Typofuckituptis – The Writers’ Curse

A couple of years ago, when I was preparing my novel The Changing Room for publication it finally dawned on me why most writers are mad. Of course, I’d heard stories about writers who imagine aliens and psychotic wide-eyed rabbits peering out of bushes at them but I’ve never considered myself one of them because, as anyone who knows me is aware, I am completely normal.

However, what I have discovered whilst proofing The Changing Room is that these crazed writers are not just authors of science fiction, fantasy and obscure meaningless poetry as I imagined. They are not even affected by booze, drugs and mental illness. (Well, not all of them.) They are just poor unfortunate writers, such as myself, who have been cruelly afflicted by a terrible disease called
Typofuckitupitus. Now you may not have heard of Typofuckituptis before but let me assure you it is very real and very dangerous. Here’s the definition from the Turley English Dictionary:

Typofuckituptis (Ti-poe-fuck-it-up-ti-tis)

A disease afflicting mainly authors whereby the writer develops an inability to spell even those most common words whislt under pressure. The disease can spiral out of control so that in the advanced stages the author will become delusional and imagine mispleled words leaping of the page and slapping him around the face with a wet mackeral. In recent years, the disease has spread from the author community to the journalistic community. Daily Mail Journalists are particularly affected and a recent outbreak at The Guardian caused The World Health Organisation to issue an international health warning to journalists the world over. There are three stages of Typofuckiyuptitis:

Stage One: The author, usually under pressure to meet a deadline, starts to spel homofones and and random lenghty words wrongly. It is, however, sometimes difficult to diagnose in American writers as they spell things wrong on a daily basis. Therefore, caution must be exercised in diagoinsing American authors as they can be highly volatile when accused of spelling things incorrectly. It should allso be noted that most American authors sleep with a gun under their pillow (in case anyone tries to steal their manuscript) so editors, proofreaders and medical practioners are advised never to ring thier clients late at night.

Stage Two: The auhtor begins to spell even more words wrongly. Theise include simple words lik 2, free and fore, fhe and fuk. This inablity to spell even fhe most simpl off words cuases the writer to become mentaly unstable. Soem off the wurst cases have led to authors riping up their manyouscripts, senfin letter boms to literary agnets or microwavingt their rabit. During this stage jounrlists at the Guardian will usually be fired but at the Daily Fail they will be promted to senior columnist.

Stage Three: Thise stage is the most sevear. Auhtors beging to see typos that don’t even exist. The delusons become staedily wurse until they r comparable to a heroin trip, accompanied by a bottle oaf whiskey and a large joint. When the delusions are a tthei peak auhtors beginn to to read Fift Shaeds of Grey an stab themselves repeatedly and cry “If only I had writon ths mastrepeice!” At this stage, if the auhtors’ wpunds have not proved fatal they are incarcervated in a mentall institution.

So there you have it – Typofuckituptis which as those of you ahve read my blog The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife might already know – I have been afflcited by for quite some considerbale time…

 

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This is what happens to writers with Typo Fuckitupitus. As the author of children’s picture books, this writer thought she was immune from the illness – until she found she’d spelt her own name wrong on the front cover. She collapsed on the way to the library on her way to pick up a copy of Fifty Shades.

 

This post is brought to you by Jane Turley.

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How and why I chose a pen name

One of the fun things about being a novelist is inventing names for your characters. You can let your imagination run free, stripped of caution and compromise. But choosing a different name for yourself is personal and heartfelt, challenging your identity and family history. When I got a publishing deal with Hodder I sat in my editor’s office, brimful with excitement, as she outlined the company’s marketing and branding plans for me. ‘There’s one problem,’ she said. I froze, worrying that there was a plot issue I had overlooked. She looked uncomfortable. ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s your name. It’s just not right. We need to change it. Your first name and your surname, I’m afraid.’ Ouch.

We may spend our lives escaping our parents and their influence, carving out our own identities, but our name is given to us and most of us never change it. Even if women marry, they have no choice over the surname they take. Alison Potter – the real me – had served me perfectly well for decades, until now.

Authors live in an age of search engines, social media and crowded markets; it’s a fight to be seen and heard. Sharing a surname with Harry Potter, the most successful book and film franchise of recent times, and Beatrix Potter too makes life harder for a writer trying to carve out her own space. But I was dealing with more than that.

Age and class are nebulous things, but they are powerful. I never thought of Alison as indicating very much at all: its not unusual; it’s not a Greek goddess or a city in eastern Europe, and it’s not a noun turned into a name so beloved of pop stars (Cello, Tiger, Peaches) – but that’s the problem. It’s boring. It’s safe, dependable, middle-of-the-road and middle-aged. And for a thriller writer, that’s fatal. Our job is to entertain, excite and captivate the reader, and that starts with the front cover. Marketing books is just like marketing cereal or face cream or tights: image is important, and middle-aged just won’t do.

So I set about finding a pen name. Literary novelists almost never change their names, but at the commercial end of the market authors are doing it with increasing frequency. I knew I was in good company: Lee Child, John le Carre and Nicci French are just a few pseudonyms used by thriller writers, and there is a tendency for writers (often men) in the psychological thriller genre where I work, to use initials to disguise their gender, such as SJ Watson and TR Richmond. This seems to be to appeal to the large bias towards female readers in this genre. Everyone does what they can to gain an edge. But the process itself was harder than I imagined.

A new name is also a new opportunity. I had the most trouble with a new Christian name, it felt like I was cutting out the guts of who I was. I wanted something short and memorable – it had to be Ali. The sale of books in international markets is also something to consider – Ali felt like it could be male or female, something I felt might help in foreign territories where my books would be sold.

I began to trawl my family for surnames. My husband’s name is Upstone. I suggested Ali Stone to my editor. ‘Too heavy,’ she said. ‘You could use Rock,’ my agent suggested. ‘Too Outer Hebrides,’ was the reply.

The problem is that all names conjure up other people and they are intensely personal. ‘Ians are always ginger,’ a friend said emphatically. Another added: ‘You need to think what the name means in other languages.’ It felt as complicated as rolling out a new car launch across multiple territories.

Having exhausted every family name I wrote down a shortlist of around 10, mainly collected from my regular runs through the local graveyard and film websites. In the end we chose Knight. It sounded strong and confident, it felt ‘crimey’. It tied me to my genre.

Four books later, Twitter and Facebook and on-line book communities have mushroomed and I have sometimes struggled running two online identities, the ‘real’ me and my thriller me. But that is a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing your name – real or fabricated, on the front cover of books in English and many other languages to boot.

 

This post is brought to you by Ali Knight.

The place of place in contemporary fiction

Sometimes it seems as though there are only two types of books: those that can be described as plot-driven, and others that are seen as character-driven. But what if still others are as much driven by place, in which character and plot emerge fully formed from the landscape?

I’m halfway through Halldor Laxness’s Independent People. Neither British nor contemporary – any longer – it does deal exceptionally well with place. In fact, I would go so far to say that the story is a story of place above all else. The human and ovine characters (there are a lot of sheep) feel transient, incidental. They are formed of the black peat, and their stories are rooted in the marshy turf. Their hopes and tribulations meander on the sticky beck at the valley’s floor. The valley itself has a history, and previous events, centuries old, cling to the stones, ominous and foreboding. The menace that drives the book lurks under the cairn marking the pass above the perennially dismal Summerhouses; menace hangs from the blue mountains that fade into and out of view with the weather.

Iceland

The evocation of place is one of the most direct routes into a novel’s universe. This is unsurprising: all stories take place (the word is everywhere) in space as well as time. When we visualise a character, the ground they stand on is solid. Every dark and stormy night rages somewhere.

That is not to suggest that good novels are always set in real places, either now or in the past; just that the ground on which they play out should be able to bear the reader’s weight. Nor does it equate good writing with lengthy descriptions of landscape, any more than strong characterisation can only be achieved through the detailed description of a protagonist’s face. As with character, we need to recognise a place, either from our memory or our imagination; as with plot, place needs to be solid, believable.

From sweeping landscapes of Icelandic moors to the more mundane environs of a West Midlands shopping centre: in Catherine O’Flynn’s 2007 debut, What Was Lost, place is almost indistinguishable from character and plot. The characters do not simply occupy the space, they are occupied by it. The missing girl ghosts through the darkened arcades and service corridors as if buried in the foundations. But while the evocation of a space I occupied relentlessly in my own teenage years was powerful enough, it is the ghost of the derelict industrial space that lies beneath it that stays with me most powerfully. To this day I do not know to what the title refers, what it was that O’Flynn most feels was lost.

Grounding stories in place, rooting them in landscape and the myths they hold, has been a central concern in my own writing. My first novel evolved from a story told to me amid the dust and noise of a city street in India; my second, out in May, began as an attempt to discover anew my own city, but in the end emerged from the weathered stones of a small Scottish island. I took a trip up to the Small Isles in search of my eponymous ‘cursing stone’ and, while I didn’t find it, the landscape of Canna did give flesh to a hitherto minor character and also sparked an unexpected plot twist.

Place is no substitute for character and landscape cannot replace plot. But nor is it an also-ran, simply a setting for people and action. The best fiction – or at least, the fiction that I want to read – makes place an active participant in the story. It is how memory works. Madeleines might have been enough for Proust, but for me it is the light on the hillside, the glugging of the brook, or a glimpse along an empty city street that takes me to the heart of a story.

 

This post is brought to you by Adrian Harvey.

What is contemporary fiction?

Welcome to the site on launch day!

It is my pleasure to kick off our weekly blog post on issues related to contemporary fiction reading and writing. Which, of course, has to begin with a definition of what contemporary fiction actually is. And that is what I’m going to be discussing today.

So what is contemporary fiction? There are numerous definitions and, as we like to think of ourselves as an inclusive lot here at Britfic, we seem to cover the whole range.

9781910692707  Dotsr  Too Charming

There’s contemporary fiction as a ‘genre’, normally encompassing ‘the leftovers’ of anything that doesn’t fall into a nice, neat category. But we don’t like to think of ourselves as leftovers and, indeed, our authors hail from a range of ‘genres’, including romance, crime, and fantasy.

TofTT  TBH  SoS

Then there’s contemporary fiction defined as anything set in the present or very recent past. The present, however, very quickly slides to obsolescence and this then (rightly) begs the question of ‘when does contemporary fiction become historical fiction?’ Again, this is open for debate, and is one of the many topics we hope to be discussing on our YouTube channel over the coming months.

TiesthatBind  Beltane  AIIWAR

The other issue with a ‘present or very recent past’ definition is whether contemporary relates to setting, technology, or lifestyle. Not all of our novels are set in 2016, and not all of our novels are set in the current ‘era’ of smartphones and social media (but Britfic are on Facebook and Twitter). Does this not make us contemporary?

TIP  BS  TBTNF

And then there is the definition, which is the one I prefer, that defines contemporary fiction on the basis of contemporary themes, and is more flexible in terms of setting. This allows for books set a decade or so ago, while still enveloping a broad spectrum of genres.

ABT  TCR  AML

So how do you define contemporary fiction?

TLF  HA  TS

Enjoy the party – and don’t forget to follow our website (via email or WordPress) to be entered into the giveaway.

 

This post is brought to you by Christina Philippou.