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.
This week I’m cheating yet again, as I’m reblogging a post about me from Christy Oslund’s website https://colliedogpress.wordpress.com
Take a look if you’ve got ten minutes to kill, it’s full of fascinating insights into authors’ lives and work.
And thank you, Christy, for taking the time, and for the great conversations. I appreciate it.
There is a convention, some say a misconception, that writers base their main character–their protagonist–on themselves. Not me, of course.
I’m nothing like, for example, the main character in my Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy, Cressida Barker-Powell.
Nothing like her.
She lives in a massive house–we could justifiably call it a mansion, it cost millions, with a husband worth at least another couple of million. Cressida also has a lady who comes in and ‘does’, whilst I have to wash my own dishes, and heat up my own baked beans.
Cressida wears designer clothes, has accessories to match; she goes to dinner and cocktail-parties in smart restaurants; weekends in posh houses; pops off to London for a few days’ shopping, or nips to an exclusive spa for some ‘me time’. Whereas the highlight of my social calendar is going to the supermarket for the week’s groceries.
And–lest we forget–she kills people. Not just one. And not by accident. She deliberately plots and plans and obsesses over multiple murders in a vicious and calculating manner. I never so much as step on a woodlouse if I can avoid it. And if I do–well there are tears, self-blame, and a very charming funeral for all its friends.
And yet …
It was me who researched those murders. I put the ideas into her fictional head. I wrote the words that come from her perfectly-lipsticked mouth. I chose her designer outfits, her bags, her shoes. When she complains about people who annoy her in some way, her impatience is mine, her anger, even her acerbic wit is mine. I even placed her victims in their lives, specially to annoy her.
So when, in those rare and tender moments, she does something nice for a change, that’s me too, isn’t it? (It doesn’t happen often.)
I tried. I had hoped to succeed–at least in part–in making her so, so different to me. Some of her views and attitudes and certainly her experiences and lifestyle are different to mine. But differences can be positive as well as negative. I would never–I hope–kill anything or anyone, but part of me can’t help but admire her decisive (if somewhat ‘final’) method of dealing with things and people she is unhappy about, or her willingness to exact her cold revenge for the sake of people she cares about (those few, few people!) whereas I am very passive, and I agonise and fret and usually fail to act.
It’s quite cathartic sometimes to allow her to do those things I choose not to do. To be able to do the unthinkable, the immoral, to do exactly as she pleases. It’s the kind of vicarious pleasure we get from watching box-sets of evil people doing terrible things and willing them to get away with it.
But she’s nothing like me. Let’s be clear, she is a monster, but she is bold and decisive, and she takes action in ways I never could. She’s nothing like me. She’s not me.
I’m trying something new this week. I’ve never reblogged a blog post before, and I’ve never had anyone else write for me before, but when I read this blog post on Emma’s site today, it exactly chimed with how I’ve been feeling this week about my own self-publishing and social media adventures.
Emma Baird is someone I count as a good friend – she writes completely different stuff to me, and it is really good stuff. If you love romance, humorous writing, quirky ideas and Scottish settings, then you should definitely read her books. NOW!
This ad for Maybelline shows the archetype for 1930s make-up.
Make-up in the 1930s was gradually moving away from the secretive, rather apologetic attitudes of the 1920s and earlier which kept make-up containers such as compacts small and discreet, in much the same way as women’s smoking accoutrements. Partly this new acceptance was to do with the trend for more a feminine look after the androgynous 20s, but it was also due to the burgeoning movie industry and the new passion for celebrity role models, and the aspiration to adopt Hollywood styles and trends as part of everyday life, even for those on low incomes. You might see a certain dress or hat in a film, and a week later your friend, sister, mother or yourself could have copied it at home to create your own variation to wear on your half-day out or the next time you went to the cinema.
Yes, that is 1930s mascara, to be applied with a kind of toothbrush thing. It looks like boot polish. And who knows, maybe it was. But it got a girl noticed.
The cosmetics companies lost no time in showing the everyday woman how to use their products to achieve the same looks, or an approximation of them, as the big screen icons such as Myrna Loy, Barabara Stanwyck, and Carole Lombard, whose glamour was so appealing to women – and of course to men, which was a big part of the thrill.
In 1937, Myrna Loy was featured by Photoplay magazine in a kind of cross-over promotion with Max Factor, sporting her face with a clever ad for her latest film Parnell, in which she appeared with Hollywood megastar Clark Gable, whilst her photograph lent authority and appeared to endorse the products being promoted, no doubt sending her fans out in droves to buy the make-up ‘used by Myrna’.
