We’ve all heard the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and it is one that gives us writerly folk something to think upon.
When plotting a story, we are frequently advised not to rely too heavily on coincidence – the reader must not be cheated; he or she must be led, carefully yet often unwittingly, through a series of events which come together to form a plot. Said plot should, apparently, follow a generally accepted structure of crisis points, resolutions and thematic arcs. What we should not do is make our characters behave in an unbelievable way, stumble through coincidental events or allow something so outlandish to happen that the reader is alienated and throws down the book in disgust.
However... we have all heard stories (have we not?) of real-life events which would break these rules if incorporated into our fictitious plots. Clearly if the writing is of non-fiction then that is excellent news; it probably means that the subject matter we have chosen will make a rollicking read. Also, I am a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, in certain circumstances at least. I can think of many stories where ridiculously unbelievable things happen and, somehow, the writer manages to pull it off. Yet there are undoubtedly situations where using an event, or series of events, which occurred in real life in a fictitious piece just won’t work because the reader would be left saying that just wouldn’t happen. Whilst our response could justifiably be well, dear reader, it did! that just won’t cut it if it does not feel honest to the person you are trying to engage with.
I can recall a fair few training courses and writing workshops where, in group discussion, plot points have been shot down as being too unrealistic only for the writer to declare that it had in fact actually happened. It’s always interesting and it always makes me reflect, particularly as the past year has seen me writing and editing four non-fiction books about incredible, heroic, moving, dastardly and quite unbelievable events, a few of which would have been dismissed as absurd had they been incorporated into a work of fiction. By way of example, meet Henry Brown, a 19th century American slave who escaped to freedom – by post! After thirty three years of living his life in chains in Louisa County, Virginia, Henry claimed to have received a heavenly vision which told him to mail himself to a place where there were no slaves. Probably born of desperation, it is still completely bonkers and a truth which is, I think, stranger than much fiction (although I feel that I should point out that I am currently reading Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams).
If you’d like to meet more of the fascinating folk who have inhabited my year they can be found in the four volumes of the ‘Keeping Up With the...’ series which I have published with Marvin Close. So far we have covered Jones, Williams, Brown and Smith and it has been a roller-coaster ride during which I have met many interesting and noteworthy individuals. I’m planning to set up Facebook pages in the coming months so that anyone can share pictures and stories of their own notable namesakes. I'd love to see old photos alongside family stories of heroes and black sheep. I will also be posting some extra stories on the Facebook pages which are not featured in the books together with some of Marvin's excellent cartoons!
The four volumes are packed with inspirational stories if you are looking for an idea for a piece of writing. Putting them together had my mind racing as I began to imagine how I would tell their stories or include them, disguised, within my own plot. Just make sure you don’t come up with something so crazy no one will believe you!!
Here’s hoping you had a great Christmas and that Santa brought you all of the books you asked for.
Happy New Year,
Each book is £4.50 in paperback and £2.49 on Kindle. Click on an image to take a further look.
If you are starting to think about Christmas presents, I've a few new items added to my stock and I've also been experimenting with discount codes and Paypal buttons!
These mugs are available via the Candelabra Crafts page of this website. I've only 3 or 4 of each one but if they are popular I will get more in. I've also ideas for some new designs which I'll be working on over the next few weeks, including 'sewing & tea'. and 'sewing & coffee'.
I hope you like them! £8 each plus p&p.
These signs are newly available on the CandelabraCrafts (CandelabraCrafts.Etsy.com) Etsy shop. £8.95 plus p&p. Numbers are limited at the moment.
AND FINALLY - USE THE FOLLOWING CODE AT THE ETSY CHECKOUT OF CANDELABRACRAFTS TO SECURE 10% OFF ORDERS OF £10 AND OVER PLACED BEFORE THE END OF NOVEMBER.
I love this book. I love the cover, the title, the period it is set in and I love the easy yet accomplished way in which the author tells a well-paced mystery.
I should point out that this is the third in a series and that I read it without having read the first two. Fountains Abbey isn't too far from where I live, just north of Leeds in Ripon, and I've been there. It is wonderfully atmospheric and when I saw a book naming it in the title I just picked it up and bought it without knowing very much. I was in a hurry and, once I had established that it was a historical murder mystery, I was happy to give it a go.
Thomas Hawkins is the man to whom it falls to investigate threats which have been made against a disgraced politician who has been forced to abandon public life following the South Sea fiasco which left hundreds ruined. He has an ulterior motive but I'll leave it to you to discover what that is. He is ably assisted by the feisty Kitty and a young boy. It is set at Studley Hall and Fountains Abbey in 1728, when the water gardens at the Abbey were being created by the family at the heart of the plot. (These gardens are now a World Heritage site administered by the National Trust.) The plot moves on at a good pace and drew me in from the start. In my opinion the book also benefits from not being too long. I've read a few books lately which run ON such that the pace suffers and my attention falters. However, at a tidy 344 pages, it is just about right. There is plenty of action, good characterisation, an interesting mystery and plenty of luscious period details. And it is all written in elegant prose which doesn't distract from the story. What more can you ask for? I will definitely be reading the preceding books. Now, where's that Christmas list gone?
Some pieces from my Etsy store:
I am very excited to welcome back Jennifer Joyce to my little blog. Jennifer is someone whom I admire greatly as she has turned her love of writing, and creating things generally, into a burgeoning career. Her passion for her characters and stories really shines through and (together with talent, obviously,) this has no doubt contributed to her self-publishing success and the subsequent signing of a contract with a traditional publisher. Now Jennifer boasts hundreds of Amazon reviews and a paperback title widely available in shops. Below she tells me a little about her amazing journey.
Thanks for coming back to my blog. How are you?
I’m great, thank you. It’s lovely to be back!
My last chat with you was in November 2015, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. Back then you had self-published a number of books but had just signed a contract with Carina (now rebranded as HQ Digital) for two books. I know that you have lovely paperbacks out in the world now and I was wondering how that came about?
After self-publishing A Beginner’s Guide To Salad and Everything Changes But You (and free short story A Beginner’s Guide To Christmas), I wrote a festive book (The Mince Pie Mix-Up) and was planning to self-publish again. But I thought I’d submit it to Carina on the off chance they’d want to publish it. I didn’t expect anything but a rejection, but they loved it and I was offered a two-book deal. I’ve since published four ebooks with them, with two more on the way next year, and my latest, The Little Bed & Breakfast by the Sea, was released as a paperback too.
I see that ‘The Little Bed and Breakfast by the Sea’ has over 100 Amazon reviews (click here). That is amazing. You must be pleased?
I’m amazed! It’s been so exciting seeing the number of reviews rising – especially as most people have enjoyed the book!
And is ‘The Little Teashop of Broken Hearts’ a sequel?
Although the books have similar titles, they aren’t connected at all – they take place in different locations and follow completely separate sets of characters.
Your latest book, ‘A Beginners Guide to Saying I Do’, is now available via Amazon (click here). Where does that fit in? I believe it is a follow-up to ‘A Beginners Guide to Salad’?
Yes, it’s the second book in the Beginner’s Guide series, following Ruth and her friends during the next stage of their lives. I wrote the first draft around the time I signed with HQ Digital, but it took a bit of a backseat as publisher deadlines kicked in. As with the first book in the series, I self-published A Beginner’s Guide To Saying I Do.
Now that you are signed up with a publisher, what level of involvement do you have with designing the cover? I know you used to like playing around with them when you were designing your own!
I’m not very involved at all, so the reveal is always exciting and I can’t wait to share them with everybody! I do like playing around with images and graphics, so I like having my toe in both camps as I get full control over my self-published designs.
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
I write Monday to Friday while my daughters are at school. If I’m nearing a deadline or I’m falling way behind schedule, I’ll write for a good chunk of Sundays too. In the school holidays, I’ll squeeze in bits of writing when I can and catch up in the evenings.
Do you have or are you seeking an agent?
I don’t have an agent at the moment, but it’s something I would definitely like to pursue again in the future!
So, after all this excitement, what’s next??
I’m currently in the planning stages of Book 9 while I wait for the edits of Book 8. Both books will be published by HQ Digital next year.
Thanks so much for coming, Jennifer. Maybe we can do this again in another couple of years? Who knows, there might be a movie to talk about by then!
That would be awesome – both chatting books again and movie talk!
Jennifer has a lovely website at jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk. Why not check it out?
On 24th August I finally took the plunge and opened two shops on Etsy.com, the site for sellers of handcrafted items. One shop, CandelabraCrafts.etsy.com (all one word for Etsy purposes), contains lots of little gifts for lovers of reading, writing and steampunk (and who doesn't love a bit of steampunk?). My mind really raced when coming up with the things that are up for sale: door signs, bookmarks, greeting cards, pin brooches; and I've loads more ideas waiting to be made and photographed. I'm thinking - new signs, handmade dice, magnets. Maybe even the odd tote bag or two...
If you get a chance do check out the store at CandelabraCrafts.etsy.com. There is also a page, Candelabra Crafts, on this website where you can view some of my stock. Driving traffic to the shop is hard and I'm currently working on becoming an e-commerce expert! (If anyone can explain to me how best to use Pinterest for Etsy, please do.) I will ultimately get around to a Facebook page and Instagram account. I am on Pinterest as Candelabra. Any follows would be greatly appreciated. (Click HERE.)
The other shop, CandelabraFamily.etsy.com, contains things to make parents, grandparents and carers, smile after that tough night or tough day that we all have when kids are involved! I love these items as they were inspired by my own little boys and I'd adore it if the signs made their way into the world, spreading a little cheer. They each come prettily boxed and would make great gifts for that stressed out parent. As most of my existing social media contacts are readers and writers, I am finding it more difficult to market this shop but hopefully hard work and perseverance will pay off. I do actually have a Facebook page (HERE) and an Instagram account (HERE) for CandelabraFamily, although it is early days for both. Any visits, shares and likes are hugely appreciated. There's a slideshow below showcasing my favourite products.
Thanks for reading. My next post will be about my latest self-publishing venture (non-fiction - humorous genealogy) and, after that, I have some really interesting things lined up with writers who have kindly agreed to participate in my little blog and share their stories.
Today on the blog I am going to review two books that I have finished recently. The first one I knew nothing about before I began reading, the next is the second in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud which I was confident I would like as I loved the first (The Screaming Staircase - read my review here: book-review-the-screaming-staircase-by-jonathan-stroud.html).
So, let's turn to 'Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers' by Janine Beacham. It is the first in a series which is probably aimed at middle-grade readers. Not that I let that stop me, and I'm glad because I thoroughly enjoyed it and have been recommending it to anyone who I think will appreciate it.
As the title suggests, the plot centers around a mystery - in fact it is a murder mystery with a few other elements to it. Someone is killing butlers and the main character, a young girl named Rose from a well-to do family, decides to investigate the matter herself when events relating to the matter cross her path. It is set in a fictional version of York in (I think) the nineteenth century. Rose and her friend Emily are fun characters and the butlers who they encounter during their investigations are quirky and engaging (who knew butlers were so good with swords?). The plot moves along at a lovely pace, which was a relief as I have read too many books lately which progressed so slowly I lost interest. Not so here. Each time I put it down I was impatient to return and, in the days before I had so many other demands on my time, I would have read it in a couple of sittings. The setting, fictional Yorke, was nicely gothic and the whole thing had just a spice of darkness to it.
As I live close to York and have been many times (I have set one of my own stories there), I did find it a little confusing at the beginning as I wasn't sure whether it was meant to be real York or not, but once I decided that it wasn't (getting to the bit involving the Shambles which had clearly been renamed demonstrated that it was a mostly fictional place), I was able to move on and just use my knowledge of York to compliment the descriptions within the book.
Overall, a fun and lively read which brought my imagination to life (and made me want to pop back to York!). I will definitely acquire the next in the series.
Now it's the turn of the second instalment in Jonathan Stroud's excellent series for children: Lockwood & Co.. It is called, 'The Whispering Skull' and it follows 'The Screaming Staircase'. Although Amazon places it in the same age bracket as Rose Raventhorpe (9-11), I have to say that Lockwood & Co. is likely to suit an older audience than Miss Raventhorpe. The prose and plot are more complex and the subject matter is darker (although Black Cats & Butlers is also quite dark).
Stroud has chosen to write this series from the point of view of a member of Lockwood's team, rather than Lockwood himself. Her name is Lucy and she has a special talent in relation to ghosts. She is one member of a three person team (the others being Lockwood and George) who are teenage ghost specialists in a world where only children can hear and sense the many ghouls which comprise 'the Problem'. As with the first book, there is a mystery at the heart of the plot, namely who has stolen a dangerous relic and to what ends? However, for me, the book's great charm comes from the interactions between the team members. I really care about what happens to them. Each is strongly written and individual. There is mystery, humour, tension and action and a wonderfully murky atmosphere. Whilst it didn't quite engage me as much as the first one, it was a close run thing and I will be reading the third. The writing is wonderful - seemingly effortless yet of very high quality.
I wish I knew how he does it!
We all have so much to do, don't we? And it can be hard deciding how to split your time. I'm certainly finding it difficult to decide. There are my two lovely boys who are growing up fast, my husband who is out at work a lot so time together is precious, the housework and shopping (and all the other 'little' things which need to be done to keep our lives ticking over but which seem to add up to days) and that's before I get to the stuff that is just mine, such as this little blog and my writing and crafting. Yet on a day like today, the garden is calling out to me. Oh, and exercise... that hugely important thing that gets shoved to the bottom of the list, mostly because I am always so damned tired there is nothing in my legs except jelly.
Hmm, tough decisions. As it stands I have spent three hours this morning on my laptop formatting non-fiction books but I think I will allow the garden to take me for half an hour soon.
Not that I am complaining. When I left work I didn't know how I was going to fill my days but, piece by piece, I've built up enough of a life that I could fill my sleeping hours and still not get everything done that I would like, and to the standard I would like. In a strange way, that pleases me. I need direction or I get confused.
I think it also makes me lucky and I have to remember that when I am stressing about when I am going to get everything done, particularly when someone is ill again. In the last few weeks, we've had colds, croup, hand foot and mouth and a sickness bug in the house. I have to say, it doesn't make getting that novel written any easier! But I'm learning to roll with it and do what I can when I can. The result is that I rarely take a break, and I'll have to keep an eye on that. If I get a spare moment, I'm logging on to do some quick editing or grabbing a camera to take pictures of my Etsy inventory. I do worry that I have taken on too much this Summer, as the books and the Etsy shops are all scheduled to go live in September, but it should calm down a little after that. Oh, but I nearly forgot, I'm also administering the open competitions for NAWG this year so if you've not yet sent in your entries, get writing!! Details can be found HERE.
Of course then there's all the marketing to do... There's no point spending all my free time holed-up inside on my own to put pretty and fun things out into the world but then not having the time or energy to tell anyone that they're there. So, watch this space, I'll be bending your ears soon...
In the meantime, there's also the small matter of the tiny office at the back of the garage which I have ear-marked for a workshop/writing room. I can write anywhere but my crafting bits and pieces are all over the house. They are getting underfoot and are at risk of damage. I really need somewhere safe and clean to store everything if I am going to start selling . (Note to any would-be burglars reading this - it is alarmed and will only have ribbons, paint and glue in it so don't go getting any ideas..!)
So do you think I can change this...
I think I might need some HELP!!
Today I am reviewing a book my mum passed to me about a year ago. I knew nothing about it at the time and so 'The Birth of Venus' sat on the shelf for a few months in the queue. Then I began to notice people on Twitter and so forth saying how good it was (even though it was published in 2003). Plus my mother has pretty good taste, so in November last year I decided to give it a go. I read the jacket and the testimonials and felt a quiver of excitement. I could see why Mum had been drawn to it and why she thought I might like it - it is set in Medici Florence and is steeped in beautiful art. Definitely my sort of read. Also, all the notable newspapers heap praise upon it, all the way down the back cover: a 'moving, gripping and impressive work' - Sunday Times, 'magnificent' - Daily Telegraph, 'Erotic and gripping' - Independent on Sunday and, in my opinion the worthiest of all praise from the Observer: 'As soon as I finished this book I wanted to go straight back and read it all over again.'
I don't know if it was all the hype or the fact that the baby wasn't (still isn't) sleeping so my concentration was lacking but I had a couple of false starts where I struggled to get past the first two chapters. But all those recommendations nagged at me and so I persevered. In the end I got into it and finished about a month ago. I then postponed writing this review while I pondered. In the end I decided that the simplest thing is to be honest and say that I have mixed feelings about this book. It is supremely written. And I mean absolutely gorgeously written. Every sentence flows and weaves expertly, bringing Medici Florence to life in an incredibly accomplished and evocative manner. I could never hope to write something so beautifully. In this sense I totally agree with all the praise. Where I did struggle a little, however, was with the plot.
The heroine of the piece is a young Florentine girl, Alessandra Cecchi. She has a place in her family and within the structure of society but she is not fulfilled by it. She is intellectually hungry yet is constantly required to control her desire for knowledge, exploration, life and art. She is herself a talented raw artist with a level of ability which would have blossomed had she been given the encouragement and tuition of her male counterparts. This is her struggle. As the Medicis fall and Florence is plunged into dangerous chaos she must make difficult decisions and painful sacrifices yet she is young and naïve and these decisions have consequences that she does not foresee. These are intense and important themes and drew me in but I did find the pace slow at times. There isn't an obvious plot to pull the reader along, although the prologue does raise significant questions which helped to keep me reading.
When I had finished the book I was glad that I had read it and it will stay with me for a while. If you like historical settings and are not looking for a page-turner of a plot, this is an exquisitely written intelligent work which should please.
De-dah! I have finally updated the 'About Me' page of my website. There are a couple of books (non-fiction) almost ready to come out and a new crafting business in the pipeline and it was time to make some changes. I can't wait to get my little online shop up and running. Anyway, it read like a blog piece so I thought that I would post it here as well.
"Where to start?
Not at the beginning, that's for sure. It would take way too long. Besides, I spent many years in an office doing serious things and drinking a lot of tea and who wants to hear about that? (Actually I'm hoping a few people as I'm thinking of turning it into a radio comedy-watch this space...) So I'm going to take the advice of many writers who say you should begin at the furthest point possible, where the action really starts, and run with it from there.
I began writing several years ago, teaching myself from books, magazines and so forth. During that time I have met some amazing and supportive people and I am gradually finding a way forward which does not involve me returning to an office any time soon. I self-published a book two years ago - a collection of eight supernatural stories with the title 'Into Dust and Other Strange Tales'. It is available via Amazon and has been a valuable learning experience. Further information can be found here. I am currently working on two non-fiction books with a friend which we will also make available via CreateSpace. Details will be posted here shortly and I am very excited. Working with someone again has been great and I hope to find more opportunities for collaboration in the future. It's an excellent way to learn and having someone else to bounce ideas off is fun. This year I am also judging the NAWG ghost story competition and administering three of the organisation's other competitions. I am looking forward to it all.
Baby Sam joined the family in February 2016 so I've had much less time this past year to move forward with my novel and even my second collection of short stories has suffered but I intend to get on track with that and also revive my slightly tired blog. I've also discovered a new hobby - crafting! With the sleepless nights and demands of two small children it can be difficult to find decent slots of time to write but I do find the odd ten minutes to half an hour here and there. So instead of firing up the laptop only to find that one of the kids needs me before I have even logged on I have been setting up crafting projects on the kitchen island and dipping in and out of them over the course of the day. And I love it! I love it so much that I have decided to keep it going alongside my writing and hope to start selling a few things on this website and on Etsy later this year. I have been working up an inventory designed to appeal to readers, writers and parents and I can't wait to share it with you. Drawing and art was one of my first loves and it has been incredibly rewarding to return to it.
I need to decide whether to incorporate my new business venture into my blog . My current thinking is to continue to focus on books and writing but to drop in the occasional post about the new business. I'd also like to include more author interviews so I'll work on that and no doubt this second round of self-publishing will throw up some new material as I discover what has changed in the past two years and also deal with the challenges of including images within a book for the first time.
As I write this it strikes me how much my life has changed over the past few years. Whilst I have put a lot of hard work into it, I couldn't manage without the people who support me. Thank you.
Bernie x "
It’s been a while since my last blog post and it is largely due to the absence of any reading or writing in my daily life. Baby Sam still doesn’t like sleeping, day or night, and has picked up every bug going around. I am hoping that some warmer weather will help. Meanwhile Matthew is a pocket dynamo and doesn’t like it if I try and sit quietly for any length of time. Between them they have me on the go from 6 am to after 8 pm and often through the night as well. So you can see how this has happened.
But it’s ok. The boys are great, so much fun and totally adorable. Sam is gradually settling in to a couple of days at nursery which will free up some time (Matthew continues to enjoy his time there). And I am developing a new hobby... Crafting! Whilst I might not get reliable blocks of time during which I can write, I can sneak some shorter bursts here and there. Just before Christmas I attended a craft fair and marvelled at the lovely things people were making and selling. It moved quickly from there. Never one to hang around I joined Pinterest and discovered something amazing called ‘mixed media’. As the name suggests, this involves using many different techniques and materials to produce art. Many of the pieces I have seen have a luscious steampunky vibe to them. So, armed with some birthday money (and as it turns out, much of the grocery money as well) I have been on a spree – Hobbycraft, Amazon, Ebay, Wilko, charity shops – nowhere is safe. I’ve got inks, pastes, stamps, papers, stencils, wooden butterflies, mache books, lace, buttons and I just can’t stop.
Undoubtedly some of the time I could have spent writing and I’ve found that crafting has occupied my thoughts (coming up with designs together with solutions to technical issues like heatproofing coasters) when I would usually have been thinking about plotting. But I have fallen totally in love with it and am thinking about road-testing some of my pieces with a view to putting them up for sale later in the year. It won’t make me rich but I might make back some of the money I have spent on materials. In the meantime it has given me a greatly-needed creative release when I was struggling to find the time and the emotional energy required to write. Plus I think the pieces I have produced so far compliment my book which has a richly dark flavour. I can see a situation where I sell both books and crafts via my website. That’s the dream, anyway.
And today, well today I have had a writing day (note – for the purposes of this paragraph please pretend that it is still Saturday evening!). I am currently on my way back from a ‘Space to Write’ day run by the ever lovely Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas (www.susanelliotwright.co.uk). It got me away from chores and has allowed me to assess where I am. Last week, on holiday with the troupe, I scribbled down a plan. Today I had time to think about it and began to move some of the elements forward. My aim (as Susan says, it helps to say it out loud and publicly if possible!) is to have self-published a second book of shorts by Christmas. It won’t be done in time for Christmas sales but I would like it done by the end of the year. As I am writing this I am thinking that January might not be a great time for a book launch so I might revisit the precise timing but I want it written and formatted by then. It will be a collection of fantasy short stories. Over the past 18 months I have written only two but after today I am a good way through a third. I probably need 8 or 9 in total, depending upon length. So a long way to go, but a plan at least. When I need a break from this project I have a couple of other books and scripts on the backburner greatly in need of attention and I’m working on a non-fiction project with a friend which will hopefully go live soon. It's never the ideas that are the problem... Time and execution - a different matter.
When the collection of shorts is out in the world I will force myself to move on. I love writing short stories but readers, it seems, are not in love with reading them.
Meanwhile 'Into Dust' remains 99p on Kindle - HERE.
That’s my update. I’d love to hear yours.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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