Who tells the story? Not always the point-of-view you expect.

gwnWe had a lovely evening at the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network writing competition award, last week.  It’s an annual event that happens at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The theme for the festival and the competition, this year, was East meets West.  It drew in some lovely pieces of poetry and prose from writers across Gloucestershire, and most of the authors were brought together to read them for us.

‘What did you think?’ I asked my friend Louise, when we caught up six days later.  She’d had to rush off to another event just as that one finished, and we’d not had chance to compare notes since. ‘How did you find your first time at a reading?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it was good.’ She paused. ‘And interesting: aren’t poems quick?’ Louise fronts a band. ‘One minute they were stepping up to the mic, the next it was over.’

‘It felt like a lifetime when I did it,’ I said.

Louise laughed and shook her head. ‘They all read really well, though, and the stories were excellent. I did like the one about the shawl, by the woman from your writing group.’

‘Lynda’s,’ I said. ‘It is a lovely story.’

‘I’m looking forward to sitting down quietly with the anthology,’ Louise said. ‘It was a really subtle approach to the theme.’

‘It was perfect,’ I said, ‘a lovely piece of flash fiction.’

How do you tell a grim story without dealing out graphic detail?  Lynda did it by giving voice to a scarf. ‘I remember,’ she begins, ‘how she held me up to the window and I delighted in the way the sun shimmered through my rich magenta and green folds, throwing rainbow patterns across the tiled floor.’

The scarf can observe and remember, but has limited understanding of the events that disrupt it’s soft, perfumed life: that’s left for us to interpret.  This is where the power of words becomes clear. It’s not just a question of finding the specific order that describes a picture, the other side of fine writing leaves spaces that the reader cannot avoid filling.

Dust seeped through the bag and cries and shouts accompanied the endless days of trudging. Later it became quiet and the cold crept through my silky sinews.  How I longed for the warmth of that sun…

What does it mean to be a refugee? Lynda provides us with a sense of it in around six-hundred words.

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Guest Blog: Jean Lee describes her route to becoming a published author

A Stolen-KindleCvr-MARKETING

When Jean Lee, writer of fiction for young adults agreed to write a guest blog for me, she asked what topic I would like her to cover.  Knowing that her new novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, is due for release later this month, I said:

At what point did you decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to send it out’? Were you nudged by anyone, or was it your decision?  What were the key factors?

Short Answer: I was nudged by my husband. Key factor: panic.

Let’s back up a moment.

See, I didn’t actually set out to publish The Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. We are here because of what you’d call a most happy accident.

I had written the first draft back in 2010 for the National Novel Writing Month. It was the first time I’d written since the dark days of graduate school, and it felt so, so bloody good to be writing a story I genuinely cared about. But I was also a first-time mother, still a part-time teacher, so my time was very rarely my own. Over the years I’d pick at the story’s characters/plot/setting, and in 2015 I tried sending it out to a few agents. No interest.

So I put Stolen away. It was destined to be that “unsellable first novel”: the story that got me back into writing, but also the story that’d never see the light of day.

In the meantime, I started my site Jean Lee’s World and was writing there every week. I’d also taken up a challenge from indie author Michael Dellert to write a YA Fantasy series about shield maidens, so I was brain-deep in that. I’d visit Stolen every now and then, its voice finally coming in from the shadows with bleeding knuckles and a mouth full of sass. But still…surely no one would want to read this.

Enter Wattpad & Aionios Books.

Wattpad’s a free publishing platform for stories, poems, plays, and so on. Since my website had been dedicated to writing about craft and music, it was cool to find a place A Middler's Pridewhere I could specifically share fiction and receive feedback on my YA Fantasy Middler’s Pride. My shield maiden series had gotten some excellent feedback as well as some honest to goodness readers—including the lead editor of Aionios Books, Gerri Santiago.

I still remember getting the Twitter message from Gerri while waiting to pick up my sons from 4K one November day: “Have you signed on with a publisher yet?”

My hands start shaking. Who’d want to publish me? A gazillion other fantasy writers are out there probably doing way better. I’m just…I’m just me.

Another tweet: “I love Meredydd’s tough vulnerability in Middler’s Pride.”

Oh! Well… Huzzah, then!

Now you’re probably wondering A) How long is this nattering going to continue and B) isn’t the novel we’re talking about Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

  1. A) I’m almost done.
  2. B) Publishing often takes unexpected turns.

Gerri asks me to send her a complete manuscript of Middler’s Pride. “Sure!” I start to type. Freeze. I’d been reworking a few key elements inside the story to better fit a series, and that reworking was nowhere near done.

But I can’t afford to lose this opportunity! If I say it’s not ready, she may say thanks and move on. Then who knows how long it’ll be before I get someone’s attention like this again?

I panic myself into a hyperventilating mess—always a smart state for driving preschoolers home from school—seeing all manners of defeat awaiting this exchange with Gerri. I should tell her to forget she ever saw my work. I should flee Wattpad. The internet. The…well you can’t get much more rural than a Wisconsin farming town, so I suppose this is flight enough.

Bo gets home from work and listens to my breathless, teary telling of the Twitter tale. He gets me some cocoa and sits me down. “Can you send her something else to buy you some time?” he asks.

“No. Well maybe. There’s my Fallen Princeborn story. But that’s not totally revised, either.”

Bo considers this. “True, but it’d probably keep her attention long enough so you can get that Middler thing done, right?”

I nod. Okay, that made sense. Distract with the giant green head projection that is Fallen Princeborn: Stolen while I frantically move Middler’s Pride things around behind the curtain. Gerri will also then see I’ve got more than one voice and style in me, which will hopefully make me sound more marketable. Okay. Okay okay. This all makes sense.

So I write Gerri a really, REALLY long rambling email (yes, even longer than this guest post) about time and the importance of storytelling and hey, would you like to read this while you wait for me to fulfill your request?

“Sure!”

THANK GOD.

I think only two days pass, maybe three. Bo’s doing what he can to get out of work early and handle the kids so I can finish Middler’s Pride sooner.

My phone beeps: an email from Gerri.

Oh no. She must be wondering what’s going on. She wants Middler now or never. Dammit, Jean, get the thing done!

I open the email.

“I just LOVE this story! The characters are so complete, and so compelling! Do you have more Fallen Princeborn? I NEED to know what happens next!”

I beam. These characters I’ve known as long as my daughter—they’re loved by someone else. People I made from my own pain, anger, and yearnings have connected to someone else, and made a home in someone else’s imagination.

Could these characters find homes in other readers’ imaginations, too?

Only one way to find out.

Now here we are. While Gerri liked Middler’s Pride, in the end it wasn’t a fit for Aionios Books—and you know what? That’s okay. Meredydd and the other shield maidens found a home with stories by fellow indie authors on the subscription site Channillo. Gerri sent me a contract for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen in December, and she’s been challenging me to build upon the story’s world ever since. I’ve written a collection of short stories featuring characters of this world, and am planning four more novels to follow Stolen, the next volume to come out next spring.

So, if you’re one of those with the “unsellable first novel” in a file somewhere, pull it out. Chances are enough time’s gone by that you can read it as the audience, not the creator. Sure, the heroine sounds too nice for escaping from a personal hell, or the world’s rules don’t make sense, or the villain doesn’t have enough to do. Know what? Now’s the time to right those narrative wrongs. You know better now. You can hear the voice beneath the noise. You’ve only to dig it out.

My deepest thanks to Cath for inviting me to her to her sanctuary of words and wanders. My novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be available for purchase starting Halloween.

About.

Jean Lee is a Wisconsin born and bred writer excited to share her young adult fiction with those who love to find other worlds hidden in the humdrum of everyday life. Lee’s short story collection Tales of the River Vine is currently available for free download on Amazon, Nook, and other markets. Her serialized fantasy Middler’s Pride is available via the Indie E-magazine Channillo. Lee’s first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, debuts Halloween 2018 from Aionios Books. She currently lives in the Madison area with her husband and three children.

Links for Stories:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07HHCDJVW/

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/tales+of+the+river+vine/_/N-8qa?_requestid=2147697

Other outlets: https://www.books2read.com/b/mBPXQR

Channillo: https://channillo.com/series/middler-s-pride/

 Jean Lee’s Contact Info:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012373211758

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeanleesworld

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Lee/e/B07DPP2RV6/

Website: https://jeanleesworld.com/

Publisher Site: https://aioniosbooks.com/jean-lee

Instagram: @jeanleesworld

Email: jeanleesworld@gmail.com

 

 

I’d like to recommend reading too much.

woman who read too much 2The Woman Who Read Too Much, (TWWRTM) by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, was a book I picked off my to-be-read (TBR) shelf at random.  The sand coloured cover told me nothing, how I wish the British publisher had opted for something like this. I could not remember knowing anything of the author or the title, yet at some point I’d decided that this novel would be worth spending time with.

My TBR shelf is not a guaranteed source of delightful writing, is anyone’s? But this one delivered.  The story is told in four books, Mother, Wife, Sister and Daughter. Each describes the events leading to the death of Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn, ‘the poetess of Qazvin’, in 1852.  It spans the period between two assassination attempts on The Shah of Persia, Nasiru’d-Din, in 1852 and 1896.  Both key events are described in the first few pages, and form a recurring reference point.

After that, it’s a question of keeping your wits about you as we jump backwards and forwards through time, with a cast of characters who, on first acquaintance, don’t seem attractive.  The poetess is a phantom, for a large part of the novel.  Other characters hate her, fear her, love her, spread gossip and rumours about her exploits, and in doing so, demonstrate why she was so controversial.

Nakhjavani says the book was written to ‘tell the unrecorded stories of mothers daughters, sisters, and wives in nineteenth-century Iran.’ It is a story about power and dynasty, and builds outwards from the palace through the households of key political figures.

From the first scene, when the Shah dies in the lap of an old beggar woman ‘notorious for her lies and her deformities‘, while visiting his wife’s grave, the question about the significance and worthiness of women is raised.

Since it was inconceivable that his majesty should have had traffic with such a creature and would have caused a scandal to arrest her, given the circumstances of his death, they simply kicked her in the ribs and let her go.

It is not just some character’s who grow in this novel, what happens as they grow, is that I learn to look beneath the surface.  Take the mayor’s wife who, seen from the perspective of the Shah’s mother in the first book, has seemed only loud and greedy.  In the following books, we get closer to her.  I love the playfulness of this description from The Book of The Wife:

The Mayor’s Wife was known for her volubility.  Her shrill voice was as familiar as garlic in the mosque, and rendered the veil irrelevant in the bazaar.  Her words drifted over the walls and down the alleys, like the sizzling of kebabs and the smell of fried onions.  Her opinions even penetrated through the palace gates at times, and lingered in the royal anderoun with the persistence of fenugreek.

The food analogies are appropriate, because…

…the Mayor’s Wife was the queen of cuisine as well as gossip, despite her lack of court and clerical connections.  Few had attained the perfection of her pickles, none achieved the orthodoxy of her rice.  Her jams had the consistency of truth, according to connoisseurs, and were the despair of all but the philosophical.  Her conserves, too, were suspended in pure faith, and needed no interpretation.

woman who read too muchThis, without apology, is women’s writing.  It deals with the domestic, observing how, even in a society where their lives are controlled and seem to be completely subservient, they impact on his-story.

As might be expected with such a story, a central theme is education.  What is it?  How does having or not having it impact on lives and events? This novel that made me think about how much many of us take our access to learning for granted.

It also allowed me access to a society that I otherwise know either from the perspective of news and documentary stories, or through the stories of Sheherazade’s, One Thousand and One nights.  It’s so easy to stay in a rut with my reading.  I must explore more.

Presenting the past, on the page.

Because I tend to live in the moment, I forget that everything moves on, that change is inevitable, until something happens to make me realise I’ve been left behind.  I’m not talking about technology here, though I’m always running to catch up with that.  This time, I’m thinking about how we use words.

Okay, so that’s pretty much what my job is.  Even when reading for relaxation, I find myself noting interesting phrasing. In particular, I love colloquialisms.

Growing up, I’m not sure I realised they existed.  When inviting friends round, I’d say, ‘We’re having Mary for tea.’ with no comic intention.  Maybe I was slow on the uptake, but it was years before I realised the correct reply to that was, ‘Roasted, boiled or fried?’

Oh, I knew that language had adapted, over time.  The books I inherited, a wide selection of old poetry, novels and plays, were sometimes waded through with more determination than enjoyment.

“When will your hounds be going out again think ye, Mr Benjamin?” inquired Samuel Strong, a country servant of all work, lately arrived at Hanley Cross, as they sat round the saddle-room fire of the “Dragon Inn” yard, in company with the persons hereafter enumerated, the day after the run described in the last chapter.”

