Claire King

Author

Archive for January, 2011

Small Stones January 2011

Posted on: January 31st, 2011 by Claire - No Comments

January 31st

The doctor peers suspiciously at my arm. Pokes it.

‘Ow!’

‘You fell on it when?’

‘Four weeks ago.’

‘You need an x-ray, it’s probably broken.’

I regard the sulky bruise that has not healed. I have not paid attention to myself.

*

January 30th

Finally, after months of missing each other, we manage to catch up with friends over Sunday lunch. I apologise for the house, which borders on slovenly. Michelle looks past the unkept sofas and unswept floors and out of the window.

‘The mountain looks beautiful today,’ she says.

*

January 29th

I wake in the night, finding myself in the comfort of my own bed, wrapped in warm arms and soft duvet. I turn my pillow over, rest my cheek on the cool side, and sink back into dreams. There are still hours left to sleep.

*

January 28th

Beatrix, aged three, likes to fasten her mummy’s coat. Her small, determined fingers reach up, grasping the toggles – shiny, brown and not brown – concentrating hard on their pointy ends. She pushes them precisely through the loops. When she has finished she looks over her work. It is pleasing.

‘There,’ she says, patting the last toggle. ‘You’re all set.’

*

January 27th

His familiar face welcomes us to the red lights where our impatient cars bunch together, idling. Spidery biro on the torn cardboard he holds tells drivers of his plight. Three children and no home. Please spare a coin. I have seen him here at rush hour in every season for three years. His clothes are clean and warm, his hair is brushed. Through my closed car window I smile at him and he smiles back. What do they mean, our smiles?

*

January 26th

On the pavement there is a woman’s shoe – soft black leather, a ballerina pump with a tiny bow. It looks almost new.

People are hurrying, stepping around the discarded footwear that litters their path to work.

But where is this Cinderella now? Is her foot cold? Is she waiting for her prince?

*

January 25th

Temporarily removed.

 

 

 

*

January 24th

Moscow bomb recalls years gone by. There but for a fluke of timing go I.

*

January 23rd

Sunny morning meadow. Cow bells tongka-tonk and the stream gulish-a-loshes. A small soft hand in mine and whinnies from Amélie’s imaginary horse. January would have us think it’s spring.

*

 

January 22nd

Outside an icy wind blows down from the mountains. Inside we flop like a pile of puppies on a giant beanbag, sharing warm popcorn and wondering if Alice will ever find her way home.

*

January 21st

Her skin is soft and lemon-sweet. Her breath is slow and warm. I smooth her hair back from her cheek and curl close as long as I dare.

*

January 20th

A champagne moon, a wolf moon, fat and benevolent in the half-awake sky, hangs low over scurrying cars and yawning office blocks.  The woman-worker walks slowly, enjoying her insignificance, reluctant to assume the importance that waits beyond walls.

*

January 19th

Dangly knickers. The smell of grilled cheese. Leopard skin leggings pegged high. The entire back wall taken by a photograph of Venice. Students with thin moustaches and insouciant scarves. A child’s T-shirt, with spangly fish swimming across the front. A harried waitress. A pair of socks. Railway Pizzeria.

*

January 18th

 

I have blown this bubble, slowly, carefully, taking care not to burst it. But today its time is here to become something else. A word, a keystroke, changes physics forever.

Pop, pop, pop, a ring of rainbow-lit daughter bubbles are born.
Pop, pop, pop, grand-daughter bubbles, one hundred, probably more. Shifting, bursting, spreading.

I am elated.

*

January 17th


One minute’s silence for Vincent and Antoine, a colleague and his childhood friend murdered in Niger.  I stand at the window. Beyond the concrete and glass where we in our thousands work on, cars speed through my reflection. On the wall is a photo of a sandcastle. I had put it up to remind clients that everything we achieve risks being short lived.

Death is visited upon my day. I spend the afternoon in the long shadow of worry.

*

January 16th

We go to bed late. ‘I can’t sleep here,’ I say, ‘the bedclothes smell of lamb.’

‘That can be your small stone tomorrow,’ says my husband.

We laugh like teenagers.

*

January 15th

Cast as the evil and stupid witch, because Amélie is a princess, Beatrix is a fairy and “…every story needs to have a baddy, Mummy, so she can get beaten. And it has to be you.”

I cast my best spell, putting them to sleep for a thousand years. There’s no need to worry. Later Daddy will wake them with a kiss.

*

January 14th 2011

At Carcassonne we sigh to a halt where the tracks cut through higher ground. I lift my head to see gravestones slipping sideways, mossy tombs. The thought of bones suspended in the earth above me brings a shudder of vitality.

*

January 13th 2011

I say, “Bonsoir.”

The manageress of the café looks down at my book and says, “Good evening, Madam.”

Cogs turn as I juggle linguistics and social niceties. I opt for, “Good evening.”

“Vous desirez à manger?”

Oh. I back pedal, revert to French, stumble over my words. “Er, ah, oui, je veux bien.”

“What would you like?”

I stare at the manageress and she smiles an enquiring smile.

*

January 12th 2011

With the click of the brown glass door I closed myself into the small, parched box. I wanted to breathe the cedar-smell deeply but swallowing scorched my throat.  I curled, foetal on the burning bench and waited for the blurring of boundaries between steam and skin.

*

January 11th 2011

Built to look like a kindly faced whale, one hundred and fifty tonnes of metal sail through the sky. The Beluga comes in to land, soft as snow.

*

January 10th 2011

I stare out of the window, squinting into the morning sunlight as we scrape and rumble along the tracks. Flamingos graze in the lagoon by La Franqui. From behind the glass I conjure the salt smells of the étangs and the sun-warmed pines. I think of my children’s faces this morning as we kissed goodbye, trying to recall which emotion filled their eyes.  There is no good answer.

*

January 9th 2011

The eve of a trip away from home to work. Moments spent with family are amplified and heavy with love.

*

 

January 8th 2011

Three of us in pyjamas around the wooden table, because there’s no hurry today. Pops and cracks from blazing logs in the hearth. Hot, hot tea to drink in my own time. Silence from the children, intent on mining the warm chocolate from its soft pastry bed. Buttery flakes tumble onto the tiles and are investigated by purring cats.

*

January 7th 2011

A damp-dog walk in white mist, by verges ragged with dried-out dock and russet branches of leafless vines. I try to be present and concentrate on their beauty but instead am filled with the desire to see springtime poppies bloom.

*

January 6th 2011

The soporific blow of the gas fire, the Doppler effect of an ambulance passing the house, the echoes of my inbox which does not ping.

*

January 5th 2011

White roses and peonies, my past and my future, arrive to mark the passing of time. As I bow into their scent my mother calls. She is worried to find me crying. I explain it’s because I’m not alone.

*

January 4th 2011

Beatrix is allowed to wear her party shoes to school. When teachers and children ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ she closes her eyes so no-one can see her smile.

*

January 3rd 2011

Out in the ink-black of 6am, under a scattering of stars, a woman brings firewood. She will warm her tiny corner of Earth.

*

January 2nd 2011

 

 

 

 

January 2nd 2011

After two weeks under low, white skies, we are woken by luminous blue. Through open windows a kindly warmth rides in on the back of winter. Our eyes stretch up and out towards infinity as though waking from a cramped sleep.

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 1st 2011

An e-mail arrives: “When you said the risk would always be there does that mean you definitely won’t leave (him) and we should just keep going as we are as long as it lasts?” Somewhere another Claire King is cheating. I feel sad for these strangers. I do not reply.

*

About These Small Stones:

The River of Stones is a project which aims to get people noticing one thing properly every day and writing it down. People from across the world will be joining in and we’ll be creating a ‘river’ of these short pieces of writing.

Who are you, anyway?

Posted on: January 27th, 2011 by Claire - 10 Comments

When we write fiction, we create characters that are different to us. Right? At least that’s the idea.  Sometimes though, it seems that our own personality traits can slip through onto the page, and we find our character behaving how we would behave, rather than how they ought to.

This got me to thinking about our characters’…well, their characters.

Have you ever been personality typed at work? Or completed a ‘Cosmopolitan’ style multiple choice questionnaire to see who you really are?

In my experience the results are very rarely surprising (particularly when we complete the survey ourselves). But I wondered what would happen if I completed a personality test for one of my characters.

Are her actions congruent with the personality I intended to give her?

Myers-Briggs is one of the most used and trusted tests. It divides people into one of 16 different broad ‘best-fit’ personality types. I found a synthetic online version here. There are only four choices to make so it’s pretty fast. Try it!

I answered the questions first for myself and then for my character. I’ve posted the results below. I’d be inclined to say that they’re pretty accurate for both of us.

For writing a new character, when I’m just getting to know them, I think this short, fast summary could be a useful reference for deciding how they should behave in a given situation.

Why not try it for one of your existing characters, or one you intend to create? I’d love to hear how you get on.

**************************

Claire – ENFP

Words, ideas and possibilities spew effortlessly from them. Words are their best friends. They dance around ideas, the more, the merrier. Imaginative, spontaneous, original and enthusiastic, they have a knack for seeing other possibilities, other dreams and options. The world is never as it is but as it could be, as if it were but an artists sketch begging for colour. They initiate change and often are prone to trespassing a few known boundaries to take themselves and others where no one has been before. The status quo tends to lack inspiration.

When inspired, they are fearless and tireless. Their energy will know no limits unless red tape takes over. Routine drags them down. Their faith in possibilities and belief in the benefit of change often inspire others to follow. They are challenging, ingenious and innovative. They will give their best to what appears to be an impossible challenge, a place unknown to man or beast.

They use metaphors, stories, images and analogies to make their point.They love theories and often shape their own. They see patterns emerging. Keen improvisers, they are rarely caught off guard, there is always something up their sleeve. The sky is the only limit.

They are sometimes entertainers, artists or otherwise engaged in public demonstrations that allow their ideas to bloom. Their greatest difficulty is not in initiating projects but in choosing among so many possibilities, setting realistic boundaries, establishing priorities and correctly assessing resources.

Main Character – INFJ

Without introverted intuitives, it is said that Israel would have had no prophets. Under deceptively conventional appearances lie perceptive minds that travel the breadth and depth of universal mysteries, contemplating its multilayered complexity, seeking the trends that will define the future. With time, clarity of vision comes. When it comes, they are propelled towards the vision and all their actions lead to it. They are perseverant behind a quiet exterior and will often come back with their vision long after everyone believes they have let it go.

What they see is so clear and obvious to them they are often surprised to find that others cannot see it as well. They may find it difficult to articulate the necessary steps towards implementation or to explain how each goal fits into the larger picture.

Their mind usually travels from the past to the future, seeking to fit a particular situation in a large context. It picks up patterns, symbols and images from different seemingly unrelated fields, identifies similarities and provides meaning. This can help solve problems by juxtaposing ideas, finding analogies or simply by rooting out the quintessential reality, discovering the origin in universal stories and human experiences, culling wisdom from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. Their mind naturally travels from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

They regularly have to face the difficulties of bringing dreams into reality. The time and effort it takes is always more than what their intuition initially suggested. They are determined perseverant, inspired and often see things just around the corner, into the near or far future.

Dirty Windows

Posted on: January 21st, 2011 by Claire - 5 Comments

Today’s question is: Who knows what, and when?

Sometimes concepts from my day job cross-over into my writing. This week another one cropped up – The Johari Window.

It’s often used for improving communication, team building, and personal development. I think it also has a direct application to creative writing:

The four-panes of the window map out the information that is known to an individual and/or to others. Or, in the case of fiction, what is know to a character and what is know to the reader. It is a simple square divided into four quadrants, as so:

  1. The things that known to both the reader and the character: Known as the open window
  2. Things that are known to the reader but NOT the character: I call this the secret window
  3. Things that are known by the character but not to the reader: I think of this as the mirrored window (those on the outside can’t see in)
  4. Things that are known by neither the reader nor the character: I like to think of this as the dirty window

1. The Open Window

The Open Window starts off pretty much non-existant, since when you open a book you have no information about the character. Some books immediately start trying to help you out with this:

“Jenny ran her long fingers through her blonde hair as she studied her tall, slender frame in the mirror”.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s the writer  pulling down the sash, pretty brutally. Of course, increasing what a reader knows can be done much more subtly, through dialogue, clues, the character’s actions and through a drip-feed of pertinent information. Even if you feel you know your character well, the reader’s intimacy with the character should increase gradually over time.

2. The Secret Window

In the secret window, the reader has information that the character does not. This can be simple information (Jenny is being stalked!), or can involve deep issues which the character can’t face, and yet can be seen by others. For example the reader sees Jenny’s drinking habits and realise she is an alcoholic, but Jenny has not understood this herself. Information kept in this window can be used to build tension (as with the stalker), or empathy, making the reader want to reach out and help the character…

3. The Mirrored Window

This is information that the character knows about him/herself that readers do not. Perhaps she lost her parents in an accident, perhaps she is really a man. Perhaps she likes chips for tea. Perhaps she lied when she said she loved Geoff. The writer will choose how much of this information to share with the reader throughout the story, but the information will always affect the character’s actions.

4. The Dirty Window

The reader doesn’t know, the character doesn’t know, so who does know? Ah yes, that would be you, the author. For example, Jenny is pregnant, but she has no idea. Or she is courageous but has not yet had a chance to prove it. Or, subconsciously, she still not forgiven her father for not taking her to the circus in 1975. Information in this square drives  your character’s actions and through character development and plotting, more information becomes known to the character herself.

So at the end of the story, the open window is bigger and the others have shrunk. We feel like we’ve got to know the character better, and the character has grown as a person. Critically, though, the other windows have not vanished all together. If we want to write a sequel, maybe Jenny will still be unaware she has a stalker, and unless it’s really important to the plot, we may never find out that Jenny likes chips for tea.

Keeping track of who knows what is particularly important during the editing stage of writing a novel, when whole chunks of action can get moved around. What do you think, could using this idea help?

Jumping for Joy

Posted on: January 18th, 2011 by Claire - 52 Comments

It’s really true! My novel, The Night Rainbow, will be published by Bloomsbury, Spring 2013!

This post is a moving feast as I try to answer some of the questions you’re all asking.

In the meantime, thank you to my agent, Annette Green and to Helen Garnons-Williams, my new editor at Bloomsbury, for believing in The Night Rainbow.

*

How long has this taken you?

I started thinking about writing The Night Rainbow sometime in 2009. I actually started writing it at the end of that summer. By spring 2010 I had a full first draft, about 75,000 words. And then I started this blog, so you can follow some of my deliberations:

So, in terms of timings: Writing the book – about a year; Finding an agent – about two months; Agreeing to an offer of representation – about two more months; From there to publication – about two more years!

*

2013? But that’s AGES away!

It does seem like that doesn’t it? But my understanding is that the average time is around 18 months, so it’s just a little longer. One of the things that frustrates a lot of authors in their search to be published is finding publishers who love their book, but whose list is already full. And there is only so much time and money in the budget. Debut novels are a particular case – the marketing effort is also launching an author’s career. In my case, Bloomsbury, even though they loved my novel, had already filled their 2012 quota for debut novelists and so they proposed the following year. Of course I discussed the other options with my agent, but after having met Helen, Erica and Alexandra at Bloomsbury I was pretty convinced I could wait a few more months if it meant having these people launch my first novel and hopefully a great future.

*

What did you talk about when you met your editor-to-be?

We talked about me – what brought me to France, the fact I had a blog (seen as a good thing), my writing to date and plans for the future. We talked about The Night Rainbow – what people at Bloomsbury loved about it, the different reactions from different readers, one particular editorial suggestion, how it compared to other novels, were there any elements of truth in it, what marketing for it might look like etc. We talked about the fact that the 2012 list was definitively closed, and the quandary that this posed…

And then I had to go and sleep on it. And Helen would go back to the Tuesday meeting to discuss it all further.  Would I get the best Christmas present ever?

*

What happens next?

