Ann Cleeves (2016) Cold Earth.

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Ann Cleeves has written a whole stack of books. This is her 31st. Sunday Times Bestselling author, and an imprint on the cover of the book showing some actor’s face, Douglas Henshall, with the tag now a major BBC drama. She is everything I am not, an established author whom I’ve never heard of until West Dunbartonshire Libraries made her novel Cold Earth novel of the week. Here’s where I segue away and start talking about myself like those insecure bores at the office party. (Hi girls and guys, did I tell you I was novel of the week, the week before Cold Earth in West Dunbartonshire Libraries and my novels a lot better than that?  You should check it out https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356).   So in a way I’m checking out the competition and I’m committed to reading other novels nominated by West Dunbartonshire Library. Some times we get locked in our own wee worlds of reading and preferences we forget we’re not wearing high-viz vests and working in exclusive reading zones and there’s a whole world of books out there waiting to be read.

I love books, so that’s not a problem. The difficulty with Cold Earth, and detective novels in general, comes from watching too many episodes of Scooby Doo. At the end of 387 pages of Cold Earth the bad guy is going to come away with the Scooby line before getting led away, ‘And I’d have got away with it if it wasn’t for you damn kids…Scooby… Scooby Doo’.

We’re talking about characters, plot and setting here. On the first page, first paragraph, Ann Cleeves knows enough about writing books to fill a book and get these three in early to answer an unasked question of why the first paragraph in a book, or short-story is so important.

The land slipped while Jimmy Perez was standing beside the grave. The dead man’s family had come from Foula originally they’d carried the coffin on two oars, the way bodies were always brought for burial on that island. The pall-bearers were distant relatives whose forbears had moved south to England, but they must have thought the tradition was worth reviving. They’d time to plan the occasion; Magnus had a stroke and had been in hospital for six weeks before he died. Perez had visited him every Sunday, sat by his bed and talked about the old times. Not the bad old times when Magnus had been accused of murder, but the more recent good times, when Ravenswick had included him in all their community events.

The setting is a Scottish island near Shetland. And if you think all Scottish islands are the same then you probably have never heard of Charles Darwin, but you probably know enough to know that they are drab, claustrophobic, rainy places where if you don’t like the weather you can just fuck off.

Plot is established. For some writers a plot is where you grow turnips. Cleeves is Janus’s face here, looking backwards and forwards. She’s saying it’s not that quiet up here, Magnus has already been accused of murder, if you want to find out more read my old books. With all that rain there is a landslide. Jimmy Perez has come to bury his neighbour, but the land washes away the gravesite and the gravestones of the dead already buried, including Fran, Jimmy Perez’s fiancée buried a few graves along after being knifed to death. Her death haunts him and she talks to him from beyond the grave in italics. Don’t do that kind of thing unless you are an established writer.

Jimmy Perez is a detective it’s not his job to find out if God was responsible for sending all that rain to a wee God-fearing island perched on a rock on the Atlantic for not going to the Kirk enough, or if it’s global warming. But when cold earth ploughs through a small croft and the body of a woman is found, and it’s not an act of God, but she’s been murdered, then it is Detective Inspector Perez’s job to find out whodunit.

What I found interesting was Perez is written as the kind of eye-candy usually associated with women. His superior Willow, for example, comes from a different lifestyle, but another of the small Scottish islands, and she, like many of the locals, fancies him rotten and they do have sex, but it is off the page. Nothing that couldn’t be seen in a Disney Cartoon. That’s murder you might say, but Scooby, Scooby Doo, I quite like you.

 

 

 

Under Lock and Key

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/under-lock-and-key

Under Lock and Key highlights many of the problems discussed in caring for vulnerable people with complex needs. This shows how ‘total institutions’ work. I tackled this theme directly in my unpublished novel Hut’s and more indirectly (I like to think in a Hitchcock fashion) in my novel Lily Poole. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356

Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia. A Writer’s Journey.

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Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia. A Writer’s Journey.

All writers are historians. Subject and object. Subjecting what we know with what other people know. In other words, we read to write. We look for resonance in our writing and our reading. And sometimes somebody says it better and you’ve just got to acknowledge mastery. This is an honest book, a beautiful book in so many ways. When I start taking notes— Papers: 1991-2003; Tesserae 2003-2007; Letters 2011-2016—I find that I’ve copied word for word all 384 pages of questions and answers and it will take me another lifetime to read it, but if I pluck open any page there will be wisdom and advice. One often translates into the other as Ferrante’s Italian is translated into English and other languages, but the resonance of meaning remains true. This is a book, not so much about writing, but about living.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. If you want to look for her, she asks you to look for her in her writing, in her novels. The media obsession with who a writer is unhealthy and unnecessary. A good book will find an audience of willing and receptive readers. This is counterintuitive advice. As a crowdfunded author, published by Unbound (Lily Poole) I should be a critic of this approach, not an admirer. I’ll let you into a secret, crowdfunding doesn’t work, even when it does. Another way of putting this, of putting Ferrante in her place, is claiming she is saying nothing new. We don’t need to know, for example, who William Shakespeare, Robert Burns or the J.D Salinger was to appreciate their work. The message of Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was the idea that somehow quality created its own momentum and would stand out. A conflation of both ideas is To Kill a Mocking Bird and Go Set a Watchman. Both had millions of world-wide readers and are financial success stories, but only one is readable. That’s a value call. A value judgement. The inference is my book flopped because it wasn’t marketed well enough, I wasn’t marketed well enough, or it was rubbish and therefore found no readers.  A combination of all three is the most likely answer. Because despite what Ferrante says, much of which purist ideology I agree with, a book I’ve never read, or intend to read has sold 125 million copies and, like Ferrante’s work, two films so far created, based on the book.. It relied on social media, word of mouth marketing and the fan-fiction community. Fifty Shades of Grey breaks all of Ferrante’s rules. And the power of social media is Trumpeted by the election of the moron’s moron as the most powerful man on earth.

After a book is published, let a book find its own way is not something Ferrante preaches. It is something she did. On the media she writes of a common predicament for the nobody of which she is champion:

Is a book from the media point of view, above all the name of the person who writes it? Is it the fame of the author or, rather the author personality who takes the stage thanks to the media, a crucial support for the book? Isn’t it newsworthy, for the cultural pages, that a good book has been published? Is it newsworthy instead, that a name able to say something to editorial offices in on the cover or some book or other?

Writing is not a game of winner takes all and stacking up the number of sales. Ferrante argues, ‘Novels should never come with instructions for use, least of all by those who write them.’ But Ferrante is saying something more than that. She is saying that writing is a private act made public. Not all writing should however be published. And not all writers have attained the skills necessary to say what they are hoping to say. I include myself in that group.  Writing which is published should be able to stand alone. And women in publishing, as in life, find it far more difficult to succeed. That’s not feminism, just fact.  This is a constant motif of her novels. ‘I’ve described women at moments when they are absolutely alone. But in their heads there is never silence or even focus. The most absolute solitude, at least in my experience, and not just as narrator, is always, to paraphrase… ‘too loud’.’ Men explode. Women implode. Melina Cappucino, the ‘mad widow’ in My Brilliant Friend, is a constant, a fragment of a life also held up to the light, similar women, but not stereotypical characters feature in  The Days of Abandonment and Troubling Love. The idea of the ‘other’ not being other, but us, is something in these troubling times we need to keep hold of.  We need to be aware of in the fight ahead. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, yes, she is indeed. Read her.

Prostitution and Lily Poole.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356

I like to read and I like to write. One is the engine of the other. When you’re writing fast, with dash, you just fling words down, and hope for the best. Lily Poole was a serial on ABCtales. Bang, bang, bang, around 2000 words a day. It wasn’t called Lily Poole then, I’d given it the working tag, ‘School Photos’. First-draft stuff.  Let’s not call it a novel, but a collection of words pointing in a particular direction. There was no Lily Poole, but there was a little girl that fell down in the snow. She didn’t say much, in fact, didn’t say anything other than ‘big people don’t understand’. There’s a truth in that which is hard to pin down. And yeh, a little boy I once took to school when he kept slipping in the snow, did use those very words. Nowadays kids go to school in a flotilla of cars, and if you took a kid’s hand you didn’t know, well, it wouldn’t be the school bell, but alarm bells that would be ringing.

In later drafts of the story, I gave the little girl a name Lily. And in later, later drafts, I gave her a surname Poole. Her backstory plays a part in the plot. I like to be realistic, but it did seem farfetched.  Then later when the novel has been published you read something that makes truth of fiction.

You read in Robert A. Douglas (2012, p115) ‘The Investigative Journalist and His Cause’ and the trial of William Stead, a cause celebrity, in Victorian London.

‘In order to facilitate a heightened sense of  verisimilitude, he “bought” a thirteen-year-old girl [Eliza Armstrong] under the pseudonym, Lily for five pounds by negotiating with a former procuress, who, in turn, made the arrangements with the child’s mother…The midwife certifies her virginity, she is taken to a brothel, undressed, put in bed and chloroformed. She awakes to find a strange man in her room.’

A starved and working-class girl of thirteen of the Victorian era would not be prepubescent. Physically, she would be a child, a little girl. Lily does indeed live and breathe, her time has gone, but sometimes the past does haunt us in unexpected ways and at unexpected moments.

Carmine Gallo (2014) Talk, the 9 Public Speaking Secrets, Like, of the World’s Top Minds, TED.

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Aye, I can hear you thinking. What’s he reading that shite for? Well, as you probably know I’ve been trying to sell my book Lily Poole to the unsuspecting public. For two years I’ve been making promises and telling enough lies to become the next Tory Prime Minister. Well, that wasn’t to be, but I did get a lot of support from a couple of homeless folk that I bribed with a bottle of Eldorado and the promise of enough cheap wine to float off to Renfrew without the ferry. But my book Lily Poole has hatched and with a drunken wobble in it legs is making its way into the big bad world. The problem here is, as the asshole author, I can no longer hide behind the written word and need to come down from my penthouse garrett and mingle with the common people. In other words I need to stand in front of an audience, with an adult-sized incontinence pad and not smell of keech and say something faintly amusing. You can see why I wanted to TALK LIKE TED.

I don’t really want to talk like TED, I want TED to step in and say, don’t worry about it old China, I’ll do all the talking for you. More to the point, in words of my old man DES, ‘away you and hide yourself’.

Ok, I’m on to a hiding. ‘Ideas Are the Currency of the Twenty-first Century’.

‘We’re all in sales now.’

‘Unleash the Master Within.’

‘What makes your heart sing?’

‘The New Science of Passion and Persuasion.’

‘Your Brain Never Stops Growing.’

‘Master the Art of Storytelling.’

‘Stories are just Data with a Soul.’

‘Three Simple, Effective Types of Story.’ (i) Personal (ii) About other people (iii) That Nurture (not undermine) Creativity

‘Give me one character I can root for.’

‘Have a Conversation.’

‘Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.’

‘Talk, Walk and Look like a Leader.’

‘Fake it till you make it.’

‘Teach Me Something New.’

‘Explore Outside Your Field.’

‘Successful Presentation Reveal Something You’ve Never Considered.’

‘Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments’ (thou shalt not deliver the usual shite).

‘Create a Holy Smokes Moment.’

‘End on a high note.’

‘Lighten Up.’

‘The Brain Loves Humour as the cock loves talking fanny.’

‘Stick to the 18-Minute Rule.’

‘Listening is Draining.’

‘The Brain is an Energy Hog.’

Three story structure

Paint a Mental Picture (cheers pal) with Multisensory Experiences and two cans of Stella.

‘Multitasking is a Myth.’

‘Stay in your Lane.’ (Don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living in the same way a good boot in the balls in a good boot in the balls).

‘You can learn from others’ (ouch).

I’ve slightly modified some of the TED advice to DES advice so it makes more sense this side of the Atlantic. Truth is keeching myself about standing in front of an audience and mumble-speaking. Back to my garret to practice booing folk.