Tag Archives: authors

What Happens in a Library When a Beloved Author Dies

  1. The first person to see it on the news uses the library’s internal communication system to send round a message.
  2. The person in each library who reads it spreads the message among their colleagues and everyone talks about the loss of a great human and writer.
  3. Their books are moved to prominent display areas, partly because people are about to come in and ask where they are, but mostly because they deserve to be read.
  4. Shelf checks start to come in from other libraries as readers request the books. We send them off as quickly as we can as we know the waiting lists will soon become vast.
  5. We read about their publishing history, so we can think about which to recommend to the readers who come in never having read that author before and asking where they should start.
  6. We know that this flurry of intense interest is temporary and that saddens us. But this mass-reading of their works seems to us the most perfect act of collective mourning.  They will be read; they will be remembered.

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‘Must Of’ or ‘Must’ve’?

In general, I’m not the sort of person who corrects people unbidden, but every time I see a message with must of in it my pedant urges twitch, and I have to stop myself typing a Google-style “Did you mean must’ve?”

DowntonMust of is an incorrect way of saying must’ve or must have. The contraction is pronounced like must of, presumably causing the confusion.

It is extremely rare that must of will make sense together in a sentence e.g. ‘They must of course consider what is proper’. Commas would sort that right out, though.

They must’ve been scandalized when she married the chauffeur.

You must’ve mistaken a footman for a valet. How embarrassing.

I think you must’ve watched too much Downton.

Have you seen this happening? Comments and shares much appreciated!

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“It’s like Virginia and Leonard have just popped out.”

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Leonard's desk.

Leonard’s desk.

This is what a room steward said to me in the sitting room of Monk’s House, the country home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. She is completely right. The furniture is theirs, exactly as they had it. The letters on Leonard’s desk look about to be read. There is even a period newspaper in the bin. It is an incredible feat of keeping hold of their belongings and rescuing Leonard’s bequests from their subsequent disparate homes. I was standing in Virginia Woolf’s living room, just as she’d had it. It was extraordinary.

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Virginia’s hand-bound Complete Works of Shakespeare.

An enthusiastic National Trust volunteer took our tickets as we entered.
“You’ve come on a good day.” He said. “It’s Heritage Weekend so we’re having readings in the garden. They’re really good.” *Camp stage whisper.* “I do them!”
So of course we had to listen to a reading. He was right. He is really good. Enthusiastic too. When he broke into a rendition of ‘Anything Goes’ I couldn’t have been more delighted.

I see why the Woolfs loved it there. The house is set in the idyllic village of Rodmell. There is a spectacular view of the Downs beyond the ha-ha (which is a wall in a dip, so as not to interrupt a view, not just an exclamation of mirth). Their garden is an English country labyrinth of golden rod and unexpected ponds before opening into a small orchard and lawn. Virginia Woolf’s writing room is at the end of the garden: a room of her own with an inspiring vista. IMAG0321

The National Trust look after Monk’s House beautifully and all the room guides are extremely knowledgeable. I was consistently fascinated. As if there weren’t enough reasons to visit, books are only £2 in the gift shop.

I also highly recommend watching The Secret Life of Books episode on Mrs Dalloway.

Read my close criticism of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’ here. Find out which band’s name is inspired by that story here.

Have you been to any writers’ homes? Where should I visit next? Comments below please!

Virginia Woolf's pet monkey.

Virginia Woolf’s pet monkey.

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Thirteen Thoughts On Dialogue

Readers love dialogue, or so I’ve read; apparently the white space is less daunting than solid paragraphs. In your novel make sure dialogue is achieving something – plot or character development. The dream is to create a level of naturalism.

  1. frozenInclude interruptions and partial sentences. In real life people often tail off, or leave the other person to fill in the end of their sentence.
  2. Think about how each of your characters would speak.
  3. People’s vocabularies vary with up-bringing, situation, where they live or have lived, level of education etc. Give your characters different vocabularies, though avoid stereotyping.
  4. Related to this, it is worth considering whether they would use different colloquialisms, sayings, cultural references or slang. Evan Kingston is excellent at this.
  5. To create pace with your dialogue and to reflect stress in the characters keep it short and sharp. To create more intrigue and drag things out use longer exchanges.
  6. Sadness or anxiety can be expressed by someone stammering or falling over their words, not quite knowing what to say.
  7. Dialogue is as much about what characters don’t say as what they do. Subtext and mystery will keep your readers intrigued.
  8. Avoid expository dialogue: the dreaded ‘info-dump’. Never let one character lecture another with information just because you want your audience to know it. Make it an exchange of questions and answers. Leave things unsaid or imply them.
  9. Make sure your characters don’t stop or sit down to have conversations. In real life conversation happens while people are doing other things. Please don’t have dialogue meetings.
  10. Use adverbs sparingly when you’re not using tone or accompanying actions to show mood.
  11. To check whether your dialogue flows like real human conversation, read it out loud. Get your friends to join in and make an evening of it. If it doesn’t sound like you intend it to coming from your volunteer thespians, then it probably won’t read right either.
  12. Dialogue should be realistic, but as with everything in novels, it can be more exciting, quicker, wittier and more convenient than real life.
  13. funny-english-men-drinking-teaRelated to the above, do start chapters or sections in the middle of conversations. The start can be dreadfully dull. If books were real life we’d be twelve pages in and still only have established that everyone is fine, weather is happening, and we’d all love a cup of tea, if it’s not too much trouble.

Do you have any further thoughts on dialogue? I would love to see them in the comments. Please do like or share if this has been of any use to you.

If you’d like to have a dialogue with me, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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What Libraries Can Do For Authors

I wholeheartedly agree with Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

Libraries are an asset to every community, and particularly to writers. The following facts apply to British libraries; services may vary elsewhere.

In terms of research, the library is invaluable. Did you know that you can order any book from any other library and have it delivered to your local branch? This includes The British Library‘s excellent stock. Most libraries also have links to local history centres; helpful library staff will be able to guide you to the right resources. 

Members can also use the Internet for free in most areas and take advantage of the many subscription services the library is signed up to. In my local area these include: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Gale Vault (an archive of newspapers from the 1700s to the present, including the full Times archive); and The John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.

LibraryGrantSnider

Image by Grant Snider

Once your beautifully researched masterpiece is completed, the library can help you with promotions. Most will happily run author events: you can do a reading, a Q&A and/or an interactive session. Local authors are particularly welcome. I’ve been to a few and they’ve always been very well attended. The staff will usually help you to sell copies at that event too (especially if you donate one to the library)! If you do give a copy to the library you will also be paid every time your book is borrowed.

The library: an invaluable research resource; a promotional venue; a way to reach more readers. Every author should use their local library to its full advantage.

What experiences have you had with your local library? Have you held an author event? I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments.

If you’ve found this useful, please do like and share.

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An Evening with Diane Atkinson: Author of ‘The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton’

Happy International Women’s Day!

Any regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of women’s history (in fact I wrote a little book of it), so I was delighted to have the chance to listen to Diane Atkinson speak about her book ‘The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton’. Here’s the blurb:

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton

Caroline Norton: beauty and wit, poet, pamphleteer and blue stocking. She was married to a boorish minor aristocrat at 19, who accused her, for his own political ends, of an affair, or a ‘Criminal Conversation’ as it was know, with Lord Melbourne (the Prime Minister) which ended in the ‘Trial of the Century’. Pilloried by society, cut off and bankrupted by her family she went on to be the most important figure in establishing women’s rights in marriage. This is the startling story of how one woman changed marriage and revolutionised women’s rights.

Atkinson relayed a brief history of Norton’s life from her marriage, and subsequent political struggles, to her death. I was most compelled by her vociferous legal battle to gain access to her children and extend this right to all separated mothers (in the past, children of divorced parents were considered the father’s alone: the mother had no legal rights to see them). The question and answer section was very interesting at Atkinson spoke more about her research; she spent two years going through over a thousand letters written my Mrs Norton. Atkinson was confident and knowledgeable – she held the room beautifully. 

It was heartening in my small town to see a room full to bursting of people interested in women’s history. 

Find out more about Diane Atkinson here.

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Writer’s Block

A guest post by the fantastic author, C.H. Aalberry

My best ideas never seem to make it down onto paper. I walk home with my head full of pictures and witty dialogues, but as soon as I sit down to capture them, they evaporate. Getting ideas onto paper is hard, and that blank sheet can be intimidating. There may be rare times when words pour out faster than you can get them down, but what about the times when you sit in front of your computer and can’t think of what to do next? 

Don’t misunderestimate your own potential: if George can make it to the Whitehouse, you can write a novel.

Don’t misunderestimate your own potential: if George can make it to the White House, you can write a novel.

Writer’s block. It affects all writers eventually, particularly during first drafts. Writing is an act of creation that is easily derailed. So, what can be done to solve this dilemma? Here are eight tips I use when I get stuck:

1)      Start somewhere, start anywhere. Write what comes easiest. It doesn’t have to be the next chapter or even the next paragraph in the story, because as long as you are writing you are making progress. If you have any ideas floating around that you know you want to include, nail them down and put them in order later. I write a few key chapters first, which gives me some idea of where the story is going. Maybe start with a description of a character or a place: it may not be included in the final product, but it could start you off.

 2)      Don’t panic if it’s not perfect. You write a few lines. They are rubbish. You want to give up. Don’t. The point of a first draft is that you are creating the raw material for your second draft, so don’t worry if it seems rough.

I bet that even the Bard had poor writing days, and he turned out OK.

I bet that even the Bard had poor writing days, and he turned out OK.

3)      Change the scene. Try writing at your local library or cafe. A change of location can nudge you into action. Load everything onto an online drop box and you can carry on from wherever you are in the world (except for North Korea).

4)      Talk it out. I find talking about my work out loud helps me work out a direction and a few key phrases to get me started. No one to talk to? No worries! Talk aloud to yourself- all the creative types does it (note: best avoid mixing this step with step 3).

 5)      Put some pressure on. Tell your pal or your partner or your parrot that you will have five hundred words written by the end of the day… it’s an incentive to get started because if you don’t that parrot will judge you forever. 

Parrots: beautiful, but surprisingly judgemental.

Parrots: beautiful, but surprisingly judgemental

 6)      Take some pressure off. Go for a walk. It may not help your writing, but at least you’ll be getting some exercise. Also, inspiration is more likely to strike when you are relaxed, so get out there and smell the roses.

7)      Still struggling? Get inspired. If you are spending hours in front of your computer but not producing anything then it’s time for a break! Think of it as sharpening the axe. Go to an art gallery. Look at pictures of wildlife on the internet. Learn a little something about the world. Read a short story or two (shameless plug: ‘The Origami Dragon And Other Tales’ is full of short stories guaranteed* to inspire you). Sometimes all it takes is a change of mood.

8)      Persist! Persistence is a key ingredient to writing, so keep calm and keep writing. After all, slow progress is still progress.

I hope that helps. If you have any ideas about beating writer’s block, post them in the comments, I would love to see them. Finally, remember that writer’s block is normal, but don’t let it stop you from doing what you love!

*I lie; there are no guarantees when it comes to inspiration. But the book does contain a story about tiny elephants.

C. H. Aalberry is the author of the fantasy novel ‘Wish’ and ‘The Origami Dragon And Other Tales’, a collection of short stories. 

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My NaNo Experience and What I Can Do For You!

Happy end of NaNo everyone! Congratulations to everyone that gave it a go – winners or not, I’m sure we’ve all gained some new ideas and planted the seeds of some potential literary triumphs!

Snoopy TypingI joined in for the first time this year, but with a slightly different goal. I began writing a non-fiction book over the summer and used the NaNo motivation to finish writing, editing and formatting it. It was more of a LoNonfiWriFo (local non-fiction writing fortnight). I was concerned that this wasn’t entirely in the spirit of the thing, but the lovely people of NaNoWriMo London warmly reassured me that I was welcome. The peer presence and encouragement really helped me to meet my target. Generally, the experience was positive: I felt focused and productive. Also, as an editor and proofreader, I tend to be very exacting about my grammar and word choice: I can tell instantly when something’s not quite right in my own writing. This process encouraged me to let go of that: to write first and edit later; to just get it down on paper (or screen)!

I’ve also edited three books this November. This has meant my brain has been rather caught up in the world of words; my partner now knows that if I start talking about someone, there’s a fair chance that they’re fictional or historical, rather than somebody we actually know. There were also the midnight epiphanies- a notebook and torch by the bed became essential as my mind couldn’t quite switch off. I sat bolt upright one night with a dramatic grammar revelation: ‘That should be “fewer” not “less”!’ Generally, I’m really pleased to have felt part of it and achieved my own writing aims.

If you have taken part and now have a first draft of a manuscript- well done! 

First Draft Offer

That’s a huge achievement and you should be massively proud of yourself. If you’re wondering what to do next, I have a suggestion. Well, first have a drink and a nice lie down, then I’d love you to send it to me so that I do a first draft manuscript review. It can be really difficult to start the editing process yourself, so I will look over it and give you general helpful suggestions about structure, character, plot and consistency. Also, I will make sure to tell you what’s good about it too- I know how much you’ve put into it! This isn’t a full edit or proofread: that’s not what you need for a first draft. This is a fresh pair of (highly trained) eyes, giving you direction and constructive feedback so you have some focus when you look at it again.

I like reading all sorts of books, I have a lot of love and respect for my fellow participants and I’m really curious to find out what NaNo has produced, so I’m very happy to offer this for just £40! Get in touch and we can discuss what I can do for you: eveproofreads@gmail.com.

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Show and Tell: Advice for Writers

‘Show don’t tell’ is advice often given to writers, but it’s a difficult balance to strike. How do you let your readers know what’s happening if you don’t tell them? It really means that you should demonstrate information through plot, dialogue and other literary techniques, rather than stating a series of facts. This is the difference between saying, ‘Roger was angry when he got home,’ and ‘Roger stormed in, slamming the door behind him.’ The former version provides the necessary information, but the latter is arguably more engaging as it illustrates the emotion, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusion.

Showing, rather than telling, can also be instrumental in moving the plot forward. Rather than spending time describing characters, settings and events separately, they could all, for example, be introduced in a section of dialogue. This can show how the characters talk, how they feel about situations and keep the momentum of the story going. For example:

‘Please,’ said Ryan, proffering the spare scooter helmet. ‘’Simportant. Need to talk to you. Ain’t much time left.’

            ‘Why?’ Snapped Clara, ‘You goin’ some place?’

            ‘You and me both,’ murmured Ryan. ‘The right place, ’opefully.’

In this extract from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, we get a sense of the character’s attitudes, accents and relationship. By showing, the author brings the reader right into the moment; a sense of urgency is created in the dialogue. I definitely recommend this book, by the way, it’s a really good read.

There is such a thing, however, as too much showing and not enough telling. In Philip Roth’s Deception, for example, the story is told only through unattributed dialogue. The lack of authorial voice  to explain who is speaking, where they are, their relationships to each other and, frankly, why the reader should care, means that even the kindest reviewers euphemistically labelled it ‘challenging’.

Telling can ensure that key information has been made obvious to the reader. To illustrate this:

Bert White was a frail-looking, weedy, pale-faced boy, fifteen years of age and about four feet nine inches in     height…He was a pitiable spectacle of neglect and wretchedness…

Robert Tressel, in his novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, tells the reader about Bert’s physical appearance and goes on to describe the other characters in similar detail. This helps the reader to get a sense of the character; they can see what the author thinks is important for them to observe. Tressel wrote the novel to draw attention to the problem of poverty; telling allowed him to directly express the state of people he encountered and describe the conditions he experienced truthfully.

Telling can also clarify plot points. If you want the reader to know about something that happened in the past, for example, it might be more straight-forward to just tell them rather than spending time in flashbacks or long reminiscences.

Adopting the mantra ‘show, don’t tell’ will keep your stories dynamic and interesting. Avoiding a distractingly dominant authorial voice allows the reader to become immersed in the world you are creating. Nevertheless, ensure that you convey necessary information and vital plot points; enough, at least, to sign-post your reader towards what you want to show them. Now let’s see if Roger’s calmed down…

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