Of men and ships (The Way of a Ship by Derek Lundy)

For writers, Derek Lundy’s The Way of a Ship offers insight into developing 3 skills: how to develop character, how to write an active narrator in your stories, and how to weave research into your narrative.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Benjamin Lundy, a young adventurer, signed aboard the four-mast merchant ship Beara Head. It is his first crossing of the Atlantic, of rounding South America’s Cape Horn, and of treacherous ventures into the Southern Ocean. Derek Lundy transports us into a world of men, of wind and storms, of waves and ice, of the workings of a square-rigger ship, and more.

Of the men, Lundy says that Benjamin “never admired anyone more than these ragged, tattooed, wild-looking men; he hungered to be like them, and to be accepted by them.” Of wind Lundy writes that in the Southern Ocean there are storms like no other: “Getting a ship round Cape Horn could be the most difficult job a captain would ever do at sea.” For Benjamin,

“He had never seen a seascape like it and could not have imagined it. Benjamin wedged himself into the railings of the windward poop steps and looked out over a sea that writhed and heaved with such monstrous, uncontrollable energy that he was amazed that the barque continued to lie within it. He looked up at wave crests like waterfalls toppling down eighty-foot-high hills, then down into troughs that seemed bottomless, the sea there merely a darker part of the deep hole he teetered above.”

This book could only have been written by a sailor who loves ships and the sea. Derek Lundy’s passion comes through the weaving of words by Melville and Conrad, their insight (and his own) into the meaning the sea holds for us all. His research doesn’t end with reading other authors, or ships’ logs and old accounts of voyages by captains and mates. During its writing, Derek Lundy signed onto a sailing ship and rounded the Horn to gain first-hand experience (although he admits that with today’s technology, his voyage is never ever close to as dangerous as that of his great-great uncle.)

The third narrative woven tightly into The Way of a Ship is the story of ships and shipping during the 18th and 19th centuries. We learn the cargo and parts of merchant sailing ships, the rough men who loaded and redistributed cargo (in this case hot coal) and raised and lowered sails, who cared for every bit of rigging and for the ship itself. We learn about the officer class who commanded (often cruelly) the men, and on this ship, the “hen,” the captain’s wife who sailed with them. We glimpse the era’s industrial, political, and social history, and of barques themselves. We experience love and terror of the sea, and we gain respect for the men who rode upon it during the age of four-mast-barques.

For the writers among us, Lundy provides lessons:

  1. First, we can learn a lot by reading closely to see how he builds characters, Benjamin’s first among them. He is not a two dimensional photograph in a family album; he is a vital youth who becomes a man who knows himself. As you read, think about the development of others (the shanty singer, the mates, the fearsome and the friends, and don’t forget the captain’s wife).
  2. Like The Cave by José Saramago (book review of The Cave), Lundy gives us a narrator who claims a voice in the story (in Lundy’s case, himself). If you’ve tried this, you know how tricky the balancing act can be. Writers who read conscientiously will see how Lundy balances the voice of his great-great-uncle Benjamin with his own contemporary insights and knowledge. And you’ll see how he builds a context of sharing a love for sailing and the sea.
  3. Finally, I’ve never read a better example of an author weaving research—both secondary and primary—into his story. He has made me want to reread Melville and Conrad as well as creating in me respect for other like Captains Cook and Vancouver whose logs he references.

The Way of the Sea: a square-rigger voyage in the last days of sail by Derek Lundy reflects on an era that has passed, but the romance of the sea is alive and well (witness the number of sail-and/or-work-aboard opportunities that exist today on “tall” and other “model” ships). Perhaps because I sailed the Caribbean Sea over four seasons (some foolishly during hurricane months) I fell right into Lundy’s story and experienced the frightening and frustrating doldrums along with squalls far beyond those that riled the water around my sailing sloop and tore its squawking sails. But even if you’re not a sailor, you’ll be drawn into this adventure.

Whether you’re a writer, an armchair reader or an adventure traveller, I’d love to hear what you think of Derek Lundy’s The Way of a Ship.

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Cover image: Alfred A. Knopf 2002 edition

Available through your local bookstore or online: The Way of a Ship

Reading as a Writer: 6 Tips for reading The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam

“Are you still oblivious to everything that happens around you, just like in the old days?”

 

We first meet Percival as a boy called Chen Pie Sou in Shantou, China. He’s a flawed—and interesting—character who never seems to quite know himself. “Are you still oblivious to everything that happens around you, just like in the old days?” asks Mrs. Ling. Oblivious he might be, but in his own way, he tries to do the right thing. Percival’s good intentions and obsessions lead to intrigue and drama, as well as becoming integral to the tapestry of love Vincent Lam weaves.

Writers of fictional memoir might want to read this book with an eye as to how Vincent Lam weaves facts, second-hand memory, and fiction together. He acknowledges,

“My parents helped me with generous recollections of their childhoods in Vietnam. The specific details and anecdotes that they shared with me were invaluable in my understanding of life’s rhythms in that era. My late grandfather, William Lin, inspired the fictional protagonist of this novel.”

Reading as a writer, is one of the best ways to develop your skills. As you read “The Headmaster’s Wager ask yourself how he:

  1. Accomplishes the hook;
  2. Maintains interest;
  3. Threads a story through inter-connected problems and their solutions;
  4. Brings scenes, situations, and place alive;
  5. Develops character (not only that of the protagonist, but also others); and
  6. After the twists and turns, rewards with a satisfying conclusion (whether it’s a happy one or not).

Lam provides us with a story that not simply allows us into the world of the expat Chinese community in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but he creates a fictional memoir that reads with a truth that is often absent from more factual or completely fictional works.

I remember Vietnam War journalism as it splashed across the pages of newspapers, as well as sit-ins and other anti-war protests of the era. Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager takes us through a doorway into the lives of people living through the pain, upheaval and turmoil in the county. Enjoy this complex book that stirs emotions of longing, joy, and unmeasurable sadness.

 

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Available through your local bookstore or online: The Headmaster’s Wager

Writing Your Book’s Synopsis

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“Alison Williams Writing” addresses a stumbling block to getting our manuscripts (or books) read.

What is it about a synopsis that has so many writers struggling? It doesn’t seem to matter how great a writer you are, there’s just something about condensing your masterpiece down into one or two sides of A4 that strikes fear into a writer’s heart.

Williams’ blog provides key suggestions that will make your synopsis stand out.

via Writing the dreaded synopsis! #amwriting #writingtips

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Guest post by Nicholas C. Rossis

Self-editing your writing is one of the most challenging steps before sending your work off to a publisher. In his post Rossis writes:

I don’t often have the pleasure of hosting guest posts by editors, so I am particularly pleased with this one. Liam Carnahan looks at editing from the editor’s point of view, explaining what you need to do before you submit your manuscript to an editor. Liam is the founder and chief editor at Invisible Ink Editing. The team at Invisible Ink work with independent authors to help them prepare their manuscripts for submissions or publication. You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Sending clean, error-free copy gives your submission a boost when it hits an editor’s desk. If you don’t want your writing to be quickly tossed aside, you will want to do a final check. Follow these 7 steps to success:

7 Steps to Take Before Submitting Your Writing to an Editor

Reading/Presentation/Workshop Descriptions

Kathryn is available for readings of her poetry and fiction, welcoming opportunities to meet with readers and writers at all levels. She facilitates workshops and especially enjoys meeting with writing groups.

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Participatory presentations and workshops include topics such as:

  • Writing Your Passion: Writing Place (Part 1); Writing Character (Part 2)
    • These two workshops are each facilitated over four Monday evening this fall (Part 1 begins September 11, 2017; Part II begins October 16) at the Belleville Public Library. Check out previous posts on “Workshops and Events” (scroll down) for details.
  • Telling Our Stories: Offered as a two-hour presentation, or a weekend-long writing workshop. Participants are provided a handout or workbook of ideas, strategies, and encouragement that lead to inspiration or, for workshop people, a short creative memoir and a skill-set to carry forward. Besides group work and sharing, writers receive individual feedback to guide and direct.
  • Writing Foreign: in this travel writing workshop – a brief two-hour overview to a weekend of trying your hand, to a 10-day travel experience – participants will explore such topics as:

o Finding Your Voice
o Capturing Place
o Writing People and Culture
o Nitty Gritty (from research to the literary toolbox)
o Movement (from the known world into the unknown and back again)

Relevant here is the work Kathryn did in a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-Queen’s University program in development education (1986-1992).

  • Kathryn offers schools and groups two-to-four hour participatory workshop/presentations with “Talking Fantasy Literature” topics such as:

o Fantasy in our Lives
o Portals we Cross
o Through the Unknown
o Magic of Change

This could be followed by a Tapping Your Fantasy writing workshop.

Kathryn taught 14-week-long fantasy literature for credit (through Loyalist College and Ontario Learn online, 15 years). She has also taught fantasy writing at the college level.

Kathryn enjoys traveling, sailing, hiking, photography, and sketching. Born in Southwestern Ontario, Kathryn has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and rural Eastern Ontario. Her home is now in Belleville on the Bay of Quinte. Kathryn holds a B.A. from the University of Windsor and an MPA from Queen’s University, Kingston.

For information about these topics and to discuss others, please contact Kathryn…

email: whiteoakstudio21@gmail.com

Writing Character: Overview

This is Part 2 of the “Writing Your Passion” workshops offered this fall (2017) at the Belleville Public Library. Writing Character follows Writing Place — each workshop facilitated over four weeks (scroll down for dates and prices). During both workshops our focus is on the important connection between place-character-action.

When characters come alive on the page, magic happens – characters become people brought to life by writers’ skills and their art. In “Writing Character,” participants will explore the link between place-character-action. With the help of literary techniques, participants will create characters that “fit” naturally into their stories’ settings. Whether you are a beginning writer or advanced, interested in memoir, fiction or another genre, this workshop will provide skills that will lift your stories – and the people who inhabit them – to the next level.

The overview:

Writing Character -Overview

 

If you’d like to get more out of the places of your stories. Think about joining me at the Belleville Public Library. Time is short: sign up now ((613-968-6731 Ext #2239) or drop in at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, Ontario K8N 3B1.

Writing Place: Overview page

For four days, we’ll talk and write place.

Wtg Place - Overview

If you’d like to get more out of the places of your stories. Think about joining me at the Belleville Public Library. Time is short: sign up now ((613-968-6731 Ext #2239) or drop in at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, Ontario K8N 3B1.