Review of ‘The Steps of the Priory’ by Sally Quilford

Available from Amazon, for 97p.  As far as I can work out, it is only available in e-book format.

I downloaded ‘The Steps of the Priory’, the first book in Sally Quilford’s Harcourt Saga, on to my Kindle because I’ve always enjoyed Sally’s competition page in ‘Writers Forum’, which is always a mixture of well-honed experience and common sense.   I also follow her blog (as you will see from the list to the left).  However, I must point out that I don’t know Sally, either face-to-face or ‘remotely’.

It is now several days since I finished the book.  The reason I haven’t written the review earlier is that I needed time to consider what to say, and this prompted me, in turn, to consider how I should review all books on this writing blog. I came to the conclusion that I should do so, not as a reader, but as a writer trying to learn as much as possible about the writer’s craft.

‘The Steps of the Priory’ was aptly named, because it opened with two teenagers placing an unborn baby on the steps of the big house (‘The Priory’) belonging to the local factory owners.   Obviously, the baby cast a shadow over the rest of the book, even though the reader knew who he was from 21%.  (We Kindle-rs have come to think of books in percentages, not pages!)  However, he figured in a totally unexpected twist at the end.

The book was written with a broad canvas worthy of Dickens, with more characters and povs than I could count, ranging across the wealthy Harcourt family, workers and their families and people who had moved away from the area.  It also written over a huge timeframe,  from 1917 to 1948, during which a whole generation was born and grew up.  Maybe so much movement over time disconcerted me because, several nights running, this story kept me awake, the various characters and the plot running over and over in my mind.

I was impressed with Sally’s ability to move so slickly from one moment in time to another, a few years passing in a sentence, without the dreaded asterisks or anything clunky.   She enabled the reader to anchor herself in time with passing references to the General Strike, the Blitz, Colditz and concentration camps and ration-books, but nothing in detail because this was nothing at all like historical fiction.

This was a story about people, and only people, as befits Chick Lit.  The character who interested me most was ‘Jack’, the baby left on the Priory steps.  Although he was a bad lot for most of the book, his struggle with his own badness made him the only character who was substantially transformed, although other characters quarreled and made up.  As Sally has written a lot of erotic novels (which I haven’t read), The Steps contained a lot of sex, all very well-written, but, unfortunately, most of it falling within a few chapters, which was off-putting.  Towards the end of the book, a ‘Harold Shipman’ lookalike character appeared, killing off his patients and asking others to lie for him – an interesting lead which, maybe, will be pursued in the next volume.

So a lot to learn here.  Having read several real chicklit books in recent months, the genre is very different to what I thought it would be.  A lot of sex… ugh!  I hate writing sex scenes.

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The Grinder – A New Fiction Markets Database

For years, hopeful fiction writers have depended upon Duotrope to search for fiction markets for their work.  Duotrope has, and still does, provide an excellent service, including a search facility filtered on genre, length, style and other factors, but since January 2013 has  become available to paid subscribers only.  As someone who did actually, frequently, donate to the old Duotrope, I don’t have a problem with this.  At just $5 per month, I think it’s cheap at the price.  However, as all this was happening, enter a new fiction markets database, The Grinder, which declares roundly on its home page that ‘The Grinder is and always will be free to all users for all features.’  Although The Grinder’s 1569 listings (only 818 of them open) cannot yet compete with Duotrope’s 4606, it contains some different ones.  I intend to use both.

Both Duotrope and The Grinder host a ‘submissions tracker’, which they exhort you to use in strongest possible terms, because they depend upon members reporting progress of submissions for their data.   Both Duotrope and The Grinder’s trackers look eerily similar, with The Grinder offering the facility of transferring  your subs  from its rival.

There are other fiction markets databases, including Ralan’s Webstravaganza, which, I must say, I’ve never properly explored.

However, none of these databases are the whole solution.   Duotrope, The Grinder and Ralan are American-based, with a bias towards online ezines.  Our British womags don’t get a mention, for instance; for these, you need look up womagwriter’s blogspot.  To find out about calls for submissions and competitions in the UK, read the listings at the back of the (print) magazines ‘Writers Forum’, ‘Writing Magazine’, ‘Mslexia’ and (online)  Patsy Collins’ blog Words about writing and writing about words (for free writing comps) .  And, of course, keep watching Twitter.

Isn’t this a salutary story for us all?

/'kül/

I’m not sure what the big deal is.  Nate Thayer was respectfully asked by Olga Khazan, the Global Editor for The Atlantic, to repurpose an article he wrote for NK News about “basketball diplomacy,” for the benefit of her readers. Nate Thayer, needing a paycheck more than exposure, respectfully declined. And then, perhaps deciding that if he was going to work for free, he might as well get that exposure in a different way, he chose to adapt his experience into a blog post about the sorry state of unpaid journalism. Publishing the editor’s e-mail address seemed unnecessary, I suppose, but hardly vindictive so much as childish: “You offered me exposure to your readers, I return the favor to you via mine.” And then his comments were picked up by New Yorkwhich got him being a bit more profane and officially on-the-record. Recursively, the whole thing…

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I’ve Just Been Nominated for a Reality Award

PatsReality Blog Awardy Collins has just nominated this blog for a Reality Award, so my immediate thought was ‘Reality?  Yes, I get too much of that’ but then I saw that it meant something slightly different, and very nice.  In fact, this is the second compliment I have had  today.  (You don’t get many in my line of work.)  The first one was this morning, from my degree students, who said that I ‘really knew my stuff’.  The ‘stuff’ in question is advanced spreadsheets in Excel, and I have to admit it’s all credit to my colleague, Felicity, that I’ve got any ‘stuff’ out there at all.

Now,  for the Reality Award, I have to answer three questions:

If you could change one thing, what would it be?
  I would’ve been more committed about my writing earlier in my life.  It isn’t that I’ve come to writing late, because I’ve always written, but, until relatively recently, I used to be the sort of writer who wrote passionately but in dead secrecy, stuffing it all away in a drawer (or, later, on a floppy disc), because it was too personal and too embarrassing to show anyone else.  My writing only ‘came out’ when I joined two online writing sites and members there encouraged me to sub.   The way I write now has changed a great deal.

What one thing really scares you?
  Dogs.  As a child, dogs terrified me.  I wouldn’t go out into the street in case one appeared.  I don’t know what caused it, only that I was not helped by the grown ups around me pooh-poohing me and saying things like, “He’s only playing.”  Even now, I’m uncomfortable in the company of dogs.  Cats, on the other hand, I’m very fond of.  In fact, my cat, Clarabel, who features on the Recent Reads page of this blog, is sitting with me right now.

If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?  Charles Dickens, I think.  There’s something very effortless about his writing, although I know he didn’t have a very happy life.

Now I get to nominate other blogs.  I would’ve nominated Patsy but she got in there first, so instead I’ll go for Sue Llewellyn’s travel blog, ‘A Word in Year Ear’, for truly amazing photos taken in most unusual locations.  I see that she’s got a Reality Award already, but I’m sure she can survive getting another.  I’m also rooting for ThatOscarIndia’s blog, The Making Progress Blues, in particular for its particularly direct and honest post on horse meat.

Sweet Success: ‘Thank you, Miss Prendergast’

shes_the_one

‘Thank You, Miss Prendergast’ by me myself personally has been published in Sarah Porter’s ‘She’s the One’ anthology.  It’s also available from Amazon, in Kindle format and in paperback. Last year Sarah Porter invited us to write 350 words about a woman who has made a difference in our lives. As you might guess from the title, my entry was about a schoolteacher, but did I compose a panegyric? Read the anthology to find out.

Review of ‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’ by Linda Lewis

http://goo.gl/46Zub

‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’, available on Amazon.co.uk at just £1.54 for the Kindle edition, is one of three books written by Linda as part of ‘The Professional Writer Series’, the other two being ‘A Writers Glossary’ and ‘How to Make £10 in Ten Minutes’. Having followed Linda’s ‘Short Story Writer’ column in ‘Writers Forum’ for a number of years, I have found her advice for writers to be sound and sensible. (Sadly, this column has now been discontinued.) She has a wealth of long experience writing short stories, mostly for womag, and she also runs seminars and writing courses. She is the only writing advice columnist I know of who is prepared to give out her email address in a writers’ magazine and invite readers to contact her.

‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’ distils her experience over almost twenty years into eighteen ‘Reasons for Rejection’, some of which are glaringly obvious (like keeping within the given word count) but still need to be said, and others more subtle, like distinguishing between a ‘twist’ and ‘surprise’. She makes the point that her experience is rooted in womag, but much of what she says applies across the board. And despite the title, the content wasn’t all negative. My next short story will certainly benefit, in a very direct way, from reading this book, although a lot of practice will be needed to take in all her advice. She does however make the point that, even if you do do all the right things, rejection can be down to just bad luck, the editor having, say, just filled his four Christmas slots before she picks up your sub or having just accepted a story with a similar theme to yours. The moral is not to beat yourself up, but get the thing out there again, as soon as possible. Like she did – and still does!

The style of the book is very readable and occasionally funny, without being in the least preachy. As was evident from her column, Linda shares her experiences, without telling you what to do. Do I recommend ‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’ to fiction writers? Yes, definitely. Would I read ‘A Writers Glossary’ and ‘How to Make £10 in Ten Minutes? Well, I just might.

Review of ‘Polska Dotty’ by Jonathan Lipman

http://www.polishculture.org.uk/news/article/polska-dotty-by-jonathan-lipman-1613.html

You can also follow Jonathan on http://polskadotty.wordpress.com/

A humorous and self-effacing account of an Englishman’s time in modern Poland, after his marriage to a Polish woman, published by the Polish Cultural Institute. Totally factual, this books takes the reader around most of the regions of Poland and covers various aspects of Polish life, such as the family, the workplace, food, daily living, customer service, health service and car driving.

Very detailed, possibly too much at times and occasionally repetitive, it provided a vivid account of life lived in another country. We got to know, for instance, that bath water in Warsaw tends to be yellow and that, when one drives into Warsaw, you’re supposed to honk your horn for luck. We heard about the old ladies who walked through a Chopin recital in a park, chattering loudly, and how to soft-soap a policeman when you had been caught speeding or driving through 3 red lights (as the author once did). All very endearing, and totally consistent with Tim Sebastian’s ‘Nice Promises’, published 15 years earlier.

However, Jonathan wasn’t afraid to tackle the less pleasant sides of Polish life, like, for instance, corruption and a squalid holiday hotel in Sopot.

Great fun, frequently laugh out loud funny. And an invaluable guide to possible visitors to the country.