Thursday, 30 April 2015

Z for Zenith

From its title, When Skies Are Grey, might lead you to believe that the story remains within the settings of the grimy streets of west London.

But the bright lights of some of the biggest stages around the world awaits one of my characters.

At some stage we will see Rayna at the zenith of her career.

She will swap beer pumps for a microphone, her market stall dresses will be replaced by glamorous gowns and she will undergo a complete makeover.

She travels for her work and is followed by the Paparazzi wherever she goes. She swaps a single room in a dilapidated house for an expensive house of her own in a fashionable part of town.

But I just wouldn't be me if I gave my main character all of this if it didn't come at a price, now would I?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Y for Year

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
It took me a year to write When Skies Are Grey, my theme for the A to Z Challenge. But way after the challenge is over I suspect I'll still be editing and proof reading the manuscript before it is finally ready.

Some writers can churn out two books a year. My first novel took five!

Are you a fast writer?
Do you give yourself a certain number of words per day to complete?
Or - do you just go for it?

What's your process for getting a novel written and finished?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

X for Kiss

The A to Z Challenge always gets difficult when it comes to the last few letters of the alphabet. Like many of you might have done, I struggled when it came to X.

But this little letter is a symbol for many things. One of which is the the symbol for a kiss.

And how does that relate to my theme - my novel, When Skies Are Grey?

Well...There is a very significant kiss that marks the turning point in the story. This kiss should never have happened. The kissing couple were already in relationships with other people. But the kiss is discovered and there are repercussions.

It affects the relationships of many, not just the two people who exchanged bodily fluids. But can the two ever be forgiven by their significant others?

Monday, 27 April 2015

W for Working Titles

For any writers dropping in for the A to Z Challenge, a quick question:

How many times have you started using a working title that you decided to keep once the story was complete?

My theme is my novel, When Skies Are Grey. The title has been with me since the beginning and I've decided, now that the tale is told, to keep it.

Choosing the title originated during the early research I was making into jazz music (a big theme in the book). I stumbled across the song "You Are My Sunshine." Originally penned by Davis and Mitchell and first recorded in 1936. Followed by subsequent recordings throughout the years by famous artists including many from the world of jazz

The lyrics: You are my susnshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, When Skies Are Grey, you'll never know dear, how much I love you, please don't take my sunshine away.

And it is the song I always sang to my eldest son to rock him to sleep!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

V for Voice

A quick post for any writers dropping in for the A to Z Challenge.

Just thought I'd share with you a few books on the subject of the writer's voice I found extremely helpful during my MA in Creative Writing. They helped me in the writing of my second novel, When Skies Are Grey, my theme for this year.

Alvarez, Al (2006), The Writer's Voice, London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Edgerton, Les (2003), Finding Your Voice: how to put personality in your writing, Ohio: Writers Digest Books

Lamott, Anne (1995), Bird by Bird, New York: First Anchor Books

Nestor, Theo Pauline (2013), Writing Is My Drink, New York: Simon & Schuster,

The latter is my favourite - but these are all great for new writers. If that's you then have fun finding your voice!

Friday, 24 April 2015

U for Undoing

The theme of my A to Z Challenge has been my forthcoming novel When Skies Are Grey (even I'm groaning about the number of times I've said that). So I thought I'd do a quick post about the subject of 'undoing' in novels in reference to the ubiquitous WSAG.

In most works of fiction there is normally a turning point for a main character. A reader wants to follow this character's journey and somewhere along the line something has to happen to them: self growth, gaining knowledge, completing a quest etc. Somehow or other your character has to change.

For Rayna Dawes, her lies are her undoing or, more accurately: the truth she didn't dare speak. When the truth catches up with her the turning point occurs; the big change. She is no longer viewed in the way she was, her confidence is shattered and she falls from grace.

The truth has a way of catching up with you and for Rayna, her life and the lives of those she is closest to, are devastated...

Related articles

Thursday, 23 April 2015

T for Terry Collins

Interview with lead character, Terry Collins from When Skies Are Grey:

Terry is the owner of The Pelican Public House, a focal point of the novel. He's a jazz fanatic who vowed to have live jazz music in his pub ever since hearing a certain song on the radio.

Terry, we all know you love jazz and there's live music playing every Friday night at The Pelican but what else is special about the place?

At the pub everyone can come together and be friends under one roof, despite all the tensions in the area. Doesn't matter what colour you are, what you had for breakfast, you'll always be welcome there.

There's something about you, though, that draws people to you. What would you say that quality is in you?

Maybe it's because I'm a family man. I stick up for my own, I support them and back them all the way. People can trust me because I wouldn't lie to anyone.

But your kindness has backfired on you hasn't it?

That's true. Maybe because I don't go looking to deceive, it's easy for people to pull the wool over my eyes. And they did. I learned the hard way that people aren't always what they seem. My wife lied to me and so did my best friend. 

Do you think you'll ever recover from the hurt that those closest to you have caused?

I hope so but on a positive note I still have the pub and I still have someone who loves me.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

S for Supporting Characters

This post comes in the way of a writing tip. A few nuggets I read up on the way on creative writing courses and that you might find helpful when choosing and creating the supporting characters of your novel or story. They certainly helped when I cast my supports for When Skies Are Grey:
  • Choose supports that help to balance character traits of your lead e.g. I balance main character Rayna, who comes across as quiet and nice, with mouthy barmaid, Sandra and no-nonsense landlady Mrs Chester.
  • Add a character who can torment your hero. This is someone who puts obstacles in his or her path, might drive your hero to distraction or certainly tests your lead in some way. For me this is my lead character's music agent. A nice guy but forces Rayna to face up to thinks she wants to avoid.
  • Make sure supports don't steal attention away from your lead. So making them stereotypical is okay especially if they pass through the story to add something to your main character's story and head straight off the stage. Mr Chamberlain, the croaky landlord plays that role in the novel.
  • Lastly, supports do need to be realistic too. There's no point in adding supports that do nothing to enhance the story and leave the reader wondering why they were there in the first place. So don't be indulgent, get real with your supports.
Have fun casting those supports!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

R for Rayna Dawes

An interview with the lead character of When Skies Are Grey

What brought you, a young girl on her own, to 1950s London all the way from the sunny Caribbean?

I needed something new for my life. I wanted to start again and not go back. The Caribbean is sunny but they were not sunny days for me. In London I could be anyone I wanted to be.

How did you find music and achieve the great career you have now?

It was just by chance. I found The Pelican and took a job as a waitress. A great jazz musician heard me sing there. He taught me all he knew and I was very lucky to have a supportive husband. Not to mention the friends who became like family to me.

With all you know about the price of fame, what would you advise your daughter if she wanted to follow you into the music business?

I would say to make sure you are tough enough. It isn't all bright lights and glamour and your personal life doesn't stay on hold. You have to be able to balance both. 

You seem to have a problem with trust - do you put that down to not being a trustworthy person?

I made mistakes in my life, I admit that. I let people down and I got found out. Those things will haunt me forever. But I hope one day my family will forgive those mistakes and maybe my fans will too.

After twenty years of success and being at the top of her career, Rayna Dawes played what could have been her last concert, and the lies still haunt her.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Q for Quotation

As I'm talking about When Skies Are Grey for a month (yes a whole month!), I thought I'd add a quotation. Here's a small passage my writer's critique group all seemed to like:

Rayna smiled. She caught the look on Terry's face. He was miles away from whatever words the blonde was whispering into his ear and just as distant from the crowd, his body rocked in a steady pulsing movement to a bass drum in his mind alone. He had not touched the whisky she'd placed at the table for him. She followed his eyes to the stage. From there, Eddie Keane lifted the mouthpiece and winked at her before blowing long and seductively through the reeds.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

P for Pelican

English: The Pelican, Tacolneston Public House
The Pelican Public House in my novel When Skies Are Grey is the place where everything happens - well, maybe not everything. But it provides the backdrop for many of the major events that help to move the plot along.

Being a pub it made sense to hold special occasions at the Pelican. Like a wedding and a birthday party, or a gig. At each special occasion a startling revelation occurs, a secret is shared or a lie was told.

Most certainly, the Pelican is the place for important dialogue, conflict not to mention the live jazz music on a Friday night. Although several scenes of significance happen to my characters outside its walls - outside London, or England even - somehow or other, they all find themselves back at The Pelican.

I just plucked the name out of the air as a working name for my pub but decided to look into the myths, legends, religious connotations and history surrounding the pelican to see if it suited the pub itself. (Although I'm already sure the name will stick).
  • In Ancient Egypt the pelican or henet is depicted in relation to funerals for protection against snakes in the afterlife and is also scene as a goddess.
  • In an old myth by the Murri people of Australia, the pelican was once all black. He daubed himself in white to seek revenge on the woman he fell in love with but who ran away from him after he saved her life. Another pelican killed him for looking so strange and pelicans have been black and white since.
  • The Moche people of ancient Peru were lovers of animals and often depicted the pelican in their art.
  • In Christianity the pelican became the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist because of the female's attentiveness to their young - to the point of drawing her own blood to feed her offpsring if food was scarce.
  • Pelicans are featured extensively in heraldry in relation to Christianity. Amongst many emblems where the pelican is featured, Corpus Christi Colleges in both Oxford and Cambridge Universities use the pelican in their coat of arms.
And the list goes on. So, by chance, I came to use a significant bird in the naming of a pub that has so much significance to the atmosphere, setting and cast of When Skies Are Grey.

Friday, 17 April 2015

O for Opening Lines

So, a writer friend of mine, someone I send occasional scribbles to for an opinion, told me that once I get into my writing it's fine but I always trip myself up on the opening lines.

As writers we are always told how all important those opening lines are. Book buyers read them after being drawn in by the blurb. So as the writer you don't want to lose the reader (miss a book sale even) if your opening lines didn't draw the reader in.
So today I'm having a poll. These are the opening lines of When Skies Are Grey. Please read them and have your say:

The evening air was cold on her cheeks when she left 4 St Ervan's Road and closed the front door. Along the pavement all she could hear was the echo of her heels. The curtains were shut in each of the terraced houses and the doors locked. The lampposts emitted a faint amber light and with every one she passed her head turned as she scanned the view over her shoulder. There wasn't a soul around, no-one coming towards her, nothing to confirm her fears. She was on her own.
Approaching the bridge at the end of the road, she pulled her thick coat that bit tighter at the collar and mounted the wooden steps. Like an explosion, a Metropolitan Line train thundered along the tracks below, and a chilled breeze circled her stockinged legs as she descended the steps on the other side. Just over the bridge was The Pelican Public House. From its frosted windows, lights filtered through onto the pavement in front.

Let me have your opinion. Would you want to read more? Do you think I can hook my readers in?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

N for Notting Hill

If you've followed my challenge, you'll know I've been talking about my forthcoming novel, When Skies Are Grey, which is mostly set in the Portobello Road/Notting Hill Gate area.

A member of my writers' critique group commented on an excerpt from the book saying, 'I can't wait to see the film.'

So I decided I'd list just a few films that were shot in the same location as When Skies Are Grey is set (secretly hoping that once the book comes out someone will make the film version).

Notting Hill (of course) 1999, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. The famous blue door in Westbourne Park and shots taken in Portobello Road.

Sliding Doors 1998, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. A restaurant scene shot in The Mangrove restaurant in All Saint's Road W11.

Withnail and I 1987, starring Richard E Grant and Paul McGann are chased out of the Tavistock Hotel Pub (I use this pub in my novel but rename it The Peleican) in Tavistock Crescent W11(I lived there as a young girl).

Alfie 1966, starring Michael Caine who speaks to the camera as he walks down Notting Hill
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold 1965, starring Richard Burton, some of this Cold War thriller was filmed on Westbourne Grove.

This is a very short list, indeed. But what a feeling I'd have if my book was made into a film and could join this list!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

M for Motherhood

The subject of mothers and motherhood throws up lots of questions in When Skies Are Grey. Actually I could see these questions being placed in the back of the book for Book Clubs to discuss.

There is certainly nothing conventional about any of the mothers in the novel. I hope I didn't go too far by never having a 'normal' mother in the book. But then again - what is normal? Everyone has there own version of that, surely.

The dictionary description purely says a mother is the female parent. It doesn't say anything other than that. In the case of the mothers in When Skies Are Grey, they at least meet the description.

"Motherhood": Sculpture at the Catac...
"Motherhood": Sculpture at the Catacumba Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One mother who is heard but never seen, is the one who signs her name 'Mother' at the end of her letters to her daughter. It could be argued that she appeals to the image of the kind, loving, head of the family figure who appears to have done all she could for her family. Sadly, she doesn't seem to have been thanked for what she does. (I can hear lots of mums out there saying, 'Story of my life.').

I did have to think long and hard about my portrayal of motherhood. Hopefully readers will understand the choices I made.

Did you ever write anything you thought might cause controversy? How did it work in the piece you wrote?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

L for Letters

As part of the structure of When Skies Are Grey I introduce a series of letters signed by 'Mother'.

There are eight letters from Mother, mostly found in the first part of the novel. I use these letters as a means of plot development but also to create an element of intrigue for my main character.
The letters are addressed to Gaynor, a character the reader has never encountered, but realises quickly that Gaynor is someone they know well. The question I want to put into the reader's mind is; why has she changed her name and what is she hiding? She certainly hides the letters away for some reason, she very rarely answers them either.

The use of letters in a novel can be a very handy device for writers. In the Colour Purple by Alice Walker, letters were used as part of the narrative. Each one starting 'Dear God'. The letters carry the narrative when two main characters are separated from each other, allowing the author to be in two places.

In When Skies Are Grey the purpose of the letters is really for dropping hints and making suggestions about things to come. Hopefully enticing the reader to stick around for the revelation.

If you've ever used letters in your writing, how did you use them and why?

Monday, 13 April 2015

K for Kill

Wait a minute, that doesn't mean that When Skies Are Grey  just became a murder mystery novel. It still remains within the Women's Fiction/General Fiction genres.

I'm referring to the death of one of my characters.

The Rubber BandNot to be confused with the William Faulkner quote - "In writing, you must kill your darlings." Which I discovered is to do with deleting passages in your writing to make for a better reader experience (even though you thought it was a work of genius), and has nothing to do with having one of your favourite characters whacked over the head with an iron bar on the way to the pub.

But, sadly it was one of my favourite characters I killed off. It wasn't gratuitously either. It was all to do with the journey my lead character was on and the loss bore significance to that. I have to admit, though, each time I did a draft and read it, I cried. Yes I know I wrote it and I knew it was coming up, but I felt sad all the same.

I once read an interview with a literary agent in which she said, if you read your own work and it makes you laugh out loud or makes you cry, then she wants to see it. Is that a test of good writing? Who knows. But have you ever read your work and thought, 'Hey, that's pretty cool'? Or worse, looked at it and thought, 'What the hell was I thinking'? If your answer is yes to the latter - you know what to do...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

J for Jazz

Category:Wikipedia requested photographs of ja...
There's lots of jazz in When Skies Are Grey. From jazz fanatic, pub owner Terry Collins to the Eddie Keane's jazz band who play at the pub once a week. It's the music that leads Rayna towards her new career as a singer.

The jazz band that unites the pub goers every Friday at the Pelican Public House are all from the West Indies. I particularly wanted to draw attention to the fact that during the 1930s, 40s, 50s and onwards, there were a lot of West Indian jazz musicians, touring the globe who were very influential in the world of jazz music.

Usually we here of all the American players and the big names from Europe but a lot of talent came from those small islands.

For example Joe Harriott, a Jamaican jazz musician and composer, whose principal instrument was the alto saxophone. Initially a bebopper, he became a pioneer of free-form jazz.

Notable musicians who played with Joe and went on to perform, tour and record with big names such as Django Reinhadrt and Quincy Jones, included saxophonist, Harold Mcnair and bass player Coleridge Goode.

Cooleridge Goode
Cooleridge Goode (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hailing from Dominica (my lead character, Rayna Dawes was born there) is Eric Allandale a trombonist who came to England and became a powerful jazz master in his time. 

Many jazz musicians coming from Jamaica might have gone to the Alpha Boys School from which several high flyers in jazz had gone to study.

We have to keep the A-Z Challenge posts short but I could go on and on. I researched this area a good deal before writing When Skies Are Grey and I'd encourage anyone interested in jazz musicians to follow the links and follow whatever links they may lead you to, and discover more.

Friday, 10 April 2015

I for Identity

How many times did Shakespeare have a character dress differently in order to fool another character into thinking that he or she was someone else. I think I could list about three plays - how about you?

Well. I'm no Shakespeare but I do play around with this idea of identity quite a lot in When Skies Are Grey.
I don't achieve this by having any of my characters change gender, wear masks or anything as dramatic as that. But what I do is have at least two of them change their name in order for them to pass a someone else.

In one instance it is because she is escaping her past, for another character, she changes her name when she arrives on the scene in order seek revenge. For another she just liked the name better than her own and thought it might make her a better person!

For each of these characters changes in identity was necessary for each to achieve their aim. But how can you then continue to trust that person when their cover is blown and the truth comes out?

At some stage or another the true identity of each of my characters is revealed and sometimes with devastating consequences.
Any other Shakespeare plays you can come with where disguise is used? Do let me know.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

H for History

The opening of the story, When Skies Are Grey, begins in 1957. It spans two decades and I went on a voyage of discovery of my old neighbourhood to get to grips with the history of each era.

Although I've set the novel in the part of London I grew up in, the story does begin years before I was born. That called for a lot of research which involved:
  • asking people older than me what they remembered about the times
  • Googling like crazy
  • Buying books and taking visits to the library
  • Searching the Local Studies section of the main library
  • getting completely sidetracked on more than one occasion
Pictures, maps and stories I found helped a great deal in trying to bring authenticity to the story. I was sidetracked, in particular, by my research into the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958. The location of my story is slap bang in the middle of the Riots so it was essential I mention them and the impact they had on my characters.

Finding yourself wading through tons of information makes it hard to know how much to add into the story itself. Too much and the novel stops being fiction and sounds like a text book.

When Skies Are Grey ends in the late seventies so there was a lot to research in terms of clothes, hairstyles, music, television, film, even down to brands of cigarettes that were smoked at the time. My characters went from wearing wide skirts with stockings and stilettos to mini skirts and then on to platform shoes.

And yet again, though I'd done tons of research, I still couldn't get all I'd learned into the book. Maybe I can use some of it another time. But getting into the history side of things was as exciting as writing the novel itself.

Writers how far do you go to make your story authentic?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

G for Gangs

I've talked about the setting of When Skies Are Grey being in west London, in particular Notting Hill. At the start of novel the period in time is 1957. That was one year before the Race Riots in which numerous attacks on West Indian and African immigrants took place.

There were gangs of people leading these attacks but in particular, Teddy Boys were known to be the main culprits.

This picture, taken in 1955, is typical of what a Teddy Boy would look like, although the look kept becoming more and more glamorous with every revival.

During the novel I try to build up the level of racial tension so that it is typical of the time. That includes an attack on one of my characters in the build up to the Race Riots themselves. I've also included a scene during the period of the Riots - August 1958 - and its impact on the cast of WSAG.

It was not a comfortable subject to write about, considering the weapons these gangs armed themselves with included chains, bricks and petrol bombs. But I had to make sure my story was authentic.

