Thoughts on Writing, from Jacey Bedford
Part II of our interview with Author Jacey Bedford.
A few weeks ago we published our feature ‘RowanKind, A New Release from
Fantasy Writer Jacey Bedford’. We took that opportunity to ask Jacey a few questions, including on her methods of writing characters and whether she's a member of writing groups.
Jacey, are your characters based on someone you know, or do you use an image as a character template? I never base characters on anyone I know, that's just too dangerous. They are purely from my imagination. I don't use images of real people for characters. I know a lot of people do, but I'd never be able to separate my imagined character from the person whose image I used.
I have got quite a lively set of Pinterest boards which contain (amongst other things) visual ideas, but I only use them as a starting point, and for research. My Pinterest boards are here: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/birdsedge/.
The cover artist for the whole trilogy, Larry Rostant, works by employing a model, doing a photo shoot, and then using digital artwork to make the cover illustration, so I did see the 'raw' models he used for Rossalinde and Corwen, but that was after the characters had been written. Now, of course, they've become my definitive image after the fact.
How long does it take you from an idea to the finished article? I also know that readers are interested in whether you plot out rough and then write blindly, or follow the plot step-by-step. ROWANKIND took about seven months. Five months for the first draft, then I rested it for a month while my editor took a look and gave me her thoughts. I then had a month to deal with the editorial comments, which added close to another twenty thousand words. I started working on it in September 2017 and delivered the first draft on 26th February 2018. I got my editor's comments on Easter Monday, 2nd April, and delivered the final edited version on 2nd May 2018.
It doesn't always work that way, of course. Some of the books I wrote before I got my first book deal took years, because I had the leisure to keep reworking them (sometimes way more times than I should have done). Now I have publishers' deadlines, so I have to crack on with the job. I like to be able to rest a work between the first draft and the edit, though, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes and ears.
I'm not really a plotter, at least, not in any great detail. In fact, I'm a bit of a pantser to begin with. I get an idea and I start by writing to see what happens. Then I get so far in (maybe ten or twenty thousand words) and I know where the story is going. I scribble a few notes down, maybe a one page outline, but I don't write out the whole plot in detail, otherwise I feel as though I've already written the book before I've really started.
Do you get feedback from a physical or on-line writing group, and which would you recommend? I took the first 5,000 words of the very first version of WINTERWOOD to Milford [http://www.milfordSF.co.uk] in 2007. The first chapter more or less survived intact, though the title changed a number of times. Either later that year (or maybe the year after) I paced myself alongside NaNoWriMo to get 50,000 words done in November, which put me a lot closer to finishing.
In 2009 I got a new agent who worked on it with me, but then she got out of agenting before it sold. Her help was invaluable, though. It went through several versions before finally selling to DAW in July 2013 as part of a three book deal. Though it was the first book I sold, it ended up being the third they published, so I had plenty of time to do revisions. I think I took sections of it to Milford a couple of times.
We started Northwrite [http://www.northwriteSF.com] in 2012, a small face-to-face crit group based on the Milford idea. Ten of us meet quarterly. We submit one ten thousand word piece, so we can either send short stories, or sections of novels a chunk at a time. The feedback, like Milford, is rigorous. Because we're a small group we can also ask for volunteers to do a full read through.
I have four or five other writers who will read-through a full, or partial, manuscript for me (and me for them). I think having a few people whose critique you trust is what works really well. In my case I'm very lucky that my crit-buddies are very talented published writers. I have also been in an online crit group (many years ago before I was published). Again, that was a small group of ten writers and we stuck together for eight years.
I've never been in a big online writing group like critters. I don't think it matters whether you meet other writers online or face to face, as long as you trust them to be honest, and know that they'll deliver constructive crits in an effort to nudge your work towards publication.
Have you suffered from writers block and, if so, do you have any tips for
overcoming it? I haven't really ever suffered from writers' block. I've had times when writing has felt like swimming through treacle and my output has really slowed down, but I've just gritted my teeth and kept moving. It's usually a sign that your subconscious doesn't like the way things are going. That might just be middle-of-the-book blues, or it might mean you have to re-think something.
The trick is figuring out why you've suddenly lost enthusiasm and fixing it. If you've stalled completely I think the only thing to do is to plough on and write something every day, even if it's only a hundred words that you know you'll probably edit out later.
Ever killed off a character and regretted it? Yes, in my Psi-Tech trilogy. Luckily I regretted it before I sent the finished version to the publisher, so I resurrected him. Then in the next book I killed him off again, and resurrected him again. He eventually made it to the end of the third book unscathed.
I find it really hard to kill off characters I like. One of my writer friends suggested I kill off a particular character in ROWANKIND, but I really didn't want to. It would have a big dramatic effect, my friend said. Well, so it would, I replied, but it would make the book much darker. Yes, he said, grinning at me with death in his heart. I mentioned it to my editor. Noooo! said my editor. Ha! I said, as I thumbed my nose at my cruel friend. The character survived.
A last, but loaded, question. In your opinion, what makes a good writer?
Everybody's idea of what's good in writing and what's not differs massively. Sometimes it's a question of style over substance versus substance over style. My own preference (and what I'm aiming for when I write) is not to stand in front of the story. I like a clear, readable narrative that lets the story shine through. That's my version of good writing.
I'm reading a high fantasy book now that has sparkling prose. When I read the first page I thought, WOW! But as I've progressed through the story, the prose is starting to feel self-conscious, and I'm not even sure I'm going to finish it. It's all style but (so far) not enough content.
I really admire elegant wordsmithing that doesn't draw attention to itself, but gets the job done neatly. Kari Sperring is one of those writers who doesn't waste a word. Her
debut book, LIVING WITH GHOSTS, is wonderful. Then there are writers like Terry Pratchett whose style is remarkably Terryful. It's easy to assume that comedy writing is lowest common denominator stuff, but it's really difficult to do well, especially if you're not going to rely on a string of jokes. Pratchett's NIGHT WATCH is an object lesson in how to stretch out dramatic tension almost to breaking point and then release it. Bloody marvellous!
Now, if you're going to ask me what makes a successful writer, I would say it's persistence. Not giving up is the key. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you never send your work out, you'll never get anywhere. Apply the seat of your pants to your chair, your fingers to the keyboard and write. Finish what you write, and when you've finished, write something else. Good luck!
Jacey Bedford is a British science fiction and fantasy writer with novels published by
DAW in the USA and short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic. She lives in an
old stone house on the edge of Yorkshire's Pennine Hills with her songwriter husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd (a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany). She's been a librarian, a postmistress, and a folk singer with the vocal harmony trio, Artisan. She once sang live on BBC Radio 4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.
Twitter: @jaceybedford Facebook: www.facebook.com/jacey.bedford.writer
Buy books in the Rowankind Trilogy!
Available as imports (paperbacks) from Amazon in the UK; paperbacks and kindle from Amazon in the USA; paperbacks and Nook from Barnes and Noble in the USA.
Winterwood, DAW, 2016
Silverwolf, DAW, 2017 Available from: Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Silverwolf-Rowankind-Book-Jacey-Bedford-ebook/dp/B01E4WAEY6/
Rowankind, DAW, 2018 Available from: Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Rowankind-Jacey-Bedford-ebook/dp/B07BD3258X/