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Tips on creative writing for children, schools and adults

Posted by on May 18, 2016 in News | 0 comments

WRITING TIPS

I often go into schools and universities to talk to children and young adults about writing. I have compiled a series of hints about creative writing that I hope you will find helpful. (They are all capitalized so that I can read them more easily when addressing a big assembly).

I AM A STORY TELLER. EVERY DAY I SIT DOWN TO WRITE I REMIND MYSELF OF THAT.

PLOTASK YOURSELVES A FUNDAMENTALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION: WILL ANYONE ELSE ACTUALLY WANT TO READ WHAT I AM WRITING?

WILL I ENTERTAIN, BEGUILE, AMUSE, TERRIFY,
TRANSPORT, MYSTIFY MY READERS, OR BORE
THEM RIGID AND DEPRESS THEM??

IF YOU TELL A GREAT STORY, THE ANSWER WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE THAT YOU WILL BEGUILE, TRANSPORT AND ENTERTAIN.

GO ON! TAKE PITY ON YOUR TEACHERS! GIVE THEM SOMETHING THEY WILL REALLY ENJOY READING. (NOTE THAT, IF YOU ARE ENTERTAINING YOURSELF WITH YOUR WRITING, YOU WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY ENTERTAIN YOUR READERS. CORRESPONDINGLY, IF YOU ARE BORING YOURSELF, YOU WILL BORE THEM!)

HOW TO COME UP WITH A PLOT

A GREAT INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE:

YOU THINK OF THINGS THAT ARE AND ASK WHY, WHEREAS I, I DREAM OF THINGS THAT NEVER WERE AND ASK WHY NOT?

* WHAT IF – THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION A WRITER CAN ASK. WHAT IF I COULD BREATHE UNDERWATER? WHAT IF THERE WERE SUCH A THING AS TIME TRAVEL? WHAT IF I SAW A CRIME BEING COMMITTED? ETC….
* INSPIRATION -GET IT DAY DREAMING. WALKING, READING BOTH FICTION AND NON-FICTION. I LOVE QUANTUM PHYSICS AND STUFF ON PARALLEL UNIVERSES -FIND IT VERY INSPIRING – LOOKING AT ART, LISTENING TO MUSIC, WATCHING DVD’S, OBSERVING NATURE, LIFE AND PEOPLE AROUND YOU. AS AN INVESTMENT BANKER, I BECAME A BIT OF A SPY, WATCHING SCENES, LISTENING TO DIALOGUE, WRITING IT ALL DOWN, LOOKING AS IF I WERE DOING MY PROPER WORK, WHILSTS SECRETLY GETTING INSPIRATION.

* WRITE ABOUT WHAT INTERESTS YOU, ABOUT WHAT YOU LOVE – IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR WRITING/CHARACTERS, NO-ONE ELSE WILL EITHER.

PLOT –
* START STRONG –
* ESTABLISH SETTING –
* BREAK IT DOWN INTO MAJOR EVENTS
* BUILD IT UP, ADDING SMALLER EVENTS
* PLOT MAP – GET IDEAS DOWN AS FAST AS POSSIBLE BEFORE YOU FORGET THEM
– DON’T TRY TO THINK/PLOT STORY AND WRITE STORY AT SAME TIME. GET PLOT ORGANISED FIRST BEFORE YOU WRITE, THEN WHEN YOU ARE WRITING, PLOT CAN EVOLVE AND YOU CAN DEVELOP NEW IDEAS

** HELPS TO KEEP A NOTEBOOK HANDY AT ALL TIMES. DICTAPHONE ALSO USEFUL

FIND YOUR VOICE

*WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY? ENJOY YOURSELF. LET RIP. GET INSIDE YOUR OWN MIND AND YOU’LL BE SURPRISED WHAT YOU FIND. WRITING IS THE FREEST OF ALL THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINES. CREATIVE WRITING MEANS YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT WHATEVER YOU WANT. APART FROM GRAMMAR AND SPELLING, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG ANSWER.

* HOW DO YOU WANT TO SAY IT? DIFFERENT GENRES WRITE THE KIND OF BOOK YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT. DO YOU LIKE FUNNY BOOKS, LIKE EION COLFER’S OR MAGICAL, LIKE JK ROWLING’S, OR DRAMATIC LIKE PHILLIP PULLMAN, MICHAEL MORPURGO, OR THRILLER – ANTHONY HOROVITZ, DARREN SHAN OR ROBERT MUCHAMORE .

GETTING STARTED

* JUST DO IT!

* START. DON’T WORRY ABOUT MAKING IT PERFECT. IT NEVER WILL BE. YOU CAN IMPROVE IT IN SUBSEQUENT DRAFTS. I NORMALLY WRITE ABOUT 8-10 DRAFTS. 3-4 FOR PLOT, TWO FOR BEAUTY OF WRITING, ONE FOR DIALOGUE WORK, TWO OR THREE FOR COPY EDITING.

* MAKE YOUR OPENING LINE COUNT. MAKE YOUR READERS WANT TO READ ON. (REMEMBER, YOU CAN ALWAYS GO BACK TO THE START AND IMPROVE THE OPENING LINE LATER. DON’T LET MAKING IT ‘PREFECT’ HOLD YOU UP).

* IF IT’S GOING WELL, DON’T STOP. DON’T STOP BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW THE PERFECT WORD OR RELEVANT FACT. FILL THAT IN LATER. IGNORE DISTRACTIONS!

CHARACTERS
* CHARACTERISATION – PICTURE YOUR CHARACTERS AS CLEARLY AS YOU CAN. BE THEIR PORTRAIT PAINTER. BE THEIR PSYCHIATRIST – GET INSIDE THEIR HEADS.

MOTIVATION -WHY DO CHARATCERS ACT AS THEY DO?

  • CONFLICT: GOOD/EVIL/HERO/ANTIHERO/PROTAGONIST/ FOIL.
  • MAKE YOUR VILLAINS AND YOUR HEROES MULITFACETED. THEY ALL HAVE THREADS OF GOOD AND EVIL IN THEM.

* GROWTH/DISCOVERY – HOW DO THE CHARACTER EVOLVE DURING THE STORY? What do they discover about themselves? WHAT DOES THE READER DISCOVER ABOUT THEM?

CONVINCING DIALOGUE
* KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS
* DIFFERENT SPEECH PATTERNS/RHYTHMS AND IDIOSYNCRATIC WORD USE
* READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. LISTEN TO HOW IT SOUNDS.

VIVID, DYNAMIC WRITING
* VERBS – MORE DYNAMIC THAN ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS
* SIMPLICITY – CLEAN, SIMPLE WRITING GETS THE POINT ACROSS BEST AND CARRIES THE STORY MOST SWIFTLY. DON’T BE TEMPTED TO ‘OVERWRITE’, LADLING IN TOO MANY ADJECTIVES OR MAKING YOUR SENTENCES TOO COMPLEX.

* NARRATIVE DESCRIPTIONS – USE ALL YOUR SENSES – SYNAESTHESIA; STENCH, ACRID, HISSING, TWISTED, FLICKERED, SLITHERED
* IMAGERY – STRONG IMAGES – OXTOPUS BEATING DRUMS
* PACE – SKIP UNECESSARY DETAIL. IF IT DOES NOT MOVE THE STORY ON, AXE IT.
* SCENE SHIFTING – SPEEDS UP PACE, ADDS INTRIGUE
* INSPIRE YOUR READERS – ‘I WON’T GIVE UP’. EXPLORE EMOTIONAL THEMES – COURAGE, LOYALTY, REBELLION, FEAR, WEAKNESS. USE THEM FOR INSPIRATION AND TO GIVE YOU INSIGHT INTO YOUR CHARACTERS
* POINT OF VIEW. YOU CAN SHIFT BETWEEN TWO, POSSIBLY THREE DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW TO LEND INTEREST AND LAYERS TO YOUR STORY.
* CLIFFHANGERS. ALWAYS GOOD TO END A CHAPTER ON ONE
* CONFLICT CREATES MOMENTUM. MOST STORIES ARE ABOUT A FIGHT OF SOME SORT
* SURPRISE. PLAUSIBLE SURPRISE IS THE KEY. DO NOT BE PREDICTABLE!
* REVELATION.
* CONCLUSION. TIE ALL THE LOOSE ENDS. MAKE IT DRAMATIC AND A REVELATION. MAKE IT EMOTIONALLY SATISFYING.

PERSERVERENCE
* FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED. WRITING’S LIKE CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN. ONE STEP AT A TIME. DON’T BE DAUNTED BY THE TASK.

EDITING –

* CONSTRUCTION – ADDING TEXT TO FLESH OUT AND ENHANCE STORY AND CHARACTERS
* DESTRUCTION – CUTTING OUT UNECESSARY DETAIL OR SCENES.
* DYNAMISM. MAKE YOUR SENETENCES SNAP! CUT OUT EXTRANEOUS WORDS AND BRING THEM ALIVE.
* TECHNICAL – SPELLING, GRAMMAR ETC
* READ ALOUD – HELPS HIHGLIGHT CLUMSY SENTENCES AND OVER-USED WORDS,

HAVE FUN! YOU ARE UNIQUE. YOUR WRITING WILL BE TOO. ENJOY IT, PLAY WITH IT, REVEL IN IT. CREATE SOMETHING WONDERFUL.

Empowering girls. It’s not what you look like, it’s what you do!

Posted by on May 4, 2016 in News | 0 comments

Forging an independent identity is one of the biggest challenges many of our teens will face. It can be tough figuring out who you are, especially if the idealised identity on sale in our cultural bazaars requires a level of apparent perfection that is dispiriting rather than inspiring and relates to a static idea of how you should look, rather than what you can do with your body and mind.

This affects boys and girls, but it is girls who suffer more of a dearth of healthy role models. If we look at music videos, which have a dominant effect in creating an imagery and theme tune of youth, girls are shown either as accessories or else as powerful by virtue of the pulchritude of face and the amount of skin they expose rather than via the power of their minds and bodies.

How can we give our girls better role models and why is it so important that we do?

A strong sense of identity, forged by the individual, not forced upon them by birth, upbringing or circumstance, or adopted by default from social media norms, is vital to our teens’ happiness and well-being. This philosophy does away with concepts of either victimhood or entitlement, both of which are damaging and hindering in forging a happy, successful and useful life. But identity is created and owned by taking action, by developing hobbies and skills, by inhabiting our physical bodies, strengthening and using them rather than primping and preening them.

But where are the inspirations for our girls in literature and film? Katniss Everdeen has done our teens a huge favour by being a strong, powerful role model. She is not anyone’s accessory, draped provocatively in music videos or taking vicarious power from a stronger male. She is a skilled and brave fighter. A leader of a revolution. But she’s still an exception.

I feel very strongly about empowerment for girls, about their health, physical and mental, and how to promote it.

This started with my own journey. A skinny girl with round glasses and long brown plaits, I was called Skinny Linny, Twiggy and Praying Mantis. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t adorable-looking, and I didn’t fit in.

Skinny Linny was not a good identity. Rebelling against the pigeonhole my peers were trying to cram me into, I decided to forge my own identity, one that would give me strength; I would be Linda, the fighter. I had a powerful ally, my father.

Glyn Davies, had fought in the Second World War. He believed that you needed to raise children able to look after themselves, armed with the knowledge and physical abilities to get themselves out of trouble, and to fight if absolutely necessary. So he taught my three older brothers, and he taught me. He made no allowances for the fact that I was female and I shall always thank him for that.

When I was eight he gave me my first longbow. I would shoot for hours till my hands were callused, but I loved the focus and the sense of achievement when I hit the bull’s eye, what archers call the ‘Gold.’

My own history explains my long-term fascination with warrior girls. The seeds for Longbow Girl were sown decades before Katniss stalked our screens, thanks to my unconventional ‘equalitist’ father.

Now I have a twelve year old daughter I feel even more strongly about the need for powerful, positive role models for girls. I always make the heroines in my adult thrillers and now in my books for Young Adults, into fighters. Merry Owen, in Longbow Girl, just published here and in the United States, is a supreme archer and has to become a fighter on many levels. That is her identity and it saves her life as well as the lives and lands of those she loves.

Merry is physically marred from an accident with her longbow, but she is beautiful nonetheless because of her strength, her bearing, her attitude.

I particularly love archery, the skill I gave to Merry, because of the calmness, strength and training needed to wield a bow effectively.

The bow is a simple weapon, about as low tech as weapons get. But is rich in tradition and history. It is associated with power, nature, myth and legend whether it is Diana the Huntress, or the Amazonian warrior queens.

But any sporting activity will work. I love the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. And the truth of it is, the more you do, the more you push yourself, the more you can do in all areas of your life.

My message to girls is this: Forget the dopamine hit from an Instagram like of your bikini’d body. Go for the endorphins surge of a fast run, a weights session, a game of tennis, a session of archery. Pick up your bows and aim for the gold.

And writers and film makers, let’s give our girls heroines worthy of the name.

What makes a good thriller?

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in News | 0 comments

1)  Characters we care about.

There has been a recent trend to create extreme characters of varying degrees of psychopathology:

Lizbeth Salander– Girl with the Dragon tattoo –

Vanessa Michael Munro – from Taylor Stevens The Informationist and The Innocent – a multi-lingual, knife wielding, self-medicating psychopathic murderer with a cause.

Jack Reacher with his attachment issues

We afford them the status of our heroes, we want them to lead exciting lives, but we demand pain…

  • we often like to see them confront and deal with some sort of internal struggle – Salander with her anti-social feelings conflicting with her liking of Numquist
  • sexual and or non sexual tension between the characters – romance/sex.  Most thrillers have it.  Cannot think of one without it!

2) A convincing plot – this in turn is made of:

Story-telling skills.

  • This is the almost mystical quality –Gerald Seymour in ‘A Deniable Death’.  A complex, finely told, fully realised, developed plot, with multifaceted characters
  • Variations in pace – not frenetic like some thrillers, but nuanced, taking time for reflexion, mixing it with fast action.  Seymour weaves in background like he is sitting opposite you, sharing anecdotes.  He weaves it in with all the seemingly effortless brilliance of the best writers
  • Unanticipated but plausible twists – Sarah Walters an Incidence of the Fingerpost, Robert Harris’s Ghost with its superb knife in the gut ending.   The unexpected bad guy/ the traitor.  There are not enough female traitors according to my then 11 year old son!
  • Often but not always a sense that justice has been served – viz Reahcer riding into town as a renegade Sheriff fixing the bad guys

Authenticity

This authenticity in turns depends on the following:

* A sense of place, scene setting.  Many modern thrillers take place in specialised worlds –Patricia Cornwell’s mortuaries, in my own case the worlds of finance and intelligence and terrorism.  We like stepping into different worlds, but we have to be sure to get the facts right and to wear our knowledge lightly, weaving in facts in a manner that adds to not obfuscates the plot.

* Atmosphere

* Good dialogue

* moral truths.  Its been said that modern crime novels/thrillers are talking and revealing more of the challenges and details of daily life than so called literary books, I think because they tackle big and small picture issues – Gerald Seymour’s Badger with his crumbling marriage played out against the background/foreground of the war on JIHAD.

The best authors take us to a different world where all the details make us feel it is real:

De Maurier’s brooding Cornwall

Donna Leon’s Venice

Francis Fyfield’s minor key London with its cast of misfits and outsiders.

