Under transformation ….

OK, so I realise I haven’t blogged for a while now – what with the Christmas and New Year rush and all, but the big reason is that I am doing a course on blogging… I do like to do things properly when I can, and so this blog may be about to undergo some kind of transformation … or not.

It all depends upon the blogging-for-brand course that I am doing under the auspices of the entertaining Kristen Lamb  (almost worth it just for the laughs) and her blog is great if you are interested in what it takes to be a writer today and succeed. You can find Kristen Lamb’s blog here if you promise to come back.

So far I have had to come to grips with Twitter (rather than just having an account and collecting a few followers), and to manage my new larger numbers of followers (now 120, which is peanuts may I add) I have to get my head round Tweetdeck – it is supposed to help and I am sure once I work out some of the shortcuts to using it I will find it indispensable …..

At the moment I am struggling with trying to find the aspects of life that I know and can write about with some feeling of interest, authority or passion on a regular basis that will also connect with other people as an everyday interest but with some deep levels of attachment, so that they will want to come back for more with every blog.

I also need to think that the people I want to attract to my blog should be the people who would like my novels, as part of the reason for actually getting this blog up and running was to help with the publication and publicity for my novels. So not much use me blogging about football, say (hehe haha – as if I would – as if I could!) as the target audience would be quite different.

And I need to find my blogging voice. My natural ‘voice’ is that of the teacher — I have said many times and it is true, ‘give me half a chance and I will teach you all I know’ but I don’t think that this is a good voice for a blog unless it is a technical blog where people go to learn – but what do you think?

So, lots for me to work through and think about, and your thoughts are welcome to help me sift things. Which of the blogs I have done was the most interesting and would bring you back for more of similar and why? What type of blogs to you bookmark or sign up to and why?

On a weightier  lighter note, I  have been posting daily additions to my new page *Fat Woman Thinning?* – you’ll find it on the cross bar. Its a 52 week log of my attempt to lose weight and get fitter following a simple weights programme and sensible eating. It is updated daily on the drop down menus for the weeks as I go. Encouragement welcome!

And don’t forget there’s a special offer, of all three of my novels for e-readers for just £5.99, running at the moment – click on the new *Ann Foweraker NOVELS*  on the cross bar for more information.

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What’s not to Lichen?

Yeah. I know – it depends on how you say it – more of which below.
So it was Christine that started me off on this particular blog by sending me a rather nice photo of a lichen, with fruiting bodies, growing on her fence. Here it is:-
Now, somehow, I know not how, she had guessed I’d know something about these plants, though she didn’t know that I really like them and have done since learning about them at A level. Talking of which, it was my A level Botany lecturer that insisted the pronunciation of the word lichen should be ‘liken’ (I have vague memories of her saying that the ‘ch’ was the hard ‘k’ sound because the origin of the work was Greek – as in the word Character) and indeed she was right, though I note the OED also accepts the soft ch sound that many people use. Not that it should be a problem – except when it comes to poetry and there the difference can change a rhyme sequence if the reader is not of the same persuasion in pronunciation as the writer *speaking from experience*.

So back to the lichens, as the leaves fall the lichens become more noticeable, and here in Cornwall we are blessed with many of these wonderful plants. Where I came from we were lucky to see even a close-growing leafy (foliose) lichen, most were the tight colour-patches (crustose) type.
One in particular appears as yellow patches often on stones and walls, (xanthoria) is one of the most tolerant of polluted air and was the main one to be found in the South East of England where I grew up. Lichens derive most of their nutrients from the atmosphere, as they do not have roots, and so most need unpolluted air to thrive.

Photos: Stone Wall showing two different types of Crustose lichen – the grey/white and the yellow.
And one Leprose (powdery) type of lichen (the green coloured one)

So imagine my delight when I came to live in Cornwall where these plants flourish, with not only the crustose and the foliose type but also the branching, bush-like fruticose group of lichens. Lichens are generally slow growing, but these trees were only planted 25 years ago and even the newer wood has the beginnings of lichen invasion.

Photos, Trees showing fruticose and foliose types of lichen. Do click on these images to see them better!

Tree – showing crustose (grey and flecked black) lichen.

I keep just saying ‘these plants’ but of course Lichens are not just any plant, they are actually two plants in a symbiotic relationship, an algae and a fungi , living together to make the most of the resources available and of each others skills in accessing them. The pairing of algae and fungi vary and create the differing types and forms with their strengths and weaknesses.

It is part of what makes Lichens successful in that they are found from the edge of the sea to the highest mountain top and from humid jungles to frozen tundra.
The little branching ones (the fruticose) used to be collected and dried for making model-railway trees and shrubs at one time. Some lichens have been used historically for dying and has even been used a food stuff in very hard times.
Lesson over, but I hope I have piqued your interest in these plants if you’d never considered them before – there is an awful lot more to know if you want to seek it out.

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FLY GOOGLE – an aid to authors?

In the Summer I was nearing the end of the first draft of my most recent book when one of my main characters had to deliver something to a prison facility in Louisiana. I had already researched the sort of place I wanted him to be going to and found one listed that seemed to fit. I could have winged it, making up the scenery he drove through, but if I was even to mention the name of the State I knew I had to get it right. Not yet being a writer who can just hop on a plane to go and visit the place for my research (and put it down as expenses) I flew Google!

I took in the aerial view, dropping lower and lower, noting the town to the north east of the prison, the expanse of empty fields around it. Google landed me on the stretch of road that led up to the prison gateway, I went as far as I could, peered left and right along the boundary fence, then turned around and drove back down Prison Road and on towards the town. I sped through the town until it petered out, then turned back and slowly, glancing left and right, drove back through, noting the types of houses, the few large red-brick buildings, the empty stretch of road before the Prison Road turning. I took in this road, its features to either side and its length. Finally I lifted off again, looking down on the whole scene. I had what I needed. I think the information from my Google street-view and satellite journey that I used will feel authentic enough, they describe the right type of countryside, the right type of town.

“After two hours drive I hit the small community that bore the same name as the jail, drove past the red-brick elementary school and library, through the streets lined with white painted clapboard homes and out the other side to the junction where Prison road joined the highway through town. I turned in, the fields stretched out bare and flat on either side between stumpy hedges that led off left and right in long straight lines, the ploughed soil red, the grass sparse. About a mile along the road was a dark clump of fir trees but after that nothing to give shelter or a hiding place for miles, only the gate to the prison way up ahead of me, blocking the road like a toll-booth, and as I neared, the miles of fencing which could be seen stretching away on either side.”

I already feel someone beginning to object, saying that there’s nothing like ‘being there’ to get the things right. I agree, if you need in-depth understanding and a verifiable atmosphere, but I think that for this background-filling work flying Google is a useful aid for the modern author, with back-up research needed if there are any queries in what you see.

On the other hand, I clearly remember reading a book in the 1980s by an American author who liked to set her stories in Britain, and who, the info claimed ‘spent a lot of time in Britain researching her novels’. She had set one on the edge of Dartmoor, an area I know well, in a key role it involved a Chalk quarry and a muffin shop. The muffins in question were cranberry, chocolate and carrot and orange, not the sort of muffin you would have found in the UK back then, and I can only assume she had seen the white china-clay pits on the edge of Dartmoor and thought they must be chalk but not completed her research. So ‘being there’ isn’t always foolproof either.

What do you think? Anyone else been flying to plot destinations by Google?

 

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What’s in a Name? Naming characters….

I was recently browsing a forum that asked how authors gave their characters names. There were a few great ideas there; choosing names from an atlas, from the census for the historical time your book is set in, ditto gravestones, even asking friends to nominate names.

I had used the atlas approach once, only to be asked by someone I knew whether I had manipulated their name to make a character’s name. I could see where he was coming from, but it hadn’t crossed my mind, it’s the one thing I would never do – use the name of someone I actually knew.

However, as an author you have to name your characters and it’s something that I have taken a mixture of great care and random luck over. My main characters, the lead characters and often other pivotal characters, I think long and hard over their names. Often I have a theme linking them, nothing too overt (I hope) but there may be literary or historical meaning attached to the names, or they may be suggestive of a type when you hear them. In my first, never to be published apprentice piece, my characters names had links to characters from Greek myths. In the book I am currently writing the names are basically biblical, though not all.

I kept a couple of babies’ name books from when we were selecting names for our own children. Thank goodness as an author I don’t have to compromise and agree with someone else. The process of choosing each of our own children’s names went something like this. We’d each choose 10 names we liked. Then compare lists. None would match, not one. Then we’d have to each make a second list of 10 names having none of our original ones on the second list. We would compare lists again. By this time we usually matched on two or three. These combined, we would then individually rank for favourites, and take the one with the highest score. Then do it all again for their second name. FOUR times, and each time for a girl or a boy!! That was time consuming I can tell you!

Anyway, it did result in me having this collection of ‘a name for your baby’ type books that I dip into on occasion – especially when I want the name to have a meaning behind it – to check the origin of the name. Similarly I have a dictionary of surnames which I occasionally use, however my most common way of finding names for my other characters, the odd people that pop up to interact with my main protagonists in their everyday life, well these are the random ones, often chosen from glancing along the books that line the places where I write and picking one first name from one author and the surname from another, avoiding names that are too recognisable as a stand alone name – like Dahl or Binchy. So I might take the first name of a female character of a certain age from Philippa Gregory and the second name from Richard North Patterson (could have easily been the other one James Patterson) and end up with a character called Philippa Patterson – and somehow instantly I feel I know what she’d look like and how she’d speak and behave. So it is a matter of matching name and character.

The male counterpart of this bookish pairing, of course, would be Richard Gregory, another good name for a character – or Gregory Richards… its quite fun too, as for me, each name combination calls up a slightly different face, age, colouring and behaviour.

So that, random or not, I am quite choosy about the actual name I end up with.

 

ps  Sorry the email alert doesn’t seem to be working at the moment…

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More Port Eliot Festival …..

Wow! What a great festival… the weather gave showers for the Friday but they soon cleared, and I ended up leaving my wellies in the car and favouring sandals all day.  So, if you’ve never been to Port Eliot Festival you have to know that most recently it was a Literary Festival with a wild past (known as Elephant Fayre in the 80s) that has now matured into a brilliant all round, family friendly festival, something for everyone, everyone pretty laid back and in such beautiful surroundings.

There is plenty of the literary festival still there with readings, discussions, interviews etc but is combined with music, to suit many tastes, wild swimming, cinema both in the house and at night down by the river, fashion, flower arranging, poetry, food from small Cornish frozen yoghurt business to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, cookery demonstrations, bars, comedy, cabaret, stalls, a whole area just for children to enter into a fantasy land of making  playing play acting, dressing up and doing wonderful stuff, wandering musicians, jugglers and dancers. Dovegreyreader (blog-site) even had a tent where you could sit while she did interviews and you could knit, should you wish to.

What did I notice… well people always dress a little differently when at Port Eliot (especially if they’ve visited the Fashion tent) and the stalls selling weird and wonderful hats, (vintage and modern) and the same in clothes attract a lot of people who obviously arrived and only then realised people treat the place like a big fancy dress event. Me? Well I went wearing one of my belly dance coin belts, over layered skirt and wrap and jingled my way about…. part of my reading included words describing a belly dance and so it was also a prop! Secondly… as I said the weather really didn’t need wellies…yet all through so many people were wearing their wellies (all sorts – multi-coloured to standard green or black)… even on the stage, as did Kate Winslet when she read to the children from Mr Gum … perhaps they didn’t bring any other footwear … it being a festival and all.

Our reading in the round room went well with nearly a capacity audience – everyone in bare or stockinged feet in there as have  to take your boots off at the door …. can’t wait for next year!

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Port Eliot Festival and Poetry

I’ve wanted to write a page on Poetry, but you know it has a funny effect on people. I suppose it is from forced poetry at school or something, but to me poetry has a life of its own. I know it has pursued me from about the age of nine when I realised that you could not only learn poems but you could also write stuff that had rhythm and rhyme. I blame my mother… though that should be praise, she could, and would, recite ‘The Lady of Shallot’, or great swathes of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ off by heart. I learnt large sections of these two and Cargoes and my long time favourite GK Chesterton’s Rolling English Road.

Poetry has got me a free weekend ticket to the Port Eliot festival these last 3 years.. that’s amazing enough. What is even better this is because we perform at this festival and people who are not related to us, nor are our friends, come and listen! How magic is that!

This year we took as our theme Elephants, from the crest of the Lords of St Germans (who own the Port Eliot estate) and Castles.

We perform in the Round room, an acoustic gem where if you stand under the central chandelier there is no need of amplification, and which is painted all round by the late Robert Lenkiewicz in a weird and wonderful montage.

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Genres – if life isn’t pigeon-holed why are novels?

Genres are the bane of my writing life. One of the things you are supposed to be able to tell the agent or publisher that you are sending out your synopsis, 3 chapters and covering letter to is what genre you book fits into.

I always have difficulty with this. Is it a romance novel because two (or more) people happen to fall in love in the book? But if they also happen to be involved in a crime incident that runs throughout the book and one of them is in the police… then what – is it now a Crime novel? Can it be both – a Romantic Crime novel (that sounds weird)

Sometimes novels come as they are, mixed up just like life. Even for Amazon you have to choose 2 genres maximum to put your ebook in.

Sarah Harrison, an author I much enjoy, told me that when she wrote a book after her debut and sequel, The Flowers of the Field and A Flower That’s Free, and it fell into a different genre her publisher wanted her to publish under a pseudonym, because ‘the reader will be confused’. Sarah stuck to her guns, I can’t recall if she threatened to change publisher (her first two books had been international best sellers) or whether she actually did change publishers but she continues to produce delightful and entertaining books of all sorts of genre under her own name – I suspect that she is ‘muse led’

When I put my books out for beta reading I must ask my readers what genre they would put each book into – if really pushed to choose one, or two. I might then get a consensus I can work with.

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Welcome to my Blog

I decided it was about time I started a blog… after all I’ve been writing one in my head for ages.

I didn’t realise how tricky finding a title for my blog was going to be, I considered many pithy and wise sounding names, only to find others had the same idea before me. I considered a list, ‘my blog on writing novels, keeping chickens and goats, sand sculpting, body-boarding, slate-ware, belly-dancing , cake-decorating, poetry and life….’ Too long winded I thought, but that’s what its going to be about. My life and my passions within in it…. so welcome to

Ann Foweraker – Publishing my novels and other Passions

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