Plotting and Planning...
I recently arrived at a very confusing stage in the writing of The Missing Heiress. I had spent a long time laying down the chronological outline of the plot into an excel document but I could not work with it. Every time I thought of a new clue, redherring or lead for Detective Lavender to follow, I struggled to place it into the scheme.
I just couldn't see the 'big picture' using the excel format and the 'balance' did not seem right. There is majot event about three quarters of the way through The Missing Heiress. My plan revealed too much information in the days leading up to this event and left nothing for Lavender to uncover afterwards. On some days, his investigation was a frenzy of activity - on others not much happened at all.
I had read somewhere that many authors use postcards to help them with the hundreds of ideas flashing around in their imagination. Events and scenes can be written down on postcards and shuffled around physically, to see how they follow each other and build up to the climax. Well, I didn't have any postcards handy but I had a pair of scissors and plenty of paper. Two hours later, I had a huge pile of paper slips, all covered with scribbled notes.
The next thing to do, was to lay them out in a chronological format which worked. I needed something big. Whilst the family were away at a football match, I requisition the kitchen noticed board, covered it with paper and marked out large squares. Each square was a different day of the investigation. Finally, I laid out my scribbled notes and shuffled them around until I felt the plot flowed smoothly and balance was restored.
It worked. Delighted with the results, I promptly sat down and wrote another 1,000 words. Is this the way to beat writers' block, I wonder? I can see at a glance where I am going next and I love the tactile and visual nature of my two foot by three foot novel plan. I look forward to steadily removing the slips of paper, binning them and gradually watching the kitchen notice board reappear.
Sadly, my family were not impressed with my brilliant idea when they returned home from the match. They were more concerned that the flyers from the pizza takeaway shops had disappeared. It took a while before peace was eventually restored...and I think I'm going to have to buy another kitchen notice board. ;)
Many thanks to Judith Cantin (nee Charlton) from Canada who has recently got in touch via this website and sent me the picture below.
Judith is a direct descendant of Henry Charlton born in 1729 at North Carter Moor. Henry was the uncle of Jamie and William, the main characters in Catching the Eagle, although it is highly unlikely they ever met him. It is believed that Henry emigrated in 1750's. We believe he eventually settled in Nova Scotia, married and had ten children of his own. Many of his descendants, including Judith, still live there.
Of course, it was unlikely that our families still bear any family resemblance after two hundred years on different continents but it turns out that we do have one thing in common. Judith tells me that: 'all our (Canadian) Charltons are are big-boned...I don't believe I've ever met a small, petite Charlton.'
Anyone who has ever met my hubby and my children - or Chris' father, Arthur, and his siblings - will be smiling at this. Our Charltons also tend to rather stand out in a crowd.
The picture below overlooks Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley, Novia Scotia, near where Henry Charlton finally settled with his family.
The Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
Launched on the Publisher's Website...
Yeeey! I'm officially launched on the publisher's website.....happy dance. :) Click on the link below to see my profile, mug shot and a sample chapter of Catching the Eagle.
Very exciting. Strangely enough, the thing that gives me the greatest thrill is seeing the ISBN number of my forthcoming book.....how unreal is that? Little, old me has got an ISBN number!
Happy dance again..... :)
Beautiful, beautiful Bellingham...
The cricket pitch outside our hotel room
We have just returned from a very pleasurable stay at the Riverdale Hotel, Bellingham, on the banks of the River Tyne.
The food there is fantastic and it is one of our favourite places to just chill out. Bellingham is also the setting for the first novel in The Detective Lavender Series: The Missing Heiress.
Naturally, we were not going to miss out on the opportunity to combine a bit of research with some hedonistic pleasure. ;)
Elsdon Pele Tower
In my novel, a young woman, Helen Carnaby, disappears in mysterious circumstances from her family home in October 1809. She lives with her half-brothers and sister in an ancient Pele Tower which I have called Linn Hagh (from the old words for 'waterfall' and 'hall.') Pele Towers were family homes. They were built for protection during the dark days of the Border Reivers, when this area of Northumberland, was a lawless, no man's land between two warring nations. Linn Hagh Pele Tower is a figment of my imagination, but in the novel I have based it on the famous Pele Tower at Elsdon (still a private residence.)
The case of The Missing Heiress is investigated by Detective Stephen Lavender and his assistant, Constable Woods.
Between my fictitious Linn Hagh and Bellingham, are the very real Hareshaw Woods. This steep-sided ravine is virtually inpenetrable, apart from the single path which meanders alongside the river. Above the path, the hillside rises steeply up to the rocky crags above. Many trees are contorted into grotesque shapes as they try to defy gravity, balance and reach the sunlight all at the same time. Some of the tree trunks are split like the sides of Chinese paper lanterns. Most of them are covered in moss, many sport a fabulous display of giant fungi. Fallen trees can look like huge serpents or prehistoric monsters.
