I kind a lost track of the real time thing, so there will be a few of these coming quickly.
There are some unusual (to me) words and phrases in this story, so I thought I would point a few out. (Normally I would just ask Lucy but it’s inconsequential; you pretty much figure out the meaning by the context.)
Maybe this is how Brits speak. That helps with immersing the reader in the story, too.
Here are a few:
Seemed rather twee
Applying for the job was a complete punt
(I think it was: Looked at us like) Common oils
OK, back to my real time review of the story…
The chapters don’t have numbers, so there’s no chapter 1 or chapter 2; instead they have names. Chapter one is called “The First Day” and that’s easy enough to follow, but Chapter 7 is called “Suited And Booted.” (I’m too lazy to keep counting them so I’ll just refer to them the way the author did.)
So that’s where I am now.
And another great British phrase has reared its head:
Getting right on my wick
Her observation of college youthfulness is absolutely brilliant. I’m sure everybody thinks they were pretty good in college – and ten years later finds people that age quite annoying. Lucy’s character sure does.
I like the British politeness – although it might be unique to Old College. When her coworker has to interrupt her, he calls her ma’am.
Oh, she got her bowler hat! Hard to imagine PorterGirl (or Lucy) without it. I’ll admit, I was kind of disappointed when she didn’t wear it around Cambridge during my visit…
Ha! The chapter ends on a great note of pride. I won’t ruin it for you – I guess I kind of just did – but we will keep going.
Chapter Next: “An Interesting Concept”
As I mentioned, the chapters don’t really have numbers, they just have names; they are short, but there are a lot of them. About seventy.
Note to authors: That’s not a big deal; in fact, short chapters lend themselves to a quick reading pace. Your readers will find themselves flying through the story partly because after three pages they’ve finished a chapter.
Here’s another good note for authors, whether you’re writing a story or trying to write dialogue
When she arrives at work in her new uniform, the Porter on duty is a little nervous and has something to tell her:
” ‘You know the old deputy headquarter? The old boy who was here before you?’
“I don’t know him but it stands to reason that there was someone here before me.”
To me, that’s funny and conveys information at the same time.
Interjecting stuff like that into your prose helps establish a mood or break up tension. It’s a great device and Lucy uses it well. I try to do that myself which is probably why I enjoy it when other authors do it.
Just so you don’t think I’m going on and on about Lucy, I reference this as a device used in many blockbuster movies, too. Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park does this. Han Solo does it constantly through the Star Wars movies. You can have moments of action and adventure and romance and high drama that are all interspersed with lighthearted quips. Moviegoers – and readers – love it.
And readers love a mystery – as introduced to us on about page 35 of this book. Not the first one, mind you, and not the last, I’m sure, but another one.
Rowling did that a lot, too. Constantly dripping in new little mysteries for us to wonder about. It’s a brilliant device. I wish I had learned to do that in some of my stories. You can bet I’m going to start!
Aww, and some concern being sewn in for PorterGirl. That’s too bad. She was just starting to move from insecure and fish out of water to being secure; now that’s been undermined.
She’s deflated – and us with her – but we have our mystery.
This is another really good chapter because it starts out with her being so full of pride at wearing her brand-new uniform, and over the short span of three pages she is completely deflated.
And of course we have to read on to find out how she deals with that.
Why would I compare the PorterGirl novel First Lady Of The Keys to Harry Potter?
Well there’s a few things that are similar in both. More than a few, actually.
First, both are written by residents of great Britain, which means as an American I see words and spellings I’m not always used to seeing. Phrases that we don’t say and they do – which helps put the reader in the proper setting.
And the setting is probably one of the things I find common in both stories.
Harry goes to a big castle which is a school and is centuries old and fraught with its traditions.
PorterGirl goes to a big castle-like school that is very old and fraught with centuries old traditions.
Both characters are a fish out of water at first. In both stories the reader gets introduced to the unusual worlds as the main character is introduced to them.
I mentioned in my online review of HP The Sorcerer’s Stone that in the first paragraph or two there was some humor slipped in.
