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Wake up at the back!

Steinbeck2The whole literary world seems awash with new writers: of all genres and capabilities. In their number – trust me I know – there are a handful who will make it big: and I mean BIG (genius among their ranks; some excellent writers but also moneyed writers WITH CONNECTIONS. It is not cynical to suggest this, just factual.) It was ever thus, but I’m not a party-pooper. Good luck to those who have reached the pinnacle of their profession, more particularly the authors who have worked hard to get there, for there is truth in the saying success takes more perspiration than inspiration… Although it is humbling to recall, and furthermore brings the egotists to heel, that Ernest Hemingway said ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’

However, the “connected” and more savvy/wealthy/technical scribblers among us, don’t need as much help, while there are plenty who do! I count myself in the latter category as I hesitate when I am faced by a ‘Push’ sign…over-think (dangerous) and tend to under-estimate any suggestion of talent.

In this technical age, more than ever before, the actual writing itself seems easy-peasy when faced with the maze of problems in getting your work/book “out there.” Having experienced mainstream publishing in the 1970’s/80’s – to be applauded – I can categorically say there is no comparison with what’s on offer today. Yes, it’s easier to be published, but most authors like to see their books sell. Right? Plus they like to be paid for all their sweat and tears; more than two/three euro per book would be nice…(Don’t choke over your cornflakes if that’s a surprise!) And therein lies a difficulty. Amazon and Kindle are choked up with every conceivable book on every conceivable subject you can imagine, and nowadays the ‘big boys’ are greedier.

The writing part of your book really could be the easiest when compared to ‘putting it out there’ and selling it. If you’re very confident, can sell yourself and your book, AND you can write well, you are well on your way to becoming a household name, otherwise it’s a struggle. And, remember, wise authors put much store by the design of their book covers, and the back cover blurb is almost as important. It can make the difference between luke-warm sales and brisk ones.

Apart from the totally original/genius/moneyed writers in our midst, there are plenty of tentative, talented people aspiring to get into print, and I genuinely feel concern for them. So – including myself in this plea – let’s sit up and take note before it’s too late.

So, what can we do to improve our success? Well, common sense tells us to ensure the quality of our writing is as good as we can make it. We never finish learning…or improving, and shouldn’t. We should all read as much as we can and keep our curiosity honed at all times. Being original and spinning a good tale is another must, and cliches should be avoided but not ignored. Rules should be massaged, and sometimes turned on their heads… In Doris Lessing’s words: ‘There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.’ Optimism is key.

I will forever be intrigued by the fact that 26 letters of the alphabet can spell magic, mayhem, mystery, fear, titillation, happiness and every other emotion you can think of, and the mystique of muses and inspiration remains. Although, in my own, very modest, writing life, there was never a “”Eureka” moment, I was inspired to plod on by John Steinbeck’s writing, read after…I had written a sentence almost matching one of his about a sunset in a short story. Not exactly a difficult task, but I was thrilled to have chosen the same words as a writer of his calibre. (He was, by the way, rejected by many publishers before succeeding.) Of course, we should never compare ourselves with the greats, and remember, we are ALL UNIQUE. Every last one of us.

Sadly, none of the above sketches out HOW to ensure readers buy our books. If you are a good speaker/actor/promoter/technology wizard, it counts for a lot, for today’s writer has to do a heap more than just write. Making videos, giving interviews and courting coverage by way of Twitter and Facebook, etc., makes sense, as does setting up a website and interacting with like-minded people.

As for finishing the book itself, Larry L. King suggests you ‘Write, rewrite; when not writing or re-writing, read. I know of no short cuts!’ I heartily endorse his advice. Good luck!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2017

Eat, drink and be Mary

“IF YOU CAN’T FEED A HUNDRED PEOPLE, THEN JUST FEED ONE”

Mother Theresa

I recently edited an exciting tale of a ‘one man marvel’ who was a cross between James Bond, Captain Scarlet, and Batman. It certainly moved apace, with plenty of car and bikes chases, shoot-outs and mayhem. Perfect Boy’s/Men’s Own stuff. Only one thing about the story bugged me. Our hero rarely ate.

He downed a few jars that I recall, but seemed on a starvation diet. I do, of course, appreciate that when one is pursuing dangerous criminals, intent on murder, or blowing up the Houses of Parliament, et al, indulging in coq au vin and chocolate mousse has to take a back seat, but as chapters passed like indulgent buses, the poor hero was, surely, losing weight?! I was mentally urging the author to serve him a quick pizza, hot dog or burger at the very least., but as there was a war on by then, the poor devil had to make do with stolen eggs and stale bread…Hey ho.

