Thursday, 26 January 2012

The 'Write A Great Synopsis' blog tour lands...

The synopsis - love it or loathe it, every writer has to tackle one some time. I really don't find them simple and nor do most of my writing pals, so I was delighted when my friend Nicola Morgan casually announced on Twitter one day that she thought she might have a go at a How To...

Not only that, she's done it and jolly good it is too! So I thought I'd ask her a few questions.


Jan: Hi Nicola, welcome to my blog. I know you are on a whirlwind tour, so I won’t keep you long. Thank you for sending me Write a Great Synopsis. Definitely a keeper, and I enjoyed all the very valuable advice, but a few questions occurred to me as I was reading through it.

Nicola: Hello, and thank you for letting me visit!  Is that a Botham’s of Whitby Landlord cake I see on the table?

Jan: Er, yes. Do cut us both a slice. Oh, you are. [Pause for satisfied chomping] Where was I? Oh yes, in your acknowledgements you thank everybody who has ever moaned about the stress of writing synopses for giving you the idea to write this book. Did you really not know that lots of people had problems writing them?
Nicola: I actually really didn’t. There was never a sudden moment of awareness, just a gradual realization that everyone seemed to complain about doing them. Want to know a secret? Just to keep people happy, I used to pretend I hated them, too. I didn’t want to be like that teacher’s pet who loves weekly maths tests. Then I decided I wasn’t going to be a teacher’s pet, just an enthusiastic teacher!

Jan: Very glad you did! Like you, I adored doing précis exercises at school, but I also enjoy filling a whole book with words. I often think writers hate doing a synopsis because we are unwilling to admit that our wonderful characters, complex plots and witty words can be reduced or cut at all, let alone condensed down to a single page. Do you think that may have something to do with it? What would be your response?
Nicola: No, I think that’s an ex-post argument. I’m not sure why it would be so bad to admit that our complexities can be distilled. I think the problem really is that we’re so close to our book that we can’t see what to leave out. We both love our book too much and yet don’t trust it enough to let it stand on its own – like a parent who won’t let a son or daughter be independent. We’re too emotionally attached. The difficulty is that we do need emotional attachment in order to do a good job of distilling the book, but we also need distance, in order both to omit the right stuff and also to see the whole picture from an outsider’s viewpoint.

Jan: You are probably right. Now, in the book, you say: “The tone or voice of your book is conveyed seamlessly by the language of the synopsis.”  This is where I get stuck - how to make it so when a synopsis is third-person present tense narration and most novels, er, aren’t?
Nicola: Now, Jan, I know that you’re a good enough writer to do this without thinking, so you are just playing devil’s advocate, for which I thank you!  
[Jan: Ha! Little does she know] 
Nicola: Conveying tone by language is writing – without that skill, a writer has no voice, and writing a synopsis is only writing. I don’t see difficulty in creating a light tone (for example) in a synopsis for a light-toned first-person narrative and I think it would be the natural thing anyway. You wouldn’t write the synopsis in heavy, ultra-formal language if your novel was a modern comedy, would you?
[Jan: er...]
Nicola: The point I was making is that the voice or tone of the book does need to be suggested in the synopsis, not by saying “My book is hilariously whimsical” but by perhaps using the odd phrase of hilarious whimsy in the synopsis. It should come naturally, once you know that’s what you’re meant to be doing. In WAGS, you’ll see several examples – both in the two synopses that I offer myself, and in the sample synopsis by M Louise Kelly, which I specifically say I’ve chosen because it “nicely shows how to convey the tone of your story in the synopsis.”

Jan: Thanks very much - and the best of luck with the book. Where can people buy it?
Nicola: Thank you! And thank you hugely for letting me come and sit myself down here today. The cake was delicious. People can buy it (the book, not the cake) on their choice of ebook site – I’ve tried to gather various links on the relevant page of my website but the Amazon UK link is here. Remember, you don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle book or even any e-reader at all: with the free software, they can all be read on laptops or even phones, if your eyes are that good! NB: it’s at a silly cheap price till the end of January!

Nicola also has a fabulous draw going on  at the moment. All commenters below (by Feb 15th) will be entered into the Big WAGS Competition, with chances to win a critique of your synopsis by the Crabbit Old Bat herself! One comment per person on each blog – though you can add to your chances by commenting on the other posts on the tour. Details of all stops on the tour will appear on her blog Help, I Need A Publisher as they go out.

Happy synopsis-writing!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Penny Jordan

This is going to be a hard post to write. Yesterday I attended the funeral of friend and writer Penny Jordan. Penny was 65, but looked and acted and had the drive and outlook of someone far, far younger. We were members of the same email group, to which she was posting right up until the day we heard that she had been taken into hospital gravely ill.

It was cancer. We'd known she had 'boring tummy trouble' for quite a while, but no one had any idea how serious it was. She hadn't wanted it widely known, because she didn't want to be treated any differently to normal.

Penny always knew what she wanted. She was a perfectionist in her home and in her writing and in the wonderful parties that she threw. She was also modest and unassuming. These twin facets of her character were reflected in her funeral and the gathering that followed. There must have been something like two hundred people in the very handsome St Mary's Church, Nantwich. Wintry sun flooded through the stained glass to light up the brickwork with unexpected colour. Everyone in their best - not necessarily black - as Penny had asked. There were family, friends, neighbours, writers, editors, publishers, representatives of the RNA, of her local chapter and email groups, other people Penny had worked with over the years.

The service was simple, but uplifting. A compassionate vicar, poems read by her nieces, heartfelt singing, the coffin - absurdly slight for such a hard-working, dynamic person - mounded with white roses.

And then afterwards at the elegant restaurant she often went to, with good food, good wine, good company.

I believe she was with us, slipping in between the guests, just checking all was well. Rest in peace, Penny. You will never be forgotten.

Penny wrote as Penny Jordan for Harlequin Mills&Boon and as Annie Groves for HarperCollins. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement star by the Romantic Novelists' Association in 2011. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wet Sundays

I haven't posted a poem for a while, so here's one for the weekend. When my kids were younger, we used to spend a lot of time at the swimming pool!

Rainways by Jan Jones

Hurrying along the rainways
Mums with bags and children shouting in front
Passing posers from the squash courts pretending it’s dry
Kids in threes, rolled towels
Oldest one hand tight on money


Inching delicious, past grave babies slowly rotating
Plunging silk ripples, sea-person hair
Lightflight fantastic
Oiled limbs
Blue laughter, blue laughter, blue laughter

Children scramble free
Restless to do everything
Pirate slide, bubble seats, giant floats
Warm water, cold water, blue flume, black flume

Detached on the side, half-smiling
Girls whose swimsuits never get wet
Ankles dangling

And in the middle, Sunday fathers
Centred on their vanished world
Buying love, attention, anything on the menu
Desperate for a fleeting touch, hauling minutes out to hours
Fixing this pain in their memory