Corporate Doublethink

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Since when did the definition of the word ‘unlimited’ change?

Endless roadUnlimited = limitless, infinite, boundless, indefinite, unrestricted…. so says just about any dictionary you care to reference.

Why then, do the Validation Certificates for my latest shiny new Ford Fiesta say “Unlimited mileage is to a maximum of 100,000 miles”?

Of course the missing word in this grammatically dubious sentence is… you guessed it, ‘limited’:  Unlimited mileage is… ahem… limited to a maximum of 100,000 miles.

I’m all for language evolving – new words being brought to life, outmoded grammar being laid to rest, but why the doublethink?  Either it’s unlimited, or it’s limited – n’est-ce pas?

In the bowels of corporate headquarters everywhere, there are people working on this repurposing of perfectly adequate language. Data contracts have adopted the same flexible interpretation of the word unlimited, coupling it with what they charmingly call a fair usage policy. That’s to say, ‘We’ll all pretend we’ve given you a totally unlimited download capacity, but you have to go careful now, don’t get too greedy, because you’ll try our patience and then we’ll cut you down just when you need us most’.

Another favourite of mine is that deceptive pairing of the words ‘up to’… as in, “Up to 80% off” (any and every high street furniture sale the length and breadth of the country), or “Up to 80Mbps” (my Broadband contract, which actually delivers about half this speed).  Cleverly deploying a size zero font, the corporate boffs imagine their customers are so stupid they won’t notice those microscopic letters.

When I’m not trying to be a novelist, I work freelance in marketing and copywriting.  So you might  imagine I’d be sympathetic to these attempts linguistic ambiguity.  But I’m not and that’s because I’m a consumer first and a Grumpy Old Woman second – and only then am I a marketer. And I don’t like the idea that the corporate world is out there reinventing language in an attempt to confuse and deceive.

If you have a favourite snippet of corporate doublethink, share it with us.

‘My Writing Process’ Blog Hop

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Creative processThe blogosphere is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? My blogging buddy Dylan Hearn, of Suffolk Scribblings fame (and author of the inspired and intriguing dystopian thriller, Second Chance) has nominated me to take part in My Writing Process Blog Hop. I decided having done two blogging awards, that I wouldn’t do any more. But since three*, not two is the magic number – and since it’s Dylan who nominated me – how could I refuse?

So here we are:

1. What am I currently working on?

Until recently, I would have described myself as ‘between jobs’ (resting?) in writerly terms. I thought I’d finished My First Novel, which I’ve titled SINGLED OUT. I’ve been submitting to agents (17 so far), with a flicker of interest here and there, but no tangible progress. I’ve been trying to work out my next idea, but I’m beginning to think my mind won’t allow me to let go of SINGLED OUT. Now I come to glance through it again after a few months’ absence from its pages, I realise why. I can see things that need work. So I’ve decided to have another pass-through, a few days over the summer teasing out a few improvements, deleting a few more adjectives, tightening a few more sentences. The one agent who has thus far offered a line or two of specific feedback said my minor characters weren’t engaging enough, so I shall look at these characters more critically and see if (a) I agree and (b) I can do anything about it.

As it happens, I’m in the mood for a few days with Singled Out, as it’s set in the heat of summer. My characters are on a singles holiday in Turkey. It’s a psychological story, a kind of fox in the henhouse piece – where henhouse is a deceptively sublime setting. Whilst several characters are not quite who they seem to be (believe me, it’s easy to hide your true self for a week with a bunch of strangers), one character in particular is playing a very nasty game. It’s not a mystery or traditional crime story as the reader realises early on the identity of the fox. But the other holidaymakers don’t and the reader watches them putting themselves in harm’s way. I like the idea that the reader is outside a window, seeing something bad play out, unable to intervene.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There’s a dark psychological conflict running through the story, but SINGLED OUT is not a thriller, more psychological suspense; a slow-burn with a clash of wits, a mental contest, at its heart. It’s not a whodunit but a whydunit.  SINGLED OUT is emotional but although it’s set on a holiday for single travellers, there’s very little romance – actually none.  It’s commercial, but because of the setting, it’s also more sensory than is typical for a commercial novel.

I’ve been told often that the context of a singles holiday is a unique and great idea. I’m writing from experience as I’ve been on several of them in my time, although none had quite the colour of the entirely fictional one in my story.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I realised early on that I like writing stories about dark, psychologically damaged or maladjusted people. Weirdly, I relish imagining myself into their personalities, their motivations and their views of the world. I’m exorcising a ghost or two here, I’ll confess, but that’s a topic for another day. I’m not sure if this will be the only type of story that I write, but that’s where I am for the moment.

4. How does my writing process work?

All I can say is how it worked this time – my first time. I began with a chapter-by-chapter outline, so I knew how the story would progress and, more importantly, I knew I had sufficient material and ideas to fill the pages of a novel. Each chapter outline was just 5 or 6 lines long, an account of what should take place and from whose point of view. A final single line indicated probably the most important thing – how this episode takes the story forward, or what the reader learns.

One example: X is sleazy, understands his place in the pecking order, acts inappropriately towards women

My outline changed, probably about 40% over the course of writing – I dumped a character, I added a backstory, I changed the ending – but it remained a reliable roadmap and it helped me appreciate my progress.

I wrote for as much time as I could find. I work freelance and my workload varies from week to week. For almost two years whilst writing SINGLED OUT I was outrageously busy with a big contract. During that time I shared a commitment with a writing buddy to produce at least 500 words a week. That’s a staggeringly small amount, but some weeks that was all I managed. On other occasions, 500 words was all I thought I could manage, but once I sat down on a Sunday to push that out in the hours before our agreed deadline, I kept going and eventually produced 2,000 or 3,000 words. That 500-word commitment – so small that I could never say I couldn’t manage it – kept the process going.

Each day before I began writing, I would re-read what I’d written the day before, but do no more with it than tweak the odd word. It was a bit like applying a jump-start to the day’s writing, or doing a run-up.

I had the support of a mentor for several months, which was a great learning experience, but also challenging, as it meant I was reviewing/editing in one section whilst writing another. Like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

Eventually I had a first draft, and a year after that I felt I had a draft (6th) in good enough shape to begin the submissions process. Now I’m not so sure…

5. Nominate three other writers

Okay here’s where it gets tough, because I know how most people don’t like the commitment that awards, blog hops and the like demand. So I would say to all three, do it, or don’t do it – it’s up to you. I’m nominating these writers because I think they write a great blogs that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink – MG Mason is a fellow freelancer with a writing habit in the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres. He writes about writing, words and the origin of language too, and has a great Highlights page on his blog (including a personal perspective on writing sex scenes, something which challenges many writers).

Sarah J Carlson, Author – Sarah is an American living in Singapore. As well as her writing, she shares her experiences of living and exploring in South East Asia, and some fabulous photos too.

Blondes Write More – Describing herself as a novice writer starting her journey, this blogger has also just won the Very Inspiring Blogger Award so I’ve learned more about her from her fascinating facts. I hope she won’t mind getting some publicity for her sparky and very engaging blog.

So Dylan, thanks again for your nomination and for continuing to be a brilliant blogging buddy and a generous supporter of budding writers everywhere.

* The Rule of Three dictates that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in threes are more appealing, funny or memorable than even-numbered pairings. In papercrafting (when she’s not up to her neck in edits or traumatised by synopses, this writer diddles with papers, inks and sticky stuff for fun) this means three (flowers, gems, butterflies) not two, and not four (although five is ok on a larger surface). You see the Rule of Three all the time in photography and in display of objects and ornaments; the Japanese do it in some style with Ikebana flower arranging… and so on. Blah.

Can you tell what it is yet?

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Do you like this picture? It’s not an original, only a limited edition print, but I think it’s stunning. At least, I did.

