Sails in the sunset

Well, it hasn’t quite been plain sailing today, but I’ve finished my re-read/proof-read/re-write of my story ‘Sixty Years’. I haven’t thought of a better title yet. I did Google it to see if anyone else was using it as a title, but I found no matches. I thought a while back that the book would be a novella but, almost without noticing, the word count has crept to more than 41,000 words and, just, qualifies as a novel. Not War and Peace, but then again, I’m not pretending to be a Tolstoy.

I couldn’t spot any major changes that will be needed. The text all seemed to read okay, but I’ll consult a couple of other people, whom I can be sure will let me know of anything that looks odd. For now, though, I’ll reformat it for Kindle so that this second draft will be more readable for my proof readers. I’ll also supply them with copies of the reformatted Word text to note whatever revisions they suggest. I’m guessing that they’ll take a month or so because they’re busy people.

The last few chapters I’ve been looking at today have featured Luke much more prominently than earlier in the book. In a way he’s been like bookends: always there until 1965 and then a bit-part player until 2001. Of course, there would be no use for Luke at all unless Sandra were there. In these last chapters, Norman is merely part of history. He’s lived his sixty years an departed, but it’s Sandra and Luke who end the book in their sixtieth.

I said yesterday that, for a week or two, until I have something to say about re-writing Persephone’s tale, I’ll devote this blog to posts about photography. I won’t be saying anything that you can’t find in more detail elsewhere on the internet, but I’ll be giving the viewpoint of a 77 year old amateur who has neither the cash nor the fitness to devote to perfection. I’ll concentrate on how to do things better with less, if you like.

Today’s featured photo is one I took four years ago – the 8th October, 2016 in fact – at West Kirby Marine Lake on the Wirral Peninsula, Merseyside, UK. Why there? Well, Luke lives in Mereside Close, overlooking a lake on which sailboats skim the water. I’d like to think that Luke and Sandra saw something like this as they strolled around that lake.

I took the shot using a tripod at sunset with my old Pentax 16 MP cropped sensor camera using its 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 50mm and f/16. The ISO was 200 and the shutter speed 1/80. The image looks out to Hilbre Island and the Irish Sea.

‘Strangers can be lovers again’

The above words from the final verse of the Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine version of ‘Passing Strangers’ came to my mind as I reached the chapter of my ‘Sixty Years’ book. In that chapter, fifty-seven year olds, Sandra and Luke, re-ignite their romance over a meal in the College restaurant. My chosen photograph today is one that I took of my wife while we were in the restaurant of the wonderful Musée D’Orsay in Paris in 2007. A much more romantic setting than the College, but it’s one of the only restaurant shots I have ever taken.

Today has been more of the same as yesterday. Twice, in different chapters, I’ve had to cut and paste whole sections into earlier or later sections because the chronology didn’t make sense. I’m still having to make all the types of corrections that I’ve mentioned over the last couple of days.

At least I have only a couple more chapters to go: although the next two are amongst the longest in the entire book because so much is coming to a head. Norman has, by now morphed from a thoroughly nice man into an ogre who will in, temper, shortly slap his wife – who by now is thoroughly fed-up with his moods and his neglect of her.

At the meal in the College, she realises that she should never have dumped Luke more than thirty-five years previously. I don’t expect any further chronology errors, but I’ll probably have to consider thoroughly how well the conclusion is written.

I took the photo using the Sony Ericsson k800i mobile ‘phone I had at the time. The shutter speed was 1/40 seconds, the ISO 80, and the aperture f/2.8. There is no exif information about the focal length.

I’ll say no more today. I’m already thinking about how I’ll be using this Blog in the interim period between putting this book to one side to steep and (a) then having a final attempt at proof-reading, or (b) moving on to re-writing my first book – the one about Persephone – from scratch. I might use this space in that meantime to say something about photography. The site is, after all, for writing AND photography

Are we nearly there yet?

The other day, I mentioned false summits. I shot my featured photograph today as I was preparing, with a friend, to traverse Crib Goch, a razor-edge ridge along our route to Mount Snowdon. The image shows, beyond two of the Pinnacles of the ridge, a series of summits climbing towards the trig point of Carnedd Ugain in the upper right of the picture. Although those minor summits are clearly visible from this angle, once you are on their lower slopes, all you can see is the next hilltop. Each time you can convince yourself that the next top is your destination – and each time but the very last one, you only realise your mistake once you breast the false summit that had tempted you.

It’s been a bit like that today. Yesterday, I thought that all I had left to do for the moment was to read my edited text today, and correct a couple of things that I might have missed. No sirree! Six hours after starting reading this morning, I am less than half way through. The basic structure seems fine, the plot seems credible and the sequencing is fine. It’s the telling of the tale that’s needing attention. It’s turned out to be more than punctuation and minor grammar problems. There are obviously going to be several more false summits to climb.

Word order has been a minor nightmare. I notice that a part of a sentence needs to go elsewhere in the sentence to avoid misinterpretation or to alter the impact of what’s being said. Sometimes a sentence, or two, would be better in an earlier or later paragraph for clarity. Then there have been places where I’ve missed out a word – or a letter from a word. More than anything though, I’ve struggled with choosing the best word to use in a sentence. Finally, I think – my brains addled by now – I’ve found lots of instances where I’ve needed to cut out bits of sentences where they added nothing to the meaning or, worse, detracted from readability.

So, that’s been my today. I hope that yours has been more fulfilling. I’ll wind up with my usual summary of the camera settings I used for the photo. I used a compact camera – I didn’t want to be carrying too much on that journey – it was a Panasonic Lumix DMC- TZ60. The ISO was 100, The aperture f/4, Focal length was 8.4 mm and the shutter speed 1/400.

When you get to the top the only way is down

The good news, I suppose, is that I’ve scrambled through the rocks and crevices of my draft story and paused for breath. The trouble is that, as the heading today says, when you reach the top, the only way is down. As anyone with climbing experience, or even just hillwalking, experience will tell you, the way down can be trickier, more dangerous than the way up. The risks to knees and ankles seem to multiply.

Sometimes, too, there are false summits, where you reach the top of the rise that you thought was the summit, but it’s simply one more mirage to frustrate you.

My next move must be to begin again, reading the edited text carefully because my eyes are now tired. My brain is befuddled as a result of all the changes that I’ve made. Is that a mistake that I see or is it a correction that is now consistent throughout? Even though I may have cleared up the worst of the plot problems, I’m aware that my eyes may be more likely to miss the small details, ‘she’s’ when I meant, ‘she’d’ or, ‘were,’ when I meant ‘where.’ Mistakes, in other words that wouldn’t be caught by the spell checker. Punctuation errors are another item likely to be overlooked: missing quotation marks – especially at the end of a few words of direct speech are a good example.

I’ve finished for the day, but I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. When this next read through is complete, as I’ve said previously, I’ll leave the draft alone for a week to ten days so that, when I have my next look, I’ll come to it with fresh eyes. Perhaps that will be a good time to have another look at my first book about Persephone. I enjoyed writing it but I’m aware that there were others who felt that the details about photography were boring and/or the Welsh names of Mountains and places were too much for the brain to take in.

I’m not thinking of simply decluttering the text. There’s a story in there, I’m sure, but I’ve simply not identified it properly. I may not start rewriting that story yet but it will be fun reading it again and trying to see where I really went wrong first time around. Wish me luck!

The featured photograph is an icon for the subject of the text. It depicts to trig point at the summit of Mount Snowdon in North Wales. At the moment unwelcome visitors are flocking to reach it despite the Covid-19 dangers and restrictions. In September 2011 when I first reached this point there were no such problems. I captured the image with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX50 compact camera at f/8, 4.6 mm, ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/400.

The loss of a pet

The proof reading/re-writing continued today. Although I have only three more chapters to read, they will be the most difficult of all the chapters to edit, and they contain the most dialogue. It is here that the most problematic options will need to be faced. How much dialogue is too much? How little will amount to a cop-out?

Although it may appear that I’m now on the sunny downhill run, today there has been a moment of high drama in the story, to which my featured photo relates. Sandra’s beloved pet cat, Chivers, had to be put down by the vet. It was a hard moment to write about, but it fitted the story well. It was especially hard for me, because I was really writing about what it had been like when my wife and I had needed to make the same choice in real life as Sandra was making in the story. More than at any other point, I felt every moment of what I was writing about and it seemed that I was reliving her grief.

I’ve just reached the point, in the draft, at which Norman loses his temper and slaps Sandra. This, and it’s aftermath, will need to be tackled sensitively and in detail. My draft already exists, but, in proof reading, this I’ll not be looking for grammatical issues so much as ensuring that the writing does the scenes justice. I’ve never gone through this kind of situation at first hand, so writing about it will demand that, in my imagination at least, I try to visualise every second.

Other than the above, I’ve now written the additional chapter that I mentioned yesterday – partly to build up Luke’s story but also to portray a temporary lull in the deteriorating marriage of Sandra and Norman. The calm before the storm as it were.

There’s not much more to say today, except to apologise that I can’t provide the usual information about the photo. I have no exif data. It’s a smartphone photo of our late, but totally adored furry friend, Tigger, God rest his soul.

I’m rambling again

Please join me while I ramble on about my proof reading. The featured photograph is one I took while I was out with a local Ramblers group as we returned to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales after a day’s walking – or rambling I suppose.

Before I even switched on my desktop PC this morning – while I was shaving – a horrible thought struck me. While I’d been doing my restructuring and timeline changes here, here and everywhere I suddenly remembered that I’d probably put two different households into the same house. When I checked, I had. Pause for frantic checks through the navigation pane for every street that I’d named so that I could reassign them where they belonged. Whew!

I’ve also had to insert an extra year into the timeline – pushing back Chapter 13 to become Chapter 14. This gave me headroom to squeeze in some much needed relationship dynamics. The process of making characters less one-dimensional continues – except that, in one case – I gave Peter an extra dimension by increasing his waist size – he’d been doing too much socialising with clients and imbibing more than was good for him of the occasional vino and pint glass. He’s had to join a gym a few years later and start going out with the Ramblers – see how things fit together – if I was going to get him fit to be the knight in shining armour again later.

It wasn’t just the characters who were one-dimensional. Some of the set piece tableaux were pretty thin too – scenes like weddings, funerals etc. They didn’t so much need a lot more detailed description as more of the feel of something happening – giving a reader something to hang their imagination on.

Rome wasn’t built in a day‘, as they say, and though I wasn’t on that job, I suspect that there are still a few days to go before I can lay the story aside to stew for a few weeks. In the meantime, based on what I’ve been learning from the experience of trying to write a second book, I’m considering unpublishing my first to attempt a rewrite. I’m sure that there is still a story in there that’s worth doing better the second time around.

I took the photograph today, handheld, using my old Pentax K-50 16 MP camera with the kits lens attached. It was an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens with focal length 30.63 mm and aperture f/13. The ISO was 200 and the shutter speed 1/160 seconds.

A suitable setting

I started yesterday’s blog by letting you know that I’m moving onto proof reading. One of the first things that I said I wanted to address was the setting – to change the basic setting of Codmanton from the textile industry to the kind of industrial town that I grew up in. The main industry of that town was glass manufacture. Hardly any of that town’s former industries remain now, but my photo today is of the St Helens World of Glass Museum and the furnace chimney that now serves as its entrance.

Let me say immediately that I know next to nothing about glass making. I’ve worked for many organisations – but none had anything to do with glass. My son once asked me, “Why don’t you work at Pilkington’s like everybody else’s dad?” The reason that I chose the picture is that it is a relic, in a way, of that era. There are no remaining structures to remind me of coal or gas or chemicals – in St Helens. The pithead winding gear is gone as are the gasholders. This furnace chimney remains.

I began, then, by amending all the references to the textile industry, save one. I can justify that one in that many modern technical textiles owe nothing to wool or cotton.

I’ve reformatted the entire file ready for uploading as a Kindle eBook when I’ve finished. That task has automated the job of getting rid of lots of minor problems. Once I started re-reading, however, I was horrified to discover just how one-dimensional many of my characters are, so I have made my next task to try to do something about it. Fortunately, as soon as I started writing, what I think Stephen King would call my Muse kicked in and all sorts of ideas simply flowed to improve that problem – to my mind at least. I’ll read it again once I’m done with the first proof read.

I don’t have much else to say today. I’m about halfway through the fourteen chapters but there’s probably much more that needs to be done at that end of the book.

Today’s photo was taken in August 2018 at a visit to the Museum. I used my old Pentax K-50 16 MP cropped sensor camera with the kit 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 19 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed was 1/125 seconds. The shot was handheld and the image converted to black and white in Lightroom.

Agents of change

Sandra and Luke have sold their respective houses and, as they stand waiting, the removals van arrives. They prepare to leave Codmanton behind. All that remains is to drop off the house keys at the estate agent’s office.
The story is told but, as I’ve been writing, it has become clear that there are gaps that remain to be filled. There are also implausible aspects to the timeline that I began with. In order to correct these there will be a need for substantial rewriting. Spelling and grammar issues are matters that I will leave until later.

Over and above these matters, I have been rethinking the setting of the book. My original idea was to make Codmanton a textile town. In retrospect, this was a mistake. I know next to nothing about that industry or its infrastructure. On the other hand, I grew up in a town where coal, glass, gas and chemical industries dominated the local economy. I remember trolley buses, rationing and smog which were commonplace. I have vivid memories of coal miners in their clogs sounding on cobbles, as human chains of them snaked from their buses towards the pits. I sat by my grandad’s bed where he spent his last years after a pit accident, and I remember how, when I was a primary schoolchild, the father of a friend died following days of smog. I intend to represent some of these real memories in any rewrite.

There is something else that I’d like to do. The other day, after reading someone’s WP blog recommending tips for new writers, I followed one tip immediately, and purchased a copy of Stephen King’s book, “On Writing”. I’m only halfway through but two of his edicts in particular have caught my attention – to spurn adverbs and the use of the passive voice. I had a look at just two chapters today out of interest. I can see already that cases of these edicts will be more difficult than I had imagined – either to track down or to eradicate. I still read sentences without even noticing such faults.

This has been a much longer Blog than I intended but, I hope that you will bear with me in coming days if I spend a lot of time letting you know about not much more than my tedious progress.

Returning to my first paragraph, my headline and the photograph – the image is of the shopfront of the offices of an estate agency close to where I live. I took it with my Pentax-K1 camera using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 24 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/30 seconds. The shot was taken handheld.

A grave matter

So, Norman is now dead.

That night, back at Luke’s house, Luke had something to get off his chest. If you remember, after Norman had slapped her, Sandra had gone to Luke to ask him to let her stay at his house for a few days. She had been afraid to return home. Now that Norman had passed, Luke needed to know whether she’d feel that she didn’t need him or his shelter anymore. She put his mind to rest as only lovers can.

The following morning, Sandra visited her children, Barbara and Paul, fearing that they would blame her for bringing about their father’s death by seeking to divorce him. They reassured her that the pressure of his work and his putting on more weight had been all that had been needed to kill him. In fact, they said, they needed her, as their mother, more than ever. Plans of action were agreed – particularly a visit to the undertaker.

Sandra visited Norman’s former partner, Mark, who was helpful and reassuring. She visited Norman’s solicitor, who showed her the will and its provisions and he also showed her the deeds to their house. She also arranged for the divorce proceedings to be halted. Together with her children, she met the Vicar who’d be leading the funeral service.

The funeral was a quiet, dignified affair, Sandra and her children supporting each other in grief. Sandra had been divorcing him, but she’d never wished him dead.

All that remained was the aftermath of bureaucracy. Norman had been very considerate by dying at such an opportune moment. The partnership could now be dissolved by claiming on a provision of the Partnership Agreement. The divorce could be halted. Norman hadn’t had the time – or foresight – to cut her out of his will. Finally, Sandra was free to remarry – if she were to receive a proposal by someone. At a meeting with her children, Sandra, now a wealthy widow, agreed how the future of the house at Uppermill could be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Good man, Norman.

It seems fairly clear to me now that, almost at the end of the basic story, this will be a novella rather than a novel. At 36,000 words, it will fall probably 5,000 or so short of the 40,000 minimum for a novel. What I have so far is a draft which will require considerable editing and, in parts, rewriting, but I have no intention of padding it out with extra words for the sake of an arbitrary target. The story is what it is. The joy has been in creating it for its own sake. It wasn’t written in the expectation of volume sales – or any for that matter.

By tomorrow the story will be complete and I will say more about some of the ways in which I already know that I shall be re-shaping it.

The featured photograph today is of St Thomas’s church and graveyard at Stockton Heath, Warrington, Cheshire, UK. I captured the image in January 2017, using my old Pentax K-50 16 mm cropped sensor camera and an18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 18 mm and f/8. The ISO was 200 and the shutter speed 1/60 seconds. The shot was handheld.

The heart of the matter

The New Year of 2002 has started well – for some. Sandra and Luke are as much in love as ever. She’s had a friendly but firm telephone conversation with ex-husband designate, Norman. Luke’s son, Peter has invited him and Sandra to tea. Peter’s girlfriend, Jill and Mum, Marjorie – ie Luke’s ex-wife – are also invited. Cue for a catfight – no – they all get on swimmingly. Norman has had a delightful Good Friday meal with his son, his daughter and her boyfriend. Barbara and David announced their engagement.

The good news is not unalloyed. Norman’s had the letter advising him that Sandra is divorcing him. He’s had a chat with his business partner, Mark. Mark ain’t happy. There are disagreements because no one saw the divorce coming – except Mark, who’d warned Norman to act his age regarding Sophie the office cutie.

While he’d been gardening, before the weekend meal, Norman had felt a bit ‘off’, but put it down to over-exertion. On Easter Monday, on the golf course with some friends and clients, one of the clients tells Norman that he’s heard rumours about how the dissolution of the partnership is affecting the quality of the service it provides. His company will be taking its business away. The client walks away to tee-off while Norman has a heart attack and keels over.

An ambulance arrives and whisks him off to the hospital where, shortly after arrival, he dies to the horror of his family, who see it happen through the corridor window.

Sandra, who was there, is told that it will be up to her – she’s still Norman’s wife – to do the honours with registering the death and so forth. Paul, Norman’s son, suggests that she should also notify her solicitor and Mark.

The death changes everything – it’s at the heart of the matter.

I took today’s featured photo this afternoon at St Helens hospital, handheld. I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped-sensor camera with a 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 39 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/40 seconds.

Join me tomorrow for more.