Less Is More

…so they say, and having slaved over a couple of competition entries recently which nudged toward the intimate side of 4,000 words, I was very pleased when my short story in only one hundred and one words was posted on the 101.org site. And here it is! Yeah yeah, I know, only takes 25 seconds to read – took me three weeks and a lesson in car history to get it right. Car history? Is that a thing?

End of blog for today. Less is more, and all that.

It’s Good To Share

And share is what we did, last night in the function room at The Globe pub in Warwick – certainly putting the Fun in to Function. We had all sorts of readings and performances on the subject of Change. Compere and indie author of The Woman Who Never Did, Jenefer Heap ran the evening with aplomb and it was so heartening to see and hear such a variety of writers, all with – literally – a story to tell. We had poetry, prose, non-fiction, performance and song. A-strolling minstrels we.

Poet Nigel Hutchinson read from his book, The Humble Family Interviews, recently published by Cinnamon Press and poet Pauline Brooks gave evocative readings, reminding us that once upon a time train travel was a pleasure. Writer Nick le Mesurier gave us the wonderful story of Isabella and the shriveled member (very Grimm) (and yes, that is member as in member) Poet Gwyneth Box read a mesmerizing poem, translated from Spanish. Writer John Bishop read his thoughtful and unusual piece Born On A Crescent . Most moving of all must have been writer Terri Daneshyar’s piece on Change – that of a lone immigrant child adapting to a new life in the UK.

With a bit of foresight and organisation, you too can run an author evening – a pub, a cafe, a street corner if that’s what takes your fancy – writer and organiser Alex of The Flashers Club in Cheltenham – @otheralexclark – has a few tips for you here

If you’re anywhere near The Gunmakers Arms on the 3rd of July they are hosting an evening of ‘live fiction with a scientific bent’, so lovers of sci-fi and other similar genres better get yourselves over there fast.

If you want to get involved in an author event or start a new one, in the Warwickshire/North Oxfordshire or anywhere near area, drop me line, message, email, DM or pigeon.Collection of Unsettling Display 1.JPG

Torch

‘Take a torch’, my dad said to me once, when I was embarking on whatever exciting activity I was involved with at the time. I must have given him a quizzical look as he elaborated: ‘because then everyone will think you’re in charge.’ In charge of what? I asked, but didn’t get an answer. But I took a torch anyway. Later that day when a friend dropped his front door key between two floorboards (yes that really did happen) I was there, in a flash, to shed some light – literally – on the lost key, enabling repatriation within minutes. But whoa! How cool was I?! I was immediately promoted to The One In Charge, The One Who Deals With Stuff and The One Who Sorts Stuff Out, whether I wanted to be or not. But my dad’s advice stuck with me through the years, and as it turned out I have had need of a torch on many occasions, each time winning the accolades of – amongst others – Clever Girl! (patronising) and You’re So Cool! as well as comments like You Carry A Torch? coupled with a sideways glance which says she’s weird.

But Light! Gotta love a bit of light. Light-hearted. Lightweight. Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Light as Love – “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” And for those who believe: Seeing the Light (other lights are available, terms and conditions apply).

So where does this put light in literature? All over the place is my guess. Light and Dark = Forces of Good and Evil; Light-hearted = Fluffy Rom Com; ‘What’s your book about?’ ‘Blood guts and death’ ‘Oh, that’s a bit dark’, = ergo, Not Light.

If you let your protagonist be influenced by metaphorical light, does this help you develop their character? Do we, we readers get to see them in a different… er…light? For example, you may have written your protagonist as a particularly needy, weedy irritating person, but with a zap of metaphorical light, you may enable them – through their thoughts and actions – to expose the failings or hidden agenda in another character, adding depth and layers to both exposition and plot.

As writers we can use day light, candle light, fire light, sun light, moon light, star light, metaphorical light, metaphysical light, comparative light or even no light to highlight (there’s that word again) an emotion, an experience, a person, a scene. Which is a bit like carrying a literary torch around with you. Mary Shelley very powerfully used light-ning to not only bring the monster to life, but (and this is just my take on it) as a metaphor for God’s power and anger at mankind.

Umpteenth proof read/draft of your novel driving you mad?

C’mon. Lighten up.

First Line Dilemma

Hey!! I’ve just won the lottery! £2.3m!

Actually that’s not true. Total fabrication. Didn’t even buy a ticket. But it got your attention, right? Which begs the question, what makes a good opening? Some say jump straight in to the action, which can be good advice if the action is intrinsic to the plot later on in the story – opening in the throes of a bar-room brawl or an A&E department on a Saturday night might indeed be action packed, but if that action has nothing to offer other than as a first-line grabber, you may find that your reader will wonder what the point was. Very unsatisfactory. Here’s a little test for you, although the first one is a bit easy. Each of these opening lines is, in effect, a strap line for the entire book. Discuss.

1 Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

2 Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle: it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

3 Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.

4 It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

5 Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

6 It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed.

7 We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

8 You better not never tell nobody but God.

9 1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.

10 You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

Answers 1: Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier 2: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson 3: Brighton Rock, Graham Greene 4: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath 5: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams 6: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon 7: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson 8: The Color Purple, Alice Walker 9: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, and number 10 – bit of a challenge this one – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Losing The Plot (and finding another one)

Amongst the pile of paper on my desk (paperless office? yeah right) I found a Note to Self:
Dr. Lice.
Hmmm…couldn’t quite remember what that was all about. Was I starting a children’s short story perhaps, the protagonist having been born in a flurry of creative enthusiasm and I’d jotted the name down only to completely forget all about it? Or maybe Dr. Lice was going to be in my next collection of unsettling short stories . Not a clue. Next to my note regarding Dr. Lice was a list: cat food, salad, coffee. Now this I did remember writing, instructive for my quick flit around *insert supermarket of your choice (but you really should click on this link!)The day wore on and Dr. Lice was really bugging me. Read any author interview and inevitably a couple of the questions are ‘when do you write?’ and ‘do you take notes?’ Well yes, as writers, we all take notes in some form or another, but what use is that if we can’t remember what a scribbled note means?! I set Dr. Lice to one side for the day while I considered other writing options. Short story competition entry? Maybe. Update blog? Possibly. Emails? Probably. Start planning new book? Well I would… if I could be sure Dr. Lice wasn’t going to make an unscheduled appearance.

But then I started to flesh out the bones of Dr. Lice. Born immediately as male, I tried not to go down the Doc Martin route but with a name like Lice that was the way I was being led. More notes followed. He had a home. He had a partner. He even had a dog. GP or some specialty? Deffo some specialty. Had to be careful though, with that specialty – obvious associations with head lice and any other bodily lice were too obvious and could get me in to all sorts of trouble. By the time the sun was over the yardarm, Dr. Lice was a bone specialist, working on strange and unusual bone formations, in a London hospital. He was then called away to some far flung corner of the planet and so the adventure begins.

It was only as I was tidying up for the day when I realised what my note to self actually meant.

Driving Licence. Time to renew!! Duh!

Got the beginnings of a great story though…

Four Letter Favourites!

The other day I over-heard someone use one of my favourite four letter words – Junk. What a brilliant word. And economical too, with the alphabet. It first appeared in use around 1480. 1480! So not a modern word at all and seemingly rising in popularity once more,  thanks to its coupling with the word Space, making it very modern indeed. But Junk’s a mere youngster compared to the word Foot – first found in use around 900. The derivation of language is fascinating subject and as we know words come and go in rapid succession – bought, borrowed, morphed and compounded into vibrant additions to any language. Here’s a fact that made me smile: the French word for Work – travail – comes from the Latin tripalium, which was a very unpleasant instrument of torture. Who’d have thought?!

So where did four letter words come from? Why four letters? If you need to convey or describe something by just making a sound, a three-lettered ‘Axe’ is just as effective as a four letter ‘Coat’. See what I mean? One sound, but an extra letter. What’s that all about? It’s an accepted fact that writing began long after language so you could say that to understand writing we first have to understand language. But I’m not so sure. The proliferation of written works all through history right up to now, this minute, this blog, by anyone, it seems, who could/can write, is surely a statement that we’re hard-wired to do it? Ah, a subject for discussion I feel!

Idling time away in a trafficjam the other day I played the Four Letter Word game: get from one four letter to word to another by changing only one word at a time, and each subsequent word change must result in a new four letter word. Try it. Go from Work to Bend:

WORK, FORK, FORT, PORT, PERT, PERM, TERM, TEAM, BEAM, BEAD, BEND.  I think I cheated though, using the word perm; any hairdresser worth their straighteners will tell you perm is short for Permanent. But I don’t feel qualified in anyway to discuss the history of hairdressing, so we’ll just leave that one for now…

As Cole Porter so observantly noted “Good authors too who once knew better words, now only use four-letter words. Writing prose, anything goes.”

Epublishing is old news. No really, apparently it is. Unless you’re a newbie like me, then it’s oh-so exciting! Yes I too have wandered into the wilderness of self-publishing as of yesterday afternoon and discovered it’s not a wilderness at all – positively over-populated you could say, but it still elicited a bit of thrill none the less. Ok, so maybe no-one anywhere ever will download my little darling, but at least I’ve done it. But it was a strange experience. Imagine (gents too, if you will) being pregnant for five years, then without moving from my seat and with very little effort, out popped my creation for the entire world to see. As an event, it felt like a bit of a non-one. Then suddenly I was worrying about every little thing – what if a stray comma buggered-up the integrity of a sentence? What if I’d spelled ‘incorrect’ incorrectly? Lost a line to the foibles of cyberspace? Everyone would think I was an idiot who shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard. Then I heard the words Get Over Your Self and my blood pressure returned to normal. Indeed. Thousands of ebooks get uploaded every year and thousands of readers and reviewers download them every year so it’s good to know that what ever else is going on in the world, we’re still reading.

This short blog then would be an opportune moment to thank everyone who has helped me thorough my literary pregnancy – (you know who you are!) the beta readers, copy readers, editors; those who unknowingly fed my imagination, those who advised and corrected my many and varied mistakes, the friends who stared at me blankly, waiting for an answer, when my mind was engaged elsewhere as the holes in whichever plot became apparent, and even my old postie, who would often ask ‘How’s that book of yours coming along? Not finished it yet?’ – a comment guaranteed to irritate and keep me at my desk all night with the words ‘I can’t come to bed – Postie says I have to finish my book’.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you?!

A Collection of Unsettling Short Stories

Unsettling Short Stories Jacci Gooding copy