Issue 20 September 2015
Writers and readers talking
POPULAR OR PRIZE-WINNING?
What does the Chelsea Flower Show have in common with the world of books?
Paul Manning shares his thoughts.
A review of the Chelsea Flower Show is not what you would expect in The Voice but there is a reason - the show highlights the difference between what 'experts' select as medal winners and non prize-winning popular tastes. A situation apparent in many art forms.
At Chelsea a huge marquee features the most colourful flowers you are ever likely to see, but the show gardens are full of stone, wood, steel and other architectural features that have the BBC presenters drooling. Ironically these creations seldom contain colourful flowers. Visit then your nearest garden centre and notice nearly everyone coming away with trays of bedding plants, frowned upon by Monty Don, but promising a summer full of colour in gardens that are a joy to see but would never win Chelsea gold.
In the art world, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, plus those carefully placed piles of bricks, are highly praised by those 'in the know' while down on the street people are actually buying Jack Vettriano.
In the book world how many recent Nobel prize winners for Literature could the average Waterstones' customer name? Would be an interesting survey.
There are numerous literature prizes awarded and reading winning books is a worthy yet not altogether rewarding pastime. Many such tomes are started, but equally many are not finished - they are either boring or obscure, or both, their qualities only appreciated seemingly by an unrepresentative few.
Although there are exceptions - Ian McEwan and David Lodge come to mind - best-selling authors do not automatically win literary prizes. An article in the Guardian from June 2014 found that a lot of prize-winning books had been over-hyped - eventual readers found them disappointing.
Meanwhile, Jack Vettriano, popular and successful, is looked down upon by the art establishment, but carries on regardless, possibly planting geraniums and reading Ian Fleming.
RECOMMENDED READ - FICTION
Novel writer Pamela Fudge shares her enjoyment of this novel by Nicci Gerrard who is one half of the well-known thriller writing team that is Nicci French
The Twilight Hour
I was intrigued to come across this novel written by Nicci Gerrard, having previously read several of the Nicci French thrillers. The Twilight Hour is a very different read, telling the story of Eleanor Lee who, at 94, is coming to the end of her life – and what a fascinating life she has led, full of dark secrets she would prefer her family not to know about.
Eleanor , who is now blind, will soon be moving to a care home and is anxious to erase the secrets of her past before that happens. After her own attempt to destroy evidence of past misdemeanours causes a fire, she employs Peter Mistley to help her sort through her lifetime of possessions. Peter is a young man who is dealing with his own ghosts but he and Eleanor develop a close relationship and share confidences.
Peter is taken into Eleanor’s confidence as he catalogues her books, photos and private papers and under her instruction he finds and destroys items which would reveal the story of a forbidden love seventy years before.
A beautifully written novel and a compelling read, as you would expect from Nicci Gerrard.
For more information about Pamela Fudge, visit her website www.pamfudge.co.uk
Barbara Dynes tests your literary knowledge
The answers are all characters from classic novels. Also, can you name the author of each book? Answers at the bottom of this newsletter.
- Name the housekeeper in Rebecca
- Who is the main male character in Great Expectations?
- Elizabeth is the main female character in Pride and Prejudice. What is her surname?
- Who does Jane Eyre, in the novel of that name, marry?
- What are the Christian names of the four sisters in Little Women?
For more information about Barbara Dynes visit www.barbaradynes.co.uk
Robin Dynes questions multi-tasking writer Simon Whaley
You do a lot: feature articles, short stories, non-fiction books, photography and also run courses. Which is your favourite activity? Why?
That’s a difficult one! I have my fingers in lots of pies because I love the variety. In the last month I’ve stayed overnight at a luxury stately home for The People’s Friend magazine, tweaked the ending of one of my stories the editor of Take a Break’s Fiction Feast wanted re-working, helped Country Walking magazine out with an urgent walking route they needed doing, and I’ve just sold the Icelandic rights to my first book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human.
Do you enjoy doing research?
I enjoy MAXIMISING my research. By that, I mean making the most out of the research I’ve done. For example, staying overnight in the luxury stately home has given me a wealth of material to work with. The People’s Friend commissioned two pieces for that, but I’ve identified seven other angles, and have pitched ideas to different magazines. I’ve also come up with a short story idea, too. Research is fun, but getting as much out of it is even better!
Do you have a writing routine?
I try to keep normal office hours, so I’m at my desk sometime after 8.30am until about 6pm, unless I’m out walking for Country Walking or BBC Countryfile magazine. However, deadlines influence which projects take priority during the day. If I’m not out walking for one of the magazines, I make a point of going for a two-mile walk at some point during the day to stretch my legs (usually when it’s not raining!). Walking time is great thinking time too.
How important is reading to you?
It’s vital! I’m currently reading Hunter Davies’ biography of William Wordsworth for a book idea I have. And I’m reading the seventh book in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series of novels, set in my local area of the Welsh Borders. In between those I’m reading other magazines for market analysis purposes, and soon I’m going to be judging a couple of short story competitions.
