Category Archives: Novel writing

A Prints-ly Feeling

At last I have not just proofs, but my own supply of the latest P’kaboo prints for Tabika and Tabika Two, and the proper ones for Darx Circle. I am thrilled with the quality.

Strange that the excitement remains the same for the tenth book as it was for the first. Fingering through the pristine copies is like holding one’s own newborn child. The feeling comes through that it doesn’t really matter all that much if no interest arises, or if they become runaway best sellers. At that moment all that matters is that they exist — something that wasn’t there before is now a reality arising from one’s efforts. This even holds good for revisions/reprints where one knows that the result is now even better than before.

It is time Rufus appeared here as well as in Colonialist’s blog.

© October 2017 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

Ill Literate

Guess which two authors the statements below refer to? 

(1)   Books sexist, racist and elitist and devoid of literary merit. (BBC)

(2)   Books with no literary merit; unsuitable for school libraries; promoting harmful or dangerous concepts; stealing from other cultures. (Numerous sources)

 The first set is to Enid Blyton. 

The second set is to JK Rowling. 

What does one need to do to gain the approval of such critics? How does one define literary merit?  Perhaps the answers to those two questions is to write books of utter tedium to do with dull, everyday lives, and to frame them in elegant but not pretentious phrases. Instant best-seller NOT! 

Of course, regurgitation of belief or value systems within the framework of a story will find instant approval from those who subscribe to those systems, and instant vilification from those who do not. Even then, the question is how they are presented. Narnia, the Rings and Potter all reflect religious themes and values, and yet come in for rabid renunciation by radical religionists.

Rufus the Eagle Owl

Purr, Tabika’s girlfriend












My Tabika books were doomed from the start. In particular, they presented, during Apartheid times, a picture of blacks and whites on equal terms, attending the same schools, and working on complex problems together. They also had magic, and ‘witchcraft’.  Instant disfavour from officialdom in South Africa. However, my agent of that time (who had launched Cry the Beloved Country) found considerable interest from major publishers in UK and Australia. They were on the verge of making offers. At this point sanctions against South Africa happened, and that was that.

 More recently came the ultimate irony. Schools who assessed the books when they finally came out in South Africa found them insufficiently slanted towards the African culture, and inclined to present a patronising attitude. I cant see it, myself. The stories are about a cat, for Petes sake! 

Or they regard them as too difficult for their little darlings, ignoring that I have proved they can actually lead to improved vocabularies.

Still, I am pressing ahead with the new editions and hoping that, ultimately, the readers themselves will make the critics look like ninnies as has been the case with Blyton and Rowlings. 

Second proofs are awaited, after which, hopefully, the editions will be heated to gallop (I was going to say hot to trot but apparently that can be misunderstood). 

© August 2017 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

Finally Darx Emerges into Lightz!

Darx Circle has been the most difficult birth of a novel I have yet encountered. It was all-but ready for publication (or so I thought) when I made up the first proof in May, 2015. Then came all manner of circumstances to delay it yet further. I must say, though, that in the process it was given time to undergo some extra improvements and have a few subtle touches included. I truly believe that the novel is better now than it would have been if issued at that time.

At last have come the first professional proofs. I simply have to attend to a few more elements, and the South African printed version will be ready to go. While adjustment takes place regarding the tragic events affecting my publishers, I will be handling initial orders personally. A comment on this blog can start the ball rolling.

Overseas and e-book versions will be issued shortly — Amazon, Kindle, etc.

In due course, hopefully, it will again be under the P’kaboo Publishers umbrella.

© July 2017 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble


Fast Food Writing

Editors and style advocates these days are promoting the conversion of gourmet meals of words into packets of popcorn. Is this really what has become necessary to keep the public reading? The above picture shows some of my works requiring total rewrites in order to convert them into the package in the foreground.

The guidelines for the rewrites would be as follows:

Adverbs are taboo. Adjectives are allowed only rarely. Other ways of putting he or she said are frowned upon. Thou shalt not have anyone answer, reply, respond, remark, growl, snap, shout, yell, bellow, rage, whisper, murmur, laugh, gurgle, giggle, chortle, trill, pipe up, interrupt, venture or squeak.

Sentences should be short. Concise. Not need commas if possible. Semi-colons are unnecessary, they should be eliminated completely even if linking two complete phrases. Let me revise that. Dont use semicolons.

Paragraphs should be kept short and not be allowed to ramble on, even if there is no change in topic or voice. The reader is only to be fed small bites.

Bites that can be mashed up and fed in forkfuls. With the arm in perpetual motion.

Perpetual motion that only ceases when the plate is empty. Then the reader is ready for the next meal.

Clichés are to be avoided like poison. Let me rephrase that. Dont use clichés.

Obfuscation is anathema. Rephrased: dont use any words that will confuse your dim readers.

The plot should always involve the main character/s in great suffering. They not only get themselves into horrible situations, but are too stupid to do so without suffering constant damage.

There: you now have a blueprint for your best cellar to get drunk with success on. Oh, and never indulge in wordplay, or end a sentence with a preposition.

© May 2017 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

Reviewing Responses to Reviews


(I wrote this some while back, and then vacillated about posting it for fear of giving offence.  However, on re-reading, I don’t see why it should.)

A question for any writer, obscure or world-famous, relates to responses to reviews.  What would you assume the consensus on policy is?  Respond?  Argue? Remain aloof?

I had always believed that it was ‘bad form’ to reply in any way.

Recently expressed opinions, however, reflect that this is not so, but nevertheless the most frequently offered ‘definite no-no’ is responding in any way to awful reviews. There, the argument goes, one cannot convince anyone who is heavily bigoted, and will merely come out of the exchange looking petulant. One-star on Amazon?  Ignore. ‘The most putrid lump of garbage I have ever read’ ? Ignore. Of course, with such reviews, it is a good idea to pretend something like a handy pillow or punch-bag is that reviewer, and treat it accordingly …

Amazon actually encourages writers to respond to all reviews, though, and some comments there indicate that it is even possible to turn around the unreasonable one-starrer. ‘My book took two months to get to me’ given as a reason – as if that is the writer’s fault, or has anything to do with the book content? If you don’t choose to ignore it, rather not give that response, though. ‘Can I send you the next one free by courier?’ is an expensive way of building goodwill, but one that seems to work!

As another general rule, I can now see no good reason for writers being ‘above’ responding with thanks to a mainly approving, good, or glowing review. One is happy the book has been read and enjoyed. One is happy that the reviewer has announced the fact. So why not say so?

A trickier decision comes where there are aspects of a review which reflect a certain point of view, and where one is tempted to add one’s own to balance it – and to test a more general opinion.  A case in point was a review I had from BestChickLit (Young Adult Reviews) on Forest Circle Quest in June 2014, which was gratifyingly complimentary on the whole.  I had no problem with the fact that it was assumed that I was a female writer (maybe I wouldn’t have been reviewed, otherwise!) but I was slightly disappointed at less complimentary comments relating to complexity of plot, length, and the novel’s constant reference to the girth of the protagonists. I looked carefully at all three aspects with a view to changing them in need, but found myself not in agreement. Still, I held my peace.

Perhaps I can now use this as a cavy inserted into a pond – er, I mean, as a guinea-pig to test the water – toward giving a more proactive reaction?

Firstly, I would have responded by mentioning that the plot needed some complexity, development and red herrings if the mystery was to be maintained. Those on the quest know they’re on a quest, but it takes them ages to work out what they are actually questing for. That, I thought, was a large part of the fun of it. If one provides a number of real surprises during the course of a story, one needs some convolutions in the plot to bring it off.

The book also goes into some deeper levels of philosophical analogy, if one chooses to follow them. Even if taken only at face value, I think they do add to the substance.

The second point, on length. This is a hot potato, which I should perhaps drop lest I get burnt. Instead, I propose sticking a fork into it and hanging on:
Sorry, but the idea of getting a decent read at forty to eighty thousand words just doesn’t gel with me.  It does need more than that if a tale is to be fleshed out decently. (The exception is where it is expanded or dealt with further in sequels.) Otherwise, it leads to these ghastly habits of pruning anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for the plot.

‘The food at the banquet was all perfectly presented and delicious,’? Doesn’t matter one way or the other to the story, so leave it out.

Why?  It adds flavour!

‘”I think I’m falling in love with you,” he murmured hesitantly,’? Oh, horrors!  Adverb!  Chop it! ‘Murmured’? No, no, no! Just keep an unending string of ‘he (or she) said’. You can do without the ‘I think’, too. Throw it away. Now we have: ”‘I’m falling in love with you,’ he said.” Perfect.

Why? All of the rest adds another dimension to the declaration. And if ‘murmur’ perfectly describes the tone, who cares if it has become clichéd?

My latest fantasy is even longer and contains all the above sins. Perhaps I am committing writers’ hara-kiri that way.

The third point:  (I am surprised the reason wasn’t obvious.)
Part of the momentum of this novel comes from concern at a generation of unnecessarily overweight children in the more privileged parts of the world, and the idea was to plant ideas in young minds about going on strenuous and hideously dangerous fantasy adventures – or, at least, moderating food intake and getting some exercise – to combat that!

What are your thoughts on the subject of review responses, and on these three specific points?

© February 2016 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble (WordPress)

A Beginning Style Ended


Andrew Carnegie who funded libraries much frequented by me in my youth. (Image: Project Gutenberg)

Here follows the opening paragraph of a novel:

The day was hot. An August sun, with the sky to itself and its zenith passed, loitered lazily along its timeless tract towards the towering contours of the Cromdale Hills, already purple with heather, their feet in the hurrying waters of the River Carglas, new-born in the shrinking snows of Ben Macdhui.

From that sample, what genre would you say it belongs to?  What is the target audience? Would it stand any chance of success with a publisher?  Would you class that ‘The day was hot’ with the famous Snoopy ‘It was a dark and stormy night’?

In these times one is constantly told that the opening paragraph of a story is vital in grabbing the attention of the reader.  One is urged to produce something like:

Nick Dashing swung his automatic rifle in a semicircle and mowed down twenty charging dervishes. With her back to his, Marvella Fearless despatched another twenty-five in her sector.  Both scanned the area for any further movement. Then they turned face-to-face, and kissed passionately while ripping one another’s clothes off.

Do you think that sort of opening does work better?

Anyway, back to the extract. It comes from a book published in 1948 and sold for two shillings and sixpence.  The title is Gimlet’s Oriental Quest, and it was written by the then famous ‘Biggles’ author Captain (sic) W.E. Johns.  Target readers were young boys.  This was the sort of children’s adventure I grew up on, and I had no difficulty in having my interest stirred by that first paragraph or, indeed, by a whole opening chapter which describes little more than a failed attempt at fishing and the witnessing of a man being pursued by two others.

From my observations of modern youth, they would be unlikely to read it beyond the first two lines.  Is that the fault of overstimulation from other sources, or is it a symptom of the latest couple of generations becoming increasingly lazy readers? Or is it that the system is producing semi-illiterates with the attention spans of gnats?

What are your thoughts?

© Colonialist (WordPress) November 2015

A Novel Solution to Sustainable Living

Translation etc header 2My book display at the Show.

My book display at the Show.

Our stands in action.

Our stands in action.

The (takes deep breath) Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs for the Province of KwaZulu Natal (pant, pant) organised – very well, I may say – a Sustainable Living Festival, Exhibition and Indigenous Plant Fair 2014.  I adopted a dual role, I was helping to man the Durban and Coast Horticultural Society stand, featuring displays of floral art, compost-making, propagation, and Power Point presentations of prime gardens etc.  

I also had some of my novels and those of other authors from the same stable on display. This aspect was disappointing in that it demonstrated that people tend to target what they have come for at shows, and to ignore the unexpected. Many thousands of people visited; eyes roved everywhere except in the direction of the books.

The Exhibition was held over Friday, Saturday and Sunday up until 17h00, after which a large group of exhausted exhibitors had to start packing away and clearing out.  

After that I was officially more bushed than the Amazon Forest. 

Anyway, it was a good show providing many highly interesting learning opportunities – some we gave, but many we received.  From the Society’s point of view, a highly successful enterprise demonstrating great teamwork and imagination.

©  Leslie Hyla Winton Noble September 2014; Revised from my Colonialist post August 2014 (WordPress)

Really Awful Editnig Woes

Dragon by Lee Young

Dragon by ‘Tabika’ illustrator Lee Young –                            how Editors are seen by Writers – and vice versa!

It is a most distresing thing,
 However many times.
  That I will go through editnig,
I still uncover crimes
 By punctuation grammar; to;
 Or simply of a the word
 That’s one too many, one      few,
 Or simply is obzurd;
No matter that, time and again,
 I root out every flaw/
 I look agen, and that is when
 I sea a dozen more;
 i think some evil imp waits there
    To change the thigs around:
 No mat-ter how mush sweat and care – 
 Be sure, more faults are, found!
 When reeding threw a ‘final” file
The prawblems that I find
Are going, in quite short a wile,
                   To drive me from my mined!
At least I no no errors lurk
 In this hear bit of prose
F or al misteaks, wif lot’s ov wurk,
I done makes sure has goes.

 © Leslie Hyla Winton Noble September 2014 first appearing in Colonialist July 2014 (WordPress)

Editor and Writer – a Hate-Hate Relationship?

Translation etc header

Advice to authors and editors:

You are a writer.  You have produced your masterpiece.  Now your publisher or someone else suggests it needs to be professionally edited.

Immediately, your hackles rise.  You don’t need editing.  You have gone over the manuscript yourself, numerous times, and it is perfect.

Finally, kicking and screaming, you submit.  The first results return and you find that you have missed any number of spellcheck-proof errors of the ‘to/too’ variety as well as many wonky punctuation points.  Are you grateful?  Not exactly.  ‘I would have picked all of those up on one more read,’ you grumble.

Then you see a comma inserted somewhere and you don’t like it.  The editor points out that without it the sentence has a different meaning.  You don’t see it that way.  One of you capitulates, but only after many mutterings.

Now comes the ultimate insult – it is suggested that a sentence, paragraph, or passage be reworded.  A total tantrum is immediately indicated.  You suggest that the editor do some rather physically impossible things to him/herself, and you storm off to bed.  The following day, you concede that there may be a point.  A week later, you decide the rewrite is a great improvement.

Or, after reading your impassioned argument in defense, the editor comes back to you and says, ‘Oh, I see your point; much better to leave it as is.’  Replies like that do make one feel a lot better about the whole process, but there has still been a mutual rise in blood pressure.

Now we look at the editor.  He/she/it starts off happily, jabbing away at correcting the obvious stuff, and enjoying the tale.  Suddenly a screeching halt is reached.  ‘What the blanketty-blank is meant here?’ comes the anguished cry.  After some mental gymnastics, a revised wording is suggested.  The writer replies acidly, pointing out that had you read a little further on you would have seen exactly why that wording was essential or, quoting sources, why it is correct.  Now the (infallible, of course) editor is discomforted and not amused, instead of simply being glad that the point has been cleared up.

In another scenario, the editor is convinced that something is spoiling the story, but the writer refuses to budge and does not give any convincing argument for the refusal.  Capitulate, or stick to guns?  In these circumstances, the editor must persevere, and if overruled must make it clear that this is under protest.

I have been in the unique situation over the past few weeks of alternating between both of these roles.  I am professionally editing two novels, and having my own latest one undergo the same process.  In my ‘author’ role, I have had to learn to ignore my first reaction of, ‘How dare you criticize this?’ and take a deep breath followed by a long hard look.  It was painful, for example, to delete a section of brilliant wordplay (well, I still think it was) when the editor pointed out that it breaks the action in the passage in question, but if one has to concede that’s actually what it did, then that’s what had to be done!

Then, in my editor role, I have to remember my own reactions to any crit, take another deep breath, and use lots of patience in getting the point/s across.

It is clear that the relationship between editor and writer has to be approached as a partnership, with the greatest sympathy and understanding on both sides.  Subjectivity must be replaced with objectivity, and passion with reason.

Bottom line, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, and in the final analysis, an editor must be able to accept that even clichés can have their place – and the writer to acknowledge when they are overdone!

© September 2014 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble  (first appearing in Colonialist Blog, June 2014) (WordPress)