Finding Your Voice

Narrative voice sets the tone of the novel and gives it a ‘personality’ aside from the characterisation and plot development. It is an element of writing that is important to get right, and there are several things to consider to create the right voice …

Point of view

  Point of view is perhaps the most vital aspect of narrative voice, and is probably one of the first decisions you’ll have to make in this respect. Do you want a reliable narrator or an unreliable one? Third person or first? Omniscient or not?

   Of course, there are cues to help you choose a point of view.

  For example, if you want to show characters direct thoughts, then a first person narrator might be your best bet. Just bear in mind that you are limited to writing about what that character thinks and witnesses.

  A risky and less common point of view is that of a second person narrator. This is great to allow the reader to witness events in the narrative as themselves, but also makes it hard for them to become lost in the narrative, as they are constantly reminded that they exist as an outside witness.

  If you want to show events that occur without the main character present, then it may be worth considering showing third person viewpoints from different characters in each section An omniscient viewpoint is the most liberating, and doesn’t limit what the narrative voice can see or think. However, it’s worth noting that it can become difficult to let the reader into the thoughts of the characters, and changing characters too frequently can become jarring and confusing to the reader.

  You should play around and see where the plot takes you to figure out which narrative voice strikes you as the best to use.

  Sensibility is perhaps a more overlooked aspect of narrative voice. In order to take this into account, a writer must put themselves entirely into the shoes of the character, in order to convey a point of view that may differ greatly from their own.

  Try to think about how a youthful person may think and act … instead of being confident as an older person may be, they may be much more insecure. Rather than being old enough to have experienced enough of the world to know better, they may obsess over trivial problems rather than the bigger picture. Rather than be settled into a job and family, they may be wracked with doubts and struggle to find their place in the world.

  Of course, when writing about a character in a totally different situation to your own, research is key. If you’re writing about a character with a prosthetic leg, for example, and you don’t have one yourself, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone who has a prosthetic leg and is willing to share their thoughts and experiences about their situation. If you’re writing about a character who has just witnessed their pet being put down, try to talk to somebody who has been in that situation and is willing to share experiences. Then try to channel these genuine thoughts and emotions into your writing, and you’ll find that you can create a much more relatable and realistic character in your narrative.

  Which point of view do you prefer to write in? Why? Do you ever struggle to get into the heads of your characters? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments!

A Game for the Young: Afterword by David P. Philip

Knowledge, at least for me, has a very fluid and debatable definition. Like many things, the initial thought process of a question such as ‘What is knowledge?’ is simple, pigeon holed quite neatly in our brains.

The dictionary’s definition states that knowledge is the ‘acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation’, which in itself allows for a range of interpretations.

When I look back to the genesis of this novel a question regurgitates in my head. My intention from the outset, beyond a rather childish curiosity of the writing process and an overwhelming desire to be creative, was to wrap a question within a story and ponder aloud: ‘Is knowledge a drug?’ or to be specific, if we lived in an age where knowledge was tangible, instantly accessible, ‘could knowledge be conceived as a drug?’

To even begin, first the physical impracticality of this question needs to be addressed. Our mental image of a drug quickly inspires the thought of a liquid or pill.

When focusing on the definition of a drug, Wikipedia’s opening on the subject supports this. “A drug is, in the broadest of terms, a chemical substance that has known biological effects on humans or other animals.”

My scepticism on this point, or opinion to be less controversial, is based on the apparent parallels I’m able to summarise with minimal effort.

You have the ‘users’ to compare with ‘students’, the ‘proscriber’ with ‘teacher’, the ‘addiction’ or ‘qualification’, your pure drug in truth and the placebos in fiction.

There is certainly something to be found in the class system; where wealth offers the most enriching drugs alongside arguably the most beneficial knowledge, whilst the working class labour with more practical drugs and less profitable skill sets.

I could of course reference the fleeting nature of a drugs effect and how this compares with the temporary enlightenment you feel after learning something new. Though initially interesting and enriching, without purpose the knowledge will soon find a home buried deep within your brain; not readily accessible without prompt.

