Tag Archives: Characters

No more limits…

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Today I spent four hours in Waterstone’s in Nottingham sitting behind–and occasionally meandering around–a table piled with copies of both of my published books, Truths and Ghosts of Winter. My first solo book signing. Or my first solo sitting-on-my-own-in-a-bookstore-hoping-I-at-least-sell-one-copy.

Truths

I set my target low. One copy. And I beat that target, several times over. No, I didn’t sell lots of books, and many of those I did were to people I already know. But I certainly sold more than would have ever been picked up from the shelves of Waterstone’s on an average Saturday. I also got to hang out with some great people, who came to keep me company, who I most likely wouldn’t know if I wasn’t a writer, including my fellow Bold Strokes author Lisa Girolami. And I got to sit and look at my books. MY books. All published and shiny in their beautiful covers, with my name on the front.

To begin with, it was intimidating. To be all on my own, with my books, in a store full of wonderful books of all kinds, and lots of literature-hungry customers. I couldn’t quite get past the idea that I was a fraud and that anyone who bought my books would be disappointed and wish they’d bought one of the thousands of other books in the store. I’ve always been in awe of Waterstone’s, of the brilliant volumes on the shelves and their myriad of compelling covers. So it was hard to make myself “part” of it. I felt like an intruder.

Ghosts of Winter

But then something happened. I wandered around and picked up some of those books. I revisited favourites, let titles catch my eye, examined the covers. I read the blurbs. So many intriguing stories. And my overall impression was one of a world without limits. Fiction really can go wherever it wants to. Within five minutes I’d found a book about the second coming of Christ in modern day New York, a depiction of a medieval queen, a Regency romance, and a book of vampire erotica. And that was such a small sample of what surrounded me.

Of course, I’m hardly saying anything new. Part of the point of fiction is that it is unlimited. The writer sets the rules of their own world and everything takes second place to the story. Those rules bend however a writer wants them to. However, writers can be limited. I was. My first novel, provisionally titled Butterfly will never be published. It’s not badly written and I very much like some of my characters.  But I wrote it with limits. I considered that my friends and family would read it. I considered that I didn’t really understand people that well and thus in dealing with the psychological mind-set of my characters, and didn’t want to present unrealistic thought patterns or motivations. I indulged in characterisation and description, but I never let my mind soar free. The result is something rather mundane and constrained.

The limits have relaxed a little. Becoming aware of my sexuality and finally grasping hold of my individuality led to Truths, written very quickly, in a time when I no longer worried what my relatives would think. Ghosts of Winter is unusual in some ways, but I was still frightened what people would think, so I made sure to stay “safe” with my second novel. There are really no controversial characters or ideas, nothing complicated to understand. Emotionally, it was a challenge to write, but it also fit nicely into the limits of what I thought I could achieve. There is nothing outspoken. Maybe nothing outstanding. That’s not a derogatory comment, but an acknowledgement of the fact that my novels are unlikely to provoke much comment or thought. I even worried a lot about the idea of including a short romance between gay men in a novel with a lesbian target market.

If I’m honest, I was scared to go further. Talk about religion, for better or worse? Include a character who does not have their wicked side in check, but is still appealing? Challenge expectations–of both the heterosexist world and the lesbian community? Many brilliant novels do none of these things. But the reason mine don’t, I realise, is that I didn’t feel capable. Who am I to delve into the mind of a villain? Who am I to present a confident, experienced, witty protagonist? Who am I to use psychological, philsophical or theological ideas as part of my plot?

Today I realised that I can do all of those things, and more, because I’m a writer. I DO have a talent for it. I can create worlds with my words. And in those worlds, I make the rules. I am the powerful one. The only limits are the ones I choose to impose. Any bookstore is a repository of worlds created by other writers. I’m as good as them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. But I’m a writer just like any other. When I pick up one of their books and admire their bravery, at tackling a difficult or in-depth topic as part of their plot, or for taking on a twisty, complicated structure, I don’t need to be intimidated. I need to remember I’m a writer too, and I have no more limits than any of them. I can be intelligent, witty, wicked and fun…thoughtful, controversial, romantic, far-reaching. I can soar on the wings of imagination.

So, on with the writing. But I’m going to indulge that teenage rebellion I never allowed myself before. I’m going to open all the doors of my mind and see what’s lurking. I’m going to embrace my curiosity and the paths my intellect leads me down. I’ll even look in the dark places, the questioning places, and the fun places.

And I will trust my readers to come with me into that world. I’ll seduce and charm them with words until my rules are the ones that form the boundaries.

I finally believe that I can do it. I was perfectly legitimately placed in that bookstore today. Writing is the gift I was given and I am a writer.  That means I’m unlimited.

And, maybe, life will imitate art. 😀

By the way, I’m very much looking forward to the Bold Strokes Books 2nd Annual Author Event on 23rd and 24th of THIS MONTH!

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Clarity

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The name Pandora translates as “all giving”. In Greek mythology she was the first woman. The one with the box. When she opened it, all the evil escaped and swirled around, spreading out into all the world. All that was left in Pandora’s box, was hope. My last blog post, it strikes me, was called “Confusion and Hope”. Interesting.

