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Walking The Dog

Chocolate LabradorWalking my chocolate Labrador has long been an excuse for me to see this corner of London from a different perspective. I have an ostensible reason for loitering around patches of grass area and parks, where you might otherwise be considered a bit weird. A pretext for watching the world go by and observing the strange behaviour of others; human or otherwise. Some random observations:

Helping Hands is a second hand shop, which has been there, trading throughout the recession when other high street shops had long since disappeared. It never seems busy and yet, the stock keeps changing and it remains in business. Perhaps it is a smokescreen for a secret surveillance organisation, or it is really being run by drugs barons who only pretend to sell furniture.

Across the road, a shop called Magic Carpets makes me think of Arabian adventures at sea. I wonder if I bought a carpet from there whether it might take me on a fantastical journey.

The local area has been redesigned with new buildings that look more like prison blocks than residential homes. Was that a deliberate reflection on the social capital of the residential majority?

I often walk my dog in the local park and it has long since been a destination to take my boys (when they were young) on a Sunday morning stroll. For many years I had no idea of the significance of its history. But when the area was being re-developed, a poster history of Steve Marriot, singer/songwriter for the Small Faces, who grew up there was displayed. Its nickname, Itchycoo Park, is said to be attributed to stinging nettles that grew there.

We have streets, blocks and a community centre named after our 16-year-old 1st world war hero, who was posthumously, bestowed the Victoria Cross, for staying at his post in the navy when all others had left. He was the third youngest recipient of the VC.

I have an invisible message stamped upon my forehead. I am convinced that I am marked, as every bizarre person seems to want to talk to me as though I am the only person left on Earth who will hear their story. Over the years, I have collected quite a motley crew, who have made debut appearances in my various fiction. I now carry a public warning; talk to me at your peril, lest you be immortalised in hyperbole.

Every day for a number of weeks, there has been a red fox following my dog and me. It has a weird kind of ‘I see you here and know what you are’ kind of attitude. And it is not afraid of human presence. Perhaps it is a werefox.

The banks of the River Roding are rife with rats the size of guinea pigs and the skies are filled with crows; sinister, satin, black – screeching to one another as though we are all enemies of the state.


Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling

Three months after the alleged suicide of supermodel, Lula Landry, her brother hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate her death. Strike and his ardent temp are then dragged into a world of dysfunctional families and highly strung celebrities in their pursuit of the truth.

A great title, interesting cast of characters and an intriguing mystery which promises much more than it delivers, in my opinion. Would I have picked this up in a bookshop had I not known that the author Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling? Perhaps, given that I have a penchant for the London backdrop and that both the cover and the blurb are highly appealing. On top of that is the endorsement by Val McDermid on the front. However, about a third of the way through I began to wish I had bought one of Val’s books instead.

It is not as well written as the latter Harry Potter books or A Casual Vacancy, which leads me to wonder whether this is an earlier work that has been kicking around in a bottom drawer for a number of years. Characters are up to the usual JKR standard – one of her strengths in my opinion – and the plotting was pretty tight, although a bit predictable in places. There were none of the startling revelations and appallingly nasty characters that have peppered her previous works. When I read The Casual Vacancy, it was clear to me who the author was, despite it being a very different book. Had I not known, I don’t think I would have guessed that The Cuckoo’s Calling was a JKR. Perhaps my expectations were skewed by her previous work, but I kept waiting for that unique JKR twist that just didn’t happen. It is very much a traditional detective novel, which is fine, but I do think that the crime genre has moved on enough to accommodate that ingenuity that has made JKR so universally appealing.

Would I read a second Robert Galbraith novel? Perhaps, but I appeal to the author for more development of the relationships between the characters and less of the detailed detective info dumps.

Just my opinion, of course…


What does your personality reveal about you?

I delivered a session last week on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Jung’s personality type theory.

I just love seeing that moment of understanding when a participant realises that something they have been doing all along and not had the confidence to voice is really grounded in psychological type theory. As an MBTI practitioner, it sometimes feels like I am giving people permission to be themselves. It is powerful and it is liberating. It gives the clients I work with confidence in their strengths and a framework in which to describe what they are good at. Not to mention, the understanding of how and why other people behave in certain ways – perfect for demonstrating teamwork scenarios.

This tool has so many other advantages, one of which is applying it to characters in my stories and books. It helps me to keep characters behaving in a way that is consistent and believable, without the need to even reveal how or why. It just is. And it works, as you have a theory in the sub-text of the work, invisible to the reader, but underpinning the elements that make a believable plot. It helps the reader to suspend disbelief without you having to signpost what you are doing. It is a powerful gift; check it out.

How do YOU plot?

I participated in a workshop last weekend, entitled ‘Plot – what plot?’ during which the facilitator, Anne Patrick, talked us through different plot structures from the classic – beginning, middle, end, through the 5 tier plot (now taught at GCSE) to an 8 tier story arc (Nigel Watts). We did some interesting exercises, but it all seemed very formulaic to me and it got me wondering what methods other writers use to plot their stories and novels. So here are few that I uncovered.

Stephen King: How to write in the Observer (01.10.00)
“The basics: forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation’. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.” Read more..

How to Plot your Novel by Hal Spacejock author, Simon Haynes, with free downloadable plotting software yWriter5 (how cool is that?)

Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award shortlist nominee, on plotting short stories. A guest blog on ‘The Other Side of the Story’ with Janice Hardy.

The Shamsie Method (Kamila Shamsie, from Mslexia issue 45)
“Don’t do plotting beforehand; starting is very intuitive. ‘Here’s an idea, here’s a voice in my head – let’s see where it goes.’ For 20 or 30 pages, just bounce off in whatever direction.”

Neil Gaiman on the ‘loose approach to plotting’ –

The Thomas Method (Scarlett Thomas, from Mslexia issue 36)
“Plan everything. Plotting is like planning the perfect bank robbery. You need to take care of all possible contingencies so you don’t get caught out.”

Other weird and wonderful ways of plotting:

The Snowflake Method

The NaNoWriMo Way

I once read (a long time ago and I don’t know if this is true or not), that David Bowie used to write song lyrics by cutting out words and phrases from newspapers and throwing them into the air, then arranging them in whatever order they randomly landed *!?*.

Interestingly, I recently attended a workshop on writing drama, facilitated by Donna Franceschild (creator and writer of ‘Takin’ over the Asylum – BBC TV 1994 – great viewing if you haven’t seen it before…). We all had to write down 3 unconnected pieces of dialogue and throw them into the centre of the table. We then mixed them up and picked 3 each at random, then paired up. Each pair then created and acted out a scene using their 6 lines of random dialogue, trying to create a background story. Fascinating stuff (acting skills notwithstanding) and it really highlighted the power of subtext.

And finally, in How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, you can explore “200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published.”

Disclaimer: The views and methods described in the links above are not necessarily those shared by the author of this blog; use with extreme caution and don’t blame me if it all goes horribly wrong. Plot, what plot?

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