The Anti-Social Writer

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This is what I overheard in a café in town today: “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 doughnut, and hoping they won’t turn round and see me writing down their every word. I think Lady Number One must work in a theatre or something – 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…

But…

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 notebook or word-processor 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, if their plot is shallow and 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’s loads of stuff I’m rubbish at.

Book Shelter Blues

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Secondhand. Preloved. Used. Old. Whatever you call a bookshop that sells books that are not new, it amounts to the same thing: neglected; unloved; abandoned; discarded. Even the ‘amusing’ epithet of ‘preloved’ simply indicates love that has been given then withdrawn. No longer loved.

Yes, I know that many people see these places as Aladdin’s caves filled with wonder and possibility. Not so for me. For me, a secondhand (let’s call it what it is) bookshop is a bit like going to an animal shelter. My first response in both cases is always one of dismay – there are so many here! Secondly, I think, ‘how can I possibly save them all?’

I went into two such shops today.

In shop one, I was frustrated by the lack of genre categories or alphabetical ordering. I felt I had to scan the entirety of the store to be sure I didn’t miss anything vital. As it was, when I paid for my ‘finds’, or as I prefer to call them, my ‘adoptions’, I couldn’t shake the certainty that I’d missed something. But the ‘usual guy’ was on holiday and the woman standing in for Usual Guy was not versed on what was where. She laughingly told me that if Usual Guy had been there, he could have immediately told me where any of my chosen authors might be stationed. Ha ha! Oh my aching sides. Not.  They also had an overflow into an empty shop front next door – and even though I could see literally dozens of boxes heaped up, she wouldn’t let me go in there and poke about, and neither could she tell me what was there. I took my five rescue-books and left, slightly disgruntled.

The second shop was somewhat different, and yet, underneath all the glamour, exactly the same. It was squeaky clean and neat as a new pin. I see books neatly stacked on actual shelves or laid out in boxes, spines uppermost, and the boxes have labels such as ‘Romance’ and ‘Family Saga’, and also ‘Romance’, along with ‘Family Saga’. I stand in the doorway to get my bearings and the proprietor bustles up in a housecoat, carrying a duster.

She asks if I’m looking for anything in particular. Really all I want to do is browse. How can you tell someone that you won’t know what you want until you see it? But I fear she is not really, in spite of the location, a bookish person. I have a sense that browsing is not to be encouraged, and I drag my ‘little book of books’ out of my bag. I tell her I have quite a long list. She’s not bothered by that. She’s waiting. So, under pressure, I panic and begin to blurt out a few names.

‘Patricia Wentworth!’ I feel a bit like Harry Potter frantically trying to come up with the right spell. She gives me a sad smile, and shakes her head.

‘Not done much for a while, has she?’

‘That’s because she died in 1961.’ I explain. I could tell her the day and month, but I’m not convinced she’d be interested, so probably for the first time in my life, I just shut up.

She nods. ‘Ah.’ It appears that being dead is a major hindrance to having your book in stock at a secondhand bookshop. I’d have thought it was the perfect spot, but no. I’m a bit worried about continuing with my list, as I feel most of my favourites are a bit on the no-longer-with-us side. But she is looking at me with an air of expectation. I’m not sure she’s really helpful, I think she just wants to get back to the dusting.

‘Victoria Holt?’

That smile again. The same shake of the head. Sorry. I look at my list again and wonder if there’s any point in carrying on with this charade. I feel already know the answer, but perhaps due to some previously-unnoticed masochistic tendency, I ask anyway.

‘Ellis Peters?’

‘Nope, not him either.’

‘Her,’ I say and turn away, intensely irritated. I scan the shelves. They are packed with books by people who are dead – how come my authors aren’t here?

‘Try the clearance boxes out front.’ She suggests. I nod. Somehow even as I rummage through these boxes I know I’m wasting my time. Eventually I give up.

And as I walk away, I’m pretty sure two whole shelves of Jean Plaidys and Catherine Cooksons shouted after me, ‘Take us with you!’ and ‘come back!’ and possibly even, ‘Help!’

It’s the ones left behind that hurt the most.

Top Tips To Kickstart Your Muse

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If, like me, you sometimes sit and stare at a blank page for an hour or more without writing a thing then give up and go off to do something else, you might want to give some of these tips a try. I’ve tried them all and found them useful at one time or another. Some are fairly conventional ideas for productivity, others are just things I came up with that helped me.

  1. Listen to music

You might listen to your usual favourites, or I sometimes like to try something new that I haven’t listened to before or even play something I’m not too keen on to get the creativity flowing. Or maybe go for something you haven’t listened to for a very long time – songs that were out when you were a kid!

  1. Go for a walk

I know this is a commonly prescribed antidote to lack of creativity, but it does work. Go out in the pouring rain and release your inner savage, or go out and enjoy the wonders of nature, or walk along the city streets and visualise your gumshoe on the trail of a bad guy. Physical activity wakes up the body and gets the blood flowing to the brain. Even if you don’t come back from your walk full of ideas, at least you got away from your desk for a while and got some fresh air.

  1. Eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations

This is a great way to pick up ideas and hear dialogue in action. It’s also a great way to get punched on the nose if you’re too obvious. Snatches of conversation half-heard and half-remembered can provide great what-if moments.

  1. Visit a gallery or museum

I once attended a workshop at a museum and we were encouraged to write short pieces about some of the exhibits. These included Neolithic artefacts and a Victorian christening gown. It was not only a great idea but a memorable experience. Go to an art gallery or a museum or country house with your trusty notebook. Take a look at what lies behind the glass and imagine the person who touched, created, discovered, used or found a particular item. People those empty halls with characters – what do they say to one another? Make sketches. Write descriptions. Take photos, or if that’s not allowed, buy a post card from the gift shop.

  1. Look through the images on Morguefile or Shutterstock or other image sites

See if anything intrigues you or inspires you to write a short story, a poem, a simple description or analyse your own feelings when you look at a picture. What does it make you think of and why? How do you feel?

  1. Do you collect anything? If not you, does someone close to you have a collection?

Spend some time writing about the first item in the collection and how it was acquired or obtained. What was the last item to join the collection? What would happen if someone stole your collection? How would that make you feel? How would you get it back? What would you do?

  1. Sit somewhere different to your usual writing spot

I usually write at my desk, but sometimes I like to go out to a café or pub and write, or I could write in a library. I could write outside if the weather is fine. In the past I have even sat in my son’s bedroom at his desk and written for hours. A change is as good as a rest we are told, and a new ‘venue’ can help to get things flowing. You could also try using a different notebook or computer, a different pen or write at a different time of day.

  1. Pick a story from your local newspaper

Write it in your own words; be an investigative journalist and try to think of a new outcome or a way of finding out more, or imagine you are interviewing someone featured in the newspaper, whether a sports’ personality or a victim of a crime.

  1. Go to the library

And have a rummage through the reference section or any section that interests you; poke through the periodicals and nosy at the noticeboard.

  1. Visit a graveyard

Wander around and read a few headstones. Look at the style of the gravestones. Try to imagine the people buried there, the lives they lived and how they died, picture their families and their homes and workplaces. Sit in the church or graveyard for a while and try to imagine who might have sat there before you. How did they feel?

  1. Meditate

A little relaxing meditation could release some stress and pent-up anxiety and enable you to refresh yourself mentally. Sit comfortably on the floor, with a notepad and pen in front of you, turned to a fresh page. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and slowly until you feel you could almost doze off to sleep. Then without thinking about what you are doing, take up your pen and begin writing – something, anything, just don’t try to analyse or make sense of any thoughts, but let the words pour out of your pen as if there was nothing between your brain and your notebook. Music or candles and incense sometimes help with this process.

Most of us have times when we can’t seem to write the way we want to, or maybe not at all. Don’t worry about it too much and allow yourself the freedom to know when you need to rest and when you need to try to help things along.

