Blogs

Changing History by Jem Shaw

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I was reminded the other day of an axiom that applies to research for writing: We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a constant problem, especially when you’re writing a period piece. We have to check constantly that we’re not building in anachronisms that will jar the reader out of the illusion.

But how deep do you go? How do you know when to stop? It’s easy to think you’ve verified a fact but, with the best will in the world, you weren’t there at the time. And the unchecked error is always there, waiting, like a rake in the grass.

Misha Herwin, my fellow Penkhull author and great friend, was kindly editing my upcoming short story collection when she questioned a reference to ballet at Sadler’s Wells in 1914. I confidently pointed out that the theatre was opened in the 17th century by Richard Sadler.

“Ah, but were they doing ballet then?”

No, they weren’t. More thorough investigation revealed that ballet didn’t come to the Wells until long after WW1.

The lesson, apart from learning an unsuspected dislike of Misha, was that we don’t know what we don’t know, and we have to deepen our research to find and fill the gaps.

And, especially, once you’ve written a story, don’t show it to anyone.

There’s more about this sad event on my blog here.

 

Six Day Eventing by Jan Edwards

The cliched image of a starving author is of a shy and tortured creature huddled in a freezing garret dressed in tattered, dusty overcoat and fingerless gloves, scribbling furiously with a tattered quill pen by guttering candle light…

Well… okay. Maybe we aren’t starving, though when you consider how advances have vanished in recent years it’s a fair bet most of us can’t afford to be without a day job; and maybe that overcoat is a favourite ancient woolly jumper; and maybe its not so much tattered as well-washed and the garret is your centrally heated back bedroom…  But the general theory is sound – isn’t it?

Writing is acknowledged to be a lonely occupation even by the most gregarious among us.  A great many of the writers of my acquaintance are shy flowers, at least when it comes to presenting their babies to the general public for inspection. It is a hard thing to proffer the words that you have sweated buckets to produce. (more…)

Dramatis Personae

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Many novels, particularly the lengthier multi-volumes in the fantasy field, are packed with characters, some major, some minor, others appearing so intermittently that they can be easily forgotten. Many readers will remember a full cast list with no problem; they simply go with the flow and, especially with a well-written story that has an engaging narrative, hardly ever need to check the list of characters, or dramatis personae. Nevertheless, having something that can be referred to when you’re unsure just who is who can be invaluable. Think Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and you can see what I mean. Or you may be reading mainstream or crime or any other genre: the arguments for the dramatis personae may still apply.

Read more in our Tips and Advice section on how the dramatis personae may help the writer.

 

Casting Stories Adrift

One of the oddest things about writing fiction, be that novels or short fiction, is that you never know where it will end  up, or how it might return to you – if ever. With that in mind, I was very surprised when I was contacted this week by The Valkenswaard  War Cemetery, asking about my uncle who is buried there. I never knew him, of course, because Pvt Alfred Gedded Graham 2nd Bn. Middlesex Reg. was killed during operation ‘Market Garden’ (?) in October 1944 – some 10 years before I was born – and was buried in this tiny war cemetery…

 

To read more of Jan Edwards’ intriguing story pop over to her blog.

Jan is the author of two Penkhull Press books: Sussex Tales and Fables & Fabrications. Click on the titles to learn more.

 

Mapping your story

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Peter Coleborn considers the value of maps.

Perhaps  you are writing a fantasy novel in which your characters travel across a fantastical realm. Or a science fiction story set on a strange planet in a far off galaxy. An early question that comes to your mind: do you need a map? The short answer is … yes! I would go further and say that you require a map, or a plan, for almost any book or story you tackle, no matter the genre. It is vital that you – the author of the piece – understand the topography of your world, you know which route your characters need to take when travelling from A to B and all places beyond.

Read the essay in our Tips and Advice section.

 

 

Walking & Meditation

Penkhull author Jan Edwards considers meditation:

When walking to the High Street I sometimes (health allowing) make a slight detour through the church yard. It is a beautifully peaceful place whatever the season. It is a place where I often indulge in a walking meditation, and is frequently a place where plotting problems in writing can become clear – and/or inspire new work.

A few days ago I took my camera to capture its beauty – set as it is in the depths of the moorlands. It was a second shot of the church from the hillside cemetery that reminded me of a book title…

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The Two Towers!

The second spire (left hand) is the famous Pugin Church, rising from beyond the CofE Parish Church. Both are named St Giles – go figure!  Is it me or does the Pugin spire always reminds other folks of a Vorlon spaceship?

Pop over to her blog to read the full essay and check out the photos.

 

Why Do I Write?

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Penkhull author Misha Herwin asks “Why do I write?”

I’ve talked about my book at “Hot Air” the literary festival in Stoke-on-Trent, where I live: set up a Facebook page: sent out a pre-publication news-letter: searched the internet for bloggers who review women’s fiction: given out review copies: talked to everyone and anyone I’ve met and have just invited friends and neighbours to the first of a number of celebratory tea/mini launch at my house at the end of July. (There will be more such events, living room is too small to have everyone at the same time.) There will be coffee, cake and wine, hopefully followed by a few book sales.

Much as I enjoy all this, there are also the moments of panic familiar to all the writers I know about whether their book is good enough to see the light of day, let alone be read by the thousands/millions of readers we are hoping for.

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Something Remains

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Penkhull’s Peter Coleborn blogs about the forthcoming Alchemy Press book, Something Remains, which he co-edited with Pauline E Dungate:

At the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, held in Brighton, Joel Lane’s Where Furnaces Burn won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Due to personal problems Joel wasn’t able to collect the award in person. I had intended to visit Joel soon after, meet up for one of our irregular balti meals with mutual friends Dave Sutton, James Brogden, John Howard, Mike Chinn and Stan Nicholls, and to toast Joel for the win. Sadly, that visit to Birmingham didn’t materialise in time – for not long after the convention Joel passed away in his sleep. His death left a huge cavity in my life.

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Bristol Beauty

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Penkhull author Jem Shaw writes:

“I’ve just completed the second of The Larks aircraft. This time it’s the Bristol Scout that Colin Hingley takes over, much to the envy of Andy Palmer, who gets sentenced to the BE2c ‘bloater’ following his less than impressive first squadron flight.

This Scout caused me some grief when writing the book. I have a signed Ivan Berryman print of Lanoe Hawker’s encounter with three Albatros and I’ve always been fascinated by its gun arrangement. The idea of trying to chase an enemy aircraft and then kick your own machine sideways to point the gun in the right direction gave rise to a sequence of which I was particularly proud. Which just served me right when I found out that the mounting had been changed by 1916 and the upper-wing mounting allowed the gun to fire more or less in the same direction as the aircraft happened to be flying. Still, the waste paper basket seemed to enjoy it.

I found David Bremner’s website while researching this illustration. He’s rebuilt the Bristol Scout flown by his grandfather in the Great War, basing his reconstruction on parts found in his ancestor’s effects. It’s an incredibly engaging account and I can heartily recommend a visit. You’ll find his site on bristolscout.wordpress.com.