Inspirations – Growing Old Disgracefully

I’ve added a new category called Inspirations. I’m going to post anything here I find inspiring – pictures, quotes, stories etc.

Today’s sums up the way I’d like to grow old.

old lady

Are you the same? Or do you hanker after a quiet retirement in the future?

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The Whydunnit – Making Thrillers Thrilling

I have a thriller novel growing in my head. It’s at the very early stages, and I don’t know as yet exactly which direction it’s going to go in. I do know my two main characters, and I also know what brings them together. But I need to learn more about the genre before I even think of making a start.

As a first step I attended a very stimulating thriller writing master class the other weekend, run by the writer Henry Sutton. It was part of a weeklong crime writing festival in my home city of Norwich, called Noirwich, which also included some great guest speakers.

Noirwich

In the master class, Henry put us on the spot about the books we were planning, giving us feedback that allowed us to really pin our ideas down. He was wonderfully ruthless – not allowing any of us to get away with being woolly.

Henry

He also told us that a thriller should be a Why done it rather than a Who done it. I found that very interesting, because the best fictional villains for me are those you really get to know and understand. This is what I’ve tried to do with my character Leo in my novel A Nightingale In Winter, which should hopefully be making an appearance before too long. One novel I read recently featured a hit man who was just a cold killing machine, and he was an unbelievable character as a result.

Other things I learnt on the master class include:

  • A thriller has to start with a character wanting something desperately.
  • Something, or someone is in the way or out to stop them.
  • The clock is ticking.
  • There is a lot at stake.
  • Unlike as is often the case in detective fiction, the crime in a thriller has not yet taken place at the start of the book.
  • Thrillers should be emotional (this really appeals to me!)

Ways of increasing the level of suspense are to:

  • Switch the point of view to start a new chapter, so that the reader is left in suspense about what is happening to the character in the previous chapter.
  • Keep asking questions but don’t answer them.
  • Make the book turn a corner by introducing another plot strand or another character who disrupts everything.
  • Wrong-foot the reader – allowing them to think they are being taken in a certain direction then making it turn out completely differently to how they expect.

Many of these things apply to all griping fiction writing of course, but the difference with writing a thriller is that the conflict or issues the characters face should be life threatening.

Henry told us that the crime writer Jim Thompson said that there is only one thriller plot – “things are not what they seem.”

Another part of my research into the thriller genre has of course, been to read lots of thrillers. Henry recommended many authors, including Val McDermid, and in particular, A Mermaid Singing. I couldn’t get that book, so I read another one of hers – I was interested by it, but a little disappointed, I have to admit. It seemed to me that she had built one of her main characters very carefully and then made her act completely out of character at the end. It frustrated me. But this is all part of the learning process, isn’t it? Finding out what satisfies you, what intrigues you and what makes you want to keep on reading.

val

Judging by the reviews this novel has, I’m not alone in my opinions about it. But readers are so disappointed that it’s clear Val’s books are usually lots better than this, so I shall persist and read more of them. Incidentally, before the master class, I got one of Henry’s books out of the library, wanting to familiarize myself with the way he writes. I couldn’t finish it – not because it was badly written or the characters acted out of character – but because it was about a struggling writer, and the issues he was grappling with were all so depressingly familiar!

What thrillers do you recommend? Why did you particularly enjoy them? I’d love to know!

To Pen-name or Not to Pen- name? That is the question.

I have just published a new novel – a romance called Secret Millionaire. It’s different to my other books because while they contain romances, so far they have been about more than that – about relationships, friendships, and the growth of self-confidence born out of facing the challenges of life. So because I wanted to distinguish between these two areas of writing, I decided to use a pen name for the book, and chose the name Kitty Alexander. (Kitty was the name I would have used for my son had he been a girl, and Alexander – no reason, it just sounded right).

Secret Millionaire 2

Having a pen name means I will have to publicize the book under the name of Kitty Alexander to avoid confusion. It makes sense to have a separate author page on Facebook for my Kitty books, and a separate Twitter account. (This is somewhat alarming, since when I’m absorbed in my writing, I forget to tweet for weeks at a time already). But perhaps Kitty will be different. Maybe Kitty will be media savvy and enthusiastic, tweeting in an entertaining way that draws new fans to follow her.

In fact, perhaps it doesn’t need to stop there – perhaps Kitty can be my alter ego. Maybe I can re-invent myself through her. The world is my oyster! Hopefully, Kitty will come to have the kind of lifestyle that includes impulsive mini breaks to Cannes and champagne suppers.

Here’s the photo I plan to use for Kitty. It is me, but a different me! I think it will suit her fine. I think she – sorry, I – look like a romantic novelist in this image. What do you think? (Please don’t say it looks as if I’ve been cuddling chickens).

Kitty Alexander pic

Tomorrow though,  I’m going to a master class on thriller writing. I booked onto it because I like to take course now and then to give me a shot in the arm, and the course is all about keeping suspense going and writing twists in the tail, which are very useful things to know about for any kind of writing. I do have a germ of an idea for a thriller though … Oh no; does that mean I might need a third identity in the future?!

In the meantime, here’s the link to my Kitty Alexander Facebook page, and here’s the link to Kitty on Twitter. Please Like me so I don’t look as lonely as I do now! I’ll be eternally grateful to you, and I’ve posted a very fine photograph of a sunrise on there. Here’s a sneak peak. I took it the other morning, and it’s the view from my bedroom window. What a start to the day!

Copper Beech woman

Margaret / Kitty X

Singing Her Way to Success

As you may know, many of my novels are about women being courageous as they face change in their lives – women who overcome their fears in order to achieve their dreams. Naomi Alexander, the new lead singer of the Norfolk band Parkhouse, has done exactly that in her life, and I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today to tell us all about it.

MJ: Welcome, Naomi! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! 

NA: Thanks for the invitation; it’s nice to be asked!

Naomi Alexander Lead singer of Parkhouse

 

MJ: So, jumping straight in, did you always enjoy singing?

NA: Yes, from about the age of 7, I would spend hours in my room trying to sing like the big powerhouses like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion (cringe!)

MJ: Were your family supportive of your singing?

NA: I never felt very encouraged – in fact, one of my family members said I sounded like a drowning cat!

MJ: that’s a shame. What effect did that have on you?

NA: It made me feel too shy to sing in front of other people, and it wasn’t until my late teens/early twenties that I decided to try going to singing lessons. I didn’t feel very confident about it though, so I only went to one lesson. The lesson took place in a corridor of a junior school (the tutor hired it out for her lessons) and there was a dance class going on in the main room next door.  She asked me what I would like to sing and I chose Lovefool by the Cardigans. At the time I didn’t feel comfortable projecting my voice and, as the song is sung in a high key, when I started to sing, it sounded so weak. I was also very aware that someone could come out of the dance class at any time and hear me! The tutor asked me if I’d like to stop singing that song to which I said ‘yes please’! She then asked me to sing along with Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ – I’m not quite sure why she chose that, and again, it didn’t sound great because I was too scared to project my voice. Also, Whitney Houston had, in my opinion, one of the most powerful voices in the world!  There was no way on earth I would have felt comfortable ‘trying’ to sing one of her massive hit songs!

MJ: How many years went by until you decided to try again?

NA: In November of 2013 (so about 10 years later) I was looking at singing schools online, inspired by a friend who has also had lessons and now created their own music. I saw a free half an hour session was being held at a local school, so I went along. The tutor was amazing and really helped me with my confidence, so I booked more lessons. When she asked whether I’d thought of joining a band, I thought yes, but I’d never be able to do it; the thought terrifies me too much! But my tutor kept on bringing the subject up, so I decided to take the plunge and joined a website called www.joinmyband.co.uk.  My ad read something along the lines of ‘I’m here because of my singing tutor! Looking to join a band, either as a backing or lead singer’ so you can see why I never expected to hear anything.  When I applied, I was half-thinking, God, I hope no-one wants me as I don’t think I’m anywhere near good enough!

MJ: What happened next?

NA: Well, amazingly, I heard back within a few hours from a band looking for a lead singer! I couldn’t believe it – I really hadn’t expected to hear from anyone. I sent them a recording of me singing which I’d made on the singing course, and honestly, I was wincing as I pressed send  – I thought they’d think I was awful. But the drummer got in touch and said mine was the best recording they’d heard to date, and they’d heard a few!

Myself and another lady auditioned a couple of weeks later, and they chose me (even though she had years & years of experience in performing)! I couldn’t believe it!

MJ: Brilliant! So how long was it until your first performance with them?

NA: Only a few weeks. I practiced with them a lot to learn the songs and listened to them over an over in my car.  Parkhouse play covers like Valerie by Amy Winehouse, Mark Cohn, Walking in Memphis, Adele, Rolling in the Deep. Finally, I was ready. Or as ready as I was ever going to be! On the night of my first gig, I was so nervous. I arrived before the guys, and deep down I hoped the gig had been cancelled. I was tempted to turn around and go home! But I didn’t, and all my friends came along to support me – and even though I had a dry mouth almost all the time, I only messed up a little (nobody even noticed I messed up). It was incredible! I was absolutely buzzing & felt an overwhelming sense of achievement. I couldn’t believe how quickly the night went!

naomi-profile

MJ: So, how do those family members who knocked your confidence when you were a child feel about your achievement? 

NA: They are very proud of me and so pleased that I went for it. They certainly don’t say those horrible things anymore!

MJ: I should hope not! So, what’s next for you, singing wise?

NA:  I’d really like to have a go at something bluesy or jazzy too; maybe for a band who produce their own songs.  My friends keep saying I should go on The Voice.  I’m not so sure I want the fame though!

MJ: Thanks so much for sharing your inspirational story with us, Naomi. It just goes to show, you should never give up on your dream!!

You can find out more about Naomi and Parkhouse here. The link to Parkhouse on Facebook is here.