Tag Archives: writing

News from the Writing Trenches: #amtravelling, #amwriting

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I know I’ve been really quiet on here lately – well, it’s because life happens. Steve and I are on the road at the moment, and will be for most of the rest of the summer, visiting friends and family, and doing a little bit of sightseeing – no, sorry, research! – on the side.

But I thought I’d let you know that writing is still happening, in a manner of speaking. Some of it is just thinking about it (long drives in the car are perfect for that); some is editing of previous work; some is writing in short bursts in a little notebook. The latter is a new one for me – I do all my “serious” writing on the computer. But maybe this very “being not serious” that writing longhand in a tiny book entails is what I need at the moment.

So, writing still goes on. I’ll let you know when there’s something to let you know. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for new experiences, scenes and ideas – writing material is everywhere.

Now Steve’s got his backpack on and he’s ready to go for another day, so I better get on with it.

Life, the Universe, and News From The Writing Trenches. Happy Summer!

PS: If you do Twitter or Instagram, you can follow me at @amoffenwanger – I’ll be posting the odd picture there.

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The Issue With Rumpelstiltskin

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I have a heck of a time typing “Rumpelstiltskin” – the “ltsk” combo in the middle is really hard to get, as no other word I can think of has that sound sequence in English. For some reason, the German “Rumpelstilzchen” flows much easier from the fingers.

However, that’s not the main issue with this fairy tale. The real problem, I decided on re-reading it yesterday, is that the beautiful miller’s daughter (that’s the beautiful daughter of the miller, not the daughter of the beautiful miller – there’s English grammatical ambiguity for you) is screwed coming and going.

I used to like “Rumpelstilzchen” when I was a child. It has an ending that I always found quite satisfying: The nasty manipulative gnome is found out, and in his fury at being thwarted he tears himself in half. Happily Ever After, The End. It never occurred to me that…

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Watching Frank Churchill

FrankChurchill (3)I’ve been watching the 1996 Emma again. No, not that one, the other one. The one with Kate Beckinsale. Yes, I like the Gwyneth Paltrow version a lot too, and the 2008 Romola Garai one – in fact, so far the Kate Beckinsale one has been my least favourite of the three; I only own a copy on taped-from-TV VHS (I know, right?). But I pulled it back out lately for reasons of research completely unrelated to Jane Austen.

You see, I’m using the Frank Churchill in that movie as a model for one of the characters I’m writing at the moment. Just physically, mind you – it’s the actor, Raymond Coulthard, his looks and the way he moves and smiles, that I’m using, not Austen’s Frank Churchill. I’m picturing a young Ray Coulthard, ca. 1996, playing the scenes in my story, which helps with writing them. Sort of a writer’s life drawing class, except, uh, with clothes on the model… umm, yeah, never mind.

But in the process of watching Coulthard I couldn’t help but study Frank Churchill. (What was that I was talking about a while back – all research rabbit trails lead back to Austen?) And I’ve come to admire the way Coulthard makes me understand him better.

Austen has, of course, written Frank Churchill as a charming rogue, just shy of one of her bad guys – he’s an ambivalent character, on Austen’s hero-to-villain scale somewhere in the middle, not too many steps removed from Persuasion’s Mr Elliot, who is firmly in the realm of the baddies. Churchill is very charming, good-looking, funny, crush-worthy and all (hence his suitability as a model), and he makes Emma, and everyone else, think that he’s in love with her. But of course, he’s only doing it to cover up his real love, which is for the beautiful, talented and poor Jane Fairfax.

What makes him skirt the edge of caddishness is the fact that he openly flirts with Emma, going so far as to make fun of Jane, all to hide what’s really going on, and his behaviour almost goads Jane into breaking off their engagement and going out to be miserable as a governess; he (and she) is only saved at the last minute by the fortuitous death of his rich cranky aunt which allows him to please himself and marry Jane. Yeah. Not that nice a guy. Which is exactly what Austen wants us to think – we see all this from Emma’s point of view, judge Frank Churchill by her standards.

Except – watching Ray Coulthard play this role – and I mean really watching him, ignoring Emma who is the focal point of every one of their scenes – Frank Churchill comes across as far less of a jerk. Coulthard masterfully brings across in his facial expression, his little smirks, the small pauses before he speaks, the sidelong glances exchanged with Jane (Olivia Williams), what is really going on inside Frank’s head. You can practically see his thoughts on his face. He really does love Jane, and he feels that he’s between a rock and a hard place – he loves her, but doesn’t want to, or feels he can’t, give up the inheritance he stands to get from his aunt (possibly as much for Jane’s sake as for his own).

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Furthermore, he actually doesn’t think he’s pulling off the deception very well – he thinks that his feelings for Jane are so perfectly obvious that everyone knows what’s going on already. So certain is he of this that he says to Emma, “You must suspect…” (which, of course, she doesn’t, being a little dense on that score). Frank Churchill’s morally dubious behaviour isn’t actually that dubious from his own standpoint, because he doesn’t think he’s successful at it.

Until he is confronted with the fact that he’s nearly managed to push Jane away from himself – and then he’s miserable and cranky himself. He makes matters worse by more or less arguing with Jane in public on Box Hill, the arguments all couched in generalities (which Emma, true to form, manages to thoroughly misinterpret again). Fortunately, there is the “saved by the bell” event of Aunt Churchill dying at the right moment, and all is well for the star-crossed lovers, whose story by this point has become only a backdrop against which to play out the Mr Knightley/Emma tale.

Frank Churchill (as interpreted by Ray Coulthard) is an excellent study in secondary characters and their motivations. Austen writes quite a few flat characters, but Frank is a prime example of one of her many secondary characters with fully rounded personalities and motivations. What you see (the effect of his actions on Emma) is by no means what is actually there (Frank’s motivations, his love for Jane).

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Besotted gaze at Jane while praising her to Emma

Once you really watch Frank Churchill, it becomes quite easy to understand where he is coming from, and to be in sympathy with him – and with Jane Fairfax for falling in love with him. At first glance, it’s tempting to say “I’m sorry for Jane, getting stuck with a shallow guy like Frank! Whatever did she see in him in the first place?” But at second glance, and third, and a few more start-and-stop-and-fast-forward-and-back viewings of the video (I ended up getting the DVD from the library – the VHS got too tedious) – Frank Churchill really isn’t so bad. His actions make sense, when you take the trouble to try to get into the guy’s head.

In fact, having watched him, and watched him again, I have to admit to having developed a little crush on him myself (his borderline caddishness notwithstanding). Or is it on Ray Coulthard as he was in 1996? Or, really – on the character I’m writing, who has nothing whatever to do with Austen or Churchill or even Coulthard? It’s hard to tease apart. Maybe I’ll have to boot up the other two Emmas I have on the shelf to watch their Frank Churchills, to see how I feel about them. Of course all in the name of research, you understand.

Life, the Universe, and Watching Frank Churchill. The trails that research leads you down…

PS: Just to clarify, the character I’m modelling on Ray Coulthard is not Guy from the Septimus Series. Guy’s got curly hair, too, but he’s a redhead.

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Following My Heart’s Desire

A reblog from Helen Jones. What she says here about painting and writing, I could have written myself, word for word (including the “sold a few pieces, been exhibited once, have some on my own walls”). Writing has indeed let me find my passion. I’m still working on finding that daily groove like Helen has, but like her, writing is here to stay with me.

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Monday Meanderings: A Thaw, and News from the Writing Trenches

A few days ago, just after that big snowfall, a thaw set in. The roads are mostly clear – where they aren’t icy from melting snow running across the pavement – and the sunshine is brilliant today. I rambled up into the woods earlier and stood for quite some time next to the wrecked car, looking out over the white expanse of the frozen lake and thinking, to the sound of the twittering of hopeful birds and the drip-drip-drip of the thaw. And then a row of Canada geese flew over the lake, honking. I like Canada geese; they’re so very – I don’t know, Canadian.

img_20170213_130807229_hdrI thought of many things (though shoes and ships and sealing wax were not among them), and some were trivial, some profound. One was that I needed to make a new gmail address with the periods removed from between the words, and when I came home and tried it, it turned out that gmail had already done so for me – apparently a.m.offenwanger is the same to Google as amoffenwanger. Who knew?

