The socks! Why the socks?

30 10 2015

the black wool-mix of the base colour was nearly obscured by the colours. Vibrant discs of orange, yellow and red marched around each ankle in regimented bands which presumably paraded from toe to hidden calf. 

The rest was business. Blue trousers – not salesman shiny. White shirt – crisp, cuffed, woven. Tie- half Windsor knotted, blue, slight pattern. Watch – gold but understated. 

But the socks…

Characterisation is about giving your people reality, clear places in their world where they live. They may live uncomfortable lives but they. Do. Live. 

Socks tell us nothing. Should they? 

I’ve been guilty myself on putting a comedy tie on a man to make the reader associate him (falsely in that case) with the office joker, possibly sad and lonely on the inside and overcompensating but that would not be unexpected. 
But what about socks?

What do you think when you see a businessman in non-“standard” socks? Do we have any common cultural references to build on? 

Run out of clean socks? Does he live alone, work away?

Christmas present? Living family? Children? Mad aunt? Work secret Santa?

But why put them on if given a choice? What do you want the world to know, to see, to guess?

I’m open to ideas on this one. Comments welcome
Comedy socks – why?





misogynistic? Sexist? Woman hating?

28 10 2015

Musing on the daily sexism which lies beneath the veneer of men. Building a character who is sexist and blatant about it is different from a character who is your normal bloke who thinks he isn’t sexist but …

I’ve taken to breaking down my interactions with women, my “touch points” to use some marketing speak I picked up in a recent session about promoting a novel. I’ve also taken to focusing my normal author habit of people watching on exactly that. 

As an intriging intro to the subject here are a few of the institutionalised thoughts and actions I have had or seen

– family group in public. Kids playing up. Look to the mum first to control them. 

– bad driving. Think “woman driver”. Too many old jokes told to think anything else?

– nice house. What does her husband do?

– pretty young woman. Use the word “pretty” rather than just “young woman”. Always with sex in mind?

– passing by a kids football team playing in the park, parents shouting encouragement. Why does he have long hair?

– you throw like a girl

– any offer of a lift must include thoughts of sex

– any woman must include thoughts of sex

– slag v stud

When it comes down to it, how many relationships start with the mutual attraction of the mind. Some, of course. Most, not. Men and women are different by definition but is one better than the other?

Our minds and attitudes are shaped by our upbringing and sometimes there are some of those unconscious attitudes which are so ingrained that all you can do is look to control them, bite them back in disgust, hide them behind your new man veneer, the mask we wear. 

Sometimes they escape. How do they manifest, which bit of the mask slips?





Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!





Not everyone likes a happy ending

18 10 2013

I read a book when I was a kid. Xan it was called – I am told by the well known tax-avoiding e-shop that it is by Patrick Tilley, more famous for the Amtrak Wars series. Xan has always stuck in my mind because it was the first book I read which didn’t have a happy ending. I won’t spoil it for anyone who still has this old sci-fi novel as virgin territory but for a young reader it was an introduction to a new way of thinking.

A hero doesn’t always win.

Sometimes crime does pay.

Once I’d read this I saw it everywhere but mostly, like Star Wars, the baddies only won for a while. One battle, not the whole war.

I’ve read a few since. Some of which have been made into films. How many films don’t have a happy ending, don’t resolve the issues; they plan to leave the watcher floating out of the cinema in a happy bubble knowing all is right with the world? Ignore trilogies and series and think about it. How many don’t?

Films need a happy ending. Big budgets, big stars, audiences around the world, all need the happiness that the final screen kiss brings. Books don’t.

I don’t have Xan at home anymore. Lost or charity-donated in one of many bookshelf clearouts. I’m going to get another copy (even though out of print). Must be 20-years since I read it but it has always been a book I remember for opening my eyes to a new way of writing. I hope it has stood the test of time! And I hope I remembered the right name – I’ll look a right pillock if Xan is a jolly romantic romp!
However, the description at http://www.patricktilley.co.uk/xan/index.php, does resonate in my memory core.





White hats, black hats, masks and pencil moustaches – who’s the baddie?

14 10 2013

I don’t write children’s books where, for the very young, an author has to make the baddie obvious. They cackle rather than laugh, they lurk rather than wait, they are sly rather than cunning. And they often wear a black hat.

In the world of adult literature the role of the baddie isn’t so clear cut. Nor should it be. There are bad people out there – people without redeeming characteristics, without a care for the social convention. But they are pretty rare. Most of us live in shades of gray – not 50 necessarily, but quite a few and those shades can lighten or darken depending on what we are doing at any one point in time.
Ask anyone not locked up in my cellar and they see me as a good man, someone with obvious flaws, attractive ones of course, but nothing which would put me on a register or lead to imprisonment. Ask me, and I might give you a bit more background about hidden motives behind good deeds which may cast shadows on your perception. Does that make me a baddie? How would I portray myself as a baddie in the written word to put the reader on notice or should I leave it to them to work out for themselves?

The latter is the obvious answer. Leading my reader by the nose is not how I see the contract between us. Every one of us has had a bad day, most of us succumb to the darker urges to varying degrees at some time in our lives. I think it is my job to show by actions, by written thoughts, by implication that this is the villain of our show. If you, dear reader, are worse than the bad things I illustrate him or her with then I rather imagine you will keep it to yourself!HH Coventry wears many hats but does not have a pencil moustache!





Product placement in books as well as films

10 10 2013

“Marcia just loved the feeling as the ice cold Coke slipped down her dry throat, lubricating, satisfying, cooling…”

That will be £1,000 please Mr Cola. Please pay by return. Cash preferred! Oh, you’d prefer a pay per book deal, would you? OK. Should we start at 10p per hardback and negotiate from there?

It works for film makers so there must be an argument for it to work for books as well. Should JKR get a slice of the coffee profits next to the Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross? Should Brown get a piece of the tourist pounds spent at the Louvre or Florence? Jodhpur in India is getting a mention in one of my upcoming stories so perhaps if I mention which airline I intend my heroine to travel by could mean a ticket or two wings its way to me.

I do wonder how prevalent it is both in the rarefied heights of the global author meeting global consumer brand but also down at the grass-roots. Local authors are writing by the thousand all the guidebooks, the walking trail maps, the home-town set novellas – do they get the free coffee for mentioning Kiara’s Koffee shop or a pint a day from the “best little pub in Lower Froyle” which a fictional detective likes to frequent?

Alternatively should writers never reference real things, real places, real people? I do it. All the time. I love that I can base my books on real locations, love that readers may come and see where my imagination placed a character. What does it hurt?

Did I mention how much I like Bentleys and Jaguars – fine automobiles all!





What’s in a name? Cultural references and your hero/heroine

27 09 2013

Now we have a new Prince, is George destined to be the name of heroes and lovers rather than office workers and bores? George Clooney started the rot with his handsome ruggedness but now the name is securely that of a real man.

How do you choose your character names when all the good names are being associated with the great or good, famous or infamous? There are so many so-called celebrities flashing themselves brightly for their 15-minutes that it is difficult to find a name without a cultural reference – if not for you then for one of your editing circle.

Nicknames may be the way forward for some but you can’t use them for everyone in your book or you’ll lose the reader in a morass of confusion.

Changing names depending on the subjective voice in your book is another way to change a perception of a character. His mum says William, his friends call him Bill, his niece cutely speaks about Uncle Billykins and the police just say Mr Adams.

You could go for the commonplace – everyone knows a couple of Johns, Simons, Lisas, Sandras. No single character trait will therefore be endowed. You can give them their own life history, their own cultural references. Elton and Elvis are more difficult to assign to new characters though.

How about surnames? If nothing comes to mind, you can’t beat a good road atlas. Place names abound through literature without you even noticing!