July 1st

Looking for images of people and places to help me get into the lives of my characters, I realised that I must be a visual type of person. So I gathered together a virtual scrapbook of images which I have used to help. People, places and objects have helped me to create for myself a believable universe in which the characters can breathe. Some of my character inspirations have come from historical figures, whilst others came straight out of my imagination. Here we are

June 29th

Rules for Writing Again. The Point of View question.

I prefer to write in the past tense using a third person narrator. But I enjoy reading first person narratives. My recollection of reading and marking children’s creative writing is that they like the present tense too. But the problem is maintaining it. I think that this is where the short story format is useful. You can commit yourself to a particular point of view, for a short exercise, and if you don’t like it, you can ditch it / revise it / put to one side for as long as you like. I know that is true for any piece, but the novel is such a huge commitment that I don’t want to get it wrong as a new creator.

Of course the limitations of first person narratives are well known. When I was considering the question for my historical novel, I concluded that despite its sense of immediacy, there would have to be places where a careful digression was needed to explain the hero’s circumstances and the context of the action. Perhaps that would undo all the advantage of pace and character which I hoped to gain. So I could either 1. rely on the reader of a historical novel to have a sense of the past, 2. use what Ridley Scott called ‘Irving the Explainer’, as famously used in the voiceover version of Blade Runner, or 3. find some other way of doing it. I’m currently practising the ‘some other way’…………

June 26th

My paperback copy has come. It is smooth and pristine, just as I like my books. And this one, of course is particularly special. I think it vindicates my choices; size, paper, font. I loves books, real books.

But now that the lockdown is easing, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put my own text on the page. A short story I am writing has already taken me a couple of weeks, yet when I wrote the novel, it was 1000 words every day. The rhythm of the pace suited me, and I was fairly consistent. Now, though, I’m lucky if I can find the time to do a couple of hundred, even on a new laptop!

On the plus side, the characters in the short story are beginning to seem like they are real people, and that was a feeling I got from the previous experience. So even though they are from a past era, and make bad decisions based on values which I don’t necessarily share, I love them anyway. In fact, it is the decisions and values that make them interesting to me. I should like to collect a group of stories together as my next project, but it may take quite a while to complete. Taster of the above to come…….

June 22nd

So, believe it or not, and I can hardly believe it myself (though I sat through it) I created my first novel on a tablet, using a notes program. 62,000 words, using a small virtual keyboard and a ten inch screen. It wasn’t pretty. Transferring the manuscript via email, chapter by painful chapter did nothing for my patience, and added to the problem was the fact that the program on the tablet was very limited. It had no spelling or grammar checker and no dictionary. So constantly minimising and maximising the screen I was working on became the norm. The one plus was that I could work on it anywhere – any room in the house, and out and about, when the mood took. Oh, and when I got really fed up, a scrabble app beckoned, offering a cut-throat contest between me and my son-in-law.

But in the end common sense prevailed and I had to invest in a sleek new laptop, with a real keyboard and a decent sized screen. And it’s fast. Boy is it fast! So now I can see the whole screen at once as I write, including amazingly, things written two hundred words ago. I have even discovered that with some programs that I thought I was very familiar with, there are features which I did not even know existed before now! I can even save documents, secure in the knowledge that there will be enough space for them as well as photos, posts and email. Am I a proper writer now?

Please welcome me to the 21st century!

June 21st

Been busy designing cover images today. I don’t know if I prefer this to the mask I used a few days ago (June 15th). Perhaps it’s more subtle……..I hadn’t spent too much time before now considering book covers, and I’m not going to buy one in. I’d be interested to hear view on the subject, and my choices. Meanwhile getting to grips with the various apps available is yet another good way to spend time when I’m stuck. Ho hum.

Here’s another thing. Do I dare to define my writing as Literature (with a capital L) or is it fiction (historical romance)? even the size of the novel -6 x9 or something else, is exercising me. So many decisions, and because I am so new to this game, I don’t know whether such decisions are crucial or make little difference. I know it is what lies between the covers that counts, but getting people to open them in the first place is surely key. The trials and tribulations of a first time novelist (historical/romance/ general fiction?).

June 18th

I’m fretting about grammar. No one warned me that the first comments I would receive about my novel (outside family and friends) would come from a grammar quibbler.

Yet the first feedback I have had about it comments that I have used American English spelling by using -ize. All I can say is that when I went to school in the UK, admittedly hundreds of years ago, that is what we were taught.

I have a physical copy of the Oxford Compact English Dictionary (1996) which has the following:

realize (also realise) and organize (also organise). It was printed in Oxford by the OUP.

So I pursued it further, and discovered that the internet is full of the -ize questions, and the answers are contradictory. I only put this out there because I’m now beginning to doubt myself. I could change each example I have used if I’m completely wrong. Or perhaps it doesn’t matter and as the dictionary suggests, they are interchangeable in certain cases. I’ve also just read Jeremy Butterfield’s blog on the subject with fond reference to the old curmudgeon Inspector Morse, and I’m still not sure. Perhaps it is not a question on which I should expend too much energy. Oh well, back to 1721 again.

June 17th

I’m wrestling with a character today, so this piece comes as a welcome relief. Some days the text seems to write itself, quick and effortless, whereas on days like these, I struggle to breathe life into these beings. Miss Sophia Pocock, native of Amersham in Bucks doesn’t want to behave, and resists all my efforts to tell her story. I’ll just need to leave it alone for a while and hope that she will come around.

In the meantime, I’m looking at the tons and tons of advice available out there and I’ve enjoyed reading about characters and costume. We all invent our public selves through our clothes and accessories in real life, don’t we? And the notion that you can convey ideas about someone in writing which has psychological truth, yet isn’t limited to their interior monologue, is a useful one.

Take the van Loo portrait here. What does it tell me about the woman? The pearls draw your eye. Worn simply, they dazzle with their sheer size. The status and wealth of the sitter are important features of the character, whether the jewels are real or fake. And the simplicity of the hair decoration tells a tale: ‘I don’t need to wear any other jewellery; I have taste and discernment.’ The implications conveyed by the accessories match the steady, confidence of the sitter’s gaze. A gorgeous picture.

And the inspiration returns. So I’m off back to 1721.

June 15th

My mini marketing strategy has given me the chance to give away some electronic copies of my new novel. I’m hoping that people will like it enough to read it again, share the details etc etc. If not, I’ll just stick to chewing my own brain, and writing for my own entertainment. Today’s notes (in Diamine Blue Lightning ink) record the numbers downloaded – across 5 countries in all. Perhaps I can say that it is international in appeal, although not yet an international bestseller!

I’m currently working on an anthology of science fiction stories, have completed two of them, and planned some others. The ‘what if’ questions come at me thick and fast; that’s the easy bit. I’m also working on another short story set in the 18th century, like my novel. Drop me a message if you’d like to read it when it’s finished. The cover so far….

June 13th

ARTISTS AND SPIES: a novel

Last Friday I managed to finally publish my debut novel. I went down the independent route and it has been quite a straightforward process. And I’ve learnt a lot along the way, about layout and covers, as well as about the discipline of self-editing. It’s certainly not like marking essays or exam papers, and I wouldn’t want to do it for a living.

I much prefer the creative writing part of the process, as I suppose you’d expect, but even so, it’s still satisfying to see this thing in print in front of you, and know that it is all your own. So continuing the theme of self help, I’m now self promoting. If you would like to see my Pinterest board called ‘Artists and Spies Visualised’, you will get a flavour of the people and places mentioned in the novel, as well as seeing some images of significant objects which appear in its pages. After that, I’d be very happy if you would like to download a copy of the novel for your kindle/ e-reader available on Amazon, free until Sunday afternoon. Enjoy.

7th June

My Rules for Writing.

I have read many words of advice about where to start, and that first rule, ‘Always write about what you know’ seemed to be a good place. So what did I know? At the start, not much, not enough. I was worried that I would never write something of a serious length before running out of ideas and inspiration. So I just kept reading.

In ‘About’ I’ve written about what started me off on my quest to be a writer. So if I’m going to blame anyone, it will have to be Hyacinthe Rigaud, painter to Louis XlV, and eponymous hero of the museum in Perpignan, France. And at the start, I knew very little about him. Three years ago, I had seen a flyer for the museum in a hotel lobby, and he stared out at me from the artwork. I hoped to visit one day, and then got the opportunity in January 2020.

After the visit, I knew what I wanted to write about, but I also knew I had to find out more. It wasn’t that easy, given that some of the sources were written in French, and others were lengthy. In any event, by the time I had read everything I could get my hands on, I had the inkling of an idea. I didn’t want to do a life story – that had been covered already. I wanted to write fiction, a novel which used Rigaud’s history as a start. After that, I would take up a group of characters and go with them.

Along the way, I discovered that there are all sorts of ways to put off writing. For a start I am a big fan of fountain pens and inks, so despite the fact that I knew I was going to write on a computer, I waited until a new notebook (hardback, squared paper, pen loop, pocket at the back) arrived. Then I could transfer notes on scrappy pieces of paper into this lovely thing, and be organised. The notebook – a glorious thing to write in with my Sailor Pro Gear Slim. The pen makes you work hard to write a beautiful script. But I eventually knuckled down and wrote, and wrote. Then I walked away from it for weeks, and did other things.

I read somewhere quite recently that what I did was actually the best thing I could have done. So phew.

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