Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A city full of inspiration

I have just finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  While I find some sentences fairly clunky, Neil Gaiman is a story teller.  Each and every story is guaranteed to stick with you for a long time and each character is fully and wonderfully developed.  Neverwhere is no different and each character effortlessly comes alive for the reader so much so that next time I go to London I believe I will be keeping an eye out for Door, the Marquis De Carabas, Hunter and Richard Mayhew.  I will certainly never look at tube stations in the same way.
Neverwhere is a fantastic book and I strongly recommend it to everyone, whether you enjoy fantasy or not.  I'm now very interested in watching the BBC series that was being filmed as Gaiman wrote the novel.

One of the many things that struck me about Neverwhere was that Neil Gaiman made London itself into a character.  And why not?  London is perfect to develop into a character and cities should not just be a setting or scenery for characters.  Terry Pratchett has successfully created Ankh-Morpork into a Disc World character alive with heavy smells of baked goods, cooked meats, spoiled magic and thick sewage floating on the river Ankh.

This got me to thinking about other cities.  London is a good city to use as a setting as international readers can relate, but what about the lesser known?  I thought this would be an excellent excuse to give a run down of my three favourite cities and how they could be used in writing;

  • Bristol
  • York
  • Edinburgh

I’m going to start with Bristol because this is where I live.

I first stepped foot in Bristol four years ago (I think) to meet my now husband.  I knew Bristol was the city for me as soon as I stepped off the train.  It is a large city, although not quite as big as London, with a bustling urban feel and more culture than you can shake a stick at.

Bristol may lack the strong history of London – there is no royal connection and the museums are poor and lacking.  What Bristol does have, however, is a beautiful harbour, grand buildings holding the Central Library and Council House, lots of green spaces and steep hills (Park Street) with boutique shops.  There is the posh Clifton with its tall Edwardian town houses and celebrity residences next to the Downs, a large green space surrounded by mansions and the Clifton Suspension Bridge and there are the cheaper areas of the city, home to a strong sense of community.  Of course that’s putting a shiny gloss on it.  Bristol, just like London, has rough patches and those places can be just as inspirational as the beauty spots.

There is always something going on in Bristol.  There are the grand buildings of Bristol University lurking down residential roads.  There is a strong art and graffiti presence – Bristol is the home of Banksy.  There are old factories and regenerated warehouses mixed with new apartments and tall buildings made of glass.  You can visit @Bristol, the aquarium, the M Shed museum or Bristol museum, Clifton Suspension Bridge or, my personal favourites, the SS Great Britain and Bristol Zoo, to name just a few.

If you fancy a spot of theatre, music or comedy there is Colston Hall and the Hippodrome (a beautiful, quaint theatre that must surely be haunted somewhere and is perfect for comedy performances as no matter where you sit you will be close enough to see the details on the comedians face!) as well as a number of smaller pub venues.  

Bristol is brimming with history - the most memorable belonging to the slave trade unfortunately - and inspiration.  Many writers come from or live in Bristol and many have used the city to inspire them, one of which is Chris Beckett's Marcher.

I have personally found inspiration in Bristol and a chapter of my first novel Silver is based in Bristol.  Another chapter will be based on the SS Great Britain.  The last time I visited was the hottest day of the year and we melted beneath deck.  The narrow corridors and tiny rooms, along with the idea that the ship is haunted, sent my mind into overdrive.

The Downs also feature in Silver – a beautiful expanse of green popular with joggers and dog walkers.  There are regular football games, a lovely small cafĂ© that sells amazing cake and an ice cream van.  The perfect place for a werewolf to run wild.

Neverwhere made me start to look at Bristol in a new light.  Neil Gaiman focused on London’s sewer system and tube stations which are the real mysteries of London – the underground where there are huge Victorian brick tunnels.  Could a similar focus be found for Bristol?

Next post: York’s history and inspiration

Monday, 28 May 2012

Can you have self publishing success? New report gives hints

To have my novel traditionally published is the dream.  Naturally.  Who dreams of writing a novel and not having agents and publishers eager to sell their work?
Of course in these tricky economic times it is increasingly more difficult to get that agent and publishing contract.  The fact that everyone wants to be a writer doesn’t help.
So my plan B, should plan A of being traditionally published fail, was to self-publish.

I’ve done some homework on this and know some rough costs.  I have names of companies floating around in my head and marketing ideas.  At this moment in time I can’t really afford to go ahead with this and I don’t have full confidence in any of my manuscripts right now.  Maybe when the manuscripts are ready, my bank account will be too.

I think I have a good idea of what it takes to be a successful self-published writer – enough start up money to do yourself justice, a professionally edited and proofread manuscript, a professionally designed cover, a marketing plan, some good friends to spread the word and a very strong and determined will to succeed.

Today I read this article about the average earnings of self-published writers taken from a survey of 1,700 self-published authors for the Taleist website.
Apparently the majority of self-published authors do not make a lot of money.  Despite a few success stories, the majority actually make less than $500 a year.  This is very worrying as it means that many don’t break even.  How depressing.

Romance fiction is reportedly the best genre to write to become a self-published success.  Fantasy writers, I noted, do not fare well.  There is hope, however; professional help can increase the potential for earnings, as I had already discovered and assumed.  According to the survey well educated women in their 40s who write an average of just over 2,000 words a day are the most successful.

Essentially, if you do as good a job as a publisher would you are more likely to succeed.  Well, it doesn’t take a genius (or a survey) to come to that conclusion.  But then this depends on your definition of the word ‘success’.  For some this is monetary, for others just to see their name in print is success enough.

So it has all become clear.  I will continue to search for representation and go down the traditional route until I hit 40 when I will double my writing efforts from 1000 words a day and take the plunge!  On the other hand, maybe the key is to dig out all my savings, get working on my manuscripts and get them published and out into the world before other aspiring writers wake up, realise what has been going on and increase the standards of self-publishing.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Would you name your son Tyrion or Joffrey?

Great news!  Game of Thrones has been commissoned for a third series!

Apparently fans are naming their children after Game of Thrones characters.  What would you name your child?  Please note, I believe Robb (Stark), Jamie (Lannister) and Jon (Snow) is cheating...

Personally I like Tyrion, Bran, Arya and Daenerys.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Dark Shadows; another vamp flick?

On Sunday I finally saw Dark Shadows, so I apologise for the tardiness of this review.

Dark Shadows is the latest film from Tim Burton and his inner circle of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Danny Elfman.

Barnabas Collins’ (Depp) family travel to Maine from Liverpool when Barnabas is a boy.  They expand their fishing company, build the town (Collinsport) and build their own house overlooking all that they have created (Collinswood).
One of the serving women, who happens to be a witch, in Collinswood falls in love with Barnabas but her affections are not reciprocated and in anger she curses his family.  His one true love flings herself from the cliffs and, unable to live without her, he jumps after her.  He survives the fall and is turned into a vampire.  The witch (Eva Green) turns the townsfolk against him and he is buried in a box for two centuries.
He is freed in 1972 where he finds his enduring family, a replica of his one true love and that the witch, Angie, is still alive, un-aged, and is driving the Collins family business into ruin.  It is up to Barnabas to bring back his family’s honour and break the family curse.

Dark Shadows is based on a television series of which many of the cast were fans.  I have never seen this programme so cannot refer back to it in any way.

I went into the screening of this film expecting to cringe and be disappointed.  I expected the humour to be tackless and the story to be silly based on what I had seen from the trailer.  I was pleasantly surprised.
The writing is superb.  Johnny Depp doesn’t overact his character – what a ridiculous thought, why would he over act?  There is a wonderful 60/70s vibe, as you would expect, and the whole thing has been treated with a great deal of respect.

There is more violence and explicit material than I was expecting.  This film is classified as a 12A and there were children younger than 12 sat in the cinema.  Most seemed to be bored and one girl was even wandering around the seats, out of the way of people, barely glancing up at the screen.  But please be warned if you are considering taking youngsters to see this.

Happily, I enjoy a bit of violence and explicit material.  Equally happily, the man sat next to me did too.  He looked like an aged hippy, taking his daughter to see a film that would remind him of his youth.  He seemed to particularly enjoy the hippy references and I enjoyed the reek of cannabis emanating from him. 

The theme of this film is family and the close bonds between those sharing the name Collins.  Similar to The Addams Family, this gives Dark Shadows its feeling of warmth and love.

As well as being warm, it is also a funny film and it is classic Burton.  Barnabas’ dark hair, eyes and umbrella contrasting with his white skin and the ethereal beauty of the women in his life gave me that lovely familiar Burton feeling of going home.  It was wonderful, also, to see a flawless Michelle Pfeiffer after all this time and the young Chloe Grace Moretz , who shot to fame as the young Hit-girl in Kick Ass, as a moody 70s teen.

There are some great surprises throughout the film which I won’t mention as I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. 

The supernatural element throughout is beautifully done with glimpses of ghosts that left me wanting more.  It is easy to see how this could have been a television series and I did feel that some stories could have been expanded on and I would have enjoyed learning more about certain characters with the freedom that only a television series can give.

I loved this film and I watched it eagerly (although that may have been stale passive cannabis smoke).  However, the end of the film disappointed me.  It reaches a climax that had me wide eyed and smiling stupidly at the screen and then descended into Twilightesque moments of cringe.  I wonder if the television series ended in this way?

Dark Shadows is a mixture of Burton beauty, Death Becomes Her and The Addams Family and it will certainly be added to my Tim Burton collection when it is released on DVD.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Explicit and profane

Before I start this post officially I would first like to point out the similarity in this photo of Winston Churchill, nabbed from the BBC website;

To this picture of renowned evil vampire Herrick in Being Human!

It made me pause in my sandwich eating…

Anyway, the image of Winston Churchill comes from a news article on the BBC about legally insulting people.
It demonstrates the art of the insult through a few examples including Winston Churchill’s comparison of Charles de Gaulle to a ‘female llama who has been surprised in the bath’ and Shakespeare’s ‘thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows’.  Brilliant.  They put the majority of insults to shame.

This made me think about swearing in fiction (as swearing is often used when insulting).  Swearing, along with sex scenes, is something I’m not completely comfortable with when writing.  Which is strange considering I constantly swear in reality, and am fine by sex (where appropriate). 

Personally, I think my own problem stems from the way I was brought up.  Swearing is unprofessional (a definite no-no in the workplace) and I want to be a professional writer.  As for sex scenes, I’m fine until I wonder if my dad might read it…

I’ve recently started putting stronger swear words in my novels, reminding myself that I am writing for adults and therefore it is allowed.  I’ve read far worse from best selling authors. 

Then again, according to latest studies, the characters who swear in young adult fiction are the most popular, including mild swearing in the Harry Potter series which surprised me.  This has raised questions about whether books should have age ratings, which is a whole other debate.

On the other hand, my mother-in-law comments on the books she reads that are filled with profanities, claiming that while the story is good, it would be better without the constant swearing.

Essentially, swearing (and sex) in fiction is utterly subjective.  As is everything in fiction.  When writing fiction, you should write what you want to read and if you don’t mind profanities and sex in your books then hopefully your readers won’t either.

This is not an excuse to overuse the swear word.  Some swearing can make a character, or situation, more believable.  Sex and swearing, as with everything else in writing, should be used as tools.  For example, in the first series of Game of Thrones Joffrey called Arya a c***.  This was a complete shock and I vividly remember both me and my husband gasping at the sound of it.  It was the moment when you realise that Joffrey isn’t just a spoilt little prince, in one word the viewer comes to realise that there is something very wrong with Joffrey.
On the other hand, the brilliant Neil Gaiman’s Amercian Gods contains detailed sex scenes.  I read the first one with shock and actually had to put the book down to think about how I felt about such descriptive language.  On one hand, was this detail necessary?  On the other hand, it made me stop, think and look at Neil Gaiman’s name on the front.  I certainly haven’t forgotten it in a hurry and it didn’t detract from the story, rather it gave it a certain flavour.

A good rule of thumb when deciding whether to include profanity, or sex scenes, is to consider;

  • Is it believable?      
I recently had to stop myself from putting a common profanity in my latest fantasy novel when I realised that a whole other world of kings and dragons wouldn’t necessarily have the same profanities as us and this was a great opportunity not to use our common swear words.
  • Does it add to the story?   
Vivid, detailed descriptions of sex may add to a scene or situation or let the reader into a secret about a character.
  •  Who is your target audience?  
Are you writing for young adults or adults?  How would you feel about your child reading those words?
  • Does it fit into the setting? 
If you’re writing an historical story, certain swear words will not fit the tone and will put the reader off.
  •  Are you comfortable using the words? 
If your own writing makes you cringe then it will make others cringe!  Only write what you feel comfortable writing and remember, there will be a lot of people out there who share your views on profanities, no matter what they are.