U is for Utopia

U is for Utopia

I’m coming rapidly to the end of this run-through the alphabet and some of the last letters are somewhat problematic. I considered Useless (that’s how I feel a lot of the time) and also Unknowing (the older I get, the more I know I don’t know) but settled on Utopia, because there’s so much Dystopia-stuff around.

The person who coined the term (it actually means No Place) was Sir Thomas More in his fictional piece of the same name. Curiously enough, he was inspired by Plato’s writings on Atlantis. I’d urge you to read more about both works, because More’s ideas of Utopian society included such things as slavery, severe punishments for pre-marital sex, and communal living. The book addressed issues of its day and the blue-print for a utopian society he depicts is anathema to what I consider a perfect world.

We use the word Utopia to mean a perfect society but when it comes down to it, the origin of the name tells us everything. It is No Place. It cannot be. To be the ideal living conditions for one segment of society, it does so at the expense of others. For many, our current society is Utopia as it stands; this is why, in the run up to a General Election in the UK, those at the top of the ladder will fight tooth and bloody nail to keep things as they are, because that suits them very well indeed, thank you very much. To create a society where every member is valued and has a basic and decent standard of living is impossible in a culture that is essentially venial and selfish, where the rich wish to get richer and richer at the expense of the poor, where luxuries beyond imagining become common-place for the lucky few, and people starve and freeze on the streets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis

P is for Poetry

P is for Poetry

P is for Poetry

Or possibly, predictable.

Come on, you didn’t expect me to use P for anything else, now, did you?

Sorry. This whole A-Z thing is inherently predictable, after all.

Anyway. Poetry.

I wrote my first poem (I’ve probably said before) at infants’ school, so somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8 (when I went up to junior school). My memory suggests 6 or 7 as the age; the title of the poem was Blue. It extolled the virtues of my favourite colour. There’s no copies of it anywhere, for which I am sure you are all profoundly grateful.

At school I was one of the few who enjoyed both the reading and the writing of poetry. Yet after the school days were gone, I seldom wrote any. There’s a few tucked away; angsty, angry ones from university days but I think the sheer wall of hugely brilliant poets I’d studied rather impeded the idea of actually writing anything myself. Even my fiction dried up at uni; it was not until my daughter was a baby that I started tentatively to write again properly, having spent my childhood and teens scribbling.

Why poetry? What’s the point of it, is a question I’ve heard too often. Poetry says things in ways prose cannot and will not. It’s not about flowery language but about finding a way to express something (often deep and hard to articulate) in a manner that transcends age, culture, and sometimes even language itself. The brevity of some forms is like an expert ink drawing that captures a moment so perfectly, it never needs the colour adding. The longer forms tap into our unacknowledged need for rhythm and draws us in, with repetition and with something older and more arcane than the familiar story-telling of a novel.

As a mature* adult I’ve written more poetry and have found some sense of calling in writing it. It’s been published in assorted small journals (some now extinct) and more recently in national newspapers (I’ve had some in The New European). My first collection of poetry Accidental Emeralds https://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00LM890TG/ several times reached the sweet spot of number one in Love Poetry. My second Hallowed Hollow https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779/ made it to four in the category Religious and Inspirational poetry. It got its first review the other day and glowing doesn’t come close to how enthused the reviewer was (proud moment!)

But stuck in the pipeline was another, longer tome. A Box of Darkness stalled at the last minute. I’d got some proof copies and then realised I’d messed up the table of contents, and couldn’t figure out how to do it properly. I’d also used a quote from American poet Mary Oliver and I realised that this was unethical. Despite the quote being all over the internet, I couldn’t use it, either inside the book or on the cover or blurb. So I had to think again. Two years on, I was still thinking. Then a couple of weeks ago, I dragged myself back to it, and did it. A recent purchase of a traditionally published book of poems gave me a clue of how to present the contents page without having to jump through hoops.

A Box of Darkness (like Hallowed Hollow) is only available as a paperback, as I don’t feel a longer collection fits digital format There’s 60+ poems in it, so at the current temporary release price of £5.00 (or local equivalent) that’s extremely good value, but it will go up very soon. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Box-Darkness-poems-darkness/dp/1505904285/

Subtitled Poems from the Darkness, the theme is obvious. The blurb is as follows:

Sometimes we fear to go into the dark places that depression and mental distress can lead us into. Yet as many mystics and seekers over the centuries have found and spoken about, those dark places often contain the treasures we did not know we were searching for. These poems are the results of my walking into the darkness and bringing back the beauty and wisdom that is hidden there. Some painful, some humorous, but all poignant, I hope you will find these poems inspire and encourage you to seek your own treasures in the darkness.”