I’m not entirely sure! Contracts are being drawn up and will be signed, and then there will be work to be done. A good glimpse into the future can be had at Vanessa Gebbie’s blog here where she is charting the same journey!

And thank you for being interested in all this!

Read More…

Posted on: January 16th, 2011 by Claire - 1 Comment

Sage and ironic advice for writers:

The eyeball effect

Posted on: January 12th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

What do you think about the eyeball effect?

What do you think about the eyeball effect?

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was young Albert,
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
With a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle,
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

They didn’t think much of the Ocean:
The waves, they were fiddlin’ and small,
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.

*

I hope I’m not the only one old enough and Northern enough to recognise this passage from Marriott Edgar’s Albert and the Lion.

I was reminded about it after having read several articles in the news this week about the escalation of ‘wrecks and drowndings’ in ‘Eastenders’ and other places. That there is a market for this kind of entertainment makes me feel sad. Personally, I prefer fiction, theatre and film that ultimately shows people to be good at heart and courageous. I find that reassuring, positive, uplifting. So one of my real bête noirs is gratuitous use of:

Death (murder, suicide or accidental); Rape; Child Abuse; Domestic Violence or indeed any other kind of violence; Tragic illnesses including cancer, brain tumours and the like…and there’s no need to go on with this list really.

In literary terms, I like Martha Williams’ description of this: the eyeball effect – ie if you start a story with ‘The eyeball rolled slowly down the hill…’ you’ve grabbed attention. I’m pretty sure there is a market for this, but it’s not necessarily what I like to read. I don’t mean there shouldn’t be conflict, challenges, even disaster, or even any of the above (of course). Just that it needs to be justified by the plot and the characters. Illustrating with a few examples:

Reading Caroline Smaile’s debut novel ‘In Search of Adam‘  – I was in perpetual fear of turning the page to see what terrible things would happen next. It is a wonderful book, but everything is authentic, everything is justified.

By contrast, in Emma Donaghue’s ‘Room’ (which is brilliant) – I was very disappointed when a character which had been very sympathetic and heroic suddenly behaved out of character (see the above list, trying not to spoil) towards the end. I accept that the behaviour could be authentic, of course, but having felt in safe hands all the way through the delicate treatment of traumatic issues in the book, I felt let down towards the end.

On the other hand, three cheers for Christopher Brookmyre and his ‘Sacred Art of Stealing’ – a wonderful satire full of non-violent bank robbers.

Then there is ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’: The tragedy is inevitable, but the build up is handled with such finesse and the details, when they come, are spare.

Finally I must mention Jodi Picoult – a writer for whom I have enormous admiration. Not only does she sell millions of books, but I have enyoyed plenty of them, usually while blarting. Sometimes, though, it seems like she’s just gathered all the eyeballs within striking distance and put them into one book, one after another.

So, how do you feel about eyeballs, wrecks and ‘drowndings’? Do you like to watch them? Do you like to write them? Do you like to read them?

How many heads would a publisher need?

Posted on: January 6th, 2011 by Claire - 23 Comments

Question for writers seeking publication: how many heads would a publisher need to have before you didn’t want them to publish your book?

Here’s the background:

Just before Christmas I went to meet a very reputable publisher. Yes, I know – exciting! I’ll blog about the circumstances leading to this, and the outcome of all my agent’s hard work, in due course. But the point of this post is that I went to those offices worrying mostly about what they would think of me and my novel. I hadn’t even considered that I was also looking at them; that potentially I would need to make a choice if I wanted to work with them…or not. Had I overlooked something important? How would you have been feeling in the same situation?

Perhaps it’s that as an aspiring author, publishing houses seem remote and the idea of ‘can we work well together?’ is a long way down the list of our concerns. But maybe it shouldn’t be? I’ve certainly found in my day job that the kind of people I’ve worked with, and the company culture, has made all the difference to how enjoyable I’ve found my working life: On leaving university I joined an amazing company. The people I worked with were clever and personable and ambitious and yet I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Most of my colleagues seemed similar to each other and different to me. When I left that job I was lucky enough to land a job at a company where I felt right at home with the people. In ways hard to define, they were like me. I loved my time there, it was a privilege working with them. It was fun.

My meeting with these editors was very much like being interviewed for that second job: I met three people at different levels, all of who were lovely and engaging and passionate and – honestly – I realised how much I would love to work with them. Not just be published by them, but the working part as well.

I’d been mulling all this over whilst we all had a holiday, whilst publishing cogs turn and my agent does her thing, and then yesterday I read this blog post on Rachelle Gardners blog about her client who is having a nightmare publishing experience. To the extent that seemingly her editor insisted on a new title for the book and a cover the author was very unhappy with…without actually having read the manuscript.

This is not good. So, are we so driven by forging our writing careers and being published that sometimes due diligence is overlooked?

My questions for you – If you have an agent and/or a publisher, how did you decide to work with them? Did you meet them before you signed up? If you don’t have an agent and/or a publisher and you met with a reputable one with a view to working together, what would you be looking for and what, if anything, would be a deal breaker?

A Full Tour of the Sun.

Posted on: January 1st, 2011 by Claire - 8 Comments

I love the sense of punctuation that comes with the new year. A paragraph break or, as the clichés would have it, a new chapter. My 2010 has been a memorable and important writing year and now closes satisfyingly, with not with a full stop, but perhaps an exclamation mark. Here are the brief highlights:

The most breathtaking part of 2010 was taking my novel ‘The Night Rainbow’ from a sketchy outline to a first draft, then through subsequent drafts to submission and on to being agented and then very quickly to being read by publishers. I worked hard at this book this year; I was resolved to keep up the momentum and be submitting a serious, polished novel by the end of the summer. I was lucky to have some very sharp beta readers, as well as friends and family that supported my commitment to this work. I need to say a big thank you to everyone who has offered up suggestions, encouragement and the occasional kick up the bum. It has all paid off better than I dared hope and I truly believe this novel has a bright future.

I hope if you’re a writer reading this who has been with me on the journey so far, that you are encouraged by the possibilities that are clearly out there. We will have none of this ‘publishing is a closed shop’ naysaying, thank you very much.

2010 was also my renaissance year for short stories. I’ve found that crafting a short story scratches an itch, improves my writing and encourages me in the long haul of novel writing. It’s also a great way to test the waters and see if others genuinely like what you write. From the competitions I entered last year I had a brilliant run of results. A major highlight was being shortlisted in the 2010 Bristol Prize and going over to the awards ceremony where I met some wonderful and inspirational writers and just generally had a brilliant time. Silly as it may sound, seeing my story in print in an actual book was such a boost to my esteem as a writer as I trudged through the final edits of my novel. The BSSP4 is looking bigger and even better for 2011, by the way, so get writing!

On top of BSSP3 I was also shortlisted in the 2010 Sean O’Faolain Prize by the fabulous Tania Hershman and in the 2010 New Scientist Flash Fiction Competition, with Neil Gaiman judging the shortlist. How much excitement can one writer have in a year?

In other news:

Welcomed Warmly To: Fictionaut. A fantastic community of short story writers and flash-fictionauts. It’s been a joy to mine the rich seam of creative writing here and get to know the writers. Will I ever catch up with the pieces I’ve missed? It seems unlikely, but at least I know where to find a guaranteed and inspiring good read when in need.

Tried and Liked – Twitter. I started tweeting at the end of 2009 and by 2010 had firmly joined a community of writers where those of us still on the road to publication out ourselves and offer support and encouragement. Meanwhile kindly authors, agents and editors share tips and chat. As long as I limit myself, and log off when I’m writing, Twitter has been really productive and helpful, as well as lots of fun.

Tried and Not So Keen: Book reviewing – I did some of this over the summer and realised that it isn’t something I enjoy doing at all. I don’t think I enjoyed the books as much as I would have if I had read them with no other pretext. In reviewing novels I felt half way between a reader and an editor and really, I just wanted to be a reader. I have a whole new-found respect for book reviewers, and whilst the process was instructive I think I’ll be leaving that to others in the future.

And 2011? Well that’s a whole new story…

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and every success in 2011.

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