Writing between the lines

IMG_0530About a holiday taken with others. If you want to choose exactly what/where to visit, go alone or become a dictator. There are some wonderful art galleries in Belgium and the most beautiful riverside areas. No, I didn’t get to many, as I’d predicted, for I was holidaying with 7 others, including one engineer, one planner, one shopachocaholic and three teenage boys, one a football fanatic, one hyperactive and the other uninterested in the world outside the ipad. (The story of the engineer’s day will appear on this blog at some point.)

Bear with me. There will be a writerly message in this post. The philosophy is that writers should be open to all new experiences. There is always something to be gained, and I did.

This diversion en route to Maastricht to admire a transparent church in the middle of a field was the brainwave of our planner.  Yes, it was difficult to find. The satnav, using the postcode, brought us to a small, uninteresting village. As we trekked around in 37 degree heat, with nothing likely in view there were numerous complaints in tenor voices. After all, there was no shelter from the sun and we were delayed from a much more important stop to photograph a football stadium to add to the list of visited stadiums by our fanatic. The church wasn’t visible from any of the surrounding roads.

Isn’t it great that continentals have learned to speak English? Very sensible of them, given the language limitations of ourselves.  One local directed us to the remote lane that led to a field of maize.    IMG_1617

Shopachocoholic spotted the faint steeple outline hidden behind a water tower. We walked between fields of pear trees and maize until it came better in view.

The walk wasn’t really that long in the heatwave. And it was exciting to spot an apparently rusting edifice afar, at least for our planner, such that the remaining over-heated 6 considerably cheered up.

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The design of the structure imitates the village church standing not far across the landscape. It was designed by Gijs Van Vaerenberg and built in 2011 by Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh in conjunction with the art museum Z33.

Is it transparent? Yes. When viewed directly from any side of the church, its walls appear to be roughly see-through.  Is it substantial?  Yes. If you see it from the right angle, the building seems like a solid chapel.IMG_1619

We approached the solitary church to find that it was amazing cool inside. The strong sunlight hit the ground fragmented in an intricate design worthy of a photograph in its own right. Planner provided one.

We all but one stayed inside and admired the construction. 100 layers of stacked steel forms create the semi-transparent walls.     IMG_1625

Each layer is separated from another by over 2,000 squat steel columns. It weighs over 30 tons. By the time we had absorbed half of this, hyperactive had climbed to the top of the spire. From his point of view, the church had been built with flat layers for just that purpose.  IMG_1631

Planner was photographing his find; engineer was closely inspecting construction and metals used; shopachocaholic and co. were ready for the next excursion; hyperactive was circling the cross on the top. I’m a writer so I was making associations and thinking of allusions.

The different perspectives allowed by the structure considerably change the outlook, and that changes according to the direction of focus. Of course I thought of narratives that change according to point of view, and how the author can alter again by redirecting his/her focus.

The unexpected cool of the interior on this hottest of days made for a dramatic in/out contrast. It reminded me of the heat or being inside or the cool of being outside a situation.

What was the purpose of this church, clearly not designed in any way for services or ceremonies? Effectively a giant optical illusion, it makes a number of statements and these are relevant to the writer.IMG_1623

I believe the architects’ intent was to show the permanence of architecture in relation to the landscape dependent upon weather and man’s use of the land, and the steeliness of church institutions against all onslaughts. The creation of a quiet place of reflection so far from other buildings means that a visitor is both removed from and exposed to the outside world.

The church is called Reading between the Lines. The landscape is read between the lines of the walls, depending on direction of viewpoint, but so is the temporary view of that world. My greatest pleasure in reading is when I surmise something that is not stated, or when it is stated but needs decoding.
MesopotamianMost tellingly, these artists of construction dreamed up a way that the visitor would be both absent and present in the landscape, as indeed the artists are. When I read fiction I don’t want to be aware of the author. S/he can let his readers invest in his characters, not in himself. He is wise to refrain from presenting himself as informer about the plot or background. However, he is the creator. The writer is both absent from the current scene, and always present.

 

The detail in writing fiction

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Jonathan Wolstenholme “The Collector” 2005

I’ve used Jonathan Wolstenholme‘s painting to portray a focus on detail. Minute detail is the interest in my post on cross-fertilization.

The collector uses detail to identify his butterfly, the artist attends to detail in creating a new perception or meaning, and the writer can produce a whole array of significance and emotion through adding tiny touches of detail. It was while watching the DVD of Room on the Broom with little people that this post suggested itself. In the delightful children’s book, a dog, a cat, a bird, a frog in turn ask for a place on the witch’s broom in return for finding her lost items. But the DVD adds a layer to the original. After the cat is installed, it suffers a jealous moment and wants to persuade the witch against taking on any more passengers. All this is conveyed silently, purely by a raised eyebrow or a turned-down mouth, the invention of the animator. The book was satisfying enough to the child, one good turn deserves another, but with the added detail of the cat’s facial expressions, the child is reminded of his own difficulty in sharing or being joined by a newer traveller in his life. An added layer is given to the story.

Noting the animator’s effective additions, reminded me of the delight in ‘reading’ the graphic book by Shaun Tan, The Arrival.  This is a flowing wordless narrative about emigration. Categorised as a children’s book, it would do well on every adult’s bookshelf. In my view it is as much a classic as Coelho’s The Alchemist.  The Arrival is chockful of meaningful detail. Just one example: leaving his country, the emigrant must say goodbye to his loved ones. Tan portrays this not just bya picture of a loving hug, but a close-up of the hands clasped, then loosened, then the fingers leaving those of the others, a tremendously evocative set of images. This is just that detail that resonates with the reader. Another graphic artist might have left it to the hug or the sad face.

pavlovaIt is Pavlova’s left arm that makes this image arresting.

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And the drop of blood changes perceptions and  significance of this image.

In textual works it is also the small detail that can hit the heart-strings. I’ve tried to do this in Intrusion (Book 1 of A Relative Invasion). For example, seven-year-old Billy is on the station platform without his parents. Other children are crowded around him. While they are hugged and last goodbyes exchanged, a wind from the oncoming train lifts Billy’s name tag against his face, and lets it fall again.

Kate Atkinson’s heroine in One Good Turn breaks an established routine of breakfast by eating the remains of a packet of chocolate digestives with her coffee, and on the peach sofa in the living room. This little detail lends a delightful visual, but its significance is the implied rebellion against her absent house-proud husband.

In An Equal Music, Vikram Seth shows us how distressed his protagonist, Michael, is about his musician friend, Carl. Michael touches the red mark on the left side of his chin, the violinist’s callus. This painfully prompts a memory of Carl’s bow sweeping up and down.

I’ve been arbitrary in my choice of examples. However, if you pick a novel up and opened it randomly anvolcanod find no such detail, perhaps it will be a disappointing read. Crises and tensions in the plot do make us want to read on, but I believe it’s these little details that give a feeling of satisfaction during and after the read. This doesn’t seem to happen with a book that is wholly plot driven. It’s like the difference between eating a large pizza, or a meat and two veg meal. We may feel full initially but we need a decent dollop of protein. The sense of satisfaction lasts so much longer.

(A Relative Invasion, historical fiction, trilogy. Books 1 and 2, Intrusion and Infiltration, out in paperback and Kindle.)

3D

Writing persistence

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Leonid Pasternak

 

I’ve never read any Stephen King novels because I don’t like the horror or dystopia genres, but now I shall, starting with The Stand, (the novel he rates as his best.)

Why?

I just finished his biographical On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft which reveals Stephen King as an avid reader, a no-nonsense advocate of writing skills, an honest, humorous, generous guide and a devoted husband of over thirty years to boot. Such a guide soon impresses with his engaging style and self-revelations. The first half of the book is less about writing than about Stephen King’s early life, hardships, and above all, persistent writing. He writes when he’s hungry, in a corner, on his lap, in a trailer, in a run-down apartment, after ten bit jobs and later a rough day’s teaching. He does everything to put food on the table for his wife and little one before the time when he can prioritise his writing. Then the wondrous telephone call comes and he makes his first big money. (Carrie is the novel).

‘This is such a nice guy,’ you find yourself thinking, ‘I want to know and celebrate his success and then take account of the how and why.’ That success is so immense, but above all, so appealingly hard-won, that you just can’t refuse to accept what he is saying. Essentially, what he says about writing comes in the second half. It is clear, uncluttered, simple and to the point.fountainpenpaper

Many, if not most writers read books about writing: plotting, planning, joining retreats, engaging in courses, identifying underlying themes and despair that their organisation and acquisition of techniques will never be sufficient.

King has no truck with much of this.  His recommendations come down to this: honest, always honest writing, getting the story down ‘as it comes’, ensuring that the action is or could be true of the characters, similarly that the dialogue rings true of them. He is not precious, and does not value pretensions.  His stories all stem from some initial experience and the personalities he has met. Add to this the imagination to latch on to a stunning ‘What If?’

He gets his first draft finished without recourse to beta readers, then puts it strictly away for six weeks. He works on other things.  In the second draft he fills out as well as corrects. At this point he may sit back and think what the novel is really about, what is important and consistent throughout the story.  This is when he might come up with an image or metaphor that enriches the writing. What is very apparent is that Stephen King is excited about what he writes and loves the activity. He is not identifying a genre where he can make money or intending to write blockbusters. He writes with an audience, an ‘Ideal Reader’ in mind.

This book cleared my mind and stopped the flow of words circling round and down the plug-hole.

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It’s not a new book and it will have been lauded and praised many times before this.

However, if there is any reader who has not read a book on Writing, they would do well to read On Writing.   It’s changed me from avoiding his novels to seeking them out.

 

 

 

Writer? 4 steps towards a writing career

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The arduous path to a writer career

Karen Perkins

 

 

For today’s post I have a guest writer, Karen Perkins.

I invited her because her story demonstrates a journey from starting to write seriously to established employment. Like many interesting writers, Karen had a developed skill and passion beforehand that could colour her fiction and support it with first-hand knowledge. Like other successful people, she did not let disaster down her, but adapted to new circumstances, using her experience to develop new skills. Furthermore, the experience of writing enabled her to help others improve theirs, then her path through the arduous work of preparing a book for publication led to self-help books on editing and formatting.

Step 1: Interesting experience

Step 2: Perfect skill in writing about it – whether fiction or non-fiction

Step 3: Tell others how to write well.

Step 4:  Provide vital techniques for publishing the book.

Readers of this post can see the path Karen has taken from beginning to end. That is what interested me and led to my invitation. Karen, please tell us: –

My Journey

I have been passionate about books since I first learned to read, and was also a very keen sailor. Unfortunately, I injured myself in the Contender European Championships in 1995 (although still won the ladies title), which resulted in a condition called fibromyalgia. This is an extremely painful and debilitating condition and resulted in the loss of my previous career as a financial advisor.

I started writing, almost as therapy, and it quickly became a compulsion. I cannot see myself ever stopping now! I struggle to travel, and realized this would work against me in looking for an agent and traditional publisher so I decided to self-publish as a way to show publishers I was able and willing to promote and market my books online, as well as—hopefully—prove sales and gain positive independent reviews.

I enjoy the publishing side of writing so much, I have not submitted to a single agent since I pressed that ‘Publish’ button the first time, nor do I expect to. All three of my current books: Ill Wind and Dead Reckoning in the Valkyrie Series (historical novels about piracy and slavery in seventeenth-century Caribbean), and Thores-Cross (a historical paranormal stand-alone novel) are #1 best sellers in their categories on Amazon—Ill Wind and Dead Reckoning in Sea Adventures, and Thores-Cross in British Horror.

I had established LionheART Galleries with my partner at the time I had started writing, designing, making and selling jewellery, and broadened this to include LionheART Publishing House when we published our first books. This has grown to offer copyediting, proofreading and formatting services for other self-published authors as well as cover design and book trailers. In the past year, I feel very privileged to have helped over one hundred books be published on four continents—some very successfully.

Recently I published The LionheART Guide to Formatting, a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to formatting e-books and paperbacks in Word 2010 to help Indie authors who prefer to do it themselves.        formatting guide

 

This was followed by The LionheART Guide to Editing, in both UK and US Editions. There are a number of comprehensive grammar guides out there and I wanted to compile a tool which is simple, easy to use, and full of tips to include punctuation and grammatical rules, paying attention to current trends in the publishing industry. The areas I highlighted are the ones I come across most often when editing.  I also detail the method I use when editing and polishing a manuscript for publication. Even if you decide to hire the services of an editor, most charge by the hour and the higher the standard of your manuscript, the lower the final editing cost.

EDITING guide UK - small

As writers, we are wordsmiths, creating a world, characters and story through language, and punctuation is one   of the tools of language. To ignore it, except for rare exceptions, to me is like Monet painting with the wrong colors, or Michelangelo attempting to sculpt using a hammer when a chisel is needed.

Words are what we do, language is our medium and punctuation our tool. When I write, I want to take my readers to my world, to join my characters on their journey, to experience their challenges, traumas, desires. I want them to take this journey with me, without noticing the individual words, full stops or commas. I want them to lose themselves in the story, not in the mechanics of it, and this will only happen if all the elements are right.

 

Copy-Editing

This involves checking the detail, then double-checking it, then checking again; not only the spelling, tense, grammar and punctuation, but also any factual information in your manuscript such as real-life names, whether of historical figures, place names or brand names. I will suggest changes and highlight any inconsistencies or contradictions and focus on the writing itself, keeping the reading experience at the forefront on my mind as I work to make sure everything is clear, there is no opportunity for misunderstandings (unless part of the plot), and your novel flows well.

 

Proofreading

This is the final stage in the process and focuses on the words themselves. It is a detailed check for even the most minor errors and typos—the final polish of your manuscript

 

Formatting

There are three main avenues to publish your book as an Indie author: Kindle (KDP), paperback (usually CreateSpace) and EPUB (usually Smashwords), and each avenue needs a different format, each with its own challenges.

Kindle (KDP). The main difficulty in your Kindle format is that what you see in Word is not necessarily what you get on a Kindle after your Word file has been converted to their mobi format. This means indents have to be properly set (tabs or a number of spaces can be corrupted in the conversion). Also, watch out for spaces at the ends of your paragraphs and extra paragraph breaks with can result in blank pages in the Kindle book.

CreateSpace is an Amazon print–on–demand company. Publishing through them means your paperback will be available on every Amazon site in the world (including Book Depository), and they will print and send a copy of your book to order. You therefore have worldwide distribution with little or no set up costs. This is also the format where you can add your own style to the finished book, with headers and footers, different fonts etc., and the main issues here revolve around the sizing of the file, and formatting page numbers etc. correctly.

 Smashwords is the difficult one. They convert your file into a number of formats, the most important of which is EPUB, and distribute to a wide range of online e–book companies, including Barnes &Noble (Nook), Kobo and iBooks. Because your book has to meet the criteria of all these sites, the requirements are more stringent than for KDP above. The best way to ensure your book passes is to use their Nuclear Method, which strips out all the existing formatting, and then start again. It is time consuming (and at times frustrating), but it is the best way of ensuring there is no stray formatting, such as hidden bookmarks or fields, that would cause your book to fail their review process.

LionheART Publishing House

LionheART Publishing House offers low-cost, high-quality copyediting and proofreading for novels, non-fiction manuscripts, scripts, dissertations, poetry, children’s books etc., whether you write in UK English or US:

£12.50 (US$21, €16) per hour

As a rough guide, this usually works out as £5—£8 per 1000 words ($9—$15 or €6—€9)

We also format your book, ready to upload to either or all of the three main sites (KDP—Kindle, CreateSpace—paperback and Smashwords—EPUB). Our charges for this are:

CreateSpace Format: £25, US$42, €32

KDP (Kindle): £25, US$42, €32

Smashwords: £40, US$70, €50

Full details are on the website, including testimonials and links to books we have worked on: www.lionheartgalleries.co.uk/Publishing–Services or you can contact Karen Perkins on publishing@lionheartgalleries.co.uk

We are happy to carry out a no-obligation sample edit so you can make absolutely sure you are happy with our work before you commit.

Karen and LionheART Publishing House are also on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/LionheartPublishing

www.facebook.com/ValkyrieSeries

and Twitter:

@LionheartG

@ValkyrieSeries

 

The LionheART Guide to Formatting is now available:

Amazon

Smashwords

 

The LionheART Guide to Editing Fiction: US Edition is now available:

Amazon

Smashwords

 

The LionheART Guide to Editing Fiction: UK Edition is now available:

Amazon

Smashwords

 

Authors’ stimuli: preparing for that blank moment

PERFUME                                 SMELL                            STINK

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In a previous post I suggested that, at the point of urgently scribbling down that new idea, it may be worth exploring what actually prompted it.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. I believe it is much harder to ‘dream up’ an olfactory experience than a visual or auditory memory that might affect the character in your story. For  a visual stimulus we have Art to display ideas, perspectives, narratives, symbols.  We have Theatre and Radio to present ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_opt

There is no equivalent for smells. The writer may sit, pen raised, summoning up exactly the right sound or sight to cause his hero to pale with emotion, and the reader to imagine this accordingly. Far more difficult to write more than ‘the smell/scent/perfume/stink of’ (whatever) caused the emotional impact. How much of a struggle to work out what might have been recorded in long term memory.

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It might be a good idea to be prepared for that blank moment. Perhaps the answer is to note down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant, listing the source for each but avoid the obvious like dog poo. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a down-at-heel great aunt; the scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs.

TapirAtSDZ

 

With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you. Easier then to strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

Literary competitions

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Short Story competitions

COULD YOU BE A WINNER?

I think winning stories have to capture the heart as well as the attention of the judges. I’ve rarely read a winning story without feeling I know why it was chosen. Usually the setting is striking, the structure is very satisfying, the ending unexpected and the main character convincing. I’m saying nothing out of the ordinary, I know, but it’s as well to have these features of winning stories in the back of your mind as you start to write yours. Some writers give up competitions at the first or second failure to get on the shortlist.

However, some rehash their stories or even leave them as they are and keep submitting them to different competitions, on the basis that ‘liking’ a story and finding it surpasses other good entries is very subjective.  

I reviewed one winner, Anne Corlett, on a previous post (See Review: H.E.Bates winner)  Her story is well worth reading for that structure, setting, believable character (s), and unexpected ending, a thoroughly satisfying read. 

It is not always previous competition winners or successful journalists turning to fiction who win. There have been some notable first timers who have run the contestants out of the ground. The main thing is to have a go. The writing towards winning is good practice, and you can regard it as just that. Robert the Bruce would have been entering every competition until chosen, egged on by his spider. So, try, try, try again if you haven’t been successful so far.

These competitions have April deadlines.

APRIL

11 April — Litro magazine Theme: Augmented Reality Max. length: 3,000 words
26 April — Felixstowe Book Festival Short Story Competition Theme of Conflict 
30 April — 13th International Short Story Conference Story Contest fee: €10 (theme: The Braids of Identity) 
30 April — The Bristol prize   any subject. Max. length 4,000 words
30 April — E.M. Koeppel Short Fiction Contest 
30 April – Fiction Uncovered 2014 
30 April — Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 
The more entrants, the more money to finance the next competition. Let me know if you are one of the short-listed or even better.

A Rich Read: writers’ ideas.

fountainpenpaperWhat prompts a writer suddenly write down an idea? Authors of any genre – there’s a lot going on when you write.When you think you have an out-of-the-blue idea and must just get it down, more likely the germ of the idea, even if it’s caused by something just noticed, has an appeal that lies in some unconscious association. That is, past experience will affect the particular event observed, aurally or visually. Why notice this (length of someone’s thumb), rather than that (choice of tie)? Did you know that subliminal exposure can influence preferences? Even patients with amnesia can demonstrate affective preferences without remembering any encounters with the objects of their affection (Johnson & Multhaup, 1992). But the experience of preferring one stimulus rather than another is conscious. As a writer, you are aware of ‘the good idea’ or the urge to write down something noticed or experienced, (conscious preference) without recognising that some original strong, possibly emotional, experience sparked your attention to or your ‘preference’ for a particular stimulus. What one person sees and immediately focuses upon may be ignored by another. kaleidoscopeEvery scene, even the familiar surrounds of the working or home environment, holds a kaleidoscope of auditory and visual stimuli. At a party, Jane’s attention may be drawn to a particular blue-grey dress. She says, when asked afterwards, ‘I don’t know why I remember that dress. I didn’t even particularly like it.’  But in fact it’s the same colour and texture as a dress worn by a shouting aunt in a long-ago quarrel. Her focus of attention means that she fails to absorb the content of conversation in the nearby group. Derek, beside her, has his eyes on one speaker whose gestures irritate him. He can’t say why. If he’s a writer, he may think about why, worry away at the conundrum. Sometimes it is possible to dredge up the original stimulus. A writer may go back over and again over his/her thoughts about an experience such as those above. Occasionally, the origin emerges and it is usually a very satisfying feeling even when the original stimulus was upsetting. It’s a feeling of getting things into place. Why is this unconscious layer of memory part of the human experience? It has a social, a survival function. To know the minds of others, (are they dangerous, are they to be trusted?) from our very early days we must attend to and perceive the available cues, whether in their verbal or nonverbal behavior.  In unconsciously absorbing tiny details that contain information about a person’s inner qualities, there is a kind of template against which new experiences can be tested over time. Moreover, when a writer includes such detail it is recognised as significant by the reader. The reader may not know why s/he has focussed on that detail in the chapter, but s/he also has this layer of awareness built up from infancy that alerts him or her to such clues. Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904 A character may be softly rubbing the edge of a desk as some significant news is given him. The reader enjoys noticing this detail and absorbing it as a guide to that character’s reaction, and ultimately, personality. It is this kind of detail that moves a piece of writing to another level, (and is often missing from plot-driven fiction). Whether it is the writer writing it, or the reader reading it, such detail makes for what we often call a ‘rich’ read. I have written about auditory and visual stimuli here. Olfactory stimuli is another matter. It is commonly known how certain smells activate long-forgotten memories in the most vivid way. I will write about this in another post. This is the first of several pieces relating to the cognitive process in writing.