Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Handing over by Sandra Horn

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pleasures and pains of handing one’s work over to someone else. I’ve enjoyed writing for performance ever since I was a child. We lived in a cul-de-sac  then, and the blind end had a street lamp over it which made the perfect evening performance space.  I can’t remember much about the scripts, although one play involved costumes made of raffia knotted round string to make ‘hula hula skirts.’ I wrote and directed them and carried on doing that through school, devising my own versions of My Fair Lady, Snow White, and a something Shakespearean with someone playing a recorder, for which I wrote the music. I can’t write music. When the hapless player asked me what key it was in, I said, ‘C’ because it didn’t have sharps or flats (what?) She gave me a funny look. Maybe I had/have a control-freak streak, but I knew how I wanted the parts to be played, my words to be spoken. I've gone on doing it intermittently ever since.

Writing for small children has been great fun. The first ‘go’ at Babushka was a play for children, performed twice at consecutive Christmases, once with puppets.  I also wrote a creation myth play for them, based very loosely on the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories. Fired up by these little successes, I wrote a script and lyrics for The Silkie and even cheekily got Sally Beamish interested in writing the music  (she’s lovely! and incredibly famous!) but we couldn’t get a commission for it, so it is languishing.

More lately, I’ve carried on writing for the stage but other people have directed. It’s been mixed. One student performance was something of a disaster when it became clear – on the night – that the Director hadn’t understood what it was meant to be about. He hadn’t asked me to sit in on rehearsals. I sat cringing in the audience and would like to have committed ABH on him. Then there was a piece of performance poetry – oh, cringe again! It’s called Echo and Narcissus. This is part of the third verse:
 “Don‘t touch me, I am newly bathed
and perfumed,” my love said.                                                    perfumed
“Oh, but I saw my face with wrinkles,
stealing my beauty and my youth.”                                         youth
I smiled at him. He said, “Who are you?”                              you
Then, “Well? Tell me who you are!”                                        are
“Are? What do you mean?” he said.                                        mean

With my eyes, I tried to tell him of my love,
He said, “Nymph, you plead in vain.                                      vain
It is impossible!                                                                      impossible
I could not love one far less beautiful than I.”                      I
In that same moment, I began to die.                                    die

Echo, echoing the last word he said, which also makes a commentary. Clever stuff, I thought. The actress missed out all the echoes...Cringe again! 

I’ve been much luckier with other things; Little Red Ella and the FGM was done brilliantly by Siberian Nights, and both my monologues for the Salisbury Fringe were performed extremely well. I’ve even sold one performance copy of ‘Encountering the Gods’ via Lazybee Scripts! 

When it comes to handing over my stories for someone else to adapt for the stage, it’s been hard to know what to think.  Tattybogle, Babushka and The Moon Thieves have all been made into musicals, as I’ve no doubt said before, by a very skilled and experienced writer.  I did make some suggestions about the scripts, but they were not taken up, and there were additions I never would have made and don’t much care for. 

 On the other hand, the songs and music are terrific and the shows have been pretty successful, especially Tattybogle, which has enabled us to keep the books going and, most astonishingly, got us that wonderful trip to South Korea, so what do I know? I know I want to try to do it myself, that’s what! So, I have. With songwriter Martin Neill, we’ve created a musical based on my picture book Nobody, Him and Me. 

It’s been trialled in a school and the feedback was very enthusiastic  but lacked any details about problems, possible improvements, etc. We haven’t been able to get it published, which is either because it doesn’t work or because publishers of schools musicals prefer to use in-house writers so they don’t have to pay royalties. I’m still not sure which it is and was about to give up on it, but hope springs eternal, etc. So instead, we have had a couple of bound sample copies printed, together with leaflets, and we will be taking them to Hursley Park Book Fair this coming weekend to see if we get any takers. Am I being pig-headed? Do I not know when to admit defeat? Possibly. Probably. We’ll see.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Shocked and Awed! by Jan Edwards

