Criticism: what it is and why you want it.

Criticism is an inevitable part of the job for a writer and is commonly available in two flavours.

a) Lemon – the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.

b) Orange – the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

The difference between these two flavours lies largely in the degree of bitterness evident.
Some reviewers will try for an Orange and succeed only in supplying a Lemon. These reviewers lack skill and prefer to avoid thoughtful judgement by jumping straight to the disapproval. It’s a thing that they do.
Do not mind this.

Mind the Oranges.

If anyone who reviews your work can show balance of judgement, if they can show understanding of both fault and merit, if they can demonstrate a knowledge of literary form, function and phrasing, an interest in your genre, and a willingness to be open minded, then, you should listen to these people.
Let me be clear here, Oranges are not always right. Any review is opinion. But, if you have reason to believe that this is a person who knows their bananas, mind the Oranges.

And then your work will never be a complete fruit salad.

Writer’s Reflections : Lucie Brownlee

Me After You is a memoir about my first two years as a young widow. It charts life from the moment my husband collapsed and died as we made love one idle February evening, through chaos and despair to madness and euphoria, with a generous slug of red wine thrown in. It is a story of grief and rage and hope and the indomitable nature of the human spirit, but at its core, it is a story of true love. Why I was halfway through the second draft of a novel when my husband, Mark, died, aged just 37. Work on the novel ground to a halt overnight. I told my agent I was physically incapable of writing another word and that I would be in touch when, and if, I ever felt like returning to it. But it seemed unlikely to me that I would ever muster the will to write again. A year later I started a blog entitled Wife after Death – a roar-howl into the ether about the injustice of it all. I pounded my heart and soul into the keyboard, spilling my darkest and most desperate thoughts out into the void. I wrote because I simply didn’t know what else to do. And people began replying. Widows, widowers, women who’d lost children. But other’s too – those who wanted to show their support or simply to say ‘Hi’. I wrote almost every day for over a year, and the blog became a raw and intimately documented journal of grief. The blog went on to win an award, and I caught the attention of a national newspaper editor. My agent asked me if I felt up to writing a book based on the blog, about the first two years of my widowhood. I wrote my memoir, Me after You, in about three months, in between school pick-ups and in moments of sleeplessness. Writing it was time spent with Mark, and it helped me to try and make sense of the senseless nature of his death. What I learned. Me after You is my first full-length book to be published – prior to that it was short stories and articles. My publisher – Virgin Books – handled me and the book with skill and sensitivity, but I have learned that once your material is out there it becomes fair game. That is to say ownership of it almost ceases to be yours and anyone is able to comment on it. With memoir, especially one as emotionally charged as Me after You, this can be hard. Whilst most of the reviews have been positive (including a glowing cover quote from Andrew Marr) I have been criticised for being so candid. As a result at times I have questioned myself and the entire project, but I am fortunate in that I have a strong and supportive network around me. The best piece of advice I received was from my brother, who is also a writer and far more prolific than me: “In this business you need to develop a rhino hide,” he told me, “and never lose sight of what you set out to do, and what you have now achieved.” I am now working on my next book – a biography about an American sculptor. That, and my rhino hide. http://www.wifeafterdeath.com http://www.luciebrownlee.com Me after You is published by Virgin books priced £11.99

Writer’s Reflections – Sandra Danby

Many thanks this week to Sandra Danby for telling us a bit about her writing journey

 

My new book : Ignoring Gravity is the story of Rose Haldane’s own “Who do you think you are?” television programme. Rose is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the sam as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. Ignoring Gravity connects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. Finding her mother’s lost diaries, Rose begins to understand why she has always seemed the outsider in her family, why she feel so different from her sister Lily. Then just when she thinks there can’t be any more secrets…

The publishing world is changing rapidly now, as indie publishing becomes established alongside the traditional business. Ignoring Gravity is a part of this, published by a new crowd-funded publishing imprint by BNBS books, called Britain’s Next Bestseller. This is a hybrid indie/traditional publishing deal in which the author has control in the early stages (cover design, PR, Book trailer, social media promotion). Once an agreed pre-order target is hit, BNBS takes over as a traditional publisher, publishing the book in traditional and e-book formats. My provisional publication date is September 2014 when the book will be available from Amazon.

Why I wrote Ignoring Gravity: I was an imaginative child. I would lie awake in bed at night and wonder what it would be like to live in another country, with a different family…what if…I was a boy, or lived in a busy city, or was good at arithmetic? If I had grown up in France not England, with a father who was a businessman not a farmer, would I be a different person now? Or have I, through my personality and life experiences, essentially made me, me?

This idea stayed with me. It wasn’t something I actively thought about but it stayed in the back of my mind. I’m not adopted and had a happy rural childhood in Yorkshire. When I turned from journalism to fiction 15 years ago, I started to think about my identity again. One day, when I was at my creative writing class,  a sentence came to me fully-formed. Rose Haldane thinks children should be served lightly grilled with a green salad. Rose has a very clear idea of who she is until the day she discovers she is adopted. Her family history is a blank page, but Rose is still Rose.

My tutor Nina said,”That’s it, that’s the first line of your novel, now go away and write the rest of it.” And that was the beginning of ignoring gravity. It changed along the way; the biggest alterations were a switch from first person to third, and the introduction at an agent’s recommendation of a storyline for Rose’s sister Lily.

The first draft was a whopping 140,000 words. The thought of cutting it was frightening, but I was ruthless and cut it to 99,000. Anything less, and the story would be lost. “Rose”, as the manuscript was (and still is!) known in our house, spent various periods sitting in a box while I wrote other things. It is 13 years since that first writing exercise, and the story has changed out of all recognition. I learned to let the characters do the things they wanted to. I learned a lot about story planning, character arcs and sowing clues and red herrings to keep the mystery alive.

Watch the book trailer http://youtu.be/dGjnw-7qaa4

Watch my author interview here http://youtu.be/VOnFDPr90y0

Becoming

 Strange creatures, writers. You will seldom meet a group of people so acutely aware of the world, aware of the place where they fit or, more often, don’t fit. We squeeze ourselves into boxes called genres because marketing likes a good box. They make things easier to package and shelve. They make them easier to sell… to describe.

Describe (v) – to remove the personality of the writer from the equation

 I jest but it’s a dark one, because, whatever you are as a writer, you are not a genre. You are not even who you were last year and you won’t be the same person next year. You are Becoming.

What are you becoming? Well, I don’t know it’s your journey. You might pass through several phases of writing and many genres. And then you find a genre where you settle for a while and it will be the right one for who you are at the time, because you are not a genre, because you are Becoming.

It is part of the thrill of being alive to watch people Become. And who we become is influenced every day by who we want to be. We don’t always get what we want and we seldom if ever get what we expect but we all get to change, to develop, to be new. I don’t know the final destination of the journey. I haven’t had the opportunity to peep at the last page of my story and I don’t think I would want to. I am enjoying Becoming and I look forward to seeing you Becoming, for all the days of my life.

The Chocolate Book Challenge

Thank you to the wonderful @janeisaacauthor for inviting me to this blog challenge. You can find her post at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk/blog.

This post is a little late due to network problems (do not get me started ) so I apologise for that in advance.

The idea of the challenge is very simple, to liken some of your favourite books to chocolate bars. At least it seemed simple at first glance but it took me quite some time to whittle down my reading list to the following contenders, even though I limited my choice to books read in 2014 to give myself a smaller task. Here goes,

Dark Chocolate – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

A beautifully written story which explores the nature of reality. It is a surprisingly gentle read for a book covering very dark and difficult themes. Thought provoking with touches of bitterness the content moves from the banal to the shocking and back with the same unnerving ease that Murakami moves across the boundaries of reality. Expect the occasional talking cat.

 

Milk Chocolate – The Analects of Confucius

This is not an easy read but well worth the perseverance. It is a collection of snapshots from the life of one of humanity’s great thinkers.  The passages jump from event to event and conversation to conversation but, if you relax and let them wash over you, you begin to appreciate the warmth and the humour of the man. These works provided the foundation for one of the world’s greatest civilisations. You were not considered educated unless you could quote the teachings of Confucius and as such they are the wonderful Milk Chocolate of all that is China.

White Chocolate – Bridget Jones – Mad about the boy  by Helen Fielding

As white chocolate isn’t really chocolate so this isn’t really literature but I did enjoy it. Admittedly I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it but I appreciated the silliness and the glimpses of a rushed home life were all too familiar. The eponymous heroine seems to have aged without maturing at all, which made me feel slightly sad for the character, but this is not a book to engage deep thought, it’s frothy and silly with an occasional effort to touch on darker themes. Great company while cleaning the kitchen.

 

 

The follow up post will be courtesy of the lovely Rebecca Mascull. You can find her at
http://www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com
@rebeccamascull

Famous writers, writing: Agatha Christie

restirling:

If you like to write you should visit Sandra Danby’s blog.

Originally posted on sandra danby:

agatha christie 20-10-13Agatha Christie
“If you are to be Hercule Poirot, you must think of everything.”
In other words, you’d better have thought of everything, every twist and turn, every character trait, every possible and impossible plot angle… or your readers will catch you out in unpredictability, spot your mistakes. And then there are the things that happen out of your control. So beware!

Click here to read The Guardian’s article about bloopers in books…
… and here to read how the UK edition of Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections had to be withdrawn from print because the wrong version was printed.
Click here to read The Bookseller’s report on how Penguin had to pulp copies of Lolita because of a missing foreword.

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