Category Archives: Musings

Stuff that isn’t fiction!

Taking it to the streets in Paris

A diversion from writing fiction or reviews for me, this time. I thought I’d share some photos with you as part of a project I am doing as a guest blogger on another site.

Paris in the springtime … it’s the stuff of lovers, of movies, of songs, of writers. Of photographers.

If Paris doesn’t lift your creative heart, you’re a lost cause. Sorry.

I was lucky enough to visit Paris in June 2016, in late spring. The chestnut trees had finished flowering, but the summer heat hadn’t started. Window boxes across the city had been newly planted with pelargoniums in a riot of colour, or hydrangeas with nodding heads of every colour of the rainbow. Women had started exchanging their heavy winter scarves for lighter summerweight versions – heaven forbid that any true Parisienne would be seen without a scarf! Continue reading

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Foxed pages? Don’t you dare leave that thing here!

Every so often I go through ‘stuff’ and put together bags for charity of things I can’t sell or which will take too long to sell. I did a book purge recently and rocked up to my local Salvation Army shop with a car boot full and happily unloaded the boxes for inspection.

“We don’t take books,” the woman said sniffily.

“Eh? But you sell them!”

“Not books with brown spots on the paper. It could be mites or anything nasty. We only take books that look new. No charity shops take old books any more.”

Well bugger me. One of the delights of charity shops was finding that one book in the series you were missing, or spending 50c getting something from an author, perhaps a bit obscure, you hadn’t tried before, or finding something out of print you’d been wondering about. Continue reading

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Beware of the badly-written self-published novel

Have you ever started reading a book which was so appallingly edited and proofed, and had such an improbable plot line and flat character voices that you simply couldn’t put it down? You might be wasting several hours of your life you’ll never get back, but you’re not going to give up. Surely, surely, the book will get better as you read on?

On a whim I purchased two e-books last week as a result of the author posting on a Facebook group to which I belong. The novels – part 1 and part 2 of the same story – are set in the USA in the 1920s and feature silver screen siren Louise Brooks as one of the characters. I am a big Louise Brooks fan and the author’s blurb made the books sound rather fun.

I won’t name and shame the author or his books, but oh dear, the novels are awful!

Book 1 started well enough but it seemed the author couldn’t be bothered proofreading after a bit or is genuinely unaware of using punctuation when closing a quote mark. I gritted my teeth as all the characters spoke their rather stilted dialogue in this manner: “…I do not know about that” said Character 1. Where’s the comma? Missing in action! If I’d been reading the paperback versions (and oh yes, they are available as paperbacks, scarily enough) I’d have red-penned my way through the entire book, but that’s impossible on an i-Pad.

If the poor punctuation and lacklustre dialogue didn’t test my patience enough, the plots got sillier and sillier as our hero and his heroine battled mafia bosses and kidnappers (several times) in between more sex scenes than a Shades of Gray novel. And let’s not talk about the masses of gratuitous violence. Plot improbabilities include our hero falling for the daughter of his father’s employee, having never met her before despite their fathers working together for years, and her father being perfectly fine with the notion that the hero is shagging his daughter senseless without putting a ring on her finger. This is the rural USA in the 1920s. Dad would have been after them with a shotgun – but wait, our heroine is no slouch with a gun herself as she goes into action in yet another shootout. Our hero, while fearing for his life with bullets whizzing everywhere, spends a few seconds admiring her tight, sassy butt as she runs wearing jeans and pulling the trigger. Sigh. (Jeans? Unlikely. She would have probably worn women’s trousers in the 1920s.)

On the plus side the attention to detail in the novels when it comes to 1920s automobiles, aircraft, railway rolling stock, and 1920s Hollywood is superb. That’s the one plus. There are no others.

These two books represent the real danger of self-publishing, especially if the book doesn’t have an editor aside from the author himself. I suspect that’s the case here. An editor would have told the author the novels are simply a poorly-written sex fantasy with unbelievable and improbable plots and characters. Without a LOT of work these books shouldn’t see the light of day, at least as a paid product on Amazon. Given they feature real life characters such as Louise Brooks and Billie Dove they could be submitted to a fanfic site and hopefully pounced on by beta editors for the author to rework before they go live.

If you are considering self-publishing a novel, please find an editor and a proof reader. Your local Writers’ Society should be able to point you in the direction of a reputable editor. Editors aren’t cheap, but they are the difference between sales and good reviews, and no sales and bad reviews.

As for my review of this book? I didn’t leave one on Amazon. It would have been too scathing. The next e-book I buy will be from a respected and well-known novelist.

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Hellooooo, muse!

A few days ago I heard of an equestrian short story competition which closes in a couple of months’ time. Regular readers of this blog – hah! All two of you! – will realise I haven’t written either a short story or blog post here for ages. I’ve had a painful start to the year, losing my Mum over Christmas, and my muse simply threw up her hands dramatically and flounced off. For the last five months I couldn’t so much as write ‘bum’ on a wall. 

However … the short story competition has piqued my interest. Back in the 1980s I used to write horsy stories and had them regularly published in The Horse Magazine under various noms de plume (I didn’t want to seem too greedy, having half a dozen stories published per year under my own name). It’s been a while since I’ve been in the saddle, holding the reins and riding a horsy plot. So I got thinking. And plotting.

I’ve had for a while ideas for a story – or novel – set in a fictional town in NSW in the 1950s. I have misplaced the notebook I wrote them in, so I can truthfully say I’ve lost the plot! The competition meant a bit of a rethink around some of the elements I’d scribbled down for my novel. And oh bliss, the muse came back (a little frustrated with me, and nagging me to pull my finger out and keep it out), and I had a plot. I also had 6,000 words to play with, which gave me plenty of scope for character development and action. So I wrote. And wrote. I have a first draft for the competition. It’s 5,997 words. I had to edit it down to get under 6,000 as the muse was shouting loudly at me and distracting me.

Obviously I can’t publish it here as it may (oh, I hope!) get selected on a shortlist for the competition. If it doesn’t, you’ll see it here. If it wins, you can buy it on Amazon, with proceeds going to charity.

Back to editing now…

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Confessions of a rubbish typist

I name my story characters very carefully. Their names have to suit their personalities. If I am writing something set in the past, they should be appropriate for the era. And for me personally, they have to be appropriate for my typing inaccuracies.

You see, despite training as a touch typist far too many years ago, I am a rubbish typist. Fast, but inaccurate. Eighty something words a minute, but a percentage of them are indecipherable if I’m going at top speed.

So I naturally incline away from names with the letter Z in them, as it’s one of the letters I’m least accurate at hitting. Half my Zs end up on the screen as Xs or As.

I like the name Zoe and nothing would give me more writing pleasure than to name one of my characters Zoe. I suspect I’d get tired of correcting Xoe and Aoe to Zoe after a bit, however.

I do have a story, yet to load on this website, featuring a major character called Lizzie. Her name required an amount of reworking as the story progressed, but I was so engrossed in writing it I finally surrendered to getting the story written and fixing the typos afterwards. I do prefer to fix typos as I write; knowing those little typos are there sits at the back of my mind, frustrating me.

X is another letter I’m not great with. One of my stories from a few years back had a protagonist called Alix (or Alid or Aliz or Alis, depending on how quickly I was typing at the time). Any name with an X will, in future, be given to a minor character.

Am I alone in choosing character names which use more common letters, simply because it’s easier to type them?

 

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Farewell my local bookshop

When we first moved into our house here seven years ago, I was delighted to find that our local, unprepossessing shopping centre was the home of that veritable treasure: the independent bookshop.

Richard stocks a diverse range of books and is happy to order in for his customers. In fact, he keeps a database of those of us who eagerly hoover up each new release by particular authors. Bless him, he phones me when these books come in and tells me he’s putting aside a copy for me.

This is personalised service by someone who loves books and loves to talk about books.

Last year Richard opened a second shop, fifteen minutes’ drive away, vowing at the time he would keep his original bookshop open.

And until now, he kept to his word. I was saddened to hear last month that he is closing the shop near us at the end of this month. Saddened but not surprised, really, as his new shop is in a slightly better socio-economic area which augers well for sales.

I visited my bookshop today. All books are 25% off and he is even selling the handsome wooden bookshelves they are displayed on. Every bookshelf has a sold sticker on it. Half the bookshelves are empty already.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any fiction to buy as I had the latest by my favourites and didn’t see any authors I’d like to start exploring. I did, however, buy Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen. It must be kismet; I’ve been looking for that book in Richard’s shop for months, dithering about whether to order it in as modern cookbooks, with their pages of photos and funky layouts, are quite expensive. Until today it hadn’t been in stock. Now it’s mine at 25% off and my mouth was watering as I flicked through it over lunch.

Come 1 November, however, I will have to look for my book fix elsewhere. I can drive to the nearest Dymocks or Angus & Robertson – I forget which, they are quite interchangeable – at the bigger shopping centre 7 minutes’ drive away, or go that bit further and pay Richard a call at his new shop. I’ve been buying books on eBay for years so that won’t change, and increasingly I am buying Kindle versions as they are cheaper and we are running out of bookshelf space and space to put new bookshelves.

The nice thing about my local shop – particularly nice for Richard – is that I was prone to impulse buy, simply because the shop was there and I was going to the shopping centre anyway to buy groceries.

I know Richard will still keep my name on his database and call me when something I like comes in, so he may pick up an impulse buy or two when I go to pick it up. But it won’t be the same… it’s been such a pleasure, and these days a luxury, to have a bookshop only five minutes’ walk from home.

It’s increasingly hard for independent booksellers to compete against the big chains of bookstores, and online buying. I should be grateful that Richard didn’t shut his local doors earlier, and hope that his new bookshop can not just survive, but thrive.

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A-muse-ment, at last

A visit from the museI haven’t had a visit from the muse in ages; at least a year. Sure, I’ve blogged a lot, and I write copy for websites, but having the mental space and physical and mental time to create fiction just hasn’t been there.

Mainly, I haven’t been able to think of plots. I have plenty of characters noted down but nothing to do with them.

For someone who from childhood until recent years always had a story or novella on the go, in the planning stages or in final editing, I’ve felt bereft and a fraud to myself.

However, my muse sat on my shoulders yesterday, and she was wearing spurs. A couple of weeks ago I found an entry form for a short story competition in my monthly issue of NewsWrite from the NSW Writers’ Centre. The prize money is pretty good – in fact fantastic for someone whose credit card only has $84 left on it.

The muse dug her spurs in. “Plot,” she hissed. “I’ve got one, use this.” And suddenly I had the right plot for two characters who’d been knocking idly around in my subconscious.

All of us write differently. I get scraps of sentences, or entire paragraphs, at odd times. Washing up, weeding the garden, or any other relatively mindless activity. Get enough scraps and I have the basis of my story’s voice. I am almost embarrassed to say my story’s voice came to me in a flow of sentences yesterday morning after breakfast while I was shit-picking in the courtyard (cleaning up my dog’s poo).

I HAD to get upstairs and start writing. I’d envisaged these characters originally in a third person narrative, but my muse, and the story’s voice, said it had to be first person. My main character Don jumped fully fledged from my brain into the computer as if he were relating his story and I merely taking down dictation. Three hours later I’d written about 3,500 words, an entire draft of the story. The muse was giggling her zany head off for the entire process, prodding and suggesting and magically making words flow, and she did a tap-dance on my head when I typed ‘the end‘.

What a cathartic process writing is. I love being able to turn the world off and just get that first draft done, out of my head and into reality. This is one of the reasons I enjoy writing short stories – I’m way too impatient to write an entire novel.

I’d love to share the new story here, as I do think it’s one of the best things I’ve written in years – my husband, who has seen the first draft, agrees. It’s not inanely silly like some of my stories; it’s not cozy either. It’s unlike any story I’ve written before in terms of voice, but I can’t publish it anywhere until the competition has been judged. So…watch this space! Sooner or later it will appear here. Whether it wins a prize or not, I’m proud of it.

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