Happy endings (no, not that sort. Although mentioned.)

“If you want a happy ending you have to decide where to stop your story – Orson Welles”

I am slightly addicted to twists whether I’m writing a whodunit, a microstory, or any of the other ways in which I kowtow before my muse. The one on the drawing board has several twists. There’s one, though, which turns the whole story from a slightly OTT love story (the alert reader is already saying hang on just a minute) to a slightly creepy stalker story, to abrupt terror. In two paragraphs it goes from mildly steamy (and wildly romantic) to chilling, and I didn’t even plan it that way. I love it, though.

Hence the Orson Welles quote. I could literally stop the story at its happy point and leave most of its readers contented.

Not going to, though. The book in question (and I only say this because I am personally annoyed by dangling hints and coy half-references) is still in process,  The Money Honey, and it’s odd in many ways.

Only once before have I had a young protagonist*, because I find mature characters much more intricate and interesting, but Miranda’s story starts when she’s around twenty, in 1996, and the reader follows her for the next twenty years.

She only came into existence because she’s a large part of the backstory for Seventeen Eighteen Past Lies Waiting, which is being published soon. I wrote her story separately, to get it clear in my head, and then I got engrossed in the challenges it presented. I hadn’t a clue who my target reader was, but sometimes books take on a life of their own and this is one.

There was tons of rewriting for Seventeen Eighteen, as it happened, but the beta readers who have now read both books were pretty positive in their feedback. However, the beta readers who only read Money Honey weren’t. They found the ending, with its sudden introduction of a bunch of amateur sleuths from the Lawns, thoroughly confusing.

By the time that feedback was trickling in, I quite liked my Money Honey but I could see their point, as a stand-alone book she would need an ending of her own. So I borrowed from a few other authors faced with similar situations, and Money Honey has three endings.

Miranda’s whole story is about the unorthodox choices she makes (the working title was Step By Step) so it felt right to let those readers who have engaged with her make the final choice for her.  They will choose whether she calls an old friend for help, which is where Seventeen Eighteen came into the picture – or whether she tackles the situation herself, the way she’s always done – or whether the original storyline from Seventeen Eighteen holds true, but this time she and her son take on the challenge together.

No confusion there, then.  grin

It really has been a very challenging book, I’ve put it aside at least five times and every time it has come yammering after me demanding attention. She’s so unlike any of my other characters, and so very in need of a happy ending.

And yes I know the other meaning of that phrase. In fact that’s why Money Honey is going out under the Clarissa name, not EJ Lamprey. Lots of happy endings, and never, it seems, one for her.

Seventeen Eighteen has finished its rewrites, gone off for editing, started its countdown, and will be out shortly. Oh, and one other oddity – they share the same cover photograph. Slightly different cropping, a lighting difference, but the same photograph. I’m not being cheap, I’m not even being Scottish and practical, I simply couldn’t decide which cover to use it on. It feels right to have it on both.

 

 

*Lucy, in Time Before Time, by Joanna Lamprey

 

Totally loca

I spotted P, almost inevitably, on line – I mean you know me, cruising the websites, self-proclaimed champion of the autumn rose, the mature single woman –

Well, I don’t mind saying I did a double-take. Wow.  I laughed out loud. I looked again. I read the provided description greedily. I sent the link to my buddy in Spain, mourning the lack of photographs, there were only four. Lovely buddy in Spain promptly found P on another website and sent back 20 photos.

Oh

My

Word

P is gorgeous. Older than I’d normally have gone for, must be said, and absolutely crying out for some TLC, but “wow” factor second to none.

I sent a message email immediately and a hectic exchange of emails followed and, since I was about to visit lovely buddy in Spain, a meet was set up. I could hardly wait – and it was as good as I had hoped, better.  This was love across a, well, must be said, totally empty atrium, but at first sight.

Hard to know what P makes of it all, of course, since P is a large 200-hundred-year-old traditional Spanish townhouse, standing forlornly empty in a narrow re-paved street in the heart of a town stretching back to Moorish influence , between and opposite very beautifully refurbished houses. The P is short for Palabras – Casa de Palabras, House Of Words – because as I wandered starry-eyed through room after room (many of them leading only into each other) (Spanish houses mix up the generations and who needs privacy when you share with family?) the peeling flaking plaster faded away, the spacious empty rooms furnished themselves and P turned into a creative retreat for writers, artists, kindred souls. The faded tiles bloomed again and the hand-painted vivid green ones became more of a feature, less of an eye-sore. The weeds pushing through the cracks in the terrace modestly vanished.

Out of the twelve existing rooms (one a smokehouse for Spanish hams because, you know, every house needs one) my private quarters appeared, and four guest-house suites built themselves in my mind’s eye. Lovely buddy was a building contractor before taking early retirement in Spain and cautiously poked, prodded, frowned, shrugged, and said the house would outlast me and yes, my plans would work. So what if six of the rooms lead only into each other? Two would convert easily into bathrooms behind dividing walls creating short passage-ways. The only rotting roof timber wasn’t a support beam, so it was easily replaced. The dream could be . . .

Before I took my leave, that first time, my legs a little shaky with shock, I had nearly exploded my camera’s memory with hundreds of photographs.

I’ve fallen in love a couple of times over the years but nothing like this. Wow.

I’ll tag these blogs ‘Palabras’ so they can be followed, or avoided, but – could it be forever? Have I the energy, the sheer passion, to follow through? Hell yes. Structural surveys are happening. Currency brokers have been appointed. Future plans for earning a living (I’ll be happy if the guest-house suites support Palabras itself, anything extra would be a cherry on top) are fizzing. Baby steps are being taken when I want giant strides, but inch by inch life with P moves a little nearer.

Yeah, having read this far you probably want a photograph. Thing is, I saw with the eyes of love and fervent imagination. Believe me, I’m already taking some flak. You should just hear my very sensible daughter on the subject.  You’ll see faded and forlorn and what-on-earth-house has windows into its own atrium? But I did set up a Facebook page and I am likely to be a bit of a bore over the next few months.

Oh, and I need to sell my house in Scotland. Now. You want a compact two bedroomed townhouse with small west-facing courtyard, about as unlike Palabras as can be imagined? Call me.

Wow, you know so much!

It’s a great feeling, reaching the age where you know everything.

Okay, not EVERYTHING. But everything you need to know, and a little bit more.

Make the most of that age, treasure every minute

Hard on its heels comes the age where you confidently share your wisdom unasked, in every situation, because that’s only fair, and you are a Priceless Resource.

Then comes the first time someone says ‘that’s not right’ and you check and it wasn’t. What? But – but – but

 

 

 

 

 

Told you to treasure it  rolling on the floor laughing

We learn every day of our lives until we die, and if we did shut off that wonderful gift, we might as well be dead. Blush and move on.

Most Indies shouldn’t ever publish. Well, most women shouldn’t have babies. #amwriting

That’s not a kneejerk yeah well you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny response.  Ask any writer, traditionally published or indie, our books are the children of our brains, and we’re protective of them.

A traditionally-published writer puts that baby into the hands of professionals who whisk it away, do cosmetic adjustments, dress it, raise it, choose its schools, and, sometimes, hand it back after a while saying hey, we’re as sorry as you are, but the kid ain’t gonna cut it. Of course quite often (not always) the kid does good and the publishers are yammering at the door – make more babies. Fast. One a year. Go go GO.

Traditionally-published book-parents are proud to the point of arrogant about their progeny being Chosen, and they are enraged when an indie book baby does better than their own Improved By Professionals offering because it just isn’t fair. The indie parent had all the fun of producing exactly what they wanted, AND success?

