Some Life, Somewhere

I love the idea of chapbooks. Those small, cheap pamphlet-type books that are produced purely because the writer just wanted to get their work out there. Because they felt they had something important to say, or they wanted to express themselves through poetry or prose, or to record some part of their family’s history or values. Those writers very bravely put their work out for people to read without thinking (much!) of the bigger picture, of getting an agent or a publisher or what happens if people don’t like it.

There’s a whole lot of discussion at the minute around e-publishing and self-publishing and should you hold out for a deal or do you do it for the money or the recognition, or do you just want to say something. I think, personally, and I doubt I’m very original here, that this is the age of the ebook, and it’s the perfect medium for a chapbook. People have short time spans available in the pressures of the modern world – even people who don’t ‘work’ like me but care full time for children or other loved ones. At the same time the explosion of the kindle, smartphone and ever-cheaper ereaders means that there’s huge potential for buying cheap publications and carrying them round easily for those moments when you do have some precious leisure time to read. I know, for example, that there’s a massive market for iPhone reading apps, whether it’s the classics, the kindle app or iBooks; I’ve had my own little bit of success with Ether Books who produce specifically for the iPhone (branching into other smartphone operating systems later in the year – hint hint) and who published my short story a couple of weeks ago. Without knowing the specific numbers involved, I know it’s been popular because my story has been in the Bestseller list since it was published (ok, bragging over now).

That small success has given me a much-needed boost. Family upheaval lately has meant that my writing has very much taken a back seat and I’ve lost direction. The email from Ether gave me a proper kick up the behind and I’ve taken up my pen again. Well, pencil, actually, since I’ve rediscovered a love for working through ideas with pencil and notebook. That, combined with that admiration for chapbook writers I mentioned above, has led me to a little project of my own.

I proudly present my own e-chapbook, Some Life Somewhere. It’s a collection of seven short stories told through dialogue, and touching on the big questions – life, death and the tricky bits inbetween. I’ll be publishing it on kindle and through smashwords later this week, and I’ll put a link to the Amazon listing on here and my website and facebook page. My very talented husband has done my cover and I love it. I’m really excited about the whole thing ¬†-even if only my mum reads it, it’s me taking a big brave step and it’s what I need to do to pick my feet up and run along my own path as a writer.

5 Things Musicals can teach us about writing

I was driving yesterday and put Les Mis√©rables in the CD player for the first time in ages. Wow, that’s a good show. And as I was listening, it struck me that there’s a few tips you can pick up from musicals on good writing.
  1. Dialogue – Expositional dialogue drives me crazy. “Hello Annie who is my sister and has dark hair, did you hear Ruth who is our half sister and ran away with the milkman is back in town?”. Ugh. And yet in musicals there’s no prose, no way of easily relating backstory. So it all has to come through the dialogue/lyrics WITHOUT being exposition. And good musicals do it. Ok, so at the start of Les Mis you get a teensy bit between Jean Valjean and Javert, but it’s not forced, it doesn’t intrude and it ain’t bad going in a 3 hour show. You also have to relate the character’s feelings through their dialogue, as someone listening to the soundtrack without being able to see the acting needs to be able to get a rough idea of the story, and you can’t use prose here.
  2. Characters – Musicals use lyrics to lay their characters bare. They need to. They could show Valjean going through angst as he decides whether to turn himself in or not, but without the words you’d just wonder if he was constipated. So you get Valjean’s Soliloquy, and Javert’s suicide; deep emotion made believable through 2 minutes of lyrics. At least I think so.
  3. Voices – Secondary characters in good musicals also get a voice and are made believable. Eponine is a very minor character in Les Mis, but she gets some cracking songs, including one of the most popular woman’s solos EVER, and we really care about her when she dies. You can see how distinctive each of the characters is in One Day More, where everyone’s voice comes through clearly despite being so deeply layered.
  4. Setting – Again, there’s no prose or description to give a sense of atmosphere or setting. The most you might get is some explanatory notes in the programme, but you can’t rely on those. Some comes through the set, but mostly you know what’s going on because the characters are acting and speaking in a way that’s believable for their setting. Javert IS a nineteenth-century, upright policeman. Chris (in Miss Saigon) IS a 1970’s GI. Bernardo IS a Puerto Rican immigrant in 1950’s New York.
  5. Growth – The characters we care about most in musicals are the ones we see make a journey. One of my favourite characters is The Man in Whistle Down the Wind – you can see him change and grow and move on just from his dialogue with Swallow and the kids. On the flip side, Judas is a truly tragic figure because you watch his faith in Jesus crumble and his dilemma, as he sees it, crush him.

These are a few of the things we could learn from musicals, in my humble opinion. I’m off to put them into practice!

Anyone got anything to add? I’d love to hear what you think.