Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Slow and Steady Now

 


I’ve recently consumed two very slowly paced novels and an equally slowly paced TV serial. It seems there is something to be said, after all, for slower pace.  

I am Thunder by Mohammad Khan

 

Muzna Saleem is the only child of Pakistani parents.  Her mother and father have high hopes of her becoming a doctor but she wants to be a writer.  Her father loses his job and a cousin takes pity on them.  They move into a flat above the cousin’s Michelin-starred restaurant and her father becomes a waiter.

This offers Muzna an opportunity to reinvent herself as she starts at a new school.   She is still a  serious scholar and gets on well with English teacher and form tutor, Mr Dunthorpe. And she meets Arif Malik.

She becomes convinced by Arif and his brother Jameel that the Islamic faith is the right one but just in time realises that Jameel is a terrorist.  She goes to the police.

Mohammad Khan’s narrative is very convincing.  We can understand how Muzna almost became radicalized. The issue is complex. Muzna’s teenage rebellion against her parents takes the form of her becoming more religious.

It is the slow pace here that affords us the opportunity to really get to know Muzna and other characters well.

 

An Obsolete Honor by Helena P. Schrader

This is a complex novel.  It is 548 ages long and has numerous sub-plots.

Many of these characters resist the Nazi regime, one way or another. A few are fanatical Nazis.   Helena Schrader uses fiction as a way of uncovering fact and truth.

This long novel deals with multiple scenarios:

·         Being bombed by the Allies

·         Life on the Eastern Front for German soldiers

·         Why Hitler was welcomed by the working class

·         Why some people chose to help the suppressed

·         What happened to those people who helped Jews and other undesirables

·         Displacement

·         Aftermath of World War II

 Schrader is well qualified to write this text.  She has studied the Nazi era for over thirty years and her PhD thesis was a biography of the German resistance leader who developed the Plan Valkyrie, which included the plan to assassinate Hitler, and details of how the regime would be handled after his death. A coup attempt was made but failed on 20 July 1944.  

The slow pace here suits the complexity of the story.

Blood Pact

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-blood-pact

This is a crime drama, present in the UK by All 4. It is a will-they get-away–with–it rather than a whodunit.  

One overarching story is told over three episodes. A respected tax inspector, Hugo, befriends a convicted criminal, Marius, recently released from prison, because Hugo’s daughter, Suus, and the Marius’s daughter, Chrissie, have become blood sisters. The crystalizing moment is when Suus goes missing on a school trip.  Hugo, Maurius and Kitty, Chrissie’s mother, have joined the trip as parents who are helping. Marius finds Suus. Nothing sinister has happened.  She simply lost her way during an orienteering activity and slept in the wild. But now Hugo owes Marius.

We get to know the characters slowly. Hugo does some stupid things. He is annoyingly reserved and pedantic. He falls in love with two different women over the three series. He is a widower bringing up two girls; one is a teenager and the other is so spoilt that she is worse than the teenager.

Kitty has lived alone for eight years while Marius was in prison. She longs for a normal family life – and a holiday home in Italy. She has been kind to Hugo and his daughters when Hugo’s; wife, Vera, was so ill before she died, and during the time after her death.

Marius is still involved in the criminal life but many things that happen are beyond his control. We forgive him because he is also a loving husband and father.

Plus there are tantalising glimpses of Amsterdam and other bits of the Netherlands, and some beautiful choral music.

Again, slow development enables us to really get to understand the characters. They do some terrible things so we need to understand them well in order to be able to forgive them.  

It puts me in mind rather of moving by canal boat rather than jet aircraft. You feel the peace and calm and can take in more of the detail.           

    Image by Robert Hall from Pixabay

Thursday, 8 July 2021

A few writing “rules” that could / should be broken – occasionally

 


Show don’t tell

Yes of course, we all know that one. It’s a lovely tool for editors, creative writing teachers and for critique group members.  ‘Show don’t tell.-  you’re  telling us and you could be showing  us.’   Except that sometimes you need to tell otherwise you’re stating the obvious.  Showing absolutely all the time really slows your pace. The advanced skill is knowing when it is acceptable to tell rather than show. And don’t forget: story tellers tell all the time.

