The Thieving Writer’s Syndrome

I imagine every writer suffers from this affliction: wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we hear, see and read – we steal it. Whatever we touch turns into a story, which we write greedily and for which we claim sole ownership.

It’s called “copyright”.

We don’t want others to copy our work. We make them pay for it even though, in the first instance, we have stolen it.

I do it all the time. It has become a habit of which I am barely aware. Every person I ever got to know will sooner or later make it to my books. So, beware! Avoid me if you care for your privacy. Or your mortal right.

The same with places. I nick every place that I visit. At some point I will pull it out of my back pocket and it will become a setting for my story.

All writers do it.

On my recent trip to the Canary Islands I discovered that a lot of stories that I would like to write had already been stolen and written by others. Like so:

1. The Odyssey (Sirens calling to Odysseus)

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2. For Whom the Bell Tolls

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3. Robinson Crusoe

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4. Guns of Navarone

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5. The Old Man and the Sea

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6. Treasure Island

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The Testaments – how to write a perfectly original sequel

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It is often the case when a sequel to a novel or a film is just a watered down version of the original. It has the same protagonists facing the same dilemmas with a few tweaks to the time and place setting, and a few flashy gimmicks and new characters thrown into the mix to refresh the plot. Think Star Wars.

Authors (like myself) who write series have to be very conscious of templates, repetition and stagnation. Yes, the heroes of the series grow on our readers and yes, they have to be presented with consistency. But everything else in every new sequel has to be fresh, surprising and curious: a new bookish land yet to be discovered and explored. Otherwise, it all becomes stale like the same stretch of the same congested road a commuter gets stuck on every day. Even the most ardent fans will grow bored and frustrated.

The Testaments are a lesson on how to avoid the pitfalls of sequels – the curse of the sameness. The first-person narrative moves away from June. It is now the infamous Aunt Lydia, and two teenage girls (one brought up in Gilead and the other one in Canada), who take the centre-stage. Their stories are vivid and engaging. I was guessing, I was speculating, I was biting my nails – all the things you do when the plot draws you in. The thought-provoking message of The Testaments did not detract from Atwood’s cracking story telling.

Not all of the Booker Prize winners found favour with me as a reader. Some of them I started only to find myself overwhelmed with the heavy theme or the author’s eloquent philosophical referencing. So I wouldn’t bother to read on. Atwood has a message, but that message is delivered subtly, without overpowering the story or dwarfing the characters. And that is the beauty of The Testaments.

 

Anna Legat: My Guest Author: Attorney, Waitress, and Librarian – well-travelled Jill of all trades

Today, I am visiting the versatile crime and contemporary fiction writer and my fellow Headline-Accent author, Jane Risdon, to chat about Gillian, formally known as DI Marsh. Her latest case is that of Haji (aka Sandman) an Afghani wars veteran on a mission of revenge and destruction.

Discounted kindle and paperback of Sandman

Jane Risdon

https://www.facebook.com/AnnaLegatAuthor/ Anna Legat

Today I am really pleased to welcome Anna Legat back to my blog. We share the same publisher, Headline Accent.

She first appeared here in 2016 and she has written more books in her fab DI Gillian Marsh series since then…

Find out about Anna:

A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna Legat has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications from Wellington College of Education (Victoria University, New Zealand).

She inhabited far-flung places where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. She writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Read about the series she has written:

DI Gillian Marsh is the troubled heroine of my crime series, which include

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Back in time to Edinburgh

If you one of those history enthusiasts who would rather travel back (and forth) in time than into infinity and beyond, then Edinburgh is a place for you.

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The moment you land at Edinburgh Airport you get the impression you arrived in Hogwarts – Harry Potter-styled wizardly outfits are scattered all over the place. You stand a good chance of bumping into J.K. Rowling at the grocer’s.

Even the contemporary Fringe Festival has the feel of a Victorian fayre: street performers, jugglers, comedians and all manner of things bizarre and freaky call out to you from every street corner.

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The most modern building to visit is Hollyrood, the Scottish Parliament building, but from there it is only one-way street back in time.

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Historical fireplaces took my fancy, maybe because I had overestimated the Scottish Summer average temperatures and felt slightly on the shivering side.

Edinburgh Castle oozes history, the blood shed in endless battles and sieges trickles from the castle walls, the ghosts of betrayed leaders and prisoners of war haunt even by daytime (the night must be seriously overcrowded) and battle cries can be heard over the cannon fire.

And if you are still not satisfied that you have travelled far enough, you can always descend underground to walk the ancient Mary King’s Close (not recommended for people with claustrophobia).

And finally, you can’t have Edinburgh without a bagpiper – so here is one for you:

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First, there was the Word – The Handmaid’s Tale

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Between watching the last available episode of June’s story and opening –with the utmost care, as the author urges me to do on the cover – The Testaments to read what happens next, I reread The Handmaid’s Tale.

The TV series is based on the book. In its own right the series is powerful, uncompromising, thought-provoking. It is also full of dramatic tension, twists, visual effects that burn into your skull, fast pace between now and then, as well as amazing acting – I mean, a-ma-zing. It is brilliant TV. There are very few writers out there who would refuse having their novels adapted for performance. Whether it is for the stage, the radio, television or cinema we want our stories to stay alive and continue to be re-enacted for our audiences, be it readers, listener or viewers. And looking at it from the other side of the coin, there is no film nor theatre or radio play without it being written first. As the famous first line of the most-read book in the world says, First there was the word.

But that doesn’t mean that novels should be written in scenes or film frames. The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t. Reading it, you would think that it is too retrospective and too abstract to ever qualify for adaption. But you would be wrong. Novels – great novels – provide inspiration, a theme, a focus, a feel. Adaptations run away with that and develop it into scenes, frames, events and twisty plots. One does not detract from the other. To the contrary, one feeds off the other. I took note of that as writer: it is written in big red letters in my little black book.

I loved both the series and the book though the series took several liberties with the characters and the plot. Despite that, The Handmaid’s Tale remains instantly recognisable.

The genre provides interesting dilemmas too. You may know from my earlier blogs that I am genre averse. At first sight you would be tempted to classify The Handmaid’s Tale as sci-fi – it is about the future. But it isn’t. Atwood refers to it as speculative fiction. This term fits perfectly. It is about our world today as it may or may not evolve. The chances are that it will. If you believe that, the speculation draws you in and it becomes your alternative reality (like it or not). And when the book your read becomes your reality, then you know you’re reading a masterpiece.

Sandman – an expert opinion

Sandman review Major AFAn email arrived in my inbox from a retired British army officer. He wished to share his thoughts with me about Sandman (book 4 in the DI Marsh series). I read his email with a flutter in my stomach: a mixture of excitement and trepidation. After all, this was an expert in the field of warfare, and he was referring to my book!

He wrote:*

“I am not able to offer an erudite, literate assessment of Sandman however on a visceral level the book is, well, it just …  ‘works’. It is entertaining, absorbing, addictive and well structured or, in other words a jolly good read. I enjoyed your book, my wife enjoyed your book and now my daughter is reading – and enjoying – your book.

Your grasp of the realities is sublime. The heaviness of a German Toy. The sullen, slack, dead weight of a body. Anger and adrenaline. Detachment and retreat from emotions.

You have quite captured the bleak landscape of killing. You have understood the realities of war, radicalisation, anger and the practicalities of survival in a foreign land.

Medals. Your Sergeant Butler won the Military Cross in the Falklands. […] at the time there was class distinction in all walks of life, even gallantry. Richard Butler would not have been eligible for an MC in 1982, his award would have been the Military Medal.

Magnum. The Magnum .44 is an awful gun. It is extremely heavy with a vicious recoil, making accurate shooting very difficult indeed. It is also very expensive and the ammunition is hard to obtain. It is however a superb weapon if one is very close to a target and one has strong wrists… !!

The Magnum? Good and bad – the parsons… A veritable conundrum. Dirty Harry, .44 Magnum cartridge and the power of a shotgun. But expensive, rare and hard to use. The S&W 29 is a blood heavy gun…

If your terrorist wanted a firearm, then something from the bloc would be far easier and cheaper. Makarov. CZ75. Second hand P38? Cheap, anonymous and easily found.

Or American – 1911, Colt. German – Walther.

The ending of your book, hard and fair. Have you left room for another chapter? Is the tale not yet complete? Or is there a new story to tell?”

I am so chuffed with this feedback that I could scream the roof off the house! It’s constructive and honest, and at the same time, it is positive! A jolly good read! he said.

It is often said, but not often enough, that book reviews are the writer’s life support. We feed on them. They help us build meaningful relationships with readers. Praise sends us orgasmic with pride. Brutal criticism has its value too, as long as it is constructive and not designed to hurt. Criticism is like bitter-tasting medicine – we don’t like it much, but once we digested it, we find that it helps us get better at our craft. So, dearest reader, never hesitate to share your reviews, no matter how short. Writers crave them. When they finally arrive we feast on them, get drunk on them, and crave more.

*I omitted personal detail – if the gentleman wanted to make them public himself he would have posted his thoughts somewhere on Amazon or Goodreads, though perhaps he is unfamiliar with those platforms.

 

80 Years – celebrate or commemorate?

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We all delight in medieval history – it is so quaint and so distant. But there are historical events closer in space and time which must not be forgotten.

80 years since World War 2 started. Should we celebrate the 80 years of global peace, or should we commemorate the outbreak of the all-out war that cost us 80 million dead, the barbarity of the Holocaust, famine, disease, the homelessness and displacement of millions, the obliteration of cities and industries that would take decades to rebuild, and finally the crisis of civilisation as we knew it?

It’s great to celebrate – never say no to a good party. Remembering is a bit harder because it requires drawing analogies and avoiding repeating the same mistakes.

WW2 started ten years after the Great Depression of 1929 caused by corporate greed and bankers but blamed by populist politicians on Jews and the Others. Those scapegoats became the casualties, but ultimately they were not the only ones. Everyone was a casualty. One cannot control war – who lives and who dies becomes a game of Russian roulette. There are five bullets for every six slots in the magazine – you know the odds.

It is now just over ten years after the 2008 Financial Crisis. It was caused by corporate greed and bankers but is being blamed by populist politicians on foreigners, refugees and yes, you guessed it – the Others. Those who don’t speak your language, look different and aren’t related to you are being dehumanised so they become dispensable.

WW2 was cooked up by those in power who wished to change the world order in their favour – to divide and to rule it on their terms. They didn’t like the League of Nations created to guard peace after WW1 and they certainly didn’t like the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. They had better ideas of dividing the world on their own terms: The Thousand Year Third Reich or the ever-growing Union of Communist Republics – and nothing else. Nazi Germany and the USSR put their heads together and signed the Molotov-Ribbetrop Pact of Non-Aggression just seven days before the outbreak of WW2 so that each could do their own thing – their worst – and get away with it. (Luckily for us, Hitler lost his marbles and reneged on that treaty when he attacked Soviet Union in 1941. But imagine if they had both stuck to it – the rest of the world would have stood no chance. There would be no Victory Day celebrations and no Remembrance Day every year -not for us.)

Today again two powers have risen and are led by two demented dictators who seem to have found a common ground – their new common understanding of divide-and-rule. And after a few cosy tête-à-têtes they now have a friendly pact of non-aggression between them, allowing each other to do what they please in their own backyards. The rest of us are pawns. Most of us support them because we believe them. Their hatred of peace organisations, such as the UN or the EU, is well explained to us. Those institutions haven’t been elected to power based on lies and false propaganda! They are the enemy! And why would we need them if we have NATO? Except that NATO is for the times of war (which we really, really don’t want) and UN or EU are to guard peace (which they really, really don’t want). The existing peace and world order doesn’t suit Mr Trump and Mr Putin. Time to change it.

The wheel of history is turning and the same mistakes are being repeated. Democratic institutions are being compromised, prejudice is rampantly bred in the streets and people’s minds and values are being corrupted. I think this is the time to remember. There is nothing to celebrate.

Would you rather live in Handcock’s Bottom or is Marston Bigot more up your street?

I had a whale of a time when conniving the settings for my cosy crime series The Shires Mysteries. Truth be told, I nearly wet my pants.

To find a name for the village that would host all of the crimes I had in mind, I needed something memorable but authentic – something that would sit comfortably alongside all the real-life places in my county. Something that didn’t sound out of place in the Shires.

I reside in a place called Upper Studley. Upper is a common qualifier for an English village and it sounds immensely better than Lower or Little. They are equally common but less classy than my Upper. Then you have the Bottoms. They are, well literally, at the bottom of the ladder. For how would one feel dwelling in Handcock’s Bottom, or Scratchy Bottom, or Bottom Flash? How about Crinkley Bottom or Bottom Burn? If you aren’t into Bottoms, then would you consider buying a cottage in Buttock or a small bungalow in Great Butts? They are real villages proudly inhabited by real villagers.

I decided against setting my stories in the nether regions. I set my sights high – closer to Upper than Lower. Upton struck me as a possibility. There are a lot of Uptons around here. Think Upton Cow Down – yes, it’s a real place that can be found on a map, as can Upton Snodsbury. But they seemed too pretentious to me.

Tiddley Wink tickled my fancy. It’s a not a big village. In fact, it isn’t a village but a tiny hamlet. When I drove through it for the first time, I blinked and I missed it.

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My mother-in-law is now a resident in a residential home located in Limpley Stoke. Oh yes, she is! When we visit, we can pop over to the village pub called The Hop Pole Inn. Oh yes, we can! Here it is:

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The Hop Pole Inn in Limpley Stoke

Ultimately, I opted against naming my fictional village using an existing name, so Tiddley Wink and Limpley Stoke had to go, as well as Booby Dingle, Grope Lane, Farleigh Wallop and Clench Common.

Finally, I settled on Bishops Well. Not very imaginative, I hear you say. Life can be so much more out of this world than fiction!

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The Church of St John the Baptist in Bishops Well