Welcome to the new book blog those of you who have made the strenuous journey from the main fiction press site!
Like I did withKeeping The PeaceI'm going to do a chapter-by-chapter wrap-up after each update (I know I'm five behind already but it will get better I promise). To those of you who are new to this idea, what it involves is me talking about the chapter just written, the challenges it presented, what I changed, what ideas occurred and generally what I'm feeling as I write this book.
I humbly invite you to participate in my ramblings, throwing concepts and misconceptions around about the book often sparks new ideas and plot twists so I encourage you to speak up. Alas, I must also ask that if you do decide to comment here that this mustn't stop you from reviewing the actual chapters. If it was up to me, I wouldn't care - as long as I hear from you I'm happy as Larry - but unfortunately it seems fiction press is, to quite a large extent, driven by review numbers. There are plenty of wonderful stories on the site which are sadly overlooked simply because readers see that they only have a small amount of reviews. I'm not saying that my stories are wonderful, mind you - although that is what I strive for, I am struggling with this latest book.
Do you know, I've written an entire paragraph talking about my book and I haven't even mentioned what it's called? To be honest, part of that is because I've already changed the title once and I'm not 100% happy with the title it currently holds. It was called CONDITIONAL LOVE before but then I changed it to THE AMATEUR'S GUIDE TO LOVE (quite a mouthful I know, so for that reason you are welcome to refer to it as TAGTL).
It is, in essence, it's own stand-alone book. You do not need to have read any of my other books to know what is going on since the main characters and crux of the story are completely fresh, however I would recommend reading KEEPING THE PEACE first, as the main characters from that feature as secondary characters in this one (and to be honest, I love Keeping The Peace and have heard that many others have loved it too so it's kinda like sharing the love). Ideally, I would also tell you to read AT LONG ODDS to start with as again, the MCs in that feature in cameos in Keeping The Peace. However, I'm still updating that on fiction press and it's not quite as intermeshed as KTP and TAGTL are.
Anyway, enough of the waffle. I'll crack on with the first chapter. I hope you'll enjoy the little insights that this blog will provide you with while you're reading the book!
***PLEASE REMEMBER THAT EACH BLOG UPDATE IS GOING TO REFER TO EVENTS HAPPENING IN THAT CHAPTER AND CAN ACT AS A SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THAT FAR. SO FOR EXAMPLE, DON'T GO READING THE BLOG FOR CHAPTER 2 UNTIL YOU'VE FINISHED READING THE REAL CHAPTER!***8/31/2011 #1
'Chapter One'. How can just two words look so daunting? I typed them onto the screen, a startling black against the white background.
I clicked Return a couple of times.
I went back and changed the font.
I went back and changed the font size.
I thought 'I know! I'll go out and have a cigarette! I'm sure the words will flow after that!' When I returned, my nicotine levels buzzed happily but unhealthily. I scrolled down and tabbed across to start the first sentence.
I wondered if there was anything good on TV tonight that I should be watching.
I considered why the hell I had writer's block before I'd even begun? And it dawned on me. I was putting pressure on myself to make everything amazing. The book had to be brilliant. The first line had to be brilliant. Everything had to be perfect and for that reason I still had a blank page in front of me an hour after I'd sat down to write. There is so much emphasis put on the first line of the book - Isak Dinesen is praised for the first line in Out of Africa 'I had a farm in Africa', Daphne de Maurier's Rebecca starts with 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again', and George Orwell's 1984 famously begins with 'It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen' and the list goes on.
Good for them.
That wasn't helping me any in this tactical game that seems necessary to entice my readers to read beyond the first sentence. And then it occurred to me. I knew what the line had to be all along. Thinking about the tactical play of writing, and writing about the tactical play of horseracing, and ultimately the tactical play of romance, I had my first line. It wasn't even a whole sentence!
There. I was away.
I set that first scene at Fontwell mainly because it's a racecourse that I've been to and knew a bit about how it 'rode'. I also watched a couple of you tube videos of Fontwell races (those of you who haven't read my blog on the writing of Keeping The Peace will soon come to understand that I spend much of my waking life on you tube - not actually starring, just watching). To my mind, I am often in danger of overwriting the horsey bits, especially when it comes to the actual race because I tend to live every moment of it, and since every moment is exciting for me and I believe in including all the exciting bits… well, I get a bit carried away.
This opening chapter actually came out shorter than I'd anticipated. Before I knew it Frankie and Rhys were rolling on the ground and Rhys was having a tantrum. Really, it's a scene rather than a chapter so for that reason, it would probably be best as a Prologue, but I'm going to leave that for now. I liked Frankie's parting shot which ends the chapter/prologue because I felt/hoped it would act as a 'there's lots more to follow' kind of hook. So despite spending ages over the first line and finishing a prologue rather than a chapter, I'm quite happy with it so far. There is lots more to follow but trying to put it all into some sort of order is the next big challenge.8/31/2011 #2
Now up until this point Frankie was meant to have a best friend called Nyasha who is an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, but since my research into asylum seeking in the UK ground to a premature halt, I decided Nyasha had to be deported from the story. As a consequence the first scene of Chapter Two, which initially was meant to be a conversation between Frankie and Nyasha discussing how Frankie was mad to take such risks being a jockey, blah-blah-blah, also had to go. I would have to find another way to explain why Frankie wanted to be a jockey so bad.
Instead, this chapter begins in the Golden Miller pub. I still wanted to show how dangerous a sport jump racing can be so I made Frankie examine her bruise in the Ladies. And who walked in? Emmie! I didn't expect to meet up with one ofKeeping The Peace's characters just yet so that was a welcome surprise. Then there's a bit of an overload of character introductions as Jack, Pippa and Billy enter (enter the scene that is, not the Ladies loos). I knew where I wanted the chapter to go but I honestly didn't know what the characters were going to talk about so when Jack started on the subject of Seth, it kind of killed two birds with one stone. It makes conversation and it also raises the question of what happened to Seth?
But with all these introductions and getting to know the characters and Emmie suddenly getting contractions I found myself running out of space and ideally I don't like ending a chapter halfway through a scene. But Jack and his usual bad language seemed a good cliff-hanger to end the chapter on. Plenty more to come though!8/31/2011 #3
There was a slight delay before starting the comic race to the hospital in this chapter because first of all, I wanted to know what I was talking about. After a two hour interview with a friend and her husband who have been regulars at Southmead Maternity Unit I had enough ammunition with which to do the chapter justice. All the little nuances like having to pay by the hour before checking in, missing the pink sign, the speed bumps, the kneeling in the footwell of the car - these are all ideas which have grown from that conversation. What I also learnt was that the starting gun for the race to have a baby isn't necessarily the mother's waters breaking. Some might say that I've been around long enough to know but thankfully I haven't had any reason to know. Being a mother isn't high on my agenda right now. And it's not because I hate kids. I don't. I just think I would be a terrible mother. The thought of a little human being totally dependant on me frankly scares the crap out of me.
So Emmie going into labour was the main pulse of the chapter. It was immense fun writing it - I sometimes had to rein myself in because my sense of ridiculous was threatening to overflow. My only concern, and it might be premature considering we're only three chapters in, is that already I'm concerned about Rhys' involvement (or lack of to be more accurate) and am thinking that in the next draft it might work better if I can somehow include him in the journey to the hospital. This is after all a romance story which involves two main characters and even though it's seen through the eyes of just one, I feel both need equal attention. But we'll see how things go in this draft.
What this chapter has achieved is we've learnt a couple new things about Frankie: one was why she wanted to be a jockey which was played out in her conversation with Pippa (originally to be done with her now defunct best friend Nyasha). Two, she's a Bonnie Tyler fan, as everybody should be. And now, I insist you click on you tube and listen to at least three Bonnie Tyler songs.8/31/2011 #4
I don't recall having this problem with Keeping The Peace where there seems to be endless characters to be introduced, especially since this is its sequel and therefore some characters aren't fully introduced anyway. But with Frankie's first day at work I needed to introduce some of her horses. I have the feeling Dory-slash-Blue Jean Baby might start to steal the limelight a bit when really she shouldn't. Ta' Qali is inspired in name by Ta' Qali Craft Village on the island of Malta which I visited in June and completely fell in love with the place. You might also recognise the mention of his full sister Sequella, who is one of the stars in At Long Odds. The fact that their names are similar-ish is complete coincidence.
This chapter took a lot of work to get right. To start with I knew I would have a mission trying to introduce the horses, show the readers a bit of the Aspen Valley magic, play out the gallop scene against Rhys and then have the moment where Rhys reveals he has a conscience (even if it is grudgingly so). And do all of this in one chapter. It was so daunting in fact that I couldn't face it for about a week after finishing the last chapter. But demons are there to be faced and Rhys was clammering to show Frankie up on the gallops so I knuckled down to the task.
