Sunday, 22 December 2013

My Writing Process blog tour

Thank you to Jane Riddell for inviting me to My Writing Process blog tour. Jane took part in the tour on 16 December and her answers can be found on:  http://wwwbloggercom-janelilly.blogspot.co.uk/
My Writing Process
What am I working on?
I always have several projects on the go which could explain why I have not (yet) got past 37,000 words on anything; that was the length of my first People’s Friend serial The Family at Farrshore. I am currently writing another serial for them and have just submitted the second instalment for comment. I have several magazine stories at various stages of completion, a romantic novella almost finished, and about 20,000 words of what will be a full-length novel if I live long enough. Plus, from various writing classes, workshops and other prompts I have dozens of ideas – stories-in-waiting.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t know if anyone reading my work blind (as it were) would know straight away that it was mine; that’s not for me to say. But I write in different genres and styles. If I’m writing a story that I plan to submit to Woman’s Weekly I would write it slightly differently from a People’s Friend story. A story aimed at New Writing Scotland or a national competition would be very different from both of those.
It’s odd what your sub-conscious throws up. A writing friend, who reads some of my work-in-progress, asked me the other week why twins figure frequently, and even a set of triplets. I have no idea! I do recognise, though, that some of my preoccupations appeared in my first PF serial so I’ve made a list of what not to include in the second one: archaeology, dogs, kittens, red-heads, Canadians, ceilidhs, kilts; and I will cut down on mentions of home-baking. As for multiple births … well, who knows?  What my characters get up to when I’m not looking is their business.
Why do I write what I do?
I mostly write women’s magazine short stories because I’ve been fortunate enough to have had around thirty published and hope to have more. I like the discipline of a word count because it focuses your mind on what is important in the story. I like knowing who my audience is before I start.
But I also like writing into the wind and going where it takes me; writing slightly obliquely – leaving gaps for readers to fill; writing poetically. I also love writing descriptions of scenery and there’s not much place for that when you’ve got a word limit.
How does your writing process work?
I wish I could but I don’t think I’ve ever started with a character in mind; it’s either a situation or a setting that I then have to put people in and get to know them. I’m usually a good way in before I realise what the story is about and who is important in it. So it can be a slow process.
I’m not a plotter; that’s why, I think, I work on more than one thing at a time. A solution for one plot development can occur to me when I’m thinking about another.
I start writing on the computer; if I get stuck I work on something else, as I’ve said, or else I write in longhand for a while, in pencil on unlined paper. That frees me up to proceed without the inner editor interfering and I think it allows the brain to make connections it wouldn’t otherwise. I would never send off a submission without first printing it out, reading it aloud and editing on paper.

Read about Regency novelist Anne Stenhouse’s Writing Process on http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/

On 6 January 2014 My Writing Process blog tour visits three terrific writers:


Anne is a writer and teacher and grandma. She lives in the Hebrides. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. She likes gardening, hiking and riding pillion on her husband’s motor-bike.
She believes – indeed she knows – that there is life after forty, and she writes thoughtful, grown-up, romantic fiction where the main characters are older but no wiser. She has published one novel Change of Life as an indie author and her second book Displacement will be out early in 2014. She blogs at http://annestormont.wordpress.com/ – where you can find out lots more about her.  


I’m a writer of many parts – I write travel as well as fiction – and even within the fictional world I’m always experimenting, trying my hand at a whole range of genres. Based in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, I find it impossible not to be influenced by the places I visit and the people I see around me.

To date my published work consists of short stories in The People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly and The Lady. My first full-length novel, Thank You For The Music will be published as an ebook in February 2014 by Tirgearr Publishing http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Young_Jennifer/index.htm

and website:

I was born in Calcutta – hence my fascination with this buzzing city – but I now live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve seen all sides of the publishing business, as a commissioning editor, journalist and novelist. My published books include a children’s novel and a romantic novel, as well as a number of books on Scotland and Scottish themes. My history of childbirth, With Child, Birth Through the Ages ­(written as Jenny Carter), is used as a reference by many historical novelists. It’s still available on Amazon!

