Writing Techniques – Are you the Hare or the Tortoise?

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If ever there was a dreich autumn night it was Thursday. It was one of those nights where you just wanted to coorie in with a good book and light the stove. But thanks to the Edinburgh Reads programme, I had tickets to see Jane Harris at the Central Library in Edinburgh so I peeled myself off the couch to take the train east.

download (2)I also dragged my hubby along for company and he did question whether it was worth braving the weather when the tickets were free. Couldn’t I just content myself with reading the book and stay cosy? Well no, because chances like this to see a writer you admire don’t happen every week so up went the brolly and off we trotted. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve followed Jane on Twitter for some time and found her tweets to be witty and interesting and she didn’t disappoint in person. If anything I was even more in awe of her talent to entertain as she had the audience in stitches with her banter.

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The stunning domed ceiling of the Central Library but it didn’t hold my attention once the event started.

Often at readings, I find it hard to concentrate on long passages and my mind wanders. Not this time as Jane’s skill at accents turned this into a performance rather than a reading. I’m currently halfway through her first novel, The Observations and Jane really brought the voice of Bessy to life.

I don’t normally read historical fiction as I prefer contemporary fiction but I kept hearing recommendations that Jane’s other Victorian novel, Gillespie and I was a fantastic book. Based on these rave reviews and the setting of Glasgow which appealed to my love of the city I decided to give it a go. The book is a dark tale with a disturbing psychological plot and a great read as you wonder about the motivations of the complex character of Harriet, the unreliable narrator.

download (1)downloadHearing Jane’s inspiration for memorable characters like Bessy and Harriet was fascinating but the best bit of the event for me was the Q and A session. This is always a great insight into a writer’s techniques and it was interesting to learn that Jane uses the complete opposite to the Freefall technique which I’ve been recommending others try since completing the first draft of my novel. Jane reads her work aloud as she writes it and finds it difficult to take off her ‘editor’s hat’ as she writes and won’t progress with the story until she’s absolutely satisfied with each and every sentence. Her meticulous attention to detail and extensive research means that Jane doesn’t churn out novels year after year. But then again, with such layered plots and well-drawn characters it’s easy to see why it would be impossible to mass produce work of this quality.

There is no right and wrong way to write a novel and I’m still experimenting with techniques. Which technique works best for you? Slow and steady wins the race or spontaneous freestyle to reach the finishing line?

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Kate Atkinson- My Literary Idol

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My literary idol!

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An amazing debut novel.

If I had to choose only one writer as my all-time favourite, it would be difficult but in the end I’d probably vote for Kate Atkinson. Ever since I read her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I’ve been a HUGE fan of her work (although I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed Emotionally Weird).

I’ve read all of her novels and I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get tickets to see her at book festivals but have never managed to beat the rush of sales. So when I noticed a link on Twitter to a series of free library events called Edinburgh Reads featuring top authors, I jumped at the chance to see one of my literary idols in person. So, on a dreich Saturday afternoon, I headed east with my hubby in tow to hear Kate interviewed by top literary agent, Jenny Brown, at the city’s Central Library.

LifeAfterLife3D_HB-smallKate’s new book is a departure from her successful Jackson Brodie private detective series and it is a standalone novel where the reader is asked to wonder, “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” Life After Life tells the story of Ursula Todd born during a snowstorm in England in 1910, but two parallel scenarios occur – in one, she dies immediately. In the other, she lives to tell the tale. As the possibility of having a second chance at life opens up, Ursula lives through the events of the twentieth century again and again….

To be honest, if I wasn’t such a fan of Kate’s work, I wouldn’t be attracted by the premise of this novel as I prefer realism and a mere whiff of speculative writing would normally have me running for the hills. However, knowing how clever a writer Kate is and out of sheer curiosity, I was keen to see whether this latest offering would live up to my high expectations. I also follow a fantastic blog, On the Literary Sofa, which features reviews written by Isabel Costello and I have great respect for her opinions. Isabel’s review of Life After Life talks highly of the book giving a good insight into the story-line without containing spoilers so have a read if you want to know a bit more.

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The opening scene still haunts me.

The conversation between Jenny and Kate was interesting as a reader and a writer. On a personal level, I found the fact that Kate’s debut novel was published when she was 43 inspiring and as a forty-something, this gave me hope that it’s never too late to launch a literary career. I also enjoyed the fact that Kate was very honest about her development as a writer, saying that in the early days, she found dialogue difficult to write and used to pepper it with unnecessary adverbs, a lesson I hope I’ve learnt too. She also spends a lot of time letting an idea mature whilst she’s doing mundane stuff like hoovering. As I can faff for Scotland, this reassured me that while I might not be tapping away on my laptop, I can still be ‘writing’ in my head, well that’s my explanation and I’m sticking to it!

It was also refreshing to see that someone who is a best-seller, achieving international acclaim and awarded an MBE can still be so down-to-earth and humble about her success. As a literary idol, Kate didn’t disappoint me.

Who is your literary idol? If you’ve met your idol, was it a positive or negative experience?

P.S. Apart from admiring her amazing literary talent, being star-struck and gooey-eyed in the second row, I couldn’t help but also be literally dazzled by Kate’s stunning diamond bracelet. She’s clearly a lady who doesn’t feel the need to brag about her accolades but does like a bit of bling-my kinda woman!