I'm becoming a bit concerned with the character of Rhys. He's not very likeable as many of you have pointed out in your reviews. But the problem is he doesn't want to be liked! I thought I had demons but the word which keeps popping into my head when I try to figure this character out is 'haunted'. Not like in a nice Casper-the-friendly-ghost type of way nor in a Hi-I'm-Chucky-Wanna-Play kind of way (if you don't know who Chucky is, he is a possessed toy from the horror movie Child's Play which scared the bejeezers out of me). Rhys has issues and I think it's going to be a very interesting journey as we discover more about him. It took some convincing to make him give Frankie the rearing bit at the end of the chapter (which is why I think he was so grudging when he did it) but underneath I don't think he's bad.
The other thing left hanging at the end of the chapter apart from Rhys' conscience, is Ta' Qali's unusual behaviour. Is he some sort of schizophrenic horse with multiple personality disorder? We shall find out!8/31/2011 #5
I had a fair idea of what this chapter was going to involve but again for some reason it felt very difficult getting it started (I'm hoping - praying this feeling will disappear as the book gets going and people get more involved in discussions). I enjoyed introducing Vanessa and her slightly OTT personality but I was a tad disappointed in Doug. He is the one who means the world to Frankie, so he has to somehow justify that role and in this particular chapter he was a little too hard I feel but then it does show just how much he still grieves for his son. Maybe this was just a bad week for him and in future chapters we'll see a brighter side to him. I hope so otherwise we're going to have a real struggle on our hands!
I was glad when the Sunday lunch scene was finished because it achieved quite a few things: firstly we're introduced to Doug and Vanessa of course and learn a bit about their personalities, we learn a bit more about Seth, we learn that Frankie has to really watch what she eats - not only because it's her mother's cooking but also because that is the daily struggle most real jockeys must endure (which is wrong in my opinion. They are shortening their lifespans by staying underweight just to meet racing requirements. If racing would just put the weights up a bit then there wouldn't be such awful problems like anorexia and bulimia in a sport which requires participants to be so physically active).
Sorry, went a bit off track there with that little rant - we also learn that Frankie knows how to play poker and that in her spare time she helps out with a girl guides group. Now I don't know about you but when I was a teenager I thought I was way too cool to do that sort of thing (I wasn't in the least bit cool so it wouldn't have made any difference anyway), but now my best friend who is a nurse, does girl guide helping and the stories she tells me makes me green with envy sometimes. It sounds like they have so much fun! So I thought it would be nice to give this pastime to Frankie. It was a risk because some people might think she's really uncool now but believe me, Frankie's cool. She can play poker. And if you can play poker, you're cool (and if you're wondering if my mother taught me how to play poker, you can rest assured she didn't. That you can blame on my father, who thought it would be funny to teach his seven-year-old youngest daughter how to play. Twenty-three years on I'm still playing).
So by the end of that scene we walk out the door thinking pretty much the same thing as Frankie is, which is 'okay, what's up with the name Rhys Bradford that's making the folks act like cats on a hot tin roof?'. Mission accomplished! And surely chapter accomplished too since by the end of their poker hand my word count was up to 2,300 words, which in my opinion, is just the right size for a chapter.
But one thing still remained. I'm five chapters in and I haven't yet introduced Tom, Frankie's roommate, properly. Or Atticus Finch. And both of them are crucial to the story. That scene with all its elements came together just how I wanted. Tom is acting snappy and edgy. But the problem I know realise is that this is the first time you, the readers, have had the opportunity to get to know Tom's personality so you can't be sure whether he is acting out of character or not. So again, I might introduce more of Tom earlier on in the next draft.
At the end, Frankie hauls out the garbage. And I was just going to leave it there then my fingers just took over and wrote another scene involving Rhys walking his dog! I don't know where that came from but I do recall getting like this in Keeping The Peace where I had to have Jack in just about every chapter, even if it was just a conversation about him. Thankfully, what it has done has set the foundations up for something a bit later on.
In fact, that's what I think these five chapters have been: the laying of foundations. Now we've met most of the main characters, we can get on with really building the story. What do you reckon: a double-storey, a bungalow, a barn conversion or a palace?8/31/2011 #6
For once, a chapter relatively easy to write! Broken up into three parts, pre-race/sauna, race, post-race, it surprisingly finished at a modest 2,800 words. The first part, especially the sauna scene was inspired after interviewing a female jockey who very generously shared her racecourse experiences with me. What she told me left me rather shocked, and you'll know from my writing that I'm not the most straight-laced of people! When she told me about the uni-sex saunas, I knew I just had to include a scene about it. It had all the ingredients for an interesting encounter between Frankie and Rhys. And to be honest, Rhys surprised me here. I was expecting him to be more like Donnie, portraying a certain arrogance but as soon as Frankie took me through the doorway, Rhys went all shy. Even Frankie was a bit of a mystery here because her character is a bit all over the place. She's nervous, she doesn't know where to look, then she pulls herself together and manages to give Donnie as good as she gets… I think maybe that's what happens where you're a bit on edge and your senses are on extreme alert - everything goes a bit haywire. I think I would be if I was faced with six n*** jockeys anyway.
So, moving on. The race. Now, you know I love racing. The purpose of having a jockey as the main character in this book was so we could experience the racing from the driver's seat (or saddle). What I didn't foresee was how this limits how much I can break the race up. At least if you're watching from the sidelines, there's the race action but also conversation to break up the horsy action. I've discovered Frankie isn't the most talkative when she's riding a race. Don't get me wrong, I loved writing it but of course, I'm writing it for you and I'm thinking of you not-so-horsy readers in particular. When the race began I had no idea where Frankie was going to finish. All I knew was that she wouldn't win but she wouldn't fall either. So I just went with the flow, challenges like complacency, Donnie falling, Evan mugging third place from her - that was completely unplanned. In fact, Donnie - who hadn't even existed until I started writing this chapter - became quite a big part of this instalment (in more ways than one). With the race over with, I took my customary cigarette break, returned to edit the more superfluous detail out (I got a bit carried away at times) and there it was.
With two big chapters just gone, I didn't want to make this one huge so I knew I only had space for one more scene. I had my heart set on Frankie talking to Seth's photograph and recognising Rhys in the background but I also wanted to show that Rhys was less than pleased when Jack paid more attention to Frankie's fourth place than to his first. I pondered on this for a couple of days before deciding there was plenty of raceday material in this chapter already and it would be nice to end on a more relaxed note. So out went the race celebrations and I managed to work the little snippet of information into the photograph scene. I thought Frankie would end the chapter lying in the dark wondering if Seth knew Rhys so I was interested to find she was more focussed on Rhys' feelings regarding her having a photo of him on her bedside table, rather than focussing on her brother. This was a welcome surprise so I can't wait to see how her thoughts progress from here!9/4/2011 #7
Well, this chapter took about a week longer to get out than predicted. Blame two things: the start of university (very traumatic and tiring), and the fact that it comprises of 4,500 words. That's unfortunately way over my usual chapter length but since I wanted all three scenes which occur here to happen in one go, then I had no choice. More than likely, by the time I do the second draft, something will sort itself out.
Girl Guides! This scene was amusing to write. I wanted to poke a bit of fun at vampires and the girl guides provided me with the perfect opportunity. Getting the order of dialogue correct took a few cut-and-pasting edits before I was eventually satisfied. It had also taken me five hours of referring to research, writing as well as editing to finish that scene so I was more than ready for a break and a cigarette.
The next scene is Frankie and Tom at the Golden Miller. Since a couple of reviewers have mentioned they weren't sure of their relationship, I made sure no one would be left in any doubt after this scene. Come to think of it, their relationship status should probably be made clearer earlier but that's what second drafts are for! Tom reveals his dramatic news. He's looking for his birth parents! What sort of rollercoaster emotional journey is he going to go on? How will it affect Frankie? All that remains to be seen (I've just deleted a sentence because I'm in danger of revealing too much of what happens). All I can say is pay attention to Tom! Third and final scene - the poker game. Yes! Frankie gets the chance to show the lads what she's made of. She's such a tomboy, isn't she? But then every now and then she has these girly moments, which makes her more endearing (well, it does to me). And when I read through this chapter today, I noticed Rhys was smiling a lot more. Maybe he's finding Frankie quite endearing too.
When it came to writing this final scene, I knew my word count was under pressure and there was lots of bitty information which needed to be included like rules of poker, the cards in the game. All of that takes up space and that was space I really wanted to build a chemistry between Frankie and Rhys. Hopefully I achieved both. Now Rhys has tested Frankie on a couple of occasions and each time his respect for her seems to grow. In his own little way, first by helping her with Ta' Qali's rearing bit, and now by giving her the 'bonus bet', he's showing himself to be at least a fair competitor, even if he is socially stunted. But does he realise just what he's letting himself in for by giving her the better ride next time out? Stay tuned to find out!9/17/2011 #8
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