PorterGirl is filled with humorous observations and sly asides.
She makes glib remarks constantly – and that’s something I do in real life (ask Jenny or Allison what it’s like to sit next to me during a writing seminar) and in my blog posts (you’ve all seen that) and in a lot of my stories (hmm… more of you need to see that – buy some books, would you), so I can totally identify as well as appreciate and laugh along with that. Lucy wastes very little time letting us know that she’s nervous about her new position, and the reader is right there with her – so it creates sympathy for the MC (main character).
Rowling created sympathy for Harry Potter because he was an orphan and was tortured growing up by the Dursleys.
Having sympathy for the main character and getting it within the first few pages, that’s huge – not to mention it’s a great writing device.
Lucy seems to come by it naturally, which means it’s the result of a lot of hard work.
Both main characters Lucy and Harry are constantly impressed and astounded by the new world they find themselves in, and this carries in Harry Potter through most of the first book. So far being 30 pages into PorterGirl, it seems like it’s going to as well.
And since the blurb says there’s a murder coming up, I assume Lucy is in for a mystery, as was Harry. I mentioned in my online review that I considered the mystery element a big part of the success of that franchise.
Reading on, I will impart my thoughts as they come to me; anyone worried about spoilers should probably look away when you see those coming, but I’m pretty good about not giving away spoilers and I usually put up a big in the post that says SPOILER ALERT!
I don’t think these are spoilers… just questions, really. Those of you who read the story will know the answers so don’t give it away in your comments, but feel free to opine about my progress as I update you.
PorterGirl mentions one character twice in a way different from how she notices all the other characters.
Is Professor Fox a future love interest?
It’s funny how Lucy and the other characters refer to each other by their title as opposed to their names. So somebody is not Mr. Smith but Night Porter or Junior Bursar or whatever. Again, that strikes me as odd, but that might be totally normal for folks across the pond; I doubt it, though.
Instead, I think it is part of the quaint traditions of Cambridge and Old College.
I will say I found the prologue not obviously necessary, but I’m only 30 pages in; maybe it is. It’s not as enjoyable as the rest of the book so far, but that’s because Lucy’s not there yet and so her wit and humor aren’t present, either. The story, I think, would work with it or without it; I have voiced my opinion about prologues and prefaces before but I have been accused of using them myself, so…
I will say this, though, in case anyone was wondering.
Lucy is my friend and we have been interacting online for years as well as having met in person just recently when I went to the UK. Rest assured, I’m going to critique this work the same way as whether she wrote it or I wrote it or somebody I never met wrote it. That is to say, I’m a straight shooter no matter what. If somebody writes a really bad book, I will let them know privately because I’m not into embarrassing people when they are learning, but this book doesn’t need that kind of protection.
Once you give yourself over to a story – and I think I probably started doing that on about the second or third paragraph of chapter 1, then you can sit back and enjoy wherever it goes.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book and will probably consume most of it in the next 48 hours. That’s my style when a story is good.
The fact that I feel confident enough to let you know now how good it is indicates Lucy doesn’t have anything to worry about. In fact, I might buy a few blog followers copies of this thing because I think it needs more exposure here in the US. I’m thinking five or 10. So if you are reading along and you’re interested, use the “contact me” button and send me a message saying you would like to read Lucy’s book. I will send it to you on one condition: love it or hate it you must post a review on Amazon. If you don’t, you’re likely to be forever barred from being a beta reader or anything else.
Flash Fiction Friday is going to return, with shorter challenges and fun authorey ideas you’ll wanna take part in. It probably needs a better name than Flash Fiction Friday, though, I think, but you’re gonna love the new format.
BTW, send me your ideas for a better name than Friday Flash Fiction challenge!
NEXT, Don’t forget we’re going to have a new Word Weaver Writing Contest in July. That’s just a few days away! Are you ready?
The first Word Weaver Writing Contest was a HUGE hit, generating our biggest month of blog traffic in more than a year
– so I guess the Word Weaver Writing Contest is here to stay!
We have amazing prizes lined up, too, plus feedback on YOUR story by ME, and some special stuff just for entering!
Oh yeah! Check this out.
Starting Wednesday we will have a new feature:
“Ask Dan Anything!”
On Wednesdays, for a limited time, we will have an “Ask Dan Anything” section. The first five (possibly the first ten) people who ask questions as soon as the post appears, I will get their authorey question answered!
I have lots of great topics we’ve discussed but things change and I can’t think of everything you guys are having trouble with. Sometimes maybe what you’re having trouble with is unique just to you – but I bet somebody else is struggling with it, too.
Anyway, on Wednesdays it’ll post and the first five (maybe ten) questions YOU ask, I will get in-depth answers for.
Could be anything.
That’s why it’s called “Ask Dan Anything.”
Now, to make it fair…
Most of my blog posts appear at 5 AM Eastern time. That means it’s 3 AM in Colorado or 2 AM in California, but it’s 10 AM in great Britain and I don’t know what time it is in Australia but those guys usually reply first.
For this feature, I’m not telling you what time the blog post is going to come out but it’s not going to come out before noon Eastern time on Wednesday. And you won’t be able to reply to it before it posts. So it’ll appear sometime after 12 noon which means it’s at least 9 AM in California and 5 PM in the UK. I guess Australian friends get screwed on this one, but this was the best I could think of and you still see everything else first unless somebody in the U. S. has insomnia.
And by ask me anything, I mean you can pretty much ask me anything. So you can ask me about any aspect of writing you are struggling with or any topic you’re curious about, whatever you want.
You can also suggest topics you’d like to see me cover for you. I’m not sure how well this is going to work but I think it will be a lot of fun to see what’s on your mind and see how I can answer it for you. Most importantly, don’t forget that we have a new, exciting Word Weaver Writing Contest coming up in July – and I haven’t quite decided if we’re going to have a theme or not, so if you have theme ideas let me know!
And lots of people have asked, so YES, I am still in the process of forming my PRIVATE CRITIQUE GROUP.
The small group of members using it right now are extremely satisfied, so we’re going to open it to a few more of you. (Gotta maintain quality, you know? Baby steps.)
More on that in July.
Anyway, have a great weekend! I’m going to try to finish the Angel edits, so now Caractucus Potts heads back into the barn/workshop.
Occasionally on the blog we will talk with one of our author friends, gaining valuable insights into their behind-the-scenes world.
Today we meet with Sally Cronin, a brilliant writer and friend of the blog.
Be ready for a few surprises!
After working in a number of industries for over 25 years, Sally decided that she wanted to pursue a completely different career, one that she had always been fascinated with. “I began studying Nutrition and the human body twenty years ago and I opened my first diet advisory centre in Ireland in 1998. Over the last 18 years I have practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as written columns, articles and radio programmes on health and nutrition. I published my first book with a Canadian self-publisher in the late 90s and since then have republished that book and released nine others as part of our own self-publishing company. Apart from health I also enjoy writing fiction in the form of novels and short stories and you can find me daily on my blog Smorgasbord Invitation.”
See? I told you there’d be surprises. And there are more.
Sally: Thank you so much Dan for inviting me over.
Dan: Sure. Let’s get right to the important stuff. What kind of Chinese food do you order all the time?
That would be crispy duck and pancakes, and I have indulged in this starter all around the world, and rarely been disappointed. If I was off to a desert Island with just three dishes this would be number one… If you are interested, that would be followed by Beef Wellington and then Baked Alaska. If I am off to a desert Island on my own you can forget healthy eating!
I do love me some beef Wellington. Which is the more important of these two: write drunk, edit sober?
Definitely edit sober… Preferably with an automatic translator from drivel to English! However, writing drunk has its merits although it can result in some emotional outbursts.
Why do some authors sell well and others don’t? (Indie or otherwise, but indie if possible)
There are a number of key elements involved when it comes to selling well as an Indie authorin my view, and I am still working on getting it right myself.
Quality of the writing,
Well formatted and easy to read.
Strong storyline or subject matter.
Popular Genre or wide based subject matter.
Opinions of satisfied customers.
Which mean very little without the following elements.
Online presence – People do buy people first, and if they cannot find out about you they are less likely to buy your book. In this day and age not having some form of platform as an author will not help with sales.
Marketing – the common approach seems to be a book tour launch over a couple of weeks with exactly the same format. This is a shotgun approach especially as most of the blogs hosting the tour are within the same community. Readers after seeing the first post, are not going to respond to any that follow.
A different approach, which I have found more productive, is to
set up a series of interviews spread over 8 to 10 weeks split between those contacts you regularly communicate with, and blogs that are outside the community.
Also, as interviews tend to have different questions each is unique, and you can introduce individual key elements each time about your book.
Also – for both non-fiction books and fiction genres there are groups online to market specifically. For example…. If you have written a book ‘How to self-publish your Novel’, the first thing you should do is create a list of all the writing groups that have an online presence, and drop them a line with the book blurb, your latest review and a link to buy.Your market is not all the authors who already follow you on your blog and social media, but all the aspiring authors out there who are terrified of the process!
Writing books in a series is also key. I have a number of authors on my shelves today that I continue to buy and read year after year. One of the key links between them is that they write series of books. Wilbur Smith (I bought his first book 53 years ago and every one since), Bernard Cornwell, Jean M Auel, Lee Child and a newer author Gregg Hurwitz, to name just a few. Not only is the writing wonderful, but I am invested in their various lead characters and automatically want to find out what happens to them.
As Indies we need to emulate these successful and best-selling authors,and whilst we might not have multi-million pound advertising budgets, we do have access to the worldwide web to market ourselves. It takes time, sometimes years, but readers are not lining up outside our doors to buy our books. They are sitting in front of a virtual bookstore with millions of titles looking for one that stands out from the masses.
I could not agree more. Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
I am into the 3Ms… Music, Movies and Martinis… Sorry but 2Ms did not sound right!
Music has been a food group for me since I was a child, and had dreams of being in the next 1950s musical with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Mitzi Gaynor; little realising that it was already the 1960s and the era of the Hollywood musical was coming to an end. But then I embraced the rock ‘n’ roll era with a vengeance, and even today I cannot spend time on my treadmill without Status Quo, The Boss and The Rolling Stones. Over the years I have found other styles that I enjoy including Country but admit to not particularly getting on with Rap which mystifies me… I sing along a great deal and have been known to perform certain party pieces in public.
Which leads me onto – If you could only listen to one type of music, what would you choose?
If I was back on that desert Island with my crispy duck and only had one style of music that I could listen to…
It would have to be rock ‘n’ roll
because country music can have some awfully depressing lyrics.
Which brings me to – What’s the best movie you have ever seen?
This was a tough one as I have so many favourite movies from the last 50 years. South Pacific, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Saving Private Ryan… But if I were to only have one movie on that desert island, I would have to go with The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis. It helped that the screenplay was adapted from such a wonderful book by James Fenimore Cooper. The opening scene still makes me catch my breath, and in fact I have used part of the music score from that scene on my radio shows as an intro to one of the segments. I have watched the film at least ten times and I have a digital copy in my files just a click away.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
I self-published my first book 17 years ago and received a number of comments at the time about how sad it was that mainstream publishers did not think my book was good enough. I recently mentioned to someone that my 10th book had just been published and their response was exactly the same.
Some people will never find self-published books acceptable. However, attitudes are changing, but it will only do so if books are well-written, edited and presented.
As a self-publishing service we still get manuscripts through that have not even been spell checked or edited in any way, and we send them back with a polite note to tell the author that they are not ready to be published. However, with some of the programmes available for authors to publish their work without any human intervention, this can lead to books hitting the Amazon shelves in a format that does not do them justice. This results in one star reviews and the word self-published is often mentioned in a derogatory fashion. That is not motivating to the authors either, who inevitably give up writing which is a shame.