Poetry is an important but under-valued art form; there’s a lot of baaaaaad poetry about too. But there’s a lot of very good stuff too, and I think mine falls into that camp, not the other.

*however you define mature, I’m using it to mean over the age of 21.

All links are to Amazon UK but it’s in other Amazon stores if you look under my name and the book title.

And then this happened…

And then this happened…

And then this happened…

It has only taken three years (almost) since the publication of the Kindle version, but finally there is a paperback of Square Peg! I began the process in July 2014 but could not, for some reason, get the wretched thing to work, and it became a bogey-man, haunting me with the failure. Better not to look at it, I felt, and hoped it went away. But folks kept asking me if I were going to do a paperback and I knew it needed doing.

For context, I published the Kindle version only weeks after my operation to remove the parathyroid tumour (the rogue gland formerly known as Dexter). I’d barely got my ducks in a row before the operation; one of the many hideous and insidious effects of the tumour is problems with cognitive function. Memory (especially short term memory) is impaired, as is the ability to learn new skills. I still have odd gaps in my memory from that time, from where my poor beleaguered brain wasn’t able to lay those memories down properly. They’re probably still drifting round distant corridors, looking for the right shelf. Once the gash in my throat had healed, I think it was assumed that everything would go back to normal. However, I had a long climb back to health still to go, because I’d lost a lot of good muscle and stamina, as well as a lot of other issues, some of which may never get better (due to the effects of Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, which I am now sure is a part of Ehler-Danlos Syndrome). So my attempts to get out a paperback of a fairly hefty book were ambitious, to say the least.

It’s done now. The cover is slightly different from the Kindle version, because the lettering at the top was going to be cut off by the process of printing and binding. It looks and feels rather gorgeous, too. There is a sense of having climbed a mountain that had previously defeated me.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Square-Peg-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500608882/

Anyway, lots of useful lessons learned (about gutters and so on!) that I have used for two more projects that you’ll hear more about soon. One is a surprise baby, completely unexpected, but in many ways, perfectly timed. That’ll be pretty soon, I think. The other is Little Gidding Girl, which has taken not only steps but leaps and bounds towards getting itself off my hard drive and out into the world to meet you all.

All I need now is for my writing mojo to stage a return or a resurrection and we’re good to go!

The fear of imperfection is a paralysing thing ~ some musings on the process of “settling”

The fear of imperfection is a paralysing thing ~ some musings on the process of “settling”

I’ve been stuck so long I thought I might begin to fossilise in the crevice between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps I have. Imagine me stretching and cracking and shedding lots of gravel as I move slowly into the light, a troll restored to pre-dawn mobility. Now to find a bridge to hide under and wait for billy-goats.

Where was I?

Oh yes.

A couple of years ago, I started doing a paperback copy of Square Peg. After the first proof copies arrived, I gave up. Analysing it now, I can see why I gave up. It ties in with my love-hate-love-loathe affair with books and especially book-shops. In the last few years I have walked round most bookshops in almost physical pain. Some of the pain is sheer angst and anger that my books will never be on the shelves, but once we get past that little matter, the pain is harder to pin down. Books are exquisite things. Truly. Even if you never open it, a new book is a joy to behold; the paper, the colours, the very scent.. all delightful. But I’ve had a sort of recoil: it’s all too much these days. In a bid to woo (woo, woo!) potential readers, publishers have gone to extraordinary lengths to impress. Shelves and tables in Waterstones are like courtship dances of myriad birds of paradise made paper. They dazzle, they en-trance, they entice… and then I sicken. What about the words inside? The blurbs do the same: blind you with careful and clever constructions, teasing and dancing with your love of intrigue and the promise of losing yourself in another world.

And I find myself withdrawing like an anemone, springing my tentacles back into my being, and feeling oddly stung and put off. I almost yearn for the Zen-like simplicity of the old Penguin classics, Spartan and uncompromising. I don’t buy books very often in person these days; when I do, it’s usually from our very excellent Book Hive in Norwich, or the book shop in Diss, and it’s often non-fiction and often poetry. I am bewildered by the choices on offer, and the creeping sense of being bamboozled into parting with hard earned cash for novels that nearly always leave me disappointed. It’s the same online, too: everywhere you look, someone is flashing you their books, bright, beautifully designed and presented, begging you to take them, take them NOW.

