Burnt Toast Editorial

The No Bullshit Publishing and Writing Consultancy

Category Archive:Writers

J.K. Rowling and Norman Mailer. How authors of blockbusters plan their plots.

One wouldn’t readily think there’s a literary or publishing connection between J.K. Rowling, author of the world’s most famous wizard since either Oz or Merlin and the late American writer Norman Mailer,¹ an author best known for his pugilistic and bruising intellectualism.

What is it that binds these two unlikely literary behemoths other than their obvious star selling power? The answer is planning the plot; what Tony Buzan would call “mind mapping” or what was known in the 1970s as “idea sunbursting”.

Currently held in the Mailer archive in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, ² the mind map of Harlot’s Ghost reveals how its author managed the monumental amount of ideas, events, and characters that propel a novel about the CIA from 1959-1964 to its 1,100 plus pages conclusion. ³

So vast and complex are the strands that pull the story of Mailer’s central character of Harry Hubbard, that each year is worked out in detail with key plot and character developments highlighted with column headings e.g. “Havanna”, “Judith Campbell” (JFK’s mistress), “Hoover and FBI”, and “RFK” (Robert Kennedy). In the column “World Events” you will find amongst many other entries: “Nixon-Kruschev kitchen debate” (1959), “Berlin Wall goes up” (1961), “Glenn first American to orbit Earth” (1962), “Kim Philby named as Soviet spy by British” (1963), and “Sex scandal forces out John Profumo” (1963).

Under the column “Miscellaneous”, Mailer identified contemporaneous keynote detail such as the films La Dolce VitaGoldfingerCleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, and Psycho; the publication of books such as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, The Tin Drum and Hertzog; and popular music hits as in Moon Riverand Let’s do the Twist. He even made a reference in the “JFK” column to Motown Records and some of their most famous acts of the time − the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

Yet, Mailer is far from being the only author whose plot planning and story outlines have been captured in formats not entirely dissimilar. Nor is it the first example of plot planning by map, for example Joseph Heller’s plan for Catch 22 was hatched in this fashion. But it is perhaps the most fascinating for its use of historical event to flesh out character and context and clearly demonstrates Mailer’s expertise in this form of literary writing.

Which brings me to J. K. Rowling. A writer whose stories could not be further from those of Norman Mailer – except in one respect – they both write (wrote in the case of Mailer) bumper-sized books with complex plots. Just take a look below at how she mapped out the plot of The Order of the Phoenix, drafted on hole-punched A4 lined paper no less!

 

¹ Norman Mailer (1923-2007). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Mailer

² For the Harlot’s Ghost mind map at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas click http://blog.hrc.utexas.edu/2011/06/16/in-the-galleries-mailers-character-timeline-for-harlots-ghost/

³ Mailer’s original intention was to write a two-volume chronicle of the CIA of which Harlot’s Ghost was the first. The project was never completed.

For an enlarged version of the mind map of Harlot’s Ghost click http://editorial.designtaxi.com/news-outline1505/1big.jpg

For an enlarged version of J. K. Rowling’s plan of The Order of the Phoenix click http://editorial.designtaxi.com/news-outline1505/3big.jpg

To purchase a copy of Harlot’s Ghost click here.

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Dying for your art? Charles Dickens’ indefatigable writer Walter Thornbury.

In early 2016 The Independent published an article about Charles Dickens and his many publishing ventures such as Household WordsHousehold Narrative and All the Year Round, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Here’s why.

The author of the piece, Jeremy Parrott, ¹ described how he had unravelled the roll call of contributors to these journals which up until his research had largely remained something of a mystery. Within his article he refers to the University of Buckingham’s online digitised archive of these magazines which can be accessed by researchers and the public alike. I was especially intrigued with this extract from the article:

“As well as staff writers for the magazine, Dickens had a small group of regulars including the nigh-indefatigable Walter Thornbury who wrote close to 200 pieces for All the Year Round and Household Words before dying of exhaustion in a mental asylum at the age of 48″. ²

Walter Thornbury

It would seem that in the service of Household Words and All the Year Round Thornbury travelled widely, writing articles that vividly depicted the United States and Palestine, the Iberian Peninsula, and European Turkey. He also wrote a long series of articles in All the Year Round entitled “Old Stories Retold”, where he covered topics such as “Trafalgar in 1805”, “Bombardment of Algiers in 1816”, “The Assassination of Mr. Perceval in 1812”, “The Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820”, “The Two Great Murders in the Ratcliffe Highway in 1811”, and “The Resurrection Men—Burke and Hare, in 1829”.

Apparently the series was curtailed due to Dickens dislike of their sanguinary and salacious content!

You can read more about Walter George Thornbury, Dickens’ indefatigable writer here  

¹ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/charles-dickens-all-the-year-round-discovering-the-fascinating-insight-into-the-world-of-victorian-a6815301.html

² SadlyThornbury died of overwork at Camberwell House Asylum, Peckham Road, London, on 11th June 1876, and was buried on the 13th at Nunhead Cemetery. He was survived by a wife and three sons.

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The literary shaping of a novelist from our guest writer Marius Gabriel.

My parents’ house was full of books, thousands of them; and I have belonged to many public libraries in different countries. But two particular libraries shaped my mind more than any others. The first was in Villa Valverde, in Sicily, where I spent part of my childhood.

The Villa Valverde was a pensione which had been built by my paternal grandfather, Pancrazio Cipolla. He’d spent decades working in London hotels, rising from waiter to manager. He took his savings back to Taormina and built Valverde around 1910, as a luxurious retreat for British tourists.  It had all mod cons, including a library of English books. These had all been supplied by a publisher who specialized in such things, and were in a uniform edition of brown leather with gold tooling, proudly stamped with the hotel name and crest. The books were all Victorian and masculine – Sir Walter Scott, Charles Kingsley, Conan Doyle, Fennimore Cooper and the like.

It was here I met Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster, and Amyas Lee, and Sherlock Holmes and Natty Bumppo, and the ‘Man Who Would Be King.’ Rather heavy going, since I was not yet ten, but I swallowed it all down in huge draughts.

The second library was at my high school, when my peripatetic parents took us from Sicily to South Africa. It was in a decaying part of the school that has long since been knocked down (we used to spear rats there during break, with compasses tied to rulers). The collection itself was large, and consisted mainly of bequests from Old Boys, some of them dating back to Edwardian and Victorian times, and smelling strongly of tobacco and damp. No attempt had been made to catalogue or filter this heterogeneous collection. They were simply in alphabetical order according to author. In my six years there, I must have read almost every volume.

I lugged home bound editions of Punch dating from the 1850s to the First World War, which was where I began to pick up what little modern history I know (and developed a fondness for weak jokes.) I found, and read with wide eyes, Henry Miller (an education of a different kind), Colette (I had to ask my mother what a Lesbian was) and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley (nothing left to the imagination there).

I read fusty old copies of Sheridan le Fanu, H. Rider Haggard, Sax Rohmer and Robert Louis Stevenson. I ploughed my way through novelists popular in the 20s, 30s and 40s: Sinclair Lewis (I must have read Kingsblood Royal a dozen times), Thornton Wilder, Edgar Wallace; Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck (I adored him), J.B. Priestly (very heavy going), Daphne du Maurier, A. J. Cronin, H.G. Wells (where I learned what socialism was); Robert Graves (also pretty hot stuff) and Somerset Maugham.

I read voraciously, sometimes a book a day. I read at night, under the sheets, with a flashlight, till two in the morning. I read on the bus to and from school. I read on the toilet and at the supper table. I read without even knowing why I read at times, so long as the words on the page held me.

A tenacious memory for useless things means that many of these books are still rattling around inside my head, and will surface at odd moments; or, what is worse, half-surface, and lead me a merry dance trying to recall which book and which author, in which library, in which country, in which year…

Marius Gabriel, our guest writer

Marius is the author of eight sagas and historical novels, including the best-sellers The Mask Of TimeThe Original Sin, and The Seventh MoonCosmopolitan accused him of “keeping you reading while your dinner burns”. Born in South Africa in 1954, he has lived and worked in many countries, and now divides his time between London and Cairo. He has three grown-up children.

