Plotting the course of a novel – on a defunct railway


I recently put together a mind map for my writing students about world building. this is a phrase usually used in conjunction with fantasy and science fiction, but part way through, I realised it applied just as much to stories set in unfamiliar real worlds – whether they be unknown because of distance, or time.

I’m currently working on a novel (or it might be a long novella, we’ll see), set in the same house in two different historical years, 1926 and 1976.

Now, I’m old enough to remember 1976, I was 15 that blisteringly hot summer, but weirdly I am more confident about what was going on and how things were in 1926! But that’s a digression.

I have been in a quandary about where the house is, it started as an exercise at the magnificent WOOA writing group, and fell fully formed into my head, notionally part of a village, on the very edge with no immediate neighbour. Slightly isolated, it is low and white with a heavy-set roof, and set back and down hill from a lane with a stone wall. There is a bog at the back doorstep, a bit of a stream/river beyond that,  a wood the far side of the walled lane, and a mountain in view. It feels as though it should be near the sea but it isn’t. I feel like I have been there, but I know it is a construct.

I want a real landscape to fit it into, so as I was putting together my mind map, and listing out resources, I typed in maps (oh, I love a map, real or imaginary) and then off from maps – site visits/ field study.

The story(ies) that set this novel off are all true, and I have the permission of those who told me to make use and exaggerate to my heart’s content, but they both originate in Ireland, and I’m not planning to set the story there, although, possibly that might make my life simpler.

A lot of googly stuff later, I had a list of places which have the right kind of bog, and a narrower list of places where the story is geographically possible. I have no intention of naming the local town in the book and I won’t here, either. A railway was crucial to the plot, a Methodist chapel (which type to be determined) and, it turned out, a quarry, which narrowed it down more. And then I remembered year ago trespassing on a disused railway, that ran beside a river through the most exquisite woodland, and there had been a chapel the far end of the walk.

Maps came out, the railway was identified, and A. talked into a  holiday close enough to check out whether memory matched reality. I’m too old and prim these days for trespassing, so we weren’t going to walk the railway.

Oh look! Quarries – lots of them!

So one wet afternoon we drove from one station to the next by the closest possible route, A. driving, me taking pictures, videos and frantically trying to take in what was going on, and navigate when the satnav threw a wobbly. We approached places we had been many times but on roads we had never noticed, and trundled through now obscure villages that had once had thriving industries. In some places you’d not know the railway had ever been there, in others gates, that are clearly level crossings, give away the game. Only one station survives complete.

But it wasn’t anything like enough. Expensively printed to order period maps have arrived, while I chase the perfect combination of quarry/river/railway/chapel/mountain/bog… ordinarily this would be procrastination, but not this time, I keep writing, and each new map, or railway timetable (NO trains on Sunday, right, ok…) finesses the detail, and plots the course of the next wet Wednesday in a week away, following the ghost of the railway.

Meanwhile I rack my brains for details of the mid 70s, the first stirrings of punk and it being so hot I didn’t leave the house after 10 in the morning for fear of melting, because those clichés of chopper bikes and tank tops? That’s not how I remember it!

 

getting a cover for a book


This is a strange way of going about things, but I’ve just chosen a cover for a book that I haven’t finished writing yet.

We’ve been running a competition over at Arachne Press for the covers of the next two books, and I got down to three gorgeous, wonderful designs for the reprint of Mosaic of Air, and couldn’t choose between them. I wanted them all! So I had a bit of a think about other books we have planned, and decided that only one of the designs would only work for a collection of stories, and have chosen that one for Mosaic of Air. So I get to use the other two designs.  for my two novels.  Anyway the one that I’ve not finished writing yet is this, from Kevin Threlfall – you’ll have to imagine a different title for now.

Mosaic of Air-Kevin Threlfall-v2smaller

copyright Kevin Threlfall

The book is a sci-fi novel and doesn’t have a title yet, though it’s going by The Dark Is My Delight, which is a 17th century song about nightingales and sex, basically (words by John Marston, music anonymous); nothing to do with my storyline as it happens, but it has the right feel to it, out of context. The book started life as the lead story in Mosaic of Air, and has grown and morphed into something much larger and more complex. As Mosaic of  (the) Air is a quotation from an Andrew Marvell poem (describing music) it seems right to continue the theme of music and the 17th century by picking another title from the same era. (I had thought about Heavy Time, which is also a 17th century musical quotation, but it’s already been used for an excellent Sci-fi novel by CJ Cherryh – who also nicked my intended pseudonym when I was about 17, at which point I decided to write under my own name and have done with it.)

So, interesting how that all galvanises me to finish the book!

© Cherry Potts 2012

What the Well-dressed Witch is Wearing


'Picasso' halloween lantern © Cherry Potts 2011

The latest news from the catwalks … um … doorsteps of South London, where the fashions of the night come to your door for a minimal payment of handfuls of jellied eyes, chocolate bites and the occasional satsuma is… dayglo is the new black.
Of course you can’t just assume that the show will come to your door, you need to show willing and advertise your openness to revellers with the traditional lantern. This year ours was a cat, and we got several compliments on its raffish charm, including that we had been channeling Picasso!

© Cherry Potts 2011

Back to our report: This Hallowe’en’s hairstyles are streaked candy pink or pumpkin orange. Make up is livid, but carefully applied for that just risen look, and for those tired of the nightly routine of makeup fit for the dead? A mask!

A wide range of styles available to suit every mood… one size fits all.  Hats are generally traditional in height though wide-ranging in shape and colour, with an interesting voodoo influence.

© Cherry Potts 2011

For the younger ghoul: pumpkin, spider, cat and skeleton outfits are de riguer, with phosphorous glow a key element in the design.
The night was not without casualties, small undead who had eaten too many gory treats were heard to whine and wail more authentically than their parents would wish, one particularly rabid group of zombies had to be threatened with the trick we had up our sleeve to ensure there would be enough bait (sorry, treats) for all the neighbourhood monsters, and our cat Elton got a lot of exercise running up stairs every time the door was banged upon.

At the point when the more stalwart Julian started flinching at the doorbell we extinguished our pumpkin and settled down for dinner and the remaining eyeballs...

marauading ghouls receiving their bait © Cherry Potts 2011

This did get me thinking about Horror as a genre.  I really don’t enjoy horror, I can’t abide zombies, torture or graphic violence, although I used to watch Buffy with great enjoyment.  I couldn’t even bear to read Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man because it had a zombie in it, the whole idea turns my stomach, and that’s the only Pratchett I’ve not read.

But I do like a good ghost story, if like is the word, appreciate might be closer to the mark. M.R. James springs to mind, and tends to stay there late at night, wiffling about in my subconscious, it’s all suggestion and oblique reference.

Witch and familiar © Cherry Potts 2011

I’ve  written a couple of ghost stories (All Hallows, Eye of the Beholder) and they are definitely not in the M. R. James mould; They aren’t meant to be frightening: I think of my ghosts as lives unfulfilled, trailing on after death, which is a bit frightening, actually.  So there’s a moral there, if  you don’t want to become a ghost, live life to the full!

There are plenty of witches in my writing, Sorcha and Ashe in The Dowry Blade, Hraefn in Sky Hunter, Wind lover, Adamanta in The Bone Box, Beth and her awful aunt Brenda in Blood will Tell, Cicely in All and More, and I don’t think any of them would subscribe to dayglo streaks in their hair!

© Cherry Potts 2011

The Blackheath Onegin book launched


Most of my free waking hours since finishing the opera (apart from work, singing, partying, holidays…) have been spent fighting with the software to get the book to look beautiful.  Anyone planning to do a photobook on Blurb be warned you need a lot of free RAM.  It does very strange things, like randomly copying chunks of text and shoving them in somewhere else each time you try to format something.  To be fair they do warn about pasting large amounts of text, but it kept crashing, and even when I put it on my new laptop, with nothing else loaded apart from the virus guard, and it didn’t save except when you shut it, so if it crashed you lost the lot- so I got in the habit of saving at the end of each page and after every loading of a photo.  Its taken three times as long as it should have… But it is finally done, and I’ve ordered a proof copy.  waiting eagerly!

UPDATE: Comment from Readers:

You chart the gradual emergence of the opera in such a lively and insightful way – it’s a kind of scraggy, no- hoper kitten that turns into a fat cat with presence. It’s a real window into how nourishing participation in the arts can be.

Lovely reminder of the intensity of that time in the summer. Great text and pictures, apart from me on page 10 looking like an elephant about to charge !! I sat up late last night chortling away  and am now regretting it as eyes on stalks.  Thank you Cherry. A terrific job.

 

You can preview here:

back stage at a com…
By Cherry Potts &amp…

market research, test trading and marketing


It was in my mind to post this on my other blog, but in the true spirit of being aware of my market, I’m putting it where it will be seen by the people I want to see it!  If you are thinking, what, no Opera? be patient, I’ll get there.

I’ve been supporting my local traders today, by being a model for advertising, and by eating ice-cream (it’s a hard life!), and it got me thinking about market research.

Hills & Parkes opening 18th August

Hills & Parkes, who have had a Saturday only Deli on a stall outside Honor Oak Park station since just before Christmas, are opening a shop just over the road, in mid August. It was tipping down this morning and I think they will be very happy to have a roof over their heads!  The stall has very limited stock, and it will be a very different operation being there all week. In preparation, they have asked regular customers to be photographed with their favourite product, thus combining marketing with market research, though of a not very scientific kind, but they have of course been trading long enough to know what sells and what products people come back to buy.  I have got very lazy about  making my own bread since they arrived in the neighbourhood; their bread is excellent, and I was happy to be photographed with my favourite sourdough loaf, and playing tug of war with A over a baguette.  I am wondering what research they have done about what else to stock, however, and what people’s buying patterns through the week are.  I’ve always had the impression our shops are a bit quiet during the week.

Sectret Sundae- on Saturday 16th July at Broca Foods SE4

From the photoshoot we went straight to Broca Foods, where my friend Joan had a ‘pop up’ ice-cream parlour for her new ice-cream range ‘Secret Sundae’.  The place was heaving despite the rain, and the idea is clearly one that will be welcomed locally. (I mentioned it to H&P and they are interested in stocking local ice-cream, and several other people on the photoshoot looked disappointed when I said the pop-up was a one off. )

Joan was looking slighty wild of eye and several flavours had already sold out, and others were not quite frozen, so the menu was shorter than it might otherwise have been.  I tried the rose-geranium sorbet, which was delicious, but had melted by the time I finished it, which wasn’t long- I was warned this would happen and counselled against having a cornet, wisely.  A had a double cornet with  a scoop of lavender & something and a scoop of chocolate sorbet, which of course I also road-tested.  The chocolate was magnificent and didn’t suffer for the lack of dairy products one iota.  The lavender was too strong for me, it was a bit like getting a mouthful of soap, but A liked it.  This was a trial run for Joan and she will get useful info about the process but I was disappointed she had no questionnaire – what people order is about what appeals to them in the desciptions, whether they actually like the product and would buy it again you can only find out by asking!

So here are my answers to an imaginary questionnaire

What appealed to me at point-of-sale was the novelty of the flavours, and the herby-health foody-fresh-as good for you as icecream can be- impression they give.

Prices barely registered, so they must be fine, though think about your margin- relatively speaking they look expensive to make.

What I would want to know more of at point-of-sale: sugar and fat content and where the ingredients are sourced, explicitly.  For example I know the rose geranium came from your garden but I wouldn’t know that if I bought this from someone other than you, and its a great selling point so tell me the story! If your sorbets really don’t have any dairy in them say so – make the vegans happy!  they will buy with confidence and enthusiasm.

secret sundae @ broca foods copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Back to my own Opera related sales project, The Blackheath Onegin.  Did I say the opera was sold out of friday? and for Sunday!

The Altos 'complaining' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So: over 300 unique visitors have read one or more of my opera blogs (thank you by the way!) and I haven’t finished yet so there may be some more new folk to come. This is my potential market for the book: them, and the people involved in the project who haven’t read the blog, and the people attending the Opera.

Fliers are pinned up and scattered about in the Dressing room, the Bar and the Ladies, and despite (I thought) plugging it to death at every opportunity, people are still coming up to me and saying ‘what’s this?’  Which is because this is passive marketing, and because when I started this process I was marketing the Opera, not  a book.  Forward planning see, there is no replacement for it. And active marketing. I need a call to action (I hate marketing speak, but there you go).

 Support local community opera! Buy this book and help fund next year’s production.

I should probably write something to the tune of one of the songs in Onegin, and sing it in the foyer in the interval. (Me?!)

The cuts hurt, we can no longer sing since our funds have gone
but if you buy this book we can go on….

But I’m only happy making an idiot of myself in company, so if anyone else in the chorus wants to join in, I’ll consider it.

Now, if every one of the people reading the blog was sufficiently excited to want a copy of the book, that would make @ £1,500 towards next year’s opera.  Assuming I gift aid my donation once I have the money, that improves the value to @ £1,800, but if everyone in the chorus, and the opera, and the parents of the children, and the schools bought one, and anyone in the audience who wasn’t one of those people ordered a copy, we could probably double it.

(See all those links back to the post about the book? That’s passive marketing too!)

25 people have already pre-ordered, and I need another 25 to maximise our discounted price on printing and so maximise the profit for the Halls. I won’t be doing anything about ordering until after 1st August so there is plenty of time to get your pre-order in!

So here is your call to action:

Order a copy for yourself, your family, your friends

Pass on a flier (or a link to the blog) to anyone you can think of, and encourage them to buy a copy too.

Support Your Community Opera! 

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

A Night Off from the Opera


It feels really weird not being in Onegin-land for a day.  I actually go to work, and talk about something other than music, very strange!
And despite not getting to bed until 1am and being awake again at 5, I decide I do have the energy for writing group.
I have a completed story about Cretan bull dancers that I want to try out on them, and  although it is too long to read the whole piece, I read about half, and an animated discussion follows about young narrators, contrasts and heat, which is extremely useful.

B reads the first page or so of his new novel which is very entertaining, and we talk a little about sequels (which this is) and exposition of the crucial plot detail from the previous book, for those who have not read it, and how difficult it is to get right.  I don’t think we reach a conclusion. 
A reads a chapter from her ongoing work, a riveting novel of self deception and angst which is both gripping and laugh out loud funny.  She says how much we helped by suggesting she decide who exactly a musterious character was, and how it freed her up to get on with the plot.
We talk about our awareness of the group as potential audience when we are writing, and I admit to enjoying writing things I think they won’t like.
R is deep into a massive re-write of her adolescent novel (67%) and feeling a little worn by the process.

We discuss the fact the A is now retired, B redundant, and D redundant from tomorrow, and how all this time to write is suddenly available.  I try very hard not to look expectant in an ‘ I expect at least a chapter by next time’ way.  I think that makes it that under half of our group are still in full time work now.  Are we a typical demographic?

J hasn’t made it to the group tonight because she is manically churning ingredients for her pop-up icecream parlour at Broca Foods on Saturday.  We decide that  our writing exercise will have an icecream theme in her honour, but make it difficult for ourselves by imposing a 100 word limit, and we produce, memoirs, love stories, and humour.
R texts J to let her know, and she stops churning long enough to respond that she is delighted.  We talk about emailing them to her to print off and use as wrappers, but I don’t know that she has the time for that!

Sectret Sundae- on Saturday 16th July at Broca Foods SE4

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Blackheath Onegin: Backstage at a Community Opera


Coming Soon

(Late August probably)

The Altos 'complaining' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Blackheath Onegin

Backstage at a Community Opera

By Cherry Potts

80 pages of comment and photographs

£15

All profits will go to next year’s Blackheath Halls Opera

If you pre-order, we hope to have enough orders to get a bulk discount, which means that, provided you are prepared to pick up your copy(ies) from the Halls, you won’t need to pay postage, and the halls will make a better profit.

to reserve your copy

please make your cheque payable to Cherry Potts

and send it with your contact details to

PO box 57885 London SE23 9BD