Category Archives: Writing Thoughts

In the middle of the night….

You know I’m a chronic insomniac. I’ve blogged about this in various places over the years. You also know that I do get a lot of good ideas in the middle of the night… I’ve blogged about that too, over at Ian McGregger’s blog!

And yes, it’s happened again. So imagine the scene. It’s Saturday night. Well, actually, it’s Sunday morning, about 1:30 a.m. For some reason, I wake up with a jolt and I know that’s the end of that, as they say.

Nonetheless, and despite knowing better, I toss and turn restlessly in bed for an hour or two. I get hot and bored and more and more frustrated as a multitude of thoughts crash in on me, none of them writing-related. There are worries, and things to remember, and things to do, and upcoming birthdays, and things I forgot to do, all mingling in one bizarre and unproductive merry-go-round.

Insomnia

As you can see, at four a.m., I give up. I don my dressing gown and pad downstairs to seek solace from fellow insomniacs on Facebook and Twitter, as I have done many times before. However, there are only a few friends about and none of the usual insomniac clan! After a lovely but short half-hour of  chatting and catching up on blogs and social media, there’s nothing more to be done. Reluctantly, I switch the computer off again.

Alas. I am not ready for bed yet. I mean, it’s only 4:45 a.m.! Idly, I pick up a copy of the outline for my fourth book, which I have been playing with on and off for a few days. Another source of frustration, for while I know the story is there, I can’t quite get it to “zing.” I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m overambitious.

Anyway, I read through my note, circling things that I no longer like, highlighting things that inspire me. Then I go to bed.

KA-BOUM! Before I finally drop off, the story visits me in its entirety. It’s just suddenly there, the moment I have been waiting for, it zings, it sings, ooh and it’s totally rocking. It’s all I can do to scribble down my thoughts in my trusty notebook in the dark. Because, heck no, I ain’t getting up again, I just got warm and comfy, thank you very much, and I don’t want to wake OH. Plus I know I’m going to sleep, now!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

I had to wait until Monday to write down a first short outline of this new venture in its entirety, but I took notes all through the weekend. And when I finally had ‘author-time’, everything just flowed. Obviously I haven’t started writing yet, that’ll have to wait until Sophie’s Encore is safely off my desk and off to the publishers in May.

Book4_covered

But. I know I got it. It’s in the bag, it’s just a question of letting it out!

So once again… My best ideas haunt me in the middle of the night. Conceiving a book is a bit like having a baby; they come out good and ready when the time is right, no matter what time of day or night! Insomnia is my friend, really.

I know many of you are insomniacs too. Does this ring any bells?

PS ~ I am now going MIA for a couple of days as far as social media are concerned! Tonight is the night of the big FM gig (with VIP package!). The grandparents are babysitting and OH and I are taking a bit of time out. PLEASE feel free to comment, you know I’ll get back to you as soon as. XX Rock On!

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This novel stinks!

She was walking along quite happily when the acrid, tangy smell invaded her nostrils. Burning, hot, and somewhat sweet, the distinct odour of fresh tarmac being laid was unmistakable. Instantly and without warning, she was catapulted back into another summer, onto another road, and she saw herself strolling through carefully manicured front-gardens, their cherry trees in bloom but the sweet scent of spring flowers obliterated by the byproduct of road resurfacing. Images of friends and places left behind flooded her brain and she gave a deep sigh of longing.

“What’s the matter, mummy?” The cheerful voice of her son roused her from her nostalgia and she woke as though from a dream…

Instant olfactory transportation

Wouldn’t it be awesome if novels could smell? There’s nothing more powerful for stimulating both emotion and memory than the sense of smell, and the above vignette is taken from my own recent experience. Strange as it may seem, the strong smell of tarmac brought on the sweetest of memories from a different time in my life. I have other smells that transport me to different places, most of them good.

Tarmac dispenser - geograph.org.uk - 1182613

By Bill Nicholls [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For example, there’s a perfume that reminds me of a long-lost friend. Even today, if I get a whiff of this fragrance somewhere, I can hear my friend’s laughter and see his face in front of me. Likewise, my Mum’s perfume for special occasion takes me right back in time to being a little girl, when she and my father would go out at night and she would drop a little kiss on my head whilst I was (supposedly) fast asleep in bed.

Water-smoothed rocks and seaweed, Tintagel Haven - geograph.org.uk - 937220
By Jim Champion [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The sea has its own special smell that reminds me of childhood holidays. There’s nothing quite like that tang of algae and seaweed drying on the rocks when the tide is out… Hand in hand with that smell goes the memory of hot Frankfurter sausages in bread rolls served with chips and tomato ketchup. Oh, and sunscreen, always sunscreen.

Hot water smells. Have you noticed that? Turn on your shower on a nice hot setting on a really cold day, perhaps when the bathroom is still waiting to heat up in the morning, and you’ll notice that hot water has its own distinct signature smell. I kid you not.

And houses. Houses definitely smell, and the very act of opening the front door and inhaling that first whiff of home turns your house into your castle. I could go on and on an on…. See, smell is powerful stuff. It’s evocative. It puts you in touch with events and emotions that you’d long forgotten; and every day, it makes more memories for you to discover in the future. And yet… does it feature in books?

The forgotten sense?

Books are full of vivid descriptions, many of them of a sensual nature. As authors, we focus on what our characters feel (emotionally), see, hear, sometimes taste, and occasionally touch (feel). But what about smell?

I guess smell is a little harder to put on the page. As perception goes, it’s highly individual; what smells good to one person may not be so appealing to the next. (Although there are exceptions, of course. I say cake. And coffee!). Moreover, the memories bound with smell are highly individual. I mean, who would have thought that the smell of a new road surface would bring on such an avalanche of happy memories for me? This makes it hard for the writer to predict, harness and manage the effect of portrayed smell in the novel.

A great book in the making... but does it appeal to your sense of smell?

A great book in the making… but will it engage your sense of smell?

Last but not least, smell poses a bit of a technical problem. You can’t see it and you can’t touch it. It’s hard to describe in absolute terms other than in similes or analogies. It’s not exactly red, blue or green.  It’s not exactly tall, thin or round. Although I suppose it could be sweet, tangy, cloying, airy, sharp, acrid…. Yes, there are lots of adjectives, come to think about it.

Putting olfactory oomph into writing

Sophies_Turn.inddI went back through my own books and did a little search. Do I appeal to the olfactory sense in my work? Do my novels have some fragrant oomph? And to what purpose? Here are some of my favourite highlights:

Sophies_Run.inddCREATING MOOD

Describing an unpleasant reunion (from Sophie’s Turn)
“So anyway, he came back to bed, smelling of slug repellent and quite possibly dead slugs”—I gave an involuntary shudder—“and he tried to cuddle me.”

“Yeuch!” Rachel exclaimed.

Portraying attraction (from Sophie’s Turn)
But Dan laughed. “Easy now, there, tiger. You all right?” His arms were around me, and I could smell his aftershave.
Yum. His chest exuded warmth, and his breath smelt of sweet apple. I could have happily taken a bite.

Portraying attraction (from Sophie’s Run)
He put his arms around me and we held each other in a long embrace, breathing deeply. He smelled good, like that first time I had caught his scent in the hospital. I hoped I smelled nice, too, not of illness anymore, but of me.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Steve cut into my musings.

I giggled. “I was thinking that you smell nice, and that your chest is very toned,” I confessed.

DESCRIBING A PLACE

Evoking newness (from Sophie’s Run)
The smell of fresh paint and new carpets greeted me as I unlocked the front door. Oh, lovely. It reeked of newness and a fresh start, and I knew that everything was all right.

Experiencing a new environment (from Sophie’s Turn)
I had never been in a stretch limo before, and I breathed in the heady scent of polished leather and wooden interiors—the smell of the rich.

MOOD/PLACE CROSSOVER

Entering a coffee shop (from Sophie’s Run)
The door closed behind me, jauntily jingling the little bell attached to the top of the door jamb. I was instantly enveloped by the fragrant smell of strong, sweet tea and gulped greedily; I was gasping for a cuppa.

PROMOTING DRAMATIC TENSION

Signalling  change (from Sophie’s Run)
The house was quiet. It smelled of furniture polish,  fresh laundry, and Dan’s aftershave. Feeling like an unlawful intruder, I  ambled through the downstairs first but Dan was not there.

Signalling a discovery (from Sophie’s Run)
Immediately he noticed that something was wrong. The flat smelled wrong; it didn’t smell of Sophie, or her perfume, or her things.

MY NOVELS… DON’T STINK! BUT THEY CERTAINLY TRY TO CAPTURE YOU BY WAY OF OLFACTORY ASSOCIATION.

