Diary of a Writer

DSC00433A Writer’s Diary is particularly given to feast and famine, I find. Look at July…

New Novel is at that nerve-shredding stage before consigning it to the electronic ether. Have I spelled the heroine’s name the same way every time? What about her hair colour? Find and Replace is one of my favourite buttons in word. Does everyone suffer from this desire to do just one more check? How many redundant words does the ms contain? That, just, then…

Next Novel is written, but lacks sparkle. Where to buy fairy dust? Ah, it’s more like blood sweat and tears. I see.

Short Story in Scots dialect Write another while first remains under consideration.

Short Article for Friends of the Botanics newsletter. No problem, I said when ambushed at breakfast recently. Were the bacon rolls in the  John Hope Gateway café that good? Probably. Have I mentioned how I think I may have lived in

Inverleith House in a previous life? No? (Maybe as the skivvy. Ah Well) It is one of my favourite houses in the world.

RNA committee responsibilities Getting there. There will be party tickets – just bear with me.

Real Life – And that is? Ah, yes. The DH likes to eat. Some shopping and preparing in advance required.

Conference So looking forward to Lancaster and meeting up with folk old and new. The RNA is truly one of the friendliest organtsations I’ve ever been in. Love it to bits.

Writers’ Club Edinburgh writers’ club is my alma mater where fiction writing is concerned and we’re really busy plotting. Watch this space (for when the publicity lady says Go, go, go!)

Then along comes August…  Society of Authors in Scotland AGM and lunch, Book Festival and other Festivals.

Did Jane Austen suffer feasts and famines? She was often on the move and maybe that inhibited writing.


A – Z Challenge F is for Fitzwilliam Who Else?

Fitzwilliam Darcy.Beautifully portrayed to my admiring eye by actor Firth, Colin, Fitzwilliam was one of the few first names I came up with when the alphabet rolled round to F.

Fitz, means a son or a male descendant and was often added in front of the surnames of Royal by-blows. There are more of them in some generations than others. Roger Powell writes about them in his book Royal Bastards.

Why, one must wonder, did Jane Austen choose to give her proud and arrogant hero such dubious lineage? It’s not just Fitz either because William the Conqueror, although not the first William, was born out of wedlock. So Jane’s wonderful hero is doubly doubtful.

Makes him more interesting if you think about that sort of thing. Anyone got an idea why Jane chose this name?

Currently deep in edits for upcoming Daisy’s Dilemma. One thing I’m addressing is the addition of two names from a fundraising sale at St John’s Church Edinburgh. No, I’m not saying – but you’ll enjoy trying to find them, won’t you?


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Research Round Robin


This month Rhobin has asked us to say a little about what research we need to do to write our novels and what, if anything, annoys us about inaccuracies in fictional work.

Research is a necessity no matter how light and fluffy or serious and thought-provoking your work. As soon as you make any statement that can be viewed in another light, you need to know what you based your statement on.

I write in the early nineteenth century when the main mode of transport was one’s own feet, but for the slightly better off, the horse. I need to know how many horses pulled a carriage, mail-coach and curricle. I need to know how long it took to get from London to Richmond or Edinburgh or Bath. I need to know…

You get the point.

A lot is written about the period I’ve chosen and it is easily accessible in on-line and print sources. But there are other ways to do research.

I love being a life member of Historic Scotland and of the National Trust for Scotland. I adore wandering around their properties and studying the portraits of the ‘family’ aligned along the walls of the Gallery. Was there really a nose that distinctive and, oh, why didn’t the Fifth Earl have it, then? The ladies are particularly interesting because they are brought in to marry the heirs and one wonders what life was like for them.

At the same time, our wealthy heroes and heroines didn’t exist in a vacuum and some of my most precious inspiration has come from the outbuildings and below stairs premises. The wip began life as a result of visiting these laundries.

The Laundry

The Laundry

What takes me out of a story? Disregard for the social mores of the time written about. Writing historical fiction is not about dressing flip young things in long frocks or tail coats. Historical fiction needs to imbue the way of life the characters lived. If a girl could not leave home without her maid or other chaperon, then she lived a very different existence to her 21st century counterpart. The biographies of those who dared to defy their ‘friends’, as relatives were sometimes known, can be heart-breaking. Take the plot of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, for example. Personal relationships needed great and enduring care. Rights were often clouded by law rather than protected.

I’m followed in this cycle by Helena Fairfax who can be found here: Helena Fairfax  http://helenafairfax.com/ but the others blogging on research are all listed below. You may want to find out a little about how they tackle the issues involved in not getting egg on our faces.



Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/
Rachael Kosnski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/

Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax  http://helenafairfax.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Lynn Crain  http://www.awriterinvienna.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

Beyond The End: Jane Austen Forever

Edinburgh Writers’ Club is hearing a talk by Maureen Kelly of the Scottish Branch of the Jane Austen Society tomorrow night, Monday 4th March. I feel I can take a tiny bit of credit here as I met Maureen just when the Club were looking to find a speaker to talk about a classic writer. Maureen goes all over to talk about Jane. There are pictures of her on other blogs at a Conference in the US where she talked about whether Marianne would sing Scottish songs. We are privileged.

