Do You NaNo?

Well, we’re more than halfway through November, so, if you joined in this amazing writing fest, are you over halfway through the 50,000 words needed to win NaNoWriMo?

Thankfully, I’m over halfway. Phew!

When I decided to do it again this year my reasons were not pure. I have written a first draft of a novel every November since 2013 and I have published each one in due course the following year. Although I can usually write that first draft no problem in the month, it takes me many more months to edit, polish and publish each one.

This year, I didn’t think I could manage to do another novel, what with one thing and another, but I did have last year’s rough first draft hanging around, so I decided my challenge this year was to write the second draft.

The reason I decided to go for NaNoWriMo at all this year was because I couldn’t bring myself not to. The thought of breaking my seven year run was too much for me. So here I am, just over halfway through the month and more than halfway through the second draft. Yipee!

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. It’s far from ‘National’ now. People from all over the world join in these days, tens of thousands of them. Many of them ‘win’. And that’s the thing about NaNoWriMo, everyone who completes the 50,000 word count is a winner. And can I tell you, that’s a great feeling.

Write every day, no matter the distractions!

The reason I do it every year is the motivation it provides to stick in and write every day. Before 2013, it could take me years to write the first draft of a novel, let alone the years that then went into editing and polishing it. By the third novel I wrote and published, I’d gotten it down to months, but still too many months, to write a first draft. And the reason it took me so long was simple. I didn’t write every day.

When you don’t write every day, in my experience, you lose the flow of the piece and each time you open the manuscript, you have to look back, sometimes all the way to the beginning and read yourself back into it. That takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

Writing every day, your story never quite leaves your consciousness and it is much easier to pick up where you left off. Especially if you stop in mid-flow, which is a trick I learned somewhere along my writing career.

Of course, NaNoWriMo has its critics. What doesn’t? There are those who say it’s not possible to write a book in a month, and I actually agree, with one proviso. I don’t believe it is possible to write a GOOD book in a month. It’s perfectly possible to write a good first draft in that time. In fact most of the first drafts I have written during that month have been well over the 50,000 word count. It’s possible to write over 100,000 words in a month if you have the time, a good outline, good planning, and the health and energy to write at least 3,334 words every single day. I know some writers can do that and more in a day. I’m afraid I can’t.

But it’s not the volume of words that make a good novel. It’s the quality. The quality choice of words, of sentence structure, and the quality of the story telling. And I doubt there are many writers who have published a GOOD first draft. I know far too many who have published a poor one. And that, unfortunately is what draws the criticism.

Again, I can only speak from my own experience but for me writing the first draft is the easy part. Taking on board the critique of Alpha readers, Beta readers, rewriting, editing, proofreading, these are the time consuming and work intensive parts of writing a novel. And I don’t believe they should be skipped. Even books published by mainstream publishers go through that process, so I don’t believe it’s a process that should ever be neglected. Not if you want to truly WIN NaNoWriMo.

But I’d welcome your thoughts on the subject.

All my novels are available on Amazon Kindle or as Paperbacks.

What do you Listen to?

Sleep does not come easily to me. It’s been that way for a long time but as I get older I crave it more, so I am making a concentrated effort to do something about the situation. Working with a terrific Brain Health coach, Andrea Wilkinson, I am making progress. I have enrolled for Andrea’s Brain Vitality Blueprint course and am over half-way through. I can highly recommend it for anyone who wants to live Phase 2 of their lives with maximum vibrancy and energy.

I didn’t do the course to sort out my sleep pattern, but that’s just one of the benefits I’m finding from following the blueprint. It’s challenging my mindset to cope with an alternative reality: one where I manage stressful situations with more ease, and have more energy and motivation to work on my aspirations and goals.

While helping me find ways to sort out my sleep pattern, Dr Andrea said it was important to turn off all screens – mobile phone, tablet, computer or laptop in good time before getting ready for bed – and certainly no screens in the bedroom!

Surprisingly, this was something I very quickly got used to and I am coping fine without checking my email, Facebook, etc, last thing at night. In fact, I feel good about it. And I get to sleep earlier, so it was well worth heeding that advice. It works – as does having a morning routine, getting more exercise, drinking more water – all things Dr Andrea encouraged me to pay attention to.

Another suggestion was to listen to an audiobook while trying to get to sleep. I know a lot of people find that a helpful thing to do, but it didn’t work for me. I found it kept me awake. I didn’t want to miss anything. One way I tried to get round that was to listen to something boring, but that just irritated me. Then I hit on the idea of listening to one of my own books – not boring, but familiar, so I thought I wouldn’t mind falling asleep while it was playing. After all, I knew what happened next at any given point.

