- A shameless plug to a captive audience.
The use of advertising media to sell products to customers is not something new, it’s been around for a lot longer than I ever realised. I think I vaguely knew that advertising ‘must have’ been used before I became fully aware of it in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and I suppose that most of us have seen those hilarious TVs shows featuring ‘how we used to be’ commercials from the 50s and 60s, showing a happy smiling housewife holding up a box of laundry detergent, or a pipe-smoking father in a suit sitting behind a newspaper.
A few years ago, it was so popular to collect old advertising boards, usually made of tin, or printed onto postcards, calendars, place-mats, mugs, mouse mats, you name it. Pears Soap ads appeared on tea-towels and even t-shirts. You know the ones? With the Millais-inspired pics of Victorian children, rosy-cheeked and curly-haired, with frilly collars or petticoats?
But until recently I hadn’t imagined that advertising was rife in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and I’m now convinced, even before that.
Last month I finally caved in and bought a few items I had been looking at a while – and I’m warning you now that this means you will have to look at these over the next couple of weeks. I’ve now received some gorgeous vintage items from Messrs eBay and Etsy.
These included two copies of Betty’s Paper: a magazine aimed at (young) (working class in the main) women from 1935, and one copy of The Picture-Goer. I love this vintage stuff, and as you know, I’m a bit obsessed with the 1920s, and even more so with the 1930s. I was so excited to get my hands on these items. And if you also like this stuff, they are usually not expensive, and there are quite a few of them around! But please don’t buy them all, there are still a few I’ve got my eye on.
Soon I’m going to have a more general look through Betty’s Paper, and maybe even, if you can stand it, through The Picture-goer. But right now, I’d like to take a quick look at some 1935 advertising, and what I discovered amongst the hallowed pages of these once avidly-read magazines.
Th first two pics I’ve shared are for ‘guidance from beyond our world’ – yep, clairvoyance was all the rage from the Victorian era up to…well, I think a lot of people still check their horoscopes and send for readings etc. Now we probably see more in the way of crystals and meditation, whereas back then it was quite literally written in your palm. Note that on the one hand a male figure offers information about the future in a pseudo-scientific manner, the maleness, the use of the title of professor adding authority to make the ad seem genuine and plausible. His odd kimono thingie is his robe of office, as is his hat. It all ties in with the late 19th century and early 20th century passion for culture and art from the ‘mysterious East’.
The second one, Madame Astral, looks far more like the contemporary modern young women’s look – if anything she looks like your sister who had a tent at the church fete last summer. So the reader is being invited to share a sisterly gossip about matters of the heart, just like a cosy and none-too-serious reading of the tea-leaves at home. Good old Betty’s offers coupons to give readers a discount!
I love this. We’d never do this today, would we? or would we? This is the Bettys’ Paper Loveliest Reader competition – complete with photos of the ladies, and… Wait for it – their names and addresses!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What on earth??????
It was definitely a different era. What, I ask myself, is to prevent any ruthless person rocking up to Miss Metcalf’s at 144 Wanstead Park Road, Ilford??? It seems naive in the extreme, but I can’t decide if that was perfectly okay for those days or was it the height of idiocy even then? Or was it Miss Metcalf’s design, in the hope that a gorgeous single man with a good income, good sense of humour, own home, would arrive on her doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and a pleasing smile? Mind you, the £10 prize money for the winner had to be a big bonus.
Speaking of a pleasing smile, in the corner of the Loveliest Reader comp page there was another ad – for toothpaste. Surely what we get from that is, if you want to be Betty’s Papers loveliest reader, and have strange men turning up at your door, you’d better follow the trend for wavy dark hair, perfect skin and you’d better have fabulous teeth too.
You can tell that Betty’s paper is all about appearance, inspiring women and showing them how to look Silver-Screen-great on a limited budget. In the first half of the twentieth century many young women were earning their own money and had disposable income for the modern commodities that science and technology had created.
So it’s no surprise that these ads are all about looking right. They address clothes, skin, hair and teeth, as well as the hope instilled by the stories and the ads for clairvoyant assistance. It’s all about looking as good as you possibly can – not for yourself, obviously, but so you can catch a man. These were not the days of sisters doing it for themselves.
When I first saw this next ad, with the woman drinking something and the slogan ‘slenderising and modish’ I assumed it was for some kind of diet or weight-loss supplement. But no. It’s for wool. To make your own slim-look sweaters and cardis. Not sure this ad would work so well today (leaving aside the fact that most women simply buy their woollens now) as it immediately sent me in the wrong direction. Or is that just me, coming to the ad with my 21st century eye? Again, here it’s all about looking right – and that means thin. Maybe nothing changes, after all.
Interesting that the slogan is a ‘quote’ from one Lady Georgiana Curzon – her title gives authority to her pronouncement, and yes, she is the wool manufacturer’s ‘fashion adviser’. Note also the family-empire sounding name – well, it probably was a family run business at least originally, but these days everything is General something, or Associated whatnot… no family businesses any more. Again, I feel, but this might be my contemporary perspective, but this sense of family-run, long-standing, aristocratically-endorsed seems to add to the authority and trustworthiness of the ad and the product.
Two more. One is an ad for the cheaper new stockings made from a man-made fibre rather than real silk. They ask,’Which is which?’And add that only your purse will know the difference. The use of the pictures of men to imply that males are looking at your legs, girls, and they’d better be worth looking at would doubtless have worked better if, a) they’d used different pictures of men and b) the men were actually facing the legs in question-or would that have been too risqué?
Lastly, my favourite ad of all. It made me spit coffee all over my t-shirt. Scroll down and take a look at the pinnacle of Betty’s Paper’s fine advertising material. It’s from the back page. It’s the one with the lady purporting to be over one hundred years old and still ‘enjoying’ good health.
Bless her. Mrs Elizabeth Clayton, she doesn’t look as though she enjoys anything. I know we all want to live forever, but this is funny. Again, I love the use of the lady’s address. Did people go there to marvel at the lady and her great age? Surely it’s fictitious, put in to lend credence to the advertisement? But part of me really wishes I could go there and witness the spectacle of Mrs Clayton enjoying life to the full and a hundred years old. I really hope it’s not just cynical advertising but that the old girl had a brilliant life and earned a fortune from companies using her face to astonish the world.
- People Watching
Inspiration comes from all different places. And I’m often asked where I get my ideas. It’s more that ideas come looking for me than I go looking for them. I’m incredibly nosy about other people, and I am an incurable people-watcher.
I don’t advocate, as a writing tutor in Brisbane once told a group of creative writing students, that you should actually follow people to get ideas for your story or to experience what it’s like to ‘shadow’ someone a la detective fiction. BUT I must admit I do covertly eavesdrop and watch people, especially in a coffee-shop situation. I don’t actually record conversations or film people, though it is SOOOO tempting.
I remember overhearing one yoof talking to another about his baseball cap. Yoof #2 was admiring the cap and trying it on. Yoof #1 said, rather anxiously, ‘Don’t you lose my cap, man. That cap is my identity.’
It’s these kind of scenarios that fuel my imagination.
Here’s what happened one day. I must just add, as a disclaimer, that all I saw were two people in a coffee-shop—my imagination, tawdry and cynical, and my love of detective fiction did the rest!
So I was sitting there with my cappuccino and my triangle of ‘tiffin’, in a Coffeebucksta Emporium in the town where I live. And I saw this:
A smart young man, late twenties, in a very modern suit, latest hair-do etc., all smiles and full of conversation. With him a frail and bent old lady in a wheelchair. She was also smartly dressed and her white hair was short and chic a la Dame Judi Dench. But she was way too old to be his mother. Grandmother? Great aunt? Great-Great-grandmother? I mean, she was OLD.
I’m already plotting a story around them. He parked her at a table and went to join the queue. She was reading the paper. I’m thinking, maybe she’s not a relative but his Sugar Mommy?
The idea appeals to me. I can remember several detective novels where scandal ensues due to an inappropriate attachment between a favoured young man and an older, vulnerable (or perhaps not so vulnerable) woman. I like the idea that even in this day and age, a young man can still cash in on his good looks, and an old lady can still enjoy having someone to dance attendance on her.
I decide she probably has someone at home to help with her personal care. And to take care of the cooking and cleaning. I’m picturing a large sprawling mansion, empty of people but stuffed with suits of armour and gloomy, grimy portraits of people who have been dead for hundreds of years. Glass cases of long-dead animals. Lots of wood panelling. Surrounded by vast expanses of grass and tall dark trees. Maybe some peacocks? An old uneconomical car, with her cosseted in the back under blankets, and him in front at the steering wheel.
And I don’t want to think there could be anything sexual involved (eww!) but that he acts as chauffeur, secretary, assistant, companion and entertainer. He flatters her, makes her laugh and she pays him for his smiles.
I think of the people that know her, local villagers? I imagine them talking to me. Or to a policeman sent down from Scotland Yard to investigate some awful crime. Perhaps she’s been murdered? Or him? Perhaps he’s the victim, not the perpetrator? Over our coffee, my informant tells me, (this is in my head, you understand,) “Well of course she gave out that he was her great-nephew, though I’ve never believed it. But she said it—you know—for appearance’s sake. He certainly is a charmer. And so patient. Well all I can say is, he’s worked damned hard for the money she’s left him. If there is any money. No one seems to be too sure about that.”
Was he a little too friendly with the nurse who looked after the old lady? Is that what they’ll say when her body is discovered? Did the old lady resent him giving those smiles to someone else?
Back in the real world, I’m picking up on tiny details. He returns with a coffee for her. Nothing for himself. Which seems odd. He sits. She leans forward and says something to him, and he takes her cup and has a sip of the coffee, and shakes his head. He returns it to its saucer. Too much sugar? Not enough? Does this taste a little odd to you? I’m not sure what is going on, but she doesn’t drink it.
They don’t stay long. I think he was actually in the queue longer than they sat over the drink that went almost untouched. Why didn’t she have her drink? Why even bother coming into the cafe? Why didn’t he have anything? Does she hold on a little too tightly to the purse-strings?
Even though he is smartly turned out, perhaps his shoes are showing signs of wear? Not quite as new or of such good quality as they first appeared? Perhaps she doesn’t pay him so well after all? Are there arguments over money? She thinks he spends too much, or asks for too much. He thinks it’s unfair that he has to beg and plead and justify what he needs, thinks she is too keen on having power over others. Perhaps it’s just not worth it after all? Perhaps it’s time for this ‘arrangement’ to come to an end?
For one mad moment I think about taking her cup for analysis before the table is cleared. Then I remember. Only in my imagination am I a detective. Here in the real world, I’m just another person sitting in a cafe. But in my mind, and in my notebook, I have the bones of a story.
- What I learned from reading Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie.
I’ve always loved reading, and mysteries have always been ‘my thing’. Of all the authors in all the bookshops and libraries in all the world, Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth remain my faves, with my girl Pat a nose ahead.
Why do I love them so much when a) there are thousands of modern authors out there, and b) these traditional mysteries seem rather old-fashioned by today’s standards?
There is a definite lure of the era: a time of long frocks, a time of afternoon tea, dinner parties, bridge evenings (I can’t even play bridge) and so forth. Yes, the plots can seem tame, contrived and are often insular, but as Miss Marple often comments, you see every aspect of life in a small village. It’s like viewing a sample of the whole of society under a microscope. I love to see how ordinary (kind of) people react in an apparently ‘safe’ setting when something goes wrong.
I often reread these books. I have read all of Christie’s works at least twice, often many more times than that, and the majority of Wentworth’s. (I’m still working my way through her non-series books.) Some of Wentworth’s books I have five or six different copies of, all with different covers, from different eras, and one of them is quite valuable. I won’t tell you which in case you nick it.
I recently decided to reread Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie. As you can see, I used quite a few sticky notes as I read it and made notes to myself–for funsies–at the same time. I wish I could say there was a special coded reason for using pink and green then yellow sticky notes, but it’s simply that I ran out of pink, then green…
There’s something a bit different about reading a book if you are a writer, and also, if you’ve read it several times before. (And, let’s not forget, it’s been on TV too.) As well as an enjoyable read, it’s been an interesting, and useful experience. Different things struck me this time. Here are a few of them: (btw – contains spoilers!)
Point 1. The book is quite long, I reckon it’s about 90,000 words or so. If you think in pages rather than words, it’s about 340 pages. That’s fairly standard for now, but many of Christie’s most well-known works are considerably shorter. (And Then There Were None, for example, is only 250 pages.) BUT the first clue comes on page 31! Wow! And even more interesting, the first red herring comes on page 30!!!!
p31 – the clue is: ‘A face that you liked but that you would find it hard to know again.’
p30 – the red herring is: ‘…the undercurrents that I sensed were nothing to do with Jane Wilkinson.’
Point 2. There are a lot of characters! It can be hard for the writer to handle a large cast, and just as hard for the reader! To try to keep track of a lot of people without making them all into over-large caricatures takes a lot of skill and hard work. This is something I struggle with.
Point 3. There is a surprisingly large amount of sitting around talking. I know it’s not exactly an action thriller, but it still surprised me how static the story is in many places. Poirot notoriously eschews running from place to place violently searching for clues, preferring to sit and exercise his little grey cells. But still, it was more static than I remembered, and so I feel it would lend itself well to a play or film, (as it has!) because of the economy of sets required. It would be so easy to have a couple of side-boards, a couple of chairs, a different lamp and hey presto! You’ve got a completely different drawing room. Please note, future play-makers.
Point 4. Obviously we have a sidekick. A sidekick, such as ‘ma cher Hastings’, is such a useful device to enable the author to ask and answer questions she puts to the reader. I love Hastings, he is supremely gullible, naive, and a wee bit thick. The perfect sidekick, in fact, as he allows the detective to shine. Hastings, in this book, asks all the questions that the reader might ask given the opportunity, and answers a good many of them himself, almost always wrongly. Having a sidekick enables the author to speak Poirot’s thoughts out loud, so that his detection is not entirely internal, and we, the readers, can be involved.
Point 5. The use of attitudes of the era, and the use of appearances crops up regularly in Agatha Christie’s work. You can tell a wrong ‘un by how they talk about other nationalities, or how they dress or behave.
We see that those who make racial comments are often unmasked later as the perpetrators. Famously, in Death In The Clouds, the two main characters find they have much in common, including their racial attitudes. These commonalities help them to fall in love. But importantly for the reader, they also mark them out as the murderer and his unwitting accomplice.
In Lord Edgware Dies, there’s a touch of that same thing. We can identify some of the worst characters by their espoused attitudes towards other races.
In appearance too, anyone a bit different, or wearing colourful clothes, is set down as dandified and therefore downright suspicious. This works well for Poirot, who is often viewed with mistrust by those–particularly the men–who meet him. We know that Christie hated Poirot, who was probably her most successful character, and possibly got a secret joy from having him so vilely abused by those he met.
But the attitudes of others towards him plays into his hands. They observe his outer appearance, make a judgement about him based on that, and they fall into the trap of underestimating him. Through this, we are invited to laugh at the staid, traditionally-masculine Brit who refuses to get in touch with his feminine side for another forty or fifty years at least. And Poirot emerges triumphant once more–as he should.
Point 6. Suspects are set up and knocked down one by one like ninepins. The reader, along with Hastings, and even Japp, and Poirot himself, turns their suspicions first on one suspect, then these are (reluctantly) dismissed as being the perpetrator. Alibis are given, investigated, found wanting, then reinvestigated and finally the alibi is accepted. Until… well it’s almost become an in-joke that Christie herself invites us to share in – the least likely one is the true murderer. Usually it’s someone who has been suspected, then proved innocent.
This is a satisfying plot device actually, as it means working out timelines and getting your cats, ornaments and salt and pepper pots to help you envision the action on your dining table, just so you can be sure that what you think happens, could in fact have happened.
Point 7. This investigating, dismissing then returning to a suspect develops layers in the plot, and this is the intriguing and absorbing nature of crime fiction: edging closer and closer to a hidden truth, or to a definitive set of events. This is the intellectual riddle that draws readers to this type of fiction, and is so satisfying, because at the end, you think, just as the detective (or the writer) thinks, ‘Ah, now I know everything.’
Point 8. There are other points too, but I’ve waffled on quite a bit. So I’ll end with this: The detective.
The detective of any single book or series is clearly of supreme importance. Hercule Poirot (in this particular book) begins by being lauded by Hastings as a great man, but then as always, Hastings, and the police, and everyone else, loses their faith in him and begins to think he’s past it. Poirot himself declares his greatness, which Hastings wryly smiles over, because neither Hastings nor the reader would ever say such a thing about ourselves, but Poirot does not hesitate to state his abilities and announce his talents.
However, if he is vain, that’s not to say he is confident. He can be humble, he can admit he has made a mistake. In fact if there is one characteristic that defines Poirot for me it is his willingness to admit he has made a mistake and to reevaluate the evidence. He constantly rethinks his approach, going over and over the facts, because if there is one thing he trusts more than his own judgement, it is logic. He knows there must be an explanation and he will not rest until he finds it. The detective and the writer have a lot in common – persistence is everything.
So that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned or observed in Lord Edgware Dies. As a review, this isn’t much cop, but if it’s made you think, ‘I might read that’, then my work here is done. Enjoy!
- Coming soon: The Thief of St Martins: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 5
As you may be aware, (I’ve talked about it a couple of times recently) there is a new Dottie Manderson book in the pipeline. I plan/hope to release it on 27th October, as an eBook and paperback on Amazon, and as an eBook and paperback through other online outlets such as Apple (not the print, though, soz), Kobo, eBook through Barnes and Noble’s Nook, paperback at Barnes and Noble’s online store, and a few other places. Still not at Waterstones, sorry, that would be a dream come true for me, but hey, maybe next year? I can’t give you the links at the moment for anything except the Kindle pre-order page.
The book is called The Thief of St Martins. It’s the fifth book in the series, and I’m really excited about it. If you want to read a sample chapter (that may or may not still be chapter one by the time the book is released, I’m not quite decided, but it will definitely be in there somewhere…) you can find the link to it below this brief description:
We last saw Dottie in the Summer of 1934, discovering that her mother was in fact really her aunt, and that she was the shameful daughter of her mother’s sister, her ‘aunt’ Cecilia Cowdrey. Some months later, to help herself to come to terms with this revelation, Dottie accepts an invitation to spend a few days with Cecilia and Lewis Cowdrey over New Year, although she’s not too sure what to expect.
Meanwhile though, if you’ve missed out on books 1 to 4, here’s a little catch-up: (warning, contains a few spoilers!)
Book 1: Night and Day:
London, November 1933. Dottie Manderson stumbles upon the body of a dying man in a deserted night-time street. As she waits for help to arrive, she holds the man’s hand and tries to get him to tell her what happened. But with his last breaths he sings to her some lines from a popular stage show.
But why, Dottie wonders? Why would he sing to her instead of sending a final message to his loved ones? Why didn’t he name his attacker?
Dottie needs to know the answers to these questions and even though a particular, very annoying young policeman Sergeant William Hardy is investigating the case officially, she feels compelled to carry out her own investigation into the mysterious death.
Book 2: The Mantle of God:
Can a tiny piece of faded cloth really be worth killing for? Is the past ever truly forgotten? Dottie’s new friend William Hardy asks her to find out more about a scrap of fabric found in a dead man’s pocket. But as soon as she starts to ask questions, things begin to happen. It’s not long before someone dies, and Dottie wonders if she may be next. Can the insignificant scrap really be a clue to a bloody time of religious hatred and murder?
Join Dottie as she works to uncover the truth of a distant past, whilst uncovering secrets held by her own closest friends and family. Can Inspector Hardy put the murderer behind bars before it’s too late? Setting aside his own personal tragedy, Hardy has to get behind the polite façade of 1930s London society to find a killer.
Book 3: Scotch Mist:
After the funeral of her friend and mentor Mrs Carmichael, Dottie Manderson is sent on a mission to find the dead woman’s missing son and to inform him of the death of a mother he never knew. Unbeknown to her, Dottie’s close friend Inspector William Hardy has also been sent on a mission, one that will force him to confront his past. His conversation with the Mrs Carmichael just before she was killed opened up questions about his father William would prefer not to ask. A sentimental lawyer has plans to bring Dottie and William together, acting on Mrs Carmichael’s bequest. But after a personal tragedy and some hectic months in his new role, is Inspector Hardy ready for romance? Perhaps if no one got murdered, he could think about other things?
Book 4: The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish:
Dottie’s had a hectic and difficult time: she’s attended too many funerals, and has just had a massive row with the man she thought she loved. on the spur of the moment she makes a stop off on her way home, in search of a dear friend who needs her help. In any case, a few days rest in a hotel by the sea is just what Dottie needs. It’s not long before she makes the acquaintance of the newly-widowed Penny Parfitt, and her attractive brother-in-law Gervase. Dottie impulsively accepts their invitation to spend a few days at Penny’s home in the country.
Quickly Dottie realises that secrets and intrigues lurk beneath the pleasant surface of their lives. A suicide years earlier casts a shadow. Was it really suicide? Dottie begins to think something sinister has taken place.
But after all this time, can she find out what really happened?
So now that you know a little bit about these, I hope that you feel intrigued enough and inspired enough to give them a try. There are more in the pipeline, but as yet I’ve only planned the first ten books in this series. Will there be more? Yes, I think there will. By book 11 we will be into the war years: the war no one ever thought would happen. So I am looking ahead and seeing the potential for that. How will the war affect the lives of Dottie, Flora, Mr and Mrs Manderson, and of course, William Hardy? Who will fight for King and Country? Who will be left behind, and what will they do to cope with the strain of constant danger? I’m quite keen to get to that point. But there’s so much to do first.
I’m what writers call a ‘pantser’ ie I don’t plan my books in meticulous detail in advance, but I write by the seat of my pants, almost literally making it up as I go along. BUT I do plan loo
sely, sometimes years ahead. But if I told you any of those loose plans now, it would ruin everything, wouldn’t it?
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the wonderful people who’ve said such nice things, and given me so much encouragement with my writing, and with this series in particular. Honestly, you have no idea how amazing it is to know that someone somewhere has read and enjoyed one–sometimes more than one–of my books. Thank you so much.
And thank you too to my family and friends for all their love support and active assistance, ‘without whom’…
- The Film of The Book
Writers are at heart, fantasists, and for many of us, there is no more entertaining—or time-wasting—fantasy than to ask yourself who would play your main characters if some movie mogul had the urge to transform your book or series into a blockbuster movie.
I think we all know that there can be a big difference between how each of us sees our ‘hero’ on the page, and how that is translated to the big screen. For fans, and no doubt, writers, this can lead to a terrible sense of disappointment.
Movies from books that I loved:
The Harry Potter series: I felt they nailed all the characters perfectly
Bladerunner: from Philip K Dick’s short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The late Rutger Hauer is wonderful, as is Harrison Ford and Sean Young. The silence in this work is as speaking as the words.
Bridget Jones (the first one): the same – I loved the characters. In fact I enjoyed the film even more than the book, (apologies to Helen Fielding).
Dial M For Murder/The Perfect Murder: both sensationally wonderful adaptations of Frederic Knott’s play Dial M For Murder: a collage for voices.
Murder on the Orient Express: now obviously there have been several versions of this, and I’ve loved them all.
The Da Vinci Code: well I’m a bit half-and-half on this. I loved that they cast the brilliant Jean Reno as the policeman – when I was reading the book, I thought to myself, ‘You know who would be perfect in this part? Jean Reno.’ I take all the credit for the casting decisions in that direction, (even though they don’t know me and had no idea that this was what I wanted.) And I also like the role of what’s-his-name being played by Sir Ian McKellen. But Tom Hanks? No. Sophie thingie? NO!!!
A Room With A View: just beautiful, and all the more so for not having E M Forster’s sad, cynical epilogue of reality to ruin the spell he’d cast over all those pages. To anyone who hasn’t read the book, I’d say skip the epilogue, it will mar your enjoyment of the work forever.
Anyway, this is the game I’ve been playing at home. ‘Someone Wants To Turn My Book Into A Film’.
I’m talking about my 1930s Dottie Manderson cosy mystery series.
My main characters are:
Dottie Manderson, aged 19 at the start of book 1 which is Night and Day. She is 5’ 7, has dark wavy hair, hazel eyes, lovely skin and a gorgeous, slender figure. She comes from a wealthy background, and lives in London with her parents. She is a wee bit shy, loves her family, loves dancing, and works as a mannequin for Mrs Carmichael. She’s idealistic and a little naïve. In the books, we see her maturing as she learns about the world, and about relationships between men and women. She is nosy and gets into murder-related situations. She is compassionate and detests bigotry and moral ideas that put appearance before compassion and respect.
William Hardy is the detective she frequently ‘runs up against’. (Yes that is a double-entendre, if not a triple…) He is a little older at 28. He is a policeman working his way up the ranks after his father died and left the family penniless. They had to leave their privileged lifestyle and he had to leave his law studies to earn a living. He is (of course) six feet tall, if not a bit more, and well-built. He is fair-haired, and blue-eyed. He has a penchant for a certain dark-haired young lady which makes him awkward and embarrassed at times. He has a slightly different attitude to women than the majority of men of his era in that he is respectful and does not think of women as inferior or as domestic drudges. He is determined to improve his family’s fortunes by sheer hard work and devotion to his work.
There are other recurring characters too:
Mr and Mrs Manderson, Dottie’s parents: Her father is largely to be found behind a newspaper. Her mother is brisk and no-nonsense, but as the series develops we see that there is a deep love between these two, and that Mrs Manderson has a marshmallow heart under the stern exterior.
Flora: Dottie’s older sister is married to George, a very wealthy young man. They are about to become parents for the first time. They are devoted to one another and to Dottie.
Mrs Carmichael: The rough and ready working-class woman who through hard work and dedication has over the course of many years built up a fashion warehouse of her own, and has a loyal clientele. She has a fondness for Dottie, and it is revealed later that she ‘knew’ William’s father many years earlier.
So here’s the big question: Who would play these roles if my books were made into a TV series or a movie? I’ve been thinking about his quite a bit. But I’m somewhat hampered by the fact that I really don’t keep up with who’s who in the acting world, so my ideas are probably really out of touch.
Make sure and tell me who would work better, in your opinion, obviously I need all the help I can get here.
Dottie: I’ve got a couple of ideas.
2. Flora Spencer-Longhurst. Though I must admit they are both a bit older than Dottie is in my books. What do you think?
I’ve pinned some images on my Leading Ladies board on Pinterest, which you can view here:
William: I’ve got almost no ideas for William Hardy. Except for Alex Pettyfer. Can you take a look and tell me what you think? I urgently need help here: you never know how soon someone might knock on my door to present me with a tempting contract…
As for Flora and Mr and Mrs M, what about these lovely people:
Herbert Manderson: What about the gorgeous Jason Isaacs? He’s a little older now (sorry Jason, but you know it’s true) and he’s nicely craggy.
Mrs Lavinia Manderson
Well there’s Kristin Scott Thomas, I think she’d work really well in this role: (can we afford her?)
And for the redoubtable Mrs Carmichael:
Or if she had still been alive, Patsy Byrne (you will remember her as Nursie in Blackadder).
So, dear readers, please help! We need to get this cast list sorted before MGM or 20th Century Fox come knocking on my door.
- The anti-social writer
This is what I overheard in a café in town a while ago: “I find that writers aren’t very nice to work with. One or two are okay, but most of them…well, they very much like to keep to themselves, don’t they? And they don’t like the competition either. It would be nice to have a chat, you know, but most of them just won’t. You get the odd one who will say ‘Hi’, but that’s about it.”
Needless to say, my ears were flapping as I tried (surreptitiously) to hear every word and quickly write it down as I knew I would forget it, and at the same time I’m trying to look casual and eat a caramel-topped, cream-filled doughnut (definitely high on my mental list of priorities, I don’t get out much), and hoping they won’t turn round and see me writing down their every word. I decided Lady Number One must work in a theatre or something, and the café we were in was close to Quad in Derby, where they run both writing doobries and theatrical thingies. (Please pause here to marvel at my expert use of the English language.)
She went on to talk about how some of the actresses had been very moved by the speeches they had to deliver. Lady Number Two was her friend-from-another-workplace and just kept nodding and agreeing.
Now I freely admit that we are all entitled to our opinions…
I apologise on behalf of all writers everywhere if we aren’t as good at chatting as you would like us to be. It’s not always easy talking to someone you don’t really know too well. Just give us another chance…
Quite often it can be difficult to shut a writer up. Once you get them started, they can talk for hours – all that time spent alone with a journal or laptop means they rarely see actual humans, let alone enjoy conversation. But it’s also often said that a writer is busy with an internal life others are not privy to, working away at the coal-face of a tricky plot or puzzling over the intransigence of a character.
But maybe, like everyone else, sometimes writers are just rude. Or shy. Or nervous. Or feeling out of their depth. Or worried. Tired. Or maybe even wondering if their wife is having an affair, or if the kids are in trouble, or yes, about their work, if their plot is shallow or their characters wooden. Maybe they are looking at you and thinking, ‘Wow he/she would be the perfect victim in my next book’. Or an arch-villain.
Do we hear people complaining about dentists not being chatty enough? No. All too often, anecdotal evidence – and TV comedies – tell us that dentists love to talk and only ever require an answer if your mouth is full of putty, fingers, sharp objects, or that scary sucky gadget.
And no one complains that hairdressers don’t talk. Or lawyers. Or retail assistants. Or window cleaners. Usually lack of conversation is a bonus in everyday situations. So why do writers have to be so chatty?
Is it because we’re ‘wordsmiths’?
(I hate that word – so pretentious! Imagine me up all night, filing and drilling and smoothing then peering myopically through a loupe at my carefully crafted, gleaming word. Congratulations, it’s a pronoun!)
But I can’t deny that words are my – our – profession. Does that mean I have to share them constantly? Does a banker hand out free cash to all their friends and acquaintances? If only! Do my marketing and publishing contacts promise me freebies to help me sell my books? Nope! Again – if only!
No. We all inhabit our little solitary worlds. It’s not because I’m a writer that I’m rubbish at making conversation with a total stranger. It’s because I’m a human being. There are loads of things I’m rubbish at, making conversation is only one of them.
- To Bludgeon or Not To Bludgeon
Writing murder mysteries means that I constantly have to try to find a different, even grisly way to ‘eliminate’ my victims. Like a lot of writers of murder mysteries, my search history leaves a lot to be desired. Those who know me have sometimes remarked (thinking they were safely out of earshot) that I’m a bit weird. I’m not really. (okay, maybe I am a teeny bit odd, but in a nice way, right?)
I just overthink things and take them a bit too seriously.
Like weapons for example, and the various means of disposing of someone.
I know some writers go over the top to try out a new method of dispatching a victim for their books. They might talk to experts, spend time at chemistry labs researching poisons, do a short course on blood spatter analysis, or go to firing ranges or interrogate forensic specialists. They might purchase a raft of books on forensic stuff, or even, like character Gil Grissom in an early episode of classic CSI, get a pig’s carcass delivered to his place of work and proceed to inflict various atrocities on it. I don’t think I could do that. I’d be unable to forget it was (once) a living creature. I’m not a vegetarian, just a bit squeamish.
It’s quite easy, though to absorb this kind of thing via osmosis. TV shows, factual and fictional, go into the aspect of how a person died to a very useful extent. And as I said just now, there is plenty of literature on the subject, as my book shelves will attest. Then there’s the internet… And news media…
It used to be said that the female weapon of choice was murder. Is that still true in these days of equality?
I’ve poisoned a few people in my time. Fictionally, of course. But the blunt instrument is still my favourite. You can whack someone with almost anything.
If you follow my Dottie Manderson series, you can look forward to a death by blunt object in the upcoming book, The Thief of St Martins. You can read a short taster HERE.
Does anyone remember that brilliant episode of Tales Of The Unexpected from years ago where the woman killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooked it and served it to the investigating police officers. They ate the evidence! Fantastic. That’s definitely my favourite episode.
To date, in my books, I’ve had people stabbed, poisoned, die in various forms of road ‘accident’; they’ve been suffocated, executed, shot, strangled and bashed over the head. I like to vary it a bit, but it’s hard to get away from the old-but-good methods.
My murderous main character Cressida in The Friendship Can Be Murder books talks about how hard it is to come up with a murder weapon these days.
The Grandes Dames of the murder mystery genre, practising their art in the early and middle parts of the twentieth century—what one might term the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction—espoused the pleasures of poisoning. Fly-papers were meticulously soaked to extract their lethal properties, berries and toadstools were carefully gathered and sliced and diced and surreptitiously introduced into steaming casseroles and tempting omelettes. On every domestic shelf such things as sleeping draughts and rat poison and eye drops sat unnoticed and unremarked, and a home was not a home without at least a few jars of cyanide or arsenic sulking forgotten in garden sheds and garages.
But, sadly, these items are notoriously tricky to come by nowadays in our ‘Nanny state’.
Of course, one watches these TV programmes that explain all about the forensic process, so that one is pre-armed with useful information. Knives wielded by the left-handed protagonist cut quite differently to those employed by a right-handed person. Equally so the short protagonist and the weak slash feeble protagonist.
In addition the actual wound inflicted by a classic blunt weapon can yield so much information about not just the weapon itself but also the attacker—the approximate height, stance, and even weight and probable gender, for example, and the ferocity of attack is sometimes a gauge as to motive and psychology. Firing a gun leaves residue on one’s clothes, gloves, and skin, and, contrary to popular belief, it can be quite a job laying one’s hands on a firearm.
According to the Daily Tabloid, a gun may readily be obtained at certain pubs in our larger cities for as little as £30, usually from a gentleman going by the name of Baz or Tel, but the problem is, these tend to be the kind of establishments one would hesitate to enter in broad daylight, let alone late in the evening.
She’s got a point, bless her, and ‘fortunately’ she manages to find a way round these problems. I’d love to try flypapers! Maybe I’ll save that for my next book.
I’ve also been experimenting with a mad professor and an ‘infernal machine’. I might use that at some point. In another series–still not published yet–I’ve used a fetishist and a special piece of rope that he loves to moon over. Elsewhere I’ve had social leaders employ minions as an execution squad, and of course there’s another old favourite, the fall from a high place.
Most of my perpetrators are people who don’t usually make a habit of ‘this kind of thing’, they just find themselves pushed little by little into a situation where they feel they have no choice but to lash out at the person or persons who is putting them or their comfortable life in jeopardy somehow.
If there’s nothing new under the sun, it is at least pleasing to come up with a bit of variety, though bludgeon has, as Michael Douglas’s character says in A Perfect Murder, (based on Dial M For Murder, one of my all-time favourite films) ‘a spur-of-the-moment ring about it’. I like the idea of a spur-of-the-moment crime, where the perpetrator loses control and spends a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to get away with it. It’s not all about the victim, you know!
- How To Get ImposterSyndromeForAuthors.version1
What is it?
Imposter syndrome is a widespread professionally recognised psychological disorder encountered by people in all walks of life, but here I am talking about us writers. It’s essentially a negative, destructive mindset that gets a hold of you and messes with your head. It makes you doubt yourself – more than doubt yourself – if left unaddressed. It convinces you you have no right to stand with your peers or to call yourself a writer. If you let it take a hold of your life, it’s then all too easy to find yourself in a deep well of misery and be unable to function.
I’m speaking from personal experience. It was many years before I realised it wasn’t only me, it was a quite common problem that many people have to overcome, not just once, but sometimes many times in their life. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the occasional, short-lived self-doubt everyone has, especially when trying something new. I’m talking about paralysing, life-altering, behaviour changing self-disbelief leading to a deep depression.
What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome?
Check these out, be honest with yourself. If you can say, ‘Yes, that’s me’ to a few of these, maybe you could do with some help to overcome these issues in your life.
- You don’t see your own strengths. Not just modesty, you really think you’re useless.
- You believe your luck is running out, that any success you’ve had was a fluke, and is about to leave you forever. You are convinced that it is only a matter of time until people realise you are not a real writer, painter, sculptor, dressmaker, teacher, secretary, doctor, politician, musician… and that you will be publicly denounced for the fraud you are.
- You feel like you need to work harder than everyone else just to stay in place.
- You can’t accept compliments, but always feel uncomfortable, even apologetic, and need to rationalise how you ‘accidentally’ did something good or right.
- You shrug off success as a beyond your control, going-with-the-territory result of your hard work, rather than your ability.
- You’re a workaholic.
- You’re a perfectionist and feel you’re never quite finished with a project. When something is done, you see only the glaring flaws.
- Failure is not an option for you. You feel humiliated, even ashamed when you have to back down or cancel any project you’re working on. You feel people laugh at you or despise you for failing.
- You’re not comfortable with confidence. You feel awkward and fake when promoting your work or talent.
- Comparisons undermine and upset your brief flashes of self-confidence, and stop you functioning.
- You only see the negatives and the limitations of your work. You may have worked hard for years to achieve a certain level of ability, but you only see your shortcomings.
- You downplay your role in projects or in helping others, saying things like ‘anyone would do the same’ or ‘I had so much help from others’.
- You have irrational feelings and thoughts such as, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I can’t do it’ and even the dreaded, ‘I’m giving up’. This last is the worst, because you can lose a lot of creative, productive time, sometimes years, even a whole lifetime, because of this destructive mindset. I’ve also known people to destroy their work (I’ve done this) in the belief that it is trash.
So now we know what it is, how do we deal with it?
The important thing is to remember you’re not the only one with these kind of thoughts. I recently read somewhere that ‘experts’ (no idea who) say as many as 70% of people suffer from this disorder. 70%. It’s possible that out of ten people you know, more than half have the same sense of inadequacy and fear that you do, or I do. That’s a lot!
So it’s obvious that it’s not just—YOU—this problem isn’t something that only affects you. Does that help? It helps me A LOT to know that huge numbers of other writers feel the same as me. Just knowing that means that it’s not just me, therefore a lot of my thoughts have to be false.
Some things we can do:
- Know and acknowledge your strengths. Not everything you do is wrong or weak. Realise that you have assets and talents. If you don’t know what they are, ask your friends, family or trusted colleagues what they think are you best qualities or your biggest abilities. They will surprise you by seeing things that you didn’t even know were strengths. Hold on to what they tell you, write it down to look at when old doubts come back to haunt you.
- Share your feelings, don’t keep them bottled up inside, afraid to tell anyone how you feel. Often people will respond with compassion, support and even, ‘Yes, I worry about that too’. If they don’t, find another person to confide in, someone who ‘gets’ you.
- Count your blessings. Old school but it always helps to realise that there are many good things in your life. Start small, it is usually the small things in life that bring joy, rather than the big things. This attitude helps you to develop and keep a positive mindset.
- Make large projects or tasks manageable by breaking them down into components or sections—this will help you to feel less overwhelmed and less daunted by what you have to do.
- Grow to understand that it is not a failing to fail. EVERYONE fails sometimes, and you cannot go through life without that. So don’t fear it, but embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and to connect with others as you are open about your fears and your failings.
- Recognise that you are always changing, always learning. Learning is not something we only do at school. Our whole lives are about moving on and increasing our abilities. Just because you struggle with something now, that doesn’t mean you will always struggle with it. There is always room to develop and to build on skills. So be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to learn new things.
- Don’t be afraid to admit if something isn’t working for you and give up on it. you will always learn something from any abandoned project. Don’t let it stop you from trying again with something else.
- Learn to accept compliments without shrugging them aside. Learn to say nice things, positive and nurturing things, to yourself. Refuse to allow mean thoughts about yourself and your abilities to flourish. Try to avoid comparing yourself with others. No one is the same. No one can be the same.
- Don’t let other people criticise you in a negative way. No one has the right to do that, and it’s usually born out of jealousy or guilt. If someone attacks you in this way, verbally, or on social media, however they do it, walk away, literally or virtually. Cut it off before it gets into you and eats away at your newly acquired self-esteem.
I hope this has helped. You can contact me if you want to talk more about this subject.
Further reading you might find useful:
- 10 tips for getting on with your writing
I think most of us have days when we stare into space and can’t think of a single thing to write. Here are my top tips for getting on with it. There’s not anything really earth-shatteringly new here, just practical ideas to keep you—and me—writing. Some are obvious, some are simple, some are just coping mechanisms that have worked for me.
- Keep social media out of your work area. It’s so easy to ‘lose’ an hour or two just checking your emails or catching up with social media—and this is a really good one for disguising as work. But if you are a media junkie and know you spend too much time oohing and ahhing over other people’s cat pictures or searching for memes, do everything you can to keep internet availability to areas away from where you work. Keep your breaks short—just enough time to eat, drink, pee and then get back to work. (btw Eat, Drink, Pee is the little-known follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. Less successful because it lacks the strong spiritual appeal of the original.)
- Plan. Yes, even if like me, you are more of a pantser, when you struggle to move forward with your work, then leave yourself a couple of lines of notes that will give you a kick-start to begin your next writing session. I heard it suggested that a writer even breaks off in the middle of a crucial scene to create an easy pick-up point. However, if like me, you’re a bit forgetful, you might not find this idea too effective. Instead I prefer to scratch down a few lines in pencil, just to give myself a little push in the morning. (Not a morning person!) while it’s still fresh in my mind. I often have an idea in my head of where the story is going to go, but can forget some of this by the next day. This idea is a good one to avoid losing the plot—literally.
- Take a notebook everywhere. Yes, I know this is an obvious one for writers, but trust me, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to either abandon a brilliant idea or rush to buy a notebook when out and about. And trust me, notes written on a napkin in ketchup or eyebrow pencil aren’t so easy to read when you get home. You don’t have to take along a huge, heavy notebook, just a teeny one that fits into a pocket will be fine, so long as you always have something with you in case inspiration strikes. For me, any time I’m left alone to stare into space can be a good time to write—on the bus, train, waiting for the bus or train, waiting for loved ones to finish work or try on a dress… or you could get a note-making app on your tablet or phone, I like Evernote. I do a lot of my best writing in a caff with a cappuccino at my elbow. So before you leave the house, make sure you have a notebook and about six pens. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Notebook…?
