Monday, 30 March 2015

Kathleen McGurl - In Her Own Times

I am delighted to welcome Kath McGurl to the blog this week. I put some questions to her.

I was reading one of your own blog posts recently – the one that was NOT about moving from short story to novel writer. What amazed me was learning that your recently published book, The Pearl Locket, developed from a 2,000 word story into a 70,000 word novel. I remember struggling to add 500 words to bring something up to the required magazine word-count. How on earth did you do it?

Hi Natalie – ooh thanks for reading my blog!  And thanks for inviting me here. Yes, it was a huge job to turn a 2,000 word story into a 70,000 word novel. But that story lent itself perfectly to a dual-timeline novel (the genre I write) as there was a historical story hinted at in the original tale. I used about 35,000 words to tell the historical story – which is essentially a Romeo and Juliet love story set during the second world war. Then I needed to write the contemporary timeline to weave in and out of the historical. The first draft of this was quite close to the original short story, fleshed out to 35,000 words. I obviously had to add a lot of extra scenes and characters, and let the story develop naturally. It was certainly a challenge but I knew there was enough story there to do it.

Did you use essentially the same characters, apart from developing them obviously, or did their personalities change completely?

In the contemporary story the three main female characters Ali, Kelly and Ali’s grandmother are essentially the same as in the short story. Joan, from the historical story, is also the same. I even kept the same names for them – they already felt real to me, so I didn’t want to rename them! But I needed quite a lot of extra characters – Ali gained a husband and son, Kelly got a boyfriend, there’s a next-door neighbour. Joan gained parents and friends. And Jack – well he’d only been mentioned in the original story but was obviously crucially important, so I worked hard on creating his character before starting to write. He turned out to be a truly lovely person. You know when you fall a little bit in love with one of your characters? That happened with Jack!

Are any of your short stories screaming ‘Me, me, me’ for the next book?

There are a couple more which could become novels, but none I intend writing. I have far too many other ideas to write first! Although – you’ve got me thinking now – there is one which would make a good dual-timeline short novella, and I might have a go at that next…

I believe you also have a day job. And a family. How do you create a balance and still find time to write?

Yes, I work full time in IT for John Lewis. Thankfully I work from home most days, so when I switch off the work laptop at 5pm I can switch on the writing one almost immediately afterwards. My sons are grown up – one’s at university and the other is 17 – so they don’t need a lot of mummying these days. I also need to support my elderly mother.
Balance is always difficult to achieve, and I don’t always get it right. But I think the trick is, to think hard about your priorities. If you want to write, then writing must be a priority, and that means your first thought when you get up in the morning must be, ‘when am I going to write today?’ My husband never lets me say I didn’t have time to do something. ‘You have the same amount of time as everyone else,’ he says. ‘What’s important is how you choose to use your time.’ (I wrote at length about these ideas in my book, Give Up Ironing – a Writer’s Guide to Time Management. Blatent plug.)

What is ‘down time’ for Kath McGurl?

I love to read. Lying on a picnic rug in the garden on  a sunny day with a good book or my kindle – bliss. Or the sofa, a throw and a roaring fire if the weather’s not so good.
I also love mountains. So our holidays often involve walking up mountains or skiing down them. I rarely do any writing while I’m on holiday, but will let my batteries recharge in the fresh mountain air.

Will there be any more ‘How To’ books or is your focus now on novels?

I have no more planned, but who knows – if I had a great idea for another book for writers, I’d write it! But yes, having just accepted a second two-book deal from Carina, the novels have to come first. And I love writing them!

Congratulations on the book deal, Kath. Have you abandoned short stories or are they still part of the mix?

I have abandoned them, I’m afraid. I wrote short stories for women’s magazines for about eight years, and loved the buzz I got when I made a sale. But my time is limited, and I am enjoying novel writing more, so the short stories have had to be dropped.

And finally, what are you working on now?

I’m writing another dual-timeline novel for Carina. I can’t say too much about it as I’m still awaiting approval of its synopsis from my editor! It’s nearly half written so I hope she’s happy with the idea. Then I have another three or is it four dual-timeline novel ideas in various stages of gestation – should keep me busy for the next couple of years…

Thanks so much for having me on your fabulous blog, Natalie!

It’s been my pleasure, Kath. Good luck with The Pearl Locket.

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or sea-swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.

Twitter @KathMcGurl

Monday, 23 March 2015

The First Day of Spring

Friday, 20th March 2015, was a pretty special day from the word go.

In a grey southeast London I had no sight of the eclipse and was barely, if at all, aware of a change in the light. The television coverage though gave me almost all I could have wished for. One of the things that amazed me, and others too I believe, was the very small window between light and dark. With over 85% coverage in my area I would have expected subdued lighting for some time but even in the Faroe Islands I understand there were only two minutes of total darkness. It seems just a little bit of sun peeping out from behind the moon is enough to flood our home planet with light.

Friday was a day of light in more ways than one. On this first official day of spring the clouds cleared quickly leaving a bright blue sky and a warmth in the air that refused to be ignored. After lunch my husband and I drove the one and a half miles to Greenwich Park and entered another world. Our first port of call via the flower garden was the Wilderness Park which is home to two herds of deer and is the oldest of London’s deer parks. The herds are small – sixteen fallow and fourteen red – and they were as far away from where I was standing as they could possibly have been. No photo opportunity but a lovely memory to take away.

Back in the flower garden we stopped at the large pond to watch the ducks and take in the very spring-like atmosphere. It being spring they were showing off all their best colours. Walking on we were approached by fearless squirrels whose kingdom is the garden, dogs not being allowed in this area.

Leaving the enclosure we crossed the park and passed the bandstand, devoid at this time of musicians but inhabited by mothers and toddlers instead. We were heading for the Pavilion Café and a shared scone with cream and jam. Half a scone didn’t seem to be too naughty and we sat outside in the sunshine watching the world go by. There was a very pregnant young woman contentedly reading a book, some children and their parents who had also come out for tea.

As we walked back to the car we stopped again and sat on a bench to catch the last warm rays of the sun. Such a contrast to the excitement of the eclipse that morning but a day that eclipsed many that had come before in many ways – and definitely a good to be alive day.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The RNA Honours its Best

It’s Thursday as I write this and I’ve just received news of the death of Terry Pratchett. While this piece is not dedicated to him I couldn’t let his passing go unacknowledged. Others far more qualified than I am have written dedications to this prolific writer who gave so much pleasure to so many millions. May he rest in peace.

Hard to change moods but if anything can lift the spirits it’s a Romantic Novelists Association’s event and I am looking forward immensely to the next one which will take place on the evening of Monday, 16th March (the day this piece will be posted). The RONA awards will be presented, as they were last year, in the Gladstone Library at the National Liberal Club. One needs only to step into the building to know it’s a special place and it’s going to be a very special occasion. I can say this with assurance as I attended the event last year so I have a very good idea of what’s in store.

From left to right
Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Roberts, Elaine Everest, Vivien Hampshire & Francesca Capaldi-Burgess
at the 2014 Romantic Novel of the Year Awards Evening

As the world of romantic fiction prepares to gather to acknowledge its own I will not pick out any individual names. There are five categories with six short-listed in each, plus the Rona Rose for a shorter novel. Each contender has gone through a rigorous assessment by readers to be chosen initially in their own group and finally one will be chosen as the best of the best from all six groups as winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year. But already all are winners. The rest of us will be nourished by delicious wine and canapes, entertained by presenters and speakers and enjoy again an evening of glitz and glamour such as only the RNA can do.

I hope to see many of you there later this evening. In the meantime…what on earth shall I wear?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Taking Tea with Milly Johnson

Following her success last year with ‘It’s Raining Men’, Milly Johnson has again been shortlisted in the Romantic Comedy category for the 2015 RoNa Awards. At last year’s awards ceremony I was sitting at the next table to Milly and the excitement when her name was announced as the winner was, to say the very least, infectious.

I’m delighted to welcome Milly today as she talks to us about plotting:

I used to think that I would never make a writer because I can’t plot.  I’ve tried it with every book and
it has never worked yet.  My author friends who plot can’t believe I can write a book and not plot – and vice versa.  I envy them so much because it seems the best way to work with every chapter stitched up before you let loose on the actual writing.  But I can’t do it.  I know the ending – more or less – at least I know who ends up with who and that it will be a happy one, because that’s what I do, but as for chapter by chapter activity, I haven’t a clue until I do it what action will happen in each section.

If I were to describe what is going on in my head when I write a book, I would compare it to driving a car in thick fog.  I can only see 3 yards in front of me.  So I drive to that point, where I can see the next 3 yards in front, and so it goes on.  There are scenes I have in my head but I don’t know when they will happen.  I just write and I ‘get a feeling’ what should come next.  This means that I often get a thrill when something unexpected pops up in my head.  For instance, I’ve just finished book 11 – The Woman Who Gave Up Chocolate – and there was a character in it that was just a throwaway person, meant to do a job and then disappear.  I didn’t intend that he’d have more of an important role at the start so it was news to me when I needed a bit of a love interest and he fitted the bill exactly. 

Trust me, before I start every book, I have a great big pad and try to plot it out, but I’m 11 books and 2 novellas in and it hasn’t happened yet as I intended, so I’m guessing it won’t now.   I’m about to start writing book 12 so my pad is out and my pen is poised hoping that this time will be different, but deep down I know it won’t.  The only way I can plot a book is after I’ve written it, by which I mean after the first edit, I go back, analyse each chapter and make sure that all the action follows a credible timeline.  It usually does, give or take a tweak.

I don’t know how my brain works, but it churns out the book in its own little way so I won’t be too school-marmy on it.  I just hope it carries on!

Milly, your description reminds me of an artist slapping oils onto a canvas, seemingly randomly, and ending up with a beautiful painting. I am much comforted. I try so hard to plot but, with usually just an outline plan in my head and a few written notes, I start at the beginning and work through to the end. Your fog analogy is brilliant.

So, it’s March (already! Can you believe it?) and next Monday brings the RoNas. The RNA certainly knows how to do glitzy and I’m looking forward to the evening immensely. I wish you every luck with The Teashop on the Corner. Whatever happens it will be a stunning event and there is no doubt that ALL those who have been nominated are winners. Have a great time and thank you for joining me today.


Monday, 2 March 2015

Another World - with Jim Webster

I’m delighted to welcome Jim Webster to the blog. Nothing could be further from my own writing than his so, my curiosity aroused, I invited him to tell us something about himself and to answer a few questions:

I’m Jim Webster, fifty something (but not alas for much longer), married with a wife and three adult daughters. I live in South Cumbria, England, just outside the ship building town of Barrow in Furness.
I’m a lover of ancient history, and have been a wargamer and role-player since the early 1970s.
I have no dress sense and a bad attitude to buying clothes.

I’ve been reading your blog, absorbing your biography and looking at your books – none of which, I have to admit, have I read…so far. I find I am intrigued and, if I’m honest, a little out of my depth. So let’s try and keep it simple, for me if not for our readers.
I always get nervous when interviewers claim I’m too deep for them

Let’s see if we can draw you out then. Can we begin by you telling us a little about your background? I understand you’re a farmer. 
I farm in South Cumbria/Furness, and live with my lady wife who has put up with me for thirty years this year. We have three daughters who’ve all left home now and are young women with their own lives.
I’ve also been a freelance journalist and writer for nearly forty years as well as occasionally doing bits of consultancy and suchlike

It would seem that in spite of working in agriculture you were ‘called’ to the pen. Not for you the simplicity of sticking to one genre. You’ve been all over the place. And ended up writing Sci-fi – though who’s to say what might be next. A pocket history of your writing career would be helpful here please.
Aged about thirteen or fourteen I purchased Jack Vance’s book ‘The Dragon Masters.’ This blew me away and showed me what Sci-Fi could be like. I’ve bought every book I’ve seen of his since; even if it meant skipping lunch. But one thing Jack Vance taught me is that Sci-Fi and Fantasy are genres that overlap, and that it’s possible to write in the fuzzy borderland between them just as it’s possible to write at either end of the spectrum.

As I mentioned I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly forty years, my first cheque came for an article on the naval war between Peru and Chile in 1879. (A tad specialist perhaps?) I have also written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, everything from opinion pieces to political and economic analysis, but mainly sticking with a rural/countryside focus.
Finally in about 2010 people said I ought to be writing something that was more than providing decoration for the paper you wrap your chips in, and why didn’t I do a book?
So I wrote ‘Swords for a Dead Lady,’ which was my first fantasy novel. It was fantasy because I’d been writing a lot of pretty heavy stuff on animal health, EU agricultural policy and similar, so chronicling the antics of Benor Dorfinngil were something of a relief for me. It was well received so I wrote three further books, and on the strength of that Safkhet Publishing asked me to write for them, and they published ‘Justice 4.1’ in paperback and e-book last year.

Your latest book - War 2.2 - has just been released. We’d love you tell us a bit about it.
War 2.2 is the second book about that sector of space called the Tsarina Sector. To quote the synopsis ;-

“Haldar Drom is starting to worry. The long running insurgency in the Zala Delta suddenly starts to spiral further out of control. Who is arming the insurgents? How and why? Then a leading local politician who is using his influence to try and keep things calm is threatened with assassination. It’s obvious that things are moving to a climax.

All Haldar has immediately available is a third year university student; a young journalist who he convinces to investigate the situation of the ground; and a retired marine librarian whose job is to keep the politician alive. As the investigation proceeds, from the mud of the Delta to the luxurious surroundings of the Drake Islands, Haldar comes to realise that he may be facing Wayland Strang’s counter-attack. Faced with a coup d'état spearheaded by off-world mercenaries Haldar has to react quickly to stop a major war.”

It is the story of both an investigation and the actions taken as the investigation gets underway. Hopefully it’s a good story. In it you get to meet a man who discovers he’s become one of the lowest forms of life, a marine librarian with a liking for high necked blouses and a third year student who gets a degree project she’ll never forget.

Tell us a random fact about yourself – and then be good enough to expand on it.
I no longer wear glasses. Two years ago, after a lifetime of wearing jam-jar bottomed glasses, I had cataract surgery and now only need them for reading. Indeed my optician announced that ‘As for reading glasses, Poundland has your prescription.’

Thank you, Jim. It’s been…an experience