Monday, 31 December 2012

Thoughts for a New Year

Yesterday I watched The Big Country on tv and thoroughly enjoyed it even though I knew the story. Made in 1958 with Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons, it also had Charlton Heston who over-acted throughout. About two thirds of the way through I realised how relevant it was to today's American situation - the gun rules. It seems the gun has always ruled in the USA, right from the days of the first settlers through the cowboy era and Mob rule to shooting JFK and RFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and John Lennon and on up to the last decade when suddenly mass killings are the thing, no doubt because people can buy machine guns.

I am keeping this short today because the technology is slow, possibly overloaded - so here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas & Social Media

It's time Christmas was gone. We're at the boring stage now - soggy wet weather, wind and rain, temperature around 5 degrees C. Fridge full of leftovers or odd scraps that won't make anything else. People getting crabby with too much food, too much wine and not enough exercise. TV mostly rubbish aimed primarily at kids.

Did my best. Can't help or change the weather, but regulated my intake of food and wine, took a walk every day. Yesterday stopped a young dog from plunging into swollen stream to reach young owners searching for him - the chances of being swept out into the nearby river were pretty high.

Did some work every day, too. Going back to Twitter this morning, noticed how several people keep trying to stop authors promoting their books. Don't understand their logic when they promote a) themselves b) their own authors and c)what they had for breakfast lunch and dinner. That's interesting? To whom? The truth is that everyone on Twitter is promoting something, even if it is only themselves. The urge to join in is there, and if  a book is the only thing you have to talk about, then why not? Nobody is forced to read what comes up on Twitter. I skip a lot of posts to find the ones that hold some interest for me. Live and let live, I say.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

It's up for sale! Victorian Beauty

Apologies for the faded out print you might have found on my last blog post.  I don't know why that happened and corrected it as soon as I noticed. Put it down to the stress of  trying to load a book to Amazon Kindle. Yes, Victorian Beauty is up there for sale!

Here's the blurb:

"Damaged physically and sexually, Melanie, the Dowager Duchess of Yaxley, escapes from an abusive son-in-law to become a housekeeper in a remote Northumbrian village. The Master of the house, Jarrow, is a widower with a delightful daughter, but few funds. Jarrow has his scars, but he also has a secret life that unnerves Melanie when she discovers what it is that occupies his nights. This historical romance with its great sense of time and setting, leads the reader through the clash of the scarred personalities, troubles with excise men to a resolution which surprises them both. Slowly Melanie realizes that Jarrow might just be the man who can make her believe in second chances."
The blogger award depends on linking to fellow bloggers, something that completely slipped my mind in all the frantic activity of the last few days. While I read and enjoy the blogs I mentioned, I'm not sure how to reach some of the people, but I'll give it a try.
Something else ~ a little Christmas present ~ sometime today Shadows will be free on Amazon Kindle. It is scheduled for two days from midnight on 25-26th December Pacific Coast time. Lets hope that works without hitches!
 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Seven things about me....




I’ve been awarded a Very Inspiring Blog Award from the Very Inspiring Blogger, Jean Bull. Thank you, Jean!

In accepting this I have to write seven random things about myself, and that’s never easy. First thing is that I don’t like cooking. I’ve been known to put a pan of vegetables on to make soup and then walk away and forget it until the pan exploded all over the kitchen. I wouldn’t cook if I didn’t have to eat. However, I do like eating, so cooking is a necessary evil.

Second thing is that I love driving. The actual pleasure of manoeuvring a car with everything at the optimum. Might not happen often, but I always strive for it. Taking a tight curve on the hill coming home and getting it right instead of muffing the gears and stuttering for the next twenty yards brings a grin of pleasure to my face.

Third thing – I hate going out to a “do” where the so-called music is pumped out so loud that even though you shriek (possibly doing damage to the vocal chords) the person sitting two feet away across the dining table cannot hear you.

Fourth. I’m persistent, so I’m not going to give up on trying to get my historical novel published by a reputable publisher in the UK. So agents beware, you will be targeted sooner or later!

Fifth. I’m happy to go on self-publishing my romantic historicals via Amazon’s Kindle. There’s a new book due out very soon now – just as soon as I can write a half-way decent blurb to go with it. It’s called Victorian Beauty.

Sixth. Closet Strictly, Merlin, The Killing and Last Tango in Halifax fan, that’s me. Not so enamoured of Hobbity or Ring things. In fact I never finished the third story in the trilogy, so that probably puts me well into the outer darkness for all Tolkien fans. Looking forward to Borgen part 2 in the New Year.

Seven. Finally, finally, have I told you I hate tomato skins? Cooked, uncooked, either way they’re dreadful slippery nasty things. Almost as bad as the skin on custard.

I now have to nominate some more people with Very Inspiring Blogs, so I choose:

Anita, Dean, Nicola, Janet,  and Sally. They may not know I read their blogs, but I do and I truly find them inspiring. Hopefully they won’t be too busy meeting deadlines to join in the festive fun.


Friday, 21 December 2012

More on that Deep Third


Moody winter scene
Sorry to bang on about this, but I got a tad confused with my last post. There seemed to me to be some places where I wouldn’t want to use Deep POV; never mind wouldn’t, think couldn’t use it. Try opening a novel or a chapter in deep and it doesn’t always work.
So let me recap what I know about this: the deep third viewpoint character does not need to tell his readers that he’s thinking or hoping or seeing or feeling. (It’s basically the same as getting rid of the narrator type tags—felt, saw, watched, thought and so on.)
Get rid of those tags and the reader is so much closer to the character – gets more involved in what’s happening in the story and deeper into the character’s mind and heart.

But it worried me that being always in a character’s thoughts and emotions for the length of a story might be OTT (Over the top). I want to draw back sometimes, and look at the characters as though from a distance. I like the idea of opening a new chapter or scene as if from a great height and I didn’t want to give that up, because I think it gives something to the story. Puts the characters in their world, perhaps, gives the story a different perspective. Perhaps it comes from watching films, or perhaps it’s because I have a visual sort of mind, but anyway, I tried it and it works for me. From there, it’s easy to spiral down and climb back inside the character – whichever one it is.

Viewpoint characters can change, ought to change. A single character’s viewpoint risks becoming boring, and if, like me, you prefer to write of several major characters rather than just one, it’s intriguing to work out their thought processes just as you would have tried to make their dialogue personal to them. But I stick to one character, one scene, and don’t headhop. That would confuse me, never mind the reader.
I puzzled over using italics and have decided that I don’t need them unless my character suddenly decides to think of himself as I. He might. I sometimes do it myself, as in I don’t like that comment, or that dress or I simply hate the skins on tomatoes. (It’s true, I do.) If he goes for a first person sentence, then I’ll use italics for that sentence.
So now I think I’ve finally got a grip on Deep Third POV.  It isn't as restrictive as I first thought, and that's good. Phew!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

That tricky Deep Third


Winter fields
I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this - when a critiquer points out that my POV has slipped, my immediate reaction is, No it hasn’t! But then it gradually sinks in that the critiquer is correct, and I guiltily alter the wording to suit. Sometimes, occasionally, very occasionally, I look and think, No, it is better as it is.

It is easy to get confused about POV. All this talk of Deep Thirds and Omniscient can make one’s eyes glaze over and sleep is only an eye blink away, but today’s reader tastes must be considered. There was a time when authors could write as much Telling/Narrating as they pleased. Read any book written and published prior to the last decade and you’ll find the stuff I mean all too easily. Jane Austen and her colleagues are excused of course, because they are among the legendary Classic Writers. But try authors of the fifties and sixties – they headhop like mad and include info dumps without apology – things we wouldn’t get away with today.
 
