Tuesday, 31 May 2011

I hope you're teaching Quality

I have discussed genre elsewhere, and have always said, what matters is quality. Now how do you define Quality?

Sarah … came trotting by with her watering pot between those two doors, going from the corridor to her office, and she said, "I hope you are teaching Quality to your students.". ..
Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others . . . but what's the betterness? . . . So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?
Robert M Persig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I now have an easy definition which works for me as far as books are concerned- do I want to put it on my bookshelf beside Dickens, Austen and Gaskell? I am at the age where I can no longer be bothered with stuff I don't want- ornaments, kitchen gadgets, saggy socks- and books that I am unlikely to read again. They don't get as far as a shelf: an unwanted book moves straight from the bedside table to the hall-stand. In other words, it's on its way out!

Our reading group, attached to our local Library, has just finished reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Now, although I read it quickly and with enjoyment ("It slipped down easily" said our librarian) it will not have a permanent place on my shelves. It's well written, it's a bit of a page-turner, the characters are interesting. So why? The twist at the end is satisfying in terms of story telling- in other words it's unforeseen and quite clever- but morally, it's a complete cop-out. I get the feeling that JP has engineered it to twist our heart strings! The issues raised by the book however, are important and suck any reader in- designer babies, sibling rivalry and love, possessive and controlling mothers, and filial love. It engendered lively and long discussion. One reader summed it up as "A pot-boiler about serious issues".

Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Sister by Rosamund Lupton, which shares some of the same themes- although not the central one. I found this book more emotionally engaging and true while still wanting to find out what happens next. And yes, I will read it again- it's earned its place!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Of reading and writers- Steinbeck and Saki

It’s up to us, as parents, grandparents and teachers, to read to kids things they can’t or wouldn’t read by themselves, but are capable of understanding when they hear it read by a good reader.

My philosophy was strongly in favour of this when I was a teacher, seeing no reason why an inability to read should deprive kids in my lowest achieving groups of good stories. Thus I always read Of Mice and Men to them. The best, most perfect book ever written.

This Easter, with all my family staying, I read my eight year old grandson Saki's TheLumber Room, in which the protagonist Nicholas, who is himself not much more than Ted’s age, and of a similar bright, enquiring and somewhat Machiavellian mind, outwits a preposterous and ponderous Edwardian lady in whose house he is staying with his cousins.

I have always loved the word insouciant, and Nicholas is the epitome of insouciance- insisting that he was right all along, when he claimed there was a frog in his “wholesome bread and milk” Of course there was- he had put it there!

Ted and the other children listened with pleasure to this tale of a child triumphing over an adult, but I doubt if they would have been able to read the following passage without stumbling over the construction and even some of the vocabulary.

“You are not to go into the gooseberry garden”, said the aunt, changing the subject.
“Why not?” demanded Nicholas.
“Because you are in disgrace”, said the aunt loftily.
Nicholas did not admit the flawlessness of the reasoning; he felt perfectly capable of being in disgrace and in a gooseberry garden at the same moment.

Stop Press- a new review of Moon in Leo by Carla Nayland

Carla Nayland Historical Fiction: Moon In Leo, by Kathleen Herbert. Book review
The full review is on the reviews page of Trifolium Books Blog

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Smashwords is Fun

I have just uploaded a little story I wrote for my grandson a year or two back. Smashwords allows you to upload free books, and all I wanted was to get a wider audience. It was fun doing a cover, I had enjoyed writing the original story and sharing it with Ted, and... before I had time to check how it looked, I had a 5 star review... from Australia! I love the internet!

Please look and comment!

Check Trifolium Books for special offers, coming very soon, on the e version of Moon in Leo

Monday, 16 May 2011

Smashing the Words

Well- I had vowed to do some of my own writing today, but here I am, wrestling with Smashwords, trying to format the text of Moon in Leo to launch on the ebook ocean. Go little book!