The next Orwell? Mal Jones on his social commentary, Can Openers.

canopenersAs a child, I was told that I was a natural born story teller. However, it was my recent experience as a front line public sector worker that compelled me to write this novel. I have been a social worker for over 25 years, but the last four have really brought home to me the impact of a political debate: the ideological argument regarding the deserving and undeserving poor. This was the impetus that inspired me to write.

Can Openers has been described as Orwellian – possibly due to 1984. As a teenager, I read all of Orwell’s novels, and for me, the book that had the greatest influence on my writing was Homage to Catalonia. It provided some hope.

What I wanted to show in Can Openers is that however dark a society becomes, there is always hope for change. From where I stand, the question is how we make that change, and bring about a society based on our humanity, rather than one run for profit – or, as Orwell says, the ‘money God’. Change can come by relying on others, or, as I believe, that we as the working class – who create the wealth – should gain the confidence to change the world ourselves.

With everything going on at the moment – the dismantling of Nye Bevan’s hope for universal access to free health care, by recent attempts to limit care for those labelled as ‘obese’ or ‘drinkers’, and the Conservative warning of further colossal government cuts to come, we have good reason to be worried. Women, particularly, are disproportionately affected by the cuts and it appears that the state continues to control women’s lives. I wanted to show in Can Openers my concerns about where welfare policies could lead, and also to have strong female characters who are not just victims but challenge the status quo, as has happened over hundreds of years.

As a socialist, it is clear that the poor, the vulnerable, and the working class are being blamed for society’s downfall, when it is the very rich and the city bankers that have created this financial crisis. The money was there (and will be found again) to bail them out. It seems to me that there is no logic in the dependency argument, unless you are of wealthy means and want to divert attention away from yourself.

I wanted to create a story that was funny, but would also expose any stupid logic and show how irrational the policies and arguments around dependency are. I want to finish by quoting some words of hope by testament of Leon Trotsky,

“I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful, let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.”

If you’d like to read more about Can Openers, and Mal Jones’ insightful commentary on modern societal and political issues, visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/canopeners.html

Frozen: A Review by Nia Liversuch

3D Frozen

Elle A Rose’s latest novel, Frozen, is sure to secure a rightful position in the top favourite books list of young adults, and slightly older adults, alike. The novel is intriguing from the start, grabbing the reader’s imagination in a fierce grip and preventing them from having any inclination to put the book down until they have reached the final page.

Set in the distant future, Frozen charts the coming of age of a sixteen year old boy, Verick Cedar, and his survival in a stark, unforgiving land. This land is Earth, but not as we know it: brutal aliens called Xecerptavodes have invaded the planet during a period called The Great Takeover; draining it of its resources and causing its entire surface to fuse into one large mass. All surviving humans were forced to live in villages, called slums, constructed by their bare hands using mud and the remaining materials that did not perish during The Great Takeover.

The land is hot and bare and farming takes place underground. Verick and his family and friends are part of a generation that have learned to live with this situation; a close-knit society has been formed and there are rules to abide by and traditions to honour. However, despite their resilience, the villagers still have dangers to face. Frozen considers the largest of those, the Trick or Treat, which takes place on one night every year. Based on the familiar holiday/festival that we recognise as Halloween, the Trick or Treat harks back to its ancient roots, when spirits roamed the above ground for one night only; some good, but some evil. In the novel, during this fateful night, ancestors of the families rise again to protect them from the Xecerptavodes; freezing them in stasis for one night only, allowing men and women from each family to venture into the Xecerptavode villages to scavenge as many resources as they can. However, the spirits of the ancestors are not the only ones to rise, and the brave hunters must face a number of threats, including the vengeful ghosts of deceased Xerceptavodes…

Frozen opens as Verick is preparing for his first Halloween Trick or Treat, at the age of sixteen. Rose’s clever, accessible prose delves into the mind of the teenage boy, breaking through the barriers of strength and bravery that he presents to his family and friends. We are allowed access to his inner thoughts, and experience his emotions of fear, self-doubt and confusion along with him; creating a powerful bond between reader and narrator. Verick is a deep and complex character and his situation is both intriguing and sympathetic. As he struggles to train for Halloween, a shadow that looms over him, he also attempts to protect his family and maintain close relationships with friends – as well as coming to terms with his feelings as some of these friendships begin to take on romantic overtures. The reader follows Verick on his journey of self-discovery; and it soon becomes clear that his “coming of age” does not simply relate to battling ferocious aliens.

Frozen is a clever, complex novel, with a concept that is as fresh and gripping as its counterparts in the genre of young adult sci-fi fiction. Elle A. Rose skilfully weaves her narrative, considering a range of elements and ideas, all the while keeping the reader entirely focussed on the events taking place in the dystopian society of this future Earth. Rose balances vivid battles with detailed descriptions of daily life in the slums, and her consideration of how human life and society would function in such a situation is fascinating and deeply thought-provoking. The novel does have a tendency to seem rushed in parts, with some crucial information relating to the setting feeling as though it has been dropped in at random moments, but overall this is a tight, compact but expansive novel, and an excellent read.

 

To pick up your copy of Frozen by US author Elle A. Rose, visit http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/frozen.html.

Copies are available in paperback and all eBook formats, and all reviews are most welcome.

6 Common Mistakes Each Author Makes: Part III

Every book is different. But while every manuscript I have edited so far has demanded different levels of attention, there have been similar errors and mistakes appearing in each of them that I find myself correcting over and over again. It is true that each author has their own writing style and knowledge of their craft, but that doesn’t mean that the same mistakes can’t crop up from multiple authors.

I have compiled a list of the most common of these mistakes – in no particular order – plus the solutions to them. Here’s the third and final part of the list, focusing on narrative!

 

  1. Inconsistent Tenses

One thing that a lot of writers struggle with is narrative tense. On the surface, it all sounds pretty easy: you just have to decide whether your story is taking place in the past or the present. But once the confusing mix of “he said” and “she says” comes along, it’s not surprising that some people struggle to remain consistent.

What are tenses? Often novels are narrated by the author or a character speaking from after the events have unfolded and concluded. In most books, the past tense is used. In this tense you must write everything as though it’s already been done – he did, she walked, they thought. On the other end of the spectrum is present tense. This one is used when the narrator is reciting the events as they happen. So, he does, she walks, they think.

If you really want to push the boat out, you could use future tense. It’s not a particularly common one, though, and is often extremely hard to use (and, often, to read). But, for a small foreshadowing section, or a dream sequence, it may work quite well. You’d be using things like he will do, she will walk, they will think. But beware of repetition and confusing phrases; having a lot of narrative read like a premonition can be quite distracting and unnecessary!

But which one to use? In some novels, more than one tense is used. It is perfectly plausible for both past and present tense to be used in your narrative – in fact, I’d actually recommend it, just to keep the prose interesting and the story fresh. However, except in very rare occasions, it’s not a good idea to use two different tenses in the same section of your novel. If you wish to change from past to present, then definitely insert a new chapter, book section, or even just a scene. Also, having a reason for the change in tense will often allow the transition to run smoothly – for example if the story reaches the point the past tense narrator was reciting from, or if a new character or timeframe is introduced.

The main thing to do, though, is to keep in mind which tense you wish to use and stick to it. Be careful when writing to ensure you stick with the tense you’re using. And if you accidentally switch tenses halfway through, ask yourself which one works better – often if you’re prone to switching tenses it’s because the first tense you chose wasn’t working for that particular story.

 

  1. Character Thoughts in Third Person

Following on from tenses, something else I’ve noticed is that a lot of authors don’t know which tense or perspective to use when writing down character thoughts. For example:

 

I wonder what it is John is doing, Fred thought. Maybe I should help him…

The above often gets written as:

He wondered what John was doing. Fred thought, maybe he should go and help him…

 

The thing to remember with character thoughts (note: not the actual narrative prose) is that they work exactly the same as dialogue. They should be written in first person and in the present tense and laid out similarly with commas, thought tags, and italics instead of speech marks.

If you’re going to put a character’s thoughts into words rather than through the prose or dialogue, you must distinguish it from the rest of the narrative. Otherwise, what’s to stop it from being part of the narrative, or dialogue instead? The above example could easily have its italics removed and still make sense in the third person, but that just means it becomes part of the narrative.

He wondered what John was doing. He thought that maybe he should go and help him…

As opposed to:

 

I wonder what John’s doing? Maybe I should go and help him, thought Fred.

 

Both are acceptable, but if you’re going for the full effect of internal character thoughts, you need to ensure they read correctly. Otherwise, the third person narrator can easily recite what they’re thinking.

Part of a proofreader’s job is to notice any mistakes in your prose and to fix them. If you’re unsure why your editor has changed something with your tense or narrative, or anything else you previously thought was correct, be sure to pass on your queries. It’s important that you understand why each change is being made!

That’s it for my series on common mistakes. Remember, not every author makes all these mistakes, but errors such as these can be common in first-time authors. I hope these tips help you read and edit your own work, and understand the kinds of things a proofreader looks out for!

 

By Aimee Green

Reflections on Writing by Miles Craven

I think therefore I am, said Descartes. And I write because I am – a writer. I’m not sure what this means exactly other than I put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard, every day and I feel compelled to do so. You could say that I’m obsessed by it, and you’d be right. I do it because I want to, because I need some art in my life. My art happens to be writing, though reading and listening to music run it a close second. I’m not alone in wanting these things but the need is not universal. I just don’t understand those people who survive without art, without a little barleycorn equivalent on a daily or at least a weekly basis.

Do I write with an audience in mind? Yes and no, which isn’t a very helpful answer. But if I was alone in the world, the last man alive, I know that I would write still. It would be a means of keeping my sanity, of getting down on paper (or that keyboard again) my hates and gripes and bellyaching frustrations. It would be therapy, a purgative, and in this sense whether I’m alone in the world or just one human atom among billions the need and the outcome stay the same.

And what of other motives? I think you know the ones I mean. Well, part of me would like to be rich and famous but another part – and it’s the greater part – wants nothing of the sort. It likes a quiet, nondescript life listening to music, drinking wine and generally pottering about the house (and my writing shed) screened from life’s travails. I enjoy life at its most simple. Riches and fame would impede this, probably squash it flat. So what I’m saying is, that the books I write are enough in themselves, they get written and they exist in their own right as finished works of art, great or not – probably not, I know my limitations. Charles Dickens, through the mouth of David Copperfield, says that writing has its own rewards; he doesn’t spell these out but it’s clear from the context that he doesn’t mean wealth: he means the sense of purpose that writing brings irrespective of all else.

So, my books are out there, they may do well, and I hope they do, but in spite of everything I know I will carry on writing. The words are at my fingertips because they come from my blood; some deep inner part of me wants to bleed.

 

Miles Craven’s latest historical crime thriller, An Uncommon Attorney, is available from our Book Store in all eBook formats. To purchase a copy, click here:

http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/uncommon.html

Graduation Day!

It’s graduation day here at Rowanvale Books. Managing Directors, Cat Charlton and Sarah Scotcher, received their hard-earned certificates in Leadership Development this week. 

After studying for 10 months under LEAD Wales Leadership Development Programme, based at Swansea University, partners Cat and Sarah walked up to receive their scrolls at Singleton Abbey. 

Cat Charlton and Sarah Scotcher (front right), as part of Cohort 16, after receiving their certificates (below).

Cohort 16 Group

Group 2

 

 

 

Words on ‘An Uncommon Attorney’. A review by Ann-Marie Richardson

In the decadent era of the late 1700’s, King Louis XVI is dragged to the guillotine by his own enraged citizens. Meanwhile in the north of England Sir Henry Ibbetson, a highflying merchant and magistrate, lies dead upon the lap of young Yorkshire attorney, John Eagle. Miles Craven’s historical thriller delves into the suspicions surrounding his death from the opening page and we are immediately immersed in intrigue as Eagle is commissioned to solve the mystery.

With war threatening to cross the channel, Eagle is pestered by society’s upper crust to deduce the cause of death as tactfully and swiftly as possible. However, when all signs point to murder, the eager young lawyer must put justice before discretion. In a county on the brink of a peasant revolt and populated with the families of those the victim put in prison, there is no shortage of suspects.

Craven’s attention to detail for his chosen era demonstrates meticulous research as he channels the beautiful language of the time, yet the succinct chapters present the evidence as though the reader him/herself were uncovering the clues. Though our author does not assume his audience to be as familiar with the history as he clearly is as the intelligent narration of twenty-something protagonist allows the unfamiliar history to be accessible to a twenty-first century reader. Eagle questions the world around him, from the unpleasant realities of slavery to the role of women, granting insight into eighteenth century society.

One of the great successes of the tale is how Craven’s leading man grows more mature by the story’s conclusion, having been granted a deeper perception into the greed and anger that can drive someone to murder, whilst been threatened himself in a series of double-entendres and threatening notes. Each of the people we are introduced to drives the story forward to an exciting and unexpected conclusion that ensures audiences will not be disappointed.

Ann-Marie Richardson

Ann-Marie

If you’d like to purchase a copy of ‘An Uncommon Attorney’, available in all eBook formats, please visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/uncommon.html .

 

6 Common Mistakes Each Author Makes: Part II

Every book is different. But while every manuscript I have edited so far has demanded different levels of attention, there have been similar errors and mistakes appearing in each of them that I find myself correcting over and over again. It is true that each author has their own writing style and knowledge of their craft, but that doesn’t mean that the same mistakes can’t crop up from multiple authors.

I have compiled a list of the most common of these mistakes – in no particular order – plus the solutions to them. Here’s Part 2!

 

  1. No paragraph indents.

Unless you’re intentionally going for a stylistic look, or the story itself calls for incorrectly formatted paragraphs, you should always use indents to help structure your prose when writing a novel. Not only does it look better, but it makes the prose easier to read (and edit, in my case!).

Here are the rules of indents:

  • The first line of a chapter or section should NOT be indented (eg, the first paragraph of chapter one, the first paragraph of a new scene separate from the previous).
  • Every time you start a new paragraph you must use an indent.
  • Every time a new person speaks, you must indent the new line.

To create an indent, you must simply press the TAB button on your keyboard while in your word processor. An indent will then be created, and you can continue typing.

You do not need to use indents at the end, or in the middle of your lines. Only at the start. Ensure also that your indents are all the same size – don’t accidentally press TAB twice on one line, only to press it once on the next!

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How to Research your Super-Accurate Historical Novel

So, you’ve decided to write a historical novel. You’ve chosen a time period, a location, a historic character – you’re ready to sit down and put pen to paper. But all of a sudden, you realise you know nothing about what it was really like to live during that time. And why would you? You weren’t around then, and it’s likely that nobody you know was, either! You had great ideas about cowboys, soldiers, kings and queens but perhaps very few accurate ideas about how it all really went down. And accuracy is key. So, where do you start?

Make decisions. You need to know the exact direction in which you are travelling. Otherwise, researching around a vague idea is going to be a nightmare. During planning, make sure to think about:

- Location. This needs to be precise – something manageable. Try to avoid writing about a whole city, when you could be writing about the suburb of that one city, and so on.  Readers become much more involved in a story when they feel they can grasp the entire area being discussed, and each character within it. By all means, allow your characters to wander elsewhere, but try not to use too wide a location as your ‘base’, for fear of your audience becoming overwhelmed. Or worse still, being bored of both the geographic and character descriptions.

- Time span. Same principle applies here – a story that covers a week, a few months, a year, or a few years, is much easier to manage and comprehend than a book covering a hundred years. You need to narrow down the exact time-frame you’re working by, so that you can apply your research accordingly, and avoid wasting time looking into events that are just before, or just after your time span.

- Action. You need to make sure that things happen within the story. Though there are successful historical novels that write about nothing at all, it seems, it is far easier to entertain an audience, and to describe a historical setting, if there are conflicts and events involved. War, poverty, hunger, romance, domestic problems, or workplace issues all help readers to understand the world you are writing about, and to immerse themselves in the problems that your characters might be facing as part of their every day lives.

Read historical fiction. If you want to write it, read it. Take time to read through your favourite historical novels – what makes them so good? Which aspects would you like to implement in your own writing? The same goes for the bad books – which parts would you like to avoid? What deters you from the book? Take not of the use of language, the imagery, the clarity, the precision and accuracy – these are all things to be aware of when writing your own historical novel, so why not learn from the greats?

Research, research, research. When dreaming up your fictional (yet historically-accurate!) world, make sure to note down as many questions as you can think of that need answering. Note: this is also a good time to start carrying a pen and pad around with you at all hours of the day and night. Read as many textbooks as you can. Delve deep into the library archives. Take note of bibliographies and make notes of any books you think could be relevent – add to the list! Get down to the museum and check out the household items, the costumes, the weapons. Speak to the pros who work there and ask for their insight. It’s also a good idea to apply everyday situations to a historical context. Anything that happens in your everyday life – think, how would this be different if it were 500 years ago? It’s all about putting yourself in your characters’ shoes.

If you’re interested in historical novels – or are looking to do some research of your own – check out our latest historical titles: 

Point the Finger of Blame 

http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/finger.html

3D They Came Three Thousand

They Came Three Thousand Miles and   Died 

http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/threethousand.html

The Great Glasgow Word Robbery – A Piece by Jason Thorkwell

It’s all over the city; 250k heist gang, clock ticking, loot ‘too hot’ to move…

I can’t help but feel that in this instance, the Argyll Arcade robbery is an insult to the word ‘Heist’ – or is it?

Heist, by definition: to steal, to hold up; rob.

So do the Argyll Arcade events qualify? On a technicality, I suppose, yes. But where’s the classic, genre defining three-act plot?

I. The complex plan that’s been devised; the prep; accessing blueprints, studying the layout, learning about the alarm system.

II. The careful execution of the heist itself; almost always successful.

III. The daring escape with the merchandise; the unravelling; the main protagonists turning on each other, the plot twist.

Writing two days after the event, it appears some of the criteria has been fulfilled – the daring escape with loot in tow (and in broad daylight too, very Heat) checks act three, and as a result automatically checks act two by default.

Now until all the details of the Argyll Arcade raid are reported, we’re never going to know the finer points regarding act one.

My all-time Top 5 favourite Heist films:

1. Die Hard

2. Cliffhanger

3. Heat

4. Reservoir Dogs

5. The Getaway*

For the majority there most of the main characters end up dead or captured, and more often than not left without any of the score.

However the core members of the groups in these films usually tend to feature highly skilled career criminals, often specialising in a specific area of expertise; the jewel thief, the computer hacker, the safe cracker etc. Our Glasgow raiders were armed with axes and sledgehammers. Which on paper sounds rather bungling – were it not for the successful execution of the plan and the evasion of capture.

So, when is a heist not a heist? I think for every case we have to examine the loot-to-risk ratio. Getting away with 250k worth of jewellery in broad daylight is certainly risky, and while the watches stolen were ridiculously expensive, that’s still not a heist, certainly not in my mind, or dare I say, neither is it a heist in the minds of Neil McCauley, Hans Gruber, or Eric Qualen who collectively wouldn’t get out of bed for £250,000.

I digress. I suppose all I really want to know is – which one of the robbers had been coerced into one last big job?

JT

*This gets an honorary place as I’m a sucker for a husband and wife team – Bonnie and Clyde desperately unlucky not to be on that list.

For more of Jason’s work, visit http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/quarrel.html

Catch him on Twitter @JasonThorkwell

6 Common Mistakes Authors Make: Dialogue

Every book is different. But while every manuscript I have edited so far has demanded different levels of attention, there have been similar errors and mistakes appear in each of them that I find myself correcting over and over again. It is true that each author has their own writing style and knowledge of their craft, but that doesn’t mean that the same mistakes can’t crop up from multiple authors.

I have compiled a list of the most common of these mistakes – in no particular order – plus the solutions to them. Here’s Part 1, which deals with problems in dialogue formatting.

 

  1. Incorrectly Formatted Speech

It’s a common one! Back when I first started writing regularly, around six years ago, this was something I always got wrong. But I didn’t even realise I was getting it wrong until I read an article, similar to this one, that pointed it out as a general mistake in creative writing.

The rules of dialogue aren’t actually that much different to the rules of regular prose. You wouldn’t end a line of narrative prose with a comma, would you?

Often I see this:

 

“Let’s go to the park.” he said.

“OK” she replied.

 

Each of those has a mistake. In the first line, the author has used a full-stop where there should be a comma. The speech has closed, with the full-stop signalling the end of the character’s statement, but then a speech tag (‘he said’) has been inserted afterwards.

If including a speech tag after a character has spoken, you need to include a comma within the speech marks. This is how that first line should read:

 

“Let’s go to the park,” he said.

 

Similarly, if you’re not including a speech tag after the dialogue, you must end the speech with a full-stop, an exclamation mark, or a question mark.

 

“Shall we go to the park?”

“Let’s go to the park!”

“I want to go to the park.”

“Come with me to the park,” he said.

 

The difference is, if your character is asking a question, or making a loud exclamation, having a speech tag afterwards is perfectly legal. Exclamation and question marks work like full-stops and commas.

 

“Shall we go to the park?” he asked.

“Yes! We shall!” she replied.

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