A little piece of heaven

I hadn’t ventured down that street for a year or more. Hadn’t crossed their tiled threshold for even longer. Speed and convenience had won out. But at what cost ?

The room was bright, buzzing with possibility, enticing with colour and variety. I felt a smile crease my face, a lightness invade my being, an excitement take hold in my heart. All my senses had instantly become stimulated in this wonderful bookish atmosphere.

The sales girl was helpful, knowledgeable and pleasant. She directed me to exactly where I needed to be. Handed me the very article I was seeking. And then left me to wander the shop. Oh and it was hard to be sensible. Almost impossible not to give in and buy, buy, buy. I was in seventh heaven.

So many eye-catching displays. Hundreds of books stacked, lying flat, fanned out in semi-circles, juxtaposed to dramatic effect. Some good ideas for Mirren Jones’ book displays at author events in the future.

I instantly made a vow. Never again online book buying. A few pence off, an instant response, next day delivery. Who REALLY needs that?

Instead I’ll be visiting my local Waterstones or Independent bookstore on a regular basis for the sheer feel-good factor. And to see what is out there, handle the products, study the covers, read the blurbs, and with a sensible head on, select some gems for today, and mentally store the names of more for later.

In fact, my request to Santa this year will be a whopping big book token.

And my New Year’s resolution, will be to see our new novel, Never Do Harm on Waterstones bookshop shelves all over the country. I remember the thrill I felt a decade ago when I saw Eight of Cups, Mirren Jones’ first novel, sitting on the shelf in the Perth branch, in-between Lloyd Jones (Mr Pip) and Sadie Jones (The Outcast). We were in very good company indeed!

8 of c perth

Books can sit with other objects too of course. At Court Robert Arts Centre Christmas Fair nr. Raglan, Monmouthshire, Never Do Harm was positioned next to the sculpture ‘Titania’ by Christine Baxter, which inspired its striking cover.  The result was a stunning display.

book display two court arts

Books can even BE a sculpture!

The environment plays its part too. Here we are at St Andrews University Union for Freshers’ Week. A bit lonesome as the only author present. Although Mirren’s blouse does a good job of creating atmosphere!

Mirren in St Andrews

Barter Books in Alnwick, the old railway station, complete with buffet, miniature trains and platforms is a wonderful setting for a huge second hand bookstore. Another world, time out to wander, read at few pages, delight at what turns up – there really is no comparison. (Pity the authors don’t benefit second time around.)

barter-books

When you think about it, online shopping is a very poor experience when it comes to books. Mirren and Jones will be browsing real bookshops from now on!

 

Do free books have value?

Perhaps a complicated question!

front cover high resolution
by Mirren Jones

For the reader a free book may be hard to refuse.  From the author’s perspective, it’s a different story.  After all the hard work of writing, editing, publishing and marketing, it seems counter-intuitive to give away one’s books. For the self-published author there will be a real cost in giving printed books away and a loss of royalties for both these and traditionally published authors.  Yet everyone seems to be doing it, and it’s become de rigueur in promoting ebook sales – a way of  encouraging downloads, reflected in higher sales numbers and rankings. So, we’ve joined in the freebie giveaway activity, and taken advantage of Smashwords special promotion, currently running until March 11th.

Our book Eight of Cups is now available free for one week only, in e-format via this link:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view…

Please share with your friends, and then hopefully they will buy our new novel ‘Never Do Harm’ which is currently being edited (slowly!) and soon to be electronically available.

Bullets – to shoot or not to shoot?

My first typewriter was a portable Smith Corona, acquired second hand in 1968.

smith corona manual typewriter
Smith Corona manual typewriter

I had to thump the keys to make an impression, and insert Tippex paper to correct any mistakes. That was no easy task if I was also producing carbon copies. My most challenging project was to type up three copies of my husband’s MSc thesis  on this primitive machine. By the end of it I knew all about glass ionomer cement and had a stinking headache and repetitive strain injury to boot.

I now find that such a machine is a period piece and has a certain monetary value!  Maybe I should have kept it.

In the late 1980s I graduated to an electronic model. Still a typewriter with inked ribbon, but this time requiring a lighter touch and with the benefit of a single line display.  A chance to review the last few words before they were printed.  A real step forward.

