Showing posts with label Val Tyler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Val Tyler. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 June 2018


Hay Festival.
I love it.
People don’t only read and talk about books, they inhale them.

Each year as I infiltrate the lively enchanted throng, my imagination takes flight and I am transported to castles on the green hills beyond. Brightly coloured fluttering flags form a welcome to the heroine in an amazing dress, shimmering in the light. She is bright and bold and knows no fear. Valiantly, she dispels evil from the land, the sun shines and…

Well, you get the picture. This flight of fancy isn’t very original and will never make the cut, but most of my musings don’t, they simply evaporate into the mists of time.

When I return to certain places, the surroundings can trigger old imaginings and Hay Festival is no different. I expect to conjure up something bright and lively with colour and happiness.

Each year as I arrive, I look down the tunnel of canvas into the vibrant world of books, their readers and writers. Fluttering flags, bright colours, and the hum of expectation and excitement consume me. My heart beats faster and I am transported to that place where only Hay Festival can take me.

This year was different. For a start, I went on my own. I’d never done that before. Seeing policemen with submachine guns is always a shock, but they’d been around last year too and I am thankful that precautions are taken to protect us.

I was arriving at a time when the children had mostly been taken home. Their parents and other adults who were coming to the 7 o’clocks hadn’t yet arrived. As my bag was searched and I looked down the tunnel of canvas, I was greeted with… well… nothing really. No buzz, only faded colours and, above all, few people.

Hay Festival was deserted.

In its defence, I must tell you there had just been a rainstorm and people had fled in their droves, leaving a festival I’d never experienced before. It was like walking through a ghost town. Few people had braved the conditions. The Festival I knew and loved had been washed away.

As I waited in the queue, I was in a dark place. Hushed tones of bedraggled people transformed in my world to folks full of fear and deception. Someone coughed. Eyes darted towards him apprehensively. A brolly dropped. We dived for cover. Dark shadows seeped from the tent behind us. Men in black uniforms with heavy guns huddled us together. In fear, we shuffled into the marquee, anxious faces, fearful eyes, trembling hands.

A woman shouted ‘Back off’, holding her hand towards us and we cringed into our seats as...

…everyone burst out laughing. Ruth Jones had just slipped into the character of Nessa from Gavin and Stacey. We applauded.

My imagination runs away with me some times.

Sunday, 6 May 2018


Just like everyone else, I’ve been through disagreeable, maybe even dramatic, life-changing moments. Some of these moments have been unique and people say, ‘You should write about it.’ They are probably correct, but I struggle with the timing. At what point should I write my disasters down?

If I begin while I am still entangled in my personal drama, and there have been times when I have tried, my narrative becomes an achingly boring diatribe of self-pity and/or resentment. If I wait until my emotions have calmed down, I tend to lose intensity.

People often ask me what inspires me to write and I come back with all sorts of answers that are true, but the single most important truth is this. I write books I want to read.

I don’t read as much as I would like because it takes an age for me to find a book that holds me. A Town Like Alice, The 39 Steps, The Gathering Storm are all books that interested me from the very first page. I have to work a little harder with Austen and Bronte, but they are worth the effort. But I struggle when it comes to reading and that makes me want to create the sort of book I would want to read.

It’s not necessarily action that holds me. I was enthralled by Alan Bennett’s encounter of visiting his mother in a care home. Nothing happened. I mean literally nothing, but I was totally captivated and so you could say that good writing holds me, but you would be wrong. Thomas Hardy, for instance, leaves me cold. I find Mr Hardy very gloomy and interminably long-winded. After two pages describing Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, he succinctly finishes with “In short he was 27.” I’m happier reading the short version. But I know I must be wrong about him because he is enduringly popular with people whose opinion I respect.

Things really happen in Agatha Christie. Intrigue is usually there from the very beginning, but I don’t get on with her either. That’s nothing against Ms Christie. It’s me. Whatever it is that takes my imagination is not found among her pages, although I enjoy watching her stories brought to life on the television. I can’t put my finger on what catches me, but I enjoy the stories I write.

I’ve written for Infants, for 8-12 year-olds and YA. Now I’m writing a book for adults to read. My current manuscript is about something that has happened to me. I’ve only edited it a couple of times so far – there is a very long way to go – but think I have a handle on how to make it interesting by using invented characters within the true events.

It seems to me that successful writers settle on one age-group and stick to it. We can all think of exceptions, and they are usually very, very talented. I’d never put myself in that category, but, unlike most writers, I cannot keep to one age-group.

What is wrong with me? I long to read, but struggle to find a book that captivates me. I long to write, but cannot settle on one age-group. I can’t even settle on one genre.

I suppose I’m more creative than business-like and will continue to meander through my writing career for the joy of it rather than commercial success. The money is always welcome, of course, but, for me, the greatest reward is the excitement of writing something I know I can enjoy reading.

It’s a wonderful bonus if others enjoy it too.

Friday, 6 April 2018


Tomorrow, I’m going to a wedding. This is the long-awaited day for two people I love very deeply and I’ve been looking forward to it with both excitement and trepidation.

I am excited because weddings can be joyous occasions and this one, put together on a small budget, will be full of love and happiness. I have been involved with some of the arrangements and have no doubt the day will be creative, idiosyncratic and very wonderful.

