Amazon-sized annoyance

The River Amazon is about 4000 miles long and that’s about the length of my annoyance…today

River Amazon

Plus meanders…

Having said that, I must add that the Amazon (online retailer, not river) Customer Service response via email was speedy and comprehensive, even if the answers given were not what I wanted to hear.

The trouble is that, as an author who wants to sell her books, I’m kind of hamstrung. I could bitch and moan for an eternity – but Amazon is where many people go to purchase books unless they’re lucky enough to have a local independent book store, like me. (Hoorah for East Grinstead Bookshop!)

The Amazon-sized annoyance is about the synergy between their sites – that’s to say Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Synergy? Seems there ISN’T synergy.

separation-of-power

(That’s the River Amazon running right down that chasm, naturally).

I spent a long time creating an Author Page at Amazon.com – follow the link at the end of this blog.  You won’t be disappointed. Much.

I assumed that Amazon.com was the mother site and material would be shared with its satellites.

WRONG!

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If I want an Author Page on .co.uk I have to create ANOTHER one.

Then, customer reviews…

You would think (wouldn’t you?) that when people post reviews about a book on Amazon, those reviews would be LINKED TO THE BOOK.

WRONG AGAIN.

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I have a set of great reviews on .co.uk, but NOTHING on .com

In the email – “Our Customer Reviews feature doesn’t link reviews across Amazon.com and the International Amazon sites.”

Yes, I know that NOW!

WHY NOT?

“Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback about Author Central. We appreciate your ideas; we’re always looking for ways to make our service more useful to authors.”

I’m not holding my breath on this one.

Oh, and here’s the link, now you’ve been good enough to get to the bottom of the page.

Caroline’s very individual and largely unloved Author Page

 

 

I am not Catherine Cookson

No, I am not Catherine Cookson, despite someone at a writers’ group thinking that’s who I was, last night – but he had, apparently, already drunk five mojitos.

Catherine-Cookson

Coxon’s the name. Caroline Coxon.

Not Catherine Cookson.

Am I flattered?

Not in every way.

Here’s why.

  1. I was not born in 1906, despite appearances
  2. I am very much alive and well, despite appearances
  3. I don’t write historical fiction (despite appearances?)

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But goodness me, Catherine Cookson is an inspiration, if only for the sheer volume of her output.

Between 1950 and when she died in 1998, just 16 days before her ninety-second birthday, she published NINETY-SEVEN novels, still in print today, which have already sold in excess of 123 million copies and have been translated into twenty languages. She was the most borrowed author from UK libraries for seventeen years.

She wrote three or four novels every year.

EVERY YEAR…

There’s prolific for you.

And here’s me, with ONE novel under my belt, kind of resting on my laurels (only without the laurels) and thinking…I really must get Of Night and Light properly marketed and promoted and RECOGNISED by a wider audience before I tackle anything else.

Oh, and by the way, Catherine Cookson was a multi-millionaire. Do I look in any way like a multi-millionaire? I don’t think so. Except maybe after you’ve drunk five mojitos.

What am I waiting for?

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Let’s work out the maths. Ninety-seven novels before the age of ninety-two.

Yep, that’d be three a year.

Watch me go!

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Real writers read a lot!

Do they? DO they? Read a lot, that is, to qualify as real writers, good writers.

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Perhaps, qualify is the wrong word? What I mean to put forward has already been said by Stephen King. (How annoying is that?)

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

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King, much to my shame, also declares he has little patience with people who say they want to be writers but claim they haven’t got any spare time to read.

Note to self: Keep out of Stephen King’s way. I expect he could be vicious when cornered.

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Oh yeah, he looks pretty scary there.

What’s more, my beloved William (well, it’s not so much HE who’s beloved, but two of his books, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, sorry William, to get your hopes up)  Faulkner said this:

“Read, read, read. Read everything-trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

So, the importance of a writer taking the time to read a lot cannot be underestimated then?

(But, having said that, I’m not sure how much difference it would make to The Worst Writer In The World to munch his way through Tolstoy and Joyce and King and Blyton and Austen and Frost and Dickens…there has to be something else. SURELY? You know, like, a little natural talent?)

word poetry

Here’s John Dufresne, writing teacher, now sadly departed, from one of his works, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction:

“There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers’ conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers’ magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves.”

Okay, I’m convinced. Really.

Apart from cereal packets, emails, writing on the sides of buses and similar, at the moment I’m reading the (heart-rending) book by Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch.

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It’s very good.

It also leaves me little spare time for writing!

Discuss.

Finishing – the new beginning

What is it about finishing a writing project that’s so charged with emotion? There are lots of wise words, not so wise words and downright stupid psycho-babble written about fear of finishing.

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(And that image reminds me of one of the best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe this year: “My name’s Fin. Which means it’s very hard for me to end emails without sounding pretentious.”)

FEAR of finishing? FEAR?

I tell you what my main emotion is upon finishing a substantial piece…

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HUGE RELIEF

Almost immediately followed by EVEN HUGER

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There are a few other downsides to finishing a project, which I freely admit.

Here’s a quote from another writer called Daniel Swenson. (Maybe a comma would help that sentence?) Another writer, called Daniel Swenson.

“Finishing closes a door. It makes a commitment. It says “okay, that’s the best I can do” — whereas shoving an unfinished piece of writing in a drawer says “well, maybe I can do better later.” And that’s perfectly valid, assuming later ever comes.

But an unfinished work can take on its own sort of romance, if we let it. A mediocre book is just a mediocre book, but an unfinished, unwritten work of unalloyed genius, well, that’s a joy forever, isn’t it? But if you’re serious about being a writer, I suspect you don’t want your body of work to consist entirely of imaginary books.”

Yes, finishing a novel, a screenplay or a theatre piece means that, unless you shove it into a drawer, virtual or otherwise, there are CONSEQUENCES…

1) You open yourself up to being evaluated – which could mean rejection and criticism. (Why do I always assume it WON’T mean praise and acclaim?)

2) You have to embark on the often soul-destroying task of getting the work out there which, to me, is far more difficult than actually writing the thing in the first place.

3) You’re now in a position to start something else when you’re probably feeling a bit like this:

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I often turn to Neil Gaiman.  I don’t think he noticed yet.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” 

So here’s to glorious failures.

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And to finishing stuff.

And to starting new stuff so you can go through it all again.

 

Love the words, love the words…

Yes, the famous direction Dylan Thomas gave to the actors on the opening night of Under Milk Wood. And I DO love the words.

I wrote a baby’s lullaby story as a tribute, and it was recorded…

More and more, as I’ve been writing poetry for my creative writing class, I simply love THE WORDS – and if there ISN’T a word, I make one up. It’s the sound, to me, that conveys the meaning, WAAAAAY more than a dictionary definition.

There’s even a technical term for one of the devices I (inadvertently) use sometimes, without even realising it was a device.

The transferred epithet.

Good ole’ Dylan Thomas, again – to illustrate:

“though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles.” UH?

Well,  snouting and velvet are adjectives which would usually be used to describe a mole, rather than a dingle (a wooded valley).

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I read a great article called ‘ Twist Words to Surprise Readers,’  by Beth Hill.

Here’s a little extract, which rather sums up my word choice ethos – an ethos at which I sometimes fail – but the THOUGHT is there.

“I’m talking word choices that twist the common, allowing you to see a different side or facet, twists that make words and passages of text shine. Words that crack open a scene, forcing rough edges or raw emotion to protrude. Words used in the wrong context that actually prove to be perfect in that context. Verbs used as nouns, nouns used as verbs. Adjectives used as nouns that get readers nodding their heads or laughing or smiling or pulling your book closer and settling in for another chapter.

Poets seek this kind of phrasing as a matter of course and although you don’t necessarily need to write poetically, do take advantage of this technique.”

That’s one way of saying ‘LOVE THE WORDS!’

Not to mention, onomatopoeia.

On that note, here is a poem, inspired by a piece of music – yes, played (endlessly!) at the writing class until I thought I might scream if I heard it one more time, lovely though it was. It’s Prokofiev’s Clarinet Sonata, 3rd Movement, here played on the flute by James Galway:

And the poem? As I recall, it had to be about a street.

Lowly lull
Left-behind land,
Lightly layered
Living lost in time

Meander, wander
Along the strand
The fragile strand
That binds us to
Forgetful past,
No reminder

Ghost shadows ghost,
Mist and mirrors,
Moping moon
Breath crystal-sharp droplets
Only form in formless future

And drip
And dissolve
Until street
Becomes
Shivering stream
Flowing back
To eternity

Lowly lull,
Lowly lull,
Labile luminiscence

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

Love the words, love the image…

The poets in me

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese,” said G.K. Chesterton. (Now there’s a challenge!)

cheese-song

Fabulous! Eat your heart out, Annie Lennox. I suppose, if you don’t know the original, this won’t seem in the slightest bit funny.

Just for you…

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something

In all honesty, I only added the quote and the song (poem) because they made me laugh. Quotations about poetry can be awfully SIGNIFICANT. Which I’m not. Or, I like to think I’m not and then I start writing poetry. There are poets inside me. More than one. The silly and the seriously serious poets inside me who vie for my attention. Sometimes, it’s a draw.

SO – the subject for creative writing class homework was…A Piece of Cake.

When quizzed about the process of producing the poem, I was able to recall the starting point, which was a thought:

Juggling chainsaws? Yeah. Piece of cake.

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WHY I had this thought I can’t begin to explain.

So, the poem started, as written by one of my poets. The silly one, who’s always first in the queue.

A PIECE OF CAKE

I have ambitions, you see.

A wish list.

Things to do before I die.

Like

Mastering the wearing of flip flops.

Swimming with tadpoles.

Climbing the north face of Oxford Street without oxygen.

Competing in the Grand National, maybe as a fence?

Learning to wolf whistle better than a wolf.

The list is endless.

And each of these things is easy.

A piece of cake.

……………………

But as the poem evolved, another of my poets took over…two lines repeated so it makes more sense.

……………………

And each of these things is easy.

A piece of cake.

Compared to remembering what day it is.

And your face.

Your name.

And who I am.

And was.

…………………..

Thank you my poets. For the twist.

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by Super-Her0, on Deviant Art

Writing about debt

Yes, debt. Writing as part of a fascinating project – Burning the Books – in association with my creative writing class

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Here we all are – with creator Alinah Azadeh in the centre, holding the book. Yes, sorry about the need for a magnifying glass.

“What do you think about when you think about debt? Is there something you owe, or are owed, that you would like to see an end to? A sum of money, an action left undone or a word left unsaid? Or a debt owed by a third party that needs to be called to account? The Book is coming to a street or venue near you. The Book will be recited. And then The Book must be burned.”

My thoughts circled around the idea that the gift of life could so easily become tarnished and turn into a burden.

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A song to parents, of universal debt

I
I O
I O, I O, I O
I owe you, he-she.
Who gave my life to me.

The gift of life, skin-wrapped
chrysalis, no wings attached,
you said
X-Y permutation
your future-hope creation
bearer of your dreams

Your dreams
Not mine

The curse of life, mutated he-she
not he-she but me
my heart
crushed into rib-cage
I said
flightless bird, embryonic rage
for all you wanted me to be
for all I failed to be

your he-she clone
not me

Debt’s a gift, debt’s a burden
And I will not be free

IO, IO, IO
IO
I

Me

__________________________

For this, Peter likened me to Philip Larkin, which I must say I took as a huge compliment (even though he meant that the poem displayed a black and bitter view of parenthood – or rather, of being the child of parents…)

You know the Larkin poem, This Be The Verse, which starts like this…

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So – to write it down, by hand, in a beautiful volume, and then have it recited in public, and then to witness the book being burned, was…

Ella Eyre in concert - Birmingham

REDEMPTIVE

And to my boys, accept my gift of life and know that it is not a debt.

Writing inspired by art

Well, I was just going to describe a recent piece of work as, ‘inspired by art’ – but then, don’t I go and discover it has a name all of its own, this sort of creative writing?

Ekphrasis.

Silly me.

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“Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.”

Let’s just stick to ‘inspired by art,’ shall we?

Take John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, for example.

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Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape

       Of deities or mortals, or of both…

Then, Walter Pater wrote so lyrically about Mona Lisa

“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.”

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And apparently, William Blake said that poetry and art are ‘ways to converse with paradise.’ 

Hope so.

And I WAS inspired by art – another exercise for my creative writing class. Tutor, Roddie Phillips‘ wife, who also attends, is the stellar artist Catriona Millar. (It was through Catriona’s work that I met them both…and cajolled Peter into buying one of Catriona’s paintings for my birthday.)

Here it is. I love it so very much.

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Little Wing by Catriona Millar

Homework – to write a piece inspired by art. What else could I choose? (Though I had to step over the idea that it appeared to be very sucky-uppy to write about the work of an artist who would be THERE and also, possibly, fraught with danger. Say she hated what I wrote? What a difficult position she’d be in. And me. And Roddy too.)

Still. It came off.

Little Wing by Catriona Millar by Caroline Coxon

She.
Dressed chestnut for autumn
Fallen angel
Floats in the air, between stillness and motion
Swept sideways, hair, nose, and shoulders
Insubstantial and substantial, both.
Dream of inception,
Dream of annihilation

The bird.
Lurks
Vicious and comforting
Brooding black, pretty pastel-winged,
Needle-beaked
Thought of aggression
Thought of protection

They.
Together.
Want for nothing.

