Men – please pay attention!

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Scarlett Johansson

The other day, purely to prove a point to myself, I deliberately posted the above photograph of the American actress Scarlett Johansson on her Official FaceBook Page as an experiment. As I have always believed, a considerable number of males using the FaceBook site, in general are not necessarily interested in written posts. Nor pictures of other people’s kids, holidays or pets, come to that. I’m sorry ladies, but there it is. While you love seeing them, most males don’t…

So far the photograph has received well over eight hundred hits, likes and comments from men across the planet. By comparison, I’m lucky if one of my blog posts gains twenty hits even though the number of people following this blog is 636.

What does it say about the average male using Facebook? It tells me something that all woman already knew. When it comes right down to it, we’re all suckers for a beautiful face. In other words we’re utterly normal. I’m no different to any other mere male where female beauty is concerned.

Before any of you ladies feel the need to remind me, I’m familiar with the old saying – beauty is only skin deep. There is another specifically for married men to remember – you can look but don’t touch! Even you ladies have to admit that she is a lovely looking example of womanhood.

Because she is the highest grossing actress in Hollywood, what she is like to live with is anyone’s guess. While looking at various photographs of her on FaceBook, a few words immediately spring to mind. One is demanding, the second is fiery, and the third is diva…

A thought just occurred – my normal blog posts are lucky to get more than a handful of likes or hits on FaceBook. Maybe in the future I should add a photograph of a beautiful woman to the version of my posts sent to the site if I want other men to read them.

I wonder what the chances of that happening are? Slim to none I’d say.

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A thought has just occurred…

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…no, wait a minute. That’s not strictly true.

I’ve been thinking for several years now about why today’s generation don’t read as much as my own did, and still do come to that?

For instance, why do so many of the one, two or three star book reviews on Amazon and other internet book sites, often written by ordinary members of the public, focus on how any given writer approaches dialogue between characters in particular? Why is it that they they feel obliged to go on the offensive?

I believe I know why. Today’s generation relies heavily on visual images such as in films, on television, and even via the Internet, particularly channels like YouTube, for any story to have a chance of gaining their attention.Think about those annoying video clips some writers are forced to put out by their publisher in the vain hope of attracting prospective readers?

If you want a for instance, I’ll give you one! Think about how today’s generation believe that a book’s cover is all important, and not the text! They want to see pretty pictures not words! Think about why so many writers offer up their latest work’s cover for scrutinization across all social media platforms these days? Once again in a vain attempt to attract today’s generation, that’s why!

Quite frankly I can see a time in the not too distant future when illiteracy becomes the norm unless today’s generation buck up their ideas, starting with losing themselves in the pages of a book!

My friend and fellow author Bob Van Laerhoven reminded me of how vital the cover is these days, when he asked me the other day if I had thought about the cover for my work in progress Autumn 1066 yet? Even though we were both joking about it, we know that for it to sell, it will either need a scantily clad buxom young Saxon or Viking female, or a muscular Saxon or Viking warrior in his prime on the cover for it to even be considered by today’s generation! Whether we like it or not, PULCHRITUDE IS WHAT GAINS ATTENTION AND HOPEFULLY SELLS BOOKS TODAY!!!

It’s my contention that because of the highly visual age we live in that today’s generation have completely lost the means to emerse themselves in anything written down, such as a book, unlike my own generation who were brought up on the written word. In other words quite literally they must have everything spelt out for them visually.

Then there are those individuals who when they come across written dialogue, apparently consider it a foreign language. The following example is the rough draft of one particular short piece of dialogue from the story I am in the process of writing, in this instance involving two eleventh century Saxon thegns:-

โ€œWhat do you think Beadurof?โ€ Colby wondered.

โ€œAbout what?”

โ€œThe shapely hips on the comely wench yonder. Hey Aldred, weโ€™re glad you brought your beautiful niece with you. Oh and just look at the way her hips swing? Not to mention how her shapely rear quivers as she walks. Very desirable, don’t you think?โ€

Aldred bit his tongue as he fought hard not to smile. Because of Cynric’s tender age and slender build, his nephew could so easily be mistaken for a young female from behind at a distance. Smirking, he briefly glanced in his direction. Cynricโ€™s face flushed bright red with anger at the good natured jibe by one of Aldredโ€™s oldest friends.

