OOPS! Mr Wingate, an optician, appealed to the thieves
to see the error of their ways.—BOURNEMOUTH ECHO.
Jesus and the Bard
EASTER, traditionally the celebration marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, shared its joy with lovers of literature this year when another immortal, Shakespeare, reached the age of 450. Even in England, a land staunchly Christian, the Bard of Avon was being feted with enthusiasm in the midst of the more sacred rituals.
Nobody seemed to mind. Christians are forgiving and, in any case, why not welcome the Son of God with prose and poetry beautiful as any prayer! Easter Monday, therefore, was a busy one for Londoners who have kept Shakespeare dear to their hearts for centuries.
At the Globe Theatre, a modern replica of Shakespeare’s original, it was party time and all welcome, admission free. Fun events for children were planned to coincide with the more adult fare of performers on stage. The play acting was programmed as 15 minutes every hour from 1-4pm. The Easter Monday shindig was just an early taste of nationwide events (and indeed worldwide) for the Bard’s birthday on April 23.
Fittingly, Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, was the main focus of his 450th anniversary, and the celebrations were arranged for April 23. The Shakespeare Birthplace trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company announced a full day of entertainment with ‘something for everyone’. That means music, street entertainers, story telling, face-painting, acting, stage combat and other theatrical activities. Also tours of the Shakespeare houses, children’s parties, sonnet readings – and the chance to spot a famous actor or two.
Away from the partying, academics this week used the occasion to renew their ongoing debate about Shakespeare’s identity. And author Ann Morven continued to sell her much praised whodunit, The Killing of Hamlet, in both paperback and digital format. Her plot links Shakespeare with modern murders in an English village. It also ventures a credible answer to Shakespeare’s real identity, which is perhaps more acceptable than many theories argued in high places. It’s a good read, with chills and chuckles in the inimitable Morven style.
Men are losing their imagination
I’M always a bit suspicious about surveys, but the claim this week that men read less than women fits my own perceptions. Two thousand men and women in Britain were quizzed in connection with World Book Night (April 23), and the results are now being used to fuel a Get Reading campaign.
Books are being given free to persuade non-readers to discover or re-discover the joy of a good book. It probably won’t work if one is to accept the response of 70% of the men surveyed. These blokes said they just did not have the time to read a book. They’d rather watch a movie, TV or browse the Web, all activities that need no imagination.
Are male brains shrinking, then, in a wave of swelling technology? Our modern world is certainly changing, so the human species might be in for some bumps along the road. It’s too bad about this male reluctance to read books, but, as every woman knows, if you want to do something you’ll somehow find the time to do it. What a shame men don’t possess this essential female ability. The boffins call it multi-tasking. I call it sensible planning. Whatever your gender, and nowadays I believe three are officially recognised, changing habits make interesting reading.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 25 April 2014.
The best news and the worst for British authors.
TO plagiarize Charles Dickens, it is the best of times and the worst of times for British authors. First the good news. Self-published authors in the UK win a massive incentive from the Guardian newspaper. Confirming its renown as the leading daily for bookreaders and authors, the Guardian has begun a monthly contest for “self-published book of the month”.
Entry is now open for the initial monthly contest, for which the closing date is Friday April 18. The winner of this opening event will be announced in June. Entries of books self-published from 2012 are accepted by email in Word or PDF format.
When choosing the long-list and the winner, says the Guardian, the judges will select the entries which in their view are the most contemporary and stand out most from the others in uniqueness and writing quality.
Entry details are here. Hopefully, once the monthly series gets established, it might be expanded to include self-published authors throughout the world.
Now for the bad news: No British authors are in the shortlist of six books that remain to contest the prestigious annual Baileys Fiction Prize. There are two from Ireland and one each from Nigeria, United States, Australia and America.
The £30,000 prize, open to fiction written by women in English, will be awarded at a ceremony on London’s South Bank in June. Here are the six finalists:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.ﾠ
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 April 2014.
First settlers enhance these whodunits
EARLY settlers always make for a good historical yarn. Pair it with a whodunit and the appeal is multiplied. Strange to say, not many authors have attempted this first-settler scenario despite the popularity of such novels. Yet it is not so strange when you reflect on the difficulties involved in penning a credible plot while sticking to factual events.
Peter May has achieved a good one with the recent release of Entry Island, which roams from Scotland to Nova Scotia. Likewise, John Ivor has a swift moving historical whodunit in No Kiss For A Killer, set in early Western Australia (no convicts allowed, yet murder rampant!).
John Ivor sticks to the 1830s. His hero is a young skilled swordsman committed to finding and killing his father’s murderers. The problem is he’s a coward. Peter May also has a hero with inner doubts. He’s a detective brave enough yet suffers mental distress. And no wonder – he is oddly linked 200 years into the past with the prime suspect in the murder mystery he is investigating.
An unusual historical murder novel is Abraham’s Knife by Ottar Nordfjord. Set in Iceland, it is crime-fiction both futuristic and historical. Somewhat biblical too. It’s appeal might be limited but it is a darn good read.
One of the best known historical crime novels is A Study In Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a Sherlock Holmes mystery that takes us to America’s Wild West.
