dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Getting Ready

I have rearranged my study. I have sorted out the books on the shelves that face me when I’m at work at my desk and I’ve packed away the non-writing books, replacing them with relevant writing books and book files.

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Books packed away

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Research and admin folders

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Books to inspire!

And I’m beginning to feel better – ready to get down to work again on the novel.

I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on food and met my next-door neighbour as I was going in. I had come home from a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discover that she had cut her own front lawn and then cut mine. She is slightly over eight months pregnant. Her last child weighed in on arrival at 10 lbs and she reckons this one will compete – so cutting grass astounded me. Just as well I was out! I’m sure I’d have scolded and protested!

She wouldn’t accept a lift home from the supermarket either. Walking, she said, would do her good. She preferred to be doing things. She was ready for the birth, she said. It’s time this one arrived.

And as I sort my study and lug heavy boxes of books into the storeroom, I recognise myself in my pregnant neighbour. I’m getting ready for the labour of getting Book 2 of the Mizpah Ring birthed and into the world. And like my neighbour, I’m impatient. Because it’s time!

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Day Four: One down…

Relaxing with a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive at my sister’s. First talk delivered: one down, two to go.

This afternoon I was the guest of Wick Salvation Army’s Home League. What a lovely group…

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Wick Salvation Army

but…

But? How can there be a but? They were lovely!

But they kept asking me when the next book in The Mizpah Ring trilogy will be out! And I haven’t finished writing it yet! Part of the plan for this trip was to get some on-the-ground research done, and then go home and write…

So now I want to be in two places at once: here, doing research and giving talks and selling books – and back home getting down to writing! Oh, how I want to be writing!

 

 

 

 

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What’s it all about?

The good news is that I’m 26,525 words into the new book, Part 2 of The Mizpah Ring.

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The bad news is that I haven’t written a new word of it since 7th March.

Ouch!

I’ve given a number of talks on Mizpah Ring 1 and must admit to some discomfort, compared with the ease and joy of giving talks on its predecessor, When the Boats Come Home.

When the Boats Come Home cover

Basically I’m a story-teller, and the story I like to tell is the good news of the Lord Jesus. This is what I do in the pulpit (that’s right – story not sermon!). That’s what I do at women’s meetings. And that’s what I was able to do with talks about Boats – because Boats is really about the good news of new life and second chances offered by Jesus Christ.

But I discover I’m not so comfortable talking about Mizpah Ring – and feeling a bit blocked about Book 2. Till I read Steven Pressfield’s blog Writing Wednesdays: The Hero Embodies the Theme and suddenly I had a handle on the problem. What was Mizpah Ring all about?

It’s taken some time chewing this over, because I thought I knew – when I started writing Book 1. There was an inciting incident that set off a trail of consequences through three generations – and three books. There were bad guys who got badder, and good guys who slipped up and messed up. There were good girls and bad girls and not-quite-sure girls. And some of them went the way of all flesh, and others got turned round.

It was all a lot grittier than Boats – including  the locations. The ‘worst’ location in Boats was a pub and a dark alley. Mizpah Ring has a brothel and gambling dens!

But I’m still telling the good news of Jesus Christ- because He wasn’t afraid of mixing with prostitutes and others unacceptable to respectable society – and He loved them and came to save them too.

And so my story is one of redemption – for those who will turn round and take it. And it tells the truth about those who make other choices – something else Jesus was clear about when He walked this earth. We all have choices. We all have free will.But our choices have consequences.

And that’s what Mizpah Ring is about. Book 1 showed the choices of the first generation – and the results, bad and good. Book 2 shows what the next generation makes of it.

But that’s not all – because that’s never all there is to it. Because there is another character active in the story and in the lives of the characters: and that’s Jesus Christ Himself. And where He is, anything can happen!

So now I know, I’m grounded again and can get back to work!

 

 

 

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Beloved voices

My mother smoked. Dad had been one of those soldiers introduced to cigarettes during the war and he had duly brought the habit home. In those early days, folk thought it was glamorous, little knowing the horrendous damage it would do to skin and lungs and other organs.

Mum had been a glamorous young woman with dark hair falling provocatively over one eye like a movie star. And she was talented. From an early age she had been in demand as a singer and I recall her beautiful voice.

But the cigarettes took their toll and her voice deepened and deepened till her beautiful voice was completely destroyed and she could barely manage to reach any notes. For someone who had loved to sing, this was purgatory indeed.

On Monday night at Bible study group, a friend gave us a very lovely gift. Instead of us reading round the group, she invited us to relax and close our eyes and listen as she read the complete passage in her lovely soft Scottish voice.

I joke that my accent strengthens after a phone conversation with my sister, then I have to tame it so folk down here in Sassenachland can understand me! Maybe it’s my accent that makes my voice recognisable – so I hardly need to say who I am when I ring friends.

And I wonder does that come across on the page? One of the delights of opening a new book in a well-loved series is that sense of familiarity with the author’s voice, like the voice of a friend.

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Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice (John chapter 10, verses 1-16). The voice of a loved one is very special. I remember once missing my beloved so much I kept ringing his office number when he was away so I could hear his voice on the answermachine message! Afterwards he commented on the number of calls where the caller had left no message!

Having given up Facebook for Lent, maybe I’ll have more time to just sit and listen out for Jesus and see if I can recognise His voice.

 

 

 

 

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Best-laid plans and Second Attempts

I had haggis for Burns Night, celebrating the poet bard of my homeland who mentioned so wisely ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’. My own plans for getting stuck into the new book were indeed well laid and I have in front of me the result: a nice sheaf of pages from Chapter One to Eleven.

But they’re not in the new book file. I can’t quite bear to throw them out yet. And I know they’ll come in handy. But as back-story, not Chapters One to Eleven.

I wrote them, then ground to a halt. At first I thought it was just the seasonal blues. My mother often said she thought we were designed to be hibernatory creatures, taking to our warm beds for the cold dark winter months!

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Then I decided I needed to do more research. The problem, I suggested to myself, was insecurity because of lack of basic information. So I searched the internet for books, ordered from Amazon and eBay, located some at my local second-hand bookshop, sourced others through our library.

And read. Made notes.

And did not enjoy it. Which is not like me. I love research! Usually my temptation is to keep on researching because it’s so fascinating what I uncover…

But no. This was plodding. And, I had to admit, boring!

I gave up. And worried. When what you’re working on is book two of a trilogy  and people have bought and read book one (The Mizpah Ring), and are asking ‘When’s the next one out?’ there is a certain pressure!

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Best-laid plans indeed. Panic stations more like!

But I had arranged a number of research ‘interviews’ -meetings with folk who could remember the second world war and were happy to talk to me about it. So rather than confess shamefaced that I’d hit a block and maybe it wasn’t worth bothering them, I felt I had to go ahead. So I did.

And something shifted. I got myself back to the keyboard and what came out of the ends of my fingers was something different. Not the best-laid plan but my story starting in a different place and with a different tone. And suddenly lovely because I wanted to follow it through and see what happened. I was gripped by it again.

I wonder was it the getting out of the house and spending time with interesting people telling me new things I didn’t know that unlocked the block? Did meeting people who had lived through that time make my story come alive again?

I don’t know – but I’m glad and I’m grateful. I’ve now written a new chapter one to six and am much happier with it. My characters are alive and surprising me! I love getting to the keyboard each morning for the next instalment. And the first draft material is definitely not wasted. I’ve drawn on some of it already. I maybe had to write it so that I knew where my characters were coming from.

Book One of The Mizpah Ring takes us from 1897 to 1912. I had intended Book 2 to start in 1913 but it definitely doesn’t want to! It will start in the late 1930s instead. In it I bring together the second generation of the folk who featured in Book One: Hughie, Geordie, Belle and Rab and Hannah. And this time we’ll see the results of the sins of the fathers!

 

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Down and Out

I think many of us have projects shelved, completed and set aside for one reason or another. Projects that nag from time to time, demanding a revisit, a rewrite, a fresh chance.

A couple of summers ago I did a major clear-out – pulled all the old manuscripts from their boxes and dumped them in the recycling bin. But I didn’t get rid of everything. Lurking on floppy disks (remember them?) were a few that remained to nag me.

And one has been doing just that for the past few days. I wrote it during a particularly ‘interesting’ period in my life back in 2006 and named it  Tea for Two. It went out to one publisher who thought the humour was too dark for her list. Two friends read it and loved it. And then life moved on and I wrote other books.

But as I pondered what to give friends and family for Christmas, I began to wonder about dusting down Tea for Two – or Annabelle as I nicknamed it, after the main character – and letting one particular friend read it.

So I found the disk for Mark 1 and the first few chapters read ok. Then I found the disk for Mark 2 and yes, I thought that would do nicely. So I printed off three chapters and delivered them, with the request that if she liked them she could have the rest.

And I went home and got to work on editing and polishing Mark 2 and putting it onto a flash drive for her.

But… Annabelle is indisputably autobiographical. Writing it was cathartic – and necessary at the time. But ouch! didn’t I tell the truth, and the truth is now a little close to the knuckle, the raw skin that there was back in those unhappy times.

I’m not that person any more. I’ve moved on. And I’ve forgiven the folk I wrote the book about. We’re all in a different place in our lives and with one another. So I don’t want to peel back the years and revisit those bad times – or the person I was then.

So I carefully deleted both versions, checked the disks were now blank, and dumped them in the recycling bin.

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I don’t need Annabelle any more. But I do need another Christmas present for my friend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day Eleven: Wick: Still no cheesecake!

Last day for me at school then a treat lunch (though still no cheesecake).

Yesterday I set S4 and S5 a 50-word story challenge – not an easy thing. But most of them came up trumps. Just a pity we didn’t have time to read them all (though some of them might be quite glad about that!). Good practice though for the Scottish Book Trust competition – with prizes, and a special under-18s category. Worth checking out.

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Photo credit: Jake Nye

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Photo credit: Laura Nicholson

Having cracked fiction, we turned to non-fiction and tore through that in half an hour. Using yesterday’s blog as an example, I realised what a bad example it was! Must do better! And of course that made writing today’s all the harder…

But lunch was lovely. At the Bord de l’eau, French restaurant on the riverside at Wick, three of us enjoyed delicious sea bass in dill and lemon butter, with the most yummy dauphinois potatoes. And of course puddings!

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What to do when you’ve finished the first draft

I finished the first draft of my new novel on Saturday morning. Sunday, being Sunday, I don’t work. Today is a Bank Holiday – though you wouldn’t have known it from the crowds in the supermarket when I went to refill my larder this morning.

Then I came home. Had a coffee. And thought ‘Now what do I do?’

It’s not that there’s nothing to do! Dry jeans hang on the airer waiting to be ironed.

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There’s a recipe I want to try.  And in my study, there was a long table covered with papers waiting to be sorted and filed or shredded or thrown out. Something I have been studiously avoiding for ages.

Time for self-discipline. Get it done. So I did an hour before lunch, then came back to it a couple of hours ago. And now it’s finished. What a great feeling. A tidy study again! Everything put away where it belongs. I’ve even hidden away the big folder with the draft of the new novel in it.

And now I feel a funny mix of bereft and on holiday! More self-discipline required because I WILL NOT look at the novel till it’s ‘cooled’ – till there’s a sufficient measure of distance for me to see it with a little objectivity. Only then will I be able to revise and rewrite and do it justice.

I’m aiming to do this in the next six weeks or so – before I head off for Scotland on my book promotion tour for When the Boats Come Home. While I’m away, I’m hoping to have two or three readers go through it and critique it for me so I can dive back in for a final revise or two before delivery to the publisher by my deadline of end-August.

Meanwhile, there are few hours left of the Bank Holiday, some ginger cake calling from the fridge to go with afternoon tea – and maybe a little permissible relaxation!

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Keeping on keeping on

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has bought either a print copy or a Kindle version of my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And special thanks to those of you who have put reviews on Amazon or told me personally how much you enjoyed it.

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It’s a wonderful feeling – that something I wrote has given someone pleasure. It’s a special thrill when someone says they couldn’t put it down! And it makes me want to do it again.

So, here’s the progress report on ‘the next one’, currently planned as Volume One in a Christian historical trilogy, The Mizpah Ring, set partly in my home home of Wick:  I’ve written 42,186 words and am aiming for 85,000. Paul at the publishers says if I can get the final manuscript delivered by end-August, it will be out the first week of December in time to solve this year’s Christmas present problems.

All I have to do is write the rest of it.

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At 1,000 words six days a week, the first draft should be finished by the end of April. So… easy peasy, yes?

No. Because I’ve kind of… delete ‘kind-of’… I’ve ground to a halt. Maybe even fallen out of love with it, a little.

So I’ve laid it aside. And just about every day, someone comments on how much they loved When the Boats Come Home and what am I writing next and when will it be out. No pressure there!

Meanwhile I need to be doing all the marketing and publicity things authors have to do to let the world of readers know about the book – radio interviews, press coverage, book signings… Lovely things in themselves but they take time and energy – out of the pot available for writing the next book.

I’d be really interested to know if other writers have hit this stumbling block/conflict of interest and what do they do.  Do you just plough on, juggling last year’s baby and this? Any wise words/advice truly welcome!

I have a horrid feeling that what’s needed is simply more self-discipline – keeping on keeping on, aiming for that 1,000 words a day just to see what happens.

Shall I re-read what I’ve written… or just pick up where I left off…

Tell you next time!

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When NaNo isn’t good enough

This is my declaration of intent: I’m quitting NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 30,156 words and I’m grateful that the process has broken my writer’s block. But…

 

Because as a Christian I won’t work Sundays, I had to write 2,000 words a day to reach the target. And imperceptibly I began to lose the joy, the delight in the story. Facing my desk each day became a chore. And that’s unheard of for me!

I also began to feel that I was short-changing my story, my characters and the Holy Spirit Who inspires me. I wanted to go back to page one and take my time to get it much more ‘right’ rather than simply focus on churning out 2,000 words a day.

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A Mizpah ring

A Mizpah ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I’ve allowed myself two days ‘off’. Instead of slamming down words for words’ sake, I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of reacquainting myself with the research notes I made when this story of the Mizpah Ring  first captured my heart. And I’m in love again. There’s so much more than I had remembered in the frenetic NaNo days.

So I’m going back to my way of doing things: I’ll aim for a flexible one hour or one thousand words a day, approximately. And I’ll immerse myself in the research. I’ve already discovered previously unknown connections between the Highland Clearances and Manitoba, fascinating eye-witness accounts of Buenos Aires in 1900 – and I can’t wait to weave them into my book, knowing it will be the better for it.

What’s more, I now have energy and time to give to the promotion of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, due out in paperback, Kindle and e-book around 12th December. I had a day when I could enjoy a lovely virtual cup of tea with Donna Fletcher Crowe (http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/2014/11/talking-over-teacups-with-dorothy.html?showComment=1416417394318#c7014225846557850925). And there’s plenty more to do – and enjoy.

When the Boats Come Home cover

My verdict on NaNoWriMo? It’s great and I’m grateful. But now I’m out of the shallow end with the new book, I need room to forge ahead at my own pace. I’ll keep you posted!

 

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