Sunday, 18 December 2011

Kick Starting the Muse

Kick Starting the Muse

I would be a rich woman if I received a pound each time someone tells me, “I could write a novel.” I usually ask why don’t you write it. More often than not the reply is, “I don’t have time.”

Time is the factor which separates writers from would be writers. There is always something which beckons a writer whether it is a mundane task such as doing the laundry, which I should make a start on right now, or accepting an invitation.

I would be even richer if I received a pound each time someone asks, “Where do you get your ideas from?” When the writing is not going well I’m tempted to smile and reply, “From the supermarket.” Actually, that’s not quite as far fetched as it seems. I’ve often overheard partial conversations that trigger an idea or seen a face which seems to step out of a historical era, a Roman soldier, a Norman Knight, a Mediaeval lady, a Franciscan monk, a Cavalier etc.

Potential material to kick start the muse is all around me and in non fiction, biographies and autobiographies. I am a historical novelist so my muse responds to something I read about times past, which must then translate itself onto the computer.

Stephen King wrote. “Don’t wait for the muse. This isn’t an Ouija board or spirit world we are talking about here, but just another job – like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks.”

So, how have I trained my muse? I have always understood the importance of having a place to write in which my muse and I can settle down. Once it was at a desk in the corner of the living room, today it is the smallest bedroom in the house which I have converted into an office.

After long hard battles my sometimes reluctant muse now understands that I have a regular writing routine. I rise early in the morning, deal with some e-mails, edit the last few pages of the previous day’s work in progress and then write until 10 or 11 a.m. Later in the day I work from 4 or 5 p.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., and sometimes my muse prompts me at night with an idea.

Anyone can establish a writing routine. The important thing is to write for set periods whether they are long or short. For example, if we write half a page a day we will have finished a novel by the end of the year. A bonus is that the muse will respect this and, as the saying goes, knuckle down to work.

My muse stays with me most of the time. When I’m doing housework, gardening or shopping Muse helps me to plot and plan. Recently, while at the health suite enjoying my time in the Jacuzzi, my muse and I have been considering the sequel to my novel, Sunday’s Child. We have been tossing ideas backwards and forwards, rejecting some and building on others. By the time we settle at the computer or the laptop we will have a plot and theme.

Regardless of whether we are published or unpublished, if we are determined, with the help of our muses, we will find the time and space to write.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

Publisher MuseItUp
Tangled Love January, 2012
Sunday’s Child June 2012
False Pretences October 2012

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Challenge of Writing Historical Fiction

All the good advice given in books on how to write fiction is applicable to writing historical fiction.

Writers must enjoy writing even when they encounter obstacles. This is particularly true of writing historical fiction. Historical novelists require a profound interest in all things historical.

The historical novels that I read more than once sweep me into the activities and ‘mind sets’ in a way which I enjoy.

When writing historical novels I enjoy recreating times past and presenting plots and themes unique to the country and era that I present to my readers.

Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881 wrote: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” (Today, he might have written: Great men and women.) To add veracity to my fictional characters I either mention or allow historical characters to play a part. In my forthcoming release Tangled Love Queen Anne, the Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough have their place. All too often, there is not as much information about less important people as a novelist would like. However, imagination is any novelist’s best friend, and a historical novelist can people novels with colourful but imaginary characters.

History, or Herstory, interests me and provides more ideas than I have time to develop; but what is history? One of the definitions in Collins English Dictionary is: “A record or account, often chronological in approach of past events, developments etc.” Thomas Carlyle wrote: “What is all knowledge too but recorded experience and a product of history; of which, therefore, reasoning and belief, no less than action and passion, are essential materials?” Yes, indeed, these are the heady ingredients which historical novelists can incorporate in novels.

For various reasons many people’s knowledge of history is scant. For example, Charles II, the merry monarch, is fairly well known but his niece Queen Anne is not. Yet most people are interested in the past even if history did not interest them at school and they chose to study – for example – computer studies, catering or modern languages. Programmes such as Downton Abbey, the first two parts of which have been shown on television in the U.K., has attracted a vast audience. No doubt they will generate further interest in the era prior to and during the 1st World War. Undoubtedly, this interest will increase the sales of fiction and non fiction relevant to the period.

