Saturday, 28 February 2015


 Going round the local charity shops with my daughter recently, I picked up a copy of Donna Tartt's "THE GOLDFINCH". I'd read the reviews when it first came out, but never got round to buying it. My daughter, grand-daughter, and their close friend Jon Welch, the playwright, all loved it, so I bought it (couldn't get a higher recommendation that). It is dauntingly long, and physically cumbersome, so I'll probably replace it with the ebook version. I'm also finding it, initially slow, which is my fault as a reader - certainly not hers as a writer.

'Slow' has been the main criticism of the BBC's production of "WOLF HALL", too. I think we're all being conditioned to respond to fast action, and the first episode of "WOLF HALL" was complex, especially for viewers not familiar with the book, and yes, slow. Since then, I've become more and more impressed by it, and will be sad when it reaches its final episode (only temporarily, I hope - there are two more books, one of which we are still waiting for). Slowness is a quality the media actively dislikes - it would prefer us to spend little or no time in the contemplation of what we have seen or read, so that, even if we've just finished watching an amazing and thought-provoking programme, it has to butt in to tell us what's coming next. Sometime I wonder if fast/junk food and fast reading/viewing aren't directly related.

    Recently I've been going through old work, some of it dating back to the time when there were no computers. Reading one's own work again feels odd - like coming across it for the first time, as a critical reader. Much of what I discarded were, inevitably, multiple hard copies - I find that, however much I write online, it still has to run through that final (and often not so final) print to paper test. Among the very old and irreplaceable stuff, I found a short story I'd had published in a magazine, with a photocopy of the accompanying, and quite stunning, line illustration by Barbara Anne Taylor. It was quite hard to photograph, as the paper had browned and was curled, but here it is.

The actual story grew out of my experience of working in a Rudolf Steiner school, and involves a very odd, intense friendship between two adolescents with learning difficulties - a boy and a girl. I'm now playing with the idea of re-writing it as a one-off drama. It's a Romeo and Juliet story, so not a happy ending, and set in a rather grim 50s mental hospital.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Agents Becoming Publishers and Keeping Books Alive - Andrew Crofts

Fifteen years ago I was ghostwriting books for the most disenfranchised members of the global community; victims of enforced marriages, sex workers, orphans, victims of crimes, bonded labourers and abused children. Out of those experiences I wrote a novel, initially entitled “Maisie’s Amazing Maids”. 

The book did okay but then slipped onto the back shelves and from there into the obscurity that envelops all but the lucky few in the book world. In the past that would have been the end of the story, but now, of course, there are a number of options for breathing life back into books that are no longer in the first flush of publication.

The book has now been re-launched by Thistle Publishing as a sumptuous paperback and e-book entitled “Pretty Little Packages”.

Thistle is an enormously successful imprint set up by London agents Andrew Lownie and David Haviland to keep books alive and available when the more traditional publishing organisations are no longer willing or able to do so. While there have been some grumblings in the industry about the possible ethical problems of agents acting as publishers, and the Society of Authors recommends careful scrutiny of the contracts, Thistle has shown exactly how an agent/publisher can fill this gaping hole in the market, providing another potential stream of revenue for authors.

Electronic developments mean that publishers like Thistle, like self-publishing authors, can operate with minimal capital outlay, able to be nimble and responsive to the demands of both authors and readers in ways that are impossible for organisations that have invested in vast, glass, riverside tower blocks and mighty wage bills.

Until a book or author becomes a phenomenon, (step forward J.K. Rowling, E.L. James, Patterson, Donaldson, Walliams, Paddington et al), we authors are really more suited to the cottage industry style of production and marketing than the corporate. A book that can provide a good living to an individual author and an individual agent/publisher is often hard pushed to make any significant contribution to the bottom line of one of the mighty glass tower corporations - which is why books are so often cast aside if they do not achieve instant success.

