February Update

A belated Happy New Year!

2014 kicked off with a large portion of southern England underwater. While South Yorkshire has been battered intermittently by gale force winds, I’ve been beavering away in my office, and left wondering what happened to January.

My writing time has been divided between working on my current manuscript, speaking engagements, and dipping my toes into the mysterious world of forensic science.

I’ve long harboured the desire to write a crime novel, and when the opportunity to learn something about forensic science with FutureLearn arose, I grabbed it with both hands. FutureLearn is an online study program set up with the cooperation of educators from top UK and international universities.  The courses it offers are free and cover a wide range of topics, and are designed to appeal to a broad range of learners.  There’s even one on writing fiction. (Advertisement over!)

While I have a good grasp of human biology, its diseases and their aetiology, (I was a business coordinator in the NHS, after all), chemistry and physics leave me cold. That said I am fascinated by the world of forensic science and insist on watching every factual TV programme on the subject.

Over the past five weeks, I have learned about fingermarks, footmarks, (and just so there is no confusion, fingerprints and footprints are what we possess and ‘marks’ are what we leave behind on a surface). The course has also covered DNA, blood spatter patterns, toolmarks, and drugs.

As Edmund Locard, who not only formulated the basic principle of forensic science, and was known as the ‘Sherlock Holmes of France’ once said:

‘Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him.’

 Very useful for reminding the family that you will find out who removed the last slice of bread from the breadbin and who failed to place the butter back on the shelf in the fridge!

My other half, Stephen, bless him, is looking more and more worried by the day, by my choice of bedtime reading – The Crime Writer’s handbook, 65 Ways to kill your victim…in print, and with the subject matter of my next course – Forensic Science and Crime!

So while Stephen is asking about that mysterious substance I added to the casserole (it was pepper, honestly!) the time has come for me to get my head down and do more writing.

Until next time…

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Milly Johnson and I are running an afternoon

‘crash course’ in writing a book in Barnsley on Sunday 17th June, 2pm-5pm

Both of us will be giving a presentation, there will be afternoon tea,
plenty of time for questions and our latest books will be available to purchase.

We’ve both given our course before and they’ve gone down very well, so
this time we’ve decided to join forces.
We’ll tell you how to take your idea from concept
to finished manuscript.
We’ll also tell you:

How to make your novel flow
How to plot
The importance of dialogue
The importance of male protagonists in Romantic Suspense Novels.
How to approach an agent
What NOT to do

…plus lots more.

We intend you home with some supporting literature and full of enthusiasm
to get started.

The afternoon will run – approximately – like this

1.30pm – arrive early if you want to catch us for an early book sale

2pm – Milly will be talking with a Powerpoint Presentation

3.15pm – break for afternoon tea, cakes and a mingle

3.45pm – I will present my Power Point Presentation

4.45pm – A Q & A session with both of us

5.00pm – book signings.

We do so hope you can join us. Places are limited so please book early
to avoid disappointment. We won’t be issuing tickets but you will be
give a booking reference number.

Kindest

Victoria and Milly

Novel Writing Crash Course

My novelist friend Milly Johnson and myself have pleasure in announcing that on Sunday 17th June at Brooklands, Barnsley – we will be holding a crash course in book-writing. Tickets will be on a first come first served basis, but will include refreshments and course literature. We hope to send you away raring to go and write your own book AND know exactly what a writer’s life is really like. See my events page for more details.

Writer’s Block – Fact or Fiction?

You’re halfway through writing your novel and–bang! You’re stuck. Your inspiration has deserted you. You find yourself staring at a blank page for minutes, hours, days, possibly even weeks and months.

So what causes it?

Many different theories have been put forward, everything from lack of focus, fear of failure, poor plotting technique, stress—and if the scientific community are to be believed, Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

That’s all very well, but you need to get back on track and finish that novel. So how do you do just that?

Ask a group of novelists that question and you will receive a myriad of different answers.

Take me, for example. I’ve been struggling with one scene for weeks. I’d done all the research and had all my notes, but for some reason, the words would just not come. I went on holiday to Florida, the place where my novel is set (purely coincidental, I assure you). I made more notes and came home refreshed and eager to write. After a hesitant start, I finally got the words down on paper.

Now I’m not suggesting that you all rush out and book yourself a holiday. There are other tricks you can try. For example, step away from the keyboard and simply relax with a cup of tea (or coffee). If that doesn’t work, play solitaire (although be warned, that can be addictive), bake a cake, play with the children, doodle, play word association games, mow the lawn or write an article for your blog. You’d be surprised how many times that last trick has got me over a case of writer’s block. Then there’s my all time favourite of going for a walk in the local park or countryside. There’s something about the fresh air and listening to birds’ sing that clears my mind and fires my imagination.

The simple answer is do anything—anything that takes your mind off your project for fifteen to twenty minutes before you sit back down and attempt to write.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I got back to work!

Backstory

On my recent appearance on the Rony Robinson Show on BBC Radio Sheffield, we talked about backstory or the infodump, and why telling the reader too much, too soon, should be avoided.

What exactly do writers mean when they talk about backstory? Basically, it is filling the reader in on the background of your story, why the action takes place where it does, the subtext of your character’s lives, and the reasons for the big question or problem they have to solve.

Backstory is essential to novels, but the opening pages aren’t the place to go into depth about your character’s past or the places they inhabit. The trick is to give the reader just enough information to make them care, and want to find out what happens next.

You need to think carefully about the opening chapter. Readers don’t necessarily have to know that your heroine has blue eyes, blonde hair, and lives with her aged mother in a tumbledown cottage, or that the hero has two siblings who have green eyes and regularly tap him for a loan.

Think of the opening of your novel as the equivalent of an appetiser—a bit of teasing in order to keep the reader hooked. A couple of sentences here and there, no long blocks. Backstory is showing not telling. Your readers want to launch into the action. They want to see what’s happening. They don’t want to be told.

What about flashbacks – those little scenes where your character starts to think about something that took place weeks/months/years ago? Flashbacks can slow the pace of the story and confuse readers. They are best used in a prologue, but be careful that you don’t tell the reader too much, too soon. There are three primary ways to include backstory in your novel.

  1. Dialogue.
  2. Narrative.
  3. Description.

I prefer to use dialogue. It feels more natural to have my characters talk about their past, or explain their reason for acting in a particular way. But it’s a personal choice and you have to decide what works best for that part of the story.

But how do you know how much backstory to use?

That’s a difficult question, and to a certain extent, the decision is yours. Just remember, too much backstory will make the reader bored and tempt him or her to put the book down. You’ll lose their attention. They may even wonder why they picked up the book in the first place, and that’s the last thing any writer wants.