Guest post: Claire Boston on creating characters

AllthatSparklesBTRomance novelist Claire Boston is a guest on my blog today as part of her blog tour, and she’s going to talk about creating fantastic characters with particular reference to her new novel, All that Sparkles, part of The Texan Quartet.

Claire was a voracious reader as a child, devouring anything by Enid Blyton as well as series such as Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Baby-sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Then one school holidays when she’d run out of books to read, her mum handed her ‘Hot Ice’ by Nora Roberts and she instantly fell in love with romance novels.
The love of reading soon turned to a love of writing and Claire struggled to keep within the 1500 word limit set by her teachers for any creative writing assignments. When she finally decided to become serious about her stories, she joined Romance Writers of Australia, found her wonderful critique group and hasn’t looked back.
When Claire’s not reading or writing she can be found in the garden attempting to grow vegetables, or racing around a vintage motocross track. If she can convince anyone to play with her, she also enjoys cards and board games.
Claire lives in Western Australia, just south of Perth, with her husband, who loves even her most annoying quirks, and her grubby, but adorable Australian bulldog.

Welcome, Claire! HeadShot

Creating characters that talk back to you

by Claire Boston
It’s my belief that characters are at the very centre of any story. Without good characters, the reader won’t care enough to read on, no matter how good the plot might be. So when it comes to crafting characters my process has grown over time.
When I first began writing I started with the obvious – name and physical appearance:
– Hair length, colour
– Eye colour
– Height
– Weight
– Age
I added in their occupation, maybe a little about the family background and got to work. Needless to say my characters didn’t leap off the page for my early stories.
Then someone recommended Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. It’s a really easy read and I have gone on to recommend it to many others. I learnt my characters had to want something, there had to be a reason why they wanted it and there had to be something stopping them getting it. So the character’s goal, motivation and conflict were added to my character profile.
This helped me immensely and my characters definitely came to life, but last year I discovered Cherry Adair’s Writers Bible. This is a 59 page document that she uses to plot all her stories and is available from her website. She has ten pages dedicated to character development, which absolutely fascinated me. The questions she asks about her characters are in depth and comprehensive. Now, not all of it is relevant to my writing, but I’ve taken the bits I like and I’ve added it to my character profiles. I won’t go into detail about the questions because it’s copyrighted information, but I believe it has helped me shape my characters. (Oh and if you’re a plotter, you might love her 16 pages of plotting that’s also in the Writers Bible)
I really love to get involved with my characters and find out what makes them tick. Imogen and Christian in All that Sparkles were so much fun as was Imogen’s father, Remy. I know my characters have come to life when I’m writing dialogue and one of them says something and I think, “I didn’t know that about you.” Or they talk back to you and tell you they’re not going to do what you want them to do. (I don’t think I’m mad, as I’ve had other authors say that their characters talk to them as well!)
One of the reasons that All that Sparkles is part of The Texan Quartet is because I couldn’t bear to leave my characters behind and I had to find out what happened next with them. I hope you enjoy meeting Imogen and Christian as much as I did. You can let me know what you thought by contacting me:
www.claireboston.com
Twitter @clairebauthor
www.facebook.com/clairebostonauthor

You can buy All that Sparkles http://bit.ly/1EkAGL5

More about All that Sparkles:AllThatSparklesCover

Imogen Fontaine is living every girl’s dream.

She is a fashion designer for her family’s haute couture label, lives in a mansion, has a great circle of friends and is the apple of her father’s eye. Everything is perfect.

Until the day that Christian, the boy at the center of her childhood heartbreak, walks back into her life.

From there her life starts to unravel, as long-kept secrets are revealed. Imogen learns that her past was built on lies and betrayal, shattering the illusion of her perfect existence. She must seek out the truth if she has any hope of forging a new path for herself and discovering true freedom.

But can she convince Christian that there is a place for him in her new life?

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Guest post: Adèle Geras on retelling fairy tales

FEAgerasToday I’m delighted to feature the wonderful Adèle Geras on my blog. Adèle is a renowned British author who has written more than 95 books for children, young adults, and adults. Her best-known works for young people are Troy(shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and Highly Commended for the Carnegie Medal); Ithaka; Happy Ever After(previously published as the Egerton Hall trilogy) Silent Snow, Secret Snow, and A Candle in the Dark. Her novels for adults include Made in Heaven, Cover Your Eyes, and A Hidden Life.

This week, her latest book, Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France, with gorgeous illustrations by Fiona McDonald, comes out with Christmas Press, and to mark it Adèle has written about why she loves retelling fairy tales.

Retelling Fairy Tales

by Adèle Geras

 This week, two fairy tales, retold by me, are going to be published by Christmas Press in Australia.  The book is called Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France.  They have been beautifully illustrated by Cover.inddFiona McDonald. I love the look of this book. The designers have found a fairytale font that I’d never seen before and the whole production is gorgeous. I can’t wait for it to appear.

I’m a bit evangelical about fairy tales. I was brought up on them. Almost the first thing I can remember reading for myself was a version of Rapunzel. I can bring to mind even now, decades later, the look of my edition of Andersen’s stories ( which are not all traditional, of course) with Rex Whistler’s illustrations. I think it is important that children can still read the story, and not just look at Hollywood versions of these tales.

Retelling fairy tales is one of the things I like doing most as a writer. The reason I’m often asked to do this is, I think, because back in the 90s, I wrote a trilogy of novels based on fairytales, set in my old boarding school, Roedean. They are now published together as a book called Happy Ever After.  Shortly after they came out I was commissioned to retell some fairytales and that book (Beauty and the Beast and Other Stories) is the one from which my Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France  are taken. I’ve also retold The Six Swan Brothers as well as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. 

For a lazy writer like me, it’s a real pleasure not to have to think of a plot. I always find working out the plot the hardest thing of all. I  always have to scratch about a bit when I’m writing something original.  This is never a problem with fairy tales.  They are there, and the reason they have lasted for so long and have been passed down over the centuries is because they are very good stories, dealing as they do with the most basic aspects of human existence: love, death, ambition, jealousy, fear, etc. They teach us that good will triumph, that the wicked will be punished and that it never hurts to be polite….look what happened to the unfortunate sister who was rude to an old woman by a well and ended up spewing toads and vipers from between her rosy lips.

Wonderful characters abound in fairy tales. Princes, monsters, ogres, dwarves, dragons, beautiful damsels who turn out to be braver and cleverer than they know, dreadful mothers, wonderful nurturing mothers, horrible husbands (Bluebeard is a lulu!) and envious siblings. The writer has nothing to do but let the  narrative unfold and all is well.

This might be thought boring but it’s not.  Just as having a fourteen – line limit for a sonnet is liberating rather than restricting, so the fact that you can’t change things too much makes you concentrate on the language. And that’s where the fun starts. I strive to make the words themselves as resonant and beautiful; as suitable to the tale I’m telling as I possibly can.

I hope very much that everyone who reads my versions of Beauty and The Beast and Bluebeard goes on to read lots more fairy tales told by lots of other people.  And I hope that someone asks me to retell another fairy tale, one of these days….

Adèle’s website: www.adelegeras.com

Follow Adèle on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adelegeras

 

 

 

 

Streets, roses and towns: unusual tributes to Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff

Eagle Books

michel strogoff roseToday we thought you might enjoy some titbits of intriguing Mikhail Strogoff trivia!

The influence of Jules Verne’s greatest novel isn’t just felt in literature and film, it is also referenced in several unexpected ways.

In France, the novel has left its mark on the landscape, with several streets, especially in Amiens and the Somme region, where Verne came from, named after our hero, such as Boulevard Michel Strogoff in Longueau and Rue Michel Strogoff in Cergy.

Charmingly, there’s also a beautiful red rose variety named after him, with this poetic tribute attached: ‘Who better than Jules Verne’s famous adventurer, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, to incarnate the spirit of this rosebush with its exceptional qualities?’

But perhaps the most surprising tribute comes not from France, but from the US, where the small desert city of Marfa in Texas owes its unusual name to one of the great characters in the novel:…

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Guest post: Charlotte McConaghy on educating writers

Celebrity_photographers_sydney_glamour_nudes_art_photography_SeductiveToday, I’m delighted to be hosting the fabulous young author Charlotte McConaghy to my blog, as the last stop on her blog tour for her new novel with Momentum, Melancholy, book 2 of the Cure, released today!

I’ve known Charlotte for quite a while, ever since she was in high school in fact–we come from the same town and she’s a school friend of my middle child, Xavier (they are still good friends, incidentally!)

From her early teenage years, Charlotte was a keen and dedicated writer, and her first novel was published when she was only 17! I’m proud to reveal that when she was in Year 12, she came to me for some advice on a piece of writing–fantasy fiction–which she was creating for an Extension English major work. I was really impressed with her work and felt it also showed great promise–which was clearly the case, as though she’s still only in her twenties, Charlotte has since gone on to publish several more books, including Descent, The Shadows, Avery(first in the Chronicles of Kaya)and now The Cure series. It’s been such a joy to watch the progress of her career. And what’s more, as well as being a novelist, Charlotte also holds a Masters in Screenwriting, so maybe one day she can even be 9781760082567_Melancholy_coverinvolved in bringing one of those great novels of hers to the screen!

Congratulations on the release of the new book, Charlotte, and welcome to my blog!

 

The Importance of Education in Perfecting Your Craft
Whether it be advanced degrees, continuing education, or workshops, how important is it to continue to learn and grow in your writing?
By Charlotte McConaghy

Thanks for having me on the blog today! To celebrate the release of my new novel Melancholy – Book Two of The Cure series, I thought I’d talk about something I get asked about a lot by aspiring writers: the importance of education in perfecting your craft.

A lot of new writers are keen to get opinions and perspectives on the education of writing – and whether or not you really need it. This is a tricky subject because many people will tell you not to go anywhere near creative writing courses, and I sort of agree with this. The reason people say it is because these sorts of courses can really mess with your voice, and as we all know, this is arguably the most important aspect of writing. Voice is essentially the personality in your writing, the style and tone and the way it feels for someone to read your work. When you start to play with the finer details of prose – grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, syntax etc – sometimes a writer will lose confidence in their original, natural style, and their voice can be lost.

There’s also a culture of negativity imbued in a lot of degrees, because in essence, education is about teaching people to critique works in order to learn frameworks for distinguishing quality versus non-quality. It’s an aesthetic at the end of the day. What often isn’t taken into account is the fact that there are other frameworks, including emotional connection and engagement, which are difficult to formulate or identify – these are instinctive, and they tie back in with voice.

furySO, we understand that voice is hard to quantify – we can’t learn this, except through practicing getting to the heart of ourselves in our work, and allowing the essence of who we are to infuse our writing. Being true to what we love is the most important thing in any creative field.

HOWEVER, I do believe that in order to elevate our work from something that is more private – a piece of ourselves, in our voice, written for ourselves – we have to understand craft principles. After all, a novel is designed to be read, so you must take into account your audience, and using tried and tested tools will help you to engage your audience on an emotional level.

Early in my career (I say that like I’m a seasoned and wise old expert at 26 – ha!) I avoided creative avery-the-chronicles-of-kaya-1-by-charlotte-mcconaghywriting courses, but I did do a Masters degree in screenwriting, which improved my writing enormously. It taught me the tools for understanding things like character development and transformation, story structure, genre, setting, world-building and POV.

So in summary, I guess what I’m trying to say here is I believe that in terms of the larger- scale aspects of writing, education is absolutely necessary to improve your work. Certain degrees, as well as workshops and courses, will keep you in touch with these tools, and remind you to be mindful of craft principles when you write. Keep learning – you can never learn too much, or hear too many personal opinions that might trigger an epiphany of your own. Go to workshops, readings, festivals etc. Connect in with your people. But I also believe that in terms of your prose, the best thing you can do is to read daily and write daily. Reading will develop your taste and teach you what inspires you, and writing will develop your own personal style. Practice, practice, practice – and you will never stop improving.  arrival

 

More about Melancholy and buy links here.

