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Why My Books Are My Babies

I know thinking of books as babies is a rather odd concept but bear with me while I explain.

To start with, the ideas come to me in a small form, often only snippets of what they are going to grow to be and it can take a while for them to fully form. Some take a few weeks but some, like Chains of Freedom, take many many years before I’m ready to think about writing a first draft.

The first draft is sort of the easy bit. It has its struggles but it’s a process of getting to know my characters and putting shape to what has been in my head somewhere for a while. Then there’s the drafts that follow, full of the tough stuff, where I try to get things formed just right so it’s going to be understood better by the rest of the world and not offend people or seem rude and uncouth.

And then finally, I get to the point where I have to let it go. Where the story and characters have to go out into the world, and although I can help them a little with some basic marketing, they have to find their own way, make their own friends who talk about them and share them with other friends, and I can only really sit back and watch and hope they do good and people like them, but I can’t do anything about the people who inevitably won’t like them. My work is done and as much as I might want to take them back in and try to perfect them a little more, or correct mistakes I made, I have to trust I did my best and let go.

On top of that, there’s everything I’ve learnt about being a parent, especially where my characters are concerned. I’m fairly used to getting weird looks from people who don’t write fiction when I talk about my characters. Mostly because I talk about them as if they are real people and for the most part they do feel rather real. I have conversations with them, they have family, past events, likes and dislikes, they feel pain and joy and all the myriad of emotions we feel too.

Also, during the stories, when they are hurt and cry, I almost always cry too, and when they grieve for dead characters I grieve too. When they make mistakes I feel sorry for them, and I get excited when they get something right and make a good decision. I cry happy tears when they fall in love and have their dreams come true.

My characters and my books are my children, and I’m sure I’ll feel all these things even more when I have children of my own, but for now, I’ll keep birthing characters and their stories.

Character Spotlight: Bronwen

I thought I’d spice up my sharing blogs a bit. For ages they’ve been excerpts from my books or other creative endeavours. I’ve never really written anything especially for these blogs, just showcased something I’d already made. I’d like to try something new in every other sharing blog, so once every 24 days roughly I thought I’d do a character spotlight. I may also do a few location spotlights but they won’t be so regular.

All my stories are character driven so for me the most important thing when starting work on a new idea is getting to know the characters involved. Sometimes this can take a while and I can have imaginary people floating around my head for ages. Occasionally they come back after a few months break with some fresh information but mostly I sit down and chat with them during the planning and plotting stage of each book.

When I first started out as a writer I wrote a lot of this information down and even did interviews but as I get better at my craft I’ve been doing this less. Now I just chat to them and let them unfold a bit more as I write.

One of the characters who came to me quite suddenly, let me write her story and then left again without even much of a goodbye was Bronwen. She’s the main character in The Path Home, one of the shorts in Innocent Hearts.

In this blog I’m going to put the spotlight on her, who she is, why she’s where she is at the start of the story, plus anything else I think you might like to know about her. This is going to talk about aspects of the plot and things mentioned in the story, although I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum it may be better to have read The Path Home first. If you’ve not and would like to, you can pick up an ebook copy of her story and Learning to Fly for just 77p here

Bronwen

At the start of The Path Home, Bronwen is alone in her small cottage, upset and packing to go on some kind of journey. I don’t really fill in a lot of her past in this short. I never really intended to as in my head there was always going to be some kind of novel sequel. Almost two years later I still have no idea what that sequel would really look like, so I’ll start with some more backstory of hers.

Bronwen is half elf and half human. Her mother was the elf side of things and her father, human. She’s grown up with both parents in her cottage (Probably a lot like this cottage <– by Thomas Kinkade). To start with she had a pretty basic home life, with the exception of few visitors and no other people living nearby.

The lack of major social interactions coupled with the fact elves live a lot longer than humans means she’s not as emotionally mature as she should be for her age. Although I never specified her age in the books, she’s about seventeen, maybe eighteen but she acts more like thirteen. A very lost and alone thirteen.

Being in a house so far from other civilisation does kinda beg the question why. Unfortunately, Bronwen herself doesn’t entirely know. It seems to have had more to do with Dad than Mum, as Mum regularly went to visit her kin in the elf city Invareph, to the north of home.¬† But neither of them ever explained it to her and before she had thought it might be good to ask they were both dead. Needless to say there’s obviously something about her past she needs to find out and I imagine it bothers her that no one can explain it for sure.

Bronwen had been feeling restless and not quite satisfied with being at home ever since her mother died. Before then her mother would satisfy her vast curiosity with a few odd tales and letting her see the ornate elvish jewellery she had. Her Dad, out of the pain of losing the woman he loved, closed up and never told her anything. As such Bronwen’s curiosity grew worse and worse.

