Posts Tagged ‘style’

I don’t write comedy. I might have amusing scenes, or light-hearted poetry, but I am not someone who is skilled at the laugh out loud moments.  I’m thinking about this, because this week I went to see the funniest play I can remember, The Play That Goes Wrong

Comedy is most definitely an art.  Depending on the nature – physical, reflective, political – completely different skill sets are needed.  For writing, it’s also about picking the perfect words.

I don’t think I have ever really appreciated the art involved in creating a funny, engaging, novel. Most of the comedic poetry I have discovered is quite light, nothing to get you thinking too deeply, but that isn’t the same with a book.

For novels, there’s got to be engagement and sustained levels of comedy over 70,000 or more words.  It sounds impossible!

I am trying to think of a few that are genuinely comedies (rather than simply witty or light-hearted) and am going to have to review a few.  I would really like to understand how it can be done!

I am never likely to write a truly comedy novel, but I might see how to tie in a few more smiles for readers.

Plus, what a great project to see me through the autumn: books to make me laugh!

If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments…

Happy laughing!



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On Thursday I said I was writing a poem inspired by an anniversary. Specifically it was a 20th anniversary celebration for a couple in my family.

I worked on the poem for a couple of weeks, which isn’t long for me and I felt a little worried that I wouldn’t reach an end point that made me happy.

However, I knew what I wanted to say, so it was just a case of finding the right words and style.

I say ‘just’; it’s not that easy, but I had a start point which is important for these very personal pieces.

I began by writing down the concepts in verse form, each stanza 6 lines long.  As I refined and reorganised the poem it took on a new form with a distinct repetition pattern.

The final form was five couplets, and one single line to start off. I had reached that style by Thursday when I took it to my writing group, so from then onwards it was simply about refining word choice.

I gave the poem to the couple on Saturday night, and although I will always see ways I could refine my work further I was happy with the result.  I think they were too: it is now a cover photo on Facebook!

I find writing for loved ones more demanding than other work – I think because it’s so important to find the right words for them as well as me. I don’t and can’t do it for every big event or celebration; this was the fifth specifically personal poem including two for funerals and the one I wrote for my own wedding!

There have been times when I planned to write but can’t get the right words or the right feeling. It will always be an exception to write something as a gift because it will always be an exception for the writing stars to align.

But when it works, and is enjoyed, it really is a great result for me.

Happy writing,



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This week I am sharing a poem that is very special to me – W.H. Auden’s ‘Carry Her Over The Water‘; partly because it’s Valentine’s Day and partly because it’s a poetic example of what I have been learning recently about style, setting and language.

I hope you enjoy it, and for those people who know why it is special, I hope it brings back some happy memories!

Carry Her Over the Water, by W.H. Auden

Carry her over the water,
And set her down under the tree,
Where the culvers white all days and all night,
And the winds from every quarter,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

Put a gold ring on her finger,
And press her close to your heart,
While the fish in the lake snapshots take,
And the frog, that sanguine singer,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

The streets shall flock to your marriage,
The houses turn round to look,
The tables and chairs say suitable prayers,
And the horses drawing your carriage
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

(I originally found this in a book of love poetry but it can also be found at allpoetry.com)

Happy Valentine’s Day reading,



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I finally finished my reading on setting at the poetry stage, and this week’s book is Penguin’s Poems for Life, selected by Laura Barber.

What I wanted to pick up was how feeling and setting interact but what I got was a little wider than that.

What I took was that description is an art.  In much the same way I am studying the importance of the right word, the power of poetry is linked to picking the right language.

For example, Seamus Heaney’s The Railway Children describes ‘shiny pouches of raindrops’ a phrase that describes their appearance, reminds the reader of the industrial nature of trains, gives a sense of something hidden within them (in this case, words) and makes them tiny gifts.  All these ideas are part of the setting of the poem: on the railway cutting.

Another example which caught my eye was Walt Whitman’s poem A Noiseless Patient Spider.  The sense that the web of a small spider could be a metaphor for life, a soul, creation was rather beautiful and unexpected.

This is a good reminder really – you can be both literal and figurative in poetry but sometimes you also need to be bold: follow a thought through its twists and turns and see if the journey is worth recording!

I had a fair number of poems I could share, different examples of poetry I love, but poetry is a particularly personal medium and my passion won’t necessarily match yours.

The best and most important point though is that truly effective writing, in whatever form, is a connection between the writer and the reader. The more you are able to bring them into your world, the more trust they will place in you and the more likely they are to lose themselves in your work.

I forget to think about poetry when concentrating on prose writing but that is very short-sighted because it means I miss opportunities to improve my work.

As a result of this reading exercise I have decided to make sure I read  at least one poem a week, analytically, to understand it and see what lessons I can learn for my own work.

Happy reading,



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As I said on Sunday my reading focus at the moment is about feeling – for which I have decided to read both a novel and a book of poetry.

Obviously the novel is going to be useful as a way of exploring another writer’s techniques and seeing what I can learn.  However,  I thought that adding poetry to the mix might help me think outside the box a little more – perhaps by suggesting more lyrical phrasing or mixing up a few metaphors.

I won’t talk about my findings yet, as I don’t want to pre-empt them and I haven’t finished my reading.  I probably won’t read the entire poetry anthology before next week either, but I will have looked at a few different examples and hopefully will identify something valuable that I can take forward into my own writing.

I am looking forward to finding out!

Happy reading,



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This week I have been doing too much, and not enough.

There have been a lot of things going on – appointments, extra meetings at work, extra hours at work, reading a script for the drama group and so on – and writing has taken a little bit of a back seat.

It’s frustrating, but just because the words haven’t quite hit the page it doesn’t mean I haven’t been planning – it’s important for me to remember that!

I have mapped out logistically how to take what I picked up from the crime writing convention and apply it to the whodunnit. I have a new storyline because one of the key things I realised as I sat in that audience was that a police procedural is not my style.

Now, that’s a bit of a worry, because I wrote a story wrapped around a police officer. But with some tweaks, I can make it effective as a more angsty/psychological story which is more about perception and not entirely about reality…

It became really clear as I listened to police officers and ex police officers, and civilians who are authorised to go out in uniform in police cars, that it’s not the route I want to take. They are experts and can bring years of experience to their work, they can use the language, the systems, without fear of getting a major detail wrong.

I can’t do that, and I am not in a position to give up work to go around chasing gangs in a police car any time soon, so my best bet, and the one I think will work better, is to work with what I know: people.

At last, a degree in Sociology might have a tangible benefit!

There are resources, of course – but one thing I know from research (yay Sociology again!) is that there’s nothing better than doing your own: only you will know exactly what it is you are looking for.  This isn’t science, it is about people in potentially dangerous situations responding based on their own experience and belief system.  If I only needed a few details to pin it together, I could ask one of my lovely contacts for help.  However, there’s a lot more than that to do, and I have to make it work for me.

All this sounds like another head-hitting-wall moment but it really isn’t, because a) I realised what I can bring to my writing from my own background and b) the whodunnit was never meant to be anything more than an exercise in twisting a tale – the fact I have now seen its possibilities is completely unexpected and quite marvellous!

I am going to leave it there today, on what I truly think is a positive point. Next week I have to get back into sending out my work but for now I’m focussing on the fact that I am working, even when my pen hasn’t really touched my paper.

Happy writing,

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This week I did some planning, although not as much as I’d intended, because I ended up building on something from last week and completing a really integral part of an interview. So I’m about 50% where I had hoped to be…

But in getting the interview structured and some of the crumbs tied in, and thinking through the plan (even if not in the detail I had intended) I feel like I can see the finishing line. This week coming will be all about tying up the loose ends of the story and twining them into a rope for the murderer to hang herself, metaphorically speaking.

I have also decided on a final scene complete with the last words of the story, and it feels good to have that. It’s something to work towards, and something to keep me focussed so I don’t go off on a tangent, as I so often do.

Next week I hope I’ll get the bulk of what’s left written and the week or so after will just be filling in a couple of blanks. That’s the plan, anyway – let’s hope there no banana skins on my path!

In other news – A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my poems with another writer. He had kindly given me his poetry book, and I explained to him I was working on rhyming poetry as it wasn’t my usual style, but the ones I shared were blank verse. He told me, in effect, that poetry which doesn’t rhyme isn’t really poetry.

I don’t agree and simply shrugged this opinion off as irrelevant to my personal style. However, I shared the comments with a friend who has read some of my work and she was incredibly offended on my behalf.

This got me thinking about my own response.

I will never be able to make everyone happy, and the more I try, the more I lose my own voice. I have and will try all sorts of different styles because experimenting is fun, but every piece of writing has to be a reflection of me.

I ignore people who tell me what writing ‘should’ be – writing is many different things, and there really are no hard and fast rules.

We write because we have something we want to say, a force within us driving us to mark out our thoughts and ideas on paper. That force is like our own personal engine and if we let someone else tamper with its workings, who knows what damage they could do.

Yes, it can be helpful to learn the mechanics – but the time comes when we have to trust our engineering skills!

Happy writing,

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After a very limited sleep and going back to work today, I’m not 100% sure this post will be any better than it would have been yesterday. Still, needs must and all that, so here goes…

Book 18 – The Goldsmith’s Wife, by Jean Plaidy (one of my Grandma’s old books). This is a fictionalised account of the life of (Elizabeth) Jane Shore, one of the most famous women of King Edward IV’s court, lover not only to the King but also (after his death) to his stepson and one of his most trusted advisers. It explores how her beauty and warmth captivated the powerful, and took her from a respectable, if stultifying marriage, into the glamour and sensuality of the Court.

Plaidy takes some liberties with the accepted history of both Jane’s first marriage and her later relationships, but the narrative flow of the story is an intriguing picture of a woman both warm and beautiful; someone who used her power with the king not for her own sake but to petition for pardons for those who had fallen out of favour.

However, there is one relationship that Jane forms that fundamentally changes the readers perception of her wisdom and goodness, which seemed to be abusive. I don’t know if this was Plaidy’s plan but based on the known history it was one of many ways to explore the relationship and this choice didn’t fit with the character or the rest of the story particularly comfortably.

The story generally paints a number of the male characters in a negative light, but surprisingly paints Richard III as a victim of circumstance and false history. I wonder how she would feel about the finding of his remains and his reinterment…

I do enjoy Plaidy’s books, and they’re great holiday reads, but this one didn’t connect as well as some. The time period isn’t one I know much about, the abusive relationship was a narrative choice I can’t really get behind, and the ending was much sadder than the evidence suggests was the case for Jane. Still, it did give me a way into a period of history I really ought to try to learn more about!

Book 19 – Coffin’s Ghost, by Gwendoline Butler (one of my Nan’s old books!). This is the story of John Coffin, Chief Commander of the Second City of London Police, in a fictional world where London has been split into two cities. As Coffin recovers from an attempt on his life, the arms and legs of a woman are found on the doorstep of his old home. The story follows this and a number of other crimes being investigated, and how they cross and tangle each other.

This was an unusual read. I wasn’t too keen on the style early on and even by the end there were choices made by the writer that irritated me and took me out of the story. The big reveal was almost mundane, considering the clue crumbs that were dropped through the story, and it didn’t work for me particularly well.

However, I enjoyed the core of the book. The characters were generally interesting and sufficiently twisted and complex that I had absolutely no idea who the dead woman was, or who had put her there. The unreliable nature of the police officers was a great storyline, because there was never any confidence in what they were saying – any one of them could have been a liar, or telling the absolute truth – there was no way of knowing.

There was some heavy-handedness about pushing certain ideas, which made me doubt them, and I did think I knew who had committed one of the crimes stated quite early on, but despite my disappointment in the ending I left this book thinking it was an educational read, genre-wise.

This is one of a series of books with the character, and if I find another I will certainly read it!

So there you have it – 2 holiday reads, neither in any way taxing, but both bringing entirely different styles to the table!

Until next time – happy reading,

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Well, I did say I might not post until Monday and here I am!

Here in the UK there’s a national holiday for Good Friday and Easter Monday so I’ve tried to cram a lot in over the four-day weekend. Amongst other things I’ve done community work, spent time with my husband’s family, seen my own family, spent time gardening and done some writing (well, I had to fit it in somewhere…!).

I tend not to talk about religion on this blog – everyone’s views are their own and I respect their rights and privacy – so the only other thing I’ll say about Easter itself is that I have eaten far too much (especially of chocolate – maybe for the last time) but very much enjoyed being a spectator to an Easter Egg Hunt!

I managed to watch the tv show I saw filmed; most of the contentious, political content was edited out but it still ended up as a good show. Just more middle of the road.

It got me thinking about challenging writing. My style isn’t inherently challenging: I’m not trying to change any world views with my work.

As long-time readers know that has bothered me in the past and occasionally I do feel I should push the boundaries more – be more political, more divisive, more assertive in talking about the rights and wrongs I see and feel around me.

It’s not going to happen with my current work but the longer I’m away from one thing, and the less time I have to write given all my other responsibilities and activities, the more I think I should pursue that side of me. If it comes to nothing so be it, but I have nothing to lose in trying.

Even more reason to get the whodunnit done soon, hey?!

In other news – I missed book 79: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark.  I haven’t read it but it’s a name that has hovered in my consciousness since I was at school, so I think I ought to at some point!  Book 80 is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  It’s never appealed to me but reading the article has piqued my interest, and I had no idea about the debate over the title, because catch-22 is a phrase that gets used and understood in everyday conversation.  I guess, like George Orwell, Heller has had an unexpected influence on English.

I’m going to leave it there for today, as I’ll be posting again tomorrow!  I hope those of you who have had a long weekend have enjoyed yourselves and made some happy memories, and for all those who didn’t – well I hope you had a great time anyway!

Happy writing,



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It’s the start of a new year, and therefore the start of a new reading challenge.

I must admit I am quite excited to have a fresh start on this, and have been over-eager already – so this is a very long post, sorry!

Book 1 – Requiem for a Wren by Neville Shute (known as The Breaking Wave in the US).  I started reading this in 2014, but as I finished it on New Year’s Day it fell into this year’s list!

This book explores two stories – that of Alan Duncan, a WWII pilot disabled in service, and of Ordnance Wren Janet Prentice, the woman Alan’s late brother had planned to marry.  Alan is the storyteller and his thoughts and feelings bookend each section, but this really is a requiem to a Wren – Janet is the subject of the book.

We are shown Janet’s wartime experience and subsequent inability to find her footing in peacetime.  She is overwhelmed by loss, and ill-equipped to deal with the guilt she bears for the deaths of seven men whose plane she helped destroy.

We see she was a force to be reckoned with during the war, and how she disappears into oblivion as the war concludes: not even the friends who shared her wartime experience retain contact after she leaves the Wrens.  By the end even her name is no longer hers.

Alongside this we see Alan finding his way back from the brink of despair, his search for Janet giving his life purpose and meaning, enabling him to find his own strength of will.  Alan becomes the opposite of Janet, ending up with a plan for the future that he would have shunned prior to the war, but one which gives him peace and satisfaction.

The way Shute wrote Janet really affected me; he wrote women in a way many of today’s male writers cannot better.  She is a strong woman who cannot find peace, a woman who feels that she has no place in the world once the war is over. You hope there is a happy ending even if you know it is impossible.

I’m sure you can tell I appreciated this book (this review was even longer originally!).  I don’t know that I enjoyed it as such – there’s not a lot of hope in there – but I found it powerful, moving and engrossing.

Book 2 – Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.  I was looking at Kingsolver books thanks to NavasolaNature‘s recommendation of one (which I couldn’t get so quickly), and I was attracted to this one for some reason I can’t actually remember!

This book is what I consider to be a ‘human experience’ novel, set against a background of climate change.  The main character, Dellarobia, on her way to an illicit meeting with a young man, sees a mountainside which looks like it is silently burning.  For her it is a sign and she returns home filled with a sense of wonder.  The novel follows the discovery that the flames are in fact butterflies which are roosting in the mountains for the first recorded time in history – and the interaction between Dellarobia’s family, the church community she attends, and the scientists who come to investigate the abnormal behaviour.

Dellarobia’s whole life is affected and the novel explores the relationships between poverty, necessity and environment.  Ultimately it is about Dellarobia taking some control and ownership of her life back and finding something exciting and challenging that isn’t related to affairs and attraction.

This was a really long book, much longer than I would generally attempt for this challenge, to be honest.  Some sections of it were very strong and some seemed overlong, which is probably inevitable in a book of 500 pages.  There also seemed to be a lot of repetition of ideas, images and information; the concepts were really drummed home.  I didn’t mind that particularly, but there were points when I was reading and I wondered when the story would proceed.

I loved the setting though – the Appalachian mountains were described in ways that reminded me of a place I love, and I could really imagine the scenery.

Book 3 – Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus.  This book was set for reading group and I failed to read it so I was playing catchup! It starts with the release of convicted killer Tobias from jail.  He moves back to his hometown, and the community rises up against him.  However, it soon becomes clear that there is far more going on in the town that the locals would admit – and far more to the deaths of Laura and ‘Snow White’ than previously imagined.

The police get involved due to a related crime, questions are asked about some of the evidence from the original case, and in the midst of all this another young woman goes missing…

This book was one I couldn’t put down, even when I was exhausted and knew I ought to go to sleep!  I worked out some elements as the story progressed, but so many more were mysteries I was unable to unravel.  It was this book which inspired Sunday’s post and made me wonder what I could learn for my own work by trying a crime-based story.

There were a few phrases and comments that seemed a little unnatural but I think part of that is that the book is translated from German.  For example, there was a lot of reference to people and lives being ‘bourgeoise’ which isn’t a word I would expect to see multiple times, and certainly not in the speech of a 17-year-old character, in modern English-language novels.  Still, it being so absorbing and challenging in translation is an amazing feat and testament to both the writer and the translator.

The book has a lot going for it – the violence isn’t what I would consider graphic, the characters are well defined, the outcome is not what you would think.

I am going to stop there because this post is very, very long, but as a final point I would re-read any of these books without hesitation.

Happy reading,



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