- Useful People and Real People
I have lots of friends who are ‘useful’ people, people with actual skills such as nurses, engineers, teachers, farmers. People who can grow food or build things or mend bodies. The kind of people, for example, you’d need if you were starting a new civilization or stranded on a desert island.
As a writer I’ve always felt a bit in awe of these people. My skills are negligible by comparison. I remember once rushing my child round to the house of a nurse friend for first aid, and I felt rather inadequate. What could I do in an emergency? Draft a carefully crafted letter to the emergency services? Critique the road signs on the way to the hospital?
But I’ve been a bit poorly lately and it’s given me a chance to reconsider the value of artists in society. The nursing and medical staff I’ve encountered lately have been absolutely wonderful. But I’ve spent a lot of time waiting around to see various medical personages and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms and corridors, and whilst waiting and worrying, I’ve read.
It’s been a huge relief to escape into some fictional place where a bunch of fictional people deal with fictional situations and events. In the last two weeks, I’ve read seven novels and two short stories. I have absolutely consumed them. The respite from my own problems has been wonderful.
At the moment, it’s as if my eyes have been opened to those around me. I see people on their own immersed in books in every waiting room, reception area, coffee shop and side-ward.
Critics often say inadequate people turn to books for missing glamour and excitement in their lives. There’s so much more to it than that, although I don’t see the problem with wanting to escape from stress, boredom, anxiety and loneliness into a world of Regency romance, village-based whodunits or slick and sassy chick-lit. To get away, even for a moment from the numbing sensations of worry and what-ifs, is such a consolation.
I’m not claiming status or any kind of kudos for myself or my books. It’s just that, in this Indie world of marketing strategies, click-throughs, keywords, promos, seo, rankings and blurbs, maybe it’s time for us to remember that there is not merely an ‘end-user’, there is a person—a real, live, human person with a real human life—who just needs to take a break from what can sometimes be a harsh life, and it is that person who reads the words we write.
- Paper Love
This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the therapeutic🙂 qualities of stationery. You might remember not so long ago I was quite excited about a new notebook. (That one’s full now btw!)
What is it about notebooks, pens, sticky-notes and highlighters that is so exciting? Don’t try and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about–I know I’m not the only one. The stationery aisle in the supermarket is always my first call and I spend hours trawling through stationery stores in town, even when I don’t need anything.
Is it a throw-back to our school days, when at the beginning of autumn–for those of us in the northern hemisphere–we used to get all our new bits and pieces in readiness for the new school year? Remember how the first page of a new notebook always had to be perfect? Your neatest writing, no mistakes, or crossings out or red pen from the teacher? Or, leading on from that, is it a sense of starting over, a clean slate, albeit a paper one, neatly ruled and bound with a pretty cover? A sense of new possibilities?
Possibly we just love having all the tools we need to marshal our ideas onto the page, and feel that these items bring a sense of order and readiness to our endeavours. We feel prepared and able to achieve our goals.
It’s not that I’m materialistic, I don’t buy everything in sight. Sometimes I don’t need anything, so I just go window-shopping. Having fun.
I like to have a set of A5 80 to 100 page notebooks when I’m working on a new book. It helps me to locate the right ones if they’re all the same colour, the covers work as a kind of code for each project. And for the first draft of a novel, I need about five of those. I also like the ones with a card cover, so I can write on the front of the book the working title and the volume number of the notebook. To avoid rummaging on my messy desk for a scrap of paper with a vital note on it, I often print up notes from the Evernote app on my Kindle, or I print up lists of characters and I can staple these inside the front cover to refer to when writing. I still do most of my initial draft on paper before I move to the computer.
In some ways then, the lure of stationery is inexplicable but it is important to me. Paper seems so much more ‘alive’ than an electronic document. I couldn’t be without my notebooks and stickies.
- Author Interview with children’s author Emily A Steward
It’s been a while since I last interviewed an author on here, but today I’m excited to be joined by author Emily A Steward who has just released her new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure.
Emily, welcome and congratulations on your new book release. Shall we jump right in with the questions?
Q1. What kind of books do you write? When do you feel you went from aspiring writer to writer, and how did it feel?
I write primarily middle grade fiction. Fantasy is where I am comfortable, but I also recently finished the first draft of a middle grade mystery/horror novel.
As for the second part of the question, I think I finally felt like a writer when I got my first rejection letter from an agent. Instead of being discouraged, I felt elated. All authors experience rejection to some degree. I felt like once I’d been rejected, I’d officially joined the club.
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked books with a dash of humor and spooky or magical elements. Some of my favorites have a little of all three.
As a really young child I enjoyed the Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer. When I got a little older, I loved The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and books by Betty Ren Wright, Ruth Chew, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine. I’d like to think that some of these early influences helped shape my writing today, even if just a little.
Q3. What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m in the editing stages of my middle grade mystery/horror novel. It’s about three siblings staying in an old abandoned mansion while looking for clues to solve their parent’s disappearance. All sorts of creepy and unusual things happen to them, leading up to an intense showdown between the children and… Well you’ll have to read it to see! It was really fun to write and I actually scared myself a few times while writing it. I am really excited to see it coming together.
Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
I just started writing the next book in the series to my new release Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. I’m pretty pumped to share with everyone where their adventure leads next.
I’m also stepping out of my comfort zone and writing a middle grade realistic fiction along the lines of a more contemporary Harriet the Spy.
Q5. Who are your favourite authors?
I really like J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Lemony Snicket, Lewis Carroll, and L.M. Montgomery. My all-time favorite author would have to be Roald Dahl. He is so imaginative and I love his characters and the quirky sense of humor in his books.
Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?
I’d like to say something cool here, like doing fancy things with fancy people. Honestly? Most of my time is spent running after my three girls. They are pretty great, but they’re not very fancy. They are… what is the opposite of fancy? I’ll say blancy (I can create words because I’m a writer you know). They all keep me pretty busy, but we also have lots of great adventures.
I’m also constantly trying to conquer the laundry creature who lives in our home and somehow creates double the dirty laundry we actually wear, and the dish demon who laughs when I think I’ve beaten him, only to attack me viciously and without mercy the very next day.
Q7. What is your writing process?
My process begins with major brainstorming. Most of my writing isn’t on the page but in my head. I brainstorm best when I’m in the shower or out jogging with my husband shooting ideas off him. He has some great input! He is the smartest person I know. He is like really buff and can bench like 600 pounds. Also, he told me to write those last two sentences.
When I finally sit down to write, I like to stare at the screen for about ten minutes hoping something brilliant will leap on to the page. When that doesn’t happen, I write a few sentences, delete them, then repeat the process till hopefully I’ve written more than I’ve deleted. Some days I write a chapter or even two. Other days I’m lucky to get a paragraph. I try not to worry about daily word counts. As long as I’m making progress, I consider the day a success.
Emily, thank you so much for coming along and talking to me today. I will definitely look out for your books, and wish you lots of success with the new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. Here is a short ‘teaser’ extract from the book:
“Come on!” she yelled to Haldor who was wriggling out from under the spider corpse. She ran to the spot where she saw the creature enter as Haldor hurried to catch up. She scrambled through the brush until she came to a stream. There she saw the spider. He was across the water under a large tree.
Above him were several objects swinging in the breeze. It took her a moment to realize that they were rotting bodies strung up by their necks. Their unseeing eyes stared eerily into the darkness. Upon closer inspection, she saw that there were at least thirty of them. She wretched silently as she tried to think of a way for Crane to not become one of them. The spider was already trying to wrap a strand of webbing around his neck.
A thought occurred to her. An outrageous, outlandish thought. I can do this, she assured herself. She tried to picture every last detail of her slain foe—every creepy crawling, hairy, shiny detail. Penny could feel the energy pulsing through her. Her hands were no longer her own. Her teeth had become fangs, and her eyes were the eyes of a killer.
Emily Steward spent the better part of her childhood dressed as a ninja and trying to convince others to call her ‘Ace.’ When she wasn’t saving the world from evil samurai, she could usually be found in the branches of a tree reading a good book. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three daughters, and dog Bentley. Though she seldom dresses as a ninja now, her adventurous spirit remains as does her love of tree climbing and reading good books.