His latest novel, Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, is set during World War II and published by Lake Union, is available on Amazon or by placing an order with Marius via his website. To view all of Marius’s books click on link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marius-Gabriel/e/B000AP9HOU

You may also be interested to read Marius’s GoodReads page where he also writes a blog. If you like cooking Marius is the man for you. Baking bread being a speciality.

P.S. Marius served his author apprenticeship as a student at Newcastle University. To finance his postgraduate research, he wrote 33 Mills & Boon romances under a pseudonym. His identity as a man had to be kept secret until he turned to longer fiction under his own name.

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Palimpsest, Gore Vidal and reading between the lines.

In 1995, the American writer, political commentator, and essayist Gore Vidal ¹ broke his own declared vow never to write a memoir. Palimpsest – the first of what was to be a two volume work ² – was published to great acclaim and some criticism as befitted a public figure whose intellectual and cultural writings on American history and American life had created enemies as well as supporters.

When writing on the subject of his name he explained that his birth certificate had originally recorded it as Eugene Louis Vidal; this was then changed to Eugene Luther Vidal, Jr.; subsequent to this the name Gore was added at his christening in 1939. Fourteen years later as an adolescent he took the decision to discard the first two names.

This act of self-alteration or indeed erasure links directly to the meaning of palimpsest, our latest favourite word, with its etymological root in Latin from the Greek palimpsēstos, from palin “again” + psēstos “rubbed smooth”. Its use is most commonly found in the study of old manuscripts, scrolls and books; in modern usage it is used in architecture, archaeology and geomorphology. #wordwonk

Perhaps one of the best known palimpsests is that attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes. Known as The Archimedes Palimpsest, the manuscript is a Byzantine prayer book from the thirteenth century assembled using pages from several earlier manuscripts – one of which contained several treatises by Archimedes that were copied in tenth century Constantinople. These were first discovered in 1906 by the Danish Archimedes scholar Johan Ludwig Heiberg.

As the key aspect of such a manuscript is its layer upon layer of writing, for one so acutely aware of self-fashioning and self-actualisation as Gore Vidal, Palimpsest was perfectly judged.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gore_Vidal

² Point to Point Navigation is the second volume of Gore Vidal’s memoir and was published in 2006.

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How to make a killing on camera from our guest writer Adam Dickson.

The UK film industry has never been healthier. According to the British Film Institute an income of £1.6bn was generated from film and television production in 2016 with Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts leading the box office.  Drama series like Wolf Hall and Downton Abbey continue to enthral viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, highlighting the wealth of acting and technical expertise for which the United Kingdom is renowned.

Generous tax breaks encourage investment into what is generally accepted as a high-risk industry. Film Tax Relief opens the door to big production companies who previously looked to foreign locations to meet their budgets.

The digital age has revolutionised both the way films are made and the demand for content. Netflix alone invested $3bn on media content in 2014, and plans to spend $6bn over the next three years. Good news indeed for the legion of screenwriters out there, hunched over keypads in dusty garret rooms, looking for a break. Competition is fierce. But the opportunities to pitch unsolicited work are considerable. From the BBC Writersroom to screenwriting contests like the Nicholl Fellowship, ¹ there are no end of resources out there, all on the look out for fresh talent.

You may, of course, wish to bypass the conventional route and make the film yourself. As an incentive to investors, HMRC offers tax relief of up to 50% under SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) Guidelines. Independent production companies can apply for Advanced Assurance, proving their legitimacy to third parties.

Through a chance meeting at a networking event, one such opportunity came my way. I had written a screenplay based on a real-life murder case from 1946, which had generated some interest locally in my home town of Bournemouth. A contact at the networking event introduced me to Martin Spooner, a finance facilitator who specialises in investment for film. I pitched the outline to him and, in August 2014 we agreed to meet.

Since then the project has grown in size and stature. In March 2015, we submitted a 26-page application to HMRC’s Compliance Department, and sat back to await their decision. Several weeks later, we received the good news that West Cliff Productions Ltd had been given Advanced Assurance – in other words, the green light to go out and seek investors.

From a humble writer’s point of view, all this is quite daunting. But the excitement of being involved in something as ambitious and enterprising as a film project far outweighs any reservations I might have.

And now to the screenplay …

Neville Heath was an ex-RAF pilot, hanged for murder in 1946. The case became the subject of huge media interest, with women queuing for up to 14 hours for a glimpse of the charismatic killer from the public gallery.

Neville Heath

Neville Heath.

However, many questions remain unanswered to this day. Who was the real Heath, and what was his motivation for killing? How did he become, in the words of one biographer: “… the most dangerous criminal modern Britain has ever known”?

Such was Heath’s deadly appeal that film-making legend, Alfred Hitchcock, optioned a screenplay based on the case. Horrified at the leading character’s warped persona, studio bosses vetoed the project and the idea was abandoned. So, there you have it.

This is the film that Hitchcock never made!

Our guest writer, Adam Dickson

Adam was a student of Bill Stanton’s Writer’s Tutorial for several years, learning the craft of writing fiction. The Butterfly Collector was his first novel. Drowning by Numbers, his second was published in June 2013.

A lifetime fitness enthusiast, Adam suffered two massive brain seizures in 2003 and was left permanently disabled. In spite of this setback, he took up triathlon and began entering races, competing in Ironman UK in 2007. He co-authored Triathlon – Serious About Your Sport which was published by New Holland in May 2012.

Two more titles on swimming and cycling were published in March 2013.  Adam has also written a book on mental health, Surfing the Edge – a survivor’s guide to bipolar disorder, which was published in 2015.

His screenplay, Heart of a Murderer, is based on a real-life murder case that caused a media sensation in England in 1946. Filming is scheduled in Bournemouth and London for Spring 2018.

¹ See http://www.oscars.org/nicholl

You can discover more about the Neville Heath film here or email adam@westcliffproductions.com  

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Bonkers! The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year 2017.

It’s that completely and utterly bonkers time of the year again with the nominations for the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The Prize is the brainchild of Diagram Group founders Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson and came about as a way of avoiding boredom when they attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978. As a many-times survivor of this event myself it’s easy to understand why they resorted to this madness. The very first winner was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. The competition is managed by the Bookseller, the industry’s key magazine, trading since 1858.

Among other winners are such classics as How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992), Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996), Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002), Cooking with Poo (2012), How to Poo at Work (2014), and last year’s winner Too Naked for the Nazis.  

This year’s front runner is Nipples on my Knee co-authored by Debra and Graham Roberston, a memoir of “25 years in the sheep business” and according to Tom Tivan, the prize coordinator, “has got to be an early bookies’ favourite, as it combines both animal husbandry and Carry On-esque ribaldry”.

As usual, academic and specialist texts dominate the shortlist, which is drawn from readers’ nominations. According to the magazine’s pseudonymous diarist Horace Bent, Peter Andrews’s An Ape’s View of Evolution is:

“classic Diagram: a sober and worthy academic tome, which is unintentionally humorous”.

He added:

“It brings me back to previous winners like Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures (2000) or American Bottom Archaeology (1993).”

Also in the running are Love Your Lady Landscape by Lisa Lister, whose subtitle encourages the reader to:

“Trust your gut, care for ‘down there’ and reclaim your fierce and feminine SHE.”

Two other titles in the mix are Renniks Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors: The Premier Guide for Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors, edited by Ian McConnelly, and The Commuter Pig-Keeper by Michaela Giles. The latter according to Tivnan is reminiscent of memorable past winners such as Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2013), and The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2000).

The winner is decided by a public vote. If you would like to view all five nominees and cast your vote click here. Voting closes on 21st July. So get cracking!

The successful author and publisher win nothing (save the adulation of millions), but the nominator will be sent a passable bottle of claret.

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