Editing tips for novelists

So you’ve finally finished your novel? You’ve typed those immortal words, ‘The End’ and you feel on top of the world. After weeks, maybe months of toil, no social life, and too much coffee, you feel wonderful. You have created something unique, something unlike anything else in existence, and you know that you will be rich and famous within six months. Not to put too fine a point on it, you feel like a god.

Then you look around and notice your messy home, the thick layer of dust blanketing everything beneath, the rolags of pet hair that have collected along the edges of the room, the piles of mouldering dishes in the sink, and your hairy armpits. You and your home may have suffered writer’s neglect, but you don’t care, you’ve been doing something far more important than mere housework.

After the initial glow of completion settles, you get to thinking about publishing your creation. The problem is, you can’t just publish right away and wait for the royalties to flow in. There is much to do to your new baby before you can begin to think of publishing. What you have in front of you is not a novel but a first draft. It requires further work to turn it into a book worthy of publication.

You’ve done the easy bit, now the real work begins.

There are several further steps on the road to publication you must take. You may not need to take every step, but it is probably best that you assume for the moment that you will have to. That way, it won’t be a shock later. These further steps are as follows:

Proof read

Re-write (if necessary)

The above two steps may be repeated several times, so be prepared!

Edit (either yourself or via an editor you’re paying)

Re-write

Edit

The above two may also be repeated more than once.

Final proof read

Formatting

Publication

It’s a lot of further work isn’t it? What? You didn’t realise all this was necessary? Welcome to your baptism of fire my child. This is the life of the writer.

You can do all of the above yourself if you wish or if finances make it necessary. You can also pay others to do every step of the above but unless you’re rich beyond the dreams of avarice, be prepared to do a lot of it yourself. The problem with hiring editors and other writers’ services providers is that you have no way of knowing just how qualified they are when you hand over what is going to be a large amount of money. Don’t assume they’re on the level just because they advertise their services with a slick looking website, or have a list of authors willing to endorse them. Take nothing for granted, the internet is a den of iniquity and being scammed is as easy as falling off a log.

Read books in your genre and while you’re reading, look for mistakes. Are there spelling errors, grammatical errors, plot holes, or timeline anomalies? Does it look and read like someone took care enough to make it as perfect as possible, or does it come across as amateurish? Get others you trust to do the same and ask them what they think. If all seems well, approach the authors on their social media and ask about their editors. You can then approach the editors concerned and ask about the process, their fees etc. The cost is usually along the lines of so much per thousand words, or per page etc, and remember, the cost will be high. This will be your biggest expense so it pays to take your time, do your research properly and not get scammed. Another thing to remember is that there are different types of editing service and you will have to pay separately for each one. Some editors can do some or all of the different types, others can’t and you will have to find other editors for the other types of editing.

Copy Editing – this is usually the least expensive type of editing and usually concentrates on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Line Editing – The editor goes through your manuscript line by line and analyses each sentence. They will consider your word choice, the power and meaning of the sentence, syntax, and any trimming or tightening that they feel needs to be done to improve it.

Mechanical Editing – This type of editing is where the editor applies a particular style to your work when editing, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Style. The clue is in the name; they will concentrate on the mechanics of your writing, spelling, capitalisation, abbreviations, punctuation, and any other style rules.

Substantive Editing – This is concerned with how your work is presented, the big picture. It works at anything from sentence level to chapter level and involves any big restructuring that may be necessary to tighten your work.

Developmental Editing – This type of editing goes into every aspect of the work. It looks at the big picture, the pace, characters, timing, point of view, tense, plotline, subplots, and dialogue. The editor concentrates on making the book enjoyable. They want to know if the characters are likeable, if the story flows well, if there are any places where information is missing or wrong, if the chapters are in the right order, and many other aspects that will hopefully enhance the reading experience. This is the most extensive and costly form of editing.

Some editors lump several of the above together into one, others do not. As with everything in life, be sure to ask for details.

If you’re planning to pay for an editor, there is much to do to your manuscript before sending it to an editor. This will not only save you money but will show the editor that you have an eye for details and are someone worth giving their time to. That’s another thing, just because you’re willing to pay them, doesn’t mean they will agree to do the work. They can refuse you if they deem you unworthy. It’s a bit of a cliquey crowd so be aware.

If you write your novel using Word, then I cannot recommend highly enough that you download and install WordTalk. It is a text-to-speech add-on to your Word system and will ‘read’ your work back to you. I have no words to adequately convey my love and gratitude to whomever invented this wonderful thing; how I ever managed before I discovered it is beyond me. With a few clicks, you can sit back and listen to someone reading to you, and you will notice a gazillion more mistakes than you ever could by reading your work yourself. Believe me on this, I know. There is something about listening to someone else talking that allows your brain to ‘hear’ mistakes far more easily than it can ‘see’ them when you read the work yourself.

Using WorkTalk, go through your work and correct any spelling errors. Don’t trust the in-built spell checker by itself as it often gets things wrong. It is designed for American spelling and will flag British spellings as mistakes, so be aware all you British authors out there. One of your best friends is Thesaurus.com which you can use not only to check spelling, but for when you wish to find a different word that conveys the same meaning as the one you originally chose. Sometimes it’s worth finding a slightly more sophisticated way of saying what you want to say and this website will enable you to find such alternatives easily. I also use it to find the right words for my book titles.

Punctuation is very important and you must pay adequate attention to getting it right. It is through punctuation that the reader knows how to read each sentence, when to take a breath, and helps our brains to understand what it is reading. There are many books and websites giving in depth information on punctuation rules, so I won’t go into too much detail here. There are a couple of things I will mention though.

Use commas, they tell the reader to take a breath. Try reading a sentence without them, it’s jolly hard work.

Get your apostrophes right. This is worth taking the time to research properly, as getting them wrong makes you look like an idiot. There are few punctuation mistakes guaranteed to annoy more than this one.

When punctuating dialogue, speech quotes go outside commas or full stops, always. Each person speaking must be on a new line, (not punctuation I know but this has just occurred to me).

Avoid exclamation marks. Although they accurately display surprise and astonishment, for some inexplicable reason they are frowned upon at the moment.

A question mark takes the place of a full stop at the end of a sentence. You don’t need to use both. One or the other only.

At the end of a sentence, use one space between the full stop and the first word of the next sentence. This is the only area where I, as a British novelist, have given in to the demand to do things the American way. The British way is to use two blank spaces, but demand to use just one is so high that the vast majority of editors will flag this up as an error, not knowing that it is actually a difference in cultural style rather than a mistake. Ho hum.

The above points are just a few important things you should make an effort with before sending out your manuscript to an editor, if you’re using one. It is worth making the effort, for it will not only increase your own knowledge, but showing a willingness to make the effort will endear you to your editor. The subject of punctuation is so much wider than just the above, and if you’re doing the editing yourself, take plenty of time to research the accepted rules and plod through your work gradually. Some aspects of punctuation are a little archaic and can be safely ignored, others will be difficult to understand but work at it, it’s worth it. Many of the websites will give not only definitions of the rules but provide examples too and this is very helpful when trying to make sense of what the hell they’re talking about. If, like me, your childhood education was a little (or a lot) lacking, this will be a big learning curve.

Dialogue tags are the subject of much debate among inexperienced writers. These are the, ‘he said, she said, he replied, she nodded’ that you see at the end of pieces of dialogue. Whichever terminology you use is your own choice, but there are some things worth pointing out. You don’t need a dialogue tag for every single piece of dialogue in an extended conversation. This is a mistake many writers make and one I made myself until I took the time to learn and experiment. You need only such dialogue tags as are necessary to help the reader know who is talking at any one time. In a back and forth conversation, the details of the conversation will largely tell you who is talking and you can limit tags to every third or fourth line of speech. For instance.

“But what about Harry?” he said.

“He’s not coming,” she replied.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because he’s visiting his sick mother,” she shrugged.

“That’s inconvenient,” he snapped.

“I know but he sends his apologies,” she said.

 

See what I mean? It’s clumsy isn’t it? Now try this.

 

“But what about Harry?” he said.

“He’s not coming,” she replied.

“Why not?”

“Because he’s visiting his sick mother.”

“That’s inconvenient.”

“I know but he sends his apologies.”

 

Much better isn’t it? You know who is talking all the time but it flows nicely and allows you to concentrate on the story being told rather than how it’s being said. Try it with your own work and see what you think. You can copy and paste bits of dialogue into a blank Word document and play with it before changing your manuscript. Use your WordTalk app and listen to how it sounds. This can be life changing when you get it right.

When analysing your writing, you must learn that there will be much you can cut out. A lot of what you write is unnecessary and you will find that by cutting these things out, your writing will sound more sophisticated. One of the most important is the issue of adverbs. An adverb modifies a verb. If you remember from your school days, we were taught, (in my school anyway) that a verb is a ‘doing’ word. It is a word that tells of action. Run, walk, sit, talk, laugh, jump, smile, cry, skip, build, scratch, fall, talk, sleep, all these are things you do and are verbs.

Adverbs modify verbs such as those above. Run quickly, talk slowly, sleep deeply etc. Many adverbs  can be identified by the ending ‘ly’ but not all. There are a few, such as, always, often, sometimes, seldom, and never, which do not, but the ‘ly’ trick is very helpful.  The vast majority of adverbs can be cut out without the need for further modification of the sentence. Take the sentence below as an example.

He ran quickly to the end of the street.

If he is running, then he will be moving quickly. You therefore don’t need to point this out, we can work that out for ourselves. Go through your manuscript sentence by sentence, identify the adverbs and take them out if possible.

Avoid beginning every sentence with the same personal pronoun. A personal pronoun is I, he, she, it, they, etc. You will find as you read through your manuscript, that you have long passages where every sentence begins with I, he, she, etc one after the other.  Changing this is important but slow work and will require you to think about how to re-word the sentence. It is worth the effort though, as you will find when listening to your work later.

I looked up at the sky. I noticed it was getting dark. I decided it was time to go home.

I looked up at the sky and noticed darkness approaching. The lengthening shadows told me it was time I was getting home.

The second example sounds more sophisticated, it rolls off the tongue in an easy flow, whereas the first is clunky and akin to driving a car with square wheels.

Make sure you use your words correctly. Do not use, ‘affect’ if you mean, ‘effect’ for instance. There are many examples of such word pairs and although many are spelled alike, they have distinct and important differences in meaning.

Some other examples of such confusing word pairs are as follows.

Accept/except

Altar/alter

Desert/dessert

ie/eg

Farther/further

Good/well

Its/it’s

Lay/lie

More/most

Past/passed

Than/then

That/which

There/their/they’re

Your/you’re

Two/to/too

Toward/towards

There are other pairs of words that people often get wrong. They are not interchangeable and to use the wrong one serves only to make you look bad. Do your research, google is your friend here. Go through your manuscript and find each example and make sure you have used it correctly.

One of the fundamentals of telling a good story is to make sure all of your facts are right. This is where lists are helpful. It matters not whether you are writing of real places or inventing another world in a science fiction epic, your facts must be consistent throughout your work. If you say Henry is twenty years old in chapter three, then in chapter ten you say he is twenty five, but only a few weeks of time have elapsed in the story between those two chapters, you look like a dick. People will notice. Believe me on this, there is always that one person who notices and points it out.

Your geography must be correct and consistent, whether you are using real places or imaginary ones. The timeline must flow properly throughout your work. If your hero says he will do something in three day’s time, you must make sure any action between that declaration and the action takes three days. This can be difficult to keep track of and I have spent many an hour reading and making notes to make sure it was indeed six days as my character had already said, rather than five as I thought. Keep a list of events and divide it into days/weeks or whatever is appropriate for your work. Enter points in the appropriate day/week and in this way you keep track of your timeline.

If your work is set in today’s time or the past, your science has to be one hundred percent correct. You cannot say your hero drove a Ford Escort if he lives before they were invented. If your work is set in the future or in another galaxy, you can invent most of your science, but again it must be consistent throughout the work. Make more lists and enter details of every gadget, gizmo, engine, and component you invent, their name, basic make up and functions. This will save you hours of time searching for wherever it was you mentioned it before.

Anything medical must be right and appropriate for the time and setting in which you’ve placed your work. If someone falls ill and is cured, make sure the cure was actually available at that time. Research, research, research. Then research some more.

I write science fiction space operas and what I do with anything science or medical based is simple. I begin with a foundation of today’s accepted knowledge and invent on top of that. I find this gives the work a subtle but important authenticity that helps the reader accept it without questioning it. Let’s face it, in real life our knowledge and skills build on what we knew previously and I do the same in my writing.

A large proportion of any novel is what is known as descriptive. This is scene setting stuff like details of the location, the weather, how the characters are feeling, what they’re thinking etc. Novels need descriptive so don’t avoid it. By the same token, don’t go overboard with it or you will bore your readers. We want to know about the rustling trees, the chill morning air, the way your character’s nightmare disturbed him, the architecture etc but we don’t want a thousand word essay on the shape of the clouds. Hitting the right balance of descriptive is something that comes with practice. This is where reading helps. The more books you read, the more you will get a feel for the right amount of descriptive.

Finally, avoid info dumps like the plague. Again, the clue is in the name. An info dump is where you give a truck load of back information about your character or some other aspect of your story, all at once. This will bore readers stupid and they will just forget it anyway, so don’t do it. We want to know your character’s back story, but give us little bits throughout the story. If we find out everything about him right at the start, there is nothing else for us to discover about him, he has no mystery to captivate us.

When you meet new people in real life, you don’t find out their life history within five minutes of meeting them. You learn about them over time, through conversation and by being with them consistently. Keep this in mind when introducing us to your characters. Let us get to know them in the same way we get to know our other friends, gradually. It’s the same for any other aspect of your story, whether it’s a space ship engine, a house that has been lived in by seven generations of one family, or a secret family recipe for haggis. Give us the details bit by bit and you’ll keep our interest.

 

This is in no way meant to be an in depth guide to every aspect of self editing and should not be taken as such. I mean this to be a few basic but important points on which you can build your own wealth of knowledge and experience. Whether you intend to self edit or pay someone else, the above will give you a starting point from which you can fine tune your raw draft into a sleek and beautiful work of art. It is your legacy, it is worth taking the time to make it as perfect as you are able.

On what to do when I die

It’s been a while since I blogged here. There’s no specific reason for that, other than the fact that I don’t get a lot of readers here. That’s probably my fault for not blogging often enough, not being interesting enough, not being famous or controversial etc. It’s a vicious circle; don’t blog because not many stop by and read, but folks don’t stop by because there’s no new blogs. Chicken and egg. I do often think, “oh I should really do a blog,” but then struggle to think what to blog about. It’s as if I’ve lost some enthusiasm for it over the past months. I’ve lost enthusiasm for quite a lot lately, not just blogging. Maybe it’s the time of year, or my age, or both.

I’ve had some minor but irritating health issues, which are still being a nuisance today and which have sapped my zest a bit. I have another cat who is very high maintenance in all sorts of ways and he takes a lot of my mental energy. I’ve had a period of writer’s block too, which has lasted quite a while and although I’ve made a conscious effort not to worry about it, it’s been niggling at the back of my mind. At least this last problem now seems to  have passed, as I’m once again thundering away at the keys, writing volume five in my Sinclair V-Logs series. One bit of good news amongst the grey fog of daily drudge.

I had a conversation with someone earlier today, about the afterlife and what we think might happen ‘over there.’ I decided some time ago, as a firm believer in reincarnation, that I am fully committed to never coming back again to live another life. This past fifty five years has put me right off ever doing this again, so I shall be fighting tooth and nail to avoid the draft again. We cannot know of course, whether coming back is voluntary or compulsory, but I’m taking no chances on that. Then there is the ‘moving on’ thing people talk about. Those who believe in another form of existence after this physical one, and I admit to being one of those believers, refer to this ‘movin on’ a lot.

Scientifically speaking, consciousness is electrical and electro magnetic energy and is measurable in laboratories. Scanners can show thoughts being formed inside the brain and emotions being felt. If you know anything about the conservation of energy theory, you’ll know that energy can never be destroyed. Since our consciousness is energy it must continue in some form once released from the bonds of the physical vessel in which it currently resides. We can only assume that the energy of our consciousness continues in some other dimensional, non physical plane. The transition from this dense, physical existence, to whatever, purely energy based dimension our surviving energies go to, is what is being referred to when people talk about ‘moving on.’

My dilemma is that, as a believer in reincarnation, I cannot know whether agreeing to ‘move on’ to this other plane is taken as agreement to return to another physical life. The risk of letting myself in for something I can totally do without means the only safe option for me is not to ‘move on’ at all but to hang around the fringes of this physical world and find what positive employment for my time as I’m able. When you think about it, there must be a lot of fun to be had messing with the living. Scaring the shit out of people must be a huge laugh; I can just imagine myself stomping along landings, slamming doors, and blowing in folks’ ears.

I’m a fast learner when I’m enjoying what I do, so if I work hard, I could become a much feared poltergeist and have paranormal teams flocking to catch my image on film. I might finally become famous after all. Shame it’s not for my novels though.

On the subject of podcasting

I’ve been a guest on podcast interviews a couple of times and have often wondered whether to have a go myself. I’ve so far decided not to bother, thinking it’s just for ‘professionals’ and not for the likes of li’l ole me. You have to be an expert techie surely?

It seems that wherever you go on the internet nowadays, there’s a podcast. Every subject imaginable, from business entrepreneurs to the local knitting circle, everyone it seems is doing it. So I decided to dip a tentative toe into this deep and scary pool.

So  how do I get my recordings on this page then? Seems the media uploader doesn’t allow mp3 files.

Hmmmmm, see what I mean about needing to be a techie?

EDIT – I’ve found Souncloud and uploaded my mp3 file there. It plays okay over there, so let’s see if I can embed it here.

https://soundcloud.com/user-885032132/podcast-practice-and-general-mess-around

 

Five Minute Fiction – Laura’s Room

copyright © Merita King October 2016

My wife dragged me along that night, against my will I might add. I’ve never been into the supernatural and if I’m honest, my usual reaction is one of disdain at best and outright sarcasm at worst. I guess you could call me a skeptic. Jen was into that stuff and despite my teasing, her belief never wavered. From time to time, she would disappear for half the night with a few of her friends and go ghost hunting. These events usually cost quite a bit of money to join, but she enjoyed it and as she worked and paid her fare share of our combined expenditure, I never complained. Besides, it meant I could have a few of the guys around for some beer and a football game.

This particular night, the friend she was due to go with got a stomach bug, so Jen nagged me to go with her. After calling a couple of her other friends, both of whom had other commitments, I reluctantly agreed. We armed ourselves with cameras, flashlights, snack, a flask of strong coffee, and set off for the two hour drive north. On the way, Jen told me about the place and its famous legend.

“They found a secret room during some renovation work back in the sixties,” Jen said.

“That’s nothing unusual in those huge old mansions,” I replied. “There’s supposed to be one in that castle in Scotland; the one the royal family owns.”

“Glamis,” she nodded, more than a little astonished at my knowledge.  “Anyway, once they opened this one, weird things started happening.”

“What sort of weird?”

“Like people disappearing kind of weird.”

“Oh come on Jen,” I laughed. “You must realise they build up these stories to get more visitors. Running those huge places costs a fortune and they have to attract as many visitors as possible.”

“Don’t get all superior, Dave. There were three cases that made the newspapers. One back in sixty four, another in sixty five, and the third in seventy nine. There might have been more but those three made national headlines. They’re still officially classed as missing persons by the police. I checked on the internet earlier today.”

My disdain melted and I felt myself losing ground in the discussion. Jen grinned as I squirmed. “So do they have any theories about why they disappeared or where they went?”

Jen sniggered. “Theories abound and vary from the mildly implausible to the totally ridiculous. Aliens are popular of course, timeslips is another, inter-dimensional portals, abduction to hell by demons, abduction to heaven by angels, murder by one of the current staff employed at the castle, you come up with a theory and someone has already thought of it.”

“This kind of stuff brings the wackos crawling out of the woodwork I guess,” I said as I signalled a left turn into a tree lined avenue. “Looks like we’re here.”

I was somewhat surprised at how friendly everyone was, even to a skeptic like myself and quickly found several interesting people willing to discuss both sides of the believe/not believe issue with me. Several of the guests had a more scientific interest than a spiritual one and I found them to be even more skeptical than me. It seemed to me that their gizmos were designed more to disprove any form of afterlife than detect one and I wondered if my own skepticism came across to others as theirs did to me.

I asked Jen about it but she grinned and shook her head. “Those two would drop dead of heart failure if they actually saw a ghost. Their desire to debunk is due to fear more than anything else, poor dears. Come on, the tour is starting.”

Laura’s room was the last stop on the tour, being at the top of the West tower but the tour guides kept referring to it as we traversed the various rooms and corridors and I saw right away that this was done to build up the hype. One young guide, a girl of no more than eighteen with spotty skin and greasy hair, told us that the room was named after the wife of the original builder of the castle, who disappeared one Christmas morning and was never seen again. Having been accused of murdering her, her husband the Duke found himself both a social and financial outcast. Within five years he was penniless, having used the last of his savings to have his wife’s room bricked up and hidden behind panelling. After selling the castle at a much reduced price, most of which he was forced to use to pay debts, he and an unnamed colleague worked their passage aboard a ship sailing for the far East and were never seen again.

The spotty young guide opened the door to Laura’s room and we entered to find ourselves within a small square space with faded floral wallpaper and richly patterned soft furnishings. The furniture was sparse, two chaise longues and several small tables, a sideboard,  and glass fronted display cabinet were the only pieces within the room. I was about to turn away to speak to Jen when I noticed something on one of the chaise longues, so I wandered over to see what it was. Faded material that must once have been white lay stretched over a circular wooden hoop, the blue and green stitchwork of the unfinished peacock still rich and undimmed. How odd I thought that the coloured threads should still retain their rich lustre while the white fabric aged to yellow.

All this thinking was giving me a headache so I turned away to rejoin the group who by now were exiting back into the short landing that led to the spiral staircase down to the lower floors. A stab of pain made me wince and I massaged my temples as I turned and looked for Jen.

“Are you here to measure up?” The large man demanded, his bright blue eyes holding my own with the kind of confidence borne of good breeding.

“Huh?” I replied with a frown. “Measure up? For what? I’m on the tour, aren’t you?”

“Tour? What tour? Have you taken leave of your senses, man? Someone was due here an hour ago to begin boarding up the room. I take it that person is you?”

“Err, no. Look here, I think we’re talking at cross purposes. I’m Dave and I’m here on the ghost tour. I seem to have been left behind by the rest of the group.”

His face relaxed as a slow smile spread across his lips. “So we have another one eh? Come downstairs with me and have a drink.” He put an arm around my shoulder and steered me out of the room. “Tell me, David, you don’t mind if I call you that do you? what is today’s date?”

THE END

Bystander Syndrome – the modern version

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We’ve all heard about it, people staring at someone in difficulty and not raising a finger to help. When I was a kid it was called Bystander Syndrome and despite everyone agreeing what an awful thing it is, most are guilty of it. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself. I was attacked in the street when I was sixteen by a stalker and no one helped me. I’ve heard people saying, “oh let’s not get involved, pretend we didn’t notice.”

The modern version of this is Bystander-With-Camera Syndrome. We’ve all seen the videos and photographs on social media. The crimes being committed, the accidents happening, the embarrassing moments, and we all laugh, cry, or are shocked together. Never do I see anyone commenting as to why the person was filming when they could’ve been helping. Now, instead of just pretending you haven’t noticed and slinking away, you get out your smartphone and brazenly film that young girl being beaten to death, or the man being killed, or the dead body of the dog that was hanged by a group of youths.

I wish I knew the reason why people do this. Surely it is better to be regarded as a hero for helping out, rather than the sicko that filmed it and didn’t help, or am I missing a vital point?

The added twist nowadays is the obligatory social media post, which usually goes something like this.

‘This sicko killed this dog. Let’s share this photo all over Facebook so that poor creature can have justice.’

Forgive me for being a tad dense but how the fuck does sharing the photograph over social media bring justice? So you believe the victim deserves justice eh? Then why aren’t you phoning the police instead of filming it or sharing it over social media? Do you really believe that Mark Zuckerberg is going to take all your shares and magically jail the sickos?

I really fail to understand the mentality of the amoeboid sludge that inhabits this planet in the guise of intelligent life.

Reading – only for the middle classes?

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I had a very interesting conversation the other day that got me thinking about who reads books these days. A friend of mine casually commented that she was helping out during the school summer holidays by listening to groups of children reading and talking about the books they read. One of the things she has noticed since doing this, is that only certain types of children seem to be reading at all.

The women that run the scheme were of the opinion that it is only children from the upper middle classes that read and are encouraged to do so by their parents. It is her experience that children from working class or poorer backgrounds never take part in this scheme. I wonder why this should be.

My first thought is to wonder if the educational standards available to poorer families are lower than those available to the less poor. I quickly dismissed this as not entirely applicable due to the way our British educational system works. Unless you are rich enough to send your child to public school, everyone goes to the same schools regardless of income. I went to the local comprehensive along with eleven hundred other kids from various backgrounds and I remember most of them being of a far lower reading standard that me.

Perhaps the cause lies in how reading is perceived by the various classes of society. Many people live in inner city environments, they struggle financially with many spending years on benefits, and many come from families that haven’t gone out to work for generations. Inner cities are a different environment to grow up in than rural areas and children grow up with an extended ‘family’ consisting of other kids from the same environment. Gangs are a part of city living and kids grow up without the experience of emotional and mental self sufficiency that is available to those in rural communities. Inner city kids who spend their free time playing in the street or running with gangs will likely look upon reading as ‘cissy’ and of little value to their vision of what lies ahead for their lives.

I believe that the class divide is the likely candidate for reading’s unpopularity. Not only are reading standards down among those in poorer, inner city areas but the idea that reading is important is lower in those same people. When you have parents that have never gone out to work and gained any kind of work ethic to pass on to you, your values change according to your circumstances. Your priorities change to suit your environment and if that environment is a deprived inner city where gang culture rules the streets, trying to ‘better yourself’ is a way to make yourself a target for aggression. Far from being an environment they wish to get out of, the deprived inner city way of life has become a culture all its own, of which its people are proud to belong, and which they fiercely defend. It brings with it a set of unique rules and cultural taboos and reading is not a priority.

So what are we to do? Do we try to change this situation, and if so, how? Should we try to change it at all, and if not, why not? Society has always been fluid, evolving with its people as the generations come and go. Whether we fight or go with the flow, one thing is for sure – if we give up the defence of reading for good, we can never bring it back once it’s gone. The moment we lower our reading standards and priorities, we can never raise them again. We must decide whether we are prepared to bid reading a fond farewell or keep hold of it, even if it does become the sole preserve of the upper classes.

Book or movie person?

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Are you a book person or a movie person? I don’t mean exclusively, most people enjoy both but in my experience we always enjoy one a little more than the other. The balance may be close, but it’s always there. Personally, movies take the lead for me.

I get more inspiration when I can see the action taking place than I can when I’m reading about it happening. A movie enables me to get absorbed into the environment and characters more fully than a book does. When watching a character interacting with his or her environment, I can instantly see whether his reactions could be made better in some way. A book cannot do this. If you’re not clued up on psychology, it’s easy to make your characters less than believable when you have only your mind with which to ‘see’ his interactions.