Darwin Dawn by Rolf HarrisI loved it the moment I saw it, four years ago. At a few hundred pounds it cost more than I’d ever spent on a picture before – it was a real treat to self. I was thrilled when it was delivered, beautifully mounted and framed and complete with authentication. Since then it has hung on my landing, half way up the stairs and away from natural light which might damage it. And I have enjoyed and treasured it every day.

Every day, that is, until last week.

Look closely at the signature on the mount to the bottom right of the picture and you’ll realise why my feelings for this slice of creative endeavour have tarnished.

Yes, this is a print of a painting by Rolf Harris.

UK and Australian readers of this blog will be more than familiar with Rolf Harris, one-time television presenter, children’s entertainer, singer-songwriter, master of curious musical instruments (wobble board, didgeridoo and stylophone), artist of some note and – of course – gold-plated national treasure. He was a regular on television throughout my childhood at a time when the whole family watched together at Saturday teatime. His impish humour made us laugh; he would paint inexplicable splashes and splats with decorating brushes and black emulsion, which morphed mysteriously into magnificent panoramas. He carved a niche for himself as a popular artist (even though the snootier art critics would always rubbish him) and migrated to presenting programmes about sick animals and grandiose public art projects. He even painted the Queen.

That was then.

And this is now. As of last week, in a spectacular fall from grace, 84-year-old Rolf Harris is now serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, having been convicted of multiple indecent assaults on young and teenage girls.

My picture – it’s called Darwin Dawn, by the way (although apparently it shows not dawn breaking, but a sunset) – remained resolutely on display as the trial ploughed on towards its almost inevitable conclusion; innocent until proven guilty and all that. But the conviction changed things.

Since the trial much has been written about the fire-sale of Rolf Harris artwork – you won’t be surprised that I was looking out for opinion pieces on this topic. The internet is now awash with listings of his pictures at a fraction of original value. I understand completely the desire of many owners to divest themselves of these tainted artworks, even though they’ll take a hit, financially speaking. I considered it myself.  I thought long and hard about it but I’ve decided I don’t want to sell.

But  before you rush to judge I’ll tell you, it doesn’t feel good or right or proper to have this picture hanging on my wall. I’m not comfortable being that intimate with it anymore; I don’t want to walk past the signature every day; I no longer feel the glow of joy at owning this picture; and I don’t want friends and other visitors to wonder why I’m displaying the art of a child molester. This beautiful piece of art taints my home.

Many creative types – writers, artists, actors, musicians – have earned society’s disapprobation for crimes, moral weaknesses and addictions. In time we forgive most of them. But sexual assault on children is a step so much further, a line crossed. It’s a place from which there is no return, no rehabilitation, socially or artistically.  Rolf Harris, national treasure, is tainted now and so too is my love of that picture. It’s hardly a crime when compared to what his victims endured, but he’s robbed me and many others – of the pleasure of enjoying his art.

So the sun has well and truly set on Darwin Dawn.  It’ll be taken down and tucked away, safely stored. No danger of it suffering sunlight damage any more, that’s for sure.

Off-message – but on top of the world

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On a trip into London and an unexpected high.

River Thames from Millbank TowerOkay, so this is off-message, I know – but WordPress tells me it’s my 100th post, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

I live to the west of London. If anyone except another Londoner asks, I say I live in London because that’s specific enough. But there’s Central London and then there’s the wide band of suburb stretching out in a radius of perhaps 10-12 miles from the centre before you get to the M25, the motorway that encircles the city. And I’m at the far edge.

Mostly I stay away from the centre of the city. It’s crowded, noisy, stinky and dirty like any large city, and in the summer it’s overrun with tourists shouldering hazardous backpacks and stopping without warning every few feet to take pictures of each other. For years I commuted daily to areas in the West End (shopping district), City of London (old financial district before Canary Wharf came along) and Westminster (the seat of power). But as a home-based worker now, my trips into London are rare, perhaps five or six times a year, no more.

