SPaG

One way or another I have been involved in teaching (children and adults) for most of my working life. Now, as my business winds down I have volunteered at our local primary school to read with Years 3 and 4.
Having no idea what is expected of children of that age I have trawled the internet to see what their vocabulary is expected to be, what words they should be able to Spell, what Punctuation they should understand and what Grammatical terms they will be familiar with (SPaG is the acronym used).
I was shocked at how ignorant I am!
I consider myself (don’t most people?) well educated, literate and widely read. I have written and published eight novels involving well over a million words, I spell well, I have a wide vocabulary and I understand apostrophes but as I read what was expected of 7, 8 and 9 year olds I realised how little I know because I don’t know the correct terminology.
I use a and an correctly but if anyone had asked me what a determiner was I wouldn’t have been able to tell them.
I’m sure that at some time I must have known examples of conjunctions, adverbs and prepositions. Having forgotten the distinctions, however, hasn’t prohibited me from using them, I trust correctly, tens of thousands of times.
I have (or should say ‘had’ as I have now read up on this) no idea what fronted adverbials, perfect forms of verbs and the distinction between co-ordinate and subordinate words or phrases (or why one is hyphenated and the other isn’t) are, although I undoubtedly use them all the time.
I wonder. Is the romance being squeezed out of reading and of language as construction, rules and jargon worthy of complex industries are instilled in young children?
I ask you. What do you make of the following?
If the last syllable of a word is stressed and ends with one consonant letter which has just one vowel letter before it, the final consonant letter is doubled before any ending beginning with a vowel letter is added. The consonant letter is not doubled if the syllable is unstressed.
Or is it easier to know that BEGIN becomes BEGINNING and BEGINNER and GARDEN becomes GARDENER and GARDENING as BEGINING and BEGINER, GARDENNER and GARDENNING simply look wrong because you’ve read books and seen them spelt correctly so many times?

 

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.”

Brick walls & Retirement

retiredOne way or another I have been writing fiction for at least thirty years.
I have files of hand written jottings outlining short stories that remain unwritten but which were the seeds of episodes in longer novels.
I have sheets and sheets of notes, with the sprocket hole edges still intact, with passages of writing which, as I re-read them after so many years, are actually quite good.
I have notes printed out from floppy disks as it became evident that floppy disk drives were no longer de rigueur.
I have CDs containing the back ups (backs up?) of early drafts of all my final published novels.
I have a shelf of external disk drives going back over years of drafts, re-writes, re-re-writes and final off-to-the-publisher writes.
What I haven’t, any longer, is the will to carry on.
My electronic pencil has reached its stub end.
I started writing seriously in 2002 when the plot for The Iniquities Trilogy began to form and now, more than fourteen years later, I am re-writing that as one book Iniquities Revisited. Once that is done … no brick-wallmore.
There is only so much beating one’s head against brick walls one can take.
Brick walls?
Well, trying to get people to notice one book amongst tens of thousands; trying to get reviewers to review, booksellers to stock, readers to buy; putting up with the fact that best-seller lists are full of ghost written celebrity ‘autobiographies’, television tie-ins and cookery books that no one will ever use; watching television mini-series where the plots are thin and the plot holes are so large as to be only describable as sink holes.
‘Dispiriting’ doesn’t come close.
So that’s it. After The Last Dance, Walking Alone, Runaways, Highly Unsuitable Girl, Her Parents’ Daughter, A Set of Lies, Second Strand and Iniquities Reworked no more.
No more exploring the lives of my imaginary friends.
No more wondering how I can bring Susanna back into my world.
No more doubting whether Skye and Fergal’s marriage will survive their investigatory adventures.
No more worrying about how I can finally kill off Carl Witherby (who has been with me since the very beginning).
No more thinking what to put in a blog on the website.
No more being bothered to tweet and post on Facebook.
No more of any of that.
That’s it.
When people now ask me what I do I will no longer say ‘I write’ I will say I am retired.
With the emphasis on ‘tired’.

Publication Date

img_1197Second Strand is published, officially, on 28 January 2017.
This date was set June 2016 when it was not clear how long it would be before the text was finalised, the cover designed and the books printed.
Troubador (and I) have been very efficient and my copies were delivered a week ago, fully four months before publication date.
I do understand that there are processes that cannot be started until the book physically exists: notably marketing and the sales repping cycle – almost for the first time since the idea for the book first formed things are out of my hands. No amount of nagging by me can make anything go faster.
The Press Releases go out this week, hopefully (complimentary?) reviews will be written and interviews arranged in the fullness of time.
Sales reps will be working on my behalf to get Second Strand in front of High Street bookshop buyers (though cynically I suspect those buyers are more interested in cookery books, celebrity ‘auto’biographies and television tie-ins).
And the supply chain (about which I know next to nothing) takes a while to be put in place.
So things beyond my control are going on in the traditional world of book-selling.
BUT.
And it’s a BIG BUT.
The world has moved on.
While High Street bookshops play by old rules, set and cast in concrete before the advent of the internet, the world wide web has gone its own sweet way. Second Strand is already available on the publisher’s website www.troubador.co.uk, on my website www.carolynmccrae.com and on various on-line outlets (you can hardly call Amazon a ‘bookshop’ any more).
So there are things for me to do….
I must be a salesperson. I must do what I can to let everyone and anyone who may be interested that Second Strand is available NOW.
There is no need for you to wait until the end of January… Christmas presents have to be bought…

Genre? What Genre?

Fiction Genres MainGenreThe genre allocated to a book seems to be important. I hadn’t realised just how important until I began to write.
As a book buyer/reader I have never worried about what category a book fitted into and if anyone asked me what kind of novels I enjoy reading I would probably answer ‘most if they’re well written’.
One on-line bookseller, which I will not name, lists 33 different categories of books and, just within the general heading ‘Fiction’, there are 30 different genres.
How a book is defined determines so much about how it is treated by wholesalers and bookshops (on-line and ‘High Street’) and therefore also how easily they are found by potential buyers. But what happens when a book is ill-defined by any of the organisations who deal with a book from the publisher onwards?
My first three books which made up The Iniquities Trilogy, would probably be categorised as ‘Family Saga’ but that might lead people to believe they are for women readers. (Preconceived ideas about what constitutes ‘female’ and ‘male’ reading is a subject for another blog). But all three of those books involve crime (including rape, murder and psychological destruction), an unfolding slow-burning mystery, war-time exploits, spying and the odd love story… so many things that ‘Family Saga’ does not cover.
Highly Unsuitable Girl was a sort of ‘coming of age’ story about a woman getting to know herself and her limitations by the age of 60 odd. Funnily enough ‘Coming of Age’ is not a category used by many. Her Parents’ Daughter was a murder mystery with relationship and spy overtones and then A Set of Lies was a complete change – a political, family history, alternate historical novel. Second Strand is another murder mystery with overtones of the world of spies.
The point has been made that I am doing myself no favours by writing books which do not readily fit into the straight-jacket of any particular genre. It would certainly make it a little easier to find my books on-line or in High Street bookshops if I just wrote ‘Crime, Thrillers and Mystery’.
Perhaps it is easier to build up a following if people know what my books are going to be like – it is certainly true that many authors have made an excellent living by writing the same book over and over again – I will not mention names but I bet you can think of a few.
But with my books being so different from each other how can I build up a fan base unless buyers/readers just happen to find my non-predictable, intricately plotted stories set firmly in their time and place, with well-drawn (if not always likeable) characters.

Washing-Up Bowls

Washing Up BowlsResearch seems to be done into everything and anything and then the resultant press release forms the basis of news bulletin after news bulletin. What I want to know is why research has not been done (at least doesn’t appear to have been done because if it had it would have led the BBC News for at least 24 hours) into that most common of household items – washing-up bowls.
Why are they used in the first place when they are placed within perfectly adequate basins?
“I’ve lost the plug to the basin” “It’s useful to have a space down which to pour cold tea without dirtying the washing up water” “It’s quieter to use than a metal sink” “It’s less likely you’ll chip a plate or glass against plastic” “It uses less water” “The water can be chucked over plants after, rather than being wasted down the drain”.
But they are not all good news.
“They’re not healthy – they’re breeding grounds for bacteria” “They are, like greetings cards, an unnecessary accessory creating a whole unnecessary industry” “Why would you want to put a piece of cheap plastic in an expensively designed kitchen?”
Perhaps we only use them because we were brought up doing the washing-up in a plastic bowl.
So we use them. By the millions.
And so someone, somewhere should do some research.
Are they (like cars) becoming available in fewer and fewer colours?
Are they, as they seem to be, getting smaller and smaller – so small that even reasonably sized dinner plates don’t lie down in them?
If they are getting smaller is this a response to the need to save water. Is it in response to the need to reduce the amount of plastic used? Perhaps it’s in response to smaller houses, smaller kitchens, smaller sinks, less washing up being done (more take-aways?)
I call upon someone to research this most important of household items. An anniversary must be coming up. “One million years since the first human being carried water from a watering hole in an animal skin and, rather than pouring the water over the eating implements and pieces of wood used as proto-plates, put those re-usable items in the carrying vessel.”
Which brings me on to washing up liquid….

You can see from this post that I’ve made no progress with A Second Strand in the past weeks. I’ve been busy with the day job – but next week it’s the final read through before sending it off to edit! I’ll be in touch Matador….

Being (or not being) a Local Author

Local AuthorIs there any advantage to being known as a ‘local author’?
On the one hand the description implies that this is not a well-known author of national or international renown. There is something quaintly parochial, patronizing and possibly even pathetic about having to try to appeal to potential purchasers because you all happen to live in the same vicinity.
On the other hand, for whatever reason, it is certainly easier to get bookshops, newsagents, corner shops and pubs (thank you Holdings, The Wheatsheaf and The King’s Head in Yarmouth) to stock books and to give you the opportunity to do signings (thank you Waterstones and The County Press Shop in Newport) if you have some kind of local connection.
But what is the attraction of reading books by an author who is ‘local’? Is it to support someone you may pass in the street, or sit next to in a pub, or queue up with in the Post Office? Or is it perhaps because if the author is ‘local’ then the subject matter may well be locally relevant too? Or is it that the places referred to(and, heaven forefend, people) will recognizable?
When I was writing my first book, The Last Dance, I lived near Sandwich in East Kent. That area didn’t feature at all in the book, instead it was based in The Wirral, Cheshire, where I was born and lived for the first twenty or so years of my life. I lived in Shropshire when I was writing the second which, although also based in the Wirral ventured as far afield as Cambridgeshire. I was still living in Shropshire when the third book Runaways was published. Also based on The Wirral large sections were located in Kent and Mumbai. My fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, was also written whilst I lived in (a different part of) Shropshire and failed to feature anything to do with that county.
It was only when I became ‘local’ to The Isle of Wight that my books became primarily based in the area in which I lived. Her Parents’ Daughter, written in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, is the story of a murder in Yarmouth (as is A Second Strand – also written in Yarmouth).
The difficult book was A Set of Lies. The early drafts of this were written when I lived near Ludlow, Shropshire and the main characters lived, and the main settings were located, there. I then moved to the Isle of Wight and it was suggested by various people that the book should be based on the island. So the fourth, fifth and sixth drafts effected that change.
Since I started writing books that have been published I have moved house five times, lived in five different counties and so even when I have been ‘local’ it has only ever been for a short time.
I have now been ‘local’ on The Isle of Wight for three and a half years. This is a record. Perhaps it’s getting near time to think about moving on again.