dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

That second draft: is it progress?

My friend, currently in hospital receiving a variety of treatments, said this morning that she felt she was taking two steps forward and three steps back. I know the feeling though my situation doesn’t approach hers in any way. (If you’re a pray-er please badger God re “Dorothy’s writer friend in hospital”. He’ll know who you mean.)

Anyway, I’m determinedly trying to revise the new novel. As of Wednesday, I had 51 second-draft pages printed out. Then pole-axed as usual by my weekly visit to my husband at the care home, I settled in the garden to lick my wounds and read. I’ve got the latest Nicola Upson, London Rain, for light reading, and Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time for ‘work’ reading.

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Work in progress- and helper!

I confess what is perhaps a silly fear: that if I read anything too ‘heavy’ or detailed about the writing process while I’m in the middle of writing, I’ll become like the centipede who was asked how he managed to walk with so many legs and when he started to think about it ended up so overwhelmed, he fell over and couldn’t do it all! So the idea of looking at detailed analysis of how to ‘do’ scenes felt threatening.

But…instead of starting at the beginning (which is how I normally read books!), I scanned the contents page and discovered chapter 7 on Character Development and Motivation. I’d been feeling maybe I needed some help here so I got stuck in – and in moments had my notepad out and was scribbling as fast as I could descriptions of each of my main characters and what they want, what drives them. Job done, I turned to London Rain. (I’m enjoying it enormously.)

Then this morning when I went back to my novel, I knew I could not simply start where I had left off at page 52. I had to begin again at page 1 and I needed to create lots more dialogue, put in some description, set the scenes properly – now that I know my main characters so much better.

So I finish a fairly long day of significant redrafting and the last page of the print-out is only 22. No more than that. But… they are pages I think will stay the course. There’s a new honesty about them as the characters’ true colours shine through. I’ve got a new confidence about the book. (No doubt this will dent sooner than later!) And even though it feels as if I’ve taken those steps back, the actual sum result is progress. And strangely enough an added 2,320 words.

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Second draft, second day

I counted words. I counted chapters. I counted days and worked out how much I really needed to do each day to meet my deadline. Then the builders arrived.

Before 7.30 a.m.

I rose, splashed water on my face, dressed, and went downstairs to greet them and let them into the back garden. But not before watching spellbound as a beautiful little digger was driven off a low-loader. Time to reveal one of my secrets: I simply lurve diggers and tractors and cranes and other such beautiful objects. I nearly got to drive a tank once… But that’s another story.

Anyhow, one glance at that digger and I was happy for my carefully-planned writing morning to be disrupted.

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Only it wasn’t.

The men got to work digging up my garden,

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burying these clever plastic boxes to create a soak-away for rain-water

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covered it all up again, and went home.

All without disturbing me.

So I revised chapter three, read chapter four and tinkered with it before deciding it needs a complete rewrite. My villainess needs to be rewritten back to what she was in the very earliest draft. (Why can’t I find it? argh!) And I could do with a bit more information about the early postal system… And how strict were Victorian fathers really?

But afternoons are for admin and promoting the previous book… and the second set of builders who have come to tinker with my conservatory…

A writer’s life!

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That second draft: Starting over again

I came home from the Big Book Tour for my novel When the Boats Come Home on Wednesday afternoon, exhilarated and tired. I said hello to the cat, opened the post, checked in with my friends and my church, restocked the larder, and rested.

But you can only rest for so long. And one of the great things about the Book Tour was how many people wanted to know when the next book would be out. So on Friday, I bit the bullet and contacted Paul, my publisher, to check on the deadline we’d discussed before I left. Yes, he said: end-August, at the latest if we’re going to get the book out for the first week of December.That gives me 7 weeks to work on it. And knowing me, and the way of books, I reckon I’ll need more than just one revise/rewrite. So this morning, I declared Start time on the second draft of ‘The Mizpah Ring’ (working title!).

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I’m one of the world’s gifted procrastinators – so it is with delight that I can tell you that putting it off till today has benefited the work. Time has lent that precious distance that produces a measure of objectivity – and a decisive finger on the delete button!

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I underwrite – I have done so since my stint on my local newspaper, The John O’Groat Journal, way back in 1967. I write fast, following the story, without descriptions or scene-setting. So the second draft is when I not only have to remove the stuff that would come back to haunt me (not so much purple passages as infelicities, grammatical clumsinesses, people called two different names in succeeding chapters etc.) but also slow down the tearing story to make sure my reader has enough information to see what is happening.

And here my trip has helped me – conversations with my sister brought to light more snippets of family history which will be inserted in the story, what I saw on our walks will furnish my previously minimalist  scenes as will a friend’s memories of a recent trip to Buenos Aires. I’ve come home with a goodie-bag of information, insights and ideas that will enrich and enhance the book.

It isn’t quite at that plastic stage when you feel it’s mouldable, willing to be shaped into what you really want – but it’s received me back in a surprisingly friendly and open fashion. Rather like the cat. I’d expected her to be a bit huffy for a day or two but instead shewelcomed me back with purring cheerful friendliness.

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So it’s Day One and I’ve made a start. I’m aiming for the discipline again of an hour each morning, but I’d really like a minimum of two chapters each day worked through and got as near to final as I can make them. The work is on!

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Day Twenty-five: Home

So here I am, back home. One thousand, five hundred and forty miles all told. The last lap was hard work with heavy traffic and squally rain showers. But the cat is pleased to see me. And I am pleased to be home.

The trip was enormously worthwhile – in so many ways. I met lots of lovely people – new friends and old. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain.

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I ate some of the best shortbread!

Coffee break

I sang God’s praises alone in the car, in a beautiful Edinburgh cathedral, a quayside mission hall, two churches of Scotland and one precentor-led Scottish Free church.

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Wick Harbour Mission

And everywhere I spoke about my novel, I was received with warmth and appreciation.

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And the books sold out.

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I’d love to do it again! But not just yet! Now I’m glad to be home…

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Day Twenty-four: Last day but one

283 miles further down the road after a 5-hour drive. I left Tayport in pleasantly mild weather and all went well till I doubted the sat nav. (Yes, I know: there’s a definite theme appearing!) Thankfully, my mistake only added 11 miles to my route and got me to Bothwell in time for my morning coffee break (with blueberry muffin).

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On the road again and Gretna for lunch – sadly outside the village so no sign of the famous blacksmith’s where runaway lovers from England could be married over the anvil.

The next stage of the journey was horrid: pouring rain and blinding spray for mile after mile. A case of fierce concentration and a steady hand on the wheel. Not to mention Divine protection!

But the sun came out again and I was able to enjoy the rolling hills of the Border country and the north of England before encountering roadworks. I’d hit roadworks coming up the east coast route so was determined to take the west coast route on the way home in hopes of avoiding roadworks – but it was not to be. Summertime and the roadworks are in full force!

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In truth it only slowed the journey a bit and was not too bad. So here I am now, safe and sound, at Wetherby, the last stop before home

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having an attempt at afternoon tea. ‘It’s afternoon tea, Jim, but not as we know it.’

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Day Twenty-three: On the road again

I love my sat nav. In cities it is an absolute boon. So this morning it took me safely through Aberdeen to Bridge of Don for coffee with yet another lovely friend I haven’t seen for (whoops!) we think 47 years! But we recognised each other and it was great to catch up on the years with laughter and happy memories. And then it guided me through Aberdeen and out onto the road to Dundee.

A perfectly timed stop for a sandwich (and a chunky KitKat) gave me the energy for the last talk of the tour.

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In full flow!

Once more organised by my friend and fellow member of the Association of Christian Writers, Wendy Jones, at the Priory, I had an attentive and responsive audience drawn from the City Church Dundee.

Having sold out of copies of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, in Wick, we needed to call on Mark and Iain of the CLC Bookshop in Dundee for further supplies – which didn’t last long!

And so, a couple of hours later, I was drinking tea at my friends’ home in Tayport – the last talk of the tour over and the road for Halesworth and home beckoning. It’s been good. It’s been tiring. Time tomorrow maybe to reflect on lessons learnt. For next time?

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Day Twenty-two: An Aberdeen Sunday

Sunday morning I went with my eight-year-old great-niece to the nearby Church of Scotland. Those of my readers who are not Scots may find the name a bit of a tongue-twister: Auchaber and Auchterless. The first Sunday of the month is their joint service so the Auchaber church was full and a very tempting summer lunch of soup and sweets was on offer.

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We walked to church – a good mile or so – and there was plenty to see and talk about as the young one skipped along at my side, including the famous sheep.

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The famous sheep

They are famous, she explained, for being famous. I think she has a very clear grip of the modern concept of celebrity!

After lunch, I set off down the Inverurie road, through beautiful countryside – rich meadows and mountains.

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And arrived at Aberdeen, the city where I went to University for my first degree – and to the home of one of the friends I shared a flat with in second year. To my delight, one of our other flatmates had turned up to surprise me! After joyful reunions and catch-ups, we went down to Old Aberdeen and took a long amble round the places of our youth, remembering folk we had known and incidents from the past.

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Old Aberdeen

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King’s College Chapel, Aberden

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Day Twenty-One: Hunting in the rain

We Scots are a hardy people so when we woke up to torrential rain this morning, we knew it was not going to stop us.

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We had an agenda and we were determined to hunt until we had captured our prey! So on went the hooded rain jackets and the wellington boots and off we set.

Our first target was the famed uisge beatha. This rare and wonderful creature is not found everywhere in Scotland and has several distinct regional variations. Strangely the one in our sights today is classed as Highland since though we’re in Aberdeenshire, the river nearby is the Deveron not the Spey, so the cratur cannot be classed as Speyside. You’ve guessed it: we were after whisky! And the nearby Glendronach Distillery, founded in 1826 by James Allardice, provided plenty of choice.

