Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 29: Questions 29 & 30

A belated Merry Christmas, to you all, Dear Followers! I hope you’ve had a simply marvellous time eating lots of tasty food, watching tat on the tele and revelling in all the wonderful gifts brought to you by Santa! I for one had a lovely time round my parents’ house with my boyfriend and our dog Lex ♥ Usually my parents go away on holiday so it was lovely to spend time with them; I haven’t spent a Christmas with them in about four, five years!

I’m going to try and post a present haul sometime before the year is out as well, but don’t hold your breath because knowing me I’ll never get round to it and I have a couple of other posts I wish to write as well.

Two questions for the price of one today. I’m starting a new writing quiz in the New Year, crafted by K.F. Goodacre (click here to see all the questions), so wanting to get the tail-end of this challenge out of the way first!

So without further ado, here are my final Writerly Navel-Gazing answers for 2017:

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

29. How often do you think about writing? Ever come across something in reality that reminded you of your story/characters?

Thinking about writing

I think about writing all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. Seriously, what on earth fills the mind of a person who does not write? It’s an absolute mystery to me. I’m always plotting away, scheming and dreaming, thinking of new ways to tackle scenes, develop characters and enrich the world they live in. For example, just before I sat down to write this blog post, I was playing Assassin’s Creed Origins (a Christmas present from my boyfriend), which is a video game set in Ancient Egypt. The city of Kintaro in the world of The Mayor is based upon Egypt, so naturally I started thinking about Kintaro, the culture and its people, and how I might go about fleshing it out for a potential story I have planned there (or just to help better inform my understanding of world of the The Mayor).

If I’m not thinking about writing my book then I am at the very least thinking about the act of writing itself. I plan my social life around the times I would like to be able to sit and write, and get irritated stressed out super grumpy when things spring up unexpectedly and stop me from writing.

Today for example, I’ve kept my diary deliberately clear so I’m available to write all day. It will be glorious. I AM HOME TO NO ONE. DO NOT BOTHER ME.

As for things in reality that remind me of my characters… I once went to a Voltaire gig at the Purple Turtle (31st October 2014). Voltaire swaggered on stage, cracked dirty jokes, swore like a sailor, sang about pirates and swigged rum straight from the bottle. All I could think of throughout the whole gig was “It’s John. It’s John. It’s John.” John doesn’t even look anything like Voltaire, but the resemblance in mannerisms and demeanour was strong!

30. Question day! You ask, I’ll answer.

I’m fully expecting the sound of chirping crickets and the sight of rolling tumbleweeds, but I would certainly be interested in answering questions about my writing, my inspirations, my process and my book… Just leave your question below in the comments and I will endeavour to answer!

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed reading my responses to this challenge as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Take care, my lovelies,

 

S.E. Berrow

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Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 28: Questions 24, 25, 26, 27 & 28

What week are we even on? Have I really not done one of these posts for a whole month?? Oh boy, have I got some catching up to do…

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

24. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?

Incredibly willing, to the point I have to reign myself in. I am not even joking when I say that most, if not all my characters have had their heads on the chopping block at some point. If your favourite character makes it to the end of The Mayor, you’ll have K.F. Goodacre to thank for it; she has stayed the fall of my axe on many occasions!

As for the most interesting way I’ve killed someone… there are certainly a couple of very interesting deaths in The Mayor, but I don’t want to spoil them for you!

25. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.

Yes! Though sadly these pets don’t show up until Book Two…

Old Dickiehas a cat called Bill (short for Bilge Rat). She’s a ship’s cat, so she’s employed to keep the rat population down. Friendly and affectionate, Bill is mostly black with a white chest,  polydactyl paws and a fleck on her nose. She enjoys sitting on everyone’s laps — especially those who don’t wish for her to sit on them — and is a good mouser despite her pint-sized self.

Jaspher reluctantly acquires a wolfhound named Bonny, won by an employee in a game of cards. She is stubborn, introverted and intelligent and, though enormous, relatively small for her breed. She’s grey-brown in colour, barrel-chested, slim-waisted and shaggy-haired and, as a bonus, hates William Kale. Very much a case of a pet resembling their owner here!

26. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your original characters and post your favourite picture of him or her.

You can see artwork of all my characters by clicking here. They were all drawn by the very talented Brettarts, whom I cannot recommend enough.

Or perhaps you’d like to see some ~*~eXcLuSiVe~*~ artwork? Here’s some art of my characters my friends have drawn for me in the past, before I got them drawn professionally:

27. Along similar lines, do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters.

I’m quite a visual person so I do try to convey what a character looks like in my head to the reader. I’m not a big fan of writing “blank slates”; a character can have a distinct appearance and still be relatable!

The appearances of my characters changes over the course of the story in The Mayor. They get older, dirtier, put on weight, lose weight, get scars, lose hair, lose teeth, get tattoos, change the way they dress… If I didn’t write about that then that’s effectively an entire element of storytelling lost.

As to how I go about designing characters… I don’t know really! They just kind of pop into my head and then I get to know them properly on paper, hashing them out as I go along and making changes when necessary. Even at this very late stage, I’m still updating characters, appearances and all. For example, after consultation with one of my Beta readers a couple of months ago, I decided to give the Carson family some Dontaran heritage, which made their skin darker.

28. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities? Describe them, and if there’s nothing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.

~ Warning! Minor spoilers for The Mayor below ~

Physical disabilities: the Carsons’ father, Jeremiah, is debilitatingly ill. I’ve had to do a lot of research in order to portray his condition correctly, and have been drilling my friend who works as a nurse on the NHS!

Mental disabilities: Jaspher Carson suffers from severe anxiety and depression (completely untreated of course, because The Mayor is set in the 18th century which wasn’t exactly the best time to be mentally ill), John and Melora suffer from PTSD, and  William Kale is a psychopath (this has been especially fun to research).

Phew! Up to date at last. Just one more week and only two more questions to go…

S.E. Berrow


Artwork credit for question 26: for Vitriolic-Harli’s deviantART, click here. She is also known as The Cerebral Hedonist — click here.

‘Tis The Season to be Stressed Out, Fa La La La La, La La La, HALP

OK guys. Confession time.

I’m not going to make my end of year deadline to complete a first draft of The Mayor.

Here’s the situation:

In a previous post (see here), I explained how I still had 8 more chapters left to write, and was aiming to finish a chapter a week.

Well, this plan fell on the wayside pretty quickly, because it took me 3 weeks to complete just one chapter told from the POV of my villain.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 23.52.21
Our writing retreat in the Cotswolds… Take me back!

Now, I’ve spoken before about how hard Kale is to write in the past; understatement of the century as I’m concerned. This particular chapter was even harder, because it dealt with long-awaited revelations, violent payoffs and a fuck-ton of allegory. Add that to real-world, catatonia-inducing stress (I decided that now, just before Christmas, would be the perfect time to sell my house for some stupid reason), and you can imagine how hard it was for me to sit down and force those words out.

As for the 4-day writing retreat with K.F. Goodacre? Productive as it was (I’d probably still be stuck on that Kale chapter if I hadn’t gone), it was only 2 days long, not 4.

So I still have 5 chapters left to write, and less than 4 weeks to write them.

I have shed actual tears over this. I have had anxiety attacks. I’ve felt like a complete failure and like I was letting not only myself down, but other people as well: my writing partner; my boyfriend, my friends who read what I write as I go along…

But the other night while I was having a shower (it’s amazing how much a nice hot shower clears my head), I had an epiphany:

  • I’m not being paid to do this. I’m not published. I don’t have an agent. I’m not locked in a contract. I don’t have any obligations beyond the ridiculously high standards I’ve foolishly set for myself.
  • It’s the festive season. I usually love Christmas, but this year so far, I haven’t been enjoying it at all, because I’ve been so wrapped up in worrying about how I’m not going to meet my deadline on top of work stuff, house stuff, money worries, and other things I can’t control. I can however control my deadline. Why? Because it’s self-imposed.
  • Most of my writing happens at the weekend… but I’m fully-booked from now until Christmas. I do not want to be resenting the fact that I’m spending time with the people I love — or worse yet cancelling on them at the last minute — because of a self-imposed deadline.
  • This last month has been a struggle. A real struggle, mental health-wise. This wasn’t helped by the fact I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, even though I knew there wasn’t a chance in Hell that I would when I started. WHY, BRAIN?! WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?
    Throw a lapsed deadline and a failed 2017 New Year’s Resolution into the mix, and at this point I’m running pretty close to throwing in the towel altogether. My finger is practically hovering over the delete button, Guys, and that is not good! THAT IS NOT GOOD AT ALL. (I’ve actually done this before with a previous WIP, and have regretted it ever since).

If I’m objectively honest with myself, I’ve done amazingly well this year. I’ve written almost 75,000 words of my novel — more than I’ve ever written in a single year in my life — all while maintaining a household, caring for two cats, and holding down a full-time job. I’m within touching distance of the finish line, so to fall at the last hurdle would be an absolute tragedy.

Therefore I’ve made the difficult decision to extend my deadline by 2 months. Instead of 31 December 2017, I will now be aiming to have a first draft completed by 28 February 2018. (This is actually a pretty excessive deadline — I should in theory be able to do it in one).

I hope you guys aren’t too disappointed in me. I’m so sorry to have let you down if you were excited about the prospect of me finishing, but I think it will totally worth it in the end because I will actually have a story to share with you ♥

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


P.S. Just so this post isn’t entirely disappointing and depressing… here are some random things I’m really loving at the moment that I want to share with you!

Books: The Six Of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo — a New Adult heist story set in a fantasy world based on 19th century Tsarist Russia. It has a wonderfully diverse cast with some great characterisation — and the story is so much fun! I just don’t want it to end.

Music: Kingslayer by symphonic power-metal band, Almanac — especially the opening track, ‘Regicide’:

On the morning after the king has lost his crown,
Only tears and laughter come together now.
When my senses fail us, I’ll fade without a sound.
When I see you fail I’ll break in to break you down.

Also the album art is great. It’s so, so good; currently tied with Arch Enemy‘s Will To Power for my personal Favourite Album of the Year, 2017.

Lipsticks:Naked Witch‘ by the lovely ladies at Necromancy Cosmetica. At last! I can now make myself look like a ghost without using my foundation as a lipstick! Their palest nude ‘Healing Stone‘ is simply gorgeous too. I love them both. Love love love.

I’m also super amazed at how — despite being without power for 90+ days (being based in the hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico) — they were still able to safely ship my order to me in a matter of days ♥

It’s official: I have The Fear

I have just over 2 months left to finish my first draft of The Mayor.

Sarah Andersen

Crap.

In an attempt to be positive about this, I’ve worked out the following:

  • According to my current plan, I only have 8 more chapters left to write.
  • Two of these ‘chapters’ are actually 1-2 page ‘interludes’.
  • I’m about halfway through one of these 8 chapters already.
  • I have a 4 day ‘writing retreat’ with K.F. Goodacre booked towards the end of November. The pseudo writing-retreat I took at the beginning of October resulted in 2 and a half chapters in just 4 days, so that bodes well.

So technically, that’s just 5 and a half more chapters I have left to write, plus 2 short interludey, epiloguey thingies… I’m currently aiming to complete at least a chapter a week so… that’s totally doable, right? I CAN DO THIS!

Positivity

Today I got back from the booziest family/long-weekend holiday ever, and I didn’t get any writing done at all. So consequently I’m feeling pretty low and rubbish at the moment. It could very well be the hangover talking.

PLEASE SEND ME POSITIVE, ENCOURAGING THOUGHTS, YOU GUYS. I NEED THEM ♥

Deadline-Induced Panic

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

P.S. I know you were probably expecting aWriterly Navel-Gazing question this week, so I’m sorry about that. I promise I’m working on it. The answer to Week 19 is a long one and I’m trying to make it as accessible and as spoiler-free as possible. Plus y’know… finishing The Mayor is currently taking up all my spare time — I’ve almost forgotten what my friends look like.

P.P.S. Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust is now in my possession, I repeat, THE BOOK OF DUST IS NOW IN MY POSSESSION ♥ I picked it up from Waterstones today. Have you got your paws on a copy yet? Have you finished it? Ahhhhh, I’m so excited! I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life for this.


