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.
Facebook’s “community standards” did not enter my thoughts last night when I was posting about what I love and hate about Facebook. Had I been writing that post today, it would have been a very different story.
This afternoon, I set up a new page on Facebook with the aim of extending my reach to new readers by using a popular bookish hashtag phrase, What To Read, as the title.
As soon as I had set up the page, Facebook started coaching me to complete certain steps to make my page more visible.
Profile photo: check. Cover photo: check. First post: check.
Oops! My first post violated Facebook’s delicate community standards. Want to know what it said?
So… people can freely incite hate, vilify and shame others, put up pictures of them humiliating themselves… but I can’t suggest that my friends might like a page about books?
Wow. Maybe I should have said something dumb instead.
May the fates be in my favour when I actually start encouraging people to read.
Update: it took me three attempts to share this blogpost on Facebook. If they don’t want me to be snarky, they’re going the wrong way about it.
There’s no doubt about it: Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms on the planet.
Like anything, it can be fantastic if it’s used the right way, and it can downright dangerous if used for sinister purposes.
There are some aspects of Facebook I really enjoy:
Being able to connect with my family and friends all over the world in real time. What a blessing! When I’m homesick for someone I love – there they are! When I’m lonely – my friends are right there! I can see their pictures and videos, and respond to them right away. I can chat with them, talk with them, and send them stupid memes to cheer them up when they are down or unwell.
Being able to connect with like-minded people all over the world. As part of the Indie author community, I have received so much help, encouragement, knowledge, advice and good direction from people in Facebook groups.
It has also been a very great pleasure for me to be able to pass some of that knowledge and advice on to others, and to encourage them in their journeys.
Similarly, I’ve made some wonderful lifelong friends in a particular grammar-nerd group, and have met two of them on one of my trips overseas. I can’t imagine not knowing them or being able to talk with them.
Being able to find things I’m interested in via the pages people create. I’ve discovered some wonderful blogs to follow, some great information on specific topics, and I can’t tell you how many excellent Indie books I’ve found to read. That number has to be in the hundreds.
Being able to permanently hide things from my timeline that I don’t want to see. This is generally anything racist, hateful, or politically zealous.
Being able to permanently hide things from my timeline that I don’t want to see. This is generally anything racist, hateful, or politically zealous.
Memes, jokes, and videos that make me laugh. Some of that stuff is pure gold.
The block function. It’s really good.
Of course, with the good comes the not-so-good.
There are things I really hate about Facebook.
The fact that they don’t show me everything my friends post. If my friends think it’s worth posting, I probably want to see it. But no… Facebook gets all choosy about showing me their posts, and when showing mine to them.
Of course, they’ll tell you that boosting your post will get it shown to your friends. For $13, your post can reach… er, how about no? I’m not giving them money to show my posts to my own friends. They should do that for nothing.
That dratted algorithm. It seems any moron can make a stupid post that will go viral because people “like” and respond to it, but you can’t post a link for a product, or a blog post, or an event, or a website outside of Facebook without them suppressing it so that maybe 3% of the people who follow you or your page will actually see it.
And every time you get clever about how to communicate your product/event/website to your audience, they change the algorithm so you are actually no further ahead, yet again.
I know: it’s a business. But if they showed my stuff to the people I know, I’d probably be more interested in giving them a bit of cash to show it to folks I don’t know.
The perceived freedom some people feel they have to deride, belittle, criticise, mock and bully others. In a not-so-surprising coincidence, this correlates very closely with one of the things I hate most about people in general. Just because they’re hiding behind a profile picture or an avatar, they think they can say what they want to and have no consequences.
Not in my world, Julie. Block, block, block. Fixed.
The verdict: As much as I hate it, I love it. I’m definitely keeping it.
But if I ever meet that algorithm in person… it may just walk away with a black eye.
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.
One of the things I do in all the spare time I don’t have is creating book promotion for other Indie authors.
Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about creating promotional images, writing effective tweets, putting images and text together for different platforms and using it all to put books in front of people who hopefully want to read them.
Ironically, it’s a process that works better when you are advertising someone else’s book and not your own. If I tell a person that Charlie’s book is good, they are likely to take my words at face value. When I tell them my book is good, they tend to assume I have no idea.
I have been pondering these things afresh while organising the preorder promo for ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’.
Despite my obvious bias, it’s up to me to get my book seen by readers. How can I make people want to read my book? How can I pique their interest? How can I get their attention?
Those are the million dollar questions every author or promoter mst ask.
The key lies in making them attractive to the target audience. An interesting story, well written and thoroughly edited, proofread, checked, formatted and checked again. A great cover that catches the eye and suits both the story and the genre. Promo images that are varied in colour and style, relevant to the story and genre, using clear and appropriate fonts. Not too wordy, and not too plain.
Hopefully, those things will combine to have a positive effect. The fact is, before you can sell the book, you have to be able to sell the idea of the book. That’s why blurbs and taglines matter. That’s why a cleverly worded tweet will sometimes have more effect than a beautifully written excerpt.
Don’t get me wrong. A great excerpt is an effective way to win a reader, but you’ve still got to make people want to read it in the first place. So, for the next ten days until the book’s release date on June 14, I have prepared a bunch of teeets, some short Facebook posts, three different 16×9 promotional images ideal for Facebook and Twitter, and three square promo images for Instagram.
There are hints but no spoilers. There is a mixture of information, humour and invitation. The hashtags are varied so that I reach more users than if I just stick to four or five basic tags. The images are different colours and styles, but all consistent with the story and genre.
Every post must have:
A promotional image that includes the book cover
Some information about the story or character
Clear indication of the genre
The link for ordering/buying the book
A mixture of popular and useful hashtags
My goal is to achieve preorders for my book so that it has some sales momentum as soon as it launches, and then to continue promoting it to generate sales after that. That means creating different images, different tweets, and so on, on a regular basis. There is, after all, no such thing as “set and forget” promotion.
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.
I am a person who takes others at face value. I don’t immediately classify someone as pretty or ugly, gay or straight, progressive or conservative (unless, either way, they are hateful or prejudiced – then the deal is off) , black or white or some other colour, blonde or brunette, or anything else. I don’t care if they’re plain or fancy, nor do I care if they’re pretty or not. I try to take each person as they are and let their integrity speak louder than their features. I like to get to know them before I make any decisions about them.
When it comes to fonts, however, i am nowhere near as open-minded. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fonts I like, and many others that I will view with an open mind depending on context and purpose. But there ARE two or three fonts I really hate. I refuse to use them. I have handed back an assignment or two, asking for it to be reprinted in a more acceptable typeface. It’s true: I am Fontist.
I wasn’t raised that way. We didn’t really need to think about fonts back then. When I was growing up, it seemed as thought books were printed in two, maybe three different standard fonts. From memory, there was something like Times New Roman, a basic Sans Serif, and possibly another standard typewriter-style serif font. There was never a question of what typeface to submit our work in, because computers weren’t a thing and our school work was all handwritten. When I started university, assignments and essays had to be typed and double-spaced, so I used my parents’ typewriter. Of course, it only got to the typing stage when one or two hand-written drafts had been painstakingly written, proofread, edited, and revised.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad those days are over. I appreciate the ease of writing using my laptop as much as anyone else, and I’m happy for my students to do some – but not all – of their work on their devices. My underlying Fontism rears its ugly head, though, when someone hands in an assignment or broadcasts a presentation on the screen that screams “ridiculous font” louder than anything the student is trying to communicate. The same thing happens in meetings and seminars where the important information is obscured by the poor choice of font on the screen or handout.
You might think I’m overreacting. But consider this: I might read fifty student assignments in less than a week, or sit through twenty five student presentations in two or three days. When their font suggests I shouldn’t be taking their work seriously, that’s a complication neither they nor I need.
Right at the top of my hate list is Comic Sans. It looks childish, and gets increasingly ridiculous as the size increases, to the point where it is almost impossible for me to take anything printed in that font seriously. It is a font that should never be used for school work of any description by anyone older than six, nor should it be used for slide shows and presentations. Yes, it is “nice and clear for people to read”, but so are about 3000 other fonts one could choose. If your audience is not entirely in the First Grade, choose something else.
Another font I hate is Arial. Yes, it is also nice and clear for people to read. It is also entirely bland and unimaginative. Arial is the font equivalent of still having that original iPhone Marimba ring tone from 2008 on your new iPhoneX when you have 2500 different songs on your playlists. It is the font for lazy people who don’t care how their work looks. It doesn’t take much effort to switch so something equally clear but which looks a lot more polished and professional. In a word: boring.
The other fonts I really dislike fall into two groups: anything over-decorative and wrongly sized formatting.
Over decorative fonts have their place, but trying to read a block of text printed in anything full of swirls and flourishes or trippy lines and shadows will make a teacher’s eyes bleed in less than three minutes. Decorative fonts can work really well for titles, or for a special capital letter or character to start a page or chapter, but they fail miserably for anything that needs to communicate information or arguments clearly and effectively.
In a similar vein, text printed too small or too large is equally frustrating. If it’s too small and condensed, it’s hard to read and… you guessed it, bleeding eyeballs. At the other end of the equation, students may think they can fool me into believing their 337words meets the 500 word minimum word count if their work is formatted in size 15 Helvetica, but my teacher brain knows better. My teacher brain has been doing this a lot longer than they have.
So, I guess this is me coming out of the classroom cupboard and acknowledging the ugliness of the deep-seated prejudice that lies deep within me. It is equally as rampant and undeniable as the grammar nerdism that I make no attempt to hide.
Call me fussy. Call me Fontist. I’m okay with that. But don’t call me to complain if I’ve asked your teen cherub to reprint an assignment so that I can read it without tears. Trust me – it’s better that way, and I’ve tried to be nice about it. Well, I’ve probably been nice..
Unless they are a repeat offender. In that case, there are no guarantees.
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.
Anthony Trollope has quite a few novels to his name, of which I have enjoyed most, but ‘Barchester Towers’ is the pick of the bunch. If you are only ever going to read one of his works, choose this one.
While Dickens was writing novels that exposed the social issues and injustices of his time, Trollope was doing the same thing in a slightly different way. Trollope’s ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ turned the readers’ attention to the structures and conventions of the church hierarchy in Victorian England, framing clerical life in a comedic way that highlighted the hypocrisy and manipulation that plagued the upper ranks of the church. His Palliser Novels series focuses on political life and the machinations of Parliament and government, once again with a good degree of satire and cynicism.
Trollope’s characterisation is every bit as clever and masterful as Dickens’, and the humour with which he wrote is just as engaging. I find it most disappointing that Trollope is not as widely read or renowned as Dickens. The reason for that lies in the fact that Dickens’ books made him the champion of the lower classes, giving him very widespread appeal and ensuring a loyal readership, while Trollope tended to write more about the challenges faced by the middle and upper classes as society changed. Those issues were just as real, but far less relatable and interesting to the masses.
‘Barchester Towers’ is a gem of a book. It’s quite easy to read, and very entertaining. While The Guardian listed it as one of the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’, it is much higher on my own list, hence its inclusion among the novels featured on this blog as one of my top 25 classic novels.