Posts Tagged ‘writing’

A free ‘Writing and Writers’ Conference for you – on the 18th October 2014

August 24, 2014

You may be interested in this rare opportunity for a free conference in the Library of Birmingham that will be taking place on Saturday 18th October. The full details are below:
Invitation:
Writing and Writers’ Conference
Saturday 18th October
The Library of Birmingham
Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2 ND United Kingdom
Tel: 0121 242 4242 (Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm) enquiries@libraryofbirmingham.com

Featuring:
• Chris Carling talking about her moving and highly topical memoir: ‘But Then Something Happened: A Story of Everyday Dementia’
• Rosemary Westwell ‘John, Dementia and Me’: exploring life problems in fiction and also talking about ‘Unseen Poetry’
• Jackie Reynolds and Michael Callan ‘‘Connecting Communities with Creative Writing’
• Sarah Gornall ‘Co-authoring and what it can mean.’
• Dr David Gatley ‘1936 a Year in Post Boxes’
• Elaine Ewart ‘My work as Fenland Poet Laureate including poetry writing, and performing ‘
• Noreen Wainwright ‘A homespun year’ by Noreen Wainwright and Margaret Priestly Thrifty ways to make and grow, bake and sew
• Stephanie J. Hale ‘What it takes to sell a million books, what it takes to make a million from your book idea and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling books in this exciting new digital age.’
• Hayley Humphrey ‘Nanowrimo: From writers’ block to 50,000 words, a novel written in a month.’
• Mary McGuire ‘Publish or self-publish? Which way do I go?’

ENTRY FREE refreshments served

Book early to avoid disappointment: contact: Malcolm Henson, North Staffordshire Press, Business Village, Staffordshire University, 72 Leek Rd., Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2AR Tel: 01782 442831 enquiries@hensoneditorial.com website: http://www.northstaffordshirepress.com

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How to bring a dead story alive

June 27, 2014

Can a dead story be brought alive?

I wrote a story as part of a writing course with the OU recently. (Found on http://www.futurelearn.com website.) Even before I’d submitted it, I felt it was not quite ‘there’. This is an attempt to bring it alive. Is it possible I wonder?

This is the setting and I wanted to show that I had come from Spain on holiday and was boarding a plane where I met a man who intrigued me. I hadn’t put in the background that mattered – my brother had suffered from post traumatic-stress disorder but I had not recognized it. I had thought he was fine and felt guilty that I had signed to say he had suffered in the war and was different. In this story I’d hoped to show that after many years, my guilt was baseless, the man I met was showing the same symptoms as my brother.

Opening of the story
‘Spain had been glorious – sun, sand and sangria every day, so I was feeling very relaxed.’

That all right. I’ll keep the opening. However, the next bit needs changing.

‘ hopeful that I would meet someone interesting on the 2-hour flight home.

Instead of this, I need something to start to build up the tension, like:.

‘I’d had time to forget the guilt that had gnawed at my insides after signing that paper. My brother had always been edgy but I wasn’t convinced that he’d become worse after his last stint in Afghanistan, but I’d signed anyway. For a few glorious weeks I’d managed to forget, but now, now I was heading home, the feeling of shame and guilt would haunt me again.’

The next section in the original story was:
‘When I arrived early at the gate, I found a seat and took out my Kindle. It was going to be a long wait to board the plane, but I was certain not to miss it. I glanced at the check-in desk.’

I think I can delete this.

I want to keep the following however (with a few changes):

‘A lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me, whether they wanted it or not.’

Changed to:

‘When I arrived early at the gate, a lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me.’

This introduces the main character and his nervousness I hope is conveyed in the way he waits to board the plane.

The next paragraph:
‘When the boarding finally started, some ten minutes late, I struggled onto the plane, dragging my case behind me and pulled it towards my seat next to the window. The man already sitting in the adjoining seat, leapt to his feet. As he quickly took my case and lifted it up for me, I noticed that it was the same man who had been waiting at the front to the queue. I smiled my appreciation for helping me and sat down.’

What to do about it?
It still lacks tension and it tells too much. Let’s change it to:

‘When I finally boarded the plane I saw that the same man was sitting next to my seat.’
This shortens it and leaves me more space to put in the psychological bits – i.e. my thoughts and feelings as we speak.

the next bit:

‘He was young, with attractive, smooth features and a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine. He looked muscular, alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. His features held an air of wisdom, and experience in spite of his youth. I was intrigued. He was the sort of guy I always fell for and I always fell for rogues, so I was on my guard.’

The description is OK – although introducing the idea of him being attractive and mentioning the men I used to fall for heads this story into the area of romance which was not originally intended. So let’s leave out the romance.

