A Sterkarm Valentine

TUESDAY FEBRARY 14TH.  I was working at the University yesterday, and was shattered when I got home – was in bed before 10pm.
          Today, having opened Valentine’s card, got on with cleaning the house for an hour – then blog-trotted, signed RLF contracts and got them packed up, answered cries for blogging help from an Author Electric – that sort of stuff.
          Have nevertheless been having some thoughts about the book in the initial planning stage.  Am thinking about going back to an earlier idea and changing the sex of a couple of characters.  This counts as progress in book-planning, because there is no forward and backward or up or down – any directions goes so long as it works for the story: under, over, through, sideways.  It doesn’t matter.
          (Having called this post 'A Sterkarm Valentine' in an idle moment, I'm now wondering quite what a Sterkarm Valentine might be... A heart on a dagger, as at the end of ''Tis Pity She's A Whore'?  Or maybe the capful of fresh mushrooms left for Andrea to find, as in a deleted scene from one of the earlier books?)
WEDNESDAY 15th.  A disrupted day.  I planned to spend some time scanning pages for my next e-books, and then to get on with the Sterkarm rewrite. However, I was just about to start scanning when I was interrupted by a phone-call – my partner asking me for advice on how to use his computer.  I had scarcely returned to my own computer when the phone rang again – not my partner this time, but a friend of my aunt’s, worried that she couldn’t get through to her by phone. So I had to rush out of the house to check that my aunt was okay – which she was, thankfully, but since I was out of the house, I thought I might as well do the shopping I’d intended to do later.
The e-book I'm also working on.
So by the time I got home and finished the scanning, it was well into the afternoon.  I did jot some notes on the ‘next big thing’ book – but just as I was about to start on the Sterkarms, I got another call from my partner, asking for my help in rewriting a letter for a campaign he’s involved with. So I went over, and now it’s 11pm. So to bed.
FRIDAY 17TH.  Did spend yesterday making notes on the Sterkarm rewrite. Am finding lots of places where I need to make a note reminding me to include something that will be needed later in the plot.  You know the sort of thing – if an axe is needed for some vital plot point in chapter 15, make sure the axe is mentioned when they’re loading the pack-ponies in chapter 10.  And make sure it’s clear that an axe was a bit of kit usually carried – otherwise, when the axe is suddenly produced, in Chapter 15, when it’s needed, it’ll seem that you’re pulling rabbits out of hats.
          Am also doing deep thinking about the story spread out on the kitchen table.  Have not only changed the sex of two characters – which has interesting effects on the rest of the story – but have reduced a pair of characters to one.  I always tend to people my plots with too many characters initially.  It seems like a good idea to start with, but then I have to find something for them all to do, and can’t.  So I start whittling them down.
          Late on Friday evening, I did some more work on the Sterkarm rewrite.  Am beginning to have baleful thoughts about a main character.
          Tomorrow, unless it’s blowing a tempest, I intend to leave work and go for a walk on the Clent hills.
          No Blott this week, I'm afraid - he's out on the tiles.

