The balance between creative desire and the moment of execution.

Balance is art - the exact 'enough'.

Balance is art – the exact ‘enough’.

I’ve introduced Jennifer Lean to you before. So here is another quivering yet precise observation from her eloquent pen. As creative people – whether artists, writers, designers, musicians – we have all felt that curious sense of anticipation before we begin the birth of something entirely new: the burst of excitement, anticipation, that tingle of apprehension yet urge to experience the process of creation, the emergence of a dream, that perfect moment before a single drop of perspiration when everything is in balance, in harmony, in tune. That moment when you know something magical is about to happen and it will be the perfect ‘enough’ to change your world in a matter of moments.

~Enough~
by Jennifer Lean

Enough is not honoured. It is ignored
and therefore hard to know
when it arrives.
The weight of it in the palm
is gently neither here nor there
simply, subtly positioned
between too little and too much.
It sits somewhere
in unacknowledged neglect
between having had and wanting more.
It is that silence between having the thought
and uttering it
the spaces between stanzas of poems
between the visitation of meaning
and giving it shape.
It is fingers that are
perfectly poised
suspended in expectant motionlessness
before music emerges.

~~~

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Most perfect description of the human voice – ever.

Sometimes there are people in this world who understand language, words, form and creation better than others. I have many favourite writers and poets that fit into this description. But no one more so than Jennifer Lean, a Cape Town poet whose words will leave you breathless. Somehow, in the fewest words possible she manages to cut you to the bone, strip away all pretenses and defenses, and lay bare the human condition. Her point, sharp as a fencer’s blade, is always made with perfect weight and delivery in the last line. She reaches a core in a reader’s heart, soul and spirit in a way that is indescribable to us mortals. But you will know it when you read it. I will simply leave you to digest.

What must stay

I live dutifully in my sunlight liquid spaces.
Daily I rinse traces of myself away.
Wash imbibed memories down drains.
Sometimes I baulk. Watch for days
as a feather brought in on a breeze
whispers its way along stretches
of my carpet. Watch spillages of books
heap where they hope not to be
in the way. Am seduced by
the singular perfection of a fossilised gecko
on a windowsill.

I watch the sooty stain above my fireplace
grow year by year.
Some signs of what one cannot see
must not be wiped away.

~~~~

And then this extraordinary comment on Salli Terri’s voice:

From this to those

(Salli Terri, Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 – Aria, Heitor Villa-Lobos)