‘He was young, with a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine although the taut jaw and fixed expression suggested he had not been on holiday. He sat alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. Did he have another agenda? A cold chill ran down my spine. Was I sitting next to a terrorist? I glanced quickly at his muscular frame, but there were no suspicious signs of hidden packages.

The next bit:

‘When we were finally settled, remembering the catastrophe with my Kindle, I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’

Lame. Let’s try simply.

I must engage him in conversation; take his mind off whatever was worrying him. I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’

The next bit:

‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm. I’d never been there before,’ His voice was strong and deep, and he spoke quickly, directly, without hesitation. ‘I was there for a week.
‘Were you in an apartment or hotel?’’

My comment: This is too simple. He just tells his story and I simply ask a question. There’s no depth.
Let’s try:

He coughed nervously ‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm.’ His voice was strained as if each word needed a great deal of strength to produce.
His tension was getting to me. Holding a conversation with this man was going to be difficult.
‘Were you in an apartment or hotel? I asked. Please God he’d stayed in an apartment so we had something in common to talk about.’’

The next bit:

‘The stewardess slammed a door shut. My chair shook as his whole body flinched.
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
He pulled something out of his pocket. I leaned forward expectantly, but he only glanced at it and put it straight back.
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
He grimaced. ‘Yes alone. I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’
This time he put his hand in the other jacket pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity. ‘

My comment:
I worry which door the stewardess had slammed – this is the first time she is mentioned. I should introduce her into the scene more naturally. Some of this section I’d like to keep but I think I need to shorten it, make it more compact and to the point to enhance the tension. He didn’t really need to pull something out of his pocket and not do anything with it This bit of writing doesn’t go anywhere, so why include it?

Let’s try changing it to:

‘Before he could answer, the stewardess offered us magazines. We declined. As she handed one to the person opposite, she dropped it. My companion flinched. ‘An apartment? I prompted.
‘No’, he snapped. ‘a hotel’ He pushed his hands along his legs to remove the sweat that had been building up.
‘Oh’ He was just like my brother, one word answers. I’d have to try open-ended questions. ‘What was the hotel like?’
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
‘Yes alone.’
This was getting painful. Find out about the family, I remember someone telling me once. They can usually help in hijack situations. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you have family? Perhaps they could have gone with you.’
‘I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’ He said quickly. He tapped his shirt pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity.

Next bit’

‘His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said his, voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I started, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
By now my mind was whirling.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘A coffee for me please.’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘And one for me, too.’ he echoed.
‘Are you together?’ the blond stewardess asked.
‘Good heavens no!’ I snapped, ‘I must be twice his age’ then blushed. He looked sternly straight ahead.
We paid separately. He dropped some coins on the floor and deftly retrieved them.’

My comment. At last a bit of darkness here, but it needs compacting – I need to leave out the age bit, it’s irrelevant.

Let’s try:

‘His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said his, voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I had to keep him occupied, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’I could feel a droplet of sweat fall down my forehead. I brushed it away.
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
It figured. He, if anyone would know how to secret a bomb. Was he planning to get his revenge on this plane, now? My lips were dry. He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘Water please’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘Coffee for me, please.’ he clipped.
As he paid for his drink he dropped some coins on the floor. Watching him closely, I took in a sharp breath. Was it going to happen now? But, glancing around him, he picked up the coins and shoved them in his pocket.

The next bit:

We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. One of my ex-rogue boyfriends perhaps? Tony, the salesman, the con-artist? There was something about the eyebrows that was similar. I cringed. Tony’s chilling words rattled around my brain in a loud repetitive echo. It was more the icy tone than the words of dismissal that had upset me. No, definitely not Tony. If nothing else, Tony had always been calm and collected, never nervous. My neighbour’s high cheekbones and the suggestion of a dimple at the corners of his mouth reminded me of James, the librarian. Was this who he reminded me of? No, again, James was always unfazed – even on that day in the kitchen when I told him we were finished. His tranquil features were starkly lit up in the neon light as he came for a final hug.’

My comment:
Do we really need reference to past boyfriends, especially now I’ve decided to leave out the romance bit? I think not, although I need to make clear that he reminds me of someone who I can’t think of at the moment. Perhaps this would work better if his mannerisms remind me of other people in my life and then finally my brother.

Let’s change it to:
‘We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. There was something about the way he sat, his jerky movements and the constant feeling that he had something else, something very serious on his mind. Was it my father, who was always thinking of work while we tried to talk to him? No, I was sure it wasn’t him. There was something about the eyebrows that I had seen before. They were thin and long and almost met in the middle. I suddenly remembered my rather gruff Headmaster at school, his tall frame looming over us in the assembly hall. I had spent most assemblies staring at his eyebrows wondering if they would meet one day. But the mannerisms very different, Mr Dodgson stood tall and still, there was nothing nervous about him. It was my neighbour’s mannerisms that reminded me; they reminded me of someone I knew, someone who had been very close to me. It was my neighbour’s sudden movements, the jerky conversation, the feeling that he had something else on his mind that were very like -. Then it struck me. I suddenly knew who he reminded me of.’

