The ‘To and Fro’ of Writing

If the dream of being a published author includes the ‘hideaway’ at the bottom of the perfect garden in full bloom on a summer’s day with bees buzzing between the flowers, think again.

When the vision is of a long desk with a deep leather chair set in front of a panoramic window showing the view of the beach and a long stretch of sand leading to the palest blue water ever seen, my advice is to reconsider.

If the picture is of the writer tapping away at the keyboard, making notes on paper, taking the occasional call from his or her agent and smiling in ill-disguised pleasure over a glass of wine at the end of a writing day while reading the latest heartwarming review over the last release, alter those ideas.

Most published authors still need to work on a part-time if not full-time basis. Even if they can write full-time, life isn’t all roses and champagne.

I haven’t blogged about writing for a while so thought this was an apt post. My teenage dream was not as fanciful, and mostly composed of finishing a single work, sending it away, having it edited, published, and while…yes, maybe having to attend books signings, working on the next novel. I never envisioned the back and forth, to and fro, hop from one foot to the other, mental swings and roundabouts of working on several stories at once.

I’ve edits on one work and have to return the galley proof to a deadline, trying to write a full novel (to a personal deadline), trying to write/edit a short story that’s needed ASAP, and trying to draft a proposal for yet another idea for a potential novel. Oh…and I’d also like to be working on a few short stories I’m considering sending out and/or putting together in an anthology. There are many pitfalls linked to the dream of becoming a published author, many of which no one warns about, and working on more than one project simultaneously is one.

I’m not even going to pretend to enjoy it. On the rare and fortunate occasions when the work flows the last thing a writer wants is to have that stream interrupted, to throw a mental switch, and to perform a intellectual feat of dexterity. That’s what makes leaving a story at long last nagging to be written to rest, to work on something you’ve possibly read and edited thirty times, so torturous.

Sometimes I read something I wish I’d written myself. Often it’s a book. This time it’s a blog. No one can express what I’m trying to put across more than this post by author Kate Douglas. It’s an oldie but goodie so I’ll let her speak for writers everywhere:http://lisapietsch.com/2010/04/20/kate-douglas-delivers-the-essential-author-101/

Time for a Change

I made the difficult decision last week to remove some of my titles from circulation. Not an easy or overnight decision by any means—I spent many months reaching that conclusion. With the closure of one publisher now was as good a time as any to reconsider some of my older works. Those I’ve withdrawn no longer represent me. I’ve improved and my style has changed. I may re-release some after an edit but I’m happy to let others rest for now, if not indefinitely. I wrote a few books I never intended to write, owing to the muse and opportunity. I regret none of them—they were all a learning experience—but my interests have grown, as have the possibilities.

To some writers, particularly those still seeking publication, the decision to withdraw books from the market may sound surprising. No one warns you of the heartache when a good publisher closes, or having to make the sometimes heartrending choices, and this was definitely one of those. I was pleased and proud to hear their door remains open. This re-enforces the fact they were a wonderful group to work with and tells me they’ve appreciated the stories I produced for them. Didn’t make parting ways any easier.

The simple truth is some older works can do more harm than good, particularly when the writing has improved so much as to be almost unrecognisable. I don’t mean the older work is necessarily poor, but the difference can be so great it may influence someone’s decision to hire the writer, and there can be many factors too many to bother mentioning here. If a work weighs heavily on the writer, if there’s a smidgen of doubt, the best thing can be to put the work to bed. In the matter of love it’s sometimes said the heart wants what the heart wants. It’s a peculiar lesson for the writer to realise the same can be said of one’s writing.

Dark Poetry

Dark fiction doesn’t have to only mean stories. I’ve dabbled with poetry occasionally but not written much for several years. Still, whenever I’ve crossed my dark fiction with what poetry skills I have there’s no denying one improves the other.

Of course, this type of playing with words is nothing new. We can thank Poe for creating one of the most famous pieces of dark poetry.

Could there be a better voice to read this to you than Christopher Lee?

