Wednesday, 20 February 2019

READER QUESTIONS: What is Plot?

Hello and happy Wednesday, Dear Readers! I hope your week is going well so far - or at the very least, that it can't get worse from here (ah, pessimist humour, you are so grim).

Today I'm bringing you a post sparked by the loveliest message from reader Hana, who emailed me via my website (and also a little bit inspired by a conversation about plotting on Twitter that got my brain working). But before we get to that, it's time to announce the winner of last week's giveaway! This is actually happening a bit sooner than I expected, because I set the giveaway for two weeks to give people plenty of time to enter. Apparently Rafflecopter had other ideas. And when I checked the entries today I found that the giveaway was closed, but they didn't email me to let me know so... I dunno. I'm as confused as you, Dear Readers, but let's not dwell on the past.

Onward to the winner, who is...

*Drumroll Please*



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RACHEL J ROWLANDS!

Congratulations, Rachel! I'll be emailing you a little later today to ask for your shipping address so that I can get this prize package out in the post to you. I hope you enjoy all the books, and that you remember that ancient and wise proverb: If you love a book and leave a review, the writer will have good luck and so will you. 

I mean, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but I'm preeeeetty sure Plato said that, so you really ought to pay attention. To Plato. Ahem.

Now for today's Reader Question! The lovely Hana asks:
I just wondered: how you plan out... a story - how does an author like you, of whom I look up to, draft things out? I have book ideas and I like writing in my spare time, and I'd love to understand your technique! I myself am stuck with thinking mostly of the cool, climactic scenes in my stories, but struggle to piece it all together and make it clever without getting too overwhelmed. If you could get back to me - any quick tips would do - I would be super grateful.
Lovely Hana, I have GOT THIS. Listen, some authors just *get* plot, you know? They don't ever have to define it, or plan it, or stress about it, because it is IN THEIR BONES. They're natural storytellers, and it flows for them totally organically. These are the writers who weave the most awesome tapestry of plot threads together and for whom plot twists and narrative balance are like breathing.

I kind of hate those authors?

Most of the writers I know struggle with plot - and me most of all. What you say here about having ideas for cool and climactic scenes but no real idea how to turn that into a story? This makes me feel so seen. Honestly, this is what most writers spend most of their time discussing, worrying over and asking each other for advice about. And that's good news for you! Because it means we have come up with practical answers to these questions which are actually useful!

So here's my run-down of resources that should hopefully help you to understand and construct plots. First up, this three part series that I created a while ago that guides you through the whole process from 'Oooh, I have a cool idea!' to 'Oooh, I have a fully coherent story!'

TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS: Part One, Part Two and Part Three

You can click on the diagrams to make them large enough to read all the small writing, btw. Now, this is a method which has reliably worked for me, and I know that it's good for others too because writer-friends of mine have actually used this to teach creative writing courses. BUT! Every writer's mind works differently, and you might be looking for something that goes into a bit more detail about the ways that plot, character, theme etc. interact.

And so next, here's Rachael Stephen's video about her favourite plotting method, the Plot Embryo.



I've used this for my last two books - after coming up with a basic story plan using my own Plot Diamond - as a sort of narrative MOT, to make sure that all the elements of the story are actually working together as they should be.

I also highly recommend John Yorke's book Into The Woods, which is another very different but compelling and useful examination of how plots work and why. The first time that I read it, it honestly blew my mind a little bit, and I think a lot of writers have that reaction, so brace yourself!

If you're looking for something slightly less novel-crafty and more thinky, here's a post I did a little while ago (which includes another video from Rachael Stephen) about the importance of figuring out your thesis, or the 'truth' of your story, and how you can use essay planning methods to ensure you demonstrate this throughout the developing narrative. The triangle structure is maybe more useful for short fiction, but the idea that you should work out your story's thesis first and use that as a 'North Star' to guide you in working out what your novel/essay/short story is truly about, and therefore what stuff should be in it, is universally useful in my opinion. I did another essay about this on the Royal Literary Fund Website, which you can check out if you'd like some more depth.

And finally, there's a wealth of other writing advice here on my All About Writing page, which covers everything from rooting cliches out of your work to how to create a character, so check that out too, Hana. I hope this is useful and gets your story-writing muscles quivering with anticipation to get to work!


Sunday, 10 February 2019

UPDATES & A GIVEAWAY

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday to all, and apologies for the long wait since the last time I blogged. This Christmas and New Year period has *kicked my ass*. Repeatedly, in fact, and for a list of reasons as long as my arm.

There are some massive changes coming in my life. Some of them are positive and exciting. Some of them are stressful and not-so-nice. I can't talk about most of them yet, mainly because final decisions (either mine or other people's) haven't been made. I'm aware this is infuriatingly cryptic by the way - but I'm afraid it's the best I can do just now - and I will give details about stuff that I think Dear Readers will be interested in as soon as I can.

There are some updates I can make, though, and I will do so below.

The main reason for the lack of blogging: my mother. She's been very ill over the last few months. At one point she was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night in an ambulance, then transferred to a hospital sixty miles away for emergency surgery - only to have that surgery cancelled at the last minute. She came home on a promise that the surgery would be rescheduled within three weeks, but that didn't happen. As a result she's been suffering a lot of pain and hasn't been able to move about much. Her operation is now on again, and by the time you're reading this I hope she will be comfortably settled into her bed and waiting to go down to the theatre. So please send kind, hopeful and healing thoughts in our direction today, if you can spare them.

Now onto something happier. Not only have I finally upated the blog with a page dedicated to my newest book (check it out for a Q&A about the book and some interesting links) but early copies of The Hand, the Eye & The Heart are here! And they are beeeeeeooootiful:

 




The colours! The internal illustrations! THE TURQUOISE FOIL! *Swoons*

I was lucky enough (well, begged loudly enough) to get two despite the limited numbers. One has winged its way off to a lucky competition winner, as promised. The other stays with me for always (my preeccccciousssss). If you're a blogger, vlogger or other bookish person and you would like one of these early copies to review, you'll need to get in touch with Walker Books as soon as possible - @WalkerBookYA on Twitter is a good bet. If and when any further copies fall into my possession, I will of course do a giveaway.

However, just because The Hand, the Eye & the Heart is as rare as hen's teeth just now that doesn't mean there can be NO giveaways. In fact I happen to have a small pile of absolutely lovely books from Walker right here:

 

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, the follow-up to mega-hit THUG, which needs no introduction.

The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James. I'm so excited about this one! Lauren's last book The Lonelist Girl in the Universe was *staggeringly* good, and so unique. No one else is writing this kind of imaginative, grounded, hard-science fiction in UKYA right now. You want this.

Nothing but the Truth by Dick Lehr, a book about racial intolerance in the US written by a former Boston Globe reporter who used his experiences to inform his fiction.

These are some of the most sought after books coming out this spring, and personally I prefer this spiffy yellow ARC cover to the official one, for Angie Thomas's book. I'm going to make these available to one lucky winner, ALONG WITH:
  • Gorgeous THTE&TH postcards (see below!)
  • The first chapter of THTE&TH, printed out and signed by yours truly, to keep you going until its release on the 4th of April.
  • A signed and personalised bookplate to stick in THTE&TH (or any of my other books, I guess) when you get your hands on it

All you have to do is comment here on the blog, then share the giveaway somewhere on Twitter, or follow me on Twitter, sometime in the next two weeks. You can get extra chances to win by sharing more than once - and the giveaway is open to readers in Britain and the EU, because that's the postage I can afford just now (sorry international peeps!).

Here's the Rafflecopter. Good luck, muffins!a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

EARLY COPY GIVEAWAY WINNER

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday and happy Christmas! I'm saying that now because I probably won't blog again before it's all over - the dark chocolate brownies, spiced apple cake, roast potatoes and pork shoulder with crackling aren't going to cook themselves, and I'm having my whole family over not once but twice this year so... yeah. Eeep.

Don't worry - of course I'm not going to sign off without announcing the winner of my giveaway of my very first early copy of THE HAND, THE EYE AND THE HEART (which I don't have yet, but which will hopefully land in my hot little hands in the New Year). I'll do that below, but first I wanted to share this:



And seven is my lucky number, too! I'm very proud to see my quirky, chunky book in such lovely company. Thank you everyone who has pre-ordered the book, talked about the book, RTed or shared my posts about the book. It honestly does make such a difference, and that's why I like to notice things like this, celebrate them, and show you what your support can do.

And now for the winner! Drumroll please!


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JACKIE ORTON!


Congratulations, Jackie, I'll email you today and get your postal details so I can send your copy of the book to you as soon as I get it. I hope you enjoy it!

Commiserations to everyone else who hoped to win this and didn't, this time. Please don't be too upset. There will be more giveaways and competitions in the run up to the book's release. And remember that it's not very long until April, now. Which gives me a bit of a flutter of butterflies, honestly! Have a marvellous holiday season and New Year, muffins!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

THE HAND, THE EYE & THE HEART COVER REVEAL AND GIVEAWAY!

Hello, and welcome to a very special post this Monday evening, Dear Readers. It's time to reveal the gorgeous cover art for a book that (as I've mentioned a few times) is really special to me: The Hand, the Eye & the Heart.

And I know you're all busily scrolling past this right now, but I'm going to ramble a bit first anyway because a) it seems less basic than just slapping the cover up here with barely any introduction and letting the art do all the talking and b) it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to.

This cover illustration (including hand lettering!) was created by a legendary artist, Kate Forrester. You can visit her website and see her brilliant work for yourself (and I highly recommend it, because it's a feast for the eyes) but suffice it to say that she's created covers for some publishing greats. I personally think she's outdone herself this time.

This is the inspiration board I'd put together for any potential artist or designer for the book to look at. That's how I've worked with Delightful Designer over my past four books. I share it here because I think it's interesting - there are so many points of convergence that it is spooky, including the fact that I'd actually pinned a cover created by Kate Forrester long before I ever knew she would be involved - not because, on this occasion, it had anything to do with the cover art. It didn't.

Delightful Designer is currently on maternity leave and the designer Walker had working on The Hand, the Eye & the Heart (hi, Genius Designer! We haven't spoken, but you're awesome!) came up with the concept and decided on an artist without any input from me whatsoever. And all I can say is: good call. Honestly, I don't think it could have worked out any better.

So now, without any further ado... THE COVERRRRR!!



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I mentioned in the teaser post that every detail in the cover is not only informed by the aesthetics of  the cultures on which the book itself draws, but also by specific details of the story and characters. All the animals (mythical and real) are significant in the story. The flowers you see - peonies and magnolias - are each mentioned in the story. Above all, the style and composition and colours all remind me very much of a glorious kesi tapestry, and since this kind of weaving is an artform which is very important to the main character of the book, that means a lot to me.

I think it's honestly stunning. And so right for this book. I'm also told there's a chance that the finished version maaaay have foil, so my fingers are crossed for that...

Other details about this book which I can now share! It's 448 pages long - the longest book I've ever written. It starts with an epigraph from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It will also contain a trigger warning (which I'm very grateful to my publisher for letting me include) and a list of resources which I hope might be useful for trans and non-binary folk.

And just to make this as special as possible, now it's GIVEAWAY time. There won't be any ARCs for this book, but I've been promised that there will be early copies and that these should materialise sometime around the new year. So if you'd like to get your hands on one of these early copies, of which there will be limited numbers, as soon as I do? Then RT or share this post and enter the giveaway below for a chance to win The Hand, the Eye and the Heart in all it's (hopefully) foiled glory.

This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and you can increase your odds of being the winner depending on how often you share and RT this post over the next two weeks. Have at it and have fun, muffins!

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

COVER COMING SOON!!

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all - I hope everyone's having a good week so far. My week is definitely looking up, since I've had some fantastic news today.

I'm basically just posting to tease you this week, but I hope you'll forgive my need to share my excitement - because I've had confirmation that the cover art for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart is FINALISED and that I will be able to share it NEXT WEEK!

I love this cover so much, you guys. I've loved it since I saw the very first, very rough design idea, even though it was in bizarrely in black and white. Walker has really outdone themselves this time. They commissioned the absolutely legendary artist Kate Forrester to illustrate and hand-letter the cover, and every detail in her artwork is so respectful to the cultures the book draws on, and so beautifully and directly specific to this story. My first impression was that it looked like some kind of wonderful ancient tapestry - and since the art of weaving is very important in The Hand, the Eye & the Heart, that makes my little heart sing.

And soon I will get to share it with all of you!

*High pitched incoherent squealing*

Ahem.

OK, so here are the details. If anyone reading this has been lucky enough to be invited to Walker's YA Wonderland:



And you can make it, then on Monday of next week you will not only be meeting a bunch of cool authors and eating a bunch of delicious nibbles - you'll also be getting the very first, exclusive look at this cover art.

But don't worry if you're not going to be there. No, seriously - calm down, folks - would your faithful Zolah toy with her Dear Readers like that? Not only will all the bloggers present be tweeting what they see under #WalkersYAWonderland or #WalkerYA2019, but I'll also set up a blog-post all ready to go on Monday too. As soon as the presentation is over I will press 'Publish' and share the full cover on the internet in all its hi-res full-wrap glory.

Stand by on Monday evening to be BLOWN AWAY. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

WIP WRITING PLAYLISTS

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I hope you're having a great week so far. I have to be honest and admit that I am not having a great week, but I still hope that it can get better before the end. Cross your fingers for me!

There's not much to report here at Casa Zolah the moment (not that nothing is happening, just that nothing is happening I can talk about) so I thought I would share a couple of playlists that are helping me get into the writing mood. Because you know I'm still writing, even if I'm not able to tell you much about that.

First up is a playlist for a long-time project that observant Dear Readers will know I've mentioned (and even posted snippets from) before: Winterthorne. Although it's actually not called that anymore, but the playlist still is:



And then a newer playlist which is very blandly called Thinking Music 2, but is actually for the very newest idea that I'm still sketching out whenever I have a spare minute or a random brainwave:



Apologies for the cr*p formatting here. Pasting in code always messes Blogger up and for the sake of my blood pressure I have learned to accept it. Anyway, I hope these help to get you into your writing grove, my lovelies! More poetry next week, maybe? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, 5 November 2018

POETRY TUESDAY

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I've been super busy with a couple of different projects over the past couple of weeks (one book related, one life related) and forgot to post last week. Sorry about that.

But today at last - the promised poems!

You know how sometimes your dog or cat will have a 'mad hour' and go from peacefully snoozing on the end of the bed to running around in dizzy circles, thudding mysteriously under the furniture, trying to climb the curtains, and scrabbling at imaginary ghosts in the corners? Well, early this year the exact same thing happened to me, except instead of my cat or dog it was my brain, and instead of trying to eat my own tail I wrote poetry.

Look, just go with me here, all right?

As a teenager who was bursting with ideas and thoughts but had not yet developed the ability to finish a longer piece of work (I couldn't even complete short stories) poetry was my number one means of creative expression and refuge. I sometimes wrote three new poems a day, for weeks at a time. I loved poetry and it was as natural to me as breathing.

But when I started channeling my writing juice into novels, slowly but surely that flood of poetry slowed down to a trickle. Those who've read my books know that there are often songs and poems and ballads in there, but those are about expressing things about my character's world or feelings, rather than about putting my own thoughts and feelings onto the page. Up until January, February and March of this year it had been probably a decade since I wrote any poetry that came directly from me, rather than filtered through the lens of what a character was going through.

Then, during the snowy and miserably cold early months of this year - well known and hated by all Britishers under the name The Beast from the East - when I was stuck on Selkie Book (having had to drop it really abruptly when edits for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart appeared) and quite often also stuck on a train for long periods, travelling back and forth to my Fellowship in York, that closed sluice gate on my poetry brain creaked opened juuuust a tiny bit. I found myself scribbling lines of poetry, then verses, and eventually full poems. By the end of that miserable weather system I had a good handful of new stuff, which I worked on fitfully while I slowly got back to work on Selkie Book again.

And then I saw a notice that the Bridport Poetry Prize was open for entries. And I thought 'What the Hell?' I picked out my favourite four poems, worked on them feverishly for a week or so, and sent them off. Lo and behold! They did not win. But I still really like them and feel especially fond of them because that poetry gate in my brain seems to have creaked shut again now. So I thought I'd share a few of them with you now.

I hope you like them! Let me know your thoughts in the comments, lovelies - or share poems you're working on now, if you like :)



THE GREEN GIRL

Ophelia,
the wild iris embraces you
though he would not.

And you are silent now
but the wind singing in the moon-grey bullrushes, 
and the rising heron
speak your name.

Ophelia,
you are shrouded 
by reflections of the sun.

And dragonflies shall take flight
from the ivory cage
which imprisoned your frail human heart.

Ophelia,
as your face fades
from his memory,
do not fear.

The green river remembers the green girl.
The waters know who you are.


 PHANTOM LIMB


People who tell you
That time heals
Are liars

Time doesn't accrete scars over anyone's grief
Only accustoms them to the pain

You might adapt to living without one of your limbs
And others will learn
To stop staring
At the empty space that follows you around

You'll figure out how to do the impossible
How to live now
Dress yourself again
Make coffee, make jokes, make a bed

But time cannot regrow what was lost
And sometimes, years and years later sometimes
When you had grown so adept at telling yourself
That you had forgotten

Or moved on
Or achieved closure
Or whatever vacuous thing the liars call it now
You will speak, unthinkingly

And in the silence that follows you will expect
For one breath
For just for one tiny infinity
That voice, that voice, that voice, to answer

And then you will feel the agony
Of the phantom limb, and know

Time heals nothing
Only teaches you how to pretend
That you were never whole
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