Archive for December, 2013

ImageThe Girl from Heavytree Farm Revised An earlier post reported that I’d swopped draft books with a friend. I have now finished A Killing at Caer Drumb and can report that after a slow start it’s compelling reading, with sympathetic and convincing characters in beautifully described locations. The mystery is gripping — the reader knows that something is up, but how can Cristuyn and Riothan pin the crime down? Great stuff.

I’ve also passed on a few suggestions for improvement (speed up the start — and we need a bit more closure at that point …) and the inevitable copy-editing points (missing question mark here …)

My friend has commented on The Girl from Heavytree Farm — Mirabelle’s second outing, after my first attempts to continue her history in The Flat in Doughty Court:
“I’m about half way through it and it’s almost un-put-down-able.  The only reason I have to put it down is because it’s on my laptop, which is quite heavy, and too much use cuts off the circulation to my knees!!  If it was in book form or if I had a Kindle, I think I would have finished it by now.
“I keep having to remind myself that this is unpublished work.  It seems amazing to think that other writers [the example she gives had better remain nameless], can publish while yours remains unpublished. …
“Phrases such as ‘Mirabelle, with her bright eyes and lively personality, was like a burst of springtime against his cold November.’ are pure poetry; capturing the essence of the two main characters in a succinct but evocative way.  I am really enjoying it.”

… It’s lovely to receive such encouraging words. When she’s finished I’m sure she’ll have lots of constructive suggestions for tidying, and of course will spot those missing quotation marks, questionmarks, etc.

But the fact remains that there are lots of very good writers around who can’t get their material into print, and while Amazon’s Kindle and other online means of self-publishing allow us to get our material into an open-access forum, it is very, very difficult to find a readership. It’s not just the time involved in advertising one’s own work that’s the problem, but knowing how to go about it. NaNoWriMo is promising assistance with publishing, so I’ll wait to see what they come up with.

Meanwhile, there is a link to the beta-version of The Girl from Heavytree Farm at the top of this post. Comments welcome!


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OK, not quite a beta-reader. I’ve swopped a story with a friend. I have her murder-mystery set in fifth-century northern Britain (honest, guv — and she swotted up on Old Brythonic to write it) and she has my take-off of a collection of 1920s crime thriller short stories. Well, maybe not so thrilling as I’d like them to be — that’s why I need a reader. She has really smart title pages (‘I used a Windows Template’) and I have brightly-coloured covers (‘photo shopped from scans on the internet’). But the important thing is whether we’ve produced stories that are worth reading …

Later: her murder-mystery really is worth reading. Honest, it really is.

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Maria of Gratz[3c]I sent my NaNoWriMo scribble in to Lulu.com for a check on its personality. It was fed through their book Genome project and came back as ‘An SBDK … the rarest writing personality in the Book Genome Project’. Oops. Not such good news.
However, it gets better. The ‘SBDK’ stands for ‘Stoic’ (careful and sparing dialogue), ‘Descriptive’ , ‘Breezy’ language which makes it easy to read and ‘Kinetic’ with lots of physical action. This sums up my anti-heroine well, so that’s good. (She’s the lady on the left of this post — in every sense.)
The report from Lulu.com is upbeat: ‘there’s much to like about the SDBK. They tend to use rich descriptive passages and don’t rush their storytelling. Their text is welcoming and easy to consume, and they strive to engage the reader early. Characters stay moving, with strong physical narrative. SDBKs can be hard to put down.’ Yes, that was the plan.
Things get more interesting on the next page of the report. ‘Other notable SBDKs’ include H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man (1897) and Agatha Christie, Dead Man’s Folly (1956). Obviously I am amazed and delighted to see my humble scribble mentioned in the same document as these great classics, especially as I deliberately set out to emulate the style of late 19th-century/ early 20th-century popular authors. The plan worked — well, enough to be noticed by Lulu.com’s computer, at least. Maria of Gratz is true to her period.

Meanwhile, I am still sorting out her escape from her latest mortal peril. After a gun-fight, she’s off down the Thames by boat — that’s the kinetic book personality at work!

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I’ve done it! My anti-heroine is out. The window cleaners’ ladder went up, the window cleaner went through the window:

(‘Straight through the window, without opening it?’ — asks our policewoman.

‘I was in a hurry,’ says the window cleaner — going after the gunman …)

And the policewoman and the window cleaner pursued the gunman downstairs, leaving the way clear for Maria to sneak out behind everyone’s backs. Yes, it is very silly, it’s fantasy, but it’s an interesting puzzle to work out and it might even be a decent story when it’s finished.

(Yes, I’m still finishing off my NaNoWriMo novel.)

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It had to happen. I’ve got stuck. My (anti)heroine is trapped and I can’t get her out. To be more precise, I can get her out, but I can’t get to the point where she is going to get out. Meanwhile a policewoman with a gun is pursuing an armed Nazi up a spiral staircase and the window cleaners are arriving with a long ladder.

There must be something I can do with a long ladder. I’ll probably think of it just before bedtime, and then lie awake half the night working it out.

(Before you ask, I’m finishing off my NaNoWriMo novel.)

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One of the spin-offs from taking part in NaNoWriMo this year has been that I now know a little more about British history of the first quarter of the 20th century: not the sort of facts one learns at school, but interesting details such as when the first policewomen were recruited in London, the beginnings of electric street lamps and public phone boxes, the state of taxis and tram lines and when certain London Underground lines opened. I also discovered that details of the Edgar Wallace novels I was using as my jump-off point were more true than I’d previously known. Of course, readers at the time would have known what was real and what was made up; but we modern readers don’t know these things.

So: the ‘Aliens Extradition Bill’ which is at the centre of the action in The Four Just Men (1906) is obviously based on The Aliens Act of 1905. And the scene in The Council of Justice (1908) in which the Prince of the Escorial(s) and his bride narrowly avoid having a bomb thrown at them on their wedding day is based on the wedding of Alfonso XIII of Spain to Princess Victoria of England in 1906, when a Catalan anarchist threw a bomb at the wedding procession. After 1908, Wallace seems to have taken his heroic desperados out of politics, because the rest of his ‘Just Men’ stories concentrate on individual villains rather than matters of international importance. Only in the short story ‘The Happy Travellers’, published in Again the Three (1928), does Leon Gonsalez intervene to stop Isola Koskina, an Italian revolutionary, from interfering in Italian politics and attempting to ‘remove tyrants from their high positions’ as Isola puts it. Leon’s excuse is that the British government would not wish to ‘find that they are implicated’ in an assassination. Apparently the Just Men had become a branch of the British secret service! With hindsight, it would have been better for Leon to have left Isola alone, as presumably she was working against Mussolini. What a change from 1906 and the Just Men’s support for the revolutionary Manuel Garcia! Perhaps twenty years had made a change in Wallace’s politics.

It’s a hard life for fictional heroes — always at the mercy of their author.

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