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Writing Process Blog Tour

I have been invited by author Rebecca Bradley to answer some questions about my current writing as part of a writing process blog tour. You can read her answers on her blog.

So here are my responses to the following questions:

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the ending of my second novel. The first was historical fiction, and set in 1980s/1990s Prague. It was a fictional take on the impact of the fall of communism on the lives of the Czech people, and the ensuing changes. This one is entirely different. It’s a thriller, set in Vienna, and was inspired by a trip to an auction house in the city during the annual Long Night of Museums over a year ago, which you can read about here and here. I stood next to a Canaletto painting, which was said to be expected to fetch ten million euros at auction. So many thoughts surfaced, from who would pay that much for one work of art and where would it end up, to imagine if I just lifted it and walked away with a painting. Crazy, I know, but such is the imagination of a writer! And from there, a whole story began to unravel. Researching art theft has been fascinating and I particularly enjoyed reading insights from the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman. His memoir, Priceless, is really worth a read. In it, he discusses how he went undercover to rescue some of the world’s most valuable stolen art treasures, and he highlights the need for greater expertise in the area of the theft of cultural property. Several of my short stories have been published online and won various competitions, so I am also polishing a collection for publication.

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How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I read a lot of literary fiction and I really dislike all the genre segregation and the debates surrounding what makes good writing. In my view good writing is good writing regardless of its genre. Does the genre categorisation make literary fiction genreless? Nobody seems to agree. I don’t believe that any one type of writing is better than another. I’m happy about the rise of the short fiction form and hope that all forms and genres can be equally celebrated. My current novel is written in the first person, present tense, which many would say is tough and risky, but I think it works and it has certainly held my attention for long enough to continue with the story. It helps the reader to get inside the mind (and fears) of the protagonist, which would be difficult from another perspective. It increases the tension. It is also set in Europe, and in a city I know well enough to include the minute details and the feel of the place.

Why do you write what you do?

Well, you’ve seen the variety – historical fiction, thrillers, short stories – and it probably reflects a highly varied taste in reading, but as far as the current work is concerned I find thrillers really intriguing in terms of what makes them work, especially psychological thrillers. I have been hooked by many great writers over the years and in a way they have fed into what I am currently writing. I also read a lot of short stories and am passionate about writing short fiction. You’ll find several on my website if you are interested.

How does your writing process work?

It always starts with an idea, which is followed by several vivid scenes. Once I can link them together I can start to plot and plan the story. I do quiet a lot of research, despite the fact that I write fiction, and I draft and re-draft, often adding in new scenes or scrapping parts which don’t quite work. You have to be unafraid of being ruthless. Readers will want to stop reading at points where you don’t edit properly. With the first book I cut out an entire family (who really had no place in the story) and several chapters. I once read that if you take every other word out of a text, the story still makes sense. Try it. It will show you how many unnecessary words can be used which could have been cut. Maybe I should reread this post! I work at an empty table with a strong coffee and some water. I don’t always feel hungry when I write, especially when I get caught up in the flow of the story. I take breaks to move around but I try to keep set time for writing and to treat it seriously. I guard my writing time and often snatch evenings to write when I can.

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I’ll now pass the baton on to Fiona Melrose, Michelle Flatley, Colette McBeth and Jon Rance.

 


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#bookadayuk Hooked you into reading: The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm

For those of you who have been following the #bookaday posts, I’ve been up in the Alps for a week. I’m back and refuelled, and will pick up with the posts and get back to writing. We drove the length of the Grossglockner Pass, which is the highest and one of the most beautiful roads in Europe. Here are a few photos before I write about what hooked me in to reading. It seems fitting that the photos are of Europe, the home of the writers I want to talk about.

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I was influenced by so many great authors throughout my childhood. While I enjoyed Enid Blyton, Judy Blume and Noel Streatfeild early on, what hooked me in to reading was primarily fairy tales. I loved Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea and, although I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to the Happy Ever After endings, there was something magical about the idea of anyone being able to feel a pea beneath layers of mattresses. Children often want to believe the unbelievable, don’t they? Think Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; or, in my case, The Lochness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and the Tooth Fairy. The first two exist, don’t they? Anything implausible, I believed in it. Such was my hopeless and incorrigible imagination. The thing is children want to believe in unreality, they want a world beyond the real and the plausible. And I think adults sometimes look for the same thing. It’s why we read fiction.

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And then there were the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella. I devoured them all, utterly absorbed in another world. Hansel and Gretel grabbed my attention for the suspense as the children become lost in the woods. I liked the idea of a house made of sweets, and was always captivated by images of the roof. I have started to make a European gingerbread house at Christmas, a tradition in Germany which comes from this story.

In Germany, there’s a rhyme that’s said about Gingerbread Houses that comes directly from the story of Hansel and Gretel:

Knusper, knusper, knäuschen,
wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?
Der Wind, der Wind,
das himmlische Kind.

English Translation:

Nibble, nibble, gnaw
Who is nibbling at my little house?
The wind, the wind
The heavenly child.

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I’ll also throw in Joseph Jacob’s Jack and the Beanstalk. A giant at the top of a beanstalk? Really? These imaginary worlds are a wonderful escape from the real world and teach children about the far reaches of the imagination. And you are never too old to read them.

Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” While I am certainly no genius, I find his quote interesting because it suggests a link between the imagination and the intellect. What are your thoughts?

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#bookaday One that makes me laugh: Notes from a Small Island

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This particular #bookaday challenge made me realise how few books have really made me laugh. I think most book that leave their mark do so because they are suspenseful, melancholy, shocking or thought-provoking. Few are actually laugh-out-loud funny.

Bryson’s Notes on a Small Island is insightful and well observed. His wit keeps you turning the pages and I identified with his observations all the more now that I am living abroad. I see England and its people differently.

Bill Bryson was born in Iowa and spent 20 years in England before moving back. He says, “I had recently read that 3.7 million Americans according to a Gallup poll, believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”

This is typical of his style, able to make jokes lovingly and without overtly pointing a finger or causing offence. I enjoyed this. It was a gift, which makes it more special.


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#bookadayuk A book you pretend to have read. I haven’t. And a confession about Romeo and Juliet

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Why would you pretend to have read a book? I’ve never lied about what I have read, because what’s the point? I do have a confession, though. We studied Shakespeare at school. I first read his work at the age of eleven and struggled with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then at fifteen we looked at Romeo and Juliet as one of our GCSE texts. I struggled with romantic books then, and I still do in a way. Somehow, the whole forbidden love element of the story didn’t grab my attention. So I listened to the discussions, read the notes and miraculously managed to get a good grade in English Literature, despite never having read the whole text.

I later saw Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation but I struggled with this, too. I can understand why it was popular and I think he has an amazing eye for what works, but it was too overly dramatic for me. It wasn’t until we studied Othello that I really began to enjoy Shakespeare, and I made up for my sad lack of reading Romeo and Juliet by reading Othello three times! There was something about the darkness of Iago, and his persistence that held my attention. I saw a production of the play a few years ago at the Donmar Warehouse and was equally captivated. Both plays are tragedies but the effect they both had on me were vastly different.

Here is an interesting video of Ewan McGregor talking about the character of Iago in the play:

 

Do you have any favourite Shakespeare plays?

Or have you pretended to read something that you haven’t actually read?


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#bookadayUK The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

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This is a short #bookaday post today as I’ve already posted photos of yesterdays trip to Sopron, Hungary. Today’s #bookaday challenge is to choose a book that reminds you of someone you love. My husband bought and read this to me on our honeymoon. I love being read to (although it doesn’t happen often), and the magical settings of the book and the nature of the holiday at the time has burned this story into my memory. I look forward to going back and rereading it someday.

The Alchemist was first published in Portuguese in 1988, written by Brazilian born Coelho, and has been translated into 56 languages. It follows the story of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.

The book is an international bestseller and has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. It has become one of the best-selling books in history, setting the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author.

It’s not necessarily my favourite book but it is evocative and full of imagery, and the memories of hearing the story are what remains.

 


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Sopron, Hungary

It was a bank holiday weekend here in Austria and we spent the day yesterday in Sopron, just over the western border of Hungary. It’s a beautiful town at the foot of the Alps, 60 km from Vienna and 220 km from Budapest, and is one of the oldest in the country. The first settlers were the Celts, then the Romans (as a trading spot along the Amber Route from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic and Byzantium), then a succession of Germans and Slavs. In recent years, Sopron helped to bring down the Iron Curtain, creating an escape route. It is one of the most beautiful towns in western Hungary. The medieval Inner Town (Belváros) is intact and its cobbled streets add to the charm. We whiled away the hours walking, drinking coffee and exploring small arches and hidden alleyways. It had so much character and a great sense of history.

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