Posts Tagged ‘characters’

I seem to be stuck in the “up to 500 words range”. This is around 400. I could, of course, continue the novel I started last time. I may do so. But right now, I wrote this instead.

If you think it sounds like a misery novel excerpt, let me assure you upfront, it’s not. It’s just what it is: a standalone scenario. Yes, the awful dress, and the fancy dress street party it was meant to be worn at, stem from real memory. (Oh god, do I remember it!) But the rest is sheer invention, just to make it a fiction. I mean, who wants boring fact all the time?

Let me know if you like it. I need all the encouragement I can harvest from you to get back into regular daily fiction writing! I was looking at the website www.bookdesigntemplates.com just now and was greatly inspired – perhaps also because I so love doing school visits.

And I wrote it in Bean, my favourite go-to for tiny bits of writing.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 10.41.17

Mother holds up the fancy dress she’s made for me and beams happily. My stomach lurches. My brother is already dressed up in a brown pirate costume with a little cutlass tucked into the belt. It makes him look grown up and strong.

“Perfect,” she declares, patting the bright yellow cotton. It’s covered in enormous red hearts like patches of blood. “You’ll be the perfect Queen of Hearts,” she says. “Off with your clothes, and let’s try it on. Then I’ll sew it up properly and remove the tacking threads.”

I stare at her. This can’t be happening. How am I supposed to wear this hideous thing in front of everyone? My eyes blur, and the red and yellow turn into an orange ballooning monster that floats towards me.

“No!” I scream.

I run from the room into the hall. She follows me and smacks me hard on my bottom. I hit her back on the arm as hard as I can. “It’s horrid, horrid, horrid!” I shout.

Her eyes go narrow and black. She strips my thin dress and knickers off, holds me tight in one hand, slaps my bare bottom again and again, and pushes me onto the wicker stool that always sits by the front door.

“Just you stay there so the neighbours can see what a wicked, ungrateful child you are,” she says, her voice as cold as the seat.

I don’t look round, but I hear her stalk back to the dining room. I know that if I move, it will be the belt next. So I hold myself still while the wicker presses into my sore backside and sends pain right up to my eyes. They start to leak, but I refuse to cry.

How can she have made my brother a wonderful pirate costume and me a horrible yellow Queen of Hearts? Why not a fairy or a princess or a witch, in white, red, black – anything but bright shiny yellow with huge red hearts and a skirt that sticks out like a parachute. Everyone will notice me and point and laugh. Everyone will say how ugly I look…

I shiver in the draught.

Then I hear crunching on the gravel. Someone’s coming. They’ll see me with nothing on. They’ll see my knickers on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” I call in a voice that’s not my own. “I’ll put the dress on. I’m sorry.”

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The time for delaying tactics is over. I need to write something. Anything. Especially anything longer than a haiku! Just to get back into the swing.

So here are nearly 500 words of a possible novel for middle grade. Nothing to write home about (excuse the pun) but until I see what I’ve written, I usually don’t know exactly what I wanted to write! And clearly this won’t be right for today’s middle grade children (at least if you want a publisher), but then again, I do know some kids who would lap up a mystery novel just fine. Which is what this beginning has in mind.

Anyway, I don’t do funny very well, I don’t do bottom humour, and I don’t do – oh, I don’t know, clever stuff. So into the bin with it. But do have a read first 🙂 All writing needs a reader!

For the zillionth time that afternoon, Oriel leaned out of the hotel’s attic window and stared down into Chatfield’s medieval cobbled square. Her eyes scanned the sunlit groups of shoppers from right to left, as if trying to find a hidden thimble. Then she stiffened and caught her breath sharply.

That’s him, I bet, she thought. Young and alone, with a leather suitcase, and foreign-looking. Definitely Josef Ahlenburg, our first guest… And in an awful hurry to reach us.

The boy in question looked about fourteen or fifteen, a few years older than Oriel, and he was sprinting – not like you sprint when you’re late for tea (which he nearly was) but as if training for his school football team. He was running a short way and then stopping, running and stopping again, as he came down the final stretch of road that led into the square. Every time he paused, he turned to glance warily over his shoulder at the lingering groups of Saturday shoppers. Then he darted past another group and looked round again. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see him dribbling a football, as if wondering who to pass it to.

Who was he trying to avoid?

She was slightly alarmed. Josef Ahlenburg couldn’t be trying to escape anyone. He wouldn’t know anyone yet, let alone have enemies. He was coming to England to take part in an international music course at the Grange.

Oriel stared, mesmerised, shading her eyes from the sun that streaked in from the south-west. It was still high above the beech trees flanking the park on one side of the square.

The boy paused again. Looked around, this time scanning the street higher up. Maybe he was searching for the Red Tree sign that hung from its black metal bracket outside the hotel windows two floors below Oriel.

Suddenly, he gazed straight up at her, as if he might have seen her. Oriel waved frantically to attract his attention.

She thought he nodded briefly before setting off again. But he still walked zig-zag around the cobbled pavements, as if his feet simply refused to go directly to the hotel.

Oriel frowned. She was sure this was Josef – the violin he carried was a dead giveaway, now that she noticed it. He wore a navy blue blazer, white shirt and grey trousers, which must be his school uniform. But he didn’t look at all like the posh boy she’d imagined, knowing his mother was a German countess. That must absolutely be the most awful thing to have to put up with – no eating in bed, no talking with your mouth full, no leaving the house without a bodyguard…

And then she remembered her father. Maybe being posh wasn’t the worst thing to have to survive.

I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between painting a picture and writing a story. I find I veer away from making just any old image. I want to make it tell about something that is happening, may happen or has happened. And I think, too, that that’s not a very original thought haha! But sometimes you have to realise something right inside yourself before it can happen in your work.

So – just as we try to paint a word picture when writing, so we try to make an illustration tell a story in itself. Perhaps the link goes back to cave-dwelling times…

Anyway, I saw someone online paint an image in a leaf shape. Fine. It looked good but that was the end of the matter – unless you made it into a greetings card, of course. I did one just for fun, and suddenly found myself compelled to add a figure (picking the berries in the first one). This kind of grew like an addiction and I did five more within different kinds of leaves. I decided to keep the figures in mono (soluble pen actually) but make a link into the leaf-shaped landscape/cityscape.

Strangely the images took over from me and they all became trees. Now that’s pure magic! I hope you find a story in them – whatever it inspires in you. There isn’t a pre-planned one.

wc leaf images

As promised yesterday. How does this work for a pair of writings? Any comments welcome 🙂 Criticism welcome too!

An open book (2)

Knowing the library manager was out till tea time, I made straight for my favourite place down one of the aisles and started picking out all the books in that section that needed mending. I didn’t have to think about it. I’d mentally clocked them up when they came back in less-than-perfect condition. Numbers, facts, photographic memory… If only I didn’t have to work in a library. But it would have to do till something better came along.

Then I heard the main door open with a sough of chilly air, and my heart sank. This dark shut-in building was my womb – and wombs are best left in peace while things develop inside them.

I reluctantly stood up, picked up the damaged books and staggered with them over to the entrance. ‘Can I help?’ I called to the girl. ‘You look lost.’

There. She’d feel as if someone cared. The exact phrase was on page 25 of the training manual, bullet point 3. I could see it in my mind.

She handed me a list. I stared at it in amazement. What sort of person goes into a library with a list? And worse than that, a doctor’s scribbly handwritten list, naming self-help books for the weedy. I now recognise every doctor’s handwriting in this town – they’re all at it, this bibliotherapy thing. What we should do is charge them! And then replace these stuffy old shelves with neat lines of matching, pine-coloured shelving with desks at exact intervals so that people can sit near to where they’re browsing. I could make a proper go of running this place, given a chance.

I offered to fetch the first book on the list, and then, following rule 2, page 30, kept eye contact while asking her for identification. I did start to lose track when she rambled on about eBay and charity shops. Obviously out of work. Probably no good at anything. Anyway, if she was broke, I wasn’t interested in her.

‘Sorry?’ I murmured dutifully. (Rule 10: Keep your complete attention on the client from the moment they ask for help.) ‘Oh yes, I buy my books, too,’ I told her, hoping I’d got it right, and handing her the somewhat dog-eared copy of Managing your Moods. I’d need to add that to the mending pile when she returned it. ‘Yes, much better to own books than borrow them. Though I shouldn’t say that, should I? Not working here!’ (Rule 12: Maintain a sense of humour at all times.)

Of course, I wouldn’t be working here if I could find another job. It’s those stupid interviewers out there who can’t cope with suggestions for improving their businesses. You’d think they’d be grateful to employ someone who could think widely as well as remember all the existing protocols.

‘Have fun with this one, Lucy,’ I added as she turned away. I’m not sure why she looked so pleased – I mean, that book’s dumb.

I often try to draw the same character doing different things. Keeping the style, keeping the character recognisable: it’s all grist to the mill in children’s illustration.

I thought of these two kids last week and drew the first image out in ink. I used permanent ink for the characters and soluble ink for the background – I wanted to keep the focus on the characters, who would be coloured, and leave the background as monotone after some moving around of the soluble ink for shading. The digital work was done in Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint – I just love the blending brush in CSP and often choose to colour there too, leaving any initial cleaning up of scanned line work and the post-processing manipulation for PS.

When I had done both images, as an afterthought, I made the background of the first one look cooler as it was outside, and the background of the other look warmer as it was inside. And I double-checked they were dressed in the same clothes here – although in the course of a book this might not be so.

I think probably they go better in reverse order actually – they have a lovely shared natter and then he bids her farewell on the doorstep and goes home! The third image shows the sequence all together: ringing to ask to come round, sharing together in the warmth, and saying goodbye.

friends

friends-sequence

I can’t believe so long has passed since I last posted here. I’ve been deep in work, of course, editing journals for press, but art is a strange thing – when I’m painting, digitally or traditionally, that’s the only time my coffee goes cold or the dinner is late because I forgot the scheduled start time. Time simply ceases to exist for me. I suspect it’s the same for many others too. Is that called being in the zone?

Anyway, I’ve been working on my assignment in between times. I’m way into it now (although way from finished too), so I’ll show you some views of the Little Grey Woodlouse who keeps stealing Vicky’s toothbrush and using it for his own nefarious ends.They’re just sketches in my sketchbook – and actually he ends up with red spots on his jacket,  not green, as he’d be a little dull otherwise. I hope you think he’s ‘naughty but lovable’ enough.

Little Grey Woodlouse comes alive!

Little Grey Woodlouse comes alive!

I also sketched a couple of versions of Vicky and LGW interacting – I’ll need to be able to do that for all the thumbnails I have to produce for this picture book assignment. You’ll notice there’s a size problem. Well, I’ve decided it’s pure fiction and to make the spreads work there has to be a compromise on size. I mean, how would a tiny woodlouse even pick up a human toothbrush? The story premise is preposterous to start with, so as far as I’m concerned they can dance together in joy and I’ll make no excuses 🙂

Vicky and LGW interact

Vicky and LGW interact