- Count your words. This is really a coping mechanism for if you are going through a sticky patch. It’s really aimed at people who, like me, write longhand before they transfer work onto a device. Each morning, before you start work staring at the crack on the ceiling, count the previous day’s word total manually. Doing this will mean a) you get a quick overview of what you wrote yesterday and that will help you to get into writing mode, and b) you will feel encouraged to build on what you already have. This works for me when nothing else does, even if I end up discarding half or more of the previous day’s work.
- Break up the blank. This continues from the one above. If you sit and stare at the white page or screen in dismay and your brain refuses to create, try this:
- Do Step 4 as above.
- Then start each new page with the date and running word total in the top left corner.
- Number the pages bottom right.
- If you are using chapter headings or titles, write that too, or simply write chapter and the number.
You could also do Step 2 for this point, again to give yourself a little push.
- Change your routine. This is another one that works well for me. Try sitting somewhere different to your usual spot, give yourself a new viewpoint. Listen to different music—even music you hate can be useful. I used to sometimes sit in one of my children’s bedrooms when they were at school and listen to some of their music. Just changing your daily routine or habits can trick your brain into creating fresh words. Try getting up in the middle of the night, if you’re a morning person, or go out and write in the pub or the library or the park. Anything different is good and will help to lift you out of your slough of despond and help get rid of that wading-through-mud feeling.
- Revise. If you’re really stick, go back and look at your original premise for your WIP and see if there’s any aspect of your story you’ve missed, ignored or just plain not considered. Did you go down a blind alley? If you don’t have old notes to go back to, write down a couple of paragraphs of what you remember about getting the original idea for your story. How did it work out in your mind? How does that compare to what you have actually written so far? Try to see your story as a whole unit, like a ladder with rungs moving the story forward. What needs to happen to your characters to get the story to the next rung?
- Read. This is the easy one. I’m not advocating spending weeks and months reading hundreds of books, but just take some time out to read for half an hour or an hour. Refresh your mind, read some poetry, or a familiar favourite book. Again too, you could try something new and different that will get your creative juices flowing. If I’m writing fiction, I read a non-fiction, usually history.
- Write something else. So often I find the minute I start work on one story, I get ideas coming through for another. Usually it’s another story where I’ve already completed the first draft and am just subconsciously mulling it over. Try your hand at a short story or a haiku.
- Doodle. Make yourself some brain-storming cluster diagram. Put your key word—or your character name, or anything to do with your WIP, and then bring lots of lines out from the central idea and at the end of each line, write a word or phrase or idea that somehow relates to the key word. You can do this for every character, or every location or plot point etc. You can put down anything that is linked with your main character, or maybe just ideas that are only tentatively linked. You could sit and create a list of words from your title, or your character’s name. You could try Googling your character’s name and see what comes up—but don’t get side-tracked, it isn’t supposed to replace writing but to stimulate it. Try brain-storming something completely different, a colour or a sound that is relevant to your story, eg blue—then write all the things you can think of to do with ‘blue’: the colour of royalty; meaning sad or depressed; lapis lazuli used to be used to make the pigment blue for artists, and was more expensive than gold, so hence very little of it used in paintings, only for the special few key characters, which brings us back to royalty again; the Greeks had no colour for blue, and used the word for brass; the Bible says sometimes when you pray the ‘Heavens are as brass’; does that mean they are blue, or they are hard and impenetrable? Blue is a cold colour, blue is the colour for baby boys—but used to be the traditional colour for baby girls up until the early 1900s, then mysteriously it swapped, so did this result in confusion? Hopefully you see how this technique can generate ideas.
So those are my top tips. Hopefully if you do get stuck with your writing, or you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, one of these might help you to get back on track and find fresh and exciting ideas. Above all if you’re struggling with a particular idea or a specific part of your WIP, don’t panic. Do something else for a little while or try one of these ideas. You’ll soon get your mojo back.
- By the light of a candle’s flame
I’m a very image-driven person. I am inspired by music and the written or spoken word, yes, but nothing moves me to create more than an image. Sometimes if I’m stuck for ideas, I browse through Pixabay or through my own photo albums, virtual and paper. This is what I thought when I saw these images.
I look into the flame and see…
Candles. Flames. Bobbing gently, like stars reflected in a pond. Shining points. Barely moving. Warm. Sun-bright. Thinning the darkness and concentrating it; the surrounding darkness grows smaller, denser, darker, like turning on night instead of light. Two candles together, mirroring. Let there be light. Rasp of match. And there was light.
Worship the light, as your ancestors did, for when the light was gone, the herds moved away, the food was gone, the heat, the shelter. You lost everything because there was no light. Pleading with the gods for another spring, another dawn, for the sun to rise again and bring new hope.
Prometheus stole me to illuminate Bede, to shine upon Shakespeare’s moving quill. Does the flame recall their struggles with words, with pages? The artist slaving in his garret, with only a flame to light his way, his hands and pages covered in spent wax, the litter of the revelation.
The questor in the labyrinth. Lighting one step at a time, no more. You move ahead by faith alone. At any moment the light could be snatched from your grasp and where would you be? Alone, in the dark, where the minotaur prowls. You hear its step ever closer, its breath on your cheek in the gloom.
The flame bobbing and dancing shows the presence of evil in your room. We used to tell one another ghost stories by this small light. We decorated our cave walls with the shape of things our dreams told us. Superstition, hand in hand with creativity. Reaching forward as well as back through time. Immemorial time. When time began, there was the light, ready and waiting to draw you onward.
The light on a tomb or grave, don’t let them go into the dark and be forgotten. The candle of prayerfulness and sorrow, of all-night vigils at bedsides, of pain and fear, of inability to understand the endless cycle of night and day. No relief found in this golden glow. The candle of celebration has been blown out. The last one to leave, turn out the light.
Does the candle see me? Is the flame aware of those who cluster moth-close around? I’ve seen it all before. You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last, to be awestruck by my intangible beauty. Flame is eternal, the word is fleeting.