Tag: writing guidance

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

For this week’s blog, I had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Jan Wallace Dickinson, author of the newly published The Sweet Hills of Florence. Here is what she has to say about characters, writing, and becoming an author.


How was the idea for your book planted?

Possibly even when I was child, listening to my parents talk. But later when I studied the history and literature I was enthralled. I had been going to do a Masters on Fenoglio, but then decided I didn’t need another degree, or rather, my sister said in her inimitable way, why the hell don’t you just write the thing in a way that might possibly be interesting!

Did you fall in love with any of your characters?

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters. You are always a little in love with each of the characters. Certainly with Ben & Clara. But also a fondness for some of the minor characters. I loved the funny old characters, but then my editor, who is brutal, said to me, ‘Enough with all the little old men’! So I only left a few in! Enrico has something of my father about him. Delia & I share a bit of a world view. I admire Annabelle.

How long did it take you to write? Or do you think it’s a lifetime of researching that has come to fruition?

I wrote the book over a period of five years, then two years of getting to publication, so I have lived with this book for seven years. It is, in a sense, a lifetime of work, and someone said to me just today that this is the logical drawing together of all the threads of your interests over so many years.

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters. What was your writing schedule, as in, how did you achieve the full stop?

I never quite know how to answer this. I definitely do not sit down for a set period of time each day. There is never a day, ever, when it is not in my mind. I fill my notebooks as I sit waiting for a train or fill my voice recorder as I drive. I write passages on planes and in airports. I send myself email notes while I wait for an appointment. But then … I take a week and I do NOT surface. I write eight hours a day, every day, and I do not leave the house. The thing I love most about writing is that you are never, for a moment, left without something wonderful to mull over, to roll around in your head, to think about. It’s the world of ideas that I love.

What tips would you have for aspiring writers?

Just do it. Most writers don’t become rich or famous, it’s just something we have to do. So many people tell me they would like to write a book, but when I ask them next, how it’s going, they say they haven’t done much. That’s not being a writer. I have always been a writer, ever since I was four years old. It’s only now that I am also an author. 

On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Developing Your Platform

Developing Your PlatformLast week Matthew Ferrara talked about connecting the art of writing with the art of photography, which he will be teaching in much greater detail in his Art of Writing ‘Connect the Arts’ lecture in June.

Matthew is also an absolute leader in teaching writers how to connect to their readers online. For this week’s Blog, let us concentrate on his class on ‘Developing Your Platform’ class, which he will also be hosting for us in June and where he will advise each of us on our internet profile and help us work out how to master social media networks. I for one, am in desperate need of this kind of tailored information. We can reach so many people through the internet if only we understood more about it. Matthew says that now more than ever every author, in fact, every business, needs an online strategy.

Developing Your Platform“Writers today have lots of online options for creating long-lasting connections with their readers. They are building strong communities of loyal fans, who provide them with feedback and ideas for their future projects. Online communities are one of the strongest sources of referrals and testimonials that can boost your book sales. Every author needs to develop an online strategy that contributes to their lasting success.”  

Matthew will lead us into his Art of Writing talks with a series of tips and tricks in understanding the different kinds of social media and how they can work for you. Here is what he has to say about the importance of listening to your readers to help you understand your online brand:

Developing Your PlatformGreat Authors Listen, then Write. One of the greatest opportunities of modern technology is the ability to “talk” to so many of our readers and fans. With social media, it’s easy to send updates on our next book, book signing appearances and continue the conversations we start in our books. Yet great writers know that the source of their best efforts starts with their ears, not their fingers: listening to the ideas, feedback and comments from readers is a rich source of materials. In many ways, successfully building your brand using the web starts by opening “listening spaces” using social media, video and your blog. Ask questions that get your readers involved: Which way should you go? What character should you add – or kill off? What moved them the most in your last piece? Don’t waste the opportunity to get people connected to your characters, your ideas and your brand by merely using social media as an announcement tool. Curate simple conversations that offer them a stake – a chance to influence – your future work. When your ears do the listening, it’s easier for your fingers to do the writing.

Sincerely and personally, I am beyond excited about Matthew’s classes, and I cannot wait to hear more of what he has to say. 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

 

How to create interesting characters, Part 2.

How to create interesting charactersContinuing our look at character building, here is the second part of my series on how to create interesting characters. These two paragraphs were written by Martyn Bedford, our 2017 Art of Writing teacher. It’s wonderful advice.