Anything by Gerald Seymour – his Wootton Basset, his Iran

Graham Greene’s Vietnam of the Quiet American

Ian Fleming’s feast for the senses –his Blue Mountain Coffee, his shaken Martinis, his Aston Martins.  Donna Leon also has the most delicious edible feast for the sense, her Guido Brunetti books drip with delicious meals that would take any normal person hours to prepare

* A nuanced, complex morality – Graham Greene with his morally ambiguous characters, nothing as straightforward as a hero.  John Le Carre with his background world of Realpolitik, where there is no costless solution, where there is always a price.  This needs a credible, complex bad guy –Gerald Seymour’s maker of IED’s in ‘a Deniable Death – we are shown him as more than a maker of death.  We see him as a husband and father.  A normal man with a job.

Many people dream about leaving corporate life. Here’s how I did it and the lessons I learned in the process.

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in News | 0 comments

When I first stepped into the hallowed streets of the City of London as a callow 21 year old PPE graduate fresh out of Oxford, I only ever intended to stay for a few years. From when I was a little girl, I had always wanted to be a writer. Corporate life was a means to that end.

In the City, I had two objectives: a) to make as much money as I could legally in as short space of time as possible, and b) to prove a point to myself and whoever I fancied might be watching.

The City lured you in with the promise of money but it had another USP that appealed to my young and foolish ego: it prided itself on its hair-cloth-shirt toughness, insinuating that you had to be something of a superhero to survive let alone thrive.

There weren’t any super heroines back then in the American investment bank I went to work for. I was the first woman they employed in European corporate finance. Back then, the glass ceiling was at entry-level and I was thrilled to have smashed it.

I didn’t think of myself as super-heroine but as a survivor. The work was an intellectual challenge, prospering in that environment was a psychological challenge and not becoming habituated to the money washing around me was perhaps an ethical and moral challenge.

Dealing in astronomical sums of money and being lavishly rewarded can be very corrupting, can lead you to think that you deserve the money, that you are entitled to the money, and that you need that amount of money to live a satisfactory life.

I was determined not to buy into all that. I bought a flat in an unfashionable part of Chelsea with a mortgage that my city salary and bonus would enable me to pay off within a few years, and a 10-year-old entry-level BMW that I would be able to afford to keep when my City days were over.
I cycled to work every day, partially to keep fit, partially to save money.

I had a plan and I stuck to it. I deviated occasionally and allowed myself indulgences, but the greatest indulgence of all is time and money buys time. After seven years as a leveraged buyout and high-risk specialist, it was time to leave.

I had for several years been searching for a plot, and then, one day, I was sitting at my desk, feeling particularly annoyed with my boss, and wondering idly how much trouble I could cause financially, when the bare bones of a story leapt into my head.

It was a totally illegal plan, it would have made a lot of money, but I like to sleep easy at night, and so instead of doing it, I wrote about it. After six months, I knew that this plot could turn into a book.

I was young, free, and single. After seven years I had saved up enough of what the wonderful novelist James Clavell’s heroine called her f… you money. It was time to take a risk, to turn my back on my large six-figure salary and bonus, and the status and security that went with it.

I remember the day I handed in my notice. I felt as if I had jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. It seemed like I was in freefall for weeks afterwards. It was a gloriously heady feeling.

I wrote for 18 months, refining the plot until it was time to test the reality of my dream. Through a friend of a friend I was introduced to a literary agent. I went to see him, handed over my manuscript. It was a Thursday.

Then in some strange feat of serendipity, a kind of fortune favours the brave moment, a bizarre thing happened over the weekend.

About four months earlier, I had written a speculative letter to the Sunday Times, where I suggested writing an article about my experiences in the City. I was contacted a few weeks later by the editor of the Sunday Times Magazine who said absolutely, yes please, do write an article for us about what it is like to be a woman in that extremely testosterone-fuelled environment.

So I did. I was then summoned to a photo shoot that involved me, a gorgeous pinstriped Ralph Lauren trouser suit, and ten male models.
I had no idea when the article would appear, but, as luck would have it, it came out, covering six pages, on the Sunday immediately following my Thursday meeting with the literary agent.

This produced two rather wonderful and wholly anticipated results: one, an auction ensued amongst a number of publishing houses to buy my novel and two, I was contacted by about six different highly prestigious and successful financial boutiques and offered jobs (I have to say at this point, nothing in my article suggested that I wished to return to finance.)

This was 20 years ago. The book was Nest of Vipers – an adrenaline fuelled insight into the life of an investment banker, Sarah Jensen, who was recruited by the Governor of the Bank of England to go undercover in her investment bank to investigate an insider-trading ring that stretched from a central bank to the Mafia. Unbeknownst to her, she was also working for MI6. The novel went on to be published in over thirty territories and to be optioned three times for movies.

I am now on book number 13. Jumping out of my investment banking career had been a risk worth taking on every level.

I suspect that a number of you reading this are contemplating or have contemplated leaving the corporate system and so my advice to you would go along the following lines:

* While you are inside the system, be wary of buying into it and into the lifestyle to match it if you are intending to leave it, particularly in highly paid professions such as investment banking. Investment banking is a great way to amass your f… you money, what I more politely refer to as my running away money, but only if you do not spend like an investment banker.

* Many women in corporate life can still in some ways feel like outsiders. As the first woman employed by Bankers Trust’s European corporate finance department, I was patently and obviously an outsider and always felt like one. That was a real advantage. Relish and use that feeling. It gives you perspective, the ability to stand aside and look at your position and your broader options in the outside world and gives you greater flexibility in terms of the choices you might go on to make. There is no wonderfully set career path stretching out ahead of you. You have far greater freedom to make it up as you go along.

It’s been shown in personality tests/behavioural profiles that entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly outsiders. Being too wedded to corporate life can blunt your desire and ability to take risks with your career. Being an able quantifier of risk for your organisation often does not extend to being able to quantify risk as regards your own life.

I’m a contrarian by nature and it’s led to some odd but potentially beneficial opportunities: the first was my Sunday Times article which I had thought was a very public exercise in boat-burning, in deliberately removing any fallback position, any hint of a Plan B should Plan A fail. I believed that the very absence of a Plan B would make me work harder to ensure Plan A worked!

How contrary was it then that my article and my attitude produced all these offers. I’m sure had I gone knocking on their doors the week before those same doors would have remained closed to me.

This leads me to a wider point. On several notable occasions in my career both as an investment banker and as a writer, it’s only when I have been prepared to turn my back on my dreams and relinquish them that various huge opportunities have suddenly materialised. Over a period when I lived in the Middle East, when I was far from my markets, unable to write the kind of intelligence world meets financial world thrillers that were my staples because of local sensitivities, I came to the conclusion that though I deeply loved writing, not just as a career but as a vocation, it was time to think about embarking on a third career.

I decided to take it easy for a week and drink coffee, read some good books, have a chance to spend more time with my friends during the school day, all that good stuff, when two things happened…. I got an email from an agent based in New York called David Vigliano saying he had read my books and was very interested in discussing representation with me. I also got an email from a Hollywood-based movie producer who wanted to enter into an agreement with me to option some books of mine for movies.

I decided that as cosmic messages go, this was a pretty big one and that my future was as a writer. So it has proved so far, and long may it continue to prove I hope and pray.

Perhaps grasping onto a desire too tightly will always mean that achieving it is outside your reach whereas if you can let go and be more open minded, things will come to you. I know it sounds rather mystical, but the above experiences are too powerful for me to dismiss it!

Being an author these days really means that you are an entrepreneur so a lot of my experiences and the lessons I have drawn from them can be applied across the spectrum to different areas of entrepreneurship besides writing. I hope some of these above might be of help. For those of you who are budding writers here are a few tips that have helped me.

* Write a whole draft before you begin editing. Writing and editing at the same time is a dispiriting and inhibiting process. Just get the first draft down and then you can play around with it.

* Make use of the most current technology to help you. I don’t type really well or very quickly but I have always typed out my novels on my desktop computer. However, just over a year ago, an old friend of mine who is an investigative journalist told me I was mad not to write about the story of my kidnap and detention in Iran. I started to think about it, suggested it to my agent who leapt at the idea. He said, look if you can write it in the next two months, we can publish it at the same time as your latest thriller, Ark Storm, which was due to be published nine months later.

Two months is a tight deadline, especially for someone who cannot type very well. So I did something I had been contemplating for a while. I installed DragonDictate voice recognition software on my computer. And I dictated the book, the memoir, which would go on to be called Hostage, Kidnapped on high seas, the true story my captivity in Iran. And I discovered a very welcome side benefit. I had wanted this memoir to sound much more intimate than my novels. I wanted it to read as if it were a tale being told at a dinner party perhaps to someone I had just met, one of those rare and special human beings who manage to elicit the most candid of confessionals.

And it worked. The act of dictating bypassed the overthinking intellectual part of my brain and turned out to be some of the best writing I have ever done. Instead of having to do my customary ten drafts I did only three.

If you are writing Instead of dictating, still read your work aloud. You will pick up many infelicities and awkwardnesses in the writing that silent reading and editing just will not detect.

We all know the maxim, write what you know, but also research and use what you know. Dictate great snatches of fabulous dialogue which you have heard in the workplace into your phone and then email them to yourself to save them and use them. This hones your ear for dialogue and also keeps fresh the characterising lexicon of whatever workplace you happen to be in and will render your book much more immediate and real to readers.

Remember, everything is material. Especially any terrible bosses. You can make sure they come to a spectacularly unpleasant end in your novel.

As I found during my seven years in the City, there’s always a silver lining.

Scientist fears CIA is attempting to weaponise weather

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in News | 0 comments

What if you could control the weather?   It’s a question that has exercised mankind for millennia.   Now evidence has emerged that the US Intelligence community is funding climate research in what a leading climate scientist fears is a step towards controlling and weaponizing weather.

Professor Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has revealed in a recent conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San José how three years ago he received a telephone call from two men who claimed to be working for the CIA.  Apparently they said: “we are working for the CIA and would like to know if some other country was controlling our climate would we be able to detect it?”

Robock said he was scared by the call revealing that he thought that the CIA operatives were also wondering “if we wanted to control someone else’s climate could they detect it?”

Further evidence of the CIA’s interest in climate emerged when the National Academy of Sciences published a report on tacking climate change.  One volume of the report concentrated on ways to manipulate clouds or the earth’s surface to reflect more sunlight out to space and the other targeted means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  The CIA was one of the major funders of the report which led Professor Robock to wonder what exactly is the Agency’s interest?

The CIA did not respond when asked to comment.

The Agency set up a Centre on Climate Change and National Security in 2009.  It was closed down in 2012 but evidently the CIA’s interest in climate continues.  It raises the question – was this office truly closed down or has it just gone underground?  Has it become just one more deniable op?

