Nevil Shute: a Study in Impeccable Writing

RequiemForAWren

I read a lot of Nevil Shute as a youngster – growing up in New Zealand, it was natural that his books should be in the library. I enjoyed them; he writes a good yarn, with plenty of action and interesting storylines, and his characters are strong and memorable, particularly the women. But it’s decades since I last read him, and the one I’m reading now I have never read before.

Requiem for a Wren is an exemplar of Shute’s work, and in particular his skill in purveying vast amounts of background through a few terse sentences. He’s a master at providing information without the reader being at all conscious that he’s doing so.

In the first paragraph of Requiem nothing much is happening. The narrator is an airline passenger, and the plane is beginning to descend. But look at how much information he packs into the first two sentences.

There was a layer of cumulus, about seven-tenths, with tops at about five thousand feet as we came to Essenden airport; we broke out of it at two thousand and we were on the circuit downwind, with the aerodrome on our starboard wing. I sat with my eyes glued to the window looking out at Melbourne, because this was my home town and I had been away five years.

I don’t mean the obvious – cloud cover and all – but rather the great deal of information which is implied. We now know that our narrator is Australian, and that he is an airman (very likely a pilot, given the breadth and complexity of his observations). As the book was published in 1955, the ‘five years’ remark gives us a pretty big clue that he was away at war, so now we know what kind of airman he is.

[The stewardess} smiled and said quietly ‘Would you like any help down the gangway, sir?’

I shook my head. ‘I’ll wait till the others are off. I’m all right if I take my time’

So… an injury or disability bad enough for him to potentially need help, but she is circumspect and he determined to be independent. That makes me think straight away about wartime injuries – and it turns out that’s exactly right. He goes on to meet the foreman from his parents’ sheep station, and discovers that there has been a death at the farm, but even then he’s more interested in the changes in the landscape since the war.

It’s only on page 12 that we begin get a sense of his injury, and this too is in typical laconic style.

Horses were still used by the boundary riders, but … my father drove all over the property in a Land Rover instead of riding on a horse as he always had when I was young. That suited me, for artificial feet are something of a handicap upon a horse. There was a great deal for me to learn about the property before I could unload some of the work from my parents, and I was keen to make a start.

Shute’s style is one I favour, with long passages of narrative interspersed with briefer dialogue and conversation. It’s somewhat out of fashion these days, when we are all being told ‘do, don’t tell’ and ‘don’t infodump’, although in Shute’s case it’s more like info-infusion, and his laid-back style suits the subject. Our protagonist is reluctant to display his disability, or any of the other ways in which war has changed him, and it becomes increasingly clear that this same reticence applies to the other characters in the novel, including the dead girl, whose story rapidly takes centre stage. So much is conveyed in these sparse, careful sentences that by the time he reaches the revelation at the bottom of page 53, it comes with a sense of inevitability. It could only have been this way.

I’m not going to tell you the story. Not all of you will want to read the book, but you can read the first few pages online. Have a look, and see whether you have anything to learn from this master of understated prose.

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Tower of Inspiration

All the Wild Weather: available for pre-order, released 11 August 2016 (see below for links)

ATWW blog pics

Hello, Yvonne, and many thanks for inviting me. I’m going to talk about an inspirational building today.

The Clavell Tower is a remarkable construction – a little piece of Italy perched on a Dorset cliff top. It was built in 1830 as a folly, or perhaps a summerhouse, and it has done its fair share as an inspiration to writers. Thomas Hardy is one big name associated with it, and PD James had it in mind when she wrote The Black Tower in 1975. And now, although I don’t count myself in that august company, it has inspired me, too.

The tower has had a bit of a lively history, having caught fire in the 1930s, and then been slowly threatened with falling into the sea as the cliff eroded around it. But then in 2006, it was bought by the Landmark Trust, a charity well known for rescuing unusual buildings. The tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt 25 metres inland. Along with other walkers on the coast path, I watched its progress with interest. When the work was complete the building reopened as a holiday let, and I went to visit it during an open day. I was delighted with its quaint round rooms and brilliant sea views across to the Isle of Portland. It was crowded with visitors that day, but it was easy to imagine it as it more usually is, silent and remote on its cliff top.

I thought of the Clavell Tower immediately when I needed a setting for my novel All the Wild Weather, and although it is my no means an exact portrait, Island View House has several features in common with the original. The round rooms of the tower became the ‘many-sided room’ of my story, where my hero settles down to write a book in peace and finds himself rudely interrupted by some unexpected arrivals. I moved the tower much farther than the Landmark Trust did – all the way from Kimmeridge Bay down to Weymouth – but I did my best to keep its curious atmosphere intact.

The tower is booked solid through this year and 2017, too, but you can at least read about its alter ego, Island View House, in All the Wild Weather, to be published on 11 August.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy-Sharp-111574195915740/

Twitter: @KathySharp19

The Larus Trilogy:

Isle of Larus http://tinyurl.com/olfyskv 

Sea of Clouds  http://amzn.to/1wYCPH0

and All the Wild Weather (to be published 11 August, 2016) http://amzn.to/29QyIqJ

Kathy’s Telling StoriesMonday Blog

Meet the hapless Mr Muggington and friends in Mr Muggington’s Discovery and Other Stories http://tinyurl.com/hec25gr

Walking on Wild Air

wowa publicity pic tablet

At the summit of a bare hill, on a quiet island in the bleak west of the world, a storm was brewing. Lightning flickered and dark clouds glowered over the hilltop, their rain-heavy bases lit from within by sullen flashes.
A bolt split the sky and the rain sheeted down, half hiding the ground with its jumbled boulders and sparse coating of grasses. For a moment the scene flickered, like a jerky film noir, and then a figure could be seen on the hilltop, curled up in the foetal position, unmoving.
Thunder cracked overhead and the man raised his head, hauling his body wearily after it. He climbed to his feet and pressed them against the ground, as if testing its ability to hold him. On one buttock there was a red mark, where a rock had pressed into his side, but as he stood in the rain the mark bruised and faded, leaving no trace.
He squared his shoulders against the deluge as the clouds roiled overhead. A great shaft of lightning hit the hilltop precisely at his position, limning his figure for an instant in a halo of blue and white. He looked down at his fists, unclenched them and regarded his hands as if seeing them for the first time. He put his head back, staring upward as the rain poured over his face, drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and howled a cry of pure anguish.

Who is he? To find out, pre-order Walking on Wild Air now.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/610394

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Walking-Wild-Air-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook

http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Wild-Air-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B01AYBRBBU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454841630&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+on+wild+air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearts & Other Dead Things

Out of the ordinary writing, to support an extraordinary cause.hearts-and-other-dead-things-finalSource: Hearts & Other Dead Things

Learning to Write

writing manuals

Those of you who know me are already aware that my sense of humour is quirky (and a little black), that my stories all have a bit of a twist, and that although I’m conscientious and thorough in my work, I don’t always do it by the book. The same is true of the way I have learned (and am still learning) the writer’s craft.

I’ve always known I could ‘write’. Even as a very young child I was forever getting in trouble for ‘telling stories’, or drifting off into a fantasy landscape while my Mum was telling me off, or having my nose in a book when I should be ‘making something of your life’. It wasn’t until my thirties that I really understood the way writing is the glue that holds the rest of my life together, and it’s only now my youngest children are nearing the age of independence that I have time. Time to indulge in reading. Time to delve into the black maelstrom of my subconscious and let some of my stories finally tell themselves.

There are lots of good books to help you with grammar and syntax, layout and style, points of view and tenses. But there are also others – books that come at the subject slantwise, that prod your subconscious to create, that pull you up short and make you re-evaluate aspects of writing that you’ve taken for granted, or not really understood. And it’s those books that I find the most valuable. Here are my favourites:

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1934, reprinted 1981. The 1981 imprint is still in print.) Dorothea’s approach is wholly positive. She begins with an assertion that she sets out to prove: “There is a sort of writer’s magic… {but} to be ready to learn it you will have to go by a rather roundabout way.” She proceeds to take us on that way, with chapters such as “The Four Difficulties” (the One-Book author, the Occasional Writer), “The Advantages of Duplicity”, “On Imitation” (the value of mimicking others’ work, to learn how they do it). Her writing is clear and cogent, and full of humour. Read this book, and perform all the exercises she suggests, and that book you thought you might never write will become the project you have to write. It’s joyous reading and I love it.

Starting From Scratch by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam Books, 1988. Still available in the second-hand marketplace). I love Rita Mae’s writing, especially her novel set in southern USA, Six of One, and the murder-mystery novels starring her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. Her advice is very direct, and very personal. She tells you what worked for her. There are no short cuts. There are certain tasks you must perform. Reading it, you feel a bit like Hercules at the beginning of his labours. I must learn Latin? You ask yourself, whining a little. But I don’t have time! Well, she says, you can still write, but your writing won’t be as good. Fair enough. I don’t always agree with her, and it’s pleasant to have those disagreements out with her, in the privacy of my own head. She may not be comfortable, but she gives a good argument, does Rita Mae. I had this book out of the public library over and over again in my twenties, and now I have my very own copy to delve into when I need a bracing dip in cold water, or maybe a bucketful of ice poured over my head. In other words, anytime I start to swell with my own self-importance and need taking down a peg or two. This is the most useful of all my writing manuals – because it forces me to think.

How Not To Write A Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark (Penguin 2008). This hilarious trawl through the vast array of mistakes writers make, with cringe-worthy examples, is worth reading for entertainment alone. If you’re still confused about what exactly ‘info-dumping’ is, or why editors don’t like POV changes in the middle of a chapter, this book will give you examplars of how not to do it. I’m a great fan of Sandra Newman’s work, and this book is no exception. On first reading, I spotted an even dozen ‘errors’ I’ve made in my published writing to date. I stand by some of them, but possibly not with quite so much conviction as when I wrote them. Improving your writing while having a laugh – what could be nicer? If you enjoyed this, you might like to try The Western Lit Survival Guide, also by Sandra Newman. A sweep through the entire Western canon at breakneck speed – a good way to spot gaps in your knowledge.

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin (The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998). Ursula Le Guin is my favourite living writer; she’s the consummate author, writing beautiful fantasies and perfectly-crafted essays, creator of universes, true disciple of the word. There is much useful advice, and many pertinent exercises, here (“Being Gorgeous”, “Telling it Slant”). Much like her translation of the Tao, Steering the Craft is the kind of work that you can dip into, reading a few paragraphs or performing just one exercise, and it will rest and open your mind just as meditation and tai chi relaxes and realigns your body. “Writing… is a craft, a making. To make something well is to give yourself to it… To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It’s worth it.”

Creative Novel Writing by Roselle Angwin (Robert Hale Ltd, 1999). Roselle teaches writing, and she’s no mean poet and author herself. This book is still available, and you can get the link from her website, http://fire-in-the-head.co.uk/. This is the most traditional of my manuals. It gives lots of good advice about POV, characterisation, structure but also about inspiration, imagination, how to get started and how to drive the work forward – and how to identify whether your work has that extra factor, which sets it apart from other people’s writing and makes your story unique. In essence, all writers are alone, and it’s how we approach that solitude that determines how successful we will be in dragging our stories out of the darkness and committing them to screen or paper.

Stealing Fire From The Gods by James Bonnet (Michael Wiese Prodctions, 2006). It’s early days for this one – I only began reading it a few weeks ago. Like Rita Mae Brown, James Bonnet makes some assertions that I don’t completely agree with (although on flicking through it now I can’t quite spot any of them). This is a book about how the human mind works – how humanity has told itself stories, and how the writer can identify and employ the great archetypes of human storytelling to may his/her own writing more convincing. He progresses from potatoes to heroes, and along the way we visit Jungian archetypes, listen in on the fascinating thoughts of Joseph Campbell, and call in on all sorts of well-known writers and their characters to see how they did it, from Aristotle to Mel Gibson, Dracula to Frodo. This is a book for prospective film-makers as well as writers, and its approach is very visual. I’m not yet 100% sure this is going into my canon of classic writers’ manuals, but I think it will. It’s already challenged me to think.

NaNo or NoNo? How to Survive National Novel Writing Month

Is it really nearly NaNoWriMo time again? I promise I’ll do it this year!

Vanessa Couchman

Nano logo

Is it that time of year again? Well not quite, but it comes upon you before you know it. Having spent the past few months on paid work, my fiction-typing fingers are tingling and the ideas are flowing. I need space to write and I can’t do it with clients and deadlines snapping at my heels.

But now the next deadline is looming – National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short). A recent, and timely, conversation in a Facebook group made me think about it.

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Green Jewels on a Velvet Throw

Here I am on the lovely Jane Bwye’s blog. It’s launch day for The Book of Lismore, so it seemed a good time to talk about Scottish islands.

Jane Bwye

A warm welcome to another talented Crooked Cat author today.  I enjoyed Yvonne Marjot’s first novel, and look forward to another trip to the Hebridean Islands, which make me think of Mendelssohn. Over to you, Yvonne. YM author pic at Calgary

“The Isle of Mull, of isles the fairest”, goes the old song (An t’Eilean Muileach, an t’eilean àghmhor…). It certainly is, and as the setting of The Calgary Chessman it introduced readers to one of the many beautiful islands that stud Hebridean waters like green jewels on a velvet throw.

The islands of the Inner Hebrides each have their own character. There’s Skye, where in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie fled with Flora MacDonald on her bonnie boat ‘like a bird on the wing’. Skye has mountains fiercer than Mull, the Black Cuillins offering a more challenging climbing experience than the gentle slog up Ben More, Mull’s only Munro.

Islay is justifiably famous…

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The Calgary Chessman – your perfect excuse to visit this beautiful island.

TCC cover art front Yvonne Marjot

It’s been a glorious day here on the Isle of Mull (14 May 2015. I specify the date because it has rained pretty much non-stop ever since); the kind of day that reminds you to thank your lucky stars you ended up here, in this beautiful place. Most of you won’t get the chance to visit here, and some of those that do will be forced to endure the kind of chilly, rain-drenched, midge-infested holiday that makes you wish you’d just stayed in the office. But most of our visitors can count, at some point during their week, on at least one of those gorgeous, vista-filled, wall-to-wall-sunshine-coated days that remind you how much you want to leave your job, life and responsibilities, and fly away to a Scottish island to spend the rest of your life enjoying the peace and quiet.

It really is as good as that. Of course, there are other aspects. Sometimes the weather is dire, ferries don’t run, the local supermarket runs out of food, tempers fray, everyone wishes they were somewhere else. In the winter, it can be dreich and dismal week in week out, and you’re hardly out of bed in the pre-dawn gloom than you’re walking home from work and it’s starting to get dark again.

But in the summer, when the days are so long that you have trouble getting to sleep, and on crisp, dry nights of winter when the stars are astonishing and the northern lights hang in the sky like nature’s own neon signs – then you remember why you came here. And why you stay.

Cas Longmore didn’t choose to come to Mull. When her marriage ended and she needed a place to stay, she managed to acquire a small, run-down cottage on the island, where she could take refuge; a place where she could re-examine her life and begin to plan for the future again. She walks, day after day, along the beach at Calgary Bay because it takes her out of herself and keeps her busy. She has no idea this habit will lead her to discover The Calgary Chessman, an object so mysterious and fascinating that it distracts her from loneliness for weeks on end.

The Calgary Chessman itself is, of course, akin to the famous Lewis Chessmen, and belongs to the same period of history. Writing about it gave me the opportunity to indulge my fascination with archaeology and early human history, and I hope you’ll also enjoy this aspect of my story. The period of history between the end of Viking raids and the establishment of a full mediaeval society in Scotland, with its kings, nobles, clan chieftains and chiels, resembling (but not identical to) feudal society south of the border, is fascinating. The Calgary Chessman touches on the Lords of the Isles, the Norse occupancy of parts of the Hebrides, and the tension between mainland Scotland and the islands. A work of fiction can only open a hazy window on history, but they were interesting times. It was fun to write about them.

Sometimes island life combines with a fascination for history to provide unique opportunities. I’ve had the chance to be involved with two archaeological digs on the Isle of Mull, and both have informed the story I tell in the sequel to The Calgary Chessman. The Book of Lismore takes Cas’s story forward another pace, it tells you more about the life of her son, Sam, and the friends and family who are becoming steadily more important in Cas’s new life. There’s a whole new archaeological mystery, this one set during the monastic period, several hundred years before the era of The Calgary Chessman. And, of course, the problems that Cas is trying to escape have followed her, to the place she thought was her refuge, and she’s forced to confront a situation she thought she’d left in the past.

The Calgary Chessman is available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Calgary-Chessman-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B00MLBQ6SG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431623568&sr=1-1&keywords=the+calgary+chessman

and http://www.amazon.com/Calgary-Chessman-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B00MLBQ6SG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1431623613

The Book of Lismore is released by Crooked Cat on 16 July 2015.

This week, https://crookedcatbooks.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/its-thriller-week-at-crooked-cat-books/ is featuring contemporary fiction.

CC cont fiction pic May 2015

NINE THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR

My fellow Crooked Cat authors Jeff Gardiner and Jane Bwye chatting about what writers need to learn to survive the journey from writing to publication.

Jane Bwye

These are valuable tips indeed. Jeff Gardiner, editor and master of several genres, is well qualified to write a continuation to my “Author Countdown” which started by accident a couple of weeks ago, when my blog “TEN THINGS…” broke hit records last month.  We’ve shared a successful library talk, and a book signing. A quiet, self-effacing man with a lovely family, and we have Africa in common. Welcome back, Jeff.

1.  Cope with rejection. This one is important. You can’t afford to be overly sensitive or sentimental about your creativity. Very few writers get their stories or novels accepted immediately (follow this link to make yourself feel better – http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/). Rejection is part of the process. As one of my friends likes to say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it!” Have faith in yourself and your book and send off some more submissions…

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Before it Begins, An Article by Author Yvonne Marjot

Susan Finlay Writes

I often hear from people who want to write a book but don’t know how or where to begin. Or from people who have already written a book that’s ready for publication but don’t know how to get it published. I recently began a new blog series, Writing and Publishing Tips From Authors Around the World, to help writers.

Yvonne Marjot

The nineteenth contributor is U.K. author Yvonne Marjot and she’s here to talk about what happens after you finish writing a novel.

Before it begins, or, what to do between finishing your novel and publishing it, by Yvonne Marjot

Writing’s wonderful, isn’t it? You love the moments when time flies past your flashing fingers on the keys, and a thousand words pours out of you onto the paper, and it’s just how you thought it would be. You hate the times when getting a sentence out is like wringing blood…

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