What a plastic lizard, receipts and fringed leather have in common

Book and bookmark

Image: Pixabay

I’m not a book purist in many ways.

I love a bit of genre  – fantasy, sci-fi, New Wave-existential-garbage-horror – I have time for them all.

I won’t turn my nose up at writers who are regularly slated on social media because their writing isn’t deemed to be of high enough quality to sell the numbers they do – J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown … even E.L James won’t find her ears burning when I’m around.

They’ve all sold millions more books than I have which means they have a gift for something – Dan Brown’s books are true page turners, J.K Rowling has a fantastic imagination and E.L James tapped into the e-mucky-book market like no one before or since. (Though e-mucky-books sounds like a Yorkshireman describing a novel after it’s been dropped in a puddle, which may well be a genre of its own one day.)

I’m not even against people writing on books – their own books, mind, not school’s, not those borrowed from the library or lent by a friend. The greatest minds in the arts and sciences annotated books (Sylvis Plath, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Jack Kerouac all scribblers) so I see nothing wrong with it. It shows the reader has engaged with the text, which is always what a writer hopes for.

This very comment will have my mother in law reaching for the smelling salts like a heroine in a melodramatic Gothic novel with an over-tightened corset. When I was studying for my degree, she discovered I annotated my texts books and her horrified face was something to behold – I actually think she gasped.

And inherited annotations can be fascinating. Seeing what a previous owner thought of a particular section, seeing the ideas expanded on or questioned by later minds is part of the joy of buying second hand. Even if it’s only to read

To Spencer, have a wonderful birthday, love Gramma Joan

still fills my heart with an extra chip of joy.

And yet to see a turned down page makes me twitch. I have to stop myself from slapping my son’s hand when he does it.

What’s the matter with finding a bookmark?

I want to cry.

A bookmark doesn’t have to be anything posh either. I’ve had cardboard, fringed leather (usually those National Trust ones with pictures of manor houses on), fabric, embroidered, brass and a few nice steel bookmarks – one blade-like my husband bought me, now sadly gone to wherever the good bookmarks go – with which I could act out vampire slayer fantasies when no one was looking. But when backed into a bookmarkless corner I’ve used

receipts

shopping lists

flyers for frozen food outlets 

playing cards

Post-it notes

pens

and on one not so successful occasion, a plastic reptile of unspecified species with a very long spiky tail and a loud squeak in his belly.

How do you feel about annotation and turned down corners? Do you have a selection of lovely bookmarks to draw on  or will you use a slice of yesterday’s pizza if necessary?

 

Spiders in literature: Man-eating monsters or pig-saving angels?

Ah, darling. She's got your eyes. Image: Pixabay

‘Ah, darling. She’s got your eyes.’ ‘Yes. Tell her to give them back, would you?’
Image: Pixabay

Well, what the hell do you think you’re doing there?

No, it’s not my reaction to the other half’s romantic overtures, but what I said to a spider this morning. I often speak to the household archnids and this one had just abseiled from the kitchen ceiling and was hanging a few inches from my nose.

Was she trying to get my attention? Was she just showing off her ability to weave silk from her abdomen? Was she about to wax lyrical on some subject of import – perhaps concerning the ongoing problems in Syria? I fear we shall never know, as after a few seconds she retreated to the flourescent tube.

Perhaps it was the worn down slippers and the felted surface of my favourite Winter jumper which has just emerged from its Summer holiday and will no doubt remain on my body until next April (barring occasional trips through the washing machine, natch). Perhaps those along with the bed head hair, made me resemble some terrifying creature that makes even an eight legged creature of nightmare retreat in horror. It’s possible.

Anyway, the encounter made me contemplate her kind in general. It is the season of the spider, after all. They’ve been strung, bloated and expectant like decorations nicked from the Addams Family’s Christmas Box, around my garden for weeks.

I don’t object to spiders  in the house or in the garden – and I’ll happily waste five minutes watching them spin their webby webs across the top of the kitchen window. We have a rather lovely, silky tunnel spanning it now and I rather like being able to pretend I live in a haunted mansion, complete with boas of webs and their inhabitants. 

It’s probably the old Goth on me.

Then, I remembered the scene from the film The Incredible Shrinking Man from 1957 (see below).

I watched a screening on TV when I was around seven and the scene where the hero fights off a ravenous spider had me fleeing behind the sofa more effectively than any Dalek, Cyberman or Sylurian could. 

The film’s based on the book, The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson – he of I Am Legend fame – and this got me wondering how many other fictional arachnids I could think of.

So, in honour of the season and as a terrifying taster for my Halloweeny-blog-a-thon next week, here’s some more lit-spids.

For arachnophobes …

Anansi in Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi is a spider god in human form, a mischief maker and teller of tall tales. The Anansi Boys of the title are Mr Nancy’s (Anansi’s) sons, Charlie and Spider who meet up after Nancy dies. Gaiman knows the arachnid is likely to terrify readers – young ones especially – which is probably why he compares the evil ‘Other Mother’ in Coraline to one. No one wants a Spider Mum.

Aragog in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling.

Giant, man-eating spider who lives in the Forbidden Forest with his brood. Raised by Hagrid – the daft lug – the thing is helpful at clearing up secrets, but still sets its kids to eating Harry and Ron, proving once and for all you just can’t house train a spider.

And for the arachnophiles amongst you …  

Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web by EB WhiteFinally proving that spiders are intelligent creatures willing to help others … As long as the ‘other’ in question is a pig called Wilbur.

And finally 

Incy WincyItsy Bitsy Traditional. There’s no denying Incy is hardworking, stoic, unbeatable. This little spider won’t let showers stop him from reaching his goal. But have you noticed the plot holes? What’s his motivation? Why is Incy so determined to climb that water spout? Is he just thick headed and a bit of a masochist?

Or is he heading for a secret rendevous with the spider from The Shrinking Man, so the two can implement their plans to enslave ant-kind and through them man? 

Think on.


Any inky spiders I’ve missed?

Caretakers, spies, jockeys and journos – that’s what novelists are made of

'Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It's off to work we go!' Image: Pixabay

‘Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work we go!’
Image: Pixabay

Ever fancied slipping into an alternate career?

Something out of the norm. Something different.

You could become a lion tamer – if there is such a thing anymore – or a gold prospector in South Africa. Maybe you’ve a yearning to dig up the tombs of the Pharoahs in the Valley of the Kings or hunt for new species of invertebrates in the sticky depths of the Amazon (The jungle, not the online retailer. No one should ever explore Amazon’s sticky depths.)

I have a few ideas for myself:

*Secret shopper at the world’s most glamorous 6 star hotels (warm locations only, please.)

*Professional ‘IT’ Girl (not entirely sure what and ‘IT’ Girl is – and at my age, I’d probably have to be the world’s first ‘IT’ Woman – but it seems to involve wearing designer clothes, posing for paparazzi and falling out of exclusive London nightclubs in the early hours, off your face but still looking totally gorgeous. I’ll give it a go.)

*Oh, and chocolate taster (Obvs.)

Of course, the sensible answer for my alternative career is author.  Although this might seem a switch for someone who goes home at the end of a working day smelling of eucalyptus leaves and mouldy water, moving from florist and previous ladies undergarment salesperson to writer isn’t that much of a stretch. Compare it to how some well-known literary names earned money before Lady Success came calling …

Ian Fleming, author of the rather successful Bond books was in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. He was involved in the planning of Operation Goldeneye. Goldeneyes was also the name of his house in Jamaica. Now, where have I heard that word before

Before discovering The Discworld, Terry Pratchett started his career as a journalist on local newspapers (journalism being very popular with budding novelists) but became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (a body that controlled the production and supply of electricity) for 7 years.

Dick Frances, author of 40 bestselling thrillers based around racecourses and horse training, was a steeplechase jockey who won over 350 races and rode for the Queen and the Queen Mother.

Charles Dickens was also a journalist as a young man but his first job at the age of 12 was pasting labels on jars in a blacking factory, something he was forced into when his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

J. K. Rowling, worked for Amnesty International, the Chamber of Commerce and in Portugal, teaching English as a foreign language before finding success with her Harry Potter books.

