Tag Archives: Writing

Review – For The Most Beautiful

For The Most Beautiful

by Emily Hauser

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages.

Think of the tale of Troy. What names can you remember? Active men; Achilles. Paris. Passive women – Helen, only remembered for being beautiful; Cassandra being laughed at for her unbelievable prophesies. In “For The Most Beautiful”, Emily Hauser has told the story of two unlikely heroes, women whose voices have been lost. Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, start off near the top of the hierarchy, but both are enslaved by the Greeks. Their struggles in the face of that disaster, and the need to preserve the essence of Troy, form the core of the book. Looking down from the clouds is the panoply of gods – with their own desires and agendas, and with two of the female gods NOT chosen as “most beautiful”…

If I hadn’t been reading a review copy, I might have abandoned it. The early vacuousness of its protagonists, and shallowness of the gods, really irritated me. But I persevered, and gradually grew to like, and then admire, the girls – very much. I got to the end of the book, and immediately read it again, this time appreciating the superb character arcs that Ms Hauser has drawn. The gods hadn’t changed, but then that is the nature of gods.

This is a fascinating picture of life in Bronze Age Troy, from the point of view of women at both the top and bottom of society. Ms Hauser’s knowledge of, and respect for, the period shines through. Read it twice. You won’t regret it.

 

 

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Review – STITCHES IN TIME

STITCHES IN TIME – The Story of the Clothes We Wear

Lucy Adlington, Random House, 2015, £16.99, hb, 410pp, 9781847947260

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages

The author’s deep scholarship is very evident, as is her joy in clothing. A collection of anecdotes talking about an item of apparel per chapter, this book could have been entertaining froth; but it’s much, much more.

She focusses on the last 200 years, but ranges from prehistory onwards, describing the evolution of items in a very engaging manner. The book is illustrated with black and white sketches and photos, and has a colour centerfold.

From knicker elastic to hats, topics are covered in detail. My favourite timeline takes the pocket from a fold in a Roman toga to today’s handbag, covering chatelaines, a man’s “posturing pocket” (not what you might think), and the 18thC “indispensable” on the way; each journey has similar intriguing details.

I learned something new from every chapter, and was thoroughly entertained whilst doing so; there’s articles of interest here for everyone. The book has an extensive bibliography and source reference material, making it a good springboard for research. An excellent book for either the fashionista or the historical novelist in you…

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Review – Irvine Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy”

The Agony and the EcstasyThe Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts off slow, and the plot continues at this pace – it’s a pretty straightforward recounting of the major events in Michelangelo’s life, with some occasionally wooden reactions to them.
What makes this book shine – in fact, what makes it unmissably stellar – is the lyrical, beautiful descriptions of both the process of sculpting, and Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings themselves. You learn how difficult it is to mine marble, how to transport it, how to choose a piece without inclusions by watching the sunrise through it. Then Michelangelo picks up his hammers and chisels – made afresh for each sculpture – and Irving Stone takes you inside the mind of the master, so that you feel you understand the exact places to carve away the snowy grain of the marble to achieve the desired effect, and you taste the marble dust at the back of your own throat.
Stone’s bibliography leaves you in no doubt that he knew what he was talking about, and there is a surprising body of Michelangelo’s writings in existence. I think that reading this book is about as close as you’re likely to get to one of the greatest creative minds who ever lived, and this book will be coming with me when I go to Florence. It has made me yearn to see these great sculptures and frescos, which Stone describes with such authority and conviction.

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December Rain

I’ve been enjoying a writing course called Writing for Young Readers, on the Coursera platform. One of the exercises was to write a 500 word autobiographical vignette, about something that happened when you were young – this brought back so many memories!

Here it is; December Rain.

The girl emerged onto the top of the plane steps, that first holiday from school, and the heat hit her with a flatiron.

Wow! she thought – have I been turned into an English person already, all red and sweaty?

December weather was supposed to be cool and pleasant, just right for going on safari. The bush, newly green from the October rains, should be full of the whole animal kingdom showing off their new babies – her favourite time of year.

She walked over the tarmac to the large tin shed that was the airport building, admiring the way her uniform shoes sank a little into the melting blackness with each footstep, then released with a tiny pucker. She could see her Dad standing at the open doorway, as close as he could get to the tarmac without breaking the rules, waiting for her. His favourite purple and grey checked shirt was pulled out of his shorts, dark circles of sweat under his armpits. Thank god, he’s hot too! Behind him, half-hidden in the shade, was her Mum, waving.

She ran the last few steps, and they hugged so hard it was like they were one person thick, the girl in the middle. When they let go, she slipped her hands into theirs. Her horrid white English skin was hidden inside her Dad’s huge, freckly grasp, and her Mum’s hand fitted hers exactly. They waited until the luggage handlers brought out her case, then walked together round the shady side of the building to the car, still holding hands.

The touch of the car seat on her back made her sweat rivers. She kicked off her shoes, then wound down the window and leaned forward to let the wind cool her. Her Dad was sticking his elbow out of his window so the material of his sleeve bellied full, funnelling the cooler air over his chest.

“The rains haven’t come yet!” he said, plucking the shirt material away from his body. “Bloody ridiculous heat, for December! No safari until it breaks, I’m afraid.”

She must have made a noise, because her Mum reached back and squeezed her knee.

“Don’t worry, pet – I’m sure they’ll break soon!”

The girl stared out of the window, seeing how brown and dry everything was. They might not break all holiday! The thought of a family safari was what had kept her sane, when she was lying sleepless in the stuffy dorm in England night after night, too cold even with the windows jammed shut, listening to all the others snore. She squeezed her eyes shut, so as not to cry.

She went to bed straight after supper. She woke when it was still dark. There was a breeze, and she leapt up to enjoy that magical air just before dawn, when the world feels alive – but it was better than that! As she stuck her head out of the window, a gloriously spicy smell of wet dust filled the room, and a fat drop hit her face, then another, then another. The rains had come!

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Random poem

Two events have come together to make something I’m reasonably happy with; a good amount of time on a train, and an interesting MOOC.

The course is an interesting one on the Coursera platform, called “Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest”, from the Commonwealth Education Trust – full of delicious New Zealand accents, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on the content 🙂

And I generally love train journeys. All that lovely time, to read, or to write – if I’m writing, too, I’m often happy with the quality of what gets produced. This is not entirely polished, but as I’ve just submitted it for Assignment 2, it’ll have to do !

To my lovely daughters

By Nicola Moxey

 

When I first met you,

It was my Grandmother’s face I saw.

You yawned, and your face settled

Into my sister’s, watching you in awe.

When your sister came along,

She looked like you.

 

Reflections of other relatives

Manifested as you grew;

Your uncle’s mischievous grin;

Striding with your father – fast!

 

Now you are grown,

These shards of faces past

Have kaleidoscoped together,

To make each uniquely perfect you;

But still from time to time

Our heritage shines through.

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I wanted to be a writer when I grew up…

A guest article I wrote on the subject: http://www.withoutbooks.com/when-asked-im-proud-to-say-im-a-writer/ My friend Amy Burns Heffernan has a fascinating and growing blog on all things writerly, with a good sprinkling of guest posts, at her blog “Without books… life would be dull!” – I love her concept, and am proud to be asked to contribute.   Nicky.

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Writing Henry – getting the covers spot-on!

It occurred to me that people might be interested in the process I use to write these childrens’ stories, which are very different to writing either stories or novels for adults. In the first of this mini-series, I introduced you to Henry. The second talked about the inspiration for the stories. The third discussed story structure, and some of the mechanics of getting the stories to work. In this last post in the series, my daughter – a professional artist, who does all the covers – talks about her process.

