Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Characters - real and imagined! Jo Carroll

I've been home from Malawi for a few weeks now, and a little ebook about my travels is taking shape. At the same time, I've been trying to market a novel.

And this has got me thinking. Although the novel was inspired by a vignette I found in the museum in Hokitika, New Zealand, most of it is made up. I had to find characters in my own head. I went through the long process of getting to know them all, how they spoke, why they did what they did. It's a long unravelling - and I loved it. I love the unpicking of a character and throwing them into new places - I have notebooks full of scribbles as I let each character find his or her voice, and only then did I know them well enough to drop them into the novel.

Then came the task of inviting the reader to go through a comparable process - of meeting each character, unpicking why they do what they do, even responding on an emotional level. (Looking back, I think there is still one character that I don't know well enough - brownie points to anyone who has read the book and works out who that is!)

But now I've returned to the travel writing. And in Malawi my guide, Everlasting (that really is his name), proved to be extraordinary - never in all my imaginings could I have created a character like him. He has given permission for me to write about him (thankfully) - so now I have to find a way to present him to the reader in such a way that he or she gets a feel for him, but also believes in a man I couldn't possibly make up. I can describe him (tall, and slim, with clothes that almost fitted him). I can tell some of his stories (he is a great story-teller). I can write about the way he looked out for me. But ... I'm not convinced, at the moment, that I've found a way to write about him in such a way that the reader gets to know him, page by page, as we do in a novel.

I'll have to finish the book and then wait for reviews, I suppose. Though I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has had to grapple with this.


Meanwhile, you can find the novel here and explore my travelling here

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

All Good Things by Lev Butts

Parsival by Richard Monaco
When I was a teenager, as many of you know, I discovered on the shelves of an Atlanta used bookstore the book that would figuratively chart the course of my life: Richard Monaco’s Parsival or a Knight’s Tale. The story is not new. I have told it time and again both here and elsewhere. But I am a Southerner and one thing we Southerners excel at is telling the same story over and over with little or no diminishing of interest. So you’ve heard this story before but not in this way.

I had skipped school that day and gone to Oxford II Books. I often did this. I wouldn’t skip school and hang out at bowling alleys, movie houses, or amusement parks; I would go to bookstores or libraries and read all day. My teachers knew about it. My dad knew about it. It wouldn’t go unpunished, mind you: My father would scratch out an embarrassing note (“Please excuse Lev from school yesterday,” he would write, “he woke up with exploding diarrhea and stomach cramps. I felt it best to leave him home, leaking from all ports as he was.”), and my teachers would read it, chuckle, and write me an excused note.

Anyway, on this day I went to Oxford II Books in Atlanta. They were the first bookstore I was aware of that had a coffee stand inside and actually encouraged you to sit a spell and read their wares before buying, so it often became my go-to spot for playing hooky. That’s where I found Monaco’s novel. The thing about the book that first caught my eye was the cover art: The ink and watercolor cover art made it look very much like a high-end graphic novel, so I picked it up to see why it wasn’t with the comics.

When I realized it was an Arthurian novel, I decided to give it a closer look. I sat down with my coffee and to read the first few pages and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. When I was done, I realized I had read all the way to the store’s 10:00 closing time. I paid for the book (and the two sequels they also had) and went home. My father was livid: His note the next day informed my teachers that I had been suffering from “crippling premenstrual cramps.”

If you have followed my work at all, you probably also know that I loved Parsival so much that I took to keeping my copy in my backpack or satchel wherever I went in case I decided that today was the day I read it again.

Richard Monaco became everything I aspired to be in a writer: witty, intelligent, cynical, but also steeped in pathos. When, in late 2009, I went on to write my own Arthurian novel, Guns of the Waste Land, I wanted, as closely as possible, to mirror Monaco’s style while also developing my own voice. It was shortly after deciding to write an Arthurian Western that I met Monaco.

I found him on FaceBook of all places. We struck up a conversation about writing and reading and literature that has continued through the publication of Guns (which was due to his own championing of my work and convincing his publisher to give me a chance), through our working together on the online Literary Journal, Grand Central Review, to this day as I fly to New York City to see him in the hospital for what may possibly be the last time.

Richard has taught me more about the art of writing than just about anyone else. As I mentioned last month, I am, like Richard, a gardener in my writing: Richard taught me that just as you eventually have to let your children go their own way, your characters, too, need to have the freedom to tell their own stories at the risk of giving up on whatever plan you had for them.

“Plan, yeah,” he says, “but you can’t get so wrapped up in your plot that you lose the story. The characters know where they want to go. You make their desires fit yours. Rein them in if you have to, but give their ideas a try first.”

Richard also gave me the courage to not only write what I know, but to give myself permission to tread unfamiliar waters, too. “I never left the country, and I only left New York once really. What do you think imagination is for? If I had to write only what I know, I never could’ve written Parsival. Do some research and let your imagination build on that.”

Richard taught me not to fear taking risks. When the first publisher I submitted Guns of the Waste Land to had passed because they didn’t know how to market it, I considered scrapping the whole project, but Richard stopped me “Tell the story you want to tell, and tell it well. Don’t worry about whether it will sell or not. If it’s good, you’ll find an audience; if it’s not, you will probably still find something worthwhile to build on later. At the end of the day, the story is yours.”

Richard has taught me about much more than writing, though. He has taught me how to live. One of Richard’s prized possessions is a genuine katana his first wife bought him as an anniversary present. After all these years in his possession, it is a bit worse for wear: the hilt wrappings are growing tattered, the blade is a bit loose, the edge a tad dull.  His wife and daughter fear it will fly off one day when he’s practicing with it on the roof and kill some hapless dog-walker on the street below, but Richard is unconcerned: “The key is balance,” he told me the first time I met him in person and he showed it to me, “You have to know where it needs to be,” with his back to me and lifting  one foot like a crane and raising the sword over his right shoulder, he spun 180 degrees and brought the tip of the sword just under my chin, “and balance your desire to put it there with your restraint. Balance your wishes with the sword’s, and nothing can go wrong.”

Of all the things Richard has taught me, the most important also has nothing to do with writing. A few years ago, we were standing on the roof of his apartment building in Manhattan watching the boats go up and down the Hudson and discussing his memoirs. We were talking about his growing up in and around Manhattan, and he was reminiscing about his parents and aunts and their friends. He talked about the role they all played in shaping the man he grew up to be. “You gotta love your people,” he says. “Your friends, your family, your students, your teachers. Hell, even the rotten bastards who cut you off in traffic, and the poor bastards hitting you up for dough.  They’re all part of the world you created around yourself, and they all contribute something. You don’t gotta like them. But you gotta love them.”

And, when I am in my seventies or eighties, or God-willing my nineties, that’s what I will remember most about Richard Monaco: this rangy guy standing damn near six feet tall, white/blonde hair wafting in the evening breeze and katana resting casually over his shoulder as he watches the sun set over the Hudson and tells me that the key to living a good life is to love everyone. 


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Question for Big Publishers - Why Do We Have to Wait for Paperbacks? - by Ali Bacon

Big books from monthly book-clubs (growing dusty!) 
In my childhood everything- even Mallory Towers! -  was in hardback, and in my early married life I indulged in a book club (remember them?) which delivered a chunky novel once a month.
          I think I can pin down my change of heart over hardbacks  to when I asked my young teenage daughter for a copy of the newly published Donna Tart (The Little Friend) for Christmas, on the basis it wouldn’t be too big a drain on her pocket money. Being out of the book-buying habit at the time, I'd missed that it was only out in hardback and was filled with guilt as I unwrapped the unwieldy and expensive brute.
          From then on, I have never chosen to buy fiction in hardback. (Non-fiction, poetry and illustrated books are a different matter). A novel in my mind is either e-book or tree-book, and a tree-book is a paperback. A hardback takes up too much room, is awkward to hold and always costs more. If I desire a brand new book, I try the library or wait for the paperback. I may even read the e-book and buy the paperback afterwards. The only exception to this rule, is when a friend is launching a book from one of the big commercial publishers. I want to own a (signed) copy and I want to support my friend and fellow-writer. There is no alternative except to buy the hardback. My question to these publishers is, WHY ON EARTH NOT?

Interrogating Google here and here doesn’t really help me understand this publishing model, and the answers that come back look distinctly out of date.
          1) Hardbacks make more money per copy. Publishers want to sell as many hardbacks as possible before going to paperback. This is compared to films being available only in cinema before going to TV/DVD.
          BUT it’s admitted that sales of hardbacks can be ridiculously low. Why delay approaching the mass-market? And sorry, I don’t really get the comparison with films where big screen/small screen are utterly different experiences.

