Thursday, 28 April 2011

My trailer


This is my attempt at a trailer. You'll notice it is without music so far, because I haven't figured out how to download the stuff yet. But comments welcome - is it worth going on or should I scrap it and start again?



Because I have improved the video, I've taken this early attempt down. When I find out how, I'll upload the new improved version.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

To Wow, or Not To Wow?

McCrum writes in the Guardian a few days ago that Shakespeare had three things going for him. (Only three?) First, he lived in the real world, and took risks. His plays were written in the shadow of the gibbet and the scaffold.
Second, he seems always to have been at work. No slacking off on away days for him.
Thirdly, luck was with him. Born at the confluence of the English renaissance, the aftermath of the Reformation, and the first golden age of the press. In his own phrase, he was "a man of fire-new words". Hamlet, for example, is simply crammed with innovation: some 600 words that were new to the written record of the English language.


The magic that Shakespeare works with language answers to EEG and MRI scanning techniques. Professor Philip Davis of Liverpool University has been testing individual responses to some of the playwright's most daring innovations. He guessed that functional shifts of syntax might impact on the pathways of the brain, which he calls "an extraordinary internal theatre."

Take Albany's charge to Goneril in King Lear: "A father, and a gracious aged man... have you madded." This is an ungrammatical, highly energised compression. MRI scans suggest that it evokes a powerful neurological response. The functional shift prompts activation in the visual association cortex, ie in regions normally activated by visualisation; in other words, in the mind's eye.

Shakespeare and the Elizabethans loved to use language in new ways and it seems this has a cerebral dividend. Lines such as Albany's are a way of upping the attention level, what we might call the 'wow factor'. So, there we are. I’ve always been told that using a strange word or using it in a new way is something that jerks the reader out of the story, and that we shouldn't do it. I guess it depends if you believe the research, or the pundits who advise on creative writing.
Read the full article:here

Monday, 25 April 2011

Not empathising enough



My latest chapter is flat. That means I need to go back and do something to lift it out of the doldrums where it currently resides. There are several points where my protagonist is not seeing things he ought to see, and the secondary character is so faint that she could have vanished into the pages and no one would miss her.


Sad but true. It's the chapter I didn't want to write, so it's obvious what is happening - my heart just wasn't in it. Writing misery topics is not for me. But somehow, I'm going to have to focus and empathise, and I'm going to have to do it soon. I might need a big glass of red wine to see me through...


The pic is of Darnley's house in Stirling. He's reputed to have stayed there, even if he didn't build it. The ground floor now harbours a neat little kitchen-type restaurant with an intriguing stone ceiling built on a curve. (I'm sure there's a term for it, but I don't know what it is) We enjoyed scones and coffee around this time last year.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Easter lambs

Since it is Easter Weekend and there's such good weather about at the moment, no one can bear to be indoors, so let me just wish everyone a happy time over this mini-holiday.

We went for a three hour walk yesterday and I took lots of pictures, as I usually do. The weather was hot and pleasant, but the horizon faded out in a strange cloudy mist.


If we're not walking, then I'm in the garden - working, I hasten to add. I've planted out lupins and sweet peas grown from last years seed, even though we don't usually plant things out until May here in the north. The winer's collection of weeds are in the compost now, and after the first day, my back didn't ache too much! We're always a fortnight behind the south of England as far as the growing season is concerned. But the weather has been a full fortnight or more ahead of itself this year, so hopefully my little seedlings will survive.


I'm still writing, but not as much as usual. Finally killed off my character. Gulp. Now I have to deal with the aftermath. I don't know how authors can write really harrowing stories. Heavens, I've only killed off a minor character and I put it off for a fortnight, and really didn't like writing it. So if authors write of truly horrible things, the echoes they feel in their lives must be terrible. I don't like reading about nasty things either. There's enough horror and hate in the real world without taking it to bed to read before I fall asleep. T'would give me nightmares.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Whatever next?

Did you know that China-based readers get around copyright laws by joining British libraries and plundering their virtual collections for free? No, I didn't either. But because of this Chinese crime, publishers are re-thinking how libraries access their ebooks. It's not a move admired by libraries as they fight for survival. Here are some of the arguments kicking around at the moment. The links will take you to the original articles.


The Publishers Association claims this poses a serious threat to publishers' commercial activities. So they want readers to come to the library premises to borrow ebooks – which sort of defeats the object of the e-reading concept.
One library authority briefly allowed borrowers outside its geographical boundaries access to ebooks, and publicised the service with the line: "Free ebooks, wherever you are, whenever you want." Reading that, one can see why publishers dislike the idea.


Overdrive (the system that allows remote library lending) insists the debate is a storm in a teacup. The system establishes checks to ensure that libraries serve only to those customers in their service area, abd that particular library no longer uses that particular slogan.


Some authors object to ebooks on the basis that while they currently receive 6p every time a physical copy of their book is borrowed from a library, they don't get a penny if the digital version is loaned.


There is more. HarperCollins has entered the fray, telling libraries that henceforth ebooks will be sold on the condition that they can only be circulated 26 times before they self-destruct. They claim this reflects the usage of the print editions sold by HarperCollins to libraries for literally centuries. As most librarians and readers will know – indeed anyone with a modicum of common sense – this is not true. the ebook deal HarperCollins is offering to libraries. It's bizarre to argue that this finite durability is a feature that we should carefully import into new media.


It is true Ebooks have loads of demerits when marketed to libraries. They are sold at full price, while print editions generally go at a hefty discount to reflect libraries' volume purchasing. They can only be read with proprietary readers, which is a bit like insisting patrons read their books by the light of one preferred lightbulb. They can't be sold on as a library discard once the library no longer needs them for the collection.


But they have virtues, too. The major one is that they don't wear out. To pretend that this virtue belongs on the vice side of the argument is indefensible. Of course ebooks don't wear out. We all know that.

Monday, 18 April 2011

E-books

The latest news from America is that ebook sales in February totalled $90.3m or £55.2m. This makes digital books the largest single format in the US for the first time, overtaking paperbacks at $81.2m. In January, ebooks were the second-largest category, behind paperbacks. America's ebooks enjoyed a 202.3% growth in sales in February compared with the same month the previous year. Print books fared much worse. The growth in February was attributed to post-holiday ebook buying from readers given e-reader devices for Christmas. The greater selection of devices and the broader range of ebooks now available also played a part in the increase. Publishing houses cite ebooks as generating fresh interest in 'backlist' titles, books that have been in print for at least a year. E-book readers who enjoy a newly-released book will frequently buy an author's full backlist. Philip Jones, deputy editor of the Bookseller, called the US ebook sales growth a "significant milestone amongst digital milestones which are coming thick and fast", but pointed out that "the ebook figure includes children's, so overall the trade print book market is still bigger than the ebook market". "Ebooks have grown massively, but they do not yet match overall print books and nor is it predicted that they will," said Jones. "The most bullish predictions suggest that ebooks will account for 50% of the US market by 2014 or 2015, and then will probably plateau." In the UK, "we are one year behind now and catching up quite fast", said Jones. He pointed to small UK press Quercus, which publishes the Stieg Larsson trilogy and which announced earlier this month that its ebook sales increased 16-fold in 2010, representing 3% of revenues. Quercus has predicted that its digital revenues could "realistically reach 10% of our total revenues over the course of the current year". Read the full article here The pic is driving into Melmerby with the Penines rising behind the village.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Killing off

Any minute now I'm going to go into my study, sit down at the pc and kill someone off. I'm not looking forward to it, because really the character doesn't deserve it. But that's life, as they say. Life in 1544, anyway, if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, say between a rock and the English army in Edinburgh. I've killed people off before in books, and didn't mind. Usually they were baddies, like Moddan in Banners of Alba. In fact I did a shipboard battle scene in that book, with axes, shields and swords. So it's not the bloodiness of it all that worries me, but something else. This death is going to hurt my protagonist, and because I like him, I'm wary of writing the scene. Odd, isn't it? He doesn't even exist outside my imagination, and yet I don't want to hurt him. I've avoided this scene for about two weeks now, but I'm going to have to do it. Today. Now. Well, I'll have a shower first....and then maybe a cup of coffee... The pic is taken while driving over Hartside summit on the Pennines, looking down on Cumbria

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

It's a wonder

It's a wonder anyone ever gets published. Prowling the internet yesterday I found these words reported in 2008 from a masterclass with agent Luigi Bonomi on the blog Wondering-Mind

Of 200,000 books sold per year, 190,000 sold less than 3000 copies. Of 85,000 debut books published – 60,000 sold an average of 18 books. It costs a publisher £7,500 to publish a book (printing, marketing, design, distribution) and that doesn’t include any advance – generally it is reckoned that 20,000 must be sold to cover costs.

