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Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 21 (Jan 2011) – reading

09 Sep

The twenty-first episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 10th January 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (which I originally put on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty episodes (see http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast for earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities and songwriting. This podcast has a focus on reading.

Reading

Reading greatly improves your writing. Some people worry about being influenced by other writers’ styles but in most professionals’ opinions that’s a good thing. It’s when you take chunks of their actual writing that it becomes plagiarism. When you’re reading, think about how an author’s style could benefit your writing; how they build their characters (do you like them?), plot the story (does it have a strong start or does the action happen some way through the story by which time you may be getting bored?) etc.

  • Jasper Fforde once said “If books and reading were invented tomorrow they would be hailed as the greatest technological advance known to mankind. No batteries, simple, portable, durable. Why bother building sets or creating convincing computer effects when the images are already there in the reader’s mind? Think about it. A collection of letters and figures inputting images direct to the reader’s own imagination.”
  • According to writing guide guru Michael Legat, there are five basic plots: Cinderella, Family, Historical, Revenge and what he calls the Save-the-World-Single-Handedly and says to readers seeking ‘the magic key’, that “it’s there inside you already”.
  • If you don’t read much or don’t have the time to read novels, then short stories, novellas or anthologies are a great alternative. Fowler’s Dictionary explains ‘anthology’ comes from Greek for a collection (logia) of flowers (anthos). There’s no doubt that reading enhancing writing – the worry of copying another author’s style is highly unlikely as most (if not all) authors have their own ‘voice’ and unless you consciously lift passages from another author’s work, then your writing will be your own.
  • Charity BookTrust launched Bookbite (www.bookbite.org.uk) in February 2010. Aimed at, but not exclusive to, the over 60s, “Bookbite is here to help you get more out of reading and writing. Whether you always have your nose in a book or just flick through a local paper; whether ‘writing’ to you means penning stories, keeping a diary or a note in a greetings card. Join our reading group or writing club, take part in competitions, browse book lists, tips and more”. You can browse the site or read / print / download a 40-page magazine. Note though, it’s a very glossy document so will either take a while to look through and lots of ink to print.
  • And/or you can set up your own! http://www.bloomsbury.com/readinggroups/list has some great information as well as reading group guides which includes questions to ask. www.bookbite.org.uk/resources/activity-sheets/reading-group-discussion-guide also has some pointers that you might like to follow.

Publications

  • ‘book time’ is a free magazine available from some book shops. Prolific columnist / author Jane Wenham-Jones mentions the mag on www.janewenham-jones.com/Booktime.htm.
  • www.booksforkeeps.co.uk is an online children’s book magazine.
  • Writers should also be readers and short stories are a great way to do this if you don’t have much time (they’re my favourites). Take a Break’s monthly Fiction Feast and / or the six-weekly Woman’s Weekly are available from most newsagents or direct subscription. I get both so can give you more information.
  • ‘Who else writes like this’ is “a readers’ guide to fiction authors’. As the title implies, it’s an A-Z list of authors with compared authors listed with them, followed by genre, character, prizes and reference listings. As well as seeing you’d you also like to read if you enjoyed a particular author, it can help with touting your own work as you can say that you would like to be the next… whoever it may be.
  • Published by Geddes & Grosset, The Literature Lover’s Companion is a 700+ page book which tells you “who wrote what when”.
  • Bloomsbury’s Good Reading Guide is “what to read and what to read next”. Again it’s an A-Z by author.
  • A similar book to Chambers’ book of Literary Characters is ‘The Originals – who’s really who in fiction’ by William Amos, published by Sphere. Rather than an author A-Z it’s packed with hundreds of fictional bods.
  • Steven Roger Fischer’s book ‘A history of reading’ starts from the Bronze Age and ends with modern e-mails and e-books. This and his ‘A history of language’ and ‘A history of writing’ are by Reaktion Books.
  • The OUP’s Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles is another A-Z book but this time by village / town with its literary associations. Ideal if you fancy a cultural holiday without straying too far.
  • A book on a similar theme is Margaret Drabble’s A Writer’s Britain – landscape in literature. Unlike the OUP’s book, it’s not an A-Z of where to go but is split into six sections: sacred places, the pastoral vision, landscape as art, the romantics, the industrial scene, and the golden age. With the help of poetry extracts, Margaret tells the reader of places mentioned by authors, their favourites and areas of association accompanied by 121 black and white and 31 colour photographs and illustrations.
  • For nearly 40 years John Cowper Powys lectured on the great writers of the world and his book ‘The Pleasures of Literature captures many of them; from Dante to Shakespeare, Hardy to Dostoyevsky.
  • ‘Reading like a writer’ by Francine Prose (wonderful surname!) received a mixed review from the Writing Magazine (June 07) but sounds like a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys reading and wants to write.
  • Lady Antonia Fraser has been in the news recently with her biography of Harold Pinter ‘Must you go’. She’s edited a great A4 book called ‘The Pleasure of Reading’. Instead of being A-Z by name, the authors are listed in chronological order from Catherine Cookson (born 1906) to Jeanette Winterson (1959). The author summaries are accompanied by some delightful drawings and the book is a pleasure to dip into.
  • Bradford Library produced ‘Opening the book – finding a good read’ written by Rachel Van Riel & Olive Fowler with a foreword by Alan Bennett. The book shows you how to “explore your reading personality, develop confidence in your own judgement, open up your reading choices (by dissecting the differences in genres) and enjoy finding your way round the landscape of information.
  • Tony Buzan has written many books on improving your memory but he’s also written The Speed Reading Book, helping you improve your study skills, mental literacy, concentration and inspiration!
  • www.scarletmagazine.co.uk is the website of the Scarlet magazine. Apparently it’s available in Tesco, WH Smiths, Asda etc. but I’d not heard of it until I read about it in Mslexia.

Book-related websites

  • www.abebooks.com is Advanced Book Exchange’s website.
  • www.benbellabooks.com is a print publisher specialising in sci-fi, fantasy and popular culture.
  • www.bookbrowse.com – read interviews with authors as well as the opinions of multiple reviewers and browse the books themselves.
  • I heard about www.bookcrossing.com some months ago. The idea is a very simple one. Once you’ve finished with a book, you leave it where someone else will find it e.g. a park bench or on a bus / train and someone else gets to enjoy it. I’ve only ever found one but that was at a charity shop so sadly doesn’t count. You can buy stickers to put on the book(s) you intend to leave or register BCID numbers so you can track the books you leave, assuming whoever finds them updates the site.
  • www.bookgroup.info/041205/news_newsletter.php is the latest newsletter from The Book Group. You can sign up to receive emails advising of their latest issue or go to www.bookgroup.info and / or www.bookgroupinfo.co.uk for more information.
  • www.book-in-a-week.com is a similar venture to www.nanowrimo.org except it’s designed to help you write a… yes, a book in a week. :)
  • www.edbookfest.co.uk (mentioned below) recommends http://curiouspages.blogspot.com an interesting website which “recommends inappropriate books for kids”.
  • www.faberacademy.co.uk is the website of 1929-founded publisher Faber & Faber’s Academy. You can read news and events, buy books and find information on reading groups. The academy section shows various courses that they are running.
  • www.find-book.co.uk compares book prices between UK retailers. In a similar vein is www.find-dvd.co.uk and www.find-cd.co.uk.
  • www.firecrest-fiction.com is the website of FireCrest Fiction. Launched in Spring 2007 they “print new, highly original novels and reprint some neglected masterworks from the 20th century”. The site is worth visiting for the ‘Books we love’ and ‘Books we hate’ pages. They love Peter Carey’s Oscar & Lucinda and Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo (amongst others) but hate James Joyce’s Ulysses, Salman Rushdie’s (twice Booker winning) Midnight’s Children and DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, so take their opinions with a pinch of salt!
  • www.freebooks.com does what it says “on the tin”.
  • www.ibiblio.org is “home to one of the largest “collections of collections” on the Internet”.
  • www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books is the books section of the Independent newspaper.
  • www.infinityjunction.com is a publisher, bookseller, writers showcase and more.
  • www.librarything.com, according to Mslexia, is a book lover’s voyeuristic paradise. You can catalogue your books, search other people’s libraries, read their suggestions or chat with them on the forum.
  • I’ve mentioned www.lulu.com before but it’s recommended by Writers’ News magazine so worth a second (or perhaps third?) mention as a free self-publishing service which gets paid when you do!
  • www.onelook.com combines a dictionary search, word history, translation, punctuation and spell-check capabilities all in one site, with extra goodies like a Reverse Dictionary (I have the Reader’s Digest’s – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_dictionary explains how it works).
  • Brighton’s www.permanentbookshop.com “is a not-for-profit collector, promoter and retailer of artist’s books and other printed items”.
  • www.poetrybookshoponline.co.uk is the Poetry Book Society’s internet bookshop.
  • www.psbooks.co.uk “is a long-established mail order company specialising in good quality publishers’ overstocks and remainder books at discounts of up to 80% off the published price”.
  • Thanks Aminder from Birmingham, UK for the links to the www.quickreads.org.uk website. I love Quick Reads because, although they’re designed for readers of low ability, they don’t talk down and can be read in an hour or two. Perfect for anyone who says they don’t have time to read.
  • www.readbookonline.net “contains about one thousand books from hundreds of authors”.
  • www.readitswapit.co.uk does what it says on the tin. Once you’ve read a book you can swap it.
  • www.readysteadybook.com offers independent reviews, articles and interviews with, about and by contemporary writers. Keep an eye out for opinions on your favourite books.
  • www.theshortreview.com “reviews 10 books each month and interviews as many of their authors as possible”.
  • www.thelocalbookshop.com, owned by Great Yarmouth-based Martin Blackwell, offers “books specifically connected to a particular county or locality.”
  • www.thunderburst.co.uk has links for writers inc. recommended poets, collected interviews and details of over 750 internet magazines and other useful resources.
  • www.trashionista.com highlights the best and worst books, authors, genres, blogs, websites, radio shows, magazines, publishers etc.
  • www.wordia.com sounds similar to onelook and wordplayer.

There are a variety of writing- and reading-related online forums and these include:

Ideas

Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts which are listed on my ‘sentence starts’ blog page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Write a book review, find somewhere to submit it to and send it; and/or
  • Write a story about a character who reads a book and it changes his/her life

The podcast concluded with On This Day in History and a piece of flash fiction which I wrote in one of my recent Monday night workshops which had to include four keywords: ‘lemon’, ‘hundred’, ‘cockerel’ and ‘years’:

Lemon curd tart had always been Ernie’s favourite. “Can’t beat a tart.” he used to say whenever Nora made it – which, over the years, was less and less thanks to his incessant remarks. A hundred times she’d had to listen to that. Said as if new. Lemons grown in the garden of their retirement villa – what else could she make apart from lemonade, jam and Ernie’s tart? As he opened his mouth to say it for the 101st time, Nora crept up behind him and squeezed the dog’s toy cockerel at full volume. Ernie clutched his chest, gasped for breath and slumped to the floor. He’s now buried in the garden, right by the lemon tree, and my, they’ve never tasted so sour.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other episode transcripts and summaries can be found at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast.

 

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