Thursday 27 February 2014

Cause And Effect

A bit of googling and I find that the classic line to illustrate plot is attributed to EM Forster:

The king died and then the queen died is a narrative.

The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot.

It's about cause and effect. Actions leading to events which lead to further actions - at the end of which the people involved are changed in some way - be it physically or mentally. They fall in love, they solve the mystery, they realise that their values have changed, they reach some kind of understanding or enlightenment. All good stories - genre and literary fiction - follow this path in some way, whether the characters reach a literal or spiritual destiny.

Taking it a stage further - events need to be a direct result of a character's actions. How many times have you read stories where a character sits passively while things happen to him? Not very often, I expect. Character generates plot which in turn changes the character. It's why deus ex machina endings are so frustrating - God in the machine - where in classical literature, the Gods would walk onto the page and determine the ending. In modern fiction it's where the characters wake up and it's all been a dream. Or where the murderer is revealed to be somebody's twin brother that's never been mentioned in the story. As a reader you feel cheated and justifiably so. Events have to be connected - cause and effect.

In a short story, it's the difference - for me, anyway - between a story and a piece of prose. A piece of prose is words on a page or screen, in the right order. It may be beautifully written with wonderful imagery - but if it doesn't end, figuratively speaking, in a different place from where it started, it's not a story. There's no change, no growth, no enlightenment in the character or even reader. That's not to say there is anything wrong with pure prose - I just don't like seeing the two confused.

I find this really hard sometimes. I'll be writing a scene and I'll suddenly realise that everything is happening around my character and he has no direct influence on any of it. With the nature of the stuff that I write, it's quite common, and yet the good guys have to escape/outwit the bad guys by virtue of something they themselves initiate. Otherwise what was the point? Calling in the cavalry is the easy option.

And while I don't always have happy endings, I do try to make them satisfying within the context of the story. But never walking off hand in hand into the sunset!

Sunday 23 February 2014

Rat's Tale

Lenny’s turned his back on the past. In return for police protection and a lighter sentence, he’s grassed up his old gangland boss and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be free to start a new life with Amanda.  

But the past isn’t giving up on him yet. New man on the block Mick Carlotti fancies himself as a crime lord – he doesn’t have the contacts or the business knowledge yet, but he knows a man who does. And he also knows exactly how to get Lenny to play his games.   

Caught between Carlotti's rock and the hard place of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit, Lenny’s running out of choices. Turning his life around may be harder than he thinks.  

Set just after events in Calling the Tune, this shorter novella is Lenny's story and contains adult material.  

A novella still in progress. Drop me an email if you want me to let you know when it's available to read.....

Tuesday 4 February 2014

On Zombies and Electric Fences

My local writing group meets up once a month. At the start, we all do a writing exercise, usually suggested by one of the group members. Yesterday, we were inspired by a selection of small ads from the local papers: write for 10 minutes on one of them. Here's my effort - pretty much unedited, so I've no idea what it actually is...

Electric Fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new green tape, 3 used connectors and 5 unused connectors. £48

Electric fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new.

What does nearly new mean? It's either new or it isn't. For that matter, if it's not new it'd be used wouldn't it? And how do you use a fence? Climb it? Keep something in? Or keep something out?

You can't climb an electric fence anyway. Not one made of green tape. And when I think of an electric fence, I think of a prison - probably one on a post-apocalyptic planet somewhere. It'd be designed to keep the zombies out, wouldn't it? Green tape ain't gonna do that. You can't fry a zombie anyway - they're already dead and they don't care if they lose a toe or finger here or there.

The vamps though - they'd care. Stick a current up their arse and they'd light up like a nuclear reactor. That'd be fun to see on a dark night.

Listen up. This ain't fucking Twilight. You wanna survive here, you got to get to grips with electricity. And you ain't gonna do that buying fencing from the small ads.

Ho hum. I need to get out more, don't I?

Sunday 2 February 2014


When my daughter was little, I'd amuse her on car journeys by discussing other drivers. I suspect I was probably giving her a mountain of prejudice to overcome in later life, as I happily stereotyped every car and driver we saw. There goes Humphrey and his wife Fenella in their huge 4x4 towing a horsebox, with little Penelope in the back, on their way to a gymkhana, where Penelope will probably win all the pony club races, and her best friend Araminta will cry and it will be weeks before they make friends again. Can you tell I grew up reading Enid Blyton? Or there'd be uncle Arthur and aunty Elsie driving at 20 miles per hour in their little Ford on their annual Sunday trip to the garden centre to buy some roses for the garden, only aunty Elsie doesn't have her reading glasses and uncle Arthur doesn't know all the different Latin names of the roses ... As she got older, my daughter would be joining in and we'd imagine the extended lives of all these complete strangers.

It clearly had an effect. I recall driving home from the day nursery (a half-hour trip on a good day) when my amazing daughter, aged three, managed to tell me about a dream she'd had - for the entire journey without stopping or repeating herself. I'm not even sure she paused for breath. I was impressed.

But I still do it all the time. I amuse myself in cars, in queues, wherever, by looking at people, eavesdropping on their conversations and creating lives for them. From two carrots, a lemon and a bedsheet, to today in the supermarket where a middle-aged man - probably called Chris or John - dressed in smart jeans and a sensible shirt, is buying mountains of fruit and vegetables. Pears, cherries and raspberries. Gourds - Gourds? What on earth do you do with a gourd? - and carrots and leeks. At first I think he's making a special meal to impress a lady friend. Maybe a second or third date? Then I spot the wedding ring and I'm thinking, no - he's a chef, isn't he? Normal men don't shop like that. And off I go again, stereotyping the poor bloke until I've got him neatly pigeonholed where I want him. And I store it away and maybe he'll emerge some day as a part of a character in a story.

[...Talking of characters, does anybody else think that the BBC's new D'Artagnan is the hottest thing on tv this year? And yes, I'm old enough to be his mother. And no, I don't care....]

But does anybody else imagine other peoples' lives in this way? I have a habit of listening to conversations and find it so hard to resist the temptation to add my own opinion to the mix. Sometimes it gets the better of me - when I see a woman standing in front of a mirror and holding a dress up to herself, sometimes I just have to tell her the colour really suits her. I've not been told to mind my own business yet, but I'm sure it will happen some day. My husband and daughter despair of me when I can't help chatting to the checkout girl or the store assistants. I like to think I'm brightening up their day, but I'm probably not, am I? 

That's where my characters probably come from, I think. People I've met throughout my life, stored in character soup in my subconscious - stirred and blended with other people, real and imaginary - seasoned with a healthy dose of irony, until they emerge near-fully-formed at the other end of the machine.

Or am I just weird?