Autumn

Though the leaves have only just begun to fall where I am, there’s a nip in the air that definitely speaks of autumn. We’re told the milder start to the season and roses still in bloom is a warning of a harsh winter. We can hope not but can only wait and see. In the meantime, as it was National poetry day last week and as this is especially apt owing to our having to move more frequently than we wished to during the last few years, here’s a little something from me to celebrate the coming season.

September 2018 update

A breeze through September…

OUT AND ABOUT:
The weather forecasters got it wrong one weekend meaning we went out on the worst day where we would have felt more at home in an ark than a car. That was one Saturday. The Sunday was supposed to be worse, so we were wondering how much worse it could be so, naturally, the sun came out. This meant we at least got work done in the garden clearing out the Strawberry bed, which had seemed like a good idea but turned out not so much. They spread far too easily. There’s more work to do in that area but at least we made a good start. Gardens are organic in more ways than one. Some plants are planted in error.

We also visited our now nearest IKEA, which proved simple to get to, but take my advice. If you intend to have a meal there if asked, “Do you want peas?” it’s a definite no. Not until we got to the till did we realise they weren’t included in the meal and at 50p a scoop I can do without. The meatballs… everyone said, “You’ve got to try the meatballs at IKEA.” We’ve heard this recommendation so often we thought, fine, we’ll try the meatballs (I believe you can also buy these in bags to take home). Well, they taste exactly the same as the ready-cooked meatballs you can buy in Lidl or Aldi, only theirs are better. Just be warned. And if you have an IKEA family card, you’re no longer considered ‘family’ on the weekend so no free drink. That’s changed, too, though some drinks come with free refills for everyone. I might stop for a drink if shopping and desperate but I won’t eat there again.

TELEVISION:
Nothing much to report film wise this month. We’re watching the Marvel films in order. Seen them all more than once but never in the order intended. We watched the last few episodes of Jonathan Creek and began ‘Touch’ starring Kiefer Sutherland. The pilot was well conceived though the format seems a little compressed in the second episode. An interesting idea where a widower learns his son’s autism is a rare ability where numbers connect patterns of seemingly unrelated people. There were only two seasons and I hope we stick with this but I can understand why it was cancelled —  an amazing idea that may be difficult to maintain to a high standard and enduring interest.

READING:
Between, Clarissa Johal
I love this writer’s work. I feel her stories deserve a place in a far larger market. Her imagination cannot be faulted, though I’m sometimes left feeling her books are one edit or two away from being perfect. I found Between to be a little disjointed and the ending felt a little rushed compared to the rest of the pacing but as always, a bright spark of an idea and powerful imagination is at the heart of the story.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
A perfect example of how different a film can feel from the book it’s based on. Hepburn’s performance and the alterations made for the screen gave Holly Golightly a pained aspect to her existence that doesn’t seem to so readily come across in the book. While I can admire it as a classic work and well-written, I found none of the characters likeable, not that I found them much better in the film, but they showed a few saving graces that seems lacking in the narrative.

Toast, Nigel Slater
Nigel Slater’s memoir told around the meals he shared with his family may be unique in its style and the childhood’s remembrances of joy at the simple pleasures instilled by food. For anyone of a certain age it will spike the memory, and for those too young to know what people used to eat it will be a history lesson told with real humour. His recollection of the dreaded crates of (often warm) yucky milk that would arrive at school is one I share, only had it been me made to stand at the front of the class until I drank it all, I would have happily stood there all day rather than even make the attempt. It’s hard to believe we used to consume even half these things, even more difficult to believe some still exist. Along with stories of how children caught diseases such as measles and mumps (not in the book but when one child caught something, the others were sent round to make sure they caught it too so they all got it over and done with) with no talk of vaccinations may sound shocking now, but was a commonplace occurrence then. Some memories are told with the innocent callousness only a child can muster; as an adult Slater has said he regretted being so harsh, but I think it’s forgivable as these are childhood recollections not tempered with time and understanding, more real for all that.

