Thursday 26 March 2015

Checkout staff say no to Chief Constable: Why York is fruitful ground for fictional adventure

This is the real York: A gruesome history, the longest medieval town walls in England, a pub for every day of the year. What’s not to like? Here is the merest sprinkling of York facts...

  • Margaret Clitherow’s history and gruesome death in 1586 was served up to us in school. A martyr for Catholicism her severed hand is exhibited at the Bar Convent in York. She was canonised in 1970 and has a shrine in York’s famous Shambles.
  • St Peter’s School in York does not take part in the traditional burning of effigies on Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th, because Guy Fawkes, born in the city, was educated at the school.
  • York has many pubs, it is said that you could visit one a day and not return to the same place for a year. 
  • North Yorkshire police officers have hit the headlines for unusual reasons – Chief Constable Della Cannings tried to buy wine in her local supermarket in 2004 whilst still in uniform. The checkout staff refused to serve her until she removed her hat and epaulettes. It was at the time an offence to sell alcohol to a police officer on duty.

This is where the real York morphs into fictional York: The North Yorkshire Police were established in the mid 1970s. The headquarters are at Newby Wiske near Northallerton and get a passing mention in the books. Maybe some future plotline will invade headquarters but the action in Buried Deep centres around fictional officers stationed in York.

York is irresistible as a setting for a novel ... any novel. And with its rich history it’s also a fertile ground for contemporary fictional crime which is how Buried Deep found its focus. Read a review here.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fusion – a peek behind the scenes

An illustrated book of short stories came out last year. It had previously been available only as an ebook. It’s a great collection – I reviewed it when it came out – and the illustrations add a new, quite unexpected, dimension.

Following the original publication I had the enviable job of interviewing the authors and uncovered a wealth of amazing admissions, surprising secrets and fascinating insights. To celebrate the illustrated version I thought I would draw them together here and share them again. 

Follow the links to learn about:-

The illustrated anthology is available from Fantastic BooksPublishing.

Saturday 14 March 2015

What is it with Show and Tell?

Show don’t tell? I hate seeing that in writing guides or hearing it in writing courses. It’s shorthand, it’s lazy, it isn’t good advice. Show and Tell do different things. They’re both good in the right context and can wreck a piece of prose if you get them wrong, but show isn’t somehow better than tell, it’s just different. Sometimes you need to show the reader what’s happening and sometimes it’s best to tell. The trick is to know when and why to show or tell.

What does 'show' do?
  • Show keeps the viewpoint close behind the eyes of the viewpoint character. The closer you show, the closer the viewpoint.
  • Show brings the reader closer to the action.
  • Show is great for dramatic sequences, for keeping the reader at the edge of her/his seat.
Where ‘show’ is not so good
  • Show is not so good for the more mundane moments. There’s tedium in real life; people don’t read fiction to be immersed in a boring moment.

What does 'tell' do?
  • Tell distances the reader from the action, and sometimes that’s just what is needed.
  • Tell pushes the viewpoint away from the character, makes it more distant, less personal.
  • Tell is the way to allow the reader and the characters a breather after a moment of high drama.
When not to ‘tell’
  • Tell is not the technique to use to involve a reader in a high tension moment.

There’s a short article called Milking the action and emotion: never summarise the dramatic moments that pulls together some of these ideas. It’s from the launch of The Writers’ Toolkit which contains other articles, worked examples and the live critiques that were done during the launch.

The Writers’ Toolkit is available from FantasticBooks Publishing

Saturday 7 March 2015

Review: Edge of Arcadia

Edge of ArcadiaEdge of Arcadia by Ken Reah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edge of Arcadia is the debut novel from artist Ken Reah. It tells the story of Aiden Hamilton also an artist and teacher. This is a book about relationships, Aiden and his wife Cathy in a marriage that has become humdrum at best but with a dark undertone. When Aidan becomes infatuated with Louise, a student at the college, the book sidesteps the well-trodden territory of the relationship triangle. On the face of it we are presented with the older man, the much younger woman, and the wronged wife, but the relationships in this book go deeper. There is a dark thread running through the story involving Aiden and Cathy's relationship with their eldest daughter.

Aiden’s guilt at his affair runs alongside his guilt at being unable to repair a breach in his family or even to confront it in any constructive way.

The story of the central characters is built with realism. There are no artificial devices to bring added drama to the story. The complexities within the networks of people provide crises enough as the different relationships develop or deteriorate, through passion and high drama to sometimes predictable and sometimes shockingly unexpected catastrophes where the different strands of Aiden’s life pull him in impossibly different directions.

Reah avoids the usual clich├ęs. The revelations when they come are not dressed up in unnecessary drama but show the slightly sad reality of real people pushed unwillingly into situations they can’t cope with.

Edge of Arcadia is a long book, the paperback which I read being far too heavy to take on long journeys. With hindsight, I’d have bought the ebook, but I’m glad I own the paperback for the wonderful artwork (from one of Reah’s own pictures) on the cover.

I didn't read this book quickly. It drew me in slowly, bit by bit as the various strands interwove and unravelled. Because we always saw the world through Aiden’s eyes we never saw him objectively in the eyes of others, only as he saw himself or as he perceived others to see him. The reader is left to judge the real Aiden from Aiden's perceptions of the emotional rollercoaster that he both revels in and desperately wants to get off.

Likewise it is Aiden's perceptions we see of his wife Cathy. Is she the wronged wife? Has he somehow pushed her into becoming the woman we see on the page? Some of her actions seem to demand heavy censure yet Aidan struggles not to judge her too harshly. And yet at times it seems to be the guilt of his affair that lets her off the hook for some appalling acts. It is not only Cathy’s actions but some of the actions of the student Louise that are hard to comprehend, but Aidan can't comprehend them and so neither can the reader.

Reah does not fall into the trap of moralising over anyone's actions. He takes us through the entire journey with Aidan and leaves us to judge, to empathise or not, to lay our loyalties where we choose. It is a gentle read with some moments of high passion and high drama. It provides a rich emotional landscape which mirrors some beautiful descriptive prose of the rich landscape of the North East of England where the book is set. It’s a very good read.

View all my reviews

Thursday 5 March 2015

If self-publishing is the question, this is NOT the author solution

Piracy comes in all shapes and sizes these days and is a means for one group unfairly and often unlawfully to extract money from another. The rise in self-publishing has been seen as a great opportunity by more than one very dodgy outfit. But it’s particularly sad to see that hitherto respectable organisations are now allying themselves with these shysters.

Author @DavidGaughran takes the lid off the collaboration between the notorious Author Solutions and Barnes & Noble in an excellent article entitled Barnes & Noble’s Dirty Little Secret.

Author Nate Hoffelder, editor of @InkBitsPixels raised concerns last autumn in his article about Barnes & Noble in which he listed the clues to Author Solutions' involvement along with Barnes & Noble’s shyness in admitting who their partners were in this venture. 

David Gaughran and Nate Hoffelder weren’t the only ones raising concerns. Lawyer and blogger David Vandagriff also wrote last autumn about the shortcomings of Barnes & Noble’s new scheme, noting that the ‘add-on packages’ which started at an eye-watering $999 caused him ‘to think of Author Solutions’ 

Barnes & Noble’s coyness in admitting who they were dealing with rang alarm bells from the start. Author Solutions didn’t even get a mention in their press release about their new author services. Could they have been unaware of the class action that has been running against AuthorSolutions since 2013? An unforgiveable lack of due diligence if they were.

No doubt Barnes & Noble have been feeling the pinch, but scamming the authors who are the foundation of their business is not the way forward.