Reviews Ahoy!

I thought it was time that the books that pass through the house should have their own reviews; here is the first selection.

Reviews

Love Song        Kathleen O’ Driscoll    Marram Press

Writers of poetry, especially those who go in for the new purple-prose hybrid, expect the reader to impose some form or order on the deluge of misplaced words. The reader as winnower and thresher, on duty, working away to find some sense; or even better, some mystical uplift –but it’s hard work scavenging amongst the dross.

In contrast, Kathleen  O’Driscoll’s poems are narrow and look sparse indeed, but this is because the writer has distilled them down, refining, sorting, changing and placing each word with precision. (I’ve used the analogy of a jeweller before, but it bears repetition here.) No changes are necessary, there are no doubts, this is as fine and infinitesimal as meaning can get. No subterfuge and no laziness. In these narrow lines there is more than other poems that rattle on with bombast.

The writer as witness and recorder, trying to be as pure and impartial as possible; it is almost as though there is no one here, just a pane of glass and the clear air between you and the experience presented. The writer has crept away, almost untraceable, leaving these signs like marks on Ogham stones.

And here is a far better review, from Diodorus in the first century B.C. on the Celts-

“In conversation they use few words and speak in riddles, for the most part hinting at things and leaving a great deal to be understood”

In Between Angels and Animals    Emily Cullen

Arlen House

This second collection marks a change, as “Cocoon” points out,               “fledgling wings

jostling with hardening time.”

The subject matter has widened to include marriage, birth, parenting; the gigantic steps that need a new vocabulary. No more reflective or witty bright young thingy-ness –this is the real thing, a transition into the fully fledged adult. And it’s a long time since we visited Eavan Boland’s kitchen at night, and heard about night-feeding ( in The Gorgon Child) ; here is the next step.

Emily Cullen is part of the new face of Ireland, where it is accepted that mothers can be academics and academics can be mothers (it has to be equal.) The result is a further exploration into private territory, gradually giving it shape and carving, smoothing, so that it can make sense to others. The world invades the kitchen –ah, but, the kitchen then invades the world, which is as it should be.

She also looks back, from child to forbears – in Grandmother

“I bear witness to your transmission

of faith, folklore, tradition.

May we hear your voice at the threshold again,

bidding us ‘Welcome, Welcome,

Welcome.’

Somewhere in Minnesota,     Short Stories

Órfhlaith Foyle    Arlen House

Well, Maeve Binchy it ain’t. Contained violent incidents are scattered through most of these nineteen stories. The important thing is what they are contained in  – and that is carefully chosen and carefully constructed sentences. The reader is led through, like a trusting child, holding on to that smooth adult hand.

The shock is gently delivered, bit by bit – you’ll find yourself reading right to the end, being manipulated perfectly. Skilful craft lets you skitter across the surface. Only later does the shock come through.

On second reading, the careful build-up, the tension that we try to dismiss is shown up to be lying in wait. And that is Órfhlaith Foyle’s gift – the doling out of shock, gift-wrapped in flawless cool prose. There’s nothing twee here. The few written in the first person are not from a female point of view.

There’s a seething undertow that the writer (and so, the reader) manages to skitter over, the word-skill covering the danger, ice skating personified.

Borderlines    Short Stories

John Walsh   Doire Press

The young man who is frequently the subject or narrator of these stories is often tempted, pulled in many directions at once. Just as often he is bemused by the tensions around him – especially in the New Year’s Day hitch hiker version.

“Something in Ian still cared, but not enough to silence the fear that had crawled under his skin. ‘Thanks for the lift,’ he said and got out.”

Set on both sides of the Irish border, the changing characters weave through threats and their ramifications.

The collection ends with a duet of a story written by a man and a woman who arrange to meet in a pub. Rounding all the mishaps and the troubles (with or without capital letters) it has an uplifting ending. A type of innocence pervades these stories, an innocence which has guarded the young man throughout and which remains even as he is writing them down.

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The Trials of a Local Writer

Having waited the best part of 2012 for answers from several agents since December 2011, I went off to CreateSpace and produced a paperback book via computer.

We are told never to annoy agents by writing or phoning to enquire what is going on, but I did phone the favourite one in July 2012 and the receptionist said, yes, it was a long time without an answer. She said the same in September. One did send a phone message via their Accounts Dept that she liked it but that with the state of publishing these days… the sentence was unfinished.

After putting the book together, well, CreateSpace is over in America and you have to pay postage from there.This is the only snag, their website formats the book and its cover easily. So everyone I knew got a copy as a Christmas present (as well as other presents, of course.)

Then I had to pay someone to format it for Smashwords- the only part of outside assistance so far.

Next, I went off to Facebook and LinkedIn and started a blog here and then triangulated this, trying to drum up, not trade, but reviews. Ha! Facebook people all liked the cover ( one of my paintings) and, just like Groucho Marx  intended to read it at some time.

So, off to review sites, Goodreads etc.

Site one. Called ‘Ask David’ free book promotion. Silence.

Site two. Review thebook.com $25 books listed and their reviewers choose one to look at. Nothing.

Site three. Readersfavourite.com. Nothing.

Site four. Irish-interest site. I sent a free Smashwords version. Silence. Enquiry. Doesn’t do Smashwords. Am I on Kindle? Risking the wrath of Smashwords (and perhaps supping with the devil) I put the book up on Kindle and send a giftcard so they can access it. Amazon.com does not accept ‘gifting’ from Amazon.co.uk, so I have to cancel that and rejig to an Amazon.com giftcard so they can access …. this all takes three months. The book came out in October 2012.

After asking various writing friends in real life and on Facebook to review it, I asked the entire lot –240 friends – to review it – nothing to date. This includes people who I have given free copies to on the understanding they would gallop off to Amazon at least and strew a couple of stars over the book.

As ‘A Small Inheritance’ is set in Ireland, what about their radio programme, Book on One? I phone RTE and ask the name of the producer (always get it right, we are advised.) Receptionist puts me through to arts dept. Phone rings itself out over there in Dublin.Try again the next morning. Same result, five minutes of ring-a-ling. Next day, try again and a new receptionist says, “Oh, the producer is XXX, I can’t think why no one told you that at the desk.” Posted book in November. No answer.

In November – what about local newspaper! Phoned the East Anglian but their phones cut off after 5 p.m. precisely. The first bit of efficiency –  she deserves a prize – the receptionist phoned back at 9 a.m. Local writers are the province of X & X. Phoned X & X and left message. Nothing. Phoned X & X next day. Two days later X, quite friendly, phoned that Z back at East Anglian was the right person to contact. The idea was ‘what about an article listing local books for Christmas presents?’, which X thought was a good idea. Z did not phone back , it was nearing Christmas anyway,and I went off to write Christmas cards and wrap presents.

Ah! The local shops! Just what writers are supposed to do! Phoned in advance, made an appointment and went in, feeling most awkward. Two books accepted in the  town bookshop and two in another bookshop nearby. “We’ll take two. They won’t sell, of course” and the boss went back to his office, directing me to the assistant to deal with the details. The other bookshop took two also, after half an hour on their shop computer   “A new programme we don’t know how to use yet.” Too embarassed now to go in and ask what’s happened.

And – bright idea, though it conflicts with the above – what about the library? Donate a copy! Trying to do it properly I phone the Library HQ at County Offices. (My previous novel ‘Finding Out,’ given in at the local library counter, has disappeared from sight.) Library HQ, surprisingly only has a blurred recorded message about overdue books, so I phoned the main library. Donating a book is  not doing them any favours at all. The woman sounds rather agonised about the suggestion.

Apparently it costs them £2 to enter it onto their catalogue, so they are rather apprehensive about a tide of books approaching. And I can’t just waltz in with a copy – it has to go before The Stock Team.  “And write a letter with it, to explain who you are.” It sounded like going before the Star Chamber.

Ages ago –seven years, as a new resident, I sent all my poetry and prose collections to the local arts organisation as an introduction, enquiring about being part of the local festivals and promotion of local writers (other than the frantic three-minute mic slots in the Festival.) Answer was the four books being returned with a polite but curt “we already know who we are going to invite, don’t annoy us like this” type of reply. I had not enclosed return postage, meaning them to keep the books for reference, or something like that, so they wasted money on the return postage.

There’s far more, but you get the gist. And in spite of all of the above, the next collection of short stories and the next novel are on their way.

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Four Whiter Shades

A Whiter Shade of Pale

I

Blue gingham tablecloths on each table; all around them the rich smells of mixed food swirled. Tom and Ginny sat in the little Italian café, trying to make do with the cups of coffee that were all they could afford. They tried to pretend the food around them was irrelevant. In one way it was, because they were so entranced with each other. Somehow they had drifted into sharing a flat for exactly four months, two weeks and three days.
The muffled background music turned to A Whiter Shade of Pale as Tom leant across to Ginny and said,
“We’d better get out of here, the waitress is getting narky at us. We’ve got shopping to do, anyway. Important stuff.” And as they wandered off along Portobello Road, Tom steered Ginny towards a stall selling china, curios and antique jewellery.
“Now, you know we can’t afford a proper new wedding ring, Ginny, but you can choose any one of these. There’s no tax or something on second-hand ones.” And so the haphazard proposal worked. The old man behind the stall looked at them with a mixture of shrewdness and kindliness.
“As a special favour to you, anything on that tray is a quarter off. Special.” Ginny chose a thick golden band-“Victorian. They specialised in that sort of heavy jewellery” the stallholder added – and Tom paid a fiver for it and they strolled back into the sunshine of the market.
“We’ll have to economise now. Let’s see if there’s any cooking tomatoes or anything else going cheap. If we wait until the end, they’ll nearly be throwing stuff at us, so walk slowly,” Tom pointed out. They did this every week, loitering until the early evening. “And when we’ve got things sorted, I’ll buy you a proper engagement ring too,” Tom joked.
Ginny looked at the second-hand ring and wondered what was the story behind it. So many romances and hopes, all waiting to be revived from those stacked black velvet trays of gold rings. When they got home, laden with stale bananas, cauliflowers, carrots and various other wilting veg, and a pack of use-by sausages, they switched on the radio, and the first sound was the mysterious A Whiter Shade of Pale. They looked at each other and laughed.
“It looks as though we’ve got an ‘our tune,’ even if it makes no sense,” Ginny giggled.

II

While the madness of the sixties whirled around him, their neighbour, Mr Bernard Grantham kept firmly to another century; to several previous centuries in fact. Now in his late seventies, he was still searching for an enlightenment that was increasingly eluding him. In his worst moments he suspected that any significant spiritual experience was buried in his past, that he had glided past it ignoring the message.
To make up for the self-centred comfortable years of being a businessman, Bernard Grantham now collected books. Not just any books – he concentrated on philosophy and ancient myths and fables. One room after another, in his lonely widower house, these books piled up, each one giving a hint of how to cope with eternity, but each complicated answer gave few clues and many contradicted each other.
And now he often heard a strange song on the radio which seemed to taunt him with pointers to the answer. Beginning with a theme from J.S. Bach’s Air on a G String, a hymnal quality came from its organ-playing introduction. It went on into a maze of references mixed in with its haunting tune.
Bernard went to a music shop in Tottenham Court Road and bought the sheet music for it, to puzzle out the words. He skipped the reference to the Millers Tale (he knew it was salacious) and concentrated on the sixteen vestal virgins, who probably should have had a capital V for their goddess Vesta.
Whereas he knew something about them from Plutarch, Bernard went off at a tangent and wrote in his journal that the first thing that occurred to him was the voyage of Saint Ursula and her eleven thousand virginal handmaidens. He ferreted around and realised that this was the influence of a picture in his hall, a favourite of his dead wife, a mediaeval “Martyrdom of Saint Ursula” by Hans Memling. He had never liked it, but it came from her side of the family. At this point he was completely puzzled and wished he had never heard the song, which continued to taunt him from snatches heard from shops, café and passing cars with their windows wide open, as well as from the flat next-door with that young couple.

III

At the centre of the chocolate factory there was a point where all three tannoys could be heard at once, each one playing a different tape or programme. Tina Turner battled it out with the Sex Pistols, while A Whiter Shade of Pale zoomed in suddenly from the left aisle.
Ginny felt the voice as if it was speaking directly to her, from that milestone year. The surroundings fell away and she began to weep helplessly all over the boxes of chocolates as they sped along the conveyor belt in front of her. Praline, Strawberry, Coffee, Nougat raced past with her drying tears on them. It was impossible to stop working or to leave the post she was at. The other women could not help; they were trapped too. Only if someone fainted would the conveyor belt be stopped. When it came to their break time, a magic transference occurred; other women appeared behind each post along the conveyor belt and just took up the work with a seamless join. Stacks of little chocolates with their individual swirls waited to be inserted into the boxes. Stacks and stacks and endless piles of glamorous boxes.
On the day they all started, sent from the agency, Diane the forewoman had started the machine off at ‘slow.’ They did not know that, and were shocked when Diane produced a key to set the speed up. Day by day she increased the rate so that they were working like automatons, becoming part of the machine too, in order to survive.
The chocolates sailed past, the only cheerful things in the department. One of the women looked across and smiled,
“Time of the month?” sympathetically.
“Something like that, or the years,” Ginny answered as the tune faded away. It was ironic that the factory ruled that no jewellery was allowed except wedding rings and Ginny had long ago sold hers after Tom and she had split up.

IV

Tom was really amazed at the popularity of his musicology course, Forensics of the Sixties; Culturally relevant markers. It was soft sociology which often sailed over his students’ heads, while he was absolutely happy going through old songs, some of them his favourites, and taking them to pieces.
It was fun deconstructing A Whiter Shade of Pale, filleting the words and images with relish. It was only when he had written several pages that Tom realised he had just demolished their ‘own’ song, the one Ginny and he felt was important when they were together.
“Fans of this song are known as Palers, so it’s something special even now,” he announced.
For the students it was history and had no emotional charge. The 1967 summer was before they were born. They took notes and went off to research Vestal virgins, Geoffrey Chaucer and The Miller’s Tale, the symbolism of playing cards and dense allusions to the mid-sixties era 1964-68, like the Hamlet cigar adverts. The Miller’s tale really woke them up as it cantered through several instances of arses poking through privy ventilation gaps and a terrible branding with hot irons. Tom was glad he was not having to teach this at a school; university students were bad enough. He emphasised the comic aspect and told them it was mediaeval bawdiness at its best. The students ambled out, it had been an easy afternoon from their point of view.
“Mostly dope-smoking, but he can’t see that. Pretty obvious really. It’s obviously someone post ‘O’ levels going potty. I wonder if I can put that in my essay and get away with it.”
“Throw in enough quotes and he’ll accept anything. It’s only twenty-four lines after all and it’ll need padding out.”
“And you can go to town on The Miller’s Tale, he’ll have to accept it as research, all that rudery.”
“Even better. Let’s off to the bar now, business as usual.”
And off the students wandered, into the wide sweep of the newly-built social centre, to discuss the Olympics.

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1846, A Hawarth Neighbour’s Journal

Five Days of a Journal-
by Mrs Betty Ollerenshaw, Haworth, Yorkshire, September 1846

1 At last, a change in our routine and a rustle of excitement in the house. We have not long settled in and I find that our charwoman, Milly Keeble, who comes in the afternoons, is also working up at the Parsonage in the mornings. Now we shall get to know more about their goings-on. I said to Mr Ollerenshaw that we were lucky, but he merely put on his overcoat and went off to Keighley with the Post Carriage to his haberdashery business.
I spent the entire afternoon going through the linen cupboard and checking for moths, a finickity job. The damsons are picked though, which is good planning.

2 By careful, casual questioning, I am managing to get bits of news from Milly Keeble, our charwoman. It does mean that I have to go into the back kitchen and the larder and laundry room more often than usual, but it is well worth it. Milly told me after careful leading questions, that the brother up at the Parsonage, Branwell, was in trouble at the Black Bull here on Saturday night. He has come back from studying art in Leeds, it is thought he was expelled. What a rumour!
The three sisters are quiet and reserved and of course the Reverend Bronte is much changed after the death of his wife. In the afternoon Milly helped me make damson jam as I have the intention of taking a precious jar up to the Parsonage. Mr Ollerenshaw says I am like a cat ready to pounce. I said he was being nonsensical, it was proper neighbourly interest, something I should have done ages ago when we first moved in.
Evening-time, we played cards with Aunt Amy and Uncle Hubert, which was as boring and as fraught as ever, though my sloe gin (from last year) was much appreciated, though the sandwich cake had not risen again.

3 After going all the way up to the Parsonage with the damson jam I was most put out not to be invited in. The youngest of the sisters, Ann, opened the door and while being most grateful and polite, announced that all the rugs were being beaten in the yard, so she could not invite me in. Some other time would be most suitable. However, I was given a precious snippet by our scullery maid, that she had been sitting on the other aisle of the church on Sunday and, on careful inspection, Branwell Bronte definitely had a black eye. Unfortunately Mr Ollerenshaw and myself were sitting in our pew at the front, near the pulpit.
Mr Ollerenshaw says I am spending too much time gossiping with servants and it will have a bad end. We ate in silence, although the savoury rice croquettes mollified him rather and we spent the rest of the evening amicably beside the fire. A terrible gale ensued during the night.

4 The air extremely fresh after last night’s storm. A few branches down here and there and a fresh layering of autumn leaves everywhere. Feeling newly exhilarated, I though to take a walk as far as cousin Harriet’s, and saw the eldest Bronte girl, Charlotte, striding across the moors into the distance. I know there are no houses in that direction, so I wonder what she does, wandering off like that.
Perhaps with five of them crammed into that Parsonage it is the only way to get some privacy. I could invite one or two of them to tea – why hadn’t I thought of it before? Mr Ollerenshaw can hardly object, as he will be at his office every day until late, as usual.

5 September 14th. Tabitha, the Bronte housekeeper, sent the young garden boy to say that Milly Keeble could not attend today. There is a sad event at the Parsonage as Branwell Bronte fell seriously ill overnight and has suddenly passed away. And then Mr Ollerenshaw advised me against inviting anyone from the Parsonage, as he says they are all mad and I should steer clear of the entire family. I spent the afternoon fuming, cutting up rags ready for autumn rug-making. Annoyed at being deprived of all the gossip, I shall attend the funeral and make certain to get into their house this time. There’s definitely something odd going on there. Otherwise I shall make sure to loiter around the moors on fine afternoons in order to encounter Miss Charlotte or Miss Emily or the quiet one, Ann.

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Writing Courses Ahoy!

As the snowflakes continue, already the leaflets for courses on far-flung islands (expensive flights; no Ryanair stops) are coming, slipped inside poetry and writing magazines. Those photographs of sunsets on the terrace show glossy intellectuals, sitting at their wineglass-strewn afterdinner tables, tanned, sun-glassed and designer-clad. You don’t meet these people at the local writers’ group.There is even a larger than usual number of men.
It’s the price, stupid. Adding up the course fees, flight, accommodation, eating out, and ‘terrace fees’ – all taking the cheapest options,- will leave just £50 pounds change out of a thousand-pound-note.
And it’s usually in Greece. Well, on an island. Just as well – insulated from the social debris on the mainland, people sleeping in the streets or queueing up for food handouts and having a miserable time of it with violent crime, social unrest and ant-riot squads.(Ironically, Cambodia has been rehabilitated and is also a writing locale.)
Other places are suitably remote and are in the Spanish or Scottish mountains, or Andalucia. Or surrounded by woods or grapevines or hills – seclusion is all.

No, the course attendees will be surrounded with liberating energy and boundless positivity. As the sun sets upon the Aegean Sea ‘You will be inspired.’
-By what? Scenery of rippling hills, white brand new hotels and flats, obedient locals who are there to serve you. All antiseptic and scenic.
While the writers are ‘pushing their work against boundaries and taking their writing to new and surprising places’… Well? What is this landscape going to give to stimulate brand new ideas?
There is nothing to give impetus. Any writer who needs these luxury surroundings before they can produce a couple of thousand words is kidding themself. Real life is waiting back there, after the return flight, where your real vocabulary awaits – right there, where you left it at the end of your street.
Writing comes from difficulty, not pleasure. The words grow, contrast, gallop when the writer is immersed in surroundings that don’t give an easy day. The ordinary is the universal – and so I posit (lovely word!) Urban Industrial Northern England Writing Holidays.
Decaying terrace houses, shuttered shops, immigrants,underpasses, no-go areas, flyovers and motorways that strip areas of their identity. People with strange local accents, local cakes and pies that have different names. Closed shops. Bus stops. Churches. Problem areas. Getting lost.Local papers. It’s all Foreign, but in English!

You would be sent out with notebooks to write descriptions of a typical street, a cafe, two people talking, an average house, a block of flats, a park. You would be advised to buy the local paper and develop two of its reports into longer pieces, developing the characters and adding the new setting that you noticed the day before.
The next day, you’ll combine those two pieces into a longer piece.Some local history* will enliven your stories too, as background material.
*Keep away from any museums or art galleries unless it rains.There’s enough ekphrasis going on, whether from paintings or objects. There is also the leaning on already famous writers – this is leading to an increasingly constipated or inbred (or both) writing scene.

Language is modified by its environment. These writing holidays can only unpack what you brought with you, especially if you are marooned on an island. We are not in Shakespeare’s Tempest territory here, but it would certainly make a good setting for the odd murder mystery.
Meanwhile, wandering through your northern town – Blackpool (out of season) would be perfect; followed by Middlesborough, Stoke-on -Trent, Warrington, Blackburn etc etc, you will pick up new word usages which can enliven your next writing. Listen to local radio, go off and pretend you are lost (you probably are) and ask at least three people for directions.Loiter in a cafe and listen to people talking. Go into an estate agent and get some leaflets. Wander round any industrial or trade parks. Read the small ads in shop windows. Buy a map for interesting street names to use. You get the drift…

From all this you would have learned about 25 new words or sayings. You’ll have explored and met new people. And from the B&B, boarding house or guesthouse (and just think what goldmines they have been for authors –The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne, Hotel du Lac, Separate Tables and many others) you will have a stock of characters to observe.

No expensive flights or accommodation, and you are supporting local trade. No passport and you already speak the language, with an easy journey back home whenever needed.No lolling on the beach applying sun-barrier cream is necessary. No new designer clothes – you need to be inconspicuous.

And, from the above, perhaps no expensive tutor is really needed either.Copies of Writer’s Forum and Writing Magazine can give all the guidance necessary, plus of course, the biggest dictionary you can stuff into your suitcase.

Naturally, there is always going to be an exception to any rule.For the urban-inclined, there’s the Complete Creative Writing Course, held at The Groucho Club, Soho, right in the middle of London and no passport needed.

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For Fun: Crash Course on the Great Novel

Start off with some weather. Wind, rain, time of day. Street, parked cars. Sky(clouds) Radio shipping forecast for frilly descriptions.
A-Z for streets. Draw a map. Get an atlas.Location, location.
Door, steps, bell. Firm chin, loping walk (see Mills and Boon -very helpful) haircolour, length, style. Shoes, coat.
Said smiled, gazed glared relied suggested wondered.
The morning sun shone bleakly across the lawn.
Asked declared hinted implied
Clothes : cashmere, probably, a paragraph of description.Adjectives pile up. Decide what century it is set in. If going for modern – be timeless, take out any references to current government or pop songs or news headlines or TV programmes or fashion celebs or new cars. Danger area. Take them all out. Put them back in again.Make up fictional equivalents.Go for a walk.
Names -phone directory or voters list. Baby’s names’ lists.Have clearcut differences in vowels and consonants, especially first names. Try different names for each – no Norma/Norman,Don/Donna, Edna/Eddie unless, of course, they’re twins. Make a list of all the names in your book-to-be.Using sole surnames is awkward It’s a convention that should be stopped; we didn’t all go to boarding school.Awkward, as:
‘Worthing came into the room as Peters sat down. “I say, Henry,”he said but Dave was not listening.’ Not four people here, it’s Dave Worthing and Henry Peters, but it takes some unpicking. They even talk to each other in this surname-sort-of-way.
Cars from used car page of freebie papers.

Enter the adverbs. Careful(or carefully?), they are like dolly-mixtures.
Softly freely abstractedly. Then take them out. Then put different ones in.

Action;plot. Verbs collide.
went crossed runs texted quoted walks drives commits promised tries approached bought stands
Is it going to be in the past or present tense or a link from one to another? is it going to be an ‘I’ book or one about ‘them’ – he, she, it,they? Or ‘you?’
Investigate conjunctions and tenses and their names – Perfect passive.Future pluperfect. Imperfect.
Airports. Ferry timetables. Travel guidebooks.

Start plaiting. Get your cast of 20 or so people (never characters – that sounds so false) into three strands and keep them crossing each other’s paths. Do it quickly and randomly enough and like a helter-skelter it will look inspired.
Money. All people usually have limitless money and constantly find ATMs that work. Mugging does not feature often.Plane & train tickets easily got.No queues. Cars usually perfect. Petrol stations always open and pumps full.
No boring people hold up the story for pages and pages with bits about their operations or complicated family problems of people you have never heard of.
By the Middle
– no more physical descriptions
(refer to paras 1-10) unless new people appear late in the story (noticed that this hardly ever happens?)or the original people drastically change appearance or they go off to a new location.
Subplot.And have an entirely different tale struggling along like a caterpillar here.Think of it as an undercoat for the gloss surface.
Speed up. Windscreen-wiper effect. Repeat, go back, recapitulate, complicate and so get an extra 10-20,000 words in here to make up the bulk without needing to advance the story (because you’re stuck.)
Backstory. Everyone should have one. Have people’s schooldays, first jobs, relationships all excavated in either flashback ( a wonderful indulgence) or in their thoughts. If stuck, try their parents or grandparents too.
Or do brisk one-word dialogue all down a few pages. Drop in a few swearwords for flavour. Or do lists of suitcases contents as they pack. Contents of bathroom cabinets or wardrobes or kitchen cupboards. Recipes are helpful and they mess up the kitchen too.
Go back and dollop in some quotes (Warning: make sure they are dead 70 years or you’ll have to pay for use of copyright.)
Add some sex to show your people are actually alive. And give them some food,the odd meal or sandwich.Add more weather, if necessary.
Put in a car-chase, with full motorway description. Don’t let people stop off at a cafe or the pace will be lost.All people have to have strong bladders and bowels (unless necessary for plot.)Also, they have to be usually healthy and immediately OK from a hangover with one cup of coffee. If wounded or injured, say, they’ve been kicked in the ribs,thrown down a flight of concrete stairs, there are no later complications or disabilities. Even bruises disappear in two days.
Finishing up. First two or more people in clinch or church at the end. Others faded, gone, moved, killed or not invited to appear. If you feel guilty about this, do an epilogue and tidy them up neatly.
Grand finale: Check for: averred, the latter, made our way, the former, notwithstanding
and the moderns, just as bad :basically, hopefully, bought into, elephant in the room.
Look out for American creep-ins, remember Spellcheck is American, even if you switch it to UK English.
Now take all pages and a small child or dog and get them to mix all your pages. (Slightly re-adjust, re-order the flow here.)If neither of the above are available, take the ending and put it at the start. This will make your novel different and you will see it with fresh eyes.
Start again. It gets better each time and you will begin to enjoy it.

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The Next Big Thing – from Orfhlaith Foyle

Orfhlaith Foyle’s novel Belios was published by the Lilliput Press in 2005. A collection of her poetry and short fiction, Revenge was published by Arlen House,also in 2005.
Her first full collection of poetry Red Riding Hood’s Dilemma was published in 2010 by Arlen House, followed by her debut short story collection Somewhere in Minnesota , also from Arlen House in 2011. It was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. The title story was previously published in Faber and Faber’s New Irish Short Stories 2011.

These eight questions manage to persuade writers to reveal their methods, hopes and also the pitfalls of setting out to construct a book.

1 Where did the idea come from for the book?

For my first novel, Belios, I suppose, as with all first novels, I used some of my life with a great deal of imagination. That is also true for most of my following stories and poetry.No matter how different the character, the idea or theme of my stories, there is always something of me in there.
My next novel is very different and so are its characters, but as a writer, i ask myself “What would I do if I was this person in this story and with their life?” That’s how I write. I make people up and I go along with them.

2 What genre is the book?

Literary fiction. My first novel has definite Gothic overtones, but nothing so different from real life. My stories do have a dark leaning but that’s fine.

3 What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a film of your book?

For my first novel, Belios I really have no idea. For my second one, and only for daydreaming purposes because the book is not finished yet… I think Michael Fassbender… but he would need to put on a bit of weight and develop an Australian twang. for another one of the characters… I think Abbie Cornish…she has a real gift for living a character.

4 What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

For all my stories, I am obsessed with how human we try to be or/and how we fail, and how we equate savagery with love.

5 How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote Belios in three months but that was after countless months of work, revision, dead-ends and sheer un-useable words. With stories, it varies but once I have its guts, then I just write. With my WIP, I am still writing it but I see the end now and again…depending on how my writing day goes.

6 Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A person’s face inspired my present work.

7 What else about your book might pique the readers’ interest?

I don’t know.I just like to write as if I was the reader.I just want to tell a story that pulls the reader in and makes them live inside the story. When I was a child, that’s how I read, and I never lost that way of reading.

8 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?

I don’t have an agent but I hope this book will be good enough for the people who published Belios. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

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