Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Drive, Imagine, Write - a guest post by Laura Treacy Bentley

I would like to welcome Laura Treacy Bentley to my blog today. Laura's short story Night Terrors was published on 16 April 2015. Night Terrors is a prequel to her novel The Silver Tattoo, which was published on 2 April 2013.

Drive, imagine, write
By Laura Treacy Bentley

No moon or stars out tonight, and I’m driving alone down that dark country road again. No GPS or radio switched on because I need to make my own music, and that music is fiction. So, it’s just me and my imagination waiting to witness what lies ahead, and the headlights lead the way and seek out the next bend in the road. I identify with E.L. Doctorow when he said “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
That’s how I feel every time I sit down to write a novel. It’s a lonely but exciting journey. I want to be just as surprised as the reader when they round the next curve with me. Do I have an outline, a plan, or a road map?  No, usually not, but I may have a mile marker or two in mind like the setting, what my protagonist needs/wants, the opening line, the climax, or possibly the end of the novel, but it’s different each time I travel that midnight road.

My first novel was historical fiction based on family history and a dramatic event in the life of my great grandfather who lived in western Maryland. I researched like crazy, studied genealogy, collected old letters, interviewed a relative, and talked to everyone I could at the time. I learned the town history, read related books, compiled a scrapbook of photos and research, visited the historical society and the ancestral home, talked with a local priest, toured a grist mill, and finally began a first draft. I used the real names of my ancestors and had fun making up dialogue and imagining and fictionalizing the story.

It’s been so long ago now, but I do remember that I wrote it slowly, chapter by chapter, and then I’d pour over my research notes. When it was in decent shape, I asked a couple of people to read it. They were very kind and honest, but it was my first novel, and, to be truthful, it wasn’t very good. I was a novice and didn’t realise that my poetic license might not sit well with the sacred memories of others. I knew that my imaginings were not always historically accurate, that it was an incomplete and imperfect draft with many errors, but it was a fascinating story that wanted to be told. Perhaps with heavy editing, I could have made it work, breathed new life into it, but I was an amateur and had a reached a dead end road, so I put it in a drawer. Chalk up one important trip down that lonely dark road to simply get my feet wet and learn how to write a novel.

My second novel is a psychological thriller set primarily in Ireland, and its genesis was a photo that I had taken of a busker in Dublin, Ireland. Later it became my inspiration for a short story. I’m also a poet, so I’m often driven by image, and the photograph was full of mystery and intrigue. I had the great luck of belonging to a writers’ group called The Rogues, and everyone was serious about finishing a novel, so the bar was high. I wrote new chapters every two weeks or so, and we met and critiqued each others’ work over food, wine, and laughter. It was an exciting and immensely rewarding time, and I couldn’t seem to type fast enough. Often after our meeting, I would go home and immediately revise based on their suggestions and write a new chapter that very night. I still had maps and photos and journals and research scattered all over my office, but I kept my eyes on the road this time and finished it in about a year before I began my deep revisions. The great news was that eventually I acquired an agent and after major ups and downs my novel was finally published. This second road trip was more fun but still intense and thrilling.

A mystery is my current work-in-progress, and it also began as a short story that I drew from and expanded upon during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. The wild pace of trying to write an entire novel in one month was exhilarating and simply crazy. It required a strict commitment from me to write like mad every day to complete the 50,000 word goal, and I did! I set the kitchen timer for one hour or more each day and typed without stopping. Some of it was gibberish, some inspired, but that’s the beauty of NaNo. What matters is that the fear of writing, the terror of sitting down at the computer and opening up the document each day is gone. The freedom of composing and imagining with no censorship is very freeing. It also gave me a deadline which I needed, and it made me accountable as I recorded my progress online each day. Now I’m intensely editing this November and am checking in with a friend who is writing her first novel during NaNoWriMo.  As her word count goes up, mine goes down as I revise. It’s so great to have a friend to report my daily mileage to and keep me honest. Although editing is very different, it keeps me on the road to rediscovering and reinventing my novel and, hopefully, makes it more powerful.

So, what did I learn?

Just tell the story first. Don’t let historical accuracy and intensive research create numerous speedbumps along the way. The detailed research can be added in later during the revision process, but in the beginning you just need to write the story. Don’t Google everything and get totally lost on a side road, and don’t share your work before it’s finished.

A small writing group of hand-picked members who are highly motivated is a compelling force. Friends, food, and laughter keep your spirits up. If you write just one page a day, you’ll end up with a 365 page novel in one year. If you write two pages a day, you’ll have a draft in six months, etc.

NaNoWriMo can help you write a novel very fast! It keeps your fingers typing, and you can lock your evil critic in the closet. Be prepared to edit heavily in the weeks and months ahead in order to shape and cut and pace and polish. You’ll acquire a new set of eyes and a fresh perspective when you reread it.

Now, relax, have fun, put yourself first, make a commitment to someone and report in each day or every week, create a deadline, tell everyone on Facebook/Twitter that you are writing a draft/editing, try to write the same time every day until it becomes habit, set the alarm on your cell phone or kitchen timer, close your office/bedroom door, and open the document. For me that’s half the battle! Once it’s open, you have to look at it and read the last thing you wrote.  Then you will be tempted to fix just one comma or one misspelling or add/delete one word, and before you know it, you’re cruising down that dark road again looking for adventure and the hours will disappear.

It’s important to go outside every day and walk or run or swim or bike or exercise. Sitting in a room for hours takes its toll. I carry my camera with me all the time now when I take walks, and it’s very calming to save a moment in a photograph. It feels like a poem sometimes, a small meditation, and I even created a Facebook page a year ago called Poetography to store those moments in. Looking for beauty or unique photos to take, keeps me framing scenes in my mind very much like writing. I’ve become more sensitive and aware of my surroundings and notice the smallest things. I’ve gone from looking to really seeing life around me, and I use this time to refuel and imagine and problem solve plot points in my novel on a subconscious level. Like Doctorow, I believe that if you keep your eyes on the road ahead, your imagination will lead you to your final destination. Keep driving, keep imagining, and, above all, keep writing!

About Laura Treacy Bentley

Laura Treacy Bentley is the author of a psychological thriller set primarily in Ireland called The Silver Tattoo (2013) and Night Terrors: A Short Story Prequel to The Silver Tattoo (2015), plus a poetry collection Lake Effect (2006).  Widely published in the United States and Ireland, she won a Fellowship Award for Literature from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and her poetry has been featured on Poetry Daily, A Prairie Home Companion, and O Magazine, among many others. She had the honor of reading her poetry with the legendary Ray Bradbury in 2003. Laura is an avid reader and a big fan of singer Eva Cassidy. She loves to take photographs for fun and share them on Poetography

Find Laura Treacy Bentley through her website or on Twitter - @LauraTBentley.

Find Night Terrors on Amazon UK

Find The Silver Tattoo on Amazon UK
My review on Amazon UK:
The Silver Tattoo is based on old Irish myths, literature and legends. This is the chilling story of Leah, who has left her comatosed husband Conor to study Irish Studies at Dublin’s Trinity College. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns more about Leah and Conor’s story, their close relationship with Conor’s best friend Ferdie and what has led Leah to her current path.

Several chilling events suggest that a stalker is following Leah’s every move, prompting her to flee to Ireland’s dangerous Cliffs of Moher, seeking refuge among the local myths and folklore. There she becomes intrigued with the story about an old Irish warrior. When a mysterious woman, who calls herself Rowan, tries to push Leah off the cliffs, Leah realises her life is in danger.

Laura Treacy Bentley writes beautiful prose, with amazing descriptions of the Irish countryside. The Silver Tattoo is a chilling, haunting and dark tale, ideal for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers and Irish legends.

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