The next bit

‘I cleared my throat. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He glanced at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep seeing flashbacks of the bomb blast. I had two discs in my back damaged yet they wouldn’t give me the pension.’ His voice was now hard and resentful.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
‘Why not?’ I croaked.
‘When I said to Sarg. that I needed to see the medic he told me to grow up.’ He grabbed his empty cup and snapped his tray back loudly.
I flinched. ‘That’s awful’, I tried to speak with just the right amount of sympathy.
As he fingered his empty cup, it suddenly struck me. His manner was almost exactly the same as my brother’s after he came back from Viet Nam. My brother had always been on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded.’
My comment:
This is supposed to be the grand finale, the climax when the truth will out, but it falls a bit flat. I repeat the word ‘glanced’ at the beginning, and the drama if there is any, is not continuous. I interrupt to flow of information. It certainly needs changing for I have already said who he reminded me of.

Let’s change it to:

My mother used to say that my brother was nervy because he was a ‘war baby’, so I had assumed that my brother had always been like that. However, after he came back from Afghanistan, he was even more on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time. Now I had witnessed someone else with the same symptoms.
I leaned forward. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He flinched at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep having flashbacks of the bomb blast.’ He paused as if reliving that hell for yet another time.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking again, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded. I suddenly realized that this was no terrorist, and that my brother had indeed changed as a result of the war. In one flash of insight, the guilt I had carried for all those years for signing that piece of paper suddenly melted away.
The FINAL VERSION
‘Spain had been glorious – sun, sand and sangria every day, so I was feeling very relaxed. I’d had time to forget the guilt that had gnawed at my insides after signing that paper. My brother had always been edgy but I wasn’t convinced that he’d become worse after his last stint in Afghanistan, but I’d signed anyway. For a few glorious weeks I’d managed to forget, but now, now I was heading home, the feeling of shame and guilt would haunt me again.
When I arrived early at the airport gate, a lone figure was already standing at the head of the queue. There’s always someone, I muttered to myself. They just have to be first on the plane. With seating allocated already, what’s the point? The man was standing almost to attention, leaning slightly forward as if to start the boarding by force of will.
I pressed the button on my Kindle. Drat. It needed charging. I would just have to talk to the person next to me. When I finally boarded the plane I saw that the same man was sitting next to my seat.
‘He was young, with a tan as if he, too, had been out in the sunshine although the taut jaw and fixed expression suggested he had not been on holiday. He sat alert, as if nothing would escape his attention. Did he have another agenda? A cold chill ran down my spine. Was I sitting next to a terrorist? I glanced quickly at his muscular frame, but there were no signs of suspicious hidden packages.
I must engage him in conversation; take his mind off whatever was thinking about. I leaned forward slightly and asked.
‘Have you been on holiday?’’
He coughed nervously ‘Yes, I’ve been to Benidorm.’ His voice was strained as if each word needed a great deal of strength to produce.
His tension was getting to me. Holding a conversation with this man was going to be difficult. ‘Were you in an apartment or hotel? I asked. Please God he’d stayed in an apartment so we had something in common to talk about.
Before he could answer, the stewardess offered us magazines. We declined. As she handed one to the person opposite, she dropped it. My companion flinched. ‘An apartment? I prompted.
‘No’, he snapped. ‘a hotel’ He pushed his hands along his legs as if to remove sweat that had been building up in the palms of his hands.
‘Oh’ He was just like my brother, one word answers. I’d have to try open-ended questions. ‘What was the hotel like?’
He frowned as if concentrating very hard. ‘The hotel was nice but the view wasn’t so good.’
I cleared my throat. ‘You went alone?’
‘Yes alone.’
This was getting painful. Find out about the family, I remember someone telling me once. They can usually help in hijack situations. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you have family? Perhaps they could have gone with you.’
‘I would’ve loved to have taken my daughters.’ He said quickly. He tapped his shirt pocket and pulled out a photo of two healthy young teenage girls.
‘Beautiful’ I said with sincerity.
His voice darkened. ‘My ex holds them very close to her.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask why, but I decided it best to let sleeping dogs lie. Fortunately, he did not need prompting.
‘I still love my wife,’ his said, his voice breaking up with emotion. ‘It’s been five years since we split up.’
‘It must be hard,’ I murmured sympathetically. What could I say?
He clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap and kept glancing at the stewardesses. One of them looked at him, whispered in the ear of the other stewardess, and walked towards the cabin door.
‘Er’ I had to keep him occupied, ‘What’s your job?’
‘I don’t have a job. I retired early.’
‘What did you do before you retired?’I could feel a droplet of sweat fall down my forehead. I brushed it away.
‘Oh I was in the army, stationed in Ireland.’
It figured. He, if anyone would know how to secret a bomb. Was he planning to get his revenge on this plane, now? My lips were dry. He pulled his tray down. The stewardesses were coming with the food trolley.
‘Tea or coffee?’ the stewardesses had arrived.
‘Water please’ I said, pulling my tray down.
‘Coffee for me, please.’ he clipped.
As he paid for his drink he dropped some coins on the floor. I watched him closely. Was it going to happen now? He glanced around as he picked up the coins but nothing happened, he simply shoved them in his pocket.
We were silent for a few moments while we sipped our drinks. I had time to reflect. I had a niggling feeling that he reminded me of someone. There was something about the way he sat, his jerky movements and the constant feeling that he had something else, something very serious on his mind. Was it my father, who was always thinking of work while we tried to talk to him? No, I was sure it wasn’t him. There was something about the eyebrows that I had seen before. They were thin and long and almost met in the middle. I suddenly remembered my rather gruff Headmaster at school, his tall frame looming over us in the assembly hall. I had spent most assemblies staring at his eyebrows wondering if they would meet one day. But the mannerisms very different, Mr Dodgson stood tall and still, there was nothing nervous about him. I was sure my neighbour reminded me of someone, someone I knew, someone who had been very close to me. The sudden movements, the jerky conversation, the feeling that he had something else on his mind were very familiar. Then it struck me. I suddenly knew who he reminded me of.
My mother used to say that my brother was nervy because he was a ‘war baby’, so I had assumed that my brother had always been like that. However, after he had come back from Afghanistan, he was even more on edge, never still, never able to concentrate for any length of time. Now I had witnessed someone else with the very same symptoms.
I leaned forward. ‘If you don’t mind my asking, did you have a bad experience in the army?
‘Yes’, he said, his voice tinged with bitterness. ‘I was a green jacked’ he glanced at me. ‘A foot soldier in Ireland when I was thrown onto a pavement curb by a bomb.’
He flinched at my sudden intake of breath.
He continued. ‘I keep having flashbacks of the bomb blast.’ He paused as if reliving that hell for yet another time.
One of the cabin crew was standing outside the cabin door watching him very closely.
I softened my voice. ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking again, but you remind me so much of my brother. You wouldn’t be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would you?’
He nodded.
In one flash of insight, the guilt I had carried for all those years for signing that piece of paper suddenly melted away. I suddenly realized that this was no terrorist, and that my brother had indeed been suffering from the same problem: post-traumatic stress disorder.
END
My comment:
This is 2oo+ words more than the allocated wordage, and yet I thought I had compacted the information.! It just goes to show that when you try to write something that evokes some interest or an emotional reaction, you need to spell it out so that your meaning is clear, but in so doing, you also need to maintain the storyline without wandering off topic.
This is still not a finished piece of work and, as always, it needs copy-editing, but I do hope it is an improvement on my first attempt.

