Fillers, photographs and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee: My Writing Process


Thanks to Kate Blackadder for inviting me to follow on in the My Writing Process blog tour. Kate’s lovely blog Kate Writes and Reads can be found here:

Kate Writes and Reads

Like Kate, I’ve been asked to feature this tour before, but writing is such an interesting and changing landscape, and Kate is so persuasive, I could only agree.

What am I working on?

I need to be a little circumspect here because although I am writing a new novel, it’s a piece that I intend to enter into a competition. Maybe I can tell you about something non-fiction I have in mind.

I’ve contributed lots of short stuff over a period to a lovely Scottish interest magazine called Scottish Memories. It’s full of interesting stuff about things their readers might remember. I’ve written about bus trips, a new car and where I was for the Queen’s Silver jubilee – up a mountain, since you ask. It had as much water as you can see here, but it wasn’t anything like as warm. 100_4022

So I thought, I might try a piece for them about how history books and historical works inspire and inform my writing. I’ll let you know how I get on. If you’ve got an album full of family photographs, you might find an outlet there, too.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, I bet your family photo album also contains lots of brides with bouquets of lilies and hugely trailing swathes of fern. The trick is to make it appealingly different. I’ve found the editor appreciates a slight slant on the stuff asked for. Yes, huge numbers of folk went to street parties to mark various Royal Jubilees, but how many of us went up a mountain, on Harris? That’s what I try to offer her, a wee bit of quirkiness that’s still a possibility.

Why do I write what I do?

Any novelist will tell you that the whole is made up of myriad little bits. Writing workshops frequently offer a ‘picture starter’ and I find them so helpful. Finding an evocative picture in my collection is a great jumping off point and it’s lovely to craft a wee piece and send it off.

It’s also true that we all like a bit of success. A novel takes a long time to write and a long time to produce, so it keeps the spirits up to have a few successes along the way, however short.

My Writing Process 

When it comes to short stuff, I often find the editor’s request is a sufficient trigger. What was I doing on Jubilee night, was enough to start a hunt for photos I knew I had. Equally, seeing a particular photograph can prompt a memory. I then write free-flowing. No editing until the ‘story’ is down. Once it’s encapsulated, I go over it and tailor it to both the question and the photograph while never forgetting the market.

I’ve been neglecting short stuff a bit recently, but writing about it has reminded me.

This is where I should list another three folks to carry forward the tour, but instead why don’t I suggest a few ‘filler’ opportunities for you to try. come back and tell Novels Now whether you were successful.

Scottish Memories a monthly magazine of Scottish nostalgia.

Best of British also nostalgia but covers the whole of the UK

The Oldie is a monthly that contains a lot of humour and satire. They have many freelance opportunities and less of a need for photographs. Mariah’s Marriage amazon US Mariah’s Marriage UK Bella’s Betrothal US Bella’s Betrothal UK


Where Do You Get Your Ideas? No 2 PICTURES

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, was a poem my English teacher, Mr Clapp, used to show us how not everything could be understood by the first or simple reading of words alone. It remains one of the most powerful introductions any student might have to the business of writing.

Browning is focussing on a portrait, but using spare phrases that chill with their mundaneity, he lets us see another portrait in our minds – the monster who was the girl’s husband. Other viewers might look at that picture and see:

Essex Girl – a dutiful wife – an obliging sitter – a young girl – a father’s daughter – a mother’s joy – a brother’s friend – a sister’s confidant. We all see someone and we all make different stories for her.

The early pictures we’re exposed to are likely to have animals in them. They might be in picture books with wonderful illustrations of cartoonish bears. Small children are quite happy to believe that animals talk and open honey pots and paddle boats down the river. Teenage girls probably go on believing horses are human beyond the moment parents might consider healthy.

How many have seen the photographs of Edinburgh’s male panda recently? He’s ready to mate, we’re told, because he’s doing handstands and spraying his territory. Doesn’t that prompt a reaction? if you’re writing romance, doesn’t that take you easily along to the adage, about a young man’s fancy in Springtime?

And having arrived at your young man of preference, don’t you wonder about his wheels? As I’m writing historical romance, it sends me off to photos of horse drawn traps, carriages and curricles. How did a girl hang onto that? Occasionally, you can see the real thing in a private collection.

What would historical writers do without the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland properties to visit? Quite often at big houses or museums I pick up a pile of postcards. They sit around my writing place and are a ready reference as well as an inspiration. They are often of the house’s paintings and contain valuable information about fashions of the time. I have a lovely domestic scene from the Geoffrye Museum in London, artist unknown, that shows a middle-class family in their evening wear. One of the effects of the postcard is to make me wonder what it was like to spend every evening with these same people. How boring or entertaining was it? Doesn’t it make you understand how welcome visitors must have been to break the tedium? Doesn’t it send your writer’s mind off at all sorts of tangents dreaming up the gossip?

And what about the people who underpinned the comfortable classes? How about this taken at a big house outside Manchester? This is one of a series of photos I took and have subsequently used them as prompts for flash fiction. Sibling Rivalry is up on the Shortbread website and The Laundry Wife’s Daughter on Writelink’s where it won a prize.

The Laundry

The Laundry