There was a rather pleasing reason why that didn’t work to send me to sleep – I found, to my delight, that I was enjoying my own writing too much. Please, don’t think me immodest when I say that, but truly, if I don’t enjoy reading my novels, how can I expect you to?

A huge, unexpected compensation for not being sent to sleep by my latest book is that it keeps giving me more ideas for the sequel I’m currently writing. Just little points that I can follow through on in the second book. It’s really helpful.

Now I don’t listen to be sent to sleep, I listen to be inspired. It’s great. I’ve written before about where my inspiration comes from, and here’s another to add to the list.

What do I listen to to get to sleep?

I listen to the silence.

Perfect.

What about you? Do you listen to audiobooks or music to help you fall asleep? Do you find inspiration in the things you listen to, whether books, podcasts, music or whatever else is out there to delight and tickle the ears?

You can find all my books as paperbacks or on Amazon Kindle.

Inspiration, is it a Relative Thing?

On digging through my blog archives, I recently came upon a post I wrote about inspiration. In particular, what inspired the first five of my novels up to, and including, Searching for Summer. I decided to update the post to include the rest of the Reluctant Detective Series since I had written and published two more novels to complete the series. So, that post ended up being about seven books.

Having written a further four, it’s time for a second inspiration ’round up’. You can read the first here, keeping in mind these posts are not about the books’ plots and content, but rather, what inspired me to write them. To find out more about each novel they’re all here as ebooks and here as paperbacks plus, there is even more information and photographs about their locations in my Facebook readers’ group, which you may request to join here.

After I finished writing the Reluctant Detective Series, I found some of the characters lingered in my mind, demanding I write their stories too. In particular, Mirabelle’s sister, Yvonne and her husband, Hugh. They hadn’t played a large part in Mirabelle’s story, especially Hugh, who hardly got any attention at all, yet their story was there in my mind to be written. I had done the background profiles. I knew the characters pretty well.

.

Hugh is different from any character I’d written before. His ‘voice’ was strong in my head. He had been sadly neglected in the series, so I decided to develop his story in For What it’s Worth, along with the story of his marriage to Yvonne, making the inspiration for that book an internal one, an offshoot from the series, but not part of it, available as ebook and paperback.

The next novel I published was Gold Plated, the story of one couple’s Golden Wedding Anniversary party and all that it raked up. The idea came to me when my husband and I were thinking about our own approaching Golden Wedding Anniversary. We were reminiscing on our fifty years together and I got to thinking whether it would be possible for a couple to have reached such a milestone without their marriage being a happy one. You can find out more about this one here for ebook and here for paperback.

Then came A Mountain of Memories, the first of my novels to contain a historic strand woven into the contemporary story. We were returning from vacationing in the north of Scotland and, as we drove through The Pass of Glencoe, I mentioned to my husband that I’d like to set my next novel on one of the mountains we were passing. He suggested that I should set it on one we had climbed over fifty years ago. Seemed like a good idea, so that’s what I did, and the book is now available in ebook and paperback formats.

The most recent novel I have published is Rose & Laurie, set partly on the Island of Arran. It’s inspiration came from a long-ago conversation I had with a lady on a train. She told me her story, which in turn inspired a new story in my mind. Rose & Laurie is also available as ebook and paperback.

So there you have it, the different ways I come to write a novel.

And the ‘Relative’ in the blog title? Well it applies to Jessica Norrie, the cousin I never knew I had (see my last post here) and who is also a published author. She explained the inspiration for her first novel in a post over on her blog and you can see it here.

Goodness, what a lot of links I’ve given you to follow. Don’t say I’m not good to you. 😀 Enjoy your online adventure 😀

As a reader, do you like to know the genesis of a story? Let me know in the comments.

Is There a Writing Gene?

I’ve often wondered where I got my love of writing. My mother and my sister, my cousins and my aunts, none of them seem to have that particular passon. My mother and my sister read a lot, especially my sister. I remember when we were growing up, how hard it was to rouse her from a good story; she really did typify the saying, ‘lost in a book’. As far as I know, she’s still the same.

I loved reading too – and can still get lost in a good book – but I very quickly realised the stories I enjoyed reading had to be written by someone. Why not me? So, much as I loved reading, I loved writing my own stories even more, winning essay prizes at school and going on to write and publish short stories, and newspaper and magazine articles, before finally finding my true passion – writing novels, published on Amazon Kindle and as paperbacks.

One of my daughters has been helping me trace my family tree. Having not known my birth father until I traced him when I was nearly forty years old, I knew nothing of the paternal side of my family, and he didn’t share his family history with me before he died.

But now, suddenly, it all makes sense.

