Writing

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Prologues

Have you ever wondered what a prologue is? or whether to use it in the book you’re writing?
Below are a few thoughts by others on the topic, including a definition.

Prologues: what are they and how did they originate?

Some more on prologues.

A very useful post.

Why not to have a prologue.

I’ve noticed in recent years that the word Prologue is being substituted with Foreword (common in academic/non-fiction writing but becoming more popular in fiction) and Introduction. I suppose essentially ‘pre-story’ is the best substitute for the prologue whereas foreword and introduction generally provide other information the author thinks the reader should know, such as the reason for compiling a collection of short stories. As a reader, it depends on what I’m reading the book for as to whether I read the pre-story sections, as a minimum they all get a skim through. And for some of the information which is often included in the pre-writing section, it could work just as well at the end as an after-word. Here I’m thinking in particular of historical novels where the author sets out what they changed/adapted from the historical account – very useful for those of us who like to check historical accuracy…

TSL books which stand out as having a prologue/pre-story (other than historical books) include:
Alexander Crombie’s So Long Henry Bear.
Jitendra Kumar Mishra’s play The Cobbles of Kanke
James Martin Charlton’s historical fiction script Divine Vision
Ezra William’s short story collection Selected Pieces and Sue Hampton‘s various short story collections.

first published 25 September 2017, updated 2024

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Rhotacism – mispronunciation of ‘r’

I was intrigued to discover that there is a condition called rhotacism – I assumed, having come across so many communities in East Africa where ‘r’ is pronounced as ‘l’ that it was more of a cultural issue than a speech challenge.

A quick search led me to this posting which clearly refutes my cultural take and gives an idea of how widespread (look at the list of related posts) the disorder/challenge is.

It’s not too much of an issue for people (silent) reading but it would be a challenge for someone trying to read their work at a writers’ group or other such gathering. I called a place by the wrong name for years as my first introduction to it had been by a group of people all suffering from rhotacism, or at least one person having suffered from it and teaching the others how to pronounce the word. This is particularly relevant to areas where education is not as developed or available as it is in the UK, the US and most of EUrope.

The outcome of this: I’ve learnt a new word and it’s good to know there are ways to overcome the affliction. Now to find a fiction book which mentions the word (search on Google books and you’ll be amazed at the number of books featuring rhotacism).

While I can’t think of any TSL author using rhotacisms, as it’s a common feature in Africa I thought I’d share some TSL Africa related books.

first published 4 February 2018, updated 2024

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The author’s journey

If you’re wondering about the writing process and how it works, here are a few posts by different authors.

David Vann on becoming a writer and how he does it.

Adam Rabinowitz explains his writing process.

In Heaven’s Rage, Leslie Tate explores the aspects of writing and the creative process. He shares more along with Sue Hampton and Cy Henty in The Dream Speaks Back.

George Saunders on what writers really do when they write.

Finally, while not on writing, I found reading 13 Ways of looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley very helpful in understanding the book and its relationship with the author, reader and publisher. Here, another reader on a writer’s journey shares her thoughts on the same book.

first published 7 August 2017, updated 2024

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Horripilation

A few books in the TSL collection give me horripilations:
The Good Vicar by RJ Whitfield, and especially
the Lucifer’s Child trilogy by Gideon Masters
And I really didn’t expect to find the word on a medical page!

If you’ve resisted following the links until now, horripilation is what goosebumps are called.

Amna Agib in The roots that gave birth to magical blossoms could have used horripilations when reference is made to the pleasant sensations felt in some of the stories. However, I don’t think the word would have flowed off the tongue or the stories carried the same weight had horripilation been used in place of her descriptions.

And it turns out the word is used in music too – a music genre.

One lives and learns.

first published 4 March 2018, updated 2024

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Drafts – how tedious

Every author I speak to complains about rewrites and working through drafts. My author self does too, although to be honest, it can sometimes be quite a cathartic process – but that might be more so for non-fiction writing than fiction.

Regardless, the necessity of reworking the first draft is imperative. I can only shake my head in disbelief when an author says to me, ‘But I’ve already been through the manuscript 19 times.’ Only 19? The little forest (printed double sided of course) next to your shredder should speak for itself.

Until you get that first draft written though, you can’t do anything else with it. And, no matter how much it evolves or not, it will always contain that initial germ of an idea which developed and grew into the final product.

first published 25 August 2017, updated 2024

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Book settings: London

One of TSL’s straplines is #SupportingLocal. For TSL, local is wherever we want it to be as we have links in Africa as well as the UK and the US and into Europe and Australia…

However, many of our authors are local to our registered address in Hertfordshire, UK. Our physical location means we cross into at least three boroughs or counties as well as being part of Greater London. This is a blessing and a challenge as one tries to convince local bookshops and libraries that authors in the neighbouring town or county are actually local as they are closer to the shop/library than others in the named locality. Keeping track of which book would appeal to which area becomes quite a challenge as so many local locations may be mentioned in one book. What this has done, however, is made me realise how many authors use their localities for placing their novels (obviously autobiographical accounts are different).

A recent study on which parts of London featured in literature was quite revealing. TSL novels widen this map to West London, Hertfordshire and Berkshire.

Questions this raises are,
– Does a book with a specific location determine the wider success of a novel or not?
– How does a local-oriented book break through territorial boundaries?

London is clearly a well-known and loved city by many, so setting a book in the capital tends to make sense if a city backdrop is needed. A number of children’s classics use London for a setting or part thereof. Was this a way of preparing young people in the UK and wider empire for the day they would potentially visit? Was it a way of extending the capital to the outlying areas thereby giving citizens and others a feeling of being connected? Many visitors to London have said they feel they ‘know’ it (navigating the tube is a different story) – because of the books they’ve read?

The following TSL books are either set in London or feature the city significantly.

first published 12 August 2017, updated 2024

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The joy of language

Language is a funny thing – it’s fluid, it appears to be constant but the use and meanings of words change.
When we arrived in the UK from South Africa, we quickly learnt to say ‘trousers’ and not ‘pants’. The meaning were quite different in the two countries. What I understand by the word ‘now’ is not what a British person understands and to confuse them (British) even more, say ‘just now’ or even ‘now now’. Then in South African English we have ‘ja-nee’ (adopted from the Afrikaans meaning ‘yes-no’ – what??? I hear you exclaim).

So often I come across the same word used by authors in the same sentence let alone the same paragraph. When I was doing my thesis, I was reliably informed by one of my supervisors not to use the identical word in one complete sentence unless you absolutely had to. It made sense in terms of reducing confusion but more significantly enriched my writing (if only I could do the same when I speak).

To be honest, I hate the writing process – I only do it because it disseminates the wonderful stories that I discover as an historian. But the one thing I do enjoy about the art of putting words on paper is the challenge of finding synonyms – words or phrases. So I was particularly excited when I came across this article on lost words. And reassuringly, I’m not the only one who likes words, so does Ayòbámi Adébáyò.

And, rightly or wrongly, I’m all for recouping those lost words and reinstating meanings of a by-gone era. Too many words have been high-jacked for political purposes which in a global world such as the one we operate in, is most restrictive. Not least because it removes variety and the element of learning. I recall once being asked to reprimand a student for plagiarism – the evidence? They had used the word fracas. Such a ‘big’ word used by a student from India in the UK automatically meant they’d cribbed from somwhere. The student was not reprimanded but the staff member was given a lesson in cultural nuances. So long as we keep insisting that authors write to meet ‘our’ language requirements publishers are not going to break down cultural barriers and truely embrace diversity.

(I can’t help but chuckle that the ‘readability’ sampler on this blog says ‘needs improvement’: no sub-headings, one-third of the sentences are too long and shock-horror! I’ve written in the passive voice).

Why not try some books written in a non-traditional English style? For starters, here at TSL we have:
Shaka are Dead
The Roots that gave birth to Magical Blossoms
Kenya Days, Moonlit Nights
Then there’s:
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Haskek

first published 4 January 2018, updated 2024

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Dangling Participles

A reviewer once contacted me to tell me that his review would be slightly delayed as he had spotted a dangling participle and a significant other in his life just would not let him live it down if the dangling participle snuck out into the wider world.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of a dangling participle before – not even in English lessons at school. So I looked them up and it all made perfect sense. It was a logic association issue which now had a label (a useful label on this occasion).

So if you don’t know what a dangling participle is, take a look here – you might just discover you recognised it but didn’t know its name. And they (dangling participles) should never appear in your writing – they only confuse the reader.

Hopefully all dangling participles have been removed from TSL books. Why not put us to the test: many TSL books are also available as ebooks

first published 18 May 2017, updated 2024

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Book publishing and marketing – reality checks

Getting sales of a book is really challenging – ask just about any author or publisher. Marketing a book though is easy, you press a few buttons and social media does the rest. However, returning to my opening sentence, marketing does not equate to sales. In our experience, the best route to sales is word of mouth – invariably through the author. I see my role, as pubilsher, to break through into new avenues for the author which is where the real challenge lies.
Social media marketing is hit and miss, there are so many journals, magazines, online newspapers, blogs, podcasts etc all trying to do the same thing that being heard becomes a challenge. But we persevere for the chance of that one hit.
So, it’s refreshing to read that others, more experienced in the field say very much the same thing. Here are some links I’ve found interesting, insightful and reassuring – and all continuing to search for the holy grail of the marketing-sales breakthrough…

Publishing Confidential: What works and what doesn’t (August 2023)

Richard Charkin: Pros and cons of big and small publishers (August 2023)

Berrett-Koehler Publishers: 10 Awful truths about publishing (March 2023)

Talon Homer: How many books are there in the world? (October 2022)

Navkiran Dhaliwal: Interesting Book Publishing Statistics You Should Know (August 2023) and in another format:
John M Jennings: How many new books are published each year and other interesting bits (January 2019)

So, the bottom line is – selling a book outside of your circle is challenging, but not impossible. Think carefully about why you want to publish your writing – it’s definitely not going to earn you or your publisher (generally speaking) a fortune.

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The value of writing groups

Authors are all different in the way they work, some like to work indpendently whilst others need/like the encouragement and motivaton provided from other authors. As a result, there are numerous groups supporting authors – the challenge is finding the right one for your style, location and what you need the group for. Some TSL authors are involved in supporting authors as listed below.

Jennie Willett runs a writing group in Northwood, Middlesex, UK at St John’s URC church for people wanting to build their confidence as writers. For more information, contact Laura at stjohnsnorthwood@btconnect.com or 07783-410136

Kat Francois provides a range of workshops for poetry, spoken word, Poetry Slams, performance skills, drama – see https://www.katfrancois.com/schoolspoetry for more details

Michael Lansdown offers classes in Mill End, Rickmansworth – see https://www.creativehertfordshire.com/mike-lansdown/ for details.

Larger, more diverse groups include Watford Writers, Pinner Writers

For those interested in theatre, scriptwriting etc, there’s Player Playwrights in West London.