          2) Libraries want hardbacks.
          Looking along most library shelves, I say 'not any more'. They buy paperbacks and additional dust jackets if necessary, presumably still at lower cost than a hardback.  
Local library - not many hardbacks now

          3) Publishing in hardback is a sign of confidence in the author. Reviewers of literary fiction therefore only accept hardbacks.
          Well hang on. I have looked at a number of smaller publishers like Saraband, Salt and Sandstone Press, all of which have featured in literary prize lists recently, and unless I’m mistaken they usually issue straight to paperback. If there are any reviewers out there who refuse to look at something from a literary publisher because of the cut of its cloth,  I think we should send them back to the century from whence they came.

          But maybe I'm the one who's out of step. To check I'm not the whingeing minority I conducted an ad hoc survey by asking my Facebook 'friends' two questions. 
          a) If money were not an object, would you buy the hardback of a novel or the paperback?
          b) If your favourite author has a new book coming out, would you buy the hardback or wait for the paperback?
          46 people had responded at the last count, not always in detail to each question, but in a way that makes it easy to give a working analysis.
         14 people expressed a degree of love for the hardback, whether or not they could always afford one.
          31 stated a preference for paperbacks. Of these quite a few did say they would splash out on a hardback but only for the sake of getting a new book more quickly.  I tried to leave e-books out of the equation but one respondent said they read everything on Kindle.
By the way the respondents were a mixture of real life- friends and online writing/reading contacts - a reasonably diverse bunch. 

           NOT JUST ME THEN!

          Yes, there are lovers of hardbacks, but why should the rest of us have to wait? Here are a couple of suggestions as to how publishers with the wherewithal might keep both camps happy. 
          1) Issue hardback and paperback simultaneously. I imagine this might be an option restricted to proven best-sellers with a dedicated fan base. Hardback could then have ‘special edition’ status. 
          2) Make the first paperback print run special in some way and/or do not offer discounts during a ‘hot-off-the press’ period. Keen readers will pay a higher price to get it quickly (well I would).  This would preserve the higher mark-up rate and discounting could be offered down the line.

At Corvus, psych thriller
goes straight to paperback
          I’m not sure how many publishers still favour the ‘old’ model  across the board. I notice Atlantic issue hardbacks in the Corvus imprint but not others and there is generally some differentiation between 'commercial' and 'literary' fiction. But I know at least two of the big six are still using the hardback-first model and I still don’t understand why. 


WHAT DO THE AUTHORS THINK?

Maybe the people I should have asked are the authors who have won these deals. The big publishers still issue advances on sales. Is the author, cash in hand, happy to wait a year for mass-market penetration? 
          Do they like the opportunity for a second paperback launch? 
          How does it feel to be categorised as 'commercial' and sell paperbacks to  your readers from the off, or win the 'literary' accolade and have only a hardback to offer? 
I'l be happy to stand corrected on the feeling that this model is elitist and outdated. 



Of course I can see I might be asking this question in the wrong place. Here at Authors Electric we are mostly one-man bands doing our own thing and as far as I know don’t issue non-illustrated fiction in hardback.  But we are market driven as much as anyone else. Check out the books on our author pages. If you fancy a paperback you won't have to wait!

Paperback, obvs!
Ali Bacon lives in South Gloucestershire and writes contemporary and historical fiction. Her coming of age novel A Kettle of Fish was published in 2012 and she has recently had stories shortlisted for the Exeter Writers Prize and The Magic Oxygen Prize. Last year appeared at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and in a one woman show in Scotland. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories inspired by early photographs. 


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ageism and Publishing in the 21st Century - Katherine Roberts

In some ways, we should be celebrating the rising pension age here in the UK. After all, it's official recognition that people over 65, including women, are still active and healthy enough to be working and earning a living. True, I can't quite imagine myself in my late sixties doing my old job of getting up at 6am, mucking out five stables and riding three racehorses each morning in all weathers, occasionally falling off them, cycling home for lunch and then back again to groom, feed and settle 'my' horses for the night, 13 days every fortnight, with maybe the 14th day spent travelling to some distant racecourse for overnight racing. I was in my thirties when I did that job, and already older than most of the other stable staff at the time.

But writing books, managing various online activities from the comfort of my own sofa/bed/kitchen table, and the occasional excitement of a book signing tour with not too much danger of getting dumped in a hedge on a foggy winter's morning by a runaway horse? Yes, I can imagine doing those things in my 50s and 60s, maybe even into my 70s and 80s, should I live that long. No need for authors to retire at all, really, as long as the words are still flowing and we can still get the words into a computer somehow - writing fewer books is always an option if energy levels drop or our health deteriorates and, as Andrew Crofts observed in his heartfelt post last month, a writer retiring from writing would be rather like retiring from life. And yet, it seems ageism exists in the publishing industry in a way that it would not (or at least would not officially) be permitted in my previous job as an employee.

