Rosemary Johnson's writing blog

A lot of useful information here. In my real life, I used to teach copyright, and my students surprised by two things:
1. Copyright is presumed.
Putting (c) on a piece of work is for information only.
2. Titles are not copyright. One of my published stories has the title ‘Us and Them’ (and I didn’t get sued by Pink Floyd).
3. As Helen says in the article below, ideas are not copyright.

Blog About Writing

angryDid you hear the story of the newcomer to a writers’ group who refused to share his work in a meeting, in case someone ‘stole’ his ideas?

It’s only natural to be protective of our ideas – after all, they’re the lifeblood of writers – but was that an over-reaction or was he right to be worried? And if our ideas are used by someone else, is there anything we can do about it, or even learn from the experience?

Firstly, remember, there’s no copyright on ideas, so even if yours is ‘stolen’ and you may consider it a moral theft, there’s no legal redress. Copying an idea is not the same as plagiarism – which means to directly copy someone’s written work and pass it off as your own.

An idea, until it’s expressed in some tangible form, doesn’t actually exist. The only way to protect an idea is…

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For reasons that made sense in my sixteen-year-old mind, I opted not to take English A Level.  What I didn’t take on board was that this would be my last opportunity to learn literary appreciation, or how much I would need this skill in writing.  I knew I wanted to be a writer since primary school, when it seemed to me that Enid Blyton’s output was not enough.  (Yes, I know she produced loads, but I was even younger at the time.)

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  This is the advice Stephen King gives in On Writing, but he didn’t give it until 2000 and, Dear Reader, I was a child and a teenager long before that.  I wasn’t making the connection myself.  Some people might expect me, not being tutored in conventional literary criticism, to come up with new and interesting perspectives… but I’m not that intelligent.

When I read, I read for pleasure.  During the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9, I devoured Dickens in paperback, on heaving, snow-swept platforms, and in draughty commuter train corridors, always (unlike my train) racing ahead, desperate to find out – equally – what was going to happen next, and whether there would be a train to work (or home).  However, there were long periods when I didn’t open a book at all, even though I was writing reams and reams, and in a manner that was supremely suited to me myself personally.  I believed that my novels were pretty amazing (because I wasn’t comparing them with anything else), but, when I came to join online writing groups, I was gently pulled up for not developing characters and for inadequate (actually non-existent) descriptive passages.  In these groups, I was given a lot of very useful advice about writing, which I would not have needed if I had learned to read properly, to analyse structure, character and writing style.  I would like to add to Stephen King’s famous quote.  “…and take it apart.”

Dylan Thomas's study at Laugharn

Dylan Thomas’s study at Laugharn

I review (almost) every book I read on my other WordPress blog, Dear Reader; this is my attempt to analyse what books are about, how the storyline works, how characters are drawn and to think about written style.  However, when I read a critique of a work of literature by someone who really knows how to do it, I’m gobsmacked at what he/she finds, often angles that I didn’t see at all.  I have paid a heavy price for my decision to take history, geography and maths at A level.  My reason was that I knew, from being in English classes lower in the school, that the English staff were obsessed with Dylan Thomas and D H Lawrence, writers I did not get on with at all.  Actually, I think I was too young for them.  Just recently, I came across Thomas’s poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, which I’m sure everybody else knows.  I need no expert here.  The howl of impotent fury against the inevitable is palpable.  Oh, if only I could write anger like that.

Your bad blogger is trying to get into gear again.   When was my last post, Dear Reader?  5 January.  5 January?  Some bloggers are at it every day… posting, that is.  I’d like to share with you some more ‘History About to Be Lost’.

Everybody is aware that life in the Lancashire cotton mills was tough during the mid-nineteenth century, when Charles Dickens was writing ‘Hard Times’ and Elizabeth Gaskell ‘North and South’.  Maybe you ‘did’ the Industrial Revolution at school, but I try to find the little things that won’t appear in the history books, the sorts of details you would definitely need if you were writing a historical novel.   Last week I was talking to my friend a week or so ago about life in Lancashire immediately after World War 2.

manchester-cotton-mill-in-1820_300A mother of three daughters – aged eight, five and eighteen months – loses her husband in the late 1940s.   She lived in a terraced house, on a street of terraced houses, cheek by jowl with her neighbours – this is important.   With a widow’s pension of only 15 shillings per week, she had no alternative but to go out to work at the local mill; this involves leaving the house at 7am and returning early evening.  In the mornings, a neighbour helped the daughters get up and make breakfast, then the girls walked to school together, dropping the youngest off at the childminder’s on their way.  At going-home time, they let themselves into their house and looked after themselves until their mother returns.  No harm came to them, because the neighbours always kept a watchful eye on them.   My friend refers to her neighbours as ‘aunties’, but they were more than that to her and her family.

Occasionally, the mill put the mother on short-time working, reducing her tight income further.  The neighbours got together to make large hot pots, some families contributing the meat, some the vegetables, some even less.  They all ate together.

There are no working cotton mills in Lancashire now.  If you want to see what one was like, visit National Trust Quarry Bank.  We did last autumn – it was fascinating, especially the deafening mechanical looms – but, when I suggested that my friend might like to go when she next visited Lancashire, she shuddered.    Maybe you have some memories of the Lancashire cotton mills, or factories elsewhere?  Dear Reader and I would love to hear from you.

