The plot thickens

Plotting my downfall.  Sorry, plotting is my downfall. However much I try and do it in advance, I inevitably find some rather large holes in it. This is annoying because I love police drama and thrillers and whodunits, and pride myself on my ability to spot an inconsistency or loophole. I suppose the benefit is that at least I realise my plot is wrong.

Because it happens all the time, I do have various methods to try and sort it. The first is to write a 1,000 prose summary of the plot. It needs to be quite detailed, as if it’s too high level those pesky problematic plot points can hide. This works quite well for an odd inconsistency but if it’s more than that it’s just an annoying exercise, showing what I already know (or don’t know).

If the plot is stuck, I sometimes just write through it and see what happens next. In ‘Back in the Game’ (a screenplay I’m writing now), I didn’t know where to go next. Skimming back over what I’d written, I felt that I had too many internal scenes and it needed a bit more fresh air. I wrote one of the main characters into a street market. What’s she doing there? Following someone. Ok, who? Um, why not the sister of another character (Marina)… Hey, that works, in the ensuing conversation she can round out Marina’s character more and move us onwards.

However in this particular instance, all that showed me was that I didn’t know Marina’s character well enough, and it’s her actions that are key to the plot. Returning to that is helping – working through more of what made her tick and how she would behave in certain situations. Now I’m going to return to her husband’s character and work out the conflict between them. I’m really hoping that’s going to get over this particular hurdle. From past experience, the final plot may end up having some differences but at least I’ll have moved along the road and I’ll be in a new place.

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Surfacing…

I’m quite pleased to find that this blog is still here and has not been swept away with others whose once-enthusiastic owners found that life got in the way.

Why start again? I have remained writing, fiddling about with books and films and plays. I find myself deciding that everything I have written is probably not in the right format. Some have just fallen into the ditch on the way but others have characters who won’t leave me alone. “Ok, so if we’re not a book, why not put us in a film?” I have one thing, ‘Absolute Angels’, that started off as a short film, became a play, then an audio play as the setting is heaven which is a tad difficult to re-construct – and I’m now thinking I could make it back into a play again, more black box-y this time. Or a film. Blocking the thought of a short story (what the hell would I do with that….)

I’ve even strayed off into musicals. I love to sing: I’m in a band, and also belong to a musical theatre group. The latter were doing an ensemble piece, for which they chose some of the best songs from musicals over the decades, and I volunteered to write the story that joined them up. I really enjoyed writing ‘Summer of Love’ and got some good feedback on it (I do love it when people laugh in the right places).

Currently on the go I have: another musical; another play that I’ve now turned into a film script; another film script where I’ve got stuck with the plot; another one-act comedy play; the audio play that might become another one-act play; and another short film where I can’t find the ending.

I completed a year-long course on playwriting. I love writing plays – the imagination you need to deal with production constraints are invigorating. And the sweep of the narrative is different to film or tv. But I don’t think I can be successful in theatre.  Either there aren’t the opportunities, or they are too hard to find.

So I have now decided to take the screenwriting more seriously and have just signed up for a year of coaching. And that’s why I thought I’d come back to the blog. I’m on a journey (yes, that hackneyed term!), and I don’t want to travel alone so you’ll just have to come with me. When I want to moan that it’s all too difficult and a stupid idea, you can give me a good talking to.

 

‘Avira’ arrives….

Avira

There she is – a younger version than was in ‘Secret of the Phoon’.  It’s her story. Where she came from, how she arrived at Domina, how she met Ekon and what was it about him that caused her to waver from the path she had set herself. How she became the Next and how that changed the course of her life. And she is told the story of how the deadly supernatural force of the Phoon came into being.

Find it on Amazon, if you’re interested – you can always have a peek inside and see how the story starts to unfold.

I’ve already started on the third of the series, which I think will be entitled ‘Shastia’. If you’ve read the first book, ‘Secret of the Phoon’, you’ll know how it ended. (But I won’t repeat it here, in case you haven’t yet!) Progress on ‘Shastia’ will please those of my readers who told me that they couldn’t wait to see what happened next and wanted me to go there first, rather than the prequel. But Avira wanted her story to be told, and you don’t say ‘no’ to Avira.

I’ve also been working on a couple more one-act plays. And another film plot has been pushing itself from the back of my mind to the front of my mind, so I may have to write that too, to get it to stop bothering me. But Shastia, despite having forsaken her mentor Avira, is cut from a similar cloth and it won’t be long before she hunts me down.

More anon.  I’ll try to write here a bit more frequently….

Onto the big screen (with a little film)

Never let it be said that I’m a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to formats.  As well as the Phoon books and the one-act play, I love to write screenplays, and one of them – a short – is now complete. It was ages ago when I wrote it.  Let me check….  Yep, I completed it in May of last year, but the idea had been swilling around in my brain for a while.  As sometimes happens, the atmosphere for the story came to me when I was in that half-awake/half-asleep stage. At that point all I had was a still, hushed hospital room some time in the future, with an android (male, for some reason) nurse looking after an ill child, one that hadn’t been able to move for a long time. As the story developed, I wanted to show the humanisation of the robot – he wasn’t what he seemed at the beginning.

This ended up as ‘Peel and the Broken Boy‘. It wasn’t completely finished when I saw on a screenwriters’ bulletin a call from a production company for short scripts. This gave me a deadline, and prodded me to complete it and send it off. Then I forgot about it. Then, in July, I got an email from the producer saying that mine was one of two scripts that they were considering. Joy was tempered by the certainty that I would come second out of two and I tried not to think about it any more. A month later, on holiday in Jamaica (love it there, it’s that Noel Coward/Ian Fleming vibe), my rum cocktail nearly plummeted to the rattan coffee table when I got another email saying that mine was the successful one!

Thereby followed a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on the script. Films (even short ones) are different from plays in that essentially you are handing over your baby to someone else to bring up. Although it didn’t happen with George and me, in a disagreement between the director and writer it’s going to be the former who wins. In a play, you feel a bit more involved. This could be because in a play, there is just the director and actors to begin with, and the production aspects were handled later. In a film, even a short has loads of other people around and the technical aspects (camera positioning, lighting angles) as just as important as what the actors are acting. When I did the play, during rehearsals the director was concerned that the outcome was as I wanted it to be. With the film, and probably because even low-production shorts cost some money, the director (literally) calls the shots.

I love the end result. It is fascinating to see it come to life. It’s actually very close to how I imagined it when writing. You can now see it here

 

Image of android nurse

Still from ‘Peel and the Broken Boy’

 

 

Hey, I done a play…

This little play – a one-act rom com called ‘Spirited’ – started out as a short film. In fact, although I only just remembered this, it got through to the second round of the Kaos shorts competition in 2010. Whereupon it languished for a bit, wondering what to do next.

Then I got some feedback from a producer on one of my other shorts, saying that it read more like a theatre sketch than a film, and that got me thinking about ‘Spirited’.

It’s set in a restaurant – easy to do in a theatre. Like a lot of shorts, it had a small cast (four), also good for theatre. It has no special effects, no action sequences. It’s all about the words and the characters who say them. Hmm, theatre…

What finally clinched it was me idly browsing competitions for one-act plays and coming across one (Supernova VI by the Bench Theatre) that had an upcoming deadline. I love a deadline; shakes me out of my writer’s torpor. So I spent a morning re-writing it from a film to a one-act play, sent it off and forgot about it.

Then after a few weeks I received an email from the theatre company. It started off “I’m sorry to be so brief…” I almost didn’t read on. I’ve had lots of emails that start like that. But it then went on to say that the script had received very positive acclaim, and that the reading panel were very keen to include it.

I’ve been to see them rehearsing it. It’s always interesting to see your words performed by other people; the intonation is sometimes different than when you read it aloud yourself, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They did a really good job and I’m looking forward to seeing the real thing on February 12 and 14 as one of five one-act plays on the night. I’m nervous, of course, and I have friends coming with me who I’m hoping won’t have to be forcedly polite about how funny it was afterwards…

Update: It was performed twice, so I went both times (in case it never happens again). Friends came with us the second time and they said they enjoyed it.  I could hear them laughing next to me – at the right times – so I believe them. See photo below of two of the main characters, Stephen and Helen.

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Bench Theatre is asking for submissions for next year’s Supernova, so I’m having a ponder on what to submit for that.

Interview with me

You can see this on Smashwords, but thought I’d reproduce it here as well….

What are your five favorite books, and why?
Such a hard question to answer! I have a wide range of tastes, depending on the mood I am in. I return to ‘The Great Gatsby’ by Scott Fitzgerald frequently, because I love the atmosphere it creates and the style of his writing. Two trilogies that I couldn’t stop reading (I would read them while eating or even walking down the road) were Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Sartre’s ‘The Roads to Freedom’. I suppose that counts as seven books so far, but I would like to add two people who I also love to read: Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Their wit is enthralling.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have two Kindles. I had a black and white one, but that has been relegated since I was bought a Kindle Fire. The screen on that is tremendous and I must say I find it much easier to read books on it rather than the old black and white version. I lose it to my husband often as he will watch films or television on that, rather than his iPad.

Describe your desk
It’s messy. It’s in a fairly big room in our house that has both living and dining areas in it. It’s quite a large built-in effort, with drawers on either side and shelves and cupboards all over the place. They are all stuffed full of things I never look at (including some old manuscripts that I must dig out again). Because people walk past it, they sometimes put things on it (such as empty coffee mugs), which makes it even messier. There is one box for important things like theatre or airplane tickets – those that it would be a disaster to misplace.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in three different places. I don’t count the place I was born (Dudley) as we moved away from there when I was two.

We lived in Harpenden in Hertfordshire until I was six, then my father got a promotion that meant we moved up to Scotland, to a place called Bearsden, which is near Glasgow. The house was right at the end of the town, the road going up and up, and then ending abruptly with a large area of woodland going down the hill on the other side to Kilmardinny Loch. The loch used to freeze over in the winter and my brother and sister and I used to ice skate on it along with all of our friends. We played a lot in the woods, no doubt why I have such a strong affinity with them which you can see coming through in the Phoon books.

My father died when I was eight and we moved to Galashiels in the Scottish Borders to live with my grandmother and great-aunt. (It occurs to me that we had three generations of women in the house, perhaps underlying my invention of Domina.) The house was out of town on the River Tweed and again there were a lot of forests and woods around. I love how woods can be calm and serene one minute and then wild and threatening only hours later when there is a storm. The power of nature is awe-inspiring.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Escaping to a world that I have created and being with the characters. I spend quite a lot time there, even when I’m not writing. The challenge is that you become so familiar with it, it’s so clear to you, that it’s never certain whether you have managed to convey it to readers in the words you choose.

What are you working on next?
I am working on a prequel to ‘Secret of the Phoon’. Even when I was writing ‘Secret’, I was aware that there were areas that I wanted to explore further, but it would have slowed the story down too much to include them. The story of how the characters came to be as they are, and how the Phoon came into being, how relationships were formed are things that I am really enjoying capturing. I think it adds to the depth of the characters and your understanding of them. I have finished an early draft but I know there are many re-writes to come.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I still work on occasions, although I hope one day to be able to dedicate myself to writing. Having said that, writing is a very solitary occupation and at least when you’re working you are interacting with real people! I love to sing, and am in a band with a few friends and children of friends so we have a wide range of ages, which means we also play a wide range of music. I like to walk through woods, usually with our two dogs but they are quite old now and can’t go far. So sometimes I walk on my own or with my husband, or with a bunch of friends and we go for a meal afterwards. I love the theatre – we go into London sometimes but support our local theatres by going there too. I also like to watch sport – my sons play American football at university so it’s great to go and watch them.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do. It was a children’s mystery – a bit Enid Blyton-ish – with two boys and two girls who were on holiday on an island in Scotland. I started writing it while I was on holiday on Skye, an island in Scotland, so no prizes for guessing the inspiration there! My brother and sister are a few years older than me, so in the long school summer holidays I spent a lot of time on my own – the house in Galashiels was in the countryside so I rarely saw friends during the holidays unless I got the bus into town. Writing was a way of creating people to spend time with.

How do you approach cover design?
I use a professional cover designer, of course, as it’s such an important part of the e-book world. I have some ideas of the elements that I would like to include, and I will convey that with some idea of the mood for the cover, to Laura, the designer. I love the cover of ‘Secret of the Phoon’. With that I knew I wanted Avira on the cover. Laura asked me some questions on the detail of her appearance which I found quite hard to answer, so I sent her some photos that reflected the style I wanted. Laura then sent over four rough sketches, which I showed to my husband for his views. We both liked the same one, so Laura then developed that. We had a bit of toing and froing over some the details but it was very close to her first colour rough.

What is your writing process?
I race through the first draft, and I use some software called SuperNotecard for Scriptwriting to take notes of the names of people and places. I usually do an outline using the same software, though I have to say that the end result doesn’t always reflect the outline that much! The characters sometime go off and do things I hadn’t expected but I trust that process rather than force them to follow what was in the outline. As an example, in the outline for ‘Secret of the Phoon’ the character Carn was a ‘baddy’, but as I wrote it he started to be more noble than I had thought he was. He has his faults, of course. All of my characters have faults because I think that makes them more real (which I think you need even in a fantasy novel).

The first draft seems to be about two-thirds of the final version. I make notes as I go through of places where I need to add more description, or flesh out some of the action. Then I go back and re-write and re-write. I enjoy the re-writing process, strangely. The greatest difficulty is knowing when to stop, otherwise you would never publish anything.

I use a professional editor after about the fourth draft to help guide me where I haven’t conveyed plot or character properly – it’s so easy when it’s only in your head! Then to accommodate her comments I will re-write another couple of times at least. It’s always with some reluctance that I let it go and decide it’s ready to publish.

‘Secret of the Phoon’ no longer a complete secret…

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Yes, it’s a bit fiddly, and I didn’t always know what I was doing but I’m glad that I produced ‘Secret of the Phoon’ as an e-book first. I really just wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible, to see if I’d managed to re-present the world that I’d created in my head into something to which other people could relate.

I always feel that the characters want to be heard, want to tell their story, and it’s up to me to do the best I can to represent them properly and give them a voice. So although the publishing part of it is much less interesting than the writing part, it has to be done. I have an image in my head of Avira being a bit disapproving when I fail her, and whispering gently in my ear when I don’t quite get it right. I dream about them sometimes – perhaps their way of telling me that more work needs to be done. Which is why I am already on the prequel. There is so much more of the story to tell.

So the story exists now in a way that other people can read it. The challenge now is to let people know it’s there amongst the myriad other offerings. I seem to have got a few people interested in reviewing it, which will help. I’m looking forward to reading them, although of course it’s a worry if they don’t like it. Then I will have Avira in my head again, slightly disapproving, shaking her head that she’s stuck with me as a cypher. Ok, ok, I’m getting on with it…