fcmalby

writing


30 Comments

Is Blogging Worth the Time and Effort?

blogging

I have just received a second ‘Sunshine Award’ for my blog. Thank you to fminuzzi and to KirkyKoo for the earlier award. Both are much appreciated. It made me think about the naysayers who tell you that blogging is not worth the time and effort, especially if you write fiction. The argument goes that if you write non-fiction it is important to write about your topic and to build a following but that if you are writing fiction you are wasting your time, especially if you decide to write about the craft of writing itself.

Well, I beg to differ.

Firstly, I don’t just blog to build a following, to increase my social media platform, or to sell books or to raise my profile as a writer. These are words you’ll hear media savvy writers using but I’m not keen on them.

And here’s the thing…I blog because I love to write.

I love to write short stories, I love writing novels (despite the frustrations and the hours involved in creating carefully crafted sentences) and I really enjoy writing blog posts. My blog is an outlet for the hundreds of ideas that are sparked as I speak to people, or read other posts, or hear something that I want to comment on in more than just a thread.

Here’s the other thing (never use the word, ‘thing.’ It’s as good as using, ‘like,’ ‘just,’ or ‘somewhat.’ Don’t use those words)…

I blog because I like to connect with people, to link to articles and to provoke discussion.

I really appreciate the comments and feedback. Some of the suggestions from blog readers have been really helpful to me. I enjoy the engagement with you, my blog readers, and I appreciate the range of ideas. It is important to me that you are enjoying the posts and finding a nugget of useful new information.

Of all the social media sites (and there are many, too many to keep up with to any great extent) blogging is my favourite for it’s sheer freedom and for the more personal interaction with people. Anyone else with me on this?

Here’s the other thing… blogging gives you a blank canvas that (don’t use the word ‘that’ either) is shorter than a novel but long enough to express an idea succinctly, adding images, links and graphics if you wish.

I enjoy posts with images, videos, book trailers, statistics and links to other useful posts, either on the same blog or elsewhere on the web. Blogging is a great way to raise the profile of other bloggers, to share interviews or book reviews, to encourage others and to share useful information. I have purchased several books recently, purely because they have been mentioned on the blogs of people who I like and trust.

I read blogs written by book reviewers, publishing houses, photographers, travellers, self-published authors, marketing experts (despite their use of terms such as ‘platform,’ or ‘sales’). There is a huge range of topics. Some are highly specific, others are more general, but if you took blogging away from me there would be a dimension missing.

There are those who would argue that blogging takes up valuable writing time. Really? What do you do when you are not writing? Watch TV? Read? Go out? Well, I have an evening of writing ahead of me just because I am on a roll and because I have the time, but I wanted to write this post FIRST to say that blogging IS absolutely worth the time and effort. It is worth it because (and I run the risk of beginning to sound like a l’Oreal advert here) I enjoy the writing and because I learn so much from others.

Please, don’t let anyone stop you blogging if you enjoy it.  

Here is a list of brilliant blogs which I read regularly. They are by no means exhaustive, I do read many more, and blogs are about sharing so here you are:

Authors:

Mystery Writing is Murder

Marianne Wheelaghan

Tom Gething

Aliventures

Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Rebecca Bradley

Short story authors and links to journals/competitions:

Paul McVeigh

Tania Hershman

Book bloggers and author interviews:

Pam Reader

A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

Therapy Through Tolstoy

Strange Alliances

Literary agents:

Books and Such

Carly Watters

Industry news and general interest:

Brain Pickings

Writer Unboxed

Jane Friedman

Do drop by and let me know if you blog and what your gain from blogging, or add to the list of good blogs to share.

And have a lovely weekend.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Interview with Strange Alliances

This is just a quick post to let you know that my interview with Elaine Aldred is over at her blog, Strange Alliances: F.C. Malby. Literally Engaged With Her Writing. We discuss my teaching experience in the Czech Republic just after the fall of communism, and various aspects of writing and publishing.

Many thanks to Elaine for taking the time to interview me. She is a wonderful support to writers and her backlist of author interviews is well worth the read. Do leave comments and feel free to ask any questions.

 


3 Comments

The Darker Side of Life: Reality and Fiction

crime scene

I was planning to write a specific post for today until I read the news this morning. I was horrified by the graphic nature of the news that a baby had been flushed down a public and filthy toilet in China. Although this is not the first time it has happened, this seems particularly horrific because of the fact that the baby was alive and had sustained a fractured skull. The weakened cry as it was eventually cut free reduced me to tears. I won’t add a link as not everyone will want to watch, but the video and images are all over the news so you won’t need to look far to find it.

I don’t cry easily so it took me by surprise. I still feel a sense of grief over the complete abandonment of the mother. Although I know that life has elements of evil (look no further than the recent and brutal Woolwich killing), and that humans are fallible, and sometimes mentally ill or disturbed, or just desperate, but my response made me think hard about the difference between the darker side of life in reality and in fiction.

Take Me to the Castle, my debut, was a literary historical fiction novel, set within the framework of the politics of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. One of the earliest books, which totally gripped me was John Buchan‘s The Thirty Nine Steps. I was given it with a collection of other penguin books in my early teens and the suspenseful journey through Scotland’s wild moors of Richard Hannay, who is on the run from the police after finding a dead body in his flat, kept me turning the pages at breakneck speed. It inspired in me a love of suspense in a good story. I have recently read quite a few crime and literary crime fiction/psychological suspense novels, and I have pondered the difference between the world you inhabit in a book and the world that you wake up in every day.

With fiction there are usually rules and expectations with certain types of books. You look at the cover, the genre, the author and the blurb, and it gives you a hint of what to expect. If you read chick lit novels and do not like horror, you might avoid books with darker covers and bold print. If you enjoy sci-fi and do not like literary fiction, you might avoid the pastel covers with possibly a booker prize winning author’s name across the front. These are crude and basic descriptions but you can see what I’m getting it. Readers come to a book with expectations. They do not expect a gruesome death in a romance novel or a historical drama in a dystopian book. There are, of course, genre cross-overs and new authors breaking the rules and these are continuing to increase. Agents and editors use the term, ‘genre-bending’ to describe these books.

In fiction the darker side of a story is contained within a world with defined boundaries and, although you can become completely absorbed in that particular world, you emerge with the knowledge that the events are fictional and are not directly related to your life. With the exception of fiction novels set within the framework of specific times in history, a fiction novel is just that: FICTION. It’s effects are deep but are limited to the confines of the world the author has created.

In life, the reality of crime and the darker aspects of human nature have no boundaries. The news seems increasingly more shocking and gruesome, although much of this is down to the changing nature of journalism. It would seem that our world is growing increasingly colder and more dangerous, from the point of view of what we read in the press. My husband, however, who is a crime specialist in the field of research and policy, assures me that the world is becoming a statistically safer place. The global homicide rates are lower now than they have ever been. I won’t quote sources as that is his arena, but the issue of what I saw this morning reminds me that the darker side of life in reality does not hold the boundaries that we see in fiction and is often much harder to deal with.

The framework that exists within fiction (as a safety net for some readers) is not apparent in life and the shocking news that we read about often leaves us with deeper fears than the books that we choose to read.

Photo credit: http://www.officialpsds.com


3 Comments

How To Write A Compelling Pitch and Synopsis

latest-news-headlines

I have always feared the dreaded pitch and synopsis. The idea of condensing your work down to a short description (your synopsis) or an even more minute few sentences (your pitch) fills me with dread. If you worry that you will risk losing the essence of your work, read on.

I read a post recently on twitter by author, psychologist and fiction reviewer, Lucy Beresford. It challenged me to really pick out the key idea, the very core of a story. Her post was on twitter and she said this:

“Hone that 3-sentence pitch. Know your book, pitch around the ifs, describe plot, sprinkle gold-dust.”

While I’m not sure that I have gold dust anywhere around the house to sprinkle, I do have some cake sprinkles and some silver balls for cupcake decorating! Seriously, though, her words revolutionised the way I saw the dreaded pitch and synopsis.

Agents and publishers talk about the elevator pitch – what you would say about your book in the minutes that you might share during an elevator ride with them – but the idea remained elusive, a concept just out of reach.

Beresford’s words PITCH AROUND THE IFS made perfect sense yet, through all the writing and publishing advice I have read both in print and online, I have never heard the idea that the ifs are the very heart of the pitch – the what ifs, the hows, the whys. Leaving your reader with questions, rather than mere statements of fact, builds suspense and anticipation. It creates a compelling main idea or a set of ideas which, until the book is read, remain unanswered.

So, this morning I set to work on a short synopsis of my current work-in-progress and put the questions down on paper. The difference between my initial synopsis and today’s revision is the difference between an abstract for an academic paper and a news headline for an act of crime. Although both are necessary for different purposes, a news headline should (in theory) leave you wanting to read the whole article, it should be a teaser. Find a sysnopsis of your favourite films and books and try to work out what makes it compelling.

I should add here that the longer synopsis, which an agent would want to read, is less about the ifs and more an outline of your story (plot spoilers included), but this would be a different post entirely.

Do you have any synopsis or pitch writing tips? Have you read any particularly good ones?

If you would like to follow my writing tips or connect with me on twitter, you can find me here @fcmalby


11 Comments

Fact and Fiction: How to Weave Both Elements into a Good Book

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

While the general categories of fiction and non-fiction are distinct book categories in the publishing world, there is good reason to tie the two together in your novels. It will technically still be classed as fiction, but a combination of the two can be really powerful. My debut novel, Take Me to the Castle,  was a fictional story, written within the framework of communist Eastern Europe, and the resulting secret police activity and fractured family relationships. I wanted to use my research skills to bring the facts to life through the eyes of a young girl, Jana.

Mixing fact and fiction is no easy task because, while you have all the facts to hand after months or maybe years of research, you have to be careful not run the risk of any of the following temptations:

Information dump. Too many facts and the reader will switch off.

Twisting the facts. Inaccuracies will water down your plot and make the story less believable.

Lose your creativity. If you feel the need to stick too tightly to the facts, the plot risks being underdeveloped. You don’t want to become fenced in by tight constraints if you are writing fiction.

What is the best way to weave the two together?

It is important to make outlines after your research so that you have a clear idea of where you are going with the plot. If you begin to write before entering into the research you will end up doing a lot of painful rewrites. It’s best to avoid unnecessary rewriting if possible.

Strike a balance between the two, erring on the side of fiction rather than fact. Too much factual information, and you will end up writing non-fiction, which is fine as long as you are clear about defining your work.

Be creative and don’t be afraid to play with the facts. Use your imagination to fill in the gaps and show the reader your interpretation of the events from a unique angle.

Why will this work?

Given the constraints, you may wonder whether it is worth bringing fact into the arena of fiction at all. I would argue that there are many periods throughout history, and many key events in life, which need to be recorded and written down, and I believe this can be done really effectively through fiction.

Think of The Paris Wife and it’s subject, the first wife of Ernest Hemmingway. What has made the book so successful has been the fact that it gives you a window into the life a famous writer at at time that we know little about.

Magda has just been released in March, and tells the story of Magda Goebells in chilling reality but it is, in part, a fictional representation of the facts. It’s fascination lies in the fact that it covers the difficulties of mother/daughter relationships and the horrific period that was Nazi Germany. It gives an inside view into the life of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebells.

Two of my blog readers and fellow writers also wrote their books based on periods in history:

Tom Gething wrote Under a False Flag based on the overthrow of Marxist president, Salvador Allende, in Chile in 1973. The books is based on a series of recently declassified documents from the period and includes a wealth of historical research.

Marianne Wheelaghan published The Blue Suitcase in 2011, telling the story of her Grandmother, Antonia, through her diary as she grows up in Germany during and in the aftermath of World War II. 

Have you read any other good examples that you can add to the list? Many of these are political. Can you think of other examples?


4 Comments

Book Review: The Pre-War House and Other Stories

50fac95bde404 (1)

I have eagerly awaited the publication of Alison Moore’s debut collection, The Pre-War House and Other Stories. As regular blog readers know, I am an advocate for short fiction and I read and write as much of it as time allows. It’s a real joy to be able to review this collection of short stories.  I was kindly given an advanced copy by Salt Publishing, for which I am very grateful. The Lighthouse, Moore’s debut novel, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and I read it in one sitting. I hoped for the same emotional tension, her attention to detail, and a surprising climax in her short stories, and this collection did not disappoint.

The short stories in Pre-War House are drawn from a selection of magazine and anthology publications over a period of twelve years, alongside new and recently published work. Moore’s stories have been shortlisted for more than a dozen different awards (see below) including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2013 for this collection.

The stories are evocative and often sinister, honing in on the details of everyday life with extraordinary insight into human nature and the many fears, often unspoken. Moore has a great sense of control over her prose, her language is understated and therein lies the power of her writing. She uses words which evoke a sense danger, of loss or unease.

I had previously read When the Door Closed, It Was Dark, and reading it again provided the same sense of threat and menace through the tightly written sentences as they wound their way towards an uneasy ending. There is something inherently satisfying in reading a story of this quality which makes you catch your breath as you turn the pages.

Overnight Stop left me gripping my seat as I read in disbelief. The plot lends itself to a novel length prose and this is no mean feat for a short story. This piece is a perfect example of Moore’s ability to play with your emotions and draw you in to the scene with frightening reality.

Seclusion lulls you into a false sense of security before packing a punch towards the end. The insight into one life is portrayed with telescopic accuracy.

Sleeping Under the Stars brings in details of Stargazy Pie, Liqourice laces and kirby grips with a layered story of the difficulties of fractured families. The ‘goosepimpled arms’ give a sense of foreboding, and words such as ‘queezy’ and ‘sickening’ provide a parallel for the emotional distress involved in the story.

Many of the themes centre around family, relationships, loss, and uncertainty. Some of the stories create a sense of claustrophobia as the characters become trapped in situations beyond their control. Each piece has its own unique style but the thread weaving through the collection is an intangible sense of anticipation. It is a delicious read and, having read some of the stories a few times, it is something I will keep going back to. A remarkable debut collection which comes highly recommended.

‘Overnight Stop’ (The Lampeter Review issue 7)
‘Sleeping Under the Stars’ (The Nottingham Short Story Anthology 2012)
‘A Small Window’ (The Warwick Review vol.6 no.4)
‘Jetsam’ (Ambit issue 211)
‘Seclusion’ (Paraxis volume 4)’If There’s Anything Left’ (The Yellow Room)
‘It Has Happened Before’ (Shadows & Tall Trees issue 4)
‘Trees in the Tarmac’ (The New Writer issue 112)
‘Sometimes You Think You Are Alone’ (The Screaming Book of Horror, 2012)
‘Small Animals’ (Nightjar Press, 2012)
‘The Yacht Man’ (The New Writer issue 111)
‘The Smell of the Slaughterhouse’ (The New Writer issue 111; Best British Short Stories 2013)
‘Glory Hole’ (The Lightship Anthology: 1)
‘The Egg’ (Murmurations: An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds, 2011)
‘When the Door Closed, It Was Dark’ (Nightjar Press, 2010; Best British Short Stories 2011)
‘The Pre-War House’ (The New Writer issue 103)
‘Static’ (Manchester Fiction Prize 2009)
‘Monsoon Puddles’ (Quality Women’s Fiction issue 43)
‘Helicopter Jean’ (The New Writer issue 53)
‘Wink, Wink’ (Creative Writers’ Network magazine)
‘Humming and Pinging’ (Marches Literary Prize anthology 2000) 


9 Comments

What Do Authors Have in Common with Orchestra Conductors?

Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco (Guadalajara...

Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more I write, the more I am aware of  the variety of elements involved in creating a compelling story. These elements are all individual parts but they have to be pulled together to work effectively.  Alone, each part would sound  musical, lyrical, but together they create a depth of sound which cannot be created alone.

I used to play the clarinet in various orchestras and jazz bands and, while I also enjoyed playing music alone, nothing matches the sound of an entire section, woodwind in my case, or a whole orchestra. Some sections alone sound fragmented, have you ever listened to a double bass playing an orchestra piece without the rest of the string section? Unless it’s a jazz improvisation it might sound staccatoed and uncomfortable.

When you create a book you look at the story arc, the balance of dialogue and narrative, points of view, pace, action, language. When you conduct an orchestra, you need to see the different sections: string, wind, brass and percussion. Within each section are the individual groups of instruments. In the strings you would hear the violins, violas, chellos, double basses, and so the list would go on with each of the other sections. The conductor needs to be able to hear each section and filter out the other sounds as well as to be able to hear the collective sound. He or she needs to pull the instruments in at the right time, control the tempo and the volume, and to be able to create an even balance.

In the same way an author needs to be able to look at the different sections of the book, and to hear the sounds and feel the rhythm of the story; to be able to create balance in pace and point of view, a balance between high emotion and lower points of tension, a balance between dialogue and narrative prose.

The threads within a story weave together in a similar way to the instruments within an orchestra. If anything sounds off it can run the risk of throwing the rest of the story off kilter. There is a delicate balance between the threads, requiring the skill of a competent author or conductor, and at different points in the story and the music there will be certain elements that will be louder and clearer, more dominant, while others subside. The balance can make or break the overall sound and quality.