Monday, 18 May 2015

Elizabeth Haynes – psychologically thrilling – the Kitchen Table Crime Review



Elizabeth Haynes
 http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/
It hit me, only moments after I received the contract for my three Shaman Mystery novels; I really did have to write a book in a year. I had never written a book in anything less than – well, a decade – and the fear slapped me off my office chair. Luckily, it didn’t dry up my writing, it got me searching for help. I found that help with NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month which challenges writers to reach 50,000 words during the month of November. I wiped November off the calendar to achieve 2000 words a day; watching no TV and never going out in the evenings. On December the first I emerged, like something from a chrysalis, with battered but beautiful wings and 60,000 words; more than half the second novel in the series; Unraveled Visions. (Midnight Ink 2014).

I was delighted to discover that one of my favourite crime writers took the same route with her first published novel; Elizabeth Haynes and Into the Darkest Corner (Myriad Editions 2011). In an Afterword at the end of the book she admits to becoming a Nano bore; “it’s very different from the usual way of writing a book.”

During this time, Haynes was pursuing a creative writing course at West Dean College near Chichester, and they encouraged her to submit Into the Darkest Corner. This is just the sort of incentive a new writer needs; it was soon being devoured by crime fans. It won the Amazon UK 2011 Rising Stars award, and became a New York Times bestseller. The Guardian review  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/26/first-novels-review-roundup, describes it thus; “From its uncompromising prologue – a young woman being bludgeoned to death in a ditch – Haynes’s powerful account of domestic violence is disquieting, yet unsensationalist.

A bookshelf of crime fiction from Hayes' accomplished pen http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/
Into the Darkest Corner is a tense thriller with a clever structure; it is topped and tailed by two court transcripts; the first transcript sets you up to wonder just how sane and believable the narrator of the novel, Catherine, is. She looks back to 2007, when she met and fell in love with a charismatic police officer called Lee. Lee is vulnerable in a lot of ways; he’s also possessive and aggressive, and ultimately sadistic. We watch the slow but inevitable deterioration, until Catherine, like a lot of women in abusive relationships, is trapped. Catherine tells this story of this past while describing her life now, where she is controlled by a different jailor; OCD. She exhausts herself checking and rechecking everything about her life, but especially the security of her little flat.
Her two stories, told as alternating time settings, are taut as pieces of elastic that sting you if you flick at them.

Although Into the Darkest Corner is Haynes first book, it wasn’t the first of hers that I’d read; last year I read Human Remains (Myriad Editions 2013), which is even more psychologically tense and even more clever in its critique of mental conditions that make us dangerous to others. In Human Remains, Haynes explores NLP, a technique with is intended to be therapeutic and empowering, but her character, Colin, twists these aims chillingly. Haynes explains in the Afterword; “things that people actually want – to die without pain or fear – is accomplished in such a way that [Colin] can benefit too.”

I was impressed that, rather than running out of ideas or inspiration, Haynes’ work seemed to just get better and better. In her first book, I liked the way she brought abusive relationships to the fore as the main theme alongside obsessive, compulsive disorder. But I felt she’d reached deeper for Human Remains, and developed her writing, investigating the sad phenomenon of people who withdraw from society and end up dying alone…I wanted to explore the potential reasons why people make this choice…I also liked the idea of the roles of predator/prey and hunter/hunted.”

It’s almost unsurprising that right up to publishing Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes was a police intelligence analyst. “At the time,” she explains on her website http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/, “I was producing a quarterly report on violent crime and as part of this I read a lot of accounts of domestic abuse. I was guilty of having very fixed ideas about violence in the home and the sort of people who were victims of it, and this stereotype was challenged in every way by the reports I was analyzing. I’d always thought of domestic abuse as something that happened to ‘other people’, but it affects many couples and families from every part of society and is often very well hidden.”  In Human Remains, Annabel is a police analyst, just like Haynes. She is concerned about an increase in people dying at home yet remaining undiscovered until the overpowering smell alerts a passer-by. And when Annabel discovers her own neighbour in this state, she seriously begins to investigate something that Colin is delighted to exploit.

