#secondthoughts – Book Awards

I spotted a comment that recent Hugo awards were not such rich pickings for a particular reader as in the past. Not being a regular reader of science fiction or fantasy, I didn’t feel able to comment, as all I could offer was the fact one of my oft recommended reads To Say Nothing of the Dog was a past winner.

My own previous go-to book award as a reader was the Booker, but I started to fall out of love when it was opened up to writers from the USA, thus limiting the offerings from commonwealth countries – and as a child of the commonwealth, those are the types of books I am especially drawn to. I’ve cast about a bit for a replacement and – this year – thought I’d struck lucky when realising a number of the books I’d been earmarking on my “want to read” list were candidates for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. But, whilst a good read, I wasn’t blown away by the winner – An American Marriage. The only other shortlisted candidate I’ve read so far – My Sister the Serial Killer – was a decidedly enjoyable read, but I wasn’t blown away … and I’m generally blown away by Bookers. Indeed, I may judge Booker candidates more harshly than most for that very reason.

I’ve not found the Pulitzer a good hunting ground either. Donna Tartt’s first two books are among my favourite reads ever but The Goldfinch was a massive disappointment; I’ve hugely admired the works of Elizabeth Strout but Olive Kitteridge wasn’t amongst them. Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay were both enjoyable reads, but neither gained 4 stars from me – and without a 4th (or 5th) star, I remain in the not blown away camp.

So I empathised with the person making that comment, for I could see that it came from a place of loss. As a reader, it’s great finding an author you love, knowing that there’s years of joy to come from future works (or a backlist if you’re late to the party). It’s even better having a regular source of new books (and potentially new authors) that are right up your street – and book awards can be one such source. Until they change, that is …

When I last bemoaned the changes in the Booker, a blogging friend pointed out the dearth of awards for non-literary works – children’s literature in particular – and there is no doubt that literary fiction is better served. Still, I am left wondering about the value of book awards for the reader.

As a writer, there is no doubt that winning awards not only increases your profile, but also your sales. Increased sales can be measured from the moment a book appears on a longlist, and candidates progressing to a shortlist see a further uplift. Previously unknown authors, unsurprisingly, benefit the most. For more facts and figures on this subject, here’s a post I wrote elsewhere on the subject.

As a writer, who doesn’t dream of their first published work being considered for an award? Actually, who am I kidding, who doesn’t dream about any of their published works being considered for an award? We all do – and we’d be foolish not to.

But is it possible that readers are turning elsewhere for new sources of inspiration rather than book awards? Are celebrity book clubs such as Oprah, Richard & Judy and Reese Witherspoon proving a more fruitful hunting ground? Are the regular reading lists released by the likes of Barack Obama and Emma Watson finding growing audiences? Is reading to a theme another way to go?

In all honesty, does it matter? Despite a number of readers being drawn to book awards for their next reads, they’re surely not in the majority, for how often does a Booker or Hugo winner top the bestseller lists? I’ve long assumed that alongside the support and acknowledgement of authors, the important factor about book awards is to elevate the sales of non-bestseller type books?

Just so long as readers keep on reading, and loving what they read … eh? Personally, I have to admit this year’s Booker shortlist is calling me again.


© Debra Carey, 2019

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We nearly ran him down …

The old man crossing the road that is. I wasn’t driving fast – luckily as it turned out – for he just stepped right off the pavement in front of us, pulling his wheelie suitcase right behind him. I slammed on the brakes and my car did that cartoon thing of almost standing on it’s nose. But we didn’t hit him, or his suitcase.

He looked surprised to see us, but I thought the fact he was heading towards the old people’s home may’ve been a clue. We stayed in the car and watched his slow progress across the road, up onto the pavement on the other side. He had a fair bit of trouble with that case, so much so my boyfriend was nearly out of the car to give him a hand till a couple more old men rushed out and helped him with it, waving us on our way.

So, we did just that, we went on our way.

The local news channel ran a story a few days later. Police were investigating the copious amounts of blood found in the village reading room. The odd thing was there didn’t seem to have been any attempt made to clean it up, but there was no body to be found. Given the amount of blood, they expressed surprise there’d been no bloody footprints at the scene either. The public were asked to contact them if they had any information.

That night, I lay in bed with my boyfriend and we speculated. Had those old men and that wheelie suitcase anything to do with what had happened? He’d been right outside the reading room when he’d stepped out in the road in front of us. We speculated if the missing body had been in that suitcase and whether that’s why he’d had so much trouble getting it up onto the pavement. We pondered back and forth for a few days and finally decided it was better to say something than keep stum.

They didn’t seem to take us seriously – the police – and who could blame them? But they did follow it up – or so they said. To be honest, we forgot all about it once we’d done our civic duty.

The following summer we were at the airport, waiting for our flight – delayed due to the French traffic controllers being on strike. It was a regular occurrence, so we’d gone prepared. We were reading our books in the coffee shop when they came in – those three old men. I thought I was imagining things until I saw the look on my boyfriend’s face. We sat whispering to each other, feeling really daft. But we couldn’t help ourselves – one or other of us kept a watch on them. Until our flight was called that is, when we decided enough was enough, we were going on holiday and would forget all about it.

We duly checked in for our flight. I’d all but put it out of my mind when we passed the first class check-in area, and there they were – with their brand spanking new luxury luggage, and not a wheelie suitcase in sight.

I swear he winked at me too – the one I’d nearly run down – but I must’ve been imagining things …


© Debra Carey, 2019

OCD, or is it?

Every Friday, without fail, we’d see him out there, washing his car and cleaning the interior. After every rainfall, he’d be there too, with his chamois leather, carefully removing each and every raindrop. He also had particular parking spots he prefered, not the ones near the bushes in case they’d scratch his paintwork. We always assumed he was parking illegally, for he looked hunted when he saw anyone in the car park. I genuinely believed he was expecting us to march over there and tell him off for his illegal use of the visitors spaces in our car park.

But it turns out, we were all wrong …

The other day, the sirens and flashing blue lights weren’t racing past us on the main road, they were flung at crazy angles all over our car park. Trying to get any of them to move so you could get out of the car park turned out to be wasted energy. There were more police crowded into our small car park than I thought existed in our neck of the woods, let alone all the people on their mobile phones. Sure, a small number were apologising to friends for the delay in their arrival and making arrangements for alternative transport, but most were videoing the scene, or ringing everyone they knew to tell them there was some sort of incident on their doorstep.

It took a while, but they got round to each of us in the surrounding properties, one by one. What did we know about the man with the grey car who lived in the corner house with his elderly mother? Had any of us spoken to him? Did he work? Did he have any friends? You know the sort of thing. Of course they told us nothing in return, except they were cordoning off our car park and none of us were to move our cars while they carried out their forensics analysis. The police’s well-known manpower shortage meant only one thing – it had to be serious – so was it terrorism, was it a sex-related offence … or was it murder?

Eventually we got our car park back after they towed his car away. One of the neighbours reported he’d been taken away in one of those cars with the blue flashing lights under cover of darkness while the rest of us were in bed. You could tell he considered us amateurs for having slept while there was juicy gossip to be had.  But when it came right down to it, that’s all he had too. He’d tried ringing the doorbell, but although he could hear the old dear moving about indoors, she didn’t answer. Then, just as he’d gathered a little crowd of us, a police car pulled up again – no siren and no blue lights this time. A female police officer got out, rang the bell and was permitted entry. About 30 minutes later, she emerged with the old dear, and they drove away.

They only just beat the hounds of the press too. Hordes of them were soon shoving their microphones and cameras into our faces, interviewing all and sundry. To be honest, they were a right pain. Their vehicles were crammed into our car park and as, most of us were receiving more visitors than usual – it being the site of the latest local excitement – tempers got a tad frayed. Eventually, having milked dry the very little we knew, they left.

Things returned to normal pretty quickly thereafter. A couple of months later, a For Sale board appeared outside the house. That guy – the gossip-monger – visited the estate agents, but they were either really professional, or they knew nothing.

Finally it broke. The story, that is. The reason he was so fastidious about cleaning his car was he’d been using it to transport dead bodies – quite a few dead bodies actually. Dectectives were still trying to figure if he was a serial killer … or a sad dupe.

Fairly soon thereafter, quite a few more For Sale boards appeared – it seems people don’t like living near any sort of a crime scene. Suited me, I was able to snap up a couple of properties for the price of one, and that got my little property portfolio started. I target neighbours at local crime scenes as a matter of policy now. They like the notoriety at the time, but the idea of living there afterwards … not so much.


