Saturday 29 January 2011

E-books in the news this week

This week is was revealed that the judging panel for this year's Man Booker Prize for Fiction have been provided with e-readers.

So rather than the judges receiving a heavy delivery of books to wade through to create a longlist (for announcing in July this year) they will have the choice of reading the entries digitally- if a e-book version is available of course.

Have to say reading about 100 books in a set time span sounds easier to do if you have an e-reader you can slip in your bag or pocket.

Meanwhile Amazon has announced that in the US their Kindle books have outsold paperbacks- 115 digital to 100 books.
Obviously the US has had a head start in e-book sales as the first Kindle was sold there some time before becoming available to the UK.
The UK market is starting to see increased sales but some readers prefer to use a Tablet or their mobile phone devices to read on, rather than exclusively an e-reader.

Then there is the issue of Territorial Rights. It's easier to explain in books (the solid type) before venturing onto e-books.

For example a UK publishers has the right to publish his/her authors books in the UK and a number of other countries within a territorial agreement. A reader in another territory won't necessarily be able to obtain that book in their own country at the same time, because the rights for the territory (their location are covered by) may not yet have been agreed and sold to a publisher located there.

So with digital you have a different problem.
A digital file could be downloaded to a reader in any country who technically should not be able to obtain that book- because no territorial agreement for printing and publishing that 'book' exists in their area.
It relies upon the e-book supplier saying to the buyer, sorry you cannot buy this book because of your territorial location. (Now why should a business be expected to turn down a sale?)

It's a complicated issue which you'll see if you read this item on The website, here.

Digital keeps raising challenges in the traditional publishing world as long agreed formulae don't fit the new systems. But I'm fairly certain agreements will be made eventually.

Publishers (and writers) want to sell books, so hopefully they will get such issues over digital sorted as soon as they can.

If they get it wrong and piracy gets a boot in the door then it will be too late for everyone.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Does Writers Block exist?

I'm open-minded on whether writers block is real.

At the moment I'm having one of those blank spells in my creativity which I get whenever everyday life gets very stressful or there are long spells with no calm to concentrate on writing- perhaps they are the same thing, but they seem different to me.

The blank spell = my creative side just locking up, as if it is on a timer.

I know that when I'm very ill trying to write is frustrating and often pointless. If I wait until I'm better then I won't need to scrap all I've done previously- or at least heavily rewrite it...

This month my life has been full of appointments and important phone calls which all take time and doesn't allow for any sustained  period of writing which I need - sadly I haven't yet succeeded in the task of writing (anything) for ten minutes as all I have is a blank page ten minutes later.

I do wonder sometimes if I should give up writing. But then I know I'd need to start again as there are too many characters waiting their turn or forming in my head, then snatches of speech that linger for someone yet to be written about.

That alone reassures me I shouldn't give up...

So my idea to help revive the creative side of my brain is market research, as that can be done in short bursts while waiting for appointments and travelling to and fro on the bus. Plus reading someone else's writing often sparks my own ideas.

Do you think writers block is real, or is it all in the mind?

Friday 21 January 2011

Absorbing Words...

After my decision the other day to read more books, I started thinking about how many books that I actually absorb.

When I say absorb I really mean listen to...

Anyone who has listened to Radio 4 will probably have heard of Book at Bedtime; It is on at 10.45 pm Monday to Friday for 15 minutes and if you haven't tried it I'd recommend tuning in sometime. A book can be read over one or two weeks, sometimes three weeks, though there is obviously some abridging needed in longer novels.

A few weeks ago I was listening to Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, a book I've always intended to read but never have.

In the past I've fallen asleep listening to On Chesil Beach but needed to force myself to stay awake so I could follow Atonement- both by the same author- Ian McEwan-but clearly with very different results.

I remember listening to the first part of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and without knowing anything about the story- the book was just coming out at the time- thinking that the boy in the story had to be autistic (I recognised the same patterns that I've lived with every day with my own sons) and when I found out more about the story I understood why.

The books are brought to life with the very good readers, using intonations of accent when needed, easily suspending my disbelief when a male reader speaks female dialogue.

And that is something that appeals to the writer in me, not just me the the listener.

New writers are told to tune in and to listen to people and conversations going on around them- that's why I'm never without a notebook- and after a while it becomes automatic, we do it without thinking about it.

I think really we're wearing an invisible pair of headphones with an antenna attached which constantly tracks from left to right for that voice or chatter that we zero in on for some reason.

I've never had difficulty with my characters sounding different, and dialogue is my strongest area so perhaps all these years when I've been lying under the duvet listening to that week's book, my creative brain has been absorbing the skills of the readers and writers...

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Reading and Writing...

Writers are told they need to read widely to help improve their own writing, so I decided this year I needed to read a little more variety than I have been doing so far...

When I'm writing historical I will either not read at all or if I do it will be a contemporary romance or a research based topic. If contemporary then I'll indulge my love of historical romance without tainting my own writing with similar sentence construction and character traits.

As a teenager I read a lot of different authors, Wilbur Smith, Graham Greene, Winston Graham and Agatha Christie among them. I devoured their words and styles of writing without any thought of the effect, but as I've got older my choices have become more tailored and I can see the various techniques the writer has used.

Now if a book just doesn't appeal and I can't get into it, then out it goes.

I've decided that's not good, sometimes I need to persevere- it isn't the book's fault (or necessarily the writer's) it's just me.

So, knowing I'm more likely to finish the book if I put it on my e-reader- so I can read it in bite-size sections-I spent a couple of hours perusing the fiction sections of online bookshops.
The thing that became very clear-as far as fiction was concerned- was that crime, romance and erotica have realised the potential of e-books and have ensured their books are out there to be bought and downloaded.

Finally I decided on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, so I paid for and downloaded it instantly.

I've decided I will keep an open mind about it, even though the opening seems a little strange - I read half a dozen pages while waiting for an appointment this afternoon.

Of course I'll still read my favourite Romance authors as well as paperbacks, but I'm going to aim for at least four books this year that I would not have normally chosen.

Any suggestions for future reads?

Monday 17 January 2011

Trying to Write Flash Fiction...

Flash fiction is a complete story in a shorter form 250-1,000 words, though the latter figure would be a short story in some markets.

As one of my writing resolutions for this year is to enter more competitions, I thought I'd start with the Brighton Cow 250 word competition that I mentioned recently.

Only once have I ever managed to do well with this very short story formula and that was because the character, Lola de Cortez (Positive Exposure) almost jumped out of my head and whacked me around the ear with her steel re-enforced corset. Since then I've struggled.

So with a deadline of the end of January I need to get on...

Knowing a number of writers who are very good at creating stories in 200 words, I asked them for any tips they could give to help me improve- or at least work out where I'm going wrong (I think it's characterisation again).

I'm very grateful to AJ Humpage who has kindly allowed me to reproduce the summary of her blog post on the subject. While she writes a darker form of fiction, the advice still applies whatever your subject or genre.
If you'd like to read the whole post with further explanations and I'd recommend it, you will find it here.

Otherwise here is the summary of the main points to aim for when writing flash fiction.

  • Use a great opening line or hook.

  • Use a powerful image for your story.

  • Keep the reader guessing - Include a twist at the end, if possible.

  • Be tight, be concise – limit adjectives and adverbs.

  • Brevity – can you use fewer words?

  • Beginning, middle and satisfactory ending – complete the story arc.

  • Edit and revise.
So armed with this valuable advice I'm going to look at what ideas I have jotted down in my notebooks and see if I can produce 250 words...Then the hard work really starts with the revision.

Next month I'll tell you whether I managed it and whether it was sent off in time.

Saturday 15 January 2011

The Joys and Perils of Research...

I received a comment on my Awards Night and Novel Feedback post from last week about research. So I thought it would be a good subject to consider.

Research is something you usually can't avoid when you're writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. At some time you need to do it.
All writers are different in their approach. Some research first before they begin writing, others as they go along. Or like me, I research first and do additional research as needed when something in my manuscript needs clarification.

I admire the writers of earlier generations who didn't have Google enabling them to access picture libraries, museum websites, old documentation and all those things we take for granted today. They did it the hard way.

Travel has opened up to the average person since the latter half of the 20th Century so if we can't go to where our story is set then someone else will have- and written about it. You'll even find photos on the web-though they won't always be of what you want but it will give you something to start with.

But nothing beats actually visiting: absorbing the sounds and scents; the light and darkness as you move through the day.

My family have likely seen enough of Dorset now, so my notes and photos will have to suffice as I tackle my novel...

Chesil,shingle,sky,clouds,grass hills
Off Chesil Beech

Nottinghamshire author Elizabeth Chadwick actually belongs to Conroi deVey, a member group of the Regia Anglorum society who concentrate on portraying the early Middle Ages.

Aside from her links to the living history group she has an interesting page on her research techniques explaining primary and secondary source material she uses as well as those valuable location visits I mentioned above.

Even if you don't want to go as far as joining a group like this- and there are a number of time periods covered by such groups- they are worthwhile visiting to get an impression of the time and find out how everyday activities were done.

Many years ago a weekend visit to a small village museum sparked an idea after watching and talking to a small civil war group. (That idea is still in my notebook and will be used in the next few years).

When we're writing and researching we can't avoid building up our own reference selection relating to our genre and time period and with so many sources available for searching out old items you can build up an invaluable background for your writing.

(Older reference books often have comprehensive lists of books that were consulted and referenced by the author, so always have a look through them to see if particular books or documents are mentioned.)

But remember, the research has to stop at some point and the writing begin...

If you have a favourite research method or source then do share it with us using the comments box.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

One of those days...

I'd planned that this week I'd get down to some writing in between appointments and phone calls...

Clearly I was too optimistic.

After having absorbed the feedback on my novel I suddenly went into one of those moments of self-doubt about my ability to write.

Now I get these about twice a year. I know they are quite normal, they are just 'a thing' writers have from time to time, so no panic I'll get over it.

I decided to get a competition entry ready to send off, so I started revising it and just as I finally began getting somewhere with the words, the first of my younger children came home from school- in a bad mood- so that put an end to that bit of inspiration.

But as Scarlet O'Hara said at the end of Gone With The Wind, 'tomorrow is another day...'

sea,sky,shingle,beach,solitude,light,darkness Chesil Beach at dusk

Saturday 8 January 2011

Learn about Presentation...

We've all been there at some time, you're still a newish writer and you're struggling with your manuscript lay-out. How much paragraph indent should there be? When to use a new line in speech? And so on...

Well if you go to today's blog post by writer Sue Moorcroft you can study her pdf on Manuscript Presentation. You won't have any doubts after you've read it.

The story is still important- very important, but as we want to sell our stories and hopefully win competitions,  we need to ensure that the editor or judge doesn't have to struggle to read our best efforts-some might give up trying if your lay-out is confusing.

If your story isn't right, good presentation won't make it better, but if your story and presentation are good you'll certainly improve your chances of success...

Thursday 6 January 2011

Awards Night and My Novel Feedback...

Last night my writers club finally got to hold their annual Awards Night (cancelled in December due to the snow) where all the members find out who has won the annual competitions; last year's winners get a little medallion to mark their previous win (I received the Drama trophy last year) and those who were placed first to third in the regular prose and poetry competitions throughout the year receive book tokens.

And outstanding competition entries and the judges feedback are returned.
Two Awards Night Trophies

We have a buffet and a few quizzes after the presentations. This year we had a
News quiz- given basic information and had to name the event, place or story. It is surprising how much you remember and forget over a year...

A page of cut-outs of eyes and we had to identify the owners...

And finally a fiendish music quiz. A story made up of song titles and it wasn't easy as they weren't modern ones. I'm glad to say my table won with only one answer wrong- we didn't know what that piece of music was called...

So to my novel feedback...

I've been fortunate that both the judges this year have been small publishers, one a writer as well.

Judge One who was reading my entry for the Romance competition (my entry is an historical romance) felt my story has potential but that the writer was 'trying to hold the reader at arms length' so they were not drawn in at the beginning.

(Now only today a number of trusted writer friends said the same thing about another piece of my writing unconnected to this one. So I know this is an issue.)

Very little character development and the story didn't have much 'flow'. Mainly because the story started later than it should- which is quite common. I might need to reinstate the prologue instead of it being chapter one, but that's an open issue at the moment.

The story moved 'too quickly' to allow reader sympathy- yes I can see that looking at it with another person's view.

But this judge did feel that the storyline was a good one but just needed a little extra to grab the reader.

So all is not lost yet I'm glad to say...

Judge Two was reading it as an entry to the novel competition. I'm glad to say the judge considered it a competent piece of work. The dialogue was considered lively and the language convincing. This judge seemed to like the opening.

Unfortunately my characters though well-drawn are 'all too shallow and predictable'. They actually found my character who is dead at the start of the story more exciting and complex, suggesting their drama was needed, perhaps in flashback.

The plot lacked 'intrigue and complexity'. It was suggested that a 'little more mystery and complexity mixed into the characterisation and plot' would help.


So conclusions.

1) I was playing too safe with my character development. Sort it out.

2) I need to bring back the 'dead' body- after talking about that idea with two fellow club members who know my writing style and way I plot, I'm fairly certain that the dead Antonia is going to be very much alive and would fit into and enliven my existing plot- she would certainly create trouble and cause conflicts...

3) Start the story earlier, which will help set-up the basis for my current first three chapters better (which will be different chapters when it's rewritten).

Everyone gets something different from a story and as the two judges have shown what bothers one may not necessarily worry another.
But when a number of people highlight the same weak spots then you listen and you do something about it.

Ignoring them is just asking for failure.

So I will be adding work on the novel to my list of aims for 2011.

On the bright side at least I know the story isn't beyond redemption...

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Coming next...

Just a brief note to tell you I've got the comments back from the novel competitions my synopsis and first three chapters were entered into at the writers' club I go to.

Two different reactions from the judges but a few similar points so I know the weak spots.

Anyway more tomorrow...

Sunday 2 January 2011

Happy New Year...

I'm sure some of you will already have been writing since the calendar moved into 2011, but I'm not at that stage yet- unless you count writing this blog.

I haven't neglected it totally...

I've spent a few hours today looking at competitions I might enter and considering if I have anything already under construction that might fit with work or whether it will be entirely new.

I need to put a chart up to log deadlines this year. No good writing a story for a specific competition and leaving it late to post, with the possibility it may not arrive before the closing date. (Remember the snow recently? Many areas didn't have regular postal deliveries for a week or more.)

I think the chart will have to be a fold up version as I don't have the space for my own little writing room, or even  for a shed in the garden. My desk is in the main living area and I need quiet to write, so I keep to school hours on free days.

Wednesday is the postponed Awards Night at my writers club, so my novel entries with judges comments will hopefully be handed back. No doubt there will be work to consider...

I've set myself two targets to start with. Finish a short story that needs some rewriting and compose a 250 word story- there are 5 choices of song titles to use as the basis for a theme. The latter has a deadline of 31st January. (Thanks to Patsy Collins for highlighting the competition on her blog last month.)

So I better keep to my first targets...