Editing – Day 1.

Editing of Turn of the Tide was a lengthy and rather ad hoc process. Having finished a first draft of its sequel yesterday I’m excited about starting on the editing process, which this time I’ve planned.

So today my plan was to skim through the entire manuscript – at just over 130,000 words a fairly big task – noting every place where I typed in red, indicating that there was something I wanted to check. I was so chuffed to manage that and now have a list to start working on and as I LOVE research tomorrow should be FUN.

Red Letter Day!

Yesterday I finished a first draft of the sequel to Turn of the Tide So today is a red letter day – when I begin the editing process. And I’m quite excited…

I’m also terrified that a re-read will throw up so much that needs to be altered that it’ll take another 2 1/2 years to do it!!

But actually I’m hoping that having learnt from the process with Book 1 that I’ll find the editing much quicker this time. (Hoping…)

I’m already setting down the various edits I want to do – I prefer to focus on particular aspects rather than attempt a cover-all edit. Some of which are: Story arc / balance between action and pause for breath / character development and of course grammar, punctuation and so on – NOT my forte – I tend to sprinkle commas like sugar.

And I do have one major problem – I don’t yet have a title…

Next step is to write that dreaded synopsis, perhaps a title will emerge from that process.

Where’s My Plaid? – Lovely new review for Turn of the Tide

Sometimes you get one of those reviews that really lifts your spirits and you know that what you’ve written has given a lot of enjoyment to a reader – this was one of those reviews.

4.0 out of 5 stars Where’s My Plaid!, March 9, 2015

By The Just-About-Average Ms. M (North Florida) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Turn of the Tide (Kindle Edition)

‘ The plot moves at a good, steady clip for those readers who prefer to be jostled along, but it also pauses from time to time to allow the setting to take a bow, or the weather, or the sometimes haunted—and haunting—ruminations of Munro, his wife, and a number of other characters. The slower parts are well-crafted, the descriptions those of someone who has been there, seen it all, and doubtless has several tee shirts to prove it. When the action escalates, which it often does, take a deep breath because you will feel the rush. Once you sort out who is who, and feel pretty certain you know not only how this story will progress but also how it will end, prepare to be embarrassed. Prepare to be amazed, rather, because you won’t see it coming.’

The full review can be seen here.

Escape to the Country – then and now…

I have to confess to a mild (my husband would say serious) and long-standing addiction to house programmes on the TV – buying houses, selling houses, renovating houses…even cleaning houses. If a programme has a house as its focus, I’m your man. (Woman actually, but let’s not quibble.)
And with apologies to non-UK readers – a little nostalgia here – Who remembers the excesses of ‘Changing Rooms’ or the fun of watching wannabee property developers making mistakes on Sarah Beeny’s ‘Property Ladder’?

For the record I once applied to be on Property Ladder, and got as far as being invited to send in photos / details of the renovation project, but to my husband’s great relief a similar project had just been accepted and so I was turned down. It didn’t dampen my enthusiasm though and my ‘house’ addiction is now fed by watching as many airings of ‘Grand Designs’ as possible (mostly re-runs) and, my latest ‘fix’, episodes of ‘Escape to the Country.’Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.06.28

For the latter I blame a friend, Helen Hollick, for although I tell myself that they are very educational, and my knowledge of the geography of the south of England is certainly improving, it was Helen’s appearance on the show I was originally watching for, but of course I’m now hooked – on the landscape and the many and varied houses…

Having now watched oodles of episodes there is a recurring thread that runs through most of the programmes. – Most folk looking to relocate seem to want a property with ‘period features’.Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.06.40 But not too authentic – for, along with the desire for the period feel, is usually an equally strong preference for every modern convenience. And who can blame them? A medieval hall house may sound romantic, but how many of us would want to live with a central fire and no chimney to take away the smoke? Or an outside earth closet in lieu of a toilet? Not me!

Interesting though to see how medieval house-styling is still echoed in new-build England Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.06.53today. Compare developments of ‘mock-Tudor’ housing with the originals and externally, at least, the derivation is clear.

If you dislike ‘mock’ anything, and you have plenty of money to spend, it is possible to re-create the real thing Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.07.04 – there are specialist firms who will supply and erect an oak frame, using very similar techniques to those used in Tudor times.

The current trend for open plan living certainly lends itself to that style of house.

I have to admit here to a closet desire to live in an oak-framed house, a dream I’m unlikely to fulfil, for though these houses, both the original properties and the modern re-creations, are undoubtedly beautiful, they would look entirely out of place where I stay in the Scottish Borders.

Why most people would feel that way is an interesting issue – for modern architecture is much less location specific. Perhaps it is an instinctive appreciation that style of housing is part of our historical landscape, and often in earlier times directly reflected the physical environment; for example, the honey-coloured Cotswold stone, the flint houses of Essex with their pristine granite polishing and the thatched cottages of Devon – all of which owe their predominance to the convenience and local availability of the materials concerned, in a way that 21st century building doesn’t. And therein lies their charm.

Why isn’t the Scottish Borders peppered with half-timbered houses? Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.07.13 It can’t be explained by a lack of materials, for Scotland was just as heavily wooded in the 15th and 16th centuries as England, perhaps more so. The answer lies not in the landscape but in lifestyle.

While a Kentish farmer was enjoying the relative comfort of nestling securely in the surrounding farmland, his Scottish social equivalent was keeping fit on the spiral staircase of his gaunt and forbidding tower house, built primarily with defense in mind.Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.07.25
A reflection of the widespread lawlessness of Scottish society at this time. So no timber-framed ‘hall-style’ house for me then.

If you think renovation or stone restoration is a modern concept think again. The island of Bute on the west coast of Scotland boasts one of the most amazing restoration projects I have ever seen. Mount Stuart House was transformed before: and after: Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.08.02

Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.08.14

Well worth a visit, with ‘wow’ factors galore, from the overall magnificence (decadence?) of the interior to the detail of the decorated brass door hinges (not to mention the oak internal doors – Ukoakdoors now making similar ones), individually designed according to the purpose of the room in which they are used!

Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.08.23 Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.08.34

But now, as then, if you have enough money you can build almost anything, anywhere.
Right?
Well, maybe.

Apart from the restrictions placed by the planning authorities of course.

Are planning regulations a new thing? Yes and no. Aside from national regulations, we have conservation areas in towns and cities, and national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty in the countryside, all of which place specific restrictions on the extent and style of building allowed within them. Along with mountains of paperwork to be waded through in order to understand the restrictions or to make an application.

It was much simpler in the 16th and 17th centuries, but by no means a free-for-all. Consider the 1589 ‘Act against the erecting and maintaining cottages’, which stated:

‘ no person shall within this realm … make, build and erect, or cause to be made, built or erected, any manner of cottage for habitation or dwelling, nor convert or ordain any building or housing made or hereafter to be made or used as a cottage for habitation or dwelling, unless the same person do assign and lay to the same cottage or building four acres of ground at the least, to be accounted according to the statute or ordinance De terris mensurandis being his or her own freehold and inheritance lying near to the said cottage, to be continually occupied and manured therewith so long as the same cottage shall be inhabited’

Hmm – 4 acres…and as for the manuring…

But regulations are made to be broken, and illegal building of cottages on common ground was rife. It was however possible, but by no means certain, to obtain retrospective permission, usually by payment of a fine. (The equivalent of a modern-day ‘sweetener’ perhaps?)

Poplar Cottage, Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.08.46 now re-erected in the Weald and Downland museum, but originally sited in West Sussex, is thought to be one such illegal or ‘wasteland’ cottage, the owner of which must at some stage have received a ‘licence to remain’.

As it happens, I wrote a short story called ‘The Price of Poplar ‘ speculating on the means used to gain that permission, which has been published in the anthology ‘Beggar at the Gate and Other Stories (Historical Novel Society)

Is ‘escaping to the country’ a modern concept? Not really – wealthy folk in Tudor London also prized their country estates, enabling them to escape from the city when the weather, or disease, or political difficulties dictated.

The TV show ‘Escape to the Country’ is somewhat different. Not featuring temporary escapes to country estates by the privileged, but folk like me (well, ok, maybe a teensy bit better-off than me) making a permanent move; choosing, not just a beautiful part of the country to live in, but often also a different pace and way of life.

May they all enjoy it!

Postscript: One of my holiday ‘treats’ is to look in estate agency windows and pick up house brochures. Imagine my delight when a property I’d noticed when on holiday in Devon featured as the mystery house in a recent episode – and I got to enjoy a virtual tour…

(A modified version of this article first appeared as a guest post on Helen Hollick’s blog http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk)

My Writing Year – 2014

Due to circumstances beyond my control (genuinely and very frustratingly) I found myself unable to continue with the sequel to Turn of the Tide in the first half of 2014. However a combination of other activities and some encouragements fuelled the writing bug and I focused on what could be achieved.

The edited highlights…

Receiving my (rather attractive) trophy for 3rd place in the Rubery Short Story competition – and the subsequent publication of the anthology in which the story
In Shah’Allah appears.

Rubery Short Story Award 2013

Rubery Short Story Award 2013

Screenshot 2015-01-09 15.34.54

January
My writing year started not with writing, but with a performance workshop. Aimed at writers to help them read more effectively at book events, it was a day well spent. I was so impressed I have talked my local writers group into paying for the voice coach, Alex Gillon, to come to the Borders to do a session this year. The most important things I learned?

– 1) To widen my register, adding in lower notes when appropriate.
– 2) To pick out and emphasise key words.
I hope I’m doing better now – I’ll find out in June when I’ll hopefully be put through my paces again as one of the group’s ‘guinea-pigs’.

February
The workshop training was put to good use at events – Rotary Clubs and the WRI (Women’s Rural Institute). I almost perfected my Long Road to Publication PowerPoint, but there’s always room to ‘tweak’ – particularly good displacement activity as it is (of course) writing related!

March
Keeping my writing ambitions alive by meeting with some author friends to discuss both techniques and marketing – not my forte, but just having the contact was so useful for me. The group is called Scribblers a name I think I’ll have to lobby to change as it causes such merriment among my nearest and dearest…

April
With still no opportunity to work on my novel I managed a little short story writing / editing and visited a couple of Book Groups who had chosen Turn of the Tide for their monthly read. Great to get positive feedback and (thank you Carole Norris) a lovely supper and to be able to share, in an informal setting, a little of my writing journey and future plans. Very interesting to hear some quite unexpected comments – things folk found in the book that I hadn’t realised were there!

May
May is always my busiest work month but this year, due to changes in the exam procedures in Scotland I was able to confine my working to normal office hours. Other circumstances having changed too, I should have been able to get back on track with the sequel, but found that I’d been away from it for so long (almost a year) that picking up the threads again was going to be extraordinarily difficult.

However I had something else to focus on – May was the voting period for the final of the People’s Book Prize and it was both nerve-wracking and exciting. I was in line both for the Adult Fiction prize (12 finalists) and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best 1st Time Author (c 20 finalists). There was no way of knowing how the voting was going, except by looking at the numbers of comments and reviews put up on the site. I found it both humbling and incredibly encouraging to find more than 100 people took the time to express their pleasure at reading my book. It would have been worth it just for that. (Now if some of them would only cut and paste their comments onto Amazon…)

The venue was the fabulous Stationer’s Hall in Central London, so really atmospheric – and surprisingly I was actually able to eat the meal – despite the nervousness. When the declarations came I was at first disappointed to be pipped at the post for the Adult Fiction Prize, but in the end delighted to find that I’d won the Beryl Bainbridge Award especially when I found out that no-one could take more than one award. winners2103 banner copy It is lovely to be associated with such a good writer. And rather nice to have a second (also very tasteful) trophy to decorate the top of my piano.

June
Borders Book Festival takes place every year in June and no, sadly I wasn’t appearing on my own account, but I was invited to chair an ‘In conversation with’ event for Robyn Young – a fabulous, internationally acclaimed HF writer, whose most recent books are a series on Robert the Bruce. Screenshot 2015-01-09 16.17.09 Sitting in a marquee a stone’s throw away from the Abbey where it’s thought his heart is buried and on a date close to the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, it was a lovely experience, and Robyn is a lovely person, it was an honour to be asked.

July
Very much a family month, writing was put totally on hold…

August
I began the process of working myself back into the sequel by re-reading Turn of the Tide – you’d think I’d know it off by heart anyway, but somehow I needed to find the tone and voice all over again. And to flex my writing muscle I polished several short stories and sent them off.

