Saturday, 21 January 2017

January Blues - Katherine Roberts


January Blues in my 'rich and famous' author days.
January always seems the wrong time of the year for making resolutions, let alone keeping them. It's dark, it's cold, it's usually wet. Christmas has been and gone, and drained the bank account on its way out. The pretty lights and baubles have been packed away in the loft. All I really want to do is curl up in bed under the duvet with the cat and emerge sometime around April, when the spring flowers are in bloom, or perhaps take off skiing in the Alps like I used to do back in the heady days when my books were in the shops, before Brexit fears messed with the exchange rates. But since this is my posting day, and I'm only dreaming of the Alps this year, I've emerged from hibernation for a few hours to tell you about my 2017 resolutions. Or three of them, anyway.

Resolution One
I 'closed' my personal blog Reclusive Muse at the end of December (you can still read the posts, but you can't comment on them any more, and there won't be any new ones because I've freed my unicorn-muse so he can trot back into the enchanted mists). This is a symbolic way of saying I've let go of the younger end of my writing, at least temporarily, while I take time out to reconnect with the passion that carried me into children's fiction in the first place and resulted in my first novel Song Quest winning the inaugural Branford Boase Award. If the unicorn returns of his own free will, I'll know he loves me.

Resolution Two
Rather than making endless, soul-destroying submissions to slush piles in the absence of an agent, I'll probably indie-publish anything that emerges suitable for a YA or adult audience. But don't worry - to avoid possible confusion with my books for younger readers, I'm using my middle initial for projects that contain more mature material. For the time being, you can find these books on a different page of my website under my new signature list for older readers.

 Signature List.

Resolution Three
Meanwhile, I'm tidying up my backlist and making all those books re-available in paperback, as well as ebook format. You can already get I am the Great Horse as a print-on-demand paperback, although he is rather expensive because of his great length - count yourself lucky, he was 200,000 words in the first draft! My other books should work out cheaper.

Finally, before I go back into hibernation to dream of carving fresh tracks down snowy mountainsides, my Earthaven ebooks are on a special 'January Blues' offer at only 99p each until the end of this month. Download them below for your favourite e-reading device:


SPELLFALL - only 99p until January 31st.
Apple
Kindle
Kobo
Nook

paperback (£7.99)









SPELL SPRING - only 99p until January 31st
Apple
Kindle
Kobo
Nook

paperback (£7.99)








Katherine Roberts writes a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy inspired by legend and myth for readers aged 9+. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk

Friday, 20 January 2017

'There must be a story in that!' by Sandra Horn



At the beginning of January, we were in Turin for a few days. On the first evening, through the (closed) hotel window and the traffic noise, I heard someone singing. It sounded awful. ‘There’s someone out there murdering ‘La Vie En Rose’, I said.
     We came across the singer the next night. An African woman, crouched on the ground with a paper dish for contributions in front of her. Without the previous evening’s distortions, she sounded wonderful. A powerful voice with a Piaf-style raw edge to it. She was still singing the same song, and after she ended with ‘Alors je sens dans moi mon coeur qui bat, la la la la la la,’ she began all over again. We stopped to chat and make an ‘offering’. She spoke only French, no Italian, and we talked about Piaf and how much we had enjoyed the song. We parted with lots of blown kisses from her and ‘Je vous bennisse.’
     We heard her the next night too, but didn’t see her. She was still singing La Vie En Rose, over and over again without pausing. I wanted to ask her how she came to be there; why she was singing outside in the cold, with such a great voice. We didn’t see her again, but on our last evening, I heard her through the hotel window – still the same song, three times over, and then suddenly something else. Impossible to tell what, but it sounded like a wild chant. I’m haunted by her, but PLEASE, everybody, anybody, DON’T tell me that ‘there must be a story there’!   


                                                         Turin Christmas lights!