So why do we find some writers so fascinating that the end of their books, or their output, is not and never will be enough? I remember my own first encounter with this phenomenon. I deliberately did not read the final chapter of Anne of Greengables until I had to because the book was due back into the library. It’s not difficult to work that one out. Why wouldn’t a red-haired girl with freckles not entirely empathise with a heroine who was red-haired and freckled – oh, and downtrodden, but resilient etc, etc? Other examples are easy to find – how about James Bond?

Jane Austen’s works are different. I really can’t see myself living without toothpaste and horses scare me witless at close quarters, so it’s not exactly empathy. Her magic, however, is in the language. She is for me the first truly modern writer in terms of her language. She also concentrates on domestic and social comedy and interaction without troubling this reader over the politics, warfare and philosophy of her times. Maybe I just want to be entertained. I read a lot of British History at Uni, and European, so I haven’t got my head in the sand.  I know about the evils of life in Regency and Georgian Britain.

Beyond the end, many other writers and commentators have helped to lessen our withdrawal symptoms. There are sequels and prequels galore. The wonderful Mr…Diary books. PD James’s take in Death Comes to Pemberley. Emma Thomson…. and of course the scriptwriters bringing us many and varied interpretations.

So what will Maureen Kelly have to say about one of our most loved writers? Can hardly wait.

Creating That World

Whatever the genre or period or culture you write about, you’re absorbed in creating that world for the time it takes to write your novel and then again when publicising it.

Creating that world is a complex weaving of things that are blindingly obvious and things that are so subtle, you won’t be aware you’ve done it and your readers certainly won’t.

I’m currently writing historicals set in the early nineteenth century. They could be called Regencies, although the WIP is set in Edinburgh in 1826 by which time George was King in his own right. Creating that world has had many strands.

The Actual History – useful secondary sources

First up, there are the actual history books. When I began Uni in the late sixties, I had to read a book called The First Four Georges by JH Plumb. It remains on my shelf as a ready and easy source of dates. I’ve also got others, many others, and anyone writing in an earlier time will have their own favourites.

Creating the World, however, is so much more than knowing the facts The wonderful Mrs Hurst Dancing by Diana Sperling b1791 and text by Gordon Mingay, is a collection of drawings made in the period of that world I’m creating. It shows the activities of the leisured classes. What they were doing to enjoy themselves, who participated and what they wore are set out. My writing space is festooned with postcards I’ve bought when visiting various museums and preserved mansion houses. How does a neck cloth actually sit around the male neck? Well, there it is in the wonderful Family Scene, artist unknown, of 1815-20. Likewise the carriage: I’ve had nothing to do with horses, but there are pictures of carriages and curricles showing how the horses were harnessed – and how the heroines had to hang on for dear life.

Costume collections are also an inspiration. The wonderful national collection held by the Royal Museum of Scotland at Shambellie House in Dumfries and Galloway has taught me so much about the presentation of the female form. I enjoyed a hilarious visit with some writing friends when we established just how restricting a corset would be. Some of us couldn’t even get into one. I haven’t ever seeen a Dark Ages dress, but they look so much more restricting with the long sleeves and wimples. For the writer, the point is not in ooing and ahhing over the colour, quality and cut, but in absorbing what the wearer could and could not do. Why do so many Regencies have their heroines dressing in men’s clothes at moments of crisis after all?

Here’s a photo I took in Sicily of some Roman girls. Just to remind us that we need to

Roman Girls

Roman Girls

use context for understanding. It would be a mistake, I believe, to think all women wore bikinis in the early centuries.

Contemporary Writings

Last week, the Scotsman newspaper ran an article by Stuart Kelly about the Scottish contemporaries of Jane Austen. He listed Susan Ferrier and Mary Brunton as examples and quoted form the writings of Sir Walter Scott who was a great admirer of Austen and also of Ferrier.

When I found Ferrier’s novel, Marriage, I started reading with no particular expectations, but it is a lovely book full of human foibles and humour. Bare-chested Scotsmen are absent and the castles are as dark and damp as one knows they must have been. She’s writing at the time I’m writing into and her work gives me insight. I haven’t read Mary Brunton, an Orkadian, but I look forward to sourcing it.

Literary Criticism

Jane Austen is a wonderful mine of information, but as a consumate writer, her information isn’t always on the surface. That brings me to a book I’ve recently read by John Mullan called What Matters in Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved.

Professor Mullan has spent many years teaching JA and his book might be said to cover the blindingly obvious. Certainly the information is in the novels and we could all read it for ourselves. However, I know I sometimes need the blindingly obvious pointed out as I’ve absorbed it with the words. Therefore I’ve never wondered how ‘I knew that’.

What Matters in Austen is full of teased out information needed by the romantic novelist hoping to work in the Austen period. The chapter  on the right and the wrong way to propose is particularly illuminating, but the book is full of goodies.

A few of the ways I use to Create That World.