What Pegman Saw : The gravedigger

 

Gordie skidded to a halt, front wheel throwing up dirt and twigs. He jumped off the bike, let it drop. A crow flapped up into a nearby tree, cawed once and hunkered down.

There was the pile of twigs he and Chris had stacked to mark the spot. The thought of his friend made Gordie’s eyes prickle, but he couldn’t think of all that now, couldn’t cry.

Falling to his knees, he pushed the twigs aside, heard the thump of wood hitting dry leaves, a layer inches deep. Once the twigs were gone he began to dig. It hadn’t rained for days, so the dirt was still loose and dry, easy to scrabble away.

His fingers hit something hard. Clearing away more dirt, he saw the dull sheen, felt the cool metal as he lifted the thing free.

For Chris, he thought, tucking the revolver into his belt.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its inspiration. This week we are in the Basque Region of Spain. Choose an image, share, read and comment. See here to join in.

If you think those names ring a bell, then you’re right. For some reason, that discarded bike reminded me of the great coming of age film, Stand by me, which was of course based on the Stephen King story, The Body. Chris and Gordie are two of the main characters in the story.

 

 

 

Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered

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Image : Pixabay

 

We recently signed up for Amazon Prime.

Amazon are not one of my favourite companies. Any global big business that has such a massive slice of a particular market – that has changed the way the world shops – is doing something right in monetary terms, whilst simultaneously doing something very wrong for every independant bookshop / high street retailer.

And that’s before we even approach the topic of authors’ pay, the way the company has tried to hold both publishers and authors to ransom in order to prioritise their own profits … 

A could go on, but it’s Sunday and I’m sure you have family to spend time with and dogs to walk, so I’ll shut up before I scare you away.

So why, might you ask, have I allowed this beacon of capitalism into my home? Well, you see, I live with an enormous film buff. Allow me to rephrase that. He’s not enormous – it’s the scale of his filmbuffery that’s huge. Where I squirrel away books, stealthily slipping them into the house under my coat, he does the same with DVDs. Our shelves are a mosaic of brightly coloured cardboard, paper and plastics.

Fulfilling his need for celluloid (no, I know – pixels then) used to be simple. We’d got to the cinema (we were the young couple who, early in our relationship viewed a late night double bill of The Exorcist and some schlocky horror I can’t remember – for a Valentine’s Day treat). And for home consumption there was Blockbuster.

Ah, Blockbuster. I still recall the dusty shelving, the slightly sticky carpets, the caged popcorn (two sacks for the price of one!), and their line in surly, dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed-at-11-am staff members was second to none.

What those guys couldn’t be bothered to tell you about film wasn’t worth not listening to.

Their stores may have had the air of neglected charity shops, but for a reasonable sum, you could rent any recently released DVD on the market.

Of course, Blockbuster has pretty much gone the way of Woolworths, ra-ra skirts and pedal pushers – extinct, never to be resurrected. Which has left the other half in a quandry when it comes to accessing filmage. We’ve tried Netflix, but he exhausted their range a while back, hence the move to Amazon Prime.

And on Amazon Prime we found The Man in the High Castle.

The quality of the dialogue isn’t the highest – you can almost hear the cogs grinding, it’s so clunky. And the acting … Well, there’s a lot of staring into space looking pensive and the main female character only has two expressions – shocked and blank. But it’s a high-concept, alternate history thriller, set in a 1960s America in which the Axis nations won the Second World War and the States were split between Germany and Japan – nuance is not what we’ve tuned in for.

The most surprising thing for me about The Man in the High Castle is that it’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I suppose I associate Dick with full on flying car, Mars settlement, implants in the brain sci-fi .

I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems everything that tripped from Dick’s typewriter or slipped from his pen has been adapated for the big screen: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, the rummaging through his canon for cinema fodder knows no bounds.

Which made me wonder which author holds the record for the most adaptations of their work on the big screen.

Well, I did a bit of googling and although there’s some debate on the subject, there are some names you’d expect to see – and some you really wouldn’t.

Shakespeare and Dickens are first and third – no great surprise there. Ian Fleming makes an appearance for the James Bond books, of course, along with Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stan Lee and Robert Louis Stephenson – genre books make great movies after all.

Surprises? Well, according to this list, Anton Chekov is in at number 2. Seriously? You don’t generally see versions of The Cherry Orchard rubbing shouders with the latest Avengers movie down the local multi-plex. Moliere is also there, with 208 writer credits according to IMDb – apparently.

So, what have we learnt from this list? 

That having a long career and writing a ton of successful genre fiction is one way to adaptation success. Being a dead literary giant helps. But sometimes just writing one really good yarn – say Don Quixote if your Cervantes (101 adaptations, mainly of this one text) – can be enough.

And the other thing I’ve learned? That not all Philip K Dick adaptations are equal.

***

Have you been watching The Man in the High Castle? What do you think? Do you agree with the Slate list? Who do you think is the most regularly adapted author?

 

 

 

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?

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.

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How to commit murder

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“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’M LEARNING THE ART OF MURDER. It’s a slow, messy process. Sometimes I’m filled with remorse and regret, but with every act of violence, the next swing of the axe becomes easier. Allow me to explain how this pyschopathic streak took hold.

My YA time travelling novel has been through many drafts. It’s not that the initial concept was a bad idea. Man, it’s a great idea- I should know, I’ve lived with it for years. But it was also my first big writing project after a couple of decade’s hiatus (see my About page) and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

To write sparingly is an art form I’m struggling to achieve. Begone overblown ADJECTIVES! Die in agony tortured ADVERBS! May you perish alone and unloved, my overuse of the SEMI-COLON!

To reach the barely competent stage I’m at, I’ve had at least four rewrites of the YA novel, written first drafts of two others, umpteen short stories, filled twenty five note books with plots, character studies, overheard conversations and observations AND been one of the main contributors to my writing group’s blog https://allwritethen.wordpress.com/

And still I struggle to ‘kill my darlings’, to edit out what’s superfluous, what slows the plot, what muddles the narrative, what doesn’t fit the style or theme.

Although… Just recently, I’ve excised an entire chapter from near the opening of my book. It was tense, creepy and frightening with a sniff of the pervy stalker about it- all great things- but the tone was wrong and it introduced the villain too early.

So, I murdered it, rubbed it out of the narrative and buried the body in a separate file. Maybe one day I’ll resurrect it, transforming the withered corpse into a short story. But for now it’s dead, an ex-chapter, pushing up the literary daisies, gone to join the choir proverbial.

Now my plot is cleaner, punchier, more perfectly formed. Problem is… There’s this other chapter. It’s flabby, carrying too much weight and really, everything that happens in it could be summed up in a few sentences at the start of the next section.

Now, where did I put my axe.