Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Remind me of Morning Glory

Two things struck me today over my morning coffee. The first is that my life is far duller and more conventional than I ever imagined. The second is that, no matter how extraordinary a character I may create, no matter that a reader puts the book down with a tutted “unbelievable”, there’s always someone out in the real world who has far more claim to be the invention of a fevered mind than anything I can produce.

Today’s Daily Telegraph carried the obituary of one Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart - not, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, her real name (which was the rather less exotic Diane Moore). And her background appears not to be exotic; her upbringing seems pretty straightforward.

Maybe Morning Glory decided one day that her life, like mine, was just a little too dull; or maybe she was always a wild child. Anyway I won’t go into detail (the obituary does it far better than I do) but who could resist the siren lure of the strap line: “a witch who raised unicorns, taught mathemagics and spell-casting, and preached the gospel of ‘polyamory’”?

Morning Glory was married to the man who went on to run “the world’s only registered wizard academy” (Hogwart’s is clearly not registered, unless the Telegraph has got it wrong). His name was Oberon, in real life Tim — although that, as they say, is quite another story but one of which those who think Tims are slightly wimpish and ineffectual might wish to take note. Reading their life together, with its tightly-woven network of complicated relationships, had me shaking my head. No, really? Unicorns? And I’d no idea you can study eclectic shamanism.

I wish I had invented Morning Glory, though I suspect you wouldn’t have believed her if I did, at least unless I recast her into a fantasy, in which case she might have fitted in quite well. Yet I’ve no reason to believe that anything in the obituary is incorrect. Morning Glory, nee Diane, proves that you can be anything you want to be if you have the courage. Goddess, high priestess, published writer — she was all of those.

By the time I’d finished reading I was completely bemused by the enmeshing of real life and fiction, the believable and the unbelievable. Oh, and the plot twists that life furnishes, clearly illustrated by the fact that her first child turned her back on the witching life, changed her name from Rainbow to Gail and went off to live with her father (for literary neatness, I like to see her settling happily in the suburbs).

Fiction stretches credibility in a way that real life doesn’t. I think that’s a pity. And if you ever hear me say I don’t believe anyone would behave like that - remind me of Morning Glory.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Sweating the Small Stuff: the Importance of Detail

I like a cup of coffee with my breakfast. That’s another way of saying that I can’t function without one. And it has to be a large one. (Take a note because that’s important. Detail matters.)

Out for breakfast for a holiday treat with number two child, I found myself in an upmarket(ish) eatery in central Edinburgh. Oh, the breakfasts! I watched as the waitress carried them past me to other tables. Vibrant smoothies, plates piled high with waffles and crispy bacon, all over-ridden by the heavy fragrance of the full cooked.

We ordered. “Large black coffee, please, milk on the side.”

“Would that be a long black?”

“Yes, if that’s a large black coffee. With milk on the side.”

And so to the breakfast, the thick granary toast with pristine poached eggs bursting, buttercup-yellow, onto the plate. And the coffee.

Ah, the coffee. “Excuse me, I thought I asked for a large black coffee.”

“You ordered a long black coffee madam. This is a long black coffee. It’s the largest we have.”

The coffee was black, at least. But it was half the size of a normal cup of tea (albeit slightly larger than the tiny espresso which graced the next table) and it packed a real punch, a shot of caffeine that could wake you from a coma. It was a brutal, mean-minded sergeant-major of a coffee; and I like to be eased into my mornings.

I got over it. Sort of. The rest of the breakfast was terrific but that small-minded, vicious blast of caffeine undermined the experience. It’s detail you see. Detail is a vital thing, something which can make or break a narrative or a character just as much as it can make or break a relationship or a holiday. (That view of the car park when you wanted one of the sea? It’s a detail you overlooked.)

I confess that I can be sloppy about the details in my writing. I should take more time to see my characters clearly, more time to think about what they do and why they do it - and how. But today was a revelation and one that I don’t think I’ll forget until I find somewhere that can serve me a large black coffee to caress me awake.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

News on the Next Book

Who wouldn't be inspired? Majorca rocks...
So…almost a year after my first novel, Thank You For The Music, was accepted by Tirgearr Publishing, and just five months after its publication, I’ve signed a contract for my next novel.

Did I think it would be different? Did I think I might be blasé about it? (“Hmm…oh, yes. Just another contract, nothing to fuss about.”) No, I didn’t. It doesn’t feel quite the same because, let’s be honest, NOTHING beats the buzz of first understanding that you’re going to be published except for that moment when you actually are. But oh, it still feels good.

I’ll tell you a little about this one, just as a teaser. No Time Like Now is, like Thank You For The Music before it, set in the north east of Majorca, this time just outside the town of Puerto Pollensa. Unlike TYFTM it’s romantic suspense rather than plain romance. Our heroine is a housekeeper at a university field centre but when a researcher turns up for a month’s fieldwork, her cosy life is disrupted…because he’s her old flame and the two of them broke up very, very nastily some years before.

It brings together a lot of the things I love. Romantic suspense fiction is the first of them. I still have all my old Mary Stewart books, tattered and read to bits. (Maybe I should think about replacing them.) I like to read and write in all sorts of genres but Mary Stewart caught my attention early (The Moon Spinners is the first I read, and still my favourite) with her exotic locations and desperate situations.

Majorca is the second, happily fulfilling the requirement for an exotic location while giving me the excuse to justify a holiday with the writer’s claim of ‘collecting material’. I have good ideas there, usually when I’m sitting in the sun and staring across the Mediterranean, too idle to do anything but let my imagination run wild in those otherwise barren hours between the afternoon ice cream and the pre-dinner drinks.

The third is rocks. Geography, geology, earth science…whatever. And Majorca has lots of rocks. It has lots of caves, too, and lots of secret places (some of which I’ve invented but I’ll talk about that at a later date). Add that to the mix and see what you get.

So it’s a sort of new venture for me. I just hope, when it comes out, that you like it.