Yesterday I was to be in London on behalf of a client, attending and doing the write-up on a seminar at Millbank Tower by the River Thames. As usual I grizzled to myself about the journey; whichever way I try, it never has less than three legs and never takes less than 90 minutes. Choking on the fumes I abandoned a walk from Victoria and took a taxi – the lazy approach, but I didn’t want to arrive unable to breathe. I knew Millbank Tower was tall – the clue is in the name – but I hadn’t realised I was headed up on one of those lifts that zips past the first 15 floors, ultimately to the 29th floor. The venue was called Altitude – I should have realised.

The view that greets you from the 29th floor of Millbank Tower all but takes your breath away. My last trip ‘up’ in London was to escort a friend from the USA on The London Eye (see it in the photos), but on the day in question it had drizzled solidly and the clouds tickled the capsules as they rounded the top of the wheel, smothering the view.

London from Millbank TowerYesterday was different, so I took some photos – of the city I simultaneously hate and love. Down on the ground, it’s an assault on the senses – and not in a nice way. Up there it was magic, insulated from the noise and dirt; an urban panorama harking back centuries and stretching forward – and upward – into the future. The skyline changes year by year as old buildings are dwarfed by structures reaching ever higher. (Can you spot St Paul’s Cathedral? It’s just to the right of the tallest crane.) Individual towers, striking when they were built, become swamped by their neighbours within a year or two. Look closely and you’ll see the scene is cluttered with cranes, as old real estate is levelled and spires of steel and glass take root. It’s a constantly changing skyline. In a weird way it’s not unlike a forest, with its natural balance of decay and renewal.

Anyhow, it fair took my breath away, so I thought I’d share one or two photos I managed to snap before the business of the day got underway. Enjoy.

When is a debut novel not a debut novel?

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The learning experience continues…

Bottom Drawer FilingI read an article recently on beginning a fiction writing career late in life – you can find it here on the Writer’s & Artist’s website if you’re interested. The author, Dinah Jeffries, has some telling observations about the challenges of getting published. I noted she regards her first attempt at a novel as a learning experience. She doesn’t name this novel in her article and only cites the succession of rejections she received. With her official debut novel, The Separation, just published by Penguin, her actual debut novel remains, I presume, tucked away in a bottom drawer somewhere.

For obvious reasons I keep an eye out for debut novels regarded as stunning, astounding or wildly successful. I’ve enjoyed many of them in recent years. Just a few examples: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Monster Love by Carol Topolski and more recently The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. These are all extraordinary books with unique and distinctive voices.

What’s interesting to this would-be debut novelist is the number of debut novelists whose debut novel, as it were, isn’t their first novel. I can’t speak for all the authors above but in addition to Dinah Jeffries, Nathan Filer for one admits to having an earlier work tucked away in a bottom drawer somewhere. I’m pretty sure he isn’t alone in this.

So I’ve been wondering, is Singled Out my bottom-drawer novel? I’ve certainly learned a huge amount in the course of writing it. I’m still learning too, as I’ve realised I need to work through every page again in another dispassionate, murder-your-darlings line edit. This I will tackle over the summer (which means for now, no more agents will be burdened with the task of reviewing my submission).

When I’ve dragged Singed Out through yet another edit, will it be extraordinary enough? Will its voices be unique and distinctive enough? I don’t know. But I am beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just accept the inevitable, finish the edit I know it needs, then set it aside and begin my second novel, armed with the mass of learning that the last four years, three writing courses, two retreats and one mentor – oh, and 330+ pages – has delivered.