The ‘Deadline’ comic strip is by the wonderful Sarah Andersen aka. Sarah Scribbles. The other two graphics are sadly sourceless — please let me know if they are yours and would like to be credited, or for the image to be removed.

Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 11: Questions 10 and 11

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

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!

Well, one of my characters is in a retroactive, cross-dimensional relationship with a faerie prince from one of K.F. Goodacre‘s stories… Does that count?

I shall endeavour to explain. I can’t remember how the subject came up exactly, but Kim and I were once discussing the sexuality of our characters. I have two canonical LGBT+ characters in The Mayor: John, who is bisexual; and Nell, who is a lesbian.

Mary Read and Anne Bonny
Much has been made of the sexualities of the pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny over the years, but of course never confirmed. I drew a lot of inspiration for Nell’s character from these two fascinating women.

Important note: I am aware I’m applying modern-day labels to characters that have no concept of such things here. Though same-sex relations happened in the 18th century (obviously), academic understanding of sexuality during this period was severely limited. And despite being one of the more sexually liberated historical eras, sex between men was punishable by death. Whilst sex between women was (laughably) seen as an impossibility and therefore not illegal (see here), they could be cornered on some other capital charge like witchcraft or fraud if they got found out. John has a well-referenced relationship with a male character in The Mayor in addition to his relationships with women, and Nell repeatedly demonstrates she cares more for the company of women than she does men. Ergo, I use these labels when talking about their sexuality, because from a modern-day perspective, this is what I believe they would identify as if they were living in this day and age.

During this discussion, Kim remarked on how well-suited her character Huckleberry was to John. I found myself in agreement with her. They’re both extroverted, both fun-loving and adventurous, both have a wicked sense of humour and both are, it has to be said, exactly the other one’s type.

So, being writing partners, what did we do? Well, we wrote about it of course! And because I enjoyed what we wrote so much (as mentioned in my last blog post, John’s character didn’t come easily to me; writing something this fun and wacky really helped), I decided to sneak it into The Mayor. The man I mentioned John having had a relationship with? His name is Henry Squires, and he is loosely based on Huck. Have fun with that, Dear Readers!

11. Who is your favourite character to write? Least favourite?

Speak of the devil and he shall appear…

I love writing about John. I say writing about John — not with — because unlike the other three primary characters in The Mayor, John doesn’t get a POV and has no internal monologue. Readers will only get to know him through the perceptions of other characters. This is fun for me to write, because they all have such drastically different opinions about him: Melora practically hero-worships him; Jaspher frets and rages about him in equal measure; and Kale just sees him as an utter waste of space, barely worthy of his time. The impact he has on the lives of all three however is massive. He is my spanner in the works. A sharp-tongued libertine ahead of his time. I cannot stress how hard I had to work on his character enough, but I got there in the end and it was worth it. I love writing about John. Love, love, love.

S.E. Berrow

Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 10: Question 9

As mentioned on a previous blog post, I missed a week of this challenge. Today I originally intended to answer two questions to make up for it, but my answer to Question 9 ended up being so long, I’ve decided to answer two questions next week instead (sorry!).

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

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

The answer to this question is so complex and so hard to put into words… Bear with me, I will try my best!

The truth is that I have no fixed process for character creation, and ideas can come from absolutely anywhere. Some characters will just show up fully-formed, demanding I tell their story. Others, I will have to go hunting for them for days, weeks, months, even years until at last I am able to trap them, break them, hone them into some semblance of a believable human being. Once a character stops behaving and you start having to work around them to move your plot along, you know you’ve done a decent job of development.

For the sake of being succinct, I’m going to focus on the creation and development of two characters in particular, else we’re going to be here all day!

