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.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction - a stellar coterie of six women writers


The 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction – 
a stellar coterie of six women writers. 


Previously called the Orange Prize, the award was created to redress a gender imbalance after it became clear that the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist was sans a single female author – in fact most of the big literary prizes were overlooking quality writing by women. Readers were missing out on great novels, and in January 1992  a group of publishers, agents, journalists, reviewers, booksellers and librarians merged to start a prize specifically for women writers. Orange signed on as the sponsor. 



The first Orange Prize for Fiction was awarded to Helen Dunmore in May 1996 for A Spell of Winter and since then the best exemplars of fiction writing by women in English have won the przie;, to include Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andrea Levy, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei, Rose Tremain,  Madeline Miller, and last year, newcomer  The 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction – a stellar coterie of six women writers. 

Previously called the Orange Prize, the award was created to redress a gender imbalance after it became clear that the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist was sans a single female author – in fact most of the big literary prizes were overlooking quality writing by women. Readers were missing out on great novels, and in January 1992  a group of publishers, agents, journalists, reviewers, booksellers and librarians merged to start a prize specifically for women writers. Orange signed on as the sponsor. 

McBride
The first Orange Prize for Fiction was awarded to Helen Dunmore in May 1996 for A Spell of Winter and since then the best exemplars of fiction writing by women in English have won the przie;, to include Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Andrea Levy, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei, Rose Tremain,  Madeline Miller, and last year, newcomer Elmear McBride.

But, the cry continues, as it has from the start; do we need a prize that excludes half the population? After all women can – and do – win the Booker and the other big prizes.  A.S Byatt has been quoted as describing the prize as “spurious”, but she may be missing the point.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty chaired the judging panel this year and was quoted as saying…"We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice. I also don't think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don't think it's time to end a women's prize."

I agree. This prize flags up gender issues in the publishing industry, not by shouting for equality, but by showing just how weighty, wide-ranging and innovative women’s writing is. Strange, then that the reason I love it above the other big prizes, is because the long list always offers such good books to read. Not stupidly clever-clever, like the Booker often is, just rollicking reads. 
As Kate Mosse has said,  "Every single bookseller says it sells books like no other prize… "

The quality of the titles on this year's Baileys Prize shortlist proves this; they are, between them highbrow,  ambitious, but; accessible, gripping. I have roared my way through half the list already and I’m keen to start the others, now. Here is, in order of enjoyment, the KTW review of the Baileys prize shortlist:

How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton) by Ali Smith,  one of my favourite writers. How to be Both is almost two stories, intertwined, with more than 500 years separating the characters - one a Renaissance painter, secretly female, the other a modern teenager living in the UK and desperately in need of some love.  Smith suggests you can read them in either order, but I would strongly suggest you start with 'camera' not 'eye' as you're far less likely to give up! "As always, Smith is being playful and inventive 's work. How to be both, almost  eludes description, which I’m sure was the very effect Smith was aiming at. It’s well worth the slight struggle although not my favourite of hers; The Accidental will remain that.

A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus) is Anne Tyler’s 20th novel. She’s been writing since she was an undergraduate, and I discovered her in my own twenties. I’ve loved her books since then, and have read most of them. Although Breathing Lessons, which is a heart-rending novel, is often said to be her best, A Patchwork Planet is my own favourite. Her multi-layered shortlisted story is equally absorbing. I found it
thoughtful, but also intriguing, as Tyler looks at how our memories both create, but also destroying the histories we make up; especially about our relationship with people we love.

The Bees (Fourth Estate) by Laline Paull is “ambitious and beautiful”, according to the Telegraph, while Gwyneth Jones in the Guardian reminds us that “the crisis The Bees invokes is genuine, frightening and getting worse. Hive collapse disease remains a deadly real-life mystery, although some pesticides are certainly implicated, and "African" outbreeding with A mellifera scutellata (those "big fierce dark bees from down south") hasn't solved the problem.' The story is set in a bee hive – yes – set every character is a bee. Described as the Animal Farm for 2015, I can’t wait to read it. Guardian

Outline (Faber/Vintage) by Rachel Cusk. According to James Lasun in the Guardian, Cusk has a gift for making the most mundane situations compelling, plunges right in, emerging with a miniature tour de force of human portraiture and storytelling virtuosity. The story is set in Athens, where a writer is running a writing workshop. Any writer will recognise that scenario; they probably avoided writing about it like the plague, but Cusk dives in, making, according to Lasun “as gripping a read as a thriller”.
The Paying Guests (Virago) by Sarah Waters was the first book on the newly-announced list that I read, grabbing the hardback as soon as it was on the shelves as I have grabbed Walters’ books since the outset of her highly acclaimed career. This story, is set after the 1st world war, a time of austerity for a middle class widow and her daughter. They take a young couple into their home, and the outcome of that simple decision changes their lives. It’s a story of illicit love that combines many thematic ingredients class, gender, economic dependence, morality, suspense, and of course lesbian romance. This story is perhaps less well plotted than her others; she so well known for her amazing twists that I felt quite let down when I finally realized there wasn’t really going to be one. Even so, powerfully written, with her most steamy sex scenes for a long time. 
A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury) by Kamila Shamsie is one I haven’t read yet, but I have taken in Lucy Popescu’s long Guardian review, and I know I’ll have to steel myself to take this one on; as it crosses time, country and theme widely over 300 pages.  Popescu admits that “It is a rare writer who can transport her readers in just a few pages to another place and time. Shamsie’s writing is so evocative that she does just that. In this work she contrasts three different empires: the ancient Persians between 515 and 485 BCE, the dissolution of the Ottoman state, and the decline of British colonial rule in India. Spanning two continents and two defining events in the early part of the 20th century, the novel brilliantly illustrates how war tests loyalties and destroys empires.” However, she has to sum up that, “The parts of have not quite become a whole; the task is too great. However, Shamsie's passionate curiosity about how empires grow, collapse and die makes this a novel well worth reading.”
The shortlist in its entirety is worth reading and I, like a lot of my bookworm friends will be ordering all the ones we haven’t yet indulged in, right away..

But, the cry continues, as it has from the start; do we need a prize that excludes half the population? After all women can – and do – win the Booker and the other big prizes.  A.S Byatt has been quoted as describing the prize as “spurious”, but she may be missing the point.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty chaired the judging panel this year and was quoted as saying…"We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice. I also don't think women are getting their due in other literary prizes. I am still surprised at some of the lists and comments made by judges and chairs of judges elsewhere, so I don't think it's time to end a women's prize."

I agree. This prize flags up gender issues in the publishing industry, not by shouting for equality, but by showing just how weighty, wide-ranging and innovative women’s writing is. Strange, then that the reason I love it above the other big prizes, is because the long list always offers such good books to read. Not stupidly clever-clever, like the Booker often is, just rollicking reads. 
As Kate Mosse has said,  "Every single bookseller says it sells books like no other prize… "

The quality of the titles on this year's Baileys Prize shortlist proves this; they are, between them highbrow,  ambitious, but; accessible, gripping. I have roared my way through half the list already and I’m keen to start the others, now. Here is, in order of enjoyment, the KTW review of the Baileys prize shortlist:

How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton) by Ali Smith,  one of my favourite writers. How to be Both is almost two stories, intertwined, with more than 500 years separating the characters - one a Renaissance painter, secretly female, the other a modern teenager living in the UK and desperately in need of some love.  Smith suggests you can read them in either order, but I would strongly suggest you start with 'camera' not 'eye' as you're far less likely to give up! "As always, Smith is being playful and inventive 's work. How to be both, almost  eludes description, which I’m sure was the very effect Smith was aiming at. It’s well worth the slight struggle although not my favourite of hers; The Accidental will remain that.

A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus) is Anne Tyler’s 20th novel. She’s been writing since she was an undergraduate, and I discovered her in my own twenties. I’ve loved her books since then, and have read most of them. Although Breathing Lessons, which is a heart-rending novel, is often said to be her best, A Patchwork Planet is my own favourite. Her multi-layered shortlisted story is equally absorbing. I found it
thoughtful, but also intriguing, as Tyler looks at how our memories both create, but also destroying the histories we make up; especially about our relationship with people we love.

