Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Put an End to Writers' Block

This post originally appeared in the Crime Readers' Association when I was *Featured Author* in March. As the readership of CRA is limited, I thought I'd share it here:

As a Psychotherapist, I’ve often worked with creative people and come across many writers, artists, actors and composers who’ve got ‘stuck’. They feel paralysed, inert and lost - then as a result, they feel frustrated and angry. You can push and push all you like, but it’s hard to make any progress under those conditions. If you struggle with Writers Block, try a bit of self-analysis. In my experience, the first question to ask yourself is, ‘Have I lost interest?’

Lack of Engagement with the Project

You know that feeling – you sit at your keyboard and can’t get started (suddenly finding emails, other people’s blogs, washing up etc, far more compelling). Consider the following. Does the idea of the story light you up or make you feel heavy?

I’m pleased to say, this has only happened to me once. I had to sit back and ask myself what was wrong. Had I lost interest in a character, got bored with the turns the story had taken - or was I fed up with writing altogether? I knew it wasn’t the latter, but when I thought about it, several problems hit me about the plot. It felt too fussy and one section felt ‘added-on’. I was finding one aspect of the story tedious and I needed one of the characters to be less wish-washy and far more definite about something.

One antidote to writers’ block is to return to the original sketches of the book. Go back to square one and take a critical look at the basic material. You may find that the original idea has gone off on a tangent. It could be that the whole premise isn’t strong enough to carry the story through or it might be that one aspect of the story is a dead end or feels flat. Try to be as objective as possible and ask yourself if what you’re doing actually works. If not – that’s fine. You’re allowed to change your mind! Writing is like that – you can take big chunks out and start again. And the great thing is – no one will ever know.

If the plot is clunky – go through your outline and highlight each ‘plot-point’ – that is, each point in the story where something major happens to influence the direction. Then decide whether each one is:
·        Fresh and unpredictable
·        Enough of a twist
·        Dramatic
If you have doubts, brainstorm at least five new directions, for example:
·        The gardener is her brother, but she doesn’t know it
·        The gardener is her brother, but he doesn’t know it
·        The gardener is her father
·        The gardener is the next victim – why?
·        The gardener has had a sex-change

Follow each of them through in your mind – do they excite you? Then find a sixth option!

In my case, when I felt stuck, I needed to do some serious fixing - I deleted huge sections before I could get excited about the story again. For me, the clue is always about ENERGY. So, ask yourself what you are excited about in your writing. Is it that you’re dying to see how the struggle between two of your characters works out? Perhaps you love the idea of writing a scene where everything is hampered by snow, or you’re fascinated with how your protagonist will get themselves out of a life-threatening situation. If you’re not excited about writing your story – find something – a theme, a setting, a situation, an incident, a character – you are excited about. Then go from there. Don’t write what you know – write what you’re interested in.

If you find you’re not compelled to write anything at all and nothing excites you – perhaps you need a break from it. Take off as much time as you need from it. Read instead or go for long walks. Tell yourself – no writing – for however many days and see how it feels. We all need time to switch off and refill our ‘creative well’.

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

The Crime Readers' Association is well worth joining - it's FREE - lots of info about Authors! 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

All about Secrets - Recommended Psychological Thrillers (with 3 Reviews)

Here are Three TOP Psychological Thrillers I'd recommend so far this year. They all feature 'Secrets' in some form or other - one of my favourite themes for a novel - who can resist them?!:

The Accident - C L Taylor
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sue Jackson has the perfect family but when her teenage daughter Charlotte deliberately steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma she is forced to face a very dark reality.

A compelling and exciting ride from C L Taylor. Charlotte (15) lies in a coma after an apparent attempted suicide - her act seems to come out of the blue - until her mother finds out her daughter was harbouring a 'secret'. Fraught domestic scenarios follow as Susan tries to unravel the truth about her daughter's final days before the accident. The present storyline together with extracts from a diary in the past work well in terms of dramatic build up. The lead character, Susan, is nervy, neurotic and paranoid but gradually we understand why - as she faces every woman's worst nightmare. Full of narrative drive - highly recommended.

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband's hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death. Curious, she opens it - and time stops.

Who could resist the initial hook? - a hidden letter stating 'only open after my death'! The revelation (which doesn't come right at the start, and rightly so), did make me gasp out loud. Then what is known can never be 'unknown' and there's no going back...

This is a story of secrets, actions and their consequences told through two separate families and their individual tragedies, exploring the events, random circumstances and choices that can send our lives 'ricocheting in an entirely different direction'.

There are complex threads that gradually overlap and link everything together. Very well managed, I'd say. The writing style is intense, up-close and personal, often humorous and dripping with emotion (could be a bit too chick-lit in style for some readers?).

The Darkening Hour - Penny Hancock
My rating: 5/5 stars

A middle class woman at her wits' end. A struggling migrant worker with few options for survival. When tensions boil over, who will be the first to snap?

Really excellent novel (the follow-up to one of my favourites from last year, Tideline) from Penny Hancock. I love her gentle lilting writing style and the personal voice, within domestic settings (again, like her debut novel, within reach of The Thames). A tragic story and not so removed from fact, which makes it even more poignant. Very clever twists and lots of 'heart in your mouth' moments. Thoroughly recommended.

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What's your Motivation? (and GIVEAWAY)

Iva Barr - Bedfordshire News
On Sunday, I was dipping in and out of the TV coverage of the London Marathon – in awe of all the people who were attempting it. As a Psychotherapist (and now a crime writer), one of my keys areas of interest has always been 'motivation'. In psychological thrillers, it’s about what drives someone to commit despicable acts; in therapy I’m curious about what gives people a purpose in life, a reason to carry on against the odds.

I heard that the oldest runner in this year’s Marathon was 86 years old. Now – to me, that is phenomenal. Iva Barr is from Bedford, raising money for Whizz-Kidz, which transforms disabled kids’ lives across the UK. Iva started running marathons at the age of 55, and has run 23 in all. ‘I sometimes forget how old I am and that it takes me a little longer to recover these days than it used to,’ she says in an interview last year. ‘I’m just so lucky to be able to do it.’ She doesn’t look or sound like she’s 86...

What is it that makes her turn up again, in 2014? Her inspiration comes from the children she supports, who, she says ‘…are outgoing and articulate when sharing their hopes for the future – they’re just so inspiring!’

There was another guy who was mentioned on the radio – I didn’t catch his name – but he had fractured his knee cap a week before the race. Bad luck – maybe next year – you might think, but no, he was doing it all on crutches. He, like many others, finds motivation in the charity he’s running for.

Many runners have lost a loved one and pound the streets with them in mind, to raise money. Others set themselves the challenge, feeling it is justified for them to endure hardship, either because their loved one fought against all the odds to survive a debilitating illness or set back – or because they died. ‘I’m doing it for my father,’ you hear people say. ‘I’m doing it, because if my brother could get through his dreadful illness, then I can do this.’ For others, it’s about doing something they consider worthwhile in the memory of their loved ones.

Photograph: Balint Hamvas |

Personally – I think anyone who runs the marathon is a hero. It’s an incredible feat, whatever your age (to do it dressed as a hippo with 10kg of extra weight – that’s the weight of  ten bags of sugar -  is beyond unthinkable!).

 Martin Neal who did just that this year, says: ‘I'm celebrating my 20th marathon, so it felt appropriate to really challenge myself.’ Simple as that.

Whether your motivation in life is gratitude, hope, passion, being inspired by or for others – keep it firing on all cylinders in the areas that are important to you.

My self-help ebook, THE SELF-ESTEEM JOURNAL (writing as Alison Waines), is on offer at only 99p until 21st April – so if you fancy trying some gentle exercises in remembering how special you are – take a look at it. (All *5 star* reviews on original edition - for some reason they weren't carried across to this new edition - I have asked...)

