Thursday, 26 March 2020

Knitting, anyone?

I don't think this is a response to the Corona virus, but I've taken up knitting again!

It's a skill we used to learn at school. I wore out the pair of socks I made in primary school and was very proud of them. I doubt I could turn a heel today, but you never know. Have just finished a sweater for DH and am now on a lemon yellow sweater for me. The pattern includes a christmas snowman, but I shall ignore that. Knitting again after so long made unacustomed muscles ache for a day or two, well a week, actually, but now I've got the stamina built up again, really enjoy knitting and don't want to stop. It is so much better than all those other bad habits I developed wnile watching tv!

It used to be cheaper to knit a sweater than buy one, which is why we all did it. Everyone, but everyone knitted in my youth. I'm still wearing Aran sweaters I kntted thirty years ago. They don't seem to age at all.

Now the opposite is true. I've had sweaters I bought  recently go thin and nasty in less than two years. I imagine that is because they are made abroad somewhere.

I'm glad to see a wool shop has opened recently in our small town in Northumberland. It began in very small premises and recently moved to larger premises, so I'm hoping it is here to stay. Everyone will get knitted presents now, just like in the old sit coms, so be warned!

Friday, 20 March 2020


How much description should go into a historical romance? Usually I start like this:

OK, I have my great premise
Then I focus on a time and a place for this story

NO, no, no. 

Let's re-think that. 

In historical fiction, the setting should be essential and the first thing I think about. 
If readers feel my story could have happened anywhere, at any time, then I’ve failed at the very first hurdle. The historical setting must come first. I need a story that could have taken place nowhere but the one place where it did happen.

Once we have a time and place sorted, how to describe it?

I aim to make it vivid, but I remind myself not to overdo it. Especially not to do description in huge chunks. Today’s readers are impatient creatures, and won't tolerate long descriptive paragraphs as they did in the past. 

So instead, I should drip-feed descriptions of the setting into my story.
I should keep descriptions short and powerful and use every sense I have. We smell and hear places as well as see them.  Some places have an atmosphere and sometimes it is peaceful and sometimes it is threatening. 

I should not forget to describe the social and cultural morals of the time. Gin Lane without the gin would just be inaccurate.

Use metaphors and similes where Ican but I must make them original. Clich├ęs are not what I want. If there is movement in the scene, that is better than a an unmoving one. If I can remember all this when I'm writing, then I should be well on the way to achieving my aim!

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Can you build a character?

This is my little memo to self on How To Build a Character. Read at your peril!

What makes a character unique?

Observable qualities ~ This includes physical appearance, mannerisms, speech style, gestures, sexuality, age, IQ occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where and how she or he lives.

That’s the simple level. True character lurks behind this mask. Only time will tell if they are loyal, honest, loving or cold-hearted or even downright cruel, cowardly and weak.
How do we tell which they really are? True character shows in the actions and choices made at a time of dilemma or danger.

The key to character is Desire. What does the character want? Now, and in the future? Does the character even recognise this need?

Then there’s motivation. Why does the character need this thing? Can it be attributed to parental upbringing, culture and or genes?

Physical image and setting says much about a character, but could be a lie or a mask. Other characters may and probably do comment on them, but they might have a hidden motive for what they say. 

What the character says of himself may or may not be true.

The trick is not to muddle readers. Your character may be a guilt-ridden ambitious person but must be consistent in oth his guilt and his ambition. Focus on the main character and fit the rest around him – they must bring out his contradictions and his values, his sadness and his wit. Always assuming he has any. Your character may have other values.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

What's the stake?

Identify the primary value at stake in a story.

It's a good phrase, but does it mean anything?

The protagonist usually represents the positive side of this value and the antagonist the negative side.

Now, can one have a heroine who is both protagonist and antagonist? Would that make life interesting? I think it happens often enough in real life. When there is a problem, then the heroine struggles to solve the problem. In my current work, honesty is at stake. If a successful outcome means she must lie, or do something dishonest, then the two sides of her nature will argue with each other - or against each other - in the story.

How successful will it be for the readers?

I suppose that will depend on how good the exposition is - facts, info about  the character that is necessary for the reader to understand her motivation, for her story and desperation to be understood. The skill is to make it invisible and usually  the dreaded words Show dont Tell creep in at this point. The author should dramatize the exposition if possible. Look at it this way - the charachter knows their world, their history and themselves  - or we hope they do.  Let them use what they know  to get what they want. Think of self-knowledge as a gun and let them shoot it out. Reveal your character slowly; let unimportant facts come first, the most critical facts last.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

A first-class scene

Do you ever analyze a scene in a book?

There are several things that must contribute to this, but one of the most important is to
Define Conflict.  Who drives or motivates  the scene?  What does he want? Does he get it? if not, what stops him?  Can he change this?

Has the scene been well set? Do we (the reader) know  the value the character puts on the object he is trying to achieve? Will it change his life? Or merely make him more comfortable?  Is it worthy?

Throughout the scene keep checking what the character seems to be doing and what he is actually doing.

Note the closing of the scene. What has changed? There must be something that has changed.

The reader should be able to locate the turning point - where action becomes a reaction, and the shape or the pattern of events will change. 

It sounds easy enough. Now to go to my work in progress and check.....

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

My new hobby

They say, if you go back far enough, each one of us has a shared ancestor with every other person on earth. 
Scientists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of all humans, probably lived in either Egypt or Babylonia during the classical period. Evidently, we can all trace our ancestry back to this person.
Assuming an average generation time of 20 years, this means that we are all 120th cousins, descended from someone that was alive when the pyramids were already aging structures. (Many millions of other people living at that time also have living descendants, of course. The last common ancestor is simply the one who is an ancestor to all of us, in addition to our many other ancestors who are not common to everyone.)
Of course, within a given ethnic group, the most recent common ancestor will be much more recent than that, especially so within a limited geographical area with low ethnic diversity. Remember that, randomly, some people leave many descendants and others leave none. If you take a country like Scotland, Sweden, or Poland, you really don’t have to go back very far before you discover someone that is a shared common ancestor to the vast majority of living citizens. For example, in the lands of the former Mongolian empire, around 8% of the population are direct descendants of Genghis Kahn and that goes less than 800 years back. Even as far away as North America, around 0.5% of men carry the Y-chromosome of the great Kahn.
Many millions of Americans of Irish ancestry trace their families back to a specific county in Ireland, but the reality is that, if you’re Irish, you are related to all other Irish people and probably a lot more closely than you think.
In fact, everyone on earth with any trace of European ancestry probably has a shared ancestor who lived in the early Middle Ages. Charlemagne has been proposed as a possible candidate.
Family trees aren’t correct anyway
One thing that won’t often tell you is that the genealogy that you discover may not be accurate anyway. Inferences have to be made when you are dealing with records that are hundreds of years old. There are many surnames and first names that are quite common. There is no way to be sure that the “Jacob Carter” that turns up in one record is the same “Jacob Carter” that shows up in another from fifteen years later, even in the same general area.
Then, as now, many families were on the move. An isolated census record containing only a name is nothing more than a low-resolution snapshot. There is no way to know how many links and associations that genealogy reveals are simply coincidence.
Furthermore, over the past two centuries, it was not uncommon for last names to be changed, misspelled, or misattributed. Records were frequently lost, recreated, or even forged. We think of our identities as relatively fixed now because we have traceable identification cards, birth certificates, and social security numbers from a very early age. But none of that existed until recently.
There is a long article, with an America slant, you may wish to read on this topic
Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., is a professor of molecular biology at John Jay College, of the City University of New York.


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