New web site

If you’ve visited my web site at charliegarratt.com recently you’ll have seen an apology. I decided the site needed a bit of an upgrade so embarked on an exercise, using WordPress, which resulted in a complete redesign.

It became one of those ‘if I knew then what I know now’ times, that is, mainly because I didn’t use images for my posts in the past, but the new design seems to require them. All I can say is that this will remain a work in progress.

Take a look at the new design and let me know what you think.

Is Research Worthwhile?

This week I spent a couple of hours researching the availability of cross-Channel ferries during the first weeks of the Second World War. Why? Because a character needs to get to France from England in September 1939. I found my answer after extensive googling and three emails to people who might possibly know.Continue reading

A New Life – 2

My last post was a short piece I’d written some time ago entitled A New Life. Little did I know that within a few weeks I’d be ‘twisting and turning’ myself, embarking on an adventure which threw everything into turmoil. I sold my house and moved back to England.

Not that this was entirely unexpected, we’d been trying to sell for a few years, but boy was it a shock to the system when it happened. I’d moved house before, I’d even changed countries before, though the world has changed. There’s no trust any more. I’ve been totally unprepared for the weight of officialdom and bureaucracy involved these days. No service providing (hah!) organisation is willing to take, for example, a simple note telling them of a new address, oh no. My bank wanted a form completed which included my tax code in my new country of residence which, of course, I didn’t have because I didn’t live there yet. They also wanted the form signed by both signatories on the joint account, even though, as I pointed out, a cheque to empty the account could be signed by one person, and this was only a change of address. I could go on, but will spare you the details, and me the rise in blood pressure.

As a result of all this nonsense, there’s been little time for writing over the last few months. My current novel, thankfully, had reached the end of the first draft by the time this whirlwind hit and I’m hoping that the enforced absence will provide the distance to help in the redraft.

My sequel to A Shadowed Livery continues to receive regular rejections although I’m given hope by a well respected editor who found little to change when reading it at a recent workshop and suggested that 25 rejections is nothing. A major author he edited had 90 rejections before his book was accepted – and later turned into an acclaimed film.

So, as I settle into my new life, in a new house, in a new town, I’ve three tasks awaiting: keep submitting until someone gives in; get on with the redraft of A Mother’s Love; and post more often.

Wish me luck.

A New Life

I’m falling. Twisting and turning through the air. One moment I can see the brightly lit bridge rapidly moving away from me. The next I’m hurtling towards the inky black river below. I can hardly breathe as the air is sucked from my lungs by the air rushing past and my heart is pounding in my ears. I never thought it would be like this. Not the graceful dive through the night air and the faultless entry into calm waters that I’d imagined as I stood on the edge contemplating my next move. No perfect 10s for artistic impression with this one.

I hear a crack. Pain momentarily sears up my spinal cord and lights up my brain like a cluster bomb. Then it stops. I realise, with no passion, that my neck has broken and I can no longer feel my arms or legs. If I could still sense the pain I’m sure there would be lots.

After an eternity my broken body smashes into the solid wall of water. Christ, I felt that one.

I explode out again through a veil of red, unable to open my eyes or mouth. My chest strains for air. I’m grabbed and lifted, and realise I’m naked. A slap stings my skin and I shout at the bastard to cut it out but all that emerges is a pitiful wail of pain. I’m laid gently on something soft against my back, and I open my eyes to see a giant smiling down on me.

I can fit none of this with what’s gone before. Months of anguish as first the job, then the savings, disappeared, soon followed by the house, my lovely wife and the boys. The final bout of drinking. The long walk out of town. The scramble over the railing to the very edge of the concrete parapet. The last, searching conversation with my long-dead father, seeking his forgiveness and his guidance in my latest hour of need.

Warm hands wrap a blanket around me. The hand above my face is small, pink and wrinkled so I close my eyes for a while and find I’m gurgling.

Not so long ago I could see the face of Anna and our children in high definition but now they’re smudged like there’s Vaseline on the lens. Father’s features have all but disappeared. Even his voice is a distant whisper.

I drop my lids again, striving to get it all back in focus but all that I have is a void growing out from the centre. The only memories that remain erupt like solar fires, before dying back, forever lost in the darkness.

I awaken and the void is complete.

I gurgle again and the eyes continue to smile down.

(With thanks to https://openclipart.org for the great image)

Why do they do it?

Afraid this is just a rant – no insights into my writing habits in this one. A couple of hours ago I received a Whatsapp message from a friend warning me that the service is going to start charging from this weekend. I had a pretty good inkling that it was probably just a scam circulated by some fool who likes to clog up the internet or gets gratification from seeing how many people have been duped into circulating his/her nonsense.

It took me less time to check it out than it would have taken to send messages to all my contacts. And yes, it was a pathetic chain letter type message which has been circulating for at least three years and Whatsapp are not beginning to charge.

So why do people still circulate this stuff rather than checking to see if it’s real first? Is it due to fear or lack of knowledge on how to look it up? ( I use Hoax Slayer or Snopes, or even just a Google query).

Why does it bother me? Because every little bit of stuff circulating clogs up the internet and makes it slower. If someone sends a message to 50 contacts, and 10% of those then send to 50 contacts, and the same again, it works out, if my maths is correct, at over 3 million pointless and incorrect messages whizzing through hundreds of servers. One day it will all break down.

Learning from others

This weekend I attended the excellent Ennis Book Club Festival in County Clare and was treated to the thoughts of a number of writers. I attended sessions with Carol Drinkwater, Donal Ryan, John Boyne and Anne Enright, amongst others and it was fascinating to hear their insights on the writing process.

What was clear from all of them was that you have to work at it and you have to love it. John Boyne, for example, when asked about the opening sentence of his latest novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, said he’d redrafted it about 200 times. Even assuming he was exaggerating slightly it pointed to a degree of dedication to honing the work until it was as good as it could be. Several writers talked of redrafting their novel many times before sending it to an editor.

Two of the speakers talked about how they will sometimes write an event or character in a particular way without being sure why, then it makes sense later when the story is reaching a conclusion. It is almost as if there’s a precognition of where the tale will go, even if they don’t do detailed plotting. As a writer, I understood what they were saying although hadn’t heard it articulated that way before.

There was also an encouraging analysis of how to complete that novel, a task which at times can seem awe inspiring. It was explained, simply, that writing a page a day, that is around 250-300 words (the length of this post to here), gives a full-length draft in a year or less. So – go for it.

Can writer’s block be selective?

I should be writing my novel. I added lots of words in November but hardly a paragraph since NaNoWriMo finished. At first I thought it was because the ‘flu and Christmas preparations were taking my mind to other places but I still can’t get started even though both of those have passed.

Yet I can scribble away on my blog with no difficulty. Hmm. Is it simply because this is an entertaining avoidance, stopping me from getting down to some real work? I think it probably is. I’ve reached a third of the way through my first draft of the novel, that notorious barrier watched over by the guardians telling me I can’t do it. “It’s no good”, “Stop, you fool”, “Who told you that you were a writer?” they shout. Unfortunately I’ve started listening.

I have techniques to battle this. I will deploy them. Soon. Honest.

Going off on one …

There’s always a tension in writing between enjoying the process and hitting a deadline, even if that deadline is self-imposed. I’ve written before in this blog that I’m a planner; I like to have the skeleton of the story and an outline of characters in place before I put metaphorical pen to paper.

In my latest project I’m writing a family saga covering over a hundred years, based on family history research I’ve carried out since the 1990s. The principal characters are based on several generations of family members and what I know about their lives. Their stories gave me the structure for my story.

So, as is my wont, I planned the novel from start to finish and sketched characters using the masses of material I had to hand. I then found it a wrench to depart from the facts to create a narrative which hung together. Every time I didn’t have the necessary information it gave me grief – I had to keep telling myself ‘it’s a novel, it’s a novel, make it up!’. I’ve written two earlier novels and lots of short stories which were, more or less, complete figments of my imagination so it shouldn’t have been a problem, but it was. I’d become constrained by the truth. Day by day I started to make little excursions into fantasy, only small steps at first – the colour of hair, the description of a cottage – and I enjoyed it. Before long I was inventing new characters, battles, journeys and, best of all, conversations.

Then a new problem arose. I’ve been enjoying the trips so much that I keep on inventing more and more. I keep, as my wife describes it, ‘going off on one’, travelling paths which are not on my map, creating lives which never existed, just because they’re interesting to explore.

Is this what writing is all about, inventing and exploring the worlds of the mind? I’m beginning to believe it is.

Did you kiss the dead body? – Situation development

I recently came upon a poem Death by Harold Pinter which apart from being brilliant in its own own right is also, in my opinion, an excellent framework for developing plot. Just the sort of questions we should be asking about any character or situation in our writing, not just the dead body of Pinter’s work. For example:

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Check it out – I’d like to quote the whole poem here but it appears to be covered, quite rightly, by copyright but you can see it at http://www.haroldpinter.org/poetry/poetry_inart.shtml

I love the line ‘Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey’.