SynopsesGame, Set and Match
Correcting Proofs and Researching Receiving Reviews
My Writing Routine
Sorting out Problems All my creativity and energy is going into my WIP, that's work in progress! I'm not being patronising; I needed to have the letters explained to me I'm still not sure what a TS is and is a Ts different from a Ms. Answers on a postcard please or by email! The book just did not seem to be going anywhere and I was getting in a real muddle. I printed everything I'd written out, spread it all over the dining room table- once I'd cleaned up from New Year's Day dinner- and read it and read it again. Then I took a notebook and analysed each chapter. This is not the way I usually work but, would you believe, it seems to be working for me. I saw areas that were weak, and, thank goodness for the morale, saw some bits that were quite good, and found several holes in the story line that needed to be plugged up. There is such a difference between plugging and padding; I certainly do not want to pad the story out but.. Well, I'll give you a 'for instance'. The story hinges on an event that took place twenty years or so before the novel opens. One of the men in my heroine's life wants to help her but all he did for several chapters was think about it. I now have him acting on his impulse much earlier in the story and it makes more sense! That's all I can tell you without spoiling the story! I'm now enjoying myself again; for weeks I was afraid that I was wasting my time, going on and on with a novel that I felt had no life. I would wake up in the middle of the night saying, Why should my heroine love my hero; he's not very loveable. She's an intelligent articulate woman; surely she'd tell him to get lost. And then I realised that I know him, I know his strengths and weaknesses and I know what makes him special. I just hadn't written it down very well. Now his charm, such an overused word, is evident. At least, I hope it is.
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High Notes and Low Notes No two days have been alike the past few months. My computer was moved into the downstairs hall so that our bedroom could be redecorated (my office is off the bedroom) and so I have been sitting in the hall, trying to work while everybody and his uncle raced past me on journeys up or downstairs. Mind you it was lovely when it was done but I couldn't get back to my office immediately because the dust from stripping the bedroom floor was everywhere. I'm home now and feeling quite reassured again. As well as working on my synopsis for my third novel for Hodder which is to be called The Stuff of Dreams and which will be published in April 2004, I judged a competition for the Scottish Association of Christian Writers. Quite a difficult thing to do since the standard varied so much and I had no way of knowing where each writer was in his game plan as it were. Still I laboured over it and hope each person benefited from my comments. The Dundee Book Group of which I am a committee member had a very busy month. We try to have a writer discuss his work with our members at least once every four to six weeks. Lately we had three very different writers within three weeks! That meant at least one committee meeting- there goes the writing- and another afternoon meeting to help stuff envelopes. Three nights to help host the speaker and for me this month two books to read since I was doing the Vote of thanks for two of the speakers. One was the utterly charming Santa Montefiore, author of The Forget-me-Not Sonata, a lovely story of family secrets which is set in Argentina, and the other was the foreign correspondent and broadcaster Jeremy Bowen who was discussing his book on The Six Day War. Having both Israeli and Arab friends this area of the world interests me deeply and Jeremy has written a very readable and accessible book which explains quite a lot that I had found confusing. And by the way, he's charmer too! One morning Teresa rang to tell me Schmetterlingstage, the German edition of Someday, Somewhere had been bought by a book club in Germany so lots more happy dancing round the kitchen. Note to self- next time, take a mop and a bucket of water and kill two birds with one stone. Next an invitation to 'say a few words' at the launch of a new book about the literary scene in Dundee. Have you ever noticed that the shorter the talk, the longer it takes you to write down the gist of what you're going to say? Anyway, the book is called Dundee's Literary Lives and is by the Dundee writer Andrew Murray Scott; having read the proofs I have to say it's fascinating. What a lot of thorough research, Andy. Well done. (p.s. I'm in it!) Back to the new novel and then time out to begin to put together something on 'My life in Opera' for The Friends of Scottish Opera-Tayside Branch. In a moment of conceit I agreed to be the speaker at their Christmas meeting. Help! They all know more about opera than I do. Other books read lately. Finally bought Chocolat by Joann Harris and loved it and Mr Golightly's holiday by Salley Vickers which I did not enjoy quite so much and yet I had loved Miss Garnet's holiday. I read a proof copy of the wonderful Joanna Trollope's new book Brother and Sister. I like the later books so much better than the Aga sagas. Isn't it fun that we all have different tastes? A friend has just sent me The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor which may have to wait until the new book is finished and another friend gave me a stunning cookbook called La France Gourmande by Marolyn