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Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David @breakerofthings and Debs @debsdespatches.

We run a writing prompt once a month to which all comers are invited to participate, we each post a piece of fiction every month, and we’re the originators of #secondthoughts. #secondthoughts are reflections on writing, responses to writing and…well, take a look and you’ll see!

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the About page.  Or you can send us a message via the Contact page or our Twitter handles (above).

Our regular schedule

1st Sunday #FF Prompt – submission deadline the Friday following @ 2 pm GMT
(or use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page if the deadline is too tight)

2nd Sunday An original short story from Debs

3rd Sunday A #SecondThoughts piece from David or Debs
(except for those occasions when we’ve been able to persuade a guest to write one for us!)

4th Sunday The next edition of David’s 2019 Writing Experiment

5th Sunday On the occasion when these occur, we love to host a guest post, so do get in touch if you could be interested.

#Secondthoughts: Five Gold Stars

Despite various inflationary issues, economic and otherwise, we all know that something that has been given a gold star – or indeed a gold anything has done pretty well.  Even a gold raspberry from the Razzies suggests that you have reached a pinnacle, even if it is one that you would prefer not to be acknowledged for… There is a surprising amount of research done into the best way to collect data on peoples preferences and the cogniscenti are able to take one look at a survey and assess whether it has been designed by an expert or an amatuer – perhaps an intern given a job that no-one else wanted to do, or a trainee not being given enough support.  What must be obvious to anyone though is that you can’t really wrap up a range of issues into one rating, even if you let someone have a range of five stars to work with.  For one thing, the majority of people will say “you can always do better” and avoid giving 5*, but by the same token, they won’t want to completely damn someone’s hard work by giving only 1* – although there are exceptions.

(Side note: I find it worthwhile checking out the 1* ratings to see if the comments actually make sense.  Looking at something recently, I found that the 1* ratings all related to the supplier/format rather than the book itself.  On the whole, I’m usually less than impressed with 1* reviews, because they tend not to explain what was wrong, but just say that the reviewer didn’t like it, which is not entirely helpful).

This year I’ve decided to give the Goodreads challenge a go.  I’ve committed to reading a book a week, although as I writethis, I am behind schedule, partly because of time constraints and partly because I’ve been working through a couple of really chunky books.  I’ve slipped in a couple of very thin books to try and get me back on track…  One of the side effects of getting more involved with Goodreads is that I’ve been writing more reviews and reading more of other peoples reviews.  One of the chunky books that I’m reading is a non-fiction book, and it has been interesting to read the reviews of people who can be considered interested amatuers, those who’ve read the book beacuse they thought they should, and those who work in the same field(ish).  This is a book outside my normal interests, but was a gift: it has been hard work, but I am enjoying it, and the author makes a lot of sense.  One of the reviews has been a bit of a rabbit hole though and one that I keep returning to.

The review, which is quite damning in many ways, suggests that the author has made too much use of a particular theory and that anyone who really knows the area wouldn’t use that theory, debunking the whole book.  What has been interesting is the follow up to this.  There are a lot of comments that support or refute the review, and a few more extended commentary-conversations between the reviewer and people who have read it.  For my 2p, the reviewer is factually incorrect, but it’s not my area and I may have missed something in both the book and the point of the review.  Hold that thought.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially prompted by my difficulties with keeping up with the challenge, is how many books I’ve got left in me to read.  I find my time under a lot of pressure at the moment, and that will change, but I keep returning to a story that Kathryn Harkup (@RotwangsRobot) told me about two little old ladies going into a bookshop and asking for 20 recomendations for books to read: “We know how fast we read and how much time we’ve likely got left, and we’ve done the maths”. *Gulp*.  Assuming I can sort myself out and keep up with the challenge, that’s 52 books a year, for perhaps 40 years, if I’m lucky.  One of these days I might be able to up the pace a bit, but still, we’re talking of the order of 2000 books left to read.  That sounds a lot, but my TBR probably runs to a couple of hundred with more being added all the time.  And what about re-reads of old favourites?

