Expect the Unexpected

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Credit: silver spoon

We were dealt a curve ball recently. Out of the blue it came, shocking us out of our complacency. We were halted in our tracks as we tried to make sense of what it meant, how our lives had to change and what exactly we could do about it.

To thoroughly tangle up the metaphors, the ripples spread outward to involve family members, friends and acquaintances and those we had yet to meet. And there were going to be quite a lot of them.

But the writer in me realised the potential of such an unexpected event. Looking at my WIP (work in progress) I realised that a curve ball, a googly, was exactly what my characters needed. Something to shake them up, stir them into action and have them deal with it.

The romance is going too well, the crime is almost solved, the goody is about to defeat the baddy, so throw your characters a curve ball and muddy the waters. (It’s a day for mixing metaphors, I see). How do they react? Are they stunned into immobility? Do they dissolve into hysterics? Do they explode with an uncontrollable rage? Are they numb? Pragmatic? Depressed? Do they rise above themselves, find hidden talents and strengths? Act in ways they thought were beyond them?

What emotions are they experiencing? Fear? Grief? Resentment? Jealousy? Anxiety? Shock? Hurt? How can you show this for after all, every good writer knows that you show and don’t tell?

Whatever you do, don’t have the cavalry appearing over the brow of the hill. This is your character’s problem. Force them to deal with it. They’ll have difficulties and setbacks along the way but in the end, they’ll cope and feel all the more capable and confident for doing so. And you’ll have the opportunity of bringing out facets of your character’s character that even you didn’t know they possessed.

And us? We’ll pick ourselves up and carry on. Like we all do when the curve ball comes our way.

 

Miss-prints and Tie-pos

I’ve been preparing my entries for March’s Scottish Association of Writers’ conference. There is a huge selection of competitions to try and as I’m not adjudicating this year, I have no excuse for not having a go. I enjoy adjudicating and receiving the bundle of entries for my category, though it’s quite a lot of work to go through each entry picking out its strengths and weaknesses. And then trying to choose the first three for prizes. So often it’s a close run thing though sometimes there is one outstanding attempt that just has to take the first prize.

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Ayr Writers’ Club winners 2018

I supply a critique for all the entries which hopefully the writers will benefit from, as it’s important to try to be positive and give constructive criticism. But this year it’s my turn to be on the receiving end and I’m hoping for some useful advice from the very experienced adjudicators in the categories I’ve entered.

So I’m carefully re-reading my pieces to tidy them up and correct any typos that I have missed before. I dislike reading pieces where the writer hasn’t bothered to edit their work and correct any misprints and I just hate it myself when I realise I’ve missed something on my pieces.

There is a very interesting article in the recent Author magazine on misprints and typos in poetry that have made it into publication, sometimes to the improvement of that particular line of verse. But the one  everyone quotes is the Barker and Lucas Bible of 1631 which proclaimed in the Ten Commandments that ‘thou shalt commit adultery’. And the recent hoo-ha over the Cathay-Pacific plane with Pacific spelt without an ‘F’ shows that no-one is immune from it.

Including myself. Confession time! Every year I make a calendar, using photos taken throughout the year, for close members of my family to use. It’s a fun thing as well as a reminder of what went on in our lives in the previous year. I use Vistaprint for templates and from my previous orders for a variety of things like flyers, business cards, posters and of course calendars, I can see that I’ve been using them since 2002.

So you’d think I knew my way around by now. There was a slight problem with the 2019 calendar template but I had the bright idea of using an older version and changing the photos. This I did and put in my order. I was delighted when they came but it was only when my husband tried to write in a dental appointment to remind himself, that he noticed something was very amiss. It was a calendar with the dates for 2012! I had forgotten that I had to change the dates as well.

calendar

Ooops!

Fortunately I hadn’t sent them round the family. I got back on to Vistaprint but was still unable to access the 2019 template. I messaged them and a few hours later, they messaged back to say they had changed the date on my calendar for me and were sending out new copies post-haste and free gratis. Now that’s what I call excellent service!

So in a couple of days I will have the new calendars and be able to fill in the important dates in my life – the dentist, optician, nurse, etc etc. And of course, the dates for the Scottish Association of Writers’ conference!

Society of Authors in Scotland Christmas Lunch

Here are some photos from the recent lunch held in Edinburgh. About 30 of us managed to reach the venue despite the ravages of Storm Deirdre and enjoyed a sumptuous meal with crackers and wine to fortify us for the journey home.

It was great to meet up with old friends as well as to make new ones. The range of writing published by members of the Society of Authors is awesome.

I think we covered just about every genre in fiction and many non-fiction topics as well.

Thanks to the organisers for a very enjoyable get-together and here’s to the next time.

A Merry Christmas to everyone!

Editing Stuff – And I Mean STUFF!

It’s a while since I posted and that is because at last, at long, long last we moved into our new home. Our belongings, which we’d placed into store several months ago, arrived in a huge truck and were unloaded to fill every room of the house with an explosion of boxes. Including the garage. Especially the garage. Stuff everywhere! Where did it all come from? We had cleared out our old house (or so we thought)  before the rest of our possessions were packed in boxes, so what had happened? Have they been breeding while tucked away safely in a store somewhere in deepest Ayrshire?

And so began the daily task of opening a box to reveal its contents, groaning in despair at what we found (a plastic lid for some unknown plastic box? A bashed teapot? A bowl still filled with paperclips?) and consigning the lot to what is known in the West of Scotland as the Coup, and to the rest of the world as the recycling centre.

van

While dealing with this mish-mash of disorganised and unwanted belongings, which I’ll call Stuff, it struck me that dealing with my Stuff in the boxes was not dissimilar to the process of editing in creative writing. The same rules seemed to apply to both.

My Rule number 1 of editing my writing is to put it away for a while, quite a long while, not just a few days and then bring it out for a fresh look.

That is precisely what we did with our Stuff. We put it away in store for quite a few months. And now we’re looking at it with fresh eyes.

When I look at my writing after I’ve put it aside for a while, I can see plenty of bits I want to cut, bits that I want to change and bits that look jaded and cliched.

When we opened the boxes filled with our Stuff…. yup, you get it.

Rule number 2 of editing says that pruning and cutting your work enhances what’s left. Every sentence, every word should earn its place.

Our trips to the Coup with redundant Stuff are becoming an almost daily occurrence and we will shortly be on first name terms with the wee man in charge. At home, we can now almost see the carpet and can move freely around the house without it being like an assault course.boxes

Rule number 3 states that moving the position of an incident to eg the end of a chapter, adds drama and encourages the reader to continue.

I don’t know about drama, unless you count the arguments, heated discussions and explosions of sweary words as we attempt to move furniture around the house. There is too much of it and where we thought to put it doesn’t work. There is a limit to the number of chairs a room can support unless you intend holding a public meeting there.. Why have we so much furniture anyway? Give me the Japanese minimalist style any day.

Rule number 4 says to look out for clumsy phrasing, typos, tautologies and any other errors that detract from the text.

Ok, who put that glass coffee table right where I couldn’t see it? And why is there a huge roll of sticky tape sitting in the cutlery drawer? No, I don’t know where the spare toilet rolls are. Try the fridge.

Rule number 5? Have a coffee. We’ve earned it.

Publication Day

 

It’s exciting when Publication Day arrives. After weeks, months, even years of hard work the great day comes at last and The Book is finally out there! Will it sell? Will the reviewers like it? Where will it be on Amazon rankings?

The important thing for an author to remember is that people’s tastes differ – fortunately – as what one person loves in a book, another hates. And I’m the same. Some books I devour with a great deal of pleasure, others I give up on after only a few pages. So some reviewers will give it a resounding 5 stars while others, more circumspect, award 3 or 4 and there’s always some idiot that you’ll vow to hate for life who hands out a measly singleton.

So what of Love Begins at 40? It’s about Maisie, approaching her fortieth birthday with some trepidation. She’s a successful businesswoman in Glasgow, who, in order to have better life-work balance, buys a holiday flat in Largs, a seaside resort on the west coast of Scotland. There she meets James dealing with his own difficulties in life. But they are attracted to each other. Can they overcome their problems, make some hard decisions and end up happily ever after?

Read it and see!

LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett200

Moving On … Again!

We’ve been on the move again, this time to Edinburgh. Our new house isn’t ready yet so we had to leave our previous rental (golfers had it booked for the Open at Gullane) and find a new home.

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A snowy Edinburgh Castle

Not as easy as it sounds in the middle of the holiday season and with the Edinburgh Festival next month. However friends of our family were planning to rent out a flat with Airbnb and were pleased to let us have a long let (hopefully just a couple of months) instead.

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The Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood

So it was stuff everything thing into our suitcases and plastic bags and head up to the capital. My ‘office’ has expanded to half of a dining table which is positively luxurious compared to the quarter of the breakfast bar I had before.

But my writing is sluggish. The next novel has ground to a halt as there are too many other things on my mind like where did I pack x, y, or z, where are the nearest shops and how does the washing machine work?

I did however, write an article about the street we were living on in Haddington as it was full of history – a battle was fought there in the sixteenth century, John Knox, the Protestant reformer went to school there and the whole area has been flooded several times, the first recorded one in 1348 and the last in 1948.

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John Knox’s School

Being in Edinburgh has its advantages of course. We’ve already found our way to Princes Street and the National Gallery of Scotland, Chambers Street where we visited the National Museum of Scotland and naturally, the shops! Next month is Festival month with the official Festival outnumbered by events at the Fringe, and my favourite, the Book Festival where I hope to catch up with many of my writer friends.

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Getting ready for the Festival Tattoo on the Castle Esplanade

And a last plug – my new book, Love Begins at 40, will be published on July 18th. It’s set in Largs on the Scottish west coast, while Festival Fireworks is set in Edinburgh during the festival itself.

Back to Work!

Now that we are settled in our temporary home – an old town house set over three floors with one room on each and doing wonders for our calf muscles as we trundle up and down – I have no excuse for not getting on with writing tasks.

The edits for my next novel for Tirgearr Publishing, Love Begins at 40, have arrived so I’m working my way through them. I have a great editor, Christine, who picks up on all sorts of details that I miss, like commas and other punctuation marks. I assume that in the heat of creation, I tend to miss them out but in reality, I’m not entirely sure when and what to use. And anyway, each publishing house has its own style so what is acceptable for one is a no-no in another.

Love Begins at 40 will be out in August, about the time when we finally move into our new home so a double celebration will be in order.

And in another success, I’ve just heard that an article I wrote on the Palaces in Kirkwall, Orkney has been accepted for an American magazine, the Highlander. I’ve sent loads of photos for it as well so I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

Summer appears to be here at last, at least for a few days, and it’s brought everyone out into the sunshine. Long may it continue!

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Down by the River