Home

 

  • On The Road in the 1930s

    In the most recent book in my cozy mystery series set in the 1930s, The Thief of St Martins, I gave Dottie Manderson a car. I thought as she was almost 21, it was time she had her own car. She’s a busy girl with a life to get on with, and a career. So she needed a car. I ‘gave’ her a 1931 Morris Minor in a stunning blue. She loves it!

    Some of the scenes I wrote made me need to carry out research. I needed to know, did cars in the 1930s have a rear view mirror? I needed it for the many sneaky glances Dottie and William sent in each other’s direction at the end of the book, and I’m sad to say that even though William is a police inspector, his mind really wasn’t on the road:

    (BTW in case you didn’t know, Dottie is sitting in the back of the car, and in the front William is in the driving seat with Dottie’s mother beside him.)

    His eyes flicked up to the mirror again and met hers. He slowly winked at her. Such a small thing, but it made her heart sing. They were still friends! She beamed at him.

    If her mother had not been in the car, Dottie would have liked to touch the back of his neck. Unless she looked in the mirror, that was all she could see of him. There was a gap of perhaps two inches between the top of his collar and the start of his hair, very short and very fair at the nape. She wanted to put her fingers there, stroke the skin, feel the bristles of the short hairs against her fingertips. Perhaps push her hand up a bit so that her fingers could really tangle in his hair, draw him in closer to her, close enough to…

    There was a muffled curse as the car suddenly veered wide and he had to bring it back to the right side of the road. He mumbled an apology, just as her mother said sharply, ‘Really, William, dear!’

    So you can see how important rear view mirrors are! I also needed to discover if the doors of cars in those days locked with a key like they do now (ish) and as far as I could tell, they didn’t. But I did quite a lot of research about cars and driving in general for that era.

    A few ‘firsts’ to do with roads, driving and traffic.

    First driving test:

    Driving tests were first introduced in Britain in June 1935. I imagine a lot of people tried to quickly learn to drive before that! We used to have a family friend who had a license even though he had never taken or passed a driving test. He was granted a license for driving a motorised cart on a farm, and when it was renewed at the post office ‘back in’t day’ the clerk missed off the T from ‘cart’ and – hey presto! Shh – don’t tell anyone! (It’s okay he’s been dead for years so they can’t touch him for it…)

    First traffic lights:

    There were a few attempts at creating a traffic light system in Britain. You can judge for yourself how successful this one was:

    This was London, 1868 – far earlier than I’d imagined. You can read a bit more about it here: 

    I can’t help wondering if this was inspiration for H G Wells, as a newspaper at the time carried this caricature of the new technology, and naming it ‘the terrific apparition’.

     

    As you can probably guess, these were created by a Nottingham railway engineer by the name of J P Knight. The problem with these, apart from the war-of-the-worlds look, was that they had to be operated by hand, and were a bit unreliable. This one exploded due to a leaking gas pipe and the policeman operating it was injured.

    But the modern traffic light as we know it today was not available until the early 1900s. A red and green traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914, and we never looked back. In Britain, it was Piccadillly Circus in London and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands who got the first all-singing, all-dancing red and green automatic traffic light in 1926-27.

    First zebra crossing:

    I was a bit surprised by this. Although pedestrian crossings had been marked by iron studs in the road and later, flashing Belisha beacons at the sides of the road, it wasn’t until 1949 that the government began to introduce ‘Zebra’ crossings, first trying out blue and white, then red and white stripes before finally in 1951 sticking with the black and white stripes we know and love today. The first one was in Slough. And to help people learn how to use these odd inventions, there was a public service film which you can view here, to make sure your zebra-crossing-usage is fully up to date. Who knows, maybe you’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

    First traffic wardens:

    The first traffic wardens hit Britain’s streets in 1960. Did you know there’s a dedicated website to British Parking? Me either. But here you can read a bit about the introduction of traffic wardens, and see some great pics.

    First speed limit:

    Our flirtation with speed has been a chequered affair (pun fully intended). To begin with, in the 1860s, any road vehicles were only allowed to travel at the whopping speed of 4 mph in the countryside, and 2 mph in urban areas. And, like the first trains, a man had to walk in front with a flag, to let everyone for miles around know that a beast of engineering was approaching and that they should clear the way.

