Monday, 26 January 2015

Storytelling for Kids - A Guide to Plot


My daughter is a drama queen. Literally.

She's been part of  a drama group since she was four years old, acing parts like Grumpy in Snow White, Mrs Twit in The Twits and the eponymous Rafunzel. Her drama teacher joked that she'd be directing them herself soon. As it turns out, she's not far wrong. At seven, writing plays is her latest thing.

When I say writing plays, it mostly comprises writing out lists of "caricters" (sic), drawing colourful and elaborate costumes and recruiting her mates into a secret drama society and assigning them parts. Then she asks me to type it all out.

But she is thinking about what happens too. So I told her, start with a story. And to help her, I wrote out some questions which I have found useful myself. These questions give her the bones of her plot.

So just in case your child genius is a budding Shakespeare, here they are. Plunder as you will:

Your hero/heroine(s) is/are...
Winter, Autumn, Spring and Summer are four sisters who each possesses an amazing – and potentially deadly power.

One day something happens... what?
One day Summer is kidnapped by evil goddess Discord, who hates their parents and wants to destroy their kingdom. She demands that their parents sacrifice themselves to get her back.

What do they have to do because of the thing that happens – and why do they have to do it?
Spring, Autumn and Winter need to use their powers to get their sister back before their parents sacrifice themselves. They have until sundown to do it.

What – or who – is stopping them?
They can't agree on the best way to rescue her. And Discord is doing her best to make them disagree and turn on each other so that they fail.

What do they need to do to overcome he/she/it?
They need to learn to appreciate each others' strengths and respect each others' opinions in order to work together.

How do they nearly fail?
Winter and Spring fall out over whose plan will work the best and nearly turn on each other.

How do they win out in the end?

Autumn realises this was Discord's plan all along. The sisters unite and, working together, blast Discord, rescuing Summer. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Leaving 2014, Starting 2015: Resolutions


New year, new start.

This year I had a real new start feeling. It's not that I'm desperate to leave 2014 behind. For many amongst my friends and family it's been an exceptionally tough year that has included loved ones grappling with cancer, fertility issues, career problems and emotional ups and downs. My year was okay and for that I'm enormously grateful.

If 2014 has taught me anything it's be grateful. Be appreciative of what you have, when you have it. Don't take anything for granted, because life can change in the blink of an eye.

But I always knew that, I think.

So, resolutions.

In previous years To Chill has been been a major resolution. Also Balance in All Things. I actually think I've made some progress on that. 2014 was the year of mostly getting a reasonable amount of sleep, if cat-related insomnia, the lure of an excellent book and the vagaries of having a child who won't stay in her own bed are taken out of the equation.



I also said I'd write every day.

I haven't written every day. I haven't even written every week. But I have done some writing.

In April I revised my historical romance, Boundless. I'm still revising it, by the way. Changing the plot and all sorts of other things that would no doubt be best left alone.

In July I wrote 60,000 words of a novel, Lord of Shadows: my very own NaNoWriMo. Or rather MyNoWriMo, seeing as it was just me. I'm not saying they were good words and the last third of the novel remains unwritten, but it's waiting for me. And it was a change in genre, which felt good.

'cos it's funny

In December, I wrote a short story for my nephew in hospital. A superhero parody. So another genre shift and this time I printed it.

I also edited my Granny's short stories over Christmas, into a print edition. That felt good too, like restoring a beautiful heirloom for future generations to go. If I ever got to pick my fantasy dinner party, my Granny would be round the table. I never met her and there's so much I would like to ask her. I think we would have liked each other.

I've read lots of good books too, fantasy, romance and other genres. It's the love that never dies, is reading.

So what does 2015 bring? 

It brings... Exercise Goals. No really. I started this blog five years ago. I was just over thirty then and my highly sedentary lifestyle hadn't yet begun to show. It has now and I have *gulp* come to recognise that if I want to exercise my brain, I need to exercise my body.

So in May, I'm doing a [walking] marathon. Training started yesterday. I'm bloody scared.



