Blogs

These are a selection of Megan's topic blogs - for more go to  http://www.meganjohns.blogspot.com

Reviews and Forgiveness
http://bit.ly/bFbi6q
I am still reeling from shock, having recently discovered a one star review on Amazon for one of my best loved authors. Yet, surely, one might argue, everybody is entitled to their opinion. In essence, that is what a review is – an opinion – and therefore one must expect differences.
Perception, as we know, is influenced by preconceived ideas and, as humans, our understanding of anything will be influenced by the inherent bias of our previous learning and experience. We will all approach things with our own unique mindsets and one person’s truth or reality will be different from another’s.
I am reminded at this point of a friend’s story of her visit to the ancient ruins of Olympia, where she was aghast at the comments of some tourists complaining that the Temple of Zeus was ‘just a heap of rubble’. As one of the largest temples in Greece, Zeus was amongst the most renowned architecturally, and our brains tell us that the comments are a travesty. Or are they? What is the reality?
We are told that a person creates his or her own reality so, by definition, even reality is subjective. For example, bees see colours that we cannot, so their reality is totally different. The colours do exist, they are real, but we do not see them. Our reality, therefore, is subjective because it is all we can experience.
Subjective reality is how we perceive and interpret the world around us, what we believe to be true, which is not always the full picture because of our own capabilities. A scientist will argue that reality is the state of things as they really exist rather than as they may appear or ought to be. This objective reality is what is measurably and incontrovertibly true, as with specific, proven scientific knowledge.

My daughter and her scientific friends have recently been debating this point:
'If I look at a flower and see white petals with no pattering, because I am physically unable to see the UV markings, then as far as my ability to perceive it goes, the reality is that the flower is plain white. But you can prove that it is patterned, and enable me to see these patterns. So in the objective reality, the flower is patterned. But take away my ability to see UV again and even though I now know this, I will still see the flower as plain white and struggle to believe something that contradicts what I see (I'm separating knowing and believing).'

'The white flower is part of an internal (subjective) reality created by the human mind, and the patterned flower is an external (objective) reality. We cannot can say that the internal reality is wrong/false/not the true reality because if it's all we are capable of seeing, then it must be reality on that level. So the flower is plain, but it is also patterned. Both realities exist and are real/true. Which one you experience depends on how you look at the flower.'

As a lay person, I reserve the right to question the premise of scientific incontrovertible reality, given that scientists do change their minds as soon as another new discovery discredits the last.
More importantly, however, is to ask of what relevance this is to us as authors? Can or should we regard our own interpretation of our work to be the definitive truth? Are the perceptions of others that vary from this viewpoint essentially corruptions?
I have heard fellow authors comment that reviewers have read things into their work that they did not know was there. Indeed, this has happened to me, yet I could see where the person was coming from and, although an unintended by-product, the angle was perfectly valid. The problems arise when we cannot accept the other viewpoint.
Yet, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that we are all different. Surely we thrive on diversity, on the exchange of different viewpoints? It is the very basis of a democratic society.
So, in this spirit of understanding, can I forgive the Amazon reviewer who awarded one star to my favourite author? One measly, stingy, miserly star? I am afraid not. It is, and will always remain, a total and incontrovertible
injustice.

GUEST BLOG: MEGAN JOHNS  http://lasrguest.blogspot.com/search/label/Megan%20Johns 

SETTINGS

The question of what comes first, character or plot is often posed. However, for me, settings are just as, if not more, important.

I start with a pen portrait of my characters, but putting them in a particular environment really helps to stimulate my imagination so that I can develop them more fully. Setting defines the context within which the characters behave and creates an instant atmosphere. The culture, the scenery, the architecture, the people, the climate all play their part in building a mood, influencing what the characters do and hence plot.

For example, imagine a scene set in wild, rugged countryside and one set in Venice. Both are romantic , but the atmospheres they evoke are totally different and the way characters behave will differ accordingly.

I tend to write about places that I know and with which I feel a strong emotional attachment. If I can visualise a place, feel it around me, absorb its ambience, then put my characters there, it seems to kickstart my imagination and the plot follows.