Last week, in my blog about Writing Historical Fiction, I referred to my dislike of novels in which history is ‘despoiled.’ Fiction must entertain, but it is also the author’s responsibility to reveal past times and interpret history as accurately as possible. There should be much more than dressing characters in costume and allowing them to act as though they are twenty-first century people. For example, when writing about countries in which Christianity predominated, religious conflict can provide a powerful theme but faith and attendance at church is often ignored.

Rosemary Morris
Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing
Tangled Love 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child 06.2012

Sunday, 6 November 2011

How I Write Historical Fiction

How I Write Historical Fiction

Although there are books on the subject of How To Write Historical Fiction, which are useful, I am sure that novelists develop their own techniques.

I read history books and sooner or later something triggers my imagination. For example, I read that most of the English nobility disliked James II, his politics and his religion. After James fled to France, first his older daughter, Mary, and her husband and then her younger daughter Anne succeeded to the throne. Some peers refused to swear oaths of allegiance to James’s successors during his lifetime. Their refusal provided the historical trigger for my novel Tangled Love, first published as Tangled Hearts, which will be released on the 27th January, 2012.

After I decide on the period for a novel, I compile a chronological timeline with a narrow column on the left with the heading Date and two wide columns on the right with the headings National and International events.

Two of my dislikes when reading historical fiction about real or imaginary characters are historical inaccuracy, and characters who do not act in accordance with their time. Recently, I began a reader’s report on a historical romance. The first two chapters were so full of flaws that I returned it to the author with the comment that, although the plot is interesting, she needs to concentrate on research before rewriting it. I really don’t enjoy novels by authors who despoil history.

While I am working on a novel, I begin my research for the next one. I read about the economics, politics, social history, religion, clothes and everyday objects as well as reading fiction and poetry pertinent to the era. By the time I have finished a novel I have completed the groundwork for the next one in which I will use only a fraction of the information I have garnered. The advantage of such thorough preparation is showing the reader life as it was through my characters in an interesting way.

The more I research the more I realise how different modern day attitudes are to those of the past. However, even if attitudes and surroundings are different, we share the same emotions, love, ambitions, hope, hatred, envy, grief, hopelessness and misery.

As well as a difference in attitudes, there is also a difference in language which is a trap for the unwary author who should avoid sprinkling a novel with ‘la’, ‘methinks’ and ‘gazooks’ etc. In my novel, Sunday’s child, set in the Regency era, my well-born characters speak formally without contractions. In Tangled Love I use a few words such as oddsbodikins that give the flavour of speech in Queen Anne’s reign, and I avoid anachronisms.

I enjoy researching historical fiction through reading and visiting places of historical interest, including gardens, and also enjoy bringing the past and its people to life in my novels.

Friday, 28 October 2011

How I Plan A Novel

How I Plan A Novel

Although there are many excellent books on ‘How to Write a Novel’ I decided to share how I plan mine.

Once I have an idea, I don’t plot my novels in detail, chapter by chapter, but I do have a plot in mind.

It is said that every plot can be found in classical fairy tales, folklore and mythology. The hero or heroine goes on a journey, a pilgrimage or a quest and encounters obstacle after obstacle. So I consider which of seven basic plots suits my idea for my new novel.

Romeo and Juliet. Opposition to true love.

The Eternal Triangle. Making a choice.

The Spider and the Fly. A siren luring a male or vice versa.

The Fatal Flaw. A weakness in the hero which causes his or her downfall.

Faust. (Faust sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.) A debt that must be paid. Something that catches up from the past.

Candide. An inexperienced, naïve hero or heroine, who makes the reader re-evaluate society.

Cinderella. Goodness triumphs.

Next, I consider the theme. Is it duty, greed, jealousy, honour, love, revenge or something else?

With the plot and theme in mind I consider my characters. What motivates them and what are the stakes? What do they have to lose or gain?

Before I begin a novel I must name my main characters – I can spend hours chopping and changing before I decide. I also need to get to know them really well. So I complete an analysis which details their physical appearance, their clothes, accessories (jewellery, fragrance & luggage), health, personality, religion and education.

