I've practised as a doctor for more than half my life and for most of that time I was a GP. In my professional life I've observed people and their differing relationships, and been privileged to be involved in many of their personal stories. Most of these, I couldn't possibly share ... but I can now make up stories of my own.
I wonder what Frank and Mirabelle are talking about as they look across to the docks at Felixstowe ? You can now buy a copy of To Be Frank and find out as the book is now officially published.
We set off to have a day out in Felixstowe to remind ourselves of Frank’s home town and work place. It should have been a simple 30 mile journey from North Essex, but the A12 was unexpectedly closed due to roadworks. Diversions took us round and round in circles but the sun was shining and the green fields were vibrant and lush and we chatted along the way. Suddenly people in high-vis jackets started to appear and we felt both lost and puzzled. We wanted to go home – had there been an incident, an accident, an emergency or even an alien invasion?
The road signs gave us no useful information. We drove on and on until at last we found the odd place name we recognised, then eventually a sign to Harwich. That would do, we liked Harwich and apparently it was nothing more sinister than a charity car rally causing the chaotic roads. Deliciously fresh fish and chips at The Pier at Harwich restored us and we took a walk along the Stour estuary as we were too late for the ferry across to Felixstowe. The views of Shotley to the north and Felixstowe to the northeast were perfect and reminiscent of the front cover of To Be Frank. Our mission was achieved and we drove back home satisfied. We’ll plan another outing to Felixstowe in the near future, but next time will check the the traffic news.
My novel To Be Frank, is going through the editing process with my publisher’s team; essential to releasing a book. I love writing and enjoy the editing of content and organisation, but I do find the detailed grammar and presentation aspects challenging. Having no qualifications in English Language or Literature, since O levels in 1970, it’s easy to feel inadequate. My medical degrees, scientific background and years of writing healthcare notes don’t seem to help.
I’ve always read a lot but am a relatively slow reader, over-using the technique of sub-vocalisation I suspect, which commonly achieves about 250 words per minute. Visual reading, at approximately 700 words per minute, is at the other extreme. Apparently, proficient readers are able to read at 280-350 words per minute without compromising comprehension. When editing one surely has to slow read and going through an 88,000 manuscript takes time.
During my research into ways of reading, I went off piste and, leaving the editing process behind, I discovered so many styles of reading I’d never thought about in specific terms. Here are just a few snippets:
The concept of ‘speed reading’ began in the late 1950s and can involve skimming and searching sentences for clues, or scanning where one looks for information in a sentence with the use of a mind map to organise it in a visually hierarchical manner. Meta-guiding is another technique, involving the visual guiding of the eye using a finger or a pointer.
The other end of the spectrum is ‘slow reading’, which is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading to increase comprehension and pleasure. It originated in the study of philosophy and literature and there’s been an increase in interest in slow reading as a result of the ‘slow movement’ and its focus on a deceleration of the pace of modern life. (Close reading or deep reading is the use of slow reading in literary criticism). Sven Birkerts, an American essayist and literary critic, says in The Gutenberg Elegies (1994) that “Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms”.
Typoglycemia, incidentally, is the ability to read jumbled words. It is thought that to see the first and last letters of a word, in the right place, is all that matters and that’s why we can so often solve the puzzles posted on social media, for example ‘I bte yuo cn rd ths sntnc’ or ‘do oyu fnid this smilpe to raed?’ Maybe that’s also why we can’t always see our own mistakes?
So, I’m voting for slow reading when I next read a novel, with a bit of skimming and a dose of typoglycemia, and meanwhile I give thanks to my editors for helping with the hard grind and time consuming work of copy-editing and proofreading.
FRANK has continued to present his well honed case to agents and potential publishers throughout the month of October but the huge and interesting changes he makes in his fictional life, in the novel, ‘To Be Frank’, have not yet been taken on board. Frank is however not a quitter and in the autumn of his life (he is 62 in the book) he will keep on trying to get recognition. He is aware that many members of the book community are busy catching up post pandemic as well as possibly being involved with the Frankfurt Book Fair so it’s lucky he is a patient character.
Meanwhile as Frank’s creator I’ve been occupying the writer in me by writing short stories and shorter pieces of flash fiction. Suddenly it’s November and notices about NaNoWriMo are appearing across social media platforms. Having completed NaNoWriMo successfully on two past occasions, I chose not to do it again this year and instead I’ve joined FlashNano 2021 which is run by http://www.nancystohlman.com . Here one is sent a daily prompt for the 30 days of November. You can write as little or as much as you wish each day but must write something every day. There is no obligation to post the flashes so it feels more fun and less pressurised than the challenge of the full NaNoWriMo.
I’ve done the first 5 days and am enjoying writing about topics far removed from my usual themes and I guess that’s the idea. Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have 30 short stories to tidy up and use in the future. Maybe at least one of them might make it’s way into a future novel.
With my next novel, To Be Frank, on its way and currently doing the rounds of the agents, I thought I’d remind readers of what has come before.
Recently, when I’ve bumped into people emerging from Covid restrictions, they’ve asked if I am still writing. When I say I’ve been working on my fourth novel they look surprised and interested and that’s great. More than once they’ve continued to say that they’ve only read one or sometimes two of my books and I’ve wondered why? It seems odd when they’ve made such a point of saying they’ve enjoyed my books. I thought perhaps a reminder of what they might have missed would be helpful, along with an honest analysis of my own thoughts on the writing.
My first novel, There’s No Sea in Salford, is the story I really wanted to write, based on my time working as a final year medical student for 3 months in Sri Lanka in 1978. In many ways it’s my favourite story, but also the most naive, written before I’d discovered what a novel really needs in terms of technique and structure. I am still trying to learn!
How They Met Themselves came about after the short and sharp success of TNSIS when I was determined not to be a one trick pony. Here I used experiences taken from a wonderful journey around California, made with three good friends a year after we’d all retired from our professional careers. Rather than give away tales of what we got up to, I invented Max as the main protagonist and allowed him to make a similar journey, even though he and his friends were at least 30 years younger than us.
In HTMT readers come upon the fictional character of Max for the first time, as a young traveller taking a gap year after graduating from university. He and his eventual wife reappear in my next two books, Lawn House Blues and To Be Frank, so it’s well worth meeting him if you haven’t done so already. Books two, three and four all stand alone but a few of the characters crop up again from time to time, so watch out.
Lawn House Blues is set much closer to home in rural Suffolk and goes into more depth, looking at families, relationships and secrets from the past. It revolves around an old country manor house and the owners’ struggle to maintain it in the modern world. Snape Matings even gets a mention.
I consider LHB my most accomplished novel to date and I love the breadth and detail of the characters within the story. In fact I love the characters so much that a number of them are developed further in To Be Frank. Frank’s story is very different and moves between the countryside around Lawn House and the Suffolk coast.
To Be Frank is still the working title of novel number four and the title therefore might change. Covid times have given me time to rewrite Frank’s story many times so I hope the end result will be interesting, believable and enjoyable for future readers. I am not planning to rush to get this published, so you might have to wait a little longer and meanwhile simply be satisfied by my little WordPress drip feeds, or perhaps read or re-visit the previous books.
All three of these books shown above are available on Amazon as paperback and kindle editions.
Not writing much on http://www.philippahawley.com lately because I’ve been in Felixstowe in my head (among other places) polishing off another novel set in lovely Suffolk. Agent hunting now so that’s the next challenge.
This is your first taster and I will be drip feeding more information as I go along, so watch this space.