Salli Terri’s voice is unearthly.
It gathers up the scorch
of these fireside coals,
this sky, indigo
beyond the colour,
this inscrutable substance
of moon.
It gathers up all yearning,
this sound within wings, and flies.
It stretches itself infinitely
upward, infinitely outward,
becomes thin, ever thinner,
senses-shattering,
eventually evaporating
into those unknowable silences
where the human voice
implodes.

~~~~

And here is that music that inspired these beautiful words: Salli Terri

Listen – and read. It will blow you away!

Amazon and the ‘foreign’ writer

Mystery thriller

Mystery thriller

I live in South Africa and have several books (10) published on KDP. Amazon is refusing to pay me for book sales in certain global shops because I have not reached the obligatory $100 dollars sales target. As I have been in these shops for 3 years now, with minimal sales in these areas, I am unlikely to reach their target until I’m 140 years old. So I cancelled those shops on my list of outlets and requested the money owed. And guess what? They refuse to pay me unless I close my entire KDP account and then – and only then – will they pay me all monies owed.

Does this in any way make sense to you? Would you classify this as fair? Would you call it good business relations? I find it bizarre – and also a framework of how large organizations so often become detached from the real world and assume themselves omnipotent and unaccountable.

Here’s the other interesting thing if you live beyond what Amazon considers the ‘real’ world – they pay you by sending a check through the post. I kid you not. They refuse my numerous requests to be paid via EFT or (even easier) PayPal. It is as though there is only America and Europe and no one else really counts. I have explained that South Africa has a very sophisticated banking system but a very untrustworthy postal system. I have told them I have a PayPal account specifically for receiving book payments. Their response (for months now) ‘we’re looking into better ways to provide you with a better service’ – or some such wording. A check through the post! It makes you want to weep.

A check through the post means I have to drive to the bank and find parking (petrol and parking fees). Then I have to wait to be attended to (sometimes up to an hour). Then I have to fill in pages and pages of forms – and then once this joy is over, the bank takes 25% of the money for the processing charges.

Psychological suspense thriller

Psychological suspense thriller

And then the other thing Amazon does to ‘foreign’ writers. They add $2.00 onto every one of my books selling in certain ‘foreign’ shops. Why? Because of ‘taxes’ and ‘operating costs’. Two whole dollars per BOOK! Consequently, my sales are compromised in these shops anyway – no wonder I will never make their $100 target. I have never felt so ‘punished’ for dealing with an organization in my life before. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and Apple never mess with my book prices (always $2.99) and they sell all over the world. Why is Amazon so different and peculiar and difficult?

So here’s the thing: I have closed all Amazon global shops for my books except for UK and US outlets – and of course, South Africa – otherwise I see a page without pricing details.

Why are writers outside of the US and UK treated like this? Why have GLOBAL shops if you haven’t got the wherewith all to manage things in an up to date and equitable manner?

A warning to all ‘foreign’ writers: Amazon will see you as an odd, quirky, weird, possibly of Martian extraction – and definitely with a mindset only capable of operating in the 1960’s.

But then maybe it’s just South Africans they single out for this suffering. And then, honestly, to be fair to Amazon – there are days when we do fit that description rather well.

But seriously, guys – a check through the post? Who does that in 2014?

Happy writing!

 

 

 

The Writing Process – Monday Blog Hop

Welcome to the Monday Blogs Writing Process Blog Hop!

The talented Jenny Lloyd invited me to post and many thanks to her for including me. Jenny is the author of the compelling historical novel “Leap the Wild Water” – set in Wales in the early 1800s; a deeply moving romantic drama and very authentic social commentary on the times. You can find Jenny’s book here. And visit her blog here.

Deep As Bone cover

Psychological suspense crime thriller

Writing is a different process for everybody. But every writer experiences the personal intensity and overwhelming compulsion that is the process of writing. If you’re not excited all the time about writing, then you’d better be off doing something else. Writing is the view into the valley that no one else sees – and to engage and enthrall, you have put that vision into words. To give you an idea of how I go about the process of writing, I have answered the following four questions:

What am I working on?

At the moment I’m working on two novels. ‘The Ghost Road’ is the sequel to ‘The Vampire Castle’ currently available only on Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, Apple, and suitable for children 9 – 12. The story continues the adventures of Elspeth as she unravels the strange and frightening secrets of ‘The Shadow Garden’ at her grandfather’s mysterious mansion, Whitterburn. Whitterburn is unlike any normal house – there are doorways, passages and wormholes to all sorts of strange worlds – and a grid pattern in the garden that if coded incorrectly – can take one into the most terrifying situations. Part of Elspeth’s adventures entail learning who she really is -and how to use the codes in the ‘Shadow Garden’ effectively.

My new mystery novel involves a strange and reclusive family living on the east coast of England who have maintained ties to their ancestors’ pagan rituals – and who hide a darker secret in their old family home. Grace, a statue specialist, finds herself searching for her missing friend, Ruth. She is employed by the family to repair the statues in their wild garden but is really there to find out why Ruth has disappeared. What she discovers is a terrifying mix of history and the supernatural – and an ancient, appalling evocation of evil.

Psychological suspense thriller

Psychological suspense thriller

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

I like to write women’s thrillers as opposed to general thrillers – and there’s not that many writers in this genre. My books are for women specifically – but perfectly readable by anybody. I don’t write romance, romantic thrillers or chick lit. My focus is less on relationships (although that plays a part) but more on the story, the action, the development of intrigue, pace and tension – and how  ordinary women cope with extraordinary situations.

 Why do I write what I do?

I write these stories because I rarely find what I like to read. Usually, women’s thrillers beat off down the same old track of predictable romance. I don’t do that because I like to be surprised. I like the unexpected character who doesn’t quite do the right thing at the right moment. I like flawed, real characters who can do wrong or make mistakes. I like to understand why a character’s mind would work the way that it does – and I like to put them into unusual situations to see what happens. I hate padded writing and always try to keep the mystery building at a pace because that is what I’m looking for when I read a thriller. Best women’s thriller I ever read? ‘Beneath the Skin’ by Nicci French. Oh, and ‘Total Eclipse’ by Liz Rigby – superb read.

One Night cover

Suspense thriller

How does my writing process work?

Difficult question. Usually I begin with one idea in mind and end up with something else entirely. I’m a pantser writer – I write by the seat of my pants. I see how a character is developing and then I challenge them – this way I learn more about them. And the more I learn, the more pressure I pile on. But always my focus is on the reader: how can I stop the reader from putting this book down and going to do something boring like the washing? There must be a cliffhanger-type ending to each chapter – and the more I reveal of the mystery, the more I must deepen it. I prefer first person narrator because that gives the story more immediacy and more personal connection to the character. I can’t plan too much because I can’t write unless I surprise myself along the way – and hopefully the reader will enjoy that surprise as well!

My books are on all major sites but you can find out all about my writing on my website: http://www.malladuncanbooks.weebly.com

Please keep a look out for other writers I’ve tagged in this hop – most specifically Jill Paterson and Nicole Storey and Christoph Fischer – writers you do not want to miss.

Jill Paterson is the author of the highly popular detective series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alistair Fitzjohn. She has already published three mystery books and is working on a fourth – not to mention her very informative Pocket Guides to Writing and Self-Publishing. Jill lives in Australia and owns just about the biggest cat in the world. She takes much of her inspiration from the lovely country surrounds where she lives. Find her cosy mystery “The Celtic Dagger”,  here. And visit her blog here.

Nicole Storey is the author of an outstanding children’s series “Grimsley Hollow” and has raced up the charts with the release of her first paranormal fantasy YA novel “Blind Sight”. Nicole lives in Georgia, USA,  and is currently working on the sequel . She is an avid Holloween fan – as you’ll find out when you read her wonderfully gripping, frightening stories! Find Nicole’s book “Blind Sight” here. And find her blog here.

And I’m also tagging Christoph Fischer even though he’s already been tagged and done his ‘hop’ so to speak! Christoph is the acclaimed author of ‘The Three Nations Trilogy’ series on WW1 with the first book entitled “Sebastian”. Christoph lives in England and goes out of his way to support other writers. A top 500 reviewer on Amazon, he is also an accomplished writer able to recreate the dark days of WW1 with pathos and accuracy. Find Christoph’s book “Sebastian” here. And find his blog here.

Fat Chance cover

Comedy mystery thriller set in Italy

Suspense thriller, unexpected, dark and edgy

Suspense thriller, unexpected, dark and edgy

Children's - fun, frightening and mysterious.

Children’s – fun, frightening and mysterious.

 

 

My review: Leap the Wild Water – history up close and personal

I have just finished reading ‘Leap the Wild Water’ by Jenny Lloyd – a wrenching historical drama set in rural Wales in the early 19th century. Increasingly, I am finding Indie authors who have put together fine work – language, story, structure, research, background, etc. As a writer myself, I’m aware of the work that goes into achieving these high standards. I understand the difficulty when the excitement of the idea hits the cold white space of the page – and the double difficulty of doing this entirely on your own without a fleet of professional publishing people fussing around in the background. It takes guts to write and publish a book on your own – especially a book with the sweeping canvas and resonance of ‘Leap the Wild Water’.

It’s wonderful to see how imagination evokes such bold ambition. Not only does Ms Lloyd take us back in time, but she does so with a sense of realism and immediacy; she introduces us to people who seem as familiar as relatives staring out from old family photographs. Like ghosts in the room, we hear the crack of the fireplace, the sweep of a long skirt, the heated arguments of angry, passionate people. And we are swept into their story.

But the core of this book is its powerful social message – one that resonates as much today as the story of 200 years ago shocks us. While reading about Megan’s dilemma when she falls pregnant before marriage – and of the dire consequences that befall not only her but her family as well – I became aware of two things: the incredible double standards (a woman caught out was degraded and derided until sometimes suicide was her only option while a man was looked upon with veiled admiration and a touch of envy – he was ‘a bit of a lad’) and the fact that so much of this attitude is still rife across the world, still forcefully instituted in many countries with little outcry from those of us who like to feel we have moved on. It is not so much the excellent writing that so vividly connects us to the characters of 200 years ago, but the familiarity of Megan’s situation that shakes us.

Indie writers are increasingly presenting books of note, books with good writing and powerful effect. If you are a reader who enjoys substance and a strong story line then – whether you’re a history buff or not – ‘Leap the Wild Water’ should be on your list.

Find ‘Leap the Wild Water’ by Jenny Lloyd here

A Wink in Space

Many years ago I read “A Year of the Quiet Sun  – one year at Scott Base” (published 1968) by Adrian Hayter. It was about a year spent in Antarctica during a period when the sun flares are at their lowest ‘shrink’ so to speak. I can’t remember the book very well but I learned that the sun’s flares expand and shrink at a fairly regular pace, following a time pattern of around 11 years at a stretch. Not unexpectedly, this phenomenon affects our climate. In the flare years, there will be hotter temperatures, less rains, more droughts, etc. In the ‘lean’ years, things are cooler and more rainfall can be expected. Anyways, something along those lines (I’m talking about a book I read more than 40 years ago so please don’t get picky).

When it comes to such issues as global warming and climate change, we in Cape Town seem rather lucky in that not a lot really changes. However on Friday night we had something that I’ve never experienced before – and that is a black southeaster that brought torrential rains in from the south east with a ferocity that was frightening. In summer we have a regular (and often irritating wind) called the ‘Cape Doctor’. It blows up from the south east almost daily. Sometimes it drives a dark cloud over Table Mountain and then we call it a black southeaster. But these clouds, while they may spread a gloomy light, rarely bring much in the way of rain. So one is left puzzled by the aberration that blew in on Friday leaving widespread flooding and people sitting on the roofs of their houses.

One tends to jump so quickly to the conclusions of ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ – and many nod with satisfaction that their dire predictions have been vindicated. However, if I think about it, I remember all sorts of weather aberrations over my long life. Unfortunately for those who like to get heated up about this, I have a really good memory that goes back to my babyhood – and I remember when the weather was different and how it has changed and how much has stayed the same – and also how we had exactly these same ‘aberrations’ even way back then. I remember snow on the mountains in Ceres in December, I remember winters without rain and still nights that would drop to desert temperatures of 2C above freezing in Cape Town. In June it was never a surprise to have temperatures soar into the mid-twenties. I remember a couple of days in summer in the eighties when we wilted under 40C. And great, gusting storms coming in from the northwest any time from May to September.

It just seems to me that the more people talk about climate change, the more it seems to stay the same – by which I mean it’s never the same. The earth has cooled and warmed over millennia and many factors have caused this – many probably beyond what we really understand today. We’re a blue dot in an insignificant solar system, cartwheeling in a galaxy which takes approximately 200 million years to complete a rotation. Not only that, but the galaxy itself is travelling through space at something like 680 miles per second. And while we’re not sure where we’re going, we surely don’t know much about the detours and potholes that must await us along the way.

Great storms and weather changes have given us revised coastlines, great archeological treasures such as Skara Brae in the Orkneys and the wooden henge in The Wash, the legacy of the Vikings and memories not so long ago of snowfalls in Yorkshire in the 1920s that covered houses. Not to mention, of course, the ice ages (I put in a plural here because there were more than one). Possibly what we have to be grateful for, is that whatever brought about all this coming and going of the weather definitely contributed to our agile minds.

So was the rain on Friday the result of climate change or perhaps merely the contraction of a solar flare? It may not happen again for a hundred years. In 1824 there was a massive storm in Cape Town that drove all the ships in the bay onto Woodstock beach; the wrecks are still visible today. Nothing of that calibre has struck us since – but if one does, will we claim it to be the result of human efforts to self-destruct? Or will we look further out – beyond our myopic obsession with our own importance, and catch the wink in space…

Review: ‘Sebastian’ – a light on history

When I’d finished reading ‘Sebastian’ by Christoph Fischer, I was grateful for two things: that people still write about dark periods of our history with such quiet emotion, detail and research – and secondly that the sense of the era was so compellingly conveyed. I have always viewed WW1 in lightless photographs, and believed everything at that time was in monochrome.  But the author brings clarity to this colourless time by emphasizing the effects of war on the microcosm of the family in a way that is identifiable for the reader. We understand the time and events through people.

From the book cover in those deeply WW1 colours to the fact that Sebastian loses his leg as a child well before the war, prepares us for what is to come. Sebastian cannot go to war because he has lost a limb but thousands come back from the trenches without theirs. There was loose disintegration of the family before the war and mild insertion of prejudice – reflecting the imminent breakup of Europe and eventual outpouring of nationalism, racialism and religious intolerance. And Sebastian, wounded even before he could go to war, learns that being a man is not about killing but loving; about coping in the face of adversity and measuring up to responsibility.

Sebastian’s family – our little blueprint of human relationships and power struggles – perseveres through change, loss, love, squabbles and betrayal to find their own way to peace. War will never diminish us because the human spirit is at its most indomitable during times of trouble. Like Sebastian, we are enabled more by challenge than a comfortable life. In a story of war that is beautifully told with gentleness and empathy, we see that endurance is a matter of ordinariness – and war fails in the face of family and love.

Find ‘Sebastian’ by Christoph Fischer on Amazon