Having sorted out the above, I fill in the details about their background, address, family home, how long they lived there, do they rent or own their home, the décor, the garden, and the importance of their home.

Finally I create their family, their nationality, class, and income and their family tree which lists births, deaths, names and ages. Only the tip of the proverbial iceberg emerges in the novel but knowing who my characters’ antecedents were adds a sense of reality and usually has a bearing on their lives.

It’s fun getting to know my characters, where they went to school, how they see themselves, their relationships, friends, hobbies, employment, the qualities my hero or heroine seeks in a wife or husband and anything else I think of that will breathe life into them and engage my reader’s interest.

Finally, I switch on the computer and begin to write in the first or third person – usually third person. I introduce my novel to my reader by answering the questions who, what, when where and how in the first few paragraphs. Then, with a little bit of luck and a strict routine I write the first draft.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

New Releases.
Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne’s reign. 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era. 06.2012


Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Little Madeleine by Mrs Robert Henrey

I have just re-read The Little Madeleine by Mrs Robert Henrey which relates the joys and sorrows of Madeleine, a French girl loved by her mother, who earned a living as a talented seamstress, and her father, ‘a picturesque figure from the Midi.’

"Mrs Henrey’s autobiography is the story of her girlhood in Montmartre and the wasteland near the Paris fortifications, or city walls, where the apache wielded his knife. Her father was a picturesque figure from the midi. Her mother toiled as a talented seamstress, who made ‘adorable’ clothes for Madeleine."

The autobiography brings to life the people and scenes of her childhood along with its few joys and many difficulties. The author never indulges in self pity and reveals impoverished childhood with touching honesty whether writing about a street musician murdered by apaches, her experiences in the 1st world war, her intermittent ill-health probably due to being under-nourished and her determination to excel at school

As a historical novelist I enjoy reading about eras which have gone with the wind.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Memories of Kenya & The Bolter by Frances Osborne

Memories of Kenya & The Bolter by Frances Osborne

I have mixed memories of my life in Kenya from 1961 to 1982. On the plus side are my happy recollections of the coast with its golden beaches, the grasslands teaming with wild animals, the lush green highlands. On the minus side I was always a stranger in a strange land. I missed my family and friends in England and in spite of a privileged lifestyle wanted to live in England. In fact, one of the happiest days of my life was when I returned to Europe for good.

Although Kenyan life was not one I embraced, I enjoy reading about the country. Karen Von Blixen’s Out of Africa and Elizabeth Huxley’s Flame Trees of Thika are two of my favourite books. I also found The Lunatic Express about the building of the railway interesting, and shuddered at the thought of the man eating lions the workers encountered in – if my memory is correct – Tsavo on the way from Mombasa to Nairobi.

I am now reading The Bolter the biography of Idina Sackville by Frances Osborne, about which Valerie Grove of the Times writes: ‘A corker of a subject, Idina’s behaviour…probably inspired The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. Osborne’s richly wrought descriptions of glittering Paris nights and lush mountainous landscapes of Kenya’s Happy Valley are fabulous…A breakneck-paced, thoroughly diverting story.’

Apart from the account of Idina Sackville’s life are evocative descriptions of Kenya – the land, its people and settlers.

Idina and her second husband, Charles, won a 3,000 acre farm in a government lottery. When they reached their land: “…ahead of them the Aberdare Hills rolled dark green in the setting sun; from them fell ice-cold brooks, swollen by the recent rains. Below these their virgin farmland glowed with luminescent grassland and thick, red soil.”

Although the land had been developed by the time I lived in Kenya, there were many such views in the Highlands and always the rich red, fertile soil. When Idina settled there “Each bush throbbed with creatures large and small. Elephant, giraffe and antelope rustled through breaking out and swaying across open land. Leopard and monkey hung from trees reverberating with birdsong….at night when Idina and Charles sat outside they were surrounded by lookouts watching for wandering elephant, big cats or buffalo – its long, curved horns the most lethal of all.”

All this I can relate to but if I regret anything it is the golden Mombasa beaches on the undeveloped, idyllic south coast where we rented a house during our children’s school holidays. We played in the surf, swam in the warm sea and searched for shells at peace with the world.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Spinach and Curd Cheese Curry

I am writing a novel set in Queen Anne’s reign in which the hero lived in India for some years. He became a vegetarian and this is one of the recipes he brought back to England. I hope you will enjoy the receipt – as he would have called it - as much as he did.

Spinach and Curd Cheese Curry

¼ kilo paneer – curd cheese
½ kilo baby spinach
¼ kilo fresh or frozen peas
3tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oi
2 tablespoons of finely grated ginger
1 or 2 chillis optional.
Juice of one lemon
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

1. Cut curd cheese into cubes. Deep fry until golden brown and put in a bowl of cold water to keep it soft until needed.
2. Shred and cook the spinach until tender in four tablespoons of water. Add more water if necessary to prevent it burning.
3. Cook the frozen or fresh peas.
4. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the ginger and chillis and stir fry for one minute. Add the spinach and peas with the salt and pepper. Cook for two or three minutes on a high heat stirring all the time. Add the curd cheese and, if necessary a little water to keep the ingredients moist, and cook for two minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Serve with lemon wedges, chappatis and or rice with or without a dahl, a spiced soup and green salad tossed in lightly salted yoghurt.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Reminisceneces. The Three R's from 1910-2011


The Three R’s from 1910 to 2011

My father was born in 1909 and privately educated until the school leaving age of fourteen. He had a natural grasp of mathematics and could solve very complicated sums without recourse to pen and paper. He enjoyed reading newspapers, was captivated by cinema, particularly cowboy films. And I remember him reading cowboy books and thrillers. However he was never a hands on Dad who read stories to me.

My maternal grandfather, who lived with us as well as my grandmother, who lived with us after their house was bombed during the Second World War, was the one who read most to me. I remember sitting on his lap enjoying my favourite children’s magazine, Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories. As soon as I could read I delved into her many children’s books such as The Far Away Tree and The Wishing Chair, which my own children enjoy. Later I enjoyed her adventure series The Famous Five and her stories set in boarding schools. Now, I am able to search for them on Kindle and share them with my grandchildren

Many years ago, my mother, Lucy, and grandfather stood on Highgate Hill near the stone in memory of Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London. He held her hand and told her flying machines would never amount to anything. Towards the end of her life, Lucy, who was born in 1910 and left her body in 2010, commented on the amazing technology developed in her lifetime and wondered how it will advance in the future.

Recently, my grandson asked me what life was like when his great-grandmother was a little girl. ‘You have to be kidding me,’ he said after I told him her older brother listened to the wireless by manipulating a crystal and a length of cat gut. (Apologies to cat lovers but that is what he did.)

My grandson can no more imagine a world without television, dvds, sat navs, computers and internet than my grandfather could imagine international flights. My grandson studies computer technology at school, and has his own password. He also depends on google and composing his work on the computer for his homework. His great grandmother attended her local elementary school in Holloway, London, England.

A year before Lucy’s birth, her baby sister, Kitty rolled off the bed and broke her neck. It is understandable that after Lucy nearly died of pneumonia my grandmother molly-coddled her. The slightest illness meant Lucy missed school. As a result her spelling suffered and there were gaps in her general knowledge. However, she loved reading and always looked forward to the children’s annual in her stocking at Christmas.

The daughter of late Victorians with their fascination with death, Lucy’s favourite book, when she was a small girl, was Ferdie’s Little Brother. So far as I know Little Brother was an unbelievably angelic child. When he died after a long illness, Lucy enjoyed weeping buckets.

We all have our favourite childhood stories. My daughter never tired of Dr Seuss’s Are You My Mother and I agonised over the orphan Heidi, and the heroine of The Wide Wide World in which the child, whose mother is approaching death, is sent to live on a farm with a harsh aunt. Such stories taught me that life is not always a bowl of cherries but did me no harm. (In fact I am sure they did me less harm than a lot of the modern television cartoons do to modern day children.) And Ferdie’s Little Brother did not harm Lucy.

Lucy used to read either the Penny Plain or the Twopence Coloured children’s magazines and, as a teenager, enjoyed a magazine called Peg’s Paper. My grandfather, who enjoyed reading the classics, asked her what she got out of it. Years later, my mother asked me what I got out of women’s magazines and told me Grandfather would have disapproved. By then she preferred to read Dickens and in later life enjoyed biographies, thrillers and amongst many others Jeffrey Archer’s novels. Unlike me she had no interest in either fantasy or historical fiction, something I could not understand. We were as different as ‘chalk and cheese’ but dearly loved each other.

In spite of her poor school attendance little Lucy, who was always hungry and ate the carrot intended for a still life art class on the way to school, received a basic education before she left school when she was fourteen. However, throughout her life Lucy regretted the gaps in her education, blamed her mother for allowing her to miss so many days at school, and was determined that I should receive the best possible education.

I attended private primary schools and passed the scholarship examination to grammar school where I enjoyed English Language, English Literature, History, Geography and Religious Studies – subjects that have interested me all my life. However, I was hopeless at Mathematics, which annoyed my father, disliked Physics and Chemistry and was revolted by Biology when I was expected to dissect a frog.

My greatest love has always been reading, closely followed by organic gardening and knitting and sewing. At the age of ten or eleven I enjoyed children’s historical novels – Geoffrey Trease and Jeffrey Farnol were two of my favourite authors. At school I studied the classics with enthusiasm and branched out on my own. I remember an English Literature class when the teacher asked each of us what we had been reading. I said I was reading Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbevilles and was deeply insulted when the teacher accused me of lying, doubtless because she thought I was too young to read it. However, although I did not understand all the adult material in the novel, I enjoyed the prose and emotion and wept buckets over Tess’s tragic fate.

Since earliest childhood I have read widely and made up stories. I still enjoy reading for pleasure and for researching my historical novels. Computer technology changed my method of writing and Kindle, which I embraced with delight, will transform some of my reading. It is very convenient to carry a small device on which so much reading material is stored. No longer will I go on holiday with a dozen books and a small stack of magazines taking up my baggage allowance.

Not only does Kindle have many advantages, I am looking forward to my novels being published on it and know my lovely mother would have been delighted for me.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

New Releases.

Tangled Love set in England during Queen Anne’s reign, (1702 -1714). 27.01.2012

Sunday’s Child set in England in the Regency period. 06.01.2012

Saturday, 10 September 2011

From Highgate Hill to Kindle

From Highgate Hill to Kindle
When my mother was a small girl, my grandfather, Charles, stood holding her hand on Highgate Hill. Together they watched one of the first aeroplanes fly overhead. He looked down at Mother and said: ‘Nothing will come of those flying machines.”
Born within the sound of Bow Bells, the eldest of eight children, Charles was a scholarship boy at Westminster Boys School and sang in the choir at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, due to his father’s death, Charles had to leave school at the age of fourteen and find a job so that he could help my great-grandmother financially. Nevertheless, he acquired a lifelong love of reading, and I believe he would have been very enthusiastic about Kindle and other such devices.
Grandfather was fortunate to be born in time to benefit from the liberalism of the Prime Minister, Gladstone. Many people were opposed to mass education because they feared it would teach the workers to think for themselves, decide their lives were unsatisfactory and revolt. (The upper classes were always frightened of revolution.) However, the Education Act Reform Bill allowed schools to be set up by the Education Department in any district where provision was either inefficient or suitable; and from 1880 onwards it was compulsory for children to attend school until they were twelve years old.
When there were insufficient schools for the number of children a School Board was created and required to provide elementary education for children from the age of five to twelve.
Although parents had to pay school fees in the Board paid poor children’s fees.
By 1873 40% of the population lived in areas where education was compulsory. Fortunately for my grandparents they both lived in such an area, Charles receiving an excellent education and Annie’s a good one.
Annie’s father had been a rich man but he ‘took to the bottle’ and brought his wife and thirteen children to the ‘breadline.’ My great-grandmother earned a living as a midwife and Annie, her eldest daughter, was expected too help. However, my great-grandmother always found the pennies for her children to go to school but, (almost unbelievable to modern ears) one of Annie’s teacher’s said: ‘Oh, Annie, if you always come to school with a baby strapped to your back, your back will become crooked. Can you imagine what would happen today if a primary school child arrived in her classroom with a baby on her back? Leave aside IT studies, the world of e-books and print on demand, it is obvious there is an enormous gulf between schools for poor children in those days and modern day schools.
Annie valued her rudimentary education, and she always enjoyed reading, as she put it, ‘a good novel’, the more she cried over the sad or heart-touching parts the more she enjoyed it. She wept bucket loads over Little Nell in Dickens Old Curiosity Shop and admired Sir Walter Scot’s hero, Ivanhoe and wept over Rebecca’s unrequited love. Not bad for a child who carried a baby brother or sister on her back to school.
Had Annie been born earlier she might not have attended school until she was twelve years old. I think she would have learned the three r’s at school, but once she mastered the basics great-grandmother would have kept her at home to help. Fortunately, Annie mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, was taught domestic science and enjoyed gymnastics and art and crafts.
Annie could not have imagined future advances in education but I wonder if she valued her schooldays far more than many children do today. In England the powers of schools to expel unruly students have been eroded. Teachers’ means to discipline children have been reduced to the point at which disruptive children regularly prevent the rest of the class from learning. (I am not the only one who thinks that the abolishment of corporal punishment is praiseworthy, but in the United Kingdom teachers should be allowed to restrain violent pupils.
Most of today’s children enjoy far more material benefits than Charles and Annie could have ever hoped to enjoy, but this does not automatically mean their lives are either happier or more enriched. Certainly, good conduct as well as the attainment of academic standards was stressed and valued when Charles and Annie were at school. It was taken for granted that all children – unless they had a learning disability - would be able to read when they left school. I do not have statistics to prove it but believe those children who completed their elementary education unable to read were a tiny minority. Sadly, this is not true today. There are frequent articles in the newspapers and mention on television news broadcasts about children who leave secondary school unable to read at the age of sixteen.
The following gives me an idea as to the basic education Annie received.

The following are the six Standards of Education contained in the Revised code of Regulations, 1872
Reading One of the narratives next in order after monosyllables in an elementary reading book used in the school.
Writing Copy in manuscript character a line of print, and write from dictation a few common words.
Arithmetic Simple addition and subtraction of numbers of not more than four figures, and the multiplication table to multiplication by six.
Reading A short paragraph from an elementary reading book.
Writing A sentence from the same book, slowly read once, and then dictated in single words.
Arithmetic The multiplication table, and any simple rule as far as short division (inclusive).
Reading A short paragraph from a more advanced reading book.
Writing A sentence slowly dictated once by a few words at a time, from the same book.
Arithmetic Long division and compound rules (money).
Reading A few lines of poetry or prose, at the choice of the inspector.
Writing A sentence slowly dictated once, by a few words at a time, from a reading book, such as is used in the first class of the school.
Arithmetic Compound rules (common weights and measures).
Reading A short ordinary paragraph in a newspaper, or other modern narrative.
Writing Another short ordinary paragraph in a newspaper, or other modern narrative, slowly dictated once by a few words at a time.
Arithmetic Practice and bills of parcels.
Reading To read with fluency and expression.
Writing A short theme or letter, or an easy paraphrase.
Arithmetic Proportion and fractions (vulgar and decimal).
I assume that my paternal grandparents, George and Florence, were expected to achieve the goals set out above. However, George was a younger member of an old established West Country family of landowners. He received a superior education, enjoyed reading the Bible and studying politics newspapers, magazines and journals. He pasted cuttings about topics of national importance and the First and Second World wars in large leather bound scrapbooks. Yet his country roots always remained with him. By the time he married, he had moved to Kent and owned no more than a large back garden where he enjoyed keeping chickens and grew fruit and vegetables. Possibly, he would not have been deeply interested in computer technology. On the other hand, he might have enjoyed downloading articles, printing them and sticking them into his scrapbooks.
Florence, daughter of an architect, received a reasonable academic education at school, and, at home, a thorough education in deportment, social airs and graces and all matters domestic including sewing. Florence’s skill with the needle was much appreciated; she sewed for herself, her family and for church bazaars. One of my happiest memories is sitting on a stool at her feet stitching bugle beads onto chiffon. ‘Fairy stitches, tiny fairy stitches,’ she used to say to me. Thanks to her, I have always enjoyed sewing and knitting.
Today, ‘liberated’ women have a multitude of modern conveniences, career opportunities, access to television, computers, the world wide web, e-mails, Amazon, kindle etc., but, by and large, are they as contented as my grandmothers, who had the love of good men and took pride in their domestic skills? What, I ask myself, would they have made of modern technology?
In 1902, seven years before my father was born and eight years before my mother was born, the School Boards were abolished and Local Education Authorities replaced them. For the first time, secondary school education to the age of fourteen became compulsory. Would my grandparents have enjoyed further education? Regardless to the answer, I know Charles would have been as amazed by online publishing as he would have been by modern aircraft, although he stood on Highgate Hill with his small daughter’s hand in his and told her: ‘Nothing will come of those flying machines.”

