Author Archives: Margaret

About Margaret

Writer

Why go to a writers’ group?

Aspiring writers are always encouraged to attend a writers’ group. It certainly helped me make the shift from writing factual reports and practice manuals for work, to fiction. I still go to my local group for the camaraderie, and the tips. Sometimes I even have one to offer myself.

The Coventry Writers’ Group includes a writer who has many successful publications under her belt. Others have won prizes for their work, or contribute regularly to magazines, or are gaining a reputation as performance poets. Some are just starting out and looking for advice. One member recently self-published a novel and was willing to use his experience to help the group publish something together. We were keen to take up his offer and decided to compile an anthology. Once this was agreed, the idea was to get it out before Christmas.

We had published a couple of anthologies some years ago, but that was when we had a member who ran a small publishing house, guided us through the whole process, and sorted the printing and publishing. This time it was totally in-house – though it would have been impossible without the hard work of our volunteer publisher to co-ordinate it all.  Also his patience, as some people were late getting their work to him, asked for changes to the font, disagreed over the cover … you can imagine the scene!

Apart from a vague rule about the length of a poem or story, the only other stricture was that the entry should, if not make readers laugh out loud, at least make them smile. As for what the authors would get out of the anthology – if you have never been published before it is a thrill to see your work in print. Or if, like me, you already have a modest portfolio, it is recommended marketing practice to be able to offer something shorter (and cheaper) than your novels so potential readers can check you out before making a more expensive commitment.

So here we are. Within the time scale we had set ourselves, the group has produced its anthcov2new anthology, Stories to Make You Smile. The content reflects the make-up of the group, with contributions from the full-time writers, the never before been published members, and the majority of us who are somewhere in between.

The anthology is an eclectic mix. Not every story or poem will appeal to everyone, but it is bound to contain something to make you smile. It is now on Amazon both as a print book (£4.00) and e-book (£0.99). Just in time for a real or virtual Christmas stocking. A good enough reason – for me anyway – to be part of a writers’ group!

Links: 

Stories to Make You Smile: myBook.to/StoriesSmile

http://amzn.eu/5i4b5mh

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A superfluous word can be useful.

Did you notice that I started my last blog with the word ‘so’? Did it annoy you? Apparently the BBC has been deluged with complaints about interviewees starting every response with the word. And on Tuesday, there was an article in the Times, as well as an editorial, in response to this. Though, in fairness, the paper didn’t seem to take the issue too seriously.

In all probability hapless interviewees are just playing for time, gathering their thoughts, or feeling nervous. They’ve been told not to say ‘um,’ ‘well,’ and ‘er’ and, in avoiding these words (and knowing ‘like’ is the domain of the young), they’ve hit on ‘so.’

‘So’ is a relatively new kid on the block, perhaps first used by programmers in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. But there are others to choose from – ‘look,’ ‘sure,’ ‘no problem,’ ‘yeah’ that have a modern feel if you want to ring the changes.

Use of such, seemingly uneccessary, words is not a new phenomenon – my father used to call one of his colleagues ‘Ahbut Umwell’ (only behind his back, of course) because he would invariably start his entry into a discussion with one or other phrase.

What should a writer do about this problem, if it actually is a problem? First, recognise it is not a big deal. It may not be good grammar in a written disposition. But it is an authentic part of everyday speech, and has its place in written dialogue – a verbal tic that helps fix a character’s personality.

As for my use of ‘so,’ in my last blog – was I just being a bit sloppy? No doubt socio-linguists would excuse me on the grounds that apparently superfluous words can convey subtle meanings. The use of ‘so,’ for example, may denote the speaker’s confidence. That must be it – I was reporting back on a radio session that had turned out better than I’d feared. My opening word was there to subtly convey this to you.

So there you go!

If you have enjoyed reading this, and would like to find more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages. There is always at least one free story you can download.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

That Dreaded Radio Interview – follow up!

radio_studio_3.fw

And so, on Sunday afternoon I found myself standing  nervously in the cold in Stratford-upon-Avon, waiting to be let into the radio studio. It helped that the presenter was also waiting to be let in, and could assure me that I was expected. Yes, I had the right time and the right place. He was also confident that somebody, soon, would hear the bell and come to the door.

My own confidence increased as it was obvious the presenter, (Nick Le Mesurier – see his comment and links at the foot of my last post), was fully prepared for the programme, was very re-assuring, and had a range of plan Bs in case anything went wrong. This included a plan to cover the fact that a co-interviewee,  Andrea Mbarushimana, was lost somewhere in Stratford and might not arrive before it was our turn to go into the studio. Fortunately she arrived in the nick of time.

Both of us stayed in the studio for the duration of the programme, Stratford Words, which had the theme of hidden voices. After general introductions, a poem to mark armistice day and a quiz, it was straight over to me to chat briefly about my collection of short stories, Cast Off. Each story is the ‘hidden voice’ of a female character in a Shakespeare play, so the book fitted well with the theme.  I talked a bit about how I came to write the collection, then read an extract from one of the stories. Nick prompted me to tell listeners how they could get hold of my book, and I was able to advertise my launch event at the Criterion Theatre, Coventry, on 23rd November, where local actors will be reading from selected stories. In short, I covered all the points I wanted to, without too many ‘ers,’ ‘umms,’ or embarrassed pauses. Result!

The next part of the programme, a pre-recorded interview and short story from an Armenian lady now living in Warwickshire, went smoothly. Then Andrea was introduced, talked a  little about her life, and read a story inspired by her time as a VSO in Rwanda.

A monologue then, with an elderly ex-prisoner’s perspective, from Nick, who is an established local writer as well as radio presenter. This was followed by the answers to the quiz and, finally, a short poem from Andrea.

The hour flew by. It was great to be involved. But a great privilege too, to witness how the whole show came together and, with impeccable timing, finished bang on 5pm. I hope the listeners enjoyed it as much as I did.

Link to my story, Cast Off:

Cast Off

 

 

myBook.to/CastOff

 

 

 

 

Link to Stratford Words: www.welcomberadio.co.uk/stratford-words

 

That dreaded radio interview!

The other day, out of the blue, I received an email asking if I wanted to take part in a radio programme to talk about my recent book and, maybe, read an excerpt from it.

radio_studio_3.fwGulp! I have tended to avoid such invitations. I may have the face for radio, but not necessarily the voice.

However I realise that it is a valuable addition to the opportunities writers have to promote their work, and maybe I should take the plunge. So, after a mild panic attack, I emailed back to say ‘yes.’ Then settled down for a more serious panic session.

More constructively, I started to think about what to do in preparation.

Here’s what I’ve thought about so far. I would welcome other suggestions – bearing in mind I’m slotted in for an interview this Sunday.

  1. Clarify what is expected. E.g. Who else will be there? How long will the interview last? What will the format be – question and answer? readings?
  2. Which book / books will the interview cover?
  3. Does the interviewer want to know more about my work in advance? And more about me?
  4. Where is the studio? Is there parking? How soon before I am on air will I need to arrive?

So far I know what time I will be on air, what book we will talk about mostly, and which Cast Offexcerpt the interviewer would like me to read. The interviewer is particularly interested in Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed stories. This isn’t surprising as he has a new programme on Stratford’s community radio. He will also give me a chance to promote my book event (with readings done by professionally trained readers) which will take place at a community theatre in Coventry later in the month.

And now I must go and practice reading my excerpt aloud. (But why is it my tongue suddenly feels too big for my mouth, making the words hard to come out?)

Links:

Cast Off: myBook.to/CastOff

Telling Stories.

This month a statue of Eric Blair (1903 – 1950) will be unveiled in front of BBC Broadcasting House in London, where he worked briefly as a producer during the second world war.

OrwellBlair is better known as George Orwell the author of, among other books, Animal Farm and 1984 – two excellent short novels about truth and power. The books are still popular and, after President Trump’s spokeswoman re-phrased lies as ‘alternative facts,’ sales of 1984 were reported to have increased by nearly one thousand per cent in the US.

Orwell was an old Etonian idealist, turned realist, who enlisted on the Republican side in 1936 to fight during the Spanish Civil War. He quickly became disillusioned by the lies told by both sides – the ‘double speak’ and ‘news speak’ he refered to in his later work. As he said in an essay published in 1942, where he reflected on his experiences in Spain: ‘However much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing.’

Whilst this was a comment on the reporting of world events and politics, it is an observation worth considering by even the most non political story-teller. A novel is a work of the imagination, but authors should still seek for integrity in their portrayal of character or historical events.

Orwell took a journalistic approach to his novel writing – what he called a ‘power of facing unpleasant facts.’ He would no doubt have been dismayed, but not surprised, that the phrase ‘post-truth’ was in so much use by 2016 that it has entered into the Oxford dictionary. The same dubious honour is now being given to ‘fake news’ which will be in the 2017 edition of the Collins dictionary.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon Author pages:

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It’s only a novel!

On my last blog I quoted from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey on the (over) use of theghost word ‘nice.’ Having re-read that section in order to write the blog, I decided to re-read the whole book. It is a spoof on the ‘Gothic’ novels that were fashionable at the time (often written by ‘lady novelists’) and there’s plenty of gentle humour in it. So, being easily scared, it’s my ideal reading material for Halloween.

Jane Austen, may not have been keen on what she saw as the overblown writing of some of her contemporaries, but she was proud to be a writer of novels herself and, in Northanger Abbey, she offers up a robust defence of novels and novelists, that is still relevant today, (How many people do you know who proudly tell you that they “never read novels”?)

Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions haveNorthanger abbey afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost so many as our readers. …

“And what are you reading Miss – ?” “Oh, it is only a novel,” replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. …

Or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

Some of us are more successful than others at getting all this across, but, her words paint an inspirational picture of what we’d like to achieve!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages, where you will find stories from £/$0.00 to £/$15.00

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

A very nice blog today?

 

Writers sometimes strain to use different words when plain and simple is just fine. A common error is to seek desperately for different ways of indicating speech:

I shouted / he screamed / she bellowed / they wailed / we whispered …

None of these is wrong, but too many (especially the more elaborate), can distract from the dialogue. Indeed, there is nothing wrong, and plenty right about the humble – ‘she said’. The reader can concentrate on the dialogue, but is clear about which character is speaking. Alternatively, the speech can stand alone, and the follow-up phrase can indicate who is speaking, and the tone in which it was spoken.

‘“I see you have thrown out my mother’s photo.” Only the slight reddening of her neck indicated her anger.’

Instead of struggling to find alternatives to ‘said’, maybe we should expend our energy on words that can regularly slip into our work without us noticing.

Like ‘nice.’ Jane Austen

Jane Austen had plenty to say on the over-use of this word. When Catherine, in Northanger Abbey, is talking to Henry Tilney:

“… but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk and you two are very nice ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy or refinement: people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now, every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

 

Another word that crops up a bit too often, even with the likes of Henry Tilney (though I suspect in the above speech he was just being sarcastic) is ‘very’. Again, the constant repetition of the word shows a lack of imagination and can get boring. There are plenty of alternatives to using ‘very’ before a word. Here are a few examples:

  • Very rich – wealthy / loaded
  • Very poor – destitute / impoverished
  • Very loud – noisy / deafening
  • Very quiet – hushed
  • Very often – frequently
  • Very rarely – seldom
  • Very short – brief
  • Very long – lengthy

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to read more of my work please go to one of my Amazon author pages:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO