Author Interview: Mark Beales

Tell us something about your book.

Did You Know? is a collection of trivia from around the world. It’s packed with the answers to life’s most nagging questions, such as ‘what’s the difference between a ship and a boat?’ and ‘who put the “s” in island?’

It also poses some killer questions linked to language and general knowledge. For example, can you name 6 countries that start and end with A?

There’s room for a chapter on the origin of idioms (such as the wonderful connection between stealing one’s thunder and an 18th century storm-making machine) and another on the often-dark histories behind our most famous nursery rhymes.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

It’s for anyone who is fascinated by the world around us. I love discovering trivia and suspect most people do too. So it’s for those who want to celebrate all the pointless, but fascinating, pieces of knowledge that they store, and can’t ever let go of.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

“I really enjoyed this and found it a fun book to flip through while waiting in line and so on. It can be read start to finish or just opened to a random page and enjoyed. If you’re looking for a fun, quirky, educational diversion from the hum drum you won’t be disappointed.”

What inspired you to write it?

I’d been collecting trivia for years, I guess like everyone. There were little bits of information that refused to fade away and would occasionally pop up and remind me of their presence. For example, I know Pele’s real name is ‘Edson Arantes do Nascimento’. Now, I’ve no idea why that has stuck with me, but it has. It’s never once come in useful – you’d think it would pop up now and then in a pub quiz, but no.

I find it fascinating that we all have these little nuggets of knowledge locked away with us for no apparent reason, and wanted to collect as many of them as I could.

I’ve worked as a literature teacher at international schools in Thailand and Vietnam, and trivia came in very useful there. For some lessons, I would start with a question to get students thinking and engaged, such as ‘name 6 countries that only have 4 letters’. It went down well, so this got me thinking about compiling all these examples of trivia and language and sharing it.

What message would you like readers to take away from your book?

Life is wonderful and weird. I hope the readers enjoy diving in to this world of trivia and learn something new about the world around them.

Share an excerpt from your book.

What Rhymes With Orange?

It’s a cliché that nothing rhymes with orange. But there’s a reason for this. It’s because the word ‘orange’ is a mistake.

In most languages, the fruit is known as narang or narange. When the British started importing them in the 15th century, they followed along and called it a ‘narange’.

It seems that when people nipped down to the local market and asked for ‘a narange’, others thought they meant ‘an arange’, and confusion was born. Eventually the latter gained favour and the fruit became ‘an orange’. And as for the colour? The name for that didn’t come about until the early 16th century.

A Coffee Habit

‘Cappuccino’ gets its name from the 16th century Capucin monks. The connection? The colour of espresso and milk is similar to the monks’ brown robes. Not exactly. They wore a white cowl over the brown robe. Cappuccino, because the foamed milk is not mixed with the coffee, is brown below but white above. And while we’re here, espresso comes from the Italian for pressing, latte means ‘milk’ (so if you order a latte in Italy, you tend to just get milk) and, our favourite, affogato means ‘to drown’ (as the espresso is poured all over a gelato).

Where does ‘OK’ come from?

The word ‘OK’ itself is one of the most common in the world. Yet for years nobody knew where it came from.

As a word, it’s linguistically brilliant. Nearly every language has the sound ‘o’ and ‘k’ and the nice rolling rhythm of the two syllables make it sound attractive and balanced.

But despite its ubiquitous nature, there’s some debate about who came up with it. Whoever it was, it happened around 150 years ago, because there are no earlier records of it in print.

Among the more dubious theories are that US President Martin Van Buren used the term ‘Vote for OK’ in an 1840 campaign; a reference to his nickname ‘Old Kinderhook’. Others reckoned it came from an army biscuit, Orrin Kendall.

The debate rumbled on until the 1960s, when etymologist Allen Read stepped in.

The Boston Morning Post was the unlikely place to find the answer. In 1839, in a small column using even smaller font, there was a story about grammar. At the end, there was note saying everything was O.K., standing, phonetically, for ‘all correct. Apparently, there was a thing at the time for crazy abbreviations; Bostonians duly thought this hilarious. It was used again a few editions later, and then other newspapers picked up on the phrase. Before long, US presidential hopefuls were using it in their campaigns, and the word was born.

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes. I read some good advice once, it may have been from Stephen King, who said you have to think of yourself as a writer. Someone who says they write as a hobby or just for fun doesn’t have the right mindset. So I tell myself I’m a writer and, as simple as that sounds, it helps give you belief that your work will find an audience.

How many times were you rejected?

At least a dozen. But there were also some very helpful responses with practical advice, and I really appreciated that. It’s a tough time for everyone and this book’s in quite a niche market, so I knew it would be a tough sell.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Not especially. I think if you believe in what you’ve written, that’s the most you can hope for. You want others to come along for the ride and share your enthusiasm, but I’m pragmatic enough to know that not everyone’s going to. There are myriad reasons why that may be, and only some of them could be to do with your actual book.

