Friday, 21 June 2013

How Much Is Too Much?-Description Wise

Novels always attract different attitudes from readers. This is particularly true of my latest wip which I am putting through two critique groups. Some think the converstions are colourful and witty, [the LOL's tell me they get my jokes] whereas some get very confused, don't 'get' the humour at all and in front of every other sentence write 'describe what this looks/smells like' and 'what does she feel about that?'

If I did what they suggested the narrative would be so bogged down with extraneous images and inner feelings, the story itself would get totally lost.

Recently I read a novel which has wonderful characterisation in a dark, mystical way [but without the werewolves and the fairies] However the author also includes a 'beat' into almost every line; a nuance, an expression, a look, or a mannerism.  I feel I am being battered on all sides by sensory overload, none of which lingers in my memory and distracts me from the actual story.

I read some of the reviews of this novel to see what others think and the superlatives vary from 'masterly' to 'wonderfully romantic', but no one says they found the lengthy descriptions of places, people, deep emotion, rooms and clothes which expound on every page a bar to the plot.

Conversely, I have also read a contemporary book which hits the ground running and races along with biting dialogue which conveys the story, but there is very little by the way of descriptions. So little in fact I don't get a clear idea of what the main characters look like. Their interaction and inner thoughts are the entire focus of the story as if their surroundings are immaterial.

The key to writing a good novel is obviously balance, but how does one discern what that balance should be as readers appear to expect different things in a novel.

Or is it the variation of writing styles that attracts us to certain work and makes us avoid others?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Review For Royalist Rebel

I don't normally boast about my reviews, for every good one there are three bad ones hovering somewhere, right? I had to share this one from Petrea Burchard, who wrote it for her local publication Hometown Pasadena, really did 'get' what I was trying to portray in my version of Elizabeth Murray's story of her struggles during the English Civil War. When readers do that, it makes all the hard work and research worthwhile.

Regardless of the story inside, recent covers of historical novels are all about the bodice. A hint of cleavage indicates a hint of romance, maybe even lust. These books are obviously aimed at women, but when the character’s head is cut out of the picture, I wonder what kind of women those cover designers are aiming for.

The cover of Royalist Rebel suggests something less frivolous. It’s a circa 1651 portrait of the book’s protagonist, Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemache, with a black servant, possibly her beloved slave, Nero. It was painted at Ham House by Sir Peter Lely, and it still hangs there, where Elizabeth grew up and where much of the story takes place. There’s a bodice, yes, followed by a story that includes some lust and romance.

But author Anita Seymour takes her history seriously. The fun in historical fiction is letting someone else do the research for you. Some is more fiction, some is more historical. Seymour leans to the latter with an almost literal account of the facts.

Elizabeth Murray, a staunch royalist during the English Civil War of the 1640’s, is the only pretty sister of four. Raised by William Murray, First Earl of Dysart, a royalist spy and confidante of King Charles I, and Catherine Bruce Murray, who carries her husband’s secret messages back and forth across England, young Elizabeth catches on quickly to her parents’ schemes.

The real Elizabeth was known to be determined to have what she wanted, and in Seymour’s Royalist Rebel, what Elizabeth wants is Ham House. The king granted her father the lease on it in 1626, and it has been in her family ever since. She will stop at nothing to keep it for her family, and to inherit it for herself.

Royalist Rebel by Anita Seymour 175x270 Royalist Rebel royalist rebel Petrea Burchard book reviews book review by petrea burchard  photoTo keep Ham House out of the hands of rebels and the anti-royalist Parliament, Elizabeth must scheme against rebel leader Oliver Cromwell himself, and she does so with cunning and charm. Elizabeth is imperious, headstrong, and bossy. She believes that being of noble birth makes her better than those beneath her, especially rebel soldiers, and at times this snobbishness puts her and her loved ones in danger.

Seymour has made the wise choice to tell her story in first person, otherwise it might be difficult to sympathize with Elizabeth. But as we get inside her head, even as she disdains the lower class rebels, we begin to want her to succeed in keeping Ham House. We feel her discomfort when confronted by dirty soldiers. We cringe at the danger when a local rebel captain threatens. Yet while Elizabeth complains about minor losses (there’s very little wine left in the cellar), Seymour manages to show us rebel soldiers, outside Ham House, starving to the point of tearing out the gardens and chasing down livestock.

Seymour’s research is exhaustive. She weaves the most minute details into the story–the meaning in a turn of the neck, what is signaled by the uses of the hand, the styles of clothing. She also shows us the décor of every building the story visits, from Oxford to Ham House to Helmingham Hall in Suffolk.
The book is packed with names, dates, battles, wins, losses, and even body counts, all of them true to historical records. So much so, in fact, that this is my one quibble with the book. Seymour gets much of this information across in dialogue, and at times this fact-giving chit-chat is awkward, and not necessary to the whole.

However, besides the immense load of research she has accomplished in which I get to immerse myself, Seymour provides us with motivated, dimensional characters. No one is completely right, and no one is completely wrong. And as Elizabeth plots and schemes her way through the war, Anita Seymour excels at setting. In the best way, very few poetic phrases call attention to themselves. Yet I find myself immersed in the smell of lavender on a cool, English evening, or feeling claustrophobic as I climb the stairs to visit my lover in the Tower of London, or simply walking the halls of Ham House and wanting it for my own.
 Royalist Rebel royalist rebel Petrea Burchard book reviews book review by petrea burchard  photo Petrea Burchard‘s new novel, Camelot & Vineavailable as in paperback and as an ebook. Her blog, Living Vicuriously, is featured on Hometown Pasadena’s “Best Blogs in San Gabriel Valley.” Petrea’s 30-year acting career began morphing into a writing career with “Act As If,” her humor column about the journeyman actor’s life, now in reruns at She gained a following in the animè world as the original English voice of Ryoko, a space pirate in the cult classic Tenchi Muyo!, and continues voice-over work as the voice of Stater Bros. markets.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Do Writers' Blogs Work?

Agents, publishers, editors and other authors always tell me that if I am serious about a writing career, I must have some sort of web presence. That blogging is one of the most important ways to market your persona and your writing because readers want to hear about your everyday life, what set you on the path to authorship etc.

I looked up a few statistics, which may or may not be accurate, after all we have all heard that 96% of statistics are made up, or that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but here they are anyway.

Apparently, 46% of people read blogs multiple times a day, and another 32% read them at least once a day.

These figures don't specify what sort of blogs these refer to, and writer blogs tend to occupy their own niche, so this may render them totally inaccurate - but I have to begin somewhere.

But do they work, in that does a writer's blog sell more books?

Also, are paid blogs any more effective that free blogs? Not easy to quantify that one, so I shall avoid it. A blog is a blog is a blog. Even if you are diligent and blog once a day or once a week, does the magic happen and thousands of people spot your blog and come back to read it regularly? Not necessarily.

What's the magic formula to draw readers and then get them to buy your books? Do you write about the genre your books are about, or stick to personal anecdotes, including your progression from hobby writer to published author? Bearing in mind that particular journey could be a protracted and depressing one - how many of us write a novel, send it out to agents and published and Yay - someone picks it up and it suddenly appears in the bestseller lists? Writing as a long term career is not that simple for most.

Do we hope someone will notice our hard work—and reward us with an endless supply of traffic that converts readers into book buyers, fans and a stream of positive reviews?

It's logical that the more time you spend working on something without seeing quantitative results, the harder it is to continue doing it.  We all begin with the best of intentions but sometimes blogging gets in the way of the real 'job' as it were - the writing. Then there is always the problem of what to write.

Do readers really want to hear about how cute your cat is and how he nudges the keyboard as you are trying to work? Difficult to say - there are plenty of cat lovers out there-but how many of them are likely to progress from 'cute cat anecdotes' to buying your books?

No one knows, which is exactly the point, and deserving bloggers can easily become demotivated, so the next time you visit their blog, you notice the last post is dated months before.

According to the marketing bods, creating too much content can be a death knell - not everyone can keep up with writing daily blog posts never mind reading them. Apparently, adding more content to blogs which have a small number of readers doesn’t help get more readers. I suspect the effectiveness of blogs, including author blogs, is that there are so many 'out there' we couldn't keep up with them if we tried.

One blog marketing company says:

“You don’t have to create content, day in, and day out. You just have to work on getting the content you already have… in the hands of more people.”

Good advice - I think - but how?