Wednesday, 13 March 2019

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Food for thought or, rather, let’s think about food. What I mean is that we should think about how food can add something to your writing. It may be the case that you’ve read many passages about a splendid banquet, arguments at the dinner table or lunch in a small café as an inconspicuous meeting place, but have you given any thought as to why these scenes have been included within the writing? I’ve no wish to patronise experienced readers and writers but in order to think about how we can use food or the practice of eating in our writing it is important to consider how those before us have employed it. In today’s blog we will have a look at Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) alongside a new novel by Alistair Moore entitled The Release (2018). 

The first and probably most obvious link to make is that eating is a social behaviour. As much as we all like to sit down with our dinner in front of the TV from time to time there is still something satisfying about a cooked meal at a dinner table where everyone is together and sharing the experience. For those of us who rarely partake in this habit it is fair to say that Christmas Day is such an occasion when we might buck the trend, we may actually refrain from locking ourselves in a dark room all day with nothing but a mobile phone and Netflix to pass the time and leave that for the other 364 days of the year. On such an occasion we could be the tight-knit family unit so often portrayed in films and on TV or could even be like the Cratchit’s who, despite their poor fortune, all pulled together:‘The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle’ (1843, 81-2). It is not a mad rush to the dinner table to get a larger portion of food than their sibling that is being displayed here, but food preparation as a social activity: ‘Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce’ (1843, 80). It's scenes like these throughout the novel that really show the reader who the Cratchit's are. Indeed, this was a family portrayed as one that worked hard for each other, appreciated their lot in life and enjoyed their modest pleasures together.

The same could be said in relation to the use of food in texts and negative social interactions. In witnessing the phenomenon that was Marley’s ghost, Scrooge was understandably quick to dismiss it as a trick of the mind but did so by arguing 'You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!' (1843, 45). In The Release, Moore dedicates an entire page to his character’s disdain for using the shared kitchen in his bedsit by rather poignantly opening the passage by comparing it to the feeling of trespassing (2018, 81). The café where Bennie prefers to eat and spend time is the setting for a number of scenes; at first it provides a certain anonymity but as he becomes part of the furniture he – uncomfortably at first – communicates more with them, he even avoids frequenting the establishment too much for fear ‘of losing those warm associations’ (2018, 82). On this occasion he visits a different place to eat and finds that the atmosphere is more intrusive, even though he was privy to more information he ‘tuned out of the conversation’ (2018, 84). The negative environment and the lack of social interaction in this instance went hand in hand. Likewise, Sanders – the father of the deceased – in struggling to describe the premature and tragic loss of a child turns to food to illustrate his point: 'You’re never the same again. Nothing’s the same,' he says. 'Even food tastes different to how it used to. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.' In this respect, a link has been made between food and memory but, moreover, memories which are linked to relationships and social interactions or the lack thereof.

A final consideration of A Christmas Carol allows us to compare this with other Dickensian novels
which are all concerned with poverty and the division of the classes. This particular tale is no different and several examples can be found which promote sharing of wealth and providing for one’s fellow man; it is at the dinner table where further evidence can be found. It is fair to say that more wealth buys more food and larger sums of money can buy larger turkeys or more expensive birds (e.g. turkey as opposed to goose). Everything is relative and the Cratchits do not seem to mind but Bob Cratchit perhaps stretched his point by asking his family to toast the ‘Founder of the Feast’ aka Scrooge. At this point, Mrs Cratchit’s frustration boils over at the perceived injustice and imbalance of wealth, arguing that 'I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good appetite for it' (1843, 83). At first it seems like an obvious use of food metaphors but it serves to draw attention to the very point I have been making about how the differences between poor and wealthy households could actually be found on the dining table.
 

In closing, John Mullan supports my argument by summarising as follows: ‘A meal is never just food. Novelists have long known what anthropologists discovered recently: social eating means something’ (2006, 204). Sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. The five senses are present in preparing, eating or even disposing of food. Whilst skilfully describing these things can make a particular piece of your writing create a scene I hope you are now considering your character and the characters that share their social space. An isolated person would invariably eat alone. A sense of loss can be compared by a family dinner scene both before and after the bereavement. If you are writing about a group of people who rarely come together then it may be that buffets at weddings or funerals are the only place to have them interact face to face (just don’t opt for four of one and only one of the other, it’s been done). 

This week try to write and share a short story, a story which is solely set at the dinner table. I thought of a number of directions to provide, but on this occasion I really am interested in what people produce as you can all draw on personal experience for this piece. As always, sharing is caring so please respect everyone else’s submissions and only provide constructive feedback. 
 

Happy writing, or maybe I should say, happy eating!

A blog by Steve Marshall

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Further reading:
Dickens, C. (2003) First published 1843. ‘A Christmas Carol’ in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings. London: Penguin Books.
Lodge, D. (1992) The Art of Fiction. London: Penguin Books.
Moore, A. (2018) The Release. Candy Jar Books: Cardiff.
Mullan, J. (2006) How Novels Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

NB. You may purchase The Release on Candy Jar’s website by following this link!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

PRO-FANITY!

Swearing in writing. This is something of a taboo. None of the children’s books you read growing up will have contained any swear words; it is un-Christian (and blasphemy in any religion is
discouraged), it is socially unacceptable, it is age-inappropriate, it would plant words into the vocabulary of children which are unacceptable in school environments. As you grew older the books or magazines you chose to read would have been edited with the age of the audience in mind or they wouldn’t have been allowed on the shelf. Books selected by schools for the curriculum would have had your level of learning and appropriateness of age as well.

Swearing in speech. Now this is something which, with each passing generation, the social standards seem to be slipping on. Language fit only for the dock yard or a building site is now part and parcel of everyday speech for some people and it is not uncommon to hear it frequently in the presence of children. While I have read arguments that the use of swear words demonstrates a lack of intelligence, a poor command of vocabulary and further evidence of a degenerative society I would like to argue that is has become part of our cultural heritage. Indeed, swearing often adds impact to what we are trying to say and I believe in some parts of the country an emphatic statement can only be made in certain social environments by including such colourful language. Given the full power of the entire English dictionary, one would not make their message – and the strength of one’s sentiments – entirely clear if speaking the Queen’s English. Furthermore, if communication is only effective when a message can be transferred successfully, efficiently and cohesively from one person to another then surely it is of the utmost importance to use language that the receiver can understand and therefore decipher. Language is after all, in its simplest form, a set of codes to be communicated and understood.  

'Nobody move! That lassie got glassed and no c**t leaves here ‘til we find out who what c**t did it.' – ‘Franco’ Begbie, Trainspotting (1996).

There are a few things to note regarding the statement above. Firstly, I have quoted it as I heard it in the film - the link is at the bottom of the blog for those interested - as Welsh’s Trainspotting is often written in the accent being put across (more information on this can be found in last week’s blog). Secondly, the line is delivered with aggression as Begbie is actually spoiling for a fight having thrown the glass which injured the girl himself; that said, it is also delivered in a humour of sorts as he is looking forward to the fight that follows knowing full well he is the perpetrator of the offending act. Thirdly, while the sentence may appear disjointed and grammatically incorrect to us it is anything but to anyone from within that social environment who has shared his cultural background. Swearing can therefore not only be socially acceptable but in some cases it may be imperative to use swearing in order to be accepted socially. Finally, while films have to be rated for the appropriate audience prior to being made public this blog is under no such obligation. It is therefore my own editorial choice to have censored the swear words for the benefit of the readers – in this instance, yourselves – as well as the publisher. If we were to have referred to blasphemy of Shakespeare’s time by quoting ‘S’blood’, which is of course short for ‘God’s blood’, I doubt I would have censored it at all whereas this particular swear word still offends large groups of people and I have no wish to unnecessarily offend anyone. 

This brings us to the writing element of the use of swearing and that is the editorial process. David Lodge quotes Mikhail Bakhtin as stating that ‘For the prose artist the world is full of other people’s words, among which he must orient himself and whose speech characteristics he must be able to perceive with a very keen ear. He must introduce them into the plane of his own discourse, but in such a way that this plane is not destroyed.’ (1992, 128). So when considering your novel or short story ask yourself: does the inclusion of cursing add to the dialogue or detract from the quality of it? Perhaps there are other ways to illustrate a character’s frustration which would reduce the use of swearing as the sole vehicle of frustration and anger. It could be that perhaps a fists slams against a door, tearing at one’s own hair, kicking an object or – if swearing was used to highlight despair – the character may slump to the ground. These are of course choices for you to make and there are many others besides the few proposed here. Ultimately, what I want you to think about is that if swearing is employed to make a particular character seem angrier or a situation appear more tense then when is the best time to use it for dramatic effect. Once you have decided, use it sparingly to make your writing of these passages better and not to dilute the quality of your work.

The other scenario when swearing is used is in speech and we have already discussed a few factors which contribute towards this. John Mullan states that ‘Swearing tells us of the real world of emotions out there.’ (2006, 153) and while this is true it does not account for people who censor themselves; it is undeniable however that in some circles swearing is an everyday occurrence in language. This is one of Trainspotting’s charming factors. The novel is heavily laden with cursing and yet the characters would not be authentic without it. I made reference in last week’s blog that fiction smooths speech so maybe Irvine Welsh included more swearing than was natural for that social environment, maybe he made Begbie’s line of enquiry above more comical and maybe, just maybe, he removed language which would not have ‘travelled well’ in order for the novel to reach a wider audience. Whatever he did, the series of novels following these characters are hugely successful and it would be worth reading at least one in order to identify some of the techniques used and choices made.

Rather than invite a plethora of profanities onto Candy Jar’s website I would prefer you instead to think creatively about this topic. Therefore, if you have already produced some writing which contains a lot of swearing it may be beneficial to revisit an extract of it and revise your work to try and replace some of the phrases containing swear words with descriptive phrases which tell us of the character’s frustration or anger instead. If you haven’t yet written anything containing curses it might be an idea to document some phrases which are particular to your or your kin when you are frustrated or angry (no need to share this just yet). 

Finally, if you wish to see a topic discussed which you haven’t seen yet then please let me know and I’ll include it at some point. Happy writing!

A blog by Steve Marshall

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Further reading:
Lodge, D. (1992) The Art of Fiction. London: Penguin Books.
Mullan, J. (2006) How Novels Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Welsh, I. (1993) Trainspotting. Secker and Warburg: London. 

Video link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3reLyBB6ms

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

SHE'S FROM THE NORTH

'Mummy! Mummy, I can’t understand what she’s saying?!'

This is the cry from the daughter following an introduction to a Geordie child-minder who referred to her and her brother collectively as ‘you’s’ and ‘tykes’. For anyone unfamiliar with Catherine Tate, you can view this particular sketch by following the link at the bottom of the page. If you are already familiar with her ‘posh mum’ character then watch it again anyway as it is a light-hearted look at language differences by location and / or class which may help to illustrate a few points being made in today’s blog.

As budding or skilled writers, or even as members of society, I would no doubt patronize you if I were to tell you that there are different dialects which ‘belong’ to certain parts of the country. The United Kingdom, being an island, has played host to many invasions from Vikings, Germanics, Romans and the French to name but a few. This is not to mention that the Welsh, Irish and Scottish have all infiltrated the heart of England bringing with them their own particular – or peculiar – linguistic habits. The differences between language and spelling across the country was so much so that a number of dictionaries were developed in the 16th and 17th centuries; these would help standardise the rapidly increasing English language in grammar schools and printed materials burgeoning as a result of urbanisation.

