Diary of a Writer – June Prompt

Reading – in times past

Having just had a lovely trip to Turkey under the auspices of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, I have a huge number of photographs to sort and edit. This chap caught my attention while I was looking for a photo to head the post with.

Several of the museums in Istanbul had similar figures and they are startlingly lifelike. Books in times past were substantial items and the one above certainly wouldn’t be for reading in bed or tucking in a pocket for that odd moment. On the other hand, it does remind one how long the written word has been of importance to culture. Whether it’s for your information, your entertainment or your mental health, books have had a place in our lives for generations.

I think he’s a prompt. Someone had to create his tome and when he’s finished reading it, chances are he’ll want to go onto the next. Will that be written by the same author – or by you or me?

Of course, having been away, I haven’t written much in May. However, I did come back with some inspirational moments, some wonderful photos and the memory of many delightful conversations with other group members. Instalment Two is through and Instalment Three under consideration.

The Scottish Association of Writers is running its annual Short story and Poetry competitions with a closing date of 5th August 2023. Rules are here Nothing like a little bit of focus and a deadline, I think. Good luck!

How is your writing life?


Round Robin – Breathing Life Into Your Characters

Breathing Life Into Your Characters is this month’s topic and, truly, what could be more important?

How many readers of my vintage remember the blatant use of stereotyping, the two-dimensional nature of supporting characters – and even of some protagonists – and the over-arching descriptions such as ‘a used-car salesman’/’ a silly schoolgirl’/ ‘a hospital matron’?

My first step is always to hear their voice. Are they struggling to find the right word or are they articulate with a confidence to match? Are they using vocabulary suitable for an age and situation in life? Do they copy their ‘betters’ or mimic those further down the social scale? Can they be heard first time or do they mumble?

Once I can hear their voices, I can flesh out the rest. Does an elderly man mumble because he needs new dentures? If he needs new dentures, is he neglected or too poor? Is he not bothered? Is he living in a dystopian world where there are no dental technicians? Will the arrival in the family group of a person who sees this issue with a professional eye, stir up trouble for those who didn’t? Causing guilt, perhaps, or resentment? It’s a tiny example of how I see plot arising out of character.

Does a servant girl use longer words than her employer thinks appropriate to her situation in life? Will that tension undermine her position? Does a character use dialect? Does the use of dialect demean a character in the eyes of the more fashionable?

These characters, captured on a London visit a few years ago, are in need of having life breathed into them – or are they? Their demeanour is very clearly active and, probably, aggressive. The sculptor has brought all that to life with few embellishments beyond the weapons raised in their hands.

I would want to add clothing, hair and accessories. While heavy description slows the pace, a few well chosen touches tell us so much about the character. A man might question his child closely about what they are going to spend some money he is handing over on. It could be a downpayement on an apprenticeship, for example. Once the child leaves the room, perhaps the father turns to his wife and asks her to pass him a bit of cardboard. Maybe he then cuts out a sole shaped piece and, taking off his shoe to slide it into place, remarks that there’s another year gone by when he won’t be able to afford the latest style. Does his wife resent this situation on his behalf? Perhaps on her own? Another way in which plot spins from character.

Another useful tool for creating memorable characters is behaviour and mannerisms. Do they have any tics? Do they constantly check the time on their wristwatch/phone/station clock? Do they stay to the back of a group and absorb energy from others? Do they put themselves forward and lead? Are they reactionary? If a character cannot stand still – are they frustrated dancers or athletes or do they have a developing neurological condition? Or do they just need to go to the bathroom?

People watching is probably my best advice to the creative writing student. Find a comfy seat and watch the characters wander/ run/ march/ saunter/ scramble past. Your stories are out there.

My fellow robins, listed below, have also recorded some thoughts on this issue. I’m sure we’ll find something of interest there, too.


Anne Stenhouse https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com

Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Diane Bator https://dbator.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2TY

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea


Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Top Ten Tuesday


That Artsy Reader Gal , Jana, hosts a meme called Top Ten Tuesday. It was created by The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday Jana chooses a topic and today is a freebie. What are my top ten ???

I’m going to choose Writing Prompts

The first one I chose for my monthly offering to everyone. I love gardens and often find an atmospheric corner.

