elena ferrante: my brilliant friend (2011)

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Naples streetscape – copyright ilolab 2016

You have to love a novel that starts with the disappearance of one of its protagonists. When Elena discovers that Lila, her childhood friend, has not only disappeared, but also removed all physical traces of her existence, she gets angry. She resolves to write a novel in which she will record all she has found out about Lila over the past sixty years. Story-telling as a corrective, an act of vengeance.

Having thus framed the novel in the prologue, Ferrante takes the reader back to 1950s Naples, a gritty and at times violent urban environment, where being male is a distinct advantage, and being streetwise a necessity. Enter the unlikely protagonists: two six-year-old girls.

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perdition

One of the tricks I have learned from Leo Babauta of zen habits fame is the power of making a public commitment. Your project may still be in its infancy and you may doubt your ability to finish it, let alone deliver something astonishing, but you come out and saIMG_0497y I am going to do this. It is a scary move, one which places you on the opposite end of the scale from politicians, who seem to be always looking for wiggle room. But giving a public undertaking formally ‘outs’ the project as one of your important goals and can act as a powerful reminder to yourself and a catalyst to spur you into action on those doldrum days.

With that in mind I hereby announce that I have started planning my second novel. Its working title is Perdition; and it will be set in Flanders and France in the fourteenth century. Yes, I know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

So wish me luck please, and keep checking back here for updates.

As for my first novel, I am still editing the second draft of Resilience. And I have a first reader working her way through the text. I had hoped that things would have progressed further, but that thought stems from impatience really. From a broader perspective, quality matters more than timing, and I am keen to hone the manuscript as much as I can.

liane moriarty: the husband’s secret

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Photo: Wolf Soul (2007) by Romel, under Creative Commons licence.

In the opening scene of The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty introduces Cecilia Fitzpatrick as “a school mum and part–time Tupperware consultant.” Happily married, mother of three, memories of her younger self stored in the attic in neatly labeled plastic containers, checking off tasks as she moves through the day. As readers we know that so much control and organisation constitutes hubris; it is rattling the cages of the gods of narration. Continue reading

resilience update #4: bragging rights

It’s not zen at all to brag. It’s poor form. It’s borderline impolite. Self–centered and narcissistic. All of that, absolutely.
Okay, so here I go: I have just completed the first draft of my novel. It has taken me four years of planning and plot development and six months of intensive writing.

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Portrait of the artist as a young man

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resilience update #3: finding your groove

Character or caricature? A Wayang Kulit puppet.

Character or caricature? A Wayang Kulit puppet.

Have you ever noticed how the pilot episode of a sitcom is weaker than the first series? The acting is wooden and the dialogue shrill. Themes and conflicts are introduced so emphatically that the characters seem like caricatures. Series get better as the writers and actors find their groove.

All of this came to mind as I reread the opening scenes of my novel. They were my pilot episodes and they suffer from all the vices listed above. It is clear I will have to edit those scenes quite heavily. The good news is that I also notice that my craft has improved in the course of the writing process. Continue reading

develop a scene for your novel with scapple

Scapple_flowScapple comes from good stock: it is produced by the folk at Literature and Latte, who brought us Scrivener, a writer’s best friend (after inspiration and momentum). Scapple is a free–form note–taking app. It allows you to type anywhere on the page, and notes can be connected by arrows.

Hm, a mind–mapping app, you say. Not quite, since you can use Scapple without relying on any central idea, linkages or hierarchies. It is more of a brainstorming, content development app. I use Scapple to develop scenes for my novel. Let me show you what I mean.

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