Saturday, 21 April 2018

TRADITIONS SURROUNDING MAYDAY IN FRANCE

It will soon be May 1st and Bank Holiday time in England. Here in France the day is also a holiday and celebrates not one but two fetes, Fete du Travail and Fete du Muguet. Both of them of equal importance to the French.


Lets take a look at the Fete du Travail - otherwise known as Labour Day. Labour Day is regarded as a public holiday here in France and everything closes (except for essential services) as everyone is legally entitled to this annual day off. This year May 1st will fall on a Tuesday and, as always, is designated as a day of action by the unions. You may, or may not, be aware of the French unions current disagreement with President Macron and the reforms surrounding employment and the economy he is trying to legalise. During April the unions started implementing a planned thirty-six days of strikes - to take place every Tuesday and Thursday over the next couple of months. So this year, fete du Travail will no doubt see a lot of protest action all over the country. Personally I shall be staying away from marches and protests and bunkering down at home and treating it as a normal working day - I might even get to finish the wip.





The May 1st holiday can actually be traced back to pagan rituals. For the Celtic people, this day marked the passing of the dark winter months to the return of the beautiful, sunny days of spring. On this day it has long been a French tradition to give those you love a little bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers - Muguets in French. Apparently on the 1st May 1561 a Muguet was given to King Charles IX of France as a lucky charm. He liked it so much he decided to offer them each year to the ladies of the court. Then around the 1900s men started to do the same to their wives and girlfriends. To give these flowers on 1st May means you are wishing happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring. I’ve heard too, that at one time during the 20th century, giving your loved one a single muguet or a rose on Mayday was observed more than Valentine’s Day in February. 

There is a curious tradition attached to the selling of Muguets in France. I haven’t been aware of it so much since living up here but when we lived in the south of France every Mayday there would be lots of young people standing on street corners with baskets over-flowing with Muguets for sale. It’s the one day of the year that a flower selling license is not required. Although they are supposed to adhere to just two conditions: not to stand within 40m of a legitimate florist shop and the flowers are supposed to have been picked from a personal garden i.e. not purchased for re-sale. Not sure how strictly those conditions were enforced!


Happy Mayday Bank Holiday when it arrives.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

BOOKS AND BERLIN

A sculpture close to
Bebelplatz
 As regular readers of the blog might know, travel and new experiences are what refills my creative well and so during the Easter break I set off with my family to visit the German capital, Berlin. It’s a magnificent city steeped in both pre- and post-war history that makes for a thought-provoking visit. We spent time in quiet reflection at both the Holocaust Memorial and at sites where it’s still possible to see parts of the Berlin wall. During the few days we spent there, we saw and learnt so much, however, given this is a blog mostly about books and writing, there are two standout memories I wish to share.

BEBELPLATZ

The Bebelplatz Memorial
The first was our trip to Bebelplatz, an imposing open square flanked by the grand stately buildings of Humboldt University, whose former professors include Albert Einstein and The Brothers Grimm. Beneath the square, visible through a glass panel, lies an empty library. Row upon row of stark white marble shelving. Enough to hold the 20,000 books, including works by Einstein, that were considered forbidden by the Nazis and burnt there, during the infamous book burning ceremonies that took place on the evening of 10th May 1933 in university cities across the country. 

THE BOOK THIEF

It’s an incident highlighted in Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, and also a chilling scene in the movie of the same name.

Beside the Bebelplatz memorial is a plaque with a quotation in German, written by poet and
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
journalist, Heinrich Heine in 1821 that reads…
That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people. As we now know, the bonfire of books was only the beginning of the terrors to follow.

HUMBOLDT UNIVERSITY

Nowadays, however, on the 10th May each year, the students of Humboldt University hold an annual book sale, where cushions are provided so the public can enjoy reading in the open air.


FORMER STASI PRISON


Next we travelled by tram, forty-five minutes east from the city centre, for a fascinating visit to the
Outside & Inside the Former Stasi Prison
fortified former Stasi (East GermanState Security Service) Jail. We saw the cramped cells and heard of the appalling conditions endured by political prisoners made up of journalists, authors, lecturers, politicians, writers and more, who were interrogated then forced to sign fake confessions, before being subjected to dummy trials.

Former inmates lead tours conducted in German. Whilst our excellent English speaking guide reminded us that although Berlin’s jail is now a museum piece, such institutions are still used in numerous countries around the world. A sobering thought.

AFTER THE WALL


After the Wall
by Jana Hensel
Whilst browsing in the museum bookshop I came across a memoir by Jana Hensel entitled After the Wall. Hensel was born in Leipzig, GDR (East Germany) in 1976 and is now a journalist for Der Spiegel. She was thirteen years old on 9th November 1989 when the Berlin wall fell and the foundations of the society she’d grown up in crumbled beneath her feet. After the Wall is a short account of what that meant, not only for Hensel’s generation, born under a Communist regime then having to learn the unwritten rules of how to live in the West, but also for her parents’ generation and the rifts/problems caused by the change.

So why was stumbling across this little book so special to me? – A fifty-year old Scottish woman?

INTO THE WOODS


Well during the mid-eighties, I took part in a school exchange visit and spent a week living with a
A remaining section
of the Berlin Wall
wonderful Bavarian family, at a time when Germany was still divided into East and West. One of my strongest memories of that trip, along with knocking back a tankard of beer at the local beer festival (an experience I opted not to share with my mum!), was an organised trip into nearby woods, to witness the wire fencing and young grim-faced East German armed guards who protected the border. Alongside the rifles, I remember a stillness only broken by bird song as I stared at trees on the other side, wondering what life was like for a teenager, like me, over there. Now, all these years later, because the Berlin wall toppled and politics moved on, Hensel’s writing and others like her, provide an insight and understanding. Surely that’s what gives books, whether fiction or non-fiction, their real strength?

Visiting Bebelplatz and the Stasi prison were both reminders of the power (and fear) of writing, as well as of authors who are driven by the desire to share their thoughts and stories.

Berlin Cathedral in the sunshine
Whilst Berlin’s turbulent past is horrendously sad, today it’s a beautiful city that is interesting to visit and that my family hopes to return to again soon.

 Rae

Further reading :

The Iron Curtain Kid by Oliver Fritz

Stasiland by Anna Funder

Saturday, 7 April 2018

A LITTLE KNOWN FEATURE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK by Victoria Cornwall

When I was a teenager I became temporarily blind. It lasted for several minutes and was caused by a head injury to the back of my head. I had slipped on some ice at school, fell backwards and hit the occipital lobe of my brain. This area of the brain is responsible for vision and the trauma caused me to suffer from cortical blindness.


I still have a vivid memory of having my eyes wide open but not being able to see. It was terrifying. I was fortunate, my eyesight returned completely, but many who suffer from impaired vision, either as a result of disease, injury or degeneration, are not so lucky.

What has my experience got to do with writing, books and the little known feature on Twitter and Facebook? I guess I just wanted to convey how suddenly we can find ourselves in the position of losing our sight.

On the 1st April, my debut novel, The Thief’s Daughter, was released by Soundings as an audiobook. It is narrated by the very talented and experienced voice-over artist, Emma Powell, and I believe her soft, husky and expressive voice adds to the experience of being whisked back in time to the 18th century. See if you agree by clicking HERE to listen to the preview.


I understand that those who enjoy listening to audiobooks do not have to be visually impaired as they make great companions whilst driving, working, enjoying a hobby or doing the housework. However, they do open up another world to those who do suffer with some degree of visual impairment and their importance cannot be over-emphasised.


I spend a lot of time on social media as part of promoting my writing. How was I going to promote the audio version of my novel to visually impaired fans of fiction? Screen reading software is great for the written word, but I wanted the cover of the audiobook to be accessible to them too. It turns out that Twitter and Facebook were already one step ahead of me.

In 2016, Twitter added a feature to help visually impaired twitter users “see” the images attached to tweets by allowing the tweeter to add a description to the image which could be read by screen reading software.

This is how you enable the feature:-
Click on your Twitter Profile drop down box and click on Settings and Privacy
Click on Accessibility
 Next to the Image Description tick Compose Image Descriptions.
The next time you tweet with an image, a box will appear for you to add a description. It does not work on schedule tweets and don't forget to use an appropriate hashtag such as #visuallyimpaired

Facebook has an alternate text feature for images too. To learn how to do it click on this LINK or follow the steps below:-
Upload a photo to your Facebook page and click on the edit icon.
Click on the Alt Text icon and fill in the box with the description of the image/photo you are posting.
Then click save in the bottom right corner.

So next time you post an image on Twitter or Facebook, consider making the image accessible to users who are visually impaired by using the features described above.

Do you know of any features that can be used to help increase the access to social media by the visually impaired? I would love to hear about them.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

SO, WHO'S A CHOCOHOLIC? LINDA MITCHELMORE

So, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, it is Easter and I give you .... chocolate! Yes, I know it's a Christian festival but ask any primary school child (and possibly more than a few senior ones) what they associate with Easter and they will say, 'Easter eggs!' - preferably chocolate ones. The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 350 BC. The Aztecs believed that cocoa (or cacao as they have it) seeds were the gift of Quetzaloatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. So, back to Easter eggs and their symbolism. The egg is an ancient symbol of new life, associated with pagan festivals celebrating Spring. From a Christian perspective they represent Jesus' emergence from the tomb, and resurrection. In Britain, the first chocolate bar was made by Joseph Fry in 1847. Then along came John Cadbury, jumping on the bandwagon, who further developed the chocolate bar in 1849. Both, of course, are trade names we know and love still. Now this is a writing blog so in the interests of research I decided to see how chocolate has been portrayed in literature. So, I Googled 'Chocolate/book titles'. Oh, my eye! I clicked on 'images' and there were screens and screens and screens of book covers ... hundreds if not thousands. The very popular and successful (and thoroughly good egg) Carole Matthews has given us THE CHOCOLATE LOVERS' CLUB. I mean, who wouldn't want to be part of one of those?
Scrolling down through, Joanne Fluke's CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MURDER jumped out at me. It surely must take the phrase, 'I could kill for a chocolate chip cookie' to another level!
And who can possibly forget another Joanne, Joanne Harris' CHOCOLAT - chocolate nipples anyone?
Of course, there is also that - possibly - most famous chocolate-themed book of all, Roald Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I've lost count of the number of times I've read that one to, and with, my children and grandchildren. If chocolate grabs the young reader then it's more than worth writing about, I'd say.
Now it's said that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, and that a high percentage cocoa solids chocolate is a health food. So, excuse me ..... I'm off to buy some chocolate.

Friday, 23 March 2018

An Acute Case of Impostor Syndrome


Just like me, Franz Kafka felt like a fraud.
Image in the public domain
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Hello. My name is Jennifer and I’m…an out-and-out fraud. 

I tell people that I’m a writer. It took me a long time to be able to do that, and even now there’s always a little voice in my brain that whispers: writer? No you’re not? 

But I go through with the pretence. I post about my books, I tweet the good reviews (there are some), I pretend that everything’s going wonderfully. And in terms of the writing, it is. I love my writing. I think it might be okay. I think it’s even better than some far more successful books, though I've read plenty of unpublished work that's miles better than either. But these days that doesn’t make you a writer. 

It's as much about sales and marketing these days as it is about writing. Everything has to be perfect — the strapline, the blurb, the cover. And below that flurry of obvious activity, there’s all the marketing — placing the ads, picking the niche, finding the keywords. And then there’s the face-to-face selling. ‘Here, take my card. I know you’ll love this book.’ And that’s the bit I can’t do. 

The worst of it, though, is that failure at the marketing side of it undermines any joy you get from working at the coal face (or the computer screen). I love writing. I’ll always write. When I stop for a period, I become genuinely depressed until I start again. It’s something I have to do. But that doesn’t make me a writer. It makes me someone who writes. 

There’s a name for this. It’s called impostor syndrome. I know many, many people who suffer from this, and a huge proportion of them are writers. It's always been like this. Take Franz Kafka: "Afraid to finish a review for the Prager Tagblatt. Such fear of writing always expresses itself by my occasionally making up, away from my desk, initial sentences for what I am to write, which immediately prove unusable, dry, broken off long before their end, and pointing with their towering fragments to a sad future," he wrote in his diary. And I certainly know how that feels.

The problem, I think, is that rejection is part of the writer’s life. Every success — even a small one — is built on a dozen or more failures, and requires a huge amount of luck. Every failure brings misery and self-doubt until that's what we become conditioned to accept. Today when I open my email I’m always looking for the rejection letter and if I were ever to succeed, no doubt I’d be opening it looking out for the ‘sorry, we're dropping you’ email from my publisher.

I know I should give it up and do something measurable, where success in indisputable. (When you've run a marathon, no-one can argue that you’re a success, no?) But I can’t. There was never a better illustration of “can’t be together but can’t let go” than a writer and their writing…

(PS If you’d like to buy any of my books you can find them here, but pleased don’t feel obliged).

Saturday, 17 March 2018

SPRINGING INTO SPRING

The theme for our joint blog this time is spring cleaning our desks and our writing.

Victoria has this to say abut spring cleaning:

I don’t usually wait for spring for a spring clean of my writing space. I tend to do it between projects. The “before” photo shows my desk in the middle of the editing phase of my third book in my Cornish Daughter series. My editor’s report and my "Editing Day" mug is within easy reach and I have been making some scribbled notes as I go. Previous to this, I wrote lying on my son’s bed, but the editing phase requires focus and room, so I moved off the bed and reclaimed my old desk. The after picture is my desk ready for a new project. A nice chamomile tea is waiting for me in my "Writing Mug". All I need is some inspiration and a bar of chocolate.


Terry says: It's All About the Work Space:

Writers by their very nature have a very distinctive and well-honed sense of place. Our desk serves as out sanctuary, the place where we pay homage our craft, so it stands to reason that spring is the perfect time to clean our desks, organise our massive amounts of paper (I don't know one writer who does not have an accumulation of notes, research material and story ideas stacked their workspace) and hope that our organised desktop will streamline our writing and make us more prolific. As you can see from the pile of stuff on my desk in the attached picture,I have my work cutout for me. I have notes to copy into my calendar, marketing content to compile, in addition to starting a new book. My books are set in the 1940s, so there is always researching and the quest for the 'historical 'kick'. (note to self: historical kick as a topic for a future blog post).

But Spring is here, and along with it the promise of new beginnings. So I embark on my annual cleaning regime, wondering all the while how I ever let the dust bunnies accumulate and promising to do a better job tending to these small details that are so easy to ignore when I'm in the middle of a project. While I work I think about the stories I will write, and when I'm finished (it really didn't take too long) my desk is clean, my vase is full of tulips and the promise of warm weather encourages me.

Wishing you all the joys and warmth of spring and her new beginnings.

Linda is very organised with her spring cleaning tactics:

I have two spring-cleaning tactics when it comes to my writing. The first is when I am giving myself permission to write, permission to not clean the house from top to bottom once a week, which is what I used to do pre-writing. To rid myself of the guilt that my house isn’t always fit for the Queen’s visit these days, I do a few of those jobs that rarely get done – bleaching the grouting between the bathroom tiles, scrubbing the tops of the kitchen wall cupboards, tidying my knicker drawer, dusting the tops of my paintings. It doesn’t take long and I know I can then happily write for months on end without worrying about any of the above.


The second tactic is when my writing has become stale. I’ve been writing, say, to suit certain magazine readerships, certain editors’ needs and wants, or doing an edit on a novel that again, is how someone other than I wants things done, and somewhere along the line I’ve lost my writing soul. At times like that I pick up my copy of Elizabeth Berg’s ‘Escaping into the Open – The Art of Writing True’. This is a wonderful book, charting how it is that Elizabeth Berg writes (in my opinion) her wonderfully emotional novels. There are various exercises to do that help us write from our souls and I open the book at random and do one or two. For the purpose of this blog post I have just selected these:-

a) The man is not crying but you know his heart is breaking. How do you know?

b) Your father tells you for the first time about the day your older sister – whom you’ve never liked – died. Write not only what he says, but what he does with his coffee cup while he tells you.

I always hand-write this exercise, sitting somewhere comfy. Before I know it I have covered six or seven pages of A4 ready to turn into a short story, or a scene in my work-in-progress.

Better get going …

Marilyn is worried:

Oh dear, I’ve been rumbled.  For while cupboards and drawers crammed with things I might just need one day keep my house respectable, my humble workspace (a small, ground floor bedroom) is my Achilles heel. So, when I heard we were being challenged to spring clean our workspace with ‘before and after’ photos as proof, I panicked. In the past I’ve resorted to photos of me writing in the sunshine, under a tree in the garden, or on holiday, a glass of vino in one hand and a pencil and notebook in the other.

While others might go for a writing retreat in Tuscany or meditate under a full moon to get their inspiration, it’s the much-loved clutter that gives me the incentive to scribble.  So, did I succeed in spring cleaning my office?  Reader, I cheated, just a little…


Lucky Rae meanwhile is having more than a spring clean:

A confession – here’s my current work area, which is nothing to be proud of! In my defence, I know where everything is and why it is placed just so. The real problem is that this chaos takes up most of our dining room table and needs to be moved each time we wish to use it, which isn’t ideal.
However, it’s the time of year for new beginnings and change is afoot. We have a small space fondly known as the playroom, which is no longer needed now our children are grown. It’s time to make more use of the space, and so began a project that’s included numerous trips to the local charity shop and tip. Mr C has done a fantastic job of both freshening the walls and transforming a cupboard with migraine inducing primary colours to a soft muted grey. And here’s my shiny new desk. It’s not quite in situ yet, as we’ve still to lay new flooring, but by the time this post goes live I should have my very own writing space. And should I ever get bored, there are still stacks of games in the cupboard to keep me entertained.



And finally, Jennie offers her abject apologises:

My office is in the small spare room downstairs and my work area runs almost the length of one wall. I did try on several occasions to tidy my desk but there were complications like this:


And at the other end:

Spring hasn't really burst forth yet has it? Maybe by the end of March when the sun shines on a regular basis the cats will depart to a sunny place in the garden and then I can spring clean my desk - or maybe not!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Hello!

Thank you for inviting me to participate in The Novel Point of View blog. I am so excited to be here to talk about the process of writing, to share information about books and research, and to get to know all of you. Writing is a solitary and subjective form of art. This morning I sat down to a blank screen wondering what on Earth I could say that would entertain and amuse you, dear reader. Writing a novel is a completely different beast. I create a world and spend 300 pages living in said world until I have a cohesive story. After which, a talented group of editors and readers tighten my prose until my books are ready for public consumption. All that is fine and good. But I am a rather introverted, solitary person who enjoys books, long walks, four-legged creatures, and good wine. In other words, I am b-o-r-i-n-g! I realise as I write these words that learning to celebrate and find joy in the ordinary is the gossamer thread that connects all of us.

Not everyone is put into this world to make a splash and change the way of things in a monumental way. I’m guessing that the visitors to this blog have a gentle fondness of words and story, accompanied by a curiosity about the creative process.
So as I set out to blog for you, know that I am learning and growing with every word as a writer and a story teller. I’ll be sharing my process with you, the blunders along the way, and—providence willing—the joys. Having said that, if there’s topic you would like to read about, let me know.
I’ve attached a vintage photo of a map and compass (to show me the way) and some lovely white tulips because… tulips!

Here’s a bit about me:
Terry Lynn Thomas grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches, windy dunes, and Gothic mysteries. When her husband promised to buy Terry a horse and the time to write if she moved to Mississippi with him, she jumped at the chance. Although she had written several novels and screenplays prior to 2006, after she relocated to the South she set out to write in earnest and has never looked back.


Now Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. Neptune’ Daughter is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion. She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, is slated to release in April 2018.  When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn riding her horse, walking in the woods with her dogs, or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.