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Archive for the ‘Charlie Cochrane’ Category

I’ve played the ‘Novel Openings’ game three times, and each time I’ve learned more than I could have done reading three books about writing. Let me explain. You get a bunch of authors (at a lunch, at a conference, down the pub) and they each read the first 250 words from one of their works (finished or yet to be) then discuss them, either the specific extracts or story openings in general.

What always amazes me is how different they all turned out to be. Three times, maybe three dozen authors in total and never a duff beginning. All good, but as varied as chalk, cheese and chewed pen lids. Within that small amount of words (a double drabble and a half) the tone of the story was set, the writer’s “voice” was instantly recognisable, you could get a pretty clear idea in at least half the cases about where the story was going to go and you knew the era/setting even where there hadn’t been a Cambridge 1907 type heading at the start.

And – maybe most important of all – I think you had a ninety percent chance of knowing whether you wanted to read more. While all the intros were good, not all of them piqued my interest enough to think, “Read on, read on!” It’s a matter of your individual reader taste – is it your style, your genre, your era, your pace.

The first time I encountered the Novel Opening format (at the Festival of Romance) led me to think about submitting stories and the importance of them making an instant impact. I’ve been on the submissions team for four different anthologies, and I know we could pretty well tell by the end of the first page whether a submitted story was a ‘goer’. The same applies where submission calls ask for a chapter or three. It’s not helping your cause to say, “The first few chapters are a bit slow, so I sent five, six and seven,” or “they don’t represent the story as a whole”. They’re the first bit the editor will see and if he/she isn’t sold, what chance have you got of nabbing a reader? Do we have the patience to plough through three chapters of intro to get to “the good stuff”?

I’ll be facilitating Novel Openings again as one of the panels at UK Meet 2014. Why not come along and play?

Lessons for Suspicious Minds, Charlie‘s latest adventure for Jonty and Orlando, (her Edwardian sleuths) is now available from Amazon, http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FBQZLYS, ARE and all the usual places.

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I love living in a temperate country. Yes, the English weather is a constant source of amusement (all four seasons in one day at times) but variety’s the spice of life, so we never get bored. Some of our recent winters have been hard, unusually so; bitterly cold with deep snow abnormally early, and now we’re having a sub-tropical summer, high temperatures for days on end. Yet these extremes come as a constant surprise to us and we do get a fantastic range of conditions.

Winter brings misty, frosty, magical mornings where puffed up robins sit out on the hoary grass. In the summer we get warm, hazy days and mild evenings when the bats swoop and soar over the garden in search of insects. Then there’s autumn, with the countryside a quilt of colours and the sun dappling the trees with gold and amber. Then there’s my favourite. Spring. There’s a quality, a clarity, to the light in spring you simply don’t get at any other time of the year and the colour of the sky is a piercing blue.

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One of my characters has blue eyes and his lover likes to compare them to the sky on a fine spring day, although my meteorological inspiration was something even odder. It was November and we were standing on the old fortifications at Portsmouth; the morning was misty and the mist over the sea was cornflower blue. That was always going to be the colour of Jonty’s eyes.

I digress…

I love the feeling of hopefulness that comes with spring, the lengthening of the days and the emergence of buds and flowers. My family shake their heads indulgently over my enthusiastic response to the appearance of the first daffodils in the garden or to the emergence of the first beech leaves on the hedge down the road. I have to go and touch them – they’re as soft as the finest silk, a quality they only have for a day or so after coming out of the bud. (I wonder if my neighbours think I’m a bit touched in the head?)

When the flowering cherry comes out in our front garden the opulence and profusion of blossoms is almost decadent; when they’re almost done, we still shake the tree and stand in the pink snowstorm it produces, just as we used to when my daughters were small and wanted to play “here comes the bride”.

When I’m stuck for inspiration, when the right words or plot points won’t come, I go for a walk, under the great oak trees on our road or down by the beech hedges. Sometimes I go and knock seven kinds of brickdust out of the ivy that’s trying to take over my hawthorn, or perform some other equally mindless task, out under a blue sky with the colours of nature all around. I don’t stay stuck for words or plot for long.

But change is constant, and even spring’s wonders are transitory. The beech leaves harden, the blossoms turn brown and fall, the daffodils finish and the bluebells come. My garden never looks the same two months running, nor does the field and the woods we overlook. (The woods never look the same two days running, or even over the course of one day, when we can go from ribbons of mist hanging over the valley to blazing colours as the setting sun strikes the treetops.)

It can be depressing, that constant reminder of moving on, of the ravages of time, but change is inevitable; you either embrace it and enjoy it, or you sit and let it defeat you, locked in your own eternal January of the soul. Spring’s not just the time for daffodils – it’s a state of mind.

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2012 seems a million years ago, now. All the celebrations for the Queen’s jubilee and then the Olympics/Paralympics. Pomp, pageantry, well organised and inspiring events, all sorts of things which we Brits do extremely well, but refuse to shout about.

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And all of these were a tremendous celebration of what it means to be British. We’re a mixed up, muddled sort of society, obsessed with the weather and totally blase about the history which surrounds us but…we’re fun.

Last summer we “followed” the Olympic torch on its journey around the country, picking up some literary connections on the way, with a slant on LGBTQ fiction and authors. Seventy (count them!) days of posts about our gloriously diverse country and culture, well worth revisiting.

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