 

Inspired by art.

Ekphrasis

Writing with dice

“What do the dice say?”
Dice say nothing. They are dice.”
Why roll’em, then?”
Joe Abercrombie, Best Served Cold

There are things you can buy called Writer’s Dice…

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” Use ’em to plot your next novel!”

But, and, or, so, as? Will inspire you towards creative genius? I remain to be convinced.

There are more things you can buy called Writing Blocks Idea Dice®

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“Color-coded (in American?) to work together in carefully designed pairs and trios to provide you with 10,077,696 creative solutions…” Well, if it works for you – HURRAH! Myself, never short of ideas, just the discipline to get them down on paper.

Who needs to buy dice though? Last night at our creative writing class, we were handed slips of paper (cost…minimal, unless you count a tiny slice of rainforest) on which were phrases taken from a local student artist’s installation – a mobile illustrating her life in the tiny incidents which shaped her. Fascinating phrases such as, Thirteen seconds, A little lie that got bigger and bigger, and A hug that went too far.

My random selection: A bigamist. Kissy chase. Broken wrist watch. A bad hair day.

Then – twenty minutes to write a story about an artist incorporating these. TWENTY MINUTES!

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So…here is mine.

This kiss. And chase. Chaste. Chased away everything I am, was and want to be. So I paint. I paint my life away to non-existence.

Then I no longer have to think, thought-numbed naivety. Paint watercolour tears. Acrylic anger. Gouache grieving.

A bad hair day, you say? No, my hair always looks like this, as if time has stopped.

I stopped time.

A broken wrist-watch, hammer-smashed. The time when…when gnawing knowledge ate my brain.

He.

Was.

Everything.

To me. 

Then, I painted with exultation, birds soaring with my heart in sunlit skies. Oh, I could fly! We could fly. We would fly away. Together. Not too close to the sun. I carried our dreams on feathered wings.

Only, those dreams grew heavy, hollow and heavy. Plummeted. Taking me with them to smash on the rocks of dashed tomorrows.

And what brought me down, you ask?

It was the phone call. From his wife. His other wife. The one who couldn’t be but was.

And so I paint my life away, paint poisoned with lead.

For me to lick when I can paint no more.

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No dice required…

 

Writing hungry

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m quite often hungry.

(Not REALLY hungry. I wouldn’t, in a million years, equate my mild stomach rumblings with what it’s like to be starving. I can only imagine. My heart goes out to those people, wherever they are).

I’m hungry because I’m doing the 5:2 thing – five days of eating as usual and two non-consecutive days of fasting, eating only up to 500 calories worth of food, which is about a quarter of a normal (privileged) Western intake. This is not so much because I need to lose weight, because I don’t – it’s more to do with a healthier life-style in general. I have lost weight too, incidentally, sensibly, slowly and sustainably, which is a bonus.

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On my starvy days, as I call them, I don’t eat anything at all, just take drinks – water, fruit juice, coffee, tea, herbal teas…whatever – until maybe 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, which means I’ve fasted for about sixteen hours or so, since dinner on the previous evening.

I don’t actually feel hungry at all until I eat something – but that’s another story.

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What I HAVE noticed is that, without food, my brain is sharper. And when I’m hungry – or rather, when I’m fasting – I actually FEEL better.

I’ve been doing a little research about this, in a Google sort of way, and have come up with some interesting scientific information.

There’s an article on the Live Science website called Hunger Can Make You Happy

“Contrary to the moans of many dieters, being hungry may make you happy. Or, at least, it can be a serious motivator whose evolutionary intent was to help you find dinner instead of becoming dinner.”
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The researchers assert that when I fast and my body notices the dearth of calories, it increases production of a hormone called ghrelin which makes me more…well, alive and alert (my words). They believe that this is an adaptive measure, for survival. “Getting food, especially in the wild, requires concentration, clear-headed perception and often cooperation.” So, if I can avoid the urge to eat, which is what ghrelin is telling me to do, then I can harness the increased energy levels for something more creative.
Being a little bit  hungry has certainly, so far, made me noticeably more efficient and more focused.
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Yesterday morning, I completed a poem which, the previous night, was stuck fast in my brain with super-glue and would not be shifted.
I attribute the ease of flow yesterday morning to the power of…GHRELIN!
My new writing companion. My secret weapon.
Only not so secret.
Don’t tell anyone, will you?