Publishing and Self Publishing, Reading and Books, Writing

Are Ebooks changing the way we read and write novels?

The young author engrossed in a book, 1985
The young author engrossed in a book, 1985

As far back as I can recall, I’ve had an immoderate appetite for two things; sweets, and reading. One of my favourite childhood pastimes was to combine both; lying on my bed, or in the park, or lolling on the sofa with a large dog-eared paperback and a bag of American hard-gums, was my idea of bliss.

I’ve gorged on the works of the well-loved but long-winded giants of Victorian literature; Dickens, the Brontes, Austen and George Eliot. I lapped up the protracted Russian greats, as well as such leviathans of fantasy as Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. My point is that as a reader I never shied away from long, involved works of literature, or a book approaching 1,000 pages.

However, reading this article about the changing nature of reading and writing by Paul Mason in The Guardian gave me pause for thought, both as a reader and a writer. It’s true that I haven’t read one of my old favourite epics lately, not even while on holiday, with lots of reading time built into my lazy schedule. What’s going on? Have I succumbed to this dreaded modern shortened attention span? And if I have, is this informing my choices as a writer?

I think it’s fair to say that with an iPhone and a tablet or Kindle literally to hand wherever I go, I’ve caught the mobile reading bug. It’s not easy reading Dostoevsky or Cervantes while bouncing along in the 8.05 to London Euston, or as a passenger in a car; maybe the need for shorter, punchier stories to fill these blanks has worked its way, insidiously, into my general reading habits. However, when I do bite the bullet and reach for a longer work, I never fail to be mesmerised and caught, once again, by the rich imaginary life of the epic, of the three-volume work, of the marvellous scope of long, immersive, multi faceted fiction. It requires me to pay attention, to work, but it rewards me so richly for my efforts.

But it’s safe to say that Paul Mason’s article contains some undeniable truths. I too tend to buy and read my books online now, saving physical print versions for mainly non fiction works; cooking, reference books, books with gorgeous pictures of artwork. My fiction is strictly digital.

The physical size of the screens it is suggested, together with the need to scroll or turn virtual pages frequently has led to a change in reading patterns; Linguistic expert Naomi Baron suggests that digital reading is different from print reading; we tend to “skim”  digital works rather than read each line, starting with the top line, and then jumping down the page and reading another line a bit further along the scroll. Digital readers are also, as I can attest, much more vulnerable to other digital distractions, and the opportunity to multi task with our mobile devices means we do not give our reading matter our full attention.

Paul Mason suggests that authors and editors are reacting to this seismic change by updating how they write and select books for publication. Lots of advice for the budding author, whether intent on traditional or self publishing is to write serials, lots of em, and while you’re at it, provide lots of flash and micro fiction for your readers.

Has writing changed because readers have changed? Probably. As noted above, there are many more distractions for the digital reader, and they read in many more distracting situations and locations. I also believe that social media has taken the place for some for the need for the novel; its constantly changing dramas, social dynamics and updates are hard to resist, particularly I’d suggest for young people today growing up with them firmly entrenched in our social interactions. I agree with Paul Mason that the novel has to compete with a world that is itself much more immersive; I also agree that there is still a place for  the literary novel, albeit probably in a more pared down format.

Although I pooh poohed the idea of serial novels above, I do think that they fit in well with the “box set binge” phenomenon that has occurred within our TV watching habits in recent years. The idea of a serial novel is nothing new – Dickens published many of his great works in monthly or weekly instalments in journals such as Master Humphrey’s Clock and Household Words, later reprinted in book form. Publication by instalments not only made the works affordable for many Victorian readers, they popularised the “cliff hangers” on which many episodes ended, making the avid readers wait an uncomfortable length of time for the denouement! Dickens’s genius was in exploiting this episodic formula while retaining a fully immersive work of fiction when the installments were published in a single volume.

