Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy walking, especially long walks. Getting outside in the fresh air for the day is a great way to unwind and a complete contrast to sitting in front of the computer all day (which I do for my ‘day’ job, as well as when I’m writing).
In August 2013, my husband and I walked the 109 mile Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire over ten days. It’s a fabulous route because the first half meanders over the deserted moors where you’re lucky to even find even a solitary tea shop but, in contrast, the second half is along the coast through bustling resorts like Whitby and Scarborough. This path is also great for beginners because the signposting is excellent – so you are unlikely to get lost (but a map is always advisable, just in case …).
I may like the fresh air but I’m definitely not a backpacker. We stayed in comfortable guest houses and small hotels and had our luggage transported. So we carried only day-sacks and our suitcases were waiting when we arrived at the next overnight stop. All we had to do was hop in the shower and wash away the weariness of the day before changing for our evening meal. And there was always a great cooked breakfast to look forward to the next morning …
Being a writer, I carried a notebook for the 10 days we were walking and I jotted down everything about our trip, from details of the English Heritage properties we found along the route to the tea shops providing good cakes and the display of knitting we found on Saltburn pier. It seemed a waste to keep all this information to myself – it’s all stuff we would have found useful when deciding if this was a holiday we would enjoy and would have helped us in the planning too.
So, I typed it all up into a coherent format, used one of the photos from our trip as the basis for the cover and published it on Kindle.
If you fancy returning from holiday with a clear head, feeling fit and strong (despite eating many cakes and cooked breakfasts!) then I recommend the Cleveland Way to you.
The Senior Travel Expert Writing Competition will open for entries on November 20th 2014. It’s free to enter and the prize is £100.
Don’t panic if you’ve been nowhere exotic. The theme is ‘City, Town or Village’ and the brief is:
“Submit up to 600 words, non-fiction or fiction, which will persuade the readers of this site to go and visit the city, town or village you have chosen.”
We’ve all been somewhere that we could write 600 words about – even if it’s only our home town. So pick up that pen and have a go!
Visit the Senior Travel Expert website for full details, which should be available once the competition opens for entries on Thursday 20th November 2014. At the moment you can just see a brief paragraph if you scroll down the page.
On Sunday, Andrew Marr was asking Scottish politician Alex Salmond what he would like on his epitaph.
Epitaphs were discussed again on the Today program yesterday and it got me thinking.
An epitaph is a couple of sentences epitomising the dead person i.e. summing up how they lived their life.
It struck me that writing an epitaph might be a good way to get to the heart of a character’s psyche.
I’m sure we’ve all come across those character-creation questionnaires which demand that you fill in everything about your protagonists such as date of birth, hair colour, favourite food, best subject at school and secret fear. I’ve tried doing this but find that I get distracted by stuff that isn’t relevant such as my heroine’s shoe size and what she carries in her handbag.
I feel that what I should be doing is getting to the heart of what my character wants from life, what is stopping him or her from getting it and how they are going to overcome this hurdle by their own efforts. It should be possible to do this in two or three short sentences to fit on a gravestone and then, from these few words, it should be possible to work out what else I need to know about the character’s background.
So I’ve had a quick go at doing this for the hero in my current WIP:
‘A devoted father removed from his son by divorce. He endured unemployment and poverty in order to fulfill his paternal drive.’
Alright, it probably needs polishing and editing before the stone mason gets out his chisel but it helps to focus my mind on what this character wants. Knowing this desire will help to shape his actions through the story and keep him on target to get what he wants.
What about you? Does the twenty (or one hundred) questions method suit your way of working or do you do something completely different to create believable characters?
For those of you who do like the questionnaires as a starting point, there’s a whole array of them here.
If you want a break from the keyboard and computer screen, dig out your fountain pen (or a biro would probably do) and have a go at this competition:
The Letters Page is asking for handwritten letters for their Protest Issue. The website requests:
Letters of complaint, letters of objection, letters of furious indignation; eyewitness reports from street protests around the world; recollections of recent and not-so-recent protests and sit-ins and camps and campaigns; reflections on the meaning or purpose of protests, and on the use of the letter as a political tool; letters to and from and between protesters and protest sites. These are the letters we’re looking forward to reading in our next issue. We’re looking for letters with a sense of urgency. We’re looking for some news from now.
Somehow, I think me complaining about all the waiting around on last week’s coach trip might not fit the bill. But if you’ve got something meatier to protest about, pick up your pen! Each letter used will earn the writer £100. But be quick, it’s postal submission only and entries must be received by October 29th 2014.
The Letters Page is a literary journal published by Nottingham University’s School of English.
Full details of the competition are here.
Have you ever been on a coach holiday? They’re great for people watching and character invention.
I was a coach holiday virgin until last weekend when I went on a two-day break to Cardiff and Bath. It was planned as a getaway for me, my sister and my mum so that we could spend some time together without the hassle of driving, flying or lots of organisation.
However, we didn’t anticipate the amount of time we would spend hanging about at service stations waiting for ‘feeder’ coaches to arrive. Four coaches had to meet part way to Cardiff on the outward journey and again part way home from Bath on the return journey. So there was a lot of waiting around.
But this gave us time to watch our fellow passengers and the drivers.
We discussed the man sitting across the coach aisle from us. He appeared to be travelling alone but then we saw him with a woman and then alone again. Had he been chatting her up? Is a coach holiday a good place to meet someone of the opposite sex? Yes, but only if you’re male – there were a lot more women than men travelling with us.
The drivers’ lifestyles came under our scrutiny. Cooked breakfasts and burgers seemed the popular choice at the table ‘Reserved for Coach Drivers Only’ in the service station cafe. None of the men seemed to know what route they’d be driving from one day to the next or what time they’d be getting home. And the final leg of our journey was driven with urgency because if the driver didn’t get home at a certain time he wouldn’t be allowed to drive the next day due to insufficient hours between the two trips.
There was a Murder Mystery dinner in the hotel. In tables of ten we worked out who’d killed the Earl. Group dynamics came into play and it was interesting to see who took charge, who just listened and who was keen to interrogate the actors. Then there was the table of riotous women on a birthday outing who made it difficult to hear the scene where the body was discovered.
Finally, my imagination went into overdrive in Cardiff Castle’s wartime shelter. Think of the drama, heartache, deaths (and possibly births) that must have happened as the sirens wailed in the 1940s.
I haven’t come back with any complete story ideas but I have got various characters buzzing around in my head. Perhaps eventually one of them will come to the fore and tell me their tale.
Do you have a favourite place for people watching? Or a favourite technique for dreaming up characters?