The Proper Way to Squat

I’ve been writing about blokes again. See what you think…

Squat like a boss... or just like a Sumo wrestler.

Squat like a boss… or just like a Sumo wrestler*.

“Dinnae round your back like that when you squat Mrs A,” Nate Walker said the words automatically. He wasn’t paying his client full attention, mulling over what he needed to do to take his personal training business in a new direction.

“You’re still rounding, Mrs A.”

Mrs A, attempting to squat while holding onto a not insubstantial kettle bell, grimaced at him. “The weight you’ve given me is too heavy,” she panted. “That’s why my form’s gone out the window.”

Ah well, perhaps he really ought to concentrate on the woman who was paying him a hefty hourly fee. He folded his arms and shook his head. “C’mon. You can lift that nae bother. You managed it fine before Christmas.”

Mrs A – or Elizabeth Armstrong to give the woman her proper title – executed another poor form squat and put the kettle bell down. They were exercising in Nate’s Giffnock studio – the space he had just above the hairdressers in the high street. It wasn’t a massive amount of room, but then fitness didn’t need it as far as Nate was concerned. It only required imagination and judicious use of the space and equipment you had at hand.

His studio featured a sprung floor, a couple of treadmills, a rowing machine, a weights rack stacked with dumbbells, Swiss and bosu balls, and TRX suspension training bands. Ideally, he’d have liked a vibration plate as the fast vibrations intensified any exercise the user did on it, but with everything he had already, he could create inventive and effective routines.

From the way Mrs A was scowling at him now, she’d definitely agree that a lack of space didn’t mean that you got an easy time at his studio.

He supposed he’d better ask after her Christmas. She was his longest-standing client after all, and he remembered that she’d told him her husband Ronnie was planning to whisk her away somewhere for New Year.

“Did you get away for Hogmanay then?” he asked. Mrs A was married to one of the wealthiest men in Glasgow. Ronnie Armstrong owned property, as well as the majority shares in a huge building firm that had somehow come through the recession unscathed. The two of them enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that included a huge house nearby, regular trips abroad, race horse ownership, large cars, boats and all the other trappings of the wealthy. Nate supposed he was one of those other trappings. Mrs A was part of the rich Glasgow set who were on the boards or fundraising committees of various charities. Such membership meant lunches, dinners, balls and fashion shows where you booked a table and then spent the night bidding outrageous sums of money on tat such as signed Old Firm football shirts – or a block of sessions with the likes of Nate. Mrs A liked to be able to squeeze into her size 10 dresses for those events.

Relieved that he didn’t seem inclined to make her do any more torturous squats, she nodded. “Yes we did, and Christmas! We went ski-ing. Bloody marvellous. The McCluskeys joined us, and Avril and her husband of course.”

She said “Avril” casually, but Nate wasn’t fooled. Mrs A was a ferocious name-dropper. Avril was Avril Taylor, beloved daughter of Glasgow and now successful film actor married to an equally well-known Hollywood star.

“Avril’s going to be in town for a while actually,” Mrs A continued, watching him carefully. “She starts filming in this country in the next few months, would you believe. I s’pose she’ll need to get in shape for that.”

He knew what she was up to. She wanted him to beg, or be suitably grateful. “Oh god Mrs A – could you get me an introduction to her? Could you do that for me, please? Oh that would be so good.” Continue reading

The Story of Her Name – an Author Unmasked

Layout 1Here’s a thought… Let’s say you publish a book that becomes a best-seller – if only! – selling in its millions and bringing you in plenty of money. Would that be enough, or would you also want the world to know who you were?

Elena Ferrrante, the Italian author of the Neopolitan novels, didn’t want people to know who she was. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, the Neopolitan novels are a series of four books, My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of a Lost Child. They were widely assumed to be at least semi auto-biographical, and beloved of book groups up and down the country.

Elena Ferrante herself remained a mystery. She had kept her identity secret since the publication of her first novel in 1992.

And then along came journalist Claudio Gatti, who searched for financial records related to real estate and royalty payments. He published an article this month, which drew the conclusion that the real author was a woman in Rome.

Writing in Stylist magazine this week, the fabulous Lucy Mangan said Ferrante had stated numerous times that she writes under a pseudonym so that her books could be read for themselves, and so her time and creative energy isn’t depleted through publicity activities.

Gatti’s reasoning was that her success made the search for her identity “virtually inevitable”.

In her piece for Stylist, Mangan asked: “‘Why did Claudio feel Ferrante owed him more than her books? Is unmasking someone (non-criminal) any kind of public good or a violation of privacy or consent? Why might a man feel able to go against a female author’s wishes on the very weakest of pretexts? Who did he feel she was hurting? Was it only his perceived right to know everything? When’s he going to dox Thomas Pynchon or A.N. Other reclusive male author?

“Discuss, animatedly, with reference to female agency, male entitlement and self-serving boll**cks.”

Hear, hear!

An Alternative Argument – Friday Flash Fiction

junkieIt’s been a while since I’ve written any flash fiction but this piece came to me when I was in the supermarket the other week. (Supermarkets – as you wander the aisles, your mind soars freely.)

An Alternative Argument

“You look alright for a junkie…”

Over the years, many people tried to persuade Chris to give up. They used a variety of arguments – ones that cited what it did to his health (his demise the ultimate threat), to the impact it had on his finances.

Nothing worked.

She regarded him scientifically. “Those cheek bones are something else. And your eyes look haunted… that vulnerability makes you sexy.”

She stroked his cheek, regretfully. “You’d be devastating if you were in peak health.”

As she got up to leave, he felt his stomach lurch. “Please stay.”

No response.

This time, maybe.

Beta Readers – How To Give Specific Instructions

person-readingEver asked someone to read your book as a beta reader? I’d never heard the term up until a few years ago. It has been adapted from the software industry and, according to Wikipedia, the definition is a “non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting”.

The beta reader generally reads a story before it’s unleashed on the public.

Most writers, I reckon, aren’t looking for improvements on grammar and spelling – that’s for a professional proof-reader to do – but feedback that tells them if a story works or not. And if they can suggest ways that the story might be improved, that’s even better.

Anyway, recently I was asked to read a book for an acquaintance, Eric J. Smith, author of Not a Bad Ride: Stories from a Boomer’s Life on the Edge. Eric pulled together a detailed brief for his beta readers and has given me permission to share the gist of it. It’s terribly useful as his request tells you exactly what he wants.

Here are some of the instructions:

“I ask you to focus on the MS as a reader rather than an editor. I intend to hire a professional editor after I incorporate your suggestions. You can certainly mention needed edits or even use ‘track changes’ to enter them in the document, but I’m looking to you primarily for general comments on areas such as:

  • Organisation – what works now and does anything need to be changed to improve the structure?
  • Do you like what’s included? Do you think some material should be excluded?
  • Does the pace and the flow of the book work?
  • Are the themes clear?
  • Was it a worthy read?

“After you have read the book in its entirety, please tell me where it’s strong and where it’s weak.”

Eric also asked his beta readers to look at other areas.

  • Does the title work and if not, is there a better title?
  • Is there a way the manuscript could be reorganised and if so, what are the reasons for this?
  • Should some stories or chapters be expanded and if so, why?
  • And vice versa, should some stories or chapters be shortened or deleted?
  • Are there places where the pace is too slow or boring? Are there parts that need more detail or description?
  • Are there awkward sentences or paragraphs?
  • Are there characters that aren’t believable?
  • Are there words or phrases that are repeated too often?
  • Is there dialogue that isn’t authentic?

Eric asks that beta readers return their feedback in a word document and for us to be as specific as possible – identifying the issue and the page number.

He finishes by saying: “I’m looking for honest feedback. I promise I won’t be offended. If something bothers you, it is likely to bother other readers as well. I cannot promise to use all your suggestions, but I will take them seriously. This part of the process is critical. Your honest input will make this a better book.”

The last paragraph is an excellent example of managing expectations. If you have ever read book reviews on GoodReads, you’ll know how diverse opinions on books are. One man’s meat etc… A lot of people suggesting a change is something the writer should take notice of. One person making a brilliant suggestion is another, but it’s the writer’s call at the end of the day.

I’m looking forward to the exercise.