Monday, 26 March 2012

What Is It About Highwaymen?

Why do we have a thing about highwaymen? Because we do, don't we? (And I bet you're now singing the Adam Ant song, Stand and Deliver!) The protagonist in the novel I'm currently writing is a part-time highwayman, and somehow this gives him a sort of glamour, an air of mystery, even a smidgen of romance. But, really, they weren't all that great. Nevermind 'Gentlemen of the Road', they were just thieves; and violent and aggressive ones to boot. This video, recently posted by Marie-Louise Jensen on Facebook, really made me laugh.

But the reason I decided to have a highwayman in my story was because I read about Claude du Vall. With my love of the restoration period, he had to be my highwayman of choice. He was dashing and fashionable, everything you need in such a man, and, allegedly, never resorted to violence. But what really made me warm to him was the fact that he agreed not to take everything from one of his victims if the man's wife agreed to dance with him. Here he is at that very moment. (You wonder why they didn't just shoot him while he was dancing?)

So, back to my original question - why do we love highwaymen so much? I can't think it was any fun being held up at gunpoint and being forced to hand over your valuables. And I bet most of them were not dashing and handsome and glamorous. Maybe the myth has built over time. Or maybe the women of the time revered them too. Claude du Vall was eventually arrested in a pub in Covent Garden, was tried for six robberies and hanged. I leave you with his memorial inscription, which perhaps says it all.

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc has he made of both; for all
Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall
The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.
Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,
Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

Oh, and if anyone fancies seeing him, he haunts the Holt Hotel on the Oxford Road.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

In Praise of Middle Grade Fiction

Reading Nicky Schmidt's splendid post about YA fiction made me think about my own preferred reading matter: Middle Grade Fiction - yes it deserves those capital letters! I love MG, I really do, but I've never before considered why that is. And I think it's freedom. MG is often full of adventure and excitement, taking you into realms you'd never otherwise enter, although you may have tried to create them when you were little. My sister and I used to pretend to be eskimos in the cupboardy room on the landing. It was the room that led up to the loft and was dark and tiny with sloping ceilings. Perfect. To us, the world we created was utterly real. Many a happy hour was spent in cramped, semi-darkness. And reading or writing MG novels gives me the same sense of place and time. My absolutely very favourite book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, still fills my mind with the images its words created. A new, different place. Something so far apart from my/the ordinary world. Somewhere to escape to. Somewhere that filled me with wonder. Somewhere that was mine and mine alone. To me, that's freedom, and is what makes MG so special. Yes, there are emotions, high and lows, in MG, but none of the YA angst. The MG books I love to read, and try to write, still retain their sense of innocence and playfulness. Even the excellent Mortlock by Jon Mayhew, with its innards and scary aunts, is so much fun and has a big dose of humour alongside the yuck bits.

And you still manage to get Ben Barnes!

Don't get me wrong. I love YA too. I've banged on enough about Anna Dressed in Blood lately! YA plays an important role for both adults and teenagers (my daughter would never call herself a young adult!), as Nicky says in her blog post. I've tried writing YA but it always comes out just a bit too young.

So, while I don't agree with "write what you know", I most certainly think you should "write what you love". And I love Middle Grade Fiction!

Friday, 2 March 2012

How To Start A Novel

Starting a novel is not for the faint hearted. I mean you don't just open a notebook or a new word document and just write. Of course you don't. It's far more complicated than that. There are steps to take, and in the right order too.

  1. Buy a new notebook. Preferably Moleskine, and if you can get a limited edition one, then all the better. In case anyone is interested, the Lego editions will be out soon. And, yes, I have pre-ordered mine.
  2. Once you have said pristine notebook and have shown everyone it's beauty, then you must make notes. And cut out pictures and stick them in. I find Ben Barnes comes in quite handy at this stage. And you can find nice fonts for the title of the novel and you must print that out and stick it in. And then show everyone all that too. Trust me, they will be impressed.
  3. Plan the novel. This starts off as a wild collection of words that loosely resemble a story but you scrawl them in your notebook and it all starts to get exciting and  oh my goodness you really might HAVE something here!
  4. But you don't write it yet. Oh, no. Too early.
  5. So you think that you really can't crack on unless you have a dedicated software package. Scrivener is a good one. And you get a jolly long trial period too. And a long video on how to use it, which you will not watch all the way through or understand. So you ask a lovely friend who knows, like Liz de Jager.
  6. Then you really get going. Did you know Scrivener has templates for character sketches and setting sketches? Well it would be rude not to fill them out. And then you open other folders for research and notes and more character stuff and, oh I don't know, journal entries. And this is nearly it. You are so very nearly writing the new novel.
  7. So, in Scrivener, you open the manuscript template only you don't like the look of it and you don't like the font and it seems a bit weird typing on something that isn't a word document. So you don’t start writing yet because there's formatting and stuff to do.
  8. Now you panic. Only a bit though. I mean are you ready to begin? Have you done enough? Do you know the plot? Do you know your characters? Do you have The Voice?
  9. So you tell everyone on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ that you’re starting a novel, that you are #amwriting and they're all impressed and they cheer you on and it's great and lovely haven't actually written a word.
  10. So there's only one thing left to do. JUST WRITE!