Just back from Cyprus so a very short blog from me this month, but returned to  the fabulous news that Winter Downs has won the Arnold Bennett Book prize!
Shocked and awed!  I suspect there is no easy way to graciously accept any award because if other people are anything like me they don’t dare think about the possibility that they might actually be in the running. 
I was not able to accept the award in person as Peter and I were on holiday in Cyprus – but I was asked if somebody could be there on my behalf ‘just in  case’ and the wonderful Misha Herwin stepped up for me.
Setting Winter Downs in the year 1940 has meant a huge amount of research but also a huge amount of fun, and I hope people gain as much enjoyment in reading this book it as I did in writing.
Winning this prize has set something of a precedent for my sleuth Bunch Courtney and Inspector Wilbur Wright! It will make the writing of the second, In her Defence, that much harder, but I am sure they are both up to the task. I shall do my very best to live up to those standards on their behalf.

Full details HERE

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Legacy

by J.D. Peterson

Our stories and ideas motivate us to write and publish our books and e-books. Fueled by the excitement of our project we persevere through a myriad of procedures and often times obstacles, to finally celebrate the moment our book cover first appears on the Amazon website and other outlets.

Would we find such excitement or perseverance if the work was not our own?           

This past week a friend of mine published ‘her’ first e-book. Originally published in hardback, it is a Thai cookbook written by her now-deceased, ex-mother-in-law. Simply titled; “The Original Thai Cookbook” the Amazon description says it is The first complete, authentic Thai cookbook published in America, with more than 140 traditional, kitchen-tested recipes. 
The author, Jennifer Brennan, was born into a family of British Colonials, sailing the seas on clipper ships for the British East India Company, and was very familiar with the spices and cooking techniques delivered within the pages of this book. Both Jennifers mother and grandmother were born in Calcutta, part of the British Raj in India. Jennifer mixes her personal travel narratives, photos and artwork with delicious recipes. The recipes are packed full of exotic ingredients, herbs and spices used to flavor authentic Thai cooking.

The current e-book project began when the publisher holding the rights to the book contacted the family, alerting them to the fact that the publisher was no longer printing the cookbook. My friend, Kristine, wanted to preserve the authentic recipes, photos and stories into the digital age. Having done e-publishing in the past, and currently a website designer, she took on the project without the aid of e-pub software, aligning the recipes and chapters through direct coding. My head hurts just thinking about that one. It took a long time, and a lot of work, but she did it.

Kristine Bonner
Aside from the obvious work of setting up the recipes by digitizing the text and photos, there was also a daunting legal side to this project. Written permission needed to be acquired from any living heirs of Jennifer Brennans work before the e-book could become a reality. Names and addresses of family members were collected and letters were sent out. One by one, responses and signatures were obtained, some after many months. Finally, permission was acquired from all relevant persons and the actual work could begin. For many people, this legal aspect would have been enough to put a project on the proverbial back burner never to travel the road to completion.                              

Kudos to Kristine for pushing through all the obstacles! The e-book is a posthumous tribute to Jennifer Brennans life and travels. The Thai cookbook, a gift for future generations to enjoy recipes of authentic cuisine.    

                                                                                                                                                    On that note...

This past week I lost a dear friend to a stroke. He was an amazing musician who helped me bring another of my creative aspects to life; music. Bob Freed was a talented engineer and producer in the studio. He also played drums, bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitar on my tracks, then mixed and
mastered my final recordings, breathing life into the songs through his skill and talent.

Bob is one of many unsung heros that nurture the creative muse living inside the artists of the world. Where would we be without those that share our process behind the scenes? Those that aid us and facilitate in bringing our 'intellectual property' out of the 'intellect' and into the 'property'. Where would we be without those who diligently preserve the work of an author, now gone from the world?
Bob Freed & J.D.

Our books, our music, our artwork and everything else we create is the legacy of our lives. Even if the work we leave behind does not always reach the mainstream audience it deserves, we know that we followed through on our ideas and created the stories, art, and music, bringing them into real existence as a testament to human vision. Somehow we overcame many obstacles and moved ideas out of the realm of imagination and into the land of books, CD’s and other tangible examples of the muse that drives us on to dream and create.

