Such Rich Prose

With the gift-giving season fast approaching, I couldn’t help but think back on some of my childhood reads, which was my favourite type of gift to receive. I’ve never had a child in my life I haven’t given books to.

A few years ago I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner owing to a recommendation. I cannot say I found the writing charming and yet it has a haunting, surreal quality that makes for a memorable read. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I can’t think of a reason apart from the adage in the publishing world that if the main character is a child, then it is a book for children. Publishers seem to think if the lead is a child, it will hold no interest for adults. The worldwide phenomenon of a certain wizard has turned this concept on the head. Whether you love or loathe the particular boy lead in question, I think this is a good thing. There are many books out there that cross the barrier between child and adult readers and I for one am not too proud to admit reading the occasional children’s book. I cannot imagine the inability to enjoy a pleasant afternoon revisiting some of my old favourite characters in their adventures. I have a quote on my website by C.S.Lewis: No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

When I young, my reading material was Pooh and then Enid Blyton’s Mr Meddles Muddles, Mr Pinkwhistle or Mr Twiddle. I was also fond of her Wishing Chair series and to this day I own a copy of Mr Galliano’s Circus (although I used to call him Mr Galeeno as I couldn’t get my tongue around the pronunciation). I wanted to be young Jimmy Brown and run away to the circus. In a more enlightened time and as an adult I couldn’t imagine anything worse (I am not a supporter of animal circuses) but I understand it was the running away on an ‘adventure’ part I loved so well. In the Moomins books, I wanted to be Snuffkin and share his love of travelling. From there I went on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory although I always preferred The Great Glass Elevator. Yes, there is a second book! I adored the Vermicious Knids far more than the Oompa-Loompas.

There was no stopping me. I loved The Water Babies because it touched my sense of fair play. Every child should hear of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby or Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. One Hundred and One Dalmatians a Disney film? I read the book by Dodie Smith and progressed to the sequel. Yes, once again there is a follow-up people seldom hear of called The Starlight Barking. Likewise, I read Bambi the book by Felix Salten and you’ll never see that story the same way again. As a child I lent it to an aunt and insisted she read it. After much nagging she (begrudgingly) sat down one day and only stopped when she realised it had grown too dark to see. She was that lost in the story.

Then it was Ballet Shoes and What Katy Did. My most unusual children’s book has got to be Snowflake by Paul Gallico. Mine is tatty, gone orange and lost its cover, though I can remember the cover to this day: pale blue and white with a white snowflake with a child’s face in the centre. Snowflake is ‘born’, falls in love with ‘Raindrop’, goes on a journey and at last returns to her creator. It’s the first book that made my heart ache.

Later came Oscar Wilde. His Happy Prince story made me sob. Once I was old enough, we started on the classics. It’s amazing in this day that classic literature is often termed as stuffy. Maybe it’s the classic moniker that has done the harm. They weren’t classics when I was young; they were just books. I started with Heidi but was soon on to Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. These were my world. They were my friends. They never failed me, and took me adventuring with them. It’s a sad world where children don’t read these books today.

Then it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — the name of the creature’s creator, not the ‘monster’ when the whole point of the book is the true monsters are the man who created him, and the society who hounds him. This so-called horror story isn’t only that. It’s a morality lesson. At once I fell into the richness of the language, some of which may seem superfluous in this modern age but even in Mary Shelley’s introduction doesn’t “Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest” much more engrossing than “We talked well into the night before we went to bed”?

One of my favourite works is the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake, for the involved story, the characters, and, most of all, owing to its rich language. I’ve enticed people to watch the BBC series but even though they often love the story, it disinclines them toward the book. I feel it’s a pity that children are often no longer raised on such rich prose. Not only are they missing out on such imaginative stories, one can’t help speculating whether it would do wonders for their verbal skills and their ability to communicate.

October News 2018

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:

Spent a week in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Never been before, glad to have gone. The highlights were the Tudor Merchant’s House, Tenby; Barafundle Bay, and Pembroke Castle. Had the best Chinese meal we may have ever tasted. Stopped in Hay on Wye on the way home and like the look of the Brecon Beacons so may consider a trip there.

TELEVISION:

Patrick Melrose proved to be an unexpected watch, namely for the excellent performances. The first episode doesn’t quite prepare you for the serious undertones of the rest of the show, and a viewer may be forgiven for wondering what they’ve let themselves in for, but gradually, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of drug-taking Melrose reveals the father’s dark past in a way that makes a person realise people can fall into bad habits through an ordeal.

READING:

It may have occurred to some I’ve been reading a lot of horror. I think I covered before that it may surprise many to know was one of the first genres I was drawn to. Lately, it’s also a genre I’ve gyrated back toward, mainly owing to one of research — I am trying to write what I describe as a Dark Fiction Novel and I wanted to see what was out on the market. Much of what I’ve come across proves to me what I’ve said before: King is not a horror writer (and I don’t mean that as an insult). Clive Barker is. Jack Ketcham is. Brian Keene is. Graham Masterston is (someone I’ve not read in years but a scene in one of his books turned me cold and I rarely have such a reaction). King is a storyteller and much more the level of horror (if that’s what one wishes to call his work) that I prefer. I’m not into a gore-fest, and like most stories to at least raise some questions. King is always ‘comfortable’ even if he scares, which for me he doesn’t, much, if at all: the one time he surprised me was with the foot scene in Misery (the book not film as they changed it). I often read horror in October but stumbling across Adam Nevill made my return to horror worthwhile. His vocabulary and story weaving raises the (forgive the pun) stakes.

It may (or not) surprise you to read the list of ‘The Ten Best Horror Authors Alive Today’, as listed by booklaunch. Few surprises:
Stephen King — an easy choice.
Clive Barker — I agree, though his work has been more scarce in more recent years.
Dean Koontz — one I consider a paranormal/thriller writer rather than horror.
Anne Rice — once a favourite of mine and still much appreciated though I sometimes find her style a little too tell over show for me.
Peter Straub — a writer whose work I’ve not read extensively but have always enjoyed when I have.
Jonathan Maberry — a surprise on the list. I came across Maberry’s YA Zombie novels and picked one up because I wondered how the YA market handled such stories. Next thing I know I was reading him. He does also write adult books much focused on the zombie market and I’m happy to say he accepted my friend request on Facebook and Goodreads.
Mylo Carbia — a surprise because I’ve no idea who she is. It’s disappointing to see the only two women who made the list way down in spots 7 and 10, and neither being names I’ve heard. Booklaunch says Mylo is considered ‘The Queen of Horror’ by Hollywood insiders, and her latest release ‘Violets are Red’ ties with King’s ‘The Outsider’ for best novel out this year.
Ramsey Campbell — a well-known name and another Facebook ‘friend’.
Neil Gaiman — Hmm…is he a horror writer, though? Maybe my second favourite writer of all time after Pratchett, but though his stories have dark elements, I wouldn’t call him a horror writer.
Ania Ahlborn — Born in Poland, but I know little more about her though I’m hearing her books are worth the read.

Dodger, Terry Pratchett

I have the guilty pleasure of not having finished all of Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve loved his work ever since I picked up The Colour of Magic more years ago than I care to recall. I have my favourites but never have I been truly choked over the death of a writer, possibly over anyone I didn’t personally know. Pratchett was a genius of satire. A friend of mine always took his work to be about ‘little wizards running around’. Like many it escaped her notice that the Discworld was our world, that the University of Magic was our Parliament, the wizards there our Government. I’ve a few books of his left unread. About 4 set on the Discworld, I believe; a couple of factual books, the fantasy series he wrote with Stephen Baxter, and the last book he ever wrote. They’re rare treasures awaiting my attention because once I’ve read them there will be no more.

Dodger stands alone. It’s loosely set in the first quarter of Queen Victoria’s reign as stated in the Author Acknowledgements — a section worth reading even if you pick up the book in a shop and stand there while you do. Pratchett wrote a number of books for younger readers and though the wordage in this book is an easy read and the plot rather uncomplicated, Terry gave it the spins only he could, setting up questions any decent society should ask itself, and showing how much has changed. Not my favourite of Pratchett but a thoroughly entertaining read.

WRITING:

I subbed a semi-new work to JMS Books, which comprises two of my previous releases at Changeling together with a third title creating a trilogy in one volume: Hounding the Beat, and Mistletoe and Whine, now concludes in Paws for Thought, under the combined title of Ruff Trouble. Yes, it’s erotic romance and a menage pairing but with a good deal of humour thrown in. Those who have read this will know two of my characters are shape-shifting huskies. I don’t intend to re-release all my ex-Changeling titles but this one has always been well received and is harmless fun.

Other than that, not a lot of news. Once again all I can say is I ‘do’ have a piece of writing news I had hoped to reveal by now, but not only do I not have permission yet, though I think no one I know would ‘blab’ I don’t want to jinx it. I’d say I’m not superstitious, but I like all my T’s crossed and I’s dotted.

Happy Reading!

Sharon xxx

A Lovely Month

I skipped last week’s blog but hope I’ll be forgiven as I was away for a break in Pembrokeshire in Wales enjoying what has surprised us all: a gorgeous autumn. There are warnings that with the roses still in bloom and some days feeling like summer we’ll pay for it with a harsh winter. As there’s nothing we can do to alter whatever is in store, I’ve been enjoying every moment with long walks in forests and on beaches, with some clambering about the occasional castle thrown in.

Continuing my autumn celebration here’s another little poem, this time an Haiku entitled Rust. Although the word is most associated with a type of decay it’s the perfect description of the colour of some of the leaves on the tree and notes a decomposition that creates one of our most lovely seasons.

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.