All is Revealed

You can’t tell a book by it’s cover. This well-known saying is sometimes true, but not always. I dimly remember scenes from an old film where a passenger in a railway carriage, male of course, concealed the pornography he was looking at behind a worthy cover. The Bible perhaps. But publishers would prefer that you could tell a book from its cover since they want to market their titles and knowing what genre a book is helps them in this.

Writers have complete control of the text, but unless they are artists as well their publishers may come up with cover designs they don’t care for but can’t do much about. To avoid this, they might commission artwork directly.

My first attempt at recruitiing a designer produced a cover for Interleaved Lives which completely ignored every word of the brief (shown in a previous post), so I tried a second designer who did his level best to fulfil it.


I liked what he had come up with, but while the publisher felt that his design had its good points they also felt it was not effective for the genre in question, namely crime. So after a week or two I found myself looking at a cover design they supplied.

And I could see what they meant. The publisher’s cover clearly shows that the book is in the crime genre and gives an indication of the content. Even more surprising to me, the artist explained his design by referring to the text. Since keeping an eye on a suspect from a car was not referred to in the blurb or the synopsis, he had actually read it!

So this is the cover I’m going with.

In The Graveyard

Wandering round the graveyard, as I often do, searching for a spot to rest my weary bones, I found a conifer and, under it, a collection of empty bottles with a couple of cans.

What did this signify? Had gentlemen of the street congregated in the graveyard to empty these bottles and cans? Perhaps, though I have never seen anything like this on any of my previous visits.

So what was going on? In the old days, I could have issued an invitation along the lines Answers on a postcard please, but these days are long gone.

For those on the lookout for such things, I realise that there are also gentlewomen of the street, but in our area they are greatly outnumbered by men, though for those women who have fallen on hard pavements or times, we are fortunate to have here in Edinburgh the Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund.

But be advised, ladies, that you should form an orderly queue. And to Jock McSporran of Leith, who sought my advice on this subject, I should just like to say that no, if you decide to self-identify as a woman to progress your application to the fund you will not be deemed eligible.

Nice try, though.

Words Have Meanings

This may seem obvious, but there are occasions when some people wilfully ignore them.

I have a book coming out soon, the title is Interleaved Lives, and while I have complete control of the text, this is not the case with the cover design. Though I can’t draw to save myself, I did have a visual image in mind. So in an attempt to cover this angle, I sought a cover designer and supplied her with the following brief.

Hi. I am looking for a cover for a novel: ebook and paperback. The title is Interleaved lives. I can’t draw, but have an image in my mind consisting of three pages of a book, caught in the act of being leafed through, though without visible sign of the person doing the leafing. The spine of the book is to the viewer’s left. Each page would have an image of a different character. The cover would not be very colourful, largely monochrome with tasteful blue tint. Are you OK with this? Feel free to say no.

The artist I approached did not say no, from which I assumed she was happy with the brief. In due course she supplied the following cover.

Cover Design 1

Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can see no point of contact between the brief and this cover. However, I was reassured to learn that she regarded it as some of her best work. Seldom has my gas been so flabbered!

Nothing daunted I tried a second time: same brief, different designer. And after making some points about what I had in mind, he came up with this.

IL_kindle_1

For him, the words of the brief had meaning. I liked his work a lot and told him so.

Changing Times

In our area, there was a manor house, a manse, a farmhouse and a farm toun, the last being a collection of buildings used in the running of a farm – barns and the like. The picture below shows part of the original farm toun, now demolished, attached to the farm.

085 (R53 fr19) workshops

Until recently, we lived in the farmhouse. The farm toun had already given way to housing, but when we looked out of our kitchen window, that at least was still there, our local hotel which, in days gone by, had been the manse, the home of a minister of the Church of Scotland. And a cold and draughty home it doubtless was.

Northfield 2

We know exactly when the building was completed.