Having said that, the Race Riots don't dominate the plot but became a part of the story that I was happy to move away from as quickly as I could.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

F for Family

I wondered what use I could make of this letter and realised I talk about family quite a bit throughout the novel - although the word Family seems to be synonymous with the word Dysfunctional when it comes to When Skies Are Grey.

When one or two of the characters try to escape their own families, they find themselves taken in by one that works for them.

For example, Rayna finds herself welcomed by the colourful Chester family when she is forced to run away from the clutches of her landlord. But she later finds that as comfortable as it is within the Chester household, the family isn't all it seems.

Find a FamilyWe see also a tug of love as Ruby's very happy home is suddenly taken from her and she has to choose between a posh Notting Hill house and the flat above the pub, where she was born and raised.

I hope I haven't painted family life in the novel as all doom and gloom. There are some tender moments and in many respects, all members of the cast have someone they can depend on and a sense of family, even if it isn't conventional.

Monday, 6 April 2015

E for Eddie Keane

An interview with one of the lead characters of forthcoming novel:When Skies Are Grey

Welcome Eddie, where are you from and what is your occupation?

I was born in St Vincent in the West Indies in 1928. I studied piano, saxophone and musical composition. My main instrument is tenor sax. In 1957, when the story begins, I was living in London's Leyton area.

What is characteristic about you?

I suppose it might have something to do with my physique and my style of dress. I wear my fedora hat for half the year - the colder months. In the summer I'm hardly ever seen without my white cravat.

What role do you play in When Skies Are Grey?

Well, I'm the one who helps develop the vocal talent of leading lady, Rayna Dawes. As you know, she goes on to be an international success. I'm a good friend to Rayna and I'm the love interest she tries to deny. I also play a part in bringing the racial tensions of the late 1950s into focus but I also show that a man like me can go on to do more with his life than many people of the time would ever expect me to do.

Would you agree that career is more important to you than being a family man?

What's important to me is being true to the things I love. My biggest love was always music and it will never leave me. I love my children but sometimes relationships don't always work out. I'm a true believer in walking away because it's right to do but most importantly to follow your heart when it comes to love.

Thanks Eddie.

Eddie Keane performed on stage with his band every Friday night at the Pelican Pub during 1957 through to the early sixties until circumstances changed all that...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

D for Dialect

In When Skies Are Grey my characters, in the main, are either West Indian immigrants or working class west Londoners and I needed them to sound as such. There is a lot of information advising writers to be careful of foreign language speakers, dialect and colloquialisms in novels. Some say to steer clear of using dialect and some say to use it in moderation. I had no fear of using dialect as I judged that it could only enhance the story.

I considered Andrea Levy's use of the Jamaican dialect in Small Island. For example, Gilbert speaking to his friend as they try to set up a business says, 'Cha, nah, man, you no hear me, nah? We can collec' up the bees. This is jus' a likkle upset.' Monique Roffey's Sabine is The White Woman on the Green Bicycle who, after living in Trinidad for several years, begins to sound like the locals and proclaiming, 'Oh Gyaaaad...The heat! Jennifer I cyan take it.' And, in Brick Lane, Monica Ali uses foreign words and sometimes does not translate.

English: The streets of Brick Lane at night in...
The streets of Brick Lane at night in east London, the curry capital of London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I decided that my use of dialect for the West Indians would be a lot more subtle than the examples above, making it accessible to more readers but with carefully chosen sentences that imply my character's difference in speech. 

At my writing critique group I was told by one member that I ought to go for the dialect more, make it stronger. But I remember when my novel Holding Paradise was with the editor and he did nothing but complain about my use of dialect, claiming that there would be far too many readers who wouldn't understand than there were who would so I try to appeal to the majority.

With that in mind I think I have a good balance of use of dialect in When Skies Are Grey and happy to leave everything as it is.

Any comments about use of dialect would be useful and interesting, so please have your say!

Friday, 3 April 2015

C for Character

How can I talk about a novel and not mention this very important aspect?

As I will be interviewing all the main characters a little later this month, I thought I would talk about a few of the minor ones and my approach to developing and creating them.

As a writer I tend not to give too full a physical description of my characters. My reason for this is that it allows the reader to take a more active part in the narrative.

I applied this less is more approach to main characters but filled in a few more gaps with minor roles to help develop certain scenes, settings and imagery. Being more descriptive about minor character Mr Chamberlain’s appearance, for example, his movements and even his breath, helped me add atmosphere to the scenes in which Rayna encounters him. Similarly, in order to change mood, a detailed portrait of an exaggerated, almost Dickensian character in the form of Mrs Chester proved necessary.

For character development I made use of dialogue. What a person says and how they react with other characters can tell a reader a lot about someone. I also had other characters describe each other in terms of the physical as well as attributes like habits, profession and so on.

For many of my cast, photographs of people I found on line helped me bring them to life. I worked with a collage of 'When Skies Are Grey People' above my desk. The pictures helped me imagine how they would move, their ticks and expressions and their reaction to certain situations.

Importantly in character development is forming an understanding of how scenes might impact them and even change them in some way.

All of my characters, big or small lived with me for the entire time of writing the manuscript and they dictated what they wanted to do or say. They altered scenes I'd planned in advance because they developed a life of their own - all I had to do was write. Sounds weird but I know a lot of writers experience their characters in that way.

There have been times when a random character turned up in my head before I had a story to put them in - has that ever happened to you?

Thursday, 2 April 2015

B for Background

My novel, When Skies Are Grey, started life as a short story. The short story described a bridge covered in snow and ice and a young woman crossing the bridge on a dark night.

The bridge I was describing actually existed and it was one I'd crossed hundreds of times as a child to get to and from school.

I used the area I grew up in to form the background of my short story and, as ideas for characters and plots grew, so did my short story, until it became a novel.

Apart from the large proportion of the story that is obviously made up (it is fiction after all), in many respects I was writing what I know. I used my background as the springboard for an idea as many writers do, although I did set the novel a few years earlier than when I was born.

I grew up in West London around the Notting Hill Gate/Portobello Road area. An area that has been used many times in films and books and is of course now famous for the Notting Hill Carnival.

Notting Hill wasn't so affluent a place as it is now. I show that in the novel in some of the gritty street scenes of the late 1950s, when the story begins.

The area went through many changes over the years and in a recent trip to my old bridge, I almost didn't find because a whole new housing estate has been built up around it.

In some ways writing WSAG was like a trip down memory lane and a chance to reminisce about my life and where I came from.

A before and after of Portobello Road

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A for Ambition

As this is going to be a month dedicated to blogging every day and reading and commenting on as many blogs as I can, ambition seemed to be a good word to kick off day one of the Blogging from A - Z April Challenge

This April I'll be talking about various aspects of my forthcoming novel, When Skies Are Grey. Several themes run through the novel and, I didn't notice it until a few drafts in, but ambition is one of them.

Ambition is normally associated with major achievement and used to describe our aims, goals and aspirations in terms of our careers or jobs. But to some extent, and be they great or small, we all have ambitions.

I would say that each of the main characters are driven by ambition; from jazz loving Terry Collins to jazz playing Eddie Keane.

Terry, the owner of The Pelican, is a jazz fanatic whose only ambition was to build a stage in his pub and have a jazz band play there.

But in literature, ambition can have more serious and darker connotations. Think Macbeth. No-one from When Skies Are Grey, will actually resort to murder. This is by no means a spoiler. But for one of my characters it is a warning that ambition, if it is the only thing that matters to you, can be destructive and can turn you into a person you never intended to be.

For the character I have in mind, there was nothing I could do to save them from their fate. But this person did learn a big lesson by the end of the novel, when we see how their ambition had detrimental effects on the people they loved.

[My ambition right now: to survive the A-Z Challenge. Day One and I'm hanging in there!]