Monsters, Emerald Fennell
A book I picked up in a charity bin with a few others, I think this one caught my eye because it’s set in Fowey. I believed it to be a children’s book because of the ‘golden rule’ in publishing that if a book’s main protagonist is a child, the book is for children. With that in mind this black comedy first struck me as surprising. I thought this would be a story about two children who commit murder, not murders that captured their interest leading them on a downward spiral that seems to more often delight them than scare them or bring about the ‘change’ most plots put in place for their protagonists. It’s surprisingly funny in places, well-plotted and worked out. I’m uncertain the tone quite sat well with me for 13-year-olds. At times, some of their vocabulary seemed too sophisticated, at other times their behaviour too immature, but I’ve only personal experience on which to base my assessment and others may feel differently. This is an entertaining quick read, sort of like a child’s book for adults. As for two children you wouldn’t want to meet (the tagline), I couldn’t help thinking I wouldn’t want to meet any of the adults either. I’m happy to say I’ve come across none of these characters in Fowey.

WRITING:

My longing-to-work-on Dark Fiction novel has taken yet another back seat. This seems to be the year of getting side-tracked. When asked to take part in a series of any kind the writer faces dreaded deadlines. There are other times in publishing but when commissioned, I’m feeling those are the worse deadlines of all. I had to stop what I was doing to write a book proposal and, as I’m mostly a pantser (stories come often as if I’m reading a book), I had to do a little writing to get going. This is opposite to most fiction publications where the writer must finish the book before submission (factual books work a different way). With the big six publishers a writer may then be commissioned to write another two books, so it’s a three book contract, but often it’s a one book at a time deal — the finished article put forward for consideration. This time I had to work out a story beforehand — a job more suited to writers who prefer to pre-plot.

I also ended up editing an older work for re-release to which I’m adding a third title and turning three novellas into one full-length work. And there was all the paperwork that goes with the submission: the blurb, the cover art request form etc. I also polished off a longer short story I hoped a publisher could make use of. More on all this as and when. And there‘s another short story I’m still not in a position to discuss. For now, this month, the re-release of my LGBT romance ‘A Not So Hollow Heart’ happened, re-edited and with about 3000 words added.

My Emotional Arsenal

I may surprise many people by saying I’m not listing talent as the most important writing skill. The topmost item on my list is an Emotional Arsenal.

There’s an advert doing the rounds in the UK at the moment staring Claudia Winkleman promoting her use of Head and Shoulders Shampoo. In this advertisement, Claudia reads out some tweets including one that refers to her as an annoying personality vacuum. She jokes this off as if it means nothing. Maybe the tweet hurt, maybe it didn’t. I don’t care what shampoo she uses and I refuse to address any issues people may or may not have with her personality. I would like to think the tweet meant as little to her as it appears to in the ad because that’s the foremost skill anyone who does a job that draws public attention needs to learn. James Scott Bell refers to it as Rhino Skin.

Seriously, every writer must grow a thick skin. If rejection and harsh words are upsetting the publishing world may not be worth the grind. If the potential writer is a person who can only moderately handle criticism, then the thick skin required may develop, but the sooner the better is the only true advice. The writer will always face criticism at every stage—from editors, from readers, from critics and reviewers. One thing I admire J.K.Rowling for the most was saying she wasn’t taking dictation. Critique (as opposed to criticism) can be invaluable, but it’s best to learn to temper feedback with one’s own judgement. The writer should not allow every negative comment to influence the work. Train one’s reaction to meet negativity with determination.

Having said all that, I will contradict myself a little. You don’t ‘have’ to read reviews for your book. You’re allowed to take a break from the outside world and its influences. A negative review can be a good learning experience but if you find one particular place online has a habit of being a cesspit of negativity not only on your book but on others, it may not be the best place to hang out. If you receive nine glowing reviews but a tenth accuses you of being talentless and your book as best used as toilet paper, keep in the mind the internet is peppered by trolls—people who thrive on giving other people a day as black as their souls. Common sense is key here. Don’t take everything to heart and learn to recognise what is truth and what is not. That which is personal bias. Bigotry. And that which is plain meanness.

That’s another requirement on my list. The writer needs determination. Also, patience. These three things may be the most important for the writer’s Emotional Arsenal. Make that four. I will add discipline. The writer must make time for writing, and in an already busy life that can seem impossible. Writers face deadlines.

However, the writer who constructs an unbreakable emotional barrier may risk cutting themselves off from facing their work with honesty. Although I said grow a thick skin, in a way only practice and experience can teach the writer to deal with negativity and change it into something positive. It’s taken me time to learn how to flip a switch in my head from a writer to an editor, and it’s an ongoing process of learning, but I face my draft as a writer, my manuscript and all that comes after as an editor.

Be willing to learn—from courses, from writing know-how books, from reading material, from editors, and yes, also readers…. all to a point. Don’t get so wrapped up in these things they become more important than writing itself, but don’t dismiss them. In a flooded market there are as many ‘how-to’ books as wannabe writers, but there are good volumes out there. Be willing to study and to learn, always.

News August 2018

Hi Everyone!
Yes, I know it’s September. I should have posted this last week, but I’m slightly late as we were away visiting family.

READING:

The Bullet Trick, Louise Walsh
I’ve read one of Louise Walsh’s books before (though the title escapes me) upon recommendation. I recall not being taken with it. This book I enjoyed more. The writing is slick and I like the way the story jumps back and forth between settings and time. The big reveal, not so big, but an enjoyable, cosy thriller. One I liked for the writing and presentation more than the plot.

In the Place of Fallen Leaves, Tim Pears
Felt myself falling into this story almost right away, certainly by the start of the second chapter. The writing is lyrical, creating images and imparting information in an intricate weave. It’s a book without a plot, though, more a memoir in tone than a story, an exposition of events over a long, hot summer in Devon, at times grave, others times sad and humorous. Not one to speed through.

The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
This book is hard to review objectively. On the one hand, it borders the type of horror termed as torture porn. On the other, and in a part precisely for that reason, I’m sure it does what it intends to do. It provokes emotion and, I hope, for most people, in the right way, making the reader uneasy and restless. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to forgive anyone, not even the protagonist. There’s something voyeuristic in the reading, speaking to the part that wants to put the book down. Yet, like watching a train wreck, another part of the human soul/nature wants to discover the outcome. Wants justice. Retribution. Wants to be able to ‘do something’, to act, particularly as this is based on a true story—the book’s real saving grace as it highlights the plight of all abused children, spiking the guilty nerve of anyone who doesn’t want to get involved. The book is confrontational and unsettling in so many ways that it questions the causes behind my very dislike. The book is terrible, and in that possibly achieves its purpose, making of the book a conundrum both excellent and dreadful. It’s a repulsive grim read that’s hard to turn away from or dismiss, though I’m positive not everyone who reads this will have the same experience as I did. I do not like this book, but that’s okay—I shouldn’t—but I do appreciate it as a job well done: vile but emotive because of that.

FILMS:

If you’ve ever seen Tarantino’s work you know you’ve got to have a stomach for violence but one of his less violent and surprising films was The Hateful Eight. There are a few graphic shootings but most of the film comprises long drawn-out conversations. We found it interesting, surprised how fast an almost 3 hour film passed, but I can see where it will send many to sleep.

Been catching up on Doc Martin, a series I’ve always liked, but I don’t get what the creators are trying to do with the character in season 7 with the dog story.

SPOILER: Even if it would be a part of the character’s mental condition, this is fiction and even if they turn it around, it can never be forgotten or forgiven. When he was merely irritated with the dog, it was mildly funny. When he dumped the animal at the side of the road, it became more questionable. When he tried to kill it, game over. Way to go making me hate the character. If I were his wife, Louisa, it would be instant divorce. I’ll stick with the series but this story line has made me dislike the MC and even the inhabitants of the village as no one seems to want this poor homeless dog. Saying that, end of Season 8 (9 will be out next year and is the last), has the best line possible.

WRITING:

I’ve already mention in another blog post that I made the difficult decision to remove some of my titles from circulation.

I also returned the galley proof of A Not So Hollow Heart and received the cover. Amazingly, there were no errors though there is one issue where house-style has determined the use of US punctuation in an otherwise UK setting, UK characters, UK spelling and punctuation book.

And lastly…I have something I want to tell you but can’t…yet. It may not happen and if it doesn’t, I’ll no doubt just let you know ‘no joy’. I’m terrified to even mention it.

Until the end of the month…Happy Reading!
Sharon x

The Passive Argument makes me Tense

I’m back from a week away and my workload is overflowing so for a quick blog this week, I thought to draw attention to a brilliant ‘rant’ on the often abused word ‘was’ and the mistaken disuse of so-called passive voice. Incidentally, the ‘rule’ on passive in the UK is not to overuse, but no one EVER tells a writer to eliminate it here precisely for these reasons: http://pcwrede.com/blog/misunderstanding-grammar/

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/