Writing

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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.

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Handwriting

23 January is #nationalhandwritingday

I am really grateful to my school history teacher (we had the same amazing woman for 5 years) who taught us to write an A4 page in 10 minutes. She knew that if we couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t pass our history exams. That was in the pre-computer era.Then when I became a teacher, in the computer-era, I had a real struggle to teach my students the same skill. By then it was more imperative (can that be possible?) for handwriting training so students had the stamina to get through an exam writing by hand when everything else was done on computer.

There are pros and cons to both handwriting and typing, but overall I think the skill of handwriting is far more valuable than that of typing. Fine motor skills which can’t be developed on a machine. For many of us, our initial thoughts take place on paper – words or doodles, there’s invariably a piece of paper to write on irrespective of where you are whilst a computer or android, mac or other tablet is not.

As a writer, I use both handwriting and typing – depending on what I’m doing, where I am and what my deadlines are. Interestingly, my writing approaches and styles differ between the two and I noticed when experimenting with voice-activated typing systems that my style was completely alien to what it was when I wrote. It must be that different parts of our brain are stimulated by each respective recording method.

This seems to be supported by others.
The Guardian reports
Freakanomics found mixed results – I think more quickly writing than typing (less distraction)
BBC claims the writing is on the wall – so true. If I haven’t written for a while, my handwriting is ill-formed and doesn’t flow as smoothly
How does it all differ to caligraphy? Chinese calligraphy is a prize-art form.

Importantly, children with dyslexia and dyspraxia should be encouraged to write – not for writing’s sake but because of the other benefits. Some helpful advice can be found on how to manage the challenges these children face. And there’s a National Handwriting Association.

Convinced that handwriting is important and need to improve yours? Here are some handy tips.

And for those needing some inspiration for story lines, perhaps the Hidden Code of handwriting might help.

How do you create your masterpieces? Please share but don’t forget to let us know what type of masterpiece you create. That is just as important in determining the most appropriate creative process.

“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”
― Walter Benjamin

Thanks Pablo for the image

Have you seen?

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Authenticity in writing

Authenticity in writing (#writing #review)

I’ve come to the conclusion I’m a fussy reader. As an historian, my reading material although narrowly focused on World War One in Africa varies between traditional academic texts to self-published ancestral memoirs, biographies and autobiographies as well as official reports and letters. This means I read widely in terms of style, accepting the document for what it is – a vessel to impart fact or interpretation that I can use to understand a particular event or circumstance.

As a publisher, however, I read a wide variety of texts and genres, many taking me out of my comfort zone. Similarly, belonging to a local reading group, I get to share thoughts on texts with others more comfortable with the fictional world. From this it’s become apparent that I much prefer what I call an authentic read – something original. I seldom read the blurb of a fictional book as that invariably puts me off reading the book. And another quirk is that I am trying to read my newly bought books in order with to be reads scattered throughout, so I seldom know what is coming along other than the title which peers up at me from the pile.

This random approach to my reading meant that I read two novels concerning the Great War in Africa one after the other with no preconception of that being the case. The one was brought to my attention soon after its publication – Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah and the other Weep Not, Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Both are by African authors and both by all accounts written while the authors were in England. However, despite the reviews which I have since caught a glimpse of claiming Afterlives being ‘entrancing storytelling and exquisite emotional precision’ (Evening Standard) and a ‘shatteringly powerful novel’ (The Notorious Reader), I found it a poor comparison in terms of tone and reader-captivity to Weep Not, Child – finding a review of the book might be a challenge as this first novel by Ngugi has been analysed by students with summary plots and interpretations available instead. Weep Not, Child was written in 1962, published in 1964, whilst Afterlives was published in 2020 – different political contexts and authors writing for different reasons and audiences.

What I love in Ngugi’s writing and which he hasn’t lost over the years is his African voice. He hasn’t tailored his writing to an audience that struggles with African imagery: A young boy walking along the road sees ‘devil’s water’, otherwise known as hallucinations; the First and Second World Wars are referred to as the Big Wars, first and second. ‘The road which ran along the land had no beginning and no end …’ are just a few. Sadly, his description of what happens in the classroom in terms of teaching English has little changed from what I saw regularly over a nine-year period first-hand in Tanzania 60 years later.

Abdulrazak’s writing is crafted, tailored to an audience removed from his home country (Tanzania) and continent and for me it’s lost this vibrancy. I was struggling to work out what the book was missing, why it hadn’t grabbed me until I was reading Ngugi and it hit me full-force. With Ngugi, I could smell his Africa (Kenya), sadly not with Abdulrazak. I had a similar experience reading Half a Yellow Sun by Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another well-crafted text but something was missing.

And this is one of the aspects I love about being a small publisher – keeping the author’s authentic voice, writing for the minority who want to experience the world the author is trying to create, not the one the marketing gurus suggest people want to hear about. One of my favourite images is by Sudanese TSL author Amna Agib: ‘I always smell the sound of your drums’ (The Roots that gave birth to Magical Blossoms). And there are so many more, by authors from all walks of life and continents in the TSL catalogue.

While Afterlives did not transport me back to another time and place in the same way Weep Not, Child did, I take comfort in the fact that Abdulrazak’s topic and it’s positive reception by the critics raises the profile of those who were caught up in the Great War in Africa – and in particular from the German colonial experience.