Grand themes, and specific contexts

Having recently attended Fiona Thackeray’s workshop at Bookmark Blair on ‘Place’, I am now thinking about universal themes and specific contexts. If we look at Eight of Cups, then the grand theme might be ‘attachment’ or ‘mid life’ and the specific context is the lives of six girls who meet at University in Edinburgh in the 1970s.

Our current work-in-progress, Never Do Harm, will then be about betrayal, and the setting – the relationship between two doctors in the modern medical world in Scotland.

Talking of Place, we were delighted to be invited by Nancy Christie who had read and enjoyed our blog, to provide a stop off for her on her digital world tour. She hopes to travel through the ether to England, Scotland, Europe and the World during October!

The theme of her collection of Short Stories Travelling Left of Centre (or to be more exact ‘Traveling Left of Center!) is Fate and the context is people who are unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, such that they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.

This collection of stories includes:

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You know creative genius when you see it

You know creative genius when you see it. The authors whose words transport you so easily to other previously unknown worlds with their descriptive powers. The artist whose painting captures your eyes as you pass and keeps calling you back as you try to move on. The dancer who can hypnotise and thrill through a seemingly effortless display of balletic grace and energy. Oh to have their gifts.

On my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe I was fortunate enough to experience two awesome performances from singularly talented writers and performers. Justin Butcher in Scaramouche Jones unveiled his creation’s fascinating character during a fast paced and richly coloured journey through his 100 year life. I hung on to every single word so as not to miss a single twist or delight.

Bob Kingdom was Dylan Thomas for the 90 minutes of Dylan Thomas, Return Journey – amazing physical resemblance secondary to the mellifluous voice and his skilful weaving of the poet’s wonderful writing into an enactment of scenes from his latter years. I came out of the little makeshift theatre in awe of both Thomas and Kingdom.

So when Angela Jeffs asked me just recently ‘why do you write?’ I might have answered – ‘Yes, why do I? When I could never aspire to the literary heights.’

Here is my answer –

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Character description: “You’ll remember her”

‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’

Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).

It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’

When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.

As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival.  It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.

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Transporting your Readers to the World of your Story

The theme for this year’s Blairgowrie Book Festival, Bookmark Blair, is PLACE.

A strong sense of place is important for transporting your readers to the world of your story. A well-crafted sense of place is often said to be like another character in the story, adding depth and a unique atmosphere’. Fiona Thackeray.

I’m looking forward to attending Fiona Thackeray’s writing workshop on the Saturday morning 11th October, as I am well aware that my powers of description nowhere near match my ability to write dialogue. In her writing, my co-author Jones is far more accomplished and focused on the external world than I am and we have had to learn to shift our natural writing styles to become more similar, and allow the story to become more internally coherent.

Road to the Isles 112
Road to the Isles

Having recently returned from The Isle of Lewis where Eight of Cups was conceived and progressed, I am reminded of how important place can be to mood, action and intention. In the Outer Hebrides, the weather and the landscape reduce man’s presence to something far less significant than is normally experienced. It is a place of big skies, racing clouds, beautiful rainbows, swirling and powerful winds, stunning beaches, bleak and silent moors and an ever-changing environment in which any action must take place.

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