Claire King

Author

Archive for November, 2010

Architecture, Writing and Life: Three things that should be hard work.

Posted on: November 22nd, 2010 by Claire - 10 Comments

This week I’ve read a number of blog posts about writers’ need for emotional support of some kind – sympathy for our plight, recognition of our efforts, appreciation of our work.

In particular, this post by Kirsty Logan “Art is not hard” (coal mining, she very rightly reminds us, is hard job, writing – not so much).

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot. I grew up in a coal mining village, in a coal mining family. My father, grandfather, several uncles, neighbours – they all went down the mines and did a job which is punishing, unpleasant and badly paid. I would rather write for a living than go down the pit.

But like the majority of writers I know I do not write for a living. We write as well as holding down at least one other job (generally, nevertheless, not coal mining) and often raising children at the same time. When you’re in that situation, writing eats into the time that could otherwise be ‘me’ time – time that could otherwise be spent having a bath, getting some sleep, watching the television, reading a book. But you allow that to happen – you make that happen – even if you are physically or emotionally drained, because you are working towards something, you are creating something.

In my Metazen Interview this summer I described writing a novel as like building a house: “It has depth and height and layers and elements you can’t see but that have to be there to make water come out of the tap and the fridge stay cold enough to chill the wine…Drafts and foundations, plans and frameworks and structure and aesthetics and furniture and layers and layers of everything. It’s exhausting. But when it’s done people will just say – Nice house, Claire.”

But on reflection, a house is not the metaphor I’m aiming for. I want to create something that will make people catch their breath. Evoke an emotional response. Something like a cathedral. And with writing as with architecture, having that vision is not enough. You have to decide to build it, with all the application and sacrifice that entails.

I do think that writing should be hard. That you should push yourself to make it the best you can, or else why bother? Not just writing in fact. Life. I am reminded of a quote from Matt Taylor, an architect, designer, inventor, teacher, facilitator, sailor and entrepreneur who inspires me.

You cannot have uncommon results by common means. Nature does not allow it. Only the too socialized believe they can have excellence and their comfort. Only the dull confuse the tools of building with the act of building. The insecure wants his rules. Only a coward wants control. Life must be lived, not managed.

Blinded by fear and ambition and stale used up rules, we battle our way through embittered days. We take all the joy out of our work. We succumb to accountancy. And, we destroy our lives and our planet. Heartless, joyless we become killers. We kill the Human Spirit, and in doing so, kill everything else.

… To build is to reveal your soul. To build is to engage, to act, to touch, to love. If you want a Cathedral you have to be a Cathedral builder. You have to stand in bright light and be counted. You cannot hide in mists of mediocrity and safety – of normalcy. You cannot accept limits, yours or anybody’s, as mandated, given, immutable…

A Cathedral is not ordinary and it cannot be had by ordinary means. I have one question to ask of you: Why? Why would you ever build anything less than a Cathedral?

Someone recently said to me “…yes you don’t have any heating in your house yet, but you live in France and you have a lovely husband and lovely children and work that you enjoy and now you’ve written a book and just imagine soon you could be a published author. You’re so lucky.”

I felt, at that moment, that they had walked into my half-built cathedral and were admiring its beauty, while I’m still aching a little from the effort of hoiking lumps of stone about and thinking it would be good to get a roof on sometime soon.

A Mountain Lover’s Life

Posted on: November 9th, 2010 by Claire - 13 Comments

Q: Do you know what can you see when you get to the top of a mountain?

A: Other mountains.

Today I received the email I’ve been waiting for – a wonderful literary agent would like to represent me. Not only that, she would love to represent me. She stayed up until the early hours reading my unsolicited submission, she fell in love with my MC, she sees a clear placing for the novel…it’s really all very very good.

So I thought those of you who know how much I’ve wanted this, and those still on the same journey would want to know how it felt to me?

0) Disappointment – I saw the email appear in my inbox just 3 days after I sent the full manuscript and I thought ‘Oh no, it’s not a phone call it’s an email, that will be a no.’ And then I read it and…

1) Excitement and Joy – How wonderful it is to hear a literary agent say things like this: “simply one of the best contemporary debuts I have read in a long, long time…I stayed reading until beyond midnight yesterday because….. well, because it is THAT good. I can think of a number of editors of literary lists who will be blown away by it… Please say you will sign up and then I can get working on your behalf!”

2) Nervousness at the first call with my new agent – Unnecessary.

3) Questions for the agent – Where do you see it fitting in the market? What sort of publishers? How many edits?

and then, once I said, “Yes please!”…

4) So where are these new mountains? –  Edits, submissions to publishers, edits from publishers, publication, writing the next novel…

A friend once told me that each time he has achieved something that he has been striving for (like climbing a mountain) he enjoys the view momentarily and then he sees it for what it is – the other mountains waiting to be climbed. I think I’m like that too. Once I reach the top of a mountain (writing, redrafting, redrafting, submitting) I catch my breath and I’m already looking at the next few peaks.

