Monthly Archives: November 2016

7 things you need to know about… Poetry

felixToday I am delighted to welcome poet and performer, Felix Hodcroft to my blog. Felix Hodcroft gained a BA in English Literature more years ago than he seems (to himself at least) to have been alive. His publications include a volume of his own poetry, Life after Life after Death and an anthology of poetry by North and East Yorkshire writers, A Pocketful of Windows, both published by Valley Press: https://goo.gl/7swD1x. He teaches poetry on the Creative Writing course at Hull University. He writes and performs with Sue Wilsea as ‘The Hull to Scarborough Line’. With Sarah Dew, Jane Sudworth and Helen Birmingham, he writes and performs as ‘Poetry on Fire’. With Helen, he co-compères the regular Open Mic Cabaret sessions at Woodend, Scarborough (http://www.woodendcreative.co.uk/events.html). He has also performed as a solo poetry performer and with Beach Hut Theatre and Springboard Scriptwriters in Scarborough.

The 7 things you need to know about… Poetry

(1) The essence of poetry is NOT, as many people still think, that it should rhyme.

(2) The formal (ie. how it looks or sounds) essence of poetry may usefully be broken down into four elements:
(a) the vividness, precision and power of the words you use;
(b) the way in which you use grammar (eg. full-stops, commas, hyphens – or, sometimes, the lack of these) to bunch and order those words;
(c) the way you use your words, your grammar and, most of all, your decisions about where to break lines to create the sense of what you say and the rhythm (whether regular or shifting) in which you say it;
(d) the ways in which you embellish your sense and your rhythms with images (often metaphors) to refresh and revivify; and with such musical effects as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and (even!) rhyme.

(3) A poem can unfold like a story, a series of descriptions, an emotional outpouring, a conversation, an advertisement, a news bulletin or any combination of the above or of anything else. To be of interest, though, it should push the boundaries – perhaps by finding or trying to engage with something fresh or enigmatic, controversial, complex or painful; or by addressing something familiar in a revealingly original way. This is one reason why it may get harder, not easier, the longer you go on, to write poetry of value. Poetry-writers often turn out to be good at doing something fresh – and then at doing that same (once) fresh thing again and again.

(4) Because pushing the boundaries is a challenging and sometimes painful or alarming thing to do, the formal techniques outlined above under (2) have a crucial role in hooking into and hanging onto the reader’s attention. Whether it be to delight, disgust or intrigue, the quest to keep the reader’s attention is paramount in poetry.

(5) From which it follows that the purpose of writing poetry is not to show off the writer’s cleverness, their political or aesthetic soundness or their fascinating emotional scars. Any of the above may, optionally, be present, so long as they are subjugated to the task in hand. That task is to communicate: one human being trying to touch, and to speak to and for, other human beings, bringing something fresh from the Front.

(6) If you can’t immediately understand a poem presented to you – or you can, but you can’t see the point of it – this does not mean that the poem should necessarily be rejected. Sticking with it can be about trying to broaden your mind, which is something poetry can be very good at, and for. If, however, after sustained attention and effort, you still don’t understand it – or maybe, again, just the point of it – this does not necessarily mean either that the poem is remarkably clever or you remarkably stupid. As years pass, many poems – and poets – that were once thought sophisticated and excellent are seen to be rather ordinary. Cringing to fashion is something that the poetic world can be very, very bad at.

life-after-death

Available from Valley Press: https://goo.gl/7swD1x

(7) Taking time to work out – and to put into words – why you think a poem works, or does not work, and continuing to do this (as – yes! – you read more and more poems) is one of the very best ways of discovering your own personal poetic standards and of developing your own powerful, poetic voices. Another way is being willing to change your mind. Yet another is to resist the romantic myth that the best poetry comes in a lyrical rush of inspiration. On the contrary, the best poems have been probed, interrogated and revised again and again until – if ever! – we achieve the intensity, depth and honesty we fumble for.

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Author Interview: Ruth F Hunt

the-single-featherToday I am thrilled to welcome Ruth F Hunt to my blog. She is author of the novel The Single Feather (http://www.tinyurl.com/ziaz82m) which has a protagonist who just happens to have disabilities. It asks searching questions about our attitude to disability. She is columnist with The Morning Star, freelance features writer and creative writing workshop facilitator. She is also a perennial student and is finishing off a degree in Creative Writing from The Open University as well as studying for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCRJ) Diploma. She is an associate member of The Society of Authors and a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

What are you currently working on?
My intention was to take a brief sabbatical from novel-writing while I finished off my studies, but suppressing ‘the writing monster’ hasn’t been easy at all, and at times I’ve had to let it come out. It isn’t a sequel to The Single Feather, but it does have a social justice element to it, and features characters that are on the margins of life. With Brexit, Trump, the migrant crisis and so on, I think it has become more important for writers and artists to show we have more in common with each other than not.

