Saturday, 11 August 2018

Get Down to Writing that Novel

Recently I've talked to a few people who told me they intended writing a novel. When I enquired further as to what kind of novel and if they had an outline plot, they were vague. I got the feeling that they thought it was a momentous task involving blood, sweat and tears.
What I want to say today is: if you have an idea for a novel, no matter how sketchy, just write it down even if it only reads Grandma was really in cohoots with the wolf. By the way, that is an intriguing idea for a story!
Let the germ of the idea wander around in your brain. Then go out and buy a fancy notebook and write it down again at the top of the page. My guess is that, by then, a few more ideas will have popped into your head. Start listing your questions/ideas to develop the plot. Where does Little Red Riding Hood figure in all this? Who is the big bad wolf really?  FBI agent? Baddie? 
Then start your story if you are a seat-of-the-pantser or if you are a planner, start planning how the story could evolve. (I'll talk more about this in my upcoming blogs).
Grandma meets the big bad wolf and they discover they want to get rid of Red Riding Hood. Why? Because grandma wants her inheritance. Or Red Riding Hood knows what secret grandma has in her past or Red Riding Hood is a detective on the trail of the big bad wolf.
You can take your story anywhere you like.  You can change it at any time. The same rules apply to romance: girl meets guy, obstacles against them getting together: she is engaged to someone else and has set a date for the wedding or they are work colleagues/rivals and sparks fly from the beginning of their acquaintance.
Sure it's all been done before - but not by you. And there's the difference. Only you have a unique voice to tell the story in a different way to everyone else. I have read dozens and dozens of authors, some talented, some formulaic and dull. What makes a really good writer stand out? Their style, their unique voice. Compare  three classics: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. You could never confuse them with any other writer, could you? I don't think you could.
But you don't have to aim that high. First of all write down the bones of your story and maybe play around with the first chapter. It's always hard to know where to begin. I'll write more about that in my next blog.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Long Hot Summer in Ireland

We are in the middle of a heatwave in Ireland. We have hardly had a drop of rain since the beginning of June. This might be a normal state of affairs for wherever you live, dear reader, but in Ireland it is the top news. Here on the Emerald Isle we expect patchy summers, a day or two of rain, a day or two of sunshine and then back to damp and wet again. But weeks and weeks where we wake up to sunny mornings and blue skies? Now that is a novelty.

I went shopping this morning and everyone I met had a word to say about the weather - most of it very positive. We had a festival here in town and it was so wonderful to be able to stay out late and listen to the band without shivering under an umbrella (and truth to tell, being almost the only person out there ....). And that wonderful night sky promising yet another fine day.
It's very hard to get down to writing - I am still working on my Christmas novella but who can concentrate on frosty mornings on days like these?
The weather has a very positive aspect - it is too hot to eat much so I am making salads of all varieties and drinking lots of water which makes me feel very virtuous! Yes, it is all sunshine and happiness here and I am going to enjoy every minute of it as long as it lasts.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Crime in the Mountains - the first Sergeant Alan Murray Mystery Novel

I started my first Sergeant Alan Murray Mystery novel Death in a Lonely Place several years ago following a visit to Killarney in Co. Kerry.

Death in a Lonely PlaceLink to 

I remember standing on the side of a steep hill and looking down at the lakes below and thinking that this would be a good place to hide a body. The wildness of the mountains - that great mass of land towering above us - intrigued me. And so Sergeant Alan Murray was created.
I invented the village of Ballyamber where he lives and I reckoned that his wife went missing on a climbing trip on one of those majestic mountains several years before my story began. I had no idea what had happened to her, I only knew that she disappeared without trace.
Next, I started to write a novel about a woman who went missing in the area and from there the story took over. Other characters appeared from nowhere, or so it seemed:  the gossipy Mrs. Quinn, timid Helen looking to start a new life and her domineering boss Amy, Major Johnson and his wife Kim. My special favourite is Murray's assistant, Jim Flynn who is young and motivated and does not have too much patience with how some of the investigation is going. They all crowded into the story with their own joys and sorrows.
In the background is the mountain - fictitious - call Ardnabrone which is reputed to claim three lives a year. Ardnabrone means the "hill of sorrow" and so it proves to be in all three novels in the Sergeant Alan Murray series.
Some of my readers have said "I thought I was there, right in the middle of it all". Many readers are asking when the next novel in the series will appear. The answer to that is that I do not know. I had intended Death in a Lonely Place to be a stand-alone novel but it proved so popular that I wrote the second one, Ending in Death and then I just had to find out what had happened to Alan Murray's wife and I wrote A Cold Case of Murder.
All three novels are available on Amazon as e-books and as paperbacks.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Twitter me this - a tongue-in-cheek-view

I visit Twitter once or twice a day and I am not one of your prolific tweeters. I don't have many followers, I prefer my account to be exclusive. I do tweet this blog so that my readers know it is updated.
Today I had a bit more time on my hands, having finished the second draft of my Christmas novella CHRISTMAS WISHES, so I started touring Twitter. I checked out #Fridayfeeling and had to smile. You get just about everything under any hashtag heading and this one is great. I read that writing is a gift, is hard work, is for posterity, is for eternity, is wonderful, is the source of happiness. That left me breathless and exhausted so I got a glass of water.
I checked out a few more hashtags including #heatwave and learned that in #Ireland and #England everyone is affected by these hot temperatures. Water shortages, sunburn, not drinking enough, feeding ice cream/water melon to your dog, crowded beaches, tarmac melting on some roads, tips for sleeping in a hot bedroom. And there are complaints against those who complain that it is too hot. In Ireland people are smugly tweeting that it's hotter than Spain or the Algarve. So I slapped on some more sun cream and topped up the glass of water.
I looked at other tweets and learned that most Britons say "sorry" about 2 million times in their lives. How can you check the accuracy of that statement? I ask myself. And more importantly, do I care? What am I doing scrolling through all these tweets from people who seem to have even more time on their hands than I do? You know what? I'm getting out the suncream, that awful unfashionable sun hat and heading for one of those overcrowded beaches - oh, almost forgot that bottle of water.
Have a fun weekend everyone wherever you are in whatever temperature.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The World Cup in Russia and what Writers can get out of it.

Too many years ago to admit exactly how many, the boyfriend of one of my flatmates asked me if I minded if he watched a World Cup soccer game while she was getting herself ready to go out. I started moaning about "nothing but football" to be seen on television for the next month and he said "football is a great game" and proceeded to explain all the rules to me: offside, what's a penalty, what's good play, etc. etc. He made it so interesting that I was hooked from the start and since that time I have tried to watch every game of this competition. (As far as I know, my flatmate and her boyfriend lived happily ever after and I never laid eyes on him again - not such an interesting ending as you, dear reader, might have thought...).
My point here is simply that he had the ability to make something in which I was not remotely interested so intelligible and make me want to see how it all played out in the match we were watching. That is a talent that good writers possess: they reel you in from the first page and you stay happily with them as they take you on the journey they have written.

The World Cup is exotic, flamboyant, heartbreaking, fun. It's all there: drama, pathos, penalties given and penalties denied, tears, and triumph.You never know how a game is going to go. And you have the big stars and the players who stand out - there is always one player no one noticed before who saves the day, gets that vital goal and makes himself the hero of the hour. You get carried along with the excitement. If you can inject some of these emotions into your writing, you can hook your reader just as I was hooked into watching soccer.
There is no other competition that grabs me in the same way and I've got a whole month to enjoy it all!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