It also brings... Balance in All things goals. See above. No point in writing all day if your body turns into a wasteland. Experiencing cancer within my family has shown me the value and fragility of physical and mental health. So love, time with friends and family, economy, exercise, creativity and work all need to be woven into a strongly balanced tapestry. I dont' think this is something that is ever gotten totally right but I'm going to try.

2015 brings Classics Goals - a new one this! But the older I get the more passionately I love classics. I went to see the Electra in 2014, at the Old Vic in London, and the Penelopiad during the Edinburgh Festival. I was devasted to miss the Medea (my personal fave). I built a Greek Temple out of toilet rolls. I read myths to my daughter. I loved every minute of it.

Sometimes the choices you make my chance and without much consideration are the right ones. I chose classics at A-level on the whim and it has proved to be the enduring intellectual love affair of my life, one that I've been able to share with my daughter to my very great joy.



So this year, I'm going to try to learn a bit of Latin and Greek again. And maybe write some more classics inspired stories. I'm going to visit Vindolanda and plan a trip to Greece for my 40th birthday. That gives me 3 years to save up :-)

And lastly, Writing Goals. Of course.

Keep it simple.

I'm going to complete my revision of Boundless and Do Something With It. I'm going to try to master a short story or a novella. And I'm going to try to complete Lord of Shadows. 

And obviously read, read, read.

What about you?

HAPPY 2015! 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Feminist Romance Novels - a discovery of riches

Scotland loves new year - or Hogmanay as it's called here. It loves it so much it awards not one, but two bank holidays. That's one more than Christmas and it means that people can really party.  There are tons of traditions associated with Hogmanay. Cleaning out your house. First footing. Shortbread. Coal. Auld Lang Syne. Brisk walks on New Year's Day.



Confession: I am a terrible Hogmanay-celebrator. It's the memories of queues, I think. Queuing is known to be a great British tradition, but it's not one I embrace. Not when you're wearing heels. Not when it's sleeting. Not when you're waiting three hours for a taxi and paying twice the fare you normally would.  So this year we had a gathering at our house and there were no queues at all. 

I welcomed the New Year in the neighbour's front garden and New Year's Day well, there was no walk. New Year's Day was all about new authors - new to me that is. 

I welcomed the dawn of 2015 in fantastic literary company with two new-to-me authors, Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan. And I came across them, in a 2014-ish sort of way, via Pinterest because of pin description which read: "9 Surprisingly Feminist Romances."

Well, I'm a feminist. And I love romance. The nine books cited included Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne, which has one of my favourite ever spy-heroes, and Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer, which has one of my favourite ever Heyer heroines. Also an Elizabeth Hoyt, which is frankly, always good. 

Immediately, I was sold. It was the work of a moment to check out the others on the list, starting with Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan. And that's where I stopped, because I enjoyed them so much, I just wanted to read more. 

In the space of three days, assisted by some cat-related insomnia and a fair amount of laziness, I speed read my way through a great clutch of novels by both authors. They're great. 



Courtney Milan's heroines are outstanding - wonderful, empowered geeks enhanced by interesting, enlightened male counterparts. No two the same, no storyline repeated. Try the Brothers Sinister series, you won't regret it. I started with The Suffragette Scandal, whose ambitious and fiery heroine wants to eat the world alive, but that's actually towards the end of the series. The earlier books are just as good. Each one is outstanding, including the novellas. 

Sherry Thomas' delightful historical romances (she writes YA too) beautifully balance sensuality with sharp wit and warm humour. His At Night is funny and clever, with an edge, like Baroness Orczy having afternoon tea with Loretta Chase. Not Quite a Husband turns the loving-wife-wins-love-of-irascible-and-emotionally-remote-husband trope on its head with heart-warming dexterity; Delicious has the sensuality of Chocolat and the Cinderella magic of Eva Ibbotson's A Countess Below Stairs 

So there's my 2015 gift to you: a clutch of recommendations. Greater love hath no blogger. Happy reading.