 

Slang and Colloquial Speech

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So – slang. What is it? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is “informal nonstandard vocabulary”. In this post I take it to mean text that is riddled with idiomatic, nonstandard language signifying a specific regional or economic background.

Whilst it can add colour to your writing, it’s all too easy to overuse slang, and my advice is to use it sparingly. Rabbie Burns got away with it (or did he?) in his works, as did D H Lawrence and a host of others known for using nonstandard speech patterns to lend ‘flavour’ to their writing. You can quickly create a sense of an individual’s character by slipping in some slang or ‘specialised’ language.

But for the reader nothing is more exhausting than having to go back and reread a passage over and over again to try to find the sense of nonstandard text. Vernacular can make your writing dense and unclear as the reader struggles through a succession of unfamiliar words and phrases that disrupt the flow of your epic work. Also consider whether you are actually demeaning or weakening a character by introducing slang or colloquial speech into their dialogue. Do you want them to be seen as Cockney Number Two, a stock character, or as a realistic individual?

I fell foul of this myself when creating a character in my book Criss Cross, Mrs Hopkins aka Mrs H, a housekeeper/cook  is a Londoner of working class background. I piled lots of slang and colloquialisms into her speeches which not only was akin to throwing obstacles in the path of my readers, but also made my character appear foolish and a mere caricature, which was not appropriate as she was to become an important member of the ‘cast’ of my trilogy.

I queried it with Mrs H as soon as she presented me with the bill.

‘He found nothing?’

‘Nuffink at all, Mrs Powell, not so much as a sniff of a mouse or rat.  He were ‘ere a good hour hand a ‘arf.  Very furrow, I must say.’

Maybe that wasn’t too bad, a bit tricky though, but later:

‘That’s why I’m always ‘ere.  I don’t know ‘ow I fort we’d get away wiv it, but I just ‘oped …  I mean, you’ve got a lot of room up in the attic, and not much up there.  So when the bank repossessed our ‘ouse a month ago, we jus’ fort, I mean, we know it’s wrong, ‘course we do, but we were desperate.’

But she couldn’t go on talking like this and still be taken seriously as a fairly main character, so I had to ditch a lot of the slang later on. After all we don’t want her to sound like she’s just stepped out of the original film version of Mary Poppins, do we? By the way, no one apart from Dick Van Dyke talks about ‘plates of meat’ or ‘apples and pears’. Please, if you’re not cockney yourself, don’t try to make others that way. Leave it in the hands of the professionals.

In my mind, the slang and colloquial speeches of Mrs H – and later Mr H – reflected the way they themselves were viewed by my main character, and as her respect and affection for them grew, so their speech changed until the nonstandardness of their dialogue disappeared completely. In my mind! Sadly this ‘clever’ idea remained deeply entrenched in my mind. In the minds of my readers, however, it was just pointless, annoying and inconsistent. So I had to revise some of the worst examples whilst leaving a few little snippets in for flavour, without overwhelming the reader or turning every conversation between those characters into a lesson in deciphering some strange code.

And speaking of inconsistencies…next week I’m going to talk a little more about that very thing!

Making a Sandwich – or – In Praise Of The Middle Way

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Does anyone really need that much ham?

 

Some people plan. Some people plan absolutely every single thing they write in meticulous – even tedious – detail. Nothing, not even the smallest scene, is left to chance. This attention to detail means nothing is overlooked, and their story follows a logical pattern and reaches a satisfying conclusion for the reader.

Other people say that they are Pantsers – which means they don’t plan at all, they just show up, start writing, and trust that the story will come together. Writing by the seat of their pants, they say their story is as much of a surprise to them as it is to their readers. They say this method works, and that it makes for an interesting, spontaneous and fluid story.

But you don’t need to pick a side. It is possible to find a middle way, between these two extremes. I use both approaches together, and for me that works. Because I believe the writing process is all about balance and review. I’m always a big fan of the middle way. I steer clear of extremes in all things – don’t know if it’s just my temperament, or because I’m a Libran or what – I just like things balanced and sensible. Maybe it’s a bit like making a sandwich.

So you get out a plate and a knife, maybe a teaspoon, and maybe another, sharper knife for cutting stuff. And you get out your meat, cheese, peanut butter, hummus, your salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles. And very importantly you get out your bread of choice. Or your gluten-free oat or rice or corn crackers. And then you decide you might need some mayo, or some salt, mustard, or some chutney…really with sandwiches, as with stories, the possibilities are endless.

But.

You don’t have to use everything.

So I plan. But only a bit. And I do the Into-The-Unknown-Seat-Of-The-Pants thing. But only up to a point.

The middle way is where most of us are, the best of both worlds and slave to none. I start with my starch of choice – usually oat cakes. Then I add a suggestion of butter (sometimes) or I slather on the hummus or the cheese. Then I look at what I have and ask myself how I feel. What is it I want of this? Let’s pretend I’m going crazy and letting my hair down and having a big hunk of wholemeal grainy bread – and I’ve put on lashings of butter – my favourite food group – and now I’m definitely in the mood for cheese, so I whack on a load of chunky cheesy goodness. Now. Hmm. I look at my array of goodies on the worktop. I’m having cheese (or writing romance), so I can immediately rule out mustard and salt (crime/horror/western-specific elements). But here’s where it gets tricky – do I want to fling on a bunch of salad leaves and squeeze a few wedges of cucumber in, because that will mean I need to top the whole thing off with mayo. But…that chutney looks tempting, and I can almost taste it – my memory furnishes not only the appearance of chutney on the cheese, but also the smell and the taste. My mouth is already watering at the memory of it. Problem is, I know those salad leaves and cucumber will be full of vitamins, and I need to think about that. Or, I could bung a bit of salad on the side and still have my chutney…

And this is what we do as we travel the middle way. We look at what we need for our story – all the elements of style and prose, of structure and the specifics of genre. So after a lot of thought we begin to assemble our structure (bread) and we start to add in our characters, our plot, our twists and turns and our dialogue (filling). Too much impromptu seat-of-the-pants and you can end up with an aimless, waffly first draft and a massive rewrite job on your hands (or a sandwich that falls apart under the weight of all it’s disparate elements leaving you with a soggy mess). Too much planning and meticulous detail can give you flat, lifeless and dull writing which fails to grab the reader (a big stodgy sandwich which is all bread and no fun). So a nice balance is recommended to get passion and life into your writing but not stuff the page out with endless descriptions of what the character had for breakfast – and every other breakfast – unless of course you are writing a bestseller entitled ‘Breakfasts I Have Known’. Let me tell you now, if it’s not about bacon, I’m not reading it. Now I do have a tendency to waffle anyway – so imagine how bad I’d be if I didn’t have some idea where I’m headed. This week I read someone (a great writer whose name I’ve already forgotten – soz, whoever you are) quoted as saying ‘you wouldn’t get into your car and drive without having an idea of where you are going’. Hmm. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t drive… Sometimes I go for a walk and it doesn’t much matter where I go, so long as I go!

I make ‘soft’ notes – general hints of the way I want the story to go, and I remind myself about the important character details to make sure I don’t change Joan to Jane on page 17 or give people the wrong hair colour or marry them off to the wrong partner etc. If I have an idea of the final outcome of the story – I don’t write this down – and I don’t tell anyone. It’s my little secret. And with my iffy memory, there may be a point in the future where  I have to write it down, but it’s there in my head when I am writing, as a signpost to aim for.

But the great thing about soft notes is that they are easy to revise. You need to be always ready to re-evaluate your outline or your goals, or even your plot or characters, because the requirements of your story can and probably will change as you write. So try to keep an open mind about your story. If something isn’t working, it’s worth trying a new approach, which can be a bit scary. For myself, I know it is important to give myself the freedom to write within a guiding but flexible framework.

Hmm – I wonder what’s for lunch?

The Silent Woman – some background

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When I first began to think about and make notes for my paranormal novel The Silent Woman (still in progress), I began to think about speech and silence.

The title came to me – I don’t know how, just out of the blue – and because this has happened before, I decided to do some research.  There is the famous case where I named a character Ben Sherman, thinking the name just sounded so ‘right’, not realising that was the name of a famous fashion designer … So now I do a quick check on the Interweb for names, titles etc.  No point in publishing a paranormal mystery called The Silent Woman if there are already three paranormal mysteries with that name. (And with that in mind, I always try to be flexible about names and titles, ‘just in case’.)

So I turned up some interesting stuff.  I came across an old pub sign, The Silent Woman.  As I still had no idea what my book was about, I found this full of possibilities.  There were other pub signs with parallel concepts – The Quiet Wife, The Honest Lawyer etc.  They all depict a decapitated person.  The Silent Woman carries her head under her arm or sometimes on a tray in front of her.  This is the only way you can keep a woman quiet, or a lawyer honest, is the implication.

There is a kind of mythology about silence and the deliberate withholding or enforced withholding of speech.

The Silent Woman may appear to be consensual, as silence is often construed as agreement, but in this case, it has been ensured that she cannot speak up for herself.  Nags and gossips were ducked like witches, or a scold’s bridle was employed to prevent speech, particularly nagging.  (without which we’d have no Minette Walters – ooh folks, The Ice House is showing again – Daniel Craig from way back.  Though my favourite bit is right at the beginning where the Labrador has rolled in or eaten some of the freshly discovered corpse 😉  eww!  )

So in some quarters it seems silence is not only welcomed but preferred.  Hence we ‘suffer in silence’.  Children are ‘seen but not heard’.   We women give the men in our lives ‘the silent treatment’ when they have done something wrong. And we mustn’t forget too, that even the fool, when he is silent, may be deemed wise, according to the Bible.  There are loads of bits in the Bible about speech.  Like how the tongue of a nagging woman is like the constant dripping of water wearing away a roof.  Notice nagging is something only women do.

In my book, the beheaded woman becomes a vengeful spirit.  She may have been silent, but actions, we are told, speak louder than words.

Silence can be non-disclosure, the enigma of Mona Lisa.  Silence, as I have said, can imply complicity and agreement.  But silence is alienating, and can mean an inability to engage in social activity, leading to isolation and solitude.   This is something us only-children have to learn to deal with, the lack of socialisation.

In Susan Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ (also known in prose form as A Jury Of Her Peers) a woman’s only companion is her pet bird, and when the bird is killed by her husband in a fit of temper – well (spoiler alert)  let’s just say it didn’t bode well for his future existence.  Men are sent to investigate, and end up having to take their wives along.  The women quickly unravel the truth and conceal it by their complicit silence.

So silence – is it ‘Golden’?

As Ronan Keating says “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”

Fear – the creative tool

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When I talk about writing, and my own version of it, I talk about beginning with ‘what if’ and going on from there.  But sometimes I ask myself other questions.  Questions such as, what would I kill to protect?  What is the one thing we all need? How would I feel if … ?  I have to get inside my main character to be able to write my story.

Another useful question to ask yourself when embarking on a new project – or I should say – when looking for a new project – is ‘what am I afraid of?’

Fear can be a terrible, paralysing emotion.  But conversely it can galvanise you into action like nothing else on earth.  It can be a useful, creative tool.  Sit down in a quiet corner and ask yourself in all honesty, ‘what am I afraid of?’  Getting too ill to care for myself?  Losing a loved one? Losing my mind?  Not being able to pay the bills?  Being paralysed?  Home invasion? I think most of us fear these big things.  But what about small, more intimate fears?  Fear of losing your hair?  Fear of being stuck in a job you hate for twenty years or more?  Fear of not being able to turn the cheek one more time? Other fears?  Spiders?  Worms?

What about childhood fears?  Fear of the dark?  Fear of statues and scarecrows?  Loved one replaced by a very convincing robotic double that only you can detect? Dr Who has so much to answer for!  Murderous clowns – thank you Stephen King!  What about getting lost?   I can remember losing my mother in a supermarket many years ago and I sobbed as the nice store manager asked me what she looked like – and with a child’s real terror I wailed ‘I can’t remember!’  I remember this with absolute clarity 48 years after it happened.  (For Spock’s Beard fans – the chilling, relatable vulnerability of the child who says ‘Mummy comes back/She always comes back to get me.’  Because if Mummy doesn’t, that is something too terrible to contemplate.  For me to write a book around that would have me in therapy within an hour.)

What about fantastical things that frighten us as adults and as children: Ghosts? Goblins? Witches? Aliens? Bats? Spiders? Sharks? Snakes? Crocodiles? Scorpions? Cockroaches? (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about cockroaches!) Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of fear, basically. We are told fear itself is the worst kind of fear.  But there is something else.  If I were to base a short story on an old fear, a primitive fear, a childhood horror, it would be the fear of being alone.

 

Infamous Adverbs or To Boldly Go

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Writers are told to avoid adverbs like the plague.  Once we’ve looked up in our Children’s Book Of Knowledge what an adverb is, we are usually struck with panic!  OMG! Almost everything I’ve written is an adverb!  Remember Enid Blyton?  All those “George said, crossly” and “Anne smiled gently?”  Well, turns out we are not really supposed to use those adverbs!  Like a toddler having a tantrum in a posh restaurant, we’re supposed to pretend we haven’t noticed them.

The first advice to writers when editing their own work – strike all your adverbs!  I’ve said it myself – I’m not a fan of description of any sort – there’s not enough time to read a flowery passage about a sunset – I just want to know where the body was when they found it and who died, and how!  I have to admit to getting fed up with all the he ran erratically, she said languidly, he walked elegantly – you get the idea.

And we’re told, use the verb to create the action.  Instead of  ‘she said languidly’ say, ‘she drawled’, ‘she murmured’.  Let your characters wobble, plummet, sneer, grumble, whisper, yell, howl, wail.  It’s better for you, it’s better for the story, it’s better for the reader.

BUT

What about impact?

What about the fact that adverbs have a place in language?

What if they become extinct because we don’t use them carefully? (Thought I’d sneak one in there)

How can Captain Kirk proclaim, “To go boldly …” ?  I mean we’ve already had the split-infinitive people on the phone, now it’s Captain Adverbs? (From the planet Ly!)

So to summarise my obscure and poorly presented argument.  Sometimes we need them.  So just because you been told ‘don’t use them’, doesn’t mean you should NEVER EVER use them.  Sometimes the best verb you can use is an adverb.  Action all the time is exhausting for the reader, and it doesn’t make for a comfortable read.  Because after page upon page of deathless prose, it’s nice occasionally to have a simple, ‘she said crossly’.

Sirens

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We all love Sirens, don’t we?  They usually travel in three, like witches.  Though sometimes they hunt alone, like the Lorelei siren, luring sailors to their death on the rocks.  Their typical characteristics are: physical beauty that is often a mirage or facade and that is used to seduce, song or music to sooth the senses or even to call unnatural slumber to fall upon their prey.  They lie in wait, ready to snare the unwary, the naive, the innocent adventurer who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Like the scene with the Sirens in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, there is a pleasurable anticipation of what might happen.  They have mysterious powers, and they can bend a man to their will, no matter how good and chaste he may be.  Maybe he’ll get ‘loved up and turned into a horny toad’!  Sirens are bringers of doom, of ruin.  They are depicted as mercurial, evasive, changing and insubstantial, there one minute and gone the next.  We don’t see their true self until our ruin is complete. No one can resist the lure of the Siren when she has decided to call them.

But the Siren is not the only one who owns this fatal attraction.

The innocent – pure or naive, chaste of body or merely without guile – this person is as alluring to the Siren as she is to him.  Evil craves purity.  Wickedness pursues goodness to overtake and devour it.  Monsters are always appeased – and manipulated – by their need to consume maidens.  The dark always seeks the light, because in its own way the light has become the Unknowable to those who live in darkness.  The Siren can never know or experience innocence, because that would mean a subjugation of their own essential nature – it would requite cleansing, sacrifice and purity, a way of life that is alien and impossible for the Siren to bear because they are forced by their nature to live outside of society’s acceptance and to live by instinct alone.   Thus the innocent, completely oblivious to their power, draw in Sirens after them as the moon cannot help but follow its preordained journey across the night sky in the wake of the golden sun.

 

 

Harold! Nooo!

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If only we could travel back in time!  Where would you go?  Who would you speak to?  Your past self, to tell them to avoid going out with Mr Nasty?  Or some famous public figure?  Would you go back in time to buy up shares in something or other, to make yourself a billionaire in the here and now?  Or would you take back a bunch of antibiotics to get rid of the plague?

I often think I’d like to go back in time to meet various ancestors.   I’d love to go on that journey from Falmouth to Deal that John and Elizabeth Reed undertook when he left the merchant navy and joined the newly formed Coastguard Service.  I’d have liked to help Elizabeth with her four or five small children on the company boat and reassure her that although the new place was going to be different, and the people in Kent wouldn’t speak the same language, that she would be okay, that she would get used to it, and to tell her to be careful of her health.  It must have been like going to the other end of the world for her in the 1830s.

I would have liked to be at Queen Victoria’s wedding, I would have loved to hear Dickens doing a reading from his own works.  I would have liked to pop down to Chawton and chat with Jane Austen about her works (even though she wasn’t in the pink of health by the time she lived there).

Mostly I think, I would have liked to have a quick chat and a cup of coffee with King Harold.  Maybe my black jeans and glam top from Evans would have been enough to convince him I came from the future?  or my self-tanning body lotion?  Big earrings?  I’m assuming my phone won’t work back then.  Maybe a pack of raspberry pop-tarts would convince him?  I would like to pop in and have a coffee with him, catch him during his brief respite in London after his victory at Stamford Bridge (the battle not footie).  I’d give him a bit of a talking to.

“Harry,” I’d say, “you’re just one man, I know not all the rough rude sea can wash off the oil from the God’s anointed, (oops sorry that’s not been written yet – note to self – must go back in time and write Richard 2 before Shakespeare gets his mitts on it).  But you can’t do it all.  Stay here for a couple of days, take in a show, do a spot of sight-seeing.  WAIT until the rest of the lads arrive, don’t go rushing off to sort out Bill from Normandy.”  Because that’s just what he did – a big set to Up North (anywhere beyond Watford), with Harold crushing the insurgents, then a mad dash South, a quick fuel stop in London, then arriving panting and short-staffed in Hastings, ill-prepared and even worse equipped to meet William in the field of battle.  Literally!  (For overseas readers, the Battle of Hastings took place not at Hastings, but a few miles inland where there is a lovely town by the name of Battle.)  “Harry, my boy,” I would have said …

“My Liege, if I may speak boldly.  Tarry a while here in London, Good Sir, rest and gather your strength.  Wait until ALL your men arrive from the North and you will have sufficient numbers to overcome this young upstart from Normandy.  allow your knights and their men time to rest and eat and prepare themselves for the conflict.  Do not dwell on William’s escapades in Sussex, another two days will save the crown and your people.  then it will be time to march on Hastings and with both weapons and strong men, you will not fail to win the day.  Also, I pray thee, don this helmet with yon strengthened visor to protect the Royal eyes from arrows.”

That’s what I would have said.  “Harry, baby, Nooo!  Fools rush in … take a chill pill.”

I bet he would have gone anyway.  You know what lads are like when you try to boss them about.