Throwback Texts: Drop Dead Fred

Every so often I like to write about texts that have inspired me, be they books, plays, films or TV shows. This week I’ve revisited a film that I adored as a teenager, and as an adult I watch from time to time, too. I showed it to my younger daughter yesterday, as I was reminded of it after Twitter told me that it has been six years this week since Rik Mayall died suddenly and the world lost one of its brightest talents.

As a romantic novelist, and a genuinely hopeless romantic, I’ve often joked that I can see the romance in anything, and, although DDF has its problems as a narrative (not least the conflict between Fred as childhood friend and Fred as part of a more adult relationship), it’s still an utterly charming film in so many ways. As a young teenager, I loved the anarchy behind Fred’s madcap takeover of Lizzie’s life; the friend who could take you out of your comfort zone, to help you break the rules was irresistible. And who wouldn’t admit to being that little bit misty eyed at the end, when they have to say goodbye for good?

As a forty something ‘grownup’, of course I see different things now. Lizzie’s whole life is problematic: the controlling mother, the philandering husband who, for god only knows what reasons, she’s desperate to win back, the appearance of a crazy entity who may be all in her head, or may be some stalkerish, anarchistic presence, but is, either way intent on ruining her life rather than improving it (with the coercive undertone that ‘I can’t leave until you’re happy’ being particularly uneasy). I mean, ‘Fred’ sinks Lizzie’s best friend Janie’s houseboat for Christ’s sake! Fred is a destructive manifestation of her subconscious, and may very well be the personification of Lizzie’s nervous breakdown. This film, on a psychological level, is DARK.

And yet…Fred. Sigh. Yes, Lizzie’s psychosis notwithstanding, Fred is completely and utterly irresistible. Indulge me for a moment…please. A lot of the appeal, obviously, comes from the late, great, force of nature that was Rik Mayall. He explodes into this role, and you kind of get the feeling that every take for every scene was never the same. The mad, manic, cosplayer’s dream that is Drop Dead Fred in Mayall’s hands makes the movie more palatable than it should be. And Phoebe Cates’ Lizzie is the perfect blend of vulnerable and utterly exasperated with Fred/Rik’s antics. I wonder how many of her reactions were spontaneous, too! They play off one another wonderfully.

But, for me, if the film had merely been a series of slapstick, gross out moments sewn together to make kids laugh and scream, it wouldn’t have stayed for so long in my heart. No. there’s more. There are two scenes that elevate it above just a slightly grim comedy. And because of those, I can forgive the upskirt gazing and the dog poo.

The first scene that begins to take Drop Dead Fred into gentler territory is the crisis of the movie, at the end of the second act. Lizzie is trapped in her childhood bedroom, under the highly dubious care of her mother and a psych nurse, and she’s crying. Fred appears and, far from trying to joke her out of the emotions she’s feeling, he’s gentle, tender. He reminds her of the letter she wrote to him when her mother banished Fred into the Jack in the Box, never to be seen again. There’s something about the way Fred notices the details – picks the fluff from Lizzie’s knee, and just silently understands, that makes this the beginning of the epiphany for Fred’s character, There’s no mania there, there’s the beginnings of calm.

Lizzie’s letter to Fred

And then, of course, we get to the film’s resolution. After Fred takes Lizzie back to the house in her mind, with that beautifully gentle flight through the clouds, after she’s climbed the tree, pulled the stopper out of her husband’s car and stood up to her mother, there’s…Fred. And Fred can’t come back to the real world. She has to go it alone. She has freed her younger self, both physically and metaphorically, and now she must leave. And this is the point at which all of the dark undertones, all of the poo and snot gags, and all of the shouting doesn’t matter any more. It’s just Lizzie and Fred. Alone. One final time. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

Just kiss me and say ‘Drop Dead Fred.’

And this scene is one of the most perfect expressions of love I have ever seen on film. Maybe it’s the obvious contrast between the mania of most of the film up to this point, and this absolute stillness that does it. Rik Mayall’s eyes here say more than a thousand physical movements ever could. He’s totally still, eyes shining in the half light, gentle, serene, and so dreadfully sad. His voice is a far cry from the shouty, who cares expressions of Fred that have gone before. It’s gentle, understated and shot through with feeling. Phoebe Cates’ response to him, the eyes widening, the ‘I don’t want to’ line is the perfect response. And as the lights go out in the dreamlike world of her subconscious, and Fred approaches for one final goodbye, it’s just beautiful. Watch carefully and you see those little gestures – the foreheads coming together, the noses bumping, Rik Mayall’s exhalation after the kiss and into the hug that show the beauty of the acting and the chemistry here. It’s such a brief moment, but one that is absolutely loaded with emotion. And as an adult, I adore it.

