Book Musings: The Girl In The Photograph, by Kate Riordan.

I’ve been on holiday! And while on holiday without wifi I managed to catch up on some reading – and found a new author in the process. Kate Riordan.

Kate Riordan Girl in the Photograph

I must mention that the book is published in the UK under ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ and in the US and Canada as ‘Fiercombe Manor’.

I’m not usually a fan of books that flip between two different time periods, even though these two were only 1932 and 1898, but when I ‘looked inside’ on Amazon I was immediately hooked by the first couple of lines – in a Prologue no less. So much for those who declare prologues to be essentially evil. Beautifully written prose:

“Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two.”

I adore writing like this, always have. Some might say, ” How can secrets fret?”, but I’m not one of those, and anyway, by the end of the novel you understand. So I downloaded and settled in to enjoy, and was not disappointed.

I’m not going to write a summary of the novel, you can read that on Amazon, but I will say that I think the way the lives of Alice and Elizabeth are told and interwoven is beautiful. I loved the parallels drawn between the two women and found I identified a great deal with Elizabeth, who Alice gets to know through a diary and smidgens of information dropped by the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. I understood Elizabeth, and why she did what she did at the end.

And, another thing – I never felt annoyed when the author switched to the other woman. There are times when, in some books I have read, that the switch between pov’s or time periods has irritated me. Yes, there is such a thing as tension and keeping the reader guessing, but there’s also telling a story and using the natural curiosity of the reader to lead them into the next point of view. I thought Ms Riordan did that wonderfully.

The only thing I wanted to understand better was why Tom Stanton was attracted to Alice, but it’s quite possible I missed something in my haste to find out what happened.

This is the kind of novel I will read again, not just because I know I must have missed things, but also because this the kind of novel that leaves something with me. I’ve already downloaded Birdcage Walk. Can’t wait.

 

In The Mood For Romance? Medieval Betrothals

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Since our contemporary anthology ‘Propose To Me‘ is coming out soon, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at where some of our rituals come from. So the first one is:

Engagement

engagement rings photo

Did you know that, in the year 1215, Pope Innocent III decreed that there should be a waiting period between betrothal and wedding ceremony?

This also led to the two ring tradition we in the West have today. Previous to this, the custom of one ring had been prevalent for centuries. Apparently, according to some, Roman wives wore rings attached to a key, denoting their husband’s ownership. I wonder if they were engraved Property of Julius Maximus…Actually, others claim they were inscribed with the image of a key, denoting the key to half of his fortune, maybe? If anyone was around in Roman times and/or knows this, please let me know! Today rings are often inscribed with the husbands/wives names and/or date of the wedding.

The first recorded diamond ring was given in betrothal in medieval Italy, in 1477. Archduke Maximilian I of Habsburg proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring. This was no small investment. They were hard to come by, so worth a small fortune. Today they are easy to come by, yet cost a small fortune.

Diamonds signify enduring love because of their strength and and beauty, and I think one of the reasons they began to be popular in the 15th century was because craft tools with rotary motion had been introduced, otherwise, a jeweller was limited to polishing the rough diamond – and they can’t have been anywhere near as pretty as sapphires or rubies.

 

 

ProposeToMe

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The Pond

goldfish photo

 

The pond lay silent, like an open grave that had not been disturbed. Ice filmed the surface, freezing the plants below in a snapshot of life. Vivid green when they captured the sun’s rays, these filaments now stretched like black fingers, as if intending to squeeze the vitality from every life form they encountered.

A goldfish flicked amongst the leaves, a glimpse of fire in a gelid world.
She stepped forward. The snow crunched underfoot, like the sound hard biscuits make when you bite them. Biscuit. The word meant twice-cooked. Like toast. That crunched too. The air around her barely breathed, so she held her own, thinking if she concentrated, she might know what it was to be at one with nature.

She tore her gaze away from the hidden secrets of the water and up to the heavens. The orange sun hovered above the horizon, suspended as if it, too, had forgotten to breathe, had forgotten it lived. Fingers of cloud puffed pink and red streams into the dark sapphire sky. Unable to hold still, she loosed the air from her lungs. White fingers flowed out of her mouth. The Bible said that God had breathed life into Adam and Eve. Did that mean life was in the breath, as well as the blood? Did we breathe out small elements of our spirits every time we exhaled? Maybe that was why the bonding of two people was so precious. Because elements of their spirits, their souls, mingled, became one. So, she mused, did that mean when someone you loved died, small parts of those left alive, those who had breathed with them, also died?

She thought so. When her baby had died a few months ago, part of her had died. Or else lay frozen, like the plants under the ice, waiting for the sun’s heat to reinvigorate them. The long winter of her soul had just begun, yet where in nature there was the promise of new life, regeneration, she had no such reassurance. What if that part of her remained lifeless? She had never realised how much energy it took to maintain lifelessness. How long could the plants live under water without the sun’s heat and energy?