Taming the Sterkarms

My small household gods watch over the plot
          Monday 6th Feb
 I continue to work on two books at once, trying to plot one, and rewrite the other.
          My kitchen table is still covered with index cards, scribbled in blue ink.  Almost every time I go into the kitchen, I stop and read over the cards.  Sometimes I change the postion of one, or scribble another.
'Odin's Voice' by Susan Price
          I’ve decided that I don’t like the ending I had roughly plotted out.  It’s too close to the original idea I had, too predictable, too ‘left-side-of-the-brain editorial’.  It’s also too close to the ending of my ‘Odin’s Voice’ trilogy.  That left-brain editor obviously thought: well it worked once!  It’ll do again.  No! Not good enough.  So I’ve moved that final row of cards aside, to make space for something new.  Don’t know what yet, though I’ve jotted some notes.
          I’ve got that feeling I’ve had before – I daresay many will recognise it – that feeling that there’s something, some new idea, struggling just behind my forehead.  Haven’t got any clear idea of what it is, just that it’s there, and if I pretend I haven’t noticed, it will eventually come right to the front of my head, and I can catch it.
          I’ve also been reading Sterkarm 3 on the kindle and making rough notes in different colours.  At the suggestion of some commentators on this blog, I’ve added a dog and been very pleased with the result – except that I’ll have to rewrite the end of Sterkarm Kiss – but hey, I’ve got the rights back now, I can do what I like with it.
          I’ve also found a sub-plot that I might or might not keep or develop.  Shall have to see how the rest goes on.
          Tuesday 7th Feb.  I’m deep into the rougher reaches of the Sterkarm first draft now, scribbling away with my coloured pens – often several colours in one sentence as the different characters meet.  It’s useful to have Per May in green and Per Changeling in red – wish I could do that in the finished novel.  It would be less head-nipping.
          I’ve found a romantic sub-plot which stops short, and which I’m going to have to fix, but I don’t know how.  I’m only mapping as yet.
          I have 22 sheets of scribbled paper, and don’t know how I’m going to see the whole thing at once.  Maybe I’ll sellotape them all together into a long strip.  I suspect that I included too much detail and it’s got a bit out of hand – literally.  Maybe I’ll make a big paper curtain and hang it on my wall – and stand on my kitchen steps to study it.
          Wednesday 8th  I was doing my University stint and too busy to get any writing done.  And Thursday 9th vanished in domestic and admin chores.  Friday 10th is another University day, despite the fact that I didn’t go in because of the ice and snow.  I got students to send me their stuff by email.  So, no writing of my own.
           But next week I’m only at University for one day, Monday – so obviously, I’ll have both books sorted by the end of the week!

          And meanwhile, work on e-books continues.  This is the cover for my eighth, Christopher Uptake.  It isn't available yet - I'm still adding notes and hyperlinks - but I hope it will be soon

And here, as ever, is Blott - 


                Last week, on Saturday 4th, I put aside all the pressing things I felt I had to do, got out a large felt-tipped pen and a pack of index cards, and sat at my kitchen table.  I had with me the rough notes I’d been scribbling for ‘the next big thing’.
                I took cards from the pack and scribbled steps in the story on them.  The first one I wrote reads, ‘Rich man talking to genetic engineers: wants clones for immortality.’
                After scribbling several more, I had a thought and wrote, ‘Is it only UK Pirate State that will allow this?’ – and put that card at the head of all the others.
                More scribbling and shuffling, and then, ‘Throughout, mention of UK as ‘pirate state.’ I placed that card on top of and overlapping several others.
Our winter arrived last week
                After a while, I took coloured pens and added coloured squares to the cards, to show how characters and incidents linked.  I invented some new characters and also some new twists that hadn’t occurred to me before.  In less than an hour, I felt I’d made progress, and things were clearer in my head.  So I already think this method of working out a plot – which I learned from Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel – is a success.
                I shall leave the cards spread out on the table and return to them, shuffle them, add to them, and see what happens.
                LATER. While I was upstairs changing the bed, and other household chores, ideas came, out of the blue – ideas that would connect up right through the plot, from beginning to end.  So I went back down to the kitchen, wrote out more cards, and put them in place.
                Right!  Now for the Sterkarms.  I emailed my rough draft to my kindle, but wasn’t sure how  to manage the note-taking and mapping, as my kitchen table was covered with index cards.  Decided to use large tray on which I usually carry breakfast up to bed when my partner stays over.  That means the cards can stay on the table undisturbed, and I can do beat-sheet work on my sofa, with tray.
                LATER.  Am knocking off work at 8pm, but have reached chapter 8, having great fun writing in different colours for different characters and – as Roz Morris suggests – drawing little happy faces for happy parts and little shocked faces for shocking parts, and exclamation marks to show surprises.  Have drawn little red hearts for romantic bits.  Have already noted places where chapters should be divided into two, or joined together.  Am beginning to get head round the time sequence – a bit.  But so far am working with the fairly well worked first half of book.  Later on it’s going to be much harder.  But that’s for another day. 
          Tomorrow will have to answer emails, do admin for Authors Electric, cook and other boring things.  But the cards will still be spread out on my table, for shuffling; and it will all be mulling and brewing in my head.
          I'm glad to have made a start at last.


