Reading

I read quite a lot. All sorts of books and stories and many of them inspire me to write. I’ve always been a reader although my parents never read to me as a child. It was just my way of escape. Escape from bullies; from having to get up; from having to go to bed; from life in general.

I had a ‘normal’ working-class upbringing by ‘normal’ working-class parents who worked hard to provide me and my siblings with food, heat and a decent roof over our heads. Nothing unusual happened and every day was much like the last one. I think that’s why I read, why I wanted to escape. To slip off into much more exciting worlds than my own. They are all out there, just step into a library and see all those worlds.

I was always being remonstrated for reading under the bed covers via torchlight. My mother insisted that I would go blind as she was an advocate of having as much bright light as possible. I’m no longer a young man and my mother has long since passed away but if she were still here I would have to remind her that I didn’t go blind. Well not so far anyway, but I did so enjoy those adventures with pirates, smugglers and spies. Writers such as John Buchan, Daniel Defoe and Alexander Dumas we’re the stuff of my late night reading. Just another page I would tell myself but that quickly became another chapter until finally I succumbed to sleep until woken at some early hour to get up, wash, dress and grab a piece of toast before off to school to endure education.

I have always been convinced that I learned far more from those wonderful books than I ever did sitting in a classroom, bored by a teacher telling me that my life would be irreparably damaged if I didn’t learn the Periodic Table or sines, cosines and tangents. I have never had to use a slide rule in over fifty one years of full time work or much of what was forced to learn.

So I’ll continue to read fifty plus books a years and write whenever I can. I still love to slip off into those worlds which are far more interesting than mine. I will continue to learn and educate myself by reading. It should be compulsory for everyone.

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

I don’t usually review books, well okay maybe just one or two when I’ve found them really readable. This book is so good I can’t understand why I haven’t already read it. Now I have, I think it’s one of the great works and the best of Steinbeck.
I read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ last year and although I enjoyed it, it was a bit depressing. The setting and the era we’re pretty depressing also. The Grapes is generally known as the authors best work but for me, E of E is far superior. It also has its sad moments and its fun times too but it so well intermingles the lives of three families who come together in the Salinas Valley just after the turn of the 20th century.
Life is hard for them but there is an underlying feeling of optimism throughout the book. It’s not exactly a ‘feel good’ story but is quite uplifting at times. Maybe I was feeling particularly cheerful when I read it but it was a really interesting read. I like the way Steinbeck builds visible characters that stay with you throughout. From the military father who treats his two sons totally differently to the Irish decent father who sees the faults and the promise of each of his children.
For me, it was a very satisfying read.

 

 

 

 

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

What a gem of a book this is. It’s funny, scary, sad and happy and really well written. I was surprised to find that the author is a woman as the chief protagonist is male. We follow his hap hazard childhood with his gang of friends through to adulthood. With all the stresses and tensions of life thrown into a small Southern English town. Well paced and written and a pretty original storyline which keeps the reader, well this reader, interested and wanting more right up until the last page. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down but feel a bit lost because it’s ended.

To say this is a first book from this author I would suspect there are many more to come. I, for one, will eagerly await the next one.

Reading Your Novel on a Kindle

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I have recently discovered this trick. For anyone who is writing their first, second, third, tenth great novel and are at the stage where they are reading its first/second/whatever draft then this could be for you. I used to have a Kindle tablet but now just use the Kindle app on my iPad and Android phone and it works great on these too.

You can actually send your unedited masterpiece to your Kindle and then read and annotate it, just as you would if it was an ebook you had purchased.

One of the great advantages of using this method is that:

a. It’s easy to do.

b. It looks like a book.

c. It’s in book reading format

d. It’s free

The last item is a real bonus as there is also no paper cost or printer ink. If you prefer to print and read then that’s fine. You could still use this method after you have done that level. The choice is yours. All you have to do is to email to your (Or someone else’s) Kindle email address. Each Kindle account has a unique email address which you’ll find in the settings of the tablet/app. Then you simply attach your novel to an email and send it that address. Sync the Kindle and there it will be for you to work with.

You can find full and detailed instruction on the Amazon website for your individual country.

Why not give it a try? Can’t hurt.

Novel 1st Draft Completed

Today, I am so pleased with myself. I have finally completed the first draft of a novel. It’s taken a while, well years in fact. On and off but more off than on. 97,000 words and a start, middle and an end. Yes, the end was the hardest part.

It was a totally unplanned piece which started out as a germ of an idea, propagated by a news event. Excited in the beginning, I wrote day and night the ideas flowing and characters taking on a life of their own. Midway it began to slow a bit and so I put it down for days, weeks even whilst I busied myself with other things. Anything but not that. One day I read what I had written thus far and a few ideas let me go back and add some new scenes which, I felt, would hook the reader into the story more. By the time I had 60,000 words plus I was beginning to run out of steam. Emails, social media and news pages became more important than writing my way out of the middle towards the end.

That was my problem, I didn’t know how to end it. I have read so many novels which are suddenly ended and felt cheated because I, the reader, had been manipulated. That was not going to happen to my masterpiece. Never. So I needed to get to the end in logical steps and, hopefully, leave the reader surprised but happy. How could I get from here to there without cutting corners? So I tried a new tactic, I wrote the end or what I thought the end should be. All I needed then was a believable way to get from the middle to that end.

Then one morning, early (I get up early usually) it came to me whilst I was in the shower and it all became so much easier. So that’s it, the first draft done. So now I have set a note on my calendar to begin the editing process. 1st October it is then.

I don’t know what will happen to it. It may well be so bad that it remains stored in Dropbox forever, never to see the light of day. Or I might send it to some agents or publishers or I might try my hand at self-publishing.

All that doesn’t really matter, what matters to me at the moment is that I’ve completed it. I know there is still lots of work to be done but I have the frame, the structure to add to or take things out. It feels good today.

Novel Planning

I’ve never really been a story planner and that was one of the reasons why I failed to get past 17,000 words or so in my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. There are several trains of thought on this.

Planning your novel ahead of time increases its likelihood of being dead on arrival.

Says The NY Book Editors.

But now I’m not so sure that this is sound advice for me. I completely understand that what works for some doesn’t for others. Pantster writing, (writing by the seat of your pants, or the process of letting your characters dictate what happens next) has worked for me for many years when writing short stories, but less so when the work gets over about 5,000 words and over 50,000 words forget it. A change is needed.

So lately, I’ve been looking at different planning aids that can help me with this. Obviously, every story requires a beginning, middle and an end for it to work, so a simple triangle can show this. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the triangle as the left side rising as the Introduction, the top point as the Crisis and falling left slope as the Resolution where the conflict of the story is resolved. This can be seen in any scene of any play or novel. It’s commonly known as Aristotle’s Unified Plot Structure.

Is this an oversimplification of what we use?  What about all those other parts that make it complete?

I recently came across Freytag’s Pyramid which is built on Aristotle’s triangle but adds two more levels to become five stages. Introduction where we meet the characters, setting, time and establishes the atmosphere of the story and something of the conflicts. The story arc moves onto Rising Action where the reader begins to sense the escalating tension. Usually, this is where obstacles are introduced and secondary characters are introduced into the mix. Then, the story reaches its Climax where we find if a change is for the better or worse, depending on the type of storyline. After this, the story begins to fall away and enters the Falling Action stage where the characters either win or lose and the suspense is further ramped up by unexpected events all building towards the Conclusion or the end of the story. Sometimes the reader learns what has happened to the characters after the end, sometimes we are left to guess.

If I do enter NaNoWriMo again this November I’m going to try Freytag’s Pyramid and see if that works for me.

 

Book or E-Reader?

So what do you think? It seems that all of a sudden, to me anyway, the prefered reading source is fast becoming the e-reader. I’ve seen lots of other people using them but never used one myself. It’s a pity that the manufacturers don’t give a fourteen day test period so I can try one. My friends and colleagues who have bought them all say, without any dissenters, that they are excellent; but are they justifying another purchase which will end up on a shelf or at the back of a cupboard or are they a real breakthrough? I’d like to examine the evidence and try to be as impartial as I can be, so I thought I might look at the pro’s and con’s of them both. I do have some Kindle and Kobo books on my laptop but I have yet to read more than a couple of pages.

E-Reader – (From what I am told/read)

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Can hold thousands of books
  • Adjustable font size
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to read screen
  • Some have built-in dictionary
  • Some books are free or on offer
  • It’s another electronic gizmo
  • Needs charging from a power source
  • You can’t pass the book around once you’ve read it
  • It’s not a book
  • You don’t get that impression of how far through the story you are
  • After working with computers all day/evening – would I want to curl up in bed with another type?

Books – (From my experience)

  • Available almost anywhere
  • Low cost (Generally – especially if you buy second-hand, as I do)
  • It’s a book – feel, smell and the page turning experience
  • Never goes flat – doesn’t need charging
  • Simply bookmarking it allows you to see how far into the story you are
  • You can see what others are currently reading, when on the train
  • Continual source of reference
  • Looks good on a bookshelf
  • Exciting to browse amongst
  • Can be bulky and heavy to carry, especially when travelling/holiday etc – hardbacks particularly
  • Fonts can be small and difficult to read in low light
  • Pages can fall out in some circumstances
  • Can be defaced

So looking at the evidence, I can see a place for the e-reader, particularly for people who travel a lot or are going on holiday. But unless someone gives me one I can’t see the additional costs of an e-reader tempting me away from the real thing; for the time being anyway.

What about you?