I’ve felt a lot like Pandora. Without wishing to sound at all martyr-like, I’ve given a lot of myself, tried very hard to please…been as worried about disappointing people as Pandora was of disappointing Zeus when she disobeyed him and opened the box. And I’ve blamed myself for opening that box, letting lots of bad things swirl around me and confuse me, letting them hurt other people.

"Pandora" by Rossetti

But, in the last days, that murk is clearing. I can see what’s left in the box. It’s hope. It’s bright and it’s strong. It’s a butterfly, with glowing wings, waiting to fly into the blue skies.

I always knew it was there. Hope never vanished. Only now, it seems tangible. It seems strong. I can see it clearly. It’s more than hope. It’s a belief in my future.

Suddenly, I find I have clarity. It’s an interesting experience. To see myself for what I am, and to realise I have to define myself. Not in opposition to anything or in relation to anyone. Just as me. Just for me.

Who am I? Now there’s a question. I’ve started to tell people I’m a writer again. Just yesterday someone told me that my novel, Ghosts of Winter touched their heart very deeply. Those were my words, my characters. I’m proud to be a writer. I feel part of my writing ambition remains unfulfilled. In my next novel, I will do something about that. When I work out how to write it…

 

I’m gay. I struggle a little more telling people that than I do telling them I’m a writer. I’m still trying to work out why. The word “lesbian” makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know why that is either. Sometimes women in general make me uncomfortable, especially en masse. It’s strange. But it’s part of me.

 

 

I’m exploring my spirituality. I’m doing so within the “family” of a Church of England church. Such established, orthodox, paternalist, heterosexist religion is in direct contradiction to much of what I believe in. And yet, I’m asking questions. Why is it okay for someone to interrogate their spiritual beliefs and come to a faith in Mother Earth or Budda without condemnation? Some religions seem to be trendy. Why am I frightened of the Christian church? Surely all it is–like every religion and belief system–is another way of exploring the idea that there is something more than our fleeting existence. I’ve met with more acceptance in that church than I have within my own family. It was easier to come out to the vicar than it was my own mother. I’m not sure what I believe. But I find I can explore it now…without fear and with confidence in my conclusions…

Window at St. Margaret's Church, Aspley, Nottingham

I finally feel like an adult. Everyone I know has assumed their proper age in my mind, and no longer do I feel inferior to, and more naive than, everyone I meet. I have something worthwhile to contribute. I sometimes know more than other people…

And I have dreams again. I know they’re dreams and, as such, might not come true. But they are exciting, something to aim for. They are part of how I will relate to the world in the coming months. Having the clarity of mind to know my dreams is more wonderful than I could ever expect it to be.

In clarity, you see, there is no certainty. My dreams may deviate, or never come true at all. My mind is full of questions, about myself and the world. But that’s the point of clarity. When the view is clear, you can see all the way to the horizon. You can see all that lies before you and look at it carefully, in all of its vivid colours. You see the beauty and the mystery. Sometimes you see the problems too. But the point is, you see them clearly. And that means you can meet them head on.

My favourite quotation: “If you have built castles in the sky, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”  (Henry David Thoreau)

I can see my castle now. I can see the foundations I’ve been building under it for the last year. They’re strong. Now I can start to fill the rooms, paint the walls…and look out from the tower and see the view. The skies are clear.

 

I’m about to start work on my next novel, though it’s a secret for now. I’m not writing a proposal, that doesn’t work for me. I’m taking a risk. How does Victorian Gothic sound? Ghosts of Winter is doing well. And next month is the BSB event at Waterstones. All good stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

Rules for writing

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On April 14th 2010 my first novel, Truths, will be released by Bold Strokes Books. Aside from being possibly the single most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me, this has also prompted some redefining of myself. From being someone simply struggling through life with a few ambitions, I am now a WRITER. No, I’m not used to being able to describe myself that way yet, but it certainly sounds very nice.

What I’ve found quite disconcerting is that I seem to have become, overnight, an authority on writing and the publication process. Suddenly people are telling me that they’re writing books – or have always wanted to – and waiting for my words of wisdom. But are there rules for how to reach that sought after goal of being a published writer? Did I just get lucky?

At the weekend, I found this quotation:

‘There are just three rules for writing but nobody knows what they are.’  Somerset Maugham

To me, Somerset Maugham sums it up perfectly. Everyone can tell you three rules for writing. My own?

1. Believe in what you are writing. Most of the editing I had to do of my first novel was a result of being too timid while I was writing it. Have faith in your own abilities and you will be a better writer. Don’t let other people put you off.

2. Write what you know. I don’t mean that writers should limit their works to stories derived from their life experience, but that if you are venturing beyond things you have some personal knowledge of, then research is key. It will not only make the book more convincing, it will also give you confidence as a writer.

3. Love your characters. They will be your constant companions for a considerable period of time. You have to know things about them that you never mention in your book. My characters guide my plot with their personalities and I always feel sad when I have to say goodbye to them.

So, those are my three rules. But over and above anything any writer might tell you, remember what Somerset Maugham said. Nobody knows the rules for good writing and don’t let anyone, even a bestselling author if you should encounter one, tell you what they are. Writing is a creative process. Make your own rules.

My novel

www.rebeccasbuck.com