Friday, 12 September 2014

Location, Location, Location...

Describing the same thing over and over for a writer is hard work. We know what a wood looks like, we think we know what a medieval street looks like and we know how a gun must feel like when it goes off in your hand. So how, as writers, do we find new ways of telling the same old, same old? How do I describe to you, the reader, yet another mad gallop through pastures or woods because of another enemy chasing our heroes?
It comes back to real life, the life of the author. I’m lucky, I started riding horses at five years old and I’ve done just about everything with them – including bronco but it wasn’t intentional! I’ve trained in martial arts for about fifteen years now, so swords, bows, knives, open hand – again not difficult to understand but the real key for me is location.
I often stumble over these when I’m writing. It has to be right. It can take a whole day to write a few hundred words if I’m looking for the right location. What does Lancelot see when he and the others emerge from a cave network? How does the forest of the wolves look? Or a castle in the mountains? What kind of place is he living in when Tancred finds him in Grail? It’s a difficult job because I have to key into a reader’s experiences and imagination. I also don’t want to waste time or words. You all know what a tree looks like, I’m not going spend three hundred words describing it, but I can describe how my characters feel about it and that’s the key.
How does a loamy earth make Lancelot feel? What does it remind him of? How does it feel under his boots as he runs toward Arthur to save him from some enemy’s attack? Does he love the dry autumn leaves or curse them because of the sound they make? Is the rain refreshing or is it yet another curse from the gods because everything they own is wet? How does the moon reflect on the snow? Is there a moon at all or is it too soon during the long cold night? And how does the world smell?
As a writer I firmly believe you must never just describe something, you have to allow your characters to experience it as we do in our world. When I’m out walking my dogs I think of the words to describe the heat of the sun, the bite of the wind, the lash of rain or the sound of the river. I think of how to make you feel what Lancelot feels when he looks at the mist swirling through trees and the new day’s sun making everything shine.
I want you, the reader, to feel, see, smell, and hear, exactly what Lancelot does, that’s my goal. We don’t always pull it off – sometimes we’re too busy killing or screwing to pay any attention to the world we inhabit together – but we do try and endless practice on my behalf should always make that forest feel fresh even if we’ve been there a thousand times before.
If you are a writer, as I know many of you are, it’s worth practising this art next time you’re walking down a street or a wooded path. How would you describe this to someone you love? How would your hero or heroine feel about being here?

Practice, endless practice and making those descriptions tight – like an impressionist painting – that’s what makes reading fun and that’s what makes storytelling fun.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Gay Writes

Today is the day that Stonewall, a UK based charity which is the gay equivalent to Amnesty International (my words not theirs), launches #RainbowLaces. This campaign hopes to give footballers and their supporters a new and safe environment to be who they want to be, not who they think they should be because of the prejudice suffered. I'm doing a bit here to support them but I also want to share my thoughts on writing about gay or bi-sexual men.
When I first began writing Lancelot and the Wolf I didn't think it would ever be published, therefore I didn't really worry about whether I had the right to write about male gay relationships. I am a card carrying member of the female gender, I don't have much of a choice in that regard as my husband definitely isn't gay. ;-) By the time I wrote Lancelot and the Grail I didn't really care what anyone else thought but then I published Wolf...
One of the most nerve racking things I've ever done in my life is know that a gay man is reading something I've written about their territory. For goodness sake what right do I have as a woman to write about and try to empathise with, gay men? Gay men in the their thirties who are 'coming out' nonetheless (not that Lancelot ever really thinks in those terms until much later). Oh, and when those reviews started about Lancelot not being properly gay because of his relationship with Eleanor de Clare, I wanted to hide! This - despite the FACT - that the whole point of the love affair with her and then Arthur is to demonstrate it's who you love, not their gender that's important to Lancelot, but maybe I was bit too subtle on that score...
Anyway, back to my point (stop using this as a forum to moan about reviews, Sarah), my point is, writing about something completely contrary to your own understanding of the world is important. As a woman it's a wonderful challenge when a character comes into your life who makes you really think about your world, your preconceptions, your way of life. I've been around alternative lifestyles since I left home so I am lucky to have a wealth of experiences to draw on  but the challenge for me was finding a strong male voice inside me that could seriously explore some difficult emotional situations without sounding like an episode of Friends.
Empathy is the key. As an author I have plundered the depths of my imagination, my emotions and my personal experiences. Can I know what it's like to be a six foot knight making love to his King? Well, technically no, but... Being a writer means exercising the muscle that is my imagination and putting myself into that world completely. Submerging myself to point that when I stop writing I'm surprised at the time and the fact that I'm sat staring at a computer screen rather than holding a bloody sword after some mighty battle.
I don't write clever treaties on what it is to be a gay man, I write from the heart. I write what I know I would feel if I saw my lover in bed with someone else (been there - wasn't a stretch to know how that one can feel). I write what it's like to be so profoundly in love with someone, nothing else matters in the world but them. I write from the male perspective because the heart and mind of a man is actually quite complex (don't laugh ladies). The pain of hiding the vulnerable heart that lies in the chest of a man is a personal muse and nemesis to me.
I guess what I'm still trying to say, and say it badly here, is this - we are all basically the same, men and women hurt when they are betrayed and feel joy when they are safe. Do I know how to be a gay man? Hell yes, because the heart of the matter is the same as all those weird and wonderful life experiences I've had a woman. I'm five foot five but I've held a bloody sword in my hand - I know what that feels like at least.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Reviews, the bane of a writer's life?