Do you have a favourite author or book? Why?
At the moment my favourite author is Phil Rickman. The first of his Merrily Watkins’ novels has just been adapted for ITV. As a reader I like his use of the local landscape in his books. As a writer I admire his ability to italicise exactly the right word for maximum impact.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Three words: read, write, submit. You have to read other people’s work. You learn so much that way. You have to write. Lots. It’s the only way to find your own writing voice. And you have to submit. Too many beginners don’t submit their work because they don’t want to be rejected. That means they’re rejecting themselves. It’s an editor’s job to reject, but it’s also their job to accept. You’ll never get published if you don’t submit!
To find out more about Simon visit his website www.simonwhaley.co.uk
Both Simon and Robin will be giving talks and taking part in Southampton Festival of Words Writers’ Day on Friday 30th
October. For details go to www.sotospeakfestival.org
Penny Legg gives us some background on how she came to write her new book ‘Military Wives: From The First World War to Afghanistan’
If Joe had not joined the Royal Navy when he was sixteen, then replied to my penpal advertisement in Navy News
, we would never have met and married. Now he is a ‘veteran’ and we go to get-togethers where he and his mates enjoy remembering old times. The journalist in me, of course, cannot resist a good story and so Under the Queen’s Colours
came out in 2012. This is an anthology of the hilarious, sad, behind-the-scenes experiences of the personnel in our armed forces, which raises funds for three service charities. Of course, there had to be a sequel.
Military Wives From The First World War to Afghanistan
is a worthy successor.
Military wives had to cope with the attitudes of their day, as one found when she was turned out of her guest house whilst heavily pregnant because her husband, an Army surgeon during the First World War, was not with her. My grandmother, a Royal Navy wife in the 1920s, had to cope with my grandfather’s continuous absence whilst on the ‘China Run’ for two years. One current military wife, in premature labour in Brunei, nearly died because the Muslim doctors would not perform an emergency caesarean until they had her husband’s written consent to the operation. He was on jungle warfare training and was not easy to find. For me, being a military wife meant frequent separations and difficulty finding employment.
For many women, the reality of life is that they marry the service, not just the man. As Army wife Steffi Hughes sums up, military wives ‘… are all very special, brave and strong women, who support their husbands throughout their careers, regardless of what it brings for them and their families.’ The book raises funds for the Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA).
To find out more about Penny and her books visit her website www.pennylegg.com
She will also be doing a book launch for ‘Military Wives’ on Sunday 25th
October during The Southampton Festival of Words. For details go to www.sotospeakfestival.org
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Writer, speaker and artist John Houghton says he doesn’t have typical days but here is a representative one.
06:00 AM. Awake aching but good to go. Coffee. Pray for some people. Talking with God gives focus and purpose to my working day. Continue this on my 3 km morning run. Note to self: lose some weight!
08:30 AM. In the studio. Writing, speaking, painting harmonise on a good day. This isn’t one of them! Students off, holidaymakers having fun. I should join them. Remind myself that professional creatives need self-discipline. Decide to work in short bursts before the sun wins. Some brushwork on my latest ‘Psychedoodle’ painting (must write the text for that); produce a short magazine article and mail it; check e-mails and social media; do more work on my revamped web sites. August is no time for a major work, but I consider some options. More coffee.
Pick beans from garden. One or two phone calls. I enjoy the quietness of working from home, but writing can be a lonely existence if you’re not careful. I need the stimulus of people.
11:30 AM. Liz, my social media advisor, called in to save the day. My web designer is not getting it right, so must do some page mock ups of what I want. Irritating.
13:00 PM. My wife, Jan, is back in time for lunch. We take a couple of hours break around Christchurch.
15:30 PM. Commissioned to produce a mixed media Harvest Festival display for a business/charity environment. Email from friend who has found a cornfield. It’s a start!
Running order for a local choir concert arrived. I’ve to write and narrate live the continuity for Around the World in 80 Minutes.
19:00 PM. Evening discussing the book of Revelation with a bunch of uni students. Have written a book on this. Good fun.
Unwind to Mock the Week before bed at 23:00
For more information about John Houghton visit his website www.johnhoughton.org.uk‘
Literary humour with cartoonist and author David Reeves
Barbara Dynes talks to Peggy Hume about her reading habits
‘How did you come to have such a terrific interest in books?’ I asked writer and prolific reader, Peggy Hume.
‘I was lucky; as a child I was taken to the library (Hamworthy library, in Poole, actually) and loved it – the books, the smell of them, the wonderful atmosphere!’ she answered enthusiastically. ‘Now I read anything: fiction or non-fiction. Anything, that is, except romance. For me, it’s all been said before!’ she laughed. ‘I enjoyed the classics years ago, but I never go back to them now. I’ve read all the ‘Lord of the Rings’ books but I didn’t like ‘Jane Eyre’ or any of Agatha Christie’s - including the television adaptions.'
‘As for non-fiction, I do like biographies of interesting people, but,’ she pulled a face, ‘NOT celebrities! One book that stands out was about Archibald McIndoe, the pioneering plastic surgeon. Another fascinating memoir - which took me six weeks to read - was ‘Farewell Kabul’ by Christina Lamb.’
I asked Peggy how she selected a book.
‘In three stages! First I look at the cover, then the author (to see if he or she is familiar), followed by the blurb on the back. If I’m still interested, I scan the first page. My favourite authors are Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben (but not all of their books). A special, for me, is ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini which, I thought, was better than his best-selling ‘The Kite Runner.’
Then she added casually: ‘I have recently finished reading all seven books of the series ‘A Game of Thrones’, which I loved, yet I didn’t see the television series.’
Phew! I left Peggy thinking that ‘prolific’ is not really strong enough for such an enthusiastic reader.
To find out more about Barbara Dynes visit her website www.barbaradynes.co.uk
She will be running a workshop based on material from her book ‘Masterclasses in Creative Writing’ during The Southampton Festival of Words. For details go to www.sotospeakfestival.org
STARTING A CREATIVE WRITING GROUP FOR THE U3A
Novelist and short story writer Pamela Pope tells us how starting a creating writing group has rekindled her interest in writing after a long lapse.
A new U3A has been formed in our small town of Cranbrook, Kent. In a rash moment I offered to lead a Creative Writing Group, though I've hardly written anything since leaving the Bournemouth area 15 years ago. I lacked incentive to write when I was unable to find anyone here interested. Without the stimulus of like-minded friends there was nothing to spark any creative ideas even though I've had seven novels and a hundred or so short stories and articles published.
Then came the U3A.
I thought perhaps five or six people might be interested and we could meet at my house, so at the signing-in session I was overwhelmed when thirteen registered, and unless I could find another venue it meant starting a waiting list, not easy when other new group leaders were trying to do the same. I was lucky. A nearby Tea Rooms was able to take us on Thursday mornings once a month.
My anxieties mounted before the first meeting. I’d never taught or led a group on any subject before, so after much helpful advice I decided to run the group like a Writers Circle where we could discuss our ideas and help each other. These were people new to me and I didn’t know if any had done writing before, so prior to the meeting I asked them to look for a snippet in a newspaper or magazine which might spark something which could be worked into a further story or article.
The day of the first meeting arrived and I went along to the Tea Rooms armed with a ‘Writers’Forum’ and ‘Writing’ magazines, various possible markets, a Writers & Artists’ Yearbook, Barbara Dynes’ book on Creative Writing, and of course my notes. The room proved to be a perfect venue and nine members turned up, a nice manageable number to start with. After introductions I found that two were more interested in factual subjects and research while the others wanted to write stories. Some had already written them and ideas quickly flowed. To my delight everyone contributed and the input resulted in such enthusiasm that by the end of the morning we were all looking forward to the next meeting. I left them with the following sentence to work on: ‘The door was slightly open but she just couldn’t go in.’. Can’t wait to tackle it myself, and hear what everyone else has done.
Feedback via e-mails was very encouraging. Four members hadn’t turned up, two through illness, but the other two said they hadn’t heard from me and thought they were still on a waiting list. Memo to myself: Telephone anyone who hasn’t been in touch before the next meeting in case my e-mails haven’t gone through.
All in all it was a very successful and enjoyable first meeting and I can now prepare for the next with fewer worries.
SOUTHAMPTON TO HOLD FIRST FESTIVAL OF WORDS
SO: TO SPEAK 2015
Southampton Festivals has announced that Southampton will play host to its first ever festival of words, SO: To Speak 2015.
To take place over ten days between the 23rd October and 1st November 2015, SO: To Speak is a not for profit festival and will bring stories, poetry, illustration, theatre, music, creative workshops and more to the city. Events and speakers so far revealed include renowned local authors Philip Hoare, Ali Sparkes, MJ Arledge, and Claire Fuller. The award winning crime writer Peter Lovesey will also be giving a talk. Penny Legg will be launching and talking about her new book ‘Military Wives: From the First World War to Afghanistan and Barbara Dynes will be running a workshop based on material from her book ‘Masterclasses in Creative Writing’.
Peter Lovesey Barbara Dynes Penny Legg
The festival also promises spoken word performances and music at the Dancing Man, ghost stories and ‘Tales of Southampton’, poetry at the Solent Sky Museum, an open-air Shakespeare production, and Words in the City - where pop-up poets will perform throughout the city centre. The festival will also launch two new specially-commissioned art works.
To add to this, local arts organisation, element arts, will be producing ‘Transported’, which is a series of art installations and performances within an innovative use of shipping containers in Guildhall Square, working in collaboration with Williams Shipping.
For further information and to view the programme please visit www.sotospeakfestival.org
or, to purchase tickets, call the Mayflower Box Office on 02380 711811. There are also still plenty of opportunities to sponsor and volunteer at the festival – for more information please contact Charlie at email@example.com.
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