Thursday, May 26, 2005

Romance team's high score in University Challenge

[I'm posting this today because on Sunday, 29th May, I'll be without a computer.]

"Writing fiction is like being a fighter pilot. The only people who really understand the fear, the rush, the sheer irrationality of it, are doing the same thing."

This is the opening of the welcome by the Romantic Novelists' Association's new chairman, Jenny Haddon on the RNA's site.

She goes on – "I found the RNA late. I was published, sure - under the pen name
Sophie Weston, if you’re interested. But along the way I had been blocked; rejected; lost a soul-mate editor; struggled with a nice one who didn’t seem to speak the same release of English as I did; destroyed manuscripts – not always accidentally; suffered from RSI, computer phobia and Mars Bar dependence. And I did it all alone. I need not have done. The RNA was here all the time. "

Scroll down the RNA's What's New page to see a photograph of their University Challenge team - Anne Ashurst, Jenny Haddon, Catherine Jones and Stephen Bowden – with the show's MC Jeremy Paxman.

The RNA team achieved the highest first round score in the 11th March University Challenge contest and the second highest since 'The Professionals' started in 2003. This round will be broadcast on BBC2 on Monday 11th July 2005.

I remember seeing Anne Ashurst, who writes Harlequin Mills & Boon romances under the name Sarah Craven, winning the final series of
Mastermind chaired by Magnus Magnusson in 1997.

Richard Ben Sapir, an author worth tracking down

Two of the books I keep on a shelf reserved for particular favourites are Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and Spies by Richard Ben Sapir.

[In passing there's a profile of Josephine Tey by Natasha Cooper at the Tangled Web site. Look for the third gun down in the left hand sidebar.]

Spies was published in the US by Doubleday in 1984 and in the UK by W H Allen in 1986. As I wouldn't normally buy a book called Spies with a sinking ship [obviously torpedoed] on the cover, I think my husband must have bought it in the same used-books shop where he found our first Patrick O'Brian. I re-read Spies every few years and one of my projects for this year is to track down the rest of Richard Ben Sapir's novels.

It would take too long to tell you why Spies is such a good book, superior in every way to most of the new fiction I read. Frustratingly there is very little about the author to be found on the web. Google brings up more than 50 links but none of them leads to the biographical information I was hoping to find.

Thomson Gale – Contemporary Authors

At Amazon US, under Richard Ben Sapir's name I found the following.

Edition: e-doc (a web browser) List Price: $4.70 Price: $4.70
Availability: Available for download now
Contemporary Authors : Biography - Sapir, Richard (Ben) (1936-1987) [HTML]
Book Description This digital document, covering the life and work of Richard (Ben) Sapir, is an entry from Contemporary Authors, a reference volume published by
Thomson Gale. The length of the entry is 1582 words. The page length listed above is based on a typical 300-word page. Although the exact content of each entry from this volume can vary, typical entries include the following information:
Place and date of birth and death (if deceased) Family members Education
Professional associations and honors Employment Writings, including books and periodicals A description of the author's work References to further readings about the author

I should like to read Sapir's entry but have no means of paying the required $4.70.

A quote from
Kirkus Reviews on the back of Spies reads : "An unusually character-rich suspense novel: a shrewd mix of compassion, irony and net-closing-in action." The blurb says: "Spies is a different novel of espionage. Of acts of betrayal perpetrated by the people next door. The people who still live next door. He was the spy Winston Churchill warned the Americans against, the dangerous one - 'the enemy who thinks'. Not only did the Americans fail to find him but they maintained he did not exist. Now, forty years on, a pouch is retrieved from the wreck of a U-boat off fashionable
Newport, Rhode Island, that reveals that the British may have been right all along. The hunt begins for the man the FBI believes never was."

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this novel is that although, in theory, the central character should be despicable, by the end of the story the reader has come to admire 'the enemy who thinks' and to wish there were a few more like him in positions of power and influence in the real world today.

Warren Murphy

The dedication in Spies reads – For Warren Murphy, a good man, a fine writer, and a treasure as a friend

At his website,
Warren Murphy writes -

Early on, when The Destroyer series was just getting started, Dick Sapir and I agreed that we did not want to keep writing the same tale over and over, which was the usual procedure in series books at the time. That led to us tweaking the rigorous confines of the action-adventure novel into a vehicle where we could write about myth
and magic, androids and vampires, fantasy and its corollary, political satire, and just about anything else that caught our fancy.

Who was Guillaume le Mareschal?

My eye was caught by a quote under a writer's signature on a post to the online forum of the Romantic Novelists' Association.

It was - "For nobody seeking to make a living from writing should put in his book anything which is not strictly necessary." Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, early 13th Century

The poster was historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick. Have a look at

the jacket
of her 576-page paperback coming on August 4 from Time Warner with the shoutline "An author who makes history come gloriously alive", a quote from a reviewer at The Times.

Replying to my enquiry about the quote, Elizabeth Chadwick wrote, "It's from one of my main research books. It was written in Medieval French and has only recently been translated into English by the Anglo Norman Text Society in two volumes. The quoted piece is from the second volume which only arrived yesterday morning, hot off the press! The statement amused me because it was written around 1225 and it's still so relevant today!"

