From the Writing Desk – Mapping Out a Story: Nailing the Setting #writing #fiction Plus #reading #booksofthemonth @katehaswords @Donna_ashworth

Finding My Writing Way

As regular readers of the blog will know I’m currently writing a new novel – working title Happiness Cottage. I’m making progress but until recently it has been a bit slower than I would like.  

Writing a book is always a complex process. Writing down the words is at times the easiest part. There’s the getting to know the characters, their ages, gender, appearance and personalities. There’s the plot to wrestle with – whether that’s planning it in detail beforehand or flying blind with a vague destination in mind. And then there’s the setting. Cue for much sighing from me.

Getting Lost

I am a legend amongst my friends and family for getting lost in the real world. I have no sense of direction and I have to do many repeat journeys whether it’s round a building, a city, or in the countryside before I can visualise it in my memory. So I often find maps to be vital.

But, having said that, I’ve never had a problem with the setting of my previous novels. I knew from the start that my first novel Change of Life would be set in Edinburgh which is the city where I grew up, and in the East Lothian town of Gullane. The streets, the beach, and even the houses which feature in that book are real places, places I’ve lived in or visited often. They were places I knew well. Similarly, in my Skye series of three novels – although I changed some names, the places where my characters lived and worked were real. Again I’d lived in that township or in that cottage or I’d visited the actual place. No imagination was required. Even in my children’s fantasy novel, The Silver Locket, written by my alter-ego Anne McAlpine, the house in Edinburgh where young Caitlin lives is based on the real childhood house of a friend of mine. So, although I fictionalised certain aspects and I changed the name of certain places to ones I made up, keeping the background details in all these novels credible and consistent when describing surroundings, journeys from place to place and even the view from the kitchen window was pretty straightforward.

But this time around – not so much. For some crazy reason – don’t ask me why – I don’t know why – I decided early on that my new novel, a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland, would be set on a completely fictitious farm, near a made-up-by-me village, close to a town that only exists in my brain. Not only that, I wanted a fictional hill and a not-real river to be situated close by too. Yes, there would be some real places mentioned but they’d be in the minority.

Cue lots of scope for confusion, inconsistency and stress on the part of this author. On which side of the farm should the river flow? Where would the pretend river join up with the real world river Tweed? How long would it take to drive from town to farm? What route would the road take? Where on the farm were the buildings and where were the fields? And on and on …

Every time a character left their house – the house whose layout I wasn’t sure of – the story narrative was getting held up as I pondered how and where they’d move about. The setting seemed shrouded in fog. And the fog had to be forced to clear if me and the book were going to get anywhere.

An early attempt at the village layout

Mapping it Out

It was time to get mapping. So armed with photos I’d taken of approximate locations, an Ordnance Survey map of the area to help me with distance and scale, a ruler, a pencil and lots of paper, I began to draw. I drew a map of the village, the town, and the farm. I created landscapes which included my river and hill. And I drew floorplans for several houses and workplaces.

And you know what? It was actually quite a lot of fun as well as hard work. But more than that the process alone, never mind having the resulting charts to refer to, has meant that the setting fog has lifted. Now if I could just nail the plot and finalise the hair colour of that character …

From the Reading Chair:

I’ve read lots of good books this month – romances, thrillers and poetry. And my picks for the best reads for April 2021 are two poetry collections and a contemporary romance.

The poetry books are both by Donna Ashworth. One is called To The Women and is described as ‘words to live by’, and the other is History Will Remember When the World Stopped and contains poems about living through the pandemic. I was blown away by both books. The poems are moving, comforting and inspirational and well worth a read. Donna shares many of her poems on Facebook where they are accompanied by beautiful illustrations done by various artists.

From the back cover:

To the Women

Donna’s poems and essays for women are constantly flying around the internet bringing positivity and solidarity. This collection contains 48 favourite poems, plus beautiful quotes; truly something for everyone, to inspire, comfort and motivate. It makes the perfect gift from one woman to another. 

From the back cover:

History Will Remember When the World Stopped

A collection of beautiful poems and letters written throughout the lock-down by Donna Ashworth. Donna is followed daily by women all over the world, on her social media sites and blog. Her words are a source of comfort, inspiration and hope. Donna’s work has been published by Amnesty International and voiced by stars of stage and screen. This book is the perfect keepsake for an unprecedented time.

And the novel of the month is Finding Home, the latest book by Kate Field. It’s so good! I loved it and it was one of those stories that leaves you with a book hangover. I missed it and its characters so much when I finished it.

From the back cover:

She might not have much in this world, but it cost nothing to be kind…

Meet Miranda Brown: you can call her Mim. She’s jobless, homeless and living in her car… but with a history like hers she knows she has a huge amount to be grateful for.

Meet Beatrice and William Howard: Bill and Bea to you. The heads of the Howard family and owners of Venhallow Hall, a sprawling seaside Devonshire estate… stranded in a layby five hours from home the night before their niece’s wedding.

When fate brings the trio together, Mim doesn’t think twice before offering to drive the affable older couple home. It’s not like she has anywhere else to be. But as the car pulls into the picturesque village of Littlemead, Mim has no idea how her life is about to change…

An uplifting story of found family and true love perfect for fans of Fern Britton and Veronica Henry.

And that’s it for this month from me. As always, feel free to comment below. What have been your favourite April reads? And do you find maps useful whether in the real world or as a writer?

Playlists for Plotting: How music helps me write #amwriting #writing #mondayblogs

Similar to lots of jobs

Sorry if I’m shattering any illusions here, but being a writer is hard work. In lots of ways it’s a job like many others.

You have to turn up at your post. You have to put in the hours. You have to produce some sort of result.

Sometimes it can be tiring, frustrating and nerve-wracking.

At other times it’s invigorating, rewarding and morale-boosting.

And as long as there are more of those good times than the not so good then you’re motivated to keep going.

A different way of working

But working as a novel writer also has some unique aspects to it – or if not unique then they’re shared by only a few other professions.

Firstly, it’s a job where you have to work on your own. Even if you work in collaboration with another author, it’s still only you who can write your contribution.  You can’t share or delegate.

Secondly, you’re the boss. You’re answerable to you – and so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. ‘Not in the mood? Don’t feel writing several thousand words today? Rather wash the windows, sort your sock drawer, play around on social media? That’s okay. You’ll easily catch up when you’re in the mood.’ But of course you won’t. You’re procrastinating and the novel won’t write itself.

And thirdly, even when the spirit is willing and you’re at the desk and keen to get going, it can be hard to know how to proceed, hard to shut out the world and hard to stay in the zone.

The magic of music

And that’s where music comes in. I find that background music really helps me both get in the writing zone and helps me stay there. I don’t necessarily even hear or at least actively pay attention to it as I’m writing, but if my concentration does go then it’s the music that brings me back on task.

The plot playlist

That’s why I compile a playlist for each of my books. And it’s amazing how just hearing that first track gets my brain where it needs to be and the fact the tunes continue to play in the background helps to keep the real world at bay.

So, today I thought I’d share a sample of five tracks from each of the playlists I used for the first two books in my Skye series of novels as well as some from the one I’m currently using as I write the third book in that series.

Displacement Playlist

And I love you so – Don McLean

Lon-dubh (Blackbird) – Julie Fowlis

Meadowlarks – Fleet Foxes

You are the best thing – Ray LaMontagne

I’m gonna do it all – Karine Polwart

 

Settlement Playlist

Mad World – Michael Andrews

I still care for you – Ray LaMontagne

Your Ghost – Greg Laswell

Wherever you are – Military Wives

The sound of silence – Disturbed

 

Fulfilment Playlist

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

It’s always been you – Ray LaMontagne

I could never say goodbye – Enya

Fuel to fire – Agnes Obel

In our tears – Secret Garden

 

All the tracks on my playlists are atmospheric, evocative and appropriate for the feelings, moods and ideas I write about. These are just some of them.

If you click on a song title you’ll be taken to the track on Youtube where you can listen to the song for yourself and see what you think.

Do you find music helpful when you want to concentrate on something? Or is it distracting – if so what does help you focus?

 

Read All About It: Writing News

writing desk
Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.

Bring on the rewrites

My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.

However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.

I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).

Sequel challenges

Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.

Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.

Next up

And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.

Writing conference

However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.

I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?