Penelope Farmer, who was first published in 1960 with her collection of fairy tales for children, The China People, wrote this blog post in 2015 to highlight the problem:

"Old writers may not die; they may even keep on writing. What they don’t get is published any more unless their names come with big sales figures attached..." http://fictionbitch.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/guest-post-penelope-farmer-on-ageism-in.html

There is some truth in what she says.

A view from the other side of the desk comes from a collective of children's books professionals called the Blue Rose Girls:

"If you're an older author and aren't having luck getting a book published, I don't think you should or can blame ageism. Publishing is a difficult, competitive industry no matter what your age..."

http://bluerosegirls.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/is-there-ageism-in-publishing.html

Although the same poster - I'm guessing an editor - goes on to say: "I do think that in some cases, older authors might have a disadvantage in writing contemporary YA novels, because it's hard to write authentic teen dialogue, and the farther away you are from your teen years, the more foreign their language may seem."

True enough - although the surest way to date your book is to fill it with current teen slang that will seem old fashioned to readers of that age in three years' time. Also, I think we all have stories of enthusiastic editors raving over our new manuscript and taking it forward, only to see it unceremoniously thrown out at acquisitions stage because the money men don't believe it will make enough profit for their shareholders.

Here's a view from a literary agency, dating back to 2008 (assuming an earlier retirement age):

"...an agent who said, basically, that he’s nervous taking on new clients who are older since there’s less opportunity there to build a career, and certainly he would be nervous about revealing the writer’s age to editors. In the essay the agent states clearly that if you’re older than 50 you’re in trouble and will have a harder time getting published, simply because of your age..."

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/does-ageism-exist-in-publishing.html

The encouraging thing is that authors are not screaming 'ageism!' all over the internet, but is this actually the rumble of thunder preceding the storm that will surely soon hit all industries, not just publishing, as a result of the rising state retirement age here in the UK? Maybe those authors who have been 'dropped' by their publishers (the literary equivalent to being dumped in a hedge at the top of the gallop by a runaway horse) merely fade quietly from the public eye, their writing career in tatters and their self-respect at an all time low? Or decide to end it all in a tragic manner, as a much-respected colleague of mine did last year? Or simply become invisible with the peculiar affliction that strikes many women in middle age, authors included, as both Rosalie Warren and Debbie Bennett have observed in previous posts on this blog?

So there are certainly some worrying signs out there, but heartening ones too, at least regarding older debut authors. Here is a post of particular interest to women of a certain age:

"The situation might be very different for a female writer who’s been working at the keyboard all her adult life and sees her prospects and earnings diminishing as she gets older, but for a woman like me embarking on fiction as a second career after early retirement, the benefits are manifold..."
http://www.bookword.co.uk/is-there-discrimination-against-older-women-writers/

The above includes a link to the following Guardian article about debut authors aged 40+:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jul/10/claire-fuller-book-debur-any-age-prime-writers

tempered by a quote from Martin Amis that seems to suggest you're fine until you reach the age of 70, but it's all downhill from there:

"Octogenarian novelists ‘on the whole [are] no bloody good. You can see them disintegrate before your eyes as they move past 70’."

Ouch! But at least we should be able to claim our state pension by then.

As a 'not-yet-old-enough-to-retire-but-several-years-past-my-debut' author, I think that the difficulties of getting published in later life is less about the physical age of the author, and more about how long we have been publishing in the brave new EPOS years of the 21st century... i.e. since 2001, when Nielsen launched Bookscan, enabling books to be counted at point of sale and making the so-called 'midlist' (slower selling books) increasingly unattractive to publishers, with the knock-on effect of slowly but surely strangling their authors' careers. With EPOS watching your every move, about 10 years seems to be the average length of a traditional midlist career these days... I'd hazard that 10 years is good going even for a best-selling career, since greater expectations mean greater disappointments when things go wrong. Authors of whatever list rarely get a second chance when their sales figures drop.

Since it's Sunday, and everyone loves a mathematical puzzle, for a bit of fun here's the Authors Electric Publication Formula, which predicts how likely you are to get your next book accepted for publication by a traditional publisher, assuming that (a) they publish your sort of book, (b) there is a market for your book, and (c) you can write a publishable book... if you can't satisfy these three basic requirements, then age is the least of your worries, believe me!