The dictionary was also an attempt by the powers that be in London to bring together one way of speaking and writing the English language, their way. Language has always had a way of separating class, education and power. From the Greek scholars, Latin found in legal documents, French words adopted in the courts after William the Conqueror successfully took the throne and finally the differences between rural and urban inhabitants; language separates people. Shakespeare recognised this and employed poetry or prose depending on the status of the character speaking in the play; this was perhaps most ironically exemplified in Othello when the title character addresses the Senate by starting his tale with ‘Rude am I in speech / And little blest with the soft phrase of peace’ (1.3.82-3) despite his good grace in doing so. Thinking on this though we encounter another problem which is that Othello was of African descent, was living and working in Venice yet speaking in elevated English. 

So why is it that, generally speaking, if we watch a film with a Frenchman in it they do not speak French but converse instead using standard middle-class English in a French accent? Why is it that the Daleks attack in Doctor Who by shouting ‘exterminate’ instead of employing some unintelligible alien language? It is because we as viewers would not understand it and the whole illusion created for our entertainment would dissipate in an instant or, as John Mullan puts it, ‘Fiction smooths speech. It also often translates it’ (2006, 129). Similarly, we cannot expect a writer to present a foreign language in anything other than our native tongue without extensive and exhaustive foot notes at the bottom of each page. Whilst we may expect competent writing to express some aspects of a character’s personality there are a number of excellent examples of how skilled writers can capture a character’s culture in these exchanges, thus encapsulating their background as much as their present and giving the reader access to so much more information. But how exactly do they do it?

The evidence is all to be found in the dialogue and can be identified in a number of ways. Can you guess where I am from? Probably not as this blog does not contain any colloquialisms, any references to specific places where I grew up nor any queer phrases specific to a country. Even so, you would presumably guess that I am from the UK due to my use of the English language and the location of the blog itself. You’d be right. If we turn our attentions to characters such as Mr Douglas from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Valley of Fear we may for a time break out our magnifying glasses, like Sherlock Holmes himself, and carefully examine the dialogue. Among the few words spoken by Mr Douglas in the first section of the mystery there are certain phrases such as ‘there was trouble coming’ indicative of an American drawl (1915, 82). There is also use of a unique metaphor in ‘like a hungry wolf after a caribou’ (1915, 82), which would have only been widely used among those familiar with an environment which spawned such creatures. We also know he is American because we are informed of it earlier in the novel but every great detective needs evidence, don’t they?

Staying in America for a moment during the early decades of the 20th century and there are examples to be found of working class language in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The main body of characters are working class white men and in addition to common phrases of the land they also have some particular common habits in their speech; one such example of this would be to drop the ‘g’ at the end of words such as ‘showing’ or ‘keeping’ (29). In this instance all of the characters including Curley’s wife and the stable Buck George have their own speech patterns perfectly captured in one short sentence by Crooks the stable buck: 'Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back' (71). It looks awful when typing it but it appeals to the aural senses when it is read aloud and this was, after all, created as much as a play as it was a novella.

If we now consider the speech in A Color Purple we can also see how the purposeful inclusion of poor grammar as well is just as relevant to creating an authentic African-American female voice in the time, place and social environment within which it was set. Though there are numerous examples on every page the one I will pick out is ‘She muse. He not undernourish, she say. Who ain’t? I ast’(56). Girls such as Celie were not encouraged to go to school and so did not learn in the traditional way, they learned much of what they knew from in the home and so their technical knowledge of language was restricted almost solely to the aural tradition. While the novel has so much to offer in terms of attitudes towards education, education for girls, religion, treatment of women and attitudes towards ethnic minorities, Alice Walker must also be admired for writing a novel in the format of a written epistolary which still brings with it the clarity and authenticity of Celie’s voice among others.

As we began our journey of this blog in Britain I cannot for a second ignore two important texts on the very same topic: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Irvine Welsh captures perfectly the Scottish accent and the language employed (so to speak) by the underclasses, what is also significant is his use of obscenities and it is for this reason that I would like to leave his work to discuss in another week. Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, however, is set in rural Yorkshire and is the habitat for working class locals such as Joseph. It was one of my earliest experiences of reading a novel when I came across the bizarre use of English that follows: ‘Hareton, thah willn’t sup thy porridge tuh neeght; they’ll be nowt bud lumps as big as maw nave’ (141). The copy of the text I had even came with a comprehensive notes section at the back to translate Joseph as some of the words or phrases he used were too difficult to decipher! You only have to read a few pages filled with uniquely and carefully constructed phrases such as these and before you know it you’ll feel like a local. It can, however, accurately reflect the people of a given place or time and, done correctly, can add to the reading experience which is what we are all – as writers – trying to achieve; but, as with any skill, it requires practice.

This week’s task is about research and experimentation. Which of your characters have a distinct accent or verbal identifier? If you know the answer to this question then you need to ask yourself how well you know the accent, did you grow up in that environment or do you know someone who speaks in this way? If you do not know the speech patterns intimately this may present a significant challenge to you and I would advise carrying out considerable research using YouTube or regionalised TV shows to pick up on the subtle differences employed. If you are familiar with the speech patterns then it would be a useful exercise to write down a number of commonly used words and phrases which may be affected, give them to a friend to read and see if an authentic voice comes across to them. Ultimately, the challenge is two-fold: are they able to understand what has been written and does the target sound authentic? As the author, you’ve no obligation to write in this phonetic style at all so decide carefully as it should not detract from the quality of the text itself. 

Keep uploading your work, keep sharing constructive and supportive feedback and keep writing what you know. Happy writing!

A blog by Steve Marshall

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Further reading:
Bronte, E. (1995) Wuthering Heights. First published 1847. Penguin Books: London.
Conan-Doyle, A. (1981) The Valley of Fear. First published 1915. Penguin Books: London.
Kinsey, C. (2019) A Dish Best Served Cold? First published 2018, to be re-released this year. Candy Jar Books: Cardiff.
Lodge, D. (1992) The Art of Fiction. London: Penguin Books.
Mullan, J. (2006) How Novels Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shakespeare, W. (1997) Othello. First published circa 1600. Arden: London.
Steinbeck, J. (2000) Of Mice and Men. First published 1937. Penguin Classics: London. 
Walker, A. (2017) The Color Purple. First published 1983. Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London.

Video link:
She’s From The North can be found on YouTube at the following URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UE6p6YCyjwo

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

GOOD TIMING


It’s a few days into the New Year and I’m sat at the table with my laptop; it is the sort which comes apart at the touch of a button to become an even more portable tablet and an increasingly useless keyboard. It’s not new. It used to be but like everything, myself included, it gets old and the once-shiny black cover on top is now showing signs of age. I receive frequent reminders to increase my cloud storage capacity and, when I was using it recently, I even suffered the humiliation of being chided about how small the laptop was...

Before the first of those words leapt onto the screen I was sat on the sofa with legs outstretched and a cuppa down by the side of me. It sounded great when I pictured it, it still felt great when I was in that moment right up until the point when I tried to type on a tablet and… well, I just couldn’t. It was so uncomfortable. Maybe it was just me that was uncomfortable due to a week or so of consuming (throwing away) lots of vegetables, drinking (drowning in) alcohol and having one or two (tubs) of Celebrations. And so, it was with a bellyful of indigestion (regret) that I sat down to continue the series of blogs that I hope you are finding enjoyable and challenging.

No sooner had I sat down I was thinking about time and the passing of it. The new calendar heralds a New Year and an opportunity for change but what intrigued me is the relation that time has to writing. For instance, the publisher may post this particular piece in April thus rendering the spirit in which I produced this article redundant. Alternatively, the blog could be posted tomorrow but may only be found and read twenty years later by someone searching on the publisher’s website. Or, there is always the possibility that the blog is never disseminated at all and it is left to a family member to read over, just some rubbish his or her great-grandfather produced years before. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was too politically volatile to be published until many years later while Margaret Attwood challenged herself to set her writing a century prior to the time when she actually produced it in Alias Grace. In George Orwell’s case, such was the inability of people in power to change their ways the novel was – and still is – just as relevant today whereas a quick glimpse of the housekeeping methods in Attwood’s novel will illustrate just how much other things can change over the years.

My point here, to paraphrase Roland Barthes, is that writing is completely independent of the author and that ‘the passing of time’ can have untold effects on not only the writing but on the critical thoughts applied when reading a text. The attitudes shown towards Othello for his race in 16th century Venice were more subtle and less shocking than those in To Kill A Mocking Bird or A Colour Purple. Despite these novels being produced 300 years or more later it is the social environment in which they are set which dictates the views of the people occupying these habitats. Reading these novels today it is extremely frustrating to believe that the attitudes towards education of ethnic minorities, education of women and the general treatment of ethnic minorities could be so ignorant in such a recent time.

Society and language are forever evolving; phrases, housekeeping processes, methods of transportation, means of communication, clothes, fashion, music… the list is endless. Let’s revisit the first paragraphs of this blog, what do we know? Its a few days into the New Year thus establishing the time of year. I possess a laptop which would certainly date this as being within the last 40 years, the last twenty if we consider whether they are widely used or not, or even the last ten years if we think about the type of laptop it is with its removable keyboard. I even told you that it was a few years old so an educated guess would place the laptop between 2-8 years old. From the information above you could probably come up with a reasonable estimate as to what year this piece has been produced. Writers do this all the time, maybe unconsciously at times. The changing of seasons, description of a child’s growth or a character’s signs of aging can certainly keep the reader up to date with any changes to the timeline which have been applied by the author.

This week I would like to ask you to look around your home, look into your daily habits and look at the people around you happily going about their daily business. What do you see that you wouldn’t have seen twenty years ago? What do you see now that makes you happy or sad that it is a part of modern culture? What do you see that you don’t think will be around in twenty years time? Now try writing a piece which:

a)    Laments the loss of something taken for granted today.
b)    Imagines a best or worst case scenario following an increased reliance on one particular piece of technology / social habit.

Happy New Year (whenever you read this) and happy writing!


A blog by Steve Marshall
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For additional writing advice and tips, visit Jelly Bean Self-Publishing at http://www.jellybeanselfpublishing.co.uk/ 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

HAVE YOU GOT CHARACTER?

‘Reader, I married him.’
Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre (1847) 


This phrase opens the final chapter of Charlotte Bronte’s fabulous novel Jane Eyre yet it does so much more than that. It marks the end of the journey that the character Jane Eyre herself had completed. A classic bildungsroman, the strength of Jane Eyre lies in the depth of character created in the novel’s main protagonist, but what exactly contributes to making it possible? While I would be unable to answer that on Charlotte Bronte’s behalf, perhaps we can think of a few contributing factors.

Patriarchy is a strong feature in the novel, as is religion, and both contribute significantly to the choices and subsequent actions chosen by our heroine. However, Bronte delves far deeper in her pursuit of Jane’s key motivations; rather than focusing solely on the impact of social behaviours or other events which impact on her, Bronte goes as far back as Jane’s childhood to find what really drives her creation forward. The attention to detail is admirable as is the application to its execution but, most of all, it is well thought out and that is something which we all – as writers – need to strive to emulate.

This can, of course, work both ways and a negative correlation can be just as effective. It is not uncommon for a novel to focus on the decline of a character before restoring some form of order at the end, much like Dorian Gray’s increasing taste for drugs and debauchery in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) or the narrator of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1997), whose descent into anarchy is matched only by his ever-decreasing mental state. A negative decline in character can prove just as intriguing for the reader, but it is the quality and intricate detail of the creation that is of value rather than the reader’s appetite for alternative conduct.

In Frankenstein (1818), was Frankenstein’s monster born with a dedication to destroy his creator Victor? No. In relaying his tale of woe to Victor, the being states ‘I shall relate events, that impressed me with feelings which, from what I had been, have made me what I am’. This decided course of vengeance was a reaction to learned behaviour after being rejected by his maker, scorned by society and denied a mate. Neither Victor nor the author Mary Shelley truly created the monster in its true sense, but Victor and the people that the being came into contact with all had significant roles to play in the making of a monster. In considering the environment that would most enable her creation to flourish, Shelley has gone to the stage of creation itself in the novel and put together (so to speak) a character who, even from ‘birth’ would never be accepted by society. The subsequent fall out was inevitable. 


It may of course be argued that the being was inherently evil or was created by using limbs from the deceased that were themselves of a bad nature. While a nature versus nurture debate is never far away when discussing Frankenstein it does highlight that biology or genetics may, just may, have been contributing factors to other intriguing literary offerings. The title character in King Lear descends into madness irrespective of environmental factors. Another Shakespeare play and another title character, this time Othello, is a victim of his own race amongst Venetian society; his pride is misplaced and the jealousy which ensues is borne of insecurity as he is not truly accepted in the world in which he inhabits.

The characters discussed so far have all been well thought out in terms of the impacts on their childhood or elements prior to even being born, therefore cause and effect are critical in building a character. However, it remains that some of the most intriguing characters of British literature include those with large question marks over their past. Othello’s resident machiavelli malcontent - Iago - at first glance is the less accomplished creation yet his ‘motive-hunting of motive-less malignity’, a phrase coined by Samuel Coleridge in relation to Iago, offers much to consider for the reader. 

Although we know him to be a soldier not born into high society, we are still prevented from knowing intimate details of his past which may have offered possible solutions to these questions. 

Another famous character without anything more than speculation of his past is Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1847). His whole heritage is one of mystery and this contributes to many aspects of the plot, he even manages to disappear and return during the novel with only a hint as to his supposed activities during his absence. Despite the omission of this information from the novel, one can be certain that William Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte had given far more consideration as to their past endeavours than the novel suggests. 

In summary, it is not enough to create a character with a single flaw or one that is affected by a single event. It is not enough to describe what they look like and convey their speech patterns without thinking of their past and ultimately what drives them forward in their motivations and desires. There is a lot which needs to be carefully considered and in doing so it might be useful to think about the following:

1.      What do they want most in life?
2.      How do they set about achieving their goals?
3.      What conflict will they encounter and how will they overcome it?
4.      What are the consequences of failure?
5.      What possessions or people does your character covet the most and why?
6.      How does their environment reflect their past or shape their future?
7.      What are their flaws or weaknesses?
8.      What event from their past has helped shape their present character?
9.      What is their distinctive pattern of speech?

10.      In terms of form, how would they best ‘tell’ their story?

These are of course simply suggestions to assist you. There are a number of characterisation worksheets available on the internet which will help you further, such as Claire Wigfall’s Character Profile, but many other variations exist. If you participate in completing a worksheet or in answering the questions above it would prove valuable to then write a short piece which brings the past and present of the character together. Some suggestions can be found below to start you off:

  





•         I saw ……………… and was instantly transported back to ………..
•         I’ve never felt so …………… since ……………….
•         A song or photo that reminds them of a past event
•         I looked in the mirror but instead of seeing my own reflection I only saw…….


Have fun with it. I am, as ever, interested to read anything you can offer and to hear about how much or how little use you have found this article. Everyone is brave by posting on this page so please be honest but tactful in your feedback as we are all here to support each other and want to make it a positive experience for everyone. 

Happy writing!

A blog by Steve Marshall
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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER!


The aim of last week’s blog was to help new writers realise that we all possess a wealth of knowledge on how to produce writing which can be taken from our previous reading, social conditioning and our life experiences. These can prove valuable sources of inspiration and can be found anywhere, but it can be overwhelming to sit down and focus when faced with such a vast plethora of ideas, so how do we set about creating order from this chaos?

Maybe the first question to ask yourself is do you want to create order from chaos? Some may find it more beneficial to work on these ideas straight away -- harnessing the motivation and creative juices while they are flowing. After all, a lot can be said for converting these ideas into chapters straight away, as it provides tangible evidence that your ideas can become a reality, resulting in further motivation to continue. By producing a few chapters following the nucleus of your idea it may be that you think more about the depth of your characters or aspects of the plot and how they may develop. Have you decided how your story or novel ends? Not a problem having the gung-ho approach and just jumping in without solid direction, you can decide that as you move forward and may find that when the time comes your characters will dictate to you how the story ends rather than the other way around. Your early drafts become a playground within which you can lose yourself for hours as you tinker with a solution that suits you -- time lines can be adjusted or played with, drafts of chapters can be broken up to create suspense and so on and so forth.

So why would we want to stunt this creative flow? We don’t. In fact, what you’ll find consistent among all of these blogs is that the act of writing is a very individual thing and that each person may find their productivity following different methods; each to their own. Just for a moment though, I would like you to consider an alternative. A ‘write first’ approach may have some drawbacks, the first of which is in the production of a synopsis, which is the cornerstone of being able to promote your work to a publisher. We will go into detail on the production of a synopsis in future weeks but, for now anyway, the question is what would go in it? Adopting a ‘write first’ approach means that the writer would be less likely to concisely tell the publisher about the novel including the details they want to know about the full plot and the ending, so at some stage these things need to be considered. Furthermore, if a character develops in some way (think classic bildungsromans like Jane Eyre) then this could be pivotal in selling your story.

However, if we step away from the business side of writing we can still view a plan or writing structure as having practical merit. It can help the writer make crucial decisions about how the writing will be presented, such as journals alternating between characters, what narrative voice you wish to employ or maybe the locations that you want the action to take place in. Consistency can often be traced back to a plan as it may assist the writer in maintaining a focus on some of the fundamental issues contributing to the text such as dialects, socio-political events relevant to the time and location of the story, or simply what tense to present it in. A plan may also have further benefits in that they can capture fantastic ideas, the value of which may have been diluted if revisited some weeks later. Ever forgotten something? Revisiting a brief summary of each chapter would prevent this. Finally, motivation is key to all writers so the production of a plan can be linked to achieving writing targets whilst also helping to prevent having to ask yourself about where the story is going next or hitting the wall that is writer’s block.

The very essence of writing is creativity but, rather than stifle that, what I am suggesting is that a small investment of time in producing a writing plan may assist you in making authorial decisions at the beginning of the process as you’ll be able to see the bigger picture throughout. If it is a practice that you’re not familiar with, and even if it is, might I propose producing four sentences which capture the essence of your novel and then one sentence or three bullet points for each chapter thereafter. This is just a guide and you may decide to capture more information within your plan to assist you on your journey. 



As always, share your ideas and thoughts in response to this and lets all support each other along the way. Happy writing!



A blog by Steve Marshall

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

WRITING... WHEN DOES IT BEGIN?


In last week’s blog I asked everyone to have the courage to write. To write something, anything. Writing may come easier to some than to others so it got me thinking about where writing begin.

  • Is it the first chapter? 
  • Is it the moment we commit the first word to paper? 
  • The moment we sit down and open the laptop with a freshly made cuppa?
  • The conversation down the pub when we first reveal the world changing title of our novel?
  • Or is the nucleus of the idea that starts the process?

It could actually be any of these, and yet, could equally be none of them.

The meaning of intertextuality can be misplaced and is often introduced today as referring to another text. However, in The Post-War British Literature Handbook, Michael Greaney summarises it as follows:

‘Every act of writing, however ‘original’, involves some adaption of existing words, styles of expression, generic conventions and so forth. Writing thus emerges not from the author, but from what [Roland] Barthes calls the ‘immense dictionary’ of literature and culture that pre-exists the writer. Barthes even argues that the author – though at this point he prefers to use the term ‘scriptor’ – does not produce the writing but is an effect of the writing.’ (2010, 95-6)

In this regard, every word from every book that has been read and comprehended could maybe find its way into the formula of the story being produced. The form of the novel, poem or short story in question is also the result of understanding the ‘rules’ that are the make-up of the catalogue of literature that comes before us. Maybe that doesn’t apply to you, as what you are planning is ground breaking and will subvert the form of more traditional presentations of your tale, however, you must first know and understand these rules in order to challenge them, which of course comes from all the authors that come before you.

It is also true that writing, much like spoken language, is often a result of the social environment in which we inhabit. The language we use on a daily basis is heavily influenced by our national language, culture, social class, understanding of the world around us, religious beliefs, our values and many other contributing factors. To muddy the waters further a middle-class, white, single, British male may wish to write as a married, Mexican, Catholic, working-class woman. In this far-fetched but not impossible scenario, the author would have to navigate the aforementioned influences on the character created as well as wrestling the natural impulses brought about by their own experiences.

This brings me to the last of the possible beginnings to one’s writing (mentioned here anyway) and that is the author’s own experiences. Close your eyes and cast your mind back.

Do you remember your first kiss?
The first time you visited Rome?
How about the most traumatic event you’ve ever witnessed?
Maybe you’ve worked with people who suffer from mental health disorders or perhaps you’ve even lived through a difficult period and have come out the other end all the better for it.

Human emotions, romantic notions, tragic events, sharing drugs in damp festival tents... the list goes on! All of these and so many many more contribute to who we are and who the people around us are. If you already have a character in mind to write about, I challenge you to question whether this character reminds you of someone you know. If it does, great! It may actually help you flesh out the character to the point where readers will accept them all the more readily.

The key to producing writing is not about producing a plan any more than it is scribbling the first sentence. You need to possess a vocabulary, so read. Read different things all the time and discover the various ways in which other cultures, past or present, accept language. Talk to people. Everyone has different experiences, sometimes of the same things, but there is so much to learn from everyone. Finally, never under estimate your own experiences as they can often bring life to the characters you are creating and the environments in which they inhabit.

At this point, I feel it may be useful to challenge you to consider the above and attempt to apply it. Why not try writing a piece of approximately 1,000 words (or less) beginning or ending with one of the following lines:
  • That was the last time I truly felt happy.
  • It was the funniest thing I ever saw.
  • The very thought of it still sends a shiver down my spine.

Good luck!

A blog by Steve Marshall

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A message from the author of the blog:

I hope that the blog continues to inspire you all to engage with writing as a process, a process to be shared and continually improved. I encourage you all to post something, a piece of writing in response to this blog perhaps and I also ask that anyone commenting in response does so with courtesy, support and constructive criticism. As ever, if there are any particular topics that you wish to see covered then please submit them by reply and I will add them to my list.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

WRITING… DOES THIS COUNT?

If you’re brave enough to tell anyone that you are a writer then the first question you’ll face is: 

Pinner says,"I adore old typewriters...mostly because I love the look of old type..." Me too!‘So, what have you written?’ 
While some people have built up a nice healthy portfolio full of published and unpublished works, others will no doubt be about to take their first steps into the unknown. This brings us to the second dreaded question:

 ‘What are you going to write about?’ 
This is the perfect time to tell them about your complicated novel in which extra-terrestrial communities are unable to share the spoils of their respective planets so want to break away and form a separate solar system... too Brexit? Point taken! But embarrassment, or not having already produced the text, shouldn’t prevent you from sharing the idea. Their input could actually prove invaluable.

I consider myself a writer. No, I am a writer. Why? Put simply, it’s because I write. Some may like it while others may not but I am producing writing; whether it is disseminated or not is beside the point. It is important to engage with the act of writing and try to make sense of the world or, as Graeme Harper in On Creative Writing puts it: ‘to make art form communication, and communication from art' (2010, 112). However, understanding that every piece of work is not going to be a masterpiece is key to being strong enough to learn and develop. Emily Bronte, Oscar Wilde and Mary Shelley are just a few examples of ‘one novel wonders’, but that does not mean that their other writing was any less valuable to honing their skills or indeed to the great back catalogue of British literature in general.


So, to finish this particular piece, I would like to paraphrase the great ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ himself – Joseph Belafonte – and challenge you to pick up a pen and write. Do you have a good idea? Pick up a pen and write. Are you angry or frustrated with the world around you? Pick up a pen and write. Do you harbour a dark and twisted mind which needs a creative outlet? Pick up a pen and write! Write. Record. Type. Do whatever you need to do in order to make a start on the very thing you’ve always thought yourself capable of. Before long, you’ll have answers to the two questions at the beginning of this blog and can tell your friends, family and even strangers exactly what you have written.

A blog by Steve Marshall
  
A message from the author of the blog:
This blog is the first of a weekly series aimed at new and budding writers in the hope that it challenges and encourages in equal measure. I hope that existing writers are also able to take something away from the blog or maybe even give something back to those who have been inspired and aim to follow in your footsteps. I would truly value any comments, ideas, experiences and feedback that anyone is happy to share.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

CONGRATULATIONS TO ANDY FRANKHAM-ALLEN!

To celebrate fifteen years as a professional publisher, Candy Jar's Lethbridge-Stewart series editor Andy Frankham-Allen is offering free stuff throughout 2019! His very first giveaway starts today with his very first professional piece of work: The Dead Man's Story.

The story was originally published by Big Finish in 2004 as part of Doctor Who: Short Trips - Repercussions and has been out of print since 2009!

To read The Dead Man's Story just follow the link below!


Thursday, 27 December 2018

ADVENT UPDATE!

Candy Jar Books has announced its final advent calendar freebies.

On Saturday the independent publisher gave away a brand new Lethbridge-Stewart story by Chris Thomas. Entitled Vampires of the Night this standalone tale focuses on Professor Travers’ World War II escapades.

On Sunday, Candy Jar gave away preview excerpts of the long-awaited sequel to the Reeltime straight-to-video Doctor Who drama, Downtime.

On Christmas Eve, it was the turn of Lethbridge-Stewart’s granddaughter, Lucy Wilson. Written by Tim Gambrell (author of the upcoming Laughing Gnome book, Lucy Wilson and the Bledoe Cadets) and Chris Lynch (author of the second Lucy Wilson novel, Curse of the Mirror Clowns) this one hundred page Christmas novel features malevolent Christmas crackers, and a timey-wimey anecdote inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.


Tim Gambrell has been following the advent calendar and is excited to be included within its line-up. He said: “Shaun outlined his requirements in two words: Christmas crackers. Bang! The spark ignited and the whole thing came together very organically. Christmas is a time that focuses a lot on family, and I knew from the off that I wanted plenty of family character ‘moments’ in the story, leaving the threat to lurk in the background until its moment arose. Just be careful when you pull your crackers after lunch on Christmas Day!”

Chris Lynch is also thrilled that fans of Lucy Wilson can enjoy his take on her adventures during the Christmas holidays. He said: “Writing for Candy Jar this year has been an amazing experience. I can't think of a better way to see out my writing year than sitting in the shadow of my Christmas tree, sending Lucy and Hobo out into the universe once more.”

Christmas Day saw the biggest giveaway yet, with the complete three hundred and forty pages of the Doctor Who non-fiction book Companions: Fifty Years of Doctor Who Assistants written by Lethbridge-Stewart range editor, Andy Frankham-Allen.

Andy said: “When Shaun told me that Candy Jar would be giving away something every day for twenty-five days I thought he was mad. I said, “You’ll regret it by day seventeen”, and indeed he did. However, I do feel that he has pulled it off, just! To be honest, I have actually enjoyed many of the freebies, particularly the Eileen Younghusband documentary. So, I am really pleased that he has chosen Companions as the Christmas Day giveaway. It deserves to be out there again. For six months I watched every episode of Doctor Who, and the book, in my opinion, encapsulates what is great to be the Doctor’s best friend. And Christmas is certainly a good time to celebrate this.”

Since December 1st Candy Jar’s freebies have included The Xmas Files, the first chapter of God Bless Hooky Street: A Celebration of Only Fools and Horses, A Very Private Haunting, The New Unusual & The Man from Yesterday on Kindle, Lethbridge-Stewart-inspired Spotify lists, the complete Kangazang!: Remote Possibilties audio drama (read by Colin Baker), plus a variety of Lethbridge-Stewart short stories.

Keren Williams, who has recently been promoted to publishing coordinator at Candy Jar, explained the thinking behind the advent calendar: “It’s a Christmas tradition that we give away some short stories to our loyal readers, and this year I thought why don’t we go the whole hog and really spoil everybody? I feel that, despite Andy’s reservations, the giveaways have been successful. I have certainly received many emails from readers who have been looking forward to each day. Perhaps this is something we might repeat in the future. Time can only tell.”

Visit to http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/adventcalendar.html to see all the giveaways.

AN ANIMATED CHRISTMAS FOR TERRY!


In February this year our very own Terry Cooper was asked to produce drawings for S4C's Christmas film, Pluen Eira.

Every year, S4C make a seasonal film, and this year the story was about a young child who is placed with a new foster family. 

Frank's only joy is his comic collection, and when he's taken to spend Christmas on a remote farm, he's annoyed to discover that his comics haven't been packed. Bethan, a young girl who lives at the farm, gives him some pencils and paper, and he begins to draw the adventures of a superhero called 'Pluen Eira' (Snow feather) – based on his life and inspired by a white turkey on the farm.

Through the film, Frank's fertile imagination and drawings are shown coming to life via animated sequences. For this, Terry was briefed to draw Frank's thoughts and ideas – but in a simpler style befitting that of an eleven-year-old.

Terry said: "While the live action filming was happening, I produced a large number of drawings, broken into separate parts for the ease of animation, and also a comic book that Frank has printed out in the film. It was a very intensive few weeks, drawing through the night until daybreak, then picking up the next day's notes and brief in the morning to begin again. The film had some preview screenings in December, and was well received. It was aired on S4C on Christmas day at 6:30pm, in Welsh with English subtitles. I found it an interesting and fun job, and it really pushed me in terms of adopting a different style and providing the animation team with digitally drawn images that had the appearance of coloured pencils. I haven't seen it yet, but look forward to seeing my artwork come to life via animation."

We are very pleased for Terry at Candy Jar. He has been with us from the beginning and deserves this continuing success. Who knows what 2019 will bring?

Saturday, 8 December 2018

HAVE A CANDY JAR CHRISTMAS!


It’s Christmas time, the season of goodwill, and Candy Jar Books, the independent publisher of the popular Lethbridge-Stewart series, is entering into the spirit of things by releasing a special advent calendar. Every day until the 25th, Candy Jar will be giving away standalone Lethbridge-Stewart short stories, book samplers, wallpapers and more, completely free, on their website. 

Candy Jar have already given away the Lethbridge-Stewart short story collection The Xmas Files, a Cardiff ComicCon chapter from the children’s book The Book Spy, The Lucy Wilson Mysteries wallpaper for your computer, the first chapter of God Bless Hooky Street: A Celebration of Only Fools and Horses, the complete books Lethbridge-Stewart: A Very Private Haunting, The New Unusual, Lost in Chistmas by Michael Sloan (creator of The Equalizer) on Kindle, and a short story from Britain’s Got Talent’s Lorraine Bowen’s whimsical book The Crumble Lady. Candy Jar has also started its Christmas sale. Added to this, Candy Jar is offering all customers 20% off everything (except Downtime 2). And that’s just the first seven days.
Subscribers to Candy Jar’s newsletter will receive daily updates containing their prizes, but the calendar is available to everyone at www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/adventcalendar
Children’s Digital Assistant, Keren Williams, explained the thinking behind the advent calendar: “It’s a Christmas tradition that we give away some short stories to our loyal readers, and this year I thought, why don’t we go the whole hog and really spoil everybody? We have enough unseen material, as well as some hidden gems in our back catalogue, to fill Santa’s sack several times over. Whatever your tastes, and whether you’ve been naughty or nice, we have something just for you.”
With the Lethbridge-Stewart series about to enter its fifth year, Candy Jar wants to thank its loyal readership, who have supported the new adventures of the Brigadier since day one.
As Head of Publishing, Shaun Russell, explains: “In our series, the Brig has gone from a beloved, but somewhat forgotten part of Doctor Who history, to an alive and kicking, vital part of the ever-expanding canon. Here at Candy Jar, we’re fans first and foremost, and we’re forever grateful to our readers for embarking on this journey with us. We wanted to give a little something back to everyone who has helped make the series possible. We hope that it will make this a Candy Jar Christmas to remember!”
It’s Christmas time, the season of goodwill, and Candy Jar Books, the independent publisher of the wildly popular Lethbridge-Stewart series, is entering into the spirit of things by releasing a special advent calendar. Every day until the 25th, Candy Jar will be giving away standalone Lethbridge-Stewart short stories, book samplers, wallpapers and more, completely free, on their website.
Candy Jar have already given away the Lethbridge-Stewart short story collection The Xmas Files, a Cardiff ComicCon chapter from the children’s book The Book Spy, The Lucy Wilson Mysteries wallpaper for your computer, the first chapter of God Bless Hooky Street: A Celebration of Only Fools and Horses, the complete books Lethbridge-Stewart: A Very Private Haunting, The New Unusual, Lost in Chistmas by Michael Sloan (creator of The Equalizer) on Kindle, and a short story from Britain’s Got Talent’s Lorraine Bowen’s whimsical book The Crumble Lady. Candy Jar has also started its Christmas sale. Added to this, Candy Jar is offering all customers 20% off everything (except Downtime 2). And that’s just the first seven days.
Subscribers to Candy Jar’s newsletter will receive daily updates containing their prizes, but the calendar is available to everyone at www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/adventcalendar
Children’s Digital Assistant, Keren Williams, explained the thinking behind the advent calendar: “It’s a Christmas tradition that we give away some short stories to our loyal readers, and this year I thought, why don’t we go the whole hog and really spoil everybody? We have enough unseen material, as well as some hidden gems in our back catalogue, to fill Santa’s sack several times over. Whatever your tastes, and whether you’ve been naughty or nice, we have something just for you.”
With the Lethbridge-Stewart series about to enter its fifth year, Candy Jar wants to thank its loyal readership, who have supported the new adventures of the Brigadier since day one.
As Head of Publishing, Shaun Russell, explains: “In our series, the Brig has gone from a beloved, but somewhat forgotten part of Doctor Who history, to an alive and kicking, vital part of the ever-expanding canon. Here at Candy Jar, we’re fans first and foremost, and we’re forever grateful to our readers for embarking on this journey with us. We wanted to give a little something back to everyone who has helped make the series possible. We hope that it will make this a Candy Jar Christmas to remember!

OUR EIGHTH GIVEAWAY IS A SHORT STORY FROM THE WONDERFUL LORRAINE BOWEN BOOK THE CRUMBLE LADY. IT IS A WHIMSICAL COMEDY FOR ALL AGES!




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DOWNTIME 2
THE BRIGADIER AND KATE REUNITE!




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