Friday, 21 July 2017

Hay on Wye, Town of Kindles? - Katherine Roberts




I have fond memories of Hay-on-Wye. I used to live in Ross-on-Wye, about 30 miles downriver of the now world-famous town of books, and often tackled the twisty rural roads through the glorious Herefordshire countryside to the Welsh border, all in the name of research.

It's been about 25 years since my first visit to the town, back in the early 1990s. My friend Sue and I used to go to the Book Festival while it was still quite small, and the children's authors did their talks in the local primary school hall - or in its more modest classrooms, depending on their level of fame. One of the first children's events we attended was JK Rowling reading from an early Harry Potter in the school hall, where the organizers were clearly caught by surprise at the size of the audience and did well to squeeze everyone in. My friend and I stood in the doorway, trying not to feel too self-conscious among all the young fans squashed together on the floor. Afterwards, the signing queue stretched right around the school - twice. The next year, children's authors joined the big names and did their events in tents on the main site. Then the Festival got its own bigger (and muddier) site on the edge of town, and from there things got bigger still. Today, there is not just the spring festival at Hay-on-Wye, but also a winter one, and spin-off 'Hay' festivals in far flung parts of the world.

https://www.hayfestival.com/festivals.aspx


A reader who lingered too long at the Hay Festival?

All this fame has undoubtedly been good for tourism. I prefer to visit Hay-on-Wye when the main Festival is not running, because then you can actually park your car in the main car park, the town is quieter, and the bookshops and cafes have more time for tourists. I love poking around in the dusty corners of the honesty bookstalls, where you used to be able to pick up bargains for 20p or so if you were lucky. You can lose yourself for hours in the back rooms of Richard Booth's main shop in the centre of town, where my friend Sue and I would unearth long-forgotten science fiction and fantasy novels. I even once spotted a proof copy of my first Seven Fabulous Wonders book The Great Pyramid Robbery on some random stand... naturally, like all well-trained authors, I turned it face-out before we left☺.

The Great Pyramid Robbery
(2017 cover)

Today, Richard Booth's bookshop has gone upmarket. There is a coffee shop where all the best bargains used to be, and beautifully labelled shelves advertising all the different genres. Young Adult is upstairs, where the floor is amazingly sparkly. The Great Pyramid Robbery has long vanished, perhaps someone bought it? One of Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries is there instead, face-out and pristine, making this part of the shop look a little bit like a big chain bookstore selling new books... which Hay does not (yet) have, thankfully.

Definitely not a chain bookstore

It might be my memory playing tricks, but there seem to be fewer book shops than before, and you need a special map to find them all. The honesty stalls in the outbuildings beside the castle have mostly disappeared, leaving just two ranks of covered shelving in the main castle garden near the street, which someone had artistically arranged by colour when I visited earlier this month, so that all the blue books were on the left, followed by white, then yellow, then orange, then green, etc... as good an attempt at categorizing the random titles found here as any, I guess.

Hay Castle bookstall - before the colour coding.

There are definitely fewer boxes full of tatty paperbacks sitting outside the shops where I used to do quite a bit of random shopping, and the discount £1 shop on the corner selling pristine copies of brand-new titles has vanished, to be replaced by some kind of gift store or clothing outlet... I didn't take much note, I'm afraid. Gone are the days of picking up a Hay author's book for a song in this shop, and then hot-footing it back to the Festival to get it signed - perhaps their publishers complained? Although, in truth, the discount shop was merely taking advantage of the fact publishers had optimistically overprinted and sold off their surplus stock at very high discount. Those books always turn up again one day, you know.

Books sold for less than the price of a birthday card.

These days, I look back at my bargain hunting younger Hay self with horror. But who can afford to buy full-priced books on a regular basis? Certainly not struggling authors. In fact, when I was in Hay only last week, I overheard a young woman saying to a friend that she wished she could buy a book because she wanted one, but she couldn't justify the expense (not even second hand), which I'm hoping is not an early sign of Brexit book buying jitters.

Hay feels different in 2017. The honesty book stalls, what's left of them, require pounds instead of pence - although the Old Cinema Bookshop still has a few bargain shelves that are worth checking out. I assume most of the tatty paperbacks I remember browsing through on the street have disintegrated, or perhaps been read to death. The secondhand book shops that remain have gone rather upmarket, and gift shops and cafes are taking over where books once reigned supreme. The wooden tourist information hut in the corner of the carpark, where my friend Mary used to work, has gone, to be replaced by a smart complex of shops complete with cafe, and shiny loos that require 20p before they will let you in.

Even the humble carpark is no longer content with a simple machine that swallows coins and issues tickets. It now wants you to answer a long list of questions before it will allow you to insert the price of a good book for the privilege of parking your car:

Language? (answer this one wrong, and you'll be totally flummoxed by the indecipherable Welsh instructions).
Type of vehicle? (You can't just answer 'car' - it's 'car and motorcycle', even if you haven't got a convenient motorcycle in the back.)
Registration number? (Cue anyone like me, who recently changed their car, running back across the carpark to check...)
Like the honesty bookstalls, the carpark machine too wants pounds these days instead of pence - and more fool you if you feed it your last 20p, because then you'll be hopping your way around Hay looking for a loo that doesn't think you're from London and try to fleece you for a wee. And after all that, if the machine rejects your new pound coins, you'll have to start the whole process again, accompanied by the groans of the queue behind you... this time, because you are panicking and forget to answer the language question, in the default Welsh.

Oh, and best not to mention the property prices. Everyone who is anyone from the London literati scene wants a cute little cottage in Hay these days, it seems, meaning that long gone are the days when you can buy a rundown little Welsh cottage for a song and camp there at weekends while you do it up.

Fame is not always a good thing for small Welsh/Herefordshire border towns. They start to get above themselves. Their car parks and their toilets acquire lives of their own. Their secondhand bookstalls seem to think they are selling new books. Their discount and new bookstores vanish into the ether. Their old-world charm is slowly overtaken by a desperate scramble for London pounds, and those bendy B roads just cannot cope.

Sue, taking in the view across Hay from the castle

With vanishing print runs by midlist authors, and the rarity of the more esoteric titles publishers used to support, where will all the future secondhand books come from? I doubt many of today's print-on-demand titles will find their way to Hay, and who wants to unearth yet another copy of last year's celebrity memoir? Old paper books eventually wear out. Will Hay be the same with a collection of old Kindles in boxes set out in the sunshine and showers on the street? Somehow, I doubt it.

No Kindles here yet... happy book bargain hunting!

*

Katherine Roberts writes historical fantasy for young readers with a focus on legend and myth. She also writes historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk



Thursday, 20 July 2017

Despatches, Matches, Hatches by Sandra Horn



I detest the word ‘closure’ when it is applied to bereavement – it’s meaningless. It is usually used when a milestone has been reached along the journey from the loss; a sense that something significant has been achieved that was left undone before. It’s a step, not an end. 



I was thinking about it particularly at a family ceremony earlier this year. Almost forty years ago, my youngest brother and his wife had a stillborn child. There had never been the money for the kind of memorial they wanted/needed,  until then. We met, all of us, in the pouring rain to bury our parents’ ashes in the baby’s grave and to witness the completion of the lovingly-chosen headstone and the ‘dressing’ of the grave. We needed words. I read Kathleen Raine’s beautiful poem ‘Spell of Sleep’.
It begins ,
Let him be safe in sleep
As leaves folded together
As young birds under wings
As the unopened flower.
And ends,
Let him be healed in sleep
In the quiet waters of night
In the mirroring pool of dreams
Where memory returns in peace,
Where the troubled spirit grows wise
And the heart is comforted.
Afterwards, as we dried off in the warmth of a local pub, my brother said, ‘I feel different now.’ Not closure, just a step along the way and helped, I think and hope, by Kathleen Raine’s beautiful words.
Yesterday, as it will be by the time this post goes up, the poem will have been read again at the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. I have read other poems at funerals of loved ones – words crafted with such skill and care and power to bring comfort and inspiration. Needful poetry.

 Every significant event in life needs and calls forth words to acknowledge, to celebrate. Here’s an extract from Edwin Muir’s perfect poem for a marriage: The Confirmation,
What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that’s honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright...



And then there’s this from Kahlil Gibran’s Getting Married ,
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Then there’s birth. It’s harder to find celebratory poems about our beginnings that don’t wander off into the territory of nappies and disturbed nights – all very real, but not purely joyful. Nothing of the miraculousness of the event. Here’s a snippet from Vona Groarke’s ‘Tonight of Yesterday’,
‘You are all about tomorrow. The moon has your name memorised.’


The most powerful poem about birth – perhaps just one of the most powerful poems ever – is Louis MacNeice’s ‘Prayer before Birth’. It isn’t joyful, it’s a fearful plea for the safety of the being that’s about to come into the world with all its hazards, but it invokes tenderness, the need for protection and nurturing that a new parent will recognise and identify with. Here are two short extracts:
I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.
.....
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me.

I feel I should apologise for becoming repetitive in these posts lately. I’m immersed in poetry as I try to keep up with the necessary reading and writing in the ’52 poems’ challenge. It doesn’t leave much headspace for anything else! I’m not sorry about the poems I’m reading and quoting here, you understand, I hope readers are finding the treasure in them that I do – my apology is for being stuck in this particular groove month after month. It may change...but then there’s love, seasons, festivals, weather, the sky... Is there a Poetrynerds Anonymous, anyone?


 Spell of Sleep is in Kathleen Raine Collected Poems, Hamish Hamilton 1956
The Confirmation by Edwin Muir is in 101 Poems that could save your life, edited by Daisy Goodwin, HarperCollins 1999
Tonight of Yesterday by Voan Groarke is in Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe Books 2002
Getting Married is in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Studio Editions 1995


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Invisible 'H' by Jan Edwards


 Image result for map of bath word




A recent Facebook thread was discussing the pronunciation of A in conjunction with an invisible H at some length.  I suspect we have all come across that old chestnut of how to enunciate ‘bath’ (or ‘grass’, ‘class’, ‘pass’) and whether it/they should be pronounced with or without the unseen H as in ‘b-ah-th as opposed to b-a-th.

Though the originator of the Facebook post now lives in California he is a Brit by birth, and, his original question was to his US counterparts on how they heard those invisible  H sounds.

In his case he was specifying the distinction between ‘ass’ and ‘arse’ as a play on words. Perhaps not the best example as it turned out. Several people appeared genuinely confused to learn that in the UK the word ‘ass’ generally refers to a donkey and/or a stupid person, whilst an ‘arse’ is a part of the anatomy (and yes, occasionally also a stupid person). This would seem to be a different question on the surface but one can see how the confusion has arisen and why the Brits on the thread moved on to gnaw on the age-old bone of regional contention – the pronunciation of the humble bath.

Confused? Most people on the thread were.

A little basic research suggested to me that the linguists’ view appears to stipulate the hard A is being the ancient form and AH merely a variant that arose at some point in the 1700s; though from where nobody seems entirely sure. (Perhaps a subject for future research on my part.)

A point that was never raised, however, was the frequently overlooked third variant which the linguists categorised as a rural AA. 

What had this to do with the stridency between those Facebookers? It would seem that the Brits moved on to other A words, and perceived  it as indicative not of historic usage but some mythical north-south divide and, to a lesser but no less vocal degree, of class. This view of southern accents as being automatically ‘posh’ has always been one that has genuinely perplexed me.

I grew up in Sussex where that AA was anything but silent. The As of my youth were drawling and elongated.  They had very little to do with received pronunciation and everything to do with the Sussex dialect that is now seldom heard but was still common in the 1950s and 60s. Its gentle cadence would slot an extra A into just about any word. The humble ‘ah, yes’ of a general acknowledgement, for example, being drawn out into a single ‘AAAA’ sound. Bath would be pronounced with as b-aaa-th. A little ovine perhaps but if you imagine any of the southern rural accents reaching from Sussex, though Hampshire and on to Somerset and Dorset you won’t be far off the mark. It was and is the accent of farm labourers and milkmaids and seafaring men.
                                               
Given that the A is invisible it had made me wonder how these would be portrayed in our writing. Or, indeed, whether they should even be given a second thought. Will a reader hear the presence or absence or that invisible H (or AAs for us country folk) purely from knowing the speaker at that point hails from Reading or Ripon?

Having tried to portray a Sussex accent in both my country novel Sussex Tales, and to a far lesser extent in my recent crime drama Winter Downs, I know just what a precarious path it can be to tread. Written phonetically the accent is almost indecipherable to those unfamiliar with it. Used sparingly it runs the risk of becoming the kind of ubiquitous rural accent frequently adopted on radio and tv; which belongs to nowhere and nobody.  All we can hope to do is give a flavour and trust that character portrayal fills any minor gaps.

You need look no further than ‘rough’, ‘bough’ and ‘cough’ to realise that English pronunciation is seldom bound by anything so simple as rules. In which case I have come to the conclusion that the mystery of the missing As and Hs are not anywhere near so important as some would have us think; and for writers at least (in the interests of sanity) is probably best left unsolved.

***
Jan Edwards’s fiction has appeared in The Mammoth Book of DraculaMammoth Book of the Adventures of MoriartyMX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories  and many other crime, horror, pulp, weird fiction, main stream and urban fantasy anthologies.  She has  been a part of a scripting team for a Dr Who DVD due out in November 2017. (Details of all works here) 

Her latest crime novel, Winter Downs is available in print and kindle formats in UK and US

Also available:

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

I braved it, by Tara Lyons

This is me - and it must have been
taken after the reading as I'm smiling!
I thought I’d use this month’s blog to give you all a quick update about the meet the author event I attended on July 1st (click here if you want to read my original post).

Well, I’m happy to report that not only did I make it through the door, but I also read the prologue of my second book, No Safe Home. I won’t lie, my hands were trembling – and I had to hold both the book and the microphone in front of me, so there was no hiding the shakes – and my tongue felt ten times too big for my dry mouth. But, despite all of that, I read the chapter. More importantly, and thankfully, the audience listened intently, applauded and one person even purchased the book after the event due to hearing the prologue. Definitely worth the week of jitters leading up to the event, I think.

I have to thank the team at Bloodhound Books and my friends and all the supporters who came to the event. I think my pre-stage nerves were obvious to everyone, and they all did what they could to calm me down. One friend, who travelled into London especially for the event – and is very clever at what she does – got me chatting about my son for ages; the tension in my stomach subsided once my mind forgot the real reason we were all in the bar.

But, it was a win, and I proved to my university-self that I have grown as a person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rushing to sign-up for the next event, but I’m also not saying no.

It’s another big week for me as I’m packing my bags for a weekend at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate and book three in my DI Hamilton series will be published this Sunday (23rd July). Hopefully that means I’ll have lots to share with you next month.

Tara is a crime/psychological thriller author from London, UK. Turning 30 in 2015 propelled her to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In the Shadows is Tara's debut solo novel published in March 2016. She co-wrote The Caller and Web of Deceit: A DI Sally Parker novella with New York Times bestselling author, M.A Comley. In August 2016 Tara signed a two-book contract with Bloodhound Books. The second book in the DI Hamilton series, No Safe Home, was published in January 2017.

To find out more, visit her Amazon and Facebook pages by clicking the links below:

Monday, 17 July 2017

Truisms, clichés, and old wives’ tales, by Elizabeth Kay


Truism (Chambers) – a self-evident truth; a commonplace or trite statement.
Cliché (Chambers) – a stereotyped phrase, or literary tag; something hackneyed as idea, plot, or situation.
Old Wives’ Tales (Brewer’s) – superstitious stories and beliefs such as are kept alive and spread by credulous old women.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you love, remember.

So says Ophelia, in Hamlet, and like me you may have just thought it was one of those things like wearing a posy to ward off the plague, or throwing salt over your shoulder for good luck. Not so. A study found that pupils working in a room with the aroma of rosemary, in the form of an essential oil, achieved 5% to 7% better results in memory tests, and the findings were consistent with tests on adults. Rosemary has been associated with memory for hundreds of years, and Ancient Greek students wore garlands of rosemary in exams!
            We all try to avoid clichés, but it’s worth thinking about them because they frequently exist because they are true, and a truism eventually turns into a cliché from over-use. Shakespeare, of course, was extremely good at pinpointing truisms. Here’s a list of Shakespearean clichés.

All our yesterdays (Macbeth)
All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice)("glisters")
Neither a borrower nor a lender be (Hamlet)
Brave new world (The Tempest)
Dead as a doornail (2 Henry VI)
Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
Kill with kindness (Taming of the Shrew)
Naked truth (Love's Labours Lost)
Make short shrift (Richard III)
Something in the wind (The Comedy of Errors)
Spotless reputation (Richard II)
Parting is such sweet sorrow (Romeo and Juliet) (Frequently subverted by me to Parking is such sweet sorrow…)

Old wives’ tales

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
A 2013 study found that if all people aged over 50 in the UK ate just one apple per day, they would actually prevent – or delay – 8500 heart attacks and strokes every year.

Chicken soup as medicine
Scientists have discovered that chicken soup can actually reduce inflammation by slowing down the white blood cell activity responsible for causing said inflammation. So go forth – and eat soup, snotty ones!

Fish is brain food
A recent Harvard study found that the more fish mothers ate during their second trimester of pregnancy, the better their babies did on tests when they were six months old. But mums need to be mindful of the kind of fish they’re eating when pregnant to avoid the mercury-laden ones, such as swordfish.

Chocolate helps to relieve premenstrual cramps
Studies suggest that chocolate contains nutrients and antioxidants such as anandamide, which can have a calming effect, and keep anxiety and moods in balance.

Cheese gives you bad dreams
There are some scientific theories that suggest it’s the bacterial and fungal elements of cheese that are the culprits. These contain psychoactive ingredients, which have the potential to affect dreams. BUT … not all cheese-induced dreams will be scary.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning.
According to the Library of Congress there’s certainly a scientific explanation for it:
“When there’s a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles, indicating high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Meaning good weather will follow … A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.”

 Honey Genuinely Does Suppress Coughs
A study showed that children with upper respiratory infections were more likely to get better than they were if dosed with a common cough-and-cold medication. The reason? Honey is a demulcent, meaning that it forms a mucous membrane that soothes the irritation in an infected area. Honey is also antibacterial; it was used in ancient history to heal wounds and reduce infection.

 



And yes, this one genuinely is rubbish. I just wanted to post a picture of a magpie!

One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told.


So think about that cliché you almost used, and try to find another way of expressing it...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Inspiration Everywhere by Wendy H. Jones



Being a writer is wonderful, busy, scary, action packed, interesting and can take you to the ends of the earth and all sorts of strange places. Wherever a writer goes they find inspiration and ideas for their writing. This is certainly true in my case. I find that possible body dumps just leap out at me wherever I go.

However, this past week, there weren't many body dumps in sight. Some body parts did appear but that's a whole different story, as the saying goes. One for another blog.

For the past week I have been in London with my nieces, on a holiday rather than for work. However, it's tough to turn my crime writer's brain off. There's always an opportunity to think about a possible plot or storyline. Especially when the young ones want to got to Ripley's Believe it or Not, and Madam Tussauds. Ripley's has a chamber of horrors. As you can imagine this is fertile ground for anyone dealing with dead bodies in a book. That covers most crime writers. I have to say that medieval torturers were a gruesome lot. They make modern day crime writers look like a bunch of fairies. I suppose they had to think of something to do when there was nothing on the telly.

Ripley's is fascinating, esoteric and also somewhat random. I don't see what is strange about an original copy of Peter Pan, or an uncorrected proof of one of Agatha Christie's books. However, they are there for all to see. Being in the presence of such literary greats made me sit down and write a bit of the next DI Shona McKenzie Mystery. Yes, you've got it. Book seven. JM Barrie, the legendary author of Peter Pan, is from Kirriemuir, which is near where I live in Scotland. Agatha Christie is possibly the most legendary crime writer of all time. That day I felt like I was a part of history. It made me want to write more. The picture below is living proof that writers are always writing. I whipped out my phone, cracked open Evernote, and there it was ready to copy and paste into the manuscript when I got to my laptop.

I'm not sure my nieces were entirely impressed. They wanted to carry on looking at the exhibition. And look we did. Ripley's is brimming over with inspiration for writers. Nearly every exhibit could be used somewhere in a book.



I would like to leave with a question. What inspires you to write? What makes you want to put one finger in front of the other on a keyboard, or to pick up a pen or pencil? Inspiration is everywhere, if you only just look.

Winner of the Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017
Shortlisted for the Woman Alive Readers Choice Award




About the Author



Wendy H. Jones is the award winning author author of the best selling DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series of crime novels set in Dundee. Killer's Crew, the fifth booking the series was released in November, 2016 and won the Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017. Dagger's Curse, the first book in her Fergus and Flora, Young Adult Mystery series was released on 10th September, 2016 and is currently shortlisted for the Woman Alive Readers Choice Award 2017. She also has one non fiction book, Power Packed Book Marketing: Sell More Books.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Importance of Eavesdropping





As a writer, I am an eavesdropper and make no apologies for the enthusiasm with which I stick my nose into other’s business. Long before I became a writer officially, the term was ‘nosy’. Nosy meant I possessed the tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, blatantly listen to private conversations, and peer into windows to see how others lived. I still do these things with slightly more subterfuge.

Mother used to warn me that ‘curiosity killed the cat’. The best that I could figure out was that curiosity empowered the cat, sent her climbing farther up that tree and, in rare instances, allowed her to solve crimes in certain mystery stories. Besides which, she had nine lives.

My curiosity has always been unsatiable and, as a child, I truly didn’t get why adults hesitated from telling me the intimate details of their lives. As I grew older this tendency only intensified. I recall asking a friend why her marriage was breaking down: what were the first signs? Was her husband having an affair and how could she tell? Of course, all this was couched in sincere support and sympathy but I still wanted to know every detail possible, including how the individuals reacted, how the dialogue played out, preferably from both points of view. When she stopped one of my prying queries by telling me it was none of my business, I was truly shocked. How could anything be none of my business? I understood intellectually but not emotionally that people craved privacy while simultaneously longing for the details that would allow me to create fully-fleshed human beings. And I’m not talking just about ‘real world’ stories with Homo sapiens as the key players, necessarily. One of the most compelling humans I’ve ever met in fiction was couched in half-lizard form and inhabited an alternate world.

We recognize the truth regardless of the setting or the plot. 

Writers are observers by nature, and what we don’t know for a fact, we’ll happily invent. Fiction writers are not like reporters who are sometimes required to shred a person’s privacy in order to craft a story. We can change the names, the circumstances, and the settings, and yet every story we write, every character we give birth to, is usually based on either a real person or a composite of many we’ve known. 

We wrap truth in fabrication but the best stories, whether they be genre or literary, are fueled by a core of human nature accurately observed and nosily plumbed. If we weren’t such a nosy, eavesdropping bunch, we’d never be good at our craft. We couldn’t catch the nuances of different dialects, understand the motivation behind human action, or grasp the complexities of cause and effect on the human condition. In other words, we’d have nothing to write about. Guilt is not an option. Spy like your life depends upon it.