Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

"A View of Pulteney Bridge" by William Noble Hardwick from the Victoria Art Gallery  (Bath) Collection

“A View of Pulteney Bridge” by William Noble Hardwick from the Victoria Art Gallery (Bath) Collection

Any author owes a big debt to their readers. Not just because they’ve chosen their book amongst so many others, but because they have spent time reading it. There are so many competing forms of more “instant” entertainment now, and time is precious.  The cover and blurb and opening page may be what initially appeals, but a writer has to earn their readers’  time by creating characters that they will care about and by devising a plot that will make them want to keep turning the pages.

But the historical novel, perhaps like science fiction, demands something more. It requires the reader to suspend their disbelief, to ignore everything around them, and to imagine that they are living in another place, another time. For a writer that’s where the research comes in. A writer has to understand what life was like in another time – fashions, transport, medicine, work, education, politics, crime and a host of other things. But as a novelist they also have to ensure that they include just the right amount of historical detail in the novel – Too little and it doesn’t feel real – Too much and it becomes a history lecture. It’s a difficult balance, particularly as reader-tastes differ.

What I love about historical novels is that they can help us challenge perceptions of the past, to better understand the lives of “ordinary” people and what it might have been like to have lived in another time. History often, seems to emphasise how different people were to us in the past, as in the famous opening line from L. P. Hartley’s 1953 novel, “The Go Between”

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Yet it’s a poor traveller who visits a foreign country and has no interest in their culture. In historical novels you have to acknowledge those differences of culture, science, technology, education, religion, economics and all the other external influences that make us different. But while those “differences” cannot be ignored, neither should they be allowed to make caricatures out of characters. The author needs to make the culture of the past understandable and believable if the reader is to engage with it in their imagination.

The Victorian era particularly appeals to me because we know so much about it and because, perhaps more than any other era it mirrors our modern world. It was an era of great change and the first age of consumerism. The Industrial Revolution was in some ways the forerunner of our own Technological Revolution. New discoveries and inventions revolutionised manufacturing processes. Railways and steamships made travel faster and cheaper, rapidly shrinking the world. And it was the age of popular novels, which allow us, perhaps for the first time a real glimpse into the lives of “ordinary” people.

Perhaps more importantly the Victorian Era was the time when the struggle really began for democracy and basic human rights. Universal suffrage, equality under the law, safe working conditions, decent housing, education , basic sanitation and clean drinking water were not granted through the benevolence of governments – each was fought for over many years and usually stubbornly resisted by the powers to be. It is a struggle which is just beginning in many parts of the world as the process of  industrialision takes hold. It is a struggle which never seems to end. These things which many now take for granted, shape who we are, yet they were each fought for by people who we sometimes imagine to be very different to ourselves. It’s perhaps strange to think that the very changes they fought for and brought about now make them seem so very different to us.

My novel, “Avon Street” is set in Bath in 1850.  It’s a city whose image is defined even today by the novels of Jane Austen, and one of the reasons I wrote the book was to challenge (much as I love Austen’s writing) the romanticisation of the past.  I wanted to explore the darker side of the city that Jane Austen only ever hinted at – to go behind the Georgian facades – to show the streets of a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor. To me, history is like a detective story. We have to sweep aside the images and pre-conceptions to truly understand the people of the past. And perhaps then we can better understand this foreign country, that we all came from.

(This piece is based on a post originally written for, and kindly hosted by Carol Hedges on her blog  on 5th April 2013.)


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According to retailing and publishing experts and the Media, it seems that the future of the high street bookshop is at best uncertain. They say that bookshops can’t compete with internet retailers who offer cheaper prices and greater choice. I don’t know enough to argue with them, and nor can I claim to write on behalf of readers and authors as a whole, but I can give a personal perspective on the issue, for what it’s worth.

As a reader I would miss bookshops.  I’m not a great fan of shopping, but bookshops are one place I’m happy to be. I love the smell and feel of books. I enjoy exploring new titles and genres that I might not otherwise have considered – and you can’t do that in the same way with virtual books.