There are some amazing indie authors on the shelves which is why I love promoting them on the blog. Misconceptions will change, but we as Indie authors have an obligation to make sure we do not give skeptics any more ammunition.
How much structure is in your story before you start writing it?
Most of the story is in my head before I sit down at the keyboard. I do a brain dump then go back and read the whole thing before doing a line by line rewrite. Sometimes it just does not work, so I will save to my reject directory on my computer, and then revisit down the line and break it up like a scrap car; using the parts in other stories.
How did you rebel as a teenager?
It might be simpler to list the ways that I did not rebel. I was the third daughter born after a ten year gap. Then my mother had a son at 40 and I was more or less handed off to my two elder sisters to take care of after school. We lived abroad quite a bit and so there were plenty of adventures to be had. I played truant regularly at the age of 7 and 8 as I did not like school, but I always found something constructive to do; such as help out an old farmer and his donkey look after his prickly pears. I was earning my own money from the age of fourteen with a weekend and holiday job in a cafe along the seafront, and would regularly come home having undergone a major makeover. Including a Marilyn Munroe platinum blonde haircut which nearly caused my father to have a heart attack. I was fiercely independent and that has never changed; I have always been up for a challenge. To some that is rebellious!
Have you made any big mistakes?
Oh yes. And no doubt will continue to do so. Some more life changing than others, but I hope that the lessons I absorbed each time has made me more careful and resilient. Certainly my mistakes have provided a great resource for my stories, and with a touch of humour they don’t seem quite so bad at a distance.
The key to making mistakes and surviving is to make sure they do not impact others because then they are definitely life-changing.
Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
I am very boring and give the same answer to this every time. Wilbur Smith, who is still very much alive and who graciously responded to a note that I sent him on Facebook a month or so ago. I wrote to thank him for 50 years of reading pleasure and how much I admired him. I am about to read his latest book War Cry, and I am as excited to catch up with the Courtney family saga as I was at age 11 when I bought When the Lion Feeds and spent all night reading it under the covers with a torch.
What do you love most about your writing?
I first loved reading with a passion, and from the age of five or six devoured any book I was given. Then I thought I might give it a go myself, and started creating stories in my head and then down on paper in prose and verse. Then work life intruded and apart from some fictionalised budget reports the only serious writing was the 120 letters I wrote to my parents from Texas in 1985 and 1986. They are a journal of our time there and I found that my father had kept them all after he died in 1996. I still have them, and I guess that sums up what I feel about my writing. The fact that someone treasures my writing enough to keep.
I would love to make a fortune, but every time someone takes the trouble to write a review or a comment on my blog and tells me they loved something I have written, I get quite emotional.
What an amazing thing it is to be doing something that not only you love, but others do too.
What is your latest book about?
What’s in a Name is a collection of twenty short stories prompted by either a female of male name beginning with the letter A through to J. Volume Two will be out later this year.
About the collection
There are names that have been passed down through thousands of years which have powerful and deep-rooted meaning to their bearers. Other names have been adopted from other languages, cultures and from the big screen. They all have one thing in common. They are with us from birth until the grave and they are how we are known to everyone that we meet.
There are classical names such as Adam, David and Sarah that will grace millions of babies in the future. There are also names that parents have invented or borrowed from places or events in their lives which may last just one lifetime or may become the classic names of tomorrow.
Whatever the name there is always a story behind it. In What’s in a Name? – Volume One, twenty men and women face danger, love, loss, romance, fear, revenge and rebirth as they move through their lives.
Anne changes her name because of associations with her childhood, Brian carries the mark of ancient man, Jane discovers that her life is about to take a very different direction, and what is Isobel’s secret?
How do you want people to remember you after you are gone?
I hope that when I am gone people will think of me and smile. Remember the jokes I told, the stories I wrote, and more than anything that they remember me as a person they enjoyed being around.
Thank you again Dan for the opportunity to talk about some things that are dear to my heart… Like crispy duck and pancakes!
Thank you for sharing your writerly insights!
Gang, here are Sally’s links:
Her books are all on Amazon, most in print and Ebooks.