Monthly Archives: September 2013

Editing Progress Report – September

As I mentioned last month, things have gone slightly astray on the editing front. That is to say, August was meant to be a re-read, September a re-write based on it, October another read-through. Instead, August’s re-read highlighted an exciting and scary hole in the middle of the text and I’ve spent September filling the whole. Well, the second half; the first half of September I was away and did basically nothing writing-wise.

Somehow it’s now the end of September, and I’m patently not done. I’ve managed to write about 9,000 words of the missing chunk. I’m pleased with that, both in terms of the plot developments I’ve added, and the amount I’ve written, but it’s not done on either front.

So, October is going to be more of the same. Hopefully by the end of October, I’ll have a finished story, ready for some smaller-scale edits during the December read-through. Because November is bracketed for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to see whether it’s possible to complete a 50,000 first draft with a one-year-old in tow!

We’re 3/4 of the way through the year. How are your writing resolutions looking? It may not be going exactly according to plan, but I’m really happy with the progress I’m making on TPF. I hope you’re having similar degrees of success!

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Jumping off of a couple points

Two nations, divided by a common language. I’m not sure where Canada fits into that, and I’m not sure if what I’m about to describe is a North American thing, a Canadian one or just a new development in the great life of the language (in which case, shudder). Anyway, it’s wrong according to the grammar rules I was taught, and therefore worthy of a post.

The word “of” is a preposition. If you streamlined language to the extreme, it could probably go. We’ve already found one way to get rid of it in English which the French lack. We say Elmo’s Blog; they say The Blog of Elmo. But mercifully we haven’t got rid of of entirely. We just harbour some people who misuse it.

Couple needs of

It makes me grind my teeth when someone says “a couple [noun]”. Colloquially, “couple of” can be shortened, but the replacement is “coupla”, not “couple”. You can, of course, say “a couple” and stop: I think they are a couple or I’ll have a couple.

But couple + [noun] needs of in the middle. I’ll have a couple of those, for example.

Out needs of

Again, there are plenty of examples when out can be used without of. eg I’m going out.

But out + [noun] needs of in the middle. I’m looking out of the window or He jumped out of the car.

Off DOESN’T

I’m sorry if this is confusing. It doesn’t make any sense to me either, but it’s the rules (Addendum: An eagle-eyed reader has caught me at my own game there. Those (pl) are (pl) the rules (pl). Too right. Or “Them’s the rules if we’re being colloquial). The speed limits in this country don’t make any sense to me either, but if I break them, I expect to get a ticket. Well, consider this post to be the limit signs.

Although you jump out OF a car if you’re inside it, if you are for some crazy reason sitting on the roof, you jump off it. No of.

This one doesn’t suffer from the same exceptions as the two above. In fact, you can probably do a find/replace on your documents to nuke this. The only time I can imagine of legitimately following off without some punctuation in between is if off is being used in a compound noun, for example “The switching off of the lights”. And that’s a pretty weird bit of phrasing anyway!

 

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Friday Fiction – Choosing

Last week, I managed to forget to put up the links. Sorry! This week’s photo is from Rich Voza. As ever, the good ship Fictioneers soars across the waves with Captain Rochelle Wisoff-Fields at the helm. Check out the other stories linked on Rochelle’s blog, and let me know what you think of this one of mine!

RichVoza

Choosing

Joe stared at them – all in a row, all winking and beaming at him. Mum’s advice when faced with a decision was always to have both. But that wasn’t appropriate here. He had to pick. Just one. For the rest of their lives.

An old man appeared at Joe’s elbow, watching him with a smile. “Need some help choosing?”

Joe nodded.

“Sometimes, the truth is, it doesn’t matter which you pick. The decision is an illusion – all doors lead to the same place.” He leaned on the display case. “If she’s the one, she won’t care which ring you buy.”

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The Jane Austen Book Club – a book review (or rant)

Kudos to Karen Joy Fowler. She’s published books, won a couple of awards, even had a Hollywood movie made out of one of them. I haven’t, so I’m perhaps not qualified to comment.

But good Lord. In preparation for the chick-lit novel I’m planning to write in November, I decided to check out some of the genre, including The Jane Austen Book Club. I chose this book because it was available at the library, I’d heard of it (which means it must be a vaguely successful example), and I like Austen, although it’s a while since I’ve read any of her novels, and as far as I can remember, I’ve only managed three, maybe four. I prefer the Brontes, to be honest. Anyway, I digress.

This novel is like a lesson in how not to write novels. There is, I think it’s fair to say, no plot. Nothing really develops throughout the book. OK, some people end up dating different people from the ones they begin with, but that all happens off camera, and without any particular drama.

The characters are the strongest element. They almost avoid being stereotypes by having a few interesting elements, and they are at least clearly distinguishable, which isn’t always easy in a book about a group of close personal acquaintances.

I’ve heard a good story defined as “plot, character and action”. If that’s what we need, there ought to be more action. Things happen to all the characters (sometimes these things are more or less obviously contrived to be like something which happens in a Jane Austen novel), but the action never really gets going before we move onto something else and never come back to it. Take the French teacher with a crush on her student. Could get interesting; doesn’t. Then we never hear about him again. In the meantime, there’s a lot of navel-gazing and a few light-touch discussions of the books they are supposed to be discussing. I’ve never been a member of a book club, but I hope any I joined would have something more interesting to say than these characters.

There are other problems too – I was unreasonably annoyed by the narrative voice. The POV of the novel is the book club as a whole, which is a little weird, and yet the narrator manages to be scathing about all the characters and ignorant of all their secrets at different times. The random excerpts from Austen novels and other books seem to be there to show Fowler has done her research; or to point out the Austen links in case we’re missing them. And care.

I checked out Goodreads to see if it’s just me who thinks like this. The first review I read starts: I’m convinced the first thing Jane Austen is going to do on the Day of Resurrection is hire a lawyer and sue the philistines who have commandeered her name and characters. However, this book is beneath her notice.

Absolutely.

****AN UPDATE ****

It suddenly dawned on me this afternoon. Fowler hasn’t written a bad novel here; she hasn’t written a novel at all. These are her planning notes – character sketches which many writers prepare in order to get to know their protagonists; extracts from Austen novels and others to remind her which way to go; a rough idea of will end up with whom… It’s all there, and one day, she could turn this into an interesting novel. Perhaps that’s what the Hollywood screenwriters have done, since the movie seems to get better reviews than the book.

Either way, I still take my hat off to her for making money out of it. Anyone want to buy my rough notes for the novel I’m planning to write in November?

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Inspiration Monday – Frozen tears

Yesterday, I did something a bit different for FF, today I’m similarly stepping outside my comfort zone for InMon. It’s a historical fiction piece. I’m not sure I’m terribly proud of it, but I’m going to throw it out there and see what y’all think. I always welcome feedback, especially constructive criticism.

Burning-cross2

Prudence looked out into the darkness and held her breath. Rain pounded the window, then instantly froze, streaking it with frozen tears that blurred her vision. But she could still see them: the lights of their torches dancing through the gloom.

There had never been such a harsh winter, even her Grandpappy said so and he’d come over right near the beginning. Most people stayed home: wrapped themselves in brand new blankets or huddled in front of previously-ornamental fireplaces. But Pa hadn’t had no choice. He couldn’t be late to the white folks’ house where he worked.

She watched those burning branches and she knew the night hid hoods and capes. Prudence prayed into the darkness that Pa had gotten through before they started their gathering. She watched as the torches formed a gently bobbing circle around a larger, brighter light. From this angle, she couldn’t see, but she knew it was a cross.

They were all praying to the same God, but Prudence hoped she was the one He listened to. She dropped to her knees, where she could no longer see the flames, and prayed that the cross wouldn’t become a crucifix tonight.

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Friday Fiction – True Love

Something very different for me this week. First, a true story (in parts); second, brazenly exceeding the word limit. This story, all except the bit about the photo itself, is based on the romance of my maternal Grandparents. The story of how they met, fell in love and married is worthy of its own novel. Even at 150 words, this version merely scrapes the surface, so I hope you will forgive me its length.

Marry in haste, repent at leisure, so the saying goes. I don’t think my grandparents ever felt the need to repent – their love, friendship and companionship was evident to all who knew them and an inspiration to those of us who come after.

When he died, after more than 60 years of marriage, my Grandad was in the arms of his beautiful bride; she still misses him every day. And she still, when telling how they married, says “Married in a rush”, with a playful wink.

the_second_hand_shop-1

True Love

“Married in a rush,” she’d say, with a playful wink. They were, but not for the reason it implied – their first child wasn’t born for another seven years. Their hurry had all to do with avoiding separate postings. “There was a war on,” she would add.

There’s only one photograph. They keep it beside their bed.  She in a simple, grey dress; he a grey suit. The dress was blue in real life: a favourite, but worn many times before and since.

But what did it matter? They were in love, they had been happily married for fifty-nine and three-quarter years. A white dress is no guarantee of happiness. Still, when he saw it, he couldn’t resist. He pulled £100 from their pension savings – the very amount her father had insisted he prove he had before giving them permission to wed – and opened the door of the second-hand shop.

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Drive and Procrastination

Sounds like a Jane Austen novel, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s just me, because I am reading The Jane Austen Book Club at the moment!

Anyway, I’ve been away for 3 weeks, introducing Sebastian to about a tenth of the UK population and I’ve come back full of drive and ambition to write, blog and edit. I can’t wait to get started – almost enough to avoid posting this at all.

And why procrastination? Well, because 3 weeks of undivided parental attention, new faces, sleeplessness and jet lag have left me with a clingy and delicate little boy, not to mention two clingy, delicate cats who won’t let me out of sight for fear of being put back into boarding. So just at the moment, writing is taking even more of a back seat than normal.

I’m not complaining, and I trust it will pass, I’m just explaining the potential for ongoing erraticness on the posting, reading and commenting front.

As Arnie might say though, I’ll Be Back!

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Friday Fiction – The Great Fictioneers

Time is unlikely to be forgiving to me again this week, so instead of a story based on the photograph, I’m going to offer you four. If you would usually enjoy mine, please do consider stopping by one of these blogs over the next few days. There are many good stories in every crop, and several others who are reliably good, but these are my current favourites. They are the mainstays of my Fictioneers reading, and I’m proud to share their stories with you.

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Rochelle is our leader over at Fictioneers HQ. You can find her story by scrolling all the way down through the instructions and past the photo prompt. It’s worth the effort.

Her stories are often in the historical fiction genre, although one of my recent favourites was a moving memoir from her own life. She thrills at research and always comes up with an amazing, obscure titbit which adds to the pleasure of reading. Given that she reads every story each week, and corrals the whole unruly crowd, I’ve no idea how she finds the time!

Doug MacIlroy

Doug abandoned the Fictioneer ship for a while recently and was much missed. He’s one of the original members of the group and I’m glad that our nagging won him back (I take some credit there, however unduly!). Doug’s stories are very diverse. He mixes polemics and real-life moments with a good splash of humour. I can’t predict what you’ll read this week, but I suspect it’ll make you think … and smile.

Perry Block

Talking of humour, Perry’s stories are bound to bring a smile. He has a nice, gently funny side in his writing, and his stories make a pleasant bit of light relief from the dark side (that’s me!) and the fantastical (never me!) that fill many of the FF posts each week.

Sandra Crook

Sandra writes in good old fashioned British English. If for no other reason, I love her blog. But there are other reasons, like her tales of adventures on the canals of France, and her FF stories, which are usually beautifully light-touch slices of life. Her characters jump out of the screen and her stories are often quite similar (genre-wise) to the type I like to write, and to the novels I like to read.

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Let’s Be Clear

Clarity. Doesn’t it always come back to that? When I write the grammar posts for this blog on Thursdays, I try (not always successfully) to provide the rules without judgement (unless you’re North American, in which case you’re just wrong!) Whether you follow them or not is really up to you. For example, the way I was taught, literally doesn’t mean figuratively and due to doesn’t mean as a result of, but both are now accepted alternatives. Knowing the ‘right’ way is still useful, because a lot of people will judge you for ‘misusing’ the language, and that matters in job interviews, on dates and if you’re looking for commercial success as a writer.

But ultimately, the purpose of language is to make oneself understood, and as long as the audience understands, we have mostly achieved our purpose. Clarity, however, shouldn’t be taken for granted, and when editing, it’s particularly easy to assume clarity where there is none. As writers, we tend to know what we mean, which makes checking our own work much more difficult. And that, to some extent, is what grammar rules are for.

Have you ever played that game where you describe something without using the word? Great for a game, not so much for reading a novel. If I say to my husband, for example: “Oh, I left the thingy for the whatsit at the house,” he might understand what I’m talking about. But only because I’m lucky to have a husband who occasionally shows some prowess in mind-reading; the truth is, that’s not a helpful sentence. And if I write the equivalent, it’s not going to go down well. Hence grammar, hence precision and hence clarity.

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Inspiration Monday – Raise Heaven

Another Thursday, another prompt from BeKindRewrite. The muse was determined to come back to this one – raise heaven  – however much I tried to consider some of the others. Let me know how you think she did!

The Limits of Omniscience

My father never blasphemed. I mean, never. When we were small and shouty, he used to say “You’ll raise heaven with that racket”, because Hell was outside his vocabulary. I’m not sure what he thought would happen if he said it, or any of the other words he avoided. We used to discuss it as children. My brothers – all older than I – would goad me into expletives, then threaten eternal darn-nation or the wrath of GD.

It made church attendance in our family something of a pantomime too. My first boyfriend, Stephen Thompson, lasted from Thursday to Sunday, when an uncensored ‘Jesus’ during the first hymn saw him ousted from our family pew, never to darken my door again.

We knew, of course, that our family were extremists. We heard good Christian children at school using these words as though they had no magic power, and not once did I witness a spontaneous lightning strike in the playground. But knowing you’re in the minority isn’t the same as knowing you’re wrong.

When I was seven and she was five, Magda Thorpe, who was the oldest daughter of Reverend Thorpe, told me she prayed to Jesus and he talked back. In so many words: “Jesus”. I clapped a hand over her mouth and pushed her under a yew tree to protect her, but the only punishment was mine. And it was far from divine. Mrs Davis had me stand up in front of class and explain how I shouldn’t push people because it was bad. I couldn’t even explain why I’d pushed Magda, because I couldn’t say the word she’d said.

I believed I was saving Magda that day, and I trusted my father to have our best interests at heart, even when he drove away good prospects like Stephen Thompson.

Right until I turned eighteen. Since my father had always wanted me to be another boy, he insisted that I join in the same tradition my brothers had, and celebrate my birthday with a beer at the Rose and Crown. I sat across the table from him, the pint glass a few inches from the tabletop and heavy in my hand. One sip had told me I wouldn’t enjoy this initiation, but the look in his eye ensured I would weather it.

“Get it down you,” he said. “God knows you’ve waited long enough.”

The breath caught in my throat. The cool glass slipped from my hand and back onto the table with a bump. All my muscles seemed to be simultaneously tense and flaccid, like I’d gone into some unheard of form of medical shock.

All around me, I felt like the world should have stopped, but my father and his friends, even my brother sitting beside me, hadn’t reacted at all. They were talking about the latest football game and waiting for me to drink. One by one, they stopped talking and looked at me.

Then my father laughed and they all joined in. “The rules don’t apply in the Rose, my girl. God doesn’t dirty his feet in this little corner of the world.”

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