What Are Books For?

  • ‘I love the feel of a book.’
  • ‘I love the smell of a book.’
  • ‘I need to be able physically to turn the pages.’
  • ‘I love rummaging around in second-hand bookshops.’
  • ‘I love those pretentious and expensive hard backed editions of books I’ve probably already read in paperback
  • I love expensive, hardback books which I will never read… you know, random histories of India, volumes 1 and 2.’
Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I could never throw a book away.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
  • Do you possess copies of bed and breakfast directories for 1994?
  • Do you have cookery books for virtually every type of food and every sort of cuisine, and only use five or six of them?
  • Do you retain sets of romance/detective paperbacks, which you will never ever touch again?  (Your tastes have changed.)
  • Do you love cramming books, especially those costly hardbacks, on top of other books in your shelves, squashing them in, and wondering where on earth you’re going to find space for the others?
  • Do you have stacks of books under beds in spare rooms?
  • Do you have stacks of recently-read (and not so recently-read) books on tables?
  • Do you love dusting the bleep bleep things?  The dust doesn’t half accumulate on the upper edges of the pages, in between the bindings.
  • Do you love the smell of mildew emanating from a book that hasn’t been touched for a long time… five years… well, ten years… How long was it since you decorated the spare bedroom?  Fifteen years!
Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

So, what do you do?  You say to yourself you will have a clear out.  Having negotiated with your other half, who will – naturally – remove almost everything of his/hers from your chuck-out pile, you box them up and take them to the charity shop.  Oxfam do second-hand books, don’t they?  But the fact is many charity shops aren’t very interested in your average cast-offs, only particular sorts of books which they think they can shift quickly.  The remainder of your treasures will be pulped.  The same goes for the left-overs from bookstalls at local fetes.

I understand that ‘real books’ are back – see this article in The Irish Times, with all the usual arguments about feel and physicality being trotted out again.  There are occasions when only a print book will do, for instance, for a child who is being read to, and for whom the pictures are as important as the text; often books for the very young contain pop-up images and swatches they can touch.  Additionally, when I am teaching myself how to do something on the computer, I can understand the subject much more easily from a paper-based page, because I can flip back through other pages with ease and type code, build a website, or whatever, on my machine.

However,  it’s not necessary to read fiction in printed form.

This post has been quite flippant so far, but there are some serious ecological issues: about knocking down trees to produce paper for people who could read electronically; about needing storage; and disposal.  I have a Kindle library running to several electronic pages.  It takes up no space in my house at all and doesn’t need dusting.

Books are for reading.  Full stop.

Pet Peeves In Reading, Writing and Editing

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Today is the first Wednesday of the month, and it’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group day!  We are asked to write about our pet peeves in reading, writing and editing, so please allow me to have a really good moan.

Peeve 1 – Reading

I review – more or less – everything I read on my Dear Reader blog and it peeves me that no one reads my reviews.  It’s not as if no-one reads book reviews online because many other book reviewers blogs do attract interest, so, in an open and non-peevish way, I’m asking you, my fellow bloggers, what could be improved?  (This Dear Reader blog text here is a link, if you wouldn’t mind checking it out.)

Peeve 2 – Writing

No time.  (The really helpful and supportive Facebook friends who read the Facebook post generated by my last post on this blog will have heard all this before.).  The last time I did any proper writing, that is, of my novel, was on a train to Newcastle and back, on 8 July.  In the meantime, I’ve been working, seeing friends and looking after family.  Moreover, on Sunday, one-and-only-husband and I go on holiday to Ireland for ten days.  I love to see my friends and family, because, as I’ve said before, I’m not all writer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Another blogger (not known to me personally) has given up her day-job, but she, unlike me, is an established womag writer.   Dare I take the plunge?  No.  Could I partly take the plunge?  I’m plucking up courage.

Peeve 3 – Writing and Editing

Author's Cat Sitting by BookcaseMy cat is old, very timid and very loving.  She likes to sit on my knee, between me and the computer.   Actually, she prefers to stand on my knee between me and my computer, so I find myself stretching my arms around her head (one end) and tail (other end) to reach the keyboard and looking over her back to see the screen.  This is distracting when writing.  It also makes editing more difficult, because she sits on the touchpad; my computer is surprising responsive to her paws and bottom, highlighting and deleting whole passages at whim (her whim).

Generally, I am feeling very insecure about my writing at the moment.  A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer for the Mslexia novel comp; the deadline is in mid-September and, if shortlisted, I would have to have the whole thing completed by mid-November.  When I was on a roll, writing on trains to and from Newcastle, this sounded just about do-able, but, now, I know, it’s not.  Ditto, any possibility that I might do Nano again.  At this moment, I feel that The Novel and I are becoming shipwrecked.

Bad Blogger/ Bad Writer Has No Time

Those that think they know say that a writer should always find time to write, and that no excuses are acceptable.  Really?

At the beginning of this month I was on a roll, writing novel chapters on trains, but I’m ashamed to say, Dear Reader, that I haven’t written a word since.  Not even a comma.  And, keen watchers of this blog – like you, DR – will have noted that I didn’t post last week on this blog, although I did take part in the Katherine Blessan blog tour on the Dear Reader blog.

So what major tragedies have occurred in the Johnson household, so as to prevent me writing?  Er, none, DR. It’s just that life and work has got in the way, finishing off the last few courses I was teaching, visiting friends and family, and looking after grandchildren last week, and tomorrow.  I’m typing this post on my iPad on the bed settee in my daughter’s living room, at 11.30pm.  Next week we’re off on hols in Ireland.

I can provide a list of things I should’ve done and have not done, including not writing story for my writing group on Tuesday, not taking part in Wendy H Jones’s webinar this evening, not making curtains for spare bedroom and not deadheading roses in garden.  Are proper writers a different breed?  Do they not have roses or families?  Do they not have to work?  Do they not have husbands they like to spend time with occasionally?  (He and I went to Anglesey Abbey today – see photo below of the tiger lilies in the Anglesey Abbey formal garden, which we would like to havin our garden.) image

Am I missing something?

Bad Blogger Has RSI

Yes, I’ve been suffering again.  In my right hand and elbow, mostly, in my left hand and neck a little.  It hurts like Hell.  The most painful part is the outside edge of my edge and the nobbly boney bit where my hand joins my wrist.  As a picture (or, rather a photo) tells a thousand words, this bit of my hand here:

 

So, this morning, I updated what I knew on this subject by reading up about RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) on the internet, as it is some time since I published The Dreaded Lurgy page on this blog.  At the time I wrote that page, it was apparent to me that the advice mostly dished out is for desktop PC users in offices, that is, sit with elbows, waist and knees at right angles and your line of vision lining up towards the top of the screen, without your needing to tilt your neck upwards or downwards – see the illustration on the Dreaded Lurgy page.  Although people working in offices do still (mostly) use desktop computers, a lot of us nowadays use laptops, tablets and phones, and the advice has not caught up with us.  I  use a laptop to write and an iPad and iPhone when on the move.  Our last desktop computer died several years ago.

My research also brought up a lot of adverts for so-called ergonomic devices – keyboards, mice, wrist-rests and mouse rests, and various other things – all expensive.  Try them if you can afford them – and if you have space in a skip outside your house when you can’t be bothered to use them anymore.

I did find two wonderful articles by Jack Schofield – dated 2005 and 2013 – in The Guardian Online, about RSI caused by using laptops, tablets and other devices.  Although old, these are gold dust.  Jack Schofield has suffered too.

Broadly speaking, all computer users need to take frequent breaks.  How frequent, you ask.  Every forty minutes.  Jack Schofield feels this is not possible for someone typing at their place of work, but, for writers writing at home, needing loo breaks and cups of tea/coffee – and biscuits to combat writers’ block – this advice has potential.  A break of a few minutes will force you to adjust your position and that’s what’s important.

Laptop users should also be aware of the dangers of looking too far down at their screen, as you will when using your laptop on your lap, which is surely what it is designed for.  (The Americans call laptops notebooks – I wonder why!)  It isn’t possible, says Schofield, to adopt a good position whereby you can see your keyboard and your screen, without straining your neck.   He suggests using a detachable screen and a notebook riser or ergonomic stand to raise your machine from your lap.  To my mind, using a detachable screen, on my lap, would be cumbersome but I’m thinking seriously about ways of raising my laptop on my knee.

The main problem for me, however, has always been the hands.  I use a mouse with my laptop.  Mice haven’t changed in design since the 1960s.  I’m convinced that it’s the mouse that’s causing me pain, as, when I’m just inputting on the keyboard, it’s not so painful.  I try to avoid that outside edge of my hand rubbing against the edge of a desk or table, because I’m conscious that this seems to aggravate it.  Also I’m using a variety of devices; at the moment I’m typing this on my iPhone.

The ultimate cure would be not to use the computer at all for a few days, and I was going to use that as an excuse for this blog post being late, but, as you probably know, I posted on Dear Reader last night, and I’ll be posting again tomorrow on Dear Reader, about Lydia’s Song as part of the Katherine Blessan Blog Tour.  Busted!

 

 

 

 

In Train-ing

Can you write in public?

According to myth,  J K Rowling wrote the first ‘Harry Potter’ in a cafe, because she was a single mother and ‘too poor’ to afford to pay for heating in her home.  J K, didn’t you  end up shelling out more on coffee than you would’ve done on electricity/gas/oil, or whatever your heating ran on?   But I know how comfortable you get to feel in a coffee shop.  It’s the smell – of coffee -and the background buzz of conversation, of strangers who won’t ask you to do something, find something or switch on the television.

For NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) (which happens every November), Nano writers, mostly strangers to each other,  meet together in public and private places, not to socialise, but to write, all together, in silence.  I did that one Saturday afternoon, in a building whose purpose I never fathomed, two years ago, in Colchester.

Could you write on a train?  My friend, Wendy H Jones (of DI Shona McKenzie fame) writes on the train; as she lives in Scotland, she uses trains a lot, and has five Shona McKenzie books, plus several others, to show for it.  This last weekend I travelled to Newcastle, and back, by train, for the Association of Christian Writers Writers’ Day.  The speaker was David Robinson, of Searchlight Theatre, a comedic writer, and the Day was really informative and helpful – more about this on the ACW blog, when it’s my turn this coming Thursday.

I’m moving ahead of myself.  I had to get to Newcastle: it was four hours on a train heading north on Friday and five hours heading back south on Saturday.  So, having packed my smaller – old – computer into my overnight-acceptable-on-a-Ryanair-cabin case, I set it up on the railway carriage table in front of me.  Virgin Trains do support people who want to use computers, by providing three-point sockets beside every double seat, and also free wifi (although this worked only on my iPhone, not on my laptop).  Unfortunately, Dear Reader, the table in front of me was about the size of a child’s desk, and four of us – all women – sitting at it.  And there was me attempting to write one of the most complex chapters of The Novel, including an emotional love scene, with lots of groping and kissing.  I’m sure the woman sitting next to me was reading my page in Word.  I’d like to think that, in a few years’ time, she’ll count herself privileged to have observed a blockbuster in the making.  My friends, who had already arrived in Newcastle and were enjoying a curry, sent me Facebook Messenger texts about Girls on the Train, but, as I had to point out, that’s already been done.  Titles aren’t copyright, though.  Mm.

But, Dear Reader, I wrote.  I did second drafts of two chapters.  Away from home, and family wanting me to do things, I was able to concentrate, even  though the computer was feeling its age and I did wonder whether my work would get itself properly on to Dropbox.  (It did.)

Bringing a Little Sunshine, ACW competition
Attrib Christian Writer

One of the reasons for my going to the Writers Day was to launch the new ACW comp for comedic writing.  All you need to do is to write a sketch of (maximum) thousand words or a comic poem of (maximum) twenty-four lines, on the theme Bringing a Little Sunshine. The winning entry will appear in a future edition of Christian Writer (subject to possible editing). In addition, there’s a first prize of a £25 book token and a £10 book token for second prize.  Deadline 11 September 2017.   More information on the comps page of the ACW website.  So next time you find yourself in train-ing, don’t go off the rails.  Get writing for our competition.

What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

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First Wednesday of the month and time for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I need to have contact with other writers.  For years I hid myself away in my spare bedroom, writing to my own specifications and user requirements.   When I ‘came out’, by posting my work on an online writing site, I was gobsmacked by the sort of feedback I received, some of it obvious stuff and other things that had never occurred to me.  You see, I’ve never studied literature or taken the MA in creative writing, so there were enormous gaps in my skills and knowledge, which I am gradually filling with support from my fellow writers through:

  • online writing sites
  • writing groups (some online and some face-to-face)
  • subbing my work
  • entering writing competitions
  • blogging
  • reading writing magazines and online articles
  •  being with members of the (British) Association of Christian Writers.

I’m still no expert but I’m sure I know a great deal more about the craft of writing and the way the publishing industry works than when I was tapping away in my spare bedroom.  It’s taking me a very long time to get where I want to be, where I thought I was.   I want to finish my novel and get it published.  It’s a long haul.  It always was a long haul but it no longer seems impossible.

How Computers Affect Your Writing Style

Have you considered how computers affect your writing style?

I’m not talking about Word’s Autocorrect. Were corrected to We’re is very annoying, but can be proofread out, as can which instead of witch.   I believe computers affect how we construct sentences and paragraphs and the way in which we set down our stories.

When I first started writing, I wrote on lined A4, made a very few edits, then typed it on my cheap and wonky electric typewriter.  (No,  that’s not true.  Much of my juvenile writing was left – exactly as it was –  in red Sylvine notebooks.)  I always used to write in pencil, and, in my latter handwriting days, do a lot of rubbing out, until I got things right, but making corrections on a manuscript, on which I’d written on every narrow line, would have been well nigh impossible.  Those of us who visit museums will have seen initial manuscripts of some classic writers (eg the Brontes), with lots of little

Publisher's galley
Galley. Attrib Wikimedia.

corrections written above the text and in margins.  I recall, my father who wrote geography textbooks, in the 1960s and 1970s, being given long galleys (like a till roll only wider), and him making – very minor – correction marks in the margins.

