What a relief to finally type The End on the final page of my novel.
But, sadly, that doesn’t mean work is finished. I’m reminded of jumpers I struggled to knit in my teens. The shape is recogniseable, but the tension’s all over the place, there are odd holes which weren’t in the pattern, and nobody would be seen dead wearing it.
A recent quote of Gustave Flaubert’s, seen on Twitter,* struck a chord:
‘I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.’
If Flaubert struggled, what hope for lesser writers?
Weeks, perhaps months, of editing those 100,000 words lie ahead. Of straight-forward proof-reading. Of adverb-pruning. Of tightening action sequences. Of making sure those blue eyes in chapter three haven’t turned hazel by chapter thirty. Of wheedling long-suffering friends in ninevoices to take yet-another look at a purple passage I’m insecure about.
In the meantime I hope a police car doesn’t draw-up outside my house, with gentlemen in dark blue wanting to ask awkward questions about my on-line researches into the murkier corners of the eighteenth century…
Ninevoices have warned in the past of the dangers of being in Oxford if you’re a fictional character, and we’ve also extolled the works of other writers’ groups. The two come together in The Bodleian Murders and other Oxford stories, produced by the OxPens group in 2016.
This is the third of five collections of short stories OxPens have produced. It was a gift from my daughter and I’ve much enjoyed its variety. Some of the stories are University-based – such as of course the title story – but others are set elsewhere in the city or in the Oxfordshire countryside. Rural Bliss (set in a village near Chipping Norton) is a warning to husbands of the risks of not taking seriously enough your wife’s delight in rearing sheep. Oggi (set largely near Henley-on-Thames) is about bodgers, craftsmen who make chairs to order from wood they have, er, liberated from woods nearby.
History is well served. Burning Words takes us back to 1555, when the mere ownership of a book inscribed by a burned heretic could bring great danger. In The Stunner from Holywell we see the creation in 1857 of a beautiful painting by Rossetti and what happens to it a century later. Colin Dexter appears in Just Keep Going, with encouraging word for uncertain writers.
A Visit from Social Services describes just that, and shows us the perils social workers face making house calls on the elderly. In Time for the Wake mysteriously links Oxford with a funeral in Nigeria. The Festival of International Art and Scholarly Culture, Oxford farcically takes us back to the excitement of Olympic year in 2012, when the local Arts Committee decide to join in the festivities in ways that may mean that the dreaming spires won’t get back to sleep for a long, long time. The death count in The Bodleian Murders rivals that in an episode in Midsomer Murders, and that in only ten pages.
There are 15 stories in all. Lack of mention of the other 6 here shouldn’t be taken as any form of criticism at all! Thanks, OxPens. (http://www.oxpens.co.uk/)
ISBN 978-1-904623-24-3 RRP £7-99 Available from Blackwells post free http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/bookshop/home Profits from the book are shared with Oxford Homeless Pathways (formerly Oxford Night Shelter).
https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/stay-away-from-oxford/ speaks for itself.
Other writers’ groups that have featured on this site:
https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/delayed-reaction/ (the Just Write group in Amersham)
At ninevoices‘ pre-Christmas feast there were vehement protestations from everyone about entering LOTS of competitions in 2018. Here are some we might kick off with:
Bath Flash Fiction Award is inviting entries for its Novella-in-Flash Award. First Prize is £300, with two runner-up prizes of £100. The winners will also be published in a three-novella collection. Entry fee is £16 and novellas in flash should be between 6,000 and 18,000 words, with the individual flashes (chapters) each being no longer than 1,000 words. Entries must be aimed at adult or young adult readers. Deadline is 29 January.
Grindstone Open Prose Competition. Flash fiction of maximum 100 words. Entry fee: £6. Prizes: £250; £100; £50; £10. Critique voucher to two runners-up. Deadline 28 January. Details: http://www.grindstoneliterary.co/competitions
Magma Poetry is inviting entries for its current poetry competition. There are two categories. The Judges’ Prize is for poems of 11-50 lines and will be judged by Mona Arshi. The Editors’ Prize, for poems up to 10 lines, will be judged by a panel of Magma editors. Prizes in both categories are £1,000 for first, £300 for second and £150 for third. The prizewinning poems will be published in Magma, and winning and commended poets will be invited to read their work at a special event in spring 2018. Enter original unpublished poems by 15 January. Entry fees are £5 for the first poem, £4 for the second and £3.50 for any subsequent entries. Check details at: https://magmapoetry.com/
The Keats-Shelley Prize 2018 is open for entries of poetry and essays. The theme for poems is Liberty; a celebration of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Essays may be on any aspects of the Romantics, their lives and works. Poems may be up to 30 lines, and essays up to 3,000 words. All entries must be original and unpublished. There is a prize fund of £3,000. ENTRIES (up to two poems and up to two essays) ARE FREE, and must be by email. An entry form can be downloaded from: http://www.keats-shelley.co.uk
The Plough & Ronald Duncan Short Poetry Prize. For a poem of maximum 10 lines. Entry fee: £5. Prizes: £1,000; £500; £250. Deadline 31 January. Details: http://www.theplough-prize.co.uk
The Plough Open Poetry Competition. For a poem up to 40 lines. Entry fee: £5. Prizes: £1,000; £500; £250. Details: http://www.theplough-prize.co.uk
The Lancashire Authors’ Association Open Flash Fiction Competition is inviting entries of stories of EXACTLY 100 words, excluding the title. Format entries as Word docs in double spacing on single sides of A4 and accompany each entry with a separate front page which includes name, address, email address, telephone number and story title. Entries can be sent by post or email. The entry fee is £2 per story, or three for £5, payable by Paypal or cheques made out to Lancashire Authors’ Association. The prize is £100. Closing date is 31 January. email: email@example.com. Postal entries: The Competitions Secretary, 2 Pardoe Close, Hesketh Bank, Preston, Lancashire PR4 6PT. As always, please check all details before entering anything suggested above.
And remember, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted offers welcome encouragement – and might even get you published in an anthology…!
I’m reading Londonopolis – A Curious History of London at the moment (thanks to my family for a great Christmas present). The author, Martin Latham, says, “You can read this book in any order, or leave it in the lavatory for the occasional reverie.” I can add another good use for it: silent entertainment for a case of Man Flu. It’s written in easy chunks (chronologically ordered), and so can be picked up and put down as fitfully as the suffering patient desires, with no loss of continuity.
It’s amusing and full of interesting oddities. It encouragingly takes on received historical wisdom: eg William Rufus was actually quite a good King (his Westminster Hall is a masterpiece), and the East India Company was in some respects better than the Raj that replaced it in India, and it had enlightened HR policies here at home (thieving employees would merely be publicly whipped through the street rather than be hanged or transported to the colonies). The illustrations are fun. While reading this the invalid won’t be plaintively and feebly calling to his devoted nurse for more lemon tea or more pillows or fewer pillows.
I was reading Daphne du Maurier’s excellent Rebecca (a 2016 Christmas present!), but felt that if I was already feeling sorry for myself that book’s atmosphere of tension and worry was hardly going to help. So Rebecca is on hold. Better something quirky that brings a smile.
There’s a fuller review of Londonopolis on the Turbulent London website, at https://turbulentlondon.com/2016/02/11/book-review-londonopolis-a-curious-history-of-london/.
Nasty germs apart, a Happy New Year to all ninevoices’ readers!
I should stop reading novels set in the 18th century.
The other dark evening I went to join a group of family and friends at a pub on our local common, a little way from the road and reached by an unlit path lined by bushes on one side. On arrival I announced that I had arrived safely, unmolested by footpads. None of the seven people present knew what I was talking about; none know the word ‘footpad’. Was I referring to something bought in the footcare section of the local chemist?
Had I said ‘mugger’ I’d have been understood but my announcement would not have had the intended jocular effect. (Not that being a footpad’s victim would have been any less unpleasant than being a mugger’s …)
So, repeating the question Maggie asked last week in her posting https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/does-historical-fiction-need-purple-prose/, should a historical novelist use a word contemporary with her or his setting but unknown to most readers today? Would they look the word up, or skate over it and guess at the meaning; or would its use be off-putting? Hmm.
This little exchange between my other half and my stepson was posted back in December 2015 – but I don’t expect much will have changed in the interim. Opening Christmas gifts from one’s menfolk is always full of surprises…
(A telephone rings)
OH: (Shouting up the stairs) I’ll get it! (Mumble, mumble, mumble) Okay, I’ll find out. (Shouting again) It’s Andrew! What do you want for Christmas?
Me: (Shouting down the stairs) A scarf would be nice. Something floaty. A soft, pinky mauve…
OH: She wants a scarf. What? Oh, blue, I expect.
Me: (A despairing shout) No! PINK…!
OH: (Fading towards garden) What did you think of Saturday’s match…?
Have a great Christmas everyone, with lots of creative surprises.
Here’s a question – should I use ‘colourful’ language to convey life in the eighteenth century?
