Archives for February 2011

Real Life Words #2

A regular feature with no long explanations… just photos of real life words…

Only hope my favourite clothing store back home keeps sending catalogues out after three years of none….

A New Enid Blyton…..

Enid Blyton.

I’m fairly certain that every child in the UK or Australia has read at least some of her works.  Apparently she was an author of some repute throughout the Commonwealth, but I hesitate to say for sure in Canada (nothing about this new country of mine is quite the same….) but with books translated into 90 different languages, you would be forgiven for thinking that almost the entire world has read at least one Blyton book in their younger days: The Magic Faraway Tree anyone?

My special love was the series ‘Famous Five’.  When I was younger I was crazy about them, and any time Mum went into the city for the day she would come home having visited the book shop with a new book or two (sometimes three!) for me to add to my collection. Sadly the books  are all back home in Australia right now, and I will either have to ship them out for Bronwen (or more likely if I’m still in Canada get them on e-reader) when the time is right so that I can share a part of my literary heritage with her.

Blyton wrote almost 800 books over the course of a 40 year career (take that Nora Roberts,) is apparently the fifth most translated author in the world and there are at least 600 million copies of her books scattered around the globe. *phew*

So one can  imagine the shock  someone had when they initially discovered in a pile of old manuscripts  an unpublished story  after buying the box of manuscripts at auction. Imagine that amongst the drafts of Famous Five, Secret Seven, Noddy and Malory Towers, a new story….a  Mr Tumpy’s Caravan  suddenly came to your attention.  Quite possibly an early attempt at a novel….  just … imagine.

One cant help but wonder, will the publishing house that bought the box of manuscripts publish the book now for old times sake, or the money making potential that is undoubtedly has with Blyton devotees – even if the story is really poorly written?  Think Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl” series and the reputed forth novel he was writing before his death, the debate over that being published one day or not, according to who wins out in the Swedish courts over the rights to his property.  Anything is possible.

Amy Bourret – Mothers and Other Liars

There was one book that I read in January that affected me emotionally enough that I did something that I have never, in all my years of being a book lover, ever done. I sat down and wrote an email to the author telling her how her novel impacted me. Oh yeah… I really did.

How far will a mother go to save her child?
Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark’s lives forever.

January 28th 2011

Dear Amy,
I feel like I can call you by your first name because I assume I already know you, having just finished reading “Mothers and Other Liars.”  Authors always give away a part of themselves when they tell a story; they reveal a part of who they are.  Open themselves up to outsiders who assume to see a glimpse of the author from what they write.  It’s impossible, I think, to not do so.  Otherwise, how can an author write a story that has any emotional power?   But that means you get emails from complete strangers who seem to think they can call you by your first name.
I started your novel last night and finished it not long after 2pm.  The power of your work has actually brought me to my computer to write to you; something I never do.  But I knew as the image of Ruby watching Lark and Charlie at the beach danced in my imagination I was going to have to write to you.
Because you managed to make me cry, not once, but twice.
Last night I cried as I read of the separation of mother and daughter when Lark was to be ‘returned’ to the Tinsdales care.  Lark’s mouth opens, forms one silent word, “Mama!” Then she disappears behind the shutting door.  I think that maybe my heart split in two at that scene.   And today, as I was looking after my own daughter (who turns six next month and is home sick from school,) I cried once again as I read the baptism/goodbye ceremony for Charlie before the social worked pried Ruby’s fingers one by one off her son to take him away.  Cried perhaps isn’t strong enough a word. Maybe sobbed would be a better, more honest description of my reaction. The tears rolled down my cheeks and no matter how many times I reminded myself “it’s only a story” like I do when my daughter gets upset over things in books or on television, the pain I felt for the situation was real. And that, Amy, is when I knew you were a story teller with a rare but precious skill.
So I just wanted to write and say thank you for sharing your story with me.  Truly it was a lucky last minute grab off the bookshelf.  I loved it so much and can’t wait to read your next novel!

I didn’t stop to edit what I wrote three or four times like I normally would. Because I knew that if I took too long contemplating about what I was writing I would have contemplated myself right out of writing to Amy Bourret at all. And I must confess that as a wannabe writer, I like the idea of telling someone else when they had got it right by me. Of telling someone that the hard work of sitting behind a desk, or in front of a blank piece of paper had been worth it, because someone else saw and valued the vision. So imagine my surprise when I received this back the very next day….


Thank you so much Courtney! Writing happens in such a vacuum that feedback like yours really means a lot to me.

Obviously I’m so inspired by this success ( getting a reply) that I may very well take the risk of writing to another author whose book I truly adore again because WOW. A real life published author who writes back to fan mail.  Cool.

Editorial Savvy – The Lost Art of Editing

I will go out on a limb and suggest that its common knowledge to any wannabe writer who has read even just one ‘how to’ book on the publishing industry that you really want to send in your very best work to be seriously considered for publication.  Typos, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors can change the means of whole sentences and is a serious blunder in the striving towards the goal of immortality of the written word. That if you are serious you will have done several major edits, maybe even paid a freelance editor to go over the work too before you entertain the thought of trying to get an agent to represent you and your work to a publishing house.  That your work is as perfect in every detail as you can get it.

When I started writing, I was hesitant to even show my work to even the most trusted of friends.  The fear of not being good enough, of not being a clever enough wordsmith and having that confronting truth found out would be a terrible trauma.  One day, in a fit of bravado, I asked some of my friends if they would be interested in reading and editing an article I was writing.  Rachel, a friend and talented writer who had won several awards in the UK for her work, agreed to do a serious edit.  She said that most of the time that people asked for help, what they were really looking for was someone to say that their work was great just as it was and that they weren’t interested in partaking in the real editorial process.  The results of her editing were a revelation to me. Far from being a fearful experience, it became exhilarating and stimulating.  Her insights to mistakes, the dare to be more descriptive and the tightening of the word count without losing meaning was a challenge worth rising to.

But there is a world of difference between sending out a piece of work to a friend and allowing complete strangers give their  editorial opinions.  Being serious about attempting to achieve the holy grail of writing (being published) I knew that taking part in a serious writing group was in order.  I started a writing group with my friend Stephanie and we gathered a small group of women who were earnest about the goal of publication; indeed, we named our group PoD – Publish or Die.  Despite being ballsy (Steph’s term, not mine!) to get a group going, I was nervous that I really had no ability nor the training to offer any real insight into other peoples work. The women in this group have agents and master’s degrees, have had plays professionally performed and short articles in magazines published.  Finding spelling mistakes, wondering where the semi-colon goes and if it changes the meaning of the text is way beyond my editorial skills.  But over time with the group I discovered a different editorial ability; reading for meaning. Reading for continuity, for mistakes in settings and for character development is something I’m really good at, and an important part of the editorial process.

The article in The Guardian, about whether publishing houses and editors are doing editorial work or not now was interesting to say the least.   Flicking through the March 2011 issue of “Movie Entertainment” magazine (from Rogers Cable) and finding the article  “Errors of Biblical Proportions” (page 37) about editorial boo-boos in the Bible was a humorous reminder that a good editor was always and still is a gift in the world of writers.  Do publishing houses now throw most of the editorial work onto the authors themselves? Has the job of editor been transferred in all but name to agents? Do all agents actually help their clients with polishing the work a little more? Or is it just an urban myth? Do editors at publishing houses get red pens (or track changes) out when they are going through a new piece and want to make it as wonderful as the author initially dreamt to be? And will there ever really be a clear cut answer to this question before I myself work with an agent and editor at a publishing house? 

Time will  tell – I hope.

Real Life Words #1


A regular feature with no long explanations… just photos of real life words….

The next book towards my Random House Inc Challenge of five books a month.

Something Amis about Writing for Children


For personal reasons I’ve hit the wall in regards to writing my novel…. a very frustrating event in which the less that’s said about it the better.  But a writer writes…. right?  And being desperate for inspiration I decided to look over work that was started in previous years and found a children’s story idea that I started back in 2007; a lifetime of experiences and learning ago.

Knowing that a published young children’s picture story is around 150 words or less, and with a word count of 473, my original story was far too long. Time to scale back and find the truth of the storyline in as few, but still as descriptive words as possible.  And that can be tough, because if you have children of your own, or if you have ever read a story to a child, keeping their interest in the story can be hard work.

 “People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book,” Amis said, in a sideways excursion from a chat about John Self, the antihero of his 1984 novel Money. “I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book’, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write,” he added.                      Martin Amis

Of course writing adult age appropriate fiction is easier. You can take two paragraphs or more depending upon your particular bent towards descriptive prose to describe something. Unlike a children’s picture book in which telling a story must be whittled down to as few as words as possible. 

Adults will allow a story to unfold and generally will read up to the first 50 pages before deciding that the story isn’t working for them and putting the book down. Good luck with getting a 12 year old to read even 15 pages if they find the story line taking too long to develop.  You don’t even get 50 pages in a picture book.

 Coats said that as a children’s writer she certainly did not “write down” to her young readership. “Children are astute observers of tone – they loathe adults who patronise them with a passion, adults who somehow assume they are not sentient beings because they are children,” she said.
“It’s not a feat of the writer’s art exclusive to highbrow literary fiction. When I write, I think about language, the richness and complexity and wonder of it, and I use it to hook the reader into my story, to ensnare them in my net of words, to take them so far that they forget that what they are seeing is only print on a page of a dead tree. I say the reader – and that means whoever is reading my book regardless of age.”                         
Lucy Coats

Writing for children, my original desire and goal was so daunting because of how very tight the word counts, the magnitude of the story themes and the expanding beauty of the storyline is such that I gave up the dream even before I gave it a determined attempt.  More than once I’ve read that getting a children’s picture book published is much harder than getting a full length adults fiction book is. 

So Martin Amis, of course you can write a much more sophisticated story than a child can appreciate.  Of course your power over the written word is more adept than a six year old can handle. But the ability to weave a story together that holds the imagination and attention of a child takes a skill that requires more talent than would appear obvious. I guess the proof would be in the pudding…. try it before you decide its not worthy of your talents sir.

January Book List

 Guess the fact I’ve had my nose stuck in one book or another, the result  from accepting the challenge from Facebook – Random House Inc to read five books a month for a year has meant a lack of blog posts. Opps.  Being the book worm that I am, and despite my misgivings, I also added new twist to the goal – why make it easy on myself?! I want to use this challenge to take some time to read outside of my usual comfort zone. Generally I am pulled to what is (depending upon the company you keep) called either sneeringly called ‘chick lit’ or contemporary women’s literature.  So this month I added a mystery novel into the mix, just to see how authors approach other genres. 

I decided to read a mystery by Phil Rickman based solely on a review I read about ‘Merrily Watkins’, the central character of the series and I was not disappointed. Actually, I loved the book so much I have read another of the series already this month and have ordered a couple more from the library. Who would have though I could end up enjoying mystery novels?  It was a trip down secondary school memory lane that lead me to read Playing Beatie Bow in honour of Ruth Park, who died late last year.  I wanted to see if her book stood the test of time.  And whilst it wasn’t as brilliant as I remembered it, I still love the idea of being lost in history and how that affects the future and the way timelines can blend together.

I think the only book I felt was formulaic and a touch trite was the last one I read by Carly Phillips. It may have felt pedestrian because I have read so many versions of this style of novel (let the sneering begin – chick lit!), not necessarily because it was badly written.  As a reader I didn’t understand the choice of artwork on the front cover of House Rules – it didn’t respond to the story within the cover at all.  I always enjoy a novel by Nora Roberts, and this is a good stand alone read if you don’t want to get suckered into one of her series.  My favourite novel of the month was Mothers and Other Liars, but that had such a profound effect upon my heart that I believe it best to save that for another post. Finally, I have been slowly working my way through the whole Harry Potter series since last year, fully reveling in the ‘magic’ of J.K.’s writing style. Although I feel duty bound to admit that I read this on my beloved Sony e-reader and I didnt hold the ink infused paper bound book from the library!

In the end, I must confess that I am somewhat shocked that I managed to read ten novels in the course of one month. Perhaps I am/was still, despite my non-television watching habits during the daytime, wasting much too much time. Whatever the truth, I am eager to see how many books I can enjoy in the month of February.