Use of Symbolism in “Slur”

Symbolism in literature is the use of symbols to represent ideas, which gives them added significance apart from their literal meanings. This can create depth as well as underlining the broader implications. It also helps the reader to gain an insight into the writer’s imagination.

As I have recently been editing my debut novel “Slur” and have returned to it after many years, I have been surprised by a lot of the content. In some cases I have been pleasantly surprised but in some cases I wasn’t so happy with what I had written and have therefore rewritten some sentences and passages. I’ve also removed a couple of scenes and added a couple of new ones.

Revisiting your work after a few years can definitely help you to put a new perspective on things. I was pleased to find that I had made good use of symbolism in the following passage:

The school environment is in many respects similar to other working environments in that, when a topic becomes the subject of gossip, it is discussed indefatigably for several weeks until people tire of its contents or are unable to embellish Firethe tale further.

However, should a new element of the tale be discovered, it will quickly re-ignite public interest in the story. Such was the case with the Julie Quinley scandal, and this latest revelation spread ferociously through the school with its libellous flames enveloping everyone in their pathway. It was only a matter of a few hours until Clare Quinley became engulfed in their fiery force and had to bear once more the consequences of the scandal to which she had become a central figure.

In the original wording, however, I had used ‘add fuel to the fire’, which I swiftly replaced with ‘re-ignite public interest in the story’ to avoid using such a cliché. By replacing the wording I have still managed to conjure up the image of a rumour spreading ‘like wildfire’ but I have avoided using a cliché whilst doing so.Conveyor Belt

Here’s another line from “Slur” that makes use of symbolism:

Julie felt as though she was on a factory conveyor belt; being forcefully transported through the various painful stages of her own destruction.

One of the things I love about creative writing is the chance to experiment with the many skills that I have learnt over the years. It’s what makes it fun I think. I always get a really good buzz if I feel that I have written a well-constructed passage. Alternatively, if I’m not particularly happy with something I’ve written, editing gives me the chance to change it and often an idea that eluded me during the first draft will suddenly present itself at the editing stage.

I would love to hear from other writers about what techniques they like to use or what elements of their writing they particularly enjoy.

How the Police Have Been Helping with My Inquiries

One of the things I still hadn’t done when I last worked on my debut novel ‘Slur’ was to check police procedure from 1986. Because I don’t like to halt the flow when I am writing I often highlight sections to be researched later so I knew I had a few areas of investigation that I had to revisit. As mentioned on this blog previously, I returned to my novel after several years, and I was amazed to find how things have changed from a research point of view. Oh the wonders of the Internet! It makes me wonder sometimes how we all coped before.

PolicemanIn order to look up some details on police procedure I approached a wonderful organisation called the Police History Society. Their website is at: http://www.policehistorysociety.co.uk/ and, as well as providing a wealth of information, the website has links to the websites of regional police forces.

My novel is set in 1986 so I required information that is specific to that era. I therefore sent an email to the contact email address on the website on the off chance that someone would be able to help me. To my amazement, not only did they take the trouble to reply, but one wonderful retired officer took time out from his visit to family in New Zealand to contact ex colleagues and search the web for the information I needed.Police hat

I am happy to say that I have now finished the research for my book. I have clarified the wording that the police would have used when they read somebody their rights on making an arrest back in 1986. It was important to me that I got it right because I want my book to be as accurate as possible. I’ve also clarified a few other points of law.

In terms of court procedure, I found the following link useful: http://www.cps.gov.uk/victims_witnesses/going_to_court/giving_evidence.html.

I thought I would share this information because I am sure that other UK authors writing in the crime genre will find it useful. Additionally, it would be interesting to hear from other authors how you approach research. Do you carry out all your research before you start writing, do it as you go along or leave it all till the end? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below. Incidentally, does anyone remember the old style police hats that UK police used to wear (per the above images)? It’s making me all nostalgic.

Writing Process Blog Tour

A big thank you to Georgia Rose for nominating me for the Writing Process Blog Tour in which readers can find out a little about my work and how I go about it. The Writing Process Blog Tour also gives you the opportunity to find out what other authors are working on and how their writing process works. You can view Georgia’s blog post here.

‘A Single Step’ is Georgia’s first romantic suspense novel, and is the first book in The Grayson Trilogy. It will be joined by ‘Before the Dawn’ this summer and finally by ‘Thicker than Water’. You can find out more about Georgia at http://www.georgiarosebooks.com/.

I have to answer four questions about what, why and how I write, then link to the blogger that tagged me, and tag two or three more authors in turn.
Here goes:-

1) What am I working on now?

Having published two non-fiction books, I am currently editing my first novel, which I originally started writing 15 years ago. I have also written the first 8000 words of my second novel although a lot of it is in outline form. The first book is a crime thriller set in 80s Manchester and the plot involves two main characters, Julie and Rita, who have been accused of a murder they didn’t commit. The second book is also a crime thriller set in Manchester but it follows the lives of a brother and sister as they grow into adulthood. It explores the effects of a harsh upbringing on the brother and sister and shows how that impacts on their lives in later years.

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I would have to say that a big difference lies in my characters. Where some crime thrillers focus mainly on events, I like to give equal emphasis to the characters. In fact, some readers may feel that I give more emphasis to the characters. I regard my novels as being about ordinary people who are faced with extraordinary circumstances, and I take a look at how my characters react to those circumstances.

In my debut novel two young women are accused of a murder they didn’t commit. The way in which they handle that situation differs immensely and this is due partly to their different upbringings and outlooks on life. The main character, Julie Quinley, is more vulnerable and therefore finds it difficult to come to terms with the accusations. This drives her almost to the point of breakdown but she has an inner strength that sees her through. Her friend, Rita, on the other hand, has had a tougher upbringing and, as a result, she has a more resilient personality. She is brash, flirtatious and feisty, and she doesn’t let anything stand in her way.

Because I like to represent my characters as real characters, this is reflected in their behaviour and the way in which they speak. Unfortunately this means there is a lot of bad language in the book but I feel that this is necessary to give an accurate portrayal. Otherwise the novel would lose some of its authenticity.

3) Why do I write what I do?

ImaginationI’m the product of an overactive imagination and I constantly have ideas floating around in my head. These will come to me at the most unexpected moments, for example, when I am out walking or in the middle of the night. I therefore keep a notepad by my bed. Sometimes I can wake up with whole scenes written inside my head and I will have to quickly jot them down before I forget them.

The reason why I choose the particular topics that I choose is because of my life’s experiences. I’ve seen a lot of life, both good and bad, and for me writing is a form of catharsis. My first book actually started off as a feel good book. I began writing it when the children were young and I would reminisce about the great nights out that I had in my 20s. This meant that the book had a real chic lit feel initially. Then I felt that it needed to have more substance and a bit of grit so I started thinking about what would happen if it all went wrong and something was to destroy that party lifestyle. This resulted in the addition of a new first chapter, which begins with the arrest of the main character. The second chapter then goes back to the events that led up to her arrest.What if

With my second book, I have again asked the question, ‘What if?’ What if I was to take all of the bad elements from people that I have come across throughout my life and combine them into one really bad character? (This character is in fact represented by the father in the book.) What if the outcome of a problematic childhood was to harbour future problems for the people involved? What if those problems were to have a devastating effect?

4) How does my writing process work?

As mentioned above, if an idea comes to me I have to jot it down, then I’ll type it up as soon as I get the time. That idea may be the concept for a whole novel or it might be a particular chapter or scene within a novel. If it’s a concept for a novel, I will instinctively know whether that idea is worth developing further. At the moment I have outline ideas for about 20 novels. The most frustrating thing for me is finding the time to develop those ideas into full-length novels in between undertaking client work. I always start with an outline and I like to think of that as a framework that I can then build onto. I try to build up that framework in sequence but if a scene for later in the book comes to me I will add that in and then return to an earlier part of the book. Once I edit the book I can ensure that it flows well from chapter to chapter.

With the first book I developed the outline as I developed the plot. So, I would start with a loose outline then eventually develop it into a chapter by chapter overview. This would help me to keep track of where I was up to if I had to spend a long time away from my novel because of other work commitments. I also worked out a timeline and had a character profile for each of the characters as well as a list of places featured in the novel.

I did a certain amount of research at the outset but once I’m in full flow I hate to disrupt my continuity so I did put off some of the research until the book was written. That means that now I’ve reached the editing stage I’m still having to do some fact checking regarding police procedure. Thankfully, the Internet has moved on considerably since I started writing the novel so that makes it much easier.

I am tagging three excellent authors:

Taylor Fulks

As well as being an award winning author, Taylor is a Registered Nurse First Assistant specialising in open heart surgery.

Her debut novel My Prison Without Bars is based on Taylor’s own true story and gives a harrowing account of her experiences as an abused child. It won 1st Place in the 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Awards, and was the 2013 Readers’ Favourite International Book Awards Gold Medal Winner. US readers can purchase the book here.

You can visit Taylor’s blog at Taylor Fulks, and can find out more about Taylor and her writing through her website: http://taylorfulks.com/.

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 Charlie Plunkett

Charlie is the author of a series of ‘true diary’ books that chart the milestone moments in her life. These include: The True Diary of a Bride-to-be, The True Diary of a Mum-to-be and The True Diary of Baby’s First Year. Her latest book 100 Little Words on Parenthood involved 100 fabulous writers and bloggers who share what parenthood means to them in exactly 100 words.

Charlie is currently working on a number of exciting writing projects and she will be sharing details of these in her forthcoming blog post. You can find details of all Charlie’s books and visit her blog at: Charlie Plunkett.

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Yasmin Selena Butt

Yasmin was born in London. She has previously worked as an English language trainer, a music writer for The Times and a marketing freelancer. She has also written over a thousand poems, exhibited her fiction and photography and performed her debut reading at Proud Galleries in Camden.

The title of her debut novel Gunshot Glitter was inspired by a song by Jeff Buckley which appeared on ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’. Gunshot Glitter is a crime thriller which was self-published to retain complete creative control. You can see more reviews of Gunshot Glitter at: Goodreads.

Yasmin’s blog is at: http://yasminselenabutt.wordpress.com.

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Charlie, Taylor and Yasmin’s blog posts about their writing process will follow in the coming weeks.

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Writing Using the Five Senses

As I have returned to fiction writing after a long break I have decided to brush up on some of the skills I learnt on my writing course many years ago. I have therefore recently been reading a book called ‘Teach Yourself Writing a Novel’ by Nigel Watts. Whilst reading chapter 9, ‘Setting the Scene’, part of this chapter reminded me of something I covered on my writing course. This relates to utilising all of the senses when describing a scene from a character’s viewpoint because this helps the reader to picture the scene i.e. don’t just describe a scene or character visually but also describe how it sounds, smells etc. Perhaps you could be describing a mangy room where the odour is so bad you can almost taste it, for example.

EarOn this blog I have previously described how when I was writing my first novel I became really engrossed and felt almost as though I was the protagonist and was experiencing everything that she was going through. Perhaps part of the reason for that was because I was utilising the five senses. With my second novel I haven’t felt that same attachment up to now and I know that I need to recapture that feeling before I return to it. Hence I am revisiting some of the techniques that I learnt previously.

Another example of utilising the five senses would be if the protagonist was to enter the scene of a burning building. By using the five senses you would not only describe the visual impact but also the sound of the flames, the feel of the heat, the smell of burning flesh or the choking effects of the smoke. Obviously it isn’t always necessary to use all five of the senses but by using a few of them you can add dimensions to your scene. Because this helps readers to imagine the scene, it fits in with that old writing adage of ‘don’t tell, show’.

I was pleased to find an example in my debut novel where I’d taken on board some of the advice I’d picked up in trying to set the scene. In this particular scene the protagonist has just been subjected to a vicious verbal attack in the canteen where she works, as she is one of the suspects in a murder inquiry.

Mouth

Julie’s first reaction was to flee from the room as quickly as possible, but Norma’s words kept echoing inside her head, and she told herself, “If I run, everyone will think I’m guilty.” She knew that she had to see it through. “I’m going to eat this bloody pie if it kills me,” she told herself. “I’ve got to try to act as normally as possible; I mustn’t let them get to me.”

Consuming the meal was a struggle. Julie had never before realised that eating could take such an infinite length of time. Her muscles were tense and she found it a tremendous effort to eat each mouthful. Her throat was so constricted that she felt as though she would choke each time she tried to consume the bland pie. Occasionally, she raised her head and glanced around the room just to let people see that she wasn’t about to bow her head in shame.

 NoseShe could sense eyes watching her, but each time she raised her head, they quickly diverted their gaze. This caused her to become even more self-conscious. She felt as though her every movement was being noted; the shaking of her hands, the way she struggled to swallow – her face becoming more flushed with each agonising gulp, the way she shuffled uncomfortably on her chair.

A piece of pie then became lodged in her throat and she lifted her drink so that she could attempt to swill it down. Unfortunately, the cup slipped from her shaking hand. She quickly grasped at it and managed to steady the cup on the table, but not before some of the contents had spilt onto her food.

As she replaced the cup, Julie heard somebody clear their throat and a couple of people coughed, as though indicating a break in the tension. She couldn’t face going to the canteen staff for a cloth to wipe up the mess, so Handshe searched her bag for a tissue. Julie only succeeded in clearing up part of the drink with her tissue, so she had to face eating the rest of her meal with her plate swamped by liquid.

She had managed to swallow the lump of Shepherd’s pie whilst her mind had been drawn to other things, and this had encouraged her to quickly devour a few more forkfuls. However, she was still only two thirds through the pie, and was beginning to struggle to swallow it once more. She knew that she mustn’t leave any on her plate, as this might suggest that she had rushed away, unable to face people any longer.

When Julie eventually reached the point where a marginally acceptable amount was left on her plate, she arranged her cutlery so that it concealed the biggest lumps of food. She then stood up and pulled back her chair as calmly as she could, in defiance of her rapidly beating heart and clammy hands. Julie then walked slowly and deliberately from the canteen with her head held high.

Eye

Please feel free to share your thoughts about using the five senses in your writing, by adding your comments below.

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My Return to Fiction Writing

Now that the main thrust of the promotion for my second book “Great Places for Kids’ Parties (UK)” is almost over, it’s time to turn my attention to my debut novel, which I hope to get back to soon. It needs a heavy edit, fact checking, a change to the ending and proofreading. The prospect is quite daunting as I haven’t touched the book for several years. In fact, I haven’t written any fiction for several years so I need to get myself into a totally different mind-set. In preparation I’ve been reading a useful textbook about novel writing in the hope of recapturing some of the skills and techniques that I learnt on my writing course.

The writing style for fiction is so different than for non-fiction but it’s also much more creative. With non-fiction I try to present the facts in an interesting, reader-friendly way, but with fiction I can do so much more. For example, I can:Meditation

 Develop the plot
 Build up suspense
 Create conflict
 Have fun with dialogue
 Become absorbed in my characters etc. etc.

With regard to the last point in particular, I’m looking forward to recapturing the buzz that I felt when I was writing my first novel. I can remember becoming so absorbed that my writing became like a form of meditation and I would escape to another domain. I almost became the main character as I entered her world and shared all the emotions that she was going through. I would also get a tremendous feeling of excitement as the plot developed.

I use the term ‘my first novel’ because I have already started my second novel with about 8000 words penned, although about 50% of it is in outline form. However, up to now I haven’t experienced the same buzz that I experienced with the first novel. I’m sure that this is partly because I have been so focused on the non-fiction work, which is why I’m anxious to return to the land of fiction.

 ReadingI am looking forward to using a lot of the techniques that I learnt on my writing course and will be re-reading my course notes as well as text books on fiction writing in order to refresh. I’m hoping that by brushing up my skills it will put me in the right frame of mind so that my creativity starts to flow again. At the same time, however, I won’t let adherence to the suggested methods stifle my creativity. I believe that the text has to flow naturally but it’s good to have the ideas in my subconscious as they will then come into play whilst I am writing (hopefully). If I come across any interesting techniques I will share them via the blog.

Of course there are the small matters of ongoing promotion for my two parenting books and client work to deal with but, apart from that, I intend to work flat out to get my novel ready for publication. I’ll be posting excerpts as I go along.