Saturday, 19 October 2019

WHAT DOES YOUR BOOKSHELF SAY ABOUT YOU? by Victoria Cornwall

I have spent the last month undertaking a big clear out of my home. The things I no longer needed (or liked) were either sent to our local charity shop, recycling centre or thrown away. It was hard work, cathartic and a good time to identify what material things really mattered to me. One of the things that had a good sort through was my bookshelf.
I am a Poldark fan. Many years ago I bought the complete series which were twelve books in all. Over time, and after several readings, the pages have become yellow and dogeared. The first six books were very special to me as their covers had the actors from the 1970s TV series on them. However the remaining covers were mismatched, some of which displayed people who, in my mind, had no resemblance to the characters in the books. It was time to treat myself and buy a new complete set, preferably with the up-to-date, gorgeous covers which display the actors from the most recent adaptation. They would look neat on my bookshelf, thought I, make a perfect stylish set and show I was a big Poldark fan. It also accurately reflected my hobby of reading quality fiction with realistic historical facts. The size of the series would show any visitor that I am a serious reader (yes ... I have read all 12 books folks!) and I know a good thing when I see it (it's a classic after all!). This got me thinking, was I trying to project an image of who I wanted people to think I am or would the bookshelf silently show the real me?
I began to wonder if all bookshelves told us something about the reader. Could a chaotic, mismatched, overloaded bookshelf point to someone who is disorganised and unwilling to part with material things? Or did it tell us that the owner just loved books and wanted to keep them to read again and again?
If a bookshelf is arranged alphabetically or by colour, is the person organised and efficient or painfully controlling with too much time on their hands? Are books arranged by genre preferred by people who like to compartmentalise their lives, or does a variety of genres show that their owner is open to trying new things and will have a broad outlook on life?

By now my mind was in overload. Does the actual type of book chosen for display tell us something? Crime, fiction, autobiographies, travel ... there are certainly lots to choose from. Are we showing the world our innermost soul or the sort of person we aspire to be?
The "coffee table book" is a good example of the latter. It is usually large and expensive, with a lot of pictures, specifically designed to be looked at rather than read. Needless to say it is usually placed where people can see it easily, such as a coffee table. Is the owner really saying, "I am a good host as I have provided a book for you to look through while I prepare you a drink" ... or is it less about the guest's comfort and more about the owner wanting the guest to know that they are stylish and can afford a luxurious quality book that they don't really need.
Of course the books that don't make it to the bookshelf are just as telling. Reading an erotic book, but hiding it in the bottom drawer rather than displaying it on a shelf would certainly show there is a part of one's life the reader would rather keep private, despite the enjoyment it may give. Yet if the erotic book did make it to the shelf, it would show that the reader exuded confidence and had a "take me as you find me" attitude. This attitude is admirable, although one's reaction to viewing such a bookshelf might depend on the book ... and the number of them. Too many and too jaw droppingly kinky, one might just be tempted to run ... unless you are into that kind of thing. In that situation you will be delighted to discover you have found a kindred spirit who might enjoy dressing up in black studded straps and leather chaps too.
Does an array of fiction or travel books show that the reader is looking for an escape? Perhaps "real crime" books show a forensic, inquisitive mind? Do self-help books show someone seeking to take control of their lives or are they mere followers of yet another fad? I am intrigued to know the truth and will look at other people's bookshelves a little more closely next time.

Did I bin my original precious Poldark books with the original actors on the cover? No, I did not. My reorganisation and expensive purchase may hint that I am organised (the new book series is complete and in perfect alignment), stylish (they do look pretty and photogenic) and  show my interest in historical fiction with a strong romantic thread, (which is my preferred genre and the type of book I like to write myself). However, sitting neatly beside this spanking new set will be my six dogeared original Poldark books, which I like to think shows my soft nostalgic centre and undying loyalty to something that once played a big part in my teenage years.

Sometimes something which is losing its colour and curling at the edges is every bit as special as something sexy and spanking new ... at least that is what I remind my husband as I celebrate another birthday and spot yet another grey hair in the mirror. 
Victoria Cornwall
What does your bookshelf say about you?



Monday, 14 October 2019

SIZING UP THE COMPETITION

Now then, I am totally, totally unlucky when it comes to the lottery, or draws, or pick-a-straw at the fair and all that sort of thing. It's all chance, isn't it? But what about writing competitions? I'm thinking short story ones here, not novels. Do you have a go? Do you think - as many do - that they are all subjective? I mean, if you are an athlete the first person over the line is the winner - there's no question that the third or fifth person (for example) just had rotten luck to have been wearing the wrong shoes or the breeze caught them just that little bit more sharply. Surprisingly, for someone who is not competitive in any way, I've entered a fair few writing competitions. I've won a fair few too - national and local. Prizes have varied between a couple of hundred pounds and a pat on the back. I have a vivid memory of winning a competition and being handed a little cup and a bunch of flowers to see a writer who didn't win stalk out with the immortal words - 'That's just one person's opinion!' Obviously she thought my story was rot. Most competition wins provided certificates of some sort to prove it was me. When I decided to write about short story writing competitions I thought I'd dig out all my old certificates. It may surprise you to know, seeing as this is a sort of bragging rights post of sorts, that none of them is framed! But I could only find the one and when I went to scan it so you could all see I am speaking the truth and not just being what I am, a writer of fiction, I couldn't get the scanner to work ... honestly. I've been on a couple of writing courses - one in Italy and the other in Corfu - and each time there was a little competiton, neither of which I won but it didn't matter a jot. I was there for the holiday as much as the tutition. Here I am in Corfu - where Katie Fforde, June Tate, and Angela Arney were the tutors. I did, however, go on to write a novel from an idea, spawned on that Corfu holiday by the little competition, which was subsequently published, so I'll count that as a competition win of sorts.
I am writing fewer and fewer short stories these days as novels seem to have taken over. I'm not likely to ever be put forward for the Man Booker, or any other big league competiton. Literary I am not ... I know my place - and my market. But I do still like to keep my hand in by writing a short story now and again. And while I might not be competitive I do like a challenge. I've just been given details of the Exeter Short Story Prize 2020. Hmm ... nice big prizes. Open to published and unpublished authors ... I might have a go. How about you? Go on - you can do it! http://www.exeterwriters.org.uk/p/competition.html

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Recreating a Cover...More Difficult Than You Might Think!


Sometimes when I’m in the Lake District the fresh air just goes to me head and I find myself doing soothing a little bit…well, dotty. 

A few weeks ago was one of those times. I happened to be walking with my beloved on the shores of Buttermere, and my beloved happened to be wearing a red jacket. And, as it happens, the shores of Buttermere are the background to my most recent book cover and the foreground features a figure — a woman, but never mind — in a red jacket.

And so I thought…wouldn’t it be fun to recreate the photograph on the book cover?

Now, I knew before I started on this ridiculous venture that it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew the photograph in the cover was a composite, for example, but I did think we might be able to find the right spot. It was pretty easy to line up the right area, generally speaking, with Fleetwith Pike in the background and Green Crag just to its right. 

But I couldn’t get the right bit of shoreline. It as starting to drive me mad. When I found a bit of ground that looked as if it might work, the line of sight to the fells was all wrong and there was an extra bit of mountain in the background — Brandreth, I think, quite obscuring Green Crag. It must have been cropped out of the design. And as for the shoreline…well, the picture was completely different to what was in front of me. 

I don’t know when the photograph was taken, of course. If it was last summer, when the water level was exceptionally low, the topography of Buttermere, like that of all the lakes and tarns, would have looked completely different. That might have explained why the only way I could have got the figure lined up correctly was to have Beloved standing in the waster. And no, he wasn’t up for that. 

And then there was the light. The cover had the figure in the foreground and the coat was bright, bright red. Enhanced, probably, or maybe the image had been bright anyway. Bt it was nine o’clock in the morning in my world and the sun…well, the sun had just popped above the level of the fell, in completely the wrong place to take a photograph, and so everything looked completely washed out. 

I got the clouds, though. The was a given. 

Have a look at my sad attempt and compare it with the rather wonderful cover for Death by Dark Waters. Then laugh at my ineptitude…and marvel at etc skill of the cover designer.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

BACK TO SCHOOL FOR WRITERS ... Sharing a collection of writing tips


As we wave goodbye to warm summer days and students return to school, it's the perfect time for writers to review project goals. So in the spirit of encouraging continual development we've gathered a collection of handy tips and wish everyone a successful and productive autumn ...



Victoria says:
It’s important for a reader to bond early with the protagonist so they are motivated to follow their journey.  My writing tip helps to form that bond quickly and it should be done early in the story so the reader feels this protagonist is worth sticking with. I’ve used the device I am about to share for several years, but only lately discovered Blake Snyder, author of the screenwriting guide, Save The Cat, also recommends it. The tip is to ensure your protagonist does something nice/kind early in the story. It may not be as dramatic as saving a life, or as in Snyder’s book, saving a cat, it could be letting a butterfly escape out of a window or, as in The Thief’s Daughter, the hero gives a hungry child a piece of his meat pie. It doesn’t matter how the protagonist is dressed, how much money they have, how grumpy or drunk they are, as soon as the kind act is carried out the reader knows this person, despite their flaws, is okay and worth the reader’s time.



Linda says:
When I first started writing every man/woman and his/her mother felt the need to give me writing tips, and there were numerous 'how-to' books on the market with more of the same. All very good advice but, perhaps, a bit 'dry'. As I became more and more published I was even asked to contribute to a few. But I always felt a bit of a fraud - a touch of the Imposter Syndrome, perhaps?
So, I came up with a couple of my own.
Tip number one :- I never, ever, leave my work-in-progress at a full stop. I always finish my writing day halfway through a sentence and usually I will add ... Doing this means I have an 'in' on my writing day. I don't have to think what to write next because I have to complete the sentence from the day before. Almost instantly I'll be in the zone and ready to knock out another couple of thousand words - or, on a good day, more.

Tip number two :- Get your teeth fixed. Why? I hear you ask. Well, it's obvious, isn't it? It's for that little bio your publisher is going to ask for, for your books. And for your profiles on Facebook and Twitter and whatever other online format you are going to be part of. Unless you can smile like the Mona Lisa you need to be teeth-aware.

So, these tips could transform your writing life, if not your life. And if you want any other tips well, I might .........

A perfect smile : )


Jennifer says:
My writing tip? That’s easy. I have a lot, but there’s one that’s so much more important than all the others. Surround yourself with fellow writers.

When I first started thinking I might one day become a serious author I kept hearing that writers were jealous of others’ success. They damned with faint praise, they bitched about your work, they stole your ideas and, when they’d trampled all over you to become the writer you hoped to be, they pulled up the ladder behind them. I have no idea where that idea came from — maybe there are one or two like that, somewhere? — but my experience is that writers are helpful and co-operative. Pretty much without exception they are generous with their advice, their critiques and their time. 

The most important thing, though, is that whatever you’re going through, they’ve been there. The joys of acceptance, the pain of rejection, the crashing of your high hopes, the good, bad and weirdly contradictory reviews, the poor sales, the non-existent royalties…they know. They sympathise. They make it all better. 

So, find writers. Find them locally. Find them online. Join Facebook groups and follow them on Twitter (the hashtag #writingcommunity is great). But find them, and when you need help — which you will — ask them. They’ll be there.


Jennifer with writing friends -

Jennie says:
I love this time of year. For me it always feels a much nicer time to make resolutions and get life back into gear rather than actual new year in January. I know I give an audible sigh of relief around the 1st September when summer is over and I can get back into some sort of sustainable writing routine for the next three months. This year I've even worked out a weekly timetable for myself in an effort to get the next book written as quickly as possible. I have a writer friend who has a full-time job as well as running a home and family, who makes appointments for herself in her diary and blocks out time that way. 
My actual writerly tip for the purpose of this 'Back to School' blog concerns characters.  Choices are what makes a character's story - especially bad decisions! So have your characters make flawed choices that change the direction of the plot. And remember the 'because' clause. Things happen because a character reacts to something and because of that reaction the story moves forward to another because - ad infinitum! 
Happy writing.




Kath says:
My favourite writing tip? Ooh, that is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Let's see.
"Write every day," a successful writer-friend told me when I was just starting out. "Your writing 'muscles' need to be regularly exercised or they will seize up."
That seemed like good advice, and I certainly tried to keep to it. But my friend was a full time writer, whereas I had a day job, young children and an ageing mother, and I found it impossible to find time every single day to write. It suited me better to write for a few hours at the weekend and maybe one or two evenings a week.
Another tip I heard when I was a beginner was to avoid using adverbs and cut out the word "that" as much as possible. Naively I tried both, before deciding it was pointless advice and that every word has its purpose. The trick is to pick the right word for the job, rather than be hung up on whether you should be using a particular type of word or not.
What about the tip to avoid reading books in the genre you are trying to write, in case they influence your style or you inadvertently copy ideas? Yes, I heard that one too. But the genre I write is the genre I most love to read, so following this tip would simply make me miserable. Plus I want to see what top writers in my genre are putting out there.
So my tip to all writers, whether established or aspiring, is to listen to all advice but only use the tips that work for you. Everyone is different, we all work in different ways, and no single tip will help every writer.
Oh, except for one: Never stop trying.


Never stop trying ...



Rae says:
When we agreed upon a writing tips post, my first thought was ‘who the heck am I to dispense writing advice?’ But then I remembered my favourite how-to write book crammed full of juicy tips, a guide I’ve recommended to friends. It’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction (How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface) by literary agent, Donald Maass. The tip I’ve chosen to share builds on Victoria’s one - ensuring your character does something nice at the beginning of the story.
Donald Maass invites writers to think about your protagonist then asks what one good deed would they find almost impossible to complete? Then work backwards, to make that honourable act even more difficult. Later on, perhaps following a crisis point, find a way for your protagonist to accomplish, at last, that good deed.

Now all I need to do is put my own writing advice (as well as all the other fab tips) into practice!


A favourite how-to write guide by Donald Maass


We hope you find our tips useful and would love you to share titbits of advice too ...

Happy writing!
Rae x