The Bees (Fourth Estate) by Laline Paull is “ambitious and beautiful”, according to the Telegraph, while Gwyneth Jones in the Guardian reminds us that “the crisis The Bees invokes is genuine, frightening and getting worse. Hive collapse disease remains a deadly real-life mystery, although some pesticides are certainly implicated, and "African" outbreeding with A mellifera scutellata (those "big fierce dark bees from down south") hasn't solved the problem.' The story is set in a bee hive – yes – set every character is a bee. Described as the Animal Farm for 2015, I can’t wait to read it. Guardian

Outline (Faber/Vintage) by Rachel Cusk. According to James Lasun in the Guardian, Cusk has a gift for making the most mundane situations compelling, plunges right in, emerging with a miniature tour de force of human portraiture and storytelling virtuosity. The story is set in Athens, where a writer is running a writing workshop. Any writer will recognise that scenario; they probably avoided writing about it like the plague, but Cusk dives in, making, according to Lasun “as gripping a read as a thriller”.
The Paying Guests (Virago) by Sarah Waters was the first book on the newly-announced list that I read, grabbing the hardback as soon as it was on the shelves as I have grabbed Walters’ books since the outset of her highly acclaimed career. This story, is set after the 1st world war, a time of austerity for a middle class widow and her daughter. They take a young couple into their home, and the outcome of that simple decision changes their lives. It’s a story of illicit love that combines many thematic ingredients class, gender, economic dependence, morality, suspense, and of course lesbian romance. This story is perhaps less well plotted than her others; she so well known for her amazing twists that I felt quite let down when I finally realized there wasn’t really going to be one. Even so, powerfully written, with her most steamy sex scenes for a long time. 
A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury) by Kamila Shamsie is one I haven’t read yet, but I have taken in Lucy Popescu’s long Guardian review, and I know I’ll have to steel myself to take this one on; as it crosses time, country and theme widely over 300 pages.  Popescu admits that “It is a rare writer who can transport her readers in just a few pages to another place and time. Shamsie’s writing is so evocative that she does just that. In this work she contrasts three different empires: the ancient Persians between 515 and 485 BCE, the dissolution of the Ottoman state, and the decline of British colonial rule in India. Spanning two continents and two defining events in the early part of the 20th century, the novel brilliantly illustrates how war tests loyalties and destroys empires.” However, she has to sum up that, “The parts of have not quite become a whole; the task is too great. However, Shamsie's passionate curiosity about how empires grow, collapse and die makes this a novel well worth reading.”
The shortlist in its entirety is worth reading and I, like a lot of my bookworm friends will be ordering all the ones we haven’t yet indulged in, right away.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Go with the Flow…Writing advice from OCA tutor and novelist Nina Milton




Free-writing is not about rules, or even guidelines. It’s about a freedom that comes when writing can simply be enjoyed...


Nina Milton writes regularly for the Open College of the Arts Blog; weareoca.com. 
This month, she's talking about that 'Marmite' writer's technique, free-writing/. She answers all those questions you really wanted to know. 

  • Why are there so many rules?
  • Why are there so many names? 
  • Why do I give up every time I try this?
  • How can I enjoy free-writing?
  • How can I fit it into my day?


    Go to       http://weareoca.com/author/nina/    to find out...

Friday, 27 March 2015

Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Celebrating Women's History Month #4: Serie-ous Wo...

The Third in the Shaman Mystery Series
in production now
Under Cover of Midnight: A Midnight Ink Blog: Celebrating Women's History Month #4: Serie-ous Wo...: Here at Midnight Ink Headquarters, we find that the best way to celebrate Women's History Month is to talk to our authors whose books f...

Nina Milton, author

Monday, 23 March 2015

Jessie Burton, KTW Quote of the Month

“Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.”http://www.picador.com/authors/jessie-burton

When I read an aphorism  like that, I know I've found a strong heroine who isn't going to disappoint by going all fluffy in the presence of testosterone-ridden muscles and sharp, male jawlines.

