Errors and editing

mistakesThank you Neil Gaiman!

I have been silent recently; silent both in blogging, and writing, and around the house. I have been preoccupied. And horror-struck. And mortified at something I read.

Mistakes; typos; grammatical inconsistencies – all horrors for an English teacher to witness. How can something go through many, many readings, editings, online grammar-checkers, and still have so many errors? It should not be possible, one would think; or perhaps you are ahead of me and are already nodding your head muttering ‘self-published authors’.

Mea culpa. The shock, horror and mortification does stem from a self-published novel: mine. My first, published in 2013, which I had no notion of anyone other than me seeing. Once I realized that people were reading it, I hurriedly raced through it again and caught what I thought were the only remaining errors, and re-published it with a sigh of relief, my pride intact. Hooray for online publishing! For believe me, I had produced the best novel I could at that time; I had read it myself at least ten times, and had farmed it out to several others for comments and suggestions. I had done what I could afford to do with a novel that no one was going to read.

Imagine my horror, then, when casually flipping pages, admiring my debut work, my eye lit upon ‘positioned himself bedside his wife’. ‘Bedside?’

How could I and everyone else have missed that obvious, glaring error? Desperately, I turned more pages and with sinking heart noticed other grammatical choices that I didn’t like; excess verbiage; inconsistencies in capitalising certain words etc. etc. Only one reviewer had mentioned an error – that of reducing the rank of one of the characters towards the end of the novel – but several had mentioned that it was surprisingly well-written for the type of genre. Hah!

None of the positive reviews mattered anymore as much as the now-glaring errors I was sure permeated the entire novel. There was only one thing to do: remove it from the e-bookstores, re-edit it as closely as possible, and regret my inability to gather all of those sold copies back in with my humble apologies. All of this had to be done in order to be able to show my face again, figuratively, as it were.

Thus the reason for my extended silence. Months of excruciatingly boring revisions; changing a comma, a capital, checking each and every ‘apprise’ and ‘appraise’, and of course, immediately removing the horrendous ‘d’ to ensure that he was now ‘beside’ his wife. An entirely different meaning.

Of course errors are not  the domain only of self-published authors, as the reporter interviewing the chief editor of the Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries gleefully pointed out after the editor had confidently announced he had read the novel at least 15 times; an error had been found! One wonders how many long days and nights it took that reporter and his team to find it. And the celebrations when they did.

But now my editing glasses are firmly in place, I find errors are everywhere, even in traditionally-published works. I have found several already in a classic I am reading, and many, many egregious ones in a modern novel which has had all the benefits of editorial input, computers, and corrections. There were so many that I began dog-earing the offending pages.

So perhaps I should not beat myself up as much as I have, embarrassing as the experience has been. I must put it into perspective. We are all human; we tend to read what should be there even when it isn’t, glossing over many errors with the greatest of ease as we, hopefully, concentrate more on the story, not the mechanics.

There we are, then. A salutary lesson in humility. What we think is the best we can do turns out to be only the best we can do at that moment. However, I will avoid opening my subsequent novels for fear of the terrors they inevitably contain; perhaps I will be strong enough for that lesson in another year or so.

Leave a comment

Filed under editing, General Thoughts, learning through literature, Life lessons, Reflections, Writing Progress, writing style

When you rip out the roots

pot-bound-and-dead

Gardeners know that when dividing a plant they have to be careful and quick. They must either gently tease out the roots or administer a quick chop with a sharp blade before immediately re-potting the two halves in a nurturing environment to avoid transplant shock.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante deals with a division that is neither quick nor gentle. It is a quick read, thank goodness, because the subject matter is disturbing, none of the characters is likeable, and the density of the prose often cloying; but it is not a pleasant nor enjoyable read.

The main character, Olga, suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her for a younger woman – not an unusual premise; however, her suffering escalates until she can no longer manage her life nor her children’s lives. She is a plant in shock, descending into a toxic hell of self-abasement, obscenity, vicious anger, and overwhelming dysfunction in all areas of her life, roots exposed and withering. No plant can possibly survive in such conditions.

This in itself is difficult to observe without eventually wanting to reach in and at least remove her children from her harmful behavior, but the minute self-observances of her deteriorating abilities, both physical and mental, are truly disturbing and give an insight into how desperate and fragile a person can become when a partner leaves.

At one point, Olga questions how much her husband took of her when he left; all those years of support and love and selflessness in order to help him in his life – another question surely asked by many separated persons – and wonders if this is why she is unable to orient herself to her new situation; that she is an incomplete person because of what he has taken with him as he ripped his roots from hers.

Everything is intertwined down there in their root-ball, everything shared, and when he decides to uproot himself, he not only uproots himself from the ground holding everything stable, but also forcibly rips his roots away from hers. Unless the weaker plant is quickly replanted and nurtured, it will shrivel up and eventually die.

And this is what we suffer through while reading this novel in all its nakedness and obscenity: a plant left with its roots exposed, desperately trying to replant itself before shriveling up and dying. Finding that new pot can be a long process.

But this is not a new story. After all, Edith Wharton has covered this scenario – in a less confrontational manner, to be sure – but with the same message: partners should not rely entirely upon each other, they must develop their own growing plots separately. The plots can be close to each other and over time some roots may become intertwined, but not all. They must be able to support themselves, they must consider carefully just how much they are willing to give up in the name of marital harmony, and they must develop a strong sense of self.

Only then can one plant be uprooted and divided without destroying the other.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, General Thoughts, learning through literature, Life as we know it, Life lessons, marriage, Reflections, relationships

Trollope and the creepy POV

 

 

scary_good_books_sales_2I don’t like 2nd person POV – you know the one; the one where the author keeps on breaking through the third wall addressing you where you sit, whether it be in your bedroom or kitchen or on the beach, and actually discusses things with you.

It’s creepy. I especially don’t like a long-dead author talking to me.

Much less do I want to enter into a debate about sundry opinions on life decisions, or why he’s going to leave a certain character where they are for the moment. I’m reading a novel, for Pete’s sake, I don’t want to have to think or suddenly sit upright and be on my best behavior because the author has popped in for a chat. I just want to be told a story in private, thank you very much.

I’ve read many Trollope novels so, logically, it can’t be annoying me as much as I claim – right?

Wrong. Every time he does it I cringe, I feel cornered, and just want him to take himself off behind the curtain and get on with telling the story. I have even flipped pages to get to that point; sad but true. Why do I need this?:

‘What communication there may have been between Sir Henry and his servant John is, oh my reader, a matter too low for you and me.’ ‘We cannot stay long at Suez, nor should I carry my reader there, even for a day, seeing how triste and dull the place is.”Methinks it is almost unnecessary to write this last chapter. The story, as I have had to tell it, is all told.’

It’s almost as if Trollope, whilst writing, feels the need to explain his decisions, and those of his characters, as he goes. Not necessary, believe me. Just present your characters and their actions without any disclaimers or explanations and let me, the reader, do the rest without you, the author, breathing down my neck.

Of course he’s not the only one; Dickens likes to impose himself between the page and his readers, too. Michael Faber does it, particularly at the beginning of The Crimson Petal and the White, so much so it almost caused me to cast the novel aside which would have deprived me of an excellent read. Even if he’s still alive, it’s creepy. In this opening you are greeted with:

“You have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and another place altogether.”

Thank you. I am well aware I am not a Victorian living in that era of paradoxes. I am reading a novel about it. I don’t need to be told.

Happily, most authors leave their characters to do the talking and play out their lives in front of me without intruding upon my imagination or thoughts, and that’s the way I like to read: uninterrupted and unassaulted.

 

Leave a comment

May 7, 2017 · 8:35 am

Mr Darcy – who are you?

scczen_a_281004hossplpride01_620x310

We think we know what he looks like, visions of Colin Firth – poor man; forever embodying this fictional character – immediately leaping into our mind’s eye as soon as Mr Darcy is mentioned. We know he is tall, handsome and rich and aloof.

We know this, absolutely we do, because Austen tells us so. She tells us that Darcy ‘drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report … of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr Bingley.’

Austen gives the barest pencil sketch, blurred around the edges and certainly with no defining features, just so her readers could imagine whomever they wanted in that role.

And so we did.

Darcy could be fair-haired: he could be dark. He could be as tall as we wanted to make him; he could be whatever we thought ‘handsome’ was. In actual fact, Darcy was a concoction of our fantasy and imagination.  Of course, since Mr Firth, that blurred outline written 200 hundred years ago has been filled in rather well, but, still, her lack of detail has meant that different Darcys have existed in millions of imaginations for the past 200 years.

Not any more.

According to Professor John Sutherland,  the Mr Darcy Jane Austen imagined while writing her barest outline was more likely to have had a long nose, pointed chin, powdered white hair, a pale complexion, slender, sloping shoulders and a modestly-sized chest. Defined legs were also considered very attractive.

scczen_100217spldarcy2_620x310Photo / UKTV

Hmmm.

Kind of ruins the fantasy, doesn’t it?

Read the full report that sparked this post by Hannah Furnesshttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=11799399

Leave a comment

Filed under Austen, General Thoughts, Regency, Uncategorized, writing style

Book Reviews

A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion My rating: 4 of 5 stars I haven’t read a novel by Didion, only her essays, and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, her writing style – disj…

Source: Book Reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hardy Musings

 

 

 

Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native is a novel I read many years ago and being an admirer of his work, thought I would re-read it as its premise had long since slipped into the blur of Hardy novels. As any Hardy reader knows- and I don’t know who actually said this but it is very true – if you want a happy ending in a Hardy novel, then read it backwards. Which all sounds rather macabre and miserable, but it isn’t. This is because Hardy uses death as he uses life in his writing, as something that has to be endured and is unavoidable. Which also sounds rather bleak.

OK, so what he does is show us that regardless of the decisions we make, whether they are spontaneous or long deliberated on, makes no difference to the quality of our life and death. Both will occur, and our decisions will only make those occurrences more or less pleasant. The smallest of decisions, the slightest fall from grace or moral behavior can completely ruin or improve our lives. The only snag is that we don’t know when we are making those decisions what the consequence will be. No one can see into the future nor can they know what other people will do or how they will react. So essentially, the fact that all of Hardy’s novels – well, 95% of them – end tragically should act as a warning, a caution for the reader, a kind of flashing red light to check your own behavior and choices before it’s too late. It’s not bleak, it’s cathartic; a ‘thank goodness I’m not that hero/heroine, oops, maybe I should check I’m actually not acting that way.’

That said, my other observation on Hardy has to do with his wordiness, which generally has not ever worried or bothered me. To pick up a Hardy novel is to accept there will be considerable time spent, pages and pages in fact, on descriptions of characters, settings, motivations. Hardy can take six pages quite easily on the description of the interior of a cottage or the walk of a farmer. And this is not a problem. To read Hardy is to sink into his prose and let the imagination conjure up these images he draws  for you with such painstaking clarity. Unlike some other authors, he is determined there should be no mistake about what his readers see when a character enters a scene.

However, I found myself becoming impatient with the descriptions concerning the heath in this novel; Egdon Heath to be exact. The novel opens with a ten page description of the heath at dusk, the colors, the light, the sounds, and if it sounds excessive, it is. But, believe me, you can definitely see the heath by the end of it. But the heath, unusually, is not then left alone now it has been firmly fixed in your mind. No, it keeps on being described throughout the novel; every time someone walks across it, during the day, the night, winter, summer, it’s all there. The heath must be described. And I found myself losing interest in the story, the characters, and most definitely the heath.

Then I realized there is a reason for this preoccupation with an inanimate expanse of unforgiving nature: Hardy is treating it as the main character of his novel. It is the difficult place where the characters must eke out a poor living if they can from furze cutting and livestock grazing, and it rewards them poorly for their labors like a stingy relative. It is the place where characters meet and love and hate using its paths and hollows and ferns to promote or conceal their activities. It hides and reveals sides of characters that would otherwise go unnoticed in more agreeable and easy terrain. It is changeable and uncaring, focused only on its own existence. And once I figured this out, I appreciated the wordiness, the exact descriptions, and the heath’s effect on the other characters.

So now I like Hardy all over again – for his preoccupation with death and setting both. For portraying them as inanimate characters which have enormous influence on every one of us, whether we realize it or not.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, Life as we know it, Uncategorized

Fascinated with Time Travel

lit-final-cover-incl-male-and-promo-ch-title-page-001 Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under General Thoughts, Life as we know it, novel release, travel, Writing Progress

Work in Progress – update

mist LIT pictureonly-page-001 (4)

Many thanks and kudos to the following contributors to Pexels.com:                             background image –  Kundan Ramisetti at Unsplash; modern lady – freestocks.org.                 The Regency lady – Ackermanns Depository.

Hi everyone,

Just so you don’t think I’ve fallen off the writing wagon – the new novel is finished but taking just as long to proof and edit. (Also been having lots of fun with designing covers 🙂 ) Very distracting.

As you can see it is quite a change from my last few covers, and there is a reason for that! Rather than staying completely within Miss Austen’s territory, for this novel I have  moved into my own and followed an idea that has intrigued me for a while. I’m still deciding on the final title which is why it’s still blank. But see if you can pick up any clues from the image, and please let me know what you come up with!

Check back soon – I will start posting small extracts as I work my way through the novel just to give a flavor of what it is like.

Leave a comment

Filed under novel release, updates and excerpts, Writing Progress

Wi-fired

OK – a quick heads-up: this is going to amuse some and alienate others. It all rather depends upon which side of fifty you fall.

I own a smart phone – I probably only use ten percent of its features but I do use it.  I use a computer everyday at work and writing novels. I am not a Luddite by any means.

That out of the way: What the hell is so important in the e-world that almost every person walking along the street is head-down, finger clicking, smiling into their phone screen, completely oblivious to approaching cars, buses, or other pedestrians? And even worse are those who also feel the need to mask the entire  real world by plugging themselves in their music whilst walking and clicking.

What are they afraid of out here? Actual human contact? Actual human noise?

Not only are they putting themselves in danger being so cut-off from everything that could potentially kill them, but also those around them who are constantly stepping aside to avoid them, or putting out a restraining hand before they commit unwitting suicide in front of an approaching bus.

I made a point of observing this behavior on a short trip to a city after I had been almost mowed down by several oblivious clickers. The usual rules of polite human interaction no longer apply, apparently, when one has the diversion and excuse of a hand-held device.

No, indeed.

It gives you carte-blanc to bump into people without apologizing, make no eye contact with anyone, ever, and suddenly stop in the middle of the street without warning when something on the screen is so important or startling – probably a new video on youtube – that those behind you have to swerve to avoid a collision. Again – no apology necessary because total immersion in an e-world excuses you for all rudeness in this one.

Even more astonishing is when two such e-worlders bump into each other – the bemused look as sudden re-orientation takes over is almost gratifying. Their location invariably seems to come as a shock and I wonder just how many are actually where they thought they would be at the end of their walk. The sudden realization that there are others around them, that the world on the screen is not the real one, that the last ten minutes have passed without their knowledge, finally seems to register: for a moment, at least.

And then, real-world crisis over, an immediate return to the e-world, and the relief is almost palpable.

As I sat back and observed all of this whilst enjoying a coffee and the sun in my face, I wondered how this would all look to, say, Jane Austen; all this non-interaction, all this rudeness, all this unawareness. She would think us harried indeed, and unfriendly, and possibly on the verge of being robots – if she knew what they might be.Humans being controlled every minute of their lives by a machine no bigger than their hand. She would cringe at the idea that this machine could track your every move should you be so negligent to leave on the GPS; will wake you relentlessly every morning no matter how hard you try to silence it; will keep you connected to everything and everybody, including work, 24/7; will track your buying preferences and store your photos; will find you a new partner, restaurant, power company or game; and will have the ability to make its world so much more relevant and important than the one you actually live in that you can’t put it down even for a walk along the street. God forbid you leave it behind or lose it.

I guess my observations led to this question: Is that video, that email, that photo, that news item so important that it can’t wait ten minutes until you are sitting somewhere and out of harm’s way? Would your life be affected positively or negatively if you took some time away from all the ‘noise’ and enjoyed some ‘real-world’ time occasionally?

For those of us who are tired of being ignored, bumped into, gazed at unseeingly, relegated to being of the least importance, please try coming up for air occasionally; you might enjoy the break.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Thoughts, Life as we know it

Forgiveness and Forgetting

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is outwardly a fantasy story of a quest involving a knight, a Beowulf-type hero, a dragon, mythology and various other Medieval markers such as monks and monasteries, and tribal enmity between Britons and invading Saxons.

Strangely, the idea is that the Saxons and the Britons live  side by side during a long time of peace after the ‘good works’ of King Arthur in ensuring this peace. Some, however, have faint memories or instinctual hatred or fear of the other tribe but can’t clearly remember why. There is a mist, a fog of forgetting that has worked its way into every person’s memory and all they can remember is short term and only vague shadowy long-term memories. Therefore, peace prevails.

On a whole other level, this novel posits the notion that forgiveness can only ever be achieved by forgetting what has occurred; that humans hold onto their hatreds and fears and suspicions regardless of how hard they try to forgive, that the only way to live in peace with those who have committed crimes against you is to actually forget their crime against you. On a large scale this is depicted through the Britons and the Saxons, both of whom have committed atrocities against each other in their search for land and supremacy: on a smaller scale, the elderly husband and wife in the novel have both committed sins against each other in their early marriage. Because of the fog of forgetfulness, peace reigns in the country, the villages, and the homes.

For those who have read Beowulf, or Arthurian Legends and know something of the time period, this is a very cleverly-written book just from that aspect. Being able to identify the tropes and characters is very satisfying: for those who haven’t, this is still an engaging book along the lines of Lord of the Rings and the heroic quest. The mythology referred to, especially the idea of death and the boatman who will only take one person across the lake or the sea to the ‘island’ in his boat, brings home the idea that everyone must face up to mistakes they have made during their life and meet their death alone, regardless of how attached a couple might be to each other or promises they have made to take that last journey together.
Read on this deeper level, The Buried Giant is a very thought-provoking read even if, like me, fantasy is not usually your genre of choice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, Uncategorized