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Friday, 24 June 2016


There! You see! I told you it wouldn’t last. I always said people would eventually go back to reading an actual book and not a digital hand-held thingamajig. The Association of American Publishers reckon there was a decline in e-book sales of 14% in 2015 compared to 2014. Only 34% of book buyers actually own one of these things and they still spend half their reading time with a real book.

Publishers are left scratching their heads in perplexity wondering why e-reader ownership has been stagnant for the past three years. Well, I can tell them. Having splurged out last month on a very basic Kindle, I think I can see the difference between an e-book and a real book.

Okay, those little tablet things are convenient. If you’re going on holiday they’re magic. You can upload all the books you need for your trip away and you don’t have to tote around a whole sack-load of books. They don’t disintegrate when getting wet in the bath (at least I don’t think so), and an e-book is cheap although increased pricing may be partly to blame for the fall-off. One thing I really like is I can change to a bigger font. I can also buy books that I wouldn’t normally spend money on. I like the fact that some writers are being canny and uploading the first book in a series for free. A neat touch, that.

But there’s apparently something called digital fatigue that seems to be playing a major role in the decline. Folk who spend up to five hours a day gazing at some form of screen at work don’t really want to do that in their leisure time as well.

Who is it reading electronic books anyway? Usually your 18-24 age group and they’re the ones with their noses stuck onto their work computer. Interestingly, this age group is also the group buying the most real books. Us oldies haven’t been sold on e-books. We are the ones more likely to be reading but perhaps not buying as much as we used to. Taking out an e-book from the library is maybe more than we can manage; certainly more than I can manage. If you are replacing older technology the new stuff has to be ten times better. Are e-books ten times better than real books?

Give me a real book any day. It’s a tactile thing. I love the way a new book smells, the velvety feel of a cover, the ability to read the ending before getting there.

Hey! That may not be such a good idea!
Jenny Harrison

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Book Cover Judging, Anyone?

I was strolling along the vast lines of shelves in a Chapters Bookstore in Canada this week when I came across a new edition of Colleen McCullough's novel The Thorn Birds. I was struck by the cover - and not in a good way. This appears to be a prime example of everything indie authors are advised to avoid in order not to look like amateurs. There's a stock image of a woman - so far so good - but a house is plopped randomly in the bottom corner and a fussy blue border distracts the eye on three sides. The title sits uncomfortably over both house and face, and the shoutline beneath the author name is unreadable at almost any distance. The unfocussed face has vague blotches across it and the whole thing looks as if it was put together by an untalented teenager new to Photoshop. Is this what mainstream publishers have been reduced to as their bean-counters force them to cut costs?

Thank goodness we indie authors have the time and resources to produce good, well-designed covers that explain the genre and entice the reader while pleasing the eye. We aren't forced to conform to a publisher's business model but can create something worthwhile and appropriate to our work.

Here are some of the other cover versions of The Thorn Birds through the decades - see if you can spot the one you read back in 1977 or in the intervening years.

That's all for now from the summery wilds of Ontario. Keep on writing!

Bev Robitai

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Reading is Alive and Well says Vicky Adin

Macintosh HD:Users:vickyadin:Desktop:library_writing_room.jpgThe Blog Master is keeping me up to the mark and insisting I write this blog despite the fact that I am thousands of kilometres away from home and sailing the wide blue oceans on a cruise ship.
As I write this, we are sailing through the Red Sea, heading towards the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean having already seen some amazing sights, but with more sea days than ports so far (I won’t bore you with the details – you can see the photos on my Facebook page if you’d like to know more). Then we will head to the Baltic for the non-stop port after port stopovers with few at sea days. The two-day visit to St Petersburg will be the highlight of that section. No one can say there isn’t variety on offer.
On board, the daily list of activities while at sea covers two pages. You can start the day easy with breakfast in your room, or hit the deck running with zumba or at the gym, followed by quizzes to get your brain into action. A few hands of bridge or other card games will take you through to morning tea and then it’s lecture time with varied topics covering everything from Ancient Greece, historical figures, and opera through to space and the stars, in addition to the port lectures. After lunch, the pools are inviting, the movies enticing and there are endless deck games to enjoy, as well as dancing lessons and music to listen to or sport to watch if you prefer - and don’t forget the shopping. After dinner there are live stage shows, late night movies and more music and dancing - but one of the most popular activities on board is reading. One you have to make time for amongst everything else on offer.
The library is a comfortable room lined with bevelled glass-paned doors behind which lurk books for every taste and genre: non-fiction, fiction, hard-backs, paperbacks, foreign language, atlases, magazines and music. The leather armchairs with their matching footstools are always in use and the shelves are more often empty than full. People hover around the returns cupboard when a staff member opens the door, hoping to find the next adventure to delve into.
I donated three of my books – The Cornish Knot, The Art of Secrets and The Girl from County Clare - to the library and I haven’t seen them since. They must be somewhere on the ship but they’ve certainly never made it back onto the shelf. I know there are people waiting to read them, but how they are going to find them I have no idea. It’s a fluid system, without a regular librarian to assist.
Everywhere you go – past the loungers in the shade on the Promenade Deck, along the rows of sun loungers up by the pools, and in the many indoor lounges, people are reading books. It’s a heart-warming sight.
Yes, people are reading – and most of them are books: real books. But look closely and many of the iPads and mini-iPads have books on display, and e-readers rest in other hands. Despite the staff working very hard to make sure there isn’t a minute of our day without something to do, when R&R is needed books are the tonic.
Take heart, fellow authors and keep writing – there is a future for us, even if only on cruise ships. Have you counted how many of those there are in the world and how many thousands of people travel on each one? The opportunity is limitless.

Vicky Adin

Friday, 10 June 2016


Are you a perfectionist? Do you continually fiddle with the finished article, blog, paragraph, and sentence? Is that book still sitting on your computer because it isn’t perfect? Are you forever asking friends, family or strangers to read your work and then, worst of all, take notice of what they say? Yeah, I know. Me too.

Our problem is that we lack confidence in our ability to write a thoroughly good book, article or whatever. We want to see the destination long before we’ve even begun the journey. We plan ahead, we may even mindmap the darn thing, and then are terrified something will happen to upend our carefully thought-out diagram. We’re tinkering merrily along and suddenly a new character pops up. Horrors! That won’t do. No, no. Get back in your box, new character. I can’t have you messing with my plot.

But, you know what? That new character or that new sub-plot is what your book probably needs. So loosen up and let the new voice tell you how it is going to change your work for the better. As a writer we need to flow, to float on ideas, memories, hazily caught conversations, and titbits we’ve read. To try to impose on our creativity is only going to end badly.

No good creation came from tightly-held reins.

Now, get over the perfection, already! We all write crap and most of us write it every day and then the next day we delete it. That’s life, there’s even a little button called ‘delete’. But hold on! It’s there if we dig into what we’ve written we may just pick up the nugget.

Life is always in flux, the inspiration to write comes and goes like the ebbing tide. Ideas come and go. It’s day, it’s night. The tide’s in, the tide’s out. Perfection isn’t permanent and what seems crap today may be tomorrow’s best-ever. Always remember your present circumstance isn’t your final destination. The best is yet to come. And the best will not necessarily be perfect.

So, write, my friend, open the floodgates. Write as if no one is going to read it and put perfection into the bin where it belongs.


Jenny Harrison

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Erin McKechnie researches writing comedy

Ever since I started writing I’ve wanted to write humour well and easily, but despite having a great sense of humour, most of my written efforts are flat and embarrassingly devoid of any fun. So I’ve checked out the thoughts of other writers who seem to know more than me. Here is a piece from Leigh Anne Jasheway. Follow the link to the original post here.


10 Ways to Improve Your Writing While Thinking Like a Comedy Writer


 Does it sometimes feel as if your writing is a dog chasing its tail—you circle around and around, but keep returning to the same themes, characters and ideas? But does the thought of going down a new path cause your palms to sweat and your heart to beat like a hummingbird who’s downed a double espresso? If so, you may have SWEATS: Serious Writer Experiencing Anxiety and Timidity Syndrome. The surest sign: You have on occasion referred to yourself as a “Serious Writer” without cracking a smile.

Fortunately, you don’t need medication to cope with your ailment—all you need is a shot of Comedy Writing 101.

It doesn’t matter what writing style you call home; every writer can benefit from learning a few new tricks. If you’re a fan of such bestselling authors as Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, Christopher Moore or Maureen Dowd, you know that humor can be a great tool in many different genres. But beyond that, the reckless act of trying to be funny can free any writer from the fear of taking chances and boost creativity in unexpected ways.
With that in mind, here are 10 ways you can improve your writing by thinking like a comedy writer.

Incongruity is the main reason we laugh. When logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together, such as a man lying in a hammock in an elevator, humor arises naturally as our minds recognize that things are out of place and try to find a way to make them connect.

Donna Gephart, author of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award–winning middle-grade novel As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is President, notes: “I always strive for the unexpected—quirky characters, unusual settings, wild plot ideas, etc. And I tend to find opportunities to sneak more humor into my books through successive revisions.” But incongruity is effective in other ways, too. Even if your goal isn’t laughter but simply keeping your readers engaged, you can use incongruity to keep things fresh by finding ways to combine unexpected elements.

A great way to summon incongruity is an exercise I call the Journalistic Association List. Simply write the words who, what, where, when and why across the top of a sheet of paper and separate the columns with vertical lines. Then draw a horizontal line about halfway down the page. Choose your topic (the more concrete, the better—for example, “space travel”) and in the appropriate columns in the upper half of the grid, fill in all the words you naturally associate with the topic. Then ask yourself, What don’t I associate with this topic? Fill the bottom half of the page with your answers. (See Page 20 for a short example of what this exercise might look like, though yours should be much longer.) Select the most interesting associations, and consider: How can you use them to add interest to your work-in-progress?

Similar to incongruity is the idea of misdirection, a concept used by all writers who make readers believe they
are going down one path and then lead them astray. In comedy, the setup of a joke provides direction and the punch line provides misdirection, which is why it goes at the end.

“Learning the art of misdirection has benefited both my novels and my stand-up comedy by giving me the ability to zap an audience with the unexpected,” says bestselling mystery author L.J. Sellers, a former comedy-writing student of mine. But that doesn’t mean just throwing in a twist near the end of a story. Instead, consider using misdirection throughout any given piece in order to keep your readers guessing.

One of my favourite exercises for generating misdirected ideas is called Illogical Ways. First, choose a problem you’d like to resolve with misdirection. For example, let’s say you’re writing a novel and your main character needs to have a broken leg. Your goal is to find illogical ways for that to happen. Starting at the end of the alphabet (because it makes your brain work differently), list one illogical way for each letter. For example:

• In a ZEBRA stampede
• Slipping on nonfat YOGURT
• A XYLOPHONE accident
• WEARING pantyhose too tight, causing her to trip …

You can use this exercise to push even the most benign details of your stories beyond the obvious, keeping your readers enthralled along the way.

Comedy relies on repetition. Watch a sitcom and notice how often something is repeated before the big laughs come. The magic number is usually three—an action is repeated twice, and then the third time, the writer goes for the hilarity.

But repetition serves a purpose beyond just building the joke: It gives readers a feeling of being an insider, someone who knows what’s going on because they were there the first time. Whether you’re striving for humor or not, consider how you might use repetition and the “rule of three” as devices to achieve this.

Building on the idea of repetition, the running gag is a popular comedy device. A running gag is an amusing character, situation or catchphrase that reappears throughout a work. It’s easiest to illustrate this concept using examples from TV comedies: On “Cheers,” everyone yells “Norm!” every time that character comes into the bar; on “Home Improvement,” Wilson’s face is always obscured by something; and whenever Rose (Betty White) starts to tell the other women on “The Golden Girls” a St. Olaf story, the laughs begin before she even reaches the punch line.

You can draw on the effective idea of a running gag without it actually being a “gag.” Simply introduce an endearing character quirk into your next short story, or end an essay or article with a recognizable tagline, and you’re there.

A callback refers to using a memorable line from the beginning of a piece later in another context. This is an excellent tool for creating a feeling of completion in readers’ minds. Fans of Dave Barry will recognize this as something he frequently uses to close his humor columns. (Once you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll see I’ve used it as well). The great news is, a callback doesn’t have to be funny to work. Try it and see.

It’s very hard to write funny or innovative stuff if you’re in a serious mood, so I always strive to be as childlike as possible when approaching my craft. As children we were motivated by fun and didn’t have an inner critic whispering in our ear, “Is this project leading to something worthwhile and productive?” Most researchers and parents agree that young children (from 3-7) laugh much more often than most adults. Clearly we knew something decades ago that would come in handy now.

No matter your genre, lack of playfulness can drain the creativity out of your writing faster than a leaky bathtub drains chocolate milk and Lucky Charms. The best way to introduce more childlike fun to your writing is to follow Shakespeare’s advice: “The play’s the thing.” Of course, he meant this in another context—but this article is about taking things out of context, so go for it! Play with your children or your pets. Take an improv class. Dance badly to your favorite music. Take recess instead of a coffee break. Just make sure your inner 5-year-old has a chance to play at least once a day, and even more often when you’re facing a writing deadline.

Of all genres, humor is one that lends itself best to short-form writing, which is why it’s a great field for writers with commitment issues. Stalled in your efforts to write the Great American Novel? Take a break and write sticky notes, greeting cards, one-liners and T-shirts instead. I do. Behold, some of my recent work:

• On an apron: My other apron burned in the fire.
• On a sticky note: You’re not the boss of me. Oh, wait, you are. My mistake.
• On a button: I’m now available in 3-D. Glasses not included.

The beauty about learning to write short and snappy is that it can help anyone create attention-grabbing titles, subtitles and sidebars. Gephart, who has written for a humorous greeting card company, agrees: “I think my practice writing short, funny lines … helped tremendously in my ability to come up with catchy titles for my novels.”

A great exercise for honing this talent is to set a clock for 10 minutes and try to write as many bumper
stickers as you can on a topic you’re currently exploring in your writing. When you’re done, choose a favorite.

How might you put it to good use?

One of the truisms in comedy writing is that it takes most writers approximately 10 attempts at a joke to create the funniest punch line. This is a great rule to remember as you’re rewriting your feature article for the seventh time. If things are going well, you’re way ahead of the game.

The rule of 10 also works in brainstorming, which is why I teach my writing students to use top 10 lists to come up with titles, plot points or character names. The most important part of this exercise is writing a headline that stimulates creativity. Instead of Top 10 Good Names for a Bad Guy, for example, try Top 10 Unexpected Names for a Bad Guy, or Top 10 Nicknames a Bad Guy Might Have Had in Middle School. The point is this: No matter what you’re writing, you should never settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Only good can come when you push yourself further.

Comedy writers and comedians tend to push buttons and boundaries. Think of Mae West, George Carlin, The Smothers Brothers, Larry Gelbart, Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman and Chris Rock, to name a few. It may be that people who are attracted to writing funny have fearlessness built into their DNA, or perhaps comedy is a socially acceptable form of expressing outrage at society’s foibles.

Fearlessness and unflappability, however, are important for any writer. The minute a voice says, “Don’t go there,” you may find that rejecting that advice will lead you to the most important writing adventure of your life. I’ve written many humorous political essays and wondered what consequences might ensue. But I haven’t let it stop me—despite the fact that I once came home to a message on my answering machine that began, “This is a call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. …”

Comedy writers who also perform are regularly exposed to others’ material. As a stand-up comic for the past 20 years, I’ve witnessed the work of several hundred other comedians. Watching and listening to them has influenced who I’ve become as a writer and performer.

In the same way, all writers should regularly learn from other writers. If you’re a poet and don’t attend local poetry slams, you’re missing out on the rush of creative thought that happens when you’re around others who do what you do. If you’re a writer and don’t participate in writing groups or conferences, now is a great time to change that.

With the idea in mind of exposing yourself to others’ work, I’ll leave you with one last exercise, which I call Where Do We Go from Here? Just write down a sentence or two from any piece of writing by a favorite author, then use that as a prompt to write two pages in your own style, going in any direction you want. For example, where would you go from Dorothy Parker’s, “I’d love to dance with you. I’d love to be caught in a midnight fire at sea”? Or how about Gelbart’s, “I don’t know why they’re shooting at us. All we want to do is bring them democracy and white bread”?

With all these techniques for pushing beyond the expected, learning to be silly and reaching outside your genre, it should be easier to approach new projects from a different perspective. And if you become a better laugher and have more fun at the same time, I won’t tell anyone. Your status as a Serious Writer is safe with me.

Thanks to Erin McKechnie for finding this useful post to share!