Life, On Writing

In Which I have a Guest

I have a guest. A guest on this blog. This is a very auspicious occasion. Ahem. With me, on this rain-drenched English morning, is Rachel Heffington, author of Anon, Sir, Anon – a cozy murder mystery set in foggy Northamptonshire. Join us as we talk of geckos, plotting and the Dreaded Writer’s Block (in no particular order).

A very warm welcome to of words & books, Rachel. First of all – congratulations on the second of your books being published! Now you are a veteran author, what is the main difference in the experience of publishing Anon, Sir, Anon as opposed to that of your first book – Fly Away Home?

Thank you, Ness! The main difference is that this time, I am employed as a nanny of two little girls and my brother is getting married ten days after the release of this mystery. Thus, I chose to hire out the editing and all of the formatting. Last time ‘round, I chose to only hire out the cover design. I have to say that, though expensive, letting other people do the work you are unfamiliar with is a good tactic to the schedule-ly challenged.

What’s your most memorable moment in the writing of Anon, Sir Anon? (And this can be anything – an eureka moment, a ‘that’s it I’m done’ minute, or ‘this. is. amazing’ etc)

Definitely the moment I wrote the Finding-the-Body scene. I wrote it out of order, but I still consider it one of the best scenes in the book. It was one of those, “This is not going to need terribly much editing…is it?”

Was there ever a moment in which the dreaded writer’s block hit? If so, how did you conquer it? Or did you escape unscathed?

Once I realized that I was writing a mystery and it had to make sense and not have plot-holes, I did have a momentary splinter of panic. I kept my head and planned, though, and that helped things a great deal. I was also blessed with wonderful beta-readers who could steer me when I’d gone off course.

Did your characters waltz into your head without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’ or did inspiration strike, and if so – where, when and how did that inspiration strike?

Inspiration stalked me in the form of a book plucked at random off a library shelf. It was a small, well-written history of detective fiction..and it caused Farnham to plummet into existence with a supercilious smile.

Did you plot? Or simply write and watch the story unfold? Or were you somewhere in-between the two?

I have to plot a mystery–you obviously can’t exactly run a good show with the author being just as confused as the characters–believe me, I’ve tried. But in general, I like to let the story unfold as it may.

Writing or editing?

Reading. Then polishing. Then reading. But honestly, I panic till the story is down, because plot is my Achille’s Heel. So I would say that, in a weird way, I prefer editing. At least I know there is a proper skeleton tacked down.

Are there any crime-writers which are just your cup of tea? And if so, who?

I have not extensively read mysteries, but I am very fond of Dorothy L. Sayers, though she can get a bit technical in setting. (Staring gruffly at Nine Tailors)

Do you have an absolute top-of-the top favourite fictional hero?

Mr. George Knightley. Or a certain character in Jennifer Freitag’s Plenilune. But truly, secondary men seem to be my cuppa.

… and heroine?

I’m with Mark Twain on this one: Anne Shirley

Have you another mystery just waiting to be written, or will you wait for a little while before continuing with Vivi and Farnham’s adventures?

I have begun sketchy work on the second Vivi & Farnham mystery: Scotch’d The Snakes. I do not, however, anticipate that I will be able to devote much concentrated time to it until after the holidays.

Whence do you go from here? Another mystery? A different genre?

You never can tell with bees.

Cats, dogs or geckos?

Cats. I have heard geckos bite. Dogs simply smell bad and lick one’s knuckles.

Ah, it wounds my soul to hear your description of dogs. But, nevertheless, thank you very much for popping in, Rachel! And all the very best for your brother’s wedding : )

Who is this Author?

Rachel Heffington is a novelist, a nanny, and a people-lover living in rural Virginia with her family and black cat, Cricket. Her first novel, Fly Away Home, was independently published in February of 2014, while her novella, The Windy Side of Care, was published by Rooglewood Press in the Five Glass Slippers anthology in June of 2014. Visit Rachel online at www.inkpenauthoress.blogspot.comAnon Sir Anon EBOOK and enter a giveaway to celebrate Anon‘s release here.

… and what is this cozy novel about?

The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham’s niece; murder was passenger. In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets. When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door. Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.

… and from whence can I find this intriguing book?

Kindle

Paperback

Goodreads

On Writing

Alas, woe is me – for my plot has dribbled off …

I started a story in March. Typical me, rushing in with only the bare bones of an idea and a couple of sentences of plot. It lasted two chapters and a half before my enthusiasm and attention tapered off.

I didn’t pick up the threads of the story until July when I came home from America. ‘Right,’ I thought, ‘I’ll make this into a short Novela and have it finished by August. 30,000 words will do the trick.’

Using three sheets of paper from an A5 notebook, I plotted Acts One, Two and Three, using mind map bubbles. Act One was written with ease, Act Two is now officially done.

plot
… and it started off so well!

And then I was unfortunate enough to take a good look at Act Three and think, ‘Well, this isn’t going to work.’

It was too skeletal, too bare. And also only enough for a handful of chapters, certainly not for a conclusive and satisfactory third act.

Which leaves me with the task of plotting a coherent and interesting Act Three that ties the story together and finishes the tale in a manner that leaves me with a satisfied sigh.

So now I’ve got a fresh sheet of paper, a pen (a beautiful, brand new, amazing pen that is a dream to write with) and the question ‘What If-?’ to throw at every scenario.

Act Three? Meet my pen.

actthree
This pen. This very frightening pen. Particularly to all bad plot lines and holes.

 

On Research, On Writing

Really Quite Useful Things

reallyquiteusefulthingsEver so often, I find some Really Quite Useful Things.

Here are three:

The Mythic Scribes Newsletter has never bombarded me with emails, but when their articles do pop up in my inbox, it is always an interesting read (have a peek at Racial Diversity in Speculative Fiction, for example).

I’ve been subscribed to Helping Writers Become Authors for a while now, and K.M. Weiland is currently in the middle of a series of ‘Creating Stunning Character Arcs’. It’s well worth checking it out.

And last, but in no way the least, comes Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. He is a born storyteller and listening to him is fascinating. No dry and crusty ol’fount of knowledge there – he speaks with thoughtfulness and passion on a subject which he clearly loves.

I’ve finished his Wrath of the Khans series and am nearly at the end of Death Throes of the Republic. I would really recommend them, however, I will warn you that parts of the Wrath of the Khans series can get quite gruesome. Because the Mongols were not a … delicate people with squeamish stomachs when it came to vengeance and crushing their opponents. To put it lightly.

(Do you know how many people they killed? The terrible price their foes paid? How the Mongols could have conquered all of Europe and later, Egypt but each time they were stopped by nothing less than Providence. But what that Providence was I’m not telling you. Don’t you dare Google it – go listen, be swept away to another time and a very dangerous place).

Characters, On Writing, The Many Trials of a Blacksmith

In which I wish to weave

On one project – which on this blog shall be refered to as The Many Trials of a Blacksmith – the beginning chapter was written without knowing the precise details of- okay fine, I’ll admit to it: I made it up as I went along. Which meant that the first chapter was info heavy. As in really info heavy.

Fifteen years worth of history was enclosed in one chapter – along with the main character’s feelings on that fifteen years. Okay, maybe that sounds a little melodramatic and a tad bit harsh … but the fact still remains that it included a boatload of history the first time round; mainly because I wasn’t sure what was going on until I typed it out.

Now I’m on part three of The Many Trials and I know my setting much better … which means that first chapter is going to have to be edited; to cut to the chase, so to speak, make it more action packed and less ‘this-is-what-has-happened’; I’ll attempt to show the history – in the devastation, in the people, in the cities, in the conquerors’ attitude to the conquered. I’ll try to show the history in every sneer, in every fearful expression, in every mutilated and defeated old solider.

Because, I don’t know about you but a book in which the history is seamlessly entwined with the actual plot is vastly more appealing than an action packed scene followed by ‘let’s all sit down and discuss the past hundred years and their effect on us now for the sole purpose of enlightening the reader’. Maybe there’s a place for that … but not in this project.

a tapestry: multiple threads woven together to tell a story

Happy New Year!