Update May 2021

Hi Everyone!
AT HOME:
After finishing our bedroom on the first May Bank Holiday, we moved on to sorting out the hallway. Moved one unit, got another with drawers, changed storage in the ‘coat cupboard’ near the front door and everything looks so different and welcoming. After that we took a break on the decorating/DIY, though there’s more we need/would like to do indoors and out. I started some appointments which I hope will make me feel better and got myself an exercise bike! Delighted with it. Never seen a compact bike with so many design features that folds up so easily to stand as an upright column and with a fairly comfortable seat. Maybe I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

FILM/TV:
We’ve been watching the American comedy series Parks and Recreation for several weeks and are now in season five. It’s amazing they kept the momentum going for so long and though madcap it’s a fun series. Also pleased to watch The Librarians from the start. We saw season one some years ago, but at the time our Sky box melted (seriously, we returned home one day to the terrifying smell of melting plastic), and as they wouldn’t give us a deal on a new box, we cancelled our subscription. Have been watching to see if all the seasons would appear on one of our streaming services, and at last got our wish.

READING:
Brilliance of the Moon, Lian Hearn
Book 3 of the Otori
These books certainly walk the spectrum of love, hate, hope, grief, despair, subterfuge, cruelty, destiny, and prophecy in this sweeping action series set in a medieval Japan, though I had to remind myself of this when I tired of people over the course of the books being told to, or thinking of, killing themselves to regain their honour even though it’s fitting for the marvellous world Lian Hearn has created. This world feels real, as do the characters. Though the books don’t recount all the warfare, there’s enough action for the reader to visualise an immense battle and although I felt distanced from the brutality, this is understandable when considering this series is for the YA market. Still, there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy; indeed, some may prefer the simplistic storytelling, which still ignites the imagination.

Doc Hollywood, Neil Shulman M.D.
Originally titled, What? Dead Again? first, I should stress the only similarities between the book and the film are minimal — names, doctors, some plot basics, and a few quirky stories and eccentricities of the patient cases. The romance here is toned down to the point of almost non-existence, so if anyone is looking to read this for the same experience, they’ll at least feel surprised. Both versions have their own charm, and this rare book remains delightful because of the situation — a doctor out of his depth in a rural community. It’s a sweet read, not as funny as the film.

Mr Cables, Ronald Malfi
What can one say about Mr Cables? This story about a book which an author denies writing yet appears to scare everyone except said author starts off with a more sinister note than it ends, yet there is a chill factor here. In the beginning, it’s caused because the reader isn’t told why the book is scary. The answer is unexpected and, though bad, not as dreadful as the story initially promises. Still, something about this tale sticks in the mind. A well thought out ‘haunting’ plot.

Strangers, Dean Koontz
This book was my introduction to Dean Koontz, first read in my teens, and now, several years later, which makes it feel like a fresh experience. It’s easy to recall why this led me to be a long-term reader and how Koontz can be when writing at his finest. One warning — this a door-stop of a book, not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s true that this could edit down, as much of the story involves strange and slowly unfolding events through several characters’ viewpoints, leading to a languid revelation, I found none of it boring. After a time there are perhaps fewer surprises leading to a questioning resolution, despite being heartfelt and warming; sadly, the reality of such an outcome would lead to an overcrowded planet, even more so than it is now, so I find this tale of hope a little tainted. This is an epic book in both length, and optimism, but it may not be for those who prefer only a simple vocabulary, fewer descriptive details, and a sedate pace.

WRITING:
I’m just about at the end of a first draft for my current Work in Progress, which I shall call ‘ST’ for now, as I don’t reveal titles until I’ve contracted them. You could say I’ve been winging it, though I’m extremely pleased how it’s turned out. I’m sure I’ll add even more substance on the first edit round, but it’s reading like an almost complete book. Meanwhile, I hope to re-release Cosmic asap, and return to editing ST in a few weeks with a fresh eye. Someone has also contacted me with the possibility of writing a short story — more news on that as and when, though there are no determined dates at present.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Edits Happen

Edits happen. However, they occur to different degrees. I’ve submitted work that has needed no editing, not a single word, simply because the editor has announced it as perfect. Other times both sides have maintained a polite exterior while secretly tying on the fisticuffs.

There are various takes on this depending whom one speaks to. I’ve had one writer/editor say to me she’s had work appear under her name that little resembled the work she had created, but she sees this as the price to pay to get her name in print.

Let me introduce an adage: write what sells and maybe one day you’ll get to write what you want. This applies equally to editing as it does to finding a suitable market. How those edits happen can shock.

Having no edits can be as bad as too many. Edits include a thing known as ‘house-style’. Most publishers have one and they can affect sentence structure as much as punctuation, etc. It gives work by that publisher a ‘uniformed’ appearance. This makes sense to a degree. I’ve read some anthologies which left the writers’ individuality so open there was no coherent feeling to the publication. No matter how excellent the stories, the overall feeling can be shabby. Some writers have no grasp of punctuation or grammar; just because their work shines, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to learn, or shouldn’t have their work edited.

The problem with house-style is that if it’s too rigid, it can mean the publisher writes to formula, and the books it puts out risk all read like cloned copies of one another. It’s also frustrating for the writer to adhere to an unbending set of rules.

The biggest problem is many publishers will send out a contract, and the writer signs in all haste, delighted… until the edits arrive. Yes, MANY publishers will accept work without initially detailing required edits, and sometimes those edits can be extreme. They may want the writer to cut entire chapters or even remove a character or add another. I’ve nothing but respect for those publishers who detail these changes in a cover letter prior to the writer signing on the dotted line. Yes, they take a slight risk the writer will implement those changes and take the work elsewhere, but in reality the chances are if the writer decides not to sign it’s because they’ve disagreed completely; they will never use the suggestions made by the publisher.

Which is better? The risk the publisher might have improved a work that will be an immense success elsewhere, or they sign on a writer who decides they cannot work with the publisher ever again? Even if stuck in a contract, the writer may quietly or not so quietly give the publisher a bad name and still take back their work at the agreement’s end. Surely it’s preferable to be on good terms?

I’ve equally heard cases where a publisher negotiated with the writer over what they were ‘allowed’ to do in the editing process. I can’t speak for the whole publishing industry but in my experience I’ve discovered that many British publishers and/or smaller magazines don’t take stories and books with a view of putting them under a vast editing process. They either like a story and take ‘as is’ or they don’t take it. As small press is the starting background of many authors, a larger publisher dissecting their work can be a shock. Alas, the writer feels conned, and the publisher mistakenly believes the writer is arrogant. Neither is necessarily the case — it’s simply a lack of understanding and miscommunication. A writer wants to create. The publisher wants to sell. The publisher expects one thing, the writer another, and both can make many assumptions.

The editor should point out plot holes and weak areas, tidy punctuation and grammar. If the publisher is large enough, the work would finally go to line-editors and/or proof-readers who will more closely check for typos and similar errors. I believe it is preferable for both parties if they discuss any changes larger than these from the outset, but be aware this isn’t often the case.

Women’s magazines can be notorious for completely changing a story. They’ll take a work but the story that appears may differ in content, structure and style than the one the writer sent in. They regard this work as more commercial. The writer gets paid by accepting they are selling an idea more than their writing style.

Some publishers write to formula. This is especially prevalent in the romance industry. One well-known romance publisher I won’t name here would reportedly dictate which page the first kiss was to happen on. They, rightly or wrongly, believe they’ve worked out a pattern that sells and they stick to it. If it’s an erotic romance publisher, they may want a sex scene so many pages in. Some readers want more sex; some will want less. Whatever the genre, majority sells and, therefore, dictates.

Dragon #11

As well as having a few dragons around the house, I couldn’t pass up a dragon to wear. Though I have a smaller dragon brooch than this, I thought I’d show the largest this week. It’s from Butler and Wilson. Red, of course. Though also available in gold, the red called to me.

Update April 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
I’m a little late with April’s news this time because of two reasons, the first being that for our May Bank Holiday we were extremely busy completely redecorating and moving furniture around in our bedroom. At least we’re delighted with the result, just waiting on a couple of finishing touches.

Most of April we spent refurbishing the garden, and this previous weekend we cleared out the garage and put up new racking. As we’re choosing not to mingle and I presently find travelling difficult (waiting on some appointments which I hope will improve the situation), and the weather is less than delightful, we decided these weeks were better put to good use getting various jobs completed.

FILM/TV:
We watched Your Honor starring Bryan Cranston; always a fabulous actor and a series with a intriguing plot — that of a judge’s son who knocks down and accidentally kills the son of a mobster so they try to cover it up. Recommended with reservations; be aware the pacing is quite slow.

Finished Black Mirror the series, which we thoroughly recommend, though found the ‘choose what happens’ film, they created a painful experience and boring. Was also a little annoyed that for some peculiar reason Netflix ran the seasons backwards and we didn’t realise until halfway through. The stories got better as they progressed, so watching in reverse we got the opposite experience. Not that any of the stories were especially weak, and all threw up disturbing questions regarding the advancement of technology.

READING:
End of Watch, Stephen King
The last of the Hodges’ trilogy takes a paranormal twist which for an average thriller might be one leap too great, but this is a King novel, so expect the supernatural. This begs the reader to accept a world of possibilities or impossibilities, depending on one’s point of view. The strongest parts are the fully fledged characters (especially if the reader comes to know them over the course of all three books), something King is renowned for. The weakest point for me was I’m still uncertain about the flow of tense changes. It’ll be hard to forget Hodges, or Holly, or even Jerome. Even Brady, an evil man you love to hate. All three books walk a sad, dark line, but the right tone of sadness becomes memorable.