((16 - C) x 100/16) + (R/A) %

where
A=age of author
C= length of your career in the 21st century (i.e. since 2001, when Nielsen started counting your sales figures. If you started earlier than this, C=16).
R= average age of your readers

Note: The apparently random 16 in this formula is calculated by subtracting 2001(introduction of epos) from 2017(current year), so if you're reading this post in the future, then you'll need to increase this figure accordingly.

If you're a debut author writing for readers your own age, you have a
((16-0) x 100/16) + 1 = 101% chance of being published. In other words, nothing whatsoever to worry about! All you have to do is write a publishable book for a viable market and send it to the right publisher/agent... good luck!

If you're a younger author (age 20) writing for older readers (average age 40), you're pretty much okay. For example, 5 years into your career:
((16-5) x 100/16) + 40/20 =  70.75%

The odds fall slightly if the author and reader ages are the other way around, but not significantly:
((16-5) x 100/16) + 20/40 = 69.25%

However, if you're approaching 16 years of publication, are aged 50 or over, and write for children, you're pretty much stuffed:
((16-15) x 100/16) + 10/50 = 6.45%

Maybe you could increase your chances by writing for older readers?
((16-15) x 100/16) + 80/50 = 7.85%

Or effectively wipe out those 15 years of your EPOS career to date by relaunching yourself under a pseudonym (and why not write for people your own age while you're at it?)
((16-0) x 100/16) + 1 = 101%
Hooray! Now all you have to do is write a publishable book for a viable market and send it to the right publisher/agent... (see debut author above).

Of course, if you've been steadily published since about 1970, then you're living on borrowed time whatever your age and whoever you write for:
((16-16) x 100/16) + (at most about 2) = at most about 2%
so presumably you're now self-publishing, if at all?

Before you all start panicking, I should point out that this formula is not scientifically proven, only really works for the midlist, and is in fact mathematically incorrect for debut authors - which suggests that R and A actually have nothing to do with it at all. I just felt that authors (like me) with 16+ years experience deserve a tiny bit of hope... and they're better odds than winning the lottery, honest! Celebrity status or friends in high places are obviously special cases, and I doubt any sort of formula applies to JK Rowling, unless it was invented at Hogwarts. I've just tried to illustrate what might be happening to many authors' careers in the 21st century as they get older gain experience. Publishers no doubt factor in all kinds of other sensible things when deciding whether to take on a new project, such as how many sales they will need to turn a profit once the advance is paid, possibility of foreign sales, etc, and I doubt they are transfixed purely on the EPOS figures of your latest epic, because books sold at very high discounts will obviously rack up huge sales at the expense of profit margins. Anyway, there's a difference between fast sellers that tend to go quickly out of print, and classic books that continue to sell steadily for decades. Feel free to tweak the AE formula and add your own variables.

Ageism doesn't stop with authors, of course. My own experience of losing the brilliant publishing team at Templar Fiction just after they published my Pendragon Legacy series would seem to reflect this view from a recruitment professional:

"As someone who assists a lot of people in refocusing their publishing careers after redundancy, I'm more than aware that the jobs being cut are often held by people who are 'of a certain age'..."
http://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/page/free-article/publishing-where-are-the-roles-for-the-seniors/

I don't have any answers, other than to suggest trying what many experienced authors here at Authors Electric and elsewhere are already doing, and indie-publish any material you've written that doesn't fit the 21st century publishing model. But the possibility of ageism (or career ageism, if you prefer) in publishing throws up a lot of questions that we probably should at least acknowledge before the perfect storm created by the rising retirement age hits us all:

Is it more difficult for an experienced author to work with a less experienced editor?
What about the other way around - experienced editor, less experienced author?
Do authors lose their natural storytelling talent as they age?
Do authors become more difficult to work with as they get wiser to the practices of the publishing industry?
Do publishers need to pay older authors more than younger authors? (I'd say no, since we're self-employed and royalties are not age-related, but maybe that's not the perception?)
Does experience count at all, or is being media-savvy and having a glamorous publicity photo more important in the 21st century?
Does EPOS kill midlist careers - or would those authors' careers have died, anyway?
Should older authors retire from writing to make space on the shelves for younger authors?
And what are we all supposed to do next, if we are not yet ready to retire from writing/life?

self-publish our books with Amazon?

*

Katherine Roberts won the inaugural Branford Boase Award in 2000 for her debut novel Song Quest (just as EPOS started to count everyone's sales figures, so perfect timing!). She writes fantasy and historical fiction with a dose of magic for young readers, and has recently launched a signature list under the name 'Katherine A Roberts' to publish some of her historical fiction for older readers.

This year, she has been republishing some of her best-loved out of print titles as print on demand editions with Createspace - see her website for more details.

www.katherineroberts.co.uk

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Women writing for the theatre by Sandra Horn



I’m a member of Juno, a women’s theatre group based around Salisbury, with a brief to work at correcting the gender imbalance in theatre.
          Juno’s reach is mostly in Wiltshire and Dorset and I’m in Hampshire, but I just sneak in under the ‘within 30 miles of Salisbury’ rule. We are mostly writers, but several members have performance and directing backgrounds too. We make a lively contribution to Salisbury Fringe Festival – somehow not quite part of the ‘official’ Fringe, but there all the same, putting on our own shows alongside it. ‘Little Red Ella and the FGM’ was one such production. Several of us are also working on projects celebrating women in WW1 at present. We run workshops on writing for the theatre: site-specific, non-natural, political, comedy, for example. I’ve learned a lot.
          Our most recent venture has just been on at the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis – a lovely little jewel of a theatre with nautical-themed loos! Fellow Juno member Christine Diment had run a comedy-writing workshop there for local writers, with the title ‘Women Are Funny Creatures (Too).’ The day resulted in eight scripts , seven of which were performed script-in-hand in the theatre.
          We offered mentoring and divided the scripts between three of us. I read three of the scripts and gave what advice I could to the writers. Two were very clever and funny and just had a couple of technical things to sort out: how is a child going to pick up and carry off a grown-up dressed as a ladybird? How is the man supposed to speak his lines while ‘cramming his mouth with sweets?’
          The writers responded by dealing with these questions with ingenuity and style. Sadly, the third script was unperformable even if we’d had full scenery, props, etc., as it would have been incomprehensible to the child audience it was aimed at. Tactfully, I pointed out some of the more obvious problems and sent it back for revision. It was re-submitted unrevised...
          Had the writer made a mistake and sent the wrong version in? we asked. No, she had not. She responded by withdrawing the script. Her choice, but how sad to lose the chance of a performance at what turned out to be a cracking evening, the theatre crammed full with a very enthusiastic audience.

          I expect we’ve all been there – the tricky negotiation with editors and the like, who want changes that we feel will compromise our vision for the work. I’ve usually been on the other end, arguing my point of view – and not always successfully, it must be said, so I feel for the script writer but am somewhat irritated with her at the same time. I don’t suppose many of us have just sat down and written a masterpiece first go, with no need for revision. When I was a child, I just wrote ‘stuff’ – whatever came into my head – stories, poetry, song lyrics – easy peasy! I was praised; clever little girl! It was a long, hartd, rocky road to finding out that ‘clever little girl’ didn’t automatically translate into ‘writer’; that there was a craft and an art to be learned and practised and polished and improved. 
          Still, we had a blast with the remaining playlets. One cheeky (ahem!) monologue put the ‘arse’ into Arsonist’; another play involved ladybirds manning a border crossing into ‘Trumptonia’; there was a worm-turned wife who watched her husband scoff her bag of ‘sweets’ before telling him they were her HRT pills; a man with a lost, nameless, gender-confused dog – all very delightful. Best of all, so many of the writers are now enthused and determined to go on, including a group who wrote their script together and can see the benefits of going on doing just that – absolutely in the tradition of comedy writing!
          I’m back from Lyme Regis for something under 24 hours; off in the morning on a two-day poetry workshop, hoping to learn, to improve...

Friday, 19 May 2017

Ten Stages of Downsizing by Jan Edwards

This month has been all about downsizing, which for 90% of writers that I know is a slow and painful parting of the ways with a small section of their book mountain at very least.  The Edwards-Coleborn household is attempting to relocate to somewhere easier to manage and  one of the inevitable consequences is that some of our carefully amassed volumes are going to have to go – but which tomes will be destined for the chop? (illo on left not my study - but not unlike!)
We’ve been whittling away at the shelves for some weeks now with some (limited) success, and I have noted at least ten phases of book sorting - as follows:
·         One : the easiest part – mainly non-fiction that is used less  and less as we turn to the internet for those morsels of information - items of day-to-day research requiring urgent answers. Things such as the composition of  powder applicators in a 1930s handbag compact; the exact week that a popular  radio show began to be broadcast in 1940; the specifications or a particular shotgun.
·         Two :  perfectly good books that you have never read and know you are never likely to read; either through lack of time or lack of inclination. Those titles you know you ‘should’ read because they are books of note, but which look so desperately worthy or just aren’t your thing (see phase three).
·         Three : review books. A fairly large category for this household because with both Peter and I having been Reviews Admins for the BFS has meant the receiving of vast quantities of hardback books. Despite it being six years since I stepped down from the post, and frequent emails saying so, once you are on those lists you are, apparently, on them forever. The quantity does decrease after a time but sadly, as the years pass, you only seem to be sent the books you don’t want to read – classic sod’s law!
·         Four : books that might fetch more than a pound or two and you keep telling yourself you will get around to ebaying someday.
·         Five : (getting trickier)  books with a built-in guilt factor – the signed copies! When they are by authors long passed; writers you only know in passing; writers who are well-known but whose books have little resale value because so many were printed at time of publication.  Once you’ve checked they really aren’t fetching more than a pound on second-hand sites, you are pretty safe to dispose of them undetected.
·         Six :  books you’ve read, and quite liked but won’t read again, and only kept because you are a packrat who can’t bear to part with any book if at all possible.
·         Seven: the small handful of signed copies by people you do know, but which are so totally out of your comfort zone that, if you are totally honest, you may never get around too.  (Own up - we all have them.) These titles waiver between keep and clear because you know you want to keep them, and there ‘might’ be room.
·         Eight : (reaching keep at any cost territory here)  those books you have read and enjoyed, and fully realise you may never have time to read again, but somehow can’t bear to part with.
·         Nine : books by friends; books deemed to be classics; books you had as a child (or in several cases in my collection, books that belonged to my father as a child).
·         Ten :  (the largest pile of all – many if not most of which also appear in #5 to #9) those books that have blown you away for whatever reason; those absolute keepers that would need a relocation to a bedsit for you to warrant dislodging them from your vice-like grip.
Of course the term downsizing is open to interpretation. It goes without saying that many of the excommunicated volumes from #4 on to #7 will be relegated to the garage at the end of the move where they will sit for the next ten years or more, (I can vouch for this as I  have many boxes of books sitting in the shed from my last move ten years ago). many of those will doubtless have be re-absorbed into the library – because, hey, its a book and why would you ever want to give it away?
***
Jan's crime novel Winter Downs will be launched at 11.30 am on 3rd June 2017 in the Tolkien Room at City Central Library, Hanley, Stoke on Trent.  Tea and cakes 1940s style!  All welcome! Come for the cake – buy the book!

*Go to Jan’s blog page and sign up for her newsletter before the launch for a chance to win a copy of Winter Downs.*
*Go and enter the Goodreads giveaway of Winter Downs*

For those who can't be there it will be available through the usual online sources in both paper and ebook formats and there will be an online launch to follow.


Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @jancoledwards


Other Jan Edwards titles in print (all available in print and eformats) Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties


Thursday, 18 May 2017

The editing game by Tara Lyons

I come to you today from the depths of my editing cave. I've been here for two weeks now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel - and therefore the reason you're having any contact from me at all.

Before writing my books, I worked for an in-house magazine as assistant editor for eight years. A weekly magazine, and a team of two, we designed the layout, interviewed the staff, wrote and edited the articles. What I do now has a very similar set-up, and that's what I had in mind when I started this process in 2015: I can handle all aspects of my writing career, after all, I've done it for many years. How wrong could I have been? And yes, editing, I'm looking at you.

What I didn't appreciate was the amount of editing I'd have to do in one hit. Gone are the few hundred word articles, replaced by the hundreds of pages and thousands of words. The paragraphs are no longer factual events, coloured with interesting quotes from employees, but are the inner workings and creations of my mind.

Also, when you've completed your first draft and want to dance around the room, pop open the bubbly, or just get some sleep to celebrate, you remember you're still nowhere near the end of the road. Here, you just have all your thoughts down on page - an explosion of words, if you will - and that first round of edits could still bring up a flurry of plot holes, useless dialogue and pointless characters. Of course, there's the hope none of that will occur, but even if it doesn't, a lot will still need to be changed and chopped and swapped around.