When it did operate, the Centre drew heavy criticism from Republicans who regarded it as a distraction from the clearer and more present dangers posed by terrorism.   Which begs the question, what if weather manipulation could be used as an act of terrorism?

That is the premise of my novel Ark Storm, published in fall 2014 by Tor Forge Books in hardcover and just released in paperback.  InArk Storm I describe how a real life scientific innovation that can make it rain is used to stage a terrorist attack on the West Coast of the United States of America.

I stumbled on the science behind Ark Storm when I was living in Dubai.

It was the summer of 2010.  I read that dramatically heavy rains were falling in the deserts of neighbouring El Ain in the United Arab Emirates causing unprecedented floods.  

In that region, the historical average number of rainfall events for June through September is two.  The National Weather Service forecast zero rain events over that period.  But it did rain. On fifty two separate occasions.    And it hailed and galed and thundered.  It made the international news. 

When I investigated further, I hear rumors of masts in the desert, of scientists and computer models.

It sounded like something out of a James Bond movie.  And then I read an article which explained what had been going on.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1343470/Have-scientists-discovered-create-downpours-desert.html

It was the work of scientists.  Technicians were mounting ionizers on masts, producing electrons which attached to dust particles in the atmosphere. These dust particles rose by convection till they reached the right height for cloud formation where they attracted water molecules floating in the air which then started to condense around them.  Billions of droplets of rain formed and fell…

So far, so Bondian.  Then I heard about the latest twist where the ionizers are sent up on drones… Which made me think of terrorists…

This technology is a game changer, capable of bringing rain to areas of drought, to making once marginal farmland richly productive.All that’s needed is a minimum humidity level of thirty per cent, the ionizers correctly programmed to emit just the right quantity of short-living ions over the appropriate time period and circulation pattern to charge the natural aerosol particles and masts or drones to get the ionizers into the correct positions.

It is worth tens of billions of dollars; it is something that people would kill for, nations would go to war for.

 Is it any wonder that intelligence agencies such as the CIA are interested…

The technology works by tapping into what is known as the pipelines of water in the sky.   The largest of these pipelines are known as atmospheric rivers.  We have only been aware of the existence of these rivers for around five or six years due to advances in satellite imaging technology.

Most people looking up on a clear day would never think that just a few miles above their heads a huge ribbon of moist air hundreds of kilometers wide and over two thousand long could be coursing through the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 12.5 meters a second.

Small atmospheric river storms hit around the world every year.  But every so often, a monster emerges. In California they are preparing for the next one. A team of 117 scientists, engineers, public policy and insurance experts under the umbrella of the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project worked for two years to create the hypothetical scenario of what such a storm could be and what damage it would wreak across the state of California.  In an ARk Storm 1000 scenario, this river, described by the head of the ARk Storm Unit as “like Forty Mississippis,” races from the tropics toward the west coast of the US, then hits, and keeps on hitting. The Storm Door opens and fails to close.  This is a storm so intense it has been described as “like Hurricane Katrina pushed through a keyhole.”

The scenario goes like this; winds of up to 125 km’s per hour, rain falling in feet rather than inches, nine million homes flooded, parts of LA under twenty foot of water, one and a half million residents evacuated, four weeks of solid rain, an area three hundred miles long and twenty miles wide under water, innumerable mud slides,  multiple casualties, a trillion dollars worth of damage.

A meteorological nightmare and a catastrophe for the state of California.  Last time something like this hit was eighteen sixty-one to eighteen sixty-two. Witnesses describe a flying wall of water that swept people and livestock to their deaths. California’s Central Valley was turned into an inland sea for months.  Such a storm would be more devastating than the Shake Out Earthquake and its probability of hitting is about the same.  Both are expected imminently in geological terms.  ARk Storm 1000 is arguably overdue.

I thought what if the ionization technology were to fall into the wrong hands… what if somebody decided to use it to ramp up an ordinary atmospheric river storm into the ARk Storm 1000?

That is fiction.  The technology is fact.

It is the realisation of an ancient fantasy.  We have mapped the surface territories of the earth, we are valiantly progressing in our attempts to plumb the deep, we are making inroads into space.  We have seeded clouds with some local, limited success.  But despite efforts across the millennia, mankind has been unable to control the weather.  Until now.  As a result of the ionization technology, we can in a limited but very powerful and dramatic way, manipulate the weather.

Now man with all his hubris in the best traditions of a Greek tragedy can attempt to play God. And who will pay the price? The rich and powerful in some morality tale, or the poor and the weak in the all-too-familiar play of Realpolitik…?

Longbow Girl to be published on September 3rd

Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 in Books, News | 0 comments

Longbow Girl to be published on September 3rd

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my latest novel, Longbow Girl, on September 3rd.

This is a book for everyone who loves adventure, mystery,  bravery and history.

Longbow Girl is for children and young adults, though friends of mine who might like to but can no longer describe themselves as young adults, have read and loved it so I think it has an appeal to all ages.

It is about a young girl called Merry Owen and her adventures in the wild Welsh mountains.

It is published by the wonderful Chicken House Books, founded by the legendary Barry Cunningham, discoverer and publisher of Harry Potter whilst at Bloomsbury.  I am so lucky to have him and my brilliant editor, Rachel Leyshon who spotted this book in the wood piles, in my life.

Longbow Girl has been many years in the making.  You can read below (and see photos) about its history and how I lived out some of the plot many years ago, when I was a young girl, riding through the Welsh mountains on my pony Jacintha, and imagining….

 

What is an El Niño event and why should we care?

Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Articles, News | 0 comments

What is an El Niño event and why should we care?

Australian scientists officially declare the onset of a ‘substantial’ El Niño event in the tropical Pacific.

The last mega Nino in 1997 had powerful and catastrophic effects on global weather. It caused 22,000 deaths world-wide and cost $33 billion in flood and drought-related damage.
Sea

What is El Nino?

The Christ child they called it, the fishermen of Northern Peru, who noticed around Christmas-time in certain years, a warm counter current flowing from the north, extending far south, lasting for months. We now know it can increase the water temperature by between four and ten degrees Centigrade. This warming of the ocean devastated the fishermen’s livelihood because it drove away the anchovies, and other fish, in search of the colder waters in which they thrive, but it pleased the farmers, some of the time, because it rained in the deserts, allowed them to grow crops in normally barren land. But El Nino’s didn’t always benefit them. The Moche civilisation was destroyed in the late 6th century when, following thirty years of drought, a prolonged El Nino brought year after year of torrential rains that washed away their crops and buildings and eventually eroded their entire civilisation. They tried everything they could to placate the weather Gods. Hundreds of fractured skeletons were found pertaining to that period. Human sacrifices thrown desperately from cliffs.

El Nino has a lot of blood on his hands. We have attributed China’s Great Famine of 1877-8 to an El Nino event. Between nine and thirteen million people perished and seventy million were severely affected. It is a global phenomenon. At its peak, the warm pool of water can extend as far as one third of the way around the globe and cover an area one and a half times the size of the United States. It can bring rain where there is normally drought, and drought where there is normally rain.

How often does it happen?

On average every four years, a strong one every fifteen years. What we call a ‘mega-Nino’, like the one that destroyed the Moche, occurs every 400 years. But it’s not regular. A decade can go by with no Nino event, and then you could have four in as many years. Then there’s also something called La Nina, the pendulum swing that sometimes occurs after a Nino event, which brings cooler waters, and its own brand of devastation. La Nina in 1988 caused the northward displacement of the north pacific jet stream, which in turn displaced storm tracks into Canada, effectively stealing the storms that bring the USA much of its rainfall. By July of that year, 43% of contiguous USA was suffering from severe or extreme drought. It was like the years of the Great Dust Bowl. Grain growers lost more than 19 billion dollars and the world’s grain reserves were halved.’

What effect is global warming having on el Niño events?

El Niño events are getting more ferocious. In the twentieth Century, El Nino’s have been stronger than for the past 130,000 years. The last Mega-Nino occurred in 1997. It caused 22,000 deaths world-wide and cost $33 billion in flood and drought-related damage. No-one predicted it with any decent lead-time, nor did they predict how long it would stay, or how severe the consequences would be.

Who feels it first?

Peruvian fishermen on the north coast where Peru borders Ecuador are some of the first people to physically feel a Nino event. The seas warm, I’ve swum in them myself. They are so intoxicatingly warm, where they are normally quite cool and fresh, that all the local children pile in for hours and have to be dragged out at meal times. For the children, it’s very simple; the Nino has arrived, and they make the most of it before the rains come, as they will in a matter of weeks, a few months at the most

What actually happens to the seas when an El Nino comes?

In a typical year, in spring, you get strong winds blowing towards the equator, and these, plus something called the Coriolis effect – the tendency of winds and currents to veer to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern normally – join forces to push surface waters away from the coast. To fill their place, cold water rises in what’s called an upwelling, bringing a whole host of nutrients to the surface which attract fish. Big ones and little ones. But, during El Nino events, there is a relaxation of the winds, and you get things called Kelvin waves bringing warm water eastwards from the Western Pacific. That causes a downwelling of warm water to depths of three hundred feet or more, stopping the nutrients rising to the surface. During the 1997-1998 El Nino, tens of thousands of seals and sea lions starved to death as a result.

There was also widespread flooding of low lying coastal homes because when water warms it expands and the sea level rises. And the Kelvin waves can raise sea levels on the Peruvian Ecuadorian coast by as much as ten inches.

Cameron Diaz and California’s drought

Posted by on May 19, 2015 in News | 0 comments

Cameron Diaz and California’s drought

California

As I write this, California is suffering a life changing drought. Here’s a letter I wrote which the Mail on Sunday published last week.

‘While it may amuse us that Cameron Diaz is not flushing the loo as regularly as she used to in order to conserve water in drought-stricken California, those wishing for rain need to be aware of the other end of the extreme weather spectrum. In researching my novel Ark Storm, I found that once every two hundred years a catastrophic storm hits California, and they are currently due one.

‘Last time it rained for 45 days, bankrupting the state. And storms of this magnitude are projected to become more frequent and more intense as a result of global warming. We can only hope that the rain, when it does come, will be the result of a small Ark Storm, not the terrifying ARk Storm 1000 which is due.’

photo credit: California Backyard Scene

Scientist fears CIA is attempting to weaponise the weather

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Articles, News | 0 comments

What if you could control the weather? It’s a question that has exercised mankind for millennia. Now evidence has emerged that the US Intelligence community is funding climate research in what a leading climate scientist fears is a step towards controlling and weaponizing weather.

Professor Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has revealed in a recent conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San José how three years ago he received a telephone call from two men who claimed to be working for the CIA. Apparently they said: “we are working for the CIA and would like to know if some other country was controlling our climate would we be able to detect it?”

Robock said he was scared by the call revealing that he thought that the CIA operatives were also wondering “if we wanted to control someone else’s climate could they detect it?”

Further evidence of the CIA’s interest in climate emerged last week when the National Academy of Sciences published a report on tacking climate change. One volume of the report concentrated on ways to manipulate clouds or the earth’s surface to reflect more sunlight out to space and the other targeted means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The CIA was one of the major funders of the report which led Professor Robock to wonder what exactly is the Agency’s interest?

The CIA did not respond when asked to comment.

The Agency set up a Centre on Climate Change and National Security in 2009. It was closed down in 2012 but evidently the CIA’s interest in climate continues. It raises the question – was this office truly closed down or has it just gone underground? Has it become just one more deniable op?

When it did operate, the Centre drew heavy criticism from Republicans who regarded it as a distraction from the clearer and more present dangers posed by terrorism. Which begs the question, what if weather manipulation could be used as an act of terrorism?

That is the premise of my novel Ark Storm, published in fall 2014 by Tor Forge Books. In Ark Storm I describe how a real life scientific innovation that can make it rain is used to stage a terrorist attack on the West Coast of the United States of America.

I stumbled on the science behind Ark Storm when I was living in Dubai.

It was the summer of 2010. I read that dramatically heavy rains were falling in the deserts of neighbouring El Ain in the United Arab Emirates causing unprecedented floods.

In that region, the historical average number of rainfall events for June through September is two. The National Weather Service forecast zero rain events over that period. But it did rain. On fifty two separate occasions. And it hailed and galed and thundered. It made the international news.

When I investigated further, I hear rumors of masts in the desert, of scientists and computer models.

It sounded like something out of a James Bond movie. And then I read an article which explained what had been going on.

 

It was the work of scientists. Technicians were mounting ionizers on masts, producing electrons which attached to dust particles in the atmosphere. These dust particles rose by convection till they reached the right height for cloud formation where they attracted water molecules floating in the air which then started to condense around them. Billions of droplets of rain formed and fell…

So far, so Bondian. Then I heard about the latest twist where the ionizers are sent up on drones… Which made me think of terrorists…

This technology is a game changer, capable of bringing rain to areas of drought, to making once marginal farmland richly productive. All that’s needed is a minimum humidity level of thirty per cent, the ionizers correctly programmed to emit just the right quantity of short-living ions over the appropriate time period and circulation pattern to charge the natural aerosol particles and masts or drones to get the ionizers into the correct positions.

It is worth tens of billions of dollars; it is something that people would kill for, nations would go to war for.

Is it any wonder that intelligence agencies such as the CIA are interested…

The technology works by tapping into what is known as the pipelines of water in the sky. The largest of these pipelines are known as atmospheric rivers. We have only been aware of the existence of these rivers for around five or six years due to advances in satellite imaging technology.

Most people looking up on a clear day would never think that just a few miles above their heads a huge ribbon of moist air hundreds of kilometers wide and over two thousand long could be coursing through the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 12.5 meters a second.

Small atmospheric river storms hit around the world every year. But every so often, a monster emerges. In California they are preparing for the next one. A team of 117 scientists, engineers, public policy and insurance experts under the umbrella of the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project worked for two years to create the hypothetical scenario of what such a storm could be and what damage it would wreak across the state of California. In an ARk Storm 1000 scenario, this river, described by the head of the ARk Storm Unit as “like Forty Mississippis,” races from the tropics toward the west coast of the US, then hits, and keeps on hitting. The Storm Door opens and fails to close. This is a storm so intense it has been described as “like Hurricane Katrina pushed through a keyhole.”

The scenario goes like this; winds of up to 125 km’s per hour, rain falling in feet rather than inches, nine million homes flooded, parts of LA under twenty foot of water, one and a half million residents evacuated, four weeks of solid rain, an area three hundred miles long and twenty miles wide under water, innumerable mud slides, multiple casualties, a trillion dollars worth of damage.

A meteorological nightmare and a catastrophe for the state of California. Last time something like this hit was eighteen sixty-one to eighteen sixty-two. Witnesses describe a flying wall of water that swept people and livestock to their deaths. California’s Central Valley was turned into an inland sea for months. Such a storm would be more devastating than the Shake Out Earthquake and its probability of hitting is about the same. Both are expected imminently in geological terms. ARk Storm 1000 is arguably overdue.

I thought whatif the ionization technology were to fall into the wrong hands… what if somebody decided to use it to ramp up an ordinary atmospheric river storm into the ARk Storm 1000?

That is fiction. The technology is fact.

It is the realisation of an ancient fantasy. We have mapped the surface territories of the earth, we are valiantly progressing in our attempts to plumb the deep, we are making inroads into space. We have seeded clouds with some local, limited success. But despite efforts across the millennia, mankind has been unable to control the weather. Until now. As a result of the ionization technology, we can in a limited but very powerful and dramatic way, manipulate the weather.

Now man with all his hubris in the best traditions of a Greek tragedy can attempt to play God. And who will pay the price? The rich and powerful in some morality tale, or the poor and the weak in the all-too-familiar play of Realpolitik…?