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF Prompt: Cluedo

The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches, gave them a twist and curled them up at the ends.  He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days.  He looked in the mirror and checked that the moustaches were even.  In doing so he noted that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever.  At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright altertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.

He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years.  In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been.  Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information?  He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him.  Had they been in the background directing the operations against him?  Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?

He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought.  Time to dress for dinner.  Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so.  There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too, despite rationing still being in full force. Black still had a ‘home farm’ that supported his estate of course, but the Colonel had long suspected that there were other things in support of Black’s lifetyle, hidden in the background.

The Colonel completed his preparations.  A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed.  Now it was a positive itching of his subconcious.  True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to his friend the Chief Constable.  Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment.  The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a pistol from the drawer of the desk.  By rights it should have been his Service Revolver, but the Webley was too big and bulky – it would have complety ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious.  Instead he slipped a slimmer Berreta automatic pistol into his jacket pocket.

His valet entered with an Inverness cape over one arm, anticpating that his Master was ready to leave.  The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door.  It would be some time before he returned home.

© David Jesson, 2019


Of course she’d often attended dinner parties alone, what with her husband’s schedule being so full, but it was unheard of for her to receive an invitation without him – except to a ladies luncheon, of course. Yet there it was on the mantel, a gilt-edged heavy card in over-fussy lettering, with her name – Eleanor Peacock – written in blue-black ink in a rather untidy masculine hand.

She’d discussed the propriety of it with her husband, but he’d poo-poo’d her concerns, stating categorically that she must attend “for that Black fellow had many useful contacts and Eleanor must ensure they remained well in with him”. It seems her husband’s business had suffered during the war years, and it had been made very plain to her that if she wished to maintain her preferred lifestyle, she was required to grease the social wheels of commerce.

Now Eleanor was a most accomplished hostess, but the type of people her husband expected her to entertain these days was causing tremendous distress. They really were not the right sort – at all. Apparently they had money and plenty of it, which appeared to be all her husband was bothered about. There’d been much made about how the war had changed men, but her husband hadn’t actually been to war. But these days, the old standards didn’t seem to matter to him. All he ever talked about was about business, deals being made, new contacts, making money. It was all so terribly vulgar. Eleanor sniffed and wiped away a tear with her embroidered hanky – Mummy and Daddy would be terribly disappointed had they still been alive.

Thank goodness for Bingham. With Mummy and Daddy gone, she’d insisted he take over the running of their household. Everything ran so smoothly now. He helped her organise regular little soirees with the right social set, and he offered his sympathies every time she was required to entertain those oiks. He’d even suggested she have a little nip before the guests arrived – as apparently that’s what Mummy used to do.

Now the dreaded evening had arrived and Eleanor was in her dressing room preparing her toilette. She’d decided on a rather discrete navy silk frock, the sweetheart neckline being just low enough to showcase her aquamarine necklace, whilst not being in any way risque. It had full length sleeves, and she’d instructed her maid to set out the mink wrap for these old houses had a tendency to be terribly cold and draughty, even in the summer months. With an application of dark pink lipstick, Eleanor’s toilette was complete and she indicated her readiness to be helped into her frock. Finally, a minute or two of fussing in front of the mirror over the correct placement of the comb adorned with a peacock feather – her trademark – and she was ready.

Dismissing the maid, Eleanor waited. Almost immediately, there was a quiet tap on the door and Bingham entered. Wordlessly, he removed the glass he’d placed on her dressing table earlier that evening and replaced it with a full one. Eleanor was now in the habit of taking a drink before going out, but this evening, she’d felt the need for a more than her usual little snifter to calm the nerves. It had to be vodka too, rather than her preferred sherry, for it would never do for the fumes to be on her lips, nor a peppermint in attempted disguise – her husband had taught her as much.

Enquiries had been made during the week as to the other invitees, and it seemed it was to be a fairly small party. She’d met them all before at one shindig or another, but didn’t number any of her preferred social circle among them. Eleanor feared it was going to be a decidedly long and dull evening – she could but hope that Mr Black had a good bar and even better wine cellar.

© Debra Carey, 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

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?