Debs has a very hard-line policy on awarding 5*, a policy which stands out amongst those that seem to throw them out like sweets.  It’s a tricky world, especially when there are so many books out there, all relying on (good) reviews.  Sarina Langer has an excellent policy on writing reviews which I wish would become the gold standard that people writing reviews worked to – although I admit that I am still learning how to put this into practice, especially for a review written on the hoof.    But the fundamental point is that the 5* system is not particularly useful.  There are books and films that deserve high ratings not because they are the best ever, but because they have some feature that is great.  Not everyone will enjoy a cozy mystery, even if it gets five stars.  Not everyone likes black and white films, or thrillers or… fill in the gap.

OK, so lets tie all this together.  If we think of those 2000 books as literary meals, not all of them are going to be Michelin-class – and nor would I want them to be.  There’s going to be a mix of things in there, including, yes, junk food.  But what I’m hoping for in a review is that it goes beyond those 5*  – which I’m actually beginning to become suspicious of – and gives me a reason to look beyond the cover and the blurb.

© David Jesson, 2019

Songs for when you’re feeling …

As I unlock my door, I can hear it – the music coming from next door. Taking a deep breath, I enter my flat and prepare myself for the assault on my ears. You see, my next door neighbour expresses his emotions via the medium of music.

Friends ask why I put up with it, but it’s just one of those things you get used to when you live in a shared building. Generally, the arrangement suits me. The exterior is managed, repairs get carried out, the gardening gets done, the car park is kept clean and pothole free, and I still have my own private space and front door. OK, so I can hear a clacking noise from upstairs if she hasn’t taken off her high heels yet and – of course – there’s Steven and his music.

Steven lives next door to me in an apartment which is the mirror image of mine. He lives alone, as do I. He walks to work, but, like many young men, has a very nice car. Twice a week, I see him clutching a basket full of laundry on a two-way journey through the car park. I know his parents live nearby, but I prefer to believe he’s too old to be taking his laundry home and chooses to use a laundry service instead. I suspect my initial reaction is correct though.

Like many a young man, he’s a football fan. Certainly whenever there’s a big game on, he has friends round. I hear them cheering or groaning, depending on how things are going for their chosen team. In the summer, they congregate in the garden with their bottles of beer – but they’re not rowdy, and they’re unfailingly polite.

Most of the time, the music he plays sounds upbeat and partyish. I even occasionally recognise 80s classics like Dancing Queen, I Will Survive and It’s Raining Men, which he’s far too young to have grown up with. While the cheerful jangle of pop can grate if it goes on for too long, it’s easily cut out by retiring behind earphones to listen to my own choice of music, or to an audio book. If I go into the garden myself during the summer months, I can hear what he’s playing more clearly. Last summer he was in love … until he wasn’t that is, at which point I was driven indoors by Someone Like You on repeat. Adele’s got a great voice and it’s a good song, but not when it plays for hours on end.

But it’s worst when he’s stressed. I recognise the signs when I meet him in the hallway. Unfailingly polite, he can barely manage even the most basic of greetings. And then it starts … the thump-thud-a-thump of heavy rock. There’s that underlying beat which you can feel in your gut even more than you hear it, so the earphones don’t cut the mustard. I have to avoid rooms with a shared wall, essentially meaning I stick to the bedroom. Earlier this year, it stretched into a third week, causing me to re-consider my long-held views on the benefits of shared dwelling.

Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. That evening I noticed a girl with long blonde hair in the garden and, sure enough, the dulcet tones of Bruno Mars started drifting through the shared wall. The only question mark was over how long it’ll be before he’s back to Adele.  So before the current backdrop of love songs from John Legend and Ed Sheeran changes to heavy rock, I’ve started planning my escape.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF – Photo Prompt

prompt 4 abandoned ships

Skillet topped the rise and looked down across the dead sea bottom. He knew from prior trips that the three stranded cargo vessels were farther off than might be expected.  The sun was still high, but in this latitude it would drop quickly: there might be enough time to make it across the drained land.  And then and again, there might not…

Press on or not?  Make camp here, in sight, or strike out across the flats?  A decision made more difficult by the straggling group that he had guided across kilometres of blighted wilderness.  Skillet knew that he would would be able to traverse the difficult terrain that had once been covered by deep water, but the score or so of people in this little band were a mix of rugged adventurers, who still seemed reasonably fresh despite a difficult day, and those who hadn’t yet made it to the top of the hill.

Facial contortions marked the progress of his thoughts as he worried at the problem: lips pursed, cheeks were sucked in and blown out, the long thin nose twitched.  Coming to a decision, Skillet called his to apprentices to his side.

“Right, here’s the plan” he pitched his voice low so as not be overheard, but still managed to sound decisive.  “We’re going to split into three groups.  Beanpole: you’ll take the first group and set off as soon as we’ve redistributed the packs a bit.  In your group, let Bench set the pace, everyone else will be able to keep up whether they think they can or not, but the sight of the ships will spur them on.”

Beanpole nodded, and cast a sidelong look at the middle-aged Bench where he sat on his pack and tried to stretch out a cramp in his leg.  A tough beggar he was, but clearly in some discomfort.  In every way that counted he was by no means the weak link on this journey, but he would definitely be the slowest in her group, although he’d push himself hard.

“Bucket: you’ll have the second group.  I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with them, although they might grumble a bit at the extra load they’re going to have to carry.  Tell them how tough they are and how glad we are to have them along and all that sort of thing.  You know the drill.  And tell them about that time when we had to portage around those rapids and we spent two days going back and forth with all that equipment – but maybe save that one for if they start to flag.”

Bucket answered with his big tomb-stone grin.

Skillet looked over at the two people, young but unfit, who had just got to the top, the last in this disparate and rag-tag group.  They found somewhere to slump down, too exhausted from the climb to even groan about how tired they were.  “I’ll make sure the rest get there before we lose the light.”

*****

Skillet pulled out a little pair of binoculars and checked the progress of Beanpole and Bucket.  Bucket had the pros and the experienced amateurs, who had taken on the burden of carrying some extra weight to enable the others to make it to the ships tonight.  Even so, they were making good time, although it looked like Beanpole and the fitter of the newbies would still make it first.  Hopefully they’d get the kettle on.  Skillet’s group, the walking wounded as he thought of them, still had a couple of kilometres to go.  These people really had no business to be making this journey – unprepared, physically and mentally flabby, but then what choice did they have?

*****

Some thought of it as a pilgrimage, something that they should do, a secular penance to atone for ignoring the environment.  For others, it was simply a challenge, something to be done, to say that they had done it: badge-collecting.  For the rest, it was part of the new way of life.  Everything considered, humanity had done surprisingly well.  World-wide, there had been fewer deaths than in the second world war, and the panic and looting had been surprisingly limited.  There had been the usual fantasists talking about the Earth trying to rid itself of the plague of Humanity, but it was really just a case of wrong place, wrong time.  The wrong place being the whole planet, and the wrong time being an infinitesimal sliver of geological time.

Some things are just too big to think about.  It’s tricky to keep a whole planet in mind, without turning it into a marble, floating in space.  It’s hard to remember that the bit we walk around in is just a load of rocky islands, floating on a world-spanning ocean of liquid fire.  Why would you?  Why would you want to? Geologists look at a boiled egg, and bringing down their spoon create their view of the globe all over again.

The world shrugged.  The cracked crust of the Earth moved past itself, up and over, down and under, scraping side by side.  The movement was unprecedented, not so much in magnitude, but in extent – more plates moved in one moment than had ever been seen before.  The usual earthquakes had been joined by stranger occurrences.  Here an entire section of seabed had risen up, there an island had sunk beneath the waves. The devastation had been widespread.

