Monday 28 June 2010


The time has come: it is time to learn how to write like a ninja.

Time to go into training so you can become a ninja-writer!

1    RUN
Become instantly alert the moment the alarm goes off and run. Calculate the distance from bed to your normal place of writing/work. Time yourself. Try to reduce the time it takes you to get logged on and working. It is important to keep a log of the time taken as a target noted is a target you can aim to beat.

2    SWIM
Start small, wade through the stuff you wrote yesterday. Then, submerge yourself in the plot and allow all details to flow back over your head. Once you are deeply into the flow, unleash your fingers and let the torrent of words wash out and onto the page. Hold your breath! Don’t let any physical discomfort build a dam in your stream of conscious thought.

Allow the obstacle course to increase in size and dimension. If wash baskets and Hoovers are becoming a challenge you could tie a zip line, made from a redundant washing line, between two door frames (using a piece of PVC pipe, to eliminate friction and allow for a speedier transit to your normal writing zone, is recommended.) Another suggestion, to ensure you can write like a ninja, is to add a rope swing. This would be particularly effective at cutting down the time taken to get to your writing. An effective rope swing can be created using strong rope lassoed onto a light fitting. The ultra-ninja trick of using a balance beam to bridge open spaces such as landing and stairwell will increase your ninja skill levels, as well as decrease the time taken to get to your writing – double bonus points!

Do not over look the importance of core strength! Sit-ups in the chair, push-ups from the floor and chin-ups off the desk will all enhance your ninja-like writing skills.

Any or all of the following will develop the flexibility and agility necessary to write like a ninja;
1.      Create the sound of racing horses with your fingers
2.      Crack your knuckles repetitively
3.      Drum along to the music your children are inflicting on the neighbours

These will all enhance your manual dexterity. 

Another exercise, useful when your have a WIP in the submissions process, is to hit refresh on your email account. It takes great strength and will increase the speed of your typing to ninja levels.

If you get this ninja skill mastered, your family and friends will forget they haven’t seen you for hours on end. By considering the angles and perspectives when moving around you will be able to minimise guilt by moving silently. regardless of the surface being walked upon, clutter or the mess.

Writing like a ninja involves the skill of visualisation so you can own the path to true en-writing-ment and your writing journey: garret to re-built medieval castle in a three-book deal. Set those sights high.

Help out non-writers and non-ninja writers alike. Support those who still think all they have to do is throw words into a document and send it off to a range of literary agents. Be gentle with those who go the whole hog and send it straight to the publishers to save time. Remember, they probably don’t even know that the ninja-writer’s code in written in TNR script. Don’t brag that you are a ninja-writer. Training in the noble arts of ninja-writing will help when it is truly required.

This will help with most of the above. Caution: intensive training is necessary if you are to be able to bound, bounce and be-doinggg somewhere just above, or below, the ceiling. However, you will be glad that you didn’t over look this skill when a Literary Agent calls to ask if you wouldn’t mind letting her, or him, represent you.

Whether this is the local Writers’ Circle or the On-line Critique Club, there is nothing more necessary for the ninja-writer than honing their skills with other acolytes to the calling.

No need to buy the outfit (remember dark colours are optional). You must now listen: be silent and observant. Keep notes: these observations, made in public, will help to promote the idea that you are special.

Above all else remember you are a ninja – a ninja-writer – so hone your skills and write!

With grateful thanks to Wiki-how, without which I would not have learned the path of true en-writing-ment!

Friday 25 June 2010


This one, even I wasn't expecting:
I have been crafting a character, or two. I'm working on two projects: a YA and an MG. Both are in the planning stages.
I'd like to introduce you to one of the main characters in the YA idea. (A big cheer to the Fanpop site for the photo.) I searched for a sad teen with red hair - look who I found impersonating Will.

On the Creating Your Character web-page , I found their template. It really helped me organise my thinking.

The idea he belongs in is... slip-stream paranormal. (Having trouble working out which genre you are writing? Invent your own! That's not quite what I mean: this is a paranormal romance but the characters aren’t fanged nor feathered,  scaled or clawed.)


NAME: Tricky, there is power in a name: I think we’ll call him Will
BIOGRAPHY: Born after his father’s death, he saved his mother’s life, and she has been using him ever since. He is lonely. He would walk through the world without causing a ripple or leaving a shadow to mark his passing. He is disorientated and angry, catching up on schooling. After years of being forbidden to stray beyond the boundary of his property his mother has demanded he must do what she is incapable of doing.
AGE: Although a little hazy on the specifics Will reckons he has seen about seventeen summers.
HEIGHT: Tall enough but he’ll never play basketball.
WEIGHT: Thin. Food is not plentiful, Will’s skills in the plot beside his walled garden are reflected in his fragile frame.
BODY TYPE: Is he wiry and agile. Hardy – he is a weed, in danger of outgrowing his strength.
FACE TYPE: His bone structure is so close to the surface his cheekbones are made more noticeable by his eyes which have sunken in.
COMPLEXION: He is a blue-grey-tinged kind of pale
EYES: Tiger blue like the summer sky, but flat and disinterested; framed by black lashes and brows
HAIR: Auburn - fine, wisped, feathered in style
CLOTHING STYLE: Loose, misshapen, plain tee-shirts, narrow jeans and black leather boots.
SPEAKING STYLE: He doesn’t speak much, when he does he sounds musical, lyrical: deep and lilting
GENERAL DEMEANOUR: guarded and quiet
CAREER: Scholar; he doesn't know what he could be in the future
PREJUDICES: People who don’t look after what they’ve got.
BEST QUALITIES: Resilient, balanced, protector
WORST QUALITIES: impatient, proud, inflexible
WEAKNESSES: He craves being wanted or needed or loved
HOBBIES: Walks, reads, takes photographs
TALENTS: Photography and seeing the potential in things and capturing it


Tuesday 22 June 2010

NEAR EDGWARE - Is that love?

Why did she do it?  Why did Jess fall in love? 

Make like the girls who do boys Jess, that would be fair enough: he is hot. The six-foot, out-doors-tanned, blond-haired-with-that-hint-of-curls-trimmed-in-to-good- behaviour look would have the same effect on many a hot-blooded girl. 

But, I'm not talking about desire with a capital: L-U-S-T!  I am talking about love and, if it isn’t love that has grown between you both, then I don’t want to be around either of you when you get to know each other better. 

The question that made me wait weeks - between getting the idea, finishing the planning and writing the book - was the all important one: why?

I can’t say much about this from Caleb’s point of view because, well, it’s a first person narrative. I mostly get to wander around in Jess’ head. (However, in true Stephenie Meyer fashion, I could just as easily write NEAR EDGWARE from Caleb’s POV - *blush! You didn’t think, even for a moment, that I don’t know what Caleb is thinking; did you?)

I have read shelves full of YA paranormal romances (and quite a lot written for adults) and, sometimes, I have to suspend disbelief because I can’t work out what it is about the moody misogynist that led the woman, or girl, to feel a deep, endless and true love.

With hormones and pheromones densely concentrated in the air I created a strong female protagonist with supportive parents and friends who would be there for her. Next I made sure she was attracted, but capable of analysing her feelings. Then I wrote the scenes to make sure Jess could see more of Caleb's personality than his six-pack and smile.

I had great days discussing with teens which characteristics allowed Caleb to be seen as caring: more than strong and silent. The group was slightly unrepresentative because only 50% had read Twilight. Then I research Blogs where men spoke frankly about their feelings: desire and love were covered in detail. In that setting there was no need for any of these anonymous men to give answers that would gain them any particular advantage. I also have six brothers so I found it impossible to write unrealistically for Caleb.

I loved creating Jess and Caleb and the challenges they have to face. 

The section in the planning stage is steamier than the weather we are experiencing. 

Happy 18th Birthday, Jess.

Monday 21 June 2010

And what does your Mother call you?

