Tag Archives: England

Friday Pictures: Unusual places for books

Last week, I showed you all an image of an ENORMOUS bookstore/library. So this week I thought you might enjoy this, also gleaned from the pages of Stumbleupon:

PhoneBox

 

 

Has anyone seen this before?  Have a fabulous weekend!

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GOOD EVENING MRS CRAVEN by Mollie Panter-Downes

GoodEveningMrsCravenGOOD EVENING MRS CRAVEN by Mollie Panter-Downes is a series of wartime stories set in Britain during the Second World War. Like most British people, Ms. Panter-Downes writes fluently and well, and renders the ordinary world in closely observed snapshots. For example:

 

Everyone got wedged into the room somehow, bibs were hitched round necks, and a subterranean wheezing located Mrs. Parmenter’s little fellows right under their patron’s chair. Mrs. Ramsay, carving the lamb and listening to the nurses babbling of cardigan patterns, thought moodily that this kind of thing might go on for years.

 

Ms. Panter-Downes stories become darker as the war grinds on. GOODBYE MY LOVE is about the touching parting of a young man and a young woman. When the young man unexpectedly reappears, she bursts into floods of tears, because she will have to say ‘goodbye’ to him all over again. GOOD EVENING MRS. CRAVEN is about the heartbreak of being the ‘other woman’ when your man has gone off to war. Your man is not actually your man, and another woman is his wife, and the relationship is secret (or supposed to be so), getting any news is almost impossible. Unless you resort to subterfuge. THE HUNGER OF MISS BURTON tackles an issue that would have been all-too-familiar to the people who survived through that war. Miss Burton is adult and female, and as such is supposed not to take more than her fair share, leaving the leftovers for the children. But she is so hungry! IT’S THE REACTION is perhaps the saddest story of all, about another adult single female, who yearns for another bomb to drop so that her neighbors will come out of their shells and include her in their lives. Without a crisis, her life is so, so, heartbreakingly, lonely.

There is triviality mixed in with tragedy, pettiness with kindness and the usual day-to-day problems wound together with the reality of war. If you want to know more about the war, and what life was like, these stories provide a good introduction. But you won’t learn much about the characters who inhabit these stories. Though well-defined, they remain largely private. (How English.) Four stars.

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THIS TIME by Joan Szechtman

Joan Szechtman is one of those novelists who has such a good idea, that you wish you’d had it yourself. The idea of Richard III being wrenched from a near-death experience and deposited in 21st-century Portland, Oregon is mind-blowing in all its implications. What is Richard really like? How will he get on in a democracy? What will he think of the 21st century? And in light of what he learns, what sense is he going to make of the life he left behind, and some of the truly awful things he did?

But the novel didn’t really answer these questions, at least not in a deeply resonant way. Why?

The major problem as I see it is the quality of the writing. What the author needed to do was to plunge the reader into Richard’s skin, and make his experiences viscerally real. That would have involved many more sensory descriptions, as well as much more interior monologue.

I think the reason why the novel didn’t work is because so much of what happens to Richard is presented as a summary, almost as if we were reading a newspaper account. But newspaper reportage is not the best way of gripping the reader’s attention. Nor is summary.

Although Ms Szechtman made a few nods to the need to capture what Richard’s bewilderment at being in the 21st century must have been like, it wasn’t enough to be realistic. The storyline wasn’t believable. It just didn’t make sense that Richard, of all people, should learn to trust 21st-century strangers so completely that he married one of them and because CEO of a company in the space of one year! I know this book is meant to be a fantasy, but each book has its own internal logic. In the case of THIS TIME, the author violated that logic.

One way to have dealt with these problems would have been to make Richard far less active in the 21st century, to give him more time to speak about his past, in particular to paint a vivid picture of the crisis of the spring of 1483, when his brother King Edward IV suddenly died, and of the events leading up to the disappearance of his nephews. That would have been fascinating.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: DAUGHTER OF YORK by Anne Easter Smith

Writing historical fiction is not easy, especially if you are writing about a real person. You cannot assume that your readers are going to understand how hard it is, or the difficult choices you have to make.

DAUGHTER OF YORK is the story of Margaret of York (1446-1503), sister to Edward IV and wife to Charles, Duke of Burgundy. In Ms. Smith’s telling of this story, the narrative arc is hung almost entirely on the romantic attraction between Margaret, and Sir Anthony Woodville, brother to Edward’s Queen. So it is unfortunate that Ms. Easter Smith chose to focus on the fictional aspects of the love-story between Margaret of York and Anthony Woodville in her Author’s Note, because some of her readers in their Amazon Reviews said that they felt cheated. What they don’t understand is the paucity of documentation from the Middle Ages that tells you anything about people’s emotions, or psychological states. It turns out that Ms. Smith did have some evidence for thinking that there might actually have been a romantic relationship, the fact that Margaret did stay with Anthony at his estate in Kent during her visit to England in 1480. If I had been Ms. Smith, I would have re-written that paragraph in the Author’s Note to bring that fact forward.

So what about the novel itself? It opens very well, with beautifully rendered descriptions of the London skyline circa 1461, the music that was played during court ceremonies, and the clothes worn. I also found Anthony Woodville’s dialogue to be quite wonderful: “I commend your choice, Lady Margaret. Mine is Lancelot du Lac, for his gentleness, courtesy and courage. If I may be so forward as to tell you, my aim is to model myself upon him. You do know he was also the greatest fighters of all Arthur’s knights, do you not?”

Now I loved that snippet of dialogue, because I think that Ms. Smith has artfully created the illusion of Sir Anthony actually speaking to us from the fifteenth century. But I am British, and I was made to read Shakespeare when I was twelve. Most American readers are going to find that kind of language too turgid, and the lack of contractions too awkward to read. One of the reasons why Phillippa Gregory is so successful is because her fifteenth-century characters talk in language that is considerably more modern and slangy. Which means that there are far fewer bumps for today’s readers.

This is a long novel, at 557 pages, longer than most. It must be clear to readers that Ms. Smith has done an enormous amount of work on researching this novel. But telling a wonderful story that will grip readers and carry them along demands a very different set of skills. Ms. Smith tells us that she went to great lengths to whittle down the research and make it more palatable for her readers.  But I honestly think that this novel would have benefitted from even more whittling down, because it sags in places.

Despite its flaws, I think that anyone interested in this period should give it a try, if for no other reason than that the research is impeccable.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I get scooped

There are two kinds of historical novels, those which are about a real person from the past, and those which are about fictional characters set into an historical context.  Although agents prefer novels written about real people, the risk you take in writing such a novel is that someone else may have the exact same idea, and beat you to publication.

This has happened to me.

As you know, I have been trying to sell my novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, which is about Cecily Neville, Richard III’s mother. On Wednesday, I learned that Anne Easter Smith is to come out with a novel about Cecily titled QUEEN BY RIGHT.

Needless to say, I was very upset. Right now, I am a complete unknown who has failed to get the attentions of an agent, even though I have been trying to do so for a year. How I would have loved it if I had been first!

But this is the difference between being published and unpublished. Ms. Smith has three novels under her belt, which have sold moderately well. She has an agent. She has an editor. She has a publishing house. All she has to do is write, and I have to say she has worked with commendable efficiency to get a 500-page historical out in 18 months.

So what am I going to do about this?

I am going to wait.

I am going to stop promoting ONE SEED.

I am going to start promoting another novel I’ve completed, HE MUST BE SOMEONE, set in 1921 in Georgetown Washington DC, and Berlin Germany, which is a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets that takes us into the life of a gifted violinist.

I am going to buy QUEEN BY RIGHT when it comes out on May 3rd, and read it. I will probably write a book review to post on this blog. And I will hope that her novel does well, because if it does then I will have an audience eager to read another novel about Cecily.  Stay tuned.

Image: A photo of the model Heather Hayes posing as Cecily Neville. Photographer: Whitney Arostegui.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Mary Ann Shaffer’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY is a wonderful quirky book, that by turns is funny and tragic.

Juliet Ashton has survived the second world war. To cheer people up, she wrote a column under a pen-name. Now she wants to do something different. One day, a letter arrives from Guernsey, from someone asking for a small favor. Kind-hearted Juliet complies, and sends a note back in response. From such small beginnings, Ms. Shaffer spins a wonderful tale of wartime hardship, post-war optimism and the shadows left behind.

This is not to say that the book is completely faultless. Some readers will be put off by the fact that this novel is actually a collection of letters, and may wonder why the author chose to cast her story in this fashion. Telling a story like that is a wonderful way of dealing with POV problems. Every character has a chance to become the narrator of his or her own story, and it can be easier to bring out voice and personality when writing in first person, rather than limited 3rd.

Casting novels in letter-format also has a distinguished history. All those eighteenth century novels like PAMELA, CLARISSA, EVELINA and CECILIA were written in this way. In fact the novel got started because Samuel Richardson was publishing a book of how-to letters for the nouveau riches. Letter number 7 or 8 of this compendium was how to tell your parents that the squire is making unwanted advances. And so PAMELA was born.

Perhaps the other biggest problem with the novel is the revelation of the death of the main character, which occurs halfway through the book. Putting this revelation later would have enabled the author to use it to heighten tension. On the other hand, this character takes up a lot of psychic space, and so getting rid of her allows other characters to flourish.

But such objections are minor. If you allow yourself not to be put off by all the letters, I think you will find this novel a surprising treat.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

After receiving numerous rejections from agents who’ve passed on ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the story of Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville, I decided that the time had come to try something different. Last Sunday, I stayed up until just past Midnight, so that I could submit ONE SEED for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The judges wanted not only the complete MSS, but also an author bio, a synopsis, an excerpt of between 3,000 to 5,000 words and a 300-word pitch.

I spent all day Sunday working away on that pitch, asking friends and family for their help, because that 300 words is all they read to start with, and is crucial to getting you into the second round. If you get there, then they’ll read your excerpt. My excerpt was exactly 5,000 words long and comprises the first two chapters of ONE SEED. Chapter One shows Cecily being sold into a marriage she doesn’t want at the tender age of nine. Chapter Two shows Cecily with her mother and other female relations, chatting, sewing and reading Chaucer. The point of that chapter is to ground the reader in who Cecily is and the influences that molded her before she became famous.

I hope they like reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. If they like the excerpt, you get into the quarter-final round, where they read the whole excerpt. I’m crossing my fingers that I get into the quarter-final round.  Stay tuned.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the story Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: What I’m learning in an online course in Self-Editing and Revision.

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I sign up for Unicorn Writers’ Conference

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my goal at the end of 2010 was to try and find an agent for my first novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED. While I had received some expressions of interest, by December 2010, no agent had signed a contract with me. I decided that my goal for 2011 would be to try and get my second novel HE MUST BE SOMEONE to an agent, while continuing to send ONE SEED around.

HE MUST BE SOMEONE is a very different novel from ONE SEED. While ONE SEED is set during the period of the Wars of the Roses, and is the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother, SOMEONE is set in 1922, and is the story of a young woman who goes to Berlin to study violin (based upon the true story of my violin teacher).

When stylish widow, Angelina Pagano Miller, invites a potential suitor to supper one  evening, things don’t go as planned. To Angelina’s chagrin, the mysterious dark-eyed stranger finds her seventeen-year-old daughter Grace more appealing.  Angelina seeks revenge by trying to find out who her daughter’s suitor is, but her efforts are derailed by her sudden death.

Grace and her sister Violet are hustled out of town, and finally wind up in Berlin, where Grace, a gifted violinist, is accepted as a student by one of the foremost violin teacher of the day. Grace dreams of having a career as a soloist, but inadvertently acquires two other suitors. What should she do? Should she pursue a career as a violinist, or should she marry? And if she does marry, which one will it be?  It is hard for Grace to decide, as she feels drawn to each of her suitors in turn. Finally, she shocks her family (and creates a minor international incident) by disappearing on the eve of her marriage to her aristocratic suitor, Count von Lietzow.  Where is Grace, and why did she flee?

I needed to get some feedback on this MSS, and so I looked around for various writing conferences that occur during the spring, so that I would just have time to fix up the MSS to send off to Squaw Valley, which occurs in August. I stumbled upon The Unicorn Writer’s Conference, which is going to take place in a castle in Portland CT. What I liked about this conference is the fact not only do they have interesting sessions to attend, but for a little bit extra you can sign up for a one-on-one with a speaker, an agent and an editor.  I lost no time in signing up!  The conference takes place on Saturday April 9. Stay tuned.

Next:  Why writing conferences are important.

Image: triobrioso.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Juliet Nicholson’s The Perfect Summer

51jouu3tjfl_sl160_A Perfect Summer chronicles the glorious summer of 1911, when life seemed to have a golden timeless quality, because it is set in sharp relief by the horrors of the Great War (1914-1918) that followed shortly thereafter.

We see the upper classes enjoying themselves at a charity ball, where the young ladies appear as white swans, except for the toast of the town Lady Diana Manners, who appears as a black swan.  We see the Ballets Russes arrive in England for the first time, with an incredible dancer named Vaslav Nijinsky.  We see a young Home Secretary named Winston Churchill worry about the increasing speed of change. And we also see the cracks in English society as the whole country is brought to a standstill by massive strikes.

All of this is seen through the lens of Juliet Nicholson, the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West (of Sissinghurst fame) and Sir Harold Nicholson, who, through her connections, had access to intimate and rarely seen sources.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Fiction: I never complain

It doesn’t take much, does it, for people to start complaining.  I mean you might think they would actually do something about it.  But they just want a good moan.  Take the other night, when the government announced on the Telly that it was going to tighten up on the drinking laws in this country.  A good thing, if you ask me.  But look at the uproar it’s caused.
143You would think people would be pleased that the government is actually paying attention to this issue.  I mean, everyone who lives in a town of any size has to deal with packs of young men – and nowadays young women as well – piling out of the pub at eleven at night, three sheets to the wind, and behaving abominably.  I pity those poor people that have to live near a pub and put up with the noise, the refuse and the mess.  You can’t get to sleep with that row going on, and nobody cares.  You can beg as much as you like, but the landlord doesn’t want to turn the music down for fear of scaring off his customers.
I don’t know what’s wrong with young people these days.  Why do they like that pounding music?  No one I know likes it, and I’ve asked many of my friends.  They listen to it with headphones on, and you can still hear it!  Manys the time I’ve had to lean forward on a bus, and tap some young person on the arm and mouth a request to turn it down.  They can’t hear a thing!
There’s no consideration nowadays, no manners.  Everyone looks so disreputable, they dress in these horrible outfits that are torn and dirty, and shove past everyone without a by your leave.  I remember a time when a man used to doff his hat, every time he saw a lady. What is the world coming to?
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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