*****

Skillet herded the last of the group towards the ship.  The sun was beginning to set, and in the process set lowering cotton-candy clouds aflame.  He tried to fix the pinks and oranges shading to reds and purples in his mind, together with the dark shapes of the boats.  One of these days, perhaps he’d get his art supplies sorted out and put this scene on paper with his paints.  Maybe,

Beanpole and Bucket were seeing about getting the volunteers up on to the deck above, with all their kit.  Some on the boat would be leaving soon, going home, moving on, replaced by those who had just arrived.  The stranded vessels, wedged and propped had become a strange little community.  Equipment on board was used to process the polymetallic nodules that littered the ground here abouts.  At one time these ship were part of a fleet that had been sent to harvest them from beneath the sea.  Now, they could be taken for the picking.  The volunteers also collected plastics that created a layer like some polluted manna, and processed these.  A small farm was beginning to make the community self sufficient.

Skillet was the last to make his way up; as he reached the deck, Bucket passed him a cup of tea.  They leaned against the rail.  Beanpole joined them and together they looked back at this last leg of journey.  Night shadowed the wilderness of the sea-bottom, and you’d almost think the ships were at sea.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

 

 


And you should also check out the amazing Stuart Nager’s story based on this photo-prompt, over at Tale Spinning.

 

 

 

#FF – Photo Prompt

prompt 4 abandoned ships

Any style, any genre, just nothing NSFW – otherwise the world is your oyster.
Tell us your tale …

 

Word count: 500 – 1,000 words
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 12th July 2019

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

 

 

 

Questions to ask your Beta readers

I volunteered to be a beta reader once but, by the time I’d figured out the technology to read the work, another reader had made substantive suggestions which the author decided to take on board immediately with a re-write. To be clear, he didn’t communicate this with me directly, I read it in a tweet – which I ‘liked’.

But then I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I continue with reading the original version and offer my feedback on it regardless? Should I wait for him to incorporate those changes and read the revised version? In all honesty, I should’ve asked him what he wanted me to do – but I didn’t. He hadn’t communicated with me direct, I was new to the whole #writerscommunity and felt totally out of my depth.

A couple of years later and our co-written work The November Deadline is getting closer to completion, and thus being ready for beta reading. As a result, I’m paying more attention than usual to this subject, so was delighted to find an article on this very subject at BetaReader.io. In brief, BetaReader was set up by a writer who’d had a less than perfect experience with beta readers, and set out to look out for a better way. Do check out the site as it may prove to be what you need.

BetaReader recently compiled a list of the most common beta questions asked by authors:

  1. Did you lose interest, even only a little, at some point? Where and why?
  2. Which character did you enjoy the most? The least? Why?
  3. Did the dialogue feel natural?
  4. If you could change anything to make the story better, what would you change?
  5. Did anything in the text confuse you? What? Why?
  6. Were there any points throughout that you found unbelievable or illogical? If so, why?
  7. Were any parts of the plot predictable?
  8. What’s your favorite part about the book?
  9. How was the pacing between narrative and dialogue?
  10. What enticed you the most if anything? What grabbed your attention the most?
  11. Lastly, did the climax feel climactic, was the payoff in the end worth reading the whole book?

In the spirit of gathering as much information as possible

As a writer
are there additional questions you’d like your beta reader to answer?
are there areas you don’t want your beta reader to comment upon?

As a beta reader
how much direction do you like to receive from writers?
what questions have you previously been asked by writers that you would add to the list above?


 

 

 

Experimental Writing: Part 6

Meredith hopped into the back of the Landrover.  Bunter chipped in with a prompt to put on the seat belt: clunk click every trip [smiley face].  There was also a social cue:

“This is so kind of you – thank you.”

“Oh, no trouble, bach, we’re heading that way anyway.”  This from the driver.  A sub-routine of the AI – one that hadn’t achieved sentience and independence – tagged this individual as male.  A warning flag appeared: the driver was adolescent, albeit coming to the end of this development age, and hence prone to naturally occurring chemical fluctuations that could cause risk-taking.

“I’m Owain, by the way, and this is my sister Esther.”  Meredith could see Owain using some kind of primitive mirror to look into the back of the car.  The boy had his attention on the road, but he couldn’t help being intrigued by his passenger’s outfit.

“We’re going to pick up my sister.  She went to a party there.”  The sub-routine labelled the person in the passenger seat as an adolescent girl, but just coming into this stage.  “Why are you heading there?”

“Oh, I’m just doing some walking around here.  I camped up on the mountain last night and when I came down this morning I realised that I’d gone a bit off course.  There’s no where to get anything to eat in Llangynidr, and Crickhowell looked to be the closest place to sit down and have a bit of a think.  Is there anywhere you’d recommend?”

“Hm. Well, I quite like Number 18 –

“Oh, you would!  Trying to be trendy!”

“You be quiet, or I’ll not give you a lift again!”  The boy’s words sounded serious , but Meredith was beginning to get a feel for tone, and accompanying facial expressions and realised this was not the case.  “I suppose you’d recommend Bookish!”

“Nothing wrong with having a read at the same time as getting a drink – you should try it sometime.”

“Courtyard Café?”

“That’s always so busy – lots of families with little ones.”

“How about that new one – down by the art centre.  I know it’s a bit out of the town, but it would put us in the right place for picking up Nerys.”

“I don’t want to put you to any trouble.” Meredith tried to decide if it would be better to part company sooner, and avoid the complication of an extended contact, or to stick with the encounter and gather further information.

“Oh, no trouble.  We’ve got a little bit of shopping to do, but that’ll keep.  Be nice to check out the new place.”

They drove through the town centre, passing a mix of shops that seemed like they’d been there forever, or that they’d popped up yesterday.  It was still quite early really, but the town was definitely waking up, and starting to get busy.  On through the town centre and out the other side.  The road took on a more residential feel, and after only a minute or two they came upon a stone building that looked old, but not ancient.  It was a large, single story building, with gabled rooves.  It was set back slightly from the road and had its own small car park.  Bunter informed Meredith that it was an old school, approximately 150 Earth cycles old.

No one noticed as a CCTV camera followed the small group across from the Landrover to the front door.

They entered the building: to the left was the gallery and a sign pointed to studios and the café to the right.  Owain opened the door and led the way into a short corridor.  Here there was one door at the far end and a couple of doors on the left.  The door into the café was open and they walked straight in.  The space was light and airy: the walls were painted white and pictures for sale hung on three of the four walls.  The high ceiling had a couple of skylights that let in lots of natural light.  Sturdy tables made of a light-coloured wood and of various sizes were scattered around in no particular pattern, grouped with chairs in twos and fours.  Subtly, Meredith tried to steer them to one of the larger tables which was as much in the shadow as it was possible to be – at least it wasn’t in the direct light coming from above.

A cheery soul was behind the counter and welcomed them in; she was alone, and the party were clearly her first three customers of the day.

“What can I get you my dears?”

Owain started the proceedings by ordering a large latte and a large slice of bara brith, complete with butter and marmalde.

“Oh! You are greedy Owain,” Esther exclaimed, “you’ve only just had breakfast!”

“Breakfast was hours ago, and I’ve been working on the car for Nerys.  Unlike you, I spend more time doing things than with my nose in a book.”

Esther gave him a nudge in the ribs with the boney of elbow of gangly 12 year old.  She went for a fruit tea and piece of short bread.

“It looks so good, I don’t know what to go for,” said Meredith, gazing at the counter and trying to work out what everything was.  Bunter immediately popped up with several suggestions, including one for a drink with a big pile of sculpted white stuff, topped off by a scattering of multicoloured strands and a small red sphere.  Meredith muted the programme.

“I’ll think I’ll just have a filter coffee, please, and a piece of the toffee blondie.”  Meredith saw that Owain was pulling out his wallet.  There was no need for the cue here: “No, please let me get this, as a thank you for the lift.”

There was gentle back and forth as Owain accepted, with grace, but not too easily.

“I’ll bring everything over to you, cywion” said the lady behind the counter, the term of endearment clearly an automatic reflex.

They sat down at the table and started talking about life in the valleys and rebuilding the car and so on.  Neither Owain nor Esther noticed that Meredith was adept at steering the conversation away from anything to do with their purpose here.  The drinks and cakes were brought over with a “there you my dears” and “have you got everything you need?” and “just shout if you need anything”.  They tucked in: Meredith had never tasted anything like this before and was wondering about the feasibility of getting some coffee plants to take back home.  And a cook book…

“So where are you heading next then, bach?” Owain asked.

“I’d quite like to see Llyn-y-Fan Fach, but I don’t know if I’ve got enough time.”

“Hm.  Well, it’s about an hour’s drive from here, I guess, depending which way you go, but I don’t think that you could walk it in a day.  I’d be tempted to get the bus from here to Brecon, stay in the youth hostel or something and then walk up to the lake from there.  Are you planning to camp there?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.  I’d like to do some…sketching there.”

“Have you got a map?  I’ll show you the roads.”

It was at this point that Meredith started to feel uncomfortable.  The AI hadn’t flagged there being a problem with any of the food and drink, but it was not settling lightly on what a medical person would describe as Meredith’s stomach.  Things were taking a decided turn for the worse, and rapidly.  Meredith was just about to excuse himself when a group of men burst through the door.  They did not look friendly.  They threaded their way through the tables raising pistols to point at the three at the table.  Owain’s chair scraped back; Esther looked on with open mouth.  By chance the lady behind the counter had stepped out to a back room, so it was just Meredith and friends surrounded by half a dozen gunsels.

“Just stay where you are sonny, and no ones gonna get hurt.” It was not a local accent.  He pointed at Meredith “You’re coming with us.  Now.”

Meredith stood.  The term ‘technicolour yawn’ was unfamiliar to Owain and Esther; it was a phrase that was more familiar to their grandparents.  But if they had known it, it would have been perfect for the current situation as rainbow coloured liquid burst from Meredith’s mouth and sprayed over the gunmen.  Unknown to Meredith, the coffee contained trace amounts of dimethyl disulphide and butanediamine, and it was these that had reacted unexpectedly with the alien’s digestive system. Even AIs make mistakes.  Still, every cloud has a silver lining: the spectacular outcome of this natural chemistry was the perfect distraction.  Fighting to overcome the effects of losing everything consumed in the last 24 hours, Meredith jumped and simultaneously changed shape, shedding clothes in the process.  Initially the shape became a long thin cylinder, but as the tip of the cylinder touched the ceiling, Meredith’s body contracted into a sphere: from here it was a question of playing the angles.  At this point the gunmen were still concerned over the vomit that had landed on them, and were discovering that the liquid was starting to eat holes in clothes.  Incipient panic boiled over as they tried to react to the sudden movement through the fog that fear of chemical burns and disgust of wearing someone else’s stomach contents had created in their minds.  Before they could start stringing coherent thoughts together, the men were bowled over by what appeared to be an oversized basketball.  Somehow the alien managed to miss all of the works of art and all of the other furniture, bouncing off wall, ceiling, and heavies, to create a highly localised zone of carnage.

The sphere rolled to a stop by the small pile of clothes that had crumpled to the floor during the unconventional disrobing; Meredith put the clothes back on as he had the first time, shaping the body to suit the clothes from the inside.

Adjusting the glasses, hat, and scarf, there was a realisation that the boy and girl were staring at him.  With the men on the floor beginning to groan, Meredith said “Thank you for your help this morning, I really appreciate it, and I’m sorry if I’ve got you into any trouble.  I’d better get going, and I think you should find some where to lie low too.”

© David Jesson, 2019


 

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another. Now we need to work out whether Meredith is going to get some assistance from Owain and Esther, or whether it’s time to part company.

Option 1: Head for the hills!

Option 2: Head for somewhere busy!

Option 3: Part company – Meredith should get a bus out of town or something.

Option 4: Plan B  (Please comment on what you think Plan B is!).

 

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

#Secondthoughts: The Next [Insert Name]

“Where were you when…?”
There are some things that stick in your mind: the dates are indelibly imprinted on your memory, together with what you were doing when they happended.  In some respects you can define a generation by the memory.  “Where were you when JFK was shot?” “What were you doing when they landed on the Moon?”

One of the ones for me is the London bombings of the 7th July, 2005.  That summer I was writing up my thesis, ready to defend it later in the year.  I was returning from a supervisory meeting.  I must have had my phone turned off or something, because it was only when I was on the bus on my way home that someone got through to me to say that my girlfriend at the time was ok.  Why wouldn’t she be ok?  I hadn’t heard anything about the coordinated terrorist attacks so I hadn’t had any reason to be worried.  She was working in London, and had been caught up in the subsequent problems facing the transport system.  I don’t think she even made it to work, but instead came straight home – although even that took several hours longer than it should have done.

I’m not going to go off on one about encoding memories or anything like that, but I find it interesting that there are few things that I remember in quite that much detail.  One of the other ones is more interesting for me on a personal level because it marked a major watershed for me in how and what I read.

I was in my early teens and had been reading Terry Pratchett books for a few years, and absolutely loving them.  When this anecdote takes place, some of my very favourites had been published, and when we were given the opportunity to study one of our own choices for English, I chose Reaper Man, which retains a special affection.  Given the title of this #secondthoughts, you can probably see where this is going…

I went to the library one day and I picked up “Colin the Librarian” by Rich Parsons and Tony Keaveney.  I had a passing knowldege of Conan etc, aware of their existance, but I hadn’t read any of the Robert E Howard classics (and now that I think about it, I still haven’t).  Anyway.  I was browsing the shelves for some stuff to take out, and I came across this book, obvious pun for the title, which for me was a selling point.  Pick it up, on the back was a a blurb, which included the phrase “the next Terry Pratchett”.  Sold!

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but this was the first book that I did not finish – I use this term loosley.  If we’re more precise, then it is the first book that I skipped to the end to see if it was worth reading, and that I skipped through to find any good bits.  I did not find any.

Work progresses on the shared project with Debs and on a couple of other projects, to the point that selling them is becoming an increasingly important factor.  When you are writing to agents or publishers or editors or whoever, you are supposed to provide some examples of what your work is like.  You can understand the rationale: on the one hand particular people specialise in particular genres and they want to have an idea about whether than can be passionate about it and sell it, whether that be to the publisher or the general public.  On the other, is there a market for this book?  Are there people who will buy it just because it is like something that they’ve enjoyed previously?  If it is not like anything else, is it too niche?  How will you get the word out about the book?

But I can’t help feeling that being compared to someone is a bit of a poisoned chalice: there are authors who are a bit derivative, but it feels unfair to compare any author to someone who might be considered a giant in their field.  And then of course, what if you don’t like a top author, but might have liked the new person, but were put off.   Unpopular opinion, perhaps, but I’ve been put off a lot of Dickens by the sheer size of his work, which is ironic given the epic fantasy novels that I’ve worked my way through.  I’ve not read all of Agatha Christie’s stuff, because some of the ones that I have read have been a bit repetitive – although there are some stories that I love immensly.

A closing thought, because I’m not sure that there is an answer to the paradox, but on the back of Reaper Man is a quote:

I’m beginning to think that Terry Pratchett is the best humorist this country has seen since P. G. Wodehouse – less coarse than Tom Sharpe, less cynical than Douglas Adams, simply a pure joy.’

David Pringle, White Dwarf
Perhaps comparisons are inevitable, a link in the chain.  Still, caveat emptor.
© David Jesson, 2019