Award-winning guest Jane Davis tells the story of her new novel, Smash all the Windows!

SO WHAT IS THE STORY?

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

For the full interview and Jane’s links, see this website on Thursday February 22nd. 

‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ – questions for the hive mind of a book club!

A number of readers have kindly suggested The Wolf of Dalriada to their book clubs. I thought a list of possible questions to start the discussions off might be helpful. So here are thirty. Don’t feel you have to do more than say 10-15. Avoid overkill! There is no exam or qualification involved! And some of the questions are literary; others are more related to personal development (and bibliotherapy!)

  1. Which three words describe how you feel, having finished ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’?
  2. Who is your favourite character and why?
  3. Who is/are the hero(es)? Who are the villains? And why?
  4. Do the characters change? (Remembering this is Part 1 of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ series.)
  5. Do you empathise with your favourite character or wish you were more like him/her?
  6. Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite too? What would you hope to learn?
  7. If you were a casting director for a film/tv version, who would you cast?
  8. What moments in the novel do you like best?
  9. What moments do you like least?
  10. What is the most significant event for you in the story and why?
  11. What events puzzle you and why? What are other possible outcomes for these puzzling events?
  12. Could you lose yourself in the world of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’?
  13. Is there an important theme (or themes) that this story illustrates?
  14. What is the role of superstition and tradition in this story?
  15. What did you learn about change and social classes in this book?
  16. What is the predominant moral issue? Which character understands what is right here or does no-one?
  17. Are there other moral issues? What are they? Who understands what is involved?
  18. What are the ‘unanswered questions’? (Again remembering this is Part 1 of a series.)
  19. How would you describe the genre of this book, if any?
  20. Description involves the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Is any one sense predominant in this book?
  21. Pretend you’re the author’s content editor. Have you noticed anything which is inaccurate or inconsistent?
  22. What does this tell you about the difference between fiction and non-fiction?
  23. What first drew you into the book? The blurb? The first sentence or paragraph? Why?
  24. Pretend you are writing a blurb for the cover of the book. What would you say?
    What would you tweet (in 140 characters) about this book?
  25. Does the book remind you of any other writers or novels you’ve read? What’s the same? What’s different?
  26. People say all fiction is autobiographical. If you were to guess at a formative experience in the author’s life based on what they’ve written in this book, what would you guess?
  27. What did ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ speak to in your own life?
  28. What did you learn?
  29. Do you want to read Part 2? (You could sign up for the Author’s newsletter on this website.)
  30. Any other questions?
I should love it, too, if you would like to let me know your joint/several experiences of reading and discussing ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’. If so, please contact me through Comments (attached to this blog).

A new event!

Elizabeth Gates: Taming the wolf within – from idea to publication (Wirral Libraries free Bookfest)
Tue 3rd Oct 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Bookfestliterature-and-poetrytalks-and-conferences
Heswall Library, Telegraph Rd, Birkenhead, Wirral CH60, UK map
Elizabeth Gates : ‘Taming the Wolf within…

– from idea to publication’

Tuesday 3rd October 2pm Heswall Library

How do you find an idea for a novel? How do you write 100,000 useable words? How do you share your finished product?

In this talk, ‘Taming the Wolf within . . . ‘, author of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ Elizabeth Gates answers these and other questions. For further information visit : www.elizabeth-gates.com

There will be the opportunity to purchase signed copies of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ after the talk.

Book at any of our Central Libraries: Bebington, Birkenhead, Wallasey or West Kirby)

Advance booking is essential to secure your place

Phone 0151 639 2334 OR 07785 502 018

email elainewilson@wirral.gov.uk

Want a signed copy?

Part 2 of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ is now off to the Beta Readers!

Phew! 80,000 words of ‘The Wolf of Dalriada – Part 2’ are now winging their way to the Beta Readers! A significant moment. But who are Beta Readers and what do they do? Brenda Pollard answers these questions clearly and my own feeling is that Beta Readers are vital to the big picture.

I also provide my Beta Readers with a list of questions to guide their thinking. Not that they need much guidance but I do want to make the most of their expertise as talented readers. The questions I pose are:

  1. People?
    Does each character work?
    Is there consistency even when there is change/ development?
    Do they seem real?
    Is their speech distinct and typical of them?
    Do you care what happens to them?
  2. Setting?
    Is the setting authentic?
    Has too much detail (research) been included?
    Are there any historical inaccuracies – factual; linguistic?
  3. Plotting?
    Are any scenes or sections unnecessary or superfluous – for example, is Chapter 3 in the right place?
    Is the pacing is too slow/too fast at any point?
    Are there any plot-holes or inconsistencies?
    Does the story engage you?
    Did you know how this story was going to end? Was this a problem?
    Please look out for any repetitions and/or too much inclusion of first story in the series?
  4. Anything else?

 

This list may also be useful for your own self-editing. It certainly concerns itself with the bigger picture. This is called developmental or content editing and does not involve your very kind Beta Readers in proof reading or copy editing. Those are professional areas – necessary and fee-paying. Contact the Society of Editors and Proofreaders for a practitioner near you.

Let’s get physical!

Author Joanna Cannon appeared to have it all. Written during snatched moments in car parks at the hospital where she worked as a psychiatrist, Joanna’s first novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, garnered the lifestyle that many a writer would aspire to and an £300000 advance. But she has surrendered all that. As reported in the Guardian newspaper, (30.03.17), she is now returning to healthcare. Now why would a writer do that?

Writers have always needed day jobs. The idea is: you do something which does not interfere too much with your creative process but pays the bills and, in this uncertain world, the idea of your writing supporting you and your growing family is an attractive one. But quite often, it remains just that, an idea.

The idea of a financially-supportive day job is, of course, not new. In a New York Public Library blog – The Day Jobs of 10 Famous Writers written by Nicholas Parker, Communications (05.07.17) – George Bernard Shaw is revealed to have been a telephone demonstrator; Charlotte Bronte was famously a governess and Arthur Conan Doyle performed surgery. Kurt Vonnegut sold cars.

But, if, when not writing, you need a day job, make sure it has the special features which are designed to prop up your real work, the work you were put on earth to do, ie writing your magnum opus. According to corporate lawyer and ‘Sorcerer to the Crown’ author Zen Cho, (writing in the Writers’ Digest (30.07.16) some of the crucial questions could be:

  • Will this job be flexible enough to give you time and space to write?
  • Will your working hours’ schedule/routine be predictable?
  • Will you be allowed to move away from your desk?
  • Will your job be too intellectually and socially stimulating and take the edge of you?

Too much rigidity on these points and you can kiss goodbye to your creativity.

Even more attractive may be the health benefits that a physical day job can offer a sedentary writer who sits, without moving, for hours on end, gazing crookedly at a computer screen with the uppers of coffee laced with the downers of shots of hard liquor.

Writer and woodland community leader Tobias Jones, in the Society of Authors publication, The Author Vol ccxxvii no 3 (Autumn 2015), describes some of these health benefits. Jones lauds, for example, the endorphin-rich effect of sinking thirty stakes in a field. This activity, he implies, could counter some of writing’s harmful effects. These may range from musculo-skeletal problems related to seated inactivity to physical stress symptoms which can include anything from a headache to chronic indigestion and worse. As he says of this stake-sinking, ‘You get the buzz, but an end result as well.’

Tobias Jones also commends some of the ‘quick results’ manual labour can deliver. These may include:

  1. Self-esteem – which comes from having something to show for your efforts
  2. Enhanced problem-solving skills – Consider the problem-solving skills needed for a plot twist. Practice in carpentery can only help.
  3. Quality standards – you can’t fudge. For example, if you are an electrician, you stand or fall upon fact such as ‘Do the lights go on and off?’. If you’re a writer, there is a grey area between success and failure.
  4. Companionship with a sense of purpose – you’ll notice this at ship launches.
  5. An opportunity to ‘observe’ – We’re back to ‘content’ here.
  6. Humility – a check and balance to the delusion of grandeur required of writers.
  7. And there is of course the delights of the stable income!

Nevertheless, for all this – along with loneliness, melancholia, lack of spiritual balance – writers still want to write. So it’s worth adding a suitable day job into the mix. The right day job can also give your writing, substance, relevance and content and may just save your sanity. What would you choose as yours?

With a little Help from my Friends – Reasons to join a Writers’ Group

When I first announced that I wanted to attend a writing group – as a participant not a facilitator – someone looked me blankly in the eye and asked ‘Why?’ There I was, the author of two novels, a long-serving and published freelance journalist, a writing coach, a writing group facilitator …?

But, since that question was asked, it hasn’t taken me long to think of six reasons why I should. A little more time and I could probably think of more.

So – here we go:

  1. As a working writer, you need beta readers. These informed non-professional ‘readers’ can tell in a flash what works and what doesn’t in a chunk of your work in progress (WIP).
  2. Reading aloud shows you the flaws in your own piece. When you run out of breath, for example, you know your sentence is too long.
  3. During tea-break, you have the stimulus of chatting to like-minded folk over a custard cream. Introverted writers can be lonely people. A writers’ group connects you to the human race.
  4. The writers’ group can set a standard, set the bar. You may be way above it but ‘Oh, how comforting!’ You may fall well below – in which case, try harder.
  5. The writers’ group – with their friends and family – make up a possible market. If you entertain them, they may remember your book when doing their Christmas shopping.
  6. A writers’ group is a pool of distilled wisdom and knowledge. One off-piste discussion at a writers’ group I attended recently embraced the funeral customs of Europe and how they differed. Inspiration for another piece of writing!

So, where do you find these wonderful groups of people? Local libraries, colleges and universities are sure to welcome you to their Continuing Education Creative Writing groups. Or, in the UK, contact the National Association of Writers’ Groups to find a group near you. In the rest of the English-speaking world, there are similar organisations. Personally, I belong to a U3A (University of the Third Age) group. This is an international organisation(see WorldU3A) and I wouldn’t be without them!

The secret pleasures of Research

You may write contemporary fiction. You may write historical adventure. You may even write romance – in any of its forms. What all of these options have in common is – research! You cannot contain all you need to know in your brain so – whether internet, library, bookshop, friend’s bookcases – you have to go somewhere to find out what you need to know.

In my case, one area of particular interest to me is 18th Century France and Scotland. So – with this in mind – I am preparing a list of the books I consulted while writing ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ and which I will post on this website in due course.

However, here are a few pointers for your own research. Go-to sources include:

  • visiting locations
  • libraries for goverment reports and documents
  • contemporary newspaper archives
  • diaries
  • maps
  • fashion plates
  • recipes
  • laws
  • medical papers and practices
  • essays on contemporary social conditons such as prison
  • biographies and memoirs

But make notes as you go. it’ll save you an afternoon searching for that one particular fact.

And, when you have imbued yourself with the period and you begin to write your story, remember to stick to the plot. You may find all sorts of facts fascinating but, if they care about anything at all, your reader will quite simply want to know what is going to happen to your characters. That is not denigrating the ‘setting’ – time and place. It is simply controlling these story elements in a role subservient to the story.  You are after all telling a story. Not educating the reader!