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.

Friday, 12 August 2016

One good deed does the trick

I don't know about you but any time I look for something specific I have a problem finding it, mainly, I suspect, because it has gone out of fashion before I realise I could use it.  This self-pitying thought occurred to me a few weeks ago when I was looking for a small purse with a cross-over shoulder strap that left my hands free. Something big enough to accommodate my mobile phone, house-keys and a few coins. Something that I could wear when going on a walk to the beach.  I've seen loads of people wearing them. So I thought it would just be a matter of walking into a store and buying one.  Silly me. After a round of searching, I more or less gave up. I just couldn't find what I was looking for.
Yesterday I decided to visit Cork. For one thing my daughter's cat had been missing for some time and I was praying to Saint Anthony that he would show up again. At long last she sent me a text saying he had returned so I decided to visit his altar in the church on Liberty Street to say "thank you Saint Anthony" and give a little donation.  On my way way I passed the Oxfam shop.  I didn't actually pass it, I never do.  They have a wonderful selection of books in there so I never fail to go in and browse the shelves.  And here's the thing.  Although I wasn't looking for that shoulder bag I mentioned, when I got inside the shop I saw a selection of handbags, shoulder bags and purses of all shapes and sizes and yes, you've guessed it, I found what I was looking for.
There it was, perfect size, good as new, it even had the original price tag attached!

Not only that but I found a book of quotations. I should say another book of quotation since I already have three although none of them are comprehensive. This one was originally published in 1960.  I am absolutely addicted to reading quotations so this is the ideal companion for me!

My daughter is happy that her cat is home again, I'm happy for her and I am delighted to have found the ideal purse and an interesting book into the bargain.  So yes, I'm a happy camper right now.
I'll tell you another story about Saint Anthony, the saint for finding lost things, next week.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

You are never too old for romance

My Romance novel Love at Close Range will be released on Thursday this week. I have really enjoyed writing it and am almost sorry to close the door on the characters. For those who have not read the first novel in the The Sunshine Cafe series, I am offering Love at a Later Date free on Kindle for the next 5 days, starting on Thursday.

I get asked a lot of different questions on why I write. My favourite tale on this subject is when, a few years back, I was introduced to someone as a "writer" and he said "do I know you? what's your name?" When I told him my name and the name of the novel I had written at that time, he shook his head. "Never heard of you," he said, "you can't be a writer."  After a bit more conversation I discovered that he did not read novels, fact or fiction, and I would even bet he never read anything longer than a menu. But such is - or was - the expectation that if you are a writer you are up there with the bestsellers. I hear hollow laughter from my fellow writers.
No, we write not for fame or fortune - though none of us would say no to wake up and discover we are a household name - mainly we write for fun.
Only another writer can explain the need to sit down and bash out 2,000 words a day, possibly delete some or all of them the next, and go on to hammer a story into shape, editing over and over until you feel it is the best you can get it.  One reader wanted to know why my stories are relatively short. The answer to that is that I write as much of the story as I feel the reader wants to read. Too many characters and/or too much detail, bog down a novel, I feel. I hasten to add that this is only my personal opinion.

I have had a lot of fun writing both Love at a Later Date and Love at Close Range and I hope my readers will have as much fun reading them.