Reading and Writing for Pleasure: April | Douglas Burcham

Douglas continues his writing and reading for pleasure series with thoughts for April on writing matters in the news, work in progress, reading and publishing.


Several years ago, I watched a TV programme showing Sir Terry Pratchett at work in front of a number of computer monitor screens. Then a little later, the news of his terminal illness came and all too soon, after his Richard Dimbleby lecture was read by Tony Robinson, he died on 15th March 2015.

I have therefore found it distressing this month to read of another author, Valerie Blumental, given a similar diagnosis of Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), a rare form of Alzheimer’s. She says. It’s pretty inconvenient, as it renders you virtually illiterate. My brain and I used to be on intimate terms; now they are at war.” She has had to stop reading, “Letters and words were like witches dancing before me”, but she can still play the piano and paint.

Put into this context, reading about other writers’ problems of procrastination, writer’s block and publishing difficulties pale into insignificance. I just hope PCA is not a writers’ illness or one caused by sitting for hours in front of a computer monitor.

Anita Brookner, a Booker Book Prize winner, has died at age 86. A friend of hers said. “A writer never retires. This is one of the beauties of the job.” On reflection, I agree, this is why being a writer is such fun because unless one is afflicted with horrors like PCA, one can go on writing well into old age. I recall Mary Wesley only started to write her lovely novels when she was in her 70s.

Since last November, I have been putting together a 5,000 word short story competition entry. Looking at previous winners, I had a belief then I could do as well as the winners, which at least started me writing. I had many ideas in my head and making a start fused these ideas into a story with a beginning, middle and end. As the weeks have passed, and as I now have reached the eighteenth draft version, I realise how difficult the task is, although I am having fun especially because 5,000 words can be read, altered, and read again within an hour.

I passed my latest draft to my blind writing friend. He says he only passed a duster over my script. All I can say is his cloth is as coarse as sandpaper or my script is pretty dusty! Many commas have been added, spelling mistakes found, (despite my repeated readings and script checking), hyphenated words pointed out and the need for capitalisation. The story is a bit like a dog’s bone … I feel compelled to keep working on it more than I ever could a long novel. I have experienced again the normal mix of initial feelings of inadequacy and resistance to criticism when receiving comments from others on my writing. However, these soon pass because I appreciate the efforts of others to help me and in the case of my early paid for edits, a wish they had been harder on me. Any progress I make will be dependent on a slim chance of getting through the initial sift of entries to reach a short listing for the judge’s final selection.

Another short report caught my eye. Apparently, a USA report says typing with one hand rather than two produces better writing. I wonder if typing with two fingers is even more effective. Yet another report says booming sales of classic crime novels are a benefit to feminism. Publishers have realised one does not need a mutilated woman’s body to sell these books; a good well written story is enough. I suspect classic crime might well have been less PC.

In my March post on procrastination in a work in progress, my comments to the original post were as follows and these continue to influence my day-to-day writing progress.

Oh dear guilty, straight to the jugular so early in the day and year. I have always found it much easier to write beginnings and endings than the words in between. Also my bar as to what I believe is a minimum standard for being complete has also risen during the five and a half years I have been writing. The good news is I am closer than ever before. A new and unexpected brake on progress is aging and health which have crept up on me and require smarter working, rationalization and learning to live with to keep going. The other big factor is I find it much more enjoyable and interesting to write new work than edit, restructure and process old writing through to the shark-infested waters of publication. My plan is therefore to bring all my writing up to a publishable standard and if I achieve this, I will be well satisfied. 

The trouble with that. Ever since receiving what I thought to be an April Fools’ Day blog post in April 2011 about missing out was to promote active writing and that to improve flow I have been aware of that as an interrupting word to the flow of my reading. Analysis of the main pages of one of my Saturday broadsheets last month showed that could be omitted in 75% of the places where used. Royals and politicians were the worst offenders, followed by leader writers and editors, and the least guilty in my analysis were scientists. Perhaps the latter have to be more precise in their language to get probes to the Moon and Mars. Searching the Internet for others of a like mind showed up a comment about that being a substitute for um, err and similar; so this perhaps explains the use by politicians making things up as they go along.

Another post I read in awriterofhistory make a point about the importance of a good opening sentence and I made a comment as follows:

Many of the opening sentences I like best are in books out on loan to others. A couple I have to hand are from Pat Barker’s ‘The Ghost Road’. – ‘In deck chairs all along the front the bald pink knees of Bradford businessmen nuzzled the sun,’ and ‘Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when eight, I have had an eye on other people’s parents.’ from Ian McEwan’s ‘Black Dogs’. I think they both qualify as historical fiction, the latter with a short reference back to WW2 near the end, and hook one into reading more. Following a good opening sentence up with two good first pages also makes for a great start. Lee Child manages this well while Kate Atkinson in ‘Life after Life’ and Ranulph Fiennes in ‘The Sett’ excel.

This comment spurred me on to make a new start to one of my post a million draft words story-books as follows:

Despite all the traumatic events of the last seventy years the British still manage to do state funerals better than anyone else in the world. 

— New York Times 30 March 2030

More about this next month with further items of news held over. Good writing and reading to you this month with Spring in the air, as a distraction to writing.


DouglasDouglas Burcham started writing on 1 June 2010 and self-published under the Allrighters’ name a story-book ‘Ywnwab!’ in September 2013. A million words of draft writing reached completion in January 2014 split between 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes. Since then slow progress continues to be made in the conversion of the draft words into final books ready for possible publishing as story-books under the Allrighters’ name.

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