Stephen King: 11.22.63

Apologies for anyone who’s following who’s wondering why I haven’t posted in 4 days; I’ve been on a reading rampage, and this book by Stephen King is the reason.

The book starts in 2011, but the action takes place mostly in the period 1958-1963. A portal is discovered in the back room of a diner which transports the narrator, on each visit, back to 1958.

The mission the young teacher undertakes is to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He spends a lot of time almost as a secret agent, following Lee Harvey Oswald and bugging his home for evidence that he was, in fact, acting alone on that fateful day. The methods he uses to achieve this are inspired, given the lack of Wi-Fi, computer surveillance and other gadgets which the likes of the CIA would take for granted nowadays.

If you’re a fan of the conspiracy theories and you’re hoping to find some whisper of evidence that Oswald was coerced or had help, or even wasn’t there at all, look elsewhere. This book will not fulfil your fantasies.

It is, however, an exceptionally well-written story about a time before mobile phones when people could leave their doors unlocked when they went to bed at night. It’s also a wonderful love story about soul-mates who come from different times.

I’m not usually a Stephen King fan but this is the third novel I’ve read now. I may be changing my mind…

Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair

My partner introduced me to this book shortly after he moved in. I spotted the brightly coloured tome sitting on the shelf and was drawn by the title.

“Just read it,” he said. “You’ll love it!”

At any given time, there’s at least two dozen books on my Must Read List, so I’m staggered I’ve managed to read this one so soon.

The story takes places in a hilarious dystopian future with some echoes of Orwell’s 1984. The heroine, one Thursday Next, works for Literatec. They are one of the many branches of the police, who seem to govern almost every aspect of society. Among the ‘crimes’ she investigates are missing characters from well-known novels, in particular, the title character from Jane Eyre.

Those familiar with the story will remember Charlotte Bronte’s famous novel is written entirely in the first person. Upon Jane’s kidnap from the story, therefore, the pages of every copy of the book in existence become blank which causes a public outcry.

What follows is a romp through this strange reality, interspersed with periods of time inside the action of the book. Indeed, one of the best scenes takes place at Thornfield Hall, Edward Rochester’s English country residence, during the fire which kills his first wife, Bertha.

It’s an incredibly clever story and the first in a series, so I guess I shall be looking for the next one shortly…

Peter Berresford Ellis

Another visit to the local library brought a whole series of books to my attention a year or so ago.

The author writes his Sister Fidelma series as Peter Tremayne and he comes from Coventry in Warwickshire. His mother was of an old Saxon family in Sussex; his father hailed from County Cork in Ireland.

The two main characters in the Sister Fidelma mysteries are the protagonist, Sister Fidelma herself and her partner, Brother Eadulf. They mirror his own family very nicely.

Fidelma is a Celtic nun born in what was the old kingdom of Munster around the seventh century AD. She is also a qualified dalaigh, an advocate of the ancient law courts in Ireland, so she can assert legal authority over the people she meets where necessary. She often does, too, to great effect.

Brother Eadulf, her partner and eventually husband, is a Saxon monk. He often provides key advice to Fidelma as she solves each mystery and saves her life on more than one occasion. They make a wonderful partnership, both personally and professionally.

The author weaves huge elements of history into the novels, often about the role of nuns in the Church at that period of time in history. In Ireland they followed their own interpretation of Catholic teaching and it was not uncommon for members of the clergy to be married and have their own families, as Fidelma and Eadulf eventually do.

I adore these type of historical stories, especially when they’re well researched. Highly recommended.

Building a Character

Characters are essential to every story.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how many times have you heard the phrase ‘wooden characters’ when someone referred to a book they didn’t like? Personally, I can think of several books I’ve read to which I could attribute that phrase.

I have a top tip for all you budding writers out there: get yourself a character template. They are available from various sources. Try Google for starters and see how you get on.

The format is not really important. The key thing is to give you, the writer, a method of recording details about your character.

You’ll need to know basic things like name, age and appearance, of course. But you’ll create a much more realistic person if you think about the deeper aspects of their personality.

For example, your John Doe may well be a tall, dark and handsome eligible bachelor, but does he have a dark side? How does he deal with conflict in a relationship? Is he argumentative by nature? Does he have demons from his past that haunt him?

You may well choose to model a character on a real person you already know. If so, make sure you change the name to something completely different. Some people would be flattered if they appeared in your novel; others might take it in an entirely different light. No one needs a libel case when they’re trying to publish their debut novel!

Have fun creating!

Christian Cameron

I came across Mr Cameron’s work in my local library; the series I became interested in starts with a novel called Tyrant.

It takes place during the time of Alexander the Great and among the peoples he was busy conquering.

The central character, Kineas, is one of Alexander’s most highly regarded Generals. However, when he returns to his home of Athens, he finds the veterans of these wars are being sent into exile. He becomes a mercenary, and along with his trusted band of soldiers, becomes embroiled in a tactical battle for survival, in the process finding himself an enemy of Alexander.

I really couldn’t put this one down, and I can say the same for the second and third in the series. The fourth and fifth are very high on my To Read list.

The research Mr Cameron puts into his work is certainly above and beyond the call of duty, as it were. He is a lifelong reenactor, both of the ancient and medieval worlds. Fascinating.

Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own

“…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, first published 1929.

However, A Room of One’s Own isn’t a work of fiction; it’s more of an essay. It was written based on a series of lectures she gave to ladies colleges in Cambridge University.

It also has more than a touch of feminism about it. However, it’s important to consider the context in which it was written.

Woolf’s father believed that only the boys of the family should be formally educated so in fact, when delivering these lectures, Woolf would have been speaking to ladies with far greater opportunities than she herself had.

On reading the piece, however, you become aware of how she advises these young ladies that it was very much still a patriarchal society, and if they wanted to become writers, they would do well to ensure their own financial security.

An interesting read, certainly, I’m not so much a Woolf fan generally, but I did find this engaging.

Creative Writing Nightclass – Free Writing

After some thought and deliberation, I joined a creative writing course in January at a local college.

A brave move, some would say, to be going back to college after all these years to learn something new, but I am loving it.

There are eleven students enrolled on the course, both men and women and from all walks of life. It’s what you might call “a good mix”.

The tutor is a writer, naturally, and each week we cover a different topic associated with writing.

I’d like to convey some of my learning, if I may, onto you, Dear Readers. So, off we go…

In our first week, the main lesson I learnt was about the practice of free writing, and the importance of learning this craft by practice.

Stephen King said in his book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Good advice, I think; but easier said than done.

Both as a result of reading those words, and of the first night of my course, I am now in the habit of writing almost every single day. If I climb into bed at night without having written at least a few lines in my journal, I feel there’s something missing from my day.

Also on that first night, our tutor introduced us to the discipline of Free Writing. Every week now, we spend a few moments in silence at the beginning to centre the mind and relax a little. Then, after a prompt of some kind, we are encouraged to write. Not a great deal, just for about ten to fifteen minutes. Just to allow the creative juices to flow, as they say.

It certainly seems to have unlocked something inside of me, and long may it continue!

Penelope Fitzgerald: Human Voices

I have recently finished “Human Voices” by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s a comedy of sorts, written from inside the BBC during the Second World War. Not my usual fare to be honest, but it does one good to branch out occasionally, does it not?

The characters seem a little exaggerated but then, having never worked in TV, perhaps I’m not the best judge of that. I love, for example, how the author describes one character going off in a huff because their carefully planned programme had to be canned because it didn’t give the right message to the public. I guess at that time, absolutely everything had to be considered within the context that Hitler was about to land on British shores at any moment. A programme that might challenge the current mood of solidarity was probably not considered suitable broadcast material.

One wonders how we would react to a similar situation in 2012, over seventy years later.

Would the BBC once again step into the breach and do their duty by providing the nation with uplifting and motivational programming?

How do the recent scandals within (and without) the Corporation change our view of the BBC as an organisation?

And what of us, the licence-paying public? How have we changed in the last seventy years?

It’s often remarked how the community spirit has left us these days, particularly in urban areas where most of us have barely even laid eyes on our neighbours, much less have had a conversation with them. Would we somehow draw together in a time of crisis and help each other, as our ancestors did? I’d like to think so.

I welcome your thoughts…

T. S. Learner

I have recently finished reading the second novel by thriller writer T. S Learner called The Map. As in her first, Sphinx, it’s a hair-raising journey of endurance and personal development for the central character and the historical elements of the story are wonderfully well-researched. I discovered exactly how well-researched when I visited her website http://www.tslearner.co.uk/.

She travels all over the world to learn about ethnic cultures and glean information which she can weave into her stories. She is currently working on a new novel (working title Dynasty) which is set in Zurich and involves the Swiss Roma community. So, off she went to Switzerland to meet some members of the  Roma, as well as a German-Swiss watch designer and a university lecturer. Sounds like a great novel. I can’t wait until it’s published.

I wonder how much travelling I’ll be able to do during the course of writing?

Sarah Rayner: One Moment, One Morning

The other day I finished reading an amazing novel. It’s one of those which had been sat on my bookshelf for some months, since I moved house back in April. However, it had never made it’s way off the shelf again for some reason. Instead, it sat there in hope, collecting dust.

Last week I decided I was spending far too much money on new books without ever having finished those I already had. So, I made a commitment to myself. For every new book I purchase, I must read one of my existing books first.

The book I chose was called “One Moment, One Morning” by Sarah Rayner. I read the back page. It said something about a train journey, three different passengers and their experiences. It sounded harmless enough. A bit of light reading, I thought. So, I grabbed a bookmark and started.

To say it was an emotional rollercoaster is not an exaggeration. I think the tears might have started before I finished the first chapter. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it’s a harrowing story about a personal tragedy, seen through the eyes of three very different female characters

I was very much captured by the author’s beautiful style. I could really feel the desolation of one particular character and how she comes to terms with her loss.

Let’s just say I would dearly love to be able to capture the same emotions in my readers when I write. Something to aim for, I guess.