Awesome Indies

aia_webadgeI was very pleased yesterday to receive this badge of Approval for my collection of ironic short stories, Me-Time Tales, from Awesome Indies.

I can officially say that Me-Time Tales, tea breaks for mature women and curious men is ‘Awesome Indies Approved’ or ‘has been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction.’ 3D-PB_opt

 Male/female – perfect to pocket for a holiday, or in the long wait in traffic to get there!

The book gets a badge and my website gets this one. In the spirit of cross-fertilization, I have to admire the design. The watch works suggest that time is not to be wasted (in getting the writing done) and the gold reminds of the gift a worthy worker was given when he retired after a long period of contributing his skills to the firm/organization, or perhaps won a prestigious contract for the firm. I’m all for badges of approval.

In Awesome Indies case, they have a mission.  Two of these aims are to:

Identify and honor independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints.
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Raise the standard of independent publishing,

‘Self-published’ is gradually becoming less of a blight on a writer’s mojo, and with

initiatives such as Awesome Indies, the momentum towards quality increases. We all know that anyone can publish a book, that marketers will promote them as long as there is money in it. This is true of mainstream publishers too. If there is a huge market for an author, publishers will take him/her on, agents will gladly represent him/her.

The organization I am glad, in fact, grateful to belong to is author-member

The Alliance of Independent Authors. This has a wealth of skilled professionals all aiming for a high quality in the writing of fiction and non-fiction, and helping authors in different ways to achieve this. Quality is not just in the writing, but in the presentation of the book. Many writers will bemoan that this aspect takes as long or longer than the writer. More to be said about this in another post . . .

Writing: how to improve your focus

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Samuel Johnson in close focus

It’s commonly mentioned by writers as a problem: keeping focus on the book you’re currently writing. It isn’t just the intrusion of other writing or everyday chores. More than ever, writers blame the ingress of social media caused by two pressures: firstly the attraction of seeing friends’ and family’s daily activities, with consequent need to like, comment, or even worse, engage in a to and fro dialogue; secondly, the constant emphasis on the importance of social media for marketing the books we write.

There is only one way round this problem. Limitation. In the same way that we curtail, if not curb, our pleasure in food and drink in order to escape obesity, we can avoid gluttonous social media activity.

Easiest to restrict family/friends to a time of day assigned to relaxation. Just best not to open those Facebook etc at other times. There’ll always be something to divert you. For marketing, wisest to schedule a set day and time for such work and avoid it at all other times.

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I wonder if Pasternak was having trouble focussing in this picture, or was tormented in sympathy with his characters?

Keeping focus on the book in process does not mean never doing anything else until it’s finished, however. You can take off for a break somewhere entirely different and yet keep your focus on your characters. Keep them and their problems in mind and relate what you hear and see to their situation.

For instance, working on my WWII trilogy, A Relative Invasion, I realised that my protagonist, Billy, had not been punished by his adversary, cousin Kenneth, for a well-meaning interference. Manipulative Kenneth would surely not let Billy get away scot free.  Taking time away from the computer, I set off to wander round an arboretum and get some fresh air (and fresh ideas). On the way, I listened to a radio programme about printing and book binding. The word ‘pigskin’ made me sit up. Of course! The pigs Billy loved had been taken to the abattoir. Kenneth could punish by giving Billy a pigskin wallet for Christmas.

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Van Gogh

The arboretum itself made me realise that I hadn’t included much description of the boys’ surroundings beyond the initial one. How would they react to the countryside when evacuated away from the blackened buildings of London?

I listened to an interchange between some children nearby. The running and quarrelling suddenly stopped when one of them saw a squirrel burying nuts. It was vigorously stamping its feet, or that’s how it seemed to the younger child. She turned to her mother, ‘It’s having a tantrum!’  A lovely moment, and one I could work at for hostility between my two boy characters.

There were other ideas, too, that came from this outing. These could be called ‘writing refreshments.’

I could have taken a break and thought of other things, but keeping my focus on my book didn’t stop me benefiting from this time away from the computer. In fact, I wrote more rapidly once I got home, all the new ideas fresh in my mind. As is often the way, one new idea helped others so that the narrative moved along.

Have any of you gained unexpected ideas through taking a break away from your desk?

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.)

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New Short Stories

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GOODBYE CROCODILE  –  Conor Patrick

  published by The London Magazine

The London Magazine has a long-standing reputation for selecting and presenting work of a high literary quality, poetry and prose. They have produced this collection of short stories which does them credit as well as it author. I always enjoy Irish writing – what is it about Ireland that produces writers so skilled in capturing the image which strikes at the heart? People suffer elsewhere after all.

Conor Patrick is a new name to me but I shall remember it now. He displays the velvet of his Irish genes and the sharpness of his past American environment. He has written twelve stories which grasp that time of change or realisation and exposes it. Many of his characters are on the verge of adulthood and perhaps that is why they are lightly drawn. They are fawns not stags, often coping with raw or threatening circumstances. The settings show a wide variety of rough and ready America with characters who are struggling to survive physically or psychologically.

These are literary pieces, rich in description. The boy in the cathedral absorbs the effigies and images ‘lifting heavenwards their stained glass faces’. In my favourite story, ‘Be Still the River’, perhaps the most beautifully written, there is an image of the ‘carapace’ of a pram. This poignantly highlights the death of the mother and of a bereaved younger sister’s childhood. The girl does not have the large fish she had worked so hard to land but this remains of a pram. She is used to pulling fish from the water as the one means of sustenance.

Patrick masters that task of suggesting half a world in the one paragraph – sign of the excellent short story writer. I highly recommended this collection to the serious reader.