Tag Archives: writing

Writing – Point of View

When you’re writing a story, you have to ask yourself two questions, says Geraldine Mills, the Irish writer who ran a workshop on point of view (POV) for the Singapore Writers’ Group. ‘Whose story do you want to tell? And who do you want to tell it?’

For those who haven’t previously heard of POV in writing, basically, it’s the decision of whether to write in the first person or the third person along with which character’s POV you’re taking in the telling of your story. So you need to decide who your main character is and the narrative voice.

I know from personal experience that when you first start writing, you can find yourself ‘head-hopping’ from one POV to another, making it difficult for the reader to really engage and sympathise with any one character. This is because you’re preoccupied with the story. It’s only later that you think about who is telling it.

Geraldine says that the character dictates the decision. Sometimes the POV is obvious because a character will talk to you and will have a distinctive voice. In Geraldine’s short story ‘The Weight of Feathers’ in her short story collection of the same title, she said the first line just came to her. ‘A man fell out of the sky and into my garden.’

And she knew she had to tell the story in that voice, in the first person. ‘I found the slump of his body by the pomegranate trees when I went out to water the terraces. The evening burned itself into the mountain. There were feathers all around me, some stuck to his arms, some to his legs, a golden syrup of wax melted on his face. I thought he was dead until I touched some part of his shoulder and a low groan came from his cracked lips.’

I wish characters talked to me like that!

Other times, like in the YA novel Geraldine is currently writing, it is more difficult to decide and she’s experimenting, telling the story from each of her three characters POVs to see which is strongest. She’s finding each of them limiting because there are aspects of the story that can’t be told as a result. It is a comfort that established, published writers wrestle with this stuff too.

Geraldine says you have to look for the conflict and ask yourself, ‘which is the most pressing story? Who has the most to lose? And who has the most to gain from the telling?’ Once you’ve decided, you then have to remain consistent.

So what are the different POVs? We all know the first person, the third person and, more rarely, the second person – ‘you’. But it turns out there are different options among those. Let me summarise Geraldine’s low-down on these.

 

First Person

Writing in the first person can lend an immediacy to the writing. When using ‘I’, it’s usually the main character telling the story from their POV and it’s what they see or hear and you can’t go into anyone else’s head. This can be powerful at one level and limiting at another.

There is also the first person witness / peripheral, where the narrator is not the protagonist. The Great Gatsby could have been told from Gatsby’s POV, but F Scott Fitzgerald chose to tell it from Nick Caraway’s POV, who witnesses what happens. So we only know what Nick sees or what Gatsby or another character tells him. But the reader gets Nicks relationship with Jordan and the Buchanans and an eye on their world that Gatsby doesn’t have.

It is more rare to read the first person omniscient, who is all-knowing, as in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, where the main character has been killed and is telling the story from the other side.

And one that had never even crossed my mind before is the first person plural, ‘we’. Geraldine gives the example of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. A collective, in this case the local people in a community, tell of how they treat a woman who has fits.

In efforts to cure her, concerned members of our town brought her holy water from seven holy rivers. When we heard her screams and throes in the night, when her wrists were bound with ropes and stinging poultices pressed upon her, we named her in our prayers.

It would be difficult to sustain in a novel. It only really works when the collective witnesses something and the conflict has to be outside the ‘we’. While in Lahiri’s story the community are helping Bibi Haldar, the first person plural can have a creepy effect, with people clubbing together, a mob.

You can write in the first person from more than one character’s POV (first person multiple) but you have to be careful to make each of the voices distinctive so the reader knows which character is speaking / whose view we’re getting. You also have to be sure of who the protagonist is and give weight to that character. And make it easier for the reader by using section breaks or chapter breaks when you swap POV.

Second Person

‘You’. Again, this could be hard to sustain over a novel and might grate. It can bring you closer to the narrator if they are talking directly to the reader but it can also be used to distance the narrator from the protagonist.

I thought Mohsin Hamid used it to brilliant effect in ‘How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’, a novel in the style of a self-help book.