Discovering a new book should be an enjoyable experience in its own right, yet sometimes all the choice that the internet provides  seems to make choosing books, more like hard work. The better bookshops remind me how it felt, as a child, armed with a book-token or some cash, and the excitement of choosing from all those books. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as hypocritical as most and often buy books and ebooks on the internet, but I do try to follow the mantra – If I actively browse and find what I like in a bookshop – I buy it in that bookshop.

But it’s as a writer, that bookshops mean so much more to me.  As a relatively new author I know how difficult it is to get a book noticed and to reach readers. Hundreds of thousands of new books are published every year. In a presentation at the Digital Book World conference in New York on 25th January 2012, the author and “futurist” David Houle, said,

“There were more books published this week than there were in all of 1950,”

And that’s without all the classics and the bestsellers of past years, and the back-catalogues of well known writers still in circulation and popular. It’s hard for unknown writers to compete with the Big Names. Most new writers will never be reviewed in national newspapers or magazines. Most publishers have limited promotional budgets for new writers. So the unknown writer increasingly has to self-promote to find readers and hopefully generate word of mouth. And every new writer is in the same boat, trying to get their book known in a crowded marketplace, trying to use the social media to promote. (One tip here for new writers – If you want an online presence that makes a difference – start building it long before your book comes out!)

The Internet is wonderful though.

This week I watched a couple of sessions from the “Author (R)evolution Day” conference streamed live from thousands of miles away in New York. One talk in particular impressed me. It was a joint presentation by Eve Bridburg (founder and director of the “Grub Street” writers centre) and publishing industry guru, Porter Anderson. They presented a scatter diagram with some of the many ways an author could promote themselves and their book. The sheer number of avenues for promotion was staggering. Some were familiar to me, others I had heard of, but didn’t fully understand or didn’t have the necessary expertise to exploit, some I had never even come across. The promotional band-waggon moves at one hell of a speed and is constantly changing. Facebook, twitter, blogs and websites are really only the tip of the promotional iceberg, and that’s without thinking about methods of generating or manipulating on-line traffic. Some have used them extremely effectively, but the vast majority (like me) I suspect have barely scratched the surface.

It was what Eve Bridburg said in conclusion though, that really made me think. It was like a moment of calm in a blizzard of concepts, initiatives and innovations. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but this is what I took away from what she said in terms of self-promotion:-

  • Don’t feel you have to do it all – it’s not even possible nowadays.
  • Set goals, but do what makes you feel happy.
  • Strive for balance between writing and promotion.
  • Manage your expectations and don’t get sucked in by the hype.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve, and what is achievable.
  • Never lose touch with what it is you enjoy about writing,
  • Remember why you started writing, and what your goals were then.
  • Decide what really matters in your writing, and who you want to reach.


  • Celebrate the achievements that have really meant something to you.

My book, “Avon Street” was one year old this month. The book is set in Bath and my publisher (The Mystery Press) recommended right at the start that I should call into the main Bath bookshops and introduce myself.

It was good advice, though I was nervous initially about strolling in and introducing myself. My first visit was to The Oldfield Park Bookshop. They did not have my book in stock, but said that they would order it. They also made me feel welcome, boosted my confidence and gave me the encouragement to try other bookshops.  Toppings bookshop was also welcoming, as was Mr B’s Emporium. Toppings had copies of the book which they asked me to sign (a strange feeling) and they also took the couple of posters I offered them. Waterstones were less welcoming, saying (probably quite rightly) that I should have made an appointment to see the relevant person.

Celebrating three achievements that have really meant something to me.

  1. I was amazed when, later that same day, I walked past Toppings bookshop again. There in the front window were copies of “Avon Street” complete with posters. In a couple of hours they had built a window display for a local, unknown writer.
  2. A few months later, in the summer, I walked into Waterstones and “Avon Street” had a glowing staff review card under it. It was displayed cover-outwards and was included in their “Buy Two – Get Second half-price” promotion. Again, a largely unknown writer was sitting beside national bestsellers and household names.
  3. Just before Christmas, my daughter texted me to say, ‘Hey dad, I’m in Oldfield Park Bookshop and your book is in the Top Thirty.’ –   I can’t claim “Avon Street” is a national bestseller – but in Oldfield Park it was – and that felt good.

