The Liebster Award

Hello!  A brief respite/continuation of the daily cliffhanger – fret not! The travails of Echo return on Monday with T for Tango (which, as long as you have been paying attention, gives nothing away).  If that last sentence is any anyway confusing, then you might want to look at this summary).

One of the delightful things about the Annual #AprilA2Z/#AtoZChallenge is the opportunity to visit new blogs.  Debs is much better at this than David.  On the reverse side of the coin, you also get a lot of visitors coming and having a look at what you are up to.  Whilst the story we have presented this month is very much an experiment, so far we’ve enjoyed it (the stress, not so much), and we’ve already decided that we’re glad we managed to commit to it.  One of the things that has made the month infinitely more bearable is that we’ve had a lot of positive comments from people that we trust and admire, and we’ve made some new friends – which is part of what the Challenge is about.  One of these new friends is Stuart Nager of TaleSpinning.  Stuart does an excellent line in creepy, paranormal stories and has been doing a series of stories about the Abysmal Dollhouse for the AtoZ Challenge.  This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Alfred Hitchcock once talked about a ‘good scare’, and Stu’s work is certainly in this category.  His writing is excellent, and he has a flair for the unexpected  – we both rate his work very highly.  He does other stuff as well, so well worth checking his blog out – just beware of the Unfolding Doll…

Stuart has very kindly nominated us for a Liebster Award.  The Liebster is all about paying it forward.  It’s about noticing blogs, particularly those that don’t have thousands and thousands and saying “hey, I like the work that you are doing”.  All good awards come with Rules…

RULES OF THE LIEBSTER AWARD 2018
The rules are:
1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award logo.
2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger sets for you.
3. Nominate blogs that you think are deserving of the award.
4. Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. Let your nominees know about their nomination!

Stu! Hey! Yes you!  Thanks man!  *tick*

Stu being the kind, considerate person that he is, is expecting both of us to give this a go: being the kind of cranky, cantankerous people we are, we’ll each answer the questions that he’s set, but we’re going to jointly nominate some blogs and jointly ask some questions.

Anyhoo – Stu asked some questions, and these are our responses (apparently there are bonus points for ‘Why’):

David

  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be? Tricky…I did a #secondthoughts* on how disappointed I was when I returned to one of the books that I loved when I was a teen, and how I realised that it has a lot of problems.  As a writer, I spend a lot of time deleting stuff that I don’t like, in part because I’m still trying to find my own voice.  But to answer the question: I’d probably go with Terry Pratchett.  I love everything he’s written, not uncritically (Raising Steam, for example, has serious problems, IMO), but he has a flair for character driven stories, and I’d like to get better at that.  On the other hand, I’d love to be able to do the diabolical whimsy of Melanie Atherton Allen (see below), so there’s that as well.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you? Erotica.  Not sure why, but my impression is that there is not much depth.  Each to their own, but when you don’t have enough time to read as it is, you want to save that time for stuff that is going to challenge you.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you? I like music, some music, but I’m not really into the lyrics side of things, nor thinking overly deeply about the narrative…Errm…errrm… Right Said Fred the embodiment of look before you leap/measure twice, cut once.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?  Richard Seaton – he’s one of ‘Doc’ Smith’s super-scientists who are also incredibly athletic.  Life always seems easier somehow, despite the fact that he’s frequently fighting for his life…
  5. Savory or Sweet? I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but I like savoury as well.  In music, food and probably much else as well, I’m usually more interested in specific examples than in classes of things.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?” Hard work – wishes aren’t horses, or manuscripts, or whatever, so sooner or later you have to knuckle down or be disappointed.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it? A plaster, for the stubbed toe.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it? When I was little, one of my slippers completely disappeared.  No trace of it, when I went to look for it, and it was never seen again…
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    There are so many great books that I would be pleased to recommend, but it’s difficult to  pick just one that I think you’ll love on such a short acquaintance.  Debs’ choice is excellent, and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to run to the library/bookshop right now, but I’m going to take a different tack.  I’m going to recommend Brian S. Pratt’s Unsuspecting Mage, the first in the Morcyth Saga.  It’s not perfect, but it is very good.  From a writer’s perspective, it’s written in a way that I’ve never come across before or since, I think that you’ll find it interesting for that reason if no other.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it? Hmmm…I’ve watched some proper tosh in my time, but I don’t think that there is anything that I wouldn’t admit to – although, the girlfriend of a friend of mine once lambasted NCIS in such a way that I then couldn’t admit that I quite liked it.  Mind you, I’m hopelessly out of touch with that now, so…
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).  Writing is a way of trying to a) get my thoughts to make sense and b) quieten the voices… there is something therapeutic about making the letters and words free and then making them do your bidding.

