Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

‘Whales and Strange Stars’: review

December 7, 2017

Whales and Strange Stars: An Adventure by [Sharp, Kathy]

Kathy Sharp is a novelist well known for her three charming fantasy books set on an historical, fictionalised Isle of Portland: the Larus trilogy.

This, her latest novel, is also set in a simpler time than our own – but in a quite different place (although in it, too, water plays an important part).

Whales and Strange Stars begins with the quiet elegance of an otter slipping into the water. The story quickly gains breadth and depth and momentum as it swims downstream, urged on by deliciousness such as this ‘an empty gape draped in drab’ and this ‘The infant New Year lumbered forward unsteadily, burdened with ice and nearly knocked off its feet by strong winds’.

The book’s time is the eighteenth century and, as an historical novel, is unusual in that it does not deal with specific historical events, except for a passing reference to the king raising taxes to fight his war in America. What it does is tell a story of the time before the railways came and changed communications forever.

The book’s place is East Kent, as the author explains in an Afterword. If you are familiar with that part of the world you will enjoy picking out the real locations and geographical features which have been fictionalised for the book (and checking them at the end, when all is revealed). The author writes of the area with a deep affection and intimate knowledge, lightly worn. Exquisite thumbnail sketches of the river, the marshes, the winter weather, the big skies, the very contents of the hedgerows, set the scenes of the book.

The story concerns hard lives and making do. When money is scarce what may a man try to cushion his family from hardship? Personal possessions are so few, is it wrong to covet a fine knife or pretty ribbons?

It also concerns love – of uncles and niece each for other, of a man for his boat, occasionally of a man for his liquor. But it also concerns greed. How powerful men may ensnare others to their will, how having a little more makes a man want a lot, and how this can make him seem quite mad to his loved ones. There is treachery in the story too, as well as coercion.

And, finally, it is about growing up in a slow, circumscribed universe. How a girl on the cusp of womanhood, living in a backwater, full of fancies and commonsense both, must puzzle out the behaviour of the adults in her world for herself. Men and women alike are too busy working to explain. There is a book on manners, and there is the back of my hand, and between these two extremes one must puzzle out what actions and words may mean and what that may signify for one’s life to come.

It is also a salutary lesson against eavesdropping.

 

Advertisements

Wonders will never cease

November 21, 2017

My new novel, coincidentally entitled Wonders will never cease, will be available on Kindle on 2 December. You may pre-order it from Friday 24 November.

Please share this information on all the social media sites you frequent.

The whereabouts of the paperback is currently a bit of a mystery. But it too should be available on or shortly after 2 December.

WWNC Front Cover November 02 (002)

New novel coming soon

November 7, 2017

My new novel – Wonders will never cease – will be published at the end of this month (November 2017). I am unreasonably excited …

Here’s a sneak preview of the cover:

WWNC Front Cover November 02 (002)

My Writing Process Blog Tour

March 25, 2014

I’ve been asked to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, by Caroline Davies*.

This is a sort of chain letter for writers who blog. We’re each given the same four questions to answer. Do we all do it the same way? Almost certainly not. There are those who plan meticulously before getting started, and there are those who plunge in with a bit that particularly interests them, and there are those who talk about it a lot and don’t do much of it. I’m a bit of all three. If I could ever stop beating myself up about not writing enough, fast enough I might take a crack at NaNoWriMo. I plan each novel on index cards – then never look at them again. By the time I’ve written a couple of chapters the Opus has usually skipped off in a different direction. However, I do remember what was on the cards, and they do make a sort of spine to what emerges. Until finally the book is about something else entirely and then I can forget all about them. So that’s my answer to question 1 ‘how does your writing process work?’.

The next question is ‘what are you working on?’. To which the answer is, as usual, far too many things at once. There are short stories, in various draft stages, backing up; a novel, which I’m 70,000 words into, burning a hole in the back of my mind; then there is the novel after that set in Cornwall in the Seventies and the one after that set in Cornwall during WWII, and the Roman novel I started years ago which keeps going in and out of fashion, and my first novel which might possibly be saleable if I could find the time to give it a major overhaul. There is also a collection of short stories and a novella peeking out of the wings, waiting to step onto the stage. Covers are done – but can I make myself sit down and do the final revisions … ? If I could prioritise I could probably get more done, but I just plunge in to whatever’s on top of the pile, or what I’ve just had a new idea for. When I used to work for other people, back in the day, it was as a crisis manager; so I quickly got used to dealing with the crisis currently presenting itself – and that is my prioritising system. The whole of it. I’m a bit old for new tricks now, so please don’t feel obliged to send me remedies for my failings. I have become, even, fond of them.

The novella is about Jews in Edinburgh after WWII; the short stories are mainly about women doing things which surprise them. My last novel was SF. But, as you can see above, I’m finding myself more drawn to historical fiction, preferably with a conspiratorial or thriller element (or both). History informs everything we do. And it certainly informs everything I write – including science fiction. It provides the trajectory. I’m constantly trawling through The Week for current affairs (tomorrow’s history) which seem seminal.

The third question is ‘what makes your work differ from others of its genre?’. Well, if I stuck to one genre that would be easier to answer. I write genre fiction, there’s no doubt about that. I have written quite a lot of SF (my novel Is Death Really Necessary?, short stories, poetry), now I seem to be moving into what a friend of mine calls the ‘history and mystery’ subgenre. That novel which is burning a hole involves an ancient riddle which is solved in the present day. I don’t claim to be a writer of ‘literary’ fiction. I’m too fond of plot for that: stuff has to happen in what I write. Although I do claim to have elements of the ‘literary’ within my genre(s): strong characterisation, strands exploring human nature, society and culture. My historical research is rigorous. I identify and avoid genre cliches. And only I will ever put the ingredients I use in my work together in the same way. Every writer can say that with perfect truth. You only have to look at the variety of work produced in response to the same exercise at any writing workshop to know that what is in every writer’s head is unique.

The final question is ‘why do you write what you do?’. I write about anything that interests me. For example, I once saw a picture of Aileen Getty as a young, troubled woman – just a picture. Something in the photograph demanded to be explored, and quite quickly became Teddy Goldstein in Is Death Really Necessary?. Of course there are a lot of other influences on that character as well – my father and myself to name but two. The book isn’t about Aileen Getty. I know nothing else about Aileen Getty and consciously did not seek to learn more about her. But had I not seen that picture I would never have thought about writing a book about a self-destructive woman who find a mate as dysfunctional as herself and a reason to live. So I write what I do because of serendipity. Things come together. Planets conjoin. A stew is made. And the beginning can be something very small. I was listening to Lucy Atkins (author of The Missing One) the other evening and she said something remarkably similar about the catalyst character for her book – so I am obviously not the only writer whose writing follows their curiosity in this way. The downside to it is, of course, that you want to write about this character who has inspired you, and the book grows and grows, and along the way it changes shape, and then parts of it don’t work any more, and then you find you’ve reinvented it umpteen times in order to give your character the voice that you heard in your head in the first place, and then no-one wants to publish it. So then you need a protracted lie down.

Here’s a link to Caroline’s blog: http://advancingpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/his-last-letter.html It might be interesting to track back through the blogs of those who’ve taken part in this.

*Caroline’s first collection of poetry, Convoy, is now available, published by Cinnamon.

***** Indie Books

August 23, 2012

Leaving aside the quality of my own independently published book (I have soooo lost sight of whether it’s good, bad, indifferent or all of these) I find in my own indie reading that I have come across nothing, so far, to which I would give the accolade of 5 stars. If something I’ve read is truly awful I just don’t review it or *-rate it at all. It seems unkind to give a single star to something the author has laboured over unless one is going to be helpful and go into constructive detais about what’s wrong with it.  And for a * or ** book I just don’t have that kind of time available.

It does, however, seem to me that if indie publishing is going to take off properly and give the traditional publishers a run for their money *and*, crucially, authors a return on their hard work, then producing ***** books is essential. It’s true that not everything the traditional houses produce is either a ***** read, or produced to a ***** standard. But so far they’re still getting it right a lot more often than indie writer-publishers are.

It really surprises me how many indie books I read are repetitive, overwritten, cliched, contain stereotypical characters and over-used plot lines. We can write whatever we want, so why do we seem to be writing flabby pastiches of what everyone else is writing?

Indie writers will continue to be looked down on by those whose work is out with the traditional publishers as long as we produce this kind of work.

So the indie motto needs to become ‘quality first’, yes?

If you have written, or know of, a ***** indie-published book do please let me know about it.

Technicalities

July 22, 2012

Anyone who’s read through the LBMC reviews I’ve posted on here to date will have noticed some variety in the formatting. Trust me – they left Word formatted identically. But somehow they’ve arrived here as twisted and deformed versions of their lovely selves. The principal bugbear is the disappearance of double spacing between paragraphs. I don’t enjoy hunting for my paragraphs and I’m sure you don’t either. And if you’re one of my ex-students you will remember how *very* much I like paragraphing to be accurate :o) so it is a particular sorrow to me that it should all look so naff. The naffness is not lack of labour to make it lovely – nooooo. But short of giving myself a coronary or heaving the computer through the attic window in the end I had To Make Do.

