Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I want to thank everybody who has taken the time to visit my blog and wish everybody a happy, healthy, joyful, fruitful New Year.

Friday, 7 December 2012


Three more treatments to go, before I get to start something absolutely new. My current project is Ephesus, followed by Midnight At The Alhambra, then With A Song In My Heart. There is another piece of work that I have not been able to post on this blog, I'll Have The Last Waltz With You, because it has been shortlisted for a competition, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed with that one.
Add to that, my reading list is so long now because I know and have met so many writers this year. I have bought their books, (mostly tree-books and not e-books), all of which will get a review from me.

Even if I don't know a writer, but I have totally got the plot, cared about the main protagonist, and my mind's eye has been able to get a clear picture of the remaining characters and the setting, I feel I have made a connection with the writer, and feel compelled to write a good review.

If I didn't like the book, felt indifferent or even given up on it, I do not write a bad review. I just don't write a review. There are enough critics out there, that would do the job for me. Besides, just because I don't get it, it does not mean that other readers are not going to like it. So why should I as one individual, write a subjective critique, that makes the author look bad and myself feel good for doing it.

I have had one or two people say to me, 'I liked it and wanted to write a review, but couldn't think of what to say, when it has already been said.' My answer to that is a review is a review, no matter whether it is a paragraph or two, or just one word like "Great!' or 'Rubbish,' (please don't).

I have had a couple of reviews, and when I get one, it's like Christmas has come again.

Speaking of which, I need to go Christmas shopping for my grandchildren, both pre-school, and guess what they are having... yep that's right books, lovely books.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

New on Amazon: Ushabti

Ushabti is now available for download on Amazon.
 I hope you enjoy. I had such fun writing it.
If you really like it, could you please leave me a review on Amazon?
One word like 'GREAT', is a review, or 'RUBBISH' if you don't like it, or if you really want to push the boat out, Una storia fantastica (ripping yarn).

If you haven't read Henley's Ricotta, it is also available on Amazon.

There are buttons on the sidebar which will take you to the book of your choice.

'Ephesus' is coming soon.

Monday, 5 November 2012

I moustache you a question.

Good luck to all those you NaNoWriMo contestants. Yes it's November and time for the National Novel Writing Month again. Not the snappiest acronym I've ever seen, and almost as bad as Movember.
NaNoWriMo is not for the procrastinators among us. Last year I procrastinated right into December before I made my mind up about NaNoWriMo that I wasn't going to do it. (Can anyone say the word NaNoWriMo without sounding like they have got a mouth full of cake?) The word limit to reach is 1,666.66 recurring words per day, which isn't too bad unless you have missed a day and it becomes 3,333.33 recurring.
Maybe I should look at Movember. Less pressure than NaNoWriMo. All you have to do is watch it grow whilst you sit still, or lie down and let that hair grow on the Parafiltrum, (which is the name of the skin between the nose and the upper lip. I once studied Anatomy and Physiology). Movember is sponsored  moustache  growing during the month of November. I could, of course consider entering both. Okay, okay, it's the end of the 4th day in November... allow me some procrastination please. But how could I write 1,666.66 recurring words per day when I have to concentrate on my itchy Parafiltrum, (because that's what will happen if I grow a moustache, it will itch). 
I am not the most hirsute individual, by any means. Admittedly, I can grow hair better in the shade than I do on top, but I can grow a moustache thicker than a woman, can, well most women, not all women. But previous efforts have been a little thin to say the least. So maybe I'll procrastinate moustache growing and shave it for later.
Movember supports men's cancer charities, so I'll sponsor someone at work.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Casual Blog Post.

    I've got an awful lot of writing to do. Henley's is out there, in ebook form, although I also want to pitch it as a stage play. Ushabti, as a novella, is my current project, currently having it's first edit. Fairfax, as fond of him as I am, will have to remain in storage, for some time to come, because I really want to get Midnight At The Alhambra under way as a full size novel. The story is complete, on index cards and a cork board, so I should get off to a flying start, once I have got my loose ends tied up.

    Add to that, I have a massive reading list. I do not write at the expense of giving up reading. How can you write, if you don't read? My list is long, because I have met so many authors in recent years, and one or two of whom I regard as friends.

   I cannot lay claim to have come face to face with JK Rowling, but out of curiosity I had pre-ordered her latest book, A Casual Vacancy. I fully expected the critics to be chomping at the bit only to willing to wobble her pedestal, especially after committing the cardinal sin of crossing genres to crime writing. Many others have done the same without comment, but it's tough at the top, Jo, as they say. Although the Harry Potter books defined JKR, surely, commercially she should be regarded as a brand rather than genre specific. I have not finished reading it yet, but from what I have seen, it doesn't appear to be overtly clichéd as the critics say it is. And even if it is, would the average reader care?  It doesn't drag on so much that I start thinking about what I'm going to have for tea whilst skimming over the pages, although there are others that would disagree. I think the book is quintessentially English enough to lend itself easily to quite a reasonable film starring the likes of Stephen Fry at the one end of the spectrum to Ray Winstone at the other end. .

   Is JKR a great writer? Commercially, she has been a phenomenally great writer. Yes, but is she a great writer? Maybe. Her books, I'm sure will be revered for many generations to come. The fantasy world of Harry Potter is timeless, as tales of witches and goblins have been entertaining mankind for generations, and I can't see any reason why that will change. So supposing she continues as a crime writer, can she be regarded as a great writer for her post HP work? I think she can, as long that there is a pertinent message for future generations, then maybe. Dickens was a great social historian, showing an empathy for the poor that was not shared by many during those harsh Victorian times. Thomas Hardy, painted idealistic pastoral pictures in the readers mind of rural England. My Thomas Hardy years were during the worst of the cold war, when our country, may be the world could be annihilated at the touch of a button, and some of those who could afford it were falling over themselves to sink subterranean nuclear fallout shelters at the bottom of their gardens.

   My point being that Hardy was a master of describing the ordinary man's attitudes, values and beliefs and the message for me was their fears were exactly the same as ours. The fact that the average British citizen believed that it was just a matter of time before the French came over and murdered us in our beds. The might of Napoleon, appeared unstoppable, but we had not reckoned on the strategic cunning of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington who went onto be the greatest rock star superheroes our country have ever known. It irks me that so many of our young folk don't know that.

   The blurb on JK's new book, describes conflicts between classes as war, with the people of Pagford's clashing with the tenants on the neighbouring council estate. JK Rowling describes her fictitious neighbourhood well, illustrating social decline, in a benefit state. However, Charles Moore, of the Telegraph, accuses her of turning her back on a provincial life, the life that inspired her to escape into a world of fantasy and create Harry Potter. He said, and I quote, ''JK Rowling has told the world that this is a book she “had to write”. She detests snobbery, she says, and she wishes to expose it. She has very simple codes to indicate who is bad. Anyone who has a slightly out-of-date, petit-bourgeois Christian name, like Howard, Shirley or Maureen, is bad. Such people’s evil is proved by the fact that they have carriage lamps outside their doors, refer to the sitting-room as the “lounge”, wear deerstalkers (indoors!) and candlewick dressing-gowns.'' (

   Maybe it's fair comment, and it's quite likely that many will agree. However, I also think that JKR may be painting a more objective picture of the provincial life and depict, (as many of us in the UK are experiencing), the fact that good manners and respect have gone out of fashion, criminality is on the increase, as is drug use, binge drinking, domestic violence, and riots. I could go on.
Despite JKR's well publicised struggle as a single mum, given the circumstances she was in, she surely must have had a better existence then than what she could expect today. 

   If she hadn't written Harry Potter, but secured a publishing deal for A Casual Vacancy, I do believe she may not have found herself sat amongst the higher echelons of English literature, but with her latest venture, I don't think she has lost anything at all.

   As writers, we put our energy into characters then plot, or plot then characters and good narrative, all good skills in their own right. The very first thing I learned about writing, and I think that was in primary school, was description. Description is a powerful tool. Description is the portal that will take the reader into the writer's world.

Hardy and Dickens were masters of description, and JKR too
Me? Like many others, I'm working on it. 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Back home from Menorca.

There is just enough time for me to post a second post for this month as I've just returned from a thoroughly relaxing time in Menorca. Relaxing it may have been, but I also had routine. In between, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and an archery session each morning and shooting session in the afternoon, I managed to find enough time to complete my first draft of 'Ushabti' in novella form.
Add to this, a reading list of Mark Billingham, Peter James, Ken Follett, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, and a John Connelly selection of short stories.
I've not finished John Connelly's 'Nocturnes,' but when I have I will write a review for John, a nicer chap you couldn't wish to meet. Louise and Mark Edwards have been an inspiration for me, as successful indie writers who landed a deal with Harper Collins. Having read their debut novel 'Catch Your Death,' it's easy to see why. I've also got a signed copy of their second novel, 'Killing Cupid,' to read, and was kicking myself that I hadn't took that one on holiday too. So that's more reviews to write. I took standalone novels by Peter James, 'Possession' and also one from Mark Billingham, 'Rush of Blood.' They both have their own detective series, which I do enjoy, but I must confess, I think they are better when they take a break from their usual characters and venture into the standalone arena. Ken Follet's book 'Eye of the Needle' was written in 1978, when he was still in his 20's. This for me was the most well written which was plot driven, based on fact with Hitler and Churchill amongst the many characters in the book.
As for archery and shooting, you made me captain of the 'Ugly' team against the 'Beautiful Team,' Giovanni, (I hope you're reading this), but the 'Ugly' team had a beautiful win and were ugly no more.

Coming Soon
'Ushabti' goes on the back burner for a few weeks, before the first edit, and in the meantime, I have a short story with a working title called 'Date,' which changed to 'The Last Waltz Should Last Forever,' which needs another edit, and a resubmission to 'Writer's Forum' magazine. If it doesn't make it this time, I'll try other magazines. I'd love to publish it on my blog, but some competitions would disqualify me for that, but should it get published in a magazine I will then post the link on this blog.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Domino Theory

I've never been a gamester, but I must admit I'm a sucker for downloading the occasional app. The functionality of apps appeals to me, although I've yet to see one that makes me wonder how I ever managed without it.
I'm not a gamester, because I choose not to be.  There is no denying the appeal of an increasingly expanding market, which has a higher turnover than the film industry. Electronic games have become a major art form of our time. Whether it be Super Mario, Angry Birds or Call of Duty, it's an escape into an imaginary world conceived from someone else's imagination.
Isn't that the same as what fiction writers, artists and filmmakers do? Don't they entice you into their imaginary world? Undoubtedly, yes they do.
Here's the but, and it's a big BUT: but, in most media, there is a cut off point:

  • A place where you put your cherished bookmark either mid or end chapter, 
  • A times-up point, when you have to get back to your life. 
  • A pause button on the remote control, a snapshot view of a painting in a gallery, which has been retained in your mind for possible quiet reflection
  • A piece of compelling poetry you feel the need to return to, and discover some more hidden meaning at a later date.
With games, the cut off point is not so easy to find, especially for the young , who have a whole lot more life to discover, but are trapped within the allure of a virtual reality. The excitement, the glamour, the challenge of the game is too full on. Trapped in someone else's imagination, which is unwilling to let you go.
Is Super Mario really the devil in disguise? When Mario says those immortal words, in his unique falsetto Italian tone, "Here we go,", is he meaning, ''I'm going to eat up years of your life asshole, and you won't even notice until it's too late.''
No, no, no, it's definitely not for me. That doesn't make me a better person. I know myself well enough to know I'm just as likely as the next person to become addicted to games.
Solitaire, on my laptop, or on my phone is about my limit. Keep it simple. I play it when I want to think about something else. Sometimes it helps me think. It's a game you can play on autopilot. After I've had a brief round of solitaire, it's highly likely that in 5 minutes time, I won't even remember I've played it.
Aren't they cute?
JK Rowling once said that she plays a pretty mean game of Minesweeper, during breaks from her writing.
I recently downloaded Dominoes onto my phone. It has the same effect. I found myself taking breaks from my writing to play dominoes (the healthier option as opposed to having Domino's Pizza breaks). However, never having had much interest in drawing from the boneyard and counting the pips (they are expressions known only to us seasoned domino players), I have gone from that to buying a real set of dominoes. Yes I bought some last weekend.  Hand crafted in a wooden box. I also bought a travel set to take on holiday.Haven't played with them yet. I just keep opening the box and looking at them and sometimes (when nobody's looking) stroking them.
Now I'm going to play dominoes with a real person, not a computer. Hello reality, I've missed you. I'm so glad to be back.
If I can't find a real person then I'll have to buy a pack of cards and play real Solitaire... nah, that's not the same. Isn't it?

Anyone fancy a game of dominoes? If you do, can you bring your own dominoes? I don't like anybody touching them... okay, you can touch the travel set... No! I said no,.. don't touch the wooden ones. Would you mind leaving please

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Book shops - The Next Generation

I think the time has come to consider a new generation of bookshops befitting the lifestyle most of us enjoy or endure in modern 21st century Britain. It is easy to say leave our bookshops alone, because we love them the way they are.. Nice sentiments, but if we're not careful we will be looking back at our bookshops with nostalgia, because they won't exist anymore.
There is no doubt that internet shopping has hit the High Street  for six. Prior to the eBook revolution, Amazon and the big supermarkets were undercutting prices well below High Street bookshops. It has been argued enough already that the eBook should be embraced by the retail industry as an added extra to enhance the experience of reading . It's an added extra, and people are beginning to accept the hypothesis that eBooks and printed books can, and will, coexist with each other, within the same marketplace.  Waterstones, WHSmith and Barnes & Noble, in the US, have added eBooks to their stock which can be bought on their websites. That's all very well and good, but websites are not bookshops in the High Street, and there lies the problem, the High Street.
I've already mentioned the problem of books selling cheaply in supermarkets. But the damage is minimal compared to the devastation they have caused in the High Street. Who would have thought good old Woolworths, the nation's favourite for so many generations, would fall by the wayside like so many others, leaving their boarded up carcasses behind. There is not much in the High Street that you can't get in the big Supermarket chains. It's a sad fact of life, and we all live near one.
So what's changed? I don't think it's all down to the internet. More people than ever work anti social hours, another niche for supermarkets. More people drive, but town centres are not friendly places for the motorist any more. Supermarkets don't charge exorbitant parking charges and if they do they refund you when you shop in the store. Supermarkets are strategically placed, not so far out of town to be inaccessible, but on the edge of town to capture passing trade from major highways.
How much passing trade does Waterstones have, amongst so many boarded up shops within a town centre? A typical shopping trip for, let's say a family of four, may entail Dad needing to go to the bank, Mum wants some shoes, the kids need new clothes for school and if they behave, they have a Happy Meal at MacDonald's. They pass Waterstones. Mum heads for the crime fiction section whilst Dad would like to browse the sport books, and they have to kids to contend with. Their visit is likely to be brief.
What if there was a Waterstones, on a standalone plot just outside of town, thoughtfully constructed, in a pleasant setting, perhaps near a river, complete with its own parking facilities,  within cycling distance and on a bus route. Within the building is a cafe, maybe Costa Coffee, as Costa is already established in several of Waterstones stores.  What if there were more seating amongst the books, a terrace to sit outdoors with tables and umbrellas? It's a whole new concept. Shopping time has no place in bookstores, that's why they don't sit very well in town any more.  Whereas an out of town bookstore in the way I've described would benefit from people who have planned a visit to the store as a leisure trip which would allow for more  time to spend there. Bookshops are enticing places to linger. It might become a meeting place, a place to study, a place for reading circles, a place for writing circles, a place where readers meet writers.
It all seems a little too idealistic, but maybe worth piloting a store or two, perhaps on the outskirts of a university town, but ideally avoiding retail parks.
Unrealistic? Maybe, maybe not. During the 1990's I visited such an establishment outside Houston in Texas. It is the only Barnes and Noble store that I have been to, so I cannot say whether or not this was typical for the whole chain. People didn't go there primarily to buy books. I was struck by the atmosphere of the place. It was a place to hang out, a place to chill, perhaps a place to fall in love.
 A meeting place for people who read and a comfortable environment in good company. Let's face it, readers are generally jolly nice people to be around. A place where writer's may enjoy a more informal book signing day, spending some quality time amongst the writer's own  readers, and at the same time recruit a few more readers.

Comments please.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Great Henley's Ricotta Giveaway

I don't know about you, but as enjoyable as the closing ceremony of the Olympics was, it left me with a heavy heart that it would be business as usual from Monday. In my experience it has been the happiest I have ever known our country to be. I was bursting with national pride for the organisers, the volunteers and most of all our wonderful athletes. We all need to avoid the big comedown  and keep our spirits high. What better way than to have a good comedy to read. I've put Henley's on a promotion until the end of Friday this week and it's free. I don't care if I never make a penny from this, I just want to get my work out there and I have the rest of this week to do it. Don't worry if you haven't got a Kindle, you can download a Kindle Reader from Amazon to your computer or phone for free. If you download could you please try and get the word out for me for others to download it too.
I hope you enjoy it. Please visit my Facebook Book page by clicking on the the badge at the top of the right hand side column and click the 'like' button for me..
Please click here to download Henley's Ricotta

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

I've Found My Voice

Ushabti is well underway. Click on the Ushabti tab if you would like to read the first chapter. I'm having so much fun writing Ushabti the novel/novella/booky-wook,(sorry Mr Brand, but you can hardly call two words, or one compound proper noun plagiarism).
In writing this first chapter I have found my narrator's voice. I don't know who the hell he is but it's not me. Analyze that.
Okay, I'll analyze it. My scripts are intended for a cast and a production team. These are the people who will deliver the goods. But now I find myself in the position of setting the scene myself and developing my skill as a performer, albeit on paper. Centre stage without the stage fright. Can't be bad.
The other difference for me is that my characterisation has to be sharper and I feel that I am gaining a much deeper understanding of my characters, their foibles and the relationships they have with each other.
So I'll borrow Russell Brand's title, 'Booky Wook,' because it suggests the affection I have for my characters right now.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Henley's Ricotta is now available on Amazon.

I've taken the plunge and put Henley's on Amazon Kindle. Henley's Ricotta is the first of three comic capers that I intend to publish. 
It's a saucy romp which is set in the fictitious seaside town of Porthmunster in South Wales where Henley and his wife Gloria run a bed and breakfast called the Hotel Oceana. Henley's world gets turned upside down by a mysterious guest, Mrs Fanelli. George, who lives in the Seaview B&B next door adds to the chaos. 
My next project will be to get Ushabti out there as soon as I can followed by Fairfax goes to Ephesus.
I hope I can contribute to generating a  renaissance of the humour genre whose popularity appears to have dwindled in recent years. For me there is a huge gap in the book market left by people such as Tom Sharpe whose books have been an inspiration to me. 
I see comedy as more of a style in my writing and secondary to story.
I hope you enjoy. If you haven't got a Kindle, you can download the free software for your PC and/or your mobile phone.

Please click on the link to purchase Henley's Ricotta

Please click here to purchase Henley's Ricotta

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

It Was Murder In Harrogate

I got back from Harrogate on Sunday after three days of the Crime Writing Festival plus Creative Thursday workshops the day before the festival got going.
The Old Swan Hotel
The venue, The Old Swan Harrogate was the place where Agatha Christie's mysterious disappearance in 1926 came to an end.
Creative Thursday, was well worth the extra day, with a workshop on Plot development in the morning with creative writing teacher Greg Moss from West Dean College and husband to author Kate Mosse who we saw later in the festival. 
We were treated to a talk from successful authors Mark Edwards and Louise Vosse who launched their writing partnership on the Kindle and have landed a lucrative publishing deal. During the afternoon crimewriter Stuart McBride led a two hour workshop with his team of forensic experts Lorna Dawson, Professor Dave Barclay and Dr James Grieve, forensic scientists from The James Hutton Institute in Scotland. By the end of that session, if we didn't know how to write a good murder we sure as hell had a good idea how to commit one. The day came to a close when brave aspiring authors (I was too chicken... for that reason I was out) faced 'The Dragon's Pen.'
Colin Dexter and Simon Theakston
Simon Theakston and Denise Mina
The opening party on Thursday started with an awards ceremony. I felt privileged to see Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse, receive a lifetime achievement ward. Author Denise Mina won the Crime novel of the year award for her ninth book 'The End of the Wasp Season.'
Over the following three days discussions and interviews ran in succession from nine in the morning throughout the day with one or two late night events. All the writers were accessible to everybody. Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Jo Nesbo, Harlan Coben, Stephen Leather and Ricki Thomas to name but a few.
I have already booked my hotel for next year, it sells out fast and would recommend the event to anybody interested in the crime genre. It was said on more than one occasion, during the festival, but I found out for myself, that crime writers are the best people anyone could wish to meet. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Different Eyes

