When I was a young girl, my parents bought me a sweatshirt with the words ‘Born Beautiful’ adorned across the front in rainbow coloured abandon. The sentiment was heartfelt and intended to build my confidence, so I wore it with pride and consequently exposed myself to ridicule from my peers. In effect, this bold gesture had the complete opposite result and made me want to hide my ugliness away from the world; shelter the naivety that couldn’t cope with the cruelty of children.
There is something about fiction that scratches beneath the surface of the superficiality of the media’s portrayal of modern life, something about the inner light shining through, the untapped beauty that resides in us all. Only the power of storytelling allows us to reach for that light. The enduring quality of classic Fairy Tales continue to inspire writers and entrance readers throughout time. Based on myth, legends and folklore, they gave rise to the fantasy genre and survive in many different forms. One such example that has gained phenomenal popularity of late is Beauty and the Beast. Not always obvious to the reader, who is nevertheless swept along by the classic plot structures and themes; think Twilight and Fifty Shades.
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Three months after the alleged suicide of supermodel, Lula Landry, her brother hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate her death. Strike and his ardent temp are then dragged into a world of dysfunctional families and highly strung celebrities in their pursuit of the truth.
A great title, interesting cast of characters and an intriguing mystery which promises much more than it delivers, in my opinion. Would I have picked this up in a bookshop had I not known that the author Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling? Perhaps, given that I have a penchant for the London backdrop and that both the cover and the blurb are highly appealing. On top of that is the endorsement by Val McDermid on the front. However, about a third of the way through I began to wish I had bought one of Val’s books instead.
It is not as well written as the latter Harry Potter books or A Casual Vacancy, which leads me to wonder whether this is an earlier work that has been kicking around in a bottom drawer for a number of years. Characters are up to the usual JKR standard – one of her strengths in my opinion – and the plotting was pretty tight, although a bit predictable in places. There were none of the startling revelations and appallingly nasty characters that have peppered her previous works. When I read The Casual Vacancy, it was clear to me who the author was, despite it being a very different book. Had I not known, I don’t think I would have guessed that The Cuckoo’s Calling was a JKR. Perhaps my expectations were skewed by her previous work, but I kept waiting for that unique JKR twist that just didn’t happen. It is very much a traditional detective novel, which is fine, but I do think that the crime genre has moved on enough to accommodate that ingenuity that has made JKR so universally appealing.
Would I read a second Robert Galbraith novel? Perhaps, but I appeal to the author for more development of the relationships between the characters and less of the detailed detective info dumps.
Just my opinion, of course…
Just received news that I have been selected as one of 9 runners up in a crime writing competition run by Pan Macmillan and the award winning author M. R. Hall, who was nominated twice for the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for best novel of the year and is also a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter and producer, having written more than forty hours of prime time drama for BBC 1 and ITV.
The competition was opened up after completing a fantastic online course where M. R. Hall reveals his Seven Secrets of Successful Crime Writing.
Following the online videos, tips and worksheets has inspired me to complete my first crime novel and provided a much needed structure to a story that I have been struggling with for some time.
Thank you, M. R. Hall and Pan Macmillan for this fantastic opportunity!
Kit gets more than she bargained for when her starcruiser is drawn into orbit around the lost planet of Stakis Ventura, where she finally learns the secret behind its mysterious disappearance… (read more)
In this article from Futurebook, Chris McVeigh, digital publishing consultant considers the idea of Vertical Publishing.
Publishing as we know it is rapidly changing and any organisation, be it publisher, bookseller, retailer or writer alike, needs to adjust their business plan to take account of these changes. Read the rest of this entry →
Long after the lights were turned out, when young impressionable teens should really have been asleep, we used to sneak downstairs, me and my siblings. We raided the fridge for munchies in the middle of the night and settled down in front of the TV for the Hammer Horror double bill.
My own stories straddle the genres of SF/Fantasy and Horror. Until I read this article about Hammer, I had almost forgotten this early influence on my imaginative writing.
Nothing much was produced by Hammer after the 80s, but the company was bought in 2007 and have started producing films again. Most recently, The Woman in Black. Some of their older titles are now being restored for release onto Blu-Ray, like Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Plague of the Zombies, The Mummy.
Hammer Books, their publishing imprint will be releasing new novelisations of their classic films, in addition to titles from Graham Masterton, Jeanette Winterson and Helen Dunmore.
Hammer returns… horror creeps back to the forefront.
Anne McCaffrey’s books were some of the first SF/fantasy novels I picked up from my parents’ bookshelves – long before I ever had the notion that I might be able to write a halfway decent story myself. I was saddened to hear that she passed away earlier this week and wanted to pay tribute to the difference she has made to so many lives with her fantastic fiction.
I can’t deny it; I love books. I love the grainy texture of the paper, the crisp new smell of a paperback fresh off the shelf. I love the weighty feel of a book in my hands, the variety of cover designs that tease my imagination. But all this is surface detail, like the gold foil wrapping on a dark chocolate truffle. At the end of the day, it is the words that transform me; deliver me straight into the consciousness of the author. It is a game of two halves, a meeting of minds, words nudging my brain to make connections and experience an alternative existence in my own inimitable fashion.
There has been a lot of debate lately about the ‘end of the book’, alluding to a paradigm shift in the world of publishing. But when we talk about the book being ‘dead’, we surely mean the book in its physical form and all the trappings that allure you to its content and add to the anticipation of the delight that lies within its pages.
We will always have books, because there will always be readers like me who – despite being a huge fan of e-books – will stand in awe of the library and book shop shelves, mouth watering, fingers itching, mind bursting with a world of possibilities. The book will live on for the same reason that a good bottle of claret should be decanted, left to breath, then poured into the perfect shaped wine glass before being savoured. The book is not dead; long live the book.
I participated in a workshop last weekend, entitled ‘Plot – what plot?’ during which the facilitator, Anne Patrick, talked us through different plot structures from the classic – beginning, middle, end, through the 5 tier plot (now taught at GCSE) to an 8 tier story arc (Nigel Watts). We did some interesting exercises, but it all seemed very formulaic to me and it got me wondering what methods other writers use to plot their stories and novels. So here are few that I uncovered.
Stephen King: How to write in the Observer (01.10.00)
“The basics: forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation’. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.” Read more..
Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award shortlist nominee, on plotting short stories. A guest blog on ‘The Other Side of the Story’ with Janice Hardy.
The Shamsie Method (Kamila Shamsie, from Mslexia issue 45)
“Don’t do plotting beforehand; starting is very intuitive. ‘Here’s an idea, here’s a voice in my head – let’s see where it goes.’ For 20 or 30 pages, just bounce off in whatever direction.”
Neil Gaiman on the ‘loose approach to plotting’ – mikeshea.net
The Thomas Method (Scarlett Thomas, from Mslexia issue 36)
“Plan everything. Plotting is like planning the perfect bank robbery. You need to take care of all possible contingencies so you don’t get caught out.”
Other weird and wonderful ways of plotting:
The NaNoWriMo Way
I once read (a long time ago and I don’t know if this is true or not), that David Bowie used to write song lyrics by cutting out words and phrases from newspapers and throwing them into the air, then arranging them in whatever order they randomly landed *!?*.
Interestingly, I recently attended a workshop on writing drama, facilitated by Donna Franceschild (creator and writer of ‘Takin’ over the Asylum – BBC TV 1994 – great viewing if you haven’t seen it before…). We all had to write down 3 unconnected pieces of dialogue and throw them into the centre of the table. We then mixed them up and picked 3 each at random, then paired up. Each pair then created and acted out a scene using their 6 lines of random dialogue, trying to create a background story. Fascinating stuff (acting skills notwithstanding) and it really highlighted the power of subtext.
And finally, in How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, you can explore “200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published.”
Disclaimer: The views and methods described in the links above are not necessarily those shared by the author of this blog; use with extreme caution and don’t blame me if it all goes horribly wrong. Plot, what plot?