Isn’t knowledge in its purest form an external entity that we absorb to better ourselves? Could Wikipedia be your medicine cabinet? Could libraries be hospitals? You form these basic associations and after a while they become clear relationships.

Perhaps just as important a question to ask is ‘would it be a good thing?’ Would we thrive on this discovery or would it join the long list of human achievements we wish we could disinvent.

Are we ready to learn with short sharp bursts of information or by design do our brains protect us from overload. So easily are we able to gorge our bodies with tasty treats, imagine how we would behave if books became pills and museums became sweet shops.

How would we treat knowledge if it were a product? A digestible entity sold to the highest bidder. And how would we rebel from this? What type of underground black market would that spawn? Can you imagine yourself downloading a profession overnight with a BitTorrent?

Granted there are no answers to be found here, merely perspectives to be explored and a bleak prediction for the future. But I don’t consider spending an inordinate amount of time contemplating this subject wasteful. If you can come up with anything that lingers for more than a few days it’s worth scratching the surface. Besides, any food for thought is good for the soul. Thank you for indulging me.

David P. Philip

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A Game for the Young – Review

Readers of David P. Phillip’s just-released novel, A Game for the Young, are in for a treat.

It is a multidimensional text; considering scientific discovery and the issue of ethics in experimentation, as well as delving into the personal lives of its characters and exploring their darkest secrets.

Set with the idyllic backdrop of Oxford University, a site of tradition and steeped in academic excellence, A Game for the Young charts the experiences of four young students as they embark on a scientific experiment they will change their worlds forever. They are all connected through their desire to pursue the highest level of knowledge, but when this dream is taken to the next level by a professor with a dark secret, they find themselves facing a challenge that forces them to make the toughest decisions, and sacrifices, of their lives. The novel is initially a slow burner, concentrating on building up a detailed picture of the main characters and shielding them and the reader from the truth about the experiment; but this allows the reader to develop a strong emotional connection with these characters and this alignment becomes incredibly powerful as the story unfolds. The concepts of knowledge and power are explored in depth, with the reader able to draw conclusions, along with the students, about the potential dangers of making the ability to absorb all information readily available. The idea seems incredible and entirely positive; but what could such knowledge do in the wrong hands and what would happen to institutions like Oxford University if we were all able to simply “plug in” and learn? Phillips also considers memory and its importance in the development of an individual – take that away from us and what do we have?

Packed full of thought-provoking ideas, daring night-time information raids and enough secrets to fill a dozen spy novels, A Game for the Young is deep, insightful and incredibly clever. Science enthusiasts will enjoy its focus on research and experimentation, but there is something for all readers in this novel. The twists and turns are sharp, unexpected and thrilling and will draw the reader in until the final, gripping line.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of A Game for the Young, please visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/agame.html.

Available in paperback and all eBook formats.

‘He was, she was…’ The art of subtle description.

Have you ever found yourself struggling with robotic, repetitive sentences, trying in vain breathe a little life into the words on the page?

Many writers have trouble describing characters and settings without actually describing them. By this, I mean that many descriptions of characters and settings read something along the lines of:

“He was blond haired and blue-eyed, fairly scrawny for his age, and liked to wear baggy clothes to help hide this fact.”

and also:

“The castle was huge, with thick walls and arrow slits for windows.”

Avoiding such predictable and formulaic descriptions can be difficult. Whilst the plot of a story is often seen as the main ‘point’ of a story, descriptive elements in the text can be just as important to enable readers to visualise and immerse themselves in the world that you, as the author, create. It is therefore a good idea to try to perfect this aspect as much as possible.

Continue reading

How to Flesh Out Your Characters.

If you’ve ever had trouble in creating a character that’s ‘three-dimensional’, then you are not alone. It is a common issue among writers, and it generally takes some real thought and analysis before characters feel realistic.

As a starting point, it may be worth taking personality traits from a few people you know and analysing them objectively, before combining them how you see fit to create a fictional character. For ‘fleshing out’ characters further, you may want to consider the following…

  • Name: A character’s name, if well thought out, can be a very powerful tool to use in your writing. Names you choose for your characters should match their personalities and the roles they play in the story, or they may disrupt the narrative and distract the reader from the plot (for example, it may be difficult to imagine being as scared of a villain called ‘Jessie’ rather than one called ‘Maleficent’).

