Round Robin – Writing of the Pandemic

:Thanks to Connie Vines for this month’s topic.

How are you dealing with the COVID pandemic in your contemporary novels/short
stories? Not as a political statement or polarizing pro/con mask stance,
but the way the COVD virus affects the day-to-day lives of your
characters and appears within the story’s plot line?

On Christmas morning last year, a writing friend died. As so often happens when someone dies, I thought of my association with her, the times we’d been in company, some of her conversation and some of her writing. Also she had a pre-writing life as a Health Ambassador in Pakistan and Afghanistan which she came to through her work with Oxfam.

I remember her telling a group of us about how she explained germs to women who’d never thought of such a thing. She had a glass jug of water and asked them to watch her pour salt into it. Could they see the salt? No. Did they know the salt was there? Yes.

I think that explains how I’m dealing with the pandemic in my writing. I know it’s there but I’m not making a big thing of it. I may mention that my characters are working from home without spelling out why. My readers are living through this time, too. They know why most people working from home are doing that.

Most of my recent writing has been set in the nineteenth century and so I’ve avoided the issues thrown at us by the pandemic but I have written two contemporary short stories recently and one of them refers to the pandemic, if obliquely, because it explains a decision that would otherwise seem a little odd. The other one doesn’t. The second one has a plotline that didn’t need the pandemic and so I missed it out.

However, I do think the pandemic stories are there in my brain and will seep out over the next year or two. I hope they’ll be upbeat and show people coping with technology they never thought they’d need to know about. Maybe there’ll be the re-kindling of romance in established couples. Possibly the finding again of lost skills and pastimes. How many of us dug out jigsaws? If any of you followed my lockdown diary (it’s on this blog – scroll down) you may remember the way I was plunged into cooking three meals a day seven days a week. Nettle soup? You may remember the joy, absolute joy, of being sent a dinner by my children to mark the DH’s birthday.

Also, I think it has caused a re-evaluation of what it is to live. There are stories in the idiosyncrasies of one’s neighbours. There are stories in the sudden moments of blind panic most of us experienced – when will this end type panic? There are heroic stories of the people who not only kept our health service operating, but those who kept our utilities running and the paper being delivered and the post. The people who went into work stocking shelves in our supermarkets.

And there are the people who were less than heroic. I won’t give examples, but I’ve got one or two in the memory bank.

Some fellow Robins are listed below and I’m sure their views will be worth reading.

Thanks for dropping by,

Anne

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

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

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

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/

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

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

Helena Fairfax https://helenafairfax.com/blog/

Robin Courtright

It’s in the Jar

A Quality Product

Not these jars – well, probably some of these jars as the actual jars are re-used from year to year. What I mean is the BIG BATCH has been made and we now wait to be sure it will set.

The normal activities of a writers’ household may resume again shortly, although, there is that birthday jigsaw underway on the dining-room table. Research really, as it’s full of scenes from the Georgian world as displayed in Jane Austen’s books.

I’m currently reading Miss Austen as recommended to me by fellow Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder. It’s by Gill Hornby, but I suppose as I am, as usual, late to the party, you all knew that. Anyway it is really good, folks. I think I might re-read Persuasion again very soon.

I did write a short story this week.

Phew!

How are your days coming along? Are you back in the writing groove? Or the reading one?

COURTING THE COUNTESS is available for your kindle but my publishers, Lume Books, have made it available to read free if you’re a kindle unlimited person.

Anne

COPING MECHANISMS 10 – LEFTOVERS RULE, OK!

Left Over

When I make my famous smoked salmon paté, there are very few leftovers and the pic above, taken during the launch of Bella’s Betrothal, backs me up. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say the recipe came out of an article in the Radio Times and the ‘fame’ is localised.)

However, when catering for an indeterminate number, thanks Covid 19, there are going to be leftovers because what hostess would risk running out? And so it was with Christmas Dinner the second – oh, and a wee bittie from Christmas Dinner the first.

The wee bittie was served last night. Scottish Smoked salmon and a chunk of hot smoked with a leek, red pepper and spring onions, morphed into a great pasta sauce with the addition of some chicen stock and leftover double cream.

The bigger event has turned into celery soup for today’s lunch. Why didn’t I know how few of my family like braised celery? No clue. Anyway, their loss is DH and I’s gain. Together with three roast tatties, a spoonful of cooked cauliflower, half the brown gravy from the venison and the scrapings from the carton of cream, I think I have a winner.

Tonight, there’s leftover venison haunch and brown gravy. Add some veg and we’re good for another great meal. Hope the sommelier (aka DH) has some wine leftover, too.

What imaginative recipes have you created that have turned into family or seasonal favourites?

Writing? Ah, yes. Writing.

Anne

ROUND ROBIN – DECEMBER

How do your family experiences translate into writing scenes? Rhobin has asked.

Good question but difficult to find an answer for as I share very little family stuff online. However, I have been pondering it and have come to a conclusion.

I think family experiences infuse my work but are not structural to it.

So, do the actions of any of my characters disappoint the protagonist? Antagonise her? Anger her? Overwhelm her with love? Leave her exasperated in either a funny or despairing way?

Yes, they do and all of that comes out of the experiences of family life.

One major family experience I have acknowledged, because all of the participants were long dead, was that of my granny. Finding herself in changed circumstances, she had to go to work in the mill. One of the overseers ran his hands through her glorious red hair. That indignity/ assault was the inspriation for Jennet in City of Discoveries, the nineteenth century story I wrote to mark the 150th anniversary of the People’s Friend magazine.

City of Discoveries

Another experience I have used often is the way in which the women of many, many families were deprived of an education in order that the males could go on. An aunt told me in some bitterness how her mother had always favoured the boys in that respect and she had always felt she would enjoy maths. It was a view I heard on visits to old people’s homes while working with Citadel Arts’ Group and I used it in my play STAIN REMOVER. It re-surfaces in MARIAH’S MARRIAGE and A MAID AND A MAN and roars through A CLASS OF THEIR OWN with storm force.

I have to say, my own parents never held me back academically. I might also say, that a bright boy in my school class was taken out of school at the earliest leaving-age moment by his blinkered father: “I went to work at fifteen, why should I keep him?”

So, yes, family experiences are in there. Have you discivered an overruling passion in your work?

My fellow robins are listed below and I’m sure there will be lots of interest to be gleaned from their posts.

After, you can scroll down to read Dear Granny Nuisance – my annual Christmas story for loyal readers and casual visitors. Happy Christmas and a Healthy New Year.

Anne

Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2vA

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

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

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

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

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

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

A CHRISTMAS TALE: Warning – SENTIMENTAL

Christmas? Not this year, thank you.

DEAR GRANNY NUISANCE

By

ANNE STENHOUSE ©

“Sean,” Caro said. Realising instantly he couldn’t possibly hear her above Peppa Pig and assorted friends belting out of the TV, she tried again. “Sean!”

“Okay, love. What’s the problem?”

“Your mother has sent me an e-mail about Christmas.” Caro scanned the lines again and handed the phone to her husband so he could read it for himself.

“Right,” Sean said. “And?”

Caro sniffed, sniffed again, and gave way. Tears filled her eyes and flowed across her cheeks.

“I think it’s the nicest letter I’ve ever had,” she managed as she tried to blow her nose and fend off an assault by something furry launched from the settee.

“Really?” Sean sounded mystified and Caro had to remind herself that many non-cooks had no idea of the magnitude of upscaling Christmas dinner meant. He’d already been to the wine shop on the corner and ordered everybody’s particular brand of fizz, beer, gin, tonic and white, red or rosé. It would be delivered in good time and that was it. Job done.

“Dad wants a dry sherry,” Sean spluttered. “Where am I going to get that?”

“The supermarket had one last week. I nearly put it in the trolley, but you were so…”

“Pleased with myself for getting my share of the preparations out of the way. Well, thanks, Caro.” Sean handed the phone back and sank onto a chair.

Caro resisted the temptation to apologise. After all, it was Sean’s fault they were landed with feeding seventeen people and keeping track of five toddlers and three Dachshunds. This was why she had two spreadsheets of timings, one for shopping and one for cooking, tormenting her. He was the one who’d got into one-upmanship banter with his sister and, Caro now suspected, been taken for a ride.

“Why don’t you ask Abi to get it. She did say…”

“If there’s anything we can do. What she meant was if you losers can’t even sort Christmas…”

“Forget it,” Caro snapped, the warmth created by her mum-in-law’s e-mail evaporating like snow off a dyke. “I’ve got a supermarket delivery slot and I can add dry sherry to the list.”

She watched the conflicting emotions cross her husband’s face until he sent her a rueful smile.

“Sorry, Toots. I’ve let us in for more than I knew.” He took the elephant out of her hands and the giraffe from the floor and tossed them back to their two over-excited off-spring. “What exactly is it about Mum’s mail that’s so touching?”

Caro scrolled the mail back and read it through again.

‘Dear Caro, Pete and I are so much looking forward to Christmas Day. He says it will be such a pleasure to relax with his dry sherry and not have to worry about finding enough ice/mixers/nibbles while I stress in the kitchen. Having done thirty Christmas dinners myself, I’ll bet you’re reaching the point of wondering why you ever took it on.

‘I’d like to make my contributions based on my earlier experience. You may find them a little weird, but I think when you look back from Boxing Day, you’ll see the point.

‘You asked me for a spectacular dessert, but I propose to bring:

  • The potatoes, peeled and part-boiled, ready to go into the oven
  • The carrots and parsnips, peeled, sliced and part-boiled
  • A large dish of cooked red cabbage
  • Several plastic boxes containing: sliced lemons and sliced limes, the batter for the pop-overs, brandy-butter, turkey gravy and jelly babies (these always raise my moral)

‘The point is to take out the nuisance stuff and leave to you the chance to have time to make a lovely pud (and get the praise). I cannot tell you how mortified I was when I forgot to par boil potatoes and we all had to wait forty minutes after the starter for the main course!

‘Let me know if this would help, please. If you would genuinely prefer a fancy pudding, then I’ll do that, of course. Love Tania, aka Granny Nuisance.’

“It’s the love,” Caro said finally, “And the understanding. Mum was on the phone within minutes of getting our invite to say she’d bring the crackers and the table napkins.”

“Well,” Sean said, “That helps a bit with all the extra shopping and crackers for seventeen can be expensive.”

Caro thought about that. He was right, of course, and she needed to be more appreciative. Starting off from a point of designing ‘her’ table, she’d seen her mum’s offer as trying to take the limelight, but thinking about it with Tania’s letter, the offer was designed to take the strain. Her mum had also done around thirty Christmas dinners. A more appreciative phone call to her was needed later.

She clicked reply on Tania’s message and began, ‘Dear Granny Nuisance…’

The end

Kaye Jaye says ‘Four beautifully crafted stories, each one a little gem – it’s not a cliche when it is true.’

Available for your kindle at 99p here

ROUND ROBIN – THAT FLAWED OR EVIL CHARACTER

Maybe it’s a follow-on from the Hallowe’en mindset but in November Rhobin has asked us about our flawed or evil characters. How did they become that way? What part do they have in the story and what will become of them?

The tapestry of life from which we draw our material and re-work it into fiction is rich and varied. Therefore, the characters we create must also be rich and varied. If everyone in a story was of exemplary character how boring would it be? If noone in a story met the challenge of a flawed or evil opposition how could we show (beloved of editors – showing) the protagonists at their best.

When does natural perverseness become a flaw or evil?

There is a vast jump from being flawed to being evil. Most of us are flawed by way of the thinking of people not naturally like us. In my own personality, I see a tendency to forensic enquiry which, quite frankly, drives some others barmy. But for the fiction writer such a flaw is gold dust. The reader sees the corpse of the plump grandmother stretched out on her kitchen floor and wonders who could have committed such a heinous crime. As the chapters roll on so does their understanding until, perhaps, they can see how the death came about. Why did she need to know – whatever it was she kept on about?

The evil character, on the other hand, does not have or display such a flaw, however annoying. The evil character is in pursuit of gratification, whether of power or sex, and knowingly pursues their chosen path.

I don’t believe any of my writing contains an evil character. There are societal evils. When researching The City of Discoveries for the People’s Friend, I read a lot about the lives of the poor in nineteenth century Britain. The poverty and degradation endured by huge swathes of the population was heart-breaking to a modern understanding. Much of it could have been, if not eradicated, certainly relieved. I hope my research fed through into the prose without being any kind of information dump.

Ulverscroft Library Edition

Bad characters I have certainly used. Rosalie’s ex in A Debt for Rosalie has an alcolhol addiction and it blinds him to the needs and wants of others. The original draft of the book showed him in a much worse light than he appeared in the finished version. Manipulative, violent when crossed or drunk (often both), unreliable and risk taking to the danger of himself and others. Even after editing one reader told me she never knew when he (the character) was going to pop up and it ramped up the tension.

I haven’t written anything from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, but I think it might be an interesting thing to do. that person would have to be flawed and it would be the force of the flaw driving the narrative rather than the force of good. Hmn!

So, I use flawed and bad characters as part of the narrative tapestry. How do my fellow robins, listed below, deal with them?

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

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

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

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

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

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

DIARY OF A WRITER – NOVEMBER PROMPT – A DEBT FOR ROSALIE, ULVERSCROFT

When my mum had had her first cataract removed, she stayed with us while recovering and as we’re well placed for the local library, she was off the following morning with my card in hand. As a person who doesn’t remember not being able to read, I lived her joy at being able to read again with her.

Ulverscroft are a large print publisher and they bring the joy of reading to so many people whose sight has become dimmed. It’s an honour to see my stories in their catalogue.

A Debt For Rosalie was first published by My Weekly and will be published in large print on Monday 1st November 2021.

Rosalie Garden arrives at Maldington House, an upmarket guest house, to work as a chef and earn enough to repay her father who bailed her out after her ex brought down her catering business. David Logie is the house’s owner, and son of the proprietor Agnes. Still mourning the early death of his wife, David wants to sell his inheritance. Together with Agnes, Rosalie works hard to frustrate David’s plans – and bring him to realise that he can love again.

So, why a prompt? Makes me want to do it again…

Anne

A MAID AND A MAN

In the shops from Thursday 28th October, the tale of Tabby Royce and her man, Cal Morrison, is set in early nineteenth century Edinburgh. Tabby has trained as an apothecary under her papa, but when he dies, her older brother and his wife take possession of his shop and Tabby is forced into domestic service.

Arriving in Edinburgh with her new mistress, she soon finds her skills appreciated by both that lady’s host and his steward. How can she continue in her work as a woman excluded from anatomy lectures? How can she make Cal see life holds more than work?

Travel with Tabby through the violent reactions to early anatomy work …

Anne

HALLOWE’EN ROUND ROBIN

Little Cook Hallowe’en Decor – October 2021 – Athens

This is another month when I haven’t written a post of my own as I was away from base. The task posed by Rhobin was:

Share a childhood Halloween memory or what was your scariest Halloween?

Below is a list of the group who have risen to the challenge and I’m sure there’ll be some hair-raising stuff therein.

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

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

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

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

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

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

Last year, Capital Writers produced a small volume of Spooky Stories and it’s available to buy here: DARK STORIES

Anjana C described my own contribution as:

The Cemetery House by Anne Stenhouse is a deliciously gothic ghost story with a criminal bent, in her Five Star review – thank you , Anjana C

Coping Mechanisms 9 – A Wee Holiday

A Bastide town

We booked it eons ago, cancelled it, moved it, re-booked it. At last, we were able to visit some friends at their lovely house in the Dordogne. This picture is of a nearby Bastide Town where we wandered about in the sunshine and ate lunch outside in the square.

Despite the paperwork and the hours of mask wearing, it was a treat beyond price.

A work in progress

Museums are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for artistic types. When next I think I’ve got a touch of writer’s block. I’ll look at this and marvel. In due course a mediaeval tradesman would turn it into something similar to the glorious completed windows I saw elsewhere.

A modern touch in an ancient craft.

That’s what I was doing last week. Loads of wonderful door pictures. Be patient.

Anne