Category Archives: #SundayBlogShare

Jane Austen for best screenplay?

There is a lot in the media these days about the winners and losers in the competition for awards at the OSCARS, the BAFTAs et al. Someone who is never seen as a contender, primarily because she has never been in or made a film  – and never will, having been dead over two hundred years – is Jane Austen. Nonetheless her books have regularly been made into popular films and television series because there is something about the characters and story lines that film-makers and viewers find re-assuring and enjoyable.

Her novels are sometimes criticised for being safe. Rich, or at least comfortably placed, man meets similarly situated woman, a series of obstacles to have to be overcome before the book ends happily with the sound of wedding bells. The Napoleonic wars, slavery, poverty, crime, and domestic abuse in the world around her rarely, if ever, get a mention. She herself describes her writing as like working with a fine brush “on a little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory.”

So why does the latest ambassador for the Jane Austen museum, David Baddiel, rate her so highly as an author, and link her work to the arts of film direction and writing screenplays?

Firstly he sees her as a fine story-teller – an early, if not the first, proponent of romantic comedy. Second he admires her sense of perspective and how she keeps herself out of the books (no ‘Reader I married him’ (Jane Eyre) for Miss Austen). Instead she imparts information through her characters and action. Lady Catherine de Burgh’s visit to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice to frighten her off, indirectly gives her, and us, the information that Darcy is in love with her. When Mr Knightley tries to warn Emma (in Emma) that the man she thinks she is in love with has an understanding with another woman, the readers, as Baddiel puts it, get a different camera angle.

As well as the to-ing and fro-ing of her plots (typical Hollywood!) Baddiel also sees the realistic devices she uses when constructing her novels as techniques used in modern screenplays: “ironic narration, controlled point of view, ensemble characterisation, fixed arenas of time and place, [and] the notion that art should represent life as it is actually lived …”

Next time you read a book by Jane Austen, just pause a little to think how readily she would have adapted it for the screen if she’d had the chance.

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Vegan veto – a cock and bull story.

Welcome to 2019 – I hope you had a good Christmas, enjoyed your turkey with all the trimmings, your ‘pigs in blankets,’ or your nut loaf. Talking of food, there was an interesting story in the news during the run up to Christmas. An academic in Swansea University, Shareema Hamzah was reported to have predicted in an article (How the rise of veganism may tenderise fictional language) that meat based idioms, like ‘bringing home the bacon’ should be banned.

This caused outrage in some of the British papers – ‘Vegan war on animal phrases’ (The Star). ‘English phrases could be scrapped over fears they offend vegans.’ (The Express). ‘War on Words – bringing home the bacon could be banned to stop vegans getting offended.’ (The Sun). ‘Pie-in-the-sky animal rights zealotry’ (The Mail)

In fact there was no meat on the bones of this story. Or, to put it another way, the basis of Dr Hamzah’s thesis had been butchered in certain parts of the media. Her article was about how meat is used in literature to represent power – usually by men versus women; for example the meat stew prepared by the (female) cooks for William Bankes in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. She doesn’t call for a ban on meaty metaphors and has been under no pressure from vegans to call them out as offensive. However she does feel that as langauge is constantly evolving and, in doing so, reflects the changing mores of the societies in which it is used, there are likely to be more non-meat related analogies in fiction in the future. More potatoes peeled, than cats skinned perhaps? Fewer dead horses flogged? No more bulls to be taken by the horns?

Anyway, there are already plenty of ‘veggie’ phrases in regular use, what with butter not melting in people’s mouths and others not caring a hill of beans one way or another.

Happy New Year!

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Betrumped – a word, not a political move!

Edward Allhusen likes words, particularly words that roll round in the mouth and have a quaint, unfamiliar ring to them. He is a retired publisher and has devoted years of his life to ‘rescuing’ words he feels have a special place in the English language, but are in danger of dying out through lack of use.

In his recently published book Betrumped (which means cheated or deceived) he lists what he describes as a personal selection of now unfamiliar words, or words that have changed their meaning over the past few hundred years.

Some of the words listed are words I still use occasionally. Defenestrate, for example, meaning the act of throwing someone out of the window (from the Latin, fenestra – window) seemed to crop up regularly in history lessons about wars and religious cat-caterwaulingconflicts when I was at school. Caterwaul (high-pitched yowling) is probably a word from the fourteenth century that imitates the sound it is describing though, sadly, there is no etymological link to cats. It was also my mother’s description of most rock and pop singers in my youth. Hobbledehoy (a clumsy, uncouth youth), is possibly from sixteenth century French. Dipsomaniac (a drunkard) is from the Greek – dipsa (thirst) and mania. Pettifogger (a person who fusses over details) is possibly based on a German family of financiers – the Fuggers – in the sixteenth century.

There are some words listed that I have not heard before, like condiddle – to steal – though I still use the word diddle, if I feel someone has not given me enough change etc. This would suggest I was something of a juggins (easily fooled). Juggins was once a relatively common surname; again it could be an unfortunate family who were reputed to be a bit dim. It was another word often used in by my mother, this time in self-mockery – ‘Juggins, here, ended up doing the washing up again.

A couple of words that caught my eye have either changed in meaning (like innings, now a term in cricket but it used to mean land that is away from the sea), or do not mean cat - beerwhat you might think they should. Crapulence, for example is nothing to do with the inventor of the modern toilet, Thomas Crapper. It is from the Latin, crapula – drunkenness, usually accompanied by a headache – and hence an old-fashioned term for a hangover.


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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…


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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.



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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.

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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:


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.

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