Thursday, 29 September 2016

A few good points

Did you know that the thriller genre has action while the suspense genre has danger  but not necessarily action? I had not even considered the difference between the two genres, but of course it is true.  I wish I had the kind of analytical mind that can cut through these things at a glance. On the other hand, I'm not so bad at symbolism.

The rhythm of a novel is the rate the reader reads, the speed at which the novel events occur and unfold. Dialogue can speed things up very nicely.  Pacing is the  length of time between moments of conflict. Though a protagonist may not know what his goal is on the first page, he jolly well ought to know by page thirty, and hopefully, earlier than that. Every step afterwards should be a step towards that goal. Interest is maintained and heightened if he encounters obstacles that must be overcome, and other characters will usually have a different set of goals that collide with his.

These things sound so simple when put  on the page like this, but trying to "see" what is happening in the half-written novel is a different matter altogether. This is where the skill of the writer comes in, though I suspect some would say it is where a good editor tells you where change is required. I can't help the sneaking feeling that a) I would love to have a good editor and b) that a good writer should not need a good editor to point out where things could be improved. Call me conflicted!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Elephant Orphanage

25th September 1981

The first stop of the morning was at the Elephant Orphanage twenty five miles from Kandy. There we met several teenage elephants already grown quite huge and half a dozen smaller ones. The youngest was only two months old and especially cute. He sucked Bob’s finger quite happily and downed three pints of milk at a sitting. The other greedy youngsters devoured five or six pints and the older elephants ate 250 lbs of greenery a day.
Only elephants found abandoned in the jungle are reared and once they are old enough they move down the road to work and training camps.

We continued driving to Nurawa Eliya in the hills of Sri Lanka. On the way we stopped at a tea plantation and learned how tea is grown and prepared. The best pure Ceylon tea is known as Broken Orange Pekoe and the second is BOP filings. The tea bags we have been using are made from the dust that is left after the six better grades of tea are produced and is literally swept up from the floor. Tea should never leave tannin stains behind in the cup.

The St Andrews Hotel at Nurawa Eliya is a hundred-year-old Dutch building still with its original fittings and furnished. The place has a distinct Scots affiliation with its tartan carpets! There is also a distinct coolness in the atmosphere because we have climbed into the hills. I didn’t think there would be such a difference, but there is. Evidently the cooler temperatures are good for tea-growing. The food at dinner was the best so far but for the Oberoi Lanka in Columbo.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

24th September 1981

Our morning expedition was to the famous Temple of the Tooth down on the lakeside. The tooth is the famous canine tooth of Buddha enclosed in eight caskets all of gold. Three times a day the shrine enclosing the tooth is opened for the people to view, and at festival time the Tooth Casket is carried around the city on the back of a huge elephant – a tusker splendidly jewelled for the celebration. Once every five years, the tooth itself is viewed.

In the evening, after a quick trip to the Market and a walk through Kandy’s main streets, we went to a Kandy Dance Evening and watched men and women perform some of the local dances. There were lots of costumes, feathers and loud music but it was exciting and I must say, very different to the sedate Morris dances back home.

Friday, 23 September 2016


23rd September 1981

Our bags were packed and loaded by 9am and we set off for Sigiriya Rock Fortress, also known as the Lion Rock. There was the usual encampment of coke-selling stalls with carvings and collections of “antique” brass lining the route towards the rock itself. Beggars also waited at strategic points, but not too many of them. The steps just went up and up the 600 foot rock in varying pitches, gradients and directions, and the wind grew increasingly strong. Ladies in dresses were in imminent danger of ballooning.

The frescoes of the handmaidens of the king were halfway up the rock; sheltered by an overhang, 18 of the many originals have survived from the 5th century. The portraiture is exact though the colours have probably deteriorated slightly. One can differentiate between Indian, Singalese and possibly Chinese features among the ladies. Their headdresses and jewellery are still seen today.

The last ascent is made from a natural platform carrying more soft drink sellers. Many people back out of the climb at this point, eyeing the frail ladders up the face of the rock with doubt and disbelief. We carried on. Once there was a lion’s head to complement the lion’s paws that still guard the entrance, and the steps went up and into the lion’s jaws. Now all that remains are the two massive paws.

At the top of the rock the view is splendid on all sides. The foundations of the brick palace are still to be seen plus the swimming pool which had water pumped to it from the rain water collection tank at the opposite end of the rock site.

We had a good buffet lunch at the Sigiriya Rest House after a refreshing swim in the Resthouse pool. Afterwards we travelled on to Kandy, stopping at a spice garden and a batik factory on the way. Spices grown and packaged in the garden are priced at 15 rupees each so I bought citronella and saffron, both of which are extremely expensive in England.

The Batik factory was interesting. Such a complicated procedure of building up colours and blocking out patterns by using paraffin wax makes the high price of the finished article understandable.

Our final visit was to a Buddhist temple which had a library. The palm fronds are straightened and polished on a pulley (weighted) over a ceiling beam ad are then ready to have the inscription scratched into the polish. The ink is rubbed across the surface and then wiped off, leaving only the carved inscription. The fronds are cut and made into long narrow “books” bound by two threads and backed by decorated boards. Some were over 1200 years old and are still just as good as the day they were made.
The hotel in Kandy was perched on top of the central hill with superb views of the surrounding hills.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sri Lanka

22nd September 1981

After a light breakfast in my room I felt well enough to visit several temples and the ruined city of Polonnaruwa. The highlight of the morning was definitely the reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa, but we also visited a ruined palace that once towered several stories high and all built from tiny hand-made bricks. It was extremely hot and I tried to keep in the shade and not walk far.
Razeen told us about the king who had built the things we were to see and our very first stop was at a self-portrait the king commissioned, cut out of a living rock. The figure was most impressive and reached a height of about twelve feet, carved three dimensionally.

The palace was built in small dark red bricks and only two stories are now standing. We discovered a family of month old puppies and their mother living in a neat little nest among the walls, covered on three sides and roofed with dried palm fronds by some kindly disposed person.

Our next stop was at a vast temple-palace complex where we photographed iguanas and drank coke purchased from a wayside stall. None of us will try the king coconut or arrack because of the germ risk! There were a few beggars by the stall, including one old man in a wheelchair because he had deformed legs.

Back at the Village Hotel at Habarana we ate a mediocre lunch and then swam in and sat by the pool all afternoon.

(Because my pictures of this trip were -and still are - on slides, I have included a link to the  Unesco site where there are pictures of many of the sites we visited.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Memories of the past

20th September 1981 (Found in an old diary)

Rose at six in order to swim before breakfast but were forestalled by pool cleaning activities, so had an early breakfast instead. The car for our trip around Sri Lanka was comfortable and seemed much sounder that many of the vehicles on the road. Very few have doors or driving mirrors, and I don’t look too closely at the tyres because sometimes there aren't any. There are no pavements except in Columbo’s major streets and the roads are thronged with people, bullock carts, bicycles, dogs and children in even small villages in the countryside. Our driver sounded his horn at every obstacle, so that our progress was punctuated by the horn blowing every few yards.

There were two or three sudden and heavy rain showers, but fortunately they occurred while the four of us were safe in the car or inside a cafĂ© having a coke. I couldn’t face the smelly loo, and was therefore most thankful to see the standards at our lunch venue were very much higher though it did not match the splendour of the Oberoi Lanka in Columbo.

Lunch was edible though nothing very special. The soup was strange, faint, watery affair with white mushy strands and a few carrots. Instead of rice with the curry we were given what I think were thin noodles made from rice flour. Dessert was a small cup of fresh fruit among which we identified mango and banana but nothing else.

We were besieged by beggars who “entertained” with cobras and wailing flutes. On the whole I decided my sympathies were with the de-fanged snakes, which were basketed and unbasketed every ten seconds or so in order to winkle money out of us tourists.

Our first stop was at the shrine enclosing the sacred Bo tree, of which we saw only saplings taken from the original. We walked around in bare feet among the pilgrims who were dressed all in white as they prayed or meditated on the impermanence of life which is likened to the beautiful lotus offered on the altars – beautiful but short lived.

From there we waked across short grass to a vast dagoba built solidly of bricks. It was dazzlingly white in the sunshine and towered over our heads. Each level of the dagoba has a symbolic meaning which was explained to us. but the only one I recall is the crystal surmounting the final pinnacle; it represents nirvana. The lowest level of the dagoba is surrounded by a frieze of eight-feet high elephants, head and forefeet appearing out of the wall, tusks towards any person who dares approach.

Here we were accompanied by first one, then two, then three little girls who attached themselves to members of our party. They pressed flowers into our hands and offered small phrases in English. They were very pretty; in fact one was beautiful, but their faces had already become their fortune. Very soon they were asking for two rupees to buy a school pen. It is a tiny amount, but when we gave coins to the three little girls we were immediately surrounded by ten or eleven others all demanding rupees.

One small boy switched from asking for a school pen and pointed to my Kuoni baggage label. “I like that very much. I would like to have that. You give me that?”

I pointed out that I needed the baggage check on my flight-bag so that my bag would get home to England. I gave him my British Airways label, which he obviously thought a poor substitute, for he kept up his request for the Kuoni label all the sixty yards back to the car.

As we climbed inside we were surrounded. The light was blocked as children crowded round. Bob tried to distribute “Treets” against Shirley's advice - one to each child but gave up as hands thrust through the window. One boy grabbed the bag out of his  hand and disappeared as fast as he could leaving disgruntled children glaring at each other. The lucky few ate their milk chocolate Treets.

Our next stop was the ancient city of Anuranapur which was once the size of London today. Our tour guide Razeen gave us a lecture about a semi-circular moonstone, and then moved on to a bathing pool once reserved for monks from the nearby sanctuary. Since the light was beginning to go – photographically speaking – we told our driver Shirley Fernandez to head back to the hotel. In case you are wondering, Shirley was male.

In the village of Harabanai, the hotel consisted of cottages away from the main hotel buildings. There is a shower, but the water pressure is weak, and nothing like the pulsating jet at the Oberoi Lanka.

I was very hungry, but dinner was a disaster in many ways. The soup was some kind of fish plus celery which no one cared for overmuch. Then we were served fried bread topped with ham topped with fried egg. It was awful, fried I think in coconut oil. The main course was meatball and mine, contrary to everyone else’s, was almost raw. When this was pointed out, it was exchanged but the second was not much improved. I ate most of it not because I liked it but because I felt obliged to after making a fuss.

It was around this time that the waiter caught Marion around the ear with a plate and then nearly tipped an armful of dirty plates over her as he stumbled. Minutes later another waiter dropped the sugar bowl in trying to place it on the table by reaching over my shoulder. The final disaster was much later when the meatball had its revenge – I was very sick about two in the morning.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Making changes

 I'm looking through an old notebook to decide if there's anything worth keeping before I bin it, and there are one or two snatches of notes it wouldn't do me any harm to read again from time to time. (I didn't make a note of where I found these nuggets of information, but I went through a stage of buying Maass, Morgan, Snyder and Lyon so it is probably a synthesis of all they've said but in shorthand form a la Jen. The last post concerned scenes, and this post builds on that:

The beginning introduces characters, establishes their motivation and goals and introduces conflict. The middle develops the relationships and builds and intensifies the conflict. The ending brings all the separate pieces together through a climax and satisfying resolution.

Scenes equal action. The reader lives through it with the character. It is a bridge or transition with three elements – an emotional response to something in the previous scene, dilemma (either ongoing or something new) and a decision - how the character intends to go forward.

A sequel has only one character, usually not the person who was POV character in the previous scene – the reader should already have been given his thoughts.

Flashbacks come in the sequel, not in the scene. Two sequels might be needed back to back. They provide logic and plausibility to the story by letting readers know why a character does what he does. He may do the opposite when faced with conflict but then that too can be explained in the sequel.

So now, with all these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I'm going through the nine chapters of the wip. Already significant details such as names and ages have changed, so I need to get things straight in my head before going on.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Scenes, mechanics of

Note to self: when writing a scene, check the following:-

a)  Is there a clear goal? What does the Point of View Character want?
b)  Is the POV clear? Is it the right POV character?
c)  Is the reader orientated? Who? What? Where? When? Why?
d)  Is there conflict which hinders the achievement of the goal?
e)  Check for action - re-action and ensure clear motivation.
f)  Dialogue should be crisp, natural, to the point. Use action tags and strong verbs
g)  Is it clear who is speaking? Check pronouns.
h)  Is there an effective balance of action, dialogue and narration
i)  Does the scene flow? Is it easy to read?
j)  Does the scene move the story forward? Does it reveal something new?
k) Dos the scene end with a hook? a disaster? a question? or does it reverse a disaster?

There is also what follows to be considered.

a)  Is a sequel needed, or a simple transition?
b)  POV?
c)  If the scene starts with  the reaction of the POV character in the preceding scene? Is the reaction clear? (Reaction starts with emotion and moves on to logical thought)
d)  Is the dilemma presented concisely? Will the reader understand?
e)  Is there a clear decision made? Is it based on the reaction?
f)  Does the decision reached in the aftermath lead naturally to the next scene? (The character may/may not stick with the decision.)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Manic Twitter

Twitter went manic over Hillary Clinton last night, but then Twitter often goes manic over anything that smacks of a conspiracy. Does she have a double? Does she have pneumonia or Parkinsons, perhaps both. she is wearing a leg brace, her doctor carries an oxygen tank around in a giant handbag......that kind of thing.  It is both interesting and appalling to see the level of detail that some conspiracy theorists will go to in order to make a point and it is an object lesson in the perils of living a public life. These days, it seems nothing is sacred and nothing, absolutely nothing, is off limits as far as Twitter fans go.

Another point that strikes me - these so-called "celebrities" who populate Facebook and magazines like OK and Hello - Most of them I have never heard of and I don't feel that I'm losing out by this admission. They have a distressing tendency to look alike and wear the sort of clothes that scream "Look at me I'm almost naked" and these days that might be said for the men as well as the women.
If an attractive young person has to resort to this sort of tactic to get noticed, I think it is probably a sad reflection on society as a whole. But what do I know?

In case you think I have a headless dog, or worse, a dog that investigates the inside of litter bins, worry not. He is merely smelling the outside of the bin where no doubt numerous other dogs have peed in the preceding days and weeks. You'd think the accumulated whiff would be so pungent it would knock his head off, but apparently not.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Matfen Hall

Went for a walk in the Matfen area yesterday and couldn't resist taking a pic of Matfen Hall - in sunshine, but against what looked like a stormy sky.
The name features in the title of my wip - the Matfen Affair, and though parts of the house feature in the story, it isn't set in Matfen Hall. To be honest, I haven't ever been in 95 % of the house, so apart from the conservatory cafe, the Library Restaurant and the Greenkeeper's Lodge, ( each a place where I've had a meal) all the rest is my imagination and may well be taken from other halls and grand buildings in the area. A sort of composite hall, if you like.

I chose the name because I like it and it is unusual. To me it means the locality in which it  sits and nowhere else in the world. There is a village, half a mile along the road, called Matfen. which isn't as old as I thought - must do more research on that, not for the story but for my own satisfaction.

As it happens my story is set in 1803 and the hall wasn't built until 1828, so I can't be writing about the real Matfen Hall at all!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Ovingham Bridge re-opens

There is a rumour that Ovingham Bridge, which was closed for refurbishment in June 2014, is to re-open on Monday 5th September 2016 at midday.  We must hope that this time it stays open, unlike the so called opening on 3rd December 2015, which lasted a day before Storm Desmond closed it again.

We are lucky that we live in an area with a 3,000 square mile catchment area so we have never yet experienced the drought conditions that so regularly affect the south of England. The water in the South Tyne takes five hours to travel from Alston to Newcastle, which is not a great deal of time to prepare for flood conditions, and the North Tyne is now partly controlled by the Keilder dam. The usual thing is overnight rain,  then a swift rise in water levels that lasts for perhaps half a day and then subsides. But the December 2015 floods were something else again - sixteen feet of flood water smashed into the bridge and knocked the hell out of the scaffolding that was still in place.

The Victorian bridge between Ovingham and Prudhoe was built in 1883. It is one carriage width wide and causes traffic queues even when it is open.  With eighteen months of work completed, plus eighteen months of frustration and lost business for the residents on either side of the river, everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the bridge opened  on 3rd December.

When Storm Desmond hit, it was surprising that the bridge was still there when the water subsided days later. Then came the checks for damage/safety.  At the peak of past floods, traffic has been forbidden, but when the waters recede the bridge has been ready for business again. This time the workmen had the dismal job of removing the scaffolding boards around the struts plus all the accumulated rubbish that comes with a flood - twigs, branches, tree trunks, doors, plastic buckets, tents, tables, picnic chairs, feed bags, and a dead sheep or two. Then they found the flood water had scoured the river bottom around the foundations. The bridge has been closed ever since - two years and three months. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Family trees

Way behind because  of Createspace and my computer. All I can say is that the people who complain about the ease of self-publishing cannot have tried to publish a paperback! Writing the book was the easy part. Editing took time and effort, the cover was fun to do, but getting it all into Createspace is driving me nuts and doing my computer no good at all. (Either that or it still doesn't like Windows 10). Now that I'm almost at the end of the process, I think the book is priced way too high, but either I go with Amazon's  recommendation or I get no royalties. Some choice!

The other problem is that Createspace wants to publish the book as a Kindle e-book for me. There's no way to tell the system that it is already out in e-book Kindle format. Maybe I'll just have to publish and then delete my "original " Kindle - what a waste of effort!

On another front entirely, dh and I have become interested in family trees, both his and mine. I've discovered that a fair few of my maternal grandfather's forebears come from Cotherstone, which I believe is a few yards on the Yorkshire side of the river Tees, but I must check that. I wish the UK Census gave the surname of females who marry, as tracking them back in almost impossible. Birth dates seem flexible, but then  back in 1800 there would be many families who existed without a calendar or a diary to keep track of events and dates. I can well believe that by the time a man had reached 83 he could not recall if he was born in 1799, 1800, 1801 or 1802. (All dates are given!)

It is a fascinating process to track the lines back, though it isn't easy. It seems many didn't bother to report to the authorities when someone died, though most births are recorded. Even after 1837 when registration became law, there seem to have been those who died "unreported."

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...