I recently read an article about Jacqueline Wilson (link) and amongst the views attributed to her was that she believed that “Electronic life has wiped out books.” This seems like a strong statement but what is the truth behind it? According to the Washington Post (link) there has been over a 16% decline in adults who read at least one literary work per year from 1982 to 2015 from just under 57% to 43.1%. I find that quite shocking as the percentage in 1982 already seems low.
Apparently there are more things to amuse us nowadays. With our smartphones we can surf the web or read our emails, play games or watch more television programs. I am a fan of television series and do watch a number of films and programs a week but one important thing I find with the cinematic art form is that while it may exercise your brain with issues brought to the fore, it doesn’t drive your imagination.
Surely imagination is the well spring for creativity. Without imagination our whole society would struggle to function. How would we develop, how would we grow without that capacity to think what would be and then working out how to get there? And surely books are the playground for that creativity.
I’m not saying that books are the only playground for any of the creative arts will do that. Sculpture, basket weaving, drama, embroidery, painting, etc.. are all pastimes that will drive the imagination. But when we simply hover over what I would call static detail, that which is fixed and cannot be changed, then our imagination will die.
I don’t think Jacqueline Wilson is totally right, well, not yet. But she certainly has hit the nail on the head with how things are heading.
Do you read a specific genre? If so, why? Why do we limit ourselves by looking only for books within a certain style, storyline or feel? I came to think about this because my novels tend to move across genres. Take “Crescendo!”, the first in my Austerley & Kirkgordon series. It has certain Lovecraftian throwbacks to it, so obviously it’s horror. But hang, it is set in the real world with a number of fantastical creatures and happenings in it. Ah, I hear you cry, its Urban Fantasy. Well, yes, but… It also has plenty of action and adventure in it too. And also investigators who have been described as old fashioned cop show buddies in that they can’t stand the sight of each other.
It’s hard boxing things in in real life too. Working in the emergency services, you have standard protocols and procedures but everyone will tell you there is no standard job. And in life there are no standard people. Variety and complexity is what makes life the vibrant maelstrom it is. And thank goodness, otherwise we would be board senseless by it.
When I was writing “Surface Tensions” I was fortunate enough to have a group fund a developmental review of it. On its return to me, I was informed that it needed a serious plot change as the romance genre required a certain path to be followed. But surely the reader would see this coming? Do we really want to have the same things replayed to us. I understand seeking the same feel. I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series but I wouldn’t ever accuse him of simply replaying the same story even if his initial devices were similar in their instrumentation.
Maybe I’m just too eclectic. I’d rather take stories in all shapes and sizes. Some I may like, some maybe not, but at least I won’t be bored into a rut. Let us all be eclectic and to the blazes with genre!
One of the things common to us all is that at some point in our life we will have been under pressure. Be it a moment that jumped up in front of us, say a bank robbery or seeing someone about to be hit by a car. Or whether it’s the slow build up of a situation which requires us to endure some sort of pain to see it through. Whatever it is, we all experience pressure.
How do you convey pressure in fiction?
When writing, especially action and adventure, or dark fantasy, there are situations where the characters are in wild moments I have never faced. One wonders how they would react. Personally, I have never looked a demon from the deep in the eye, swung from a hangman’s noose or faced strange creatures intent on taking my head off. The only way I know to generate these feelings is to drift into the characters shoes, drawing on my own reactions to horrors I have had in my own life. Not that my life has been a rollercoaster of disaster, it’s been bloomin’ good to be honest. But we all have the well of dark moments to draw from.
Sometimes people say my books would make a great movie, or that they could see it as a TV drama. I think I know why. When I write, I write describing the movie in my head. The creatures move for me, I hear the drop in the noose, I look into those demon eyes. And I then feel what comes. I don’t see words, I see pictures and then the job is to put that picture into words. The further distillation by the reader reversing the process hopefully brings the movie back to life.
Character development, making the unreal seem real
It begs the question, are my characters real to me? Only in my head, only in the movie. And that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want a mad cap professor summoning up who knows what, an emotional father pulled from his family by every woman that walks past, or an ice cold winged femme fatale. Life is weird enough. When you put these people under pressure the real emotions come out. Hopefully then the real life heroic decisions we make or fail to make surface.
One of the joys about writing fantasy, be it dark, urban or whatever, is that you can play around with the “norms” of society in one facet of a person while keeping their everyday traits. In my new novel, “The Darkness at Dillingham”, I introduce a new character Nefol. She’s the daughter of a priest, only twelve, and a sarcastic bane to Kirkgordon. But she’s also a stronger fighter than Kirkgordon and better versed in the weirdness of the A&K world than he’ll ever be.
This allows for the normal dynamic of senior and junior to be challenged and often overturned. And in that I believe lies an important point to the real world. Too often we quieten down those around us with less life experience or who are weaker in body or mind. And yet we get the most honest assessment from these people, too honest for us more often than not.
When taking Kirkgordon and pairing him with Austerley, the insane but highly driven seeker of the weird, Kirkgordon has a perfect forum to unload all he sees as wrong with getting your hands dirty in the occult world. But lest our hero becomes too high and mighty, here comes Nefol to show up his ineptitude and blast his fondness for all the wrong women! Ultimately the book highlights how paths to our redemption become blocked or at least sullied by others and that a little humility can help get us on the real path, the one so rarely seen from the mountian top!
Coming soon from Carpetless Publishing “The Darkness at Dillingham” the second Austerley & Kirkgordon adventure. Not read the wild ride that is “Crescendo!”, the first A&K adventure then you can pick it up here.
I see dozens of blog posts explaining the virtues of various tools in aiding a writer. Different programs for your computer or apps for your tablet. Keeping files of characters, mapping out stories and completing various assessment exercises about your characters. These things can certainly have their place, depending on your method of work and time available. But there is one tool we all need whatever the genre and whatever the age range of our readers.
I call it the Mill. It costs nothing except having an unkind mind to those creations we love. Brutal and effect, it transforms stories and ideas and is never exhausted. And all you have to do is place your prized, highly honed, precious character into it. And then crank the handle. And then crank it some more.
In my forthcoming novel, I have two main characters, Kirkgordon (ex-bodyguard, bored now with civilian life) and Austerley (pathological seeker of all things dark and disturbing). My first action was to threw them into the Mill and to work out what they really hated about each other. Faith, looks, success, knowledge, women all emerged as the rough edges on the mill stones.Then I cranked the handle again and the Mill threw up a woman into the mix. One they both hungered for. Although this caused a friction between the characters, it had to be augmented and so by cranking the handle again, another woman, a family, a lack of looks and a desire to control appeared.
By this stage we didn’t even have a nemesis. So the handle turns. Each character placed in the Mill to find out which millstones best ground them down. And the whole cavalcade becomes quite dark. That’s when the sifting begins. The traits that raise these characters above the situations come by sieving off their husk and finding the good flour underneath. It takes time. Sometimes it takes paper and pen. Other times a walk and a clear mind. But the result is a novel full of life and dynamic interaction that smells real to the reader.
So by all means take whatever tools that you may need but don’t forget this one. Use the Mill, produce stories that shows you have no regard for the characters’ welfare and watch them struggle. And your reader will identify and commit to these wonderful characters you hold precious deep within.
This image has had me on tender hooks for the last week. Everyday, several times a day, this image pops into my mind and in the most strangest of places. Feeding chickens and my mind says “Is it here?” Fending off aircraft from each other in the air traffic control tower and the weather is poor. There’s a doubt whether the aircraft will arrive. All that goes through my mind is “If the aircraft with mail doesn’t land then my book won’t land either!” Even changing the little one’s nappy and all I can think is “where’s the book?” when normally all I think is let’s get this done quick!
This was definitely a new phenomenon to me. For those who don’t know I have published an eBook of poetry and am now in the process of self-publishing it as a paperback. Trust me the eBook was easy by comparison. I went with Indie publisher Smashwords and they laid out a whole scheme of how to format the book. I followed that and once it was prepared it was a matter of a day to then actually publish it. Then it jumped onto their site and soon after onto various eBook sellers. No long wait, no grinding nerves. Downloaded it and checked the copy almost instantly.
However the printed word is not so easy. To be fair I went with Createspace and their software and instructions were good and I had the book draft ready fairly quickly. But now they are sending out the proof and it is taking a while. Again to be fair they are in the USA, I am in the UK. They took probably less than 24 hours to get the book printed and underway. But I didn’t pay for the fastest delivery as it was extremely more expensive though I did go for the intermediate postal service. If I had any hair left to tear out it would be gone, so praise Him as I am a baldie! The song is right, the waiting is the hardest part.
So now I having waited the great dread is coming upon me! What if there’s a mistake? Did I miss a comma, an apostrophe, a full stop!? How come the smallest things cause the greatest anguish? So please any would be writer’s out there who long to see their precious manuscript make that leap from computer type to embalmed delight take it from me – while that wonderful cargo is in the post plan a holiday, somewhere far, far away! Possibly Mars would do. Failing that take the second star to the right and straight on til morning. And Mr Postman, if you return to sender……………….
Four Life Emotions, the eBook is available here. Look out in the coming months for “I am Thunderstorm” my first kid’s book and also “A Lighter Shade of Dark” a collection of short allegorical stories, both appearing in eBook and paperback format, details when available at my Smashwords homepage.