Posts Tagged Ever Rest

How to build a reading list around a subject – and discover the best titles about the allure, tragedy and majesty of mountaineering

I’ve discovered a great site for building a reading list around a subject – Book Shepherd. It invites authors to list their personal favourite titles in subjects that they’re passionate about, whether through personal experience or diligent research. If you’re a writer, you can find what’s been written in your genre or subject area, and discover books that have made a deep impression on your favourite authors and might have influenced their work. (Psst… my Nail Your Novel workbook has sections for organising your research.)

If you’re a reader, you can, obviously, follow your nose to delightful titles you’ve never heard of.

I’ve just contributed a list, based on years researching high-altitude mountaineering. It began as burning curiosity and became my novel Ever Rest. That reading journey took in countless travelogues, factual books, websites and memoirs – and probably every novel that features a mountaineer. Certain titles really left their mark on the story and characters. Here they are. Do come over, either to check them out or to begin your own personal odyssey.

If you’d like help with your own writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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Seven voices – how to write a novel in multiple points of view

I was chatting on a writers’ Facebook group and this question was asked: how many points of view have you used in a novel?

I used several in my most recent novel Ever Rest. Seven, actually. (Splutters in the group. And they were right; it was tricky to do.)

I didn’t plan that way at first. I imagined the novel would be one point of view. Then I wrote a scene where my viewpoint guy had an awkward meeting with another character, and the air was seething with unfinished business. I couldn’t do justice to it if I stayed only with him.

So I wrote her side.

I resisted at first. It seemed a waste of time because it wouldn’t be used. It couldn’t be; Ever Rest was not her book. I hadn’t inhabited her life in the way I had inhabited his. I knew his childhood. I didn’t know her life beyond this brief scene. It was a blank, and a blank is always worrying for a writer. A blank might be temporary, or it might not. But there she was, protesting about being forced to meet this guy.

She began to live on her own. I now had two narrators for the novel.

It happened again. As I worked on her, a person who belonged to her became more significant. He looked kind and mild, but inside, there were deep uncertainties. A third voice began to speak.

On it went, with more people revealing their complicated hearts. Until there were seven.

By this stage, you might be wondering if I should have written it as omniscient, but that didn’t appeal. For this book, I wanted deep third-person. I wanted the reader to know when one person was badly misreading another, or underestimating them. I wanted the reader to scream no you’re too naïve, or too suspicious, or simply mistaken. Each character was in their own private muddle, trying to find their way through, and none of them truly knew anybody else. The best way was multiple points of view.

But how many is too many? It’s too many if you can’t handle them properly. Otherwise, go for it. Here are some rules.

Some rules for multiple points of view

1 They don’t all have to be heard equally.

Like all characters, you’ll have a hierarchy. Some characters are secondary. Their situation is not as fraught and tormented, or they won’t go through very much change.

I used one character’s point of view to occasionally give an outsider perspective. He wasn’t seen as many times as the others, but we sometimes went to him for a grounding scene. Sometimes he was sympathetic to them, sometimes exasperated. It was a welcome relief from the characters who were facing the defining moments of their lives.

2 Take time to make them individuals.

I really made a rod for my own back here. I had seven viewpoint characters, which meant seven distinctive voices and outlooks. It meant a lot of revising. (This is one of the reasons the novel took six years to mature.)

3 When it’s their turn to speak, write them from the inside.

With two of the characters, I realised I was unsympathetic to them myself. I was writing them from the point of view of other characters in the book. X thought y was a tin-eared narcissist, and that was good, but I wrote y’s own sections like that too, which was a mistake. While x might think that of y, y would not think that of himself. So I gave my tin-eared narcissist a fair hearing. He became highly sensitive and often distressed.

4 Remember what they know, including their ideals.

You have to keep careful track of continuity. There are the obvious mechanics of who knows what. What x thinks of y, as we’ve seen.

And this knowledge also has a deeper level – characters’ attitudes. In Ever Rest, a key aspect was the characters’ attitudes to romantic love – what they thought love should be. X feels love is a shattering thunderbolt. Z feels love is educating the person about how to be in love, and watching them in case they get out of line and make themselves unhappy. I drew charts of these, so I could easily compare them.   

5 Manage the reader carefully.

Make it clear when we’re in a new point of view – unless your purpose is to deliberately obscure this. (I can’t think of a good example right now, but for every general prohibition, there’s always a person who’s broken it to great effect.)

Otherwise, make sure we know whose POV we’re in. Establish a system that will let the reader know. I began a new chapter each time there was a new POV. Some chapters were very short – a mere few paragraphs – and that was fine.

Also, I made the viewpoint clear in the first sentence so the reader knows how to interpret what they’re seeing. Each character had very different views and feelings about the action, so it was important to know whose emotions we were sharing. Is it the character who is mortally offended by this action or the character who thinks it’s a storm in a teacup?

6 Ask if you need all those POVs.

Why make it so complicated? Most things are better if you strip away complication, especially when making an artwork. However, they are not necessarily better if you strip away complexity and richness. I found I needed each of my seven voices to give the story its most lifelike treatment.

BTW, this is Ever Rest.

And speaking of managing big projects, don’t forget I have a course this week at Jane Friedman’s – Standalone or Series: how to grow your novel concept to its full potential. You can watch it live or catch up later.

If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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Would Ever Rest suit your book club? Here’s a FREE book to help you decide

My third novel Ever Rest, is now shortlisted, with honourable mention, for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize 2022!

Several reviewers have mentioned they’d like to introduce it to their book clubs, so I’ve created these crib notes, to use as a primer before reading, or a refresher afterwards. I’ve included key themes, suggested questions for discussion, and an interview by Garry Craig Powell at Late Last Night Books where I explain my inspirations and intentions – which, of course, might be entirely irrelevant to your own reading of the book. Spoilers are flagged in case you’d like to avoid them.

The title is more ponderous than I would like. I wanted to call it Sleeve Notes, but Amazon’s rules require the words ‘Study Guide’ in the title, and prominently on the cover. There were other options, but they were even more earnest. So Study Guide it is.

Anyway, it’s formatted as an ebook and a PDF and you can download it free from all the major ebook retailers. Find it here.

PS For more of my creative doings, you might like my newsletter, here

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Making my honest art – writing and publishing literary fiction: interview at @thecreativepenn

Today I’m at Joanna Penn’s now legendary podcast, The Creative Penn, talking about writing and publishing literary fiction.

We cover the writing process for a very long-haul book (ie Ever Rest), the research process, creative revision, how you battle on when you’ve lost your way, and how you design a cover for a book that doesn’t have established genre parameters.

We also cover another big question – if literary fiction isn’t the most predictably lucrative kind of book, and marketing is tricky, what are the guaranteed rewards? Hence the line about making honest art.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. Do come over.

If you’re curious about my creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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How do you like to talk about books? Themes, juxtapositions and the complication of being human – an interview at Late Last Night Books @L8NiteBooks

I have a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, but if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the course. However, I loved studying English literature in the final two years of school, at A level. (Note for non-Brits: you probably call this high school, age 16-18.)

My degree disappointed me because it was too wideswept; it seemed chiefly to value an author for the way they represented a historical period, a concern of the age or a step in the evolution of a form. I was disappointed because it gave little priority to the literary work itself – the novel, poem or play as a creation of beauty and power, enduring resonance and relevance.

But A level was mainly about appreciating the work. While context wasn’t ignored, each novel, poem or play was examined in its own right, as an entity worth detailed attention. We learned to notice how the author might be playing with our hearts and minds. We discussed themes and juxtapositions and narrative devices. We might have found patterns the author did not intend; we might have overthought things. That did not matter; decoding this richness was part of the joy, a quest to discover why this work enspelled us so. We were discovering a wondrous thing – the author’s craft.

I still love this. It’s my favourite way to talk about a book.

If you like that too, you might enjoy my interview here at Late Last Night Books,

The subject is Ever Rest and my interrogator is Garry Craig Powell, a former creative writing professor and author of the prizewinning short story collection Stoning The Devil (which you might remember from his appearance on The Undercover Soundtrack).

We talk about juxtapositions. Why I put this with that. The man frozen in the ice, as young as the day he went in, and the people who remember that day and are now 20 years older.

We talk about themes and narrative aims. We talk about places where we can be gods (playing music to a crowd of 10,000) and places where we are too fragile to survive (the top of Everest). We talk about love and death and loss, the massive complication of being human. And things I wasn’t aware of until Garry asked. Do come over.

Do bring your own questions too if you’ve already read the novel – or you can drop them in the comments here.

Would you enjoy Ever Rest? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.

If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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Comments from experts… how to use factual feedback wisely in your story (and not go mad when your plot falls apart)

For the novel I’ve just released, Ever Rest, I needed a lot of expert input. I consulted musicians, artists, doctors, priests, music lawyers, morticians… the most significant, of course, was mountaineers.

I’ve been reading about Everest, high-altitude climbing and lost climbers for more than 20 years. I also had help from my friend Peter Snell (my bookseller co-host on So You Want To Be A Writer), whose brother Robin went trekking in Nepal and sent a tireless stream of photos.

Robin sent me domestic details such as teahouse menus.

Loos.

Near the end of his trip, Robin had a brief mishap that required a hospital stay. Trooper that he is, he continued to send despatches. So even the scene in a Kathmandu hospital came from actual experience.

So I was well set up to write the Nepal sequences. But my ghostwriting experience has taught me to check everything, even when sure. For this, I was lucky to find a mountaineer who has summited Everest. And despite my painstaking care, he found numerous glitches that confirm the value of actual feet on the actual mountain.

Feedback can look daunting, especially when it runs to several pages. Especially when some might seriously disrupt the book.

I got to work.   

Small errors of terminology and fact

There were two ways I dealt with these.

1 – I marked the errors I should correct, lest I look like a numpty.

2 – I marked the errors I decided not to correct – these errors were made by characters who did not have specialist knowledge, and would credibly make the same mistakes as non-climber Roz. However, my expert was right and conscientious in pointing them out because he wanted to make sure I knew. If I knew, I could then decide if the character should know. Big takeaway – not all your characters will be experts.

Bigger problems that made plot sequences impossible

There were bigger problems. My expert made several suggestions for solutions, all ingenious. But none of them fitted my dramatic needs.

Sleepless night.

I looked again at my expert’s solutions. Some would be too cumbersome for the narrative. But still, something had to be done. So I analysed the reasons for my expert’s objection, went back to my reading, now with more understanding, and found solutions that were possible from real-life examples. And, as often happened, these solutions eased a few other issues.

Sometimes you have to do a lot more thinking and research… but your expert gets you there.

Emotional corrections

Sometimes I had underestimated how strongly characters would feel about events. In this case, my expert also turned out to be a sensitivity reader. And his feedback allowed me to adjust the characters’ reactions according to their natures. Some were sensitive; some could be obliviously offensive.  

Points where we disagree!

What’s at the top of Everest? In my research, I found mention of an alloy pole at the summit. I liked that. I put it in. My expert commented that there wasn’t an alloy pole at the summit. I double-checked my references. In my novel, the characters climb the mountain in 1994. Two sources from 1996 mention a pole at the summit… one of them is a documentary, so I’ve seen it for myself. My expert was there in the 2010s, by which time the pole might have gone. So I could decide whether I wanted a summit pole or not. I chose to have a summit pole.

Facts… are only half of it

David Mamet said: ‘It’s not our job to explain.’ An expert will deluge you with generous details, but you as a writer, a storysmith, have to decide how to use those details – here is Mamet, explaining the difference between information and drama in loud capitals (see below)

But Roz, most readers won’t know it’s wrong! Look at the physics in The Martian

The physics in Andy Weir’s The Martian is somewhat squiffy. Or so I’m told, because I know a lot of physics graduates. So is the physics in the movie Gravity, apparently.