Continue reading “Bullets – to shoot or not to shoot?”

Grand themes, and specific contexts

Having recently attended Fiona Thackeray’s workshop at Bookmark Blair on ‘Place’, I am now thinking about universal themes and specific contexts. If we look at Eight of Cups, then the grand theme might be ‘attachment’ or ‘mid life’ and the specific context is the lives of six girls who meet at University in Edinburgh in the 1970s.

Our current work-in-progress, Never Do Harm, will then be about betrayal, and the setting – the relationship between two doctors in the modern medical world in Scotland.

Talking of Place, we were delighted to be invited by Nancy Christie who had read and enjoyed our blog, to provide a stop off for her on her digital world tour. She hopes to travel through the ether to England, Scotland, Europe and the World during October!

The theme of her collection of Short Stories Travelling Left of Centre (or to be more exact ‘Traveling Left of Center!) is Fate and the context is people who are unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, such that they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.

This collection of stories includes:

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Character description: “You’ll remember her”

‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’

Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).

It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’

When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.

As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival.  It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.

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All roads lead to Edinburgh

The six girls in our debut novel Eight of Cups came from far and wide. Their birthplaces shaped them, their University days in Edinburgh matured them, and their eventual homes both nurtured and challenged them.

But how to describe a place? And how to reflect how it might have been at the time of the action in the novel?

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The Writers’ Blog Tour

Welcome to the Diary of Mirren Jones – a new stop on the Writers’ Blog Tour. We hope you’ll enjoy your visit, and will go on to sample the blogs of other writers, highlighted below. We are part of a growing international community of writers, working to introduce each other’s blog to a wider audience. Christine Findlay, Chair of Bookmark Blair, (Blairgowrie Rattray and The Glens Book Festival) in  Perthshire, Scotland invited us to take part. (see www.cfindlay.blogspot.com) We in turn have invited the writers Angela Jeffs (Scotland), Heidi Garrett (USA) and Marc Mordey (Wales).

More of these lovely people later, but firstly, by way of introduction: MIRREN JONES is the pseudonym for the creative writing partnership of Marion Duffy from Scotland and Elaine Atkins from Wales. We have been writing together for 17 years: non-fiction books, journal papers, articles, academic courses, workshops, short stories, poetry and a novel.  And we’re still good friends!  Marion currently works as a medical practice manager, and Elaine was formerly a senior NHS manager – our experiences bringing realism to our novel- in-progress, Never Do Harm.

In common with all writers in the Blog Tour we hope to give you some insight into our processes, plans and progress by answering four key questions.

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Is the film as good as the book?

One positive by-product of having a foot operation is that my weekly trip to the yoga class, and twice weekly practice of karate have been replaced by several visits to the cinema.  So for once I can say I have seen almost all the Oscar winners in their prizewinning roles.  I can recommend without hesitation The Dallas Buyers’ Club, Gravity and Philomena.  Blue Jasmine was a disappointment.  And somewhere in between lay American Hustle.

On last week’s excursion I went to see The Book Thief, the film of the hugely popular book.  It generated that ubiquitous question – is the film as good as the book?

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Destination – Room 101

Room 101 first appeared in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’. It was a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempted to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia. The emphasis shifted in the BBC comedy television series Room 101 from facing fears to identifying and then consigning pet hates to a fate worse than death in Room 101.

Mirren is angry with herself this Saturday morning and has decided to work on that anger by identifying all the things that currently annoy her and then metaphorically locking them in Room 101, possibly never to be seen or experienced again.

Firstly goes that full bag of Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs greedily consumed yesterday evening after a hard day at work. No more combating tiredness with empty calories. They can stay there for at least the six weeks it apparently takes to change a habit (Do you really believe that?).

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The Art of Reframing

As former tutors, facilitators, mentors and coaches, we often find expressions from our consultancy days creeping into our writing. A threat becomes an opportunity. A weakness becomes an area for development.

The concept of reframing was introduced into Eight of Cups when Diane reflected on her relationship with her father.

‘Why did he put us through so much all those years? Why did he inflict his moods on us and make us all jumpy and on edge?
When reframed as – what did we do to help him? how could we have made his life happier, worked with him on his problems, whatever they were? – I had to face a second wave of grief

This week, Mirren herself has had a problem – or was it a challenge?

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