~ WARNING: Mild spoilers for The Mayor below. I’ll do my best to avoid them, but I can’t promise anything. You can click the character image to be taken through to their profile page ~


William Kale


William KaleA prime example of the first kind of character I mentioned above is William Kale. I’ve touched on this a couple of times before, but he basically walked into my head one day — entirely himself — whilst I was listening to ‘The Mayor’ by Rasputina. The lyrics speak of “a blonde-haired”, morally destitute, insane individual who ruins the town he is then inexplicably made mayor of (“Oh no, way to go, he’s the mayor”). Lots of lyrics in ‘The Mayor’ apply to my story as a whole (mention of sinking ships, insane asylums etc.), however there is one repeated refrain throughout that really formed the core of Kale’s character: “If they take something precious from me, I’m going to take something precious from them.”

Whilst ‘The Mayor’ was perhaps the trigger, with hindsight I think Kale’s conception might also have been heavily influenced by a couple of other things, namely books I was reading around that time (2008). Roger Chillingworth for example is a character from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter who plants himself inside the home of his unfaithful wife’s lover under the guise of a doctor and slowly poisons him to death. Like Chillingworth, Kale plants himself inside the home of the Mayor of New Hardway and seeks to overthrow him. Then there is the duplicitous Captain Kennit from Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders who still manages to charm and manipulate those around him despite a total lack of empathy for others; a trait that Kale definitely shares. And then there is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights who goes away, makes a fortune and later returns to act out slow, painstaking and terrible revenge on those who have wronged him… Kale can certainly relate to that. All of these books and characters seem to have fed into Kale’s creation in some way. Out of all the characters in The Mayor, he has changed the least since I first started.


Jonathan Carson

Jonathan Carson


A good example of the second kind of character meanwhile is Jonathan Carson. Ah, John. John, John, John… We’ve had a long journey, you and I. Though I had his bare bones at story start (I drew heavily on my favourite historical pirates “Calico” Jack Rackham and Stede Bonnet for his storyline/relationships with others/appearance/background etc.) there was just something… off about him that I didn’t like, and neither did a couple of my early Beta readers. He was a caricature. A stereotype. Just your typical rakish handsome sailor fond of drinking, debauching, able to draw women towards him like bees to a honeypot. But he was so important to the plot! He was literally created to fill out the plot. To be Jaspher’s brother. To show Melora that she has other options besides the life her father has chosen for her. To give the story a second half. And yet I couldn’t make him believable, let alone likeable.

Eventually I was able to figure out the reason why: out of the four main characters, John and I have the least in common. Yes, believe it or not, I have more in common with a psychopath like Kale then I do with John. This was of course a problem, because it meant I didn’t understand John. And if I didn’t understand him, then how could I possibly expect my readers to?

After this epiphany, I set about taking as many Character Quizzes for John as I possibly could. You know the ones, the ones that ask things like “What’s been the best day of your life so far?” “Who was your first kiss?” “Have you ever taken drugs?” Gradually the character of John began to develop. He became more three-dimensional. Writing him became easier. I still wasn’t entirely happy though.

Then one miserable afternoon in December 2011, someone told me something really awful that had happened to them. Something that disturbed and upset me so much that I just couldn’t keep it to myself else I’d go mad. So I poured it into my writing, and applied what I had heard to John. Suddenly his character made sense to me. It became apparent why he goes out drinking all the time, why he leads such a hedonistic lifestyle, why his brother thinks he’s off the rails, and why his father continually turns a blind eye to his reckless behaviour.

John’s character has flowed easily for me ever since.

 

S.E. Berrow

Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 8: Question 8

Bit of a short one this week, I’m afraid. I’d answer a second question to make up for it but I’ve been so busy with my day job over the last two days that I just haven’t had the time, and before that I was caught up in a writing frenzy!

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

8. What’s your favourite genre to write? To read?

My favourite genre to write is High Fantasy, although I have been known to branch out into contemporary Urban Fantasy/Horror with my 2014 NaNoWriMo project, Salt. This is currently on hold whilst I concentrate on finishing the first draft of The Mayor. The Mayor itself is technically a High Fantasy book because it’s set in a realm outside of our own, but it reads more like an Historical novel — I therefore typically introduce it to people as Historical Fantasy.

My favourite genre to read is also High Fantasy, followed shortly by Historical novels and Horror/Gothic Classics. I have also been known to consume a surprisingly large amount of Sci-Fi…

Essentially, I live for escapism.

You can view a list of all my favourite books here.