Wednesday 26 May 2021
Wednesday 19 May 2021
Caution - anxious author alert!
|Pink roses - because they feature |
quite a lot in the book and the list.
I'm on the very last steps of getting The Villa in Portofino ready to send to the publisher. In theory this should just be proof checking, but with me, it also involves a lot of fact checking - not the big research stuff, but the little details. I know this is the result of an element of OCD in my nature. It would not take ten minutes every night to convince myself that I really have turned the cooker off before I can go to bed, if I wasn't a bit in that direction. I also know that it is not possible to get everything right - that old thing about not knowing what you don't know - but I have to try. So - as it is on my mind at the moment - the blog today is about ten random things I've checked for this manuscript - because everyone likes a list, don't they?
- The sort of reinforced work boots a gardener would wear.
- The name of the Roman goddess of Justice
- Roses that grow on the Riviera
- DIY wills
- Transatlantic voyages in the late 1960s
- Famous American authors in 1950s and 1960s
- How to construct a labyrinth
- What a symposium is
- The date that American President Richard Nixon was inaugurated
- The history of Royal Albert "American Beauty" china
Wednesday 12 May 2021
Today is Mass Observation Diary Day when members of the public are invited to send in a one-day diary for 12 May.
You may have heard of Mass Obs through the Nella Last Diaries - Housewife 49 - the war time record of one of it's most diligent observers. It was made into a TV film starring Victoria Wood.
Mass Observation was started in 1937 by Charles Madge, Tom Harrisson and Humphrey Jennings as a social research project. It's best known for its detailed recording of the thoughts and opinions of ordinary people during World War Two, when it was commissioned by the government to report on morale. The fear of a massive breakdown in civilian morale was a big worry for the powers-that-were in WW2. There was a deeply held conviction that the effects of bombing might paralyze the war effort at home. One of the ways that government and civil service could check on opinion in the street was though MO's work. That massive failure never happened, but it's given historians, me included, plenty of material to play with since.
The Mass Observation records - diaries and reports and questionnaires are a valuable resource for historians of the war and that is my experience of them. I've used the old records, but hadn't realised that Mass Obs had reincarnated as the Mass Observation Project under the auspices of the University of Sussex. It's now collecting information on the everyday lives of people all over the UK and inviting people to anonymously share a dairy entry for inclusion in the archive. Last year they had 5000.
If you have been journaling during the pandemic - or even if you haven't and want to take part, you can find all the details HERE
Wednesday 5 May 2021
As a celebration of the pagan spring festival of Beltane, which takes place on 1st or 13th May, depending what calendar you are using, I decided to re-read Mary Stewart's classic romantic suspense, Wildfire at Midnight.
Mary Stewart is cited by many romance authors as one of their early influence and she was certainly one of mine. I can trace a lot of my traits as a writer back to her books - my enjoyment of glamourous settings, an independent heroine, a mystery running alongside the romance. Whenever I read a Mary Stewart I'm struck by how exotic they must have seemed in a grey post war world. Her heroines smoke, drink, drive fast cars and have careers, although there is always a man in the offing and marriage is the ultimate destination. Her locations - the Greek Islands, Vienna, France, the Pyrenees, Damascus must have been total escapism at a time when foreign travel was limited. Several of her books have a supernatural element to them, which adds to the mystery.
Wildfire at Midnight is not quite so exotic, as it is set on the Isle of Skye in the run up to the Coronation in 1953. It has a serial killer and some of the deaths are rather gruesome ritual murders. The thing that struck me most when re-reading it was the detailed description of scenery and wildlife, particularly birds, which are a Stewart characteristic. It's one of the things that a current author would be advised to cut out - we don't have time or attention for lyrical description these days - but in this book the landscape and the weather are an integral part of the plot and it works beautifully. I'm going to stow that thought away for future examination when my love affair with the Riviera wanes and I return to setting books in my native Wales.
Two other characteristics of Mary Stewart are the wonderful titles of her books and her habit of having a hero and anti hero, with the heroine and the reader having difficulty deciding which is which. The titles - often from Shakespeare or other Jacobean drama - are an element I love. Would you get away with those choices these days? Not so sure on that one. Often the publisher decrees the title and fancy dramatic ones are not in vogue. We're more pragmatic these days.
I don't think I would ever use the hero/anti hero device myself, as one of the things I enjoy writing is the developing relationship between hero and heroine, and you don't get that if the heroine doesn't know who he is - does wonders for the suspense element though. Never say never though. If I can find a way to make it work for me, it would be fun to try.
One thing I can say was that re-reading this classic was a very enjoyable experience. It's always good to be in the company of an expert - it reminds you of what excellence is, and what you need to aim for.