How to fit a few more precious moments of writing into a busy day around your day job:

Five extremely practical ways:

  1. Only wash up/load the dishwasher once a day.
  2. Stop checking Facebook, Twitter, your blog stats etc quite so often.
  3. Shower faster – or less often. You choose!
  4. Cut housework down to the absolute minimum to stay hygienic.
  5. Do bigger grocery shops to cut down on trips to the supermarket.

Five extremely effective ways:

  1. Sell your children.
  2. Shut yourself away from the world for a month.
  3. Hire maids, gardeners, cooks etc so you don’t have to do anything other than write.
  4. Go without sleep.
  5. Type faster.

OK, I never said they were practical!

STOP PRESS: There’s still time to read the brilliant A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson before Eurovision on Saturday on your Kindle. I’ve just had a lovely email from him, in response to my review of the book. What a nice guy.

 

 

Writers who only use 'said' make me mad!

I’ve got the bit between my teeth over this. (See my post 25 Ways To Say ‘Said‘.)

Here are another 25 much more interesting alternatives to ‘said’:

Answered, anticipated, bantered, bawled, begged, coaxed, enquired, encouraged, explained, exclaimed, frowned, hassled, pondered, prompted, promised, remembered, roared, sobbed, shrieked, soothed, tempted, sympathised, wept, wheedled, yelled.

And another 25:

Apologised, contradicted, cooed, deliberated, denied, dictated, droned, echoed, empathised, enticed, enthused, exhaled, expostulated, gulped, grinned, grimaced, ordered, sighed, sang, yelped, swallowed, realised, repeated, reported, winced.

More soon …

My children's names are Ruadhri, Caitlin and Benjamin - not on the top ten lists

How many boys’ and girls’ names are there? Hundreds of thousands I imagine. So why is it I have managed to use the same name twice for different characters in Something Fishy? Because I wasn’t keeping a list. This is something else I’ve learned the hard way writing my first adult book. The problem never arose with my children’s books. They were short enough to keep a tally of the names in my head, and I tended to write them quickly. But here with my 150,000 word project which I’ve been writing over about five months now, and a largish cast of characters, it’s a different kettle of fish. So over the weekend, I shall be rereading and drawing up its dramatis personae. From now on, every book will have one from the first word.

Live and learn!

In case you were wondering, the most popular names in the UK in 2009 were: 1 Oliver; 2 Jack; 3 Harry; 4 Alfie; 5 Joshua; 6 Thomas; 7 Charlie; 8 William; 9 James; and 10 Daniel. For girls: 1 Olivia; 2 Ruby; 3 Chloe; 4 Emily; 5 Sophie; 6 Jessica; 7 Grace; 8 Lily; 9 Amelia; 10 Evie. Mohammed would in fact topple Oliver if all the different spelling variants were aggregated. There are plenty of lists of most popular names on the Net which can be a very useful resourse. I’ve only used 7 out of the above 20 ones. I should probably include more to be as modern as I can.

My Kindle and carrying bag

In a nutshell – yes! They would be bound to pick up scratches or worse if you don’t put them into some kind of case or bag for carrying around. I use a small Peruvian shoulder-purse as my Kindle cover. It could have been made for it, it’s such a perfect fit!

How else could you cover your Kindle. Well, if you’re good at arts and crafts, you could have a go at one of fifty different covers at this website.

And if you prefer pre-prepared, there are plenty of covers to choose from any of the Amazon sites.

To help you narrow the field down, try this site, at cnet.com, which lists its preferred 15 covers and other accessories. Some covers are said to have caused problems, making the Kindle freeze (really annoying when that happens), but Amazon has promised to replace them.

There are so many to choose from, you’d be best to make a list of what you’re looking for in a cover when you start your search, such as: hard or soft, sensible and subdued or funky, low cost or top of the range, with or without a stand, with or without a light …

I’m glad my bag proved to be so perfect or I know I’d be agonising for days over what to cover my wonderful Kindle in!

I enjoying translating from French to English.

Our part of France, Creuse, is famous for its stonemasons. In years gone by, the masons left for Paris in spring and stayed there until November, working. They sent money home to their families, who looked after the farm while the men were gone.

Here’s my version of a very famous poem about the masons by Jean Petit, also known as Jan dau Boueix, written in 1855. I’ve kept as close as I can to the original, but here and there I’ve had to resort to poetic licence for the sake of the rhyme!

Enjoy!

You hear all sorts of songs 

In all sorts of styles

About lovers and warriors,

Triumphs and trials.

I don’t want to be boring

And so I will choose

Something new for my song –

The masons of Creuse.

 

On a fait des chansons,  

De toutes les manières,

Des filles, des garçons

Des guerriers, des bergères.

Pour ne pas répéter

Une chose ennuyeuse,

Moi je veux vous chanter

Les ouvriers de la Creuse.

When springtime is here 

They say their goodbyes

To their families and friends

With tears in their eyes.

Their wives are upset

As they bid their adeius

To the men that they love –

These masons of Creuse.

 

Quand revient le printemps, 

Ils quittent leur chaumière:

Adieu amis, parents,

Enfants, pères et mères.

Ah! quel grand désespoir

Pour la femme vertueuse

En disant au revoir

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

And so they are gone 

On their working campaign.

They head up to Burgundy,

Paris, Champagne,

Lyons and Bordeaux,

To form building crews.

They’re very hard workers,

The masons of Creuse.

 

Les voilà donc partis 

Pour faire leur campagne;

Ils s’en vont à Paris

En Bourgogne, en Champagne,

Lyon, Bordeaux, même ailleurs…

Ils ont la main calleuse,

Ce sont des travailleurs

Les maçons de la Creuse.

When they’ve arrived 

And have found jobs to do,

Without hesitation

At once they set to.

They’re never unwilling,

They never refuse.

You have to respect

These masons of Creuse.

 

Quand ils sont arrivés, 

S’ils trouvent de l’ouvrage,

Se mettent à travailler

Avec un grand courage,

Sans trop s’épouvanter

D’une vie laborieuse.

L’on devrait respecter

Les maçons de la Creuse.

How the railway lines 

That criss-cross the land

Have caused them backache

And blistered their hands.

The bridges and canals

From the Saône to the Meuse

Have cost them great pain,

The masons of Creuse.

 

Que ces chemins de fer 

Qui traversent la France

Ont coûté de revers,

De maux et de souffrances;

Ces ponts et ces canaux

De la Saône à la Meuse

Ont coûté bien des maux

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

They sing as they work, 

Despite their tough role.

They’re happy at heart

And have a glad soul.

Then the season is over.

No more homesick blues,

Because now it’s time

To go back to Creuse.

 

Malgré leur dur labeur 

En travaillant ils chantent

Ils ont la joie au coeur

Et l’âme bien contente.

La dernière saison

Est pour eux bien flatteuse

Pour revoir leur maison

Au pays de la Creuse.

The work is all finished, 

And so in November

The masons assemble

And go home together.

Look at the joy

Of the children whose

Fathers have come home,

Back home to Creuse.

 

Les travaux sont finis 

En novembre en décembre,

On les voir réunis

Pour s’en aller ensemble.

Vous voyez ces enfants

La figure joyeuse

Pour revoir leurs parents

Au pays de la Creuse.

Winter brings happiness, 

Long country walks,

Time spent with sweethearts,

Intimate talks.

It’s cold and it’s dark

But the skies are all blue

For the girls who have got back

Their young men of Creuse.

 

Enfin, pendant l’hiver 

C’est leurs belles journées,

Ils vont se promener

Avec leurs bien-aimées.

Dans ces tristes saisons

Les filles sont heureuses

D’avoir dans leurs maisons

Les garçons de la Creuse.

This poem’s author – 

Well, he’s no famous bard.

Just one of the lads,

Who works and plays hard.

Contentedly living

The life that he’d choose

And proud to admit he’s

A mason of Creuse.

 

The beauties of Paris,

Like the great Panthéon,

The fine Tuilieries,

The Louvre and Odéon –

These beautiful buildings

Which make folk enthuse,

We owe them all to

The masons of Creuse.

 

 

L’auteur de la chanson 

Ce n’est pas un poète,

C’est un vieux compagnon

Buvant sa chopinette,

Toujours gai, bien content,

Trouvant la vie heureuse,

Et se vante gaiement

D’être ouvrier de la Creuse.

 

Voyez le Panthéon

Voyez les Tuileries,

Le Louvre et l’Odéon,

Le Palais d’Industrie,

De ces beaux monuments

La France est orgueilleuse,

On doit ces agréments

Aux ouvriers de la Creuse.

 

Rors loves BDs - bandes desinées (comic books), but even they ring the changes with different type styles to denote how things are said!

I was reading a book with nine-year-old Ruadhri the other day, and it really grated on me that the author only said ‘said’ in the dialogue. What a wasted opportunity both to enhance the story with suggesting how the characters said what they said (whispered, gasped, cried etc), and to expand the reader’s vocabulary. Children will only learn new words if they’re exposed to him. OK, you don’t need to go too mad in children’s books, but at the very least I would expect to see a dozen or more variations.

Quite a lot of adult books only manage a narrow range of ‘said’ equivalents too. Come on, let’s get more creative and interesting!

Here are 25 alternatives to said, and that’s just scratching the surface:

Asked

Argued

Bellowed

Challenged

Cried

Croaked

Demanded

Gasped

Giggled

Grumbled

Guffawed

Laughed

Mumbled

Muttered

Offered

Pouted

Shouted

Screeched

Snarled

Suggested

Threatened

Whined

Whispered

Wondered

Yawned

 

Another 25 coming soon …

Writing is tiring, no two ways about it. Non-writers tend to roll their eyes in that ‘yeah right’ way when you say that. But they should try a stint of a couple of hours of creative writing or blogging. They’ll soon see!

It’s not just the concentration that can be fatiguing, there’s the physical side too. I was intrigued as to how many calories an hour’s intensive blogging might burn off, so I did some digging around on the Net. The act of typing or writing burns around 100 calories an hour. However, I’m sure that if you hit the backspace button as often as I do, that burns a lot more! And thinking takes energy too. I’ve come across estimates of everything from 20 to 100 calories an hour for exercising the old grey matter. So that’s up to 200 calories consumed in sixty minutes’ work, the same as housework or yoga. What’s more, the chances are you’re up and down during that time, looking something up in the dictionary, digging out your notes, catching the runaway goat before it eats the lilac bush – again. Or does that last one only happen here?

So it’s OK to feel bushed after being creative. But I find that when I’m in full-throttle writing mode, I can’t sleep, no matter how tired I am. My brain won’t turn off. I’m having a bad dose of insomnia at the moment, mainly for that reason. I’m up and down all night, raiding the fridge, making cups of herbal tea, even sitting in the garden listening to the nightjars. Which is lovely, although the not-sleeping is aggravating.

But I wouldn’t give up my writing for anything.

All non-fiction books – and I mean all – should have an index. It stands to reason. They contain information that readers want to find. If they didn’t, well, they wouldn’t buy the books in the first place, would they? They will probably read the book cover to cover initially, but later may well want just to dip in and retrieve certain facts that they remember coming across, but not necessarily know exactly where. It’s infuriating having to thumb through half a book for ten minutes, desperately seeking something.

Books are underindexed. Why? Because publishers won’t pay for them, on the whole. That’s left for authors to do. One of three things happens. 1. The author doesn’t bother with an index, and that’s the usual outcome. 2. The author does the index him or herself, but not terribly well. (Sorry, authors, but it is a skill.) 3. The author pays an indexer to do the job.

I’m an accredited indexer, as well as editor and author, and I do several indexes a year. As a rule of thumb, I charge around one euro per page of text that needs indexing. So the majority of those I work on come in at around 250 euros. That’s quite enough for an author to find, but nothing for a publisher who can spread it over a large print run. The publisher will have spent an awful lot more on editing, artwork, cover design, publicity, promotion, possibly molly-coddling the author. I simply can’t fathom why they won’t invest a tiny bit more and add an index, making the book so much more user-friendly. It’s ridiculous.

For that reason, coming across an index unexpectedly is a real joy. I’ve been reading a lot of living-in-France books (see my book reviews section). And at last one has an index. It’s La Vie en Rosé by Jamie Ivey. (Review coming imminently.) And it’s not a bad one at all. My main quibble is that the usual recommendation is not to have more than five page references per entry. This has up to a dozen in places. Really, there should be more subheadings. Also, there are a few not-so-brilliant entries. For example, there’s an entry for ‘City’ (p.16), but it should be to ‘London’, and ideally you’d put a separate entry along the lines of ‘City, see London’. But I’m so pleased to see an index at all, I’ll let them off!

Caiti's delicious cake

So this month’s Unexpected Index Award goes to – La Vie en Rosé. Keep up the good work please, Jamie! What’s the award? One of the fabulous cakes the Chef in Wellies (my daughter Caitlin) regularly rustles up which, um, we’ll eat on the winner’s behalf.

(OK, so I might have to rethink the prize …!)

Writing my first adult novel has been a learning experience. Having only written books a few tens of thousands words long at their very longest (many were less than 5,000 words) up to now, suddenly having to organise a manuscript that’s currently just over 100,000 words has been tricky. I had originally created just a few large files, that I added to in a rather haphazard fashion as ideas occurred. They were labelled ‘Marcus story’, ‘Latest’, ‘New bits’ – shockingly vague and hopeless! It’s left me unable to find things I know I’ve written somewhere, despite using ‘find’ on Word.

So I’m now working on a chapter by chapter basis. If I get a brainwave for a later event, I write it quickly and store it in a very clearly labelled file, such as ‘Scottish hotel bit’, ‘microchipping bit’ etc. It took me a while, but I got there in the end.  You’re probably rolling your eyes in dismay but honestly, I never had this sort of problem with my concise children’s books!

I’ve finally found my first totally free Kindle book. I’ve been rather miffed to find that all the free books I’d seen advertised and tried to get hold of up until now were either unavailable to my Kindle in France, or had to be paid for (not much admittedly, a few dollars, but they weren’t free). However, idly looking up ‘Oakley’ (my maiden name) on my Kindle last night, I came across a book called The Princess and Joe Potter by James Otis and illustrated by Violette Oakley. And it was definitely free. I had to get it! But I can’t read it. It’s too nineteenth century with the lower class characters speaking in sentences like “He was willin’, so long’s I ‘greed to be careful about fire, an’ well … there’s nothin’ to keep you from comin’ down to-night and seein’ it” and “I s’pose we’ll have a high old time between now and mornin’, ‘cause that kid, sweet as she’s lookin’ jest now, ain’t goin’ to be quiet.” Way too annoying! And no illustrations by my possible distant relative in sight. I’m beginning to see why it was free now!

So I’ll carry on reading A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson on my Kindle instead, so I can do a timely review of it to coincide with The Eurovision Song Contest, compulsive viewing in our household. It’s a very funny, delightfully readable story that I’m enjoying no end.

Do check out the reviews on this site. I’ve just added one on Martin Calder’s A Summer in Gascony which is a really excellent book.

And now, time to get on with writing my own books for the Kindle…