The new writer therefore has to stand out and should check the market to discover what is selling. Literary Fiction takes about 5% of the market and has to have a big theme rather than small town ideas. Somwhat dependant on winning the Booker or some such award to make sales. Original structure and good writing is important – e.g. The Book Thief.
Commercial Fiction takes about 95% of the market. Despite gloomy reports, sales are vibrant – but in specific areas – so check the market.

The agent’s goal is to find the next talent – but they are overworked so they aim to reject – to weed out. The writer’s aim is therefore not to give the agent a chance to reject her. The writer provides a synopsis (3-4 pages maximum), 3 chapters or less, 1 short page covering letter.

Luigi’s agency receives approximately 5000 submissions a year (100 a week). – of these they will look at 60 (5 a month). If the submission has anything more than a simple rubber band for binding, it is rejected. If the cover letter has any spelling mistakes or it is badly presented, it is rejected. The first paragraph of the first page of the text (not the synopsis) is read – then the second paragraph – if it looks interesting it is put aside, otherwise it is rejected.In half an hour he will process 40 submissions and put aside possibly 4, of those he will read pages 2 and 3 – and probably reject – resulting in perhaps 1 a week.He will then read that submission (the first three chapters – or less).

If he likes it he will ask to read the rest of the book.There will be no feedback or suggestions re-revision – though if he is really interested he may send it to a reading agency for a critique. The language, style, rhythm, sound – is very influential. So it is important to listen to other people reading it (reading aloud to yourself is valuable, but hearing other people read shows better how it will be received). Then he looks at plot, storyline and characters.
Frightening to see what we're up against, isn't it?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Inciting Incidents and Keswick


A new story demands thought about the Inciting Incident. A story can be divided into rough blocks, called The Inciting Incident, Progressive Complications, Crisis, Climax and Resolution. It’s good to remember that the Inciting Incident (II from now on) must be relevant to the character and directs what is about to happen to him/her. It should not be some dramatic event that is simply witnessed. (That may be where I made my mistake in a romance I’m struggling with now. Sigh.) The II should not happen in back story.


So – the II upsets the protagonist’s life, puts forces out of whack, and the protagonist must respond. Usually he focuses on doing something to bring the balance back to normal, or the way he wants it to be. This sets him off on a quest to gain what he wants against the forces of antagonism, which may be inner and personal or outer and extra-personal. Sometimes, he refuses to respond, and reacts by inaction, and that too causes or brings about reaction. In decided what to do (or not to do) the protagonist should reveal some long held dream or unconscious desire, and the reader should pick up on it. The Spine of the Story, the long arc that carries through the entire story, has its birth in the II. The Bond films were an example – the arch villain made a move that upset the status quo, and Bond’s focus was to defeat him. Until recently, Bond never had an unconscious desire, but with the Daniel Craig stories, he has, and that is to revenge Vesper’s death. Sometimes the unconscious desire becomes the story spine, or merges very closely with the major story, and then makes for a more complex hero and story arc.


We’ve had four days of glorious weather, and the pictures are from a trip to Keswick on Friday.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A thin veneer


Emotions are always going to remain the same no matter which period novelists write about. I've read this statement many times, and agree with the premise. But then little niggles creep out of the woodwork and I begin to wonder if it is true.


The life experiences of historical characters are so very different to ours. Surely they would make some difference to a character's psyche?


When writing about characters in the sixteenth century, I have to remind myself that religion was important to them in a way it is not to me. (But I don't want to write about religion, so I avoid it as much as possible. Still, I can't say it isn't there in clear and present form.) In that century, arguably more than any other, Christians were prepared to die rather than give lip service to a religion in which they did not believe.


It is difficult to get into focus how short a life expectancy was then. While we can confidently expect to live to be 70 or even 80, they could expect 45, and some historians say as little as 35.

In that sort of life scale, marriage at 12 and 13 seems a tad more reasonable than it does to us today. Wait until 21, and most of your life had already gone. Childbirth was deemed to be easier when the mother’s bones were flexible, and perhaps practice proved them correct, given the state of medicine and hygiene back then.


Even among royalty, where conditions would be so much better than average for the time, many children did not survive the first year of life. The King of Scotland and Mary of Guise watched two sons die within a very short space of time of each other, and could do nothing to prevent it.

There is so much today that we rely on without stopping to give thanks – medical help, education, welfare state, 24/7 news, clean water supply and wonderful transport links not only in this country but around the world.


What if glasses and contacts were unavailable? If dentistry consisted of nothing more than pulling rotten teeth with pliers and a stiff whisky? That painkillers did not exist except in herbal form? Hygiene almost non-existent, no piped running water, certainly no hot water unless you boiled it on an open fire…I can't help but feel that given such a life style, our emotions would be quite a bit different.


The pic shows a fox, admittedly blurry because he was half a mile away, spotted on out country walk on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The big R time

I'm late with this because I've had all the aches and pains of a cold bug without the sneezing over the last few days, received two rejections within a week of each other, and I've been out for a country walk with a very good friend today.


Unfortunately she claims to have no skills at literary critiquism, otherwise I think she would have found my ms in her lap! It is so easy to lose heart, and I must admit the thought crept into my mind last night ~why torture yourself like this?



Bt then it's always like this when a rejection comes through, and especially this time because in one case I'd been asked to send in the full ms. We try to remain level-headed, but somewhere on the subconcious plane the mind is busily crafting away on how delightful it will be when that acceptance comes... and then of course comes the big crash. At least this time I heard, and they told me very nicely. So many times the response is just silence. Aching, unending silence. Is it any wonder aspiring authors are basket cases?




Never mind. I keep on doing it because I love doing it, and I'm trying to achieve success in a time and place that has never been harder because of the recession. I'll take few days off, and then I'll be back, working away in my sixteenth century world where Matho has got to Edinburgh and the English are poised to attack tomorrow....how can I resist getting him and Phemie together for a few hours?

Monday, 4 April 2011

April Fool?

I picked this up from the Bookseller but I'm not sure it isn't an April Fool Day piece. Serious or not, the piece picks up on my vague feelings every time I visit a bookshop or the library ~ that there ought to be an international section where books using foreign countries as locations should be shelved. It would save me heaving a sigh as I replace countless tempting titles on the shelves. Exotic locations were once a big draw for me. Mary Stewart took me around the Mediterranean. Wilbur Smith showed me Africa, Evan Hunter displayed America. They did it well. But after so many years of reading I find that what used to be an avid curiosity about the rest of the world has faded. I'm read out on Iran and the Middle East, sampled Lin Yutang and Yukio Mishima, devoured countless stories set in the Indian subcontinent, Australia and the Pacific islands. Ireland, Sweden, Greece... the list goes on. Now I'm tired of trying on new roles, new lives, new cultures. What I want now is a good story set prior to 1900 in the UK, and believe me when I say they are very hard to find. (Ones that I haven't already read, of course.) The very young may find such exotic locales exciting and new, but for those of us who've been there and done that, come on, publishers ~ start thinking of the rest of the population profile. Give us what we want. Meanwhile, here's what was in the Bookseller: "Bookshops are facing quotas on the number of foreign authors they can stock as the government plans to launch a "British Books for British Readers" campaign. The Bookseller has learned Prime Minister David Cameron is set to give a speech today [1st April] outlining his latest iteration of the "Big Society". A DCMS spokesman said: "The publishing industry needs protecting from the Browns, Larssons and Meyers of this world. We think British literature should be celebrated, not swamped. Crime novels set in gloomy Scandinavian forests have an unfair advantage over our cosy domestic settings, so we have to level the playing field to protect this vital domestic industry." Under the plans, bookshops will only be able to hold 10% of stock from overseas authors. Using rules originally framed for international football, authors with British grandparents could qualify as British. The government is also examining the special case of Irish writers. While Northern Irish writers could controversially be classed as British, Irish authors such as James Joyce and Cecelia Ahern would fall foul of the proposed rules. Authors such as Kipling and Orwell, both born in India to British parents, or J G Ballard, born in China, would remain eligible. The status of British authors who move overseas or adopt "foreign" writing styles, like Lee Child, remains a grey area. Foreign publishers reacted quickly to the news. "We don’t have to take any more Alexander McCall Smith or Jeffrey Archer you know," said Danish editor Uwe Binhad of Loof Lirpa Associates." I think the tone tells me it's a bit of spoofery.