First of all I would like to welcome all new followers on Networked Blogs and Google Friend Connect.
Henley's Ricotta is almost done. I've spent a lot of time working out how to format a word document to Kindle. It's supposed to be easy, but maybe I'm a slow learner. I ended up purchasing some software to do the job for me. For those who don't know (which included me until recently) the reason word doc, pdf or whatever format you want to install on a Kindle, needs to be in an 'epub' format or 'kindle content' is that it can retain its format when the Kindle reader changes the size of the font.
Anyway I got there in the end and emailed it to my Kindle. Currently Henley's has a readership of one; the author. At this point in time I need to be the only reader. I found myself seeing my book through different eyes. No longer are they the eyes of a writer, I am seeing my book as a reader, and lo and behold,  I can see that it needs some more editing. After painstakingly daisy-grubbing my laptop screen-shaped prose over and over again, it was all too easy for me to miss easy mistakes, such as sentence structure and minor inconsistencies with either character or plot. When a writer has created the story, it seems the mind doesn't allow the eye to linger over the words long enough to spot what should be an obvious error. But in book form, I found I'm looking at a finished product, and the effect was immediate. I was able to forget who had written it and began page turning in a more objective way.
For anyone who hasn't got a Kindle or any other similar device, you're not missing out because Microsoft Word's 'Full Screen Reading' view has the same effect. I have tried writing in 'Full Screen' thingummy, but it put's me right off course. When I'm writing I need to be a writer not a reader.
Hopefully I will be off to Harrogate this week for Theakstons Old Peculier Crimewriting Festival. I say hopefully because I've not been too well lately, but fingers crossed I'll make it. If I don't publish a post whilst I'm there I'll write one when I get back.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Genre Bending

At a writer's conference I attended earlier this year, there was some discussion about genres. Both agents and publishers made it quite clear that if you are a newly established or aspiring writer you have to commit to one genre of writing. To skip from one genre to another or even worse lay claim to a cross-genre piece of work is a sure way to get the reject stamp across your manuscript before the title page has been turned.
On the face of it, it seems fair comment. To clinch that publishing deal or get yourself a good agent, it's quite reasonable for them to identify exactly where your writing is at.
It seems that even quite established writers have to remain committed throughout their careers.  For instance, if an established sci fi writer decided he wanted to skip the light fandango, turning cartwheels cross the floor to turn his hand to say a good swashbuckling pirate adventure, would this leave his sci fi readers feeling kinda seasick? Or would he get new swashbuckling pirate readers, a crowd calling out for more?

Okay I'll stop waxing lyrical before we all turn A Whiter Shade of Pale.

There are, of course, exceptions to any rule, which exempts a writer from genre specific creativity. Alas, this is beyond the reach of most of us. If, however, you happen to find yourself at the  top of the literary food chain, then maybe, just maybe, (not guaranteed) your name can be put to anything. You have become canonized as a BRAND.

Yes Ms JKR has made her departure on the Hogwart's Express into the world of adult fiction. Adult fiction is about as genre specific as she needs to get. She is not just 'a' brand, she is 'the' brand, or is she?
I'm sure her new novel The Casual Vacancy will be an amazing piece of work. JK's talent is indisputable. The magic of Harry Potter enchanted both children and adults alike in books and on the silver screen. I think she succeeded in finding the child within us all.
I'm sure she will sell squillions of copies on the day that her new novel is released, but what are her follower's expectations? Will her readers miss the incredible fantasy world that she created for Harry P? Will adult themes such as sex, murder, or heaven forbid she may even say the 'f' word, sit well with her readers? Or will she retain the distinctive ebullience and jolly hockey sticks flavour that has served her so well, and can be quite refreshing?

I like to think I can write comedy. But I've said this before and I'll keep saying it, I don't think comedy necessarily is a genre. For me it is a style. Comedy is a voice, it is refers to the delivery of a good story. It governs narrative, characterization and plot, true. I need to deliver it in a particular manner. The characters either need to be either comic or find themselves in comic situations. The plot must take at least one character way out of his or her comfort zone to create the right level of absurdity necessary to please the reader. It must have a happy ending. However, the story needs to be believable and captivating and take the reader through more emotions than merely rib-tickling laughter.  
I think next time I pitch my work; I'm not going to say its comedy or humour. I'll come up with as broad a genre as I can like adult fiction something like chic lit or choc lit (whatever that is) but for both genders.

I don't know if the demand for genre is a modern thing. Dickens, Hardy and even Shakespeare were not confined to genres. But during those days before they became immortal, were they branded as brands?

In two weeks I will be going to Theakstons Old Peculiar Crimewriting Festival. I'm going to have an amazing time rubbing shoulders with some of the worlds best crimewriters and attending some workshops to hopefully improve the way I write. But hold on, I'm not a crimewriter. But I write and I may want to write  a crime story  in  a comedic style. And I may find I have an affinity with some of the crimewriters , because they are writers. But that is not my main reason for attending.  
I read most genres from non-fiction through to biography and most genres of fiction. But I'm a hopeless crime fiction addict when it comes to reading. I used to read Hank Jansen and Mickey Spillane as a boy, so I suppose it has stayed with me.
I love classic literature, Thomas Hardy and Dickens being my favourites but also went through a phase when I couldn't absorb enough Russian literature.

On my Facebook, Twitter and indeed this blog I have made connections with all manner of different writers. I recently purchased a 'YOUNG ADULT' novel Kiera's Quest: Awakenings by Kristy Brown. (Do buy it on Amazon, she has a second book out soon) I only bought it because I socially networked with the author, or I would never have given it a second look had I seen it online or in a book shop. I don't read much fantasy. However, I must admit this book intended for youngsters was a guilty pleasure for me as a reader and it was an amazing piece of work. I don't think I could do it. I can write about the world around me and even about how the world was before me. But to create a whole new world with a different civilisation with a unique eco system and mode of government is far beyond my capability.