Luckily for me, I am so close to the end of this initial process. And, surprisingly, it hasn't been too painful. It's my third book in the series... so perhaps the practice and regular use of our writing muscles really do help the overall cause. Book three is due with my editor at the end of the month - so I still have some time to work on the ending and have a final read through before I send it off. The days have been long, the nights have been deathly quiet, but I'll keep the faith that it'll all be worth it in the end. I think that's all we can hope for.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Virtual Reality Versus the Book, by Elizabeth Kay


 I nearly always watch the technology programme Click on a Sunday morning, and the episode that dealt with 360˚ cameras really got me thinking. There was a shot of someone strapped into a chair that tilted in every direction, mimicking what was occurring in the presentation where you could look around you, just as though you were turning round or moving your head. This guy’s chair had tipped right forward, and he looked as though he were throwing up. Whatever he was experiencing was all too real. Or was it?
            It’s been bothering me for some time, this move to an alternative world. We get our natural history in exotic locations via a screen, edited and selected with its stunning visuals and recorded birdsong and absence of mosquito bites and tummy bugs. There’s nothing to discover – it’s all been done for you, and the sensory experience narrowed to sight and sound alone. A walk in the countryside is so different: binoculars round your neck, the chattering of a squirrel, the smell of grass or cow dung or honeysuckle, the taste of that blackberry you just snaffled, the wind in your face. You don’t know what you’re going to encounter, from an adder basking in the sun to a brightly-coloured toadstool. That insect you saw – what on earth was it? And the smaller the focus of your attention, the more chance you have of discovering something entirely new. There is no substitute for reality, although we’re trying very hard to do it and making a lot of money out of it in the process.

             The thing about virtual reality is that it doesn’t really engage the mind, just the adrenaline, and that makes us think the experience is genuine. It isn’t. It’s fake. It’s something dreamed up inside the heads of a team of people – cleaned-up, the boring bits surgically removed, the exciting bits enhanced. The end result is that we don’t care about the world around us any more because it doesn’t match up to the scenarios invented for us in software houses. Kids in the developed world are starting to prefer to sit in their rooms, playing games on their consoles where danger is fabricated for them. Even in China, I saw a group of Tibetan
schoolgirls in ethnic clothing hunched over their smart phones. We live on a crowded planet, where there are no longer any blank spaces on the maps or room for real adventure. We are poor guardians of our heritage.
If I could, I’d make every child do a bit of beach-combing. Shells are amazing, they’re all different, and you never know what else might wash up, from a bright red jellyfish to a piece of coral or even a fossil. Closer to home, a trip to the common with a bug box and a hand lens can be a real adventure, with spiders using all sorts of weird strategies to catch their prey and spiderlings hatching in great clusters and heading off into the unknown on a thread of silk. And just like arachnids, we too still have the urge to hunt – as well as the gathering instinct. If you’ve ever collected blackberries or cobnuts you’ll know how surprisingly satisfying it can be. These days, we find ways to channel those instincts elsewhere. The poem below was first published in Manifold Magazine which, sadly, is no longer running due to the death of its extraordinary creator, Vera Rich. For those who are interested, the form is a Russian one and the recipe for writing one can be found here

Hunting

Hunting is something we do, it is hard-wired -
Shopping’s replaced all that cut-and-thrust goo;
Bargains, not mammoths, are what get our hearts fired -
Hunting is something we do.

Autumn’s the season to try to recapture
Ancestral legacies - I’ll clarify -
Edible toadstools our quarry - what rapture -
Autumn’s the season to try.

Don’t need a spear or a bow and an arrow,
Just have to focus your eyes on below;
Chanterelles, parasols, there by the barrow 
Don’t need a spear or a bow.

Funny how quickly you learn all their humours,
Woods they prefer, and the places they spurn;
Some grow alone, some invade trees like tumours -
Funny how quickly you learn.

Hunting is something we do, it is hard-wired.
Next time you’re searching those shelves for a coup,
Remember the instinct that first got our hearts fired;
Hunting is something we do.


So why are books different from virtual reality? I think it’s because you have to work at it, you have to create the pictures yourself, from the clues given to you by the author – and every Mr Darcy is slightly different. Unless you’ve seen the film, of course, when he’s fixed forever as Colin Firth emerging from a lake.
            Three cheers for the book, whether in print or on your E-reader, because it’s through the effort of visualising what an author has written down that it becomes memorable. Recalling a tv programme is something you tend to do visually, but in a book it’s the words themselves that linger in the mind, and may make you think in a new way about something many years later. Although you can pause tv these days we don’t tend to do it to stop and think about what we’ve just seen, we do it because we haven’t seen or heard something clearly enough. With a book, you pause because you want to think about what you’ve just read and consider its relevance in your own life.