You may not hear from me again for a while.  I’m going to the Association of Christian Writers Retreat over the weekend, then I’m off to India for a fortnight.  I may however use the time I’m sitting in the aeroplane to write up some book reviews for Dear Reader blog.

saxophone-29816To follow on from my last post, another useful skill I’ve had to learn is what I loosely call ‘committee clerking’.  I’ve worked (as in paid work) as a committee clerk in several organisations, including the British Medical Association (eons ago) and in local government, at various different levels.   At the current time, I’m (voluntary) secretary to my church’s PCC.  Btw, the committee clerk is the person who prepares the agenda and writes the minutes.  In the old pre-computer days (BMA/local government), committee clerks could be boys or girls and definitely did not type.   (One of my bosses used to get very upperty when councillors assumed that every typing error was hers.  She also refused to pour out the tea… another story!)  These are the skills I have picked up:

  • To jolly people along to produce what you want them to produce at the right time.
  • To edit what self-same people do produce without upsetting them.
  • To guide people actually to make a decision.
  • To know when something is illegal or unethical or against internal rules and to tell your members so.
  • To keep listening so as to be able to record decisions, and not to be touchy when somebody challenges what I’ve written.

I’m sure the same skills are required in many other occupations but this is how I came about them.  They have also been useful to me in writing and in my role as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers.  This provides a lead-in for the imminent launch of the next ACW competition, this time for crime fiction.  More details – shortly – on the ACW website (but don’t look yet).

I’ve managed – at last – to review another book on my companion blog, Dear ReaderThe Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith.  Do take a look.  T

 

Yes, here, on Alfie Dog Fiction.  Mine’s the story called Burnt Down.   (You need to scroll down the page to get to it.)  At 0.39p, it’s a steal.

You can’t know how uncomfortable I feel about promoting my own work.  I’m of the generation for whom ‘showing off’ was the worst of all possible sins and who would go to enormous lengths to avoid any form of self-aggrandisement.  If you got a good mark at school, you didn’t dare tell anybody.

We writers can be very lazy, regarding ourselves as arty types, who just want to be left alone to do what we do best – write.  After all our work is so good it will fall off the shelves in Waterstones, won’t it?   In fact,  we won’t need to do anything except pick up the nice fat royalty cheque twice a year.  What a terrible effort that will be!   Come on,  publisher, you do all the publicity.  Publisher, publisher, where are you?  You want me to self-publish?  All right, I can hack  the idea of reformatting my work and uploading it to SmashWords or something, but surely you don’t expect me to go out and tell people about it.  I mean, what are Amazon doing, apart from collecting huge profits (ha ha)?  What, you want me to do book signings in my own town?  And go on Facebook?  And Twitter?  How embarrassing!  I mean, what will people think of little me (Rosemary)?

Fortunately, none of this is necessary for a short story on Alfie Dog Fiction, which is a great site for short stories generally.   Have you ever hoped not to win a competition because you couldn’t hack going public on your writing and your story?  (I have.)  Part of me regards my writing as so personal that I can’t bear to share it.  The other part wants it all just to ‘happen’.

Talking of competitions, the Association of Christian Writers are about to launch a crime-writing comp.   Check the ACW site in January.

Happy Christmas.  I am not at all prepared, but I will be.  The family start to arrive tomorrow.

To all those whose bloggers I follow, if you’re following me, thank you for all the interesting posts which WordPress sends to me every Monday.   (What a terrible sentence!)  Do keep checking my other blog, Dear Reader.   When I’ve finished this post, I’m going to review The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith.

Good stuff here. A reader tells you what keeps her reading. Do you look for the same things as she does? Personally, I like a bit of good stuff, to share some ‘feel-good’. Why otherwise do you suppose so many detectives have loving families or good circles of friends? But I’m with her on checking facts. I’ve noticed that many writers – particularly – get it wrong when writing about the church and local government, but then that’s two areas I happen to know about. I wonder what other ‘areas of misinformation’ are out there.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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I do a ridiculous amount of reading because it is part of my job as a writer. My job in particular because I blog about craft. I read all genres and go through anywhere from 2-4 books a week. Audible will go bankrupt if I’m ever hit by an ice cream truck.

This said, I think I’m in a fairly good position to guide you guys on pitfalls to avoid from a reader’s POV. These are the mistakes that will have me railing at the heavens and throwing a book across the room…followed by depression because I can never get those wasted hours back.

I just returned a book so bad that I cannot believe I read as much of it as I did. It is a prime example why reviews can be misleading, even good ones.

I finally had to return it because there was just not enough blood…

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I haven’t read this myself, because I’ve only just come across the post on Morgen Bailey’s blog, but it sounds like an invaluable writing resource. Thank you, Morgen, Interestingliterature blog and, of course, Susie Dent (author).

Interesting Literature

From Susie Dent’s fascinating new book on ‘modern tribes’

The lexicographer and etymologist Susie Dent is well-known in the UK thanks to her role as the resident word expert and adjudicator on the long-running Channel 4 quiz show Countdown (the very first programme broadcast on the channel in 1982; Susie Dent joined the show in 1992). Dent is also the author of a series of popular books on the English language. Dent’s Modern Tribes: The Secret Languages of Britain is her latest book, and we were fortunate enough to be recipients of a review copy. The book is a treasure-trove of unusual jargon and colourful slang from various trades, clubs, sports, social groups, and walks of life – everything from an old publican’s friendly nickname for a habitual drinker (that’s a tosspot) to the theatrical term for an actor who performs in an exaggerated, hammy manner (that’ll be…

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