A Family Affair

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Familial traits are things that we’ve inherited beyond our control. No nature v’s nurture debate here; just an observation. Looking at my own family tree, there are writers along my paternal line,but there are also scale- makers, gardeners, jesters and of all things, accountants. I’m curious to see further back, to see if there was a writer in a French garret or an ancestor who hung around with the Jonathon Swift pack. Tracing ones family tree is so interesting you never know what you’ll find – imagine discovering your ancestor was William Shakespeare. It was these ponderings which put this week post in motion. My mission ,if I chose to accept it, (sorry for the pop culture adage, I couldn’t help myself) was to find which well-known writers inherited or passed on their talent.

 

  1. Stephen King – King’s son, Joe King, has been writing under the pen name of Joe Hill (abbreviated form his middle name Hillstrom) successfully for several years’ years. Not wanting to ride on his fathers coat tails he establish a writing career independently. He announced his true identity in 2007.
  2. Martin Amis – This much-lauded writer of London Fields had very big shoes to fill, being the son of Kingsley Amis. Kingsley Amis was a prolific writer who was ranked ninth on The Times list of the 50th greatest British writers.
  3. Mary Shelley (nee Wollstonecraft) – The writer of Frankenstein was the daughter of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft.
  4. Bronte’s – Mostly known for the three sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and their works of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, but the Bronte family came from a long lineage of scribes. The girls father, Patrick Bronte was also a poet and writer.
  5. Alexandre Dumas – Writer of the great Count of Monte Christo and The Three Musketeers he wrote some of France’s best known novels, but his son, also named Alexandre Dumas, wrote some of France’s best known plays, including Camille.

 

Here is a list of current authors, see if you can guess whom their famous parents are.

 

  1. Kerry Reichs
  2. Jesse Kellerman
  3. Dirk Cussler
  4. Felix Francis
  5. Christopher Rice
  6. Carol Higgins Clark

Answers

 

The What, Where, Why, and How of Writers

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Is there a magic formula to writing a best selling novel – of course not, but this does not stop me wanting to know all the what, where, how and why’s of my favourite authors. I might uncover some secret that best selling novelists have kept hidden for centuries; they may belong to a secret society. I may stumble upon one quirky habit, that I could adopt, and my writing would be transformed.

My first quest was the Where.

I knew that Mark Twain and Roald Dahl both wrote in their back sheds, but I was looking for more inspirational writers haunts. So, why not start with the master of all writers, the picture above is of William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford- Upon-Avon, England. I didn’t get much from my visit here except that Shakespeare slept in the sitting position, and I wasn’t going to adopt that habit. Next was Charles Dickens house in London, England – a desk and a chair, no secrets there. So while still in England I headed to the more picturesque setting of The Lakes District, this was more to my liking. Beatrix Potter ‘s desk sat under a window overlooking her garden, complete with rabbits, of course. Williams Wordsworth lived in Grasmere by the lake; this environment inspired many of his early poems. One of the last houses I looked at was John Keats. His apartment in Rome overlooked the Spanish Steps; this is now an amazing museum dedicated to English romantic writers. The only thing that these writer’s abodes had in common was pen and paper.

Now to the How.

  •  Roald Dahl always wrote only on yellow paper with a lead pencil.
  •  Jack Kerouac – Would write by candle -light and blow it out when finished for the night. He had many little rituals that probably bordered on OCD, particularly in reference to the number nine. He would also always pray before he started to write.
  • Earnest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth were all known for writing while standing.
  • Haruki Murakami “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), and then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
  • Vladimir Nabokov –wrote on index cards (this is something I do as well)

What, is a very individualistic area unless you are writing a knockoff, copycat book, which I know none of my readers would do that. So under What I’ve put word count, some writers appear obsessed by this.

  •  Stephen King – would write no less than 10 pages a day. (1800 -2000words)
  • Earnest Hemingway – 500 words a day
  • James Joyce was happy if he wrote three sentences.
  • Lee Child averages 1,800 words a day
  • Arthur Conan Doyle 3,000 words a day
  • Michael Crichton 10, 000

Why?

This is my favourite, who in their right mind would choose to be a writer.

  • George Orwell said writers write for “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.”
  • Gustave Flaubert said “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living,”
  • Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. “
  • Neil Gaiman said “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”

What did I get from this exercise? I learnt that it doesn’t matter where you write; if you’re waiting for the view then you will be waiting forever, as a writer writes anywhere. I learnt that commitment is important and that may take the form of a word count. I also decided that adding a quirky, ritualistic habit could be a good idea (and fun). Lastly I found  Mr. Gaiman summed it up, for being reminded of why I write is sometimes all the inspiration I need.

 

Poetry in Song

U2 2 Robbie williams 2 Cat stevens 2

Like many writers I have a playlist of songs that I write to, but sometimes it’s not just the music that inspires me, sometimes it’s the lyrics. I’m not going to debate the literary merits of song lyrics over literary poetry; to me they are the same. They convey and express emotions, they tell a story and they inspire. I remember the first time I heard John Lennon’s Imagine I was so moved and by his words and still am today. So I thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Robbie Williams “Angels “

I sit and wait
Does an angel contemplate my fate
And do they know
The places where we go
When we’re grey and old
‘cos I have been told
That salvation lets their wings unfold
So when I’m lying in my bed
Thoughts running through my head
And I feel that love is dead
I’m loving angels instead

 

Live “The Beauty Of Gray”

If I told you he was your brother
We could reminisce
Then you would go about your day
If I said you ought to give him some of your water
You’d shake your canteen and walk away

The perception that divides you from him
Is a lie
For some reason you never asked why
This is not a black and white world
You can’t afford to believe in your side

This is not a black and white world
To be alive
I say that the colours must swirl
And I believe
That maybe today
We will all get to appreciate
The Beauty of Grey

 

U2 “one”

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s…

Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…

 

James Taylor “Fire and Rain”

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

 

Bob Dylan “One Too Many Mornings”

Down the street the dogs are barking
And the day is getting dark.
As the night comes in a-falling,
The dogs´ll lose their bark
And the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind,
For I´m one to many mornings
And a thousand miles behind.
From the crossroads of my doorstep,
My eyes they start to fade,
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid….
Harry Chapin “Cats In The Cradle”

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home, Dad
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin’ home son
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

 

 

What Not to Write

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There are a couple of things that I find annoying; people not using their blinkers, queue jumpers, noisy eaters in the cinema (really important stuff),these little, pesky things disrupt the flow of my day. But they also pop up in novels, not literally these problems, but other things that authors often do that jolt my reading experience out of the fantasy realm back into reality. An author once said if you want to know what not to write, think about the things you skim over as a reader. There are two things that without fail have me flipping through the pages faster than a Kardashian seeking publicity.

1. Dream sequences – I hate them, I never read them, I skim as quickly as I can to get back into the story. Writers often put them in as foreshadowing, some psychic warning, but they are always boring. I know when I have a dream and I want to tell someone, I start to tell the dream and I gradually I see his or her eyes glassing over. It’s not that I’m a bad storyteller, truly I’m not, it’s that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer. So writers, heed my warning, leave the dream sequence out.

2. Overly long descriptive paragraphs – In a genre fiction there is no need to do lengthy descriptive scenes, most readers do not care what the character is wearing, and what they ate for lunch. If it’s not important to the story or characterization leave it out. The one exception is when the writer has a gift with words and the description is so skillfully woven that it creates an emotional response from the reader. Writers like Ian McEwan, F Scott Fitzgerald or Martin Amis, even Earnest Hemingway fall into this category.

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Alex

One of the fastest moving trends in the YA genre is the crime novel. John Grisham, Harlan Coben and James Patterson, usually write adult crime, are all producing novels aimed at a younger audience. Next week I will review Harlan Coben Shelter, but first, I thought I should indulge in an adult crime novel so I can compare the two. I chose Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, it was translated into English and re-published last year, and since that time it has received a lot of praise and won the CWA’s International Dagger award for 2013, so I thought it was a good choice.

The first thing I will say about this novel is don’t read anyone else’s review. This might sound arrogant, but I’m giving this warning for your own well being as many of the reviews reveal too much and I found this tainted any mystery the plot may have held. Most of the reviewers have done this inadvertently, but my readers are an intelligent bunch and I know they can read between the lines.

With that in mind, I will give you a very brief plot blurb. The setting is France (mainly Paris), a girl is kidnapped and the police try to solve this and other evolving mysteries- there. I want to mention a couple of things that bugged me about the novel, I don’t usually do this as opinions can be subjective, but I have an uncontrollable compulsion today to put it out there.

First – the cop, he is the stereotype, white, middle aged, pig headed, flawed character we’ve seen time and again in many crime novels. This is a shame as Lemaitre has a talent for characterization. Secondly- the title, it really “had my goat up” as my mother would say. It did the crime genre, which is unpredictable by nature, no justice.

Now for the good- what I love about the novel is Lemaitre’s keen observations on human nature. He manages to create characters that are incredibly believable. His writing pulls out the subtleties and nuances of the everyday, that most of us are unaware. Lemaitre’s talent is in the detail. I’m not talking of the kind of detail that can bore you to tears, I once read a book that described a fob watch for eleven pages, it’s the kind of detail that forms clear pictures in your mind and allows the story to move along seamlessly. It is that talent that leaves me wondering whether Lemaitre should write in a different genre especially literary fiction.

NB: He did win the Prix Goncourt award for an epic novel Au revoir là-haut on WWII; the highest award for literary fiction in France.

In the end I recommend the book for adults who enjoy this genre, as it was enjoyable. I also recommend it to budding writers, as there is much to be learnt from his style, and its what I found to be the most enjoyable part.

 

Title: Alex

 Author: Pierre Lemaitre

 Published: French 2011, English 2013 Maclehose

 Genre: Crime

Another Night, Another Day

Another day another night

Another Night, Another Day is the new novel  by Sarah Rayner bestselling author of One Momnet, One Morning. The novel introduces us to the lives of three main characters; we follow their separate stories until they converge at a pivotal point. We see the effect mental illness has on them and their families, eventually bringing them together at the same treatment centre. Their lives are all different, as are their circumstances, yet they all need help.

What I enjoyed about Sarah Rayner’s book is how she handled this subject authentically. The characters are anyone and everyone. She demystifies mental illness and brings to light how it affects ordinary people living ordinary lives. She successfully strips away the fear that is often associated with mental illness. Rayner does not dwell on the tragedy, but explores the hope that understanding and support can bring.

This was a personal subject for me, and I have also written a short story on manic depression. Mental Illness is a large umbrella term, which I feel Rayner has opened out and let the reader see its many different facets.

Some of the characters in this book are being revisited from Sarah Rayner’s other books One Moment, One Morning and The Two Week Wait. I have not read either of these books and found Another Night, Another Day can standalone.

The official publication date for this book is 17 July, but Waterstones has it available to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

This review was based on a publisher’s copy in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, has influenced the review.

Publisher : Picador

Book Cover Design 101

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Author: “Make my cover look like a bestseller”

Designer: “ No problem how’s this?”

If only it was that easy.

How do you choose a book? This question has been poised numerous times and the most common answer is “by its cover”. The cover design of a book has always had an important role in it’s marketing, and choosing the design is a complex process. With a growing number of authors self – publishing, understanding the psychology behind this choice is crucial.

Unfortunately in traditional publishing an author’s opinion isn’t always listened to, especially if the vision for their book does not match the publishers marketing strategy. There have been cases of authors leaving publishing houses due to disagreements on the cover art. This rang true to me recently when another blogger recommended the book Selection by Keira Cass; I had previously dismissed this series solely because the cover art projected an image that was ‘girly’ and ‘prissy’. I have now read the book and feel the cover has done the book an injustice.

In the traditional publishing world, there are whole departments devoted to cover design. The publishing houses give a brief to a designer, which usually stipulates that the design should articulate the contents of the book. You’d think this was obvious, but a book might be more suited to a more conceptual design.

A self- published author can be left in a quandary as in how to approach this subject. Authors can emulate the process that the publishing house use, but the main thing is to take time and consider carefully, what you want, as it is your brand.

Some suggestion to get you thinking:

 

  1. What is the image/feel you wish to project? E.g. A “Literary” novel cover is often understated, serious and elegant, withy heavy weighted paper and considered fonts.
  2. Decide on your budget. Can you afford to hire a graphic artist? If you have a large budget then Chip Kidd is the designer you want, probably no.1 in book cover designs at the moment. Have a look at his gallery www.chipkidd.com/gallery If you have a small budget approach some design schools and see if a students work catches your eye and negotiate with them.
  3. Look at current trends I personally do not like this. Remember when “Twilight” became a phenomenal success and every book following had a black cover with a single image.
  4. Do some market research, get a group of beta readers and have them read your book and give feed back on a selection of cover designs.
  5. Research psychology of colour and the emotions it creates.
  6. Research graphic/art techniques. For example the eye is drawn firstly to the top left hand corner of an image and then moves in a clockwise direction. This might affect your placement of images.
  7. Look up The Golden Mean/ Fibonacci Sequence used by artists for centuries. Many advertisers also use this technique.

 

If anyone has some suggestion on cover design please share.