Runner up in BBC Woman's Hour/Woman's Weekly 'Romantic Novelist of the Year' competition and winner of the Romantic Novelists Association's Elizabeth Goudge Award. Numerous awards for feature writing and magazine design.
Designed the RNA magazine Romance Matters 2006-2012, and Fabulous at Fifty, the RNA memoir
Oversaw the RNA rebranding

Face the wind and fly
Loving Susie
Twitter @harper_jenny or find me on Facebook

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Friend of the family

It’s funny peculiar what memories can be cast up by a smell. I don’t often get a whiff of paraffin these days but when I do I’m straight back to my great-aunt’s house and the little paraffin heaters she liked to have all over the house and which the family was convinced would one day set the place on fire. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Does anyone use smelling salts now? Great-Aunt had a bottle lying around which I, aged about eight, made the mistake of putting very close to my nose. Ouch. It wasn’t a mistake I made again.

The old house was damp, now a rare occurrence in the days of central heating and damp courses, but that unmistakable musty smell again evokes our visits.

There were good smells too – Scotch broth on the cooker, scones in the oven. Sweeties: a bag of peppermints, ‘bachelors’ buttons’ she called them, and packets of butterscotch for us children. In the once-beautiful garden, overgrown since Great-Uncle died, fragrant roses, peppery lupins and honeysuckle intertwined, and there was a catnip plant by the front door.

We didn’t live nearby but visited every three months or so. So there were always at least twelve copies of The People’s Friend for me to catch up on, which I did crouched over a pile of them on the sitting-room floor. I didn’t read the grown-up stories though, just the children’s pages with The Adventures of Will and Wag (time has not moved on for them – the lads are still having fun) and competitions – once I won a manicure set for being able to name seven different kinds of dog.

Great-Aunt had been a reader of The PF for many years. As a girl herself my mother had spent a lot of time with her aunt and joined her in avidly following the serials. Once, when an afternoon tea-party was in progress, the company including the minister’s wife, Great-Aunt was apparently mortified when Mum, who’d taken delivery of the magazine from the paper boy, burst in to announce a dramatic plot development.

I so wish that both of them could have known that I had a serial in The PF and am writing another; that this week I am delighted to have an article in the 7500th issue (about a visit to Orchard House in Massachusetts where Louisa M Alcott wrote Little Women); and that the week after next my twelfth story for the magazine will be published, a Christmas tale set in the 1960s called A Little Give and Take.

Perhaps, in the great scented garden in the sky, my mother and great-aunt will read it. Whether they will think it worth interrupting a tea-party over is another matter.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

All I want for Christmas

There’s a (probably) apocryphal story about a radio programme presenter asking various Ambassadors what they wanted for Christmas. One said world peace, another wished for an end to famine. 
            The British Ambassador said he’d like a pipe and a new pair of slippers.
            Unfortunately, he was the only one who was likely to find what he wanted under the tree on Christmas morning.
            My long-time wish was to be a published writer. It seemed a grandiose rather than a modest wish and therefore unlikely to be granted. But Santa – in the shape of The People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly, Alfie Dog Fiction (online), Ulverscroft, and various competition anthologies – has, over the last few years, made the wish come true and wrapped it up in tinsel and other sparkly stuff. I owe him a big hug and lots of mince pies.
            If you’re looking for a present for someone who likes a feel-good read may I modestly suggest:

            It has a story of mine called Ae Fond Kiss which was inspired by a flash mob event I went to one Burns Night outside St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The annual is widely available: direct from 
D C Thomson, from bookshops and of course from that South American river (but do support your local bookshop if you can).

           Alfie Dog Fiction has brought out a very pretty-looking anthology of Christmas stories first published on their site.

            Mine is called Molly’s Christmas Candle. My character, Rosemary, is in church waiting for the first candle for Advent to be lit by her very special grand-daughter. Available in paperback and on Kindle.

           May all your wishes come true.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The secret diary of ...

There’s a programme on Radio 4 called My Teenage Diaries where well-known people read and discuss extracts from – their teenage diaries. The premise is that they are genuine entries and I assume that participants haven’t been paid millions of pounds/blackmailed/forced at gunpoint to appear. These are some of the methods that would have to be employed to get me to take part (in a parallel universe where I was invited to do so), but if I did I would have to make it all up. 

I kept this diary for the year I turned seventeen. My biro was leaky and my handwriting abysmal. Added to which, much of what is decipherable is in teenage girl code eg ‘Saw DM in corridor!!!!!!!!’ and other sightings of – I was going to say ‘lesser spotted’ but that wouldn’t be accurate – males of the species, their full names long forgotten. Weirdly, I also seem to have had a close interest in football, and entries for Saturdays are peppered with results, followed by the apparently obligatory line of exclamation marks

That’s all I’m telling you. Some secret diaries should remain just that.

Fortunately, other people have written wonderful diaries and the form is one of my favourite to read, as well as providing useful resources for my own writing.

The books compiled by Simon Garfield from a trawl though the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex are fascinating: We are at War, Our Hidden Lives and Private Battles: How the War Almost Defeated Us. These are diary entries written by ordinary people and excellent for background reading on the Home Front in WWII and the early post-war years.

The Assassin’s Cloak is an anthology of diary entries, arranged day by day. The diarists, far apart in time and space, include the Rev. Francis Kilvert, Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, Lord Byron, Louisa M. Alcott, Barbara Pym, Malcolm Muggeridge, Virginia Woolf, William Soutar, Lord Reith and Jimmy Boyle.

The Diary of Anne Frank is all that a good read should be as well as being one of the most important documents of the twentieth century.

We’re very fortunate that Samuel Pepys kept a diary during a very turbulent decade in British history and that he captured on paper the bigger picture (the Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Fire of London) as well as his own trials and tribulations (a gallstone operation, being jabbed with a hatpin by a lady fending off his unwanted attentions). He’s one of my heroes, although I wouldn’t care to sit beside him in church.

I love reading fictional diaries too. I always have E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels at hand for re-reading, as well as Diary of a Nobody (and Keith Waterhouse’s and Christopher Matthews’ wickedly funny homages).  Bridget Jones’ and Adrian Moles’ first diaries are fun too, and The Journal of Mrs Pepys is brilliantly done.  If you were to pick a real or fictional character and write their diary who would it be?

This blog is a bit like a diary. However: If I pass someone interesting in the corridor I shall keep the information to myself. I shall be sparing with exclamation marks! And if you want to know the football scores you’ll have to look somewhere else.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Interview with Regency novelist Anne Stenhouse

I very much enjoyed fellow Edinburgh-resident Anne Stenhouse’s first Regency novel Mariah’s Marriage so was delighted when her second Bella’s Betrothal was published recently by MuseItUp. I wanted to ask her some questions about herself and her novels.

Hullo Kate, and thank you for asking me to appear on your exciting new blog. I’m thrilled.

Good to see you here, Anne, and congratulations on the publication of Bella’s Betrothal. How has the publishing experience been for you?

Launching an e-book has been one of those learning curves that make Mont Blanc look as though a Sunday stroll would be okay. I’ve learned about blogging. I did that in any case as I love sharing odd thoughts with anyone who’ll drop by! I’ve learned about Facebook and how you have to find the groups that are important to your genre – Readers and Reviewers - in my case, those who like historical romance, humour and sparky dialogue. I’ve learned about the long game that this has to be. Think of the millions of pounds confectionary firms set aside to launch a new product. Then scale back to one wee wifie with an hysterical pc. I’ve learned about how good it is to have a publisher’s stable behind you. I’m still not too confident in Twitter-sphere or on Goodreads, but I try.