Visit Charlotte’s website here.

Follow Charlotte on Twitter.

Charlotte’s Facebook author page here.

Cover reveal for Trinity: The False Prince!

false princeDrum roll: Very excited today to reveal the gorgeous cover of the second Trinity book, Trinity: The False Prince! That’s the  atmospheric background of the spectacular Moscow Metro, by the way. Isn’t it evocative!

Trinity: The False Prince will be out on October 8 in digital format, and November 15 in print format. Can’t wait!

Here’s the blurb:

Over a year has passed since the events that changed Helen’s life forever. With Maxim and her other friends, she is fighting to uphold the legacy entrusted to her, but struggles with the weight of memory, the stress of trying to keep Trinity afloat, and the continuing manipulations of the company’s enemies.

Meanwhile, in a remote coastal settlement in southern Mexico, a young fisherman is made an offer he can’t refuse. This triggers a chain of events which will completely transform the struggle for Helen’s ownership of Trinity and the secrets of the Koldun code.

ISBN
9781760082789
Release Date
8 October 2015
Release Date (Print)
12 November 2015
Ebook RRP
$5.99
Print RRP
$24.99

 

Creating the world of The Crystal Heart

DSCN2499For anyone interested in knowing more about my novel The Crystal Heart (named as a CBCA Notable Book this year) I have a guest post on creating the world of the book, on Goldie Alexander’s blog. Following is a short extract. You can read the full thing here. 

The Crystal Heart is set in the military state of Krainos, a small country which is on a constant war footing due to its enmity with the underground, magical realm of Night. But it’s also partly set in Night itself, an amazing realm which is much more advanced than Krainos. Some of the elements of the kingdom of Night owe their inspiration to two things: first, a magical, extraordinary place in the real world, the Wieliczka Salt Mines near Krakow in Poland, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine , which I visited in 2012.DSCN2488

As soon as I set foot in this amazing underground world, with its huge caves, shining salt walls, fantastical statues carved out of grey and white rock salt, and its fairytale cathedral entirely carved out of salt, with glittering chandeliers made of salt crystals, I knew I had to use it in a book! By the time I had emerged from our extraordinary journey underground, the characters of Izolda and Kasper were already whispering in my ear…

The other inspiration for the underground setting was one of my favourite childhood books, George MacDonald’s classic fantasy novel for children, The Princess and the Goblin. I disliked the goblins but was fascinated by their underground kingdom! And when I saw the Wieliczka Salt Mines, those nasty goblins from George MacDonald’s book morphed into even nastier ones in my world!

Crystal Heart cover

 

Guest post: Goldie Alexander on fictionalising history

Last week, I featured a guest post by Wendy J.Dunn, about how she creates her historical fiction. Today, I’m presenting a guest post from Goldie Alexander on a related subject–the importance of fictionalising history.

Goldie Alexander writes award winning short stories, articles, radio scripts, plays and books. Her novels are published both in Australia and overseas for readers of all ages. Her books for adults include: ‘The Grevillea Murder Mysteries’ ‘Lilbet’s Romance’,  Dessi’s Romance’,Penelope’s Ghostmentoring your memoir and ‘Mentoring Your Memoir’. Her first YA novel ‘Mavis Road Medley’ was a Notable CBCA, was shortlisted for by the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs and is listed as one of the best YA books in the Victorian State Library. Her best known book for children is: ‘My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove’. Her fiction for children includes three collections of short stories and several mysteries, fantasies and science fictions. Her other historical fictions include: ‘The Youngest Cameleer’, ‘That Stranger Next Door’, My Holocaust Story: Hanna’ and the verse novel ‘In Hades’. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book, The Business of Writing for Young People, with fellow writer Hazel Edwards.

