If you share my (dubious) tastes in TV programmes you won’t be a stranger to the title of this week’s Wondering. Yes, that’s right. The famous phrase comes out of Alan Sugar’s mouth at the end of every episode of The Apprentice. Whether you find it compulsive or repulsive viewing, you’ll be sure to know what it’s about. Hard to avoid, isn’t it?
You may remember I was grabbing inspiration for this month’s Wonderings from March itself, in which case you may be thinking I’ve wandered off piste here. Not so, because next Monday, March 24th, is Lord Sugar’s birthday. (He happens to share the same birth year as me but we won’t go into that if it’s all the same). A bit obscure as a remarkable event, perhaps? Well, yes, all right, but at least you’ve gathered a new bit of useless information…
But back to The Apprentice theme before I lose the plot entirely (and none of us wants to do that, do we?). I asked my fellow Write Romantics this question:
If you could be apprenticed to a well-known writer, have access to their innermost thought processes while they write and have them mentor your own novel, who would you choose? (Time machines permitted) And what would you hope to learn from them?
The Write Romantics were spoiled for choice, as you’ll see.
I’d love to be apprenticed, Write Romantics excluded, to Jojo Moyes. I loved ‘Me Before You,’ and am now totally loving ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ recommended by Deirdre. Her stories are so good, yet what I really love is her emotional descriptions. You really feel like you are there with the characters, learning first hand what they’re seeing and thinking. I love tales that are rich in emotion and these you just can’t beat!
It would have to be my hero, the amazing Mr Stephen King. I would love to see how he plots his books, how he comes up with his ideas, where he stores them but most of all I would love to sit behind the desk that he writes at and just soak up the vibes. It would be even better to have his personal input and advice into a story I was writing. The only thing is I fear that if I ever did get to meet him I wouldn’t be able to speak because I’d be so in awe of him or I talk a load of absolute rubbish and bore him to death. I would hope to learn just how to keep on going and producing book after book which was a best seller around the world so that I too could have a writing room just like him.
Can I only pick one? It would be between five people (all women) – Enid Blyton, Virginia Andrews (the original one who passed away), Catherine Cookson, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, so a time machine would be needed for 3 out of 5! All of them have had a lasting impression on me for getting me engrossed in books at different ages with the latter two being about my discovery of romantic comedy. For all, I’d love to explore where their ideas came from, how they develop their characters and how they plot out their books because all of them, in my opinion, have written page-turner after page-turner. What an amazing talent to have!
I’d like to be mentored by Alexandra Sokoloff. She’s an award winning author of thrillers – not my genre and even the book jacket blurbs scare me, but I think she has such a wealth of knowledge about techniques in both film and novels. I attended the online RWAus conference in 2013 where Alexandra Sokoloff hosted a workshop and since then I have read and re-read her book “Writing Love” many times as it helps to plot a new story, prevent it from having a “saggy middle” and give readers what they want. She also advocates watching films to help us master storytelling techniques, and this works really well for me, I’d definitely recommend it.
I’m really glad I can have a time machine for this one because I want to go back to the Thirties and apprentice myself to Dorothy L. Sayers. For me she is the real queen of Golden Age detective fiction and I’ve loved Lord Peter Wimsey since I was about 17. Sayers is an amazing crafter of stories. I’d love to learn the techniques of mystery writing, her knack of producing realistic dialogue and how she makes her characters so real and so complex. From what I read about her I think she wouldn’t suffer fools or mince her words and so being her apprentice could be a bit daunting. However, it also seems she had a fine sense of humour as shown by this quote:
“Lord Peter’s large income… I deliberately gave him… After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.”
I’d choose to spend my apprenticeship with Ian Rankin because although I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, I do admire his writing. It never feels forced or over-written; he never rambles but makes every word count. That’s the kind of writing I’m aiming for and hopefully something of that would rub off. I saw a documentary in which Ian agonised over his plot and confessed he had no idea what came next in the book he was writing. Heartening to note that even the famous ones can be plagued with self-doubt! It would be fascinating to be with him at those moments and see how he gets around them. Also I’d get to see Edinburgh which I understand is a beautiful city, and, from what I’ve gathered of Ian’s lifestyle, spend a lot of time in the pub!
This is an easy one for me. It would definitely have to be Charles Dickens. I’d want to learn how he created such memorable characters and wrote such a range of stories that could transcend generations and give quite moral messages, yet avoid being cheesy or overly sentimental. If an apprenticeship with Dickens could give me a cat in hell’s chance of writing something that leaves a legacy as embedded in our culture as say A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist, then it would be well worth risking particle displacement on a trip in a time machine for!
I would quite like Jilly Cooper to mentor me because I know I'll never write literary novels so would be happy with learning how to have a page turning quality. I also think she's be a good laugh as wouldn't like someone who took it all too seriously (although I would love to write like Anita Shreve and have deep understanding of emotions). Hopefully it would be gin time at four in the afternoon and I would roll home sozzled and happy.
If I could take any writer, go back to any time I would chose two. Greedy I know, but there you go. Firstly I’d love to be an apprentice to Maeve Binchy. Each time I’ve picked up a book of hers, I’ve been hooked and that is what I’d love to learn from her. How to hook the reader and keep them hooked. Not only that, but how to make your story have such an impact that the reader can still ‘see it’ in their minds many years later. I have two favourite books of hers, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.
Once that was done, I zip back in time to sit with Jane Austen. Now that would be something. I’d just love to be with her as she wrote Pride and Prejudice, I’d love to know what she thought of the characters she was creating and did she ever believe it would be such an everlastingly popular story.
Well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? Perhaps you’ll find a moment to tell us where your dream apprenticeship would take you. We’d love to know.