The typical look was for pale foundation, with pink ‘roses’ on the cheeks. Eyebrows were very arched, and plucked extremely thinly, or even completely removed then pencilled-in in a much higher bow than nature intended. The eyes were emphasised with deep colour–blues, greens and mauves were popular–on the lids and highlighter or shimmer on the under-brow area. Lips were painted in a range of tones, mainly deep pinks, reds and oranges.
A range of lovely, very appealing products from the Coty range, and featuring the Lalique powder puff design.
It’s a surprisingly colourful palette, and the products were manufactured by many of the big brand names we still know today such as Revlon, Max Factor, Coty, Almay, and Maybelline, not forgetting our own dear Boots No. 7 which first appeared in 1935! Helena Rubenstein created the first waterproof mascara in 1939. Cream eye-shadows, lip ‘glosses’, and ‘pancake’ make-up also appeared in the 1930s. It was an exciting time to be a girl! Make-up like face creams and powders were mostly sold in glass or china pots, or for cheaper brands, or the lighter products such as eye-shadows and lip-sticks, in sturdy, decorated cardboard boxes or in tin or plastic.
Here’s an extract from the sales pitch for Max Factor: ‘Choose your colour harmony shade in Max Factor’s Face Powder and see how naturally the colour enlivens the beauty of your skin.’ It sounds so similar to the kind of advertising copy we read or hear today, doesn’t it?
Sales were booming. The new advances in chemicals and manufacturing processes helped to pave the way for a wider use of make-up, especially among younger women who worked in factories and had their own money. Prices came down and demand went up. Glamourdaze.com quotes the Daily Mail as asserting that ‘In 1931, 1,500 lipsticks were being sold to women for every 1 being sold in 1921.’ How true that is I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were fairly accurate. Affordability, economics, a decade of peace, industrial progress, and women having jobs, their own money and more autonomy all must have combined to create the perfect climate for a boom in make-up alongside other new consumer goods such as clothing, accessories, household appliances and even cars.
The Coty compact with design by Lalique.
In the image above, you can see a lovely vintage Coty powder compact. The design was by Lalique, the famous glass guy. I sold one of these on eBay for a nice little sum a few years ago! Coty started in 1904 and Lalique set up his first glass ware and design business in 1921. This gorgeous powder puff motif is still highly collectable, though affordable, and is still in the very small size compact that was normal for the 1920s – a little over two inches in diameter. A tiny thing of great beauty. You can find them quite easily on the Internet, sometimes still with a little powder inside, and usually with an applicator or sponge. But beware, there are replicas about. They are easy to spot, being much larger–the kind of size we usually see now of about three and a half inches or more–plus shallower, and the design is more precise and detailed.
So make-up, then as now, really did depend on who you wanted to be, and just as in the fashion world, the designers followed trends very closely, with lower priced brands following after the big leagues, and with everyone keeping an eye on their favourite celebs.
PARNELL, US poster art with Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, 1937
Since I’ve ‘discovered’ Pinterest, I’ve also reaffirmed my love of the idea of the capsule wardrobe. I don’t know why I love these so much, maybe it’s just that my own clothing collection is rather hit-and-miss and I often find it hard to know what to put on. Whatever the reason, I love those graphics that show you 16 or 20 items of clothing with accessories, then show you how to combine and rearrange them to create 30 or 40 outfits. I note they are often in neutral colours especially beige, which is a colour I rarely wear, and I’m guessing that the neutral palette makes it easier to put together ‘a look’.
As I work from home and have no colleagues, apart from Mabel and Malcolm, that is, I usually schlep about in scruffy tops and aged comfy jeans. I’m a bit ashamed to admit my own shortcomings, because I not only enjoy the history of costume and fashion, but when I created my 1930s mystery series, the Dottie Manderson mysteries, I decided to make my main character a mannequin in a fashion warehouse, just so I could indulge my love of clothes. I regularly mention clothing and fabrics in the stories, which some readers–especially gentlemen–Stuart Aken, I’m looking at you–have found a bit trying, to say the least. Soz, guys.
All this got me to thinking, ‘What would Dottie wear?’ Being a 1930s mystery series featuring well-to-do families in between-the-wars England, there are a lot of visits and house parties. So what would a young woman need to take with her for, say, a weekend in the country in Summer? I’m leaving out tweeds, because a) I abhor shooting and hunting and so, consequently, does Dottie, and b) no woman looks good in tweeds. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Where’s the glamour in a tweed coat and skirt? Answer: there is none.
Here we go. Oh, and by the way, I’m taking the role of Dottie’s maid Janet for this trip, so I will do the packing.
Firstly, I will be packing nightwear in the form of a negligee and matching wrap. Dottie is 20ish so there’s no way this girl will be wearing a massive up-to-the-neck-down-to-the-floor cotton nightgown, she’s not 90! The negligee will be ankle-length, and made of something soft and sheer like artificial silk or crepe-de-chine, probably in soft blues or pinks, with lace edging in cream of a deeper cream/coffee colour and narrow ribbon in a matching colour to fasten. Women’s underwear came in the form of long bloomers, to the knee or just above the knee, in either a loose and light sheer fabric with lace trim, or in close-fitting, machine-knitted cotton. There were also teddies and camisoles, worn with a sense of modern naughtiness by the younger women and viewed with maternal concern by the older. Petticoats with supporting lace or embroidered cupped bodices. Bras as we know them today were still waiting in the future, but the complete lack of support of the well-named ‘flapper’ style of the twenties was no longer fashionable. Pantyhose was still to come, so stockings were worn with a suspender (garter) belt and no doubt thrilled men then as they do now. Stockings for day-wear would be sturdier than their evening-wear counterparts. I must remember to pack some silly little slippers just to keep Dottie’s feet warm in the bedroom, and the hallway to the bathroom and back.
There will be a day outfit in the form of a day dress or suit/costume. If we are travelling light, I think we might manage with one or two, but if we have a whole car to fill, we might take three or four outfits just for a two-day trip. The style for the 1930s was fairly straight but more feminine and less plain than the very straight, quite masculine styles of the 20s. Picture a dress with a very slight flair, an A-line skirt, or perhaps quite close-fitting to the knees then flaring out, gently for a day dress and more dramatically for an evening dress when the wearer might want to dance and feel the fabric swirl out about her. The length would reach to the mid-calf for day-wear with ankle-length or floor-length for evening. Shoes had quite high heels, say three inches or so, and were often buckle-fastening or laced. With the exception of tennis shoes and gumboots, shoes would have been made of leather.
Styles were plain in execution, but with a lot of embellishment such as bows or jabottes at the neck, functional or decorative buttons on pockets, sleeves and bodices. There were variations in lapel size and shape, from deep and wide, to small and standing up straight, from squared off, to drooping downward. Belts, cuffs, shoulder tabs and waistband tabs were very ‘in’. The zip was still a few years away from general fashion use, so buttons, hooks-and-eyes, and buckles were used far more than we do today. For day-wear necklines were quite high. Fabrics would be mainly cotton, linen or wool, although man-made fibres that laundered easily such as crepe-de-chine and artificial silk for blouses or light summer dresses were popular. And of course, no lady would go out without a little clutch purse, gloves, and a hat, even in summer.
Hat boxes could accommodate two or three hats depending on size and shape, so Dottie doesn’t need to worry about wearing the same hat all weekend! I’d suggest a neat little beret for going out in the day time, or perhaps a felt cloche hat with a rakish feather, some beading or ribbons, or if the weather is very warm and sunny, I think she’ll need a wide-brimmed straw hat to keep the sun off her face.
Then obviously she will be changing for dinner, so a long evening gown is a definite must. And a girl can’t wear the same frock two evenings in a row, so perhaps I’ll take two gowns. White was a popular colour for an evening dress for a young woman, although shades of red, brown and green were also worn. Older ladies tended to favour black too, though this was not usually seen on young women due to its funereal connotation. Gowns would be flaring, long, and low-cut, or with cut-out sections in the bodice, and were made from taffeta, satin, or silk mixes: silk-satin, silk-organdie, silk-crepe. The shoulders were often bare, or the gown might be more or less backless, and rather daring. No wonder the gentlemen flocked to light a lady’s cigarette. Smoking was gaining popularity amongst the young and it was more socially acceptable for women to smoke in public. Shoes for evening wear would be strappy and often silver or gold in colour, and perfect for dancing in, but affording little protection from a partner with two left feet. In case the apologetic gentleman should ask a young lady to step out on the veranda to look at the stars, a lady would also require a wrap, and I’m sorry to say these were very often animal fur, although silks, brocades, velvets and fine wools were also worn.
I think we have everything we need for a summertime weekend in the country. As a maid, of course, I will require only my uniform, a plain dress, sensible shoes and an overcoat. My main fashion pleasure will be confined to taking care of the precious garments of my mistress. I could never hope to own such things.
Of course, I don’t wear the anorak all the time. It’s for special occasions.
There was a time when people wore hats whenever they were out of the house. In fact, before that, they often wore them inside the house too, especially if they were women. Married women wore little frilly caps on their heads, as a mark of their status, or perhaps to show they were ‘off-limits’? You’ll have seen those in the period dramas we often enjoy on TV.
In addition, for centuries, there was a biblical requirement for women to cover their heads in church. This is still true today of various religions, both for males and females, but in everyday life hats are pretty rare. The first man to wear a top hat in London was fined for a breach of the peace, when a woman fainted from the shock of seeing this new head-wear. I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall when she was carried home in an ambulance or the arms of some burly cab-driver. What did she say when her hubster, returning from his office in the city, said, ‘So dearest, how was your day?’
This is why I felt the impact of the headline about Agatha Christie’s disappearance, when I wrote about it in a blog post a few months ago. (If you missed it, you can read that post here.) One of the bylines carried by The Surrey Times on December 4th 1926 ran, ‘Hatless and Coatless at 6am’. That said it all, because in those days, a respectable woman would no more leave the house without a hat, than without her underwear.
I mourn the passing of the hat. These days, most of us only wear a hat on a very specific kind of occasion. We can still obtain hats, but they aren’t as much fun as they once were. Department stores offer in the main, ‘Mother-of-the-bride’ type fascinators and picture hats. We have sun hats, beanies or bobble hats, we have baseball caps, and…? It’s not a big range. This is why I love writing about glamorous people living in the past. I think the 1930s would have suited me. Apart from not being able to text my nearest and dearest with such comments as ‘OMG that pill-box hat with veil and feathers is totes the biz. #needitnow’.
It’s also another reason why I love the internet – there is so much hat-porn to browse, it’s just not true. If you are interested in vintage costume and accessories, (I’m looking at you, Lin) try the sites below for a trip through what we used to wear. I’ve never possessed a toque. Or a picture hat. Or… *sigh* …so many hats, so little time. If anyone in the fashion industry is reading this, please bring back mandatory hat-wearing, I’m begging you. Meanwhile, here are a few notable hat-wearing events from my own family:
Hats for work/status
Hats for function
Hats for occasions
Hats for fun/frolics – we need to bring these back!
A few sites of interest regarding costume and accessories, great for research, or just passing the time:
Writing tutors, whether in books or the classroom, or by podcast, or webinar, often tell their students, ‘Write what you know.’
Personally, I think that’s some of the daftest advice ever.
First of all, how do you define ‘know’? Know in depth? Vaguely aware of? Have heard about? Worked in that field for thirty years? Know second-hand through others?
Let’s add a bit of common sense. I mean, if you’re writing a self-help book on the subject of ‘Open heart surgery for beginners’, you probably need to know your stuff. I don’t think reading a few books will be enough to make that one work. After all, lives may be at risk. Not to mention kitchen implements and the new lino.
But I’m talking–as always–about fiction writing, which is a whole other ball game. Because if you are writing fiction, you can know anything. That’s called research. You write what you come to know.
There is a whole world out there full of podcasts, webinars, YouTube movies, books in digital, audio and paper formats. There are so many search engine, something-pedias, sites and blogs. Someone will always be able to give you an answer to any question you want to ask. You can even create and download calendars for begone years. I do that for my 1930s Dottie Manderson mystery books.
For my own books, I have researched social culture, art, history, music, languages, religious beliefs, criminal forensics, icky medical stuff, popular figures, myths and legends, psychology, archaeology, literature, historical weather (yes you can do that). I’ve read old books, old newspapers, gone to museums, exhibitions and spoken all sorts of people. I’ve have drunk a serious amount of coffee and eaten siege quantities of cake, all in the name of research. ( I could write a book on coffee emporiums of the British Isles.)
Joking aside, the point is, whatever you’re writing about, you can research it. I mean, how many people who write about Vampires actually are one??? How many people who write about time travel or missions across the universe have actually been into space? If we only write about ‘what we know’, why do any of us write anything other than books about being an ordinary person in an ordinary home and job, who never does anything extraordinary apart from pay their bills on time?
So next time someone says you can’t write your book about back-packing shape-shifters in the Serengeti, tell them that’s a lie. You can write about anything.
This week I have been thinking about words and images and meanings. Sometimes we can’t quite find one single word that expresses the multitude of meaning, or the shades of meaning our imagination conjures up for us. I like to define things: people, words, stories, because I’m not very good at reading between the lines, to use a cliche, and I sometimes don’t understand what a person means if they are not really explicit. I am good at recognising images of shades of grey, not so much with spoken ones.
Someone (Emma Baird!) said that she thinks I am a visual person. And I think she’s right. If I can’t picture it, I can’t write it. But I am always compelled to try to picture ‘it’ – be it a story idea or a cover design or a garden feature, a home makeover.
So when I came up with the absolute vaguest idea for a title and story for book 10 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries, (let’s just remind ourselves, I’ve only recently started writing book 5, so I’m talking a possible publication between 2020 and 2022… I like to look ahead.) I wasn’t able to relax about it because I couldn’t picture a book cover, or a title, and this bothered me.
I was mulling over cold heart, the coldest heart, your cold, my cold, everybody’s cold, colder or coldest heart. It was a nebulous idea that stuck in my head but refused to blossom. A browse through Pixabay’s images usually sets me off in the right direction, but not this time. I was offered images of hearts, literal and metaphoric, and ice cubes. This was not helping.
A thesaurus is often a big help too, so I had a quick look and found suggestions of dead, unfeeling, (yes these were kind of what I was getting at), blue, uncooked (!?) and impassive (again, yes, kind of…). It just wasn’t the kind of thing you could find an image for on the image sites. A dead blackbird, a brick wall, a funeral. Just not quite what I wanted.
Words have so many possibilities, don’t they? Even though a dictionary may define a word, we often use words in a very personal sense, with our own definition overlaying the ‘official’ one. Let’s not forget, no dictionary was beamed down from Planet X with a set-in-stone array of words and their meanings. The meaning of every word in use today – and those we will use tomorrow – has been developed, changed and somehow agreed upon over thousands of years of speech, social interaction, education and writing. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it.
So I was overwhelmed by the possibility of choice and variation of shadow. I set it aside. Uneasily, as it irks me to leave something unsettled.
Then on Saturday I was reading Dead before Death, a sonnet by Christina Rossetti. I love that gal’s poems. And what was the opening line? I’m glad you asked. It was:
Ah! changed and cold, how changed and very cold
With stiffened smiling lips and cold calm eyes
And so, like a tiny bolt of lightning, inspiration dropped on me. The story, and its title, fell into my mind. So, book 10 is to be: Changed and Cold: a Dottie Manderson mystery. Phew. I’m still no nearer to a cover image, (suggestions on a post-card, please) but at least I’ve got something concrete to work on. Now all I need to do is write the next 5 books…
I know I keep banging on about my books. I feel I should apologise for all that self-promotion, but then this is a blog about my books after all, so it’s kind of what I do here. I’ve got a new book coming out at the end of March, and for a couple of reasons, I’m really excited about this and I want to tell as many people as possible about it. You might have heard some of it before, as it’s been on my ‘miscellaneous writing’ page for a while now.
It’s called Easy Living. It’s a stand-alone novel, that is to say it’s not part of a series of themed or related books. That said, a couple of people have suggested it could be a series, and (shh, no one’s listening are they? *quick look round*) I did in fact write a sequel to it that I’ve never owned up to before now.
As regards genre, I have got myself into a bit of a mess because although it’s a kind of mystery, and a kind of romance, it’s also about life after death and going back in time to reanimate a dead body and use it to get around. I do love a mash-up! Can we call it Romantic Detective Speculative Time Travel Reincarnation fiction, and move on? I have no idea what shelf this would be on in a ‘real’ bookstore. Any thoughts on that?
This is a novel I first wrote in 1997, and as I said, it’s about death – as always. It’s so hard to know when the time is right to release a book, but after all these years, I’m finally ready. I love this book, which may well cloud my judgement a bit. I know I’ve mentioned before how very much like a precious baby a book is to he person who writes it, and this one is no exception. If anything, the long wait has increased my attachment to it. Halfway through writing the first draft, we (foolishly) moved from Hampshire in the South of England to Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. For three frantic months I was separated from my ‘baby’ because for some stupid reason to do with carry-on luggage allowance, I didn’t pack my handwritten manuscript, but it came by rowboat twelve weeks later with the rest of our possessions. Meanwhile, I decided I may as well write another book… (Dolly, that one is called, also still not available in the real world, but I love that one too. It’s one of only two books I’ve written set in Australia.)
Warning: this book contains language some readers may find offensive! (F-words and the odd other bad word, and references to sexy shenanigans going on, plus you know, people die in this book. A lot.)
I hope this book will be available for pre-order really soon, and if you are interested enough to read the first couple of chapters, (subject to editing and rewriting!) please follow this link: