Tag Archives: edit

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.

***

meltdown

Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown

Guest Post: Patrick Kelly on An Editorial Question

As an editor, I often remark upon the lack of variation in writers’ language in order to help them improve their work. Today on the blog, we have writer Patrick Kelly on the blog to explore an interesting editorial conundrum: the use of the very ‘to be’. I hope you enjoy his insight into this issue. 

Vic x

Patrick Kelly

 

To Be or NOT to Be: An Editorial Question

By Patrick Kelly

No magic trick will improve your manuscript—it takes hours of hard work. But I’ll share with you the next best thing. My editor once gave me this feedback:

On this next pass you might also watch “it was” lead-ins—there are a lot of them, and it’s not the strongest prose choice. You might check for “to be” verbs overall (“were” “are” “is” “was”).

Oh dear: time to go to work.

Using Microsoft’s Find/Replace function to count specific words I found 3,866 instances of the verb to be in my manuscript. (Details in table below. Hint: don’t forget the contractions.)

Next I scanned every sentence for forms of to be. Many times, after a minute of thought, I found a better way to craft the prose. It took fifty hours for me to perform the Not to be edit pass, and the revisions came in many forms: change passive to active, rearrange words, etc. Heck, a few times I deleted the sentence altogether.

You’ve probably already heard that you should avoid using the passive voice.

Passive: The ball was thrown by Bob.

Active: Bob threw the ball.

Note: Microsoft Word will coach you to rephrase passive sentences with a green squiggly underline.

The next example removes four instances of to be in three steps:

There was a dog that was quick and was brown and was running up the hill.

This sentence is grammatically correct according to MS Word, but yikes! We can all do better than this. Start by placing two adjectives in front of the noun they modify:

There was a quick, brown dog that was running up the hill.

The verb “running” tells the reader the dog was quick, so we can cut that adjective. I suggest you perform a dedicated search of your work for instances of “there was.” Try to eliminate every one.

A brown dog was running up the hill.

 Occasionally, because of other events in the story, you need the words was running, but often you don’t.

A brown dog ran up the hill. 

Voila!

 

Here’s a short passage from my manuscript that shows some detailed changes I made with the Not to be pass.

Original version:

The houses were small, less than a thousand square feet. Streetlights were rare. There was no cultivated grass on the lawns, only the weeds that survived on their own. The trees were stubby, the bushes unkempt. Some of the homes were well maintained, with fresh paint and bright lighting, but most yards were littered with random items: old bikes, abandoned cars on cinder blocks, plastic chairs.

The verb to be occurs six times in that passage. In my first pass, I eliminated all six. On a subsequent pass, I added two instances back.

Final version:

Small houses, less than a thousand square feet, lined the sides of the road. A few streetlights struggled against the darkness. The lawns had no cultivated grass, only stubby trees, unkempt bushes, and weeds that survived on their own. Some of the homes were well maintained with fresh paint and bright lighting, but most yards were littered with random items: old bikes, abandoned cars on cinder blocks, plastic chairs.

After the full Not to be edit pass, I did a recount of various forms of to be in my manuscript and found I had eliminated over fourteen hundred instances. This table provides the details:

 

Specific Form             Before             After               Decrease

Was                             1322                480                  842

Were                            332                  129                  203

Am                                  8                      7                      1

Are                              254                  210                    44

Is                                 285                  222                    63

Be                                264                  181                    83

Being                             18                      9                      9

Been                              97                    53                    44

‘m                                230                  202                    28

‘re                                203                  165                    38

isn’t                               10                      6                      4

‘s                                 843                  772                    71

Totals                          3866                2436                1430

 

Try this yourself and compare your results to mine. Hey, post them in the comments.

I hope you write often, write well, and earn faithful readers.

Hill Country Siren

____________

Patrick Kelly holds a BA in software engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA in finance from Carnegie Mellon University. He served as Chief Financial Officer for six different companies before beginning his career as an author of the Joe Robbins Financial Thriller series, including the novels Hill Country Greed, Hill Country Rage, and his latest release, Hill Country Siren. Patrick resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife and family.