In The Path of Innocence I used London suburbia, East Anglia and St Andrews in Scotland as the settings. The suburbs of London are neither sexy nor romantic, yet the very ordinariness serves a purpose in painting a portrait of a heroine with strong, parochial family values. It also sharpens the contrast with the hero who comes from an inherently more enigmatic, rural area with chocolate-box villages and large country estates. The setting of Fiona’s small, cosy suburban house compared to Roger’s large, cold, country manor fills in a lot of unspoken information about the background of the characters and we instantly know that one is the antithesis of each other.

Scotland is more readily identifiable as a romantic setting and this description of Crail Harbour taken from The Path of Innocence is the perfect setting for falling in love:

She listened to the soothing sounds of waves lapping gently against the old stone harbour walls extending like protective arms around a cluster of small fishing boats, and she swallowed a deep lungful of air so fresh that you could taste its purity. Squinting against the sunshine, now brilliant in the clear, blue sky, her gaze spun over the red-roofed cottages which crowded down to the water’s edge, some whitewashed, others the warm, natural shades of sandstone, grey flints, green and blues, all huddled together in a kaleidoscope of colours.

I do not generally write long descriptions and often a few details might be enough to give the reader a flavour of the scene, but in my mind I will have a very clear picture of where they are at.

Some places, like Italy, which happens to be the setting for my work in progress, are inherently romantic. Others that have inspired me to write include Normandy in France and Snowdonia in Wales, the former possessing a quiet charm and a certain sense of timelessness, whereas the latter with its wild, rugged mountains and fast running rivers provides a more dramatic backdrop. What happens and how the characters behave is influenced greatly by where they are.

ROMANTIC PLACES http://bit.ly/bV0COB

 Having recently blogged about the importance of settings in creative writing, I would like to share one of my personally favourite romantic places.

As a lover of mountains and open spaces, Austria with its cable cars and rack and pinion railways, its musical associations with the Sound of Music and Mozart, is a firm favourite. However, a lesser-known gem is its southernmost province, Carinthia, offering a more tranquil setting with the added benefit of plenty of sunshine.

This is a province of over a thousand lakes, of which the largest is Lake Worthersee at 17 km long. The water here is reputedly so clean that you can drink it and, at summer temperatures of 25 C, as warm as a tepid bath. To simply find a shady spot and sit gazing over the expanse of water glistening like a blue-green diamond is so mentally restoring. Every now and then, a splash will confirm a body plunging into the water for a cooling swim, an occasional water-skier might flash past, or a rowing boat drift languidly by, and above it all the horn of the lake steamer intermittently cuts though the air like a trumpet fanfare. A feeling of serenity lifts you to a different plane as you absorb the atmosphere and sense all your cares tangibly ebb away.

The lake became a favoured summer retreat for Austria’s aristocracy in the 19th century and it still attracts the rich and famous with some exclusive hotels and romantic lake villas. However, my preference is to stay in a landhaus in a slightly elevated position which affords beautiful views over the landscape on balmy summer evenings. Eating out on a flower-bedecked terrace, gazing across the lake towards the floodlit Gothic church at Maria Worth nestling on its peninsula, is a magical sight renowned for inspiring many composers by virtue of its sheer beauty. Small wonder that couples from all over the world travel here to get married.  The distant backdrop of mountains form a spectral outline and, to the north, the resorts of Velden and Portschach glitter like jewels, although their promise of night life holds little temptation when there are such riches here.

The continental climate translates into a Mediterranean atmosphere - very friendly, welcoming people and excellent cuisine, essentially rich and flavoursome, yet also mild. A typical meal in the landhaus might be mushroom soup with cream and herbs followed by melt-in-the-mouth roast veal with a side buffet and then perhaps a bilberry dessert. Pleasantly replete, guests sip after-dinner coffees on the terrace and the gentle hum of their voices melts into the soft background sounds of a folk music CD . A few children might play on the grass then, as night falls, disappear indoors to play a board game. Some couples might drift away, perhaps to bed, or maybe to take a boat to a night club or the casino. Others, like us, remain to sit beneath the stars and drink in the intoxicating alpine air. There is an almost ethereal quality which is perfect for the melding of souls.