There were writers in my father’s family. His cousin was a published journalist who later edited an anthology of letters, published after her death. And her husband was a ‘bookman’ working in the book trade, owning a bookshop, publishing fiction and non-fiction. Their daughter has published books too, and is still writing and publishing.

What joy! If there is such a thing as a writing gene, I now know where mine came from. And, when I contacted my second cousin, Jessica Norrie, she generously shared her bountiful supply of family history, stories and anecdotes with me, and it seems the storytelling gene stretches back yet another generation because her grandmother, my Great-Aunt Ivy (after whom I was given my middle name) was an entertaining story-teller too.

Jessica Norrie, my second cousin, at a book signing for her debut novel,

The Infinity Pool

.

Check it out. See if you think there are any similarities in our writing style.

~~~

Lifting The Lid Off Christine’s Kist O’ Stories

I’ve copied this post from my private FaceBook group, ‘Lifting The Lid Off Christine’s Kist O’ Stories’, to illustrate the type of post I offer those interested in finding out more about my novels and their settings and inspiration. I’m always happy to welcome new members to the group, so please do request to join here, if you’re interested.


This beautiful photograph is of the West Bow/Victoria Street in Edinburgh, only 150 metres from the entrance to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile, in the heart of the World Heritage site of the Old Town of Edinburgh. Here is the photographer, Dale Kelly’s, link if you’d like to have one of the limited run of prints he’s doing.
🌺🌸🌺
In my novel, Searching for Summer (Click here for kindle, here for paperback) Mirabelle would have walked this street many times, and often at night. In daytime, a busy street, with many tourists trying to capture its essence on camera, seeking treasures in its interesting shops, easy for someone to mingle and get lost among them. At night, a place for the lost and lonely to wander in search of a quiet close or stairwell in which to sleep.
Perhaps you can picture Mirabelle, searching here during the night, peeping in every hidden nook and cranny, searching for Summer.
🌺🌸🌺
Excerpt

She never tired of the secrets hidden in the Royal Mile, high above the gardens, its cobbles leading from Castle Esplanade to Holyrood House. Sometimes its secrets were the colour of Summer.

One day, she was halfway down the Mile when a girl caught her eye. A young, flame-haired woman who quickly looked away, head bent, and increased her pace.The colour of Summer.Mirabelle felt her heartbeat stutter. “Excuse me!” she called, boldly following her through one of the archways into a tiny, paved courtyard, bumbling out in embarrassed confusion when the person turned a stranger’s face in enquiry

“Can I help you? Are you looking for someone?

Mirabelle shook her head in apology, tumbled back into the High Street and continued down the mile of history: the Via Regis.From Lawnmarket to Cannongate, the Royal Mile buzzed with visitors, students and lovers.

She barely noticed the tourists; studied the students and lovers. As she searched their faces, looking for that one special one, they’d sometimes turn, a smile warm in their eyes, happy to share their glow with someone they must have imagined a tourist herself, her colouring declaring her part-Jamaican, her loose, colourful clothing more suited to the Caribbean than Edinburgh’s austere Calvinism

Should she walk its length every day of her life, she reckoned she’d uncover something she’d missed before: wynds snaking behind old buildings, ancient doors leading who knew where, tiny stairways spiralling up into special places. Tourist shops and museums served those without time or inclination to wander from the street, tiny theatres and history rewarded those who did.

And shades of Summer that failed to yield her daughter.

🌺🌸🌺

Searching for Summer is available on Amazon Kindle or as a paperback.

Whatcha Doin’, Papa?

I wonder, do you have a brother or sister, a niece or nephew, or even a son or a daughter, who you love dearly, but they also frustrate you? They’re mischievous and naughty, but endearing too. They’ve found your buttons and know how to press them.

That’s how my relationship with my father-in-law was. He was like a naughty child right into his nineties. I loved him dearly and have a lot of warm, happy memories of him but, there’s no getting away from it, he was a frustrating old rascal sometimes.

Like the time he fixed our roof.

It was forty years ago and he was in his sixties, too old to be climbing onto the roof, too young to resist it.

The house we lived in at that time had been extended by a previous owner, making a large kitchen and eating area. The extension boasted a flat roof.

In Scotland.

Where rain is not a stranger.

A flat roof with poor drainage.

(The correct way to deal with this information is to sigh and shake your head, or even to tut! and question the previous owner’s sanity.)

Above the eating area of this large kitchen, there was a pitched glass roof, surrounded by a moat. I call it a moat with good reason. It was often filled with water and, from time to time, it leaked. It leaked onto the table below and the diners around it.

So, forty years ago, when we were moving house and had insufficient funds to repair the roof, we decided – honesty being the best policy – we would tell any prospective buyers about the problem and leave it to them to decide if they had the funds to fix it.

Enter my dear father-in-law.

He was a very gregarious man and I’m certain he knew everybody in our village – and their business – despite the fact that he lived at some distance and visited infrequently.

Dissatisfied with how we intended to handle the matter of the roof, that dear, kind, lovely man decided to take matters into his own hands.

We were unaware of the road works going on in our village, but Papa, as the children called my dear father-in-law, was not only aware of such, but already on excellent terms with the workmen. 

He returned from the ‘stroll’ he informed us he was taking, carrying a bucket. Before we even knew where he’d procured it and what it contained, he’d carried it through the house and climbed out of our sons’ bedroom window onto the flat roof, where he proceeded to pour the bucket’s contents all around the moat. 

“Whatcha doin’, Papa?” my eldest son asked as he watched the black, treacly stuff being dispensed.

“What are you doing, Dad?” I asked, seeing the steam and hearing the fizz as the hot, gluey liquid hit the cold, wet surface of the moat. 

“Neil! You have no business up there whatever you’re doing,” said his wife, my mother-in-law.

Someone, possibly me, possibly my husband, took a photograph to record what we could hardly believe with our eyes.

“What I’m doing,” Papa said. “Is fixing the roof.”

I think he hoped for thanks.

Just as he traipsed back through the house with his messy bucket, the rain started hammering on the glass roof, and there was a knock on the front door.

A couple of prospective buyers come to view the house.

When we reached the threshold of the kitchen and I was telling these viewers to mind the step down, and they were ooh-ing and aah-ing at how lovely and big and bright the kitchen was, I did wonder what the plopping noise might be.

Plop! Plop! Pl-l-l-op! A slow glutinous plopping sound.

The sound of hot, runny, black-as-black, icky-sticky tar.

You know the stuff. They use it in road-mending.

Tar, which far from ‘fixing’ the leaky roof, was itself leaking through the roof, raining down on the idyllic scene of our children abandoning their snacks on the table and making a run for safety.

The prospective buyers also made a run for it, straight out the front door, followed very closely by Papa’s car disappearing down the driveway from the back door.

He did toot his goodbye as he passed the kitchen window, and indicated he’d left us to return the disgustingly sticky bucket.

~~~

You can find all of Christine Campbell’s novels on Amazon Kindle or in Paperback here.

~~~

Meeting Mhairi

 In a previous post, I introduced you to Caitlin and Matt, two of the main characters in the contemporary strand of my latest release, A Mountain of Memories, which is available as an ebook here and as a paperback here.

Woven through the contemporary story there is a historic thread, and in the video below, I introduce you to Mhairi, the main character of that strand.

If you want to see more about the characters or the story, I regularly post that sort of information about all my novels in my FaceBook group: Lifting The Lid off Christine’s Kist of Stories

All of my novels are available as ebooks here and as paperbacks here

A Mountain of Memories

A childhood trip from Edinburgh to explore Caitlin’s family’s history results in tragedy on a mountainside above the village of Kinlochleven, a tragedy so traumatic it was wiped from her memory. As an adult she is still affected by the events that took place there.

Over a century earlier, Caitlin’s great-great grandmother, Mhairi, watches the village of Kinlochleven being born, suffering through its birth pangs.

Caitlin and Mhairi’s lives are linked by their common heritage, and as their stories become intertwined, Caitlin is drawn back to the question that has haunted her for eleven years.

What really happened on that mountainside?

What one reader says about the historic strand of the novel:

“I loved getting to know Mhairi when I first read A Mountain of Memories to myself. Her life is undoubtedly harsh, and she carries within her an innocence, a strength, and a romantic heart too. There’s a lyrical quality to your writing, which your narration enhances, and so this reading brings Mhairi even more vividly to life for me.”

Introducing Mhairi:

Dog Training – a Short Story.

It’s cold and grey here in Scotland today. Perfect weather for cuddling up on the couch with a blanket and something to read, so I thought I’d help you out with a short story.
If you live somewhere warm and sunny, reading a short story while soaking up the sun can be rather pleasant too, especially if you have a cool drink to hand and your sunhat perched. 😎🤓📚😀
~~~
This short story won first prize at a conference for The Scottish Association of Writers, many moons ago, and it was where I first developed the character, Hugh, whose story I subsequently wrote in my novel, For What it’s Worth.
Being a short story, it is easily and quickly read, so I hope you enjoy it when you get a moment or two to chill.
If you want to read more of my work, you can find all of my published novels listed here on Amazon.

🐶

Dog Training

 

“Excuse me, sir. I’m afraid dogs are not allowed in the park without a lead.” The Park Keeper pointed to the sign.

“Ah, yes! I see that, but you see, the thing is …”

“The thing is, sir, your dog is fouling on my grass. There’s a penalty for that.” The Park Keeper pointed to the relevant notice. “Unless, of course, you use a pooper-scooper and dispose of the offending mess appropriately, sir.”

“Ah, yes! I see that too, but you see, the thing is …”

He reached into the pouch he wore across his body. “The thing is, sir, I have some plastic bags here for just such an occasion.” And he handed one over. 

“Ah, yes! I see. Plastic bag. Yes.” Hugh looked at the bag as though it was from outer space. “And what exactly?” He made a vague waving gesture with it.

“Never done this before, have we, sir.”

“No, actually. No, haven’t. Haven’t needed to really.”

“Ah! New to this area, are we?”

Hugh nodded, looking at the dog as it crouched on the grass adding to its offence. 

“Thought so. Standards, sir. It’s all about standards, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir. We like to keep our park up to a high standard. Litter, dogs’ mess, ball-games – these are the things that bring a park down, you know.”

“Quite, yes. Yes. I can imagine.” Hugh wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Thing is, don’t you know.” He still held the plastic bag at arm’s length. A look of puzzlement crossed his face when he looked at it.

“If I may, sir?” The Park Keeper took the bag from his grasp and walked across the grass to the offending pile. “Allow me to demonstrate the use of the plastic bag as a pooper-scooper.” And this he ably did. “One places one’s hand inside the bag, thus.” He demonstrated. “Pick up the poop, thus.” He did. “Turn the bag inside out, thus.” Again, accomplished expertly. “Thereby containing the mess within the bag, to be disposed of in the receptacle provided.” He indicated the bin at the end of the path.

“I say, well done.” Hugh applauded. “Donald, is it?” He gave a nod to the name badge on the Park Keeper’s jacket.

“Thank you, sir.” Donald beamed. When Hugh made no move to relieve the Park Keeper of the plastic bag of pooh, he walked across to the bin and demonstrated how it should be deposited. “Thus.”

Hugh nodded his understanding. “Yes. Yes. Quite. Now, the thing is, you see.”

“And now, sir. May I suggest you collect your dog and put it on its leash before any further mishap occurs?”

“Good idea. Yes. The thing is though …” Hugh raised his hands, displaying the lack of a dog leash.

“Ah, I see your problem now.” The Park Keeper clicked his fingers together. He reached into his pouch once more. “Fortunately, I carry this length of rope for just such an occasion.” He handed it to Hugh.

“Rope. Yes. I imagine you …” He held the rope out and wiggled it about a bit as though putting it through the dog’s collar.

“Exactly, sir. Now, if you’d care to call the dog.”

“Yes. Yes. See what you mean. Call the dog. Rover, don’t you know. Always called my dogs Rover. Ever since I was a boy. Got a puppy for my birthday.” Hugh smiled at the memory of waking to the warm, wet nose snuffling round his face. He’d wanted a dog so much, hadn’t dared to hope his mother would let him have one of his very own. He’d called him Rover, unable to think of a more original name. Continued to call it Rover even after realising, or, rather, being told, he was a she. “Old-fashioned now, I suppose. The name, I mean. Rover. Still, Mumsie has kept up the tradition, don’t you know.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hugh drew himself back from his thoughts and shook his head. “No matter. You see, the thing is …”

“If you’d care to call the dog, sir?”

Hugh could see Donald was getting edgy.

“This particular dog has been, ahem, irritating me, shall we say, on and off for days now. Never on a leash, trotting about as if it owns the park, cocking its leg where it will, digging in the flower beds.”

Hugh affected a look of understanding and sympathy.

“I’ve been watching out for you, sir, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make clear the park rules concerning animals. “If you wouldn’t mind, sir?”

The dog was perilously close to a beautiful display of roses. In fact he was beginning to dig around them.

Hugh looked doubtful, but reluctantly co-operated with the request. “Rover! Erm, Rover!” he called self-consciously and ineffectually.

The Park Keeper smiled his encouragement.

Hugh tried again. “I say Rover, old boy, do come over here.” He tapped the rope against his leg.

The dog, a large black Labrador, disdained to come over anywhere, but began digging in earnest, putting the roses in serious jeopardy.

Hugh pursed his lips and attempted to whistle, not something he was ever good at, but something he always believed he would someday be able to do. He felt it was a requirement of a dog owner and had sought to perfect the technique since being given that first puppy, also a black lab as it happened.

The sound that came from his lips was thin and frail and the dog could be excused for ignoring it.

Hugh called again. The dog dug on. The roses toppled in the dirt.

“Not well trained,” Donald remarked through gritted teeth. “If you don’t mind my saying so, sir,” he said.

“No. No.” Hugh was eager to reassure the Park Keeper. “I don’t mind at all. Completely in agreement on that point. Has a will of his own, don’t you know.”

“Do you mind if I try?” The Park Keeper indicated his willingness to round up the dog. 

“Not at all,” Hugh said earnestly. “Be my guest.” And he handed over the coiled rope.

“May I suggest, sir, you go round that way?” Donald indicted one side of the shrubbery. “While I advance from this direction. That way we can perhaps cut off his escape.”

“By all means,” Hugh acquiesced. 

Labrador Retrievers are not by nature difficult dogs and Rover proved true to his breed, allowing himself to be rounded up and captured without much protest.

“Firmness, you see, sir,” Donald said with due pride. “They respond to firmness. Firmness of voice. You have to let them know who’s in charge.”

“Yes, absolutely. Yes. I see that. Thank you. Well done. Most Impressive.” Hugh knew it was true. Mumsie had often tried to goad him into being his dog’s master rather than its playmate. The role had never suited him and none of the dogs he’d owned over the years had been fooled by any attempts on his part to play it.

The Park Keeper dusted down his jacket and stood tall. “And now, sir, if you’d be so good as to remove the animal from the vicinity.” He handed the rope over to Hugh. “I’ll tidy up round the roses.”

“Yes. Yes. The thing is, you see …” his voice trailed off when he realised the Park Keeper was no longer listening. Obviously, as far as he was concerned, the matter was now satisfactorily concluded.

“I’ll fetch a rake,” he said.

“Yes, yes, of course. By all means,” Hugh agreed.

When Donald returned, he seemed surprised to find Hugh still there.

Hugh was sitting on a bench and the dog was far off, digging again at the same spot, the roses torn and scattered between its paws.

The Park Keeper drew a long breath between gritted teeth and bore down on Hugh. “Ahem!” He coughed. “Excuse me again, sir.”

“Oh, hello!” Hugh smiled. “Waiting,” he explained. “Waiting for my wife.” He looked at his watch. “Late.” He pulled a tolerant face. 

“The dog, sir?”

“Yes, yes. Still here, isn’t he.”

“I did mention before, sir, the necessity of a leash?”

“Yes. Yes. Absolutely! You see, the thing is.” Hugh raised his hand, still clutching the rope.

The Park Keeper’s eyes followed the length of the rope as it snaked across the grass all the way to the dog’s collar. “Ah, yes. I see. Not quite the spirit of the injunction, may I say, sir?”

“Well, I must say,” Hugh said as he stood up. “It’s been very nice speaking with you, quite, you know, quite, well, quite educational, in fact.” He waved to Yvonne. “Bit of a lesson in dog-handling, don’t you know. But now, I see my wife coming. So, if you don’t mind.” He handed the rope to the Park Keeper. “You see, the thing is, at this point in time, I don’t actually have a dog.”

~~~

Focusing on Vividness

42449519_1410716485727594_5586453074165104640_n

I found this quotation on Facebook the other day and have been mulling it over in my mind ever since. As a reader, I realise it is what I look for in a book too. I want to be able to identify with the characters, to see what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, and so on through the senses. And yes, the authors who can help me do that are the ones I go back to time and again until I’ve read all the books they have produced.

They are the authors who achieve that vividness in their writing.

As a writer, I analyse as I read. I analyse how they achieve vividness, and try to emulate their methods in my own writing.

The readers among you might enjoy my findings and look for how the authors you read achieve that vividness, and the writers among you might enjoy to put my findings into practice as you work.

In simple terms, I found it is necessary to find and use appropriate descriptive words. As the quotation says, “Focus on trying to be good with vividness.” Remember, your goal is to help your reader see, hear, taste, smell and feel what your characters see, hear, taste, smell and feel. 

Music is one of the most evocative of mediums. It can be calming, relaxing, energising, make you feel elated, happy, miserable or sad. It can get you up on your feet to dance, or settle you to sleep in your bed. The beat can have you tapping your foot or clapping your hands. So how can a writer convey that in words?

When describing music or other sounds, I find it helps if I listen carefully with my eyes closed, and pay attention to how it makes me feel. I know that if I can’t feel it, it will be impossible to help my readers feel it.

What have you found helpful?

As a writer, what words would you use to convey a heavy beat – pounding, thumping, or drumming? Does it make you think of heavy rain? Hailstones? A gentle shower? Is it rhythmic or discordant? How are you going to describe that to your readers? What about the sound of water running? Will it whoosh, drip or dribble. You’ll want to find words to convey that.

How about this for an example of using the sound of hailstones? It’s from Makeshift Memories, my work in progress:

She had seen the hammers. Muckle great beasts. Not as the one her father uses to thump fence posts into hard earth, nor less as the one she uses to fix the wood to the stave when she aids in the work. What she saw as she sat beside Sheamus up at the waterworks were long, thick shafts with great iron heads the like of which she never did set eye upon afore. Having the picture of him sitting astride the rock with four strong men raining heavy blows on the tiny drill he held atween his legs was fearsome. Lying in her cot of a night of winter hail, listening to it heavy on the roof, coming down with a fierce speed, she sees in her dreams four hammers raining down to its tempo and she squirms and sweats in her covers.

Sometimes it’s good to start by describing a sound. Use onomatopoeia, not just to describe the actual sound. Use words that sound like it in your narrative. Let your readers hear what you hear. Let the sound take them on a journey.

Let me share another excerpt from Makeshift Memories, as an example:

Matt knows the route I like to take through the park and we walk through the reed beds on the squiggly boardwalk, built to traverse them like a long wiggly bridge. The wind swishes through the reeds, making them sing with a magical sound. “Listen,” I encourage him, stopping on the bridge. “Wh-o-o-sh! Who-o-o-sh!” I mimic the susurration, my voice hushed, soft and gentle as the air.

Close my eyes and I’m in Africa, standing in the back of a truck in savannah land, watching lemon grass sway, smelling it on the warm breeze. I’ve never been to Africa, but it doesn’t stop me imagining the scene. With little effort, Edinburgh’s dark, damp night turns to blazing African sunshine, clear blue skies stretch for miles, and I’m a million miles away enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back, allowing the breeze to whisk away the remnants of my earlier discomforts.

Do you see how, even before the sound is introduced, a word that sounds like it is used – the wind swishes. Then after the sound is described – Wh-o-o-sh! Wh-o-o-sh! – susurration, hushed, savannah, sway, whisk – all words that are reminiscent of the sound of the rushes. So many ‘s’ sounds! Try them out. Say them slowly in a hushed, drawn-out voice. Isn’t that fun? Can you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the rushes sway in the wind? The sound transported Caitlin to the African savannah. Can you follow her? She was helped in that she and Matt were on their way home after watching the classic film, Out of Africa, but perhaps the sound helped you see, hear and smell something similar.

When wanting to describe something visual, imagine your pen as a paintbrush. Stroke words out of your keyboard. Coax them till they form the picture. Use words that are vivid, graphic, colourful, evocative.

When describing a yellow dress, it’s not enough to say it’s yellow. There are so many shades of yellow. Is it citrus lemon, sunshine gold, daffodil yellow, yellow neon? Each one is different, each one will show up in your reader’s mind when they read your description.

Here is an example:

The dress I’m going to wear tonight is hidden in the wardrobe till later. I want it to be a surprise for Paul. He hasn’t seen it yet and has no idea of the peaceful hours I’ve spent sewing while he’s been out and about. It makes me smile every time I open the wardrobe door, push aside the things it hides behind, and see my handiwork hanging there. Inspired by the pale, creamy-yellow, woodland primroses that bloom in our garden every spring, designed and fashioned over the summer months after their faded beauty folded and faded further, it has been such a delight to make. Impossible to improve on nature, all I could do was allow the delicate flowers to inform my eye and guide my hand as I sketched and painted, desiring to capture the essence of their beauty in the spring to infuse into my work in the summer.

The georgette material I sought out is gossamer thin and beautiful, the colour soft as sunshine on a misty day, and the dress slips over my still-trim figure in flattering, floaty, fluted layers to just below my knees.

Being so fine, it is one of the most difficult materials I have ever worked with, but worth every painstaking moment of the hours and days it took to cut and sew. Even the buttery silk lining had to be handled gently. Never have I worked so slowly and never have I been so rewarded for my care.

My fingers melt with pleasure as they linger on the fabric, and I long to feel my creation slip over my body to caress my skin. ~~~ Rosanna from Gold Plated by Christine Campbell

Can you picture Rosanna’s dress? Pale, creamy-yellow, woodland primrose – their faded beauty – delicate – the colour soft as sunshine on a misty day – the buttery silk lining. Can you see the delicate colour it is? Can you feel the lightness of the material? Georgette material – gossamer thin – floaty, fluted layers. Can you almost feel the dress slip over your body to caress your skin?

We’ve referenced two of the senses we want to evoke in our readers – three, when you consider how Caitlin feels the sun on her back and the breeze on her skin, and how Rosanna’s dress feels as she touches it and as she slips it over her body.

Perhaps we can talk in the comments about the words we might use to convey the other senses – and perhaps in another blogpost at another time. 🙂

 

If you’d like to read how Rosanna vividly describes some of the other dresses she creates for herself and her friends, you can buy Gold Plated as paperback or ebook here.

And you can find eight other novels by Christine Campbell here.

~~~

How Far Have You Travelled?

In this age of accountability tools and gadgets, and this way and that way to measure performance and increase productivity, sometimes it’s good just to sit back and reflect on how far you’ve travelled.

Occasionally, we get a reminder of the journey, and that’s what happened to me this week in regard to my writing and publishing.

Family Matters April 27th

It’s ten years since I published my first novel, Family Matters, in paperback in 2008, with Making it Home following in 2009. It wasn’t until Flying Free was published in 2013 that I started uploading my novels to Amazon Kindle to give my readers the opportunity to choose paperback or ebook format. I now have nine novels available in both.

That was a huge step in my publishing journey – the first building block of  an online presence. Next leap forward was starting this blog, then creating an author page on Facebook. I now even have a Facebook group as well. Step by step I am building my online profile as an author, and what a fun and rewarding journey it is.

But not a journey that has always been smooth.

After a while, I discovered that, although I uploaded a correctly formatted book to Amazon Kindle, depending which device my readers were using, there was sometimes a problem with how the formatting appeared. So I set about attempting to rectify the problem – with many false steps and frustrations. It wasn’t until Kindle Create, a formatting tool offered by Amazon Kindle, appeared on the scene that I was successful in my efforts.

41C9fKLVtzL._UY250_

So I started with my newer books and have been working backwards reworking the formatting, book by book. Seven done, two to go. The one I’m working on at present is Making it Home – and that’s when I realised how far I’ve travelled!

Making it Home is still a great story, still receiving great testimonials and reviews:

“This was my first Christine Campbell book, I met Christine through a mutual Facebook group and when I found out she was an author I wanted to read one of her books. I think her writing voice is so lovely, like Kate and Dan and Phyllis and Naomi and the whole rest of the clan were people so similar to friends I have and want to have. Not every page was happy, there’s some heavy life moments! But also hope in equal measure. Loved it!!!”

“I really enjoyed the way in which author brings the women together and describes their developing friendship. They don’t become best buddies in a simple linear way. Their false starts and awkward moments reveal the complexity of friendships. While I was intrigued to discover the reasons behind Phyllis’ benevolence and Naomi’s isolation and depression, it was Kate’s story that really gripped me.
The theme of home is woven throughout the story in subtle, unusual and satisfying ways.
There is a gentleness, warmth and piercing honesty in Christine Campbell’s writing that both comforts and makes you think.”

But, back then, I didn’t know how to do things I automatically do now. Simple things like ‘page break’. No wonder my formatting was dodgy on this one! It will take me a little while to put it right, and meanwhile the book is still available in both formats. The paperback is unaffected by these issues, of course, since there is really only one ‘reader’ used by my paperback readers – eyesight – arguably the best of them all 🙂

How far I’ve travelled along this road of publication. I’ve learned so much since 2009 when Making it Home was published. Back then, I wasn’t sure about this new fangled thing called a ‘Kindle’. I wasn’t convinced it would catch on, that readers would not always prefer to hold a ‘proper book’ in their hands – and many still do, but I am so happy that I moved with the times and started publishing ebooks too. It’s been a fun journey, just like the writing journey I’m on and how far I’ve travelled along that.

I’ve been trying new things there too – For What it’s Worth, was the first book I wrote in first person, present tense, and I enjoyed it so much I did the same in my latest release, Gold Plated. And Gold Plated has been receiving great early reviews too:

“I started reading Gold Plated at 7 am this morning. And finished it late this evening. First book I’ve read from beginning to end in a single day in quite some time. I simply had to devour it!!! Thank you for an exquisitely entertaining read! A beautiful treatment of love, betrayal, and resolve where self-love triumphs ultimately.”

“Through life’s ups and downs this story was very enjoyable to read. I loved the different settings and how clearly I could see them along with the characters from the descriptive writing. Gold Plated is a perfect title and this book took me on a lovely journey into Rosanna’s life which is inspirational… I believe it’s never too late to start again, I will also now think differently when I hear something is gold plated. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting a good read.”

So, how far have you travelled? I’d love to hear about your journey, whatever it is and wherever it’s taken you. And if you want to see how far in my writing and publishing journey I’ve travelled, do read my latest novel, Gold Plated. I’m told the story is “A journey worth taking.”

~~~