The What, Where, Why, and How of Writers

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Is there a magic formula to writing a best selling novel – of course not, but this does not stop me wanting to know all the what, where, how and why’s of my favourite authors. I might uncover some secret that best selling novelists have kept hidden for centuries; they may belong to a secret society. I may stumble upon one quirky habit, that I could adopt, and my writing would be transformed.

My first quest was the Where.

I knew that Mark Twain and Roald Dahl both wrote in their back sheds, but I was looking for more inspirational writers haunts. So, why not start with the master of all writers, the picture above is of William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford- Upon-Avon, England. I didn’t get much from my visit here except that Shakespeare slept in the sitting position, and I wasn’t going to adopt that habit. Next was Charles Dickens house in London, England – a desk and a chair, no secrets there. So while still in England I headed to the more picturesque setting of The Lakes District, this was more to my liking. Beatrix Potter ‘s desk sat under a window overlooking her garden, complete with rabbits, of course. Williams Wordsworth lived in Grasmere by the lake; this environment inspired many of his early poems. One of the last houses I looked at was John Keats. His apartment in Rome overlooked the Spanish Steps; this is now an amazing museum dedicated to English romantic writers. The only thing that these writer’s abodes had in common was pen and paper.

Now to the How.

  •  Roald Dahl always wrote only on yellow paper with a lead pencil.
  •  Jack Kerouac – Would write by candle -light and blow it out when finished for the night. He had many little rituals that probably bordered on OCD, particularly in reference to the number nine. He would also always pray before he started to write.
  • Earnest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth were all known for writing while standing.
  • Haruki Murakami “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), and then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
  • Vladimir Nabokov –wrote on index cards (this is something I do as well)

What, is a very individualistic area unless you are writing a knockoff, copycat book, which I know none of my readers would do that. So under What I’ve put word count, some writers appear obsessed by this.

  •  Stephen King – would write no less than 10 pages a day. (1800 -2000words)
  • Earnest Hemingway – 500 words a day
  • James Joyce was happy if he wrote three sentences.
  • Lee Child averages 1,800 words a day
  • Arthur Conan Doyle 3,000 words a day
  • Michael Crichton 10, 000

Why?

This is my favourite, who in their right mind would choose to be a writer.

  • George Orwell said writers write for “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.”
  • Gustave Flaubert said “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living,”
  • Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. “
  • Neil Gaiman said “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”

What did I get from this exercise? I learnt that it doesn’t matter where you write; if you’re waiting for the view then you will be waiting forever, as a writer writes anywhere. I learnt that commitment is important and that may take the form of a word count. I also decided that adding a quirky, ritualistic habit could be a good idea (and fun). Lastly I found  Mr. Gaiman summed it up, for being reminded of why I write is sometimes all the inspiration I need.

 

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Poetry in Song

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Like many writers I have a playlist of songs that I write to, but sometimes it’s not just the music that inspires me, sometimes it’s the lyrics. I’m not going to debate the literary merits of song lyrics over literary poetry; to me they are the same. They convey and express emotions, they tell a story and they inspire. I remember the first time I heard John Lennon’s Imagine I was so moved and by his words and still am today. So I thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Robbie Williams “Angels “

I sit and wait
Does an angel contemplate my fate
And do they know
The places where we go
When we’re grey and old
‘cos I have been told
That salvation lets their wings unfold
So when I’m lying in my bed
Thoughts running through my head
And I feel that love is dead
I’m loving angels instead

 

Live “The Beauty Of Gray”

If I told you he was your brother
We could reminisce
Then you would go about your day
If I said you ought to give him some of your water
You’d shake your canteen and walk away

The perception that divides you from him
Is a lie
For some reason you never asked why
This is not a black and white world
You can’t afford to believe in your side

This is not a black and white world
To be alive
I say that the colours must swirl
And I believe
That maybe today
We will all get to appreciate
The Beauty of Grey

 

U2 “one”

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s…

Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…

 

James Taylor “Fire and Rain”

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

 

Bob Dylan “One Too Many Mornings”

Down the street the dogs are barking
And the day is getting dark.
As the night comes in a-falling,
The dogs´ll lose their bark
And the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind,
For I´m one to many mornings
And a thousand miles behind.
From the crossroads of my doorstep,
My eyes they start to fade,
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid….
Harry Chapin “Cats In The Cradle”

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

 

 

All Our Yesterdays – By Cristin Terrill

All Our Yesterdays

I love this book. This is one of those novels that book reviewers pull out all the clichés; a real page-turner, I couldn’t put it down, had me up all night. Because it’s true, I’m ‘exhibit A’ – The kid’s dinner went by the wayside, I was up all hours, zombie eyed; I was obsessed. Every moment I had, the book made its way back to my eagerly awaiting hands. I needed to know what was happening to the characters that had so quickly taken up residence in my life.

A quick plot outline – the two main characters travel back in time to try and save themselves and the world. To do this they must kill someone, but they find this more difficult than they thought.

That’s the gist of the plot I don’t want to spoil anything by giving too much detail. This book is the perfect example of “How to Start a Novel” Terrill puts you straight into the action –tick, questions are forming in your mind, has you curious – tick, tight plot – tick, early attachment to the characters – tick. The story has the essence of The Terminator films, which is fine with me, as I’m a huge Terminator fan; the fiction world has been waiting for a good time travel book for sometime. All I want to say is if you enjoy reading YA fiction then put this one on your shopping list.

 

TITLE: All Our Yesterdays

AUTHOR: Cristin Terrill

GENRE: YA

NB: was awarded the 2014 Thriller Award for Best Young Adult Novel by the International Thriller Writers

Digital Storytelling

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Today releasing a book is no simple path, there is a labyrinth of avenues one can take, and at the rate technology is evolving, there is no doubt, in ten years the publishing world will be very different from today. This was evident when I went to a talk on Digital Storytelling. This is a rapidly growing area, and Cordelia Funke, author of the “Inkheart” series, gave us an incredible insight into her developments into this field. She told, how out of frustrations with the 90min representations of her books in the movie world, she decided to develop an app called Mirrorworld .
Funke described it as a “Jumpstart to the imagination”. It starts with a mirror that you enter and you discover the Inkheart world. Funke describes the app as a “breathing book, it’s a visual travel guide to my world. If you want to see what a plant looks like you can see through illustrations, it’s accompanied by a soundtrack or you can listen to my voice telling the story”
This app was truly amazing, and the illustrations were beautiful. It’s retailing for 5.99 which some say is pricey for an app, but this is more than a visual book and it is cheaper than most books, by bestselling authors.You can have a look at the app through this link http://www.mirrorworldnovels.com/

The other guest, was Connor O’Brien the co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival (digitalwritersfestival.com) He recently trialed a digital festival as part of  Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival.This was a huge success. People who can’t physically attend a festival, for reason varying from geographical, financial or disabilities, gained the most from the experience. The view expressed from attendees was that it was as good as being there in person, they felt present and embodied. This is obviously a growing field as I saw there is a digital Romance Writers festival on the 7th and 8th of June from Harper Impulse (Harper Collins Publishing). Have a look at the link for more details.http://www.romance-festival.com/
It was a very exciting talk and I wish I had a Tardis to see what the future world of publishing will really be like.

What do you think will happen?

Book Cover Design 101

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Author: “Make my cover look like a bestseller”

Designer: “ No problem how’s this?”

If only it was that easy.

How do you choose a book? This question has been poised numerous times and the most common answer is “by its cover”. The cover design of a book has always had an important role in it’s marketing, and choosing the design is a complex process. With a growing number of authors self – publishing, understanding the psychology behind this choice is crucial.

Unfortunately in traditional publishing an author’s opinion isn’t always listened to, especially if the vision for their book does not match the publishers marketing strategy. There have been cases of authors leaving publishing houses due to disagreements on the cover art. This rang true to me recently when another blogger recommended the book Selection by Keira Cass; I had previously dismissed this series solely because the cover art projected an image that was ‘girly’ and ‘prissy’. I have now read the book and feel the cover has done the book an injustice.

In the traditional publishing world, there are whole departments devoted to cover design. The publishing houses give a brief to a designer, which usually stipulates that the design should articulate the contents of the book. You’d think this was obvious, but a book might be more suited to a more conceptual design.

A self- published author can be left in a quandary as in how to approach this subject. Authors can emulate the process that the publishing house use, but the main thing is to take time and consider carefully, what you want, as it is your brand.

Some suggestion to get you thinking:

 

  1. What is the image/feel you wish to project? E.g. A “Literary” novel cover is often understated, serious and elegant, withy heavy weighted paper and considered fonts.
  2. Decide on your budget. Can you afford to hire a graphic artist? If you have a large budget then Chip Kidd is the designer you want, probably no.1 in book cover designs at the moment. Have a look at his gallery www.chipkidd.com/gallery If you have a small budget approach some design schools and see if a students work catches your eye and negotiate with them.
  3. Look at current trends I personally do not like this. Remember when “Twilight” became a phenomenal success and every book following had a black cover with a single image.
  4. Do some market research, get a group of beta readers and have them read your book and give feed back on a selection of cover designs.
  5. Research psychology of colour and the emotions it creates.
  6. Research graphic/art techniques. For example the eye is drawn firstly to the top left hand corner of an image and then moves in a clockwise direction. This might affect your placement of images.
  7. Look up The Golden Mean/ Fibonacci Sequence used by artists for centuries. Many advertisers also use this technique.

 

If anyone has some suggestion on cover design please share.

Five books all writers should own

 

Every writer needs his arsenal of writing weaponry. After the obvious hardware such as pen, paper, computer, (duh!)the most useful purchase is a selection of helpful books. You’ve bought the dictionary and thesaurus (I hope), and if you’re a fantasy writer you may have bought a Lexicon of Myths and Fairytales or a crime writer may have bought a book on criminal investigation procedures, but what other books can help the aspiring writer. I’ve listed my top five and maybe some of you can share books or websites you’ve found helpful.

1.Elements of Style – William Strunk and E.B White

One piece of advice I remember from my studies of journalism at university was never leave home without this book.It is, by far, the best book written on grammar. Every journalist has it in their briefcase/ backpack because it contains wonderful little grammatical reminders that may have slipped our minds. (Unfortunately, the older I get, the more my mind slips)

2. On Writing – Stephen King 

I’m sure most writers have stumbled upon this book. Stephen King’s advice is straight up, no fancy pants talk. He just tells it like it is. I found this book to be practical and inspiring. When I’m feeling out of my depths I like to pick it up and have a flick, I always find something motivational. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

 

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

 “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

 “Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”

 

  1. The Australian Writer’s marketplace

When I graduated from University this was my first purchase. It’s a compendium for writers listing details for submission and contact details for agents, magazines and newspapers, competitions and events, organisations, writers’ services, scripts and courses. My copy was heavily dog-eared, and I purchased many revised editions. This is centred on Australia, but a website that contains a fabulous array of publishing opportunities, for mainly the USA, is: http://www.everywritersresource.com/lists.html

 

  1. The Writing Book –Kate Grenville

This is a practical guide, using exercises, to get the writer started and heading in the right direction. It contains practical advice on character development, plotting, writing dialogue. I found Grenville’s book to be the best in this genre, but I also like Holly Lisle’s online courses “How to Think Sideways”

 

  1. If I Tell you I’ll Have to Kill you – Edited By Ian Robotham

This book is a recent addition to my collection and I’ve just finished reading it, so I thought I’d add it to the list. It is a collection of discussions from some of Australia’s best crime writers. Each writer explains, their writing process and the ins and outs of crime writing and how they came to be a writer. It is interesting (and often humorous) to read the various ways that writers go about their work, some are plotters and some are ‘go with the flow’ writers. This is a good read for all, not just those interested in the crime genre.

 

 

What’s in a name?

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I was thinking about pen names the other day, as I about to embark on a new project and wondered whether I should use one of my pen names. I have a little cache of names I use when writing for newspapers, my reason being that I don’t want my fiction work associated with my journalistic work. My choice of names are pretty boring, I’m not doing the star checking into a hotel thing and saying I’m Katniss Everdeen or Mr. Darcy, I’m just initialising, middle name etc. Many famous writers have used Pseudonyms or pen names for many reasons.

The most annoying is for sexist or gender bias reasons.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, were first published as Currier, Ellis and Acton Bell, when the publishers finally met their writers they were shocked to see they were women. Louisa May Alcott, before writing Little Women, published stories under the name A M Barnard. We may excuse this by saying it was Victorian times, but as many are aware Joanne Rowling was asked to asexualize her name as the publishers believed a book about a boy wizard wouldn’t appeal to it’s audience if they knew it was written by a women. J.K Rowling also later went on to write The Cuckoos Calling as Robert Galbraith. Rowling states her reason being to “go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre to work without hype or expectation”

Some writers want to simplify their names.

Joseph Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski.

Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Mark Twain born Samuel Longhorne Clemens.

Some writers want to distance themselves from previous works.

Agatha Christie, being a successful suspense writer, used the pseudonym Mary Westcott to write 6 romance novels. In reverse Nora Roberts, the successful romance novelist wrote under the name JD Robb for her suspense novel series. The Booker Prize winners Julian Barnes and John Banville wrote crime /thriller novels under the names Dan Kavanagh and Benjamin Black.

The two, which I find the most amusing, are Benjamin Franklin who wrote for a newspaper under the name of Mrs. Silence Dogood. –He must have had a sense of humour. The second is Theodor Geisel; he was the editor of his universities newspaper until caught with alcohol during prohibition. To continue writing he invented a pseudonym. He took his middle name Seuss and to annoy his father, who wanted him to be a doctor, he added the title, hence the birth of Dr. Seuss.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle, who published early works under the name of Boz?