Ninevoices Summer Competition ends on Thursday, 31st August 2017. A mere 99-199 word story incorporating at least one of the endangered words associated with nature featured in our 22nd June post could win you £100. The entry fee is £5 and any profits will go to the charity PMRGCA-UK.
Seeing Kenneth Williams’ party piece Ma Crêpe Suzette on TV last week I thought it deserved another outing, for the sheer fun he has in putting the words together.
I’m old enough to remember Petula Clark and Sasha Distel’s greatest hits.
I’d love to hear the French/English version.
“‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …’ Clouds are not lonely. Especially in the Lake District where Wordsworth wrote that line. In the Lake District clouds are remarkably sociable creatures that bring their friends and relatives and stay for weeks. … It’s not that Wordsworth didn’t know about meteorology, it’s that he did know about metaphor.” (Mark Forsyth)
I distrust books that have blazoned on the cover, “I laughed out loud”. But in the case of The Elements of Eloquence – How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, I did too. My fellow travellers on the train to Rochester pretended not to notice.
In this book Mark Forsyth explains figures of speech (39 in all) used by writers good and not-so-good over the last 500 years, with examples and comment. Shakespeare, the Bible, William Blake, Leonard Cohen – they’re all here. This is a great read in its own right, and also a mine for the writer aspiring to write better.
Take Merism. This is when you don’t say what you’re talking about, but instead name all of its parts, as in “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health”, when you could just say “in all circumstances”…
Or Polyptoton, the repeated use of one word as different parts of speech or in different grammatical forms, eg Lennon & McCartney’s Please Please Me. Or the Bard in Richard II – “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”.
Enallage, a deliberate grammatical mistake – “Love me tender” works where “Love me tenderly” wouldn’t. Unadverbial Elvis.
When Mick Jagger, singing of his honky tonk woman, tells us that “She blew my nose, and then she blew my mind,” he is demonstrating his use of Syllepsis, where one word is used in two (or more) incongruous ways.
There are Transferred Epithets, when the adjective is applied to the wrong noun, as in Wodehouse: “His eyes widened and an astonished piece of toast fell from his grasp.”
We all know Hyperbole: Dashiel Hammett on a private eye: “He … could have shadowed a drop of salt water from Golden Gate to Hong Kong without losing sight of it.”
Philip Larkin’s most famous line, we learn, is an example of Prolepsis, when you use a pronoun before saying what it stands for. We don’t know who They are, until we’re told they’re Your Mum and Dad. Doesn’t work the other way round, does it?
‘The Fourteenth Rule’ – Mark Forsyth’s own term – is that a number can give an apparent significance. The “sixteen vestal virgins” in Whiter Shade of Pale work so much better than “several vestal virgins”. The Spirit that follows the Ancient Mariner’s doomed ship does so “Nine fathoms deep”. (What was so special about 54 feet down?)
And many more, as they used to say on compilation albums …
Great entertainment, and you’re learning while you laugh! Published in 2014 by Icon Books Ltd, ISBN 978-184831733-8 RRP £7-99
In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes, wrote Benjamin Franklin. Authors might want to add nasty reviews to the list.
Every novel that is ever published will get at least one bad review – that is, if it gets any at all. You cannot as an author please everyone.
But a critical review still makes for painful reading. You’ve done your very best and here is some stranger being rude about your work. It feels like a personal attack, and no amount of re-reading of praise in other reviews removes the sting.
Some critical reviews – however unpleasant they are to swallow – may be a good thing. They can point out weaknesses of which we’d been entirely unaware. This is useful constructive criticism, offering things to consider when writing our next novel. We can be very grateful for this help.
The nasty reviews where you can’t help thinking that the reviewer hasn’t bothered to read the book can be dismissed but they are still irritating. One less than complimentary review of my novel All Desires Known said something about its sleepy village backdrop, which struck me as odd as it’s set in a busy town with scenes involving the local theatre and mentions of Waitrose! Clearly I had failed to give enough sense of place …
Authors have a range of advice for coping with negative reviews. Worth remembering is that most would-be readers have learnt to be suspicious of nothing but praise and a hundred per cent crop of five stars. All those friends and relations roped in …
Iris Murdoch’s philosophical approach might come in handy as well. ‘A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia’.
You’ve slaved away at a short story and are really rather proud of it. Your writing friends have been complimentary and you like to think it’s as good as you can make it.
No thank you, say the fiction editors you send it to.
A nasty jolt to your confidence. WHAT is wrong with it?
In the film Mr Turner, there’s a scene based on a real life incident that took place in 1832. John Constable had been working away at his painting The Opening of Waterloo Bridge for about fifteen years, and was just putting the finishing touches to it in the Royal Academy gallery when Turner stomped in and painted a small red buoy in the middle of his own painting of Dutch ships in a gale. The splash of red instantly brought the painting to life.
It’s possible that one tiny tweak to a story – that splash of red paint – might be all that is needed. If only you had Turner’s unerring eye.
Adverbs, we are told by the experts, ruin our writing. They are the mark of the amateur.
There are fashions in creative writing rather like there are in cooking. (Just now chilli is everywhere; it’s hard to find a recipe or a menu choice without it. Not good if you aren’t too keen on a burning mouth and throat, but never mind, in a few years it’ll be some other ingredient). But is the wholesale rejection of adverbs here to stay or just the current creative writing bandwagon?
I don’t like feeling bossed into following a writing style recipe, but after having a go at getting rid of all the adverbs from a story I have to admit that the anti-adverb brigade has a point. I hadn’t realised how these -ly words had crept in – and weren’t actually needed. Lazy writing? Well, yes. Cutting them out or creating original images to give the same effect – even if this meant using several words rather than the one adverb – gave the writing a fresher, cleaner and sharper impact. It was also a surprisingly enjoyable and imaginative exercise.
I wonder if competition judges and agents stop reading when they come upon an adverb?
‘Hold it up to the mirror,’ said the tutor at the portrait drawing class.
I’d asked her to come and look at my work. It looked all right to me. Secretly, I thought I was doing rather well. I’d followed the usual advice of standing back from it every ten minutes or so. I knew that staying too close for too long in front of a drawing means you lose a sense of perspective.
I gave the mirror idea a go. A nasty shock. How could I not have seen what was now so obvious? Eyes too far apart, neck too thin, not enough back to the head. Errors that I’d missed, but which were clearly shown up in the mirror image.
A writing group can act as a mirror. How many times have I been grateful for the incisive comments of other writers. They’ve homed in on faults and omissions I’d never have spotted for myself. The value of other people’s ideas and suggestions as to how a piece of work can be improved cannot be over-estimated.
But there may be dangers. In a long-established group, familiarity with, and enjoyment of, the work of other members may make the mirror a little dusty. We may sit too close to the work being read to be as objective and sharp in our criticism as we once were.
On one level none of this matters. The happiness gained from sharing the whole business of putting words together and the generous encouragement of others must be worth more than anything. But it would be interesting to learn of the experiences of other writing groups. Any comments, anyone?
The excellence of the novels shortlisted for the Goldsmiths prize goes without saying. I am telling myself that I will try to read at least one of them.
That might be enough. Or enough without sandwiching them with other kinds of novels. For the prize’s remit is ‘to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form’.
Again this is an excellent thing. It’s good to encourage writers to explore, to experiment with art forms. Didn’t Jane Austen create a new kind of novel?
But I read through the accompanying blurbs for the shortlisted novels with a sinking heart. They all sound rather hard work.
I am not proud of these feelings. The pursuit of enjoyment should not be the primary reason for reading a novel, we should be looking to have our minds and hearts expanded, to be taken on a journey, to learn something about the world we live in.
But there’s the dread that there will only be the unfamiliar or confusing territory, and enjoyment will be in short supply or missing altogether. This is when I find myself reaching with a guilty hand for more ‘sunlit’ novels which tell a story in straightforward language. These may not win prestigious prizes but they don’t leave the reader feeling exhausted.
You need to get a literary agent because publishers won’t look at unagented submissions. This is what you were always told. It didn’t occur to you that things could be any different.
So you embarked on a time-consuming process of researching those agents most likely to be interested in your novel and meticulously followed their instructions. This usually meant a covering letter, a synopsis (the agony of this will need a post of its own) and the first three chapters. Then you waited, biting your nails, for their response requesting the full manuscript…
Sometimes rejections came by return of post or same day email (suspicion: had anyone read a word of your submission?!) sometimes several months later. Or never.
Given that some agents request no multiple submissions, in theory a new author might spend years working through a target list. A little dispiriting if you are in your prime…
Or even more frustratingly, an agent once landed can spend months failing to sell your book to a publisher.
A strong-minded piece in the November issue of the ever-helpful Writing Magazine comes as happy light to the weary. It overturns the old advice. In a Q & A section, it’s suggested that nowadays other routes to publication (CreateSpace, Smashwords etc) are as valid and may be more effective than the traditional one. The rewards can be instant, in both financial and publicity terms. No agent fees, and commercial publishers might come knocking at the door. In short, searching for a literary agent can be a waste of time.
Get an agent and get published? Maybe not.
‘Don’t forget that the last sentence in your essay is the one that the examiner reads before he awards you a mark!’ – the warning once given by a canny English teacher.
An earlier ninevoices post commented on the advice given to writers about how first lines need to grab a reader’s attention. In short stories the last line is probably equally important – and difficult to write. There is no time for a gradual wind up of the story, the ending must come suddenly, like a ruthless slice of the knife. Ideas for openings and closings with their essential element of shock, surprise and fulfilment – these are often the initial inspiration for an imagined short story. But it’s interesting that some writers say they delete sentences from their original beginnings and endings to achieve a slicing effect which resonates and haunts the reader’s mind.