Tag Archives: Poems

Seasons Greetings!

Hello Readers,

Firstly, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

It has been pretty mild weather here in London (UK) with Christmas morning having been made up of clear blue sky and a blazing sun. But the weather forecast predicts a cold spell ahead, so I am hoping we might see some snow before the new year.

It has been a wondrous, inspirational year for writing and reading, and I hope you have also experienced the same.

Here is a list of 15 books that I managed to read in 2014, with reviews that I made on Goodreads.

I will post again in the new year,with my new 2015 reading list; as well as catch up with you all 🙂

Delilah by Eleanor De Jong

I loved this book! Eleanor writes with such brevity, creating colourful characters in a beautiful setting. I usually read horror and thriller novels, but for me this was so refreshing, and a wonderful insight into the Israelite and Philistine worlds – and of course human nature. This book is a fine example of great storytelling.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road is a literary masterpiece. All of the elements of novel writing are tightly woven together to perfection. The setting is a character in itself; adding both atmosphere and emotional boom to the story. Yates is masterful with his use of metaphors, and he cleverly works humour into the reader without distracting them from the plot – and the humour acted as a light release from the overall moodiness of the themes. Having watched the film first, I visualized Winslet and DiCaprio as being the main characters throughout reading the book – and this, for me, coloured the story tremendously – because these two actors had the exact same chemistry as the characters in the book. This is an addictive read with lovable characters – you just fall into their hearts and live their stories with them. This novel will stay with me forever! 5/5

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

The magic and mystery of the blurb on the back of the book grabbed me straight away. I loved the protagonist, minor characters and setting. The plot had me guessing all the way through – I was eager to know the answers. This is the first book I have read by Cecilia Aherne, and I was not disappointed; she weaves a fine plot and satisfying story. If you like magical stories then I recommend this book.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

This is an ace play! Tennessee writes a beautiful setting; he transports us right into the era with his description of skies, music, and street dialogue. You can almost smell the roasted chestnuts cooking! Tennessee must have had a strong love of poetry, for it comes out full bloom in Blanche’s dialogue. This is a flowery play with dark undertones, that all lead to a heartbreaking climax. A masterpiece that I will definitely read again!

Write by The Guardian

This was quite an addictive and enjoyable read! I am always intrigued by the ‘how to write’ books; but this one even more so because it was full of good advice from fine writers. I have taken away some good tips from this book for when I start work on the second draft of my novel. I recommend this book – it is short and snappy and you can digest it all in a day or two.

Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo

A beautiful collection of poetry about the universal elements of life. The book contains a short biography of each poet, a selection of their poems, and a brief explanation of each reflecting on style and theme. A truly inspiring read.

102 Ways to Write a Novel: Indispensable Advice for the Writer of Fiction by Alex Quick

An essential book for novelists! In just 102 sections, this book manages to address and answer all of the important elements that are needed to write a successful novel. The book is written with much brevity, something that most other books in this subject often fail to do. The 102 steps can be dipped into time and time again as you work through your novel. It is a great guide for ensuring that you are including everything that you need to in order to create that bestseller! Go buy!

Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland takes you into the world of a 1970’s amusement park – with murder, supernatural and coming-of-age elements all thrown in to one super story. A thrilling ride!

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The first few pages of this book were gripping and I was excited by the plot. However as I read on, I grew bored, for two reasons. 1) The author creates new characters as we reach the middle of the book. According to novel writing, all characters should be well and truly established before we get to the middle. 2) The author over-explained things and I found that this slowed the plot. All I wanted was a story – not a poem. Over all, I was not gripped by this book. There is no doubt that the author can write beautifully, but he didn’t quite grip me with his story telling. In the end I skipped to the last chapter and got my friend to fill me in with anything that I had missed.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

This book starts out with a ‘play’ scene that reminded me of the beginning of Revolutionary Road. This process of placing the characters straight into a point of action such as a play, is so powerful in novel writing. From the outset, Ian manages to pull you right into the main character’s (Briony) mind – so by the end of the book, you feel like you have lived her life and made a lifetime friend. This book is not just a book of fiction, it is a book of psychology. It demonstrates some of the deepest and darkest elements of humanity, and Ian lights them up on the page. A truly stunning book by a masterful writer. The film was stunning too.

Single White Female by John Lutz

This is psychological thriller perfection! A great cast of characters, a lovely weaved plot, and lots of mystery and suspense. The pages kept turning right until the end. I loved Allie and Hedra and the entire doppelganger concept. John takes this element of humanity that exists in us all, in small amounts, and then magnifies them into a form of madness. I love the film also, but the book has different scenes which added even more spice when reading. This book/film will always get five star rating from me.

The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris

I have mixed feelings about this book. The premise and the characters were very captivating, and I especially loved the Cambridge setting and the dark, other-worldly themes, however, I felt that the book was confusing in places, for two specific reasons. Firstly, I struggled to determine from the outset, which characters were narrating the different chapters in the book. Secondly, I was distracted from the plot because of the long sections of flowery description. Don’t get me wrong, the description was gorgeous and it added to the feel of the book, but for me it caused distraction – all I wanted was the story. There is a lot to be said for simplicity in writing! All that aside, this is an excellent debut novel from Joanne. She is an expert storyteller who managed to weave a complicated plot and tie it neatly at the end. For me, her skill definitely lies in artistic descriptive writing. If you love art, symbolism and atmospheric writing, then this book is for you.

One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz

This book is the first Dean Koontz book I’ve read. It is a whopping 757 pages of pure excellence! Dean creates a cast of beautifully named, well-painted, rounded characters, and we are drawn into their minds so fantastically. With them, we embark on a huge adventure that is full of atmosphere, suspense, danger and fear. And Dean certainly knows where to place those cliff-hangers, because I was turning those pages as fast as that Fleetwood on the highway! Dean writes some interesting views on bioethics and humanity, through the perspectives of his characters – and this book keeps you thinking about your own existence and place in this vast universe long after you have finished. If you love metaphors and similes then Dean is your writer; occasionally I had to re-read his descriptions because they blew me away. Dean is a superb writer and I am left wanting to read more of his books.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Being an avid horror/thriller reader, this book was something a little different for me to try. I found the plot intriguing, but I felt that the characters were portrayed from a far distance; we rarely get to know their feelings, or what prompts them into their actions, which I found rather disappointing. I felt the writing had a screenwriting quality to it, and it very much reminded me of books like ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ – may be because of the quantity of dialogue throughout the book. There is no doubting that Fitzgerald has a beautiful hand in writing, and there is some magical descriptive writing in this book that bring you right into the elegance of the era, in which this book is set.

Katherine Mansfield Short Stories

These short stories are excellent! They deliver everything they need to with regards to all of the short story elements, yet they breathe brevity. We are immediately introduced to the character, and we live out the plot through the character thought and feeling. I particularly liked ‘The Tiredness of Rosabel’ and it’s theme of loneliness and darkness in an every day situation. Katherine manages to pull the darkness of life into most of her stories, and this is really my cup of tea! I truly recommend this to any reader who likes a quick reading fix. Also, any short story writer who wants to study the art of short story telling, then this book is a must!

 

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The Rickmansworth Writer’s Group

Hello Readers,

I attended the Rickmansworth Writers Group for the second time on 2nd March 2014.

As usual, the group organiser Mike Loveday (a published writer who teaches writing to adults in community settings) set out a mini agenda for the three hour session, which included;

  • A 10 minute writing exercise (taking inspiration from a set of scenarios all based on dialogue).
  • The reading-sharing-critiquing of written works by members of the group.

 A 10 minute writing exercise…

The first task on the agenda had been a ten minute ‘warm-up’ writing exercise, taking inspiration from a set of scenarios based on dialogue – as listed below. These were adapted (by Mike) from Zoe Fairburns, Write Short Stories – and Get Them Published (Hodder Education, 2011).

Scenarios:

1. Write a conversation between two people, with a character whose way of countering loneliness is phoning up a call centre and engaging the listener in conversation.

2. Write a conversation between yourself now and when you were half your current age. Be aware of how language and attitude differs.

3. Write the final conversation between two people (end of business arrangement, a friendship, a romance?). Let their feelings show.

4. The “cold call”: One person is trying to persuade another person. (Doesn’t have to be selling a consumer product). The pair have never met before. Write their dialogue.

5. Write a conversation between a carer and a person being cared for. Make use of (subtle or unsubtle) conflict and tension.

The goal had been to produce a free write narrative, a poem, a flash fiction, a short story – or any other literary form that had inspired us at that moment.  I had chosen scenario number 1.

I had created a screenplay / dialogue piece / telephone conversation between two characters. Here is ‘Phone Call’ – which was edited following the writing meeting.

—–

Phone Call

The phone rings. The call centre guy reads an outside line on the display. He thinks it is unusual that a member of the public has managed to get through to his line directly. Telephone numbers were never advertised, and all outbound calls were marked ‘unknown’ – so that customers were unable to return calls. He picks up the receiver.

– Hello. C… c… c… can I speak with Alan Davison please?

– Hello. This is Alan Davison speaking. May I ask who is calling please?

– Not just yet. I do have a good reason to call you. I called to tell you that I am lonely.  I have been lonely for years – I know you are the person to wash my loneliness away.

– I’m sorry Sir, but we are unable to provide professional support. We sell car insurance. Can I suggest you call the Samaritans?

– The Samaritans cannot help me like you can, Alan.

– Excuse me? Who is this speaking?

– It’s your b… b…brother. Luke. I guess you were never told about me, right?

– Sorry Sir, I think you may have the wrong number?

– I know this is a shock. I know you will never believe my words over the telephone – how about we meet?

– I don’t think that is a good idea, Sir. Is there anything else we can help you with today?

– Yes. Meet me tomorrow morning, outside your work building. Say, eleven?

– I’m afraid that won’t be possible Sir.

– Then if you are unwilling to cooperate, I suggest you look me up on Facebook to prove the situation.

– How will that prove anything?

– Because we are identical twins.

End

—–

Following the ten minute exercise, we were given a worksheet detailing what can be shown through dialogue. This was adapted (by Mike) from Zoe Fairburns, Write Short Stories – and Get Them Published (Hodder Education, 2011).

 How to Write Effective Dialogue

 Using Direct Dialogue:

  • In a story, direct speech benefits from fizz, sparkle, movement and a sense of “conflict” between people.
  • Aim to make it obvious who is speaking from the dialogue itself, so the reader / listener doesn’t become confused. Otherwise best to use “he said” or “she said”.
  • Good to practice to avoid resorting to melodramatic speech verbs to make the dialogue seem more interesting e.g. “he exclaimed”. A better technique is to put the drama into the dialogue itself.
  • Similarly, good practice to avoid relying on explanatory adverbs – “he said shyly”. Let the words speak for themselves.
  • In real life people often rely on stock phrases, repeat words, talk in circles – you can make use of this, but in a story you can do so more sparingly (rather than wear out a reader’s / listener’s patience and interest).

What you can show through dialogue:

  • Relationships between people – Affection or insult. Formal or Informal. Tact or Aggression. Condescension or Respect.
  • Origins – National, regional, class differences (avoid stereotypes though).
  • Age – 7, 17, 47, 87 year olds all speak differently. Teenage slang words vs. old-fashioned terms. More limited or richer vocabulary. Rambling vs. speed of communication.
  • Attitude to “conversation” – Interrupters, sentence finishers, contradictors, ignorers, avoiders, or people who turn the topic of conversation back to themselves.
  • Attitude to “self” – Trailing off and not finishing sentences. Checking with the listener that they agree – “do you know what I mean”.
  • “Obsessions” – Using repeated phrases, recycling favourite topics. Obsessions can be significant or mild.
  • “Lies” – Evading answers Exaggerating. Excluding information. Providing excess, unconvincing detail.

In addition to discussing the points on the worksheet, the group also covered other aspects on the subject of dialogue.

  • Pacing – how shorter speech can speed up a piece of writing; and longer speech can slow down the pace of writing – all depending on the effect the writer wants to create.
  • Overheard conversations – one member of the group had recommended using a notebook to capture snippets of conversation. I informed the group that lyricist Michael Stipe (of music band, R.E.M) undertook this practice regularly for his song writing – and that many snippets can be heard in the lyrics of their songs and in the title of the band’s albums. Automatic for the People was apparently a phrase that Michael overheard in a restaurant – when the waiter had advised customers that food was ‘automatic for the people’ (as in self service).
  • One character completing another character sentence for them – how often do we struggle to find the last word we want to use in a sentence – and in the time it has taken to think of the word, someone else has found it for us? I know I do this quite often – especially so on tired days when my brain is still in sleep-mode.
  • Action and setting – rather than have your characters just talk it out, have them continue with their actions and task – have them move around – let them connect with their environment. Remember, nothing is still in drama – even if the character is seated at a table – he is bound to be flicking a cigarette, swirling a cup of coffee or yawning.

The reading-sharing-critiquing of our own written work…

My flash fiction ‘Freedom’ was critiqued by the group. The reaction to this story was mixed; some having loved it to the point of wanting to pin it on their wall, while some curled away from it due to its minor horror / dark / pain content. This led me to think about the horror genre and how people can feel and react to it so differently.

Before I dig deeper into the discussion that took place, I will start by adding, that I wrote this piece after a very tired day at work. It was one of those days when my body and mind was exhausted, yet was also in a kind of thoughtful and reflective state. I had arrived home and questioned life and it’s routine – I’d asked myself ‘was there really any escape and ultimate freedom in this life, from work, from repeated pattern?’ Now, please don’t get me wrong, I love life and I love my routine, but on that particular day I was completely worn-out and thinking how nice it would be to stay in a position of freedom forever. And so I decided to allow all of these emotions evolve into a story.

Read the story Freedom

When the group began to discuss the story, the first word that came up was ‘pain’. One writer seemed to recoil at the idea of pain and blood, and the need to have to experience this to achieve her ultimate freedom. Another writer explained that he did not think the themes were horrific in the slightest – that we are all born into this world in pain, with blood – and that the themes are a normal part of our existence.

Another writer also saw it is a ‘watch what you wish for’ – which was quite an interesting take on the plot. This raised thoughts like ‘maybe we should all be happy and content our lives. May be the ‘wanting more’ is ultimately what causes us unhappiness – that it is about living in the now and not the past or future.’

It was very interesting to see the in-depth take on themes of the story – because originally, to me, the story was one that that had only expressed ‘escape’ – nothing else.

Some writers found the story Kafka-like and dreamlike – the fact that everything the character experiences does not possess full evidence of it actually happening– for instance, the writing just appears on the mirror – she does not see anyone or anything write it. This questioned the reliability of the story and the integrity of the characters mind.

franz-kafka

A writer had also mentioned the actual structure of the story. He liked how the story was split into two parts – the first part, the beginning, is where we live the characters’ dreams – and the second part, the ending, is where the dreams are played out and we experience them with her. This also led on to specific word-use in the story. Words such as ‘scrawled’ had a menacing, insidious feel – adding to the horror of the story. Some writers had mentioned the symbolism in the story – that bathing was a means to cleanse the soul – the perfect setting for the ultimate cleansing of her life.

I finished the discussion by informing them of an ending that I decided not to add the story – mainly because I wanted the reader to interpret it and end it in their own way. But for me, in my world, I pictured the character breaking the glass of the window, flying out towards her faraway land –  wherever that was, and ultimately achieving her escape.’

The next piece of work to be critiqued was a poem written by another writer. The title was called ‘Critique for the Day’. This had a fairy-tale quality and structure, which was nicely fused with darker words and themes of the piece. The writer had confessed after the discussion, that is was an autobiographical piece that came to be written because he always found himself concerned with his own thoughts – and how much they could be portrayed by others if he were to share them. A comment was made by another writer (before the writer confessed) that we ‘all assume the protagonist was human – when it could have in fact been about an ice-cube or an insect.’ There was nothing to assume the subject was human actually – and so this thought led me into thinking about the wonderful world of animation.

The last critique was on a poem – a selection of observations that all occurred to people at the same moment in time – lunchtime. I had commented on the humour which mostly occurred in the habits of the characters during their meal break. It made me think about comedy and how humour may be at its best when we hear or read about habits and moments that we all have in common but rarely share with each other. I also mentioned that the story reminded me of CCTV – a camera moving around on all the characters at the same moment in time – in my mind I pictured a series of moving pictures. It was asked if all the characters were related, and I guess all the readers were expecting some final answer in the story to show that they were. In the end it was revealed the only way they were related was in the essence of time. This was kind of difficult for me to grasp, being a writer of stories – and I guess I have to learn to accept that some pieces are not always stories – but are there to exist purely as themes, emotions, thoughts, concepts and rhythms.

Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood was mentioned as being the inspiration behind the poem. The writer had commented that it had been his goal to capture the minute details of everyday life, just like Dylan had. I think this concept of ‘minute detail’ is a brilliant tool for flash fiction. I believe one minute detail (whether it be an object in the setting, the habit of a character) can light up a story like a lightning storm.

under milkwood

I hope you found some of the ideas in this month’s write-up inspiring. I am loving these sessions – they are certainly opening up my mind to new ways of thinking and seeing things – as a writer and a reader.

Until next time, happy reading and writing!

Donna x

©2014.alittlebirdtweets

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