The Bees was outside my comfort zone – it was a book group choice.
The novel is set inside a beehive and all the characters are bees. Flora 717 is the heroine. She was born into the lowest class of bee – the sanitation workers who are responsible for cleaning the hive and disposing of the dead. However, Flora is no ordinary sanitation worker and she shows a fierce bravery in protecting the hive, foraging for food and defeating invasions. She feels a great loyalty to the hive and its occupants but she also breaks the most sacred law of the hive …
Laline Paull is an extremely talented writer. Her descriptive prose made me feel like I was inside the hive with thousands of bees. She made me root for the underdog, Flora 717. And I wanted to find out what happened in the end (it wasn’t exactly what I guessed!). I learned a lot about bees and the impact our modern lifestyle is having on them. My only grumble about the book is that I found it hard to pick out the other individual characters amongst all the bees. The bees have generic names and, to me, it wasn’t always clear, for example, which Sister Sage bee had done what.
Laline’s inspiration for the novel came via a beekeeper friend. On her website, Laline says, “I knew I had a book when I found out about the laying worker, that one in ten thousand sterile female bees, who suddenly, and for no known reason, start forming eggs in their bodies and become fertile – the sole role of the queen of the colony.” Laline also has some encouragement for other writers, “Don’t give up. I wrote The Bees age 48, in complete obscurity. It can happen.”
So, would I recommend The Bees? Yes, if you want to broaden your outlook and experience some good writing. No, if you like human characters with whom you can identify.
I agree with Tracy Chevalier who said, “A rich, strange book, utterly convincing in its portrayal of the mindset of a bee and a hive.”
The long Easter weekend is coming!
For sharing and hiding, I recommend this cornucopia of multi-coloured, foil-wrapped eggs or this warren of Lindt bunnies. For selfish, serious chocolate eating, go for this Thornton’s Continental Egg.
For reading material it has to be the short story collection, House Guests, full of contemporary short stories about modern life. Enjoy a plethora of twist endings, some humour plus a tiny bit of romance. And a guest story by Iain Pattison.
Best of all – House Guests is half-price until Monday 18th April 2017 – Happy Easter!
If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?
The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:
- In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
- Select ‘Proofing’.
- Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
- Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.
Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.
The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.
Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.
How easy to read (and active!) is your work?
I’ve been busy novelling for the last eight months or so and haven’t had time for competitions. However, a couple have popped into my inbox lately and, since I can’t use them, I thought I’d share them with you lovely people. Fingers crossed, one (or more) of you might have what it takes to be a winner!
Travel Writing Competition run by Travel for Seniors
This is free to enter and offers a first prize of £100 plus internet publication. They want 750 words on the theme ‘Travel for Seniors’ and the closing date is 31st July 2017. Entries can be fact or fiction.
Details are on the Senior Travel Expert website.
The Fiction Desk Newcomer Prize for Short Stories
This is aimed at ‘new and emerging writers who haven’t already been published by us, and have yet to publish a novel or full-length collection of short stories on paper‘. There is an entry fee of £8 and a first prize of £500 and second prize of £250. Closing date is 31st May 2017. Full details are on the Fiction Desk website.
I know that at least one of my followers has read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon but the rest of you may have an opinion on it too. I read it in a hurry this week – it was due back at the library and couldn’t be renewed due to another reservation, which shows how popular it is.
The story takes place over the famous hot summer of 1976 with flashbacks to 1967. It focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the repercussions this has on the rest of the people in the street. Much of it is from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old girl.
It took me a while to settle into the book because I was trying to read it too quickly. The pace very much reflects the languor of summer days that are too hot and school holidays that stretch forever into the future. The book needs to be read at this pace to appreciate the tiny details of daily life 40 years ago. The story is the slow peeling of secrets from the streets inhabitants – people aren’t always what they seem. I lived through that summer and, like 10-year-old Grace, collected Whimsies – little pottery animals that cost 10p. There’s lots of this exquisite minutiae and description in the book and don’t read it when hungry because a lot of biscuits are eaten too!
My only (very tiny) gripe is the brief mention of a bouncy castle – I don’t remember those being around as I grew up.
As a writer, this book has made me realise it’s the well-placed tiny detail that makes a reader believe in the story and want to stay in that imaginary world for just a little longer …
If, like me, your work tends to lack description, read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and watch how the reader really can’t escape the heat of the sun and the watchful eyes of the neighbours.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and don’t judge a shop by its entrance. Down a backstreet in Funchal this unpromising doorway led to a giant of a bookshop. There were books displayed in twenty rooms across several floors. It was an Aladdin’s cave – I only wish there’d been more than a handful in English!
This book shop is special because all the books are displayed by cover, not spine. So it’s possible to easily see the front cover of every book. The shop was founded in 1886 and has been within the same family ever since. There are around seventy different literary sections covering subjects such as Economics, Childrens, History, Education etc. etc. Even if (like me) you don’t speak Portugese it’s fun to wander around spotting best-selling author names such as John Grisham and the like. And the notices by the door are in English.
For more information see the shop’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FundacaoLivrariaEsperanca/
The Emma Press is after your poems about life in Britain. They are looking for “poems about customs, rituals, festivals, holidays, celebrations and regular events that take place in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on a micro level (what one person or one family might do) as well as on a larger scale.” Successful submissions will be included in an anthology about customs and rituals in Britain.
A maximum of three poems may be submitted and in order to submit you must be a member of the Emma Press Club. As far as I can see, this means that you have to have bought one Emma Press book in the calendar year you submit (& I think this can be an e-book costing £3.50) and this entitles you to enter submissions for the entire year. So it doesn’t appear to be any more expensive than paying a competition entry fee – and you get something back for that fee!
The closing date for submissions is 26th March 2017 and I suggest you read the full terms and conditions.
The customs, rituals and events of Britain is a very wide brief – why not grab a pad and pen and brainstorm some ideas?