Monday, May 12, 2014

My Writing Process - A return hop - #MondayBlogs

Christina James, whose blog is a big favourite of mine and whose books have been responsible for the revival of my interest in detective fiction, invited me to hop back onto this writing process blog tour. This is as a follow-on from her great and thoughtful post about how she sets about plotting her intricate novels. Although, I have already done a writing process blog, I agreed I could conceivably do another one as I have started a new book - in fact two new books - so I thought I would write something about how I intend to proceed with those two projects simultaneously. So thank you very much for this return 'hopportunity', Christina... it's very kind of you!

So, now, where shall I start? Ah yes, those four questions...

What am I working on at the moment?

After finishing and publishing my last book, Harbour Ways, I went through something of a writing dip. I didn't really know what to do as I had several projects in mind, but couldn't settle on one to get started on. In the end, I took the line of least resistance and began the one that would be easiest (although I've subsequently found it has challenges I wasn't anticipating). This is my fourth and probably final memoir. It's about Belgium, and more specifically Wallonia. Since coming to the Netherlands, I have spent a good deal of time in our neighbouring country and even lived there part-time for three years when I owned a bankside barge on the outskirts of Brussels. I find Belgium a fascinating and contradictory country with all sorts of lovely features that many people are unaware of, so this memoir, unlike the Rotterdam harbour books, will not be written in chronological order, but will focus on different themes.

However, having started this memoir, my brain continued to churn over the other fictional projects I've been thinking of writing. For the one, I need to do quite a bit of research; for the other, I can more or less draw on personal experience and my own resources and imagination, so no prizes for guessing which one took priority. I've wanted to write a novel set in South Africa for some time, and now I have it. I have started a new story set on a farm in Natal. It will be much in the writing style of my Eccentrics, and there will be parallels in that it involves a young and inexperienced couple left to cope with a large and sprawling cattle farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains.

How does my work differ from others in the same genre?

I didn't really know how to answer this before, and I still don't. All I can say is that I usually try and give my books something other than just the obvious. This means essentially that with the memoirs, I hope to show what is involved in the kind of life or world I am describing, and also say something about the culture and the people around me. I'm not sure that this sets them apart, but it's a conscious effort to give them a bit of 'value' if that's what I can dare to call it. For my fiction, much the same applies. I don't aim to write literature, but I do hope that my fiction has some substance to it and has something to say or tell beyond the superficial story. For example, the Skipper's Child was very much about family loyalty, while Eccentrics has been called 'life affirming'. I like that. It's also very much about the nitty gritty of the practical side of life on a small farm.

Why do I write what I do?

This is more difficult to pin down. I had the same problem the first time I did this exercise. Then I said it was an outlet I needed for my observations on the people, the places and the environs in which I have been lucky enough to live. Now, I think it's also because I have no creative outlet in my work other than for trying to prepare interesting lessons for my students. I used to work in marketing and communications, which gave me a very diverse and rich platform for all sorts of creative and non-fiction writing. When I started teaching here in the Netherlands, it was like the hands-on person being kicked into an administrative position on the same subject. I loved the hands-on part, and my fingers itched to write something - anything. So you could say this is as much a reason why I write what I do. It's simply because I love it! And if I didn't, I'd drive everyone insane around me anyway.

How does my writing process work?

Well to add to what I've already said, and besides writing everything on the computer with no hand drafting at all, I'm also a 'don't get it right, get it written' sort of person, which is why it takes me so long to edit! I just write as and when I can, which is not every day at all due to the amount of marking and 'homework' I have to do. When I write, I do as much as I can, then read it through and correct obvious mistakes. After that, I'll read it again the next day or next time I am writing and make further changes. From that moment until I start editing, I don't look back. This often means I forget things as I'm writing because I rarely keep to any defined plot or plan. I often make a chapter plan just to get me going. I've done so this time, but the books usually take on their own dynamic and push me where they want me to go. The first edit is then to check for continuity (as they call it in the Film industry) and the logic of the story itself; then comes the nuts and bolts editing (which a few special Beta readers help me with), and finally the proofreading, which can often take two or three trials. And that's it. My writing process in a nutshell.

What I am doing now that I'm writing two books simultaneously is posting chapters on private blogs with close friends as invited readers. I hope that they'll help me keep track of what I'm doing as I haven't tried writing more than one book at a time before. I used to use blogs in the past to post my WIPs and that worked well, so I'm trying it again for the sake of my friends' sanity as well as the continuity.

Thanks again to Christina James for giving me this second and worthwhile opportunity to delve into what I do and how I do it. To keep the momentum going, I'm going to hand the baton to two other writers: my dear friend, Anne-Marie Klein, author of the Behind Blue Eyes rock novels, and Jodie Beckford, author of Death Denied, her debut Kindle start-up.

I'm very much looking forward to what both these writers have to divulge!

And in case anyone's interested in having a close look at what I do, there's a heap of links in the sidebar here, so click on!


  1. Ugh. I wish I had your straight thumb. (Straight thumbs are supposed to represent self discipline, and mine are ever so not straight).
    Can I get your books on Kobo? I should go check I guess! ;)
    Much love from sunny BC... xoxo

  2. Christina James7:15 pm, May 12, 2014

    I'm so glad you agreed to do this again, as I missed your first anyway! Also, I'm delighted to hear about your two plans, which I'm sure will prove to be as entertaining and interesting as the others. Wishing you every success in leaping out of the post-'Harbour Ways' dip! :)

  3. Ah, Stevie, the straight thumb is imposed on me by dint of being a freelancer in my work life too. Self discipline is my boss :)

    Thank you, Christina. I enjoyed doing it with a different approach, so I hope it's worked!

  4. Hi Val. This was fascinating. Love reading how other writers write. And you have such fascinating material at your doorstep,,,er,,,gangplank? I wish you several more successes for your books.

  5. Thanks val.

    I always enjoy reading / listening to how writers write, painters paint, musicians compose. I have a shelf full of home made DVDs (using videos nicked from Youtube of course!), about all my favourite writers & musicians processes. What goes on during the creative process I find as inspiring as the end product. Sometimes more so.

  6. Thank you, Denise, and yes, I am very fortunate in where I live. The material comes floating right up to me :-)

    Ian, that's wonderful! Koos and I often watch videos about photography and art, but I've never thought of looking for videos about writers. I'll have to see if I can find some!

  7. I always love finding out how other writers manage. Thanks for the tag, I'm on it and trying to entice Ian along.

  8. Looking forward to yours, Anne-Marie!

  9. The challenge has been answered!! :-) Tomorrow morning at 08:00 my answers will be up on my blog, and I've been lucky enough to get one of my favourite new authors to carry on the torch after me.


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