Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 1- Voice with Nancy Freund

By Nancy Freund 
Images by Julie Lewis

Voice matters most. Aristotle’s Poetics famously revealed the Greek philosopher’s answer to the question of whether plot or character is the more essential to a good tragedy. He chose plot. Of course, if there’s no story, no building momentum, no carefully constructed pace, whether quiet or thrilling, there’s nothing worth reading. But no novel or story can stand without all three legs of its tripod: plot, character, and voice. Plot is what happens, character is by whom and to whom -- both vital -- but voice reveals the real nitty gritty. Not just the narrator’s identity and personality, but more importantly, the writer’s. Voice defines the relationship between writer and reader. Especially with the inundation of media competing for our attention today, voice matters most.

If there’s no voice inviting the reader in, the reader often won’t read enough to see the plot begin to build. Your plot needs a compelling story question to pique the reader’s interest – your hook. Get the voice right, and your hook will then keep the reader’s interest, increasing their investment of time. The question, who’s telling me this story, is key. Do I want to hang out with this person, this writer, for 300 pages? Through voice, you’ll ensure the answer is yes.
In ‘Art and Fear,’ David Bayles and Ted Orland say, “To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product, the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process – the experience of shaping that artwork.” Although this fabulous little book is about creating visual art, it also applies to writing. But I disagree with them here. Today’s audience wants process. Readers often want an author’s photo on the book. They want a website to visit. They read interviews, attend book signings, check out google and youtube. They want to peek behind the writer’s curtains, demystify the process and the person behind it. This awareness broadens the relationship between writer and reader. It expands on what begins in the literature with voice.

Voice can be tricky. Writers can aim to give voice to people who don’t have it. Giving voice is not the same thing as delivering voice. One gives agency, the other lends atmosphere. Lifting repression or halting the silencing of marginalized people can be an important literary endeavor. But it’s not voice. Voice is more synonymous with vibe, short for vibration. Mood. Emotional response. Do you recognize and understand the personality of the writer you’re reading? Do you get the writer’s vibe? Are you vibing with the writer? Do you trust him or her? Are you intrigued to get to know him or her better? Do you read a page, or a paragraph, and want more? Literary agent Aimee Ashcraft of New York’s Brower Literary said she looks for “voicey YA that’s experimental.” She prefers “historical fantasy that’s voicey.” Basically, she wants the writer to reveal him or herself to the reader (and the agent! and the publisher!) from the word go.

Voice is the writer’s manner of expression, not the protagonist’s. The writer, the narrator, and the main character are three distinct people – unless the narrator and the main character are merged, in which case, that distinction blurs. But even if narrator and main character are tightly aligned, the writer’s voice should still be distinct. If your protagonist’s favorite thing in the world is a good old-fashioned hoe-down, your narrator doesn’t have to show up in a gingham checked shirt and over-alls. And neither do you.

Voice is consistent. The plot will sweep a full spectrum, pace will pick up and slow down, there will naturally be diversity in the work. But the emotional delivery, the way the reader connects with the writer, remains. Further, the way that writer connects with readers should be essentially consistent throughout all their work. A writer is gentle or playful or erudite or brash. Or a wild mix of delivery, page by page. But he or she presents a personality and sticks with it. Writers who cross genres sometimes use pseudonyms for differentiation. Generally speaking though, if the emotional vibe between writer and reader meets reader expectation of voice, whatever the genre, no pseudonym’s required. My best advice is to simply be you.


So how to develop voice? Five ideas:

1) Don’t overthink. Write how you speak, for a first draft. Rapido! Rapido! Get your words down on the page, fast. Use dictation software, if it helps you speak your story. I like Dragon Dictation.

2) Go easy. My high school creative writing instructor recommended beginning a story “Dear Mom,” and then you just write a letter. My mom both loved and criticized everything I wrote, so writing to her would have stymied me. But it’s a great point. Pick one person to write for, and your voice will remain consistent. Who loves what you write? Who gets you? Who brings out your good stuff? For me, it’s my friend Annie J. She doesn’t even know this! She’s awesome and fun and just formal enough, I think, to demand my attention to detail and clarity – and she wouldn’t put up with too many gratuitous swear words. She makes me a better me, even when she’s only in my imagination while I’m writing. It works for revising too – read your draft out loud as if Annie J’s in the room. You might find some good opportunities for rephrasing.

