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.

My Granny Went on Holiday…..

When I was a child we used to play a game, My Granny went on holiday and in her suitcase she packed... each person would add an item, the sillier the better, to the list for the next person to remember. Eventually, as the list grew longer and full of unusual things, people would get knocked out of the game as they forgot items or had them in the wrong order.

I am at present, living out of two suitcases, while we wait for our new home to be ready. Their contents closely resemble those of the game. I packed those suitcases at the end of April just after the storm nicknamed the ‘Beast from the East’ because of its Siberian origins, had covered the country in feet of crisp white snow and ice. The countryside was quite beautiful if you didn’t have to go places, had plenty of food and heat and were not in need of medical assistance.

In my mind as well, was last year’s disastrous summer with heavy rain, temperatures far below normal and little sunshine. On top of all that, we had a wedding in Iceland to pack for, with the service taking place outdoors at the foot of a glacier.

suitcase

Not required at this stage of the journey.

So, in my suitcase I packed… thermal underwear, numerous thick woolly polo neck sweaters, two heavy jackets with hoods, knitted hat, scarf and gloves, waterproof trousers, sturdy walking shoes, a rain poncho and a hot water bottle. And what happens? We have the longest, driest, hottest spell of sunny weather in decades!

I had to head for the sales and buy a couple of cheap t-shirts so that I had something to wear without dying of heat exhaustion.

My Work in Progress (WIP) is in a similar state to my suitcases – full of stuff that I don’t actually need at the moment. I have written around 10,00 words and have ground to a halt. Why? Because I have crammed in loads of situations and backstory and details I might use at a later date but which are simply tangling up the story at the moment. I don’t know what direction to take my WIP next. Should I follow A’s problem which involves B not knowing about C but has a mystery at its source? Or what about Z who hates C but is in love secretly with W although he is married to B? And what of M who has suddenly appeared on page 19 but fits in nowhere that I can envisage?

All this is going on and I have only reached chapter 4.

When I finally move into our new home, I shall unpack the contents of my suitcases and hang them in wardrobes or stash them in cupboards until such time as I need them again. I’ll know where they are and can easily bring them out to use when the weather requires them. Similarly with my WIP I shall cut away all the extraneous complications, but won’t consign them to the trash can. I’ll keep them safely in a file marked KEEP until I reach a point in the story when I know they will have the maximum impact and will earn their place in the book. Then I shall introduce them into the action and watch while my characters react to the new situation I have created to stir them up.

No doubt at that time my woolly sweaters and hats will also be called into service as the year creeps towards its end and the hot weather is far in the past.

As my granny used to say, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.’

To everything there is a season….

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.

xmas 2004 012

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.

Catching up!

I met up with an old friend in Edinburgh this week.

bernagh

No, we didn’t plan to wear identical outfits!

Bernagh was my producer when I was writing for BBC Northern Ireland. She produced the radio series One Potato, Two Potato which was aimed at children from 7-9 years but actually reached a wider age range than that. I started off by writing stories for her to use in the programmes but ended up being one of the scriptwriters.

It was a very successful series as, when it celebrated its 25th anniversary, a group of us Scottish writers flew across to Belfast for the celebrations. It was good to meet up with the presenters, Libby and Michael, as well as some of the other writers, and of course, Bernagh.

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Bernagh with the presenters of One Potato, Two Potato Michael and Libby

Bernagh was asked to produce a series of radio programmes for pre-school children and she wanted me to be the scriptwriter. We took ourselves off to a holiday house in Ballantrae in south-west Scotland where in, of all places, a beer-garden, we put together the series Hurley-Burley.

HB TV 1Initially, there were only going to be six programmes but the series was so successful that we did another three series, 24 programmes in all. From there, it transferred to TV and I wrote the scripts for all the 12 programmes.

But times move on and when Bernagh retired from the BBC, they decided in their wisdom to finish with children’s radio. I think that was a great shame for where else do children have the opportunity to develop their listening skills as well as their imaginations if not from listening to the radio? As the cliché goes, the pictures are better on the radio.

However, we enjoyed our catch-up and our afternoon tea and time flew past as it usually does when you’re enjoying yourself.

Love Begins at 40!

I’m delighted to say that my latest novel, Love Begins at 40, is on pre-order for kindle at 99p/99c.LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett100

It’s set in a small seaside town on the west coast of Scotland, Largs, which I know well, and where I spoke last year at the local writers’ club. So they can take a share of providing me with the inspiration for it as I had a delightful day there.

It’s about Maisie, a successful business woman in Glasgow, who, as she approaches her fortieth birthday, has doubts about where her future lies. She has some rather difficult decisions to make that impact not only her, but other people in her life. Can she make the right choice? And what is the right thing to do?

But then tragedy strikes a double blow, and she’s forced to make those important decisions about what she really wants from life.
I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think.