Thursday 18 September 2014

Ice maiden, but not for long

It's as though Roxy Parker has been frozen in time, like a woolly mammoth uncovered from an Icelandic glacier, or a body undusted from the depths of Pompeii—one foot forward, arms out, lips open in a conversation that remains unspoken, is threatening to be forgotten.

I'm midway through my sixth Ghostwriter Mystery and have had to drop Roxy like a teenage boy after an embarrassing date, no explanation, no apologies, just a quick turn and away.

I've been offered four freelance articles to write and, keen to plump up the bank account and keep my clients happy I've had to put Roxy aside and focus on that.

And it's so bloody hard. 
Let me explain why. Starting a novel can sometimes be a breeze. You open that document and the words begin to flow. And other times, it's like plucking bush ticks from the aforementioned mammoth. Every single word is like a small victory, every plot development, worthy of a bottle of Moet.

This sixth novel was closer to the second kind. It took its time to develop, it didn't come easily, it made me work hard, and work hard I did.

And then suddenly it clicked. Like a red kelpie released from a fenced backyard, the plot began galloping towards the horizon at a breathtaking speed. There was no stopping me. I barely paused for lunch, let alone to greet the kids when they strolled in the door after school, I was madly immersed in that fabulous fictional world and I was loving it, even if I was turning into an unworthy mother. Again.

When a novel is working—really working—the plotting and the planning, the editing and the rewriting buzz through your brain at all hours of the day and night. It's the first thing you think about when you wake in the morning, and it's the very thing that stops you sleeping at night. It's fun and fierce in equal measure and it's always a delight, reminding you how lucky you are to be a writer in the first place, to be actually living this life.

Then reality smashes in. 
It's happened many times in the creation of my novels, is always to be expected and yet still comes as a nasty surprise. In this case, I had to put Roxy aside and focus on several parenting stories and a home decorating article. All good fun, of course, but each one taking me further away from my beloved Roxy and a plot that is beginning to grow fuzzy again.

It's not always paid work that stalls the process for a writer. Sometimes it's her children and/or partner, her health or her home. Sometimes your parents need attention, a sibling needs a shoulder or friends/ visitors/community commitments get in the way. Occasionally it's holidays or travel that you've (stupidly!) scheduled in many months before. It might be as simple as a faulty computer or as complex and as dreadful as divorce or death.

The long and the short
Some disruptions will stall you for just an hour or so, others gobble up entire weeks, months or, God forbid, years, but each and every one is met with gnashing teeth and furrowed brow. Even the lovely disruptions like your beautiful children or that European holiday.

So, I'm rushing through these freelance articles, trying to do them justice without leaving poor Roxy suspended for too long. And I know when the schedule clears and I can defrost her from her icy perch, it may be difficult to remember where she left off, where it was she was walking, what it was she wanted to say.

But I will respark my creativity and the momentum will return. Until then, however, I beg patience of my many readers and have to remember: at least my bank balance has been brought out of suspension and given new life. And that's not something to be sneezed at.

Happy reading everyone.

xo Christina

Sunday 7 September 2014

My tribute to a True Crime trailblazer, Ann Rule

Hi guys,
I wrote this post last September, after belatedly discovering the tremendous True Crime author Ann Rule, author of more than 30 books. With news overnight that Ms Rule has passed away, aged 83, I think of her again and hope she can finally rest in peace...

The Queen of True Crime

I seem to have developed the True Crime bug, big time, and have found myself creeped out for days now reading The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (Pocket Books; reprint 2008).

This book is considered the blueprint for true crime, the bible for all true crime writers, and yet when Ann Rule wrote it she was a total novice. While she had once been a cop and had written extensively on crime for various detective magazines, she had never written a book before.

But that's not the stunning part about it.

What is truly incredible about this story—and why I guess it broke all the rules and became the template for both true crime and immersion writing—is that Rule had no idea, as she embarked on the book, that she not only knew the murderer, she was his friend.

Soon after being commissioned to write about a dreadful series of murders across America involving scores of beautiful young women who were brutally attacked, she came to realise that the leading suspect in the cases, indeed the only suspect, was a man she had befriended while working in a crisis centre. A man she genuinely liked!

It was, of course, the infamous Ted Bundy, a name that still sends shivers down women's spines 40 years later.

Bundy was a monster like no other. 
He confessed (albeit indirectly) to more than 35 murders, each one horrendously degrading, the kind that gives you nightmares. And Rule was on his speed dial.

Incredible stuff. Even more incredibly, Rule didn't hang up the phone and run (as I probably would). She didn't baulk at writing the book once Bundy was arrested, nor did she hesitate to remain in contact with that monster throughout his incarceration, taking his calls, returning his letters and even sending regular checks to help pay for his smokes in jail.

I don't believe she did that for the sake of the book. 
Not at all. It was not a marketing ploy. Judging from the book, she genuinely liked this man and wasn't afraid to admit it! She couldn't quite believe at first that he could do such monstrous things. When she finally had to accept this truth, she still felt a certan empathy for him which may seem bizarre to the average person, but which is very brave and honest of her to admit.

This book does what I think Virginia Peters tries to accomplish in her newly released Have You Seen Simone? (Penguin; 2014), see earlier blogs, yet fails at. This book takes us through the nitty gritty of a true crime (or 35 of them, and it's gruelling stuff!) while also showing us an incredible friendship and a first-hand insight into a murderer's mind.

She balances her friendship and the truth with such applomb. It really is an incredible feat and has been worth every jittery moment of reading it.

I have not enjoyed the book—how could anyone enjoy such horror?—but I did find it gripping, un-put-downable, and I was mesmerised by the words of an innocent writer caught in the middle. Unlike Peters, this really is as much about Rule as it is about Bundy. Yet we never feel that Rule believes that. She never takes over the story or makes it about herself. She is just there, stuck in the middle, and we are stuck right alongside her.

Tremendous stuff.

It's no wonder, as Rule says at the start of this reprint, people still contact her about the book all these decades later. She has gone on to write scores of other books, but this is the one that haunts all who come across it. And still haunts her.

Happy (less creepy!) reading everyone.
xo Christina