Category Archives: 2016

Bristol Book Group Social – next meeting

The next meeting for Bristol Book Group Social

Time: 8pm, Thursday 19th of January 2017

Place: King William Pub. 20 King St, Bristol, Avon BS1 4EF ‎(upstairs part)

Books: The Night Manager by John le Carré, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes and Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Reading all of the books is not required, pick whichever one interests you the most.

Future plans

We’ll be meeting again in February, when we’ll be discussing Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene, His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet and The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller.

You can find Bristol Book Group Social on Facebook.

In sunlight or in shadow by Lawrence Block

in-light-or-in-shadow“Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.”

So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.

Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonee, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.

In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it.

What I thought: this collection of short stories promises a lot and delivers superbly. It’s hard to see how it could fail with such writers as King and Olen Butler amongst those chosen but it’s not only the writing. Hopper’s work is ideally suited for narrative explanation; for the befores and afters. A couple on a porch or a woman at a window. The paintings may have been left as ambiguous and undefined but these writers take up what was left unsaid.

This was one of my favourite books this year.

In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block.

The Great Ocean Road: a knitted asymmetric shawl

It’s been a bit of a busy time lately and I keep trying to find time to update this blog but fail miserably. It’s usually because I’m chasing a child around, working on an editing job, or knitting or designing. The designing part has been the most surprising part to that list.

Great Ocean Road

I started writing about it but then had to do something else. But here, see the following:

From a few weeks ago, when I first started writing this post

I have been preoccupied with designing a knitting pattern for the last few days. I took part in Aroha Knit (Francoise’s) #initiateknitdesign five day course and by the end came out with the beginnings of my first written pattern.

Some parts were harder than others. Finding time to knit up a swatch was a bit of a challenge when I was also running around after two little ones because daddy was away, and then translating my successful swatch design to the pattern was even more of a challenge.

What worked on a square, did not work at all on an ever-expanding shawl. From casting on 12 stitches, the pattern is worked until there are 282 on the needles. The stitches increase by one every odd row on only one side.

What I first thought needed to look like this:

Great Ocean Road initial swatch

and written up like the following pattern:

GOR_chart1

Turned out in fact to need to be written the other way around, as follows:

GOR_chart2

And then to be written with cable stitches rather than SSK and M1 stitches. The particularly surprising thing was that the cable stitches went on top of each other rather than a left-leaning diagonal pattern.

GOR_chart3

It was all rather mind-boggling and I frogged 21 times (give or take a few) but finally got there.

I have now found the final pattern I am sticking with. It’s this one here.

I originally wanted to use one light blue yarn and one sandy one but then realised I had a combination of both in the Suave sock Crushed Melon on Ice. It is 50% superwash Merino wool and 50% mulberry silk and it’s a very soft and silky combination. I used it a week ago for the Persephone crocheted shawl and it’s lovely to wear. Very soft.

The crushed melon colourway sold out very quickly but I dyed up a similar colour but brighter and more vivid: Orange in the Sky.

The pattern did great when it was first released and there have been nearly 3500 downloads. It was number one on the Hot Right Now chart for three days. A month later there have been some people who have made it and helped me sort out more problems with the pattern.

It’s been an educational experience.

I was so excited about releasing a pattern that I sent a swatch to a yarn company for a new pattern and it got accepted. I am in the process of knitting it up and writing the pattern.

A third pattern was rejected from a magazine but I had done a terrible job on knitting a swatch to show what it would look like. I’m now wondering whether to use it for my own yarn or to try to submit it elsewhere. It’s a bit of a niche pattern so I’m still thinking about it.

That’s it for the pattern business.

I have set up a Zanetto group on the Ravelry forums for any pattern support required.

CBeebies is too sacred to be patronised by 38 Degrees and cut by the Tories

Cbeebies

What a patronising petition the 38 degrees team have put together to protest the cuts to CBeebies and CBBC!

Who doesn’t love CBeebies? Kids love it, and so do parents. BBC children’s programmes, like CBeebies, allow us those precious few minutes in a day to make a cuppa. And we can trust that our kids are watching quality shows.

The email was sent out by 38 Degrees campaign manager Rachel Diamond, in post since November 2015, but signed by many more. Unfortunately, Rachel, Rowan, Nat, David, Megan and the 38 Degrees team don’t seem to have watched and loved that very precious commodity they are trying to save because if they had they wouldn’t be effectively saying: ‘Mothers need a cup of tea and brave activists are fighting the corporate powers.’ They would realise that WE – the mothers / activists who can’t leave the house so are filling up the petition sites like theirs, are the ones who need to be brought on board. Who do they think the thousands who are trying to save Cbeebies are? We may sign this petition because it’s important but not the next one, or the thousand after that.

Well, if you’re listening, you patronising gits, the following is what carers / mothers / fathers know about Cbeebies:

CBeebies teaches our children. It doesn’t just distract them so we can sip and pause.

Here are some of the subjects that came up on the Cbeebies curriculum just last week.

Science: Nina and the Neurons

  • Volcanoes
  • Engineering
  • Earth
  • The scientific method!

Maths: Numtums and Numberjacks.

Arts and crafts:

  • Mister Maker.

Music appreciation and practice:

Nutrition (although the influence of the dairy lobby seems to be creeping in. There’s lots of eating dead animals and praising how ‘healthy’ they are, despite the UN’s warning of the devastating impact animal agriculture has on our planet, not to mention animal cruelty. The farm also shows an idealised version of how animals are grown to be used for animal needs and consumption rather than the reality.

  • I Can Cook
  • Mr Bloom

Equality: through casting and practice, they battle against gender, race and disability discrimination.

Sharing:

  • Topsy and Tim
  • Woolly and Tig
  • Abney and Teal

Learning how to deal with mistakes:

Community:

The above and many other shows.

Awareness of differences in terms of physical appearance and diversity in development and abilities:

  • Mr Tumble and any show with Justin Fletcher.

Change and addressing children’s fears:

  • Families
  • Friends
  • Topsy and Tim
  • Woolly and Tig

Going to school: one of the biggest changes children will face.

  • Topsy and Tim
  • Charlie and Lola

Friendships: pick a show, any show.

Crisis management:

  • Furchester
  • Postman Pat.

Writing and reading:

  • Alphablocks.

Regular routines for children who may come from chaotic households:

  • Bedtime stories

Family. 

Celebrating individual children:

  • Birthday shows (which are now no longer on iplayer).

Culture:

  • Katie Morag
  • Jack’s Boat
  • Teacup Travels
  • Abney and Teal

Physical geography:

  • Octonauts

Human geography:

  • Mr Bloom
  • GoJetters

And on and on and on and on. These are brief thoughts on only a handful of shows off the top of my head.

Note that all these shows are appropriate for under 5s!

Baby Jake, the Twirlywoos, In the Night Garden and the Teletubbies are educational and aimed at under 2s.

And on and on. I could fill so many different shows against each of these categories and then add more and more categories.

So how does the 38 degrees petition present its argument?

DON’T LET MURDOCH WIN.

BOO TO COMMERCIALS.

CUP OF TEA.

What kind of an ignorant person even wrote the patronising paragraph that I’m about to repeat?

“Who doesn’t love CBeebies? Kids love it, and so do parents. BBC children’s programmes, like CBeebies, allow us those precious few minutes in a day to make a cuppa. And we can trust that our kids are watching quality shows.”

Ignorant simpletons.

CBeebies is sacred to those of us who know it but is only a past-time for those who would use it as a tool.

The 7 things I learnt from reading a badly written book

Last night, I was up at 4am reading a terrible book on how to be a successful Etsy seller. It was so badly written that I tried to find the author and offer them my services but they had no obvious social presence and I think the book was not something anyone had spent too much time on. It was one in a long line of marketing books that are priced low and designed for a quick sale.

I also read one or two very well written books by people who genuinely had experience in selling and wanted to share it with others. 
The well-written books inspired me to share with you some things I would have told the badly-written book’s author if they’d been around. If it helps anyone then it will have been worth it.

So here they are:

The seven things I learnt from badly written books
1. With a good / professional book cover, you’ll get some readers even if your book is terrible. If your book and cover are both good then you’ll have a much better chance of keeping those readers.

2. Make sure your chapters are numbered consecutively. 
The chapters of the bad book went from 12 to 14 with no 13. It didn’t inspire me with confidence and it wasn’t even the worst thing about it. There were also numbered sections interspersed throughout the book and not confined to the chapters. I was very confused.

3. Website names are proper nouns so you don’t need to use ‘the’ in front of them. 
The Facebook or the Etsy is just wrong.

4. If you’re going to copy and use text straight from a website you’re writing about, make sure you format it so that it’s obvious it is not your writing; indent and leave space above and below, or use quotation marks at the beginning and end of the text.

5. Use specific examples rather than general talk around an issue. For example, if you’re writing to tell people about how to promote their shops on etsy, give examples and directions.



Bad example from a book that shall remain nameless – I have not skipped any content, the following is the entirety of what was written in that section. I read the whole book and there was no better advice:

“The Etsy has millions of buyers and a variety of business stores with them; therefore, you will get lots of opportunities to sell your products. You can work without prior experience because the experts in the team and online labs will help you to grow your business.”



Good example from a helpful book:

“The Etsy Blogs should be your last stop, because it is going to be important to remember what you learn there. Under the Blogs tab are links to the Etsy Blog, Etsy News Blog and the Seller Handbook.

You may wish to scan the News Blog and see what is going on, but the Seller handbook is the real reason that we are looking at this tab. The handbook contains dozens of outstanding articles for both beginning and experienced Etsians. The articles are provided by the Etsy staff. They focus on providing tips to organize your business, price goods and develop your brand.

Before I built my shop, I read all of the applicable posts in the Handbook. There is a lot of information that can help you to develop a profitable business on Etsy. There are two final pages to visit: 1) Etsy Seller Guidelines at https:// www.etsy.com/ help/ article/ 4507 2) Etsy Seller FAQs at https:// www.etsy.com/ help/ topics? ref = help_faq_suggestion”

(From – Etsy Empire by Eric Michael)

6. Make sure your first page (at least!) makes sense. Get someone else to read your work for you. There’s a lot of talk about beta readers these days, which is just a way of saying people who will give you feedback. Don’t ask family and friends unless they like your genre or style of writing. They’re bound to be biased.

But who else can you ask because for most of us, we only know and stay in touch with family and friends? Maybe ask your friends then but try to ensure they like the kind of thing you are writing about and are able to provide useful feedback. If not completely unbiased, they could at least provide a sense check on your writing.

7. Remember to provide your contact details such as your social media accounts and any website details. Don’t use URL shortcuts because they might stop working.

I hope these are helpful in some way. It would be nice to think that my 4am frustrations with books that aren’t great, weren’t for nothing.

Some other helpful tips can be found in this Book Helpline ebook.

Opening scenes: Yippi-kai-yay story lovers – lessons from Die Hard

Die Hard may seem an unlikely way to learn what makes a great introduction but you would be amazed. There is a reason why this movie is a classic and has an 8.2 rating on IMDB.

Everything you need to know about the protagonist and his biggest flaw are revealed before the credits even say DIE HARD.

DieHard

A plane touches down.
A man is gripping the arm rest of his aeroplane seat and the passenger next to him gives him some advice on how to “survive air travel”: walk around barefoot and make fists with your feet. He says,”Trust me, I’ve been doing this for nine years.”

The advisor looks up at John McClane as the latter gets his baggage from the compartment above and is horrified at the gun in his holster.

“It’s ok, I’m a cop. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”

John takes down a huge teddy bear from the compartment.

As he moves past a flight attendants, she keeps his glance longer than she should. He looks back. Then looks after her.

The credits say DIE HARD.

In the two minutes, you have just been given all the information you need about the movie:

  • The main character is a cop. He carries a gun.
  • He is taking a big present which is the clue to the fact he hasn’t seen his children in a while
  • He is taking this flight despite not wanting to – he doesn’t like flying
  • He finds other women attractive so his marriage is in trouble, and
  • At some stage he is going to take his shoes off and be barefoot

If you’ve seen Die Hard then you know that his bare feet are his achilles heel, as such. Once the bad guys realise that he’s not wearing any shoes they can take advantage of it and cause him a lot of pain.

All this foreshadowing and introduction took two minutes. Most people watching won’t realise how detailed the opening scene has been because it is interesting. We want to know more. This is tough guy Bruce Willis carrying a gun and a teddy bear and not liking being on a plane. Where is he going? What is he doing?

—-

So how can Die Hard help you with your opening scene. Here are the tips:

  • How can your scene be made compelling?
  • What does it say about your story?
  • How does it progress your story?
  • It’s a setting, a scene in its own right and a potential mirror of the ending.

