Food for the soul

Plato advised us that:

‘Knowledge is food for the soul’

I’ve been thinking about this quote, which led me to thinking about books and reading.  I started to read when I was around four years old (according to my mum!).  Since that tender age I have rarely been without a book in my hands.  I was lucky enough to spend my working days editing and even though the subject matter focused on health-related conditions and medicines, it was still fun chasing words around the page.

Now my focus is fiction and my feeling is that people read fiction for a whole host of reasons.   There are times when I just want to read for pleasure, laying in the bath, or sitting in the garden.  The book in my hands gives me the chance to block out all thoughts of chores.  It might be a grabbed ten minutes, or a leisurely half hour (or longer, if I’m lucky!).  I’ve escaped into another world, maybe another time zone and the only interruptions are the birds singing a little too loudly, or the bath water getting cold.

Then there are the times when I read to learn.  As a fiction writer I love to discover the way that other authors approach character development, plot structure or timelines. As a writer I see myself as an apprentice, constantly trying to develop my craft, with years of learning ahead of me.  So, when I come across a beautifully constructed sentence I read it over and over and dream about the day when I can write that perfect piece of prose.

Here are the opening lines from a wonderful book by Ann Patchett, called ‘Bel Canto’:

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.  Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands.  There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

 

And some more from Rachel Joyce’s tear jerker, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’:

Harold Fry was a tall man who moved through life with a stoop, as if expecting a low beam, or a screwed-up paper missile, to appear out of nowhere. […] The boy learned quickly that the best way to get on in life was to keep a low profile.’

 

Of course, there is a whole lot more to learn from fiction.  When I read, Helen Dunmore’s ‘The Siege’, I learned about the horrors of the Nazi’s winter siege of Leningrad in 1941, which killed six hundred thousand people.  Helen Dunmore focuses in on the detailed experiences of her characters, to tell a story that affected so many.  They learned to boil shoe leather to make soup, such was the devastating hunger they experienced.  Certainly an eye opener for me and a story that stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

Books also bring us together.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of book clubs around the country where friends get together maybe once a month and chat.  They chat about the book they have all read, but it’s a great intro to chatting generally and a way of making new friends.  Then there are online forums – The Fiction Café – is a great Facebook group where people can share their thoughts about their favourite books.   Passing on recommendations also means that we can all be tempted to try something we might not have otherwise picked up.

Libraries and charity bookshops are wonderful places, giving us the chance to read to our heart’s content for free, or for just a few pennies.  We are coming into the season of summer fetes and festivals, where I always make a beeline for the book stall!  I am a member of the Chichester Network of Independent Authors and throughout the summer we will be out and about at the local fairs and festivals – maybe I will see you there!

We are a lucky bunch of readers – we have access to books in ways that our parents and grandparents might have only dreamed of.

These are a just a few reasons why people read – how about you?  What makes you dive into a book?  Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling inspired

So much has happened over the last few weeks, all of which has helped to inspire my writing.

First off I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Denmark with my two writing buddies!  Spending hours talking and thinking about books is my idea of heaven, plus we got to see a beautiful country in stunning weather – a dusting of snow on the ground, but bright blue skies and no wind.  Perfect walking and talking weather.

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Returning from all that mental stimulation I was pleased to be able to throw myself into drafting the manuscript for Book 3 in the Janie Juke mystery series.  In Book 3 we meet Janie’s Aunt Jessica, who has been travelling abroad for the last few years.  She is returning from Italy and so my favourite country has once again been in my thoughts.  Just like in Lost Property, Book 3 has references to the Second World War, but getting the period detail correct is critical.

As every author knows, research is a fun part of the writing process, but can often be tricky.  Pinning down the right resource, or finding someone who knows the answers can often prove difficult and time-consuming.  So, I was very grateful to discover that my cousin (who lives in Rome) was able to provide me with wonderful stories, told to her by her parents, who lived through the Second World War.  What’s more, one of her grandchildren has been set the task of interviewing his 90-year-old great-grandmother to find out what she remembers about that time.  I can’t wait to hear the results!

My Italian cousin has proved to be a wonderful support, and not just with the new book. Over the past few weeks she has been steadily translating The Tapestry Bag into Italian! She says it has been a labour of love and she’s been enlisting every member of her family to check the translation.  So, I am hoping that later this year I will be able to publish an Italian edition of The Tapestry Bag, followed (hopefully!) with Italian versions of the other books in the series.

My final boost of inspiration during February is to see my five star reviews on Amazon continuing to increase in number.  There are now SIX for The Tapestry Bag and THREE for Lost Property.  It’s so encouraging to know that readers are enjoying the books and I am really grateful for all the support.

But for now, it is back to my drafting – hopefully it won’t be too long before it’s finished.  I’ll keep you posted!

Nanowrimo – one year on

One year ago I accepted an invitation.  I didn’t know then that it would be an acceptance that  would change my life.  Perhaps that sounds a little dramatic?  Nevertheless, when I look back over the last twelve months and catalogue the differences, it feels like a fair assertion.

The invitation came from Authorlab colleague, Chris Paton who writes as Christoffer Petersen ‘How about joining in with Nanowrimo?’ he asked me.  Back then, I didn’t know much about the forum that encourages authors to write up to 50,000 words during the month of November.  The forum works on the basis that online writing buddies support each other through the ups and downs of putting together the first draft of a novel.  Chris and I spurred each other on.  During that month I worked to complete a novel I had started for my MA in Professional Writing.  The novel, Forgotten Children, had itself been forgotten and it was a good feeling to re-immerse myself in the plot and get to know the characters.  I didn’t achieve my 50,000 words, but by the end of the month I had got into the habit of writing daily.  More than a habit, that daily writing became a comfortable addiction.

By Christmas 2016 I had finished the draft of Forgotten Children and sent it out to friends and family for comment and feedback.  But I wanted to keep writing.  In February 2017, while strolling along a beach in southern Spain with my faithful Scottie dog, Hamish, I had an idea for another novel.  Continuing my daily writing habit, I started drafting.  Then in April, Chris suggested we commit to Campnano, which works in a similar way to Nanowrimo.  With a daily target to push me on, I managed to complete the first draft of The Tapestry Bag.  During the spring and summer I beavered away drafting and re-editing until I was ready to send The Tapestry Bag out to the world.

While writing The Tapestry Bag I got to know my key character, Janie Juke, very well.  So well, in fact, that I realised she deserved a series of stories.  Janie is a young and unlikely librarian who has a passion for Agatha Christie novels and sees herself as a budding Hercule Poirot.  The Janie Juke crime mystery series is set in the late 1960s in Tamarisk Bay, an imaginary seaside town, modelled on my home town of St Leonards-on-sea.  As Janie goes about her library work she discovers many of the characters in this sleepy resort are not quite what they might appear.  She cleverly weaves her way through a puzzle of clues, unwrapping secrets and challenging lies.

The second Campnano in July helped me to complete the second in the Janie Juke mystery series, Lost Property, where Janie is approached by a Second World War pilot to track down an old friend.  In Lost Property Janie teams up with local journalist and friend, Libby Frobisher, and between them they delve into the past in order to solve the mystery.

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In between drafting the two books in the Janie Juke mystery series I’ve been delighted to learn about the successes of two other Authorlab colleagues.  Continue reading Nanowrimo – one year on