Saturday, 28 April 2012

A Tribute to Human Spirit

I'm posting a link this week.  No, this isn't anywhere I've been - I'm much too cowardly to venture into such a terrifying place as this - but it's fascinating to think that people voluntarily go up there, presumably for the thrill of danger.  

Here it is.  While you're watching, you might like to reflect on a few things.

According to Wiki, Camino Del Rey was built between 1901 and 1905 to carry materials up to the hydroelectric plants in the Spanish mountains.  It is a concrete walkway, a metre wide, supported by steel girders.  Just imagine what it must have taken to build such a precarious path in so inhospitable a location. Were lives lost?  

It just goes to show the determination - some might even say foolhardiness - of the human spirit.  But if people can imagine something, and they need it badly enough, they will succeed.  It's inspiring.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sponsored Classics

With the contraction in the book business it seems the Advance is shrinking faster than a Spice Girl on a postpartum diet. For those of you who aren't familiar with advances - which planet are you from, by the way? - they are a lump sum paid by publishers to authors as a way of sealing the contract between them.  The term really means an advance of royalties, so naturally the amount offered will reflect:

a. how much the publisher values the acquisition and feels confident about selling

b. how much effort and expense they are therefore likely to expend in promoting the book

That was back in those halcyon days before the world economy collapsed and Amazon was just a scary story Acquisition Editors told their juniors to keep them in line.  In these cash strapped times advances are hard to come by.  So what can we authors do to find alternative sources of income to support our art?

Perhaps it is time to find commercial sponsors?  It happens on TV after all.  Product placement is hardly new.  Maybe it's time classics new and old carried some familiar household products to help generate revenue?

We could have: 

Hard Times by C. Dickens, sponsored by Rotary Watches.
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, sponsored by Levington's Compost
Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, sponsored by Whiskas
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, sponsored by Thomas Cook
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, sponsored by Stannah Stairlifts
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, sponsored by Nytol

Saturday, 14 April 2012


I've had anniversaries on my mind this week, probably because both my wedding anniversary and birthday have occurred within the last eight days.  They seem to whiz round with ever increasing rapidity but I'm sure you find the same.

Another more momentous anniversary falls tomorrow.  The Titanic sank one hundred years ago.  Even a century after the event the resonance of that shocking disaster still touches people like myself who were born many years after it and weren't concerned personally in any way.  But the facts of it are so huge in scale and still difficult to comprehend.  Titanic was the pride of its shipping line, the biggest and best of its kind, the most luxurious and invincible.  And yet five days after starting its maiden voyage it lay at the bottom of the ocean, a testament to the fallibility and frailty of humanity.

Of the 2 223 on board who woke that morning, only 710 would see another dawn.  Among them were men, women and children; crew members and passengers; rich and poor.  1 517 deaths in the space of a few hours.  It is a sobering thought even one hundred years on.

I recently watched A Night to Remember, the 1958 British film of the disaster, and can heartily recommend it not only as a faithful representation but also as a gripping piece of filmmaking. 

We should remember this anniversary, if only to remind ourselves that however grand the human race thinks it is, nature always holds the trump card. 

Saturday, 7 April 2012


Back when I was a young whipper snapper, oh - must be around the time of the Ice Age - when I went to school we got "Composition".  That's what they called stories back then.  For a long time I thought it was just a fancy name that looked better on the front of your jotter than "stories".  Because as far as I could tell there was no difference.  

But composition is important, indeed crucial, to telling a good story (not that I learned that in school - the word itself was all I remember being taught).

I've come back to this recently because, in my quest to improve as an amateur artist I have encountered some interesting advice that pertains to writing as well as art. And it's this:  If you have trouble finishing a project, it's likely that the composition is wrong and no amount of tinkering will ever make it right.

So what is composition?  In art, it's the arrangement of elements in your picture. For a picture to be effective it has to be composed well from the outset, or the planning stage.  We need to be aware of the focal point - the punchline if you like.  Where is the eye drawn?  What is the ultimate point?

And stories are the same.  What is the message, or point of the story?  Are all the elements arranged to lead the reader to that point or does it lose focus?  In other words, is the story composed in such a way to carry the reader to the conclusion we want?

So, if you are constantly tinkering with a story and can't seem to get to a satisfactory conclusion, maybe your composition is off.  Maybe the characters aren't the best fit, or the setting, or the events.  It's food for thought.