V is for Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut Jnr was born in Indiana in 1922 into a family of Architects. He studied Chemistry at University but enlisted in the Army at the start of WWII. During the war he was a POW and was inprisoned in a building the Germans called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five).

After the war he continued his studies at University, but switched to Anthropology and worked as a reporter at The City News Bureau of Chicago. His first short story appeared in print in 1950 and his first novel in 1952, but through the 60’s the structure of his work changed. He enjoyed experimenting with the structure of his novels and this is most apparent in Breakfast of Champions.

Vonneguts novels had science fiction themes but have been widely read by fans of other genres. In 1997 he announced his retirement from writing fiction but continued to write for the magazine In These Times, articles ranging from observations on a trip to the post office to contemporary US politics.

He taught and lectured in English at Harvard and died in 2007 after a fall down the stairs where he suffered massive head injuries.

In ‘Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction’ Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

1. “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

2. “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

4. “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

5. “Start as close to the end as possible.”

6. “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

7. “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

8. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

Vonnegut’s – How To Write With Style

My favourite Vonnegut quotes:

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen, or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and has attachked a hot fudge sundae.”

“Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule, do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Kurt Vonnegut – the shape of the story – EXCELLENT – If you haven’t already seen this you really should 🙂

Vonnegut continues after the 8 Rules Of Writing by saying that these rules are broken by many well known, and much read authors. So how do they get away with it? Learn the rules then break them seems to be the general advice, but then you’re also told that as a new writer you should conform to the standard way things are done or an agent or publisher won’t touch you with a barge pole *slumps* lol. Do you stick to the rules or get pleasure in breaking them?

Today…..An “Author” Is Born!

Today is the official publication day for Foxden Acres, the book written by my friend and fellow writer Madalyn Morgan. Maddie has thrown her heart and soul into this book, deciding to self publish via Kindle. I’m so pleased for her….she is an inspiration!

So before she gets all rich and famous, I’ve had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her experience of self publishing and the book that will turn her from writer to author…

Where did the idea for Foxden Acres come from?

It was a combination of things. My mother inspired me to write about the Second World War. The year before she died, mum said she’d like to give back a brass airplane to the young Polish pilot who had made it for her in 1940. Unfortunately, he had died, but I found his son. He was delighted to have the plane because it was a Wellington Bomber, which his father had flown in the RAF. It was this, as well as stories she told me about her siblings and the groom’s cottage she lived in on a country estate. She told me about the work she did in a factory, the RAF aerodromes, Bruntingthorpe and Bitteswell, the music she liked and the village dances she and her friends cycled to. I found it all fascinating.

I called the book (and the estate) Foxden, after a fox’s den. I was brought up in a pub called, The Fox Inn, and the first book I ever read was, Gone To Earth, by Mary Webb. I like Foxes. I hate foxhunting.

It’s the first part in a quartet isn’t it? Where will the story be going?

Foxden Acres is the first of four novels about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War. Each book is carefully time-lined with the events of WWII, as well as the other stories in the quartet. However, each book will stand alone and can be read in any order.
Foxden Acres is Bess Dudley’s story. On the eve of 1939, twenty-year-old Bess Dudley, trainee teacher and daughter of a groom, bumps into James, heir to the Foxden Estate. As children, Bess and James played together as equals, but now James is engaged to the socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh. Bess takes up a teaching post in London but when war breaks out and the children are evacuated she returns to Foxden to organise a troop of Land Girls. Traditional barriers come crashing down when Flying Officer James Foxden falls in love with Bess. But by this time Bess has come to know and respect Annabel. Can she be with James if it means breaking her best friend’s heart? Besides, Bess has a shameful secret that she has vowed to keep from James at any cost…

The second book, Applause, is about ambition – and is Margot Dudley’s story. At the beginning of the war, Margot leaves Leicestershire to live with her husband in London. Fiercely ambitious Margot works her way from being an usherette in a West End theatre, to leading lady. However, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of deceit, black-market racketeers, Nazis, drugs and alcohol.

The third book, China Blue, is about love and courage – and is Claire Dudley’s story. While in the WAAF Claire is seconded to the RAF’s Advanced Air Strike Force. She falls in love with Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McKenzie, an American Airman who is shot down while parachuting into France. At the end of the war, while working in a liberated POW camp in Hamburg she’s told Mitch is alive. Do miracles happen?

The fourth book, working title, The Bletchley Secret, is about strength and determination – and is the story of Ena, the youngest of the Dudley sisters. Ena works in a local factory. She is one of three young women who build components for machines bound for Bletchley Park during World War II. The Bletchley Secret costs her the love of her life. Some years after the war has ended, Ena, now happily married, is running a hotel with her husband when she encounters someone from her past.

So what made you decide to go down the self-publishing route?

I have submitted Foxden Acres to eighteen literary agents, and come close to getting representation three times. In between the second – who was very helpful – and the last agent, who kept me exclusive for five months, and still hasn’t committed, I met Jonathan Lloyd of Curtis Brown, at Foyles. I asked Jonathan if CB would consider representing a writer who had self-published their first novel. The answer was an unreserved, yes! “Self-publishing is very much part of the future and we need to embrace it. There are some great writers out there and we want them.” So, rather than wait another five months, with no guarantee that the agent will take me, I decided to go it alone. Having said that, I edited and proofread, edited and proofread, and when I felt the novel was ready for publication, I sent it to the professional proofreader that you recommended, Alison Neale, The Proof Fairy. It is being professionally uploaded to Amazon – books and Kindle – by Rebecca Emin and will be available on February 16th. Many books out there have not been edited, proofread, or formatted. Foxden Acres will not be one of them.

What Lessons have you learnt along the journey to publication?

Gosh! There are so many. Research is one. I don’t believe you should write about what you know, but I do believe you should know what you’re writing about. In other words, you must research your subject. I learned the importance of research when I chose to write novels set in the Second Wold War. Another lesson was learning to take criticism. Rejection I was used to. It’s an occupational hazard for an actress to be too tall, too short, too big, too small, but criticism… However constructive, criticism is hard to take, but it’s necessary if you want your writing to improve. Then there’s time. Learning to manage your time is another hard lesson. I was working long hours to pay the mortgage, while I was doing a writing course, and didn’t think I had time to read. “Then make time,” my tutor said. And she was right. It wasn’t long before I realised the importance of reading. So, managing your time is a great lesson to learn. There are many lessons to do with story and characterisation, but one of the most important is, plot. If you’re going on a journey you plan the route. So why would anyone think they can go on a journey through life without a plot? It’s only my way of working – and half way through the novel the plot will probably change – but that’s all right. Lastly, keeping character descriptions and notes. If you don’t, the jeans you so lovingly describe as midnight blue when she enters the restaurant, will come back to bite you on the bum, when you say she leaves the restaurant in black jeans.

What’s the best piece of writing advice anyone has given you?

Read, read, and read. Read well written books. There are millions of good books to choose from, why read rubbish.

Thank you soooo much Maddie, some great advice there, and CONGRATULATIONS! Honey!!!! I wish you every success 🙂

Foxden Acres will be available through Amazon – Books and Kindle – and Lulu from today.

Please drop in to the virtual launch party and say hello, anytime between 9am and 11pm (GMT) today. There will be a raffle and giveaways 🙂

The Jersey War Tunnels

I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing of the suffering of the Jersey people during WWII. I guess the Channel Islands are too far away for it to bear any impact on the average spotty 14 year old sitting in a History class of a mainland British school.

My trip to the tunnels was educating and alarming. It’s a very thought provoking place. How can you say you enjoyed your visit in the knowledge of all the suffering that went on there? The atmosphere is heavy, cold and eerie. But, at the same time I found it inspiring. I carried Louisa May Gould’s ID card with me, at that stage, unaware of her fate.

The strength of us Brits in times of trouble is somewhat famous, and many would argue quite unique throughout history. So I emerged into the warm daylight from the dark caverns filled with a sense of hope and admiration.

Louisa was a widow when the war started, with 2 sons.

This photo was taken in 1939.

One of her sons was killed in action, so when she discovered that one of the Russian prisoners had escaped the Nazi’s who were using their prisoners as slave workers, she said “I have to do something for another woman’s son.” She ended up hiding Feodor “Bill” Buryiv for nearly a year in 1943/44.

Betrayed by a neighbour, she was arrested in May 1944 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment. Sent to France and by August of that year she was in a concentration camp near Berlin, Ravensbruck.

Unfortunately, when the Germans received word that the allies were closing in, they fled the camp, but not before killing everyone in it by constructing make shift gas chambers. Louisa died on the 13th February 1945.

I guess what drew me to this story is that I am a mother of 2 sons myself. Would I have done the same thing? I really don’t know. Louisa knew the consequences, what would happen to her if she got caught. But I guess, that desire to help a young man, when she couldn’t help her own son, was overpowering.

So that’s the basic story, and I’ve been toying with ideas, and the question, how to tell Louisa’s story. I could do it from the POV of “Bill”? Or what about her other son, the one that didn’t get killed in action, how did he feel about it all? Or how about the neighbour, the one that betrayed her. Why did that person do that? Who were they? Or just stick with Louisa’s? And then there’s the choice of 1st person or 3rd person lol.

I think that one of the overriding things that makes me beleive I’m a writer is the fact that I question everything and often describe myself *goes into London mode* as wanting to know “the ins and outs of a ducks arse” lol. Horrible saying I know, but one I grew up with as a child….haven’t got a clue who came up with that one! Anyway, I need to think, I need to make a decision…hey, I need to research lol

Which POV would interest you the most?