Saturday, 1 December 2012

What's In A Name?

I'm excited! My second book is with my agent and I'm preparing the outline of my third novel. I've notebooks, magazines, books, newspaper cuttings and a million scraps of paper with scribblings on them in piles on my desk. My next novel is going to be set in two eras. An object will be gifted to a governess in the late 19th Century and this object will play an important part in someone's life over a hundred years later. I've only written short historical stories so far so I'm really looking forward to the challenge of getting to work.

Before I started organising my notes, I needed to choose names for my characters which were believable, strong and of the correct era. Using the right names of the period can add authenticity to a story. Whether you call your character Sky or Autumn, born in the flower-power 60's, or Hashtag (yes, seriously) in 2012, their names will influence the characters themselves. Would you call your handsome hero Nigel? (sorry Nigels) Seriously, Nigel and Juliet really doesn't work!

I've had great fun searching through Victorian forenames and surnames. Many names were taken from the politicians, religious leaders and celebrated military heroes of the time, such as William, Victoria and George. Girls were also given virtuous names such as Hope or Charity but it wasn't uncommon for mothers to give their daughters their maiden name as a second given name, such as Louisa Jennings Jones. Readers automatically associate names with people they know; names which have stereotypes attached to them. Kylie would conjure up a petite Australian singer, whereas Russell would create an image of a long-haired comedian. Best to avoid these where possible.

What do you think of the names I've chosen for my characters? I'd really appreciate feedback and would change them if you think one didn't suit. My 19th Century governess and protagonist is called Esther Jefferson, daughter of Dr Charles Jefferson. The groom and love interest is called Silas Dredge and Esther's friend, the cook's help, is called Hetty Mallory. Esther goes to work for Mrs Elspeth Fortesque to teach the children, George and Mary.

There have been some amazing names given to fictional characters over the years. Names which conjure up a different time, fear, longing, hatred and desire. For a bit of fun, here are my personal top five. I'd love to hear what your top five would be.

5. In fifth place is Abel Magwitch. A perfect name for a fugitive who'd escaped from a prison ship in Great Expectations.

4. Bathsheba Everdene comes in fourth. An strong woman who doesn't want to give up her independence, even for love, in Far From The Madding Crowd.

3. Coming in third is Flashman. I remember watching Tom Brown's School Days as a child and Flashman was such an intimidating bully of a character. I clearly remember the scene where Flashman ordered his 'friends' to hold Tom against an open fire.

2. And the runner up is Gabriel Oak. What an amazing character name for the kind young shepherd in Far From The Madding Crown and the future love of Bathsheba. Hardy came up trumps with two great fictional names!

1. First place goes to the incredibly sexy Rupert Campbell-Black. I can almost smell the sweet grass on his jodhpurs and the earthy scent from his boots as he strides into the hall to sweep me off my feet and..... Okay. You get the idea. He isn't called Nigel!!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Skimming Stones

Surely only a handful of summers have passed
Since I jumped the white chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
Which levitated above the hot speckled concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, with skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with soft scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing's pale glow.

And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murkey depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards; to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother's face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of coversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil which draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.

By Angela Barton

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Making The Cut Less Painful

It's been a while since I've visited my blog because I've been editing my novel at every opportunity I can find. In August I sent my completed manuscript of 104,500 words to my agent and having read it, she suggested several helpful ideas; such as moving some chapters around, making it obvious that one of my characters was 'in' on the secret and also making another character more unstable without turning them into a psychotic caricature of a mad stalker! The trouble is, the characters make appearances throughout my novel so it's been a slow process to change dialogue and emotions without missing a crucial scene and confusing the reader.

I've also renamed my book, The Bandstand. The bandstand in question is in Clapham Common, London, and plays a part in several chapters of my book. I felt as if my original title - In Hindsight, gave too much away - protagonist looks back and wonders why she hadn't noticed....

So I thought that for this post I'd talk about editing. There's a huge amount of global competition when it comes to writing, so the sharper our manuscript is, the less likely we are to be over-looked. If we take time to learn how to edit effectively, the improvement can be profound. Every tweak and cut polishes our chapters. Even after we've read and re-read our work numerous times, the odd tpyo (see what I did there?) slips through, which is why copy editors are in employment! Sometimes we are just too close to our work and need an objective eye to cast a glance over it.

But what can we do for ourselves?

If you can bear it, put your manuscript out of sight in a safe place for several weeks or even months. When you come back to it, all sorts of mistakes will become apparent. Spelling, grammar, sentences that don't flow, speech marks in the wrong place, missing words, fluffy/wordy descriptions and paragraphs of information which waffle on and become tedious. The reader wants to be able to flow through your story seamlessly without becoming irritated by little flaws.

Personally I find the most effective way to edit is to print out a hard copy of my novel. I'll sit with a red pen and start to read. It's quite unbelievable how many red squiggles and lines will decorate my pages afterwards, even when I think I've done a good job editing on my computer. Also reading the printed pages out loud will make it obvious if I'm stumbling with the rhythm of my sentences.

Cut out repeated words, dull or superfluous detail, any overuse of adjectives and adverbs and all weak words like 'but' 'quite' and 'rather.' I use 'that' and 'just' too often and I just have to keep an eye out for them.

Look out for occasions when you've stated the blindingly obvious: 'He shouted loudly,' or 'she whispered quietly.' Don't rely on spell check. The misuse of it's and its or there and their won't be highlighted as a mistake. Some authors prefer to edit one aspect of their work at a time, for example, punctuation, spelling or deleting unnecessary information. Personally I opt for doing an overall edit as I'm reading.

Whichever way you decide, try to be ruthless.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dusk in Afghanistan

He looks for beauty in this brutal game
Amongst the bitter dust of Helmand,
And finds it in the sun’s splendour;
Its amber rays caressing the mountain range
As army boots leave prints in the earth,
As barren as unanswered wishes.
He finds no flower to press against his face and smell
Memories of his wife’s perfume.
Waning daylight cling to rocks,
Holding back the invading night
Where silent terror lurks unseen.
And evil crouches, exhaling poison as it waits
Squabbling insects dance and torment,
Biting and sucking his pink-parched skin.
He thinks of England’s gentle rain
Dimpling puddles under pewter skies,
And sighs.
Dusk creeps onwards darkening his thoughts,
As the Reaper hides nearby,
Planning a repulsive requiem,
Whilst searching for the next soul
To steal from loved-ones across the sea,
The soldier wipes his furrowed brow
Wrinkled like the wind-blown dunes.
Eyes raised, he looks into the navy sky;
A shared constellation with home.
Moving onwards
Past peripheral shadows of outcrops,
Like broken teeth in a rotting mouth.
Tears roll down the hardest face each silent night
In this foreign land, where each man dreams
Of going home.

By Angela Barton

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Poet, John Clare

One of my favourite books is The Poet's Wife by local author, Judith Allnatt. Last year I attended a workshop which Judith held at my writing group and I was also one of a group which visited Helpston, John Clare's birth place. Judith accompanied us on our visit this summer as part of the annual Lowdham Book Fair. The Poet's Wife looks at life from John Clare's family's point of view. It's filled with beautiful descriptive narrative about the surrounding countryside and tells of the difficult struggles and love for her family, Clare's wife Patty had to cope with.

John Clare was born on 13th July 1793. He was the son of a farm labourer who became an English poet. As he worked on the land in his early years, he grew to love his surroundings and nature, celebrating this close bond with the countryside through his poetry.

Early Spring

The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too,
The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts' ease;
The polyanthus peeps with blebs of dew,
And daisy flowers; the buds swell on the trees;
While oer the odd flowers swim grandfather bees
In the old homestead rests the cottage cow;
The dogs sit on their haunches near the pail,
The least one to the stranger growls 'bow wow,'
Then hurries to the door and cocks his tail,
To knaw the unfinished bone; the placid cow
Looks oer the gate; the thresher's lumping flail
Is all the noise the spring encounters now.

John Clare

My favourite book of poetry

As a child, John Clare worked as an agricultural labourer throughout the growing seasons. Despite limited schooling at Glinton School until he was twelve, he was an eager student and learned how to read and write. He became a pot washer at the local pub, The Bluebell. It was here that he fell in love with Mary Joyce, the daughter of a prosperous farmer. The farmer didn't believe that John was good enough for Mary and forbade him to meet her. Subsequently he became a gardener at Burleigh House, enlisted in the militia and worked as a lime burner in 1817.

Below is a photograph I took of the poet's thatched cottage. It was bought by the John Clare Education and Environment Trust in 2005. Inside is a small cafe which sells books and delicious home-made cakes. The rest of the house has been turned into a museum about Clare's life and works.

John Clare's cottage in Helpston

John Clare's poetry was inspired from his love of the English countryside. I think this is why I enjoy his work so much. If you've followed my blog, I occasionally include some poems I've written and more often than not, they include descriptions from nature.

To prevent his parents' eviction from their home, John offered his poems to a local bookseller who forwarded them on to John Keat's publishers, Taylor and Hessey. Taylor published Clare's first book of poetry entitled, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. in 1820. His book was hugely praised but his following books, 'Village Minstrel and Other Poems' and 'The Shepherd's Calender' didn't achieve the same success.

John Clare's cottage kitchen

In 1820, John married Martha (Patty). By 1823 he was nearly penniless as his subsequent books of poetry met with little success. His health began to suffer and he had bouts of severe depression. His last work, Rural Muse in 1832, achieved a little more success but not enough to support his wife and seven children. His behaviour became more erratic and in 1837, on the recommendation of his publishing friend, John Taylor, Clare went of his own volition to a private asylum in Epping Forest.

During his first few years here, John Clare's mental health deteriorated. He re-wrote famous poems and sonnets by Lord Byron and took credit for Shakeseare's plays, declaring, 'I'm John Clare now, but I was Byron and Shakespeare formally.'

He was a short man, standing no taller than five foot. I am five foot six inches and this life-sized statue tells its own story! His slight stature was likely due to malnutrition stemming from childhood which led to poor health in later life.

Life-size statue of John Clare

In 1841, John Clare absconded from the asylum in Essex and walked eighty miles home. His mind was unstable as he still believed he was married to both his unrequited love, Mary Joyce and his wife Patty. Mary Joyce had actually died years earlier in a house fire and had never been aware of Clare's feelings for her.

John Clare found his way home and lived with Patty for the next five months until his behaviour deteriorated sufficiently for her to call in the doctors. Clare was committed to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (now St. Andrew's). He remained there for the rest of his life, until his death in 1864. His remains were returned to Helpston for burial in St Botolph's church yard. Judith Allnatt read some of his poetry in the cool echoing church whilst the sun shone brightly outside upon John Clare's tomb stone. It was a memorable and atmospheric half hour. Even to this day, school children from the village where he is buried, annually lay flowers at his graveside in remembrance.

John Clare's grave stone

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sparrows and Parrots

My husband saw a parrot today.

So what, I hear you say. Perhaps you're thinking he visited an old aunt with a caged bird or wandered around a pet shop or a zoo. No. He was working in London and spotted it in a tree.

So what, I hear you mutter. The odd parrot escapes now and then. No big deal.

Well I have a little tale to tell, which may help you to understand why my husband was so anxious to see it and I was perturbed to hear that he had.

This experience left such an impression on me that I wrote a sub-plot for my first novel, Lies and Linguine, around the theme. My husband Paul, hadn't been feeling well for weeks and so decided to make an appointment with his doctor. Without any specific symptoms to speak of, the doctor told Paul that there were more sparrows in the sky than parrots. This flippant remark obviously meant that Paul probably wasn't suffering with anything exotic, and to get on with his life. Which he did!

About a fortnight after hearing his doctor make this remark, Paul shouted for me to hurry into the kitchen. He was pointing at something sitting on our garden fence.

An exotic parrot!

We live in Nottingham, not exactly a tropical rain forest! It'd obviously escaped from its cage, but nonetheless, it made the goose bumps tingle. For the next few weeks, Paul hadn't felt any better. It came to a head one cold, dark November morning, before anyone was awake. A strange, terrifying noise woke me from a deep sleep. It sounded like an animal in pain. NEXT TO ME!

I switched on the bed-side lamp to see my husband, unconscious on the bed. He was having a grand mal seizure. His face was grey, his lips were blue and a trickle of blood dribbled from his mouth from where he'd bitten his tongue. The children came running in to the bedroom because of the loud noise their daddy was making. After calming three terrified crying children and calling for an ambulance, things happened quickly. Paul was assessed and allowed home, with an appointment to go to radiology for a brain scan.

Arriving in radiology at hospital, we were once again shocked into silence, on seeing a brightly coloured poster behind the receptionist's desk. A heading proudly boasted, 'Parrots of the World.' Suddenly there seemed to be a lot more parrots than sparrows in our lives.

Paul was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which was miraculously operated on successfully. Paul's recovery and absence from his company, led to the folding of his own design agency. It also instigated a house move, as Paul wasn't allowed to drive. But, ten years on, Paul is well and we look back on that episode in our lives, as a lesson learnt.

Life is short. Make the most of it. Don't get hung up on trivial arguments or irritations.
You don't know what's round the corner.

Except he's just seen another damned parrot!

Sunday, 1 July 2012


Thank you so much Megan Taylor for choosing me to carry on the 777 challenge. For those of you who don't know about it, writers are invited to share seven sentences from page seven of their work in progress. They then choose seven other writers to do the same.

My second novel, In Hindsight, is almost complete bar a little editing. The seven sentences come from an opening scene where my characters,Rowan and her husband Tom, are viewing a three storey Georgian house in Clapham. They decide to buy the house at auction and name it Magnolia House as it has a magnolia tree heavy with bulbous blossoms decorating the tiny front garden. As I couldn't choose seven sentences but had to take them from page 7, they're not the most exciting of lines, but describe what my characters find as they view a house they're hoping to buy.

Rowan finds herself widowed early on in the story and decides to divide the house into three separate storeys. She takes in two lodgers for company and to help with her finances. In Hindsight is a story about how she claws back from the depths of grief with the help of new friends. But nothing is ever plain-sailing is it? My novel is full of deceit, mystery, friendship, jealousy, an obsessive compulsion, romance and hope.

Tom and Rowan followed the agent into the kitchen where they discovered several cupboard doors hanging from their hinges, exposed pipe-work and an oven which had created its own biosphere of living organisms. Strange amorphous splodges were sprouting fungus and threading their way around each of the gas rings.

They traipsed around tumbledown rooms where ceilings were decorated with damp patches, floorboards were broken and strips of ripped wallpaper hung like clusters of catkins. Although some rooms were in better condition than others, all had retained their ornate cornices, ceiling roses and wide floor boards which shone with an aged patina. On the top floor, the view of roof tops and neighbouring small manicured gardens was amazing. They lingered for five minutes, moving from one sash window to the next, gasping with surprise and pointing out distant landmarks.

‘Look over there. Can you see the church spire?’

Rowan followed Tom’s finger with her eyes. The church’s conical tower tapered towards the bare cyan sky.

Here are the seven writers I've chosen to join in the fun of 777. I look forward to reading all your excerpts!

Natalie James (@Nat_TOALB)

Kathryn Brown (@crystaljigsaw)

Wendy Sparrow (@WendySparrow)

Jessica (@serenitywriter)

Friederike Schmoe (123writer)

Gina (@ginad129)

L. M. Stull (@lmstull)

Sunday, 3 June 2012

My Red Editing Pen

Last week I came home from five gloriously sunny days in the French countryside. I had some lovely trips out but I also found time to edit my second novel, In Hindsight. I love the red-pen stage. It means I finished my book, I've printed a hard copy and I'm ready to read the whole piece through.

It's always surprising how the black and white pages become decorated with red squiggles or lines when I think I've paid attention throughout its creation! I find it's such a beneficial discipline to leave my work for as long as I can suffer its absence. Re-reading my story after a few weeks or months, highlights areas for improvement. It enables me to spot silly mistakes, for instance, I had a magnolia tree blooming in September! Now I always check the time of year with what's happening in nature.

I check that each chapter is relevant to the flow of the story and make sure it moves the narrative along. This is also where the odd spelling mistake jumps out at me, poor grammar is spotted and over-looked cliches are crossed out. I find that editing a hard copy is far easier than gazing at a computer screen for hours at a time. I can see where my text slows down, either from too many similes or superfluous adjectives. By now my red editing pen has left trails of ink as if a drunken snail has crawled across the page!

Now I'm home my next step is to work through the hard copy and transfer the corrections onto my laptop. I plan to do this over the jubilee weekend. Then I'll print another hard copy, but this time I'll put it into a file and read it in the form of a book. Loose sheets are great for the first edit, but I like to have my pages bound for my second edit. I feel I'm getting closer to sending it off to my agent! At this stage I'm ensuring that I've varied my sentence lengths, avoided repetitive words, minimized adverbs and improved my choice of words. I develop my characters and check continuity. I make sure I've used equal amounts of narrative, introspection and dialogue. I ensure points of view are used correctly and I've used the correct names! Occasionally I read a piece of dialogue and have the wrong person speaking!

Towards the end of this month I'll do my third and final edit. Some people do more than three and some less. I feel that after three edits, my agent will give me some feedback for my fourth edit. I can't imagine any agent has read a manuscript and said, 'Don't change a thing!'

So much has happened and changed in my life whilst writing this novel. I can honestly say that it has helped me through very difficult times. My characters became 'friends' who made me laugh and cry. My protagonist became a widow, and having lost my dad earlier this year, I changed the way she grieved. See an earlier post. I realised that grief wasn't all about wailing and hair-pulling. My characters kept me company and kept my mind focused.

Hopefully one day it will be published, and you can all read about their trials, relationships, hopes, tribulations and dreams.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Damned Deviations

A fork in the lane ahead
Heralds a choice.
Damned deviations
Which confuse and blur,
Obscuring clarity
Like breath on cold glass.
We must walk in our own shoes
Despite sagas secreted
Beneath their tread.
Despite voices urging
This way and that
As we fumble and flounder,
And cling to our routine
Like a startled grey squirrel
Clings to cracked bark.
Loose rocks in our path
Can surely become
Stable stepping stones,
Firm and resolute.
A time for change
And brave deep breaths.
Strangers lurk ahead;
Dark figures in
Unknown places.
Or maybe
They’re unfamiliar friends?
Comforting comrades
With names as yet unheard.
Be bold, hope for success,
Venture forwards,
Embrace new paths
And greet new faces.
For no-one knows
How long the meandering path
Will stretch.

Angela Barton

Monday, 23 April 2012

Lucky #7

What a great idea! A big thank you to lovely Kay, @1_Lovelife, for including me in on Lucky #7. Seven writers are invited to copy and paste 7 sentences, starting from line 7, on page 77 of their WIP. The novel I'm working on at the moment has a working title of In Hindsight.

Just to give you a glimpse into the storyline, Rowan was widowed a year ago and has decided to turn her three storey Georgian house in London, into three seperate apartments. This not only gives her something to focus on, but is a way of earning an income and making new friends. As with any story, things don't go smoothly. She causes an accident, someone's sending her unpleasant cryptic notes, her best friend is suffering form an obsessive compulsive disorder and she finds out shocking news about her late-husband. Did she ever really know him? Rowan also feels ashamed and guilty because she's falling in love with James, one of her tenants, after only a year as a widow.

The sun appeared from behind a cornucopia of clouds as Rowan and James crunched along one of the gravel paths which ran through Clapham Common. The warm rays lit up the expanse of grass decorated with shifting shadows, allowing her to believe that summer wasn't far away.

Normally Rowan found that quiet contemplation during long walks, calmed her thoughts. The birdsong, the distant squeals from delighted children and soothing hum of the traffic, all gave her other things to focus on. But uncharacteristically, she was feeling ill at ease and shy walking alongside James.

'Are you feeling...’ James stumbled over his words. ‘stronger…since…?’

‘It’s not been easy as you can imagine, but I’ve got Libby. She’s Tom’s sister and I don’t know what we’d have done without each other for support. You haven’t met her yet but she’s lovely.’

Rowan turned to face James. His brown eyes were the colour of strong coffee and his lashes were thick and long for a man. But it was the softness in their depth and the way fine lines radiated from their corners when he smiled, which she noticed most.

I know it's only a small excerpt but I hope you enjoyed it. Now I have to choose seven more writers to play along if they wish. No pressure at all! It wasn't difficult to choose my seven because each one of them have either been supportive of me as a writer, following my blog or keeping in touch on twitter. Thank you all and I look forward to reading all your excerpts.

Rosemary Gemmell

Avril Joy

Megan Taylor

Keith Havers

Mariam Kobras

Chris Nickson

The Rusty Pen

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Flowering Redcurrant

Underneath the silver birch
They’d hang pink with pleasure,
Blushing blossoms
Full and frothing.
Beneath the birch’s lolling leaves
I’d read, or sing or dream.
And look through dappled light
To pale bare skies
Where contrails paint across the blue.
Small fingers fashioning necklaces
From a constellation
Of crimson-tinged daisies,
Dotted on the lawn.
The smell of earth, damp and raw,
Grass stained knees and the tantalising
Whispers of summer on the breeze.
I’d lie beneath those verdant boughs,
Embraced in their beauty.
And even today,
When years have passed,
I smell the flowering redcurrant
And remember.

Angela Barton

Monday, 5 March 2012

Learning Lessons The Hard Way

My second novel, In Hindsight, tells the story of a young woman called Rowan and her attempt at getting her life back on track after the unexpected death of her husband. Of course things don't go smoothly when she eventually re-surfaces to face the world again. She finds out that her husband wasn't the man she thought he was. But it's my take on grief in my novel which needs editing, now that I'm experiencing it in reality.

I had my heroine suffering with Hollywood angst but not possessing the ability to carry on with everyday tasks. I had her in floods of tears and being cared for by her best friend like a child. Since dad died in January, I've learned the lesson of writing about grief the hard way.

It's a deep clawing sadness. It's a feeling that everything in your life is different - but nothing in your life has changed. It's catching your breath when the image of their smile floods your thoughts. It's love, loss, anguish, silence and madness. It's alternating between silently begging and bargaining with God to be a better person if only He could make you wake up and find you'd had a nightmare; that dad was still here. It's staring into the middle distance but seeing nothing. It's about continuing with life but weaving your memory of them into every task. It's smiling - even laughing - but then feeling that sharp prick of guilt that you've done so. It's painful. It's about swollen eyes and bitten nails. It's about watching the red digits flashing 3am. It's longing, anger, futility and tears. It's about seeing their likeness in a stranger and for one desperate second wanting to call their name - until you remember. It's about gazing at their photograph and willing the touch of the paper to feel warm like their skin; for the image to breathe once more. It's about holding your family closer. It's about clutching their clothing as if it were them. It's about standing silently in their bedroom and feeling their spirit about you.

It's the hardest thing I've ever done.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Au revoir dad.

Some people make a difference to our lives. I don’t mean by performing heroic deeds or by inventing new things. I mean that some people make the world a better place, by just being themselves. My dad did that. My dad made a difference.

Quite simply, I adored him.

He was a loving husband, a wonderful father and an irreplaceable grandfather. My children called him papa. Since that dreadful Sunday morning nearly three weeks ago, a chapter has closed in my life. But loss is made endurable by love. He was a dignified giant of a man with a gentle soul. He led by powerful example. He was a man of integrity who guided and shared in the lives of his children and grandchildren with love and an abundance of patience. His smile was amazing. His jokes…less so!

He laughed often. He greeted the ladies in the family by telling them that they were beautiful. He encouraged and asked after every member of the family. Despite his painful knees, he’d pretend to trip up just to raise a laugh. If you stumbled, he’d ask if you’d had a good trip. Dad would gaze at the skies whenever a plane passed overhead and he’d tell you which aircraft it was. He’d clap loudly whenever Arsenal or England scored a goal and loved to watch sport on television. He greeted us with bear hugs. Dad loved to read and spent hours working on jigsaws, patiently re-creating a landscape or aeroplanes from tiny pieces of cardboard. He laughed at Tommy Cooper, Morecombe and Wise and Tom and Jerry. He was a connoisseur in the art of charcoaled bread, frequently burning toast in the mornings. He adored sun-bathing and didn’t want to part with a particularly well-worn and very small pair of blue shorts, which mum tried to secretly dispose of on several occasions.

Dad had beautiful hand writing and a talent for drawing. I loved the way his lips would twitch as he tried not to grin when he told a joke. He said au revoir, not goodbye. I’d frequently hear dad telling mum that she was beautiful. I’ll always remember dad walking on Harlyn Bay, wrapped up against the elements in his hat, scarf and gloves. How he’d grown fond of our two dogs and would throw a stick for them along the water’s edge of the beach.

I’ll be comforted in the future by the memories I shared with dad, because he was a joy to be around.

I received an unexpected response from a friend last week when I told her my father had died. She said that she envied me because I’d had a dad whom I loved and who loved me in return. She said she’d never had that relationship with her father. It made me appreciate what I had with dad, not what I’ve lost.

I’ll miss him every minute, of every day, for the rest of my life.

Au revoir dad.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Drizzle and Sizzle

Not even the drizzle of an English winter could dampen the excitement I felt at returning to Harlyn Bay in Cornwall just after Christmas. It's my favourite place in the UK and has featured in my first novel, Lies and Linguine. Nothing beats a long walk along the waters' edge and then heading back home to start sizzling some bacon! The photograph below reveals the huge expanse of golden sand surrounded by storm-grey cliffs. It's the kind of place where you can turn your back on the land, look out to sea and feel like all your worries are literally behind you!

I thought I'd add a little from my novel Lies and Linguine, to describe Padstow.

The smell of fish and chips wafted around Padstow’s harbour as Tess and her parents made their way to view the tea shop. Brightly coloured boats bobbed up and down on the water like plastic ducks at the fair waiting to be hooked for a prize. Four children ran past, their ice-cream-smeared mouths looking like clowns’ make-up. In the distance Tess could see the ferry which travelled backwards and forwards to Rock, transporting visitors across the estuary. She watched the hustle and bustle of the holiday makers coming and going in and out of the small gift shops. The reds, blues and yellows of the painted hulls reflected in the water as bunting flickered in the breeze. Tess’ mind buzzed at the opportunity this shop could give her, in a place she loved.

They stopped outside the tea shop and looked up at the white-washed building. It was a small two-storey cafe directly facing the beautiful harbour. There was no doubt that its position was perfect. It had black paint work and a sign hanging over the door which read, Crimptons Tea Shop. Below the name was a picture of a tea-pot, cup and saucer.

Celia linked arms with Tess. “Isn’t it perfect darling?”

“It’s very pretty mum.”

“A manageable size, not too big to start off with.”

Tess grinned, unable to hide her excitement. “Let’s have a look inside then.”

They followed each other up two steps and pushed open the glazed door. The room buzzed with conversation and smelt of marzipan and coffee. They wound their way past several tables and push chairs and stood in the queue patiently. Tess looked into the cabinet which displayed insipid and unappetizing cakes. The colourless coffee cake looked dry, the shortbread was broken and some blueberry muffins looked stodgy. She could definitely improve on that meagre display, she thought.