There are countless others, of course, with detectives doing their stuff in Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, Medieval Britain, Viking lands, colonial India and just about everywhere else. I mention the few above because they share two ingredients. They are unusual in scope and exceedingly well written.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 11 April 2014.
Weird path to fame
Whodunit diva Ann Morven achieved global popularity by inventing grisly plots, cunning murderers and a female sleuth who is a dunce at deduction.
Sounds weird, yet her short stories and novels are prolific in chills and chuckles, always entertaining. I visited her home in Kalamunda, which is a village in the forested hills overlooking Perth, Western Australia. On the back verandah of her bungalow we shared a pot of tea, watched wild parrots and honeybirds and exchanged thoughts on reading and writing.
I recorded the interview and pass on her comments here.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I browse online, searching for favourite genres or authors. Sometimes a new name appeals because of a striking cover or a good blurb, and then I'll take a look at a sample. Sampling is a must for me nowadays. Too often, and even with a print copy in a bookshop, I have rushed to purchase and been disappointed. Once I find an author I like I'll look at everything they have written.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I used to make up stories for my son, inventing as I went along while monitoring his expression for the effect. From age 2 to age 8 he was my inspiration (and unsuspecting tutor) in the art of creating fiction. Most of all, it was a satisfying exercise for a new mum. Later I wrote down a few of these tales and later still had a go at writing a mystery for adults. It was a short story, and I sold it for a couple of quid to Central Press, a London agency that supplied features for newspapers. Its title: "The Man Beyond Suspicion". I have always enjoyed reading whodunits, so I suppose it was natural to begin writing them. I also love country music, which is why my female sleuth follows that vocation. Her very first case was bought by the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (The Clue of the Willy-Willy, set in outback Australia. This same story has been republished as Blood On The Wind). Since then, Sheil B. Wright has visited other lands to sing, solve murders and irritate various police investigators throughout the world.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember Myths And Legends, author unrecalled, a gift from maternal Grandmother. It was beautifully illustrated and comprised the Greek and Norse tales, creating a lifelong interest. I think I was five. My Dad read it to me, as he did Grimm's Fairy Tales. My first full length adult book, read by myself unaided, was a whodunit, title and author unrecalled. I was eight and found it in the ship's library on a long cruise. The plot involved a passenger liner, which explains my interest. The killer was the investigating detective!! This compelling read might explain my love of whodunits. It was followed on the same voyage by Tarzan Of The Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
How do you approach cover design?
Not being an artist, I browse online for oldmaster paintings that might fit my story. These, or details taken from them, are incorporated into a 5x8 cover using Microsoft Publisher. Of course, I have to check before using anything that it is free of copyright. Sometimes I use a photograph I have taken myself. For instance, the old and mossy gravestones on the cover of The Killing of Hamlet are in an ancient church cemetery at the village of Cromarty, Scotland. I snapped them when impressed by the ageless atmosphere. Murder Piping Hot blends Scottish tartans with my photo of sacred Aboriginal rock art.
How important is an opening hook?
I believe the very first sentence of a book must grip the reader, even if it is just the rhythm of an author's narrative style. This is what I always look at myself when sampling a book. Naturally, I try to make my own openings appeal in this way.
What do you read for pleasure?
Murder fiction, courtroom drama, historical fiction, historical non-fiction, and gentle feel-good humour. Romance rarely appeals to me, although a well written love story can hold me captive
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My laptop computer. But frankly I prefer a traditional printed paperback.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Hard to say, but my guess is press releases to the world's newspapers and requesting a mention in the newsletters of special interest groups.
Describe your desk
Cluttered! One of Professor Parkinson's laws is that when an office becomes tidy it ceases to be creative. And that's my excuse.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Travelling to many lands with my parents. My father was a soldier and, in peacetime, Married Families were posted around the globe. This has certainly influenced my stories, as has my lifelong career as a journalist working in different countries. It is the reason my bumbling female sleuth, Sheil B. Wright, upsets the police in a variety of nations. As a journalist I used to raise similar ire from corrupt politicians!
What's the story behind your latest book?
The ongoing Shakespeare Debate. Was he Marlowe, Oxford, Bacon etc? In The Killing of Hamlet, my whodunit linking Shakespeare to modern murders, I give my own suggestion and reckon it is every bit as plausible as the chancy theories put forward by learned academics.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The knowledge that I am in total control of my work.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
The advent of Smashwords was a godsend providing a distribution resource previously unheard of.
What are you working on next?
Top secret, but it is a multi-murder whodunit in an exotic setting. Bumbling sleuth Sheil B. Wright will face a death sentence!
Who are your favorite authors?
At the moment, Caroline Graham, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Dennis Lehane. Sadly missed is George Macdonald Fraser and his Flashman comedies.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The thought of a brisk walk conversing with the birds in a clean dawn air.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, gardening, walking, spoiling my three grandchildren.
What's the hardest part of writing a story?
Getting the plot right, so that it fits the natural inclination of the characters without seeming to be contrived. Often after completion I discover a "fatal flaw" which needs lots of hard thought to amend. Being immersed in my story makes it easy to gloss over inconsistencies, so I put the work aside for a few weeks after completion, then read it again as a stranger. Then a painful rewrite and another and another. Then, finally joy! I love it.
Do you write from start to finish in sequence, or do individual scenes separately?
From start to finish is usual in a short story, with minor revisions later. My novels demand lots of revision after my first draft has set a basic structure. Rewriting sections is a pleasure, the first draft hard work.
Do you get fan mail?
Sometimes, and it's pleasing to hear of the enjoyment a book brings to its reader. I also send fanmail when the author's email address is known, just to say thanks for a good read.
Do you write on a PC, laptop or by hand?
On my laptop. Some passages, the more tricky ones, I write longhand into my notebook and then transcribe, editing as I go
Is researching a book difficult?
It's mostly a pleasure, entailing library visits and lots of reading. Also internet browsing. The internet is a boon to authors for fast-checking facts or discovering vital information of all kinds.
Favourites old as the Ark
ANIMALS, not fairies, giants, witches or aliens, remain the most popular characters in books for young children. This can be confirmed in the 2014 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for titles published last year. Now celebrating its 10th birthday, the prize is worth $8,300 to the overall winner and $5000 to the winner of each category. And it is heartening that Britain’s biggest book chain can afford these generous prizes after a year of financial plummet. The company was saved by a foreigner, Russian billionaire Alexander Mato. He bought it despite an operating loss of $20.3 million.
Shortlisted for prizes to be announced in April are weasels planning world domination, a Parisian parrot, a kidnapped penguin, a crocodile afraid of water, a vengeful dragon, a bossy cockroach, a friendly stag . . . quite a menagerie!
Of course, it’s no surprise to mums, especially those who read aloud to their littlies. The appeal of animals has been around since forever. One animal not in the shortlist (which is confined to 2013 releases) is the classic Mousedeer, a children’s favourite for 2000 years or more. These traditional forest tales from Southeast Asia teach good behaviour as well as being darn good stories. Probably the best collection in English is by author Charles Bryce. He gathered the tales orally in Borneo and Malaysia from jungle dwellers and gives them a professional touch. Interested mums might care to find a sample in either digital or paperback.
For exploring mums, here are the Waterstones shortlisted titles for 2014 (in alphabetical order by author):
Best Picture Book:
Open Very Carefully by Nick Bromley and Nicola O’Byrne (Nosy Crow)
Harold Finds a Voice by Courtney Dicmas (Child’s Play International)
Weasels by Elys Dolan (Nosy Crow)
Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks (Templar)
Time for Bed, Fred! by Yasmeen Ismail (Bloomsbury)
The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water by Gemma Merino (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Best Fiction for 5-12s:
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill (Random House Children’s Books)
Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell (Bloomsbury)
The Skull in the Wood by Sandra Greaves (Chicken House)
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Faber and Faber)
The Last Wild by Piers Torday (Quercus)
Best Book for Teens:
The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale (Faber and Faber)
Butter by Erin Lange (Faber and Faber)
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch (Orion)
Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O’Porter (Hot Key Books)
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin)
Geek Girl by Holly Smale (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 February 2014.
British Raj soldiers on
IN India, as in Britain, the Raj never goes out of fashion. It was the formative period of the nation we know today, comprising more than 300 years under colonial rule and the development of roads, railways and trading ports. Also much strife. Inspired authors have found rich material in all this human endeavour, and their work is much in evidence at the current Kolkata Book Fair, the world’s biggest after Frankfurt and London. In terms of non-trade attendance it actually attracts more people than all the other annual book fests.
Before drawing to an end on February 9, the gathering will have attracted two million book lovers from around the world. Note: they were mostly readers, unlike the European trade fairs that attract publishers and booksellers.
Held in the former capital of British India (Calcutta, now renamed), the Kolkata event this year had ‘Peru’ as its central theme. This did not overshadow the immense availability of Raj titles, including the popular humour of Bryce McBryce. His fictional tales are contained in the paperback original titled simply Brat. This is a brilliant take on the twilight of empire on the eve of World War 2. A British ‘brat’ – the official term for children of military personnel – provokes alarm and despondency in a British garrison fort in charge of ‘the natives’. The troubles result from this young innocent’s striving to understand the weird world of adults. Get a free sample. Or select an extract as a complete short story.
Among more serious Raj authors, traditional adventure favourites like Katharine Gordon, M.M. Kaye, John Masters and Paul Scott are still being republished, as is the great Rudyard Kipling. And of course there is a whole new world of Indian authors. Along with fellow writers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, these have for many years been the lifeblood of the Kolkata Book Fair
Booktaste.com is owned and operated by The Darling Newspaper Press, a small independent publisher in Western Australia. Its principal is Charles Bryce (email@example.com), lifelong journalist, Scottish born, formerly of The Sunday Post, The Straits Times, Reuters, The Sunday Times (Australia) and creator of The Darling Advertiser newspaper.
Blogger Cathy Macleod (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an independent literary critic who monitors the Internet for good reads, bookworld views and news.
For Darling Newspaper Press email email@example.com or post to PO box 176, Kalamunda, Western Australia 6926.
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