John Steinbeck, was an apprentice painter, fruit picker, caretaker and a construction worker at Madison Square Garden before he found success.

Stephen King was a caretaker in a high school whilst writing in his spare time. According to Writers’ Digest, this period of his life inspired the oh-so memorable opening scenes of Carrie.

But the final word goes to William Faulkner, who worked (by all accounts badly) as Post Master at the University of Mississippi. He displayed his mastery of the written word in his resignation note.

As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.


If you’re a budding author, what interesting past careers would you be able to include in your biog?

Wednesday Word Tangle: Wackford, Bathsheba, Beguildy: Why a good name is the best gift you can give your protagonist

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Character names are important.

At their most basic they must be credible: probably best not to name a middle-aged accountant living in a suburb of modern day Leeds whose having an affair with his son’s primary school teacher Bumbletuke Humpty-Bump. That may sit well in A Christmas Carol, but it won’t do on the darts team of the Dog and Duck.

At best they’re shorthand, communicating in a few syllables something of the character, a boiled down essence of their personality. I’ve talked about preconceptions on this blog before – it’s okay, we all have them – but they aren’t just confined to the clothes someone wears or their looks: they extend to names too.

If you read a newspaper article about a man called Gary who’d been caught speeding, you’d have a very different chap in mind from one named Sebastian. It doesn’t mean one is more likely to speed than the other, but you wouldn’t expect Sebastian to have been brought up on the local Council Estate – but Gary … possibly.

Rightly or wrongly, we associate certain names with certain types of people.

Ever noticed how many heroes are called Jack? From the dandy charmer Sparrow, through the doom-laden Bauer, to the kick-ass Ryan, when your main protagonist is called Jack you can expect guns, explosions, fist fights and a body count that’s through the roof. Jacks know how to look after themselves.

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is not dedicated to your Jacks, your Garys or your Sebastians. But to the more unusual, the peculiar – the downright inventive.

  • From Precious Bane by Mary Webb: Wizard Beguildy, Jancis Beguildy.

The wizard is a con man and a trickster, while his daughter Jancis is attractive in a brainless sort of way, which makes them both ‘beguiling’ – ‘to deceive or trick’ , ‘to charm and fascinate’.

In the Bible, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, was seduced by King David and mother of King Solomon. Did Hardy choose the name intentionally to convey to his Bible-literate readership a little of Bathsheba’s future man trouble? Then there’s Gabriel Oak. Why did Bathsheba not know to marry this guy from the start? He’s half angel, half reliable, deep rooted stock – as English as cream teas and an obsession with the weather. I would’ve been ordering a dress just on learning his name.

  • From the Harry Potter books: J.K. Rowling’s devised some cracking names for her characters, so many it’s hard to choose just a few but …

Albus Dumbledore: ‘dumbledore’ is an English dialect word for a bumblebee – love the name just for that. Then there’s Draco Malfoy: ‘draco’ can mean dragon and Draco was also an Ancient Greek lawgiver with some extreme ideas of justice. A perfect combination for a baddy. Lastly, Severus Snape: his first name sounds like ‘severe’, surname makes me think of snakes and ‘snipe’ (‘to criticise unpleasantly’) something Snape’s very good at.

You can’t have a list of character names without mentioning the king of weird character names.

  • From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Ebenezer Scrooge: a dour, Biblical beginning, then a surname that sounds a bit like ‘screw’, which is apt.

‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!’ A Christmas Carol

  • From Nicholas Nickleby: Wackford Squeers – sadistic Yorkshire schoolmaster at Dotheboys Hall  who regularly ‘whacks’ his students.

And before you dismiss Dicken’s character names as comical and ridiculous, bear in mind that parents called their kids some very odd names during the Victorian period ‒ Friendless Baxter and One Too Many Gouldstone being but two genuine examples.

  • From The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Bilbo Baggins: oh, just because it sounds great, doesn’t it?

I could go on and on but I’m not going to.


What’s your favourite character name? And here’s a challenge for those who fancy having a go. Choose from one of the following and come up with a fitting character name to share with the group:

  • A burglar with a love of horticulture.
  • A cross-dressing policeman.
  • A serial killing teacher… Or share one of your own devising 🙂

Author pay inequality: Is assassinating James Patterson the only solution?

James Patterson's daily earnings awaiting collection. Probably. Image: Pixabay

James Patterson’s daily earnings awaiting collection. Probably.
Image: Pixabay

So, having read my post (because I’m sure you did, didn’t you?) about the English class system and people’s inbuilt assumption that the hoi polloi, the working man – chavs – can’t also be intelligent and creative … Which side of the Shakespeare argument did you fall on?

Are you a Williamite or an Anti-Stratfordian? (And no, I’ve not made that phrase up, honest. Well, the Williamite bit is mine, but it sounds good, don’t you think?)

This discussion about cash, spondoolicks – money – led me to thinking.

You see, our Will did alright out of his quill and parchment, earning enough money through scribbling and investments to build New Place – supposedly the second largest house in Stratford at the time. He even had enough spare that he could famously leave Anne, his wife, his ‘second best bed’, suggesting the old spend thrift owned more than one. Maybe Will snored. Maybe Anne had night terrors and threatened to stab him as he slept.

All this suggests that if you’re smart with your cash – and happen to be a genius – you could make a respectable living from artistic endeavours back then. Something we can’t necessarily claim today.

I count myself a very fortunate woman. I’ve mainly had low paid shop jobs, it’s true. Look at my CV and you won’t be blown away by my achievements (unless you’re impressed by someone who’s done everything from waitressing to working in a farm shop, selling alcohol and measuring mature ladies for corsets, and if you are – God bless you!)

But I am able (thanks to a very understanding husband) to work part time, leaving me a couple of days a week where the house is free of boy and man, to write. This is a good thing for my creativity – such as it is – as I’ve found I’m rubbish at writing in the evening, any brain cells I do possess gradually shutting down as the sun sinks low. I managed to pass a humaities degree working in the evening but creativity after dark doesn’t come easy. Maybe my Muse runs on Vitamin D. Maybe I’m just hopelessly dozy.

Whichever, after the last streaks of gold have fled from the sky, ideas evaporate from my mind like election promises from a newly elected Prime Minister.

I’m doubly lucky with my other half, because despite the large amount of time I devote to writing, I’ve made very little money from it so far. If I had to live on earnings from writing … Well, I’d be squatting under a bridge, keeping warm through newspaper quilts and rubbish bin fires and eating any manky pigeon that happened to limp past. Up to this point, I haven’t earned enough to pay for a weekend away, let alone a week’s rent. And the statistics say that’s unlikely to change.

As with other professions in the UK, the majority of the wealth earned by authors is concentrated in the lucky top 10%, who make £60,000 or more pa. The bottom 50% of authors earn £10,500 or less and as the average wage here is £26,500 (about $41,500 – bearing in mind the cost of living is higher in the UK), you can see that for the majority, being able to write for a living with no additional income is tough.

Added to that is the fact that authors’ earnings continue to shrink year on year and you have a scenario where there will be even fewer full-time writers in the near future (unless they’re kept by truly stunning, amazing spouses of course.)

But is this a bad thing?

I gain a lot of ideas whilst out of the house. Sitting in a café, walking the streets, travelling on public transport, working in a shop you get to see IT ALL.

If I worked from home all the time, I would never have seen an actress playing Lady Godiva whilst riding a horse in the middle of Bristol in the pouring rain armed only with a flesh coloured body stocking and artfully arranged waist length hair. I would never have met Rosa, the elderly ex-café manager with connections to the Mafia. I would never have met the inspiration for Lexie, the leopard print legging wearing force of nature.

And yet … Wouldn’t we all really, truly feel we’d ‘made it’ if we were able to give up the day job and write full-time? It’s justification for all the hours we spend tapping at keyboards in the early morning/late night, for all the times we’re caught staring into space and when asked use the feeble excuse ‘I was thinking.’

There are a few solutions, of course.

Publishers and companies like Amazon could actually pay writers what they deserve instead of entering into price wars with each other where the only one who loses out is the person who produced the raw product in the first place.

Or – and stick with me on this – we could start assassinating those huge authors, the ones who are way up in the top ten ‒ top five ‒ percent of earners. I mean, really, who’d miss James Patterson, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Suzanne Collins …

Hmm. Maybe I better take that idea back to the drawing board.

What’s in a name? Pseudonyms and why writers use them

Ah, my dear, we can but dream. Image: Pixabay

Ah, my dear, we can but dream.
Image: Pixabay

Have you always had the same name?

For many women reading this, the answer will be a resounding ‘no.’ The same goes for myself – no, I have not always had the entertaining monica ‘Lynn Love’ – cousin to Penelope Pitstop, third cousin twice removed to Pepper Potts, bastard offspring of Linda-black-sheep-of-the-family-no-one-talks-to-her-at-family-get-togethers-Lovelace.

My surname used to be Cuthbert. Lynn Cuthbert. Lynn Love may be a bit of a joke name, but Lynn Cuthbert is an accountant’s name – maybe a quantity surveyor. And before I have legions of quantity surveyors telling me I’m slurring the good work of civil engineering the length and breadth of these fine isles, may I say – first off, what on earth are you doing here on WordPress? Go find your tape measure and calculate something. And second off, there’s nothing wrong with a respectable profession like yours, it’s just not for me – and for heaven’s sake stop being so sensitive about it.

Now, if you’re a writerly cove, you may have dreamt for years of seeing your name on the cover of some beautifully bound, hand-tooled leather hardback. But was it your own name you saw, or a pen name?

There is a long, fine tradition of authors using nom de plumes. The wonderfully titled Samuel Langhorne Clemens most of you will have read as the master of wile and wit, Mark Twain, and most readers will know when they pick up a Richard Bachman novel, they’re really reading the work of Horror King of Kings, Stephen King.

But it seems women are the ones who have run fastest and loosest with the pseudonym.

Understandably for early novelists, when ladies were supposed to spend all day learning how to sing, play respectable musical instruments (perhaps a piano that would show of your finely boned wrists – nothing such as a tuba or a cello that would distend your delicate female body parts) embroidering anything that stayed still long enough for you to set your needle on it, fainting and practising how to die from something decorous, like consumption.

What you really, really weren’t supposed to do was be the daughters of a parson, live in close isolation with other creative, mildly unhinged siblings in the middle of a windswept moor, allowing your suppressed, base natures emerge through torrid tales of mad women chained in attics, obsessive love, domestic violence, ghosts, conflagrations and fallen women.

Is it any wonder Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte used the (rather odd) male pen names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell? If nothing else, they saved the blushes of their father Patrick.

Even today, when it is – you’d think – more acceptable for women to be authors, they still often use their initials rather than those all too-feminine first names. Think of P.D. James, J. K. Rowling, C.J. Lyons, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts). This is often because they’re writing in a genre which is male dominated, such as thrillers. When J. K. Rowling was on the verge of publishing the first Harry Potter book, her publisher asked if she would mind becoming J. K. instead of Joanne, in case boys were put off reading the adventures of the wizard genius because they were written by a girl. I’m pretty sure the thriller writers would have a similar story to tell about adopting their gender neutral names.

Would I ditch my real name, the name of my other half of twenty five years, the name of my son, to guarantee higher sales?

Too bloody right I would.

Though, if I wrote some throbbing, muscular, brain-splattered, blood-drenched torture-porn action thriller, I don’t think sales would improve by being L.M. Love instead of Lynn.

So, how about a pen name?

Stud Bentley? Kurt Nontweasel? D. B. Turnblatt? Flash Portsabre?

Hmm. I’ll get back to you.


Any suggestions? Have you invented a pen name for yourself? Or are you determined to use your own? If you have already published – pen name or not – any regrets?


Speaking of names, I was wondering if George R. R. Martin’s was an invented reference to one of his literary heroes –pedlar of epic fantasy, orcs, hobbits and golums, oh my! – J. R. R. Tolkein. You know – the R. R. bit?

The answer? No.

GRRM’s full name is George Raymond Richard Martin – so not made up. But, I bet he enjoyed being able to stick those initials in there.