How can we be hurtling towards the second week of November? I had grand plans for individual catch up posts about my fundraising for Dystonia UK, stories and book reviews, but time sped by thanks to the anxious wait for news from America. I don’t think I have felt so wretched waiting for election results. At least here in the UK, we know the results of elections and referendums over our first cup of tea.
But much needed hope has entered 2020 and I’m excited to see what 2021 brings with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Maybe climate change and things that matter will be back on the agenda. The last few days, like the rest of 2020, has been a sharp reminder we are living in historical times and future students will study and analyse our lives in great detail. Their exams will be a nightmare as they struggle to keep up with the quick changing events.
The last four years has brought Brexit, our own government turmoil, and COVID so often I have felt like I have been living in act one of a dystopian novel waiting for the trauma of act 2 to start. Today I feel lighter and more hopeful that act 2 may be kinder than expected. We may even slip into a more uplifting genre.
So over the next few days there will be a flurry of catch up blogs including news about the Dystonia Around the World challenge, the launch of the Romantic Novelist Association’s DISCO chapter, witchy book reviews and hopefully, an edited short story.
Today is Remembrance Sunday and a day of reflection. Usually in our village, a crowd gathers to watch the parade of scouts and guides walk to the war memorial for the laying of the wreaths. Today we will watch the reduced proceedings on Facebook live from our own homes or paying our respects our own way, saying thanks to our loved ones and others who fought for peace.
I have little memories of my Grandad who fought in Burma except his wonderful hugs but on days like today, I miss him so much it aches. It also intensifies the grief of others I have lost. I am sure it affects many the same. So I offer you all a big hug, a cyber cup of tea and hope that next year normal life with our loved ones can resume and on days like today, we can stand side by side.
Take care, stay safe and those who are typing away for NaNoWriMo, happy writing.
Today I am excited to introduce Catherine Rull, the Australian author of paranormal romance, Guardian: Recruit as a guest on my blog. Her book is about guardian angels that watch over a psychiatric facility in London. She’s here for a quick chat to tell us more about world-building, and hitting those word counts.
Hi, Kate. Thanks for having me.
Hello. Shall we get started? Okay, so first up: how did you come up with the world for Guardian: Recruit?
Well, it actually came to me in a dream while I was pregnant in 2008. In my dream, I was driving and saw some small things flying around. When I got out of my car, I realised they were pixies. One of them was someone I knew as a child, but he’d died. And he told me, children’s souls got to grow up but as pixies. When I woke up, I wrote down the idea. But of course pixies aren’t really sexy so I went with angels.
Good choice. Was there anything else from your dream?
No. That was it. The rest, I had to figure out myself.
Well, the world in Guardian: Recruit’s quite fleshed out. Do you have any advice for other paranormal writers?
I think there are probably five things you’ll need to do to build your own world.
Base it on something real. Any novel requires a certain level of world building, regardless of the genre. I think the more you can ground your world in reality, the more believable it is. The setting for Guardian: Recruit is similar to the hospital school where I worked in London. Of course, it wasn’t creepy there at all but that’s the beauty of creating your own world. You add your imagination to the mix and hopefully create something vivid and realistic for your readers.
Research. Researching different aspects of your story (eg. your character’s job; angels from different cultures) often leads to more ideas for your books.
The new character. Another important tool in world building is to have a character who is new to the world. This allows you to explain some of the rules of the world to the reader in a more organic way. You see this all the time, including in Harry Potter. As someone who didn’t know he was a wizard, Harry had to be taught the way the wizarding world works and the reader learns about it with him.
Layering. If you have the time, I suggest editing the book with some breaks in between. This allows you to notice things you may not have realised before, or come up with new ideas to add to your world. This gives the book its many layers.
Series Bible. It’s important to keep track of the rules you’ve set for your world. I keep a “Series Bible” for all my books (not just the paranormal ones) to ensure continuity.
Thanks, Catherine. That’s a handy list. Did it take you long to write Guardian: Recruit?
I wrote about five pages in 2008. Then, in 2014, I picked it up again and set myself 800-words minimum a day until it was finished. And it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes, I would fall asleep at my laptop trying to hit my word count for the day and I would wake up to find a row of “bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb” where my hand rested while I was sleeping. But then I’d wake myself up and keep going till I reached that word count. There were times when I felt like what I was writing was absolutely terrible, but when it was time to edit, those parts were never as bad as I thought. Sometimes, they were actually quite good! Either way, it’s better to edit bad writing than to have a blank page.
I completed the first draft of Guardian: Recruit in about 8 weeks, and then I edited it lots of times. I’m a “pantser”—that means I like to write “by the seat of my pants”. I find that this gives me space to surprise myself. I personally find plotting very restrictive. “Pantsing” allows the characters the freedom to get themselves into trouble, instead of me plotting their challenges 😊
Anyway, after writing the first draft, I print out my manuscripts to edit on paper, input the changes to the digital copy, edit on the laptop and print again. I usually edit books between five to ten times in this way. But I editing is all part of making a tight story and a clean manuscript. In 2015, Guardian: Recruit was shortlisted in the UK’s Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition.
That’s great. Congratulations!
So, do you already have other books lined up after Guardian: Recruit?
Yes. I’ve already written Book 2 of the Guardian Series and have the basic premise for the third book. I think the sequel will come out some time in 2021. I am currently working on other projects as well—some sequels to the chick lit and rom com that have already come out this year: The Fat Chicks’ Club Series and my Swim Bike Run Series.
You sound very busy. Do you have a set routine or favourite drink while you’re writing?
Not so much a routine. Like most writers, I have a day job. Plus, I have young children so I fit my writing around my other responsibilities. However, before the lockdowns, I sometimes used to go to my local library to get away from the distractions at home. That was usually when I needed to write or edit something in time for a competition or a submission to an agent or editor.
As for a favourite drink. I’m a big kid, so I like cold drinks like bubble tea and frozen Cokes. I like to keep it fun. Writing brings me so much joy, and I hope my readers feel that in my stories. You know, even though Guardian: Recruit has a seemingly sombre premise, you’ll find there’s a lot of humour in it as well. I don’t think I’d like to write anything too sad or depressing—I like my characters to have a sense of humour. It’s important to be able to laugh at life.
That’s good advice. Well, all the best with all those projects!
Guardian: Recruit is the first book in the Guardian Series. It’s available in ebook and paperback from Amazon, Book Depository and Barnes & Noble.
September flew by and October has arrived with falling leaves, dark mornings where you can drink your first cuppa while stargazing and chilly evenings. It is my favourite time of year for reading, writing and world building. The run up to Halloween conjures up many stories and plots with witches not far away.
Dystonia Around the World News
Thank you for supporting my fundraising and spreading awareness for Dystonia Awareness Month.
I raised £205 and and wrote and stumbled 350 miles. I am pleased Dystonia UK have extended the time to complete the challenge until the end of October. If you would like updates or support this valuable cause follow this link.
NaNoWriMo is calling
NaNoWriMo is also just round the corner making it ideal time to build a world for my current WIP. November and the support offered is my most productive writing time. Let’s hope life allows the headspace to increase my wordcount.
Yesterday night, I limped over the 200 miles of writing milestone so I am sharing with you, The Priest Hole, the first tale from Mexenby Hall. It’s publication is much later than I imagined but dystonia is predictably unpredictable and I should have realised as soon as I pledged to write 1000 miles the #DystoniaAroundTheWorld challenge it would fight back in the worst way by affecting my vision. Days have been lost but like all travellers on an epic adventure, I am just moving forwards one step at a time.
Flash Fiction: The Priest Hole by Kate Kenzie
Darkness cloaked the narrow passageway. The small candle’s flame flickered with every exhalation and cast little light as Nell gingerly eased herself towards the steep spiralling steps. Her worn uniform and thin borrowed shawl offered little protection against the bitter cold emanating from the damp stone walls.
The privilege Nell felt earlier when summoned to the Great Hall and took into the Lady’s confidence after only a few weeks of employment seeped away as the walls constricted and the rising stench of unemptied chamber pots forced her to question her easy compliance. The Lady hid her true faith well. Any rumours rippling through the staff of clandestine visits from the cast out priest were quickly stamped on by the sharp tongue or slap from Cook and the staff’s forced attendance to the dreary church service every Sunday while the Lady stood in the family pew crushed any lingering doubts. Nell never guessed until she heard the simple request and now she wanted to return to the warm wood panelled room with the crackling fire she lit earlier to retract her agreement, but the clunk of the entrance closing sealed her fate.
Clutching her bundle close to her pounding chest, she swallowed down the wave of nausea, licked her dry lips, and rolled back her shoulders; she could do this and stepped down into the abyss. The twisting staircase plummeted into the depths of the property and she wondered whether the priest had traded the raging flames of Hell he feared for an icy, stagnant equivalent. A hacking cough echoed upwards. She froze and listened. Would the sound penetrate the thick walls of Mexenby Hall and alert the visitors to his presence? Would it lead to his violent demise? And hers? She made the sign of the cross with the candle and prayed. It remained silent except for a shuffling below. He was close. Nell hastened her descent: the sooner she delivered the bundle, the sooner her role as a small cog in the bigger machine would be complete and she could retreat to safety.
The dancing flame illuminated the bare and compact room. A dark shape rose from the corner, uncurling itself to reveal a bent figure hidden beneath a thick cloak. A hand clawed with arthritis beckoned her over. Fear grabbed Nell and the words announcing the arrival of food caught in her constricted throat. She wanted to flee, scramble up the way she came but her feet refused to comply. A cold draft wrapped itself around her ankles, shackling her to the ground as the figure approached.
“Come child,” it crooned. The voice was smooth and mesmerising. “You have nothing to fear. Not you.”
The hand grasped hers. Nell pulled, but the hand clenched hers tighter into a vice grip. Nell’s eyes widened; the hood flung back, revealing an elderly woman whose mass of white hair was braided into a long tail, and her blue eyes pierced deep into Nell’s soul, pinning her into place. A searing heat radiated up her arm. The bundle fell to the floor, unravelling, sending small loaf and apple rolling into a puddle. The scurry of small feet told her it had not gone unnoticed, but Nell could not take her eyes off the woman before her. The Old Crone of Mexenby. A legend of nightmares and fairy tales. A toothless smile emerged from the folds of the wrinkled face.
“It’s true. They don’t lie, even when the truth feels impossible. They don’t lie. You are the one. The one that can save us all.”
You can find out more about the dystonia challenge to raise awareness for dystonia and keep up to date on my progress here. Here is to the next 100 miles and hopefully I will be a step closer to reaching my target of £250.
Yesterday should have been a day for digging out my make up, wearing the dress planned days before, to attend the RNA’s York Afternoon Tea and have hugs from my writing tribe after a year apart. We all should have been sitting around a table full of delicious treats, clutching our wine and holding our breath for the announcement of the Joan Hessayon Award winner. Our very own Emma Jackson was a nominee after her whirlwind of a year. She has published three books since the conference with the fourth ready before Christmas. A Mistletoe Miracle was her debut. The nominees were:
Instead, we were behind our computers and iPads in our own homes watching the proceedings online. Individual squares of nominee faces appeared on the screen with the introduction from the Chair Alison May. Everyone watched the delightful speech from last year’s winner Lorna Cook as she prepared to pass on the trophy. Katie Fforde announced the winner the shocked Melissa Oliver with her novel The Rebel Heiress and the Knight, Mills and Boon Historical.
The claps and whoops Melissa deserved were lost in cyber space. Technology is great and has helped connect us all during the pandemic but nothing beats the atmosphere of celebrations when people are together in reality. The excited buzz filling the room adds to the occasion and spontaneous, unique memories are be formed by one off chats, unexpected meetings and the chance to find new friends. Hopefully, next year everyone will have a chance to congratulate Melissa Oliver in person so she gets the recognition she deserved this time and we can also celebrate the RNA 60th birthday as planned with great company and food like last year.
One of my dear friends in our writing group, Emma Wilson has signed up to Kate Nash’s agency so I hope we will have another good reason to celebrate if she is nominated for next year’s award with her wonderful heartfelt novel. Watch this space.
If you are looking for a spooky gripping read for the long chilly nights in the run up to Halloween grab Emma Jackson’s The Devil’s Bride. My review for it is here.
More soon, stay safe and happy writing!
September is Dystonia Awareness month; I am taking part in the Dystonia Around the World challenge to raise funds and awareness for Dystonia UK. More info can be found here.