 

Write what you know

OK. So, what about fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction?  So, modify that one: write what you know in order to find out what you don’t know. Write about how the human will feel and act in a world where magic is the norm, in a futuristic world that has done away with money and in a world where there is no water on tap.  

 

Young adult novels are always fast-paced

Except they’re not all of the time and in fact they include several narrative elements that slow the pace right down:

  • a lot of “show don’t tell” because you’re writing for a reader who has less experience of life
  • a lot of emotional closeness as this reader often reasons with their emotions  rather than the area of the brain that houses common sense
  • a lot of interior monologue
  • The narrative voice anyway is often first person where the narrator is talking to a trusted friend and they haven’t really figured out what’s going on yet.

You lift the pace again by creating very high stakes, plenty of tension, cliff-hangers and some action scenes with very short sentences.

 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Always write in full sentences and with correct grammar

I’m quite a stickler for this in fact when I mark, edit or critique work. If work is tightly written it is easier to sell to multiple markets.  You should only break these “rules” if doing so will render your work more effective than the correctly written text.  And that is the point. You need to appreciate the norms so that you can measure whether your bending of the rules is effective or not. In particular you need to work out when to ignore “Fragment, consider revising”.

 

Stay with one point of view

Well Dickens didn’t. Neither did many of his contemporaries and those that wrote novels before him. However, we’ve grown to dislike head-hopping and we favour a first person or close third person point of view.

It is in fact more comfortable for your reader if you only change point of view for whole chapters and most modern readers still prefer the close point of view even when that changes.

Take care also of zooming in and out too quickly.  Modern texts work better if you keep the distance between the protagonist and the reader the same throughout.

However, the omniscient author is currently making a bit of a comeback and one or two writers are zooming successfully.  Again, though, you have to know what you’re doing to do this successfully.

Don’t use too many adjectives and adverbs

But use a few and be discerning. Consider the difference between “walking quickly” “hurrying” and walking briskly”. Can you find something better than “big”, “small” and “quiet”?

 

Avoid the imperfect

No, don’t. “She sat” is NOT the same as “She was sitting” and certainly very different form “She used to sit” / “She would sit” – other versions of the imperfect.  The imperfect exists in every language for a reason. Why waste the richness of our language?

 

Avoid the pluperfect

Again, don’t.  It refers to one stage further back in the past and is useful in pinpointing when action took place. I admit, I tend to have one or two and then go to a perfect of imperfect. E.g.

“He had finished dinner and had cleared the table. He was now stacking the dishes in the dish washer. The television was already on.”

 

So there you have it.  A few justified broken rules. Would you care to suggest some others?  

Thursday, 1 July 2021

News 1 Jul7 2021

 


Busy doing nothing 

How about this as a way of getting creative? Do nothing. Stop the chattering mind.  Just be somewhere and let the ideas come - or not.

The mathematician Pointcaré famously finally solved a problem he’d been grappling with for ages as he stepped on to a vehicle that was taking him and his colleagues on a jolly during an important conference. We all know about Archimedes’ eureka moment in the bath. My final class in the first module of my MA consisted of us all walking aimlessly round Winchester cathedral.  It felt like a bit of a lark.  It actually turned out to be very productive.

Is this akin to meditation? You stop overthinking?  You shut up your busy mind for a while. The creative process carries on in your subconscious.  

Well, I’m off the pharmacy soon to collect my medication. I know that the little café at the health centre has reopened. The tables and chairs are out on the pavement. It’s a fine day today.  I shall indulge in a cup of their finest coffee and sit and people-watch and / or day dream for a while.

Big question: may I count this as writing time?        

 

Current writing

My main work at the moment is my fifth Peace Child novel. Former protagonist Kaleem has now become a minor character. A minor character has stepped up. I’m up to Chapter 24 out of thirty-three.  I’m continuing to get feedback from my SCBWI group.

I’ve now completed the Prompts 2022 book. 365 writing prompts – one for each day of the year. I’ve also almost finished writing my Business of Writing course. This will be a pay what you like course. It should have gone live by the time you get the next newsletter. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.  

I continue to write for Talking About My Generation. My latest offering is a review of really interesting exhibition at our local Bury Art Museum: https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/exploring-the-cultural-heart-of-bury-the-spirit-of-a-place-exhibition/   

As ever, I’m keen to get my books reviewed.  In particular this month I’m looking for reviews for Babel, the second story in my YA SF series. It can be read as a stand-alone book. If you’re interested in reviewing,  just contact me and I can send you PDF or mobi-file.  

 

The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added just one book this month.

The Art of Kate Greenaway by Ina Taylor

This is a non-fiction short biography.  It is beautifully illustrated. It is a useful resource for teachers and older students.  

 

 

Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending About a Boy by Nick Hornby

This well-written classic has of course been made into an engaging film as well.

Intriguingly Will screams out to be played by Hugh Grant and of course he was.

We have two equally significant main characters in this story, Will and Marcus.  The story shifts between the two of them.  Both have convincing voices and both are rounded, authentic characters. This is not a “happy ever after story” and one of the novel’s many strengths is that it shows us life as it is.

Both characters are unusual.  Will doesn’t work – he lives off the royalties from his father’s Christmas song. Marcus lives with his mum, a single parent who has mental health problems. He is an awkward child and gets bullied. Will ends up being as a bit of a reluctant hero.

Nick Hornby portrays the ups and downs of these complex characters and in the end it’s all About a Boy           

Grab your copy here.     

 

Giveaway

Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.  

This month I’m giving away Clara’s Story.

Is this a tragedy and is Clara’s fatal flaw that she has too much faith in mankind? Or is that belief what saves her in the end? And is the story one of human spirit prevailing? This is entirely up to the reader to decide.    

Clara faces many challenges in her life.  A crucial starting point is the premature death of her husband. This incident launches a whole new way of life for her as she also reflects on the life that went before, that also no doubt helps to build what she later becomes.   

The subtitle for this book is “a Holocaust biography”.  It is based on the true story of a real person though I’ve had to use several writers’ tools to uncover some truths.        

Clara’s Story is the second novel in my Schellberg Cycle and uses fiction writers’ techniques to make the characters come to life.  Grab your copy and lots of other freebies here.   

 

Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.

 

The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be of interest to other writers.

I have been quite busy this month. There are two book reviews:

The Secretary by Catherine Hoken like my own work gives an unusual German point of view. Events of World War II are revisited in the light of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

 

V for Victory by Lissa Evans is a novel about a civilian population in London towards the end of World War II.  The V2 bomb figures highly in this and that is also as small sub-plot in the Cycle.

I’m beginning to think about book seven – even though four and five are not yet published and six is not yet written. Book seven will feature the German resistance. So, I’m starting to research that.  I’ve included a few first thoughts in  German Resistance World War II

 

My father-in-law died recently and in clearing out his house we found some of his photos of Stuttgart. That triggered some memories. Read about them in Stuttgart Revisited    

 

In  Flowers of Hope I discuss some flowers we associate with the world wars.   

 

School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

 

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

 

The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  We’re building up our inventory, so please bear with us. Visit us here.     

 

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

 

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

 

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   

 

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

 

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

 

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I and some other editors blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

 

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

 

CaféLit Stories Find these here

 

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

 

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    

 

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

 

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

 

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

 

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

 

The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.

 

Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing. 

Image by György Sabransky from Pixabay 

 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

A Day in the Life


The Sunday Times magazine has a regular article with the same title. I read it avidly as I’m always interested in people’s routines. The most lucrative piece of wring I’ve ever done was for NAWE: I had to write about a typical day as a PhD student. The article had to be under 1,000 words and I was paid £100 for it,

So, I’m inviting a few writing friends to contribute a description of their routine. 

I’m kicking off with mine and describing a typical weekday.

The alarm goes off at 6.30 a.m. I listen to the news, the weather and the traffic report then make my way to the kitchen where I brew a cup of Earl Grey tea. This I take back to bed and read while I drink it.

I read between fifty and a hundred books a year and review them all. Before lockdown this included library books. Now its’s mostly book that are on my Kindle and a few hard copies I’ve bought. How do I choose them? Amazon itself recommends some, others I see on Twitter, Facebook or Linked in.  I usually buy books that my writing friends have written as long as they’re in one of the genres that I’d enjoy. I also follow up some recommendations in the various magazines I read. Occasionally there will be a recommendation for a book from a talk or pod cast.

Breakfast is muesli or wholemeal toast with Marmite, accompanied by orange juice and coffee.  I have a piece of fruit with every meal – expect at the weekend when there is sometime some indulgence in dessert and / or cake.

After breakfast I’ll have a quick look at Twitter, Facebook or Linked in, then it’s down to work. Generally I punctuate my day with a bit of social media – before I start work, after my coffee break, after lunch, after my afternoon tea break and after supper.

I work for two hours to start with. If I’ve finished reading a book I’ll start off with writing a review for it. I alternate between projects, spending about two thirds of my time on my fictional work in progress and one third on a non-fiction project. I also write articles for Talking About My  Generation. And there are blog posts like this.  I maintain several blogs. At the end of the month I write a couple of newsletters. If I’m in editing mode on my work in progress, after each edit I’ll write a short story, often inspired by something from one of the writing prompts books I’ve put together.

Now its’s time for another cup of Earl Grey tea. Whilst I drink it I usually read a magazine, often one to do with writing, but there are others as well including the Times Higher Education. About once a fortnight I’ll have a go a themed piece of writing, flagged up in my writing opportunities web site Fair Submissions.  I’m actually having more success in getting published and placed in competitions with these pieces.  I suppose this is a form of writing for the market. If I run out of reading material I have videos and pod casts saved up.

After the break, I’ll switch project.

The aim is to write for three hours a day or write 2000 words. If I’ve achieved neither by the end of the morning, I’ll carry on after lunch or even into the evening if need be. I don’t always manage it but I don’t beat myself up about it if I don’t.  

Lunch is normally about 12.30 and we try to eat our main meal at lunchtime. It’s better for the digestion. We take turns in cooking.

Straight after lunch and my dip into social media, I’ll find my CaféLit   story for the day. We’re now using Duosuma for submissions and it is making life easier. We don’t charge but we do have a tip jar. We have to pay a small amount for each submission that comes in. Not everyone pays every time but enough people give us a tip now and then that we more than cover our chares. Thank you to anyone reading this who has given us a tip. I read all the stories that have been submitted on the day or the day before.  I pick the best one and reject any that are unsuitable.  If a story is suitable but can’t be published that day it goes into the archive. If none have been submitted, I’ll use the oldest one in the archive. We keep about thirty in hand. If after I’ve made my selection we have more than thirty in the archive, I’ll reject  the oldest.

Next up is tackling the emails.  I get about 200 a day. I spend about half an hour indulging myself in the fun ones and responding to invites, then it’s hit the delete button and only attend to the important ones. This includes book orders, returned edits, queries from writers and publishers, acceptances and rejections, various domestic ones and bills than need paying.   On a good day I’ll be finished by 2.30. On a bad day I don’t finish and it hangs over for the next day.

Then it’s time for some physical activity: a potter in the garden,  some baking, a walk or a trip to the gym.  I’ve taken up Tai Chi which I very much enjoy. Or I might practise my singing. It’s often a mixture of all of these things.

Back at my desk I’ll look at my own submission list and make a new submission. I try to make one a day.

Then I’ll do anything that must be done for the next day: preparation for workshop, U3A meetings etc. I then deal with snailmail post or make online purchases. If it still isn’t 4 p.m., I’ll start on my publishing business. This includes selecting from submissions, editing, sending out contracts, marketing, book design and postproduction routines.   

At around 4 p.m. I take a tea break. Builder’s tea this time. Recently I’ve taken to watching episodes of  A Place in the Sun during my tea break. During lockdown I’ve missed the sun and the sea.  Always as I watch these programmes I ask myself if I owned one of the properties featured where would I do my writing and what would be my routine there?

Supper is generally about 6.30 p.m. My husband is half German so we have a German Abendessen: cold meats, cheeses, nice bread and some salad.  

I’ll carry on working in the evening until just after 9 p.m. Then we’ll watch TV for a couple of hours. It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday as I’m constantly watching how the plot works and all too often I know way before the end how it will all resolve. We may indulge as we watch in chocolate, beer or wine but sometimes it’s just fruit tea.  

I’m in bed at just after 11 p.m. I read for another twenty minutes or so.

Not every day follows exactly this pattern. It is often disrupted by attendance of U3A groups,   interesting visits and events and meetings or medical or hairdresser appointments. Sometimes I run meetings and workshops myself. So, on those days two things remain important: the three hours / 2000 words and the 200 emails.          

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay