fcmalby

writing


3 Comments

Speaking at a Book Group

IMG_0265

This morning I spoke at a book group meeting. The members of the group had read my debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, and they invited me to come and speak. They wanted to discuss the writing process and the background to the book.

It was an interesting experience for me as an author and I learned a great deal about what readers want to know. Their questions mirrored many of the reader emails I receive. One of the most interesting questions was, what, if anything, I would have changed about the story. Many readers have said they felt devastated by the loss of one of the characters, which the book group agreed with and they had also felt the same way. This led to a discussion about what captures the heart of the reader and how we become involved in the lives of the characters. They also wanted to know if finishing a manuscript created a sense of loss for an author. My answer was a resounding, yes. It does, it really does. When you spend a few years inside the lives and minds of your characters, closing a door into their world is a bereavement of sorts, even if only fictional.

We covered many areas of publishing, editing, writing, research and whether people prefer ebooks over paperbacks. We discussed the length of the editing process and what happens at each stage of the publishing process at Random House. From an initial idea to the final product, it takes roughly a year to create a book.

They were keen to know the million dollar question (and it is one that is asked most often at literary festivals and in author interviews)….

“Where do your ideas come from?”

While it is difficult to give a tangible answer, because the answer varies from writer to writer, and from story to story, what I can say is that most writing develops from an idea. That idea is often sparked by your own experiences or feelings, or those of others. Every experience creates an image or a thought, every person reveals character traits that can be woven into a fictional character. And in the case of my short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo, I said that some of the stories are purely fictional, while others find their origins in real life experiences.

We discussed the fact that many ideas evolve from a snippet of information or a scene that appears in your imagination. We discussed the creative process and the difficulty of writer’s block. There were many questions and ideas but what really resonated with me was that fact that everyone gleans different experiences from the same story.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements


4 Comments

What do you gain from reading eBooks?

ereader-librarydigitaltrends.com

I promised to balance a previous post on The Joy of a Bookshop with a look at the advantages of reading eBooks, so here it is. Much as I love browsing through bookshops and holding a physical book, turning its pages and enjoying the cover and the scent of the paper, I am currently reading many more eBooks. The reasons for this are varied:

I can download a sample of a book to see if I like the style and am, therefore, experimenting with new writers more than I perhaps used to. I can take a chance on a writer I do not know and not have to part with any cash until I decide to move on or to download the whole book. This has honestly revolutionised my reading as I download samples as I find them, they are automatically sent to my kindle, and when I am ready to read they are there waiting all in one place.

The price is usually lower, which means that I can download more books and I have never read as many books as I have since I was given a kindle last year. E-books are less expensive to produce and can be sold at a lower price. Although it is not always the case, more often than not the price is a good deal lower. E-books are also encouraging younger readers to pick up books as they are already familiar with mobile devices and tablets, although paperback and hardback books are still more popular with the youngest readers.

I can travel with more books as I can download them and slide a fairly slim device into my bag. Gone are the days when I threw six books into a suitcase and removed several items of clothing, only to then take out four of the books and put the clothes back in. I can now take as many books as I like with me anywhere I go and not worry about bulk or weight. Hallelujia!

I can highlight and annotate the text and see popular sections of a book highlighted by others. The annotation function works well for me when editing my own books but it also gives me a place to make notes when I am reading non fiction, in particular. I can also highlight parts that I want to return to, both with fiction and non fiction. I like to be able to see highlights from others, as it makes the reading more of a shared experience. If you can see what other readers enjoyed it enriches your own experience. Some of the best quotes from books are highlighted, enabling you to skim through them before or after you read and to have them saved for later reference.

I can search for keywords. This is a really useful function of eReaders when you are reading eBooks. It allows you to find passages if you want to go back and check anything or, in the case of non fiction, it helps you to find key points of reference. With fiction, you might want to reread a part which you enjoyed. This can be more difficult when you are turning the pages of a paperback.

The immediacy of downloading an eBook, as opposed to waiting to get to a bookshop, means that you download books which you might otherwise not get around to buying, especially if copies are not available. This is of particular relevance to me as I live in a country where English is not the native language, but I read in English. Instead of waiting to get to a bookshop with an English section, I can download a book within minutes.

These are just some of the many advantages I see but I hope the two will continue to coexist so that readers continue to be presented with a choice. The more ways that books can be put into the hands of readers, the better.

For those of you who enjoy statistics, I’ll leave you with some information from Nielsen who predict that “ebooks will overtake sales of print books in 2014, with total sales expected to rise to 47 million units. This will put total ebook sales 300,000 ahead of their print equivalents and mean that electronic books account for 48% of the overall fiction market.” They also recorded a dip in sales for 2013 and projected a mixed outlook with this information included.

You can read the whole article from Publishing Technology here. The following infographic shows statistics from the US in 2013: libraries-are-forever-972-640x4094                                              dailyinfographic.com, Feb 2013


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?