And what about the news about Kate Forbes and whether she is fit for office in Scotland. Can someone’s personal religious views restrict the public office they hold? This isn’t to do with publishing and writing, but it is relevant.
On the face of it we could all perceive these issues as a great thing. After all we are living in enlightened times … Aren’t we? We respect everyone’s way of life as long as it does not impair our own.
We are far more aware of racism, sexism, fatism and all the other isms and I’m sure as authors we see it as our responsibility to watch out for the words and phrases we use which might upset.
As a publisher we have an even greater responsibility don’t we, to ensure that the books we launch out to the public will not offend anyone?
Another question to you:
How can we do all of this without affecting creativity as an author, constricting the richness of the English language and living in fear of offending someone?
All authors are readers. All editors are readers. All publishers are readers. Right?
I’m an avid reader of fiction and in the last couple of years I’ve noticed some unusual trends in the novels.
I started thinking this way several years ago, in fact, with the theme of forgotten libraries and ancient libraries, beginning with the famous The Shadow of the Windby Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The visual idea of the idea of a cemetery of forgotten books, imprints on an authors mind, and several books of the same essence have since followed.
Much more recently the theme which made me sit up and think was adult literature but a link with fairy tales, for example on The Christmas Bookshopby Jenny Coggan. There have been a couple of others I’ve read in the last year or so too.
And finally Trees which play a role in themselves and even ‘talk.’ The Island of the Missing Tree is a brilliant narrative set at the time of the partition in Cypress. Once I had finished the book I thought ‘ Wow!That’s a unique and precious book.’ …But … I am now towards the end of reading Still Life by Sarah Winman, an excellent novel set in Florence and London during and after WW2. It is a powerful novel; perfect for its time and for today too; would have been shocking had it been released last century. But …. there it is again. Trees play a role, both here in London and over in Italy. They speak too; as does the charming parrot but that’s another part of the story entirely. The Lord of the Rings springs to mind too.
In fact, speaking trees are in vogue at the moment in spiritual and mindfulness books, as well as environmental ones. Fascinating subject.
Now, there’s a thought. Maybe we’ll have a run on parrots playing and important role in novels in the near future. Who knows?
And so I ask my initial question. Are themes in novels unique? Do publishers spot these trends or are they pure coincidence? What do you think?
I first came across this subject when young. I used to cycle out along the West Sands Road in St Andrews (Fife) early in the morning, and sometimes saw a man declaiming quite loudly while walking along. His name was the Reverend Wilfrid Hulbert and he belonged to one of the smaller Christian denominations, either Methodist or Congregational, I can no longer remember which and, many years on, still don’t know the difference.
He was doing one of two things; composing his sermon for the Sunday to come or, having composed it, was trying it on for size. If the latter, it was a good idea. Writing may look good on the page but may not read so swell when breath and voice are applied.
Someone else who composed on the move was novelist, Nigel Tranter. The following is a quotation from the Guardian obituary.
Each morning he would leave his house in East Lothian and begin a long walk over the nature reserve at nearby Aberlady Bay. As he stalked out along the shoreline he was an unmistakable figure. In stout boots, flat cap and sensible tweeds, he looked just like any other bird-watcher but for one oddity: in his hands he carried small sheets of paper, protected by a polythene bag in inclement weather.
He is said to have written some 1,000 words on each of his walks, and if composing by speaking is difficult, composing while walking along has got to be much harder. The writer would have to keep on stopping to write anything at all. There may be other authors who have used this technique, but I imagine they are small in number.
Then there is the interesting case of Edgar Wallace.
plaque, Nr. 107 Fleet Street
Then there is the interesting case of Edgar Wallace, who dictated his novels and short stories for his secretary to type out. At the time he was writing, or should we say speaking, this was more difficult than it is now. According to his Wikipedia entry, he spoke his words onto wax cylinders, which gives rise to a theory about his writing.
This may be why he was able to work at such high speed and why his stories have narrative drive. Many of Wallace’s successful books were dictated like this over two or three days, locked away with cartons of cigarettes and endless pots of sweet tea, often working pretty much uninterrupted in 72 hours. (Wikipedia)
Speaking for myself, I would fall at the first hurdle, the endless pots of sweet tea. Yet now, if an author wishes to speak rather than write, life is very much easier. As I type this, I notice a panel on the home ribbon which shows a graphic of a microphone with the word ‘dictate’ below it. I’ve never tried it but I’m told it works.
(Eventispress writes ‘Thank you so much Rod, for an interesting post.’)
Yes, is the fast answer. With Prince Harry’s book Spare soon to become to greatest selling memoir of all time, and celebrities like Boris Johnson saying that he is writing his memoir too (like no other!), is there still space in the market for lesser known authors?
Yet again the answer is yes, but let’s unpick why.
Have you overcome a huge obstacle in your life?
This could be health wise, as in The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, whose husband rose above severe health problems and walked, including wild camping, along coastal paths of the south-west of England.
It could be some kind of learning difficulty which you turn around to your advantage, for example Richard Branson who has dyslexia, and writes in his blog about Kate Griggs, who has her own story to tell. See This is Dyslexia, a blog by Richard Branson himself.
You could be rising above one of those traumatic moments in your life ~ bereavement, redundancy, divorce, empty nest syndrome …. Our own author Diana Jackson wrote The Healing Paths of Fife after being made redundant and relocating 400 miles away from home. Diana has raised over £700 for local charities, including The Kirkcaldy Foodbank with this book.
You could be becoming aware of your own sexuality as in Scatter of Lightby Malinda Lo.
In the end, if you are thinking of writing your memoir, then question who your target audience might be:
Questions you might ask yourself?
Who would read it?
Who might be inspired by your memories?
Who could learn something from your experiences?
Does it make a gripping or/and enjoyable read?
IMPORTANT POINT: Be careful of libel though, if you are including stories of real people in your life including confessions for example, but that is really another blog post entirely.
How should you write my memoir?
A memoir does not have to be linear to have an impact. It could be a series of stories written at key times in your life. It could be in poetry form, or part thereof. It does, however, need to flow, and have an order which makes sense.
Eventispress has just taken on a new writer who has done just that. It has taken about two years of tweaking to find a format which works, weaving together several otherwise random life stories, but it now works as a whole; so beautiful and moving. Watch this space!
Rod asks, ‘Do we need to know a place well in order to write about it, or can we rely on books or the internet?
How true is the often quoted advice,
‘WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW’?
“If you are an author who writes fantasy – talking bears, flying witches adept at airborne archery, you know the sort of thing – then setting scenes accurately is unlikely to concern you much. If nothing else is realistic, why would your locations be?
Moving on to those of us at ground level, decisions must be made. Starting with historical novelists, the approach will surely be researching what your chosen locations were like at the time your book is set. What was Naples like in1640 when your heroine, Artemisia, was active with oil on canvas? Not like the Naples we meet in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, we can be sure of that. Recourse to libraries in person or online will be called for. I am not a historical novelist, but I’m sure they cover their bases as well as they can and if they make the occasional mistake it won’t be for want of trying to get it right.
For authors whose work is set in present times, or near enough, there are two ways to go. Knowing that you’re writing a work of fiction, you think to yourself I might as well make up the settings as well with an occasional nod to actuality. In Paris, a reference to the Eiffel Tower, in Edinburgh to the Castle, or Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. Yes, that should cover it. But not everyone will be comfortable with that approach and here I can only speak for myself.
Three of my novels are set in #Edinburgh, where I have lived for many years. Although I know the city well, I visited the sites which would figure in each book and took many photographs as an aid to memory. For example, Interleaved Lives.
Scenes set in Dublin and Traquair are supported by photographs. One location within the city is a disused church.
The references to this building are detailed and accurate, though changes may have occurred since I finished writing it.
But the fourth book, The Ears of a Cat, never comes near my native city, and instead visits Berlin, Los Angeles, Hokkaido and Charmouth (a coastal town in the English county of Dorset). Of these places, I have only ever set foot in Charmouth, so where does that leave me in search of accuracy?
Were it not for the internet, it would leave me up the creek without a paddle. Now, though, I can travel far and wide without leaving the house. A major aid here is Street View, which not only enables the armchair traveler to visit a given street on the map, it also enables that traveler to see all its buildings. And as if that were not enough, travelers who have actually been there are often kind enough to post photographs of their visit, a further source of reference. Without these aids, I could not have written the Berlin chapters of Ears. In one there is a reference to Leise Park and a gravestone there. The gravestone exists and the reference to the inscription is accurate. How amazing that such a thing is possible? When I was younger than I am today, it was not.
Author Roderick Hart continues with writing rules he adheres to, with an excellent piece of advice especially for new writers:
Read it aloud: Referring to the essay in which he expounded writing rules Elmore Leonard said: “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Note that he said ‘sounds’ like writing, not ‘reads’ like writing. This is important for two reasons. The first is that what we write should read well. If you have trouble reading out loud a passage you have written there is more work to be done. If you are aiming for an audio book as well this is even more important.
Punctuation: The second reason why this matters is punctuation. There is a set of conventions governing punctuation of the written word, but I have usually found it helpful to mark up scripts for reading aloud, and as often as not these punctuation points diverge from the convention. For example, my version of Word often tells me that a comma isn’t needed at a certain place. Well, strictly speaking it may not, but it but it helps the talent reading it to the mic and can save several takes.
Microsoft word prompts: Another habit your software may have is pointing out that a certain phrase might be more succinct: where you have used five words three would be enough. And this may be the case, but your slighter longer expression might carry an emphasis which the shorter version lacks. And then there is the question of rhythm. The shorter version may lack the rhythm of your original. Ultimately, these are questions of style and are, or should be, under the control of the author rather than software.
Afterwards: Since this post appears on the blog of a small press, the question arises: how relevant are rules for a writer hoping to be published? While some might cite the old adage that rules are there to be broken, this would not be safe at the outset of a writer’s career. Keeping to reasonable rules is more likely to result in a marketable product. No publisher would consider a book which shows a lack of competence in, and respect for, basic writing skills.
But, as was pointed out at the beginning of Writing Rules Part 1, rules for writers are forever telling you what you should avoid. What they never tell you is what you should actually do. The truth is, we must all work this out for ourselves.“
We at Eventispress would also add the advice of converting your manuscript to a format for a device such as a Kindle and read it as you would read any novel or book ~ after a break of a couple of months from your own edit that is. Also to do this before you think of agents, publishers or self publishing.
Thank you to author Roderick Hart for these useful posts on writing rules. Much appreciated. The original has been split into two parts;
A) The nuts and bolts of writing
B) Does it sound good to you (next week)
“Over the last few years there have been many posts on this subject. Usually, the emphasis is on what to avoid. For example, the aspiring writer should avoid adjectives, adverbs, verbs ending in ‘ing’ and the passive voice. It has also been suggested that question marks should be avoided, so presumably questions should too. Not so helpful when your detective is interrogating a suspect.
Advice from successful authors
In some cases, writers are pulling our legs with their suggestions. For example, Margaret Atwood tells us not to take a pen on a plane because it might leak. So we should take a pencil. Which she then qualifies by saying we should take two in case the first one breaks. Mildly witty, but not so helpful. Stephen King’s advice to writers is well known and easily found online, so let us consider instead what Elmore Leonard has to say on the subject.
The weather:His first rule is never to open a book with weather. This may be well advised since the weather, in daily life, is often relegated to small talk. Those with nothing else to say, comment on the wind and rain.
Prologues:His second rule is to avoid prologues. Some prologues are clearly designed as hooks to lure the reader in, but Leonard would probably say ‘just get on with it.’ There will be exceptions, but this advice is probably good.
Said or not to ‘said’: His next rule concerns the handling of dialogue. ‘Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue.’ There is something to be said for this one too if it discourages us from using verbs at one remove. ‘I give up,’ she sighed. Maybe she did sigh but she definitely spoke.
Next, on an associated topic, he advises us never to use an adverb to modify the verb said. ‘I’m cashing in my chips,’ Victor said vehemently. Leonard would strike the ‘vehemently’. You can too if you like. One group of people who have taken this advice to heart, though in the worst possible way, is tennis players who, when interviewed, often state their intention to ‘play aggressive.’ This habit of reducing adverbs to adjectives is never recommended in indirect speech, though it might occasionally happen that one of your less-well-educated characters speaks in this way. Tennis, anyone?
Exclamation Marks: His next rules deal with excessive use of exclamation marks, avoidance of words such as ‘suddenly’, and limiting the use of regional dialects. Then we have his injunction to avoid detailed descriptions of characters, places and things. Why? Well, we don’t want so much detail that the narrative flow grinds to a halt. On the other hand, some writers are masters of descriptive writing, so if you are in this select group you might water down this advice.
And finally: Since this post appears on the blog of a small press, the question arises: how relevant are rules for a writer hoping to be published? While some might cite the old adage that rules are there to be broken, this would not be safe at the outset of a writer’s career. Keeping to reasonable rules is more likely to result in a marketable product. No publisher would consider a book which shows a lack of competence in, and respect for, basic writing skills.
But, as was pointed out at the beginning of this post, rules for writers are forever telling you what you should avoid. What they never tell you is what you should actually do. The truth is, we must all work this out for ourselves.“
Great advice Rod. Continued next week with Does it sound good to you…