opportunity for authors

June 13, 2014

PRESS RELEASE Opportunity for authors.
Malcolm Henson of North Staffordshire Press presents a one-day Conference: Writing and Writers in Birmingham Central Library (UK) on Saturday 18th of October 2014, 10 am to 5 pm.
If you have a book that you have written or are in the process of writing or if you are interested in writing, language and/or (language) communication and have ideas to share, you are invited to send an outline of a 20-minute presentation to give in a one-day conference at Birmingham Central Library on Saturday 18th October 2014.
Your submission should contain your full name, address (including post code), phone number(s) and email address(es). It should be no more than 500 words and should summarize the content of the whole of your presentation.
Entrance to the conference will be free and you will be welcome to bring your books to sell and flyers and cards to distribute. There should be plenty of time for discussion and networking or viewing this impressive library.
You should send you submission within the body of an email to rjwestwell@hotmail.com The deadline for receiving entries is the 14th July 2014 and successful entrants will be notified by the 14th of August 2014.
I hope to present an update on ‘John, Dementia and Me’
Dr Rosemary Westwell (PhD, MA Ed, MA TESOL, BMus, BA Hons)
On behalf of:
Malcolm Henson, Managing Director, Editorial Services, North Staffordshire Press, Business Village, Staffordshire University, 72 Leek Rd., Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2AR Tel: 01782 442831
http://www.northstaffordshirepress.com

What’s the secret to writing a page-turner – a book that you cannot put down?

July 22, 2012

What’s the secret to writing a page-turner – a book that you cannot put down?

This is the question that I think we would all like answered.

I have noticed that some books read really smoothly and quickly. You are swept along and cannot put the book down until you reach the final page. Other books are more leisurely but are very enjoyable in their own charming way, while some are difficult to get into, seem to block the natural flow and yet are deemed successful by ‘those who know’.

Having been made aware that much of my writing is ‘lumpy’ (a lovely description which makes me know exactly what it means) I plan to look at three different books that represent the three different types I have just mentioned to see what secrets they hold.

The first, the page turner: This book raced along. It almost seemed too simplified. Did it miss subtleties that make good literature that we can appreciate? This was by … no, I will not say the names of the authors for then you, like me, may already assume that they are brilliant – too good to criticise. This first author writes in short snatches of sentences, sentences that none-the-less create images that stay with you and speed you along with the action.

A sample of 76 words: (Sample ‘A’):

“A beer?”

“It’s customary to say a kind. Like … or something.”

“Oh, what have you got?”

The bartender started ripping off about a million titles. M stopped him on the Flying Fish Pale Ale, mostly because he liked the name. The beer ended up being awesome, but M wasn’t much of a connoisseur. He grabbed a wooden booth near a group of lovely young, uh, girls-cum-women. It was indeed hard to tell ages any more.” …

Comment: I find this really easy to read. My eyes sweep across the lines while I ‘get the picture’ immediately. I notice the sentences are nearly all short. They nearly always involve someone doing or saying something. The atmosphere and characters are created, I have decided, largely by the choice of vocabulary. The first person to speak is a man of few words, a man of action. The second has more time – slightly opinionated – why does he say “It’s customary to say” and not “People usually say”?, for example.

Now for Sample ‘B’:

“The wide reception squelched with the footsteps of my flat driving shoes as I walked over the polished stone slabs. To the right and opposite of the dark wood desk was a dark wood staircase with ornate banisters that swept up to the first floor. Coming down the stairs were two people. A couple.

They weren’t holding hands but had the air of being ‘together’. It was most likely their first holiday together. They’d probably spent the morning …”

Comment: This seems to be a more leisurely style. As the reader I have more time to savour the moment. Again the atmosphere and characters are created by choice of vocabulary – using the word ‘squelched’ rather than ‘made a noise’. The use of the preposition ‘of’ after ‘opposite’ made me stop for a moment – I was expecting something different – I was expecting opposite ‘to’. This sample is interesting and ‘easy’ to read because the sentence lengths are varied. There are even two words that are grouped as if making a sentence yet there is no verb to make it grammatically correct. However, I do not mind – it gets the point across. We are told not to repeat the same words close together but here the repetition of ‘dark wood’ emphasize the atmosphere, they do not detract from it.

Of the two styles, even though the first seems to fit the criteria of today’s successful writer, I prefer to have an opportunity or two to savour what is happening as in sample ‘B’.

sample ‘C’:

“She looked around the foyer. This being where N lived, and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around, the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too; fresh flowers, sofas, a coffee table with magazines, thick carpet, artworks, no expense spared. It left her with a feeling that she was going to trespass into someone else’s apartment on her way to N’s. In the corner was a Victorian style desk with everyone’s  …”

This script I found less easy to follow. Why? I enjoyed the story and some of the most meaningful moments between the characters. Perhaps I find it more difficult because it seems to me that even though the sentences here are varied they do not seem to follow on from each other.

The first sentence lets me know who immediately and where she is. Good. However, then there is an awkward passage: “This being where N lived, and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around, the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too; fresh flowers, sofas, a coffee table with magazines, thick carpet, artworks, no expense spared.”

Why say ‘This being where N lived’ and not “ N lived here” or “It was obvious that N lived here.” Or why not describe her looking directly at the objects mentioned later so that we are still with her and seeing the scene through her eyes?

The phrase “and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around” worried me. Why? I think it is because I became fixated with the word ‘some’. It was probably one property so why did the author not say ‘a most expensive piece of real estate’ – instead of ‘some of the most expensive  …’? Then I got hung up on the ‘too’ in ‘the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too;’ I think the punctuation confused me here – I’d have preferred the words to flow on without the comma before ‘too’.  Finally the list of things in the foyer did not seem to help me absorb the atmosphere as well as the description in ‘B’ – why not? I think it is because there were so many different ones – too many to envisage or to appreciate fully. Maybe I would have preferred just one or two items mentioned and described a bit more. What colour were the flowers – what kind? Then the phrase ‘no expense spared’ worried me. it I expected would help me get involved with the scene but it did not seem to follow on directly from all the objects – yes the thick carpets, but everyone has coffee tables with magazines – they do not epitomize ‘expense’.

Perhaps I am being too picky but as one of the most ‘lumpy’ writers around, I hope I can take this to heart and look again at some of my own writing and improve it.

 

 

Mini Book review: ‘The Ghost’ by Robert Harris published by Arrow Books 2007

May 14, 2012

The ‘ghost writer’ weaves a fascinating tale of him at work, ‘ghosting’ the memoirs of a charismatic but enigmatic ex prime minister. He is taking over from another ghost writer, Mike McAra, who had been found dead – one of the many strands of mystery that keeps you hooked as you enjoy this fine author’s friendly and relaxed style of writing. I thoroughly recommend this book for a great read – one that is hard to put down once you start involving yourself in this web of intrigue.

good reasons for having your book reviewed

May 18, 2011

As part of my marketing plan for my newly published book: Teaching Language Learners, after presenting the book at the IATEFL Conference  (IATEFL = International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) I asked people that I thought knew something about the subject and who showed interest in the book to write a review for me.

Having someone else comment on your book, even if it is negatively, is much more helpful than I realized. Not only do you have plenty of scope for improving the book, you get advice on how to approach your next project and you are given greater insight into something you may have thought you knew well already. It is a very humbling, educative experience. I found that several people have expressed completely different ideas.

This review was written recently and I have included it to share with you how interesting someone else’s view can be and how new ideas can be generated from their different perspective.

Review of  the book by Rosemary Westwell: ‘Teaching language Learners’ by Jane Hayter (included with permission from Jane Hayter)

Dear Rosemary,

Thank you so much for sending me your book. I don’t think I am at all qualified to review it, but I enjoyed it very much indeed.

I never trained as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, but I had English up to degree level, but could not take up my place at university. I was given a whole box of text books for the course for TEFL by a friend in France. I spent over six months going through them in great detail before I had French children wanting to learn English. Over six years I taught about 20 from ages 7 – 16.

I have to say that I think your book is so good. It is the first book I have read of an account by the author, an English specialist, learning another language. I have read many books on English Grammar. Pinker’s ‘The Language Instinct’, several of Chomsky’s and others. I have always been very interested in how we learn our own language as very young children but your book goes further by drawing on your persona; experience of how you learn and the methods you used at different stages of your ability. Your book is very clear about these methods and how to make teaching interesting and enjoyable for both teachers and students. I thought the suggested tasks were excellent, as was the general layout. You gave plenty of scope for teachers to come up with examples of their own and perhaps, most importantly, to recognize what is needed at different stages. When I was learning French I never heard spoken English and so was immersed in the sounds of the language — its rhythms and pauses. This helped me a lot when I took lessons from a 75-year-old ex-Grammar teacher who spoke no English. Unlike some books, the author gave great importance to listening before conjugating verbs and dictations etc.

I’m afraid I don’t really have any negative things to say about the book. I thought it was well set out, with excellent content. I wish I had had it when I was in France! I liked very much your pronunciation conundrums. When I had my French students, I made 5 foolscap-size cards of them. They dreaded them and groaned each week. We did 10 old words and 10 new ones each lesson and always 5 sentences for homework along with other stuff!

I hope this has been useful. It is not very academic I afraid – just a personal view. Good luck with this excellent book Rosemary.

Best wishes      Jane Hayter

For further information about the book contact rjwestwell@hotmail.com

Agatha Christie can still teach us a lot

February 21, 2011

Agatha Christie can still teach us a lot. After writing for some time I decided to have a close look at what she does and reading her book with a critical eye – she does exactly what we are advised to do: – sets the scene, has her characters clearly expressed through action, writes in an easy, readable style… now for a first attempt at a crime novel. I am hoping the need to remember every detail will improve my brain. Well there is no harm in trying, eh?

Writing a short story is difficult

December 12, 2010

Writing a short story is more difficult than I first thought. It’s hard to capture characters and have something happen within a very short space. I quite often revert to a kind of ‘plan’ suggested to me a long time ago, by having the main character(s) have a couple of difficulties that they finally overcome. Although I am tempted to ramble on, writing as I speak, this is not the way to write a short story I am told. The character has to do or say something, these days you do not merely tell the story. Then, of course, we have the constant battle with our language being altered with text-speak. Information comes in very short bites – or tweets. So how can you give time to a character to get inside their head and make them realistic? I do not have the answer but I live in hope that people will revert to more lengthy and profound communication.  

I tried to write a story about my dog, Bramble and Christmas and realized that it may be just a bit too gorey for the general reading public.

Any comments would be most gratefully received – I thrive on criticism.

Short story: Bramble’s Christmas

The coffee cup rattled. Liquid splashed onto my skirt.

“Bramble,” I sighed, “I WISH you wouldn’t do that!” My lively mongrel had never outgrown puppyhood and had just nudged my elbow. Tongue hanging out, ears perked high she looked at me, a picture of innocence. She did not understand. Nothing else mattered when it was time for her walk.

I swept the liquid off my skirt with my hand, put down the half-finished drink and stood up. Bramble swiftly sat down on the carpet, tucking her tail under her legs. In spite of her scruffy multicolored fur that never seemed to be in place, Bramble’s body straightened into a very upright, obedient figure. NOW she was as good as gold, NOW she would do anything I asked, NOW that I was obviously going to take her for a walk. No matter how determined I was to be top dog in our house, there was always something that undermined this quest.

The pavements were covered in a watery sheen as the low winter sun shone directly towards us. The air was crisp and cold. Bramble tugged hard at the lead.

“Stop!” I shrieked. Bramble reluctantly paused. “Heel!” I shrieked again with my bossiest tone. Head down, Bramble slowly walked back to me and sat at my heel.

“Right,” I said, “Best behaviour from now on, Bramble, our visitors will be arriving soon after we return from our walk.” Bramble trotted beside me, exuding an air of ‘I’m doing as I am told, but it is only temporary, you know’.  

Suddenly, she pulled to the side.

“Oh all right, collect you emails then,” I let the lead stretch to accommodate her as she sniffed at every lamppost, fence and bush. I looked at my watch. There was still plenty of time. I gazed around. The street was quiet. Everyone must be indoors getting ready for the festive season. My pile of presents lay unattended on the desk in the study.

The tree ahead rustled as a pair of collared doves flew onto the lowest branch and huddled together. As we walked past, the birds took flight without a flicker of interest from Bramble. Then I saw it. There curled up under one of the bushes was a black and white cat. This could be interesting.

We walked towards the sleeping animal and I held my breath as we came close.  Bramble walked straight past it. What was the matter with her?

“Cat,” I pointed back to the cat. “Bramble,THAT was a cat!” She glanced at me with disdainful eyes and returned to her eyes-forward, neck-stretched, got-to-get-there position.

The sun streamed onto the field ahead. A family of rabbits was sitting bemused on the clumps of grass, warming themselves as much as they could in the weakened rays of the sun.

As we came nearer,  they lollopped away, one by one. We took the wider path that was lined with small bushes.  Then, without warning, Bramble shot into one of the plants. A soul-splitting screech resounded in the cold air as the bush thrashed violently. She’s got a bird! What should I do now? If I tried to rescue the bird it may be so badly injured that it would have a long and painful death, whereas, if Bramble was determined to kill it, its death would at least be clean and quick. The rustling finally ceased. I reined in the lead and bent down to see if there was any hope for the stricken creature.

This was no bird. It was one of the largest rabbits I had even seen. I leaned down to touch the animal. Bramble’s throat reverberated with a loud, menacing growl – a sound that seemed to come from the very depths of hell, a sound that I had never heard from her before. Bramble was NOT going to let this prize go!  I decided not to challenge her; I preferred keeping my hands intact. Yet again, Bramble ruled.

“Come on, “I pulled the lead, “We have to go.”

Bramble was not leaving the rabbit behind. She gripped the limp bundle of fur with her jaws clamped tight. She lifted her head. The animal was too heavy.

“You’ll have to leave it,” I pulled the lead again. Bramble bent her head down very low, gripped the animal again and dragged it up, lifting her head backwards to compensate for such a burden. With her whole body focused on supporting a weight that was almost equal to her own, she staggered forwards, the legs and head of rabbit falling ignominiously either side of her mouth as she lumbered on. Slowly we made our way home.

Bramble stopped. What was the problem? She dropped the animal to the ground. Was she leaving it behind? She immediately lowered her head, opened her jaws wide and grappled to wrap her mouth round the inert body of the rabbit again. Two more grabs and her prey was in position. She lifted it high, and strutted forwards.

A car drove past. The passengers pointed their fingers and chatted excitedly.

I began to worry about the visitors. They were Chinese, a couple I had never met before. No doubt they had their standards of cleanliness and how was I going to persuade Bramble to keep this ghastly carcass out of the house? Drops of blood were marking the pavement as I pondered my situation. The back gate, somehow I’ll have to get Bramble through the back gate so that she has to keep it outside. I’ll tie her to the tree at the front of the house, go into the house alone, dash to the back and unlock the gate and let her through. I prayed that the visitors would not arrive as I maneuvered the situation.

As we came to the front of our house, I could see a little green car had just turned the corner and was moving towards us. Please, I begged, please not let it be the visitors. I hurriedly tied Bramble to the tree, fumbled with my keys as I opened the front door, quickly snatched off my gumboots, dashed to the back door, unlocked it, rushed outside in my socks, unlocked the back gate and ran to get Bramble and her prey. I pulled hard at the lead.

“Come on, Bramble, come ON” I shouted as the car arrived at our entrance. The car drove straight past. I sighed. “Come on,” I said in a gentler tone and we eventually got into the back yard. Bramble’s mouth was dripping blood as she dropped the creature on pavement. She looked up at me with a hideous primeval grin. I grimaced, turned and dashed back inside to change my socks.

Liang and Ho made a delightful couple. Their tiny neat forms looked out of place in my ramshackle sitting room, their shiny dark eyes taking everything in. I had shown them to their rooms, lit the fire in the sitting room and settled them down while I went to make a cup of tea.  They did not need to see the back garden yet. I shut out the image of the dead rabbit’s torn flesh and Bramble’s blood-thirsty grin.

 The dog flap crashed. I gulped. Bramble had finished devouring her prey for the moment and was dashing in to see who the visitors were. She rushed into the sitting room before I could catch her. Her mouth no longer looked like a scene from Dracula. I smiled weakly at the couple and introduced them to Bramble, insisting the dog went to her basket while we continued our tea.

“Bed!” I snarled again menacingly as Bramble tried to slink out of her bed towards me. She reluctantly crawled back, curled up and looked at us with her most upsetting how-cruel-you-are eyes.

“Christmas is a wonderful time for children.” I began telling Liang and Ho about our Christmas customs. “Before we go to bed, we leave a couple of mince pies, a glass of sherry and a carrot on the hearth for Father Christmas and his reindeer.”

I took 2 mince pies from the plate and put them on the hearth, their tinfoil jackets protecting them from the ash I had not fully swept away. I turned to get the sherry from the drinks cabinet.

“But-“Liang said.  I looked at her quizzically. She pointed to the open doorway. I glanced at the hearth. One of the mince pies had disappeared!

“Bramble?” I called to the empty doorway.

The Chinese couple giggled.

I placed the sherry down on the hearth and moved to the open doorway to chastise naughty Bramble. As I turned into the hall – a furry figure streamed past me into the sitting room and with something shiny in her mouth, pushed rapidly past me again before I could touch her. The dog flap rattled loudly.

“Bramble!” I shouted towards the absent culprit. 

The Chinese couple laughed out loud.  

Well, I shrugged. Christmas is a time of good cheer is it not?

END

timely advice from editors

September 9, 2010

I should like to pay a special tribute to Nik Morton and the Torreviejan Writer’s Circle. I am writing my next book about my husbands dementia. I had been advised that this is the kind of book that is needed. I had written 22 thousand words describing life with my husband and his slow decline into the conditions. I concentrated on trying to make my writing clear and easy to read. I was getting there. Well I thought I was.

Then Nik kindly sent some advice from an editor – what an editor is looking for. It was nothing like the prose that I had been churning out. How could I have forgotten?

I now have a little paragraph at the top of my script: a paragraph that I read again and again before I ever try to write anything.

It is:
“Is there conflict?

Is there a pressing story question?

Does the pace keep the reader turning the page?

Are the character defined through dialogue and action not narrative?

Are the characters’ feelings shown not described?

Does each scene have a location in time and space, is there action and dialogue and tension?”

Many times I have to admit the answer is “No.” so I re-write…. again and again …

The web works!

July 13, 2010

Putting your thesis on the web free to view by all and sundry pays.

I finished my thesis on “The Development of Language Acquisition in a Mature Learner” a couple of years ago. I had kept a diary while I tried to learn Spanish as a beginner. The analysis of the diary was the basis of the thesis. I thought it would be something that a lot of people would be interested in. I made a few attempts to interest publishers in the diary of my learning experiences and the thesis but only received messages that they might be interested and would get back to me. They did not get back to me.

In the meantime, I wrote my own informal description of my language learning experiences in a self-published book: Out of a Learner’s Mouth (available at Burrows in Ely if you are interested).

Then, suddenly, after 2 years, a legitimate publisher approached me by email. They had been scouring the internet for possible theses to publish and had come across mine. They were interested in publishing! I had been told that the thesis was a good one and even though they may have been flattering me, I had worked jolly hard for over 9 years to get it completed. So it seems that getting you work published is more a matter of timing than anything. To my mind, it obviously pays to concentrate on getting you book right rather than getting a publisher interested with an incomplete work. When a publisher is looking for new work  – then and only then, will they show interest. Common sense, I suppose – but then, who has an abundance of that? (obviously not me.)