A century later, Stephen King’s The Green Mile was originally published in 1996 in six monthly installments. The Green Mile is one of my favourite King novels, and in my opinion one of his most immersive (but then I am fascinated by stories and movies based in prisons -watch this space for a future novel idea along these lines!). A blockbuster novel such as The Green Mile published today would undoubtedly do incredibly well in the digital market

So has my writing style changed to adapt to this modern multi-tasking reading style? I conclude by agreeing with Paul Mason that there will always be room for good fiction and a strong story. My intended length for And The Buntings Flew is a relatively standard 80,000 words; I believe that the story is fairly simple, and I can convey what I need to in this length. Reading through the draft recently I noticed that most chapters end with a bit of a cliff hanger; is this my unconscious mind shaping the story for e-reading me? Possibly. Tune in to the next installment of my blog to find out more…

Sources:

Are eBooks changing the way we read and the way novelists write

Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World. Naomi S. Baron

Things growing in my garden
And The Buntings Flew, Writing, Writing Tools

Sowing the Seeds: What Being a Gardener Has Taught Me About Writing

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
(Robert Louis Stevenson)  

It’s not an original idea,  just a homely little blog post, but I keep thinking about how becoming a gardener who can actually grow things is a useful metaphor for how I’m becoming a writer who actually writes things that might, with care, become a healthy, blooming novel.

I wrote up the draft of this post before Googling for similar posts on this subject; there are some great reads that make better points than me, which concentrate on the importance of preparing and planning, nurturing your story, feeding it, allowing it to grow and turning the “manure” of your first draft into a beautiful garden, fed by the wonderful loamy soil you have created from rubbish, leftovers and poo!

What I want to share in this post is that gardening taught me some of the fundamentals of writing, properly writing, and gave me the mental tools to turn my dream of writing a novel, and being a writer of fiction, into an actual organic work in progress.

Gardens for me growing up were something that I dreamed about; our homes in Belfast had back yards, or no gardens at all, and when we moved to London our first family home was an eleventh floor flat, with a narrow concrete and glass balcony.

When my mother finally moved to a ground floor house, we had a patio, and an area a couple of feet around the patio, to call our very own garden. I was a teenager then, and I bought some low level wire fencing, staked my claim to the grass perimeter and proceeded to plan my ideal garden in my head. If the garden was going to look like the ones in my imagination, it was down to me. My mother had lost the use of her arm and leg after her stroke, so I began with very little knowledge and no experience whatsoever, but a lot of ideas and some big plans!

I was faced with some challenges right away; we had very little money, and practically nothing to spare for luxuries such as garden tools and plants or seeds. My lack of knowledge was another drawback; I borrowed some gardening books from the library, but none of the gardens looked like mine. I knew I would have to compromise, and do what I could. I bought some seeds when they were reduced (at the wrong time of year to plant), but I planted them anyway. I dug a few holes and threw the seeds in, gave them a good watering and then promptly forgot them. Similarly I planted some flowers, but unlike the beautiful multi layered borders I saw in books and magazines, I would buy whatever was reduced at the garden centre, and hope that it would spread, and create a pretty display.

It’s fair to say that this first attempt didn’t yield much – my mum had better luck with her pot grown plants. I did manage to raise some weedy carrots and onions,and that’s when I discovered that I wanted to grow fruit and vegetables; in my mind I wandered through orchards, kitchen gardens and raised beds.

It wasn’t until I had a house of my own that I revisited the idea, but again it seemed like a lot of work, and I would try to cut corners where I could. If I grew a crop and it failed, I wouldn’t bother trying again. Experimenting with another variety seemed like too much work. I was still inconsistent with watering and feeding the plants, and I was very squeamish with the inevitable creepy crawlies that go with gardening; the worms and slugs, the mouse peering up at me when I uncovered my compost heap, the process of decomposition itself, attended by lots of ants, flies and tiny red wriggly things. I wanted a beautiful compost heap, but I was repelled by its mechanics.

