Tag Archives: life

SHIP FEVER by Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett’s collection of short stories collected into one volume titled ShipFeverSHIP FEVER is interesting. Each story stands alone in its own right, and yet they are connected by the themes of science, love and even century. The opening story HAWKWEEDS is about a tale within a tale. The narrator, a faculty wife, has a connection to Mendel via her grandfather, who met the famous monk when he was a boy. What the husband, does not know, is why the narrator’s grandfather told her about Mendel. But that would spoil the story.

And so we continue. THE ENGLISH PUPIL concerns the old age of the great Linnaeus, declining not-so-gracefully in 1770s Uppsala. THE LITTORAL ZONE is about a torrid affair between two scientists, set in the present. RARE BIRD is how two women outsmarted the great Linnaeus, layered in amongst observations about how difficult it was for an intelligent woman to live a happy and fulfilling life in 1760s England. SOROCHE is a tragic story about loss, set in the present. BIRDS WITH NO FEET is a vivid recreation of the lives of the nineteenth century scientist-explorers, who, inspired by science, set up to collect animals and plants from remote corners of the world. THE MARBURG SISTERS is about a relationship between two sisters, one of who is a biochemist, set in the present. SHIP FEVER is set in 1840s Canada, and concerns a public health tragedy.

What is so amazing about these tales is how well the characters are evoked. Ms Barrett manages to immerse us quickly into their lives and concerns, so much so that we feel as if we know them well after only a few pages. That shows real talent. If you have never read short stories before, or believe you don’t like them, these are for you. Five stars. A bookclub recommendation.

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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 get rejected by an agent and participate in another webinar

As I said in a recent post, I was awaiting a verdict from yet another agent on ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, who promised me she’d get back to me after holidays. I finally heard from her January 8. She passed. She told me that it wasn’t right for her because “she didn’t love the writing.”

If you are an unpublished novelist, you know how frustrating this is. There you are, working so hard on your art, faced with an agent who is demanding an exclusive. You give it to them, and honorably keep your side of the bargain so that no other agent sees it, while they take their sweet time. Then you get dismissed with a one-liner.

What did I do? I swallowed my bile, wrote to the agent, and thanked her. Then I signed up for another webinar given by Writers Digest. These webinars are not cheap (they cost $89), enough so that I nearly didn’t sign up. But I was very pleased with the quality of the first one, so I decided to sign up for this one, entitled HOW TO HOOK AN AGENT WITH YOUR FIRST PAGES. The speaker was a newish agent who was actively seeking new work. Here are 4 tips that I thought were important:

  1. Be careful with the quality of writing in your query letter, because the agent will take it as an accurate representation of the quality of writing in your novel.
  2. Prologues are a real turnoff, so don’t do one unless you have a very good reason for it.
  3. Readers hate data dumps, so when introducing your characters, go lightly on descriptions. Instead, focus on their thoughts and actions.
  4. Perhaps the most important, if you’re having trouble getting your novel off the ground, write down what the inciting incident is and start over. What is an inciting incident? In ONE SEED it’s Cecily’s betrothal to Richard, Duke of York. In SOMEONE it is Mr. Rossi’s moving to Georgetown to study at Georgetown University. In THE HEIR it is when Count von Lietzow hears that Grace has moved back to Berlin. You get the idea.

To find out more about Writers Digest webinars, click here.

Next: I get a free critique of the first 3 pages of SOMEONE.

–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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Poem: Moonrise

Moonrise moonrise1

Sunset

Day-part

Weekend

Day-clear

Starlight

Day-clean

Sunrise

Leaf-fall

Candle-mass

Mayday

Rainfall

Moonset

Windfall

–Cynthia Haggard writes poetry, novels and short pieces.  During the day, she is a medical writer.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.   (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Music Review: Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 8

515Q8GVYCYL._SL500_AA240_Though it is true that Anne Sophie Mutter can get a loud sound out of her violin, she is also capable of playing with great delicacy.  Witness her performance of some of the passages of the Beethoven Sonata No. 8, Op. 30 No. 3. The opening movement is one of great contrasts and subtlety, and Mutter does not miss any of the nuances.  The slow movement requires some very quiet and restful playing, and Mutter is able to provided the sotto-voce veiled tone that is needed to evoke the mood of poignant contemplation.  The third movement is a rollicking moto perpetuo in Beethoven’s grand style, and here, Mutter plays just as her reputation suggests, with what my violin teacher used to call a “terrific sound”, i.e. a sound that can easily cut through the intricate rhythmic complexities of a concert grand piano.

Deutsche Grammaphon has packaged Mutter’s performance of the 10 Beethoven sonatas on a DVD.  At first this took me aback as I thought I had purchased a CD.  However, I soon found that if I set the DVD player on my iMac to open a small window, I could work on my computer while listening (and occasionally glancing) at the performance.  Note to Mac users:  If you just insert the disc, you will be in Full Screen view.  To get out of it, eject the disc, to get the small window to pop up, then put it back in again.  Alternatively, you can open the DVD player and set it to the small window BEFORE putting the disc in. I do not find the DVD distracting at all, as I can easily hide the window behind other windows I have open, and in the meantime I can enjoy listening to this heavenly music.  This would be a perfect Christmas gift for those discerning classical music friends who have never seen (or heard) Mutter perform.

–Cynthia Haggard once trained to be a professional violinist. During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  During the evening, she writes novels, short pieces and poetry. 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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Who Do You Think You Are?

Orphaned British Pensioner uncovers 1,500-year-old family tree

exclaimed a headline in London’s Telegraph.

Without the benefit of the web, Mr. Roy Blackmore set out to learn about the family he never knew.  He started with just one document – his birth certificate – and went to St Catherine’s House London to find out more about a great-grandfather who was born in 1825. For the past twenty-eight years Mr. 172Blackmore has spent twenty thousand pounds (around forty thousand dollars) to scour archives, cemetery records and census registers to lay a paper trail that traces his roots back 1,500 years. He has traced 9,390 ancestors and is applying to the Guinness Book of Records for the title of the World’s largest documented family tree. He can link himself back 37 generations to William the Conqueror (1027-1087), 45 generations to Alfred the Great (849-899) and 1,500 years to the Cerdick family who lived in England in circa 500 CE.

In England, genealogy has become popular due to programs like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? In this country, genealogy has become popular due to the Internet and the great effort made to put all the US censuses online in recent years.  I myself have done some genealogy.  I was curious about my great-grandfather, called George Washington Davis who was born in Acworth New Hampshire in 1830. I am British by birth, and like many British people I have American roots.  As I now live in the US, I wanted to find out just how American I was!  I was able to trace my American family back to the birth of George Washington’s grandfather Thomas Davis, who was born in 1752 in Amesbury Massachusetts.  But I had the benefit of the Internet and all those online searchable censuses.  And even then, it took me four years of hard work and many brick walls.
Do you have any stories to share about your efforts to find out more about your family?  What techniques have you found most helpful in trying to get good-quality information?  What strategies have you found least helpful? Do you have any interesting stories you would like to share?

To get started on your own research, go to Ancestry.

Image shows an old inn near Cullompton, Devon, where many of Mr. Blackmore’s ancestors lived.

–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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What’s In a Name?

TreesInAusterlitz

How many of you have a name you dislike?  How many of you wished that you’d had the chance to change your name when you were growing up? Many cultures in the world had initiation ceremonies that herald the start of adulthood, and at this time, a new name was bestowed upon the young person.  But we don’t have this custom in countries with European traditions.
Sometimes it is obvious why someone might want to change their name.  How would you feel if your parents called you Zowie Bowie, Dandelion, Dweezil or even Talulah Does A Hula From Hawaii?  Others of us are stuck with names that, on the surface, seem fine.

“I hate my name,” one pharmacist told me.
“What is it?”  I enquired, as I took my prescription from him.
“Jim,” he replied, investing that one syllable with all the loathing he could muster.

In my case, I was called Sally.  I started hate that name when I was about eleven years old.
Why?
I still think Sally is a pretty name for a little girl, but that’s just the trouble: To me that name has little-girl all over it as if it were outlined in cute little blinky-blinky lights.  At the age of eleven, I knew I hated my name, but had no idea what to call myself instead.
So I put up with it.
Several years later, when I married again, I had the opportunity to change my name.  By that time I was going around with my first husband’s family name and my second husband-to-be naturally wanted me to do something about it.  Faced with the opportunity of changing my name, I decided to change ALL of it. But what to call myself?  I agonized over this during one night of insomnia finally deciding that the name had to start with an s sound that mimicked the way my original name of Sally had started.  But of course, it didn’t have to be spelled with an s.  I finally settled on the name Cynthia.FarmInVirginia

Why?
As someone who was turning into an older woman, I really needed a name that conveyed dignity.  The three syllables of Cynthia give it a gravitas that Sally can’t possibly have.

I had no idea what a burden the name Sally had been until I stopped using it.

–Cynthia Haggard (formerly Sally Bogacz) 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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The Storyteller

1141

“I’d run a mile for a bar of nougat,” my grandmother proclaimed.  “In those days I could run like the wind.”
My grandmother was in her eighties when she told me that story.  She was not tall and not slim, her comfortable plumpness belying her words.  Grandma Stephanie became a grandmother late in life at the age of sixty-six.  Perhaps this was not surprising since she’d not become a mother until she was thirty-four, and her only child was a son.
“How I loved to dance,” she declared.
“What is it like to be a ballerina and dance en pointe?” I inquired.
“As light as a feather,” she assured me, beaming.
Even at the age of ten, that statement didn’t seem very probable.  I had never heard anyone else say that grandma was a ballerina.  But then, my grandmother was a great storyteller.  She had a natural gift for it.

I remember a picnic we had once:  She and I, my sister, my father and a friend.  It was a beautiful early summer day and we had come to see the racing at Goodwood in Sussex.  1151I remember lounging on the woolen blanket we had spread out in my cotton summer dress, leather brown sandals and white socks as my grandmother told her stories.  When she was on form, there was no one funnier.  Oh how she made us laugh!  And she was only talking about something that had happened to her the week before.  Her tales were not light and fantastical, but grounded in the realities of being a widow in 1970s Britain:  A person with a small income, who never learned to drive a car, and as a consequence had many interesting encounters at bus-stops.
But my grandmother’s storytelling abilities knew no boundaries.  She would repeat her stories so many times she was no longer sure what was true.  And when I realized that at the age of fifteen, I was scared.  I wanted something to hold onto in my life.  So I try to have it both ways, like controlling a chariot driven by two horses, with one hand on stories and the other on the truth.

Top image: My grandmother in 1975 at the age of eighty.

Bottom image: My grandmother as a young woman.

–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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Poem: House Full of Secrets

In the House Full of Secrets there was:134
A Conspiracy of Silence

A Broken Home

Dark Corners

Mysterious happenings

Things that didn’t make sense.

People
Repressed their Emotions
Lived on the Surface
Lived in the Waters of Forgetfulness
Had Superficial Relationships.

There was:
Disassociation
Pain
Grief135
Anxiety
Silence
Walls
Anger
Rage
Guilt

I
Tried to find out what was going on.
I
Was fobbed off.
No-one said it, but
I
Was “told” my feelings were not important.
I
Experienced:
Slatted Stairs Phobia
Escalator Phobia
Elevator Phobia
Castle Stairs Phobia136
Claustrophobia
Agoraphobia.
I
Acted Out
Became Depressed
Developed a Low Tolerance for Frustration
And
Disappeared.

Where is my place?
Who am I?

–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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