It’s important that your character develops in the course of the story. By the end they should be different (either practically or emotionally) than they were at the outset. This can be subtle or dramatic but the lead character needs to have changed in some way. If they end the narrative as they began it, unaltered by what happens along the way, there is no story.

To be ‘real’, a character needs to be particularized not generalized – by that, I mean they must not be stereotyped, but individual and unique. Paint him or her in small details rather than broad brushstrokes.

How to create interesting charactersIn other news:

Emma Fraser, our Art of Writing manuscript assessor, tells us that Bloodhound Books are opening up for submissions on March 10th. This could be a great ‘in’ if you are working on something with suspense.

http://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/

And why are publishers still coming out with hardbacks first?

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/25/book-clinic-why-do-publishers-still-issue-hardbacks

Lastly, the link below is a nice Infographic from Global English Editing and the Expert Editor.

On the writing routines of 20 famous writers. I enjoyed it because am always struggling with my own writing routine!

https://geediting.com/daily-writing-routines-20-famous-authors/

How to create interesting characters

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Writers often ask me where they should start their story. They have the idea in their heads. Scenes, thoughts or characters whirl in their imaginations. That’s where you should start writing. With whatever it is that is tugging at your mind.

This point is clearer, in an old Blog post recently found by a reader: Start with a fragment. John then sent a series of questions. I have outlined them here for this week’s Blog. I hope this helps!

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

I wonder about your research methods, and how much, if at all, they vary for non-fiction or fiction. Do you scout sites/locations, just as film crews do?

With my Creative Non-Fiction books I always scout the real location. Though what ends up on the page may vary greatly from the original site, I find it necessary to go to the location.

Was sketching the only way you could recreate an appropriate scene? I expect that you have also used many images, both your own photos, and those available on the web, to provide colour, texture and detail to stimulate your imagination, but are there any of the old mezzadria farmhouses still preserved in a state that reflects the early 20th century?

When I sketched the old Tuscan farmhouse setting for Death in the Mountains I needed to understand the feel of the living room and kitchen. If I know what it looks like in my imagination, readers will too. I won’t get confused, so my readers won’t get confused. Stories often play out in kitchens and living rooms. So we must know exactly their dimensions and building materials. Knowing those elements gives us sight, sound, smell and touch. If I know what the floor is made from, I can imagine the sound of footsteps, or creaking wooden floor boards. The sounds of children playing on floor boards etc.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Do you ‘walk through’ your rooms/scenes, in or out of character, to get the feel of the setting and to capture ‘their’ reactions? I guess I’m trying to see how you visualise what you are creating.

Yes, when I’m writing, I am inside my head so much that I don’t even see my office, I see my site or location. My characters walk. How many steps does it take? When Artemio was attacked in his barn, he crawled to the house. How far away was the barn to the house? He fell against the front door. How? What exactly did his body do? How did Bruna drag him in, a woman on her own? How did Felice and Bruna drag him up the stairs? How close was the door to the stairs? You have to totally immerse yourself physically and mentally in the scene’s action, understand everything about it. Only then you can describe it. You have to feel it happening.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Does it in any way approach being an observer, describing settings, even ‘recording’ conversations?

Yes, I record conversations and interviews all the time. Try to get the nuance of voices, dialect, sayings, odd phraseology. Tone too – gravelly, high pitched. Voices reveal so much and later, when I’m transcribing I can find so much more description.

Thanks so much John! Don’t hesitate to write back, everyone, with any thoughts or questions.

I hope others are as interested in your answers as I am. Thanks again for sharing aspects of your writing process with us.

John

Answering a reader’s questions.

I like it when readers ask questions. It feels as though the core of what I’ve written has touched a heart, in a special way. When John Hingston read Death in the Mountains, he very kindly wrote to me in Italy with a series of questions. I felt you’d enjoy his thoughts too. It helps writers persevere with their work when they read what and how other writers handle their creative work.

Do you need to love words to be a writer? Are you primarily an entertainer or a communicator?
Yes, I think a writer has to love words. You need to turn words over, to make sure they perfectly express what you are trying to say. A writer has to communicate uniquely, in their own voice and invent different ways of expressing emotions. I’ve always been a communicator as I started my career as a journalist. Communicating is a huge part of journalism. Now I think I am primarily an entertainer. In fact, when my publisher asked me whether I was ready to leave non-fiction and move into fiction he asked me just one question. ‘Are you ready to move into the world of entertainment?’

Does your purpose change with the project/book you’re engaged in creating? 
Yes, stories morph and move as you write. You start with an idea, then it generally changes or takes shape. Ideas strike as you write. That’s why it’s important to keep writing, even if you’re not sure how the story will finish. It’s only when you are writing that ideas can flow.

Do you constantly have your audience in mind or do you give yourself some rope to range about, and then pick things over during editing?
I usually have an audience in mind. Almost all my readers love Italy in some way. So my name has, over the years, become synonymous with Italy, Tuscany and Florence. I always pick things over when editing, over and over and over. But generally most of my readers enjoy ‘armchair travel in Italy.’

Do you distinguish between writing for yourself and writing for others? 
Yes and no. I always write what is important to me at that moment of my life. I couldn’t write The Promise now. I couldn’t write Death in the Mountains now, or Naples, A Way of Love. I am ready to write a contemporary, fiction, thriller set in Florence that has a deeper message about inter-cultural marriage. I am writing it for myself but I would hate to think it would bore people.

Do you start with a big idea or a phrase that sounds good?
I start with a huge idea. And it has to sound good (at least to me). I always try to write the opening with a big bang. Start with action. It helps me drive the narrative and the story as I go. If I don’t’ like the story it won’t get written so it’s imperative that the writer is in love with their story, or it won’t sustain them for 80,000 words.

Can/do you compose at the keyboard or is the computer more a tool for assembling and editing the sections as they acquire form?
Usually, I write daily in long form on the computer. Though I tend to hand write when I need to think more deeply and find personal or distinctive phrases. I also tend to edit on hard copy in a café. I print off what I’ve written and read it like I would any book in a café. If it holds me, I know I am onto something. I do my best writing up at our old family farm, completely undisturbed, totally absorbed in my characters and the story.

Finally, have you looked back at your fb account where you asked tourists/travellers for feedback on their love of Italy? Has it turned up anything interesting or provocative?
Yes, for Rome (I live in Florence so Rome is not my stomping ground) I’ve been given some wonderful tips.

How soon before your next book is published?
I hope to finish this first draft by November or so. June, July, August will be frantic with The Art of Writing and my children on summer holidays. So my word count will diminish. I want to go to Hong Kong to see my mother in July and I will take my 17 year old son Leo. I would like him to spend some time with his grandmother. I’ll take my new book with me and work on it there. This story will take many drafts. So if I am happy with it by early next year, it would be out late next year. Normally I submit my manuscript in May and it is released just before Christmas.

Thanks John, for sending me these questions. I’ve enjoyed thinking about the answers.

If you would like to write with questions, don’t hesitate.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The Adventure Continues! Meet Matthew Ferrara, the new man behind the Art of Writing.

Meet Matthew FerraraMESSAGE FROM LISA; It’s such a pleasure to introduce you to my friend and now business partner, Matthew Ferrara. Together we are planning the most exciting writers retreat in Florence, as The Art of Writing moves from the mountains of Tuscany to the heart of the renaissance. Here, in his words, Matthew talks about what writing means to him:

As a philosopher and keynote speaker, you might say I’m in the business of words. Whether it’s on stage, on social media or in articles, the right words at the right time make a big difference in the lives of readers, listeners and followers. It’s the responsibility that comes with having a voice that can reach so many – or just one person – which every writer must develop, earn and respect. So it’s with great excitement that in 2018 I now have the opportunity to add that voice to The Art of Writing Retreats in Tuscany. 

Nearly five years ago I attended my first Art of Writing retreat, hosted in the hills outside Tuscany, by the accomplished journalist and author Lisa Clifford. It was a week to disconnect from the daily hustle and develop my skills as a wordsmith. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in my writing style, as I wrote about in “Italian Bus Drivers” at the end of the week: 

Meet Matthew Ferrara‘To rest is to restore: not just energy, but a sense of normalcy. What you find is that, while resting, your “non-technical” qualities re-emerge. Imagination, memory, enthusiasm. Not just copy, paste, or send. As we rebalance ourselves, opportunities emerge. We gladly explore new neighbourhoods, food, ideas. Growth, in all its forms, is exercised by rest. It should really be practiced daily.

But rest is a hard place to reach. Perhaps that’s why there are Italian bus drivers, who are the worst in the world. Ask the stomachs in the back seat. Rarely has a driver been good enough to uncoil the round, rolling roads of an Italian hilltop for his passengers. Instead, his driving exaggerates everything we hope to take a break from – the frenzied hurry of our chaotically-connected modern existence.’

That piece wasn’t just a reflection on what it means to attend a writers retreat or take a week-long creativity vacation. It was a lesson for me in what being a master of words could do every day. In a world where the pace often seems like an Italian bus careening down the hill, we can use words to help others and ourselves take a break. To write so that others may immerse themselves in the magic of our words and emerge renewed. That’s the gift that works for writer and reader alike.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

From that lesson, I would return to the Art of Writing multiple times over the years, ultimately leading to the opportunity to become a partner in the project this year. It’s the chance for me to make words worthwhile every day as we seek other writers around the world to come rest, recharge and write with us for a week. 

Therein lies one more lesson in the magic of words: The writers retreat. The word isn’t about removing oneself from the world, to somehow separate from what’s holding us back. Rather, it’s about learning to re-treat yourself to the restorative power of creative writing. That’s what I hope we’ll continue to do at the Art of Writing. Help others build their competence and confidence so that they, too, can turn writing into a treat they’ll love every day.

Meet Matthew Ferrara

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Ever wonder how writers keep track of their chapters, as their books start to gather momentum? How do writers organise their drafts? How do they manage their hard copies? Should you keep everything you print off?

For me, it’s the magic of a simple coat rack. This is how I build my books. I hang the chapters in chronological order, starting at the right hand side of the coat rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Watching that coat rack fill up with chapters and fragments is fabulous! It is enormously satisfying to see those sheets of paper pile up as I edit hard copies. This is the fourth book I have written using this method. I bought this coat rack at the Santo Spirito market years ago. It was originally attached to the corridor walls of a nearby primary school.

By the time I’ve finished this novel there will be about 200,000 words hanging along this coat rack. The average contract for a novel is for 80,000 words. But after I’ve ‘killed my darlings’ (deleted what I thought was precious) and tossed unusable drafts, there will be at least 200,000 words of text hanging along that rack.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

My office is on the top floor of my house in Florence. Under the rafters. So this couch keeps me sane when reading through either my own drafts or text from the writers I mentor through the Art of Writing.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

As the winter months enclose us here in Italy, I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Sorry I’ve been out of touch but am going into my ‘cave’ (office) to hibernate and write now, so you can expect to hear quite a lot from me.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

What’s your system? How do you keep your chapters in order? Do you print them off and have a filing system that could give us an organisational idea?

Thank you too to Birgitte Brondsted at the Dusty Green Olive who wrote this lovely story on me and my office a while ago. Check it out here.

Organise your drafts by filling up that coat rack.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.One of the glorious things about living in Florence is meeting the most interesting people. I meet travelers, inventors, creators, inspirers, reporters and sometimes I meet someone who
is all of those things. Like Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe. I am lucky enough to officially announce that Girl in Florence, Georgette Jupe, will join us for the September 10-16 Art of
Writing retreat.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.It’s a treat to announce this because it means that not only will our September writers have the opportunity to meet one of the loveliest girls but also to chat, drink, dine, bushwalk and generally hang out with Georgette too. She has much to tell us, Georgette. Every time I meet up with her I learn so much. Love that! Don’t you? When you chat with someone and find that you are learning and growing? Am feeling particularly blessed about this amazing group of women (and men!) that will join me this year in Casentino.

Meeting people who inspire you to learn and grow.Who would have thought? All those years ago, when I was 17 years old and a barmaid at the Red Garter in Florence. Who could possibly have known that gorgeous Florentine medical student would become my husband and the father of my two gorgeous babies? That 38 years and four books later, I’d still be here!

Life is a surprise. You never know what your journey is going to be.

I am eternally grateful to Florence and all that she has given me. And thanks to you too for being on this journey with me.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Check out what our writers are reading this summer.

We have the most wonderful group of professional writers on the Art of Writing team. From New York best sellers to UK literary award winners, our teachers make a living from their writing. That’s our dream job, no? To become a career writer. It’s such an honour to have the wonderful writers listed below on our teachers’ lineup.

So what are The Art of Writing creative writing teachers reading and writing this summer?

New York best sellers list author, Jane Corry, is reading The Breakdown by B. A. Paris. Having just read Jane’s My Husband’s Wife, I was thrilled to see her new book Blood Sisters with Penguin is also out this summer. But what is Jane writing now? “This European summer will be a busy few months. I am writing next year’s book for Penguin, The Dead Ex.” What a gift to have Jane’s advice and guidance next year. After her three book Penguin deal, Jane will have much to teach us from June 3-9, 2018.

Out wonderful Manuscript Reader and teacher, Emma Fraser told me yesterday that she has just finished reading His Bloody Project by Roderick Macrae. Emma has just picked up The Client by John Grisham (apparently she put it aside for a while) and when that’s finished Emma will read The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding.

Every time I speak to Emma she is on a tight publishing contract deadline, this time it’s a three book deal with Little Brown. “I’m currently writing a multi-generational novel about love, betrayal and atonement set against the background of the Fall of Singapore and Scotland. It’s called Greyfriars and is due out in January 2018!” And away she went to get on with revisions!  

From September 10-16, 2017, multiple award-winning and internationally renowned British author of five novels for adults and three for young adults, Martyn Bedford will join us in Tuscany. Martyn’s book Flip managed to keep my 15 year old son’s interest from beginning to end. No small feat.

Chatting to Martyn this week he said he was just back to the UK after three days in Italy. “I was taking part in the Mare di Libri (Sea of Books) Festival of writing for children and young adults. When I go abroad I always try to read a book from that country, so I took Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. It’s the first of her highly acclaimed Neapolitan quartet. Okay, the novel is set in Naples rather than Rimini, where I’ve been staying, but it’s a literary flavour of Italy nonetheless. As many readers and critics before me have been, I am absolutely engrossed by the tale of Lenu’s and Lila’s turbulent friendship during childhood and adolescence. No doubt, I will take the second book with me when I visit Tuscany for my week’s tutoring with the Art of Writing from September 10-16!”

Having read the Elena Ferrante books I am looking forward to talking to Martyn about them.

So what is Martyn writing right now? “I’m forty thousand words into the first draft of my new novel for teenagers and young adults, The House that Jacaranda Built. I don’t like to talk about novels-in-progress before at least a draft is completed, in case the idea goes stale on me for being “explained” before it’s written. So I’ll just say that it’s the tale of a family that offers refuge to a homeless teenager who they find asleep in the doorway of their café, and the consequences arising from their decision.”

Am always fascinated to hear what writers are working on and also what they’re reading. This Blog makes for a good Summer Reading List! Thanks so much to The Art of Writing writers for their thoughts and best wishes to everyone for a productive summer of writing.

Hugs from Florence!

Lisa

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The scribbles of a mad woman.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.I have notes everywhere. Handwritten notes on scraps of torn paper in the kitchen. Sentence ideas on note pads beside my bed. I have plot ideas on decrepit notebooks in my handbag. Characterization thoughts in A4 piles in the living room. Let’s not even go to the note mess in my office. Pieces of paper with line upon line of words. It’s quite depressing really.

Do the notes make sense? Most of them (to be fair). Will I ever use those notes in the book I am writing now? I don’t know. The notes, reminders, prompts and thoughts are becoming so out of hand that I will need a week dedicated to sorting them. They need to be transcribed.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.The trouble is a week sorting the notes means a week without moving forward. That’s always the temptation. JUST WRITE – you know, forget about transcribing because I need to write. Move the book forward. So the handwritten notes stack up and depress me.

However, writing an opinion piece for a newspaper this week, a completely separate story from the new book, ideas flowed into the newspaper piece from various bits of note-taking. Those scattered notes are all in my head subliminally. I’ve noticed that even if I don’t transcribe, something happens once the words are down. It’s as though the notes imprint on my brain anyway, so even if I don’t transcribe, they are there. They are hitting the page, because the light bulb moments have been recorded. They are no longer hidden but real.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.We’re supposed to be bower birds, us writers. Collecting realizations and moments. So it was with enormous relief when writing this newspaper story that I realized all those untranscribed notes are good for something.

So keep writing your endless Notes to Self. It’s about believing that some of them will be good enough to hit the page. And realizing that even if they’re not transcribed they are real, they are there.

But next week I really have to sort through my notes.

Notes; the scribbles of a mad woman.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

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