Friday, 29 February 2008

Youwriteon Book of the Year

Not Rising Fire alas, but some good news...

Go here to see who won YWO Book of the Year 2008. I've read most of these extracts, and they are of a high standard, worthy winners, and all very different.

The excellent news for me is that Youwriteon is publishing an anthology of all the short stories in the Best Seller Chart, and I have two in there; Showing Them, about an unpublished writer, and Comforted by Darkness, about a woman's encounter with an enigmatic stranger.

So guess what everyone I know will be getting from me, signed, for Christmas?

Monday, 25 February 2008

Are you all right? You're looking a bit pale...

Cough in real life, and your friends' only reaction will be to back away from your germs. Cough in a novel or on screen, and it's both good and bad news; your friends will notice and show concern, but unfortunately it means you are going down with something serious, maybe fatal.

If you are going to be ill, my advice is to see if you can get one of those fictional illnesses; they're so much better than real life ones. They come in various forms;

1. TERMINAL ILLNESS Now here, fiction is way ahead. No physical decline, or feeling wretched, or looking terrible. No, you will be gorgeous till the end. If you look a tad frail it won't stop you doing interesting stuff like making love with the hero. Coughing delicately into a handkerchief is about the only symptom that will trouble you.

A final plus; a fictional doctor will be able to predict, to the day, when you will conk out. In the film The First of the Few, the doctor told Leslie Howard that if he rested completely he'd be right as rain; if he carried on overworking, he'd be dead in six months. Now that's the sort of certainty a patient needs.

2. INSANITY This is only ever bad news if you are a baddie; if you are a sympathetic character, you can go on much as normal with everyone smiling indulgently at your foibles. See Mr Dick in David Copperfield.

3. SMALLPOX Not a disease to tangle with; but Esther Summerson in Bleak House had a nasty bout of it, and when she recovered her face was pock-marked badly enough to scare off a tiresome suitor. But a year or two later, bingo! She's as beautiful as before.

4. LOSS OF THE USE OF YOUR LEGS Surprisingly common in novels, this. Both Pollyanna and Katie in What Katie Did suffered from it. But, and here's the good news for a heroine, it's ten pounds to a penny that with a little research, a specialist, experimental doctor can be found who will make you as good as new! Beat that, real life.

(And for the odd character who fails to track down a leg expert, like Madame Neroni in Barchester Towers, there is the comfort of being as beautiful and charming as you ever were, possibly more).

Real life versus fiction? No contest.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Take the comma quiz

Can you handle a comma?

I have a slight problem with that tricky little punctuation mark, the comma; I'm sometimes uncertain whether I need one or not. I'm not going to discuss them, as Lynne Truss has done it much better than I could in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. But it's high time I directed my loyal readers to a quiz, so here is one to test your comma usage:

It gives you handy advice and comments at the top; they are easy to miss.

(Oh, um, I got 76%. Dear me).

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Green Eye Rule

Most rules are made to be broken...

...though not, of course, rules about apostrophes, or spelling, where if you do not get it right, you are getting it WRONG, and there are no excuses.

No, I'm referring to the rules you will learn at a writing class, which you can see an excellent summary of at my friend Norm's blog. Don't misunderstand me, these are all useful points to bear in mind when writing, but like The Pirates' Code, they are really more what you'd call 'guidelines'.

There is one rule, however, that I've been fretting over lately. It was made up by another friend, Alan Hutcheson, and is called The Green Eye Rule. It goes:

'Thou shalt not give thy characters green eyes to make them seem special, intriguing, sexy, mysterious or otherwise memorable. If all the fictional characters with green eyes were stacked together they would reach halfway to Mars. Placed feet to shoulders the monolith would extend well past Uranus. Either arrangement would interfere with weather satellites and likely raise an objection from fringe human rights groups'.

Now before I knew Alan, I wrote Trav Zander, and the heroine, Isolda, is a bewitching blonde with green eyes. I did some low-level worrying about this, then when I went in for ABNA, I became aware that green-eyed heroines were not just two a penny in unpublished fantasy, they appeared to be mandatory.

So, teeth gritted, I went through the novel and changed Isolda's eyes to a smokey grey. I was not happy about this; I see her with green eyes. And she has a matching emerald necklace - emeralds, said to be unlucky - which played a minor part in the story. Star sapphires just don't work so well.

In the end, I changed her eyes back to green.

But not before I'd sent the typescript out to an agent, with, I realized too late, passages where the match between her grey eyes and her emerald necklace were remarked on.


Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Commit to the move!

From the age of nine, my daughter studied static trapeze and flying trapeze. She also learned cloud swing, where you balance on a loop of rope swinging in a huge arc, using its momentum to do tricks. One move guaranteed to make the audience gasp involves winding the rope round your ankles, then at the high point of the swing letting go with your hands, rotating and catching the rope the other side. You can see it on the video of Fabio Dorea. (Click the middle arrow then bottom left arrow).

I used to watch Minty being trained for this. And it's not something you can learn to do slowly, then build up speed. No, you have to commit to the move. If you don't leap out at the top of the swing, it won't work and you'll be left dangling. I marvelled at her courage.

As writers we don't need those sort of guts, but there are occasions when we too need to commit to the move.

The moment comes when a novel is finished: one has done one's best, had all one's second thoughts, got trusted advice and acted on it, revised and revised again till it's the best one can make it.

Time to send it out to find its fortune. Commit to the move.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Youwriteon update

The ups and downs of an unpublished author, Part Two...

Yesterday I came in to find an email from Guy Saville, author of The Africa Reich, which is so kind I'm going to quote it in full;

Dear Lexi

Just seen the YWO longlist and had to email you straight away to say: CONGRATULATIONS!!! I am so pleased for you. I'll keep my fingers crossed you make it to the shortlist... and then all the way. I think RISING FIRE has a really good chance of winning. I'll watch with bated breath.
Well done again, this should be a real boost to your confidence as a writer.
Warmest wishes

Guy x

Which was a nice way to discover I'd made the Youwriteon longlist for Book of the Year.