What's your genre of writing and does it run parallel with your reading? Or do you think that a writer is a writer regardless of genre and shouldn't have to commit to just one?  

Friday, 15 June 2012

Acceptance Speech

I've been handed The Versatile Bloggers Award, by my good Blogland friend Deborah Barker. Thank you Deborah for nominating me, I feel truly honoured. Deborah's site 'Living Between the Lines' is a good tonic. Once you've visited you will be sure to go back. The best way I can describe Deborah's blog is it has all the nourishment of 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen seasoned with all the Englishness you can get from 'Cider With Rosie' by Laurie Lee. I find Deborah's writing inspirational, motivational and heart-warming.

Now for the VBA rules. First I have to thank the person who nominated me. I've done that, thank you Deborah. Then I have to nominate blogs for the award that I believe are excellent.

Blog Nominations I met Mike French at a writer's conference this year. He was a good companion and lunch buddy. We exchanged url's and email addresses and I bought Mike's book, 'The Ascent of Isaac Seward.' Little did I know what an amazing writer Mike is. His book took me on an incredible journey into another dimension that I could never have dreamed of. I strongly recommend you put this book on your bucket list. If you don't you will have missed out on something  mind-blowingly good. Mike's next book Blue Friday will be published in a digital edition on 1 September 2012 and launched in paperback on the 10 November 2012 at the Novacon science fiction convention. Mike is also editor of the literary magazine 'The View from Here.'

We are at the dawn of a new era and generation of writers. With the advent of the electronic book, it would be foolhardy not to embrace it as a supplement to cherished collections that are stored on bookshelves. This has brought about a number of book blogs sites with reviews from ordinary readers. I, for one am finding it is almost second nature for me to write a review when I have finished a book. I will be honest and say that if I don't enjoy a book I'm unlikely to write a review to avoid writing something negative, but that's me. These alternative sites have broadened my reading preferences towards books and genres that I may never have noticed whilst browsing in the High Street or on Amazon. I would like to nominate a couple of my favourites. A delightful site with a broad cross section of genres. You may choose to rate 20 or more books to get personalized recommendations A massive amount of content here. Clearly a lot of thoughtfully laid out work has gone into producing this site. When I get round to reading the Hunger Games, I think this is the site that will get my review.
There are many more, I could mention, and I'm sure they will be nominated by others soon enough.

My final obligation under VBA rules is to tell my nominator (Deborah) seven things about myself. So if your name is not Deborah Barker, please look away.

1)    I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. I also enjoyed creating my own stories. At school, for a short while I was writing a James Bond type serial and my father used to tell me his mates at work were following it too.

2)    I equally love art. For me painting and writing are closely linked. I painted for a number of years but my real passion was, studying the old masters. Everything from Renaissance through Flemish schools, Impressionists, Pre-Raphaelite, to contemporary. If I didn't have to work for a living, I think I would become a perpetual student studying art history.

3)    I'm not looking to make money from my writing, but I would like to have something published, even if it is only for my nearest and dearest to pass down the line, I would be happy.

4)    World history I find fascinating. I suppose I could link this with travel, because once I have had that hands on experience of visiting a historical site, it will continue to haunt me, to find out more, and perhaps write a little too.

5)    Something I may talk to you about some day Deborah, is that like you, I too have connections to the Raj. My mother was born in India in 1924 and did not come to England until 1948 during the partition. She sailed on a troop ship around the Cape of Good Hope to get here. She was raised by her aunt, my Great Aunt Gertrude (who lived until I was 21 so I knew and loved her very much), who was governess to a local ruler's (the Khan of Calat) children. My sister and I have many old photos from my mother's time of living in the palace.

6)    I would love to go to India, but am very afraid of getting ill. I have been ill twice before in different countries. My sister Jean went to India this year, determined to take great care not to get the dreaded Dehli Belly, but she did, poor thing.

7)    I have two lovely grandchildren. What more can I say, Life is pretty good really. You just have to know what are the important things and value them dearly.
Okay that's the end of my acceptance speech. No... please... you don't need to stand up. J

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Comedy of Errors

I find it very difficult to stand back and take a good objective look at my work. Poor sentence structure, bad  grammar and spelling that would send me to the back of the class in primary school are shrouded by the plot and characters that are so firmly embedded in my brain. For me to find the errors, is like trying to entangle a massive Wordsearch puzzle. Hence the freedom or lack of discipline that I allow myself as a creator has caused my affliction.
I attend a writing group that I feel comfortable enough to share samples of my work. This is better than taking criticism from my nearest and dearest.
Here is a list of my most common errors that I make.
Overuse of specific words, for example: 'That' as a pronoun and as an adjective. 
Overuse of character's names, both in narrative and dialogue. The reader will become very quickly irritated if they are needlessly but constantly reminded of the character's name.
I get my tenses mixed up: 'he walked across the room' and on the next page 'he walks back.'Apostrophes.  When you need one they never appear and when you don't need one you can guarantee you'll get two.  'Is that you're car?' she asked. I gasp in amazement trying to fathom out how I could make such a basic mistake.
Spelling is so bad my poor computer needs a memory upgrade just to keep up with the spell checker which is constantly working in overdrive.  ' You no what?' is an error that is not beneath me.
Bad word processing. Cutting and pasting is the work of Satan. I was never good at cutting and pasting wallpaper when decorating. The pattern never quite lined up and the seams show. The same happens in writing.
One of the greatest gifts that I have been taught is how to touch type. I can turn my head away from the screen and smile to myself as my fingers appear to do a highland fling on my keyboard. When I'm sat at a keyboard, I become Beethoven playing the final draft of a symphony. My typing speed is not up to secretarial standard but it keeps up with my thoughts at a rate I would never manage with pen and paper.
Maybe I should go back to pen and paper, but maybe not. I can see my wheelie bin now stuffed with screwed up sheets of paper... it's definitely not green.
I tell myself that other writers must share my afflictions, and perhaps even Dickens, Joyce, Hardy, Wilde got bogged down from time to time picking out too many adjectives  and greengrocer's  apostrophes.
The National Gallery have x-ray facilities that can find the underpainting of great artists such as Leonardo De Vince, which uncovers the changes that were made illustrating the artist's struggle to find the optimum composition, It's exactly same for writers.
Henley's Ricotta is now complete in first draft. Now I have to pull some weeds out,  some pruning and  then maybe I'll stop fiddling with it and submit.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Buenas dias de Pantalla Escribidor (Good day from Screenscribbler)

I'm having a siesta down in the Canary Islands. Today I've had the most amazing journey exploring the mountainous island of La Gomera. Half way through our death-defying coach trip we had lunch in a restaurant that you would not want to have to find your way home from after a few beers and glasses of wine. If you fell over into one of the many ravines there would be only one outcome GAME OVER.
Before we started our simple lunch comprising of local fayre, the innkeeper demonstrated La Gomera's unique language, a whistling language. Yes that's right I said a whistling language. I could see the benefits of having an effective communication system bearing in mind the terrain these people live in, although in Britain we have a similar system called text messaging. Also it provides a means of passing a message from person to person covering a wide area. For this in Britiain we have Facebook.
A young waitress, possibly his daughter was enlisted to demonstrate the language to us. After treating us to a few ear-shattering basic calls like 'Buenas Dias,' and 'would you mind not talking I can't hear myself whistle,' she watched as the innkeeper took a cardigan that was on the back of one lady's chair, from one end of the room and placed it on the back of the chair of a lady on the opposite end of the room. From someone else he took another woman's sunglasses and gave them to a woman the opposite end of the room.
The waitress then whistled a signal for young waiter, possibly her brother, (oh yes and possibly the innkeeper's son) to enter the room. She told him, through the media of whistling, what was taken from whom and where it had gone and he without hesitation took the appropriate  items and returned them to their rightful owners.
It was a fascinating experience but there were several questions in my mind. For one; a man could very quickly go mad if he had a nagging wife. Apart from the monotony of it, could he really escape her shrill trills as I've no doubt the pub would offer little refuge for such a powerful weapon as whistling in the wrong hands – the wife?
Here's another one, what if you're on the phone...ouch... now that could be painful as well as damaging. Just think of the harm you could cause to your favourite Indian customer service rep at the Mumbai call centre, the next time you are overcharged on your gas bill.
What if... you're in a game of football and the ref blows his whistle and awards a penalty to the other side? What's he going to do when you argue against his decision and whistle back at him.
And finally just think of all those confused parrots who are moulting due to stress brought on by their owners refusing to teach them to speak in bloody English. This whistling malarky appears to be seriously flawed.
All things considered, it's okay in La Gomera, but I don't think it will catch on in the UK. On the other hand, I can't whistle, so I suppose that would entitle me to claim disability benefit as I would be effectively  mute.
What do you think, should we go completely Google ga ga with a mobile phone mast on every hillside and more bandwidth than we have oxygen, or should we simply go green and go whistle for it?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Is Laughter Good for the Soul?

Is comedy a genre? One would suppose that the immediate answer would be of course it is. How else could one describe Laurel and Hardy, Steptoe and Son or even Punch and Judy?

Is laughter the response that I as a comedy writer am looking for? Laughter is an automatic response inherent within us all. As babies we laugh to positively interact in the same way as we cry to express need, long before we have pragmatic use of language.
An automatic response to what?  To answer that question there is a need to explore the many historical, cultural boundaries that makes us what we are today.
I'm sure that laughter may well have been around before my earliest ancestor walked  upright on two legs during times when we were stuck in the middle of the food chain and not on top. Was laughter an expression of the joy that the person my ancestor had just witnessed being eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger was not him? Apart from The Flintstones there is very little evidence to support this theory.
The ancient Greeks developed public performance of comedy which could be lewd and bawdy or a rudimentary use of irony in the Satyr Plays. I have no doubt that the mass slaughter in the theatres of death called Coliseums had the ancient Romans splitting their sides, in this early form of reality TV.
From those earliest times through Shakespearian times to today a happy ending is a defining characteristic of comedy. Happy ending for the character(s)  that the writer has made us care about.
My own recent experience of pitching to an agent who was dismissive of comedy fiction as a book genre, made me re-examine who I am and what I write.
I have never wanted to write sit-com, rom-com or parody. I think my comedy can be farcical, sometimes a little dark, without crossing or challenging the sensitivities of social convention.

I strive to create stories with good dramatic elements and strong believable characterisation based on people I have known (observational comedy).
If I can make people laugh, that's good, but if I can leave them smiling with perhaps a little more wetness around the eyes would be even better.
I will not be pitching myself as a comedy writer again. I will let the publisher/agent decide.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Take Me to the Talkies

I suppose I got the idea from Stephen King's part autobiographical part teach yourself book 'On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.'  He said, "I usually listen to one in the car (always unabridged; I think abridged audiobooks are the pits)...
The point he was making was, you have to read if you're going to write, and never one to miss a reading opportunity, if you have to drive then you may as well listen to a book. It was good advice I mused as I parked my car. Yes I have the audio version of 'On Writing,' unabridged of course.

What better way to appreciate an autobiography than to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. The passion is authentic and not second hand.
I've been subscribing to a well known audio book distributor which is a subsidiary of an even more well known book distributor. The deal is I pay just under £8.00 a month and on the 23rd day of the month, I get to choose anything in their vast catalogue, even if it retails at £30.00. I love the 23rd of the month.
The difficulty I have is in choosing, so much choice. I put together a shortlist and then audition the reader, to narrow it down further. It may well be a good book, but if the reader doesn't gel with you, then you may as well use that inner voice in your head to read the printed version.
I remember our head of English literature at school, (if you're reading this sis, I'm sure you'll agree), Mrs Williams. She was a stern blue-rinsed disciplinarian who spoke with a well enunciated cultured English accent, but as she was of welsh descent, the lilt added a richness to her voice. It paid off for Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton and it paid off for us, the pupils of Mrs Williams head of Eng. Lit. When she read to us she had us enthralled. No longer the dragon most of us feared, she became someone else.
I'm sure she conditioned me at an early age to buy audio books, in a quest to find another Mrs Williams who will read to me.
Like Stephen King, I only listen to audio books in the car. Occasionally in the bath, and oh yes... this is really strange... in the gym to blot out the mandatory MTV which is on a screen in front of you whichever way you look.
Other times I read text from both e-books and tree-books. In the midst of the e-book revolution, I think there is a massive growth market in audio books now that with Mp3's can be downloaded just about anywhere and most people have a smartphone or an iPod.
Logically, I suppose I ought to have this blog recorded as an audio blog, but sadly Mrs Williams is unavailable to read it to you.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cooking the Books

The writer and journalist Christopher Booker published a book called The Seven Basic Plots. The hypothesis is that all stories have already been told. The seven plots are:
1.       Tragedy – hero to zero usually ending with a death

2.       Comedy – happy ending
3.       Overcoming the monster – Godzilla or Hitler, horror, psychological thriller

4.       Voyage and return – a story of leaving and returning home, as in Alice in Wonderland and Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

5.       Quest – probably the most successful format of our time.
6.       Rags to Riches – zero to hero made popular by writers from Dickens to Archer
7.       Rebirth – The central character finds a new reason for living as in It's a Wonderful Life and Crime and Punishment.

Even these seven premises can be grouped into just two genres of writing: Comedy and Tragedy as William Shakespeare will bear testimony to.

I have given this some thought and to my mind, I cannot argue that there are anymore plots. I have applied Booker's theory to my own writing. But the way I see it is Booker's plots are merely empty cooking vessels, the ingredients, flavour, temperature, texture, depth breadth and aftertaste is down to the writer.

And what about the writer? Fast food or Michelin Star? There is a market for either and anything in between and so there should be. One man's meat is another man's poison, is very true, but there success will have come about from the originality of their recipe not from one of the seven plots.

To achieve originality requires a great deal of thinking outside the box.
Did anyone see 'Heroes of Comedy Spike Milligan' on Channel 4? Milligan brought surrealism to comedy. Had there been no Milligan, there would no doubt have been no Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry. Imagine a world where comedy no longer offered satire, parody, clever word play, farce, irony and a dark side. I for one would have abandoned comedy with the onset of puberty. It was around that time I would listen to 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' with John Cleese, Tim Brook-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden.

Milligan turned comedy into an art form. For me it's the hardest genre of writing, thinking beyond the outer limits of the box. It sent Spike mad because he could not switch off his quest for the lighter side of life.

Putting your protagonist in a situation way outside his comfort zone has to be one of the first principles of comedy, as I have done with Henley, Fairfax, Neville (in Ushabti) and Norman (Midnight at the Alhambra).

If I was a BBC Commissioner I'd call up Dawn French to be the next Dr Who, wouldn't that make a great show even greater.

To the agent who said there is no market for comedy fiction books, I'm going to send you a signed copy when I do get published. You know who you are.

Monday, 2 April 2012

One year later Another Grand Day Out

If it's April Fools Day, you just have to get yourself down to your nearest Comedy Workshop. I'm sorry but it has to be done.

It is exactly a year since my last visit to Jan Etherington's Comedy Writing Course - Spring Workshop (click on the link for details)
Twelve miles west of Central London in the beautiful leafy suburb of Sunbury-on-Thames, home to the Riverside Arts Centre.
Just like last year it was a beautiful spring day and the daffodils were out on the river bank. 
This year there were just five of us, which was intentional. In that way the focus was very much on the work we are currently writing. I was a bit nervous about standing at the front and reading scripts out loud. To get stage fright in a small studio with just a handful of people was not something I wanted to tell my grand-children about, so after the first reading I decided to man-up and volunteered myself for the second one.
Anyway I was in good  company so there was nothing to worry about.
Jan is the best mentor an aspiring writer could wish for and she also makes good sandwiches and lots of them.
This year I took Henley's Ricotta, which is under re-development with the introduction of more characters and storyline.
We were kept busy throughout the day, which went too quickly. Jan doesn't beat about the bush when it comes to criticism, after all that's why we were there, Compliments are best kept in the family, but for those writers who really wish to develop, Jan and people like her who have years of valuable experience to share have all of the right answers that will help motivate, inspire and polish skills. Thanks Jan :-)