Before the story only two things have stopped Bronwen leaving home. Her love for her father. He does dote on her and is fiercly protective, maybe a little too protective. Also her inability to survive. Mostly because her father is so concerned for her she’s never been out in the wilderness without him. She’s never had to hunt for food and can only cook a little and knows very little about surviving for more than an afternoon out in the wilds.

When her father dies too she finds not only are her two reasons for staying put gone but she has no choice but to leave and find others if she wants to survive. Fate pushes her out the door to go find her mother’s people, just like she’s always wanted.

It’s the only thing she’s ever really wanted, to go to Invareph too and be surrounded by all the other elves her mother told her about. And like all good stories, in The Path Home, that’s exactly what happens by the end. Some other stuff happens along the way and it’s not all plain sailing¬† but by the end, she’s achieved what she set out to do.

So there’s Bronwen and what I know about her so far. Maybe she’ll visit again sometime. If anyone has any more questions about her feel free to put them in the comments below and I’ll see what kind of answer I can give.

Northanger Abbey: A Review

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen is the first book she wrote but the last published.

It’s about the very young and naive Catherine Morland who has never ventured from her little home town of Fullerton her whole life until a very lovely older couple with no children offer to take her to Bath.

I have to admit I think I actually like this Austen book more than Pride and Prejudice, infact I think it’s perhaps my favourite of her books. I’ve always loved Austen’s books, mostly because of the author’s wit and delight in mocking the oddities in the people around her through characters with absurd personality traits, but also becuse of her very clever way of telling a story from only one perspective.

A lot of novels written recently feel the need to explain to the reader all the motives and reasons for each and every character by alternating between the viewpoints of the important people. I think this is too much information. I infinitely prefer to work out the motives of the other characters myself rather than have it told to me. In my opinion a good writer allows the reader to figure it out but doesn’t tell the reader what the other people are thinking at all. It shouldn’t be necessary.

Half the delight in reading a book is discovering all the delicious intricacies of each personality represented. Where is the fun if the writer tells the thoughts of each character? Is it not much more engaging to be left pondering as to the meaning of an action along with the character being affected?

Another reason I loved this book was because of Austen’s way she, on a few occasions, talked to the reader directly. She interrupted the description of Catherine reading a novel to explain her viewpoint on novels of that type.

I always try to work out some of the character of an author when reading their books as it can often come out in the subtelties of the way they describe things, so having the author interact directly was something I enjoyed. It was yet another insight into Austen and her world through that of her writing.

So in short I love Austen for not assuming I’m not bright enough to work out her characters and their potential motives. For expecting her readers to actually have a think about what she might have meant and what she might be trying to say. But mostly for having much more amazing characters and interesting moments in her books because of it all.

Naming Characters

One of the hardest things about writing a new novel, script or other written piece is finding the right character name.

Character names have to sound just right and often people can spend hours agonising over the right sound, ease of spelling and all sorts of other factors.

I try and name my characters in one of three ways.

  1. Name after someone I know.
  2. Find a name meaning that matches the character’s personality.
  3. Search for popular names in that period/region.

Naming after someone I know

This can help with the more minor chracters but I wouldn’t recommend it with your major chracters. It’s a trick I’ve used on a few occasions and will probably use again. I know the author Joe Konrath also does this occasionally as part of contests where the winner gets a minor character (Occasionally a major chracter) named after them.

The name still has to fit in your setting however. Bob isn’t going to work if it’s 1810 and likewise Fitzwilliam doesn’t work so well as a first name in a book set now. I named James Long in With Proud Humility after one of my relatives that was in the Caribbean at the same time I’d set my book.

Finding a name meaning

This is my favourite way of naming the main characters of my books, especially my main females. Usually I will get a good feel for how I wish my chracter to act and who they are before I even attempt naming them this way. Sometimes I just use their position within society or something similar.

This can be quite time consuming but I’ve found searching for a baby name site on google speads up the process somewhat. Sadly the baby name site I normally use has just installed some really annoying video ads that restart each time you click to a new page on their website so I won’t recommend them to you. There are lots of them though and most of them easy to search by meaning.

I’ve named Kaihaitu in this fashion by looking up what names had the meaning leader in Maori, as well as Tanwen which means white fire.

Popular names

Looking up names in a particular time can be very useful for historical fiction or books set in other countries. This is probably how I name the majority of my characters. For example the new book I’m writing has a large chunk of the chracters being from the same Maori tribe. It makes sense for me to look up common names originally used within the Maori culture. Then all I have to do is go through the lists and pick ones I like the sound of. Kinda like naming babies really.

If you’ve tried all that and you’re still stuck for a name try asking another writer to help. You will be surprised how many names get tucked away in the recesses of memories when you look up so many names all the time.