It’s all about the journey

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I’d long been an avid cynic of reality TV shows such as X Factory, Pop Idle, Big Brooder, (disparaging mis-spellings intentional) et al, citing them as simple ratings magnets that were all hype and no substance.

I’d avoid them like the cliche, eschewing Saturday night television altogether, tutting at the oft-hyped results and the acres of tabloid coverage they seemed to generate.

But little by little, weekend visits to a friend’s house resulted in the television (which seemed to have no ‘off ‘ function) drawing my eye and ear towards the (often hapless) auditionees on ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ every Saturday night. 

I found myself becoming intrigued, for no reason that I could fathom.  I didn’t know these people, these fame-seeking wannabes (only some of whom were quietly talented and later became successful) and yet I found myself increasingly drawn into their stories as they inched their way towards the stars.  I followed them from their earliest beginnings.  I saw their spotlight-dazzled faces as they shuffled reluctantly onto an over-large stage to croak out a few nervous bars of their favourite song.  And then I watched their eyes light up as the crowd called out its approval.

But why was I watching this IQ-sapping drivel; this thinly-disguised attempt to solicit viewers (and before you mentally compose hate-mail, please let me finish), this apparent waste of valuable writing time?

It suddenly became clear to me when I unexpectedly became hooked on yet another reality TV show – Masterchef.  

Hooked? Why?  I know nothing about food.  I can barely make mashed potato or an edible cheese sauce.  To this day I am still able to slide rock-hard frozen food onto a microwave platter with only a basic idea of why it emerges twenty minutes later as a hot, steaming meal.  I have no aspirations to create Langoustine consommé with lemon tuiles and pea puree, or to begin experimenting with molecular gastronomy (although liquid Nitrogen does look like a wonderful toy).

The chemistry of food defies my kind of logic.  It’s a pleasure to eat, true, but the assembly is an alien process to me and most likely will forever remain that way. 

But there I was, week after fascinated week, watching untrained but enthusiastic amateurs, their fumbling fingers creating elegantly-assembled dishes of confit duck on a bed of celeriac mash to Michelin-class standards.   But why?  In the name of the knife, fork and spoon, why??

Then it finally clicked.  The title of this post says it all.  It was about the journey.

We aspiring writers have very similar goals to those clumsy cooks, those shaking singers, those jittering jugglers.  We are all on the same journey of self-discovery – with the hope of our own selves being discovered.  Or our work, at least.

I realised that by watching these rising stars gain new skills and achieve undreamed-of heights, my thoughts were paralleling their journey with my own aspirations, because I hoped that I would also (one day) experience a similar journey. 

My mind had latched onto these stories in an unconscious act of self-preparation.

It may be that every individual who achieved the final three of Masterchef, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent has already inspired me; proved to me that it IS possible to lift our (literary) voices from behind the background noise of society enough to be heard. 

Ordinary mortals like us can achieve great things.  But it takes time.  It takes a measure of confidence.  But it can require a good measure of encouragement from our peers too. 

It is perhaps because of all of this that I am mentally prepared for the next step of ePublishing, the quiet, stealthy equivalent of seeing my work in Bookers or Waterstones.  I dare to touch my toe to the chill waters of public consumption and say to them ‘nibble on that,’ whilst thinking ‘pleasedon’tbite, pleasedon’tbite!’

The journey from ‘I could write a book’ through ‘could I write a book?’ to ‘I have written a book’ is moving forward.  Who was it that said; ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’?

But where is your journey taking you? How far have you already come?

Have you been inspired by stories of success or sheer determination? 

Have you watched others climbing the ladder towards success, feeling that your journey was headed the same way?

Do you feel (particularly with ePublishing opening up new possibilities) that the impossible is now possible?

Share your story with us.  Tell us where your journey is taking you.

Write on – and encourage others to do the same in every way that you can.

  

Do you empathise with your characters?

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Do you?

I mean really get down into the mud with them and feel their pain as if it was your own?

In this age of guts, gore and death on both the big and the small screen, it’s all too easy to sit back and munch popcorn as a larger-than-life action figure takes a bullet, then fights on to the expected victory.  The heroine, meanwhile, hangs by a single finger over a fatal drop before she is rescued in the very last instant by a strong grip around her slender wrist.

Yeah, sure he groans as the bullet buries itself in his flesh.  She shrieks as her finger slips. 

But what do they really feel?  Can you, as a writer, firstly imagine the pain, the sheer terror that these characters ought to be feeling?  And can you, secondly, convince the reader that these unfortunate, suffering characters know that a life-stopping moment is but a heartbeat away?   We are all buzzing bags of emotion, not unfeeling machines.  Readers know this – and we must deliver. 

I’ve dreamed of plunging to my death in a car, then woken in a cold, shaking sweat, hardly able to convince myself that I’d survived.  In one brief moment, I’d mentally wrapped up my life, regretted things unfinished, and wondered if non-corporeal existence or oblivion awaited me.  Then; bang;  I was a crumpled statistic – but one with an answer.  One with an edge to create better death scenes; and to recognise shallow ones.  And although it was a dream, I’d been there.  I’d actually felt it.

If you’re in any doubt that you are tuned into your characters, retire to a quiet place after you’ve written your action sequence.   Become one with your character of choice.  Climb into their skin, then re-run the action.  Hang from a stone gargoyle one hundred storeys above the city.  Plunge over a waterfall, not knowing if you’re going to see the next minute.  Switch off all the lights and spin around three times to experience some of the disorientation of being inside a darkened warehouse (but please don’t injure yourself – even if you are researching pain!).

Better still, if the geography or architecture allows, visit the closest possible parallels to your scene and lean over that edge; feel the power of the wind and water.  Picture the last seconds of your life as gravity claims its prize. 

Your character would.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone close to you went over the edge instead; feel that anger, that helplessness, that utter and permanent loss.

And relax…breathe.  Then get it down on paper / screen.

I’ve dealt largely with falls so far.  Other fates are available, naturally. 

And of course, this technique doesn’t just apply to action scenes. 

Pain is not the only emotion;

Betrayal?  Your best friend has just eloped with your significant other / taken your expensive car / smuggled out your priceless show cat.  Get angry; feel betrayed.  Just don’t call that friend until you’ve simmered down and put your hurt and anger into black-and-white.

Love?  A trickier one this, one that relies on previous experience.   Think of it as the ultimate head-and-heart battle.  Except that the head belongs to an adult, and the heart is a wanton, wailing, selfish four-year-old that (almost) always gets their way.  How wrenching would that be as an internal monologue?

Fear?  There are many shades of fear, too many to list here.  Briefly, though; Fear of death (brief pain and it’s all over – but you might leave everything unfinished); Fear of loss – what is it that you could not stand to exist without?  Fear of change; your comfort zone – obliterated.

Feel them all – no, really.  Feel them all.  And then create characters that we can really relate to – and emotions that stir our own. 

What better than a novel that takes us upon a roller-coaster ride that leaves us emotionally wrought, but thoroughly satisfied?

For further reading I’d recommend Rivet your readers with Deep POV.  Please note that I am in no way affiliated with this work  – I just found it to be instructive.

So, over to you;

What techniques do you use to get beneath your character’s skin?  

Do you perform mental walk-throughs? 

Do you research on-line for the experiences of others, or even query them face-to-face?

Six Sentence Sunday…oh, heck. Too late!

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Well, many others have offered up their six sentences, so here are mine.

.

“Sara, move!”

The impact of Michael’s hand against my shoulder provided an impetus that thrilled me forwards in a blur of motion – I found myself on the far side of the crossroads in a heartbeat.

A moment later we were sprinting up Sampson Square, flashing past the darkened shops.

My limbs moved faster than I would have thought possible as behind us, a feral howl rolled up the street, blasting through the air and ripping the September leaves from the trees.

“What the hell was – ?”

“Never mind,” Michael yelled.  “Just keep running!”

.

Hopefully, this segment coveys the urgency of Sara and Michael’s desperate flight from a horde of Spawn – unfortunate individuals who have been endangered to the point of death, where their souls have been snatched away, leaving them as empty, enslaved monsters.  Michael, an angel (of sorts) is able to assist Sara by temporarily enhancing her muscles with supernatural energy.  These are not standard ‘zombies’.  They are closer to ‘I am Legend’ than ‘Dawn of the Dead’, and are capable of a surprising turn of speed.

This segment is lifted from the chapter where Sara finally realises that the dangers around her are real and that Michael really has a serious purpose on Earth.

Any thoughts or feedback would be gratefully received.

PS I will get the hang of this Sunday / Monday thing.

My first nomination!

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Well, this is a brand new and fairly uncertain experience for me.

It came as a complete surprise when C.A Hustead nominated me for the ‘One Lovely Blog Award.’

For the past year or so, the only visitor to this blog has been …me.

Then Aayla Avalon came to visit and boosted my stats by 50%.  Since then, it’s been largely quiet…until about three months ago (I’m guessing here – I will verify that later), I began to get visitors!  Around that time, I made the (rather obvious now) connection that by commenting on other writer’s blogs, those writers might be curious enough to visit my blog. Now I’m following and regularly reading several blogs, as well as discovering new ones each week.

Sadly, my time on-line is limited (work, home life, travelling time) and I can’t be as prolific or entertaining as other bloggers.  My blog was mainly a journal, documenting my experience as a first-time novellist, never designed to impart deep, meaningful thoughts or throw out weekly challenges.

However, now that I have followers for the first time (thanks to everyone who has chosen to follow my humble ramblings!) I will endeavour to raise the entertainment level from the lowly levels of Notch One.

Now, following in the style of Mr Hustead, and Ms. Nine  before him, I believe the format is to nominate seven other bloggers;

The Rules:

1. thank the blogger who nominated you with a link to the site.
2. write seven things about yourself that other bloggers don’t know
3. nominate fifteen other deserving blogs.

The Big Thank You:

Thank you, Mr Hustead, for the kind nomination.  I will attempt to keep up the ‘good work,’ and create meaningful, useful and perhaps even the occasional entertaining posts.

Seven things about myself?

  1. I am spiritual but definitely not religious.
  2. I watch (and enjoy) romantic movies.
  3. I have been within ten feet of Tony Blair, Princess Anne and Jean-Michel Jarre (not all on the same day).
  4. I am afraid of heights and cannot stand roller coasters.
  5. I am a night owl as opposed to a lark.
  6. When I grow up I want to be a bush pilot (4. notwithstanding)
  7. I cried when Freddie Mercury died.

Nominations towards other blogs;

Aayla Avalon for her endearing depiction of a writer struggling to metamoprhise into an author and for her encouraging words to fellow proto-authors.

Kimberly’s writings is informative and always fun to read.

Candace Knoebel for her thoroughly engrossing posts.

Ryan Casey who has done more than anyone to convince me that self-publishing may offer an alternative way to get my novel ‘out there’.

A Journey to Atlantis for always providing a riveting read!

Lillie McFerrin for getting us all to write (or intend to write in my case) Five Sentence Fiction.

Michelle Proulx for not only providing insightful blogging, but for her encouragement of others too.

And finally…

M.D.Kenning, who has provided several thoughtful articles which has led me to re-examine my own prose in a new way.

I know that’s not fifteen, but I have only recently launched my blog into the…um… blogosphere.  I have chosen to follow those blogs that interest me the most and will add new ones as I stumble upon them.  I continue to watch out for recommendations posted upon others blogs.

Again, thanks for the nomination and all the encouragement I have received from my followers.

Andrew Toynbee

The best rejection letter ever?

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Today (24th July 2012) I received a rejection letter from John Jarrold.  Naturally, I was disappointed, but it was such an in-depth letter, I didn’t mind as much as I ought to have.

I’ve attached the letter below for you to read.

Has anyone else received anything similar?  Or is the one-line reject letter the norm?

Dear Andrew

I have now read your material – I do apologise for the delay.  I can see the imagination and intelligence at work here, but I can’t honestly say I loved it.  After fifteen years in publishing before setting up the agency, I’m all too aware how difficult it is to get a publisher interested in a new writer, so I feel that I do have to love my clients’ work – personally and professionally – to do the best possible job.  If I don’t feel that strongly, I’m the wrong agent.  Publishing is a notoriously subjective business, and every new author needs both an agent and an editor who do love their work.  It’s hellishly difficult getting the bookselling chains to take a new novelist seriously, so that initial enthusiasm is vital. If an author’s prose doesn’t set me on fire, first and foremost, I say no, as do editors in this situation.

Most UK editors see around thirty books every week and only take on one or two debut novels over an entire year.

The entry level for a new novelist now is ‘special’, not ‘good’.  This is partially because sales and marketing directors have so much more power than they did a dozen years ago.  If they don’t believe they will be able to sell a first novel into W H Smiths and the rest of the bookselling trade in numbers, they’ll block the editor from acquiring it in many companies.  A senior editor told me a few weeks ago that even if he loved an author’s writing, he wouldn’t make an offer until the book that was submitted to him was 100% right for the market – he has just acquired an author whose previous four novels he (and everyone else in London) had turned down despite liking them a great deal. Thus, I have to believe the writers I take on are truly wonderful, or it’s pointless submitting them.  I just wasn’t entirely drawn in by your story and characters – I wasn’t thinking WOW, which is what I look for.  Another agent may feel differently, of course. So often, it’s about unquantifiable gut reaction and the pricking of your thumbs.

FYI, I’ve taken on about forty writers as clients and turned down well over 9,000, so far…I know it can be as difficult to get an agent as it is to be taken on by a publisher.  You just have to keep plugging away.

All best wishes for the future – and apologies again for not coming back more quickly.

Yours

John Jarrold
Website:  http://www.johnjarrold.co.uk/

Amber Feldkamp

dystopian author | reader | blogger of all things spec fic and sugar

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