Welcome, Goldie!Goldie%20A1

Fictionalising history

by Goldie Alexander

Back in the dark ages the history I was taught when very young consisted of memorising facts and dates. I could recite all the kings and queens of England, though I knew almost nothing of our own history. I recall with wry amusement a first year university British History course made up entirely of 16th Century documents, but with no explanation as to why I was required to understand them.
In a way fictionalizing history is writing about time. Time is the element in which we all live much like fish in water and yet the realisation that time flows on and on and never flows backward is one of the most stunning of childhood discoveries. Time is what makes discovering history so important, because time is the narrative of mankind. It provides answers as to how people lived in the past as well as the roots of contemporary laws, customs, and political ideas. The accuracy of that old adage, “you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been” holds true. Historians realize history does repeat itself, though with different permutations. This repetition has importance in all societies. It teaches younger generations the value of certain social attitudes, it helps social change and gives sound governmental policies. A good example is the Aborigines of Australia who managed to hang onto their history for 40,000 years by word of mouth. A knowledge of history clearly proves early man’s love of the arts and demonstrates that once a civilisation is able to maintain a steady food supply that their creative ideas flowed whether the evidence appeared on rock walls, papyrus, or cedar bark.
A child immersed in facebook, twitter, instagram, or playing the latest computer game, might ask, why lilbets-romance1bother with those old stories? So the challenge for us authors who write historical fiction is to make these stories as relevant and exciting as any Hunger Game or Vampire novel and to write what our youngsters will enjoy, and incidentally learn a lot. I think this can happen if the author is able to turn the story into a compelling ‘here and now’ narrative. The best historical fiction works on the premise of “What if you were there at the time?”
It goes without saying that all historical fiction in whichever medium it appears (film, TV, or novel) must be based on careful research. My favourite faux pas is Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra costume’ with its frontal zip and the extra wearing a watch. Does anyone here recall that? Nothing is more irritating coming across a glaring error such as dialogue set well in the past in the past using a contemporary idiom.

There are certain rules we authors keep. We know that good historical fiction has a strong internal logic and is easy for young readers to follow. If the story darts too quickly between ‘times’, unless this is carefully stated, this can confuse even a sophisticated adult. And the story must contain some kind of quest. The characters must have a clear idea of what they desire or fear. They must be wholly rounded, and as three dimensional as if living in the present. The reader must be able to identify with these characters and feel empathy or compassion for their situation.
Some writers worry that readers might not like characters who exhibit typical prejudices of their time. But flawed characters who gain the readers’ sympathy and understanding despite their flaws are a key element of good fiction. Good historical fiction balances a characters’ flaws with qualities we can respect and admire, and gains sympathy for them without excusing prejudice, cruelty and the like.

surviving sydney coveI have written a number of historical novels for young readers. As an Aussie author, I mostly stick to our own history. I fictionalised the lives of our First Fleet in “My Australian Story Surviving Sydney Cove”; wrote about life during the Great Depression in “Mavis Road Medley”; wrote about the little known non-indigenous discovery of Uluru in “The Youngest Cameleer”; explored the First World War for very young readers in “Gallipoli Medals”; and imagined life in Melbourne just before World War Two in “Lilbet’s Romance”. One of my recent novels ‘That Stranger Next Door’ centres on the Australian equivalent of the mid-fifties McCarthy Senate inquiries and can be compared to the Children Overboard incident as both have political overtones. I believe the events I use as my settings have helped shape my country as to what it is now. My most recent novel ‘My Holocaust Story: Hanna’, my only historical novel set in the Warsaw Ghetto, partly shaped what I am now,
Browsing, I came across this comment in Good Reads; “Historical fiction gives me the opportunity to engage with what it would be like to live in those times. It is always great when you find a good source and even more so if that source confirms what you have already imagined. There is so much to learn from the past, it would be waste to just write about our day to day Holocaust Cover Smallpresence.

Writers are often chastised for writing about the past – as if only 21st Century problems are relevant, as if writing fantasy is the only way we will persuade youngsters to read. Certainly there are vogues involving vampires, zombies, super- adventurous girls, and a heap of Tolkien-style fantasy. In the end I doubt they will have a long life. These novels are often commercially driven and may only last until something new takes over. On the other hand history is never out of fashion and fictionalising it, is the best way of ensuring that some understanding of past mistakes might prevent them happening again.

www.goldiealexander.com

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