Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Music Review - Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, VOL III

This third album by talented Melbourne songwriter Bernie Manning has veered away from the protest and is more a celebration of the varieties of human experience. I found it interesting as a kind of crossover piece between the worlds of music and poetry; Manning is essentially a poet, and the lyrics in Volume 3 reflect this bent in particular as the album rides the range of humanity, from the cheerful, cock-robin tone of the opening track, through the thought-provoking 'Do What You Do Best' and the nostalgic song of filial love 'My Father' (I was listening to that track on Father's Day and I must admit it brought me to tears) to  the gentle, valedictory sorrow of 'Sorrento'.

Humour isn't missed in the collection;in Track 10, 'I Am Not A Refrigerator' we see a rare lighter side to Jeff Burstin's voice, and of course there is a special treat for fans of Manning's dry, but essentially kind, humour in the two closing tracks, Men's Secret Nightmares 1 and 2.

The booklet of lyrics is provided with its usual professional presentation. I was a little sad that the lyrics  of two of the loveliest tracks, The Artist and Sorrento, were omitted from it; they are the two tracks (apart from Men's Secret Nightmares) where Manning speaks his own lyrics, and are also particularly beautiful tracks. Sorrento in particularly is heart-breakingly lovely. 

However, the clear diction of all three of the vocalists renders the book a luxury rather than a necessity. Altogether a very satisfying work, and one I will play often.

Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, Volumes One, Two and Three, are available from  Bernie's own website.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Interview with the Author - Cathy Jackson on writing Inspirational Fiction, and achieving stupendously large wordcounts.

Today's interview is with Cathy Jackson, author of As You Wish.

OK, Cathy, thank you for joining us today. Let's start with the genre. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to write Inspirational Fiction?

Trial and error led me to writing inspirational fiction. I did try writing other genres but they never seemed to fit me. When I began writing Inspirational Fiction the words just flew onto the page.

And you call it Inspirational Fiction. Now in the past I've generally seen this genre referred to as Christian Fiction. Is there a difference, or what's the reason for the name change?

My mother's death is why I call what I write Inspirational Fiction. I wanted to take a very dark time in my life and give people hope so that they knew if they were going through something that it was going to be okay in the end. 

Oh that is lovely. And of course it opens the way for the genre to be inclusive for writers of other faiths.
And how has your own faith helped you in your work?

I base my writings off of real life situations. Empathy is one of my greatest emotions and if I can understand how the character(s) feel I know how to write them. What I don't try to do is generalize my faith in my books but try to inspire people by how the characters use it to be better people.

And what about the genre, if anything, do you find difficult?

I think I have written most genres. It's weird because when I find the one song that writes the chapters for me I'm done.

What do you mean, the one song?

A novel will usually write itself in my head while I am sleeping our taking a nap. I use music to fit each chapter of the book when I write the novel. If I need a sad song to write a chapter, I play a sad one. If I need a happy one because the chapter is happy I play a happy one. If I find the right song to fit the mood of the chapter I can usually type around 10 pages in a half an hour.

My goodness! That's a very novel approach, very original. Can you give us some examples of the songs you used when writing As You Wish?

No. I have started a Playlist for my other novels but I don't think I made one for As You Wish.

OK then, could you give us some examples of songs you've used in your other work?

No One Ever Saw – Lykke Li
Love Someone – Jason Mraz
Run (Revised Album Version) – Snow Patrol
Magic – Coldplay
Geronimo - Sheppard Best Day of My Life – American Authors Strange Enough- Verite Little Bit – Perrin Lamb Jose Gonzalez, Stay Alive This Love – Julia Stone   

So, how does it work? You can write 10 pages or so in half an hour with the right song: do you put the song on continuous repeat, is that how it works?

Yes! It drove my husband INSANE when I began doing it. But on repeat the words fly from my head onto the page.

That's probably THE most original writing technique I've ever heard of. How did you come up with it?

I guess that's why my husband calls me unconventional. But it works! Original!

So how did you come up with this technique?

How did I come up with it? I was trying to find a song one day to fit a mood in the book. It was The City by Exitmusic. I played the song over and over again and noticed the words would just fly from my fingers. 

But what made you think of listening to music while you wrote in the first place?

I love music! I have always associated my moods with music and to an extent the type of music I am listening to is how I feel. So I just thought, hey maybe the same thing would happen with the scene I am trying to write.

Brilliant. Ten pages, that would be around 5,000 words wouldn't it? Gosh, you could finish a novel in a day at that rate. Or is it something that can only be sustained for short bursts?

Short bursts. My husband says I am manic. I just finished 70,000 words in 9 days.

Oh, that is so very impressive. I wish I could do that. So tell me, what things do you find difficult in your work? Obviously not meeting a daily wordcount!

Difficult in my work? World building. I dislike the tedious stuff. So my husband Matt and I have begun collaborating on world building.

Do you build your whole fictional world before you start the book, or is it more of an 'as you go' kind of thing?

For me it's a build as I go kind of thing. I know what it looks like in my mind but getting what I see onto the page is a challenge.

And is it a new world build for each book? Or do you use the same framework with different characters for multiple books?

It's a new world build for each book.

Can you give us some examples of the kind of information?
For As You Wish?
Or any of the 15 books I have written?

Oh, let's say As You Wish if that's convenient.
Story starts out in any town USA then moves to England then to Scotland.
I didn't want to peg down any particular location because I wanted the book to be universal.

So what kind of information went into your world build?

I made it up as I went. Airport and hospital UK along with a travel agency. What they saw and heard. I had a lot of feedback from those living in the UK on what was right and wrong.

So do you write full descriptions of all your settings? And end up with a really detailed file, floor plans of the houses and all that kind of thing? Or is it more generic?

Full descriptions of the settings? No. Only what the character is seeing or experiencing at the time. Definitely generic because I want the reader to feel like character I am describing.

OK. And do you use pictures at all? A story board? Writing software, any of that kind of thing?

No. The entire idea is in my mind and I have to get it on paper. I have tried writing it all down but it just confused me and I didn't end up using it.

OK, well we come to the biggie for a writer in your genre. How does your faith contribute to your writing?

I know what I believe and what has made me who I am today. A big part of who I am is my faith. My mother and father's family is riddled with drug abuse and alcoholism. I am making the choice not to fall into the trap of either. I chose to believe in God because he gives me the strength every day to be a better person. I know that if I lost my faith, who I am as a person, would no longer exist. And I need to for my family and for those I love.

So would you say that your faith sustains your writing by sustaining your existence as the person you are, and the person who writes the things that you write?

Yes, my faith sustains my writing. I write honestly what I have been given. Yes, my faith sustains my existence as the person I am. My faith helps me to write what I do.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers today?

I just want people to love reading. Find a book you love and immerse yourself in it. Fall in love, fight alongside a warrior, be a vampire or a shifter, or anything else that makes you love to see words on a page.

Well, thank you Cathy for joining us today. We'll all go and struggle with the sin of envy now, after hearing about those amazing wordcounts.

Cathy's newest book, As You Wish, is available from Amazon.








Friday, 10 October 2014

Book review - As You Wish, by Cathy Jackson

A beautiful tale of three second-chance loves, this book twines about like a vine, bearing fruit at the end with two lonely people finding love and a lost faith regained. On the way, the vine offers various flowers of wisdom as Daniel faces the many obstacles he has placed between himself and his God.

The book opens with a delightful air of mystery as two strangers meet in a park at dead of night. Neither knows who the other is, and neither is completely honest with the other. The intensity of dark mystery that is conveyed is almost Gothic.

The central question of the book is undoubtedly the male protagonist's faith journey, but it is twined so completely with the love story that the two quests merge into a harmonious whole. Very nice writing, and a well thought-out  plot from a writer who obviously is blessed with a deep and informed faith. The beautiful treatment of the age-old problem of evil on its own makes the book worth reading.

This book will appeal to anyone who is, or wishes he were, close to God. The specific faith setting is Christian, but I am sure there is plenty here for those of other religions too.

As You Wish is available from SMASHWORDS.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Book review - Dragon Sword, by Susan Brassfield Cogan

I found Dragon Sword immensely entertaining. It's a fast-paced, action-packed urban fantasy with a smart-arsed young heroine. Unlike most books I have read in this genre, though, it doesn't fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously, so a leaven of humour lifts the tone throughout, like yeast bubbling in warm bread. And the dragons! Ah, the dragons. Who doesn't love dragons, and good, noble dragons are even better.

This book is evidently the second in a series, and another common fantasy series mistake Cogan has deftly avoided is banging on about forerunners. There's enough backstory that one isn't left floundering, and one is aware that there's a book before this one, but the point is not laboured and one has all the information one needs.

As far as form goes, the work has been edited to a high standard, and I was delighted to see this, for it is a common failing with indie writers that quality issues are neglected. Chapter heading quotes from the Tao Te Ching provided a delightful counterpoint to the book.

Dragon Sword, along with Ms Cogan's considerable body of work, is available from Smashwords.

Friday, 3 October 2014

On Self-Revelation in Fiction Writing

It's a truism in writing fiction that you must show, not tell, your reader what is happening. And a good writer either bears that constantly in mind, or it comes naturally to him. 

What we don't always realise, however, is what else you are showing your reader with every word that comes out of your keyboard. 

To write is to expose yourself. This is particularly true of fiction. In a textbook or treatise, tight focus on the subject matter may leave the writer entirely out of it, but with fiction this cannot be so. Your book is the product of your mind, and just as observing a dog or child can tell you a lot about the person who's brought him up, so in our fiction do we reveal ourselves.

Now I am not speaking here of writers such as Robert Heinlein and John Norman, who keep pausing in their books to deliver a fourteen page lecture about their own social, political, or sexual views. That kind of exposure is quite deliberate (although in fiction, always a mistake, but we are not concerned with it here). I refer rather to the unconscious revelations that infuse every piece of fiction, and have generally been made unconsciously. 

Like most things in life, this is a two-edged sword. 

On the positive side, a writer's personality can shine through, illuminating his work with warmth and kindness. A good example of this is Could You But Find It, by Robert Cilley. The author's deep and kindly knowledge of human nature infuses the whole work and adds gloss to his writing.

Other knowledge about a writer may also be a necessary result of the work. For instance, you don't read my own story, User Pays, without discovering that I'm a Socialist. A lawyer can't read Lynne Cantwell's Pipe Woman series without realising that she is in the law herself, and knows her way around a mediation. Political stances and specialist knowledge, where present in a substantial degree, will always be observable, and that's by no means a bad thing. And I don't read much erotic fiction, but I'd be willing to bet that reading a number of books of that kind by the same author would give you a pretty fair idea of where his own sexual tastes lie, or even of his unfulfilled fantasies.

What, though, of the less pleasant revelations we may make about ourselves? I have an example in mind, a book I read recently: Cherry Cobbler, by Jo Hannah Reardon.

This book falls into the pseudo-genre of Christian Fiction, or Inspirational Fiction as I prefer to call it, for this kind of work could just as easily be concerned with some other faith. I'd already read another of Reardon's books (Crispens Point), liked it a lot and given it four stars in my review. That book was a charming romance, squeaky clean and full of good Christian principles. A delightful book, and so when I came to read Cherry Cobbler, the second book in that series, I was fairly confident of what I would find. 

In fact I did find all the things I expected to find; competent writing, sympathetic characters, a nice leavening of humour, lots of good Christian messages. All good. But I also found something else, something not so nice. In three places in this book, incidents of cruelty to an animal were treated by the protagonist as unimportant or even mildly amusing. This impaired my enjoyment of the book to such a great extent that, although in every other way it was just like Crispen's Point, I gave it only one star.

Now this is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about when I say that we constantly reveal ourselves to the reader. The three incidents of animal cruelty in Cherry Cobbler were all minor incidents, just a little texture, nothing at all relevant to the plot in any way. They could have just as easily been taken out and left not a ripple. But the cost of leaving them in was high. I'm just one reader, but not only has this writer gained a one star instead of a four star review, but she has lost a reader. Lost a reader who would have gone on buying her books. And I'm not an unusual person. I'm pretty average, really. If I had this reaction, then so, probably, did a lot of other people.

How to avoid this happening to you? It's the kind of thing you need to be picking up in revisions. If you use beta readers, ask them what, if anything, they learned about you in reading the book. If you don't, you need to be looking very carefully for it in your read-through. Your editor might pick up this kind of thing for you, but you shouldn't rely on it. It should be eliminated before the book goes to the editor.

So, bottom line, people - when you're going to strip yourself in public - make sure you have nice underwear on.