July is the month of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual conference. We love you loads, Jan Jones. This year, of course, it’s once again digital. However, I thought you might like to be reminded of the enormous support those of us who don’t sell shedloads get from our friends and fellow writers.
It is and long has been a support that translates into a prompt for me. My first published professional story was a competition entry for Edinburgh Writers’ Club. My first performed drama was for a Traverse Theatre’s new writers’ initiative. My first published novel came through entering competitions. My first appearance in an anthology was through Capital Writers.
Along the way THE READERS have boosted confidence. There’s nothing quite like that shy question: “When will there be another Regency?” or “Would you think about a piece featuring my character as the main one? She’s so good to play.” AND REVIEWS ARE GOLDDUST. thank you to those who take the time – it is so much appreciated.
My husband and all the family have been behind my efforts and I know I’m lucky there because I’ve seen the pain caused by other halves and families who don’t support or are even embarrassed by a person’s writing.
Editors like the wonderfully supportive Alan Spink at DC Thomson and Maggie Swinburne also of DC Thomson provide great feedback, intelligent insight and prompts.
So as a result of a combination of family support, editorial advice and reader’s requests look out for a Victorian serial and a Scottish regency later in the year.
Short Stories may be calling…
What’s your biggest support, writers? What’s your dearest hope, readers?
for a limited period, Courting the Countess is offered at 99p/$1.38
Lady Melissa Pateley is not having an easy time of it.
Her beloved husband Neville has died, and a fire at her London home has left her covered in scars.
If it wasn’t for a band of loyal servants, she’s not sure how she would survive.
Things take a turn for the worse when one day, Colonel Harry Gunn and his fellow soldier Zed break into her home, bundle her into a coach and kidnap her.
She is at a loss until she learns that Harry Gunn is the cousin of George Gunn, a man who has been stalking her for years, and that Harry’s Uncle John had warned him that as long as George is out there, Melissa is not safe.
Uncle John insists that Harry finds Melissa and keeps her safe.
But that very night George shows up at Harry’s home with Harry’s sister Lottie, who thinks Melissa and George would make a good match.
Perhaps Melissa would have been safer at home after all.
Yet even with her scars, she is certain that the handsome Colonel Gunn is attracted to her.
But of course, nothing is ever simple.
Startling revelations rip the family apart, causing everyone to question what they once held dear.
As Colonel Gunn goes in search of George and the truth, he has to wonder – had the keeping of secrets not marred more lives than the secrets would have destroyed?
Opening in the Border country, the story quickly moves to Edinburgh.
Many readers will recognise this house. It’s Abbotsford the home of Sir Walter Scott and thereafter several of his descendants. I visited it for the first time yesterday and what a good day out that is.
The lower floor of the house is devoted to the great writer and much of what is on display, from skulls to leather-bound books, was collected by him and used by him. For someone like me who is interested in country houses as the places where my characters lived, this one is a conundrum.
There’s no instantly visible staircase. Sir Walter used stairs directly accessing his study. The rest of the household (did that include the servants?) used a stone spiral stari in one corner.
The hall is hung with items Sir Walter collected.
This hardly does credit to the enormous collection of armour and armoury on display. Scott used the items as inspiration and for reference, I think. There were also interesting pieces of furniture such as his desk; and of crockery in the dining-room. Not to mention many family portraits.
The outside aspect of the house and grounds was fascinating and lends me confidence in the warren-like building I’ve currently created for my work-in-progress.
All-in-all (that includes a slice of Victoria sponge in the café) getting out and about again is good for one.
For our May discussion, Rhobin Courtright has asked: does writing change the author? Do you think your writing has changed you in any significant way?
Yes, I think writing has changed me and I think writing does change me.
Growing up in 1950s Scotland meant a girl was expected to CONFORM. Whether that was to a working class, lower-middle-class, middle-class, upper middle-class or upper class ethic, was irrelevant.
It became clear as time passed that I was a source of great pride and huge embarrassment. Not everyone was able to share my burning desire to know. Many, many women, and most men, thought any man knew better. Facts often went unacknowledged.
And, because children do want to be loved and accepted, I spent years trying to mould myself into this cultural ideal. The rot, however, set in early. I was incapable of not arguing a point and was one half of a very successful debating team through senior school. I knew I would make a hopeless class teacher which was the acme of accepted ambition for me. I nonetheless applied for teacher training when I finished at Uni but fortunately a job elsewhere came up. I hung into a relationship for months after it was truly over because the bloke was the best husband material my mum had seen and she didn’t speak to me for days after it ended. My dad had more of a sense of a larger world out there.
It was when I was writing Mariah’s Marriage that I became stuck. I’d written a chapter in which Mariah took one path when I knew she should really have taken the other. I’d had to alter some parts of the narrative to accommodate this decision and it was keeping me awake.
Scottish magazine writer and writing tutor, Sheila Lewis, spoke to EWC on one occasion and said how often she saw MSS in which the central character was being frogmarched through a story, hand pinned up their back because of the plot. This statement hit me hard when I was struggling with Mariah’s behaviour. Of course she wouldn’t do X because it went against everything in her character I’d been building up. Mariah would do Y.
Light-bulb moment. How many things had I re-written the narrative for in order to accommodate what society expected? So writing has helped me to find more interesting paths without guilt.
What writing doesn’t do, in my opinion, is turn you into your central character. I know so many crime writers who are simply the loveliest folk.
On another level writing changes me because when I’ve got a plot running and am getting the words down, I am energised, and the rest of life falls into place. I do clean the bathroom and cook a pudding.
Once a story-teller, always a story-teller. The Mulgray twins now in their eighties prove this with the publication of their new novel: Suspicious Activities in Plain View Helen and Morna write their books together.
Below is this month’s list of other authors posting on our Round Robin topic. I hope you’ll join them. Also, if you are writing – has it changed you?
Going out for a meal, sans alcohol, is a big step forward as a coping mechanism and merited shoes. Real shoes, folks, not the sturdy lace-ups that go with the well-worn jeans, that represent lockdown fashion around here…
Into the back of the wardrobe dove I.
And it was a first! The first time I’ve ever had to dust my shoes before putting them on. I think they were last seen in March 2020 at the final event we attended before the first lockdown.
Going out for a meal as a coping mechanism had a lot to recommend. There was the chance to dress up, of course, but there was also the chance to support our favourite local restaurant while it waits, like the rest of us, for some kind of normaility. (Rudely shattered this morning by the Glasgow numbers. Maybe there is enough vaccinated population out there. Fingers crossed.) And, for a writer, the chance to people watch.
We were at The Apiary in Newington Road. Excellent food as before and a great selection of non-alcoholic drinks which added to the sense of occasion. DH had an ale, I had a sparkling pink aperitif and we shared a bottle of alcohol free cider.
Walked home admiring everyone’s May gardens in the evening light.Fritillaria Imperialis in yellow and orange particularly impressed. The next week should be filled with clematis and a walk in Marchmont is highly recommended as there are some spectacular plants climbing up all three stories of a tenement in some places.
Spent a tidy sum on my first visit to a bookshop and have read Lady In Waiting, Anne Glenconnor for the book group and Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography of Georgette Heyer. Am also reading The Corinthian by YKW. Haven’t read it before – How’s that? ed.
If you’re in Edinburgh and read crime, the Christian Aid book sale, much reduced in size and scope, is going ahead today, Monday and Tuesday. there will also be toys and games and I think the cafe. St andrews and St George’s Church, George Street.
Writing news? Sold large print rights in A Debt for Rosalie to Ulverscroft who will bring out a library edition in due course. Yay!
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.