Wednesday Wondering – All About Genre

Hello and welcome to March’s Wednesday Wondering. Last month, I attended a one-day script writing workshop at a local theatre. We were given some prompt images pasted from the Internet and asked to develop our characters and plot from these images. I found myself selecting an elderly couple and developing a plot that stepped back in time to WWII. I was actually really proud of the plot I developed, but came away with the overriding feeling that it was a novel rather than a play, and that I wanted to develop it further.

bookshelves1This isn’t the first time I’ve outlined a plot that takes me back to WWII. I attended a creative writing workshop several years ago and developed a story of two friends who became nurses during the war who both fell in love with the same man. It arrived in my head as a fully-formed story and it’s begging to be written one day.

The problem is, it’s not what I normally write.

When I started writing, I’d have classed myself as a writer of romcoms. I write female-led romance stories with characters in their late twenties to early thirties. However, as the trilogy developed, I realised that my storylines were a bit deeper than that and, although there are some funny moments, they’re less comedy and more about character development. If I have to put a label on them, I’d probably say contemporary women’s romance.

They’re not history, though. They’re not set in WWII. So why do I keep going back to WWII and setting stories then? It’s an era I have some awareness of from history lessons in school and watching films or TV programmes set at that time but I wouldn’t have ever said I was particularly drawn to that era. Or am I? I’m in my early forties so wasn’t alive during the war, my parents were born in 1944 and 1945 so they don’t have any recall either, and my grandparents on both sides of the family are no longer with us so I’m not surrounded by insights into this time. Yet I can’t stop thinking about it.

Karen cocking2When I was younger, I devoured Catherine Cookson books. My mum is a huge fan so I borrowed them all off her. Maybe this is where the history interest spans from, although most of Catherine’s books were set much earlier than WWII so, again, I don’t know where the pull of that era comes from. All I know is that there is a pull. So, after I’ve written the trilogy and book four, maybe I’ll address it.

My WW this week is therefore all about genre. I asked the Write Romantics:

What genre do you typically write and why?

Have you every ‘dabbled’ in a different genre. What was it? Why? How was the experience?

Would you try writing in a different genre? What and why?

What genre(s) do you mainly read?
Have you tried reading outside genre?

For me personally, contemporary women’s romance is my favoured genre for reading, but I do dabble in history, thrillers, contemporary non-romance and also children’s books. I’ve toyed with writing a thriller and a YA book and may still do so. After the historic ones. Or perhaps number five of the romance ones …

Jessica xx

Helen R says…

I typically write a cross between women’s fiction and romantic fiction. Usually there is a romantic thread in my story but there are other themes too such as family and friendship so a few subplots running at the same time.

I’ve never ‘dabbled’ in a different genre and I’m not sure whether I ever will or not, but if I had to choose another genre it would be teen fiction. I loved Judy Blume books as I was growing up – I couldn’t get enough of them  – and I’d love to be talented enough to write for the same type of audience.

I’ve recently read a couple of books outside my genre, both historical fiction. I enjoyed both although they were definitely more heavy going than what I’m used to. It was refreshing to read something different though and you start to learn a bit about different techniques used in different genres.

Deirdre says…

I find it difficult to say what genre I write in, firstly because there are such widely differing opinions on genre definition, and secondly, I don’t set out to write in a particular genre. I get an idea and run with it, and it will be what it will be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy first novel I labelled as contemporary women’s fiction for the purposes of submitting but when I self-published it, I felt that needed qualifying so it became rom-com, although I wasn’t sure there was enough humour for that. With my next, Remarkable Things, the first to find a publisher, I fought against pinning a label on it and it morphed into something slightly different each time I submitted. The closest I can get is contemporary women’s fiction with a romantic thread. My male reader enjoyed it, though, and said the ending brought a tear to his eye, so maybe it’s not exclusively for the women’s market, who knows?

When I set out to write Dirty Weekend, also to be published, I’d signed up to NaNoWriMo so had write much faster than I normally do. This led me to the fast-moving plot peppered with plenty of comedy. The best I can do with this one is general fiction; I can’t call it contemporary as it’s set in the 1960s and that is now classed as historical by some. It’s strong on romance (actually more sex than romance!) but I don’t feel it fits with the romantic fiction genre as it’s normally understood.

The book I’m writing now, The Promise of Roses, is easier to classify; I’d call it contemporary romance. It has a stronger romantic thread than my previous ones so although there’s a lot else going on besides, including themes of bereavement, guilt and entrapment, I feel more confident of the genre.

I don’t see my genre confusion as a problem. I just want to write good books that people will want to read and don’t rule out any particular types of books for the future. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d like one day to write something that could be classed as literary fiction. There is a slight passing nod to that in Remarkable Things – it has some of the tropes you’d find in lit-fic – but I’m not deluding myself that I could write a full-on lit-fic.

My reading, as you might expect from the meanderings above, is not tied down to particular genres either. I don’t tend to read crime or fantasy but otherwise I’m happy with romance (as long as it’s edgy and has more going besides), sagas, recent historicals, literary fiction and the odd thriller, like Gone Girl and Appletree Yard. At the moment I’m particularly drawn to male authors who write about love and relationships as you get a different perspective. Some of my favourites are William Nicholson, Danny Wallace, David Nicholls and a recent discovery, Douglas Kennedy.

Jo says…

In my writing so far, at least as far as my submissions to the New Writer’s Scheme went, I’ve been a bit of a genre hopper.  I suppose my natural style is contemporary women’s fiction, which is also what I usually read.  That said, there is always a romance, although I can’t write *pure* romance.  I tried once and failed miserably, so really admire those who can do that and do it really well, like our very own Rachael Thomas and others whose books I’ve enjoyed, like Liz Fielding.  My novella and the novel due out in June, are both women’s fiction with emotional themes and a romantic angle.  However, I have also written a YA fantasy, which is awaiting an edit, and I’ve got several ideas for younger children’s books.

I’ve been thinking recently about establishing myself as a writer and getting involved with a really recognisable brand as part of that, which might also help me stand out from the crowd in the competitive short story market.  If I want writing to be my career, I think it’s a route I need to take and I have seen other writers I really admire take that path – having made a name for themselves with an established brand. Lots of writers subsequently settle on one genre, but others also write under other pen names across a range of genres or sub-genres and different lengths of stories, which I suspect is the way to make a living from writing. I had an idea that I thought might work for an established series and sent off three chapters, hearing almost immediately, to my delight, that they wanted to see a full.  I’m now working very hard to get that polished and off to the publisher by next week.  If they like the rest of the story as much as the partial, I’ll also be able to see something I’ve written being sold in shops like WHSmiths, Sainsburys and Tescos.  If it comes off, I’ll be taking selfies everywhere I go! If not, I’ll keep plugging away, writing the stories I want to write, whichever genre or sub-genre they happen to cross into.

As for my reading, like my writing, I love emotional women’s fiction by authors such as Jo Jo Moyes and Julie Cohen, but I also read a lot of children’s fiction too – generally following my son’s latest obsession.  We worked our way through all the Dick King Smith books and we’re now on to Michael Morpurgo.  One genre I’m not madly keen on in adult fiction is pre-war historical, although I love war-time novels like Lena Kennedy’s books and post-war stories like Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, which inspired Call the Midwife.  I don’t think I’d ever attempt to write a historical novel though  – far too much research required to get it right!

Sharon says…

m878-5l52zcfFb_a7bo5pqwInitially, I thought I wrote romantic comedy, but then my books seemed to have some deeper issues in them, too, and they weren’t really as laugh-out-loud as true romantic comedy should be. There are definitely some very funny moments in them, if I say so myself, but I would hesitate to market them as romcoms. I think I write contemporary women’s fiction with romance and a good sprinkling of humour! Try categorizing that on Amazon!

I’ve never written in another genre as an adult, though as a child and teenager I used to write pony books aimed at my own age group at the time. They were strictly for my eyes only, thank goodness. I still love to read pony books, though. I have a huge collection of them, although I had a horrible “accident” and sent the wrong boxes to a charity shop a couple of years ago and lost loads of my favourite books during a house move.

the chaliceI mainly read the genre I write in, which is romantic fiction with humour. However, I also read the occasional saga — especially the ones written by Catherine Cookson and Valerie Wood — and I often still read children’s and YA books. I still love Enid Blyton and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. I have quite a few historical novels on my bookshelves which I really want to read, and I enjoyed Dan Brown’s books, too. I studied the nineteenth century novel for a course some years ago and I really enjoyed the classics such as Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd, Northanger Abbey and, my favourite book, Jane Eyre. I love Daphne Du Maurier’s books and I’ve read all the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. I love the naughtiness and fun of writers like Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker, and I am a huge fan of supernatural crime stories. Our own Helen Phifer is very good at writing those! I love Phil Rickman’s books. They’re steeped in mystery, fairly bloody, often have myth and legend interwoven throughout, a strong sense of place, great characters, tight plots, and are terribly scary!

download (3)I love writing the kind of books that I write now, but I do have an idea for a saga, based on my own family history. I don’t know if I’ll ever get round to writing it, though. I would love to have a go at writing romantic suspense with a supernatural twist. I think it would take so much careful plotting and a lot of time and research. Maybe one day I’ll do it, though. I’d never say never!

Helen P says…

bookcaketopperI love to write crime/horror novels because I love to read them myself and I can’t find enough of them to satisfy the ghoul in me.

Yes I had to write a romantic story for the fabulous Write Romantics anthology Winter Tales and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I find it so easy to murder and scare people so being nice was a whole new experience 😉

I love to write. In fact I think I live to write so I’d try anything and any genre although I have no idea if I’d be any good at it. I read horror, crime and ghost stories. I have read a few books outside of my genre, mainly by my fellow Write Romantics. I’ve just finished Helen Rolfe’s The Friendship Tree and loved it.

Jackie says…

I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t revolve around a romance, I just wouldn’t know how to fill all of that white space. I have written short stories that don’t have romance at its core but even then, I think there is a relationship of some sort at the heart of the story. However I have dabbled in different strands of the romantic genre and become clearer over time about what I enjoy the most. I started off writing stories that were very much chic-lit: vast quantities of booze being drunk with shopping and sex and bitchy put-downs (the characters were doing that, not me – much!) But as I’ve mellowed and no longer mix with the type of people who fuelled that particular fire, I don’t feel it’s ‘me’ anymore and consequently my writing has become less frenetic and more deliberate and thoughtful. I am overall relieved that I never tried too hard to get them published as I know I wouldn’t be able to write them today.

I write in a very haphazard way which probably wouldn’t suit many writers, but I find I become bored quite quickly when writing a particular story, so if I swap over to another one, while the last one ‘stews’ for a while, I come back to it with fresh eyes. I currently have five novels in various stages of unreadiness, but two of them are all but finished.

I will read most types of books apart from erotica (read one once to see if I could write it – that’ll be a ’no’ then!) but find I have less patience than I used to have if a story doesn’t grab me immediately. A feel good romance will always win me over. I do love a happy ever after!

Rachael says…

I’ve always loved reading Mills and Boon. As a teenager I would often be in the library getting my latest fix. When I decided to write, aiming at Mills and Boon seemed a natural progression from having spent many years reading them.

Anthology coverBefore I completed my first book, I had written short stories, even submitted them to magazines, but to no avail. I still enjoy writing short stories now, especially Meet Me at Midnight which featured in Winter Tales, our charity anthology.

Another genre I always thought I’d love to write for was for children, particularly boys about eight years of age. I read to both of my daughter and son as they grew up and felt there was definitely a gap in the market for boys of that age. There are of course, only so many hours in the day, but you never know!

As for reading, not only do I still enjoy a good love story, but I am fascinated by history and enjoy a good historical read. I have also been known to scare myself with a good horror story too!

Alys says…

I’ll read pretty much anything with print on it except for horror.  That’s about the only genre I can’t get to grips with.  But I regularly read fantasy, romance, crime, steampunk and very occasionally these days, something more literary too.

As to what I write, well, I call it urban fantasy with a spot of romance but you could just as well describe it as supernatural romantic suspense.  It’s starting to become clear that the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre is a bit of an issue when submitting to publishers. I’ve had rejections that say ‘there’s too much romance in it’ and others which imply that the fantasy bits are getting in the way of the love story. But even if I’d known that when I started it wouldn’t have stopped me (or not for very long anyway).  It’s the book that I wanted to write. And if they’re struggling with this one then just wait until I get round to writing my steampunkesque murder mysteries!

What about you? If you’re a reader, what genres do you read and, if you cross-genre read, tell us more about this. If you’re a writer, do you write in other genres or are you tempted to do so ?

Happy Wednesday 🙂

Jessica xx

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Wednesday Wondering – Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to School We Go!

Schools went back last month and anyone with school-aged children or relatives will hopefully find that they’ve settled nicely into the new term and are probably already counting down the weeks (maybe even days) till half term.

My question to The Write Romantics this month is therefore school related:
 School days: love or hate? What are your fondest and/or worst memories of school?

For me personally, school days were mixed. I have vivid memories of certain parts of primary school: bad moments such as throwing up all over the carpet in reception class before the older kids came in for singing practice, constantly being told off and made to stand in the corner of the room in top infants, being asked to sing Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ in a class talent show while my friends danced to it then completely blanking on the words and sobbing my eyes out (we won; sympathy vote!), and the boy over the road pinching my hat on a winter’s walk home and making me cry. I also have positive memories like winning a pencil case in the school raffle, building a fort on the playing fields in heavy snow, being fascinated by The Plague and The Great Fire of London, and acting in a school play about The Palace of Versailles. I’d probably say that infants wasn’t good and juniors was.

P1050711My comprehensive days weren’t good at all although I did have a small group of very good friends, some of whom I’m still good friends with although we don’t live close so thank goodness for Facebook. I enjoyed the variety of subjects, especially when we got to pick our options, but I hated the other kids 😦 I was bullied. I was the fat kid (although looking back at photos, I wasn’t really that fat which makes me so mad because it’s been a life-long issue for me thanks to those school days) and I was bright. We were streamed so I got bullied by students in the lower streams for being in one of the top sets and bullied by everyone else for my weight. A nasty rumour went round school about me too which wasn’t true but it haunted me for three years and made my life hell. I couldn’t wait to leave. (The picture is my form in 5th Year. I’m front right. As you can see, I’m far from fat but I believed I was enormous).

College was OK. I went to a technical college to study a BTEC instead of sixth form to do A Levels. I loved the subject, I didn’t love the commute to another town, and I was a bit lonely as none of my friends went there and I felt a bit left out when I’d hear about their exciting time at sixth form. If I could do it all again, though, I’d still do the same thing.

P1050712University was mixed too. My first year was pretty good. I could just about do the subjects and I made a few friends but it all fell apart in my second year. I couldn’t do some of the compulsory subjects so had to spend hours pouring over books trying to understand the basics. I’d also made the mistake of staying in Halls with a close friend but he got in with a clique who rejected me because I spent so much time studying and all my friends who’d moved out had moved on with their lives and didn’t need me. I’ve never felt so surrounded by people yet so incredibly alone. Thankfully I had a year out and it was the making of me. I loved my job, had two great house-mates (pictured either side of me in my graduation photo) and a great social life with the other sponsored students and graduate trainees. I returned to uni with a fresh approach to learning and friendships and I had an amazing time. I just wish I’d known at the start of uni what I’d known in my final year as things could have been very different.

Over to the others …

Harriet says …

I was a painfully shy child, and as an only child who had never mixed with more than two or three other children at a time, school was far more traumatic than it should have been, especially at the start.  Things didn’t improve much as time went on.  I remember crossing the junior school playground with my mother one afternoon when all the others had gone – why we were still there I don’t know – and the headmistress, a tyrant if ever there was one, came over and spoke to my mother.  She then spoke to me, and I froze.  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and no matter how much Mum urged me to say something, anything, I just couldn’t. I got a telling-off for it, but that was my mother all over.  She was embarrassed I suppose.

Being the way I was, I was desperate to melt into the background and be the same as everyone else.  When it came to reading lessons, I could already read fluently and had been able to since before I started school but when it was my turn to read I would stumble over a few words on purpose so that I didn’t appear different from the others.  And another daft thing, for some reason I had trouble identifying my own possessions and when a scarf which had been found in the playground was held up in front of the class, I didn’t recognise it.  It was only when I went to put my coat on later that I realised it was missing, then had to confess, red-faced, to my teacher face that it was indeed my scarf.

I was lucky enough to go to an old-style grammar school where the teachers were dedicated and passionate about their subjects, and I still recall vividly many of the actual lessons.  I remember our English teacher, Miss Egan, leaping in her lace-ups from one side of the dais to the other to demonstrate parts of a sentence; the smelly Biology lesson when we, pointlessly, dissected a herring; the fruit salad I made in Domestic Science using plain tap water as I hadn’t been listening when we were told to boil it with sugar.  I remember it all, which goes to show what a wonderful education we had.  None of us appreciated that at the time, of course.

The highlight of my entire schooldays has to be meeting my three friends, Val, Angie and Marion, in the second year of grammar school.  They were my soul-mates, my saviours, the sisters I never had, and we’re still friends now.  Last time we were together, we realised it was fifty years since we left school.  Fifty! We toasted the occasion with a bottle of Prosecco on top of the wine we’d already had.  Any excuse!

 

Jackie says …

The lesson I liked most in school was art. it was not because I was any good at art, in fact I am embarissingly bad at it, I can only do Noddy cars and seahorses. But our art teacher, Mrs James, was really cool and loved her art so much that she painted her own canvass’s when she was teaching us, leaving us mostly to our own devices. The art shed was at the bottom of the school garden and this particular summer, we were shoo-ed out every lesson so Mrs James could paint and smoke in peace ( she really did smoke in class!) We spent the art lesson’s practising levitation, Ouija (we had to huddle in Mr Mountford, the handyman’s shed, as it was dark) and fainting. Levitation scared the hell out us because it appeared to work, Ouija board scared the hell out of us because we didn’t know my friend Helen was pushing the glass to write BANSHEE. We didn’t know what a banshee was, so it must have been a real banshee writing it! Fainting (you know, where you breathe deeply for 20 and then stick your thumb in your mouth and blow hard) actually did work and scared the hell out of us because we kept thinking we were going to die. It was the best summer ever and we were really sad when Mrs James suddenly left, mid term, never to be seen again.

 

Helen R says …

I’m one of those people who loved their school days. I didn’t love every subject – maths and science were enemies – but I loved being there in that environment with friends.

I’ve overheard so many mums talking about results for this and results for that and perhaps I should be more worried about the academic side of my girls’ schooling, but for me, the last thing I say in the morning when I drop them at the gate is ‘have lots of fun’ and the first thing I say at pickup is ‘did you have a good day?’

High school was the most fun I think…I valued the independence of walking to and from school each day, meeting friends afterwards, the whole future ahead of us. My only regret is that I didn’t pursue writing earlier, but then again, without the business degree I wouldn’t have made the choices that have ultimately led me to the life I lead today, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

downloadAlys says …

Because I’ve always been a bit of a girly swot I generally loved school. I went to a very old fashioned all girls grammar school in York.  The school was in a large Victorian house with lovely grounds and pretty much entirely staffed by total eccentrics.  There was a geography teacher who had toy bunny rabbits that she talked about as if they were real. If she was cross with you she’d say, ‘Pinky bites’ referring to her rabbit called Pinky. There was a male teacher, who had unfortunately lost a leg to Polio, and who was banned from teaching Latin after he threw the board rubber at a girl and it hit her. Allegedly she chucked it straight back!  However, we was still allowed to teach history which must have made him less irritable because he never threw the board rubber in any of my lessons.

photo (2)In many ways it was an education from a much earlier time. I was taught Latin (which I was terrible at and really hated), to play tennis (also very badly) on the grass courts in the grounds and treated as a ‘young lady’.  The lack of boys meant that only the fast girls (and I definitely wasn’t one of them) had boyfriends.

I’ve had an idea recently for a book that would use all of this wonderful material but I think I’ll have to tone some of it down because people probably wouldn’t believe it really happened. It was a huge influence on me because, for all its faults, it had an ethos that women could achieve anything they put their minds to.  To remind me of that the mug that they gave me when I left still stands on my desk.

Rachael says …

img002-croppedLove them or hate them, school days are the best days of your life, or so we are told. For me my primary school days weren’t much fun. My family moved every couple of years and this meant new schools and new friends. But my secondary school days, or high school as it’s now known, were much better. I still have contact with friends from school, despite having moved away from the area and my ‘best friend’ visits each summer with her family. It’s wonderful to be able to just pick up with her as if we saw each other just the other day instead of months ago.

One of my favourite memories was hanging out in the school corridors, chatting and catching up with friends. I loved English lessons, because they were in the school library and I could spend time surrounded by books. I also loved science and home economics, which today probably go under a different name. I hated, with a vengeance, sports. Why would anyone want to go out in the cold and wet, armed with a stick and whack a ball around? As you can tell, hockey was my least favourite sport, closely followed by cross-country.

Jay says …

then and nowDid I love or hate my school days… Well, I suppose it was a game of two halves.  I loved primary school and really only have good memories of that, apart perhaps from Nitty Nora the flea explorer… In my last year there, I had the most marvellous teacher, Mrs Muldoon and a wonderful best friend Claire, with whom I’m still in touch.  I remember doing a puppet show, I was the fairy godmother, and we made the puppets ourselves from paper mache, string and scraps of fabric.  Through my rose-coloured spectacles, the puppets looked incredible and the show was a triumph – although I’m sure the reality was somewhat different!

Secondary school I wasn’t a big fan of.  I went to an extremely competitive all girls’ grammar and I was in no way enough of a high flier to stand out.  That said, I made some more great friends, including one of my now best friends, Sarah.  Here’s a photograph of us then and now.  We used to get the train in together and got up to all sorts, including strong arming John Cleese for an autograph and, on another occasion, almost getting arrested by the railway police – until we bribed them with Maltesers!

Sharon (in her first official WW as a Write Romantic) says …

I loved school! Well, mostly. Primary school was lots of fun. We were mostly taught in ancient white prefabs with huge old boilers in the middle of the classroom. When it was particularly cold we would pull up our chairs and gather round the boiler to keep warm while the teacher read to us. Sometimes, on very wet days, bits of sodden clothing would be draped on the fireguard to dry! I doubt that would be allowed these days and I believe the prefabs have been pulled down which is a shame. The central part of the school was a newish, brick-built, one storey high building. This housed the hall where we’d have our daily assemblies and perform our plays and carol concerts. There were other classrooms in this part, too, with big french windows that opened out on to a lovely garden. In warm weather the windows would be wide open and I used to daydream, gazing at the rose bushes and the cherry blossom trees and making up stories in my head when I was supposed to be doing sums.

Every week we had a spelling competition and we each had to ask another pupil a word that they had to spell correctly. If they spelt it incorrectly they were eliminated. One week a brainy boy decided to test me and asked me to spell miscellaneous. As the whole class gasped, I thought, is he mad? I remember my lovely teacher smiling and nodding at me encouragingly and saying, “Go on, Sharon!” So I did. I still remember the relief when I got it right! We had a lovely library at the end of the building which was where I discovered pony books. We also had a year of various fund-raising activities to raise enough money to build a swimming pool in the grounds, which we did. A local news reporter from the Calendar television programme came to open it because he was engaged to one of our teachers.

I remember the autumn being really exciting. We’d go outside and collect fallen leaves and conkers to make displays for the classroom, and of course there was all the fun of Hallowe’en to look forward to. Christmas at primary school was fantastic. We’d decorate the classrooms, make a postbox for everyone to bring cards and presents for their friends, file into the hall each morning where the usual hymns would be replaced with those fantastic carols. The fourth-year juniors (the eldest ones) would perform a Christmas play each year and when it was our turn we did an interesting one written by one of the teachers which combined Oliver Twist with A Christmas Carol. I remember rushing home from school in the dark, having stayed late for rehearsals, walking along the banks of a drain as a short cut, mindful of the parts that had crumbled away and all too aware of the scurrying sound of rats. I definitely wouldn’t want my kids coming home from school in those circumstances!

Lower High school wasn’t much fun, except they had the most fantastic library, stacked to the rafters with pony books. From the second floor science lab I had a fabulous view of ponies grazing in the fields, so that got me through. Upper High School was great. It was built in the grounds of a grand old house.  I loved that building. It had once belonged to an important man in the area who had actually survived the Titanic disaster, and I used to love walking into that huge hallway, climbing those stairs, my hands trailing along the bannisters and sweeping up to the landing where – you’ve guessed it – the school library was now situated! I used to sit in that library looking out over the grounds that was now a school playing field and imagine the people who’d once lived there.  We weren’t allowed in the main house much. It was the base for the staff mostly, housing the staff room, offices and headmaster’s room. Only a maths room and a library were for our use so I only got to go in there occasionally but it was always worth the wait. I was a bit disappointed to find the library didn’t have any pony books, though. I started to look for other things to read and, remembering the name of one of my mum’s favourite authors, I selected The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. I was soon hooked! I did try Barbara Cartland but couldn’t get to grips with her heroines who were always gasping and swooning.

I had a major crush on the English teacher at the Upper School. He was always so complimentary and encouraging about my work and I just fell for him big time. I even wrote a poem for him once and persuaded my friends to give it to him. He was very kind and patient with me and I’ve never forgotten that. He really made me believe in my writing ability so I have a lot to thank him for! For a short time we had a school newspaper, and I volunteered to help out. I ended up writing most of the articles, helping to print it out, harassing other kids for their contributions, making up the shortfall when they didn’t bother, coming up with ideas for the next issue and then traipsing round the classrooms selling as many issues as I could to uninterested fellow pupils. Needless to say it didn’t survive long. Ah well. Happy days..

What about you? We’d love you to join in and tell us all about your school days. Did you love them or hate them? What memories have lingered with you for life?

Jessica xx

The Wednesday Wondering: You’re Fired!

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.

LYNNE:

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!

HELEN P:

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.

JULIE:

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!

HELEN R:

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.

ALEX:

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.”

DEIRDRE:

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!

JO:

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!

JACKIE:

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. 

RACHAEL:

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.

Deirdre

The Wednesday Wondering – Walking in Whose Shoes?

Another great Wednesday Wondering from our lovely Write Romantic in Australia, Helen R:

 If you could walk in the shoes of one author for the day, who would it be and why?

Ooh, how exciting! Would our Write Romantics go for someone with a wad of earnings, living a celebrity lifestyle? Would they select the person who first inspired them to read? Perhaps someone who develops brilliant characters or is the master of the twist in the tail to explore how they do this (and hope some of the magic rubs off!) Let’s see, shall we …

JULIE:

I would want to turn back time a bit and step into the shoes of someone I’ve not mentioned on this blog before but who was a prolific writer whose books I have loved … the wonderful Catherine Cookson. My mum used to read her novels and was a great fan and I borrowed most of them. I would love to understand how she wrote so many, how she kept them all different and how many ideas she still had ready to be formed into books. I’d also be fascinated to see her research. I’m no historian but I believe her books are historically accurate and she didn’t just write from within her own lifetime so she must have been quite a research demon … in the days before you could Google it! RIP Catherine J

 

HELEN R:

I would love to walk in the shoes of Judy Blume. Looking back I realise just how much her books helped me in my teenage years. They helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone in the everyday challenges that I faced, from adolescence and discovering boys to friendships and family relationships. 

I would love to witness Judy Blume’s research journey from developing a strong idea and themes for a book, to the development of characters, and how she got the dialogue of those characters just right. She is an amazing, strong writer and I am also curious about how she coped and how she defended her writing when she faced hate mail and arguments that her books should be banned from school and library shelves.

Judy Blume is an incredible, strong writer who has stood up for what she believed was right. I will always admire her honesty in her books and her willingness to discuss real issues faced by so many of us growing up.

Secretly I hope that if I was walking in Judy Blume’s shoes, then it was during the time she rented an office above a bakery…

 

DEIRDRE:

Good question…  I would turn back the clock, bring Barbara Cartland down from the great blue yonder and be her for a day. Why? Because she gets to lounge about wearing a lot of pink whilst dictating her books to some other poor soul who then has to hit the keys on her behalf and make it all into something presentable. AND – a big ‘and’ – it looks very much to me as if she also gets to eat a lot of cake 😉

 

ALEX:

When I first read this week’s Wondering I couldn’t think of any authors that I admired who had the kind of interesting lifestyle that I’d like to experience for a day. Then I thought there is someone and he’s a screenwriter so does he qualify? So I did some Googling and discovered that he’s written comic books so he is actually an author as well. 

The person whose shoes I’d like to walk in for a day is Joss Whedon. I think he’s a genius. I loved Buffy and more recently Firefly. I don’t know anyone who can write dialogue that’s as fresh and quirky and yet realistic. He’s also good at the big concepts too. Some of them don’t work too well and he admits that and moves on and I admire that about him. I’d love the chance to experience his working life and I’m sure I’d learn a huge amount about character development and how to tell stories.

 

HELEN P:

Another great question. I think it would be Stephen King, I would love to walk in his writing shoes for a day and if he didn’t want to share then I’d love to have spent the day as Jane Austen to see where her inspiration came from and to meet the original Mr Darcy although he’d have a tough time beating Colin Firth.

 

So, that’s what some of the Write Romantics have to say? What do you think? Is there anyone who you’d like to stalk be around for a day or swap lives with for a day? We’d love to hear about it. Please post a comment. If you’re new to the blog and don’t know how to do this, click on the heart to the right of the title and that will bring up a comments section at the end of the posting. Thanks in advance for joining in.

Julie

xx