It takes courage to put our work out into the world. Our novels are a labor of love. But it is worth noting that our personal motivations become part of a bigger creative expression. A tribute to the artist within, still alive and kicking in spite of the challenges of our modern world.

Our words. 
Our work. 
Our legacy.
May it endure the passage of time.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Revisiting a vivid memory, by Elizabeth Kay

I decided to start this before I went back to Morocco, so that my initial memories are untainted by new impressions. I was eighteen, in between the sixth form and art school and I have used the experiences I had in many pieces of writing since. My mother had taken out an insurance policy to send me to secretarial school if I couldn’t do anything else, and when I got into college she asked me what I wanted to do with the money instead. Travel, of course. I had been to Poland and Austria with my father, but I was hankering after something really different, and when I saw this holiday advertised in a teenage magazine I simply drooled. Three weeks, driving through France and Spain in two Land Rovers, travelling round Morocco, and then returning by train. This was 1967, and Morocco was not yet a tourist destination. Pure adventure.
            I remember seeing my first group of date palms, and being slightly surprised that they really existed. Being the only one of the party of twenty-one who spoke reasonable French, which, as the product of an English Grammar School, was rather a surprise. Being the least fussy about food, as I was prepared to try anything. Fifty years later, a lot of my memories are just snapshots. We camped, and made the mistake of setting up our tents in a wadi. I assumed the expedition leader knew that people could get washed away in the middle of the night, the way my geography teacher had told me, so I said nothing and admired the lightning in the Atlas Mountains several miles away until we noticed the water around our ankles… It rose quite quickly, but slowly enough so that we were able to get everything out and up the bank onto dry land. The following morning our campsite was under 12 foot of water. I saw scorpions and lizards, and the lure of travel set in from then on.

Desert rose
Unidentified crystal!
Unfortunately I cracked a rib a couple of days before leaving for Morocco this time, but I still went. So now I’m back, and the riad that I stayed at was in the heart of the kasbah. Very little had changed, other than a lot more motorbikes which are ideal for the narrow streets – so narrow, that no vehicle could stop outside our hotel. I’d expected Macdonalds and Burger King, but no. It’s still mint tea, couscous and tagines, although the lizards and scorpions failed to put in an appearance. I had to make do with Colin the cockroach instead. I was going to write a lot more, but I’m dosed up on painkillers so this will have to do. Wherever I go, I try to bring back just one beautiful thing. And so many times, they’ve been the inspiration for something else. The Turkish carpet I bought in Yalikavak, which became the magic carpet Nimby in Back to the Divide. The extraordinary shoes I bought in Ukraine, which featured in Beware of Men with Moustaches. The wooden elephant I bought in Zambia, which I had in front of me when I wrote HuntedSo here is the desert rose I bought on my first trip to Morocco, all the those years ago, and from earlier this month some unidentified crystals from the Atlas Mountains. If anyone can identify them, I’d be obliged.

Marrakech - just the same as ever. Apart from the football shirts.

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Secret of Normal - by Tony Daniel

I spent a good portion of my life being a writer in secret. Not for lack of trying, but more because everyone around me thought it was a stupid idea, my trying to write books. “It’s a pipe dream,” they would tell me. “You’re wasting your time.” “What makes you think you can write?” “There’s a reason why certain people write books and others don’t – talent.”

Oh yeah, I’ve heard them all. And yet, I kept on writing. Like most people who aspire to write, I had the traditional desk drawer full of half-written novels, plays that needed finishing, and short stories that just petered out after about ten pages. But I never abandoned any of them. I just put them away to simmer.

I spent many years working in the “real world,” just like people wanted me to. I did the shirt-and-tie thing, took my paychecks home, and lived the life of everyone else’s images. But I wrote. I wrote essays and articles and op-ed pieces. I picked up a few freelance gigs here and there, usually for no real byline, just a check, but I was writing. You need 600 words on the joys of visiting the Grand Canyon for your in-flight magazine? I can do that. Four hundred words of filler for a training manual? You got it. A revision of your entire employee manual to make it seem more ‘friendly’? Consider it done. Not a problem, and thank you for your money.