Here’s the thing: a friend sent me a link to a video recently, titled ‘Cat helps pregnant goat with contractions’.  She had added ‘there must be a story in that!’  How often do writers hear that from kind folk wanting to help with igniting a creative flame? The trouble is, and I could wish it were otherwise (sometimes), it doesn’t work like that, or at least, it doesn’t for me.
     Scenario: I’m day-dreaming my way through, say, a field/forest/riverside walk/W.H.Y., perhaps with a story half-forming in my head, and along comes a dog with a wellington boot in its mouth. ‘Oh, look!’ says my companion, hopefully, ‘there must be a story in that!’  Nope. And the story I was musing on dies in that very moment.  Lost and gone as I’m jerked back into the here-and-now.  ‘You write it, then!’ I’m tempted to yell, but of course I don’t, because it was an offering, a gift, meant to help me, blast it! ‘Mmm,’ I say. I smile, make a non-commital chuckling noise, hope I look grateful, grind my teeth. Why, though? I don’t understand the deadening effect of these remarks. I don’t understand the creative process!
     I don’t think it’s arrogance on my part. I hope not! It’s not as though most ideas are brand-new anyway – and I’ve rewritten old legends before, recasting them according to my liking, so what’s the problem with being presented with an idea by someone else? Why does it make me feel affronted – because the truth is, it does. 


                                           The Silkie, my version of the Selkie/Silkie legend


     Once or twice I’ve managed to say, ‘It doesn’t work like that,’ if the offerer persists, wanting me to spin the tale right there and then, but I’d be at a loss to explain how it DOES work. Stories come unbidden. They well up from somewhere at the back, underneath, round the corner, I DON’T KNOW!  I only know they don’t come by command or by wanting. How much easier it would be if they did! ‘Oh, I think I’ll just sit down and write a family saga, a prize-winning picture book, a haunting epic of love and loss, a screamingly funny adventure story, an odyssey...
     Ha!
     Oddly, I can write poetry to call-outs. Not always, because the topic isn’t always engaging, but often enough. I suppose it’s because the invitations are fairly general – nature in mythology, ageing, animals, comedy – they allow plenty of wriggle-room, space to play. I’ve also written to commission with very tight requirements, though, so that’s not entirely it. Being commissioned implies some initial interest, I suppose, and willingness to work within the parameters agreed.  There’s time to think, ‘is this what I want to do?’ Perhaps it’s the suddenness, the breaking into one’s thoughts, that stifles the offerings of story ideas from kindly friends. I wish I knew!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Supported By Your Local Editor by Jan Edwards

Being dyslexic is something universally recognised but frequently misunderstood. The assumption is that a dyslexic cannot read or write, or even function where the written word is concerned. The reality is very different. There are levels of dyslexia governed by many things too numerous to mention. Those of us on the upper ends of the scale can have a hard time convincing people there is a problem at all because people in general don’t understand what those problems are.

I am constantly aware of the dangers in using wrong or misplaced words without my being aware of doing so. I know perfectly well which words should be used, and where, but all too often the link between eye and brain simply fails and it can take me three or four edits to spot them.

The most frequent pitfalls arise from real words that are very similar in spelling and even usage: e.g. ‘to’ when it should be ‘too’, ‘of’ when it should be ‘off’.  Likewise before writing words receive or their the old rhyme  ‘I’ before ‘E’  except after ‘C’ trots through my brain on continuous loop.

It is less hard than it used to be in some respects. Spellcheck is a gift from the gods as it highlights all of those transposed letters - all of those ‘nad’s  can now be corrected to ‘and’s within seconds. On a good day – or bad, depending on how you look at it - I spend as much time going back to correct words as I do writing new ones. In that sentence alone I deleted ‘mchu’ and retyped ‘much’, ‘cerrect’ with  ‘correct ’ and ‘worse’ with ‘words’. 

The last example proves how predictive text is less than useful because it relies on your typing the correct start to a word; meaning ‘nad’ will not be corrected to ‘and’ but substituted with ‘nag’ or ‘nod’.  In a large document I may well not see that and it is only when grammar check puts a green line under it that I realise the sentence is faulty.