Can you pitch Bella’s Betrothal to us – in 140 characters?

Bella and Charles are united in adversity and forced to follow the dictates of their hearts: a rocky road to Happy Ever After in Georgian Edinburgh.

What appeals to you about the Regency period?

It marks the start of so much that we recognise today such as modern English, but it has the romance of horses and carriages, ladies with feathers in their hair and fans in their hands and gentlemen who are confident in their skins.

Mariah’s Marriage, your first Regency novel, was set in London, Bella’s Betrothal in Edinburgh. Did you have fun looking at Edinburgh through Bella’s eyes?

Oh yes! I’ve lived in the Southside for many years and came to Edinburgh as a student. Many of the street names and a lot of the ground plan are still there. I had a lovely afternoon in September taking photos of George Square, Charles Street et al for the launch publicity.

You’re a well-established playwright and the dialogue is one of the strengths of both your Regency novels. How did you find the transition from writing plays to writing novels?

That was a bit tricky, Kate, because playwriting is spare – you’re leaving room for the director and actor. It took me a while to pick up skills like adding what the character is thinking. I would easily forget the reader wasn’t an audience member seeing an actor’s face.

Bella looks gorgeous on the book cover! Is she as you imagined her?

She is gorgeous and she is as I imagined her. My friend has a daughter whose hair is just that mass of corkscrew curls and I think I probably had her in mind. CK Volnek has done a great job.

Your titles – Mariah’s Marriage/Bella’s Betrothal – is this alliterative theme to continue?

I hope so.

If you could share the Edinburgh to London stagecoach with three fictional characters who would they be?

My husband and I spent a whole dinner discussing this while we were on holiday recently.
It’s a fascinating question and quite hard to answer.

1)    Miss Skeeter from The Help by Katherine Stockett. Why? I’d want to know where she found the courage and tenacity to do what she did and to keep going till it was finished.
2)    Miss Piggy from Sesame Street. Why? Sheer off the wall delight.
3)    Harry from the final two episodes of The Vicar of Dibley. Why? If the manifestation is Richard Armitage, maybe you don't need to ask.

Great answer – wish I could be a fly on the stagecoach window! Where can we buy your novels, and where can we find your website?

http://goo.gl/f0zFKa MuseItUp’s store
http://goo.gl/f0zFKa Bella's Betrothal UK Amazon
http://goo.gl/BAJEAi and US
goo.gl/HQjANog Barnes and Noble

Thank you for answering my questions, Anne. Look forward to your next novel.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The day I (almost) went to Bangalore

I had my mobile phone for seven years, one of those pebble ones in a pretty green colour. Of late, I could see friends trying not to chortle when I used it. That should be on the Antiques Road Show I heard them thinking.

But it wasn’t to save myself from being chortled at that I decided it was time to say goodbye to the green pebble. There were various reasons why it made more sense to have what I thought of as a ‘flicky flicky’ phone. Plus I thought I’d like a phone with a keyboard. On the pebble I was the slowest texter in the world. Predictive texting was more hindrance than help although it did have its amusing moments.

Once, I went with friends to Northern Ireland. I texted my family to say I was on a train to Bang … Predictive texting decided I was en route to Bangalore. I was tempted to send it. Back home they would be very surprised to hear that I was in India when they’d waved me off thinking I was going to a party in Bangor.

In writing contemporary fiction, modern communications can get in the way of a good story. Your characters, as they would be in real life, will always be contactable unless you explain – lost/stolen phone, forgot to pack/top up/charge – why they’re not. The red phone box is even more antique than my green pebble.

Enid Blyton never had this problem. The Famous Five could not have had adventures if they’d had to report their whereabouts to Aunt Fanny every five minutes. Or if, using a tracker app, Aunt F could see that they’d gone to Kirrin Island again when she’d told them not to. (On the other hand, in a real emergency, they could have texted her: Frgt gngr br pls brng + 10 jm trts.)

The heroines in the books by one of my favourite authors, Mary Stewart (writing in the middle of the last century), would not be in such thrilling danger if they were able to phone/text/sat nav their way out of sticky situations.

In my People’s Friend serial The Family at Farrshore I got round the issue by having signal problems. It’s set in the far north-west of Scotland so this seemed plausible, but not a solution for every story.

Modern communication methods cannot be ignored but I can write stories set before everyone had a mobile or I can try to avoid situations where they need to be mentioned. Or, of course, I can make use of them in a story just I do in real life.

I’m now the owner of a flicky flicky, smart new/new smart phone and I’m trying to fathom all its many functions. And I hope that very soon I’ll be much faster at texting than I was the day I (almost) went to Bangalore.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Interview with Victoria Hendry

On my blog today I’m speaking to Edinburgh writer Victoria Hendry whose first novel A Capital Union was published in September by Saraband

A Capital Union is set in Edinburgh in the Second World War. Ayrshire lass Agnes Thorne, just seventeen and newly wed, is increasingly drawn into the Scottish independence movement because of her husband’s refusal to sign up for the British Army. Agnes thinks Jeff should stop worrying about Westminster and get on with fighting Hitler, and so do their disapproving neighbours.

It has been described by author Alan Warner as being:
A remarkable debut, with explosive moments of real poetry and narrative power. This is an excellent novel, very dramatic and engaging, with a Buchan thrills quality.

Victoria, congratulations on the publication of A Capital Union. It’s a rare novel, I think, that combines a page-turning read and moments of black humour with some really beautiful writing and that’s you have here.

You’ve said that the inspiration for the novel came from hearing about your great-uncle being a conscientious objector in the last war, because of his allegiance to the Scottish National Party. From that piece of information how did you go about researching the background to the novel?

I was curious about my great-uncle David’s story. The family knew that he was a pacifist but they didn’t know that he had been in charge of publicity for the SNP during the Second World War. In looking for information about him, I came across the archive of Douglas Young in the National Library in Edinburgh. Young was prepared to challenge Westminster’s right to impose conscription in Scotland and was jailed for this. His case was built around the terms of the Treaty of Union in 1707, but was rejected by the judges in the High Court in Edinburgh. This became the basis of my story, although all the characters in it are fictional.

You got your inspiration and then the backdrop to the novel, but this is Agnes’ story. How did you come up with her? Is she like anyone you know? Is she like you?

I wanted to tell the story from a female perspective. Women’s voices are more difficult to find in history, so I imagined what it would be like to be married to a political activist at a time of national crisis. I also explored what experience is uniquely female in war. Agnes is not based on me. She reminds me of lots of great Scottish women I know, especially her humour.

I like that Agnes was so resourceful and that her upbringing on a farm was of use to her during rationing. Did people really lay rabbit snares on Blackford Hill?

Not that I know of, but an uncle who grew up in Perthshire laid snares for rabbits from the age of six. He would gut them and would take them home for the family to eat.

You’ve managed to give a flavour of Scots dialect without making the dialogue inaccessible. Was that difficult to do?

I used the words I remember my Grannie using; words I love and still use today. It is very rare for people to speak pure Scots now, and the pattern of sprinkling Scots words into English is typical of people’s speech. The novel also explores the journey to build a Scottish National Dictionary and get Scottish literature onto the university curriculum.

The novel is obviously very topical with the independence referendum coming up next year. What do you think A Capital Union adds to the debate?

I hope it might add a historical perspective as it is based on the experience of party members in 1942 when the party divided over the issue of conscription, amongst other things. John MacCormick left to form the Scottish Convention when Douglas Young was elected Chairman in 1942.

Anyone, whether they know Edinburgh or not, will love your descriptions of it. Did you walk around pretending it was 1942 and seeing the city through new eyes?

