Sunday, 27 February 2011


Have you heard of granularisation?
No, I hadn’t either. Until I peeked at the Bookseller. Evidently it’s the new trend - 'splitting content into shorter and smaller bits so that revenue can be increased and at the same time cater effectively to the digital consumers who read less deeply and who often want information in byte-sized chunks.'

If this goes on, we’ll all be reduced to writing a book of less than 140 words. Twittering, indeed. What of any importance can be said in 140 words?
Some publishers, including Cambridge University Press, now write contracts that ensure permission to employ granularisation as it suits them. And it isn’t happening only to non-fiction. Short stories are becoming increasingly tempting to publishers. Nora Roberts is being short-storied now, if you’ll excuse the flagrant disregard of the rules of English grammar. (But hey, if sportspeople can medal these days, why can’t authors be storied?)

They say it allows people to try an author’s voice and see if they like it before they buy a more expensive normal-length book. But really, if I wanted to try an author’s voice, I’d test it in a bookshop by reading the first page – ha! That’s why first pages are so important! Or I’d spend £6.99 and buy the wretched thing. After all, in these days of cinema tickets costing around £8.50, DVDs £17 and a glass of wine selling at somewhere around £4, it’s not the cost that stops people buying, believe me.
It’s not rocket science. People will buy a short story because they want something short. Some people like short stories, others hate them. Busy mums are said to like Mills & Boon because they’re pick upable in the periods of peace and put downable in the periods of action in a home with small children, amongst other reasons. But I reckon the busy mum wants something that will keep her attention longer than thirty minutes. How many times have you heard someone say ‘it was just getting interesting when it finished?’

I’d almost be willing to take a wager that short stories by Nora Roberts will suit only those confirmed readers of short stories. The rest of us will avoid them like the plague.

I was getting quite interested in World Book Night on 5th March, following the thirty minute discussions between Ann Robinson and various readers on BBC tv with interest. Now I find that there is a hoo-ha over the whole thing. Read: including the comments and see what you think.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sad Tidings and a grammar question

There seems to be some confusion about the use of the words passed and past and I’m wondering if its me, or is UK usage different to US usage? Wouldn’t be the first time, I know that, so I hauled out my copy of Fowler’s Modern English, and here’s what it says:

Pass: the verb takes passed for its past tense, as in You passed me by, and for its Past Participle used verbally, as in It has passed out of use.
But use it as an adjective and the
form becomes past, as in past times.
I've added a couple of pictures I took in New Zealand in November, when we visited Christchurch and saw the damage left by the first earthquake .
Such a beautiful country, and so sad that the city has suffered another earthquake. Both pictures were taken on the South Island, the first at the Cloudy Bay refinery, and the second on the coast road between Cloudy Bay and Picton.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Small World

I've been trying to upload a post to my blog all day and much of yesterday, but Microsoft 2010 and Blogger don't communicate as yet. The constant trying has made me look at my poor little post and think Are You Really Worth All This Hassle? But now I know its not me that just can't hack a new system, I'll just keep doing it on my old laptop.

The thing is, I was browsing an atlas to see where the Oxford-Warwickshire border might be (and happily, its where I thought it was) and then my eye drifted to the lines of latitude. Newcastle sits on 55 degrees north. Who else shared my latitude, I wondered?

Not many. The line cuts through a bit of Denmark, skids along just south of Moscow, takes in Omsk and the steppes in the far east and then hitches out through the chain of the Aleutian Islands and touches a bit of Alaska, passes a long way north of Edmonton, crosses Hudson Bay and then one or two towns (Portrush) in Northern Ireland and a smidgen of South west Scotland back to Carlisle and Newcastle. It sits a lot further north than I imagined, touching no part of the US, for example.

No huge cities, certainly. (Unless Omsk is huge. Does anyone know?) A lot of open country. Have you ever wondered who lies on your latitude? Who lies on 55 degrees north with me? Anyone?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Being Human

Being Human is back on our BBC Three screens on a Sunday night and I record it and watch it when I’m alone. Otherwise my dh would be scoffing at it all the way through, and ruin it for me. So I just accept that dh doesn’t always appreciate my tv choices.

Being Human is the story of a quartet with problems. A ghost, a vampire and two werewolves. Now if that makes you choke on your cornflakes, read no further. Sometimes the storyline is deeply horrifying, the visuals shocking, but surprisingly for such a storyline, the acting is terrific. And sometimes a real gem sneaks through, as it did when Mitchell advises a young vampire to find good people and live to their expectations, because their trust will keep him true.

There’s humour too, in unexpected places, as when Nina buys black lace underwear for a special tryst with George, only to give up in frustration after a series of interruptions. I tried reading a screenplay adaptation of one of the Being Human series, and couldn’t hack it as the writing was banal. But as a visual, with in-depth characterisation brought about by brilliant acting, it has me hooked. And there is a lesson there for all wannabe writers. Characterisation is key. Without it, a story is nothing but cartoon characters going through the motions.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The King's Speech

I’M SO PLEASED Colin Firth won the Leading Actor award at the Bafta ceremony the other night, and not because he’s British, though that might have something to do with it. But then, who would have expected such a small film with a limited cast and no really showy sets, nothing remotely resembling an action sequence, to attain such accolades? To collect 7 Bafta awards?

There is great acting from all the cast. Bertie’s final walk to the small radio-room to make his big speech to the world could have been done in such a matter-of-fact way, chin up, do-or-die-way, but it was easy to believe that Bertie, without saying a word, walked towards what was, for him, the gallows. My throat closed in sympathy and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the cinema.
In many ways the film could be considered a documentary. The story of a man who stammered, and how he learned to speak in the most public arena of his times – radio. The film is more than that; it also hints at family bullying, sibling rivalry and a brother who is at heart a weak man. It demonstrates an attitude that is fast disappearing in our modern world – staring down one’s misfortunes with a stiff upper lip. A curious phrase, first recorded in 1815, which makes me think it might, at that point, have had something to do with the misfortunes of war and Waterloo.
Surprising humour comes from both Bertie and his wife. There’s pathos from George IV, and examples about following protocols no matter what as his wife approaches her eldest son at her husband’s death bed. Protocol, etiquette and guilt at the inability to perform as expected are themes that stand out in the film. Attitudes that are thrown aside today for the far more popular thing of putting an individual first, regardless.
I expect that’s why it strikes a chord in the heart of anyone over fifty, who can remember how their parents struggled in a world so much harsher than today. It remains to be seen if those under fifty can identify with such principles, and if other countries will appreciate them.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Faulks on Lovers

I'm enjoying listening to Simon Faulks on a Saturday night ~ Faulks on Fiction on BBC2. Last week he talked about Heroes, last night it was about Lovers. Of course, dear old Darcy came into the line-up, but with an added twist ~ Faulks thinks he may have been depressed. Therefore, it follows that Lizzie's attraction was vitality, and she made him a better man, illustrating love as a force for good. Heathcliff on the other hand, is a man deranged by love, and love is shown as a negative, destructive force.
Jane Austen saw marriage as a place where love could be sustained, but Doris Lessing saw marriage as a place where love died. Lady C, he thinks, is the first novel to bring love and sex together. All in all, a fascinating resume of lovers in literature. If you missed it, catch it on iplayer.
The only caveat I have is that I found the way Faulks stalks the countryside, acting as voyeur to these lovers, a little odd. I could have enjoyed the film clips better, I think, without watching Faulks watch them.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

It just flows

Isn't it strange how writing can be such a struggle at certain points in the story, and how some scenes just flow through the fingers to the page or screen?

This happened to me today. I'm struggling because my hero is trying to dodge battles and an enemy, and I couldn't figure out a straight line among the reports I'd read. Different people alive at the time quote different dates for a battle; some say 16th March, others the 26th, a third quotes 28th. Then one claims the 16th is Tuesday, while another blithely says the 26th is Sunday, which can't be right if the first date is correct. Other things are happening at around the same time, and trying to work out who went where and how that affected the outcome is tricky.
I staggered to the end of the section and sent my hero off on his trusty steed towards Glasgow. He's tired, the night is damp and misty and in the distance he spies a fuzzy light that gradually sharpens into the bright, lit window of an inn. He goes inside, is seduced by the warmth, food and drink and gradually falls into a stupor by the hearth. His last thought is that no one can steal his secret letters because the satchel is strapped to his thigh.

All this went easily onto the page, and I swear I hadn't considered a tavern scene at all. Now I have what I think is a lovely scene, and the choice of having Matho suffer the loss of his secret letters, or get away with making a horrendous mistake. Oh, choices, choices!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

London and that ITIN

Tuesday morning there were only two people in the queue at the American embassy More gunmen than visitors! I explained I wanted the IRS department and was invited into a temporary cabin and told to remove my haversack, shoulder bag, belt and put them in a tray that went through a scanner while I walked through security gates.

Luckily I didn’t beep, but I’d forgotten the battery charger in the haversack. That was hauled out, tagged and put in a drawer. (I knew I shouldn’t have a mobile or any electrical device and had off-loaded them onto my friend.)
Once inside the embassy, I was directed straight to IRS, downstairs. Once in there, I was told to get your stuff ready, ma’am. So I laid out my passport, the completed form, the letter and contract from the publisher, and waited.

That nice man declined to award the ITIN. The letter was dated 2010 and as he genially pointed out, it is now 2011. Plus which the publisher hadn’t used the correct wording in the letter. He handed me some printed instructions and tapped the appropriate paragraph. ‘Read it out.’

Embarrassment, or what? I still couldn’t see what was wrong. Evidently he wanted the whole phrase about withholding royalties cited in the letter. I asked him if the form was OK, and he filled in a section giving passport details, had me sign it and said if I got the correctly worded letter back to him within 30 days, it would go through. Longer than 30 days and I’d have to start all over again.

We’re tightening up on these people, he said, scanning the publisher contract, because there’s a lot of charlatans about. I left, promising to get the package back to him in good time. No sense in wasting a rail fare and two nights in a London Hotel £106 and then what we spent on eating and having fun as well, what with cinema and plays and art galleries and London itself, but even so, I didn’t want to fail in the primary mission!

Monday, 7 February 2011

London trip 3

From the Temple Church we walked to St Pauls, gleaming white at the end of the street. Once there we were denied access as a service was to begin in an hour, so we set off for the Millenium Bridge, which doesn’t wobble any longer, and disappeared into the Tate Modern.

Modern art does nothing for me. One artist seems to have taken a six inch wall-paint brush, dipped it in scarlet paint and run loops and whorls across a giant white canvas. That’s art? Forgive me, but I don’t get it.

A meal, followed by a glass of wine in a pub, and then off to the Fortune Theatre on Drury Lane to see The Woman in Black, from a novella by Susan Hill. It’s a long time since I attended a London theatre, and I’d chosen seats in the balcony. Good thing I don’t suffer from vertigo! Two actors took all six or seven parts, and the wickerwork linen hamper became alternately a bed, a chair, and a (moving) pony and trap. As with modern day films, surprises in the plot were accompanied by exceedingly loud noises that had me flinching. Excellent acting, and an intriguing story with a ghostly touch; indeed, the ending is terrifying.

Friday, 4 February 2011

London trip 2

Monday morning we were up early and approaching the American Embassy by ten am. We goggled at the British policemen, not just one or two, but lots of them, holding automatic rifles. Seeing armed men dressed in uniform in the UK is a strange experience. We groaned when we saw the long queue and groaned even harder when told that the IRS section does not open on Monday. By chance we’d decided to stay over a second night in the hope of seeing a ballet, so we could come back on Tuesday morning, but if we'd been going back that night, the whole trip would have been for nothing. ‘Come for 8 o’ clock,’ the young woman said with a charming smile, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to get from King’s Cross to Mayfair by 8am.

So we had coffee, zipped into M&S to buy a thermal vest because I’d thought London would be the usual three or four degrees warmer than the Tyne valley – it wasn’t; it was far colder - and purchased tickets for a play that evening. (Ballet companies weren't playing ball either.)

Ventured through Lisle Street, hung with balloons for Chinese New Year, and then trotted down Long Acre towards Lincoln’s Inn Fields hoping to see some trace of the sixteenth century setting for the Sansom novels featuring Lawyer Shardlake. Wandered around, admiring everything and found the crypt where John Donne laid the foundation stone in 1620, but not much I could relate to Shardlake. Perhaps the fountain has replaced his fishpond?

We stopped for lunch at the Knights Templar on the corner of Carey St and Chancery Lane and found the most amazing ladies loo we’ve ever seen. If you stop there, make sure you go downstairs to the toilets. I kept thinking I wasn't alone, because there are so many mirrors that the slightest movement was replicated a dozen times. As fast as I turned, my reflection was always ahead of me!

We dived through to the Inner Temple where we discovered the Temple Church and the effigy of William Marshall. I'm not sure if his tomb is under the floor or not. Must check. Most people will think the church more famous for being part of the Da Vinci Code.

Here is the website for the church, and click here for a general guide to walking the area.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A trip to London

I must have an ITIN number so that I pay tax in this country rather than America as far as writing royalties go, and the only place to get one is the IRS Dept of the American Embassy in London. Though it will probably be years before I earn enough to repay the cost of rail and hotel expenses, I don’t want tax men of either country chasing me for back payments. Collected writerly opinion suggests a visit is easier than trying to obtain the number via postal methods, so I got the train south on Sunday afternoon and spent the afternoon walking from King’s Cross to Westminster Abbey, and settled down to enjoy Evensong. The service was memorable for many things, including the sun setting through the south windows, the sound of the choir and how much of the responses I remembered from my churchgoing youth.

Caught the tube to Whiteley’s after a swift Chinese meal and saw the film Black Swan. The cinema was full, and most of the audience seemed to have brought their dinner with them. The man next to me came in armed with some heavily spiced food that smelled that he ate very slowly, so that for ages I had the monotonous sound of him crunching his tortilla chips in my ear.

Natalie Portman gave a fine performance as a dedicated dancer going through some kind of mental breakdown. Considering her intense, controlling on-screen mother, was there any wonder?

Much of the time the girl was hallucinating, which fooled the audience (well, this part of it at least) about what she had done and what she had imagined. Being of a slightly squeamish disposition, I got to be very quick at closing my eyes and covering my ears, and because I did, I don’t really know if the disasters I anticipated actually happened. The episode with the nail file and the older ballerina, for one; I saw her staring at the file, and closed my eyes. Judging from the shocked gasps around me, the nasty thing happened as I expected. We’re all programmed to be afraid of sudden loud noises, and the film made ample use of the fact to punctuate dramatic moments so I rocked back in my seat a few times, too.

The film effortlessly held my attention from beginning to end. The make-up and costuming of the Black Swan’s first performance to a paying audience was truly amazing, and the end a total surprise. Because of the mix of hallucination and reality, I wasn’t sure what really happened at the end, but because many people will still want to go and see the film, I won’t say more so as not to spoil it for them.

To be continued.

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...