Category Archives: Collections

A cracking time in Dublin

I’ve just been away for a few days – a quick trip to Ireland involving two nights in a hotelP1010404 in Dublin and three beautiful sunny days in which to enjoy lots of sightseeing and plenty of ‘craic.’ Almost everybody knows what ‘craic’ means without needing a translation, but in case you are one of the few that don’t, it can be roughly translated as ‘a fun time with friends’. The word seems quintessentially Irish, but in fact it started out in Middle English as ‘crack’ (meaning a loud conversation), and was borrowed by the Irish in the mid twentieth century. Then, with the change to the more Gaelic spelling, it took on a joyous life of its own over there. It has however subsequently been borrowed back – as in informal  conversations: ‘What’s the crack?’ (What’s the news? How are you?). ‘We’ve had a cracking day out.’

 

P1010435Dublin is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. It was founded by Vikings who sailed from Iceland across the North Sea, down the Irish Sea, and up the large estuary to a spot where the river Poddle (which is now underground) flowed into the river Liffey. Where the two rivers met, they formed a dark pool, surrounded by fertile soil. The Vikings decided it would be a good idea to settle around this black pool – better known now as Dublin. (Classical Irish / Gaelic for black was ‘dubh,’ and the word for pool was ‘linn’).

The city has a literary feel, with plenty of bookshops, museums connected with writing or specific writers and, if our hotel was typical, shelves of books in all the lounges, and earnest looking young men scribbling away in odd corners. A great environment in which to think about my current writing projects, and catch up on some reading.

 

Postscript: When I was in Dublin, I did no tweeting, blogging, or posting on Facebook. So I was pleased to note when I got home that my new collection of short stories – Cast OffCast Offhad been selling steadily on Amazon, especially as an e-book, whilst I was away. Cast Off includes thirteen short stories based around female characters in plays by Shakespeare. Only one review so far, but it was very positive about the stories. I could do with more reviews and if anyone is looking for something to read on their holidays and is willing to review my collection (and post the review on Amazon, Goodreads etc.) I would love to send you a copy. Just email me with ‘Cast Off review’ in the subject line and I’ll email you back a copy: margaret.egrot@gmail.com

Cast Off, and other stories are always available from Amazon books. And there is always at least one free offer if you want to ‘try before you buy.’

Are all book reviews equal?

I’ve been reading quite a lot about book reviews in various Facebook groups recently. One theme has been that even bad reviews can help sell your book. (I believe that JK Rowling has more one star reviews than any other writer, and they certainly don’t seem to have held her sales back).

To date I’ve only had a single one star review – for an anthology in which I had a short story (Mary’s Christmas in Festive Treats): festive-treats

Mary’s Christmas by Margaret Egrot relates the highly boring Christmas of an OAP in a nameless British town. Nothing of note happens. It is related in excruciating detail.

This review came straight after a much more upbeat one for the whole anthology, in which my story was again singled out:

Some of the stories are moving and heart-warming. The story of Mary’s lone Christmas, standing above the rest in the bunch, I feared another outcome, which is testament to the cleverness of how the author made the story unfurl, the resolution made me joyously happy! Margaret Egrot has written a truly beautiful story.

Just goes to show you can’t please everybody.

Despite (because?) attracting the full range of star ratings, Festive Treats has almost never been out of the Amazon best seller list – though the fact that it is free as an e-book might help!

One of my favourite ‘critical’ reviews was for my first YA novel, And Alex Still Has And Alex -coverAcne. The young reviewer hadn’t much liked the book, because she didn’t like books about topics covered by the celebrated author, Jacqueline Wilson. As many readers do though (including me) I was quite chuffed:

The book certainly shows the author’s understanding of the idiosyncratic problems which certain young people today (often described in the novels of Jacqueline Wilson) have to deal with.

Whether one star reviews boost sales or not, it is still re-assuring for an author to get a good first review after a book is published. So you can imagine I was delighted to get the following five star review last week for Cast Off, my recently released collection of short stories based on female characters in Shakespeare’s plays:

One word for this short story anthology? Original. Certainly an odd descriptor for a Cast Offcollection of tales based on the characters in another’s works, but Mrs. Egrot weaves intriguing story lines utilizing some of Shakespeare lesser known supporting characters, and spin-offs from his heroines. My favorite two? “Time Out of Mind” affected me on an emotional level, and “Ban! Ban! Cacaliban” left me wanting more. Each story stands alone on its own merit. If you’ve never even heard of the bard, and you were born in a cave and raised by wolves, you will find a tale here to fall in love with. Thoroughly enjoyed.

On balance, whatever they say about the merits of one star reviews, vis-a-vis five star ones, I know which I prefer for a first review!

All the stories mentioned are available from my Amazon author pages:

All but Festive Treats are also available from Solstice Publishing.

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Fancy that! (More words and meanings)

There are a several words or phrases that I know well, but have never known how they have come to mean what they now do. Last week, however, I picked up Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk, in a second-hand book sale, and found some answers. Here are a few:

Take stalking horse.  When I hear this term on the radio, I understand it to mean a pony-1149420_960_720politician who runs for senior office against the current post holder (often, in the UK, a back bench member of parliament running against the sitting prime minister). They have no realistic expectation of winning, but are setting the stage for a stronger candidate to come forward. Now I know that in the fifteenth century, a stalking horse was literally a horse that had been trained to approach birds or other wild game slowly, with the rider hiding under its belly. Once close enough, the rider would step out and shoot the intended prey. By the sixteenth century the term had come to mean a sneaky type of military manoeuvre, and by the seventeenth century it could mean an accomplice who, often unwittingly, assisted in underhand ventures. So it’s easy to see how its modern use has come about.

Petty-fogging  now denotes unnecessary bureaucracy, usually imposed by lawyers or other rule enforcersAs far as I can see, petty-fogging has never had any positive connotations. A petty-fogger was a term first in use in the sixteenth century for a lawyer who, for a fee, would quibble over the smallest detail in order to win a case. Such a person is depicted by Lewis Carroll (the author of Alice in Wonderland):

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law, Lewis carrol

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength that it gave to my jaw.

Has lasted the rest of my life.”

 flunkeyBoth flunkey and lackey are now used dismissively about one person’s subservience to another. But flunkey (from the French verb flanquer – to flank) started out in the eighteenth century as a neutral noun for a servant in livery who stood alongside his master to provide help as needed. Only in the mid-nineteenth century did it start to acquire its negative connotations, such as slavishly obeying orders, or ‘flunking’  (dropping out of) a difficult task / test.

The older term, lackey (also from old French – laquay), described a servant with similar role to the flunkey. It was not a derogatory term – it was, for example, used by Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew, to describe, without malice, a man-servant. But lackey too has degenerated into a term of derision.

If you have enjoyed this post, you may like to read more of my published work. This is Cast Offavailable from my Amazon author pages.

 My latest collection of 13 short stories, CAST OFF – based around female characters from plays by Shakespeare was released by Solstice Publishing on the 14th July.

Cast Off: myBook.to/CastOff

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CAST OFF has cast off …

Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed short stories, has just been released by Solstice Publishing. Cast Off

Blurb: Have you ever thought what a Shakespeare character might be thinking or doing when she’s not on stage? Does she like the role that’s been created for her? Would she prefer a different plot? Or love interest? How does she really feel about all that cross dressing? In this light-hearted collection of short stories, the author suggests a few answers to these and other questions.

Links: myBook.to/CastOff

http://www.solsticpublishing.com

Now the hard work begins! As I learnt after the publication of my first novel, writing the book, is only one of the tasks expected of a published author. Each author has a big part to play in the promoting and marketing of their work once it has been released. So, apart from several tweets, posts on Facebook, and the occasional blog, I have just done a stint on the local BBC radio channel  Here’s the link if you are interested:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056ffyr#play  (I appear approximately one and a quarter hours into the Vic Minett show, at the start of the weekly Book Club).

Other promotistonefest 17onal activity to date has included taking part in a creative arts festival – Stone Fest – where I joined other members of the Coventry Writers’ Group to sell our books in the market square. Later I read an extract from Our Mad Sister, one of the Shakespeare stories, in a wine bar.  Our Mad Sister is based on the character of Cassandra – the one in Greek legends who is always prophesying (correctly) that things are going to turn out badly. She actually only takes a fleeting role in the play, Troilus and Cressida, but most people know more about her than the characters in the title, and she was fun to write about.

 

Here is the excerpt I read – if you like it, why not consider buying the whole collection!

Our Mad Sister.

 It’s crazy, I know, but it can’t be denied that a single woman of a certain age is invisible. Once I was the talk of Troy for my fine bone structure, my flawless skin, and my tall, graceful figure. Oh, I was clever too, but it was my beauty everyone talked about. I was so beautiful, in fact, that the god Apollo singled me out to be his lover. I was tempted of course – who wouldn’t be?

       But I had been cursed from a young age with common sense and wisdom. I may have been King Priam’s daughter, and sister to the mighty Hector and the flighty Paris, but I could sense that for Apollo I would just be a dalliance. I was flattered by his attention, my dreams were full of him. My knees went weak and my heart trembled whenever he was near.

       But, always, something held me back. I could foresee that for him I was just a human plaything he could seduce, before moving on to other paramours. So I held back, resisting his most pressing advances, and eventually he grew bored with me and left Troy. My common sense, that he had once found so seductive, had started to irk him. That didn’t stop him feeling angry and resentful. As he left, he settled a final curse on me.

       “I leave you Cassandra, a frustrated and disappointed god. Your virtue has defeated me. Long may you continue to be sensible,” he said. “And long may you be able to foretell the consequences of your and your compatriot’s actions. But you have defied me, a god, and, as a mere mortal, you must bear the consequences. I have decreed that no matter what sensible words you have to say, no-one will ever believe you. Mark my words: to them you will just be a crazed and embittered old maid.”

       With that he was gone, leaving me bereft, and questioning the wisdom of clinging so tenaciously to my virgin state. Maybe the passing love of a god would not have been so shameful after all? The palace was large, and I had my own quarters. True, my parents were old, set in their ways. But they weren’t unkind, and times change. Certainly, years later, when Paris snatched the beautiful wife of Menelaus, the Greek, my father was very angry with him, but not so angry that he ordered him to send her back. Instead he was willing to let Troy go to war to keep her here. A war I knew was bound to end in our defeat, but no one was listening to me by then.

       Oh the irony! Helen, little more than a pretty tart, arrived in our country, and we were prepared to lose some of our bravest soldiers on her behalf. But then, fathers down the ages have had different standards for their daughters. Paris carrying on with another man’s wife, was easier for him to tolerate than his daughter having a baby with a god. Never mind that it would have been the child of the God of Love, a genuine love–child. Later, when he might have been more understanding, my chance of motherhood had gone.

       So I witnessed my brothers’ lives moving on whilst mine atrophied. Hector married the boring but virtuous Andromache, Paris hooked up with his vacuous mistress, and even little Troilus grew up enough to want a woman of his own. Like Paris, Troilus had an eye for a pretty girl, and his choice – Cressida – was nothing if not pretty. But she was more a Helen than an Andromache. I knew the kind, beautiful, sexy, generous with her favours, pragmatic in how she bestowed them.

       Yes, I foresaw that Cressida would abandon Troilus, and Troy, within days of their conjoining and would join the Greek armies camped outside. To give her some credit, maybe she too had sensed that Troy would soon be overrun. After all, her father had already abandoned the city and joined the Greeks camped all around, the traitor. I could have told my brother all this as I watched him from my balcony making his way stealthily to Cressida’s bed under the cover of a starless night sky. I chose to remain silent. What was the point in running out to stop him – he wouldn’t have believed me. Besides, none of his family was supposed to know about his secret tryst. He would simply have denied what he was up to. And then what was I to do? I was just his mad sister, after all.

        That’s what my brothers called me, “Our mad sister,” they used to say to visitors to the palace. I had become old, too old anyway to be a suitable bargaining chip in a marriage arrangement with neighbouring countries, and too ‘odd,’ with my true, but ultimately gloomy prophesies, to be welcome in their quarters as a visitor in my own right. As I grew older I became less and less important. Even my parents sometimes forgot who I was.

       I was the crazy one, always foretelling doom, pouring cold water on people’s plans, and muttering that it would all turn out badly. Who wants someone like that sitting opposite you over breakfast? Of course I wasn’t completely left out, but I was like the poor relation you had to invite but you hoped would not cause embarrassment and upset the visitors. And if I did make one of my, to them, tactless and doom filled predictions, they would cover the ensuing embarrassed silence with a laugh, a roll of the eyes and, maybe, a finger briefly touching the temple. Later, when things turned out like I said they would, which they did, they denied I’d said anything, or blamed me for it, as if it was my fault. Sometimes they did both!

          It wasn’t long after Apollo abandoned me that my beauty started to fade, and people no longer turned admiring glances on me as I walked round the city. Soon they hardly noticed me at all, and I sometimes had to step off the pavement to let a group of young men through. They never acknowledged this. Why should they? They hadn’t noticed me in the first place.

       I started to neglect myself – let my hair grow long and leave it loose and uncombed around my neck. Sometimes I even left it weeks before I washed it. The same went with my clothes. Why worry if no one was going to notice? Instead I wore my old working smocks for months on end. Soon I found that people noticed me all right then. Not in a good way – they would look in horror at my eccentric appearance and, fearful perhaps that I was none too sweet smelling, they would step into the road to avoid me. At least I got the pavement to myself then. Sometimes I would emit a few cackles, as I drew near to them, and cackle louder whilst they stepped further out into the road to avoid me. Often as not I would shout out too.       

“Cry, Trojans, Cry!” was one of my favourites. Or, “Lend me your ears, and I will fill them with prophetic tears!”  This would get them looking anywhere but at me, and scurrying away as fast as they could go. I was not mad, I told myself, because I knew exactly what I was doing and the effect my behaviour had on others. But maybe only a crazy woman would want to behave like that. Now there’s a thought!

 I have plenty more promotional work planned throughout the summer, whilst still trying to find time to crack on with my next book – 10,000 words already, only another 70,000 to go! solstice logo (1)