Friday 28 October 2011

A golden isle

From the port at La Tour Fondue, the crossing was only fifteen minutes, the final transition between sky and land and sea, and from imagination to reality...

The answer to last week's teaser is the tiny island of Porquerolles, off the south coast of France about mid-way between Marseille and St Tropez. A rocky south coast is lined with rocky calanques made up of cliffs and fjord-like inlets, while white sand beaches face north across the narrow strait to the mainland at Hyères and Le Lavandou.

One the three tiny specks of land that make up Les Iles D'Or - the golden islands - Porquerolles is most wonderfully atmospheric, one of those islands where cars are not allowed and almost everyone cycles or walks. Or they sail. Everywhere you look out to sea or back to the mainland there are white sails cutting across the blue. In summer there's an almost tropical feel about it, with palm trees waving amidst the pines.

Its history is a curious mixture of the military and the romantic. It was once a strategic defence and all over the island are the remains of forts and it was first used by the army as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War: it was bought in 1912 by a man who had made his fortune in silver mining in Mexico and wanted to give it to his new wife as a wedding present, or so the story goes.

I'm deep into an imaginary world here, with a forgotten garden, wartime secrets and connections that are too strange to be called coincidence...

Saturday 22 October 2011

Head in the clouds

No, not here in real life (I wish!): only in my imagination at my desk, in one of the settings of the new novel. But I'm looking up to say hello with a little teaser...does anyone recognise where in the world this is?

For those of you who like to know how books progress, I'm now 36,000 words into the first draft, about which I am feeling quite proud, as it's currently school half-term - two whole weeks for us! - and it's been a busy time. We're mid-way through, and we've had friends to stay, an evening at the theatre in London, cinema and shopping trips and lunches with friends, as well as a few commitments for me with The Lantern.

I'm setting myself a very realistic target of 50,000 words by the start of the Christmas holidays, which will give me lots of wiggle room to re-write and improve as I go along. I'll let you know in a while if you're right about the location I'm revisiting and trying to bring alive on the page and screen...

Sunday 9 October 2011

Work in progress

Hello from the depths of my study, amid teetering piles of research material and pages of notes! Hope you’re all well and enjoying the start of autumn. I’ve been working hard as I intended: at 25,000 words into the first draft, it’s “so far, so good” with the new book, even if there’s a long way to go yet.

I always think of this stage as the word equivalent of painting a big colourful picture. You need to fill the canvas completely with broad brushstrokes to block in the main features. It’s an undercoat – little more than a guide for the more detailed work that will form the top layer that you’ll gradually build up. This really is one of the fun parts, because it’s all about experimenting and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

The allowing of it to be imperfect is key to the whole process, for me at least. It completely eliminates writer’s block, as putting words down fast kick starts the imagination. How many of the current 25,000 words make it into the finished book? I’ve no idea. They are the building blocks. The good parts will survive to the next stage, and the parts that make me cringe will be cut or rewritten.

It’s a good time to write key dialogue and conversation scenes, though, because they have to sound spontaneous and new all the way through to the finished book, and sometimes I’ll hardly change these from this first enthusiastic charge into the heart of the book.

It’s not a good time to read any reviews of previous books. I think I’m very open to criticism and have a strong sense of how I might take feedback and improve. With the new book, for example, I’m trying hard to inject some rocket fuel under the plot right from the start, and to rein back on superfluous description.

But there comes a point when writers have to be true to themselves and what they are trying to achieve – which is not necessarily what a proportion of Amazon reviewers were expecting, and failed to find. I don’t want to abandon characteristics of my writing that many other readers have written to me personally to say they’ve loved.

And whenever I feel daunted, I make myself smile and remind myself that this is fun. I never forget that I might otherwise be commuting to a job I hate, or be a square peg in a round hole of any number of work situations, and that I’m very lucky to have the chance to do this in the first place.    
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