Category Archives: #SundayBlogShare

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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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

 

Anthology or collection?

Tom Hanks, the movie star sometimes dubbed the ‘all round nicest guy in Hollywood,’ has just published a collection of short stories, called Uncommon Type – some stories. And – really quite annoyingly for those who like popular figures to have feet of clay – it’s been well received by the critics. Not content with being a household name as an actor, the man is now going to be hailed as a writer of considerable talent too.

Short stories have increased in popularity recently and his new publication won’t have set back this resurgence. But why is Mr Hanks book of short stories called a collection and not an anthology?

My Collins dictionary describes an anthology as ‘any printed collection of literary pieces, songs, works of art etc.’ This sounds pretty much like calling an anthology an, er, collection by another name. However the crucial difference, as the dictionary also states, is that in an anthology the stories and poems are written by various authors and a collection only solstice logo (1)includes the work of one author. This is the distinction used by my publisher. Hence, a number of my Shakespeare character stories have appeared in anthologies, alongside the work of other authors, that Solstice Publishing have produced in the last couple of years. But this year, when they published these stories in the same volume as several more that I alone had written, the ensuing publication was called a collection – CAST OFF.

Links:Cast Off

 

 

 

Could you punch a puppy?

We’ll get onto puppies in a minute. First I want to talk about clichés and jargon. A cliché, in case you need reminding, is any word or expression that has lost much of its force cauchythrough overuse. The word comes from the French – clicher – to stereotype. Jargon is specialised language for self selecting groups etc, often characterised by pretentious syntax or vocabulary. (Possibly from the Latin or old French for ‘confused talk’.)

The language of business is full of clichés and jargon. Some phrases, that might have sounded quite fresh and clever at the first conference where they were used – going for the low hanging fruit was an original concept once – soon become another piece of overused jargon. When working in one office some years ago, my colleagues and I frequently used to try to get as many into a meeting as possible. Rather sad, maybe – but it was our idea of fun on a slow afternoon. I remember being particularly fond of ‘putting an idea in the lift and seeing what floor it came out on.’ (No I’m not quite sure what it means, either). A colleague enjoyed ‘running that one up the flagpole.’

A few months ago the jobs website, Glassdoor, polled 2,000 workers for their most hated phrases. The day after the results were issued, The Times wrote a leader using some of their choicer pet hates. Apologies if it sets your teeth on edge, but I thought the article was so funny (especially the bit about the kimono – a new one for me) that I’m going to re-produce a couple of paragraphs. My justification for putting such an excerpt on this blog is as a reminder that writers need, first, to recognise jargon and clichés when they see them. And then avoid them like the plague  (Oops!)

… Time is short so we won’t try boiling the ocean. Rows and rows of ducks need to be lined up so that, going forward we can, er, go forward. There is a whole strategic staircase to be mounted here. So never mind mere blue sky thinking, this is an invitation to be part of a thought shower, where we can all throw some ideas at the wall and see if anything sticks. Once that is done we can take a helicopter view of the situation, and cascade what we observe. …                                                                                                                                              … What mental toolbox do we need to become true language champions? Radical change

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(despite my grim look, no dogs were harmed during the preparation of this blog.)

means having the courage to open the kimono (sorry about that), revealing and then peeling the onion till we uncover core values. At that point we must drill down until we reach granularity. Of course this may mean dealing with some sacred cows. But all change is loss, and even if the optics are bad, you sometimes have to be prepared to punch the puppy. … (Not literally, I am assured; punching a puppy means doing something unsavoury for the good of the company.)

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please take a look at my Amazon author page. There is usually at least one free story on offer, so you can try before you buy. 

 

 

 

A new review of the Cast Off collection

Paperback copies of my latest collection of short stories, Cast Off, took several weeks stonefest 17more than expected to arrive in the UK. It seems that once one thing goes wrong, other problems pile in. Unblocking the problem with the printers took a lot of ineffective emails from me, and some targeted (but effective) work from my publisher, Solstice Publishing. However, I now have a pile of shiny copies in my possession and must start some serious promotion. To start I am giving, verbatim, a review of Cast Off that was posted last week, as it tells you from a reader’s perspective what you can expect if you purchase a copy.

Cast OffCast Off by novelist and playwright Margaret Egrot is an ingenious concept for a short story collection. The thirteen stories are all inspired by female characters from Shakespeare’s plays, offering new perspectives and twists on characters often overshadowed by their male counterparts.

Some of the stories are set with the world of the play themselves. These develop female characters who barely feature in the original work. One such example is the witch Sycorax, an offscreen presence in The Tempest, who Egrot brings to life in Ban! Ban! Caliban! by narrating her backstory.

Other stories depict a more prominent Shakespearian character, such as Othello’s Desdemona or Measure for Measure’s Isabella, yet offer their version of the events in the play. a midsummer day's dream

Further range is found in A Midsummer’s Day’s Dream which is a contemporary story with four students in place of the traditional leads; The Tangled Knot presents Twelfth Night’s Olivia from the comical voice of the Clown; whilst Is Not This Well? features an actress criticising the Bard himself for his misogynistic treatment of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.

As you can see, no two stories are the same, despite the intrinsic Shakespeare theme. The diversity of the collection is testament to Egrot’s vast talent and a guarantee that you will never get bored as you turn the pages.

Be assured, as Egrot writes in her foreword, there is no pressure to be familiar with Shakespeare’s work to enjoy these stories. However, any fans of the Bard will gain an extra kick of enjoyment from spotting direct quotes from Shakespeare’s work, hidden within the stories like a DVD Easter Egg.

Cast Off is proof that Shakespeare’s legacy is alive and well. Egrot reinvents the source material with a fresh feminist perspective and injects plenty of original ideas into her homage to Shakespeare’s overlooked heroines.

Links: myBook.to/CastOff

http://www.simonfairbanks.com/blog/review-cast-off-by-margaret-egrot
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CAST OFF – more excerpts

Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed stories was released by Solstice Publishing (an American publishing house) in July, but through a series of mishaps – aCast Off hurricane or two might have had a part to play – print copies have only just arrived in the UK. However, both print and e-books have been, and still are, available on Amazon Books, and via the publisher.

Each story concerns one of Shakespeare’s female characters whilst they are off stage. What are they thinking or doing? What do they think about the part they have been given?  What do they think about all that cross dressing? Will they be bothered to go back on stage when their next cue comes?

So far, E-book copies of Cast Off have been selling pretty well in the UK, and have hovered round the best seller rankings on occasion without me doing any particular promotion. But for those still thinking about checking it out, I have been putting the opening or closing paragraphs of each story on this blog over the last few weeks.

Here are the last four.

Closing lines – Conjuring the Moon (King Lear)

Lear smiled as he turned to one of his entourage. “The stage is set?” he asked. The gentleman in waiting bowed low again. “It is indeed my liege. The Earls, Gloucester and Kent, are already there.” The old king nodded, pleased with what he heard. “Then let us proceed.” Without further word he drew himself up to his full majestic height, swirling his cloak around him. His attendants pulled back the curtain as, followed by his three daughters, the Dukes of Albany, Cornwall and Burgundy, the King of France, and the rest of his retainers, he swept into the great hall.

Opening lines – Look to the Lady (Macbeth)

My Darling,
Oh, how I have missed you from my bed these last few nights. Now I have risen and the day is half gone, yet I still burn with desire to have you by my side. And have you satisfy my thirst for news. I don’t know whether it is worth writing to you, as the battle may well be over by now, and you will be here before I finish, but I must do something to pass the time, or I will go mad.

the-ghost-queen-001Closing lines – The Ghost Queen (The Winter’s Tale)

My mind raced. Even now, I was not sure I had enough self-knowledge and strength to make the right decision, the best decision for me and my daughter. I felt my hands trembling again and willed them to be still. Paulina noticed and touched my hands briefly. Then she looked at me through the gauze, straight into my eyes. I took a deep breath and the trembling eased. “Be strong,” she urged. “I will,” I assured her. “It’s your choice.” “I know.” There was a knock. I froze, just like a statue, and Paulina went to the door to let the world in.

Opening lines – Ban, Ban, Cacaliban! (The Tempest)

I see my boy, in my mind’s eye. Standing on the headland, watching as the ship disappears over the horizon. Gazing after his old master, Prospero, who is heading back to where he belongs, after twelve long years dominating the island rightfully belonging to me, Sycorax the witch, and her descendants. Good riddance to him. The magic he used to outshine mine is spent now, his power over spirits and other humans has been laid to rest, and my freckled whelp is again master of the island in my place. Justice, if you can call it that, at last!

Purchase link: myBook.to/CastOff

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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