Sunday, 27 February 2011

Likeable heroes and heroines

Before she began Emma, Jane Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." I think she was wrong; certainly these days most readers like Emma. The heroine we don't like is Fanny Price, so outwardly meek while inwardly censorious about everyone else. It's the strength of a good book that we can have an opinion of the characters not necessarily the same as the author's.

I'm getting towards the end of the first draft of Unofficial Girl - 73,000 words out of an estimated 80,000 - and I've started wondering whether readers will like Nick Cavanagh, a spec op and one of the three main characters. He elbowed his way into a major role, ousting the disabled Marine who was to have been a key player in the story. Beth becomes romantically involved with him, believing he is there to protect her; in fact, he's hunting her replica. He's unscrupulous on occasion, an opportunist, ruthless and fairly selfish. But I like him. (I think the daughter does too, since she was disappointed when it turned out he is 5'10". She prefers taller men.)

I'm just writing the scene where the two Beths, the original and her identical copy, get together for the first time. Nick has tried and failed to get Beth One on her own and give her an edited version of events which will show him in a better light, and Beth Two is about to tell all.

Beth Two took the stool next to Beth and began to eat, apparently in no hurry to enlighten her. Her demeanour was relaxed and blithe, as if she might whistle were she not eating. Nick made himself a coffee while helplessly waiting for the truth to emerge like a rat from a toilet.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Afrika Reich - Guy Saville's book launch

Last night the daughter and I went to the launch party of Guy Saville's alternative history thriller, The Africa Reich, in Waterstones Piccadilly.

I've never been to a launch before, so didn't know quite what to expect. The first surprise was that there is a large and busy bar on the fifth floor of Waterstones, an ideal rendezvous spot for book-lovers. Guy's do was around a smaller bar at one end of the vast space, with sofas, wine and piles of The Afrika Reich, which noticeably dwindled by the end of the evening.

The bar was crowded. I met some internet friends and acquaintances - lovely to put a face to the personalities I know from writers' websites. Katherine Robb, Justine Windsor (who has just got herself an agent), Carlie Lee, Katherine Webb, author of the bestselling Legacy, and Fraser Grace, playwright. Guy gave a brief and apposite speech, then sat in a corner to sign copies of his book. You had to take a copy to the fourth floor to pay (there was a queue) and return for a signature (another, longer queue, as Guy wrote appropriate messages for each person, not just his name).

It's a beautifully-produced hardback, with a map in the front and Germanic dropped caps, and Guy is a terrific writer. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Trying to be a Time Lord

I'm 65,000 words into the current novel, which I think may be 80,000 words long when finished (it's difficult to judge) and I'm having a worse than usual battle with Time.

You'd think it wouldn't be hard for an author; after all, I'm in total control of the world I created - except when the characters get above themselves - and I'm telling the story in chronological order. I've printed out a calendar of the weeks I'm using, and have noted what happens on which day. Simple, huh?

Actually, no, and I think it's because of the structure of Unofficial Girl. At the start, Beth Chandler is duplicated in a flawed experiment, and alternating chapters tell the stories of Beth One and Beth Two, in third and first person narratives. This is harder to write than Remix, because just as I get on a roll, I have to switch to another character/group of characters. I also have to stop one Beth getting ahead in time when not much is happening to her, and there is lots of action in the life of the other.

I've tried novel writing software, but you have to learn how to use it to benefit, and I'm not convinced enough of its worth to expend the time. I can only admire and envy Gary Corby, who does spreadsheets to fine-tune his plotting. Darned if I could.

I'll just have to muddle on, grim and determined. I'll get there in the end. Watch this space.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

My very own Kindle

I wanted a Kindle - such a neat and clever device, but I'm not reading a great deal right now, since I'm finishing my fourth novel, and have no time. I don't do holidays, and thank goodness, I'm no longer hanging around for hours in the fracture clinic at the Royal London Hospital (what a godsend it would have been last year) so it was hard to justify the expense.

But Wednesday an unexpected parcel arrived; an early birthday present from my insanely generous sister, and there it was; my own Kindle 3G!

It's a nifty bit of design. I like the graphite colour, so classy, and its lightness in the hand; the instructions are right there on the machine, clearly written, and I can imagine I will quickly get used to reading on screen so the Kindle disappears. It's a one-trick pony, and the better for it; a dedicated e-reader.

I can now see for myself why people are so enthusiastic about their Kindles, and get so fond of them. I believe they will, sooner than we think, take over from paperbacks.