So… wow. Yes, I’m impressed. I tried. I knew I was working on incorporating my character’s responses to certain smells, for I remember writing these scenes and the emotions the described smell provoked in me. Some of these examples may be more powerful than others, but I had no idea I had put so much smell in my novels.  I like it. I hope my readers like it, too. And I think I might well explore this stylistic means a little further going forward.

Your turn to stick your nose in! What’s your favourite smell?

Readers ~ do you notice ‘smell’ in the books you read? Does it ‘do’ something for you?

Authors ~ What do you make of the smelly novel? Does your work smell? Have you any hot tips for creating the fragrant page?

The REAL highlights of my VIRTUAL book launch

OIt’s just over a week since the launch of Sophie’s Run and I’ve had a little time to catch my breath. It has occurred to me that I enjoyed this second book launch a lot more than my first. Don’t misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with the launch for Sophie’s Turn, a great time was had by all, the consensus was that it was a rocking party, but. There are a few things I did differently for Sophie’s Run, and they made a huge difference for me.

Making fireworks without seeing the sparkle?

Many authors these days celebrate their book launches online. We use Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads to host our parties, and we have a great time doing so. More importantly, this avenue has the potential to reach thousands of people all over the world.

However, for the author, the event can be a little surreal. There’s so much going on; the Tweets and Facebook comments come flying, you’re glued to the computer for the entire day, barely daring to leave your desk for a toilet break, let alone food. And that’s exhausting. It can feel like you’re creating massive fireworks that you can’t actually see yourself.

The very REAL highlights of my second book launch

So what did I do differently for Sophie’s Run?

I’ve been giving this some thought because the additional things I did weren’t the result of a deliberate strategy. Rather, they were the confluence of all the observation and learning and experience that came to me in the six months between the launches. And here are my three topline thoughts.

A Preview Party

Siren Launch PartySome time in October, I became involved with Siren FM, Lincoln’s first community radio station. Courtesy to the enthusiastic support of the host of the midweek drive show, Alex Lewczuk, I took part in several editions of the show as well as the ‘end of the world’ Mayathon in December. Somewhere along the way, the idea was born that we could celebrate the launch of Sophie’s Run live on air, on the eve of publication. We invited some special guests, we publicized the event ahead of time, and we had a go. It was a new format for the station as well as for me, and we had great fun. To me, that kick-started the launch day proceedings with real fireworks that I could see, feel and–thanks to the podcasts–can still hear today.

A Book Signing

Next, I had this idea of inviting readers to a very short ‘quick-fire’ book signing event at my local library on the actual morning of my launch day. I can tell you, when I had to leave my Facebook party, I frankly thought I was mad. I reassured myself that I would be back within the hour to resume my social media partying.

Launch Library SignIt turned out I was wrong on the timeframe and the madness factor. The event was a huge success, and here’s why. As I had set a half-hour time limit, most people turned up at 10 a.m. on the dot. We had coffee and tea and biscuits, and we chatted. Questions were being asked and before I knew it, there was an animated discussion about what it’s like to be a writer, how writing fits in with being a mum, and more. They asked for a reading; I hadn’t prepared one, but I gave one anyway. Most of my audience bought and walked away with a signed copy of Sophie’s Run. That felt really good. That was real. I had officially launched this book into the world. And ok, it took a little longer than half an hour, but it was worth it!

Chatting with readers all over the world

SWAGLast but not least, I took a slightly different approach to my Facebook party. I asked questions. I had some SWAG to give away, and I ran a few little spot-competitions. I got some fantastic discussion strings going, the most popular being my choice of Chinese takeaway for dinner. And when the fun was over, I got to sit down and write to the readers who won prizes. That, too, was real. In fact, that was absolutely amazingly fantastic.

Writing Readers

So ~ three real things, quick, short activities that made a tremendous difference to how real my virtual book launch felt. If I may be permitted a soppy moment, I’d like to say that I allowed myself to see my own fireworks, and I enjoyed them!

Was it the perfect book launch? Of course not. There are always things you can do different, things you learn, things you need to change.

How will I approach the book launch for Sophie’s Encore in September, you ask? Will I have another radio party? Frankly, I haven’t got a clue right now. I’m letting this come to me and I’ll see what feels right nearer the time. But I’ll be certain to include things that make the launch ‘real’ for me, and for my readers.

What do you think? Can you see this working for you? How do you make your fireworks sparkle for you?