Oh, and I was going to give you some News from the Writing Trenches. I’ve been working on my latest piece, off and on, although it’s been very slow going since the end of NaNo. But it does still go. As for Star Bright (Septimus Book 4), it’s in the revision stage. I’d like to finish writing one book before I edit another – but maybe that’s not a feasible idea. There are a few other pieces that need editing; some short stories among them. And I’m hoping and/or planning to write more shorts to submit to contests or magazines.

img_20170213_130750170_hdrSo, all that to say, yes, I am still working on my writing – although sometimes it feels like I do more talking about writing than actual writing. However, writing blog posts is writing, too, isn’t it? And then there’s all those pictures I’m accumulating on my phone – worth a thousand words each, right? Okay, maybe not. So on that note, I’ll sign off now and go do some real writing.

Life, the Universe, and Monday Meanderings. Spring is on its way.

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Taking Risks

Our local NaNoWriMo group is engaged on a new venture: we decided to take things a step further and form a Critique Group. A week ago we had our first meeting, and we decided that every month, everyone would submit few pages of their work, and we’d all read it and give each other feedback. Sounds great, right?

Now, in the week since, two of our group members have put up posts on their blogs, saying basically the same thing, namely how scary it is to stick out your neck and hand over your work to someone else to criticise. And the reaction I had to both their posts was nothing so much as, “You feel that way, too?”

See, in the group, we’re all very self-assured, poised, and articulate; we have things to say and opinions to state; we’re writers; we’re cool. But, as it turns out, when we go home and look over our material for something to send to everyone, we want to pull in our little snail antennae and cower in our shells, quietly whimpering. Because sending our stuff out there into the world is risky!

So as I was sitting here this morning thinking about this, beside me on the kitchen floor played out a little drama: Louis the Now-Very-Large Kitten was stalking a stinkbug. (Don’t ask me what the stinkbug was doing in my kitchen in January. Maybe it hitched a ride into the house on a piece of firewood on which it was trying to overwinter?)img_20170123_085236161

Now Louis is the kind of cat who, whatever else you can say about him, is not a tim’rous wee beastie. He’s curious. And persistent. The bottle caps and walnuts in the shell that he has slain number in the dozens, and the corpses are accumulated in the corners of the living room and under the kitchen stove drawer. So when there was this new and very interesting black little thing moving about the kitchen floor all on its own, Louis was mesmerised. He stared at it. He put out a paw and batted it. He stared at it some more, and batted at it some more – and so on.img_20170123_085107300

After quite a while of this, he decided on a different approach: he tried to take a bite. And the inevitable happened: the stinkbug sprayed.

Well! Louis jerked back. He made faces. Pt pt pt pt! he tried to spit the icky taste out of his mouth. He climbed on a cardboard box to get the high-ground advantage over this unexpectedly dangerous thing, squinting down at it with eyes that were obviously stinging with stinkbug juice. He blinked and blinked again, went pt pt! a few more times – and then he went right after the bug again. More cautiously this time – he stayed well back for a few minutes, stalking it from a distance – but he kept at it. He crawled between the potted plants, flipped over the patio door mat to find it – he wasn’t going let that funny black thing get away from him. Even though it squirted icky stuff in his face, Louis was determined to get that bug. He took a risk – he got burned – and he went right back to risk again.img_20170123_094659458

How very metaphorical, isn’t it? Louis the Cat and the Stinkbug. Now, I’m not saying that us writers are stinkbugs – uh, no. But that large orange-and-white fuzzball was rather inspiring this morning. He exuberantly takes risks, gets results that sting, then goes right on risking.img_20170123_091837762

So even if getting feedback on your stories can sometimes sting (and sometimes stink, as well), it’s worth going back to risk it again. And the good thing is that as writers we know we all feel the same – sharing our work is scary. But we do it anyway.

Life, the Universe, Stink Bugs and Writers. I think Louis would say that the exhilaration of the hunt is worth the sting.

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Wordless Wednesday: Soaring High, or: I Finished NaNoWriMo

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30 November 2016 · 10:03