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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Photo of author Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Source: Medium

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The Shining Company by Rosemary Sutcliff cover

On a Bank Holiday Monday in 1988 Rosemary Sutcliff wrote in her diary a rare comment about the progress of the book she was then writing.

Another Bank Holiday! Yesterday’s wind got up again. The pups have spent the whole day yelling to be let out & chasing squirrels. … Think I see my way out of the immediate Catraeth problem, though there are still plenty ahead.

The “Catraeth problem” first surfaced in Rosemary Sutcliff’s diary on 28/8/88. It relates to a battle which features in her novel The Shining Company.

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Academic Bill Barnett, from Stanford University Business School, has posted about his view that most successsful business strategies emerge, they are not carefully planned in advance—”Discovery trumps planning”. This accords with the views I have peddled for many years, first at Leicester Management Centre and then Warwick Business School, and latterly as a CEO in the not-for-financial-profit sector in the UK.

But it also made me think of parallels with something Rosemary Sutcliff said once to an interviewer about how she went about writing her novels:

I start with an idea; never a plot. I’m not very strong on plots, but I start from a theme, which grows from the idea. I do have a certain amount of framework: I’ve got to know how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end, and a few ports of call on the way.

I do not write to a standard length. I do not know how long a book’s going to be. I find that a book takes its own time and gets to its own proper ending place.

Dog in Rosemary Sutcliff book illustration by Charles Keeping

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Acclaimed internationally for her historical novels and books for children, Rosemary Sutcliff (b. 1920; d. 1992) was the subject of many magazine profiles. Sadly she is no longer here to create pieces like the ‘This much I know’ feature in magazine of The Observer newspaper. But this much she did know, as revealed in her answers  late in her life to Roy Plomley’s questions on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs. Photos of Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist and children’s writer

A spinal carriage is like a coffin. It is very uncomfortable. You lie flat out in this ‘thing’, and all you can see the are branches of the trees or the roofs of the houses going by overhead.  It is extremely boring.

I didn’t learn to read for myself until I was very old — I was nine before I could read. I think this was because my mother read aloud to me so much. Chiefly I had books read to me, which is a thing I love to this day.

I think it honestly never occurred to my parents that a child growing up and going through her teens required other young people. I was never allowed to bring friends home. They were very understanding; nobody could have had nicer parents. But they were very sufficient unto themselves.

Miniature painting is cramping. I was a good craftswoman—but I always had this feeling of having my elbows tucked too close to my sides when I was doing it. I gave it up to write. And I could write as big as ever I wanted to, I could use an enormous canvas if I wanted to.

I feel most at home in Roman Britain. I always feel it’s perhaps a little shameful to be quite so at home with the Romans, because they really were a very bourgeois lot, but I do feel very at home with them; I feel, ‘Here I am back at home again’ when I get back into a Roman story.

I think I do believe in reincarnation. I hope I do, because I think it’s the one thing that makes sense, that makes for justice and a really sensible pattern to life.

I can only create from the top of my head, down my right arm, and out of the point of my pen. So, I write in longhand.

I start with an idea; never a plot. I’m not very strong on plots, but I start from a theme, which grows from the idea. I do have a certain amount of framework: I’ve got to know how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end, and a few ports of call on the way.

I do not write to a standard length. I do not know how long a book’s going to be. I find that a book takes its own time and gets to its own proper ending place.

I take great pains that details should be right. I am quite shameless about writing to people—people who know about breeding horses, or whatever it is—and asking a particular question. People are usually very kind about sharing their own expertise. I do rely very much also on the feeling ‘does this smell right’, ‘does it have the right feel to it?’.

I don’t think I’m a particularly masculine kind of woman—although most of my books are told from a male point of view. I can’t write about girls from the inside. I don’t think the absence of sexual encounters is because I’m writing for children—I don’t honestly know why, it’s just happened that way.

I don’t know whose decision it was not to marry. The situation became impossible. My own family was so against it. People’s feelings were very different in those days to what they are now, about anybody with a disability being allowed to have any emotions. Neither of us were very grown up and we just couldn’t cope. So that was that.

Source:  BBC Radio’s ‘Desert Island Discs‘.

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Rosemary Sutcliff (b. 1920; d. 1992) was  the subject of many magazine profiles. But sadly she is no longer alive to create a ‘This much I know’ feature in The Observer newspaper’s magazine. But this much she did know—revealed within her answers to Roy Plomley on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs.

screenshot-2015-04-02-12-23-09

  • A spinal carriage is like a coffin.
  • Chiefly I had books read to me, which is a thing I love to this day.
  • I was never allowed to bring friends home.
  • Miniature painting is cramping.
  • I feel most at home in Roman Britain.
  • I think I do believe in reincarnation.
  • I can only create from the top of my head, down my right arm, and out of the point of my pen.
  • I start with an idea; never a plot.
  • I do not write to a standard length.
  • I take great pains that details should be right.
  • I don’t think I’m a particularly masculine kind of woman.
  • I don’t know whose decision it was not to marry.

For more, see fuller post here

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Photo of Dennis Lehane, US writer of Mystic River Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and writer for hit TV show The Wire, has told the ever popular Hay Festival in the Wales in May 2015 how he went from a working-class life in Boston (USA) to literary acclaim. His comments were reproduced in The Telegraph (10 rules for making it as a writer). His prescriptions include the instruction to ‘read whatever you can lay your hands on’ and develop ‘an ear for dialogue’; and advice that the approval of your parents is not ‘that important’!

Read whatever you can lay your hands on We were working class. There were no books. There were some encyclopaedias – I always say it was the day my father didn’t see the salesman coming. And there was a Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover when I was a kid. The Bible is an amazing piece of narrative storytelling. Then my mother heard from the nuns – probably the only nice thing a nun ever said about me – that I liked to read. So my mother took me to the library. To this day, I’m a big benefactor of libraries. Without libraries I couldn’t be sitting here.

Have an ear for dialogue Where I grew up, everybody knew how to italicise. People knew how to hit just the right word in a sentence. I was living in Miami and felt I was losing the voice of Boston. I went back home and ran into a friend of mine. I said, ‘How are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m good but actually I got stabbed. And I don’t know what you’ve heard, but getting stabbed can kinda take the fight out of a guy.’ ‘I don’t know what you’ve heard’ – as if you might be under the impression that getting stabbed is like a hot rock massage – and then the gross understatement of ‘it kinda takes the fight out of you’. Not, ‘I was praying to my God’ or ‘My intestines were on fire’.”

Parental approval isn’t that important My old man slept through all of my three movie adaptations. He slept through Mystic River, got up at the end and said, ‘Oh, your mother said that one was dark.’ He slept through Gone Baby Gone and said, ‘Oh, your mother said you used the f-word too much in that one.’ And then with Shutter Island he said, ‘Your mother didn’t know what the hell to make of that one.’ He never read any of my books and everybody said that was so sad. What my father would have said to that is, ‘Your brother works in a prison but you don’t see me going there.’

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I am trying to collect here in the comments (and via Twitter @rsutcliff) people’s views about which is Rosemary Sutcliff’s best book, and why….

List of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books

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