Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Chesterton's brother and Kindle formatting

By chance I recently came across a book about G K Chesterton, the famous early 20th century writer. I have some 36 of his titles on my shelves, in paperback and hardcover, and a few more on Kindle.

The book was written by Chesterton's brother, Cecil, although when it was first published his name didn't appear on the cover. It's entitled, G K Chesterton: a Criticism, and looks at the early period of GKC's writing life, when he was still establishing himself, and then suddenly becoming well-known everywhere.

I began to read it a few days ago, and it's good, but the Kindle edition has more errors in it than all the other hundreds of ebooks I've read put together. It's been scanned from an old library copy - the library details have been scanned into the book, in fact, along with the due dates! But no one has bothered to check it whether the scan was accurate. Apart from typos, there are innumerable formatting problems.

Normally when you find a typo or formatting issue, or some other error in a Kindle edition, you have the option to inform the publisher. You can see how to do that here, if you're not sure. I began to do it as I was reading this book, but because of the sheer number of problems, I gave up.

Here are some of the errors I found:

1. Letters that were in a different font at the beginning of a chapter, or section, in the original edition, not only appear as garbage in the Kindle version, but the original capitalized letter may turn up several Kindle pages further on. (It took me a while to cotton onto this.)

2. Whenever poetry is quoted, there are additional lines between the original lines, and in one case towards the end, the rest of the ordinary text has turned itself into 'verse.'

3. Quotation marks are random, sometimes appearing, sometimes not. Sometimes they're replaced by asterisks, or some other punctuation sign.

4. There are large chunks of white space where you'd just expect the next line in the paragraph. In one case there's almost a whole blank Kindle page between sentences.

5. Sometimes after a break in the lines, the next section becomes incomprehensible, as though there were actually some words missing from the text.

That may not be everything. As I said, it became impossible to keep on informing the publisher - Amazon Digital Services LLC, apparently - about each and every mistake. There would be at least one per page, if not several.

The only surprise is that I managed to read the book completely, in spite of all the errors! The Kindle version isn't expensive to buy at $3.30 US, but since I'm expected, as an Indie Author on Kindle, to provide a quality typo-free, well-formatted copy for Amazon to work with, it seems only fair that Amazon themselves should provide something much better than this.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Raphael Alexandre Lustchevsky

I was recently asked to write a review for a local paper, but due to some muddle, the review didn't reach the right person on the staff in time. It looks as though it's not going to appear at all. So I'm including it here on the blog, for anyone who's interested. Due to the paper's restrictions, the review has to be no more than 300 words. 

Review of Raphael Alexandre Lustchevsky’s concert at Marama Hall, 10th May, 2018

The Polish Heritage of Otago and Southland and the Polish Embassy sponsored a concert by the distinguished pianist, Raphael Alexandre Lustchevsky, at Marama Hall last night.

Lustchevsky is presumably used to much larger venues, yet there was no stinting on his performance. He maintained a high level of energy throughout, with thunderous octaves in both hands contrasting with delicate runs and deeply-felt melodies.

His programme was never lightweight. The Chopin and Liszt pieces he played in the first half have huge requirements for the pianist.

Courtesy of Sabah Songs blog
Among these, in the two transcriptions of Schumann songs by Liszt, we have one (Frühlingsnacht) that is more Liszt than Schumann, while the other (Widmung) allows Schumann’s glorious voice to sing through. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, full of fire and passion, ended the first half.

Though the two Paderewski ‘miniatures’ in the second half were less strenuous, the two dances by de Falla, and the exhausting original piano version of Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin are full scale works.

Lustchevsky endeared himself to the audience throughout by introducing each piece in a warm and down-to-earth style, in clearly enunciated English. He reminded us before playing Chopin’s Scherzo in C sharp minor that though the word scherzo means a joke in Italian, this piece is ‘definitely not a joke.’

Several pieces in the concert were a tribute to his fellow-countryman Paderewski who had played them in New Zealand on his 1904 tour. Lustchevsky informed us that after the tour Paderewski left his Bechstein piano on Waiheke Island, where it now resides in Whittaker’s Music Museum.

Two encores ended the concert: Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, with its central tune made famous as I’m always chasing rainbows, and a lyrical Nocturne by Paderewski.

Distorting the facts

Back in 2015 I wrote about the play, Souvenir, which focused on the performances and life of Florence Foster Jenkins. In 2016, Meryl Streep starred in a movie about the same person, which we saw around the time it came out, and then watched again on Netflix last night.

I remember feeling somewhat disappointed in the movie, which also stars Hugh Grant as her husband, and Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, the pianist who accompanied her in her later years. 

We discover that her husband, adoring of her, and deeply in love with her, also had an apartment (paid for by Jenkins) where he kept his 'girlfriend.' In fact, he and Jenkins were never officially married: Jenkins may not have been divorced from her first husband, the one who gave her syphilis. 

A number of things in the movie are based on fact, but equally there are curious distortions. Hugh Grant's character, St Clair Bayfield, is seen as a failed and fairly amateur actor. In fact, he had a long career in the theatre, and was plainly able to act much better than is shown in the movie. 

It's hinted fairly strongly in the movie that McMoon is gay, though this may not have been the case. Helberg camps the character up with constant simpers, quirky looks, and a generally effeminate air. I much preferred the down-to-earth version of Cosmé that appeared in the theatre production. 

Meryl Streep, as always, is brilliant, performing the awful singing with ease (presuming it is her voice, as Helberg seems to indicate in an interview), and she creates a character who is seemingly unaware of her awfulness while being wonderfully generous to those around her - and plainly needing all the love that she can get. 

In the last week we also watched The Imitation Game, supposedly a story about Alan Turing and the breaking of the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, and supposedly based on true events. Yes, there are a few true things scattered about, some actual persons portrayed, but for the most part this is a script based on the idea that it's good to wrap propaganda up in dramatic form, using fine actors to play the main parts and then forget about whether it actually connects with substantiated history. 

Thus Turing's difference (both his homosexuality and his genius) is made a basis for a theme about not bullying people who are different (though Turing is portrayed as even more of an arrogant bully in some scenes, as a man with no regard for the concerns of others). The feminist angle comes in by warping the history of a highly skilled person, Joan Clarke, proving, for the feminists, that women can be just as clever as men. In fact more clever, because she solves the crossword in six minutes instead of the required eight. The fact that she was already at Bletchley before Turing arrived is ignored. 

(The same sort of approach was taken with Hidden Figures in which the black women were treated in the movie as astonishing the male characters - all white, of course. This doesn't align with the facts that appear in the book the movie was made from. But it pleased the female audiences, who cheered at the men being 'put in their place' when we saw it at the movies.)

Cumberbatch adds another of his people-don't-understand-me performances to his CV (it's frequently on a par with his arrogant Sherlock Holmes) and while it's been highly regarded in some circles, he presents a character who isn't any easier to warm to than Holmes was. Quite honestly, when Keira Knightly slaps him, you think, About time

Monday, May 07, 2018

On Writing 4: Writers should expect to get paid

In a diary entry for the 22nd of June, 1989, I noted: 
Yesterday I received $25 in the post from The Mouthpiece magazine ˗ it's about eleven months since I last wrote to them, and received a favourable reply, and a cheque in answer to my cheeky request. I'd read in the 1987 Writers' Yearbook that a cheeky writer had requested money for his work from a magazine that supposedly never paid, and had received a cheque. So I thought it was good enough for me too!
In today's money $25 is about $60, so this wasn't too bad a fee for a spec piece of writing. Furthermore, the editor had told me when I first sent them a piece that they 'didn't pay writers.' Yet, with a bit of cheek, I managed to receive payment each time I wrote for this non-profit magazine. 
The Mornington Brass Band which became the
St Kilda Brass Band in 1912.
(I've played for its soloists on a number of occasions)
The Mouthpiece was produced for brass band players in New Zealand. I should say 'is produced' since a quick look online shows that there are editions dated 2018. 
This is a prime example of the way in which a fledgling writer can get published, and get paid for it. I'd had enough experience with brass bands - as an accompanist to soloists competing in the brass band competitions - to be able to put together a few humorous articles, all of which were accepted over a period of two or three years. 
There's another lesson here: editors of small magazines that have a limited audience are always on the lookout for good material. Why? Because most writers who are earning bigger money don't need the few bucks that a little magazine can offer, and so don't write for them. Plus they don't get a lot of kudos writing for a magazine that focuses on a limited market. 
And equally, a lot of writers start out think they should only aim for the big magazines. Which will prove disheartening, because there are already plenty of writers working for them.
Small magazines are good for newbies, and also for those who can quickly turn their hands to a one-off piece. (Which of course you may be able to revamp for some other outlet.)

Thursday, May 03, 2018

On Writing 3: Objectivity and subject matter

The two previous On Writing posts referred to extracts from my old diaries that were dated from 1990. It only occurred to me later that I'd started the diary in 1989, of course, and that that's where I should have started with these extracts. No problem. I'm now going back to 1989, where there's plenty of material for me to work on.

The first mention of writing comes on the 18th of April, 1989, the day after that initial typewritten diary began. It's interesting that it also discusses ideas. Whereas in yesterday's post, the extract was lamenting a lack of ideas, at this point - when I was still doing the Writing Course - I seemed to have an abundance of them!

I wrote:

I've got four things in the pipeline at the moment. The biggest problem, however, is not getting started (or even finding ideas especially), it's trying to end the stories satisfactorily, so that they don't just wimp out, but end satisfyingly - yet not obviously. I'm now at the point where I don't want to send something off with an incompleteness to it. Formerly I was satisfied to get the thing ended and sent off. Now I'm finding I can't find a proper conclusion, and until I do I don't want to waste my time posting it. 

This was quite a step forward. Learning how to assess something I'd written, and be objective enough about it to say it wasn't thoroughly cooked was important. It's something everyone has to learn, although a number of writers these days seem to publish before they've learned this...

In the same diary entry I mentioned a magazine called New Zealand Disabled, or NZ Disabled, as its masthead stated. I wrote a number of articles for this monthly, and the encouragement of the magazine's editor was considerable. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, there's money available in writing for small magazines - and less competition from more established writers. I usually profiled some person with a disability (I was actually warned off calling them 'disabled people' at one point, though not by the editor) and met a number of interesting people as a result. It wasn't hard to find candidates for the profiles, and almost every interview I did turned into an article.

In fact, there are still a number of magazines relating to disability being published in New Zealand, which means, presumably, there are plenty being published elsewhere. This online page gives a list of them. It may be out of date - NZ Disabled had changed its name to Without Limits by the time this page appeared, and the link shows that under that title it didn't last long. But careful research through your local library will enable you to find a number of smaller magazines that can be approached with articles.

If you're just starting out, this is a great way to get experience.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

On Writing 2: Ideas

On the 21st of January, 1990, I had some exciting news. I wrote at the time that it was 'quite exciting.' I'm sure I meant it was really exciting, and it was: a children's story I'd written had been accepted for a very popular New Zealand children's radio programme called Ears, which ran from 1988 to 1996. (Ears was the name of the programme; the story was called When Dad Went Fishing. You can read it here.)

Instead of encouraging me to go on and write more children's stories, I did one of those things writers do and got despondent. I'll never have another idea!we cry. I don't know why this happens; maybe it's a kind of let-down after something good has occurred. Here was what I wrote at the time: 

In regard to children's stories, I need piles of ideas to draw from so that I've got something to work on, and don't feel I have to dredge up something to make it work because I have nothing to back that one idea up. At present I feel really dry when it comes to trying to write something for the kids. I've tried lying in bed at night thinking of something: doesn't seem necessarily to be the most productive place. Last night, I had an idea about a house shift, and the little kid getting lost continually in the middle of it all, and lists of the things that the family were packing as the hours went by, and increasing numbers of people coming to help. But developing something like this is the problem: having the energy to do it. 

Of course it isn't having the 'energy' to do it, it's the getting on and doing it. Procrastination, which I've talked about a number of times on this blog and which I'm sure I'll talk about again more than once in future posts, is the thing that gets writers into such trouble. 

But let's not give procrastination more house room for the moment. Let's talk about ideas. We don't have to 'dredge up' ideas. We have to be aware of ideas that come unbidden, and note them down, even if at that stage they're barely formed. They will often lead to something later. 

Yesterday I came across one of my old music manuscript books in which there are scribblings galore, the beginnings of a number of songs and piano pieces. Some of these sketches (often no more than a couple of bars) sat in their poor naked state for some time before getting their moment of glory, and becoming the start of something big. Often the ideas had started out as nothing more than a bit of twiddling on the piano, or even flightier, a bit of a tune in my head. Seldom do these things stay in that twiddling or flighty stage, or course. They vanish if we don't seize them. 

We should never feel 'dry' about ideas. Trying to 'think up' ideas is a waste of time, especially in bed at night, where, if you actually did have an idea, you'd have to race out of bed, grab a pen and jot it down. In the dark. 

Courtesy of Danny Steaven
What is curious about the extract from my diary above is that in spite of my complaints I then go on to jot down an idea, one that even now I can see the possibilities of. Why didn't I pick up on that at the time? Who knows? 

The basic point is that ideas are everywhere, if we're prepared to keep our eyes and ears open. We
have to be aware that they won't come in a final state: they'll be like a moth or butterfly, barely able to be caught before they're gone. It's good to have a pen handy, or to jot down something on your mobile phone.

The thing not to do is say, Nah, that 'idea' isn't worth pursuing. Ideas are gifts from God - He leaves it up to us to develop them. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

On writing: Exercising your writing muscles

In January, 1990, I began keeping a diary on my computer. I'd often kept handwritten diaries before, spasmodically, but this one was much more regular, and more detailed. It was written on my old computer and then printed off regularly, finally amounting to some 700 pages. It was good that I printed it off, because the disks that the diary was saved to are long gone, not being compatible with later models.

Much of the stuff, of course, is private family material, but in 1989 I'd been unemployed for six months, and had started doing a writing course by correspondence. (My father, Frank Crowl, used to play chess by correspondence.)

By 1990 I was well through the writing course and between being father of a family with five children and working as a manager of a bookshop, I found time to write articles and the occasional short story. Most of the articles got published, because I'd been advised to aim not only for the major New Zealand magazines but for the small ones: trade mags and special interest magazines. The latter proved to be the place that was happy to publish my work. More on that in later posts.

Anyway, scattered with varying degrees of frequency throughout the diary are references to my writing joys and woes. I thought these would be of interest on this blog, and have decided to include posts with extracts from the diary as and when I can. I'll keep an index of these on the blog for reference.

Here's a brief opener from the 6th of January, 1990.

In doing the index for my filing system I came across a quote again by a poet who talks about the need for exercises, even in writing poetry. He compares it to the concert pianist who must exercise each day in order to play the pieces well. I think it's something I've avoided because it appears to take away too much time from 'real writing,' but in fact it's out of that exercising that the ideas often flow, and the work of writing is limbered up. I've been reading two books in the last few weeks, one on writing plays, and the other on writing in general. The latter has some excellent ideas for working out as exercises and the other, though it sometimes seems simplistic in its exercise approach, is probably what I need to really write plays well. I don't want 'just' to be a playwright, but an all-rounder. However, I want to be able to write plays as well as I can when I do.

I'm not sure that I took my advice about doing writing exercises as seriously as I should have, subsequently, but I do recommend this all the same. There are other ways to do exercises, of course. Blog posts are a great writing exercise, as are typing notes galore for the children's book I'm currently writing. In fact, anything that gets you putting down words on the page/computer is worth doing, even if those particular words aren't ever used as part of something publishable.

I have an interesting book called The Exercise Book which lays out dozens of ideas for exercises, some of which various people have turned into poems, stories, books. The book is by Bill Manhire and others. Manhire is one of New Zealand's literati, and a creative writing teacher. Don't let that put you off. The exercises are the thing, along with the stimulation of approaching writing in a different way.

See also an earlier blog post from 2014, in which I mention Peter Elbow and Anne Lamott, both of whom saw first drafts and writing even without any aim in mind as of great value.