One of the things I obsess over too much is the first sentence. It is supposed to hook the reader.
Something to be remembered though…this is not something that is important with a first draft. Everything can be changed in editing (repeating this to myself like a mantra.)
Pick one of the following sentences as a starting point and then write for three minutes.
Once you’ve done this, you could find one that applies to your book idea.
‘I tried to leave the rabbit stopped me.’
‘When Lana opened the book, something took over.’
‘When he/she stepped into the attic, it was like stepping into the past.’
‘He/she wanted this moment to end. How was another matter.’
Hi Jenni, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
You are very welcome – it’s lovely to be here. Your virtual sofa is very comfy!
Hmm… how to sum up my book. I guess The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a heart-warming story with a variety of themes. I set out to write a romance but the book became so much more and, in a way, is two love stories; Lucy and George, but also Lucy and Brenda. It was the powerful intergenerational friendship between these two women and how they deal very differently with Brenda’s dementia diagnosis, that became the central theme. For the romance, I was initially inspired by a locket of my mother’s and my working title was Lucy’s Locket until it was picked up by the publisher. This mysterious piece of jewellery leads to lots of mishaps and comedy moments for Lucy but also makes her reassess her romantic options in life. It was a fun book to write.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence?
I weave my writing around part-time work, care for my mum and the hectic taxi service I appear to be running for my four teenage sons. My most productive times are during the school day – when the house is silent, and evenings – when it is not. I also work at the weekends when I can. I’ve developed a cunning strategy that involves wearing enormous headphones as a signal that I’m writing. If there is a lot of noise, I play music (I have a playlist of familiar songs so I’m not distracted by them) but I also cheat and pretend I’ve got music on so the boys leave me alone. It’s coffee during the day, and wine or tonic water at night – although the wine is only for weekends. Interestingly, some of the best comedy scenes have been wine-fuelled.
The other thing I do, to combat the isolation and to spur me on, is to meet up with my writing buddy, Clare Marchant, in our “virtual” office. It means we check in throughout the day with wordcounts and this accountability helps us both to focus. I do hate it when she leaves the virtual biscuit tin empty though…
Do you have a certain place you like to write?
I have an office – which is actually a desk in the corridor between the living room and the downstairs loo. I’m lucky to have this permanent space as a lot of writers work on the kitchen table or on their laps. It’s a total mess, like Lucy’s desk, but it’s mine. I have two screens set up (invaluable for editing) so it’s tricky for me to move. Research and planning I can do anywhere.
What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?
Planning – ha ha ha. You are funny. I am such a pantser and every time I begin a new novel I’m determined to plan. My second book for Avon (out next summer) was the first time I’d had to write a synopsis before writing the book and boy was that hard – but I did it. I’d like to get better at planning, but my brain doesn’t work that way and I’m what I like to call “an onion writer” – I write in layers. I get a rough first draft down and then I go over and over and over it, perfecting, editing, adding description etc. until I’m happy. Luckily, I love editing and always see it as an opportunity to make the story even better. Some of my best ideas come right at the end of the process and then I have to go back and weave it all in. I honestly don’t know how people plan.by
Hi Gila, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called Passport Control. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
Passport Control is a coming of age novel about a twenty year old Canadian girl who feels forced to leave the home she shares with her father and, in her desire for revenge, goes to the one place he’s kept a secret all of his life, his home country Israel. Other than odds and ends, she doesn’t know anything about his past life there.
She finds herself in a dormitory with a range of Israelis from Jewish to Arab and struggles to navigate her way through the politics and culture around her. Along the road she falls in love, encounters murder, and discovers a shocking family secret.
The story was originally a short story written in a creative writing class with author Steve Stern. It was inspired by my own experience coming to Haifa University around the same age as my heroine, Miriam Gil and similarly struggling to navigate my various roommates, who all came from different cultures and backgrounds. At least that was the initial kernel behind my twelve-page short story. It evolved over time into a father-daughter story, and a family betrayal story with a side order of romance.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence? Do you have a certain place you like to write?
I have five children between the ages of 11 and 20. So my writing day has evolved over time with the ages of my children.
In the early days, I used to type a lot one-handed while nursing and later had to be done by 1 p.m. when nursery school closed.
Now, I have a lot more quiet during the day–which is vital for me to write–and yes, rivers of coffee. I write in my converted bomb shelter adjacent to the front door, so my writing is punctuated all day with, “Mom, is there any food?” as the kids come and go and the snoring of my dog.
What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?
My writing process has changed a lot over the years. I am much more of a planner these days.
I try to write at least two sentences for each chapter that explain the point of each one. At a certain point, I just write and usually the first three or four chapters are the first to go later on as I “write myself into the story.” But not always. Each novel is its own journey.
I don’t wait for perfection if that’s what you mean. You just have to dive in.
What’s your favourite word and why?
My favorite word is balagan. That’s a Hebrew word with no single English translation.
It means mess, disorder, confusion but also problem and difficulty.
So, you could say, “today was a balagan,” or “my thoughts are a balagan” or “your room is a balagan!”
Try it! It’s a fun word to say.
Which song best describes you?
“Shout” by Tears for Fears.
What elements do you think make up a good novel?
Great novels are written by authors who excel at location in time and space.
If you feel as if you are really in Elizabethan England or in South Africa during Apartheid, or in downtown Toronto…you’ve got the elements of a great novel. I can’t think of a time when someone told me they loved a short story or novel and couldn’t tell me exactly where and when it was taking place.
Full disclosure: I teach an online Setting & Description course and I can’t believe how many new writers send me first drafts that take place Anywhere / Anytime. It’s not as intuitive as you might think.by
Hi Julie. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your new novel is called A Village Affair. Can you tell me about it and what inspired it?
Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today. It’s much appreciated.
As writers, we’re always advised to write about what we know and “AVillage Affair”began its life under the guise of ‘Not in My backyard’ influenced, very much, by a real-life fight in my village where acres of fields and greenbelt land were in danger of having hundreds, if not thousands, of houses built upon them. As the main focus of the plot moved and centred upon the village school, the novel took on the handle “Little Acorns” and many of the school incidents are based on real happenings in the primary schools I have taught in over the years. Eventually Aria came up with the title “A Village Affair”which I love and which, I think, encompasses the different strands of the book.
What’s your writing process like (idea, research etc.) How do you approach editing?
At the start of a new idea/novel I sit at my desk with a brand-new exercise book. I like my novels to be very much character-based and so I come up with characters’ names, write what they look like and actually give them a family tree. This is important as I’m mainly writing about the characters in one town and one village and so I have to make sure they’re not too related to each other, especially if they’re going to end up together!! With “Holly Close Farm”,as nearly half of it is set during WW2, I did a huge amount of research about the WAAFs and Bomber Command. I really enjoyed this bit and it was quite hard work leaving the reading to actually write. I love editing. I must be the only writer who enjoys this bit. I love going back over what I’ve written, tweaking and adding and crossing out. In my early days as a writer I would write one chapter and then edit it to death the next day because I was so proud that I’d actually written another chapter. Now, with deadlines, I tend to just write and edit at the end. Editing means I’ve finished, which is always wonderful.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a place to write? Cup of coffee? Write in silence?
I’m a lark: I’m much better writing at 6am than later in the day. I had the most beautiful writing room at one end of the house but my husband is now working from home and has commandeered it for his office. I’m in a cupboard – not literally, but it feels like it after the lovely office with views down the valley. I actually quite like my cupboard: it’s jampacked with books, piles of papers, computer and, usually, the dog. I write, plan for school if I’m teaching a couple of days and do some private tuition in there. It does tend to get a bit cosy. One day, I’ll have my office back!
I need silence, tons of coffee (morning) and Earl Grey tea (afternoon).
So, basically, if it’s a writing day, I’ll get up early, have a mug of hot water and lemon (my mum always did and I’ve done this for the past 30 years) answer emails, decide whether it’s a swim or a run, shower, have breakfast and read the paper about eleven and then really get stuck in. If I can write 2-3000 words a day I’m more than happy.
What’s the most challenging thing with writing a novel?
The start of any new novel. By the end of a novel I love my characters so much I can’t bear to leave them and start again. I feel very disloyal to my old friends and it takes a while to love the new ones.
How do you pick names for your characters?
Probably with names I wanted to call my own children but for which my husband didn’t share the same enthusiasm. So India, Clementine, Kit, Theadora and Fin were born! My daughter, Georgia, is really cross I didn’t stick to my guns and call her Theadora – shortened to Teddy – that Harriet names one of her twins.
In my “Work in Progress“(Book 7 and desperate for inspiration for an actual title) it’s been easy to come up with names because I have Patrick, the father – a bit of a lothario – who is a Cambridge educated Classics professor and gives all his four daughters names from Greek literature. I’ve ended up with Isolde, Pandora, Juno and Lexia.
What elements make up a good novel?
When I read, I want a thumping good story. I want to know what happens next. I want to want to go to bed read to know what’s going to happen. I do like humour in a novel. It doesn’t have to be overtly laugh out loud. I think Liane Moriarty and Kate Atkinson are both superb writers, not only at weaving good stories but at having the ability to include some quite subtle humour. I aspire to both these wonderful novelists!!by
A Way Back Home is the new novel from Alison Sherlock. Hello Alison, thank you so much for joining me today. Your new novel is called A Way Back Home. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired it?
A Way Back Home is the third book in my Willow Tree Hall series, although they can each be read as standalone books. The story is about Will Harris, younger brother and ‘spare’ of the heir of Willow Tree Hall, his big brother Sam who was the hero in the first book, A House To Mend A Broken Heart. Will was great fun to write as I always pictured him as a playboy with a wickedly dry sense of humour but somewhat set apart from the rest of the family. Therefore it was only right that the heroine of the story would be a free-spirited woman called Skye who is the total opposite of Will!
What’s your typical writing day like? Is there somewhere you like to write? Write in silence? Cup of coffee or tea?
I walk Harry, our daft golden retriever, first thing in the morning and then spend the next hour trying to wipe off the mud which he has inevitably brought home with him. Once he’s sleeping off his big walk and snoring happily, I can finally get to work for the rest of the day. I always write on my laptop at a desk with the music on to begin with. And always with a large mug of coffee to hand!
What’s your editing process like?
I do a little editing as I go along but mostly I like to get the whole story down first. A Way Back Home was written in just over 9 weeks, the quickest I’ve ever done. Hopefully that’s a good sign…!
If you found yourself with an airstream trailer and time, where would you go and why?
I love America but have never seen the middle of the country so it would definitely be next summer driving right across the southern states. Hopefully my husband would be driving as I’d be as hopeless towing a trailer as Skye is in the story!by
Amelia Mandeville joins me today. Her debut novel, Every Colour of You is released tomorrow by Sphere. Hi Amelia, thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called Every Colour of You. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
Hello, thanks so much for having me!
My book follows the journey of Tristan, who is struggling with his mental health, and Zoe, who is the most positive person you’ll meet. It’s all about their friendship as very different people. I think my own personal struggles with mental health made me write this story. I also think it’s important for boys to be able to know that they can cry, they are allowed to not be okay, and talk about it.
What is your writing process like from research and plot development to editing?
It’s different for each book. This one, I spent a little bit of time planning, writing down certain lines I really wanted Zoe or Tristan to say, their characteristics. Then when I had the ending set in stone, I started writing. The editing was thorough, we did a lot of drafts before it got to my final draft, and I felt it just got better and better. My book would not be how it is, without Abby and Manpreet who edited.
Do you have any rituals when writing – a certain place to write, coffee, music, silence?
Music. I always have to listen to music. I think of my most chapters to myself when I’m driving on my own, listening to a song. There’s something about music. It really just gets me in my zone. Specifically sad, emotional, music.
Which author/book has most influenced you?
I think I always found Veronica Roth so successful, writing at such a young age. And obviously JK Rowling. Despite all those rejections, but her true talent eventually was recognized. I tried to remind myself that whenever I got rejections (I got a lot). I’m not saying I will ever be on the level of JK Rowling, but if she gave up, we would never have Harry Potter.
What is the best part of writing and what did you find the most challenging?
The best part is creating characters that you feel so much emotion and love with, its lovely. The hard part is the self-criticism, and comparison. Also when you hitting a writing block. I really do doubt my writing abilities when I’m in that state of mind. But once you’re out it’s back into doing what you love again.
Are you working on a new book? Are you able to tell me a bit about it?
I am! I’m keeping it secret. But I’m 20 thousand words in, and it will focus on duel narratives again. But it’s a very different story, with a very different situation.by
Today in the writing room, I thought it would be fun to write a fairy tale.
We all know the classics; Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc.
Writing no more than 1,500 words, pick a fairytale and put it into a modern setting.
You can merge a couple if you like.
For example, what if Cinderella worked for a cleaning company and had a lazy manager who was horrible. Sleeping Beauty worked in the city but couldn’t stop falling asleep in important meetings? Rapunzel has a fear of heights.
Today’s exercise is writing a story.
Today, I thought it would be fun to take five sentences and put them together into a story. Overall, try to make the piece 1,500 words and spread these out across the whole thing.
The five sentences are:
. He would believe me. I would make sure of it.
. The pineapples in my grandmother’s house had a mind of their own.
. Is it just me or did the cat just speak to me.
. I was getting really tired of this rush hour traffic.
. Ben knew that robbing the bank was a risk but one he needed to take.by
It’s Friday which means it’s time to start writing some fiction.
Fiction Friday is our weekly writing prompt. The aim is to write for a minimum of five minutes and then keep going for as long as you can. Once you’ve finished, don’t edit, just post in the comments box below.
Halloween is just around the corner and so the prompt is spooky themed.
Imagine you are a ghost in a haunted house. You are scared of everything and anything.
It’s 31st October. This is your least favourite day. This is the day people won’t leave you alone.
Write a conversation between the ghost and someone who is trick or treating.by
I am pleased to say hi to author, Sandra Danby. As well as sharing an extract with me today, she is also talking about her latest novel, Connectedness and the origin of her story.
To the outside world, artist Justine Tree has it all but she always has a secret that threatens to destroy everything.
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
Thanks for joining me today, Sandra. Over to you…
When I was writing Connectedness, second in my ‘Identity Detective’ series of adoption mysteries, I didn’t realise how much I was writing about food. Then a blogger friend who reviewed the book sent me an email saying I had presented her with a difficult biscuit dilemma.
While biscuits are something that remind Justine Tree of her childhood in Yorkshire, coffee is about romance in Spain. When she arrives as an art student in Málaga, Justine struggles to order a decent cup of coffee.
Then she meets Spanish student Federico who appreciates her difficulty and tries to help. I wrote this scene early in the genesis of the book and recreated it in our local bar in Spain, much to the bemusement of the waiter. I ordered six cups of coffee and tasted each in turn. The result was that I realised I liked café con leche, and my husband chose sombra. This is the coffee scene where Justine meets Federico for the first time.
****** start of extract*****
‘No quieres café?’ He looked at her as if she had asked for champagne.
Quickly Justine explained the difficulty she had ordering coffee, and then waited as Federico and the waiter exchanged a rapid dialogue interspersed with lots ofsí’sand no’s and much gesturing.
Finally Federico nodded. ‘Sí, vale.’
The waiter soon returned carrying a tray with six cups on it. Nodding first at Federico then at Justine, he retreated to the restaurant door beneath the shade cast by a large eucalyptus tree and watched.by
When you first decide to write a book, we are told that beginnings and endings are important but how you get from one to the other is what keeps a reader interested.
For today’s exercise, use the following line to start (or use one from one of your favourite novels.)
“From the beginning, she was in love with him.”
Write it at the top of the page.
Then, write the following last line at the bottom of the page;
“She couldn’t move. She just continued to hold the knife.”
(Again, feel free to use an ending from a favourite novel as long as it’s different to the one the first line came from.)
Using about 1,500 words, fill in the middle from your first line to the last.by
Today, the writing room will be looking at getting to know your character by having a game of twenty questions with them using the questions below. Not everything you write has to end up in your novel but it will give you a better overall knowledge of them and how they would feel and react to things.
1. What do they look like?
2. What do they like to do to socialize?
3. How was their childhood?
4. One thing that really embarrasses them?
5. What group did they belong to at school?
6. What did they want to do when they grew up and what do they actually do for a job as an adult?
7. Name ten songs that are currently on their playlist?
8. Do they drink, smoke, take drugs?by
Forgetting Ophelia is the new novel from Julie C. Gardner (released today by Velvet Morning Press.) She’s joined me today to talk about her life in books. Over to you, Julie.
I owe my obsession with reading, at least in part, to my sister Nancy. More specifically to her tonsils. I was seven and my sister was six the year my family drove from California to Texas to spend Christmas with our cousins. On the way, Nancy broke out in yet another of her fevers, her throat swelling up, her tonsils the size of tennis balls. It was a truly miserable situation.
Why? Because Nancy, who was my only playmate on this road trip, was suddenly quarantined. No more alphabet games in the backseat of our car. No songs or hand-slapping routines.
On a pit stop at my Aunt Elaine’s house in Arizona, my aunt took pity on me and my loneliness, whisking me away to a local bookstore where she bought me The Secret of the Old Clock.
I curled up with my new mystery, gobbling the adventures of this titian blonde named…Nancy.
The love was instantaneous. I wanted to be a titian blonde. I wanted to BE Nancy Drew.
I read every book of hers I could get my hands on. Then the Trixie Belden series. Harriet the Spy. A Wrinkle in Time. Island of the Blue Dolphins. By the time I was ten, I decided to be Judy Blume, not merely devour all her books.
When I was in fifth grade, my parents took me to a bank where they were handing out free copies of James A. Michener’s Hawaii. The book was roughly the size of a toaster. As I announced my plan to read all 1,000 pages of this sprawling saga, my parents chuckled. “Go ahead!” (Of particular interest were the sexy scenes, since I’d recently watched my school’s puberty films.)
By then my sister had had her tonsils removed, and I’d moved on to Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities. A bevy of classics littered my nightstand and saved me from being completely boy-crazy. (Rest assured, I was still plenty boy-crazy. Just ask Nancy and my parents.)by
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin has been released today in paperback and I am so pleased to welcome her back to Novel Kicks. Thank you for joining me today, Rhiannon. What’s your writing day/space like?
The short answer is: never the same. I’m a stay at home mum of three, so I always have to squeeze in time and space for writing between a million other things. I used to think that I needed to create this perfect scenario to get some writing done, hours of uninterrupted time and no distractions. But I’ve found that I actually need a lot of movement while I write. I can’t sit in one place for too long and I have to allow my mind to wander. So, it’s not unusual for me to have multiple writing “windows” throughout the day and each in a different location around the house.
What advice about writing would you give to your younger self?
To start sooner! My whole life, people have suggested that I try my hand at writing, but I never thought that would be something I could do or be good at until I sat down to write Only Child. And then I fell in love with writing so quickly. It’s become such an essential part of my life, basically from one day to the next, and it sometimes feels like wasted time that I spent almost 40 years not writing. But maybe I had to be in the right place in my life to be receptive. And maybe it took the right story to get me hooked.
What elements are needed for a good novel?
A good novel to me is one that makes me miss it when I’m not with it. I have to want to carry it around with me even if I know I won’t have time to read it. And I have to think about it long after I’ve finished it. It’s hard to say which elements in a novel have that effect on me. A different voice certainly, one that I haven’t heard before, or a perspective I haven’t considered before. The characters have to be real and imperfect; they have to be people I’d like to meet in real life. I like to walk away from a story having learned something. And if the story made me laugh—or cry!— bonus points.
About Only Child:
We went to school that Tuesday like normal.
Not all of us came home . . .by
For today’s writing room, I thought it was about time we did a free writing exercise/short story
If you have a subject and character in mind, feel free to write about that or you can use the prompt I’ve included below.
The story just needs to include dialogue, a proper conclusion and be no more than 1,500 words.
Your main character is in his sixties. He has been in the circus since he was sixteen making his way up the ranks to being the boss.
The circus has just arrived in a new town.
One of the younger staff members gets ill and needs to go to the hospital. A routine blood test reveals something that your character has wanted to keep secret.by