What I Love… and What Frustrates Me… About Pinterest

Pinterest is great for inspiration, curating themed collections and procrastinating by getting distracted with eye candy. 

It is a platform on which the users create collections of images called boards. These are usually themed, although how organised and themed they are is entirely up to each individual user.

I love being able to put together a collection of images on any theme I wish. The evidence of this is the fact that I have a bazillion Pinterest boards for everything from books worth reading, my book reviews and blog posts and social media for Indie authors to costume and set ideas for musical theatre productions and swoonworthy libraries. I’ve collected hundreds of great looking recipes that I might never make, and probably twenty that I have. I can be as nerdy about things as I like- in fact, that is positively encouraged! It really is all very enjoyable. 

Just a few of my bookish and Indie author boards.

Pinterest is a great way to highlight my own content and link it back to my blogs or website. When I write a blog post relevant to Indie authors in one way or another, I can add it to one of my boards on Pinterest where it is easily found and accessed by others. The link back to my blog post is an integral part of the pinned image, so that a click on that image takes a viewer straight to my blog. This link is easily achieved by sharing to Pinterest directly from each WordPress blogpost, or by adding the link manually to a custom image. 

It is a wonderful thing to be inspired by others, whether it’s by “how to do something” posts, images of places you’d like to travel to,  or ideas about how to take better photos of different things. This is something that Pinterest and Instagram have in common because they’re both highly visual in nature. 

I also like the fact that you can have secret boards. This means that you can save collections of things like Christmas or birthday gift ideas or whatever else you want to keep private, and nobody else can see them. 

One very practical, personal use for Pinterest is creating a Wish List. My best friend, my sister and I all have a Wish List board, where we place images of things we’d like to have as birthday or Christmas gifts. It makes shopping for one another so much easier, and enables us to buy the perfect gift every time. They don’t have to be expensive things – one of my friends used that board to find the pattern for a pair of knitted gloves I liked, and presented me with those very gloves in my favourite colour: black! If there is a particular book I want, or a particular bear I want to add to my collection, I can add it to that list and use it as a shopping list for myself, too! 

What frustrates me, though, is that Pinterest is really not all that social.

You used to be able to like someone’s post, but you can’t do that anymore. You can save it to your own collection. You can leave a comment, but not many people do. You can send someone a pin via direct message, assuming they’re on Pinterest too. But none of it feels much like an immediate connection like it does on Facebook or Instagram. I may have 735 followers, but I never actually know if they’re there. 

I suppose that’s because Pinterest is focused more on curating content than on creating connections between people. I understand the different emphasis, but I really don’t think being able to like someone’s image distracted from that. 

The Verdict: Pinterest is a helpful and enjoyable media platform, but not exactly social in nature. It is best used for collecting and sharing content, not connections. 

Having said that, if you’d like to follow me on Pinterest, you are more than welcome to do so. You won’t be able to ‘like’ my posts, but you may find one or three – or thirty – boards that inspire or help you somehow. 

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A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Macbeth’

Macbeth is a play that has always fascinated people, engaging their superstitions as well as their imaginations. For this reason, its often called The Scottish Play by actors and theatre folk, as it’s believed to be unlucky to say ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre.

It’s a cracker of a story. The supernatural ‘weird sisters’ tell Macbeth he’s going to be Thane of Cawdor, and then tell him he is going to be king. In response, Macbeth does everything in his power to make it happen, only to be haunted by his victims and unable to actually enjoy his success when it does. You really do have to wonder how it would have all worked out if he’d responded with, “That’s nice!” and let things happen as they would. 

Of course, you can’t just blame it all on Macbeth. His wife – whom I like to call Lady Macdeath – plays a significant part in engineering him onto the throne, mostly by bullying him into doing things he doesn’t really want to do.

The play has some fabulous macabre moments— the witches are spooky, their prophecies are uncanny, and you can bet your last dollar you don’t want to eat what they’re cooking in that cauldron. Even better is the part where Banquo’s ghost shows up for dinner shaking his “gory locks”: that is my favourite scene in the whole play.

Laced with suspense, intrigue, and dramatic irony, ‘Macbeth’ keeps the audience hooked to the very end, even though we all know by now how it’s going to work out. There’s more magic than just “Double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” in this play. 

Strangely enough, reading the text has brought me some odd comfort this weekend as I contemplate the fate of people who manipulate, lie and use others for their own nefarious purposes. I have taken dark satisfaction in seeing those who chose to do evil get what they deserved in the end. It may not be gracious, but it is quite therapeutic to think that maybe the Fates really do have things under control. Sometimes you need to take your catharsis wherever you can get it. 

That, of course, is the genius of all Shakespeare’s plays. He deals in the emotions we all understand – ambition, greed, love, anger, jealousy, pride, and the experience of being at the receiving end of the bad behaviour of others. The language may have changed slightly, but human nature certainly has not. 

Shakespeare doesn’t have to work hard to make the audience dislike Macbeth and his cold-hearted shrew of a wife: we get it. We have all seen people succeed by means of deceiving and manipulating others, or by stabbing someone else in the back, and we don’t like them, either.

What I Like … and What I Don’t… About Instagram

I really like Instagram. 

It’s easy. A nice picture, a few well-chosen hashtags, and you’re done.  Scrolling through your feed and liking posts is easy too. 

Of course, there are ways you can make things more sophisticated. Adding your post to your story is relatively straightforward. You can add posts to highlights that show up in nicely organised groups on your profile. You can save posts into collections. You can follow favourite hashtags as well as individuals. 

There’s no obligation to do any of those things, so you can really keep it as simple or make it as fancy as you like. 

I really enjoy looking at other people’s creativity in pictures, so I’m right at home on Insta. I’m happy to look at their books, their cats or dogs, their holiday snaps, whatever. I love baby pictures. I enjoy memes. Some people want to post about their books all the time. Some people hardly ever post about their books. Either way, I’m cool with that. I like the fact that we all have freedom to post as we please, and we’re all able to get on and play nicely in the Insta playground. 

I like the simplicity of responding to other people’s posts. Liking is easy. Commenting is easy. 
I do occasionally think it would be nice if there were a choice of reactions like there is on Facebook. Other days, though, I consider it in terms of “a heart is a heart is a heart” and am grateful that there isn’t more value given to one response over another. 

It has been really encouraging and motivating to connect with other people with similar interests through the use of particular hashtags and “follow loops”, which are basically posts where authors or other people with common interests respond and then follow one another. I’ve found so much inspiration, and received so much encouragement and feedback, from other authors and Indie creatives on Instagram. It’s a great way to become part of a very positive and proactive creative community. 

The challenge of developing my own creative identity on Instagram has been beneficial in terms of incorporating my own style and branding so that my Instagram profile is consistently “me”. I want people to be able to look at my profile and understand something of my personality and commitment to what I do. There’s a lot more to that than “buy my book” posts. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but well worth it in terms of consistency and style, and as a means of establishing some credibility.  

And, of course, there are things that frustrate me.
These fall into two groups: less pleasant aspects of the app itself, and my own personal peeves. 

First up: the less “user friendly” elements.  

  • Using the wrong hashtags – or more correctly, hashtags that have been abused by others, can cause your posts using those tags to be shadow banned. That’s a nerdy way of saying fewer people will see them. Don’t panic, though – there are ways to find out which tags are  thus afflicted, and so avoid using them. 
  • Scammers that look like legitimate shopfronts frequent Instagram. They’re as capable of using a pretty picture as anyone else, it seems. It pays to check out any business or site before clicking through from an Insta ad – and that’s the voice of experience talking. I got caught out once, and learned my lesson very promptly. 
  • The challenge of gaining visibility for posts. It seems that no matter how many followers I have, there’s a natural cap on how many “likes” or views my posts seem to get.  Just like Facebook – which owns Instagram – there’s an algorithm running that appears to how many of my followers see my posts. The more likes a post gets, the more visible it is to more people.  Of course, they’re quite happy to encourage me to boost my posts and pay for them to show my posts to more people. Forgive my cynicism about that, won’t you?


Secondly, my “pet peeves”:

  • Bookshelves arranged into rainbows.  I just don’t understand. I get that it’s pretty, and I like rainbows as much as anyone… but it really gives the book nerd in me enormous anxiety. Wouldn’t that mean a series of books is separated on the shelves? And how does one find anything if different genres and categories are all mixed up on the basis of the colour of their covers?  This is clearly a hard no from me. 
  • People who appear to be commenting in response to something I post, but they’re really spamming me with their own content. Ugh. That’s just rude.
  • People who follow in the hope that you’ll follow them back, and then unfollow you. Especially those who don’t just do it once. There are a couple of accounts with a really distinctive  and instantly recognisable handle that keeps on following me, then unfollowing and following again a couple of weeks later. Frankly, I wonder why they bother, but it is amusing. Do they think people aren’t going to notice that? 

The verdict: Instagram is generally a very positive and enjoyable place for me. The things I don’t like are opportunities for me to practise being a grown up and just keep scrolling past them.
It’s an Insta-heart from me. 

Why I Love Shakespeare

I’m currently reading a great book titled ‘Blood and Ink’ by DK Marley. It is a really well written historical fiction novel that explores, in part, one of the theories about the identity of the man we know of as William Shakespeare.

Rumours and theories that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else have abounded for a long time. Various people have been proposed as the actual author. 

That’s all very interesting, of course, but the fact is, I really don’t care whether his name was actually Filchin McFarkle. 

My love for Shakespeare isn’t about the person: it’s about the language, the writing, and the craftsmanship that combine to be the genius of the writer. What his name was doesn’t matter one bit. 

The power of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry is that they take something ordinary and transform it into something extraordinary.

Themes of love, passion, ambition, revenge, hatred, despair, desire, and family dysfunction make his work interesting and relatable to just about everyone. And while there are at least a dozen ways to write any story, the way Shakespeare tells each story is absolute magic. 

Shakespeare used rhythm and poetic devices like imagery, allegory and highly emotive language to heighten the feelings and drama of the situations his characters find themselves in. He enmeshes them in a complex web of conflicting emotions and ambitions and then exposes their innermost  thoughts in the most profound ways. He really is the master of intrigue and dramatic irony, able to hold the audience spellbound, even though they probably already know what’s going to happen and what the various characters are thinking.

To be honest, some of the storylines are pretty rubbish. There are very convenient coincidences, leaps of logic, and plot holes galore, particularly in the comedies. The history plays are at times more fiction than history. Despite all that, Shakespeare dramatises the stories and scenes in such a compelling way, and so deeply engages the audience in the dilemmas and conflicts experienced by the characters, that any issue of credibility actually doesn’t matter.  

I will still pick up a play and read it, or watch a performance, or read the sonnets and be as entranced as ever. Even when interpretations change, the magic with which the words are crafted and woven never gets old. 

My Least Favourite Shakespeare Play

The reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the title of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is blatantly obvious. 

The irony is that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably my least favourite play from among Shakespeare’s works. As I often explain to my students who think it’s romantic and all about love, it’s really not. It’s a tragedy that demonstrates what happens when people do stupid things on impulse and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions.

They’re teenagers. They met on Sunday, and by Thursday, they’re dead.

And, as Shakespeare points out in the epilogue, they end up that way because their families both prioritise their stupid feud over the happiness and the future of their children.  How much more like a badly plotted teenage soap opera could it be?

It’s more of an anti-Romance, if you ask me. They’re not in love, they’re infatuated. Romeo really is quite an idiot, and as for fickle… how quickly did he forget his passion for Rosaline the moment he met Juliet? If you ask me, Rosaline dodged a bullet – or a dagger, or a vial of poison, there. 

To be fair, the fault isn’t Shakespeare’s. He based his play on an old story that was very popular back in the day, which was a brilliant marketing move. The other factor that made his play such a hit was the beauty of the language with which it is written. There’s nothing at all wrong with the writing: it’s magnificent. Nothing can convince me otherwise.  If anyone could give a story about two silly teenagers from equally silly families another 600 years plus in terms of longevity, he was the man for the job.

So, is it odd that I’ve used ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the starting points of my story? Not really, because I wanted my story to be something of an anti-Romance, too. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ draws on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’ as starting points, then twists and tangles them together to create a mashup of the two stories with a very different ending. Romeo is still an idiot, it still ends in tragedy… but it’s a completely new story. It’s medieval fantasy, laced with faint traces of my subversive sense of humour. 

I like to think of it as the story that Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm never told. 
But I bet if they’d thought of it, they would have. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name is available for preorder.

Cover Reveal: A Rose By Any Other Name

I mentioned in a post last week that I was anticipating the release of a new book, about which I am very excited.

The book is a medieval fantasy story called ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ which draws on both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Rapunzel’ as the starting points for this story before taking those narratives in a very different direction. 

And so, without any further delay, let me reveal the beautiful cover, created for me by Renee Gauthier of RM Designs in Toronto, Canada. 

The back cover is gorgeous, too.

It’s fair to say I am thrilled by the beauty of this cover art, and incredibly thankful to Renee for her fabulous work. 

This story grew out of the inspiration from my author posse, the Indie Fabs. When one of them suggested that we write a fairy tale retelling anthology as a group, I was very nervous at first. I had never written anything like that. I didn’t know where to start, or how I might ever achieve that goal. I honestly thought I was going to let them down. 
Then one of them said, “Write what you know.”  Well, I knew all the old fairy tales that I had grown up with. And I knew and loved Shakespeare. 
And in that moment, this story concept was born. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ took its place in that anthology, titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’ and published in 2017. It truly is an anthology unlike any other – far more than just a collection of our reinvented and often significantly transformed fairy tale stories, those stories were linked with one another by another separate, magical story that wove them all into one continuous narrative. Because it is such a very special book, it is still available in paperback, but no longer as an ebook. As a result, my story is back in my hands and free to be released as an individual title.

It is available for preorder, and will be released at 12.01am EST on June 14. 

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter or Facebook so that you are able to reserve your copy. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Seven Little Australians’ by Ethel Turner

My copy of ‘Seven Little Australians’ is rather tattered and the worse for wear, a result of having been read many, many times.

This is an Australian classic that tells he story of the Woolcot family, and is set near Sydney in the late 19th century. The father was a gruff army captain, and his young wife was a sweet and kind stepmother to the children, most of whom were spirited and often mischievous.

The story is a lot of fun, but it also has some tragic moments. I remember reading the book for the first time when I was perhaps nine or ten. When my favourite character met a most untimely end, I put the book down and refused to read on. I couldn’t believe that an author would do such a thing! 

It was only when I talked about it with my great Aunt Judy, who had given me the book, that I resumed reading. She sympathised with me, of course, but told me I really needed to finish the book to understand that the author had a message and a purpose in making that happen.

If Auntie Judy had told me to read it standing on my head, I probably would have done. I adored her. As the sister of my grandmother, whom I had never bet because she died before I was born, Judy was much older than me, but we had always had a close bond. We were great friends and she would always call me “her little girl”. We enjoyed each other’s company enormously, and we both loved books,  She and her sister, my Auntie Enid, used to visit us regularly, and in school holidays or weekends, Mum and Dad would take us to visit them. Auntie Enid always brought me a pretty handkerchief as a gift, and Auntie Judy always gave me a book. On her next visit, we’d talk about the book and what we liked about it.   

The funny thing was, until the day I told her I couldn’t finish reading this book, I didn’t know that she had been similarly affected for a while. I also discovered that her name wasn’t really Judy. Her given name was Anne, and my mother had been named for her, but she chose to start calling herself Judy because the character of that name had been her favourite in this book, and she had also adopted that name for herself— her real name was Helen. 

So, this delightful book holds a lot of personally powerful memories and associations for me. Entirely apart from those, it’s a really good story that anyone who enjoyed Anne of Green Gables or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would appreciate. It has a similar sense of fun and evokes an indulgent love for a naughty kid that is hard to resist. It also has a similarly sentimental tone about it, without being soppy at all. 

While my Auntie Judy is long gone, along with the rest of that generation of my family. I am very pleased that I still have this book and my memories. I also have my mother’s copy of two others in the series, given to her by her parents as gifts for her birthday and Christmas in 1944. I love looking at her handwriting inside the front cover, and feeling connected once again by our love of the same stories. 

I should also confess that I have laughed at myself heartily while writing about the memories of my outrage at an author killing off a character because, now that I’m an author, I knock people off all the time. My readers don’t tend to be children, though, and in all fairness, the people who die in my horror stories generally deserve what’s coming to them. 
Given that Auntie Judy also gave me a copy of  both Frankenstein and Dracula, and loved those stories, I am fairly sure she’d have enjoyed mine, too. My mother? Not so much. 

Oh well. You can’t please everyone. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier

My copy of ‘Jamaica Inn’ was given to me by my sister-in-law for my 16th birthday. I don’t know if she remembers giving it to me, but I certainly do. I hadn’t read any of du Maurier’s books before, and I read it in a day. Given the tendency of many other favourite books to migrate from my shelves to those of other people, it is something of a miracle that the very same copy is still on my bookshelf.  

Jamaica Inn is set in and around a Cornwall coaching inn in the early 1800s. It is a a dramatic and exciting story, full of mystery, intrigue, skullduggery and danger. 

Having come to live at Jamaica Inn with her relatives, Mary Yellan, the heroine of the story, learns the hard way that she can’t trust anyone she thought she should be able to, and that life on the moors can be as bleak and coldhearted as the weather.

It is reminiscent of Bronte’s Withering Heights in both the setting, even though the location is vastly different, and the characters who populate it, giving the book a strong sense of the kind of Gothic literature that was written a century earlier. It’s sinister and rather creepy, laced with vivid detail and evocative writing that brings the characters and  especially the settings to life. 

While it is classified as Romantic Literature, this book should not be mistaken for a romance – the two are very different things. In fact, it’s more of an anti-romance, showing men to be ignorant and selfish, some violent and others just rather stupid. It’s not about female vanity, but rather about the vulnerability of women living at a time when they were entirely dependent on their men to provide for and protect them. The contrasts between integrity and deceit, and between love and selfishness, are powerful, adding depth and drama to the compelling storyline. 

The thing I love most, though, is the writing: du Maurier’s craftsmanship is magnificent. That in itself makes her books well worth reading. 

P.S. I am excited that I actually got to use the word ‘skullduggery’ in a post, as it’s one of the most delightful words, yet one so rarely gets a chance to use it well.
I really am a word nerd.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

There are lots of vampire stories being written and read today, but ‘Dracula’ is where they all started. It’s classic Gothic horror in a story told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings in addition to the narrative, so it has multiple narrators. None of them have all the information and some are not even first-hand witnesses, so it’s a bit like piecing together a puzzle as you read. It builds up a lot of intrigue and suspense as the story becomes darker and deadlier. 

‘Dracula’ has inspired many films, TV shows, books, comics, cartoons and plays over the years. Other writers and filmmakers have created their own vampire stories, and some of them are really good. Even so, Bram Stoker’s sheer originality, powerful writing and ingenious storytelling style make the original classic really hard to beat. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte

When this book was published, Victorian audiences didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t the light, fluffy romance and romp that they were accustomed to. Instead, it was dark, violent, and stormy, and there was no happy ending for most of the characters. 

‘Wuthering Heights’ is about love, but it’s not romantic. It’s about dysfunction, selfishness, misunderstanding, bullying and manipulation. Much like Heathcliff and the Yorkshire moors on which the novel is set, it’s a bit dismal and morose most of the time, but it has power and substance that are fascinating and somewhat spellbinding. 

I love the power of the writing and the tempest that inhabits the characters and their relationships. I am fascinated by the cleverness of the intrigue and mystery woven into the narrative. I enjoy the fact that the narrators, Nellie Dean and Mr Lockwood, tell the story as though they are objective onlookers, but when you delve into the story, you can see that neither of them is innocent or objective as the story develops. All the characters are flawed and selfish and broken in one way or another, and I remain unconvinced that we’re meant to actually like any of them. It really is a fascinating study of human psychology as much as it is a compelling work of fiction. 

Even so, the story works because it is expertly written. The storytelling and the imagery are profound and beautifully constructed. The story appeals to our human nature, and to those voyeuristic tendencies that make people watch on with interest as things go wrong, take satisfaction in the misery of others, and slow down to get a better look at car accidents or natural disasters.  

I have read ‘Withering Heights’ more times than I can remember, and I know I will read it again. It may have been published in 1847, but it’s a story that, for me at least, will never get old.