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

The first draft took about 3 months to put together – I already had numerous notes and examples that I’d collected from over the years. I needed to put them into shape and add a structure and theme to the novel, that’s where most of the work took place. I did various edits to polish everything, which took me an extra couple of months.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write in the evenings, after my two children have gone to bed. That gives me 3-4 hours, if I’m lucky. I can’t have any distractions when I’m writing, so the phone and TV have to be off and it needs to be pretty quiet. Quite often the first few lines are a struggle and I can play with them for a long time but, when they click into place, usually the rest follows and I build up a rhythm. I try not to edit too much as I go along, but often can’t help myself.

Who was your first literary crush?

I remember reading Thomas Hardy when I was at school. His descriptive passages and dense

syntax really made me aware of how powerful literature could be. Tess of the d’Urbervilles really stood out for me for both the story and the beautiful way that Hardy would invite you in to these little parts of rural England. After reading that, I remember having the first inkling that writing was something I wanted to do as a career.

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Originally I was going to be Liverpool’s next goalkeeper, but that never quite worked out. I always loved reading, not just for the pleasure of it, but because I often had a feeling that I could also produce something that others would want to read. When I was 18, I got a scholarship to study journalism and I went off to college. A year or so later I was getting news stories published and the buzz of having the daily papers arrive and seeing your byline on the front page was immense.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The first book I remember reading was ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis. My parents took me on a caravan holiday on the Isle of Wight in the south of England when I was about seven. Being an English summer holiday, it rained almost every day, which gave me ample time to read the novel several times. I loved the wonderful illustrations by Pauline Baynes and the ethereal feel of Narnia. At the time, I didn’t get any of Lewis’ religous allusions, but I didn’t need to. It was just the surreal sense of being a part of the magical forest that was enough to get me hooked.

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

There have been several. The one I remember most was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s such a beautiful, poignant story with such a fragile character. I remember thinking as I got to the last few pages how I really didn’t want the story to end.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Great question. I would imagine it was probably Shakespeare’s Juliet, especially after having watched the 1968 film version with Olivia Hussey.

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

I do sing in the shower – the acoustics are wonderful.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

I do like cooking but rarely have the time. My wife does spectacular Thai food once in a while, but I’ll tend to go for Italian dishes. I wouldn’t say there’s too much special about my specialities – when it comes to cooking, I know what I like rather than like what I know.

Do you have a pet?

We currently live in a condo in Saigon so pets would be tricky. My son Daniel is very keen for us to get a puppy.

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

When I was first dating my wife, I used to write her acrostic poems each time we met. I’m not sure if she thought they were cheesey or cute, but she pretended to like them.

What is the most romantic thing someone did for you?

For me, the most romantic things tend to be the little, thoughtful touches rather than the big anniversary dinners. So I’m not one for huge gestures, I find romance is much more sincere when it’s spontaneous.

Do you believe in love?

Every time I get a hug from either of my children, yes.

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Author Interview: Dushica Labovich

Tell us something about your book.

PRIDE AND INTENTIONS is THE NOTEBOOK meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE! And only a few months after I self-published it, the book will finally be traditionally released in the spring of 2021 by wonderful NY „The Wild Rose Press“, acclaimed as one of the top romance publishers.

It is a book about great love, one that happens once in a lifetime and never lessens. A novel about a family, about the relationship of people of different social status, about praise, forgiveness, about the past that always comes back, and destiny from which we cannot escape. Pride and Intentions is an unusual magical story about Doris Rose, the young daughter of an English oligarch, who can’t forget the poor young man who stole her heart a long time ago when her parents forcefully separated them. But love has the power to turn the dark tragedy of their past into a miracle. Reborn as one of the richest men in England, the former poor boy from her childhood returns to the lives of her parents…

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

Pride and Intentions will find its audience among fans of family drama, British historical romance, character-driven love stories with strong descriptions of emotions, and growing up in love. Similar books are The Notebook, The North and South, The Wuthering Heights, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

„…A very professionally written family drama. It was quite easy for me to follow from start to finish & never a dull moment. Lots of exciting scenarios, with several twists & a great set of unique characters & facts to keep track of. This could also make another great family drama movie or, better yet, a mini TV series. There is no doubt that this book deserves a 5-star rating.“

“Similar to The Notebook or Pride and Prejudice, maybe this isone of the greatest love stories ever told.

What inspired you to write it?

As a philosopher and lover of mysterious or psychological “smart” thrillers with magical and mystical elements, I never imagined myself as an author of romance. But like every woman, as a girl, I was in love with Jane Austen’s books as well as The Wuthering Heights and the film The Notebook inspired by Nicolas Sparks’s book. And what young girl doesn’t fantasize about Mr. Darcy or Ryan Gosling? So I said to myself: Just one romantic book! Just one! And I did it! I wrote a book in which the readers could find elements from my three favorite novels. I set the story in the middle of 20th century England, created a phenomenal female character with a strong but also sensitive nature. It is a character-driven story because that was the only way I could express my feelings from the hidden depths of a woman’s heart.

Share an excerpt from your book.

“I will tell you the story of my life. The story of nameless events that I intentionally never wished to name. We give games to the things that we don’t want to forget, but I have no fear of forgetting. Events that are so dramatic that they affect the lives of us all are never forgotten. They are always remembered with the same intensity, whether they destroy your heart or make it glorious…”

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing?

Yes, I have always hoped for that while writing each of my books.

How many times were you rejected?

Like every new writer in the English-language territory, I have been rejected many times.

Was the process of looking for an agent/publisher discouraging?

Sometimes it was, but I believe in the saying: Hope dies last 🙂

How long did you write the first draft? And how long did the editing and re-editing take?

I wrote this book for two years. The re-editing seems to have taken longer than editing. However, since Pride and Intentions was translated into English, I had to wait for the translator to do her part of the job and that added many more months.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process?

I write almost every day, in all seasons. What I like most is sitting by the window and writing. Since I live in two cities, Budva, Montenegro, in the summer in an apartment with a sea view, and Moscow with a view of the eternally snowy sky during the winter, I prefer to write at home while watching nature’s changing games, rain showers, snowstorms or Mediterranean sea storms. I never write on trips, then my inspiration goes through other channels that I use later in writing when the passions calm down.

Who was your first literary crush?

Mr. Darcy and Alexey Vronsky. I don’t remember which one was the first…

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens?

Yes, I have always imagined myself as a writer, since the first grade of elementary school. Writing is not only my hobby, but my job and much more, writing is my obsession.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?)

Many, but I remember very clearly Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Emily Bronte’s The Wuthering Heights, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Which literary character did you want to take to bed as an 18-year-old?

Mr. Darcy, of course 🙂

Do you sing under the shower? Or to your plants?

Yes! I sing in the shower, especially in the summer when the temperatures in southern Europe are over 40 degrees and if I am not by the sea I take a shower ten times a day. I also sing when I work around flowers, but also when I vacuum, although I only do that when I’m alone since my sons don’t appreciate their mother’s musical talent.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty?

Yes! I love to cook. My whole family is vegetarian, so I have a very big challenge in terms of novelty. My specialty are raw cakes, and I love when my friends can’t believe that there isn’t a single cooked or baked ingredient in the abundance of pudding and chocolate cream.

Do you have a pet?

Yes, a rabbit. I am like Beatrix Potter 🙂

What is the most romantic thing you ever did?

Ten years ago, I traveled half the world and married a foreigner in a distant country although I didn’t know a word of their language.

Do you believe in love?

Yes. But I have to add. I am a lover of everything and everyone. I fall in love again every day.

Your writing overflows with descriptions of the natural world. How much did nature influence you?

I love poetry so much that I can’t avoid it even in prose writing. That is why my writing is full of descriptions of nature and feelings. On the other hand, Pride and Intentions is set in England and how to write about England without mentioning the beautiful nature which makes the British Isles famous? I believe that every man who is in love or suffering because of love has a keen sense of nature and the seasons, and that is why this book is gifted with such descriptions.

What do you think makes a great story?

I think a good story can only be written if it is written from the heart. It must have an intriguing beginning, a good plot, and an unexpected outcome that will leave a positive inspiring impression on the reader.

You have finished another book which will find its home soon too. What is the newest one about?

Oh, God! I finally wrote a creative nonfiction intellectual thriller written with the help of fictional characters! The genre I enjoy the most. It took me more than ten years of research, three years of writing, and more than six months for the translator to translate it into English. It is about Salvador Dali’s big mystery, but also about the great mystery of our origins and abilities to influence the future, ruled by human consciousness. 

Any tips you would like to share with other writers who are starting out?

Every successful writer used to be a beginner. Every other successful writer today started as a self-published one. Every writer should be ready to ignore a huge number of rejections from both publishers and agents. But that must not be a reason for writers to stop believing in their abilities and bury their desire to be read someday. A real writer is the one who writes every day. A real writer is the one who does at least one thing every day that will help him in his career as a writer, even if it is the most innocuous status on a social network. Never write posts solely to say something since it will only turn the audience away from you.

What message would you like readers to take away from your books?

As a lover of the philosophy of ancient cultures and a traveler who explores the world of archeology and spiritual messages of holy places, I believe that the chances of waking up in a better world tomorrow are equal for each of us and this is the main mission of my writing.

Book of the Week:

Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Cynthia C. Huijgens

In this action-packed thriller, twelve-year-old Max Mead is headed to Cairo, but there’ll be no time for fun. His grandfather, a famous antiquities expert, has gone missing and his father is frantically organizing a search party. When Max is given the key to his grandfather’s cabinet of curiosities, he hopes to locate clues to his grandfather’s disappearance. Instead, he unlocks an old and powerful family secret and encounters people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

Author Interview: Cynthia Huijgens

Tell us something about your book.  

My first children’s picture book is titled Polar Bear and the UFO.  It takes place in the frostiest reaches of the Arctic Circle and in a very playful and subtle way shines a light on problems of climate change and shrinking polar bear habitat.

My first middle grade thriller is titled Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities.  It begins in England but quickly shifts to Egypt where the heart of the story unfolds.  The cover was illustrated by Iranian-American artist Nazli Tahvili and it’s amazing.  She has also illustrated the cover for the second book in the series, The Novice Collector

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

In the few months the book has been available, I have found that kids between ages of 7 and 9 seem to enjoy it most, although I’ve had parents with infants send me photos of their kids drooling over the illustrations.  Anne Costa, the illustrator, did an amazing job!  It’s a story for everyone.

Boy Between Worlds is written for 9 – 12 year-olds or middle grade, but I’ve had several adults tell me they loved it.  It’s a fast-paced action thriller with a mystery that needs urgent solving and characters that are really unique.

Share the best critique/review of your book.

This is a five star comment from Goodreads for Polar Bear and the UFO: “Cynthia’s debut children’s picture book is creative, beautifully illustrated, and something I’ve never read before. I appreciated the subtle hints of climate change, and the ending made me laugh pretty hard. Very cute, fun to read, and makes me want to read more of the author’s children’s books in the near future.“ – Stacy 

This is a five star review from Goodreads for the other book:

Ellery Alouette wrote, “Wow!!! This is a great action/adventure and thriller fantasy with mystery, twists, incredible characters and a fascinating storyline!! Any middle-grader, Y/A or even adults of any age will love Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities.“

It’s so heartwarming to read that someone you’ve never met before liked your book enough to write a review about it! 

What inspired you to write it? 

While on a visit to Vancouver in 2017 I came across a painting, by indiginous Canadian artist Linus Woods, of a polar bear walking across the tundra.  In the very top right hand corner was what looked like a spaceship, or UFO.  I immeidately went home and started to scratch out a story about what might happen when a UFO encounters a hungry polar bear. 

And while living in Cairo, Egypt, I had many experiences that pulled me into the rich history, culture, geography and people of the country.  I spent a lot of time exploring tombs and heritage sites when other tourists stayed away because of the political unrest.  I shaped those experiences into this story.  There will be three novels in the Boy Between Worlds series, so stay tuned for more!

What message would you like readers to take away from your book

Polar Bear and the UFO: That the solutions to climate change and repairing our planet can not be found in space.  They will have to come from us, and originate on earth.

Boy Between Worlds:  I’ve taken a very old fashioned approach to character development in that my hero is a twelve-year-old boy and he’s cis.  I made his experiences dealing with family, school and peer pressures, identity, etc. universal, which I hope appeals to a broader audience.  The focus is really the magic found within ancient artefacts and its ability to shape our thinking and understanding of who we are if we take time to connect to it.

Share an excerpt from your book. 

This is how the first book begins: In the frostiest reaches of the Arctic Circle, northern lights are bowing and leaping, and lying next to a hole in the ice is a polar bear not sleeping.

Boy Between Worlds:

Mrs Marjorie appeared out of the corner of Max’s eye. Within a heartbeat, she wrestled the notebook from his hands.  Max was horrified by the way she held the book open so everyone could have a look inside.

“Oh, dear, dear Mr Mead, I’m afraid Saint Valentine’s Day is not for another week,” she said, a hint of something evil in her voice.

Max could feel his orbicularis oris tighten, his temperature rising to a million degrees. “Well, clearly you’ve never been in love, Mrs Marjorie.” The words poured out before he even thought about what he was saying.  He’d never spoken this way to a teacher before.

The entire class burst out laughing. Mrs Marjorie’s face went splotchy red. “That sentiment, Mr Mead, has earned you a special invitation to my classroom for detention. After school. Today.”

“What?” Max gasped in disbelief, “I didn’t mean it.”

Mrs Marjorie handed back the notebook, pressing it open to a clean white page. She leaned in close.  A foul smell, like the breath of a dead person, made Max stop breathing.   