 

Though if you’d prefer some graphics:

Update June/July Part 2

Books read…

I discovered Adam Nevill this year, a horror writer not afraid of using more than a few words from the dictionary. I’ve read two of his books: The Ritual (back in March), and Banquet of the Damned (in June). The Ritual is a book of two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might have been a better conclusion, the end felt a little abrupt. What I love about this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type have failed and making him an author I want to read regularly. I imagine some readers may like to know the characters a tad more—that occurred to me on some level—but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

For Banquet of the Damned, I easily understand why this book receives mixed reviews, and it’s purely owing to stylistic preference. I sank into a rich vocabulary and longer sentences so often lacking in modern fiction. I don’t want to use the term literary as it carries an unfortunate modern-day connotation of dusty libraries and mildewed books written by notaries of a by-gone age (a sad view of the classics that were part of my childhood reading and nowadays occasionally termed ‘too difficult’). This definitely isn’t that, but one can say this book is a more stylish horror. Another way to describe it: I can imagine a few editors returning the manuscript circling the occasional sentence as purple prose. Thank goodness the publisher ignored them if they did. The carefully chosen style to weaves a delightfully successful spell on any reader able to appreciate the opulent seductive description spiced with the ‘creep’ factor; the sense that something is coming and might be present on the next turn of a page. This seems to be where Adam Nevill excels.

The Night Clock, Paul Meloy. First, I have to say I like this book. I need to say so because it may not be obvious. Paul Meloy’s imagination packs a punch. Unfortunately, the story is vastly superior to its execution. On a purely grammatical basis there are so many instances of ‘it, was, and were’ sentences to bog the story and make it drag. I took way too long to finish this. The book suffers too much tell instead of show (too many instances of the type such as ‘he was standing’ required the simple improvement of ‘stood’), and I’m unsure if the writer has any real understanding of tenses or tried to be artistic in the use. Again, I can see a few people complaining over the ‘purple prose’, though that doesn’t always bother me if used well. There’s a greater book here and fantastic ideas that sadly do not gel in this length of a novel. I wanted to know more of the characters and to care for them. The various threads read more as perplexing even unnecessary tangents though mostly draw together, but left me feeling the narrative strove to be clever instead of engaging. Instead, the promised level of threat never manifests and I didn’t much care whether anyone survived by the conclusion. Which is a pity, as this visionary setting promised much and had me enthralled. I love the overlapping story threads and blending of genres.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King, proves what I’ve always said, that King is labelled wrongly as a horror writer. He’s a storyteller. I can see where this collection may be labelled as self-indulgent but then, as a storyteller, he no doubt wants to share these tales and has earned some forbearance. Not that there’s no other reason to read this collection. I liked it. I didn’t adore it, but a number of stories I liked more than others, a few I loved, and there were none I hated so I’ve given the book 4 stars where I might prefer to give it 3.5. Short story collections are books I dip in and out of and often take me weeks, even months, to complete, while I soar through novels; but I found King’s writing so familiar and familiarly ‘comfortable’, I finished the book off without setting it aside. A portion of these stories are a tad silly, others fun, some questioning…I won’t say any are scary but then I’m seldom scared by King’s work, by anyone’s, so I’m not singling him out in that regard. As a ‘constant reader’ adding this to my bookshelves was a no-brainer and while it’s not the best of his work, I wasn’t disappointed.

Writing-wise…

I contracted the re-release of A Not So Hollow Heart with JMS Books, this version edited and lengthened. The only real complaint I had from critics was that they wished it were longer…so now it is where I felt it needed it, though I’m uncertain it’s a length to satisfy readers. Yes, there’s always more to fledge out, to explore characters deeper, but there’s a point where all the information needed to ‘tell the tale’ is on the page. I’ve tried to deepen characterisation.

I’ve also been contacted to work on another project…I can only say ‘sci-fi’ related, but there’s no way I can know if anything will come of that at this point. Had a bad feel moment when doing research for a disaster, natural or otherwise, where people died. Had a ‘not enough casualties for my purposes’ moment. I’m not a terrible person, just a writer, honest.

Speaking of writing…when a reviewer drops in words like ‘rips you up’ and ‘grab a box of tissues’ I know I’ve done something right. A jaw drop moment for Flowers for the Gardener. I put much thought into this book and the reviewer is spot on that I wanted to show life is short and what comes from poor communication and assumptions, which is what many arguments (particularly those between family and friends) are. The reader is crying and I’m left smiling. Such is the life of a writer.

Book Review: Flowers for the Gardener by Sharon Maria Bidwell

Update June/July 2018

Hi everyone.

Trying something a little different. I’ve been lax with keeping everyone up to date and sometimes I’ve much to tell, sometimes a mere trickle. There are times I’m resting, other moments when I’m planning, days when I’m writing (not always much to impart then), and occasions when other things interrupt the best-laid plans. I’m trying to do something of a more involved ‘update’, an exercise which also stretches the old writing muscles.

***

We were away in June to Norway so for this time only this update will include both the months of June and July.

One can say every country is a land of contrasts and Norway has its cities, but what I always take away is the memory of the sheer immensity of the landscape. To stand surrounded by mountains almost defeats the ability to take everything in, numbs belief to what the eye takes in. I don’t recall ever visiting any place where the air is cleaner, where a person doesn’t struggle even on the hottest day to breathe. If it weren’t for the long, dark winters, it’s one country where I could imagine living.

***

Enough concerning my holiday. Films I’ve watched these months include the new version of Stephen King’s IT, which is my favourite book of his although there’s a whole section I would have deleted as both reader and writer. I didn’t realise the film would be told in two ‘Chapters’ and that another is coming in 2019, though this makes perfect sense when one knows the story takes place in two stages with the characters as children, and, later, as adults who discover they failed to vanquish the horror.

It’s refreshing to see a book featuring children treated this way. There’s a rule in the publishing industry most readers won’t even consider: if the protagonist is a child then the book is for children. This line has blurred owing to the popularity of Harry Potter, read and watched by more adults than kids or so it seems, and with many YA (Young Adult) books making it to the big screen. There are many excellent YA novels out there. When I was a teen no such genre existed: there were simply ‘books’ and while there were categories and age groups, largely one’s parents decided whether to police reading material. I confess I read King long before I should have, and my teen years were filled with Mills and Boons (it’s what the other girls were reading), the ‘classics’ (which had been part of my childhood), John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and James Herbert. There’s a reason my reading has always been, and remains, eclectic.

IT is undoubtedly a horror film. While I’ve a soft spot for the first try to put it on the screen back in 1990, mainly because of Tim Curry’s appearance as Pennywise, the book at last has the treatment it deserves. It’s decidedly creepy in places. Scary? Hard to say. Fright like many things is subjective and I struggle to choose a film or a book when I was last ‘scared’. Something unexpected might make me jump but that can happen in any genre. Films, books, any media that has made me peep into dark corners to check whether shadows are something more are rare. Still, I loved the creepiness of this version, particularly as the impression left by a book is difficult to transfer to screen. Reading is often far creepier than watching.

Other noteworthy (and one or two not) films would be Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman deserved recognition for his role as Churchill), a film I admired for the acting, and because it kept a war film interesting without turning it into another bombardment of huge explosions. The scenes are to do with what went on ‘behind’ the war and engaging. Victoria and Abdul is another instance of historical ‘dramatisation’ though I sense this one is with more liberty. Still, it’s interesting, and Judi Dench’s performances can seldom be faulted. Something we started and stopped after twenty minutes was The Brits Are Coming. Despite the well-known cast, it came across as chaotic and decidedly unfunny. Atomic Blonde was better than expected. Mostly we’ve been catching up with all 7 seasons of The Game of Thrones, the series and books I both recommend.

More next week where I’ll get to a few book titles…

To Read or Not to Read

When I mention my To-Be-Read-Mountain, few are surprised. Not only do I buy more books per year than I can usually read, I inherited a good 500 books from my father a few years ago. That’s 500 I kept, discounting those I gave away to friends and charity. He had many genres, including fantasies I’ve longed to read, series of which I’d never heard. A few trilogies had the first book only, or book one and two with the third missing so I went searching to complete those that interested me. These amounted to a great many novels, adding to an existing large collection. My bookshelves ‘double up’.

I’m always amazed by people’s reactions, ‘Wow, books’. Makes me think of the little green men from Toy Story all going ‘Oooooooohhhhhhh.’ With me I can spend an hour or so in someone’s home wondering ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ before I realise, there are no books. A house without books, to me, isn’t a home.

Still, I’m left asking can we have too much of a good thing? When having to move, yes, and I’ve carted this lot around twice in recent years. I’ve come to the time where I must be more selective of the books I keep, even purchase. Some writers are exempt from this rule—quite a list of them—will stay with me always. No one should be surprised when I say one of those authors is Terry Pratchett.

I’ve been listing him in my top five for more years than I can recall but it wasn’t until he died that it hit me what a long love-affair I’ve had with Rincewind, Death, The Luggage, The Librarian, Sam Vimes, and…well, that names a mere few, though I shouldn’t forget Rob Anybody, my favourite Nac Mac Feegle. Say hello, Rob. Don’t worry; he always looks that grumpy.

This may sound like gobbledegook to many but not to anyone who grasped the wonder of Terry’s satire. A friend once told me she’d read the first book (in her words: cute, about wizards) without getting that Terry Pratchett wrote satire, that the Discworld was our world, that the University was our government, the clacks system our postal service and so on. I’m not as surprised as I might be. Not many know Gulliver’s Travels was also an exercise in parody.

When Terry died, I was already experiencing a rough day during lasting stress. The universe bestowed another hammer blow. Is it possible to experience real grief when someone you’ve never met dies? Absolutely. I won’t be the only one to say so. When you’ve admired someone, their work, kept track for many years the loss is real. If nothing else ‘no more Discworld’ is a hard kick.

I’ll soon be picking up another of his books with the bittersweet knowledge I have about four titles to go and the fantasy books he wrote with Stephen Baxter. Yes, I’ve still a few of Terry’s books to read…and in there is a puzzle. Why haven’t I read them all?

Because I’ve so many writers I love and I like to be able to spend time with Terry’s books.

I wanted the stress to pass and to be settled before I dipped into the last of his titles. I wanted to feel relaxed while reading them.

I wanted to treasure them and also delayed because he’s gone from this world and once I read the last few titles, there will be no more.

This sounds ridiculous but I know many who were on the last book or two who said the same: once they finished those, there were no more to look forward to. It’s like closing a book, having found it so good, the desire is there to begin again. Given enough time I’ll do that too. Meanwhile to Terry, a man’s whose imagination the world was lucky to have, a heartfelt thank you!

Guest Post: Clarissa Johal ‘Whispers in the Woods’

I don’t usually blog twice in one day but for Clarissa Johal I’ll make an exception. Please welcome her to my blog. I’m currently reading her book, Between.
Book Details:
Title: Whispers in the Wood
Genre: Paranormal Dark Fantasy
Author: Clarissa Johal
Editor: Frank Moore
Publisher: Faeriemoon Press

 

ISBN-13: 9781721036677
ISBN-10: 1721036679
ASIN: B07F9TBTNS
 
 
About Whispers in the Wood:
It all began with an acorn.
 
There are some places you shouldn’t disturb, places where history lingers. When Rowan travels to England, she finds a remote village, hidden in the shadow of an ancient forest. Vague warnings from the local people aren’t enough to stop her from venturing into the trees, or from picking up a single acorn. It seemed a simple action. But when a stranger emerges from the forest claiming the acorn belongs to him, Rowan finds herself pulled into something both centuries old and deadly.
 
Excerpt from Whispers in the Wood:

Stars dotted an inky sky and the moon cut a path across the pastures like water. It would have been a beautiful night in other circumstances, one where she would have been happy to go for a midnight walk. But tonight, her senses were on edge and she startled at every sound. Rowan’s feet made sloshing sounds in the wet grass as she hurried towards the church.

The standing stone reflected the moonlight like a beacon. The churchyard beyond it appeared empty, its gravestones pointing like accusing fingers towards the sky. The silence was oppressive and she resisted the urge to whistle. She stole up the steps to the church itself, hoping the teens would be inside.

Pressing her ear against the door, she breathed the pungent scent of burnt wood. Hesitant, Rowan tried the handle. The door gave way and opened with a long, drawn-out creak.

A giggle sounded behind her.

Whipping around, her gaze swept the darkness. The sound was coming from the graveyard itself. A shiver trailed down her spine like icy fingers. “Hello?”

A low whisper drifted with the breeze, followed by another giggle.

“Fiona? Will? Jennifer, Jonathan? C’mon, you guys. Not funny.” She waited for the teens to show themselves. “I’m not going with you to the forest, by the way. I don’t think you should go either.” She walked to where the sound came from and steeled herself for a ‘gotcha’ moment.

Expecting to see the teens hiding behind a gravestone, she was surprised instead by scattered flowers, left like offerings. She picked one up and twirled it in her fingers. The flower’s petals reflected alabaster in the moonlight like finger bones. Freshly picked, the scent of the plucked stem was still strong. Rowan began to toss it aside when she was hit with an icy gust of wind. Her vision clouded and she felt a jarring shift in her surroundings.

She kicked up debris as her feet pounded the forest floor. The trees were a wild blur, as were the smells. The strong scent of greenery mixed with the scent of blood. Her blood. Heart pounding, she saw a bright spot in the distance. Escape. The bright spot grew larger and larger as she tore through the overgrowth towards it. Suddenly, she was jerked off her feet and dragged backward. A scream ripped her throat and everything went black. A sharp pain cut through her spine. Unable to move her arms and legs, she tried to take a breath. Panic welled in her throat like bile.

* * * *
Buy Links:
 
Available via Kindle Unlimited
About the Author:
 
Clarissa Johal is the bestselling author of paranormal novels, Whispers in the Wood, Poppy, The Island, Voices, Struck and Between. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing, taking pictures of gargoyles, or swinging from a trapeze. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters, and every stray animal that darkens their doorstep. 
 
 
Find Clarissa Online: