We’ve been looking through the photographs Peter took in the early 60s when we were living in Greece. They record a way of life that we witnessed which has long since disappeared. We are thinking of making a record in words and pictures of those times.
There may be people who never feel the need for feedback. Perhaps even Trappist monks occasionally feel let down when they spend the day in prayer and no-one says at the end “Well done.” If you cook a meal, and I don’t mean just heat up a readymade, you’re encouraged to repeat the performance if it’s greeted with appreciation. Even as the daily cook in our household of two, I know I like to hear some kind of response, even if it’s just the question, “Is there any more?”
Yesterday, 26th April, I received the consultant’s report after a CT colonoscopy on March 31st. During the wait, I’d felt reasonably confident the result would be clear. Yet it is all too easy to fill silences with imaginary bad news. So I was relieved to learn that the scan showed up nothing untoward. Better than this was the consultant’s style. His letter read like a kindly schoolteacher’s summing up of the term’s work: “the bowel was well prepared” … “this is a reassuring investigation”. It made me feel like a praised pupil and led me to think about feedback, how useful it can be, not just for morale but for guidance.
This morning I played around with something that turned up in the (possibly) haphazard way that happens when we log onto our emails. Google suggested I create a form. So I’ve come up with a feedback form for “White Lies”. Whether this will be useful or not remains to be seen. I’ve had good reviews posted on the novel’s Amazon page but many readers don’t bother. Others are given the book or borrow it, so they are not ‘verified purchasers’ and therefore not entitled to post a review.
The form may be a way of capturing the response of more readers. Or I might ditch that form and compose another one for all my novels. Here’s the link: https://goo.gl/forms/IJoDTVzRVZJdNKwm1. If anyone has a view on the questions I’ve chosen to put on the form, I’d appreciated feedback.
At the same time I became involved in a LinkedIn book group discussion. Someone asked how he could get reviews for the short story he’d just published on Amazon. His request was not worded well. He wrote, “We’re there any funny parts.” I found myself eager to point out how the apostrophe altered his intended meaning. Later, I worried that I’d been harsh on a newcomer. I hope he can accept what I consider was constructive feedback.
I wrote my first post on July 11th 2016. Tomorrow that will be six months ago. Now, at the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on my website history as well as look forward to the way the site is developing.
Re-reading my first post, I can remember my feelings of bewilderment and determination. It was like diving into a lake shrouded in fog. I knew I wanted to be in that lake – but was it safe? Were there unseen obstacles? Was it full of struggling swimmers who might pull me down? Would I sink without trace?
Even though I’d set up websites in the past – one that I paid to have designed, another I’d created myself on a template – this WordPress one seemed almost too easy. I hadn’t set out to make a blog appear on its home page, but hey presto! a blog appeared: an easy forum for passing thoughts. What was I going to call it? The term used in the menu to describe this page was ‘Posts’. In the whoosh of my first dive-in, the phrase “First past the post” came to me. Well, it was the first post and I was past it. Then I discovered how ripples appear some time after a post. A few days after my first dive into the lake, there were people – unknown people – reading what I was writing. They were commenting on “First past the post.” I began to wish I hadn’t chosen such a numerically definite title. First is only first when it is first. But never mind the wording, I told myself; I was getting responses from unknown people who seemed to appreciate what I was saying.
Then, among the genuine responses came the useless ones, intent on selling their own wares. I haven’t yet learnt how to stop these coming in. Perhaps it’s inevitable that you’ll receive unwelcome visitors when you offer an open forum. So far they are not harmful, just a nuisance.
The comments which I welcome are from people who want to learn something new. However, I’m not sure exactly what the something new might be. Perhaps they simply like to read of my experience as a long-term writer dealing with the opportunities and obstacles that exist in present day publishing. It would be helpful if any readers of this post would present a specific question. Even without such prompting, I find there is always a new thought that pops up and inspires a post.
Looking back at my first post, I’m reminded of my reason for setting up the site. I thought I would – with a fair ration of good luck – reach new readers for my work, particularly for “Alive in World War Two, The Cousins’ Chronicle”. There have been sales, but no more than there might have been without this website. I know the thing to do is to stay put, keep with it, not give up. So I’ll carry on. I’ll continue with this First Past the Post as many times as it stays worth it for me and for – I hope – others.
Good research of facts makes fiction more believable, even when that fiction is fantasy. As readers we can relate more easily to the writing when we trust the writer knows his or her subject.
But research must be deftly sewn into the writing, so that it doesn’t outweigh the fiction, dragging it down into a muddy recitation of facts. Invisible sewing is the name of the game.
Another way fact can get in the way of fiction has occurred in my life. I was expecting to be absorbed in writing my new novel, working title “Greek Gold”. I have got my main character to arrive in Cairo in 1943, poised for action. But life, or rather death, has intervened. My husband’s sister’s partner (not a close relationship from my point of view) died on Thursday of prostate cancer. His unavoidable death has been expected since diagnosis last winter. All the same, a death – however long expected – is a shock and a loss when it occurs. As my sister-in-law’s partner he has been part of the family for many years, living only half-an-hour’s drive away. We’ve been supporting Jennifer during this time and were at the nursing home with her when Bill died.
This is the second time I’ve witnessed that moment when someone crosses the hair’s breadth line between life and death. Then how quickly the person we know becomes absent, leaving just chalky white material covering bones. It is an astounding event, besides being the cause of grief.
I find that I cannot get back easily into writing fiction. The image of Bill on his deathbed gets in the way. Of course I know it won’t stay in the foreground of my mind for long. The living man as he was will be what I remember. But the manner of his death and the image attached to it will stay at the back of my writerly mind, and is likely to re-emerge as fiction in the future.
Real life feeds fiction, and fiction feeds real life.