Showing posts from November, 2017

It ain't what you tell, it's the way that you tell it: in which Debbie Young tries not to lose the plot

English author Debbie Young Most authors at some point in their writing lives will come across the advice that there are ONLY SEVEN BASIC PLOTS - or maybe nine, or thirty-six, or various other numbers, depending on whom you consult.  If you're the glass-half-empty type, it's easy to think: "Oh no, how can I ever hope to be original? Someone will have got there before me!" Whereas glass-half-full types like me may think: "Well, Shakespeare just took existing stories and upcycled them into his plays - if it's good enough for Shakespeare, who am I to complain?" Those who can't even see the glass are probably best advised to throw down their pen and take up golf instead. The BEST thing to do is, of course, to take your choice of basic plot and wrap around it your choice your characters, themes, setting, etc etc to produce a final story that only you could write .  How Shall I Write It? Let Me Count the Ways  (Photo by MJS on Unspla

The need for speed ( awareness): N M Browne

I have to go for a speed awareness course today. Mea culpa.      I wouldn’t like you to get the impression that I’m unaware of speed: I am all too aware of it. I hate running or cycling down hill, skiing is impossible because I’m frightened of being out of control. I’m not some wild boy, or even girl, racer, I am just confused about the speed limits in my new locale. I moved to Cheltenham recently and Gloucestershire   has a surfeit of cameras and a deficit of speed signs: much like life, in fact.     In general, driving apart,   I am prone to doing things too fast and too carelessly   - cooking, child rearing, shopping, form filling even on occasions novel writing. I don’t think I ever learned the right speed for any of them because if anyone gave me any advice I wasn’t paying attention: I missed the signs and had to make it up with a bit of guess work, and a hazy memory of something I read in the highway code thirty years ago.    Well, I’ve already confessed how well that worke

Back Burner texts, Wishes, and Educational Publishing by Enid Richemont

This is the first cover image of my new little book which forms part of one of the reading schemes from Franklin Watts at Hachette. The story began life as an idea for a picture book - subtlely  different from these illustrated 'readers' which are also lavishly illustrated (the artist hasn't completed the inside illustrations yet). It's the story of a very anti-social old man who actively tries to exclude people from his life with "KEEP OUT" and "TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED" signs around his garden. He even mistakes his fairy godmother for one of his hated intruders, but when she grants him three wishes (with a sigh because she's stuck with her traditional obligation), he immediately spots a business opportunity, and wishes for more and more wishes, ending up with a hundred, but he has no idea how to use them except for maybe barbed wire, or guard dogs to keep people out, or, of course, money which he likes to count. In reality, what he n

Books that should put you off the Creative Life - Andrew Crofts

  I have just read First Person,  Richard Flanagan's new novel about a hungry young novelist struggling with ghostwriting the life of an impossible con-man for a demanding publisher. It captures exactly the sort of despair we have all faced at times when trying to make a living in the creative world. I think perhaps texts such as this should be recommended reading on any vocational creative writing course and in every art school, (and every drama school come to that), in order to test the mettle of the would-be creatives. I remember as a teenager reading Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell and Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and being both excited and appalled. Excited by the prospect of escaping an ordinary life in order to be a great poet/artist like the heroes of these books, and simultaneously appalled by the poverty and rejection that they have to face as a result of their choices.   If you can read books like these and still want t

Making Much of Little - by Susan Price

 Last month, my colleague, Griselda Heppel, wrote about how annoying it is when people make wild unsubstantiated guesses about Shakespeare's life, based on very little evidence. For instance, he left his wife his 'second best bed,' so, obviously, he didn't think much of her. And she was eight years older than him so, obviously it was an unwanted marriage of convenience. And he went away to be a playwright in London, so quite plainly, he hated the sight of her. Any of these statements may be true. But it's just as likely that they aren't. They are much made out of very little. The idea that Bill didn't get on with Anne because he was young and carefree and she was such a grumpy old hag is based solely on a line in Twelfth Night: 'Let still the woman take an elder than herself.' This is seized on as a hot-line to Shakespeare's heart. Aha! This is him regretting his unwise marriage and letting slip what he really thought. Never mind that S

Has the internet eaten my concentration? - Jo Carroll

I’m possibly speaking only for myself here - but when I read a blog or a newspaper online I read the title and the opening argument and then decide I’ve got the gist of it and decide if I want to skim from there or if it’s going to repay the time investment to read it thoroughly. These days more and more pieces are skimmed - it’s so easy to get the general idea and then click on something else. Many online newspapers make the process easier by confusing sentences with paragraphs - everything is divided into three-line chunks. Facebook posts - if someone has something deep and meaningful to say, they need to grab me in the first couple of sentences.  And then I sit down to read a real book. I curl up on the sofa with tea (or wine). I have an hour or two to wallow in real print on real paper. But after half an hour I’m restless - it’s time to move on to something else. A few years ago I could read the clock round and move only when I needed a wee. I sit down to research somethi

Lev Butts Is Not Giving Thanks

Yeah, it's that time again. Another holiday season is upon us. Here in America, the season is ushered in on Thanksgiving. The day families all over the country come together to break bread, share turkey, and alienate each other as soon as Uncle Frank (damn you, Frank!) shows up with his MAGA hat and "Lock her Up T-shirt" and berates Cousin Mike (Jesus, Mike!) in his hemp-woven parka and Bernie 2020 button for being a godless socialist all in the name of celebrating a bunch of ill-prepared Europeans almost dying of pneumonia and dysentery before a bunch of Natives took them in, showed them how to farm, and promptly died of the common cold caught from a snot-nosed baby Puritan. That's one solution. It's also that time when we show our thankfulness and goodwill toward mankind by engaging in the Black Friday Hunger Games: Shoppers run the gauntlet of shopping mall crowds and limited-supply, one-day-only-sales while dodging crying children and the fists, feet

Carnegie's Gold: Ali Bacon visits her home town and remembers its benefactor

Over the past two years I’ve spent time and energy defending libraries here in South Gloucestershire and neighbouring local authorities where they are being subjected to ever more drastic cuts. This is partly because as an  ex-librarian (working mainly in the academic sector) I feel for the staff, but more because our local library played such a formative part in my childhood. So much so that it won a starring role in my first novel A Kettle of Fish (which I always hasten to add is nothing to do with my childhood - apart from the locations!) Of course the library in Dunfermline wasn’t ‘just any library’ but the very first Carnegie Library and we were always being reminded of our debt of gratitude to our famous benefactor. ( Andrew Carnegie was a native of the town). Staircase to the new museum Having moved south in my twenties, it's a while since I had darkened the door of my old library, until last month, when I was invited to speak at  the Undiscovered Dunfe

If Writers Were Bakers and Candlestick Makers - Katherine Roberts

There has been a brilliant hashtag running on Twitter this month called #IfWritersWereBakers. I'm not sure who started it, but if you missed the fun then try a Twitter search and you'll find a whole string of publishing truths that writers encounter sooner or later in the course of their careers. One of my favourites is this If-Writers-Were-Bakers-style reader review from @Joannechocolat: "I bought this chocolate cake from you, but when I got it home I found it had chocolate in it. One star." While @say_shannon tackles the perennial curse of the children's author: "Ah, so you're a CHILDREN'S baker. Anyone can bake cakes for children. When are you going to bake a proper cake?" And, with National Novel Writing Month upon us, @MrsTrellis obviously has the right idea: "I’m taking part in NaNoBaMo. I’ll add an ingredient a day for the whole of November, then I can call myself a baker." The perfect way to let off steam! Since

Running out of juice by Sandra Horn

I’m in a terrible flat spot. I got to poem 38 of the 52 poems challenge and just came to a stop. I made notes for the next two and wrote one verse but just couldn’t go on. For all these past weeks, I’ve just fiddled about with old stuff – poetry and prose – but have not been able to be creative at all. It’s a familiar dilemma, but doesn’t usually last this long. Often in the past, walking somewhere beautiful starts the process going and recently, we’ve been in the Lakes, in glorious sunny weather. Blue skies above just-turning autumn leaves reflected in the water. The roar and magnetic pull of a waterfall in spate. Saddleback blueish in the distance. Evenings around a log fire. A squelchy walk from Pooley Bridge to Barton Church to rescue a wren that might have been trapped in there (it wasn’t). Everything, in fact, to gladden the heart and get the creative juices flowing. Except they didn’t.  This is a lake, not a story    At one point I put it down to that kindly-m

Bingeing Fiction by Jan Edwards

My other half and I recently gave in to the wave of nothingness and repeats on Freeview TV and acquired Netflix.  A week on, and several evenings of watching we've only touched the surface the stuff that is available.  When I say that I now have Netflix people often smile knowingly and utter dire warning of  binge-watching, but a week on I can’t say it has been any different to before.  Oh  I admit there is an awful lot more of it, and it is so very easy to access, but that Curate's egg conundrum of good versus bad in more or less equal measures remains. We’ve done a lot of sampling and/or catching up on things that we've missed. Watched random episodes of things that we’ve only ever heard about before. My other half likes super-hero fiction whereas I am fairly indifferent to it so perhaps I have not really indulged in bingeing as such. Watching a whole series in a few days is not exactly new to us.  We have bought enough boxsets to prove that!  So what constitutes