Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I've updated two book covers - what do you think?

Sometimes when you have finished a novel you choose a book cover which appeals to you at the time. At some stage you take another look at it, out there with all those other fancy covers on Amazon, and you think:  I don't really think I like that....  So it's back to the drawing board.

I have been working hard with my cover designer, John O' Mahony for the past number of weeks trying to get the kind of book cover which I think is appropriate for two of my novels in two very different genres.

Here is what we came up with for Ending in Death. 

What do you think?  It's the second book in the Sergeant Alan Murray mystery series and is set in a lonely village in Co. Kerry, Ireland. 
You can view on Amazon here:

I also updated one of my romance novels, Love at Close Range, the second one in the Sunshine Cafe series.
I thought this cover better suited the story.

 Product Details

Here's the link

On second thoughts, this might need a bit of re-working!  Watch this space.

Friday, 14 October 2016

What is your personality type?

Recently a scientist or scientists at Madrid's Carlos III University did some experiments, the result of which, they tell us, points to there being only four personality types in all the whole wide world.
Why did we ever think we were unique with minds of our own?
The four categories are (according to Carlos III de Madrid Universidad, I hasten to add):

30% can be classified as Envious
20% Optimist
20% Pessimist
20% Trusting

Yes, you are right, that still leaves 10%. The survey said that there is a fifth unidentified group of people which make up this 10%.  Aha!

A scientist explains the experiment thus: 
Problem:  you can hunt for deer together only or hunt alone for rabbits only.
The answers were the pointers to what classified Envious, Optimist, Pessimist or Trusting.

I have a problem with that: I am against hunting for sport.  Would that make me one of the 10% unidentified people?

What did I learn from reading about this study of humankind?  Only that a) scientists should have better things to do and b) the basis of the study sounds a bit flaky.
However, on thinking things over, this might be an absolute ice-breaker at that awkward dinner party/boring cocktail party you are attending.  How about turning to the nearest person and asking "if you had to hunt rabbits on your own or hunt deer with a partner, which would you do?" 
Whatever the answer, it would most likely be lost on me because I have nearly forgotten the rationale behind the survey. 
Everyone I have ever met is an individual with their own unique story. No scientist in any university anywhere in the world is going to change my opinion on that.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Why do we write?

All writers spend long lonely hours writing. And we don't like being disturbed. We read what we wrote yesterday, edit it a bit, then soldier on with the next 1,000 words or so. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard work. Why do we do it?
I am often faced with this question when introduced to someone as a "writer". To many people, being a writer means a) someone who has written a literary masterpiece and b) someone who has written a bestseller which is about to be made into a film and c) someone who has made a lot of money out of a) and b).
Why would you want to spend all that time writing if you don't make money on it? someone asked me the other day. I found it quite hard to explain that writing is a compulsion, that I get enormous fun out of creating characters and worlds and putting it all on paper. It is definitely not about making money. It is about having fun. The day I find it a chore is the day I stop.
I picked up a book at the library the other day entitled "Why We Write".  It has contributions from 20 acclaimed authors - Jane Smiley, Isabel Allende, Jodi Piccoult, Armistead Maupin to name but a few -  on how and why they do what they do. Not surprisingly, their motivation is more or less the same as mine. They love writing.
There is an extract from the first page of one of the authors' novels and this is where that old rule of writing is so clearly demonstrated: in every case the opening paragraph made me want to read the book. I had not heard of one or two of these writers but I will most definitely be looking for their works.
And here's a tip, hoary though it is, to all of us writing our stories: hook the reader from the first paragraph, don't wait to get into the swing of the story. The Germans have an expression mit der Tuer ins Haus fallen which means literally falling into the house with the door. You can imagine it: you simply want to turn the knob on the door and instead both you and the door crash into the hallway.  And that is how we should write our novels. The reader must want to know what happens next.
A word of warning here for us all: there are some novels out there which start with a great hook and can't sustain the story beyond the first chapter.  So the plot has to stand up to sustained suspense and no great beginning lets us off giving our best to the writing of the story.
So now it is time to leave off writing my blog and put some of that dynamism into practice.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Finding the Story Teller

There is a lot of advice out there on how to write: use simple words, short sentences, don't have two characters with the same name. I could go on - I have taken several classes in creative writing, have read loads of articles on the craft of writing. And I have profited from all of this, I have to admit. I have served a long apprenticeship on learning how to write and I am still learning.

So it never fails to irritate me a little bit when I start reading a novel which does not obey any of these rules, a novel by an author who has had several books published and, according to the cover is "acclaimed".  In the novel I am currently reading, a crime thriller, sentences are half a paragraph long, characters tell the story to keep the reader up to date, and everyone sounds more or less the same despite the author's attempts to give them different voices. Not one single character stands out or grabs my attention in any way. The story line itself is interesting, indeed it is very current in its theme, but to be honest, it wouldn't bother me if I never got round to finishing the book.

And here I perceive another lesson. No matter how good the plot, if the characters don't grab you, you are most likely going to give up before the story really gets started. There are natural born story tellers among us. I recall when I worked in London yonks ago in a typing pool, one girl told us the story of a film she had seen the previous night. She kept us totally spellbound. Years later when I saw that it would be shown on TV I settled down to watch it expecting an exciting film. It was boring in the extreme and I switched channels after around fifteen minutes. This girl kept us all enthralled with her own life story. She gave us the whole history or how she had moved to London, leaving her boyfriend of several years, and how she had met a new guy and was madly in love. We all hung on her every word!

Alas, there are far too few such story tellers in the world. Writers can learn how to create tension, how to plot, how to hook the reader, but once in a while there comes an author who really stands out by his or her way with words, a writer who can pull us into their world of fiction and make us never want to leave it. When you open a book like that, you have hit gold, believe me.

Friday, 9 September 2016

National Hug Your Boss Day

According to the National Day Calendar, this is the day you should hug your boss.  This made me look back on the many bosses I have worked for over the years.  Taken all in all, I have been very lucky.
As a secretary in London I was nearly always late for work and had to pass my boss' office on the way to my own.  We invariably had this conversation:
Me:  'Morning David'
David: 'You're fired!'
As you can tell, he was a lot of fun - as long as I did my work right, of course.

I had another boss who lived not too far from me and who was often late himself so he nearly always gave me a lift while pointing out to me that if he hadn't, I would be late.

As a very inexperienced typist in the typing pool of a large company in Dublin, I was asked to stand in for the Chairman's secretary for a week. She instilled into me the absolute necessity of watering all the plants both in her (luxurious) office and the Chairman's. I was so afraid of doing the wrong thing that I watered just about anything that stood in a pot. When she returned to the office she congratulated me on salvaging two plants which she had given up as dead and asked me how I had managed it. She hadn't time to chuck them out, she explained, and wasn't it lucky that I was so skilled at plant management. The Chairman was so impressed that he insisted I filled in for his secretary whenever she went on holidays after that.  He was a gentleman of the old school, who felt I was overworked if he gave me more than three letters a day to type.  Those were the days!!

Of course I have had some bad experiences, too. Everyone is only human, after all. I'd better not go into that, I think. Suffice it to say that my somewhat naive notion that the boss always knows best was shattered. As were my idealistic ideas that the boss is always fair and if you work hard you get rewarded. But this was all part of growing up.

So here's a toast to all bosses, the ones I worked for and liked and the ones that made me cringe.  God bless them all!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A Tech-free Trip - well, almost!

It was only when I got to Dublin airport and decided to check for messages that I realised I had left my mobile phone at home. Horror of horrors! As I was arriving late, I planned on going straight to my hotel in Frankfurt city centre and sending my daughter a text to say I had arrived safely and make plans for meeting next morning. There's always the internet, I consoled myself.  However, my gmail account wasn't having any of this nonsense. I was not at my usual pc and they wanted answers to questions such as "when did you create your account with gmail?"  They also wanted me to check my mobile. Grrrr...  I had one mobile phone number written into my little diary which I had - with more luck than intelligence - packed into my shoulder bag. I accosted a handsome young man (!!) and asked if I could send a text on his phone. Ole, if you ever read this, please accept my thanks again, you saved my life!  I sent off a text to my son explaining what had happened and gave my hotel phone number. 
It all worked beautifully. My daughter got my message and phoned me at my hotel and we made arrangements of when and where to meet.  And so the whole week went.  I met some former colleagues, having already arranged the time and place before I left Ireland, so no hassle there. Everything went smoothly simply because there was no way of making last minute changes or sending texts to say "I'll be half an hour late". 

I can't say it was liberating, especially at the beginning, because the urge for instant communication has been drilled into us by the mobile communications people. But by the end of my stay I was completely used to being without my phone. Being without your mobile simply makes you a better communicator!  Instead of "I'll send you a text" you have to say something like "we'll meet at the town hall tomorrow at 2 p.m." and then you have to be there.  You can't take photos of anything and everything at will, you just have to relax and enjoy the moment.  And you have to ask and read notices in order to find things out as you can't simply google it.

No. I have not thrown my phone away and I have done some texting this morning already.  But at least I now know that I don't need it absolutely to survive in the communications jungle.  It's a cheering thought.

Finally, I read an article on the BBC's website.  It is a true and tragic story of a family who left home without mobiles or credit cards and although they were always near major cities and towns, they were practically untraceable. They literally disappeared off the radar.  Makes you think.
Here's the link:

the mystery of a tech-free road trip in Australia

Friday, 19 August 2016

Books, Finding Things and Other Oddments

I am currently reading: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.  I am enjoying this book immensely.  It's one of those rare reads which are what can only be described as a gem!
Before that I read Let Me Call You Sweetheart by Mary Higgins Clark.  I have read several of her novels so I knew what to expect - nothing too complex (this is not one of her best) but nevertheless a pleasant read.
In my last post I mentioned St. Anthony, the saint who is reputed to find lost things. I may be a little sceptical about many things associated with saints and their special gifts, but I am a believer in St. Anthony.  In this regard, I must tell an amusing story.  Many years ago one of my colleagues lost an important document and was at her wit's end, having searched high and low. I told her to say a prayer to Saint Anthony.  She laughed long and loudly because, as an atheist, she did not believe in anything spiritual, she told me.  I told her to try nonetheless and to believe just this one time that the document would turn up and I gave her a rhyming prayer to say which I had read somewhere "Saint Anthony, look around, something's lost and can't be found".  Five minutes later she found the document in a place she was sure she had already looked.  I hasten to add that this experience did not in any way convert her to religion or anything like that.  Psychology? Prayer? I have no idea how it worked or works.  But I still ask St. Anthony to help with things that are lost and I never fail to give a small offering at his shrine in Cork  for "St. Anthony's poor" because, so far, he has come up trumps (if I may be forgiven for using that expression in connection with a saint!).

I am going to visit my daughter and grandchildren in two weeks and am getting very excited about this. It will be a long day, a three and a half hour bus journey to the airport, the flight will be half as long, and around half an hour's drive on the other side.  In addition to my daughter's family, I will also meet up with former colleagues.  Great to see everybody.  I think that there is a wine and food festival in Frankfurt and I will certainly visit that. 
It is refreshing to have a change of scene and to discover that the subjects which are so much discussed in one country are hardly mentioned in another. Jane Austen wrote about this in Persuasion and "our littleness beyond our own circle".  And talking about Jane Austen and the times she wrote in, I am thankful for airplanes nowadays which get us to our destinations so swiftly. Just imagine, if I lived in the early 1800s I would have to get a horse and coach (go post, as they called it) and have to stay overnight at least once on the way to the ferry not to mention the long journey down to Frankfurt. On the other hand, having read diaries of ladies who travelled like that, it would have been quite an adventure and of course I would not have attempted to do it on my own.  Yes, it's quicker to fly nowadays but the hurly burly of getting through Security and finding the departure gate in time is surely not as romantic as alighting at an inn along the way. Maybe I'll start writing a historical romance.  That's a thought.