Sunday, 30 May 2010

Alan Sillitoe RIP

I just found out that Alan Sillitoe passed away on 25 April (no thanks to my local paper - I saw the obituary in The Economist for last week). I can't remember if I read The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner first, or saw the movie first. But that film was the first time I'd heard Jerusalem sung by a choir; one of my favourite hymns and poems. I'd like to read his autobiographies.

Here is Blake's poem:

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant Land

Friday, 28 May 2010

A Weather-related Snippet and Another End of an Era

Right in the middle of the rainstorm and microburst we had on Wednesday, I started a weather-related snippet thread on the forum. Here is the excerpt I posted:

[Three] days after they had parted from the knights, when they were well into the mountains, the snow fell. Arcturus had expected this, and bidden them each to carry an extra faggot or two of wood, in case they could not readily find dry wood to burn or any form of shelter from the wind. As they were skirting the villages, they were not provisioned with donkeys or fur cloaks or any other supplies with which those crossing the mountains might normally be equipped.

Rose, in fact, had never seen snow before in her life. As the grey skies lowered upon them day after day, she had expected fog and rain, with all the dampness that was in the air soaking beneath her clothing, so that she was chilled even as she walked. But, though Arcturus and Uncle Levi had talked of snow, and kept shooting wary looks at the banks of clouds about their heads, she was taken by surprise when the first flakes brushed past her nose.
Suddenly the ground was covered and the wind was rushing sideways, pelting snow into her ears and billowing up her cloak.

Arcturus bade them halt in the first shelter they came across, an overhanging rock that made a miniature cave they could all huddle into, away from the gusting wind. There was barely space left in which to attempt a fire. Rose squeezed in next to Tante Rita and rubbed her hands up and down her arms, watching the whiteness drive past the mouth of their shelter. As if it couldn’t make up its mind, the snow blew first this way then that, in thick chunks and small flakes, falling now like a hard rain, now drifting along like laden bees.

No one spoke, except when Uncle Levi remarked that it seemed early in the year for snow, that he’d never seen a storm like this in [September], and that he’d wager there was worse to come before they were off the mountain. No one replied. Rose remembered the morning she had woken to find herself at the foot of another mountain, covered in mud. If I’m separated from everyone for a second time, I’ll never travel anywhere ever again, she thought. Eyes still on the snow, she envisioned finding herself in a mountain village, taken in by kindly strangers, living there for the rest of her life, with no news of her family, or Uncle San – Father – or her aunts and uncles. She’d marry, have children. The villagers would always refer to her as ‘the stranger’, but she would never leave.

Arcturus would come looking for her, she realised, and it was comforting to be certain of that fact. Would that she was as certain of Joseph’s intentions!

Yet another reason to clutch my head and moan that England isn't what it used to be and therefore, by definition, the world is going to hell in a handbasket: All Souls College, Oxford, is abolishing the one-word admissions exam. "The exam was simple yet devilish, consisting of a single noun (“water,” for instance, or “bias”) that applicants had three hours somehow to spin into a coherent essay. An admissions requirement for All Souls College here, it was meant to test intellectual agility... Past words, chosen by the fellows, included 'style,' 'censorship,' 'charity,' 'reproduction,' 'novelty,' 'chaos' and 'mercy.'" says the New York Times.

(PS - Here's Stephen Fry's latest, wherein he comments on the poisonous lower-body comment trails of YouTube videos and the like.)

(PPS - Today's drop cap reminds me of Beverly Cleary's Ramona stories, specifically Ramona in kindergarten, pulling Susan's curls and going "Boing!")

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Speed Writing - A Novel in Three Days

Give or take.

A little while ago, I came across this bit of information in the introduction to the Folio Society edition of Crime Stories from The Strand:

"Edgar Wallace was another wildly careless writer, extraordinarily prolific - he wrote eighty-eight crime novels and much, much else, and tossed off one book in thirty-six hours non-stop - who yet was a gripping story-teller."

One book in 36 hours? Or there's Michael Moorcock, whom India posted about, who tells you how to write a book in three days.

One book in three days? It's slightly more feasible than 36 hours, but planets would have to align, free lattes and single malts would have to flow, and I would have to be home entirely alone with a broken internet connection, for that to even be remotely possible.

Says I, who's due to start a writing marathon soon!

Dorothy Sayers Quotable Quotes

Couple of writing-related quotes from the brilliant novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers:

"In the meanwhile she had got her mood on to paper - and this is the release that all writers, even the feeblest, seek for as men seek for love; and, having found it, they doze off happily into dreams and trouble their hearts no further."

[Harriet Vane talking to Lord Peter Wimsey]
"'But if I give [my character] all those violent and lifelike feelings, he'll throw the whole book out of balance.'
'You would have to abandon the jigsaw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.'
'I'm afraid to try that, Peter. It might go too near the bone.'
'It might be the wisest thing you could do.'
'Write it out and get rid of it?'
'I'll think about that. It would hurt like hell.'
'What would that matter, if it made a good book?'"

Has your story hurt you lately?

(47 followers! Thanks everyone! 50 day marathon coming soon...)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Dear Lucky Agent Contest

Guide to Literary Agents is hosting a contest; the theme for this round is science fiction or fantasy. But only the first 200 words of your novel are eligible!

Here are the first 200 words of The Face of A Lion, slightly tweaked, for my contest entry:

Austin met the cat on his first day in Kusadasi.

Bored with helping his parents clean their villa, he set out to explore. He was standing at the boulevard’s edge, watching the waves crash against the shore, when an unearthly howl filled the air. It came again, a long-drawn out screech, close at hand.

Austin ran to the crossroads, skidding to a halt before an empty lot. Among the weeds, two kids crouched over the prone figure of a grey cat. One gripped its front paws as the other tied tin cans to its tail. The cat wrenched and jerked its back legs.

"Hey! What’re you doing?" They shot each other shifty glances but ignored him. He took a step forward, as if to grab the cat and, as one, they released their grip and ran off.

The cat crouched low, eyes wide and ears taut, but did not move as Austin approached. If it would just trust him… Slowly, he bent and untied the twine binding the tins to a tail puffed out and crackling with electricity. He stroked the cat between the ears and, to his surprise, heard the low rumble of purring.

"Thank you,” said the cat.

Enter before tomorrow!

Monday, 24 May 2010

The 50 Followers Marathon

Woo, I'm at 44 followers! Thank you everyone!

A little while ago I promised myself that if I hit 50 followers I'd do a 50 day marathon to *gasp* Finish. The. Novel.

Heck, and maybe even come up with a title, finally. Rose, 1492 isn't quite cutting it any more.

So, 6 followers to go. And then the promised marathon starts...

Anyone want to join me? No daily word count, just the goal of writing every day. Butt in Chair!

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Easiest Way to Donate Books

Ze info:

From May 3-28, BlogHer and BookRenter "are working to make a difference in children's lives by generating new books for children who need them most -- via the nonprofit organization First Book.
Want to help? For every answer we receive in the comments to the following question, one book will be donated:

What book has had the greatest impact on your life?" Comment here.

It's hard to focus on just one book. I've reread so many that had such an impact on me between 5 and 15: The Lord of the Rings, Charlotte's Web, A Handful of Time, From Anna, Death on the Nile, 1984, A Wrinkle in Time, The Dark is Rising, and so on and on. The only theme or link I can find in common between most of the books I devoured as a youngster is that most, if not all, of them took place during or between the wars. Somehow, the events of 1910 to 1945, the ordinary people that became heroes, the generation that suffered so much, left a profound impression on me that continues to this day.

What book changed your life?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

One Sentence Game

Putting off for tomorrow what should be done today leads to a jam-packed four day weekend; no, not sour cherry jam, more like traffic jam.

I joined this game off Tricia at Talespinning who got it from Suzyhayze at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness. Write a one sentence post and link back to her.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Let's Talk Blogfest - Dialogue Snip

Join us for the Let's Talk Blogfest, hosted by Roni at Fiction Groupie. Click on the link to see all the bloggers who've joined and to comment on their snips.

Here's one of the most important dialogues in Rose's story - the moment when her Uncle Santiago, a sailor with Columbus, tells her the truth. Rose has joined him on the Santa Anna on the day of his departure:

Uncle San stopped walking and leaned on the rail, peering closely at her. “You can’t come with me, I’m afraid. There’s barely room for most of the crew and Senor Colon is quite particular over his arrangements.”
She nodded but continued to dwell on the freedom of sailing away, to watch the shore sink slowly behind one and to find only the horizon ahead, day after day. She leaned beside her uncle on the rail, looking after a school of [tench] passing beneath the clear water, tails flickering. “No chores, no responsibilities...” she murmured.
“No chores!” Her uncle laughed, waving a hand at the men scurrying to and fro behind them. “Yet I know what you’re trying to say. Sailing does not seem a chore. The work is certainly backbreaking, but there’s many an evening of smooth sailing, under fair winds, with a warmth in the air rising from the sunwarmed wooden planks heaving beneath you... then the men gather to tell stories, sing songs...”
He had been staring across the water as he’d spoken, but now shook his head, as though sloughing off a dream, and turned to face her.
“We haven’t much time, and this is not what I meant to discuss at all.”
Something in his voice made Rosa pull her eyes away from the flickering fins and look up at him. Uncle San had turned around, so that his back rested against the rail, and his arms were crossed before him, as though he was cold. Cold, in August! She put a hand on his arm and felt his tremor at her touch. What was the matter? Could he possibly be afraid that he might not return from this voyage? That was absurd; as long as she'd known him - all her life - he'd always come back.
"Rosa," he started, staring at his sandals. "This voyage of Senor Colon's... It might take... a long time to return. He wishes to find an alternate route to the spice lands." She nodded. They'd talked about this on that winter night months ago, when Uncle San had first mentioned the voyage to her family.
"You always return, Uncle San. Even if months go by. You'll bring us back presents, won't you?" She asked, hoping to bring a smile to his face. He had never once returned empty handed.
It worked, for an instant. A flicker came into his eyes, then disappeared as his gaze met hers.
"Do you know why I always return, Rosa?"
"Why? But you're family! Of course you would return!"
"Family, yes." He growled, suddenly, in his throat, startling her so that she dropped her hand and stepped back. Uncle San angry?
"Family," he repeated. "Well, I am that. Rosa, I'm your father."
When Uncle San had announced at dinner that he would be sailing with Senor Colon to find an oversea route to India, she had noticed her mother and father clasp hands under the table. When her father had announced that the family would be leaving Spain forever, and travelling to Constantinople, her mother and father had once again held hands. Now, despite the fact that Uncle San's announcement made no sense, she reached out a hand for his.
He grabbed her fingers, wrapping them in both rope-roughened hands, and repeated himself. "Rosa, I am your father."
This time the words reached her heart, which closed its doors against them. "No, you're not!"

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Ideal Writing Environment - and Middle Earth

Coffee and lots of it!

As part of her blog tour, Kait did an interview recently on The Nature of the Beast, talking about her ultimate writing environment. Mine would involve cats, a view of the Mediterranean or Aegean from a very clean, very bare villa room (of the hardwood floors and white draperies variety), someone else to do all the gardening, a huge professional barista machine so I can make all the lattes I want, lots of gorgeous notebooks and pens, a fast laptop with unlimited memory and internet access, and some travel money so I can attend conferences and fairs and workshops. And that's just for starters!

One of the fairs I'd attend would be the Middle Earth Weekend, going on this weekend at Sarehole Mill in Birmingham, to practice my archery, see the places where Tolkien lived, and so on. Maybe next year...

By the way, Jessica Hische, who's drop caps I've been gleefully using for weeks now, recently had a couple of my favourite drop caps featured in an article in Real Simple!

If you do nothing else this weekend, don't forget to check out our Forum House Party, the seventh such event!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Unusual Research Topics

Question: what's the strangest item you've ever researched?

Kristen recently posted a sample of the topics she’s researching for her latest work in progress, noting that someone who didn’t know she was a writer, or wasn’t aware of the story elements, might start wondering about the strangeness of her Google search history.
Mine might look a little something like this:

Caves in the Mediterranean region
Cistercians vs Benedictines
How to defeat or outrun Saracen pirates
What fruits grow in which seasons?
Medieval and Renaissance meteorites and volcanoes
Was chivalry dying out by the end of the 15th Century?
Monetary systems and “passports” in the Renaissance
Sailing without a map or compass
How to dress as and pretend you’re a nun
Leather shoes and how long they might last

One area of research that overlaps my wip and Kristen’s: names of saints. Who’d have thought?

Probably the strangest item I’ve ever researched (whether through Google or at the library) is the best way to set fire to a manor house and, for The Face of A Lion, sacrificial rituals at the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Middle Grade Books, Contests, A New Book and Wodehouse

Keeping with Children's Book Week, Susan Adrian has a list of books for Middle Graders.

Marsha's book has a cover! Take a peek here and vote on how catchy you think it is. At the same time - prolific author that she is! - she's guest blogging at India's about her guide book 24 Hours Paris, released today by Prospera Publishing! Enter the Me And My Big Mouth contest to win a copy!

And, Justine's hosting a 110 followers contest, where you have to submit the worst one-line blurb about a book. Here's my terrible blurb for Rose's story: teenage girl has angst, struggles with family and religion.

Finally, Joel Stickley's been doing another round of homages on How To Write Badly Well; today it's P. G. Wodehouse.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Kait Nolan's Forsaken By Shadow

Kait Nolan recently published her novella Forsaken by Shadow. Here's my Amazon review, reprinted below:

I also read this as a beta reader, and came to the story in some trepidation, as it's not my usual genre and I was wary of encountering character types and storylines I might not understand. But whether you're an avid fantasy fan or not, FORSAKEN BY SHADOW will have you hooked from the first page on. The action starts right away and the characters are well developed and interesting. Very well paced and with just the right amount of explanation on the supernatural elements. I'd recommend it!

Now she's hosting a blog contest! All you have to do is review the novella and comment about it on the contest page. Grand prize is a 10$ Amazon gift card. And which of us readers couldn't use that?




Monday, 10 May 2010

Celebrating Children's Book Week

No shortage of events in the next five days, in celebration of Children's Book Week.

Better World Books has an awesome sale on children's books.
The Children's Book Council has a long list of recommended books.
If you're in Montreal, support the 80th anniversary of the Montreal Children's Library.

The official website has many fun links, to puzzles, a contest, Children's Choice Book Awards finalists reading from their books, and story starters, including one by Lemony Snicket and one by Katherine Paterson:

"I'd be the first to admit the fact that I've done plenty of things in my life that have gotten me into trouble, some I've even regretted, but I never imagined a simple..."

Friday, 7 May 2010

Friday Five

Meme time! I've been tagged by Talli!
Here're the rules: Answer 5 questions 5 times and then tag 5 people to play.

Question 1: Where were you 5 years ago?
(my answers span the summers of 2004-2006)
On vacation in England and Scotland and Wales and Turkey
Planning my wedding
Reading Diana Gabaldon’s books for the first time
Joining the Compuserve Books and Writers Community
Starting to write again after not having had any inspiration for a couple of years!

Question 2: Where would you like to be 5 years from now?
In a new house, possibly by the water, possibly in another country
Possibly with a puppy, which my cats will get along with
A gardener (I can’t say ‘a better gardener’ because I’m not any kind of gardener at the moment.)
With an agent! And with a book deal!
A regular attendee at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference – and meeting some of my forum and blog friends

Question 3: What 5 things are (were) on your to-do list today?
Comment on blogs posts and put up a new post
Write a new scene
Revise my query letter (ugh!)
Finish reading research books before the library sends someone out to wrench them from my hands (yes, they’ve been renewed a few times too many.)
Think of what to have for dinner, buy the groceries and make it. Any suggestions?
(Oh yes, and go to work.)

Question 4: What 5 snacks do you enjoy?
Dark chocolate (99%) with coffee
A bowlful of apples
Olive bread with butter
Tortilla chips

Question 5: What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?
Leave work and focus on writing full time
Sail along the Mediterranean and travel more (and visit Talli’s vineyard!)
Finally fix up one room in our house as a real library and not stint myself in buying books
Get a farm, including sheep, alpaca, etc. for spinning my own wool, and grow organic plants (including lavender, olive trees, etc.)
Home school

Tag 5 people:
Claire, Jen, Rachel and Kristen

And anyone else who feels like answering questions.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Why Are You Writing/Reading YA?

Over on her blog, India has asked an interesting question: why are you writing/reading YA?

I find it easier to answer why I *read* YA rather than why I write it. I don't really like the labelling that goes on (YA, MG, etc.); I have to follow the rules while querying (and will certainly have to do so if I get published and start marketing), but it seems to me that the best books are loveable by everyone. Adult critics read these books and other adults - whether parents or not - read their reviews, if not the books, so why do we bother with labels at all? Among others I'd recommend The Lord of the Rings or Charlotte's Web or Anne of Green Gables, not to mention The Giver or The Wind in the Willows, to readers from 7 to 77! Someone said something about YA books being shorter - what? Shucks, the longer a book the better, and that's how I felt when I was a kid too!
None of that quite answers why I read it, however. I think I appreciate how clear cut the morals are. I like the way experiences and adventures seem new to the characters; I like watching them discover the way the world works. That said, I certainly don't pigeonhole my reading by category - I read 'em all.
And why do I write it... I certainly didn't start out writing YA. I wrote short stories when I was younger but my first two novels were romances. Somehow I gravitated towards YA. I wish I had a better explanation than "the characters that spoke to me were young" but that's essentially what happened. The "moment of change" aspect is probably the most compelling reason. Here's a good summary of the beginning from Paul Auster:
"Well, the fact is I never know where my books come from, and I never go out looking for ideas. It all seems to happen in a way that has nothing to do with me. One day something is there that wasn't there the day before. If that something is interesting and compelling it tends not to go away. Generally speaking, I'm looking for a way not to write the book. Only something that is so powerful, forceful, and overwhelming to your imagination that you actually want to live inside this idea for months or years to come is going to hold up. So you keep pushing away at it, and if it doesn't fall down it usually starts to grow."

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Critique of My First Page

Guess who's on Fiction Groupie today? Austin and Kedi from The Face of A Lion. Read Roni's critique and comments from other readers here. And thanks to Veronica for linking to it!
I forgot how much I missed being in Austin's head and world. Perhaps when I've completed the first draft of Rose's story I'll return to Austin's and go through another round of edits.
And he'll definitely be coming to the next house party! Scroll down to message 25 to see Claire's helpful links to all our previous parties.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dialogue Blogfest!

Fiction Groupie is hosting a blogfest on 18 May!
Rule #1 is "On Tuesday May 18, post a short excerpt on your blog of your most sparkly dialogue scene (no, I'm not talking about Edward Cullen). It can be anything dialogue-heavy--a laid-back chat, an all out argument, a flirty conversation, two friends ribbing each other--whatever. The options are endless."
Go here to sign up and see the rest of the rules.
Can't wait to choose a scene from Rose's story.

In other - very exciting! - news, Talli Roland is going to have a book published in 2011!

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at