Social media links:
Where to buy Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure:
- The needs of the one outweighs the system of the many.
Establishing a writing routine has taken me years. And years. And it’s still a bit shaky. But I’m going to keep at it and work on it because it is a great booster to my productivity and I feel good about it.
Years ago, I read in several different books about ‘morning pages’ and I tried to implement that kind of writing. The idea is, you wake in the morning and immediately begin to write before the rude outside world has a chance to impinge on your subconscious and stifle creative impulses.
This didn’t work for me on a number of levels, not least being, I’m not a morning person and would usually just fall asleep again. Once I woke to find myself still holding my alarm clock, and found that all the wonderfully creative, insightful things I’d written were just a dream I had – the page was still blank! A few times I achieved some writing, but mainly it consisted of ‘I want to go to sleep’, or a completely illegible scrawl, or was a meandering, unfocused stream-of-consciousness waffle that would have had Virginia Woolf throwing up her hands in horror.
So that didn’t work for me.
It’s taken a long time but now I’ve realised I don’t have to do things the way other people say I should. I don’t work well with instructions. I never follow recipes, can’t stick to knitting or sewing patterns, and don’t understand formulas. I have to find my own way to achieve what others do by following guidance.
If you’re like that, you can do this too. If a system fails to help you, it’s not a sign that you are no good, it’s a sign that you need a new system.
I started slowly, from what I wanted to achieve right then and there. I’m a night person and I do my best thinking when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed. So that’s when I write.
Instead of morning pages written when still in the borderlands between sleeping and waking, I have learned to achieve a deep relaxation, a kind of meditation, and I write random stuff then. I have found that this is quite easy to achieve with practice.
But I also do brainstorming activities with spider-web-like diagrams to work out problems or new approaches to a piece of writing.
Writing a journal helps me to ask myself questions, get things off my chest and examine, often over a long period of years, how I feel about my work in general or a specific piece of writing. I’ve just had a new idea about a book I wrote three years ago, and also thought of something to help with the plot of a book I wrote in 1996.
And my normal routine of weekly grocery shopping gives me half an hour or so in a café away from the house with a nice cup of coffee and my notebook, to write the blog post of that week – something I used to really struggle to get done.
So if you’re not in favour of the cookie-cutter writing system, start with what works for you and don’t apologise to yourself or anyone else, if that ‘failsafe’ system everyone espouses doesn’t work for you.
You’re unique, not like everyone else, and you need a writing method that works for you, for your individual needs. If it gets you writing, it must be working.
- Know your stuff – for historical writing
Huge numbers of people still love to read fiction set in the past. Consequently, many modern authors seek to write works set in bygone eras. The first thing you notice when you read books written by Jane Austen for example, is the difference in language. If I compare a contemporary novel to Pride and Prejudice, for example, then yes, clearly they are both written in the same language, and use hundreds, if not thousands, of the same words. But they don’t always use them in the same way.
Language is a living thing, and it changes and evolves, just like us. Our attitudes change, and as the years go by, we learn, we develop, we change. And as we change, the language we use also changes.
For a writer it can be difficult to find the right words to express what you want to say. If your writing is set in the past it can be really tough. You want your prose to read like it could have been written by Austen, but you don’t want it to be dull, dense or overly complicated for twenty-first century readers who are less used to reading a style full of long sentences and descriptive passages.
My advice is, keep it simple. Write in a slightly more formal, grammatically correct style than you usually do, but don’t overdo it. Keep your sentence structure modern in the sense of being shorter, clearer and to the point, and avoid being too ‘wordy’. Then examine your writing for modern phrases and sayings, or modern concepts and allusions that have sneaked into your work. Make sure your work is carefully positioned in the world you are writing about. Don’t use words, phrases and ideas that would have been alien to your chosen era. To use Jane Austen again to illustrate an example, don’t refer to objects and things as stuff; stuff was another word for fabric or material. Many words have changed their meaning so make sure you use language consciously.
If you’re not sure about something, and research and interest groups haven’t helped you, then my suggestion would be to leave it out if you possibly can. Never underestimate the knowledge of your reader – if you have introduced an anachronism – something from the wrong time period – you can bet your reader will notice!
For research and guidance, check out these sites:
A glossary of Regency terms: http://www.linoreburkard.com/resources_glossary.html#t
The London season: http://www.logicmgmt.com/1876/season.htm
A great writing blog: https://maggiemackeever.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/writing-regency/
An introduction to the world of Jane Austen’s novels: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/jane-austens-language/
- Night and Day now available for Kindle pre-order
Night and Day is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon for Kindle ebooks by clicking on the links: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca at a price of $2.99/£2.31/CDN$3.87. It will also be available from other Amazon international outlets and through Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.
This is the title of my new book, introducing a new 1930s mystery series with a new female amateur detective, Dottie Manderson. The Kindle ebook will be released on 27th October 2016 on Amazon for Kindle ebook, and a week or so later for the paperback and other ebook versions such as Nook, iPad, mobi, pdf and word doc, with the second book of the series The Mantle of God appearing in spring of 2017, and book three, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish coming out in the autumn of 2017.
If you’d like to read the opening chapter, you can read it here.
A huge thank you to everyone for their encouragement and support.
- Announcing my new murder mystery series…
I’ve been writing the first book and half of the second book of a new series this year. Book One is due out this autumn, and will be called – more or less – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery. It’s set in London in the winter of 1932/3. Dottie is a young woman, single, and although from a fairly well-to-do background, also works as a mannequin–these days we would call her a model–in a small fashion house called ‘Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes’.
To quickly explain, as the story opens, Dottie is on her way to the house of her married sister Flora, after an evening at the theatre. As Dottie walks along the dark street, she finds a man lying on the pavement, he has been stabbed. As he dies, he sings a few words to her from the song Night and Day, from the stage play Gay Divorce.
I chose the era because it is a time that fascinates me – that all-too-brief moment between the end of World War I in 1918 and the realisation in the late 1930s that there was going to be another terrible war, with its consequent devastation.
How they must have rejoiced when the Armistice came. It meant so much – not just no more fighting, no more war, no more death on a vast scale. It meant people could get back to their lives again, no more dreading the knock of the postman, no more fearing to marry or start a family; the men could think about working again and for those who were well-to-do, they could plan a career again. Optimism believed that social and political issues would be confronted and dealt with, in the great new era of progress, and everything was ‘normal’ again. Women had the vote, and if actual equality was still lagging behind, at least there was the sense that things were changing.
I wanted to capture that time; I’m not trying to hold a mirror up to society to confront major issues, I leave that to those who know more about those things. I just want to entertain, and help readers escape into a time when the biggest war was over, life was less driven than it is today, a time when ideals were still intact and most people still thought politicians were people of wisdom and integrity.
What was happening in 1932?
There were already troubling events and the Nazis were already on the rise; in Britain hunger marches were taking place and of course the recession had bit hard. There was, as now, a great gulf between the haves and the have-nots. According to Good Housekeeping in 1931, a reasonable family annual budget, including school fees and medical expenses, was £410: many people didn’t even earn that much.
It can’t be a coincidence that during these difficult times, a whole new range of chocolate confectionery was introduced, including in 1934 the Mars bar at 2d (a penny in today’s Britain) and a new-fangled electric kettle would have set you back 12/- 6d or about 50p.
In 1933 Schiapperelli introduced the new ‘zip’ fastener to her fashion range, and buttons on dresses began to seem like old hat. The zip had been around for about forty years by then but was not used in clothing before the 1930s apart from on windcheaters and the odd boot.
Fred Astaire and Claire Luce had enjoyed success with a Broadway show called Gay Divorce which featured the songs of Cole Porter, and they brought the show to London in November 1932; in 1934 the show was released as a film, with Ginger Rogers replacing Claire Luce in the female lead role, and the film was renamed The Gay Divorcee.
I am planning – and hoping, with everything crossed – to release a series of murder mystery books featuring Dottie Manderson as the amateur detective, and with Inspector William Hardy as the professional detective she butts heads with and has a bit of a thing for.
I’m planning to release The Mantle of God – Dottie Manderson mysteries book 2 in the Spring/Summer of 2017 and later the same year, book three – The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish.
If you would like to read chapter one of book one – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery, please click on the title to go to the page.
- The Postcard – a short story
‘Have you typed up that contract yet?’
My manager’s voice cut into my little lonely bubble and made me jump half out of my skin. He glowered a bit, angry with me for being startled, but he was somewhat mollified when I told him I only had two more pages to go out of the original 19.
‘By lunchtime, yeah?’ he reminded me as he moved away to pester someone else.
I can’t stand it here. I’ve been here a month but it feels like a life-sentence. A weekend is just not enough parole time for the working week that precedes it.
I stared at the postcard my predecessor left pinned to the hessian wall of the cubicle. It shows a ramshackle cottage on a beach, an empty beach, with palm trees and golden sand that seems to stretch on for miles, lapped by blue, blue water. And nothing else. No one else.
The cottage wasn’t really a cottage, it was more like a shed or a hut. The roof looks like it would blow away in a hurricane. And this looks like the kind of place where they actually have hurricanes. And the walls don’t exactly look sound. There are cracks between the boards—I can imagine all kinds of creepy crawlies getting in through those. And there’s only one small window, partially boarded over. There’s a wonky railing around what appears to be a microscopic veranda.
But all the same…The card seems to call to me. Wish you were here? Oh yes, I most certainly do.
With each passing day I look at it more and more. My eyes are drawn to it.
On Monday, after a tense weekend of knowing what awaits me once Sunday is over, I return to my cell, turn on my computer, and take my first look of the week at the card. Then work begins, I get my head down and get on with things. And quite often, I hardly look up from my desk until half an hour after I should have gone home. That’s Monday madness.
Tuesday is not a lot better, though I quite often get a lunch break and I usually leave more or less on time. I glance at the picture several times on a Tuesday.
Wednesday is easier—the lull before the end-of-the-week storm. Usually I catch up on some filing or photocopying, both of which keep me away from my desk for a while—so I often forget all about the little hut.
Thursday things start to get crazy again—contracts to type, documents to chase, people to phone, emails, faxes, and yet more phone calls. It’s manic but still only a dress rehearsal for Frantic Friday. It’s a bit like grocery shopping the last weekend before Christmas—total chaos with everyone grabbing haphazardly at things just in case they never get any food again.
Friday. So close to the weekend but such a horror to live through week after week. That’s when I seek refuge the most often, gazing at the picture, really drinking in that impossibly blue sky, reflected in the improbably blue water, the wide expanse of deserted beach. As if by the sheer force of my concentration I can transport myself there. I can almost hear the soft sound of the water washing up onto the shore.
The office is huge. And we are all tucked away in our little cells—our cubicles which accommodate our desk, chairs, computer, phone and trays upon trays of paperwork. I remember once years ago people used to say that using computer systems would make most administration processes redundant, and that there would be a huge reduction in paperwork. The strange, alluring legend of the paperless office. There are 86 of us on this floor. 86 computers all warming the heavy recycled air with their hot little components. 86 chairs on rollers that don’t quite roll. 86 miserable people kept in little squares like veal calves or stray dogs waiting to be adopted or euthanised, housed temporarily until either retirement or death claims us—either one is good at the moment.
They play the radio over the PA system—to ‘keep up morale’. The problem is, there is only one radio, and 86 tastes in music. I find it so stressful to listen to boy bands and rock chicks and divas all day long. It’s mentally exhausting.
Then there’s the constant toing and froing of the workers—like being on some crowded stairs—figures bustling back and forth, not friends, not visitors, just milling about.
I bet that doesn’t happen on that little beach. I bet it’s quiet all the time. If I sat on that little veranda, I bet all I would hear if I closed my eyes would be the soft rustling of the palm trees, the sound of the occasional bird overhead, the sound of the waves and my own calm breath, moving in and out and washing away my tension.
I bet no one ever yells out ‘what the hell has happened to the accounting software updates?’ I bet if people ever came to that hut they would bring a small gift—some fruit, perhaps or maybe some flowers. And I’d make tea, and we could sit on that veranda and look at the water. We could talk if we wanted to, but I wouldn’t mind if we didn’t.
‘What happened to that blue folder marked ‘urgent’?’ My manager barks in my ear suddenly, and I accidentally type half a dozen letter Ys on the screen as I jerk round to look at him. He glares at me again. ‘Daydreaming again? For God’s sake, keep you mind on your work. Then maybe folders wouldn’t keep disappearing.’
He’s gone again and I’m fighting back tears. It seems so unfair that I’m here in this place when there are places like the one on the postcard on the wall. I know people say we all have bad days, you’ll feel better tomorrow. But this dread, this slow, cold death has been going on for decades. What if it’s not how I feel in a passing moment of self-pity but it’s the length and breadth of my whole existence?
This is all I’ve ever known. All I’m likely to know until I retire. It’s no good telling me that when I retire I can do all the things I’ve dreamed of, like travelling. Why do I have to wait until my life is almost over to begin enjoying it? I don’t just need a holiday, I need a whole change of life.
I’m hardly thinking. I reach out and grab the postcard off the wall. I lean down under the desk to pull out my handbag. I thrust the postcard inside and put my bag under my arm. I turn and look around me. I see nothing that is mine. I get up, and walk away down the aisle to the lift.
At the lift door, I wait impatiently. When it arrives and the door opens, I feel a sense of excitement, of doing something terribly naughty yet wonderful. I step inside before anyone tries to stop me. As the doors close, I realise no one has even noticed me leave my desk, and as the lift drops towards the ground, I wonder how long it will be before they realise I’ve gone.
No one even sees me walk out of the big double doors. No one. I’m nothing to them. As I hurry down the hill towards the railway station, so aware of the precious cargo in my bag, I feel a slight pang of guilt.
Perhaps I should have left the postcard to brighten the day of the next poor sap that occupies my cubicle.
- What shall I do if I grow up?
At school many years ago, I was delighted when we had to do ‘work experience’.
If you live outside the UK, you may not have heard of this, although you’ve probably got your own similar system. Basically part of the curriculum for those approaching the earliest school leaving age was that we had to spend a week ‘working’ in a job or organisation we were considering for a career. You didn’t get paid, you just went along–it was pre-agreed between the organisation and the school–and you ‘did’ your chosen job for a week, to see if you thought you would like it. How you could tell after just a week, I don’t know. Kids went all over – to other schools, to factories, to offices, to shops, to garages and workshops.
I was one of two very lucky ones. I had a week at the local newspaper. I remember that week I had my sixteenth birthday, and I spent the whole day in the petty sessions court, ‘covering’ local cases. It was an old court, and extremely cold and dark in there, sitting all day on a hard wooden bench with no cushions. I found out a lot about journalism that day – I discovered it was mostly sitting about, freezing my backside off, desperate for the loo, and trying not to yawn. But I loved it. I was shadowing a journalist, a young woman who drove a vintage car–it all seemed so glamorous, so exciting, even the dull bits. I can still remember–forty years later–some of the cases we heard that day. Okay, they weren’t lurid murders or the ‘headline’ type cases we see in the national papers, but they were nevertheless about real people in real situations.
I was thrilled to have a piece I wrote printed that week (with a few revisions!). And a few other bits I did. And when we were summoned to meet the top man, chief editor, maybe, I can’t remember, he offered me a job. Sadly the offices closed down and relocated elsewhere, and I couldn’t remember the guy’s name and I didn’t get one of the exam passes I needed, so I never went into journalism. I let my parents talk me out of it, but I have always regretted not following journalism as a career.
Here are a few other career ideas I have considered, and why I feel I wasn’t suited to them.
P.I. – couldn’t be a private investigator as I get bored quite quickly, would probably fall asleep when watching someone, or forget who I was following.
Psychologist – I’m very interested in psychology but I’d definitely over-empathise with the hard-luck stories, but for those who didn’t recover quickly I’d get impatient and tell them to get a grip.
Sniper – I’d love to be a sniper but my eyesight’s not great, and I have a terrible memory for faces so I’d probably kill the wrong person, plus I’m scared of heights, so couldn’t do any of that rooftop stuff. Plus, you know, it’s wrong. Oh, and I hate mess.
Recluse – I could absolutely be a recluse so long as I could live in a comfy home with lots of chocolate, coffee and books. And the internet, I’d def need the internet. And shops. And cafes…
Librarian – Oh how I love books! BUT…I wouldn’t want anyone else to borrow them, so…
Archivist – Been there, done that, got the bad back to prove it. Thing is, you get everything looking nice in the little gloomy room, with all the matching boxes facing the same way and looking really neat, then people come in and want to take stuff away. I can’t allow that. It’s mine, all mine, my little hoard of information.
Vicar – I’ve thought about it but I’m not a very patient or caring person, plus I can’t kneel, it hurts my knees. And I can’t sing. And I don’t like red wine or tight collars. Or those freaky statues they always have in churches.
Secretary – No! My typing is atrocious, I hate answering the phone and I would never fetch anyone’s dry-cleaning.
Teacher – Patience with kids – yes. Patience with parents – LOL NO! ‘What do you mean you didn’t help Jimmy with his reading homework? Are you stupid?’ Plus, if a kid was sick, I couldn’t help them, I can’t deal with that. I’d probably burst into tears.
Poet – the ruffled shirts would make my boobs look even huger, and I always get my trochees mixed up with my spondees. And I have never wandered lonely as a cloud, more like a bag lady.
So, I think maybe I’ll just carry on carrying on, and hopefully one day find my niche as a novelist.
- The Name Game
I guess we all know that names are really important when writing fiction.
Recently highly-esteemed author Susan Elizabeth Phillips said that she had struggled to write a story about a character called Ben, but one day she realised she should change his name, and then the story seemed to fall into place. I completely understand where she was coming from. I’ve even had a story in my head that I couldn’t begin because I had no name for the protagonist, even though I had a substantial amount of plot figured out.
You might rationalise this and say that the name is irrelevant, at least during the writing process. That characters are fictional, mere creations, they have no will to change or do or possess one name more than another.
But plenty of authors will disagree with this, stating that their characters often surprise them with plot detours and unplanned events and traits, and that characters inhabit a name that is right for them.
Character names matter because in society, names refer to a specific person and conjure up a specific range of behaviours and traits. I’ve heard people say ‘I hate the name Laura.’ (Just as an example and nothing detrimental intended to the Lauras of the world!) What they really mean is, ‘I once knew someone called Laura and she was horrid, and now whenever I meet someone with that name, I remember what she did.’
Names are of their time, their cultural and social background. If you think of a name, it will very often conjure up an idea of a person. If I say to you Madge, you will likely think of an older lady, not too well off. If I say Alex, you might stumble because that name can be used for males and females, and has the advantage of working for people from various nations and times in history. If I say Harrison, you will first think of Harrison Ford unless you personally know someone else with that name. If I say Daisy, you might possibly think of the former Countess of Warwick, but you’re far more likely to think of a small child as the name is very much back ‘in’. All too often we think of celebrities or those who are infamous rather than famous. Famous or infamous names have a long history. For this reason, not many little boys are christened Adolf, whereas a hundred years ago, it was a popular name. So names do not exist in a vacuum, waiting to be plucked randomly from the shelf.
If you are looking for a name for a major character, or a pen name for yourself, or a series title which will contain a name, it is vital you do your research. Google and check Amazon at the very least, because it is all too easy to choose a name already in use, and you don’t want to lose sales or become crowded out by too many occurrences of the same name. I almost had a main character called Ben Sherman. At first I couldn’t understand how good, how ‘right’ the two names sounded together. Until I decided to just have a quick check…I’m glad I did. Yes, in real life people do have the same name, but it isn’t a good idea for it to happen in fiction. I recently edited a trilogy of books for a client, each story featuring a different brother, as is common these days. Sadly the working series title was the same as a well-selling high-profile series already published, I discovered upon checking, and the series title was changed.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but in fiction-writing terms, finding the right name is crucial to writing the right story, and getting it ‘out there’ to the waiting readers.