I have a wonderful book of photographs called The Forth at War William F. Hendrie (Birlinn Ltd). It is amazing how little Edinburgh has changed. Its incredible geography and monuments dictate so much of its structure. It was interesting to look back at copies of the Scotsman newspaper in the 1940s and see pictures with the Forth Rail Bridge blacked out for security.

How many drafts of the novel did you write?

I wrote about two drafts, but it was more a case of adding in scenes and information rather than taking bits out. I kept discovering new things I wanted to include for example about the use of hay boxes as slow cookers when fuel was in short supply.

What are you writing now, may I ask?

I am working on another novel set in Edinburgh in 2013 which looks at modern relationships.

I hope we don’t have to wait too long for that one. Thank you for answering my questions.

A Capital Union: Chapter 1
My mother said I was like jam in a bad year, sweet but with too many pips, and when I asked her what she meant, she said that some of the things I said got stuck in people’s teeth and worried them. I didn’t think that was a kind thing to say, so when Jeff asked me to marry him I said yes. Once I was a fine Edinburgh lady I wouldn’t need to think about the things Mother said, or chickens and sheep and muck. After the wedding when she saw the size of our braw flat in Morningside, she said there was no limit to the doors a bonny face would open. I didn’t expect to miss her when she left for the farm, but I did. I was seventeen and it was 1942.

A Capital Union is published by Saraband in paperback and on Kindle; it is also available as an audio book. 
Find Victoria at https://www.facebook.com/victoria.hendry.3

Victoria is giving two talks as part of the Book Week Scotland 2013 programme: in Longniddry on 25 November at 7.30, and at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling on 28 November at 6pm.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Half-finished jotters and midnights feasts

Scrap paper was hard to come by when I was a child so half-used school jotters came in very handy. What I most liked to do in them was not to actually write a story, but to think up titles, and names for characters, and then compose the blurbs (although of course I didn’t know that word at the time) for a long list of books I was going to write … one day.

All of these embryo books were for girls and most of them were set in boarding schools or in Cornwall. As my only experience of boarding school was through the eyes of Enid Blyton and Malory Towers, and as I had never been further south than Carrbridge in Inverness shire, my blurbs reflected the books I loved to read. I was writing about what I wanted to know, rather than what I knew.

There’s nothing wrong with that but in hindsight I wish I’d thought a little closer to home; it would be interesting for me, if no one else, to read now something of my ten-year-old self and what she thought of her surroundings and place in the world. It never occurred to me for a minute to write about what I knew. My life on a Highland farm seemed dull and ordinary, compared with the lives of girls who had midnight feasts in the dorm or found long-lost treasure in Cornish caves.

I was obsessed with names (still am, a blog subject for another time), so my blurbs each had at least four girls’ names in them plus a made-up name for their school or village or house. Again, these didn’t reflect my own local area, where place-names tended to have Gaelic origins, but were fanciful adaptations from those in my favourite books.

I still have the jotters I wrote those blurbs in and it’s fair to say that it’s no loss to the world that only one of them progressed any further. That was a story set in Cornwall called The Family at Greengates. I’ve still got the jotter it’s written in too, a hardback one, with about eight thousand words of – there’s no denying it – derivative drivel. So I wish, too, that I’d tried then to find my own writing voice rather than aping others.

I don’t want to write for children now but I love to read books for that age group by contemporary writers, and can highly recommend a brilliant time-slip novel called Beswitched by Kate Saunders. Guess what? – it’s set in a boarding school and during the holidays the heroine stays at her friend’s home in the West Country.

And guess what again? Fast forward to my writing a serial for The People’s Friend. It’s set in the Scottish Highlands and I’d called it Farrshore Summer. The People’s Friend renamed it The Family at Farrshore, by coincidence almost the same title as my childhood effort, and it was subsequently also published as a large-print paperback.

If my ten-year-old self could have known that was going to happen she’d have had a midnight feast to celebrate.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Elnora's dress and other stories

Three scenes involving clothes from (old) favourite books.

1) Elnora finds herself without the requisite white dress for graduation so a friend, known as the Bird Woman, helps her out:

She snatched up a creamy lace yoke with long sleeves … Elnora slipped into it, and the Bird Woman began smoothing out wrinkles and sewing in pins. Next … she caught up a white silk waist with low neck and elbow sleeves, and Elnora put it on … the Bird Woman loosened the sleeves and pushed them to a puff on the shoulders … Next came a soft white silk dress skirt of her own. By pinning the waist-band quite four inches above Elnora’s, the Bird Woman could secure a perfect Empire sweep …

This all sounds lovely, but completely baffling. I know what an Empire line dress looks like but there seem to be several dresses and at least two sets of sleeves here; how does it all fit together?
The words are so evocative though that it doesn’t matter. I get the picture.
From A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

2) Seventeen-year-old Olivia is given a bolt of glorious flame-coloured silk to be made into her first evening dress, for her first dance. The local dressmaker, genteel spinster Miss Robinson, suggests:

‘Have the draiping on one side only and caught here’ – she prodded Olivia’s left hip – ‘in a graiceful bow. That ’ud take off from your hips.’
‘And a flower. A big silver rose – or something.’ Olivia woke up, clearly seeing a silver spray on flame-colour silk.’

Sadly, the dress fails to live up Olivia’s hopes and dreams:

Uneven hem; armholes too tight; and the draping – when Olivia looked at the clumsy lumpish pointless draping a terrible boiling-up, a painful constriction from chest to forehead started to scorch and suffocate her.
‘It simply doesn’t fit anywhere … ’

What woman could read that and not feel Olivia’s pain?
From Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann

3) The Provincial Lady is on holiday in France with her husband and two children.

Discover that Robin is wearing last available pair of shorts and that these are badly torn, which necessitates visit to Dinard to take white shorts to cleaners and buy material with which to patch grey ones.

Spare a thought for her as you fill the washing-machine with your children’s brightly coloured disposable clothing.
From The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E M Delafield

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

'In those days'

I write fiction, short stories usually. These have been contemporary, but of late I’ve been drawn to write some set in the decades of the twentieth century. It’s partly because I’ve been thinking of all those anniversaries of events that shaped the century, and partly because I get story inspirations from programmes like Long Lost Families and Who Do You Think You Are. Mostly, though, I think it’s a wish to explore the times my parents lived through; and the years I lived in myself, beyond the edge of memory.
I went with work colleagues once on a Mystery Bus Tour around the streets of Edinburgh and then out to the Hawes Inn at South Queensferry for chicken-in-the-basket. The only ‘mystery’ as far as I could see was how had the bus driver got the job as our guide, because he had no grasp of history whatsoever. Everything, from Mary, Queen of Scots to the Second World War, was lumped together as ‘in those days’ and the expression has become a jokey byword in my house for anything historical.
But such flannel will not do in fiction, not if you hope to have it published. Social etiquettes and morals, clothes, food, films, music, domestic arrangements, transport – all the details of ‘those days’ have to be checked out. Thank goodness then for Google, for Facebook friends and for the social history books on my shelves. And since my husband works from home I use him as an information point as well.
To give a flavour of what I’ve been writing recently, here are some questions I’ve thrown at the poor man when he’s come through to the kitchen for lunch.
What kind of car would a well-to-do young man drive in the late 1960s?
Do you know anything about naval ranks? Naval uniforms?
Have you ever heard of deck golf?
What sort of hat would a spivvy type wear in 1932?
How much do you think dolly mixtures were in 1955?
Were Cadbury wrappers always purple?
Did you ever pick up pennies thrown by a bride’s father?
How would you put out a chimney fire?
He hardly ever has the answer but it makes for interesting discussions over a cheese sandwich.