GIVEAWAY - I've got 2 FREE hard copies of THE SELF-ESTEEM JOURNAL for two lovely people (UK only - chosen at random) who post the following Tweet to their followers:

Low ebb? BOOST your SELF-ESTEEM 'The Self-Esteem Journal' Alison Waines *99p* until 21st April! @AJWaines

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Explicit Violence in Crime Novels

I’ve been watching a series of documentaries on TV recently (The Plantagenets) and recoiling at the number of times Professor Robert Bartlett tells us Kings and Princes were captured and then had their heads cut off. It was common practice back then, together with bodies being impaled and dismembered.

Image: British Library
Another British historian, Ian Mortimer, writes about the often brutal reality of everyday life during the Middle Ages and the violent excesses of the time. He puts this down, in part, to the fact that most people were wandering around drunk, as alcohol was considered the only way to ingest liquids without poisoning oneself.

The ‘history of violence’ is an intriguing, but huge, topic I am unable to give justice to here, but it links in with worldwide concern that in our present culture, violence as depicted graphically - on film, video-games and in books - influences the behaviours of people who already have latent violent tendencies. The theory is these vulnerable individuals experience barbaric violence vicariously through a crime novel or film and are spurred on to play it out for real.

I think this topic is more likely to be the subject of a PhD than a Blog - but ultimately, my investigations into the impact of extreme fictional violence leave me with more questions than answers. Here are a few of them:

  1. Do we become inured to violence and regard it as ‘run of the mill’ when we come across it so frequently – in the media (real) and in a fictional manner?
  2. Do we sometimes fail to differentiate violent episodes on the news from those we see in a fictional setting?
  3. Does the constant depiction of violence in novels, dramas, films etc lead people who are already emotionally unstable to act out in a copy-cat fashion?
  4. Do writers feel they need to shock – with excessive sex and/or violence - in order to set themselves apart?
  5. Should we be worried about people who enjoy graphic violence or is that merely a safe way for them to contain it?

Anders Breivik found sane: (Norway massacre, 2011): Telegraph

Even Jo Nesbø - the king of Norwegian Crime Fiction - admits he went too far with violence in his novel, The Leopard. 'It was me being just a little bit too pleased with my own description of pain and horror, and looking back, I regret it, because it wasn't needed. A Finnish designer once said everything that is not needed on a house will sooner or later seem ugly. I think it's the same with words. I put those sentences there for the wrong reasons.'

Personally, I find novels and films with too many gory details unpleasant and distasteful.  But what is 'too much?' Coming from a Psychotherapy perspective, I recognise that everyone's level of what is acceptable is likely to be different. But should we be monitoring it with more vigilance?

I’d be pleased to hear your views on this issue...

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Reading – the Ultimate Stress-Buster

Which is the best way to Beat Stress?

·        Listening to music
·        Going for a walk
·        Watching a film
·        Settling down with a cup of tea
·        Playing Video games…
Actually - none of them work as well as reading a good book, which comes out on top in terms of calming frazzled nerves. You only need to read, silently, for SIX minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, according to research carried out at the University of Sussex, in 2009. Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in our muscles and the heart.

In the tests, listening to music reduced stress levels by 61 per cent, having a beverage lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent. Playing video games brought them down by 21 per cent, but still left the volunteers with heart rates above their starting point. Reading managed to reduce stress levels by 68 per cent.

But isn’t watching TV just as good for stress? Sitting down to our favourite soap or enjoying a film with a box of popcorn? Apparently not, because while we’re watching TV we can still be thinking about other things, including worries and concerns. When we read, however, we have to concentrate more as we follow each word to allow it to make sense. Reading uses more of our brain which in turn helps us to switch off the stressful parts. Reading is more than merely a distraction, but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate creativity and cause us to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.

So does the type of book matter? 

Reading the newpaper may not be the best choice if it makes you feel angry or helpless. Pick a novel with a jacket blurb that intrigues you and makes you want to start reading the story straight away. Or read about an activity that you enjoy - a hobby, travel, cooking – a topic that can help you escape into another world. 

What about Murder Mysteries?

Why would we want to read about crime, when we’re trying to relax?! I think the answer is here:

‘Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of amusement than any other single subject.’ Dorothy L. Sayers

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.