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Friday, 23 November 2012

Happy Reading – It’s Book Week in Scotland

This is what the Scottish BookTrust says – Book Week Scotland is Scotland's first national celebration of books and reading, taking place from 26 November to 2 December 2012. The week-long programme of events is bursting with fantastic opportunities for people from all ages, interests and reading abilities, to embark or continue on a reading journey.
Now I’m all in favour of that, but I don’t need the excuse of a special book week to read. I’ve been reading non-stop since I was five years old. I have a very clear memory of returning from my first day at school, to tell my granny, that I could read. Of course, she didn’t believe me. After all, who on earth ever heard of being able to read after one lesson. I can’t remember whether I had been involved in books before that, maybe I had learned to read through osmosis when I was being read to. I don’t know, because I have no memories of being read to. However, in order to prove my reading ability to her, I opened my school book and read. I can even remember the first sentence in that book which was the very simple ‘The cat sat on the mat’. Nothing very ambitious there, but it was a start.
One of my favourite books was the Treasure Island one
So from that day forward, my nose was never out of a book. I progressed through Enid Blyton’s works, to boarding school books involving The Chalet Girls and all their exploits. Oh, how I wished I could go to boarding school and have midnight feasts and pillow fights. It was a natural progression from there to murder and mystery with Agatha Christie, before I reached my teens.
This was a naughty book at the time but would be considered tame nowadays
Like most teenagers (I think) I became interested in naughty books. We had a wee shop in our town called The Trick Shop, which was run by an elderly couple – well, they seemed elderly to me at the time. This shop sold all kinds of tricks and puzzles, but they also sold under the counter books. This was where I was initiated into books like Forever Amber, and Lady Chatterleys Lover, although I never really understood all the fuss about the latter, and I found it so boring that when it was banned, later on, I couldn’t bear to reread it to find out what the four letter word was.
I didn't realise these books would still be available. They could be classed as penny dreadfuls
Then I found Hank Janson in a hidden stash of my father’s books. These stories were a revelation, all about American gangsters, teenage thugs and flick knives. I was fascinated by the flick knives because I’d never heard of these before. It was only many years later I found out that Hank Jansen was a generic name for a series of writers, one of whom was Bob Monkhouse, the entertainer. Apparently he churned his share of these books out at the rate of one every two weeks for which he was paid the princely sum of half-a-crown (2shillings and sixpence, which in today’s money is 12½ pence). Who ever said that writers well well paid?
I grew out of the naughty books phase and moved on to horror, starting with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, then I read Frankenstein, but although I liked the former I never really got into the latter. It was only a slight jump from these horor stories to those of James Herbert. I see he has one of his books, The Secret of Critchley Hall, featuring on television at the moment. I started watching and it’s really good. Then, of course, there was Stephen King, I think I read most of his books, and Dean Koontz who is expert at writing suspense and keeping you on the edge of your seat.
But enough of horror. I also went through a saga phase, reading Catherine Cookson, Evelyn Hood, Margaret Thomson Davis and many others. I liked the earthy ones written about ordinary people. I never really got the taste for reading about lords and ladies, kings and queens, and the glitter and glam of some sagas.

Then I discovered dark crime, and as the years have gone on, the crime has become darker. Some of the best is written by Val McDermid, and Mo Hayder, and writers like that. Oh, and I can’t forget the American writers. I love their work. I’m reading a Jeffery Deaver book at the moment, but there’s also Harlan Coben, Michael Connolly and a score of others.
Lately I’ve also discovered Indie books, and some of them have been a revelation. I’ve read some very good books, although there have also been some turkeys. However, the good ones are really worth the effort of getting into. If you want to get a taste of some of these why don’t you pop over to the Indie eBook Review site, click on the Virtual Bookshelf tag and pick a category to check out some of the reviews.
So there you go, I’ve given you a quick walk through my reading tastes, and I am sure many of them influence me as a writer. I certainly feel that American literature has shaped my writing quite a bit, and I love writing suspense, although I sometimes take a break to write the odd saga or historical.

Now before you go, have a peek at one of my many bookselves - it's a mess, isn't it?


Thursday, 8 November 2012

What’s in a Name?

How important is the name you give your characters? And how much thinking goes into names that do not confuse the reader?
Why am I asking this? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve lacked a certain mobility which means I’ve had time to read over my work in progress from the beginning and do a bit of editing. That was when it struck me! I’ve given my new detective inspector the name, Kate Rawlings. So what’s the matter with that? Well, one of my other characters is Detective Sergeant Sue Rogers and, although she is not the main character, she often pairs up Detective Sergeant Bill Murphy, who is my main character.
So, Rawlings and Rogers, the names are too similar to avoid confusion in a reader’s mind. What to do? What to do?
Well, I can’t rename DS Sue Rogers, because she’s featured in both Night Watcher, and Dead Wood. So that leaves me no choice but to rename DI Kate Rawlings. And she’s not the easiest person to deal with.
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No problems, I hear you say, just get on with it and rename her. However, it’s not as simple as that, because characters get attached to their names, and there’s going to be a pretty big tantrum when I break it to Kate, that her name needs to be changed.
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Characters, you see, often make their own decisions about names. When I was writing Dead Wood, my detective constable was called Joanne. Now I like Joanne as a name, Jo for short, but Joanne apparently didn’t take to the name at all, and I found that halfway through the book she’d miraculously turned into Louise. It was decision time. Would I do a find and replace on Louise to turn her back into Joanne, or should I do the reverse. After much thinking I came to the decision that if Joanne wanted to be called Louise, then Louise it should be.
So I’m now back to decision time and building up the courage to tell Kate she can’t be called Rawlings. But then there’s the other problem! What the heck should I call her instead, and will she make the decision for me, or is it back to the Name Dictionaries to find a suitable one? Oh, and what if she doesn’t like the new name I choose? Decisions! Decisions!
How do you name your characters? And are your characters as bolshie as mine? I’d love to know.

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