โ€œIf she gets cold sleeping on her own tonight or any other night, Iโ€™ll fight you for the honour of protecting her Colby. Iโ€™ll keep her warm, providing she lets me have my way with her that is. So what say you my beauty?โ€ Beadurof replied with a grin on his face as he blew a kiss in Cynricโ€™s direction…

So, did you imagine the scene while reading it? No? Then you are a lost cause…

As a member of today’s generation, its incumbent upon you to tell the rest of us why you find it so difficult to do the same damned thing when reading, instead of wanting it spelt out to you on a silver screen? Seemingly it’s something today’s generation are incapable of!

It would appear that for them to be able to understand the above example at its most basic level, requires that they actually hear the characters speaking, and not via the medium of imaginary voices in their heads. Plus they need to be able to see the characters portray their facial expressions and both their physical and emotional reactions.

I have only this to say on the subject – wake up idiots! What you want is utterly impossible to achieve in a book. Reading a book requires your participation as well. All you have to do is use your imagination! For your information the difference between a book and a visual interpretation of a story via a film or television script is that the former asks you to engage your brain, or if you prefer it – your mind’s eye. Whereas the latter does not. In that instance, all you need to do is to sit in a vegetative state in a darkened room eating popcorn while staring at the silver screen!!!!

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Lastly – I’ve been accused of being overly fond of description, in particular by one of my more vocal peers in the past. You know who you are. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In my defence, I only ever do that when creating the back story. I’m about to disappoint the particular individual once again, when I tell them here on my blog in front of witnesses (metaphorically speaking that is) that my historical adventure Autumn 1066 will be no different. Without a descriptive background constantly running throughout the book it just won’t work. So, you can either like it or lump it while eating your Paรฏdakia my friend.

Rant over. Now I’d better get back to it. First things first – I need another cup of coffee and a smoke…

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The hidden problem with research

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There is one thing that will soon become all too apparent to you while conducting research for any fictitious historical story you might care to write. When it comes to the written records of events in days gone by, every historian you come across has an entirely different opinion, based on what they believe actually happened. You will find that they agree on some points while differing on others. This is all too apparent as I continue to research a series of three specific ancient battles, fought back to back during the short time period of barely a month here in England, almost a thousand years ago.

The only thing the historians involved do agree on, is to disagree with one another over their fellow academic’s interpretation of what they think happened. All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you. Particularly as in this instance today’s historians are at an enormous disadvantage. They don’t have access to sworn eyewitness accounts of the particular series of events I am still researching. Therefore anything they come up with can be nothing more than conjecture. I do beg their pardon – I should have said theory, the posh word academics use in preference to the aforementioned. In other words, in this instance they are relying on pure guesswork on their part…

While researching for my latest story, so far I’ve read a dozen different versions, based on what the academics involved, think happened. As I said in a previous post, the initial account about what I’m interested in was not written until fifty years after the three battles happened. In other words, just like today’s crop of historians, its highly doubtful that the chronicler(s) involved back then, were able to lay their hands on any eyewitness accounts, mainly because of the fact that for one thing, at the time in question most people could neither read nor write. Secondly, given the fact that it is highly doubtful that any survivors of the events were still alive a half century later, when the chronicler(s) wrote their account to please the country’s new masters during those troubled times, it could not at the time be accepted as the truth. Which begs the question why today’s historians defer to it???

PS – I’ve come up with a possible title for the story

PPS – as the three events I’m interested in happened in a short time frame, I’ve had to reassess the probable length of the story. It looks likely that it may end up as a long short story (novelette). At best, by adding what my fictitious characters get up to in the narrative may add a couple of thousand words.

High ho, high ho, It’s back to work I go…

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Never make assumptions

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Just to let you know that the new story is progressing as expected. As of yesterday, I’ve written two thousand words. Most of what I’ve collected together so far is from the often dubious historical accounts written fifty years after the event, which I have previously mentioned. It’s thanks to them that the idea for this story planted itself firmly in the forefront of my mind, refusing to budge. I find that certain stories have a tendency to do that. They demand to be written. Who am I to argue when a story chooses me? It’s Kismet…

Once I am satisfied that I have trawled all of the relevant historical accounts for the necessary background information to at least give my historical fiction a certain degree of legitimacy, then and only then will I begin writing from the perspective of my fictional character’s involvement on opposing sides in the story. If I’m honest, that’s when the fun begins for me.

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The day before yesterday I sent a read only copy of the historical background information I’d written so far to my mate in Abu Dhabi, believing he might like to see what I’m up to.

Unfortunately like a lot of writers of my acquaintance, he completely got the wrong end of the stick. Instead of perusing it first to see what it was all about, he immediately began critiquing. He complained about the length of some of the sentences, not to mention his difficulty in coming to terms with the period names I’m using. He was also less than complimentary about a couple of instances I have added into the mix of notes as they occurred to me, concerning some of my character’s interactions with one another.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this. Don’t send a sample of what your writing to another writer without making it plain that it is not being sent for the purposes of criticism. By the same token, as the recipient don’t automatically make assumptions when a fellow writer sends you a sample of what their new story is about. If they want you to cast a critical eye over what has been sent to you, they will make it plain. Before you engage your inner editor/critic/grammar nazi, take a long hard look at what has been sent to you in the first place. Then take a breath and step back from the incorrect assumption you made. You will find it beneficial in the long run.

Making assumptions is to be avoided like the plague. As the recipient may I suggest that you simply read it to get a feel for what is currently occupying the sender’s mind and nothing more. I thought I had made it plain to him. Apparently I hadn’t – lesson learnt on my part.

One last thing – have I got a title in mind? No, not yet. That usually suggests itself once the story is well underway. Certainly not at this extremely early stage of the proceedings…

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What it takes to write a book

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I’m taking one of my frequent breaks while writing my latest story to reveal how I go about doing it. I’ve spent the last twenty-two years honing the particular method that works for me.

First I write a paragraph. Then I take a cold hard look at the words I’ve written, in particular their order as I’m doing right now while writing this post. It is at this point that I begin to edit the words written, not only for ease of reading, but also from the point of view of spacing, capitalization when required, spelling, grammar and punctuation. While at the same time asking myself what other words can I use that mean the exact same thing, but still clearly convey my meaning to the reader, bearing in mind that there is alway more than one way to say something.

There is only one method when it comes to writing to be avoided at all costs. Sitting in front of your exercise book, typewriter or computer kidding yourself that by churning out thousands of words per day, that somehow by osmosis, doing so makes you a writer. It doesn’t! For the serious independent writer like myself, this line of thinking is a complete fallacy!

In the end all you have achieved is a big mess for someone else to fix, when you should have cleaned the manuscript up yourself before presenting it to your editor, if you use one!

All you have to do is think back to those bad marks you got in class for handing in sloppy work when you presented your essay or composition to your teacher? In this instance imagine that your editor is that teacher, wearing his or her ‘we are not amused’ expression on his or her face, at the prospect of having to make sense of your rambling manuscript…

We all see prime examples on a daily basis right here in the Blogosphere. If you can’t write an error free blog post, what makes you think you can write an error free book manuscript?

NaNoWriMo and other get it down quick notions have a lot to answer for! I’m pretty sure the concept was dreamt up by someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Once you are finally happy with the paragraph, move on to the next and repeat each step I have mentioned. If your word count reaches somewhere between two hundred and fifty and five hundred words using this method, take it from me you have done a good day’s work.

Why do I limit the number of words I write each day? Simple – a little thing I call brain-fade! Ask yourself how long you can work at 100% capacity before you lose your concentration. This is precisely the reason why I constantly stop what I’m doing to take a breather. What you have to learn is to walk away from it! Go and make yourself a drink or get something to eat. In other words distract yourself. You can always return to it later. I normally work for no more than two hours at a stretch each and every day until I’ve reached the last word in the manuscript.

Each morning when I switch this laptop on, I open the Word file I’m using and once again begin the editing process by reading through what I’ve previously written. Often I see something that needs to be changed. Once I have corrected any mistakes during the daily read through, I can then begin to write the next paragraph.

See, its simple if you know how. My method of constant editing is not for everyone, but it works for me. Remember what I said earlier – a high daily word count is not a good thing unless you have no choice ie, you are a contracted writer for one of the big five publishing houses, where time is money and badly written manuscripts are the norm…

There is one last point for you to consider, turn off the in house spelling or grammar checkers within any writing software package you use. There is no substitute for having a dictionary like the Oxford English and its thesaurus close at hand. Learn to rely on the mark one eyeball like every writer worth their salt does.

PS – right that’s it, lesson over…

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It begins

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And we’re off, much earlier than expected. I wrote the first two paragraphs of my new historical fiction story yesterday. I have all my notes, historical figures and research references, plus my characters sorted out.

Thereby hangs a tale. To avoid criticism from anal rententives aka nitpickers, whatever I do I must ensure that anything I say about any actual historical character is accurate. It’s not as easy as it sounds when the historical records are not only thin on the ground, but also often sparsely written. Which is not surprising when you consider that at the time the nearest individual to a war correspondent was a court chronicler. Worse, one tasked with writing down what happened for the first time, a mere fifty years after the event.

I also have to ensure that the same goes for the nationalities involved, the historical locations, and the armour and the weapons used. Even the fictitious character’s names I’m employing must be correct.

As far as is possible I’ll be following the historical event as it happened. In other words I can’t say that group A were in location X when history says they weren’t!

With the written information on the historical event being sketchy at best, there will always be a danger of this story ending early. I’m hopeful it will wind up novella length. For it to become a novel might prove to be stretching things to far. But at the moment I’m putting any thoughts in that direction to the back of my mind while I concentrate on getting the story that is feverishly swirling around inside my head written down.

When I’m relatively happy with it I’ll expand on various elements within the whole, bearing in mind that my often acid tongued detractors will be looking for any excuse to find fault. Unfortunately, in this business putting up with their rants, sorry I meant to say their reviews, is the price you pay for writing a tale they couldn’t, or wouldn’t know how to write in a month of Sundays, bless their often ill educated black hearts.

As always I’ll keep you informed with regular progress reports.

More later…

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We may not be related but we’re still brothers…

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Yours truly

Today (the eighth of March 2017) is my sixty-ninth birthday. I’m still getting my head around that fact. Anyone, friend or acquaintance, who says I look older will be shot at dawn every day for a week, metaphorically speaking! That means you Chris the Story Reading Ape and any other smarty pants out there! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I share the same birth year (1948) with two good friends and fellow writers. We were born within weeks of one another. Strictly in the order of seniority, I give you that man Seumas Gallacher, Scottish by birth. I’m not exactly sure where he was born but I have a feeling it might have been Glasgow. The second member of this exclusive trio is Robert Bauval who was born in Alexandria in Egypt. I bring up the rear as the youngest, being born in the market town of Beccles in the English county of Suffolk, where I still live.

Something not many people may know about me is that if it hadn’t been for my grandmothers believing the incorrect medical advice given in a letter by the British Foreign Office to my father late in 1947, I would have been born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia instead of Beccles hospital. Back then the still colonial British establishment’s attitude towards other races, let alone their medical facilities, was at best condescending and very definitely racist.

At the time my father desperately wanted to become the manager of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s vast estates in the hills above Addis, seeing it as a stepping stone in his social standing. I’m glad for the sake of the ordinary Ethiopians working in the estates that the job fell through. Dad was typical of the Edwardian born middle class generation, a social climbing snob and a martinet who relished the idea of bossing around non white people.

He always insisted that my grandmother’s intervention in my imminent arrival spoiled his chances – god only knows why? More than likely the powers that be finally saw through him. At any rate, not getting what he wanted does account for his frosty attitude towards me until the day he died. Luckily I take after my down to earth loving cockney mother, not him.

I’ve often wondered what an idylic childhood I might have had growing up in Ethiopia. As it was I grew up in New Zealand. Both of my grandmothers were dead against us immigrating there in 1958, convinced we would be eaten by the Maori.

Obviously we weren’t…

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My good friend Seumas Gallacher

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My other good friend Robert Bauval

Seumas is the oldest of the three of us by a few weeks. I’m not exactly sure of his date of birth, but it was in February – I think. Don’t quote me on that! Next is Robert whose birthday was on Sunday last, then myself today. The three of us have a milestone birthday to celebrate next year when we turn seventy, God willing.

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday dear Seumas, Robert and me, happy birthday to us…

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