Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 26 August 2012

CEREMONIES AND CELEBRATIONS – AND FUN!




Yesterday I attended the Naming Ceremony of the granddaughter of a good friend.  The ceremony was held outside, and it was raining (see pic above - some people had shelter!), and yet all of us were not only there but happy to be there.  
This started me thinking about the importance of ceremonies and celebrations in our lives.  Why do we have them?  Do we need them?  And how useful are they in writing?
Ceremonies to mark birth, marriage and death are found in all cultures and throughout history so it’s pretty clear that there is a widespread belief in their usefulness.  They mark important events or stages in our lives.  For people with religious beliefs or superstitions they are also ways of appeasing or pleasing their gods at these significant moments. 
These days, they are mostly done for fun, but also to involve our friends and family in the celebration of something good that has happened (Zahara’s birth and hence her naming ceremony) or to mark the end of something.  Before my father-in-law died he said he wasn’t bothered about a funeral at which his wife told him very clearly the funeral was for us, not him, and he was certainly having one!  He then agreed to certain things he did and didn’t want, and when the time came we had a wonderful Humanist funeral which celebrated his life and allowed us to say good bye to him.  So no, we didn’t absolutely need this ceremony, but it was a help to us and has been a good memory for all of us to help us go forward.
And so to writing – writing is often about the big events in people’s lives.  The ceremonies that go with them provide a wealth of material, whether it be the wedding at the end of a Harlequin Romance or the funeral at the beginning of a family mystery.  They are a ploy for getting your characters together, giving them something to talk/fight about, meeting new characters, not to mention a wealth of possible comic moments.  The planning beforehand and the clearing up afterwards can also offer great possibilities for plot development.
But today I’m reminded that most of all they’re an excuse for catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while, and having a jolly good party.  So definitely a good thing in life, as well as in writing!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Hello Children Everywhere. Are you sitting comfortably?



I have always liked listening to the radio ever since the days of Children’s Hour. Sometimes I think I would miss it more than the television. Recently I was listening to the program “Quote Unquote”
It began with
You write each novel to correct the failings of the previous ones”
As I have just been preparing to upload the very first novel I ever wrote – a light Rainbow Romance for Robert Hale called Lonely is the Valley - I have a fair idea what the speaker means and I hope I have corrected some of my faults in the books I have written since.
 I admit to the faults of repetition of some words and the use of too many adverbs and adjectives. Three of the many words I try not to repeat too often are suddenly, just and that. Since I wrote my early books we are fortunate to have modern technology as an aid with the “find and replace” buttons on the computer. Sometimes I have searched for “ly” – the ending to most adverbs – and I have been dismayed to find so many. In the last chapter of his book “On Writing” Stephen King declares we do not need adverbs and adjectives. I can’t agree entirely – far more prolific and successful writer though he is - but his advice has helped me review my own writing with a fresh perspective.

Then there is the maxim “Do as I say – not as I do”.
How often are we told to read our work aloud? I’m afraid I never do. Now I know I should. Recently I received the audio book of the first full length saga I wrote - Fairlyden. I don’t usually listen to my own work because I know what happens but it is many years since this one was first published. Also it is read by Nick McArdle, the first male reader I have had for any of my audio books. I was curious to hear what sort of a job he made. I have to say he was excellent, performing all the accents from broad Scots to broad Yorkshire, as well as the more precise speech of the gentry and even the child. I am delighted with his reading andt it was a very long novel. Listening to it I realise now I ought to have ended the story two thirds of the way through at a point which could have been a very happy conclusion. I would have seen my mistake if I had read aloud, or recorded it, myself. True it would have affected the three books which followed in the series but that could have been rectified if I had realised my error in time. 

Finally as a writer of romantic fiction a quote from Horace (I think). Is this a true reflection of romantic love?
“With you I’d love to live
And with you I’d gladly die.”

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My Pride & Joy


Forgive me for what is a very self-indulgent post this time round but there’s huge excitement in the household – and it’s nothing to do with Team GB’s brilliant successes in the Olympics. My excitement stemmed from the sight of a cardboard box delivered while I was away visiting student son in Aberdeen – a box which I knew contained my author’s copies of Thousands Pass Here Every Day, my first full poetry collection.

I didn’t open it immediately. Deferred gratification, allowing the pleasure and anticipation to build, is always best. I left it in the hall for a while before hauling it upstairs to my study. I looked at it, I patted it, and I removed and read the delivery note before, finally, slitting open the box. By the time I did so and held a copy of my poetry book in my hands I don’t believe any of our gold medallists could possibly have felt the same level of joy and satisfaction.

It looks like a real poetry book, in a way I hadn’t been able to imagine while doing the proof reading, not even when Ronny Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing had sent a PDF of the cover. He and his partner Dawn Bauling have been lovely to work with, and extremely kind and patient with this rookie poet – even when I started to think about changing the poems, adding commas, removing full stops, wondering if a stanza should be split.

I am delighted three wonderful poets – Andrew Forster, Sheila Templeton and Tom Pow – have written some lovely things for the back of the book and pre-publication publicity. The official publication date is 14th September – and it’s already on Amazon and can be pre-ordered.

I am now gearing up for book launches/readings, the first of which will be around mid-September. Once everything is in place, I will put dates and venues on my website at www.marysmith.co.uk

In the meantime I carry my copy of Thousands Pass Here Every Day around the house with me. It sits on my desk while I type, close to me so I can put out a hand and stroke its glossy cover. Every so often I dip into it with a sense of astonishment, mixed with pride and delight – I wonder if the Olympic athletes feel the same about their medals?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Inspiration in August



How do people find their inspiration? Characters? Places? Images? Events?

I'm just home from London, where we were fortunate enough to be at the Olympic Stadium on Super Saturday. Now that's inspiration. We'd been looking forward to going since last summer and when we finally stepped off the train in Stratford, along with several tens of thousands of other people, the buzz was palpable. I dislike crowds, so the thought of getting to and from the Games had been depressing, but I needn't have worried. There were dozens of cheerful volunteers, all helpful, all friendly, all eager to keep us on the right path. There were even occasional crowd warm-up volunteers, perched atop tall chairs with megaphones, all doing a jolly good job of engaging us and making us laugh. Even the soldiers directing us through security looked and behaved as if they were actors in a Fringe show.

Everyone was cheerful. Everyone was happy to chat, tell you about what they'd seen, what their experiences were, how long you'd have to wait in this queue, where they'd come from, how lucky they'd been with tickets. Everyone was happy! And that was before the remarkable GB medals.

Inspiration? Of course. Provided in abundance by the athletes, who have worked not just for four years but for a good part of their lives to do themselves and all of us proud. Provided by the organisers, who have mounted an event on such a colossal scale it's barely conceivable. Provided by the incredible landscaping - the meadows of wild flowers were magnificent. Provided by the occasion itself, from silliness (those thrones Bradley Wiggins had to sit on outside Hampton Court?) to the sublime (who will ever forget the Olympic 'cauldron' rising up at the end of the opening ceremony, lit by seven young athletes of the future and with a flame for every participating country. I'd love to know who the inspiration behind that was.

We thought that experience would be impossible to follow. Not so. Our kind hosts took us to Glyndebourne on Monday. For those who haven't heard of Glyndebourne, it's a terribly English kind of institution, an opera house in rolling English countryside, where you dress in dinner suits and evening dresses and picnic on the lawn before listening to opera. I'm not really an opera fan, to be honest, but the invitation was irresistible. The lawns and gardens were sublime, the picnic perfect and the Ravel double bill was a delight.

For those of you who've read my blog posts before, you'll know I'm hot on visual images. These two Glyndebourne productions provided me such rich pickings I barely know where to start. Try two dozen shepherds and shepherdesses tumbling out of toile-de-jouy wallpaper (ripped off the wall by the nasty little boy who has destroyed their idyll). Or twenty trees taking a bow at the end. A teapot having extremely suggestive relations with a cup of tea (really). It goes on. And on.

I'm home now, and sated. Characters? Places? Images? Events? I've enough in my head to feast on for many months.

Oh - and by the way, what are the odds of three random strangers on one small picnic table all celebrating their birthday that day? My husband was one of them. And a crowd of red-caped, moustachioed, scarlet swim-hatted youngsters sang them all happy birthday.