#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 32: Question 29

It’s been a truly hellish last couple of months. Projects at work, house-buying, mortgage applications and my general day-to-day existence have all sought to unravel me. At last — touch wood — I feel like I can actually see the light at the end of this very long, very dismal tunnel. I still have a great many things on my To Do list, but fortunately typing out a blog post this week was not one of them… Hooray!

I asked my very good friends K.F. Goodacre and Oran aka. The Singing Lights to talk about The Mayor for you this week. I have to say, they are alarmingly enthusiastic about my book, and reading back through their answers makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and contented inside.

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

29. Guest post: Get a friend who is familiar with your novel to speak about it

K.F. Goodacre

K.F. GoodacreI’ve known S.E. Berrow for about 12 years now and, as a fellow writer, I’ve been envious of many things about her writing — her style, her vocabulary, her dedication — but none more so than her ability to craft characters that leap off the page. This has been the case for every story of hers I’ve ever read — whether it be a top-hat-wearing English vampire or a Dutch professor sipping coffee in a New Orleans café — and it is especially true of the characters in her current historical fantasy novel, The Mayor.

Small town socialite Melora Winship longs to break free of her patriarchal restraints and sail on the open seas with her best childhood friend, Jonathan Carson. The only trouble is that her father has already planned her entire life for her — a dull office job within the family shipbuilding business, and eventually a marriage to Jonathan’s kind but equally dull older brother, Jaspher Carson. Her wish for something exciting to happen comes true in the form of the handsome William Kale, but it isn’t long before she realises that he’s not the breath of fresh air she longs for. He’s more of a deadly squall, devastating the port of New Hardway and everything she holds dear.

One of the benefits of having known S.E.Berrow for so long is that I’m privileged to have seen The Mayor grow from conception to execution. It has been an undeniable labour of love, spanning a decade of researching, plotting, honing and drafting — and it’s well worth the effort she put in. The plot itself follows Melora Winship and Jaspher Carson as they navigate their individual, unexpected trials of small town life, against a backdrop of what can only be described as a tense political fantasy-thriller.

The plot is fantastic and multi-layered, weaving its characters together and setting them off towards their journey’s inevitable end but, as I’ve said before, it’s Berrow’s characters that really bring this book to life — and it’s the characters who will stay with you until you turn the last page. Berrow’s particular strength as a writer is the ability to connect emotionally with her readers and so I give you all fair warning: The Mayor will make you fall in love and then yank your heartstrings off one by one, as painfully as possible.

I would place bets on every reader finding a ‘Mayor character to love — whether it be the sheltered, headstrong Melora Winship, the rakishly mischievous Jonathan Carson, or the eminently punchable Bellamy. If it’s the latter, I will want to have words with you. Personally, I’m head over heels for Jaspher Carson, a well-meaning, socially inept academic, and there’s simply nothing I can do about it. Yet, as passionately invested as I am for Jaspher’s story to end happily, there is one other character, one man for whom I burn with such intense hatred, I often find myself fantasising about setting him on fire.

S.E. Berrow’s villain, the mysterious and manipulative William Kale, is one of her best creations to date. His enigmatic motives keep you guessing until it’s too late and his ability to get other characters to trust him is such that you’ll end up screaming aloud at the page. For me, there is no greater testimony to a story’s worth than complete reader immersion and investment, and The Mayor has it all. I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves.

Oran aka. The Singing Lights

The Singing LightsSo You Want To Read The Mayor, huh?

I’ve known Sally (or S.E. Berrow to you mortals) for the better part of a decade. A friendship that has bloomed to the point where I am trusted to read her WIP is an honour I don’t take lightly!

The Mayor is a deceptively simple tale. Plot-wise it certainly might appear to be: an insular community has a violent shake-up from a new arrival, but that is where the simplicity dies. What you’ll be exposed to is some very complex characterisation.

I’ve said to her many times that she has a way of inhabiting her characters’ state of minds to a near-uncomfortable clarity — you really get a sense of the emotional and physical state of them, feeling the “lived-in” experience, almost as if you are there. Every ache and blemish is computed. I love the melodrama, the witty (and sometimes crude) dialogue, and how easily this could sit on the screen. Honestly, I can see actors in wigs and 18th century-finery charting the slow and dramatic collapse of the relationships in the tale. BBC drama, wherefore art thou?

The characters are satisfying to observe. By far my favourite is Jonathon “J-dizzle” (my addition) Carson, the wayward younger son of Jeremiah Carson, a rake who wishes for freedom and experience unlike his more fastidious brother Jaspher. Between them is the manipulative and bored Melora Winship, best friend of J-dizzle and subject of deep infatuation to Jaspher. All of the characters are pitiable as their stories unfold, all except for one swaggering monstrosity: William Goddamn Kale, aka. Bill, aka. Distasteful Creature, aka. Fuck That Guy.

I have created a holiday to help temper my searing hot rage: International Fuck Kale Day, a daily holiday where humans all around the world come together to express their intense hatred of him. Such is the skill of Berrow’s writing to create a character so distasteful but not to feel like he is a caricature. Cold, ruthless, calculating, competent, he is all you want in a villain. And, loathe as I am to say, he is one you love to hate (I’m never going to hear the end of this). His machinations pave the way for the wider story and he will be the linchpin to their unveiling. I usually can predict where stories can go, which isn’t a problem for me, but I really lean in when I can’t easily guess. The wider story is a mystery to me and I can’t wait to explore its depths.

From the coastal colony setting, with pirates and magic surrounding it all, there’s a very Robin Hobb flavour to it all. This is something to her credit: many years prior, I read Hobb’s The Liveship Traders upon Berrow’s suggestion and the influence from Hobb is unmistakable. The setting, and focus of character… The Mayor is also much leaner.

I’ve read the draft so it’s very much unfinished even with The End being written down on the story. When she pares down the wordiness, smooths the edges on some of the characterisation, and polishes it up, we will have a very good book become a brilliant book. Did I mention the characterisation? Damn her characterisation.

Thank you so much for such beautiful encouraging words, guys! It means so much to me, especially during stressful times such as these ♥

 

S.E. Berrow

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Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 16: Question 15

Forever late. Forever behind. Forever apologetic. This time I actually have a pretty good excuse, but I’ll leave that for another blog post…

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

15. Midway question! Tell us about a writer you admire, professional or not.

I harp on all the time about my writing partner K.F. Goodacre, and with good reason. She writes all manner of weird and wonderful things, however her current project — a Middle Grade Fantasy entitled The Elder Throne — centres on a one-handed ten-year-old schoolgirl called Anna who discovers that she is actually the secret daughter of a missing faerie prince. It’s a wonderful story about everyday heroes in extraordinary situations, filled with a wonderful, diverse range of characters and packed full of well-researched Irish folklore, magic and murder. I love it, and I hope you will too! Now if she’d just finish her bloody editing…

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As for professional writers, I’ll talk about a writer I’ve discovered relatively recently. Her name is Victoria Schwab (she writes under the pseudonym V.E. Schwab for her adult novels) and she is just wonderful. At the time of writing she has produced a staggering 13 books at just 30 years old. Her writing is crisp, clean and inventive — something for me aspire to — her characters are beautifully drawn, and her stories are just so quirky and effortlessly cool.

Victoria Schwab

The thing I admire most about Victoria though — beyond the fact that A Darker Shade Of Magic immediately made it onto my list of Favourite Books Of All Time when I read it earlier this year — is that she keeps it real about the writing process and the publishing industry. If I’m having a bad writing day, I only have to glance at her (excellent) Twitter account (clicky) to find reassurance from a professional voice. She makes no bones of the fact that writing a first draft is fucking hard. She is entirely open about the myth of ‘overnight success’ (see here). Time and time again she stresses that if you cannot cope with rejection, writing is not the career for you, because she still gets story ideas shot down by publishers even as a New York Times Bestseller. She is entirely supportive of new voices and celebrating small successes, and she refuses to sacrifice her integrity for the sake of commercial success. Most recently, for example, she withdrew from a contract with a Russian publisher because the translated text omitted a romantic relationship between two male characters (you can read more about this incident here).

On top of all this, she loves cats, loves tea, and has literally reduced me to a broken sobbing mess in the middle of my work’s kitchen with her beautiful, heartbreaking words. Have I mentioned what an incredible writer she is? Seriously. The way she picks and chooses words and structures them in a sentence is about as close to perfection I can possibly imagine.

S.E. Berrow


For more information on K.F. Goodacre and Victoria/V.E. Schwab, please visit the below links:

https://kfgoodacre.com/
http://www.veschwab.com/

 

 

Of Gingernut Biscuits and Pirate Doubloons

First of all, I must apologise for the fact that I am now behind by a week in my 30 Week Writing Challenge. This is because Question 9 is a hefty one and I can't just bash the answer out in five minutes. I need to actually sit down and make the time to answer it properly. My intention therefore is to answer two questions for this week, so please stay tuned this Wednesday.

For now however, I have a couple of other cool things to share with you:

This July, I won my first ever Camp NaNoWriMo. I feel like I keep participating in these events and failing — which is rather disheartening — so this time I made sure to set myself a realistic goal that I could meet despite having a full-time job, a boyfriend, and a family to placate.  The aim was to write for the equivalent of 1 hour for every day of the month of July. It worked! I smashed it, I had fun, and I'm just that little bit closer to meeting my self-imposed 31st December 2017 deadline for completing a first draft of The Mayor. Hazzah!

Camp NaNoWriMo

Something else cool, my writing partner K.F. Goodacre recently attended a medieval festival called the Loxwood Joust. First of all, can I just say how jealous I am. I love all things medieval (I read Medieval History at University) so it is my fervent hope that I am able to go with her next time. It looked like such amazing fun!

Whilst she was there, she very kindly picked up some homemade gingernut biscuits for me, which were made according to a recipe from the 18th century. The true thoughtfulness of this gesture will be lost on you, Dear Reader, so I will endeavour to explain. Melora  the 18th century protagonist of The Mayor – adores gingernut biscuits. They are her absolute favourite, and I use them as a neat little device for helping her to form bonds with other characters (Redcoat Jack for example gives Melora gingernut biscuits to help her with seasickness when she first joins his ship). Kim knew this, so she bought them for me from this festival (not very medieval, I know, but still historical I guess!). They're so awesome, I'm almost reluctant to eat them. Almost.

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As if that weren't enough, she also gifted me with a genuine pirate doubloon from a company she has forgotten the name of (I'm trying to find out) who have helped provide productions like Game of Thrones and Pirates of the Caribbean with their props. Lookie!

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OK, it's not actually a doubloon. Real doubloons were made of gold. This is essentially the pirate equivalent of a penny, but it is still beautiful! I love it. It looks very similar to the necklace that my character Nell Shoar wears, wouldn't you agree?:

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Thank you so much, Kimothy! ♥ I knew you were my writing partner for a reason. Thank you for continuing to inspire and motivate me to write this blasted thing.

Lastly (slightly off-topic) Voltaire's new album Heart-Shaped Wound dropped on Friday. It. Is. Awesome. Voltaire, for those of you not in the know, is huge news on the Goth scene and his piratey album To The Bottom of the Sea features heavily on the playlist for The Mayor. Decidedly more melancholic and personal than the likes of say, 'Zombie Prostitute' and 'Brains!', I strongly recommend Heart-Shaped Wound. Please check it out here – it's on sale and you won't regret it! It even features the likes of incredible metal vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (now there's a musical collaboration I definitely didn't see coming! It's so good to hear her singing cleans again).