If truth be told, I was a lackadaisical gardener, and my dreams always outstripped the reality. I made excuses to myself; I was a busy working mum, I had other things to do, I’d start doing it properly next season. But still, I’d pass other gardens, or walk in a park and see a beautiful plant, flower, tree and want it to grow in my garden, and again the idea of fruit and veg haunted me. Growing fresh food has a very strong attraction to me, and finally, I admitted to myself that cutting out pictures from magazines and buying gardening books wasn’t going to get me the results I craved. I also had to face facts about gardening; it can be messy, it’s an organic process, there’s bugs, and I wouldn’t magically hit on the right plant, or method of growing, every time. I had to experiment, and not give up, but mostly I had to stop thinking and start systematically doing things, in order to grow my garden.

And this is what I finally did. I did a lot of reading, research and cross referencing, and came up with a selection of plants, fruit trees and crops I thought I could grow. I made a planting timetable and I bought the right tools, but I didn’t go mad – frugal gardening is possible. The work you put in is more important than the tools you use.

I did the less enjoyable parts of gardening faithfully, and I kept records; if one particular seed or plant didn’t take in my garden, I recorded that and tried another variety.

I also learned to distinguish between good and “bad” bugs and creepy crawlies, and to appreciate the beauty of nature, how everything is used and nothing wasted. Gardening is hard work if done properly but it’s also incredibly rewarding. For a city girl like me, proudly showing my family my crop of courgettes, chillies, tomatoes and beans, and creating home-grown jams, chutneys and wines is the literal fruits of my labour, and every season I do better than the last.

My interest in writing pre-dates my love of gardening, but if I’m honest, I went about it in the same dilettante fashion for far too long.

Beautiful scraps of conversation, riveting character traits and a list of wonderful words were duly collected, saved and neglected. I had the basic idea for my novel And The Buntings Flew for many years before I properly committed it to paper, and gave it a plot and timeline summary.

I had a new raft of excuses that were really the same old ones – I had a busy job, I was doing my MBA, I had a long commute. All true, but all excuses just the same. I even did a creative writing course with the Open University; together with a handful of poems and a dozen or so non-fiction articles, this was all I had completed until the end of 2014.

I knew the idea for my novel was a compelling one, and I had ideas and themes buzzing in my head, but what good was that? Finally, I started, at the end of last year to WRITE THEM DOWN. I created folders for my book in Word and Excel, and I gathered all my ideas and snippets of conversation in there. I created a target word count for each week, and I was honest with myself if I didn’t meet the targets.

It was hard work at first; the writing was lumpy and raw. I was wordy, repetitive, some sentences were as long as paragraphs. I was writing in the first person but filtering all the action. But I had to start writing to become aware of these issues, and to correct them. I found that as I continued to write, a hundred more ideas came to me, and they in turn would need to be researched. Facts and assertions in my writing had to be checked, and the back story had to be historically correct. However, even though I hadn’t envisaged the process being this involved, it got easier. Not everything worked, and some of my crops failed to grow. I joined a critique site, and sought my first feedback. It helped me. I knew when I had written something that, if not perfect, was good enough to be put up for critique. This is a very powerful tool in my repertoire, and one I quickly learned, as much from the writings of others as my own.

Some things are still beyond me, but my writing, like my garden, is now a reality; I have written nearly 30,000 words of my novel. This novel, like my dream orchards and kitchen gardens, if not complete and as beautiful as my mind’s eyes visualises them, is on the way, a real work in progress. The seeds have been and continue to be sowed, and I will enjoy the fruits of my labour. I hope one day that you will too.

Margaret

Further Reading:

Your Novel As A Garden: 14 Ways Writing Fiction Is Like Growing Your Own Veggies

How Does Your Novel Grow?

And The Buntings Flew, Writing, Writing Tools

25,000 words…

When I write a novel I’m writing about my own life; I’m writing a biography almost, always. And to make it look like a novel I either have a murder or a death at the end
(Beryl Bainbridge)

That’s it, I’ve clocked up 25,900 words as at the end of last night, which is just under a third of the way through my projected 80,000 word novel. I hurried over to this site to update my little novel progress widget, proud to tell the world that And The Buntings Flew is inching along, and has reached another milestone.

As I referred to in a previous post, this section has been heavy going, and at times a real mental slog. I have however taken some positives from the experience; the first real plot development is written, and while writing the last chapter some beautiful ideas for plot and themes have come into my head, uncovered no doubt by the heavy plough of my mind as it trudged along the rocky and unforgiving soil of this part of the story.

I found the quote below about writing, and never has it seemed truer to me than at this point in my own novel:

“When I write a novel I’m writing about my own life; I’m writing a biography almost, always. And to make it look like a novel I either have a murder or a death at the end.” (Beryl Bainbridge)

Sadly, not all of the deaths in my story are fictional, but I have taken some poetic license, as Beryl Bainbridge suggests, to tie the story up into a novel.

Margaret

And The Buntings Flew, Reading and Books

Novels That Explore Growing Up in Northern Ireland During The Troubles

I’m currently writing up chapter six of my novel, And The Buntings Flew, and its taking a long time; too long. I plan to end the chapter with the first major plot development, but I’m stuck on a descriptive section; something about what I was writing was bothering me, making progress slow.

I’ve had to undertake quite a bit of research for this chapter, including remapping a route through 1970’s Belfast using 2015 Google maps, and confirming which Peace walls existed in the time frame of the novel, but there’s nothing too awful related in this chapter, so I took some time out to wonder why I was dragging my heels (and to write this post).

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that elements of this novel are very autobiographical, including the chapter I’m currently writing; upon reflection I think that beyond the obvious challenges and fears of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, there were more subtle influences, and writing about them has been hard work, mentally. However these issues are at the heart of the novel. The themes of  identity, concealment and a feeling of alienation, being physically, mentally and spiritually blocked off from parts of the city and its life, and from normality itself, are very prominent in this part of my novel, and purposely so. The peace walls are a very solid and real metaphor for the intangible barriers and blockades that children could encounter growing up in a working-class area of Belfast.

I reflected on my search for other novels dealing with the subject of childhood or simply living in NI during the Troubles, and found, unsurprisingly that these were common and prominent themes. If you’re interested in perceptions on the specific situation in Northern Ireland, please have a read of these novels:

Bog Child 

Set during the 1980’s during the latter end of the Troubles, Fergus, an 18-year-old boy discovers the prehistoric body of a murdered girl in a peat bog; he also has to deal with elder brother’s imprisonment and hunger strike, his parent’s relationship problems and his own involvement with the IRA. Fergus is affected by the politics of his own time and that of the murdered girl in the bog. Siobhan Dowd’s novel set in Northern Ireland was a 2009 Carnegie Medal winner.

Cal 

Another novel set in Northern Ireland during the 1980’s, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel tells the story of a young Catholic man living in a Protestant area of NI. Basically a doomed love story, Cal also explores the complexities of living during the Troubles, which affected every facet of everyday life, including the early loss of innocence for many.

Reading in the Dark 

Seamus Deane’s novel explores childhoods in Derry, Northern Ireland during the 1940s and 50s; a novel of childhoods haunted by historical and current events, and cloaked in silence, this is a dark and lyrical story; the unnamed young narrator is faced with injustice and intrigue; again there is a journey of discovery for the main character, intertwined with the political backdrop of the province.

 A Lonely Way 

If the novels explore some of the issues for people who grew up amidst the Troubles, what about the effects of such an upbringing and the aftermath of a typically harrowing event? A correspondent of mine advised me of a new novel by Lesley Grayson; the story concerns a young man whose parents are killed by a car bomb, and who finds out the identify of the IRA men who placed the bomb.  A series of events lead to a brutal decision, one which has profound implications for all of the people impacted by the bombing. I’m currently reading this book, and it’s chilling to reflect upon how this could have been the situation in my own family. Please have a look for the book on Amazon, it’s a great read that explores some very real considerations for children of the Troubles.