As individuals, and being unique, we all have our fancies, likes and dislikes, and there’s nothing I like more than to eat a good meal, and digest it curled up by the wood-burner with a good book. But it goes much deeper than that and I’m no detective on a case…As a wife and mother, I took to cooking early on in my marriage, and my husband and I liked entertaining so much, he caught the culinary bug and – at one time in our years together – we ran a modest, twelve-bedroomed hotel in Bournemouth. Hard work but great fun and it launched me on a writing path: Running Your Own Small Hotel and Jobs in Baking and Confectionery. Both published by Kogan Page Ltd, London.

Involved in research for the book, I came across some exciting revelations, such as Chilean-American writer, Isabel Allende’s love for and allusions to food in her books. One: Aphrodite, covered the aphrodisiac combinations of food and love, and actual recipes from the book are still used by readers today. “A cornucopia of spices…” and potent writing of rich, dark chocolate, oozing, seductively and sexily through the pages, with titillating aromas almost escaping from the words. Sadly, my personal flights of food fancy were rejected and I was commissioned to write an account of “The day to day running of a small hotel, with modest menu suggestions.” Disappointing, but the book went to a second printing and did very well, so I couldn’t complain.

Later, leading a more prosaic, while interesting and rewarding life, I read and wrote as much as I could in between cooking for four men, noting that Oscar Wilde once said: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations!”

Apparently, Alexander Dumas was also a cook and gourmet, and while his three musketeers were marinating in his imagination, he wrote Dictionnaire de Cuisine, but concocted over-fanciful tales about the Romans driving ducks over the Alps for their dinner.

Tragic, American-born poet Sylvia Plath loved to cook and it seems that some of her recipes “ghost the web;” one for “Tomato soup cake” sounds rather strange!

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, his pockets at the time, empty, wrote of his hunger while his stomach rumbled and the teasing aromas of baking bread and rolls drifted, torturously, from the open doorways of the Boulangeries.

As for the infamous Tom Jones, written by Henry Fielding in 1749 – marked as one of the “best ever 100 books” – although I admit to not having read it, I did see the film. And if ever food was linked to love and sex hilariously, it was in this epic. It is incredible to note that from a London population of only 700,000, 10,000 copies of the book were sold. One critic helped sales along beautifully, by calling it “A motley history of barstardism, fornication and adultery.” I never looked at food the same way again…

While I continued to scribble away and cook such basic temptations as Shepherd’s Pie, Toad in the Hole, Goulash and innumerable stir fries and roasts like most other mums, I still took time out to read – often in the kitchen. Joanne Harris’ book Chocolate captured me hook, line and sinker. I loved it, and although I haven’t written a “foodie” novel, yet, I did manage to get a few, culinary-based, stories published in an anthology: Food Glorious Food (QG Publishing) which, hopefully, sent a few taste buds salivating… and there are more due in a collection of fascinating, mixed stories by writer Jean Wilson and yours truly called Angels & Demons, also to be published shortly by QG Publishing.

Luckily, since publishing my memoir My Gentle War, I’ve been able to send modest donations to Mary’s Meals, a wonderful charity in Scotland who feed over One Million children per day and only keep a paltry seven pence in the pound for administration costs…

Website: www.marysmeals.org
Email: info@marysmeals.org

The Phrontistery revisited

Phrontistery – “a thinking place, from ‘phroneein’ to think.”

Now and then, you hear of writers’ “drying up” or “burning out,” but, for one reason or another, the older I get, the more ideas arrive…Take this morning – at the early hour of 5.15, damn… there was a wide awake queue of “subjects” (animated like an excitable group of Star Trek conference devotees) suggesting a variety of, mostly, serious topics. Keen to write something in a lighter vein, with maybe a humorous slant, I patiently listened to my babbling muses, but had to refuse their, more serious, offerings. So, what to write? Sometimes, too many ideas are worse than none! They can overwhelm and leave you confused.

The very name of “Trump” (can one word/person be a cliche?) and connections left me cold; “Literary Advice” sounded like preaching – how many more tips can one suggest without boring the pants off people? Eventually, I decided to visit “The Phrontistery.” Again. For newcomers to my – lately – rare posts, The Phrontistery is a haven for words which I enjoy visiting now and then.

A Facebook friend by the name of Aurora mentioned the word CODDICOMPLE :”To travel purposefully toward an.- as yet – unknown destination,” so was quite apt for the occasion, and led me to visit the above virtual learned ‘establishment.’ (Thanks Aurora!) If you enjoy words, it’s always fun.

Quite a few intrigued…AMORETTO: “A cherub or spirit of love” (thought it came in a bottle?!), ABBOZZO: “A preliminary sketch,” Really! ABRA: “A narrow mountain pass.”” (Not to be confused with ”A Bra”: (A feminine undergarment.). The decidedly odd ACERSECOMIC: “One whose hair has never been cut!” AFTERWIL: “Locking the barn after the cows have been let out…”.(always thought it was a horse) .And, my favourite for now: ALLEMAIN: “An enormous pudding, out of which acrobats leap!” So graphic and sounds such fun! Surely, a perfect prop for the amazing Cirque du Soleil.

As expected from such a comprehensive list of words, many are archaic: more at home in a Dickensian story: Words like BANTLING: “Brat, whelp, bastard child,” BASTINADE: “To beat with stick or baton, ESPECIALLY ON THE FEET?!” Then there’s DEBLUBBERED: “Disfigured from weeping.” BICACIOUS: “Fond of drinking,” (timeless!), and last, for now, BLETHERSKATE: “Garrulous talker of nonsense.” The latter group is perfect for including in a Victorian who-dunnit! Ummm, I have an idea…

 

© Joy Lennick 2017

On being an eclectic writer

If you find yourself in this category, it is unlikely, while not impossible, of course, you’ll be rich, or even partly-wealthy for starters, or – more pertinent – a household name…All that chopping and changing – a poem here, a serious article there, a travelogue and then a short story and some silly limericks… will only confuse a possible “readership,” if that’s the word. Keeping a diary, penning a funny piece and writing factual stuff in between, doesn’t help one iota. I can claim to be one, so I’m doomed to mediocrity, although I’ve written five books (which can, again, be termed “eclectic.”) Two are factual, one is a biography, another a memoir; a fifth is my only novel, and the sixth an “adaptation.” Entirely my own fault and choice, of course. Deep down, I know the real reason…I’m a “literary butterfly” more like a moth…and am fearful of fame; a typical extrovert/introvert, with an emphasis on the introvert All those photographers and all that money?! I imagine looking for the exit sign.…What a silly woman!

The secret to being a truly successful writer is – usually – sticking to one genre/ writing a series (or being a wealthy genius). Of course, there are some brilliant writers “out there” who are educated and talented people. Hard graft and tenacity are part of the equation, and in today’s literary climate, being technically minded is also of huge benefit, which leaves many more mature writers out on a limb. Including me! If a door states PULL, I hesitate…so that will give you a clue as to my technical abilities. A wing and a prayer come to mind, and I’m not religious…Hey ho.

51cuwiwnwcl-_sx331_bo1204203200_1However, did you feel a “But” coming on? Now and then, I step outside my “introverted self” and toot my own trumpet – something I have, grudgingly, learned to do these past few years…When asked to adapt an autobiography by a friend, Graham Knight, I read the manuscript – typed by his grandfather with a head device as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had lost his right arm due to wounds sustained in the First World War – I readily agreed. What a man, and what a story! Aptly published on the 11th of November, “From the Prairie to Passchendaele” is the life story of a poor boy, born at the end of the 1800s, in Kent, UK, in a family of twelve children, he borrowed the money to emigrate to Canada, dreaming of becoming a cowboy…Ending up as a hard-working farmer, tending bullocks and horses and countless acres of prairie-land, at seventeen, he soon became a man! Sadly, World War I intervened and put paid to his farming life. Part of the tenacious 10th Canadian Military Unit, he bravely fought in many battles and was awarded the Military Medal at the eventual cost of his right arm. He retrained as an accountant – by then married with four sons – returned to Kent and prospered, despite painful interludes. Fred’s simply but powerfully told story, highlights the sheer guts and courage it took to make your way in the world in those hard days. No wonder Graham Knight is so proud of him!

Note: 2017 is the 100th Anniversary of The Battle of Passchendaele in which Fred fought.

From the Prairie to Passchendaele is available now from amazon.com

On characterisation / a poem

Being human, all writers have strengths and weaknesses and enjoy/dislike different aspects of their craft. Plots and sub plots are, of course, vital, as is the balance between action, dialogue, description, etc., but, for me, one of my favourite tasks – or I should say joys – is endowing a character with a personality and physical image through description.

Jean Wilson, a writing colleague, who has now retired to Torquay in the UK, was a favoured member of a small group I take as group leader for the University of the Third Age, in Torrevieja, Spain. Here is her take on a certain man who helped people a short, brilliant, story, she wrote.

‘Harold was a person one endeavoured to avoid if at all possible. He was an intense, blustery man of somewhat large stature, which of itself failed to hide his poorly controlled thinking ability, rather like a failed computer made in a third world country, which hadn’t yet got its act together. He was certainly low in gigabytes, and wanting in RAM. One couldn’t be certain that the keys struck would register as expected and a whole load of input seemed to have no relation to its later output. Harold’s idea of taking a short-cut was to fall down the stairs; and his confidence in himself took no account of the extent of his limitations. Any unfortunate encounter with him left many people feeling immense hopelessness in the integrity of the workings of Nature. Here was a man who told everyone he was a born again Xtian. It didn’t occur to him that he hadn’t been one in the first place, but he liked the reaction it had and tapped one of those pleasure seeking nerves which made him feel good for the day, enjoying the illusion of people’s undivided attention.’

Thanks Jean.

And now, as light relief from the really terrible happenings on this precious, be-devilled planet of ours, is a poem.

Most long-term Facebook, Twitter and Skype users, now and then get odd messages…And when I started receiving several requests from ‘Generals’ to Skype them, it struck me as amusing and didn’t quite ring true. This led to the writing of a poem, which I hope will make you giggle or grin…

TO SKYPE OR NOT TO SKYPE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

The first message was explicit:
(I imagined him cock-sure and slick),
I giggled but quickly recovered,
got rid of him quick with a click.

I’m spoken for and happily married,
and let’s face it “over the hill…”
but it took me back decades of years,
provided an egotistical thrill.

‘Twas as if I’d sent out a photo,
doctored and faintly erotic:
where my boobs were “in place,”
and an unwrinkled face
suggested a jolly good frolic.

Dear reader I’m totally innocent,
except for writing on line;
don’t wear fancy drawers
(prefer metaphors)
although the thought was sublime.

These days my pleasures are simple:
coffee on patio, pastry snack,
hot chocolate at night,
a book and “to write,”
not gymnastics in bed on my back.

What triggered this poem you may wonder,
I’ll tell you the truth – it’s a fact,
in twenty-four hours
I was suddenly showered
by four Generals, a sir and a hack.

Of course most of “the others”
intentions were pure, white as snow,
but it’s safe to be wary
and quite necessary
for how is a woman to know?!

The fascinating world of blogging

Being, quite literally, an old hand at writing: childish stories and silly poems leading to keeping a diary, writing articles, travelogues, short stories, and eventually books, I have had a long love affair with the written word. It has never diminished. If anything, it means more to me in my twilight years, than ever. Oh the joys, and hiccups…of reading and writing!

Naturally, over the years, fashions and fancies have changed, and I am now delighted to welcome and be involved in the world of the Blogger. The word itself somehow has as odd, unpleasant connotation, perhaps reminding one of mugger or blagger, but most of the Blogs I’ve read have been interesting, entertaining, erudite and some downright brilliant, with plenty of humour and twists. The dictionary calls the act of blogging a verb and a noun (depending on use), its full title being weblog, a piece of writing used on the internet.

Of course, as with every genre of writing, there will always be abysmal bloggers and good ones, and naturally I would like to highlight three of – in my ‘umble opinion – the best.. The first name which springs to mind, is that of Carol Hedges, esteemed writer of many books (around fourteen I believe) and latterly the author of several, exciting, Victorian murder tales. Now, being a grandmother for the first time, Carol looks after her ‘little G” (two years old on 24th February) a few times a week and writes delightfully of their time together. Under the umbrella of “Adventures of L-Plate Gran – Never underestimate the power of Grandmas!” Carol writes regular gems which I thoroughly recommend to other grandmas. (Sadly I’m not one, but love them all the same.) In Carol’s offerings, you will find heart-warming episodes, zaniness and plain good fun.

Carol’s blog

My second recommended Blogger is a man with the unusual name of Bun Karyudo (pronounced Boon-CAR-you-dough) who was ‘Born on one continent, raised on a second, and now lives on a third.’ A married man with two teenaged sons, he has written blogs with such titles as: “Exploding tea bags? Not my cup of tea.” And “The Cosmic Significance of Bathroom Tiles,” which gives a few clues as to the quirkiness of his nature. Pictured with a paper bag over his head, Bun pretends to be “A Billionaire Philanthropist.”(Always good to humour him, as he might just happen to be one!). I personally think that Bun should open an “‘Ideas Line” for Bloggers as he can find interest and humour in tripping over his own feet or being sick; not to mention waxing lyrical over anything from plastic bags to “A freezing day in Wigan.” I kid you not.

Bun’s blog

Now I come to my third favourite Blogger and won’t apologise for so doing. Being a Brit – brought up not to praise myself or my family – I questioned myself soundly before ‘exposing’ my eldest son, Jason, to the limelight. And then I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’m a truthful person and I believe my eldest son to be an excellent Blogger. (All three sons are ‘good eggs,’ their hearts are in the right places and they are good citizens. It just happens that the eldest one also writes. Well!) Totally ignoring the word nepotism, an ugly concept, I continue… No stranger to originality or weirdness (a necessity in the blogging world) – and we’re back to quirky again – Jason also produces such posts as “Dinosaurs from Space” and “Klaatu barada nikto!” and a departure: a zany short story called ”Procrastination Man.” I can thoroughly recommend a read at his blog – halfbananas.

Jason’s blog

 

 

Words, words, words

In Act 2, scene 2 of Hamlet, Polonius asks Hamlet:
‘What do you read, my Lord?’ and he replies,
‘Words, words, words.’ And then Polonius asks,
‘What is the matter, my Lord?’ And Hamlet says,
‘Between who?’

For some reason, (Hamlet was part of the course-work of my ‘A’ Lit exam, which I took at the age of 66…) the above stuck in my head. It emphasized just how language can be manipulated to be ambiguous or otherwise. It is to the point, simple and concise. Studying Shakespeare, more specifically ‘Hamlet,’ opened my half-closed eyes to the full magic and surprises that await those who study language in more depth. Of course, University students would be appalled at my ‘late learning,’ but I use the ‘better late than never’ cliché unashamedly. World War II, ‘business’ and mothering three sons came first!

Although I had already had two factual books published, I had never studied the art of using words and writing as deeply before then. And, whereas at college I had been exposed to Shakespeare, it didn’t ‘grab me’ in the same way as it did years later. I then devoured it as if it was the most seductive bar of dark chocolate ever manufactured! How I blessed the chance to catch up on at least some of my neglected education. Fortunately, my thirst for knowledge has never left me, and now I’m retired, it brings me great joy. If there are any readers who believe that so-called ‘old age’ (I’m a re-cycled, re-cycled teenager…) is a deterrent to learning, I beg them to think again.

There are approximately 1,025,109.8 words in the English dictionary, (as of 2nd January), so us writers are completely spoilt for choice. The teaser, of course, is – which words to choose! And I have read that 14 new words are created each day, so there is no excuse. It’s a fact though, that some words stick in the throat. I mean, what misguided scholar thought to define beautiful as pulchritude? Contrarily, what a deliciously descriptive word is curmudgeon (a bad-tempered or mean person), and don’t you just love the word pauciloquent (an utterer of few words: brief in speech). You won’t find many in Ireland that’s for sure. Another word I have just come across is the delightful bibble. (a Mr.Bean special): to drink often; drink or eat noisily. Definitely belongs in a Dickens tale. What about logorrhea: an excessive flow of words (more polite than choosing a literary diarrhoea). Although to write: Mr. Kimble’s senses were keen, especially his macrosmatic (good sense of smell) is a bit OTT unless you’re an English professor – or even a professor of English…And, for anyone familiar with the character Baldric in Black Adder – I’ve just discovered that baldric is a shoulder strap for holding a sword. How disappointing.

I have an admission to make here. I have been studying ‘The Phrontistery’ a ‘thinking place.’ Ignoramus that I am, I had never heard of it, but it is a fascinating place to be and to look up weird/unusual and prosaic words and their meanings. Take the unusual tittynope. Surely it can’t mean No more breast milk for you, sunshine! It doesn’t. It means a small quantity of something left over. Fun, eh!

‘Dig and ye shall find’ is my quest for 2016, and I didn’t even know until then that I had a new year resolution.…

 
Copyright Joy Lennick 2016 All rights reserved.