Saturday, 3 September 2011

How to Critique a Novel or Short Story

How to critique a Novel or Short Story

As the recipient of many critiques and assessments of my work I have sometimes been dismayed by a critiquer’s comments about my novels and short stories. On the other hand, on occasions, a critiquer has been too full of praise instead of suggesting improvements. The best critiques have been a balance between the positive and the negative.

I belong to three online critique groups and Watford Writers, which meets every Monday at Café Cha Cha in Cassiobury Park at 7.30 p.m. Watford Writers hosts manuscript evenings at which members may read their work, whether it is non fiction, short stories, extracts from novels or poetry.

Members of the online critique groups post chapters of their novels and receive critiques in return for critiquing other members’ critiques. In each group members choose four or more partners whose chapters they critique once a month or more. Over the years most members have offered constructive comments. Those who have been negative or who have ‘flamed’ have been a small minority who the moderators have dealt with – occasionally excluding the offender from the group.

Watford Writers are a friendly group whose feedback I find invaluable. No matter how often I read my work silently or out loud from the computer screen or from the printed page I always miss things which need to be improved. Reading my work aloud to an audience helps me to identify problems for myself and to receive good advice from other writers.

In return for other authors’ generous help I always try to offer the best possible advice and bear the following in mind.

To begin with, I concentrate on the positive and ask myself what I like about the author’s work.

I then consider various issues, which I hope will be helpful, and sometimes remind the recipient that the suggestions in any critique only reflects one person’s opinion, and that the recipient is free to accept or reject them.

I ask myself if I enjoyed the story and, in the case of novels, ask myself if I want to read on and find out what happens next. My next question is who would want to read it and does it stand a good chance of being published?

Important considerations are as follow.

Does the first line make the reader want to continue? Do the opening paragraphs grip the readers’ attention? Will the conclusion make the readers sigh with satisfaction and be sorry they have finished the novel?

I then consider and comment on the nuts and bolts of the writing, not forgetting to praise a few particularly well-turned phrases and ask myself the following questions.

Is there sufficient conflict to make the work interesting?

Do the major and minor characters spring to life? Are they believable and do they act in accordance with their personalities with sufficient emotional depth?

Is the plot believable and do the theme/s grip me and make me want to find out what happens next?

Are the settings believable? Has the author checked the world in which the characters move?

If the novel is historical has the author researched it carefully and are the characters of their time?

Is there enough dialogue to move the story forward and is it well written or either awkward or stilted? If the author uses dialect is it believable?

Has the author jumped from one character’s viewpoint to another’s? If so does this make it difficult for the reader to identify with the characters?

Overall is the manuscript well written and is it properly formatted.

In my critique I make everything I like clear and also answer the above questions to the best of my ability.

Most of my critique partners tell me they appreciate my critiques so, thank goodness, I must be doing something right.


Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing

Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne’s reign 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era June.2012

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Retro Centre Samuel Pepys

Retro Centre and Samuel Pepys

I always enjoy visiting St Albans. Yesterday I visited a treasure house of items from times past at a Retro Centre, which I will visit again, and I shall attend the Retro Fair next weekend.