September
I had been looking forward to September for months – and to the Historical Novel Society conferenceScreenshot 2015-01-09 20.40.09 in London. If anything was going to give me the shot in the arm I needed it was that. And it did – in spades. This time (my second attendance) I knew some folk before I went, but it was also lovely to finally meet in person lots of online friends. Great seminars and keynote speeches and a fun era quiz – though I’m sure the result was rigged – medieval should have won… I also found some folk who agreed to shout at me from time to time to check I was writing – exactly what I needed.
Perhaps most significant of all, an unexpected chat with a literary agent and advice which has radically changed the course of the dreaded sequel. I just hope I made the right decision.

Another PowerPoint presentation – to a large audience at a Probus meeting; making the shortlist for another short story competition (Booktown Writers) – that story will appear in their anthology at some stage this year; and most importantly of all – the offer of an empty cottage as a writing space, which Screenshot 2014-12-11 08.49.07 although somewhat spartan – a chair, a (small) table, a kettle, a microwave and a portable gas heater and importantly NO internet – had me raring to go… I even had a working title – A House Divided.

And rather like one of Pavlov’s dogs, each day as I drove up the narrow single track road towards the cottage I found my brain switching into sequel mode. However the lay-off had been so long that my first task was to edit what was already written, so for the first couple of weeks my word count decreased steadily – and that has to be good!

October
In October I was busy, busy, with my first invitation to speak at a Literary Festival AND be paid. Screenshot 2015-01-09 16.42.52 I was somewhat apprehensive in case no-one turned up, but fortunately there was a good audience, most of whom I didn’t know and it seemed to go well. (Well enough to be asked to speak again next year, so quite chuffed.)

Two days later I was off to Northern Ireland to spend several days giving talks in schools,
Screenshot 2015-01-09 20.58.48 Screenshot 2015-01-09 20.59.18 Screenshot 2015-01-09 21.21.56
Sullivan Upper (my old school), Wallace High and Friends School.
A new experience for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed. The age range was 9-17 and it was so rewarding to see classrooms and lecture theatres packed full of kids giving me rapt attention as I talked about Creative Writing, Macbeth and Becoming an Author – not all at once of course!
The week opened and ended with visits to Sullivan, finishing with their Prize Day and the inauguration of a Creative Writing prize which my father endowed to celebrate my becoming a published author. How lovely was that? I wish I’d been sufficiently organised to take a picture.
And the icing on the cake: a finalist in another short story competition – a good end to the month.

November
With writing going well and the word count now increasing I found myself on borrowed time at the cottage as the builders’ arrival was imminent. But as the weather became colder I managed to use an entire cylinder of gas in the heater and learnt that it’s perfectly possible to write with a hot water bottle on your knees and wearing several layers of jumpers plus a hat, a scarf, and fingerless gloves. It may even help when imagining life in a 16th century tower house…
The big excitement though, was my first ever Amazon Free Promotion of the Kindle version of Turn of the Tide. It reached No 6 (UK) and No 3 (US) in the Free Kindle listings overall and after the end of the promotion stayed in the top 100 of various sub-categories for several weeks. A staggering 41,600+ folk downloaded a copy during the promotion, time will tell whether it will translate into extra sales, but it has already resulted in some extra reviews. I was warned by many other writers to brace myself for a 1* review… Screenshot 2014-11-08 19.48.32 Screenshot 2014-11-18 00.51.55

And here it is – amusingly not really a review at all, simply saying ‘Have not read it yet.’ I asked Amazon and they took it down, maybe I should have just left it… Screenshot 2014-11-26 07.51.42

November is also ‘Previously’ month, an annual history festival with over 100 events running in various towns and cities across the south of Scotland. I was asked to run two writers’ workshops – one in Edinburgh and one in St Andrews – a particular pleasure for me as that was where I went to University. Apart from the fact that the Himalyas (putting green) isn’t open all year round, so that I couldn’t re-visit that most important aspect of my Uni career, and it was a tad cold to indulge in Janetta’s ice cream (choice of c 50 flavours), it was great to be back.

And so to December
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig. Can I work as well at home as in splendid isolation? I’m not sure, but I have made some changes that hopefully will help. A little bit of re-organisation (well quite a lot of humping and hauling by my better half actually, especially of big bookcases), and I now have a dedicated writing space which is warm and comfortable, but still with internet connection, so great discipline will be required. (I re-sited the router away from the room but still get quite a good signal – at least I tried.)
I have set myself a new target and will try to keep to it…watch this space. And anyone who wishes to help by nagging me about how I’m getting on will be much appreciated!