And I knew in my heart of hearts I cannot compete. I cannot compete with those book-birds of paradise gracing the front tables in Waterstones, clad in their wrappers embossed with gold ink and perpetual promise. I cannot compete with the array of books online, perfectly presented, designed, advertised and endorsed to the hilt with a thousand glowing reviews and (because everyone suspects ALL five stars) a smattering of 3s and 2s and a single one star (which we all know is malicious, don’t we?) I cannot make my books look like those; I do not have the resources, either in terms of skills or of money to hire those skills, and so I gave up.

Some might read that and think, buck up, stop whining. To them I would say… well, I won’t say what I would say. It would be rude.

I could not proceed because I could not emulate the perfection on display and so felt I could go no further. When I began publishing, it was OK to be a little home-made about it all. But in the six years since then, everything has become alarmingly “professional”. One is exhorted not to let the side (i.e. other indie writers) down by being less than slick in your quest to be as good as the traditional publishing industry. It’s even made me sometimes wish I actually had a publishing deal so that I could step away from the other side of being a writer. But the memory of how appallingly ill sending in submissions made me in the past, stops me going there again. I’m hanging on to the last shreds of sanity and dignity as it is.

So, today, I tackled that paperback again. I fiddled and messed and waited and fiddled some more, and right now I am waiting for an email saying the cover is approved. It’s not going to look like one of those astonishing book-birds on show in Waterstones, but it looks nice. It works. And moreover, even though I sell very few paperbacks, it needs to be out there, even if no-one ever buys it.

I also wrestled the new book almost to the point of conquering it, and making it ready to start the process of uploading, first to Createspace and a paperback version. There’s a few more bits to do, and I’ve had a very kind offer of some words of praise to put on the back too, from another author I respect greatly (once she’s had a chance to read it and decide whether she does want to endorse it, that is. I’m cool if she decides not to, after all). Little Gidding Girl is all about settling, too, of realising that what you have is pretty damned excellent, and that all the other paths you might have walked may not have been the sunlit, joy-filled ones you imagine them to be.

People speak of “settling” as if it is a bad thing, but it’s not. Sometimes it’s the only way forward, to accept things as they are and work with them, because solid reality is something one can live with, and work on, whereas dreams and moonshine and unrealistic ambitions keep you moon-struck and paralysed. It’s been my fear of imperfection that’s kept me locked in this glacier-like stasis, locked like a flattened mammoth stunned by a wall of ice; the fear of being ridiculed for the odd typo, for less-than-stunning covers, for daring to be a tiny bit rough around the edges and thereby tainting others by my lack of care. Someone, somewhere, will always find a comma out of place and throw the book at a wall. Every traditionally published book I have bought in the last ten years has had at least one little issue, be it typo or rogue apostrophe. In the end, my only way to break out of my crevice in the rock is to admit: I’m not perfect, I’m never going to be perfect and neither are my books.

So. Watch this space.

What I read in 2016

 

What I read in 2016

I’m intending to write a post called The Dying Art of Reading but that will take more brain power than I can currently muster, so for the moment, a round-up of my reading last year will have to suffice on the topic of reading.

I keep a notebook of what books I read; some use Goodreads for this but as I hate Goodreads (it’s toxic for authors, for anyone with a thin skin and honestly, it’s data-mined more than anything else for connections between authors and readers). In total I completed reading 78 titles last year, which is slightly less than I thought; that said, I always have a good half dozen books on the go and some I simply don’t finish. More on the DNF topic another time. 34 titles were non-fiction, and some of those were doorstops that took months to get through, chipping away a few pages at a time. One of the first that I bounced my way through was a book called Brilliant Green- the surprising history and science of plant intelligence by Stefano Mancuso. Well written and entertaining too, this book was a joy to read and might change the way you see plants.

I’ve worked my way with glee through a fair chunk of the works of Marie-Louise Von Franz, student, translator, and associate of Carl Jung. Her books on fairy-tales are enthralling and enlightening reading; you can almost pick one at random and be amazed at the extraordinary information inside. In the same vein I read The Black Sun – the alchemy and art of Darkness by Stanton Marlan, and also Monika Wilkman’s The Pregnant Darkness – alchemy and the rebirth of consciousness. Both books explore the darker states of human existence (such as depression and grief) in the light of the ancient art of alchemy. I’m still pondering on my findings, such as they are, but these are excellent books.

Very worth reading too was Change of Life- psychological study of dreams in the menopause by Ann Markovic, and The Owl was a Baker’s Daughter – Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa and the Repressed Feminine by Marion Woodman. Susan Scott’s quirky little book, In Praise of Lilith, Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, was highly enjoyable too; a collection of essays and explorations, it’s a very engaging walk through some complex topics.