Crouched down, her bottom brushing the snow, she removed her glove and stuck her little finger through the ice. Cracks fled from the hole and she blew gently on the surface. The thin sheets of ice were forced further apart and she exulted in her small victory. The shadowy tendrils waved at her, acknowledging her kinship with them. It’s fine to sleep now, they seemed to say, conserve energy for re-growth. The plants might grow in another direction once the sun’s warmth coated the earth. Could her spirit grow in another direction?

Grief was a form of death. It silenced laughter, swallowed appetite and screwed all that was good down into a ball of frozen horror inside your stomach. They never told you about the livid scars, the living fingers of death like anxiety and hopelessness.

‘Mummy!’

Her son’s piping voice wound through the air, a river of love melting the glacial walls a drop at a time. Yes, she could grow in another direction. Yes, there was her reassurance of life. Yes, there was her goldfish.

goldfish photo

Finding the Start to your Story

In the beginning

Finding the beginning to a story can be like trying to find anything in a large handbag (purse, for readers in the US:D). Nigh on impossible. I have a large, pink leather bag which I love, but can never find anything in, and I can often be found at the checkout in shops looking utterly panicked as I frantically search for my wallet.

I am just as hopeless at finding the beginning of my stories. With my current novel I began at what I thought was the inciting incident, only to discover that I was writing lots of flashbacks – and even one flashback within a flashback. At that point I rested my hands from the keys and wondered if I had started in the right place.

No, according to my wonderful critiquers who thought a flashback within a flashback was, well, too much.

Now, I quite liked the idea of keeping the flashback within the flashback, and persisted stubbornly until I realised that I had started the novel half way through and I needed to find the beginning.

beginning photo

So I opened a new page and began at where I thought the new beginning was. Lo and behold, it wasn’t there. I was wrong. Again. I had to travel further back in time.

time travel  photo

In the last few days I have finally realised where this novel begins, and I feel good about this beginning. Know why? It starts at the beginning!

It might sound obvious to start at the beginning but it’s not always easy to know where that is. You might think you have your inciting incident. However, is that inciting incident you’re writing the original one, or one in a long stream of incidents incited by an action?

The key is not to over-think it. A blank page can stare back at you, intimidating in its purity, demanding perfect prose and complex characters. You want that first sentence to be the best you have written so far, you want it to set you on a path to the perfect novel. Except, we all know that most of the time that first sentence will be re-written at least a thousand times, erased a few hundred times and then, if you’re like me, that first sentence won’t actually turn out to be the first sentence after all.

If you don’t know where your beginning is, don’t worry. Instead, think about what’s going through your head. A scene? A fragment of dialogue? Do you have a picture that needs describing? Start there, and see where it leads. Who cares if it’s not the beginning? Very often it’s not until we get to the end that we know how the novel must begin anyway.

Interview Your Characters? Why?

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I know people interview their characters to find out details about them, and in many ways these interviews can provide information that adds flavour to the character, but, in my humble opinion, they do not add depth. This post takes a look at that.

So what kind of questions do they recommend you ask?

 

Well, these:

What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname?

What is your characters hair color? Eye color?

Or:

Where does your character go when he’s angry?

angry photo

What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?

Does she have a secret?

Or:

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What is your current state of mind?

What is your favorite occupation?

What is your most treasured possession?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

love  photo

What is your favorite journey?

What is your most marked characteristic?

When and where were you the happiest?

What is it that you most dislike?

What is your greatest fear?

What is your greatest extravagance?

Which living person do you most despise?

 

These sorts of questions are all fascinating and provide great details, but do they show real character?

I’m not so sure.

In an interview we like to present the best facets of ourselves possible, and we even exaggerate our good points if we think it will produce the result we want. What prevents our characters from doing exactly the same?

We could ask our character these questions and think we know them, then when we start to write we discover that, actually, we still know very little about them.

If you were asked all these questions can you say you would answer each one truthfully? Would your character?

If you had a character who was a compulsive liar, these questions would be no good at all. If you had a character whose opinion of themselves was vastly different to that of other characters, how does interviewing them help? It may reveal their opinion of themselves, but will it also reveal what they think deep down?

These questions might reveal what the character thinks they might do in certain situations, or what the character thinks they know, but how many of us know what we would do in any given situation until we are in that situation?

Most of these questions seem to be aimed at discovering the person/character rather than developing the character.

It might be a good idea to start with such a questionnaire to discover a character, but how do we then develop them? Or find out how their answers to these questions affect them in ‘life’?

There is only one way.

Put them in situations where they are forced to make a decision, for good or bad. Put them in situations that will test their courage, test their emotional responses, test their fears.

Even if these situations and scenes are not used in the final draft, you have learned something about your character you didn’t know before. They have new depth.

 

What do you think? Have character interviews helped you, and in what way?