There’s always the self-publish option, I know, and that remains in my mind. But if I believe my second novel could be excellent and distinctive enough to be my debut novel, should I debut, as it were, in a self-published way, with my learning experience? Or should I instead swallow my disappointment, finish that one last edit, then parcel it up and tuck it away in a bottom drawer?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this, but I’m not looking for easy answers. I’m just sharing the thought process that accompanies the experience of rejection and the almost certain knowledge that I haven’t quite got it nailed – yet. I know not to take it too hard, as rejection is a much, much more common experience than acceptance, contracts and publication. But if I’m sincere about learning to become a good – and publishable – novelist, is it not pragmatic to bottom-drawer that first attempt – filed not under failure but under learning experience?

What will they think of me?

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Do you ever worry what people close to you might think of you if you write certain things into your novel? I do.

eye-catcher-74182-pixabayA few months ago I circulated Singled Out to a small group of Beta Readers. On returning with his feedback, one reader said, with a wry smile, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at you the same way again, Julie.’

I don’t think he meant anything by it – in his case it was more tongue-in-cheek. It’s just that Singled Out does contain a few shall we say, edgy moments and a bit of shall we say, earthy language, and I think they took him by… surprise. But that’s because I’ve chosen to write psychological rather than chick lit or aga saga; deadly nightshade, not sunbeams and butterflies.

His reaction though begged the question, will others who read this feel the same way and if they do, how do I feel about that? Readers who don’t know me will take it all at face value, since writers write about all sorts of things and readers buy what they enjoy. But what about friends and family? And for me, wearing a businesswoman’s hat as well as a writer’s hat, what about my professional marketing clients? Should I be concerned what they will make of it?

So yes, if not a worry, it is certainly a concern.

Pale faced, my Beta Reader went on to ask, in a way which suggested he might not actually want to know the answer, if I was writing from experience. I told him, I’d been on one or two singles holidays so, yes, I was writing from experience. ‘Not that’, he said. ‘The— oh, you know what I mean’.

Ah. Yes. But no. What he’s talking about, those edgier plot moments, it’s a No. I wasn’t writing from experience. It was all from imagination – well, almost all. Mostly. Anyway, I thanked him for his concern and told him he could stop worrying.

Of course one doesn’t have to experience things in order to write them into a story. I can describe a dead body without ever having seen one; a cocaine hit without ever having been near a gram of the stuff; a deviant sexual activity without ever having so deviated; or a grizzly crime without ever having been a victim of it – or a perpetrator for that matter. There are always people who know people who can help with credible detail and failing that, there’s a world of Googleknowledge to draw on. If writers couldn’t do this, there’d be far more dull and insipid novels around and far fewer murder mysteries, heart-stopping thrillers and psycho-dramas.

But whether I’m writing wholly or partially or not at all from experience, I chose to write a gritty psychological story where bad stuff happens and the mood is at times raw and unsettling. Apart from anything else, I confess it’s weirdly fun to get out of my workaday existence and alter-ego this kind of material.

So if any clients, close friends or family are reading this – or in future if any clients, close friends or family read this novice writer’s first attempt at an unsettling psychological story – I hope you will all forgive the fact that I’ve taken a big step away from my comfortably suburban private life and my conscientiously professional business life and gone somewhere very different for my new writing life…

I just hope it doesn’t offend you, or disturb you, or make you look askance at me.

So you have finished your first draft…

Jools:

Pending my forthcoming gratuitious post in the next few days (see last post for details), this from Dylan at Suffolk Scribblings is excellent advice for all writers.

Originally posted on Suffolk Scribblings:

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As with writing a novel, there is no single correct way to edit your book. If you are working with an agent or publisher, they will help you through the process and give you access to invaluable support from creative editors, copy editors, line editors and the like. Life is not so simple for us self-publishing authors. So, having gone through this process once, I thought I’d share my learnings by explaining the process I will use for the sequel to Second Chance. This doesn’t mean it will be the right process for everybody, but hopefully all of you will see at least one or two things that will be of help.

1 First read through

So you’ve left your manuscript to lie for a few weeks, haven’t you? You haven’t? Then go away and come back in a few weeks.

Stephen King in his book, On Writing, suggests your first act should…

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We need to talk about… Sex

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Note on a tree in a forestBlogging is generally good fun, but with so many blogs seeking an audience it can, even on a good day, be likened to pinning a note to a tree in a forest.  And if that’s the case, then posting on a Friday afternoon is like writing that note in invisible ink. Whatever the world at large was getting up to on Friday afternoon (and the sunny Saturday and Sunday that followed for that matter), you weren’t reading blog posts, were you?

Yes, I committed a social media faux pas when I posted my latest blog last Friday afternoon.  It was the one headed Precision detail in a novel – not just any place but this place about how I used notes and photographs to help me recall places and senses and inject precision detail into my writing.  I’ve been trying different days and times for posting and last week I plumbed the depths – a Friday afternoon ahead of a weekend that teased (the UK at least) with the promise of a little sunshine. Not only that, but I might allow that it wasn’t the most compelling of posts – interesting for some, but hardly challenging, contentious or amusing in the way a properly engaging blog post needs to be.   A double-whammy, for sure. I’m sorry, ok. Mea culpa and all that.

So last Friday afternoon it hit the water with a barely perceptible splash, before sinking without trace over the weekend, with hits in numbingly modest numbers and just one kind soul commenting; a dead body of a post, leaden and dull. Yesterday’s thoughts already half a mile down your blog reader, never to surface.

A few weeks ago, I penned a post on the challenges of writing sex into stories (Marmite Moments: Writing good sex). Strangely (who knew?), it was my most read and commented post of the last year. To be fair, a substantial dose of the credit for that is due to WordPress for offering me a second slot on Freshly Pressed – thanks, Ben! But it did get a few people going and it garnered some great comments and a whole host of new bloggers to connect with – and after all, that’s what makes blogging fun, isn’t it?

So clearly, I need to go back to writing about Marmite.

Or maybe… Sex.

That’s it. Not Marmite. Sex.

So I’ll see what I can do over the next few days, and I’ll be back soon with something to get properly hot around the collar, as it were, about.  Don’t get too excited though – this is still a blog about writing, not a blog about sex. But with the creative juices flowing, I imagine I can find a way to slip in a few sneakily salacious musings.

All in the best possible taste, of course.

Precision detail in a novel – not just any place, but this place

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I’ve been asked to share how I capture a sense of place in my novel. For example, what research do I do, how do I take notes, are photographs involved, and so on. So here goes…

SINGLED OUT is set on a singles holiday on Turkey’s beautiful Lycian Coast. I’ve visited this area many times over the last 20 years and I love its striking landscape and laid-back, exotic atmosphere. Whilst my story is essentially a dark psychological one, I wanted the sense of place to be very strong; my intention is for the reader to feel as if they’re on the holiday with my characters.

This writer's notepad - illegible scrawl from Turkey, May 2013

This writer’s notepad: illegible scrawl, Turkey, May 2013

Last year after a gap of 6 years I returned to Turkey specifically to gather that sensory detail for my novel. Memories fade over the years, especially the minuscule details of sight, sound and smell which are essential to anchoring the setting or a scene in a novel precisely and bringing it to life for readers. I wanted to fill a notepad with images and sensory detail to inject into my story. I got more than I could possibly have expected from the experience, as I first wrote about in my post It Makes Sense:

I realised as I filled its pages, how inert ones memories of a place can become. It’s easy enough to pick up an old photograph and see what a raggedy coastline looks like, or a market, or an ancient ruin. But when you’re there, you smell the pine and the citrus, the sweat and cigarettes; you see the gnarly knuckles and the stained aprons; you hear the wail of the muezzin’s prayer and watch the sun radiate from the golden dome of a mosque; you feel the sting of perspiration as it trickles into your eye and savour sweet green peppers and succulent tomatoes under a canopy of twisted vines. Oh, I could go on… and on…

I don’t want you imagining my story is awash with descriptive detail at the expense of plot and character. But there are one or two places where I’ve gone to town a bit on the setting, using my photographs and notes to develop a strong sense of place. Of course these may all go, if and when a real editor gets to work on the draft. But for the time being, I’m getting away with it.