Charpentier, an American travel writer who now lives in France with her French husband. It's more than a cook book; it's an exploration of France and I loved it and have even used one of the recipes- chicken in a saffron sauce. Cooking is not my greatest talent but boy, this was yummy- the sauce is worth making on its own. One utterly miserable day lately. Ian and I drove in to Edinburgh to attend the funeral service of my friend, Giles Gordon. He died as the result of an accident and will be greatly missed by his clients, and the whole literary scene in Scotland. He was a wonderful help to me in my years as secretary of the Society of Authors and was one of the funniest, wittiest, and most charming of men. My heart goes out to his wife and children. Rather a sad note to end the year on . It's been a year of success and disappointment, work and worry, great happiness and great sadness. I've had some wonderful experiences and met some lovely people and phone call just in- our sons will be with us for Christmas. So, love and joy to all of you. See you next year.
I've just come back from London and I am still walking on air. What a lovely time I had. I went down to meet my German publisher who had come over to meet some of their British writers. Andrew Lloyd Webber's exhibition of mainly Victorian paintings is on at the Royal Academy and I thought, I'll see that, see my editor, see Teresa, see Alistair-(our younger son) and see Regina. I get my money's worth out of a train fare to London!! I went down on Monday and spent the evening with Alistair. I meant to read on the train but I met some really delightful people and we talked all the way - that gets filed under 'research'!! Up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday and hurried along Piccadilly to the Royal Academy. Big shock for this country girl. NOTHING opens in London before ten o'clock. At least it gave me a chance to walk and to discover London. Somewhere near the Theatre Royal I found the most fabulous equestrian statue - four huge stallions bursting out of a fountain. I hope I can find it again; I had forgotten my notebook. What writer worth her laptop forgets a notebook~?? Trafalgar Square suddenly loomed up - I had had no idea that I was so close. Learning a place is very exciting. New York is more familiar to me because whenever I am there I walk everywhere possible; now I'm learning London. Back I went and by this time the Academy was open. The exhibition is fascinating although sometimes I feel if I've seen one beautiful pre- Raphaelite portrait I've seen em all. The William Morris tapestries were absolutely fabulous and some of the paintings breath taking. Two hours went by and it was time to meet my editor for lunch. She was busy with editorial meetings and so we had no more than a very productive- and delicious lunch together- and then we walked back to her Underground station. I stopped at Fortnum and Mason to buy a slice of game pie for Ian whose birthday it was and then went back to my hotel to prepare for the evening. Someone told me once that since publishing is an image conscious business, make sure your hair your hands and your shoes are in tiptop condition. I'd had my hair done and bought new short boots. My nails have to be content with clean and neat since they will not grow. My agent came; we sat in the garden for a while and then walked to the restaurant where we were to have dinner. What a lovely evening. The food and wine were delicious but the company was great. I have to say that to be treated so well by publishers is a brand new phenomenon for this writer and I hope every one of you who wants it - gets it!. We laughed, we talked, we ate and the hours flew past. It was like being out to dinner with three of your closest friends and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't just having a lovely dream. The icing on the cake was when Regina told me that after two weeks!!!- they have already ordered a reprinting of Scmetterlingstage, the German title for Someday, Somewhere. Teresa has to restrain me from happy dancing all the way back to my hotel! It was a wonderful evening and we all hope there will be more such evenings but, for now, I have to get busy and write the next book. My editor has the synopsis; maybe she'll hate it. Nothing is a certainty in this business. My nose will be firmly to the grindstone for months except- I will have to take a little time off to buy a baby gift! At the end of August we all flew to Spain to attend the wedding of a lovely young man who used to stay with us in the summers when he was a schoolboy. Inaki would come to us for a few weeks and Alistair would go to Madrid for a few weeks. Those schoolboys are now grown men and we had never managed to find time or money to visit Inaki's family. Last Christmas he wrote to say he was getting married in the beautiful mediaeval town of Avila and would we come!! You bet. We booked flights immediately and went for the weekend. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of our entire married life. Inaki's parents were staying in the same hotel and we met them the night before the wedding with some other relatives and that was so lovely. It was like meeting someone I'd known for a long time- and then I realized, we did know one another; Dolores and Ignacio had loved and cared for our son as we had for theirs. The wedding was in a beautiful old church and as custom dictates we waited with all the guests outside for the bride to arrive. We met other members of both families including Inaki's beautiful sister, Sonia, who had been driven, very carefully, from Madrid for the wedding since Sonia and her husband, Marcelo, were expecting their first baby. More about the wedding next month but baby Marcelo arrived last week- and all his Scottish family are absolutely delighted. While I wait for feedback on the synopsis, I'll spend time on reading some assignments set for their members by the Christian Writers Group. Their conference is in Stirling in November and I'm their featured speaker and I hope I'll also be able to give them a hand with these plot ideas. In December I've been asked to be the speaker at the Christmas dinner of the Tayside branch of the Friends of Scottish Opera. I was petrified to see that they wanted me to speak on 'My Life in Opera.' I haven't had a life in opera and most of the members of the Friends have forgotten more about opera than I know. They accepted my title 'Even Wagner can be Fun' and so now I have to write something that will at least raise a smile. Next month, I hope to let you know how I get on. Hm. Wagner and fun? What a puzzle I have set myself!
Correcting Proofs and Researching Yahoo! The Synopsis is finished and with my agent and my proofs of book number two A Way of Forgiving are corrected and back with Hodder. Correcting proofs is not a favourite part of my writing day but I got some very useful advice this time. An RNA member suggested working down the page line by line with a ruler and that's excellent as your eyes tend to see what you want them to see and not what's there. I brought this piece of advice up at the conference in Durham and the same lady stood up and said, 'And then read again from the back.' What a worthwhile piece of advice that turned out to be. By the time a book is written, accepted, and being readied for publication, the writer is so familiar with it that he/she can probably recite it- and too often does!! Reading from the back is a totally new experience and I did find errors that way, some even my own!! If you're out there, nice person from the RNA, please tell me your name. At the moment I have a breathing space before the Edinburgh Festival so I start the day by reading emails and answering them. One this morning was from my God-daughter Megan, just graduated from university in California, and on her own in Europe for the first time. She had watched the finale of the Tour de France and her enthusiasm and excitement just burst off the page. She's a very good young writer- I shall have to watch for competition on the home front. Enjoy, Megan. Another was from Adele Geras who has very sweetly asked me to be her guest at her Edinburgh Festival event on August 15th. I've read Adele's lovely Facing the Light but I shall enjoy listening to her- she's an excellent speaker. Might pick up some tips for my own event with Isla on the 19th!! After emails, business mail, bills to pay, boring but necessary. Now a chance to access the Internet to find out something about embroidery. I want my next heroine to have a particular skill; I just don't know what it is yet! And no, I can't sew but then I can't paint either and I wrote about an artist. I'm definitely a 'write what you're prepared to find out about' writer. For this next book too I needed to know a little about police procedure. I rang our local police station and eventually found a senior officer with the experience and expertness to guide me through- and he is prepared to talk to me now and again. A little advice here for the would be researcher. Know as much as you can about what you want to find out. Does that sound odd? All the people I have asked for help and advice over the years have been very busy professionals. Try not to waste their valuable time. I told this policeman what I wanted or hoped to do and asked him a few prepared but basic questions. He answered them and I made notes like mad- language is very important. Then I told him that I would have to write my scene or scenes before I discovered the next step that I did not know, and he said he would be quite willing to help me when I get to that stage. I thanked him and said goodbye - short and sweet conversation. I'm almost ready to ring him again WITH my list of carefully thought out questions. It's no use winging it. If he allows me to use his name I will thank him in the acknowledgements. Day almost over and I think I can reward myself by reading someone else. This month I read and thoroughly enjoyed Dancing in a Different Place by Isla Dewar. What a terrific read, characters one cares about, problems too many of us have and over all Isla's delightful humour and goodness. I can't think why there aren't huge placards at every station telling the great British public to read this writer. Another great read was The Way the Crow Flies by a Canadian writer Ann-Marie MacDonald. I'll tell you more about that book when it's published. Oh, and I thoroughly enjoyed Katie Fforde's Paradise Fields. Katie's another writer with a delicate touch. This morning, over my second cup of coffee, I finished Joanne Harris's Five Quarters of The Orange. I have to confess that I had read nothing by this fine writer and then I saw Chocolat when we were in Italy and decided to read the book as soon as I got back. Chocolat was checked out at my local library- I don't buy books unless I know I'm going to like them- and so I took Five Quarters of The Orange. Disturbing but gripping book and my goodness she can paint pictures in my head. I shall read them all now. My physiotherapist has signed me off but I suppose I had better go and exercise now.
I shall listen to Traviata, a great favourite, while I do.
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Receiving Reviews I'm still not into my usual routine and that's sad. Routine suits me. I like to know where I'm going to be at any given time. Is that sad too? Cross your fingers but I think I have finished the synopsis for my next book. Teresa and I will discuss that next week in London. Perhaps we'll walk in Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park - no fuggy room full of cigarette smoke for us. Mind you not all business is conducted over expense account lunches; I enjoy both a nice lunch and a walk in the park. London at this time of the year should be lovely. The best part of getting the synopsis out of the way is that I can write. The new book has been started and I'm quite pleased with the way it's going so far. I haven't worked out a structure for it yet. The subconscious tends to take care of that once I'm really into writing and unfortunately I'm not really into writing. Too many interruptions. One interruption has been the dreaded review. For a while I thought SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE wasn't going to be reviewed at all but at last they're coming in and they're a mixed bag. One of the problems seems to be that reviewers need a label that they can attach to the book and if it doesn't really suit any of the labels they have a problem. I had, to me, a devastating review a few days ago in the Herald, a very fine Scottish newspaper published in Glasgow. SOMEDAY, SOMEWERE, was reviewed as a historical novel and compared with 'real' historical novels like Maggie Craig's A STAR TO STEER BY and Evelyn Hood's A SPARKLE OF SALT. The reviewer praises these books for their fine sense of history and then says that in my book 'the heartbeat of history is rather less strong.' You bet your life it is because SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE is NOT a historical novel. It's women's fiction which happens to have a back story. Not a level playing field. Should I ask the reviewer to read it again as women's fiction or even as a straightforward romance? Wouldn't get anywhere. The reviewer ends by saying my book is 'clever, competent, predictable groin-exercised stuff.' I'm having real trouble with 'groin-exercised' and I've had some emails from erudite and intellectual friends who are having trouble with it too! Don't misunderstand me; I don't expect everyone to like my work. What a dull world this would be were we all the same but I do expect parity. Over my shoulder I can hear good friends who write romantic novels and novels for the Harlequin, Mills and Boon market laughing at my naivety. They don't get reviewed at all. What a lot of snobbery there is in this writing world. If a frothy romance makes for two hours of escape for an overburdened woman, then it's earned its place just as much, possibly even more, than the latest heavy 'literary' novel. A friend rang me up the other day to tell me about some publicity for a conference at which I'm appearing. 'Do you really want to be called a popular novelist?' she asked in some kind of shock. You bet; I'd be thrilled! According to the Evening Telegraph my new novel 'could provide a comforting, undemanding, if slightly bulky, companion' on summer holiday. Caledonia Magazine says it's 'romance as good as it gets.' Thank you, reviewer. My favourite came in this morning and it's so beautifully written that I have to write it out in full. It was written by Claire- Marie Watson, the writer who last year won the prestigious, and financially rewarding, Dundee Book Prize with her amazing first novel- a real historical, by the way - The Curewife. I loved it. Reminded me, with its depth of research and authentic language of As Meat Loves Salt, a novel I read a few years ago, having been asked to introduce the writer, Maria McCann, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I would never have read this book had Catherine Lockerbie not asked me to chair the event and I would have been the loser. It's a remarkable novel as is Claire- Marie's. Check them out for yourself. Here's Claire- Marie's review. 'You created an opera. A glittering cast, luscious costume and scenery and a love story that survives tragedy and death all written with the same changes of pace and mood as opera music. Very clever indeed. I really enjoyed it.' I love that and am especially interested in the 'scenery.' When I was in Cleethorpes I talked about the book and how I came to write it - and I remember telling the audience about waking up in a country house in Argyll and drowning in the view from my bedroom window. I couldn't get it out of my head - knocked down the lovely house where I was a guest and put up a wee but-n-ben in its place- no way to thank my dear hosts- and eventually set SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE there but at the Cleethorpes lunch I was delighted to hear people asking for 'the Argyll book'. The scenery is definitely a character. Don't forget that - characters do not have to be human. Place is very important in my books. My other big annoyance lately is physiotherapy. I have osteoporosis and real back problems and so, as well as being on a new medication which means I swallow a pill once a week, I have to attend Arbroath Infirmary where a young man puts me through a series of exercises. It's doing me good but oh, it messes up my day - and what's worse, he expects me to do the same set of exercises at home. Note to self for this month, 'will do better.' Do you think the physiotherapist will understand when I tell him I can't possibly take my big rubber ball to London!!
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When I'm actually working on a novel I am in my office almost all day - and most evenings too.
Right now though, I'm working on the synopsis for what I hope will be my next book, I'm doing events to promote Someday Somewhere, and I've been judging competitions and that makes my day different. Usually I wake up about seven- gone are the days when I used to get up at four a.m. to write before my day job. My husband who also works at home brings me a cup of coffee - my reward for years of getting up early to cook breakfast for him and our two sons- and then he takes the dogs - an elderly but game springer and a young chocolate lab -for a run while I check my email. I spend far too much time on email but I love it. My friends and family are all over the world and this way I can be in touch several times a week. I belong to the Romantic Novelists Association and several of these writers are generous enough to share URLS of interesting articles with those of us who are not so IT literate. If my friend Anne Weale, a journalist and Harlequin Mills and Boon writer, posts an URL I usually access it and then read it while I'm having a second cup of coffee.
Then I'm ready for the day.
I work fairly steadily but I have a bone problem and so I can't spend hours sitting at the computer. Besides I have a home and a family and have always believed in first things first. When I'm not writing to a deadline I like to do a little housework before I start work. I have a wonderful and now very elderly American friend who told me years ago that - I paraphrase - dirt doesn't care who you are. She was washing her kitchen floor at the time and she had full time live in help! Her housekeeper wasn't feeling very well and the kitchen floor was dirty and so she cleaned it. I have no help except from Ian and so when that floor needs washing I wash it. Ian, and the boys have been very supportive and never fussed about beautiful home cooked meals but now that the boys are grown up and pursuing their careers I treasure every minute with them. When one or other is coming home for a day or two I cook for Scotland! Number 1 son- that means broccoli and stilton soup; Number 2 son -peanut butter soup! Doing an hour or so of housework or cooking means I can listen to Radio 4; I have several favourite programmes and broadcasters, Andrew Marr's Start the Week for example, and I try never to miss Desert Island Discs. Fabulous material for a writer in that programme. Sometimes I even like the music!
After my stint in the kitchen it's back upstairs to the desk.
For the past few years I've been invited - with my husband - to the literary dinner at St Leonard's School in beautiful St. Andrews. I've really enjoyed these events, met some lovely people and been very impressed by the work exhibited by the pupils. This year they asked me to judge their competition. I was scarcely able to enjoy the excellent meal provided because my stomach was thinking of the speech I had to make. I have a love hate relationship with competitions; it's exciting to find something original in an entry but I still spend too much time wondering if I'm being accurate and kind enough and severe enough because that part has to be there too. But someone has to win and that means others have to lose. I spent a lot of time reading and rereading to try to do the best possible job. I used to enter competitions and never gave much thought to the judge. Well, thank you all- a little late, but sincere.
When I've had enough of the competition I might go back downstairs and wash some clothes- they won't wash themselves- and then it's back to look at the synopsis. Today my agent rang to see how I'm progressing and to ask me to email my last novel- that's the one that will be coming out in 2004 - to an international scout and to print the whole thing out to send to a publisher in the Netherlands. I did that straight away. My husband always packs manuscripts for me- he says I have no idea of what he calls quality control!
Then, of course, it's lunchtime. I've been dieting - how vain can you get - to look good at the launch and so poor Ian diets with me. To be honest, the less fat I'm carrying the easier it is on my spine, so salads all round at lunchtime. I got a fabulous salad out of a clothing catalogue a few years ago, strange but true.
If I've been washing I hang the clothes up after lunch. We have a marvellous old pulley in the laundry room that is worth its weight in gold. Sorry but I've stopped hanging clothes outside because I have to wash most of them all over again! The electric dryer is used only in times of crisis!
Back upstairs and a quick look at any emails. I might answer some- if I don't answer at once I tend to forget - and I think I must be a real nuisance to some people. Email in, email out. A telephone call out of the blue from an old old friend. Will I go to the theatre with him in London? How I would love to go - my embryo heroine tells me she's an actress - but I have an event that day. I love an opportunity to get to London. Our younger son lives there and we enjoy going to the theatre or having a meal together.
Back to work and then some time to read. I read a lot and have very catholic tastes. Usually I have two or three books on the go at the same time. One is usually something 'improving' and then perhaps a good thriller and a nice big novel. I've just read Artemesia by Susan Vreeland - what a wonderful story - and I read Michael Dibdin's superb latest, A Long Finish
After dinner, which could be quite nice since I'm not really 'working' and therefore have time to cook, I might watch television with Ian for a while. We love University Challenge, watch far too many news broadcasts, and will watch any good detective/police procedural. We saw a wonderful 'Magic Flute' some weeks ago and I'm really pleased that Ian and the boys enjoy good music as much as I do. I sent our older son an email just after Christmas - 'remember the Messiah's on tonight' and got one back, 'Sorry Mum, had far too much good music over Christmas.' I meant of course the thriller but will have to tone down my Christmas music 'must listen to's' next year. Sorry boys.
When we switch off the television the dogs decide it's time for a before bed walk. All four of us enjoy these walks. Usually I carry a torch but it's getting lighter every evening and soon I won't need one. We have a little winking light on the lab's collar- must be very disconcerting for stray motorists to see this blinking light hurtling through space. We live so far from a town that we can see the stars and the dogs enjoy the scents. The new story line occupies my thoughts at the moment and walking is a great way to let the subconscious mind help me out.
Will I check my emails before bed? No- they'll wait till morning.
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Sara Sheridan was born in Edinburgh and studied English Literature at Trinity College Dublin. She has written a wide range of stories including contemporary novels, short films, teen and children's books as well as historical fiction.
Creative Writing Courses in France 7-day residential Courses in the aptly named Hotel Victor Hugo in St Cere.
Fantastic value for money, they offer something for every writer, published or unpublished. I learned a lot. I hope to finish my play one day - with a little help from friends in St Cere - Tom and Jean-Luc talking care of body and soul and Janice and Peter taking great care of the mind. Visit their websites, too:
Peter May & Janice Hally
Although these centres are names after their founder, Maggie Keswick Jenks, they are not just for women. They are for everyone with or affected by Cancer. Please check out their website.
Chrissie's website about her writing
http://www.Rough-Clay.com about Chrissie's latest book
http://www.arthurbowker.com for her father's fine bone china.
the book lovers'website
ROMANCE JUNKIES .COM
Journalist Lynne Hackles Website
Girl Guides Scotland
Writers News magazine
Ask About Writing - a great site for writers
Romantic Novelists' Association Blog
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