This is fine with ‘and’ et al because the mistake is usually quite obvious, but  when ‘error’ was substituted with ‘arrow’ when what I meant to type was ‘array’  and I did not spot it until a few weeks later it took some head scratching to recall what was in my mind at the time. 

There are occasions when the substitute word can, as a lucky happenstance, work quite well with a little jiggling. At other times they are just plain hilarious (and on occasion quite rude – though that may be just me).

To be fair to my educators I was not a classic case. I could read at the age of four and seldom failed a spelling test.  Except that I did. Letters transposed or missing were attributed to my appalling handwriting or just plain sloppiness. My first job in 1970 was at a bookshop, long before word processors and computers reached everyday commerce. After just a few weeks there the owner bought a tiny portable typewriter so that I could produce legible orders and invoices.  For which I was grateful because back then he could just as easily have sacked me.

Though dyslexia was first identified in the 1880s it did not really exist in the everyday school environment until the 1980s, long after I had left school.  By then I had become very adept at winging it with word identifications  and not ever suspected dyslexia as a problem and it was not until I was well in my forties when my OU tutor,  recognising my eccentric turns of phrase for what they were, obtained a proper evaluation.

The results of that test shocked me to the core. Not only was I measurably dyslexic and severely dyscalculic (which I had often suspected) but I was also dyspraxic into the bargain.

Now I don’t write this for anyone to feel sorry for me, or even to make allowances, but it does illustrate why I should have known better than to send in a commissioned manuscript over the holiday period without first running it past my resident editor.

My excuse was that it was the holidays and the deadline was 31st December, but realising half a day later that my 20,000 words were awash with typos and having to crawl cap in hand to the editor and ask metaphorically (it was an emailed submission) for it back, was not my finest hour.

All corrected now and happy bunnies all round, but proves the case for editors at every turn.       

Dyslexia is a curse that approximately one in ten people suffer to some extent or other. Yes, it does make life challenging at times, but with luck, work and a fair wind it is never a reason for not succeeding as a writer.

***

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

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

My writing cave - by Tara Lyons

The start of the New Year inspired some authors to share images on Faceboook of the views from their writing area. There were some truly beautiful pictures – which made me yearn more for a holiday than writing time… but that’s probably just me. These views were also a huge contrast to the one I have, and it got me thinking – does our surroundings unintentionally influence the genre we choose to write?

I always think writing by the sea is very special. UK or abroad, to me, it just looks beautiful and calming and inspirational. The office window looks out onto a veranda, or pier, and the sun glistens off the water before streaming through to the author’s workspace. It’s easy to see why so many of those authors who shared images like these write about romance, or humorous situations, or family life and children’s books. You can almost taste the salty sea-breeze from their novels.  

My writing space is one half of my bedroom. I set it up last year after I self-published my debut solo novel, In the Shadows. It has everything I need – the equipment and books and personal pictures, etc. But, I am facing a wall. So, when I was asked to share my writing view, I took a snap of what I saw one cold evening from my bedroom window/balcony… which technically, I don’t think is cheating… too much!

My writing view from my bedroom one cold,
December evening in London
I live in London. The photograph was taken in December. It was cold and foggy and the perfect
setting for what I write about – crime. Even now, that one moment I caught on camera has stayed in my mind while editing No Safe Home and planning book three. It’s exactly what I want my readers to envisage when they read certain scenes in my books. Even during the summer, when the trees are full of life, I find myself staring at that lone lamp post, and its limiting light, and the secluded path that leads far back into the unknown (it’s not really unknown to me, I know there’s a space park beyond those trees, but the picture doesn’t share that with you). On occasion, I’ve heard screams, or laughter, or chatter, but when I look out I hardly ever spot passers-by. As I delve further into the DI Hamilton series, I can’t help but think my writing area has spurred me on. That one view has propelled my ideas for crimes and settings and the fears they can entice. And, while I do have an idea for a light-hearted contemporary novel, I have a strong feeling it won’t be winning in the attention stakes, for a while least.

However, while it’s a bonus to have an influential writing view, that’s all it is – a bonus. So, if you don’t have one, and you’re staring at a wall, don’t be disheartened. If you have that idea for a book, keep writing. After all, I wrote my first bestselling novel sitting on my sofa with my laptop on my knees. 

To find out more about Tara's books, visit her Amazon page by clicking here.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Monologues, by Elizabeth Kay


The monologue is a form on its own, and Alan Bennett is its master. It’s really a dialogue with someone or something, although the co-respondent never speaks and is frequently not even there. The recipient may be the character itself, of course, or a facet of it. The monologue follows all the dramatic rules, therefore, and needs conflicts, tensions and resolutions as would a play. But just because we’re used to thinking of monologues as set pieces to camera doesn’t mean that they can’t work extremely well in print. The character does not necessarily have to be alone – although if other people are present the subject is at liberty to ignore them.
            There is usually some debate about the veracity of the information being conveyed – a single-sided view often implies that other versions of the same scenario exist, and provides plenty of opportunities for irony. Your character needs an individual voice to be truly memorable, and this may mean using such devices as repetition, malapropisms, unfinished sentences, non-sequiturs, catch phrases, digressions, obsessions and evasions. If you can’t produce an individual personality by using one or more of those you’re not trying!
            Consider your character’s status in life, and how this influences the way they see their situation. Has their experience of life differed radically from what they were brought up to expect? Do they really project the image they think they project?
            Think about the situation in which you place your subject. You could use a well-worn device such as a mirror, and then make it that bit different. Is the mirror cracked? A distorting mirror at a funfair? An heirloom? A shiny kettle? You could use an imaginary friend, a corpse, a teddy bear. You could get surreal and address anything from your left elbow to a tube of toothpaste. You can make your character just start talking out loud – but think about whether you would do the same thing yourself in the same situation. If talking out loud seems silly to you, it will sound unconvincing to everyone else. Loonies are the exception, of course. They’ll talk to anyone.
            Creating a character who can’t communicate with anyone at all opens up lots of opportunities. I was placed in a Bridport competition a long time ago with this story called Ducks. This is an example of someone who is treated as a loony because of her appearance, although she’s anything but. And it goes without saying that a monologue has to be written in the first person.


Ducks

Every Thursday she comes for me, in her pale tweed coat and her sensible shoes. She has thick legs that finish at the knees, where the coat takes over. I’ve never seen her without it. She replaced the tall one with the protruding teeth. No one tells me their names.
            We always go the same way, to the park. Her stride never varies. We stop by the lake and she sits on the green metal seat and throws pieces of bread to the ducks. Sometimes the ducks come, and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t come she purses her lips and folds the rest of the bred back into the bright waxed paper with great care, doubtless reflecting on their ingratitude. Then she puts the bread back into her brown leather bag. I’ve often wondered what she does with it after that.
            They get me ready for her after dinner. They brush my hair (what there is of it) and wipe the food away from around my mouth, and then they stand one on either side of the wheelchair and lift so that they can put on my coat. They place a tartan blanket over my knees, whatever the time of year. It’s not to keep me warm, it’s to hide my legs. Not for my sake, you understand, but for hers.
            The black nurse is the kindest, the one whose skin looks like the polished wood of the bentwood chairs in matron’s office. They call her Arlene. She calls me Ducks. I’ve never really understood why she addresses me in the plural.
            I have no visitors, except for the woman in the tweed coat. I never have had. Sometimes I wonder if there is a family anywhere, a sister, a nephew maybe. I expect my mother died long ago. And would anyone have been able to see a resemblance between us? I doubt it.
            I am no stranger to my face, not after more than seventy years. Of course, it lacks the symmetry of other people’s, but I’m quite fond of it. The mouth pulls down to one side and an eyebrow twitches from time to time. The overall impression is one of total stupidity. It’s something about the eyes, I think, no control over those little muscles that push and pull and create expressions with fractions of inches. I can’t do it and they call me a spastic. I’ve been in one institution or another as long as I can remember. I don’t know my exact age. Either nobody knows, or no one has bothered to tell me.
It’s fortunate that time passes more swiftly as you get older. I used to find life an endless round of frustration, trying to communicate, trying to show that I understood. But my smile is grimace, my touch a blow and my speech ridiculous. No part of my body will do what my brain instructs, I am imprisoned in an enemy.
            I watch television. We all watch television, it’s switched on after breakfast and stays on until bedtime. I have learned a great deal from the television, in fact it taught me to read. I started with the end. Then I earned to read other things, like subtitles and advertisements and the back of other people’s newspapers. Nobody has noticed. I would read all day long if only someone would turn the pages.
So. The seasons come and they go, and there will not be many more. It is spring now, and I hate the spring. Springtime is the season of youth. They cuddled me when I was young, but an incontinent old woman doesn’t inspire the same emotions. Autumn is my time, I can relate to degeneration and death. Over seventy years have passed and I have never achieved anything, never controlled my wretched body for long enough to make one meaningful gesture.
           