“You’re meant to be making notes for the exam we’re having day after tomorrow. I’ll give you a hint Mr. Mead: mus-cu-lo-ske-let-al sys-tem.”

Did you dare to believe that your book will be published when you started writing? 

I knew Polar Bear would be, it was just a question of when.

As for the other one,  I spent seven years writing it, but somewhere along the mid-point I began to believe that I had a worthy story on my hands and I became determined to see it through.  It was somewhere along the mid-point that I realized I had more than one story, and that’s when I took the decision to make Boy Between Worlds a trilogy.  The Cabinet of Curiosities, book one, came out in 2020 and The Novice Collector, book two, comes out late 2021.

Can you share your writing rituals/habits/process? 

I write everyday but not always in the same location nor with the same pen.  Sometimes I speak into my phone or type into my iPad.  I like music and candles and sunshine, they all seem to cheer me on.  I usually work on two or more projects simultaneously, which allows me to tap creativity when it’s flowing.

Who was your first literary crush?

Dr Seuss, definitely.  Who wouldn’t fall in love with his amazingly clever and funny writing?  

Did you imagine yourself as an author in your teens? 

Never.  I wasn’t even much of a reader until my early twenties.  But I was always a penner of letters and it was through that act of writing to friends and family – trying to make my adventures seem as interesting as possible – that my storytelling developed.

What was the first book that made you fall in love with reading?

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne might be an odd choice for some, but for me it was spot on.  The hero of the story, Hester, is made to wear the letter “A” on her chest to mark her as an adulterer.  I remember being stunned at her determination to transform the meaning of that public act of shaming and take control of its meaning rather than being a victim of it.  I was like, “wow” this woman is not going to let society and its crazy norms define her or her identity.  I thought she was brilliant! 

Did a book ever make you cry? (Which one?) 

I’m sure books have made me cry, I just can’t remember one.

Do you sing in the shower?

I never sing in the shower, but I sing out of the shower quite a lot – to my plants, my dog, anybody who will listen.

Do you like to cook? What is your specialty? 

I cook almost everyday, and always vegan.  I have great recipes for cakes and donuts, and whenever I’m invited to a friend’s house, I bring some sort of baked concoction to eat with coffee or as dessert.

Do you have a pet? 

I have a labradoodle named Luna who is 11.5 years old.  She is helping me to write her lifestory called, The Travel Diaries of Luna the Labradoodle.  Luna has traveled to three continents and visited more than a dozen countries.  She’s amazing company!

Frida Kahlo’s Love Letters to Nickolas Muray

Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray

Yesterday was the corporate holiday that makes money on people’s tender feelings, but Nickolas Muray was born on this day in 1892. Born as Miklós Mandl, the Hungarian artist traveled to America before the outbreak of World War I with very little money and equally scarce knowledge of the English language but armed with a flaming desire to succeed as an artist.

He worked as an engraver before the commission from Harper’s Bazaar to do a photograph of actress Florence Reed. That photo launched his career and he became recognized as an exceptional portrait and fashion photographer. Muray’s works were published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and other prominent magazines. He photographed Hollywood movie stars and traveled to Europe to take photos of celebrities. Nickolas made over 10,000 portraits between 1920 and 1940, competed as an Olympic saber fencer, and married four times.

Muray’s romantic relationship with Frida Kahlo lasted ten years until her divorce and remarriage to Diego Rivera made the lovesick photographer realize that she wanted him as a lover and would never marry him. Still, they remained close friends until Frida’s death.

Frida Kahlo by Nickolas Muray

The letters that Frida wrote to him are some of the tenderest I have ever seen. For example, she used a dictionary to write this little note in Hungarian, which is very sweet:

“Nick,

I love you like I would love an angel. You are a Lillie of the valley, my love. I will never forget you, never, never. You are my whole life. I hope you will never forget this.”

This one is also touching:

“My beloved Nick,

This morning I received your letter after so many days of waiting. I felt such happiness that I started crying even before I read it. My child, I really should not complain about anything that happens to me in life, so long as you love me and I love you. This love is so real and beautiful that it makes me forget all my pain and problems; it makes me forget even distance. Through your words I feel so close to you that I can feel your laughter, so clean and honest, that only you have. I’m counting the days until my return. One more month! Then we’ll be together again.”

And this one makes you smile if you are aware that she had a husband the whole while:

“You can only kiss Mam as much as you want. Don’t make love to anyone, if you can help it. Do it only in case you find a real F.W. (fucking wonder), but don’t fall in love.”

Frida gifted her self-portrait to Nickolas, and he kept it in his living room his whole life.

Frida Kahlo: Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

My Valentine’s Gift to Romance Authors

I was still a beginner when I translated my first Katie Fforde novel into Serbian. And I remember thinking that no modern girl could be so naive, which is pretty snobby since all of us tend to be a bit ‒ a bit? ‒ unsure and go a little nuts when we are in love. By the way, Katie Fforde is to thank for my first encounter with a spotted dick and dead man’s leg ‒ sounds so appetizing, right? ‒ and the realization that pudding is a name for every dessert in British English, except black pudding and what else but white pudding, of course.

Anyway, I have translated three books by K.F. so far and must admit that she has grown on me although romance isn’t my cup of tea. Speaking of tea, Katie’s characters drink a lot of it since a nice cup of tea solves every problem in the idyllic English countryside. Interestingly, I dated a great guy from Surrey and we never drank tea since beer and hot chocolate brought more comfort. But Katie’s novels are full of tea in quaint cups and vivid surroundings, cupcakes and other puddings with crazy names, and descriptions that make you see bright green grass so clearly that you can almost smell it. She has perfected descriptions to that level that you can almost feel the sun on your face, hear the bees buzzing, admire the colors on a meadow, or that make you frown because of dirty windows sticky with flies’ entrails… The lady sure has mastered the “Show, don’t tell” mantra.

Her side characters are as interesting as the main ones, colorful, quirky, relatable. The old ladies from her books with their age struggles and witty lines are endearing. Just imagine a flushed, confused older lady preparing for a blind date with a guy she met on a dating site. Hilarious.

As for the love story, I find it boring to read a book if I know that the couple will live happily ever after even before opening the first page. Luckily, I am not the majority and romance books are still dominating the market. But my preferences don’t mean that I can’t recognize and appreciate a well-structured novel. And I must admit that Katie Fforde has mastered that genre. She was a president of the Romantic Novelists Association for a reason.

I may find her female characters naive or old-fashioned, but without a misunderstanding, however silly it is, you don’t have a plot. There must be some hindrance before the couple deserves its happy end. And a love story isn’t enough. Many modern authors seem to forget that their protagonists had a life and some background before they met the person that swept them away and try to fix the gaping lacks with steamy scenes. But Katie never made that mistake.

So, dear romance authors, if you are struggling with your story, I suggest taking a look at Katie’s novels and thinking about them as manuals for structuring your book.

And cherish the love, today and every day.

By the way, it’s Saint Tryphon’s Day in Serbia. And he is the patron of vineyards, wine-makers, and wine, which is a good reason to raise a glass. Cheers.

Mark Krylov’s Birthday with a Writing Challenge

When partners can’t agree

Their dealings come to naught

And trouble is their labor’s only fruit.

Ivan Andreyevich Krylov is known as the Russian Fontaine. It is fascinating that he found the genre that suited him best at the age of forty, which confirms the old saying that it is never too late for anything. Before that, he mostly wrote poems and plays. I don’t know about you, but I think that fable is an interesting and demanding genre: we enjoy it as a fun read as kids and view it in a different way when we understand the context as adults. If we ever return to childhood fables, which are a great comfort read.

Krylov’s literary career began when he was sixteen. He sold the opera libretto Cofeynitsa, about a gypsy telling the future from coffee grounds ‒ a popular pastime even today ‒ which he wrote as a fourteen-year-old. Young Krylov used the money to buy books by Racine, Moliere, and Boileau. The French playwrights probably influenced his future plays.

Krylov started publishing his first monthly satirical magazine, Mail of Spirits, in 1789, using it as an outlet for his satirical short stories, which boldly exposed the vices of the nobility and the bureaucratic machinery. However, his sharp poignant satire displeased the authorities. The empress Catherine the Great advised Krylov to give up everything and go on a journey abroad, even offering to pay all the expenses. Of course, he refused. The magazine had only nine issues. However, Krylov started another one, Spectator, in 1792 and continued ridiculing the nobility and even the empress. The police searched his publishing house, looking for Krylov’s story My Fevers and Klushin’s poem Turtle-doves, confiscating both manuscripts. The authorities didn’t forbid the magazine but they did put it under secret surveillance. That prompted Krylov and Klushin to try their luck for the first, and last time, with the monthly Saint Petersburg Mercury. That publication was also short-lived since both of them were forced to resign from their editorial posts. However, this magazine became famous for the poem Dying Coquette, a satire about the empress.

Although many of his earlier fables were inspired by Aesop and La Fontaine, his later works were completely original. Krylov’s first collection of twenty-three fables was published in 1809. The reception was so good that he turned to writing fables, abandoning drama. All in all, he wrote 236 fables.

A few years later, Krylov began working in the Imperial Public Library, which left him a lot of time for writing since the job wasn’t demanding. The stories about his laziness and gluttony were legendary. Krylov was on friendly terms with the emperor, Nicholas, who granted him a nice pension. During his lifetime, over 75,000 copies of his fables were sold in Russia. Their imaginative, engaging plots and distinctive style ensured the enthusiastic reception in his homeland. Some of them were published only after his death because of their sharp satire, while others were published because it became known that they amused Emperor Nicholas.

Once Crawfish, Swan and Pike

Set out to pull a loaded cart,

And all together settled in the traces;

They pulled with all their might, but still, the cart refused to budge!

The load it seemed was not too much for them:

Yet Crawfish scrambled backward,

Swan strained up skywards, Pike pulled toward the sea.

Who’s guilty here and who is right is not for us to say –

But anyway the cart’s still there today.

Swan, Pike, and Crawfish

There are many busy-bodies in the world, always worrying, always rushing back and forth; everyone wonders at them. They seem ready to jump out of their own skins; but in spite of it all, they make no more progress than does the Squirrel in his wheel.

An Argosy of Fables

It is only when our consciences become tangled that the truth begins to hurt.

An Argosy of Fables

Sometimes you get stuck with your writing. In times like that, a small shake-up usually helps. I bet that you have never written fables. Why don’t you try it now? It’s fun, I promise. The piece shouldn’t be long and you should dedicate less than half an hour to this exercise since we have never enough time for everything, right? If someone irritated you last week, put that person in the fable. Not only will you have a great writing exercise, but you will vent your bad feelings through mild, good-natured mocking. Say, you could write about a ladybug who is obsessed with her spots and can’t stop checking their size in the mirror while her lizard friend is complaining that her torn tail is growing slowly and painfully. And don’t forget to show, not tell. The ladybug was checking the size of her spots in the mirror for the third time since they met is much better than writing that she is obsessed. Now, have fun!

Get Inspired with Judy Blume

Judy Blume is one of the most loved authors for some time now. Her novels sure have provoked controversy, but her works were sold in over 82 million copies worldwide and translated into 32 languages.

Maybe you thought that she had some crazy luck and found a publisher as soon as she submitted like in some fairytale? Nope, Judy was rejected for two whole years, receiving up to six rejection letters a week before the publishers Reilly and Lee accepted her first book, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. There is even a story that someone in the publishing industry called her and said, “You’re a nice girl, Judy, but get out your hankie and get ready to have a good cry because you just can’t write.”

However, “Determination is every bit as important as talent”, she claims, and, thankfully, that didn’t stop her. Blume said that you have to learn from the criticism and learn to spot your mistakes so you can polish your writing. And, of course, you must carry on however painful the rejections are.

And now, let’s get inspired with some quotes from this master:

When you ask, did writing change my life? It totally changed my life. It gave me my life.

I was sick all the time, one exotic illness after another, which lasted throughout my twenties. My worst decade. But from the day the first book was accepted, I never got sick again. Writing changed my life.

The best books come from someplace deep inside… Become emotionally involved. If you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t either.

The best books come from someplace inside. You don’t write because you want to, but because you have to.

I’m a rewriter. That’s the part I like best . . . once I have a pile of paper to work with, it’s like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture.

What I remember when I started to write was how I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to get to my characters.

I’ve heard that some authors do dream their books and I would love that if it happened to me, but so far it hasn’t. Sometimes I’ll get a good idea during the night and if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it the next morning.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. There are good days when you’re writing and less good days. I’ve learned that if it’s not happening to walk away and return later. I doodle a lot and often get my best ideas with a pencil in my hand while I’m doodling. The problem is, sometimes I lose my doodles and that’s bad!

When writing a book, you can’t think about your audience. You’re going to be in big trouble if you think about it. You’ve got to write from deep inside.

The only thing that works with writing is that you care so passionately about it yourself, that you make someone else care passionately about it.

I hope that Judy’s words inspired and encouraged you. Do you agree with her thoughts? Care to share some of your hacks for overcoming writer’s block, rejection blues, or the fear that your writing is worthless and that you have nothing new to say?

Gertrude Stein’s Quotes about Writing

I think that Mrs. Stein’s style was overly repetitive and that her disregard for punctuation can be confusing, but that doesn’t mean that her insights aren’t useful to authors. What do you think? Can you make good use of them?

“You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting… It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”

“It is nice that nobody writes as they talk and that the printed language is different from the spoken. Otherwise, you could not lose yourself in books and of course you do, you completely do.”

“It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.”

“If the communication is perfect, the words have life, and that is all there is to good writing, putting down on the paper words which dance and weep and make love and fight and kiss and perform miracles.”

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.”

“If you knew it all it would not be creation but dictation.”

“I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.”

“The artist works by locating the world in himself”

“If everyone were not so indolent they would realise that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic.”

“I think one is naturally impressed by anything having a beginning a middle and an ending when one is beginning writing and that it is a natural thing because when one is emerging from adolescence, which is really when one first begins writing one feels that one would not have been one emerging from adolescence if there had not been a beginning and a middle and an ending to anything.”

“I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do.”

“I write for myself and strangers. The strangers, dear Readers, are an afterthought.”

“Sentences are made wonderfully one at a time. Who makes them. Nobody can make them because nobody can what ever they do see. All this makes sentences so clear I know how I like them. What is a sentence mostly what is a sentence. With them a sentence is with us about us all about us we will be willing with what a sentence is. A sentence is that they cannot be carefully there is a doubt about it. The great question is can you think a sentence. What is a sentence. He thought a sentence. Who calls him to come which he did…What is a sentence. A sentence is a duplicate. An exact duplicate is depreciated. Why is a duplicated sentence not depreciated. Because it is a witness. No witnesses are without value.”

“A novel is what you dream in your night sleep. A novel is not waking thoughts although it is written and thought with waking thoughts. But really a novel goes as dreams go in sleeping at night and some dreams are like anything and some dreams are like something and some dreams change and some dreams are quiet and some dreams are not. And some dreams are just what any one would do only a little different always just a little different and that is what a novel is.”

“The painter does not conceive himself as existing in himself, he conceives himself as a reflection of the objects he has put into his pictures and he lives in the reflections of his pictures, a writer, a serious writer, conceives himself as existing by and in himself, he does not at all live in the reflection of his books, to write he must first of all exist in himself, but for a painter to be able to paint, the painting must first of all be done.”

Author’s birthday AND release date

“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

‒ James Joyce

How cool would it be to have your book published on your birthday? Well, that happened to James Joyce. His masterpiece, Ulysses, was first published on February 4, 1922, on the Irish author’s fortieth birthday. Sylvia Beach, famous for her cult bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris, was, not surprisingly, brave enough to publish Ulysses.

However, the novel was soon banned in the US, England, Ireland, and Canada after mass-burnings proved ineffective. The ban in the US was lifted only in 1933 after judge John Woolsey spent a month reading Joyce’s novel and concluded: “I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes ‘Ulysses’ is a rather strong draught to ask some sensitive though normal person to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses of the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.”

It might be interesting to read the first reviews of Ulysses.

Edmund Wilson wrote a long review for the New Republic on July 5, the same year:

Yet, for all its appalling longueurs, Ulysses is a work of high genius. Its importance seems to me to lie, not so much in its opening new doors to knowledge – unless in setting an example to Anglo-Saxon writers of putting down everything without compunction – or in inventing new literary forms – Joyce’s formula is really, as I have indicated, nearly seventy-five years old – as in its once more setting the standard of the novel so high that it need not be ashamed to take its place beside poetry and drama. Ulysses has the effect at once of making everything else look brassy. Since I have read it, the texture of other novelists seems intolerably loose and careless; when I come suddenly unawares upon a page that I have written myself I quake like a guilty thing surprised. The only question now is whether Joyce will ever write a tragic masterpiece to set beside this comic one. There is a rumor that he will write no more – that he claims to have nothing left to say – and it is true that there is a paleness about parts of his work which suggests a rather limited emotional experience. His imagination is all intensive; he has but little vitality to give away. His minor characters, though carefully differentiated, are sometimes too drily differentiated, insufficiently animated with life, and he sometimes gives the impression of eking out his picture with the data of a too laborious note-taking. At his worst he recalls Flaubert at his worst – in L’Education Sentimentale. But if he repeats Flaubert’s vices – as not a few have done – he also repeats his triumphs – which almost nobody has done. Who else has had the supreme devotion and accomplished the definitive beauty? If he has really laid down his pen never to take it up again he must know that the hand which laid it down upon the great affirmative of Mrs. Bloom, though it never write another word, is already the hand of a master.

On the other hand, The Sporting Times concluded:

Ulysses appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine… I have no stomach for Ulysses… James Joyce is a writer of talent, but in Ulysses he has ruled out all the elementary decencies of life and dwells appreciatively on things that sniggering louts of schoolboys guffaw about. In addition to this stupid glorification of mere filth, the book suffers from being written in the manner of a demented George Meredith. There are whole chapters of it without any punctuation or other guide to what the writer is really getting at. Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit, displaying only a coarse salacrity intended for humour.

With which review do you agree? Did you know that the whole book, a monster around 600 pages long, takes place in only one day? And that day is June 16, 1904. Which is the date when James went on his first date with Nora. What a way to mark the first rendezvous with the love of his life!

Of course, it’s not only that. Ulysses is original, intelligent, ironic, amusing, brilliant just like the author.