Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Unfortunately, my husband has a strained relationship with his family. He is the one to call them. Gradually his contact declined to a phone call to his siblings every Christmas and New Years Day. Then it was every Christmas Day. And this year he didn't make the call, and they didn't call him.
When we moved three hundred miles away from our home base, the visits became less. I mourned for large family Christmases for quite a few years. Christmas dinner at our home is for four. But gradually over time I realised how blessed I am. We have created our own Christmas traditions. The making of the gingerbread house. A pre Christmas craft activity, whether it is oranges and cloves or a making new tree decorations.
Christmas Eve usually involves the long dog walk, he gets over excited and we try to tire him out before the wrapping paper. And then the crib service at the local church, and my children usually have parts. Then one present to open Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning it is presents from Santa, then church, then presents from under the tree. We have the meal at lunch time and a few games. The rest of the day is usually spent with each of us with a tray on our lap doing a project or puzzle.
I like it.
I like the relaxed atmosphere and the feeling of love.
And I like the lie ins and the fact that I get lots of writing done.
Although we don't do a lot of visiting, the time between Christmas and New Year is a time of going to the sales, ice skating and inviting friends round.
I think often there is so much pressure to have the sort of Christmas you are suppose to have. We watch the Nigella and Delia's Christmases and our expectations grow. Many people don't have the TV idea. We have food, shelter and love. A nice relaxing break. Friends and activities to occupy us. So remember if you are disappointed that you can't have the Christmas you think you want.
Why not learn to love the Christmas you have?
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
For those of you who think I've been neglecting my blog, I have good reason. I've been thinking.
I've been rereading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and enjoying how the characters simply leap of the page. Atticus believes that shielding his kids in the short term doesn't do them any favors in the long run. This becomes especially clear when he thinks Jem is the one who stabbed Bob Ewell. It tells us so much about the man.
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart, but I don't want my boy starting out with something like this over his head. Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open. Let the county come and bring sandwiches. I don't want him growing up with a whisper about him, I don't want anybody saying, 'Jem Finch... his daddy paid a mint to get him out of that.' Sooner we get this over with the better."
A fine example of how we learn about character from what they say.
The following extract comes from James Lee Burke's PEGASUS DESCENDING, and describes a district attorney, Lonnie Marceaux. In just two paragraphs we find out about Lonnie's appearance, educational level, intelligence, ambition and personal habits:
After lunch, she and I met with our district attorney, Lonnie Marceaux. When I first met Lonnie a few years ago, I had thought he was one of those people whose attention span is limited either by an inability to absorb detailed information or a lack of interest in subject matter that isn't directly related to their well-being. I was wrong. At least partially. Lonnie was usually three or four jumps ahead in the conversation. He had been Phi Beta Kappa at Tulane and had published in the Stanford Law Review. But the real content of his thoughts on any particular issue remained a matter of conjecture.
Lonnie was blade-faced, six and one half feet tall, and had a body like whipcord from the marathons he ran in New Orleans, Dallas, and Boston. His scalp glistened through his crew cut; his energies were augmented rather than diminished by the two hours a day he spent on a StairMaster. When he turned down a position as United States Attorney in Baton Rouge, his peers were amazed at his sudden diffidence. But it didn't take us long to see the true nature of Lonnie's ambitious design. In spite of his own upscale background, he charmed blue-collar juries. The press always referred to Lonnie as "charismatic" and "clean-cut". No high-profile case in Iberia Parish ever went to an ADA, and God help the man or woman Lonnie got in his bomb sights. He was on his way up in the sweet sewer of Louisiana politics and I believe had long ago decided it was better to be first in Gaul rather than second in Rome.
Long descriptive paragraphs are out of style, but there is something to be said about being told about a character.
Look at when long descriptions were the style, an example from the beginning of GONE WITH THE WIND:
SCARLETT O'HARA was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin.
It is a beautiful bit of writing, but I wonder, if all she needed was that first line.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
There have been many jobs that I have managed to fulfil for a while: stencil maker, gardener, primary school teacher, amongst other things, but I prefer to be a writer above any other job.
I have a first class BA in English and an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, both from UoW, and fairly recently at that.
I write middle grade contemporary fiction for children:
A Dog Called Homeless 2012
A Horse For Angel 2013
The Forever Whale 2013
Hero will be published Spring 2014
Jack Pepper, a short story, for World Book Day 2014
I always loved writing, putting my imagination to use. I used to stand over my mother’s shoulder as a child and dictate stories to her. My junior school headmaster said he hoped to see me in print one day but I forgot about that for a very long time, distracted as I was with other things that I believed to be important but were nonetheless temporary and ultimately dissatisfying.
There’s always the hope that readers will find something they identify with in the stories, something that makes them think more about who they are, because stories allow us to do that, grow in ways of understanding ourselves and other people, and I can’t think of anything more interesting. I am often surprised what people find that is meaningful to them. Readers read according to their own interests. Mostly I hope children will enjoy the stories.
I don’t intend a message. Usually there is something I want to talk about, like in the latest one about what it is to be a hero. I’m not trying to define things, it’s more a discussion, a conversation, a set of circumstances that allow me to explore and in which a character can shine.
I am a list writer, a mind-mapper. I like to think of themes and explore everything I can think of, even if it’s loosely associated, and that list will usually include opposites so I’ve covered the natural balance of things. I once wrote a list of everything I could think of that was yellow/gold for one of the stories. I only used some of the things, but it was important to me, having these bright golden images dotted around the story. I am often building the narrative around all sorts of themes linked to a central premise: so with this latest one about a hero there’s fame, loyalty and truth which all have a relevance to being a hero. But it’s a middle grade novel, so on the surface it’s about a boy who dreams of being a gladiator, a dog and a rescue, although I hope it’s not what anyone is expecting as a traditional story about heroism.
Usually I find stories start with characters. I loved the idea of a boy who was a dreamer, a double life of the imagined and the real. In a way that’s what it’s like as a writer too. I don’t remember what started this one off, I rarely do as it’s such an organic process, only that I wanted to know more about him and what he was made of.
When my son was young he had a story read to him every night. I love reading picture books aloud, but he’s 17 now and not that interested to be honest. I’d spend ages at the library picking books while he drove his toy cars around the edge of the shelves, so I suppose he had his own little narrative going on.
Schools, and government, often seem to be putting too much pressure on the need for reading. I don’t think it should be something you have to do, like tidying your room. We need to have found that enjoyment in reading ourselves and have enthusiasm for stories. There’s so much you can learn, and I don’t mean to pass tests. I think children pick up on your motives. If we are pushing them to fulfil what are, in the end, arbitrary exams (and perhaps only suited to some) they may have anxieties about reading and their ability, and shun being judged.
Mostly I want readers to find something universal in the individuals in the stories I write. They are what matters, people. Stories have always been a place to escape, to exercise my imagination. In the end, it is always the connection that you make with the characters that leaves a lasting impression to me.
I have a website sarahlean.co.uk where there’s a clicky thing to buy the books but they are also available at independent bookstores.
I tweet @sarahlean1, but lapse occasionally because of deadlines
I am scared of Facebook.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.