Wednesday 29 February 2012

Editing: I'm Starting to Understand It Better...

After a few weeks of not writing at all because my brain was in frozen mode (figuratively) while I got some new medication sorted, and the approaching deadline for the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition just over a month away, I was starting to think I may not complete my entry in time for my self-imposed posting deadline of mid-March.

I'm still determined to do it, but I won't send a half-baked entry...

So this week, with brain now defrosted, I'm rewriting Chapter 1-again. My previous attempt was okay, but I'd removed too many things that were (for me) essential in the story set-up. So I've been combining the elements from the two versions I currently have, into one.

Getting the content of my first chapter right is essential to the plot of my novel, without it the main characters would have no motive for their initial actions.

It could be done as a Prologue, but some publishers seem to have an issue with prologues, so for the moment it's chapter one.

As I began rereading, and started to do my standard tidy-up before I moved on to the writing stage I realised my editing process had stepped up another rung of the ladder-compared to a year ago.

I've begun to pick up the smaller niggles which previously I would have missed; so when I've considered, will it cause confusion or jar with the reader? 25% of the time the answer is yes, and I've then resolved it.

For example, using 'endless' to recall his journey wasn't right in the context, as shortly after he had reached the end. So some quick thoughts from my vocabulary, cross-referenced between my big dictionary and my copy of Roget's Thesaurus, I decided which of my possible substitute words worked better- issue resolved.

Perhaps I'm just in analytical mode at the moment, so the editing is easier.

I'm sure that I'll go back to it next week with my writer's head on and make a few other alterations, but that's part of the fun side of writing.

I'm sure every writer has their own editing list, so here's my immediate issues list.
  • spelling and grammar- especially get rid of excessive commas, exclamation marks and my personal weakness-ellipsis.
  • read it aloud to make sure I've not changed tenses or viewpoint mid-scene.
  • clich├ęs-watch out for any that may have slipped through.
  • a turn of phrase that sounds too 'current' for my time setting- it may be correct time-wise but still sounds too modern for the 18th/19th C.
  • dialogue- does it sound right for that character, for the circumstances they're in at that moment, and does it flow when it needs to flow...
  • words repeated too closely together, unless for a specific reason.
  • Any inconsistencies.
I'm sure there's more I haven't covered, but that's my current list, and I'm fairly certain (apologies, overused phrases do creep into my blog posts :-) ) that ten years ago I would have only been able to manage one or two of the most obvious ones.

It's important to keep improving. And when I can see I'm improving it also helps my confidence quota. :-)

Do you have any editing blind spots, or words you know you overuse?

Monday 27 February 2012

Odd Book Titles Voting Time...

Yes it's time to vote (if you're so inclined) for the fun titles in the shortlist for the Diagram Prize, the Oddest Book Title of the Year- for 2011. You can read about it here on the Bookseller website.

"The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was first awarded in 1978 to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice""

(The fact that it is still going suggests there's a slightly dippy portion of the population who like it- me included- and authors who are smart...)

I've voted, and have to say it was a tough choice this year. :-)

My personal favourite is the Estonian sock patterns, but I don't expect my choice to win this year, when it's up against titles like 'Cooking with Poo' ( it's actually Crab) or 'The Great Singapore P*nis Panic...' I think the latter is going to rate highly- and it's the only one available in digital format...

For the full list and voting form, go here. You can see the book covers too- which are quite normal, considering the titles.

If you've managed to miss this prize, then you can find out about it's history and discover what the winning book titles from earlier years were actually about, here.

If you're going to be in the running for a fun award, this is it. And you can be sure that it will get publicity and sales for books that wouldn't get much recognition beyond their own circles, or interest groups...

The winner will be announced on the 30th March.

Are you voting?

Friday 24 February 2012

Early 19th Century Slang Examples...

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue-  a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, an Pickpocket Eloquence by Francis Grose (a soldier) is now available as an e-book on the Project Gutenberg website (*).

There's a short piece in the Telegraph Books section about it's download popularity.

Just reading through a few of the words and their explanations quickly open the world of the past- as long as you remember that not everyone spoke this way all the time, it can start a creative spark for a low-life character, or an immature young man about town- I have a couple of low-life hired men lurking in my brain for a future story...

For the writers among us, we're Brothers of the Quill...Okay, I know we use computers and it should be Sisters of the Quill, but we all know the problems female authors had being taken seriously at that time.

As a left-hander, I'm Caudge-Pawed, but I'm not a Chatter Box- still basically means they talk too much today, as then.

A Cloak Twitcher would suggest a dubious character anyway, and it seems they lurked in dark alleys and lanes to snatch cloaks from passengers- clothes were valuable and a decent cloak would have been expensive to some people.

And how could you describe someone with one eye? They had a single peeper.

There are a lot of words and phrases we'd still recognise now, and others that we may even remember older relatives using.

If it becomes very popular again, who knows what words might start to appear in conversation...:-)

(*) Project Gutenberg works within the American copyright system, so they may have books available to download that are not out of copyright in the UK, so check out any author dates under the Bibrec tab.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Delving into Twitter...

This week I've been considering joining Twitter. A lot of writer friends have told me it's brilliant and worth doing.

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was being encouraged to set up a blog, and that seemed like a mammoth task then too, but once you know the basics...

I know it's much easier once you understand how everything works, just a bit scary at the start- like starting a new exercise class and not really knowing anyone there...But I actually know quite a few people who I can start by following, so perhaps it won't be as daunting as I expect.

I bought Nicola Morgan's 'Tweet Right' e-book and read it straight through- great book for those like me who can do the theory, but get a bit scared of the practical, thinking it will be difficult...

And after further reassurance and useful info from a friend (who has an e-publishing business) I'm ready to do the practical bit...

So, do you have any useful advice you'd be willing to share before I sign up?

Monday 20 February 2012

It's Monday and Time to Catch Up...

You may have noticed that my usual weekend blog post was missing. Well I was quite ill Friday to Sunday and I spent part of Saturday afternoon waiting to see the emergency doctor, for some breathing problems.

The nasty winter bug that I had late last year has kept coming back and heavier medication has been needed. I'm recovering, slowly, but it hasn't been conductive to doing much of anything over the weekend...

So here's a brief round-up of book news that would have appeared Saturday...

Congratulations to Patsy Collins, who entered a novel writing competition which she'd mentioned on her (very useful) blog, and won. Her novel 'Escape to the Country' will be published in March.
Do play Patsy's short video on the post- it will make you smile...

As last year, a man has made it onto the contenders list for the Romantic Novel of the Year. You can read the list of contenders for each category in the article, or for more detail on the Romantic Novelists Association website.

This year's awards include a new category "The Young Adult Romantic Novel category features protagonists who are teenagers/young adults."

And we can all dream of one day having our novel picked up by Hollywood. As a number of literary adaptions feature in this year's Oscar nominations, you might like to read the thoughts on the subject by five writers who have experienced this. "Hollywood ate my novel: Novelists reveal what it’s like to have their book turned into a movie."

Would you want one of your novels turned into a Hollywood film?

Wednesday 15 February 2012

A Chick-Lit Novel Competition...

Thanks to Bertieb a member of the Writers News Talkback forum for highlighting this great competition.

"Novelicious has teamed up with Avon (HarperCollins) and Books and the City (Simon & Schuster UK) to bring you the chick lit event of the year!"

Novelicious Undiscovered 2012 is running this competition for UK residents, and offering some great prizes-a manuscript critique and a Kindle among the goodies for one of the winners.

All you need is the first 3,000 words of your chick-lit novel and you can send it by e-mail, so there's no postage to pay, or entry fee.

If you're outside the UK, already under contract to a publisher, or signed to an agent at the time of entry, you aren't eligible- sorry...

Closing date of the first stage is 3rd of April 2012- so get your first 3,000 words shining and ready to go. You retain the rights to your work too, so this is a good one to go for.

There are various stages, but you can read the details on their main page to see how it will work.

Now as with any competition there are rules and it's always a good idea to read the terms and conditions and understand them completely, so you don't disqualify yourself by making a simple mistake.

Rule 7 is very important. Especially for bloggers/website owners.

The winners are due to be announced on the 26th June, so it's not too long. But like any competition if there's a lot of entries then planned dates can go a little astray.

And if you enter- good luck. :-)

Monday 13 February 2012

Update on Woman's Own Issue...

Just seen good news on Womag's blog that Woman's Own have sensibly decided to award their proposed short story winner, for their Summer Special,  a monetary prize.

Hopefully the publicity that this incident received will put off any other magazines or organisations considering going down this route- well we can hope...

Friday 10 February 2012

Woman's Own - Opportunity or Free Copy?

There's a lot of writers commenting on the Woman's Own (WO) Facebook page. If I was signed up to Facebook, I'd have commented too.

They are offering 'budding authors' the chance to submit a story and the best entries will appear in their Summer Special. The piece clearly says 'There is no fee for publication'.

Now this is not a small magazine, it is part of a big company, so why not pay for those chosen stories?

WO stopped their regular fiction slots many years ago when they moved toward the real-life story market- and probably to compete with the flurry of new magazines opening (and selling in high numbers) that concentrated on real-life, celebrities and fashion.

I bought Woman and Woman's Own for years (before the changes) and loved reading the fiction pages. In fact I grew up with them both, along with Woman's Realm...

Many writers, who have left comments on WO's Facebook page, have expressed dismay and have mentioned that the editor and staff expect to be paid for their work, so why not the writers?

WO have not headlined it as a competition with a prize. And their response to criticism has been that readers have asked about writing short stories for them, and that it's not for professional writers...

I don't mean this unkindly, but (sadly) we all know people who think they can write a short story, but don't even know the basics.

(I speak from experience here (a few years ago) when I was the phone contact for the writers club, someone rang me up and it was clear from their remarks that they hadn't checked guidelines, and expected the well-known magazine they were asking about, to automatically accept their story.)

And then there are the inexperienced new writers who see it as an opportunity to be published and don't yet understand about payments and rights- if they understand about these things and want to enter knowing that, then fine, they aren't entering blindfolded.

I'm not against writing for free sometimes. Usually the writer is doing it for a particular reason and are happy to do so, and that's fine too. I've done it myself.

But if a story is good enough to be published in a magazine with a wide circulation, available to buy in major and chain newsagents and corner-shops, then it's good enough for the short story writer to be paid...

So, an opportunity or free copy for the magazine?

Thursday 9 February 2012

Beginning a Novel...

I've been having another rethink on my first chapter, after having tried a slightly different arrangement of words and which character reveals the sad news. But it just doesn't work so I've been rethinking again, and I'm ready to try another version.

So if like me you've ever pondered the start of your novel then you'll probably find this blog post 'What Should be on the First Page of Your Novel?' by Della Galton really helpful.

It reassures me I've got the right things there, I just need to move a few bits around in the chapter and expand some elements...

So version three beckons...

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Charles Dickens-What He Means to Me on His Bicentenary...

Charles Dickens
200 years ago on the 7th February 1812, Charles Dickens was born.  There's even a Google doodle to mark the day.

There will be a wreath laying ceremony at Dickens grave in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey- where he was buried in 1870, as well as at his birthplace in Portsmouth.

Among the numerous world-wide events taking place, the Charles Dickens Museum in London  will be open between 12pm and 5pm to celebrate.

Introduction to Dickens will often have been by the films of his stories, Oliver Twist among them, either the 1948 black and white version or the better known colour version from 1968.

Personally I've had an intermittent relationship with Dickens and his novels for the last thirty plus years...

In secondary school my English class read through the play version of Oliver Twist; I took the part of Fagin. And as a member of the choir, one year we performed a number of Lionel Bart's songs from the 1968 version of Oliver for an open evening- and I can still remember a lot of the words...

Great Expectations followed in my O'level English Literature course.

Over the last ten years the spirit of Dickens has been around every time I go to my writers' club. Though we meet in the third generation building on a different site the Nottingham Mechanics hosted one of Dickens' reading tours; as did the hotel where the writers' club celebrated it's 70th anniversary dinner. The link to the great writer in the location was considered...

When you realise many of his works were written as serials for 'news' publications you can appreciate his genius. He didn't have months to write the next episode, his deadlines were very much shorter, and he needed a cliff-hanger each time so the readers would buy the next issue to find out what happened next.

Like all writers he observed the world and the people around him and he wrote what he knew about, however harsh the lives he portrayed, he reflected that reality in his writing.

142 years after his death, people are still buying and reading his books, and television is still dramatising his better known works...

That is a great literary heritage...

Sunday 5 February 2012

Saturday Snow and the Day After...

Usually the East Midlands seems to escape the snow that hits other parts of the country, but this weekend we were in just the right position for a heavy downfall.

As the Met Office and the weather forecasters on the regional news programme warned, Saturday afternoon the snow began to fall. At 3.15pm small flakes of snow began to flutter down from the murky white sky and slowly settle on the chilled ground.

As the evening passed the snow became thicker and faster and the city bus company suspended all services- not good news for anyone wanting to get home...

Eventually the snow stopped after seven and a half hours (and as predicted) there was about 10cm.

Now I've always loved snow. When I was in school, break times and lunch was snowball throwing time with all the other children, whether we were friends or enemies, and as soon as I was home it was outside to make a snowman.
No matter how well wrapped up I was, the snow always permeated my gloves and my fingers got so cold- and as soon as I was indoors in the warm and minus the gloves they came back to life...painfully.

Waking up today everything was so bright.

February 2012 Snow, Snow levels in the garden after a 7 hour fall of snow the night before.
Starting to melt by mid-morning
But it didn't last long, and the trees soon began to shed their weight in sudden falls or gentle slides, while birds dislodged the snow topping on fences as they landed or skimmed over on their morning quest for food...
Now we're into the turning to ice stage as the night time temperature falls again.

Considering how badly some eastern European countries have been suffering this past week, the UK has escaped lightly.

Now I just need to go and find my boots for Monday morning...

Friday 3 February 2012

I've Been Interviewed...

Following my donation to writer Steven Chapman in November, who was growing a moustache for the annual Movember fundraising event, Steven offered, as a thank you, the opportunity for his supporters to appear on his website in some form...

As I don't yet have a book to promote I opted for an interview about writing and me.

Actually Steven was trying out his interviewing skills, so I was happy to volunteer. He did brilliantly, so a big thank you, Steven. :-)

So if you want to discover my writing day or how I tried to sell romance to non-romance readers just click the above link and you can read my efforts...

And please leave a comment on Steven's blog if you enjoy the interview.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Reading Books and Symbols...

Last year I decided to make an effort to broaden my range of reading and try books by authors whom friends had said they'd enjoyed.

I start by reading one of the most recent books. If I can't finish the book then it's a bad sign, I won't be reading any more of their books...

One of the books I bought for reading over the Christmas holidays on my e-reader was the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' by Trisha Ashley. And I really enjoyed the tale of a twice bereaved house-sitter who didn't celebrate Christmas, but ended up doing just that and with a happy ending...

Actually I didn't get round to reading it until a couple of weeks ago, as once I'm in historical romance writing mode I will only read contemporary. And likewise if I'm trying to write a modern story, I'll happily immerse myself in an historical.

So my latest purchase is Trisha Ashley's, 'Chocolate Wishes'. I'm looking forward to finding out about Chloe and her former love, Raffy, an ex-rock star who is now a vicar...

But I was surprised to see some strange symbols on the back cover- the paperback is an HarperCollins Avon imprint.

I'd never seen these Content Guide symbols before, so I was intrigued to look closer and see what they meant.

Now 'Chocolate Wishes' has four symbols: linked hands which indicates Friendship; a statuette- think Oscar and you've got a good idea- which means Drama; a heart within a heart which obviously represents Love and a box with a tissue poking out to indicate Tear-jerker.

(It doesn't feature in this book, but the symbol for Sex is what looks like lace-edged knickers... :-))

Unlike age rating on Children's books that some publishers started to use a few years ago, I'm inclined to think this type of Content Guide is quite a good idea.

I know cover design and the blurb will often indicate what sort of book it is, but it can sometimes be a bit difficult to tell when the latest trend in cover design changes to something completely different and slightly...obscure.

I know that many readers of historical romances prefer novels without sex scenes, so I think content symbols would be very useful in this situation.

Have you read any books that use similar content symbols, and what do you think about their use?