Finally, my novel And The Buntings Flew will consider many of the themes touched on above; conflicts of loyalty, both within the family and the wider community, the restrictions of a tribal and actual separation across the province and a permanent feeling of a state of siege are some of the challenges that I hope to explore. However these very real troubles are never victorious; if not vanquished, they are at least defied by the courage and generosity so often found in the people of Northern Ireland, across all religious and political divides.

And The Buntings Flew, Grammar, Language & Dialect, Reading and Books, Writing

And it started with “And”

“And it stoned me”
(Van Morrison, 1970)

The title of my novel in progress is And The Buntings Flew.

It’s a title I agonised over for a long time, so I’m not surprised when some people ask me, why does a self-confessed Grammar Prig have as the first word in the title of her first book, such a glaring example of bad grammar? As we were all taught at school, one should not use a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence. If you’d forgotten all about coordinating conjunctions, take heart, there’s only seven of them: and, but, or,nor, for, yet and so

It’s true that it would be unusual to use one of these words to start a sentence often, and definitely not if writing formally. Apart from anything else it would get boring very quickly. Don’t believe me? Take a quick read of the King James version of Genesis, Chapter 1. My CTRL-F search counted more than 100 uses of the word and; the age-old technique of listing out repetitions to aid learning also makes such writing rather heavy going, if not turgid, when read for entertainment.

I can’t say that messing with grammar conventions was the only reason I used and in this way, but it was definitely a contributing factor. If used sparingly, starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions evokes for me a slight remove from correct diction and formality, giving writing an informal, true to life and I think, a dynamic feel. 

For me the title is a way of dropping straight into the action, the lives of the characters, the history and natural surroundings I’m writing about in the novel. I want to evoke a sense of the reader stepping into that world and experiencing it first hand, in an everyday, matter of fact way, no matter how momentous the events described may be, to the characters or in history.

I did check to see if there were many written works with And as the first word of the title: I found a few, mainly poems: And Oh, That The Man I Am Might Cease To Be by D.H.Lawrence, and And there was a great calm by Thomas Hardy; suitably reassured, I decided I could follow in the footsteps of such literary heavyweights.

So, asks the reader (slipped another one in there for you!), tell me about the Van Morrison quote at the top of this article? Well, Van the Man is another poetic muse of mine, and this song is one of my all time favourites; my fellow Northern Irish singer-songwriter wrote And It Stoned Me about a semi-mystical event from his childhood in Northern Ireland, when a normal day in the life of a child was transformed, by a place and the people in it, into a time where time stood still, and the participants seemed in another dimension, if only for a short while.

So the title of And The Buntings Flew is also inspired by the song,  and its meaning, which are both sublime. I hope a little of that everyday real life transformative mysticism , just a little, rubs off onto And The Buntings Flew.

 

And The Buntings Flew, Reading and Books, Writing, Writing Tools

How Low Can You Go? Novels, Novellas and The Renaissance in Short and Micro Fiction

It had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!
(The Shrinking Man)

I’m starting to flex my writing muscles now! As well as working on my novel, And The Buntings Flew, the past few months have been increasingly creative for me; I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing short fiction. I have a couple of stories with magazines right now, and will post links if/when they’re published, but this has caused me to relearn what actually constitutes a “short story”.

When I was younger, the advice for budding writers was, avoid short stories – unless you were already a successful author, short stories simply weren’t something publishers were interested in, as they didn’t sell well. But recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of the short story; which is undoubtedly linked to new technology and possibly to our decreased attention spans.

The short story has more platforms than ever with which we can engage; reading War and Peace on our phone or tablet may not be an attractive proposition, and many readers may not wish to engage with 1,000 page epics, with today’s hectic lifestyle that has many tied 24-7 to a Blackberry or to work via emails, but the short story is more manageable in terms of time spent on mobile devices and in terms of attention span. They give us a “quick fix” of literature, in a quick fix, espresso age.

The rise in online platforms for both published and unpublished writers has also exploded, and more writing is “out there” – short stories provide the perfect taster to a writer’s works, and are a useful and easily sampled “try before you buy” for longer works.. Platforms such as Blogs, and latterly sites such as Smashwords,and  Amzon’s Kindle Singles, where authors post short stories from 99p or even in the case of Smashwords, for no charge, have transformed the genre.

So all of this is great news for people like me who enjoy writing and want to make their work quickly accessible, and also to build a reputation. Where I lagged behind was understanding the classification of fiction in terms of length, which have moved apace with the electronic revolution; when is a short story not a short story, but a piece of flash fiction, or a novelette, or even Twitfic?!

Discerning minds need to know, so I’ve listed below the main categories for fiction with some of my favourite examples; which ones do you prefer? It should be stressed however that although stories can be categorised by word length, this isn’t the whole story – the nature and depth of the story being told also determines where the story is most at home, category wise.

The Novel

The novel is generally recognised as being a work of fiction between 80,000 to 95,000 words; furthermore the novel is expected to reflect broad aspects of the human condition. So far so good, although there are broadly accepted variation by genre for the average novel length; for example commercial literary fiction and romance novels tend to be shorter than for example crime and historical fiction.  Literary Rejections has a good summary of these genre guidelines.

“The Hobbit” and “1984” are two of my favourite, typical length novels (80-95,000 words)

The Novella

I wasn’t aware how many of my favourite books were actually novellas until I was writing up this post: most authorities and literary awards define a novella as being between 17,500 and 40,000 words in length.  Based on this criterion, “Animal Farm”, “The Metamorphosis”, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “A Clockwork Orange” are novellas. What these stories have in common, and what defines the novella is that they obviously explore more back story than a short story, but cannot develop themes and conflicts in as much detail as a full-blown novel.  For stories like my favourites listed above, I think the common factor is there is a single vision or message the author is relating, and the concentrated length of the novella delivers this message to us, undiluted by lengthy character development.

The Novelette

The novelette is the baby brother of the novella, or an overgrown short story, based on your viewpoint. Historically, novelettes tended to be seen as trivial stories, mainly romances, but there is now a recognised category for this work, particularly in the Science fiction genre. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America specifies that a novelette is a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words, and has a category for novelettes word lengths as part of its Nebula award. 

I admit, I’ve struggled to find any examples of novelettes that I’m familiar with – most fall between novella and short story; please comment if you can enlighten me!

The Short Story

The short story is generally agreed to be a work between  3000 – 7,500 words, although if flash fiction is generally considered to be from 300 – 1,00 words (see below), in theory the short story is any work between 1,000 and 7,500 words.  Think short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Roald Dahl, Stephen King and James Joyce’s “Dubliners” collection. Online Classics has a great list of 50 of the best short stories of all time you might like to check out.

Flash Fiction

Although the term “Flash Fiction” has relatively recent provenance, very short stories have been around for several thousand years – think Aesop’s Fables, from the first century BC. Flash fiction is a short-short story which still contains the main elements of a complete story, such as a protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and some sort of resolution. In this way Flash fiction differs from a vignette,which tends to concentrate on a given slice of time or an impression of character, or setting.  Flash fiction also differs from the traditional short story in that the limitation on word lengths requires that some elements of the story are absent, or merely hinted at. As noted above the platform for flash fiction has widened enormously with the advent of online and mobile platforms.

I currently have two flash fiction stories submitted to online publications; they’re a great distraction from my longer novel, they flex different writing muscles and they’re a much quicker means to bring your writer’s voice to a wider audience. Which brings us to…..

Micro Fiction

I have to admit this was where I was lagging behind the times, but there are lots of great Blogs out there that helped bring me up to date;  Karen Woodward’s Three Kinds of Micro Fiction introduced me to the Drabble and the Twabble, neither of which I’d heard of before!

The Drabble

A drabble is generally held to be a story of around 100 words or less; the challenge clearly being to write something entertaining and engaging with such a tight restriction. Most prominent in the Drabble genre seems to be Sci-fi, Fantasy and Fan-fic; the Drabblecast on Twitter showcases typical drabble works. Drabble contests often consist not only of a word limit, but also a time constraint. Drablr.com is a site dedicated to publishing 100 word fiction pieces.

55 Fiction

This was another new one for me; a variant of the Drabble, 55 fiction is micro fiction, limited to no more than 55 words. There are fairly strict requirements for a piece of work to be considered 55 fiction in addition to the word count; the story must still contain a setting, at least one character, and an element of conflict and resolution. The title of the piece is usually restricted to no more than seven words. 

Twitfic/Nanofiction

My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!” (The Shrinking Man, Richard Matheson)

And so to the ultimate (so far) in micro fiction. Twitfic, or Nanofiction, refers to stories up to 140 characters; the limit for a single tweet. The need to make ourselves understood in such a small space has given rise to the Twitfic phenomenon; (tiny) bite size pieces of fiction. #twitfic throws up an array of micro fiction, as do many dedicated Twitter pages and websites – Daily Twitfic and Nanoisn.net are two good examples. I haven’t got to grips yet with using Twitter as a communication tool, much less as a story form, but I might have a go; watch this space!

Until we follow Scott Carey, the Incredible Shrinking Man, on his journey to zero, Twitfic/Nanofiction is the smallest category of fiction recognised, but I have no doubt we will see even more compact and bijou literature in the near future!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments; what’s your favourite form and length of fiction, and do you read (or write) Flash or Micro fiction?

And The Buntings Flew, Reading and Books, Writing

My Name Is? Character and Place Names in Literary Fiction

I was introduced early on to the importance of names in literary fiction, being a young fan of Dickens – nearly all of Dickens’ character names feel relevant, even if we can’t place our feelings about some of them.  Compeyson, Magwitch, Pumblechook, Orlick – these names are all from one novel, Great Expectations. Other memorable Dickens names include the sinister and monstrous Daniel Quilp,  downtrodden clerk Bob Cratchit, stiff and paralysed Lord Dedlock, and one of my favourites, the memorably saucy Dick Swiveller, who is almost as naughty as Oliver Twist’s Charley Bates, otherwise frequently called Master Bates by Dickens!

Dickens’ character names are often memorable, but apart from sounding “right”, do they have thematic meaning? Nineteenth century literature seems to offer the most evidence for the use of thematically important naming conventions; Thackeray’s Vanity Fair offers us the plodding “anti hero”, Dobbin, the plain and meek Lady Jane Sheepshanks and the morally bankrupt Lord Steyne (pronounced “stain”?) Similarly Hardy gives us Angel Clare, a pure, harp playing man from a clerical family, while Charlotte Bronte names the family who wrong Jane Eyre, “Reed” – are they broken reeds, morally and physically? Jane’s saviours when she casts herself on the world, destitute, have the surname “St. John”.

Such examples seem to dwindle in twentieth and twenty first century literature. Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic romance, “Rebecca” is often mistakenly believed to be the name of the young narrator, new wife of Maxim de Winter, but Rebecca is actually the first Mrs. de Winter – we never learn the narrator’s name. As the novel is really about Rebecca, this seems fitting; the second Mrs. de Winter is nowhere near as formidable, (and maybe not as interesting either?), as her predecessor, and thus undeserving of a name?

