Monday, 19 February 2018

Call of the Duvet by Jan Edwards

It is that time of year when some of us would much prefer to hibernate. Once new year celebrations are over (in the UK at least) there are two months of cold and damp to look forward to – and I am a summer girl.  
Events such as signings are invariably a lot more fun than my winter-brain tells me they will be, and something writers do, even in deepest, darkest winter. Especially when good friends are relying on you to be there.  This was the case for the recent signing that I attended to promote The Daemons of Devil’s End. It was the last event in the signing tour to promote both the The Daemons of Devil’s End DVD, starring Damaris Hayman, made by Reel Time Pictures, and the accompanying anthologies The Daemons of Devil’s End, and/or  Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil’s End, both from Telos Press. Yes, two editions of the same book (another story in its own right).
It was touch and go whether I would make it at all, having gone down with a bad cold that week, but I decided it would be too bad of me to cry off at that late stage. I hate letting people down. So, sniffing and shivering aside, I decided the game was still afoot. 

The event was in Derby,  just an hour’s drive from here , so my old friend Debbie Bennett, also an author on the same project,  was driving to Derby with us and then staying with us overnight.
We set off in good time and parked near to the Quad, because that was where we ‘knew’ the event was taking place there. We  had a leisurely Italian meal in the restaurant opposite the venue and at around 7pm we strolled over to the Quad in what we thought was good time.

So far so good.
In the Quad cafe we bumped into the Robert Dick and Steve Hatcher – and this is where things began to go distinctly kablooey. The lads expressed surprise to see us there. ‘We must be off,’ they said. ‘We have to pick up Sam and David. But we shall see you there at the gig venue in little while.’
See us there?’ says we. Isn’t this it here at the Quad?’
‘No,’ says they. ‘It is at the Voicebox!
To say that panic ensued would be mild. It had started out so well and suddenly it was the night out from hell. I don’t know how we had all had the very certain knowledge that the Quad was a venue, but  we all had it wrong as it turned out. Our own collective faults, and an object lesson in the first rules of being a writer:  always, but always, read those guidelines!
Whilst Debbie Googled the Voicebox and my other half, Peter, fetched a map book of Derby from the car and having consulted the various oracles we realised the venue was not that far off. So we started walking and arrived there at a little after 7.10, which, when the event began at 7.30, we thought was pretty damned good
Second shock wave of evening hit us. Having hoofed it across Derby town centre, we were nonplussed at finding the place deserted. Every door locked, not a light to be seen, not a soul in sight.  Had we got the wrong place yet again? After a few minutes waiting and wandering up and down a dark  and freezing side street, checking and rechecking that we did indeed have the right address this time, Debbie made a call.
Yes, we had arrived at the right place, and, we were assured, the caretaker would be along at 7.20 sharp to unlock.  So we waited, and we waited. Other people started to drift up, and we stood shivering together like a bunch of depressed penguins, getting colder by the minute. At least, I told myself, it wasn’t raining, or snowing.
The Keeper of the Keys did eventually arrive – at dead on 7.30; not a moment sooner nor later; as they do. By that time, however, I was chilled to the bone and feeling decidedly grotty. I had not anticipated hanging around on frosty street corner and my head-cold was rapidly descending over my senses like a pall, and with it all chance of retaining any capability to construct a coherent sentence.  
We’ve all been there. Catarrh-brain had struck!
Once inside we found our hosts to be were lovely people, and the signing went well. (A hot drink would have been nice, but apparently there were no facilities for tea or coffee – one of those things I guess.) We signed many books, which is always good, and I had at least begun to thaw out by the time we were up for the panel. 

The interviewer,  Robert Dick, was charming as he chatted to all of those on the make-shift podium;  Reel Times Films guru Keith Barnfather,  authors Debbie Bennett, Sam Stone, David Howe and myself , plus cover artist Andrew Thompson.  
I think I did okay – by which I mean to say that I didn’t say anything too stupid (so far as I remember). Now in the normal run of things I would have stayed for the second half  of the event, in which actor Steven Thorne was interviewed. But the only reason I was not actively 'death warmed over' was the fact that I was too darned cold; a classic contradiction. With an hour’s drive ahead of us?  I just wanted to go home, have a couple of glasses of wine, and finally be warm! 
At least it was a signing I shan’t forget in a hurry, and on the upside it was a chance to catch up with friends and even make a few ones. Books were sold and titles promoted. Huge thanks to all who got the event going.
Note to self: always check the venue and always pack an extra jumper!
And if you hear that call to hibernate under the duvet on a frosty winter night? Give it some serious thought!
Jan Edwards can be found on:
Facebook: jan.coleborn.edwards
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Winter Downs; Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Power of a Negative Word by J. D. Peterson

In my reading and writing I have found that the English language favors the use of negative words to add impact to a statement. Idioms, phrases, and figures of speech also favor the negative form for emphasis.

Let me explain.
It’s morning, and you’re on your way out the door, and your partner say’s, “Don’t forget your lunch.” Why don’t we say, “REMEMBER your lunch,” instead?

You had a meeting with a person of authority, like a police officer or a judge. Your friend asks if you were nervous and you respond; “I wasn’t afraid.” Instead of saying, “I was very brave, and all went well,” WHY does our language default to a negative response?

It appears that there is emphasis added by the use of a negative word. For example, when achieving success in some endeavor, we say, “I could NOT have been happier.”  Instead of a simple, positive remark, “I am so happy!” Just saying, “we’re happy” doesn’t create as powerful a statement as we get by adding a negative for emphasis. This subtlety is woven so intricately into our language that we don’t even notice it.

But why is emphasis landed squarely on the use of a negative word?

How happy are you?

“I’m so happy, I can’t stand it.”
“I’m so happy, I could just die!”
“Just slay me, I’m so happy.”

Really? No wonder the English language is confusing to folks whose native language is not English. And again, that doesn’t even begin to address the use of idioms.

Occasionally when reading a novel I run across a sentence that has so many negative words being used to reinforce a positive statement, that I get confused. It becomes necessary for me to pause, and dissect the sentence in order to determine if it is a positive or a negative statement. Jeepers. (I’ve searched for an example, but one alludes me at the present moment.)

Did you know that hypnotists, when writing a script for a client, are very careful not to use ‘negative’ words like no, not, can’t, don’t, won’t etc. ('Never' is acceptable because it is a time period. Forever, ever, today etc.) Hypnotists claim that the human brain does not process negative words and will cancel them out, which is why when they write a script for a person they will always use the positive form of a sentence or phrase.

Example: A client comes for a session to quit smoking. The hypnotist will never give the suggestion; “You don’t want to smoke cigarettes.” According to the brain experts what the client hears is; “You don’t want to smoke cigarettes.” In essence, reinforcing the very thing the client wants to avoid.

If this is true, then why do we communicate with each other using so many negative words to emphasize our feelings?

If we keep yelling at our children; “Don’t throw that ball inside,” and they’re not obeying our command, could it be because they are actually hearing, “Don’t throw that ball inside.”  Would we do better to say; “Take that ball outside on the lawn.”

What do you think? As a writer, I’ve been pondering this simple observation.

How could I not?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Rediscovering books from your childhood, by Elizabeth Kay

When I left home in 1968 at the age of nineteen to go to art school, like most students, I couldn’t take very much with me. Three weeks later I went home for the weekend. My mother led me up to my bedroom and said, “Surprise! Isn’t it lovely?” The room had been completely redecorated, and most of my possessions had been thrown away. She had no idea what was materially valuable or nostalgically important, and I had to stand there and say how nice the room looked. All my drawings went, and my writings, and most of my books. It used to upset her that I read the same books over and over again – not to the exclusion of anything else, but because I loved them and wanted to re-enter that world. So – thank goodness for the Internet.

I have just started to look for those lost books again – in the early days of the web, my searches were pretty fruitless. But not now! To my delight, if I could remember the title, someone, somewhere, has probably put a copy up for sale. My first rediscovery was The Silver Brumby, by Elyne Mitchell. The Australian Outback was so different to the smog and grime of London that I drank in every detail. Tam the Untamed, by Mary Elwyn Patchett, with a similar setting. And who remembers 20th Century Short Stories, that O/level text which introduced you to so many wonderful writers? Katherine Mansfield, D.H.Lawrence, Saki, E.M Forster, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene. All these books were published in the fifties.
            But what has been particularly interesting has been re-reading these now. I notice things I never saw then, understand things that were completely beyond my experience. 20th Century Short Stories really did give a snapshot of life in the first half of that century. The absolute authority adults had over children – young ones, as in the case of the rebellious and enterprising Nicholas in Saki’s The Lumber Room, and older adult ones, as in the downtrodden and indecisive sisters in Mansfield’s Daughters of the Late Colonel. Lawrence’s Odour of Chrysanthemums was totally alien to a na├»ve sixteen-year-old only child from suburbia. References to pregnancy and descriptions of laying out the body of a dead miner when I didn’t even know what a naked man looked like went right over my head. As did life in a back-to-back house in a mining town. To me, it sounded like something out of Dickens – which in, those days, we did at Junior School when we were ten! I had no idea Science Fiction existed until I read The Machine Stops, by E.M.Forster. The casual callousness of the teenage gang in The Destructors, by Graham Greene, opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone thought the same way as me, although losing a house means far more to me now than it would have to me then. A terrific collection.
            But more interesting, in a way, are the two Australian brumby books. Friends who have tried re-reading their childhood favourites have told me that they’re nearly always dreadful disappointments. But when I re-read Tam I was struck by how extremely well-written it was. It wasn’t sentimental or sloppy, and gave a vivid picture of life and death in the outback. Mary Elwyn Patchett (1897 – 1989) grew up on a cattle station in Queensland, but moved to England in 1931. The first book she had published was Ajax the Warrior, about a dog owned by a young girl, and Tam the Untamed was the second in the series, about a horse. At one point Tam goes off to join the wild brumbies in their secret valley, a lush green oasis that can’t be overlooked from above – at least, it would be possible from a plane but as the book was probably set in the early part of the twentieth century this is fair enough. My clue for this is that one of the books has Mary, the heroine, getting lost in a forest of giant prickly pear. This cactus had originally been introduced from Spain to feed cochineal beetles – and then spread out of control, with devastating consequences. The destruction of this forest is the first example of a successful biological control – Cactoblastis caterpillars were introduced in 1926, and the moths died out once they’d eaten all the cactus. But the secret setting rang a bell – as exactly the same valley occurs in all the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell. Mitchell (1913 – 2002) lived all her life in Australia, and wrote many more books than Patchett. Was the valley a coincidence? Or was it a real place that they had both visited at different times? Or had Mitchell read Tam the Untamed, and decided to use the location?

Tam is written in the first person from a human perspective:

…The steep rocky cliff sheered away beneath us for fifty feet or more, then it began to crumble and lead less steeply into a great, rock-ramparted hollow. Grass grew on the floor of it, and from where we were we could see the gleam of water in a rock pool, evidently caught when the heavy rains stormed down the cliffs. In this secluded spot, so completely hidden from the outside world, which could see only the hard, bare outline of the mountain, a herd of brumbies cropped the sweet grass…

The Silver Brumby is written in the third person, with a certain amount of anthropomorphism:

Of all the horses running in the mountains, Bel Bel alone thought she knew the secret hiding-place that enabled Thowra and his herd to disappear from all their hunters… she wondered if he had found again the deep valley that was like a cleft in the hills at the back of Paddy Rush’s Bogong, the valley with the grassy Hidden Flat that could not be seen from the top…

There are occasions when we writers honestly think we have invented something, but in reality we’re remembering it without realising it. It’s a minor issue – I was delighted to discover that I’d been reading some quality writing, and it’s a pity that the only way to get hold of the books is by searching online. The Silver Brumby series has been reprinted every so often, and an e-book version is available. But I don’t suppose anyone remembers a book called Claud the Seahorse, do they?