Characters, Conflict and Psychology

Posted on: November 8th, 2010 by Claire - 1 Comment

Brad and Lolita stood side by side on the hotel balcony, looking up at the stars.

“I’m cold,” Lolita whimpered.

Brad took off his tuxedo and draped it over her shoulders.

One of the great pleasures of writing fictional characters, for me, is figuring out what makes them behave the way they do, and then developing that consistently throughout the story. So, I’ve brought you here today to talk to you about psychologist Dr Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis (1958).

From a personal point of view, Berne’s theory can help us understand why our communications with others don’t always go smoothly, and can help us ‘re-programme’ ourselves to be more conscious (and hopefully therefore more successful) in our interactions.

From a writer’s point of view, Transactional Analysis can help with both character development and motivation, as well as form the basis for conflict in their reactions with other characters.

The theory, in a nutshell, is that we all have three ‘ego states’ based on the concepts or truths that are ‘recorded’ onto our brains, as shown in the diagram below:

Parent: concepts taught to us in (roughly) the first five years of life. Learned from parents but also other adults, teachers, television etc. These can be things like ‘Always look left and right before crossing the road’ or ‘I am a lazy person’.

Adult: learned concepts from evaluating experiences or information. These responses can start around 1 year old and can include things like ‘When I tip my drink on myself I get wet’ or ‘The boss was right, carrying business cards is important’.

Child: felt concepts, emotional, experienced internally. Examples could be ‘I was scared by the barking dog’ or ‘My husband drives me nuts’.

We all play all of these ego roles during our daily interactions (stimulus/response) with others, moving between them frequently, depending on how we are feeling, who we are interacting with, the situation etc.  And so do our characters.

Character Development

When we understand (or create) a character’s Child and Parent ‘recordings’ as background to our story, we can then show/imply a lot of backstory without actually telling it. And we can show character and relationship developments as the interaction types change.

Conflict

Even more exciting are the interactions between characters. The simplest interactions are Adult talking to Adult, which may explain why in a conflict-rich narrative we don’t see very much of those. A common interaction played out in a lot of fiction (and a lot of real life relationships) is the Parent talking to Child/Child responding back to Parent.

For example, in the short scene at the top of the page. Brad is complicit in this interaction – the communication is smooth – Lolita’s Child speaks to Brad’s Parent and Brad responds with his Parent back to Lolita’s Child. So the interaction is a complimentary one. It tells us a lot about the situation but there is no conflict.

But I could have decided to have Brad decided to respond like this:

“I’m cold,” Lolita whimpered.

“Jeez. I can’t do anything to make you happy!” snapped Brad.

This is what Berne called a ‘crossed transaction’: Lolita sent her communication to Brad’s Parent, but Brad’s response came back from his own Child. Et voila, conflict.

It could be that by consciously recognising and writing the stimulus and response types in our characters’ interactions, we have one more tool in our toolbox for writing authentic characters.

For more information on this, read Dr Eric Berne’s book Games People Play or see the original article here on his website.

And Finally…

Posted on: November 1st, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

Hello November!

All over the world, writers are waking up and speeding to their sheds, desks, eyries and assorted garrets to get started on NaNoWriMo. Not me, this year – I have said no to NaNoWriMo. I would love to launch my next novel with such a focused, targeted month of writing but it’s just not the time. I’m very goal-oriented and if I decided to do it, things would get trampled in my rush for words. Things like my sense of humour, my family and my sanity.

But instead I have decided to refresh the topics I write about in my short stories and flash fiction. New ideas are like buses for me, I can wait around for ages and then suddenly five come at once. Last month I was trying to write a new short story for a competition and the inspiration was just not coming. So I went in search of prompts. I found mine in the archives of the brilliant and inspirational Sarah Salway (really, check out her website), who proposes prompts on a regular basis. This got me thinking.

One of the things I like about French news programs is that quite a large part them is given over to non-dramatic, local stories that give a flavour life of the different regions. They are usually cheerful, quirky and interesting. The gallic equivalent of the 5 minute ‘And Finally’ slot at the end of local British news programs. They are also great food for writers. And the thing is, the internet is awash with all these very human prompts.

You could look at websites dedicated to quirky news stories, such as ITN’s “and finally” or  Andfinally.tv but for best results I suggest you look in your local papers, or choose the online local news site of a town you’ve always wondered about. Like Mishawaka, Indiana or Godalming, Surrey. You get the idea. Just Google the town name and “local news”. See what you get. Here are a few examples:

Public Toilets Saved from Closure (Skipton)

Mystery of River Death (Rotherham)

Woman Drives Car into Plymouth Liquor Store (Boston, Mass)

Pigs Dash to Save their Bacon (Malton)

Locals Rally to Save Post Office Mural (Englewood, Colorado)

So if you’re short on inspiration, why not have some “And Finally” fun? If you have a crack at it, or you have other ideas for getting writing prompts, please let me know!

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