During the same era, Claire Rayner was rattling off doctor and nurse stories straight on to the typewriter, presumably with no editing at all.  When Dickens wrote his great novels, he published a chapter in Household Words every week, then wrote the next chapter during the proceeding week.  No wonder some of his plot lines – particularly The Old Curiousity Shop – meandered.   I understand from my publisher friend that many writers still prefer to write by hand, and use the typing-up as a first edit, although, she said, it doesn’t work for her.  Nowadays I always type.  I like the clean page, clean, that is of all errors and alterations.  Typing comes easily, probably because I learned to touch-type as a new graduate.  (My father didn’t believe I’d ever get a job otherwise.)

Old computer, Microsoft PC, about 1995.
Old computer (attrib Flickr)

When we got our first desktop computer in 1996 (cost £1400, running the very first version of Windows 95 – wow, cutting edge stuff!), suddenly it was possible to cut and paste sentences around the page… and paragraphs… to move scenes from one chapter to another.  You could make those little changes with the backspace delete key, no need for the editor’s hieroglyphics – and we could make them over and over again.  We could alter the names of characters using find and replace , even change point-of-view (although I recommend care on this one.)

And how we edit!   I must have made a hundred edits just on this post.   Increasingly it’s become expected of us that every word on our page is perfect, adds something to character and progresses the plot.  You couldn’t demand that of someone writing by hand and having their work typed by a professional typist.  No wonder it’s taking me so long to write The Novel.  I’m the worst.  Whenever I open the document for my current chapter, I read what I’ve written and spend up to an hour making edits.  I suspect some are more pertinent than others.  How much is a story improved by ‘Marya says’, not ‘says Marya’?  I suspect that, to a large extent, I’m wasting my time, improving things that don’t matter very much… because I can.

I’ve more to say on this, but I’m leaving this topic for now, as I’ve rabbited on enough.

 

Nothing to Say

What does a blogger say when nothing in particular has happened all week?

Am I supposed to conjure up two or three paragraphs of five hundred or so boring words of nothing?  Well, I’m not going to.

Things did happen, of course.   I’ve invigilated exams and taught two web design classes, attended my Christian Studies class, and, most important of all, my son and girlfriend have been here this weekend and today my husband directed all the music for three services at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.  But not writing things.

That’s 96 words, so I’ll shut up now.

Bad Blogger Blogs Late Because She’s Been on Writers’ Weekend

View of Scargill House, Yorkshire.
View of Scargill House, Yorkshire. Attrib Lucy Mills.

If other people keep telling you that something’s gobsmackingly amazing, what’s your reaction?  Me, I don’t respond well to hype and end to want to debunk whatever it is.  However, last weekend I went to the Association of Christian Writers’ Weekend at Scargill House, Yorkshire, which all my ACW writer friends said was… er… gobsmackingly amazing… and I can report, Dear Reader, that it was everything everybody said it was.

View from Scargill House, Yorkshire
View from Scargill House, Yorkshire. My photo.

Before I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect from the Scargill weekend.  The theme was ‘Dodging the Gatekeepers’ and it was led by Adrian and Bridget Plass, well-known as inspirational speakers.   Theologian and poet, Andrew Knowles, was also presenting, a lovely, funny, self-deprecating former canon theological of Chelmsford Cathedral, wearing shorts and t-shirt.  The ‘Gatekeepers’, I learned, are people and things which discourage us from writing, the unacknowledged audience whom we are forever trying to please: for instance, parents, siblings, spouses, teachers, members of your writing group.  To dodge these Gatekeepers, according to Adrian Plass, we have to acknowledge ‘the elephant in the living room’ and not allow them to set boundaries for us, particularly boundaries of respectability, whereby we feel safe and can deliver half-truths or half-solutions.  We must be true to ourselves.  We are asked if we would go to the pub with Jesus if he invited us and, tongue in cheek, told a story about a straitlaced lady from a strict church who refused because she didn’t drink alcohol.  Everything had a Christian emphasis, so I suppose the weekend wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

Rosemary knitting.
Rosemary knitting.  (Don’t I look awful in this photo?)  Attrib Helen Murray.

It wasn’t just the presentations and writing exercises, of course, that made the weekend.  Do want to know about the brooding Yorkshire Dales outside?  About the friends I spent time with and the new friends I made?  About the walk we took in the fells on Saturday afternoon?  Nightly story-time with story-teller, Amy Robinson.  Or how I knitted (part of) a square for the neo-natal unit at Bradford Infirmary (really addictive, Dear Reader)?  Never have I spent so much time talking to writers about writers.  They even made me feel like a proper writer.