On the Street in Big Cities

I am currently reading Lifeless by Mark Billingham. It was first published in 2005 but it is as relevant today as it was then. It is about homeless people being murdered on the streets of London and a detective going underground to try and solve the crimes. Having lived in London, I know the places in the book. Not only that, but a few years ago I attended a writers' event in the West End and was intrigued to see how many people chose to sleep in the doorways of theatres (as the protagonist in the novel) or in sheltered doorways around Covent Garden. I suppose it makes sense to pick a quiet but well-lit spot.
You can substitute London for Paris or any big city. Last weekend I was in Frankfurt. The suburban train tunnel around the city centre was closed for much-needed repairs which meant I had to take quite a detour to get to where I wanted to go and I got to see a lot of the inner city. Frankfurt has its fair share of homeless. They frequent the main shopping area, Zeil, which some people say is the most expensive mile in Europe. Be that as it may, for writers like me, it was rich in interesting detail. I saw a man sprawled in the middle of the pedestrian zone, totally oblivious of the sun on his face (and it was getting to be pretty hot by 10 o'clock in the morning), he rolled over and woke up as I moved past him and I was surprised to find that he looked well dressed for someone on the street. Maybe he'd been out on a binge. I saw a young lad with two plump little dogs who looked altogether in better shape than he was, several professional beggars and the inevitable addicts hoping to get enough for their next fix, tired people, people who stared at us from expressionless eyes.  I found myself wondering what they thought of all the luxury in evidence in the big stores and expensive boutiques around them.

I arrived late and had to change trains at the main railway station - never a healthy place to be on your own late at night. The city is a different place at night when the office workers are safely at home in suburbia and the street dwellers take over. I saw people rummaging in refuse bins for thrown-away food, one old lady who discovered a cigarette butt and looked at it with obvious delight, another woman sitting on a bench and having an earnest conversation with an invisible person next to her. A man gave vent to his inner rage and shouted abuse at everyone who walked past him.

Where do they all come from the Beatles asked in their song All the Lonely People? It would have been good to sit down and talk to some of them and hear their stories. I couldn't help thinking that Mark Billingham had got it absolutely right in his novel Lifeless. In the acknowledgements he thanked some of those he had spoken to and certainly his descriptions are true to life. Not only does he tell a good story, he also shows compassion for the street people and is never the slightest bit judgemental in his writing. While negotiating the tram or the train late at night in Frankfurt, I was often reminded of his novel.

My novels are set in the Irish countryside. There are no street people. But there are lonely people, people with problems, people who kill. I try to bring these elements to my Sergeant Alan Murray mysteries.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Say no to nicotine

May 31st is Say No to Nicotine Day. I gave up smoking twelve or more years ago and I was a chain smoker. I remember one very busy job in export when I had four phones, four ashtrays next to them and a cigarette burning in each. Once in a while the Managing Director would show up and say "you know you're not allowed to smoke here, don't you?' To which I always replied 'Oh, yes, I do know.' And I carried on puffing.
Do I miss smoking? Well, no not really. There is really only one cigarette that you absolutely enjoy if you are completely honest and that is the first one in the morning before your mouth - and breath - start to taste like the bottom of a parrot cage. Everything else you don't taste, you just need to get enough nicotine and stuff into your system.
Whenever something upset me, I reached for a cigarette as some kind of antidote. Did it help? No, never did. Why did I think puffing on a cigarette might help in a crisis? Hard to say, really. Certainly logic didn't have anything to do with it.
Am I glad I stopped smoking? You bet.
Was it hard to give up? Not really. Of course I stopped smoking when I first got married and in both my pregnancies. I tried stopping a good few times after that but without success. Then one day I bought a copy of Alan Carr's book which was in a sale. I consigned it to the back of my bookcase and meant to have a look at it in the distant future. But it sort of haunted me, knowing it was there. Everyone of my acquaintance who had stopped smoking attributed it to this book. It was kind of scary. Do I want to read it and stop smoking or do I want to continue smoking and read it when I'm around 80 years old or possibly later? In the end curiosity won out and I started reading it. Half way through I knew I was going to be able to stop.
I still remember when I had my last cigarette. Not your midnight, tomorrow is a new day stuff. I had three cigarettes left one Saturday morning. I finished my breakfast and smoked my usual cigarette. Went shopping, did a bit of housework, had the second last one. Then I sat out in the Spring sunshine on my balcony, made myself a cup of tea and took out the last cigarette and smoked it.  .
My family didn't notice I had stopped. I wasn't cranky. Yes, I felt something was missing for a few days. At work it was strange not to go downstairs with the smokers and hover at the side of the building (I worked in a no smoking building as you will have gathered). But I got accustomed to it all much faster than I had imagined.
I am so glad I stopped smoking!