And OK, most bookshops in Britain won’t even have heard of “Avon Street” let alone stock it. But looking back on the year, these are the 3 achievements that have given me the most joy – and they all came from high street bookshops. I’d just like to say a big thank you to all the bookshops in Bath, including the ones I haven’t mentioned. You’ve all helped and encouraged. And to all the other bookshops wherever you may be – Keep up the good fight.

So, Bookshops

Who needs ‘em? 

Writers do!  

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Ball at The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath by Thomas Rowlandson

Formal Ball at The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath  – Painting by Thomas Rowlandson from  Victoria Art Gallery (Bath) Collection

In 1811 King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince Regent, ruled in his place. On his father’s death in 1820, the Prince was crowned King George IV. Coincidentally, Jane Austen’s novels were all published during the Regency period, between 1811 and 1818 .

So popular and enduring is Austen as an author, and so frequently have her novels been adopted for the screen that the images she created have now come to define the Regency era. Yet there is a danger that we begin to accept fiction as fact, to confuse the lives of her heroines with her own life, to interpret the lives of the few, as being the same as the lives of the many. And in that process there is also the risk that we lose sight of her skill and imagination as a writer. She was without doubt a keen observer, but the settings and people she describes, come as much from her imagination as from what she saw or experienced.

Jane chose to set two of her novels, “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion” in Bath. She lived in the city between 1801 and 1806 and it’s still possible to retrace her footsteps, to see some of what she saw. The pattern of roads is largely unchanged in the older part of the city. Many of the places she would have frequented are still there; The Royal Crescent, The Circus, Queen Square, Milsom Street, Pulteney Bridge, the Upper Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms, the Guildhall, and Sydney Gardens, to name but a few. It is easy to imagine these places as she depicts them in her novels, yet it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. For example, in “Northanger Abbey” we read;

 “They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; – her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.”

Yet Jane also records in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, on May 5th 1801, her own “first impression” of the city;

 “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Again in “Northanger Abbey” she describes a formal ball held in the Upper Assembly Rooms;

“The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr Allen, he repaired directly to the card-room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protégé, Mrs Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly.”

Yet her own experience was somewhat different, as she reports in letter to her sister on May 12th 1801;

“By nine o’clock my uncle, aunt, and I entered the rooms, and linked Miss Winstone on to us. Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath.

After tea we cheered up; the breaking up of private parties sent some scores more to the ball, and though it was shockingly and inhumanly thin for this place, there were people enough, I suppose, to have made five or six very pretty Basingstoke assemblies.”

They say you should write about what you know and Jane Austen certainly knew about people, but was her life really comparable to those of her heroines?  True, she attended dinner parties, suppers, formal balls and had some insight into high-society.  Yet that society was very stratified with rigid conventions and social etiquette. Those rules defined who was on a level with whom, and Jane was certainly not part of its upper echelons.  Though she was undoubtedly part of “Society” in truth she was fairly low down in the “pecking order.” Her Uncle and Aunt were wealthy and lived in the Paragon. They might have provided her with opportunities to glimpse their way of life, but they do not seem to have been over-generous to Jane or her family.

When Jane’s family moved to Bath they leased a house at 4, Sydney Place (now luxury apartments). It was a fine house in a good area, near the popular Sydney Gardens, but it was not a prestigious address in comparison with other parts of the city. And when the lease ended they moved to a house in Green Park Buildings. This was an area the family had dismissed when they first moved to the city and it’s easy to see why from Jane’s description;

“Our views on G. P. (Green Park) Buildings seem all at an end; the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace. We have now nothing in view. When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrefying houses again; they are so very desirable in size and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.”

Before leaving Bath the Austen family also lived for a while in 25, Gay Street. (The Jane Austen Centre is nearby at 40 Gay Street). It was a “good address” but by then, after the death of Jane’s father, they were reduced to “taking rooms” as boarders, rather than occupying a house as owners or tenants. But by then the family were largely dependent on the charity of relatives.

It’s obvious too that Jane was well aware of the plight of the genteel poor. In “Persuasion” Sir Walter Elliot refers to Westgate Buildings as,

“Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations.”

Westgate Buildings was by no means the worst of streets but it was situated on the border of the Avon Street slum area.  My own novel Avon Street  has an opening scene in Westgate Buildings and explores the darker aspects of the City.

Opinion is divided on whether or not Jane Austen actually liked Bath, but she certainly knew how to use it as a setting. Jane Austen created an image of Regency life which still survives today. That is a testament to her imagination and skill as a writer.  She chose to depict a way of life in her novels that did not always reflect her own everyday experience. Indeed it was not representative of the lives of most, yet it pleased her readers then, and still pleases many more readers today.

Bath is a beautiful city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the places Jane Austen visited are still there and remain largely unchanged – The Royal Crescent, The Circus, Queen Square, Milsom Street, Pulteney Bridge, the Upper Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms, the Guildhall, and Sydney Gardens, to name but a few. And it is still possible to retrace her footsteps and imagine the City she depicts in her novels. But it’s also worth imagining what life was really like for a country girl of limited means in a bustling city, where appearance was everything.

Much of this piece was first hosted at the “Jane Austen’s World” Website on September 8th 2012.

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Like our own era, the Victorian age was a time of great change. For some it was an age of  prosperity, for others it was an age of desperation. This was the first age of consumerism and the Industrial Revolution was in many ways the forerunner of our own Technological Revolution. New discoveries and inventions revolutionised manufacturing processes. Railways and steamships made travel faster and cheaper, rapidly shrinking the world. Mass production and increased international trade made more and more products available and affordable for those who could pay.  And with the growth in industry and trade, the middle classes grew in number and wealth, and wanted to buy as much as possible of what was on offer.

These first lines from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens are certainly amongst the best openings to a novel ever written. But not only do they set the tone and atmosphere of the book and give a flavour of what is to come, they also capture a taste of the challenges and uncertainties of the Victorian era.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

While the Wealthy and the new Middle Classes prospered in the Victorian era, the Working Class did not.  Work, whether in factories, sweat-shops and mines was invariably dirty and dangerous; hours were long and poorly paid. Children had to work, in order for families to survive, and working conditions were often worse for children than they were for their parents. Towns and cities grew quickly to house the workers, but much of the housing was poor quality and overcrowded. Vast slum areas sprung up, putting pressures on water supplies and the disposal of waste. Coal fires and factories filled the air with smoke and other pollutants. The reaction to living conditions and the gap between the haves and have-nots generated rebellion  in many parts of Europe, as people fought for basic human rights in bloody revolutions. In Britain any signs of revolution were ruthlessly suppressed.

Drunkenness was common amongst the working poor, as alcohol was one of the few affordable escapes from hard lives. It was seen by the better off as a reason for poverty, rather than a symptom. Meanwhile opium and a range of other drugs were used by brewers to strengthen beer while keeping down costs. Drugs were also readily available in Victorian times for the better-off. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes injects cocaine when there are no stimulating cases to occupy his mind, much to the disapproval of Dr Watson. Opium dens also feature in Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Yet the real drugs “problem” in Victorian times was not with the illicit drugs that were largely frowned upon, but the propriety medicines that were consumed in great quantities, but little spoken of. Numerous popular household remedies and tonics contained substantial amounts of opium and yet could be bought over the counter. These included “Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne” a general nerve tonic, “Dover’s Powder” used to treat a wide variety of common complaints and “Godfrey’s Cordial” which was commonly given to children and infants to “help” them sleep – and of course the ever popular, “laudanum.”

Nowhere were these contradictions in Society more obvious than in the Morality of the Victorians. They say the Victorians invented Childhood, treating the child as someone who needed to be protected and nurtured, and yet children as young as five were working in mines and factories, quite legally, during much of Queen Victoria’s long reign. Women too, in the middle-class household were regarded almost as saints, “protected” from anything that might offend or morally corrupt. Yet they were often little more than prisoners in their own homes with few freedoms in terms of what they could own, or how they could behave; while  outside the home, prostitution and pornography were rife.

Great play is made of the philanthropy of the Victorians and the fine public buildings often financed from private fortunes; and indeed there were many genuine philanthropists. Yet this philanthropy also masks in some ways the incredible wealth-divide between the haves and have-nots and the terrible working and living conditions of the vast majority of the population. Yet gradually awareness of the plight of the poor spread. Not least of the factors in this growing awareness was the writing of Charles Dickens. Dickens’ novels had an undoubted impact on Victorian society by giving faces and voices to the poor and proclaiming their humanity. He perhaps more than any other writer changed his world and helped shape the future.

Over the course of Victoria’s reign Britain changed; the right to vote was extended and with greater democracy came improvements in working conditions, housing and education. Yet it leaves me wondering how much of this was down to “Victorian Values” as opposed to the long and sometimes bloody struggle for the basic human rights, that we now sometimes take for granted. We are now in the midst of a Technological Revolution, a new age of consumerism. the world is shrinking again as communication and transport get ever faster. And yet looking around that shrinking world it’s obvious that many millions are going through the worst ravages of the Victorian Industrial Revolution. The opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” remains as relevant now as it was when it was written.

Much of this post was hosted on the FLY HIGH website on 26th June 2012, but I thought I’d post it here too. In writing my first novel, “Avon Street,” I have tried to bring the Victorian era to life, with all its contradictions and its similarities to modern life. “Avon Street” takes the reader on a journey behind the fine Georgian facades of Bath to expose the darker side of the city.

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Like many writers, I found it difficult getting published, but then even giving yourself permission to think of yourself as a writer can also be difficult. We often think of writing, like art or music, as something other people do. It wasn’t until I started an evening course on short story writing that I realised how important writing had been in my life.

Writing had been a big part of almost every job I had ever done. I had even written a calypso for a Christmas party when working at the WALES Tourist Board. Yet though I had always read a lot and told myself that one day I would write a novel,  I had never really thought of myself as a writer. That first evening course made me realise how much I enjoyed writing, and how much there was to learn. It got me into the habit of writing regularly, gave me that permission to think of myself as a writer.  I began searching for my voice as a writer and thinking about what I wanted to say, what I needed to write.

One of my short stories won a prize in the Wells Literary Competition.  It was an amazing experience to hear it read by a professional actor on local radio. Knowing that others liked my writing gave me more confidence about taking on a novel. Another short story I wrote gave me the idea for  ‘Avon Street’

When the first draft of ‘Avon Street’was completed I began sending it out to publishers and Agents. Slowly, because that seems to be the way the Book industry works, the rejections began piling up. Most were standard letters that said little other than that they were not interested. the rejections eat into your confidence, confirm the thinking that writing is what other people do. Yet every now and again came a response with actual feedback. These were like gold. They recognised merits in my writing, gave me some hope, told me I could write. Occasionally they even made suggestions as to how the manuscript could be improved.

I tested the opening chapters on two websites where writers review each other’s work. The chapters did well and the comments I received helped in sharpening the dialogue and improving the pace of the story. The book was spotted on one of these websites and I got my first publishing deal. The book was edited, proofs were checked, a cover designed and my novel appeared on Amazon.  But getting published can be a rough ride. Sadly, six weeks before ‘Avon Street’ was due to be released the publisher went into liquidation and it was back to the drawing-board.

Eventually I found a new publisher. ‘Avon Street’ was to be the first book in the second year of a new crime fiction imprint. But again it never made it to the book shops. The first year did not go as well as the publisher anticipated, the imprint was cancelled and my book was returned unpublished. I kept going and found a third publisher.

This time it made it.  On February 11th 2012 I received the first printed copy of my book from, The History Press. I had known for months that ‘Avon Street’ was going to be published, after all, I had signed a contract, checked the proofs, seen it for sale on Amazon. But it was only when I held a copy of the book in my hand that I allowed myself to believe that I was a published writer.

The most important things I’ve learned on the roller-coaster ride are to hang onto the sense of joy that writing gives,  to value feedback, and to trust in your writing. Trying to get published can be (though not always) a very negative process.  But writing can give you so much. It gives you the chance to create, to communicate, to look at the world from new perspectives, and to explore and enjoy the beauty of words. And it’s great when you write a story, or poem, or article, or book, or even a sentence, and you just know – It Works – and others enjoy it.

Another lesson I learned is not to pose a book next to a cup of coffee. The one pictured above is now heavily coffee-stained.

Most of this post was hosted on Caroline Smaile’s Blog on 26th March 2012, but I thought I’d post it here too.

Caroline is the author of several succesful novels.  Her latest e-book is – “99 Reasons Why”

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Many authors have produced their own sets of Writing Rules. The longer version (below) by Kurt Vonnegut is fairly well known and remains one of my favourites, though it was aimed more at short story writers than novelists. I think it’s a good guide because it is less prescriptive than many, yet in a way it is far more demanding.   Vonnegut’s “rules” look at writing predominantly from the reader’s perspective. The writer is simply fulfilling their side of a two-way contract between reader and writer; the book, a bridge between the two.

The Long Version

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut’s “rules” don’t seek to provide a guide to writing a bestseller or a book which will attract critical acclaim. Instead they emphasise the need for the writer to empathise with and respect their potential reader,  to acknowledge the work a reader has to do if the book is to work for them. He had in fact drawn up an earlier list which was even more succinct:-

The Short Version

1. Find a subject you care about

2. Do not ramble, though

3. Keep it simple

4. Have guts to cut

5. Sound like yourself

6. Say what you mean

7. Pity the readers

Like any good writer he opens and closes with his strongest messages and maintains a strong thread between the two.

The opening point relates to the true freedom of the writer as Vonnegut sees it. For him, freedom lies not in style, or the ability to write as you want, but in the choice of subject matter and how it is communicated.  And if the writer doesn’t care about their subject, why should the reader?

The final point though, to my mind has the greatest impact. Vonnegut explained it like this, “They (the readers) have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately…Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient writers, ever willing to simplify and clarify — whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.”

Perhaps he should have added – or at least trying to.

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The demands a writer makes on a reader are quite incredible. Embarking on a new novel the reader is expected to suspend their own life, to ignore their surroundings, and to use their imagination to enter the writer’s imaginary world – and the world of the novel is constructed entirely of words.

Every sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste, is entirely imaginary. Each emotion the reader feels is triggered (or not) by imagined experiences. Every character is a figment of the writer’s imagination. There are no actors, sound-track, special effects, atmospheric lighting, or carefully directed camera work to assist them, simply words arranged on a page. And the reader has to translate those words into moving pictures and see them from a new perspective, to empathise with the characters, to care about what might happen to them, and to react to what does.

Yet no two readers will see that imagined world in quite the same way. They will often see it differently than the writer intended, bringing their own perspectives and expectations and experiences to bear. And while it’s naturally exciting to see my book published,  I have also come to realise that the world of “Avon Street,” that I spent so long creating is no longer mine. Now the book is out there I have no say in how it should be read, or what people should think of my characters, or their stories, or my ability to convey them.

The use of plot, sub-plot, pace, characterisation, dialogue, settings, atmosphere, style, and use of language are all finalised now. They are set in print and cannot be changed. Whether I have got the balance is right is for the reader to judge. I just hope that those who read it, enjoy it; and that the world of “Avon Street”  and its inhabitants feels real, and stays with it’s readers, at least for a while.

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