2 That moment waiting for my own little girl to emerge from the hall in her brownie uniform when I caught sight of a neighbour’s child. The little girl’s body language and air of tristesse gave me an insight into her home life. I later recalled that moment of illumination for a short story.


Who hasn’t written about Hallowe’en. The pic was takenin Athens. Dark Stories

4 Hearing my granny’s story of the factory overseer who thought he would run his hands through her long red hair. The raw emotion after 65 years created a huge impression and found its way into the serial I wrote to mark the 150th anniversary of the People’s Friend magazine. You can find it on their archive website, here


The antagonist of Rosalie’s story owes a lot to my experiences working in an alcohol rehab. This imprint is the Linford Library edition and may be available in a library near you.

6 Moments of memory that trip you up from time to time. A man whistling as he walked down the scheme reminded me of my dad who was already dead. The joy in my mother’s face when one of my brothers walked into her room. The wonder in my son’s expression when he woke from his nap and saw me wearing a towel turban over wet hair for the first time.


The opportunity to ‘try a quadrille’ for oneself.

8 Proverbs, sayings, clichés – all useful and all in need of crafting. I’m particularly fond of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ as I find its possibilities endless. It’s the basis of Daisy’s Dilemma.


I know there was a time, but I don’t remember not being able to read and I really, really don’t remember not making up stories or spins on the stories. While I enjoyed the Katy books, I think my first sortie into lit crit was over What Katy Did Next. I simply could not get over how ‘perfectly imperfect’ the character had been made. Many writers will have started from the position of thinking they could do better or of wanting to create something as affecting/enjoyable/scary/wild.

10 The big one for me and my writing is the ongoing, never ending theme of women’s access to education. It is as important now as it ever was.

There are other takes on TTT – I found it on Joanna’s Portybello book blog The headline blog is That Artsy Reader Gal

Pop over and see what the other contributors have to say.

What was your all time best prompt?


Beautiful Spring Sunshine – Happy Easter

As Easter is latish this year, there were a lot of flowering plants to see in RBGE yesterday.

Hacquetia epipactis variegata

The pretty ground cover plant above was covering ground in the borders.

Cushion in the tufa wall house.

I adore these tiny flowers growing out of what looks very like a pin cushion.

Looks like great weather in Edinburgh again, today. Maybe it’ll encourage our magnolia into bloom. That’s now weeks behind thanks to the cold and damp conditions in March.

Weather obsessive? Who, me?


Diary of a Writer – April Prompt

The Scottish State Coach circa 1830

Country Mouse was in town last weekend and Town Mouse, cousin and junior by twenty years, agreed to be a tourist, too. I have long wanted to visit the Royal Mews and now I have.

What writer of Regency fiction isn’t interested in carriages? I took the opportunity offered of sitting in a mock-up carriage and concluded I’d be ill if I had to travel in one. Maybe by the time the Scottish State Coach was built, springs were improved.

So, what thoughts does the picture prompt? Without a doubt, the vehicles displayed brought home to me the weight of everything connected with horse-drawn travel. Weight that meant everything done had to be done in teams – look at the size of that rear wheel.

The royal carriages have extra large windows so the occupants can be seen but in their heyday, windows would be smaller and equipped with blinds making the opportunity for all those abductions of heiresses greater. The height of the carriage floor from the ground is considerable and that made me understand how easily a woman in flowing skirts could be disadvantaged.

In happier book scenes, the compact nature of the carriage lends itself to gossip and closeness – siblings off to a summer ball together; older ladies off to a card party or the post nuptial trip being made by a young and nervous bride.

What temptation does a carriage offer you?



This impressive collection of trophies has been donated over a long period to the Scottish Association of Writers for the competitions they hold at their annual weekend school.

Although I’ve won in some past years, I don’t have any entries in this year. I’m simply looking forward to the event and the chance to catch up with friends from other groups. The more often you attend a regular event, the more friends and acquaintances you’ll have accumulated.

Preparation changes a bit over time. When my family were small, complicated arrangements were necessary to ensure the wheels stayed on the bus. Now, I just have to buy something for the DH to cook himself some supper.

The very first writing conference I attended was in Pitlochry and organised by the late Jim McIntosh and his wife, Joyce Faulkner. Speakers were essentially found by the late Hugh Rae – mostly at the Swanwick Writers’ School where he persuaded people what they really wanted/needed was a weekend in the Scottish Highlands.

That event was a delight and it was the first place I encountered an up and coming romantic novelist called Katie Fforde! There was also the delight of wandering out into Pitlochry itself – a pastime I still enjoy enormously when at the Festival Theatre there.

The SAW is now based in the Westerwood – Double Tree by Hilton – and the walks are around the golf course. Easier on the wallet!

There will be books for sale – The Bookhouse – a quiz, a Dragon’s Pen and one2ones. What’s not to like?

Possibly the weather. As the title say – it is March.


Diary of a Writer – March Prompt

Taken after the prizegiving at the annual Weekend School of the Scottish Association of Writers, some time ago.

The hairstyle, tha glasses and the frock are all long gone. The trophy, not sure which competition but the person next to me is holding the John Severn Inkwell donated to the SAW by Edinburgh Writers’ Club, was held for a year. The certificate?

Ah well! As most writers, and all of their relatives, know, the certificate will be here or hereabouts still. Paper is never disposed of methodically. That’s why I’m continuing a process begun during Lockdown of sorting and discarding.

I did return three-to-four years of correspondence to my high-school bosom buddy two years ago. I re-read them and what a treasure trove of joy and information they were. Who would have thought that we’d be back to heating the water separately for one bath? We are and the letters showed it wasn’t that long ago when we lived like that all the time.

And the prompt?

I have no entries in any of the upcoming competitions for the SAW weekend, but I am looking forward to the stimulus of being among other writers, of hearing the talks and of picking up one or two new challenges.

In the meantime, the serial progresses, the book group caused me to read the truly wonderful The Master and Margarita and the grandson has given me The Lady Joker. Brain is coping.

How is your own writing going? Will any of you be at the Westerwood SAW?


Round Robin – February

This month the topic comes in two questions:

How can contemporary Fiction keep up with our swiftly changing world, politically, socially or technically? Or how do you keep your stories located in time?

So – two bites of the cherry or an answer that wraps up both ways of looking at the issue.

I regard myself as a mainly historical writer and with that in mind need to remember which words can be used and which words have taken on such universal loathing that no writer would do so. The assertion that ‘Well that’s what the character would have said.’ doesn’t get you off the hook. Perversely, it’s also the case that readers think some words are too modern whereas they’ve possibly been around for centuries. I don’t want to pull my reader out of the story, so I tend to avoid them.

I tend also to pay a lot of attention to the advice of the late Hilary Mantel. Don’t think the unthinkable. So I do not have my female characters spending all their page-time kicking over the traces. They may be moving things along, but it’ll be in a believable way. Mariah Fox, for example, teaches and that is an acceptable pursuit for the daughter of an academic man. However, she knows when Tobias outwits her, that she will have to give way and marry him.

Anne by Marte Lundby Rekaa

Sophia Jex-Blake, an Edinburgh doctor, did huge amounts for the advancement of women in university education. She comes later in the nineteenth century when that was a political and social issue of huge import. There was even a riot.

Gerard Fay

In addition to reading up about what was contemporary when, I have a huge collection of books detailing things like costume and manners. Who doesn’t love ‘dressing the set’? Does a crowd of men in boilersuits and flat caps conjure up a different era to a crowd of men in linen smocks with gaiters tied around their calves?

Transport, getting technical, and communication are huge areas. My characters have to walk, ride a horse or sail. Today people, including women, drive their own cars, fly their own planes and hug a mobile phone on which their existence depends. Crime writers, I think, must often wish the mobile to perdition.

My characters bow and curtsey. Usually as deference to rank or age, but sometimes due to good manners. I am old enough to remember practising my curtsey before important visitors came to the school. How different is our contemporary wish to take a selfie with anyone from the Regency era when one could not even address a person before an introduction in the proper form. Possibly some hard pressed contemporary ‘celebs’ might see the value in that!

It’s both romance month and library month here in the UK. Mariah’s Marriage, Daisy’s Dilemma, Courting the Countess and A debt for Rosalie are all available from the library. Courting the Countess is also available for your kindle. City of Discoveries is available online to read in 50 parts in the People’s Friend archive.

Other Robins are listed below and I’m looking forward to their take on our topic.


Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich  https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2QS

Anne Stenhouse http://wp.me/31Isq

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Diary of a Writer – February Prompt

I know I’ve used this photograph of domestic letter-boxes as a prompt before, but I make no apologies.

February is the month of the Valentine and how many romantically inclined readers have not spent an agonising wait for that tell-tale plop as an envelope falls through their own domestic letter-box?

As the years pass, perhaps, greater value may be attached to the everyday and ongoing attentions and manifestations of love than to the ephemeral grand gesture that is a bunch of hugely expensive red roses. (Does anyone ever receive any violets blue?) However, the romantic novel is concerned with the winning of the right to bestow that ongoing, maturing, constant love.

Setbacks are required and what would parallel the placing of your crafted Valentine with its words of love and a secret rendezvous into the wrong post-box?

I can’t think.(Ed)

What would stymie your overtures more than a strict and horrified Papa finding the Valentine first?

Double can’t think. (Ed)

And if you’re the lady sending a Valentine, equal care is needed as not all mamas and papas would appreciate every image chosen.

I probably won’t be sending any Valentines, but having attended both a Haiku workshop and a poetry workshop courtesy of Edinburgh Writers’ Club in recent weeks, I’m tempted.

Actually, I’m at work on a new serial for the People’s Friend and in between instalments on a new Pocket Novel.

The lovely folk at Ulverscroft recently accepted my contemporary novel, Christmas at Maldington, for their catalogue and it will be going into libraries later in the year. Look out for it. May I just say thank you to all the discerning readers who borrowed my books from libraries and enabled an exciting payments’ notice from the PLR. I do appreciate it.

All good wishes for your own writing, and reading, Courting the Countess has been attracting ratings over on Amazon and is available at a modest price for your kindle.


Round Robin – 2023 starts here

A new image from the talented Connie Vines

And the topic is: New Beginnings – how do you motivate yourself to get back to writing when life has interrupted your flow and/or, how do you begin a new writing challenge?

We’re under new management and I feel the first thing I want to do is thank the departing organiser, Rhobin Courtright. Her sterling efforts over a long period have prompted many interesting exchanges and made us think below the surface of our writers’ exteriors. Thank you, Rhobin, and all good wishes.

The second thing is to welcome the incoming organiser, Skye Taylor. I’m looking forward to continuing with these posts and thanks to Skye for takng it on.

A Quality Product

The celebrations around Christmastime are joyous but they are time-consuming. I hardly ever manage to write anything between the 3rd week of November and the 3rd week of January. This rules out participation in the competitions for a conference I go to. Yes, I know the competitions are the same or similar every year, and no, I cannot get organised to write entries in advance. However in early 2022 I did write an advent story about a Christmas tree and sent it in to the People’s Friend magazine. They bought it when seasonal stories were being read and it was published in December.


Next up, in the disruption stakes, is the annual marmalade extravaganza. The pic above is of an earlier year’s activity, but you get the idea – I nearly said flavour, but you’d have to taste it for that.

So, what now? Well, I think writing this post will help as it steers the mind back into work channels. Also, a little success goes a long way. The serial proposal I made to my editor last autumn has been accepted and I’ve been reading up on my character outlines and their story arcs. I’m gradually finding my mind full of what they’re gong to do next and that helps enormously.

In addition, the writing world’s social side has started up, too. Coffee with my friend and fellow Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder sparked a good exchange about our current projects. Early in February there’ll be an RNA Scottish chapter lunch so that, too, will be a stimulus. There are so many talented people in the RNA.

What is not helping is this new keyboard. It’s sticking. Hence I’m having either no letter depressed or three copies of it. The shift key is seizing and the ‘Enter’ one is sending the next para all the way down a page. It may be a visit to the accessories shop is on the horizon.

Below is a list of other robins and their approach to picking it up again. I’m sure there’ll be interesting tips to be learned.

best wishes for 2023,


Dr. Bob Rich             https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2OQ

Anne Graham           https://goo.gl/h4DtKv

Connie Vines             http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Diane Bator               https://dbator.blogspot.com/

A.J.                             http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Victoria Chatham     http://www.victoriachatham.com

Fiona McGuire          http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Marci Baun https://www.marcibaun.com/blog