    I’m guessing that a) people very quickly got hooked on the thrill of speed, and b) it took a while for people to understand the stopping distances and braking speeds of road vehicles, just as it did when trains first came along. legislation quickly began to move with the times and the demand for road vehicles.

    First the flag was done away with (clearly due to a national flag shortage???), then the man walking in front was dispensed with (or run over???), then speeds gradually increased across the nation, always faster in the countryside than in the city, due to the denser populations. Loads of inquiries were instigated to find out why so many people died each year, and reports were issued, with the resultant changes in the law. By 1934, the normal limit in urban areas was 30 mph. Speedometers were not compulsory until 1937.

    First speeding offence:

    The first speeding conviction was that of Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent, in 1896. Walter was the owner and driver of a horseless carriage, and was caught travelling at a speed of 8 mph in a 2 mph area! It just had to be a guy from my native Kent, didn’t it?

    First drink/driving conviction:

    From the Licensing Act of 1872 onwards, drivers of any kind of vehicle on the road were always expected to be sober and in full control of the vehicle. But legal limits on alcohol intake were not established in Britain until 1967.

    Actual news report concerning one of my ancestors, Alfred Mercer. It sounds as though he was lucky to get away with such light injuries. This report appeared in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay herald, Sat 8th Nov 1873.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this little step back into the early days of motoring. Next week, I plan to share a few more ‘gems’ about one of our favourite pastimes.

    ***

  • Sneak peek and a short extract… upcoming book The Spy Within: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 6.

    It’s that time again. I’m working on a new book, the next in the Dottie Manderson mysteries series set in the 1930s and featuring an amateur detective Dottie Manderson. The new book is to be called The Spy Within and I plan and fervently hope to release it in July(ish) of this year.

    In case you haven’t heard of these books, I published the firs tin the series, Night and Day in 2015, and it’s been followed by The Mantle of God, Scotch Mist (a novella), The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish (sorry about the long and unwieldly title of that one, at home we call it Dickie Dawlish for short, even though Richard hated his name shortened) and last year, The Thief of St Martins came out.

    The main character is Dottie Manderson, obviously, she is the one the books mainly are about, and although she isn’t always the one who solves the mystery, she is nevertheless habitually embroiled in the action. Dottie is only 19 in the first book and ages gradually through the series. In the one I’m writing now, The Spy Within, she is almost 21. She is from a well-to-do family and after leaving her ladies’ college at 18, she worked more or less full time as a mannequin (model) for a Mrs Carmichael at her independent fashion warehouse, Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes, in London. Dottie lives with her parents, and has a married sister, Flora. Dottie and Flora are very close. George, Flora’s husband adores Dottie almost as much as his wife does, she is very much his sister too.

    Unfortunately the books aren’t quite stand-alone. That is to say, there are ongoing story-lines that progress through the novels. I wish I’d though about that a bit more carefully when writing them because with book 3, Scotch Mist being a novella, and therefore cheaper to buy, people often buy it and then haven’t got a clue what’s going on. I really must revise it with a bit more explanation to help those who dive into the series at book 3. Still, we live and learn, I guess! Hopefully I won’t do that next time around.

    So what’s new for The Spy Within?

    Well, those who have read the books up to this point will be aware that Dottie has been seeing a ‘gentleman’ by the name of Gervase Parfitt for a couple of books. Sadly in the last book, he let her down rather badly by not supporting her when she needed him most. Oh, Dottie had such hopes for Gervase to begin with. But he seems to be not quite as nice as she’d thought, and there’s a rumour going round that he’s likely to be substituted.

    If you’re Team William, this could be music to your ears.

    William Hardy, police inspector and all-round good guy (most of the time) has been in the background for a while now, and if you’ve loved all the flirty looks and romantic thoughts, then prepare to enjoy some more. It’s Valentine’s day in 1935, and love is in the air. I think. Or is it? You’ll just have to wait and see.