I’ve previously professed my love of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; the Finch surname not only nods to the title, it is symbolically significant – both mockingbirds and finches are small or otherwise vulnerable, yet harmless birds. “Atticus” is probably derived from the famed Roman orator, Titus Pomponius Atticus, known for his just decisions, and friend to Marcus Tullius Cicero, another of Rome’s most renowned orators. Check out, if you haven’t already, two fantastic historical novels about Cicero by Robert Harris -“Imperiumand “Lustrum.” Likewise Calpurnia; the name is most associated with the wife of Julius Caesar, who tries to warn her husband,to prevent his murder.

In my novel And The Buntings Flew, I have used both character and place names symbolically and thematically; the name of the main character and narrator, Purdey, is short for Perdita, which means “lost one” in Latin, and is the name of the the heroine in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” – Perdita is born in a prison;  her father imprisoned her mother, believing her to be unfaithful. Some of these meanings apply symbolically and thematically in my novel. The buntings referred to in the title can refer both to a small bird, the Reed Bunting, which can be found living in marshes and other wetlands, including Belfast Lough, one of the settings in my novel. The other buntings referred to are the small flags which adorned many Loyalist and Nationalist areas of Belfast during the Troubles, the period in which the novel is written.  Look out for other bird character names peppered throughout my book – there are corrs, (a type of heron), jays, doves (Colm) and some which aren’t so obvious; keep an eye out for Sooty Sheerwater!

Lastly, and perhaps surprisingly, I have made reference to biblical stories and gospels for the names of several characters (surprising because I’m a lapsed Catholic atheist who leans towards Buddhism!). The first murderer, Cain, is referenced, as are the two disciples of Jesus who preached a gospel of forgiveness, and in whose gospels the Lord’s Prayer features. Forgiveness and our own trespasses and those of others are also key to my novel; the ethnic and sectarian divide at the heart of The Troubles, although not religious in nature, was broadly drawn along religious divides, so  Christian references felt appropriate.

I have also included one or two references to classical literature and to Irish legend, but I don’t want to give away all my secrets – if you read my book, please do let me know if you pick up on any more!

xx

And The Buntings Flew, Publishing and Self Publishing

And The Buntings Flew – Free excerpts from Chapter 1

IEBookcover‘ve created a taster PDF which I’m quite pleased with; it contains the synopsis and selected excerpts from chapter 1 of And The Buntings Flew.

Please do have a read and let me know what you think and if you would like to read more excerpts; more importantly, if you would buy the book!

And The Buntings Flew Excerpts Chapter 1

And The Buntings Flew, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reading and Books, Writing Tools

And The Buntings Flew… on Pinterest

I was reading author J.F. Penn’s newsletter today (check out her excellent site by the way!) and discovered how she uses Pinterest  to great effect by having boards for her upcoming novels pinned with pictures which provide tantalising hints to readers of where the stories will take them!

Without further ado I headed over to Pinterest, and have created a board with some pictures that convey the setting and subject matter of And The Buntings Flew, to give prospective readers a taste of what’s to come. I’d love to hear what you think of this idea, which I think is brilliant (it would never have occurred to me), and your thoughts on my fledgling board!

And The Buntings Flew

Who were the Black Irish, and what is their story? – IrishCentral.com

What a serendipitous find!

Who were the Black Irish, and what is their story? – IrishCentral.com.

elizapurcell_thumbI was browsing Irish Central the other day and came across this really interesting article on the source of the phrase “Black Irish” in relation to people of Irish ancestry with dark or tanned complexions, black hair and dark eyes.

I refer to the “Black Irish” colouring in my novel, as a mixed blessing – exotic, yet very different from the majority of Irish complexions, which tend to the very pale, with light coloured eyes and either fair, red or dark hair.

Several characters in And The Buntings Flew exhibit typical Black Irish colouring, as do I, and many of my family (check out my profile picture) – pictured above is my paternal grandmother who was a beautiful example of the Black Irish colouring.

Irish Central’s article provides a great introduction to the subject, so please have a read, as it gives some context to a phrase that might otherwise be misunderstood, as it is not one in common parlance.