Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Photos from near my home in beautiful Cornwall

Here are some informal photos, taken by me over the past year around the county of Cornwall where I now live with my family. These are some of the local landscapes that inform my writing, places where a writer can walk and think about characters, or drive and mull over plot lines, or just sit and stare out at a marvellous view.


The Camel estuary at Wadebridge


Rainbow over the fields towards Bodmin Moor




Lobster pots on the quay at Boscastle


Outside the Hall for Cornwall, near Lemon Quay, Truro

Bridge over the Camel estuary at Wadebridge




Near the Boscastle "Blowhole", North Cornwall




Late winter on Bodmin Moor, looking across to Rough Tor

All photographs by Victoria Lamb.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Writers Who Swear

There have been some hilarious comments flying round the blogosphere recently about swearing and obscenity in fiction, particularly with regard to Young Adult and teen books, though also in wider terms.

I write for Young Adults as well as adults. But my books are generally historical, so the old 'Should this character swear?' issue doesn't tend to come up - except when it's a question of blasphemy. Though 'bloody' is commonly considered to derive from 'By our Lady', yesterday's blasphemy being today's swear word.

My personal take on the use of swearing in fiction is that, with notable exceptions, it should be used very sparingly indeed, if not sidestepped altogether. The swear word, in most cases, has been weakened by over-use. So to use them frequently is to weaken your narrative.

And before I am bombarded with exceptions, just because an occasional writer has produced an excellent novel riddled with invective - see 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh - not all writers are equal to the task of making swear words seem right and natural in context. This is because few novelists enjoy genuine mastery over the English language, and those who do are extremely unlikely to throw 'fucking' into their sentences on anything like a regular basis.

It might work sporadically. A sudden, unexpected expletive can be marvellously well-placed, going off like a bomb in the middle of a dinner party. Hilary Mantel does it to good effect in Wolf Hall, for instance. Though even there it's 'fucking' used in its proper sense of 'having sex with someone', not as a mindless adjective, i.e. 'Have you read that fucking book?' A true stylist knows he or she is on to a loser once the characters have taken over the swear box.

"I am not offended by swearing. Just annoyed and bewildered that writers, of all people, should feel it necessary or important or amusing to encourage the use of swearing."

I also object to books/tweets/blog posts which promote the view that swearing is 'cool' and acceptable, that it makes you one of the gang, or more attractive, or more of a rebel, or somehow more real. If adults choose to swear, well and good. I swear all the time, I cannot deny it nor am I embarrassed by it. But if teens swear, it's usually because they have no more creative way to make an impact. Should we be encouraging that failure?

To be clear, I don't subscribe to the popular view that writers have a responsibility to improve people with their books. That's a very dangerous attitude. Writers should only have a responsibility to themselves, and possibly also the language in which they are writing, for language is our working medium and should be protected as well as stretched.

But our responsibility to language can extend to giving younger people an example of how to make an impact without using expletives. The best fiction for teens should model how to be eloquent, to use rhetoric, to employ intelligence and wit in conversation and writing, rather than fall back on those tired old workhorses that we call rude words.

I'm not sure why I feel so strongly about this. Perhaps it's my training as a poet that objects to lazy writing, to the liberal peppering of books with words that have lost all true meaning or significance. But whatever it is, I am not offended by swearing. Just annoyed and bewildered that writers, of all people, should feel it necessary or important or amusing to encourage the use of swearing.

This blog post is not going to be popular. It's neither amusing nor particularly entertaining. It does not contain large numbers of obscenities. It's unlikely to win me new followers or retweets. But what it lacks in slickness and social media-savvy, it more than makes up for in truth.

"The best fiction for teens should model how to be eloquent, to use rhetoric, to employ intelligence and wit in conversation and writing, rather than fall back on those tired old workhorses that we call rude words."

Fiction - so sorry to point this out to those who have been labouring under a delusion - is not about verisimilitude. It's not about 'keeping it real' or holding up the mirror to life. That's non-fiction.

Fiction comes from a Latinate word whose root means 'made' or 'created' in quite a physical sense, like kneading dough or making a chair. Fiction is 'made up'. It's real life, but far better organised, with the boring bits taken out. One of which is constant swearing.

Friday, 21 June 2013

More Witches In Boxes

Witchfall on Amazon UK

A large cardboard box just arrived for me, and when I tore it open with trembling hands, there were these utterly gorgeous copies of Witchfall nestled inside.

Witchfall is the sequel to Witchstruck, winner of YA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013, and is out very soon, on July 4th.

I can hardly wait!
At the court of Mary Tudor, life is safe for no one. The jealous, embittered queen sees enemies all around her, and the infamous Spanish Inquisition holds the court in its merciless grip. But Meg Lytton has more reason to be afraid than most - for Meg is a witch, and exposure would mean certain death. Even more perilous, Meg is secretly betrothed to the young priest Alejandro de Castillo; a relationship which they must hide at all costs.


In the service of the queen's sister, Princess Elizabeth, Meg tries to use her powers to foretell her mistress's future. But when a spell goes terribly wrong, and Meg begins to have horrifying dreams, she fears she has released a dark spirit into the world, intent on harming her and those around her.
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