Saturday 28 July 2012

A Change of Mind

Some years ago, I was chatting with a colleague who’d had over a month off work. I knew she’d been in hospital and didn’t think she’d mind me asking why. She pointed to her not-insignificant sized breasts, for one so small, and smiled. “These little buggers,” she said. “Wouldn’t have bothered if I’d known I’d get Pleurisy and nearly die but,” her glass was always half full, “at least they managed to save them, cost me five grand.”

It upset me that this gutsy lady had spent all her savings, and some more, on a ‘boob job’. It wasn’t on a personal level, I have no interest in what people do and don’t do with their own money. But as a society, I wondered how we’d managed to become a country where this was so important?
 Then I read that the most requested birthday present for American 18 year olds that year had been breast augmentation and my story, A Change of Mind, was the result.

I stashed the story away, it was only ever something I wanted to, ahem, get off my chest but when I was skulking around my old directories recently, searching for inspiration, I decided to dust it off and enter it into the monthly Writers’ Billboard Short Story Competition. You don’t need me to say how excited I was to hear that it had won the June competition, its prize being a two month airing on the host’s website. My eight weeks of ‘fame’ are drawing to a close so I wondered if I could intrigue you enough to fly over to the Writers’ Billboard site to read the story before it’s released into that place in the webosphere for old stories no longer required. You can find it here: *Updated: please now access through this link to my website

Many thanks to the Writers’ Billboard for the opportunity. They host monthly competitions all year round and I’m sure they’d love you to have a go yourselves! The Writers' Billboard website

Friday 20 July 2012

Plant pots and holiday nightmares

After an altercation with a plant pot and a flight of, alas unrecorded, epic distance before landing crack on my knee on our paved drive, I appear to have inadvertently fractured my knee cap.  Unable to drive anywhere for six weeks, the family and I will be tucked away over the summer holidays in an unkempt hovel, without a bean in the cupboard, nor a clean item of clothing in the wardrobe. And worse, I’ve had to cancel the holiday. Truly repentant,  (this is not the first time my long-suffering family have been flawed by one of my carelessly broken limbs) I’ve been doing battle with the gods of form filling and Google searching and may have found us an alternative holiday when my knee should be back to its knobbly self.
Meanwhile, my mind wanders back to one of our holidays-to-remember.
It was in France. We’d excitedly booked ourselves into one of those tents which did all but the catering. This was in the pre-glamping summer of 2000 but we were, nonetheless, suitably impressed. The added bonus for our then 21 month old was that she’d quickly learnt how to undo the main zip in the canvas; the gateway to the great outside. She would proceed to play her new game of ‘unzip and run’ at difficult times such as when Dad was on the croissant hunt and I was changing our babe in arm’s nappy, my back turned. Thankfully her squeals of delight generally alerted us to her unauthorised departure.
After a few games of this, our nerves seriously frayed, a new strategy came into play, where eldest was summarily dragged off with either adult on exiting the tent. Thus we spent many a minute in the park en route to everywhere, the source of much joyous laughter until one day it ended in hysterical tears. Hours later when her screams were now keeping the whole campsite awake, for which I’d still like to apologise, the local doctor tried, unsuccessfully, to convince us that she was having a nightmare. Frankly, I think the only soul on the site not to be having a nightmare was our daughter, starting to cry as she had, way before her bedtime. It was only when we realised that the little girl who always had her right thumb in her mouth was refusing to suck, that we wondered about a broken arm. In fact, she’d dislocated her elbow which was duly re-aligned by a sympathetic French nurse who did her best to assure us that children dislocated limbs every second minute, it would seem, without their parents noticing and that there was absolutely no need to feel guilty about not knowing how she did it. Hmmm.
The next day was my birthday and while our children performed a mid-day sleep of epic proportions, hubbie and I drank bubbly in the sun, hiding behind our sunglasses as bleary-eyed fellow campers walked past, pretending that we weren’t the reason why they were booking a hotel next year.  When a fellow holiday maker asked my husband if we were the couple practicing controlled crying last night, and I sank a little further behind my book, I remember telling myself that we’d laugh about this one day.
In the words of the great Peter Kay, are you going anywhere nice? And if so, enjoy yourselves and be careful out there ...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Spoiling for a Fight

I happened upon a set of reviews for a book that will remain nameless lest I should spoil the novel for you. It wasn’t the reviews which kept me reading, it was the venom in the responses. The first review was deemed to contain ‘spoilers’, those often tiny and seemingly inconsequential bits of information (‘until his death I…’ or, ‘I knew she should dump him from the start,’) which can ruin a fellow reader’s day. The strange thing is, I couldn’t see the spoiler in the review. I thought it a well-balanced piece of writing which had the power to persuade me to buy a piece of chic lit which only ever normally passes through my fingers long enough to wrap it up to give to my sister.

Not everyone agreed. The reviewer should be ‘banned from the site’. The reviewer has ‘ruined it for everyone’. She should even ‘examine her conscience’. One reader wished she’d never paid for, nor started reading the book although it did beg the question why she was perusing the reviews when she’d already made a start, particularly if she was someone who wouldn’t be interested in knowing which way the plot was going to go before she got there.

Later on, another comment appeared which thinly disguised that the main character had died. I had to smile, I was pretty sure this second reviewer was being a little mischievous. But, on cue, in came the tirade of disappointed bitterness. If there is a link between the total reviews and comments a story elicits and its sales, then this little-known book is going to be challenging Fifty Shades of Grey.

Through the whole debacle, I couldn’t help thinking that people don’t have to read reviews, just as there is an ‘off’ button on the television. I suggest that if a review has the potential to ruin their reading experience, that the potential book purchaser should stay away. Unless, like me, they have the memory of a fish.  

But it isn’t that simple.

If a review is to help us decide whether or not to buy and/or read a book, then we need to know whether we’ll like this author’s writing and whether the story is going to captivate us, make us laugh, cry, giggle or snore. And for that, a review has to include an element of the plot. But where is the line to be drawn between motivating a potential reader to buy the book and ruining it for them before they’ve even opened the cover? Does, ‘We join Paul on his journey to find the answers,’ pique our interest in the stories along the way, or make the need to read redundant knowing Paul makes the pilgrimage, either metaphysically or otherwise? Does, ‘When Sylvia meets her mother again, all is not quite what it seems,’ make us want to find out why not, or is it immaterial now that we know that Sylvia and her mother meet up?

I like to leave book reviews. In this quagmire of a publishing world, the least I can do to thank a writer who has given years of their life to the writing of a book which has captivated me for days, is to say so. Nonetheless, I live in complete fear of spoilers. Many sites do provide a ‘spoiler alert’ tag for the reviewer’s use and regardless of what I have written, I will always affix it to my piece. This isn’t because I think I have given anything away, I go to great lengths not to, but one man’s spoiler is another’s nugget of information and pleasing all of the people all of the time is rarely an attainable pursuit.

Some people positively seek spoilers. Search ‘spoilers’ on-line and a whole raft of websites dedicated to the art will appear because some viewers are clearly desperate for a spoiler of their favourite show. I’d like to know whether it’s to save them the bother of watching or because they just can’t bear the suspense. You only need to look at the news stands and scan the headlines for a nanosecond to know the essential plot lines for every Soap that week. I’m sure that the bigger the ‘spoil’ the higher the sales. Only because I belong to the brain of a fish category do I watch previews of films, entertaining as they are, their ‘spoiler alert’ button is nowhere to be seen. For the same reason I can, and do, look for reviews if I’m interested in a novel by an author who is new to me and I always read the blurb in a book shop, as well as the centre page, to help me decide. I don’t know if I'd be so keen if I still remembered the plot outlines by the time the book reached the top of my To Be Read pile. I won’t watch sport if I know the score, it isn’t the same without that feeling of anticipation. Maybe I'd have a greater sensitivity to spoilers if I had a reliable short term memory?

Do you read book reviews? Do they help your book buying experience or do they frustrate more often than they delight? How much would you like them to say? Please share!

I post reviews at Goodreads, Amazon and in Chase, a bi-monthly magazine from the Rotherham Advertiser.