Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vision or Delusion

I have done something I have always wanted to do: upload an eBook at It was not as complicated as it might have been. Not fiddly at all. The Kindle guys have made it rather simple, and anyone can do it. It's a historical novella based on the history of photography in Belgium, titled Vision or Delusion. I researched it a long time ago, and it has undergone a number of rewrites.

Now that it's up and selling, I can sit back and think of other books I might put up. I have three collections of short stories whose rights have reverted to me, since they went out of print. But who buys and reads short stories these days? Well, apparently quite a few people. They go nicely with the eBook concept of being able to read a whole discrete story in one sitting.

It would be nice to hear from writers and readers alike what they think of short stories. What is the ideal number of stories to put in a collection, for example - and should they be thematically linked?

If you are a reader, tell me whether short stories are your thing. If you write, let me know whether literary short stories still go down well. Is there a readership for them?

You can also give me your opinion about my latest venture - do you like the cover of Vision and Delusion? Have you been to visit its page at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How to Start A New Novel

There is no easy way to start writing a new book. It is made even harder if the author embarks on a new project immediately after successful submission and acceptance of a book. With fiction especially, but even I suspect with factual material, the most recently finished book is still too fresh in one's mind.

When it is fiction, the characters and locations which were worked on so diligently keep coming back to mind. It is almost impossible to set them aside and start on new protagonists in a new place, with a brand new story and a feasible plot. How does one take up a whole new premise... just like that?

Perhaps there are ways. It helps to start on a batch of research, because very often, inspiration, fascination and absorption come from there. There is nothing like researching a new location, for example - one where the author has been, but about which there is so much to delve into. It must ring true to the reader, so maps, guidebooks and pictures must be sought.

There's also the protagonist around whom the whole story is going to revolve. Male or female? Experienced or naïve? Good looking or homely? An author can spend literally hours dreaming up a character - and a novel needs several. True, they do not all need to be sketched finely, but they need some faceting.

What about a premise that can be put into one sentence? This is sometimes impossible early in drafting. A writer needs to chew at least four yellow pencils, eraser and all, before a strong premise unearths itself.

Then there's the story. Start at the beginning and work chronologically? Weave in a couple of flashbacks? How is the plot going to warp and weft through the narrative? The author must think up a number of devilish delays and devious devices. [I must stop that before I use all my Ds.] There must be intrigue, deception, heartbreak, confusion, and anticipation. And a few more sentiments thrown in for good measure.

A good way to start is to devise a plan - not necessarily an outline, but an author's plan. The first step in any plan is to make a decent list. List a plan of action. Make as few decisions as possible at this stage. Number one on the list could be: I must put myself in inspiring places and situations. Or, I must read inspiring material. Or, I must stay away from works in the projected genre (or the opposite).

Inspiration comes in the form of words for me. A sentence can give me a story. A simple adjective can give me the personality of a bit player. A proverb can give me a premise. Other authors are inspired by pictures: a divine sunset, a yacht in full sail, a kookaburra with a worm in its beak. Or perhaps sounds: a car door slamming, a tap dripping, or the thrum-thump of an unwelcome teenagers' party next door.

The nice thing about sounds and pictures is that they punctuate streaming thought. They are like commas in the head. That is why I often put them into my narrative: they break up the monotony quite nicely. A bell rings, birds' wings flutter, or cutlery clatters against plates. Atmosphere is about one-fifth sounds.

Atmosphere! How does an author create that? With great difficulty and a lot of peace and quiet. Even to create a scene of chaotic confusion, such as a fist fight in a noisy warehouse full of buzzing forklifts, an author needs peace and quiet.

Concentrating about all these ingredients and strategies, devices and methods does have the ability to dim the long-lasting aftertaste (or afterglow if it was accepted) of the most recent book. A fresh place must be found from which to spring. It often takes organisation and stealth to find it.

I would love to hear how other authors manage to mentally leave their last book behind, and embark on a new one.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Things Writers Do!

Rosanne's garden chair. Photo: Hugo Bouckaert
Known variously to be artistic, philosophical and perceptive, writers have a lot to live up to. People look up to writers, seeing them as knowledgable about language, books, and how things can best be phrased. Writers are asked how to spell things, how to best put a sentence, or what they think about books by other authors. They are asked to make speeches at gatherings, to chair meetings, and write newsletters for groups.

Often asked to write columns for local papers, they sometimes wonder whether all the extra work will perhaps extend their circle of readers: increase their exposure. Sometimes it does, and perhaps more online than anywhere else, so they blog, and guest blog, and comment on other blogs, and take part in group discussions.

When they should be taking a rest under a shady tree in the garden, chewing over a subplot in the cool evening, perhaps nursing a nice pre-dinner drink, they slave over their keyboard. And the chair stays empty.

Writers have no trouble with ideas: they occur naturally. Looking at a sunset over the Indian Ocean, or catching a cormorant in mid-flight is great inspiration, as is the image of a little boy looking up at an adult outside an ice-cream shop. What writer cannot derive a story from seeing a dog-walker trying to untangle the leashes of five or six different-sized dogs? Or a busker who looks down on his luck, eyeing the coins in his cup as he plays his violin?

All this could be contemplated at dusk, in the peaceful setting of a garden full of the scent of white flowers and the prospect of an olive harvest from a fruit-heavy tree. But there is too much to do. Blogs need to be composed and set out nicely, perhaps with accompanying pictures. Comments need to be entered on other blogs, in the hope of a spate of returns. An article or two would not go amiss, and a discussion might need starting in some group. So the chair stays empty.

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