So, although there’s a lot to be picked apart about the rights and wrongs of the themes of this film, I do have to admit that I’m happy to sit through the ickier moments, just to get the payoff of that one, final kiss. And although I’m tempted to write, and write, and write, my version of what happens to them next, a part of me just wants to love it for what it is. That moment, that beautiful, shining moment of connection, is worth all the bogey wiping in the world. If you want me, I’ll be making mud pies.

Welcome to my writing place!

For the first four novels of my career, I wrote in the living room. The computer was in the corner, and I’d type while keeping a vague eye on my young daughters, just to make sure no major mishaps occurred. When the first, and then the second, went to school, I stayed put because it seemed easier than sorting out a spare room that I didn’t really like, anyway.

Fast forward to six months ago and a bedroom swap for my youngest, and suddenly there’s a vacancy in the room I’d always said would be my study, should I ever need one. But do I? Need one, that is. I’ve become a novelist by writing in the living room, and, since I’m still not making enough money to live on novels alone, do I even deserve a separate writing space? Can I justify it to myself? Can I justify it to my family?

If the truth be told, I’m also wary. I remember reading that Stephen King wrote in the hub of his family home for the early years of his career, then, on achieving success, decamped to an office at the top of his house. The fact of being away from everyone made his writing stop and the drinking start. Did I really want to emulate that? The drinking part, not the success part, obviously. I’d sell my soul for a tenth of King’s sales! However, there are issues. The spare room is a massive bomb site of all of the ‘not sure what to do with it but think we’ll keep it anyway’ stuff in the house. I don’t know if the computer will survive a move upstairs, or, indeed if there are enough power sockets to accommodate everything I need up there. We’ll still need a place to dry the washing in the winter so for several months of the year I’ll be surrounded by damp pants and soggy T-shirts. But, underwear aside, the room does have the best view in the house, straight out to the woods and hills of Somerset.

Click the image to go to Amazon to buy my latest novel!

Then, a couple of months ago, I poisoned my husband. Not intentionally, I hasten to add. It was the chicken that did it. He was off work for three weeks with campylobacter poisoning, but, barring a speedy need to be near a bathroom, he was still answering emails at his desk next to mine in the living room. Suddenly, having to work next to a man I’d been happily married to for sixteen years became the weirdest experience.

I felt self-conscious all the time, like I was I in his class and I wasn’t working hard enough. The decision was made; the spare room was mine! Four and a half books later, I moved into my own writing space.

Having an office for the first time is a bit like having your own bedroom as a teenager. I found myself planning out where the furniture would go, thinking about new curtains, a new carpet, the pictures on the walls, mentally stacking the shelves full of books I love…and filling the desk with stationery, of course! Now, apart from the carpet, which has had to wait because of a certain virus named corona, it’s pretty much how I want it to be.

Click the image to go to the Amazon page for the Little Somerby series!

So the question is, am I more productive? Was the move upstairs and away from the living room worth it? To be honest, I’m not sure yet. The view from the window is wonderful, and that distracts me quite a lot, and I do still get interrupted by the children, so it’s not quite the haven of peace and solitude I was anticipating (at least, not now we’re in lockdown). The dog still just about has enough space to flump down next to me, which is what he always used to do in my ‘writing in the living room’ days, and I have discovered I’m not actually as tidy as I thought I was in my own space! With book 6 beginning to bite, I do need to shift my focus away from the ‘idea’ of an office to actually working in one, but I think I’m getting there. All in all, it’s been a good move to help me separate out ‘work’ from ‘home’, as the boundaries were getting a little blurry, but, like everything, it’s going to take a bit of getting used to!

What are your experiences of home working? How have things changed for you during lockdown? Let me know in the comments!

Fay’s Top 10 workspace items!

Banker’s Lamp, circa 1989 – this is a family ‘antique’, snagged from my folks, and is perfect for those late night writing sessions!

‘Corvids of Britain’ print (Hazel Murray, artist) – I promised myself a lovely picture for the wall of my new workspace, and since I can ‘spot’ most of these from my window, it was a great choice!

Nightingale black net curtains – the room is south facing so I needed something to mitigate the light. These black nets from Amazon really fitted the bill (and continued the bird theme). My husband calls them my bordello curtains!

Bed in a Box – I might now have my office, but it’s also a guest room! This John Lewis bed in a box is a comfy place to sit as well as having a pull out bed inside for those occasions when someone stays over.

Crow pillow – something handy to keep my back supported during tricky drafts.

Top hat – bought on a whim, but a pretty adornment to the shelves. I was inspired to get one when I visited the Glastonbury Frost Fayre.

Vintage desk – another family heirloom, and a perfect spot for the computer!

A view – to me, the most important feature of this room, and the reason it finally became my office!

Sony headphones – to shut out the noise when a deadline’s looming or the children are driving me nuts.

Bookshelves – some inspiring reads, some authors to emulate, and some there just because they look SO pretty!

20 reflections on the ‘lockdown’…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So. This lockdown thing. Now we’re in week 4 of social distancing, I wanted to sit back and take stock of how I’m feeling about it all. It’s had time to ‘bed in’, as it were, and this new normal is starting to feel, well, normal. Here, in no particular order, are my 20 Lockdown Life observations.

  1. One of my children is more of a social animal than I’d thought, whereas the other one is much more able to cope with lack of contact with friends. It could be their ages (the older one is 10, and is struggling a bit, the younger one is 6), and Skype chats with friends have helped the older one a lot, but it’s been interesting to see how they’ve reacted.
  2. Many of my day to day worries and anxieties have been locked down with the ‘lockdown’ – they simply don’t apply, or are now largely unimportant. This I like a lot, although I am now worrying about what happens when it ends and they come back!
  3. I’m drinking wine. Lots of wine. This probably needs to stop. This may be helping or hindering point 2.
  4. Food is a marker of time – I’m doing most of the cooking and it’s amazing how quickly lunch and dinner times roll around. The mental effort of thinking about what to feed the four of us three times a day is a culture shock! (My children generally have school dinners, which are a wonderful thing, and take the pressure off at least once a day!)
  5. I haven’t shaved my legs or armpits in weeks. This should probably be remedied before I turn into a Yeti.
  6. I’m running every other day. Well, I say running. I’m walking 2.5k and running 3.5k. This has helped A LOT with my physical health and my mental health. I’ve even been wearing shorts, despite the hairy leg thing.
  7. I’m eating a lot. Prodigious amounts, in fact. I may well be fitter by the summer, but I’m likely to be fatter!
  8. Routine is key for some members of the household, but less important for others. This is quite difficult to manage. I’m OK with a ‘see how it goes’ approach, but The Husband needs a timetable.
  9. We are lucky, at this time, to be able to work from home (we’re both teachers), which feels weird in some respects (teaching is the ultimate ‘how can you do it from home?’ profession, but it’s proved to be reasonably OK to do). That means, for the moment at least, finances aren’t being affected. I am grateful for this in so many ways.
  10. We’re also lucky to have a decent amount of outside space. This gorgeous weather has meant sitting and playing in the garden a lot, and I’m hugely thankful for that.
  11. In the same vein, being able to watch the soap opera of the wild birds who visit our garden has been fascinating – we have a pair of blackbirds, a pair of sparrows and, wonderfully, a visiting crow (a giant among the jackdaws) who has popped up in the past few days. I’m loving watching them!
  12. Inertia is definitely a worry, and I have found myself wasting a lot of time. I’m pretty self-motivated but I have caught myself drifting, and, mentally, that’s a problem for me.
  13. The dog’s knackered and can’t understand why we’re around all the time!
  14. I’m reading lots – and a variety of stuff. I’m commuting between commercial fiction and classics at the moment, which both fulfil a need for escape.
  15. I miss people – especially my parents, sister and brother and their families, and my friends. Although I’m a solitary animal, the face to face stuff is hard to live without. WhatsApp has been great for this, but I really miss the full blooded giggles that occur from being in the same room together.
  16. That said, I’m also missing the solitude of working from home, alone, three days a week! Why are all these people in my house all the time?!
  17. The garden’s never looked better.
  18. I think, by the time this is over, I’ll have forgotten how to drive.
  19. I never realised there was so much dust in my house. I’ve been trying to eradicate it since all this started, having before been a ‘dust, what dust?’ kind of gal.
  20. The weather is either a help or a hindrance, and I’m getting obsessed with the forecast.
  21. Oh, and one last one – BBC Radio 5 is a constant companion on my working from home days anyway, but now, more than ever, I feel part of the 5Live family – they’re an essential background to my days!

If you fancy an escape to Somerset without leaving your home, please feel free to dip into one of my novels – click the pics to be taken to my pages on Amazon (also available on iBooks, Google Books and Kobo).

Musings on Point of View in fiction.

It occurred to me the other day, when trying to teach point of view in narrative to an exam class, that the notion of POV can be a bit confusing. Certainly, when I started writing, years ago, I didn’t really consider the importance of maintaining a consistent point of view in a scene, and was as guilty of ‘head hopping’ as the next writer!

But what does ‘Point of View’ actually mean? On a basic level, it is the difference between first person narrative (I did this, I feel that) and third person narrative (Fred went to the shops. He saw a sponge on his way.). If you choose to write in first person, then, in theory, all of the events of the story happen through that person’s eyes; in short, you can only write about what that person experiences at any one time. Feelings, actions, what they witness… it’s a limited perspective, but can be highly effective in building tension and exploiting dramatic irony as many of the domestic noir novels that are currently en vogue will demonstrate. Since I’ve never chosen to write in first person for my novels, though, I’m going to make that distinction and move on.

I write in third person for my novels. This means that my characters are referred to by name (or he/she/they) and, for the most part, it allows me to write about events from different points of view. The convention for commercial fiction in third person is to have a consistent point of view per scene; that basically means that you stick to seeing through the eyes of one character for an entire scene or chapter, and everything you write about for that scene is experienced through that one person. It takes a while to learn to do this consistently, at least it did for me, but it’s a useful tool for distinguishing one of the golden rules in fiction; always writing from the perspective of who has the most to lose/gain in a scene.

So how does this work in practise? Well, look at this passage. This is a short except from a scene I’m writing where events are being experienced and observed by my new heroine, Kate. At this stage, she’s helping the hero Harry to paint the walls of his shop. Everything in this scene should be written as if the reader is seeing it through her eyes.

Harry, moving almost instinctively, leaned into her hand, to the touch that suddenly felt more like a caress as his light brown hair, flecked with strands of grey as well as specks of the blue paint, lightly tickled Kate’s palm.

But there’s a problem with the way I’ve structured this paragraph. It reads, in the early clause of the sentence, as if it’s Harry experiencing the touch – his reaction has become the subject of the paragraph, not Kate’s. He is the subject of the sentence – he’s doing the moving, he’s feeling the caress, and he’s experiencing the moment.

Because this is Kate’s scene, everything should be written from her point of view. She should be the subject of the action, not Harry. So, what I need to do is reframe the paragraph so it reflects her experience of that same moment. Something like this:

Kate could feel Harry’s hair tickling her palm as he leaned, seemingly instinctively, into her touch. It was a touch that suddenly felt much more like a caress as she ran her hand through his light brown hair, flecked with strands of grey as well as the blue paint.

Can you see the difference? It’s essentially the same action, but now written more obviously from Kate’s point of view. We are feeling what she feels, rather than reacting with Harry.

So what’s the point of maintaining a consistent point of view in a scene? Well, for one thing it allows a reader to really get inside the head of the character who is driving it. Since the trend for omniscient narration comes in and out of fashion (currently, I believe, it’s out, at least in the commercial fiction strand of the market), it’s a way of making your characters appeal because it’s intimate, and it lets readers into the moment. I write in third person ‘limited’ which means that, despite the fact I will include the separate points of view of the two protagonists in my novels, when you break my work down into separate scenes or chapters, you will see that each of those focuses only on that character’s feelings and emotions. As a narrator, that does allow you to manipulate events and characters to suit, as well, as you can have one character experiencing part of an event, even if the reader knows, from a previous scene or chapter, that what they are experiencing is not what is actually happening – the point of view of one character may well be different to another, experiencing the same thing!

One final word about point of view, which I learned when I was writing my third novel, Summer in the Orchard. Having spent two novels writing from the perspectives of the two main characters, when I was writing Summer in the Orchard, I did something a little different – I introduced the perspective of a third character, who was active in the subplot of the novel. What I found interesting about that was this character, Meredith Carter, had featured in the two previous Little Somerby novels, but I’d never written events explicitly from her point of view before! Meredith was a fully realised character in the first two books (and one, I’m led to believe, was loved by readers), but her experiences were only ever viewed through the eyes of the protagonists of the novels. In the third book of the trilogy, I actually got the opportunity to write from her point of view – to get inside her head and explore her experiences. And it was a fabulous change for me! This is an extract from Springtime at the Cider Kitchen, where Meredith is talking to Caroline, from whose point of view this scene takes place. Can you see that the experiences and reactions in the scene are Caroline’s, and although Meredith does most of the talking, it’s Caroline’s head we’re in.

Springtime at the Cider Kitchen, published by Aria, Head of Zeus 2017. © Fay Keenan

In contrast, here’s a passage from Summer in the Orchard, where Meredith is the character who holds the point of view:

Summer in the Orchard, published by Aria, Head of Zeus, 2019. ©Fay Keenan

For me, getting inside Meredith’s head for the first time was great – she was a character I loved, too, and so being able to write explicitly from her point of view was exciting for me, after two books where she was supporting cast. Having her reacting to events rather than being part of them and other characters reacting to her was enormous fun as a writer, and the lovely thing about Summer in the Orchard was that I got to do both – there are some scenes that Meredith is in which we experience from other points of view, and then others where she is the lead. A great combination to write!

So, here endeth the lesson. Do you prefer reading books from first or third person POV? And what do you like to write? Please feel free to drop me a comment!

If you’d like to read more of my work, click the book cover images below to go to my Amazon Author’s Page:

Letting it fly…

You find me, once again, in that strange emotional position of having submitted one book to my publisher, Boldwood, whilst starting to work on the next one – as a contracted author, that’s definitely the way of things! Usually, I’m quite pleased to send the manuscript on to agent and editor, but this time, I’m feeling a little bit…weird about it. I know it was time to let it go, but actually pressing ‘Send’ on this manuscript was quite a wrench. Usually, by this point, I can’t wait to send the thing on, but not this time!

There are some reasons for this weirdness, though. Firstly, I took a long time to ‘get into’ the book I’ve just submitted. It had been percolating for a while, having had an initial idea for it when I witnessed something a couple of years ago I’d never seen before, but there were several things that had to change in the early stages, once I realised it was going to be for the Willowbury series rather than the Little Somerby one. I needed to strip out a few details, rearrange some things and also re-theme it as a seasonal read (my first ‘Christmas’ novel, no less!), so it took me a while to navigate my way through the thirty-odd thousand words I’d written while also writing ‘The Weekender’. Timelines needed sorting, and references to Little Somerby changed and adapted (although the brand of cider my characters drink in this new series is the same, of course!)

Because of these changes, the book had to work harder for me. And I know I say this every time I write a book, but I also needed to make sure I was getting things right, probably more than ever for this novel. Much like ‘The Weekender’, there were details, and whole chapters, that needed desperately to be accurate, and ‘right’; not just for the sake of the story, but to do justice to the people who have very kindly given me their time during the research process. Winging it just wasn’t an option for this one! The deal I make with myself when I’m writing is that, if people are kind enough to give me their time and expertise, the very least I can do is try to represent that expertise in the most accurate and respectful way possible (albeit with the odd moment of dramatic license!). There was something about this novel that meant I just needed to spend time with it, to make it work as hard as it could. Loving it took a while, but when I got it back from my agent, suddenly, I didn’t want to let it go again!

So I’ve been tinkering with it, in these late stages, changing single words and mucking about with structure (I have this quirk where I write one too many sentences in paragraphs sometimes and so some got struck from the draft), but really, I’ve just been holding it close, not wanting to let it go just yet, because, damnit, now it’s done, I really, really love the characters and the story! Why this couldn’t have happened when I was 50,000 words in and banging my head against the iMac in frustration that it just wasn’t doing it for me, I have no idea (but then ‘soggy middle syndrome’ is a common condition for novelists, and I’m not just talking about having eaten too many biscuits at the desk!).

But now, finally, it’s gone off my desktop for a little while (until my lovely editor sends it back with things to do), and I really miss it! So much so, that I’m glad the next book in the series will have those characters playing a role, even if they’re not centre stage for it. The funniest thing happened when I was in the late stages of writing; a character who was just supposed to be a ‘walk on’ suddenly gained a voice and a life of her own, and so she’s going to be the focus of this next novel. They do that sometimes, these imaginary people… I really don’t have that much control over them, if I’m being honest! And the sheer joy is that she has a very close connection to the characters in Willowbury book 2, so they can all have a role.

So, once again, I’m setting out on this new journey with a new story, but, thankfully, those characters that are proving so hard to let go of for me in the last one will be with me, to a point, on this trip as well. They have more to tell me, and I am only too happy to listen. I hope that when this book comes out later in the year, that you will love them, too!

And if you want a few clues as to what to expect from the book that’s coming later in the year, let’s just say that it involves a heroine with a profession I know all too well, having done it myself for the past eighteen years, and a hero who regularly takes to the skies. Throw in a Willowbury Christmas season, a village play that hits some bumps in the road, some well-meaning but misguided friends and relations and a whole heap of seasonal drama, and there you have it. I can’t wait to share it with you!

Oh, and the event that I witnessed that I’d never experienced before that triggered the whole thing? This…

If you’d like to read ‘The Weekender’, the first in the Willowbury series, or any of my other novels, click the image to be taken to my Amazon Author’s page:

Blog Tour – ‘The Weekender’ by Fay Keenan ~ @BoldwoodBooks @faykeenan

It’s publication day for my new novel ‘The Weekender’! Here’s an extract from the first chapter to whet your appetite. Thank you so much to Sonya (aka aloverofbooks) for kicking off the blog tour!

A Lover of Books

Big congratulations to Fay Keenan whose new book, ‘The Weekender’ is out today in paperback, eBook and as an audiobook, published by Boldwood Books.  This is the first book in the Willowbury series.

I am absolutely delighted to be helping to kick off the blog tour with an extract from ‘The Weekender’ for you all.  First though here’s the book blurb.

Book Blurb

When Charlie Thorpe met Holly Renton, they were not a match made in heaven…

Holly lives and works in the beautiful town of Willowbury in Somerset. An incorrigible optimist, she is determined to change the world for the better.

Charlie Thorpe on the other hand, is the ultimate pragmatist. As Willowbury’s new member of parliament, he has to be. While he’s determined to prove himself to the town, as far as Holly’s concerned, he’s just another politician on the make.

But when their paths cross again, it’s…

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10 reasons why being an author is the best job in the world…

I’ve been a bit remiss in updating this blog lately, so I thought I’d break the deadlock by doing a quick list of the reasons why I love being a writer. Now, there are plenty of reasons why being a writer is not the ideal profession; it’s a struggle to live on the income from writing alone (most writers have a ‘day job’ for at least some of the time these days), the self-doubt can be a real emotional drain, Imposter Syndrome is Totally A Thing, as is Writer’s Arse, and bookending the days with coffee and wine isn’t the best lifestyle choice when things are going badly. However, this post is about the real positives of writing, so let’s focus on those.

  1. Creating worlds and people to go in them is fun. Especially when your characters get to go to places and be in situations that you would love to be. All the thrills, without having to leave your desk!
  2. Real life is complicated, but with stories you have control over the complications – and, better still, imaginary people have to go through them. Psychologists would call this catharsis; I just call it bloody good fun.
  3. ‘I’m an author and …’ will get you the answers to a lot of cheeky questions and into some interesting places. When my new book comes out at the end of this year, you’ll see how much fun this has been lately!
  4. Meeting other authors is great – mostly because nearly all of them I’ve met have been friendly, generous and helpful, and also because no-one else understands that, to us, our characters are like real people, and we talk about them as if they actually are walking the streets/hills/cityscapes.
  5. It’s a good excuse to try new things – I mean, all that cider I drank when I was writing the Little Somerby series of novels was pretty much in the name of research, of course!
  6. You can choose to have an alter ego, if you wish. Mine has a slightly different name and wears the good clothes.
  7. Daydreaming is a legitimate pastime for a writer; we just call it thinking about the plot.
  8. Seeing your work in print (or e-book or audio) for the first time is a huge buzz. It’s a little disembodying, and sometimes, after the fact, it still doesn’t feel like mine, but catching sight of the books on the shelf is a real rush.
  9. Hearing from readers is brilliant too – whether good or bad, the fact that people have read my work is an amazing feeling.
  10. Reading other people’s books is part of the job – in a way, I get paid to read, and I love that!

So there you have it – writers, what are your best things about the job? Thoughts?

Letting go…

I find myself, for the fourth time, in a state of what Gwyneth and Chris would call ‘conscious uncoupling’. Not from the ever devoted Husband, I hasten to add, but from a novel.

It’s a funny old feeling. You live with characters in your head for so long as a novelist; even when you’re away from the keyboard, they carry on living their fictional lives in the gaps, and for nine months now I’ve lived, breathed and slept their experiences alongside them. My heart has beaten faster, I’ve smiled, I’ve felt sad and I’ve felt cross with and for them during the whole process. But then, when I’ve finished, edited and proof read the draft I’m prepared to send out, something happens to me, and it happens every time I get to this point.

You see, for nine months, the story has been mine. I’ve talked a lot about it to friends and industry professionals, and I’ve sent the odd funny snippet to friends and family, too, but to all intents and purposes, I’ve been my only reader, and my only critic. This week, as always when I get to this point, that changed. I took a deep breath, sent some emails and now it’s out of my hands. It’s out there to its first readers, and somewhere in that process, it’s not entirely mine any more.

Suddenly, other people are reading it, evaluating it and either loving, hating or going ‘meh’ at certain points. And the complicated attachment I’ve felt to the story and the characters, that metaphorical umbilical cord, has been carefully snipped. I’ve begun the inevitable process of separating myself from the story. And I’m completely fine with that. I’ve never had an issue with taking feedback of all kinds. Let’s face it, if I did, I’d never have survived as a writer!

Now that’s not to say the book’s finished. Nope. Far from it. Experience has taught me that there will be a lot of work to do yet, once the first readers, my agent, then my editor, then the proof reader and copy editor have set eyes on it and gone deep. But I’ve begun the process of letting go of the book, of setting it free. And, as ever, my thoughts are turning to the next one, book 5. Suddenly, new characters are stealing into my mind, whispering in my ear, quietly demanding that I pay attention to them.

I would take a good guess and say that this process is similar for a lot of writers; we have to disengage, we have to pull back and start viewing our story through slightly different eyes. If we didn’t, we’d never put anything out there, after all! It sort of makes me feel like a serial monogamist; I commit totally for a period of time, and then it’s time to move on to the next one and commit again. It truly can feel like the end of a relationship when I get to this point, but without the gut wrenching grief and heartbreak. There’s a melancholy there, that the sheer joy of telling my version of the story from start to finish has now ended, but also there’s a sense of relief that it’s over, pride that it’s done and excitement and nervousness for the next stages of that process.

That’s what I would say to writers who are embarking on their first project; letting go is perfectly natural, and it’s part of the publishing process. While there’s still a lot of work to come, I feel as though I’ll be seeing the book more objectively when it comes back to me and I need to start deep editing. Don’t be afraid if you feel less involved when you’ve finished; it’s part of the journey.

And in the meantime, decrapinating my house of nine months’ worth of stuff is keeping me busy. Because, let’s face it, who has time to clean when you’re in love?

The (Dare) Devil is in the details…

I’m currently on the home stretch of the first draft of my fourth novel, and I thought it would be a good point to share with you some of the things I focus on when I’m writing about the relationships that drive my work. I also want to think about how something I’ve been watching lately, Daredevil, has a similar approach.

One of the questions that comes up a lot from readers is how does a writer write a believable romantic scene in a novel? And actually, the ‘rules’ for writing that kind of scene are exactly the same as for writing any other scene in a book; it’s all about the details. Likewise, when working with film as a genre, the same seems to apply.

Let’s take Daredevil series 2, Episode 1, as an example. Early on in the episode, Foggy, Matt and Karen are playing pool at Josie’s bar after work. Here’s the scene (well, 41 seconds of it, anyway) for reference:

What I love about this scene is the emphasis on the details. The fall of Karen’s hair so that it just touches Matt’s back is the first thing I noticed, and the mirrored poses in the mid shots. the way they synchronise their movement around the table is like a dance, too, as first her hand touches the table, and then his. They move together to the end of the table, during which time her hand rests on his shoulder, guiding him into place, but also lingering a little longer than necessary to emphasise an undercurrent of emotion. If asked, she could say she was just assisting him, but we, as an audience, see a little more than that from the languor of the movement, the need to stay connected to him as long as she can. And he’s not objecting, either.

I love the way the camera then pans to their hands on the pool table, hers over his, guiding his hand into place, for sure, but then fingertips gently brushing up his hand to his wrist, that little movement again betraying a deeper emotion than just friendship. She leans in close, her hair brushing his shoulder and you get that depth of field effect when the camera focuses from one to the other, as Matt picks up Karen’s trembling voice, racing heartbeat and breathes in. She is close to his ear, and you see, even out of focus, her eyes darting to his mouth. All subtle signs of attraction, of desire.

There’s no doubt that Deborah Ann Woll and Charlie Cox make a great onscreen representation of Karen and Matt, and their screen chemistry brings a real tremor of emotion to all of their encounters. As a viewer, I believe in them as a potential couple, and that’s absolutely testament to their brilliant performances. Thanks, both, for those wonderful moments!

That’s a similar thing to what I’m doing when I write a scene that’s rich with romantic tension. It’s about focussing on the details, letting those speak for the bigger picture, so that a reader can visualise how a character who is attracted to another acts in a heated situation. Example? Here you go, from my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop:

So it’s all about the details – the feel of the jumper underneath a palm, the heartbeat, the hand moving to the small of the back, to build up a picture of a moment. It’s not about the actual kiss, as such, as there are only so many ways to describe the meeting of lips, it’s about what goes before, and the sensations that the kiss evokes in those doing the kissing. And, hopefully, that creates a sensation and emotion in the reader/viewer too!

I hope that gives a little insight into what makes me tick when I’m writing a scene like this – what can I say except I’m a hopeless romantic?!

And if, after reading that, you’d like to see some other examples of how this works in my novels, click here for my Amazon Author’s page!

The Little Somerby Series, published by Aria/Head of Zeus (UK) and Droemer Knaur (Germany)

Daredevil: A love story

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There’s been a lot of talk, and a lot written, by writers more articulate than me, about the ways in which fiction that explores love and relationships as a theme is often written off as lightweight or somehow not worthy of closer intellectual consideration. As a writer of what has been termed ‘women’s fiction’ by the industry, with three novels to my name, I do feel somewhat qualified to enter into this debate, though, and poke the hornet’s nest a little. So, since I’m currently very invested in the Netflix/Marvel series Daredevil, let’s use that as an example.

I’ve been watching Daredevil over the Easter holidays. It’s been a treat, once the children have crashed out in bed, to sit down, click the button and watch an episode or two of an evening. At first glance, you might think that this is just another show about a good guy who punches bad people, but give it a few minutes and you realise it’s a bit more complicated than that. And the reason it’s more complicated, and thus more emotionally engaging, is because, actually, Daredevil isn’t about a blind guy who brings in villains; it’s about him, and his friends, lovers and enemies, and the relationships. The fact the he, Matt Murdock, also rounds up New York’s bad guys is almost incidental.

Daredevil is a story about love; the love between friends (S1, Ep 10 Nelson vs Murdock), friends to lovers (S2, episode 5), the love of a man for his city (pretty much all of it), family and parental love (take your pick of the Jack Murdock scenes) and everything in between, with some action scenes thrown in to remind you that Matt Murdock is an awesome superhero.

tumblr_pgx1dnvi3d1qh1qauo1_500So many wonderful scenes play on the theme of relationships in this series. A couple of the most arresting, for me, have been the final few minutes of S1 Ep 10, Nelson vs Murdock, when Foggy Nelson realises best friend Matt has been lying to him all along about who he is, and exactly what his condition entails. To see two such great actors bringing life and emotion to the breakdown of these characters was a heart wrenching treat.

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My current OTP (about a third of the way into S2 so far) is the cutely named ‘KareDevil’ (aka Karen Page and Matt Murdock). There are so many good scenes to reference including the great ‘pool table at Josie’s’ scene in  S2 Ep 1, which builds the romantic tension between Karen and Matt to a real sizzle.daredevil-201-featured-03162016There is something so incredibly charming about the way their relationship has grown; the subtleties in their body language and the slow burn of their developing love for each other that just makes my heart sing. Matt might have done that classic superhero thing and saved her life in the first episode, but since then it’s been more about their growing trust, friendship and love after that. There was no better example for the angst lover in me than at the end of S1 Ep 12, when he breaks down in tears in her arms (caution, watching this might make you cry, too!):

I think I might have let this investment in them as a couple slip a couple of times to my husband while we’ve been watching, as, last night, when the first proper kiss happened, he turned to me and simply said ‘there you go.’ I squeaked a bit; I admit it!

And there’s the rub. All fiction, if it’s good fiction, deals with relationships; functional, dysfunctional, perfect, imperfect, conflicted or calm, good fiction deals with them all, whether it’s tagged as ‘romance’ or ‘chicklit’ or ‘women’s fiction’ or, and here’s a radical concept, ‘fiction’. I’ve often referred to myself as a hopeless romantic, and a die hard shipper, whatever I happen to be watching. If it’s got a pairing, and sometimes if it hasn’t, I’ll find it and get invested in it. Does that make me less of a person for admitting it? And by marketing my fiction as dealing explicitly with relationships, often romantic ones, does that make me less of a writer?

So, I suppose what I’m saying in this post really is that all fiction has its relationships, otherwise readers and viewers wouldn’t get invested in the characters. Daredevil might not, at first glance, strike anyone as a romance (just look at the colour coding in the placeholders on the Netflix app and that’s obvious), but in my eyes that’s just what it is, even though Netflix wouldn’t market it as such in a million years. It’s about a man, at the end of the day, who happens to punch bad guys, but who is going through the agony and ecstasy of learning to love and trust after tragedy and loss. And that’s the way I shall continue to read it.

If you’d like to read a novel or three, here’s where to find them: https://amzn.to/2Iu2vt6

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