Books for a wet and windy night?

Last night it poured. Most of the night in fact, which in my house doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep as we sleep under the eaves and have two roof lights, somehow rain landing directly on the glass is a lot more noisy than rain landing on the roof itself. So that got me thinking about books for a wet and windy night. I don’t imagine too many people will be surprised to learn that it is the Bronte sisters’ novels that immediately sprang to mind. Who cannot think of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, though perhaps The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is slightly less well-known. (But what a fabulous name for a house – so evocative.)

I read the Brontes first as a teenager when the raw emotions they conveyed fitted perfectly with my age. I re-read them as an adult and found that they spoke to me in a different way, and now as a writer I can appreciate the talent and imagination that created them – the ability to write powerfully about experiences of life that these three sisters had never had, cloistered as they were in their Yorkshire parsonage.

So I was interested to see this post about them and a play that dramatises their life. Two sentences jumped out at me –

Everyone has heard of them. Not all of those people have read their work. In fact, many will not have, especially readers of my generation, myself included. But their legacy is so pervasive, so ingrained into popular culture, that their fame has transcended their work and entered the global consciousness. Even if you have never read their stories, you know of them, they are cultural icons.

This came as a surprise because I expected that everyone who was interested in writing and reading would have dipped into the classics, and the Brontes definitely rate among the classics. But maybe I’m just out of touch or maybe it’s the fault of both the education system and the youth-obsessed modern culture that idolises the ‘new’ and relegates much of the ‘old’ to dusty and untouched shelves in a library’s ‘stacks’. This happened in my local library, where I used to work, when most of the ‘classics’ were first removed from the open shelves and placed in a back room to be brought out only by special request, and then eventually, (after I’d left) disposed of entirely. I wish I’d been around when that happened – if I couldn’t have stopped it I could at least have bought the full set of ‘Everyman’ Classics to have a home. What a treasure trove that would have been!

Chrissy Boulton’s comment that really struck a chord with me was –

To make your reader feel what you want them to feel, think about what you want them to think about. Grammar, spelling, and all that jazz, can be taught, but the ability to make a connection with the reader cannot be, that’s where talent comes in.

Absolutely, Chrissy – and that is, or should be, the ambition of every writer. (I think I shall print out that first sentence to have on the wall above the table where I write – what better focus to have.)

Something else struck me – the painting of the Bronte sisters, painted by their brother, Bramwell Screenshot 2014-12-22 07.12.41 which, amazingly, I hadn’t seen before. This is in no way a traditional portrait of the time – they aren’t presented as classically beautiful, nor is this a conventional stylised ‘sitting’. I wasn’t surprised to find it was their brother who painted it, and I think a bit of his character, and the not untypical brother/sisters relationship shows through. (Who more likely than a brother to paint a ‘warts and all’ portrait? It is the expressions on their faces that really intrigue me – I wonder what they’re looking at, what they’re thinking, but most of all I see them as individuals whom I’d love to have met and talked to.

Thank you to Madame Gilflurt for bringing this article to my attention and to Chrissy Boulton for writing it – this play We are Sisters by Blake Morrison is one that I’d love to see…

Writing + editing at the same time – A bad Idea?

Now here’s a thing – my current target is to increase my word count of my WIP by c 5000 words per week. That seems to me a realistic target and on that basis I SHOULD have a finished first draft within a month. (I wanted it for Christmas, but hey, January would be fine.) My normal practice is to start each day by re-reading the last few pages I wrote and do a little light editing as a way of getting me back into the mood of the piece and then move on to fresh writing. Some days it works better than others and I can fly along (well if you can consider writing 1200 words ‘flying’.) Other days I struggle to grind out 500 words.

But this article Drafting + Writing + Writer’s Block has got me wondering. Do we in fact use a different part of the brain for these two functions? I don’t know enough about brain function to know, but I think I should try to find out. Because if this is true it could be a game-changer (and I might even get that draft finished sooner than I think…)

So if anybody out there knows the answer to this question, please tell me. And if you’ve got any experience to share I’d love to hear it.