If It Bleeds, Stephen King
Four decent offerings starting with Mr Harrigan’s Phone, a ghost story with a difference. Not exactly scary, yet there’s a little chill when that number rings… The Life of Chuck is a strange tale which may well garner split views. Still, I felt there was a fine sliver of fear at the end, touched with a sweet sentiment. If It Bleeds adds to the story begun in The Outsider. While not ‘necessary’, it’s always good to spend time with Holly Gibney, especially if one has read the Hodges’ trilogy. Like King, I love Holly. Rat concludes this quartet of stories, but will stick in my mind the most. Though not chilling, there are ‘moments of madness’ that, as a writer, likely creeped me out in a way for obvious reasons, the madness that is part of writing. I was expecting a darker ending, but perhaps subconsciously (either King’s, or mine, or both), there seems to be more than one subtext here reflecting the process of writing itself. There are not the most spooky of King’s tales, but made for an overall pleasant and well worth read.

How to be Human, Ruby Wax
Told with undisguised humour, Ruby still throws an ugly light on modern day living within the first chapter, moving on to why and how we can and should be less self-critical. On the subject of Shame (page 49), she reveals with a few choice words how ridiculous our reaction to modern life and social media is now. And I think there’s a lot to be said for the thought that happiness is something less aggressive than pain, so much so, we don’t notice it much of the time, leading to the belief we’re lacking in some way, leading to a state of discontent. I was glad to see a section on compassion and the differences between that an empathy. The section on relationships is simply hysterical. I love what she says about teachers and learning. The last passages in the book also give us an enlightening insight into the author’s background. As one endorsement says, a book that makes the reader think about thinking.

The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn
The book truly takes off from Chapter Two because in Chapter One I felt the opening pages threw too many names and too much background at the reader, but once I got close to the end of what read like a prologue, I fell into the story. Once I got to the end, I realised how well plotted the story was, all the threads interwoven. The odd grammatical redundancy jarred me out of the story but it’s otherwise superbly written with a proper sense of a descent into madness as someone’s psyche unravels, tormented by evil spirits perhaps of the supernatural world and of one’s own making. My first book by this author, but it won’t be my last.

Across the Nightingale Floor, Iian Hearn, Book 1 of the Otori
Listed as Young Adult Literary fiction, this certainly fits the bill. The Japanese world contains enough flavour to make it vivid without being too heavy for the intended age group. This is a good adventure tale with plenty of secrets. That the youngsters in love are so young fits a society where they are old enough to be passed over into marriage for political endeavours — such things have and still happen in the actual world. The romance again written for the intended readership is well done, though reading this as an adult I couldn’t help wincing at the ‘fall in love with a glance’. Fall into an intense attraction is the reality, an attraction that could become love in time. I also found it too easy to forget how young they’re meant to be, but by necessity put this down to their upbringing, and what life and training had thrown at them. Perhaps not perfect, but an enjoyable book for the intended age group and older.

Hello, Is this planet Earth?, Tim Peake
Although essentially a photo album, I include this in my reading list as a must-have book. This is the closest most will ever get to seeing Earth from space (aside from documentaries and news items), and it’s a fabulous keepsake and reminder of our place in the universe. I bought this book when it first came out, but aside from flicking through, hadn’t had the time to study seriously the photographs and share a glimpse of Tim Peake’s journey. It’s amazing that even from space, I could easily spot areas of the world I would love to explore and those I would prefer to avoid. At night, the dark areas drew me more to places with fewer inhabitants and less light pollution. The photographs reveal amazing patterns it’s hard to believe are spottable from such a distance. Breathtakingly beautiful and a precious revelation of our most priceless and abused commodity.

Grass for his Pillow, Lian Hearn, Book 2 of the Otori
Certainly interesting, and one can’t help but feel for the various plights of the characters. Although not sold on the romance between Takeo and Kaede in the first book, I still felt for them in this volume, especially Kaede, whose role in life is subordinate owing to the simple fact she is female. This is a good exploration of a different culture that rings alarms for all women on a visceral level that elevates this read. This sings of women who want to be more than the society and customs they are born into. Not that the battles and ruthlessness of the males take second place. The second in the series, this book picks up pace as it continues and is a wonderful blend of conflict, combat skills, and magical ability. If one likes Japanese films or even Manga, this series may be an interesting read.

WRITING:
I at last started a new project and in the first week I was delighted with my word count. Alas, in the second week I didn’t do so well, simply because tidying and sorting the house took priority, but I hope to be on schedule to finish a new first draft around the end of this month.
Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x