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Spoilers – good or bad?

September 5, 2011

I am one of those people who often flicks to the end of a book before I start it and read the last few pages. For years I have put up with comments from family and friends about how that was cheating, as if reading the end before the start was in someway going to spoil my enjoyment of the book. But now I have been vindicated.

An article by the BBC suggests that spoilers may actually add to the enjoyment of a story. They are quoting researchers from the University of San Diego who have done a study on the subject which has found that knowing how a story ends makes it more enjoyable to read.

I was then thinking about this and if there was any stories where I wouldn’t want to know the ending before I have read it. There were a couple of books which I could think off – mostly mysteries with a twist ending. With authors that I am familiar with, I am less likely to read the ending before I start than with an author that is totally new to me. But mostly, for me, it depends on genre to how quickly I want to know the ending. Romance, fantasy and science fiction stories I will often flick to the end before I start to check that they have a happy ending – or at least not one which I will have to wait for the next book to be resolved.  With crime and mystery novels I will turn to the ending when I think I know whodunnit, mostly to check if I was right.

Either way finding out the ending does not ruin the enjoyment I have in reading the book, rather I think it adds to it – so I can sit back and enjoy the journey.

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Books you could never not own!

August 8, 2011

I have been sorting through my bookshelves recently, trying to trim down the number of books that I own. Mostly because the number of books I own was dramatically more than the number of shelves that I own and the floor was beginning to get a bit cluttered.

Mostly I was removing books that I knew I would never read again but while I was doing this I realised that there was a small selection of books that I would always have a copy of on my bookshelves, no matter how small they get.

The first of these is ‘On the Beach’ by Nevil Shute. It is the story of a post atomic society, dying from nuclear radiation. I read as a teenager and haven’t read it again since. It was the first book that I read that made me cry, and I always mean to re-read it, but I can still remember too much about the story to read it again. I think the reason I keep it is to remind myself that books can be moving as well as entertaining.

The second is ‘Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R Tolkien. This is my most well travelled book. If I am going somewhere for a couple of weeks and I only have space for one book, it is always this one. Mostly because I always find something new in the language or descriptions or story that I didn’t pay attention to last time I read it. It is one of those books that I can dip in and out of and feel like I am catching up with old familiar friends.

The third is the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, although strictly speaking it isn’t one book, more of a collection of books and I have two different versions of the stories. One is the Annotated Sherlock Holmes – large hardback books, full of footnotes and annotations, beautifully illustrated throughout. They are lovely to read for the background information, but I do find it distracts me away from the story slightly (and they are slightly too large to carry around anywhere). So for reading the actual stories I have a smaller paperback version which doesn’t look as good but at least will fit in my handbag. Again these are books I dip in and out of when I feel like it. Again it is that feeling of catching up with friends when I read them. Often I can remember what is going to happen – but it is the journey that is important.

There are a lot more books that I own that I wouldn’t want to get rid of, but these are three of the books that have stuck on my shelves since I was a teenager and I would never part with them.

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Thinking about Character Names

August 4, 2011

I’ve been rereading my story which was published last week (and isn’t that a wonderful thing to be able to say!). In it there are two main characters – Arthur, and his granddaughter, Eleanor. Only in my version Eleanor was called Ellie.

It is a small change and does not affect the the plot in anyway but I think it is an interesting change and I had to think about why they made the change and what the effect of it is on the story. The story is written from the point of view of the Grandfather, Arthur and by using a more formal name for his granddaughter shows his more formal way of thinking.

I have to admit I do have trouble coming up with names for characters – there are some good site for this from baby name sites like http://www.babynames.co.uk/, sites that allow you to find out the meaning of your surname like http://surnames.behindthename.com/, which is useful as it also give the country of origin for some of the surnames  to the slightly more fun http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php which lets you generate random character names for everything from a general name to a dark elf name.

But despite all this I still sometimes get it wrong. There are a few useful hints I have picked up over time.

  • Don’t have all your names sounding or looking the same, for example having characters called Sally and Sully could lead to confusion in your reader.
  • Don’t make them exotic unless that is the type of character you are going for and it is appropriate for the genre you are writing in. Ralbatariel might sound interesting but as a writer it is tricky to spell correctly and as a reader I wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.
  • Make sure the name is appropriate for the time period that your story is set. Names go in and out of fashion just as much as clothes.
  • All names have meaning – some more obvious than others. Think about how the name reflects the character or is in opposition to it.
  • Choose a name that you are happy to type lots and lots of times, especially if it is a long story.

When choosing names you also have to consider how the other characters would address that person. Do they need a nickname, and if so would everyone use it. This is what I got wrong with Ellie in my story. Her grandfather was not the type of character to use a nickname so by changing it to Eleanor it better reveals his old fashioned character.

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Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

July 27, 2011

This is the third book by Tom Rob Smith, about Leo Demidov, a former MGB agent in Soviet Russia. It starts with a flashback to 1950s Russia, where Leo Demidov is taking part in a visit by Jesse Austin, an American. The action then shifts to America fifteen years later, where Leo’s wife is leading a group of Russian school children to the United States where a dreadful tragedy takes place. The action then switches to Afghanistan where Leo Demidov is now based.
The novel is a tense thriller, and Smith is very good at ratcheting up the tension so you have to find out what happens next. The political intrigues of the Cold War are focused through the characters that are affected by them, which works well to humanise these events. I also like the way that the characters lives collided through the different time periods. A gripping read!

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First Story Published!

July 25, 2011

I have sold my first story! It was a wonderful feeling to see it in print and quite startling in some ways. The story has had a long journey – I wrote it well over a year ago for a Mslexia prompt for their monthly competition, however I didn’t finish it in time to send it in. On re-reading it I also decided that it wasn’t quite the right style for Mslexia so it languished on my hard drive for several months.

I then started sending out a few stories to magazines, with no success, but it did make me realise that I need to sort out the stories I had written and come up with some sort of system for organising them. As part of this I found all sorts of random bits of writing, some finished some not, including this story. I looked through Dutrope, trying to find a home for it – or at least somewhere I could send it that it wouldn’t be laughed at. There didn’t seem to be anywhere suitable so back to the electronic filing cabinet it went.

Then I came across a blog – womagwriter which talked about a range of magazines that I hadn’t thought about before. After I had read a few I remembered this story and  realised that I might have somewhere to send it.

I read through it again – trimming it down slightly, fixing the wording in a couple of places, correcting mistakes I hadn’t noticed before, which showed the value of leaving a piece of work for a while, as I never noticed them before. I then downloaded and very carefully read the guidelines for People’s Friend. With a covering letter, SAE, and a very carefully printed out story I sent it off to the magazine, and started to wait, (expecting a rejection). Instead, four months after I sent it off, I got back an email sending they would like to buy it! So of course I sent back a delighted ‘Yes’. What I didn’t realise was the time it takes between the magazine buying a story and it getting published. Initially, every week I was there with the latest copy of People’s Friend, looking for my story. In the end I decided that I must have missed it and gave up. I felt slightly deflated and a slightly stupid – I had missed my first experience of being published. I hadn’t told anyone and was quite glad I hadn’t mentioned it. I almost thought that I had dreamed the whole experience.

Out of the blue I received an email saying that it was going to be published in this weeks (23 July 11) People’s Friend. I quickly went out and picked up a copy, flicking through in the shop until I found my story, standing and grinning for several minutes, inconveniencing several other shoppers as I was stuck in the middle of the aisle, for which I apologise!

It was a wonderful warm feeling to see my words in print, beautifully illustrated which I hadn’t expected, although I should have done having seen other stories in the magazine, but for some reason I didn’t expect to see a picture with my story! They had changed the name of the story – I had called it ‘Spider’s legs’ which I have to admit is not the best title. It was renamed as ‘A Kind of Peace’ which works a lot better and gives a better idea of what the story is about. It is an area which I am going to have to work on.

So what have I learnt from this?

  • Publishing takes time – even after the story has been bought.
  • I need to work on story titles!
  • Even if at first you think that there is no where for a story to go to, something will turn up – don’t discard anything!
  • And nothing beats that warm feeling of seeing your words in print
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The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag – Alan Bradley

February 25, 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is a entertaining detective story which grips the readers attention from the very first line. Full of gentle humour, and children being smarter than adults, it is an engaging story full of twists and turns right through to the end.

Set in the 1950s the author has created a vivid sense of village life at the time with a cast of memorable characters, all seen through the eyes of Flavia de Luce, a charming and precocious eleven year with a morbid interest in death and a fascination with chemistry, especially when it comes to creating poisons. It appears only natural to her (and to the reader) that when a dead body appears she is the one who should be investigating it.

The mystery moves along at a decent pace and held my interest all the way through. Although it was the second book in the series I haven’t yet read the first, but this didn’t prove a problem as it stands alone well.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their detectives quirky and charming, and obsessed with poisons.

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The Detective Branch – Andrew Pepper

December 2, 2010

The Detective Branch by Andrew Pepper is a gripping detective story which held my attention well through out. I liked how all the twists and turns and subplots which at first appeared unrelated tied together neatly at the end.

Set in London in the 1840s, the story has a wealth of detail which works well to form a vivid picture of the time. The main character, Pyke is in the head of the newly formed Detective branch and in the best traditions of maverick detectives is battling his bosses and struggling in his personal life while trying to find a brutal murder.

Although this is the fourth book in the series and I have not read any of the previous ones it didn’t matter as there was a good introduction to the characters and the setting, although I now want to catch up with the ones I have missed.

A thoroughly engaging read which I would recommend to anyone who likes period crime.