Elizabeth Chadwick has just joined the long list of authors with video clips at David Freeman's brainchild Meet The Author. Her original plan for her day in London was to visit the tomb of her hero, William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke in the Temple Church and to lunch with her editor and agent. Then her editor suggested doing a Meet The Author to promote Shadows and Strongholds.

As I don't have broadband, I don't see the Meet The Authors videos at their best, and the sound on this one seemed rather faint although I had the volume at max. I'm told this could be because of a fault with my sound card.

Heading the Crime Writers' Association

On the strength of some arson in one of my mainstream novels, I once belonged to the CWA for a few years and particularly enjoyed the post-meeting supper parties in a small restaurant in Soho.

Visiting the CWA site recently, I found the chairman's photo and message had changed since my previous visit. Danuta Reah is now at the helm.

She shares her first name with the book world journalist Danuta Kean whose website has some interesting profiles and articles.

The name Danuta is not listed in the main part of A Concise Dictionary of First Names [Oxford University Press 2001] or in the nine appendices covering foreign names.

I haven't read any of Danuta Reah's crime novels yet – they may be excellent - but, under my website reviewer's hat, I was put off by the black splash screen at her website and the absence of a bio. To find one I had to go to her page at The Ladykillers where I found this –

Danuta made her crime debut in 1999 with ‘Only Darkness’ the rights to which have recently been purchased by Escazel Films. She has written five books: Only Darkness, Silent Playgrounds, Night Angels, Bleak Water. Her fifth novel, The Forest of Souls (writing as Carla Banks) came out in March 2005. She has published text books in linguistics as well as crime fiction. She is a regular speaker at national and international conferences and literary festivals, and has appeared on radio and television.

Her current project - apart from working on book five - is travelling the Trans-Siberian railway. So far, she has only managed the Moscow-Ekaterinburg leg. “I’m taking a modular approach.” She is married and lives in South Yorkshire with her husband who is an artist.

Danuta Reah's alter ego, Carla Banks, "grew up in a scholarly family. Her father, an eastern-european cavalry officer, came to the UK as a wartime refugee where he met and married her half-Irish mother. He told his children stories of his childhood in a country that had been destroyed by the war. Carla Banks has been an academic for most of her working life and is fascinated by the power of language. She lives in the north of England and now writes full time."

Off-putting article

Under my romance writer's hat, I was even more put off by an article by Danuta Reah which included the following –

Several years ago, I did a small study of popular romantic fiction. I was interested in the ways in which men and women were presented in these very popular books. Interesting patterns of stereotype emerged: women were invariable characterised by words denoting physical weakness, lack of maturity, lack of power, lack of rationality and physical beauty; men by words denoting physical strength, maturity, power and physical beauty.

The language was often structured to make men the more active and more dominant characters, and to reinforce the submissive role that these novels seemed to require of the female characters. Two aspects of the language that I looked at were the use of adjectives to describe male and female characters, and the way sentences were structured in scenes where the hero and the heroine were interacting.

In the corpus I studied, the most frequent adjectives used to describe female characters were: beautiful, young, mistrustful, slender, trembling (limbs, mouth, body), warm, rich (metaphor – hair or lip colour), impulsive, proud, feminine. The ones used most frequently for male characters were: ruthless, striking, inscrutable, dark, cruel, rich (wealthy), powerful, strong, muscular, hard, manly.

Similar stereotyping could be found in the sentence structure. Sentences link actors with actions and often with targets of the action (as in the dog bit the postman or vice versa). Grammatical structure can reflect a power relationship. The texts I studied frequently used the S V O form: Subject (actor), Verb (action), Direct Object (target of action) in which the male character was the actor and the female character was the target of the action.

I came to the conclusion that romantic fiction represents a stereotype of men and women, not just in the story lines but in the way the language is structured…These analyses are taken from a very small sample, and the texts used were selected to provide the widest contrasts. Even so, the analysis suggests at once that crime fiction is more complex than romantic fiction, certainly in the way gender roles are depicted. This brief analysis suggests there may be significant differences in the way that writers from sub-genres within the field represent gender, that male and female writers may present these aspects in different ways, and that there have been changes over time.

Published writers in all genres are either in favour of giving masterclasses, workshops, courses etc., or they are vehemently opposed to them. I belong in the second camp. I consider it madness – particularly now – for published writers to encourage unpublished writers.

Danuta Reah offer several types of classes but adds a proviso to the offer of novel-writing classes – "These classes are offered free of charge on the condition that the students have read at least one of the novels that will be discussed."

  • Only Darkness HarperCollins pb £5.99

  • Silent Playgrounds HarperCollins pb £5.99

  • Night Angels HarperCollins tpb £9.99

However, in spite of my reservations about some aspects of Danuta Reah's online presence, I'll test-read one of her crime novels. It's a remarkable achievement to become chairman of the CWA with such a short backlist. She must be an unusually dynamic personality.

Whether I'll be at my desk in time to blog on Sunday, 5th June, is a little uncertain. But I'll be back asap.


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