Writing and Reading for Pleasure: August | Douglas Burcham

Douglas continues his Writing & Reading for Pleasure posts with a bumper issue of news about his progress on writing, a follow up on his last two posts, and a current news commentary.

 

Continued progress is being made on finalising the text of my first full length book – Gemini. Now out of the self-editing and restructuring process, the restructuring for the first time since February 2014 has taken precedence. All this is geared to making the book more user-friendly to readers. I have decided to start the first book at the story end in a first section, which also develops the main characters before they set out on their time travelling. In the second section they reach an interim destination which could form a convenient (and to me) unexpected first book ending. The second book could then carry on from there.

I have had great fun re-organising the scenes. Most of these revisions were written in France in June 2015 where I go each year and where I started writing in 2010. It’s something to do with living at near the height of Mount Snowden with weird dreams from eating cheese too late in the day, lots of French wine and other good food. Also, it was very hot this year, 30 to 36 Celsius in the shade, with no rain for a fortnight. I returned home and while sitting in the rain and cold reviewing a mountain of emails including The Latest Science News Digest. I drank a glass of red wine to recall my time in France. I spluttered as I found out I am at risk!

The over 50s who are ‘successful agers’–healthy, active, sociable, and secure–are more at risk of harmful drinking than their less successful peers, concludes research published in the online journal BMJ Open July 2015.

Oh well, habits of a lifetime! I am also trying to stitch the various parts of the Gemini story together more effectively for readers and to embroider small scenes for interest. I am using the original version of AutoCrit to test readability and overuse of words. This is proving beneficial.

In my last but one post of reflections back over five years writing there were two areas I did not touch on in detail. One, use of websites, and two, computer software aids to writing.

 

Websites/Blogs

I subscribe to a couple of dozen specific writing-related websites/blogs including TIPM and also The Latest Science News as above and the ones below for writing content which may be extended into my fantasy writing.

Some I do not bother to open unless the title is attractive. There are 6 sites I always open.

  • Awriterofhistory: for its range of helpful blogs. I’ve followed since 2012. It’s written by Mary Tod, also the writer of Unravelled and Lies told in Silence.

 

  • This Itch of Writing: for its detailed store of information. I’ve followed this website since early 2015; a link with evolution.

 

  • Russell Blake: for blunt reminders to writers on the facts of writing life. I’ve followed Blake’s site since 2014.

Blake’s record of writing some 5 to 6 million words and publishing puts my efforts in the shade. The above post is worth a read. I have worn out the ‘e’ and ‘a’ letters of three keyboards in the past five years. I must file my finger nails!

Recent posts detail other authors have written books using Blake’s settings and characters. There are some interesting stories about other authors and their introduction to writing.

 

  • Belinda Pollard: followed since 2014. She writes occasional posts from Australia. There is also a recent post showing a promotional video; worth a watch.

 

I commend the selection of useful websites and blogs above because they reinforce much of what is set out in expensive books for writers and preached at costly creative writing courses and enforce my view that it is possible to learn how to write oneself. An extract below from this article indicates computer software is also chasing hard on your writer’s heels.

The software uses algorithms to measure more than 500 text-level variables to yield scores and feedback regarding the following characteristics of writing quality: idea development, organization, style, word choice, sentence structure, and writing conventions such as spelling and grammar.

 

The idea is to give teachers useful diagnostic information on each writer and give them more time to address problems and assist students with things no machine can comprehend — content, reasoning and, especially, the young writer at work.

A number of other sites keep regurgitating previous posts and I ought to unsubscribe!

 

Computer Software

My main computer software in use has been the following:

  • Microsoft Word and Excel – 2003 edition: I do not like the 2007 and later menu ribbon versions. I use Excel for keeping records of word counts and book structures. I understand neither will run on the new Windows 10.

 

  • Oxford Talking Dictionary: This is recommended by Calvin Hedley, my blind writing friend and author of Turning-Point. It’s useful for finding alternative words, spelling and checking on meaning. Quicker than looking up a paper version.

 

  • AutoCrit Editing Wizard: I’ve had this since 2014, but I use their superseded version. The later version is harder and more complicated to use. I hope I will be able to renew and use the old version.

This AutoCrit version includes readability assessments and a combined report for overuse of words, passive writing, etc. The version I have can only process 1,000 word chunks, but this is fine for now. I may renew for review of 8,000 words at a time..

While listening to the second New Zealand and England 50-over cricket match in June, I completed reading Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo (198 pages circa 40 to 45k words). This is a great and recommended read and my first time reading Nesbo. It is tightly written, but could be even more so. The Independent Review remarked – ‘Expertly plotted … relentlessly paced.’ Many reviewers complained about price/word ratio. I had a library copy. The first chapter starts …

The snow was dancing like cotton wool in the light of the street lamps. Aimlessly, unable to decide whether it wanted to fall up or down, just letting itself be driven by the hellish, ice-cold wind that was sweeping in from the great darkness covering the Oslo fjord. Together they swirled, wind and snow, round and round in the darkness between the warehouses on the quayside that were all shut for the night. 

  • MS Word Grammar and Spelling: Picks up two passive passages in bold (above).

 

  • Autocrit – Readability 65%, Combination report – duplicated words and superfluous words. 

[Example]

The snow was dancing like cotton wool in the light of the street lamps. Aimlessly, unable to decide whether it wanted to fall up or down, just letting itself be driven by the hellish, ice-cold wind that was sweeping in from the great darkness covering the Oslo fjord. Together they swirled, wind and snow, round and round in the darkness between the warehouses on the quayside that were all shut for the night.

  • DB Self Edit version: This will reduce word count (See example below from 73 to 52), create tighter word structure and address was and that usage. duplicated words 

[Example] 

A great darkness covers the Oslo fjord. Snow dances aimless like cotton wool in light from street lamps, unable to decide whether to fall up or down, letting the hellish, ice-cold blasts drive its flakes. Together wind and snow swirl, round and round in the night’s blackness between the shut quayside warehouses.

  • Prowriter: (since 2014). If I cannot use the old version of Autocrit I may have to look at this again.

I also looked at using the following since 2010.

  • Scrivener: This is a trial version. I could not convince myself it was worth learning how to use. An online contact who gave a glowing recommendation admitted it was not easy to use and he did not use it.

 

  • Dragon Speech Recognition: In 2012 I purchased the software and dictating machine, thinking it would save me writing things down when I was out and about. I am sure with some perseverance this would be helpful but for the fact my voice must change for any use over twenty minutes, the rising error rate making the facility frustrating and almost useless. I also produce a different kind of writing because my spoken word is different to my written word. If reading out aloud is supposed to enhance ones writing, this should be good. 

Perhaps in the future software will replace writers?

 

Research

In my May post, I mused about tree leaves, scenes and stories. On my daily walk to buy a newspaper I pass through a wonderful avenue of street trees, mostly Chestnuts, at great risk of disease, with many over 130 years old. The local County Council maintain them as highway trees, doing the best they can with reducing amounts of money. By pruning 4 to 5 metres up the main trunk, several of the old trees look ugly like old ladies in mini skirts. Low hanging leaves are much easier on my eyes than bare legs! In another street large pollarded trees are now covered top to bottom in thick secondary growth leaves. They look like green lollipops or ladies in long dresses. Neither of these forms relate well to the trees representing my books.

In my May post research project, I said I would start with How Novels Work by John Mullan and I detailed progress on beginnings last month. This month I made a start on narration and also endings. It is living up to my high expectations.

 

Reading

  • A book on my reading list for some time has been Do No Harm by Henry Marsh which I finally purchased last month. I would title the book A Journey Around Your Brain. It reads like a thriller because he goes deep into the heads of many patients with mainly good results, although he concentrates on failure and mistakes. Henry Marsh also featured on a recent BBC Radio 4 With Great Pleasure programme detailing some of his favourite books.

 

  • I had made a note to read Girl on a Train and was given a short cut by its serialisation as a late night story on BBC Radio 4 last month. Nice idea. I always think a good way to see the backside of any town is to travel in by rail. At dusk and night the lighted and often un-curtained windows of houses give rise to thoughts of a variety of life. The book is written using three women narrators, each taking their viewpoint of events involving themselves and various men. The female narrators who read the story on the radio did not have sufficiently different voices to make it easy to follow. Also quoting dates and times for each scene don’t work very well for me on radio.

 

  • Following the recent death of a distant relation who may have lived as a teenager in the Channel Islands during WW2, I was taking to a friend about this and he produced a little book about life for Jews there during the war – War on the Margins by Libby Cone. A worthwhile read. I watched Tony Robinson do an island walk on Channel 4 TV afterwards with many references to WW1 but none on the subject of Libby’s book.

 

  • July has been a month of audio to supplement straight reading. BBC Radio 4 gave much promotion to another adaption of an Ian Fleming book. Having heard and enjoyed a previous dramatisation in May of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I listened to Diamonds are Forever. The adaption followed the book more closely than the film. Following all the hype, I was less impressed than the May adaption because less “listen on” (page turning) suspense was generated. I believe there is much to learn from radio drama on beginnings, endings and generating imagined scenes, which skills can be applied to writing. Radio is much closer to reading than film.

 

News items noticed recently 

  • July big publishing event Harper Lee: The original Kill a Mocking Bird did nothing for me so I do not intend to buy the new book, Go set a Watchman. Other readers are buying it in droves only to find a Tony Hancock situation! Amazon say:- We have been advised that copies shipped before July 16, 2015 may be missing text on some pages. We are working with the publisher to replace all affected orders as quickly as possible. 

I have previously commented on extremes in Amazon reviewers’ comments. Those for this book do not disappoint. 

One Star on an 11% Extract

All in all, I am very sorry I read this book. Given such a lead up of anticipation, I was disappointed almost to the point of the tears. I had told myself it could not possibly be as good as TKAM but I had no idea it could possibly be this bad.

 

Publishing it was clearly an exercise in money making – the expectations and the hype guaranteeing the kind of colossal sales undeserved by the quality of the book. 

Five Star on a 45% extract 

Many glowing reviews. Note for comparison, Grey 67% five star and Girl on a Train 46% five star, and 7% and 5% respectively one star. 

  • Purchase profiles: Noted on The Bookseller, different purchase profiles for the latest (Shades of) Grey 36/64 and The Girl on the Train 60/40 split respectively between e-book and hard copy. As The Bookseller states – ‘The assumption that readers prefer to read commercial fiction in e-book format but buy printed copies of the more serious stuff is not always borne out by the charts.’ I also expected readers to buy Grey for reading in private on their e-readers.

 

 

  • Adventures in Human Being: I should have mentioned this and the following item last month. A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis. By serialisation each morning from 8th June 2015. This to me seems another bestseller in the making courtesy of BBC Radio.

 

 

Only 25% of young fathers aged between 15 and 24 in the UK read to their child every day. Young mothers of the same age are much more likely to share books with their children, with 61% saying they read with them every day. I wonder how these ratios have changed during the last 100 years.

This article from the Guardian UK refers to fewer young children going to libraries continues the theme of children’s reading. I notice more and more young children using mobile phones so perhaps efforts ought to be applied to reading opportunities on this media.

  • Illegal downloads: This report notes the publishing sector has the lowest level of illegal downloads in the entertainment industry, with book piracy at half the rate of copyright theft in film and music.

I am trying to get my head around the implications of this situation.

  • Alexandra Burke is the singer and former winner of the X Factor UK in 2008 she tells the Sunday Telegraph “Artists don’t see a penny, the labels make all the money.” The money seems to come from live performances, corporate work, merchandising and endorsements. I wonder about parallels in the writing and publishing world.

 

  • Death: Acclaimed American author E.L. Doctorow has died at the age of 84. He was famous for novels including Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, The March and World’s Fair. When he was once asked in an interview about his writing style, Doctorow famously replied; ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He also commented on a 1906 newspaper report about the crime of the century saying with 94 more years to go, it would be unlikely to remain so.

Good reading, writing and publishing to you all everywhere, as always … Next month maybe my post on Trilogies.

 

DouglasDouglas Burcham started writing on 1st June 2010 and has not stopped since. He was saved from the clutches of vanity publishing by Mick Rooney of TIPM in July 2010. In May 2013, his characters, including his fantasy twin brother Alexander, took all his fiction writing and set themselves up as the Allrighters with other writing friends. They self-published a book of short stories ‘Ywnwab!’ in September 2013. In their 2014 and 2015 Writing Plans, by working in 16 to 18K word bites, Douglas, along with the Allrighters, are trying to convert a million words of draft writing completed in January 2014 into several reader friendly books totalling 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. Progress in 2014 and 2015 has been slow as Douglas and the Allrighters prefer new creative writing to editing and restructuring existing writing. A new writing plan in the June 2015 post indicated a move to completion of Gemini c256k words in four books by Christmas 2015 followed by Amazon Kindle publishing and some well produced hard copies for friends and family.

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