3) Slang. Use it, but don’t abuse it. If you aim for a super casual relationship with your reader that allows for f-bombs and whatever-the-hells, have at it. But if that doesn’t suit your readership, be judicious.

4) Be yourself! Be someone else! You can take on whatever voice suits your story. Know your genre. Know your market – and use the right voice, accordingly. You can ask someone to check your voice for authenticity when you’re finished. Does it sound real? Is some phrasing awkward or incorrectly used? Is it right for its time period? Be brave and ask.

5) Eavesdrop. My 8th grade creative writing teacher had us sit in a coffee shop to record nearby conversations. Today we might get busted for stalking or general weirdness doing that. Maybe you can use your phone to record people talking and transcribe the words later. Or transcribe conversations on TV shows. Copy down passages from other authors whose voices you admire. By writing it down, you develop your ear for nuance, fine-tuning vocabulary and manners of expression. Of course, conversation does not equal dialogue between characters, and dialogue does not equal voice -- but studied eavesdropping informs the dialogue between you and your reader, i.e. voice.


Nancy Freund is a writer, editor, mentor, speaker, and prior English teacher. Born in New York, raised in Kansas City, and educated in Los Angeles, she was married in England, and today lives in Switzerland. 
 She is the author of Foreword Reviews finalist for Book of the Year in General Fiction and Category Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prize 'Rapeseed,' (Gobreau Press, 2013) 'Global Home Cooking: International Families' Favorite Recipes' which earned the Eric Hoffer Prize Honorable Mention and Amazon #1 bestseller status (2014), and 'Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel of Racing, Dares and Danger, Occasional Nakedness, and Faith' which was named a Foreword Reviews finalist for Young Adult Book of Year (2015) and a Writer's Digest Young Adult/Middle Grade finalist. 
Her writing has appeared in many journals and her radio interviews have aired on BBC London, World Radio Switzerland, and Talk Radio Europe. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing and an M.Ed. from UCLA. She begins work toward her Masters in Creative Writing from Cambridge this October.

website: www.nancyfreund.com
www.facebook.com/nancyfreund/
Twitter: @nancyfreund
Instagram: nancyfreund



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Creative Kicks - Introduction

For the last two years, we've run a FREE summer creative writing course via Triskele Books. Ten weeks of playtime. Forget the WIP and word count. Come have some irresponsible fun.


This year, we're relocating to Words with JAM. Each week we post an exercise from a well-respected writer who invites you to participate. Share if you like, or keep it to yourself. Either is fine with us.

The course starts next week and we'll be exploring Voice, Character, Blurb, Lyrical Language, Names, Pace, Plots and Going Wild amongst others. We're very excited about our guests who can bring genuine gravitas to the topics and offer useful advice as to improvement.


Here are a few examples of our most popular posts from the previous courses:

Story Fundamentals by Emma Darwin

Characters Inhabiting Their World by Sunny Singh via Catriona Troth

Flirting with Subtext by Jason Donald


Join us every Wednesday (or whenever suits you) for half an hour of muscle-flexing. Even if you don't write poetry, just give lyrical language a go. Try out an exercise on scientific world-building. Use creative moves you've not tried before. You might be surprised.



This summer, we hope you get all the kicks you want.


Next week, Nancy Freund on Voice.

Images by Julie Lewis

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Women's Prize 2018

By JJ Marsh and Catriona Troth

It's nearly time! The winner of The Women's Prize for Fiction is due to be announced today. We've read all the shortlisted novels and quite a few of the longlisters. Below, you'll find extracts from our reviews with ideal accompaniments and our own top tips for who we think should win.

When I Hit You or Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.

A fictionalised account of domestic violence and rape within a marriage, told through many different lenses. It begins with the mother recounting, over and over, the state of her daughter’s feet when she fled home. There is poetry in this prose, and a humour so dark it’s like pepper on the tongue.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved
: Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank and intimate depiction of domestic and sexual violence

Perfect Accompaniments: Cumin and coconut, turmeric and chilli flakes, cinnamon and star anise.


Sight by Jessie Greengrass

This was a tough one to like but eventually, I did. Greengrass allows her character to meander and ponder and consider the human condition in every aspect. Stream-of-consciousness is a term often over-used and patronised, but here Greengrass uses it to best effect. Self-awareness is the only way to X-Ray the mind.
 Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Mrs Dalloway, Zoë Jenny, Scarlett Thomas

Avoid if you dislike: Self-examining narrators and lack of narrative

Ideal accompaniments: A fried egg, camomile tea and a still pond.


  Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Western media has been quick to paint all those who have been drawn into the net of the Islamic State as uniformly evil – and their families as either equally evil or ignorant dupes. Home Fire dares to look beyond the headlines at the human beings caught up in the apparently unending cycle of violence unleashed by terrorism and the ‘War on Terror.’
A powerful and important book that should be read by anyone wanting to find humanity beyond the headlines.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie; Antigone by Jean Anouilh, The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

Avoid If You Dislike: Looking beyond tabloid headlines about terrorism

Perfect Accompaniment: A mug of the best coffee you can find and a quiet corner to drink it in.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Part road trip, part social critique, part American nightmare, this beautifully written novel makes us feel the weight of the past in a visceral sense. There is an inexorable feeling of tragedy, as if we know what must happen in the end, but cannot help hoping things will turn out differently.
The book won America's National Book Award 2017 and was selected as Book of the Year by The New York Times amongst others. I can see why.
Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward or Meridian by Alice Walker.

Avoid if you dislike: Dysfunctional families, violence, ghosts.

Ideal accompaniments: Gravy and biscuits with a glass of cold water


The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The Idiot perfectly captures that nihilistic stage of late adolescence. That feeling of being out of phase with the rest of the world. Desperately seeking meaning in the most mundane of words and actions – and feeling depressed because you fail to find it. The inevitable passion for someone just out of reach. Mistaking sophistry for sophistication.
Read full review by Catriona Troth

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Idiot by Dostoeyevsky, The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician by Tendai Huchu, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Avoid If You Dislike: Story lines that drift rather than drive

Perfect Accompaniment: Hungarian vodka


The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar


Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this. The author's sympathies with the lot of women and comprehension of class permeate every chapter. Limited opportunities, social judgement and the currency of beauty is a delicate balance for a woman with no means other than looks and intellect. The ladies refer to their genitalia as 'the commodity'.

Gowar builds a London as it was, and a cast of characters so real, spiteful, snobbish, kindly, humble, capricious and arrogant, one cannot help but want more.

Read full review by JJ Marsh

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Sarah Waters, Rosie Garland, Angela Carter

Avoid if you dislike: The grim injustice of female situations in the 18th century.

Ideal Accompaniments: Millefeuilles and sweet wine, or freshly shucked oysters and brine.


And who do we think should win? 

Kat's tip: Utterly torn between Shamsie's Home Fire and the astonishing blend of poetry and brutality that is Kandasamy's When You Hit Me. Either would be worthy winners, but for sheer beauty of writing, my heart goes with Kandasamy.

Jill's tip: I think this is Shamsie's year, although Ward is a powerful contender. But my personal favourite was Gowar's The Mermaid. I still miss those characters.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Researching art at the Royal Academy of Arts


By Sandra Danby

Researching and writing Connectedness, my second novel, gave me the excuse to indulge in art. I am a self-taught art lover. I am a ‘friend’ and frequent visitor of museums and galleries in London and Málaga, I always buy the shiny exhibition book and often visit the same show multiple times on my own and with a variety of friends. So it seemed natural to me to choose the Royal Academy of Arts on London’s Piccadilly as one of my settings for Connectedness.

The RA’s initial presence in the book was purely as a location. It is a beautiful building, located since its inception 250 years ago in Burlington House and recently renovated. At the beginning of the book, my lead character artist Justine Tree, receives a nomination to become an Academician.

With founding members in 1768 including Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, I wanted to convey the institution’s weight of history and the honour of this offer. Then as my plotting became more intricate the nomination took one another role, I needed to introduce a ‘risk’ for Justine; something she values but may lose through her actions.

She receives her nomination at a time of great professional success, when her newest series is a sell out but her personal life is in turmoil. Her mother has just died, her best friend is ill. Not the best time, perhaps, to decide to search for the lost daughter she gave up for adoption when she was an art student.

The RA’s invitation to become an Academician is dependent on the voting of members, receiving the letter is not a certainty of acceptance. And so as Justine fears the shame of her ‘abandoned baby’ story being unveiled in the press, she risks losing her nomination and being exposed as an artist who lied – all her career she has presented herself as true to her emotions, an artist who revels in her childless state and who wears her heart on her sleeve. Effectively she has lied to everyone in every piece of art she has created.

To make this ‘risk’ work fully, I read up on the history of the RA, visited the beautiful private Academician’s Room and bombarded the patient Press Office with questions such as ‘what does an artist’s medal look like?’ and ‘how does the voting work?’

I am also indebted to the writings of Tracey Emin who became an RA in 2007. She referred to it famously as joining ‘the RA-RA club’. Emin’s openness in her memoirs and newspaper columns gave me fertile material with which to create Justine Tree’s career. Also useful were the quarterly issues of the RA Magazine which published interviews with artists and photographs of their studios.

So, back to the ‘risk’ element which was so essential to maintaining tension and keeping the reader reading. I wanted to keep the viewpoints simple, concentrating on Justine as an art student and today, and with my identity detective Rose Haldane who Justine hires to find her child. But in order for the ‘risk’ strategy to work, I realized I must add a new viewpoint to show what was going on behind closed doors.

Enter fellow artist and new RA, James Watercliff. Through his eyes we see a gossipy lunch meeting at the RA where it is shown Justine’s nomination is not a sure thing.

The RA is not the only museum shown in Connectedness – scenes also take place at Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Victoria & Albert Museum – but the RA is central to the plot. So when Justine’s friend Darya disappears, she is last seen heading in the direction of the RA to see Jeff Koons’s living flower ‘Puppy’ on display in the courtyard.



About Connectedness

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore
.


About the Identity Detective series

Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the Identity Detective series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.



An extract from Connectedness

Prologue

London, September 2009

The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.

1

Yorkshire, May 2010

The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.



Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.

Will I be buried here?

It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.

The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?

‘Amen.’

She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.

In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.

                                                                      *****

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.

‘Connectedness’ at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2q6qy5Z
‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon http://amzn.to/1oCrxHd

Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/
Twitter: @SandraDanby
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sandradanbyauthor

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6563021.Sandra_Danby

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/sandradan1/



Photos: © Sandra Danby


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Who Needs an Editor?

Patricia Jones, author, and Mary Rensten, editor, talk candidly about their Author/Editor relationship.
 

* * * * *

PATRICIA: When the email arrived there was already champagne in the crystal flutes as a family celebration was in full flow. My glass was refilled and an extra toast proposed: to the success of Threads of Life, my debut novel, which had just been accepted by SCRIPTORA – the publishing branch of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists.

MARY: Yes, definitely time for celebration!

It was three years since Patricia had sent me the original manuscript and a quick look through the 360+pages and the list of 47 characters had told me straight away, that if this novel - about the creation of a small town's Heritage Tapestry and the interwoven stories of the families whose women stitched it - was any good, then Patricia and I could be in for a long haul ... something she did not appreciate at the time.

PATRICIA: Although I had read, re-read, edited and re-edited Threads in the weeks before submitting it to SCRIPTORA in 2015 there followed months of emails and conversations with Mary, followed by critiques – mostly constructive - from Professional Readers, then re-writes and more phone calls and emails resulting in further re-writes.

MARY: And some of it was tedious, even stressful, both for author and editor! (Do have a look on Google at Writing Tips from Stephen King, Helen Dunmore, Zadie Smith and others: they all stress the necessity and importance of re-writing.)

PATRICIA: At times, as the writer who has laboured and sweated, and even had the odd sleepless night, shaping the plot, creating and developing the characters and the novel’s setting until they have become as real as the local high street, the suggestions for alterations to the manuscript can seem rather harsh.

MARY: Of course they can, and I fully understand, but if the writer wants the book to be published, these things have to be done!