All around the province are mountains offering a dramatic contrast, notably Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, and the old city of Klagenfurt offers many cultural attractions, with its beautifully restored Renaissance buildings and their charming arcaded courtyards that provide an esoteric setting in which to enjoy the mandatory kaffee und kuchen                                                                                                                                                                                  

ALPHA vs. BETA ROMANCE HEROES

The stereotypical alpha male thrives as a romance hero, despite (or possibly because of) the progress in society towards more equal relationships.

Alpha males are typically portrayed as wealthy, confident, natural leaders, physically strong, good looking and able to have any female they desire. However, cross them and they can become aggressive, they may be difficult and unreasonably demanding, uncompromising and, of course, unfaithful.

Beta males, on the other hand, although less confident around women and unlikely to become heartthrobs, may make better long-term partners as they tend to be more considerate and respectful. Some commentators argue that betas lack the backbone to confront conflict, yet Roger, the hero in my contemporary romance ‘The Path of Innocence’, is a quiet sensitive type who shows himself to have core strength, whereas his father, an alpha, has some very unattractive traits.

Here they are during a confrontation when Roger shows himself to be far from spineless:

“I shall be returning to London this afternoon,” Roger’s father informed him matter-of-factly. “You may stay here for the rest of the school break if you wish. There should be few distractions to interfere with your studies. Mrs. Mulwell will remain for one more month, until I or your grandmother has appointed another housekeeper.” Brusquely, he pushed a cheque at him, although he didn’t let go. “An allowance. But I expect your commitment to exam success in return.”

Roger eyed the cheque and snatched it from the hand with a dry, ‘thank you’, although the thought of being bought off sickened him. Inwardly bridling, he watched his father gather a bundle of papers and tap them four-square into a neat pile.

“Of course, I would have wished for any son of mine to go to Oxbridge, but as it is…”

Contemptuously, Roger stuffed the cheque into his pocket before his feelings got the better of him, and concentrating hard on maintaining an even tone, he piped up, “Can I ask a question?”

Edward Rolfe did a quick double-take and glanced at his watch.

“What happened to Mother’s personal things?” Roger continued, undeterred. “There doesn’t appear to be one item of her belongings left.”

His father glared irascibly. “What are you talking about, boy? Your mother is dead.”

“Yes, wiped off the edge of the earth without trace, it would appear.”

“I’ve no time for this sort of nonsense.” He slammed down the lid of his briefcase. “Pull yourself together and grow up. And those are my final words.” Clicking the locks into place, he stood up to tower over his son. “If you haven’t got anything constructive to say, you might as well leave.”

“Yes, I’ll go.” Loathing oozed from every pore in Roger’s body and his voice faltered tellingly. “And leave you to get on with your affairs.”

“You have many lessons to learn; not least that business must take priority if you are to succeed.” His father made to brush past him, then he stopped in his track as Roger retorted acidly, “Oh, I didn’t mean business affairs.”

Turning around sharply, Edward Rolfe glowered at his son, but Roger met the menacing stare levelly.

“Just get out of my sight!”

“Yes, I expect you’d like that. I daresay my nuisance value is as tiresome as Mother’s always was. You never cared about her either. You were only interested in your own selfish gratification. And you certainly don’t care about your so-called friends. I wonder what George would think of you if he knew you were bedding his wife?”

Roger watched as his father’s normally inscrutable veneer contorted into an explosion of wrath and, glaring darkly, Edward Rolfe raised a hand, and then slapped it hard across his son’s face.

The force of the impact stung, but ignoring the pain, Roger did not even twitch a muscle and he stared back in defiance, knowing that the bitterness that had festered for so long had, in that instant, turned into pure hatred and there was no going back.


Roger’s father is a powerful businessman with  easy authority and sexual magnetism, but he is also selfish and cruel towards his own family, exercising  a negative power which is suppressive and weakening and, as the novel progresses, we see the catastrophic consequences of his vindictive actions when things do not go his way.

It may be true that an alpha  is more likely to set a woman’s pulse racing from the outset and perhaps fictional aphas do fulfil a fantasy reflecting  women’s instinctive, deep-rooted needs which have been suppressed by modern society. Maybe, somewhere deep in our psyche, we all secretly hanker for “bad boys”.

However, for me, true romance is about relationships based on shared experiences, difficulties overcome, tenderness, understanding and respect - in essence, beta qualities.

So which of the two stereotypes makes for the best romance hero?

I would suggest that heroes do not have to be complete alphas or complete betas, but instead they might be amalgamations of all qualities.  Perhaps, like us, our heroes are too complex to be pigeonholed.


PEOPLE WATCHING

 

This weekend, I happened to take a train journey into London and, as ever, I found myself fascinated by my fellow passengers.

Opposite me, sat a young woman, probably early twenties, wearing a baby doll dress (or so we called them in the 60s!) made from a busy, intricate, floral-printed, cotton fabric. The dress had a scoop neckline to reveal the slightest hint of cleavage and it ended at her upper thighs, showing off the full extent of long legs covered by black ribbed tights. The legs themselves were not those of a model, being rather plump at their upper reaches, but their very length made them imposing and eye-catching. Around her neck, she wore a string of huge fake pearl beads and on the index finger of her right hand was a large cosmetic pearl ring. Her mid-brown shoulder-length hair was worn loose and shone like spun silk. On her feet, was a pair of silver slipper-pumps which matched a fashionably enormous silver-coloured bag. Her face bore no make-up, but her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark-framed glasses, which bestowed an air of gravitas.

The look was not glamorous, but it might be considered chic in an individualistic way, with a definite hint of flamboyance. I wondered briefly about her social class, as it was the sort of look that somebody very confident of their status might choose without the need to worry about fitting into social norms.

In her hands was a book – the biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – in which she was totally engrossed. Was she, I wondered, a royalist or an historian maybe? She certainly looked intelligent. Yet, to draw such conclusions in view of the widespread popularity of the Queen Mother would be spurious.

However, there was something about the girl’s demeanour that conveyed an air of emotional stability, of deep-rooted confidence and calm authority. It was as though she was impervious to the world around her, lost in her own private space, unfazed and happily contented within her own skin. The comfortable way in which she was sitting with her long legs crossed so that they extended sideways to render the adjacent seat uninhabitable spoke volumes in itself. Indeed, passengers joining at intermediate stations chose to stand rather than disturb her, although their whispered mumblings did not escape my attention.

Despite this aura, I sensed that the girl was inherently reserved, serious and thoughtful, essentially an introvert with shades of extroversion.

However, when she looked up momentarily from her book to gaze into the middle distance, I saw the eyes behind the glasses and a whole new dimension to her character opened up. The glint in them spoke of energy, of wit, of flirtation and I mentally whipped the glasses away to find myself staring at Miss Moneypenny. Suddenly, I could visualise her teasing, sparring, flirting with a partner, desire burning within her just as with Moneypenny for Bond. She was a slow-burner, I decided, although there would be no holding back once the flames of passion had been ignited.

Why was she on this train, I wondered? It was late Sunday afternoon and I was heading out of London now on a train bound for the east coast. Had she had a rendezvous with a man, maybe?

Of course, all my assumptions were based on visual clues in the absence of any auditory information, which might easily have altered my perceptions yet again. However, it illustrates how we form opinions based on the minimum of information and, having seized on a few traits, we will then ascribe others according to our belief systems of character traits that tend to accompany each other.

The relevance of this to a writer, of course, is that we can convey a lot to the reader by the judicious use of a few carefully chosen words.

Incidentally, before my journey ended, I noticed another girl of a similar age, on the other side of the aisle. Her dress code was designed to blend in – jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt – whilst her hair was tied at the nape of her neck, neatly, but unfussily. She, too, was engrossed in a book – Eat, Pray and Love – an interesting choice of reading. However, with no time to dally, lest I should miss my stop, I am afraid I had to leave that one an unsolved mystery.


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