The path crosses the river at several points as it heads towards the waterfall - Hareshaw Linn. This was our favourite bridge. Here, Chris and I saw a dipper bobbing in an out of the water from the slimy, black rocks below. Earlier we had seen a small flock of goldfinches weaving around collecting seeds from a cloud of thistledown.
Finally, we reached the magnificent Hareshaw Linn. At over 100ft high the waterfall is a spectacular sight and extremely noisy, as hundreds of gallons of water crash down onto the black, Jurassic rocks below. Combined with the overhanging sides of the gorge above, it is also quite unnerving. Huge boulders jut up from the black pool like tombstones. We made this journey on a brilliantly sunny day. Just imagine how forbidding it must be in in the depths of an icy winter - or in those dark, brooding days of late autumn, when The Missing Heiress is set.
Reluctantly we turned around, and headed back for the hotel. The entire walk was about seven miles from start to finish and I loved every step of it. Although, I have to confess that I had a good half an hour nap when we got back, while Chris watched the cricket match from the patio outside our room.
The dreaded editing and revision process
Like most authors, I loathe it. It took me six months to completely revise and edit Catching the Eagle. I have just finished revising a short story for the Knox Robinson website, and have been reminded again just how gruesome this process is.
Unfortunately, unless you want to appear a complete fool to your publisher and the general public, necessity demands that writers go through a finished story with a fine tooth comb. But typos, missing apostrophes and commas are only part of the process.
The first thing I do when revising a finished story is hit the 'find' button on my PC and type in '-ly.' I have often been accused of over doing the adverbs and this is by far the easiest way to check out whether they have been breeding like rabbits again across my prose. Once balance has been restored on the adjectival front, I then examine how passive and/or active my verbs are, by using the 'find' button to seek out the words 'was' and 'were' and anything ending in '-ing.'
By this point, I am usually ready for a stiff drink but somehow I have to resist because I need to check out my very Northern habit of using the word 'that' in every sentence - often incorrectly. Having spent years telling Secondary school children to try to avoid the infantile words 'get'/'big'/'little' and 'small' - I next examine whether, or not, I have been practising what preach.
At this point the mood in my study has usually turned sour with boredom and the concentration has become a strain. While the written language may be improving, the audible language has turned a pale shade of blue. After a final look for any overuse of the word 'as,' and the misuse of the word 'whilst,' I then hit the 'print' button and grab my 'red' pen. Yes, 'Miss' marks her own work - in red ink.
It is unbelievable how different a story looks on the printed page; how many mistakes there are; how many sentences and whole sections exist which are surplus to requirement. The first draft usually ends up covered in crossings out, arrows and other strange hieroglyphics. Finally, the corrections are transferred to the word processed version.
I then breath a huge sigh of relief, grab a glass of wine and seek out a trusted friend to review the whole thing. :)
The first Catching the Eagle literary tour... ;)
The Charltons return to Kirkley Hall.
A few weeks ago we had a very enjoyable day out in Ponteland with our good friends, Iain and Christine. They were curious to see the places mentioned in Catching the Eagle and Iain offered to take more photographs. Jokingly, we dubbed the trip 'the first Catching the Eagle literary tour.'
Despite the horrendous rain we had a great day and a fabulous lunch at the Newhamm Edge Coaching Inn - now called The Highlander.
Looking out from the courtyard over the grounds
Our first call of the day was at Kirkley Hall itself - the scene of the infamous burglary. The staff were wonderful and let us wander around freely taking photographs. They never batted an eyelid about the fact that my Chris was a descendant of the burglar mentioned on their website. However, when we were leaving the operations manager, Graeme Cook, did make a joke about searching Chris' haversack for any missing silverware (much to every one's amusement.)
Standing in front of the 'family pile' - Morpeth Gaol
After Kirkley Hall we made brief visits to Milburn (where Jamie and Cilla lived) and Stamfordham church were they married, before finishing the day at Morpeth. By this time it was bucketing down and we were wearing rain coats over our jackets. Despite this, I think that this is my favourite photograph of the day. We were happy and relaxed - unlike poor Jamie Charlton who was dragged through that door 200 years ago, wearing leg irons. I bet he wasn't smiling. We really liked the shopping area in Morpeth and I became so distracted, that I quite forgot to keep my eyes open for all the public houses mentioned in the novel.
Never mind, we'll just have go back again another day.
(All Photographs by Iain Wolstencroft.)