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Creating complex characters: Bo in Exquisite

June 20, 2018
Creating complex characters: Bo in Exquisite This A-Z of characters blog series is looking at memorable narrators in novels and what has made them stick in my mind. It’s all based on the three Cs of character that I teach in our online courses and at various events and writing festivals. The novel characters that people never forget are complex, contradictory and consistent, just like real people. In the first of these blogs I looked at Adam in The Imposter from Damon Galgut. Today’s complex character is Bo in Exquisite by Sarah Stovell, who visited the blog to chat to Sophie a while ago about this novel and her writing. Read the interview here. So who is Bo? Bo is a novelist, living the dream writer’s life in her beautiful Lake District home with multiple bestsellers in her backlist. She’s got a lovely family and a happy marriage. Bo shares the narration of this beautifully written and compelling novel with Alice, an aspiring writer that she meets when teaching at a writing retreat. The two women instantly feel a connection and an intense relationship quickly develops, with Bo playing the part of the older, wiser mentor who sees traces of her younger self in Alice. What makes Bo such a complex character? It’s the different sides of her personality that contradict each other; and that she’s so difficult to suss out. Is she nice or is she nasty? I’m not going to reveal the answer to that but instead look at her character traits. On the one hand she is caring, nurturing, supportive and on the other she is manipulative, dishonest and ruthless. She’s a great mother to her children and a popular member of her local community. She’s playing games with people’s emotions and twisting the truth to suit her own ends. She’s altruistic and donates to charity. Like the image above, different elements of of her personality were reflected on the surface but at the same time all the other sides of her were still there behind that reflection. It was really hard to tell who the real Bo is. And this is true of humans in general. We never know what’s going on in other people’s minds and they often do and say things that are in direct contradiction of beliefs they have previously professed to hold. But at the same they time they are usually consistent in how they go about things. As writers it’s our job to decide what goes on in people’s minds, to share that with readers and show how that makes them act the way they do, One of the things I’ve learned through reading and writing a lot of fiction is that it’s the contradictions and the moments of inconsistency that make them stand out, make them memorable. Which literary characters have you never forgotten and why? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll pick someone at random to win a free place on our online course, the Creating

2018 First Chapter Competition Results

June 5, 2018
2018 First Chapter Competition Results   Thanks to our judge, literary agent Diana Beaumont, for reading our ten shortlisted chapters and giving feedback on them all. We did promise the results would be announced in May but there has been a slight delay due to holidays and other competition announcements. Diana enjoyed reading all of the chapters and said: “I have judged a few things in my time and these were genuinely a cut above.  The standard of entries was impressive and I was delighted to judge it.” So to all of our shortlisted writers, well done! And a huge congratulations to our winner and runners-up. So here are the results… Winner Ain’t you been Baptized by Rachel Daniels I just loved the writing here – it’s incredibly accomplished and beautifully done with a vivid sense of place and a distinctive voice. Lenny’s dialogue – and the vagrant who attempts to rescue him – was pitch perfect with plenty of tension and an underlying dark humour that drew me in. I really wanted to know more about where Lenny has come from and where he goes next. Runners-Up Looking For Me by Hilary Taylor What a great opening paragraph: it disconcerts the reader and plunges us straight into Miriam’s world which is dripping with God and gore. It’s not always easy to pull off a child’s voice but this worked extremely well. The writing is so visceral and vivid that the trip to the butcher’s shop feels more like a horror movie with the blood and sawdust – not to mention the mother’s finger getting chopped off by mistake although there is a humour that offsets it. The author clearly has talent. Don’t Think a Single Thought by Diana Cambridge I really enjoyed this. It is polished, compelling writing and I was drawn in from the first paragraph. It reads like psychological suspense and I liked the way in which it is ambiguous as to what is real and what is imagined. The smart, Hamptons setting contrasts with the emotional darkness that underlies it. I also loved the descriptions of the meals, which were mouth wateringly delicious. I certainly wanted to read on. Highly Commended Gabriel by June Whitaker There is a wonderful, timeless quality to the beginning of this novel set in Southern Spain, which is steeped in superstition and fear. A woman is about to give birth to a child on ‘Black Tuesday, which is considered to be accursed. The writing is atmospheric and I wanted to know what becomes of the little boy born on this fateful evening. Shortlisted Freeze Frame by Dawn Michelle-Baude The writing has an intense, oppressive feel as a seventeen-year-old girl and her mother visit a morgue to identify whether the dead body on the gurney there is her father. The second person viewpoint can be tricky but seems to work thus far. Make sure the first paragraph really pulls the reader in, keep up the pace at all times and watch for moments

Forgetting Flash Winners

May 29, 2018
  Once again, thanks to all that entered the last themed flash comp. I’ve had a hard time choosing the top the three from the shortlisted stories but have finally made my decision. Well done to all of the shortlisted writers, who now appear in the list below the winner details as the standard is excellent. Why I chose it: I loved how this played with the theme and focused on how our memories work. How something that seems so momentous to one can be something much less significant to the other. How time affects that too so our lives become stories for us to edit as we see fit, to make ourselves seem more interesting than perhaps we really believe we are. The sumptuousness of the imagery and fantastic use of language give a real richness to the story that makes it feel a lot bigger than it is.   Why I chose it: Colourful flowers and the symbolism of their meanings all the way through added a real poignancy to the story. I loved how the young narrator was bringing flowers to her grandad that symbolised all the hope ahead for her life as his faded. The penultimate line about the time to get the Google results of the final flowers he gave her compared to how long it will take her to get over it, is a stunner.   Why I chose it: The sums running through this about how emotions, life events and the actions we take all come together to make something else are brilliant. Forgetting is never mentioned but the theme of memory runs throughout the whole story tied into the math. Great stuff.   Amy Drake by Nicole Fitton An Odyssey by Alison Woodhouse Burning Bright by Shirley Golden Captivity by Jennifer Riddalls Forget You by Nikki Marshall Freedom by Elizabeth Ottosson Hope You Find Your 90 by Adam Lock The Frog Prince by Margaret Morey   There’s still almost a month to get your flash stories in for the next themed flash comp and be in with a chance of winning up to £400 and getting your story published on the website. The theme is Reunions and the deadline is 24th June. Our Retreat West Author Members get entry to the comps included as part of their benefits package, as well as a lots of other great stuff. We hope to read your work soon!   [/themeone_one_whole]