Monday 30 June 2014

Feedback in the contemporary literary jungle,

In the contemporary literary jungle n o writer can survive without positive feedback 

 - Therefore every positive review is a lifeblood and must be to be celebrated, So I cannot resist posting here just part of the latest Amazon Review of Journey to Moscow: The Adventures of Olivia Ozanne:

 '... Relationships are very important in this novel. We have the mother/daughter relationship that can be fraught at times, the love of the two Aunties which has lasted for decades, Kendrick who is an unpleasant character and hasn’t treated Olivia well and the relationship between Olivia and her son, who goes through a hard time with the police. The relationship of Olivia with her own mother has been very difficult and when her mother dies, she is in a quandary. Once again, she makes her own decisions and takes no account of the views of others. She does what she feels is right. This is a fascinating and very readable novel and I have thoroughly enjoyed it....' 

So here's a special thank you to G.A. and thank you to all readers out there who take the time and trouble to reflect on the page about a book they have read and enjoyed. Thank you especially for keeping the lifeblood flowing through this writer's veins!

On Amazon, of course.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Mary's Garden opens for Marie Curie.

Even buttercups find a place
 in Mary's garden.

I had a great treat on Saturday afternoon organised by the Bishop Auckland Branch of the Marie Curie Organisation - part of their national series of Blooming Great Tea Parties 

 Mary Smith - an original  member of Wear Valley Writers - opened her exquisite garden to raise funds for this excellent charity.

 I went at the invitation if my Room To Write friend Gillian Wales who also has an exquisite garden which she will open for the National Gardens Scheme on July 6th.

Another treat in store...

The garden meanders down a slope
is structured around mature trees originally
 plated by Mary and her husband/

The hostess - a gifted gardener and a good writer 

The garden is planted to surprise you with
contrasting colours and textures  

Achemillla Mollis tumbling onto the path.,

Symbol of the Marie Curie Blooming Great Tea Party 
- made from a beach ball.

Tender contrasts

Home made cakes for the Blooming Big Tea Party.

This reminds me of a fairy dell.

A poppy leads the eye.

Dramatic perpendicular scene 

 The afternoon raised more than £350 for the Marie Curie Charity.

 Planting for colour, direction and contrast

Delicate mixture 

Pergola on a green pathway.

Pink flowers like stars.

Large pool, elegantly postioned,
perfectly planted.

Wild planting by the small pool.

Thank you Mary. It was a privilege to be there. Wendyxxx

Saturday 21 June 2014

Book Covers and Novels in the PInk.

At my Middlesbrough workshop last week (great venue; lovely  writers) the perceptive Lorraine said to me, 'All your books are different from each other aren't they, Wendy? They all look different.' She paused.'When I have enjoyed one novel I like to move onto something similar. I can't tell whether yours are similar or not.'

She has a pint. You can see that each novel looks different from the books illustrated here on the right hand sidebar.

I didn't have time to tell Lorraine that in one way - the style, the attitude, the sense of character, the sense of history - my novels must indeed be similar. I love my characters; they are all original and live for and with me. And - without  necessarily intending to - I demonstrate my preoccupation with  recurring issues of identity, justice and the impact of history on the individual. And  creative, deeply characterful women and men are often at the  centre of my stories.

Though each book appears to be different  I feel that, if a reader has enjoyed one of them, it is very likely that they will enjoy another. I am asking them to trust my name as a good storyteller.

But Lorraine certainly hit a chord. I find myself these days to be  on a one  woman campaign against the fashion in  pre-digested literature and the  commodification of writers and their novels.

Pre-digested? Commodification? In this today I find myself very much in tune a great article on the Guardian Book Page**

'...the market is increasingly being shaped by sales and marketing people, rather than editors and others who actually know what a good book is. So if a book does well, during the next two years you'll see many echoes of that book on the shelves. The once kaleidoscopic book world risks becoming 50 shades of safe. If you are writing a book that doesn't fit into the categories of mass-market thriller or book-club friendly WI-lit, then it is going to struggle to find a publisher. If it does so, then it will struggle to find a publisher that can justify spending the marketing money needed to make an impact...'

So I will continue to write novels that - although written my me in my idiosyncratic  literary style - are different to each other and not pre-digested  so that my readers don't think they know the story before they have read it. My great ambition is that  each novel is a fresh experience, fresh fun, fresh insightt for my readers as it is for me. 

That being said perhaps there might be  something in what the marketeers say about covers!

  I noticed that at this same workshop the novel of mine  most picked up and most bought was Journey To Moscow,  which has a distinctive pink cover -

This made me think that if I made all my covers pink then in that way they would look somewhat alike and would encourage readers like Lorraine to trust me and read another novel of mine.

So here is an experiment. I've had mocked up a pink version of my novel Gabriel Marchant, originally in grey Here they are., Does the pink version make it seem more fun (it is fun)) and/or more accessible?

Are you attracted to this?

Or this?

Or does the colour of the cover make no difference at all? Let me know. I would value your opinion WX


Saturday 14 June 2014

The Writer and the Heroic Character.

 In these days of ambiguous main characters in novels it is interesting to note that the universal notion of heroes and heroines still survives in successful (ie good selling) fiction. 
The great challenge or the serious writer is to characterise proper heroes and heroines without resorting to stereotype. Characters in the Cinderella/Portia/ Becky Sharp/Elizabeth Bennett & Bridget Jones tradition can easily sink into stereotype: (We may look to Molly Bloom for more complexity). 

 Equally for heroes we have fore-runners such as Henry V/ Achilles/ Tom Jones/ Mr Darcy/ Geronimo & Blade to fall back on. (We look to John Rebus for more complexity)

All writers - so called 'literary' or so-called 'other' – make use of such forerunners.
One might argue that we all make use of them, whether we know it or not, because such characterisation is built into our collective subconscious One might also argue that the most popular novels find favour with the general public for that reason, as they share this collective subconscious. 

This is why good popular fiction crosses national and international boundaries with ease. It accounts for universality of appeal from Pat Parker to Catherine Cookson.

In the rigorous editing of two of my own recent novels I have become more aware of the way my own subconscious interprets these heroic traditions.

For instance in my historic novel Lines of Desire  I note (to my surprise)  that  sometimes I show heroism in action:

“…Kynan drove his horse forward in pursuit, followed in a second by Magnus. The boar lumbered into a narrow clearing and hesitated, swishing backwards and forwards between the trees. That was when, spear in hand, Kynan let go of his reins and stood up in his saddle, manoeuvring his horse with his calves. Closer to the boar he balanced his spear and launched it hard, so it embedded itself, quivering, in the creature’s neck, making it lurch to one side, squealing. In a second Kynan drew his second spear and aimed that very close to the other one.  Blood spurted upwards in a scarlet fountain that reached the branches of the nearest tree and started to drip down, back onto the squirming beast, which now whimpered and gurgled.  But still it twitched with desperate life.
Kynan leapt lightly rom his horse and stood before his prey. He looked up at Magnus. ‘Your honour?’
Magnus shook his head. ‘Finish your task, Master Kynan. The kill is yours.’…”

Here, Kynan, brother of my heroine Elen is shown in violent action following the traditonal the role of action hero.  But in the last line Magnus – Macsen Wledig – the true hero of the novel – shows heroism in his mannerly and politically acute restraint.

In writing for a wide public I have found that I seem to have realised that the modern reader needs to see their heroes and heroines. (Once one has seen the film of Pride and Prejudice it is impossible to  read about him in the book without the image of Mr Darcy emerging from the water, his shirt clinging like a second skin. (So far, so not Jane Austen…)

And we see Macsen first through the eyes of Helen, the central character of the novel. (This piece of prose works in two ways: we see Macsen; we also hear Elen’s voice):

…Now the man comes into the light. My honeycomb head notices everything about him in a
Elen is a Pathfinder 
second. But of course he’ll never realise this. Not now and not later.
I focus on a clean-shaven, wind-bronzed face under thick black hair threaded through with silver. He’s quite old, perhaps as much as thirty-five years. Even more. He’s as tall as Kynan but more thickset. He wears his hair forward in that foreign way, held in place by the thinnest of golden bands. His thick black brows almost meet over a thin, finely arched nose. Beneath them his eyes, bright and blue as cornflowers, examine me.
I put my hand on Snow’s neck to quiet him but I too smell danger. Rape and violent attack is always a risk in this situation - not just with Caesar’s men but with our own men too. A lone woman is easy game for hunters. My cloak of invisibility can’t be relied on in situations like this…’

And we first see Elen herself through the eyes of Macsen’s best friend Quintanius, not Macsen himself:

“…There at the edge of the clearing I blinked very hard. This girl was as beautiful as the morning and fashioned from light and air; her face was white as ivory, her gleaming fox-coloured hair was caught in a long loose plait. I know now that she was seventeen years old, but that morning, as we looked at her, she could have been just thirteen or fourteen, so young and fair was she.
My own heart lurched, but I know now that Magnus too was touched by the sight of her. His face – normally so sharp and alert – softened. A smile played around his tight lips. We pulled up our horses behind the broad trunk of an oak tree and he jumped down, landing lightly, without a sound. He looked up at me, winked, and handed me the reins.
Of course that was before we saw her walk on fire and before she gathered her hosts to take on Rome. We will get to all that but first here is Elen to tell you her own story of how she came to be there on that day, fateful for Rome and for Britain too...”
Get the novel

NEXT - Heroes and Heroines in 

Gabriel Marchant: How I Became a Painter.

Monday 2 June 2014

Fact and Fiction. Gabriel Marchant:How I became a Painter

I’ve spent more than a month now putting the final touches to the revising, writing and re-editing of my very long novel Gabriel Marchant: How I Became a Painter. This painstaking process has been necessary because I feel this must be my best novel. Room to Write has published it, using the invaluable Createspace process, where much of the responsibility for the quality of the end product lies with the author. In the past this seemed much more straightforward as I worked for a long time with a big publisher where whole departments attended to the details which I have now attended to myself in collaboration with the Room To Write team

People always say, about a new novel, what is it about? This is always a difficult question to answer in one sentence.

 ‘There is no doubt that fiction
makes a better job of truth.

Doris Lessing

Here is what it says on my cover:

'It is 1963, the day after the assassination of President Kennedy, the eminent painter Gabriel Marchant pays public tribute to his late mentor Archie Todhunter. He reflects on his early days when, as an out of work miner in 1936, he met Archie, the charismatic warden of The Settlement, an arts centre in his home town.
           At that time, unemployed and feeling very low, Gabriel is rescued by the encouragement he finds at The Settlement, where people out of work are inspired by Archie Todhunter and the enigmatic German Rosel Vonn, a sculptor and artist who teaches there. Travelling with Gabriel on his journey are his best friend Tegger, who will become a writer, and the clever, witty schoolgirl Greta who will change lives in her own way.
           Later, both haunted and inspired  by images of life and work underground, Gabriel’s paintings finds first local,  then national fame and his life is changed forever.
          As he tells the whole tale of how he became a painter Gabriel Marchant celebrates the liberating nature of art in hard-pressed lives and the role of people like Archie Todhunter, those magical change-makers in lives like his own....'

Gabriel’s own story is fiction but it  springs out of my personal experience of a particular place at a particular time and my research into the true experience of people whose lives were changed in such a way.

In my dedication I say: This novel is dedicated to all those whose lives impelled them to dig in the darkness, who still found the grace there to create beauty. In particular I honour the inspiration of the art of Tom McGuinness, Ted Holloway and Norman Cornish, in addition to the literary inspiration of the writer Sid Chaplin. All of them, in their unique fashion, flourished as young people through the magic of the Spennymoor Settlement.

I have published this book to coincide with the magnificent Shafts of Life Exhibition - masterminded by Gillian Wales and Robert McManners – currently on at the Bowes Museum in County Durham. 

In my own mind I was writing a story which came to  me and which I felt compelled to write. Committed to Gabriel. Tegger, Greta, Archie, Cora, and Dev, I wrote their story from the heart.

But during this long revision and rewrite I have discovered that, threaded through my story, are my own sense of history as an element of place and my own fundamental ideas about inequality, social justice and the triumphs of personality over circumstance.

And, most importantly, my story is about the liberating outcomes of practising one’s art, whether it is expressed through paint on canvas or in words and stories on the page. In their creative processes both painters and writers are, I feel,  driven to arrive at a greater truth.

The vivid paintings in the Shafts of Life exhibition are an enduring proof of this. I hope that this also applies to this novel, as it may apply to many of my other novels. As Khaled Hosseini says of writing, ‘Writing Fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.’  

The exhibition shows the great art and the greater truth of individual miners’ perceptions of their work and their environments.  I hope my novel about Gabriel Marchant  shows the greater truth about the interior and exterior lives such artists lived.

Doris Lessing has said ‘There is no doubt that fiction makes a better job of truth.’ In the same way the paintings in this exhibition make a better truth of the miner’s experience than any so-called factual documentary film.

Perhaps going to see Shafts of Light and also reading  Gabriel Marchant: How I became a Painter would allow people to access a more complex truth. I hope so.

, ‘Writing Fiction is the act of weaving 
a series of lies  to arrive at 
a greater truth.’ Khaled Hosseini 



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