In fiction, I sated myself on Ann Cleeves books, gorging on several each from the Shetland and the Vera series, and then going right off them. I did the same with a number of titles by Dennis Wheatley and probably won’t touch either author’s works now for a long while. I might be in danger of doing the same with John Connelly’s Charlie Parker series, but he keeps upping the ante and on to book 6 now, I’m quite hooked. Each book is very different from the last but threads run through all that develop and tantalise. I read a couple of Last Kingdom books by Bernard Cornwell but stalled and will hopefully pick up on the ones I’ve bought but not yet read later in the year. H.Rider Haggard accompanied me on many miles of static bike journeys at the gym… he’s still brilliant to read even with the political incorrectness!

I finally finished Sir Terry Pratchett’s A Slip of the Keyboard; it’s a collection of essays and the like, but it’s painfully poignant to read and I confess I cried. I also read his Unseen Academicals, and cried laughing too.

For work I read a couple of books on Paris (How Paris became Paris by Joan Dejean and The Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne) but since I only did one Paris trip last year, my new-found knowledge has languished and I’ll need to reread them both to refresh my memory!

Some of the very best of the fiction was from indie author Gev Sweeney. Three books from her this year in her extraordinary series of alternative history: Ferial Day, Master Warwick and finally For The Burnable Cities. The Prodigal’s Psalm from last year is an excellent unsettling read too. Alternative history as she writes it mingles Roman, biblical and modern history in an unnervingly accurate exposé of current events. Without giving spoilers, you’d have to read them yourself to get quite how apt the themes are.

There are other books, some I have enjoyed, some not; some I have beta read (and therefore, at this stage cannot comment) but that’s a rough guide to where my reading has led me in 2016. I have not given links, but all books are easy enough to find on Amazon and if not, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

Comfort Literature ~ the new trend for 2017?

I’m probably going to do a proper round-up post in a day or two but having watched a very bleak two-parter on TV (an Agatha Christie adaptation) that left me feeling even lower than before, it occurred to me that what I would like to see trending in the new year is literature that comforts. Not schmaltzy, saccharine candy-fluff books that pretend everything is nice and rosy but books that have a strong core of something special, something strong and real and comforting.

One of the books I read this year was Elizabeth Goudge’s The Rosemary Tree. It’s a comfort book, like all of hers I have read so far. It’s not light and fluffy but quite different. It’s about people coping with things that seem intolerable and finding ways to redeem the unredeemable. That’s what I mean about Comfort Books.

In view of this, for the end of this year and for the start of next, I have reduced the price of Away With The Fairies to £1.99 or equivalent worldwide. I’ve had many emails, reviews, letters and messages from readers about this book, on how it’s helped them cope with some very difficult times in their lives.

I’m hoping to have a new book out by Easter, and that too will be a Comfort Book. More information to follow soon.

If you have suggestions for other books we might all enjoy, please share them in the comments.

 

An Advent offer

An Advent offer

I’m cutting the cost of one of my books for December/Advent, because the book starts just before Christmas.
It’s also, in my own opinion, my best book. Sadly, this is not reflected in sales. It falls between the cracks of genre and that’s never a place to be. Young male protagonist, a plot that is almost the antithesis of romantic fiction. However, it also contains a *villain* that some readers reckoned worse than Joffrey, a hero who’ll break your heart and characters you’d like to spend time with and who will all haunt you long after the book is ended.
Talking of which, there is a sequel, still gummed up in the works, but which I’d love to see out there next year. Needs a polish, a cover and some oomph from me to get it out.

The Bet is available in all Amazon stores, currently at £2.99 or local equivalent: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/. It’s also in a nice chunky paperback that would make a good Christmas present to someone who you think would enjoy it or even (dare I say it?) to yourself.

All but one of my books are in paperback. I’d hoped to get Square Peg out in time for Christmas in a paperback edition, but life has been..interesting. I’m hoping to release a new novel, Little Gidding Girl sometime early next year, and also a new collection of poetry; that’s being fiddled with to ensure it’s as good as I can make it. The poetry will (probably) only be in paperback, because it’s a much better way to publish poetry. You can dip into a paperback of poems much more readily than an e-book.

Reviews also very welcome, of any of my books. I’d love to see Away With The Fairies make it past 50 reviews by New Year; the myth has been that the Mighty Zon promotes books more once this milestone is reached, but while I suspect this is a myth, I’d still love to test it out.

Advent blessings to you all.