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Dear Wit: Letters from the World’s Wits

Published April 19, 2013 by Jill London

wordsDear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

This spunky (?) letter was written by Robert Pirosh as a brave attempt to catch the attention of potential employers in Hollywood in order to secure work as a scriptwriter. The letter worked, you’ll be glad to know, eventually winning Pirosh a job as a writer for MGM.

gotta_dance

As someone wise once said (and can anybody give a final answer as to whom it was?); Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it

For more letters like this one check out http://www.lettersofnote.com/

Maeve Binchy on what makes a page turner

Published April 8, 2013 by Jill London

Page-turn·er  n. Informal – A very interesting, exciting, or suspenseful book, usually a novel.

Today, in our writers corner is a short video clip of Maeve Binchy speaking about characterization and what makes a page turning story. I think Maeve picks up on some important points here in a nicely succinct and encouraging way.

Pace is, of course, vital to creating a page-turning novel but it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean 100% overdrive at all times. Readers can get burned out. They need peaks and valleys, excitement teamed with periods of reflection or planning when the characters take…a pause. From there the reader is ready for the ride once more. Too much all at once can actually be an enormous turn-off for the reader, who will most likely feel swamped and confused by too much adrenalin in a novel. If you are confused about the idea of peaks and valleys let me direct you to Jack Bickham’s 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes.

When you do write those peak scenes make sure that they are real heart-stopping nail-biters, make your reader hang on your every word and above all be sure that they care about what happens next – that they are vitally invested in those characters. Be sure that you have wrung every ounce out of every scene because it’s all too easy to sit back contented too soon. You, the author, are your protagonist’s worst enemy, don’t give them any easy breaks, throw them into all manner of trouble any time you find the chance. Your reader will love you for it and, what’s more, they’ll be coming back to you for more of the same.

See also: The perennially useful Writers and Artists website on the Seven secrets of writing a page-turner by Emma Bowd.

Do you have a vital formula that you’d like to share for the perfect page turner? How should writers go about dealing with pace in their novels? Your comments are always appreciated.

Children’s classic fiction – the favourites, part 1

Published March 23, 2013 by Jill London

Today, in light of my recent post on the Vintage Children’s Reading Challenge, I want to do a whistle-stop tour of some of my favourite classic books and their authors. Just thinking back to these wonderful childhood reads got me all misty-eyed and nostalgic. Some of these books might be new to you but some will no doubt be favourites of your own, either way come with me and take a wander in the dreamy mists of children’s classic fiction.

  1. E. Nesbit – Oh it had to be Edith to start them off. I adored E. Nesbit’s books when I was young and even now if you take a look at books like The Enchanted Castle, or The Railway Children you will find an addictive and entertaining read (not all of these authors have worn as well as Nesbit but I’ve included them for the sheer joy they brought me).  Nesbit wrote some truly great characters in her stories, like the imperious and opinionated Phoenix and the grumpy and evasive Psammead (that’s ‘Sammy-ad’ for the uninitiated) and many fans who read the books as children will even now shiver with horrid delight at the mention of the Ugly-Wuglies. Nesbit was also a fascinating individual, smoking cigarettes and wearing her hair short way back in the Edwardian era, and she brought up her husband’s child (born to his mistress) alongside her own. Her autobiography Long Ago When I Was Young is well worth looking out for. You can catch up online: http://willow.creative-interweb.com/library/book/kids/nesbit/
  2. philippa_pearcePhilippa Pearce – Do the classics get the recognition they deserve? Well, in 2007 a panel of reviewers set out to discover the nation’s favourite Carnegie and Kate Greenaway winners of all time and awarded Pearce 2nd place for Tom’s Midnight Garden (Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights was no 1 btw): Not bad going for a book published in 1958. In the novel, as the grandfather clock strikes 13, Tom is transported back through time to to meet his Victorian play-mate Hatty. Is she a ghost, or is he? I loved reading Tom’s Midnight Garden but also A Dog So Small and The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural which features, amongst other creepy stories, a memorable one about a wonderfully unpleasant child-sized mannequin.
  3. Catherine Storr – Marianne Dreams. On her tenth birthday, Marianne is forced to bed with a fever. Unsurprisingly disappointed, she picks up a pencil and starts to draw a house. That night she dreams, and as she does she finds herself transported to the house she has drawn, and the haunting and mysterious world beyond. A fantastic story that has always stayed with me and remains one of my all-time favourites.
  4. L.M_MontgomeryL. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables. In 1868 Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, a well-loved classic (and deservedly so) spawning a host of similar books including What Katy Did (by Susan Coolidge and also good) and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.  I ate up this series, making it the favourite choice for me above Alcott or Coolidge, and even picked Anne for my youngest daughter’s middle name (it must be Anne with an ‘e’ as you’ll well remember if you read the books). Other fans, similarly inspired by Anne, contribute to ‘an important part’ of tourism in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where apparently her image is on their number plate.
  5. L.M. Boston – Green Knowe series. In his great-grandmother’s ancient house Tolly befriends the spirits of 3 children tied to the house and with them explores the enchanting history of this ‘ancestral home’. For the fourth book in the series, A Stranger at Green Knowe, Boston won the Carnegie Medal, and was a  runner-up for both the first and second books. You can find out more about this wonderful ‘real life’ house here: http://www.greenknowe.co.uk/history.html The Children of Green Knowe was adapted into a BBC drama serial in 1986 and I don’t think the public have stopped pestering the BBC to make it into a DVD. There is a rumour that the original series has been lost, but fear not, you can still catch the episodes on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdhiI8XmJQI . “Green Noah, demon tree, evil fingers can’t catch me!”

As always, if you have any thoughts don’t be shy – share! Do you think Nesbit and Pearce deserve more credit? Or have I missed anyone better? (Part 2 of this feature will be coming soon btw!) Do you have a favourite that needs more praise? Tell us about them! I need lots of suggestions for the reading challenge.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror

Published March 15, 2013 by Jill London
Cover of "Uncle Montague's Tales of Terro...

Cover of Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror

On my reading table at the moment is Chris Priestley’s highly entertaining and spooky read Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror. I’ve been meaning to get round to reading this one for a while, too long really as there are now more in the series to catch up with. The book can be read as a standalone however, and is told in the form of a series of creepy stories linked by their narrator, Uncle Montague, as he entertains his nephew, Edgar, while outside the window a swirling fog descends.

The book is very beautifully illustrated by David Roberts, though for me the illustrations suggest a ‘safer’ more child-orientated story than what’s actually on offer. There is more than a hint of Poe here (hence the protagonist’s moniker) and I was very much reminded of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I should point out here that I am highly susceptible to horror, and that the book is aimed at a 9-12 year age group, so don’t expect anything to rival Stephen King. That noted I should also warn the squeamish that there are a number of grisly murders in the stories, and indeed some cruelty to small animals, and if you aren’t running for the hills by now I congratulate you on your fortitude.

If you do read Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror you will find that Priestley is very much in control of his narrative, which is quite traditional in tone, and that he has a real gift for creating a chilling atmosphere in a variety of settings (from rural England to suburban London and even Turkey). The characters are deftly drawn, though not always sympathetic (you couldn’t really suffer their demise if it were otherwise) but I will say that the ending probably isn’t as good as the one your piqued imagination will have conjured, but don’t let that deter you from reading this page-turning, read-it-with-the-lights-on, chiller.

Tove Jansson

Published March 12, 2013 by Jill London

In terms of embarrassing confessions how does the fact that I completely missed Tove Jansson as a child rate? Pretty highly I would think, a bit like saying that you never ate a rusk before or never painted a finger-painting, but there you are. I came across a BBC programme about her a short while ago and apart from discovering that Jansson was a very fine artist and writer I discovered that she was a highly interesting woman, something I had only guessed at whilst reading The Summer Book as an adult. Well, second childhoods can arrive at any time and if you share my embarrassing confession you can take one small step here to discover what we’ve been missing. The film is delightful so please do enjoy.

You can catch the film here:

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