The humour of Handley Cross, by RS Surtees was far beyond me.  It was not because the vocabulary was tricky, I understood most of the individual meanings, it was the syntax: the way the sentences were constructed.  I have kept the book, and will try it again, one day.

john-donne-hires-croppedThe love poems of John Donne, 1572 – 1631, on the other hand, I went back to time after time.  To read them was to be bathed in warmth.  These scenes involved me. Sometimes through the use of familiar imagery:

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?

Or because he described emotion with such power that I was drawn to the idea of it.  Passion oozed between his words, along with joy.  What a wonder his love was, more powerful than sunbeams:

I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;

I found the language both archaic and invisible.  We’ve ditched the ‘how dost thou?’ form of address, but the sun still rises, and love still happens, in blinding all absorbing beautiful moments that eclipse the universe. Did he imagine his words would not only be quoted, three hundred and eighty-five years later, but retain their ability to melt the reader or listener? I doubt it.

The trick is, that the readers every writer addresses are those in their present. To do that, it pays to use language that fits them.  How many contemporary readers will be drawn in by a novel that begins:

My Lord of Tressain, his Majesty’s Seneschall of Dauphiny, sat at his ease, his purple doublet all undone, to yield greater freedom to his vast bulk, a yellow silken under-garment visible through the gap, as is visible the flesh of some fruit that, swollen with over-ripeness, has burst its skin.

st martin's summerYet in 1909, when Rafael Sabatini wrote St Martin’s Summer, this wordiness was the accepted mode.  His first chapter is littered with archaic words and phrases yonder, pish, quoth he, nevertheless and several people are ‘sent to the devil’, just in case we forget we’re in the seventeenth century. Today, we’re more likely to find this in parody.

Which isn’t such a bad thing.  If you look at parody from the other side, isn’t it a form of compliment?

What’s my point with this ramble? Well, it occurs to me that one of the things I look for, when redrafting, is falling back into that antiquated way with sentences. I know I’m not alone in this, because there is a specific term for this tendency: it’s called overwriting.

My theory?  It happens when I’m most self-conscious about the blankness of the page and thinking myself a writer.  What I should be doing is following John Donne’s lead, and immersing myself in the story I want to share.

Are we passive or active readers?

As autumn arrives, and children get back to school, so I prepare to return to my day job.  In case you haven’t realised, I tutor classes for adults, leading reading and writing groups.

Are writing sessions self-explanatory?  I never take it for granted, but I thought so, until someone arrived at Creative Writing expecting to be taught calligraphy. She was very nice, and we shared a smile about it, but since then I’ve been even more careful when creating course titles.

The question of what happens in one of my reading groups is trickiest to put across, I’ve usually only a title and a ‘strapline’ of thirty or forty words to get it right.  Despite that word reading, what we mostly do is talk about what we’ve already read, according to a schedule that I’ve set.  Aren’t my homework tasks the best?

pixabay woman readingI think of my reading sessions as following two main themes.  First, there are the hard-hitters: the short stories. These are the pieces of writing you should never underestimate.  At their best, they can turn your ideas upside down or inside out in a handful of pages.

For this term, that will be crime fiction, starting from the 1930s.  We’ll be reading through the twentieth century, taking in some of the top writers from Britain and America.

My heavy hitter, this autumn, is Elizabeth Gaskell’s, North and South.  Why do I describe it in that way?  Well not just because this is a great novel, it also has a little to do with the fact that my paperback copy weighs a hefty 12 ounces (that’s 496 pages) and in the hands of a trained killer might turn into a handy weapon.  There, you see, it’s not for nothing that I lead imaginative writing sessions.

The principle I follow has been summed up neatly by Francine Prose, in her book, Reading Like a Writer.  She describes the advantages of exploring books and stories that challenge us:

…I’ve always found that the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel, or, at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday become smarter.

It works for readers and writers alike.

Is there anything new in the writer’s tool kit?

Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories – and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.

Alice Munro

For the creative writer, the question, when thinking about using memory, is how far we are willing to deviate from truth.  Then again, what is truth?

One of my most shared personal anecdotes is a story that happened during my eighth summer. Out on the lawn, while playing rounders, there was an accident.

One of us ran forwards as another was raising their bat for a swing. I can see that moment in detail, I remember the blinding impact and the feel of blood dripping down my temple. I cried all the way to A & E, and those three stitches hurt.

facesYet years later, when I mentioned this to my brother, he frowned.  ‘No,’ he said.  ‘It was you who hit me.’  We both lifted our fringes to reveal a scar on our foreheads.

The problem, so far as accuracy is concerned, is that both of us were accident prone.  If I was using this episode for memoir, I could no doubt look up my medical records to check that I had made that visit.

For creative purposes though, this is a gift. Until that moment, the whole story was fixed.  I could have developed it into something more imaginative, but would probably have found it tricky to deviate far from the key scenes.

DSCF4818 - CopyOnce that doubt had been embedded I began to explore the picture from the position of perpetrator, and the boundaries dropped away. ‘What ifs?’ came into play.

It wasn’t just that I might write a version of events in the voice of my cousin, mother, doctor or even become omniscient, this doubt had allowed me to step right outside the memory. I could take one moment from that day, change the time, the space, the setting, add or remove characters, and see where that took me.

It would mean going back to those two pieces of historical advice for writers:

  • Write what you know
  • Write what you don’t know

…and combining them.  Which might just be what Alice Munro was saying in the first place.

Liebster Award – part 2. Am I random?

Early in my blogging life I decided my posts would be around 500 words.  I haven’t stuck rigidly to that, I probably average 600. It’s been a good discipline for someone who loves playing with vocabulary: I’ve learned about brevity and shaping a story.

Last week, when taking part in the Liebster Award, I had just over 400 words of instructions to paste in. I knew I couldn’t create an introduction and 11 answers with what was left, so for my peace of mind, I decided to only count my responses.  That worked for the set-questions (750 words), but left no room for two optional rules which I thought intriguing.

  1. Write a paragraph about what makes you passionate about blogging
  2. List ten random facts about yourself

Consequently, this post takes a few liberties.

Firstly, I have to wonder, am I passionate about blogging? It depends on how we think passion manifests.  If it’s waves crashing over lovers writhing on the shore, or, as the dictionary lists the synonyms, it is vehement, fiery, heated and feverish, then the answer would have to be no.

free-png-hd-world-globe-download-png-image-globe-free-download-png-1024However, what blogging has developed into for me is not just a regular commitment to writing, it’s a place where I connect with bloggers around the world.  I like to think my horizons are continually broadening, and my weekly posts happen because I’ve made friends. I’m no longer sending words out into the ether, people read and respond.  There is an energy involved in this process that is fed by my friends, and drives me to continue writing.  In other words, this is all your fault.  Really!

10 Random facts:

  1. Never give me an inch, because I will take a mile.
  2. I use random facts to create characters.
  3. I only buy black socks.  It means not having to worry about making up pairs.
  4. There are five hats on top of my wardrobe, two of which I’ve never worn.
  5. DSCF8175I’ve been soaking the blocked black ink-jet on a printer for two weeks, and am determined that this printer is not going to be dumped.
  6. I don’t always try to tell the truth in real life, but I value honesty in fiction.
  7. Despite severe pruning last winter, my fig tree has again grown right across the kitchen window.
  8. I believe that sometimes it’s better for a glass to be half empty.
  9. I will not make a mosaic from the box of crockery shards I have been collecting while walking Rusty across ploughed fields.
  10. I have twenty-two hand-knitted jumpers.  Thanks, mum!

Ray’s just read this, and he says:

“It is difficult to pin down the origin of any thought.  So, we have to question what random might actually mean.  No matter what you do, you cannot find out where a thought originates.  You pick up something intuitively, and have to follow it.  If thoughts only originate in the world, how would we ever be able to use them to express something new?” (Taoism)

Total:  491 Words (including this).     :~)

confuscious, Lao Tsu, Buddha

Making blog-friends with the Liebster Award

This week I’ve been tagged.  Jean Lee has challenged me to take part in the Liebster Award.  She’s answered 11 questions about her writing life with honesty and imagination, and has come up with 11 new questions for us, the 11 bloggers she’s tagged, to answer.

It seems to me that there’s more than one benefit to taking part.  First, it provides me with a ready-made subject for my weekly post.  Second, Jean’s links have provided me with new sites to visit, consequently I’ve made new connections.

It’s a long, long time since I’ve played tag, and this version has a few more rules than the play-ground variety, but at least it shouldn’t involve grazed knees. The rules are:

  1. Link to Global Aussie’s Award blog post. And put the official Liebster Award stamp on your blog.  (Done!)

blog award

  1. Acknowledge and link to the blogger who nominated you. (Thank you, Jean Lee!)
  2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator asked. (Tick)
  3. Nominate 5 – 11 more bloggers and spread the ‘new blogger’ love. (Tick)
  4. Ask them 11 fun questions of your own. (Tick)
  5. Let them know on their blogs that you have nominated them.

Optional Rules

  1. Write a paragraph about what makes you passionate about blogging
  2. List ten random facts about yourself

So, here are Jean’s 11 questions with my answers:

What would you consider to be your earliest creative work that foreshadowed the passion to come? Be it taken on a disposable camera, doodled in a school book, or tooted on a kazoo, those school-day scribbles count for something!

A cowboy story I wrote at school, when I was about nine years old.  It had three chapters and was heavily influenced by The Virginian which used to be on tv on Saturday nights.  The teacher read it out to our class, and they thought she was reading from a published book.  I cannot express what a buzz that was.

If you could gain your favorite living artist’s permission to create an homage of their work (for example, writing a fan fic story with your favorite character), who would you approach and what character would you write with?

The witch, Serafina Pekkala, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy.

I’m always looking for strategies to fight back the distractions. How do you focus yourself in the sea of Life’s Noise to create?

I use music.  My current favourite is Leo P at the BBC Proms, 2017, playing Moanin’ on the sax, with Christian Scott on the trumpet – though I sometimes spend too much time watching when I should be writing.leo p

What are the three most inspirational places you’ve ever visited?

  • Helen’s at Much Marcle, in Herefordshire.  It’s now a venue, but I had a tour round it at a time when it was pretty much in mothballs – Wow.
  • Liverpool city centre, at around 10.30pm one snowy February, after we’d seen a performance of Salman Rushdie’s, Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Walking home was surreal.
  • The Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Just sitting in the empty auditorium has me reaching for my notebook – I once saw a matinee performance of a restoration comedy which must have been on at the wrong time of year, there were only about a dozen people in the audience.  I felt like royalty.

Time for the dead artists now! If you could sit down for a cuppa or a pint with any dead artist, who would it be and why?

Aaah, does it have to be only one?

breugel-wedding-dance-in-the-open-airIn that case, I’m going to be literal, and say Pieter Brueghel, the elder (1525 – 1569).  His paintings are full of stories.  I’m presuming you’ll provide a translator, as I don’t speak Flemish.  But could I just watch him work?

What’s one stereotype people always apply to you because of who you are/where you’re from? Just for an example—I grew like a corn stalk when I was a kid, so EVERYONE assumed I was really good at sports like basketball. Guess what I suck at? ALL SPORTS. Because I live in Wisconsin, people around me just assume I’m a fellow Green Bay Packers fan. Guess what I hate watching? FOOTBALL.

Because I grew up on a farm, people expect me to write rural, and cosy. I rarely read it, and don’t write it.

If there’s one book on craft in your passion you’d recommend to every fellow artist in your field, what would it be?

Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Favorite grilled food? The answer should be bratwursts, but because you’re friends, I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Sorry, but the real answer is halloumi.

Okay, I’m not, I repeat, NOT, a huge Disney fan, but even I’ve got a few favorite Disney films, like Something Wicked This Way Comes. What’s your favorite Disney film? No, Pixar doesn’t count.

Pirates of the Caribbean.

And speaking of films, what’s one movie you’re kind of embarrassed to admit you like, but you just can’t help yourself? (Krull, since we’re sharing.)

Miss Congeniality.

Share your current endeavors! C’mon, you deserve a chance to plug your work.

This week I’m working on a short story, in between preparing classes for the autumn, ‘womaning’ the bookstall at the village fete, and wrestling with my weed-infested garden.

Step 3: I’m nominating five bloggers who I think might like to take part, and leaving the other six places open for anyone who thinks, ‘Why not?’  Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re tempted.

Personal and Lifestyle

Srijan

Migrant Thoughts Blog

Wallflower

Hannah Gaudette

My 11 questions are all bookish:

  1. Hard-back, paper-back or e-book?
  2. If all fiction was banned, and kindles and books were to be confiscated, and you had a special hiding place for just one traditional paper novel, which title would you keep safe for the future?
  3. What story do you wish you had never read?
  4. What was the last book you couldn’t finish reading?
  5. What book do you wish you had already read?
  6. Is there a story you wish you could write a sequel to?
  7. If you could invite four characters from four different fictions to dinner, who would you choose, and what would you feed them?
  8. Is there a novel, or a section of a novel, that you cannot forget?  If so, why?
  9. Which writer would you most like to be seated next to on a train?
  10. Is there a book that you’ve returned to, with fond memories, only to find it’s not at all the way you remembered – in either a good or bad way?
  11. If you could, would you rather be transported into a fictional world, or have fictional characters transported into your world?

There are two optional questions left, and I’d like to answer them, but this post is already much longer than I usually write, so I think I might make next week a ‘part two’.

Behind the scenes in the bookshop.

bookshop Ruth & AnnieI’m unpacking books with Annie.  Can this really be work?  Feels like Christmas to me.  I breath in that special massed-book atmosphere and can’t wipe the grin off my face.

Make no mistake, this is my summer holiday.  We’ve already had a swim in the Moray Firth, and a ramble with our dogs along the marshy shoreline.  Those were good, very good, especially that dip in the invigorating North Sea.

The highlight though, is my book day.  I’m a little old for work-experience, but offering to help gets me close. One of my not-so-secret fantasy-occupations has always been bookseller.  If there’s one thing more tantalising than browsing shelves, it’s got to be glimpses of well-stocked store-cupboards behind the counter.  Who knows what treasures wait there. Can this be bettered?

Oh yes, when a box, or bag, comes in for unpacking.  Stories spill out.  ‘No one,’ says Ruth, ‘offers to sell books to the bookshop without telling us why.’  I think of the boxes I’ve delivered to charity shops over this last year, and how I’ve carefully explained about my neighbour moving house, or my aunt, clearing space.

Ruth is deftly sorting a box.  She turns each book over and flicks through the pages, looking for damage, not quality of story or writing. She knows what’s popular, I don’t, and there are shelves and shelves of books on the other side of the counter.  I’m drawn to the spines on the vintage shelves.  As I’m dealing in alternative-me scenarios, I should say that in that world, these are what my walls would be lined with instead of wallpaper.

book shelves

I’m tempted, but resist them as too much responsibility.  It’s not that I don’t look after my books, exactly.  But I don’t take care of them the way Ruth and Annie do the Logie Steading Bookshop, which has no trace of spider-webs in the corners, or dust.  When I return home and notice how unkempt my shelves are, I spend an hour improving them.  It won’t last, though for a few days it’s good for my soul to see them all gleaming.

bookshopMeanwhile, will you just look at all those books?  I wasn’t looking for Narnia, but there’s something about an open door that demands I step through.  It’s no wonder that by the time I drifted back to the desk I’d gathered a heap of books.  How long did it take? I’ve no idea, time lost all meaning.  Which is just how it should be, isn’t it?

This is all so unlikely for my alternative-bookseller-self, who I can’t help feeling a little worried about. I suspect she’s liable to spend a lot of time reading her stock when she should be concentrating on customers.

 

 

 

Reading poetry: Jane Wier’s, ‘Brushing The Back of Your Hand’

Alice by jane weirWith only twenty poems on twenty-six pages, I hesitate over whether to call Jane Wier’s, Alice, a modest book or a generous pamphlet, and really, is that important?  What matters is the content.  There is one poem in particular, ‘Brushing The Back of Your Hand’, that catches me.

It describes a moment in a cinema, as the film starts.  The narrator and her companion take their seats, and in the darkness, their hands touch.  Reduced to a bare description this sounds like nothing.

Take the line breaks out, and it is made up of two sentences. The truth is though, that good writing adds up to more, much more.  These few words are carefully chosen. ‘All I remember’ she says, and I remember too.

as the picture rolled and figures

flickered, and your skin, your skin

felt scuffed going against its pile,

Poems remind me of the power words have not just to describe, but to evoke a response in their audience.  So when I read those lines, what struck me first was the surprise implied by that repetition of ‘your skin’.  What caught me, was the image of skin, ‘scuffed going against its pile’. Then, the ending is a moment that was both long ago, and is also getting closer and closer.

and I remember thinking,

one day soon, soon

that kind of hand would be mine.

What’s important to me, is that this tells a truth I had forgotten seeing for the first time.

Time_exploding salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali