Category Archives: Writing fiction

So who’s Mr. French, and why is he unmasked?

Like most writers I know, I have voluminous files of old drafts, abandoned chapters and even abandoned novels. It’s all part of learning the craft – knowing when to let go of something that just isn’t working.

Last year, I began writing a complicated dystopian novel. My writing critique group at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre (I couldn’t live without them) gave it a big thumbs down.

Undeterred, I brought it back a few weeks ago with a new beginning. Thumbs down again.

Another beginning. Another thumbs down.

But last week, with beginning #3, I got the seal of literary approval. The corpse has risen from the dead. It is walking. A twisted future world is under construction.

To celebrate, I dusted off a short story I wrote a while ago, did some more work on it, gave it a new title Unmasking Mr. French, and posted it on this site as the prize for signing up to my newsletter. I even invested in a Shutterstock image and made a ‘cover’. (My regular professional cover designer is  busy right now, and will probably shriek in horror when she sees my work!)

Because I’m still in celebratory mood,  I’m giving you the story  without making you sign up since you managed to find my website. Just click here and pop in the password FREE.

Have a read and let me know what you think.

Stu

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Going easy on the f-word in fiction


Writers are getting more foul-mouthed

The recent Guardian article on the increasing rates of foul language in literature got me thinking about my own use of the f-word and its derivatives.

I checked my f-quotient in my last three novels and – yes, my language is getting fouler with every book, rising from a demure 0.012 f*cks per hundred words in my first novel to 0.031 f*cks per 100 in Cairo Mon Amour, my latest.

Highly skilled at cursing

Confession time: I spent my early years on a council estate just outside London, and I Iearned to handle the f-word like an East End fishmonger. Later I became part of the Australian intelligentsia, and honed my skills so that I could out-f*ck any Professor of English Literature in the room.

But why do I use  f*ck in my novels?

Here are the results drawn from the 26 f*cks in Cairo Mon Amour:

  1. Sometimes I use it to locate a character on the British class scale:

Bellamy said, “If we’re right about this we’re finished when those f*ckers from Ealing work out that they’ve put us together.”

“How come you talk like a barrow boy sometimes? I remember that from Shemlan. It’s quite a turn on, you know!”

2.  Here’s a similar example, where I contrast the restrained and courteous Pierre with a thug:

“It’s a .22 calibre model 70,” he grunted. “Israeli military issue. Good quality. Liberated from the enemy. Probably used to shoot some poor Egyptian f*cker. Haha!”

“Take it back,” Pierre hissed.

 3. And here’s Pierre learning to swear in English:

“Well, sort of gallop like f*cking hell. We’re being shot at.”

 4. In this example my Soviet diplomat Zlotnik is supposed to be speaking in Russian, and the f*ck is a translation of the common Russian curse:

 “Where’s that f*ck-your-mother Englishwoman gone?” Zlotnik rarely cursed. It had all unravelled, all gone to shit. He sank into the sofa.

5.  In this last example, I have a bunch of American diplomats fleeing Egypt on ship. There has been a stream of f*cks as they lose their cool. Here’s the last one:

As the Cynthia’s engines groaned rheumatically into life, an American in a suit and a baseball cap pointed at the Soviet ship and shouted, “Look, they’re unloading f*cking missiles!”

I’m actually very pleased with my self-diagnosis: Every example has been strategically selected. There’s not a gratuitous f*ck in the book. Obviously, I was well trained!

Let me know what you think!

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Click any of these links to buy a copy of Cairo Mon Amour

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Austin Macauley Publishers

 

Anthony Carilla’s ‘Convergence’: Audacious and compelling tilt at the future

Anthony Carilla’s debut novel Convergence takes on the core question of our existence. This audaciously ambitious book builds on physics, biology, pharmacology, brain science and theology to create a complex thriller that goes way beyond the mundane. That’s not to say that that the conventional elements are missing: There are dashes of romance and action to balance the slow-burn plot, and the settings are seductive – the jungles of Cambodia, high-tech laboratories in Europe, and the super-luxury playgrounds of a billionaire businessman.

Carilla takes some big risks with this book: A large cast of characters, attention to detail that can sometimes overwhelm, and a lot of science. But the gamble pays off, with compelling portraits of the main protagonists, and a sense of inexorable progress towards an ending that promises to blow the reader’s spiritual socks off. I confess I didn’t see the simple one-sentence conclusion coming, even though the hints – in retrospect – were there along.

Convergence is a book that will provoke a plethora of questions across the spectrum of readers from the faithful to the faithless. Some will question the science, especially the claims for quantum mechanics (but then it is set in 2038), and some will have reservations about the beneficence of big business and the US government in these days of the Trump ascendancy. But the sublime central message of the book will have universal resonance.

Convergence will be published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. in the very near future.

I was given an ARC by the author and asked to provide an honest review.

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You’ll need a wheelbarrow for this 99c box set!

Two of my favourite indie authors, Don Bailey and Kerry Donovan, are part of this fourteen author eBook box set.

Crikey, what will they think of next? Two box sets for the price of one? Discount for seniors? Free popcorn?

If the other twelve authors are as good as Bailey and Donovan, then it will be 99c well spent. You can get it on Amazon here.

Smoking – the novelist’s best friend?

cleopatra
Cleopatra cigarettes: One of the stars of my novel Cairo Mon Amour

It’s been decades since I smoked, but I haven’t quite given up the habit. Having no desire to inhale burning vegetation these days, I still enjoy a vicarious smoke using the lungs of my fictional characters. In fact, smoking is a remarkably useful literary tool.

I identify four ways to exploit tobacco in fiction, but there are undoubtedly more.

But let me first offer a caveat: If you’ve never smoked, the remainder of this post might not hit that sweet spot: The hit you didn’t get from the first slim, black Balkan Sobranie outside a club in Soho; the hit you missed from the first gorgeous, toasted lungful of a Gitane outside Gare du Nord; the hit you could never experience from a mean-spirited little Players No. 6 after a meat pie and a pint in the Lawnmowers Arms somewhere west of Croydon.

Whoops, I slipped into nicotine reverie. Anyway, here are the four ways I use tobacco without actually smoking the stuff:

Historical setting: When I was a student at London University in the seventies, there were still ashtrays in tutorial rooms. Smoking wasn’t taboo. It wasn’t stigmatised. It was perfectly OK to inflict second-hand fumes on your tutor, or sit at the back of a plane filling the armrest ashtray with dog ends. But nowadays, only bad people smoke, and the best way to cast a negative shadow over a character is to have them light up. But good characters can reminisce about the Good Old Smoking Days. The shortest sex scene I ever wrote, set in 2011, goes, ‘Thea sat up, flushed and tousled, and pulled the covers around her. I lay back and mentally smoked a Gauloise’.

Social gradation: If you’re working in seventies England, as I am with my current work in progress, smoking is a wonderful index for where your characters fit into society: Working class characters smoke roll-ups and cheap fags (the Players No.6 is the epitome of poverty smoking, especially with a packet of ten rather than twenty). Better class smokers are more of your Benson and Hedges types, and homosexual men puff effetely on menthols. Elderly men in tweeds suck on pipes, and posh old geezers smoke cigars. Lesbians haven’t been invented yet.

Filling in a pensive pause: Want to fill a pause while your characters need to have a think? Let them have a smoke. You can tell that smokers are thinkers when you watch those wretched outcasts having a gasper outside the office block and pretending that they are pondering a takeover bid for CitiBank. The key to blowing a tobacco-induced thought bubble is to exploit the physical  and psychological details of smoking: Tapping the packet, finding the lighter, the first delicious puff, the sixth puff when you realise how much you hate being addicted, loathing the stinking ashtray. But what a boon for the writer, when a bit of internal monologue can be slipped into the moments of mental vacuum.

Male bonding: What did two blokes do in the Good Old Smoking Days when, left alone, they could find no words? They had a fag, and busied themselves with tapping the packet, finding the lighter, inhaling manfully, etc. Saves on dialogue!

Time for a Scotch, I think.

I write quirky novels about love, betrayal and redemption. Have a look here.

Should I rewrite history to make it fit my novel?

Arthur or Martha? © Sara Campbell 2015
Arthur or Martha?
© Sara Campbell 2015

I’ve got a problem.

I’m writing a novel* that includes episodes set in London in 1975. I want one of my characters to go to a concert by Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin at Southwark Cathedral.  The concert actually took place – I was there, and I remember that it was very long and I was very uncomfortable on the cold stone floor.

Trouble is, that concert was in 1972, not 1975.

Or was it? According to a website that catalogues Ravi Shankar’s tours from 1964 to 2012, the maestro didn’t play any concerts in London at all in the seventies. But then I found a copy of the concert program for sale on Italian eBay, and it’s eerily there in black and purple – 1972.

Should I rewrite history? All my  instincts tell me ‘no’ – I was, after all an academic researcher for years of my life, and  fiddling with evidence was on a level with shoplifting.

Is that particular concert so important to the book? Well, yes, but I suppose there is some other emblematic event that I could replace it with.

I’ll keep you posted.

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*The sequel to Cairo Mon Amour (to be published in London in 2017). The working title is Bury Me In Valletta.

Note on the portrait: I call this my querulous guinea pig picture, but somehow it acquired the title of Arthur or Martha?. For non-Australian readers, the origin of the phrase can be found here.