That's all for now, folks. Hoping to speak to you again next Wednesday, when I finally get around to that question from Week 9 of the Writing Challenge…

Take care,

 

S.E. Berrow

Berrow and Goodacre’s Annual Writing Retreat Part II: The Hermits Emerge

Click here to read Part I.

Thus the Writing Retreat has come to an end, and K.F. Goodacre and I must return to our day jobs. I must confess, my level of productivity paled in comparison to that of K.F. Goodacre, who’s been slashing words from her book baby as though editing were some form of infanticide. Me? Well I spent most of my time sorting out my extremely out of date Scrivener file and organising the research photos from my visit to New Orleans last year for one of my current projects, Salt. I also did a little bit of editing myself and a smidgeon of plotting, essentially attempting to hammer my existing work into some form of springboard that I can push up from.

Truth be told, I haven’t actually picked any writing up since April last year. Two things happened around that time that caused the longest and most numbing spate of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced:

1) My beloved cat Jaffa died slap-bang in the middle of a really productive Camp Nanowrimo and I was too upset to continue.

2) I bought a house. Not just any house, but a new build that didn’t actually complete until late December/early January.

Have you ever bought a house before? If so, you will know how stressful purchasing a house is; obtaining a mortgage, scrabbling around for money you didn’t even realise you needed, having to deal with rude and incompetent solicitors… At the same time I was stuck in a job I absolutely loathed, but I couldn’t move on because it would violate the conditions of my mortgage. Then, after I moved in, I had to find a new job and at the same time deal with all the stresses of living expenses, furnishing and decorating. New job aside, I’m still dealing with these stresses, but at least now it’s gradually receding into the background radiation of my everyday existence.

Regardless, I know that life simply won’t stop just so I can write a book, and now things are considerably less hectic than they were before, I really need to get back into the ‘swing’ of writing again. The more I write, the more I want to write, so this weekend’s Writing Retreat – whilst not as productive as it could have been – did succeed in reminding me how much I love my story, and how much I want to continue writing it. I sometimes get the notion that I am ‘not worthy’ of writing Salt; that I lack the ability to weave the story that I want to tell properly. Yesterday whilst out for a Sunday roast dinner in a group, my friend Maria asked me if I had written anymore, because I sent the opening chapter to her last year and she thought it was ‘amazing’. It was really lovely to hear her praise, despite the crushing guilt I felt at not having written anything more to show her. There’s only one way to change that of course… I need to write more!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


Official website for K.F. Goodacre:
http://kfgoodacre.com/

For more information on Camp Nanowrimo, visit:
http://campnanowrimo.org/

Writing Retreats and Adventures in Late-Night Baking

Today marked the first day of Berrow and Goodacre’s second annual Writing Retreat. The idea is that each year, my writing partner and I hole ourselves away in a room, knuckle down to business and bash out a few thousand words without the distractions of work, family, friends and boyfriends luring us away from our desks.

So, how is it going so far?

Kim gets down to businessWell, for K.F. Goodacre, things are going spectacularly well. She has been continuing to edit her recently completed novel, The Elder Throne, getting it ready for querying agents and generally being a Good Little Writer.

Me? Well, I spent most of the day sleeping off the tail-end of my hideous cold, coughing my guts up, making sinister avocado-peeling videos to creep out my friends on our WhatsApp group and attempting to bake a cake with rotten eggs at 11pm.

Adventures in late-night bakingNot very writerly of me.

Still, tomorrow is a new day. And, following an emergency trip to Asda to acquire fresh eggs, we now have some Dorset Apple Cake to see us through!

No doubt I shall keep you updated with our progress.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


For more information on K.F. Goodacre and The Elder Throne, visit:
http://kfgoodacre.com/

Dorset Apple Traybake recipe from BBC Good Food:
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2044/dorset-apple-traybake