Gig Review: Margaret Atwood in Bath

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When I first read ‘The Handmade’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood something inside me shifted. Her writing has the power to do that, to pull together nebulous strands of thought and give them coherence. I have read many although not yet all of her books over the past thirty or so years. It pleases me that I still have some to look forward to as she has in that time become one of my favourite authors.

Thanks to the fabulous independent bookshop, Toppings in Bath, I had the opportunity yesterday to meet her. I joined a number of her fans, two of whom had travelled all the way from the Lake District specifically for this event, as we listened to Ms Atwood read from her latest two books. She chose an excerpt from one of the short stories included in ‘Stone Mattress’ which she had not previously read to a live audience. We were also treated to two readings from the concluding instalment of her MaddAddam trilogy, a dystopian tale which is to be adapted for television by HBO (although she pondered how they will depict the Craker’s blue bits).

As well as the readings Ms Atwood answered questions from the assembled audience and at the end I was offered the chance to talk with her briefly. I do not embrace the cult of celebrity which appears to have pervaded society but I do enjoy meeting writers. I wonder what she thinks of these literary events: flattered that people wish to see her? a chance to engage with readers? Perhaps it is now simply a necessary part of the job.

Listening to any writer of fiction read from their work is fascinating, I like to hear the voices that are given to the characters they have created. What made this event worthwhile for me though was observing Ms Atwood’s interactions with her audience as she answered their questions.

One gentleman was interested in a perceived South American influence in her writing. A young lady who was studying her work wished to expand her academic knowledge. One question gave Ms Atwood an opportunity to expound her environmental passions, a topic that is an important part of the Maddaddam series. My interest was particularly piqued by two other points that she discussed.

Margaret Atwood’s brother is a biologist and she works hard to ensure that the science she includes in her books is based on fact. She told us that even the most outlandish, futuristic developments are either already possible or are being developed. Her website gives more detail on this but she did mention one example that amused me. The Crakers in Maddaddam purr over people who are sick. Apparently a purring cat has been shown to help heal certain brain conditions in people. Getting a cat to sit still on someone’s head could be tricky, but perhaps some budding entrepreneur could develop ‘the cat in the hat’.

A question was asked about writing poetry as opposed to prose. Ms Atwood suggested that the creation of poetry was like music or maths and could involve a great deal of staring out a window. Fiction on the other hand was inspiration followed by perspiration, requiring a different type of dedicated work over a lengthy period of time.

I asked Ms Atwood if she had known that the Maddaddam series would be a trilogy when she started to write the first book, Oryx and Crake. She told me that it was only as she was concluding the novel that she realised there was so much more of the story to tell. Her books evolve as she writes them and do not always go where she intended. To take George RR Martin’s words, she is a gardener rather than an architect. Given her interests and favoured fictional subjects this seemed somehow appropriate.

This particular literary event was held in a beautiful church built by benefactors in the eighteenth century who realised that many of Bath’s residents could not afford to attend the cathedral for worship. As I sipped my wine and admired the creative skills of those who had long ago created such a fabulous building it seemed fitting that I would be there to enjoy it with someone who has the ability to create whole worlds, and who can transport us there with her words.

 

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Author Interview: Dinah Jefferies

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When I approach an author I am unfamiliar with for an interview, it is usually because there has been something about the way they write that has intrigued me. Dinah Jefferies’ life has presented her with some significant challenges, which is perhaps why she can imbue her female protagonists with such depth of feeling and strength whilst avoiding clichéd or cloying descriptions. Her prose is deft, her characters real.

From the people she has created in her first book, The Separation, I got the feeling that this author is an adroit judge of character as well as an intelligent and talented writer. The steamy setting, with its 1950’s housewives and pompous husbands, could easily have placed her book in that much maligned genre of romantic ‘chick lit’. This is sidestepped cannily, although I suspect that fans of the genre will enjoy her writing. Alongside the passion and intrigue she offers nuance and insight whilst avoiding any suggestion of earnestness.

I was eager to find out more about the creator of this book so was delighted when she consented to be interviewed.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Dinah Jefferies.

Where do you typically write?

I always write in my little work room at the back of our terraced Victorian house. I have a desk for the computer, and a desk for writing notes and for plotting my novels, although by the time a book is complete the layers of notebooks are usually a foot deep. When I have a tidy up at the end it shocks me how much stuff I’ve accumulated. There’s probably enough material for half a dozen books.

Tell us about your writing process.

I start with a location; so far all my books are set in the East. Once I’ve picked a country I’ll read about the history and hope to find a time period that fascinates me. Usually I’ll choose a period of upheaval, where social change is happening or is about to take place, and often that process of reading will suggest an idea for the story. Of course a lot of time and heartache will have to go into developing the idea, and that tends to happen at the same time as I develop the characters. I’m known for strong female characters who undergo an emotional journey during troubled times, so I look for challenging situations for my main characters. My favourite stage is when I’m thinking about how I’ll weave the characters into the time and place I’ve chosen. I don’t plan everything in advance, although I know what my themes are and I know what drives the central story. I usually write a first draft and while reworking it the deeper story unfolds. Sometimes it is a little different from the original idea. It’s a complex process of discovery and it can keep me awake at night.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

Well all I can say is that my publishers at Viking/Penguin have been fantastic and I’ve enjoyed every part of the experience. Their offices are on the Strand in London overlooking the river, so I love going up there for meetings. They’re also extremely friendly people and that helps.

In what ways do you promote your work?

I do all the usual things: blog tours, interviews, signings. Also I give talks at bookshops, libraries and Literature Festivals. I shall be appearing at three festivals this October: Beverley, Cheltenham and Ilkley. I’m also to be found on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I love Pinterest because I tend to think visually. I’ve been interviewed on the radio several times but have yet to do television. Hopefully I will at some point.

What are some of your current projects?

I’ve just finished the edits for The Tea Planter’s Wife set in Ceylon between 1925 and 1934 which will be published by Penguin and in translation next year. I really loved writing it and I’m very pleased with the end result. Now I’m working on my third book a complex story set in Vietnam – and therefore terrifically hard to write. I’m at the fingers crossed stage. It always happens somewhere along the line and, so far, I’ve found my way through. Writing ‘on the edge’ you could call it!

Where can my readers find you?

On Twitter: Dinah Jefferies (@DinahJefferies)

My  blog: Dinah Jefferies – Author  (www.dinahjefferies.com)

On Facebook: Dinah Jefferies – Author, Penguin UK

On Pinterest: Dinah Jefferies – Author

The Separation is available for purchase now, from the publisher, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya and moved to England at the age of nine. She still loves South East Asia and the Far East and jumps at the chance to travel there whenever she can. She once lived in a commune with a rock band, and has worked as an exhibiting artist. After also living in Italy and Spain, she now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and very naughty Norfolk Terrier where she writes full time. The Separation is her first novel.

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The worth of a writer

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There have been a number of newspaper articles published recently about how difficult it is for authors to make a living purely from the sale of their books. I hear the same story from established journalist friends, that the mainstream media pieces they are commissioned to write pay a pittance when balanced against the work required to produce them. Money to live on is earned elsewhere, with appearances in newspapers, radio and television a means of self promotion rather than significant income. High earners in these fields are the exception rather than the rule.

I do not subscribe to broadcast television, rarely listen to the radio, and read whatever news is allowed to be reported on line, for free. I still buy works of fiction, but this is mainly because I prefer the physical product to an electronic version. I find walls filled with books comforting, inspiring. I furnish my home with books, buying them to read, to share, to admire.

If I, as an ardent consumer of words in many forms, pay little for my consumption, then how can I expect to be paid for the drop in the ocean that my own output represents? Yet still I feel it has a value. It would seem that this view is not always shared by those close to me, which I see as an indictment on how our society measures worth.

When I tell people that I am a writer their first question is often about where I am published. ‘On line’, I reply. I watch the next question form before it is asked, ‘Do you get paid for that?’ When I admit that I do not they lose interest. In their eyes I am not a writer because I do not earn money from this occupation.

My on line bio explains that I am a wife, mother, hen keeper and writer, yet none of these pays me in cold, hard cash. My husband is kind enough to ensure that I am warm, clothed and fed, although in turn I am expected to cook, clean, support and organise our little household. I sell a few boxes of eggs to friends each week which helps to cover the cost of keeping my hens. They still make a monetary loss, as do most pets. Publishers send me books to review so this side of my writing habit costs little more than my time. Do you see what I did there? I consider it a bonus that such writing can be done for free, I do not expect payment.

Just as I chose to marry, have children and keep hens, so I choose to write. What interests me about recent discussions is how society values a person’s worth based on cash they earn rather than on what they are giving back. It is my view that books provide value beyond measure.

It has always been the case that some may be unable to pursue their creative talents due to their struggle to eat and pay for shelter. The recent discussions suggest that this situation is getting worse. Just as a quality education and timely healthcare are now being priced so that only the wealthy can afford them, so a career in the arts has become more difficult for those who do not have separate, financial backup. This does not make it merely a hobby though. A writer may need a day job in order to survive, but that does not make them any less of a writer.

I am sometimes asked how many people read my work, as if this will somehow make it more worthwhile. My answer to that question is, ‘Enough’. If my output went entirely unnoticed then perhaps I would give up. Whilst I dwell less now on my reader statistics than when I first started publishing my work, I do still value the feedback that I receive. Do I consider myself a writer because I produce words or because they are read? I do not know.

When I read about author incomes falling I feel sympathy for those who could once live comfortably from such earnings and now cannot. My sympathy wanes when they talk of a drop in quality if established writers are not paid more, of a dilution due to the ability of anyone to publish anything for minimal cost. I have read some fabulous works from new writers. In my experience it is not necessary to be established and known to be good, although I would guess that this helps with sales. There have always been badly written tomes, some of which sell surprisingly well. Who is to judge what makes a book good other than the reader?

I am sometimes perplexed that a little person like me claiming to be a writer can irritate those who have been successfully earning money with this pursuit for some time. I am no threat to them. I seek readers just as they do, but am content to remain in my own small corner of the internet, promoting other’s work. Of course I feel good when I receive any sort of appreciation, just as I do when my husband or children take notice of my efforts to improve our home, but I do not seek any sort of fame.

Success requires talent, hard work and luck. There are excellent writers who have produced great work yet still struggle to get noticed by the mainstream. If I can do just a little to help them with my reviews and promotions then I will feel that I have added value. I know that I am not a great writer, by definition we cannot all lay claim to such an accolade. Still though, I produce words and they are read. I will enjoy my small successes when they come, when I am shared more widely or offered some reward for my efforts. I would appreciate not being put down by those who count value only in cash.

The world is in constant flux and I see no benefit in fighting inevitable change. It is my belief that there will always be those who wish to write books, and some of these will be good. Of course I understand the frustration of those who need to earn their own living and cannot now do so from writing alone. This will not kill the written word though, writers write because they are driven to do so.

If you do not like the current situation and wish to offer support, then buy more books. Read widely, read diversely, explore new genres and authors. There are worlds out there to discover, contained within covers and pages. Why limit yourself when there is so much to learn? Support a writer in the best way possible, read their words.

Author Interview: Beth Webb

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Beth Webb writes fantasy fiction for children and young adults. She is the author of The Fleabag Trilogy and The Star Dancer Quartet as well as a number of beautifully illustrated books featuring dragons, witches and cats.

I first met Beth at Kilve Court when my daughter attended one of the amazing Creative Writing courses that she runs there for gifted and talented youngsters. All three of my children have attended many courses at this fabulous residential centre, but Beth stood out amongst the leaders as truly inspirational. My daughter still keeps in touch with Beth and some of the other young writers she met while on these courses. This eclectic group provide creative encouragement and friendship in equal measure.

As well as her writing courses, Beth runs workshops at schools and libraries throughout the south west of England. She is a busy lady so I was delighted when she agreed to this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Beth Webb.

Thanks for inviting me.

Where do you typically write?

Ideas can pop up any place, any time, but when I sit down to do my work properly, I am at home in my study, on my faithful Mac.

Tell us about your writing process.

The courses I run at Kilve are terribly important to me. I love the kids I work with – they inspire me, and keep my mind fresh and alive. The students help me as much as I help them. They challenge and criticise me. They keep my writing fresh and relevant. I value what my students think of my work more than any highly paid editor in London!

As to how a book actually gets born: I very rarely have an ‘Athena’ moment when an idea pops out of my head fully grown and ready for action, but it has been known. Mostly I have ‘thunks’. These are friendly ideas that come to play and muck around in my head for a year or two – I make notes and talk to them, decide whether they have potential either as full novels – or just as short stories. I extend the idea in a large notebook, then one day I just start writing – often when I least expect it.

From a twinkle in my eye to beginning to write properly can take years, then although I can physically write a 50,000 word book in 2-3 months, the editing process to publication can take up to another two years.

A good story is like a vintage wine or an excellent cheese – it takes time to mature.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

Long, varied, and rather boring. I prefer small publishers to the bigger multinationals, but I’m afraid it’s all very political and a bit nasty out there.

In what ways do you promote your work?

In theory, my publishers set up talks, festivals and speaking engagements for me. In practice I have to organise most of that sort of stuff for myself, although I do have a friendly freelance publicist who helps too.

Luckily I love going to literary events, and I can talk for England, so that’s all great fun. Now I’ve learned to do Powerpoint, I can show my illustrations and photos of places and things that have inspired me. This means I can involve my audience a lot more, which I think is really important.

I do Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t have time to blog, although I’m always happy to write for someone else’s (Thanks Jackie!)

Best of all I like talking to and running workshops for the people I write for, introducing them to my worlds and my characters – all of whom I love dearly.

These days authors have to be performers to get our work noticed, but there are quite a few of us out there, all jostling to be noticed. We are a nice bunch of people, and it’s not easy to use your elbows when you’re with people you like!

What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently re-vamping my Fleabag trilogy and adding in illustrations, but that is a slow process. I have a couple of novels and some collections of short stories I’m cooking slowly.

I also illustrate and write books for adults with learning disabilities (Books Beyond Words). I have two of those on the go at the moment, so not much time to breath or do the housework or cut the lawn… (Any excuse!)

Where can my readers find you?

I’m on Facebook: Beth Webb

Twitter: Beth Webb (@bethwebbauthor)

Amazon: Beth Webb

Goodreads: Beth Webb

and have a personal website: About Beth | Beth Webb.

 

Beth wanted to write since she was about 3, scribbling on paper and folding the ‘pages’ between bits of cardboard. She studied Sociology and Psychology at university then became a hippy in a houseboat in Amsterdam, with a spell in a Bavarian castle. Since then she’s been a journalist (which she wasn’t good at), a radio broadcaster (which she loved), a cook, a cleaner and a mum to four amazing kids.

Beth wrote her first children’s book, ‘The Magic in the Pool of Making‘, to encourage her eldest son to want to read. The next thirteen titles followed slowly but surely, bringing dragons, talking cats and fire-wielding druid girls to the page.

She studied for her MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, and subsequently has taught writing for the Open College of the Arts and the University of Lancaster ‘Crossing Borders’ project in Africa.

Beth lives near Taunton in Somerset (UK) with two disreputable moggies who rule her life. She teaches writing to children and young adults at Kilve Court Residential Education Centre in Somerset.

As well as writing, Beth is also a performance storyteller, working from Orkney to Cameroon, and has even braved Glastonbury to tell stories in the mud! Beth also illustrates for Books Beyond Words – innovative publishing for adults with learning disabilities.

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‘Firemaiden’ by Beth Webb

Author Interview: E.J. Kay

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Although Liz has been my next door neighbour for quite a number of years, I only discovered that she was a published author when she offered me a copy of her first novel, Watermark, for my Book Group to read in 2012. If you like a good murder mystery then go buy this book now, I couldn’t put it down.

As well as her day job (Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the West of England) Liz is currently working on her second novel, provisionally titled ‘The Salt Man’. As a novice writer I am always intrigued to learn more about those who have succeeded in the craft and was therefore delighted when Liz agreed to this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, E.J. Kay.

Where do you typically write?

For me, writing fiction is a two-part process. First there is getting down the ideas, keeping the flow going and not worrying too much about structure. In particular I write dialogue this way. I find I get ideas for characters and dialogue easily, so I use my laptop a lot when I’m writing the first pass at a chapter, or the first ideas for dialogue. I take it with me on holidays, or jot down ideas as they come to me. I find it easiest and most effective to be in a busy atmosphere to do this; if I’m sitting in a coffee shop, or whiling away an afternoon on holiday, particularly if I’m sailing or cruising, the ideas seem to pour out.

The second part is the reworking and editing – the polishing I guess you could call it. I tend to do that at my desktop as I find I need a quiet place. It’s strange, but if I sit down in a quiet atmosphere with a blank computer page in front of me I get writer’s block, but it’s the only kind of environment in which I can edit and rework something I’ve already written.

Tell us about your writing process.

Oops, I guess I’ve already started to answer this! Probably the best description of my writing process is patchy. It’s almost as though it has a life of its own and I ride the rising and falling tide, making the most of the creative periods and using the times when ideas dry up a bit to work on structure and editing.

I generally start from an idea, or set of ideas, that have been sparked by something I’ve experienced, read about or seen. I like to mix ideas too; to see how synthesising them can create a new or different way of looking at things. I also research a lot. Researching is a reflex I have developed over the past 25 years of academic writing, and it’s one I can’t shake off. Also, I like to write scientifically-based crime fiction, so research is vital.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

In my life as an academic I’ve been published in academic presses for over 20 years now, including a book, several book chapters and peer-reviewed conference proceedings and journal papers. I’ve also had several specialist magazine articles published and am on a number of editorial boards for academic journals. I do a lot of reviewing for journals too.

Writing fiction is a complete departure from all this, and gives me the freedom to create characters and stories; a freedom that I love. But, getting fiction published has proved very hard; I have tried finding an agent to represent me, but with no luck. I’ve tried sending copies of the manuscript of Watermark, my first fiction book, to publishers, but again with no luck.

So, I have gone down the self-publishing route on Kindle and Create Space (both Amazon) and found it both rewarding and frustrating! Rewarding because I do actually have a book published, but frustrating because the advertising and marketing channels available for self-published work don’t seem to be very effective. My book is lost as one of around a million on Amazon.

In what ways do you promote your work?

I have a blog as E.J.Kay (my fiction author name) which I get very little time to post to, unfortunately. I’ve tried Google AdWords and Facebook advertising, but the click-through rates are very low and these haven’t resulted in many sales at all. I have Facebook and Twitter accounts as E.J.Kay too, but again I have let these slide recently due to time pressures in my day job. Promoting the work is turning into more work than writing it! I need to sit down and draw up a promotion plan this summer, when I get a bit of time.

What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on my next book – The Salt Man. Like Watermark, there will be two stories in the book; one in the ancient past and one in the present. I’m fascinated by how patterns repeat over time, and how stories might run in parallel over thousands or millions of years. As the old adage goes, there are no new stories!

I got the idea for The Salt Man whilst visiting the Castell Henllys Iron Age reconstruction site in Pembrokeshire a few years ago. Whilst we were chatting to the helpers there, they described how salt was very important to Iron Age cultures and how it is likely that it was delivered by salt traders. When the Romans came they commandeered the salt mines and brine evaporation sites, and would have been likely to use the salt traders to keep the supply going to both the native people and the Roman settlers. Salt was a very important commodity to the Romans too.

It struck me as we were chatting that the salt traders would visit many places and would be likely to hear gossip and tales. They would be an ancient information vector. And then I thought about how quickly and effectively information travels today, and wondered if a puzzle that couldn’t be solved in ancient times might be solvable now. This idea is explored through a murder mystery in The Salt Man.

I’m also interested in the idea of transmedia storytelling, where readers can take the ideas in a story and develop them through online media, such as video, blogging and 3D virtual worlds. I like the notion of a story developing further after an author has finished with it; the author ‘gives birth’ to the story and it can continue to have a life of its own after it has left home! So I’m beginning to develop a site in a virtual world (Second Life) where the stories in Watermark might be developed further by readers who can take various roles and play them out. It’s early days for this project though; it won’t be ready any time soon!

Where can my readers find you?

My blog is the best place  E.J.Kay’s blog | WordPress.com.

‘Watermark’ is available from Amazon in Kindle or paperback: Watermark: Amazon.co.uk: E J Kay: Books.

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I’m a Lancastrian by birth, born in Bolton in the 1950’s. My family moved to Pembrokeshire when I was 14 and I went to college in Cardiff in the 1970’s. E.J.Kay is my maiden name; I use it for fiction writing to differentiate from my academic writing, for which I use my married name, Liz Falconer. I’m currently Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the West of England. Before working at UWE I was at the University of Bath, and before that at the University of Salford.

My Twitter handle is E.J.Kay (@EJKay1).

My Facebook page is E.j. Kay.

Author Interview: Jess Law

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I first met Jess when I gave birth to her seventeen years ago. In terms of publishing history, on line hits and just about every other measure of a writer’s success, my daughter is showing me the way. At fourteen she had her first article published in a magazine; at fifteen one of her short stories was included in a physical book; her serialised stories attract in excess of 20,000 readers on line.

For my first author interview, I decided that I need go no further than my own home.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Jess Law.

Where do you typically write?

In terms of physical location, my desk in my bedroom is where most of my stories are written. I do visit actual locations and scribble down ideas, but my best work happens where I am most comfortable.

In terms of where my work ends up, the majority of what I am writing at the moment is fanfiction – hence it ends up on websites like FanFiction or Archive of Our Own.

Tell us about your writing process.

That suggests that there is a typical process that I go through every time. There isn’t. With my fanfiction I think of an idea or am given a request or prompt and then I just sit down and write. In that way I can produce 5,000 or so words in a single sitting, before going back and editing to see if it works.

My original stories have a much longer and more arduous process, as I tend to do a lot of research and character building before I write anything down. I have an entire folder of characters and inspiration on my laptop to draw ideas from.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

The things I have had physically published – my magazine article and my short story – were very different experiences. For the article, I was contacted by the editor and asked to write an article on a specific topic. I was provided with background information and clear guidelines but it took me some time to write something that I thought was appropriate. For the short story, I was stressed after my first GCSE exam so sat down and wrote to try and calm down. I entered the result in a competition without expecting anything to come of it, and got a phone call several months later to say I had won and was being published in a collection of short stories. It was quite surreal.

Publishing fanfiction on line is different again. I have learned over the years what my readers like – fairly simplistic and cliché romance – so I just churn it out, send longer stories to my beta reader, and then upload it on two websites. It’s simple and stress-free, although it gets a bit tedious occasionally as I prefer complex fantasy to romance.

In what ways do you promote your work?

To be honest, I often don’t. On the rare occasions when I upload original work on line I promote it via Twitter, but my fanfiction has enough of a following from people just searching the sites. I’m not the most popular author by any means, but I don’t have enough free time to be constantly dealing with requests, so for now that suits me. I already have multiple pleas to expand on many of my short stories so I feel no need to promote and chase for even more readers.

What are some of your current projects?

I have a longer fanfiction project which I have been writing since December ; it is currently 50,000 words long and far from complete. I am also in the research stage of an original story which should end up being my third original novel – like the others I doubt it will be published anywhere, but I’ll enjoy writing it. Alongside that I will continue writing short 1,000-5,000 word fanfiction stories when my readers request them.

Where can my readers find you?

My fanfiction isn’t exactly great literature, but those who really want to read it can find me under the pseudonym of ThePenguinOfDeath on FanFiction or Archive of Our Own. I have also published a small number of stories and articles on Readwave. My published short story is in the anthology ‘Wild n Free‘, available on Amazon.

 

Jess Law, more commonly known as ThePenguinOfDeath, lives with her family and chickens in Wiltshire. As well as writing she enjoys hiking, reading and Explorer Scouts, and she is part of too many fandoms to retain her sanity. Her ambitions are to study Medicine, become a Doctor, and eventually publish an original novel in the Horror or Fantasy genre. 

You can follow Jess on Twitter (@FailFish) or marvel at her many fandoms on Tumblr where she blogs as #NotDead. and Loki’s Little Midgardian.

My day

I am joining in again this week with the Manic Mondays Blog Hop. 

Perfection Pending

Today was going to be a good day. Determined to restart my attempts at healthier living I made sure that I had a relaxing weekend to prepare. I allowed myself all the little treats that I would no longer be indulging in and left a few jobs undone because, you know, I was going to be busy and active and achieve loads each day. Might as well make sure I have plenty to do on day one, yes?

Despite going to bed a little later than usual I woke up when my husband left for work at 5.30am. He is very good at leaving the house quietly and I often sleep through this, or at least drop back to sleep after he has gone. Not this morning though. Never mind, it gave me time to drink a cup of tea or two and go on line before starting my busy day.

As soon as the kids had left for school I got the dishwasher going and started my first load of laundry. By the time the bedrooms and kitchen were tidied I was ready to sort clothes and set up load two. I was determined to walk down to the gym, but first had to service my little flock of hens. I noted that, despite my elder son’s best efforts yesterday, there were still a lot of leaves to be cleared in the garden.

But I had promised myself that I would get to the gym today and have a swim. I went inside and sat down with a cup of coffee because, you know, I just felt like one. And while I was enjoying that welcome beverage, I had a quick browse on line.

Okay, so now half the morning has gone. I thought that I could fit in a quick swim at least, and then maybe get out into the garden with my rake. Good plan, except that after my swim I realised that I was very hungry. A bit of lunch was needed, nothing too much. And another cup of coffee. And a biscuit.

Now it is nearly time for the kids to get in from school and I seem to be on line again, how did that happen?

But it has been a good day. I validated my NaNoWriMo story and was declared a Winner! I should have loads more time each day now that my writing can take a back seat for a while, although I do seem to be filling that time with reading instead. And going on line.

I will not let the fact that my week has started less well than I envisaged put me off. Perhaps if I go and grab that rake right now I will be able to salvage something of my attempt to turn over a new leaf (apologies for that truly dreadful pun).

I could really use another cup of coffee though.

I hope that your Monday has been more productive than mine.

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To read the other posts taking part in this Blog Hop, click on the link below.

Writing challenge

I have signed up to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo). This is a writing challenge that requires participants to produce a unique, short novel (50,000 words) between the 1st and 30th of November. The point of the exercise is to write a complete, lengthy story. The result is not expected to be publishable.

I have no plans to attempt to write a book for publication. Although I have plenty of ideas in my head, I do not consider that I have the skill or the discipline to put together a polished manuscript. I am under no illusions about the difficulties that writers have getting their work accepted by a publisher. I am well aware that there are a very large number of people out there who think that they have a book inside them. Many talented writers do and will still not achieve their dream.

What I wish to achieve is an improvement. I play the piano (badly) and would like to refine my limited skills. No matter how much I practice though, I am never going to make the grade as a concert pianist. This does not mean that I should give up playing; I enjoy making music, even if I am only doing so for myself. I see my desire to improve as a worthwhile aspiration, even if it will lead nowhere tangible.

Likewise with my writing. I would like to be a better writer and the only way this is likely to happen is if I practice. I can read widely, compare and contrast the styles of various authors and commentators, but if I do not sit down and create my own, unique text then I will never hone what limited skills I may possess.

Writing is my hobby and gives me pleasure. WordPress is my club, where I can share with others who pursue the same interest as well as enabling me to put my thoughts and ideas out to a wider audience via social media. Feedback from readers gives me an insight into how my writing comes across to others; the pieces that I am most satisfied with are often not the ones that are best received.

I also create works of fiction but these are on going and incomplete. By taking part in NaNoWriMo I will be encouraged to finish a story, even if it is not as polished as I would wish. I have a habit of returning to works again and again, changing a word or a phrase here, tidying up the plot there, rather than getting down a complete first draft before entering the editing phase. I want to see if I am capable of taking a tale through to a decent conclusion.

A lot of people look on NaNoWriMo as an exercise in creating bad writing. By demanding a set word count in a given time frame, with no quality checks along the way, the resulting ‘novel’ is unlikely to be the next best seller. For me, however, this is not the point; I will use it to see what I am capable of producing. I do not expect anyone else to read the results of this exercise, just as I do not expect anyone else to listen to me play the piano (I really am an untidy musician).

There seems to be a certain amount of snobbery amongst some writers. Those who are capable of earning a living from the regular, quality output that they produce may look on the plethora of amateurs who populate the blogosphere with a degree of contempt, but I find this attitude disappointing. If writing gives pleasure then I would encourage this pursuit as much as I would encourage those who partake in any other creative hobby. I admire the established writers who are willing to help and encourage the amateurs, even if their output leaves much to be desired.

November is already a busy month for me and by taking on the NaNoWrMo challenge I am setting myself up to be more time pressured than I am used to. It will be interesting to see how I cope. I will not be putting the story that I write out on this blog; I have no wish to share what is likely to be an unimpressive piece of writing.

You will, however, be able to track my progress via the little widget I have installed on my sidebar; the aim is to reach a word count of 50,000 by the end of November. It is easy to start a new project fired with enthusiasm. I wonder will I have the resolve to continue when life demands my time and my ideas wane. It wouldn’t be a challenge if I expected it to be easy; roll on November that we may begin.

NaNoWriMo

Writing to be read

I have quite a number of friends who are writers. I admire their ability to think clearly as well as their humour and wit. Even when I disagree with a point of view, their cogent arguments will encourage me to consider what they say. They can be forthright and self assured to the point of arrogance yet are amongst the most accepting of others rights. However opinionated they may be, they know how to listen and counter in a manner that comes across as fair.

A number of these friends are professional journalists, which these days appears to be such a precarious career. With so many amateurs throwing their words into the public void, and fewer people being willing to pay for the news and comment that is freely available on the internet, earning a living from such writing can be tough. Quality has been forsaken for cheap and easily available quantity.

I follow a few of the blogs that are written by journalists. These tend to be well crafted and researched, full of interesting ideas but with less of a personal feel than is typical of much of the genre. As with any writing, it can be satisfying to agree with the points being made as this offers reassurance, but when feedback is given it can feel more academic; rather like losing or gaining marks in a school essay.

In contrast, blogs written by amateurs come across as more friendly. Shared feedback allows a reader to feel they are getting to know the writer as a person. Agreement offers a virtual hug, like being wrapped in a warm blanket. The quality of the writing varies widely but professional offerings can be just as diverse in construction.

Most bloggers, whether amateur or professional, wish to see their words being read and published beyond their personal sphere. Few would turn down payment, but it is being read that matters to a writer. In much the same way, authors of books will self publish when they cannot find a publisher willing to take them on. Whilst they may dream of being able to earn a living from book sales, having produced the work they seek readers.

In times gone by, books were written by gentlemen of independent means or who pursued other professions. When women entered the fray they used pseudonyms in order to be accepted. A level playing field, where anyone with a good idea may write a book, is all but impossible due to the effort required to produce a publishable work. Time and financial support are needed as well as skill and luck.

Those who truly wish to write will find the time to do so, but their words may not find an audience. The strength of the internet as a means to provide a platform for all opinions, not just the officially sanctioned ideas, also means that anyone can publish on this medium. So many good stories and ideas are lost in the swamp of resulting words.

The plethora of writing makes it difficult for both new writers to be noticed and for experienced writers to garner payment. As an avid reader and opinion seeker I believe that we will all be the poorer over time if the writers skills are never honed. A talented author can still benefit from having their work polished by an experienced editor. If it becomes impossible to earn from the endeavour then fewer will be able to afford the investment. Words will be published raw and quality will suffer.

It feels as though we are reverting to a time where story telling has become a hobby rather than a profession. The publishing houses stifle innovation in their desire to promote blockbusters above literature. Our news is propoganda provided by government and corporations rather than investigative propagation of key facts.

Independent thinkers are needed by any society that wishes to progress. As readers we need to seek them out and support them when we can. Buy books by an author you have not read before rather than the latest in a string of formulaic tales by a best seller; click on news items that inform rather than on shock tactic headlines or fluffy gossip about media darlings; support writers by sending a message to those who hold the purse strings that we want variety and quality rather than a rehash of what worked before.

Good writing offers the pleasure and satisfaction of a Michelin starred meal. Support the chef or we will all end up at McDonalds.

Writer Wordart