Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Taking Note
I've just returned home from a lovely holiday in the sun in Los Gigantes,Tenerife. As I walked down the narrow streets, I felt that any minute I'd meet seven year old Mia and her parents, Lucy and Mark, walking towards me. It was the strangest feeling because, you see, they are fictional characters in my short story, 'Burning Our Sardine'. Our first visit to the town two years ago coincided with the annual carnival and the 'burying the sardine' ceremony. It inspired a story where I'd imagined what would happen if a little girl got lost in the crowds whilst watching the colourful procession. It got me thinking back to how I'd sat on my balcony with a bird's eye view of the spectacle making notes of the colours, the dancers, the crowds and the music. When I'd returned home, I'd used my notes to help me write the story. This time, I didn't use my notebook to make notes for a short story but visits to the small marina, carefully looking at the flowers and shrubs, together with our cliff top walks will give the setting in my newest novel authenticity I hope.
My collection of notebooks and journals.

I've been thinking about the importance of notebooks and journals as part of my writing journey. On every course or workshop I've attended, keeping a notebook has been recommended and I do try to take one with me wherever I go. It's surprising what you hear or see when people-watching! I've been looking back through my journals and I started using my first ever journal in September 2012 when I began a short story course at the university. Each week I would add notes of my own as well as annotating the hand-outs from the tutor. Although I tend to write straight onto the computer, there were some short extracts from stories I'd started in class or at a workshop. In another, two years later, it contained pages of notes I'd made while watching on-line seminars on crime writing and writing popular fiction. Reading through them again, I realised how useful these tips were. At this time, I was regularly meeting with a writer friend where we set ourselves a writing task to write freely for the first half hour or so of our time together. Reading back through these extracts, I realise that a number could be developed into something more. The journal also contains notes I made while watching real-life stories on the TV programme, 'Long-Lost Families'

This beautiful notebook, with its matching pen, was a present from our daughter, Jo, who happens to love stationary even more than I do. Its cover is magnetic so it remains shut but what I love about it is the secret wallet at the back where you can store letters, photographs, paper or cuttings. This journal starts with notes I made about soldiers writing home during the Great War and it gives an insight into what life was like for the young men at the front. It also contains notes I'd made during an excellent 'Write Foxy!' workshop with Miranda Dickinson, Julie Cohen , Rowan Coleman and Kate Harrison. As well as jottings made during meetings with writing buddies and at writing groups, this is the journal that contains detailed notes made on a visit to Abbey Cwm Hir Hall, the inspiration for Greystone Hall in my first novel. Although now it's a tourist attraction, its interior layout, the collection of the staff photographs and especially the kitchen utensils were all worth seeing.

This is the notebook I bought especially for the RNA Conference last July. It contains many happy memories with notes about workshops attended, contacts made and suggestions from the industry experts about my writing. Next are the notes I made at the Tenby Book Fair workshops, the workshop at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, the Choc Lit. library event and various meetings with writing buddies. It even contains a possible brief outline of a third novel when I was having a crisis of confidence about novel number two, mainly about the structure - again! Eight thousand words in and I was thinking of abandoning it. I talked things through with writing friends and returned to novel number two full of enthusiasm. 

This is the novel number two notebook. I'm using it most of the time now as you can see by its worn appearance. To be fair, the Woodland Trust notebook never did have a glossy cover. There is a journal/sketch book belonging to the main character, Elin, at the heart of the novel. She bequeaths it to her daughter, Lexi, who reads it after her mother's death and finds out about secrets that have remained hidden all her life. Elin's, like my journal from Jo, has a secret pocket at the back where she has hidden letters from her Greek lover.

In this notebook are notes about the Greek island where parts of the story are set, a map of the area, notes on each event of the story as well as notes on Greek food and customs. Along with character studies on coloured postcards and time line events on post-its, I'm well equipped to write my novel. I hope!

I may not use my notebooks for complete stories but I wouldn't be without them. Looking back through each one, I realise I have recorded a wealth of information and ideas. I'd love to hear how you use your notebooks:

  • Do you write a whole story or chapter in long-hand and treat your notebook as the first draft? For planning a story?
  • Do you use it for recording research, making notes at workshops and meetings?
  • Do you record observations when you're out and about?
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Talking It Through
Those of you who follow my blog may remember that I spent quite a time planning novel number two back in the autumn. I got to know my characters really well. I plotted the story, another dual narrative, and felt I was well prepared to start writing. After a break when I had edits to do for novel one, the writing is now going well again especially after meeting up with the wonderful members of my little writing group last week. As always, I came back inspired and couldn't wait to get back to my novel. As I get immersed in the story in the company of my characters, I soon find they are telling me snippets of information, letting me know their innermost thoughts and doing things that I hadn't planned for. For me, this is the exciting part about writing but sometimes I get carried away and the expression 'losing the plot' takes on a literal significance for me! It got me thinking back to an excellent blog post from Susanna Bavin on December 10th last year. It was entitled The Day I Did The Impossible. Writing A Synopsis Before Writing The Book. She'd been asked by her editor for a synopsis of her new novel that she hadn't actually written. In the blog, she questions whether that can even happen but by the end of the post she has shown us that it most definitely can. The bonus was that she then had a very detailed view of the plot and characters that gave her extra confidence and motivation to write the novel. Please  CLICK HERE to read the whole post. Sue's debut novel, The Deserter's Daughter, is a 1920s saga and will be published this summer by Allison and Busby. On the strength of her synopsis for the second book mentioned above, the offer was for a two book deal. 

What triggered my thoughts back to Sue's post was a meeting planned with writing friend and Honno author, Judith Barrow. I knew we'd be talking about what we were currently writing and decided that instead of rambling and telling her the gist of what my novel was about, I'd attempt to do exactly what Sue had been asked to do. I started by summarising what the novel was about in a short paragraph. Then, I outlined the novel giving details of what happens when, how the characters interact, right through to the end. I didn't have the pressure of getting it right for an editor to scrutinise but what I did have to take with me was a story in its entirety that I could talk through with Judith. We talked about the characters, where they fit in and how they move the story on. For example, I couldn't show that Lyra, a young Greek girl who appears in both narratives, does that and the story would still be the same without her. That hadn't been clear to me when I just had my basic outline but by writing the detailed version, I could see my novel as a whole rather than a series of incidents.  Judith was generous with her time as always and the afternoon flew by. It was good to hear that Judith's latest novel, a prequel to her Shadows trilogy, will be available from Honno press in August 2017. Set between 1910 and 1924, it's the story of Mary Howarth's mother, Winifred, and father, Bill. Judith is currently running a series of blogs about saga writers and you may find the latest interview with Terry Tyler HERE.

My new detailed outline is going to help me no end and hopefully make the writing of a one-page synopsis much easier in the future. However, I also know that I'll enjoy the 'light-bulb' moments that strike when I'm busy writing away. Since meeting Judith, I have gathered much more evidence about the death of Stavros. I was shocked when I found out the identity of his murderer. It's not who I planned it to be at all! 

How detailed are your outlines or are you a true 'pantser'? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you for reading.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Love Is...
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I thought it may be worth looking at the various forms love takes in my writing. I wouldn't call my self a writer of romance per se but love and romance feature strongly in my stories and novels. "But you're a member of The Romantic Novelists' Association NWS,"  I hear you say. "The scheme is for romantic novels only." That's true. As a member of the NWS, my novels have to be ones where romantic content and love interest are integral to the story and I am satisfied that they are. The RNA welcomes writers of romantic fiction in all genres. I think of mine as family sagas. I know of someone who writes romantic suspense, others write historical and contemporary romance, some romantic comedy. The list of sub-genres is endless. Although they may centre around a 'boy meets girl' premise, the plots, settings and characters can vary as much as any other genre. In my dual narrative, now renamed 'A Mother's Secret', we see the burgeoning of first love with the main characters of each story, but there's also maternal love, forbidden love, love for family and maturing love.

Does anyone remember  the 'Love Is...' comic strip created by New Zealand cartoonist, Kim, that appeared in 1970? The cartoons originated from a series of love notes and drawings that Kim Casali (nee Grove) made for her future husband in the late 60s. 'One of her most famous drawings, Love Is...being able to say you are sorry, published on February 9, 1972, was marketed internationally for many years in print, on cards and on souvenirs.' What I didn't know was that the publication of the strip coincided with the iconic 1970 film, Love Story, where the film's signature line was 'Love means never having to say you're sorry.' I remember crying buckets during that film...in the cinema! 

In Wales, the patron saint of lovers is Saint Dwynwen and her day is celebrated on January 25th each year.  CLICK HERE to find out more about the 4th century princess who was unlucky in love so became a nun. She prayed that true lovers would have more luck than she did. 

For interesting facts about the background to St Valentine's Day, you may CLICK HERE
What is your favourite 'Love is...' quote or saying? I'd love it if you shared it. Does love feature in your writing? What form does it take?