Image result for maleficent cartoon

  • Physical Description: Hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, scars, tattoos, and clothing are all part of our physical descriptions. These snippets of description can really help reinforce the character’s personality traits and attitude, so it might be best to figure out details about the characters personality before turning to focus on their physical appearance.
  • Personality and abilities: No realistic character is black and white: we all have shades of blurry grey in our personalities, no matter how hard we may try to hide some aspects that we are a little ashamed of. So-called ‘villains’ can surprise the reader with flashes of honour and generosity, and heroes may occasionally sink lower than the villains in terms of honesty or morality. You must try to think: what are your characters’ most positive and negative aspects of their personality? Also consider their abilities, as these may influence how they behave in certain situations. For example, maybe the character wants to help someone, but it is beyond their ability to do so, and so despite their good intentions, other characters see them as a ‘villain’.
  • Backstory: Backstory shapes the character’s personality, their thoughts and their emotions. This is your chance to tell the reader more about how the character came to be the way they are. Evil characters are probably not born evil… This is your chance to tell the story behind that growth. As Albus Dumbledore once said, wtwt(JK Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). 
  • Dialogue: Accent and dialect can be really helpful when trying to hint at a character’s background, and can subtly add to the backstory. For example, maybe the character has been brought up on an impoverished housing estate, and therefore he might speak in a non-standard ‘common’ dialect. Alternatively, perhaps the same character from the same background may have built himself up from his poor upbringing and wants to hide his past, so speaks with a standard upper-class dialect to try to climb yet further up the societal ladder.
  • Goals: It has been said many times that a character’s goals drive the entire story; they are the motive behind the character’s actions and vital to the plot. This doesn’t mean that they have to be huge goals – you may be surprised at how far a small initial goal (such as getting a promotion, for example) can drive the plot forward.
  • People in the character’s life: People surround most of us every day, and obviously play important roles in shaping our personalities and our lives. Think about the characters’ existing family and friends and also consider who they will meet over the course of the story. These people can be friends or even a nemesis (not necessarily a villain, as such, but the goals of the nemesis should interfere with your main character’s goals).
  • How they relate to the world: Consider your character’s occupation, their views on the word, their daily routines, where they consider home, etc. All of these things will help to give your character substance and allow the reader to relate to them through their worldly views.

Marketing 101: Instagram

Those of you who are active on social media may already be familiar with Instagram – the ever so popular image sharing site. If you’re not currently using (or aware of) Instagram, then now is the perfect time to get involved! While the basic function of Instagram is to upload your own images and look at the content other people have uploaded, there are plenty of ways you can use the site for book marketing:

Post teasers for your book: Whether it’s a snapshot of you writing away, an image of your front cover, some illustration concepts or a zoomed-in quote from the book, there are plenty of ways to generate a buzz with your followers. The earlier you start sharing content and sharing it with the right people (see below), the better.

Use hashtags: As with Twitter, the use of hashtags can make a big difference to the reception and reach of your posts. You may have a lot of great pictures relating to the content of your book, but these will only reach as far as your direct followers if you don’t make good use of the hashtags available. You can find and use the most appropriate tags for your content by doing some keyword research with a program like Websta (www.websta.me). Once you’ve logged in, you can search for relevant tags – for example, #sciencefiction, and you will be presented with a list of related and more specific tags along with the popularity of that tag. This means that you can tag your photos with a) tags that will have the widest reach, or b) photos that are driven straight towards your target audience.

Follow reviewers: There are plenty of book bloggers using Instagram who are looking for their next title to read and review. If you have the word ‘author’ in your IG name, anyone you follow will immediately pick up on that and, if looking for new content, are likely to check you out. The more you follow, the bigger than chance of being noticed. You can find book bloggers by searching keywords like #amreading #bookworm #bookstagram among many others.

