Tag Archives: A-Z in April

April’s A – Z Challenge

A couple of years ago, I completed the A-Z in April blogging challenge. You blog for 6 days a week (Sundays off!), draw your theme from a different letter a day, and work through the alphabet. I had a great time and met quite a lot of great bloggers doing it, many of whose blogs I still read. I haven’t become someone who does it every year though, and at the moment I’m quite glad not to have that pressure of daily blogging. You also really have to commit to visiting others’ blogs which is, of course, a pleasure and often a delight, but does take up time.

Some of the blogs that I read regularly are doing it though. Perhaps you’d like to go and visit them and give them a cheer?

Nettie at @nettiewriting is doing a fascinating A-Z of Glasgow and all things Weegie. It’s building up into a brilliant series of vignettes of Glasgow over the years.

Writer DJ Kirkby’s A-Z has so far included short fiction and information drawn from her writing and her day job as a midwife trainer.

Maria at First Draft Cafe is a writer taking writing as her A-Z theme. She’s been sharing tips and advice, and the occasional nugget from her WIP.

Rosalind Adam is Writing in the Rain features a unique A-Z. She’s doing a song title and lyrics from each of four decades: the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s such fun!

For more A-Z blogs (there’s a massive list of all those signed up), visit the challenge’s online home.

Good luck to the A-Z Bloggers!

As the first of April, today marks the beginning of the A-Z blogging challenge, in which bloggers commit to producing a post a day except Sundays in April, covering all 26 letters.

I took part last year, and covered a range of topics through the month, but many bloggers approach this in a more logical themed way. There’s a list of some of these themes at the A-Z blog.

I’m not participating this year, but I did want to wish everyone all the best with it. The A-Z blog has a list of the 1600+ participants.

Why not visit a few and see what they’re blogging about?

April A-Z: Reflections Mega-Post

So, that certainly was a challenge. When I started this blog in December, I never expected to be blogging daily (OK, six days a week). It’s been fun, though, and has definitely helped me to improve my blogging habits. I’ve seen three main benefits from this challenge:

  1. I’ve encountered (and now follow) several new, cool blogs that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
  2. I’ve gained quite a few followers myself through the challenge. That was an unexpected benefit for me, and very welcome.
  3. Blogging within strict limits, like all writing to restraints, has been very freeing (in an odd kind of way). Having to come up with something starting with _ has forced me to search around for topics that I might not have blogged about otherwise. Some were a mite forced, but the most successful ones were arguably the ones I struggled most to find – there’s definitely a lesson in there!
So, would I do it again? Yes, but not immediately. It’s certainly encouraged me to go looking for more challenges/memes to join in with, but I don’t intend to blog on a daily basis from now on.

April A-Z: Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist(from German, literally time-spirit; used in English to mean ‘spirit of the age’, the all-encompassing tone or theme of the time)

The zeitgeist in books is, I guess, like the concept of a trend. But of course, as we all know, writing ‘to trend’ is problematic, since books published now were usually accepted for publication at least a year ago, and therefore written at least two years ago. So if you start writing your ‘trendy’ book now, you’re already (at least) two years behind!

This is, of course, depressing. What if I have the perfect idea for a vampire dystopian YA novel? Well, many say ‘get on with it anyway’. Every time you hear of something being too old hat to contemplate, somebody somewhere has produced something so good that a publisher couldn’t turn it down even though it was on the very theme they’re telling everyone not to pitch with! An interesting angle, something absolutely not derivative, may well get you read. And that may be the key here: too many people are writing very derivative and formulaic stuff because they believe that to be the trend.

What’s reassuring is that agents and publishers never define precisely what they’re after. They’ll talk about voice: a strong voice, a unique voice, a fresh voice. They’ll talk about plot and/or characters: a plot that hooks, characters we care about. But this is all in quite general terms; they won’t specify theme, plot type or genre (beyond the ‘we don’t handle sci-fi’-type statement). This is because they don’t know either. How many times have you read “I’ll know it when I see it” or some version of that?

Don’t stress about whether your current or next WiP is ‘on trend’ (or likely to start a new one) – just write the best book that you can.

Have you read anything interesting about ‘trend’ lately?

April A-Z: Yes!

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some blogs I’ve read recently that’ve made me go “yes” – either in agreement, or simple appreciation of the writing. Some I’ve discovered through the A-Z challenge, others are by people I follow on Twitter, or whose blogs I already followed.

Firstly, Rebecca Brown’s “Little Notepad” is a fabulous showcase for her writing. It was on her blog that I first heard of the A-Z Challenge. It’s hard to pick just one, so I’m going to link to a couple of her posts (and I also want to show you the different kinds of stuff she does!)
Her P post – Pier Pressure – was an excellent short story.
Her Wedding Fever post was a lively reminiscence piece about her own wedding, prompted (of course) by yesterday’s Royal Wedding.

Lucy Coat’s Blog, Scribble City Central, is one I’ve followed for a while. Last week, over a series of three posts, she treated us to a fantastic set of “Royal Wedding Revelations“, which were her memories of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. She was actually there (being a schoolfriend of Diana’s), which impressed my 7yr old no end!

A blog which I have discovered and enjoyed through this challenge is Shannon Lawrence’s “The Warrior Muse”, in which she posts mostly writing-related material. Her Y post focused on her plans for and achievements (so far!) this year.

Another discovery for the challenge is Sarah Makela’s blog. She’s another writer, who’s used the challenge to present an alphabet’s worth of mythological and legendary beasts. I particularly enjoyed S is for Selkie.

Finally, I’m offering you a blog of beauty. Joanna Cannon’s blog provides beautiful and touching writing, mostly inspired by her day job as a doctor. The piece I’m linking to, A Beautiful Game, moved me to tears (and this is not a common thing – be warned), as did “Elephants” a couple of months ago. She deals with ‘big’ stories – birth, death, loss – but in a very understated and truly beautiful way.

April A-Z: Xenophobia

Tough one today! When I plumped for ‘xenophobia’, I was thinking of exploring how traditional legends, particularly of human and near-human creatures like vampires, werewolves and so on can sometimes be seen as an expression of xenophobia via fear of ‘the other’. I was thinking also of how these (and other) ‘races’ of creatures from fantasy novels – trolls, dwarves etc – have been used by Sir Terry Pratchett in some of his Discworld novels to represent human races and to therefore play out issues of racism and xenophobia. I am sure this device has been used in other books also, but Pratchett’s is the example I am familiar with.

Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because — what with trolls and dwarfs and so on — speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green.— (Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad)

It occurred to me in preparing for this post, though, the xenophobia is perhaps more of a problem in the modern world, as we recognise diversity more and more, and live in increasingly mixed communities. This is perhaps why traditional beliefs and folklore show less obvious strands of xenophobia than more recently-occurring urban legends. In many developed countries, beliefs emerge about immigrants from poorer areas, often including some or all of the following:

  • they eat inappropriate animals (often pets)
  • they are unable to cope with technology
  • they refuse to learn the language or customs of the land they are in
  • they are incapable of appreciating the gifts of their host country, e.g. they are housed in a comfortable house but live only in one room, or wreck the house
  • they are unable to adopt manners seen as basic in their new country, such as eating with cutlery
  • they have poor hygiene
This xenophobia is also seen in national and racial stereotypes played out in jokes, and the use of a particular race in urban legends demonstrating extreme stupidity or incompetence – such as the one where someone assumes “cruise control” in their vehicle means they don’t have to steer*.
*Of course, legends such as this might also feature other muted groups like a woman, a homosexual, an old person, a teenager, a transgendered person or someone in a job stereotypically believed to indicate low intelligence like a fast food worker or model.

April A-Z: Walpurgisnacht

Walpurgisnacht bonfire 

The first time I heard of this festival was in reading Goethe’s Faust. It seems to me to be a cross between May Day and Hallowe’en: it falls on the night of April 30th into May 1st and is when witches are ‘abroad’. It’s celebrated in various European countries including Germany, Finland and Sweden.

It’s interesting (to me, at least) that in many places, this night is celebrated with a large bonfire, which also forms part of traditional Beltane (or May Day) celebrations. Walpurgisnacht bonfires seem to be about scaring away spirits and witches while the people celebrate, while the Beltane bonfires seem to be more a symbol of purity and of fertility. Cattle would be driven between two fires at Beltane to purify them, and newlyweds would jump over a bonfire to bless their union and make it fertile.

Another similarity is in the decoration of the house with greenery or fresh flowers. This is (or was) practised in some European Walpurgisnacht celebrations and is often part of Beltane practice. Of course, greenery is used in many pagan-originating festivals, as both these clearly are. It’s also significant that the ‘may’, or hawthorn is usually blossoming at this time, and it seems natural that there is a sense of the world re-awakening with the spring. Clearly, such a feeling is manifest in the new-blossoming trees and hedgerows, so the use of such natural decorations isn’t greatly surprising. In some parts of Sweden, it used to be common for the young people of the village to collect greenery to decorate the exteriors of all the village houses. In an interesting cross-over to another festival, the payment for this greenery-collection was eggs!

The big difference between these two festivals is the belief that the devil, and/or witches, and/or evil spirits wander the world on this night. This is part of the Walpurgisnacht tradition, but is not associated with Beltane. In the system that includes Beltane, this belief is clearly part of the festival of Samhain (Hallowe’en), Beltane’s opposite (since they are six months apart, at opposite sides of the wheel of the year). In both cases, people traditionally dress up in scary costumes – possibly to confuse the real scary things into leaving them alone, or simply to celebrate the spookiness of the occasion.

Have you seen or taken part in any Walpurgisnacht celebrations?

April A-Z: Variation

This letter had me stumped for most of today. For folklore, I thought: Vampires, I’ve nothing to add; Valkyries – Sarah Makela (sorry about the lack of umlauts!) did a lovely job on those already today. So I thought about writing and came up with virtue (an old-fashioned idea still prevalent in some kids’ writing) and violence (how much in ok in kids’ books?). THEN my 7 yr old wandered in to tell me how proud she was of herself for reading the bits that are ‘said funny’ in Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation (which she’s loving generally). The character in question has an accent – they are “ze best in ze world”, that kind of thing. And then I knew what I could write about: Variation.

In my day job teaching English Language at A Level, the topic of ‘Variation’ is basically accent and dialect. The students need to be able to linguistically describe differences between different varieties of English (e.g. Geordie, West Country or US versus UK Standard varieties). It’s a lot to ask of teenagers who frequently need to learn where these places are as well as what might be typical. It’s no good teaching a class what’s typically ‘northern’ or ‘southern’ in English accents if they think Norwich must be ‘up north’ and fail to realise that London is classed as southern! Anyway, all that aside, it’s one of my favourite parts of the course. It’s often the point where students realise the classist issues that we Brits have with accent, particularly since there are usually parts of their own usage that they’ve never realised are non-standard. For example, when I first started teaching in Nuneaton, I made the mistake of using the verb ‘run’ to teach the difference between the present perfective and simple past, not realising that ‘I have ran’ would be perfectly acceptable to most of the class. Issues like this help them to see how ‘unfair’ it is to make judgements about people based on usage, but also how ingrained it is for us to do that.

Anyway, I wanted to also link this to writing. Clearly, my little one was thrilled at being able to read and pronounce a non-standard accent, and it really helped the characterisation for her. This is exactly what using non-standard varieties in fiction should do: enhance characterisation. It shouldn’t (I think) be a gimmick. I appreciate dialect literature as an attempt to strongly locate a story in a particular place, or as a way of validating non-standard speech. I know only too well that non-standard varieties are used because we value them as part of our identity. I don’t appreciate the character who speaks in awkwardly-produced ‘bumpkin’ dialect that doesn’t ring true to any particular place, used as a shorthand for ‘uneducated’ or ‘simple’.

I think if you want to produce a piece of dialect literature, that’s a specific undertaking, and worthwhile to preserve or raise the profile of a particular variety. Of course, you’d better get that dialect absolutely right!

On the other hand, giving just one character ‘an accent’ (i.e. spelling words phonetically only for them) often fails to ring true, or separates them markedly from everyone else. Sometimes, there’s a reason for this – and if you are doing this, and know why, then fair enough. But dialect usage is arguably at least as effective when lightly drawn, i.e. the odd dialect word features, and Standard English words are spelt as standard. Or, as in the “Stunt Bunny” example above, you focus on one particular non-standard pronunciation and render only that phonetically.

Otherwise, to take things to their logical (if absurd) extreme, you’d need a different way of spelling ‘grass’ down South than up North. Grarss versus grass perhaps?

April A-Z: Unfinished Projects

All writers have unfinished work knocking around; it’s an occupational hazard. Maybe something bigger or flashier whispered itself in the twilight, or maybe a project was deemed a ‘no-go-er’ by an agent, an editor, a crit partner. Or perhaps those unfinished pieces are more accurately unstarted pieces: fragments of ideas, brief jottings that haven’t (yet) had their turn.

It’s possible for these scraps to contribute to an evil time suck for the unwary procrastinating writer. Hours can be wasted in agonising over precisely which projects deserve the attention and nurturing which will develop them fully.

In fact, there are those who never actually finish any projects. “Oh, yeah, I was writing that book about (insert half-thought-through idea here) but it wasn’t really going anywhere, so I started working on (half-thought-through idea B) instead.” If this pattern continues ad infinitem, with nothing ever finished, this is not a writer. Perhaps worse (certainly for my sanity!) are those with half an idea but “no time” to write: “I’m going to write a book in the holidays/when I retire/if I win the lottery”.  Trust me, if you wanted to do it, you’d find the time. Many of us who do write are really quite busy (again, I ask you to take my word for it); many published writers have a ‘day job’ as well. And, incidentally, it’s quite rude to downplay our commitment like that, not to mention oh-so-safe to never actually take the risk and try producing a book…

Anyway, I digress. My point was intended to be this: the existence of unfinished projects (or some version of an ‘ideas queue’)  is pretty much a given if you are writing. The trick is not to get too bogged down in guilt for the occasional abandonment, as long as there are also finished projects in the mix. If you’re never seeing anything through, ask yourself why. Are the ideas not fully developed before you start? Are you attempting to write in the wrong genre (e.g. are you aiming for novels with ideas that suit short stories more)? Are you more attracted to the idea of ‘being a writer’ than the actual writing?

April A-Z: Taliesin

From TreeCarving.co.uk 

Just a quick thought today!

I have always found the story of Taliesin fascinating. I’m referring here to the all-knowing bard created by magic (as related in the Mabinogion), rather than the historical bard. People of legend are often more exciting than those of history, aren’t they?

What I find interesting now is the part of the story where Ceridwen is pursuing Taliesin, and they’re turning into different creatures to escape from or catch each other. It’s a motif found elsewhere in British folklore – in ballads like “The Two Magicians” (Child ballad 44), folktales like the Grimms’ Foundling-Bird (Aarne-Thompson type 313a). It is also used later in children’s books such as T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone and Julia Donaldson’s The Princess and the Wizard, although in the latter the Princess is allowed to transform in order to hide from the Wizard, while the Wizard doesn’t transform and chase her – he just has to find her.