The Retro Centre is divided into sections where different sellers arrange their wares. China, glass, curios, soft furnishings, clothes and a treasure house of books.

As I went round I yearned to own a country cottage with oak beams which I could decorate with colourful china, lace edged throws, embroidered tablecloths, traycloths, framed tapestries and embroidered or tapestry cushions. Having admired, picked up and put down various items I found the book section after I rummaged through clothes and admired costume jewellery.

This is the year when I’m supposed to be saving money but I couldn’t resist three books by one of my favourite historians, Arthur Bryant, Samuel Pepys The Man in The Making, Samuel Pepys The Years of Peril and Samuel Pepys The Saviour of The Navy.

I have collected a number of Arthur Bryant’s books and always enjoy his style. Samuel Pepys, The Man in the Making begins: - “North of Cambridge lie the Fens. The sea from which they arose laps at their northern boundaries, and north and east great rivers lazily wind across them, drawing black cattle to drink among the sedges at their brink. This land would be one of silence were it not for the innumerable company of larks, of bittern, coot and moorhen, of sedge warblers and reed sparrow, which ever provides it with a faint and not discordant music. In summer it is still, as the monk William of Huntingdon remembered it, a land of clouds and orchards and golden corn. Yet it is so only by right of battle waged ceaselessly by its invading armies of water. Whenever civilization has receded – when Roman legion fell back or monastery bell was silenced-the waters have taken back their own. Salt tides have swept in with winter gales through forsaken walls, and the rivers have flowed out, cold and remorseless, over the fields and houses of man.

“.…On this land came the Pepys’s. For centuries they had grazed and ploughed, haggled at markets over country wares and peered at the Fen skies…”

Although Samuel Pepys was first published in 1933 it has not dated and is full of fascinating information, and I the preface very interesting.

“…Samuel Pepys was the creator of three remarkable, and still surviving things. The first, in the order of their making, was his Diary. The second was the civil administration of the Admiralty-the rule –and order that still give permanence to the material form, fighting traditions and transmitted knowledge of the Royal Navy. …Lord Barham testified that there was not a department of the Admiralty that was not governed by he rules Samuel Pepys had laid down in the 17th century. It was Pepys who made the scabbard for the sword that Nelson, and the heirs of Nelson used.

“Pepys third creative achievement sprang from the second. He has bee described as the father of the Civil Service. Here, too, his orders hold. The rules he laid down and the administrative principles he elucidated have become part of the continuing life of his country…”

I am writing a light-hearted novel set in the Restoration period when Charles Second came to England after his exile which followed his father’s execution. I always try to ensure that my novels are as well-researched as possible and Arthur Bryant’s trilogy about Pepys will be invaluable.

Forthcoming release. Tangled Love 27.01.2012 Muse It Up Publisher.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Recommended Reads

Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

For readers who like a twist in the tale which takes them by surprise, I recommend Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison.

I had the privilege of reading this novel by an accomplished author prior to publication and thoroughly enjoyed it

You can find out more about Anita and her novels at Anita’s beautifully designed blog:

Isabel Hart is afraid of two things, the maze at Trencarrow where she got lost as a young child, and the lake where her brother David saved her from drowning in a boating accident.

With her twenty-first birthday and the announcement of her engagement imminent, Isabel decides it is time for her to face her demons and ventures into the maze. There she sees something which will alter her perceptions of herself and her family forever.

Isabel’s widowed aunt joins the house party, where her cousin confides she is in love with an enigmatic young man who surely cannot be what he pretends, for he is too dashing for homely Laura.

When Henry, Viscount Strachan and his mother arrive, ostensibly to use her ball as an arena for finding a wife, Isabel is determined not to like him.

As more secrets are revealed, Isabel begins to doubt she has chosen the right man, although her future fiancé has more vested in this marriage than Isabel realizes and has no intention of letting her go easily.

Will Isabel be able to put her preconceptions of marriage behind her and take charge of her own life, or is she destined to be controlled by others forever?