What’s in a Title?

Those of you who are kind enough to follow this blog may remember that a couple of weeks back I held my own referendum…er straw poll about the title of my collection of short stories. The winner was “Spook Me Out”.

I was not happy with the result. I protested. I argued that the demographics of the poll were skewed (as were the participants after copious amounts of the juice of the grape). I pointed it that it was a meaningless collection of words and that titles need impact. In short, I wanted a recount.

Do you judge a book by its cover? Those who are said to know about these things say yes, the cover and the title are a big part of the decision to buy or not to buy. I tend to look at the blurb on the back but it is usually an intriguing title that catches my eye and preferably one that gives me an idea of the genre as well. Quite often the cover design leaves me cold. I’m never moved by the piccys of impossibly handsome muscle men with fine etched six-packs and thighs like tree trunks, wielding their swords with gusto. Well, not on a book cover anyway! Have you guessed by now that fantasy is one of my favourite genres?

Now let’s be serious. A few days after the results of my poll were in some of the participants sidled up to me murmuring that er…perhaps they’d got it wrong; they didn’t like the title any more and perhaps a rethink might be in order.

Much heartened by this chink in the voters’ armour I rethought. It is, after all my book. I have created and disposed of the characters within. Their fate is and has always been in my hands. Is this not the annual occasion when I assert myself? Yes, it is.

And so, a retitled collection of six short stories. It is a simple title – it describes the content. Let me introduce you to:

the sirencover

I was going to use the word ‘ghostly’ rather than’ strange’. Unfortunately the typeface I’ve chosen makes it look, at a quick scan, a bit too much like ‘ghastly’. I shied away from it. The reader might find the stories ghastly but my amour-propre won’t allow it.

Publishing day is now 8th May in the Kindle Store on Amazon and if any of you dear readers feel impelled to give the book a toot on your own social networks I shall be Uriah Heep-ish in my ‘umbleness and gratitude.

The Editor’s Oscars

The editing of my collection of short stories is now complete and to celebrate I had a little Oscar Ceremony. There were three categories. Are you ready for this?  Here is category number one.

Nominees in the category for The Most Over-used Word in the Collection:

  • Think
  • Wonder
  • Realise
  • Understand

And the winner is:

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This simple word appeared it its various verb and noun forms a magnificent 100 times in the twenty five thousand word collection. Brilliant!

Nominees in the second category for The Most Empty and Useless Word:

  • Rather
  • Somewhat
  • Then
  • Just

And the winner is:

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“Then” is of course an old friend of the Editorial Oscars and it is reassuring to see its appearance in this collection. An objection made by “Just” on the grounds that it wasn’t fair was overruled.

And finally, the category you have all been waiting for. The nominees for The Best Title award:

  • Haunting Tales
  • Spook Me Out and Other Scary Stories
  • The Haunting of Jacques Ferrier and other Ghostly Tales
  • Simply Ghostly

And the winner, chosen by a bunch of semi-literate, half-sozzled book lovers is – hang on a minute, let me find the right card…

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The judges chose this title for its modern, fresh feel and, as one voter expressed it – “gets away from all that gloomy Victorian stuff“. The author’s protest of “but I like gloomy Victorian” was met with uncalled for mirth and an unprecedented amount of catcalls and jeering. Needless to say, she was overruled.

I don’t know what you think. Does “Spook Me Out” do it for you? Let me know. Drop me an Oscar…sorry, no I mean drop me a line.

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PS “Spook Me Out” (whatever!) will be on Amazon at the end of March at an incredible, unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime little price.

Show Don’t Tell

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I spent last week back in England as a witness in a dispute over a right of way to the property I used to live in some thirty years ago. Given a choice between having a tooth pulled out and appearing as a witness I think, in future, I would opt for the visit to the dentist.

I had recently read “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Pulgisi  in an attempt to cure myself of the habit of infecting my writing with bland adjectives – of telling “he was angry”, rather than showing. So this experience provided me with an opportunity to observe and watch for cues – what poker players call “tells”, as to how each witness was feeling, all set within  the context of the courtroom.

The following are some of the notes I made on these lines during the proceedings. But first a brief description of the courtroom to give you some context.

Square room, bland cream and grey décor; wooden chairs set out with an aisle between them – protagonists  to the left, antagonists to the right. As we trooped into the courtroom, the court usher bent forward and quietly asked each of us “Appellant or Objector? Take your seat on the right/left.” I couldn’t help but think of the scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” – “Crucifixion, one cross each, on the right.”

One thing that could not be ignored in the room was the dais with the long bench behind which the judge sat in solitary splendour. Raised up above where we minions were seated it said, unequivocally to us – control, power, authority, I’m in charge.

Okay so on to the witnesses. I’ve given just three examples from my notes. They all relate to witnesses for the protagonists whom the counsel for the antagonists was cross-examining.

Witness One

Male, early fifties, the only male witness wearing a suit and tie. Took the oath in a steady, clear voice. Chose to stand rather than sit to give evidence; very upright, shoulders back. Listening to counsel’s questions he cocked his head slightly to one side, then straightened up again. Long, long pauses between question and his response.

My thoughts: calm, unruffled by situation. Did the “head cock” mean he was listening carefully? Perhaps he is slightly deaf? Did long pauses before responding mean he was choosing his words carefully; an unwillingness to answer; concocting a porky?

Witness Two

Female; early sixties; very chic. Strode to the witness stand; shoes squeaked on lino floor. Hands trembled a little as she held the paper on which the oath was printed; her voice quavered over a few words. Gave evidence standing up.  Voice steadied as she gave her testimony. When challenged hard by counsel a faint pink flush spread up her neck, voice trembled again. Played with a necklace she was wearing as she spoke.

My thoughts: nervous to start with but steadied herself. However, perhaps she was shivering and a bit cold? The necklace twisting – sign of nerves or fidgety and a tad impatient? The flush and wobbly voice – was she flustered; getting angry; embarrassed?

Witness Three

Female; late forties; smart/casual. Took a couple of visible deep breaths before reading oath. Gave evidence seated. Only witness to check, when asked, that the written statement previously provided was hers and that all the pages were present when given to her. When dealing with challenges by counsel  her voice dropped a tone and a Yorkshire brogue became more apparent. Sounded abrupt,  a little brusque but very definite about her evidence. Made good eye contact with judge rather than counsel when giving answers. Gestured with hands quite a bit.

My Thoughts: No-nonsense person. Meticulous? Confident?  Hostile towards counsel? Used the time to look through her written statement as a means of steadying herself?

So, as a writer what did I learn from all this?

  1. It reinforced something I’ve always known – that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. That is, to show emotions through body language we need to have a cluster of cues rather than just one and context is everything.
  2. It is possible to be sneaky and use a character’s body language to mask or mislead. I learned afterwards for example that Witness Two was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease which caused her hands/voice to tremble.
  3. The observation and interpretation of body language as an indicator of emotions is highly subjective.Would readers have the same interpretation?
  4. I would hate to be called for jury service!

 

So tell me, what would you have made of the three examples above?

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The Story So Far

I’m about to disappear for a week in the wilds of the west of Ireland so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recap on where I am with The Novel. I ‘m about three-quarters of the way through –   60,000 plus hand-written words – (I just cannot write direct to my PC…too many distractions) – building up to what I hope will be a thrilling climax.

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60,000+ hand-written words so far

It has been truly hard labour these past weeks. I have a track record of starting to write a novel and then throwing in the towel at about the mid-point as I always seem to lose my way. This time I have been determined to get past the mid-point. Now I think I know what the ending is going to be so I truly believe I’ll get to the finishing line. (sorry about the mixed metaphors!)

My “baddies” the vengeful Madame Ombrine and the inscrutable Oskar have ridden through the centuries, thanks to…oops no, can’t tell you that (but it’s not a time machine), lying, cheating, robbing and killing to arrive in France in 2013.  As a last throw of the dice in the game they have been playing they open the Nonesuch Club – a club for struggling writers.

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Are these the doors to the Nonesuch Club?

 

 

There they draw in my neurotic protagonist, Richard a writer of ghost stories who is broke, blocked and bedevilled by his past.

In the club’s writing room Richard finds he can shake off his writer’s block and, at the same time, lay some of the ghosts of his past to rest. But all is not as it seems and Richard becomes suspicious as other club members begin to disappear and ….That’s all for now folks.

So, a week exploring the Emerald Isle seems like a fair reward and I feel quite sure I’ll come across a heap of spooky stories to provide new material.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I have never been able to make my mind up about Ghosts and as a writer of spooky stories and things that go bump in the night this may seem a little odd, (but then I am a little odd). I think I may have had a few supernatural experiences; sometimes a place or building seems to me to resonate with times and people of the past – the battlefield at Culloden in Scotland was one such place; other times I have thought I saw someone or something out of the corner of my eye that just shouldn’t and couldn’t be there. Maybe there is a rational explanation:

1. Over-enthusiastic imbibing of alcohol
2. Over-heated imagination
3. Fatigue

There is just one experience where my rational jury is still out.

I was fifteen at the time and on an exchange holiday in France. I was thoroughly miserable at the time suffering an outbreak of teenage angst. After another day of trying and failing dismally to “fit in” with the crowd of posh teenagers on the beach who formed the circle of friends of my exchange family, I went to bed sore, sunburned and sniffing snuffles of self-pity. I shared my bedroom with Arianne, the seven year old daughter of the family with whom I was staying.

Sometime during the night I woke up. In the corner of the room was a huge ‘peacock’ chair, one of those woven basket-work affairs like a throne, and sitting in the chair was my Gran of whom I was very fond and who had died earlier in the year. She looked at me, smiled and said “don’t worry love, it’ll be alright, just be yourself.” Then she seemed to fade away. It was all very calm and not a bit scary.

I would probably have put this down to a half-waking dream or subconscious thoughts of my Gran were it not for the fact that my roommate, little Arianne asked me in the morning who the nice lady was that I was talking to in the night – the one sitting in the chair. “She had a kind face.”

My Grandmother

My Grandmother

Now umpty years later as I am writing spooky stories I still wonder – was it a ghost who came to comfort me? I don’t know but whatever it or who it was, my French exchange holiday took a turn for the better.

What about you? Do you believe in or are you a sceptic?

Short Story, Novella or Novel?

That was the week that was. Last Tuesday the editor’s report on my spooky stories came in, threw me a complete curve and left me in a tizzy – my poor synapses working overtime.

It started well –
“Like your style and what you’ve done with the stories”
“Very good writer, stories have real merit.”

Oh goodness I was having a warm fuzzy glow moment (actually a bit tearful) of pride.

I read on. She took each story in turn, made some very helpful suggestions and complimentary comments and the fuzzy glow began to turn into a flush to rival any of those crappy menopausal ones.

I arrived at the last few paragraphs. Here’s where the kicker came in. She suggested in effect that I turn the collection into a novella or even a novel.

“What” I shrieked at the computer screen. I’m writing short stories. I can’t do novels not even short ones. I have the evidence to prove it – three half written very dead ones mouldering away in a drawer somewhere.

But the damage was done. Stealthily at first, my brain woke up; then gathering speed it zigged and zagged through a zillion different scenarios. Ideas came; ideas went. What if? What if? Oh yes I could do this or that or even this and that. After a week of serious brooding I felt like one of those stupid chickens trying to hatch a pot egg. I used up a ream of paper drawing out scenes, new chapters, the mechanisms I could use, the new characters I could develop.

Hatching a pot egg

In the end I took last weekend off and painted a lambris clad (tongue and groove) ceiling a fetching chalky white. There was method in my madness because to paint lambris well you need to pay attention – all those little grooves that a roller misses have to be painted in by hand. It’s a boring job but takes my mind off more meaningful things and I’m working on the principle that my brain will be free to rove around on its own, unfettered by my attempts to coax and corral it.

For two days, whilst I played Michaelangelo and lay on my back painting the ceiling (sadly with no Sistine Chapel effects) I left Richard, my possible protagonist festering in the Nonesuch Club – a very unusual and select establishment. Will he emerge shoe-horned into a short story? Shall I give him more air time and expand him into a novella or shall I go for the big time novel?

I haven’t the faintest idea – the pot egg hasn’t hatched yet. I think I’ll go find another ceiling to paint.

Confessions of an Indie Author

With the, no doubt temporary, spirit of New Year zeal slugging its way through my hardening arteries I thought I’d review my writing progress over the past year. One book published and another on its way – not bad perhaps except for the niggling thought that if I managed my time better I could do more. Now, in an earlier incarnation, I wrote a book called Time for Your Life – all about how to make time to do the things you want to do as well as the things you have to do. It contains pearls of wisdom about how to deal with procrastination and displacement activities (P&D/A)- Time Thieves I called them. Here I’ll let you into a secret it’s a book on the lines ‘do as I say not as I do’. When it comes to the process of writing all my pearls about P&D/A scatter before the swine.

However, one things I am good it is making lists so I thought I’d share with you my top P&D/A activities.

1. Wandering down to the kitchen to make coffee and fossick for a snack. I drink so much coffee that I need to pee regularly hence creating two D/As at once. Smart eh?
2. Read the social media and snarl at all those peppy people who always have something to say for themselves
3. Play on-line solitaire in the belief it will at least keep one part of my brain working whilst the rest is AWOL
4. Check sales figures for my book Close to the Edge hoping that any change will motivate me. When these haven’t changed I resort to 1 above.
5. Do some housework which also helps to work off the few calories added by indulging in 1 above.
6. Look up rude words in my French dictionary so I can swear fluently at the be-pimpled adolescent who cut me up on the bend the other day.
7. Sit in the garden and pretend to think – my favourite when the weather is good.
8. Re-read (it’s called editing I think) for the zillioneth time the hundred words I have written and agonise over commas, full-stops, semi-colons.
9. Light up an illicit cigarette with my head hanging out of the window hoping the shutter won’t fall down and guillotine my outstretched neck.
10. The very last resort – do some unnecessary ironing – like the hems on towels that curl up after I’ve washed and dried them.

So there you have it – confessions of an indie author – all perfectly rational of course. How many of them do you share with me? Even better have you any to add that I could adopt?

Happy New Year everyone.