

(JJ) Padua would be my second favourite character. That's what got me looking for all the Shakespearian allusions, too.

(LP) Yes, I certainly felt "at home" at Padua, and could imagine it clearly in my mind's eye; even smell it!


One of my highlights was the mini stories inside the main plot - essentially the story of the lost things - did you enjoy these breakaway insights or did they detract from the main plot for you?

(GH) I loved them! Each little tale brought a smile (or tear) to my face. I thought it was so clever to sit and think about each item and bring to life the story behind it. It was one of most favourite things about the novel.

(LP) I agree with Gillian; I loved them!

(JJ) They were great fun and encouraged the reader to imagine what stories the other objects in Anthony's study might tell. It also relieved some of the  pressure on the main narratives, having some of these side stories to explore.


Many readers may not have heard of Ruth Hogan. Readers of which other authors do you think would enjoy this novel? Why should they give it a try?

(GH) I think it's a tribute to the author and the book that no names spring to mind! But I would say that Kate Hamer has a similar literary style, examining the tiny details and letting the bigger picture come to life by its own accord. But anyone who likes a modern day psychological thriller but with a more gentle pace would appreciate Hogan's writing.

(LP) Despite the fact that this is a very unique novel, a few authors who examine the finer details spring to mind, such as Kate Atkinson, Ann Patchett and Maggie O'Farrell.

(JJ) It does what it says on the cover - it's a feel-good story, perfect for when the nights start drawing in. Hogan's writing reminded me a little of Jojo Moyes in the way she handles emotion. I found it a cathartic read when managing a loss of my own.

Read an interview with Ruth Hogan here.








Friday, 15 September 2017

What We Read This Summer

As this summer draws to a close, the Triskele girls compare what they read on the beach, in a mountain chalet, lounging in the garden, or wherever ...



Here are a few recommendations from each of us:

Liza:

Close to Me by Amanda Reynolds: gripping psychological drama where a woman falls down the stairs at home, and wakes up in hospital having lost a whole year of memories. Then she begins to remember...


Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant: Despite the fact that most of the characters are unlikeable, I found this another unputdownable psychological suspense story, perfectly evoking the heat and oppression of one Greek summer.



Gillian:

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris: Highlight of the year for me, loved the eerie quality of the book, unsure if what you were reading was fact or fiction. The author has a talent for creating complex characters which worked well in this novel. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys the latest trend of psychological thrillers with a twist.



Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier: Bit late to this classic, I know. But following a visit to The Lizard in Cornwall in June this year, and having stood gazing out across Frenchman's Creek, I decided to work my way through Du Maurier's catalogue, starting with the darkly captivating Rebecca. I love the author's style, the use of location and the edge of tension she keeps running without. Can't wait for the next one!


Jill:

The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence. Hard to categorise as the initial lightness of tone gives way to much darker layers. Abby pops round to a neighbour's flat to borrow a tin of tomatoes, but he's dead. This episode and her pragmatic reaction - she smokes two cigarettes, calls the police and takes the tomatoes anyway - soon leads the reader to realise Abby has problems relating to the world. Fascinating, well written and a curious insight into managing bipolar disorder.


The Sellout by Paul Beatty. No surprise this won The Booker. A book which makes the impossible plausible and in doing so, holds up the harshest of lights to illuminate our broken civilisation. Dickens, where Sellout was born and raised by a terrifyingly obsessive father, has been wiped off the map. But he has an idea how to get it back. By re-instituting slavery. A book to make you laugh and gasp, but most of all, think.


Kat:

I've picked two books about as different from one another as it is possible to be. The first is Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. Sophia Khan wears skinny jeans, smokes, swears, has issues with deadlines and agonises about getting fat while scoffing muffins and lemon puffs. So far, so Bridget Jones. On the other hand, she wears a hijab, doesn’t drink alcohol, prays five times a day and has no intention of having sex before marriage. This is romantic comedy with real heart. Do not expect this to end with Sophia ripping off her hijab and going on a binge. Nor with her settling down to be a ‘traditional’ submissive wife. This is about how you can be modern, independent, strong-minded – and still a faithful Muslim. Something most Muslim women have always known; Malik is just letting the rest of us in on the secret.


The second is not exactly your typical beach read, but in the current state of the world, it could hardly be more important. In Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge addresses (among other things) the erasure of Black Britons from British history, the nature of White Privilege, the failure of White Feminism to engage with issues of racism, the often overlooked intersections of race with class – and what white people should be doing to tackle racism. I want to put this book into the hands of every good-hearted, liberal-minded white person I know and say, ‘please read this; please try and understand. We are all complicit, but we don’t have to be.'