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We were awed to find a bottle of Glendronach Recherche,distilled and filled to cask in 1968, on sale at around £2,700. Only 632 bottles of the 47-year-old whisky was produced.

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Having successfully bagged our prey, we set out for our next target. This is another rare beast some say is mythical but I would rather say legendary. Although I’ve never seen one in the life running about the hills with its characteristic odd three-legged shuffle, I have eaten it often and find it delicious.

This time I really needed my expert stalkers. They led me through the undergrowth, between high-sided canyons, until we rounded a corner and there – high up – was our quarry. ‘We’ll go!’ they cried and crept forward. I followed closely and managed to get a photograph as they closed in.

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Success! The greater Scottish haggis was now captured. As we speak, it is safely in the boot of my car for taking back to England, but here is one we had earlier…

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Day Twenty: A day in the shire

No. Not Tolkein’s shire. This is for real and it is gorgeous! ‘From mountain to sea’ (as the Aberdeenshire County Council motto puts it) the land stretches in rich variety. Where I’m staying is situated in rolling green and fertile farmland.

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view from the house

I woke to the call of a pheasant – and I’m told partridges visit the back garden too. Hares play in the field in front of the house and buzzards can often be seen circling above in the sky.

Huntly is the market town nearby – with castle ruins to inspire any historical novelist. The story is that Mary of Guise, Mary Queen of Scots’ Mum, visited the castle and declared that the Duke of Gordon, known as the Cock o’ the North, needed his wings clipped! The castle was originally built in 1190. Huntly Castle‘s South Front – a strikingly French makeover in 1602 – is topped by a heraldic frontispiece and inscription.

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Huntly Castle

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Huntly Castle

The call of coffee and shortbread took us to Dean’s where we were able to watch the shortbread being made –

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the smell of shortbread baking is utterly mouthwatering! Dean’s story begins in 1975 with Mrs Helen Dean, maker of delicious melt-in-the-mouth shortbread which delighted her family and friends. Her husband William was Drum Major of Huntly Pipe Band and he thought selling the shortbread would be good for fundraising for the band. The band toured – and the fame of the shortbread began to spread. The rest is history. In 1992 Dean’s moved to a purpose-built bakery where we had our coffee. It’s still a local family business.

The sun was still shining as we drove to Banff with its traditional small harbour, sitting opposite the bay from Macduff with its kirk prominent on the brae.

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Banff harbour

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Macduff from Banff

I took the pics from Banff Castle – a mansion house built on the site of a much earlier building.

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One of the buildings near the entrance sports a fine wolfhead on the side wall. Three wolf heads were the coat of arms of Sir Duncan de Frendraught, Sherriff of Banff and custodian of the Castle which played a major role in the Scottish Wars of Independence 1307-1310.

Nearby is magnificent Duff House, one of Scotland’s finest Georgian buildings – where we had lunch.

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The impressive frontage of Duff House

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Designed by William Adam and commissioned by William Duff, Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife, the foundation stone was laid in 1735. It was built as a family home and is surrounded by miles of beautiful estate lands. A popular place for weddings, a wedding was taking place while we were there – with all the males in kilts, even the tiniest pageboys!

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Day Nineteen: On the road again

It’s an easy route, most of the way: down to Inverness and turn left. The only problem is distraction: the scenery is so beautiful especially on a sunny day when the sea is deep blue, the grass a sweet green against the blazing gold of the gorse and broom, and the horizon wreathes in veils of mist.

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Coffee break

Coffee break

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View from the petrol station

At Inverness I thought I remembered a good place to eat lunch and annoyed Emily, my sat nav voice, by turning off the official route. And discovered how Inverness has changed. And how coming in by train simply does not help with road navigation! The nice place was no longer there. And I was snarled up in town centre traffic. Till Emily came to the rescue again.Recalculating. And getting me back on the road I needed.

Just like God does. Each time we stray, we have a choice: keep doggedly on in the wrong direction, insist like a stubborn two-year-old with his shoelaces that we can manage on our own thank you very much, or take a quiet moment to admit to God that we’ve gone wrong and let Him recalculate and set us back on the right road.

So onwards I went, through towns with such familiar names: Nairn, Forres, Elgin. But I must confess they did not stir any old memories though I must have driven through them often enough in the past. Though not for a very long while. The Baxters factory at Fochabers is very much larger than I remember but it was good to see it still there!

And then I got lost again! I had turned off the A road onto a B road and then the sat nav suggested I take another smaller road and I jibbed. I decided it didn’t look right. So I went straight on – and on – and round bends and up hills – on and further on, down hills and round more bends, with forest to one side and a deep river valley on the other. I reckon I went round in a perfect half-circle, arriving at the other end of the road I needed. I checked the map, took a deep breath and let Emily guide me once again, and this time when I lost my nerve and wanted to detour, I made myself keep driving… till I got there.

So here I am, at the home of my nephew and his wife and his two daughters. And maybe I will finally learn: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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