Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Internet Slapstick

Why do we laugh when a man carrying a ladder turns suddenly and knocks some poor unsuspecting sod into a man hole? Or when the business man slips on a banana skin and lands ignominiously on his behind? Part of us loves to relish the humiliation of others. Of course it's not at all funny when it happens to us.

This week every writers' board I frequent has been buzzing with talk about the reaction of author Jacqueline Howett to a review of her book The Greek Seaman. I'm not going to post links because if you haven't already heard about this you must be living in a sensory deprivation chamber and if so you can easily Google her name to find it. To summarise, she was less than gracious that the reviewer pointed out spelling/grammar mistakes in her work and after an increasingly bitter row told him to F*ck Off.

Had that been the end of it nothing more need be said. But the ensuing reaction of the writing community was on a scale of Japan's recent tsunami. A flood of self-righteous condemnation, both on the blog and on writers' boards and Twitter, sent this story into the digital stratosphere. It's astonishing that one little book could create such a buzz, and for all the WRONG reasons. No doubt Ms Howett has sold a few more copies of her book as a result, but I'm not really interested in her per se. The reactions of others is far more interesting.

Why on earth were normal decent people mobbing a complete stranger like this? Does it really matter how good/bad/indifferent her book is? With the market awash with books who cares what a reviewer thinks of this one? No, this wasn't about the book. This was pure slapstick. This woman who had the temerity to put her work out there for review then reacted the way all of us would like to react to criticism and made a spectacle of herself. If we'd done it we'd be feeling awful, but this was someone else so it was alright to sneer and snigger. And all that sniggering added up to a tidal wave of indignation.

I can't help wondering how many of those doing the mobbing have even written a book, let alone published one.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

British Summer Time

It's ten to twelve, according to my newly adjusted clock. But it feels like an hour earlier. And this is just day one of BST. I'll be getting this time lag feeling all through the next few months.

One thing I've noticed as I get older is the clock changes are getting harder to deal with. At the other end of the year the hour lag makes for a long tedious day that seemingly never ends. But this Spring switch is harder. I don't like feeling late all the time. I don't like the clock nagging me to eat when I'm not hungry.

The funny thing is I don't remember it bothering me years ago. I suspect it's change that gets more uncomfortable. Any change. An elderly relative refuses to throw out his old clothes for this reason; he'd rather wear a threadbare, stretched-out-of-shape, decrepit old pullover that a spanking new one he just got for Christmas. It's familiar. With these layers of familiarity we line our comfortable ruts.

And that's what makes it harder to reach out and embrace the new as the years go by. The thrill of novelty is replaced by the fear of the unknown. I don't know what there is to fear about going to bed an hour earlier, but there it is.

Maybe I should keep the clocks at BST and shut the curtains and maybe the Rest of the World will forget me?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Another 10 Lists

I'm still on this listmania, you can tell. (I'm also on a mini-holiday this week and haven't time for a more considered post, so this will have to do.)

Here are some I haven't actually seen, but can't imagine why not since they're bound to be of use to somebody.

Can you come up with more?

10 things you should never feed a horse.

10 reasons he's cheating on you.

10 reasons why you never get put through immediately to Customer Services.

20 things to take on a day trip to Rattray.

5 ways to tell if he's cheating on you.

10 likely people he's cheating on you with.

Top ten reasons to lose weight

Thirty things to do with a broken down vacuum cleaner

Saturday, 19 March 2011

10 Most Annoying Lists

You know those lists you often find on message boards: Ten things to guarantee rejection or Five ways NOT to start your novel. Well, maybe I've been knocking around the internet too long, but these lists are really starting to annoy me. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the arrogance behind it; I know the Secret Formula for success, folks. Just follow these simple rules.

Because there are no rules, however much we like to think there are.

However I realise I am swimming against the tide here so in keeping with bloggers' love of lists of rules, here are my 10 Most Annoying Lists:

10 Things that are probably wrong with your manuscript.

10 Ways to alienate an agent.

10 Ways to guarantee you never get published.

5 Things you shouldn't put on toast

20 best writing aids

10 most cliched story ideas

10 least likely romantic pairings

20 Blogs you should read

10 presents you should never give your granny

20 things you should never write in your query.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gas Man Cometh

I had the gas man in today. Now, he's called the gas man because he services my boiler but this particular bloke gets that title because he gasses - a lot. Not that I mind someone chatting away, it's just that - well, there's an art to conversation isn't there? Just like there's an art to writing a story. It can't be just a stream of consciousness because who's interested in that? Even when a story appears to be just a stream of consciousness it's very likely there's a lot more going on. That's the skill of the author. And the better they are at it, the less you notice.

Writing fiction, like conversation, is give and take. Just as in good conversation we must listen as much as talk, in writing good fiction we must anticipate the reader's expectations and meet them. If we simply drone on and on about all the stuff we researched about fly fishing for four pages, thinking we'll impress with our extensive knowledge, we risk losing their rapt attention.

Still, I can't complain. At least my boiler's serviced.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Absolutely Astonishing

What a week of surprises!
No, not just the return of winter here in the UK, or the dreadful earthquake/tsunami in Japan. I got another award! Thanks to Carol for giving me this Stylish Blogger Award. It's a major surprise because I've never thought of myself as stylish. Unlike some bloggers I don't obsess about which pair of shoes to wear - for me it's the wellies or nothing, I'm afraid. However I accept it with humble gratitude, and in line with the conditions attached here are 7 (slightly) interesting things about me:

1 My first full time job was as a nutter. No, really. I worked in a chocolate factory putting the walnuts on Walnut Whips.

2. I have only eaten crab once and it made me violently ill. I've never risked it again.

3. My feet are size 5.

4. My hat size is 7 1/4.

5. The first story I remember writing was about St George and the Dragon.

6. I once won a million pounds in a bet with Elspeth Hopper that the sun was further away than the moon - and she still owes me!

7. My pet hate is bad spelling.

So there you go. Here are my nominations for this award:

Rosalie Warren - Reeling and Writhing

Novel Thinking

Sophie Playle

Steven Chapman - Writer

Trees Are Not Lollipops

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Revision Musings

Just finished revising a major turning point chapter in my WIP and it's interesting what this process throws up (no, not in that sense although I do get sick of it sometimes!).

I always find it interesting to read passages where I missed the spot. Usually it's because of over-explaining which I have a tendency to do. I don't think that's unusual in a first draft when you're trying to visualise the scene so labouring the point is part of creating it in your head. But in revision I'm amazed at how little of that explanation is necessary to convey a thought to the reader. In fact Too Much Information is a turn off.

Maybe it's because these days we're more used to getting stories from visual media which is much quicker and sharper than the written word. In the classics, authors relished the opportunity to wax on and on, describing scenes ad nauseam down to the colour of the protagonist's buttons. Try that today and you'll be the only one reading your book. And speaking for myself, I wouldn't even enjoy it.

I like writing that lets me fill in the gaps. Of course, the skill lies in knowing which details to supply to sketch that image in the reader's mind. It's tempting - and fatal - to fill them all in. I'm finding much of my revision is taking them out, not for love of sparse prose but because they aren't needed. Readers are smart. They can get from a to d themselves without putting b and c on the map.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Getting in Shape

Hark, is that a bird I hear twittering in yonder tree?
Don't know about where you are, but things are looking distinctly Springlike from where I'm sitting. This means two things:
First, I have to pay some attention to the garden which I've happily ignored for the last four months - why does nothing kill nettles and brambles, by the way? And second, I have to drag my sorry behind out of this computer chair and make some token effort at getting into a fit shape. Since taking a foot off the bathroom scales doesn't fool even me that means I have to devote more of my time to physical activity. So this blog will have to drop down the list of priorities, but I'll check in every so often during March to give you all an update on my progress.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Grass Is Always Greener

Why is it, when you're toiling away on a project just about anything else seems more attractive to you? It's one of life's cruel ironies that the thing you are closest to, be it your beloved spouse or your Work In Progress, is the thing whose flaws leap out at you in glorious technicolor. Or at least, that's what I tell myself when I've rewritten the same paragraph for the seventeenth time and still don't feel satisfied with it. Wouldn't it be nicer to ditch this steaming pile of ordure and start a clean fresh project which will not taunt me with its imperfections?

I'm in the middle of Revision Hell. It's a thankless job. Bits of it are quite exciting, but the line by line reworking is often very dull. My writer's brain is looking for kicks and ain't finding any so I start to long for Something Different, something shiny and sparkly, like the kid with his nose against the toy shop window. I get this every time. In the past I've tried writing a New Thing concurrently, but this time I'd quite like to get this revision finished so I don't want to divide my attention.

I know it'll get better if I keep going, but that doesn't stop those little distracting voices. This is rubbish. Here's a better idea. Wonder what's on the telly..?