The Miniaturist is set in Amsterdam, at the end of the 17th Century. I was rather expecting Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracey Chevalier, HarperCollins,1999) all over again, which, for me, was a beautifully written romance, but a romance, none the less. The endorsements to this debut novel, which are plastered all over the cover, should have told me otherwise. “Full of surprises” says SJ Watson. “Fabulously gripping” says the Observer. 

I was hoping for exquisite detail…miniaturist detail, in fact, and that I got, but I also found I was reading an absolute page-turner. I  turned the pages of this book all the way from Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales, to Barnsley, in Yorkshire, on some very slow, long-and-winding, cross-country trains. I hardly noticed the dark, satanic mills, the still snow-capped Pennines or the little towns that moved past my carriage window, because I was in Holland, where silk rustled and sumptuous feasts were consumed as deals were done for the slave sugar of the West Indies…and Nella, eighteen, innocent but savvy, hopes that married life will be the tulip bed she dreamed of as a child. Romance of any kind fails to blossom, and she soon discovers that Jonhannes, the wealthy merchant she’s married, has secrets which will lead them into escalating danger.  In fact, the only the thing that her husband gives her in their marriage is a cabinet house; a doll-house sized, but vastly expensive, replica of their home in Amsterdam. An elusive miniaturist creates tiny items to fill the house, each of which eerily predict the shocks Nella begins to experience.

Despite the fact that The Miniaturist soon became an international best seller, I've taken my time about  reading it because my first encounter was last summer’s Guardian review – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/29/the-miniaturist-jessie-burton-review

Rachel Cook was not particularly nice to Jessie Burton's first book, and I have to admit, she put me off. But the word-in-the-library was of a wicked page-turner, so in the end I threw reviews to the wind and read it. 

Jessie Burton.
Photograph: Katherine Rose Katherine Rose/Katherine Rose
The Miniaturist has flaws, that's undeniable. I understand exactly why Cooke says, “somehow it fails to convince. Again and again, I found myself thinking: that would not happen. We are expected to take so much on trust…Emotionally, they move from A to Z in the blink of an eye, and nothing in between.”

In writers’ terms, this single problem is the result of a little bundle of plotting issues, which beset us all, and which take time and effort to overcome; implausibility. Like Rachel Cooke, there were times I felt like echoing Victor Meldrew, from One Foot in the Grave, crying; I don’t believe it!

I’m not going to tell you which bits of this book I couldn’t believe. It’s a cracking read, with a vivid period setting, distinctive, even striking characters and a story so seductive and outrageous, it drags you in by the collar of your coat. But, having read the book yourself, you might, as a writer, want to ask yourself what you can learn from its problems. Are there sections of your own stories that are implausible? And if so, what can you do to alter that, so that your eventual readers don’t turn into grouchy Victor Meldrews who long to throw your novel across train carriages?

Naturally you want the reader to feel fully committed to what’s happening on the page. But some confusion arises between being convincing and suspending disbelief, which is what happens when readers are so caught up with the fiction, that they are prepared to go along with what the narrator is telling them, even when it patently could not happen ‘in real life’. New writers mistakenly believe that they can be as implausible as they please, and readers will suspend disbelief when reading their work. Completing a fictional tale isn’t a magic key to the good will of the reader. They will suspend disbelief for you, but you have to work hard to gain their trust beforehand. I recommend five strategies for this problem; 

  1. The reader needs to feel grounded within the story. Overload of information, or conversely, lack of relevant information (usually because the writers hasn’t taken into consideration that the reader isn’t familiar with what the writer is telling them), are two major factors. The reader needs time and help to absorb the details of the story. In The Miniaturist, Burton researches her time-period very well, even adding a glossary. But, Nella, as Rachel Cooke points out… “has a sensibility more akin to that of a 21st-century teenager than a 17th-century one: outspoken, determined, reflexively feminist.” This cut me adrift from her as I read – was she really from the 17th Century?
  2. Communication with your reader. Stories (or parts of a story) appear implausible because the writer has assumed that the reader ‘will understand’ what they are writing about. Don’t ever assume that; check as you go that your plot is comprehendible and that there are clear links as you move along it, filling in details that will help your reader to keep up with plot developments. It annoyed me, when Nella recalled, towards the novel’s end, all the ‘thrilling conversations’ she and Johannes had, because the reader hadn’t been privy to any of these. We’d barely seen them communicate and when they did, Johannes would peremptorily curtail the dialogue. And yet, Nella seems to gain an affinity with him that I could not credit. 
  3. Character development and identification. It’s often the character, especially the narrator, who convinces the reader the story is believable. Your characters should be well-developed on the page, so that the reader can identify, possibly emphasize with them. This links closely with communication above; it will be the narrator who communicates the plot and fills in those all-important linking details. Rachel Cooke writes; “We know their tastes, but little of what lies in their hearts; we know all about their failings, but their motivation remains elusive.” 
  4. Cause and effect. When the causes of character action are solidly imbedded in the story, leading directly to the naturally realized effects, the story is likely to feel convincing and believable. There is one plot-line in Jessie Burton’s novel which is never fully explained, and as that concerns the title of the story…the miniaturist who makes strangely predictive furninture for the cabinet house…I felt decidedly let down by this. However, I must commend Burton for the ending to her book. I thought her denouement and final flourishes were cracking – not only plausible, but shocking and perfectly balanced. 

  1. Motivation should always be driven by character emotion.  Cook writes, “I had the sense that the novel's characters were simply figures (from a doll's house, perhaps) to be moved around on an Amsterdam-shaped board.” I agreed At times, Burton concentrates too much on her fabulous plot, and forgets the emotional motivation of her characters.  Motivating your characters successfully isn’t easy, but here’s a little template that will help you make that check:
    1. The author wants certain things to happen. This creates poor motivation.
    2. The actions further a character’s objectives. This creates strong motivation. 

Please don’t let me put you off reading this amazing book. The Miniaturist is a popular choice with bookclubs, and I can see why. It would generate discussion about the era and setting, the story and characters, but especially the themes and events of the book, which are unsettling and powerful. And anyone searching for aphorisms will find an abundance within this story, which is why I’ve chosen Burton as my “Quote of the Month”.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Seven Writing Secrets to Share

Nina Milton is sharing 

Seven Writing Secrets 

with Bea Davenport.


'I thought that would be a great place to bury a body'... 


THE SHAMAN MYSTERY SERIES
by
NINA MILTON

#1 In the Moors
Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year, and Milton’s tale is riveting: LibraryJournal 

#2 Unraveled Visions
nominated for submission to the  Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award
 in the category of Best Novel: Literary Mystery/Suspense/Thriller 
#3 Beneath the Tor
for release in the US December 2015

Nina Milton is guest blogging for crime novelist and children's writer
 Bea Davenport 

Read author and OCA tutor Nina Milton's great Q and A session here. http://iloapp.beadavenport.com/blog/blog?Home&post=447




Friday, 13 March 2015

Writers Aloud - The Royal Literary Fund



Any desk or table will do -
but is paper and pens really all you need to get started?
Writers' stories are often a help to other writers. They at least demonstrate that other writers have it hard. 

Writing is often the last thing in a person's priorities, as I can tell from the reasons my writing students give me when they ask for extensions to their assignments. First will come their own health, and after that the raft of other pressures on their time; overload from work, problems with children, caring for relatives, and money worries. 

Writing shouldn't cost you much, you'd think – the price of paper and ink. But writers need time, and space, and the equipment to present their work well.

I have just happened upon the website of The Royal Literary Fund for the first time. This is a UK charity that has been helping authors since the 18th century. It provides grants and pensions to writers in financial difficulty; it also places writers in universities to help students develop their writing.  

I discovered its podcast pages, which are full of interest to writers.

Writers Aloud, http://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase-cat/podcasts/?rlf_front=1 I enjoyed listening to other writers tell their stories; Max Adams’ podcast rang particular bells for me as I’ve always believed walking and writing go hand in hand, and famous writers, from Dickens to Byatt, walked themselves into their stories, which is what I do now.

is full of video features in which writers talk about their work.

Vox http://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase-cat/audio/?rlf_front=1 is a series of bite-size audio recordings in which RLF Fellows explore topics such as why they write.

is a weekly series of articles where writers write about their craft. 

The RLF came into being in 1790 when the founder, the Rev David Williams, was moved by the death of an elderly writer in a debtors’ prison. Although that plight would not befall most authors today, they can still need some financial support if they are to pursue their writing and eat as well. All of the fund's money has come from donations and legacies, and goes towards helping writers in professional difficulties where setbacks have resulted in loss of income, as well as providing pensions for older writers who have seen their earnings decrease. 
Nina Milton at work in her writing space
The Royal Literary Fund is right to be proud of its heritage, but their website proves they are also well up to date and relevant to writers today.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Announcing the Third Novel in the Shaman Mysteries: BENEATH THE TOR



I’m proud to announce that the third of the Shaman Mysteries Series is in production, so now I can reveal not only the title of the book, but the cover picture too! 

As a hard-knock kid, Sabbie Dare knew she was different – she saw through the veil that hides other planes of existence. Now she has a shamanic therapy business, she’s still stepping headlong into trouble – when clients unwittingly bring danger with them. 



BENEATH THE TOR
by Nina Milton

On a Midsummer night on Glastonbury Tor, beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancingaway the night…  
Beneath the Tor continues the dark, atmospheric edge of the previous two books in the series. Sabbie has a mysterious past herself, which she’s only just beginning to unravel, a theme that links the trilogy.

So here, for the first time, is a rundown of the three books in the series:

In the Moors 

A body is found buried in the eerie depths of the Somerset Moors. Detective Sergeant Reynard Buckley is sure that shaman Sabbie Dare’s new client, Cliff Houghton—a wounded, broken man—has something to do with the chilling crime, but Sabbie believes Cliff is being set up. Continuing the therapy she'd begun with Cliff, Sabbie uncovers repressed memories hearkening back to a decades-old string of abductions and murders. But after another little boy is abducted, only Sabbie can prove Cliff's innocence . . . and find the real culprit before any more lives are shattered.

Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year, and Milton’s tale is riveting. Perhaps readers will figure things out before Sabbie does, but the visceral suspense Milton creates is commendable, not to mention terrifying. I like pairing her work with Elly Griffiths’s atmospheric English mysteries.… Library Journal





Unraveled Visions 
The day after shamanic counselor Sabbie Dare receives a palm reading at a street carnival, she learns that a police detective has been killed and the gypsy fortuneteller has gone missing. Sabbie’s newest client—a scared woman with an angry husband—has also disappeared. Despite warnings from Detective Inspector Rey Buckley to stay away from the investigations, Sabbie can’t ignore the messages of danger she’s received through her shamanic journeys. But as close as she comes to the answers, Sabbie discovers there are people who want to keep the truth buried forever.

It’s impossible to refrain from rooting for such a plucky protagonist…Nina Milton skillfully integrates the shamanistic elements into her mystery making in this sequel to last year’s In the Moors - an absorbing tale. The return of Sabbie Dare is awaited with interest. – Sheila M. Merritt 
Mystery Scene Magazine http://www.mysteryscenemag.com

Beneath the Tor
In production
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.
Nina Milton has created a unique fictional world in her Shaman Mystery Series,  featuring Sabbie Dare as a young shaman.  They each have a cracking pace and convey the evocative landscapes of Somerset.  Always, the depictions of shamanic journeying are vivid and authentic. Reading them  kept me up at night much later that I wanted, because I could not bear to miss the next bit.
 Ronald Hutton author of ‘The Triumph of the Moon’, ‘Shamans’ and ‘Pagan Brtain’


*Further news and details about Beneath the Tor will be revealed soon. If you're a Shaman Mystery fan, do subscribe to my blogsite so that you can keep up to date with developments.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Annie's Story: The ups and downs of writing, finishing and polishing that first novel


Today, we have guest blogger Denise Barnes, writing as Fenella Forster, whose debut novel, Annie's Tale is a moving and beautifully crafted exploration of the hardships of emigration, especially for women, at the beginning of the 20th century. It left me thinking about my own identity and roots. It was a joy to read from the first word to the last. I've known Denise since she was a student with the Open College of the Arts, and this first book is the culmination of years of hard, writing work. 

Congratulations, Denise, and welcome to KTW…


Thank you, Nina, for inviting me to your blog. Readers may like to know that you were my tutor many years ago when OCA offered a one-year advanced creative writing course. I’d already started the novel but needed to get what was turning out to be a very unwieldy creation into some kind of coherent story. 
     A word of caution to the new novelist: writing your first novel and trying to do something more complicated than a straightforward timeline is ambitious. When I started writing my novel I honestly thought it would be a rom-com, but this dramatic family saga across generations leapt on to the screen from my flying fingertips! 
         Juliet was the main heroine, making her appearance in 2005 – the year I began the novel – yes, a decade ago! Interspersed with Juliet’s story was Annie’s, in 1913, who was to become Juliet’s grandmother.
     It took me weeks trying to find the right structure. I wanted to keep it consistent; say, every third chapter would be an ‘Annie’ chapter, but Nina felt I’d missed some tricks by being too rigid. She said the two lives could coincide at certain key points even though they were a hundred years apart, and would make the whole story more dramatic and poignant, firmly linking the two heroines. 
     I followed Nina’s advice and was pleased with the result. I believed I had something special, particularly when a couple of agents asked for the full manuscript after reading the first few chapters. A charming American agent I met at a writing conference loved it. But before taking me on she asked one of the other editors in her company to read it and give her opinion. You can imagine my disappointment when they eventually turned it down. Her words were: ‘Much as we enjoyed it, we both came to the conclusion that The Voyagers was like two separate books jammed together, and we think you should seriously consider separating them.’ I was crushed as I was already working on what I visualised as the sequel.
        Almost in tears I had a Skype with my fantastic critique writing partner, Alison Morton (author of the Roma Nova alternate history series) who knew the book intimately. In fact, we always edit one another’s novels. Without hesitation she said, ‘Split them, and you’ll have two books instead of one. And the third will make the trilogy.’ As soon as she said the word ‘trilogy’ it cheered me up - it sounded so impressive - and I immediately set to work. 
Denise with Alison Morton
     The Voyagers was 148,000 words. Far too long for an unknown author, everyone in the business was quick to point out. But after separating the two I was in for a shock. Juliet turned out to be a respectable 99,000, but Annie was more of a novella at 49,000. In the end it was like writing another book on top of what I already had. The result was AnnieStory at 125,000 words and Juliet’s Story grew to 115,000. Annie starts the trilogy in 1913, Juliet takes over in Book 2 in 2005, and then Kitty’s Story, Book 3, slips back to 1941 – another full-length novel.
     Annie deserves to star in her own right as I’ve thrown more problems at her. The American agent had asked me to send it back to her if I split it, but sadly it still didn’t suit her list. The same happened with five agents and one publisher after they read the full manuscript. The trouble was, after the initial compliments, getting me more and more excited, they made wildly conflicting comments. One agent, from the top five in the country, emailed to say she so very nearly took me on, saying my novel was every bit as good as anything else out there in the same genre. But she’d watched other ‘mid-stream’ authors who were reasonably well-known and had a following being dropped, one by one, by their publishers. ‘That’s what’s happening nowadays,’ she told me, ‘and it would be more difficult to place an unknown author. So my advice is to go the self-publishing route, and if sales are good you might be taken up by a traditional publisher.’ That was the only rejection I actually sat and cried my eyes out.
     After much agonising I decided not to fiddle with the text any further, and instead commissioned a professional edit. If I was so far off the mark the editor would be sure to guide me. And then I’d self-publish.   Thankfully, the editor loved it and had only minor suggestions to make, which I agreed with.. SilverWood Books published Annie’s Story will be published on 20th April, in print and ebook, having gone through an extra copy edit and several proof readings. The cover designer operates from Canada, and to my great delight he sourced a photograph of the Orsova – the very ship my own grandparents sailed on when they emigrated to Australia in 1913. Incredibly, he chose the perfect girl to represent Annie; a face capturing Annie’s essence and looking exactly as I imagined her. 
The Orsova
  
Twitter: @denisebarnesuk