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Friday, 29 April 2011

Children’s authors that had an aversion to children.

OK, a (little) bit tongue-in-cheek this one, but…
I’ve recently been reading up on famous traditional children’s authors, and come to some interesting revelations

1) Aesop, of Aesop’s fables fame, was a convicted embezzler and apparently renowned for insulting almost everyone he ever met, including children. The story goes that he was thrown into the sea because of his sarcastic and derogatory attitude and behaviour towards his pears.

2) Hans Christian Andersen, was apparently a notorious rogue and generally disliked and distrusted during his lifetime. I have read him described as ‘the type of person more likely to sell a child rather than read to it.’ One tabloid-newspaper of the day even accused him of ‘dining on human flesh,’ although this may not have been a literal accusation!

3) Lewis Carroll. Ah, yes even Mr Dodgson may have some skeletons in his closet. Although reported to dislike babes and small boys, Mr Dodgson did have affection for little girls; some autobiographies have speculated that this fondness may have had inappropriate routes.

4) Beatrix Potter, was apparently well known as an ardent ‘child hater’ and has even been accused of assaulting, often very young, children. There is one famous incident of her telling a young Roald Dahl to “buzz off” when he approached her.

5) L. Frank Baum, author of the seminal ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was apparently an ardent white-supremist, who advocated the total annihilation of the indigenous American Indian population, and saw no reason to spare or indoctrinate their children into ‘White Civilization.”

6) Dr. Seuss, real name Theodor Geisel, had an ambivalent if uneasy relationship with children at best. It was never proven whether or not the childless Geisel actually disliked children, although his ‘wary behaviour’ towards them was often noted and commented upon. He has been recorded as saying “What might they ask next?” and “What might they do next?”

So, a goodly bunch of warm-hearted child-friendly individuals they were not!
Obviously I’m not judging all child-fiction writers with the same yard-stick here, but it does make you wonder why they chose to write the books they did!

Do you know of any more?

Kidlit for Grownups

I’ve been reading some blogs recently and have come to a bit of an epiphany about my writing.
I feel like I should be standing up in the middle of a group or something and saying:
“Hello, my name is Garry, and I write Kidlit for grownups.”

So how have I come to this startling discovery? Well… Once upon a time, a young man started writing stories. He didn’t particularly know where or by whom these tails would be read, and he didn’t particularly care. He wrote about the fantastical things that interested him. He wrote to escape the mounting pressures that came hand-in-glove with early adulthood. But most of all he wrote because he wanted to.
He wasn’t very technically proficient at it, some say he still isn’t, but that wasn’t the point. He still remembered that wide-eyed imagination of childhood, well enough to capture it with pen and paper… Oh yes, he used pen and paper, computers were in their infancy back then, and he didn’t own a typewriter. There weren’t many typewriters around in the small mining-village where he grew up.

He wrote of adventure and of life as he saw it, and he still does, even in this very blog.
Since those early days that young man had grown up, and relatively old. He had gone through college, got married, and has read a fair amount of ‘Literature,’ in his life, and invariably thought ‘fine, but where’s the story?’

As I said it was only while reading other peoples comments in their blogs that I realised I had always been re-writing those adventure tales of my youth.
On one hand what I write can be seen as closely following the constructs of ‘traditional children’s literature,’ in the sense of the type of books that were intentionally written for children up to around the age of twelve: just before the teen thing kicks in.
But I’m also writing for myself and for other adults, in that I put adult emotions, fears, and desires into my work. I try to make ‘real’ characters that don’t always do the ‘right’ thing. I suppose I do have a morel in there, if you look for it, but it certainly is a shade or two away from the black-and-white morality of those old children’s stories.
This is perhaps why ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has stayed with me throughout my life. On the face of it, it is a simple children’s story, but on re-reading an older person may see beyond the surface to a slightly darker world-view.
I’ve noticed that my more recent work has concentrated in bringing this under-darkness out into the open. A sort of “Outed Alice,” now there’s a title I should think about!

So is there a market for this type of writing?

 Is the recent mainstream shift towards the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ type of YA orientated writing an indication of people’s desire to (re)read those old-style adventure stories of their youth? Or is the recent fantasy/wizards/vampire phenomenon a symptom of something else?

I’d say my stuff is a bit more edgy than the HP, Twilight stories. I’m trying to point people at the grey-areas a bit more, but still have that ripping-yarn quality. Perhaps I’m not there yet, but I will keep trying.
I’m still not entirely sure where to market a lot of my work, but the advent of e-pub looks like a possibility. The major problem there is getting people to notice a needle in a needle-stack! The thing is, now I do care. I want to know if someone likes my work, or hates it, or is utterly ambivalent. Ether way, I care.

“Hello, my name is Garry, and I’d like to know what you think…”

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Writing is Stat-tastic…

 My heart thumped hard against my chest as I moved towards the featureless black oblong. I licked my dry lips and peered closer. My nose hovered but inches away from the smooth mat-surface as it burst into life, filling my vision with a myriad of shifting colures and shapes.
I opened my mouth, but could only squeeze a thin rasp from my dry throat.
“My God, it’s full of stats.”

And so begun my journey into the world of self-promotion and publishing by numbers!

How closely have you looked at all the information you can gain from the internet? I have to admit to, at first, being a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of statistical information available from my blog, e-publishing, and various other web-sites.
‘Do I have to make sense of all this,’ I asked myself. Then I mentally shrugged and made some coffee.
Like most things I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. I think it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the numbers, and you could easily spend almost as much time monitoring all this stuff as you do writing, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them ether. I’ve learned some interesting things about my writing from watching the statistics.
For example, I’m writing in UK-English, but most of my readers are American. Most of my e-published stories are not being downloaded for the Kindle, and the vast majority of my personal web-site hits are not coming from my blog (not that my sites get much traffic anyway!).
Some of this I may have guessed, some not.  Possibly the only thing that most people want to know from their starts in how much money are they making, and that’s as fine and noble a motive as any other, but you may want to take a closer look at some of those other numbers to help you top-up the important ones.

‘Know your audience.’ I’ve been told that on numerous occasions. Well, through my somewhat meandering but nonetheless fruitful use of my blog and e-publishing stats in particular, I am beginning to do this, and I think they are turning out not to be who I initially assumed them to be! That is a very good thing. I can tailor my writing, and my efforts in pushing my (still developing) web-presence, to where the relevant people are.

I’ve discovered that this writing-lark is almost as much about me as it is about my writing, and all those numbers hidden away on the various web-sites I now use can tell me a lot about who that is, or at least who it should be as far as my writing is concerned.

So, for what it’s worth, my advice would be to take some time to look at those numbers and decide which ones are relevant to you. If you haven’t paid them much head before, you may be surprised by what they can tell you!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Writing in tongues

I’ve recently been playing around with writing a piece of flash-fiction in the Scottish vernacular, and it’s made me think about regional accents and speech patterns in general writing.

Surely it can’t just come down to throwing in an off-spelt word, or quant phrase, into the mix here and there, although I have seen this done in various books to invoke a ‘local character.’ Think about it. How many times have you come across this?

One of the main things I’ve been told when writing character’s speech is ‘don’t over complicate it’ and ‘don’t put too much accents and colloquialisms into one sentence.’ I can see where this advice comes from. If you make colloquial speech too difficult for people to understand it will break the story flow, and may even serve to alienate the reader by breaking their suspension of disbelief, something you never want to do. But I think getting the language and speech patterns right can go a long way to making an interesting and well rounded character. You can insinuate a lot of perceived background and behavioural traits based entirely on a characters speech.

But how much is too much? I’ve read some books where local slang and colloquialisms have been used to good effect, and have enhanced the story for me. On the other hand, during the research for my short story I read some Scottish-tongue writing based in the area where I grew up, and some of this was very hard to get through. There were a few words that even I didn’t recognise in there, but for the most part I did understand the prose, but I still found it very difficult to read.
So why was that?

This brought up a lot of questions whilst writing this story. Should it be authentic at the expense of clarity? How far can you change the spelling of words, and still get away with it? How far can you change, or play with, the readers’ expectations of a character; after initially setting up that character based largely on their accent and speech patterns?

Perhaps this does all come down to the audience. The market for the books I was reading is niche at best, and people are buying these books with certain expectations, as are the mainstream audience, when they buy the latest blockbuster.
Obviously the direct speech in the latter shouldn’t be taxing to the average reader, where the whole text may be all but indecipherable to a non-Scots speaker in first case. These types of books are, by and large, by people who ‘want ti stop the auld tongue fi dein oot,’ for people who ‘want to stop the old language from dying out,’ and that’s fine.  

But it still doesn’t answer my question: ‘How must slang dialogue should you put in direct speech, in a standard-language book?’
Is this really just a ‘how long is a piece of string,’ question?
Or is there a really definitive answer?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Smashing words…

 …or not.

Following my recent adventures with self publishing on Smashwords I’ve decided to post as short… ish missive  of my experiences. Now, I’m an IT/Computing professional to trade. So formatting a word file should be a doodle, right? Wrong.
Oh, how very, very wrong, that assumption was.

I started by printing out the formatting guide: all 57 pages of it.

Next I took out all the ‘problem’ formatting that I could see. Then I uploaded the modified text to the site. And what you are not told about is the time you have to wait before your submission is dealt with. So … eventually … it gets its turn and is run through the converter and - rejected!

OK, so I didn’t do that right then… My cover picture looked good though.

Attempt two:

I went for the ‘ballistic approach’ this time, and copied the whole thing into notepad, and then pasted the raw text back into a clean word file.

Yuck! Formatting time…

I Redid the title page (it had disappeared!) then re-did all the line indent formatting, using the new-line method as I was told… and then undid most of it, as it screwed up the formatting again!
So, eventually I got this looking ok, so I also added a bit at the end, with a link to my web-site and a short bio etc (as recommended in the Guide) and re-submitted.

Oh, I’m 1247th in the queue… How nice; time to make some coffee.
This time it did actually complete the formatting without complaining. So it looked the same as before, and I did spend a fair amount of time removing all the formatting Smashwords said it didn’t want. So where were the differences? I have no idea.
But the sledgehammer approach seemed to be the ticket!
Based on my success I decided to add a couple of my previously e-published short-stories, and lo-and-behold, using my newly discovered technique, they both loaded first time.
So I just thought I’d let all you nice people kow what I did to get then up and running relatively quickly…

Before you look at the following  I’d just like to say it is in no way close to an alternative to reading the ‘Smashwords style guide,’ which I heartily recommend you familiarise yourself with.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

My personal list of editing do’s and don’ts

I’ve been reading a fair bit about other peoples editing lately, and looking at all the first-draft mistakes I make. Because of this I’ve recently added a new line (the one about comma splices) to my personal crib-sheet notes that I’ve put together over time. I’ve decided to put this slightly revised version up for public appraisal. I have this pinned to the wall, just to remind me when I’m editing. I’m not saying it’s comprehensive, but it’s what I use to get me thinking along the right lines when something untoward pops up in the re-writes.
I always try to remember the little axiom: Good editing won’t make you a better writer. But it will make your writing better.

And so to the list...