Claire King

Author

Archive for September, 2010

Gone Fishing

Posted on: September 16th, 2010 by Claire - 11 Comments

I realised today that most of the thinking that went into formulating the plot and characters of my last novel took place years ago, before my brain was hijacked by small people (children, not pixies). In the Before Time I would walk in the mountains for miles and miles every day, letting ideas float in and out, picking up a few of them and playing with them as I walked. I would usually get home with a couple of well developed ideas or images as well as a few random phrases or questions to jot down and pick up later.

I finally sat down to write the novel at the end of last year. I wrote when the children were sleeping (by which time my brain was usually quite frazzled), and on trains on the way to my day job (when I was also trying to get my head around the complicated problems I had to help people tackle when I got there). I was lucky to average a quality hour of writing a day. But as you will know, the hours quickly add up. And all that thinking time and note taking and upfront preparation was a great springboard into the first draft.

This summer, with the submission packages posted and the waiting game begun, I started to think about my next novel. As per my recent routine I used the kids sleeping time (in the summer holidays, this is slim pickings indeed) but despite my very scenic garret my thoughts seemed hemmed in. Where was the spark of creativity?  I decided that I was just too tired by the time the house went quiet. I should try during the day. Big mistake (I already knew this, I blogged about it here). I found myself actually using the phrase ‘I can’t hear myself think!’

Thank goodness, then, for ‘La rentrée des classes’. This month my youngest started école maternelle. The first thing I did with my rediscovered me-time wasn’t sit down to write solidly all morning, but to take my dog yomps back up with a vengeance. That’s an hour an a half, four times a week, with no-one to talk to, just tromping around the scenery and thinking thoughts. And oh, the thoughts you can think when no-one needs your urgent attention.

I had forgotten how much my brain needed airing. All of this exercise and time to think is doing me and Novel #2 the power of good.

I do know I’m lucky to have the mountains to yomp in, and a sporadic day job that allows me my yomping time. So I’m curious, how do you fit it in? Do you have distinct thinking time when you are not actually putting pen to  paper? How does it work for you?

First person, present tense: Snog, marry, or throw off a cliff?

Posted on: September 8th, 2010 by Claire - 19 Comments

It’s all me, me, me and now, now, now.

I recently finished writing a literary novel, which I wrote in first person, present tense. I can already hear some of you wincing. So before we look at first person, present tense (let’s call it FPPT), I would like to explain why I chose to write in that way:

My main character is a five year old girl. The only authentic way to view the world as she sees it is in the first person. This is critical to the plot, to the characterisation and everything about the book. There was no debate about that.

I chose present tense, rather than past tense, because although I have heard the opinion expressed that FPPT is often difficult both to write and to read, every moment is important to this little girl. Five year olds usually dwell very little on the past and rarely consider the future. Everything is about what is happening right now. The fly that has landed on your arm. The smells coming from the kitchen. The narrator is purely in the moment the action is talking place, not not weighed down with hindsight or reflections.

However, even in the last couple of weeks I have seen a proliferation of blog posts and tweets saying ‘agents hate FPPT, publishers hate FPPT, readers hate FPPT – don’t write it, you’re wasting your time’.

OK, many of the posts are less black and white than that. Here is the general concensus:

Where FPPT is “acceptable” – Young Adult Fiction (egos, urgency); Short stories (less need for reader stamina); Blogs.
Where FPPT is considered wrong, usually – Adult novels.

But there are exceptions of course. Do they prove the rule?

One of my favourite contemporary books, Audrey Niffeneggers ‘The Time Travellers Wife’, is written in FPPT. It found an agent, a publisher and a very wide readership.

I am currently reading ‘Room‘ by Emma Donoghue. It was published just after I began submitting my MS to agents and I bought it out of morbid curiosity – would reading this Booker shortlisted book, not only written in FPPT but from the point of view of a five year old child, show up fundamental problems with the way I used FPPT? Was I going to be encouraged, or shown up?

The answer is that I have been encouraged. I found the voice of Jack in ‘Room’ quite hard work to begin with. This worried me, because you really do need an engaging narrative voice if FPPT is going to be successfully used. In novel length fiction the reader has to want to spend a lot of time with this character. But as the relationship grows between reader and narrator, which Donoghue manages swiftly and skilfully, the book flows perfectly. FPPT gives a sense of intimacy and urgency to her excellent novel.

Another argument is that using FPPT is that it limits your POV – you can’t observe things that the narrator doesn’t know or can’t experience; you have to tell the story entirely from his or her POV. But this can work to your advantage if you want to keep certain things hidden from the reader or to examine a subject from an unusual vantage point. In the case of ‘Room’ it is used to throw the spotlight on the behaviour of adults as seen from the point of view of someone who has never been one, and up until his sixth year had only ever known two of them.

What is your experience of first person, present tense? Do you avoid books written that way? Do you even notice? If you are a writer how do you choose to use it, or do you follow the bulk of advice and avoid it altogether?

Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

Posted on: September 1st, 2010 by Claire - 13 Comments

I was going to start this post like this:

“With the novel queries now out and about in London slushpiles, two months high, I am bracing myself for a lot of waiting and the inevitable rejections.”

But I just opened my email to find a very prompt request for the full manuscript from a wonderful agency. So whilst rejections are still inevitable, actually I’m feeling on top of the world today.

One mountain after another. Short of breath but the view is wonderful.

One mountain after another. Short of breath but the view is wonderful.

This on top of the news that my short story ‘La Cumparsita at Paris Charles de Gaulle’ has been shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin short story competition 2010. I feel particularly thrilled about this after reading comments from the judge, Tania Hershman, who blogs here about how she went about judging the 849 entries, and what, for her, makes a short story work.

Also this month, my flash piece ‘Flesh & Blood‘ has been selected for publication in thirteen, the 52|250 quarterly collection.

September is starting wonderfully, with encouragement and recognition. However, real life beckons: I have one poorly daughter, house guests and tomorrow my two children are starting school, one for the very first time. So I shall put all of this motivation down here for now and set about healing, encouraging and feeding others. And tomorrow of course I shall email off that manuscript. Please wish it well!

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