I was born fifth of eight. This was not good. I spent huge swathes of my life being a double middle child. Not the difficult attention seeking one, I strived for notice through invisibility: through an almost psychic ability to predict what would need to be done. I planned for every eventuality and obsessed over ensuring nothing could go wrong. I agreed: even when it took depths of unimaginable self-control.

The determination I channelled into making sense of autism stuns me now. No going with the flow for me. The unhappiest years of my life were the ones where I still believed I could cure, if not the condition, then definitely the behaviours. I was going to make Sonshine like-normal.

Then I evolved. Freed from the pressure-induced panic, I realised that, for a bad parent, I wasn’t doing too badly. 

It was the day my son, aged 13, went to the Community Dentist. He had been his usual challenging-in-a-public-place self. I had worked, red-faced, to keep him from anti-social activities in the crowded waiting room. The expressions, on the faces of the three professionals, read about an 8 on the I-pity-that-poor-mother Scale. 

Then the dentist approached him and said, “Hello, young man - what does your mother call you?”

The assistant caught my eye. She raised her eyebrow. I could read every one of the choice phrases she was working her way through.

The Boy took a deep breath and began with his full name but, somehow, I could tell he wasn’t finished ( the assistant’s nose twitched and the Pity-o-meter hit the full 10) “... but my Mum calls me: Sweetpea, Precious, Poppet and Son.”

That was the moment I stopped trying to make everything perfect. I settled for fine.

I couldn’t change the habits of a life-time over night, but that was the moment I decided  I was going to let him be - take time for me – and , eventually, to write.

My name is Elaine AM Smith but my Dad always called me Alanna - Gaelic 'a leanbh': 'O child'.

Friday 18 June 2010

Life journey: surviving -> coping -> writing

harc is the Hertfordshire branch of the National Autistic Society (NAS) and was formed in September 1998 as an independent registered charity based in Hatfield. It was created by a small group of parents (:-D) concerned about the availability of services for their children. In 2007 harc joined forces with the NAS becoming the Hertfordshire branch of the national charity.

Sonshine has issues. In a room full of the challenging, he shines. His compulsive need to see what makes each person snap, that random streak of unique, has made his life eventful.  He is fascinated by the moment before an individual reacts to the things he says or does. His face is a mask of awe until the certainty erupts. Then he knows fear. He was only eight the first time a random stranger said he wished The Boy would: “Go home and die in his sleep!”

Life was simpler when his obsession was making electronic sensors flash at him: moving into, and out of, their beams.  

He is working to overcome challenges created by minute chemical imbalances, or organic differences, in the brain. Re-programming: overwriting the behaviours learned from flash points or visual fiction, takes time. He has linear pathways. We have to retrace each step from the here to the place where he learned the inappropriate action, then we can, literally, write new instructions with him.

Fleets of carers have been working with him for a few years now. Some have been working against him: managing through the path of least resistance.  

I am preparing him for life beyond the family home: a necessary stage. Working to find the individuals who will learn in one year what trial and error taught us, much more painfully, over a much longer period of time.

But the sight of more socially-skilled local youth lining up on the path opposite our house to watch him dance in his room fills me with ____________ (feel free to add an adjective here – any one of them could be appropriate.)

When we are out I cannot predict who he will target. I have learned to read people and to predict their actions. Sonshine has never explained his methodology. I learned to observe as he does.

I think understanding the human condition is the foundation of all writing.

Being a parent is awesome.

1.     Causing awe; appalling; awful; as, an awesome sight.
2.     Expressive of awe or terror.


Goodbye to guilt; hello to too many ideas

This week has been a week full of ideas. The first MG, was written in my head within an hour. I could see it all Titian bright and Kandinsky coloured.
Then, two more characters stepped out of the lift.
The cupboard and the corner created the life-style and the alternate reality.
Bright ideas but too many. All I could do was make notes while they were still vibrant: I’ve made so many notes I’ve brought on carpal tunnel and worn grooves in to both wrists. 

