Monday, 21 May 2012

New website!

It feels like a very long time since my friend Isabel designed the very first  The site has been through a couple of incarnations since then, but when I started to think about a website for Pamela Hartshorne (of which more later), I thought it was time for a major revamp of the Jessica Hart site too. 

After a LOT of to-ing and fro-ing and hmmn-ing and ha-ing, the new version is at last up and running and I am very pleased with how professional it looks. 

This time, though, I get to update it myself, a very laborious process that involves me doggedly following step-by-step instructions and makes me even more appreciative of Nikki of 2DC who has been looking after the website for me until now.  (Thanks, Nikki!)

Take a look and let me know what you think:   

Meanwhile, I am off to walk the Dingle Way first thing on Wednesday.  Nearly two weeks without phones or computers and nothing to do all day except eat breakfast and walk to the next place to stay along what looks like a beautiful coastline – bliss!  So nothing from me until after the Jubilee holiday in June.  Happy reading and writing until then!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Capsule wardrobes (or not)

Back home after a quick whizz down the motorway to Wiltshire, where for once the sun was shining (every now and then, anyway) and the woods were hazy with bluebells. 

West Woods, near West Overton

Now at the half unpacked stage, which I hate.  I don’t know why I don’t just open my case and put everything away as soon as I get back, but instead I leave it, trip over the case at least six times a day and scrabble frantically around in search of that last clean pair of knickers for days afterwards, all the while getting crosser and crosser at the mess of it all. 

This time it’s even worse as it hardly seems worth unpacking when in less than a week I’ll be packing again, and will be going through the same hair-clutching agony about what to take.  No matter how many times I go away, I never seem to take the right clothes with me.  I’ve always longed to be one of those cool women who can jump on a plane with just a clutch bag, but I guess you need your own private jet, not to mention an unlimited luggage allowance, to get away with that. 

Still, a capsule wardrobe shouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility. A few key pieces, comfortable, uncrushable and yet effortlessly elegant, in colours that go together and, in my case at least, that don’t show all the stains from stuff you’ve dropped down your front.  Oh, and layered, so that you’ve always got something to put on if it’s cold or take off if you’re having a hot flush.  Now, how hard can that be?  And yet, getting just the right clothes to take every time remains ever elusive.  Life would be so much easier if only I had the kind of lean, rangy figure that meant I could just take a pair of jeans and a couple of T shirts (how cool would that be?) but sadly I’m more of a baggy top, elasticated-waist kind of gal, which combined with a preternaturally sensitive internal thermostat and a princess-and-the-pea approach to anything remotely scratchy makes the whole clothes issue a fraught one. 

Next week’s packing is doubly complicated, involving as it does one case for 10 days walking along the Dingle Way (list begins: whisky, waterproofs, ibuprofen, blister kit …) and another for the Jubilee weekend split between London (watching Thames flotilla from smart balcony in Chelsea Harbour) and Wiltshire (village ceilidh).  I don’t fancy my chances of getting all of that in a capsule wardrobe. 

Oh, well.  Less fretting about my packing and more working is required in the week I have left.  I read through the proofs of Time’s Echo in Wiltshire, so that was a good (and exciting!) job done. I had to keep pinching myself to realise that I’d actually written it myself. Now to get back to my Amazing Plotting Plan ... still a lot of scenes to go. I keep discovering more that need to be slotted in.  Originally I planned on  30, but it's looking more like 45 now and who knows how many more good ideas I'll have before I get to the end??

Friday, 11 May 2012

Me and my tulips

Look at my poor parrot tulips.  They made a valiant attempt at being spectacular, and one bright morning I even found them holding their heads high, and they looked absolutely wonderful. I so wish I’d taken a photo then, but of course I never got round to it, and now they are beaten down by the rain and really look as if they have had enough.

Hands up who knows that feeling.  I know I do.  You do your very, very best and sometimes you even  get to feel as wonderful as tulips on a sunny morning.  But at others life can seem as relentless as the rain this May, and it all seems a bit too hard. 

I don’t know why I’m waxing maudlin today.  It’s not even as if I’m writing at the moment (am persevering with my Amazing Plotting Plan notes, though), my desk is super tidy, and I have a lovely holiday to look forward to.  I think I’m suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder – me and just about everybody else in the country, it seems.

Rain or no rain, this year feels like a plod, and as I’m an instant gratification person motivated by immediate results, I’m not good at the long haul.  (Hhmmnn, I wonder if this could explain my relationship history??)  I need to give myself some immediate deadlines to get the adrenalin racing again, I fear. I appear to operate in two modes only: fritter or frenzy. I am firmly in fritter mode at the moment and it doesn’t feel good, however much I might congratulate myself on my plotting notes. 

But I’m going away for the weekend, and they’re even talking about the sun reappearing for a while, so I’m bound to cheer up.  After I get home, I’ll have just under a week to finish the APP before heading to Ireland, and I have no doubt that come June, when time will be ticking away on my second timeslip deadline, I’ll be back in frenzy mode.  You can confidently expect a blog complaining about that come the summer!

Have a great weekend everyone, wherever you are, and whatever the weather.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Staples and my inner secretary

Rather to my own surprise, my Amazing Scene Plotting Plan appears to be working.  Although I don’t really have much of a sense of how I’m going to write each scene yet, making myself stop and consider exactly what the characters are wearing or how they feel has been much more useful than I imagined.  True I have to keep going back and rewriting my list of scenes drawn up from the outline, but I’m telling myself that’s the point.  I’m sketching out the details of one scene and an idea for the next pops up.  Already I am a long way from my original plan.

I have made so much progress that I have a rapidly growing pile of pages of completed notes for each scene.  Clearly, this meant I needed a special ring binder to put them in, and a trip to Staples was justified – hurrah! 

In fact, today’s haul was relatively restrained: as well as that file for the scene notes, I came out with a goose-shit green coloured ring binder (for mythical research notes, I thought), two packs of pens, colour-coded punch pockets (not sure what I can possibly code, but still), padded envelopes for posting out books (no book out until November, but they won’t go off), two ink cartridges (on special offer, rude not to) and a pack of different coloured plastic document envelopes which I am sure will be terrifically useful, and the fact that I already have one for my passport is neither here nor there.

I love stationery stores.  Invariably I go in needing one thing, and emerge laden with inessentials like this.  Stripy paper clips.  Fluorescent files.  Multi-coloured file pockets.  Dinky clear plastic boxes.  Bulk supplies of sticky tape. Funky metal in-trays.  Fat marker pens.  Highlighters!  I even found myself contemplating a Dora the Explorer lunch box today.

When I’m in Staples, my inner secretary blossoms and I imagine a perfectly organised office, where everything is carefully labelled and colour-coded.  I get quite sulky when I realise that I really have no use for a staple gun or one of those machines that makes labels, and therefore cannot justify either as an expense against tax.  I was actually a very efficient secretary and I sometimes wonder if I should have carried on as an administrator.  Ironically, at home my office is a tip.  Every time I come to the end of a project, I vow to reorganise my study, but somehow the task is too daunting and I never get beyond clearing my desk, feat enough in itself. 

For now I am ignoring the mess around me and will spend a happy few minutes punching holes in my scene notes and ordering them in their smart new file.  A top time-wasting exercise, but it feels like work.  Of course, the time will come when the file is full, and then what will I do?  Oh, yes, then I’ll have to start writing …

Friday, 4 May 2012

Scene notes: My amazing new plan

I’ve spent the week clearing my decks, and once the last few jobs are done today, I will be able to devote myself – not before time – to the next time slip. 

So far I’ve done a 25k SFD of the story in the past and 10k for the present, neither of them finished.  This is not great progress, especially given I’m going away (again!) in a couple of weeks.  Two weeks isn’t long enough to  build up any momentum and in any case I’m not really ready to write anything other than a Shitty Second Draft, which I don’t think will gain me much.

But I have a plan!  I have a sense of scenes in the book, and for each I’m going to fill out a form like this one (which I've now realised you can't see very well).  Whenever I’m writing a story set in the past I find myself having to stop and scratch my head and think: What would they have had for breakfast?  Would there have been pews in the church at that time?  When did Drake sail around the world?  What remedies would they have used for cramps?  Would the death of a vagrant have been investigated, and if so, how? How exactly did Margaret Clitherow die? Were there horse chestnut trees in the 16th century? And so on.

I might have a PhD but I know none of this stuff - I can’t have my characters disposing of their rubbish for the entire book, sadly - so I have to stop and look it up.  It’s the same for the present.  No sooner do you start writing than you realise how much you just don’t know. 

My amazing new plan is to do all the important research in advance.  (I realise that this isn’t in fact new for anyone else, and that a detailed storyboard is probably par for the course for any serious writer, but it’s new for me, OK?) I’m going to write careful notes for each scene, being clear about what the point of the scene is, and what changes as a result of it.  Then if I also know exactly what the characters are feeling/doing/wearing/talking about, when I come to write it, the words will come easily, right? (Right?)

If you can't read the image, my boxes have the following prompts: 
* Location
* Season/time (so I don't have to stop and wonder what the light is like etc)
Who else is in the scene?
* What are they doing?  
* What are they wearing? 
* Point of scene/Change (vital: every scene has to change something, and it's easy to get carried away writing a lovely scene where your characters just continue being themselves and nothing really happens)
* How does she feel at beginning of scene?
* How does she feel at the end? (change again)
* Research (exactly what I need to find out about)
* Other notes (because I'm bound to have forgotten something important)

I have a vision of a page for every scene, beautifully written out and filed in a ring binder, perhaps with little pictures attached to remind me how to fasten a sleeve to a bodice perhaps.  And of course, when I have the two stories plotted out, I can check that the pacing is right, and that I have hit all the right points on the story arc.  Oh, it will be a thing of beauty!  A plotter’s paradise!  Why have I waited so long to realise the joy of proper plotting?

The truth is I’ve always been more of a “pantser” than a plotter, and I suspect I will quickly run out of steam when I realise I don’t know what happens in a scene, but I’m going to have a go.  I don’t feel like writing at the moment, and this seems like a good way to use these two weeks to focus my research where I really need it, as opposed to getting carried away down fascinating but irrelevant paths.  Or that’s the theory, anyway.