Friday, 15 December 2017

Pondering Character in Fiction by Jane Thornley



I admit that life has totally thrown me off-course this month. In the midst of struggling with something personal (that has not yet been fused into my art), I am floundering. Forgive me, then, for republishing something I once posted on my blog a few years ago. I generally craft new material for this blog, thoughts emerging from my current writing life, but I just can't pull it off today.




Pondering Character in Fiction


Readers crave fictional characters who grow and change as they drive the story forward. A character in the process of internal transformation offers another plot to unfold within the story world, possibly the most important engine of all. Without character transformation, stories feel empty and one-dimensional. No matter what

Scarlet in Gone with the Wind comes to mind. Brewed in a deep well of privilege, she begins selfish, entitled, and manipulative, as fascinating as she is unlikable.  When blow after blow strikes her down, we cheer as she hoists herself back up and keeps on trudging through the mud of civil war. That's character. We want them strong, yet vulnerable. We want them to bleed, but still wade back into battle undaunted and, most importantly, we want them to learn from their trials.

We identify with the patterns of humanity we recognize. We need to see a living, beating heart in every book we read, even if it's science fiction or fantasy. That's where we identify the heroes that help us recognize a germ of the heroic in everyone.

As a writer, I set my characters on a path without knowing exactly how the voyage will transform them. So much of writing is a process of discovery for the author as well as the reader. We never take our fictional journeys alone. Being a "panster", I no more outline character arcs than I do plots which makes the end point a surprise for me as much as the reader.

Though series are supposedly more open to set characters doing what they do across multiple volumes, I've been developing a long character arc without even knowing it. For Phoebe McCabe in the Crime by Design series, a young woman begins in Rogue Wave believing that maturity can be measured in digits alone until life and mayhem force her to dig deep inside herself to discover her true substance. By Warp in the Weave, she is maturing, her edges hardening, and by book three in the series, she becomes a more heroic manifestation of her earlier self. By the time book five rolls around (due to be published in 2018), her inner revolution jettisons the series in a whole new direction.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether our stories are set in reality or in some semblance thereof, the core of fiction always pivots around what we recognize as human, even if it beats inside an alien heart.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The best part of Submissions... by Louise Boland


A couple of months ago I got a bee in my bonnet about how outrageously writers are treated by many organisations who solicit for submissions.  Why ask for them and then ignore them, was my question.  Perhaps they get too many to handle?  But then why not just close their submissions process for a time until the backlog of responses has been worked through?   

As Katherine Roberts said to our call for advice, ‘yes is brilliant, no is good (because you can cross that publisher/agent off your list and move on), but silence is torture’. 

I was determined that we would establish a submissions process which shows respect for writers, and perhaps start a new trend out there – setting the bar higher for all those organisations who seek direct manuscript submissions.   

So I asked for views on a submissions code of practice for Fairlight Books and received many helpful suggestions and comments from Authors Electric et al.  I’m pleased to say that thanks to all the fantastic feedback we received, we now have a workable, fair, and respectful code of practice up and running. 

Here it is:  

 When we look at our submissions, I’m always very impressed by the care that writers take to read through our guidelines and provide submissions in the form we have requested.  Hopefully our new process will ensure that we always respond in kind. 

Much as I’d love to, we can’t publish all the many works we receive, and if we did, then Fairlight Books wouldn’t be what I’d like it to be – a place to nurture, publish and promote the best of quality writing.  

But I’m very happy and excited to say that from our submissions process we have signed up a number of very talented writers, many of whom are debut writers of longer fiction, and that we will be publishing their books in 2018.  Please watch this space and on our website in a couple of weeks, when we’ll start announcing details!

Fairlight Fiction - Coming Soon

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Coventry - UK City of Culture 2021 by Ann Evans

Coventry's Lady Godiva, Pru Poretta at the Heritage
weekend. Photo by Rob Tysall.
As most people will know, Coventry, which is my home city, is to be the UK City of Culture 2021. Naturally, everyone is delighted and hoping that the new status is going to bring more prosperity into the city, as it has done for Hull, the current UK City of Culture.

There was competition for the title from Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea. And actually, if Sunderland had won it, that would have been my second choice as my parents and past ancestors all hail from there.

The title is awarded every four years and Coventry will be the third UK City of Culture. Londonderry being the first in 2013, followed by Hull.

Our city has so much going for it despite no longer having the motor and machine tools industries that it once had. During the 1950s  and 60s Coventry was the second largest car manufacturing city in the world. It also led the way with machine tools. Alfred Herbert Ltd was once the largest machine tools manufacturing business in the world. And while that’s no longer there, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is named after him.

Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine was born in Coventry. There’s a centre in honour of his work at the Midlands Air Museum, Baginton, which is just on the city boundaries. And there’s a statue of him alongside the futuristic-looking Whittle Arch in Millennium Place in the city centre.

The Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate.
Photo by Rob Tysall.
Earlier in the city’s history, Coventry pioneered many industries – bicycles, clocks and watches, ribbons. In early Medieval times it was a thriving market town. Today, the city’s museums, buildings and monuments remind people of its industrious past. And today, businesses are flourishing, as are its Universities.

The city’s most famous monuments of course, are our two cathedrals: the ruins of the old Cathedral of St Michael's, so badly destroyed in the Coventry Blitz of 1940; and the awesome New Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and consecrated in 1962.
Not forgetting also, the City’s most famous woman, Lady Godiva. For the last 30 years or so, Pru Poretta has been an ambassador for Coventry as our modern day Lady Godiva.


On the literature scene, Coventry, writer and poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was born in the city and later became a university librarian in Hull. The Philip Larkin Society which was founded ten years after his death, point out that it’s fitting that Coventry should be taking on the mantle from Hull, which is the place where Larkin spent most of his adult life, and which shares many historical and cultural similarities.


Another famous writer born here in Coventry is Lee Child. Best known for his Jack Reacher novels, Lee, who was born in 1954, spent his early years in Coventry before moving to Birmingham. I was so fortunate to meet him at the Harrogate Crime Writers festival this summer, where he chatted to me about the things he remembered about Coventry.

Lee  Child and Ann Evans at the
Harrogate Crime Writer's Festival.
Another famous early writer was Angela Brazil (1868 – 1947), who was born in Preston, Lancashire but moved to Coventry in 1911. She was one of the first British writers of modern schoolgirl stories, publishing nearly 50 books of girls’ fiction, many set in boarding schools. Her stories remained popular until the 1960s; and her collection is now in Coventry Library.




From my own point of view, Coventry has inspired my writing, with the illustrated Children’s History of Coventry, which many of the city’s schools have in their libraries. And my YA novel, Celeste, a time slip thriller set in Coventry, with the cathedrals as the backdrop.

How about you, how inspirational is your city to you and your writing?

My trailer for Celeste features the old and new cathedrals, and you can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFDBEt9o3Fw








Website: http://www.annevansbooks.co.uk
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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Hell, No, I Won't Go!--Reb MacRath

Some cities are expensive to start with: New York, San Francisco, L.A...Others have high-rentness thrust upon them: in Atlanta, for example, after the 1996 Olympics rents simply went through the roof overnight. I've lived in both classes of city and found myself priced out again and again. And I've moseyed along with my head down.



 

Now, at a certain age, I  face more wrecking balls that build while they destroy dreams like Shiva.



Three years ago, when I moved from Charlotte to Seattle, this was a happening city.. And it still is, in a different way.. With a booming economy driven by Amazon, Microsoft and Google, Seattle has risen to fifth rank in the nation's least affordable cities.

An estimated 68 buildings are under construction or waiting to begin in midtown. Seattle has three times as many cranes as New York City, though a mere fraction of its size. And most of these buildings are either for apartments or offices for the Big Three. One bedroom apartments, in Seattle proper, rent for an average of $1953  month. And the cost of living comfortably here is $72, 092 a year.

Welcome to Dream City. I'm nowhere near that ballpark figure. And my dream of moving from a studio to a one bedroom apartment in a better part of town are, shall we say, challenged. As a writer, though, this city works for me. It keeps me young and productive. So, faced with the wrecking ball of rising rent, here is where I take my stand and refuse to be moved on.



And how do I, with a job I like but which is far from that ballpark. rise into the comfort zone and protect my place?

I start with the one thing I do have--my talent--and start to work like a man possessed. In the past two days off work, I've logged more than twenty hours on the fifth draft of my work in progress. Tomorrow I'll log in another ten or twelve. On work days I'll log in a minimum of four hours. And I'll keep at this pace relentlessly, producing more and more books.

I won't let go of Dream City.

No. Not this time. This is war, time to beat the wrecking balls by erecting superior houses of art.



Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas Food :Misha Herwin



No, not the traditional turkey, goose, chicken, beef or pork. A pot full of golabki is one of the dishes we will be eating this Christmas Eve.
Because of my Polish family, my children were brought up celebrating both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Which meant cooking two different meals.
On the night before Christmas we laid the table, putting wisps of hay, or straw under the cloth to remind us of Jesus in the manger. Then the youngest was set to look out for the first star, or that at least was the theory and it did give the kids something to do.
Once the star was sighted then Christmas could begin. First the baby Jesus was put in our homemade crib, then came the distribution of the oplatek. The thin wafer, like communion bread, that in those days was sent to us by our family in Poland. Each person took a piece and shared it with all the others, kissing them and wishing them a happy Christmas.
After that it was presents under the Christmas tree and finally when all the wrapping paper had been cleared up, the food.
Twelve different dishes, one for each of the disciples was the tradition. Some were British, like salad, or cooked chicken, others Polish like the pot full of cabbage wrapped parcels above.
Like a lot of traditional food much of this cooking is very time consuming. For golombki the cabbage leaves must first be blanched, filling the kitchen with steam while I am frying onions and mixing them together with cooked rice, minced pork, seasoning and herbs.
When the leave are soft enough, they are removed and laid out on a board to be filled and folded, a process which requires asbestos fingers. Then the golombki are layered into a casserole and I pour over a mixture of Heinz tomato soup, water, stock and tomato puree. Not quite what my grandmother would have done, but over the years we have evolved a truly fusion cuisine.
Everything goes into the oven for about an hour, or so while I tidy up and remember all those long gone Christmases and speculate whether my grandchildren will in years to come be wrapping cabbage leaves around handfuls of pork mixture and thinking back to their childhood.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Christmas treats - Karen Bush

Coming up to Christmas I have a couple of books that I return to year after year. Like mince pies, mulled wine, and those seasonal TV repeats of Its A Wonderful Life, The Grinch, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and White Christmas, I am irresistibly drawn back to them ... No matter that I know them inside out, I still enjoy them just as much as the first time round. And if you are going to re-visit them, the run-up to Christmas is of course, the perfect time ...

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - although I prefer listening to this one as an audiobook, and it makes a nice change from carols. And sometimes our local open air museum presents a wonderful reading by Mr Dickens himself ...

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - a time travel piece set around Christmas and involving the Black Death ... sounds grim, but it's gripping stuff.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper - my favourite of Cooper's books, as well as the first one of hers I ever read. Captures perfectly for me those noisy, bustling family Christmases of my youth - plus it's a fabulous story!

And as a follow-up - as for some inexplicable reason it is never repeated - I watch a DVD of The Box of Delights: a much loved childhood book, and I fell in love with this series when it first aired on the BBC.

So what are your Christmas treats?



 
Written by us.
Its good stuff!
Click here ...




(And here's one you might like to add to your Christmas reading lists ...)

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Forgive me, friends, I'm all wrote out... by Julia Jones



Thank you Claudia Myatt
for designing our logo
It was on this day, three years ago, that I published my first John's Campaign blog: John's Campaign and June's and 800,000 more.  I can't, this evening, find the words to describe all that has happened since. I am tempted to cheat and to refer you at once (here it is) to Nicci's anniversary evocation (published in the Observer) of the place we find ourselves now.  She sees us dancing in an open field, lonely at first, but soon joined by one brave soul and then another. It's not long before the whole field, the fair field full of folk, is alive with movement and that glorious release of creativity that comes from being an individual in a crowd when it's not you that matters, nor the other dancers, but the music that lifts and controls you all. I don't mean the Pied Piper of Hamelin or sirens luring sailors to their doom, this is a dance that transforms the place where you are. John's Campaign has unexpectedly become a movement. It's something people can use to do things that they already wanted to do.

I also wrote an anniversary article last week. Mine was necessarily different (I can't write like Nicci anyway) because its audience was different. My article was for the Health Service Journal, read, I am told by Chief Executives and Policy Makers. The HSJ editor has been kind to us (I think perhaps a relative of his was in an older person's ward earlier this year?) but one of the more unexpected lessons we have learned since 2014 is the relative impotence of CEOs, policymakers and other people with apparent power. 

The wisest of them know this. I remember our shock when Nicci and I first went to see England's Chief Nurse and the NHS England Patient Experience team -- truly good people. They saw our point and understood what we wanted but declined to wave their magic wands of Power. They told us that they'd had enough of ordering people to stand up and dance to a particular tune. It had so often led to trouble -- the law of unintended consequences. Try a policy of protecting mealtimes so that patients are not disturbed by medics wanting to come and stick needles in them - and what happens? inadvertently you have created a situation where Mrs Jones's anxious daughter, who has travelled miles to visit her ailing Mum, is not "allowed" to remain by the bedside while lunch is being served, despite the fact that her mother then spends the "protected" period spitting her food in well-directed arcs around the cubicle because she's convinced the healthcare assistant is trying to poison her. If our campaign was to succeed, said these sadly-experienced policy-makers, people had to want to stand up and dance with us.

And they have. In all four countries of the UK there has been one single nurse, perhaps with a team supporting her, who has stepped forward, pointed their toes, stretched out their arms and (as my children would say) begun to "throw shapes". 

Jo is second from right, next to Nicci
Thank you, Jo James, lead dementia nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London, for committing yourself and your team to take as long as was needed to stick CARERS WELCOME posters on every single ward door in your immense metropolitan hospitals. 

Thank you, Karen Wilson, senior charge nurse of Ward 12 Wishaw General Hospital in Lanarkshire, for getting in touch via facebook to say that you and your colleagues always welcomed carers but you had decided to formalise your welcome, so you too would be sticking up a poster.  (And thank you, Andy Pender, in the Emergency Admissions Unit of the same hospital, for emailing a week later to say that you hadn't been routinely keeping people together with their family members but you'd seen this was causing distress and you were going to use our campaign to change your ways of working.)

Delyth, in blue, holds a "pasport gofalwr"
Diolch, Delyth Fon Thomas, acute dementia nurse specialist and prevention of delirium facilitator, in Glaslyn ward, Ysbyty Gwynedd for welcoming our campaign to Wales and acclimatising it as Ymgyrch John. 

Thank you, Paula Thompson of Downe dementia ward, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland for using John's Campaign as part of a variety of measures to ensure that patients on your mental health ward (several of whom are detained compulsorily) have the best quality of life, physically and emotionally, until the end of their days, if they reach that moment while in your care. 

There are so many others -- Dr Natasha Lord, the first clinical psychologist to pledge support in her mental health wards, Dr David Oliver, practicing geriatrician and eminent member of societies, Sharon Thomson, manager of the Moat House in Essex, who was persuaded to be the first English Care Home manager to join us.  Truly the list could go on as ward managers and directors of nursing, charity chiefs and carer liaison workers began linking arms and twirling to the tune. Not our tune, you understand, but the tune that we began hearing together, a human tune that was in our hearts all along. All that Nicci and I did, three years ago, was give it a name. 

We didn't ask people to paint birds on their ceilings so people lying on trolleys would have something to look at "for John's Campaign". We didn't insist that they sit in their offices every Monday evening offering carers support "for John's Campaign". Neither did we ask for comfort packs to be supplied, camp-beds purchased, family rooms re-decorated, car-parking fees reduced "for John's Campaign". Yet all these things have happened in many different places.

When I began writing this post this evening I felt I had no more words to offer. Currently we are making another effort to persuade the people with power that they do want to affirm the actions that have already been taken by others. This is for the obvious reasons of equality and continuity -- and retirement. We want to be able to go off and rub our blisters (or return to different forms of writing) knowing that it is safe for others to carry on, encouraged and applauded. So, today, I'd spent most of my time writing "persuasive" letters (as they teach you in GCSE Eng lang). It felt pointless and sterile but I'd set myself to do it.

Then I went for my regular tragi-comedy evening session with Mum and her fellow-residents and staff in their advanced dementia "suite". It's not a ward and it's not (however hard it tries) a home but it is the most extraordinary, indefinable community. Words work differently in Willow. They're quite troublesome often and actions (behaviours) are frequently more eloquent. A bit like John's Campaign? Perhaps. I was inarticulate when I returned and couldn't explain at all to Francis what had made the evening's interactions so touching, so exhausting, so... sui generis. That would take a different level of language altogether. 

This three year period has been one of kaleidoscopic and fleetingly intense relationships -- as you have when you are caught up in a dance (or a movement). So I'm giving up on words now and leaving you with three photographs that were taken last week in Ireland. 

This is Theresa, a former nurse, living with dementia, who wrote a brilliant article in our Observer series and then flew -- on her own -- from Belfast to London last autumn to speak passionately and eloquently at our conference.  Theresa doesn't find life easy, she describes her brain as "like mud" but she is infuriated by people who talk about people with dementia and arrange things for them without having the basic courtesy and good sense to consult them. I am uneasy about this picture because it shows a potential gap of misunderstanding.  I could be about to be patronising; Theresa could be about to be suspicious.
As it happened Theresa and I were so truly glad to see one another -- neither had expected that the other would be at the event -- that once we had the good sense to give each other a big hug, everything was unequivocally okay.

This might be one of the weirdest photos ever -- I'm wriggling and gibbering like someone in a Harry Potter enchantment. Yet the person I'm with is Deirdre and I'd never met her before but we'd emailed one another as she signed up first one ward, then another and another in different hospitals in the South Eastern health and care trust. Deirdre was one of the nurses who met me with a gorgeous smile and simply took me under her wing. I could wriggle and gibber as much as I liked, with Deirdre I knew I was okay. 

Three years meeting and working with people like Deirdre and Theresa have been three unforgettable years.
I choose that word advisedly.