Can Openers – A Review by Katy Dale

Can Openers focuses on Britain’s approaching future and that of its welfare system. Following the lives of both those working for the system, and those feeling its full effects, this book creates an almost Big-Brother style world, where no one is safe. This world is cleverly created, and its workings are clearly and concisely expressed to the reader.

The book focuses on the “Dependency Department” and its influences on all stages of life, from Iris’ elderly mother Lillian, to Frederick’s young children. The book opens with Iris and her battle with the system forcing her mother’s choice to die for their benefit. Euthanasia is encouraged in this world; the elderly choose when to die to avoid being a burden to the state. Mal Jones thus clearly sets up one of the book’s main themes from the outset: the moral obligation individuals hold to the rest of society. The word ‘burden’ is continually referenced throughout the text, to reflect how this links the individual and the state at large. The old, the obese and the lazy are labelled as a ‘burden’ to society, being responsible for their current predicaments through their actions. There is no leniency or sense of the personal, as all is controlled though a computer system which does not allow for exceptions or reasoning.

This also applies to those who work for the system. Frederick is intent on carrying out the ideals of the state in his work for the Dependency Department, judging all those who pass through his life by these strict categories of ordering people. He becomes intent on meeting targets and determined to remove any people who are scrounging off the state. The books conclusion reflects the ultimate irony of this view; when Frederick’s desire for targets proves his undoing, he falls upon the generous nature of those he has previously judged to save him. It is Jane, the woman whose case he had become obsessed with in his determination to prove his worth, who offers him a home and a kind ear. He is angry with the way he is treated, believing it is his position in the department which should save him, asking to be viewed as an individual person when he has denied this to all cases which have crossed his desk.

It is here that the book offers an easy resolution for him: Frederick sees the errors of his ways and is saved. It is his superiors, reflected in the corrupt Herbert, who are to blame. These corporate heads use all the other characters as a pawn in their games to achieve more money and power and are the root of the problem. However, the book does not explore this aspect of the text in great detail, bringing in the Directors only scantly through the text. Frederick as the representative of all that is wrong with the system escapes punishment, and ends the story redeemed and full of hope. The blame is passed on to those above him, but no retribution is drawn from them. The book therefore offers an answer that does not fully meet the questions of the text. How to provide a welfare system that is moral and fair cannot be simply answered by blaming those in power for its downfall.

However, the book does leave a clear message with the reader on its conclusion. From the book’s opening we instantly confronted with the main theme of the book: choice. Throughout the text, the characters are continually confronted with difficult dilemmas and moral uncertainty, which only those who choose to help others survive. And so the reader must take forward that notion of choice for all, of helping others who need, to show the future of our welfare system lies with helping people, not treating them as numbers. If the reader takes this message as the main crux of Jones’ text, the book stands a stark warning for the future of our country.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Can Openers, by author Mal Jones, visit

http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/canopeners.html

Xalien the Purple Alien – Review by Katy Dale

Xalien The Purple Alien, by author Michelle Path, is a children’s book based around three siblings who discover an alien has crash landed in their back garden. They then befriend the alien and take her on an adventure to a fair for a day trip.

The book is well illustrated, with pictures that help bring the key points of the text to life. There are a couple of occasions when the placement of the picture interferes with the natural flow of the text and may prove confusing to a child trying to follow the words on the page. However, the majority of illustrations emphasise the humorous moments of the text, helping to engage the child reader with the story.

The author does well in mixing the two worlds together. Throughout the book, references are made to how Xalien’s home planet differs from ours. The author notes that Xalien’s people can hover and fly to places they need to get to, much to the enjoyment of the three siblings. The children continually explain how their world works, how humans walk, eat and communicate. This provides many humorous moments in the book, with the children laughing at how Xalien interprets the world she finds on earth. This is highlighted in Xalien sticking out her tongue as a way of greeting her new friends. To the children in the book, and the children reading the text, the humour of this moment instantly dispels any fears at this new creature and creates a warm feeling for the alien.

This book not only paints the alien in a positive light; the three children within the text are welcoming and work together throughout the story. It is unclear who is the oldest; none of them stand out as a clear leader but instead all collectively help Xalien become accustomed to earth life. Indeed, it is the three children that are at the core of the text, rather than Xalien. They are instantly welcoming, and do not judge Xalien because she is different. Throughout the book, they take the time to explain how things work and do not become irritated when Xalien does things differently to them. Instead, they calmly explain how to do it and let her try it for herself. The book ends on the unity of the children; they now share a secret which binds them closer together. Indeed, the final illustration of the book shows the three children standing together, leaving us with a final image of their bond. For the children readers of this book, the subtle message is to be welcoming to those who are different and not judge when they do not understand your ways.

If you’d like to read more about Xalien, or purchase a copy  – visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/xalien.html

Choosing and Researching your Setting

When writing a novel, it’s important that we don’t overlook the where and when, for fear of losing control of the who, what and why. Choosing the right setting can prove an

extremely useful tool for advancing the plot and developing characters that much further, and so we should always think carefully over both time and place when writing.


Describe your world. Readers like to know how the protagonist lives their life day to day, so that they can immerse themselves in the novel and prepare for a startling change in events. If the reader has no idea how your characters live on a daily basis, how can they be surprised when something unexpected happens? Before writing, start building up a collection of little details that make up the everyday scene, such as textures, smells, routes to and from work, even the plants and animals that the characters are used to seeing without fail. All these minor details help engage the audience and fix them in the narrative.

Physical reference. When hammering out the details of your physical location, it’s best to start off by looking at the bigger picture. Maps and encyclopaedia articles are great for general research, and most can be found online or in larger libraries. After you’ve become familiar with the area as a whole, take your focus beyond the topographical and start on the smaller details. Wildlife, environment and architecture are good jumping off points for research – and don’t forget to visit your setting if possible! There is no better research than seeing a place firsthand.

Research. When researching your novel, try to focus on any reference books that have the title ‘A Social History of…’, ‘A Life in the Times’ etc, as these will be the books that provide details not just of landscape but of what it was like to actually live day to day within any one setting.

History. Whether you choose to use a factual or fictional setting, it’s a good idea to think about the history behind it. Characters are often shaped by past events, and a location’s history can create an interesting dynamic between people and place. Did the character choose to live in this setting? Or were they brought up in it? If you are choosing a well known location, research into past events and think about how they could affect the characterization and plot within your novel. If you have created a fictitious world, particularly within the fantasy genre, think about how the current setting came to be, rather than imagining it just as it is now.

http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/advisor.html

A Right to Live: A Review by Nia Liversuch

A Right to Live by author Christine Duts takes the reader on an emotional journey, following the life of Rusty, a loveable mongrel who is in search of a permanent, caring home. From the very start, Rusty’s life is made difficult by the actions of humans, including those she trusts and cares about, and she is forced to make her own way in a world that is frightening and dangerous to a young, vulnerable animal.

From the first word of A Right to Live, it is impossible for a reader not to become emotionally invested in Rusty’s story. Christine Duts’ clever use of Rusty’s point of view is both engaging and poignant; she uses it to draw attention to issues such as the abandonment of animals and the difficulties faced by animal shelters, which are overrun year on year by unwanted pets. Duts’ own first-hand experiences of volunteering in an animal shelter in Mexico shine through the novel, and she uses the setting of Los Cabos to explore the horrific mistreatment that animals suffer, often at the hands of their owners. Rusty’s story is gripping and, at times, harrowing and is mostly based on the stories of dogs that Duts has come across during her life. Rusty’s narrative is one of hardship, but also of resilience, endurance and loyalty. The many companions she meets along the way are just as engaging as Rusty herself, and each have their own tale to tell; and these interweave into the narrative as a whole and serve to evoke feelings of guilt in the reader, but also create hope and faith in the special bond that many humans have with their pets.

Rusty’s story is both hard to read and heart-warming, and will certainly remain with the reader for a long time after they have finished the novel.

Visit the author’s Twitter page – @chduts

Or to purchase a copy of A Right to Live, please visit: http://www.rowanvalebooks.com/books/aright.html