Is The Novel Dead?

The title of this blogpost caught my attention this morning.

“What?” I thought. “How could anyone think that?”

For me, the novel is most certainly not dead. There is still nothing as wonderful as escaping into a book and finding myself immersed in its setting, caught up in its action and carried away by the story.

Short stories and novellas are fabulous when life is busy, because I can achieve those escapes in the time I have available. But when time to read is more plentiful, a good novel is a marvellous thing.

The novel will never be dead as long as there are great books to read. I’m fairly confident that, given the quality of the new books I have been reading, it’s not likely to be happening in the foreseeable future.

And on that note, I take exception to the original writer’s suggestion that self-published books are rubbish, and therefore partly to blame for the demise of the popularity of reading. Blame the obsession with screens of whatever size, and with the Internet and social media, and I’ll gladly concur, but leave Indie authors out of it. As I’ve said plenty of times before, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant self-published books, and I’ve read – or attempted to read – some tragically bad traditionally published ones. Let each book stand or fall on its own merits, I say.

I feel sorrow for any reader who is so disillusioned by their reading that they believe the novel is a thing of the past. More than likely, they have simply been reading the wrong books.

If you’re interested in great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel.

Richie Billing

A couple weeks ago, an article by writer Damien Walter grabbed my wandering attention. The title: I STOPPED READING NOVELS LAST YEAR. I THINK YOU DID TOO.

I was curious. So I had a read and discovered that Walter is a professional book reviewer, even had a regular sci-fi column for The Guardian. He’s experienced and well-respected and fed up of the novel.

Why?

For Water, the novel lost its magic. It no longer has the same magical feel as it did when he was a kid, “spending afternoons at the local library, selecting books as though I was selecting magical portals to step through. Then I would rush home and lose myself in the magic for hours, days at a time.”

Walter recognises the influences modern-day phenomenons have had on us. Here are some of my favourite quotes from his piece. I’d recommend reading in full too. He’s an…

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Helpful Tips on How to Research Your Novel

Like Tyson Adams, I’m a writer and I’m very happy to be labelled a nerd. I’m also a History teacher, so I understand the value of research.

That value is never, ever so clear as when reading a book that is poorly researched and presents events or settings that are inconsistent with what one knows to be the truth.

Tyson makes some very good points about research here, but for me, the crucial point is believability. Our readers have to be able to accept what we write as not only conceivable, but also credible.

Tyson Adams

I’m just going to say it: I’m comfortable with the label of nerd.

More specifically, I’m a Nerdius scientifica.

Being a nerd is more accepted nowadays, what with our bulging brains and chiselled knowledge. And the reality is that us nerds have a lot to offer, like research skills.

Writing requires a lot of research and writers generally fall into two categories in this regard: those who need to learn how to research, and those who took up writing to justify those dodgy topics they’ve researched. This post will hopefully help the former. But if anyone does want to know how much slack rope you need to hang someone correctly from your homemade gallows, I have a spreadsheet calculator for you.

I stole am reblogging a post from Writer’s Digest with a few of my own comments.

Ernest Hemingway said writers should develop a built-in bullshit detector. I imagine one…

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The Most Beautiful Reading Experiences

More than a year ago, I began my book review of Eric Tanafon’s fabulous historical paranormal fantasy novel ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ with this paragraph: “Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.” 

There is something incredibly magical about that moment when a writer’s words take my breath away. It doesn’t happened as often as one might like, but it has happened to me twice in the space of a week. 

Once was when reading Cortney Pearson’s steampunk mystery ’The Perilous In-Between’. The second was when reading Bridget Collins’ historical fantasy novel ’The Binding’. 

All three books are exquisitely written, full of incredible imagery, rich and imaginative world building, and powerful writing that make the reader’s emotions and mind soar. 

Proudly, two of those books are by independent authors, published without the support of big traditional publishing houses and the budgets that the other enjoys. But if you picked up all three, and read them, you’d be pushed to know which was which if you were using the quality of writing or production as your yardstick.  You’d only know by looking for a publisher’s imprint. 

It is true that there are some rubbish books produced by independent authors who don’t bother having their work edited, proofread or produced properly. It is also true that there are also some rubbish books published traditionally. I’ve picked up a few books in my time that have, in all honesty, made me wonder exactly how they got published at all. Other people may think they are wonderful — and they are welcome to them. 

And that is exactly my point. What makes a book ‘brilliant’ is highly subjective, and people will have many and varied reasons for the choices they make. Even so, the assumption that traditionally published books are of superior quality is becoming less and less valid as time goes on. 

It’s fair to say that independent publishing has come a very long way, and the industry has become quite proficient in setting and achieving very high standards. 

If you’re not reading Indie authors, you’re missing out on both discovering some incredible talent and reading some brilliant books. 

For great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Can the Cold Case of Book Marketing Be Solved?

Everything David Gittlin has written in this post sounds remarkably familiar to me, as my own experiences are very similar.

This is precisely one of the reasons that I developed some budget-friendly book promotion options for Indie authors via Book Squirrel – it costs a lot less per month to get your book seen by people than it cost me, or David Gittlin, or countless others for that matter, for the months of promotion paid for with very low return. 

Of course, I don’t pretend that Book Squirrel is the entire solution. No one package ever is. But his options for book promotion definitely offer a few affordable opportunities, and provide some valuable parts of a good overall promotion plan. 

The other thing to keep in mind that promotion will not always directly result in sales. It’s also about building familiarity with your book and brand, getting your name out there, developing some credibility and presenting opportunities for people to think about your book as well as to buy it. Realistically, very few people will immediately buy a book by someone they haven’t heard of: in fact, very few people immediately buy a book by someone they have heard of. Those readers who have a “one click” response to books and authors are worth their weight in gold. 

A Writer's Path

by David Gittlin

Comparatively speaking, writing a novel is the fun, easy, first step of the self-publishing process. The second step, creating an attention-getting book cover, offers its own unique set of challenges. However, the most intimidating and difficult undertaking, to most authors, is the third step—marketing. The word strikes terror in many authors’ sensitive little hearts because they want as little to do with the outside world as possible.

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A Director’s Perspective on Casting a Show

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent the weekend with my production team, auditioning talented hopefuls who were trying out for a role in the Camperdown Theatre Company production of Little Shop of Horrors in May, 2020. 

The depth and variety of talent was incredible. It took us three hours to decided on the final cast, because we had some fabulous options – but that also meant that some hard decisions had to be made, too. You can’t give everyone the lead role, after all. 

When I looked at the final cast list, my first words were, “ This is going to be an absolutely killer show!” And you know what? It really is, because every one of the people the production team called last night with an offer accepted the role we offered them, even if it wasn’t the one they were hoping for. 

They are all super excited, and so am I. 
The cast list has just been posted, and I am looking forward to the excitement and anticipation that will create in the community as well as in the theatre company. 

There is a lot to do, and no time to waste, before rehearsals begin in February, but one thing is sure: It is a wonderful thing to be able to create and share this very special kind of joy and excitement that will flavour the whole six months before the show hits the stage.

Under Pressure.

If this past week had a theme song, it’s definitely ‘Under Pressure’ by David Bowie and Queen. 

The pressure of juggling job, family, and other commitments has been huge, simply because there was a truckload of stuff I had to get done and all of it had deadlines attached. The problem was that I was relying on other people to do certain things, too, and when that didn’t happen, I had to do more.

There was not anything I was willing to skimp on, or give it a “that will do” treatment. My students deserve to receive the help and attention that they need, and my elderly father deserves nothing less. Exams are approaching so papers have to be graded and feedback has to be given. Exams have to be finalised for checking, printing and delivery. I had a student teacher finishing a placement, so there was extra paperwork to do by Friday afternoon. 

And this weekend is full of auditions for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, which I am directing for Camperdown Theatre Company next year. 

I am not complaining. I know I am not the only one who is busy, and these are all things I have taken on willingly. But that is actually part of my argument.

What I want to achieve in this post is to point out that life is full of demands and commitments, and managing one’s time is crucial. 
Whether a professional, a student, or in any other role in life, it is an essential life skill to be able to get things done to the best of one’s ability in a timely manner so that deadlines are met. 

For me – or anyone else – to be able to do that, other people need to pull their weight and do what is expected of them. Nobody operates in a vacuum, and one person dropping the ball or refusing to pick it up in the first place has flow-on effects that they might not ever see. 

The often hidden effect of someone not doing what they should is that others can’t actually meet all their obligations either. 

On the occasions when my own students don’t get their work in on time, that puts me behind in getting their assignments graded and in giving feedback that would help them in completing future pieces of work. It can also put me behind in writing reports, which can  cause other people further up the school “food chain” to be behind in what they need to do, too. 

On those days when I end up working late at school to meet my own commitments because someone else has been slack in meeting theirs, it either means my dad has to wait for his dinner or whatever else he might need, or that my husband, who already works one and a half full time jobs and does all the things I can’t do at home because of my back, has to do extra at short notice. That’s not fair on either of them. 

It isn’t always avoidable, I know. Some kids have issues that crop up, others have a lot of responsibilities. It’s also both fair and important to say that it’s not always the students who cause the issues, either.

More often than not, though, it’s a the result of someone’s laziness or poor priorities, and that tends to annoy me fairly quickly. 

In my dream world, everyone would sort their priorities, manage their time, and get on with doing things to the best of their ability. Nobody would be let down, and we could all enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done without extra pressure making things harder. 