The prologue of Jessie Burton‘s debut novel, The Miniaturist, about to hit our TV screens on Boxing Day, is as rich as an embroidered sleeve and transports you to the affluence and dissipation of her chosen time and place:
‘words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot and the church’s east corner is crowded…guildsmen and their wives approach the gaping grave like ants toward honey… The church’s painted roof…rises above them like the tipped-up hull of a magnificent ship. It is a mirror to the city’s soul; inked on its ancient beams, Christ in judgement holds his sword and lily, a golden cargo breaks the waves, the Virgin rests on a crescent moon.’
Okay, I can’t hope to match that, so would I be safer sticking to plain. twenty-first-century English, which can be equally gripping?
A world away from eighteenth-century Holland is the taut opening of Margaret Kirk‘s psychological thriller, Shadow Man, which won the Good Housekeeping Debut Novel Competition in 2016 and is set in contemporary Inverness.
‘By midnight there are bodies everywhere. Her tiny flat is crammed to bursting, but people are still stumbling through the door, waving packs of Stella or Strongbow and wrapping her in Cheerful beery hugs.
She doesn’t remember inviting them all – doesn’t recognise half of them, when she stops to think about it – but so what. For the last four years, she’s been juggling coursework with her shifts at the all-night garage, slogging away at her degree while it felt like the rest of the world was out getting laid, or legless. Or both.’
Using minimal description, this writing convincingly evokes a student party. There’s also that clever ‘bodies everywhere’, hinting at further – dead – bodies to come.* No wonder the novel grabbed the judges’ attention.
Yet few of us are familiar with Georgian London, so how am I to write my own book, The Maid’s List, without sounding like a pastiche of Georgette Heyer? Dame Hilary Mantel has written of ‘the need to broker a compromise between then and now’. Easier said than done, if you’re neither Mantel nor Burton.
On this blog we write about books, about reading and about writing, but never share our own draft efforts. Perhaps we should, since I believe it helps to see how others struggle to get their stories onto the computer screen. I’m therefore giving you an extract from The Maid’s List, complete with a touch of purple that I’m still working to eradicate.
‘I’m convinced these men are no better than my master, and wonder afresh what they do gathered around that table, with voices that seem to haggle like those of market traders. Silk-stockinged men, with gold-topped canes, sprawled in the worn leather chairs, with their knees spread wide and lace frothing at their cuffs. I rattle the glasses on my tray, to warn them I’m at the door. One of them has taken the pot from the cabinet and is pissing into it. He glances up from the yellow stream and grins as if to say, you’ll have the privilege of emptying this. Which, indeed, I will. Probably while it is still warm.’
As always, I suppose it’s down to the individual write to do the best she/he can. After all, the more variety there is in books, the richer the reader experience.
*Spoiler alert: having recently started Shadow Man, I could be jumping to conclusions here!
In my previous post giving the Second Sentence Christmas Quiz questions (https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/the-second-sentence-christmas-quiz/) I promised to reveal the answers today.
I now know that some people wish to tackle the quiz later and so would prefer me not to put the answers in public view before then. Accordingly, the answers are hidden in the Comment to this post.
Preparing the answers has shown me an egregious mistake, in question 14, caused by my imperfect editing. I’m so sorry! Grovel grovel.
We all know the importance of the first sentence of your novel. But I’ve never seen the experts talking about the second sentence. If you’re meeting up with your writing or literary friends this festive season, you could try this quiz on them. Answers on Tuesday.
Of what novels are the following the second sentences?
- Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall.
2 We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning, but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
3 Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.
4 Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
5 The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist.
6 Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?———Good G__! cried my father, making an exclamation, but taking care to moderate his voice at the same time,——Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question?
7 Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible, – or from one of our elder poets, – in a paragraph of to-day’s newspaper.
8 With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicking off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs Jones was already snoring.
9 Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
10 Ursula was stitching a piece of brightly-coloured embroidery, and Gudrun was drawing upon a board which she held on her knee.
11 However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
12 They [the moon’s silver rays] shone on turret and battlement; peeped respectfully in upon Lord Emsworth’s sister, Lady Hermione Wedge, as she creamed her face in the Blue Room; and stole through the open window of the Red Room next door, where there was something really worth looking at – Veronica Wedge, to wit, Lady Hermione’s outstandingly beautiful daughter, who was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wishing she had some decent jewellery to wear at the forthcoming County Ball. [Author and series of books sufficient here for the usual mark – extra marks if you can name the actual novel!]
13 A black servant, who reposed on the box beside the fat coachman, uncurled his bandy legs as soon as the equipage drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton’s shining brass plate, and as he pulled the bell, at least a score of young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows of the stately old brick house.
14 It couldn’t have anything to do with him, he’d been flying for days without sleep.
15 My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night.
16 I remember him as if it were yesterday as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white.
17 Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.