Most readers and viewers don’t know; that’s true. But I will know. I don’t want to release a book that I know has inaccuracies. And knowing about them has pushed me to find better solutions that fit my dramatic needs and keep the book’s credibility and truth.

Meanwhile, here is Ever Rest. Find it in all print and ebook formats.

What’s it like? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.

If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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I made this! Ever Rest is now available

Trust the process. Although there has been much muddling and rewriting; although I started with a short story and wasn’t sure how I’d make it into a long one; although I had to learn about the technicalities of two artforms (music and visual art) and one elite sport (mountaineering)… I got safely and securely to The End.

Ever Rest, my third novel, is now available.

What’s it like? Here are a few reviews to help you decide.

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Reading as a duty and reading for pleasure… plus the oldest book on my shelf. At @jaffareadstoo

A quick interview at the online home of book blogger Jo Barton, aka Jaffareadstoo. The questions are lighthearted, but they raise interesting issues about reading.

Writers and book bloggers have something in common – a TBR pile that’s neverending. We’re reading to keep up with recent releases. We’re reading as research. We’re reading to help our friends. And we’re reading a lot – an awful lot – to do our jobs. When do we read for ourselves?

Do you have a rule that if you start a book, you finish it? I used to. It was a habit instilled at school – abandoning a book was bad manners. I almost felt the author would know I’d sneaked out before they’d said their piece. I remember there was a moment when I decided I had to let go of that rule or I’d never get everything read that I had to. And I’m a slow reader. I like to appreciate a book, not bolt it. That raises another question – if reading is our job, do we still allow ourselves to read for pleasure? I know plenty of people in publishing who have lost their joy of the written word.

Anyway, tell me your thoughts, either here or at Jo’s blog. You’ll also see Jo and I discuss this, the oldest book on my shelves.

If you’re looking for writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’d like to know more about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk (and my very exciting new novel), look here. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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And then there were three – 7 steps of a long-haul novel

And so I have a novel coming out.

How long has it been since my last one? I released Lifeform Three in 2014. My Memories of a Future Life was a full 10 years ago. I’m a novelist, but my output is somewhat slow.

It’s not that I’ve been unproductive in that time. I’ve released courses, writing books, a travel memoir I didn’t expect to be writing. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words in my coaching and editing reports. And blogs, guest posts, journalism, newsletters.

If we totalled that as a words biomass, it would be substantial. My three novels – my now three novels – would be only a tiny proportion. So I’m a novelist who mostly does other things.

But my novels are my truest purpose. They are the work I am most painstakingly careful about. If I get an epitaph, I want the novels as the headline. Everything else is an also.

So how long did Ever Rest take me? Seven years, and it seemed to fall into seven distinct steps, though that is coincidental. Some steps took more than one year. Anyway, the sequence might be familiar if you’re also a long-haul writer.

Step 1 – short story to novel

Ever Rest started as a short story – here’s a post about expanding a short story into a long one. I wasn’t good at short stories, which is why you’ve never seen a short story from me. I get too involved. I can’t let them go. You’ll see this in later steps.

Step 2 – vow of silence

Authors on social media are used to sharing their work in progress. Character back stories, snippets of chapters. I wanted to join their ranks, share the proof that I was working as they were, get cheery encouragement. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t workshop my rough ideas in case they tarnished the finished book. Also, I couldn’t talk about it. It was too deeply difficult. I discussed that here – how much do you talk about the novel you’re writing?

Step 3 – losing faith

I didn’t know what I was writing. The same happened with Lifeform Three. For a long time, I was merely its baffled interpreter. I lost faith in it, hundreds of times. I wrote about that here, especially the idea of creative faith and long-term determination.     

Step 4 – write 100 pages, discard 80

In terms of word biomass, this book is substantial, but much was wastage. I wrote a lot; I binned a lot. During that phase, I read an interview where Marlon James said ‘you can write 100 pages and only use 20’. Even though I knew this to be the case from previous novels, I found his comment comforting. At the time, I was on my third draft and the book was already scar tissue. I eventually did 23 drafts. Here’s how that went.

Step 5 – never let it go

After 15 drafts, the novel operated as I hoped it would. I was ready for beta readers. For many years, the book had dominated my thoughts and my reading choices. I could now widen my diet. Pursue other interests. But did I want to? Very mixed feelings.

Step 6 – red pen and sweet reunion

I knew there would be more work after the readers’ feedback. Some was forehead-smacking, but most was a relief. It was good to be back. A final dance. No, several. Revise, revise, until draft 23.  

Step 7 – real writer again

Now, I have it ready. My third novel. Look, I’m a real writer again.

Ever Rest is released on 3 June. You can find out more here. Read early reviews here. Watch a video trailer here. Pre-order here.

For more about my creative wanderings, look here. And subscribe to future updates here.

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How to write a logline for your novel

What’s a logline?

It’s a sentence or two that illuminates the main theme or story question. Sometimes it’s included on the cover, but not always. Sometimes a subtitle performs the same function as a logline – not so much with novels, but common with non-fiction, memoir and even short stories.

Even if you don’t intend to put a logline on the book cover, it’s handy to have, because it’s a one-shot focused way to begin your sales description. And for all the times when somebody catches you on the hop with this dumbstriking question: what’s your book about?

So loglines are easy to define. And darned hard to write. Imagine your novel of 100,000 words. It’s a long and nuanced experience. I’m sure you’re screaming in your mind: how do I boil that down to one line?

Loglines are on my mind because I’ve been writing one for Ever Rest. More than 100,000 words, so I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

But I did, eventually. Here’s how.

First, I tried to identify the novel’s central theme or question. Unfortunately, there seemed to be many. My list went: Love, loss, friendship. Betrayal. The haunting power of music. The time-capturing power of music. (Lots about music.) The cruelty of places beyond our warm territories. (Lots about that too.)

This list was not going to give me a logline.

Also, it was looking at the wrong thing.

I wrote several loglines that were very unsuitable. At the time each seemed perfect. Then I’d look again and think, that’s not the best angle.

Some were even misleading. One logline I wrote, which I seriously liked for a while, sounded like genre crime. You can see a journal of them here, in my most recent newsletter, which shows how mistaken you can be about your own book. (Click on the link to the loglines story.)

So I started again.

Find the right question

I looked for questions. This was better.

One question proved to be very useful:

What are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive emotional flavour?

And

An event draws these people together. What predicament does it put them all in?

The people are, of course, the key. The main characters. Their relationships. Their biggest troubles. Their central problem, which presents differently on the surface, but deep down is the same issue seen through many windows. The things that, underneath, they need to finish.

A check

I also needed the logline to complement the cover and the title. Your cover designer will have picked one dominant emotion for the cover, so your logline should harmonise with it. Otherwise you’ll confuse your readers and confused readers don’t buy. (I haven’t yet revealed the cover for Ever Rest, so you’ll have to use your imagination for now. But I have ensured that cover, title and logline are in harmony.)

Then polish

Once you know what you want to say (a major task in its own right), rewrite the logline in emotive, teasing language. Aim for tension. Try:

Questions -‘Is it too late to tell the truth?’ Jill Mansell, It Started With a Secret.

Contrasts – ‘One library. Infinite lives.’ Matt Haig, The Midnight Library.

Conundrums and contradictions – ‘If your life now was another person’s past…’ My Memories of a Future Life (me!).

Also, learn from your comparison titles. These are books that give the reader a similar experience to yours, so study what quality has been isolated for the logline. Also look at their reviews – a perceptive reviewer might have picked words or phrases that exactly capture what you’d like to say about your own book.

Try it now. Take a book you read recently and consider: what logline would you write for this book?

PS My Nail Your Novel workbook contains exercises for writing various kinds of summary for your book, including synopses and pitches.

PPS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, my Nail Your Novel books are full of tips. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. If you’d like to support bricks-and-mortar bookstores use Bookshop.org. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, look here (to see a very exciting announcement). You can subscribe to future updates here.

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