Fi11Nov2014Fi says:

“My mum is the best client ever. This, however you may beg to differ, is not bias. It’s not because she’ll still love me if I miss deadlines (my services come with a certain amount of inbuilt procrastination) or because the content is easily achievable (it varies, and I’m never against dinosaur reference researching when unaccountably she doesn’t have a full topical lecture prepared with slides) but because she knows what she wants.
  This simple aspect derived from her process of storytelling, means that when she skypes me, or we’re face to face (either at home or on rare and happy occasions beer festivals) I get a clear understanding almost straight away of what is needed from the image and how it fits in around the other covers she wants from me. I am completely spoiled. It’s wonderful.
  Take one of the latest books for example (check them all out, they’re awesome *shameless plugging*). We sit down. I sip my mead, then open my sketchbook and grab my trusty black biro. ‘I want a Viking’ she says ‘a proper one, without the horned helmet. Did you know that there’s no evidence of them wearing them? Depictions around the 8th to 11th centuries had them bare headed or with simple helmets.’ This continues for a little while, ‘he needs to look confused please, as well.’ During this dialogue I am happily sketching away, I like vikings. They remind me visually of Tolkein’s dwarves and I’m drawing an expansive beard and a comically confused expression. Even, after 5 minutes of Viking hat history, adding a helmet because after receiving all that new information. Yes, he will have one. Without the horns.
  From this meeting it becomes fairly straight forward, she’s approved my preliminary sketches of this character, we have been over two other book covers in the same session. I’ve justified my composition choices and we’ve oohed and ahhed over what the primary background color should be (the books are sold in threes so some visual tying together is nice). I go home, rosey, and sit down before my computer and my graphics tablet.
  My first job is to upload my preliminary sketch to the computer, I do usually like to get a rough one down first using pen and paper. It feels a lot easier to me, in a digital format mistakes are too easy to undo, this takes away from the end quality which keeps a lot of its original charm from those first imperfections.
  I settle into photoshop now, drawing over the sketch on different layers. The colours are blocked in and the hair layer kept separate from the clothes layer, for example. Once these first steps are done I add in the agreed background colour, this might be the first time I use the primary brush of these covers. A chalk brush gives a great amount of texture, I like the soft effect that can be achieved.
  Shading is completed throughout the picture, then the colours adjusted so they look good next to each other and as a whole. At this point the original sketch has vanished, so I dig it up again and make sure I haven’t strayed too far.
  I add the familiar ‘Henry Baker’ to the bottom then Skype my mum. At this point in the process the image is usually (in my mind, unless I’m stuck and actively looking for guidance) 75% done. She has been known at this point to declare them finished and grab them for final text addage. I find this slightly stressful. I’m looking for feedback and changes! But the customer is, in this case, right as she is happy. I then simply save the image as a jpeg in the highest quality setting and sit back. Trying really very hard to not look too closely at the picture again, the urge to tweak is deadly and ever looming.
Onto the next cover. “
See why I love my darling daughter so much, not only for her sweet self, but as a co-creator? She listens to my random history outbursts without compaining! (much.). She takes my ramblings and draws EXACTLY what I wanted, much, much better than anything I had in my head. She puts up with me nagging her at increasingly frantic intervals, as my arbitrary self-imposed publication deadlines approach. And she still comes home to visit 😀

The first three Henry stories have been available for some time, either as a bundled paperback, or as individual electronic stories. The next three have just been released, with three more planned early in 2015.

The stories are:

Book 1

Henry and the Necklace – In which Henry meets a surprisingly large elephant.

Henry and the Magic Teapot – Henry tries to give his Nan a present – but she is not happy with the results!

Henry and the Football Boots – Henry has to choose between being brilliant at football, or hurting his friend.

Book 2

Henry and the Viking – a trip to the museum has some interesting consequences.

Henry and the Dinosaur – Henry’s brother Mike creates a big problem!

Henry and the Bird Bath – Henry swears never to try karate again…

They are all on my Amazon page: UK and US

As a bonus, I’m recording Henry and the Football Boots, and will be giving that recording away.

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Twitter: http://twitter.com/moxeyns

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nicky.moxey (Nicky)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-and-the-Magic-Pencil/542341045784909 (Henry)

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Writing Henry – getting the words right.

It occurred to me that people might be interested in the process I use to write these childrens’ stories, which are very different to writing either stories or novels for adults. In the first of this mini-series, I introduced you to Henry. The second talked about the inspiration for the stories. Now I’d like to talk about getting the structure and mechanics of the story right.

I know the bones, by now; the story needs to be somewhere around the 3,000 word mark, with a reasonably classic story arc – set-up; crisis; committment; mid-point; action; result; close-down. Generally, I’ll want a scene break or two in there at or around some of those points, so I can skip boring bits of time and move the action on. However, there is one huge, looming problem, that I have to bear in mind right at the start.

These stories are aimed at an independent but not very confident reader. Ideally, I’d like to stick to the frequently-used word list for the UK Key Stage 2 – readers up to age 10. However, this list is appallingly short and narrow in scope. I don’t think either “football” or “boots” are on it, from memory – let alone “elephant”! So, I have to keep the words to ones that can be easily sounded out, or worked out from context.

However, I refuse to dumb down the story!

So, the process generally goes;

– write the first draft, often on paper, getting the feel for the story. (Start talking to my elder daughter about the art work. She’s a brilliant artist, and I love what she’s done / is doing with the Henry covers.)

– Typed up into Word, and edited for structure.viking wordle

– edited for story flow.

– put into wordle and edited for word overuse. Wordle is a seriously useful tool!

– read out loud – for story flow and rythm.

– Given to my younger daughter to read, as lead beta reader – she’s severely dyslexic; if she can cope – and enjoys the story – it’s on the right lines. Pass the story out to other beta readers. Give Elder Daughter a deadline date for the artwork.

– Final edit & polish.

– Fight my way through the compiling jungle, and publish the story as an e-book and as part of a paperwork bundle.

I remembered to look at the stats that Word gives me, when I’d finished Henry and the Viking – apparently I took 10,111 minutes to write it! I feel a bit binary about that 😀 But that’s not far off, I guess; 160 hours or so, 20 working days, call it about 3 months elapsed time given that I write these on a very part-time basis, hours stolen from the day job and my historical novels.

The first three Henry stories have been available for some time, either as a bundled paperback, or as individual electronic stories. The next three are due for imminent release, with three more planned early in 2015.

The stories are:

Book 1

Henry and the Necklace – In which Henry meets a surprisingly large elephant.

Henry and the Magic Teapot – Henry tries to give his Nan a present – but she is not happy with the results!

Henry and the Football Boots – Henry has to choose between being brilliant at football, or hurting his friend.

Book 2

Henry and the Viking – a trip to the museum has some interesting consequences.

Henry and the Dinosaur – Henry’s brother Mike creates a big problem!

Henry and the Bird Bath – Henry swears never to try karate again…

They are all on my Amazon page: UK and US

As a bonus, I’m recording Henry and the Football Boots, and will be giving that away during the next release.

Sign up for my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/9xPxv

Connect with me online:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/moxeyns

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nicky.moxey (Nicky)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-and-the-Magic-Pencil/542341045784909 (Henry)

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Writing Henry – where the stories come from

It occurred to me that people might be interested in the process I use to write these childrens’ stories, which are very different to writing either stories or novels for adults. In the first of this mini-series, I introduced you to Henry. Now I’d like to talk about where the stories come from.

The inspiration for them comes from many sources.

Football Boots was the result of overhearing a conversation between two boys on a train; they were clearly deadly sporting rivals, but were being very gentlemanly about it. I liked that their friendship took first place.

The Necklace in question was a gift from one of my daughters. It stands about a centimetre high, made of some ebony-black South East Asian wood, bound in silver chains. It looks very real. I live in a rural village, with horses up and down my road all the time, often leaving behind free manure. The thought of the pile of poo an elephant would leave – and one of my neighbours leaping on it, for their roses – was the clinching image…

I’m not sure where the idea for either the Teapot or the Dinosaur came from. Those stories just emerged fully formed! I do have a Brown Betty teapot, just the shape and colour of the one in the story, though.

The Bird Bath evolved from my own love of karate. I’ve been doing it for quite a few years now, and am becoming vaguely competent, at least – but I also love watching the joy that youngsters take from doing the flashy stuff! I have, embarrassingly, messed up a kick just like Henry did, luckily with no bad consequences!

I was lucky enough to see the Viking exhibition at the British Museum in London over the summer. I knew I wanted to write about a Viking artefact; but initially, it was the tiny Valkyrie statue that caught my imagination. No story was coming, though – usually a sign that I’m barking up the wrong tree! I went Googling for her picture, to try and kick-start her imagination, with a rubbish search term – just “Viking artefact”. From the page of images, two leapt out at me – and I knew I had both the item in my story that Henry draws, and the Viking who had to be in it too.
0a06c-vikingfigureheadsnorri

The first three Henry stories have been available for some time, either as a bundled paperback, or as individual electronic stories. The next three are due for imminent release, with three more planned early in 2015.

The stories are:
Book 1
Henry and the Necklace – In which Henry meets a surprisingly large elephant.
Henry and the Magic Teapot – Henry tries to give his Nan a present – but she is not happy with the results!
Henry and the Football Boots – Henry has to choose between being brilliant at football, or hurting his friend.
Book 2
Henry and the Viking – a trip to the museum has some interesting consequences.
Henry and the Dinosaur – Henry’s brother Mike creates a big problem!
Henry and the Bird Bath – Henry swears never to try karate again…
They are all on my Amazon page: UK and US

As a bonus, I’m recording Henry and the Football Boots, and will be giving that away during the next release.
Sign up for my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/9xPxv
Connect with me online:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/moxeyns
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nicky.moxey (Nicky)
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-and-the-Magic-Pencil/542341045784909 (Henry)

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Writing Henry – a bit about him

It occurred to me that people might be interested in the process I use to write these childrens’ stories, which are very different to writing either stories or novels for adults. First, I’d like to introduce you to Henry!
In my head Henry’s a slightly scruffy small boy, maybe 8 or 9, living in a very ordinary house in a small town in England. His family – mother, father, older brother, and grandmother – is very important to him, as are his school friends. Henry’s not at the top of the class, but he’s not thick either; he bumbles along somewhere in the middle of things, trying his best, and generally getting on quite well with the world.
He might be one of these lads…

Credit: joebackward on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license

Credit: joebackward on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license

The person I’m writing for is someone who’s not a very confident reader, who’s not into the high drama of, say, the Northern Lights, and would never have the courage to pick up something as thick as a Harry Potter book. This person wants something close to home, something they can relate to, and something that’s not too long!

Alternatively, the books appeal to a wider audience as bedtime stories. At around the 3,000 word mark, they’re an appealing length, delivering a complete story in a reasonable time; or the reader can choose to stop at break points. Each story has at least a couple.

The first three Henry stories have been available for some time, either as a bundled paperback, or as individual electronic stories. The next three are due for imminent release, with three more planned early in 2015.

The stories are:
Book 1
Henry and the Necklace – In which Henry meets a surprisingly large elephant.
Henry and the Magic Teapot – Henry tries to give his Nan a present – but she is not happy with the results!
Henry and the Football Boots – Henry has to choose between being brilliant at football, or hurting his friend.
Book 2
Henry and the Viking – a trip to the museum has some interesting consequences.
Henry and the Dinosaur – Henry’s brother Mike creates a big problem!
Henry and the Bird Bath – Henry swears never to try karate again…
They are all on my Amazon page: UK and US

As a bonus, I’m recording Henry and the Football Boots, and will be giving that away during the next release.
Sign up for my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/9xPxv
Connect with me online:
Twitter: http://twitter.com/moxeyns
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nicky.moxey (Nicky)
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-and-the-Magic-Pencil/542341045784909 (Henry)

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