Friday, 16 February 2018

It's About Time- 10 Super Helpful Tips, by Wendy H. Jones

In our modern hustle and bustle world I would venture to say that one of our most precious commodities is time. The more labour saving devices we acquire, the more we seem to fill our days and the minutes just slip by. As the picture suggests our time just slips away. 

My last post on this blog was Motivation Matters and this post takes that theme further 

Whilst the principles are the same for everyone, this is a writing blog so I am going to focus on time and our writing. By using even just a few of these you will find your writing time expands and your word count will rise.

1. Schedule important tasks - while this might seem like a no brainer, how many of us actually do this. My regular contribution to this blog is a perfect example. I know I am scheduled for the 16th of each month and yet the date sneaks up on me and can often slip by unnoticed. This should have been out at 00:30 and here I am at 09.40, still writing it. So, taking my own advice, there is now a reminder in my diary for the 15th of every month. I've blocked off an hour to write and research the blog. Job done. I've done the same for all the collaborative blogs I belong to. 

2. Switch of social media and emails - one of the biggest time sucks today is social media. It's funny how you can open up a social media site saying 'ten Minutes Only' and before you know it you've spent 3 hours looking at pictures of kittens. Seriously, switch off the internet on the computer you use to write. If you ache to do research do it on a different computer. Even better put a red note in your WIP and go back to the research later.

3. Use free time you have wisely - By this I mean waiting time. If you are on the underground, the bus, or waiting in the car for the kids to get out of school, instead of playing games on your phone, (yes I'm guilty of this) use an app such as Evernote to jot down ideas or even write some of your WIP. When you return to your computer the notes will be waiting for you. If you did some writing, a quick copy and paste will bump your word count up nicely.

4. Write in 20 minute bursts - It's easier to think about writing for 20 minutes than 8 hours. Set a timer and focus on your writing. When the timer stops get up, walk around, drink a glass of water, do some stretches. Anything to get you moving and hydrates. You'll go back to the keyboard energised.

5. Schedule in time for answering emails - use this wisely. It will help you to concentrate if you re not always thinking about that urgent email that may be waiting for you. Set a block of time, say 20 minutes (ideal concentration time) and again set a timer. 

6. Get up earlier - this one is a struggle for me, but for some of you reading this it may be the only way to carve out writing time if you've got the constraints of a family and a job. 

7. Give up just one television programme - use the time you would spend watching that as writing time. I find myself watching hours of mindless telly instead of doing things that will help me to be more organised. Again, it can be a time suck. I'll watch just one episode turns into an eight hour binge watching marathon.

8. Schedule in reading time - this might seem a strange one if you're trying to save time. Hands up how many of us say I don't get time to read these days? In order to be a writers we need to be readers. This tips up our creative juices. 

9.  Prioritise your writing - set goals e.g. daily, weekly, monthly targets. Give yourself a deadline for completion. Get the creative stuff done early in the day.

10. Don't be afraid to say no - This is a biggie. Most of us don't want to disappoint people so we say yes to everything. Tell people you will think about it, weigh up the pros and cons and make a considered decision.

I hope I've given you some food for thought here. These are just ideas and you may have many more. It would be helpful if you could share them in the comments. I'm always keen to learn new things. 

Before I go here's a bonus 11th Tip - employ a cleaner. This has been one of the best moves I've made. Now, where do I find someone to do my ironing?

Coming soon
First book in the Cass Claymore Investigates Series

About the Author

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon Number 1 best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers Choice Award. She is also an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, Motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She has just edited a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers