Grumble Mutter Whinge

It is the first of March, today.

Meteorologically, it is the first day of spring. So, that virtually guarantees what weather we will have today; the sky is overcast and grey, there is a bitterly chill wind blowing and a spiteful, thin drizzle.

Spring! Oh, humour!

Arf!

Admittedly, the astronomical calendar tells us spring doesn’t arrive until around the 20th March, so winter still has cate blanchett to do whatever it will.

So that’s fine; it sort of reflects my mood at the moment, anyway. But at least going out for a walk always lifts my mood a little, and today is no exception. I’ve been working on my new novel quite intensely for a while, and I suddenly need to step back from it for a week or two.

Come up for air, as it were.

ladakh 5 panorama

Not this one!

And so I go for a walk in the miserably wintery springy weather. Ten minutes or so through the streets brings me to the common – a wooded area on the edge of the town which, on good days, is a pleasant enough place to walk, even if it doesn’t have any convenient mountains or long distance trails.

On bad days, though, it is full of dog walkers.

That sounds a bit mean, you may say. And, okay, you’re right. It is. But in my defence, when I say full of dog walkers (and dogs), I mean full!

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This one!

It is not unusual to be surrounded by dozens of dogs running madly around, the air filled with strident shouts of ‘Gawain! Guinevere! Come here at once!’ ‘Will you come here!’ ‘Put that down!’ ‘Keep still and he won’t hurt you!’ and then some wretched little tyke suddenly tugging at your trouser leg with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, to be followed by another shout of ‘Keep still, I said!’ from a voice that could etch glass.

But not today, fortunately.

And having had my walk, I can sort out a couple of other things on my writing list.

Once I got back, I edited a short story I promised for a project for our writing group. Job done – tick.

Next, I’ll begin the edit of a very long short story that has been hanging around for ages. So long, in fact, that I mentioned it in the ‘My Writing’ section on this blog when I first set it up, a year and a half ago. Tut. It’ll be good to get that finished, anyway. It’s my first attempt at a traditional murder mystery, and I rather got lost in my own convolutions.

If I get it to the point where I’m happy with it, I might put it out as an e-book, just to see what people think of it.

Ahem…if anyone buys it, of course.

And, as a bonus, I had an idea for another short story while I was out walking, so hooray!

Now to barricade the door against all the angry dog walkers.

Ooh, it’s nearly finished!

I’m getting excited, now.

My novel, ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’ is hopefully ready for its final edit.

This part of the journey seems to be taking a great deal of time, but this might be because it is my first foray into publishing. I know that there is still much to do – formatting, advertising, proof-reading, the publishing itself, amongst a plethora of smaller but no less important tasks – but I am finally beginning to feel that I am getting there.

Curiously, after what I wrote in my last post, I never found any of the characters threatening to hijack the plot in any way. Although I never planned it out in any detail, I had a rough plan in my head, which, remarkably, I kept to. Perhaps it is because the subject matter is strong. I don’t know.

And I think that I have settled upon the cover (the artwork is my own).

Making Friends With The Crocodile cover 1

I may play around with the wording, slightly, for example I might take out the words ‘A Novel’.

For some background; the story is set in a village in Northern India, some fifteen odd years ago. It is about the deteriorating relationship between two women in a family: the mother and her daughter in law. Like this relationship frequently is, it is a strained, fractious one, not helped by that society’s attitudes towards women and their roles in general. And when one of them gets caught up in events beyond her control, these attitudes become dreadfully destructive.

As always, your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Pitfalls for Writers – 4) Language; a bit of a follow-up

Back somewhere deep in the mists of time, I published ‘Pitfalls for Writers 1’. In this, I discussed some of the potential problems of language in a novel.

If I am to write a story of medieval Persia, for example, I will write it in English. No one who reads it is going to be fooled into thinking that my characters were really speaking in English. But this on its own is not enough. There must be something in the language I use that reminds the reader that the story setting really is medieval Persia.

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And so I suggested using a flavour of the speech. I might sprinkle the conversation with words such as ‘dirham’ (a unit of currency), or ‘djinns’ (genies). The characters might smoke a ‘qalyan’, which is how they would have referred to what we generally call a hookah. A greeting might be ‘Salām ʿalaykom’.

In the comment stream that followed, I concluded that I might employ a glossary, but certainly not footnotes.

This has now become most relevant to me.

About a month ago, I finished reading Anuradha Roy’s ‘The Folded Earth’. It is a novel that is set in India, written by an Indian writer, yet it uses a glossary, although she is presumably writing in the first instance for an Indian audience. This glossary explains a few words and phrases that many western readers would be unfamiliar with, although I would expect the majority of Indian readers to know them all.

My own novel is being read now by generous beta readers, and some of the discussion is over the use of the appropriate Hindi / Urdu words in the text.

And so, with ‘The Folded Earth’ as an example, I shall definitely use a glossary.

Next, it is important to employ the correct voice.

Speech:

Clearly, if the protagonists of a story are sitting down to a meal, they might complain about the amount of fat on the meat, but they would be most unlikely to refer to it as ‘adipose tissue’. Unless one or both were, for example, surgeons.

Very few people would be likely to refer to two items as being ‘in casual juxtaposition’. They would be far more likely to say something along the lines of ‘oh, they look a bit odd next to each other.’ As tempting as it might be for the author to show off their vocabulary, it is something that should be used most carefully.

Narrator:

If the story actually has a narrator, then this becomes even more important. The country bumpkin relating an everyday tale of rustic shenanigans should not be employing sophisticated and subtle wordplay. He or she should only be employing language that they would naturally use.

Author’s voice:

Even if there is no actual narrator, it remains important to use only language that would be natural to the situation. For example, it sounds plain wrong to describe a group of Vikings ‘computing’ an answer to a problem, even if it is only the author describing it that way.

Generally, of course, and I know that some will disagree with this, it is usually better to avoid all flowery and showy language in novels, and use simple language well.

Finally, a jarring note found in a few modern novels set in older times, is that the characters often think like modern folk. Reading these books as against books written, perhaps, 150 years ago, it is not just the style and language of the writing that are different, but also the prejudices. The hero of a novel set in 1840 is going to have casual prejudices against, perhaps, people of another race, women, etc etc. We tend to be reluctant to set these down in print, nowadays, perhaps as if by doing so we are almost admitting to having these prejudices ourselves.

However, if we want to depict our characters realistically, we need to do so ‘warts and all’. And if the writer is going to depict them otherwise, then he or she needs to have a good reason why they do.

 

Pitfalls for Writers 3

Pitfalls for Writers, an occasional series; part 3) Spellcheck and Distractions

 

Spellcheck.

There are particular problems with the English language, when it comes to muddling words up, since we seem to be blessed (or otherwise) with a large number of groups of similar words. Within each group, they’re pronounced the same, although their meaning and spelling are different.

Did you see what I did there?

You might alter something, but then leave it on an altar.

Then there are, for example, groyne and groin; although in the US, groyne is spelled groin. Do you know which language your spellcheck uses? The default on my computer is US English, so I had to manually alter it to UK English, since I live in UK.

(This is referring to groyne / groin as in a breakwater, not an anatomical term)

Of course, if I was writing a piece to be published in the US, I would then need to alter many of the spellings to US usage.

Are you still with me?

Naturally, as writers, we should all understand the difference between ‘they’re, their and there’, but when using spellcheck it is perhaps easy, or perhaps lazy, to get them muddled up.

There. That’s what I did.

There is no substitute for a dictionary and a good knowledge of grammar.

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Distractions

Oh, I’m so easily distracted. When I am spending a day writing, be it on a novel or short story or on a piece for my blog, I turn to the internet to look something up and before I know it, I’m reading something else, which then encourages me to follow a thread somewhere to something I spotted that looks awfully interesting and then…

Obviously, if there is cricket going on, then that is understandable. Everybody needs to keep up with the score, don’t they? But it is just as likely to be an unrelated distraction.

I do understand the importance of a timetable, and I admit that I am hopeless at following my own advice, here. Occasionally I will scrawl down a note in my diary for the day that reads something along the lines of ‘Breakfast, then 9 am writing. 12 noon emails and lunch. 1 pm – 4 pm writing.’

When I do manage to have a working day that is disciplined, I invariably find that I get a lot more done. And one of the most important things, for me, is not to look at emails before lunchtime. As soon as I do, I’m no longer thinking about writing, but answering these various emails, and whatever it is they’re about.

Ooh, hang on, I need to go and check the cricket. No, no, it’s important. I’ll be back in a moment…

Dull day

It is a particularly dull and miserable day, today, with unbroken thick grey cloud overhead, an unpleasant, damp cold, and a very thin rain in the air. I read bits of my novel, and I yearn at this moment to be in India. That I am looking through a few of the photographs I took in India, at the moment, does not help.

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I am now at the stage of giving my short novel its first edit. I have written the book from the point of view of an adult female in a rural community in Northern India. It is primarily about both the relationship between the two main characters; a woman and her daughter-in-law, and about the roles and the treatment of women in a male dominated society. The way that I have written it, it is essential for the reader to be able to get inside the head of one of the main protagonists. So, for this reason, I felt that the narrator had to be one of them.

It is a little unusual, of course, but hardly unheard of, for a writer to write with the voice of someone of the opposite sex, although it is more usual for female authors to adopt the voice of a male narrator, rather than the other way round.

(Is that because we are so shallow and easily understood? Don’t answer that, it might be a post for another time, although if I did attempt to write it, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to finish.)

Anyway, whether this voice I have used in my novel sounds authentic or not, might be quite another matter.

I can imagine several areas where I might have succeeded less well than I would have hoped;

a) It might sound like a male voice, especially to female readers.

b) I may have painted a vague, shallow picture of my narrator, subconsciously avoiding difficulties.

c) I may therefore have painted minor characters more brightly than the protagonists.

d) By doing this, I may present as an arrogant westerner, thereby fulfilling images of ex-colonial stereotypes.

On my CV, however, I do have a few months when I was living and working in a small town in Northern India, much of the time spent in rural areas, amongst a dozen or so visits to India in total.

It probably goes without saying that I also have a keen interest in most things Indian, many books about India and, of course, we all have Google.

And writers do, all the time, write about places and situations that are outside their experience, and it is never really possible for anyone to fully understand the thought processes of someone from another time, another culture, or another gender, and so it is a level playing field in that respect.

So, with a glance out of the window at the gloom outside, I’ll get on with it. I do wonder how many male writers have tried to write with a female voice, though, and how successful they felt they were…

…anyone want to come in at this point?

How to Write and Publish a Book

Well, this is a bit cheeky.

I have been asked to write a blog post on writing and publishing a book. My first reaction to this was ‘Hmm…you’re asking the wrong person, really, as at the moment I am only at the editing stage, having recently completed the first draft of my novel, and very conscious that I still have a huge amount to learn on the subject.’ And so I intend to change the parameters slightly, and post about how I have written this novel, and the options that I have for its publication. I hope that this will fit into my remit, and I ask all of my writing friends not to be too critical of my efforts.

The writing process is basically working out your plot, your characters, locations, researching details for accuracy, etc., (this all for fiction – factual writing is naturally a different process). Some writers will plan everything in great detail, and others will tend to ‘wing it’ as they go along. Generally, I tend to be one of those that ‘wing it’, although I do try to plan stuff at times. For my novel, which is entitled ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’, the original inspiration came from ideas and images that were running through my head one night when I found that I wasn’t sleeping very well. Consequently, I spent several hours manically writing pages and pages of scenes and incidents. They hadn’t arisen entirely independently, though, since they were all influenced by a topic that I feel strongly about.

In a way, then, the starting point was this topic, which is how society treats women. I have, of course, written a previous post here on that topic.

I decided to set the story in India, since it is a setting that I enjoy writing about, and there are, of course, many ongoing discussions about the role and treatment of women in Indian society. Is this acceptable for a westerner to tackle? I think so, as long as I treat all of the characters with respect, and allow the story to put across my message, rather than having a narrator hectoring. For this reason, I am writing in the first person, but as an Indian female.

Research for scene-setting consisted largely of going through my travel journals and photographs to jog my memory, since I have spent a fair bit of time in India (indeed, I would not attempt this voice and setting otherwise), and a good deal of trawling through books and websites for details that I was uncertain of.

The first draft was finished just over a month ago, so now I have begun the first edit, looking for spelling and grammatical errors, obvious boo-boos like details contradicting each other, being physically impossible, or just plain wrong in that setting, and the whole feel of the plot, the writing, the characters…it’s a long process. Next it will be read by someone I trust, for their opinion on the story and a fresh pair of eyes looking for errors. There will certainly be further edits after that.

It is at this point, that publishing begins to come into the equation. Traditionally, one tried to get an agent interested in one’s work, in the hope that they would persuade a publisher of the merits of the work and get them to publish it. Then the money rolled in, fame and glory followed…well, it was never quite like that, of course. Even if accepted, it frequently took a year or two before being published, and even when that happened, many books then sank without trace.

But to get to that point, as well as having a good, original, manuscript to send to agents, the author needed to know which of those agents to target, needed persistence, and a goodly (huge) slice of luck. The advent of self-publishing, though, has completely changed the parameters. The good news is, if you want to be published, nowadays, it is simplicity itself. Anyone can do it. The bad news? You’ll probably make very little money, if any, from it, since the market is now pretty well saturated with e-books. It is cheap to do, and there are many ways to publish an e-book. You can, of course, pay to have it printed and published, or set up as a ‘print on demand’ book.

Before this, you will need a cover design, which needs to be professionally done, even for an e-book, then, before the publish, it will need to be formatted to suit the publishing medium, proof-read, and then finally, as soon as it is published, it must be promoted and advertised, or no one will ever hear of it. Even if a traditional publisher brings out your book, though, you will need to do most of the promotion and advertising yourself, unless you are already a very successful author.

Naturally, there are scores of books out there to guide you, and many good websites and chatrooms. If you really mean to do it, then good luck.

You’ll certainly need it.