PATRICIA: I had devised a kind of who’s-who for the various families as an aide memoire for the prospective readers. Mary wasn’t happy with this, and advised me, in the nicest possible way, to scrap it. This disappointed me; readers within my local writers’ group had appreciated it as it helped them to get to know the characters and their relationships with each other. However, when Mary mentioned the who’s-who to some of her writing friends they approved; it was back in at the start of Threads!

MARY: Yes, I was wrong there. A novel with numerous characters in family groupings does need a cast list. In the end Patricia and I settled for a shorter list, which excluded most of her minor characters.

PATRICIA: Your characters become real friends - even the more dubious or dodgy ones - and you understand and feel for them and go along with their foibles, and having to part with them can be extremely harrying ... and at times maddening and upsetting.

An editor is there to advise and guide the writer, especially with a debut novel, but it was with a feeling of great sadness and a real sense of loss when I was asked to 'lose' a whole family including a newborn baby. And then there was Sheila, a character who was both forthright and practical, but also had to go. The problem was that I needed a down-to-earth character to sort out problems with the stitching and rein in Madam Chairwoman when her ego and her grandiose ideas for fundraising for the Heritage Tapestry were way beyond the committee’s budget. Who was going to fill this function now Sheila had been scrapped? Luckily a rather prissy, headmistressy character stepped forward and to my surprise she turned out to deal with her new role rather well.

MARY: I know that hurt, as did losing several church organists, and your very detailed committee meetings! Also, at the beginning, there was a bit too much history of Wainbridge, your fictional town; it was holding up the telling of the increasingly interesting story.

PATRICIA: Nick Gott, an artist friend, created the cover and it was a useful learning curve as he liaised with Mary and Chris the printer. I had shown the proposed back cover design, which included a heron and a sharp needle, to a friend and, luckily, she spotted something that none of us, including Mary, had noticed. Let us say, that without her comment the heron on the back of Threads would have had a painful and surprised expression on its face!

MARY: It's always good to have another pair of eyes looking at a work in progress.

PATRICIA: One thing that did help me was having the first chapter of Threads read aloud by a professional actor at one of the SWWJ’s drama workshops. I got a real feel of the book's opening and the relationship between the different characters. The response to the chapter from the other writers and actors was reassuring and increased my confidence and pleasure in the novel.

MARY: Oh yes, always try to have your dialogue read aloud, even if it's only you doing it into a recording machine! It helps you to get the speech rhythms right.

PATRICIA: Despite all the to-ing and fro-ing, the hold-ups and the hitches, the proofreading and re-writing, then more proofreading and more re-writes ...

MARY: I know it was a pain ... but they were all needed, even those pernickety punctuation corrections! (The novel would never have reached that stage if I hadn't had faith in it, and seen from my first reading that this was a manuscript well worth developing.)

PATRICIA: Threads of Life was published on 29th March 2018 and so far the comments and reviews have been extremely favourable. As an absolute novice, knowing nothing about the procedure of turning a manuscript into a fully-fledged book, I am more than grateful for all the work and dedication Mary put into Threads, as without her it would be just another document on my computer, rather than, as it is now, both an eBook and a paperback for others to enjoy.

MARY: I am delighted by the five star reviews Patricia's first novel is receiving. She is planning a sequel - her well-drawn characters warrant it - which I look forward to reading.

* * * * *

Want to read more about this author and editor?

Go to swwj.co.uk and follow the links to SCRIPTORA and Members.

Follow Patricia on @Patricia Jones_1 and Mary on @MaryRensten

To read Threads of Life go to amazon.co.uk





Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Long Road to Publication - Part 5


In our regular series The Long Road to Publication, winner of our First Page Competition Andy Smith describes the stages of his journey, the highs, lows and bits where nothing happens. This week, he's taken the brave step of sharing his synopsis.The Triskele Books team went through it in detail and below, we offer some suggestions for improvement. 

Triskele Books


Breaking the Lore synopsis                                                  Andrew Smith
Name: Andrew Smith
Title: Breaking the Lore
Word Length: 90,000
Genre: Crime/Fantasy
Triskele: First things first, add the vital detail in the top right hand corner. Also use Times New Roman and 12pt font. Ideally the synopsis should fit on one page.

 Synopsis

A crucified body is discovered. It is fifteen centimetres tall and has wings.
Triskele: This opening is less powerful than the opening of the book. We suggest using your first two lines instead.

Discovering fairies at the bottom of the garden is supposed to be good luck. Except when the fairy’s been crucified.

Inspector Nick Paris INSPECTOR NICK PARIS doesn’t believe in magicfairies. He solves crimes using logic plus management-sponsored drinking. The bizarre This tiny corpse opens up a new world of elves, dwarves and a talking, cigarette-smoking crow. Triskele: These two lines give us all we need to know about cross-genre nature and dry tone. Excellent! They tell him he has indeed found They assure him it is a fairy, killed by demons called The Vanethria THE VANETHRIA. Paris and his hapless deputy BONETTI set out to uncover why, helped and sometimes hindered by with these implausible assistants strange beings helping his investigation – or sometimes hindering it.

The detective’s rational mind struggles to cope with this such an irrational situation. Triskele: That is a great line! When another victim is found – a centaur Triskele: How did it die? A beheaded centaur? A centaur shot through the heart? – he seeks expert advice. Cassandra du Mort CASSANDRA DU MORT is a witch, a free spirit who the stuffy Inspector finds hard to handle. She views the bizarre proceedings as an big Triskele: Pick a word she herself might use enormous/enchanting adventure, to his chagrin.

Faced with conflicting evidence and more weird events, Triskele: Weak filler. Give a couple of examples of weird events? Paris tries to find answers without losing his marbles. until he Finally he pieces everything together. Demons from the mystic realm are planning to invade. want to invade ours.

Triskele: Now we need to up the tension. At the same time he comes to appreciate, and rely upon,  If he is going to repel the demonic invasion, he needs the help of his fantastical friends. the magical creatures he is working with. He is also taking a shine to  Triskele: This is telling. Show us with a hint. Cassandra, even though he still thinks she is bonkers, has quite a nice smile/lovely green eyes. The novel’s underlying theme is how people different from yourself are not always a threat and can actually make a valuable contribution. Paris’ journey takes him to this realisation. And he thought he was simply solving a case. Triskele: This is not the right place or tone for this.*

Demonic activity increases until they launch their main assault. Paris discerns their weakness, allowing the British army to drive them back. As they retreat, they take a hostage Triskele: Who? Why do we care?: his best friend and right-hand man, Bonetti (We added Bonetti in paragraph one so this kidnap makes us care). Accompanied by a motley collection of magical beings, Paris ventures into the mystic world to on a rescue mission him. Cut loose from all he knows, Paris realises people different from himself yourself are not always a threat and can actually make a valuable contribution.. And he thought he was simply solving a case.

Their mission is successful, but the group are betrayed. Captured, they have to face the fearsome demon king, who reveals his . A new plan to conquer mankind is revealed. Paris has to stop it. Triskele: Need something stronger here. The only thing stopping him is Inspector Nick Paris. Realising logic will not help, he opts for the illogical. He challenges : challenging the king to combat. A drinking contest. Paris wins. Humanity is saved by the power of whisky. Triskele: Terrific ending and totally tied to character.

The Vanethria disperse. Liberated magical races celebrate as Paris and Cassandra’s relationship blossoms. A whole new journey awaits. Triskele: Perfect end lines to lead us to the sequel.

Notes:
In tightening the synopsis, we focused on these things:

  • Hit those dynamic nouns and verbs, cut all the fluff. 
  • End each line on a punchy word.
  • Capitalise names when introducing characters.
  • Try to make sentences active rather than passive. Eg: 'he reveals his plan' not 'his plan is revealed'
  • Avoid repetition, eg: the word ‘bizarre’ twice in two paragraphs.
  • Keep the tone of the novel.
  • Add intriguing details/examples.
  • Vary sentence length and patterns.
  • Stay in the story and don’t be tempted to explain as author.*
  • Ensure the synopsis follows the tension of the novel – set the scene, complicate and all the drama of the final act.

Authors, don't forget! You can win a year's mentoring from the Triskele Books team by entering our Big Five Competition. Deadline is 7th July.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Cabinet Maker

A Short Story from David N Martin, winner of the Words with JAM Short Story Competition 2017



She walked and rode, and walked and rode again, and in three days, the bruise on her cheek yellowed at the edges. But soon her donkey could not bear her weight. It sagged in the heat, smelling of mange and rendered bones. She could not ride, but neither could she leave it to die.

The old women of Jamina’s village described her destination as ‘the valley of grass.’ They had told her whom she must find. Three times they had told her. Twice she ignored them.

“The third time,” the eldest said, “either you go, or live like this forever.”

Walking, her boots split their seams. Walking, her blood stained the leather. Walking, she considered the woman’s advice. She had never learned to count very far. Just far enough and no more.

Now she is here. Stopped on the count of three. Before her lies a flat green valley cut between the arms of towering rock that stretch into a sea: a mile and more across, reaching several miles to the coast. She feels herself breathe.

The only approach is the narrow gorge through which she has come. She listens as water cackles onto rock, some higher world leaking into this one through flaws in its steep sides. Waterfalls form streams. Streams form a river, feeding groves of trees and bushes. Tended crops of banana and aubergine line the wayside. And grass. Knee-high grass, just as they’d said.

The donkey drinks where the river bank is lowest, and she drinks after. Then she moves on downstream, leading the failing beast on its frayed piggin string. Around a bend, she spots a cluster of adobe houses. A handful. She does not bother to count. Her eyes stray to three women washing clothes at the water’s edge. Each is bent to the task in hand, a smooth stone her toolset, a wicker basket at her side. Naked skin-and-bones children run in and out of the river, splashing and playing. As thin as she is hungry. She wishes she had stolen a banana.

She slows as she nears them. If she stops, she has neither courage nor strength to go forward again, but she needs to prepare what she will say.

The first to notice her is the widest of the three women. They all wear billowing cotton tops and skirts to calf length, but this one opens like a bellows around her thighs. She pushes the matted hair off her face and squints with one eye.

“What do you want?” she says. Her companions follow her gaze.

This with no hello or welcome, so Jamina gives none back. “They told me come to the valley of grass.”

“Who told you?”

“Other women. They told me look for the cabinet maker,” she says, careful not to name the tellers.

The woman’s eyeline has dropped and, when Jamina follows it down, she finds she is twisting the wedding ring on her finger. She jerks her hands to her sides.

“The cabinet maker?” she says again.

“He comes here, drinks here sometimes. Takes some food. Takes what he needs. Once a month maybe.”

“And the rest of the time?”

“Rest of the time, he doesn’t bother us.”

“I need to see him.”

The woman nods. “Better you don’t never have that kind of need. We all know that, but it can’t always be.” She extends an arm, pointing her finger. “Up that track a way. His place is under the mountain.”

The second woman says, “You ought to water that donkey. It’s fixing to drop.”

Jamina thanks her and tells her the donkey has already drunk its fill.

The woman smiles with crooked teeth. “Not going much further then,” she says. She has skin like a brown-cap mushroom, one eyebrow divided by a scar. The children are swimming. They all look the same. They all look happy.

Jamina heads for the track. No one says good-bye. No doubt they once came here for the same reason.

She follows a grey furrow through trees and bushes, skirting giant rocks as it heads towards the vertical cliff face that bounds the valley. It takes half an hour. The donkey stumbles behind.

The house she comes to is part adobe, part wood, its back swallowed into the rock as if someone has forgotten the difference between a home and a cave. A brush-roofed barn sits in the dirt yard among piles of rough-cut woods. Three axes, arranged by size, are embedded in the pile nearest the door. Chickens roam free. Two horses and several goats graze in a corral.

She does not want to be caught for a trespasser so she shouts. An echo comes and goes. She waits for silence. In it, she hears the muffled rasp of a hand saw. She lets loose the donkey’s string, goes to the barn’s open door and peers inside.

He is not as she imagined. His biceps bulge, but he is smaller than he should be. Older too. Sawdust clings in his hair and beard. He wears a shirt with no sleeves, wet stains extending like brackets under his arms. Around him lie the fruits of his labour: a handsome wardrobe, a half-finished sideboard, three coffins.

He stops when he sees her. He puts down his saw. She feels herself constrict as if all her body is pulling itself smaller. If she did not have bones, maybe she could disappear.

No one can disappear.

“You make cabinets,” she says.

He licks the dryness from his lips. His nod counts off the finished works arranged around the barn as if she might need help to find them. He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

“I’m a customer,” she says. “I want to be.”

“What do you need?”

“A coffin. They told me ask for a coffin.”

Atop of an upturned barrel sits a clay water jug and a pewter tankard.

“I’ll get another cup,” he says.

He goes to the back of the barn and searches among scattered crates. He returns with a rough wooden cup to add to the tankard and pours water into each. He offers her the tankard. He reaches into his pocket and puts a peach onto the barrel.

“For you,” he says.

“Thank you.”

Her hand shakes. She is unused to kindness. She takes the water, then the peach. The peach tastes like a bursting sun.

He leans his elbows on the barrel and watches her. He has noticed her bruise. He will not let it go.

“A coffin, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Where are you from?”

She names her village.

“I know it,” he says. “Must be two days from here.”

“Three,” she says.

“But you come to me?”

“They said you would help me.”

“Who said?”

“The women.”

“Ah, yes, it is always the women.” He sips at his water. “Who is it that died?”

“No one,” she says.

He does not seem surprised. “You have sizes? For this coffin?

“Yes, I have measured.”

“And you can pay?”

She grips her ring with the thumb and two fingers from her opposing hand. She pulls it off, almost drops it, then places it on the barrel before him. She straightens her back and takes the deepest breath of her life.

“And he is not dead?”

“No.”

He stares at the ring. “Gold?”

“It was my grandmother’s,” she says. “They sent me to you, the women.”

He picks it up, weighs it in his palm. Puts it down and shakes his head.

“Coffins are expensive… for the living.”

The ground seems to crumble beneath her. She looks at the ring. It seems that he’s right. It is so very small to pay for such a large thing.

The donkey has been wandering outside. He can see it through the open door. He takes a moment to think. She knows what he’s thinking.

“A few pots of glue, no more,” he says.

“But that is everything… the ring, my donkey.”

“Sometimes it takes everything and all that is left after as well.”

She stares at the floor. Where shame must look, she knows. Those who sent her have warned her of this.

“What is worse? Ask yourself that,” the eldest women had said. “You submit to a brute again and again, or you submit once to a killer?”

She thinks of the naked children in the river. How they smiled.

Yes, she tells herself. She had decided this was what she could live with. Anything not to count past three.

“Then prepare yourself,” they said. “He’s taken that bargain with others.”

She finds the strength in her backbone. Her knees tremble, but she stiffens herself and reaches for the string at the neck of her dress. Her fingers fumble and fumble. Then she falls out of her clothes, standing naked bar her bloodied boots in a pool of cotton.

He examines her from a distance. At first she thinks he is considering her value against the contract, but soon she realises he is lingering on her damage.

It is not just the cheek. It is the scar over her breasts, the burn on her hip. Her right arm does not hang quite straight. All her beauties stolen.

She catches him as he rubs his finger under one eye, but she is not quick enough to see the reason.

“Put your clothes on,” he says.

It seems she has failed the test. But he shakes his head and looks over at the coffins. “Pick one,” he says.

 

David N Martin started life as a scientist, having studied Physics at Jesus College, Oxford. He took up creative writing as a hobby in the Nineties while still in his mid-thirties, indulging his passion for Sci-Fi. Several short stories won local competitions and he placed in both the international Fish Prize and the HE Bates Centenary Memorial Competition. Gollancz published two of his novels (The Chessmen and Fatal Climate ) under the pen-name David Hood, scientific thrillers that showed off his technological background and had vaguely Science-Fiction themes as their back drop. ‘The Chessmen’ – described by The Daily Telegraph as a ‘contender for the best first crime novel of the year’, even though it wasn’t a crime novel – went on to be translated into German, Polish and Greek.

A long hiatus of almost twenty years followed as he concentrated on earning money and raising a family, though he has kept up his membership of Leicester Writers Club and been the frequent leader of Creative Writing workshops. He never published novels again. His recent win in the ‘Words With Jam’ Short Story Competition represented a return to serious writing.

David lives in rural Northamptonshire with his wife and two university-bound children. His website can be found at https://forgedtruth.wordpress.com/