Ephesus

My characters take a trip to Ephesus, so I did too. I’d last been there 20 years ago and I imagined that whilst two thousand year old ruins are two thousand year old ruins, the tourist business of Ephesus and its surroundings must have changed over the years – and I was right.

I was fortunate to have a guide all to myself for the day and I explained to her the main purpose of my visit. I was able to wander at will, ask endless questions and take dozens of photographs. Knowing why I was there, she didn’t question that I photographed odd things; the stalls outside the entrance, the entrance barriers, other groups of tourists, odd rocks and stones, cats and trees, pavements and signposts, as well as those breathtaking ancient ruins.

Stalls at the entrance to Ephesus

Stalls at the entrance to Ephesus

The only shade there is at Ephesus

The only shade at Ephesus

Warm bodies and a cloudless sky at Ephesus

Warm bodies and a cloudless sky at Ephesus

I couldn’t easily take notes as we walked around the site, but I caught up as soon as we stopped for lunch; a combination of my guide’s historical knowledge, my sense of the place and how I’d felt as I walked its streets.  You think you’ll remember these things, but let me tell you, you won’t.  Notepads are a vital tool – however illegible (as mine often are), their pages will take you right back to a precise place or moment, months or even years later.

But I had to keep reminding myself, SINGLED OUT is a novel not a travel book. An earlier draft contained far too much historical detail from that Ephesus trip and much of it has since come out. It’s enough to have done the research and deployed elements of detail where they’re needed to enrich; but there’s no need to show off how much you know.

So you can see how it worked for me, here’s a paragraph from that fictional trip to Ephesus:

Around them tour guides spoke in English, French, German, Swedish and Japanese to visitors unbalanced by loaded backpacks, while others brandished sticks to aid their movement or umbrellas to shield them from the sun. They stopped randomly and without warning for photographs. At every point where Fatima drew the group close, James and Veronica listened with rapt attention – and Brenda rummaged in her bag for water, a fan, a facial spritz or a wad of tissues. All the while, the heat came at them not only from above, but from beneath their feet and all around. It rose in waves from the flagstone avenues and radiated off the columns and walls. Brenda was slow-roasting in the Ephesus noonday oven.

Market Day

Two of my characters browse a local market together one day. I’d gone to markets in Turkey before and had some lovely old photographs (from the days before digital). Then I went to the market in Fethiye on my trip last year, armed with my trusty notepad – and my eyes and nose. Here’s an excerpt which uses my recollections and notes from all those Turkish markets combined.

The area where the weekly market took place lay behind the shopping street and away from the beach. It would be generous to call it a marketplace, since for six days a week this area of gravel and clay lay fallow; carved here and there by tyre tracks from the few trucks that needed somewhere to turn around before speeding away.

On the seventh day, it teemed with life from before dawn until late afternoon. Farmers came from the villages and hamlets in the hills, their pick-ups laden with fresh produce of all shapes and mis-shapes, a riot of colour and a testament to the industry and enterprise out of sight of the tourist coastline. Traders moved from town to town, market day to market day, bringing truckloads of goods to sell; t-shirts and trousers, bags and belts, pashminas and pendants, sandals and sunhats all manufactured in anonymous factories far away from the coast or most likely in China. Packets of candy, nuts and aromatic spices sat alongside jars of glistening local honey and blocks of cheese; everything was available to buy from dusty trestle tables and rails, all under cover of flapping white awnings – giving the impression the whole market was a trading ship about to set sail.

The two women passed an enjoyable couple of hours wandering the length and breadth of the market. They flirted with the crusty, moustachioed farmers behind their piles of wooden boxes laden with curly runner beans, torpedo aubergines, red and white onions, peppers and courgettes, oranges, lemons, strawberries and giant watermelons; they breathed in the aromas of citronella and cinnamon, fruit teas and fresh herbs, beaten leather, crushed straw, workaday sweat and cigarettes; they bartered with stall-holders over beaded necklaces, embroidered purses and gaudily embellished flip-flops; they cooed over a pile of crates crammed with baby chicks, their fluffy down every shade from creamy gold-top through honey roast to dark chocolate brown, and they sympathised with a brace of rabbits whose fate was obvious and more immediate. Brenda stocked up on candied fruits and sugared almonds and Siobhan found a fake henna kit she couldn’t live without. Then, with carrier bags brimming with tourist trinkets, they made for the line of beachfront bars and the yellow awning, for lunch.

The Gulet Trip

Turkish Gulet - a fine sight, even without its sails

Turkish Gulet

My characters take an overnight trip on one of Turkey’s ubiquitous gulets. I’ve spent weeks at a time on gulets before – it’s a blissful experience, to bob about on the ocean for a few days with no shoes on and nothing to do but sunbathe and read books. This time I took a day trip to refresh my memories of the sights, sounds and odours. I took photographs of the coastline and odd corners of the boat. I noted the way the motion affected my balance, the sounds of the boat and the water, the smells coming up from the sea – and the kitchen; I registered what the sunlight did to the chrome, the woodwork and the sails. Here’s a snapshot of my impressions which made it into the story:

The deck-hands unrolled the jib over the bow and the sail on the second mast and high above them squally gusts took hold. The trio of sails ballooned with the strengthening wind of open water; they fought and whipped about, tugging at their fastenings, lifting and plunging the boat forward, cutting into the water and venting fine salty spray into the air and across the deck. The restaurant on the beach became a speck against a panorama of grey-green scrub and rocky slopes, the bay zoomed away into the distance. The industrial grinding of the diesel engine was replaced by a sublime, organic symphony; a blustery flapping of sails, the steady swish-swash of waves, the metallic pounding of the rigging and the cawing of a seabird. Breathless and eyes wide, Henry lay on his back staring up towards the tip of the mast and beyond into the cloudless sky. Surely life couldn’t get better than this.

Most of the detail from my scruffy notepads made it into the story one way or another – a few words here, a sentence there – which is mostly all you need. It’s only when you want to anchor the reader more specifically in a given place or moment, that it’s perhaps permissible to layer the detail a little more. But that’s just my feeling, and, as a novice and yet-to-be-published writer, I may find my layers of sights, sounds and smells are pared down in the final edit. So please don’t take my word for it that this is the right approach. It’s just the thing I did – whether it adds substance to my story, or gets in the way of the plot, someone with more experience than I may yet be the judge of this.

Weekend Homework – Update and Thank You!

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sunshine rosesWhen I posted last week, inviting readers of my blog to submit a small excerpt of their writing to share with other readers, I wasn’t at all sure what might happen. Would there be a trickle or a tidal wave? What would people submit? Would I have to cull anything?

I’m not sure if you’d describe 12 contributions as a trickle. It isn’t a tidal wave, that’s for sure, but I prefer to see it as a fascinating meandering stream. And the first thing I want to say is THANK YOU to all those who took up the opportunity to share their work.

If you haven’t popped across to the comments on Weekend Homework – Pay it Forward I urge you to take a look. You’ll find science fiction and fantasy, dystopia, dreams and memoir. There are a couple of teasers and even a poem. There’s travel writing, some fearsome fast food, a fight and an extraordinary birth. It’s all very interesting and very diverse. Several contributors have also left links to their own blogs or websites where you’ll find more of their writing.

I loved that you were prepared to share your hard-won words with me and others; and in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t cull anything. Everyone took care to follow the guidelines and that too was a delight. It gave me proper warm-and-fuzzy feelings, to welcome a few guests to my little corner of the blogosphere and have you all wipe your feet before you came in.

So I’m wondering, maybe I’ll do this again when my readership hits oh, shall we say 5,000? What do you think?

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