    In other news, the Manderson’s maid, Janet is at last tying the knot with police sergeant Frank Maple in this book. They’ve been walking out together since the first in the series. Don’t expect any tears, it’ll be a happy day for all. And it’s about time they made things all above board, because as Dottie said in The Mantle of God, ‘I wouldn’t mind if they did any actual walking out. And how Mother hasn’t caught them, I’ll never know. From what I can make out, they spend all their time indoors.’

    So that’s about all I can say at the moment. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, please take a look at a draft version of Chapter One here. Just bear in mind, I might change it a bit by publication day, and hopefully I’ll remember to tidy it up and make it a bit more succinct. I hope you enjoy it.

    All that I need to do now is to say a huge thank you to my family and friends and some wonderful, loyal, encouraging and amazing readers who say nice things that cheer me up when I’m down and keep me keeping on. Thank you all. XXX

    ***

  • Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am STUCK… my ideas about Writers Block.

    I am a self-doubter and a self-regulator. I am not confident in my own abilities but contrarily I do trust my own instincts. I know a good story idea when I see it, it’s just that I doubt my ability to execute it to its finest, best, most beautiful incarnation, which makes me depressed. And I constantly question myself about whether I’m doing my best, or if I am lacking some vital skill or technique, or indeed, if I actually have any skill or talent at all.

    A long while ago I read a post on LinkedIn where someone said they had no patience with writer’s block, that it didn’t really exist, not in the case of ‘real’ writers, because ‘real’ writers ignore such collywobbles and just get on with it. Oh yes, said all their friends, absolutely, that’s so true, Writer’s block just isn’t a real thing, it’s simply a poor excuse used by wannabes for being rubbish at writing.

    I say that’s poo! (Not what I really said, but I’m trying to stay calm and be polite) Of course it’s real! Maybe these so-called ‘real’ writers have simply learned techniques to help them overcome or cope with self-doubt and plough on?

    But many, many very ‘real’, very talented writers–and people in other creative worlds–struggle with issues of self-doubt and have difficulty getting started, or continuing or concluding a project. They (I should say ‘I’ really) might get stuck in the middle of their book, bogged down by the weight of bringing together so many narrative strands to create a satisfactory conclusion. Or they might be stuck trying to move on to a new project after finishing something. Or they might be unsure which of several possible endings is the best one to go with. Or ideas might dissipate like a summer mist ten thousand words into a novel. There are many reasons why a story won’t progress to order, and may leave a writer stranded on the rocks.

    So how do you cope? Or stay calm and get on with your work? There’s no perfect solution. Sorry. And there’s no universal fix that suits everyone.

    Just know:

    a) Real writers do get lost with their projects and struggle. Don’t listen to those ‘experts’ who say real writers don’t cry, I mean, get blocked.

    b) It’s ok to struggle, and not see your way forward with a particular work.

    c) There are ways you can learn to cope with a lack of progress.

    d) You will come out of this and move on to be your wonderful creative self again.

    Here are some of the things I recommend. They’ve helped me from time to time.

    Take a break. Maybe you’re just mentally and emotionally exhausted? We can so often pout ourselves under so much pressure. it’s wonderful when readers say ‘Loved it, can’t wait for the next one!’ but that can’t be your driving force. Readers are voracious and though we love them, they want far more than we can give them, like baby birds. Take a week off and look after yourself. Have fun, eat well, sleep well, forget about the book. Enjoy your life.

    If I’m stuck in the middle of a book, and can’t see my way forward, I put on my editing head and go back to the beginning. I start reading/tidying up until I find I have recaptured the vision, the direction I wanted to go. This can work quite well if you’re a pantser and haven’t really got much in the way of notes to lean on.

    If I have a number of alternative plot choices and I’m not sure which is best, I turn to my friends who know me and my work. I discuss my problem in depth with them and see what comes out of that. Sometimes just talking ideas through will help a choice to gel in your mind and get you back on track. If you can’t do that, you can join an online forum and ask them. You might not get the answer you hoped for, but hopefully you will find someone on your wavelength you can open up to and have a proper chat with. But bide your time and get to know people first. Otherwise, I guarantee you will get your heart trampled on by jumping in too quickly and confiding in the wrong person. Or you could just wait and see. Quite often, a situation will resolve itself as the book goes on, just because your various alternatives fall away when they no longer fit with what you’ve written.

    Write something else. I can guarantee that the minute I lose interest in a project and start writing something else, is the minute a fresh, new and amazing idea comes to me for my ‘stuck’ book.

    In a previous blog, I’ve also put together these ‘top tips’ on how to keep going with your writing. Some of these ideas may help you.

    But above all, remember, getting stuck is not a sign that you’re faking it, and yes, ‘real’ writers DO get blocked. Hang in there.

    ***

  • Dreams and journals

    Dreams.

    Dreams often provide inspiration for creative projects. I don’t mean dreams in the sense of goals or aspirations but in the sense of the crazy movies that go through our heads as we sleep.

    Remembering them long enough to write about them can be a challenge, but sometimes dreams are so vivid, you just can’t forget them, even if you wanted to. I have quite a lot of vivid dreams. I don’t usually have the appearing-in-public-naked kind of dreams. Mine are, more often than not, mysterious, complex and emotional. And I’ve used dreams to create two complete works: one is a novel that I haven’t (yet) published, though that might happen one day. The other is a short story that I plan to publish, possibly next year, and possibly in a collection of short stories, or as a freebie direct from this website.

    A lot of my dreams are centred around my anxieties. So I’ve had a lot of dreams about a place I worked many years ago before our children were born. It was an incredibly stressful job, and the hours were quite long. I dreamt about that place for at least twenty years after I left it. Any time I got stressed, I would dream ‘the dream’. I would picture myself back in that office with a large number of people clamouring for my help, and there would be a rush to get everything done in time, and a lot of noise, confusion and abuse. Even now, 34 years after I left that place of work, I still very occasionally dream about it if I’m really stressed about something. That must be the very definition of a toxic working environment: if it makes you have bad dreams thirty years after you left!

    Other dreams are centred around other anxieties, usually relating to my children. I imagine many parents, especially of not-yet-born or very young children, have dreams about them. When my children were very small, I often worried something awful would happen to them. In one particular dream, the dream-of-the-book, I was myself a child, and I was sitting on top of a perilously high and very narrowly tapered craggy rock. I was holding a doll wrapped in a shawl or a blanket. But I was also standing beside the rock, as an adult, looking at myself, the child with the doll. Of course, I dropped the doll and it fell and smashed on the ground, being one of those old-fashioned doles with the porcelain arms and head. I-the-adult and I-the-child simultaneously screamed and scrambled for the doll, knowing it was too late. When I picked the doll up, it was transformed into my baby, and I said in a plaintive wail, ‘I’ve broken my dolly!’ Then I woke up.

    Dolls, like clowns, have become incredibly sinister in the modern view!

    It takes a while, doesn’t it, to shake off the horror of a nightmare and to realise that it isn’t real. I know now that it was borne out of my own sense of inadequacy and immaturity as a mother. It was a long time before I could talk about it. However, I could write about it, and so I did, writing a novel about a severely mentally disturbed woman who is always looking for her lost dolly, that she fears might be broken. I called the story–inevitably–Dolly. Although these days I refer to it as Baby Girl, to avoid confusion with my Dottie Manderson series. Who knows, one day I may polish it and publish it. It’s quite far down on my to-do list.

    It can be cathartic to write about dreams, hopes, fears and everything else. Writing is often used as therapy. In prisons and mental health institutions, writing is used to help people to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and private environment. If you take any kind of anger management course, or any active therapy, even if you just go on a supervised diet or fitness regime, they tell you to write it all down in a journal: how you’re felling, what you want to get out of your current situation, what is wrong with it, what is grinding your gears, that kind of thing. You are taught how to analyse yourself by reading back over what you’ve written and attempting to view it objectively.

    So it can be a huge help to write about your dreams, and to examine your fears through writing about them.

    More recently, I had a dream that I based the other story on, that I mentioned above. It’s a short story, featuring Dottie Manderson and William Hardy, and Dottie’s sister Flora and her husband George. I’m still umming and ahhing about publishing yet because it contains spoilers for the main series. That’s why I say it might not be until next year that I bring it out of total obscurity into relatively light obscurity 🙂

    This is the Artsy Bee image I’m thinking of using for my Dottie short story.

    As a writer, I’m continually asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ So a discussion about dreams in part explains that, too. I have often trawled through Pixabay and other stock photo/image sites, looking for images for book covers, for my blog posts etc. And I love the images one contributor Artsy Bee has on Pixabay. A series of those gave me one idea. And watching an old film gave me another. And I got yet another idea from reading something factual about the second world war, and this all led to the dream in which those elements came together. Sometimes even a horrid dream is just your subconscious or your imagination, whatever, fitting together all the elements to try to create something whole and well-rounded.

    Dreams then are a very useful mechanism for exploring your own interior world, and for creativity. You can deal with your hang-ups and fears, and at the same time, if you can remember the dream, get a great idea for a story.

    Goodnight. Sweet dreams!

    ***

  • A World Of Their Own: the character universe

    When I was a child, I thought that the characters who appeared in the stories I read and loved all knew each other. More recently, I read (somewhere…can’t remember where) that it’s common for small children to think that way.

    I thought Winnie-the-Pooh knew Ratty and Moley, who were in turn good friends with Timmy the Dog from the Famous Five. I didn’t understand why Snow White and Cinderella couldn’t join forces, the two of them together easily defeating all the wicked witches, sinister stepmothers and evil queens in the world.

    As we grow older, in a way it’s sad that we come to realise none of these characters are real, that they exist only in a little pretend-world snapshot. If we found our way into their worlds through a magic mirror or a gateway in a stone circle, or by any other mysterious means, we would not find ourselves face to face with the story-world. I can remember carefully examining the back of my wardrobe. But no, to my disgust there was no Narnia hidden away. I’d put on my anorak and wellies for nothing.

    Yet we–whether author or reader or both–people our world with fictional characters. I’d love to know the psychology behind that.

    Some say storytelling is to do with conveying history or traditional or moral values to a younger generation. Some say it is purely for entertainment, keeping the kids quiet in the back of the cave whilst they wait for their dinosaur steaks. Some say it is to explore concepts and ideas beyond our own direct experience, or to combat loneliness, or to relieve stress.

    Whatever the reason, we love our stories. We love our imaginary worlds and the characters who live a life that we cannot.

    Heroes–storybook people–don’t age. I mean, writers can make them age, but the writers are in complete control and it isn’t inevitable. Sometimes heroes just are ageless, forever young. And characters suffer, yes, but only within the realms of the story. They don’t live their whole lives with unanswered questions, or with serious flaws of their personalities. We don’t watch them decline into old age. (Usually, though. I’m thinking of Wallander.) They remain perpetually young and golden.

    This way you can read their story when you are yourself young, and again and again over the long passage of years, then again when you are old and changed, experienced and maybe a little bit cynical. But their bright outlook and determined hopefulness  remains unchanged. They walk through our lives beside us. They are there before we are born, and will continue long after we are gone. They are eternally young, preserved in the pages of memory and written and spoken works.

    But we long for them to meet one another, to bring their own strengths and successes to benefit the lives of others.

    And with creative works, we can do that. So we have superheroes popping up in each other’s stories. We have mash-ups, mix-ups and collaborations. It’s always interesting to see how this works. Maybe Inspector Barnaby should pop out to the Caribbean for a holiday and help out the Saint Marie police force in a Death In Paradise/Midsomer Murders extravaganza?

    And spin-offs are popular: capturing and extending the audience for each side. Morse leads to Lewis and then to Endeavour. We love our characters to work together; we love to see their lives played out; we want to meet all their family and friends. Miss Fisher’s niece arrives on the scene to carry the torch forward in Miss Fisher’s Modern mysteries.

    I was interested this week to see that authors Lee Strauss and Beth Byers have come together to produce a crossover work featuring their respective main characters, Ginger Gold and Violet Carlyle, in a new short work Mystery on Valentine’s Day (due out on 11 February this year). I’m intrigued. I will definitely buy that book!

