So, that was 2012

2012. The year it rained. And my first year without formal study since 2006. I’d like to claim I threw all my energy into writing amazing things, but in reality I lurched between writing projects and long overdue decorating tasks. Every time I went rabbit-in-headlights with the writing another wall was painted, or another chunk of the garden was weeded and mulched.

During one of my rabbit-in-headlights phases I signed up for the online course Self-editing Your Novel run by The Writers’ Workshop and that turned out to be one of my better decisions. Workshopping for six weeks with a group of enthusiastic writers was a real game-changer and I learned loads, coming away with new techniques for tackling the work-in-progress.

Buoyed up by the course I entered the Bristol Short Story Prize and was bowled over when my science fiction story made the longlist. It was round about then The Fear clambered up onto my shoulder and began whispering: Why would they do that? That’s a rubbish line. Cliché. You cannot be serious … Trouble is, The Fear has a habit of being right on some level.

Since then The Fear and I have filleted the novel, thrown away the rubbish ending, brought one character back into play, refined another character. One of my aims for 2012 was to finish redrafting the novel: I haven’t. But I’ve learned a lot this year, it’s taken time to internalise new approaches. The novel I finish in 2013 will be stronger as a result.

The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York in early September was one of the high points of 2012. It was a luxury to spend a whole weekend immersed in all things writing-related, and great to meet so many online contacts who turned out to be every bit as lovely in the real world.

Goals for 2013? Finish more stuff and submit more stuff. Starting with that novel.

The Next Big Thing

Many thanks to that versatile spinner-of-plates, Scott Harrison, for tagging me last week in this writers’ blog chain thingy. Basically there are ten questions to answer about the current project, five more writers to tag for answers this time next week. That’s the theory, anyway.

What is the working title of your next book?
The working title of my current project is Bitter Legacy. At present I’m (re)drafting the final chapters.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The story started out as an image prompted by a writing exercise.* A small boat was crossing a squally stretch of sea. On the boat sat a woman. She was less than chuffed with her situation. I had no idea where she’d travelled from, why, or what lay in store for her.

What genre does your book fall under?
Epic fantasy.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
This one’s tricky as I don’t envisage characters in precise physical detail. Given it’s hypothetical, I’ll assume access to a time machine. For the displaced Alwenna I’d choose someone who could bring that sense of otherness Uma Thurman or Sissy Spacek (in Carrie) bring to their roles. For the soldier-made-good think Viggo Mortensen (as Aragorn) blended with Clive Owen (moody and secretive as Parks in Gosford Park) and a dash of Liam Cunningham’s Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones (but younger).

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
In civil war a king sends his wife to safety in the protection of the only man he trusts; with loyalty stretched to breaking point she is betrayed and must draw on dark powers to protect the closely-guarded secret she carries, only to discover her husband kept secrets of his own.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Once the novel’s complete, revised and polished I’ll be seeking representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’m aiming to complete this draft by the end of this year. It’s had a couple of lengthy spells on the back burner while I was finishing my degree or busy with other projects, but at a rough estimate I’d say the time spent actively working on it totals six or seven months so far.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Until I’ve had time to step back from this story any answer risks being wildly misleading, so I’ll suggest Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, or Kristen Britain’s Green Rider as two favourites and leave it at that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Other than the years spent exploring worlds created by authors like John Wyndham, Marion Bradley, Raymond E. Feist, and Robin Hobb? Well, one item on the notional Unfinished Business list – after ‘Get that degree’ – has always been ‘Write those books’. Add to that a conversation long ago when my mother asserted nothing – but nothing – changes your life like having children;** and throw in a few random thoughts that have percolated down through the intervening years.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Think Roman Holiday meets Carrie. With swords.

I’d like to tag two talented writers I first met while studying with the Open University:  Anouska Huggins (who has a story in Issue 8 of The Yellow Room) and Graeme K. Talboys (whose latest novel Stealing Into Winter is published by Roundfire Books).

* For the curious, the exercise was 13.5 from Bill Greenwell’s chapter ‘Rhetoric and Style’ in A Creative Writing Handbook (2009, ed. D. Kneale, A&C Black Publishers Ltd). Students of the Open University course A363 may well remember it.

** This was a masterly piece of understatement.