Bad Sex Award

Many have heard of the yearly Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which has been going since 1993 — the purpose to ‘honour’ an author for producing an ‘outstandingly’ bad sexual scene in what might otherwise be an excellent novel. The prize doesn’t include erotic fiction and mainly exists to throw light on often unnecessary sections of sex given a superficial treatment.

This is part of an old post where I drew attention to the 17th Annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award that went to author Jonathan Littell for some hilarious passages in his novel The Kindly Ones. However, some of the sentences aren’t as good/bad as they’ve been in some years and this is a translation from the French, which can affect some meanings. It’s also difficult judging for oneself when reading these lines out of context. Read more on the book and the award at BBC News.

Cringe worthy? Spiteful? Personally, I think it would be a fun award to win and, as they say, any publicity is good, although I’m not sure that’s always entirely true.

However, this I wish to put forward my own contender/winner even though it’s for a book published some years ago:

“She kept a secret spring surrounded by sweet moss, and there he was refreshed.”

And the winner is…

Stephen King for this line in his 5th Dark Tower novel ‘Wolves of the Calla’. It does read slightly better in context but made me roar with laughter so unless that was his intention (and even if it was) this has got to be a dodgy euphemism if ever I heard one. Otherwise, I love the Dark Tower series and finally got to read the whole series in one sitting. I love the character of Roland but my hero is Eddie.

I’m going to keep the award in mind when constructing such sentences.

A Life Lesson Learned

I’ve had more than one run-in with ‘celebrity’, but this incident was my first. A few years ago I was working in an office and answered the phone. When I realised with whom I was speaking, I experienced a ‘gulp’ moment where time slowed enough for ‘I really don’t want to be dealing with this’ to pass through my mind. I had heard enough ‘rumours’ to square my shoulders and straighten my spine, preparing for a not-very-nice-guy. Still, I am, if nothing else, generous, prepared to give anyone the benefit of the proverbial doubt…in this particular instance short lived. The moment of good grace passed with the first words to come out of his mouth, the ‘conversation’ something like this:

“Get ****** *******.”
“I’m sorry, she’s not at her desk right…”
“I want to speak to her.”
“… now. Maybe I can help, or take a message?”
“I am ******* **** so Go.Get.Her.Right.Nowwwwww.”

My cognitive reasoning instantly translated this to: “I’m a toffee-nosed blowhole who expects the world to bow instantly to my every whim. I’m so full of my own self-importance, I kiss my reflection first thing in the morning and last thing at night because no one else is good enough to kiss me, at all…except maybe my feet, when they are down there grovelling.”

I went to fetch the person in question (the toilet of all places) because it was my job and because, unfortunately, she was the other side of a similar coin. They deserved working together. She had the art of obsequiousness down pat when it served. Alas, in the real world, people management escaped her skillset.

“You got the photocopying done?” she asked one morning, staring at the pile in my arms. “You got it done ‘today’?”

“Yes,” I replied, somewhat puzzled.

“However did you manage that? ***** never does the photocopying for me that quickly. She sometimes makes me wait days.”

To clarify, some offices have had a photocopying departments, particularly if a lot of duplicate documents or leaflets were regularly sent out.

How did I get my photocopying done in a blink where this other person couldn’t? Compare her, “Get this done,” to my “Good morning, *****. How are you today? How’s your daughter?” In reply, I’d listen (and I do mean pay attention) to how well the woman’s daughter was doing, how proud she was of the young girl’s latest achievements, all of which swiftly concluded with, “I’ll put your work up next.”

No, I did not wish this woman a good morning in order to get my photocopying. Her doing so was an amazing bonus, but that was not in my mind the first time I said hello, or when I asked how she was anytime after. It’s called respect and being polite. I didn’t see her as the ‘photocopying woman’ as did so many. I saw her as someone deserving the same regard as anyone — a lesson the other two people of this blog could have done with learning before anyone gave them a job.

No one is generally more important than anyone else. If I were famous I would not expect someone to hurry off the toilet barring a life or death situation (that call…was it important? No, not at all). I wouldn’t turn up without warning and expect to jump the queue. It’s a crazy world where a recognisable name or face expects preferential treatment, particularly if it’s to the detriment of others. It’s odd we bestow such care, not on a nurse who maybe saved a life that day, but on people (famous, or not) who treat others with rudeness and arrogance. Respect should be earned. The person who does the photocopying or served coffee that morning, are all the same. My father served coffee for a time, and though he might have ended up in the Tower of London, had the Queen turned up he would have expected her to pay and to wait in line. He would have been polite, he would have been respectful, but he did not like any individual having privilege over another. Maybe the picture he painted with this declaration was more allegorical than actual, but, as a child, that was something I would have been tickled to see. I never knew if he exaggerated, but the principle sure stuck in my mind.

Garden update June 2017

It’s been just over a month since I first mentioned my garden, usually the one part of my personal life I don’t mind sharing. Some, particularly those who hang out with me on Facebook, will know I’ve had many types of gardens including a large landscaped one. This time we’ve started with the smallest space we’ve ever had (a somewhat deliberate choice), and nothing more than a pile of…well, mostly clay. One cannot call it soil. There are ways to work the ground to make it nutrient rich but we’re not at that stage. First, we need to create tiers.

A month has gone by since I showed you an expanse of ‘dirt’, held up by choosing and awaiting delivery of supplies and the weather. We’ve had a lot of intermittent rain as evidenced by the sudden flash growth of unwanted greenery. To create the tiers we’ve decided to break the garden into thirds. One stone wall either side of the steps and a sleeper wall at the far end as we want a small veggie patch. The tiers will also be in thirds.

Before we even get to creating the tiers we’ve had to attack the plants that have taken over. These are dock leaves:

Dock leaves. Dock leaves everywhere!

No one wants these things. They grow large and the roots are thick and deep. Fortunately (or not depending on viewpoint), we’ve had a lot of digging out to do so taking this lot down was the least concern. May not seem like it, but it didn’t take long. That’s the Dear Husband with a spade and shovel hiding at the edge of the photo. He did the shovelling and I’ve been swinging the mattock (a type of pickaxe) to help ‘hook’ soil down so he can move it out of the way in order to create a trench.

This is only the beginning of the first. We need to fill this to a required height of ballast (arriving this week) and compact, then add a layer of sand to set the walling in, then back fill with gravel before packing the soil back to create the layers. We also need to mix the clay/soil with good manure and compost before shovelling it in, repeat three times to make three tiers. The good thing is, because of the required height and depth, we won’t be creating too much pressure. I’ll let you know how we got on.

 

Shakespeare’s Influence

Couldn’t resist sharing. Think you know Shakespeare? Or maybe you think you’ve never read him, never watched a play, and don’t care to. Maybe you think you don’t know any Shakespeare at all. Think again.

Love or loathe, Shakespeare influenced our language like no other writer. My personal tip is, if you can, visit The Globe (or any theatre) and watch a live performance. His work are plays and meant to be watched rather than read. The Merchant of Venice was one of the many fantastic performances I’ve seen, and yes, I was lucky enough to see it at The Globe on a balmy summer evening. Watch for a fast and fun whirlwind tour of how Shakespeare has influenced our lives:

Amazon Shenanigans

This week I’m simply highlighting some more Amazon Shenanigans. I, too, was fooled by cheap books in the beginning, but this steamroller is now out of control, and is no less damaging. Alas, some writers and even publishers have to rely on Amazon these days, but they’ve done nothing for writers or the book industry overall. I’m not telling anyone what to do, or where to buy, and in some cases there is literally ‘no choice’ but, please, open your eyes. Search online for more related articles.

Love for the Written Word

This week, I’m re-blogging a post I wrote for one of my publisher’s blog (when I was writing for Musa). I think it’s timely as the sale of printed books are on the increase.

I’m here to discuss a friend’s point of view — one that hadn’t occurred to me before. I’m going to wander a bit because I’m also talking books, but it all comes down to love for the written word.

Some people love e-books, some loathe them. I know some hate the term ‘e-book’ and I take that argument on board. A ‘book’ is a bound set of pages. Maybe it would be more accurate to call the electronic file of a book an e-novel or e-story because I don’t feel the presentation affects the content. The story ‘exists’ the moment the author penned it. When one used typewriters or even quills and ink, that didn’t make the story exist any less, although by no definition could hand written or typed pages be called ‘books’.

I’m not against electronic files of books, but I still love paper books. Always will. I admit there’s nothing like a physical book that can be held in the hand. It’s nostalgic. If a gift, we may recollect when we opened a brightly wrapped package, the moment we first set eyes on it, felt that fission of pleasure, and spare a moment’s thought for the person who gifted it. An electronic file, for the most part, lacks the personal touch. An old book, even when it deteriorates with time… Well, those creases in the spine and cover could have been put there over many years of handling and love. I don’t see a scruffy book as one that has necessarily been discarded or ill-used. Also, for someone like me who spends a great deal of time in front of computer screens, then the printed page is a departure from that, although e-readers are improving all the time and this may not always be an issue.

Saying that, there’s room for both formats in my life simply owing to practicality. For one thing, I write e-books and would be a total hypocrite to then say I hate them. I don’t hate them. I would love to live in the kind of library the Beast gave to Beauty in the Disney film — just push my bed and a chair and table into the middle, I’ll be fine — but so far I’ve yet to stumble across any enchanted castles even if I’ve found my Prince Charming. I love all sorts of books from the classics to children’s stories, fantasy and horror, and yes, some romances. I can be fussy about my romances more than any genre, I think, but I do read them along with all the other genres I love — to call my book collection eclectic is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I simply don’t have room for all the books I would love to read and own. I’m one of those readers, who, if I love a book, I struggle to part with it. I’ve relatives who don’t understand this. They feel a book once read or a film once seen is finished with. The story has been told; the reader/viewer knows what will happen, so why read/watch it again. I understand the point, but I disagree with it. A much-loved experience can be enjoyed again. It can be enjoyed more because often one can miss things on a first pass just as an author can during the writing process.

Among my many ‘wants’, I would love to own an entire library of classics. I’ve an abiding love for them. It amazes me when I hear someone say today that they’ve never read any of the literary greats. Black Beauty, Heidi, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Oliver Twist…all these books and more were among my childhood reads. I cannot even remember them being referred to as ‘classics’ — they were just books and they were adventures. They took me to different worlds and gave me experiences I would never have had otherwise. I read them alongside stories such as The Water Babies, What Katy Did, Ballet Shoes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I never differentiated. Now they are looked upon as stuffy, and dry, the language outdated. I cannot help feeling that people were better educated, more eloquent and literate when such books were read at a younger age. I was born at a time when almost all parents read to their children, where I was given books for older children than my age, and if I couldn’t read them right away, well I wanted to, and it made me strive to learn. If I didn’t know a word my parents handed me a dictionary and told me to look it up, and yes, I took the time to do so. So these books have remained with me, ingrained.

The electronic format has allowed me to revisit some of these classics I’ve lost through moves, through lack of space. I am grateful. They are adventures and memories revisited, and I can keep them in virtual ‘space’. Although I still often buy my favourite authors in print, I have branched out and discovered others owing to electronic formats. I would prefer a world where there wasn’t an argument for or against, but where all can live in support and cooperation. In an advanced society, life is about individual choice.

My thinking was personified when speaking with a friend of mine. This friend is in his seventies and he recently bought an e-reader…and adores it. His reason is simple — he has struggled to read a book for some time. His eyes aren’t quite as they used to be and there may be other factors in his health, but whatever the reason, he can ‘see’ the words better on his reader as opposed to looking at a printed page. He can also increase the font size if need be, or zoom in. His reader has made his whole reading experience come alive again, and where he had as good as given up reading, or took a long time to struggle through a single novel, he’s reading again…devouring books, and what I saw in his eyes as he told me all this was joy.

So I’m just putting this thought out there for those very much against. Maybe e-books and e-readers aren’t for everyone, and for some, they may never be, but I think this proves that it’s pointless to criticise the needs of another person and that none of us can know what we may one day need ourselves. Should there be anyone saying they’d rather give up reading than commit sacrilege and read electronic books, then I can only think nose, spite, face. I could never give up reading. I’ve never heard such venomous arguments over audio books, which many people enjoy who aren’t blind and who don’t have seeing difficulties. The argument may stem from fear — a dread that the production of printed books will one day cease, and I understand that emotion well. Without printed books, this would be a poorer world, but one cannot ignore the increase of electronic formats — something I knew would take off long before the first e-reader was even conceived. Simply, there may come a time where e-readers exist alongside things like audio books and are considered as commonplace, where they’re a lifeline for some, and — just as someone brought books into my life to enrich it — in my ‘book’ that makes their existence tolerable and even worthwhile.

My Garden Project

We’ve undergone a journey over the last four years, not of our own choosing. We’ve ended up somewhere, while not the exact place I would choose to live were money and other circumstances were not an issue, but it’s a close second and somewhere we could, at last, be happy. I may write more on that another time, but we’ve lots to do and two moves in four years took its toll on finances, physical, mental, and emotional well-being. We’ve a lot of healing to do as well as more tangible labour. We’ve worked hard the last few weeks to turn our new house into our ‘home’ and before the end of the month, we should see much of that come to fruition. What remains…is the garden. I’ve decided as there’s so much to do and we are starting with a blank slate, to share this part of the journey with others.


This is the smallest garden we have ever owned yet, it involves a lot of necessary work, not all of our own choosing. We have a slope that we need to tier. Were we to hold back the top layer with one retaining wall we’d be installing a wall of approximately 36 x 3.5 feet. We’re going to have three layers, which allows for less pressure on each tier.


The garden ‘problem’ (and it is a problem) is more complicated than needing some tiers. The ground is nothing but clay. What it needs is manure, preferably horse. Friends and neighbours have told us to look for some going free from local farmers. We’re in the countryside but free manure isn’t always as easy to find as many may think. Even if found, it’s often a case of pick up and take; not something we relish putting in the car, to be honest. There are many manure/compost compounds available to buy but there’s a limit to how much we can bring home any one time, and it’s difficult to judge exactly how much we’ll require. The good news is once we dig in and mix with clay the ground will become nutrient rich. Clay isn’t the bad news we believed it to be, but it does require preparation.


We’ve sourced many products and accounted for the expenditure (more than we were hoping for/wish to spend), and are awaiting the arrival of several deliveries including railway sleeps, stone walling, aggregate, and we still need to order some ballast, sand, back fill gravel, and planters.


The photos above are of what we’re starting with. Over the coming weeks, I’ll post an update when there’s improvement.

Perfect sentences

The power of a single sentence can make a whole book not only memorable in the short term, but a forever favourite. The perfect sentence (or paragraph) can be humourous, insightful, frightening, heartbreaking, or a combination of these and many more. The right sequence of words can convey a thought process, the whole subtext of a novel, and/or make the reader look at the world a different way. I’ve kept some novels simply because I felt the book contained a perfect sentence, one that resonated. The writer cannot get too engrossed with creating the correct phrase, however, because he or she would never complete any work. Fortunately, for everyone, sometimes the magic happens anyway, but one sentence that means the world to one reader will be meaningless to another. All our experiences differ. As unique individuals what we appreciate and what has meaning varies as much as our personalities. Life would be boring if the situation were otherwise.

One such perfect sentence for me is toward the end of Poppy Z Brite’s, Drawing Blood. “The art was in learning to spend your life with someone, in having the courage to be creative with someone, to melt each other’s souls to molten temperatures and let them flow together into an alloy that could withstand the world.”

This is perfect to me because it reveals the human condition, of the struggle to withstand and sustain life, and includes a simple but well-presented explanation of why for many of us we find it important to create and to love. We may not need books, music, art etc., or even require companionship to exist, but we need them to ‘live’. The above sentence takes something fundamental to most of us and presents it in an untarnished, descriptive, and beautiful way.

Regard Fear as the Enemy

A little over a year ago I did a guest spot on Southern Writers. Several months on this seems a perfect moment to reproduce that blog here, though an introduction explaining why won’t hurt.

Writers everywhere get days when they would like nothing more than remain in bed, and to draw the pillow over their heads. Despite the longed-for dream, not everything about writing is fun. I always look at writing and publishing as two different ‘beasts’. This is one of those not-so-fun instances.

I’ve moved. We’ve work to do in the house, and this being the biggest relocation of our lives (so far), we’ve much to organise. I’d love to be one of those people who can compartmentalise, push everything to the back of my mind and write. I’m much better at getting everything finished and then concentrating on one thing at a time. No way in publishing can that happen. Right now I’ve a book to finish I wanted to sub at the end of January. I’ve another in a trilogy that requires approximately another 20k of words and I should be sending in…oh about now. There’s no set deadline, but I’m trying to reach readers, publisher, and my expectations. Then I’ve another, and in many ways far more important book to finish that needs a whole subplot adding to it. I’m swamped.

At the weekend I walked away from it all. I took a time out I couldn’t afford because something was going to snap; bad enough it should be my temper but I didn’t want it to be me. All that leads me into the subject because writers live with a good deal of fear. Fear they won’t meet deadlines. Fear they won’t be able to finish a book. Terror each new work won’t be received as well as their last. Fear of taking on new projects, especially those outside of their comfort zone, and the temptation to walk away from it all.

While the books I refer to below are currently unavailable I’m working on other projects that feel as terrifying, maybe more so. Add to that the dread of days that end in what feels like a blink and bed and a pillow seems evermore enticing. The trouble with that temptation like so many types of avoidance, it cures nothing.

***

I wish I could write an encouraging ‘how-to’ narrative revealing all the secrets of mastering the writing craft. Such a missive might make the task easier and eliminate writer anxiety. My own included. My advice? Be afraid but grasp opportunities anyway.

The secret is there is no secret. What may work for one author may not work for another, same for genre or market. There’s no specific wrong or right way to write, wrong or right way to market (though spamming is never a good thing). There’s no yet to be revealed way to kill the worry of finding the next idea, the right publisher, receiving a bad review, or jumping in and trying something new. I’ve learned to view the occasional fluke as providence.

I try anything, and file that which doesn’t work now in case something becomes useful in the future. This goes for stories as much as promoting. I find stories often by ‘accident’. I’ll begin with two seemingly unconnected incidents, a vague idea of characters or places, or a single occurrence. I’ve even created stories from a title idea, a phrase, or a random selection of words, tried numerous genres. Some markets I stumbled into because an idea nagged me to write it, or because I was searching for submission calls. That’s when accident bridges the gap to intent. Where one formula won’t work for one writer, it may do so for another. Where a blueprint doesn’t apply to one genre, another must be rigid. Study the market. It’s amazing how many writers still send the wrong material to the wrong editor or publication. A horror publisher doesn’t want romance or vice versa. Pay attention to guidelines.

I read anything and everything; have too many interests, so when it came to writing it was hardly surprising I wanted to run in all directions. I decided to call myself a multi-genre author little knowing I was making an already difficult task more problematic. Branding is important, possibly imperative. My stories appear from the mysterious ark of my imagination working together with a brain that seems to tuck away the quirkiest detail; I sometimes feel as if I’m fooling myself if I think I’m anyway in control of them. There’s no knowing where I’ll head next, so I keep my options open. That’s why my next publication will take me to Jupiter where there are dragons.

Being willing to make ‘accidental’ connections both in real life and in my storytelling is how I came to be embroiled in the steampunk world of Space 1889. I was invited. I quietly panicked. Then I took a breath, started reading and researching. Now I have three titles (one co-authored) in a series that is a little part of history. Regard fear as the enemy.