My lovely dogs, Harlyn and Brook have walk-on parts in Lies and Linguine!! Below are photographs of them digging for treasure and recovering with me after a long walk on the beach.

I'm not sure how this doorway in the cliffs was made. Perhaps it was a point of access for smugglers when the tide was coming in. It certainly doesn't look like a natural doorway as the sides are too straight. I imagine it was used by the smugglers after they'd hidden in caves waiting for tea, brandy and tobacco to arrive in the dead of night. Remember that in those days there weren't roads or tourists, so many communities were difficult to reach. Many families participated in the secrecy in order to benefit in some way. The involvement of the gentry would range from turning a blind eye, to full scale involvement. Harlyn Bay was perfect for smuggling in that it had a long expanse of sandy beach to pull the boats ashore and a rocky uninhabited coastline meant that few revenue men patrolled it.

Below is a picture taken on a walk we took on New Year's Day along part of the River Camel's estuary. It stretches from Wadebridge downstream to the open sea at Padstow Bay. It's an idyllic place of meandering pathways, bays and breath-taking scenery. John Betjamen obviously appreciated the views because he wrote,

"The next five and a half miles beside the broadening Camel to Padstow is the most beautiful train journey I know."

Friday, 6 January 2012

Where Do New Writers Begin?

Whilst talking recently with my teenage niece, she expressed the view that she couldn't possibly write a novel. I asked why she believed this and she replied that she wouldn't know where to start and wouldn't know what to write about.

My humble advice to her and all new writers, young and old, would be to start with what you know. If you're a student, set your short story or novel in a college, local youth club or even your house. If you're a nurse, have your story pan out in a hospital or doctor's surgery. When you become more confident in your writing, you can develop your ideas further afield. If you're happy to jump in and write about imaginery places immediately, go for it! Overall, it's so much easier to write about what you know to begin with; and that includes your backdrop. A college or a hospital has to be built somewhere, and where better than the place you know best - the area in which you live. Of course it doesn't have to be identical and you can re-name the town. And remember that when it comes to writing, you're in charge of your own imagination. If you live near an incinerator or rubbish dump and want to replace it with a luxury spa or a department store - you can!

I set my first novel in Car Colston, Nottingham, England. That's where I live. It's a small village without a single shop, but it does have a delightfully old-fashioned pub and a magnificent manor house. I re-named the village Larkston in my book. I placed my hero in the manor house after my narrative described how he'd inherited it on the death of his parents. My protagonist set up home in a small rented cottage in a nearby lane. Writing about the village green, The Royal Oak, the cricket pitch, the shop in the next village and a myriad of other local places, my writing flowed much more easily because I could 'see' and describe things that were in my minds' eye. I'm sure many writers would tell you the same thing. It helps to write what you know. Before long I'd caused crime, jealousies, deception, romance and lies to kick off in quiet little Larkston!

Car Colston village

Next choose what genre you'd like to write about. What are your interests? If you like sport, you don't have to play a particular game to include it in your writing. If you like science fiction or history, of course you're not able to hop aboard the US Enterprise or jump in Doc's DeLorean, like Marty did in Back To The Future. That's where research comes in. And how much easier has this been made for us since search engines have been invented? And remember, it'll be fun because you're going to research something that interests you.

I also told my niece that the first chapter, preferably the first few pages, should contain a hook. A hook, for all new writers, is something that makes your reader want to continue reading your book. Something should happen which literally 'hooks' their interest. The protagonist of your piece, that is, your main character, will have to face challenges which he/she must overcome. Don't make it easy for your character to live happily ever after (or not). She/he must learn and grow from their experience and find a way out of their dilemma for themselves. Winning the lottery to get out of serious debt is just a dream for most people. Your reader will feel cheated if you end your story with such a 'cop out!'

Happy writing and good luck to all new writers.