Jane:

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell: This was a wonderfully written book. You think you know the end, you think you know all the answers; you think the conclusion obvious. But as you race through the pages, you realise there's more to Ellie's disappearance, and the secrets unfold to the very end. Serious page turning material. 




If anyone has read a book they particularly enjoyed this summer, we'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 10 - How To Turn Your Life Into Fiction


By Helena Halme
Images courtesy of JD Lewis
During my MA in Creative writing some 10 years ago, writing the story of your life was somewhat frowned upon. Yet, one of the most often uttered pieces of advice was to ‘write what you know’. So how can we use our own life as inspiration for a novel?

 

Get Inspired

 

Your first task is to do some research into your own life. Yes I know this sounds crazy, but you need to get those creative juices going. Use old photographs or letters to remind yourself of how you felt, and write a short paragraph on the girl/boy in the picture or letter. What was going through his or her mind, what was she or he looking forward to or fearing?

What is the Story You Want to Tell?

 

It may be obvious what the story you want to tell is. However, a fiction book needs a start and a finish, and a plot. Think of the most significant event in your life, and start thinking about how this event shaped your life. In Doris Lessing’s semi-autobiographical novel, A Proper Marriage, the significant moment is Martha’s realisation that her marriage is a terrible mistake. You could also think how an event could have changed the path you’ve taken if you’d acted differently. Start plotting a scene based on the significant event, changing (if you wish) the conclusion for better or worse, and then write a short scene about it focussing on how you or someone close to you felt. This most significant event is the main plot point of your novel.

Have an Exciting Start


Now you’ve got a plot, make sure you start your novel at an exciting place. What was the most central, critical point of the story? Start there.
In the ‘A Proper Marriage’ we meet Martha when she is at her unhappiest, just as she is deciding to leave her life in colonial Africa behind.
Write a paragraph or two, charting the scene, making sure you get the raw emotion of the characters onto the page. If the central character is you, don’t hold back, just write how you felt, explaining your emotions as if talking to a friendly stranger about your life.

Combine Characters

 

Do make your characters complicated and interesting. I’m not saying that your life is filled with boring people, but in order to make a story fly, it needs strong characters. Don’t include every real person in the novel. Too many characters are confusing to the reader. They make the story unnecessarily complicated and jarring. Combine a few characters to make them stand out and to increase the pace of the novel. As an exercise think of two people that could be combined into one, complicated character, and include them in a scene.

 

Write with Confidence

 

Don’t worry about letting your pen fly when you start writing. Since you know the plot – and the characters – already, writing the novel based on your own life can be very quick. If you decide later to change scenes, subplots or characters, that’s easy. If you don’t worry too much about how truthful – or not – the story is, your writing will become much more fluid and confident.


Helena Halme is a Finnish-born author of six novels. Her best-selling title, The Englishman is based on her own life story of how she met and fell head over heels in love with a Royal Navy Officer at the British Embassy in Helsinki.

Now based in London, Helena is winner of the John Nurmi prize for best thesis on British politics, and a former BBC journalist. Helena currently works as a Writing and Marketing Mentor, is Fellow of CreateThinkDo and Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors.


Helena writes a regular blog on www.helenahalme.com/blog/ and can be found on Twitter (@helenahalme), Facebook (https://business.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor/?business_id=697172280414232) and Instagram (helenahalme). 

Helena’s  book, Write Your Story: How to Turn Your Life into Fiction will be out on 29th November. It is now on a special pre-order price of £1.99 on Amazon. http://mybook.to/WriteYourStory












Friday, 1 September 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 9 - How Do Your Characters Inhabit Their World

By Sunny Singh, via Catriona Troth

When you start to learn about writing the ‘Other’, one of the first things you are encouraged to think about is how different people inhabit the same space. A woman walking into a bar on her own and ordering a drink does not experience that bar in the same way that a man on his own does. A young gay couple walking down the street hand in hand does not experience that street in the same way an elderly straight couple does. And so on.

But how do you get deep enough inside the skin of another person to begin to understand that different experience well enough to translate it onto the page? Conversely, how do you gain enough objectivity about a character who is like you to understand the way they see the world in a fresh way and not simply as the ‘default’?

Sunny Singh is a Creative Writing tutor at London Metropolitan University. If you follow her on Twitter you will know that a lot of the work she does with her diverse student body is to make them aware of the way they inhabit the world and to allow that to inform their character building. I had the immense privilege of winning a one-to-one workshop with Sunny as part of the charity auction #authorsforgrenfell – which raised money for the victims of the terrible fire in Grenfell Tower earlier this summer.

I came away from the workshop feeling that my mind had been stretched in at least five dimensions – and that I had a huge amount of work ahead of me, but that I’d been energised to tackle it. With Sunny’s permission, I am sharing some of that work with you here.

First of all, for Sunny, it is important to pin a character down in a specific time and place (be that real or imaginary). The more specific you can be, the more detailed you can be about the factors that built their character in you story’s present.

So let us begin with a character who is like me. A white, middle-class, educated British woman in her late fifties. Sunny insisted I pin down exactly how old she was. What year was she born? Where? Who were her parents? When were they born? Did they become adults before or after the end of the War? What was the first political event that impinged on her? What was her impression of it? Describe how she looked on her first day at university? What are the first things she notices that day with her five senses? And so on.




The aim was to create a timeline of significant events in her life, and to think of those events in terms of the family, community and national and global events around her at those times. So not enough to say, ‘What is her favourite book?’ You need to find out when she first read it, what was happening around her at the time, why it became her favourite, what it means to her now given all that has happened to her since...



Of course, very little of what you find out will make its way into your finished work, but the fact that you know your character that well – that you have, in effect, lived for a while in their lives before they even enter your story – will mean that every decision you make about what they do in the story will be grounded in believable reality.

As Sunny says – there is no escaping the need for craft.

So now you have thought about your character’s life. You have done your research to understand the context of those lives (the music they listened to growing up, the political events that shaped the way they think...) Sunny now gave me three exercises to do. Two of them involve changing something fundamental about the character so you see them afresh (a bit like looking at a photograph in the negative to spot features you miss in the original). And the third involves seeing your character as others see them.

EXERCISE 1 Gender: Flip the gender of your character for key moments on their timeline. How does it change way they inhabit their world? What were you not noticing about the way the character originally inhabited it?

EXERCISE 2 Spatial Identity: Walk someone through your character’s home for the first time. (Even better if you have two characters, each in each other’s homes.) They don’t need a reason to be there. Just let them move through the space, poke their nose into every corner. What do they notice? What’s on the walls? In the fridge?

EXERCISE 3 Sexuality: What does your character find desirable in another person? Now flip the both the gender of the person they find desirable and the sexuality of the character (e.g. instead of a straight man fancying a woman, describe a gay man fancying another man). How does that change their focus? Remember, other things about this character (age, place of birth, education...) remain the same.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 8 - Trying to Find the Click

By Sophie Wellstood
Images courtesy of JD Lewis

In Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof there’s a pivotal scene between Brick and Big Daddy, where Brick explains his need to drink.
Something hasn’t happened yet, he says. That click in my head. The click in my head that makes me feel peaceful. It’s like a switch clicking off in my head, turns a hot light off and a cool light on and suddenly there’s peace.
Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to equate Brick’s struggle to find his ‘click’ via pints of Bourbon with a writer trying to find theirs by way of a jumble of sentences - and of course Brick’s search is for oblivion rather than revelation, but never mind. For me the struggle is similar. The click is a rare, contrary creature. It hides. It beckons, then disappears. It sometimes feels like it has never existed. Oh, it visits every other writer, all the time, generously depositing its gifts of character, plot, dialogue and drama and two thousand words a day, but it avoids my front door like I’m the village hag who eats frogs and abducts orphans. It flirts, makes promises, then breaks them.


But we keep trying, don’t we? Because when the click does arrive, it’s why we write. It’s peaceful. It’s a hot light turning off and a cool light turning on. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle, the thrill of a new birth. It’s where we want to be. It’s just right.

But how do we find it, and, equally as importantly, how can we trust it’s the click we want, and not its loud-mouthed perma-tanned sibling, cliché?

There are countless exercises which develop the muscles and discipline of writing, countless lists of good habits, good advice and inspirational soundbites from fantastically successful writers. All have their value. The most true and comforting for me is Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ Accept that, and that’s the first hurdle cleared.

I guess the three or four main strategies for me in terms of searching for the click are these – in no particular order:

Psychic (narrative) distance

John Gardner explores the concept and practice in his book The Art of Fiction, and the authors, editors and tutors Emma Darwin and Debi Alper teach it (brilliantly). Understanding and using psychic distance in any fiction is probably the most effective way of finding a missing click – and essential in terms of changing text from a monotone drone (like my ex history teacher imparting the key dates of the industrial revolution) to an operatic orgy (like my dreams).

http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

Scene structure


Oh it’s such hard, hard work. Why not just have page after page of lovely sunrises and birdsong until BANG, someone’s carked it? The first draft of my novel had over a dozen sunrises. In the current draft (probably around the 25th, I’ve lost count) I’ve managed to reduce the sunrises to about three, plus one very foggy morning. I love writing about weather but sadly readers don’t like reading about weather. Kill the sunrises and make every scene muscular, every page powerful, make the reader compelled to continue reading.

Some of the best advice I’ve found about scene structure comes from Dwight Swain / Randy Ingermanson here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/

This should be tattooed on the inside of a writer’s eyelids:

Goal - Conflict – Disaster – Reaction – Dilemma – Decision.

Ingermanson also describes at length the concept of Motivation-Reaction Units. It all sounds very unsexy and un-arty but it works. With practice it should become second nature and provide clicks galore.


Cross dressing

Who is the narrator? Why? Whose story is it, really? Send your narrator away for the week and re-write the crucial scenes and / or the whole idea you have from another character’s point of view. By character, we can choose the dog, the lover, the parent, the china dog on the mantelpiece, or even the flames burning in the fireplace. It’s fiction. Of course we can give fire a voice. And change the other characters. Do they have be the gender you’ve assigned them? Or the age, the sexuality, the race, the height? How would it change your protagonist if they existed outside the stereotypes? Could the male hero be four foot ten? Could the female love interest be hairy?

Gifts (or stolen goods)

All writers should be eavesdropping, all the time. It’s basic, basic stuff. The click for my story ‘The First Hard Rain’ came before I’d even written it, during a car journey with a dear friend who announced, in all seriousness, 'But the M6 - now that’s what I call a motorway'.

I knew then that I had something, and I would use it, at some point. The sense that someone could have feelings towards a motorway… I would never have come up with it, ever, and it rescued my story. I’m eternally grateful to her. Another friend had a very elderly boyfriend who was at the time very ill with pneumonia. ‘Or Old Monia, as I call it!’ she laughed. And I’ll have that, too, thanks very much. So listen, listen, listen to people, take their words, hoard them and when the time’s right, use them.

There are a few writing exercises /games I use too when inspiration is low. They may not all lead to clicks, but they really help to just warm the word muscles up, to become focused.

One syllable stories

Exactly that. Write a story of 500 words using words of only one syllable.

Animal, vegetable or mineral

Some characters seem to arrive fully formed, others are less clear. One of the ways I get to understand my characters is to turn them into an animal. Or in a couple of cases, vegetables. In my second novel, I have a (gay) couple who are a polar bear and a fox. In the current novel, I have a couple who are a carrot and a turnip. It helps me to ‘see’ them and their characteristics very clearly. So give every character their equivalent animal or vegetable. It’s a lot of fun and may provide some lovely insights.


Free writing

From all good creative writing classes. Choose a random object – or get someone to choose something for you. The duller or weirder the better. A cat hair. A breadcrumb. A cork from a wine bottle. An intestine. (Spot the clues about my lifestyle here…). Write for fifteen minutes about that subject without stopping, without lifting the pen from the paper at all. No stopping to re-read, no editing, no judging or worrying about spelling or grammar or whether it’s ‘good’. Just words, words, words, one after another, for fifteen minutes. Something lovely happens with the subconscious, and there’s the huge satisfaction of seeing a page fill up with writing that wasn’t there fifteen minutes ago.

Mixed length sentences

Fix a dreary passage by using sentences of varying lengths (which should be standard practice anyway) e.g the first sentence must be exactly six words, the second exactly fourteen words, the third exactly four words and so on. Or write your Booker Prize acceptance speech using sentences which increase by one word until you get to twenty.

Hi. I write. I write books. I write good books. The book won a prize. This is a wonderful achievement…and so on. (This is a very bad example and you will do much better).

And finally … stop writing

More often than not, my best clicks have come from stepping away from the computer and going for a long walk or a long swim, preferably in the cold north sea. The rhythms of walking and swimming just loosen up my creative knots. I can visualise settings and people, and ‘watch’ them as they move around. I can see how they stand, how they interact with each other, how they laugh or cry. I talk to my characters too, out loud, and they talk back. I don’t care if it’s mad.

We all write because we feel compelled to create authentic imaginary worlds, to inhabit a new universe where we are the God of absolutely everything. It’s the most wonderful activity, and extremely difficult to do it well. There’s no quick fix for bad writing, and often no reward or recognition for good writing. But I hope some of these suggestions help you with finding your own clicks, and help you to take your writing closer to being the best it can possibly be.

http://debialper.blogspot.co.uk

http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/