Die Hard is based on the 1979 book by Roderick Thorp, Nothing Lasts Forever. The opening scene in the book however starts in a taxi that gets rear-ended. The Black driver has to get our protagonist to the terminal in 20 minutes but the guy who hit them is a maniac who is not letting them go. Leland, the protagonist, then tells the driver that he is an ex-cop, current security consultant. In this way we find out what the protagonist is willing to do, what he’s about, and the taxi driver gets set up to appear later in the story as well, just like in the movie.

The introduction is a bit longer than in the movie, which screenwriter Jeb Stuart changed to him already landing in the plane. Stuart knows a thing or two about action and suspense and he also wrote the screenplays for Lock UP featuring Sylvester Stallone, and the Fugitive with Harrison Ford.

He is excellent at knowing how to make the opening scene interesting, compelling, informative and useful. The useful part is the foreshadowing that you won’t realise is a vital bit of information but your subconscious will remember it and when it happens it will make even more of an impact.

You don’t need an action novel to use all these elements. Try it out on your opening scene and let me know how it goes. I’ll happily provide feedback.

Deluded in Love by Rema King, freelance editing

I have been a freelance editor now officially since October 2015 but haven’t shared too much more other than my aspirations to help people. One thing I have stopped worrying about is being a kind of vigilante evangelist who tells every writer she’s read how they could fix their book. I’ve stopped primarily because my friend Judith pointed out that not everyone can afford to have their work edited, and then I realised that it would be cruel and not helpful at all. So I’ve stopped my ambulance-chasing editing ways.

Instead I thought I’d just share with you some of the books I have edited. I freelance with BookHelpline.co.uk and Deluded in Love by Rema King is one of the works I’ve been involved with.

Suzanne Sinclair is a single parent and up-and-coming celebrity who is plagued by traumatic memories of her abusive past. When she meets Carlton Patrick, an ex-convict, she’s drawn into a world where, deluded in love, she exposes herself to deceit, betrayal and ultimately, murder. Suzanne reminds us we must be careful what we wish for, because we might just get it.

Take a look at the book trailer, if you’re so inclined. This is a great book and I feel great about being able to tell people about it.

You can find the book on Amazon and Rema’s Facebook page is here.

Buddhist practice and resolutions

After I had my second child, in November of 2014, I started to see her in all living creatures. All babies, mainly animals, were my Lois. Maybe it helped that I had decided in 2014 to go vegetarian and my brain was helping me along with some internalisation.

In zen monk Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart, she calls this bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means “noble or awakened heart.” It is said to be present in all beings. It is the kinship with the suffering of others, this inability to continue to regard it from afar. This is the discovery of our soft spot.

This sense of my baby in every creature is why I don’t want to participate in eating meat or why I don’t want to participate in using animals for humans’ benefit. So this year I am going vegan. Leading a vegan lifestyle is not that easy or straightforward in a society where the use of animals is so common. Milk is in so much food that it’s ridiculous.

I don’t think it’s going to be easy but it is what I want to do. I will need a lot of preparation and an attitude that doesn’t involve shame. To keep me going I will be focusing on all the ways that stop me from being vegan.

I remember wanting to stop eating meat a few years ago – maybe nine or 10 years ago – and at the mere mention of wanting to stop I would get a craving for meat and I would have it. This was very helpful. I knew that one of the things stopping me from achieving what I wanted was simply my ‘desire’ for it. I would then notice this desire come up and see what happened. Just noticing didn’t ultimately make me stop. Learning about the life that animals bred for meat, face, is what made me stop. I watched innumerable videos on cows being abused, cramped conditions, babies being taken away and slaughtered, the pain of mastitis for cows in the dairy industry and much more about their lives. I finally got to a point where I had been vegetarian for a few months and decided to try a beef burger. I was pregnant so my body and hormones were all over the place.

I started eating the burger and all I could sense was muscles and tendons and a very unpleasant experience. I didn’t have to worry about desiring meat after that.

So this next stage is to pay very close attention to all the things stopping me from being vegan. Some things that stopped me in 2015 were hunger, no options at restaurants, not enough preparation beforehand and in terms of the yarn that I dye and sell, not enough knowledge or access to vegan yarn.

Let’s see what happens next. Here’s to a curious 2016.

lois