*#Secondthoughts is one of FCBF’s USPs, where we take another look at something with some kind of literary connection.

Debs

  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be?
    I initially thought of Jane Austin – after all, who wouldn’t want to be able to demonstrate that sharp observation of society and manners, but then I remembered David Mitchell. I read a reviewer who constructively criticised his work before ending with a statement that Mitchell wrote ‘so darn well’ the critic would read any and everything he wrote. I don’t want to write what he writes, but I would like to write ‘so darn well’.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you?
    Like David, I’ve no interest in reading erotica, although it has been suggested that I write it, which I (briefly) considered doing under a pen name. But to this I would add romance and when my primary interest is in people, this may seem odd, for love (and sex) plays a pretty important part in their lives. To clarify, I’ve no real desire to completely exclude these areas, I just don’t want what I read and write to be composed of solely these topics.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you?
    I’ve always wanted to know the full story behind Ode to Billy Joe – a story loaded with pathos, where we are left at the end with multiple whats and whys.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?
    None – sorry, but that’s the truth. I like my characters on the page, in their story, and I want to be out here enjoying their tales.
  5. Savory or Sweet?
    Savory – I’d always chose salt over sugar. And that’s probably true in my choice with regard to writing and reading too – anything too sugary is best avoided.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?”
    Are you talking Bogie or the Bard?
    Speaking as a Life Coach, dreams are idealised thoughts which you can either choose just to enjoy, or you can decide to do the work to make it a reality.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it?
    A perfect DSLR, with the most amazing lens covering everything from wide to huge zoom and yet still has the quality of a prime throughout. But in miniature – no more neck/backache from lugging around all that heavy equipment.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it?
    I’ve had frightening experiences – being shot at accidentally for one – but nothing inexplicable, no.
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis. Wonderfully witty bit of time travel. It’s actually a bit naughty of me, as it was one of David’s picks at our book club, but it led to my becoming open to works of science fiction.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it?
    OK, hold onto your hat now – “Dawsons Creek”. Yes, that teenage angsty TV series where they’re all impossibly eloquent and beautiful.
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).
    A creative outlet (I cannot draw, paint, sing or dance), it also provides an opportunity to use my organisational abilities for something fun. In the early years, it gave me a methodology of working through stuff that was happening at the time – that created a writing habit which led to fiction.

 

Grrr…Stu has picked off several blogs that we would have nominated.  Nevermind, if there is one thing that the Challenge provides, it’s some great blogs to check out.  So, in no particular order…

i) Athertons Magic Vapour

ii) L.E.R.T.

iii) Ronel the Mythmaker

iv) Colin D. Smith

v) Planet Pailly

vi) The Quiet Writer

And our questions are …

  1. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a work of fiction?
  2. If you were a cartoon character, who would you be?
  3. Who (or what) inspires you and why?
  4. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
  5. What author(s) did you dislike at first but grew into?
  6. Beer or wine?
  7. Which of your characters would you most like to have a beer (or other beverage) with?
  8. You are HG Wells’ Timetraveller, attempting to restart civilisation in the far future: what one book would you take with you to help?  (ebook readers not allowed!).
  9. Book first or film first?
  10. Following on from the previous question, has an adaptation ever ruined the original for you to such a point that you couldn’t read/watch the original anymore?
  11. What was the last book that you read that made you say “[insert favoured cuss], I wish *I’d* written that”?

A final “Thank you” to Stuart for the nomination, a tip of the hat to our nominees (and a reminder that you don’t have to accept), and hopefully we’ll see you next week for the next thrilling installment of our AtoZ Challenge!

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#secondthoughts: Fools & Mortals

Debs and I met through a book club. It started with just three people, Brave New World, and a less than ideal venue…(we weren’t anticipating the dance class in the pub where we chose to meet). From the beginning we took it in turns to choose the book and we had a rule that the book needed to be one that none of us had read – the idea was that we wouldn’t have an emotional investment prior to the novel and wouldn’t be heartbroken when a much loved favourite was ripped apart by others. When it came to my first turn to suggest a book, I couldn’t quite make up my mind, so I suggested a short list of three, and the others voted on this.  By the time that Debs joined the club a few years later, we had a pretty established format of a short list of 5-8 books, sometimes with a theme. Incidentally, the book we were discussing at Debs’ first session was an unusually long one for us – This Thing of Darkness – but one that we all loved, an infrequent situation for us!

Some authors are so prolific that it is possible to circumvent our rules, whilst still maintaining (some of) the spirit.  For example, I am a huge Pratchett fan, but had not read any of the Long Earth books when they turned up on one of Debs’ lists.  This month we read Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: we have a huge Cornwell fan in the group, but she’d not read this one.  In fact, Cornwell, with only one or two others, is an author that has come up twice, the first book of his we read being The Last Kingdom. I’ve not seen the TV version of the Last Kingdom so I can’t coment on how it compares.  I wasn’t a big fan of the book: it should have ticked a lot of boxes for me, but I think I just didn’t warm to the main character.

I was intrigued by the idea of Fools & Mortals, especially as the group had opted to read Bill Bryson’s brief biography of Shakespeare a few years ago.  (We’ve been going for more than 15 years now, so we’ve covered a lot of territory).  I’m out of practice in terms of writing reviews and so this is not really intended to be one.  Elsewhere I’ve mentioned that I quite like Sarina Langer’s approach to reviewing, which is not so much as to offer a subjective star rating, but to pick up on the things that she likes and the things that she thought could be improved. One of the things that I have found myself doing more frequently as increase the time spent writing is to ask the question “what would I do differently, if I were writing this  book?”.

Before we get to that, it is probably worth noting that (a) I did search for some reviews of the book, and the consensus seems to be that it is a 4* effort, and, (b) outside of Amazon (where, at the time of writing this post, there were 205 reviews) I’ve yet to find a compelling/reasoned negative review.

So what did I like?  I liked the opening a great deal: I thought it was intriguing and sucked me in completely. (The Cornwell fan in the group thought it rather obvious, and didn’t like it.  Ho hum.  As an aside, the best meetings we’ve had are around books that split opinion).  It was an excellent start and the epilogue echoes this to give the story a nice symmetry.  I quite like the main character, who is very much of the time.  He is not an anti-hero, but neither is he especially heroic – he is a self-confessed thief, but is a reliable narrator.  I learned something, and I think that the tings that I learned were even true in some respects!

I have two major, linked gripes.  There is a plot, but it’s a bit thin, and as a consequence the book feels as though it has been padded:  there are quite large chunks of Shakespeare’s works in the book and there is a great deal of repetition.  Take ceruse, for example.  Ceruse was the name for the paste made from white lead and vinegar that was used to whiten the skin.  Unsurprisingly, given the the book is set late in the Elizabethan period, ceruse is mentioned 11 times  –  perhaps the biggest surprise is that it is not mentioned more frequently.  Sometimes things were added to the paste – Cornwell describes the property mistress of the acting troupe trying out various dyes to give a green hue to Puck’s make-up at the first presentation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The use of crushed pearls is also mentioned: in a theatrical setting it is used to make the skin sparkle slightly in the candlelight.  We were reminded of the crushed pearls almost every single time, and I got a bit fed up with this being rehashed.

I think the plot felt thin because the book couldn’t really decide what it wanted to be.  I was going to complain about the fact that there is very little ‘action’ (in this sense peril) until almost halfway through the book, but in thinking about it, this wasn’t necessarily the problem – the problem was that the action felt rather contrived.

What would I do differently?  I was going to say “Nothing!  I wouldn’t write this book!”, but that is perhaps being too flippant.  The book did give me an idea, which I will make a note of and I might even revist, which would require  reasonable amount of research, but might be quite fun; it does need time to mature.  But if I were to take Fools and Mortals itself…hmmm….I think what could be quite fun is to reduce the book to novella length and then treat that as the first third of the book, the first Act.  There are two other acts that could work well (and a scholar could probably find several others).  Within my back ground reading, I found out that the Globe was built from the materials of another play house, called the Theatre, which was removed from its site following a dispute with the landlord, stored and then rebuilt.  Also, we tend to forget that Shakespeare lived not only in the Elizabethan era, but also in the Jacobean.  Managing this transition must have been fun…

So how about you?  What things have you learned about your writing by reading other people’s work?