Northfield 3

When we moved to the farmhouse in 1980, any minister who had once occupied the manse was long gone (I will not speculate where), and the building was occupied by an actuary and his family. When they decided to sell, a businessman bought it with the intention of turning it into a hotel. This he did, and a succession of people have run it as a hotel since then.

The prevoius owners added a conservatory, which greatly increased the number of people the kitchen could cater for. They also held quiz nights there which, according to the lady in charge, were ‘famous’.

Northfield 5

The present owners expanded further with an outdoor area, also visible in this picture. It seems there may have been occasional instances of anti-social behaviour, hence this sign, which will disappear with everything else when the hotel is demolished to make way for student accommodation. Because this, we learn to our dismay, is the plan.

Northfield 6

We have had many meals in the hotel over the years, and held the reception there after my mother’s funeral. But even before the virus struck, the restaurant had ceased trading for the general public and catered for hotel guests only.

Sadly, with the coming of the virus, bookings were cancelled even before the lockdown got going so, for the time being, the hotel has not been a viable business. Now the present owners, having gone over the figures, have concluded that this sad state of affairs is likely to continue.

As for demolishing it and replacing it with student accommodation, it is not clear that this will be viable either. In recent years there has been an outbreak of developments for the student market in Edinburgh, many offering a complete range of services including that modern must-have, free Wi-Fi and, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn, full body massage with essential oils. Ylang ylang, anyone?

So it seems to me that this market is already saturated, and given the fact that universities will not be returning to ‘normal’ any time soon, there is likely to be an oversupply.

And it gets worse. Students can join online lectures from anywhere, from Wuhan to Albuquerque, without shelling out over £600 per month for the privilege. Since it will cost a fortune to demolish the hotel and construct the proposed student accommodation, I cannot see the delevopers getting a return on their investment. But that is their problem, right?

Times change, not always for the better. We have to put up with it but we don’t have to like it.

What People Do

Here, in our little enclave, people find things to do during lockdown. This post only relates to the observable since, for all I know some, and behind closed doors, people may be heavily into large-knot macramé or carpet bowls.

When the sun shines, which it has done quite a bit lately, some like to bring their folding chairs down the stairs from the third floor (there is no lift) and soak up the sun.

Seals 2

And nothing wrong with that, though if you want to carry on with your book, you are likely to be buttonholed by other residents – one disadvantage of the grounds being shared rather than private.

Or it may be that you’re into exercise, as this resident is. Though in this case her attention has clearly been caught by something other than her training regime. A stag beetle, perhaps? A seed pearl?

ExerciserShe has laid out her mat in front of one of our windows, from which I can see that her routine demands a flexibility not available to me. Ah, but it was when you were young, you are kind enough to say. Well no, it was not.

Some like to entertain, laying on drinks and griddle scones for their guests. Yes, that’s more like it, I can cope with that.

K's T Party

And others break sweat playing croquet, this time seen from a window to the front.

Croquet

Really, with so much entertainment laid on free of charge, who needs Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney or Britbox?

Overflow

If waste water is coming from an overflow it is telling you there is a problem which needs to be addressed. Ideally, the overflow pipe should be situated in a really annoying place – the idea being to force your hand. If an overflow is hidden from view then the problem is likely to be ignored.

The overflow in the picture is in this category. It is close to ground level and not overseen by a window. It has been spilling out waste for months.

OverflowIt may be useful for putting cigarettes out, and the local vegetation may like it, but the foundations won’t. And then there is question of wildlife. For example, this enterprising crow.

CrowIt has been using the overflow as a drinking fountain, which might not be such a sharp idea. The source might be a sink, in which case it will probably be swallowing not only water but detergent.

While Trump might consider this a useful strategy for countering Covid 19, most people would not. On which subject:

image1The credit is in the image. I like it because, in its witty way, it illustrates how Trump’s mind works.

Cast Iron Alibis

I haven’t looked it up, but assume this phrase comes from the fact that cast iron is very strong and therefore hard to break.

