Punctuation!

Hostage to Fortune is now in its final stages before publication.
The copy edit came back with some well spotted errors marked (A company called FP became FM for some reason best known to my fingers and Berry Head (near Dartmouth) became Barry Head – I blame my fingers for that one too!). The most frequent changes/corrections were in punctuation. I wonder if this is what other writers find.
I have learned, in the ten years I have been writing and publishing my books, that speech ends with a comma if the following text indicates ‘XXX said’ or ‘XXX replied’ but with a full stop if the speech stands as its own paragraph or if the text that follows is, indeed, a new sentence. This is something I now try to do to save the copy editor (or the editor’s software) an incredibly large number of changes.
Another change that seems to have occurred in those ten years is the proliferation in the use of the semicolon.
When I was at school, admittedly over fifty years ago, this item of punctuation was frowned upon. My English teacher taught that, if a comma did not serve, the second clause should form a new sentence. Perhaps that was her personal preference rather than the prescribed wisdom of the day.
Looking at Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, the use of the semicolon in English texts since 1500 showed remarkable swings in popularity for the first 150 years, reaching a peak in the 1660s before declining sharply. Recovery through the Eighteenth century saw another peak being reached in the early 1800s before a steady and continuous decline through that century and the last, reaching a low point not seen since the 1650s in 2001.
Since then the trend has been reversed.
My (completely unscientifically researched) theory is that this is the influence of the Americans and American software designers – particularly in Microsoft – where Word seems to frequently indicate a grammatical error when a comma is used mid-sentence.
And don’t get me on split infinitives!
Or the use of the exclamation mark (point?)!
Or whether a question mark should be used after rhetorical questions?
Or when dashes are acceptable – or not.
Anyway, I do hope that people who read Hostage to Fortune (and my other books, of course) will find the story(ies) so gripping that they do not notice the punctuation at all!

Deadlines

July 1 had been my self-imposed deadline to send the pretty-much-final-draft of Hostage to Fortune to an old friend to read through and comment on. I’m afraid I missed it.
I began the third re-read/re-write run through on June 11 planning to do at least a chapter a day but it hasn’t quite worked out like that.
At first I made some progress but I was nowhere near meeting my schedule and of the 24 days since I began I have managed to concentrate on Hostage to Fortune for only ten – and then only for a couple of hours in any one day. In that period I reached only page 72 (of 299) in Chapter 7 of (currently) 34.
My reason (excuse?) is that my husband and I have, yet again, been moving house.
In the fifteen years since I first decided to try to write seriously for publication we have moved six times and at least one book has seen the light of day in each house: Woodnesborough, Kent (The Last Dance); Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire (Walking Alone); Ludlow, central Shropshire (Runaways); Maesbrook, north Shropshire (Highly Unsuitable Girl); Yarmouth, Isle of Wight (A Set of Lies and Her Parents’ Daughter); Dartmouth, Devon (Second Strand) and now Worth, Kent less than three miles from where we left just over ten years ago, where Hostage to Fortune – and others – will see the light of day.
But now the packing and unpacking has been done (we ought to be good at it by now) and we are settled Hostage to Fortune will return to the top of my to-do list and be the focus of my attention once again.
My new deadline is to get Hostage to Fortune to Jane by the end of this month and I WILL make it.
If the weather is hot I’ll just have to start early. If the cricket is enthralling I’ll just have to listen to TMS on the radio rather than watch the TV. If the garden needs attention then it will just have to wait.
I will finish this by the end of the month.
Really.
I will.

Knowledge and Experience – or Imagination?

Well known, and in many ways brilliant, writer Anthony Horowitz has been warned off including black characters in a new book because an (American?) editor said it was inappropriate for a ‘white’ writer to create a ‘black’ character. He made the rejoinder that if you followed that train of thought he could only write about ‘62 year old, white, Jewish men living in North London’
What was that editor thinking?
A writer’s job is:
To tell a story by creating characters and leading the reader through the development of the plot by showing interactions between those characters.
I suggest that stories, characters and interactions would be incredibly feeble and tedious if all characters were a reflection of the writer.
That editor does not appear to allow for the one critical factor – imagination. Why is it artificial or condescending or patronising to include characters of different ages, genders, races and even sexual proclivities just because the writer has not had that personal experience? And in any case, are people so defined by their colour, as this editor implies, that empathy and understanding are impossible between different ‘categories’ (my quotes) of people?
For the past few months I have been writing my next murder mystery novel – Hostage to Fortune (hopefully out early 2018).
The story involves murder and abduction but I am neither a murderer nor an abductor so I presume to be able to put myself in the place of one who is.
Instead of knowledge and direct experience I have imagined; I have put myself in the position of someone in a certain situation and imagined what they would do and how they would act. This is what writers (good, bad and indifferent) do.
How many people did Agatha Christie poison, stab, shoot or otherwise do away with? How could she, as a well off, middle-aged, English woman possibly write about a pedantic Belgian male detective, an ex-policeman, refugee from war-torn Belgium, possible spy for the British, lover of steam trains, unlucky in love. Could it have been that she had imagination?
I could not have written any of my books including only white, thoroughly middle class, university educated, four times married, women in their sixties.
My characters are first and foremost individuals.
Ryan, Guy, Arjun, Luis, Barford, Pat, Diane, Skye and Fergal each acts and reacts in his or her own individual way, they have characteristics of their own, they have taken on lives of their own with individual motives and back-stories.
Ryan is immature, Guy is manipulative, Arjun is vulnerable, both Luis and Barford make mistakes though both survive them, both Pat and Diane keep too many secrets to themselves, and neither Skye nor Fergal can keep to their remit; but, when it comes down to it, their gender, sexuality, colour and age are probably immaterial to the plot but their differences make it, to my mind, far more credible.
In these days of inclusivity and diversity a book that contains characters who are uniform in gender, sexuality, colour and age would be completely improbable so, should that editor’s approach be accepted widely, every work of fiction would have to have multiple writers, each concentrating on their own insular and insulated little world, limited by their experience.
As a certain, brilliant, scientist (Albert Einstein) is quoted as saying “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Progress?

The first draft of the book I would like to call Hostage to Fortune is finished! (Time for a celebratory glass of wine?)
Begun on 15 March this, the follow on to Her Parents’ Daughter and Second Strand, is the quickest I have ever completed the first draft of a book.
Of the thirty-four days, only eight were without progress. I achieved an average 1,793 words per day which isn’t bad, with a maximum number in a day 6,427! One or two days were pretty much failures with only one hundred odd words, but there were always extenuating circumstances.
This incredible rate of progress was only possible because I spent three weeks plotting out the chapters in advance, (memories of teachers telling me to plan out essays before putting pen to paper – thank you Miss Nicholson, Mr Sant and Miss Honeyball!) so I knew where I was going and who was going to do what to whom and when before I started.
It was only in the last but one chapter that my characters strayed off message. One, Guy, was supposed to do one thing but as the words spewed from my fingers on the keyboard he decided to do something completely different.
I can only say that this turned out to be his mistake.
Unfortunately, the title Hostage to Fortune has been used before. Sometimes A Hostage to Fortune, sometimes Hostages to Fortune, sometimes with a subtitle sometimes not.
Shall I go with it anyway, since the other books date from 1931, and the fifties?
I don’t know.
I can’t think of any better for this book; it works on so many levels.
Mind you, since I’ve only just finished the first draft, I have lots of time to think about it.

Places and Ideas

I’ve been away a lot this winter. Unable to face the combination of long dark evenings and long dark mornings I’ve only been ‘at home’ four weeks in the past three months (a luxury allowed by not having a cat (not good) and the day job seriously winding down (good)).
We escaped much of the cold, damp and dark but I can never escape the books that are in my head.
I am still re-vamping The Iniquities Trilogy so, as we drove through Spain, I could not avoid thinking ‘this is where Wellington’s armies marched and fought and Carl followed in his summer of 1967 in The Last Dance’ and ‘this is where Pat lives and Fergal and Skye came to visit in 2016 in Second Strand’.
Most of my books are firmly placed in areas I know; The Wirral (The Iniquities Trilogy, Highly Unsuitable Girl), various parts of Kent (Highly Unsuitable Girl, Walking Alone, Runaways), the Isle of Wight (A Set of Lies, Her Parents’ Daughter, Second Strand), Dartmouth (Second Strand and now Empty Boxes), Barbados (Highly Unsuitable Girl) and various parts of Spain (The Last Dance, A Set of Lies, Second Strand) – I’m sure I’ve missed a few. I need to be able to see my characters and I find it easier if they are in real places I know.
My next book (currently under the working title Empty Boxes) is in the planning stage so as we travelled I have been on the lookout for locations, almost as if already making the film, so as we sat in the (hot) sun gazing out over a smart marina I was thinking ‘is this big enough for Ryan to berth Peabody III late in 2017?’ and, as we sat in a beach bar watching the sun going down I was wondering whether the cove in the distance could be where Arjun will abandon Diane.
Places give me ideas (inspiration?) and through the past four weeks in Spain ideas have crystallised. I now know (more or less) who does what to whom, when and where. I know (something of) the characters of my characters. I know which historical events will form the crux of the story. I know how the thread of the story begins and ends.
All I have to do now is write the book.

Libraries

In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!

Reviews

I never believe authors who say they never read reviews of their work. How can they not want to know what readers made of their efforts? I know it need only take a few hours to read a novel that has taken hundreds of hours to put together, and perhaps some views are not particularly welcome, but they should all be, at least, read. Someone has taken the trouble to describe how they got on with the fruits of all that labour.
I’ve been away for a few weeks, escaping the English Christmas which seems to go on for half the year, so I was sitting in a customs warehouse in Brooklyn (it’s a long story) suffering from the cough that just about the entire northern hemisphere seems to have when I received two emails that cheered me up no end. My publisher was telling me of two reviews of Second Strand posted on NetGalley.
A lady (I presume) named Bonnye Reed Fry (American?) wrote: This is a very interesting novel, British, sort of a combination of spy special and police procedural. Most of the characters are empathetic – Teri is all bad, and Alex is a bit of a wimp, but I really enjoyed Anne, Fergal and Skye, and hope to see more of them. I understand there are prequels out there that I will have to look for, and read. Though this is stand alone, the background characters have their own stories.
Another lady Karen Ruchalski (also American?) wrote: Second Strand is an excellent novel by Carolyn McCrae. It is part crime story, part international spy saga and a little modern day relationship drama. The characters are honestly written and their flaws are relatable and understandable. The novel is set in parts of Great Britain with which I was not personally familiar, but McCrae’s writing sets a vivid scene. The plot twists and turns and leaves the reader satisfied at the conclusion. I would recommend this book for any lovers of crime or mystery novels.
Many thanks, Bonnye and Karen, for your kind words.
The prequels to which Bonnye refers are A Set of Lies (where Fergal and Skye get together and make their fortune) and Her Parents’ Daughter (the original murder in Yarmouth). If you’re reading this I hope you find and enjoy them.
Also… Anne, Fergal and Skye may well be riding again…