But, all the while, I wrote the things I wanted to write about. The freelance pieces were my “gateway drug,” if you will. They opened the doors to the other writing, the writing where the author creates their own world, their own vision of place, of people, of personality. Some were not pretty at all, I freely admit. Some were flat-out bad, if I am to be completely honest. Some were dark, dark to the point that I had to question exactly where my mindset was to even wander in that direction. Some were so ridiculously optimistic that a reader would think I was sitting at a keyboard or typewriter with a scuba tank full of laughing gas on my back.

If there are rules to writing, the one that can be the hardest to grasp is really the simplest one – find your own voice, your own style. Anyone can say they want to write like Pat Conroy, or Harper Lee, or A. Conan Doyle, or Jane Austen. And I know many people that have tried to base their writing life on trying to match the styles of those authors, sewing patchwork quilts of beautiful words into blankets of lyrical prose, only to find out that those styles are hard to match.

My question becomes this – why would you want to be a carbon copy of someone else?

Toni Morrison once said “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it."

When I read that quote for the first time, it hit me like a left hook to the jaw. THAT was why I enjoyed writing so much, but I had never been able to put it into words. Sure, writing might seem like a pipe dream to some people, but those people are generally so tied into their own lifestyle that they want, no, they NEED you to follow along with them in order to keep the status quo. If your dream conflicts with their ideas of “normal,” then they must put you in your place, right behind them, while they lead you on the path of “normal.”

Is it abnormal, then, to want to create? Absolutely not. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, knitters knit, and illustrators illustrate. Why can’t a writer write? And if there are books out there that I want to read, but the books don’t exist, why shouldn’t I be the one to write those books? I don’t need to write the next Pat Conroy book, or the next “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or the new “Pride and Prejudice.” I can go buy those. What I can’t go buy are the books in my head, the stories I find darting from synapse to synapse, the questions I hear bouncing around in my head as I try to fall asleep at night.
I decided to write my first novel at the age of 12. I hunted and pecked my way through 75 badly-typed pages with an old Royal typewriter I found at a garage sale, and loved every second of it. The story itself was terrible, pieced together from books I had read, movies I had seen, and plot holes big enough to park a truck in, but I loved every moment of typing with two index fingers, crossing out errors with capital X’s, and the freedom I felt while putting this odd little world together.

And now, some 40 years later, with bundles of anonymous freelance pieces out there in the universe, scripts for advertising campaigns for car lots and PSA’s for camping safety and the like, I gave in to the dream and wrote a full novel. And, wonder of wonders, people bought it to read. I am no threat to Stephen King or Michael Connolly yet, but I proudly held a copy of a book I wrote in many a face and said, “Does this look like a pipe dream now?”

I am now a part of a universe, a gathering of like-minded people who create with words. And those detractors who wanted me to follow the normal path are behind me now, wanting to know how they can “become” writers. Suddenly, all the folks who spent years wanting me to follow their lead are wanting me to lead them. “Normal” is not as fun as they want it to be, it seems.

Look around you, look around at the world we live in now. What the hell is “normal” anymore? And, if THIS is “normal,” why would you want to be a part of it?

We, as writers, have the ability to create our own “normal,” bring it to the world, and let readers decide if they enjoy it or not. We are free to create the citizens of our worlds, have them behave as we think they should, and let those people endure adventures, hardships, joys, and sorrows. And if those characters sink into the memories of a reader, and flip that little switch that sets them into thinking that they, too, want to create, to write, then THAT should be the “normal” we all strive for.

When you open a book, you open a world. When you write a book, you open your world up to the reader. If they join your world, if they embrace it and make it a part of their mind, then you have welcomed another writer-to-be into the group. And that, folks, is what makes writing worthwhile to me. I’m a storyteller, and if my stories bring you in, you are welcome to stay. If you want to become a storyteller, find your stories and tell them. Plain and simple, just tell the story and see who joins in.