Saturday, 27 April 2019

A MATTER OF LIFE AND .............................................................. By Linda Mitchelmore

...... I think you all know what word comes next - yes, the 'd' word. Picture the scene - I was sitting, drinking a lovely glass of chilled Prosecco and chatting to my cousin Barbara who had been asking me about my writing .... what was coming next, plot and so on. We moved on to ALCS (Authors Licensing Collection Service) and PLR (Public Lending Rights) and then onto Royalties. I said they were all nice little earners, to which Barbara responded by saying, 'All very interesting, but what happens to it when you're dead?'
Crikey but that sort of conversation pulls you up short! But what does happen to it? I had no idea back then. However, I'm a member of the Society of Authors and I guessed they might know.
They do as it happens. They produce a most excellent leaflet - free to members, but £20 to anyone else - entitled, GUIDANCE ON YOUR COPYRIGHTS & PAPERS AFTER DEATH. It's rather a stark heading but it does what it says on the tin. After that initial conversation I imagined Royalties might live on to anyone to whom we bequeath them but I had no idea that ALCS and PLR do, but they do as well. The surprise has been that even if a writer isn't a member of the SoA prior to death their estate can apply and be a member with all the same benefits. There are various sections (seven if I remember rightly), all very clearly explained and laid out. WILLS AND POWERS OF ATTORNEYS, WHO INHERITS WHAT ON YOUR DEATH, INHERITANCE TAX are but three. All this has made me pause for thought .... and it dredges up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings and I think it's a travesty that any of us have to hand back the pen, as it were. So, to whom will I leave not only my small - but exquisite to my mind - collection of paintings, and my very, very, small collection of jewellery comprising two rings? In June this year I'll have the copyright of nine novels to pass on. I doubt my grandchildren will reap the benefits that Agatha Christie's grandson did when she left him the rights to the Mousetrap in her will, but mine could still be a nice little earner and buy a decent bottle of Rioja at Christmas.
So .... there we have it - something writers really, really need to think about. And best done with your tipple of choice in hand, and possibly chocolate .....

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Evolving Language: How to Talk About Cats

A magnificent floofy cloud...
Image from Sheryl Leigh, via Wikimedia (public domain).
I use the internet a lot. I use it for work and I use it for leisure. I use it to keep me in touch with my friends and family, and to stay updated with the news. I use it for instant alerts on the progress of my sports team (sometimes there’s no progress and therefore no alerts) and most of all, it sometimes seems to me, I use it to look at pictures of cats.

There are fat cats and thin cats, smart cats and cats that are what we’d call in Scotland “thick as mince”. There are appealing cats and appalling cats. There are cats in high places — such as Larry the Number 10 cat, Palmerston the “diplomog” and other governmental felines with their own Twitter feeds. Some of my happiest places in the sewer that social media can be are Facebook groups where people post random photographs of strange cats, or of their own pets.

As I’ve tripped merrily through this forest of feline felicity, I’ve noticed a strange thing. It’s to do with language. Cats, when they’re not slaying you with a look, are more than capable of communicating via meows and hisses and chirps or, in the case of my own elderly moggy, deafening wails in the dead of night, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how we, their humble servants, talk about cats.

Language evolves and it fascinates me to watch it in action. Cats in general might be known as cattos rather than cats, or sometimes as floofs, a word often preceded by the adjective “majestic”. Those with long fur, especially all white, all black or all grey, are fondly referred to as clouds.

Look closely: this cat has a blep
I have learned that when a cat sits with its tongue out, that’s a blep. If the tongue flips in and out in a lapping movement, that’s a mlem. (You get a lot of extra likes if you post a photograph of a cat doing either of these.)

 There’s more. Look at the soles of your cat’s paws. Look at the pads. Those are what we initiates know as toe beans or jelly bean paws. And if you see a very large cat, the chances are (regardless of gender) that it’s a thicc boi, also known as a chonk or choink. (For some reason these last two are often capitalised.)

I’m sure other animal groups develop their own language. In fact, I know they do, because sometime I venture into rabbit — sorry, bun — circles, where I have learned the difference between a binky and a sploot.

I love seeing how people develop their own secret languages to cover their own interests…and I wonder how long it will be before some of these terms make it into the dictionary, if they haven’t already. And what about my readers. Do you have any favourite (repeatable) words?

Apology: dear spellchecker, I’m very sorry. I know this article almost broke you…

Jo Allen

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Rewriting the Classics

For today's joint blog, we discuss which classics we'd like to rewrite, or see rewritten.

Jo Allen kicks off the discussion:

I love the Brontes. Who doesn’t? (I mean, surely somebody, somewhere, doesn’t, but…)

So the novel I would like to rewrite for the modern day is the most rip-roaring of them all, Anne Bronte’s fabulous, scandalous The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. These days we’d call it romantic suspense and it has everything, so much so that if you don’t know it I recommend you go and look up a plot summary.

In short, Gilbert Markham falls for the mysterious widow in the neighbouring hall who it turns out, isn’t a widow at all but on the run from her drunken, violent husband. He, of course, comes after her and we have a chase and a misunderstanding, in the midst of which poor old Gilbert (who always struck me as not quite able to keep up with the extraordinary Helen Graham) doggedly pursues her, the love of his life.

If there’s a real kickass heroine in any of the Bronte novels it has to be Helen, unprepared to stand for the kind of nonsense her debauched husband and the restrictions of society place upon her. I love her to bits.

Having said all this, I don’t quite know how one would go about modernising a novel so far ahead of its time. Dare I say it, but I think Gilbert could do with a bit of a makeover. Then perhaps he’d be a match for Helen… and imagine what a film Hollywood could make of that…

Victoria Cornwall also chooses the Brontes:

Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only novel and was originally published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. The initial reviews were mixed, some critics finding the unsavoury characters, hatred, revenge and violence difficult to accept, despite the novel being a compelling read.

Even today I find Heathcliff, the “hero” of the love story, difficult to accept. He starves a trapped bird, verbally and physically abuses his wife and damages the lives of all those around him … all in the name of love. Well in my opinion, loving someone does not give you the excuse to be a violent thug who destroys people who happen to be in their orbit. My adaptation would have Heathcliff coming to his senses and rescuing the bird in time and being emotionally distant from his wife (as he still loves Cathy) but not intentionally cruel to her. As he is Heathcliff, I will still allow him to behave badly, but ultimately he has to come to his senses and regret his behaviour. For my adaptation, Heathcliff has to deserve meeting up with Cathy in death, and unless he has changed his ways, I just wouldn’t let him. No woman deserves to be with a violent man, in life, in fiction or beyond the grave.

Rae Cowie picks something completely different:

Which literary classic would I re-write and why? For this writing challenge I’m reaching over to the dark side, choosing Daphne du Maurier’s chilling short story, The Birds (adapted for screen by Sir Alfred Hitchcock).  However, I would never presume to improve upon such a perfect piece of Gothic literature, but instead would have a bash at composing a modern-day version.

In du Maurier’s original story, ever more violent flocks of birds attack the family of farmer Nat Hocken, who responds by fortifying his home. Today, many farmers feel assaulted not only by the usual stresses of unpredictable weather and rising costs, but also from the increasing divide between urban and rural life. This leads to a feeling that society no longer appreciates their work, compounded by abuse on social media from activists interested in veganism, animal welfare, the climate change lobby and so on… Pinching tricks from du Maurier, I’d build on the farm’s isolated location. What begins as a stranger trolling my farming family online, quickly turns towards the even more sinister, where barricades may not be enough…

Kath McGurl kind of dodges the question:

You know, I don’t think I’d ever attempt to rewrite any of the classics myself. I would be terrified that doing such a thing might open me up to loads of criticism from anyone who loved the original! Of course, like any other writer, I might ‘borrow’ elements from the classics, either intentionally or accidentally. I had a phase of reading nothing but classics in my twenties and am sure they rubbed off on me.

Having said that, I do quite like reading reworkings of great stories. Funnily, many writers like Victoria are drawn to rewriting Wuthering Heights! I’ve read Juliet Bell’s The Heights – which retells the story but set in 1980s Yorkshire. And Sue Barnard’s Heathcliff  does something a little different – it fills in the missing years in the original tale, letting us know what happens to Heathcliff in the years when he disappears. 

Sue Barnard is quite a master at reworking the classics. Her novel, The Ghostly Father, retells Romeo and Juliet, but gives the story a completely different, much happier and to my mind more satisfying, ending. 

The reworkings I have not yet managed to bring myself to try are the ones where the original text, now out of copyright, is used with some weird additions. The ‘classic’ of this genre is Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. I suspect the title tells you all you need to know about it.

As well as rewrites of classics, I’ve also enjoyed books where a contemporary author has imagined mysteries in the life of a classic author. For instance in Dan Simmons’ Drood, Wilkie Collins is forced to confront the possibility his best friend Charles Dickens may be a murderer…

Finally, another book in this vein that I am looking forward to, bringing us neatly back to the Brontes again, is Bella Ellis’s The Vanished Bride. In which the Bronte sisters use their considerable talents to discover what happened to the bride in question…

What classics would you love to read a rewritten version of?