Thank you for reading the blog. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Researching Old Newspapers
A few weeks ago, my writing buddy, Helen, invited me to accompany her on a visit to Bargoed Library to look at archived newspapers as part of some research for her novel. The library is housed in an old chapel and what struck me when we entered the building was how well they'd preserved the heritage of the place. Beautiful wooden panelling and high vaulted ceilings have been retained along with the organ pipes and even the organist's chair. In the basement, you will find the original altar and pews. Everything sits well against the modern colourful areas of a busy library.

The Theology Room
Bargoed Library is home to two microfilm readers that were provided as part of Newsplan 2000, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Regional Newspaper Industry. The reels of micro film stored printed material from archived newspapers and journals. We were met by Steve Kings, Senior Library Assistant, who set up the machines for us and helped us load the film strips. Helen chose to look at The Merthyr Express, a local weekly newspaper in 1908 around the time when she has set her novel and I looked at those editions from the early months of 1947.

We noticed straight away that the language of the reporting was very different. It was narrative rather than journalistic and the vocabulary was quite 'flowery' and often formal. The text on the page was very dense, in a tiny font and would take considerable effort to read each article. For example, The prisoners were charged with that on the 15th December they did feloniously and burgulariously break and enter the dwellinghouse of one John Edwards, of No.20, Glancynon Terrace, Aberaman, and steal certain articles therefrom.

Each edition had news from the local regions and a regular gossip column. I thought readers may like to read this entry. An American whose wife presented him with twin daughters, decided to call them, Kate and Duplicate. Several years later twins were again born into the family - this time boys, who were duly named Peter and Repeater. When this pair were followed by a third, the father was not found unprepared. As they were boys also, he named them Max and Climax. The column was signed POLONIUS. I'll let you make your own mind up about this snippet of gossip!!

Helen's novel is a ghost story, involving a six year old child who died as a result of a traffic accident in 1906. She searched for news of motor accidents at the time and was lucky enough to find one. The way the announcement was worded will help her edit her version of events and give the writing more authenticity. She also looked at the way announcements of deaths and coroner's court reports were worded.

I was looking at crimes just after the war. There were many cases of drink related incidents and thefts. The headings alone could provide a rich source of materials for short stories. Here is a selection:

  • No Shillings, No Candles But He Had Light - a man fraudulently diverted electricity by inserting wire into his meter. He was fined £3-00.
  • Blamed The Kids - a man allowed a horse to stray and was fined 5s., claiming he was at work so his children must have let the horse out.
  • Bad Language - a man fine 10s. for having used indecent language. What would magistrates think of things today, I wonder?
  • Wrecked Wife's Home, Beat Up Her Brother - man fined £5-00 or 29 days imprisonment for assaulting his brother-in-law after committing damage to windows, pictures and furniture. Ordered to pay £10-00 compensation.
  • One Mistake, Three Fined - three men, charged with stealing coal from railway goods wagons, waited until 11.30 at night. Magistrate: You chose a strange time to look for coal. One of the men: To tell you the truth, it's the only time we think the police may be around the pubs. Magistrate: You made a mistake then. The inference is that you've done this before. They were fined 40s. each for stealing 24s. worth of coal.
The morning flew by and it was fascinating to experience life through the archives of a different era for those few hours. I would like to thank Steve for his help and extensive knowledge of what social conditions were like at the times we chose to research. A special thank you, as well, to Helen for inviting me to go with her. We enjoyed a lovely lunch on the way back, too!
Steve was a great help
Thank you for reading. How do you carry out research for your novels and short stories? Do you prefer to visit libraries, museums and places or do you mainly use Google? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thanks.
You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Friday, 20 January 2017

RNA New Writers' Scheme Year 2
A year ago I was lucky enough to gain a place on the unique NWS after having heard so many positive things about it. The RNA only accepts 250 writers into the scheme and the hotly contested places are allocated on a first come, first served basis each year. Applications for 2017 scheme are now closed. For more information, please click HERE.
When I joined in January 2016, I'd finished my novel and was in the process of editing it to the best standard I could ready to submit it for my first ever full length critique. I'd been told to try to avoid the rush closer to the deadline of August 31st. Everything went according to plan and I submitted in May and received my reader's report back before the conference.

In that first year, I gained so much from my decision to join the scheme. A detailed and positive critique - thank you, dear Reader, whoever you are! - gave me the confidence and motivation to edit my novel still further. I am now in the process of trying to find an agent/publisher for that novel. I attended my first conference where I attended one-to-one sessions with editors and agents, one of whom was very generous with her time. I got to meet many other writers I only knew beforehand on social media.

And on to year two. Things are very different this year so I'm looking for advice. I've planned my new novel and written about 9000 words. My question is do I try to finish the complete manuscript by August 31st or do I do what I can by a certain date? If the latter, I would then concentrate on editing what I've written thoroughly and accompany it with a very detailed synopsis. Is an unfinished but polished submission better than a complete but unedited novel? 

I've searched back through some RNA archives and it would appear that there are advantages and disadvantages with either approach:
  • As long as the partial manuscript is accompanied by a really detailed synopsis, then the Reader should be able to see where the novel is going and what the story line is. Thorough editing should show what the quality of the writing will be like after redrafting and revising the finished novel. 
  • The completed novel, on the other hand, would show the reader the story in its entirety and show the novel's structure, pace and how effective the ending is. However, the critique may contain several points you know you'll pick up on when you start to revise and edit the first draft.
  • The shorter the partial, the harder it is for the Reader to give the help and advice they'd like. Here, the importance of the synopsis is greater.
I shall knuckle down and get as much of the novel written as I can and see how far I get. Making the decision is months away yet but I'd love to hear about your experiences. 
What do you think?
Have you submitted an incomplete novel for a critique? 
Did you find it helped you finish the first draft more easily?
Did you submit the same novel the following year?

Thank you for reading the blog. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Reflecting Back, Looking Forward
The house is quiet and the family's gone home. Every chocolate and every morsel of Christmas cake has been eaten and it's back to it! The blog is now three years old and, as is tradition, each January I've reflected back on the previous year and set out what I'd like to achieve in the one to come. 

The last twelve months turned out to be a very lean year on the short story front. It was what I expected as I concentrated on finishing and polishing my novel. I submitted short stories and flash fiction pieces to a small number of competitions and was pleased to be long listed and short listed on a few occasions. Rising From The Ashes was inspired by a true event where a school was burned to the ground in the early hours of New Year's Day 2016 and told how the local community came together to deal with the tragedy. It was shortlisted in the Nottingham Short Story Competition where the theme was Fire. Another story that was shortlisted, this time in the Erewash Open Short Story Competition, was The Bag Lady. This dealt with the theme of dementia and how a beautiful handbag and its contents unlocked an old lady's memories of her life as a young woman. As you will have read on the blog, I had stories published on Cafe Lit and Alfie Dog Fiction and two of my flash fictions appeared in the annual Worcestershire Lit Fest Anthology of Flash Fiction, entitled A Cache of Flashes. 

The blog has continued to attract more readers and I'm grateful to those of you who visit the blog regularly and leave comments. The year started with a series of guest posts about editing. It was interesting to see how different writers approached writing subsequent drafts of their novels. Some were working alone on a debut novel; others were working with editors. A big thank you to Sandra Mackness (Jill Barry), Sue McDonagh, Susanna Bavin, Sam Carrington and Judith Barrow.  

As well as tracing my own writing journey, I was delighted to be able to share the success of some writers' new publications. I interviewed Carol Lovekin, Thorne Moore and Sam Carrington about their wonderful books. 

The highlight of 2016 for me was becoming a member of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme. I worked hard on getting my manuscript to the best standard I could and submitted my novel for a critique in May. I couldn't believe how nervous I felt as I pressed 'send' that day! The detailed reader's report was both very positive and encouraging and yet constructive in suggesting ways in which I could improve it further. I can't thank my reader enough for looking at my 'baby' in that objective way. My first RNA Conference in July motivated me still further and as well as attending excellent workshops, it was so good to meet on-line 'friends' in person. 

I've travelled further along my journey as a writer in 2016. I am very fortunate to be a member of a very supportive critique group where we meet up every few weeks. We are all at different stages with our novels. So, what does this coming year hold for me?
In the coming year, I would like to:
  • find a home for novel number one by approaching agents and publishers 
  • having rejoined RNA NWS, finish writing my second novel in time for a critique by the end of August
  • write new short stories and flash fiction and submit them to a few competitions, in between novel drafts
  • attend the RNA Conference in July
  • support other authors by inviting them onto my blog 
  • continue to enjoy my writing and learn more about the craft.
Thank you for reading. What are your intentions this year? I'd love it if you left a comment. :-) Good luck in achieving your goals in 2017. If you have a new book coming out or would like to share some writing news, please message me. 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Christmas
I'd like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and thank you for reading my blog throughout 2016. It's been a pleasure to know how many have read the posts and I'm particularly grateful to those who've left comments. 

We shall be a full house this year with everyone coming down from Manchester. On Boxing Day, when my other son, daughter-in-law and their baby join us, there will be seven adults, three grandsons and two dogs! I'm really looking forward to having the whole family together.

I look forward to starting the blog again in the New Year when I shall be reflecting on the year that's just gone and looking forward to what 2017 may hold.