Category Archives: #SundayBlogShare

Writing together – a novel experience (1)

I don’t think I’d be very good as a co-author. I struggle to compile a shopping list with my husband without getting irritated, and as for joint authorship of friendly little missives on the Christmas and birthday cards we send out – don’t go there!

So I’m always very impressed when I hear about two or more people collaborating on a novel – especially when it all works out and their work gets published. Even more so if they are – and remain – married.

There are plenty of examples of successful collaborations. To start with a couple of married couples: there’s the British couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who write psychological thrillers together under the pseudonym Nicci French. There are also the children’s books authors Janet and Allan Ahlberg – although maybe they were able to maintain marital harmony by dividing their labours, with Janet doing the illustrating and Allan the writing.

Although the books were published under one name, the famous jockey Dick Francis always acknowledged Mary, his wife, in each book. She is widely credited with licking his prose into shape after he came up with the plot ideas. When she died he collaborated with his son, Felix.

Sometimes writers who are famous in their own right get together on a joint work with considerable success, as did Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Good Omens). Despite his diagnosis of dementia, Pratchett continued writing until he died, including writing the Long Earth Series with Stephen Baxter.

The most recent, and well publicised, collaboration is that between former president Bill Clinton and James Patterson who worked together on The President is Missing.

Ann Evans and Rob Tysall

Robert D. Tysall and Ann Evans

I haven’t had the chance to interview Bill and James, to find out how their collaborative efforts were for them. But on my blog on the 8th August the children’s, romance, and thriller author Ann Evans and her co-writer Robert D. Tysall (better known as a musician and photographer) will be answering questions about their new novel-writing partnership.

  • Was their recent collaboration on a novel successful?
  • Are they still speaking to each other?
  • Let alone still working together?

Find out by reading my next blog…

 

Links to my books

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

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

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https://twitter.com/meegrot

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How to be a prize-winning author.

Anne TylerAnne Tyler is an American writer who has written twenty-two novels, won the Pulitzer prize, been shortlisted for the Booker prize, and had one of her books turned into an Oscar winning film. Her latest book, Clock Dance, has just been published and is likely to sell well. Very well – she has a huge following of both male and female readers and has sold more than ten million books since she started writing over fifty years ago.

Unlike most novelists, who are encouraged / expected by their publisher to seize every opportunity to promote their books she has, for the past forty years, refused to go on book tours or appear on chat shows. Her books sell largely on her reputation, and positive critical reviews. She will, however, allow the occasional newspaper interview and recently talked about her writing technique to Louise France.

The author has a small office in her home where she stores her ideas for novels on index cards and jots down the initial outline for each novel on one page. She writes the first draft in longhand, with a black gel pen, onto blank sheets of A4 paper. Numerous revisions are then made to the handwritten draft before she feels pleased enough with her work to type it into her computer.

But that is only the start! She then re-writes it in longhand and, after that, reads it out loud into a recorder so she can pick up what still doesn’t sound right, make further changes and, finally, pull together a manuscript she is satisfied is ready to go to her publisher.

Anne Tyler is already well into her twenty-third novel. Recently she has given up writing all day. She writes in the morning and allows herself to read other people’s work in the afternoon. She reads fiction and doesn’t like memoirs, finding them too intrusive into real people’s lives. Perhaps a fitting stance for someone who is so unassuming about her own fame and talent, and who recently described novel writing as “A very odd way of making a living. Just telling lies.”

Odd it maybe, but it’s worked for her! Though, if her technique is anything to go by, it is certainly not an easy option. Writing a prize-winning novel is hard work.

 

 

My Amazon author pages and other social media links

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

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

Facebook: fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Twitter: https://twitter.com/meegrot

 

 

 

Dangling Participles.

I don’t want to get too personal, but how do you feel about your dangling participles? Do you reel back in horror at the sight of them? Feel there’s a time and place for them if used wisely? Or wonder what on earth I am talking about?

If you are in the last group, a dangling participle occurs when a clause in a sentence relates not to the noun or pronoun that follows it, but to one in a previous clause. As in:

‘Mary thought Mr Brown was a misogynist and she vowed she would never work for him; then again, being a woman, he probably wouldn’t employ her anyway.’

Sometimes a dangling participle will cause confusion, but few readers of the above sentence would assume that Mr Brown is female. Being a woman obviously refers to Mary.

Many style guides disapprove of the use of dangling participles. John Humphreys, in Lost for Words calls their use a ‘hanging offence’ (pun, presumably, intended) because they are ugly and can mislead the reader.

Hamllet ghostBut who could improve on Shakespeare’s phrasing when the ghost in Hamlet tells his son that:

“Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me”?

No words are wasted, and everybody knows it is Hamlet senior who was sleeping in the orchard, not the serpent.

Dangling participles are not necessarily good or bad. The only test for their use is that, when the reader comes to the end of the sentence, is the meaning clear? On the evidence above, I would say that Shakespeare definitely passes.

Links to my Amazon author pages:

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

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

 

 

Am I Bad Enough to be Good?

I didn’t know until recently that some publishing houses that are inserting ‘morality clauses’ into their contracts, a phenomenon that has apparently been growing since the rise of the #MeToo movement. Publishers, it seems, are worried that if a writer is found to have behaved badly, it will affect not just sales of their own books, but the whole publishing house.

Nicola Solomon, of the Society of Authors, is worried. She cites one publisher warning an author against any acts that indicate ‘moral turpitude.’ That is, they must avoid upsetting the accepted standards and feelings of the community through their life-style, or they won’t get a contract.  This despite the desire to shock the reader into re-appraising agreed norms (think Updike, Kerouac, Winterson) being, says Ms Solomon, the reason why some authors put pen to paper, and why many readers buy their books, in the first place. (And aren’t we all told to write about what we know?)

There are plenty of writers and poets, generally regarded as good – not to say great – who have been the staple of school and university reading lists because they have the ability to combine writing compelling original prose or poetry with original thinking. But how many of these would pass the ‘moral turpitude’ test if it had been applied when they were looking for a publisher? Here are just a few who might fail:

Virginia+Woolf

Bust of Virginia Woolf

Charles Dickens – cruelly cheated on his wife (as did VS Naipaul on his – many, many times)

Patricia Highsmith – anti-Semite.

Virginia Woolf – anti-Semite (which included most of her husband’s family) and snob.

Philip Roth – sexist

Philip Larkin – racist and alcoholic

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – drug addict.

Lord Byron – where do you start?

George Eliot – defied the accepted norms of her time by living openly with a man she was not married to.

Even writers for children have not been immune to the conflict between writing engaging books that children love, whilst being really quite unpleasant in person roald 1and to their families.

Roald Dahl – a sexually promiscuous misogynist, racist, bullying liar, (and that’s just his wife’s opinion).

Enid Blyton who was so busy writing her children’s stories she had no time for, or understanding of, her own children’s needs.

What all these ‘bad’ writers have in common is the ability to touch the lives and minds of readers, and to encourage them to read more. How much, in these more sensitive times, should a reader be deterred by knowledge of a writer’s questionable behaviour off the page? We will never know if publishers get in first with a rejection letter. What will we lose if we can only read works by those who are pure in thought and deed? A lot, thinks Nicola Salmon.

And me? Would my sales improve if I was a better person? Or am I not bad enough to be good?

You can check this out by going to my Amazon author page where you can often download one or more stories or anthologies for free.

solstice logo (1)

Planning a launch.

When my writers’ group put together an anthology recently we planned a launch for the beginning of March. We:

  • Ordered extra copies
  • Booked a table in a local bookshop (who put the date in their Facebook calendar)
  • Talked about it on our own blogs, Facebook Twitter etc.
  • Mentioned it (more than once) to friends
  • Organised a press release
  • Had a slot on local radio
  • Put the date in our own diaries to make sure we turned up to do our stint on the sales.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the weather could! On the Friday it snowed. And snowed …

By Saturday morning roads were impassable so the bookshop owner couldn’t get in to open his shop, and most of us couldn’t get there anyway for the same reason. All that could be done was to ask the radio to mention the event was cancelled.

At the next meeting, we decided to hold another launch at the end of May. After all we still had the stock of books, and boxes of sweets, we had ordered for the original date. We dutifully put the date in our personal diaries. Job done.

Except it wasn’t of course – we didn’t double check it was in the bookshop diary until the last minute (it wasn’t, but as the date was free we could still go ahead, minus their advance publicity). No one thought to notify the local press and radio, and I wasn’t the only one who didn’t do any promotion via Twitter, blog and Facebook.

As a result we spent a pleasant hour chatting to each other, eating all the promotional chocolates, and selling one anthology to a friend of mine who’d wandered in for a slice of the truly delicious home-made cake sold at the bookshop, and felt sorry for us.

Maybe we wouldn’t have sold out if the event had gone ahead in March as planned and promoted. But we’ve learnt a few things about the consequences of not doing the preparation properly from our May effort.

anthcov2However, better late than never. If you’re tempted to buy a copy of this gently humorous anthology, Stories to Make You Smile, here is my link. It is an enjoyable read, ideal for lazy summer days on the garden lounger – and I’m not just saying that because mine is the first story you come to.

myBook.to/StoriesSmile

http://amzn.eu/5i4b5mh

 

 

PS: If you have any good ideas for making a launch go with a bang (and some good sales), please share.

 

 

Tags and #Tags

Most people who use social media, know what tags are on Twitter etc. and use them to attract more followers. I will, no doubt, add a few tags to this post to advertise it and maybe encourage a few more readers to follow my blog.

Tags, when you are writing away from social media, are a bit different. These are short, questioning phrases, at the end of an affirmative or negative statement. Such as the cheery – “It’s cold today, isn’t it?”  as you hurry pass a neighbour in the street. Or the more hectoring – “You won’t do anything silly whilst I’m away, will you?” from a busy mother to a recalcitrant teenager.

Tags are regularly used in dialogue. Their aim is for the speaker to confirm that the person they are speaking to is listening to them and has understood what’s been said. They do not appear much in formal / literary prose. But they can be found in more informal prose, such as a newspaper article, where the writer wants to grab the reader’s attention, maybe with their opening sentence.

Even if they are mainly used informally, tags have their own grammatical ‘rules.’ They almost invariably use an auxiliary verb – to be, which is usually followed by a personal pronoun – it, you, I, we etc. Sometimes they us irregular verbs – “I’m a clever boy, aren’t I ?” (not amn’t I). I suppose you could say ‘am I not?’ but that sounds a bit pompous. And the perfectly correct, but archaic, contraction – ‘ain’t I?’ seems, to have gone out of fashion, doesn’t it?

As you can see from the above, the most used tags are in the negative, aren’t they? But they don’t have to be – and you don’t have to be a born again optimist to use a positive one occasionally, do you?

tag

Children playing tag – not a very relevant caption for this blog, is it?

If you would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages, where you can usually find at least one story is available free.

 I am taking a short break now – back the end of April.

Musing About Meaning.

Meaning, my Collins dictionary tells me, is ‘the sense or significance of a word, sentence, symbol etc.’ It can mean a few other things as well – as in well-meaning, but today I am concentrating on the above definition.

Ever keen on a spot of self-improvement I am currently reading a book by Timothy Gowers that describes itself as ‘a very short introduction to mathematics.’ Re-assured by his preface in which he states that he would not assume by the end of the book that his readers would have understood and remembered everything that he’d written earlier, I was tempted to skip right to the last chapter, and just pretend I’d read it. But I’m not sure that is quite what he meant, so I have dutifully started with chapter one and am now on chapter 2.

Two pages into the first chapter on numbers and abstraction, the author starts talking Wittgenstienabout the philosophy of language and meaning – with not a number in sight. He quotes Wittgenstein – the meaning of a word is its use in the language – and the school of logical positivists – the meaning of a statement is its method of verification. Neither quotation deepened my understanding of mathematics (that started to kick in half way through chapter two – honestly). But they put me in mind of advice given to me when I was training to be a social worker – meaning is what your client thinks you told them, not what you know you said to them.

Does this help when writing? Certainly guidance manuals and legal documents are better if their meaning is crystal clear to the reader. But what about fiction? No fiction writer wants to get into the kind of detail that avoids all ambiguity, but bores a reader rigid. But you do want to be clear enough in your prose for your readers to react to situations the way you intended: if there is an emotional death-bed scene, you want them to cry with sorrow, not with laughter (Charles Dickens, who could be very sentimental, sometimes got this wrong!)

PopeShowing, not telling, creates particular demands on a writer to convey meaning without spelling it out, whilst moving the plot forward. There is always the need to bring your work to life – not always with original thinking (boy meets girl etc. are well used and popular themes) but certainly with original expression. Or as the poet Alexander Pope put it – what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.

Meaning does not have to be immediately obvious – readers often like a challenge and, in regard to poetry especially, sometimes a piece has to be read more than once for its meaning to become clear. In complex work, different readers can take away different meanings from the same piece. Or you can find a different meaning on re-reading something. And that is fine – and hopefully just what the writer had intended.

If you would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages: