Friday, 16 October 2015

An anonymous interview

Looking through my files, I found these interview questions. I forget what, why, who, where or when I did them, but here they are with the answers.

1.    In 140 characters, what is your book / series about?
18th century Covent Garden prostitute solves crimes - short enough?

2.    When did you start writing?
Is this a trick question? I was about four. I was an avid reader. Writing just seemed a natural progression. At first it was just my name but I soon progressed to whole phrases. Ummm. I guess it’s not a trick question. I started writing in 1988. I was 31. My son had just been born. I wrote a ten minute script for Channel Four, which was brand spanking new at the time. I was short-listed and I just thought ‘I can do this’.

3.    What is your next project?
Never just working on one project at a time. Always got three or four on the go at the same time: French wartime tearjerker, 18th century prostitute solves crimes, ghosts in Paris and Marseilles, 17th century PParisian poisoner.

4.    What is your long term writing ambition?
To build up a body of work that will stand the test of time.

5.    How have you found the publishing process?
It’s a bloody nightmare. Agents are like gold dust and it's not getting any easier. Self-publishing on Amazon has become the slush pile. I still want to do it the old-fashioned way. I would work my socks off for an agent who believes in me.
6.    What did you learn from writing your first book?
To finish it.

7.    What two books would you take to a desert island?
John Steinbeck’s Grape of Wrath, and The Grifters by Jim Thompson.

8.    What was your favourite childhood book?
Muffin the Mule – it had a map. Love maps

9.    What are your three top writer tips?
Forget about waiting for the muse to hit. Just write every single day – good, bad or indifferent.
If you want to be a writer, quit saying it and just do it.
Finish what you’ve started.

10.  Why should people buy your book?
Because you can escape into another world and experience all the horrors, shocks, and excitement of that time. Because it sets your imagination free and allows you to be someone else for a short while. Because it’s a detective story and you love trying to work out ‘who dun it’.

11.  Do you plot or do you free-style in your writing?
I learned to write scripts for TV and film before coming to novels. I plot pretty much every damned thing and then I freestyle it.

  1. School lover or school hater?
Hated every moment of it – except for art.

  1. Who is your greatest supporter?
My son, Jacob.

  1. Twitter lover or Twitter hater? Why?
Used to hate it, then I loved it, now I hate it again. Worldwide Chinese whispers.

  1. What is the best TV series you have seen lately, why?
The Musketeers. Handsome pointy-bearded men. Do I need any other reason?

  1. Do you blog about anything else other than writing? If so, what?
I blogged about going to California in 2010. I have a website for the fountain I am rescuing along with the lovely people of the Friends of Priory Park.  On the whole though, I find it hard to blog. I'm too busy writing novels and scripts to blog much.

  1. What is your life motto?
Never give up


1.    Favourite flavour of ice-cream – I don’t eat ice cream
2.    Crisps or chocolate? – both but also neither – I don’t eat chocolate or crisps. I used to, but chocolate upsets my stomach and crisps are all fat.
3.    Tea or coffee? – I don’t drink either. I don’t do caffeine. I drink redbush and herbals. Aren't I boring?
4.    Wine or water? - Water
5.    Camping or glamping? – What the hell is glamping when it’s at home? I’m strictly a hotel only girl these days.
6.    Must your socks always match?  Oh yes, it is slothful to be otherwise dressed.
7.    If you were to have 5 famous people (dead or alive) to dinner who would they be? – Johnny Depp, Tom Waits, Marquis de Sade, now those three would have a ball together. James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson.No women, sorry.
8.    If you could relive one moment from history, what would it be? Any of it. All of it.
9.    If you were Noah, which animal would you have left behind and why? – Humans. Do I really need to say why?
10.  Tell us an amusing secret that nobody else knows (fun not serious) – I intend on buying a derelict castle when I make my first million. When I make my second million I might be able to afford doing it up.
11.  Who would you most like to have a good rant at and why? – Women doing their make-up in public. Cheesh, finish your ablutions at home will you?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

What happens next? - Plotting and Planning

Okay, so you've got this amazing idea for a book and you dive right in and write until you run out of go. Then what?

You put it in a metaphorical drawer (usually a file on your computer) and forget about it? You leave it open on the desktop and worry about it? You come back to it each day, but don't write more than a few lines? You start to add to it, but it flounders because you aren't really sure where it's going? All writers have this problem - the story that's going nowhere. The story that's long on idea, but short on execution. You move on to the next idea. You might repeat yourself in an endless cycle of false starts. I know I have.

These days though, I finish everything I write - good, bad or indifferent - because finishing something allows me to move on properly.

Here's how I write now. I get a good idea, or at least what I think is a good idea, and I immediately pose it as a 'what if' question. For The Finish it was 'what if an 18th century prostitute woke to find a dead man in her bed?'

Then I think how will this look as the start of a book? What is she doing? Where is she doing it?

Next up I go straight to the end. What's happened by the end of the book? Has she survived? Has the situation resolved itself? If so, how?

Having envisaged the opening scene and the end scene, I decide which characters will aid her progress and which will cause problems. In Kitty's case it's fairly simple - without giving you the end, I need her to survive because she features in three more books. However, the situation is dire, with the possibility of hanging, if she is brought to trial and found guilty of murder. She lives in a brothel so we have the madam, Mother Shadbolt, and various other prostitutes. We also have a number of clients and the 'bully' on the door. A detective story is plot driven, as the character moves from one set of clues to the next. By its very nature it also requires twists and turns. A good 'who dun it' shouldn't give up the actual murderer easily. It should make the reader think.

All this said, any story can follow this kind of development plan. From beginning to end and join up the points inbetween.

Some people can write straight through, from idea to actuality. That's how I work, but I can only do it because, having been trained in scriptwriting for film, I've internalised the process and format. Some people need to map it all out. I would say, for safety's sake make lots of notes and plan, plan, plan.

Here's some bullet points to help you plot.

1. Have a great hook and make sure it's in the first five pages.
2. Establish the character's goal in the first quarter of the book.
3. Establish all the major characters in the first quarter of the book.
4. Know how your book is going to end.
5. Know what it is that will happen at the end of the first quarter that will propel the character forward into resolving the matter at hand.
6. Chart out the important points of the story on a timeline, taking caring to consider rising action.
7. Know what it is that will happen at the end of the third quarter that will begin to work towards the end of the story.
8. At the end, tie up all the loose ends - explain red herrings

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Who is Kitty Ives?

Kitty Ives is the heroine of the Venus Squared series of books, the first of which is The Finish. In this article I discuss her family background and what brought her to work as a prostitute in London's notorious Covent Garden.

She was christened Katherine Ives, but her father preferred to call her Kitty. She was born in the ancient county of Norfolk, in East Anglia to a farmer and his wife, Joseph and Elizabeth Ives. They had two children, Sophie, born in 1744 and Kitty, born in 1746.

Joseph wasn't a particularly wealthy man, but he loved his family and provided for them as best he could until his middle daughter, Sophie, fell in love with a neighbouring farmer's son. Sadly, this young man was found dead, having been most foully stabbed. Sophie was accused of the murder, but although she was found not guilty, local opinion went against her and she was set upon by a mob, whilst walking from Church. She was dragged through the streets and suffered a thousand cuts and bruises. Sadly, Sophie fell into a decline and died from blood poisoning, brought on by the mistreatment of her wounds.

Quite naturally, the rest of the family were distraught, not least Joseph, the patriarch. He was the next to die, having had an attack of apoplexy. Today we would call it a stroke. This left Kitty's mother, Elizabeth, with something of a dilemma. She had never taken much part in the day-to-day running of the farm. She now had to take up the reigns herself, but in doing so she failed quite miserably to manage the finances and very quickly fell into debt. First the livestock was sold, then individual parcels of land, and eventually the farm house itself. Forced into rented accommodation and living on slender means, Elizabeth Ives found her Kitty employment as a maid in London. Kitty was put on a coach and sent on her way, but once at the coaching inn in London, she was waylaid by an older woman called Mother Shadbolt, who offered to look after her needs and see her safely accompanied to her employer's house.

On the journey across the city Mother Shadbolt fell ill and asked Kitty if she would mind stopping off at her house on the corner of Covent Garden and Russell Street. This of course, was the brothel. Once she stepped over the threshold Kitty was seduced by tales of fine clothes, parties and  riches beyond her ken. Thus, did our heroine fall from grace in quick time.

Kitty was only sixteen years old and had no more desire than to dress in the latest fashion and catch the eye of a handsome beau, and so she was soon persuaded to throw off her employer and remain with Mother Shadbolt, where she was promised her pick of suitors. At first, Kitty was showered with gifts and beautiful gowns and jewellery, but as time wore on and she tired off the life of easy seduction, she tried to leave the brothel and strike out alone, only to find that the clothes she wore were not gifts at all, the jewellery was all paste and she had not a penny to her name.

Now came a time of despondency for Kitty. She fell in with a riotous crowd and ended up being transported to America for the crime of theft. All this is discussed further in The Finish.

You can read all about Kitty's exploits in The Finish and in the subsequent volumes, The Surety, The Debt and The Trade. Collectively, they are called Venus Squared.