Weird Wednesdays – Strange Laws Part 1

As a new feature of 2018 I thought I’d add a little levity and a little (more) strangeness to the blog.  Weird Wednesdays – featuring strange laws, odd words, peculiar facts, and amazing place names. #WeirdWednesdays #strangelaws

I read a lot of history, and boy is some of human past weird! It never ceases to amaze me that humanity got over hitting each other with rocks but somehow we did and invented civilisation (although some days watching the news you’d not know it).  Even so, our past has held some very odd ideas (and still does in some places) and some strange laws and rules.

From Witchcraft laws, judges prosecuting animals, clouds, corpses to outdated laws still on the statute books there have been some damn silly, and damn weird laws of the land. Some sound weirder than they actually are, and when one investigates it becomes more obvious why this is in place. Some don’t.

I’ll start with Britain – as I live there – but other countries will be discussed at later dates.

Odd or confusing Law 1:

It is illegal to be drunk on licenced premises. Under section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872,
“every person found drunk… on any
licensed premises, shall be liable to a
penalty”. It is also an offence under
the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 for
the keeper of a public house to permit
drunkenness or disorderly conduct on
the premises. Furthermore, under the
Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to
sell alcohol to a person who is drunk,
or to obtain alcohol for consumption
by a person who is drunk.”

So you can go into a public-house and buy booze but if you get squiffy you are breaking the law, and so is the landlord or landlady.  I can see the logic of this – alcohol accounts for a high proportion of crime – in 2014/15 nearly 50% of violent crime was related to booze. Anyone who has been in the city on a Friday night can testify as an eye witness to this (in my city at least).

The  Licensing Act  states

Penalty on persons found drunk.

Every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale], and on a second conviction within a period of twelve months shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale], and on a third or subsequent conviction within such period of twelve months be liable to a penalty not exceeding [F1level 1 on the standard scale].

Every person . . . F2 who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or who is drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms, may be apprehended, and shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or in the discretion of the court to imprisonment . . . F3 for any term not exceeding one month.

Is this a Weird Law? I guess that depends on your point of view regarding alcohol consumption. What constitutes ‘drunkenness’? One person could sink a barrel and the next person is bladdered after half a shandy.

Odd or confusing law 2

It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances 
This is an offence under the Salmon
Act 1986.

Offences under the Salmon Act

Basically, if a person knows or believes a salmon, eel, or lamprey has been acquired under ‘an offence’. So a fish illegally caught from a salmon farm, an unlicensed fisherman etc.

Weird or confusing law 3

It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street. However, beating or shaking a doormat is allowed before 8am.

This is an offence under section 60 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. In other districts, it is an offence under section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.

I’d guess this is to stop pollution and fouling of the streets…. but I could be wrong

Do look out for more strange laws of the land.

Other sources Britain Explorer Blog

The Independent

http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Crime-and-social-impacts/Factsheets/Alcohol-related-crime-in-the-UK-what-do-we-know.aspx

The Strange Laws of Old England

Taking the Plunge – One Writer’s Story – Ramon Youseph

Not so long ago part time writer Ramon Youseph made the decision to leave his day job and work full time as a writer. For many of us this is a dream come true, for others a decision which is terrifying. Any freelance work is risky for someone with bills to pay. One cannot guarantee an income but Ramon is a man of some determination. Here’s his interview.

What made you decide to leave your previous job pursue writing as a full time career? It’s a big step!

Simple really, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a teenager, and at my age now (44) I decided that I didn’t want to sit about wondering what it was like to live my dream but to get on and do it. For the last six years I tried getting noticed with blog posts, articles and networking but my day job meant I was limited in terms of time, concentration I mean let’s face it after an eight hour day the last thing you want to do is stare at a computer for another five or six hours. Still in that time I managed to publish over 350 articles and posts of my own choosing as well for a client or as a guest contributor. I was even approached for comment by BBC online and quoted in their finished article – it was about the crowdsourced fan film “Star Wars Uncut”. However I Just got tired of seeing opportunities pass me by and not being in a position to seize them. Confidence also plays a big part.

When I started working for Kung-Fu Kingdom it provided me with a sort of litmus test of whether or not I could be a successful writer outside of my own blog. After a very promising two or three months with one very happy client, along with some long talks with my family and friends I decided to take the plunge. Since I have already had to make a couple of big life changing decision in my personal life, the prospect of a third one seemed less daunting, but only a little less.

How much support have you had from your friends and family?

The outpouring of support has been overwhelming if I am honest. Friends who have known me a long time and know this is my life’s ambition have rallied round me expressing their pride, admiration, some even a little envious that I could potentially live my dream. I have been called brave and an inspiration, even one or two of my most risk averse friends have simply said “go for it.” Yet the biggest support has come from my family. My parents are behind me 100% and offering their insight and experience of being self-employed. They appreciate there are risks involved but continue to encourage me, and have every faith that I will make a success of this.

How did you go about making preparations for this?

Well I already had an idea of what was involved from talking to one or two friends who are freelancers. I also picked up this book with the very simple title of “Freelance Writing” by Linda Jones. I noticed it had some good reviews so I thought I would give it a go. It covers all the fundamentals of the business aspect, how to source work, what to do about fees, and so on. It helped me map out a sort of template of the infrastructure I needed to put into place. This is not as a fancy as it sounds – it simply involved many hours in a coffee shop scribbling pages of notes riddled with ideas in a caffeine fuelled frenzy, such as building a professional looking website, marketing, the admin side including what to charge, but mostly what specific services to offer. Writing is such a big umbrella term so I had to think about the specifics that would combine the kind of services I can offer with the sort of writing I like to do. This is still something I am working on but I think I am nearly there.

There was also the question of how to structure my day, working hours, allotted time for breaks and tasks to undergo. I am still ironing out the creases on this. Then there was the question of letting potential clients know that this was the direction I was taking;  I set up a mailshot from my contacts list – people and organisations I worked with over the years and sent them a RamonWrites release to let them know I am available for hire. I also used my existing social media accounts to get the word out. The tough part I anticipated would be approaching potential clients for work and so far that is meeting my expectations, for example I registered with various portals that offer freelancing opportunities and there is a lot to choose from. The thing is that because there is SO much listed work they vary on subject matter which is great but also pay levels ranging from insultingly low (£1 per hundred words) to surprisingly generous (£350 per thousand words). Really it is just a case of being meticulous in the search to find work that is right for me. Above all else I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and my aspirations in terms of earning capacity are cautiously optimistic. So far all my expectations have been met.

You are a determined person, I know you’ve started running fairly recently – tell us a little about that? What else drives you?

I used to run as a teenager but like many things you dabble in at that time in your life there is the tendency to move onto other things – some people obviously stick with them. I got back into running over four years ago, worried that my weight was going to get the better of me. I needed something to drive me so a friend pushed me to run the Bristol 10k. It was grueling work for someone of my size but I did it and since improved on my time in various other races. Yes I am getting fitter although I could always lose a bit more weight and I am working on that but here are some benefits of running that I think those who insist it’s unhealthy or even a waste of time routinely ignore or don’t consider; running is one of the keys to both mental wellbeing and success.

As human beings our minds are riddled with thoughts, and rarely focused on the present moment. Sometimes we even overthink and get ourselves worked up over stuff we can do nothing about. A good run whether it’s a mile or ten will drag you into the present moment (sometimes kicking and screaming). It doesn’t take away your fears and worries which continue to float there like vapours but they can’t touch you especially when you’ve ran that first mile, or if you’re in a race, crossed that finished line knowing you beat your personal best. Nothing comes close to that feeling of accomplishment, it’s a rush and that’s when you truly appreciate what it means to be in the moment.

Running for me also shapes my attitude to my work and life in general. It teaches me what needs to be done to be successful. Through running I appreciate that successful accomplishments only come through adversity, hard work and putting in the time for the best possible results. When I run I push myself to do better, and that’s what truly drives me now that I am a full time freelance writer, the determination, not shying away from hard work and long hours, setting achievable goals, ready to climb hills and work through even the toughest days whether it’s dry spots (writing is very much a feast or famine business) or other things life sends to try us. After that intense tirade it might surprise you to learn that what also drives me is to get as much as joy as I can out of my life in all aspects whether it’s work, running, socializing, everything. You only have one life and I have a tremendous opportunity to live life on my own terms and enjoy the ride, why squander it?

If I recall you are a fan of fantasy/sci-fi, why this genre? What intrigues you so much about it?

Well on the lighter note it’s a lot of fun to be transported to magical realms in some far away land or worlds & galaxies light years away populated by an assortment of alien creatures, magnificent battles and so forth. It really excites the imagination and done well makes for truly engaging story telling. It’s a genre you can have a lot of fun with too and the creators are not necessarily bound by the restrictions of “realism” although science-fiction requires a certain element of that, or at the very least some plausibility. It can be exciting and a lot of fun to just get lost in another world.

Yet what I really love about sci-fi/fantasy is how it can act as a window through which we can examine the human condition, whether it’s speculative as with sci-fi pondering on what the future will be like, or reflective, sometimes even making a point about human activity. Some have said that there was an element of environmentalism in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and I think that’s true when you read (or see in the films) the destruction of the forests by Sauruman to build weapons and monsters of war. I don’t think you can get a more impactful representation of the harmful effects of industrialization than that. Both examine the notions of class, society, bigotry with such gravitas but what really draws me in is examining what it means to be human through a non-human conduit such as aliens and my favourite, machines. Isaac Asimov and Philip K Dick created some of the most amazing stories exploring humanity through androids or robots. Films such as Ex-Machina, AI: Artificial Intelligence really get into the nitty gritty of this aspect of sci-fi but none more so than Bladerunner. It still makes for a compelling idea that both the human and android characters are embroiled in their inner struggle for their humanity, and as for the ending – well I don’t want to spoil it for anybody who hasn’t seen it but the idea of epiphany finally learning what it’s all about is just mind blowing.

How important is research to your work? What are your best resources?

 Research is very important regardless of whether you are producing work through your own ideas or working from a brief/instruction from a client. When I wrote for the Daily Crowdsource I was given a brief outline and relevant web links on the topic I was asked to cover. The brief has plenty of information to craft an article but it is vital that further research is carried on receipt of the brief. I would always spend half an hour to an hour scouring the internet either for additional relevant information but more importantly for anything that might question, refute or even make irrelevant the information given to me. It protects the client and you the writer after all it’s not good business to put your client in a position where they have published false or outdated information. This is not a reflection on the quality of the client’s brief but simply having another pair of eyes covering your back but also suggesting angles and information that would stand out from the competition.

The internet is a great  source of information if you know how to use it properly. I try to adapt what I call a newsroom approach to web research which is, say I want to write about working conditions on coffee farms and the first bit of information I come across gives a glowing report. Whilst that is the sort of thing people like to read so that they can enjoy their lattes guilt free I am not going to take one source’s word for it. So I look for a minimum of two corroborating sources and then just to be on the safe side I would research the sources to see where their bias lies. There will always be more than one side to a story and there will always be someone with a challenging view and evidence to support, but what you are doing is checking the validity of your information and sources.  Of course not all briefs will require this much extensive research but it doesn’t hurt to check.

I read a variety of blogs, some of which can just be personal musing but also feature insights from news savvy academics, speakers and activists writing or expanding on various topics that might be missed in a Google search. These can saved to your browser or reader. I place great value on internet research which you can do from the comfort of your own bed still in your PJs. However I do find Twitter is a great source of information for any article. Like any social media site it is a mixed bag of news and gossip, activism and of course ephemeral socializing but there are plenty of accounts that provide specialized knowledge that could prove tiresome searching the web. If you were to write an article about Barbecue food you could contact any chef or connect with @devonwoodsmoke, the twitter account for a Devon based chef specializing in smoked and barbecue food. So that’s how Twitter can put you in touch with people and resources with vast knowledge that will help you add real meat to the bones of any article.

 Your website offers articles on ‘any subject’ – that’s a tall order. How do you aim to pursue this?

 Yes that is quite a boast isn’t it? I am not saying that I have a wealth of knowledge on anything from how to apply lipstick to the implication of Schrodinger’s Cat in solving the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics in everyday objects, far from it. However if a client puts out a call to write about either topic, or both, my experience has been that they usually have an idea of what specific information to be included, style suitable to a target readership and purpose. This gives me an idea of what to write and how to structure it and anything that goes over my head I can learn more from internet research, ploughing through relevant blogs or even putting a shout out on Twitter for “expert” opinion.

There are of course limitations to what I can do and I am unlikely to be approached to produce academic essays that can only be read by other academics or professionals although I am always open to a challenge.

I do feel realistically that I can write about any topic that is put before me and fill any gaps in my knowledge with a little research and this comes from my work in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. Through my blog Crowdsourcing Gazette and my client The Daily Crowdsource I have looked at how those have been used in technology and innovation, film making, journalism, marketing and advertising, crisis management, restoration, scientific advancement, banking, trade, and promoting the arts. It was important for me to understand what I was writing about so that it made sense and that I could decide if certain things needed expanding – for example I wrote an article about a percussion instrument that uses kinetic energy to produce enough electricity to power a USB light or charge a phone – by the way it refers to build up of energy through acceleration. In understanding that I was able to understand how the instrument worked and explain that in the finished article.

Of course I do love writing about subjects of which I have knowledge such as films, martial arts, fitness, and so forth but I am conscious of limiting my market potential should any of these areas “dry up” – I don’t want to be known as a film writer as there is a risk of deterring potential clients. Plus I like a challenge and always relish the opportunity to learn something new. In order to make this happen what I try to do is through freelancing portals apply for work on a variety of subjects but also use my Ramon Writes blog to showcase my varied range. Right now my crowdsourcing work provides ample evidence of my topic range but of course this needs updating. What I am also doing is keeping an eye on the market for what topics are in demand. So far example if it’s Internet Dating, whilst I have some experience as a user I might start reading up on the industry, study blogs and then apply for the job if it is still open.

Do you feel your previous jobs/interests will provide useful experiences for your writing career? If so why?

 My interests will provide me with insight where the work will reflect my passions; my work with Kung-fu Kingdom has involved reviewing martial arts films, events, as well as an interview with a graphic novel that combines Zombie story with martial arts. Since these are also my interests I can write passionately and informatively on all of these.

My previous jobs have certainly provided me with some basic skills – organizational, time keeping, day structuring that sort of thing although I am learning that those can go right out the window if you are hit with the dreaded writer’s block and you have a deadline. I already have experience of writing to deadline or quota (20 articles per month for example) so I can bring that to my new role. What I really bring to the venture is a strong work ethic – I don’t like to boast, although some former colleagues might disagree but for much of my working life clients, customers, and employers have expressed satisfaction with my work, and a happy client/boss makes me a happy worker and content in the knowledge that I am doing something right. I aim to please and (sorry for the shameless self-promotion) if you look at the Testimonials page on my website you’ll see current and former clients telling the world how happy they are with my work.

And of course working as a credit controller for 12 years I am not shy about chasing unpaid bills.

The internet offers a wealth of opportunities for writers – do you think the older, printed materials are becoming obsolete?

 I think it’s a possibility. Reading online whether it’s on your phone, tablet, laptop or PC offers so many advantages over printed materials – I mean if you feel inclined you can take 1000 books on holiday with your e-reader, imagine trying to fit those into your suitcase. Newspapers can only give you so much information as space is a premium whereas a news website can deluge you with a barrage of stories from all over the world, and through other sites. How can printed materials compete with that?

However I think there is a still a generation or two that prefers print over electronic reading the obvious one being newspapers, magazines and books don’t need charging up but also some (like myself) just love the smell of printed material. There is also still a concern that technology is encroaching on our daily lives, evolving too fast and so want to dial it back a bit – reading printed materials gives you a necessary break from your phone, TV and laptop. It can also be quality over quantity – why take 10 electronic books when you can just take one and take time reading it?

The debate is still raging of print over web – someday we could end up with a paperless society but unlikely in our lifetime.

 What are your tips on marketing/promoting yourself and your products?

 Oh that’s a tough one and I am still very much working through this but I would have to say is this;

  1. Put a professional face on your venture, in my case it’s the website. It’s clean, user friendly and visually pleasing on the eye but provides plenty of information without overloading potential clients with too much information. As a writer this is possibly the first glimpse anyone has of my writing and presentation ability so it is vital that the website reflects the best of all of that.
  1. An obvious one, use social media. Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook I try to post regularly my latest work, updates on how the business is going, articles of interest relevant to writing, sometimes I will promote other freelancers work, and even share my latest efforts out running. Seriously I try to keep it relevant to writing, and business but you can add some personal stuff to remind people you are human. Avoid controversy, bad language and text speak. Like my website my social media presence is the professional face of my business. Just like any business a little office banter or water cooler moment is ok but keep it clean and respectable and at some point you have to get back to work.
  1. If am writing about an event, any event I take plenty of business cards. Certain events are geared towards networking so there will be lots of business card swapping. I am conscious at such gatherings I will be caught shorthanded when a potential client wants my contact details and I have none to give him save a scrap of paper that is likely to be lost or binned.
  1. I am currently working on sending speculative letters and pitching ideas for potential articles to various publications.
  1. If you get an opportunity to talk about your specialism, business etc, or to be interviewed then quoted in a publication then take it. Doing presentations at talks and sitting on Q&A panels will work wonders for your professional face unless of course you get a case of flop sweat and start tripping over your words. Seriously, these events showcase what you’re all about and break the ice come the networking stage. If you were engaging enough, people will come to you with questions and want to know more about what you do. I am still waiting for my invitation however I have featured on the BBC website – have I mentioned that already?

 http://www.ramonwrites.co.uk/

 

 

 

The Importance of Research – Lorna Collins – Guest Post

Welcome back to Lorna Collins who discusses the importance of research, and how she goes about it.

*Name: Lorna Collins

Does a writer always have to do research?

Yes. Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or historical or science fiction, it is absolutely necessary to do your homework.

How do you define research?

Research may involve fact checking, authentication, or delving into a time period. If you write about real locations, you must know everything about them. Even if you create a fictitious location, as we did with Aspen Grove, Colorado for our romance anthologies, we had to know what the area around the mountains of Colorado looked like. Our little town was also a silver mining town, so we had to research what those were like.

Yes, but if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi and creating your own world, no research should be necessary, right?

No. Even if you create your own world, all physical attributes must be explained rationally and consistently. Know what others in the field have written, and ‘piggy-back’ onto their ideas. My husband, Larry, writes sci-fi, and it is all based on current scientific research and innovation.

What are you working on at present/Just finished?

We are currently writing the sequel to The Memory Keeper to be called Becoming the Jewel. We left the first book at the end of the 1800s when Mission San Juan Capistrano was in ruins. In this next book, we’ll tell the story of how it became the “Jewel of the Missions.”

We are also writing the third in our mystery series, Murder with Honor.

I am working on another ghost story called, Sophia’s Garden. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

*Tell us about your process for research.

In the Digital Age, there is no excuse for failing to do adequate research. Some of the resources I use include:

  • Online Research. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but I don’t finish there. I take each element of the story and search on it until I have a complete grasp of the subject matter. Google maps and Google itself are great places to start.
  • Go to the Source. When we were in Colorado in 2012, I visited both Idaho Springs and Georgetown, the two cities we used as the inspiration for Aspen Grove. We went to the Chamber of Commerce and bought locally written books about the history of the towns. We learned a great deal of new material we subsequently used in our books. In addition, we visited the gold mine in Idaho Springs. We asked how the silver mining process would have differed from the one for gold. We were told they were essentially the same. By the time we left, we had a much better feeling for our town and its roots.

    We also write our contemporary cozy mysteries in Hawaii. Before we start a new one, we take a trip. (I know it’s rough, but we have to do it. On one trip, we discovered a restaurant we described in our book had moved. We were able to change the location before the book went to press.

  • Ask an Expert. I learned from a dear friend and fellow mystery writer that everyone will talk to you if you say, “I’m a writer, and I’m trying to get the facts right.” If you have a question about a police procedure, ask your local police, If you have a medical question, ask a doctor.

    When we wrote our historical, we enlisted the local Indian storyteller, the official town historian, the historical society, and a number of long-time residents. They provided extremely valuable details we couldn’t have found otherwise.

  • Librarians are still great resources for research. They are there to help you, and they generally enjoy the research. Ask for help.
  • Your Friends. Let them know what you are writing about and what you are trying to find out. I have been amazed at how simple mention to friends has resulted in tremendous resources I never would have found on my own.

What aspects do you find most enjoyable? 

I’ve always loved learning, so the research process is an opportunity to learn new things. We spent two-and-a-half years researching The Memory Keeper. Because the history of San Juan Capistrano is so well-known and venerated locally, we had to be certain we only included verified incidents. In a number of cases, we obtained several sources before including a fact. The book is now sold in the store at Mission San Juan Capistrano and at a gallery in the Los Rios historical district. The local families and experts have all embraced the book.

Please tell us a silly fact about yourself.

For years, I never told anyone I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year award as a senior in high school. I was an academic, after all. I won several college scholarships. The award seemed trivial at the time. However, I more recent years, I have become proud of the achievement. I still have the pin mounted in a shadowbox, along with other memorabilia. Whenever I see it, it makes me smile.

*Tell us a bit about yourself:

My husband, Larry K. Collins, and I write both together and alone. After fifty years of marriage, we figured out how to do it.

We were both members of the team that helped to build theUniversal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Our memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 EPPIE finalist and chosen one of Rebeccas Reads best nonfiction books.

We have also co-written two cozy mysteries set in Hawaii: Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise, the latter a finalist for the EPIC eBook Award for mystery. We are currently working on more in the series. The Memory Keeper, is our historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano.

I co-authored six sweet romance anthologies set in the fictional town of Aspen Grove, CO: Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, The Art of Love, …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe, and Directions of Love, 2011 EPIC eBook Award winner.

My fantasy/mystery/romance, Ghost Writer, launched Oak Tree Press’s Mystic Oaks imprint. It combines elements of fantasy, romance, and mystery. It’s a beach read with a dog, and a ghost.

In addition, I am a professional editor.

Where can we learn more about you?

You can find out more about me at our website: http://www.lornalarry.com

Follow my blog at: http://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com/

Social Media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lorna.l.collins

Twitter: @LornaCollins

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lkcollins75/

LinkedIn: Lorna Collins http://tinyurl.com/nunt9no

Crossing Categories in Writing – Guest Post Jacquelynn Luben

In 2015 I am welcoming a number of guests to my blog, where they discuss all manner of topics. I am sure my regular followers have seen the Fantasy and Literary Heroes in Society posts, which will be a continuing feature but today I am pleased to welcome Jacquelynn Luben who talks about the challenges of writing in multiple genres, her work in a small publishing house, research and the challenges faced by many authors. Over to you Jacquelynn…

Crossing Categories in Writing

Jacquelynn Luben

Over the years, I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, short and long.  That is to say, I’ve written two non-fiction books and two novels (and am in the process of writing the third) and I’ve also written many short stories and published quite a few articles.

In terms of success, one of my non-fiction books was commissioned and published by a mainstream publisher, while the other was self-published, and of course, my articles were published in print magazines.

My novels, on the other hand, are published by a small publishing house, in which I am a director, with two others – so quite a small concern – which makes it more difficult to achieve the same sort of success as with a mainstream publisher.  However, on-line sales through Amazon have provided me with a very satisfactory income during the last three years, and this specifically applies to my fiction work.

I have never been a professional writer, and have never had to rely on writing for an income.  So from this point of view, I am happy with the way my writing has progressed.  It means I write what I feel like writing and when I feel like it, and am not normally boxed into a corner where I have to produce something to a deadline.

In the past, my non-fiction writing has been praised for its clarity, and perhaps I should have concentrated on that.  However, the truth of the matter is that I do not really like researching a subject.  My first non-fiction book (The Fruit of the Tree) was written from the heart, as it dealt with the death of my baby daughter through cot death.  Having written articles on the subject, I wanted to put the event into context, and so described a period of five years of my married life, including the births of my other children.  No research was needed.  At the time when I wrote it, it was all there in my memory.

I have spoken to writers who say that they love the research more than the writing.  This does not apply to me.  The writing is the part which is enjoyable;  I like using words – as any writer should – and I like editing what I have written, moving words, sentences and paragraphs around.  (Computers have made that aspect of writing so much easier.)  My articles therefore, have, on the whole, been based on my personal experience, the most recent having been published in a ‘nostalgia’ magazine, and have therefore not required much in the way of research.

It was as a result of writing my first book – which in the end, I published myself – that I was commissioned to write a self-help book on the subject of cot death, and for this I had to use my head and try to be somewhat more objective about the subject.  I did, of course, have to research the topic, and I interviewed a number of people, taking notes and using, at that time, a tape recorder, before going to the computer to transcribe the interviews.  I tried to make them wide ranging, including as my interviewees, bereaved parents, doctors and a midwife, a funeral director, and representatives of the charity which gave support to bereaved parents.  The parents, too, were diverse and included, for example, those who had had more children and those who chose not to, and religious and non-religious people.

My motivation for writing fiction is really quite different, the common factors being my enjoyment of writing, and my interest in the structure of any piece of work.  I am a sucker for stories.  If I turn on the radio or TV, half way through a play, I will probably get hooked and want to know what happened.  So constructing a story and living in the world of that story is a different kind of escapism.  Fiction comes in for criticism from my engineer husband, because it’s ‘not true’, but I believe that there is sometimes more truth in fiction than in factual stuff.  In my opinion, whenever fiction writers describe events, they are remembering something that occurred in their own lives, or that they have heard about.  The truth is in the emotion that was experienced, even if the fictional characters do not exist.  So a piece of fiction is a tapestry of true or half remembered events or events that could happen.  Even in fantasy and science fiction, (which I generally don’t write) good writers usually represent their characters with normal human emotions.

I think that writers have to recognise today that it is very difficult to make a living from writing unless you produce a best-seller.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to get work read and even paid for, particularly in the field of ebooks.  My novel, Tainted Tree, is the piece of work that has provided me with an income recently and is the most read of my current work.  Initially on the Amazon discussion pages, I promoted it a great deal, though this can bring Amazon’s wrath upon your head, so after a reprimand,  I made sure that I was more cautious in this respect.

I made sure that I made good use of the categories on the book’s Kindle page, and was fortunate in that another writer who had created a ‘Listomania’ of genealogical novels, added it to his list.  If you are the writer of ‘literary fiction’, your book may not be too specific, but as I don’t come into that category, and prefer plot based books, it is probably easier to categorise them.  Having said that, I don’t believe that any book fits into one category.  Tainted Tree is a genealogical romance with a bit of mystery and history in the package.  My current novel in progress is a crime thriller, which also has a romantic thread.

My books have in common one thing.  I have read and reread them over and over again and made changes to numerous drafts.  Even if I break the rules, I regard grammar and spelling as of great importance, and, with the help of my fellow directors at our shared publishing house and other writers at my writing circle, I try, to the best of my ability, to sift out all errors.  I also try my hardest to make sure that loose ends are tied up and that there are no errors of continuity.  I am not a professional writer, but I try to be professional.

Reader Interview Number Seven – Laurel

Welcome to Laurel A. Rockefeller

Where are you from? United States (Pennsylvania.)

On average how many books do you read in a month?  I usually read one book every three to six months.  Since I do a lot of research, I tend to go through about 20 academic research papers per month.

Why are books important to you and what does reading bring to your life? Reading is how we learn.  Books should expand our minds and introduce us to new ideas.  They should also expand our vocabularies and improve our language proficiency.

What genres do you prefer and why? I love history, well-researched historical fiction (the better the researched and more accurate to history, the more I will like it), science, science fiction, some fantasy, as well as books on herbalism and herbal healing.  My most read books in my library are reference books.  I have read “Guide to a Well Behaved Parrot” more than three dozen times as it helps me in my day to day interactions with my cockatoo.

Do you have a favourite book or author, why do you think you like this book/author so much? I am a huge fan of J.R. R. Tolkien. Professor Tolkien was a great world builder and probably the biggest influence on my writing.  I also really enjoy Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen.  My favorite American writer is Marion Zimmer Bradley who was also one of the founders of the Society for Creative Anachronism which I’ve been a part of my entire adult life.  Dorothy Fontana is my favorite teleplay writer.  Dorothy Fontana not only wrote “Journey to Babel” for the original Star Trek, but she’s also been part of the Society for Creative Anachronism from its earliest years.

What medium do you prefer – e-books, audiobooks or paper books? Would you care to expand on this? I am low vision, so I rely on audiobooks (that might shift once I learn braille) and large print books.  Sadly, not that many authors offer their books in large print.  This is one reason why I do not read as much as others.

How do you usually find the books you read? For example: recommendations from friends, promotion on social networks, your local library, following authors you already know? Good question.  PBS has given me a lot of my leads for great material, along with the BBC.  I love Ken Burns documentaries, so after watching one, I tend to research the topic further by reading books by contributors to his documentaries.  Biographical motion pictures also have this effect on me.  I read the “Dao of Jeet Kun Do” by Bruce Lee not long after watching “Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story.”

When choosing a book what makes you stop and give it a second look?  What makes you turn away? Do you read reviews by others and if so do they influence the choice?Costuming on book covers — both ways.  I’ve been part of the Society for Creative Anachronism for over 20 years and have learned a lot about historical costuming by making, wearing, and being around others in the society.  I can pretty accurately date costumes I see on book covers and in films.  If the cover is wrong for the time period reflected, I will not read the book.  If it is correct, I will give it a second, third, and fourth look.

I am influenced by other reviews and have found some good ideas looking at reviews on GoodReads.

What is the most important aspect in a book for you? Plot? Characterisation? Well written etc? Authenticity and accuracy are critical to me with books.  Because if an author takes too much license, I just will not believe the story or the characters.  Details matter.

What aspects turn you off from a book? Are there things you avoid? I am turned off by fiction books with overt religious tones.  Religion is a part of our societies and our history, but if I feel like a book is preachy at me, that is a huge turn off.

I am also turned off by “historical” fiction that is really more fantasy than historical.  I have an academic background in medieval history and I read/explore a lot of history overall.  So when someone gets too fantastical, I’m turned off.  This starts with the book covers.  So if, for example, you set your book in Henrican England (perhaps a story about the relationship between Mary I and Elizabeth I during their father’s reign), that book cover really needs to feature clothing between 1520 and 1575 (Henrican to early Elizabethan).  If it clearly is not, then I just won’t consider the book.

The other big turnoff for me is explicit sex and violence.  I am not into erotica at all and, having lived a violent childhood, find too much violence rather uncomfortable.  Stories can be easily told without that level of detail.  Let me imagine the details; I do not need to read them in gory or pornographic detail.

Do you think bricks and mortar bookshops are in decline? Yes, absolutely!