Haynes says, “I’ve always felt the role of analysts within law enforcement has been sadly overlooked by fiction writers.” Well, no longer. I’m going back for more of Elizabeth Haynes; an unconventional approach to writing psychologically thrilling books that has crime reviewers singing her praises.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Commonplace Book; A Miscellany of New Ideas…Writing advice from OCA tutor and novelist Nina Milton

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can get information upon it...Samuel Johnson

Nina Milton writes regularly for the Open College of the Arts Blog; weareoca.com. 
This month, she's talking about that a very ancient form of collating information that is still used by writers until this day; the Commonplace Book…


Johnson was quite right (which is just as well, because he generally did think he was right!); if you know where to get the information you need, your research is halfway done. Which is where a Commonplace Book comes in, because sometimes (quite often, really), writers don’t know what they’ll need to know or even what they’ll want to write about until it jumps out at them.

Think about this. I was skimming through the Sunday supplements one afternoon (not necessarily on Sunday of course...) and was absorbed by an article on genetic history....the story of people who’d discovered that they have ancestors that don’t belong to the cultural, social, national or even racial group they always imagined they were part of. I cut it out, for no better reason than it was interesting, and as a writer, I keep things that are interesting. I put it into my Commonplace Book.

Go to. http://weareoca.com to read the complete blog post.



Monday, 11 May 2015

MAY GUEST BLOGGER: Writing Coach Bekki Hill



As both a writer and a creativity coach for writers, Bekki Hill's first message for her guest blog with KTWs is that… 




Writing can be a slow and frustrating business. 








Have you ever told anyone that you write, to met by the question:

‘So you’re going to write the next 50 Shades of Grey?’

Or

‘So you’re going to be the next J K Rowling?’

Or something similar.

Coach Yourself to Writing Success
 by Bekki Hill
Such encounters can needle away at our confidence. Even friends and family can erode self-assurance by asking too frequently if we’re published yet or if we’re still writing that book. Few books make it big. However, if you're responding to such ill-thought out comments by explaining that you’re pre-published, that you publish short pieces, you can be left feeling pretty flat. 

In reality, unless we’re fortunate to be truly gifted or lucky enough to hit on a bandwagon that doesn’t ask us to write competently, we writers need to spend years developing our skills. Furthermore, in a tough market, even the most brilliant prose can fail to make it through acquisition. Even once we’re published, we have to keep proving ourselves over and over again. On top of that, the whole publishing process can be a very very slow. Meantime the idea that we write, therefore we must have written something everyone has heard of, and/or are being frequently published, penetrates our earshot far too often. Worse still repeated, well-meant, enquiries from family and friends can unintentionally suggest we must be slow or stupid or both. 

If you’re frustrated by the speed at which the writing business moves, doubting yourself because others don’t understand, or becoming increasing shy about admitting you write, here’s a few things you can do to help:

  1. Start by identifying what you want to achieve in the short as well as the longer term. That way you can manage both your own and others expectations more effectively.
  2. Tame others expectations by being more detailed about what you do. For example instead of saying you write, say you have an interest in a particular area and write articles about it, or if you want to write for children, say you’re learning about writing for children. If you’re not aiming for publication consider why you write so you can help others understand you’re not interested in publication.
  3. Don’t try to do too much too soon - you’ll eventually lose faith without any help. That doesn’t mean you can’t reach for the stars, just make sure at each step you’re being realistic.
  4. Remind yourself that your writing is strong or improving by collect things such as positive rejections, competition wins or good feedback from tutors.   
  5. If you’re not ready to be published and others make you feel negative about it, remind yourself that just because you can type it doesn’t mean you’re ready for publication - just as people who can pick up a tennis racket aren’t ready to play at Wimbledon and not everyone who knows how to use a scalpel can perform brain surgery.
NLP for Writers
by Bekki Hill
One of the best ways to build self-belief in your writing is to spend time with other writers who are in a similar position to you. They can help you feel less isolated and recognise you’re not the only one who other people expect to write a bestseller in the blink of an eye. They can also provide support when your work is rejected and help celebrate when you do well. Their future successes will also underline that it’s possible for you too to achieve your goals.

Seek out communities that have writers of your level and/or share your interests. Organisations such as the Romantic Novelist Association and The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators accept both published and unpublished writers and have both physical and virtual gatherings. Writers’ conferences are also good places to meet new writers as well as hear seasoned writers talks about how they overcame  rejection and confidence dips. Also seek out bloggers who are supportive and/or that you feel attuned with.


Above all be proud of what you achieve, don’t knock yourself for what you haven’t done yet and keep on learning and growing until you succeed.

Bekki has written features and short stories for many publications. She holds an MA in writing for children, has written part of an MA in screenwriting and is the author of three books including NLP for Writers and Coach Yourself to Writing Success. 

You can read Bekki's regular posts at her blog; http://www.thecreativitycauldron

 Links for RNA and SCBWI
http://www.scbwi.org/


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ping! How to Pitch your Novel in an Elevator

Image; http://www.bored.com/games/e3d-elevator/

Ping! 
You’re in an elevator. The doors open and Wow! Into the lift walks the agent/editor/novelist you’ve always wanted to meet. Yes– it's Ed Deskman, the editor from Deskman Publishing. Now the doors are closing and the lift is hurtling towards your floor. You have perhaps 30 seconds to pluck up the courage to open a conversation and tell Ed about the book you have just finished writing.
You open your mouth, but it’s as if your tongue has been replaced with a piece of bathroom sponge. You can hardly remember your name, let alone the plot of your novel.
A bad dream?
It should be the most wonderful stroke of luck.
The elevator pitch is known over the business world; how to sell yourself, your idea or your product to the director you bump into and have 30 seconds to impress. But an elevator pitch can work just as well for writers.
You might be thinking that you’ll never need it; even though you have a book to place, you don’t use elevators, and you never meet anyone from the publishing world. 
But you can use an elevator pitch in a lot of different circumstances. When I was writing my children’s novels I went to a Writer’s Workshop. As always, the tutor went around the class asking us what we were writing at that moment. An absolute brain numbing fog came down upon me. Then out of it, I remembered the short synopsis I’d just written about my children’s novel. I dragged it to the front of my mind and delivered its salient points in less than a minute.
“That sounds a really good idea for a children’s story,” the tutor said. At the end of the class she suggested an agent I might like to try. Within a year, that agent had placed Sweet’n’Sour with HarperCollins. So don’t turn your nose up at the much maligned word ‘pitch’. It is simply the verbal form of a business or other plan; the previously prepared presentation of an idea.
Like me, you might think about honing your elevator pitch down from longer presentations, such as the synopsis you may have just finished writing. A synopsis can be anything from 3000 words to 500; anything less than 500 words is best thought of as a ‘blurb’. Here is my 130 word ‘blur’ for latest Shaman Mystery, Beneath the Tor;
which will be released at the end of this year:
On a Midsummer night on the Glastonbury Tor, beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Sabbie Dare and her friends are in shock, and when her shamanic guru, Wolfsbane, confesses that Alys may have unwittingly taken drugs during his ritual, Sabbie’s shock turns to horror.  

After receiving sinister, anonymous emails about Alys, her grieving husband Brice approaches Sabbie for help. She turns to the spirit world for guidance, but receives only enigmatic replies. She tries seeking some practical help from her boyfriend Detective Inspector Rey Buckley, but he is embroiled in problems of his own. Sabbie feels isolated, and as she heads closer to the truth about Alys’ death, a deranged killer is also heading towards a final victim, and both are closer to Sabbie than she knows.

This will appear on the back cover of the book, but if I recited those words aloud, to someone in an elevator, for instance, they would feel stilted, and they would also feel out of place; word on the cover of a book can fill in the missing blanks with pictures (of Glastonbury Tor) and words (such as The Shaman Mystery Series). So although you can start creating a pitch by paring down your synopsis into a blurb, you need to do more work again when preparing your pitch.
Don’t forget that being prepared is the fundamental point to an elevator pitch; it’s to stop that bathroom-sponge-tongue experience. Knowing what you want to say when asked to say it is impressive in itself; it demonstrates that the book is worthy of a good descriptor.
Turning your blurb into pitch takes a little time and effort. Start by remembering that the pitch needs to be brief, persuasive, memorable and compelling. It should also run off your tongue in a natural way, suggesting that you know your book well, rather than you’ve worked on a pitch!
So look at your synopsis and ask yourself what would grab a professional first. When reading the synopsis, they have already made  made the decision to spend time doing this. For the pitch, you have to think what would hit them verbally; what would stop them checking which floor the lift has reached for just the 30 seconds of their ride. Think about the business phrase, USP; unique selling point/proposition. Every book has a USP. Yours does, even if you don’t already realize that. Think about the story you’ve written and search out that uniqueness. 
The next stage, having written your pitch is to practice it. Practice being confident; if you don’t think your book is good enough to be published, no one else is. Being confident is not the same as being aggressive, however. Practice breathing so you don’t get breathless, getting the tone of your voice just right, and speaking slowly, not gabbling, even though the lift is hurtling upwards towards floor 101. Practice staying on cue, so that you' avoid being still halfway through when the 30 seconds is up. Practice your body language; assertive, confident, but not pushy. Practice both facial expressions and your body language in front of a mirror. Practice getting the delivery to sound natural. You might also like to practice not being so shy you don’t deliver the pitch in the first place. Practice opening gambits with an invisible elevator-companion.
“Can I ask, are you Ed Deskman? Only I’m a fan of Deskman Publishing. Actually, I’ve been thinking of sending you something. It’s about…”
Then deliver that pitch, no more ado. Remember that you'll probably never see Ed again, so it really doesn't matter if he thinks you're a little crazy. In fact, you'll only see Ed again if he likes your pitch, so battle on. Concentrate on two aspects; making Ed care about what you’re saying, and leaving him wanting more. Try not to end by trailing off, gasping for breath, or saying things like, “So…well, you probably think it’s rubbish.…” 
Instead, ask an open, engaging question that can’t be answered with a basic yes or no. “I’m wondering now what I need to do be read by one of your team.” This allows your lift-buddy a bit of lee-way; they can tell you what they’d tell anyone; the route you’d need to take. Okay, this will land you in the slush pile, but now you have a get-out-of-the-slush-pile card to hand; in your covering letter you will be able to say something like:
Dear Ed Deskman. I was delighted to meet you end of the Writers' Conference, last week, and thank you so much for listening to what I had to say about my book, and offering to read the first three chapters. As I said, this book is…
It’s not much, but it is a foot in a door. It will make Ed turn the page, and that's a small writing miracle. 
Ping!
The lift has reached its destination and Ed the editor will be getting out any second now. Have to hand something you can leave with them; your business card, a bookmark with your contact details and the ‘blurb’ of your new novel. Something that will be later fished out of a pocket, hopefully just as your first 3 chapters are landing on the doormat of Deskman Publishing.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sabbie Dare's personal jewellery!



My fantastic Sabbie Dare chain. Available Now! (and a big thank you to my daughter for supplying this)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer; the Kitchen Table Crime Review


Belinda Bauer was a journalist and screenwriter before she began writing crime fiction. I’ve just read the first of her novels – Blacklands.

I like to read books that inform my own writing, so I was drawn to Bauer because I agree that moorlands are evocative landscapes, sometimes breathtaking…sometimes chilling. It’s easy to lose a body on a wide moor; sheep, even horses die unannounced, and it’s possible to imagine a walker wandering in bad weather until they finally lie down and are not discovered until their bones have turned white.

We know murderers of the most evil distinction (presuming you can tolerate the idea that there are different levels of evil intent in murder), use moorland to dig shallow graves which even they won’t ever find again.

Steven’s uncle is out there – buried somewhere on Exmoor. Steven is as obsessed with his dead uncle Billy as his nan – Poor Mrs Peters,  she’s called around Shipcott town – she lost her son to serial killer Arnold Avery, now languishing in a high security prison. The body has never been discovered, and Steven believes, with every sinew of his twelve-year-old body, that if only Billy could be given a proper burial, everything that is wrong in his family would come right again:
His nan would become a proper nan; she’d smile, play with him, bake cookies.
His mum would settle down with one man, instead of regularly chucking boyfriends out of their cramped house.
Maybe, even, Steven would be more popular at school, not bullied, not ‘almost friendless’.

Every spare moment Steven has, he spends out on the moors, digging with a ‘brute spade’, hoping to hit on his uncle’s skeleton. It’s a hopeless task, and Seven knows it, so he decides to enlist a helper. The only person who could actually tell him where Uncle Billy lies – Arnold Avery.

belindabauer.co.uk/index.php/category/Belinda%20Bauer/
Steven writes a letter to his uncle’s murderer. I loved the letters Steven composed in Blacklands. It’s easy, when using a child as a protagonist, to give them an intellectual maturity they would not really have, but Bauer doesn't do this. Steven’s letters totally convinced me. He’s not a stupid boy; he knows what he’s doing. Except, of course, he does not. Avery’s letters back to Seven are equally convincing, and utterly frightening. They  offer a series of connecting clues…and we all know how twelve-year-old boys love a quest.

From almost the beginning of the book, the reader is in a lather of sweat over the safety of Steven. Avery will hunt him down; we understand that. He may be languishing at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but that won’t stop him pursuing yet another victim.

In the Moors (2013), the first book in my trilogy, The Shaman Mysteries, is set on the Somerset Levels, a moorland that stretches from the wide arc of Bridgwater Bay right across to the mysterious and esoteric Glastonbury, and I use all that landscape for the two following novels, Unraveled Visions (2014) and Beneath the Tor (out this year). Unlike Bauer, I use a single protagonist, Sabbie Dare, whose adventures as a modern-day shaman in practice as a therapist leads her to understand that she can sometimes help people who bring very dark problems to her…very dark problems indeed. Linda Bauer, on the other hand use the town of Shipcott itself as a link between her first three books, turning them into a trilogy set on Exmoor.  Bauer has gone on to write further ‘stand-alone’ novels, all of which are scary beasts – I hope to do the same! (see my previous post http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-mood-board-different-way-of.html)

I had just a few plausibility problems with Blacklands, but these were nowhere near troubling enough to stop me reading, because there are two toweringly exquisite aspects to Bauer’s writing that make this a crackerjack of a book. 

I loved Bauer’s writing style. It takes us deep into the minds of the characters. And, because of this, her characters are as real as people down the street; you feel their turmoil. In this extract, Steven tries hard to please his his nan, who has never recovered from the murder of her son and takes out her desperate misery on all around her. Steven has made her a new shopping trolly, working secretly with borrowed tools, using an abandoned pushchair; it was one of those all=terrain buggies, as if the parents who’d bought it were planning an ascent of Everest with their infant in tow…When Steven presented the rejuvenated trolley to his nan, she pursed her lips suspiciously and jerked it roughly back and forth across the floor as if she could make the wheels fall off this instant if she only tried hard enough.
‘Looks silly,’ said Nan.
‘They’re all-terrain wheels,’ Seven ventured. ‘They’ll bounce over stones and kerbs and stuff much better.’
‘Hmph. That’s all I need – some kind of cross-country shopping trolley.’

Blacklands won the 2010 CWA Gold Dagger and it was the 2010 Channel 4 TV Book Club choice. The Guardian thought it had…“lucid, uncluttered prose” and was “genuinely chilling”.

Bauer says that Blacklands is “probably my most personal, reflecting as it does my own memories and experiences of childhood. Into that mix I've introduced Arnold Avery - the most heinous monster any child could imagine. I wanted to write about the way a terrible crime can pass through the generations like ripples on a pond.

This is an approach I appreciate, both as reader and writer. I don’t enjoy crime novels that concentrate on the gratuitous; that only show how terrifying   and shocking a murder is and how clever those who solve the mystery are. I like to hear the voices of those who are affected by crime, essentially the victims and their families, but often others who come close to the crime. In Blacklands, we are truly able to empathize with Steven and his family, and for me, that’s what makes this book a prize-winner.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Seven Secret Ways to Get Ink on Paper by Alice Loweecey


Alice Loweecey is the author of five crime fiction novels, and contributor to  Writes of Passage, Adventures on the Writer's Journey. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.


Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she's not creating trouble for her characters, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year). 


Here are her Seven 'Not-So-Secret' Ways to Get Ink on Paper!

Mandy Patinkin. No, he’s not my number one way to get ink on paper. But he did star in Sunday in the Park with George, a musical about the artist Georges Seurat. In the final scene, his character, Seurat’s fictional grandson, reads pieces of his grandmother’s diary in which she describes watching Seurat create art.


Mandy Patinkin. Copyright playbill.com

“White,” he reads out loud. “A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.”

How inspiring! How creative! How to pare it down to the bare bones! That is, until I’m staring at that lovely white paper or Word doc and nothing’s coming.