Joe Tye, the ghostwriter protagonist at the heart of Pretty Little Packages, is definitely working at the “cottage industry” end of the business when he is approached by a girl called Doris, who informs him that someone has “stolen her beautiful new breasts” and asks for his help. Responding to her plea plunges him into the dark and dangerous worlds of people trafficking and modern slavery – his discoveries making the glass tower publishers suddenly eager to open their cheque books to him.

At the same time as dealing with the amorous advances of the sixteen year-old daughter of a gangster, who also happens to be his client, and navigating his way through drug dens and backstreet clinics from Brighton to Manila, Joe is trying to be a responsible, newly divorced father to a young son who constantly does the unexpected – and then things turn really ugly.

At the heart of everything sits Maisie, and her network of “Amazing Maids” – all called Doris and all having their breasts stolen. But behind Maisie lie much more powerful and sinister forces. People for whom other people’s lives are entirely expendable. People who do not want Joe telling stories.

Back in the real world; the more publishing companies there are like Thistle the more chance that stories will be told which the denizens of the glass tower blocks would otherwise allow to disappear – stories like Pretty Little Packages.   

One more reason to feel optimistic about the future of book publishing.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wait a Minute, Mr Postman by Ruby Barnes

Letters coming through my letterbox here in Kilkenny are a rare thing. Bank statements - electronic these days. Payslips - electronic. I did recently have a cheque for €53.70 arrive from my previous broadband supplier, which was quite exciting.

Unfortunately Alfie the Dog has become unused to snail mail and thrusts his fangs through everything that postie shoves in the door, including hands. So the cheque had two teeth marks in it, and my bank wasn't happy with me. Their processing machines don't appreciate bent, spindled, twisted or chewed financial documents. I ordered a paperback book (remember those things?) for Mrs R recently, after her traumatic run-in with a herd of cows and a bull while collecting river water samples for analysis; Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan, naturally. Zombie cows, a very good read. Alfie the Dog appreciated the beefy taste, biting right through the packaging. Two tooth dents in back and front covers.

Well, one set of mail that my hound can't chew beyond recognition is my email inbox. These days it's mostly full of twitter and facebook notifications, with the odd review request and a whole pile of subscriber updates from mail lists for free, bargain and new release e-books. Here's a picture of a typical day at the receiving end of e-book recommendations:

advertising for free and special offer e-books
My daily selection of e-book offer subscriptions

I've subscribed to all these outfits and they fill my mail account every day. According to my proclaimed marketing strategy I'm supposed to be advertising my books on these websites, in these mailouts, but it's a bit bewildering to be honest. And if I'm getting fatigued by it all then I suspect readers are too. There are also many others that aren't listed but I do interact with them on and suchlike hangouts. The results from advertising? A bit hit and miss, to be honest. Unless your book fits smack bang in the middle of a popular genre, and you've selected a mailer who has a sizable and good quality list segment for that genre (e.g. BookBub thriller freebie yielding 30k+ downloads and follow-on full-priced sales of same book plus sequel), then it can be tricky to break even. The temptation is to go for a scatter-gun approach of every advertiser that will accept your book, but then the efficacy of each advertiser is difficult to judge (unless they provide some kind of tracking link that counts each time a recipient clicks). I'm not going to go into a detailed study of all the advertising possibilities because I'm far too lazy. But here's a chap who has done all the hard work for us -

Add on top of this promotional complexity the new Amazon author ad campaigns that have an entry-level budget of $100 but don't seem to be able to use up any money because almost no one is clicking the ads. I am well and truly Confused of Kilkenny. There are more questions than answers, and the more I find out ... all together now.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ghost Song - Susan Price

     Ambrosi...saw the shape of a great and beautiful tree,

winter-bare of leaves. It rose out of the empty dark with the pale, pale sheen of steel by moonlight, faintly outlined against the blackness and the stars.
     The stars shone through its branches, like brilliant, unseasonable fruit... Other sounds, distant and eerie, crept to his ears. The stars, every one of the thousands of stars, as it spun in darkness, spun its own crystalline, icy, piercing note that... wove and interwove with the note of every other star. Cold, thrilling, calling harmony: poignant discord: the music of the spheres.
          This is an extract from my book, Ghost Song.
The World Tree
        It's said that one of the questions most often asked of writers is, 'Where do you get your ideas from?' Well, I know exactly where this description of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, comes from.

When I was eleven, I moved from the little primary school where I'd first met the Greek Myths, to a big comprehensive school. For our first English lesson, we were taken to the school library, made members, and told to choose a book.
          Despite coming from a home where books lined the walls, were stacked on the stairs, on window-sills and under beds, I had never seen so many books in one place. I felt overwhelmed. How was I to choose one book from all these?
          I wandered round the shelves and found myself looking, at eye-level, at a tan-brown spine, with pale blue letters, which said, 'Norse Myths and Leg-ends.' (I thought 'legends' was pronounced 'leg-ends' with a hard 'g', because I don't think I'd ever heard it spoken.)
          I knew the Greek Myths were mind-blowing. I'd spent the previous year reading and re-reading them, and my head was full of golden apples, minotaurs, winged warriors and flying horses. So I grabbed that book of Norse Leg Ends, which promised more of the same.
          It did not disappoint. The Norse Myths were, for me, even more overwhelming, resonant and fascinating even than the Greek. Like C. S. Lewis:
...instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote...)
          It was in this book that I first read of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, with its roots in the Underworld and its branches among the Upper Worlds. It planted the image of the Tree rising up, its branches threading through darkness, moonlight and stars.
          That image stayed with me for twenty-five years - until I finally wrote it down, in Ghost Song. (I'd already written The Ghost Drum, which is
The Ghost Drum, by Susan Price
set in the same 'ghost world,' but Yggdrasil didn't find a place in that.)
          During the twenty-five years, details had been added. I'd learned about 'the music of the spheres,' the idea that as the planets revolve, they each produce a note which harmonises with the others, and that this harmony underlies the order of the universe. That worked its way into the description.
          The Greek and Norse Myths set me off on an exploration of mythology and folklore, which has lasted the rest of my life. I became particuarly interested in the folklore and ballads of the Scots borders (which emerged again in my Sterkarm books.) In such ballads as Thomas The Rhymer and The Lykewake Dirge, there are brief descriptions of what the journey to the Other World was believed to be like. (And these descriptions, passed on from generation to generation, and with so many echoes in myths worldwide, stretch back, possibly, for millenia.)

These folkloric accounts also found their way into Ghost Song, in Ambrosi's journey to the Ghost World.

     ...with the sound of the wind came another sound: the swinging boom and echo of a sea in a cave. Soon the singing of the stars was muffled and lost in this sea-sound, which grew louder, soothing and alarming at the same time... And on the wind came a smell, a smell that both wolf and Ambrosi knew well: the smell of blood.

     Beneath the last span of the bridge rushed a river, bringing an echo from the black and glittering sky about them. The river foamed; it roared as it rushed along, and it smelt of blood: a river of blood, tossing bones as it ran. The bones clicked and clattered together.

     The bridge brought them over the chasm, over the river, into a land of darkness. Three roads led away from the bridge, but each disappeared, within a few feet, into a darkness unlit even by snow-light. Ambrosi stood mystified, not knowing which way to go, but the wolf, though its fur bristled, started for the narrowest path.
          The River of Blood, which divides this world from the next, is found in much Northern myth, and is mentioned in 'Thomas The Rhymer.' Many stories tell of a narrow, narrow bridge across a chasm or river - it's in Norse myth, and in Irish Legend, a bridge made from the edge of a sword-blade is mentioned. It's found in fairy tales too.

The three paths are mentioned in Thomas The Rhymer.  - 'See you not the broad, broad path that lies along the lily leven?/That's the road to Hell itself, though some call it the road to Heaven - See you not that narrow, narrow path, all beset with thorns and briars? That's the road to Righteousness, though after it but few enquires. - See you not that bonny, bonny path that winds about the ferny brae? That's the road to fair Elfhame where you and I must go this day.'

All these images melded together and helped me see the path that Ambrosi follows to the Ghost World.
          People who want to close school and public libraries, or cut funding to them, might want to reflect on a child's accidental discovery, in a school library, of the Greek and Norse Myths - a discovery which resulted in a lifelong interest, a career as a writer, and the production of award-winning books.

    Paperback                                                                                            e-book

                    The Ghost Drum                                                                           The Ghost Drum

                        Ghost Song                                                                                     Ghost Song 

                        Ghost Dance                                                                                   Ghost Dance 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Identifying with our characters. And sometimes not. By Jo Carroll

We ask a lot of our characters. Should we ask the same of ourselves?

I've just returned from a trip to Malaysia. It's a wonderful, multicultural country with some of the kindest people in the world. But this trip has thrown three significant unexpectednesses at me - just the sort of thing we throw at our characters.

Firstly, the weather. Floods kept me from the travelling deep into the rainforest: would I ask my fictional self to get caught in the floods, to wade waste-deep with crocodiles and leeches, in an effort to reach safety? The tail-end of the monsoon continued to ravage the east coast and made reaching an island, with its palm trees and snorkelling, difficult as the ferries were unreliable in the stormy weather. My fictional self would have gone anyway, huddled on the beach with the snakes and monkeys and had sand blown in her eyes.

Secondly, the Chinese New Year, a time of glorious celebrations with fireworks and dragons, stretches the public transport system to its limits. I've experienced this before, in Vietnam, so I know that my fictional character might have to travel on a night bus with blocked toilet, so overcrowded that people were sleeping on the floor, careering through the mountains in the dark. It was almost fun the first time. But masochistic to do it again.

Thirdly, there was a significant political trial due to reach its conclusions while I was in the country. I had no idea of the history or ramifications - I only knew what I read in the papers. I gleaned most of my local information from students working as cafes; they were full of their work and travelling plans but tight-lipped if I mentioned the trial. Maybe I should have stayed in Kuala Lumpur to find out, knowing that if there were riots I'd have to hide in alleyways with the rats while the police fired water cannon and possibly worse.

I'm really not that brave. I abandoned the rainforest and the island. I found a place of safety away from KL long before the Chinese New Year.

So can I really put myself in the position of an intrepid character when, faced with a challenge or two, I'm really a bit of a wuss?

You can find out about some of the adventures I was unable to avoid on my website: where there are links to my books.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Lev's Top Ten Part V

It's taken a while to get here, but here we are: the last stage of my countdown of the top ten books and and series that have stayed with me thoughout my life. For those of you just joining me, this whole thing started a few months ago when a former student tagged me in one of those Facebook status games asking you to rank the top ten somethings that are important to someone somewhere.

Admittedly "stayed with you" is open to interpretation. I mean there are some truly horrible pieces of writing that, try as I might, I cannot erase from my memory: The Bridges of Madison County, Twilight, Moby Dick. It could also refer to books I just can't get rid of no matter how many times I try to give them away: the Gideon bible, I'm Okay, You're Okay, Moby Dick.

In the interest of being interesting, I chose to interpret the phrase as books that have had a significant influence on my life. It has taken me a while, far longer than I expected when I began, but this post wraps it all up.

In the time it has taken me to count down ten books,
Casey Kasem died and was reborn as Ryan Seacrest.
Before we finish this up, let's review the list so far:

10. Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series
9. Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men
8. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series
7. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
6. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
5. John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany
4. Richard Monaco's Parsival series
3. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five

I even threw in a long-distance dedication.

Okay, let's do this.

2. The six-volume Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams

Possibly the most famous trilogy of the modern age
and the reason I can't do math.
Arthur Dent wakes up with an earsplitting hangover one Thursday morning to find a large yellow bulldozer preparing to knock his house down to make way for a new expressway. Before he can do anything about it, however, the rest of the world wakes up to find large yellow demolition ships in orbit preparing to destroy the earth to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

This is pretty much as good as his day gets.

spoiler alert
What follows is an adventure so large that three books can't contain the trilogy and so long that the author's death couldn't stop it. Over the course of six books, Arthur travels the length and breadth of space and time, witnessing the destruction of the universe over cocktails as well as the construction of earth, a supercomputer designed so that mice could understand why 42 is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. He saves the galaxy from the most dangerous game of cricket ever played, finds love on earth a few years after its destruction, becomes the most powerful man in an alien tribe because of his mad skills as a sandwich-maker, and after his own death, he helps survivors of earth's many many destructions find a new home.

Along the way, he is insulted by every single life form he encounters, completely fails to sleep with the girl of his dreams yet still manages to father a child with her, totally succeeds in sleeping with the other girl of his dreams before she is lost forever in a sea of plot-contrivance, and learns to fly. Sadly, however, he never manages to find a decent cup of tea.

I was first introduced to Douglas Adams' in seventh grade, when my best friend, Jack Mayfield, loaned the books to me, and I fell in love with them completely. Back then there were only four books in the trilogy, but I read the series twice before I returned them. I then borrowed Jack's LP records of the original radio show, and watched his VHS copy of the television series he had taped off of PBS.

It was my first experience with social satire, and I knew I was missing most of the jokes. However, this only meant I got more from the series as I grew older and re-read it. It was also the first time I came across science fiction that was both funny and serious. There are passages toward the end of the third book, Life the Universe and Everything, that are hauntingly bittersweet, even borderline depressing. The fourth volume, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, is one of the sweetest love stories put to paper (seriously, screw Nicholas Sparks), and Mostly Harmless, the fifth volume and Adams' last book, has one of the most haunting final images I've ever read. Even the sixth book, Eoin Colfer's ...And Another Thing, as flawed as it is in places, perfectly captures Adams' voice and provides a satisfactory coda to the series as a whole.

I owe my sense of humor to Adams as well as my appreciation for all the absurd quirks of modern life. I also learned the valuable ability to turn a phrase on its head first from Adams and later from the next writer in this countdown. Indeed, if any one writer has influenced me most, I'd have to credit Adams because, even more than Vonnegut, he showed me that a novel need not be either serious or humorous; it can be equally both.

And here it is...

My number one book or series...

The one that has stayed with me my whole life...

1. Catch-22 & Closing Time by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller's life came with literal bookends.
Heller's first novel, Catch-22, tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombadier who, after failing to save the life of a mortally wounded rear-gunner, discovers he no longer wants to fly missions anymore because "they" are trying to kill him. Unfortunately, though everyone admits Yossarian is as crazy as his tentmate Orr (who crashes his airplane during each mission), he cannot be grounded because there's a catch
and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. 
Over the course of the novel, we learn that "they" are not necessarily the Germans nor even the U.S. military commanders, but anyone with power over anyone else because
Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.
Given the choice of joining with the "theys" or facing a court-martial for desertion, Yossarian decides instead to run away from the whole shebang, and takes off for Sweden.

youthful rebellion
It isn't until 33 years later, when Heller published his final novel and sequel to Catch-22Closing Time, that the full ramifications of the catch come home. This novel finds Yossarian an old man who has been coerced into working for M&M Enterprises (the shadowy catering syndicate from the first novel) by being asked to and offered lots of money. We learn his escape plan failed almost as soon as it began when he was arrested in Italy and forced to be sent back home a hero.

He has spent the majority of his adult life employed as M&M's conscience. He tells them why their decisions stink, so they can ignore him and do what they want anyway. In short, Yossarian learns that Catch-22 applies to everyone, even those in power, and the worst way to live is to be accepted by the other bastards who run things.

oldful submission
Closing Time received almost universal negative reviews, primarily due to people's disappointment that Yossarian wound up a sell-out and corporate schill. However, this is exactly the beauty of the sequel. I loved Catch-22 because of the biting way it critiqued bereaucracy. As a teenager, it gave my rebellious phase a kind of legitimacy, in much the same way as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye did for many others. Closing Time, though, shows us that Yossarian was no more successful in his rebellion than any of us were. He still had to grow up, find a job, have a family, get divorced, and fail at everything he ever tried artistically, just like the rest of us.

It is a more honest continuation of Yossarian's story. Logically we know that Huck Finn will eventually grow up, and he may possibly one day own slaves, and no matter how nicely he treats them, he'll still be a slaveowner. Holden Caulfield is going to grow up, and he will get a job and live the very middle class lifestyle he spends a weekend in New York rebelling against. However, we don't have to think of that because we are left only with Huck lighting out for the Territories, and Holden watching his sister on that carousel.

For thirty years, Heller allowed us a similar vision of Yossarian, saying "No" and running off to Sweden. Heller let us idolize Yossarian, and then, as a final joke, he showed us the catch in action: Yossarian was just a schlub like the rest of us. For many, it upset them. For me, it was liberating. After all, if Yossarian couldn't maintain his youthful rebellion, I have no reason to bemoan my own selling out. I can look at my own middle-class life and be proud. I always wanted to be like Yossarian, and turns out, I am!
*     *     *
And that's it. I'd like to dedicate this post (as well as the last five) to the memory of Casey Kasem. When I started this project, I spent several days listening to old recordings of Kasem's American Top 40, trying to get a feel for the tropes of the old music countdowns of my youth. In the process, I discovered that he had passed away a few months before in June after battling DLB for several years. In 2004, he handed the reins of his Top 40 countdown show to Ryan Seacrest as he was growing increasingly unable to use his voice for any extended period of time.

Kasem shaped my childhood reading habits: I always had his radio show playing in the background when I read on Sunday afternoons. To this day, I associate songs I heard on his countdown with the books I was reading at the time. Whenever I hear Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," for example, I find myself thinking of Theoden's death in Tolkien's Return of the King because it was number one on the countdown when I read that chapter. Starship's "We Built this City" similarly brings to mind The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe since it was rising up the countdown as I read them for the first time.

So I am going to leave you all with the same encouragement Casey left us with each week after he reached the number one single in America:

Until next month

Rest easy, Casey, you finally reached 'em.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

He, Cromwell: Mantel on page and screen, by Ali Bacon

Montacute House
aka Wolf Hall 
The media love to feed off each other. Over the winter the Daily Telegraph ran a news item every Monday (yes news, not features!) relating to Downton Abbey, and in the last few weeks I've notices something similar with the BBC's Wolf Hall, except for a small snag: viewing figures weren’t as brilliant as expected. Still, even that became news of the non-news kind (Wolf Hall fails to grip the nation) and they hedged their bets by finding a photo of Mark Rylance for the front page.

The Beeb of course cashes in with spin-off programmes and Rylance (surprise!) popped up right on cue on Desert Island Discs. Do I mind? 

Not in the least, because fickle creature that I am, I’d rather watch or listen to Mark Rylance than the sadly overexposed High Bonneville any day. Oh what a circus. The media have me down to a T.

But it’s still worth thinking about Wolf Hall on TV and its impact or lack of. For me the books do require patience and a willingness on the part of the reader to be immersed by thoughts as much as action, not to mention sorting out a pretty big cast of characters many of whom are called Thomas. (Such is the fate of the historical novelist – you can’t change the names!) I actually nearly gave up on Wolf Hall but once I was in there (for some reason the death of his wife that was the turning point for me) it was engrossing and compelling.  

But despite my enjoyment of it I didn’t get around to reading the sequel, Bring up the Bodies, until the TV series loomed into view, I think because I felt I already knew how it would feel as a read, and, as a friend pointed out, let’s face it we know what happens in the end. In fact I think I enjoyed it more than WH, although I still can’t believe that the ‘pronoun problem’ (digression alert) didn’t get sorted out.

"He, Cromwell"
(in case you were wondering)
He = Cromwell
Rant/digression! In Wolf Hall Mantel  opted for a style where ‘he’ nearly always referred to Cromwell even if someone else had been referred to more recently (there's an example and discussion here) . I for one found this unnecessarily confusing until I got used to it (and sometimes even then).  In BUTB either Mantel or her editors decided to give the reader a break by using ‘he, Cromwell’ where there was any ambiguity. Sorry, but this struck me as clunky in the extreme, and anyway why do we need a pronoun and a name, surely ‘Cromwell’ on its own would have been less jarring?  

So, going back to the TV version, complaints have mostly been that it’s too slow with too many long looks and ‘significant’ silences.  And these have come from both fans of the books and those who don’t know them at all.

But you see, there’s the thing.  As my writing teacher – who was an actress before she was a novelist – pointed out, of all the arts, only writing allows us inside people’s heads. Pace the artificiality of a soliloquy (or voice-over), actors reveal thoughts only through expression and action. Writers actually put these thoughts on the page. 

I actually think the BBC dramatization is very faithful to the subtle and detailed style of Mantel’s writing. It’s just that the director faces more limitations in giving us Cromwell’s inner thoughts. The Rylance eyebrows, however eloquent, have their limitations.

As an afterthought, and with apologies to Ali for the liberty, here's an Authors Electric review of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

Photo credit: Montacute House by Paul McCoubrie on Flickr

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Our lovely silly words..Pauline Chandler

(1-A. 2-A. 3-B. 4-B. 5-B. 6-A. 7-A. 8-A. 9-A. 10- A. I'll explain later). 

Did you catch Stephen Fry on Radio 2 recently, talking about words?

He’s something of an expert having worked on a series of programmes about plain English. His main point this time was that, unlike more regimented languages, English is constantly evolving, to embrace how people actually use words. I hadn’t really thought about it, that dictionaries record usage rather than dictating the rules. What a great example of honouring creativity! How sensible!

Fry pointed out this aspect of our beautiful language, when he was asked if he really was the creator of the term ‘luvvie’ for an actor sort of person. The OED lists him as the first person to use the word.  Fry quoted another example of his creating a word that has entered common usage, with his friend Hugh Laurie. The word was ‘spoffle’, to described the muffler spongy bit which is placed on the end of a microphone during recording. He was thrilled when, on a separate occasion, he heard a technician ask for one.

‘Spoffle’ and ‘luvvie’; they’re such lovely silly words, aren’t they? When my children were small, I had affectionate nicknames for them, ‘Spodger’, ‘Billy Bodget’ or, sometimes, ‘Fanackerpan’, though, I'm not sure I actually made that one up. When you go into it, there are plenty of lovely silly words in English. We’ve been making them up for centuries. Hooray, I say! Callooh Callay!
Quiz: Here are ten super silly words in English. All you have to do is decide which is the correct meaning.  Answers above!

1.  Mugwump –        A. Politician           B. Mythical bog monster  

2.  Taradiddle –        A. Fib.                  B. Feather  

3.  Pottle –              A. Small stain.        B.  A container for strawberries

4.  Firkin –               A. Small keg.         B. Large barrel

5.  Skedaddle –       A. Small side saddle for a child. B. To leave, guiltily, in a 
6.   Blunderbuss –    A.  Old weapon.       B. Clumsy kiss

7.   Flibbertigibbet – A.  Flighty person.    B. Hastily erected gallows

8.   Whiffler –          A. Attendant who cleared the way for the monarch. 
                              B. Fictional creature mentioned in ‘The Jabberwocky’.

9.    Wuffler –           A.  Haymaking machine to fluff up the hay. B. Dog's scarf. 

10.  Boggler -           A. Mystifying puzzle.  B. Small swamp-dwelling mammal.

Before I leave you for this month, I looked up the OED’s list of new words for 2014.

bae n. used as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner.

budtender n. a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop.

contactless adj. relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.

indyref, n. an abbreviation of ‘independence referendum’, in reference to the referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

normcore n. a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement.

slacktivism, n., informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website; a blend of slacker and activism.

The winner was ‘Vape’= ‘to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device’, while both the device and the action can also be known as a vape 

Mmm, I'm not sure 'vape' has any staying power. Last year’s was ‘selfie’. That seems to have caught on. 

Pauline Chandler