Category Archives: Writing

Photographs & Memories

A while back, I started a thread about Inspiration from Art, but, just recently, I’ve been inspired by photographs.

Online resources for photos are many and most are free to use. I’m currently reading  A Biography of Loneliness by Fay Bound Alberti. I usually look on the back flap to see who designed the cover and was surprised to find that there was no credit given other than Photo by Sweet Ice Cream on Unsplash—which is photo site. https://unsplash.com/

Presumably, someone at the Oxford University Press design department found the photo and added the title and author’s name. It’s an evocative image.

Richard Power’s novel Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance was inspired by a photo taken by the renowned August Sander.

My friend Mish lives in Wyoming and is a skilful photographer, artist and maker. She buys old photographs at garage sales and repurposes them into collages, which she sells at art and craft markets.

We all take photographs in our mind, memories of happy and sad times. But our memory is rebuilt each time we access it. The plasticity of our memories fascinates me, but it can lead to autoplagiarism, as Oliver Sacks explains:

https://www.brainpickings.org/oliver-sacks-on-

I’ve confirmed that recently by re-reading some of my old novellas and the first two Cornish Detective novels. Finding the same phrases and even whole sentences in different stories makes me feel like a cheating robot! What worries me about unintentionally cribbing from myself is that it makes my characters sound the same and that they’re all mini-mes! A couple of them even look alike, as I based their appearance on an uncle of mine.

Had I used found images, I could have avoided this trap.

Do any of you get inspired by old photographs?

Jim Croce https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Croce

Impostor Me….

Impostor Syndrome haunts writers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

I was reminded of it by a brilliant cartoon in today’s newsletter from Hyperallergic.

I smiled at the punchline in the final box.

Once again, I’m feeling like an impostor, as I stumble around learning how to use Twitter and Instagram. I keep wondering: “What am I doing here? Will anything I post make a difference to anything?”

But, that’s part and parcel of being a writer. The world of writing and publishing thrives on creating doubt. Subscribe to one hundred newsletters from writing gurus and soon you’ll be inundated with advice on what you’re doing wrong…and, if you simply pay £450 for a weekend residential course, all of your errors will be chased away.

What a writer desires is some form of validation. Things get so uncertain, that we analyse the language used in rejection letters for solace!

I come alive when I write more of my WIP, which is how I know I’m real and not an impostor. Tweeting and posting on social media is restrictive and repetitive, as I tailor my words to have an effect—which makes me feel like a con man—get the punters’ confidence and maybe they’ll buy my books!

Impostor me…sort of.

How about you?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Schwartz_(author)

Should Your Lead Character Have A Twitter Account?

A few months ago, I suggested the idea of giving your main character their own email account:

https://paulpens.cloudaccess.host/?s=Protagonist+email+account

Recently, I’ve been exploring Twitter, seeking out Colony members and Crime genre authors and literary agents who like crime novels. I intended to use this personal account to make contacts and to promote myself and my Cornish Detective series in a non-pushy way.

My Twitter presence morphed from a Facebook Author page called Paul Pens, which is based on threads I started on The Colony. Last autumn, I started a Facebook business page devoted to my Cornish Detective series. Why not give my fictional hero a Twitter account too?

I searched for advice online, finding this dated article:

https://www.authormedia.com/lead-character-twitter-account/

Apparently, Twitter verifies the accounts of fictional characters, though this article is from 2012:

https://www.themarysue.com/twitter-verifies-fictional-character/

There are a lot of Marvel and DC superheroes and fictional heroes tweeting away, as are Homer J. Simpson, Charlie Brown and Lord Voldermort, so I may join in with Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle.

Have any of you given your MC a Twitter account?

Do you follow any fictional characters

Money for Free

Mystery has surrounded who has been leaving packages of money in the village of Blackhall Colliery, in County Durham since 2014.

The cash was left in places where it would be quickly found and close to residents who would benefit from financial assistance.

Now, two benefactors have identified themselves:

https://uk.yahoo.com/news/mystery-cash-wads-left-pit-125554611.html

Their good deed resembles the plot of a novel written by Niall Williams:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/nov/21/blackhall-colliery-benefactor-has-a-literary-precursor

https://www.amazon.com/As-Heaven-Niall-Williams/dp/0446676012

It made me remember a similar story from when I was living in the USA in 2002. An elderly couple won the Mega Millions lottery, an absurd amount, a couple of hundred million dollars. They gave their house to their daughter, along with several million, and hit the road in a new RV joining the ‘snowbirds’ who migrate south to warmer states.

They didn’t tell anyone of their good fortune but kept their ears open for stories of people down on their luck. Thus, if someone had run up medical bills, they paid them off anonymously. If a mobile hairdresser needed a new vehicle to run her business, then they’d buy her one, seeing to it that it was delivered without mentioning who’d paid for it.

The world needs more do-gooders like them!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley

Republishing Out of Print Books

I’ve read of several cases where an author bought back the rights to their book(s) after a publisher allowed them to go out of print. Most self-published them, doing a better job of promoting their titles than the traditional publisher. Other authors approach book companies trying to sell their work for a second time.

These short articles explain the ramifications of those two options:

https://legalbeagle.com/4829861-republish-book-that-out-print.html

https://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/getting-your-rights-back-from-the-publisher/

Some books have never been out of print, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

https://www.malrogersisoutofoffice.com/dracula-and-bram-stoker (Warning: alarming images!)

It’s easy to see why some classic novels have endured, but I’m occasionally surprised to find books that have languished—or which spawn a cult, driving up second-hand prices.

Two good examples of the latter are Tom Neale’s An Island To Oneself, which I’ve praised several times on Paul Pens.

His story is as timeless as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, so I’m amazed An Island To Oneself is out of print. Second-hand, it reaches eye-watering prices; there’s currently a copy on eBay for £105.

Travellers visit Neal’s island on pilgrimage:

http://www.riverbendnelligen.com/books.html

Another favourite read that’s no longer available new, is Twistgrip: a motorcycling anthology compiled by esteemed motoring journalist and author L.J.K. Setright. There are two copies on eBay priced £75 and £59.99.

Had I the money, I’d purchase the rights to these two books and reprint them.

Which titles would you like to see revived?

https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/12521.William_Goldman

How Different Are Your Stories?

Fashion designer Coco Chanel stated:

Stories need to stand out in some way to be marketed. Even if you accept that there are only seven types of plot, you can still write unique characters who do unusual things.

A modern way of describing this is having a Unique Selling Point (USP) which can also be an elevator pitch, a term used to describe selling an idea for a movie to a film producer you’ve trapped for a few seconds in an elevator. An extreme example of this is Snakes On A Plane whose title alone summed up the plot.

I write in the crime genre because I like it, and, as it’s the second-highest selling genre I stand more chance of success; also, crime stories allow me to tackle anything in society. I deliberately chose to conform to the conventions of a crime series—a set location, reoccurring characters and compelling antagonists who commit dreadful crimes. Cornwall and its landscape become a character. I explore the lives of my main character and his detectives to encourage the reader to bond with them.

Where my books differ from the mainstream, is that the Cornish Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is the opposite of typical sleuths who drink, womanise, gamble, smoke and bend regulations. He’s a Green/Liberal lover of nature and the arts, who rides a 10’ long black chopper and is clean-living and faithful to his woman; I didn’t give him a love life until the fifth book. In these ways, he’s a weirdo.

Will this make him stand out enough to be successful? I’ve yet to find out. Do readers want to find a main character who’s unique, as marketers suggest?

How different is your protagonist? What idiosyncrasies do they have?

Are your stories predictable or surprising in their twists and turns? They should always be plausible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bukowski

Who Do You Love?

A recent report from the sometimes murky book world shows how fascinated journalists and researchers are about the love lives of writers.

The poet T. S. Eliot had an unhappy first marriage, which he credited with having inspired him to write The Waste Land.

His second marriage was happier, but this hasn’t stopped speculation about his love life. Princeton University Library has made a collection of 1,000 of Eliot’s letters available to researchers. Some were sent to a woman he declared to be his muse, but who he denied was ever his lover.

https://slate.com/culture/2020/01/t-s-eliot-letters-emily-hale-princeton.html?sid=5876011e8cc2b274058b4735&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=traffic&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=TheAngle

This made me wonder about what researchers would make of my love life, should I ever achieve any fame from my books. With emails, one’s outpourings are permanently available…they’re never truly deleted:

https://www.dailydot.com/society/how-to-delete-secure-email/

There are no clues to my love affairs in the dedications of my five completed Cornish Detective novels, which are to six female friends and one male friend. All were supportive to me while writing.

Who do you love?

Will researchers be able to tell?

C. S. Lewis wrote a charming dedication to his goddaughter, Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/aug/01/lion-witch-lucy-lucy-and-lucy-barfield-edinburgh-festival-cs-lewis