The powers that be – whoever they are in the writing world - claim that having a narrator creates a distance between the character and the reader and that readers are put off by this. At its worse, the author gets onto the page and tells the reader what the character thinks or does. This is the dreaded Author Intrusion. Of course some very famous books have used that style because it best suits their story. 'Dear Reader, I married him' springs to mind.

The aim is to have a reader “walk in the character’s shoes”- and I know which publishing house coined that phrase! So to achieve this close connection between character and reader, we have Deep Third POV, where thoughts and actions are not given by a third party who seems to hovering above the character and telling the reader what’s going on. Oh, no. Thoughts and actions are delivered by the character, as in the examples below from my latest work Victorian Beauty due to be published very soon:-

“With a frustrated sigh, Melanie gripped her bag firmly, brushed through the low hanging branches and strode out across the lawn. If she were shot for it, she would not follow that drive an instant longer.”

“His eyes narrowed, and Melanie’s stomach clenched in response. Her tone had been a little too pert. Lord, it was so difficult to strike the right balance.”

I'm told the need to use italic font disappears when using Deep POV. Direct thoughts in the first person are usually rendered in italic font, and are really not necessary if you've really grasped Deep Third. Sometimes I’m tempted to switch from the third person into the first person, as in:-
“Melanie gripped her bag firmly, brushed through the low hanging branches and strode out across the lawn. If I am shot for it, I will not follow that drive an instant longer.” If I need to use italics,  I've learned it is a clue that something is Not Quite Right.

I look at the examples I’ve given and wonder if they are strictly Deep POV. perhaps there's an English version of Deep POV and an American version. I think I know the theory, but in practice I wobble a bit, and as I said at the beginning, POV can be utterly confusing. I think my reading history over the last xxx years inclines me to something that is almost Deep Third, but not quite.

However, one good thing that happens when writing Deep POV is that Telling virtually disappears except where you really need it. When you’re explaining something that gets your character from A to B, perhaps, or something mundane that must be mentioned but doesn’t require detail. It's Good and Useful then.

Ah well, off to practice some Deep Third POV.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Social media and writers


I’ve noticed lately that interaction via my blog seems less than it used to be. I get the nasty feeling that my posts are boring the pants off everyone. Feedback via Comments grows less and less, possibly because the word verification thingy is annoying and frustrating – I know I find it so on other blogs and often give up without getting my comment to “go” through. And I'm aware that going to Australia for six weeks meant my blog deviated from the usual writing based topics - perhaps that turned people away.

There’s another suspicion I have though; that other media are attracting people away from blogs in general. Not only Facebook and Twitter, but mysterious things called Pinterest and Tumblr. I have no idea what they are and I’m not about to find out. It is easy enough to waste time on FB and T without joining more things! If this is the reason, it is something I cannot change.

 Writing has always been my main interest blogwise, though sometimes I feel like blowing off steam about one thing or another. Or I’ll record something that I may want to come back to at a later date – blogs are handy vehicles for that. But there’s only so much you can say about writing without repeating yourself.
That’s when I go to Twitter in the hope of picking up some item of interest.
I can scroll through a lot of posts and pick out what I’m interested in and ignore the rest. That may sound rude, but as people follow me, I feel obliged to follow back – it seems only courteous – which means I get loads of tweets from people I don’t know about things I’m not interested in.
But turn it the other way about and it also means there are a lot of people seeing whatever I choose to put out. But there’s the difficulty - as far as Tweeting goes, I’ve never really got the hang of it. How to say something engaging and witty in 140 characters defeats me, but others seem to find it no problem at all. I sit and stare at the screen but nothing comes to mind. I'd never make an advertising person!

 Facebook seems easier. I actually have an occasional conversation there with people I know or have come to know. The only person I know who doesn’t have a FB page is my other half, but he may yet be persuaded. They say it is the most likely place readers will look for new reading material, so that seems a good enough reason to stay there. If forced to choose, I’d opt for my blog and Facebook.

 

Friday, 14 December 2012

An unaccustomed blast

The UK is an astonishing place. Some fascinating facts overheard, read or otherwise imbibed this week - The population of London is now 53% ethnic, (so where are all the indigenous English going?), universities are sobbing that they need more overseas students (since English students are falling away and thus staff will lose their jobs) and lawyers are so hard pushed for work that they will persuade anyone to sue anybody for anything or demand a public enquiry/apology for something that happened  thirty-five years ago and the BBC is somehow to blame because Jimmy Savile did nasty things all over the country.  Pity he isn't here to answer the rumoured 450 people who say he violated/abused them, say I. Even more of a pity that they didn't say anything when he was alive. Can I detect a hint of lawyers in this, too?

Against all this mayhem and madness, the closure of the odd library doesn't seem so very important. Here the Guardian states that the UK has lost over 200 branch libraries this year and 146 the year before that. In my own region, Newcastle is threatening to close ten out of the city's eighteen libraries. The city council seems to be making more effort to save the Christmas lights than it is to save the libraries. If companies can be persuaded to fund the Christmas lights, why can't they fund a branch library? Would it be so bad to have a Fenwicks library or a John Lewis, even an M& S library? Better than no library at all, I'd say.

 Since I appear to be on a rant, let me add that I've always thought Christmas lights are a waste of energy. Buy energy saving light bulbs, they tell us. Switch off unwanted lights, turn down the heating in rooms you don't use, half fill the kettle...and then all over the country they go and blast the sky with unwanted light in the name of Christmas. Everyone seems to have forgotten it's a religious festival and pretty, sparkling lights don't matter. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Endings



I think I've written the closing words of my latest story Victorian Beauty.
 
‘It is already written,’ Melanie said with every appearance of simply stating a truth. She caught Adam’s eye. He knew it was a blatant lie, but his smile told her he approved.'
 
Tomorrow, of course, I might think of something even better. It is always difficult to know when the definitive ending is there in front of you, because there's always the temptation to think that you could do better if you just thought about for a few more days...but that way, nothing ever gets finished and nothing ever gets published. Re-writing could go on endlessly and it doesn't always mean the work will necessarily improve.
Deadlines are great, because they impose an end point.
 
 But I'm pleased with this story. Set in Northumberland in 1864, it begins with Melanie arriving at Gavington to interview for the post of housekeeper to Lord Jarrow. She has something to hide, and so does her potential employer. Both are strong characters, and they need to be when her past catches up with her and threatens to expose Jarrow as a smuggler of illicit whisky.
 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Books in the style of....

The news that Wilbur Smith has signed a $15 million deal for six books he isn't even going to write astounds me. He is leaving Pan MacMillan after 45 years and moving to Harper Collins with whom he has signed the new deal. Smith claims he has more stories in his head than he can write, that he cannot write fast enough for his fans. So he is writing outlines and characters, and carefully selected co-authors will be doing the rest. Evidently this is a growing trend. Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Clive Cussler have all used a stable of co-authors to write their books in the last few years.

I suppose the fans and the publishers will be happy as the money rolls in, but where is the integrity in this? What if D H Lawrence had hired co-authors to write for him? Or Jane Austen? Would we admire their later work if we knew this is what had happened? The Mail snarkily suggests that Smith's fourth wife, who happens to be 39 years younger than her husband, is a major factor in this new idea. Since he is 79, it doesn't take a particularly snarky mindset to see where she is coming from!

It will be interesting to hear from fans once the first book written in this new way is published. Will they be able to tell the difference between a co-authored story and a true Wilbur Smith tale? What about the Patterson, Clancy amd Cussler fans - were they able to spot the difference? One would hope so, for we're constantly being told that an author's voice is a major part of their selling strength. The other worrying thing is if co-authors can imitate an author's style so well that the fans cannot detect any difference -  then where will it end? Is there scope for re-surrecting a well-known and loved author, sadly dead, and writing books in their name? I can see it now - Books in the style of ...... Enid Blyton? Agatha Christie?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Women writers

Today I'm cheating - I started reading a long article in the Guardian and didn't have time to finish it, so I'm pasting the link  here and I can go back and finish it at my leisure. It begins by discussing the writing of E.L.James and goes on to Rowling, Mantel, Donaldson, Meyer....women whose writing has changed fiction in recent times.

So read and enjoy, and I'll catch up later. Right now I have to go and find something a writer would like for under £5, wrap it in Christmas paper (do I have any?) so it is presentable for the bran tub at my local writers' lunch today, and then think about whatever it is I'm going to take as my contribution to lunch. Even thinking about it is making me hungry, which is very bad as I am hoping to lose the few pounds I put on by drinking all that Australian wine a few weeks ago. Empty calories, I keep telling myself whenever a glass hovers into view, but Australian wine is so good I just could not, cannot resist. If I don't do something soon I amgoing to be heading to town for a new wardrobe as nothing will fit.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Writing

Now that the month of novel writing is over I hope there will be more activity on the internet. NaNoWriMo, as it is fondly known by those who participate, takes over the month of November.  The aim is to write a 50k story in that month, and of course it means dropping everything else in favour of writing.

I don't take part, and so I notice how Blog posts drop off, comments are few, people disappear from Twitter and Facebook, critique groups don't move very much during the month. It demonstrates how much writers inhabit these places, or, put another way, how many people out there want to write a story even in these days when book publishing is supposedly in recession.

One answer to avoid the slow down would be to cultivate people who are not likely to launch themselves into NaNoWriMo, but how do you know? The most unexpected people turn out to have ambitions to write a book...some day. I attended a Girls' Night In at Hexham Library last night as a panel member, and was pleased to see so many people turn out on a freezing cold night, some travelling lonely country roads from villages in the Pennines where snow covered the ground. We told them how we'd begun to write, how we wrote, what we wrote etc etc. and they asked if our stories were ever altered by publishers, did we have any input on covers, how did it feel if stories or titles were altered? I suspect we had some budding authors right there in the audience.

For me it began years ago, back in the days of typewriters and Sno-pak, and it was tediously slow. I fiddled about in between real life and never finished anything, but then three things happened in the early nineties: computers came in at work, and I had to learn how to use them. I saw the possibilities and got a computer at home, and writing moved up a gear. Then I retired, and a whole new chapter of life began. First book finally completed, offered and accepted. I was hooked.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Endings are such a problem


No matter how many times I go over a piece of writing, I can always find something to alter, to improve, make clearer than it was. It would save so much time if I could see those things right off, but no, it’s always at the second, third, fourth etc draft stage. They say the brain sees what it expects to see and hides the mistakes – or doesn’t even register them. I’m tempted to start going through Victorian Beauty again, but I haven’t finished it yet. I still have the final couple of chapters to write, and this is where I stalled the last time I worked on this story.
Melodrama, they say, is the result of under motivation rather than over expression, so maybe I’d better start checking the motivation of my characters. Perhaps their lack of motivation is what's stalling me. Goldman says of endings: ‘Give the audience what it wants but not the way it expects.’ Ha! Easier said than done. McKee says ‘The climax of the last act is the great imaginative leap. Without it, you have no story. Until you have it, your characters simply wait.

My poor characters have been waiting more than a year for this resolution, so I’d better get on with it. But then, as Hemingway once said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
I can study famous quotes and read about endings, climaxes, resolutions and the like, but when it comes right down to it, I’m going to have to finish the thing, or else admit I’ve wasted my time writing the first 80 thousand words. I don't want to give up; I like these characters. A piece of advice remembered from long ago - if you can't decide on the ending, write several endings and see which you prefer. I may very well try it. I'll let you know if it works.