Having had many encounters with cast iron over the years I can confirm that it is strong, but also that it rusts over the years. In the case of gutters, many proud house owners will paint the exterior and seen from the ground they look great! But as a rule they will not check the interior, invisible from the ground, where the water flows and also where it stands for long periods. Why does it do this? Sometimes the gutter is not completely horizontal on its way to the downpipe, other times it faces obstacles such as autumn leaves or, very often, grass and other plants finding a wet gutter offers a happy home.

It’s when things go wrong that we discover how hard/impossible cast iron is to work with. There is absolutely no give in it and it is also brittle and easy to break if you try too hard. It can be cut with an angle grinder, thoough. The most I have ever been able to do is patch it, provided the hole made by the rust is not too large.

A case in point. On my way to visit my daughter I pass a house with a cast iron problem. As may easily be seen most of the water does not make it all the way down the pipe, and the wall won’t like that. On a rainy day, neither will passers by.

Cast Iron 1But even if it did make it all the way to the ground, it hits another problem.

Cast Iron 2How did this pipe end up in such a bad condition? I don’t know, of course, but I can guess. It may have been where it is now since 1897 and age has taken its toll. (Know the feeling!) Another possibility is that the drain is entirely or partially  blocked below ground level. This will mean water filling the downpipe for hours, days , weeks, because it can’t run away. And this will lead to rust.

For this here pipe there is no hope. And if you’ve just bumped off your husband or wife, the same will be true of your cast iron alibi.

As for cast iron guarantees . . .

Wry Thoughts on Losing Control

Like many of us, I’ve had to deal with large documents, usually course submissions for an exam board.

But people like me (I ran a recording studio) are not to be trusted with such things, so the college employed a woman whose jobs was to check through our submissions on the look-out for errors, weaknesses and possible improvements.

And I can’t deny that she found them. She could have marked up the text with revisions, suggestions and so on, but preferred to slap explanatory Post-its on the sections she wanted amended.

I was not alone in thinking she went a bit over the top here. Our documents would be returned positively bristling with Post-it notes, despite the existence of other colours all yellow, and one such occasion, rather than top myself, I went for a cunning plan.

I accepted Pat’s major suggestions, but there were many others, most of a nit-picking nature. So, life being short, I artfully removed quite a few of these notes before returning the document to her. Since she couldn’t remember all the Post-its she’d placed in the document in the first place, she didn’t notice that several were missing. Sneaky, right?

Pat was so well known for her system she was referred to as Post-it Pat, no doubt based on the children’s character Postman Pat.

Another example. A certain education administrator I knew many years ago had a long, rectangular office, along one wall of which he had a long rectangular pin board. This was his pride and joy. Written on small plastic pins of various colours were the class, classroom, teacher and subject of every class in the college. In short, the timetable for the entire institution.

Yes, he had it all under control – until certain students who’d figured out the weakness in his system, snuck into his office one evening, removed every single pin from the board and left them in a heap on the floor.

The following morning, he came close to a nervous breakdown because now he had no idea which of his many pins went where. In one fell swoop, from total control to no control at all. His world had collapsed on his office floor.

So the fact that a system is physical does not make it safe. Even in the real world (the world not involving computers) backup is essential.

Of course, we all lose control in the end, but that can’t be helped. If you find the thought disturbing, take the advice of Swami Rod – just relax and have a bad time.

Filming Books

Books have been adapted for film and television for decades with varying degrees of success. Genres such as fantasy and crime have been popular: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and recently His Dark Materials. On the crime front, we have had multiple versions of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, the Wallander novels of Henning Mankel, (two in Swedish and one in English), and one of the Montalbano books of Andrea Camilleri (in Italian).

Classics have been popular for the treatment too, from Jane Austen, through George Eliot, Thackeray and Dickens, to EM Forster, John Irving and many others. Adaptations of solid books like these provide welcome opportunities for acting talent (Helena Bonham Carter, for example) who usually do very well by them. And it may be that film and TV versions provide the only exposure to these books for some.

But the question will often arise, How faithful is the adaptation to the original?  Because there are purists out there who will contest any departure from the books they hold dear even if the change might result in a possible improvement or be necessary to render it in visual terms at all.

Here in the UK, we have recently had yet another version of The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells. Those who study such things report that the script has taken significant liberties with the text. Why would anyone do this? Suggestions include making the original appear more relevant to the present day, and to spice things up with ‘love interest’ where there was none before.

Changes like these are probably not be unusual. Think of the fun a post-graduate student could have watching all those films and TV series then comparing them to the books on which they’re based. If I were younger than I am today . . . I still wouldn’t consider it. The task would take years and life is too short.

But what if, instead of taking liberties, the film or TV version is completely faithful to the text, surely that will be enough to guarantee success? I think this will depend on several things. Is the text worth being faithful to in the first place? The recent TV version of His Dark Materials is a genuine attempt to put across the original and much labour has clearly been expended on it. Yet I failed to find it involving – exactly the same reaction I had to the book. (I expect to be in a minority here and shot down in flames by a talking bear or a squadron of witch-archers flying overhead with bows and arrows.)

At the other end of the scale (for me) is Italian TV’s version of my Brilliant Friend. This, too, is exceptionally faithful to the book, required an astonishing amount of hard graft but works very well in conveying not just the characters, of which there are many, but the place where it all happens. Naples.

To end with a tricky one. Where much of the effect a book has on the reader is due to its prose style we will have a serious problem adapting it for the screen. If the narration is first person then much of the flowing prose may still be supplied –  by members of the cast, sometimes in person so to speak, more frequently through voice-over. But if the original is written in the third person there is no obvious solution.

Fortunately, there is no obvious problem either, because it is not compulsory to adapt a novel for the screen. Leaving well alone is always an option.

 

 

Reviews

I have written many reviews over the years and always found it demanding. To begin with, if I read a book and really don’t like it then I won’t review it. No point putting an author off after publication. Some might argue that comments concerning a certain category of book (let’s call it Book Number 1 in the Inspector Torcuil McSporran series) might have a beneficial knock-on effect in Book Number 2. But who is to say there will be a follow-up?

Reviewing has also caused me to change my reading habits. In the past (when I was younger than I am today, in every way, oh yeah, oh no) I would read physical copies. I still do, but if I intend to review a book now I will buy a eBook edition. The reason for this is an ingrained belief that it is not enough to make an assertion of the sort This book is absolute drivel OR This book is a work of genius. Assertions should be supported a) by reasoning and b) by evidence.

In the case of a book, evidence can only take the form of quotations from the text. To which end I used to sit in front of a screen typing with one hand while holding the book open at the relevant page with the other. This was a slow and inefficient process leading to strain of the left thumb. Then I discovered, late in the day, that by using an eBook I could highlight noteworthy sections then – sheer bliss! – copy them at will into a review.

Having just read two reviews of my recent title, I have been struck by how inadequate some reviews can be.

Review 1

Here are a couple of plums. Firstly, about the cover:

It is nice designed in the color and in the design itself.

And

The author succeeds in writing very detailing about the scenery

To judge by the syntax errors, English was not the reviewer’s first language. Is this is a concern? Yes, though only if the reviewer’s command of the language in which the book is written is an obstacle to him/her in properly getting to grips with it.

In this case, the reviewer liked the book but in terms so general anyone reading the review would learn nothing at all about it. For example, wouldn’t we want to know what the book was about?

To quote from the site the review was posted on (here I am quoting again, I just can’t help myself), the site “helps readers of influence discover and recommend new books to their audiences”.

Review 2

This was an interesting one but in a different way.

Hart’s characters are complex and without any definite shade of black or white except for Klein Pearson , who as the sole antagonist comes out as a vile, hateful character.

This would be a telling point against the said Klein Pearson if there was any such character in the book. Unfortunately, there is not. The reviewer has conflated two very different characters, Dieter Klein and Adalbert Pearson. Worrying, right?