    And also on the wonderful internet, I came across a number of books that are ‘about’ books, or an authors work, being a guide to the author’s books, best reading sequence and all the characters. I was astonished to discover there’s a market for that!

    With invented realities, the possibilities are endless. Fans of different series welcome the meeting of their favourite characters, I’m sure. It must be the next best thing to meeting a character yourself, to read about or watch a character you love being met by another character you love, and so setting in motion a whole new series of stories in the bookiverse.

    ***

  • No-more-blues-Monday.

    When we look at the news it’s so easy to get really depressed. So often it seems that only terrible things are happening in the world; ecologically, politically, financially, economically, even in the arts or in entertainment, there is often bad or sad news. The winter days are cold and dreary, sunlight seems to have forgotten us, and Spring and Summer seem so far away.

    So I thought I’d find a few headlines that might cheer people up a bit as we head towards what has been called Blue Monday: apparently tomorrow, Monday 20th January, is known to be the most depressing day of the year. Although it’s widely believed that Blue Monday is a ‘real thing’, it was created by psychologist Cliff Arnall back in 2004 as a way of boosting holiday sales at a time of year when exterior factors such as weather, work, mid-month financial strain and the return to work after the Christmas/New Year break are supposed to have us in their grip.

    If it’s not a real ‘thing’ then we can shake it off, right?

    We can do that by: having some fun (without spending the money we won’t have for another week and a half), talking to our friends and family, going for a walk, weather permitting, staying in with a loved one and snuggling in front of the TV, the fire, curling up with a book, baking a cake, planning holidays and trips for later in the year, planning DIY projects. All these life-affirming activities boost our moods and help us to remember that life is good and worth living. Feed the birds in your garden or if you haven’t got a garden, at the park. Look for signs of Spring

    arriving: new growth on trees and shrubs, daffodil bulbs emerging, the slightly longer days.

    Surround yourself with caring people.

    Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not selfish to nurture yourself as well as others. It’s just the sensible thing to do. Treat yourself, little and often.

    Count your blessings–an old-fashioned but useful way of deliberately looking for the myriad of big things and small that make your life a good one: your loved ones, the roof over your head, the bills you’ve paid, the opportunity to pay more bills in the future which means your life is full and busy and you have grown up and taken on responsibilities, the dog, the cat, the colour of the sunset, the old lady who smiled at you in the grocery store. Turn it to the positive.

    Take note of the small, the mundane stuff that usually is overlooked in the busyness of life. A minute here, a minute there will not massively mess up your deadlines, but it could make a huge difference to your well-being.

    If you still want to read the news, but don’t want to get depressed, here are some uplifting stories from the last week or so:

    Not all retail parks and human environments destroy habitats and ecosystems, some are being used to encourage and even nurture wildlife: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-51050547

    A dad helped his daughter revise for her school exams, and saved his own life: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-51081957

    Generous and caring people still exist in communities: anonymous donors leave money for those in need: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-51093623

    And here’s a picture of Malcolm – he’s a happy chap, and a glance at him having a snooze will always put me in a good mood. I advise looking at this picture three times a day after meals and once before bed.

    I’m hoping that with all these little things, you–and I–will have less of a Blue Monday and more of a Rosy Outlook. Wishing everyone a good week.

    ***

     

  • Shakespeare’s English?

    Sometimes people say annoying things like, ‘There’s no point in studying Shakespeare–it’s completely out of date and has nothing to do with life in the twenty-first century. It’s a relic, dead and dusty. It’s a waste of time.’

    If you’ve been living on Mars for your whole life, you might not know this, but Shakespeare (Bill to his friends) lived from 1564 to 1616(ish). So yes, it was a long time ago. But I firmly believe his work is still relevant today.

    Why? Well, many movies and books, and other creative arts continue to be based upon or inspired by the plays or poems of William Shakespeare. More than that, so many words he created are part of our everyday language. Although experts continue to disagree about just how many words he actually ‘invented’, whether it’s 1000 words and phrases, or 3000, (or whether all his plays were in fact, his plays), there is an even greater number of words and phrases that you and I use in our ordinary speech which were commonplace in those days but were not recorded in written English until Shakespeare first put them down on the parchment.

    Not that Shakespeare was the first person to write in what we call ‘modern’ English–there were many writers in the  hundreds of years before who wrote in the English language: the language of the poor, and working classes, whilst the wealthy well-educated spoke Latin, then French. But I’d argue that Shakespeare was the first to really use the language in a vitally creative way, adapting it to his audience and the form he was writing in.

    A quick comment: English is a relatively new language. It’s a mixed up thing, using elements from many other languages. Its words were ‘borrowed’ (but we won’t be giving them back, so it’s more like theft) from the Celts, the Romans, the Greeks, the Norse, Old German, Old French, Latin, Japanese, Yiddish, Native American languages, Chinese languages, Indian dialects, Arabic dialects, Dutch, Icelandic… or all of the above, English as a language is something living and breathing, it evolves, changes, it has trends, adaptations and corruptions. Igloo. Veranda. Wanderlust. Safari. Samovar. Loot. Cookie. Anonymous. Ketchup. Avatar. Telescope. Doppelganger. Genre. Cafe. Lingerie. Kindergarten. Rucksack. Glitz. Schmooze. Guerilla. Macho. Patio. Chocolate. Moccasin. Karaoke. Karate. Typhoon. Moped. Paparazzi. Siesta. Gherkin. Quartz. Horde. Schmuck. And many more…

    You only have to compare Englishes around the world to see the changes that have occurred to the ‘common’ language. If it wasn’t so, you wouldn’t need dictionaries of American English and British English, to explain us to one another. Pants and pants. One is underwear, one is trousers (outer wear). And now, it’s a word meaning bad or terrible, as in: ‘My morning at work was completely pants.’

    If someone said, ‘Yeah, baby, that’s out of this world, it’s fabulous, man,’ you’d know they were giving you a crash course in 1960s idioms. Once upon a time, if we were satisfied with the way things were, we said things were cool. Then we started saying people should chill out. How quickly words are assimilated into our language these days. They are often not new words at all, but simply known, ordinary words being applied in a new way. Which brings me back to Shakespeare.

    Shakespeare was a genius at taking words we already used and using them in a new context. For example, he often used nouns as verbs. These conjured up vivid mental images, making his plays, for example, colourful and immediate. In a play, already heavily leaning on words for context and meaning, to use words in different way was to bring the spoken word to life.

    Here’s a little list of words and phrases, either new or adapted, that can be found in Shakespeare’s work:

    Bandit (Henry VI, Part 2)

    Critic (Love’s Labour Lost)

    Dauntless (Henry VI, Part 3. 1616)

    Dwindle (Henry IV, Part 1)

    Elbow (the noun used as a verb, King Lear)

    Friend (the noun used as a verb, Hamlet)

    Green-Eyed (The Merchant of Venice) to describe jealousy; previously or commonly, jealousy was considered to be orange! (Much Ado About Nothing: ‘The Count is neither sad nor sick, nor merry, nor well;/But civil Count–civil (play on the word Seville) as an orange,/And something of that jealous complexion.)

    Lacklustre (As You Like It)

    Lonely (Coriolanus)

    Skim-milk (Henry IV, Part 1)

    Swagger (Midsummer Night’s Dream)

    Unaware (poem: Venus & Adonis)

    Uncomfortable (Romeo & Juliet)

    Undress (Taming of the Shrew)

    Unearthly (A Winter’s Tale)

    Unreal (Macbeth.)

     

    Maybe it’s time to bring a bit more Shakespeare back into our everyday language? There is nothing the Bard did so well as a good insult. Try these out at the pub:

    Villain, I have done thy mother (sounds surprisingly modern – and completely validates my point!)

    Thou Painted Maypole (for a tall woman)

    Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish

    Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows

    Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon

    Poisonous bunch-backed toad

    I am sick when I do look on thee

    The tartness of his face sours grapes

    I was searching for a fool when I found you (my favourite!)

    I do desire we may be better strangers

    He has not so much brain as ear-wax.

    You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness

    Her face is not worth sunburning

    Thou hateful wither’d hag!

    Thou art unfit for any place but hell

    Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain

    You are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard (Of which I think we can all agree, the best response is, ‘What?’)

    ***

  • Welcome 2020

    ‘I can hardly believe it’s about to be 2020!’

    That’s what everyone is saying. I suppose it feels like a big number. Certainly it’s one of those futuristic-sounding dates from the sci-fi we used to watch and read years ago. Someone in my family said ‘We’re back to the 20s.’

    Will they be the roaring twenties? Flappers from one hundred years ago may have been delirious with excitement at the arrival of peace and the relief that gave to countries around the world.

    Let’s hope 2020 will be a year of peace, happiness, compassion, generosity, givingness and mutual care and support.

    Have a lovely New Year, everyone, and I hope you and your families thrive in 2020.

    ***

  • Happy Christmas to everyone xx

  • A quick recap of 2019.

    So that was that! Here we are (almost) at the end of December, traditionally time to look back and reflect on the passing year.

    Brexit loomed large in many people’s thoughts. I was dismayed by the outcome of the election. Again. I voted. My family voted. It didn’t work, and now there’s nothing we can do but get on with our lives. When I was a child, they used to say of naughty boys, ignore him and he’ll get tired of showing off and go away. So that is my new strategy with regards to Brexit, and Boris. Onward and upward, guys, and let’s hope for better things next year.

    This year, I’ve published two books. I released a stand-alone novel (never a good idea) called Easy Living. I’ve written a lot of books over the years. Some of them–okay, a lot of them–too dire to be inflicted on the reading public. But Easy Living has a very special place in my heart. And even though I knew it would only sell in small numbers (very small, actually), I wanted to release it anyway, just for myself. If you’re interested, you can find out a bit more about Easy Living here.

    Then just a few short weeks ago I released The Thief of St Martins. It’s book 5 of the Dottie Manderson 1930s murder mysteries, and I’m so pleased to be able to say it is selling quite well, and a few people have said some wonderful things about it, which is so encouraging. It took me the best part of a year to write. I know these days we are all supposed to write between four and six novels a year, plus write blog posts, and put together special free giveaways, but I just can’t achieve that level of output–and I don’t know if that amount of pressure is healthy.

    I do blog–see, look, I’m doing it right now–although I admit I’m not always sure what to blog about. I feel embarrassed talking about my books all the time, thinking that might be a big turn-off for readers. We Brits don’t cope well with self-promotion–from a very early age, we’re taught that it’s bad manners and is boastful. So I try to write about things I’ve discovered during my research, or I write to help or support other writers, because that’s writing what I know, as writing coaches (mistakenly) tell us to do. But I try to come up with something most weeks. I’m rewarded by lovely comments and conversations with people, and by seeing the numbers of my blog followers gently rising week on week.

    What else have I done this year? I’ve read quite a lot. I’ve done some editing and proofreading, a lot of social media promo, and I’ve spent hours playing on Canva and Bookbrush, as I love to create simple graphics, and find it quite therapeutic and relaxing. I’ve also started drafting several novels and novellas, some of which may never be seen or heard of again, and some of which you (hopefully) will read next year.

    What shall I do next year? I’ll be blogging again, of course. And reading, as always. And then I plan to release two novels in 2020, at least one of which will be a Dottie Manderson book. I’m starting serious work on The Spy Within: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 6 in January, and will hopefully finish the first draft by the start of March. If that seems a long way off, can I say that I’ve already written four chapters? Only another 18-20 to go…. I’ve got other ideas too, but who knows what will actually happen? There just isn’t enough time for all the ideas I want to write about. I might watch some TV. I’ll keep on with my Polish lessons. I might do a spot of gardening. Housework will come in there somewhere, way down the list. Maybe I’ll travel? Who knows?

    So now all that’s left is for me to say a massive thank you to all my readers, to my friends and family, for the incredible, jaw-dropping support and encouragement I’ve received. I honestly couldn’t have done 2019 without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Now, where’s the alcohol and chocolate?

    ***

Click here to see the full blog.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpermalink.php%3Fstory_fbid%3D1647222508918106%26id%3D100008911184734&width=500