Sunday, 28 May 2017

Southern Virtual Mini Book Festival - Introducing Carolyn Hughes

Welcome to day two of my virtual mini book festival. I hope you're enjoying it so far and it would be great to hear your thoughts.

So today I've got another three lovely authors waiting to be introduced and to share their posts with you all and first up today is Carolyn Hughes. Being a humble blogger who puts together relatively short posts to tell you a brief synopsis of a book and then share my thoughts I'm always fascinated to hear how different authors go about planning their fantastic stories. Do they have a plan right from the start or do they write by the seat of their pants, so I was thrilled when Carolyn choose the topic of plotter or panster from my list. First things first though lovely readers, here's a little introduction to the lady behind the words and her debut novel Fortune's Wheel.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Hughes

Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.

Fortunes Wheel is her first published novel, and a sequel is under way.

                                                   About the book

Plague-widow Alice atte Wode is desperate to find her missing daughter, but her neighbours are rebelling against their masters and their mutiny is hindering the search. 

June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared, and it prevented the search for her.

Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, and have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for.

Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. When one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord's son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance.

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 Despite being a fan of historical novels I haven't read Fortune's Wheel yet (If you could see my TBR you'd understand why!) but I do know that fellow blogger Michelle over on The Book Magnet has read and reviewed it and she loved it. You can check out Michelle's review here and you can also read an extract while you're there, but please note the giveaway is now closed! 😞

Now it's time to hand over to Carolyn so that she can tell you how her novel came into being.

                                            Plotter of Pantster?

When I read of authors who simply sit down and start writing their novels, to “see where the story takes them”, I find myself amazed that anyone could write like that! Not knowing what’s going to happen in the story? Having no idea of the ending? How do they do it?

Well, of course, it’s perhaps – or often – not quite as “pantsty” as it sounds. I daresay they do have some idea of the story, know something about their characters, might even have an inkling of the sort of ending they’re aiming at… But I don’t know. Because I’m not a pantster – I’m most definitely a plotter. 

What happens is something like this… 

Once I have an underlying premise for the novel, and the setting, generally at least one or two characters somehow present themselves to me (not quite sure how that happens…), initially in a rather skeletal or ghostly fashion, not much fleshed out or rounded. I then do three things, although not necessarily in the following order. 

Firstly, I flesh out the main characters somewhat, by writing a profile for each of them. I include the obvious things – their age, what they look like, their occupation/interests, where/how they live, their families and friends and so on – but also my initial notions about their motivations and anxieties. I have found that writing a bit of a journal for each main character works quite well, for getting your head around those anxieties and motivations, and for identifying their relationships – good and bad – with other characters. I do write profiles for minor characters too – my novels tend to have a large cast – but they are not usually quite as detailed as for the main ones.

Secondly, I write a broad outline – my plan – of the whole story, from start to finish, although the ending at this stage is usually pretty vague. This is more than a synopsis. For me, it’s a summary of each chapter, sometimes down to scene level. The summary of each chapter/scene is sometimes detailed, sometimes less so, depending on how much I “know” at this stage. I might even include snippets of dialogue, if they happen to occur to me. I play around with the outline for a while, trying to ensure that the story flows, that it is reasonably well-balanced in terms of light and dark, excitement and calm, and that each narrator – my novels tend to have three or four narrators – gets their “turn”. None of this is rigid, but it’s a start… 

Thirdly, I undertake some research into those aspects of the storyline or background that I don’t yet know enough about. Overall it might take months but, typically, I do enough research initially to enable me to make a reasonable stab at making a start on writing, and then continue researching as I am writing, when things inevitably arise that I realise I don’t know about at all, or have only a vague memory of and need to check. 

Then, when I feel I’ve made sufficient acquaintance with the characters, have a storyline with a halfway decent structure, and I’ve done “enough” research, I start writing the first draft.

As I write, I follow my outline, but not at all slavishly. Nothing is set in stone. I plan but I also permit change, indeed I expect change. My plan is essentially a framework of the storyline, a skeleton of events that I expand, round out and particularise with description, character interactions and dialogue into what I hope is a vibrant, page-turning novel! 

If a planned scene isn’t working, I change it, and, if necessary, I recast the outline. This happens a lot! I invariably need to add scenes that I hadn’t thought of for my outline, or change the sequence of scenes I had thought of. The characters might do or say something I hadn’t planned, so I have to go back and change something I’d written earlier. I consult the character profiles as often as I need to, adjusting them where necessary as my acquaintance with, and understanding of, the characters develop. I don’t set out knowing all of their innermost thoughts and feelings, but rather they emerge as the story proceeds, just as you gradually learn about a real friend’s thoughts and feelings as your relationship with them develops.

Of course having written the first draft, it’s then edit, edit and edit again, and again I might well change the content and/or sequence of scenes many times before I’m done. That is the way I write –it evolves over time.  

I feel that, despite the planning, the process of writing my novel remains “creative”. I suppose that the outline focuses mostly on the novel’s plot, the sequence of events, rather than the characters’ reactions to those events and their emotional responses, both of which arise during the writing and can, and invariably do, change the plot.

For me, having an outline helps to keep the fear of “writer’s block” at bay. I have a framework to work from, but, because it’s not rigid, I do still sometimes find myself unable to visualise a scene, or hear the dialogue I need to make the scene come alive. But if I didn’t have the framework, I don’t think I would be able to write the novel at all.

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Thanks for sharing your writing process Carolyn, I'm sure not everyone appreciates just how much hard work goes into writing a book. I think I'll stick to blogging as that means I only have to write short pieces and that's difficult enough sometimes! I wonder if this is what Carolyn's writing space looks like 😀

You can find out more about Carolyn and connect with her using the links below:

Silverwood Books

I'd like to say thank you to Carolyn for writing her guest post and for stopping by today, it's been a pleasure to have you here. Also thanks to Michelle at The Book Magnet for letting me link to her wonderful blog!


  1. I wonder how many of your guests are planners, Neats, and how many are make-it-up-as-you-go-alongers like me? Thanks for sharing your method, Carolyn.

  2. Interesting question, Jan! As I've suggested, I can't imagine making it ALL up as I go! Though, having said that, right now, as I'm writing the penultimate chapter of my WIP, I am indeed "making up" the current scene, because my planning wasn't - and never is - detailed enough to tell me how this little bit of the story was going to work. Anyway, it would be great to hear from other writers about how they do it!

  3. Hi Carolyn, I really enjoyed this. I think i work in a similar way to you and do a lot of planning etc which then get changed and redone many times as a I write! Your book sounds very interesting. x

    1. Thank you! Yes, there must be lots of us "semi-planners" about. I do hope you are able to read Fortune's Wheel sometime, and look forward to hearing what you think of it. X

  4. Very interesting hearing about the different ways a book's story comes together.
    Thank you ladies !