Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley has fascinated me for a long time. She lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is amazing.
I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl when I was about eleven or twelve years old. In the self-centeredness of prepubescence, what I most identified with was Anne’s difficult relationship with her mother. And I was awestruck at the audacious way she wrote about their arguments and how angry she was at her mother.
It wasn’t long before I decided to start writing a diary of my own. It served as a record of things I did and places I went so that I could remember and transcribe the most relevant news into letters to my best friend, who had moved overseas when we were ten. I made a pencil mark at the end of the last entry to have made it into the current letter, so I would know where to begin the next. In those days, it took several weeks for our mail to be delivered, so it was easily two months’ worth of diary entries that went into each letter.
And, emboldened by Anne, I also used my diary to vent my frustration, devastation, and rage over my mother’s behaviour towards me. It would be twenty years before my mother was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder; all I had for support was pen and paper.
When I was nineteen I left home and escaped overseas, taking the current diary with me to record my adventures—but, stupidly and in the rush of packing, I forgot to lock away the six or so books I’d amassed over the years. Or maybe it was fate. My parents moved house while I was away, and my mother found and decided to read my diaries “to try and figure out why [her] daughter was so unhappy”. When I returned, she confronted me about their contents that described “family business” and abuse that I’d been told never to reveal. Although we managed to have it out, tearfully but semi-constructively, she “won” that round and I complied with her orders that I burn the diaries with their damning evidence against her.
I stopped keeping a diary until about seven years later when I realised I was being left behind while everyone and their dog was happily blogging away. My first attempts to join in lead to panic; it was then that I noticed how deeply but subconsciously I’d been affected by my mother’s condemnation of my personal writing. I had developed a complete and painful mental block against writing about myself and my feelings. For an author, this was a serious problem: I couldn’t even manage a decent bio, let alone a blog. Even Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages failed for me—I ended up using them to write general articles at one point rather than stream of consciousness, because stream of subconscious said, “Don’t you dare write down what you really feel.”
It has taken me ten years to get to the point where I can blog. But, still, I have found it painful and laboured, posting probably once a month on average, if that. So this A-Z Challenge seems an ideal way for me to desensitise and push through the discomfort, and learn to talk about myself.
This post got left behind, and now you know why. It’s taken a couple of weeks to write, but a lot longer stuck in my head knowing one day I was going to get this down on screen.
And painful as it was for both of us, my mother reading my diaries did have a positive effect thirteen years after the fact, shortly before she died. As part of the counselling that followed her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, my mother reopened communication on her behaviour during my childhood. It didn’t go smoothly, but she gradually came to understand and accept my point of view, and had the grace to apologise. I think we both achieved closure on the issue and reconciled before she died, and I think this is why I have slowly been able to write about myself again.
Now I just have to click that Publish button.
I began reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and was so intrigued by the clever detective and his deductions that I moved onto other well-known Whodunit authors such as Agatha Christie and P.D James, and decided that this would be my genre as I began my apprenticeship as an author. While working through Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, I decided to try my hand at adapting one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories—The Valley of Fear—into a screenplay. It was a fascinating exercise, and gave me a lot of insight into story construction and characterisation.
At the heart of Kathryn Craft’s long-awaited debut novel The Art of Falling is the story of the intense and life-changing friendship between three very different characters. Penny is a dancer treading the finest of lines between disciplined diet and anorexia who regains consciousness in hospital after a 14-storey fall. Marty is her worst nightmare–a baker who tries to sweeten her life with glazed dough-nuts. But he is also her saviour: it was his van she landed on, and he’s determined to check up on her. And Angela is the woman in the next bed with cystic fibrosis, a great sense of humour, and a perfect stick-thin body to die for.
Just as some people find it hard to start a conversation, some also battle with what to say next. If talking to people doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to think of conversation ideas ahead of time. Don’t rehearse too much or you’ll sound unnatural.
Another way to keep talking is to think of conversation as a tennis match.
Many people just don’t know what to say and will respond to any attempt to start a conversation. It’s worth a try.
Here’s a neat trick: Start by asking the question you want the other person to ask you. What’s the most interesting thing you do or know or like. Because, usually, the polite thing to say after answering a question is “How about you?”
When I was working as a typist or secretary or personal assistant, I never asked people “What do you do?”
Friendship is one of the themes that crops up in my books all the time. I’ve made lots of mistakes with my friendships, and learnt plenty of lessons along the way (the hard way). I thought I’d share some of the good stuff.
1. To Have a Friend, Be a Friend
You can’t “make” someone be your friend. The only person you can control is you. So look for ways to be friendly and let friendships evolve naturally.
How can you be a friend?
The StarThorn Tree – Book 1
When crippled Durrik makes a strange prophecy regarding Estelliana’s dying young Count, he and his friend Pedrin go on the run from the evil Regent’s soldiers, while their parents and most of the village are imprisoned to pre-empt a rebellion.
Durrik’s prophecy involves six people and a deadline of “when the last petals fall from the StarThorn tree”, so when he and Pedrin discover the count’s sister and her maid hiding in the forest, and their team is joined by a strange old man and a dirty little thief girl, they begin to believe they are destined to save the Count and overthrow the evil Regent.
But the prophecy is vague, and if their assumptions are wrong, they will all risk their lives for nothing.
…are called “Hennin”. Thanks, Wikipedia*.
I first came across this particular headgear when I was a child listening to a Story Teller tape of The Faery Flag by Beryl Maude-Jones. The accompanying book was full of pictures of pointy cone-hats with long veils. The funny thing was I was scared by the story. So, in true child-like spirit, I decided it would be better if I recorded over this story by singing Happy Birthday onto the tape instead. I earnestly informed my mother that I would re-record the story when I was older and it no longer scared me (as if I could possibly recapture the talent of reader Annette Crosby (she of One Foot in the Grave fame)). Luckily my rendition of Happy Birthday was only long enough to record over the title of the story. And the last time I was able to listen to the cassette tape, as an adult, I laughed at my little five-year-old self singing to unscarify the audio. My husband now informs me that we no longer have any equipment capable of playing those old tapes.
I wanted to be an author from the age of about eight or so – as soon as I realised that real people were responsible for the stories I loved. I was a storyteller from a very early age, entertaining friends at sleepovers with tales of princes and princesses, and making up plays that we would rehearse and put on for our parents.
I never could decide on a “real” job, so I did a creative writing diploma and a secretarial course to learn to type, and kept working away on my first novel. Writing and telling stories have always been a part of who I am, so it’s a natural outlet for my creative expression, my ideas, and the way I view the world.
Beyond the murk
The ire of dragon long impaled on wretched lance
Encircled in a bitter trial.
Sacred heart and evil dance
And hemlock burns in desperate pale
Beyond and through the cries of night
Bewitched and thrice behove of light
Briton’s daughter-earth beyond
Fearless echo of their heart.
When I was a young child a little girl called Fiona Harvey was kidnapped from the same town where I lived. Parents of that town – my parents, my friends’ parents – clamped down on our freedom out of concern for our safety and taught us about “stranger danger” – as well they should have. I still walked home from school almost every single day, but things had changed.
My fears grew slowly. I travelled to the UK and felt able to take risks I wouldn’t have dared to in the place where I grew up. I lost more innocence, not because I took those risks, but because others felt entitled to abuse my naivety simply because I had it. I took a lot of supposedly far bigger risks that had no negative consequences for me at all. Travelling by myself overnight on a train to see Dublin, Stratford-upon-Avon, London… some of the highlights of my trip to the UK. I took myself out to dinner in Dublin and then walked maybe a mile by myself, late at night, across the city, to find a particular pub I’d read about, where I then had a drink and a conversation with a lovely Scottish couple and a pleasant young man from Cork. Right place, right time? I certainly hadn’t been as safe at our next-door neighbour’s house, or in my parents’ home with bars on the windows and dead-bolts on the doors.
A week or so ago I had one of those sparks of inspiration that usually stop me short as I backtrack in amazement to work out how my brain cobbled together something that seems so, well, inspired. I was tidying up (yes, housework), putting some books back on a shelf, when I noticed that the author of one of the books had the same name as a character from my work-in-progress. I thought nothing of it at the time, but about half an hour later I found myself mulling over what I remembered of a Wikipedia entry I’d read a year ago, that had a connection to a plot strand involving this same character. Suddenly the phrase “everything’s connected” popped into my head, and an element of the Wikipedia entry that I hadn’t considered important before wound up being the thread that tied an entire dangling subplot back into the main plot. I was so blown away I just had to sit there for a moment with my mouth open.