I thought having ideas would be a good thing.

I tried to do some rudimentary ordering – prioritising. 

It didn’t work. 

I found that whichever idea I was making notes on was the one I wanted to write. I discussed one idea with the Minnow. She waited until I got to the paranormal element of idea four and said, “You could just go with it neat. Real people love too.”

But it would be grimmer in real life. Fantasy and the paranormal suggest that only the extraordinary gets in the way of the rightness of things.

    I’m pushed for time right now. The summer seems a long way off but it is   getting closer tick by, irritating, tock. Once I get there my quality writing time increases. 

   I'm saying goodbye to the endless guilt; I am making time to write. 

Is there something you gave up on so you could make the time to write?

Friday 11 June 2010


We are preparing for the end of year performance by reading Alice in Wonderland. The conversation ranged from punctuation, word order, how the meanings of words have changed and finally, by the circuitous route, on to large trees and holes in the ground.

I discovered I was not the only person who felt passionately about trees.

There is a small housing estate being built not far from the school and, although no trees have been harmed in the making of this new development, they wanted to know whether trees could be cut down if they were “in the way” : theoretically not, depending on the age. We imagined an ancient tree left standing when the streets and houses spread like a fungus all around. I found a picture of an ancient tree.

Starting from its word length, they planned a story and the only character who could possible inhabit the tree. They threw ideas out in committee-style: discussed and rejected ideas almost as fast as I could write them down. 

While we were working on large paper with fat felts we had the usual 6S Chillin’ Spotify Playlist playing and I made even more useful notes. I worked my way through the fifty questions you need to know about your character while they were drawing or discussing who should turn up in the story. Dance; interspersed with the planning, reading, drawing, and the conversations, came the dancing.

My GandT artist drew, to the specifications the others were yelling at him, the character who didn’t move out when the builders moved in. My head is full of 4-D planning.

So,  do you want to play our game? WHO LIVES IN A HOUSE LIKE THIS?

 The tree near the bottom of Jack's garden was not tall. Too easy to climb, it was boring. It groaned between the end of the garages and the railway's steep embankment. Wide, rough-skinned and wrinkled,  it was really ugly. 

Friday 4 June 2010


Dreamfest: day dreams and night dreams and nightmares? How did I nearly miss this?

Amalia T is holding a Dream Sequence Blog Fest today over on her Blog: Good To Begin Well, Better To End Well.

I love how dreams show us our deepest fears. They rarely answer any questions but they help us ask a lot.

This section is  Jess' dream in NEAR EDGWARE   (YA paranormal romance)

I must have slept because when I moved again my heart was racing. My hands and forehead  were soaked in perspiration. The dream that looked, and smelt, and felt so real, had been played out in a strange orange half-light from the evening sun and blood red moon. 
Dogs crouched low but pulled away from the circle where we gathered. A cat, with back arched and claws digging deep, hissed from the branch of a tree. But the crowds, dressed in rough woollen tunics, were the least human creatures there. Mercilessly, they threw stones at a bloodied dog where it crouched, tethered and defenceless in the centre. 
I stood to one side of the crowd quivering with a rage I didn’t understand. My foot rolled a bloody, wooden club in the dust. But the movement had made the hem of my skirt, sticky with blood, slip coldly across my skin.

Now I'm off to go and read some other dreamy posts ;)

NEAR EDGWARE finished inside 71,500 words

Page 1.98 later, NEAR EDGWARE is 
pretty much cooked! 

But isn't 200 such a nice round number? 
If you have any thoughts I'm all ears. 
Although, as my new nails are pinging off the keyboard keys, finished is good too. 

                                                             NEAR EDGWARE


Sprawled over soft chairs, the students in their office-smart clothes had marked out their territories. At the edges, smaller groups talked quietly. Right at the back of the Common Room, near an open window, three blond boys were huddled together, their heads so close they were almost touching. The different shades reminded me of the colour selection charts at the hairdressers. The boy whose back was towards me had hints of curls in his short hair; very cute.  
He glanced around, forehead furrowed, eyes narrowed. He pushed his brothers back a few more steps.
Hmm, not so cute?
The group I was looking for stood in the centre of the room. Close enough, at last, for me to hear what they were saying.
 “Another new girl?” said Anna, paying more attention to my clothes. “She dresses like my Mum: subdued.”
Ife laughed, “Anna! You can’t judge people like that.”
“I can: navy trousers and boring, boring, black flats? That’s the choice of the terminally shy.”
“Wearing navy and starting a week late? She needs help. We should see if she sorts out a friend. Just check she’s alright,” Ali muttered, sucking on her short blond plait. Her frown was deep, her cheeks a deeper pink, as she smoothed down her mid-length, dark blue skirt.
I always thought of Mum’s stuff as, “sophisticated”.  Subdued was not really on my top ten list of qualities, it would have trouble getting into my top one hundred. Stepping out of the shadows in the corridor, I threw myself forward, arms wide enough to reach around them all.
“Jess?” squealed Ife. She was taller now; her black hair newly relaxed and straightened. Her brown eyes were much blacker with shock. Her smile was as wide as ever.
“They let you back in?” said Ben. We were still jumping. He was straightening his glasses.
 “You said you’d arrive next week!” said Anna. “You’ve got to tell us everything.”
 “Seats! Seats!” added Ife. She pushed us all to the nearest empty chairs, then we let the stories start. “Honestly, how unhappy were you...?”
“I invented a whole new scale for misery. I missed you all. First I sat and I sulked! Then, I sat and I stressed.”
 “We threatened to save up and send Ife over to Guyana to sort you out!” added Ali.
“I was worried. You were coughing, and feeling sick all the time. No matter what the doctor there said I ….” Ife began.
“Ife!” Anna drew an imaginary zip, “Jess?”
“I hit a really low point when my new friends said I was lumpy, spotty, greasy, grumpy, sniffy, wheezy and ... whatever! I was ill and so miserable, I got to love work!”
“Desperate!” added Anna.

First draft  128,300 words last draft 71,500? How is your re-edit going?

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Hair loss: an unavoidable symptom of writing?

Back from Cyprus, on school holiday and working on a mini-rewrite, I have been tearing my hair out; I know! Hair is not only necessary it is quite an attractive feature, so, I really shouldn't, but... added to the regular hair in the plughole I now have a pile of perfectly serviceable locks littering the floor of my study. 
There is only one thing that affects me in this way (well, two if I include the entirely avoidable futility of arguing with my autistic son) but the one which is currently driving me to distraction is punctuating fragments in my writing.
No-one speaks in full sentences, except my aforementioned son. Never in dialogue and rarely in real-life situations. 
I've spent a week translating my version of spoken English into broken English which was much easier for Cypriots to follow. For a while there I thought the condition might be permanent but, to my relief, I found it was only temporary. Phew!
I seem to be the Queen of Fragmentation. Scanning my novel, after more than six months since my last re-write, all I could see on each page was a plethora of dots and dashes. There were so many I decided I must be, not so much the queen of this country, but the M of MI5. I tried to decode one page, looking for the message I felt certain was hidden there. 
I tried, not too hard, but I really tried to eradicate them - ellipses... and dashes - from the whole manuscript. I dusted off my copy of Grammar For People Who Really Ought To Know and attempted to remember how to use the comma the old-fashioned way.

I left the ellipses for those moments of distraction or, as if often the case in NEAR EDGWARE, when someone is lying. 
Generally, I found I wasn't guilty of ellipse abuse. But, I have to admit to being totally addicted to em-dashes! I don't use them for interruptions, or events as sudden and unpredictable as... oh, I don't know... perhaps your boyfriend turning into a beast - lol. I tended to use them to add details, or to indicate the complex changes of thought people are, almost, unaware of doing when speaking. My story is written in first person narrative, so I'm sure you can see where the problem arises.
What is your writerly vice? Something you know you really shouldn't do but somehow you still keep doing it anyway?