For Goodness Sake Make Time!

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I forget how many times I have told people, especially new writers, to pace themselves. I was having a conversation on Facebook with one of my female writer friends yesterday. She has bought copies of five of my eBooks, which I am eternally grateful to her for. Three of them are short novellas, averaging 168 pages. I don’t know about you but I can read a novella in an afternoon, or a morning. For instance, if I start reading at twelve noon, I will have finished it by seven in the evening, barring interruptions and calls of nature. When I read a full length novel (150 – 200,000 words) it takes me the best part of three twelve hour days.

As writers, if we are going to do justice to our own writing, there is nothing more stimulating than spending hours reading other people’s books. From them we glean those ideas that hadn’t necessarily occured to us. With every book I write comes endless reading beforehand. Its called research. The writer in question makes me laugh. She claims that she has no time to read. When I told her about my reading a novella in seven hours, she assumed that what I’m doing is speed reading. Sorry to disagree with you my dear friend but it isn’t. It’s just a normal reading pace. She seriously needs to make time to read. In other words, she needs to pace herself.

I’ve seen photographs of her with a library of books in the background. I’m assuming that given her profession, the library is her own. Maybe not. If, as she claims, she has no time to read, why does she have access to one, if not to read the books? in my case my own library is divided up into actual physical books in my five shelf bookcase, as well as eBooks and PDF files on this laptop. I’ve read every single one of them at least five times. Some like Graham Hancock’s epic work Fingerprints of the Gods, several dozen times. In that case it will usually take me a week, simply because its seven hundred and nineteen pages are jam packed with information…

Currently I have one hundred and seventy three eBooks and one hundred and twenty physical books. I also have one hundred and forty-two PDF files which I constantly refer to when I’m in research mode.

How many books do you have? Have you read them all?

A lot of people buy books, millions of us in fact. But how many can truthfully say that they have read every book in their possession? Some people like to kid themselves that by having a large physical library in their home, it will impress their visitors, by creating the illusion that they are well read, and therefore intelligent.

If you want to impress the hell out of your visitors; read the damned books in your personal library to become fully conversant with the content of each of them! That way when your visitors ask you about a certain book you won’t be caught out in a lie.

Despite what some idiots believe, books are not for decoration, even though the multicolours of the jacket’s spine undoubtedly creates a splash of colour.¬† Every one of them contains the end product of a writer’s accumulated knowledge and hard work. They are meant to be read, not just looked at!!!

PS – I will admit that since I became a fulltime writer, I no longer read for pleasure. Plus, these days when I read a book, the editor in me is constantly on the lookout for poor grammer, spelling and punctuation.

That is the one major drawback with full-time writing; the end of spending hours simply reading for pleasure…

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Writers I Admire – Part 3

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

&

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Arthur Charles Clark

Initially I considered writing separately about the two writers who mean the most to me. Then I thought no, as I place them equal first in my small list of favourite writers.

J.R.R. Tolkien was among other things a brilliant scholar. He was born on the 3rd of January 1892 in Bloemfontein in South Africa. He was a writer, poet, philologist, and Merton professor of English Literature and Language at Merton College, Oxford. He died on the 2nd of September 1973. On his death, his son Christopher began a work of love, sorting out and publishing many of his father’s unfinished works.

Whereas Arthur C. Clark was born on the 16th of December 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, here in England. In his case he was a science fiction writer, science writer, undersea explorer, inventor and television series host. Arthur died on the 19th of March, 2008 at home in his beloved Sri Lanka.

Tolkien’s list of academic achievements would fill a book. Suffice it to say that if it hadn’t been for his love of language, like millions of others, I would probably never have been fortunate enough to read his most famous works – The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion in my teens. Needless to say I was hooked!

His first civilian job after he returned from the First World War saw him working on The Oxford English Dictionary, compiling the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin. During the Second World War he applied for and got a job in the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office.

Clark is perhaps most famous for being co-writer of the screenplay for the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey, considered by the American Film Institute to be one of the most influential films of all time. His other science fiction writings earned him a number of Hugo and Nebula awards, along with a large readership, making him into one of the towering figures of science fiction writing. During World War II from 1941 to 1946 he served in the Royal Air Force as a radar specialist and was involved in the early warning radar defence system, which contributed to the RAF’s success during the Battle of Britain.

He spent most of his wartime service working on Ground Control Approach (GCA) radar. Although GCA did not see much practical use during the war, it proved vital at the end of the war to the Berlin Airlift of 1948‚Äď1949. Initially he was an instructor on radar at No. 2 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire. Eventually he was appointed chief training instructor at RAF Honiley in Warwickshire until he was demobbed at the cessation of hostilities.

My passion for all things science fiction is largely thanks to my father insisting I stop reading children’s books at the age of eight. I can’t honestly remember what my initial reaction was at the time. But I expect my bottom lip stuck out somewhat. To keep the peace he gave me one of Arthur’s books to read. From that day to this, once again I was hooked, this time by science fiction!

Both men were giants in their own fields as well as being the two finest writers in my list…

Writers I admire – Part 2

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J.W.P.L.B Harris

I know I’ve said this in the past, but I will continue saying it until the day I die. When it comes to science fiction, if like me you are a purist, Hollywood simply doesn’t have a clue. Look at what they did to H.G Wells’ classic science fiction tale The War of the Worlds.

Both cinematic versions – the original from 1953 starring Gene Barry and Anne Robinson, and the more recent effort in 2005 starring Tom Cruz veered so far away from Wells’ original vision that for anyone who has read the book in its two parts –¬† The Coming of the Martians and Earth under the Martians, which first appeared in 1897 in serialised form before they were eventually published in 1898 as The War of the Worlds, would be forgiven for assuming that what they were watching bears little or no resemblance to H.G’s book. It’s a safe bet that were he still alive today he would be suing the pants of those responsible for tearing his work apart, merely to please a largely American audience.

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Now we come to the next in my list of favourite writers – J.W.P.L.B Harris (pictured above), or if you prefer it –¬† John Wyndham.

He was born on the 10th of July 1903 in the village of Dorridge in Warwickshire here in England. After leaving school, he tried several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mostly relied on an allowance from his family. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925, and by 1931 was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction magazines, most under the pen names of ‘John Beynon’ or ‘John Beynon Harris’, in each case utilizing his other Christian names along with his family name. He also wrote some detective stories.

Without a doubt, every science fiction tale he ever produced is a classic. His titles include The Day of the Triffids (1951), also known as Revolt of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes (1953), published in the US as Out of the Deeps, The Chrysalids (1955), published in the US as Re-Birth, The Midwich cuckoos (1957) Рfilmed twice as Village of the Damned, first here in England in 1960 starring George Sanders, and later in 1995 by Hollywood, starring Christopher Reeve and Kirsty Alley.  He also wrote The Outward Urge (1959), Trouble with Lichen (1960), and Chocky (1968).

During the Second World War he first served as a censor in the Ministry of Information then joined the army, serving as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals. He participated in the Normandy Landings. although he was not involved in the first days of the monumental military operation.

After the war, he returned to writing, inspired by the success of his brother who had had four novels published. He altered his writing style and by 1951 using the John Wyndham pen name for the first time, wrote his seminal work The Day of the Triffids. His pre-war writing career was not mentioned in the book’s publicity, and people were allowed to assume that it was a first novel from a previously unknown writer. The book proved to be an enormous success and established him as an important exponent of science fiction.

Fortunately the first film of the book was produced here in the UK in 1962, paying lip service to Hollwood by employing the American star Howard Keel in the lead role of Bill Masen, which meant the tale did not end up bastardised to the point where it bore no resemblance whatsoever to Wyndham’s original words.

For that we must all be truly thankful…

During his lifetime he wrote and published six more novels under the same pen name (see above). In 1963 he married Grace Wilson, whom he had known for more than 20 years; the couple remained married until he died on the 11th of March, 1969 aged sixty five.

Films are soon forgotten, transient in most people’s mind, gripping books like Wyndham’s are not…

 

Writers I admire

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Eric Arthur Blair

For those of you who have read my bio on the About page here on my blog, or on my Amazon or AuthorsDen pages, you will know who my literary heros are.

Let us start with Eric Arthur Blair, or for those who don’t know him under that name, perhaps you may know him by his pen name –¬† George Orwell. Eric was born in Motihari, in Bihar, India on the twenty-fifth of June 1903, the product of an English father and a French mother.

Eric was a novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. The fact that because of his scholastic achievements meant that he won a place as a King’s Scholar at Eton, did not mean that he ever considered himself as one of the so-called ‘elite’ in society. Far from it in fact. Because of his family’s social standing as well as the fact that Eric’s grades at school weren’t sufficiently high enough to ensure that he gained a place in either Oxford or Cambridge universities, his father chose his son’s career. Like him Eric had a love of the ‘East’. So it followed that he became an officer in the Imperial police, the forerunner of the Indian Police Service. Back then your father’s word was law.

Blair began his career in Burma. Needless to say Eric soon impressed his superiors, and was promoted to Assistant District Superintendant at the end of 1924. Posted to Syriam, close to Rangoon, he was now responsible for the security of two hundred thousand people.

By now Eric had earned the dubious reputation of being an ‘outsider’. His environment, along with the way the Burmese were being treated by his own countrymen was the catalyst for the direction his life would take. He wrote that he felt guilty about his role in the work of empire and he “began to look more closely at his own country and saw that England also had its oppressed¬†…” Eric resigned his commission and headed back to England to his parents home in Southwold,¬†not too far away from where I live here in the English county of Suffolk, before eventually settling in London in 1927.

Following the example of his own literary hero Jack London, looking for inspiration Eric began ‘slumming it’ in the poorest parts of London. For a while he ‘went native’ in his own country, dressing like a tramp and making no concessions to middle-class customs and expectations. Out of this experience and others came his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London¬† published in 1933; a stark portrayal of life at the bottom of society in the twenties and thirties.

For a while he took various jobs whenever they were offered to him. For a few brief years he taught in a couple of schools – a prep school for boys in Hayes, and Frays College in Uxbridge. But by now books and everything to do with them were fast becoming the main priorities in his life. Thanks to his maternal aunt Nellie Limouzin, he landed the position of part-time assistant in a second hand bookshop run by friends of his aunt. Out of his time there came his next novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying in 1936.

At some time during that year, it was suggested that because of the popularity of his first novel that he investigate the lives and social conditions of the downtrodden in northern England. From that came his next gritty novel The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937. Simply researching into the appalling poverty and conditions at the time, inevitably led to his being brought to the attention of the Special Branch, a division of Scotland Yard. Just like now, back then the establishment didn’t like it when the conditions of the ‘lower classes’ were brought to the attention of the world at large. In that regard nothing has changed…

By now the Spanish Civil War was gaining momentum. After marrying Eileen O’Shaugnessy, Eric headed to Spain like hundreds of others with a conscience to join the International Brigade to fight on the side of the common people against Franco’s facist backed military uprising.

Out of his time spent in the trenches at places like Aragon and later Alcubierre, 1,500 feet above sea level, inevitably came his next novel Homage to Catelonia. While thankfully there was not much fighting, the often freezing weather conditions at that altitude made their lives a misery. The lack of weapons, ammunition and in particular good boots meant that the time they spent there was almost farsical. The regular supply of both weapons and food was sporadic to say the least. Any form of medical help, even common pain killers as well as bandages and dressings, was unavailable in the front lines.

On many occasions to fend off their desparate hunger and the inevitable ilnesses brought on by being undernourished, they were forced to forage for what food they could find, often while being targeted by the opposition from the safety of their own trenches. Despite the risks, at least their excursions got them away from the permanent population of rats in their trenches and dugouts for a while. However, it didn’t put any kind of distance between them and their constant personal companions – body lice.

Eric returned to England in 1937 after recovering from being wounded in the throat. By now his views on the debacle that was the Spanish Civil War largely fell on deaf ears. No one in the establishment wanted to know.

At the outbreak of World War II, he was classed as unfit for military service. Determined to do his bit for his country, he joined the Home Guard. A quote from his wartime diary in 1941, sums up his thoughts at the time – “One could not have a better example of the moral and emotional shallowness of our time, than the fact that we are now all more or less pro Stalin. This disgusting murderer is temporarily on our side, and so the purges, etc., are suddenly forgotten.”¬†

By now the idea of his next novel Animal Farm, eventually published in 1945, slowly began to form in his mind. While it is undoubtedly black humour, it is a clear portrayal of his deep loathing for Stalin and everything communism stood for at the time. The book struck a chord in the post war anti-communist climate with so many people, making him a much sought after writer and public figure.

Probably the work Eric is best known for is his anti-totalitarian dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four published in 1949, a year after I was born. But by then he had been diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis. He was to linger on until he eventually died on the twenty-first of January 1950.

To my mind, and those of many others; Eric was, and still is, the finest novelist of his kind. He didn’t just write, he lived each of his novels before putting pen to paper. What better way to collect everything a writer deems necessary for a literary masterpiece, or in his case several. We will never see his like again…

 

 

 

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

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I really despair for a nation when its youth shows a clear lack of interest in bettering themselves. Yesterday I took a look at a series of one star reviews by teenagers for books which their schools require them to read such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Virgil’s The Aeneid, Homer’s The Iliad and many more. In this particular instance the nation in question is the United States of America. While I smiled at what was written there, its no laughing matter. To me it shows that something is seriously wrong in Western society today.

I’m not saying that all young American’s are illiterate by any means. But when many other country’s children cry out for education, devouring everything they are taught, why is it that the same can’t be said for some Western nations, particularly those deemed to be leaders? We should be setting an example, not showing clear evidence of decline!

Here in the UK a large percentage of our own youth show the same lack of enthusiasm for education, preferring their smartphones and the inevitable shorthand version of our language such as LOL instead of laugh out loud, along with spending hours playing games, either on their iphones, Tablets, Laptops or game consoles.

What happened to reading books? Playing computer games and using an incorrect abbreviated version of your language won’t educate you!!!

Being able to count, add, subtract, multiply and divide, along with reading and writing are just some of the fundamentals that every human being has the right to be able to master. In particular if you want a job, demonstrating your lack of education by being illiterate and inarticulate will ensure that you remain unemployed and a drain on your country.

When I was a callow youth, I was always useless at mathematics. Only three subjects ever mattered to me during my education, literature, geography and history. I spent every spare moment I had reading. Anyone can learn so much from great works of ancient literature like the Aeneid and The Illiad and more modern works such as the complete works of William Shakespeare, or from nineteenth and twentieth century writers.

Hells teeth! When a teenager believes that a book written by one of his or her fellow countrymen (in this case F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, written in 1925) is a Victorian novel, what hope is there for the world especially when that child’s nation is a super power with weapons of mass destruction?

I’ve just finished reading the maxims written down over four thousand five hundred years ago by Ptah-Hotep the Egyptian seer. I wonder what those same moronic individuals would have to say about that if it was part of the required reading lists in high schools?

I hate to think…