A creature called “Deadline” likes to appear on my desk right about then. It usually looks like the outcome of several illegal horror movie experiments mixed with wolf spider DNA. Google “wolf spider” if you don’t need to sleep tonight – I’m not going to insert a picture here. (You’re welcome.)

When I’m being menaced by that creature and my creative mojo is binge-watching Firefly on Netflix instead of, you know, creating, I reach for my Top Seven Secret List.

Firefly. Copyright 20th Century Fox Television

1. Set a goal with a reward. For example, when I reach 500 words, I will then allow myself to binge-watch two episodes of Firefly. The words don’t have to be creative, but they do need to be productive. Which ties into not-so-secret way number two:








The Bride of Frankenstein. Copyright Universal Studios
1. Research. I love research and can get lost in 
it for hours. I like to front-load my research so all of 
it is at my fingertips as I'm writing. I’m a visual 
writer, so I screencap maps, house floor plans, real 
estate listings, poisonous plants, anything that I’ll 
need for when I’m deep in the murderer’s head. 


3. Outline.   The word is not scarier than Michael Myers with his knife! I started out as a pantser—letting the story flow on its own. But when I write my first mystery, I knew I’d have t plant clues and remember them, and for me the answer was learning to outline. From the multitude of sites and suggestions and how-tos, I chose the Snowflake Method. [website: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/] I like it because it’s customizable. Now that I learned the method, I use only the pieces that work best with my methods. Which leads to not-so-secret way number four:


4. Character charts. I swear by 'em. I start filling in one for a new character and the character tells me so much about him/herself in the process.  I refer back to these charts constantly while writing the book because they’re packed with tidbits and backstory. I use the Snowflake Method's character charts, but there are several out there. Or make up your own. I prefer not to make up my own for this step because it’d be too easy for me to get in a rut of my same old ways of thinking.
Hanged Man tarot card; learntarot.com
5. Turn your usual process upside down.  Write a 2-page synopsis if that's something you usually do after the first draft is complete. Outline if you’re a pantser. Front-load the research if you usually research on the fly. Sometimes turning things back-to-front gives my brain the kick in the butt it needs.





The Flemish Giant. New York Post
6. Rethink the inciting incident. If you discover you’ve started the book with the wrong inciting incident—this happened to me—I trolled news stories past and present. After a few hours I ended up using the news like a buffet: One element from here, part of a subplot from there, a quirky character from a third article. I now have a file of news stories labeled Plot Bunnies.










7. This final idea is a version of reversing the process. 
Write in longhand if you usually write on the laptop, or write on the 
works for any draft I’m in, regardless of deadline. Because if the words aren’t flowing onto the laptop if you prefer longhand. This keyboard, it doesn’t matter if I write faster on my laptop. I need to write, period. Sometimes my brain needs the visuals of lots of ink on paper. 







Never be scared of that blank page again!

You can find  out more about Alice Loweecey, her books and her writing life at 
 www.aliceloweecey.net

Monday, 20 April 2015

ARE YOU YOUR OWN CHARACTERS?



Writers always write about themselves, it is often said. Most writers deny this – they deny it loudly! I can hear myself, recently announcing to a someone who'd read the Shaman Mystery Series…"No, Sabbie Dare is NOT ME! She’s absolutely nothing LIKE ME! Okay, she keeps hens and is a pagan and so am I, but that is pure coincidence!"

I’m right; ‘course I am. But also I’m being a little underhand. Our own minds, memories and experiences are our first arsenal as writers. There is an established link between creating characters and being the character. It has been said by many literary theorists that all character is autobiography, and that no writer can get under another person’s skin – they effectively reinvent themselves each time they invent a character. And although this suggestion is vehemently denied by many authors of fiction, it is the truth…or at least, it’s something writers shouldn’t be afraid to accept in their hearts – and exploit with their heads. 
The definitions of ‘fiction’ and ‘autobiography’ are subtle and flexible, and can be put to good use for a writer’s benefit. Each of us has expereienced life in its vast array. All our opinions, experience, thought processes, memories, hopes, traits, flaws, likes and loathings, and all facets of our education are totally personal and unique to us. And yet all of that is also part of a greater humanity; we're profoundly alike, us homo sapiens. We should capitalized all of this as a tremendous source of character. You know you, better than any other person.

Read the following two excerpts…

Autobiographical Journal                
          When I was eleven, my father was taken seriously ill with a stroke. He lay in the middle of my parent’s double bed, so that when the family arrived, the house seemed filled to bursting with people trying find somewhere to sleep
          I had been playing in my friend’s garden. When I came home, no one knew I’d re-entered the house. I overheard two of my aunts talking. I can’t remember what they said now, but what I can recall is that at the time of listening I half-understood they were discussing who would tell me my father had died. Later, when my mother did tell me, I recalled the incident, confirming what had been going on. 

Fiction
     ‘Someone will have to speak with her.’
     It was her aunt Vivienne’s voice, a modulated and gentle flute, blown note by husky note. It always made Bridget’s body feel as floppy as a rag doll, like Kate, eyes permanently closed, limbs limp, the way she felt in the optician’s chair when he said: ‘Now, which is clearer…the red…or the green?’
‘Obviously it must be Ann,’ said Aunt Paula.
‘I honestly don’t know if she’s up to it.’
Two of them, Vivienne and Paula – two of a host – heavenly host, her aunts with wings and nativity halos. The family descending, her mother had said. As if from heaven. There were too many for comfort, even when you subtracted Father. The bedrooms were full of family.
Bridget paused in her search through the dressing-table drawers. Paula and Vivienne 
stood (she couldn’t imagine they would sit together on the bed) in the tiny box room one wall away.
‘Tony could do it.’
‘Why him?’
‘He’s the…well…family elder.’
‘No. Not a man. We must give Ann time.’
‘How much time are you suggesting?’
She was nearly eleven, too old to be imagining that every conversation was about her 
– bad as thinking everyone out walking is going the same way as you. Childish thoughts, for children.
The whole house was full of whispers. Passing through rooms, she heard tones 
dropped and muted. Not for her ears, these conversations, so they whispered around her. Bird-watchers in a hide, looking out at that rarest of ornithological wonders, a child who must not hear.
‘Well, I don’t care.’ Glimpsing the colours of her swim-suit behind school knickers, she 
yanked it out and carried it off.
She ran down the road, the swim-suit sailing behind her, still gripped by the same 
finger and thumb that had snatched it from the drawer.
‘I don’t care. I don’t care.’
  Nina Milton The Diary of Bridget Wakeham (New Fiction, Forward Press 1992)  


The first example is totally autobiographical – a diary entry, in which the writer has recounted only what she is sure she truly remembers. It is bland, rambling, forgettable. The concentration on accuracy removes the build-up of tension we gain in the story. It might be thought of as a first draft, in which the writer is quickly getting things down in the right order, something that could be polished…for memoir, or indeed, for transformation into fiction. 

The second example is an excerpt from a short story. It is autobiographical fiction – in other words the writer draws on her own experience to weave a story. The section quoted doesn’t stray far from the truth of the diary entry – but the as the story progresses, the ‘plot’ dictates that the story veers into complete fiction. 

Strong writing cannot stick too closely to a remembered chronology of events. To gain that tension, you need to lightly alter, or ‘hold back’ information. Drama is generated by removing the ‘blandness’ of diary writing. It also slows the writing down, so that it can focus on the important moment and prevent the writing becoming ‘garbled’.  Equally, when a recalled event has been completely revamped to create a satisfying plot, you can still use the character – how you felt, what you thought, what your instant reaction was, what outcome there was to all of that, just as, in my story above, I remembered myself).
Read this at your Kitchen Table:
The 2011 Man Booker prize winner by Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending.

Try this at your Kitchen Table:
  • Think back – possibly, but not necessarily, to your childhood
  • The memory does not have to be crystal clear, but it should still raise emotion in you
  • Recount it, just as you remember. 
  • Check back to my 1st example above – write down things that you can remember and state what you think you’ve forgotten
  • Try to write between two and five hundred words
  • Now start again. First, have a little think. How would you dramatise these events if you were using them to write fiction?
  • Rewrite the facts you’ve now recorded as a very short story or an extract from an unwritten whole.
  • Do this fairly quickly...use free writing and don’t think about it much beforehand...you did your thinking during and after the previous exercise. Take the three tips below:
    • Dip down into a scene – as in the first extract above.
    • Concentrate on that scene – not on the facts your remember
    • Recall the emotions you felt and try to portray them, rather than just the facts 
  • This time aim for between five hundred and a thousand words, or more.