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Friday, 27 July 2012

Barbara Algie on Flash Fiction

The power of words is extraordinary. In the past they have started (and ended) wars. They can make or break lives. But do we know how to use them wisely and well and are we doing so?

If one sits down to write a novel one has the luxury of being able to waffle one's way through thousands of them, using as much padding as we had in the shoulders of our 1940’s dresses. Today the latest gimmick is a speed-orientated writing world known as ‘Flash Fiction’.   Take any long story you wrote years ago and reduce it to 300 words or less.  Harder than you think but, when accomplished, you have the very same story condensed for space-age readers who haven’t the time in which to delve into lengthier volumes.

 Politicians are the ones who excel at actually manipulating words, for after a lengthy speech in Parliament, it is often difficult to remember what was their actual subject matter, let alone what they intend doing to  rectify the issue.   Perhaps Flash Fiction could be a viable option for them.

 Today, with multi-tasking being the order of the day and the quick-fire speech of the young (sometimes so fast and unintelligible that I feel the need to book myself a hearing test) words are being grossly abbreviated to the detriment of gracious living.   People are always looking for shortcuts to accomplish their goals.

For instance a proposal of marriage, once a leisurely romantic pursuit, has now been jet propelled into the future and, with a vivid imagination, can take place anywhere from a few fathoms under the ocean by couples wearing matching flippers and snorkels to halfway through a bungy jump where, linked together and upside down, they somehow manage to get it right in spectacular fashion.

All this speed has taken its toll on the education of the young.   Children do not seem to be taught to ‘write’ in schools any longer and are unaware what their printing look like when linked together. Texting is one of the reasons for their inability to spell.  Who needs to be able to spell when one can text  ‘Kn U kum 4 T 2nite rskd rnty B’?   And so the importance of spelling now also received a final kick in the ass. 

And so what’s next?

I would like to think that meaningful, well-spelt words will continue to stay in fashion.  That writers will still produce novels and stories with delightful descriptions which inspire and entertain us, that libraries and books will remain (despite the arrival of e-pads and whatever next is in the pipeline) and that those Flash  Fiction kids will come and go into cyber space.

I personally prefer my fairy stories to begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and the endings to be ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ but of course this isn’t always the case in this Life in the Fast Lane.



Thursday, 19 July 2012

Vicky Adin on branding for writers

I’ve been thinking lately about brands. Ask anyone with a brand how important it is to their business and they will tell you it’s gold. Whether it’s foods, drinks, franchises, celebrities or events, their colours, style and what they are known for is vital to their success. So, how do we brand ourselves as authors?

One of the advantages of self-publishing is authors are not tied to any style or genre. Come to think of it, what is a genre? Some styles and genres are easily defined and are accepted and understood by everyone. The basics are whether it’s fiction or non-fiction; for adult, teen or children; for men or women. Within those definitions are the non-fiction sub-themes of biography, sport, cooking, health and travel amongst others and within those definitions there are a myriad of niche topics designed to meet a select market.

What market are fiction writers targeting? It could be anything – westerns, ‘chick lit’, romance, thriller, adventure, crime, comedy and so much more; light hearted or deep and meaningful. We are free to choose. Whilst the current trend, especially within traditional publishing houses (and TV and films), seems to be based on the ‘yuck factor’ in my opinion, we do not have to be controlled by trends.  These so-called entertainment modes are embodied by extreme gore and violence while trying to overcome the enemy, whether it is vampires, science fiction characters or evil monsters (including recent adaptations of childhood classics).  I’m all for wild imagination but from a societal viewpoint this trend of ‘winning at all costs’ by destroying another is disturbing.

I am not interested in subjecting myself to such concepts. It’s not going to be my brand and that is the glory of self-publishing. I can choose my brand and market it to people ‘like me.’ I can choose my colours and style and if I consistently use them through logos on my business cards, on my give-away bookmarks, on my website, through social media networks, on my advertising material and on my emails, invoices, notepaper etc, maybe people who like my style will notice me and when they do, then I too have a brand.

My brand will be stories about family, ancestors and history because I think they are important. About finding the skeletons in the cupboard that can be both heartbreaking and heartwarming and everything in between. My colours will be reds and golds, glowing, warm colours bathed in antiquity that hopefully will brighten and enlighten my readers.

            Without ancestors we are nothing; without us they are forgotten.

Do you have a brand?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Using words responsibly

I have been very conscious lately of how easily the value of something can be enhanced or diminished through the words chosen by its protagonists or detractors. 

The first to come to mind is the polarising of opinions resulting from the Auckland City Council approving the expenditure of $10.6m on the V8 Supercars event.  The report which might have changed the way the council voted, was deliberately withheld by Auckland Tourism, Economic and Events Development, the arm of council charged with ensuring the council has sufficient facts at its disposal to make informed judgments.

In his book (Heart of Stone) about the death of his daughter Azaria, Michael Chamberlain talked about ‘the first great lie’ – when he was told by one of the police detectives involved in the case, that Azaria’s clothing had been found, neatly folded in the crevice of a rock.  A subsequent police lie was uncovered when it was found the blood in the Chamberlains’ car was in fact a mixture of spilt milkshake and chemical spray.  They were two of many.  Now, thirty two years after Azaria’s disappearance, a coroner has concluded the Chamberlains were right all along.

Another row is brewing in New Zealand over the government’s proposed asset sales.  Iwi the length of the country are referring back to the Treaty of Waitangi as they claim their right to be included in the decision making process, whilst the government seems determined to ignore its legal obligations.

What an incredible, powerful tool we have at our disposal.  And when we consider how easily an honourable process can be subverted, how the possession of that tool calls upon us all to act with integrity and decency. 

As writers we have the capacity to enhance others’ lives, or to diminish them.  It is a gift.  Use it with courage.

Hacker Mac

(Erin McKechnie.)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Win a book!

Have a look at Matthew Wright's latest non-fiction book on New Zealand history - it has some surprises about our convict past. Looks like the Aussies pinched that one from us as well!

"It's the sordid true story of New Zealand's first Europeans in the early-to-mid nineteenth century - a scurrilous bunch of convicts, ex-convicts, miscreant sea captains and low-downs who Maori despised and who colonial authorities in Sydney tried very hard to keep under control." Published by Penguin and released this weekend.

I've been following Matthew's blog as he wrote the book and it sounds like a real corker. And if it's our blog that gets picked out of the hat - bags I keep the book!


Friday, 6 July 2012

Words...and a recipe!

What use words?

Well, let me tell you words were an enormous help to me last week.

There I sat, watching ‘River Cottage’ on TV’s Prime Channel as Hugh and his friend showed us how easy it is to bake your own bread. Then a whole gang of bods joined in the bread sport and made their own amateur loaves - while I sat drooling. Bread! The staff of life! I love it! I hate it! It makes me fat!

I watch ‘River Cottage’ because I admire home- gardeners and home-bakers. Their industry and enthusiasm takes me back to what my memories tell me were better times; when my father gardened and my mother baked – PASTRY – yes! I remembered the old coverless cookbook at the back of my pantry (the one that falls apart a little more every year). And Hey Presto! On page 95 of that ‘NZ TRUTH COOKERY BOOK’ was a ‘NEVER-FAIL SHORT PASTRY’ recipe.

I made it. My husband (I tell you true) even grated the butter for me. We watched. We waited. While under the shin-bone steak (cooked long and slow) that simple pastry cooked its bed and browned its edges. It adorned my pies like royalty. The smell tantalized. The taste? Ambrosia! That pastry blessed our tummies and our hearts and topped an apple pie the next night as well.  

What use words?

Well! Words don’t always have to be highfalutin. Practical, everyday directions need words. Recipes need words and that recipe was printed in 1946. Yum!

This is Jean ‘Angel’ Allen hoping you like the words you are reading today.

Recipe for NZ Truth Cookery Book came out just after World War Two


SIFT 1 lb of flour with 1 dessertspoon baking powder and pinch of salt. Grate in 8 ounces of butter and mix to a soft consistency with milk. Suitable for pie shells, sausage rolls, meat pies and small tarts.