Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

What can I say about this book... I loved it.

Image a place where everyone under the age of eighteen has to have a regular blood test. The test is designed to show up a certain defect. Anyone with the defect is taken away to the Death House.
The defectives have an incurable disease, and in time they will begin to change. Toby is one of the unlucky ones, he has tested positive, he is one of the defectives. Unaware of his test results, he arrives home from school, is torn from his family, and taken to the Death House. The Death House is a remote place, where he, and other defectives are forced to live. Separated into dorms, they are monitored daily by the matron and her team of silent nurses for any sign of change. The defectives are resigned to their fate, then a new arrival upsets the status quo.
Fear dominates the defectives existence, they know that once the change starts to happen they will be ostracised by the others, and transported, in the dead of night to the terrifying sanatorium. No one returns from the sanatorium.
I loved the way the character of Toby and the others developed. The author completely captures the power struggles between the dorms, and how friendships survive, or are destroyed by the changes.
The plot moves at a good pace, and there are plenty of twists.
The novel wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was better. It’s about fear, friendship, coming of age, love, and the power to change the unchangeable. The story is very poignant, and the writing is lovely.
It’s one of those books that you have to keep reading because you have to know what happens.
The narrative is chilling. How would you live knowing that you could change at any time, and be transported away in the middle of the night. Could you cope with not knowing what’s going to happen to you, because you've never seen anyone completely change, and no one has ever come back from the place you are going to.

I would have liked to know more about the changes, but maybe not knowing is worse, the imagination is a powerful thing.

Be prepared for some heartbreak, I must admit to shedding a few tears.
The book is haunting, and stayed with me long after I read it.

I thoroughly recommend it.

The Death House can be purchased from Amazon the ebook costs just £1.99, the Paper Back version is £7.99 or in Hard Back for £14.99

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

What's in a name?

A writer friend of mine asked us to edit a piece of prose she had written. Her characters were all of Indian descent, but she had taken the conscious decision to anglicise their names so that her intended audience, UK readers, could pronounce them, and therefore relate to them more. This got me thinking about names, are they that important? Should we have to panda to the whims of the few who find pronunciation difficult? What makes us choose our characters names.

I once sent in a chapter of my book to an editing group. I had a problem with one of my characters. I mentioned that the reason I wasn't 'getting Dana,' was because I had changed her name. When I first wrote the piece she was called Sharon. Crime writer Sharon Bolton wrote under the name of S. J. Bolton because she felt stigmatised by her name, and wondered whether anyone would read a novel by a writer called Sharon. Sharon was a stereotype for a working class woman, she decided to end the prejudice and now calls herself Sharon Bolton. I read this and decided that if I kept the name Sharon I was perpetuating the prejudice. However, I wasn't getting a clear picture of the character with her new name. So are the names we chose for our characters significant to how we, the writer, perceives them?

I have a picture in my head of my characters, I temporarily lost that picture when I changed the name of my character, but I made a conscious decision not to change it back, and now I can’t see the character with any other name but Dana. I have come to realise that names are very important.

I feel that It is essential that we give characters suitable names. An upper class woman wouldn't be called Gladys, and a working class woman wouldn't be called Phyllida. The same is true with male names, Sid is typically a working class name, whereas Rupert is definitely upper class.

Names fall out of fashion, popular names change with each generation. These days it is more common to call a young girl Lacie, or Gemma than Doreen or Edna. An old man is more likely to be called Cyril or Herbert, than Kyle or Dylan.

I feel that readers have certain expectations regarding names, I certainly did when I read my friends story. I felt quite disappointed that she had anglicised her characters names. For me it ruined the flow of the story as I had to ask her how they fitted in to the narrative.

I do agree with her that some people will mispronounce names, but I feel that she shouldn't have to choose a name that she thinks a reader will be comfortable with. Readers like to be taken out of their comfort zone. Besides, a lot of people can’t pronounce Dalziel (Dee El), but did that stop Reginald Hill giving that name to his fabulous protagonist.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

And the beat goes on...

During our editing sessions we are asked to send in stories. I sent one of mine. When I wrote the story, (for a writing exercise on another course), we were asked to write entirely in dialogue. I didn’t tell this to the group editing it, and this led, quite naturally, to the subject of beats.

Beats are morsels of action scattered throughout a scene. They help your reader to visualize the dialogue taking place. They can be used link dialogue to settings and characters, for example ‘he threw the glass into the sink’, or, ‘he wiped the smudge of chocolate from her face’. They can affect the pace of the dialogue. Beats can bring dialogue to life.

This is an excerpt of the piece I put in for editing:

‘Please Diane; don’t play games with us, you have to tell us what she said. You want your daughter back don’t you?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Then tell us Diane.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why, did she tell you not to talk to us?’


‘Then why Diane, why won’t you divulge anything.’

Do you see how fast that dialogue is taking place, there is no emotion, no sense of place. It’s a bit flat.

Here’s the piece again after I added beats:

‘Please Diane; don’t play games with us, you have to tell us what she said. You want your daughter back don’t you?’ the Inspectors voice echoed around the room.

‘Of course I do,’ she patted her eyes with a handkerchief.

‘Then tell us Diane,’ the Inspector shuffled impatiently in her chair, it was three o’clock, two hours had passed already.

‘I can’t,’ Diane’s gaze dropped to the table.

‘Why, did she tell you not to talk to us?’ The Inspector slammed her pencil down on the table.

Diane shot up from her chair, ‘No.’

The Inspector looked up at her, ‘Then why Diane, why won’t you divulge anything.’

Diane's shoulders sagged.

See how much better that sounds. In the second passage you get a sense of the setting, the two women are sitting down. They are in a bare room, hence the echo. There is a build-up of tension, the Inspector is getting irritated, the interview has lasted a long time. Diane is obviously in turmoil. The inspector has sparked a reaction in her, which is why she jumps up from the chair.

5 Things I have learnt about beats:

1. Beats work best when there is a natural pause in the dialogue.     The best way to find a natural pause is by reading work out loud.

2. The longer the beat, the longer the pause.

3. The dialogue still needs to sound authentic, if there are too many beats readers will become irritated, so it is best to try to strike a balance.

4. Readers don’t need every bit of the action described to them in great detail, it is better to let them use their imagination to fill in what you leave out.

5. Beats can help to vary the pace of the dialogue.

I hope you've found this post informative.

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