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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Autumn Leaves

64. autumn leaves

They keep falling.

Some still green, clinging.

Some drab and shrivelled, already dead, not merely dying.

Some, painted red, yellow, tan or oxblood,

Are spiralling and flying.

They keep travelling.

Some chase each other as they fall, dancing

In winds that take them far from their beginnings,

A last journey of delight and new-born wonder,

With wishes granted for those catching.

They keep drifting

Some dry and edge-curled are high-piling

Into mounds of brown with crimson or ochre peeping

When feet, finding the ground obscured

Simply plough through, crunching.

They keep rustling.

Sounds of life and summer faintly crying

Until rain spreads spores of decaying

And the sodden mass merges with mud

Or drains, sighing.

They keep wandering.

When all have fallen, a few, staying

True to some heroic myth of surviving,

Maintain lace skeletons to delight

Anyone finding.

Above all, and beneath all lying,

They keep dying.

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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in poetry

 

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A boring thriller

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The second book I read whilst away and felt impelled to discuss on my return was Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D.James.

Great, I thought – a murder story written by a revered exponent of the genre and based on an Austen classic that is one of my favourites. Fan Fiction, of course, except that because it’s ‘official’ and she gets paid for it we don’t call it that. Dear me, no!!

The story was quite interesting – enough to keep me reading to the ending and solution. But the writing was another matter. The English, unlike that of the last author I reviewed, was impeccable, and the editors had even managed to exclude any typos. But the general presentation of the story left a lot to be desired. The prose was ponderous – heavy and repetitive. I’m not sure whether James was trying to sound nineteenth century, but Austen’s work, whilst written in a style that would be considered almost odd, and perhaps flowery today, is always witty and sparkling, littered with humorous asides and references to social matters. This never sparkled for a moment. The other aspect that I disliked was a propensity for the characters to expound to each other on matters that they should not have needed to mention. It was as if James had taken in the idea of ‘show, don’t tell’ in a very half-hearted manner and had simply moved over-long exposition from narrative to dialogue. It was irritating and disappointing.

I loved the Adam Dalgleish mysteries as shown on TV but when I tried the books I found them less than satisfactory – very long-drawn-out, with occasional plot holes and less than sympathetic characters. But it’s ages since I read them so I can’t remember whether they shared the faults of this volume.

Perhaps it didn’t help that I had just read a fanfic based around the same Austen novel. It was a fusion story, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with fanfic is a story where characters from a fandom replace the characters in a film or novel. We get to explore the way different people might have dealt with the plot, how far plot affects character and behaviour, etc. This particular story followed the events of Pride and Prejudice quite closely but tweaked some of the minor outcomes in accordance with the characters they had chosen to use e.g. Collins was much more sympathetic). I won’t give details of the fic here because whilst Pride and Prejudice is clearly out of copyright, the other fandom isn’t and I would hate the authors (it was a team of two) to suffer any harassment even though I firmly believe the work is transformative and therefore perfectly legal. It was beautifully written, in bright prose that carried the reader along just as Austen does, and there was all the social commentary, humour and romance we could have hoped for. The alterations to the plot were intriguing in themselves, and the only flaw I could find in the entire thing was the authors’ knowledge of English geography, which was quite evidently non-existent.

The main thing is, I have preserved my copy of the fanfic and will look forward to re-reading it, just as I re-read Austen. The fact that it was free is neither here nor there – I would happily have paid for it. My copy of the James book was paid for, and I will never look at it again. It’s a Kindle version so I can’t even give it to a charity shop.

The experience blurred the lines drawn around fanfic even more than I had previously imagined.

Two queries occur to me. Am I, as a writer, too prone to read with a mental red pen in my hand and if so what do I do about it? And how do authors gain the respect of what seems like the entire publishing world when their writing really leaves a lot to be desired? Apart from both being writers in the general crime genre, James and Coben (see my last post) have very little in common, and their flaws are dissimilar. But they do make me wonder about publishers – and about readers.

I wouldn’t recommend the book I discuss here but I would welcome further ideas on the issues I’ve raised.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in reviews, writing

 

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What do we expect from editors?

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First of all, sorry for the hiatus! I was seriously stuck whilst in Portugal – as well as internet limited by how much I could afford to load on my dongle, I had laptop problems. My laptop had a hissy fit at the heat (38-45C) and the dust/ash caused by the forest fires (and yes, we were in the middle of the affected area). I’m now back in UK and just recovering from the trauma of buying a new laptop – more about that in another post.

Because I was internet deprived and laptop deprived I couldn’t write so I did a lot of reading, and quite a bit of pondering on what I’d read. I want to share a couple of in depth reviews/commentaries with you because they raise issues that affect the craft of the writer.

The first writer I want to discuss is Harlan Coben. I have only read one book – The Woods – so bear with me if it is out of line with the rest of his work.

Now, the book I read deserves much of the praise Coben garners. It has an intriguing plot, an excellent introduction to the mystery, great characters (even the minor ones), well-written dialogue, fascinating insights into states of mind including those of criminals, prosecutors and parents. And I was truly hooked on the story. I can see why he wins awards and I will definitely be looking for more of his work.

But – and this is where the discussion point comes in – who edited it and where did they learn about grammar (or not)?? And who lets Coben get away with murdering his native/adopted tongue?

From the beginning the book is simply packed with tense shifts, sometimes within the same sentence, lack of agreement between subject and verb, jarring continuity errors… I hate it when tenses are misused and it says something for the story content that I carried on reading anyway and just felt forced to share my feelings with others.

Am I really a dinosaur for preferring English to be correctly written? Do the editors at Orion simply not care because they know they will make money anyway? Do readers in general really not notice faults like this? Any writer can make occasional mistakes, some of them typos and some of them out of ignorance. But this is constant! Coben probably doesn’t realise what he’s doing but surely an editor’s job is to work to polish material? Isn’t that one of the arguments for buying ‘published’ writers in the sense of those published by the big/known publishing houses? Whilst I’ve come across a few self-published books that share some of Coben’s problems this is actually the worst example of badly edited language I’ve come across outside school English essays.

Note that I’m by no means giving the writer a bad review. I can recommend the book in spite of its flaws. Your thoughts would be welcome!

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in publishing, writing

 

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