Two in a week, either I'm keen or I have a lot to get off my chest! Today's post is about reviews. Now, many of you would have seen the trouble they've caused me over the last few years with Lancelot and the Wolf, especially in America. It's not been easy having my work hated so much, but it did bring with it quite a lot of success - which is amusing considering they wanted to bury me under homophobic hate.
I still get them, every time someone posts a positive one about my work, a negative one appears to stop the book rising in the star system and ranks. It's frustrating because gaining reviews is the life blood of modern writing. It is just about the hardest part I think. First, we are placing our baby in the hands of other people we don't know and hoping they don't tell us we've produced an ugly or stupid child. Secondly, if enough people hate it they can kill your career before it's begun. Thirdly, reviews can be written by kind considerate and gentle people, they can also be written by the people that believe in their God given rights to kill everyone who isn't just like them and other insane trolls that live in this scary democracy called 'The Internet'.
We (by which I mean anyone willing to place their soul's out there for the public to view) have to live with the results. And trust me - if enough people say you're crap - it's very hard to ignore them. Now, I'm not saying people shouldn't be honest. If I'm honest there are published authors out there that really should take up a different hobby, (E.L James I might be looking at you), rather than inflict their version of the written word on us readers, but that's just my opinion. If the writing brings them joy, helps them endure their daily lives, who the hell am I to stop them? I wouldn't have published Fifty Shades because of the writing, but clearly people prefer that to some of the fine literature that is published.
So what do we do if we don't like a book or artwork or album, but we have promised to leave a review? Ignore it? Write a good one and lie? Be tactful? I go for tact, I have to say because once again - it's my opinion. I love Lancelot and the Wolf, sometimes I pick it up and read a chunk because it makes me feel better, but everything about it has been torn apart. The grammar, spelling, writing style, plot lines, characterisation and of course the sex - but I wrote it for me. Only for me. Because I wanted to talk to someone and it happened to be Lancelot and he told me his story, so I wrote it down and after three books started to think about publishing. I published it, gave my baby to the world and some of you were so kind I was utterly overwhelmed and my heart filled with joy. Then some weren't so kind and I realised there is still so much hate out there about different forms of love that I was completely floored for a long time. Fortunately it didn't floor my publishing company (who I also work for) and they helped me out.
I came out fighting and my life long support of gay rights once more became important to me. Reviews are important you see, they teach us where our weaknesses are as writers, but they can also make us stand against the hate in the world. I will defend my 'boys' and my books forever. They aren't perfect by any means. I am not a clever writer, but I work bloody hard and they are good fun stories. We writers should learn from our mistakes but we should also be proud of the courage and spirit it takes to give our babies to the world. It takes 10,000 hours to be good at something. Unfortunately it doesn't take 10,000 to learn to be nice in a review, so we need to be kind and help writers be better, not destroy them because they've yet to learn about the complexities of the apostrophe!
Be nice people, it doesn't cost a damn thing and we survive on your love of our worlds.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

New Worlds, Old Thoughts

There is a slight hesitation about this... My mind is squeaking - Don't you have enough to do without this as well? The answer is 'Yes' but why not tell Google about The Knights Of Camelot and their quest as well as everywhere else? I'm an author. I write mostly LGBT (I will get this wrong at some point - dyslexics of the world untie!) stories and they centre about men trying to find an answer.
The trouble being they are never sure what the question is...
Sexuality is a very complex area. I'm openly bi-sexual but I married a man - safe and secure you'd think, how convenient, but it's more complicated than that and I'm still trying to understand the implications myself.
So I guess that's what I'll use this blog for, discussing my writing and perhaps exploring why I'm driven to write about my given subject. Maybe I want a place a little more grownup than facebook to examine and challenge a complex concept. We'll see, life might get in the way I'll never post more than this one blog... I hope to do better though.