Always a treat to have Liam here, to talk about his latest, Heat Wave Astoria.
Were there any hard to write parts of this story? And if so, why were they hard to write?
There weren’t specific parts of the story, but there were two elements I found harder than I had before with other stories: setting, and point of view.
For me, it was unusual setting a story in a place I wasn’t completely familiar with. I usually set my stories in places I’ve grown up with – Hampshire, or know very well – London while I was at university, or live now – Essex. But this story was set in somewhere I’d visited on holiday in 2012 for just under a week. I knew the setting because I found out it’s where many of my favourite childhood films were filmed – The Goonies, Short Circuit, Free Willy. So, for Heat Wave Astoria I had to look back over my holiday pictures from when we’d visited Astoria. I also re-read my diary for that week to remind myself what I was thinking, how I’d felt visiting this pretty little city in the Pacific Northwest.
And of course, I went on a google search as Mum says! I used street view, maps, and re-familiarised myself with the tourist attractions in the city, as well as the more every day aspects like the style of houses, the places people would eat, the types of shops in the city.
I really wanted Astoria to be like another character in the story, so it wasn’t just a background and the story couldn’t just be set anywhere, I wanted Brad’s pride at his city to show through, and for James to slowly fall in love with Astoria as well as obviously, Brad. I made a list of the elements of Astoria I wanted to include, and had the characters in these various places during the story.
I’m not a man who likes great swathes of description in either what he reads, or what he writes, so I had to be careful not to go overboard on the background setting. I read somewhere you shouldn’t write the bits readers skip, so no pages and pages of description. But I also know from working with various editors on various books, I can sometimes have a tendency to write like a radio play, where the characters’ voices are talking, but I’ve omitted any description whatsoever of their surroundings, the characters or anything really. I hope I’ve got the balance just about right between the two extremes.
And now we interrupt this broadcast with a few word about point of view and head hopping!
Up until Heat Wave Astoria, I’d written almost all my stories in first person point of view. I wrote Glitzy Gay Saga in third person, but that’s a 14 character gay Jackie Collins-esque bonk buster and I couldn’t imagine any other way to do it. But for stories focused on a main character and their friends, or two main characters who fall in love, I had always used first person. It’s my favourite point of view to read, and it somehow feels more natural to me as a writer. However, I know it can be quite limiting as it doesn’t easily allow you to explore the emotions of the other characters as they’re not the point of view character.
I thought about writing Heat Wave Astoria as first person point of view, alternating chapters from Brad and James perspectives, but that seemed a bit complicated, and hey, the standard most authors used in romance is third person, so I thought I’d give that a try. I’ve been told Nora Roberts head-hops too all over the place, but you know what, she’s Nora Roberts. David Nicholls did it in One Day too – left, right AND centre. But you know what, he’s David Nicholls, so he can do what the heck he likes. As a slight aside, Us was wonderful, funny, sad, beautiful portrait of a long term romance, and I preferred it much more than One Day. Us also has a much better ending, but more of that’s not for now.
For those who don’t know what head hopping is, and trust me I may still have this wrong, it’s where you’re in the point of view of one character, showing his thoughts and feelings, then you hop out of that person’s head right into another characters, maybe the friend he’s talking too, and show the friend’s thoughts and feelings. This may sound like a good thing, because hey, romance is all about emotions isn’t it, but not if you do this in the same scene, and if you keep hopping between characters it can become exhausting for the reader trying to work out whose head we’re in now. So you have to use a scene break, then move to a different character’s head, or stay in one character’s head all through the story and show the other character’s emotions and feelings through their dialogue or actions.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Wrong!
So I wrote the first draft of Heat Wave Astoria and I thought it wasn’t terrible. I thought, this can go to my trusted beta readers. It came back with some helpful comments but generally they were all about the head hopping. Head hopping left, right AND centre. It wasn’t too bad when it was either of the main characters, Brad or James with other characters in one scene, because the other characters weren’t main characters so it was easy to tidy that up and show their thoughts and feelings in other ways. But the bit that really twisted my melon was scenes with Brad AND James, because, you know, I wanted to show both of their thoughts and feelings, at the same time, in the same scene. Because it was all about Brad AND James’ story, their love, their emotions, their thoughts. Only, this is a big no no, for the reasons above.
Skipping to the end, via a discussion at my local writers group, reading numerous blog posts on head hopping and a few chats with author friends who do write in third person, and I eventually sorted it out. Of course, during edits the editor pointed out there were, yep you guessed it, a few instances of head hopping, changing point of view character mid scene, this time only between Brad and James, which I fixed. At a few points I was this close -puts thumb and index finger very close together- to abandoning the whole thing, but I love to learn new things, and you usually learn new things when you’re challenged, so I ploughed on.
Of course chapter breaks were easy, but it was those pesky mid scene changes that kept catching me out.
What have I learned from this experience?
1. That third person point of view is a whole lot harder than I’d thought, or how other authors made it look.
2. That some very successful authors do head hop, but they’re allowed because no ‘rules’ in writing are absolutes, but me, I had better stick to these rules unless I am Nora Roberts / David Nicholls.
3. Pick a point of view and stick with one per scene. If you want to show the other main character’s thoughts and emotions use a scene break – change setting, time frame – get into the new head and write that scene from the new head’s point of view.
4. Pick whose feelings and emotions are actually shown on page, do we really need the inner anguish and turmoil of the bus driver as the main character boards the bus to visit the other main character?
5. First person point of view avoids all of these issues entirely, so entirely that whenever anyone had mentioned head hopping up until this point I’d smugly smiled to myself and thought, I don’t do that, who knows what they’re going on about, what’s the big problem? But first person point of view is much less flexible than third person. Third gives you more flexibility in terms of whose story you show on page, without always having to have the main point of view character in the room as well.
To enter the give away of any ebook of Liam’s, please answer this question: Do you have a favourite point of view to read a story in, and why? Giveaway stays open for ten days!
Brad’s shop is known as the most popular tourist attraction for certain men in his home town, Astoria. Brad doesn’t do relationships – why would he? Brad is an unashamed slut, and he loves it.
British IT programmer, James is much happier working with software and computers than people. He finds escape in his encyclopaedic knowledge of childhood films like The Goonies & Short Circuit.
When James walks into a quilting shop in Astoria, he decides he’ll take his brother’s advice and talk to the stranger. That stranger is Brad, melting slowly behind the counter during the longest heat wave America’s had in years.
Can a man who thinks in binary code and always plans things to the finest degree, cope with the twists and turns of emotions? Can someone who never thinks before he leaps allow himself to leap into the biggest unknown, a relationship? And how will they cope with James’ impending return to England?
Can two men who never to meet learn to embrace the whole messy relationship that love brings into their lives?