Which is all to say – if anyone reading this knows where I’m going wrong: please tell me (gently …).

Edinburgh try-outs

July 16, 2012

Various chums are bravely heading off to do their Thing in Edinburgh this summer. Next week – 26 July – Fay Roberts is trying out her material at the Hackney Attic in London E8.  Check it out online. More about that when I’ve been.

Last night was the Milton Keynes try-out gig of McNeil and Pamphilon. A goodly number of the usual suspects crammed into Madcap to see their new show. I was blown away. I thought it was clever, brave and taut. And, of course, it was delivered with their customary high energy. I particularly liked the theme/no theme thing with the collanders and string (is that giving too much away?) I wish you all the success in the world with it, guys.

Sharing the evening with McNeil and Pamphilon was Thomas Nelstrop aka The Man With No Name. He has put together, for Edinbugh use, a most intriguing hour of music, impressions and humour set in and at the expense of a Festival in a Field, during which he addresses every aspect of the summer music scene from how to cure a fear of heights with Acid to what Bob Dylan’s songs sounded like before he could write words. A high point for me was the appearance of the drum-playing gorilla from the Cadbury’s advert. In the bar at half-time I asked several people who was the guy we’d just been watching. Nobody knew. Catching sight of him semi-disguised as a black curtain just before the second half I taxed him with the lack of an intro or outro revealing who he is. ‘I play so many different people,’ he said, ‘that who I am isn’t important.’ Yes, Thomas,  it is. So, ladies and gentlemen, that was Thomas Nelstrop. Remember the name!

Writing your own stuff and performing it in front of hard-eyed people with their knees and arms crossed requires the hide of a rhino and the determination of Incy Wincy Spider. It needs heart and soul, self-belief and loadsa money.  Respect, guys.

My Beautiful Mommy: old news

June 22, 2012

Not being one who jerks a knee without checking out why the knee has jerked (note to self: really ought to get into the habit of doing this the other way around). I made a few minutes today to look at Michael Alexander Salzhauer’s book on Amazon. You can’t ‘see inside’ but there are some examples of the cartoons and speech bubbles in the book. It is genuinely ick-making stuff. The three reviews I read are two or three years old now. One vouchsafed that the book was written by a plastic surgeon. Another that there is a donation to charity for every copy of the book sold. So it’s advertising + blackmail. But it seems to have found its level, way way down in the Amazon popularity stakes. Hellfire – even *my* book is more popular than ‘My Beautiful Mommy’.

Get ’em when they’re young …

June 20, 2012

I’ve just been alerted to the most astonishing book for children. It is American.  It’s called ‘My Beautiful Mommy (note Am spelling) and has been written by Michael Alexander Salzhauer. I’m not going to post a link. It just encourages them. It sets out why American Mommies want to, or should, have plastic surgery. I am almost speechless (but, of course, that doesn’t stop the fingers tippy-tapping). One hopes (I am standing on a virtual soapbox here so that you can all see my indignation clearly) that it won’t get many takers over here. What an extraordinary idea. When did the world get so strange?

I channel-hopped into that programme about celebrity plastic surgery disasters last night and sat there mesmerised for nearly ten minutes muttering ‘how?’ and ‘why?’. In the end it was making me nauseous so I hopped off into one of the CSIs. It comes to something when you find CSI less gruesome than whatever else you’ve been watching.

Never, ever try to eat supper in front of CSI. If you’re eating spaghetti they are dealing with intestines. If you’ve got liver for dinner, guess what they’re microwaving on CSI. Even vegetation isn’t safe to eat. Look at those killer microbes all over that lettuce! Aargh.

But seriously – if you should see ‘My Beautiful Mommy’ in a bookshop and think it’ll be reinforcing for you and the littlies – have a good look inside it first.

Tal al-Mallouhi

May 12, 2012

Last year, at twenty years of age, this Syrian poet and student was sentenced in a closed court to five years in prison. No evidence of her guilt was divulged and PEN believes she was imprisoned for online writing and poems about Syrian and Palestinian politics. According to Al Jazeera she is the youngest known convicted prisoner of conscience.
PEN has asked the global community to circulate her poem, below, at writers’ readings, in newspapers, on notice boards, through websites, blogs and social networks – which is why I am posting it now. Messages or your own short poems in support of Mallouhi may be sent c/o writersinprison@englishpen.org

YOU WILL REMAIN AN EXAMPLE
I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by
This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in a cloud
And a grave to protect me
This is more beautiful
Than all cities of fog
And cities which
Do not recognise me
My master:
I would like to have power
Even for one day
To build the ‘republic of feelings.’

(translated by Ghias al-Jundi)


%d bloggers like this: