Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Finding the way forward

Next time I start a new book, this is what I’m going to do!
Finding the way

Open with a hook. It is the chance to grab the reader and show them the quality of my writing. Wonderful writing alone won’t do it, though; there must be something that makes the reader want to read on to see what happens next. How whoever it is will dig themselves out of this hole they’ve fallen into….

Next step is to introduce your main characters, their aspirations and goals, and their setting. Where are they? Sometimes these days when are they is as important as where!

Then there must be the inciting incident. Think of it as a fuse that sparks off your story. Sometimes along with this comes what authors like to call the Call to Adventure. It should at the very least be soon after your introductions. Get the protagonist involved in the story – whatever you make the character do will be a direct reaction to the inciting incident, ecen if their first reaction is to baulk and not answer it. 

The first move they make is the first plot point and marks the end of the beginning section of the novel. It also marks the beginning of the rest of the story. From then on there is usually a major escalation or a setback of some kind, which forces the protagonist into further action.

Think of it as a list:

And you are on your way!

Thursday, 20 February 2020


Drunkenness was not uncommon in Anglo-Saxon England.

In the early medieval period people brewed with barley and wheat and the names beer and ale were applied to the drink. somewhat indiscriminately. If there was a difference between them it may have been that beer contained aromatic herbs while ale remained "pure."

By the 10th centry beer  described the  sweet new wort barely fermented. "Beor" was said to be honey-water (hydromel), a Greek name which in Latin translated as mead. Ale was the common name for malted liquor.

The Anglo-Saxons were great ale drinkers, with an ale house in every village, selling bright ale (the dregs well settled), mild ale, and extra-strong twice-brewed ale. Rosemary, yarrow, betony, gale and bog-myrtle were infused in ale and drunk medicinally as well as for flavour and preservation purposes.  Mixed herbs known as "gruit" were added to ale in Germany and hops finally became the ideal ale-herb.

Welsh ale or "cwrw" retained its individual smoky taste until the end ot he 18th century and often figured in food rents in Anglo-Saxon England. "Bragot" was a honey and spiced ale drunk at theWelsh court. 

Mead was the warrior's drink for both Celt and Saxon. It was also a celebratory drink in peace time and more readily available than wine until well after 1066. Wine drinking diminished after the Roman legions left, but gradually Rhenish wine from Cologne and French wine from  Rouen established trade routes into England. 

Milk, buttermilk, whey and water were the non-alcoholic drinks. Bede quotes King Edwin of Northumbria marking the sites of clear water springs at roadsides by means of a post with a bronze cup suspended from it.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Food Matters

The potato is indigenous to Chile and the Andes. Everyone thought the potato came from Virginia, and that was because when Sir Francis Drake stopped in Virginia to pick up English settlers, he had potatoes from Cartagena in Columbia on board and introduced them to England. It had reached Spain around 1570.

Rumour says that the vegetable found its way into Ireland by virtue of the looting of a ship’s store from a wrecked Armada vessel around 1588. Alternatively, the Irish claim Sir Walter Raleigh brought it.

The potato was initially not widely used in England, but the Irish took to them whole heartedly. They were easier to grow than oats or barley and easier to hide in an underground store when soldiers prowled the land. 

By the 17th century potatoes were grown in Lancashire and by the 18th their use was spreading through the rest of the UK, at first as a garden and later as a field crop, even reaching the highlands of Scotland.

At first they were used as a delicacy and if they were of the sweet potato variety, almost a sweetmeat, but it was not long before they became the traditional boil, roast or fried vegetable we all know. By that time the use of pottage had declined, or the potato would undoubtedly have become the main pottage ingredient.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Pottage, anyone?

        Young green peas were cooked in a beef broth flavoured with parsley, sage, hyssop and savory to produce pottage in medieval days. Old dried peas were cooked with bacon stock and eaten afterwards with bacon. meat if you had any. The labourer's family without bacon made do with  oatmeal, flour or breadcrumbs to thicken it. This thick pease pottage  remaned a basic country dish for several hundred years; in fact, we still have it in our home today, usually with some ham and a ham stock cube.

Pottage was a staple of the English diet, came in many varieties. and was eaten by rich and poor alike Onions were the most popular ingredient and demand outstripped supply so that the vegetable and the seed were importd from the Netherlands and even Spain. Garlic was also imported.   
Many other broad green leaves went into it, plants we are not so familiar with today: orche, clary, mallows, patience dock, borage and bugloss. Flavourings included parsley, sage, thyme, mint in all its forms, and fennel . In the medieva period, people chopped up the parsley root fas well as the leaves  and stalks for pottage.  A 15th century housewife grew no less that 48 herbs - though we cannot assume that every housewife grew all of them! Many were gathered from the wilds - such as dandelion, daisy and red nettle. All this greenery should have been very healthy but unhappily the pottages were cooked for so long that all the goodness of Vitamin C would have been destroyed .

Parsnips,  carrots, radish, turnip and rape were grown in gardens as these root vegetables were not yet grown as field crops.   Rape seeds were used as a cooking oil among the less well-off. Dutch immigrants began growing rape in south east England in the Tudor period; before that, the seed was imported from Flanders.                                                                                                                               

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Can't see the wood for the trees?

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.” So says  Kristen Lamb in UncategorizedWriting Tips
Here are some of the  reminders I keep for myself –
1. Describing what a character sees can be overdone and more importantly, keeps the reader at a distance, makes her a mere observer and not a participant. Sight is possibly the weakest sense and doesn’t help pull your reader into deep POV. SO: Don’t rely on a lot of description.

For many, the sense of smell is the most powerful sense, followed by taste
Try to use a combination of all the senses.

2. Don’t have body parts doing things. You don’t need a character to raise his hand to reach for the door handle. If he makes it from one room to another, the reader will fill in the details.

3. Don’t State the Obvious
She slammed the door and cursed in anger.
We know she’s angry because she slammed the door.  Telling us she’s angry is redundant.

4. Don’t bring in too many characters too soon. If you have ten named characters by page one your reader will be confused.

5. Too Much Anything v Give Us a Sense of Time and Place
This happens with historicals as much as science fiction and fantasy. If the readers get lost in all the characters, places, clothes, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, ships and robots, it is bad. A few details are helpful to orient us where we are – maybe the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers. The readers need to be grounded quickly and easily to become part of the world.

6. From page one, the reader should have picked up the basics about a character.

7. Tighten the Prose
Overuse of the word “was” is an indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one it is likely it will continue.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Duties of Servants

I bought a book a long time ago entitled The Duties of Servants. 

I think I discovered it in one of the National Trust bookshops and is an updated version of something published in 1894.  The forward claims that this work appeals equally to both mistress and servant. A mistress will gather from its pages the actual services she is entitled to demand from each servant; the servant will learn of what his or her duties strictly consist.

It seems the house steward is the top dog, as he engages and dismisses both men and women servants. Where there is no house-steward at the head of the household, the housekeeper engages and dismisses female servants and  the butler the indoor male servants. 

The master and mistress  engage their own personal attendants such as the valet, lades-maid and nurse.
if there is no housekeeper then the mistress engages female servants and the master  engages the butler and footmen. If the butler is trusted, he is allowed to engage and dismiss footmen.

The line continues down through smaller and smaller establishments. This little book is going to prove invaluable for my latest project! Although 1911 is not strictly Edwardian, there is much that is still present of that period even though a coronation of George V is about to take place in June of that year. There were many in the upper echelons of society who felt that nothing should ever change, that their lovely way of ife should go on and on and history tells us of a huge number of parties given that year.


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...