Watching a movie takes no more than a couple of hours and you can watch it over as often as you want and examine every nuance of each character’s behaviour. In this way, you can watch and learn about how people react in a given circumstance much easier than by reading it. If a movie character seems believable, examining his every move, right down to subtle facial movements will help you when writing your own characters. If characters seem wrong, more careful examination will help you identify why and how they’re wrong and you can avoid making the same mistake in your own writing.

Too often, movies are met with disdain by purist book lovers but I say take the time to watch them closely and you might just learn something valuable.

Are you a book person or a movie person?

Inspiration for fiction writers – Two Steps From Hell – Victory

Anything from Two steps from Hell is top of my inspirational music list. I can’t write with music playing as I find it distracting, so I listen every time I take a break. A little burst of inspiration every now and then. Hope you enjoy it.

I’d be interested to know where you find your writer’s block cure.

Deadpool – movie review

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Another highly anticipated Marvel offering, the Deadpool hype began long before we got to see the actual film. I won’t pretend to be a Marvel expert, nor even much of a fan but I like superhero movies so I decided to give this one a go when it came out on DVD.

Ryan Reynolds is the strawberry clad hero in this action packed epic and he does a good enough job in the role. To be truthful, there’s no way of knowing how much of the character we see is actually Ryan Reynolds, since he wears a full face mask for 90% of the movie. It’s probably a stunt double most of the time. Whoever it is, he has a nice ass, but I digress.

Deadpool is standard Marvel fare. Action, fighting, love interest, fighting, car chases, fighting, a bad guy who holds the key to the character’s redemption, fighting, and death defying stunts. Did I mention fighting? There’s lot of it, and plenty of blood and gore. Although not overtly gratuitous, it’s borderline. I’m tempted to believe that this is an attempt to cover up for the lack of any real plot or depth.

Where this movie differs from the rest is the humour. The character is meant to be funny, but a warning here to all non-Americans, it isn’t that funny. American humour is a unique being and as an English woman, it failed to touch me. I laughed three times in total. The opening and closing credits are funny, and the bit where he chops off his own hand but that was it for me as far as laughs go. It seems to me that a group of old men locked inside a dusty office decided to try and put some funny bits into an action movie, but failed. Maybe I’ve just got a weird sense of humour. That’s always possible.

As usual, the effects and stunts are awesome and the costumes are cool. It would be nice though, to see one superhero who doesn’t wear brightly coloured spandex. What is it with that? Why is that a thing?

I don’t think the character has enough depth for a sequel, so I feel it best that Ryan Reynolds backs out of the room slowly.

The Revenant – movie review

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Winner of 3 Oscars, this movie stars Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Hardy in a tale allegedly inspired by true events. DiCaprio plays legendary explorer Hugh Glass as he struggles for survival and revenge against unbelievable odds.

Visually, this movie is spectacular, with breathtaking scenery of a very wintery American wilderness. There are a few ‘yuck’ moments which add a visceral, edgy quality that prevents the movie from becoming a schmaltzy ‘survival against the odds’ yawn. The special effects are awesome and fit seamlessly with the context, avoiding any hint of the magical or fantastic.

Advertised as, ‘inspired by’ true events, I personally found it a little over the top and suspect that a rather large dollop of artistic licence has been added to the actual historical facts on which the movie is apparently based. I am left wondering just how much ‘inspiration’ they took from the facts. This is one of two things that disappoint me about it, because the dialogue is decidedly dull. The characters spend much of the movie grunting their way through fight scenes, screaming in pain, and growling revenge. The only relationship dynamic is between the two lead characters, and that is flat at best.

The ‘survival’ aspect of the story has, I feel, been taken too far, making DiCaprio’s character and his experiences, unbelievable. We all know movies build things up a little but this one is too much. The native Indians in the movie come across as simpletons, little better than grunting savages without any basic ability to reason or make sound judgements. I feel this does them an enormous disservice.

I am left wishing I had seen it before buying the DVD, as I feel I have wasted my money on a movie I doubt I’ll watch again. Not Leonardo DiCaprio’s best career moment.

I give this movie 2 stars for stunning visuals.