Not all monologues are sad, but they are a very good vehicle for small tragedies. The story above has the happiest ending the character could hope for; she and her visitor meet another couple, a woman, pushing a child in a wheelchair, and when the ducks take off they manage to smile at one another. Something very small can mean everything in the right context, and the monologue is the perfect vehicle – either on its own as a short story, or within a book when you really need to get inside the head of one of your characters.



Monday, 16 January 2017

Adult Colouring Books by Wendy H. Jones


I am writing this post as the new year begins. By the time you read it 2017 will have crossed 16 days off the calendar, and Christmas will be long over. However, hands up those who got an adult colouring book for Christmas? I've got both hands up as I got both a colouring book and a pack of pens. I will admit I have grabbed the adult colouring craze with both hands and sprinted with it. As have many others it would seem. This has got me thinking about these books and why they are so popular.

My research started on Amazon where I typed Adult Colouring Books in the search bar. This gave me 37,962 books to choose from. I kid you not. I was stunned, knowing it was popular but not that popular. That's a lot of books to choose from. It then got me thinking about different genres of colouring books. The one I had for Christmas was a daily devotional so I started with Christian. That gave me 501 books, with devotionals being 95 of these. A quick look at my genre of crime gave me 31 results with the top one being a detective colouring book. Fantasy, as I thought, was big with 1,383 results. 

I also have a Character Sketch and Colour book which is designed to help develop characters. Therefore I did a search for Adult Colouring Books Writing. This showed 14,456 results. I seriously didn't think there would be that many. Blimey, how's a body meant to get any writing done with so many books to colour in to help with the writing process. There are also colouring notebooks and I invested in one of those for my trip to New Orleans for Bouchercon in September. The perfect size for note taking and a quick colouring project. 


Now that I had proved their popularity it was time to look at why they captured our imagination in such a way. having looked at several articles it would seem that they serve to calm us down. This is particularly true of the ones with repeated patterns. Repeating the process over and over allows us to relax and to focus on one thing. Studies have shown that it slows the heart rate thus helping to relieve stress. 

I certainly think this is true. In addition it forces us to slow down. Modern life is frenetic and most people have very little time to themselves. We live in a high octane world where everything is fast and full on. Colouring allows us to take time out, gives us time to think. As a writer I find that ideas often come when I am colouring in. I will then jot them down quickly so that thinking about them doesn't pull me away from my colouring task. I find the process soothing and relaxing which is why I love it so much. 

I would be interested in others views about this phenomenon. Please let me know if the comments what you think of this and the reasons you think it is so popular. Now, if you will excuse me, I've a counting book with my name on it. Maybe I'll even bring one out, you never know. 

About the Author


Website


 Wendy H. Jones is the author of the best selling DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series of crime novels set in Dundee. Killer's Crew, the fifth booking the series was released in November, 2016. Dagger's Curse, the first book in her Fergus and Flora, Young Adult Mystery series was released on 10th September, 2016.  She also has one non fiction book, Power Packed Book Marketing: Sell More Books.



Sunday, 15 January 2017

A Tabloid Story by Jan Needle

In the never-ending search for an honest living as a writer, I have wandered down many byways. Most recently, having written a novella about a particularly gruesome murder, I decided to show it to a few chosen intimates to give me some idea of if it was any good or not.

It's called The Blood Hound, and even that title was given to me by one of those intimates. It's based on a true series of events which took place in Blackburn, Lancashire, in the 1870s. A little girl called Emily disappeared one afternoon after having been given a prize for excellence at her local school.

On her way home she was called across the street by a man, who asked her to go and collect some tobacco for him from a local shop. She knew him, and he gave her the money for the purchase, then went back into his barbershop to wait for her. She was seven.

At home, her parents became worried when her father came home from the mill where he worked, but Emily had still not returned. He went to the police, there was a search, and nothing at all was found.

The police were very good about it, and next day issued Missing Person notices and searched the surrounding area. Nothing.

It was almost fair time in Blackburn, and the town was full of itinerant entertainers, as well as the myriad navvies and ex-navvies who had built the railways and canal – many of whom, of course, were Irish. It would not have taken much to make the place explode.

There were no actual witnesses to the murder or the immediate lead up to it, but several little girls had seen a tramp on a corner near the barbershop, and claimed that he had sent the girl to collect the 'bacca.' You can maybe guess the rest.

There was no mass media in those days, but they did have an alarming number of local newspapers, an extraordinary number of railway lines through the town, and a veritable army of balladeers and chapbook men. Very soon the town was seething with rubberneckers and wild opinions. The barber, strangely, was not fingered as a suspect for many days.

Before that, at least ten tramps were arrested on one day alone, and many more itinerants fled the area. The strongest suspect was seized in a distant county – those railways again – because the girls remembered their man had broken clogs. He was brought back to Blackburn, probably to be lynched.

You can keep it too light. But my proper pics wouldn't download
Except he wasn't. Because a lively opportunist from Preston brought his dog all the way to Blackburn when he read about the murder, and persuaded the police (Mr Chief Constable Potts) that it was a bloodhound and would find out the dreadful truth. The dog, Morgan, was only half bloodhound, and when set on in the woods where part of Emily's body had been found, came up with nothing.

But by this time, local opinion had turned against the barber (who was a tiny, damaged man of twenty-four) and the bloodhound was taken to his shop. It was the first time in England, apparently, that a bloodhound had been used to find a murdered body. Normally, they just hunted runaways.

It took Morgan no time at all. After sniffing round the bottom floor he shot upstairs and almost jammed himself inside the chimney. Where very shortly, Emily's half-burned skull was found. The police saved the barber from the baying crowd, so that he could be hanged with proper decency.

It was the luridness of the newspaper accounts and broadside ballads that gave me my problem. The crime, as delineated, was so appalling, so utterly brutal, that I felt my story had to start with it. Unvarnished. But I thought I might be wrong.

To cut a long story short (if not my problem), it's now been read by six people who are ‘fans’ and friends. And guess what. Half of them think my approach is dead right, and the other half think it borders on disgusting – and more importantly, puts them off reading beyond the first two chapters.

My intention, and my hope, was this: to show a vile crime, then follow it by going into the barber's mind to try and understand why he might have done it. His wife, the mother of his children, forgave him. There was a public subscription to keep them from the poor house. Not, one fears, what would have happened in our more enlightened times?

He was a sad wee man, barely five feet tall, who had been given to the parish as an undernourished toddler, and who fell off the workhouse roof onto his head when aged eleven.

There’s my quandary, sensation seekers. What to do?

PS I had a pic of the 'bloodhound' and the murderer, but the computer said no. Sorry.

PPS Just finished the account by G.A.Jones ('honest George') of his 'pleasure trip' to the Baltic by motor boat the month before Britain and Germany went to war. It is understated, funny, moving, and original. Just like Julia's own writing. She is, of course, his daughter. I honestly can't recommend it highly enough. It's called The Cruise of Naromis, and it's from Golden Duck and on Amazon.