But I am full of trepidation because of my shoes 

Don’t laugh! Being on my feet most of the day is tiring. All that standing, walking and dancing for hours on end demands the right footwear. Normally, that would imply slippers inside the house and trainers outside. But, when I am at a wedding my footwear needs to be more than comfortable. It also needs to be appropriate, stylish and elegant. It means wearing the dreaded high heels.

Put simply, high heels hurt. I am not accustomed to them. At a wedding, of course, I try not to show the agony as I dance or ‘work the room’. My smile is genuine, but it also masks the pain in my lower limbs and after it’s all over, a trek to the nearest station can be hell.

I want to enjoy this wedding from beginning to end and so I decided to go in to training. I started slowly and built up an hour at a time until I could wear heels all day long without any adverse affect. For the best part of a month, I have worn heels in the house and outside. I still wear walking boots when yomping across the hills because I’m not that much of an idiot, but at all other times my slippers and trainers have stayed on the shelf and I have worn shoes with heels. Modest heels to be sure – I’ve never been a six-inch stiletto girl – but heels none the less.

This has made a huge difference. Not only have my muscles strengthened, but something else has changed. I stand taller, obviously, but also straighter. My posture is better. I feel smarter and, because of this, I’ve changed the day-to-day clothes I wear. I’ve discarded my slopping-around-the-house trousers and wear the clothes I usually where when I am going out.

It was Alec Guinness, I think, who said he built a character from the shoes up. He’s absolutely right. In my heels I feel more like a businesswoman and, consequently, I instinctively pull back my shoulders and, believe it or not, start planning my day in a more organised fashion.

If this is what happens with me, then maybe it’s the same for the characters in my stories. I don’t think I’ve often described the kind of shoes any of them wear, but if you asked me, I could tell you exactly what was on their feet.
Usually, I start building the character from the inside with his/her emotions, feelings and thoughts, and possibly a physical element like freckles or wild hair. The shoes will follow, but only in my head. I don’t often mention them. I wonder what kind of difference it would make if I began with the shoes.

Trainers tell me the wearer is sporty. Kitten heels suggests a certain feminine cheekiness, while stilettos offer glamour. Wearing indoor slippers in the street suggest a kind of sloppiness, court shoes hints at the middle class, and walking boots tell me the wearer is a country person.

Is this approach worth a try or would I be stereotyping? I have a female friend who is very high up in the professional world. She wears trainers to work. Smart trainers to be sure, expensive trainers I have no doubt, but trainers none the less. I wear trainers to be comfortable and not because I am sporty. A country friend wore her very-worn hiking boots in to a smart London shopping street to try on her bridesmaid dress and felt totally out of place simply walking down the road. She was the only one dressed for the country. Does this tell me something about her character or, if I wrote it, would I be pigeonholing her?

Maybe an actor can start his/her characterisation from the shoes up because the character is already fully formed. When I write, I am creating the character, allowing the plot to draw out different character facets until he/she is fully rounded; at least, I hope they are.

When I started this blog, I thought I might finish by deciding to change the way I start developing my characters, but I don’t think so. I will take more notice of their feet because it is always a good idea to challenge the way we write, but I don’t think I’ll be starting there.

In the meantime, think of me tomorrow in my heels. I wonder whether I will return to slippers and trainers the very next day, or perhaps I will stick with the new me.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018


Along with a great many others I have spoken at length about opening lines. A good first line will take me through at least to the end of the first chapter, tempting me into the book. A poor one can put me off the entire story; unfair perhaps, but first impressions are powerful.

I don’t know why, but much less has been written about closing lines. Personally, I agonise over writing them as much as I do the opening. Just as a good opening line draws us into the story, a good closing line finishes the tale so neatly you feel you can go to sleep satisfied.

I am reminded of the story of the young musician who was lying in bed one evening listening to his sister playing the piano downstairs. His sister was distracted, and finished without playing the final note. The young musician could not sleep until he had climbed out of bed, trailed downstairs and finished the melody. Some closing lines can make me feel like that, as if the writer has just stopped for no apparent reason other than running out of anything else to say. Those endings leave me totally dissatisfied. Other closing lines are so neatly finished that the story line is completely and satisfactorily ended. This is why I could never write a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She has finished the story. There is nothing more to be said.

"With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them."

Other endings can leave the reader with a desire to carry the tale forward. It’s sad to think that a collision with a speeding car prevented Margaret Mitchell from writing a sequel to Gone With the Wind. Scarlet’s final words suggests there was so much more in her story.

"After all, tomorrow is another day."

Occasionally, a story can stir within you such strong emotions that the reader feels bereft as the final page is finished. These stories live in my heart for ever. This how I felt at the end of The Long Green Shore by John Hepworth. The book, in which I could smell as well as visualise the jungle, is both uncompromisingly brutal and unbearably tender. The final line is a heartfelt plea that all the pain and anguish had not been in vain.

“God, there must be meaning. Fiercely he was certain there must be a meaning.
Surely, while we live we are not lost.
Surely – we are not lost – while we live.”

A story that has a clear message needs an ending that underlines that meaning, that captures the essence of the story. To my mind, no one has done this better than George Orwell at the end of Animal Farm.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

I will leave you with Maurice Sendak’s Where the While Things Are. He intended his book to be read to children, but children or no children, I think every adult should do themselves a favour by reading his closing lines aloud. His choice of words flow rhythmically off the tongue in a way that I can only describe as beautiful.

"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot."