Two of the dancers are known to me – Romance author, Sophie Claire and her friend Jane. These ladies had travelled some distance to take part in the Kate Bush fundraising event for Maggie’s Centres and other cancer charities. The Edinburgh event was sited in the open grassland off the Queen’s Drive in the Royal Park.
So, why is this a prompt? It’s Edinburgh on the brink of the Festivals and such surreal happenings are not quite ten-a-penny, but not unusual. However, they are different, inspiring, thought provoking and, I think, surreal.
If I can’t get a story out of going along to watch this, I do not deserve to call myself ‘writer’.
· Blog about the inspiration behind your characters.
· Blog about the character you just killed.
· Blog about your character names.
· Blog about those deleted scenes.
· Blog about characters not in your book.
· Blog about the other aspects of your characters that were cut from the story.
This month the list of possible topics comes from Connie Vines and is mainly about that really important ingredient of fiction writing – CHARACTER. We’re invited to select one or more from the above and I’ve opted to go for character names.
Because naming characters is one of fiction writing’s hardest jobs and I really hope any other writers dropping in here will add their tuppence worth.
Many of us choose to call our characters by names we know are much evident in an area or to give them a name which clearly indicates the area their ancestors are likely to be from. The internet really helps here because we cannot, alas, pop on a plane to Turkey or Northern Canada to check out whether the name we’ve selected really is used. Even more importantly, we can’t go back in time to discover when a name first came into use.
I write a lot of fiction set in Scotland and have a lifetime’s knowledge of what names to expect where. That is not infallible so when I won a book token prize years ago in a writing comp, I spent it in the Achins book shop on Surnames of Scotland by George F Black and published by Birlinn. (It has been updated and there is a new edition by another publisher.)
So, should I wish to use my own surname, I discover Stenhouse, Stanous from the old Barony of Larbert, Stirlingshire. The entry goes on to cite John de Stanhus witnessing a document around 1200. I can relate to all of that as John is very much used by the family up to and including my father’s generation.
Another type of geographic name is the one taken from a place name. People are called Glasgow, Stirling, Windsor and, in Orkney, Mainland.
First Names Choosing first names to match surnames is possibly even more difficult and even more important. In past times there were far fewer first names available so it would be quite normal for any household to have father and son or mother and daughter with the same first name. In writing fiction, however, giving people the same names leads to confusion for the reader. Sometimes giving people names which begin with the same letter can be confusing.
The internet comes to the rescue again as annual popularity lists can be found. In 1951 Linda was the most popular girl’s name. In 1971 it was Jennifer. Going back into the nineteenth century Mary, Sarah, Martha, Catherine and Ann all feature. Indeed, there was a period when Mary was chosen twice as often as the second ranking name.
That’s the fact-based approach. How about the ‘feel’ one has for a name? Do I avoid some names because they’re family ones? I do. Jane Austen didn’t and her characters often share the names of her family members and even her own. Do I call my villains by the names of people I’ve known and disliked – of course. Do I use the names of people I’ve known and liked for my heroines and heroes – not so much, but sometimes.
I did read of one writer who took the surnames for her book from the list of a football squad that appeared in her local paper.
Other reflections on character can be found below and I hope you’ll take the chance to read them. I’ve had to replace the link to Dr Bob Rich’s post – sorry about that, Bob.
City of Discoveries by Anne Stenhouse features a main character called Jennet and her husband called William Marshall. Contrary to what I said above, these names are from the family.
I visited the garden of Bomarzo in Italy during a tour of gardens organised by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. It contains many huge statues, like the tortoise above, and a few buildings. The carvings are often referred to as ‘monsters’ and they are both immense and, in some cases, grotesque. One of the buildings is a house that slopes.
The garden was created in response to grief over the death of his wife, Giulia Farnese, by Pier Francesco Orsini in the sixteenth century. Over the centuries, it became clogged by under/overgrowth, but has been cleared. It is still in private ownership and has become a major tourist attraction.
Okay, so how do either the tortoise or the fish on a bicycle contribute to inspiration? While my writing is very much in the doldrums at present, I think these images serve to remind me that even out of a period of comparative drought something, and something weird and wonderful, may come.
What I actually need is a house. I don’t see people walking through walls, but I am hugely influenced by atmosphere. Anyone with a recommendation? Where are the properties you’ve used? Was it a family connection that took you to the area? Were you interested in the politics?
City of Discoveries, my anniversary serial for The People’s Friend is up on their website and can be accessed here.
It is always a prompt to remember that you’ve done it before.
From Lume Books, Courting the Countess, tells the story of Melissa Pateley who was badly burned in a house fire and is under threat from fortune hunters, including a stalker. It opens in the Border country but quickly moves to Regency Edinburgh where Melissa is nurtured by the handsome, Harry Gunn and his family. A fairytale inversion.
The above two and related questions are what our little group is pondering this month.
Well, yes, I am floundering in a ‘stalled writing’ state, I think. Having had such a productive Lockdown x 2, it’s hit me rather hard to be unable to progress a story I really want to tell: so reaction to question one:
Go on holiday. It’s now permitted and the UK is full of wonderful historic sites and beautiful gardens. Gardens are balm.
At this time in May, there are many rhodedendrons to see in huge bursts of colour and many, many smaller flowers like the Iris above. Taking a meander through places like Bodnant and Bridgenorth, listening to the bees, watching the birds frantically feeding their young and finding treasures such as an historical novelist will drool over, is a good answer to question one.
And if anyone knows what a chimney like the one above was part of, please tell me in the comments.
Does it help me? I think it does. the mind resets. The brain benefits from being away from the desk/computer and my eyes certainly do, too.
Of course, I took a book away with me. Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell’s award winning book about Agnes/Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare’s son’s death from the plague. I read it for the book group and arrived home with just enough time to get along to the discussion. I thought the book was a wonderful work. Does it inspire? Oh, yes, it does. Time to knuckle down and get on with it.
What are your cure-all techniques? Maybe you’ll find inspiration in the posts of my fellow Robins, below.
I believed I’d open this post with a photograph of one of Corsica’s beautiful flowers, but on scrolling through the pics I took on my recent trip to that amazing island, I remembered I’d been really taken by this piece. Is it furniture? Maybe it’s what one would call a ‘fitting’. The little panels still have names in some cases so there shouldn’t be any confusion for Monsieur or Madame. The possibilities, however, are endless. Expecting a cheque? You can see an envelope with a bank’s logo thereon through the tiny portcullis – but it’s in the next door box to yours. A love letter? News of a job or a sick relative? So near and, without that key, so far.
Endless possibilities, endless scope, endless fun. What does it conjure for you?
Gathering momentum towards the final resolutions, City of Discoveries has been a joy to follow on the Daily Serial slot from People’s Friend.
Orchids are a rewarding flower to keep but sometimes the ‘keeping’ can be a while. Two and a half years in the case of the yellow one. The tall pink one, on the other hand, blooms almost year round. So these are for my editor, Alan Spink, who chose City of Discoveries for this second outing. Thanks, Alan.
What are you re-reading? Is it your own? The sublime Georgette’s? Or AN Other’s?
Will this edited photo of me, taken by my Uni friend, Miranda Kennet, inspire anyone?
Well, firstly, Miranda is an artist, Miranda McArthur, and was keen to try out the softwear she’d been sent by a friend. Secondly, she thought the pics of me available online at that time were uniformly bad. (Hides head in shame) I must say, I do like the slightly more sophisticated appearance given by her softwear. Maybe it will inspire me to think myself into circumstances worthy of a story.
Scottish Association of Writers Conference
At the conference last month, I attended Olga Wojtas’s workshop on creating fiction out of historical fact. It, too, involved changing one’s view of oneself. In the workshop, Olga invited us to remember an event which had an emotional impact on us. Then, before writing it up, to change our sex. So, girls became boys and boys became girls. Did this distance us from the incident enough to make more objective decisions? Did it empower us to answer the perpetrator differently?
I hadn’t answered at all in the incident I chose, but others did find becoming male made them more assertive, for example.
I imagine everyone finds themselves furious with themselves from time to time when wrong-footed or left gasping over a verbal insult. Why didn’t I say…
Writing fiction, we have ample opportunity to craft perfect replies for all situations. Let’s get to it. Bullies, verbal and physical, beware the power of the pen.
Synopsis writing has at last turned the corner. Being confined to my study while a new carpet was laid on the landing and staircase was a material factor.