Round Robin December – A Christmassy Thought or Two

This month Rhobin asked us to share a bit of writing, a short story, or a piece of Flash Fiction that encapsulates the spirit of the season. As it happens, happenstance, I have a Christmas story in Capital Christmas Stories, published yesterday and available here.

 

 

 

Capital Writers is a group of four Edinburgh based writers who work to support and encourage each other. Writing is a lonely business sometimes and it’s good to know there are friends like Kate, Jane and Jennifer, around.

My contribution to this little book is Christmas Witches and here’s a wee snippet:

Edinburgh 1819

Dropping down the hill from the closes and pends of the heaving Old Town to the braw wide streets of the New, was no easy task in the gathering gloom of Christmas Eve. Jeannie stayed by her side and Liza was grateful for the girl’s silent presence. Strathven’s mansion in Heriot Row would be ablaze with lights and full of his gathered kinsmen and their families. How would she gain access when the lady of the house had come to her secretly and was perhaps already lying-in.

We must go into the lanes around the back, Jeannie, and see if we can work out which entry is Lord Strathven’s.”

Aye, Mistress, the steward’s no going tae open the door tae jist anybuddy, is he?”

He is not, and nor should he. But we have an ally. We can ask for Mistress Gowans who was with Lady Margaret when she came visiting,” Liza said. The voices in her head were little calmed by her tisane and she longed for the support of another practitioner. She wondered if throwing Ragnall MacLeod out without hearing his arguments had been precipitate.

The mews behind Heriot Row were active. Grooms and their families bustled about in the narrow confines. Liza smelled the wood smoke and horse manure, the ordure running in the central gutter and the tang of blood. No doubt the maisters had brought meat from their estates to make a Christmas feast for the workers. Unheeded in their down-at-heel garb, the women moved forward.

So, is it Christmassy? You, the reader, must decide, but I, the writer, wanted a birth, the included and the marginal, the stable and the Grand House. For a limited period Capital Stories, our earlier volume, may be free to download.

In other news, I have a Biggy coming in January, check back for details.

Other Christmas Robins can be found below. Drop by for some wonderful reading. Season’s Greetings to you all, Anne

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qI
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

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Round Robin – Tension in a work

Tension or conflict are the major requirements after engaging characters: so we need a HOOK. An opening hook, followed by a chapter ending hook, followed by another…

Sometimes it helps build tension to allow the reader an insight which the heroine isn’t aware of. Why was a character missing-in-action for 5 years? Was it, as he’s told the heroine, because he was doing good works in the Third World, or was it because he was languishing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of how the heroine can allow herself to be manipulated by a conman. Conmen need to be personable otherwise they’d starve. Austen, however, does ramp up the tension by showing our heroine having to come to another conclusion. The housekeeper believes Mr Darcy is the best of employers. Lydia lets slip he was around in London when her marriage was arranged. Slowly, Lizzie has to admit to having been wrong and take the reader with her.

Foreshadowing – might be described as a technical term, but it’s quite simply the old ABC rule. If the neighbour’s dog is going to catch the burglar in the final paragraph, then it needs to have been seen earlier in the story, and probably twice. Sometimes as a writer, I write something and on re-reading yesterday’s work, think – What is that? Why is that? But, I leave it in. Very often, so often it’s scary, the answer seeps out of the text a hundred pages on. This subliminal clue is one of the things that builds the tension for the reader and keeps them involved with your characters.

Interesting and helpful sub-plots also keep the reader onboard. Does your sub-plot bolster the main theme without over-taking it? Is it peopled by sound, enjoyable characters? Will the reader hate the villains and love the heroines in the sub-plot as much as in the main one?

Forces of nature – I’m not talking here about those insufferable celebs one would truly hate to spend a lift journey with, never mind a long week-end. But is there a storm coming? Will the sea claim the house on the hill? Are the fleas going to jump from the rats and land on the heroine giving her bubonic plague? Does the hero have appendicitis and not a gyppy tummy?

These are a few of the ploys I like. What do you like to read?

To discover what my fellow robins think, go here:

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

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly

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

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

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Beverley Bateman

Judith Kopek

Diane Bator



 

 

Round Robin – September – Reading

So, this month we’re considering how one encourages reading in our children – or, indeed – in anyone.

Carrots and Sticks

There are carrots and there are sticks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve said in other places that I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. I know my parents both read and when my mum was blighted by cataract, her very first project after the operation to remove the first one, was a temporary library ticket round the corner here: she stayed with us while she needed drops in her eye. Her mother lived with her in her last three years and was re-reading the Victorian classics in the weeks before she began to fade away.

So, in my own case, example and opportunity were there from the beginning.

Carrots

Like my mum. I read bedtime stories to my children and was gratified when the oldest child used to sit out of sight on the stairs to listen in (too cool to join in by then) and by the middle one telling me in the morning that the house floated away. “I finished the book after you stopped reading, Mum.”

 

 

A – was it a stick was it a carrot ploy? – was that if they wanted to join us in the posh sitting-room at coffee after meals, then they had to bring and read their book.

Sticks

All my children read and frequently ask for books or give books at present times.

 

 

 

 

 

Other groups?

I’m in a book group. I read books I wouldn’t have chosen for myself which is a Good Thing. I take books to parties or supper invitations; and as a weekend guest. I think in the pile of chocolates and bottles of wine, they stand out. I NEVER ask if people read them, however. I always include a book in Christmas Goodie bags. I offer my read and unlikely to be re-read paperbacks to specific places. Occasionally I’ll do a charity coffee morning and ask folk to ‘bring a book, buy a book’ – an idea that has been used again by guests for their own charities.

Christian Aid Scottish Book Sale October

 

I help every year with Edinburgh’s massive Christian Aid book sale. This year, 2018, over one hundred thousand pounds has been raised to help displaced people. The sale offers a huge selection of books at great prices to avid readers and reluctant readers alike. Its next event is the companion Scottish Books; Art; jewellery and coffee sale. Thursday 25th – Saturday 27th October in St Andrew’s and St George’s 13 George Street, Edinburgh.

There you have it. The message in my own case is basically total immersion. Did anyone else walk a three year-old to school who asked whether thiamine was a good thing? He’d seen the word on the corn flakes’ packet!

Courting the Countess is an Edinburgh regency using the beauty and the beast tale in an inversion. Romance, murder and regency mayhem to lift you out of your mundane.

If you prefer contemporary, how about Anne Stormont’s new book, Settlement?

To discover what my fellow robins think, go here:

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

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly

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

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

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

Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com

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

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

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Scottish Association of ~Writers ~ 50th weekend school

And a secret I’ve been holding close for several weeks now, is out: I’ve been invited to adjudicate the women’s short story category at the Scottish Association of Writers weekend school.

Excited? You bet!

SCOTTISH ASSOCIATION of WRITERS (SAW) is an umbrella organisation for writing groups, clubs, workshops throughout Scotland and has many such affiliated.

Edinburgh Writers’ Club, is a founding member club. So, I’m a member of both.

SAW has recently published the Schedule for its 2019 Fiftieth Anniversary conference, again to be held in the centrally situated, Westerwood Hotel, and you can view or download it at present from their Facebook Files. When it goes up on the website I’ll post a link.

Alex Gray is the keynote speaker and the weekend features adjudications by experienced professionals like Alex Corlett, of People’s Friend Features.

Hope to see you there, ANNE

Research is not always a chore New Town Gardens with Greenyonder tours

One of the huge pleasures of city life is the Walking Tour. Today I went on my second garden tour with the entertaining and knowledgeable Jean of Greenyonder Tours.

0131 558 8240

This garden lies behind Register House and is known as the Archivists’ Garden. I was oblivious to its existence before this afternoon but have walked past the entrance to the court on countless occasions while cutting through from the Wellington Statue to St Andrews Square.

The court is formed of Register House, The Court of the Lord Lyon and The National Archives of Scotland. They’ve been there a long time. Register House being a grand building erected around the time the first New Town was under construction.and finished, after a few hiccups, in late eighteenth century.

The garden, however, dates from 2010 and contains 57 plant species chosen to mark Scottish people, myth, heraldry, overseas links and folklore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next along was the garden in front of Dundas House, or the Royal Bank of Scotland. James Craig had reserved the prime site of his prize-winning scheme for St George’s Church and was out-manoeuvred by Lawrence Dundas. The building is a working branch and anyone can walk in to look at the magnificent banking hall. Outside, Jean drew our attention to these marvellous ‘honeysuckle’ railings.

 

 

 

 

 

Then through the now open to the public St Andrews Square, along to Thistle Court where James Young built the first houses of the New Town. They aren’t grand six story affairs, but good middle-class buildings.

Finally, we arrived in Heriot Row, the second New Town. It wasn’t built by the council, but they had formed stronger planning guidelines by this time and that shows in the greater uniformity. The three Queen Street Gardens were created from farms and, Jean told us, that explains the crescent shape of Abercromby as it followed the boundary of one of them. A question she left with us – Is this the island Robert Louis Stevenson had in his consciousness when writing Treasure Island?

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many more New Town gardens, some private and shut away, some, like Charlotte Square and Princes Street Gardens readily accessible. Sanctuaries for wildlife and human inhabitants, too, they are our own treasure.

 

Round Robin – Beware – Danger – Violence

This month Rhobin asks – How do you handle or use violence or any type of danger in your stories?

While the Regency is attractive in so very many ways, it was a time of huge inequality, injustice, hunger and, yes, violence. The absence of an established and regulated system of investigation, apprehension and conviction had a massive impact on how people led their lives. Duelling was almost on the way out as a re-dress for ‘insults’, but not quite gone and many families were bereft as today’s are by the rising tide of youth with knives. In addition, the head of the family, almost always a man, held sway. This had the effect you could predict. There were good ones and bad ones. There were some who cared passionately, but gave rise to the origins of the patriarchal society that feminism needed to kick against. There were some, Mr Bennet we’re looking at you, who didn’t care at all.

Justice was hit or miss and to our modern sensibilities brutal and cruel. What civilised society hangs children for stealing food? What civilised society hangs anyone for stealing food? Why are its citizens starving in the first place?

One of the underlying themes of my first novel, Mariah’s Marriage, was domestic violence. The villain, short of ready cash and feeling ‘entitled’, is frustrated in his attempt to win a rich bride and takes his rage out on his sister. She covers up for him in classic fashion, but our clever and courageous heroine works him out. She then faces another battle – How do you make a decent man who would never perpetrate such violence, understand it happens?

In Bella’s Betrothal, the heroine finds herself in enormous danger but she isn’t immediately able to work out who the greater villain is. Is it the man who has invaded her room at the inn? Is it, as he claims, another who wants to trade on her damaged reputation to justify trapping her into unwanted sex? Although written, I hope, with humour and warmth, the threat is real.

 

So how do I ‘use’ danger and violence in my fiction? Well, I hope responsibly, without either the need or the wish to glamourize either. They are a part of the fabric of our human experience and as such they have a place.

 

The Castle Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To read what my fellow round robiners think about this hugely important topic go here:

Judith Kopek

Dr. Bob Rich

Victoria Chatham

Connie Vines

A.J. Maguire 

Marci Baun  

Skye Taylor

Fiona McGier

Anne de Gruchy

Rhobin L Courtright 

 

Burlesque Dancing and its place in the RNA conference

So what better way to round off three delightful days of sitting on our bums than by joining in a dance class to wiggle, shake and generally celebrate that often generously endowed part of the writer’s anatomy. Ali Adams’ event was innocuously described as a life story – Baby Wipes to the Burlesque Stage. The audience participation wasn’t revealed till later…

 

Leeds Trinity University, Horsforth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are no photos of several distinguished and some of us not so distinguished RNA members strutting our stuff and throwing boas, lace thingummies and smouldering looks here, there and everywhere – takes practice does smouldering.

Jennifer Young, Horsforth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capital Writer, Jennifer Young, was much too sensible to try any smouldering around the Sunday morning Book Stall, but she did bring along some copies of Storm Child for sale.

And me, what else did I enjoy? Found Debbie Taylor’s ‘Writing the Pitch Letter’ particularly useful and also Andrew Cornick’s ‘Emotional Resilience for Writers’. But there were as always endless goodies for the ardent conference attendee covering the art and craft of writing that best selling romance novel and making some life-long friends along the way.

Anne in Leeds Trinity 2018

Down My Way

Down My Way it’s cold. Well, it’s winter in Scotland so what else might one expect?

I’ve just been reflecting that a writer’s diary is a really odd sort of thing.

Saturday 10th February – All day at the Royal Over-Seas League for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.  A Committee meeting in the morning was followed by an hour of training in Diversity and Inclusion. No point in just thinking your organisation welcomes everyone, Find out. The session was conducted by the wonderfully upbeat and smiley Marsha Ramroop of BBC Radio Leicester.

Then onto the afternoon when there was a general meeting in the Hall of India and Pakistan. Must say selling tickets in advance is helping raise awareness of the great talks our members come up with. Sophia Bennet whose Love Song won last year’s Goldsboro Books romantic novel of the year prize, entertained us and was followed by Matt Bates, bookseller, who told us what’s selling. Great to meet up with members from as far afield as Norway, via Wales, and the south of England. A wee glass may have been drunk in a local pub later.

Monday 12th February = Lots of train time today, but also a visit to the Charles I exhibition at the Royal Academy. What a lot of dogs. What a lot of wonderful portraits by a huge selection of first class painters of the time. Not to mention the bits of sculpture dotted around the halls. Not only did Charles like to be painted, he was also a noted collector and patron with a good eye.

On to soup and sandwich lunch with friends. He’s a retired Rector and, now he has time and a kindle, enquired which of my books he ought to try. I said Bella’s Betrothal It’s naughty to have favourites.

All weekend, some of you may have read about it in Bookbrunch, the wires were active about my UK publisher, Endeavour. The good news is that Courting the Countess will remain available for now.

Also all weekend and since – Lots and lots of enquiries about the upcoming RNA annual Awards’ Night in The Gladstone Library, One Whitehall Place. Would the area have been familiar to the early Stuarts?

Also e-mails announcing a sale to People’s Friend of a story I wrote from one of their Ed’s story prompts. Hadn’t done that before but this one caught my imagination.

Also saw on a mini-bank-statement that the PLR is in the bank. This year, it might buy a bottle of champagne. (Last year, I bought coffee and cream cakes for me and my pal)

Also the newly fledged Capital Writers helped one of our number, Kate Blackadder launch her most recent collection of love stories – yes, on Valentine’s Day –  with a series of posts across on Capital Writers website. Mine, Roses are Red is here.

The collection is called The Palace of Complete Happiness and can be purchased here.

Now back in Auld Reekie and raring to go – after the next coffee…

Round Robin – Viewpoint

This month’s Round Robin question is about Viewpoint. How do we as writers tell the story, show the characters’ emotions and switch between them?

My normal mode is 3rd person character. That means, I am in one head at a time, but as the author. I don’t find 1st person easy to write. I enjoy reading author omniscient, but haven’t found it attractive enough to tempt me. I’ve never written anything in 2nd person where you might have used 1st, but are allowing a bit of outside observation and comment.

Generally, my novels will employ two central viewpoints. They will normally be the hero and the heroine. I enjoy pitting an attractive couple against one another and I like to see the same problem from two perspectives.

So, in Mariah’s Marriage, Mariah is determined to save Arabella from her brother’s violence, but Tobias is equally determined that doing so would put Mariah herself in danger.

London Girl

It’s a conflict of opinion. We, the reader, see Mariah enlist the help of her maid to outwit the considerable obstacles Tobias has placed in the way of her leaving the house. Eventually, we understand why Tobias has acted the way he has and, tension mounting, we’re in his head as the drama unfolds.

I think that’s why I find 1st person difficult. There just seems to be so much more needed by way of comment when that single voice has to keep filling us in. Things like ‘Of course, I didn’t know at the time, but Tobias thought I was dead.’ – are well enough, and often skilfully handled, but I prefer to be in Tobias’s head while he’s doing that thinking; while he’s doing that sufferring.

Maybe it’s because I used to write plays…

The serial I wrote for People’s Friend in 2016, A Traveller’s Life, had several voices. I enjoyed that a lot. It was liberating to leave the (self-) imposed discipline of two voices and allow one or two more to take centre stage. Again, the dramatist in me loved hearing what all these people thought. However, it’s not unbridled by any means. People’s Friend like their serials presented in ‘chapters’ so each one had a central Viewpoint. I was not head-hopping.

So, here’s the divide – what is head-hopping and why do some editors permit it?

Head-hopping is where the author allows everybody and his auntie to have their say – in one chapter, sometimes – I’ve seen it done – even in the same paragraph.

Personally, I find that way of writing too confusing for words. I want to know who I’m rooting for and whose story is the one being told. The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott is a modern tour de force and some of it tells the same story over. However, Scott uses different books to do this and that’s not a luxury offered to all.

I have a short historical story in a new anthology by Capital Writers, Capital Stories. It’s available for your kindle and a wee snip at 99p/$1.37.

There are other opinions on this fundamental writing skill and you’ll find some of them here:

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ag
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax
http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman
http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

Round Robin – What Makes a Memorable Character?

What Makes a Memorable Character? this is Rhobin’s December question.

Who are your memorable characters? This, for a person like me who cannot remember names, is a very difficult one to answer. I had hoped to start my post with a quick-fire list of the fictional characters who’ve stayed with me, but I’m going to have to look up some of the names. That makes me wonder whether it’s the character I remember or the characteristics. Rolling it all up, characteristics make the memorableness – is that a word? Spell checker doesn’t like it much.

So, the list:

Robin Hood, Anne of Green Gables, Scarlett O’Hara, the Snow Queen, The Saint, James Bond, Karen Brockman and anyone from the cast of NCIS.

These people exemplify the cloyingly good, the selfishly or evilly bad and the delightful mixture that stops you pigeon-holing them.

Robin Hood was on tv on a Thursday afternoon during my childhood. His adventures were unmissable and, as we had a bit of woodland behind the house, we could pretend. Sheer escapism as one learned later. Why wasn’t Richard back in England running his own country instead of despoiling someone else’s? I still have a faint scar on my thigh from crawling through long grass stalking something or other and crawling over a bit of glass!

Anne of Green Gables

It’s hard to find any reading lady of a certain age who doesn’t claim Anne as her favourite childhood book. She had red hair and a lively imagination – what wasn’t to like? Certainly her feistiness stayed with me over the years.

Scarlett O’Hara

Now, here we begin to have memorable characters who aren’t by any means role models or even likeable. She did, however, do her best in appalling circumstances and one admired – until the child died. I suppose there’re lots of ways of interpreting Mitchell’s intentions, but setting aside the ‘bad girls must be punished in the end’ philosophy, I cannot love a character whose selfishness endangered her children.

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen kept me awake as a child. It was my first encounter with the power of evil and a much more realistic characterisation than the wicked step-mothers that panto reduced to – well, panto.

The Saint and James Bond I’ve mentioned before that I wrote a major sixth form essay on the anti-hero. These are the chaps to blame for that fascination: or maybe it was just Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow? I notice my own heroes often raise an eyebrow, too.

Karen Brockman

Karen Brockman, and I did have to look up the name, is the youngest child in the sit-com Outnumbered. The episodes were not scripted, but suggested to the child actors and Karen had some wonderfully effective scenes. Played by Ramona Marquez, the character could turn any expectation on its head. The character is a wonderful example of the self-absorbed and the mayhem that trait can wreak.

NCIS I loved the original series and many of the subsequent ones. Changes in the ensemble cast lost Cate, Jenny and Mike Franks. Again blatant escapism with larger than real-life characterisation and super-complicated plotting. I no longer watch as I find some of the chemistry gone and some of the plotting improbable to a degree.

So what memorable traits have I given my characters? I would say Mariah is determined. Bella is courageous. Daisy is self-aware, but it’s hard won. Melissa is brave in the face of enormous adversity. The character I’m writing at present will also need dollops of courage to get over her conservatism. Or, as we say now, leave her comfort zone.

To find out what my fellow authors think of this topic, go here:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-18Y
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Rhobin L Courtright
http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com