Thursday, December 28, 2006

New Year's Resolutions . . . and bull riding

The consensus seems to be that the best New Year's Resolution is not to make any because you're setting yourself up for failure if you do.

Probably true!

All the same, I'm going to make three:

  • to write at least 1000 words a week (not too difficult, that!) all the time I'm preparing for a book so that when I actually get into it I'll have some material to mine for 'good stuff'
  • to keep my calendar at hand so I can see when things are due and get going on them before they become last minute projects.
  • to go to Ireland.
Those I ought to be able to keep -- I hope.

The bull riding part of this post relates to the third resolution -- about going to Ireland. And i made it because of a comment today on a post I wrote back in November. It was about doing research -- and in that post I said that having a 'great idea' was a nice place to start, but it wasn't going to get you a whole book.

You need details for a book. You need an understanding of the ambience, of the way the landscape, the profession, the world your characters live in affect who they are.

Some, of course, you can do in books, newspapers, magazines, interviews with experts. But sometimes you need to be on the spot. You need to see things through your own eyes, experience the setting and the life first hand.

And in my case 11 years ago, it entailed going to bull-riding school.

The school was held over Presidents' Day weekend in Helena, Montana. It was taught by Brett Leffew using the methods his father, Gary, had developed in his own successful career and which he then passed on to others in courses taught both at his California ranch and in various other venues around the country.

It was three days in a world quite different from my own. It was also one of the high points in my writing career. I loved it.

I knew rodeo and roughstock riding marginally in my childhood. My stepdad's brother competed in local rodeos. But I didn't live with it. But seeing it up-close-and-personal for 3 days was a wonderful experience. One of the joys of being a writer is being allowed into all sorts of different lives. Bull-riding school was one of them.

Those three days only added to the vast respect for the young men who pitted their strength and determination and know-how against animals who were so much bigger, stronger and equally determined not to be ridden. Watching them pick themselves up time after time and learn from their mistakes, intent and determined even as they limped a little more slowly up the steps to the classroom between rides, taught me as much about their character as it did about the mechanics of riding a bull.

It got me right inside my own character's head. Not every man finds it worthwhile to attempt to ride a bull. So who does? And what does it tell you about him?

It told me a lot. It gave me pieces of the story I would not have had if I'd done my research only from books or even the ProRodeo Sports News. It gave me an inside view of the bullrider's world.

And Matt Owen's comment and thinking about what bullriding school meant to me -- and to my book -- made me resolve to get to Ireland. I need to see it first-hand. I need to know what Flynn's drafty castle was like, what it felt like for him growing up there, why he was so desperate to leave. I know a bit of that. I am sure I will know more after I come back.

I may have most of the book written in first-draft before I go. All well and good. It's the deepening, the texturing, the 'reality' that the trip will give me -- and Flynn. It will give Sara something too -- a sense of wonder, the chance to see Ireland for the first time just as I will (apart from the airport, that is!).

And there will be that 'driving on the left' experience, too. Ye gods. Well, I did it in New Zealand and lived to tell about it. I just hope the Irish will live to tell about it, too, with me on their roads. I'd take a train but somehow they don't seem to go to castles.

I can't imagine why.


Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Anne, isn't it true about walking where you characters walk? Love the bull riding story.

With Claiming the Courtesan, I'd just come back from four months in the UK, a lot of it spent on the west coast of Scotland where the bulk of my story takes place (also one of the most beautiful places on earth, but that's beside the point). I'd lived in the UK for two years in the mid-80s and been back since but this was four months of scouting locations which somehow gave me a different insight. I think then when I sat down to write about where my characters were and what they were doing, my writing sounded confident because I knew the place so well. I didn't overload the book with lyrical descriptions of landscape - although I definitely could have! But I think my familiarity with the setting made a real difference to the finished product.

Happy New Year!!

29 December, 2006  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Yes, absolutely true, Anna. The difference between you and me, though, is that I don't think I could come up with a lyrical description of anything to save my life, particularly not landscape. I have to remind myself to set a scene because I see it well enough in my head, but describing it is like pulling teeth. Not only am I not visual, when it comes to description, I'm not verbal, either!

But I agree about the confidence of knowing a place well. That's what bull riding school gave me. And that's what I'm counting on Ireland to give me with Flynn and Sara.

Happy New Year!

29 December, 2006  

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