Easily Confused Words: Stationary vs. Stationery

Yesterday I saw a sign in a shop that said “Stationary” attached to a shelf. 

They were absolutely right: that shelf wasn’t going anywhere. I suspect it’s still in the same place even now, although it’s been about 30 hours since I was there. 

This is a common mistake because people often don’t realise that ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’ are two different words.  They sound the same, but are spelt differently and have very different meanings.

Stationary means “not moving”. 
A train stops at a station, and remains stationary while people get on and off the train. 

Stationery, on the other hand, is the sort of supplies you’d get at a Stationer’s stop: paper, pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, and the like. 

Therefore, in order for the sign in the store to have been fully accurate, it could have said “This stationery shelf is stationary”. 

I suspect, however, that most people  would be less appreciative of such a sign than I would be. 

Ducking Out For A Break.

I try to spend some time each day away from screens and away from work of any description.

It’s good therapy to walk, listen, and breathe, far away from such demands.

It refreshes me, body and soul, and boosts my creativity and concentration.

One of the places I like to visit is the small lake in my town. It has a walking track, an exercise circuit, benches to rest on, barbecue and picnic tables, a playground, and a friendly group of ducks.

Just now, as I wrote “a group of ducks”, I began to muse over which was the correct collective noun for ducks. I suspected that “flock” was used when in flight, and that “brace” was used when they were on the ground, but thought I should check.

A little research in the interests of accuracy yielded surprising results. Did you know there are more than a dozen different collective nouns used for ducks?

According to collectivenounslist.com, those are:

  • Badelynge
  • Badling
  • Brace
  • Dopping
  • Flock
  • Flush
  • Paddling
  • Plump
  • Pump
  • Raft
  • Sword
  • String
  • Team
  • Twack

Some of these terms are more commonly used than others, and I cannot help but think some of them are archaic words. Badelynge definitely looks like the kind of spelling one finds in Chaucer or other Middle English texts. I also suspect that this word has been transformed into “badling” as language and spelling evolved over time.

How, though, are we not commonly calling a group of ducks a “twack”? It’s highly expressive and so delightfully onomatopoeic! Furthermore, it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a term relating to any other creature.

From now on, ‘badelynge’ and ‘twack’ are the terms I’ll be using to refer to my ducky friends at the lake. Hey nonny nonny!

A twack of ducks! With a badelynge of ducks in the water beneath the boardwarlk!

The Benefits of Reading Aloud During the Editing Process

Reading aloud when proofreading and editing is excellent practice because far fewer errors escape our notice.

I teach my students to do it. I recommend other authors and bloggers do it. And even though I have been teaching English for 30 years, I know I am not infallible, so I still do it, too.

The Value of Listening.

In this highly screen-oriented world, are we losing the skill of listening?

There are four main sets of skills that English teachers work to develop in their students: reading, writing, speaking and listening. 

Over the past few years of my teaching career, I have observed that my students find listening much more difficult than the others. 

I’m not talking about them showing respect or being quiet when I’m talking – most of them are pretty good at that, thankfully. 

It’s the art of deliberate, intentional listening, focusing on what is heard and processing that kind of information, that people seem to struggle with. 

I have offered my students audiobooks to help them with reading their set texts. Most of them aren’t interested in that— not even the struggling readers, who would really benefit from that kind of assistance in getting through a book. I have also offered them podcast episodes related to the books they are studying, and I don’t recall anyone taking up the offer. 

Give them a YouTube clip, though, and they’re on it like flies at a barbecue. 

Don’t get me wrong – those YouTube clips and TED Talks can be super helpful. My issue is that people – and it’s not just kids, I’m sure – are so oriented to screens and visuals and  hooked on sensory overload that they’re losing the art of listening. 

People these days frequently have music playing while they do other things – work, run, work out, eat, walk, shop, drive, clean the house, you name it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But do they ever really just stop everything else and just listen to something? 

It is really healthy to turn off the “noise” of the world and the demands of a busy life and close your eyes to focus on what you can hear. You don’t even have to listen to anything in particular – it can be fascinating to see what you can hear when devices, TVs, and appliances are turned off and things are quiet, especially if you go outside.  

In terms of listening material, there is so much available that is good to listen to beyond music or commercial radio. Audiobooks are fantastic, as I’ve observed in a previous post. There are podcasts on every imaginable subject, free of charge, just begging to be listened to. Listening to talkback radio is both informative and entertaining, if you can find a station or a show you really like. 

Listening is such a valuable skill. It enriches life in so many ways. It builds relationships, enhances learning, develops understanding of the world and the different people in it, provides entertainment, aids relaxation and soothes the soul. 

If we would all just turn off the screens, close our eyes, and open our ears more, we’d be a lot better off.