coloured pens bought especially to nail my novel
          Now February is here, I have to start thinking about rewriting Sterkarm 3.
          Throughout January I’ve been able to think: Oh, rewriting is the best part!  Rewriting is fun!  The wearisome slog of trudging through a first draft is over!  Rewriting is where you make real progress with a book.
          Yeah – but soon I’m going to have to DO it, which is something else again.  I shall have to confront all those clumsy, clich├ęd, or unbelievable passages which make you want to go out into the garden and bury yourself.  But, instead, I shall have to try and decide what to do about them.
Just to annoy Madwippet
          I shall have to hunt out all those scenes which I really liked and where I really captured something or other – but which don’t do anything for this book.  And make myself get rid of them.
          And I’m up for it, I absolutely am.  I’ve done it before.  I’ve even enjoyed it.  I’m keen to start, honest.  But dreading it too.  It’s equal and opposites forces – as much as I’m jittery and dancing with eagerness to start, there’s an equally powerful feeling that says: Not yet, not yet.  Wait for it, wait for it!
          I want to wait until I just can’t NOT start.  That’s always worked for me in the past, whether rewriting or starting something new.
          I’m keen to start rewriting for another reason – though wait for it, wait for it – and that’s because I’ve decided to try something new.  New to me, anyway.  Partly out of curiosity and partly out of desperation, I’ve been reading Roz Morris’ 'Nail Your Novel', as I mentioned last week.  I've finished it now, and I remain impressed.  So impressed that I’m going to try the methods she suggests, both for rewriting Sterkarm 3 and for outlining ‘the next big thing’ my agent wants.  I’ve already bought the cards and coloured pens.
Roz Morris
          Now quite often, when I’ve read ‘How-To’ books on writing before, I’ve thought, ‘What a load of faff.  I’ve never done anything like that in 35 years of writing, nor am I ever likely to bother.’ 
          And to be brutally honest, I more than half expected to think the same of Nail Your Novel.  Instead, I was impressed by the down-to-earth practicality of its advice.  I read it thinking: ‘Good idea!  And, yes, I can see the sense in doing that.’  It doesn’t  tell you to complete the exercises at the end of each chapter (does anybody,ever?), or spend twenty minutes each day writing about nothing, or to meditate.
          Instead Roz offers a very clear method – she calls it a ‘beat-sheet’ – of mapping your books strengths and weaknesses, evaluating them, editing them, and shuffling what's left into the best possible order.  Instead of thinking, ‘What a faff,’ I got excited because I could see very clearly how I could make practical use of her method.  It was a sort of super-charged, better thought-out version of methods I’d already stumbled into myself without ever giving much actual thought to what I was doing.
          So I'm going to use Roz’s ‘beat sheet’ approach to tackling the Sterkarms.  See her book for details, but it involves the afore-mentioned coloured pens and sheets of paper.  And a time-line, which I feel in desperate need of.  I shall report back on how it goes.  And also on the plotting of ‘the next big thing’, for which I shall use the cards and another of Roz’s methods.
          I am feeling quite excited to be trying something new.  But
I’m still not quite ready to start.  Wait for it, wait for it -

          Roz Morris' NAIL YOUR NOVEL can be found here.

          Roz blogs here, and on Authors Electric.

          And I've just published HEAD AND TALES as an e-book, revised and with notes added.

          In ancient myth, the severed head stood for Wisdom.  In story after story, the severed head speaks and gives counsel.
          A sick man, a story-teller, dying in a work-camp, fears for the children he’ll leave behind in a harsh world.
          His last wish is that his head be cut off, and carried by his children on their long walk home to the grandmother they have never seen.
          When they are tired, despairing, threatened, the head opens its eyes – and tells stories.  Words have power.  Stories can be spells.

          And here's Blott  -