 What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
As someone who has both used and worked in the provision of Local Authority (and NHS) services, I’m very much inspired by social issues. I don’t preach politics, but I do examine what is happening in the world and look for ways stories could deepen our understanding of those who may be left behind or disregarded. The Single Feather was told from the point of view of a young woman with paraplegia, who along with others was facing hardening attitudes towards disability, encouraged by sections of the press. It featured characters with disabilities, and some over the age of 60-65. I’ve been delighted with the reviews that show readers have connected with the storyline and have come away with a deeper understanding of what it is like to be disabled. 

Can you give 5 tips about tackling characterisation?
Well rounded, interesting and believable characters should be the aim for any fiction writer.

1) Don’t just look at your character’s life now, but look at what triggers, events, and personal history made them who they are. If they are abrupt and cold, why is this case? If they are needy, find out why. What motivates them in life? What kind of life have they lived up to now? Do they feel fulfilled, or is something missing?

2) Try to spend plenty of time on your minor characters, so they don’t just seem like cardboard cut-outs.

3) If you are a white, straight, able-bodied male or female writer – think about diversity. I’m not talking tokenism here, but instead reflecting the diverse nature of any population. Be careful not to fall into stereotypes.

4) Once you’ve developed your well rounded character, you should already be ‘hearing’ what they ‘sound’ like, so make sure your dialogue fits the character, in terms of age, class, background, education, where they were born, where they live now, and so on.

5) When describing the physical features of your character leave some aspects for the reader to imagine. You should be giving pointers and clues, which help a reader form an image in their mind. 

How would you describe your writing process?
I can spend months and months getting an idea right in my mind. I then do a lot of notes including character profiles and chapter plans, so that when I’m writing my first draft I have a plan. That’s not to say I don’t change anything. During my next drafts, I chip away, like a sculptor with clay, writing and rewriting, until the story emerges. 

A first draft can take two years, so my poor family get sick to death about hearing about the book, to the extent that when I open my mouth ready to talk about the latest development, I’m interrupted and the subject of the conversation gets changed. I don’t think I could ever write without knowing what is going to happen or how the book is going to end – though this method does sound exhilarating. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I live in a terraced house next to a family who have four children under the age of 10. Even with my noise cancelling headphones I can sometimes hear children screaming. So, I tend to write early in the morning and late at night, when it is much quieter. 

I suffer with a lot of pain, and find writing at my desk for a prolonged period of time, harder and harder each year. I now use a Freewrite, which I carry around with me. It is lighter and easier to use than a laptop, and ideal for when I can’t sit at my desk. 

Why I chose the Independent Route for The Single Feather and some tips for would-be indie authors
The Single Feather was published by the small independent press, Pilrig Press. I was delighted to accept their offer, especially when I knew of other writers who had published with them and was impressed by the quality of book production and care they took with their authors. They have published the likes of comedian/author, Bill Dare and Scottish writer, Marianne Wheelaghan amongst other talented authors. If you are approaching independent presses there are a few things you need to look out for. 

1) The first thing I would do is to type the name of the publisher in the Amazon search engine, and look at what and who they are publishing. Do you recognize any names? How many reviews are the authors getting?

2) You want a publisher who will be able to devote time and energy to your book, so beware of publishers who have three or more books out each month. Yes, it shows they are popular, but does that mean your book won’t get the attention it deserves?

3) If you are paying money to have your book published, then please do your research. Some vanity publishers, who operate under a multitude of names, and disguise themselves as independent, hybrid and traditional book publishers can charge excessive amounts for a relatively poor service. Look for forum discussions; see what other authors are saying.

4) There are pros to working with indie presses. The time it takes for your book to get to the market is often much shorter than going down the traditional route and you may also find indie publishers who are more willing and able to take on risks. However, make sure they are prepared to spend the time and resources to ensure, for example, that your book is carefully edited and well produced.

5) The down-side is that there is less money to devote to marketing so the onus falls onto the author to generate interest. However, more and more traditional authors have to do the same, as cuts bite and budgets tighten. 

Find out more about Ruth F Hunt:
Her website is http://www.rhunt4.com
The Single Feather book trailer is http://youtu.be/Ysu3QKPDjU0
You can find her on Twitter as @RFHunt1
The s shortened  link to buy The Single Feather on Amazon is. http://www.tinyurl.com/ziaz82m
The link to buy The Single Feather from the publisher is: http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html#feather

 

7 things you need to know about proofreading

Today I welcome fellow author, David Powning, who is also an experienced copy-editor & proofreader, to guide us through what we need to know as writers about proofreading. Learn more at: www.inkwrapped.com and find out more about his novel The Ground Will Catch You go to: https://goo.gl/wtkdod (10% of the proceeds goes towards the struggle against breast cancer).

David1. Copy-editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
This foxes a lot of people, and understandably so, mainly because there is a certain overlap between the two disciplines. The aim of a copy-edit is to not only find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also to address issues around style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In other words, it involves editing the text. 

A proofread, on the other hand, is the final read-through before publication. Its purpose is to look for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made amendments to the text. Your proofreader will also check layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc.  

The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It is not an edit. 

2. It isn’t particularly cheap. And if it is, you should be hearing alarm bells.
The bad news is you will have to shell out a bit for a copy-edit, and for good reason: when done properly, it’s time-consuming. The copy-editor has to get inside your text, hunting out mistakes and discrepancies, and that includes keeping tabs on people’s details (the colour of their hair or eyes, for example) or what car they drive (if it’s a green Ford Fiesta on page 24, it can’t be a grey Ford Fiesta on page 238), as well as the timeline to make sure events are happening in the logical order. There’s a lot involved, and, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. 
 

The good news, however, is that a proofread is cheaper. 

3. You can’t proofread your own work.
I know, it would be lovely if we were all able to proofread what we’ve written – and of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t continuously check your work – but it’s a fact that even the best writers have to hand over their efforts to a professional. The problem with proofing your own work is that you know what you’ve written, so, like it or not, there will be times when your brain fills in the words simply because it ‘knows’ what’s coming. And that’s where mistakes occur. You need a neutral person to look at it, because they don’t know what’s around the corner so to them everything will be fresh.

Also, logic dictates that if there are some words you always mis-spell or grammatical constructions you get wrong, how would you know the difference? You can’t spot what you don’t know. 

4. A good copy-editor/proofreader will respect the author’s wishes.
Sometimes as a copy-editor you come across stylistic curiosities that aren’t what you would call, erm, ‘traditional’. Grammatically wrong, even. If it’s a one-off, nine times out of ten you would automatically just correct it. However, if it’s something that crops up repeatedly, then you have to bring it to the author’s attention. And if they say it’s deliberate, then you have to respect that, even if it makes your red pen quiver every time you see it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act. Readers may well go, ‘Ah-ha, I’ve spotted a mistake there, and there, and there…’ but if your client is happy and views it merely as their own stylistic quirk, you must take that on board. It may go against a copy-editor’s natural instinct, but as with a magazine’s house style, sometimes there will be things you disagree with.

5. Proofreading is important.
I’ve often heard it said that readers are not fussy these days about coming across typos when reading a novel, but, you’ll be shocked to hear, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Of course, even with the best will in the world, the occasional error may slip through the net – and that’s true of all books – but to me anything more than that is the thin end of the wedge. If you start to think, ‘Oh, I’m not too bothered about a few spelling mistakes in my novel’, then what’s to stop you being bothered about half a dozen in the next one, and ten in the one cover-jan2016-dpowningafter that? 

Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, and I think indie authors have a duty to keep their standards as high as possible so that the public can buy with confidence, as when purchasing a novel from an established publisher/author. Is it okay for a CD to jump half a dozen times? Wouldn’t you return it if it did? Well, the same goes for books. Typos and grammatical errors stop the flow of words and momentarily take the reader out of the imagined world you have created, thereby undermining all your hard work. What’s okay about that?

6. Track Changes is a wonderful thing.
For those not in the know, Track Changes is a function in Microsoft Word that records each amendment a person (i.e. your copy-editor/proofreader) makes in the document. This means that when your novel is returned to you, you simply go through each change and either ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ it. I mention this only because chances are you’ll be sending your work to a copy-editor as a Word file, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t use Track Changes. It’s simple to use and gives you complete control over the final product. Brilliant.

7. Proofreading is very satisfying.
I love copy-editing and proofreading, whether that’s for magazines or books. To me it’s a challenge to find things that aren’t quite right, and not because I want to feel clever. Every writer makes errors (my novel went through the wringer quite a few times until I was happy), so when you discover something amiss you know you are doing your bit to improve the work, and that’s a good feeling.  

Ultimately, when you’re working for an author, it’s a partnership. You’re both striving towards the same thing – high standards – and to help someone achieve that, after all the hours they’ve put in creating a story, really is very gratifying.