Thursday, 29 May 2014

Old Fashioned or Badly-Written?

Often, when I’m struggling to motivate myself to write, I take the obvious step. I read.

This week it was PD James and Death Comes to Pemberley. As it’s a long time since I read any PD James and even longer since I read Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I should say at the outset that this isn’t a book review, but a rambling reflection on writing. PD James is a terrific crime writer but it did seem to me, as I read on, that she seemed to be breaking every rule in the book.

Never use passive voice. Unless you’re PD James, it appears, in which case Darcy and Elizabeth can settle down once logs have been thrown on the fire. Those who know better than I do repeat the mantra (I do it myself) of show not tell - but DCTP is full of telling not showing. And reported speech instead of direct speech… the book is awash with that.

Actually, I’m not sure that it’s any poorer for any one of those things, once in a while.  I’m not hung up on the rules that people constantly turn out for writers, because not only can you always find places where authors break the rules and it works (or adhere to them so painfully that it quite clearly doesn’t) but because the rules change.

Take adverbs, for example. These days the adverb is a sinner, the devil we should excise from the detail of our work. But I like adverbs, in moderation. Of course they can be unnecessary (she whispered quietly) and of course sometimes we use them because we’re too lazy to think of an alternative. But occasionally it occurs to me that it’s more elegant to use a single word to express oneself. ‘Angrily’, I would argue, is probably at least as good as ‘in an angry voice’ and so on.

Back to PD James and the writer’s rules. Death Comes to Pemberley struck me as an old book, rather dated, perhaps lacking a little in drama with all that reported speech. And of course there’s a problem in writing a sequel to a classic like Pride and Prejudice because the reader will expect the same characters even though (like Charlotte Lucas) they are irrelevant to the story. Nevertheless the author has to include them, and their background, and so they become part of a back story that can’t be left unsaid, even though the book might be improved if it were.

It did strike me that the way we write changes rapidly, almost too rapidly. Readers expect things and we have to deliver. I enjoyed Death Comes to Pemberley, for all its old-fashioned feel (in its style, not in its substance); but I can’t help wondering whether, had it been written by an unknown, it would have found a publisher.  Though I have to say, I’m glad it did.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Cinderella, You Shall Go to the Ball!

This is not a question I ask very often…but what am I going to wear?

It’s less than two weeks until the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer party and Cinderella is going to the ball. Yes, I have my ticket booked down to London and I’m off to meet up with a few old friends, several virtual friends and (I hope) make a whole host of new ones.

Sometimes being a writer is a lonely business. I’m lucky. I have plenty of boots on the ground, so to speak. There’s always someone in an online group who will offer me advice or sympathise with a rejection, and when I’m in that land of the lost dark Alone where only writers go I can always find someone to meet me for a coffee and keep me company in the wilderness.

So far, however, I haven’t been a great networker. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never really thought of myself as a writer and so the trip to RNA or other events in London, or even in Penrith, are just too much of an indulgence in terms of time and money. Of course I wanted to, and of course I looked at the calendar and thought ‘maybe I’ll go to that…next year’. And, of course, I never did.

This year is different. Coming through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme means that Thank You For The Music is eligible for the annual Joan Hessayon Award. And so I get a ticket to the summer party in London. I get to rub shoulders with some terrific romantic novelists. I get to meet all this lovely people. I get to have my photograph taken with the other lovely contenders. And that means I get to panic about what to wear.

My purple sparkly dress. I love that. But is it too purple? Is it too sparkly? Is it a little too Christmassy? And the blue check one -  I like that too but maybe it’s a little bit frumpy? That lovely fuchsia one I had for Rebecca’s wedding doesn’t fit any more and actually I don’t wear dresses very often so if there’s anything suitable in the back of the wardrobe the moths will have got it.

So that means a shopping trip. Shame, eh? A dirty job but it has to be done.

I’ll let you know what happens…