Thursday, September 29, 2005

Conf 104: Big Publisher Writes

I heard from the senior editor (the one I pitched to at the launch party) I e-mailed synopsis of Novel 3 to several weeks ago.

Dear Amanda,

Nice to hear from you. I think you do need to have a proper editorial and strategical discussion with your agent; my instinctive thoughts on this outline are that it's entertaining and more than competently put together, but that commercial women's fiction of this kind is a really hard area to break through in, and that it does seem to me to be lacking the great thing - hook, or title, or setting - that would make it easy to sell. And there is an old saw in publishing that South America is never a very good thing for a novel, but that may be no longer true these days....

Good luck with it.

I don't have an agent! That's the problem.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Conf one HUNdred, as they say in darts

No of days worked: 4
No of words: same
No of electricity bill rebates: 1
No of houses found: 0
No. of new magazine interviews: 1

Deborah Ross is one of my favourite writers. She's the Independent's "other" columnist, the one who hasn't had her novels turned into major feature films and guest starred in The Simpsons. I can't understand why she hasn't written any novels. She's such a natural & so well established she'd get a deal on a synopsis written on a stamp. She was particularly funny yesterday, esp. about all the news headlines reporting the latest pathetic scare edict from doctor busybodies:

"Doctors, what a rum lot. They've lately, of course, been going on about how it's "unnatural" for a woman to have a baby after 35, as if all the stuff they dish out, like chemotherapy and having your organs swapped about, are available down Holland & Barratt".

Fourth day of work today. Officey things are starting to happen. I've noticed there are other people in the building, and bumped into someone in the kitchen today. Well, actually, I went to get myself a morning cup of tea and the kitchen, kitchenette really (shared between different companies on the floor) was full, with one not bad-looking bloke rinsing his mug. No doubt obeying the bossy officey sign over the draining board that says 'Believe it or not, the grey rectangular thing below this sign is NOT a dishwasher, please rinse your own cups and crockery before placing here'. So I retreated & went back a bit later when he'd gone. But the potential for water-cooler type discussion is there, which is a bit shocking after being stuffed away writing books at home for so many years.

I did another TV treatment today & was asked if I'd mind watering the plants if they ever look a bit dry. This I took as the office mama takeover invitation, next I should fill it with biscuits and fruit and 50 different types of tea. Actually he does all that already, as he virtually lives in there. I spotted a sleeping bag in the stationery cupboard today. That brought back memories of my own 86 hour working weeks. Now I'm doing 5 hours a day & long may it last.

Was also joined by a VT editor, I asked him how he was and he replied, 'I didn't have a shower this morning.' - ?

I've been asked to go back on Monday. Does this mean the tide is finally turning? An electricity bill produced a surprise credit note, which cancelled out the annual house insurance demand in the same post, and Family Circle magazine want to interview me on my domestic gurunessness advice. They'll send the questions first then call, which is just as well.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Conf 98: Still There

No. of days in work: 2
Amazon bingo: -1 falling to -2

Closest ever Amazon Bingo yesterday, with novel 1 at 6,437 and novel 2 at 6,438. This lasted about an hour, then they were back down again - but still neck and neck - at 32,686 and 32,684. How does it all work?

Then, what do people who work do to find time?? I'm feeling suitably exhausted after 2 days. Solid writing, which is good, and pleasurable and possibility I'll be there for a bit. Depends how the stuff I wrote today goes down. I've been writing a feature film treatment from a script and storyboard. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement so I can't breathe a spot of what it's about, and nothing goes on paper, it's all kept in the machines. All very professional, which is promising.

It's really late now, so, more soon...

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Conf 96: Rewrite notes

No. of frustrating weeks: 1

Very annoying week. Distractions came from every angle, much time wasted applying for jobs that didn't exist and seeing ugly houses that stank of trainers. Had a call telling me of local office job 10-3 at just about acceptable rate of pay, so went over to other side of town for interview only to find that

a) the rate they quoted on the phone was the 'experienced' rate . The rate I'd get to start was the kind of figure a teenage babysitter would turn her nose up at.

b) the job had strangely 'just gone' but they did have another vacancy 150 miles away.

I thought I was too old to fall for such cons, but sadly, no.

Finally got back to novel today. Almost ready to start writing the second draft. Will leave first draft of ending until I get there. Have done a scene by scene list for close examination & new character breakdowns. Shortened nitty gritty descriptions to:


And made various notes from longer notes, thanks to Robert McKee and Alan Ayckbourn, some relating to screenplays but liked them anyway:

If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in deep shit – old Hollywood saying (McKee)

Good actors will not step in front of a camera without a sub-text.

Turning points must be imagined, discarded and reimagined then played out in text and subtext. Study thoughtfully but write boldly.

Climax built around a turning point is the most satisfying of all.

Story climax – Meaning produces emotion

Act one: wind up the spring
Act two: tighten the spring
Act three: let it go

Plant important information as casually and effortlessly as possible in order to close off the corridors of coincidence.

Begin at a point when story is already up and running but not so far advanced that you can’t fill audience in as you go.

People are secretive, in making characters reveal themselves, they must be given a cause, a motive – drunk, desperation, anger, deliberately to hurt, no idea they’re doing it.

Creating an emotional response often has little to do with describing the emotions or feelings themselves. Everything to do with reader relating to the event.

To describe the feelings first action and words eg slap face. Second, appearance of character in situation, eg tears, eyes blaze with fury. Third, internal conflict within character.

The more difficult the problem, the more difficult the resolution, the better the plot idea.

Giving the setting a role: choke on the dust; temperature of waves; noise – character must respond to place
Heard, smelled, saw, felt, sensed, tasted

MUST want something, MUST make decisions, actions MUST effect change. Most memorable characters have an unconscious desire – audience senses it, perceiving inner contradiction. What she believes she wants is the antithesis of what she actually but unwittingly wants.

What is the risk?
What does character stand to lose if she does not get what she wants? What’s the worst thing that’ll happen to her if she does not achieve her desire.

If answer is ‘like back to normal’ the story is not worth telling.

The higher the value, the higher the risk.

Ultimate values, risks: freedom, lives, souls.

STORY ARC – value charge of character at beginning, at end. Final condition must be ABSOLUTE and IRREVERSIBLE. Throughout minor/moderate/major change but conceivably each of those could be reversed.

Movies are about their last 20 minutes. The story’s ultimate event is the writer’s ultimate task. If you fail to make the poetic leap to brilliant culminating climax – all previous scenes, characters, dialogue and description become an elaborate typing exercise.

CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. At the heart of her humanity what will we find? Loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Courage or coward?


CHOICE UNDER PRESSURE – strips away mask of characterisation, we’ll peer into inner nature and with a flash of insight grasp their true character.

The revelation of true character in contrast or contradiction to characterisation is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What SEEMS is not what IS. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind a fa├žade of traits. No matter what they say, no matter how they comport themselves, the only way we ever come to know characters in depth is through their choices under pressure. Shallow non-dimensional people exist – but they’re boring, boring, BORING.

James Bond goes on and on because the world delights in the repeated revelation of a deep character that contradicts characterisation. Underneath lounge lizard exterior is a thinking man’s Rambo.

The revelation of deep character in contrast or contradiction to characterisation is fundamental in major characters. Minor roles may or may not need hidden dimensions, but principals must be written in depth. They cannot be at heart what they seem to be at face.

Never include anything the audience can assume has happened. You don’t keep audience’s interest by giving it information but by WITHOLDING information.

Nothing moves forward except through conflict. Conflict is to storytelling what sound is to music.

Conflict is the soul of the story. Story metaphor for life and to be alive is to be in seemingly perpetual conflict….

The understanding of how we create the audience’s emotional experience begins with the realisation that there are only two emotions – pleasure and pain Each has its variations = joy, love, happiness, rapture, fun, ecstacy, thrill, bliss and the other side, anguish, dread, anxiety, terror, grief, humiliation, malaise, misery, stress, remorse and many others on the other hand. But at heart life gives us only one or the other.

The key to true character - desires come when character comes to life the moment we glimpse a clear understanding of his desire. Not only conscious, unconscious desire as well.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Conf 96: Too busy to write

No. of words: same
No. of new books out: 1
No. of work commissions: 1
No. of naff job interviews: 1
No. of nights at the opera: 1

Too much happening to get down to much work this week. Am in simultaneous job/home hunt so mustn't beat self up about it, but still worryingly unsatisfying when a day goes by without any progress at all.

Have come to arrangement with film guy that I will work for him on an ad hoc basis when he needs me. This suits him, and me, actually, as realise a full time work commitment is out of the question for me at the moment. So, I have my first half-day next Monday, shortening and presenting film pitches on paper for a funding initiative. Today I slotted in a bit of how to pitch a movie revision - amongst other things (going for idiotic job interview on other side of town, mostly).

My six author copies of new non-fiction arrived yesterday. Was furious that they had forgotten to include my friend J's acknowledgement. J actually wrote two whole chapters for me as I was up against such a nasty deadline, & I double checked that they'd credit her. And then it arrives and they haven't. So started the day with stroppy e-mail:

Hello, Bella,

I received my author copies today, thanks very much. It looks great. I was very sorry, however, to see that the promised acknowledgement to JE isn't there. As you may remember, she came to our rescue and worked flat out for no fee whatsoever. I realise it's too late now, but I really think some kind of apology to her is in order. An offer of a fee at this stage is, I know, probably right out of the question, but maybe, in addition to the promised 1 book I hope has already been dispatched to her, you could offer her a few more or a small selection from your catalogue or something?

I'm also still waiting for more offers of work. If you remember, when the true extent of the workload became clear and you were unable to offer me any proper remuneration for the hours I put in, putting tremendous strain on me and my family over the Christmas period, you asked that if I would please work for you again you'd make sure my next fee took into account all the goodwill I gave to this project.

All best wishes,


Her reply:

Hi Amanda,

I’m so sorry about J's name being missed from the acknowledgements. We will correct this at reprint, and I would like to apologise to her personally – please could let me have her phone number? I only have an address.With regard to more work, I’ve had nothing to offer you since – but as soon as something appropriate comes up, I’ll be in touch. Best wishes,Bella

I won't be holding my breath.

To top this busy week, partner and I had a rare night out together at the opera, freebie front stalls seats courtesy of our timpani-playing friend. It was the final dress rehearsal for Puccini's"> La fanciulla del West , the first Western ever - fantastic. Amazing sets and lots of lovely long intervals. No, really, the music was good too, it's just that I've heard opera before, whereas I've never seen the Wild West in full colour staged right in front of my nose before. And the intervals weren't normal either - at each break, R, our friend, leapt out of the orchestra pit and took us down the road for a swift pint. I was beside myself with anxiety, worried he'd miss the next half, but, of course, the pub was full of other players & they've got this nipping out down to a fine art. He told us about one timpani player who used to nip out in the middle of performances, knowing he had 20 minutes until his next drum-beat or triangle tinkle or whatever, he'd set his stopwatch and sneak off for a quickie. If you're ever in the Coach & Horses in Covent Garden and see a group of blokes suddenly arriving and then suddenly leaving and then suddenly arriving again, you'll know who they are.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Conf 94: Character, Character, Character

No. of words: same

I dreamt (dreamed? never know that one) I'd finished. It was a children's book. 50,000 words, plus all these screen print illustrations I was making with thick, turquoise paint.

After literally grinding to a halt, I set to on Friday, printing out. I hate committing such badly-written words to print, but there's too much for note-taking now. The single spacing is an indicator that this is not nearly finished text. I only go into double spacing when I think might be good - until the next re-read.

As well as examining the narrative, voice and emotion, it's fixing character time. I settled on the sunbed in the garden with my waist-high pile of research notes, my printed text and what character profiles I already had. It was a pleasant day, rediscovering stuff, throwing away old notes.

The initial job I went in with was to write new character profiles for each and every one as they appear. How they speak, how they move, I need to know this now. The second layer in this was to examine how each one appeared.

Notes: Jane Austen introduced new characters as a catalyst. Rescuer, admirer, jealous rival... giving new character task or role via which they come bursting on the scene = immediate life. Appearance of a new character anticipates change.

Notes: love, fear, triumph, terror, relief, victory - swing the pendulum to the limits - life lived in most intense states...

What was particularly satisfying was taking each piece of research page and writing it into the relevant chapter. This means when it comes to the rewrite I'll already have bits of colour to merge in. I won't allow myself to do any more research until the first draft is completed. Then it's pure enjoyment. Right now, firming up the characters is good, there's enough of them on the page for me to know more about them, and to know what traits to give them to get into scrapes with each other.

This is still all main story, though. Then, as Agent 1 said, must deal more with the sub-plots, diversions to keep the main story interesting. Another job at this stage is to separate each scene with a red biro line and ask why it's there. Some major re-shifting will probably happen after that. All I have at the moment is the film equivalent of a first assembly, everything is still unformed enough to be moved around, deleted, added to... all in all, it's starting to be fun again.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Conf 92: Narrative Nightmare

No. of words: 50,775

I can't get beyond C26, it's going nowhere & all of my getting going tricks, like working to other writers' patterns, aren't getting me anywhere. What I really should do at this stage is call someone in the profession I'm writing about and chat and make notes. But I'm in shy mode and lacking confidence. Besides, I think it's better to do most research at the end, fitting it in around the story and the emotions, because research is just the best excuse for not writing while at the same time pretending that I am writing. I love it too much.

Read Philip Horne's Filmakersonfilm in the Saturday Telegraph at lunchtime. This week it was John Boorman on Fellini's 8 and a Half :

"The scene that I can identify with more than any other," Boorman says, "is the press conference where Guido can't think of anything to say and hides under the table. I can sympathise with that."

What made Fellini so special?

"Sam Fuller said that as a film director you were always looking for the one thing that would make a scene into cinema, for that magic. Fellini achieved that more than anybody else." And this film about cinematic failure is the point in Fellini's career where, partly through desperation, he triumphs, discovers his magical secret - "really by disposing of narrative", as Boorman comments. "With 8 and a half he genuinely found himself not knowing what the film was that he was going to make, and he found himself making a film about that - about not knowing. That led him into a place that few directors have ever got to, which is almost pure cinema. That is what he was always aiming at in his later films. It's a curious thing. Narrative is a brutal master: if you have a story to tell, with film it has a tendency to push everything else out. If you shoot a picture, and it's overlong, and you have to cut it, what you cut is everything except the narrative. It's the master that we all serve, and Fellini escaped it in the most remarkable way."

Now I'd better start worrying about job interview in 2 hrs time.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.