What generally happens is they write scathing blogs, as Laurie Gough did with ‘Self-publishing is an insult to the written word’.  No idea who peed in her cornflakes, but she’s cross.  She thinks indies bash out a book in 24 hours, read it through once and think ‘good enough’ and publish.

I’ll not lie to you, I sometimes wonder myself. Book parents do range from the over-processed squeeze-it-into-a-fashionable-mode through to those who pop out a book in a week and stick it out into the world in a dirty nappy, snot running down its virtual face.

But not all, Laurie Gough. Not all. Some work on their books as hard as you do. They write them, rest them, edit them, polish them, send them to beta readers,  edit and polish again, send them for professional editing, they find the money and they pour it in willingly and only then do they publish.  For an indie, that’s just the end of the beginning. There’s no handing over. There’s placing the book in the right places, trying to find the right readers.

There’s no easy publisher-provided dollop of paid reviews, no publisher-provided salesperson working the shops, nothing on tap.  Just a writer and a book, trying to make it in a largely indifferent world.

So when an indie does make it, when their readers loyally buy every book they put out, when they make a tiny niche for themselves in a giant market – suck it up, Laurie Gough. Don’t be ugly, because it makes you look ugly.

If no-one could ever sing unless they had a record contract, there’d be no live entertainment in pubs, no bands entertaining parties, no wedding singers.  Buskers, eek. You’d shoot them on sight.

If no-one ever offered their art without a professional contract with, random example, an advertising agency,  this would be a poorer world. The professional artists do a slick, pleasing, and efficient job, but the life and vitality poured straight from the artist’s eye into your brain, that’s the real deal. Love it or hate it, from piece to piece, you deserve the choice. Van Gogh wasn’t to public taste in his whole lifetime. Laurie Gough would completely approve of that. If he couldn’t find a dealer to handle his stuff, he was obviously useless. QED.

What if no-one ever had a baby unless it had been commissioned with high expectations and a mapped-out future?  Well, there’d not be 7 billion people on this planet, for sure. Yes indeed, we tend to be ruled by the elite who were propelled expertly through the system into the top jobs. And yes, some babies are a complete waste of space – for the most part, they live and die and their lives make very little impact. Sometimes, though, the elite fail horribly, and sometimes the great unwashed change our lives. Actually, very few inventions, very few of the things that change our world, ever came from the stuffed shirts taught how to think and behave from the start.

To be validated by a money-machine that sees potential for profit in you is wonderful, well done Laurie Gough.

To be validated by loyal readers is better. Had a look at your book sales. Hope they pick up soon, and soothe that anger of yours.

Lol has officially become a word – it is in the Oxford dictionary

LOL

(also lol)

Pronunciation: /ɛləʊˈɛl//lɒl/

EXCLAMATION

informal

  • Used to draw attention to a joke or amusing statement, or to express amusement:

    ‘I love how you said ‘coffee is not my cup of tea’. LOL!’

Okay that’s probably not exactly breaking news, I’m usually behind the trend on that sort of thing, lol.

Yes I know it is an infuriating little word!  Those of us who date back to the 80s get quite het up about it. There was confusion anyway back then between Lots Of Love and Laugh Out Loud.  Love fell by the wayside, as it always does (sigh) and we watched with jaundiced eyes as lol bounced into social media. Laugh out loud? At that comment? Please. It wasn’t funny enough to rate more than a smile, tops.

Well, that’s the point. It doesn’t mean laugh out loud and hasn’t for ages. It really is a quick smile, the half-shrug, sometimes wry, “I thought he meant it, lol” or a quick defuse of a comment that might otherwise sound a bit critical, “I hope you’re not going to wear that blue jacket again, lol” and although I resisted it fiercely for a long time and will FOREVER resist lolololol (or at least until it finds its way into the Oxford dictionary) I am finally not only using it but finding it quite handy. At times. In more ways than included in the dictionary definition.

Which just proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. (Rueful half-shrug and wry smile)

It hasn’t crept into my books yet, and I don’t think it will.  My editor probably wouldn’t allow it anyway. And it will never become punctuation, I’m simply not that much of a smiler and that’s all there is to it.  My hackles still go up lol when I see it used more than once lol in a sentence or paragraph lol because that is simply infuriating. Lol. See? See how silly that looked?

mumbling

(Oh, and by the by – look at those helpful hints on pronunciation. Are they kidding?)

One Two Buckle My Shoe- E.J. Lamprey

richardbunning

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I could have sworn that Miss Maple was back, in Scottish guise. Is it ever fair to compare, possibly not, but this is very Agatha Christie-esk for the modern century. ‘One Two’ is a great first in series, introducing some wonderful characters of senior years. Lamprey has a very easy read style and an ironic, subtle humour that says most by what it leaves out.
The plot is complex enough with a couple of classic murders, lots of possible clues and badly attached leads, some more doggy than others. All the bits simply can’t be quite put together until Edge gets a grip on the case. The older generation will enjoy this, if they can find their glasses, and the aging youths and middle readers should enjoy noting that at least at the Grasshopper Lawns, 20 miles north of Edinburgh, old age doesn’t necessarily mean the end of joie de…

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Question to writers – when your guest character’s iceberg is getting invasive, how do you solve it? #amwriting

I’m assuming it’s the same for every writer, that each character is an iceberg, only 10% of them showing in the story but the writer has to know the other 90%, see it clearly, to give that 10% credibility –  not only what they look like, you have to know the main events shaping their lives, how those brought them to the point of your story and made them into the person they are.

Oh, I know in some books that is the story but in whodunits, murder and the solving of the murder is the priority. There simply isn’t the time, and the reader certainly doesn’t have the patience, to delve off into hugely detailed backstory for every character. That’s the huge advantage of a series, of course, but although my main characters can drift amiably through the shipping lanes of the series, each book is stand-alone and has one-off characters.

Those destined to die are easy. Pick out the traits which made them ideal cannon fodder. grin

Those who are to live, but will not become series characters, not so easy. I’ve got an iceberg of note on my hands now, because I’m throwing words at the first draft of Seventeen Eighteen (Past Lies Waiting). My guest character accidentally killed a man when she was in her early twenties, which is the direct cause of her deliberately killing a man in her early forties, and she’s on the run. Her eighteen-year-old son is in direct danger and she ropes in his biological father, who is Donald. So that’s where 17 18 starts (and gets its title) but I’ve never before wrestled with a twenty-years-and-counting backstory.  Tell you what, I never will again.

laugh

To keep her history straight in my head, I kept jotting separate notes, and writing out little scenarios, and populating the twenty years with the people who shaped her into a woman I could identify with,  yet who would kill a man. Eventually I had written nearly more about Miranda’s backstory than I had put into 17 18 itself, and all I needed of it was enough to explain her to the 17 18 reader.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s ten thousand words in my jotted outline and I’ve barely scratched the surface. She fascinates me, she’s taken on a life of her own and that twenty years just keeps growing in my head. Hence the title of this blog.  How do you solve a problem like Miranda, stop her sinking your crisp and tidy whodunit with the massive iceberg she has become?

TV has long since given us solutions – a spin-off – and I’m trying it. As if it isn’t hard enough to write one book, I’m now writing two. At the same time.  Bouncing from one to the other as details need to be clarified and tidied, and trying not to think ahead to the time when they come out of their resting period and need editing . . .  EJ Lamprey only writes whodunits, so Step By Step (working title) will be a Clarissa book, and Clarissa books are a little more, er, worldly. They do have a strong storyline, that’s important to me, so right now the focus is on Miranda’s story, I’ll flesh in the sexier bits on the second draft.

I’ve spent my whole life reading voraciously but I’ve not knowingly come across this solution to the character iceberg before, and I’m wondering how common it is? Anyone?