Sadly, the uncertainties of the past year make this image one that recurs to me. Just as the numbers go down, just as the vaccination programme picks up pace, just as life returns to some of the local cafes and non-essential shops – something happens. Perhaps we’re all going to enter an age of irony in our writing.
Personally, I’m onto the final instalment of that serial. Yes, the end is in sight. Also, I delivered my first online talk to my writers’ group, Edinburgh Writers’ Club. It was about drama and the enthusiasm we generated for all things dramatic was uplifting. I re-read Quality Street by JM Barrie later.
I’m making progress with a Scottish set regency. Can hear the characters and am finding their stories.
Courting the Countess, set in George Square, Edinburgh, is available here.
How is your writing going? Does the world feel it’s emerging or is there still too much virus around?
Rhobin’s question this month comes in two parts. How do you select your characters’ names? Are there any you avoid?
As I set my writing mostly in the UK, I try to find regional names. This is relatively easy for surnames.
I was once told a story by a professional colleague. He was living in London for work, but when he went home to the north east and tried to book a table in a restaurant, he was thrilled to be told by the waiter: “I’m sorry, sir, Gunn isn’t enough, I’ll need a first name.” He went on to say that was when he knew he was home.
Geographical names can break both ways. It may mean a character is local born and bred or it may identify one as having come into the area from elsewhere. Both results are useful.
First names are a whole other ball game. How often does a writer find themselves with a stuck letter? Every first name you think of starts with a V or an E or a T. That is a major irritation and I can spend quite a bit of time scratching my head till I move away from that dominating letter and achieve a variety.
Writing historical fiction also provides challenges. There weren’t that many first names in regular use. In real life and times of, for example, the Tudors, many men were called William or Thomas (Will or Tom). So, in a way, if you do name each character with an individual name, you’re missing out on historical accuracy. On the other hand, it helps the reader.
In my own family, many of the women were called Janet or Jessie. There’s one man in the family tree who married three times and two of his wives were called Janet. James and John pop up, too, and Joan and Agnes. Elizabeth or its derivatives, Liz, Lizzie, Liza, Bunty, Betty, Bet have had a strong influence in twentieth century choices.
I would usually seek out an appropriate first name and, where regional variation exists, eg Bet in the north of England, Bunty in central Scotland, go for that. However, in my historical fiction I’ve tended to seek out or make up suitably aged names. Mariah semed to me to be both elegant and old. Bella was chosen as a diminutive of Isabella and less formal because my heroine had flaming red hair and was a little headstrong. The Scottish Regency I’m working on at the moment has a heroine who simply refused to be Louise and is now Louisa. Three cheers for Find & Replace. I think she’s the first of my characters who’s done this.
Are there any I avoid?
Apart from Judith, I avoid Shakespearian names like Cordelia or Goneril. I avoid using place names for people. I’m careful over Biblical names – have they come into general use like Josh, Mary, Elizabeth or would they be geographically correct? If not, is there a reason a person with that name has moved. In today’s global village society, there may well be.
I have no characters with a double first name like Marie-Claire. That’s simply personal preference and if I wrote a book with a French main or major character, I might well opt for a double first name. Some of them are both pretty and romantic.
How do others approach this? why not visit the blogs below?
Embarking on a new Season at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in online format with Angela by Mark Ravenhill and starring PamFerris in the title role, held out promise for things to come later in the year.
The theatre had organised a virtual bar and we were able to sit at home and chat with other theatre goers. We met a nice lady from Balerno we hadn’t met before and also Mairi Rosko, the theatre’sDevelopment Director. Not the same as being in the actual bar – but hey, it helps.
Excellent walk in the arctic temp today with a longtime friend. Visited Warriston cemetery where I hadn’t been previously and bumped into (yes, really) two young friends on the way back. Non-guided tour of the tram works as we attempted to follow the Diversion signs. Goodness, there is a lot of the Eastern New Town.
I’m busy working up my talk on writing drama for Edinburgh Writers’ Club ( Monday 26th April at 7.30 – tickets from Eventbrite).
Today is Publication Day for friend Jo Allen’s latest story in her Lake District detective series. Death on the Lake is available here
So, together with Sandi Toksvig’s wonderful Between the Stops and Olga Wojtas’s Miss Blaine’s Pupil and the Vampire Menace, my reading material is sorted.
Visits to the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh have become an important part of the ‘coping mechanisms’ mentality here in the Writer’s Study. Nature carries on carrying on and yesterday there were many lovely rhodies to be seen.
There’s currenty not a lot of writing taking place! Maybe the brain has had enough of keeping up and keeping cheering up. Instead, I’ve begun the process of finding surfaces. One bag of paper ready for the re-cycling (includes some MSS!) and several piles of books ready for the next opportunity to send to a sale or take to a shop.
Looking forward to the online conference of the Scottish Association of Writers this w/e. Stellar line-up of speakers and adjudicators so maybe that stimulus will kick-start something.
I find it very hard to describe people. I love showing their characters and actions but describing them remains a real problem. Yesterday I set myself the task of describing the heroine of a Scottish Regency I’m toying with. Achieved three sentences. What do we know so far? She’s short and blonde.
Mother’s Day last Sunday was a lovely boost with flowers and a delivered Afternoon Tea. It was so nice to talk to my children and really looking forward to seeing them in person. I feel for those of you who are separated by oceans.
Curious Find – From the tidying – up is that elastic bands dry out and crack.
How is it going in your study/kitchen/workroom?
ps Takeaway par Excellence from Hickory at Home is a big help. St Patrick’s Day coming up and we’re trying the Vegetarian option.
Meantime the DH and I are trawling through his digital photograph collection and are scratching the surface of the ?k (he’s reluctant to state a number) taken in India. The one above is from a trip to the US, but the rucksack goes everywhere.
How is this a prompt?
Bengal, Rajasthan and the return visit to Agra and Delhi were so full of interest, it’s difficult to know where to start. and I haven’t.
However, the magazines are currently looking for their summer and autumn stories featuring exotic places, so there may be an opportunity.
Will it be one of the truly fabulous palaces, the museum housing silver howdas, the museum of turbans? Or will it be one of the stories collected along the way? The sponsored tuk-tuk rally, for example?
This picture is of a member of a dancing act whose memorable performance was quite different to anything I’ve seen in the UK. India is also a great place to visit puppet theatres.
All in all, that one month has huge potential for story telling and now, when we can’t go anywhere as vibrant, colourful and different, might be the time to start remembering.
In February, Rhobin has chose an idea from fellow robin, Fiona. Where do you get your ideas from for stories?
It is the thing that fascinates non fiction writers the most. All of us are likely to have been held at cocktail-point by another guest who seems genuinely puzzled that anyone can take an event and turn it into something else. Their brains don’t operate on a What if? basis and that prevents them seeing the possibilities.
Of course real life throws up all sorts and a huge amount of it is feel-good, happy, moving. What I truly thank my story Gods for is the ability to witness the moment, to remember the feeling of revelation and to write it, often without reaiising until the work is completed. That is one huge privilege of being a writer.
I know a lot of my ideas come through visiting houses and through being close to houses. Some buildings cry out for attention.
My husband and I have life membership of The National Trust for Scotland and in more normal times make good and frequent use of it. We also visit privately owned big houses and have stayed in commercially let ones.
The picture above sparked an idea for a story I wrote years ago for a Writelink challenge. Most recently, I needed a house for a Hallowe’en story for a short anthology, Dark Stories, Capital Writers. The Cemetery House picks up a long fascination I’ve had with two houses on a nearby road. One is in a cemetery, one is just higgeldy-piggeldy.
A Debt for Rosalie was sparked by a long weekend spent in a big house in Angus (moved to Northumberland for the book) with friends. We spent a lot of time congregating in the kitchen which may be why Rosalie is a chef.
So, that’s my bag: observed and remembered moments of revelation and the aura of the stones. Do visit the blogs listed below where I’m confident other methods will appear.
Living in Edinburgh makes a heavy snowfall something of an event. I dislike snow and, although I can enjoy the beauty of pristine falls, simply long for it to melt.
Not an early chance of that if the BBC weather is to be believed.
Members of the extended family have been sledging and making snowmen. One or two might have had the Calcutta Cup added as an embellishment…
However, one or two have had to go out to work like the dedicated young lady who delivers our newspaper – warm thanks.
And the crew who brought our grocery delivery yesterday when it wasn’t warm but the snow wasn’t quite so thick. Again, many thanks.
So, the coping:
Grocery Delivery brought flowers. Daffs above, aloestramerias and a chrysanthemum pot plant. Cheered the house up considerably as the front garden, when you can see it, has 1 snowdrop and 1 aconite!
Looking for something else, I found a fresh cache of Georgette Heyer and one I may not have read before – or at least not for years.
Fellow inmate has had SPORT to watch. Cannot thank Channel Four enough. DH’s reaction when he discovered the cricket was on terestrial was like seeing the sun at the end of a very long tunnel.
Weight has dropped again and is now below a significant marker. This is good for morale and therefore ‘a positive’. Do hope the enforced loss of walks won’t be a problem. On advice of friend am watching Joe Wicks’s Absolute Beginners workout. I gather the intention is to join in, will consider that.
Am reading Cecilia Peartree’s Life and Death in the Woods, You can buy it here
Morning regular readers. You’ve seen this photo before but it’s very much the time of year. Despite Brexit, marmalade oranges were available, if not in the quantity I wanted. One bag turned into enough of the preserve for three months and another frozen for later on. My neighbour has made two batches. For me it was a good escape into something ‘real’ while awaiting the ed’s decision on the most recent serial instalment.
My decision to avoid shopping in this phase of the pandemic is frustrating and inhibiting. How anyone required to shield coped, I cannot imagine. Congratulations on your perseverance.
While I had laid in a few things, like cards for known upcoming birthdays, I’ve been caught out by others. I only wear a particular type of slipper and I buy it in John Lewis. Currently closed, they will deliver, but is a new pair of slippers an essential item? The current ones haven’t actually fallen apart.
However, this blog is supposed to be about coping and not falling apart. Quite hard that ( ed).
Have gone back to doing the Scotsman cryptic crossword as well as the codeword.
There’s now outside building work on the other side. Men at work to watch.
I am enjoying Mansefield Park. It has demonstrated to me how empty the lives of upper-middle-class people were and how very dependant they were on each other for society. Even the young men of the family had little to occupy them besides, hunting, shooting and gambling.
Very good lectures in the past week from Royal Botanic Garden and Royal Lyceum Theatre.
Put in my entry for the ‘name the van’ comp being run by Lochinver Pies. Also, am included in order for some of said pies. Yippee!
Did some serious researching and thinking around how the serial will end.
Okay, enough. How is your life ticking over? What are you cooking/eating/buyingonline/reading?
What is on your writing to-do list for this year? Do you have
any long-range goals or just wrap-ups?
Rhobin’s questions are as always pertinent. I’m guilty of seeing what comes along and whether I’d like to get into/onto that. It doesn’t an organised life make.
However, this year there are two projects in hand.
Firstly, I’m deeply into writing an historical serial for the People’s Friend magazine. It isn’t collaborative exactly, but the team of fiction editors do opine instalment by instalment. so that’s ongoing.
City of Discoveries
It’s taken me back to 1869 but to Edinburgh and not Dundee. One project I might add to 2021 is bringing out City of Discoveries as an e-book and POD. I know several of my author friends do this. Check out Kate Blackadder’s Family Stories Boxset here.
Secondly, I’m signed up to offer my thoughts on writing drama for the Edinburgh Writers’ Club in April. This will be a totally new experience as I’ve not done any online talks or workshops as a leader so far. In person evenings discussing the nuts and bolts of drama always leave me thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice to write a play?”
Moving on, though, what’s in my mind?
Having published two pocket novels with My Weekly last year, I’m keen to a) write a short story for the magazine and b) write another PN.
I’ve moved onto re-reading Jane Austen and am wondering why – where Northanger Abbey is concerned. Maybe all will become clear…
Seriously wondering whether the moment to launch back into Harry Potter might be on the horizon.
Am writing a serial for People’s Friend. That, at least, is going well. Our new Minister has arrived at Mayfield Salisbury Church. Welcome Sandy Forsyth. Zoom have allowed me a link to join the induction – wonder if they’d give me a reference for Eventbrite which is still refusing me tickets for anything.
If you’re on speaking terms with Eventbrite, Edinburgh Writers’ Club has its first meeting of 2021 tomorrow evening. Guests are welcome on payment of a small fee. Speaker is Tom Hodge of Typewronger Books. Situated in Haddigton Place, Typewronger books will post out or, locally, deliver your purchases in present times. Terms & Conditions apply – always wanted to join Claudia in using that phrase. Sorry not to have a celebrity on hand to add glamour – see post title.
Looking forward to walking out today as the pavements are now cleared of lingering ice.
Anyone else missing the buzz that Christmas generated? I’m missing the lovely pine smell of our tree.
Today’s online service from Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church is here.