This book is a self-help book. Its objective, as it says on the cover, is to show you how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother’s cot one cold, dewy morning. Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose sneakers have been stolen. This is all the more remarkable since you’ve never in your life seen any of these things.

Third Person

There’s more freedom writing in the third person and it can be easier to create tone and atmosphere. With the third person limited, the narrator hones in on one character and can get inside his or her head and is privy to their thoughts and feelings. J.K Rowling does this in Harry Potter. We can see and hear all the other characters but we see and understand the action from Harry’s POV, following him like a camera is on his shoulder.

More old-fashioned, is the third person omniscient, as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen would use, where the narrator can take a wide-angle view of events or close in on one character or another and can even draw moral thoughts or judgments.

There’s also the objective narrator, relating what he sees or hears, which Raymond Carver uses skilfully in Little Things.

You can have multiple narrators in the third person. In Capital by John Lanchester, you get the POVs of 15 to 20 characters. Geraldine says that while the writing is superb and humorous, ‘there was no one character I could have sympathy with. I’d just get into one person’s story and it would move on to another POV.’

During the workshop we did an exercise writing from a particular POV. As we read them out, it was interesting hearing the different effects gained by simply replacing ‘I’ with ‘she’ or ‘you’. Geraldine suggests playing with different POVs and to move out of our comfort zones in order to grow as writers. And it’s important to know the rules before bending them. You can use POV to create an effect structurally across a book. For instance, Alice Clark-Platts, in her debut novel Bitter Fruits, due out on July 2, deliberately swaps between the third person for the police investigation and the first person for a particular character and you don’t know who that person is until the end.

 

So take Geraldine’s advice and play with POV. Challenge yourself with new narrative voices. Happy writing.

 

 

The new feminists

I’ve finished the book! (Cue happy dance with triumphant knee-slide across the living room floor). Yes! I’m taking the time to savour the moment and not entertaining the thought of agent and publisher rejections. No I will not think about that. Bugger, I’m thinking about that. But I’m also celebrating the achievement. It’s only when you reach the end of a book (well the draft that you’re going to send out) that you wonder how on earth you did it.

So here is Soul Sister. I’ve uploaded it on this site, if you want to check it out. It’s about a modern day teenager that meets the woman she was in a past life – the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. It’s about souls clashing in one life and meeting in another to make peace. It’s about first love. It’s about being happy in your own skin, standing up for yourself and having a voice.

In my book, I’m exploring what it is to be a girl today. Girls pick up on society’s expectations of them to be pretty, skinny and sexy. It was what, in part, set me off writing this book because it can lead to body image problems, eating disorders, and low self-esteem and I think it’s terrible that we’re doing that to our daughters.  You only have to look at the Protein World advert of the bikini clad woman and the slogan Are you Beach Body Ready? to get some idea of how blatant that pressure is.

Protein World's beach body ad on the London underground

There’s been a huge backlash in London, with women answering the advert’s question by writing their thoughts on the posters on the tube. This is a watershed moment, I think. The moment when women said: ‘Enough! I’m not interested in how you think I should look on the beach. Or anywhere else. I am proud of the body I have and I will take it anywhere I please.’ The suffragettes would be proud.

Girls and women are kicking, quite literally, against limiting definitions and expectations of who they should be and what they should look like and turning stereotypes upside down. imagesLike the nine-year-old girl on Britain’s Got Talent, Jesse McParland, cute as you like, and launches into an amazing, acrobatic martial arts routine to rival The Karate Kid, Zorro and the Three Musketeers put together. Fierce! And totally expressing who she is. She tried ballet and Irish dancing, she said, but she didn’t like it.

And yesterday I read about Danielle Taylor whose Prom theme was ‘Sweet Dreams’, presumably based on the 80s romance books, but anyway likely to be iUnknownnterpreted in pink with hearts. Yes, a school, basically saying, ‘we’ve given you an education but what is really important is being pretty enough to get a boyfriend’. Deciding the prom theme was a giant let-down, Danielle designed her own spectacular outfit based on the hooded DC Comics super-hero, Green Arrow, which, let’s face it, rocks.

I’m seeing a new wave of feminism and strong female role-models. Since I started writing Soul Sister three years ago, Emma Watson has launched the HeforShe campaign to engage men in the movement for gender equality and 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work as an activist for education. She was shot by the Taliban on her way to school because she believed girls had a right to an education and was writing a blog about it. The Taliban tried to silence her, but her voice is now being heard world-wide and she’s speaking for oppressed girls everywhere.

Teenagers are blogging about feminism and there are fabulous magazines for young women like The Feminist Times and Vagenda, set up by two students in 2012 because they were in fits of laughter after reading out loud excerpts from a weekly women’s magazine whose articles were ridiculous and irrelevant. They decided to set up an online magazine to ‘call the bullshit’ on the mainstream women’s press.

Twenty years ago my friend and I had a similar conversation, lamenting all the ‘how to catch your man’ articles and talked about setting up a women’s magazine for real women with interesting news and features but we did nothing about it.

I’m glad someone has. I love the dynamism and self-assured spirit of young women today. Respect.

Three cheers for Emma Watson

I am furious, as a woman and on behalf of Emma Watson, actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador, at the threat to publish nude pictures of her and trolls posting under the hashtag RIP Emma Watson, following her impassioned speech on gender equality. It turns out that the threat was empty, but that makes it no less hateful. Seriously, dudes, where are your brains?

She gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech to the UN at the launch of the HeForShe campaign. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can listen to that speech and not agree with it. She’s right that gender inequality has an adverse effect on men too. And for the sakes of our sons, our brothers and our husbands, as well as our daughters, we should all be pulling towards the goal of equal rights for men and women.

Emma Watson totally reflected my views on feminism. I don’t get why some men fear or ridicule it  or why some women want to distance themselves from it. For me, the question ‘Are you a feminist?’ is the same as, ‘Do you value yourself as a woman?’ It’s not about man-hating. It’s not about having a high-flying career. It is about having the opportunity to go for that career, if you want to. A woman who chooses to be a housewife or a stay-at-home mum is still a feminist if she believes in having the choice, the opportunity, the right to live her life as she sees fit.

Both sexes should have the right to an education, to have equal pay for equal work, to have a say in the policies of their country, to be able to parent their children without that impacting adversely on their career, to express the full range of emotions and for that not to be considered feminine and, therefore, ‘weak’.

I agree with Emma Watson that ‘It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two opposing sets of ideals.’

I see it every day. Men who have lost touch with their feelings, who have been brought up not to cry and who therefore suppress feelings of sadness, fear, inadequacy or vulnerability and consider it ‘being strong’. The feelings, of course, come out somehow, usually as anger or withdrawal. It can kill marriages. I see fathers that want to be around more for their children but, like working mothers, find it tricky in the office to convince people that they still take their careers seriously. I, too, know men who have been made fragile because ‘of a distorted sense of what constitutes male success’.

I know many feminist men that want strong, confident daughters and want equality of opportunity for them. I know men that are stay-at-home dads. I know men that have moved country to support their wife’s career. I know women that are breadwinners and their partners are ok with that. And it is good that these people have been able to make the choices they want. But as Emma Watson said: ‘No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.’

I am writing a Young Adult book about a teenage girl who meets a former incarnation of herself. In a past life she was the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who was killed under the King’s Horse in the 1913 Derby, trying to pin the suffragette colours to the bridle. It’s about a sexual awakening and a feminist awakening.

And so I was interested to hear about Emma Watson’s feminist awakening. She says: ‘When I was eight, I was confused at being called ‘bossy’ because I wanted to direct the plays we would put of for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14 I started to be sexualised by certain elements of the press. When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams because they didn’t want to appear ‘muscly’. When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me.’

It is the pressures I see on girls and young women today, to be pretty, skinny, sexy, to be good, to be perfect, that inspired me to write my book. There’s also the pressure to have a great career, to have children, to have it all, and then, goddammit, to look ever youthful. Because it is youth and beauty that is valued in women and the women’s magazines, perversely, promote that. Where is the space to just be yourself? Because it is in that space that you achieve your full potential.

It distressed me to see Emma Watson, who I saw grow up on screen as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, being attacked for launching this inclusive campaign. Harry Potter was written by another wonderful woman, JK Rowling, who was advised not to go by the name Joanne because publishers thought that boys wouldn’t read a fantasy book written by a woman.

But this gender-stereotyping shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we live in a world where a campaign to put a Jane Austen on the British ten pound note, saw Caroline Criado-Perez subjected to rape and death threats on twitter. Why should the thought of a female literary icon on a ten pound note provoke violence?

And so we come full circle and Emma Watson grows up and makes a speech that expresses nothing but love, respect and affection for men, a speech that is all about freedom and humanity, that asks men to join the campaign and these idiots, these online thugs try to tear her down.

It is great to see men as well as women coming out in support of HeFor She and rallying around Emma Watson. I am heartened there has been a tremendous backlash against the online trolls.

I applaud Emma Watson and rise to her call of ‘ If not me, who? If not now, when?’

Where do ideas come from?

The idea of this blog was to bring you on the journey with me as I wrote a book. And after about 20 posts about writer’s block and procrastination, I finally got writing but stopped blogging. So I feel I owe you a couple of retrospective posts.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start . When you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with … Excuse me, no idea why I was suddenly chanelling Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Actually, I do know. It started with the words: ‘Let’s start at the very beginning’ and the tune came into my head. It started with the WORDS…

So many ideas come as you write. It’s the magic, the very essence of creativity. So don’t sit there waiting for a great idea. Write and the ideas will follow and then you can shape them.

One idea I had stemmed from an image in Vogue magazine of a model on the Mongolian steppes with an eagle. Woman and bird were in profile, gazing into the distance. It was beautiful, striking. I decided to do an exercise with her as a character. I’d been playing around with a parallel world idea but as I started to write, the photo gave me a new beginning, actually a a whole new incarnation of the book, starting in the parallel world and having the character from our world fall into it.

The book I’m currently working on started because of news articles and TV programmes about the pressures on girls to be skinny, pretty and sexy. I was horrified that girls as  young as seven were worrying about their body image! In one programme girls were shown photos of themselves along with images photoshopped so they looked skinnier and fatter. In almost every case, the girls picked the skinniest version of themselves as being the best. I’d also read about teenagers aspiring to be models or wives of footballers, or just to be on the latest reality TV programme.

Then I heard the crime author PD James talking on Radio 4. She’s in her nineties and that got me thinking about what she must have seen and experienced in her lifetime and how it couldn’t have been easy for a female crime writer early in her career, then, BAM, suffragettes popped into my head. What would the suffragettes make of the world today? What if a modern day teenager met one? That was the genesis of my book.

So the media seems to be a big source of inspiration for me. Looking at the obituaries might seem morbid but they feature interesting lives and that gets you thinking. Or a crime report might give you a plot idea. Overheard snippets of conversation on a bus can spark an idea or a character’s voice, people-watching in cafes is endlessly fascinating, making up lives for them. Putting down your phone so that you’re not picking up emails and posting on twitter but actually observing the world helps a lot. Just asking the question: What if…? Your dreams could give you an idea. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight came from a dream. According to wikipedia, it led to Meyer writing a draft of what became chapter 13 of the book.

Travelling is good. Anything that makes you an outsider, that gets you looking at the world differently can trigger creativity. I recently went to an amazing hot spring in Malaysia with a big pool of geothermic water  surrounded by towering verdant limestone karsts with caves beneath. I felt humbled and inspired by those great architects, nature and time. It could have been another world. It could have been Eden.

The magnificent cavern with stalagtites and stalagmites that had been turned into a wine bar, was quite spectacular. A brilliant setting for a book. Something gothic, perhaps. If Stephanie Meyer had been to this place, Edward Cullen would have taken Bella on a date there.

Your own lives and experiences will give you ideas  – you may not write about them directly but they will certainly inform your writing. And once you’re writing, you start to think like a writer and notice things that you didn’t before. I will hear someone’s name and I’ll think, that’s a great name for a character and off I go. In short, ideas are all around you and you shouldn’t worry about the idea, just the sitting on your bum to write.

Whether it’s a commercial idea is another matter. What publishers are looking for is a good concept that will sell. This often comes from two ideas coming together. Vampirates, for example. Suzanne Collins is reported to have got the idea for the Hunger Games  while channel surfing. On one station was a reality TV show and on another was the invasion of Iraq and the two began to blur in her mind and she ended up with the idea of a dysptopian world where there’s an annual, televised, gladiatorial fight to the death.

I find thinking too much about commerciality blocks my writing, so I’m not going to put too much emphasis on this. The most important thing is to have something that you are compelled to write. If you have something special you can bring to it, you are an immigrant writing about the immigrant experience for example, all the better. You become commercial. The publisher can market you and you will sell your book. My friend Liz Trenow wrote The Last Telegram, which is set in the second world war – always popular– but she had a unique selling point. She comes from a family of silk weavers and she set her novel in a silk factory making parachutes for the RAF with her heroine running the factory.  As well as going to book fairs she goes to textile fairs to give readings. She knows her stuff and the sensuality the silk weaves through her story made it something that no one else could have written.

Write for yourself first but have your reader in mind. Be aware of trends but don’t try to follow them or predict them. You can help a publisher if you can give them a way to market it, something to peg it on. But underneath all that, they need a strong voice, a brilliantly evoked world, great characters and a cracking story.

Kipling’s If… For Writers

So the green nail varnish has chipped and the birthday optimism is dissipating. Of course I want to be a great writer but first I have to summon the energy to write a sentence. And another and keep going. I’ve written three books. None are published. But I get better each time. My failures are improving, I am getting closer to publication with every book I write. So rationally I know that I have to keep going and I will get there. But emotionally, it ain’t so easy. I have to suppress doubts and fend off the feeling of futility. I get moments of flow and flashes of joy and I hope that can keep me going. And so, with the help of Mr Kipling, (the poet rather than cakes, although cake is darn good idea) I’m giving myself and any other struggling writer a little pep talk.

If you can keep your head when Fifty Shades of Grey

Gets published and your story does not,

If you believe in your writing, come what may,

When no one else cares a jot;

If you can be rejected by publishers and not tire of rejection,

But instead scour the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book

And laugh despite dejection,

And in good spirits begin another book;

If you can ignore market trends and write from the heart,

And bare your soul to the page every day

Not knowing if you’ll win through, yet commit to your art

Your characters and your plot for no pay;

If you can dream of being published – and not make publication your master,

If you can kick those imposters fame and fortune up the arse

And write for the joy of it, despite the disaster

Of the doormat thump of a manuscript come home, and laugh at the farce;

If you can beat the neuroticism, procrastination and despair

And know, beyond all doubt, the word is mightier;

Then what the world thinks, you’ll not care

And what’s more, my friend, you’ll be a writer.

Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for riding roughshod over his great and inspirational poem. Apologies also to E.L. James for the cheap shot at Fifty Shades. No one can deny the supreme success of her books.

Going for gold.

What a change to have role models like Jessica Ennis for the next generation of young women. What a change to see triumph born of hard work, grit and determination rather than talentless celebrity born of reality TV shows. What a change to see that beauty is  strength of spirit and a radiant smile rather than an inch of make-up and a pair of fake boobs. Perhaps now girls will aspire to be sportswomen rather than WAGs?

The likes of Jess Ennis and the female rowing team have certainly been an inspiration to me. They have rolled with life’s knocks and gone on to win gold. Jess Ennis suffered a setback in 2008 because of stress fractures to her right foot and missed the Beijing Olympics as a result. This meant switching her take-off leg in the long jump from her right to her left, retraining the neurological pathways until her weaker, less favoured leg was of Olympic gold standard. That takes guts.

Rower Katherine Grainger is an inspiration for keeping her eye on the prize and pursuing gold at the age of 36. Having won silver three times, and at an age when many would have considered it less likely she could do it, she won through.

And Helen Glover, whom with Captain Heather Stanning, won Team GB’s first gold medal in the women’s pairs, having started rowing only four years ago. Glover said: ‘If I can do it so can you. Take the chance to do something, do anything. Work hard and do your best and you can achieve anything.’

My something is writing. And I will work hard to write a brilliant novel and get it published. The world owes me nothing. It’s no use licking my wounds and sulking. I can do better than my last book. And I will. I am taking on this Olympic spirit.

I’ve highlighted three women at the Games but all the athletes put in time and effort day after day with relentless focus. Many medal winners talked of picturing or planning their race in their heads, of not thinking about others in the race because it would divert them from their goal. It was about the vision, deciding that the gold medal would be theirs.

I am focusing on writing, I am envisioning my idea coming together, of achieving flow and working day after day to finish my novel. I will write word after word, paragraph after paragraph, scene after scene and keep going until my book is finished. Then I will get the best agent to help me get it published, I will do whatever redrafts are necessary to make it perfect, I will roll with the knocks and I will not give up. I am not in control of the reviews or the sales. All I can do is write the best book I can, although I’m also envisioning rave reviews and high sales, and dammit, why not go the whole hog and envision the film too. I am going for gold.

How about you?

Oompah Humperdinck predicts a riot

I kept saying to myself, when I get to Singapore, I’ll be able to settle down to some writing. I’m a week in and it hasn’t happened yet. I know that at some point I have to start writing, anything, just exploring a character or something and eventually a way in will emerge. The muse appears while we’re in the process of writing. I know this. Yet I can’t summon the will, the energy, the inspiration, or whatever the hell it is I’m waiting for.

Today I have an excuse. I’m in Jakarta with Rob, who’s here on business. I’m just tagging along. Perhaps I should have stayed in the room if I wanted to write but the hotel room is pretty soulless. So I ventured to the pool on the 5th floor. Very nice, exactly what you would expect – pool, loungers, shades, tropical greenery, bar. Perhaps the muse requires a piña colada? You can see where this is going, right? Bet you can’t.

I lay back and wonder what the hell the rumpus is all about. There is incongruous music playing. It sounds like a Eurovision entry. Not so much Humper as Oompah. It really does sound Alpine, but we’re in Indonesia. I guess there’s a kind of music that sounds the same the world over. There is also a man on a loud hailer making what sounds like a political speech. I look over the railings to find a demonstration going on below. Not your usual poolside entertainment. But fascinating and a sure-fire way of keeping me from writing. I might gain inspiration from it, says the professional procrastinator on my shoulder. And I have to agree. This is what writers do, drink in what’s happening in around them, along with the piña colada. It worked for Hemingway, although I guess he was more a whiskey man.

Below, flags of the opposition party – green with a white smiley crescent and a white star above it – are being waved along with black flags with white writing, a mass of people wearing red t-shirts are circling the roundabout with the fountain in the centre. Perhaps more than one party is represented here. One of the bar staff joins me and tells me they are protesting because the government is removing petrol subsidies. At the moment it’s about 50 cents a litre but it will go up to 62 cents.

I try to stop my jaw from falling open. Fifty cents a litre! No wonder this city is choked with traffic and pollution. But an increase in fuel prices also means an increase in food prices and Indonesia has a lot of poverty. Nevertheless, the Green in me says Indonesia has got to get with the programme on this one. It has been used to being oil rich and oil dependent, even cooking with kerosene rather than gas. Change never happens easily but change it must. Besides, I’m told the protesters are paid to turn up by the opposition party, which makes it kind of hollow.

There is increasingly frenzied rhetoric coming from one of three loud hailers, followed by a roar of assent. There’s chanting from another loudhailer and tuneless singing from the third. The Indonesians do love karaoke. I don’t think the protest can turn into the riot that government fears while they’re singing. Unless it’s Englebert Humperdinck’s latest, in which case I will personally revolt.

Hope shimmers on the horizon

The new year has started with a glimmer of hope. I sent the first three chapters of The Smuggler’s Daughter  to a small independent press in Dublin after I heard the managing editor speak at a SCBWI retreat at the end of 2011. I received a lovely email back saying she was ‘impressed’ by my work and I had ‘real talent’ and she wanted to see the rest. Woohoo!

This was tempered by her preparing me for the ‘not right for our list’ rejection as they are a small press and only have one historical title which is also set in Napoleonic times. But she still wanted to read it and she was interested to hear my ideas for my next project. Hope shimmers on the horizon. I’m praying it’s not a mirage.

Are the stars are aligning, at last? Or maybe it’s just taking a positive step like going to a writing retreat that is continuing to reverberate in opportunity and  possibility. I needed the encouragement and support of fellow writers. They understand about the process, about dealing with rejection, about picking yourself up, about persevering. Steve Hartley, who wrote the children’s series Danny Baker Record Breaker, spoke about how it took him 15 years to get published and was afraid that might discourage us. But as someone who has spent 12 years writing (well 10 years writing and two years sulking), it gave me hope. I wasn’t alone.

I’m happy putting the time and effort in to learn the craft. With each of my three books, I’ve got better and got closer, getting shortlisted for competitions and having agents ask to see the rest of my book after years of standard rejection letters. Then, with Smugglers, which I wrote for my MA in Creative Writing (another of those positive steps), I found my voice and got lots of agent interest and a couple wanting to represent me. And then came the barrage of publishers’ rejections and two years of writer’s block.

It’s  harder to pick yourself up when you’ve got so close. But it’s what you have to do and my fellow writers encouraged me not to lose faith in the book. Children’s author Patricia Forde (Hedgehogs do Not Like Heights) gave me the nudge I needed to talk to the editor about Smuggler’s and it worked. It’s being considered again.

Wordism: Take positive steps to achieving your goal of finishing your book or getting it published. Take courses, go on retreats, join a writer’s group, network all you can, develop an online presence.

Just after the retreat, I discovered that my MA friend Liz Trenow had got a two-book deal with Harper Collins’ Avon imprint for her book The Last Telegram. Again, it gives me hope that it can and does happen. The following day, I saw a familiar name on the SCBWI Facebook page. Tina Orr-Munro – a former colleague from my days as a journalist. She had a book cover as her Facebook photo, Ellie Foster’s English Courseworkand sure enough, when I got in touch, I discovered that she too had got published. Not only that, but she’d been through the same journey as me. She’d got an agent only to be knocked back by the big publishers. She gave up writing for two years then decided to try some small independent presses and, hey presto, Rickshaw jumped at it.

The right book has to land on the right desk at the right time. You can have the talent. You can have the craft. But what you really need is luck. I wish you lots of it!

Singapore Slung

I know, I know… I haven’t blogged in nine months and a whole baby could have been born in that time. You see, initially, this blog was supposed to chart the course of my next novel and I was going to bring you along with me for the journey. Or, to continue the metaphor, the gestation. Except the book never got past the embryonic and so it seemed pointless writing the blog about the book that never was.

This is my excuse: I moved house in March and that was followed by decorating and floors being sanded and bookcases being built and generally refurbing top to bottom and, half way through all that, I found out we were moving to Singapore for a couple of years, which kind of filled my head so I didn’t have the time, space or even inclination to write. I was Singapore slung.

Rob has made the move already. I am visiting to help find us an apartment and I move here properly in January. I see it as a creative opportunity and am generally looking forward to it. However, I am dreading leaving Harry, my dog and constant companion who patiently listens to excerpts of my writing without judgment. He’s not coming with us because the journey would stress him out, he’d hate the heat, and he’s nine years old and set in his ways. I couldn’t do it to him. Thankfully, Mike, a writing friend from the USA , is coming to London for two years in January and will house and dog-sit for us. Mike is also looking for a chance to get creative again so it works for both of us. And Harry will get to hear his drafts instead.

I am blogging in the hotel. A tropical storm is raging outside and shaking the windows. It sounds like the heavens are being ripped open, such is the crashing and roaring. This is good. Being abroad provides not only a change of scenery, but a change of perspective. You don’t tend to think of the weather as violent in the UK. It’s a mild, wishy-washy thing. Here it is extreme and, at the moment, violent, primal, and potentially inspirational. I can understand why people might take it personally and think the gods are angry. I know they can’t be angry because I’m actually writing for once so, obviously, the gods are celebrating raucously.

I’m hoping the move will bring inspiration. Also it means I’ll have two years of clear writing time. There’s nothing else to do. Not even dog-walking. Well, apart from lounging by the pool, travelling around Asia, loafing and procrastinating. Apart from that, I have the time and, I hope, the head-space so lacking this past year in order to write. So I must seize the opportunity, focus and use the experience to get creative.

The end of the world and the theory of everything

The world is not going to end on Dec 21st 2012 despite there being over 16 million google entries about it. Let me explain. The fifth cycle of the Mayan long count calendar will come to an end after 5,125 years on this date in 2012. This appears to have triggered speculation, along with prophecies in Revelations and by Nostradamus, about the end of the world and how it will come about.

The net is abound with linked theories of planet alignment, exceptional solar activity, magnetic flips, even a planet named Niburu, spotted in ancient times that, we are told, will collide with the earth in 2012.

This just goes to prove that we love stories of prophecy and doom, disaster stories that scare us and capture our imaginations. The idea that the Mayans might simply have a big party, wake up with the mother of all hangovers and flip over the page of the calendar as we do every Dec 31st and start again, doesn’t grip the imagination in quite the same way.

I came across all this on the net after I mentioned to my husband Rob that I was thinking of exploring the fantasy element of my Inca adventure story. He suggested I look up Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods. Von Daniken has a theory that much of ancient civilisation – the pyramids, Peru’s Nazca lines (and perhaps Inca cities), the Easter Island stone heads – could be attributed to ancient astronauts / aliens visiting earth. It’s an interesting theory. I’ve been to Machu Picchu and I was at a loss to explain how the Inca’s managed to fit those great stones together so perfectly in their buildings when they had no hard metals and they hadn’t invented the wheel. But with alien technology, all can be explained.

I got sidetracked from this to the Mayan calendar and 2012 and then, looking up parallel worlds, which I’m thinking of introducing in my book, I started looking at M theory. This has developed from Einstein’s Theory of Everything, through the Big Bang and String Theory, with scientists now thinking that there are 11 dimensions plus time and the universe is contained within a membrane. From what I can gather, the thinking is that our universe is in a giant bubble and the big bang could have been a collision with another bubble membrane, ie a parallel universe. This would mean that time existed before the Big Bang and there is, in fact, a multiverse.

Wow! Still trying to get my head around that lot.

I tell you, researching a book can lead you to some interesting places. And when your ear is attuned, you hear connected stuff. So on Radio 4 last week the astrophysicist Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell was talking about none other than 2012 and the end of the world and was giving the Faraday lecture on that subject at the Royal Society later that week. So I went along. And it was she who reassured me that the world is not going to end next year.

There is no alignment of the planets in 2012. The last time that happened was in 2000 (no resulting disaster) and the next one is in 2040. Yes there will be extra solar activity when the sun’s magnetic field field reverses but that happens every 11 years. The earth’s magnetic field also ‘flips’ every 300,000 years and we’re long overdue such an event as it hasn’t flipped for 750,000 years. There are indications that it may have started but a ‘flip’ takes 5,000 years. The world will not stop or start spinning the other way.

All of the disaster scenarios, says Prof Bell Burnell, starts with a grain of scientific truth except the planet known as Niburu colliding with earth. That is a complete fiction. If the Sumerians had seen Niburu with the naked eye it would have to be gigantic and planets just aren’t made that big and, also, if it was on an orbit collision with Earth, Nasa would have spotted it by now.

All this was comforting but somehow disappointing. Not that I want the world to end but I was quite enjoying the stories and science so often pours cold water on the story and the mystery. But it is also comforting that when scientists set out to develop a theory of everything, it actually raises more questions and presents even greater mysteries. That, a writer can work with.