Friday, 20 May 2011


I've been tricked by a writer twice this week, and it's been brilliant to experience.  The first was an episode of House MD (not telling which one or what happened - spoilers and all that), where the twist in the tale turned up at just the right time, and I didn't see it coming.  The second time was while I was reading Megan Taylor's brilliant novel 'The Dawning' while I was waiting for an appointment - again, I didn't see it coming.

The stories don't have much in common, even the formats are different.  And when I read the twist, I immediately understood why it was there - no left-field deus ex machina stuff, it made complete sense why the characters were where they were.
So why was I tricked?  Because the characters drew me in to the story so much, I stopped trying to work out what was going to happen next, and started to live the story alongside the characters.  For someone who can't help but second guess the direction of a story from the opening credits (bad habit, keep it to myself - no point in telling the folks around the boat sinks), it's been a good lesson in how to tell a story well enough to stop you thinking about what lies beyond the current scene.

I'm hoping the readers of Hidden Daughter get the same feeling as the life of single-mother-time-travelling-thief Penny unfolds; time will tell.

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Show don’t tell, show don’t tell, show don’t tell.

Every time I write, I work hard to do the former and not the latter; it’s more satisfying for the reader to work out the clues that lead them to discover that X has an unresolved past with Y, than it is for someone to say it (Mike Myers made ‘telling’ rather than showing a character in itself, which is why some parts of my first drafts were a ‘bit too Basil Exposition’- but hey, it’s a first draft – better to see Basil than a blank page).  It's harder work, but important work; when I read or hear dialogue which tells rather than shows, at best it takes me out of the story; at worst, I start rewriting in my head while the story's still progressing (bad habit, but at least I don’t say what I’m rewriting anymore- usually).

It wasn’t always this way – exposition prologues have been around for as long as people have stood in front of crowds and told stories, told to the audience before a single player has crossed the stage.  As audiences became more savvy and sophisticated, they fell out of fashion, leaving us to discover what happens at the same time as the characters, or perhaps a little ahead if the writer leaves us a trail to follow.  Which is why I’m so impressed with The Shadow Line on BBC2

Hugo Blick’s script brilliantly shows rather than tells – the story of a drug baron’s murder simultaneously investigated by the police, and the criminal fraternity around him.  The characters are complex and engaging,  and imagery is superb (the juxtapositon between Detective Jonah Gabriel’s brand new, high-spec Audi and smuggler Joseph Bede’s older, scruffier model of the same car says buckets about how both sides feel they have to portray themselves without saying a word).

So far, so great – but the thing that impressed me the most is the opening sequence where two uniformed officers discover the victim.  The story could have competently started with the news of the murder reported in a phone call to smuggler Joseph Bede, and the arrival of Detective Gabriel at the crime scene; but Blick has brilliantly fused the ancient tradition of prologue with noir filmaking, and a multi-layered storyline – and I know it’s good because I wished I’d thought of it.

Can’t wait until the next episode.  If I’ve enthused enough to make you want to see the first part, get it on BBC iPlayer while you can:

Friday, 6 May 2011

First the swim, then the climb.

I've been away from my desk for a couple of weeks thanks to holidays and the like - it's been great to step away from the laptop and let the thoughts for Book Two (the sequel to Hidden Daughter) move around without me being able to tie them down.  I've also been doing a little more background research into my Victorian adventure story, which I know is going to be a new challenge for me; it has to be told in a very different voice to the one I found for Hidden Daughter, and finding that voice has been one of the things I've been working on this week.  After a week of scribbling and headscratching, I still feel like I'm only half way across the water, with the mountain to climb afterwards.

The simple way to do it would be to leave it to one side, and carry on with Book Two - unfortunately, like the story of my reluctant Time-Traveller Penny, Junior Fireman Freddie's tale is too exciting to leave alone for long - so it's back to the coalface to dig out the story.